Vikings State Tourney Run Brings Back Echoes of 2007

The 2019-20 South Brunswick Vikings Brought Back Memories of 2007 Group IV State Finals Team


South Brunswick’s Devin Strickland goes up for a score between two defenders versus Jackson Memorial in the opening round of the 2020 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 4 State Playoffs. Strickland led the Vikings to a season to remember, and one that brought back memories of the 2006-07 SBHS Vikings team that reached the Group 4 State Championship Game.

MONMOUTH JUNCTION, NJ—It has been two weeks since Yathin Vemula brought a bit of March Madness to South Brunswick High School by lifting the Vikings to the 2020 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 4 Championship over Marlboro (72-71), with a last second layup off a feed from Alex Strange.

Capturing it on video was another thrill for yours truly, but it pales in comparison to the footage captured of the 2006-07 South Brunswick Vikings playing state power Linden for the 2007 Group 4 State Championship at Rutgers on March 11, 2007. Linden won the game 63-54, but the Vikings gave the defending state champs all they could handle.

South Brunswick in 2007 was led by the likes of Martin Soaries, who now works at Basketball Society, and his twin brother Malcolm, both sons of the Reverend DeForest “Buster” Soaries, who had served in former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd-Whitman’s administration as Secretary of State. In addition to the Soaries twins, there was Devon Young, who went on to play NCAA D2 men’s basketball at Felician, and recently became a member of that school’s athletic Hall of Fame.

There were other members also such as Brian Morgan, Ray Dasant, Mike Sobers, Vineesh Manchanda, Arman Wilson, Mohammed Sanu, Sean Lease, Jordan Tiecher, and Troy Confessore. The foundation of this team was ironically built by current head coach Joe Hoehman, who coached all of these players as freshmen in 2004 and 2005. Hoehman teamed up with then varsity head coach Dave and assistant Bob Turco to build the foundation for a winner from 2002 to 2005. The Soaries twins and Devon Young were on the 2004 SBHS Freshmen team that reached the 2004 Perth Amboy/GMC Freshmen Tourney Semifinals before losing to Sayreville. The Freshmen Bombers later lost to South Plainfield in the title game.

Meanwhile, Wilson, Lease, Tiecher, and Confessore led the 2005 SBHS Freshmen on a Cinderella run to the 2005 Perth Amboy/GMC Freshmen Tourney Finals as a 12th seed before losing to second seeded J.F. Kennedy in the Championship. Those Viking Freshmen knocked off 5th seeded McCarrick (53-40) in the Round of 16, 4th seeded Edison (50-46) in the Quarterfinals, and top seeded Piscataway (53-50 OT) in the Semifinals before falling to Kennedy in the title game.

In that same 2004-05 season, the Soaries twins and Young teamed up with the likes of big man, Dan Stonkus, and others such as Tommy Hill, Mike Zwiren, Nick Fazio, and Morgan to get the varsity Vikings to the 2005 GMCT Final Four as the top seed before losing to 4th seeded St. Joseph’s (46-44) led by Andrew Bynum and Sean Baptiste. Those Falcons would lose to 3rd seeded South Plainfield in an epic GMCT Final, 66-65 on a last second shot by Marquis Jones.

During the off-season, Dave Turco left to take the head coaching position at St. Joseph’s, where he elevated the Falcons to a state power by the time he departed several seasons ago. Turco’s brother Bob moved on as well, taking the head coaching job at nearby Monroe Township, where he built up the Purple City Bird Gang, with the help of Falcons all time leading scorer A.J. Rudowitz. The 2005-06 Monroe Falcons turned in a historic season with its first ever GMCT Final Four berth, and an appearance in the 2006 Central Jersey Group 3 Championship.

It would be the first of three GMCT Final Four appearances for Bob Turco at Monroe. Along the way to that first semifinals appearance, the 2005-06 Falcons met up with South Brunswick at SBHS in the 2006 GMCT Quarterfinals. South Brunswick, which was touted as GMC Hoops pre-season favorite to win the GMCT, was the fifth seed while Monroe was the fourth seed, and the Falcons rolled past South Brunswick on its home court (61-44) before losing to top seeded Metuchen (69-63) led by Marqus Blakely (Vermont) and DeJuan Miller (played football at Oklahoma) in overtime in the semifinals.

The following year, the 2006-07 season, the South Brunswick Vikings were touted as the GMC Hoops Pre-Season No. 1, and they started off well with an opening night victory over GMC Red rival, St. Joseph’s (61-47). About a month later, the Vikes hosted No. 2 Cardinal McCarrick, which had the likes of near 2,000 point scorer, Vince Rosario, his younger brother Julio, and junior Mike Burwell, who had just transferred in from Highland Park. South Brunswick dominated McCarrick in a 63-41 victory on January 13th.

South Brunswick, which was now coached by Chris Balent, who had previously served as an assistant at TCNJ, didn’t lose its first game until about a week later, when it fell to state power Elizabeth (70-65) in the Coalition to House the Homeless Classic at the Dunn Center on January 20th. St. Joseph’s also played St. Patrick’s in the nightcap of the showcase, and lost to the Celtics led by Villanova bound Corey Fisher, 78-58. The loss dropped SBHS to 13-1 on the season, and the Vikings would win another 9 in a row including an 84-50 victory over Bishop Ahr, now St. Thomas Aquinas in the GMCT Quarterfinals.

Cardinal McCarrick would face the Vikings again in the 2007 GMCT Semifinals at Middlesex County College. The Eagles coached by Joe Lewis, entered that year’s GMCT as the fifth seed with losses to not only South Brunswick, Colonia, and East Brunswick. The loss to EB gave the Bears the fourth seed over McCarrick in the tourney, but the Eagles would defeat East Brunswick in the Quarterfinals, 71-62. The Eagles wouldn’t be easy prey this time around though. McCarrick was prepared to play, and despite trailing 33-16 midway through the second quarter.

Cardy Mac turned the tables with a 51-31 surge over the last 20 minutes of the contest to stun the Vikings, and ending perhaps South Brunswick’s best chance of winning that elusive GMCT Championship, 67-64. At this point, the Vikes could have put their heads in the sand, and given up, but they all realized that they still had a chance of winning something, a sectional championship, and a state title. South Brunswick, which entered the 2007 Central Jersey Group 4 State Tournament as the 3rd seed, and had a first round bye.

The SBHS Vikings then cruised past Brick Memorial in the CJ Group 4 Quarterfinals (52-33) to set up a match-up against second seeded Rancocas Valley, which had defeated North Brunswick in the same round. Rancocas Valley, had a tremendous program at the time, and went on to win the 2008 Group 4 State Championship over Piscataway. The Chiefs actually won the 2007 GMCT over McCarrick, 59-50. South Brunswick traveled to Mount Holly for the match-up, and rolled to a 65-53 victory to set up a clash in the Championship Game at Woodbridge High School against top seeded Freehold Township on March 5th that season.

Freehold Township, which was led by Marcus Roberson, Ed Fischer, and T.J. LaFalce, entered the contest at 26-1. The Patriots had won the Shore Conference Tournament by defeating Class A North rival, CBA for third time that season to get the title. Like in the 2020 GMCT Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and Championship as well as throughout the Vikings CJ Group 4 run, the South Brunswick faithful had come out in full force. South Brunswick, bolstered by the turnout, and playing in a GMC gym, broke away from a 15-15 first quarter tie with a 73-57 surge over the final three periods for an 88-72 victory for its first sectional championship since winning the CJ Group 2 title in 1974.

South Brunswick didn’t stop there though. Two days later, the Vikings were in Atlantic City to take on South Jersey Group 4 Champion, Cherokee in the Group 4 State Semifinals. The Chiefs, who were led by Clarence Jackson, battled the Vikings to overtime, but behind a game high 21 points including 17 in the second half and overtime from Malcolm Soaries, SBHS was able to prevail, 57-49 in a game that was broadcasted by WCTC with play-by-play from Mike Pavlichko.

It set the stage for the Vikings clash with 2007 North Jersey Section 2 Champion, and defending Group 4 State Champion, Linden, which was then coached by Phil Colicchio, who is now the coach at Elizabeth. The Tigers were led by the likes of sharpshooter Darrell Lampley (played NCAA D1 hoops at Eastern Michigan) now an assistant to Colicchio at Elizabeth, Desmond Wade (University of Houston), Jerry Jones, Jonathan Jones (Kean University), Muhammad Wilkerson (who went on to play football for the New York Jets), George Bease, Ahmad Harris, and David Bruce.

In front of a big crowd of approximately 6,000 people at Rutgers Athletic Center that included the South Brunswick Marching Band, Linden ended the first half on a 10-0 run, and began the 3rd quarter with a three pointer for a 43-28 lead before the Vikings put together an heroic, 23-12 surge led by Martin Soaries (game high 18 points), Young, and Morgan to close the gap to 55-51 with 2:02 remaining. Linden would pull away by scoring 8 of the last 11 points of the game to claim its second straight Group 4 state title, 63-54.

The loss ended South Brunswick’s season at 27-3. It was the first time in nearly 40 years when the 1967-68 Vikings, led by 1,000 point scorer, Buddy Rose defeated East Rutherford, which was coached by the legendary Dick Vitale, and led by Les Cason. The Vikes went 18-1 in GMC play with its other two losses coming to powerhouse programs from the Watchung Conferences in Elizabeth and Linden. Meanwhile, Linden improved to 30-2, and was the top seed in the 2007 TOC, but would lose to Bloomfield Tech in the TOC semifinals on a last second shot.

The coaching staff led by Joe Hoehman on this year’s South Brunswick team were on the staff with Chris Balent back in 2007. Bobby Henning, the son of long time East Brunswick head coach Bo Henning, and Justin McCuen, joined the staff with Balent when he took over for Dave Turco prior to the 2005-06 campaign while Hoehman moved up to the JV head coach. Shortly after the 2006-07 season ended, Balent stepped down to take over the Elizabeth program and Hoehman was promoted to head coach.

Hoehman has remained head coach ever since. He also guided the 2015-16 South Brunswick Vikings to the 2016 GMCT Final before losing to St. Joseph’s led by Tyus Battle, Bree Tyree, and Alanzo Frink. Those Vikings, led by Eric Savage (Tufts University) would also lose to Colts Neck in the 2016 Central Jersey Group 4 semifinals. This year’s Vikings team represented a complete turnaround from a squad that was only 1-18 just two years ago. Hoehman managed to keep the program’s key talent together at a time when transfers are much more rampant than back in the 2006-07 seasons. As a matter of fact, South Brunswick has only had one player transfer in the past 9 years.

Many faces from that 2006-07 Vikings team including Martin Soaries, Devon Young, and others such as Mike Sobers were in attendance at many stops along the way during the 2019-20 South Brunswick Vikings run. Young even sported his varsity jacket at the 2020 GMCT Final Four. Other former standouts such as all time leading scorer, Donnell Lumpkin, and SB football’s Dontae Strickland (Arizona Cardinals), who actually was on the varsity roster and played JV during the 2011-12 season like his brother Devin did several years ago, have been familiar faces in the stands, and even took part in all of the team celebrations. Devin and Dontae’s older brother Danny, who was also a solid baseball player, is now on the SBHS coaching staff.

The Vikings 2019-20 run, especially from its regular season win over St. Joseph’s on February 8th in Monmouth Junction, now only brought back the faces from that 2006-07 season, but also the memories of that tremendous state playoff run. It was great for GMC Hoops to revisit that again.