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It is awards season in Shore Conference basketball and to get you ready for the unveiling of those awards, plus the 2023 Shore Sports Network All-Shore Teams this week, Shore Sports Network is going to provide a look at the unofficial finalists for each of its three individual awards for the season: Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Freshman of the Year.

In this post, you will find the top three finalists for the 2022-23 Shore Sports Network Coach of the Year Award, which includes three coaches who have won Shore Conference Tournament championships -- one of whom won another this season.

Read through the candidates and tell us your pick is for the winner by voting in the poll at the bottom of the post.*

* - The results of the poll will not determine the winner. Shore Sports Network Basketball Editor Matt Manley makes final selections for all awards winners. Still, feel free to exert your influence by voting for your choice.

Finalists listed alphabetically

Andrew Bilodeau, Manasquan

During his 15 seasons at Manasquan, Bilodeau has built a résumé that is just about unrivaled by any current Shore Conference coach. During his decade-and-a-half running the program, the Warriors have won six NJSIAA sectional championships, been to the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals in 14 out of the 15 seasons (including 12 in a row), won 25-plus games in each of the last four full seasons, and reached the Shore Conference Tournament championship game in four straight seasons – winning three of them.

Manasquan coach Andrew Bilodeau. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Manasquan coach Andrew Bilodeau. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

Already the 2019-20 Shore Sports Network Coach of the Year for leading Manasquan to a 31-1 record, Bilodeau may have outdone himself this season. The Warriors finished 28-4 with their fourth Shore Conference title in four seasons, a Class C North division championship that required the Warriors to play two games each vs. St. Rose and Ranney, their fourth straight sectional championship, and their first ever NJSIAA Group II championship.

Manasquan rolled through the Shore Conference this season with an 18-1 record against teams in the conference and just three games – including the one loss to St. Rose – that were decided by fewer than 10 points. The Warriors won four Shore Conference Tournament games by an average of 21.25 points and by no fewer than 15, then showed their close-game chops in tight wins over South River and Middle Township late in the NJSIAA Tournament. Manasquan then closed the season with a dominant performance against Caldwell to break through for their first state championship.

Denis Caruano, Raritan

Coming off a heartbreaking loss to Bound Brook in the 2022 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II semifinals, Raritan had to find a way to replace a senior group that included All-Shore guard in Justin Rivera. With a group of five core seniors, Caruano guided the 2022-23 Rockets to their best season in more than a decade.

Raritan coach Denis Caruano. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Raritan coach Denis Caruano. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

Raritan dominated the Shore Conference Class A Central division, rolling to a 10-0 division record and capturing a division championship for the first time since 2011-12. The Rockets were the Shore Conference’s last remaining undefeated team at 17-0 and their one loss before the Shore Conference Tournament was to Cedar Creek on a Saturday afternoon game at a showcase in Barnegat that coincided with the SCT seeding meeting. Other than that slip-up, Raritan’s only losses during its 21-3 season came to Manasquan – the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10.

After losing for the first time, Raritan bounced back with impressive defensive performances in Shore Conference Tournament wins over Red Bank Catholic and Central Regional. That catapulted the Rockets into the SCT semifinals for the first time in 12 seasons, a run Raritan followed up by reaching the Central Group II semifinals for the second straight season.

Tahj Holden, Ranney

Another decorated Shore Conference coach during his eight-year tenure, Holden had less overall talent from the top of the roster to the bottom than in any of his eight seasons – with the possible exception of year one, when Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis were still just freshmen. The Panthers still had talent, though, in the form of three standouts: Isaac Hester, Jahlil Bethea and Drew Buck.

Head coach Tahj Holden has guided Ranney to a banner season during a trying time for his family. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Head coach Tahj Holden has guided Ranney to a banner season during a trying time for his family. (Photo: Paula Lopez)

Where Holden succeeded this season was in keeping the team afloat for the first 11 games, while the Panthers played a difficult schedule without Bethea, who was required to sit for the first 30 games of the season after transferring from the Patrick School. The Panthers went just 5-6 in that stretch, but once Bethea was in the picture, the team took off.

For the first time since winning the Shore Conference Tournament in 2019, Ranney made it back to the SCT final and got there by shocking St. Rose in what will go down as the game of the year in the Shore Conference in 2022-23. The Panthers trailed by 13 with 1:56 left in regular and managed to play mistake-free the rest of the way while St. Rose imploded with turnovers and missed free throws. The end result for Holden and Ranney was a 17-11 record and a No. 3 ranking in the conference to finish out the season.

Holden and his assistant, John Tierney, also spent the 2022-23 remembering their late co-worker, Rich Sherman. Throughout the season, the two Ranney coaches left an open seat next to them on the bench to honor Sherman, who was a former head coach at Shore Regional, Raritan and Middletown North and joined the Ranney staff when Holden took the job ahead of the 2015-16 season. Sherman died shortly after the 2021-22 season ended last March. He was 74 years old.

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