Glen Ridge HS boys basketball team captures state sectional title; ends 34-year drought

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GLEN RIDGE, NJ —With a senior-laden roster, the Glen Ridge High School boys basketball team has formed a special bond throughout the season. 

The Ridgers’ camaraderie and hard work paid off with the program’s first state sectional championship in 34 years.

In front of a packed and raucous crowd, the top-seeded Ridgers defeated No. 2 seed Newark West Side, 52-48, in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s North Jersey, Section 2, Group 1, tournament final on Tuesday, March 8, at GRHS.

Senior guard Bryan Moussako scored 21 points, senior guard Carter Koenig had 12 points and senior forward Michael Ciffelli had 9 points for the Ridgers, who improved to 20-7 on the season and won the state sectional title for the first time since 1988. 

Senior center Andrew Snyder had 4 points; senior forward Ryan O’Neil and junior guard JD Pine each had 3 points.

As the final buzzer sounded, the GRHS student body – affectionately known as “Ridger Nation” – stormed the court to celebrate with the GRHS players, hugging each other in jubilation.

As the celebration raged on, the Ridgers expressed what it meant to win the sectional title.

“This hasn’t been done in almost 40 years,’ Koenig said. “It was something at the beginning that was only a dream; now we made it possible and look at us now. There is nothing better in the world.”

“I’m excited,” said Snyder. “We want more. We’re not done. We all worked super hard. We’ve been working together since we were 4 or 5 years old. We earned this victory. We got it and we won it, fair and square.”

GRHS second-year head coach Rich Kennedy,  a 1994 GRHS graduate, was ecstatic for his team. 

“I feel great,” said Kennedy, who was a longtime assistant coach for the team before becoming the head coach. “Our defense showed up in a big way. I don’t think these guys get enough credit this year for how great these guys play defense. Hopefully, everybody knows now. That’s what Glen Ridge is all about.

“This championship means everything,” continued Kennedy. “This was our third try in like five or six years. We thought we had teams that were good enough. Three times is a charm. It’s great for these kids.”

Kennedy pointed up at the banner on the GRHS gym wall that showed the number of sectional titles in program history.

“There are only six of them up there in Glen Ridge,” said Kennedy, referring to the Ridgers’ sectional titles on the banner. “This (championship) is seven. It’s pretty special, pretty special.” 

The Ridgers’ commitment and faith in one another were other aspects that made this team so special, said Kennedy. 

“They stayed together, through the good times and the bad times,” said Kennedy. “They just stuck together. We had some moments where we were kind of losing, but once we got back to winning, we were on our way.”

Cifelli was absolutely ecstatic as he celebrated with his teammates and friends on the court.

“I’ve never felt better in my entire life!” Cifelli exclaimed. “I just won the championship with 15 of my brothers. There is nothing better in the world, and I got the (Ridger) Nation here too. There is nothing better! We’ve been working so hard for this. Us six seniors, we’ve been working in the gym every day. This is a long time coming. We worked for this and we deserved this!”

O’Neil also spoke about the team camaraderie and winning the championship. 

“This is amazing,” O’Neil said. “I believe in these guys. These guys could do this since day one. These are five guys that know what to do, how to do it and when to do it.”

Moussako recalled when the Ridgers lost to University on a last-second putback in the 2017 sectional final at GRHS. He and his teammates were in seventh grade at the time and attended that heartbreaking game, vowing to win it all when they became seniors.  And they did it. 

“I feel amazing,” Moussako said. “This championship means everything. All the seniors came to this game (in 2017) when we were in seventh grade, we lost right at the buzzer and I told them, ‘We got to win it when we are seniors. It’s so surreal when we actually won it today. All the seniors play hard; we all know our roles. That’s what’s up.”

The Ridgers’ season came to an end when they lost to Paterson Charter, 52-36, in the Group 1 state semifinals on Thursday, March 10, at Phillipsburg to finish with a 20-8 overall record. Koenig, Moussako and Cifelli each had nine points. 

Indeed, it was a great run for the Ridgers, who will always cherish this season.

Photos by Steve Ellmore

Videos by Joe Ragozzino