Morris Knolls-Hills 2021 preview: Strong core with championship pedigree returns
Head coach: Tim Kepler, fifth year. 62-31-10 career record.
Last year: Morris Knolls-Hills claimed its second-consecutive Public A state title and fourth in Morris Knolls program history, as it edged Montclair, 3-2 in overtime at Prudential Center. It finished with an 18-6-3 overall record and won 10 of its final 11 games, with its only loss being a 1-0 defeat to Madison in the first round of the Mennen Cup.
Key losses: James Betz, Derek Coleman, Elliot Marken (transfer)
This year's squad: Morris Knolls-Hills' senior class is as talented and experience of a group as you'll find in the area. It's a core which has experienced state championships as sophomores and juniors- and while they won't get the chance to make it a three-peat with no state tournament this season, they have all of the components to have a successful season and challenge for the Mennen title.
They'll be led up front by their two top scorers in Jason Kwestel (26 g., 23 a.) and Andrew Ryan (19 g., 28 a.). Gehrig Eckoff (13 g., 13 a.), Jake DiLoreto (6 g., 9 a.), Dylan Idland (5 g., 10 a.), Jake Quinn (8 g., 6 a.) and Jeffrey Quinn (2 g., 4 a.) round out the team's deep and talented group of forwards.
On the blue line, senior Timmy Kepler (2 g., 14 a.) will lead the way, along with senior J.D. Florio and sophomore Bryan McCarter.
In goal, Morris Knolls-Hills will miss the steady hand of Elliot Marken, who was calm and collected all of last season in leading his team to a state championship as a freshman. Marken has moved on to a prep school, and in his place it will look to sophomore Aidan Marvin- who backed up Marken and saw some time last year- as well as senior Michael Maines.
Outlook: It's no secret that the Mennen Division is one of the most competitive and challenging divisions in the entire state. While Morristown-Beard may be the favorite on paper before the season, Knolls-Hills should not be very far behind. With a deep and talented senior class that knows how to win, this is a group that should be right in the conversation for the Mennen title in 2021. If it can get steady goaltending like it did a year ago, the sky is the limit for this team.
Jan. 16 -- vs. Mendham (Mennen Arena), 4:15 p.m.
Jan. 18 -- vs. Summit (Mennen Arena), 8:30 p.m.
Jan. 21 -- vs. Randolph (Mennen Arena), 6:15 p.m.
Jan. 24 -- vs. Madison (Mennen Arena), 6:15 p.m.
Jan. 30 -- at Morristown (Mennen Arena), 8:15 p.m.
Feb. 1 -- vs. Morristown-Beard (Mennen Arena), 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 5 -- vs. Randolph (Mennen Arena), 8 p.m.
Feb. 10 -- vs. Chatham (Mennen Arena), 5:45 p.m.
Feb. 17 -- at Morristown (Mennen Arena), 5:45 p.m.
Feb. 20 -- vs. Morristown-Beard (Mennen Arena), 8:15 p.m.