It would be hard to find a division more competitive than Class A Central was on a game-to-game basis in 2015. Eight divisional matches ended in a draw, six of the seven teams in the division had at least four losses and even 11-1 division champion Rumson benefited from seven wins by a one-goal margin. All in all, there was not much separating the teams A Central and that is the case again this year.

If anything, this year’s collection of teams in A Central might be better across the board. St. John Vianney and Matawan are heavy on experience, Rumson and Holmdel return a fair amount from successful teams, and Raritan is enjoying an injection of talent into the program. Factor in the addition of a talented Shore team and a largely intact Red Bank Regional side with realignment and there aren’t too many breaks in the A Central schedule.

It may take a while to figure out who the top team in the division is, but if there is one standout roster in the bunch, it’s one of the new guys in neighborhood.

 

In predicted order of finish

Shore

Head Coach: Christian Pontier, seventh season
2015 Record: 20-2 (14-0, first in B Central)
Returning: Dante Montesinos (Sr., Midfield), Mikey Barreca (Sr., Defense), Stevie Johnson (Sr., Midfield), Dave LaPorta (Sr., Defense), Matt Dutra (Sr., Midfield), Leonardo Montesinos (So., Midfield), Ryan Bongarzone (So., Midfield), Marcopolo DeOliveira (Jr., Midfield/Forward), Jeremy Lang (Jr., Midfield), Chris LaMarca (Jr., Midfield), Zack Hoyle (Jr., Midfield), Brandon DeNovaes (So., Forward), Jake Turner (So., Midfield), Michael Adams (So., Midfield), Max Cameron (So., Defense/Midfield)
Key Losses: J.T. Kessler (Sr., Forward), Josh DeFino (Sr., Defense), Evan Coffey (Sr., Goalkeeper), Brett Norman (Sr., Midfield),
Newcomers: Kadison Bates (So., Goalkeeper), Chris Panduri (So., Goalkeeper), Garrett Freund (So., Defense), Taylor Souza (So.), Conor Creighton (Fr.), Patrick O’Dwyer (Fr.)

This could be the middle of a golden age of Shore Regional soccer considering the Blue Devils are coming off consecutive 20-wins seasons – the first of which yielded a Central Jersey Group I championship and the latter of which resulted in a trip to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals. This year has all the makings of another big year, but the Blue Devils will be tested by a shift from Class B Central to Class A Central. Shore dominated its old stomping grounds, going 27-0-1 in division games over the past two years and while that level of dominance will be much harder to come by in a balanced A Central, the Blue Devils showed last year they can play with pretty much any team in the Shore Conference.

Senior Dante Montesinos is the Shore’s top scorer after posting 28 goals and 17 assists as a junior, giving him 55 goals and 33 assists in his career to date. Those numbers will probably slow down in the new division, but Montesinos will also be looking to score more with the graduation of goal-scoring machine J.T. Kessler, who put up 94 goals in his Shore Regional career and 77 over the past two seasons. Fellow seniors Stevie Johnson and Mikey Barreca return after all-division seasons, with Johnson claiming a third team All-Shore spot on the heels of an 11-goal, 11-assist campaign. Barreca, meanwhile, will lead a defense that also includes senior returnee Dave LaPorta.

Sophomore Leonardo Montesinos returns after a five-goal freshman season and will be one of the top scoring threats for the Blue Devils and perhaps in the division. Classmate Ryan Bongarzone also saw significant burn as a freshman and the duo heads up a deep 2019 class. Senior midfielder Matt Dutra is also a key returnee off scoring two goals and six assists while seeing important minutes last year. Even with a move to A Central, the Blue Devils have the makings of a division favorite and one of the top returning public school rosters in the Shore Conference.

Shore senior Dante Montesinos (10) is hoping to lead the Blue Devils to a third straight 20-win season

Rumson-Fair Haven

Head Coach: Will Gould, fourth season
2015 Record: 15-4-1 (11-1, first in A Central)
Returning: Nick Calabrese (Sr., Midfield), Markar Krikorian (Sr., Goalkeeper), Sam Sapnar (Sr., Midfield), Jeremy Nives (Jr., Midfield), Jack Balestro (Sr., Defense), Tristan Kipler (Sr., Defense), Arthur Grubert (Jr., Defense)
Key Losses: Jamie Martin (Forward), Christian Ciardiello (Defense), Dean Criscitiello (Defense), Peter Halliday (Midfield), Matt Maisto (Forward), Owen Greengrove (Jr., Midfield) – Academy commitment
Newcomers: Carson Greengrove (Sr., Forward/Midfield), Luke Distefano (Jr., Defense), Tyler Lubin (Sr., Forward), Cole Lee (Jr., Midfield)

It took just one rebuilding year for Rumson to get back to the top of the Class A Central division, which it won outright for the first time since joining A Central less than a decade ago. The Bulldogs stormed out to an 11-0 start last year, only to come back to Earth by finishing 4-4-1 over their final nine games. Rumson benefited from a 7-0 record in one-goal games during the winning streak but did not win another one the rest of the year. One of the reasons for Rumson’s prowess in close games was returning keeper Markar Krikorian, who enters his third season starting in net following a four-shutout season as a junior.

In the field, the Bulldogs will have some key pieces to replace, but will also have some extra help to do it. The top four scorers from a year ago – Jamie Martin (14 goals), Matt Maisto (12), Dean Criscitiello (6) and Owen Greengrove (5) – are all gone, with the first three graduating and Greengrove opting to play academy soccer. That will leave the middle of the field to senior returnees Nick Calabrese and Sam Sapnar, the latter of whom moves from the outside to the middle. Junior Jeremy Nives also contributed out of the midfield as a sophomore, netting two goals and seven assists.

While Owen Greengrove passed on the high school game this season, older brother Carson returns to the program for the first time since his freshman season in 2013 and will occupy one of the forward spots along with senior left-footer Tyler Lubin. That mix should give Rumson enough danger going forward to complement a defense led by returnees Jack Balestro, Tristan Kipler and Arthur Grubert. Overall, the Bulldogs have a balanced mix that will keep them in the hunt for another division title and give them legitimate Central Jersey Group II title aspirations.

 

Raritan

Head Coach: James Gelpke, first season
2015 Record: 3-10-5 (1-6-5, seventh in A Central)
Returning: Chad Santopadre (Sr., Goalkeeper), Nick Benoit (Jr., Defense), Tom Savin (Jr., Forward), Mike Pruscino (Sr., Defense), Ryan Goggins (Jr., Midfield), Matt Lazicki (Jr., Defense), Brian Busse (Jr., Defense), Nick Amodeo (Jr., Forward), Zach May (So., Defense), Marco Vasta (So., Midfield), Anthony Sparacino (So., Midfield), Alex Piravano (Jr., Midfield)
Key Losses: Chris Medina (Forward), Louis DiLaurenzio (Jr., Forward), Ryan Eusebi (Jr., Midfield)
Newcomers: Peter Amato (Sr., Midfield), Dan Del Russo (Sr., Forward), Angelo Fontanazza (Sr., Defense), Jake Fortune (So., Defense), Alec Fortune (Sr., Forward), Michael Romeo (Jr., Goalkeeper), Scott Larson (Sr., Midfield), Mark Lazzaro (Sr., Midfield)

Raritan has been building toward a resurgence for the past three seasons, but that rebuilding process hit a snag last year when a handful of potential returning players decided not to come out for the team and left the Rockets with a young, thin varsity roster. This year, four of those players are back and will be in the rotation under first-year coach James Gelpke, who previously led the Mater Dei Prep girls program to three straight trips to the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public B final, including a trip to the state final in 2011.

Seniors Peter Amato, Dan Del Russo, Angelo Fontanazza and Alec Fortune are all back in the program this season to go along with the long list of returning players who did play last year. Amato will man the midfield, Fontanazza will play in the back and both Del Russo and Fortune will play up top. Juniors Tom Savin and Nick Amodeo played the forward spots for Raritan last year and both will contribute at the top of the formation again this season. Fontanazza, meanwhile, joins a stable of defenders that includes juniors Nick Benoit, Matt Lazicki and Brian Busse, as well as senior Mike Pruscino and sophomore Zach May. Sophomore newcomer Jake Fortune will also factor in on defense.

Amato’s return will boost the Raritan midfield, which also includes junior Ryan Goggins, sophomores Marco Vasta and Anthony Sparcino, and junior Alex Piravano. It may take some time for the returning plyers to gel with the holdovers, but the Rockets have a top-shelf safety net in senior goalkeeper Chad Santopadre. Entering his third year as a starter, Santopadre is one of the more highly-regarded keepers by the Shore Conference coaches. With a fortified back line and some skill infused into a young, developing core, Raritan could be in for a leap up the standings this season.

 

Holmdel

Head Coach: John Nacarlo, 14th season
2015 Record: 13-7-5 (4-4-4, third in A Central)
Returning: Leo Nobrega (Sr., Forward/Midfield), Nick Guga (Jr., Defense/Midfield), Joe Arena (So., Midfield), Torre Avitable (So., Defense), Mikey Neff (Jr., Midfield), Jack Murray (Sr., Goalkeeper), Kevin Healy (Sr., Defense)
Key Losses: Tyler Marchiano (Goalkeeper), Hunter Chapman (Forward/Defense), Nick Chrystal (Defense), Dante Marino (Defense), Jesse Dopelt (Defense), Michael Carranante (Defense), Nick Saizan (Midfield), Sean Gross (Forward), Matt Zito (Midfield), Justin McStay (Jr., Forward) – Academy commitment
Newcomers: Anthony Arena (So., Forward), Jack Russo (So., Midfield), Eric Hinds (Fr., Midfield), Mark Walier (Fr., Defense), Nima Ashanti (Sr., Defense), Mark McStay (So., Defense), Jack Giamanco (Fr., Midfield), Anthony Disav (So., Defense), Matt Lionette (Jr., Goalkeeper)

A wild 2015 season ended with the Hornets walking off the pitch at Kean University completely stunned. Holmdel was 2:03 away from their second NJSIAA Group championship in six years before Garfield put the first of two goals in to tie the game, then won it with a goal 27 seconds later. Holmdel’s season started 2-5-5 before the Hornets rallied to qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament and then put together a run to the Group II final – the program’s fourth trip to a state final in six years. Holmdel made the run with a host of young talent contributing and most of that talent is back, albeit with one noteworthy exception.

Senior Leo Nobrega, who scored the go-ahead goal in the state final in the 73rd minute – is back and will play up top as the primary scoring threat following a seven-goal junior season. The freshman tandem of Joe Arena and Torre Avitable are now sophomores, with Arena back in the midfield and Avitable playing one of the center back spots. Junior Nick Guga also returns to the back line, while junior Mikey Neff moves into the center midfield after winning a starting job last year.

On top of losing impact goalkeeper Tyler Marchiano and forward Hunter Chapman to graduation, the Hornets lost senior defender Kevin Healy to a broken fibula that will keep him out of action, as well as junior striker Justin McStay. After moving from sweeper to forward, McStay scored eight goals and was Holmdel’s best all-around player as a sophomore, but opted to play academy soccer this fall. With the two unexpected losses, sophomores Anthony Arena and Jack Russo as well as freshman Eric Hinds will step in and play attacking spots. Freshman Mark Walier will fill in at the other center back position next to Avitable. Senior Jack Murray, meanwhile, will take over in goal for Marchiano, who was the latest in a line of accomplished Holmdel goalkeepers. The loss of McStay is a big one for Holmdel, but the Hornets turned a mediocre regular season around last season and will again be a team to watch come November.

 

St. John Vianney

Head Coach: Kyle Kane, first season
2015 Record: 7-10 (5-7, fifth in A Central)
Returning: John Caracappa (Sr., Midfield), Kyle Tuschmann (Sr., Midfield), Kyle Kane (Sr., Midfield), Cameron Richards (Sr., Defense), Phil Wojtowicz (Sr., Defense), Justin Bruno (Sr., Defense), Lucas Aquino (Jr., Midfield), Matt Ross (Jr., Goalkeeper), Nick Ruggerio (Sr., Midfield)
Key Losses: Mark Urbealis (Midfield/Forward), Austin Schlessinger (Defense), David Kamenar (Forward), Michael Clancy (Defense), Zack Richards (Midfield/Forward)
Newcomers: Colin Kane (So., Defense), Dylan Nguyen (So., Defense), Anthony Altomonte (So., Forward/Goalkeeper), Kieran Kane (Fr., Forward)

Last season, the Lancers were hoping to carry the momentum of 2014’s run to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals into the following year, but the losses from the prior year were too much for Vianney to overcome during a disappointing campaign. Now under the guidance of first-year head coach Kyle Kane, Vianney will be eyeing the top of a competitive division despite once again losing a top scorer. Zack Richards and his eight goals from a year ago are gone, as are the contributions of five other starters, but the Lancers bring back a core of seniors that will anchor a diverse and promising collection of talent.

Senior center midfielder John Caracappa is the leading returning scorer for St. John Vianney after putting up five goals and five assists as a junior. Fellow senior midfielder Kyle Tuschmann is also entering his third year as a starter, with senior Kyle Kane moving from the back to the midfield and senior Cameron Richards returning to anchor the defense. Seniors Justin Bruno and Phil Wojtowicz will also play in the back with Richards in front of junior goalkeeper Matt Ross.

Sophomores Colin Kane and Dylan Nguyen will provide immediate help on the back line and sophomore Anthony Altomonte and freshman Kieran Kane will be targets up top despite their varsity inexperience. After last year did not quite formulate like the Lancers hoped it would, they have a strong senior mix in the middle of the field that will take them far if they can come up with a few new sources for goal-scoring.

 

Red Bank

Head Coach: Sean Reid, seventh season
2015 Record: 6-12-2 (3-7-2, sixth in B North)
Returning: Chris Fuentes (Sr., Forward), Max Lane (Sr., Midfield), Jake Lane (Sr., Defense), Jake MacIntyre (Sr., Defense), Dee Caban (Sr., Midfield), Raul Rodriguez (Jr., Defense), Brandon Vyoung (Jr. Forward), Patrick Karr (Sr., Defense), Jack MacPherson (Jr., Goalkeeper), Colin Baker (Jr., Goalkeeper), Robbie DeMarco (So., Forward), Ian Birn (Jr., Midfield), Chris Valdentano (Sr., Defense), Israel Olivera (Sr., Midfield/Forward)
Key Losses: Jacob Curtis (Defense), Louis Tiro (Midfield), Luis Lopez (Forward)
Newcomers: Kevin Gomez (Jr., Defense), Theo Cheevers (Jr., Midfield), Aden Castell (Fr., Midfield), Tor Haugenes (Fr., Midfield), Carlos Valdentano (Jr., Defense)

Like most teams that lean on a loaded senior class in a given year, the year after proved to be a hangover for Red Bank following the graduation of most of the 2014 lineup. The early part of 2015 was a challenge for the Bucs with so many new starters, but the team improved over the course of the season and is now in position to compete in a division that looks to be up for grabs. While Red Bank returns a good deal of its goal-scoring, it will have to replace center back Jacob Curtis, who is now a freshman on the Monmouth University team.

Seniors Jake Lane and Jake MacIntyre will spearhead the back line for Red Bank in front of returning junior goalkeeper Jack MacPherson. Senior Chris Valdentano, senior Patrick Karr and junior Raul Rodriguez also return with varsity experience in the back. Red Bank will be improved in the middle and on the attack this season with the return of seniors Chris Fuentes and Max Lane. Fuentes will play up top with promising sophomore Robbie DeMarco, while Max Lane handles the middle of the field with seniors Dee Caban and Israel Olivera.

The Bucs also have a handful of newcomers that will work into the rotation, which coach Sean Reid likes to use to keep fresh bodies on the field. Juniors Kevin Gomez, Theo Cheevers and Chris Valdentano all join the varsity squad, while the freshman duo of Aden Castell and Tor Haugenes look to make an instant impact. In a division that could yield a lot of different results considering how close the teams are in talent, Red Bank has a wide range of possibilities for the upcoming year. With some increased goal-scoring from the trio of Max Lane, Fuentes and DeMarco, the Bucs could be an A Central sleeper.

 

Matawan

Head Coach: Tyler Isaacson, second season
2015 Record: 6-7-5 (2-6-4, sixth in A Central)
Returning: Keleb Mehari (Sr., Defense), Tyler Chin (Sr., Defense), Jacob Labinger (Sr., Midfield), Griffin Hayward (Jr., Midfield), Bobby Johns (Sr., Forward), John David Vail (Sr., Forward), Tyler Walling (Sr., Midfield), Charlie Costello (Sr., Midfield), Liam Nappi (Sr., Defense), Anthony Quattrocci (Sr., Defense/Midfield)
Key Losses: Bronson Dhume (Sr., Midfield), Colin Thompson (Sr., Goalkeeper)
Newcomers: Ryan Cavanaugh (Jr., Defense/Midfield), Matt Weisburg (Jr., Defense), Ethan Goldenthal (Sr., Goalkeeper)

Injuries nearly prevented Matawan from reaching the Shore Conference Tournament a year ago, but the Huskies rallied thanks to some slightly-improved health and the contributions of some young players who will play more prominent roles this season. Replacing senior captain and leading goal-scorer Bronson Dhume, as well as goalkeeper Colin Thompson will be the primary challenges, but the Huskies return the rest of the group was competitive, if not successful, in A Central last year.

Senior midfielder Jacob Labinger’s strong start to his junior year was derailed by an injury that caused him to miss an extended period of time. His health this season is a critical starting point for Matawan, which also brings back junior Griffin Hayward in the midfield after Griffin showed he belonged last year. Seniors Tyler Walling and Charlie Costello are also back in the midfield to give the Huskies an experienced group in the heart of the pitch. They are also senior-loaded in the back, with Tyler Chin, Keleb Mehari and Liam Nappi leading the way and senior Anthony Quattrocci and juniors Ryan Cavanaugh and Matt Weisburg also figuring into the back four.

The senior duo of Bobby Johns and John David Vail began to emerge as scoring threats at the end of last year and with a healthy Labinger, the Matawan attack has the makings of a formidable threat. Vail scored four goals during the latter stages of the season and Johns also scored a pair of goals during Matawan’s run to get into the SCT. On the other end of the field, senior goalkeeper Ethan Goldenthal will replace Thompson in goal, which will be an x-factor for Matawan. With senior leadership in the back and the midfield and a pair of scorers looking to build off a strong finish to 2015, Matawan will be a tough out from the start in 2016.

 

XI to Watch (with stats)

Dante Montesinos, Shore (28 goals, 17 assists)

Stevie Johnson, Shore (11 goals, 11 assists)

Leonardo Montesinos, Shore (5 goals, four assists)

Leo Nobrega, Holmdel (7 goals, four assists)

Joe Arena, Holmdel (3 goals, 4 assists)

Nick Calabrese, Rumson (3 goals, 1 assist)

Sam Sapnar, Rumson (2 goals, 4 assists)

John Caracappa, St. John Vianney (5 goals, 5 assists)

Cameron Richards, St. John Vianney (1 goal)

Jacob Labinger, Matawan (2 goals, 1 assist)

Peter Amato, Raritan (Did not play)

Max Lane, Red Bank (2 assists)

 

Goalkeepers to Watch

Chad Santopadre, Raritan (2 shutouts)

Markar Krikorian, Rumson-Fair Haven (4 shutouts)

Jack MacPherson, Red Bank (3 shutouts)

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Carson Greengrove, Forward, Rumson

Robbie DeMarco, Forward, Red Bank (4 goals)

Dan Del Russo, Forward, Raritan

 

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