The boys soccer season is upon us and yet, most people without a dog in the fight are ready to hand over the Shore Conference title before the first game is played. Christian Brothers Academy – the defending SCT champion – returns a significant chunk of its roster from a year ago, when the Colts rounded into form, rolled through the conference tournament, and reached the Non-Public A final before falling to the Delbarton dynasty.

There are however, a fair number of teams that will be willing to stand in front of the CBA freight train to see if they indeed have the super strength to stop it. Those teams make up the top five or so of the preseason top 10 and as the list progresses, the teams become closer and closer in talent and less and less distinguishable from one another – at least at this early stage.

With an entire season to go, here is a look at the starting pole position for the top 10 teams in the Shore Conference, as well as few that could creep into the field in short order.

CBA celebrates its 2015 SCT title. (Photo by Matt Manley)

(Last year's record; Goals, Goals Allowed)

1. Christian Brothers Academy (19-4-1; Goals: 68, Allowed: 14)

If there was a vote by coaches or media, CBA would be the unanimous No. 1. The Colts are the defending SCT champs, return most of their goal-scoring and added some more in their pursuit of their first overall state title in five years. CBA has three players already committed to play Division I soccer, one of whom is senior Ryan O’Connor, who is playing his first season of high school soccer after playing for NJCSA. It’s still unlikely that CBA makes it through the regular-season unscathed, but the Colts have their sights set on peaking for the postseason.

2. Toms River South (21-4; Goals: 69, Allowed 14)

The Indians gave CBA all it could handle last year in the SCT semifinals, and even with leading scorer Cameron Geerinck graduating, Toms River South has to feel good about its chances if the two teams should cross paths again this year. Nine starters return to Toms River South’s starting lineup and after rolling through A South the second time through the schedule last year, the Indians might have as good a chance to go unbeaten in the division as CBA does. Last year’s team set the bar with a school-record 21 wins and this year’s team can legitimately pursue that number again.

Toms River South junior Dylan Parks. (Photo by Heather Laing)

3. Marlboro (8-7-4; Goals: 24, Allowed: 26)

The Mustangs have a cohesive team loaded with seniors who play an aesthetically pleasing brand of soccer for the high school level. While Marlboro was able to make it look good last year, the Mustangs are still looking for the last piece of the puzzle, which is consistently outscoring their opponents. Their opponents outscored them 24-26 over the course of an 8-7-4 season, but with nearly an entire lineup back and some potential goal-scoring help on hand, the Mustangs look poised for a breakout season, even with CBA looming in the division.

4. Middletown North (14-8; Goals: 47, Allowed 35)

Unlike Marlboro, Middletown North had no such trouble scoring goals in Class A North, putting up 47 goals – second most in the division. They also gave up 35 and will have to replace two defenders and a leading scorer, but despite those challenges, Middletown North has the kind of senior class that can do damage over the course of the season. On top of a slew of seniors with three years’ experience playing together, the Lions also have a pair of junior scorers in Liam McGregor and Ryan Binn to complete the formation. Now that they are in B North, the Lions look in line for an elusive division title.

5. Shore (20-2; Goals: 100, Allowed: 19)

Shore lost some significant senior contribution, particularly in J.T. Kessler and his 77 goals over the past two seasons, but also return a number of important players from last year’s SCT semifinalist team. Dante Montesinos and Stevie Johnson make up one of the better one-two punches in the conference and they will a high-octane Shore attack that should keep scoring, even with a move into a tougher division this season.

Shore Senior Stevie Johnson. (Photo by Matt Manley)

6. Wall (13-3-3; Goals: 32, Allowed: 8)

Even while battling some troubles scoring goals, Wall enjoyed a stellar 2015 season that saw the Crimson Knights lead the division race until the final day and reach both the SCT quarterfinals and the Central Jersey Group III semifinals. Although the Knights have a list of starters to replace, they return the top player from last season in Dan Frisch-Harmon, who fought through a number of nagging injuries to put together an All-Shore effort. Finding scoring around Frisch-Harmon will be the key, but with a sound defense and an All-Shore keeper in Nolan Cloney, Wall will compete either way.

7. Colts Neck (8-9-2; Goals: 17, Allowed 15)

The Cougars had a forgettable 2015 season in that it was nothing horrible happened, not did anything special. The team was slightly under .500, did not knock off any top opponents, did not give up many goals (15 in 19 games) and did not score a lot either (17 in 19 games. That should change this year with the return of Louis Reale to a team that proved capable defensively that now has a creative player up top to make defenses pay.

8. Ocean (19-5; Goals: 72, Allowed: 14)

The Spartans have more to replace than any team ahead of them on this list, but they also had one of the more talented rosters in the conference, with a number of bench players who could have started for almost any other team. Ocean will be relying on a pair of sophomores in Santieno Harding and James Schutz, but the Spartans return solid core of seniors in the midfield and the back line to help with the transition.

Ocean sophomore Santieno Harding (left) will be a top scoring threat for the Spartans. (Photo by Matt Manley)

9. Rumson-Fair Haven (15-4-1; Goals: 47; Allowed: 25)

Like Ocean, Rumson lost some key components from last year, but have embraced a “next-man-up” culture that seems to be resonating. The Bulldogs have depth for a Group II program and it will be tested this year with the top four scorers from a year ago gone, but bringing Carson Greengrove back from the academy ranks will help. Beating Don Bosco on Wednesday night will give the Bulldogs a chance to climb in the next rankings.

10. Freehold Township (15-4-4; Goals: 42, Allowed: 18)

With 14 seniors walking out the door and a new head coach, Freehold Township starts in the top 10 on the sheer strength of the program over the years. The Patriots have been an SCT team for each of the past 10 years – the only team in the conference who can say that – so even though this is an overhauled roster, it’s not really anything new from a historical perspective. It also helps to have All-Shore senior Adrian Barajas back to lead the way while the new players get acclimated.

 

Teams to Watch

Jackson Memorial – Mike Schoener (25 goals) and Christian Fryc are a top-10 caliber duo so if the supporting cast delivers, this is an easy top 10 team.

Donovan Catholic – The Griffins have a senior-laden team that brings back most of its scoring, which makes them a heavy B South favorite and a team that can do damage out of division.

Toms River North – The Mariners are always in the top 10 mix and while this won’t be one of the more talented teams they’ve had, it has depth and a good top player in Mitch Reed.

Central – With a senior-loaded roster, the Golden Eagles will hold their own in A South and if the goal-scoring comes, they have a high postseason ceiling.

Long Branch – Scoring should not be a problem with junior duo of Venancio Fernandes (13 goals) and Renan Acevedo (10 goals) back, but the defense will be a question mark.

St. Rose – Now the favorite in Class B Central, the Purple Roses have their deepest roster since winning the Non-Public B title in 2010.

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