For the second straight season, the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 ran away with the honor and this time, it was not as much of a sure thing without the benefit of hindsight. While Holmdel entered the season as the No. 1 team, the Hornets finished 2016 unranked and needed three big additions to the team, plus a mentality makeover to make the jump from Shore also-ran to one of the dominant teams in the recent history of the conference.

While Holmdel was the team of the year in 2016, plenty of teams had memorable seasons – some of which did not even make the top 10. Three Shore teams won NJSIAA sectional titles this year and three more reached a sectional final. While academy soccer can always rain on some team’s parade, the future also appears to be bright for most of the teams in the top 10. There will be time to talk about 2018; for now, let’s put a bow on 2017.

 

1. Holmdel (22-1-1, 12-0-0) Last Week: 1

For the first time in program history, Holmdel is the No. 1 team at the Shore to finish the season and while it wasn’t quite wire-to-wire, it might as well have been. The Hornets lost just one time all season and then they had their chance to prove themselves in the postseason, they passed the test with flying colors. During the postseason, Holmdel went 9-0-1, scored 49 goals and gave up five without allowing more than one in a game. For the season, the Hornets posted a whopping 122 goals while conceding only 14. It’s hard to compare teams from different seasons and eras, but the sheer dominance with which Holmdel won division, conference and NJSIAA group championships puts this Hornets team in the conversation with the best teams in the history of the Shore Conference.

2. Christian Brothers Academy (20-3-1, 12-1-0) Last Week: 5

After dropping from No. 1 to No. 5, CBA is back in the No. 2 spot to finish off the year thanks to a third straight run to the NJSIAA Non-Public A final. The body of work makes this a rather easy call, as the Colts lost just once in Class A North and their two losses outside the division were to St. Benedict’s and Delbarton. CBA missed out on its chance to challenge Holmdel for No. 1 by failing to reach the SCT final and it took penalty kicks to knock the Colts out.

3. Jackson Memorial (17-4-1, 11-2-1) Last Week: 3

The Jaguars hold at No. 3 to end the year and while they have not been in action since Nov. 3, their season should not be forgotten. Jackson beat out Toms River South for the Class A South title by two full games in the standings and went 1-0-1 against the Indians, then reached the semifinals of the Shore Conference Tournament, where the Jaguars lost to No. 1 Holmdel. While Ocean advanced farther in the state tournament, Jackson had to deal with a deeper South Jersey Group IV bracket that bounced the Jaguars in the quarterfinals at the hands of a quality Atlantic City side.

4. Toms River South (17-5-3, 9-4-1) Last Week: 4

For the third straight year, Toms River South kicked its game into high gear during the state tournament and won a sectional championship. The Indians fought like crazy to get back to the Group III final for the third straight year, but fell to a determined Mainland squad on eight rounds of penalty kicks in the Group III semifinals. It’s tough to separate Toms River South and Ocean given that the two teams split their two tournament meetings, but Toms River South’s result at CBA and sectional final win gives the Indians the slight edge this year.

5. Ocean (18-4-2, 13-1-0) Last Week: 2

With a team stacked with junior talent, Ocean arrived this season with a dominant showing in Class B North and trips to both the Shore Conference and Central Group III Tournament finals. Ocean’s case for No. 4 is that the Spartans won a division title, while the case for Nos. 2 and three are that they had more postseason wins than either CBA or Jackson Memorial. Jackson, however, owns an edge in common opponents, also won a division and was eliminated from the state tournament by a very good Atlantic City team, while Toms River South won the second meeting between the two teams – which was a championship game. With that being said, few teams are as well-positioned for next year as Ocean, which will return seven starters and plenty of scoring and depth.

6. Pinelands (17-5-1, 12-1-1) Last Week: 6

The Wildcats enjoyed arguably their best season in program history, which included their first ever trip to the SCT quarterfinals and their first division title since 1989. Although a 4-0 loss to Jackson Memorial in the SCT quarterfinals was the start of a 2-4 finish to the season, Pinelands heads into 2018 with a loaded roster of returnees after graduating just one starter from this year’s lineup.

7. Long Branch (15-6, 10-4) Last Week: 7

Long Branch was so close to getting over the hump in B North, the SCT and Central Jersey Group IV, but came up just short at each pass. The Green Wave finished second in the division, lost a hard-fought game at Pinelands in the SCT round of 16 and lost to Group IV runner-up Princeton in the CJ IV quarterfinals. Still, Long Branch finished second in the deepest division in the Shore Conference this season and was competitive against the best teams on its schedule. Next year will present some challenges for the team, which loses three of its top four scorers.

8. Monmouth (15-10, 7-7) Last Week: Not ranked

The Falcons finish the year as a top 10 team in the Shore Conference for the first time in 10 years on the heels of a trip to both the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals and the Central Jersey Group II championship game. Monmouth was eliminated from the SCT in a wild, 4-3 loss to Ocean, but not before the Falcons took down Toms River North and Freehold Township – the latter while playing without 30-goal scorer Joel Burgos. While losing Burgos to graduation will make next year challenging, the Falcons have enough coming back to go into 2018 with an optimistic outlook.

9. Freehold Township (15-7, 10-4) Last Week: 8

Freehold Township’s 3-1 win over CBA is one of the best wins of any team outside the top two in the rankings, but the rest of the resume has enough blemishes that the Patriots got stuck at No. 9 after beginning the season No. 3. They did manage to win the A North public championship by outlasting Howell and picked up a resounding 6-0 win over Sayreville in the first round of the NJSIAA Tournament, but an SCT loss to Monmouth and losses to Neptune and Manalapan counter those wins. Still, 15-7 and second place in A North is a top-10 worthy showing, especially factoring in the CBA win.

10. Howell (11-7-2, 8-5-1) Last Week: 9

For the first time since 2011, Howell made it back to the Shore Conference Tournament and did so with a team that picked up some big wins this year. The Rebels beat Freehold Township, reached the SCT quarterfinals before losing to No. 1 Holmdel and won a state tournament game at Eastern in the South Jersey Group IV bracket. Perhaps the most encouraging part of Howell’s  season is that the Rebels will have most of their junior-heavy squad back next year.

 

Dropped Out

Shore (12-9-1, 7-4-1) Last Week: 10 – Monmouth’s win over Rumson in the Central II semifinals gives the Falcons the top 10 spot over Shore, which finished the year player its best soccer, despite bowing out of the Central Jersey I playoffs in the quarterfinals.

 

Honorable Mention

Rumson-Fair Haven (13-7-2, 7-4-1) – The Bulldogs finished tied for second in A Central, reached the Central II semifinals and won an SCT game with a roster that will return a fair amount of talent.

Middletown South (11-8-1, 8-5-1) – The Eagles made it back to the SCT for the first time in five years and finished third in a very competitive Class B North division.

Southern (12-8-1, 8-5-1) – Although the Rams had some top-notch senior talent, they also leaned on plenty of freshmen who should be able to build on a third-place finish in A South and a first-round road win in the South Jersey IV bracket.

Matawan (8-8-3, 5-5-2) – Although the Huskies were just a .500 team, they took Holmdel to a shootout in the Central Jersey II semifinals and were competitive throughout the year despite a lack of experience coming in.

Point Pleasant Boro (11-5-5, 8-3-3) – A second-place finish in B South and a 1-1 draw against Ocean in the SCT – which became a loss on penalty kicks – made Point Boro a team to be considered for a top-10 spot.

 

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