Class A Central has smaller schools than any other Shore Conference division other than Class B Central, but the A Central teams have done big things in recent years. Last year, it was Raritan and Matawan leading the way in the regular season, with Rumson-Fair Haven coming on strong in the postseason. In prior years, both Rumson and Holmdel have been among the top teams in the Shore Conference and in Group II, while St. John Vianney (25) became the highest seed to ever reach the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals.

The division will offer some depth again in 2017, but it’s hard to deny that the No. 1 story heading into the season is the team at the top of the preseason rankings. Holmdel is loaded from top to bottom this year and has been flexing its muscles throughout the preseason to offer a potential sneak peak of what is to come. If history is any indication, however, the games will be much tougher and far more physical when they count toward the standings, so while the Hornets may enter as the heavy favorite, they are sure to meet some resistance.

 

In predicted order off finish

Holmdel

Head Coach: John Nacarlo, 15th season
2016 Record: 9-7-3 (6-5-1, fourth in A Central)
Key Returners: Justin McStay (Sr., Forward), Joe Arena (Jr., Midfield), Torre Avitable (Jr., Defense), Mikey Neff (Sr., Midfield), Anthony Arena (Jr., Forward), Nick Guga (Sr., Defense), Jack Murray (Sr., Goalkeeper), Jack Russo (Jr., Defense), Mark Walier (So., Defense), Eric Hinds (So., Midfield), Mark McStay (Jr., Midfield), Jack Giamanco (So., Forward), Anthony Disaverio (Jr., Defense), Matt Lionette (Sr., Goalkeeper)
Key Losses: Leo Nobrega (Forward/Midfield), Kevin Healy (Defense)
Key Newcomers: Cyrus Darvish (Sr., Midfield), Matt Leone (Sr., Forward/Midfield), Ryan Ferguson (Jr., Midfield), Cole Brown (Sr., Midfield), Cole Alocca (Sr., Goalkeeper)

From left, Holmdel players Justin McStay, Anthony Arena, Torre Avitable, Mikey Neff and Joe Arena. (Photo by Steve Meyer)

Since 2006, Holmdel has won five NJSIAA sectional championship, been to four group championship games and won one – Group III in 2010. For all their state tournament success, the Hornets have not won the Shore Conference Tournament despite making consecutive trips to the semifinals in 2011 and 2012 and, in turn, have never finished No. 1 in the Shore Conference. That could all change this year because Holmdel not only returns nearly all of its starting lineup, but it also brings back senior forward Justin McStay. As a sophomore in 2015, McStay scored eight goals despite playing half the season at sweeper and led Holmdel to the Group II final, where the Hornets were just minutes away from capturing their second state championship in six years. McStay then elected to play academy soccer in 2016 and committed to Army in West Point.

McStay joins junior forward Anthony Arena up top, giving Holmdel a pair of strikers unrivaled at the Shore. Arena led Holmdel with 10 goals and 11 assists during his All-Shore sophomore season. When a team has two players of that caliber, typically one of them will play in the midfield but Holmdel already has that covered. Junior Joe Arena has been the starting center midfielder since his freshman season and he will get some significant help this year. Senior Cyrus Darvish returned to the program for the first time since his freshman year and will start in the center with Arena. That pushes senior returnee Mikey Neff to the outside in the starting formation, while another academy pickup, Matt Leone, takes another starting spot on the outside.

Junior Torre Avitabile leads the defense in his third season as a starting center back and he will be flanked by sophomore Mark Walier, senior Nick Guga and junior Jack Russo. Holmdel also returns starting goalkeeper Jack Murray, who is fending off a challenge from fellow senior Matt Lionette. There is competition at just about every spot on the field, which gives Holmdel a capable bench to cover any injuries over the course of the season as well. It’s hard to find a weakness at this point, but give the Hornets are the No. 1 team to open the season, there will be plenty of teams in the area committed to finding one.

 

Raritan

Head Coach: James Gelpke, second season
2016 Record: 13-3-4 (7-2-3, tied first in A Central)
Key Returners: Nick Benoit (Sr., Defense), Tom Savin (Sr., Forward/Midfield), Ryan Goggins (Sr., Midfield), Jake Fortune (Jr., Midfield/Forward), Matt Lazicki (Sr., Midfield), Zach May (Jr., Defense), Marco Vasta (Jr., Midfield), Anthony Sparacino (Jr., Forward), Michael Romeo (Sr., Goalkeeper)
Key Losses: Peter Amato (Midfield), Dan Del Russo (Forward), Angelo Fontanazza (Defense), Alec Fortune (Forward), Scott Larson (Midfield), Mark Lazzaro (Midfield), Chad Santopadre (Goalkeeper), Mike Pruscino (Defense)
Key Newcomers: Nick Bavaro (Jr., Forward), Robert Brown (Jr., Defense), Chris Fontanazza (Fr., Midfield/Forward), Matt Fitzsimmons (Sr., Goalkeeper), Jared Mills (Sr., Midfield), Anthony Mirassol (Sr., Forward), Michael Petsch (Jr., Forward), Joseph Seber (So., Midfield), Connor Smith (So., Midfield)

From left, Raritan players Tommy Savin, Jake Fortune, Michael Romeo, Ryan Goggins and Nick Benoit. (Photo by Steve Meyer)

The 2016 Raritan team was similar to this year’s Holmdel team in that some key players returned to the fold and in the Rockets’ case, they made a huge difference. Raritan grabbed a share of the Class A Central championship with its revamped roster and return this year hoping to build on that effort with a deeper postseason run this year.

While Raritan lost six starters, the Rockets return key pieces at all three levels of the formation. Senior Nick Benoit and junior Zach May return to the defense, with May set to play sweeper again. Senior Ryan Goggins will run the midfield, while junior Jake Fortune and senior Tommy Savin work in at midfield and forward as two of Raritan’s more offensive-minded players. Senior Matt Lazicki and juniors Marco Vasta and Anthony Sparacino also got time last year and are ready to take on more responsibility this year, while senior goalkeeper Michael Romeo takes over full time after spelling Chad Santopadre on a couple of occasions last year.

Raritan’s group of new varsity players includes freshman Chris Fontanazza, who will make an impact right away. Juniors Nick Bavaro and Robert Brown are also in the mix for time, which should help the Rockets replenish their depth. While Raritan probably is not quite as deep as it was last year, the Rockets return enough experience and are now more comfortable with second-year coach James Gelpke. Even if beating out Holmdel for A Central proves to be too much, the Rockets still have their eyes set on making some postseason noise.

 

Rumson-Fair Haven

Head Coach: Sean Reid, first season
2016 Record: 10-13 (4-8, sixth in A Central)
Key Returners: Owen Greengrove (Sr., Midfield), Jeremy Nives (Sr., Midfield), Luke DiStefano (Sr., Defense), Dan Cragg (Sr., Defense), Kiel Forlenza (So., Defense), Cole Lee (Sr., Midfield), Arthur Grubert (Sr., Defense), Leo Maita (Sr., Midfield), George Sellig (Sr., Midfield), Anthony Paolantonio (Sr., Midfield), Ethan Peters (Sr., Midfield), Jamie Goodwyn (Jr., Defense/Midfield)
Key Losses: Nick Calabrese (Midfield), Markar Krikorian (Goalkeeper), Carson Greengrove (Forward), Sam Sapnar (Midfield), Jack Balestro (Defense), Tyler Lubin (Forward), Tristan Kipler (Defense)
Key Newcomers: Jack Harvey (So., Goalkeeper), Carson Rea (Sr., Defense), Justin Callahan (So., Forward)

From left, Rumson-Fair Have players Ethan Peters, George Sellig, Dan Cragg, Carson Rea, Declan Kearns and Anthony Paolantonio. (Photo by Steve Meyer)

Few teams had a stranger season that Rumson-Fair Haven did last year, and when it was all said and done, it turned out to be strange in a good way. It started with an opening-night overtime win over Don Bosco that turned out to be a scrimmage because it was played a night before the official opening day. The Bulldogs then struggled through the A Central season, going 4-8 in the division, missing the Shore Conference Tournament and limping into the NJSIAA Tournament. All of a sudden, the Bulldogs found life and rolled to three road wins in the Central Jersey Group II tournament, including a 3-1 win over Holmdel to reach the sectional final. Rumson ultimately lost to Bernards 1-0, but the tone of the season changed completely with that state tournament run.

Veteran Shore Conference coach Sean Reid takes over the program after four-year coach Will Gould took the Marlboro job and he will have a solid group of returnees to carry into a tough A Central schedule. Getting back senior Owen Greengrove – an All-Shore player as a sophomore who elected to play academy soccer last year – could put Rumson over the top as a potential top 10 team in the conference, especially considering there is a good nucleus on hand to begin with.

Seniors Jeremy Nives, Luke DiStefano, Cole Lee, Dan Cragg, Leo Maita, Arthur Grubert, and George Sellig all contributed last season and sophomore Kiel Forlenza is returning after doing a standout job in the back as a freshman. The Bulldogs will replace three-year starter Markar Krikorian with sophomore Jack Harvey in goal, who will also look to hold down the job for three years. The returnees already have confidence that they can go toe-to-toe with Holmdel so if there is a team to steal this division away from the Hornets, Rumson might be the most likely choice.

 

Shore

Head Coach: Christian Pontier, eighth season
2016 Record: 9-8-4 (6-3-3, third in A Central)
Key Returners: Leonardo Montesinos (Jr., Midfield), Ryan Bongarzone (Jr., Midfield), Chris Panduri (Jr., Goalkeeper), Marcopolo DeOliveira (Sr., Forward), Jeremy Lang (Sr., Midfield), Chris LaMarca (Sr., Midfield), Brandon DeNovaes (Jr., Midfield), Jake Turner (Jr., Defense), Michael Adams (Jr., Midfield), Max Cameron (Jr., Defense), Kadison Bates (Jr., Midfield), Garrett Freund (Jr., Defense), Taylor Camargos-Souza (Jr., Defense), Conor Creighton (So., Midfield), Patrick O’Dwyer (So., Forward), Sawyer Barth (So., Midfield)
Key Losses: Dante Montesinos (Midfield), Mikey Barreca (Defense), Stevie Johnson (Midfield), Dave LaPorta (Defense), Matt Dutra (Midfield)
Key Newcomers: Joe Ferraro (Sr., Midfield), Matt Klemser (Jr., Forward), Ryan Dolan (So., Defense), Jimmy Donohoe (So., Midfield)

Shore breezed through Class B Central year after year before moving into A Central last season with a team that had to replace some key parts. The Blue Devils held their own in their new division and return this year with more experience throughout the roster. Replacing Dante Montesinos, Stevie Johnson and Mikey Barreca is going to be a challenge, but the Blue Devils will be filling holes with juniors and sophomores this year instead of sophomores and freshmen.

Junior Leonardo Montesinos is the standout among the returnees after posting six goals and six assists as a sophomore. He’ll initiate the attack out of the center midfield with help from fellow junior Ryan Bongarzone, with seniors Jeremy Lang and Chris LaMarca and juniors Brandon DeNovaes and Mike Adams factoring into the midfield as well. Sophomores Sawyer Barth and Conor Creighton could slide into the lineup as well as midfielders.

Juniors Jake Turner and Max Cameron will highlight a revamped defense for Shore, which will miss Barreca initially. On the bright side, the Blue Devils return junior Chris Panduri in goal, which should aid the defense as it gels. Shore will also need to find scoring up top, a role that sophomore Patrick O’Dwyer looks to fill along with senior Marcopolo DeOliveira. Shore will need to rely more on its depth, which is not easy for a Group I school playing in a division with Group II and III schools. Shore, however, has that depth this year and it should help the Devils compete at the top of the division and enter the state tournament battle-tested.

 

Matawan

Head Coach: Tyler Isaacson, third season
2016 Record: 13-4-3 (7-2-3, tied first in A Central)
Key Returners: Griffin Hayward (Sr., Midfield), Ryan Cavanaugh (Sr., Midfield), Matt Weisburg (Sr., Defense), Bobby Johns (Sr., Forward), Chris Deitrich (So., Defense)
Key Losses: Jacob Labinger (Midfield), Keleb Mehari (Defense), Tyler Chin (Defense), Bobby Johns (Forward), John David Vail (Forward), Tyler Walling (Midfield), Charlie Costello (Midfield), Liam Nappi (Defense), Anthony Quattrocci (Midfield), Ethan Goldenthal (Goalkeeper)
Key Newcomers: Giovani Barsoum (Sr., Forward; transfer from Egypt), Marcello Colona (So., Midfield)

Matawan is coming off one of the best seasons the program has ever had, which included winning a share of the Class A Central championship and reaching the quarterfinals of the Shore Conference Tournament for the first time. The Huskies graduated a talented and integral senior class, so this year will be a rebuilding year of sorts, but it will not be without potential for some success along the way.

Seniors Griffin Hayward, Ryan Cavanaugh and Bobby Johns return with multiple years of varsity experience, which senior Matt Weisburg and Chris Dietrich will lead the defense after picking up experience last year. Hayward was more of a jack-of-all trades last year, but he has the attributes to be a scorer in A Central, which Matawan will need him to be. Johns has also demonstrated a nose for the goal in his last two years.

Last year’s senior class started to make an impact as sophomores and the Huskies will need its current group of sophomores to start showing off their talent this year. Dietrich and classmate Marcello Colona will lead that effort, with Colona starting in the midfield. Matawan will also get a lift from international senior transfer Giovani Barsoum, who moved from Egypt ahead of the school year. It’s an interesting mix of a handful of returnees and new talent, intriguing enough that Matawan should not be written off as a one-year phenomenon.

 

Red Bank

Head Coach: Vinny Gruosso, first season
2016 Record: 7-9-2 (5-5-2, fifth in A Central)
Key Returners: Ian Birn (Sr., Midfield), Kevin Gomez (Sr., Forward), Aden Castelle (So., Forward), Raul Rodriguez (Sr., Midfield), Brandon Vuong (Sr., Forward), Colin Baker (Sr., Goalkeeper), Ryan Lefever (Sr., Midfield), Jack McPherson (Sr., Forward), Luke Devine (Sr., Defense), Hayden Lang (Sr., Midfield), Tor Haugenes (So., Midfield)
Key Losses: Chris Fuentes (Forward), Max Lane (Midfield), Jake Lane (Defense), Jake MacIntyre (Defense), Israel Olivera (Midfield/Forward), Dee Caban (Midfield), Patrick Karr (Defense), Chris Valdentano (Defense), Robbie DeMarco (Jr., Forward), Theo Cheevers (Midfield)
Key Newcomers: Sebastian Carroll (So., Goalkeeper), Miles Cunningham (So., Defense), Cesar Ximil (So., Midfield), Kevin Brunel (Sr., Midfield), John-Paul Valencia (So., Midfield), Marc Brewer (Jr., Defense) Jacob Schwartz (Jr., Defense)

After a slow start to the season, Red Bank battled its way back to a 5-5-2 mark in Class A Central and finished a shade under .500 for the season. The Bucs return a high volume of players from last year, which is good for them because a number of the players who are gone were impact performers in 2016. Max and Jake Lane were the heart and soul of the team, while Chris Fuentes was the team’s top scoring threat with eight goals.

In light of the losses to the lineup, seniors Kevin Gomez, Raul Rodriguez and Ian Birn will look to carry the mantle. Gomez will play up top as the team’s top striker, with Rodriguez playing in the center midfield and Birn also in the midfield. Seniors Ryan Lefever and Brandon Vuong also return with experience, while sophomore Aden Castelle returns to the midfield after posting a goal and seven assists as a freshman.

Senior Colin Baker is back in goal after a strong performance as a junior and will play behind an inexperienced back line led by varsity returnee Luke Devine. There are an element of the unknown with Red Bank this year, but the Bucs have made a habit of playing tough and that is sure to continue under first-year coach Vinny Gruosso.

 

St. John Vianney

Head Coach: Kyle Kane, second season
2016 Record: 3-16 (1-11, seventh in A Central)
Key Returners: Lucas Aquino (Sr., Midfield), Colin Kane (Jr., Defense), Dylan Nguyen (Jr., Defense), Anthony Altomonte (Jr., Goalkeeper), Kieran Kane (So., Midfield), Nico Clark (Jr., Defense), Armond Valentino (So., Midfield), Jack Molly (Sr., Defense), James Corcoran (Jr., Midfield), Matt Ross (Sr., Goalkeeper)
Key Losses: John Caracappa (Midfield), Kyle Tuschmann (Midfield), Kyle Kane (Midfield), Cameron Richards (Defense), Phil Wojtowicz (Defense), Justin Bruno (Defense), Nick Ruggerio (Midfield)
Key Newcomers: Brett Schneider (Sr., Forward; transfer from Toms River North), Chris Ward (Jr., Defense)

Just two years removed from losing on a golden goal in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, St John Vianney bottomed out with a 3-16 season and last-place finish in Class A Central. While it is possible that Vianney gets buried in the A Central cellar again this year under a field of very good competition, the Lancers have the returning man-power to improve and get back to competing with the rest of the division.

Vianney will have to replace a 10-goal scorer in John Caracappa, but returns three solid junior defenders in Colin Kane, Dylan Nguyen and Nico Clark in front of two experienced, capable keepers in junior Anthony Altomote and senior Matt Ross. Another junior, Chris Ward could factor into the defense while Jack Molly will give the Lancers a senior in the back when he is on the field.

Senior Lucas Aquino leads the returning attack as a center midfielder and will be paired up with sophomore Kieran Kane. Sophomore Armond Valentine and junior James Corcoran will also play in the midfield, giving the Lancers a lineup of players who have at least one year left after 2017. Vianney will add some scoring punch to the lineup as well in the form of Toms River North senior transfer Brett Schneider, who scored one goal for the Mariners last year. There is a long way to climb, but the Lancers have a mix of youth and experience that should help them take the first step.

 

XI to Watch (With 2016 Stats)

Justin McStay, Holmdel (8 goals, 7 assists in 2015)

Anthony Arena, Holmdel (10 goals, 11 assists)

Owen Greengrove, Rumson-Fair Haven (5 goals, 5 assists in 2015)

Jake Fortune, Raritan (5 goals, 5 assists)

Ryan Goggins, Raritan (4 goals, 3 assists)

Torre Avitabile, Holmdel (1 goal, 1 assist)

Zach May, Raritan

Mikey Neff, Holmdel (5 goals, 1 assist)

Joe Arena, Holmdel (2 goals, 1 assist)

Leonardo Montesinos, Shore (6 goals, 6 assists)

Jeremy Nives, Rumson-Fair Haven (2 goals, 4 assists)

 

Goalkeepers to Watch

Chris Panduri, Shore (1 shutout)

Jack Murray, Holmdel (3 shutouts)

Colin Baker, Red Bank (5 shutouts)

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Kiel Forlenza, Rumson-Fair Haven (1 goal)

Patrick O’Dwyer, Shore (2 goals, 1 assist)

Cyrus Darvish, Holmdel

Matt Leone, Holmdel

Griffin Hayward, Matawan (1 goal, 3 assists)

 

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