The Toms River schools have ruled Class A South, with the three public schools accounting for eight of the last nine division championships. The last three of those belong to Toms River South, which has put together quite the run since 2014. With trips to a NJSIAA Group III final each of the past two years, as well as a Shore Conference Tournament semifinal trip in 2015, the Indians have ascended to the top tier of Shore Conference public schools.

The rest of A South will be chasing the Indians again in 2017 and there is at least a decent chance someone ends Toms River South’s three-year reign. Southern, Brick, Brick Memorial and Toms River East all return top scorers and depth in the lineup, while Toms River North and Jackson Memorial each have some balance in their respective rosters to offset losing top goal-producers. Toms River South has its own holes to fill as well, which leaves the door open for some team to end this three-year run.

 

In predicted order of finish

Toms River South

Head Coach: Ed Leibe, 14th season
2016 Record: 17-4-2 (12-1-1, first in A South)
Key Returners: Matt Babcock (Sr., Midfield), Clem Slavick (Jr., Midfield), Dustin Urbaczek (Sr., Midfield), Zack Stankovics (Sr., Midfield/Defense), Ryan Laycock (Jr., Defense), Isaiah Dominguez (Sr., Forward), Jack Seitz (So., Midfield)
Key Losses: Dylan Parks (Forward), Tyler Egnatuk (Midfield), Chris Kluxen (Defense), Dylan Dannelson (Defense), Dom Pizzi (Goalkeeper), Ben Brown (Defense)
Key Newcomers: Jalen Folsom (So., Goalkeeper), Garret White (Sr., Defense), Jeff Brown (Sr.), Danny Caruso (Jr.), Joe Coyle (Sr.), Ruben Gallo (Sr.), Shane Kluxen (So.), Campbell Challoner (Fr.), Ian Lewczak-Miller (Sr.), Jake Towell (Sr., Goalkeeper)

Toms River South senior Matt Babcock. (Photo by Matt Manley)

The players on each of the last two Toms River South teams have felt the anguish of losing in the final game of the season when one more win would mean a state championship. In the process, however, the Indians have become a perennial contender in the NJSIAA Group III Tournament and one of the Shore’s soccer powerhouses. This year will test the depth of the program and the pipeline that feeds it, but it won’t be all that different from the challenge that last year’s team faced when it had to replace 28-goal scorer Cameron Geerinck.

The difference between this year and last year is that the Indians lose a lot more bulk in the back than they did a year ago, which amounts to three senior starting defenders. Junior Ryan Laycock is the returning starter of the group, while senior Zach Stankovics also earned some valuable time, both on the defense and in the midfield. Garrett White and Jeff Brown are among the candidates to step in as well. On top of losing three quarters of its starting defense, Toms River South must replace an all-division goalkeeper in Dom Pizzi – a task that will fall on sophomore Jalen Folsom.

On the bright side, Toms River South returns plenty of midfield talent, led by junior Clem Slavick and senior Matt Babcock. Senior Dustin Urbaczek was dangerous on the outside as well and he, along with senior forward Isaiah Dominguez will provide scoring punch. Sophomore Jack Seitz also came on as a freshman last season and will see much more time this season. The defense may take some time to sort out, but there is a lot of upside in the midfield and the tradition has been set: for Toms River South, it’s state final or bust.

 

Southern

Head Coach: Guy Lockwood, second season
2016 Record: 12-8 (8-6, fourth in A South)
Key Returners: Ethan Leming (Sr., Forward), Joe Kiernan (Sr., Midfield), Collin McHugh (Sr., Defense), Brad Bischoff (Sr., Defense), Dylan Blauvelt (Jr., Forward/Midfield), Sam Iacoves (Sr., Defense), Nico Wojdyla (Jr., Midfield), Joe Orrico (Sr., Midfield), Ben Hanneman (So., Defense)
Key Losses: Luke Kretschmer (Midfield/Defense), John Loftus (Defense), Nick Sinopoli (Midfield), Jay Boehler (Goalkeeper), Billy Howard (Defense), Griffin Pounds (Midfield/Defense)
Key Newcomers: Braden Dugan (Jr., Goalkeeper), Cory Galloway (Jr., Forward), Aug Gugliemini (Sr., Defense), Cade Johnson (So., Goalkeeper), Kevin Kiernan (Fr., Midfield), Nico Leonard (Fr., Forward), John Paul Prosperi (Fr., Defense/Midfield), Frank Ritchie (Jr., Midfield)

In his first year as head coach at Southern, Guy Lockwood orchestrated an eight-win improvement from the previous season by relying on a physical back line and midfield and some playmakers on the attack. While Southern took some graduation hits in the back, the Rams return a great deal of scoring production from a year ago and are ready to ride a talented collection of seniors to contention in A South once again.

Losing the size of Luke Kretschmer and John Loftus will take away some of Southern’s physicality, but the return of leading scorers Ethan Leming and Joe Kiernan should make up for the loss. Leming will play up top, while Kiernan patrols the midfield along with senior Joe Orrico and junior Nico Wojdyla. The Rams will also have a rotation of freshman to plug into the midfield, as well as junior Dylan Blauvelt, who will play up top with Leming as well.

Southern’s defensive overhaul will involve moving some players into the back line. Seniors Brad Bischoff and Collin McCugh played most of their minutes in the midfield last year and will start in the back along with senior Sam Iacoves and sophomore Ben Hanneman. The Rams will also bring in two goalkeepers who are competing for the opening-day nod – junior Braden Dugan and sophomore Cade Johnson. With some seniors filling in on defense in front of the new keeper combo and some returning scoring ability up front, the Rams have a balanced lineup that looks ready to challenge Toms River South and Toms River North for the division championship and hit the postseason a dangerous side..

 

Toms River North

Head Coach: Joe Mahon, eighth season
2016 Record: 14-6 (11-3, second in A South)
Key Returners: Jack Butz (Sr., Defense), Anthony McNulty (Sr., Midfield/Defense), Alex Poll (Sr., Defense), Victor Colasurdo (Sr., Goalkeeper), Nico Garcia (Sr., Midfield/Forward), Reilly DeFeis (Jr., Midfield), Andrew Casey (Jr., Midfield), Kyle Kerr (Jr., Midfield), Luke Franklin (Jr., Defense), Harmony Bel-Gam (Sr., Forward), Marco Imperiale (Jr., Forward)
Key Losses: Mitch Reed (Midfield), Matt Benvenuto (Defense), Jason Garcia (Midfield), Brandon Copeland (Forward/Midfield), Tyler Keller (Defense), Kevin Ryan (Goalkeeper), Joe Swanton (Goalkeeper)
Key Newcomers: Matthias Heberling (Sr., Defense), Noah Ricketts (Sr., Forward), Kolin Thievon (Sr., Defense), Jayden Rossi (Sr., Midfield), Devin Shapiro (Sr., Midfield), Kasey Thievon (Sr., Goalkeeper), Bernie Garcia (Jr., Midfield), Andrew Keklak (Jr., Defense), Colin Lynch (Jr., Goalkeeper), Christian McCarthy (Jr., Goalkeeper), John Psaradakis (Jr., Forward/Midfield), Logan Mack (So., Midfield)

Photo by Steve Meyer.

Always one of the deepest, most consistent programs in the Shore Conference, Toms River North hung around the Class A South race before finishing second and later authored a run to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals for the fourth time since current head coach Joe Mahon joined the coaching staff in 2009. Replacing a senior leading scorer has become commonplace for the Mariners, but they have proven capable in finding ways to replace the lost goals.

This year, it will be Mitch Reed and his 13 goals and 10 assists that will need to be replaced and Toms River North has plenty of returning talent to contribute to the effort. Juniors Nico Garcia, Riley DeFeis and Andrewy Casey all made significant contributions to the team as sophomores, highlighted by Garcia’s seven-goal season. Midfielder Kyle Kerr, fullback Luke Franklin and forward Marco Imperiale are also juniors looking to make an impact this year and beyond.

While the junior class is promising, Toms River North also has the seniors to provide leadership and also anchor the defense. Jack Butz and Alex Poll return to the back line and Anthony McNulty returns at defensive center midfielder. With an opening in goal, senior Victor Colasurdo will move from pitch to the pipes as the Mariners try to complete a balanced formation. Making up for Reed’s production will be a theme early on, but once the Mariners settle in with this group, they should again be a postseason threat.

 

Jackson Memorial

Head Coach: Steve Bado, 13th season
2016 Record: 11-9-1 (7-7-0, fifth in A South)
Key Returners: Ben Patti (Jr., Forward), Kevin Luzzi (Sr., Defense), Jacob Patti (Sr., Midfield), Joe Schlageter (Jr., Midfield), Dan Russo (So., Forward), Andrew Keating (Jr., Forward), Nick Kinzler (Jr., Goalkeeper), Joe Weinstein (So., Goalkeeper), Ben Schnaak (So., Defense), Connor Lucas (So., Midfield), Ronny Bantang (So., Defense), Drew Greenblat (So., Midfield), Carsten DiGiantomasso (Jr., Defense),
Key Losses: Christian Fryc (Midfield/Defense), Mike Schoener (Forward), Andrew Jenkins (Midfield), Chris Sichenze (Defense)
Key Newcomers: Logan Lewis (Jr., Midfield), Richard Chan (Jr., Midfield), Ed Jacoby (So., Midfield), Tyler Howlett (So., Midfield), Chase Olejarz (So., Defense), Steve Slusak (So., Defense), Trevor Cusick (So., Defense), Frank Savarese (So., Defense)

Photo by Steve Meyer.

Mike Schoener was an unstoppable force when fully healthy for Jackson Memorial over the previous three years and overcoming his departure, as well as that of classmate Christian Fryc, will be a burden for Jackson Memorial this season. Fortunately for the Jaguars, they return a host of young players who not only logged big minutes as starters but also produced. Junior Ben Patti and sophomore Dan Russo were the team’s second and third leading scorers, respectively, last season and combined for 15 goals. Both will play up top and the Jaguars always have a knack for getting their forwards the ball in space.

Defender Kevin Luzzi and midfielder Jacob Patti are the only seniors in the projected starting lineup this season, with junior Joe Schlageter and sophomores Connor Lucas, Drew Greenblat returning with some experience in the midfield to go along with the elder Patti. Sophomore ben Schnaak returns to the back line after starting as a freshman, while sophomore Ronny Bantang and junior Carsten DiGiantomasso look to contribute to the defense.

Although Jackson Memorial is young in goal, the Jaguars are as solid as any team in A South. Joe Weinstein turned in an impressive freshman season last year and junior Nick Kinzler also returns with quality varsity experience. Coach Steve Bado favored Weinstein as his starter by the end of last year, but Kinzler will have a chance to show what he can do as well. With so few seniors on the roster, this is a big season for the Jaguars in setting up a potential three-year run. The more they can get out of this year, the more promising the next couple of years will be.

 

Brick

Head Coach: Tom Frazitta, third season
2016 Record: 7-15 (4-10, sixth in A South)
Key Returners: Frank Firrito (Sr., Midfield/Forward), Matt Loffredo (Sr., Defense), Alex Gomez (Sr., Forward), John Crist (Jr., Defense), John Mora (Sr., Defense), William DeLao (Jr., Forward)
Key Losses: Steve Castenado (Forward), Nick Sekera (Goalkeeper)
Key Newcomers: Ryu Gurriero (Fr., Goalkeeper), Alex Lawes (Fr., Goalkeeper), Jorge Araiza (Jr., Defense/Midfield; transfer from Lakewood)

Brick senior Frank Firritto. (Photo by Matt Manley)

In his first two seasons at Brick, head coach Tom Frazitta has been able to get a lot out of a program that appeared to be stuck in the proverbial mud. Last year was Brick’s best showing in some time, as the Green Dragons won seven games and reached the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III Tournament by knocking off No. 5 seed Northern Burlington. Now Brick rides into 2016 with some momentum thanks to a slew of returning starters.

Senior midfielder Frank Firritto will once again lead the Dragons on the field after scoring 15 goals and 10 assists last year. Senior Alex Gomez and junior William DeLao also return as potential goal-scorers up top, which will give Firritto some options on the attack. The defense should also take a step in the right direction with the return of seniors Matt Loffredo and John Mora, as well as junior John Crist.

Brick will also benefit from adding junior Jorge Araiza, who played at Lakewood last season and was a key part of a turnaround season for the Piners. He played in the midfield at Lakewood and could also see time in the back with his new club. Another x-factor for Brick will be in goal, where freshmen Ryu Gurriero and Alex Lawes are battling for time. If one or both of the rookies can steady the ship in net, Brick has the makings of a team that could surprise in A South and again give teams trouble in the postseason.

 

Toms River East

Head Coach: Mike Konopka, second season
2016 Record: 2-12-1 (2-11-1, seventh in A South)
Key Returners: Santino Celebre (Sr., Midfield/Forward), Jon DeLigny (Sr., Defense), Joe Gamboa (Sr., Midfield), Jack Kelly (Sr., Defense), Sean Kelly (Sr., Defense), Christian Zamora (Sr., Midfield), Stephen Cosentino (Jr., Goalkeeper), Logan Romero (Jr., Forward), Logan Sommerer (Jr., Midfield), Tyler Paar (Jr., Midfield/Defense), Tyler Glabicki (Jr., Defense), Dan Schneider (Jr., Defense), Owen Donovan (Sr., Midfield), Julian Lopez (Sr., Midfield), Danny Schieder (Jr., Midfield), Vasco Pereira (So., Forward)
Key Losses: Chandler Gibbons (Forward), Ryan Labelle (Midfield), Drew Ugaro (Goalkeeper), Rob Betts (Defense)
Key Newcomers: Trevor Zabilowicz (Sr., Goalkeeper), Patrick Keogh (Jr., Defense), Peter Kozlek (Jr., Midfield), Dylan Dacunha (Jr., Midfield), Kristis Laurinaitis (Jr., Midfield), Dane Bodziak (So., Forward)

Photo by Steve Meyer.

The 2016 season could not have started much worse than it did for Toms River East, which opened 0-11-1 over its first 12 games. Of those 11 losses, five were by a one-goal margin, including two each to Toms River South and Central. Fortunes finally changed for the Raiders over the final three games as they picked up a 3-2 win over Toms River North and a 2-1 victory over Brick before losing their finale against Manalapan. That encouraging finish to an otherwise difficult season gives a once-proud program some hope that it can restore a winning tradition this year.

Senior Santino Celebre and junior Logan Romero return as the top scorers from a year ago, while senior Joe Gamboa, senior Christian Zamora and junior Logan Sommerer also played big minutes last year and will factor into the scoring this year. Defensively, the Raiders return most of their back line with seniors Jon DeLigny, Jack Kelly and Sean Kelly back in the fold this year to go with juniors Dan Schneider and Tyler Glabicki.

Toms River East’s big addition for this season is senior goalkeeper Trevor Zabilowicz, who spent the last two seasons with Cedar Stars Academy. The Raiders were pretty solid in goal with senior Drew Ugaro last year, but the upgrade to Zabilowicz should make a big difference for a team with a lot of other returning talent throughout the formation. It will be a long climb to go from two wins to division title contender, but the Raiders should be vastly improved this year, particularly if the ball starts to bounce their way in close games.

 

Brick Memorial

Head Coach: Steve Ferullo, sixth season
2016 Record: 4-15-1 (1-12-1, eighth in A South)
Key Returners: Lou Nazzaro (Sr., Midfield/Forward), Steve Ferebee (Sr., Midfield), Erik Fatovic (Sr., Forward), Sean Aubry (Jr., Defense), Eric O’Doherty (Sr., Defense), Brian Gerard (Sr., Midfield), Jake Marren (Jr., Midfield), Matt Farnkopf (Jr., Midfield), Matt Ingenito (Jr., Defense), Mike Ingenito (Jr., Defense), Brandon Byrnes (Sr., Goalkeeper)
Key Losses: Jake DeGennaro (Defense), Angel Suarez (Forward), David Van Note (Defense), Shawn Berhend (Midfield), Nick King (Defense)
Key Newcomers: Ryan Rodriguez (Jr., Midfield), Trevor Greene (Jr., Goalkeeper), Eduardo Suarez (So., Forward), Nick Cifrodella (So., Defense/Midfield), Jacob Daddato (Jr., Midfield), Joey Zalinsky (Fr., Forward/Midfield)

Photo by Steve Meyer.

Not much went right for the Mustangs during a four-win season in 2016, but they coaches and returning talent have high hopes for a turnaround campaign in 2017. Most of last year’s primary contributors were juniors, so Brick Memorial will boast an experienced lineup filled with guys who are hungry to win on their way out.

Senior forward Erik Fatovic highlights the returnees after establishing himself as one of A South’s best scorers over the last two years, including 13 goals last year. Classmates Steve Ferebee and Lou Nazzaro will also be key parts of the attack for Brick Memorial, with Nazzaro tallying a team-best six assists last year. Senior Brian Gerard will also chip in in the midfield while incoming freshman Joey Zalinsky looks to make an impact along with another wave of juniors joining the varsity roster.

Senior Eric O’Doherty and juniors Sean Aubry, Matt Inginito and Mike Inginito will play on the defensive third of the field in front of senior goalkeeper Brandon Byrnes, with junior Trevor Greene also vying for time in net. The defense has a new look to it and if the back line gels behind a potent attack, Brick Memorial will be another improved A South team looking to gain ground in the standings.

 

Central

Head Coach: Rob Bechtloff, 30th season
2016 Record: 13-5-3 (9-4-1, third in A South)
Key Returners: Tom Ruscitti (Sr., Goalkeeper), Mike Cambra (Sr., Forward/Midfield), Nick Heim (Sr., Defense/Midfield), Eric Szejnrok (Jr., Midfield), Eric Pacheco (Jr., Midfield), Kody Huffert (So.)
Key Losses: Youssef Abdelaziz (Midfield), Griffin Bacon (Forward), Cory Carsten (Midfield), Frank Golda (Forward), Nate Wiley (Defense), Dale Wei (Defense), Brody Elliot (Defense), Ned Burg (Defense), Vincent Nelson (Defense)
Key Newcomers: Ken Figueroa (Sr.), Matt Orlando (Sr.), Matt Smith (Sr.), Tyler Lovallo (Sr.), Ogunyinka Oluwapelumi (Jr.), A.J. Abode (Jr.), Younghwi Kim (Jr.), Ryan Black (So.), Zach Zurawski (So.), Jason Rand (Fr.)

Central goalkeeper Tom Ruscitti. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Central’s push into Class A South probably came a year late for the Golden Eagles, who boasted talented, experienced rosters in each of the past two seasons. On the bright side, they got a chance to prove they could play with the big boys of Ocean County and did so by winning nine A South games and reaching the South Jersey Group III semifinals behind its senior-led team.

The downside of last year’s success is that the senior class that fueled it has now moved on, including the top six scorers from last year’s team. The seventh-leading scorer last year was senior Nick Heim, who will be counted on to provide more offense along with senior Mike Cambra – both of whom played a more defensive role on last year’s team. Junior Eric Szejnrok also broke in his varsity cleats last year and will have to step up as a scorer for the Golden Eagles.

One thing Central has going for it is senior goalkeeper Tom Ruscitti, who is among the top returning keepers in the entire Shore Conference. Scoring goals might be an adventure, but Ruscitti has the capacity to keep the Golden Eagles in plenty of games. With teams like Brick Memorial, Brick, Toms River East and Southern returning so much talent from a year ago, it is going to be hard for Central to keep up again this year but a veteran coaching staff and a quality keeper give them a fighting chance.

 

XI to Watch (With 2016 Stats)

Clem Slavick, Toms River South (5 goals, 2 assists)

Frank Firrito, Brick (15 goals, 10 assists)

Nico Garcia, Toms River North (7 goals, 1 assist)

Ben Patti, Jackson Memorial (8 goals, 3 assists)

Dan Russo, Jackson Memorial (7 goals, 2 assists)

Ethan Leming, Southern (6 goals, 5 assits)

Jack Butz, Toms River North

Erik Fatovic, Brick Memorial (13 goals)

Santino Celebre, Toms River East (4 goals)

Joe Kiernan, Southern (10 goals)

Dustin Urbaczek, Toms River South (5 goals, 2 assists)

 

Goalkeepers to Watch

Tom Ruscitti, Central (10 shutouts)

Trevor Zabilowicz, Toms River East

Joe Weinstein, Jackson Memorial (4 shutouts)

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Matt Babcock, Toms River South (2 goals)

Eric Szejnrok, Central (1 goal, 1 assist)

Andrew Casey, Toms River North (2 goals, 2 assists)

Dylan Blauvelt, Southern (3 goals, 1 assist)

Jack Seitz, Toms River South (3 goals)