The 2018 Shore Conference boys soccer season was one for the record books. For just the third time ever and for the first time since 1983, three teams from the Shore won NJSIAA overall group titles. It’s also likely that those three team – Holmdel, Ocean and Christian Brothers Academy – will finish ranked among the top five teams when the final statewide rankings come out.

This, however, creates a problem: one of these teams has to be ranked No. 3. During the majority of years during the history of the Shore Conference, the resume of any one of CBA, Holmdel and Ocean would warrant a No. 1 ranking to finish the season. This year, however, one of them will have to settle for No. 2 and another No. 3 and that is a tough pill to swallow for a team that accomplished what these three did.

At the end of the day, all three are champions and all three are among the best teams in the history of their respective programs and will all be remembered in Shore Conference lore.

Photo by Paula Lopez

1. Holmdel (22-0-1, 6-0-0) Preseason Rank: 1

The case for Holmdel as the top team in the Shore is pretty straightforward. The Hornets did not lose a game in 2018, defeated CBA during the regular season and won the NJSIAA Group II championship. They were one of only two teams, along with Union, to finish the season without an official loss. Holmdel is also in line to finish No. 1 in the state according to NJ.com, is sixth in Top Drawer Soccer’s latest Fab 50, 18th in Max Prep’s latest national poll and was among the teams receiving votes in USA Today’s Super 25. While the competition for the top spot is stiff, Holmdel’s entire body of work is undeniable.

Teammates and fans mob James Schutz (3) following Ocean's Group III final win. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

2. Ocean (21-3-1, 6-1-0) Preseason: 3

It would seem almost impossible to envision a scenario in which a team wins its division, the Shore Conference Tournament, a Group III championship and does not finish No. 1 in the Shore Conference. That, however, is Ocean’s fate this season, despite knocking Holmdel out of the Shore Conference Tournament on penalty kicks. The two contenders for No. 1 tied 2-2 before the shootout and Holmdel was 9-0 against common opponents while Ocean was 8-2. Regular-season losses to Manasquan and Wall did in Ocean in its pursuit for No. 1 but a team can’t be any better than Ocean was when a trophy was on the table.

Photo by Matt Manley

3. Christian Brothers Academy (19-4, 6-1) Preseason: 2

Three of CBA’s four losses this year were to the No. 1 team in the country (St. Benedict’s), the No. 1 NJSIAA-eligible team in the state (Holmdel) and a Shore Conference Tournament champion that CBA defeated on the road earlier in the year (Ocean). The Colts later ended Delbarton’s 57-game unbeaten streak on a golden goal with 19 seconds left until penalty kicks to win the Non-Public A title. In just about any other year, that resume lands a team at the top of the Shore, but CBA is third because the Colts lost to Holmdel and lost to Ocean in the Shore Conference Tournament final. There might be a case to be made for CBA at No. 2 considering the Colts beat Ocean during the regular season, but it is countered by a loss to Howell. Still, with a Non-Public A championship on a golden goal and a top-five ranking in the state, CBA had as good a season as a team can dream up.

4. Jackson Memorial (15-3-1, 6-1-0) Preseason: 4

The storybook endings to the season for Holmdel, Ocean and CBA overshadow what was a terrific season for Jackson Memorial. There are plenty of seasons in the last decade in which Jackson would have been in better position to win a tournament championship but the Jaguars were part of a loaded field in the SCT semifinals and ran into perennial powerhouse Washington Township in the sectional final. Unlike the three teams at the top of the rankings, the Jaguars bring the vast majority of their starters back next year, including an all-junior back line and striker Dan Russo – one of the Shore’s top offensive players this season.

5. Wall (13-4-2, 5-2-0) Preseason: Not ranked

This is the part of the rankings where things start to get a little messy. Wall is a solid choice for No. 5 based on its win over Ocean, a win over Manasquan and its advancement to the Central Group III semifinals, where it lost a rematch to eventual Group III champion Ocean. Losses to two sub-.500 teams – Freehold Boro and St. John Vianney – and a 4-0 defeat vs. Colts Neck are the blemishes, but they are no worse than anyone else’s from here on out.

6. Howell (12-6-1, 4-3-0) Preseason: 6

The Rebels defeated CBA, scored a head-to-head win over Southern in the regular season and reached the South Jersey Group IV semifinals to make its bid for a spot in the top 10. Those are countered by losses to Marlboro, Toms River South and Middletown North, as well as a 3-0 loss to Manalapan. The win over CBA is justification enough for a spot in the top five, but Wall gets the nod since Ocean is ranked higher than CBA.

7. Manasquan (14-7-2, 5-1-0) Preseason: Not ranked

Manasquan’s worst loss of the season was a 6-0 defeat at the hands of Neptune during the season’s first week and the Warriors got better and better as the year went on, even if their best win was in September against Ocean. Manasquan also played Holmdel very tough, albeit when Anthony Arena was hobbled by a hamstring injury. Losses to Middletown South and CBA mean Howell gets the nod over Manasquan for the No. 6 spot and although the Warriors eliminated Wall in a Shore Conference Tournament shootout, the Crimson Knights beat Manasquan straight up earlier in the year and also beat Neptune. After falling a win short of a sectional championship, Manasquan will bring back a strong core led by Tommy Johnson, Drew Greenblatt and goalkeeper Joe Weinstein.

8. Southern (9-6-2) Preseason: Not ranked

The Rams are the lowest-ranked team to beat one of the top four teams in the Shore Sports Network Top 10. In Southern’s case, it was a 1-0 regular-season win over Jackson Memorial. The Rams also eliminated Howell from the Shore Conference Tournament on penalty kicks, so there was plenty to like. A loss to Brick, a draw vs. Toms River North and a first-round exit in the NJSIAA South Group IV Tournament prevented a bigger jump, but with an impressive young core set to return next season, the arrow is still pointing up at Southern.

9. Manalapan (9-8-2, 4-2-1) Preseason: Not ranked

The Class A North public division champions made a pretty strong case to be higher with their play vs. other Class A North teams but could not get over the hump outside the division. Manalapan beat both Freehold Township and Howell to gain the inside track at the public title, but was no match for Southern, Jackson Memorial and Toms River East from A South. Manalapan did pick up a big win over a surging Colts Neck team in the SCT round of 16 and later beat a quality Monroe side in the first round of the Central Group IV playoffs.

10. Colts Neck (12-8, 5-2) Preseason: Not ranked

After starting the season 2-5, senior-heavy Colts Neck won 10 out of 12 games to reach the Central Jersey Group III final before losing to Ocean on a 75th-minute goal. Colts Neck played a challenging schedule, losing five times to teams (Holmdel, Jackson Memorial, Shore and Ocean twice) that made it to a sectional final and once (Neptune) to a team that reached the sectional semifinal round. Colts Neck also beat two (Neptune and Wall) that made it to the sectional semifinals and beat Pinelands – which reached the South Jersey Group III final – in the Shore Conference Tournament opening round.

 

Honorable Mention

Freehold Township (11-5-3, 4-3-0) – The Patriots never could quite land that benchmark win this year, but fear not, Patriots faithful. With a strong core led by Bennett Messinger and Zach Orrico returning, Freehold Township should edge up toward the top tier of the Shore Conference.

Pinelands (11-5-1, 7-0-0) – Although this season ended with tough loss to Seneca in the South Group III final and without a top-10 finish, Pinelands made program history by getting back to the sectional final round for the first time in 29 years while winning a second straight Class B South title.

Neptune (14-6-1, 4-3-0) – The 2018 season was a roller-coaster ride for Neptune and a 14-win finish with a trip to the Central Group III semifinals was a strong showing for the Neptune program that housed, arguably, the Shore’s best player this year in Wilby Alfred (38 goals).

Middletown South (11-10, 3-4) – The Eagles scored some huge wins over the course of the season and played a brutal schedule beyond the always-tough A North slate. With a lot of talent slated to return, Middletown South could be a sleeper in 2019.

Raritan (9-9-1, 4-2-0) – The Rockets caught fire in the Shore Conference Tournament before running into Ocean and then lost an overtime heartbreaker to Shore in the Central Group II quarterfinals – a tough pill to swallow for a team led by a talented senior group.

Lacey (13-5-2, 6-1-0) – Lacey won nine straight at one point and also knocked off Toms River South in the Shore Conference Tournament opening round to solidify an impressive season for a side that lost the lion’s share of its scoring from a year ago.

 

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