Last year, the Shore Conference proved to be in good standing relative to the rest of the state thanks to a stellar showing by Holmdel in the NJSIAA Tournament, a commendable effort by a junior-heavy CBA team in reaching the Non-Public A final and another sectional title for Toms River South after the Indians won a Shore-vs.-Shore Central Jersey III final. Even a run like the one Matawan made in Central Jersey Group II was a statement that after a few years without a state champion from the conference, the Shore is in good shape.

This year has a chance to be even better, with three major contenders for state titles topping the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and a very good Group IV team rounding out the top four. The Shore Conference Tournament semifinals has a chance to be as loaded and as competitive as it has been in a decade.

With so much talent back from last year, the first top 10 of 2018 looks a lot like the last one of 2017.

 

1. Holmdel (22-1-1, 12-0-0) Final 2017 Ranking: 1

Outside of finishing undefeated, there is not more Holmdel could have done to make its 2017 more dominant than it was. The Hornets ran up a whopping goal differential of 122-14, including 49-5 in 10 games between the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Group II Tournaments. They return six starters from last year’s team, including three First-Team All-Shore players in Anthony Arena (35 goals and 25 assists last year), Joe Arena and Torre Avitabile.

CBA celebrates its South Jersey Non-Public A title in 2017. (Photo by Matt Manley)

2. Christian Brothers Academy (20-3-1, 12-1-0) Final 2017 Ranking: 2

With Holmdel’s postseason performance, it is easy to forget that CBA was the Shore’s top-ranked team heading into the conference tournament. A lot of that had to do with CBA’s tough schedule, which included a last-minute loss to the No. 1 team in the nation, St. Benedict’s. This year’s Colts squad returns eight starters and the vast majority of its scoring from a team that reached the Non-Public A final. CBA will get a chance to prove it is the Shore’s top team when the Colts play Holmdel on the Saturday before the SCT cutoff.

3. Ocean (18-4-1, 13-1-0) Final 2017 Ranking: 5

If motivation is worth anything, the Spartans should be considered the favorite to win the Shore Conference this season. Seven starters return from a team that lost two tournament championship games on its home field, including a 2-1 loss to Toms River South in the Central Jersey Group III final. On top of the seven returning starters, the Spartans got a gift when Leo Montesinos transferred from Shore Regional after scoring 16 goals as a junior with the Blue Devils. Throw in plenty of depth and Ocean is without question on the level of Holmdel and CBA heading into the season.

4. Jackson Memorial (17-4-1, 11-2-1) Final 2017 Ranking: 3

With eight starters and all but six goals back from a Class A South championship team, the Jaguars enter 2018 as the A South favorite once again and are as ready as ever to make a run at a postseason title that has eluded them for the last two-plus decades. The top three teams in the conference are loaded, but Jackson has every right to want a seat at that table after reaching the SCT semifinals and bringing just about everybody back.

5. Pinelands (17-5-1, 12-1-1) Final 2017 Ranking: 6

Goal-scoring won’t be a problem for a Wildcats team that returns all but one starter from last year’s team, which was center back Cade Sundermann. Keeping opponents off the board proved challenging for the Cats down the stretch, when they allowed 20 goals in the final six games. Whatever becomes of the defense, the attack led by Dom Dos Santos and Kieran Sundermann is lethal and will make Pinelands a scary opponent, starting with Jackson Memorial on opening day.

6. Howell (11-7-2, 8-5-1) Final 2017 Ranking: 10

This current class of seniors has been the driving force behind Howell’s return to Shore Conference prominence and that group will make its last stand this season. The Rebels managed to play CBA pretty tough last year and they bring back enough talent to give the Colts a good run for the Class A North title. Either way, the regular-season schedule that includes most of A South to go along with A North should get Howell more than ready to tackle the grueling South Jersey Group IV bracket.

7. Toms River South (17-5-3, 9-4-1) Final 2017 Ranking: 4

Coming off a third straight NJSIAA sectional championship, the Indians took a big hit when All-Shore midfielder Clem Slavick opted to play for the Monmouth Cedar Stars Academy rather than finish up his high school career at Toms River South. Despite losing Slavick, the Indians remain a contender in A South and will still be one of, if not the team to beat in South Jersey Group III come November. The defense and goalkeeper Jalen Folsom are a strength of the team and Toms River South returns enough scoring to have a chance against anybody.

8. Monmouth (15-10, 7-7) Final 2017 Ranking: 8

Losing Joel Burgos and his 30 goals leaves a huge void for the Falcons to fill, one that will take a collective effort like the one they gave in a 1-0 win Shore Conference Tournament upset win over Freehold Township with Burgos sidelined. That performance is exhibit A that this year’s Monmouth team has a chance to be as good as last year’s group, which reached the SCT quarterfinals and the Central Jersey Group II final.

9. Freehold Boro (9-11-2, 7-6-1) Final 2017 Ranking: Not ranked

The Colonials had to play catch-up after a slow start last year and never really found their groove. The talent is in place for a redemption tour this season despite the graduation of leading scorer Jake Brower and standout center back Saif Elseidy. Freehold Boro has a nice mix of returning scorers, defenders and an experienced keeper n Brendan Duffy – a formula that should make them a tough team to match up against for any opponent.

10. Freehold Township (15-7, 10-4) Final 2017 Ranking: 9

Despite losing the vast majority of its goal-scoring from a year ago, Freehold Township has to be considered a threat based on its recent history, its program depth and the likely development of some of its sophomores and freshmen from a year ago. This ranking is more of a projection than the other teams – which bring back far more proven talent – but with a streak of 12 straight SCT appearances, the Patriots have turned over talent on a yearly basis as well as any team in the Shore Conference and have earned the benefit of the doubt.

 

10 More to Watch

Toms River North (7-8-2, 6-6-2) – Figured things out late last season and return a solid senior core.

Wall (10-11, 6-8) – Top two scorers back in Riley Powers and John Volpe, plus a strong defense have the Crimson Knight positioned for a bounceback.

Manalapan (5-9-3, 5-6-3) – Some close early losses were too much for the Braves to overcome in 2017 but more of a senior presence should be a remedy this year.

Point Pleasant Boro (11-5-5, 8-3-3) – Last year snapped a streak of five straight division titles and the Panthers will be out for revenge this season.

Neptune (9-9, 8-5) – Wilby Alfred and Mickenna Church make up one of the Shore’s best duos.

Middletown South (11-8-1, 8-5-1) – A big turnaround season for Middletown South last year with some pieces back this year keep the arrow pointed up for the Eagles.

Manasquan (9-10-1, 5-8-1) – Two big transfers plus the return of sophomore scorer Tommy Johnson make Manasquan a sleeper heading into the year.

Lakewood (10-9, 8-6) – One of the most experienced teams Lakewood has had in a while and one that could make a serious run at a B South title.

Toms River East (8-10-2, 7-6-1) – Back on the map after a brief downturn, the Raiders return two of their top three scorers from a year ago.

Southern (12-8-1, 8-5-1) – Southern is young but a number of the sophomores came up big as freshmen and are ready to take the reins of the program.

 

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