John Terlecsky was a top scorer on the first ever Ocean Township boys soccer team to win a tournament championship, which delivered legendary coach Tom Reilly’s first of four Shore Conference Tournament titles.

Terlecsky, however, was two years removed from graduation when the Spartans won their first NJSIAA Group III championship – the only state title for an accomplished Shore Conference program heading into the 2018 season.

This year, Terlecsky not only got his state championship; he led Ocean to its greatest season in program history and made his coaching mark on the program in just his second season since taking over for his mentor, Reilly.

In arguably the most competitive Shore Conference soccer season in history, Ocean won the Class B North division championship, the Shore Conference Tournament championship and the Group III title in the same year for the first time in program history – a resume that earned Terlecsky the 2018 Shore Sports Network Boys Soccer Coach of the Year honors.

Santieno Harding (left) and coach John Terlecsky (right) celebrate Ocean winning the Central Jersey Group III title. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

"I have seen a lot of soccer here since I was a little kid in middle school," Terlecsky said. "I watched (senior center back) Zach (Sintic's) dad play in high school, coach Reilly was my elementary school teacher and my mom would take me to the games to check out Ocean Township soccer. So I have seen a lot of the teams and I think this team is the best in school history."

Following a long run as the freshman coach, Terlecsky took over the program after Reilly stepped down following the 2016 season and inherited a group heavy on junior talent that had a chance to win tournament championships right away. The Spartans were on the cusp of winning both the Shore Conference Tournament and Central Jersey Group III titles in Terlecsky’s first season but ran into a Holmdel buzzsaw in a 7-1 SCT final loss and were squeezed out of a sectional title in a 2-1 loss to Toms River South.

Ocean started nine seniors in 2018 with another playing a prominent role off the bench and from the time that group from the Class of 2019 entered the program as freshmen, there were high expectations to win championships by the end of their run. Coupled with last year’s close call, the pressure to finish off at least one title run was immense.

Heading into the Shore Conference Tournament, Ocean was the No. 4 seed and chasing after the top three of Holmdel, Jackson Memorial and Christian Brothers Academy. The Spartans cruised to the semifinals with wins over two double-digit seeds – No. 13 Toms River North and No. 21 Raritan – and then had to step up several levels against an undefeated Holmdel side that hammered Ocean in last year’s championship game.

Ocean spotted Holmdel a 1-0 lead during the first half of the semifinal match but started to knock on the door at the end of the first half. Just past the midway point of the first half, Santieno Harding kicked down the door with a game-tying goal. Three minutes later, the senior striker beat two defenders on the left side and centered a cross that classmate James Schutz slammed into the goal with a diving header.

It took a 74th-minute penalty kick for Holmdel to tie the game and Ocean found itself trying to keep Holmdel off the board for six more minutes of regulation and 20 more over the two overtime periods. The Spartans successfully protected the fort, went to a round of penalty kicks and knocked out the defending champs thanks to two saves by goalkeeper Max Winters, including one on All-American striker Anthony Arena.

Winters again starred in the championship game, denying CBA time and time again during 80 minutes of regulation to give his team another chance in overtime. With no tiebreaking penalty kicks in the SCT championship game, however, the Spartans had to score a goal to beat CBA and with the Colts dominating possession and limiting Ocean without a shot on goal for the first 90 minutes, it seemed a co-championship would be the best outcome.

Instead, senior Leo Montesinos – who transferred into the program from Shore Regional before the school year – headed in the golden goal off a throw-in to win Ocean the SCT championship for the fifth time and first time since 2012. In perhaps the most loaded SCT semifinal in the 35-year history of the tournament, the Spartans emerged victorious behind an unrelenting defense, clutch goalkeeper and handful of playmakers on the attack.

After its somewhat-surprising triumph in the SCT, Ocean reset for the NJSIAA Group III Tournament and cruised into the sectional final with wins over Nottingham, Burlington Township and a Wall squad that was the last team to beat Ocean back on Oct. 10. In the sectional final, Ocean jumped out to a 1-0 lead on Colts Neck but suddenly found itself tied after the Cougars evened the scored with 10 minutes left to play.

In the 76th minute, it was Harding who once again came to the rescue. The senior ripped a low shot that found the left side netting for the winning goal that delivered the Spartans their second sectional championship in four years and earned some redemption for Harding and his team after losing to Toms River South in the previous year’s CJ III title game.

Ocean coasted to a 3-0 win over Seneca in the Group III semifinal to reach its first group championship game since winning Group III under Reilly in 1996 – two seasons after Terlecsky’s senior year. With his team on the cusp of becoming the first ever Ocean team to win every championship in one season, the second-year coach led his team into the final against a tradition-rich Millburn side that had spent six seasons as a Group IV school competing with some of the state’s best programs.

For the first 50 scoreless minutes of the Group III final, Ocean was overmatched by the Millers but the resilient Spartans were just biding their time. Over the final 30 minutes, Ocean outshot Millburn, 11-3, and broke through for the game’s lone goal when Schutz headed in a cross by Montesinos in the 74th minute. Winters and defense survived a scare in the final 20 seconds, with a Millburn shot clanging off the right post, and Ocean had its first state championship in 22 years.

The Spartans ended the season on an 11-game unbeaten streak (10-0-1) to finish 21-3-1, finished ranked No. 2 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, No. 5 in the NJ.com state Top 20 and No. 24 in the country by Top Drawer Soccer in what will go down as the greatest team in Spartans history. With a talented roster, a large legacy to live up to and in a Shore Conference that included three other championship-caliber rosters, Terlecsky and his staff delivered for their alma mater in 2018.

 

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