FARMINGDALE, N.J. - The players are different, but the goal is the same.

That is the way the Christian Brothers Academy soccer team is approaching the 2017 season: even though the Colts graduated 10 starters from a 24-1 state championship team, this year's starters want to end the season in the same fashion.

"Our goal is still to get to that Shore Conference final and that state final," said senior center back John Askin, who is the lone returning starter from last year. "I'm sure that's everyone else's goal and we might lose games here or there, but the ultimate goal is to go undefeated. If we don't that's alright, but the ultimate goal is to be there when it matters at the end and getting it done."

Before the ending, of course, comes the beginning and the Colts - ranked No. 5 in the Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10 - opened their season Tuesday with a 2-0 win over Howell that displayed both the potential and the long road ahead for this year's team to get to a position that is remotely close to last year's team, which finished No. 1 in the state according to NJ.com.

"The lack of experience shows in the fact that when the lights are on and the season is underway, we missed some chances we're capable of making," second-year CBA head coach Tom Mulligan said. "As the season progresses, they are going to get more chances in game situations and they are going to get more comfortable. I think for what we are right now, considering how little varsity experience we have back, I'd have to say I'm pleased with where we're at right now. As long as they continue to learn and adapt, I think we'll be fine."

It took CBA nearly three quarters of the match to convert a scoring chance, but the first goal of the season finally came in the 58th minute off a free kick near the right sideline even with the top of the 18-yard box. Senior Evan Koczan served the ball to the far left post and Askin eventually won it and firmly centered it in front of the mouth of the goal. Charlie Daly one-time a shot from about six yards out to break the scoreless tie.

Before the Colts could put the game away with their second goal, Howell nearly pulled even thanks to its best opportunity of the game. Senior Brandon Downey fought his way around Askin to create a one-on-one chance with CBA senior goalkeeper Shane Keenan. Downey got off a quality shot that appeared bound for the upper right of the netting, but Keenan left his line and stuffed the attempt to deny the Rebels the equalizer in the 60th minute.

"They did get a few chances where they broke through, but we were good as a team," Askin said. "We help each other, pick each other up and we got the clean sheet. It was a team effort."

Six minutes after Keenan's heroics, junior Joe Lozowski took a pass from Koczan, dribbled toward the left post and poked a shot past Howell senior keeper Shane McBride.

Lozowski is CBA's second-leading scorer among the returning players, scoring seven times as a sophomore while coming off the bench.

Outside of Askin, Tuesday marked the first time the players on CBA either started or played heavy minutes in a varsity game. Koczan was involved in both goals, Daly positioned himself for a far-post one-timed shot that just missed prior to his goal, junior Dominic Bellomo struck two quality shots - including one that hit the bottom of the crossbar in the 29th minute.

By the end of the game, the Colts outshot Howell 20-3, including 8-2 on goal.

Mulligan said his focus leading up to the opener has primarily been directed toward organization in the back and outside of two counter-attacks, CBA was clean in that regard. In addition to Askin's active performance, juniors Liam Mulvey, Christian Pacifico and Jack Hempstead were all solid and Mulligan was particularly complimentary of Hempstead.

"He reminds me of (Colin Lankau)," Mulligan said, comparing Hempstead to last year's starting right outside back. "Strong player technically, smart player. He's only a junior so I'm excited to watch his progress throughout the season. I don't like to compare players, but he's the second coming of him. He's like a carbon copy."

Although he only had to save two shots to record his first career shutout in high school soccer, Keenan was impressive when he got the chance to be. According to Mulligan, Keenan decided to play his first season of high school soccer just before the start of practice and won the starting job. He played for Players Development Academy (PDA) over the past three years and has already verbally committed to the University of Connecticut.

"The kid is just a great athlete and a great goalkeeper," Askin said. "It's just nice to have him this year because he's been (an) academy (player) for the past three years. To get him this year is a privilege and the save he made was world class."

Before CBA gets into the home stretch of the Class A North schedule and the postseason, it will play what is likely its toughest non-conference schedule. The Colts will travel to Peddie on Saturday, host St. Benedict's Prep on Sept. 16 and travel for two weekend games at Delbarton against DeMatha (Md.) and Chaminade (N.Y.) on the weekend of Sept. 23.

When Askin looks around him, he does not see the Division I commits that drove last year's team, but he sees a young group hungry to reach that level by season's end. That's the part of the season the Colts want to prepare to play.

"You can tell at times there is not as much experience with our guys (this year), but we got the preseason over with and we did pretty well," Askin said. "You could tell there were times today when guys were shaky. It was their first varsity game, there are always nerves. I just told them, 'Don't worry, get the next play,' and they got the next play. You can tell it's definitely coming along."

 

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