Most coaches spend precious time figuring out how to deter their players from looking beyond the next game, but second-year Red Bank Catholic head coach Justin Meehan understood why his players were fixated on the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A semifinals before the tournament even started.

With a rare opportunity to play Christian Brothers Academy potentially waiting in the semifinals, the Caseys seniors reminded each other and their younger teammates of one fact to change the focus: prior to this season, Red Bank Catholic boys soccer has never even made it to the sectional semifinals.

“When we saw the bracket, we were really excited to be on the same side as CBA,” said Red Bank Catholic senior Kevin Davey, who scored two goals in RBC’s 3-1 win over No. 2 Gloucester Catholic on Wednesday. “We really wanted a chance to play CBA and we knew that, in order to do that, we needed to go where no team in the history of the program has gone and that kept us focused.”

CBA senior Richie Leister carries the ball vs. St. John Vianney on Friday. His Colts will take on another rival, Red Bank Catholic, on Monday. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Monday on the grounds of Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft, the Caseys – the No. 10 seed in South Jersey, Non-Public A – will look to build on the longest postseason run in program history by beating a third-seeded CBA team that could be considered its rival if only the two teams ever played each other.

The sectional semifinal Monday marks the first meeting between the two Monmouth County non-public programs since 2005, when CBA beat Red Bank Catholic, 3-0, in the NJSIAA Tournament. According to CBA assistant Jeff Matson, who was the head coach of both the boys and girls programs at RBC in the 1980s into the early 1990s, that state tournament meeting is the only time the two teams have met over the last 30 years.

“It’s a rivalry because we know a lot of their players and they know us, just from travel soccer and growing up going to a lot of the same schools,” CBA senior Russell Romano said. “We haven’t played each other, but I think in any sport at either school, both teams are aware of what is going on at the other one.”

“It’s obviously a great opportunity for us as a program to compete against the best program in the Shore and, more importantly, to try to win a state championship,” Davey said. “We have a lot of respect for CBA as a team and we know what we’re up against, but we came into this tournament wanting to show people that we can play with anybody.”

CBA has traditionally played a set schedule that includes its lot of 12-to-14 divisional games and one or two regular-season, non-conference games before the state tournament. The Colts have scheduled an annual rivalry game with St. Rose to account for one of the non-conference games and leave the other open for games against opponents like North Jersey non-public power Delbarton or, in this year’s case, perennial state title contender Holmdel.

“In my two years, I’ve looked into adding them to the schedule, but there hasn’t been much interest on their end,” Meehan said. “I totally get it from their end. It’s a lose-lose situation for them because we haven’t been a very good team in recent years, so even if they beat us, they probably don’t gain all that much.

“In the end, I guess it’s pretty cool that when we finally do play, it’s in the state tournament. That is something I wouldn’t mind getting used to.”

While CBA looks to add to a legacy of championships that has been commonplace during the 36-year tenure of head coach Dan Keane, Red Bank Catholic has a chance to usher in a new era by beating the Shore Conference’s most decorated soccer program. The Caseys have had just one winning season in the last decade, and although they are guaranteed to finish with a losing record again this season, they are also ending it with the strongest postseason showing in the history of the program.

“Coach Meehan kept telling us, ‘Our first season is over. This is the start of a whole new one,’” Davey said. “It seems like a simple concept, but I think it just helped us to forget about some of the negative things we experienced during the year and just focus on playing together and playing our best soccer against the best competition.”

The two state tournament road wins over No. 7 Donovan Catholic and Wednesday’s impressive win over No. 2 Gloucester Catholic – in which Red Bank Catholic jumped out to a 2-0 lead en route to a 3-1 win – could have been considered unforeseen prior to the tournament based on Red Bank Catholic’s 3-9 record in the Shore Conference Class B North division during the regular season. The Caseys, however, have proven over the past two seasons to be a team capable of rising up to compete in big games, evidenced by overtime losses in both the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Tournaments last year and a 3-1 win over rival and Central Jersey Group III semifinalist Red Bank Regional this season.

“I know a lot of people in Class A North will disagree, but for my money, we played the toughest schedule in the Shore Conference this year,” Meehan said. “When you have to play Wall, Ocean, Red Bank Regional, Long Branch and Colts Neck twice each, you are going to lose some games. We were on the wrong end of some close games and it was really tough on our guys. We had to keep reminding them that they are still a really good team that had a lot more to accomplish.”

While Red Bank Catholic is relishing a chance to finally assert its place among Shore Conference teams, the CBA players are getting used to playing fellow Shore non-public teams in the NJSIAA Non-Public A Tournament and the recent results have been to their liking.

After losing to St. John Vianney in the first round of the 2012 tournament, CBA beat Donovan Catholic in last year’s quarterfinals before losing to St. Augustine in the semifinals, and defeated St. John Vianney in its quarterfinal game on Friday, 4-0.

“We feel like we’ve been playing well since we lost those three games early in the year,” CBA senior goalkeeper David Krall said, referring to a three-game losing streak in September that accounted for three of CBA’s four losses this season. “We lost a tough game to Freehold Township in the Shore Conference Tournament, and we felt like that was a game we could have won. Since then, we’ve just been looking forward to getting back on the field and competing for a championship again.”

Davey, a senior and the leading scorer for the Caseys this year, knows both sides of the rivalry after spending his first two years of high school at CBA.

Not only has Davey experienced each program, but he has lived through both triumph and hardship within each program. He was a freshman when CBA went 21-0 and won both the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Non-Public A championships in 2011 and returned the following year to witness the Colts suffer their first ever losing season under Keane, ending with an overtime loss to St. John Vianney in the first round of the South Jersey Non-Public A playoffs.

“There is a lot of pride and tradition at CBA, but I think the biggest thing they’ve had is the talent,” Davey said. “In most years, there just aren’t really any weaknesses you can pick out with a CBA team, and in 2011, they had a great player at pretty much every spot. Having been in both programs, I definitely see the talent coming along at RBC, and I think we’re at a point where we are good enough to where our best game is good enough to beat them.”

As a junior, Davey was part of a Red Bank Catholic team that improved by seven games in Meehan’s first year at the helm after a one-win season in 2012, the best improvement in the Shore Conference over that season. The Caseys qualified for the Shore Conference Tournament for the first time since 2009 and took two home favorites into overtime in each game.

This season, the pendulum swung back the other way during the regular season, but the Caseys hit their stride while tuning up for the state tournament and have not looked back since.

The struggle to establish a new reputation for boys soccer at Red Bank Catholic has given Davey and his teammates – particularly his fellow seniors – perspective at a time like this. While the school has thrived in football, baseball, girls soccer, girls basketball and – more recently – boys basketball, the boys soccer team is just now starting to get over the hump.

Before the season, the Caseys lost three-year varsity player Vince Gallo because Gallo had an opportunity to kick for the football team. The RBC seniors hope that with a win on Monday, Meehan will no longer have to sell his players on their potential and the potential of the program. The results will finally have spoken for themselves.

“We’re starting to feel the support,” Davey said. “Boys soccer never really got the same fan support as a lot of the other sports, but that’s because there wasn’t much to see. Now that we’re winning and making some headlines, it seems like there is more of a buzz, and I think the school is looking forward to supporting us. We have a great fan base in the other sports and hopefully they will be able to make it out on Monday.”