Boys Soccer – Dan Keane Says Goodbye Following CBA’s State Final Defeat
UNION - For a team that just lost in the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship game, there was an understandably optimistic tone from the Christian Brothers Academy players walking off the pitch at Kean University Sunday, not only because of the overall body of work the Colts produced this season, but also because of the sheer number of impact players that will be back next year to give another shot at winning the whole thing.
In addition to the five seniors who played their final game - a 2-0 loss to a Delbarton team that just became the only the second team ever in the modern NJSIAA Tournament to win four straight outright group championships - there was one more noteworthy gentleman on the CBA bench who was lining up for his last postgame handshake.
Colts head coach Dan Keane announced before the season his intention to retire as soccer coach, tennis coach and social studies teacher at the end of the 2015-16 school year and the first third of his trio of titles is a thing of the past after Sunday's loss. Keane has strongly considered retiring each season since each season since 2010 and even announced that 2012 would be his last year prior to that season.
Despite some uncertainty in recent years and even with CBA returning eight current juniors to next year's lineup, there was no reservation in Keane's voice as he spoke of his 16th and final run to the Non-Public A final with the Colts with an air of contentment.
"It's age, it's mobility, a the awareness that someone younger and someone with a little more ability as far as taking the program to the next level with this particular team deserves a chance," Keane said, citing reasons for deciding to call it a career. "I think it would almost be an injustice to hang around longer than I can. It was time.
Keane's swansong season did not end with a triumphant stroll into the sunset with trophy in hand or with his players carrying him off the field after upsetting a team Keane did not hesitate to call a dynasty after its fourth straight title. The storybook ending went sour in the first half, when Delbarton got goals from sophomore John Gerard and senior Bobby Fabricant in the first 14 minutes and dominated the midfield until the Colts had a chance to regroup at halftime.
Still, it was hard for Keane to complain about the season his junior-heavy team had in his final year: a 19-win campaign that included a Shore Conference Class A North title, a ninth Shore Conference Tournament championship and the aforementioned 16th Non-Public South A sectional championship.
"It was a great season," Keane said. "A 19-4-1 record, three titles and I thought Delbarton was the best team and they played their best game against us. Early, we had some shakes, maybe. We were a little nervous."
"I didn't expect this year," said Jeff Matson, Keane's assistant for more than two decades. "I knew the juniors were good. Obviously, I knew Matt Thorsheim was good, but the other juniors had not played at all and that came along really well."
Although it is not much consolation for Keane and his five graduating seniors who played Sunday - Tom Lozowski, Tim Mikulski, Nick Meyer, John Frycz and Joe Paolillo - and 11 overall, CBA did not mail in the second half and created a number of quality chances to break through Delbarton's airtight defense, led by senior center back and Notre Dame Lacrosse recruit Jack Kielty.
The Colts had to reshuffle the lineup after junior center fullback Scott Misson suffered a hip injury that knocked him out of the game from the middle of the first half on. Moving junior Aaron Robertson from the midfield to the back gave the midfield away, so the Colts rearranged and reshuffled its formation once more at half and it resulted in a 7-3 edge in shots during the second half after they conceded seven Delbarton shots while taking only one.
"Losing Misson made it really tough," Matson said. "We had to move Robertson to the back and it killed us in the midfield, which is where we're strong. We had to make some adjustments at halftime to get the midfield back and in the second half, I thought we actually had the better of play."
"At this stage of my career, I'm really more of a cheerleader," Keane said. "Coach Matson devised the gameplan and does the training and I'm here for motivational support and encouragement. We talk about the game and what we want to do, but for the last few years, he's been the coach of the team."
Matson's adjustments help CBA compete in the second half, but the CBA assistant did not sell short Keane's role in keeping his team on task, as well as providing a dialogue that leads to the tactical decisions.
"Every morning, we have coffee and just talk and it's going to be strange not having that next year and not seeing him on the sideline," Matson said. "It's been a great experience and an opportunity for me getting a chance to coach with him."
Sunday's loss also officially opens up the search for Keane's replacement, a search that will most certainly include Matson - who is approaching his 60th birthday. Prior to his 21-year stretch as Keane's right-hand man, he was the head boys coach at Red Bank Regional and both the boys and girls coach at Red Bank Catholic.
With eight starters returning from a team that began to make some headway in the second half against the state's top team during a state final, Matson hopes he will be a part of CBA's pursuit of a sixth state title last year.
"In the beginning of the year, I wasn't sure," Matson said. "But we have a special group of kids and I think we have some unfinished business and I think we want to keep that going next year."
Whether CBA hoists the Non-Public A trophy next year or not, there will be a period of adjustment for the players and, if he does end up the head coach, Matson during the early part of the season.
"It's sad," Matson said. "I don't care so much about the game. You lose, you lose."
"This is a great junior class that has a great chance to be back here next year," Keane said. "If they do, I'll be cheering them on from the stands and hopefully they win."
Update: This article was edited to include Joe Paolillo as one of the graduating seniors who saw the field for CBA on Sunday. He was incorrectly omitted in the first edition.