Boys Soccer – Final Top 10
A year after its teams went 0-2 in NJSIAA sectional championship games, the Shore Conference bounced back in 2014 with seven teams reaching a sectional final and two taking home sectional championship trophies. The depth of the conference not only revealed itself in those seven finalists, but also in the form of a No. 25 seed reaching the Shore Conference Tournament semifinal and a No. 11 seed winning the tournament championship.
That depth makes for plenty of debate in the final top 10 of the season and there are a couple of teams on the outside looking in that have a legitimate gripe about being left out. Postseason performance always weighs a little more than regular-season exploits, but in the end, everything counts and nothing is totally ignored.
A number of teams emerged to grab the headlines this season, but when it comes to the top spot in the Shore Conference, the new boss is the same as the old boss.
1. Manalapan (16-4-3, 9-2-3)
For the second straight year, the Braves finish the season as the No. 1 team in the Shore, this time thanks to a deep run in the NJSIAA Group IV Tournament as opposed to last year’s Shore Conference Tournament championship that was enhanced by the Shore’s shortcomings in the state tournament. This year, the Shore fared well in the state tournament and Manalapan was at the head of that success. The Braves won Central Jersey Group IV – essential for making a case to be ranked ahead of Freehold Township – and took Washington Township into overtime in the Group IV semifinal. Manalapan says goodbye to one of its best senior classes, but should be formidable again with the return of players like Mitch Volis, Mike McNicholas, Rocky Garretson and Ayush Mittal.
2. Freehold Township (14-6-2, 8-5-1)
The Patriots have a case to be No. 1 based on a 1-1-1 record against Manalapan that includes a win over the Braves on the way to a Shore Conference Tournament title. Ultimately, however, Manalapan performed better within Class A North and won the Central Jersey Group IV title by beating the team that eliminated Freehold Township one round earlier (Monroe). Most public school programs operate within a window of opportunity to win a championship, but the Patriots have put themselves in the hunt every year for almost a decade. This year was one of their best chances to win something and they got it done. With Mike Maltese, Mark Fasano, Adrian Barajas, Jake Kennis, Nick Facendo, Chris Hoskins and Sean O’Donnell all back next season, the window won’t be slammed shut just yet.
3. Christian Brothers Academy (14-6-1, 10-3-1)
The SCT quarterfinal game between CBA and Freehold Township turned out to be for the No. 2 position in the Shore and had CBA survived that game, it’s conceivable the Colts could have finished No. 1 in the Shore if the hypothetical dominoes continued to topple. As it is, CBA continued its march back toward the top of the Shore Conference this season by winning a share of the Class A North title with Manalapan and reaching the South Jersey Non-Public A final before falling victim to red-hot Notre Dame forward Brian Hawkins. While CBA loses a similar amount of senior influence as Manalapan and Freehold Township, the Colts have a deep well of talent that will complement key returnees Matt Thorsheim, John Frycz, Tom Lozowski, Dean Canale and Nick Meyer, which includes some potential returnees from the academy ranks.
4. Wall (14-5-2, 9-2-1)
Despite an early exit in the Central Jersey Group III Tournament to Class B North division rival Long Branch, the Crimson Knights have an overall body of work that edges out the rest of the field. An early loss to Toms River North is a potential discrepancy when comparing Wall to other teams in Class A South, but a trip to the Shore Conference Tournament final, a division title and a defense that was dominant in the second half of the schedule are enough to solidify a top-four slot. The departing senior class leaves with a lot of experience and fanfare, but the Crimson Knights will sport a strong returning nucleus in 2015, led by Dan Frisch-Harmon, Connor Fry, Gerardo Medina, Zach Ferry and Reilly Barcas.
5. Shore (22-3-1, 13-0-1)
The Blue Devils have won enough Class B Central championships in recent years to paint a noticeable silver lining to their state championship shortcomings. The entire story of the 2014 season, however, needs no convincing to be considered a resounding success for the Blue Devils. Although Shore would have liked to play one more game in either the Group I or Shore Conference Tournaments, the Blue Devils captured an elusive Central Jersey Group I crown and lost only to three standout teams – Wall, Group I finalist Haddon Township and Group III champion South Plainfield. Shore will lose a noteworthy number of players, but its top two scorers from this year – J.T. Kessler and Dante Montesinos – return with Stevie Johnson, Josh DeFino, Mikey Barreca and goalkeeper Evan Coffey to form a core that could help the Blue Devils build on their breakthrough 2014.
6. Toms River South (15-4-2, 11-2-1)
Save for a stunning loss to St. John Vianney in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals, the Indians lived up to any and all expectations this season. They swept Toms River North en route to a Class A South title, and after the SCT home-field hiccup against Vianney, the Indians stampeded all the way to the South Jersey Group III final against eventual sectional champion Ocean City. A better overall résumé gives the Indians the edge over that Vianney team, as does a fine job by Toms River North outside of Class A South. With a team heavy on seniors, this was an important year for the Indians to do damage and, for the most part, they did. Cameron Geerinck, Tyler Egnatuk, Mike Tapp and Dylan Dannelson will shoulder much of the load next season as the Indians attempt to reload.
7. Toms River North (14-6-2, 9-3-2)
The Shore Conference Tournament was not kind to Class A South teams, especially Toms River North. The Mariners would have earned a shot at the eventual champion Freehold Township had they survived an overtime loss to Marlboro that included a controversial goal, but instead went out in the round of 16. Beyond the SCT, however, Toms River North was excellent, with only two losses to Toms River South sullying their body of work. The Mariners beat Wall early in the season, then reached the South Jersey Group IV final by knocking off both Eastern and top-seeded Rancocas Valley before falling to Washington Township – the No. 1 team in the state – in the sectional final, 1-0. Joey Hertgen will lead a group of improved underclassmen next year, which includes Cedric Cook, Mitch Reed, Kyle Burke, Rob Cameron and Tommy Butz.
8. St. John Vianney (11-7-0, 7-5-0)
The darling of the Shore Conference Tournament earned its top 10 spot with some torrid postseason play. St. John Vianney blitzed three Ocean County opponents – Brick Memorial, Point Boro and Toms River South – on the road to reach the SCT semifinal as the No. 25 seed before ultimately losing an overtime match to No. 4 Wall. The Lancers then won a home game in the NJSIAA Tournament before running out of gas against CBA thanks to a first-half red card that led to three second-half goals. Outside of that lapse against CBA, St. John Vianney was difficult to score on all season, even as they got off to an underwhelming 6-5 start. The Lancers relied upon a group of blue-collar seniors whose ability stood out at the most important time of the year. Key role players Marc Urbealis, David Kamenar, Austin Schlessinger, Zach Richards and Kyle Tuschmann will look to follow in the footsteps of seniors like Christian Bruno, Alex Politi and Davin Eugenio to continue Vianney’s run into uncharted territory.
9. Jackson Memorial (13-7-2, 9-4-1)
Although they allowed eight goals in their final game of the season, there was a stretch in which the Jaguars played like they would not allow any goals. Jackson Memorial turned a 4-5-1 start into a 10-game unbeaten streak that carried the Jags all the way to the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals. Manalapan ended that run by edging Jackson Memorial, 2-1, and the Jaguars fell victim to a wildly difficult first-round draw against Rancocas Valley in South Jersey Group IV, which ended in an 8-0 loss. Among the teams in the top 10, Jackson Memorial returns the most starting talent, led by Andrew Jozwicki, Mike Schoener and Joey Stoltenberg up top and Joe Mamola in the back.
10. Red Bank (13-6-1, 8-3-1)
The Bucs were the definition of an all-or-nothing team in 2014, racking up goals in bunches and allowing them in a similar fashion. Red Bank’s highlights this season included a season-sweep of Class B North champion Wall – the only B North team to beat Wall during the regular season – and a run to the Central Jersey Group III championship game against Princeton. Although there is never any shame in losing to Princeton in the state tournament, the four unanswered goals the Little Tigers scored after Red Bank went ahead 1-0 was an example of how things sometimes spun out of control for Red Bank. In the end, however, the Bucs were the second-best team in a quality B North division and pulled it together for a deep postseason run to send out a strong group of seniors. Defenders Jacob Curtis and Chris Fuentes join midfielder Luis Tiro in next year’s returning lineup as Red Bank tries to overcome losing one of its most talented outgoing classes in recent memory.
Also Receiving Consideration
Matawan (12-6-0, 9-3-0) – During a banner season, the Huskies claimed their first boys soccer division title by winning Class A Central. Only an early exit in the NJSIAA Tournament prevented a top-10 finish.
Brick Memorial (13-6-2, 8-4-2) – The Mustangs were one of the Shore’s more explosive teams behind the senior duo of Kevin Simek and Bryan Malerba.
Long Branch (11-7-2, 6-5-1) – This talented group might have left some accomplishments on the table, but a win over Wall in the Central Jersey III playoffs was a fine way to go out.
Point Boro (18-5-0, 13-1-0) – A couple of heart-breaking home losses in the SCT (St. John Vianney) and Central Jersey Group II Tournament (Governor Livingston) sour an otherwise-stellar year that included a school-record 14-game winning streak.
Central (14-4-1, 11-3-0) – The dynamic duo of Blake Czajkowski and Doug Jensen were as formidable as any in the Shore Conference. The Golden Eagles came up just short in the division, SCT and state tournaments.
Marlboro (10-9-1, 6-7-1) – A late-season surge, led by Bryan DaSilva, propelled Marlboro into top-10 consideration after a mid-season lull.
Toms River East (9-8-3, 6-5-3) – The Raiders just missed out on some A South wins that might have changed the complexion of their season, but a road win over Holmdel in the SCT was a nice consolation prize.
Holmdel (12-7-3, 7-4-1) – The Hornets looked close to championship-caliber on a number of occasions, but some injury, inconsistency and a couple of tough home losses along the way slowed down another strong showing from Holmdel soccer.
Ocean (9-8-2, 8-3-1) – With Wadneson Alexis and Marlhens Nasanes leading a group of nine returning starters next year, Ocean has the makings of an SCT contender again in 2015.