Boys Soccer – NJSIAA Preview: South Jersey
Fresh on the heels of one of the more unpredictable Shore Conference Tournaments in recent memory, the NJSIAA Tournament is up next, with the opening round of the boys sectional playoffs beginning on Monday. Thirty-five Shore Conference teams in nine different sections qualified for the tournament, with the Shore Conference earning No. 1 seeds in Central Jersey Groups I and II and the No. 2 seed in Central Jersey Group IV and South Jersey Group III.
Last year, no boys soccer teams won a sectional title, and while that is not so uncommon so as to call it a rarity, it is uncommon enough to expect some team to hoist a trophy on Nov. 13. The most likely source of a championship is out of the quartet of public school sections in Central Jersey, which is home to 21 of the 35 Shore teams in the field, including the two No. 1 seeds. Below is a quick breakdown of the five South Jersey brackets, including the two non-public tournaments.
South Jersey Group IV
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 5 Toms River North, No. 15 Toms River East, No. 16 Jackson Memorial
Defending Champion: Clearview
Top Seed: Rancocas Valley
Favorite: No. 2 Washington Twp. The Minutemen came into the season nationally ranked and with expectations to potentially run the table. That hasn’t happened, but despite a regular-season loss to Eastern that broke up the plans for an undefeated season, Washington is still on track to roll through the bracket as the Minutemen enter the tournament on a 16-game winning streak. Rancocas Valley edged Washington out for the No. 1 seed and will have something to say about the Minutemen as the favorite.
Sleeper Team: Jackson Memorial. The Jaguars’ biggest win of the season came one game after their 13th game, meaning the win over Toms River South did not help out their power points. That’s why one of the Shore’s hottest teams over the last month is stuck with a No. 16 seed and a game at top-seeded Rancocas Valley in the first round. Jackson Memorial just battled Manalapan to the wire in the Shore Conference Tournament before bowing out, and the Jaguars may be more able to catch Rancocas Valley sleeping. No. 14 Shawnee and No. 11 Lenape are both dangerous in their own right thanks to difficult regular-season schedules.
Prediction: Washington over Eastern. Washington leads the season series 2-1, noteworthy because that one is the only loss the Minutemen have suffered. This is a loaded bracket, one that can make for some great games from the very beginning. Another showdown between the Vikings and the Minutemen would certainly qualify.
South Jersey Group III
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 2 Toms River South, No. 3 Central, No. 7 Lacey, No. 8 Pinelands
Defending Champion: Ocean City
Top Seed: Ocean City
Favorite: Ocean City. Moorestown has the pedigree and the difficult schedule, as does Toms River South to a lesser extent, so even a defending champion is not a heavy favorite as a No. 1 seed. The Red Raiders will have their hands full if they have to play Moorestown, and if either Toms River South or Central make it to the final, the Shore will have a chance to have a champion in South Jersey III.
Sleeper Team: No. 14 Seneca. Despite drawing the No. 3 seed, Central has a tough first-round task ahead of it in 14th-seeded Seneca. The Golden Eagles (yes, both Central and Seneca are the Golden Eagles) play a challenging schedule and they enter the tournament having gone 5-1-1 over their last seven games, although that was during a break in the schedule. Central has enough scoring to survive that game, but Seneca will be competitive and could get on a roll. In a bracket with some very strong single-digit seeds, Seneca looks like the most likely double-digit seed to play into next week.
Prediction: Ocean City over Toms River South. If Central can survive a tough first-round game, the Golden Eagles will have a great chance to get to the semifinals. Toms River South, meanwhile, could face a rubber match with Lacey in the second round and will have home games through the semifinals. In the end though, Ocean City finds a way on their field in championship games, and that could show up.
South Jersey Group II
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 15 Barnegat
Defending Champion: Middle Twp.
Top Seed: Sterling
Favorite: No. 3 Cinnaminson. Of all the teams in the field, Cinnaminson plays the toughest schedule and is consistently in contention for sectional championships from year to year. The Pirates have two wins each over Delran and Moorestown and a recent win over Hightstown – the only team to beat Rancocas Valley – to highlight their season. Middle Township has similar makeup and after winning the section last year, the Panthers are equally dangerous and could be Cinnaminson’s opposition in the final. Sterling will look to live up to the top seed and although the Silver Knights don’t play the same level schedule as Cinnaminson or Middle, they have rolled through some pretty good competition and have not lost since Sept. 23.
Sleeper Team: Barnegat. This is a bit of a homer pick, but Barnegat has managed to be competitive most years during the state tournament. The Bengals have quietly played pretty well down the stretch and have played teams like Point Boro, Donovan Catholic, Pinelands and Monmouth tough. Woodstown can be considered a somewhat vulnerable No. 2 seed, so if Barnegat can pull off a round one upset, the Bengals could get on a little roll here.
Prediction: Cinnaminson over Sterling. The No. 1 seed is a new role for this Sterling group and the Silver Knights are coming off a tough penalty kicks loss to Haddonfield last year. Cinnaminson has been through the battles, and that should give the Pirates an edge throughout the tournament.
South Jersey, Non-Public A
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 3 CBA, No. 6 St. John Vianney, No. 7 Donovan Catholic, No. 10 Red Bank Catholic
Defending Champion: Pingry
Top Seed: St. Augustine
Favorite: St. Augustine. With Pingry moving to Non-Public B, St. Augustine takes over the top spot in the South Jersey Non-Public A bracket, a familiar place for the Hermits. St. Augustine has a longstanding rivalry with CBA that could be rekindled should both teams reach the final, but the Hermits are going to have to earn their way there by beating either Notre Dame or St. Joseph of Metuchen, and that’s assuming they get through the winner of Bishop Eustace and Paul VI.
Sleeper Team: No. 5 Notre Dame. This bracket looks fairly top-heavy this season, which means it is likely to look pretty conventional once we get to the semifinal round of the tournament. Once there, however, Notre Dame looks like a team that can step up and beat any team, although Allentown – which beat the Irish twice this year – might raise its hand to dispute that. The Irish handed Princeton one of its two losses and also beat Steinert and South Brunswick along the way. St. Joseph is equally qualified heading into the tournament and will have a home game against Notre Dame to open their tournament, but it doesn’t change the likelihood that Notre Dame is the highest seeded team that can win the sectional title. St. John Vianney knows about playing the sleeper role after reaching the SCT semifinals as a No. 25 seed, so it might be foolish to count the Lancers out. Either the task of repeating that kind of run will be too difficult or perhaps Vianney is just that good at this point.
Prediction: Notre Dame over CBA. The Colts will probably have to get through St. John Vianney in game one and the last time those two met in the NJSIAA Tournament, Vianney beat CBA for the first time in its history. CBA lost a 1-0 decision to eventual sectional champion Pingry and that was with the youngest roster in program history. This CBA team appears ready to take the next step and get to the sectional final, where they will be challenged by whichever team survives the other side of the bracket. Senior forward and Rutgers recruit Brian Hawkins of Notre Dame could cause some problems for a bunch of teams along the way, and if the Irish do finish off this run, he is going to be a big reason for it.
South Jersey, Non-Public B
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 5 St. Rose, No. 13 Mater Dei Prep
Defending Champion: Gill St. Bernard’s
Top Seed: Pingry
Favorite: Pingry. The Big Blue reached the Non-Public A final last year and now that it is in Non-Public B, Pingry should be the overwhelming favorite in this bracket. Quietly, though, Gill St. Bernard’s has been a dominant team in the state tournament and it often goes overlooked because it is in the smaller of the non-public groups. Now, Gill has a legitimate rival to its run and if the Knights can beat Pingry, it would add serious legitimacy to the bracket.
Sleeper Team: No. 6 Wardlaw-Hartridge. There probably is not much that is going to prevent a Pingry vs. Gill St. Bernard’s final, but Wardlaw can score enough to possibly give Gill a run in the semifinals, as long as Wardlaw can win at Moorestown Friends.
Prediction: Pingry over Gill St. Bernard’s. Pingry just beat Gill St. Bernard’s in the Somerset County Tournament Final, so expect to see a rematch of that game. The Knights know what it will take to beat the Big Blue, but Pingry is built for this time of year.