Boys Soccer – Preseason Top 10
A smattering of Shore Conference teams open their seasons on Friday and Saturday, and although division play does not start until Wednesday, it’s time to see how the teams stack up on paper heading into the season. Manalapan finished the 2014 season ranked No. 1 for the second straight year and although the Braves lost a wealth of talent to graduation, they are sure to be in the mix for the No. 1 spot again.
This version of the top 10 does not feature too many surprises, with seven teams from the final 2014 top 10 in this year’s preseason installment. The first one is for fun, the last one is for real, so let’s have a little fun before things get too real.
1. Freehold Township
The defending Shore Conference Tournament champs check in as the preseason No. 1 team thanks to a host of returnees from one of the deepest rosters in the Shore Conference. There is not pure goal-scorer on the team, but the Patriots didn’t really have one last year either. Even the loss of All-Shore keeper and current Rutgers freshman Brian Shushkovsky appears to be covered by Mike Christina, who filled in last year when Shushkovsky missed time due to a wrist injury. A North is rugged, but the Patriots come back battle-tested and with a very similar makeup as they had last year.
2. Christian Brothers Academy
Although CBA loses some toughness and experience in the back, the Colts are moving some pieces around and look strong back there again with Tom Lozowski moving from the midfield to a center back spot. Goal-makers Matt Thorsheim and John Frycz will make the Colts dangerous on the attack, which gives CBA an element that Freehold Township may not have. The two A North foes will duke it out at least twice this year and the one that emerges is a good bet to be the No. 1 team at the Shore heading into the postseason.
If there is any team that can break up the Class A North convention at the top, it is this loaded Spartans club. Monmouth University recruit Wadneson Alexis is probably the best all-around player in the conference and he is one of nine returning starters from a team that did not quite live up to high expectations while starting only two seniors. Throw in a loaded freshman class which should contribute immediately and there is plenty of reason to believe that Ocean can win its second Shore Conference Tournament title in four years.
It’s hard to pick out any glaring flaws within the top three teams on this list, but this is the point at which the question marks start to pop up a little more frequently. Manalapan returns six players with starting experience on last year’s NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship team and SCT semifinalist, but a lot of the scoring and creativity left to graduation. The return of sweeper Mike McNicholas will make the Braves hard to score on, so they probably will not need to score goals at the rate they did over the past two seasons. If Mitch Volis, Rocky Garretson and Ayush Mittal get on the same page quickly, goals might not be a major issue after all.
The Blue Devils are the inverse of Manalapan in that they have the scoring but have question marks in the back. They are also different from the A North teams because they don’t get much of a chance to prove themselves in division play, so in addition to whatever soft spots might pop up in the formation, strength of schedule is always going to present questions about Shore to some degree. With that being said, J.T. Kessler returns after hammering home 39 goals in an All-Shore season that helped Shore win the Central Jersey Group I title. With plenty of goal-scoring back and entering the program as well, Shore should be as tough as ever this season.
6. Jackson Memorial
The Jaguars were a bottom-half top-10 team for a lot of last year and return nine players with starting experience to the fold this season. Jackson Memorial does not have the top-level skill that Ocean has, but it has the personnel to have a vintage Jackson Memorial year while exhibiting a little more firepower than the last two Jaguars teams. The Toms Rivers will be tough and Brick Memorial will match Jackson in size, but the Jaguars have more back than any Class A South team and they were arguably the best of the bunch by the end of the season anyway.
7. Toms River North
The Mariners took the Class A North race to the wire last year and then made a run all the way to the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV final, where they were edged by the No. 1 team in the state, Washington Twp., 1-0. The Mariners will have to replace a strong senior class, but there is plenty of depth to build around standout senior midfielder Joey Hertgen, who is ready to play after dealing with a stress fracture in his foot during the preseason. If the pieces to the puzzle can find their places early on, the Mariners could have a special year.
This is somewhat of a program ranking because Holmdel lost a lot of scoring both to graduation and with the transfer of Brendan Wall to Ranney, but the Hornets have shown early signs of a team with some very good, albeit young, ingredients. Goalkeeper Tyler Marchiano is healthy and sophomore Justin McStay is a very good fit at sweeper, so the Hornets will be tough to crack in the back. That means it will come down to scoring and with burner Hunter Chapman finding his scoring touch at the end of last year and a talented mix of juniors, sophomores and freshmen around the starting formation, Holmdel should get better as the season moves along.
9. Toms River South
The Indians took the No. 1 ranking into the Shore Conference Tournament last year before suffering a stunning defeat at the hands of No. 25 seed St. John Vianney in the SCT quarterfinals. With a new goalkeeper and a new-look defense, the Indians will have to survive around their own net early on. One of Toms River South’s strengths last year was its depth, so tapping into that depth will be a major asset this year as the Indians try to replace some holes around the formation while riding breakout forward Cameron Geerinck up top.
10. Long Branch
Losing 23-goal scorer Guilherme De Novaes gives Long Branch a much different feel this season, but different may not necessarily be worse. The Green Wave will be experienced in the back of the formation – which includes in goal – and will boast some serious talent and upside on the attack. Sophomore Juan Carlos Merino is just a tick over five feet tall, but he has as much game as anyone in the conference, while 6-3 Brazilian Hernan Acevedo has been a different player this year after a season to get acclimated.
Rumson-Fair Haven – Last year’s 5-13-3 record makes putting them in the first top 10 a risky proposition, but the Bulldogs deserve to be in the conversation with the improvements they’ve made.
Brick Memorial – Lots of goals to replace, but the Mustangs are big in the back and should be better defensively.
Wall – Only two starters back, but one is an All-Shore level player (Dan Frisch-Harmon) and the program always produces quality starters.
Middletown North – A good junior class should set the Lions up for a nice run, which they would like to begin this year.
Point Boro – The Panthers will be solid, as always, but also feature a standout scorer and all-around athlete in Sam Monaco.
Freehold Boro – The Colonials hung tough in A North last year and are hoping to take the next step, especially with dangerous striker Andy Rizo back.