Boys Soccer – SCT Final Preview
Shore Conference Tournament Championship Game
Saturday, Oct. 31, 5 p.m.
At Memorial Athletic Complex, Summerfield Elementary School, Neptune
No. 2 Christian Brothers Academy vs. No. 4 Ocean
CBA (15-3-1, 11-2-1 in Class A North)
Projected Starting Lineup
Head Coach: Dan Keane
SCT Championships: 8 (1 co-championship)
SCT Final Appearances: 10
Last Championship: 2011
Road to the Final: Defeated No. 15 Toms River North 5-0, No. 7 Manalapan 1-0, No. 6 Toms River South 2-1
Ocean (15-3, 11-1 in Class B North)
Probable Starting Lineup
Head Coach: Tom Reilly
SCT Championships: 4
SCT Final Appearances: 8
Last Championship: 2012
Road to the Final: Defeated No. 20 Central 3-0, No. 5 Wall 3-0, No. 1 Shore 2-0
This may or may not be the most expected finals matchup for this year, but as far as Shore Conference soccer goes, this is analogous to Manchester United vs. Liverpool, the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New York Yankees vs. the St. Louis Cardinals or the Lakers vs. the Celtics. No other team in Shore Conference boys soccer has matched either CBA or Ocean in championship game appearances, with CBA preparing for its record 10th championship while Ocean gears up for its eighth.
Although the Colts and Spartans have been to the conference final more than any other team, Saturday’s meeting will be the first between the two storied programs in the championship game and the first trip for each since they last won the title. For CBA, the wait has lasted four years and since winning the 2011 title as part of an undefeated season, the Colts had not been farther than the SCT round of 16.
The return to prominence for the Shore’s most prolific program has coincided with the maturation of its junior class, which accounts for eight of the spots in the starting lineup. Junior center midfielder Matt Thorsheim is the only player in that Class of 2017 that actually returned this season with significant varsity playing experience and he has been the team’s leader on the attack with nine goals and 14 assists. Thorsheim has scored at least one goal in four of CBA’s six one-goal victories and his two multi-goal games came against top competition in Freehold Township and Don Bosco Prep. Classmate Patrick Kollman has been the breakout scorer for the Colts this year, especially during the tournament. He leads the team with 14 goals to go with five assists and has scored four in three SCT games – including his second hat trick of the season in a 5-0 round-of-16 win over Toms River North and the first goal in Thursday’s 2-1 semifinal win over Toms River South.
Two of the three seniors in the CBA starting lineup play on its back line, which has contributed to 13 shutouts this season. Center fullback Tom Lozowski is a three-year varsity starter for the Colts and has thrived in his first year as a defender, while Tim Mikulski has held down one of the outside back spots. Junior Scott Misson has also had a strong debut season as a starter at the other center back spot and junior Tom Judge (six goals) has made the conversion from forward to outside back during the tournament.
Outside midfielder Nick Meyer is the other senior in the lineup and he came up with the big play in the semifinal win by initiating the go-ahead own goal. Juniors Matt Mawson and Aaron Robertson are also keys parts on the attack and junior Ryan Nigro has been a linchpin as the defensive center midfielder. The Colts have shortened their bench for the postseason, but junior Joe Paolillo has played big minutes when called upon. Goalkeeper Aedan Boriotti, meanwhile, is one shutout shy of matching a single-season school record and has been a resounding answer at a position that served as one of CBA’s biggest question marks going into the year.
While CBA has waited four years to get back to the SCT final four, Ocean has been a regular at Memorial Athletic Complex. Including this season, the Spartans have been in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals in three of the past four seasons and won the tournament in 2012. In all, Ocean has been to 10 SCT semifinals and has cashed in a trip to the final in eight of them. If they can win on Thursday, the Spartans will match Jackson Memorial with five outright championships, the second-highest number behind CBA’s seven. CBA and Jackson both split the 1988 title, so the Jaguars would still lead Ocean in total titles.
If Ocean has any advantage on CBA heading into Saturday evening, it is senior experience and depth, or at least the depth that it will employ in the game. While CBA will likely play 12 players if all goes according to plan, Ocean will use up to five players off the bench, including two promising freshmen in Santino Harding and James Schutz. With seven goals on the season, Harding will be a player to identify for the CBA defense when he comes into the game.
As for the starting lineup, Ocean is loaded with experience, including six seniors and eight returning starters. Senior center midfielder Wadneson Alexis is the key to everything for Ocean and although he is not having the best statistical season of his four-year varsity career, he has turned himself from a top-notch striker to a distributor and facilitator of the offense. Senior Marlhens Nasanes has followed up his breakout junior year with an even better year this season, which includes 16 goals. He will play up top with senior Braylin Estrella, who along with Nasanes, scored a goal in Thursday’s semifinal win over Shore.
Senior Ryan Wells leads the defense along with classmate Luis Araya, both of whom were starters on the 2013 team that reached the semifinals. Second-year starting goalkeeper Yianni Kavarakas is the other senior starter for Ocean and his return from a back injury has helped lift the defense. Ocean has recorded shutouts in its last five games and since the return of their keeper, the Spartans are 8-1.
Ian Dwyer, Cosimo Franze, Brandon Holland, Tom Amato and Jordan Ornowski form a strong core of juniors that rounds out the Ocean starting lineup. Dwyer was arguably the man of the match against Shore on Thursday, creating the first scoring chance of the game before assisting the first actual goal with his corner kick. The Spartans also have a senior with starting experience in Joe Abrams to bring off the bench, so fatigue may not be as big of a factor for them as it is for many CBA opponents.
For Ocean to win, its speedy forwards will have to be able to beat a fast CBA defense, which might be able to slow down that particular dimension of Ocean’s attack. Alexis’ ability to deliver the ball accurately and on time helps players like Nasanes, Estrella and Harding maximize those runs and it also helps that Dwyer and Franze have been dangerous going forward from the midfield. It will also be imperative for Ocean to remain organized in the back and that has been more of a constant over the last month, particularly with Kavarakas back in goal.
CBA, on the other hand, will likely have to finish better than it did against Toms River South, which made three defensive mistakes in the game with two leading to goals. Kollman slipped in behind the defense and beat his man to a rebound for the first goal and another defender kicked in a cross from Meyer for the season. The pressure CBA applies is a big reason for those mistakes, but it’s best not to rely on the other team to help with the cause. Defensively, CBA’s back line will be on high alert because while the Colts should win the possession battle, Ocean will attack quickly from the midfield with Alexis and the army of strikers.
Saturday has a chance to be the beginning of a two-year reign for this junior-heavy CBA squad, although academy soccer is always lurking as a possible foil to any promising future for a high school team. Ocean, meanwhile, endured an injury-hampered, disappointing season in 2014 and has come back on a mission this year. The future is bright for the Spartans, but if they can’t win this year’s title, it could take another two-to-three years to get back. There is a sense of urgency to win for a higher percentage of the Ocean lineup that was not as strong during the regular season and that bodes well for the Spartans on Saturday and going forward in the NJSIAA Group III playoffs.
On the subject of emotion, it’s hard to trump CBA – which is playing to give head coach Dan Keane one more title to add to his illustrious résumé before he retires for the end of the season. During Keane’s tenure, CBA is 7-1-1 in the SCT final, which is hard to pick against, even taking out the motivational factor. Ocean’s speed and senior-led attack make the Spartans a logical choice, but the “Win One for Coach” rallying cry makes the Colts the sentimental pick while their exceptional talent and championship pedigree also make them a good choice to begin with.
The talent is close, which means when it comes to the intangibles it will be experience vs. sentimentality. As a cold-hearted prognosticator, I’m going with my first instinct: from the start of the season, Ocean looked like the team with the highest ceiling of any in the Shore. Maybe that does not manifest itself until the state tournament or perhaps at all, but if the last few games are any indication, it’s already happening.
There has not been a championship tie since that 1988 final between Jackson Memorial and CBA and I honestly think this one could result in the dreaded co-champions outcome. Of course, I have never – nor will ever – cop out and predict a tie. The Pick: Ocean, 2-1