Boys Soccer – Seniors Lead Matawan to Front of the A Central Pack
Injuries grounded the Matawan boys soccer team for an extended stretch of the 2015 season and that, in part, cost the Huskies a chance to compete for the Shore Conference Class A Central division title and nearly cost them a Shore Conference Tournament berth.
With a healthy, cohesive, senior-heavy roster, Matawan has taken flight this season and one of its now-healthy stars took to the air to give his team a big 1-0, overtime win over Holmdel on Saturday.
Senior Jacob Labinger got off to a promising start during his junior season, but a foot injury derailed both his and his team's momentum. Now 100 percent healthy, Labinger has led the charge during Matawan's 6-2-1 start to the season, which included scoring Saturday's golden goal on a leaping, back-post header following a long cross from junior Bobby Johns in the sixth minute of overtime.
"Year's before, we've had great players, but this year we have a great team," Labinger said. "We've been playing together since we were on the small nets, so we have great chemistry. We never fight. We like to joke around and when it comes to game time, we're all business."
During the career of Labinger and his fellow seniors, Matawan has had a great deal of success against Holmdel, particulrly on the road. The two teams have shared a division since 2014 and in the three seasons since Matawan moved from Class B North to Class A Central, the Huskies are 4-1-1 against the defending Group II runner up, including 3-0 in Holmdel.
"We've been pretty evenly-matched in skill and these games have always come down to who wants it more," Labinger said. "It's just the fire that the team brings and I think they (Holmdel) bring it out of us."
Saturday's game-winning tally was the sixth of the season for Labinger, which leads all Matawan players and is tied for the most goals among all players in Class A Central with St. John Vianney's John Caracappa.
Labinger has led a scoring effort that has produced 21 goals in the team's 10 games. Senior John Vail (four goals) is the only other player on the team with more than two, but seven other players have contributed at least one goal in a well-rounded attack.
Statistically speaking, Matawan has been solid in the defensive third, allowing just over a goal per game with 11 goals against in those 10 matches. The Huskies have been especially good after giving up four goals on opening day in a 4-3 loss to Shore Regional. Since that loss, they are 7-1-1 with seven goals allowed in nine games, including four shutouts by goalkeeper Ethan Goldenthal.
The Matawan defense is as experienced as any part of the team, with three-year senior starters Tyler Chin and Keleb Mehari leading the way. Fellow senior Liam Nappi has also been a steady contributor to the back line and the group has varsity roots that trace back to Matawan's Class A Central championship team from 2014.
"We've been very lucky so far this year when it comes to health," Labinger said. "We're all in shape and we haven't had the injuries that we did last year and it's allowed us to not only win games, but keep jelling with one another and getting better every game."
Now in his second season as the head coach, Tyler Isaacson - who was an assistant with former longtime coach Dave Deegan - has the Huskies playing and winning as a unit after an injury-riddled debut season.
"Going into last year, I thought we might struggle a little bit because we didn't have a lot of seniors," Isaacson said. "I knew that this group, though, would have a chance to be pretty good."