Boys Soccer – SSN Top 10, Sept. 17
The Shore had the look of a parity-riddled conference heading into the 2017 campaign and it has lived up to that classification in nearly every way imaginable. With nearly two whole weeks passing between the Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10 and this latest installment, there were bound to be some significant changed to the field, but the changes still looks jarring compared to where things were on opening day.
Only four unbeaten teams are left: only one of them was ranked in the preseason top 10 and two of them have not yet played five games. Among the top 10 teams from the preseason only five survived to see to top 10 again this week, with the pool of unranked preseason teams producing five ranked teams this week and two in the top five.
These lists tend to stabilize over the course of the year, but given some of the names that dropped out of the top 10 this week, it’s likely stability won’t be a characteristic of this year’s Shore Conference regular season, save for maybe one or two teams.
1. Holmdel (5-0, 4-0) Preseason Rank: 1
The Hornets have been as good as advertised so far, outscoring opponents 26-3 during a 5-0 start. The competition has been modest early on, but will pick up this week with a home game under the lights against perennial Group IV contender Monroe as well as a showdown with undefeated Rumson-Fair Haven in a rematch of the Central Jersey Group II semifinals from a year ago.
2. Christian Brothers Academy (5-1, 4-0) Preseason Rank: 5
Despite suffering their first loss of the season on Saturday, the Colts have a strong case to be the No. 1 team. Had they pulled off an upset against St. Benedict’s over the weekend, they would have earned the billing and with wins over Peddie, Freehold Boro and Colts Neck so far, it’s not hard to argue they have already earned it. With that being said, Holmdel entered the season No. 1 and has performed as well as possible, plus CBA has a loss – albeit an excusable one. We’ll check back on these two next week.
3. Pinelands (5-0, 4-0) Preseason Rank: Not ranked
From unranked to No. 3 in the Shore, Pinelands climbs to a place in the rankings that is uncharted for the program. The Wildcats are one of four undefeated teams remaining in the Shore Conference and outside of Holmdel, they have been the most impressive of the bunch. Pinelands scored resounding wins over Lakewood and Point Boro and also edged Southern in overtime. The parity-filled conference certainly opens the door for a team like Pinelands to step through, but the Wildcats have looked as solid as any team outside the top two.
4. Jackson Memorial (4-1, 3-1) Preseason Rank: Not ranked
It has been a while since Jackson Memorial has had so few seniors in its lineup, but it has not slowed the Jaguars down to this point. They have not given up more than one goal in any game and have pitched shutouts in three of their four wins. Jackson has wins over Toms River South and Freehold Boro, both of which appear in this week’s top 10 and both of which the Jaguars beat by more than a one-goal margin.
5. Toms River South (3-1, 3-1) Preseason Rank: 2
In their lone loss of the season, the Indians outplayed Jackson Memorial over the first 70 minutes before a controversial foul call set up the winning free kick, followed by a tack-on goal. Outside of that loss, Toms River South has outscored its opponents 15-1, which is noteworthy considering the Indians lost a lot of scoring from last year’s NJSIAA Group III runner up team.
6. Long Branch (4-1, 2-1) Preseason Rank: 6
Long Branch’s only loss was an overtime defeat at the hands of Ocean in which the Green Wave outshot the Spartans 18-7. Since that loss, Venancio Fernandes has begun to find his scoring touch, scoring four goals in each of Long Branch’s last two games after scoring none over the first three. With a dominant performance in a 4-0 win over Middletown North, the Green Wave proved to be a top-five caliber team that will be in the mix throughout the year.
7. Middletown North (4-1, 2-1) Preseason Rank: Not ranked
The Lions graduated eight starters from last year’s sectional finalist squad, but have jumped on the back of senior Liam McGregor to start the season 4-1. An ugly 4-0 loss to Long Branch notwithstanding, Middletown North has started strong against good competition, picking up quality wins over Westfield, Wall and Manalapan. With two of those wins coming against teams outside of B North, Middletown North has probably done more than any team in the Shore Conference to bolster the profile of their division.
8. Rumson-Fair Haven (4-0, 2-0) Preseason Rank: Not ranked
The Bulldogs don’t have any wins that jump off the page, but they are one of the four remaining unbeaten teams in the Shore Conference and have not had to sweat too much in picking up their four wins. Rumson will have a chance to make a big splash on Wednesday, when the Bulldogs travel to play No. 1 Holmdel.
9. Freehold Boro (3-3, 2-2) Preseason Rank: Not ranked
While the Colonials are only .500 and still might have some consistency issues to iron out, they have proved that their ceiling is as high as any public school team in Class A North. The Colonials took down Colts Neck on opening day and just bulldozed preseason No. 4 Ocean, 5-1, on Saturday. Blowing a 2-0 lead in a last-minute loss to Manalapan hurt their potential to climb for now and a 4-1 loss to Jackson Memorial could be an anchor for the Colonials and other A North teams when it comes time to seed the SCT.
10. Ocean (3-1, 3-0) Preseason Rank: 4
The Spartans walked the tightrope in their first three games of the season and in the fourth, the rope gave way. Ocean needed late goals to beat Long Branch, Monmouth and Manasquan – all solid teams – before swallowing a 5-1 loss to Freehold Boro on Saturday. That’s not a losing score that one would find on many top-10 resumes, but the win over Long Branch keeps Ocean in the top 10 for the time being.
Freehold Township (3-2, 2-1) Last Week: 3 – With a 3-0 loss to Neptune and three wins over teams (Howell, Colts Neck and Wall) that currently have losing record, Freehold Township’s resume is not that of a top 10 team, even if its roster is.
Manalapan (1-1-2, 1-0-2) Last Week: 7 – A win over Freehold Boro keeps Manalapan on the fringe of the top 10, but draws vs. Marlboro and Howell make it the outer fringe for this week.
Southern (2-2, 2-1) Last Week: 8 – The Rams have an ugly 6-1 loss to Brick Memorial to answer for, but that was without Ethan Leming and they followed it with wins over Jackson Memorial and Brick to stay in the top 10 conversation.
Toms River North (2-1, 2-1) Last Week: 9 – The Mariners have played three one-goal games and have wins over Toms River East and Central, which isn’t quite enough to keep them in the top 10 this week.
Lacey (3-1, 3-1) Last Week: 10 – An opening-day loss to a Point Boro team that has since lost to Pinelands and Lacey dropped the Lions out, but they have responded with three straight wins and 12 goals since being shut out on opening day.
On the Bubble
Asbury Park (4-0, 3-0) – While they are still working out some of the kinks, the Blue Bishops are 4-0 with a wins over St. Rose and Mater Dei that suggest Asbury Park is once again the B Central favorite.
Lakewood (4-2, 3-2) – An up-and-down start currently finds Lakewood on a high after knocking off defending B South champion Point Boro on Friday. Lakewood has already played Lacey and Pinelands as well, so the Piners should be able to keep it going this week before eventually running into Pinelands for a second time.
Middletown South (4-1, 2-1) – Middletown South’s only loss was in overtime to Wall, but the four wins are not eye-opening either. Still, a 4-1 start for a team that has not so much as sniffed the SCT since reaching the semifinals in 2012 is noteworthy and makes Middletown South a team to watch this week as the Eagles gear up for games against No. 6 Long Branch, No. 10 Ocean and No. 7 Middletown North.