This weekend’s Toms River Kick-Off Classic is not to the first summer high school soccer tournament, but with its proximity to the first official day of practice for New Jersey high school teams, it marks the beginning of the countdown to the fall season, particularly for Shore Conference soccer.

Southern and Shawnee have already hosted weekend game action and Harrison is hosting its preseason slate this weekend as well with teams like Freehold Township and Long Branch representing the Shore, but no tournament gives more Shore teams a chance to look at themselves and some other potential in-season opponents than the weekend in Toms River.

With 18 teams from Monmouth and Ocean Counties convening in Toms River, there was no shortage of buzz for the upcoming year.

New Faces at Holmdel 

When Brendan Wall came out for the high school team as a freshman in 2013, Hornets coach John Nacarlo considered it a victory that a talented young player chose to play high school soccer over committing to an academy. Two years later, Wall is no longer at Holmdel, and it was not an academy that drew him away.

Wall is enrolling at Ranney School this fall, according to Nacarlo, and will be eligible to play for the Panthers after sitting the required 30 days per NJSIAA transfer rules. The move is a noteworthy one considering one of the top Shore high school players in his class is going from a program that has consistently competed for both Shore Conference and NJSIAA Tournament titles to one that wasn't even a member of the Shore Conference until the 2013-14 school year.

Ranney went 7-10-1 last year and 6-7-1 within the Class B Central division with much of its production coming from players who will be back in the fold this year. Once eligible, Wall will join fellow junior Shane Keenan – who set team highs in goals (six) and assists (eight) last year - as well as senior James Geraghty and sophomore Marc Greenstein in the lineup. Another offensive weapon is sure to help Ranney blow past its 23 goals scored from a year ago, if not challenge a formidable Shore Regional team at the top of the division.

Holmdel sophomore Justin McStay. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Holmdel has been a consistent Shore Conference contender over the last five years and a big reason has been because top talent decides to stay in the program. With the exception of Sean Davis back in 2008 and Santo Arena last year, Division I-caliber talent has at the very least come back after playing for an academy and at most has committed to the high school team full time.

Arena will again not be playing high school soccer this year (he played as a freshman in 2013). Coupled with the loss of Wall, that leaves Holmdel with some question marks in the goal-scoring department. Regardless of what happens up front for the Hornets, they will be strong in the back with senior standout Tyler Marchiano in goal. On top of returning one of the top goalkeepers in the Shore Conference, Holmdel has been strong at sweeper with sophomore Justin McStay, whom Nacarlo expects to be a prototypical sweeper for a program that has been strong at the position over this recent five-year run of success.

Senior Nick Chrystal and junior Hunter Chapman also played key roles last year, and Chapman showed off his goal-scoring ability in Toms River, which could turn out to be key for a Holmdel squad that will again be difficult to score on in 2015.

Rebuilding the Wall 

Like Holmdel, Wall will have to overcome a transfer from the program. Senior Gerardo Medina enrolled at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark for this coming year, leaving Wall without one of a potential four returning starters it could have brought back this season. The other three potential returning starters include junior midfielder Dan Frisch-Harmon and seniors Zach Ferry and Connor Fry.

Frisch-Harmon was a highly-regarded defensive center midfielder as a sophomore in 2014, according to his own coaches and opposing coaches. Crimson Knights coach Garry Linstra described Frisch-Harmon as a defensive midfielder with more skill than the superior athletes at the position and more athleticism than the players whose skills rival his. If Wall is going to contend in Class B North, Frisch-Harmon will be the junior leader who helps offset the loss of seven senior starters.

Ocean Primed for Big Year?

On the subject of Class B North, the standout Shore Conference team for those who made the rounds in Toms River was likely Ocean, which is understandable considering the Spartans lost only two starters to graduation and have a host of returnees, led by Monmouth University commit Wadneson Alexis.

Ocean senior and Monmouth University recruit Wadneson Alexis at this past weekend's Toms River Tournament. (Photo by Matt Manley)

The Spartans got off to a slow start last year and came up just shy of knocking off top-seeded Toms River South in the Shore Conference Tournament by losing in a round of penalty kicks. An early-season knee injury slowed Alexis, but it did not prevent a breakout by junior Marlhens Nasanes, who will combine with Alexis to form one of the Shore’s most dangerous duos.

Senior goalkeeper Yanni Kavarakas is currently battling back tightness as a result of his summer basketball schedule, but is expected by his coaches to be ready in plenty of time for the start of the season. Once Kavarakas returns, Ocean will have nine returning starters, plus a standout freshman class that could potentially figure into the fold as well.

Raritan Reloads Again

Raritan has traditionally performed well at Toms River, and although the Rockets have a lot of roster spots to replace, they looked like a capable team again according to any of the coaches who watched or faced them. A number of potential returnees will not be playing on this year’s team, but a number of key players from last year are indeed back for Raritan, led by sophomore Louis DiLorenzio, who scored four goals as a freshman.

Fellow sophomore Nick Benoit and senior Chris Medina also return and junior Chad Santopadre had a good weekend in goal for a Raritan team looking to rebound this season.

A South at a Glance

Beyond the fact that it’s a preseason tournament, the weekend in Toms River is a limited glimpse at the upcoming season because only about a third of the Shore Conference participates. The one exception within the entire scope of the Shore is Class A South, which once again had 100 percent attendance from its teams in Toms River.

Toms River South is the defending champion in a division that again appears to be pretty even. While it seems like there might not be a dominant team, there was a similar sentiment last year, and Toms River South ended up earning the top seed in the Shore Conference Tournament.

The Indians will have a host of starters to replace from last year’s team, but they were a deep roster last year that expects to be able to turn last year’s depth into this year’s starting lineup, according to coach Ed Leibe. Senior Cameron Geerinck was the second-leading scorer on the team last year, and fellow senior Mike Tapp was a key piece on a standout back line, so both seniors will carry a leadership role into this season.

Jackson Memorial made a late push for first place with a strong second half of the season last year. With nine starters back from that team, the Jaguars could be the favorite as practice begins. Coach Steve Bado called junior forward Mike Schoener the “fastest kid in the school,” noteworthy for a school with such a good football program. Schoener also has scoring ability, as he showed with nine goals last year as a sophomore.

With two more top scorers Andrew Jozwicki and Joey Stoltenberg also back as seniors and some defense-plus-size combination of seniors Joe Mamola and Nick Schlageter, Jackson Memorial has a diverse roster that also offers experience. The Jaguars did not have their full squad for the weekend, but managed a good performance Saturday against Ramapo.

Toms River North was without standout senior Joey Hertgen for the weekend as he recovers from a stress fracture in his foot. Coach Joe Mahon said Hertgen was just cleared to play at the end of last week and would likely return to action in approximately two weeks, which would line him up to be ready for the opener in September.

Mahon also said that he was expecting close to 100 players trying out for the team, and although varsity roles are still up in the air with more than half of a starting lineup to replace, he expects to have a versatile, deep roster with so much talent from which to draw.

The unofficial “biggest team” over the weekend was Brick Memorial, which boasts a back-line of six-footers. Senior Alex Fernandez stands at 6-foot-5 and will play in the center of the defense, which will be a vital part of the Mustangs side with the loss of Kevin Simek and Bryan Malerba, who graduated with a combined 32 goals during last season alone. Brick Memorial also had some starters away for the weekend, but senior Ed Seaman, junior Jake DeGennaro and sophomore James McCombs are candidates to pick up some of the offense.

Lacey returns a pair of standouts seniors in Robert Biele and George Gartner who will look to carry a Lions team that ran hot-and-cold last year. There was some sentiment that Toms River East might be in a rebuilding year after some key losses from an up-and-down season of its own, but Alex Matos is a returnee who should make an impact in A South. The Raiders were competitive over the weekend against solid competition.

Southern struggled over the weekend, but the Rams were not at full strength either. Senior Kyle Montesano was the leading goal-scorer as a junior, touching the net nine times last year.

New Coaches, Early Impressions 

The eighth Class A South team is also one of the Shore Conference teams playing under new head coaches. First-year head coach and former Donovan Catholic junior varsity coach Tom Vrazzitta has injected some energy into the Brick program, which will try to overcome the loss of 14 seniors and climb out of the bottom of the A South standings.

Former Brick coach Ken Lynch is now an assistant for Ken Oliver at Donovan Catholic and is essentially replacing the coach who replaced him. Lynch has also served as an assistant for the Donovan Catholic basketball team, so the Griffins are familiar territory for Lynch.

Longtime Matawan coach Dave Deegan stepped down at the end of last year and unlike Brick, the Huskies stayed in-house with Deegan assistant Tyler Isaacson. Deegan left on a high note after leading the Huskies to a Class A Central championship. Senior Bronson Dhume will shoulder a good deal of the offensive load while most of a junior-heavy defense returns.

B South Favorites? 

On the subject of Donovan Catholic, the Griffins might be the favorite in Class B South, although defending division champion Point Boro – which was not at the weekend tournament – will have a lot to say about that. The Griffins are a junior-heavy team, while senior Alec Mapoy impressed Oliver on Saturday against Matawan and Northern Valley Demerest.

Like Brick Memorial, Central lost a slew of scoring with the graduation of its top two scorers – Blake Czajkowski (25 goals) and Doug Jensen (19 goals) – but has a quality group of juniors and a solid senior leader in Shane Cranstoun to help ease the transition. Youssef Abdelaziz and Nate Wiley both look like capable scorers and coach Rob Bechtloff has been impressed with junior Cory Casten in the early going as well. Central also adds Manchester transfer and senior midfielder Jake Dufner to the fold.

Central senior Shane Cranstoun. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Repping A North 

Class A North’s only representative over the weekend was Middletown North, which is in the process of replacing seven starters while also bringing back a handful of impact players. Junior Ryan Harmon enjoyed a breakout year as a sophomore and Scott Wiegel is back in goal after an early-season injury ended a promising year. Coach Fred Napoli also said he will have sophomore Liam McGregor will play this season after electing to play Academy soccer last year.

Defending State Champs Loaded Up for Title Defense

Shore Regional is coming off a state sectional championship and could end up being the best team among the Shore Conference field in Toms River. The Blue Devils return most of their scoring from a season ago and although they did not have a complete team over the weekend (39-goal scorer J.T. Kessler was playing sweeper in the final game of the weekend), most of the reviews from other Shore Conference coaches were predictably positive.