Soccer – Boys and Girls Group Semifinal Previews
Of the 32 boys and girls public school soccer programs still playing this season, nearly one third (10 out of 32) are teams from the Shore Conference, including three schools that will be sending both boys and girls teams to the group semifinals. This has most certainly been a banner postseason for the boys and girls from the Shore to this point, so much so that three of the eight games played between South Jersey and Central Jersey sectional champions on Tuesday will be two Shore teams playing one another. That, of course, guarantees at least three Shore teams – one boys and two girls – will be playing for a group championship this weekend at Kean University.
There is at least one team from the Shore Conference at all four South-Central group semifinal sites, including one that features nothing but locals. That will be the first stop in a look around the four sites that follows.
Group III Semifinals, at Toms River North
Girls: Colts Neck vs. Toms River South, 5 p.m.
Boys: Ocean vs. Toms River South, 7:30 p.m.
Regardless of the outcome, Tuesday night will be quite the night for Toms River South soccer as the Indians have both their boys and girls in the double-header, which also happens to be in Toms River. Both teams won their respective sectional final on their home field and their fans need not travel far to give the two Toms River South sides a home field advantage again on Tuesday.
In addition to both playing in the final, there are common threads through both Indians programs thanks to the coaches in the program. Boys coach Rob Laycock is a graduate of Toms River South who also played for girls coach John Crowley when he was a sub-varsity coach in the 1980’s. Girls assistant Tom Brown also played goalkeeper for the Indians in the early 1980’s and his son, Ben Brown, is a junior on the boys team. The girls program will also be represented in the Group II semifinals thanks to Holmdel girls coach Jen Conroy, who starred at Toms River South when she went by Jen Barbalinardo.*
Both Indians teams will be facing off against a somewhat-familiar opponent on Tuesday. The boys team will play Central Jersey Group III champion Ocean in the second game of the double-header – a rematch of last year’s Shore Conference Tournament round-of-16 game, won by Toms River South on penalty kicks. Tuesday will mark the third time in four years that the two programs have met in a postseason game, the first of which was an 8-2 Ocean rout on the way to winning a Shore Conference Tournament title in 2012.
Senior Cameron Geerinck has highlighted this Toms River South run and could be the Shore’s best player during the postseason. Geerinck has scored in 11 straight games – including each of Toms River South’s eight postseason games between the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Tournaments. He now has 27 goals on the season and the first of his two goals in Friday’s South Jersey Group III final win over Ocean City set the school single-season record.
The Indians will be tasked with beating an Ocean team that won Class B North, reached the Shore Conference Tournament final and beat West Windsor-Plainsboro North on a golden goal in the 99th minute by senior Ryan Wells in Friday’s Central Jersey Group III final. The Spartans feature an array of scoring options, which includes Wells out of the back and on set pieces, leading goal-scorer Marlhens Nasanes (19 goals) and senior Wadneson Alexis in the midfield. Ocean has yet to surrender a goal during the state tournament and the only two goals the Spartans have allowed in their last 10 games came against SCT champion CBA in the tournament final.
Toms River South is seeking its first trip to the state final since winning Group IV in 2009. Ocean, meanwhile, has not been to a group final since winning the Group III title in 1996.
The Lady Indians, meanwhile, will have to overcome unbeaten and Shore Conference Tournament champion Colts Neck in order to reach the Group III final for the second time in three years. This will be the second meeting between the two teams this year, the first of which was a 2-1 overtime win by Colts Neck in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals.
Scoring was supposed to be a question mark at the outset of the season for Toms River South, but the Indians have had the touch in the postseason. In seven games between the conference and state tournaments, Toms River South has scored 27 goals (3.9 per game) and the only team to hold the Indians under two goals during that stretch was Colts Neck.
Freshman Alyia Canfield has scored six goals in the seven games and has 15 for the season to lead the team, including the lone goal against Colts Neck. Seniors Tori Babcock and Charly Slavick have also accounted for a chunk of the scoring this year, as have juniors Katie Hammack and Madison Meise.
On the other side, Colts Neck is looking to return to the Group III final for the second straight year after losing to four-time defending champion Northern Highlands in last year’s final. The Cougars faced elimination in the sectional semifinals against Wall, but senior Amanda Visco scored the equalizer with 3:11 left and fellow senior Ali Russo won it with a golden goal in the 96th. The Cougars went on to beat Toms River East, 3-0, in the sectional final.
In addition to Visco – a starting center fullback heading to Rutgers next year – and Russo, Toms River South will have to deal with the forward tandem of junior Frankie Tagliaferri and senior Bridgette King, who have combined for 50 goals this season. Despite missing two separate weeks of games to train with the U-17 National Team, Tagliaferri has racked up 26 goals and 18 assists this season for the Cougars.
Group IV Semifinals, at Memorial Athletic Complex, Neptune
Girls: Freehold Twp. vs. Shawnee, 5 p.m.
Boys: Freehold Twp. vs. Washington Twp., 7:30 p.m.
Like Toms River South, Freehold Township will have an interest in both ends of the doubleheader, this one in Neptune with both sides taking on a pair of South Jersey powers. Both teams are coming off wild, 3-2 wins in the sectional final – the girls at home over Hunterdon Central and the boys on the road over Monroe squad that ended their season last year.
The boys’ win over the Falcons on Friday featured a 10-minute stretch between the 65th and 75th minutes that included all five of the game’s goals and there was a stretch of less than four minutes in which the teams combined for four goals. Nick Facendo scored the last two Patriots goals, the first of which put his team ahead 2-1 and the second of which was the game-winner with 5:04 remaining in the game. Facendo’s second goal came just 31 seconds after Monroe had tied the game – the second time the Falcons equalized in a span of three minutes.
Freehold Township is looking to reach its first ever state final by going through a powerhouse Washington Township team that has barely missed a beat since last year, if the Minutemen have missed a beat at all. Over the last two seasons, Washington is 49-2-1, including 23-1-1 this year and the defending Group IV champions just beat Eastern for the fourth time this year to secure a second straight South Jersey Group IV title.
On the way to winning the Group IV championship last year, Washington escaped with a 2-1 win over Manalapan in last year’s Group IV semifinals and could face a similar challenge Tuesday from Freehold Township. Senior Mike Maltese and Chris Hoskins have been a reliable source of production on set pieces, with Maltese matching a single-season school record with 14 assists and Hoskins netting 18 goals.
The Lady Patriots are also after their first trip to the Group IV final fresh off winning their first ever sectional title. The goals were more spread out in Freehold Township’s win over Hunterdon Central than they were in the boys game, but it still took three unanswered goals from the Patriots to beat the Red Devils on Thursday. Nicole Sasso scored two goals and Lacey Powell scored the game-winner with 48 seconds left to cap the comeback and deliver Freehold Township its first girls soccer sectional title.
Shawnee opposes the Patriots on Tuesday night and the Renegades are also searching for their first trip to the group finals after winning their first sectional title. Senior Alexis Palladino leads Shawnee with 21 goals and 18 assists and will square off against her future teammate with the Scarlet Knights, Patriots senior Nicole Whitley.
Whitley leads five Division I commits on the Patriots, which also include Sasso (Marist), Powell (Temple), Caleigh Farrell (New Hampshire) and Victoria Coppa (St. Peter’s). Sophomore twins Jasmine and Jada Colbert have also been weapons for the Patriots during the run.
Group II Semifinals, at St. Augustine
Boys: Holmdel vs. Delran, 5 p.m.
Girls: Holmdel vs. Point Pleasant Boro, 7:30 p.m.
The Hornets are the third Shore Conference teams with both a boys and girls team playing in Tuesday’s state semifinals after both went on the road to win their respective sectional championship games – including a shootout win over top-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven for the girls. The Lady Hornets are the defending Group II champion, while the boys recently appeared in three straight group finals from 2010 to 2012.
The Holmdel boys are in their fourth group semifinal in the last six years and fifth of the past decade with the youngest roster the Hornets have had in any of the five championship seasons. The starting lineup includes three sophomores and two freshman, and freshman backup goalkeeper Jack Murray recently started playing the field. Fellow freshmen Joe Arena – who scored the game-winning goal in the 1-0 win over Bordentown in the Central Jersey Group II final – and Torre Avitable have been starting throughout the season, while sophomores Justin McStay, Nick Guga and Mikey Neff have been significant contributors as well. Junior midfielder Leon Nobrega and senior goalkeeper Tyler Marchiano have also led the way as more experienced players for the Hornets.
The team standing between Holmdel and a fourth trip to a state final in six years is a very familiar opponent. Delran and Holmdel will meet Tuesday for the fourth straight year in the NJSIAA Tournament and the results have favored Holmdel to this point. The Hornets beat the Bears in the 2012 sectional semifinals and the two teams split a pair of games that were decided by penalty kicks in each of the last two seasons. Delran defeated Holmdel in a shootout in the Central Jersey Group II semifinals in 2013, while the Hornets got their revenge in last year’s quarterfinals after another scoreless draw.
Both Delran and Holmdel have done most of their work during the tournament on the road, with Holmdel winning all four of its sectional playoff games on the road as the No. 9 seed in the bracket. Delran was the No. 8 seed in South Jersey and after holding serve at home in round one, the Bears beat No. 1 Haddonfield, No. 5 Sterling and No. 7 Cinnaminson away from home to win the sectional title.
Holmdel’s girls won their second straight title by conquering a Rumson team that beat Holmdel twice during the regular season by a combined score of 8-4. Senior Hannah Lee scored both regulation goals by Holmdel and the Hornets pulled out the win in penalty kicks to overcome their Class A Central nemesis and continue their title defense. Lee is now the leading scorer on the team with 20 goals, while all-time program scoring leader Gabby Bair has added 17 to go with 14 assists.
Point Boro will try to take down Holmdel and continue one of the best seasons in program history. The Panthers won their first sectional title since 2009 in dramatic fashion by winning the final two games of their run through the sectional playoffs on a golden goal. Sophomore Devon Wondolowski (28 goals this season) scored two goals – including the winner in overtime – in a 2-1 win over Cinnaminson in the South Jersey Group II semifinals and junior Kaitlyn Seitter (13 goals, 14 assists). The Panthers are seeking their first ever trip to the semifinals while also trying to notch their 20th win of the season.
Group I Semifinals, at Haddonfield
Girls: Shore vs. Haddon Twp., 5 p.m.
The Group I semifinals were probably the most likely site to find a boys and girls team from the same school, but the Shore boys lost to South River in the sectional semifinals. So the Lady Blue Devils will go at it alone in South Jersey on Tuesday while looking to earn their fourth straight appearance in the Group I final.
The Blue Devils are hoping this is the year they finally break through and win the championship game after going 0-2-1 over the three previous trips, but they will first have to get through Haddon Heights. Shore has done it with a mix of experience and youth this season, led by seniors Shannon Bonner and Devon McDonough. As far as scoring goes, the Blue Devils have turned to a pair of freshmen for a large portion of it. Frankie McDonough leads the team with 21 goals and Hannah Birdsall has added 17 as well.
While Shore is playing for its fourth straight trip to the state final, Haddon Heights is looking to reach the group final for the first time in program history.
*-Toms River South history provided by Mitch Powitz