SSN Boys Lacrosse Coach of the Year: CBA’s Dave Santos
When the season began, Christian Brothers Academy head coach Dave Santos knew if his team – led by a group of 19 seniors – could play to its potential it could be a great spring for the Colts. But despite the veteran presence, there was plenty of uncertainty heading into a challenging first week.
A lot of questions were answered that opening stretch as the Colts picked up two huge wins to vault themselves into a top-five ranking in the state and set the tone for the program’s best season in a decade.
“There was definitely some uncertainty, and it was about our largest senior class ever and how they would respond,” said Santos, the 2018 Shore Sports Network Boys Lacrosse Coach of the Year. “It’s something you don’t find out until the first tough game and they answered the bell every single time this year. They outpaced our expectations by far.”
The Colts finished with a 19-2 record for the program’s most wins in 15 years, won another Class A North division title, advanced to the Shore Conference Tournament championship game for the first time since 2009 and reached the NJSIAA Non-Public A semifinals for the first time since 2007. CBA’s only losses were to Manasquan in the SCT final and to Seton Hall Prep in the state semifinals, both of which were top-five teams in the state at the time.
The Colts began the season with a dominant 16-4 victory over St. John Vianney, but it was their next two games that would showcase their ability. The Colts traveled to upstate New York to face CBA-Syracuse and came away with an impressive 13-7 victory. They returned home and six days later rallied past Don Bosco Prep, 8-7, to take down a top-10 team in the state.
“We went up there only having one win over St. John’s under our belt and not knowing what we were made of,” Santos said. “CBA-Syracuse is very talented and we started to pull away and won comfortably. We had so much confidence coming back to Jersey. Then we won the Bosco game and we were rolling from there.”
CBA remained undefeated for the next five weeks, taking out division foes Middletown South, Freehold Township and Howell to clinch the division title. The Colts also picked up a huge nondivisional win against Manasquan, 6-4, in a game where they shut down one of the state’s best offenses to take over as the No. 1 team in the Shore.
In the SCT, CBA cruised past Middletown North and Shore to reach the semifinals against Rumson-Fair Haven. The Colts pulled away from the Bulldogs in the second half to win 14-8 and reach the SCT championship game for the first time in nine years. Their bid for a fifth conference crown was denied by Manasquan, however, as the Warriors won 11-3 to claim the SCT championship.
CBA bounced back in its next game three days later, rallying on a late goal by senior midfielder Luke Valentino to defeated eventual Non-Public B state champion Pingry, 9-8. The Colts then won their first two state playoff games with victories over Paul VI and St. Peter’s Prep to reach the semifinals before being eliminated by Seton Hall Prep.
CBA’s identity early in the season centered around a balanced offense led by senior attackman Michael Carroll but grew to also become a staunch defensive unit led by senior goalie Chris Downey. One of the Colts’ questions marks entering the season was actually goaltending, but Downey transformed himself into an All-Shore goalie and was a major reason for CBA’s big season. The Colts allowed just 4.4 goals per game and Downey made 137 saves with a .631 save percentage.
“He was a backup for two years and a serviceable backup, but I thought one of our weaknesses coming in was our goaltending,” Santos said. “He turned out to be one of our biggest strengths. Not only did his skill set improve but he grew into his body and was very athletic, and from the opening game he dominated back there. He was a difference maker.”
Upon being notified his selection as Coach of the Year, Santos was quick to point out the impact of his assistant coaches.
“If we’re getting coach of the year it should really be coaching staff of the year,” Santos said. “Having Kevin Dugan join us midway through last year and then having him from the get-go this year really energized our offense.”
Dugan starred for CBA in its formative years in the late 90s before going on to play for Notre Dame. He is also the former head coach at the University of Scranton and an assistant at Yale and Notre Dame.
“A big factor with Chris was Jack Wilson, who played goalie for us five years ago, coming back as a volunteer and working with him,” Santos added.
The 2018 season will go down as one of Santos’ favorites, but not simply because of the success the team had.
“Very seldom is it about the wins and the titles,” Santos said. “I’ve been doing this a long time and what I remember most are the kids and the bonds, the good times had together and the friendships. This was a fun group to be around every single day. Some years are tough but this year we all had tears in our eyes when the season ended because we knew we were never going to be together in the same capacity.”
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