Boys Soccer – 2017 Shore Conference Tournament Final Preview
Shore Conference Tournament Championship
Thursday, Oct. 26, 5 p.m.
At Ocean Township High School
No. 2 Holmdel vs. No. 5 Ocean
Holmdel (16-1, 12-0 in Class A Central)
Head Coach: John Nacarlo
SCT Championships: None
SCT Final Appearances (Including This Year): 3
Last Finals Appearance: 2012
Road to the Final: Defeated No. 18 Shore 3-0, No. 7 Howell 5-0, No. 3 Jackson Memorial 4-0
Key Players: Anthony Arena, Jr., Forward (24 goals, 21 assists); Justin McStay, Sr., Forward (19 goals, 13 assists); Cyrus Darvish, Sr., Midfielder (12 goals, five assists); Matt Leon, Sr., Midfielder/Forward (16 goals, 11 assists); Mikey Neff, Sr., Outside Defender (six goals, six assists); Joe Arena, Sr., Midfielder (two goals, three assists); Torre Avitabile, Jr., Central Defender; Mark Walier, So., Defender; Jack Russo, Jr., Midfielder (one goal, three assists); Jack Murray, Jr., Defender; Nick Guga, Sr., Midfielder (four assists); Matt Lionette, Sr., Goalkeeper.
Ocean (16-2-1, 13-1-0 in Class B North)
Head Coach: John Terlecsky
SCT Championships: 4
SCT Final Appearances: 9
Last SCT Championship: 2012
Last SCT Finals Appearance: 2015
Road to the Final: Defeated No. 28 Lakewood 1-0, No. 12 Point Boro 1-1 (3-1 in penalties), No. 20 Monmouth 4-3, No. 8 Toms River South 3-2
Key Players: Steven Carton, Sr., Forward (10 goals, three assists); Santieno Harding, Jr., Forward (10 goals, five assists); Luke Yates, Jr., Midfielder/Defender (four goals, seven assists); Job Cajas, Sr., Midfielder (two goals, two assists); Erick Vasquez-Gonsalez, Jr., Forward (three goals); Mark Mauro, Jr., Midfielder/Defender (four goals, two assists); Elias Brandimarte, So., Midfielder (two goals); James Schutz, Jr., Midfielder; Frank Astudillo, Sr., Defender; Andrew Shaw, Jr., Midfielder; Max Winters, Jr., Goalkeeper
From the first day of camp this summer, Holmdel has been a team on a mission. With a strong group of returning players mixed with three senior players who either returned to or joined the team from the academy ranks, the Hornets not only eyed the NJSIAA Group II title that just barely eluded them in 2015, but also set their sights on the program’s first ever Shore Conference Tournament title.
When all is said and done, the players on this year’s Holmdel squad want to be remembered as the best team to ever play at the school, which is a lofty goal considering the 2010 team went 22-1 and won the overall Group III championship. One thing that team did not do is bring home the Shore Conference crown, and with one more winning performance, the 2017 group can surpass the 2011 team in that category.
The thing about Holmdel is the Hornets have not been turning in winning performances; they have been turning in dominant ones. Outside of a 1-0 loss at Pingry – the only defeat it has suffered this year – Holmdel has won just one game by a one-goal margin. In fact, that 2-1 win over Raritan was the only game Holmdel won by less than a three-goal margin.
The Shore Conference was supposed to present a new challenge for the Hornets in the form of new opponents from tougher divisions, but the closest SCT match of the three Holmdel has played so far was against a team from its own division (Shore). In the other two, the Hornets rolled up five goals in the first half to beat Howell, 5-0, and pulled away to beat Class A South champion Jackson Memorial, 4-0, after the Jaguars did not allow more than two goals in any of their previous 19 games – and only allowed two twice.
Anthony Arena and Justin McStay have been nearly unstoppable at the top of the formation and the additions of Cyrus Darvish and Matt Leon – both of whom have played academy soccer in each of the past two seasons – to the midfield along with three-year junior starter Joe Arena has given Holmdel an ability to play through and dominate the midfield that the Hornets haven’t had since 2010. Throw in a skilled defense led by Torre Avitabile, Mikey Neff and Mark Walier, plus a goalkeeper in Matt Lionette who showed off his ability on Monday against Jackson Memorial, and there really aren’t any holes on this Holmdel team.
On the other side of the field will be the host team of the semifinals and finals. If the Shore Conference was looking for a neutral site this year that would not afford any team a home-field advantage, they did not make the safest choice – far from it. That is because Ocean has now been to four of the last six Shore Conference Tournament semifinals more than any team and three of the last six championship games, which are both more than any team during that stretch.
The last time Ocean won the SCT, the Spartans beat Holmdel in 2012. There are some parallels between that year and this year: Holmdel also beat Jackson Memorial in impressive fashion, knocking off an unbeaten Jaguars team, 3-1. Ocean, meanwhile, survived a 3-2 battle with Middletown South, just as the Spartans did against Toms River South on Monday and went into the final will a decidedly less impressive effort than the Hornets did. That did not matter then, as Ocean basically dominated the final en route to a 2-0 win.
Ocean’s last appearance in the final was in 2015, when the Spartans faced off against CBA for the first time in a championship game – odd considering Ocean had been to seven finals prior to that and CBA to nine. The fourth-seeded Spartans could not figure out CBA in that game and lost to the tournament’s No. 2 seed, 2-0.
The Ocean players thought they would have to go through No. 1 CBA to reach this year’s final, but instead beat the team that knocked CBA out. Ocean’s 3-2 win over Toms River South on Monday followed a script similar to that of the first three rounds for Ocean, all of which included games decided either by one goal or penalty kicks. The Spartans got past Monmouth, 4-3, in a quarterfinal game that was tied three different times not including 0-0, which followed a come-from-behind win over Point Boro in penalty kicks.
Based on those close calls, it might be hard to see Ocean keeping up with Holmdel given how dominant the Hornets have been against comparable competition. Throw in the fact that Ocean will be without senior center back Mark Butler and lost its other center back, junior Zach Sintic, to a head injury during the win over Toms River South, and it certainly seems as though everything is breaking for Holmdel this year.
On the other hand, Ocean is on a 14-game unbeaten streak since a two-game skid dropped the Spartans to 3-2 early in the year. They have raised their game when it’s been needed and they have been in tense situations, which Holmdel has avoided, albeit through sheer dominance. If one side is under pressure to win this game, it is Holmdel: while the Hornets have some talented underclassmen that could keep this run going, they will never have a better chance to win this tournament than they have in front of them Thursday night. All that, plus Ocean will have a home-field advantage.
These two teams actually played each other in last year’s SCT and again during the preseason and neither games were pretty for Ocean – something that Ocean senior Steve Carton acknowledged. That can work both ways, though. Ocean has improved quite a bit since then and now knows exactly when it is getting into, while Holmdel is going in expecting that a strong showing will net similar results. In a championship setting, Ocean will likely play a lot closer to the vest in trying to slow down Holmdel’s dynamic attack.
What really hurts Ocean’s chances are the two injuries in the back. Butler and Sintic are not only valuable players in their own right, but they allow Luke Yates to play in the attack. Instead, Yates will play on the back line while the Spartans rely on Carton, Santieno Harding, James Schutz, Erick Vasquez-Gonsalez and Job Cajas to generate an attack. That’s still a capable group, one that got the job done against Toms River South, but against Holmdel, a team has to be in top form.
Everything that has happened to this point says it is Holmdel’s time. Yes, there will be plenty of pressure on the Hornets now that they are 80 minutes from program history, but the senior leaders have not let it phase them to this point. One goal from any of the team’s many weapons in the early going – like Holmdel got against both Howell and Jackson – will loosen the team right up. If Ocean has any chance, the Spartans have to be on from the opening whistle and get big performances from Carton and Harding to go with career games from keeper Max Winters and the guys in the back.
With Holmdel’s recent dominance against Ocean and the composition of both teams, it just seems like this will be Holmdel’s year while Ocean will return for an SCT run with a junior-heavy team this year. Holmdel early and often in this one. The Pick: Holmdel, 4-1