It’s a rare season in Shore Conference soccer in which a team from Toms River does not finish in at least one of the top two spots in the Class A South standings but last year was that rare season. This year could be another one, with Jackson Memorial returning more than half of its starting lineup that reached the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals and the South Jersey Group IV championship game.

Along those same lines, Southern returns several key players from a team that made noise in A South and the SCT and has a lot of room to grow with a team heavy on impact juniors. Of course, the trio of Toms River schools still figures to have its say in the race, with Toms River South looking to rebound from a disappointing postseason and Toms River North and East aiming to work some youth in with a handful returnees in hopes of climbing the standings.

Jackson Memorial is a little more vulnerable that the Jaguars figured to be when last year ended but they still open the season as the default favorites.

In predicted order of finish

* - 2018 Shore Sports Network All-Shore Selection

Jackson Memorial

Head Coach: Steve Bado, 15th season
2018 Record: 15-3-1 (6-1, first in A South)
Returners: Ben Schnaak* (Sr., Defense), Ron Bantang (Sr., Defense), Ed Jacoby (Sr., Midfield), Connor Lucas (Sr., Midfield), Chase Olejarz (Sr., Defense), Andrew Walenty (Jr., Midfield), Gianluca Gruosso (Sr., Midfield), Tyler Howlett (Sr., Midfield), Frank Savarise (Sr., Defense), Steve Slusak (Sr., Defense), Steve Bado (So., Forward), Trevor Cusick (Sr., Midfield), Anthony Viola (So., Forward), Evan Walenty (So., Midfield)
Key Losses: Joe Schlageter* (Midfield), Nick Kinzler* (Goalkeeper), Ben Patti (Midfield), Logan Lewis (Midfield), Andrew Keating (Forward), Dan Russo* (Sr., Forward) – Academy commitment
Newcomers: Alex Furlong (Sr., Goalkeeper), Dom Lagano (Sr., Forward), Travers Black (Jr., Midfield), Bugra Celik (Jr., Midfield), Giovanni Dori (Jr., Midfield), Joey Giusti (Jr., Defense), Tyler Klinsky (Jr., Defense), Brendan Labbe (Jr., Midfield), Zack Rogacki (Jr., Midfield), Sean Slusak (Jr., Defense), Will Starr (Jr., Goalkeeper), Noah Tobias (Jr., Midfield), Charlie Harrison (So., Goalkeeper)

Seniors Ron Bantang (left) and Ben Schnaak (right). (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Last season’s heart-breaking, season-ending, 2-1 loss to Washington Township in the South Jersey Group IV championship game set the stage for a potentially special 2019 season for a Jackson Memorial squad due to return seven starters, including one of the state’s top goal-scorers. Those prospects for 2019 took a big hit when senior, 20-goal-scorer and Notre Dame commit Dan Russo opted to play for the New York Red Bulls Academy Club this fall instead of with the Jaguars, as first reported by Centraljersey.com. Russo gave Jackson Memorial an element of creativity and excitement up front to complement the Jaguars’ usual defensive style.

Without Russo, Jackson Memorial will rely on its senior back line, which was the second-best in the Shore Conference by goals-allowed per game (0.74), trailing only Holmdel’s 0.52. Senior Ben Schnaak was a second-team All-Shore selection and tallied seven goals and seven assists from the back, making him both the top returning defender and the top returning scorer from a year ago. Ron Bantang, Chase Olejarz and Connor Lucas made up the rest of the defense, with Bantang and Olejarz earning All-A-South honors and Bantang winning one of the final four All-Shore spots via the fan vote. Lucas will see time in the midfield this season as the Jaguars attempt to push some scoring ability forward to cover the 31 goals lost between Russo and midfielder Joe Schlageter.

Among the candidates to step up and score goals for Jackson Memorial will be junior Drew Walenty, senior Gianluca Gruosso, sophomore Steve Bado, sophomore Evan Walenty and senior Ed Jacoby. All five played significant minutes last year, with Walenty poised to take over as the team’s top threat on the attack. The Jaguars also have an opening in goal with the graduation of All-Shore keeper Nick Kinzler and will lean on senior Alex Furlong and sophomore Charlie Harrison to take over. The defense in front of the goal should smooth out the transition and keep Jackson Memorial in every game and if the Jaguars can piece together an attack, they should still be among the top contenders in the Shore Conference and South Jersey Group IV – even without Russo.

Southern

Head Coach: Guy Lockwood, fourth season
2018 Record: 9-6-2 (5-1-1, second in A South)
Returners: Kevin Kiernan* (Jr., Midfield), Ben Hanneman (Sr., Defense), J.P. Prosperi (Jr., Defense), Nico Leonard (Jr., Midfield), Nick Budd (Jr., Midfield), Aidan McInerney (Sr., Midfield), Chris Rizzo (Jr., Defense), Martin Rojas (Sr., Midfield)
Key Losses: Dylan Blauvelt (Forward/Midfield), Nico Wojdyla (Midfield), Frank Ritchie (Defense), Braden Dugan (Goalkeeper), Connor Feeney (Defense), Jose Bonilla (Forward), Fernando Medina (Forward)
Newcomers: Mario Addiego (So., Forward), Trey Batson (Jr., Defense), Kayce Bennet (Jr., Goalkeeper), Christian Cirulli (Sr., Goalkeeper/Forward), Luke Hart (So., Forward), Matt Krinic (So., Defense), Ryan Leavitt (Jr., Midfield), Brandon Notte (Jr., Defense), Jack Pleyn (Jr., Midfield), Kerem Satar (So., Midfield), Jimmy Winn (Sr., Midfield), Matthew Zarzecki (Sr., Forward)

From left: Nico Leonard, Kevin Kiernan, Ben Hanneman and J.P. Prosperi. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Coming off its best showing in recent memory in boys soccer, Southern is lined up to take their breakout to the next level this season. With a young nucleus leading the way, the Rams beat Jackson Memorial and fell just short of a Class A South title before advancing to the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinal round for the first time. Southern will have to replace a player at each level of the formation but brings back plenty of scoring and skill, led by All-Shore midfielder Kevin Kiernan, who was the best player on the field when the Rams knocked off then-unbeaten Jackson Memorial in early October.

Kiernan leads a strong crop of junior returnees that also includes central defender J.P. Prosperi, midfielders Nico Leonard and Nick Budd and defender Chris Rizzo. Senior Ben Hanneman gives Southern another standout defender with Prosperi in the back, while seniors Aidan McInerney and Martin Rojas add to the depth of the midfield.

Southern’s inexperience will be at either end of the field, with sophomores Mario Addiego and Luke hart stepping into time at forward and Christian Cirulli heading up the effort to replace two-year starter Braden Dugan in goal. With Kiernan, Prosperi and Hanneman leading the way, the Rams should find ways to score while limiting opponents opportunities – a recipe for another strong year for a program on the rise.

Toms River South

Head Coach: Ron Laycock, second season
2018 Record: 9-6-2 (3-3-1, fourth in A South)
Returners: Jalen Folsom* (Sr., Goalkeeper), Shane Kluxen (Sr., Forward), Marcus Mandica (Sr., Defense), Joe Amabile (Sr., Midfield), Campbell Challoner (Jr., Midfield), Jimmy Cohen (Sr., Defense), Stephen Beaton (Sr., Forward), Dante Pizzi (Sr., Defense), Angel Sanchez (Sr., Midfield), Tyler Weiss (Sr., Defense), Connor Clayton (Jr., Midfield)
Key Losses: Ryan Laycock (Defense), Danny Caruso (Midfield), Shane Pennel (Defense), Jack Seitz (Sr., Midfield) – Academy commitment
Newcomers: Preston Geerinck (Sr., Forward), Matt Zyckowski (Sr., Goakeeper), Danny Lindov (So., Forward), Chris Higham (So., Forward), Kyle Gauthier (Jr., Midfield), Peter Mandica (Jr., Midfield), Harrison Jacobus (Jr., Midfield), Logan Spakowski (Sr., Defense), Tyler Nichols (Sr., Defense), Robbie Tapp (Jr., Defense)

From left: Dante Pizzi, Joe Amabile, Jalen Folsom, Shane Kluxen and Marcus Mandica. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Last season was a down year for Toms River South by its lofty standards, which it established during a run of three consecutive NJSIAA sectional titles from 2015 to 2017. That run ended in 2018, as the Indians lost in the first round in both the Shore Conference Tournament and South Jersey Group III bracket to B South opponents Lacey and Pinelands – the latter on penalties. Top potential returnee Clem Slavick opted not to play high school soccer in his senior year and Toms River South could never quite figure out how to replace his production and creativity in the middle of the pitch.

The Indians face a similar predicament this season as they will be without senior center midfielder Jack Seitz, who has followed in Slavick’s footsteps and opted to play with the Cedar Stars Academy during his senior year. Seitz posted four goals and seven assists to finish second on the team in overall scoring behind Danny Caruso, whom Toms River South lost to graduation. Throw in the graduation of All-A-South defender Ryan Laycock and the Indians have several key areas of to address.

Fortunately for Toms River South, third-year starter Jalen Folsom returns in goal looking to turn in his third straight All-Shore season in net. Marcus Mandica, Dante Pizzi and Tyler Weiss give him three senior defenders protecting him as well. Senior Joe Amabile, junior Campbell Challoner and senior Angel Martinez will lead the effort in the midfield and senior Shane Kluxen returns up top with a solid track record of scoring goals in big games over the past two seasons. Ron Laycock is a veteran coach who will take over the head coaching duties for the now-retired Ed Leibe and his return to the head job brings with it some promise as well as some challenges.

Toms River East

Head Coach: Mike Konopka, fourth season
2018 Record: 8-10-1 (3-4, fifth in A South)
Returners: Dane Bodziak (Sr., Forward), Michael Conklin (Jr., Defense), Alex Heid (Jr., Midfield), T.J. Scollan (Jr., Midfield)
Key Losses: Peter Kozlej* (Midfield), Logan Romero (Forward), Logan Sommerer (Midfield), Patrick Keogh (Defense), Tyler Paar (Midfield), Aiden Cosentino (Goalkeeper), Tyler Glabick (Defense), Dylan DeCunha (Midfield/Defense), Kristis Laurinitis (Midfield), Vasco Pereira (Forward), Aiden Meola (Jr., Forward)
Newcomers: Taylor Cleven (Jr., Midfield), Dominic Dario (Sr., Midfield), Rohan Kumar (Sr., Forward), Anthony Amadeo (Sr., Defense), Alec Hemlinger (Sr., Defense), Joe Sasso (Sr., Goalkeeper), Alex Floros (Jr., Midfield), Colby Gesser (Jr., Defense), Jackson Meyer (Jr., Midfield), Zach Laprise (So., Defense), Gabe Lopez (So., Midfield), Matt McDonough (So., Midfield), Adam Raimonde (So., Defense), Noah Raimonde (So., Midfield), Dale Reinhard (So., Defense), Ryan Testa (So., Forward/Goalkeeper), Kajus Matazinskas (Fr., Forward)

From left: Dane Bodziak, Michael Conklin, T.J. Scollan and Taylor Cleven. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

For the past six years, Toms River East has been scratching and clawing to get back to the top of the A South pecking order and has lingered around .500 for most of that stretch. Last year was the same story and while the Raiders finished below .500, they had their moments and did so with some noteworthy talent. Toms River East beat Freehold Boro in the first round of the Shore Conference Tournament to improve to 8-5 and did not win a game the rest of the way.

Top scorer Peter Kozlej graduated but second-leader scorer Dane Bodziak returns this year after a five-goal campaign in 2018. Junior Alex Heid is also back in the midfield along with classmate T.J. Scollan and junior Michael Conklin gives the Raiders some experience in the back. Taylor Cleven has also stepped up as another junior midfielder. From there, it will be a youth movement, with a deep group of sophomores joining freshman Kajus Matazinskas in the mix of underclassmen. The returnees should keep Tom River East in play for a spot in the top-half of the division and with some rapid development of the younger players, the Raiders could make a push for a top-three finish.

Toms River North

Head Coach: Joe Mahon, 10th season
2018 Record: 8-5-4 (4-2-1, third in A South)
Returners: Logan Mack (Sr., Midfield), Jake Baurerband (Sr., Midfield), Ali Baish (Jr., Forward), Sam Cook (Sr., Defense), Justin Carfano (Sr., Defense/Forward)
Key Losses: Riley DeFeis (Midfield), Andrew Casey (Defense), Nico Garcia (Midfield), Bernie Garcia (Midfield), Andrew Klekak (Defense), Marco Imperiale (Defense), Kyle Kerr (Midfield), Christian McCarthy (Goalkeeper), Luke Franklin (Defense), John Psaradakis (Midfield), Matt Karpinski (Midfield), Colin Lynch (Goalkeeper)
Newcomers: Jack Montinile (Jr., Defense), Parker Nicholson (Jr., Forward), Evan Weismar (Sr., Forward), Greg Wallack (Jr., Midfield), Danny Moreno (Jr., Defense), David Anderson (So., Forward), Nick Moreno Gonzalez (So., Forward/Midfield), Jared Brown (So., Midfield), Jake Nagle (So., Forward), Ryan Maguire (So., Defense), A.J. Emnace (So., Midfield), Bryant Garcia (So., Forward), Dawson Kaniuk (So., Goalkeeper), Mattia Assante (So., Midfield), Jalen Ridgeway (So., Forward), Chris Bird (So., Defense), Jimmy Ruppe (So., Defense), Vinny O’Donnell (Fr., Forward/Defense)

From left: Evan Weismar, Logan Mack, Sam Cook and Justin Carfano. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Coming off another competitive season, the Mariners will look to replicate the stingy, hard-nosed play they displayed during the first part of 2018, when they allowed 10 goals in their first 12 games and picked up draws against Freehold Township, Southern and Marlboro while beating rival Toms River South. The season came unraveled from that point on, with Toms River North finishing 1-3-1 over its last five with 13 goals allowed.

This year’s team will consist of plenty of new starters after the Mariners graduated two top scorers in Riley Defeis and Nico Garcia, as well as starting defenders Andrew Casey, Andrew Klekak and Marco Imperiale. Senior Sam Cook returns to the back four and classmate Justin Carfano could settle into a spot on the back line along with him. That will depend on the play of players like seniors Logan Mack and Jake Baurerbrand and junior Ali Baish on the attack, the latter of whom scored five goals despite missing a stint due to injury. Toms River North faces a lot of the same challenges as Toms River East and the battle between the two rivals to stay in the A South picture should be a heated one.

Brick

Head Coach: Tom Frazzitta, fifth season
2018 Record: 7-12-1 (2-4-1, tied sixth in A South)
Returners: Joy Valdovinos (Sr., Forward/Midfield), Zack Meyer (Jr., Midfield/Forward), Danny Buenano (Jr., Midfield), Eli Chong (Jr., Midfield), James Bazydlo (Sr., Forward), Ryan Kelly (Jr., Goalkeeper)
Key Losses: John Christ (Defense), William DeLao (Forward), Alejandro Rodriguez (Midfield), Mark Kekumba, Christian Dzugan
Newcomers: Riley Lafay (So., Defense/Midfield/Forward), Andrew Nardone (Jr., Defense), Jayson Nardone (Fr., Forward)

Although Brick has struggled to climb the ranks of A South in recent years, the Green Dragons have shown on several occasions that they can play with the division’s top teams. Last year, Brick scored regular-season wins over Toms River East and Southern and was 5-6-1 on Oct. 1 with a chance to qualify for the SCT. The Green Dragons lost a pair of All-Division players in John Christ and William DeLao, who were also the top two scorers on the team.

Senior James Bazydlo and juniors Eli Chong and Zach Meyer each scored multiple goals last year and return with a chance to pace the Brick attack. Junior Danny Buenano will also be back in the midfield while sophomore Riley Lafay and freshman Jayson Nardone step into the scoring attack as well. Junior Andrew Nardone will anchor the defense in front of junior goalkeeper Ryan Kelly, who took over as a sophomore last season. It is an unproven group on an unproven program over the last decade, but there is reason to hope for a breakout in Brick.

Brick Memorial

Head Coach: Steve Ferullo, eighth season
2018 Record: 6-9-1 (2-4-1, tied sixth in A South)
Returners: Dan Gerard (Sr., Midfield), Nick Cifrodella (Sr., Defense), Joe Liberatore (Sr., Midfield), Jack Fanning (Jr., Midfield), Vin Nazzaro (Jr., Forward), Eduardo Suarez (Sr., Forward), Dom Ochiogross (Sr., Defense)
Key Losses: Sean Aubrey (Midfield/Defense), Matt Ingenito (Defense), Mike Ingenito (Defense), Jake Marren (Midfield), Trevor Greene (Goalkeeper), Ryan Rodriguez (Midfield/Defense), Matt Farnkopf (Defense/Midfield), Luke Simek (Forward)
Newcomers: Ryan Caroselli (Jr., Defense), Jason Desiderio (So., Midfield)

From left: Dan Gerrard, Nick Cifrodella and Joe Liberatore. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Scoring was a struggle for Brick Memorial last year, with the Mustangs scoring at a better per-game clip than only eight other teams in the entire Shore Conference. To make matters even more difficult, the top two scorers from last year’s team both graduated – Mike Ingenito (six goals) and Sean Aubry (two goals, four assists) – leaving the scoring duties up to a group that began to make strides as supporting players in 2018.

Senior Eduardo Suarez and juniors Jack Fanning and Lou Nazzaro combined for six goals last season and will called upon to increase that output this season. Senior midfielders Dan Gerard and Joe Liberatore with steady the possession in the middle of the field and seniors Nick Cifrodella and Dom Ochiogross are set to lead the defense. Inexperience could be an obstacle for Brick Memorial this season but with similar issues facing Toms River East, Toms River North and Brick, the Mustangs could still make something of this year’s opportunity.

Central

Head Coach: Troy Van Hise, second season
2018 Record: 2-13-1 (0-6-1, eighth in A South)
Returners: Ryan Black (Sr., Midfield), Kody Huffert (Sr., Defense), Zach Zurawski (Sr., Defense), Jason Rand (Jr., Defense), Javier Rios (Sr., Defense), Michael Azzarone (So., Midfield), Mason Leszcynski (So., Midfield), Will Smith (So., Midfield), Gianni Smith (So., Forward)
Key Losses: A.J. Abode (Defense), Olu Ogunyinka (Forward), Eric Pacheco (Forward), Eric Szejnrok (Midfield), Matt Diaz (Goalkeeper), Steven Navarro (Midfield), Young Kim (Midfield)
Newcomers: Jason Trapp (Jr., Goalkeeper), Shane Cramer (Jr., Goalkeeper), Hunter Reyes (Jr., Midfield), Christian Verderosa (Jr., Midfield), Ryan Dicillo (Fr., Midfield), John Truhan (Fr., Forward), Dennis Lewis (Fr., Defense)

Central’s rebuild enters year three and with a returning group of sophomore contributors who thrown into the deep end of the pool last year, there is some potential for growth. Goalkeeper Matt Diaz did a stellar job keeping his team in games throughout the year and will be the toughest player to replace but the Golden Eagle have had a good run of keepers over the years and will be improved in the field with some more maturity.

Gianni Smith heads into his sophomore year after scoring a pair of goals as a freshman last season, while classmates Will Smith, Maon Leszcynski, and Mike Azzarone are figure into the midfield picture. Senior Ryan Black will be a leader in the midfield while classmate Kody Huffert heads up the back line. Seniors Zach Zurawski and Javier Rios will also play in the back, as will junior Jason Rand. Central will be young up top, with Smith and freshman John Truhan eying playing time on the attack. Central is still likely a year away from becoming a factor in the postseason but this could be a big foundational year for the you Eagles.

 

A South Starting XI (With 2018 Stats)

Kevin Kiernan, Jr., Midfield, Southern (14 G, 4 A)

Ben Schnaak, Sr., Defense, Jackson Memorial (7 G, 7 A)

Ron Bantang, Sr., Defense, Jackson Memorial (1 A)

Dane Bodziak, Sr., Forward, Toms River East (7 G, 5 A)

Chase Olejarz, Sr., Defense, Jackson Memorial (1 A)

Ben Hanneman, Sr., Defense, Southern (1 G, 2 A)

J.P. Prosperi, Jr., Defense, Southern (3 G)

Ali Baish, Jr., Forward, Toms River North (5 G, 1 A)

Shane Kluxen, Sr., Forward, Toms River South (4 G, 4 A)

Andrew Walenty, Jr., Midfield, Jackson Memorial (3 G, 1 A)

Jalen Folsom, Sr., Goalkeeper, Toms River South (8 shutouts)

 

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