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Missing out on the Shore Conference Tournament in 2020 will be frustrating for a number of Class A South programs who could have made a significant push for Ocean County’s first SCT championship since 2005 and had an even better chance to be Ocean County’s first finalist since 2010.

Jackson Memorial has been on the doorstep over the past three years as Class A South’s three-time defending division champion and would have been in play in a normal 2020. Southern has one of its most talented teams ever and was on Jackson’s heels in each of the past two years. Toms River North flew under the radar during the regular season and then shocked the state by winning a state sectional title as a No. 16 seed that barely qualified for the NJSIAA Tournament and only started three seniors.

Throw in capable rosters from Toms River East, Toms River South and Brick, as well as young upstarts at Central and Brick Memorial and Class A South has the ingredients for a heated regular-season battle as well as some teams that could make noise in the makeshift postseason.

In predicted order of finish

Southern

Head Coach: Guy Lockwood, fifth season
2019 Record: 12-3-3 (5-1-1, second place in Class A South)
Returning: Kevin Kiernan (Sr., Midfield), John Paul Prosperi (Sr., Defense/Midfield), Nico Leonard (Sr., Midfield), Mario Addiego (Jr., Forward), Luke Hart (Jr., Midfield), Ryan Leavitt (Sr., Forward), Brandon Notte (Sr., Midfield), Nick Budd (Sr., Midfield), Chris Rizzo (Sr., Defense), Kayce Bennet (Sr., Goalkeeper), Matt Krinic (Jr., Defense), Jack Phleyn (Sr., Midfield), Kerem Satar (Jr., Midfield), Trey Batson (Sr., Defense), Kevin Cooney (Sr., Midfield)
Key Losses: Ben Hanneman (Defense), Aidan McInerney (Midfield), Martin Rojas (Midfield)
Top Newcomers: Landon Beirne (Jr., Midfield), Nathaniel Bott (So., Goalkeeper), Isaac Garcia (Sr., Forward), Matt Koller (Jr., Forward), Mathieu Leonard (So., Midfield), Ryan Skodi (Sr., Defense), Drew Wasacz (Sr., Forward)

Southern senior Kevin Kiernan. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Southern’s soccer history doesn’t boast many winning seasons, let alone championship ones, so the last two seasons for the Rams have represented a burgeoning golden age for the program. Of course, in order to stamp it, Southern would like to capture a championship of some kind and with the Shore Conference Tournament not on the schedule for 2020, that leaves Class A South and whichever NJSIAA section the Rams might draw in November. Last year, Southern lost to Manasquan in the SCT quarterfinals and Jackson Memorial in the South Jersey Group IV quarterfinals.

Senior Kevin Kiernan is the headliner for Southern after winning Ocean County Player of the Year from the county’s coaches, leading the A South division in scoring and grabbing an SSN First-Team All-Shore spot. The Rams also bring back most of their key players and starters from 2019 as well, with J.P. Prosperi back to lead a defense that returns 2019 A South assist-leader (11) Brandon Notte and Chris Rizzo in front of keeper Kayce Bennet. Nico Leonard leads a deep midfield along with Kiernan and Mario Adiego and Ryan Leavitt will be scoring threats up top. The pieces are all in place for Southern to have a big year and the Rams hope they can take advantage of the opportunity.

Toms River North

Head Coach: Joe Mahon, 11th season
2019 Record: 12-8-1 (3-3-1, tied third in Class A South)
Returning: Ali Baish (Sr., Forward), Parker Nickelsen (Sr., Forward), Dan Moreno (Sr., Defense), Nico Gonzalez (Jr., Midfield), Dawson Kaniuk (Jr., Goalkeeper), Ryan Maguire (Jr., Defense/Midfield), Mattia Assante (Jr., Midfield/Forward), Chris Bird (Jr., Defense/Midfield), Jack Montanile (Sr., Defense), Greg Wallack (Sr., Midfield/Forward), Ryan Lynch (Jr., Goalkeeper), David Anderson (Jr., Forward/Defense), Jared Brown (Jr., Midfield), Jake Nagle (Jr., Defense/Midfield), A.J. Emnace (Jr., Forward), Bryant Garcia (Jr., Forward/Defense), Jimmy Ruppe (Jr., Defense), Will Buono (Jr., Midfield/Forward), Vinny O’Donnell (So., Forward/Defense)
Key Losses: Logan Mack (Sr., Midfield), Jake Baurerband (Sr., Midfield), Evan Weismar (Sr., Defense)
Top Newcomers: Brennan Anderson (Sr., Goalkeeper), Nate Cook (Sr., Forward), Alton Guto (Sr., Forward), Cian Scott (Sr., Forward), Logan Woodward (Sr., Defense), Matt Bozicev (So., Forward), Ray Keller (So., Forward/Midfield), Donovan Friedhoff (So., Goalkeeper)

Toms River North senior Ali Baish. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Opening night 2019 belonged to Toms River North and for a while, it looked like a 5-4 win over eventual Shore Conference Tournament champion Freehold Township might be the highlight of the Mariners’ season. Then, the NJSIAA Tournament started and Toms River North turned in one of the state’s more memorable postseason runs in the last decade by winning the South Jersey Group IV title as a No. 16 seed.

Now, Toms River North returns most of its lineup and even some depth from a team that finished the 2019 season on a tear, so the expectation for the Mariners is to be a force at the Shore from start to finish. Senior strikers Ali Baish and Parker Nickelsen led the scoring charge in last year’s playoffs and will be the team’s top threats this season. Dan Moreno, Ryan Maguire and Chris Bird are three proven starters on the defense while juniors Nico Gonzalez and Mattia Assante came on as starting midfielders during their sophomore season. Goalkeeper Dawson Kaniuk is another returning junior starter, giving the Mariners eight returning starters who have designs of adding a Class A South title to their resume.

Jackson Memorial

Head Coach: Steve Bado, 16th season
2019 Record: 15-3-2 (7-0, first place in Class A South)
Returning: Drew Walenty (Sr., Forward), Evan Walenty (Jr., Midfield), Steve Bado (Jr., Forward), Sean Slusak (Sr., Defense), Charlie Harrison (Jr., Goalkeeper), Zack Rogacki (Sr., Midfield), Anthony Viola (Jr., Forward)
Key Losses: Ben Schnaak (Defense), Ron Bantang (Defense), Ed Jacoby (Midfield), Connor Lucas (Midfield), Chase Olejarz (Defense), Gianluca Gruosso (Midfield), Tyler Howlett (Midfield), Frank Savarise (Defense), Steve Slusak (Defense), Trevor Cusick (Midfield)
Top Newcomers: Travers Black (Sr., Midfield), Bugra Celik (Sr., Midfield), Giovanni Dori (Sr., Midfield), Joey Giusti (Sr., Defense), Tyler Klinsky (Sr., Defense), Brendan Labbe (Sr., Midfield), Noah Tobias (Sr., Midfield)

Jackson Memorial junior Evan Walenty. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Coming off another impressive overall season that ended in heartbreak, Jackson Memorial will be less experienced in the starting lineup than it has been over the past three years. Despite that, the Jaguars will remain a legitimate contender for a fourth straight Class A South championship behind a solid core of returning contributors and with their next wave of talent joining the fray this fall.

Drew and Evan Walenty will be two keys to the attack, with Drew coming off an eight-goal season in which he led Jackson Memorial in scoring. Evan Walenty is the lone returning starter in the midfield and will continue to link up with his older brother on the Jackson attack. Junior Steve Bado is also a scoring threat up top and junior goalkeeper Charlie Harrison is one of the Shore’s top returning keepers, giving the Jaguars some experience at both ends of their formation. The defense is all new, with Sean Slusak moving into a starting role to lead a group that will try to keep up the Jaguars’ sterling defensive reputation.

Toms River East

Head Coach: Mike Konopka, fifth season
2019 Record: 6-6-5 (3-3-1, tied third in Class A South)
Returning: Michael Conklin (Sr., Defense), Alex Heid (Sr., Midfield), T.J. Scollan (Sr., Midfield), Kajus Matazinskas (So., Forward), Ryan Testa (Jr., Goalkeeper), Noah Raimonde (Jr., Midfield), Alex Floros (Sr., Midfield), Colby Gesser (Sr., Defense), Jackson Meyer (Sr., Midfield), Adam Raimonde (Jr., Defense), Zach Laprise (Jr., Defense), Gabe Lopez (Jr., Midfield), Matt McDonough (Jr., Midfield), Dale Reinhard (Jr., Defense), Gavin Molas (Sr.)
Key Losses: Dane Bodziak (Forward), Anthony Amadeo (Defense), Alec Hemlinger (Defense), Taylor Cleven (Midfield)
Top Newcomers: Mike Ehimel (Jr.), Ryan Kozlej (So.)

Toms River East senior Mike Conklin climbs over Freehold Boro senior Mike Romero-Vargas. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Although the Raiders are one of only two teams in Class A South to graduate their top scorer from 2019, they are still positioned to be an improved team in 2020 – even playing in an even better version of Class A South. Toms River East boasts depth in the midfield, led by seniors Alex Heid and T.J. Scollan and complemented by junior Noah Raimonde and Alex Flores. Senior Mike Conklin is back as an all-division defender to lead the defense and junior Ryan Testa established himself in goal during a strong sophomore campaign.

The biggest challenge for Toms River East will be replacing Dane Bodziak’s 13 goals and the Raiders should have some options in going about it. Sophomore Kajus Matazinskas will be an x-factor in A South after making an impact as a freshman and be primed for a big jump in scoring. Ryan Kozlej is another sophomore to watch for the Raiders, who enter 2020 as a sleeper threat to win one of the more competitive versions of A South we have seen.

Toms River South

Head Coach: Ron Laycock, third season
2019 Record: 10-6-2 (4-2-1, second in Class A South)
Returning: Campbell Challoner (Sr., Midfield), Peter Mandica (Sr., Defense), Connor Clayton (Sr., Midfield), Danny Lindov (Jr., Forward), Kyle Gauthier (Sr., Defense/Midfield), Harrison Jacobus (Sr., Midfield), Robbie Tapp (Sr., Defense)
Key Losses: Jalen Folsom (Goalkeeper), Shane Kluxen (Forward), Tyler Weiss (Defense), Marcus Mandica (Defense), Joe Amabile (Midfield), Jimmy Cohen (Defense), Stephen Beaton (Forward), Dante Pizzi (Defense), Angel Sanchez (Midfield), Preston Geerinck (Forward)
Top Newcomers: Matt Zycowski (Sr., Goalkeeper), Jon Fitzgerald (So., Forward), Chris Higham (Jr., Midfield), A.J. Truszkowski (So., Defense), Eddie Candia (So.), Devon Costa (So., Midfield), Jalen Beaton (Jr., Midfield), Josh Wutzer (Sr., Midfield), Justin Villamizar (So., Midfield), Jeremy Schiel (Jr., Forward), Rob Milutin (Jr., Midfield), Allan Perez (Sr., Midfield), Eric Ramirez (Sr., Midfield)

Toms River South senior Campbell Challoner. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Toms River South is the other A South team to lose its leading scorer from 2019, which was athletic forward Shane Kluxen. The Indians also graduated First-Team All-Shore goalkeeper and three-year starter Jalen Folsom, so the 2020 season opens with the team running out an unproven group of potential scorers and an untested goalkeeper, all while playing in a Class A South division that should ramp up in competition.

Still, coach Ron Laycock and his staff are optimistic the wins will keep coming thanks to a more well-rounded collection of forwards, a senior-led defense and a capable keeper to fill Folsom’s shoes. It starts, however, in the midfield with senior Campbell Challoner, a fourth-year starter who is the top returning scorer on the team. Danny Lindov will be the team’s top scoring threat up top while Peter Mandica and Robbie Tapp lead the defense. Matt Zycowksi is a first-year starter in goal but only because he was blocked by Folsom last year. The faces will be new but Toms River South has always reloads and this year should be no different.

Brick

Head Coach: Tom Frazzitta, sixth season
2019 Record: 8-10-1 (2-5, tied sixth in Class A South)
Returning: Zack Meyer (Sr., Midfield/Forward), Eli Chong (Sr., Midfield), Danny Buenano (Sr., Midfield), Ryan Kelly (Sr., Goalkeeper), Riley Lafay (Jr., Defense), Andrew Nardone (Sr., Defense)
Key Losses: J.B. Bazydlo (Forward), Joy Valdovinos (Forward/Midfield)
Top Newcomers: Jayson Nardone (So., Forward), Sean Palmer

Brick has had some noteworthy moments over the past several years and climbed within a couple games of .500 last year. The challenge for the Dragons has been overcoming the three Toms River programs and Jackson Memorial as programs entrenched as contenders in the division. Southern has managed to jump into contention and going back two years, Brick scored a big win over the Rams and now they will try to break into the top half of the A South standings in the same way Southern has.

Senior Zack Meyer will give the Green Dragons a chance to make serious noise this year as the division’s third-leading returning scorer behind Kiernan (Southern) and Baish (Toms River North) and an all-division and all-county selection. Eli Chong is another key piece returning in the midfield while Riley Lafay anchors the defense in front of keeper Ryan Kelly. Shortened schedule and COVID-19 protocols aside, this will be a difficult year for a team to break through in Class A South but Brick is hoping to just that.

Brick Memorial

Head Coach: Brian Swider, first season
2019 Record: 5-9-2 (2-5, tied sixth in Class A South)
Returning: Jack Fanning (Sr., Midfield), Ryan Caroselli (Sr., Defense/Midfield), Billy Caruso (So., Forward), Vin Nazzaro (Jr., Forward/Midfield), Jasiel Zamora (Sr., Forward)
Key Losses: Dan Gerard (Midfield), Nick Cifrodella (Defense), Joe Liberatore (Midfield), Eduardo Suarez (Forward), Dom Ochiogross (Defense)
Top Newcomers: Ryan Mastrojohn (Jr., Defense)

The Mustangs lost a pair of quality midfielders in Dan Gerard and Joe Liberatore but the Mustangs have plenty of reason for hope in 2020 thanks to the return of their three top goal-scorers. Jack Fanning, Vin Nazzaro and Billy Caruso all stepped up to score big goals for Brick Memorial last year and will look to add some volume to their scoring ability – a key for Brick Memorial this season.

New coach Brian Swider will look to build the defense around senior Ryan Caroselli and junior Ryan Mastrojohn with Fanning running the midfield. The group of strikers and attacking midfielders are the strength of the team, with senior Jasiel Zamora joining Nazzaro and Caruso in Brick Memorial’s collection of dangerous strikers. Scoring was hard to come by last year for Brick Memorial but the return of that core makes the Mustangs an under-the-radar threat in the deep A South.

Central

Head Coach: Troy Van Hise, third season
2019 Record: 3-15 (0-7, eighth in Class A South)
Returning: Mike Azzerone (Jr., Forward), Mason Leszcynski (Jr., Defense), Will Smith (Jr., Defense), Gianni Smith (Jr., Forward), Jason Trapp (Sr., Goalkeeper), Hunter Reyes (Sr., Midfield), Ryan Dicillo (So., Midfield), John Truhan (So., Midfield), Dennis Lewis (So., Defense), Dan Kejda (So., Midfield)
Key Losses: Ryan Black (Sr., Midfield), Kody Huffert (Sr., Defense), Zach Zurawski (Sr., Defense),
Top Newcomers: Christian Verderosa (Sr., Forward), Matt Sherman (Sr., Forward), Tom Dudzik (So., Midfield), Keith Swistok (Fr., Defense), David Kroon (Fr., Midfield), Matt Golizio (Fr., Midfield)

Few teams in the Shore Conference in the past two seasons have relied on underclassmen as much as Central has and that sets up the Golden Eagles to show some progress in 2020 after a small jump in their win total last year. As far as scoring goes, Central has every key player back from 2019 and will try to become a more dynamic team on the attack with more established talent in their formation.

Gianni Smith is a returning all-division and all-county player after posting an assist total (nine) that was tied for second in the division last year and will share the top of the formation with classmate and 2019 leading goal-scorer (four) Mike Azzerone. Central is also strong in goal, with senior Jason Trapp coming off an all-division season as a junior. Sophomore John Truhan leads a young midfield that will be a key to Central’s development as they climb back toward the top half of the division.

 

A South Starting XI

Ali Baish, Sr., Forward, Toms River North (11 G, 9 A)

Drew Walenty, Sr., Forward, Jackson Memorial (8 G, 4 A)

Parker Nickelsen, Sr., Forward, Toms River North (7 G, 6 A)

Kevin Kiernan, Sr., Midfield/Forward, Southern (20 G, 2 A)

Zack Meyer, Sr., Midfield/Forward, Brick (9 G, 5 A)

Alex Heid, Sr., Midfield, Toms River East (4 G, 8 A)

Campbell Challoner, Sr., Midfield, Toms River South (3 G, 1 A)

Nico Leonard, Sr., Southern (2 G, 2 A)

J.P. Prosperi, Sr., Defense, Southern

Mike Conklin, Sr., Defense, Toms River East

Jason Trapp, Sr., Goalkeeper, Central

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Mario Addiego, Jr., Forward, Southern (5 G, 1 A)

Kajus Matazinskas, So., Forward, Toms River East (5 G, 4 A)

Danny Lindov, Jr., Forward, Toms River South

Mattia Assante, Jr., Midfield, Toms River North

Evan Walenty, Jr., Midfield, Jackson Memorial (2 G, 2 A)

Billy Caruso, So., Forward, Brick Memorial (3 G, 2 A)