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It has been 15 seasons since the last time a team from Ocean County win the Shore Conference Tournament and last year’s shortened season due to the COVID-19 pandemic eliminated a golden opportunity for either Toms River North or Southern to end that drought. Last year’s crop of Ocean County teams was the strongest in some time relative to the rest of the conference and this year’s collection of Ocean County teams has a chance to again capture postseason hardware.

Class A South is home to the teams that have been in the running for a Shore Conference title, even if they have come up a little short over the years. Since Toms River North won the SCT in 2005, Toms River North, Jackson Memorial and Toms River East have all played in SCT championship games and Toms River South has been to the SCT semifinals twice as well, so there have been some close calls.

In 2021, Toms River North will again be among the short list of contenders for the Shore Conference Tournament title, while Southern and Brick hope to build off their historic 2020 campaign and all of Jackson Memorial, Toms River East, Toms River South and Central hope to build off of encouraging finishes to their 2020 seasons.

In predicted order of finish

Toms River North

Head Coach: Joe Mahon, 12th season
2020 Record: 15-1-1 (12-1-1, tied first in Class A South)
Returners: Mattia Assante (Sr., Midfield), Jared Brown (Sr., Midfield), Jimmy Ruppe (Sr., Defense), A.J. Emnace (Sr., Forward), Ryan Maguire (Sr., Defense), David Anderson (Sr., Defense/Midfield), Will Buono (Sr., Forward), Bryan Garcia (Sr., Forward), Chris Bird (Sr., Defense), Jake Nagle (Sr., Midfield), Dawson Kaniuk (Sr., Goalkeeper), Ryan Lynch (Sr., Goalkeeper), Nico Gonzalez (Sr., Midfield), Avery Rowe (Sr., Defense), Matt Bozicev (Jr., Defense), Vinny O’Donnell (Jr., Forward/Defense), Ray Keller (Jr., Midfield)
Losses: Ali Baish (Sr., Forward), Parker Nickelsen (Sr., Forward), Dan Moreno (Sr., Defense), Jack Montanile (Sr., Defense)
Newcomers: Dylan DeVita (Sr., Defense), Jason Perella (Sr., Defense), Zach Knoll (Sr., Defense), Max Ugante (Sr., Midfield), Angel Siva (Sr., Midfield), Mike Cumer (Sr., Forward), Jack Marro (So., Defense), Jack Eubanks (So., Midfield), Devon Zimmermann (So., Defense), Konstantinos Papanikolas (So., Midfield), Anthony Ruggiero (So., Forward), Luke Montanile (So., Forward)

Toms River North senior Mattia Assante. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

When Toms River North won the 2019 NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV championship as a No. 16 seed, it was a Cinderella run for the state history books. One year later, it looked less like a surprise championship and more like a talented team finding itself as it began a long run of sustained success. In 2020, Toms River North rolled to a 15-1-1 record, capped by a second straight NJSIAA sectional championship – which ended with a golden-goal victory over Southern. With no Shore Conference Tournament and a shortened state playoff, Toms River North did not get to test itself against all of the Shore’s elite teams, nor did the Mariners get to play outside the conference as they would have during a normal season.

Toms River North will try to continue the run this season, even as the Mariners have much more scoring to replace this season that they did a year ago. Ali Baish and Parker Nickelsen were the premier scorers during the postseason runs in each of the past two years, so this year’s team will have a much different dynamic with out the two dangerous forwards leading the attack. With those two on the field, Toms River North’s midfield play sometimes got overlooked and this season, it will be the team’s strength. Mattia Assante and Jared Brown are seniors coming off all-division junior seasons, while Jake Nagle, Nico Gonzalez and David Anderson all played big minutes.

Anderson will help connect to the defense, which returns both Jimmy Ruppe and Ryan Maguire as three-year starters in the back. Chris Bird also returns as a senior with three years of experience and junior Matt Bozicev was a contributor as a sophomore who could be a difference-maker as a junior, either as a back or a forward. Finishing goals will be a key for Toms River North, which does bring back A.J. Emnace off a five-goal season, and if they can find a few addition sources for goals among the crop of strikers, the Mariners will make a run at No. 1 in the Shore Conference.

Toms River East

Head Coach: Mike Konopka, sixth season
2020 Record: 7-8-1 (5-7-1, sixth in Class A South)
Returners: Noah Raimonde (Sr., Midfield/Forward), Kajus Matazinskas (Jr., Forward), Adam Raimonde (Sr., Defense), Dale Reinhard (Sr., Defense), Ryan Kozlej (Jr., Midfield/Forward), Zach Laprise (Sr., Defense), Ryan Testa (Sr., Defense), Cruz Chacon (Sr., Midfield), Gabe Lopez (Sr., Midfield), Mike Emihl (Sr., Midfield)
Losses: Mike Conklin (Defense), Alex Heid (Midfield), T.J. Scollan (Midfield)
Newcomers: Aiden Sicknick (Sr., Defense), Brendan Anirina (Sr., Defense), Matt Bagdi (Sr., Forward), Mike Cittadino (Sr., Midfield), Nick Goodwin (Sr., Midfield), Ariel Lopez (Sr., Defense), Angel Chacon (Jr., Goalkeeper), Ismet Erfinike (Jr., Midfield), Sean Peck (So., Midfield), Jack Smyth (So., Midfield), Bobby Calvo (Fr., Goalkeeper)

A 7-8-1 record in 2020 might not seem like a particularly great season, but for Toms River East, it represented the makings of a potential breakthrough in 2021. The Raiders finished the season strong, going 5-1-2 over their final eight games after beginning the campaign 2-7, culminating in a trip to the South Central Jersey Group III championship game. Toms River East lost to 17-0 Wall in the championship, but at one point scored a second-half equalizer to push the Crimson Knights to the limit.

Although the Raiders have some impact players – including an All-Shore defender and an All-A-South midfielder – to replace, they return a large group of experienced players with a couple of potential stars leading the way. Senior Noah Raimonde has been one of the team’s most productive players over the past two seasons and is coming off a seven-goal junior year in 20202. Junior Kajus Matazinskas, meanwhile, is a dangerous striker who played more midfield last year and spends his summers player in Europe. Seniors Cruz Chacon, Gabe Lopez and Mike Emihl will take on larger responsibilities as midfielders, while junior Ryan Kozlej is a leading candidate to pick up some of the lost scoring.

Defensively, Toms River East will have to replace a unique player in Mike Conklin but has a host of returnees and options to help out. Adam Raimonde, Dale Reinhard and Zach Laprise all return with significant experience and senior Ryan Testa is moving from goalkeeper to the field while recovering from a shoulder injury, according to coach Mike Konopka. If Angel Chacon or freshman Bobby Calvo can cover for Testa, Toms River East will be tough to break in the back while also boasting some legitimate firepower up front.

Jackson Memorial

Head Coach: Steve Bado, 17th season
2020 Record: 6-7-1 (5-6-1, fourth in Class A South)
Returners: Steven Bado (Sr., Forward), Charlie Harrison (Sr., Goalkeeper), Stefano Solano (Sr., Defense), Sean Stalker (Sr., Midfield), Ryan Polakowski (Jr., Defense), Ryan Korinchak (Sr., Midfield), Tom McChesney (Jr., Defense), Nathaniel Patti (So., Forward), Peyton Collimore (So., Midfield), Henry Daum (So., Defense), Shaan Moon (So., Defense)
Losses: Zack Rogacki (Defense), Sean Slusak (Defense), Travers Black (Midfield), Bugra Celik (Midfield), Giovanni Dori (Midfield), Joey Giusti (Defense), Tyler Klinsky (Defense), Brendan Labbe (Midfield), Noah Tobias (Midfield)
Newcomers: Alex Roman (Sr., Midfield), Josh Rand (Sr., Forward), Matt Marino (Sr., Goalkeeper), Shane Bender (Sr., Forward), Matt Hamdi (Sr., Forward), Jake Davis (Sr. Forward), Christian Abel (Jr., Forward), Emre Cetintas (Jr., Midfield), Maksim Bydyk (Jr., Forward), Andrew Kline (Jr., Midfield), John Calamia (So., Defense), Jake Cohn (So., Midfield), Stephen Cstari (So., Midfield), Aiden Guzman (So., Midfield), Tyler Korinchak (So., Midfield), Bryson Petrina (So., Defense), Chris Schoener (So., Goalkeeper), Joe Waters (So., Midfield), Nick Kearns (So., Midfield), Robert Calamia (Fr., Midfield)

Jackson Memorial senior Steve Bado. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Even though Jackson Memorial had to replace most of its 2019 starting lineup a year ago, the Jaguars still boasted a starting XI that consisted largely of seniors – at least at the outset of the season. That means, for the second straight year, Jackson Memorial will have a new-look lineup, although this time, two of its best players from the prior year are back to lead the way and return the Jaguars back to the ranks of Class A South title contenders.

Senior striker Steven Bado and senior goalkeeper Charlie Harrison were two of Jackson Memorial’s three Class A South All-Division players in 2020 and both have been All-Shore players in their careers. Bado is a 6-foot-4 athlete who is hard to match up with physically, while Harrison is a cagey four-year starter who commands the box and stops shots as well as any keeper in the conference. With those two on either end of the formation, Jackson Memorial will again be hard to score upon while also boasting a player who can strike quickly.

The supporting cast is likely to be on the younger side this year – a contrast from 2020’s group of seniors that stepped in for their turn to take the reins. Sophomore Peyton Collimore showed some potential at the end of the 2020 in becoming a freshman starter, while classmates Nathaniel Patti, Henry Daum and Shaan Moon also saw some varsity action as freshmen. Senior Stefano Solano and juniors Ryan Polakowski and Tom McChesney will be key cogs on the back line, which is always a strength at Jackson Memorial, regardless of roster turnover. After surging at the end of last season behind the play of some of the younger players, Jackson Memorial should again be a team to watch in the A South race and both postseason tournaments.

Southern

Head Coach: Guy Lockwood, sixth season
2020 Record: 14-2-1 (12-1-1, tied first in Class A South)
Returners: Mario Addiego (Sr., Forward), Landon Beirne (Sr., Midfield), Luke Hart (Sr., Midfield), Kerem Satar (Sr., Midfield), Mathieu Leonard (Jr., Midfield), Nathaniel Bott (Jr., Goalkeeper), Matt Krinic (Sr., Defense)
Losses: Kevin Kiernan (Midfield), John Paul Prosperi (Defense), Nico Leonard (Midfield), Ryan Leavitt (Forward), Brandon Notte (Midfield), Nick Budd (Midfield), Chris Rizzo (Defense), Jack Pleyn (Midfield), Trey Batson (Defense), Kevin Cooney (Defense), Drew Wasacz (Forward)
Newcomers: Aidan Antonio (Jr., Midfield/Forward), Michael Benson (Sr., Defense), Kieran Chenoweth-Hafner (Sr., Midfield), Landon Davis (Jr., Midfield), Aidan Donnelly (Fr., Midfield), Patrick Gaffney (Jr., Midfield/Defense), Zach Hetrick (Jr., Defense), Matt Hoosack (So., Midfield), Jack Marano (So., Defense), Chris Prosperi (Jr., Defense), Nick Prosperi (Fr., Defense), Jefferson Rubi Cruz (Fr., Forward), Nathan Wyrsch (Sr., Defense)

Since Guy Lockwood took over the Southern program and welcomed in a talented 2021 graduating class in his second year, the Rams had been building toward a 2020 season that had a chance to become the new standard for the program. In many ways, it lived up to that expectation, but the shortened season took away Southern’s chance to make a run for its first ever Shore Conference Tournament title and also narrowed the state tournament field. Nevertheless, the Rams turned in a memorable 2020 season, capturing a share of a Class A South championship (albeit unofficially) for the first time since 1989 and making it to the championship game of the Central Jersey East Group IV Southern bracket.

The Rams will now try to forge ahead after graduating an accomplished senior class, which was led by 2020 Shore Sports Network Player of the Year Kevin Kiernan. Few players have impacted a winning team the way Kiernan did over his senior season and replacing his production and clutch play will be virtually impossible. Including 27 from Kiernan, Southern graduated 46 goals from a year ago and will look to a a pair of returning starters to lead the effort to replace at least some of them. Luke Hart and Mario Addiego are back in the lineup while Kerem Satar, Landon Beirne and Mathieu Leonard will contribute to the scoring after playing off the bench last year.

Another returning starter is junior goalkeeper Nathaniel Bott, who will be commanding a new defensive unit that will have one returning letterwinner in Matt Krinic. A junior trio of Landon Davis, Zach Hetrick and Chris Prosperi will be in the mix of defenders, as will senior Michael Benson and freshman Nick Prosperi. The younger Prosperi is one of three players from a promising freshman class who could make an instant impact. Overcoming those graduations in a division with a good deal of returning talent will be a test for the Rams program, but the foundation is in place for Southern to keep churning out competitive teams.

Toms River South

Head Coach: Ron Laycock, 10th season
2020 Record: 7-9 (6-8, fifth in Class A South)
Returners: Danny Lindov (Sr., Forward), Chris Higham (Sr., Midfield), A.J. Truskowski (Sr., Defense), Jalen Beaton (Sr., Defense/Midfield), Jeremy Schiel (Sr., Midfield), Jon Fitzgerald (Jr., Midfield), Eddie Candia (Jr., Midfield), Devon Costa (Jr., Midfield), Justin Villamizar (Jr., Defense)
Losses: Campbell Challoner (Midfield), Peter Mandica (Defense), Connor Clayton (Midfield), Kyle Gauthier (Defense/Midfield), Harrison Jacobus (Midfield), Robbie Tapp (Defense), Matt Zycowski (Goalkeeper), Josh Wutzer (Midfield)
Newcomers: Evan Burnett (Jr., Defense), Kenny Caruso (So., Midfield/Forward), Ray Gardner (Jr., Defense), Owen Heale (So., Goalkeeper), Colin Fallat (Sr., Goalkeeper)

Few teams in the Shore Conference have been more dangerous during tournament time over the past decade or so than Toms River South and while that didn’t yield a championship in 2020, the Indians did win a tournament game before taking a close, 2-1 loss to unbeaten Wall. During the regular season, though, Toms River South could not solve Toms River North, Southern or Jackson Memorial and in going 6-8 in the division, the Indians had trouble keeping teams off the scoreboard.

They did, however, show some scoring prowess and the best of those scorers will be back this season. Danny Lindov reached the 10-goal threshold as a junior and will reprise his role as striker in 2021. Junior Jon Fitzgerald also stepped up as a sophomore scoring option a year ago and will be a threat out of the midfield this season. Seniors Chris Higham will work the middle of the field and classmate Jeremy Schiel and juniors Devon Costa and Eddie Candia are also in the fold as midfielders. Sophomore Kenny Caruso, meanwhile, will be a key addition to the attack.

Jalen Beaton and A.J. Trukowski will be the senior leaders of the defense, with juniors Justin Villamizar and Evan Burnett rounding out the back line that will be protecting the winner of the goalkeeper competition between senior Colin Fallat and sophomore Owen Heale. That group will have to improve upon last year’s inconsistencies and if it can, Toms River South should find the goal-scoring to get in on the Class A South race, as well as make noise in late October into early November.

Brick Memorial

Head Coach: Brian Swider, second season
2020 Record: 2-11-2 (2-10-2, seventh in Class A South)
Returners: Billy Caruso (Jr., Forward), Ryan Mastrojohn (Sr., Defense), Anden Johnson (Sr., Midfield), Ryan Smith (Sr., Midfield), Richie Kijack (Sr., Goalkeeper), Jason Desiderio (Sr., Midfield), Zach Pitts (Sr., Defense), Andrew Fankopf (Sr., Defense), Aidan Beelitz (Sr., Midfield), Patrick Schlagenhaft (Jr., Midfield), Zander Pitts (Jr., Midfield)
Losses: Jack Fanning (Midfield), Ryan Caroselli (Defense/Midfield), Jasiel Zamora (Forward)
Newcomers: Drew Forfar (Jr., Midfield)

On wins and losses, the 2020 season was a struggle for Brick Memorial but for a team that lost 11 games, the Mustangs were competitive. They lost their only playoff game, but took a 12-3 Long Branch team ranked in the top 10 to the wire before ultimately bowing out, 3-2. That close loss was part of an overall trend, as all but five of Brick Memorial’s matches were decided by one goal or finished in a draw. The lone lopsided losses the Mustangs suffered were in their four games against Toms River North and Southern, as well as one of two losses to Toms River South.

Armed with experience in close games, Brick Memorial looks to get over the hump more of them after going 2-6-2 in such matches a year ago. The Mustangs bring back some legitimate scoring punch from last year, led by junior striker Billy Caruso coming off a seven-goal sophomore season. Seniors Anden Johnson and Ryan Smith were also reliable midfield creators by the end of the season, while fellow senior Ryan Mastrojohn is back to lead the defense.

Those close losses could have been a mental drain, but if this group can learn to finish those games, that should feed their confidence and make the Mustangs a tough A South opponent and a dangerous draw again in the NJSIAA Tournament.

Brick

Head Coach: Tom Frazzitta, seventh season
2020 Record: 9-8 (7-7, third in Class A South)
Returners: Riley Lafay (Sr., Forward), Nick Rincon (So., Midfield), Jayson Nardone (Jr., Forward), Josh Voldovinos (Sr., Defense)
Losses: Zack Meyer (Midfield/Forward), Sean Palmer (Forward), Eli Chong (Midfield), Danny Buenano (Midfield), Ryan Kelly (Goalkeeper), Andrew Nardone (Defense)
Newcomers: Santiago Valencia (Fr., Defense), Adrian Bautista (So., Midfield), Cailean Connolly (So., Defense)

Fresh off its first winning season since 2008, Brick hopes to build off its third-place finish in the Class A South standings that included a memorable win over Southern – the No. 4 team in the final Shore Sports Network Top 10. The challenge in again posting a winning season in 2021 will be replacing the creative players who graduated – namely Sean Palmer, Zack Meyer and Eli Chong. That trio made up Brick’s top three scorers and accounted for a combined 35 goals and 17 assists, which will be an overwhelming amount of production to replace.

Fortunately for Brick, a handful of younger players emerged over the course of the season and will look to step up as leaders this year. Junior Jayson Nardone and sophomore Nick Rincon will be two scoring threats after coming up big for the Dragons down the stretch, while senior Riley Lafay will move up to the top of the formation to help with the scoring effort. Senior Josh Voldovinos is the other returnee with starting experience and will lead the defense.

The rest of the Brick formation will skew young, with freshman Santiago Valencia and sophomore Cailean Connolly joining Valdovinos on the back line and sophomore Adrian Bautista sliding into the midfield with Rincon. With teams like Toms River North and Toms River East loaded with senior talent, contending for an A South title is a reach for Brick, but the Dragons are set up to contend in 2022 if they can lay the foundation this fall.

Central

Head Coach: Troy Van Hise, fourth season
2020 Record: 0-9-3 (0-9-2, eighth in Class A South)
Returners: Gianni Smith (Sr., Forward), Mason Leszynski (Sr., Forward), Mike Azzerone (Sr., Midfield), Will Smith (Sr., Defense/Goalkeeper), Ryan Dicillo (Jr., Midfield), Tommy Dudzik (Jr., Defense), Dan Kejda (Jr., Defense), Trevor Policastro (Jr., Goalkeeper), John Truhan (Jr., Midfield), Keith Swistock (So., Defense), David Kroon (So., Midfield), Matt Golizio (So.)
Losses: Jason Trapp (Goalkeeper), Hunter Reyes (Midfield), Christian Verderosa (Forward)
Newcomers: Owen Elliot (So., Defense), Aiden Risk (Jr., Midfield), Tane Zorgdrager (So., Defense)

Three games into the season, Central was 0-2-1 with two competitive losses and hoping to turn the corner the rest of the way. An injury to standout goalkeeper Jason Trapp instead a four-game stretch in which the Golden Eagles were outscored by a 23-2 aggregate, with all three games coming against the top three teams in the division standings – Toms River North (twice), Southern and Brick. Central then recovered to an extent by 0-3-2 over its last five with two of the losses coming by one-goal margins to Brick and Southern. The last draw also came against a Toms River East team that went on to reach an NJSIAA sectional final.

Failing to come up with a win was a tough pill for last year’s group to swallow, but just about all of that group is back and the players are hungry to make this the year Central gets back into the mix of Class A South contenders. Senior Gianni Smith was an all-division performer a year ago and will be a senior leader along with classmates Mason Leszynski, Mike Azzerone and Will Smith. Leszynski and Azzerone will be key in the attack and Smith will play a crucial role either in the back four or as the new goalkeeper.

Juniors John Truhan and Ryan Dicillo will also be integral in the midfield and as scoring options for Central, while classmates Tommy Dudzik and Dan Kejda help out on defense. Central also has a sophomore trio that saw time a year ago and will get an additional boost from the Class of 2024. This will be the last chance for the four seniors to have a winning season and if they can pull it off, Central will be set up nicely for the immediate future.

 

Class A South Starting XI

Kajus Matazinskas, Sr., Forward, Toms River East (4 goals, 2 assists)

Steven Bado, Sr., Forward, Jackson Memorial (9 goals)

Danny Lindov, Sr., Forward, Toms River South (10 goals, 4 assists)

Gianni Smith, Sr., Forward, Central (4 goals, 1 assist)

Billy Caruso, Jr., Forward, Brick Memorial (7 goals, 1 assist)

Mattia Assante, Sr., Midfield, Toms River North (4 goals, 10 assists)

Noah Raimonde, Sr., Midfield, Toms River East (7 goals, 4 assists)

Jared Brown, Sr., Midfield, Toms River North

Jimmy Ruppe, Sr., Defense, Toms River North

Ryan Maguire, Sr., Defense, Toms River North

Charlie Harrison, Sr., Goalkeeper, Jackson Memorial (2 shutouts)

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Peyton Collimore, So., Midfield, Jackson Memorial (2 goals, 1 assist)

Nick Rincon, So., Midfield, Brick (2 goals, 1 assist)

Luke Hart, Sr., Midfield, Southern (2 goals, 3 assists)

Matt Bozicev, Jr., Defense/Midfield, Toms River North

Jon Fitzgerald, Jr., Midfield, Toms River South (4 goals, 1 assist)