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On the whole, the Class B South division in boys soccer has been steadily improving but up until last season, there were no postseason championships to prove it. Instead, the division has simply continued to get deeper, with Pinelands emerging as a perennial favorite, Manchester and Barnegat climbing to the top half of the division two years ago and Jackson Liberty showing signs of life last season.

Last year, however, was a new benchmark for Ocean County’s “small school” division. After finishing fourth in the final Class B South standings behind front-runners Pinelands and Lacey and third-place Jackson Liberty, Manchester went on to win the modified Central Jersey Group II championship – the program’s first sectional title of any kind. Not only did Manchester enjoy postseason success on behalf of the division, but the Hawks were a perfect 6-0 in games outside of B South – a sign the division has the wherewithal to play with programs of comparable size from Monmouth County and perhaps even some of the big names.

Manchester returns with an experienced lineup this season, while Pinelands and Lacey figure to remain serious contenders. Point Pleasant Boro and Donovan Catholic hope to be resurgent after a string of losing seasons for each, while Jackson Liberty is hoping for more stability after an uneven-albeit-encouraging 2020. Lakewood and Barnegat should not be counted out either given the offensive firepower returning from each, which makes B South a division with seven legitimate challenges for each of its members.

In predicted order of finish

Manchester

Head Coach: Troy Madison, fourth season
2020 Record: 10-5-2 (4-5-2, fourth in Class B South)
Returners: Owen Edwards (Jr., Forward/Midfield), Brandon Sogness (Sr., Forward/Midfield), Vincent Paolillo (Sr., Midfield/Defense), Logan Duffy (Sr., Forward/Midfield), Muberaq Aderogba (Jr., Forward), Joey Kurak (So., Midfield/Forward), Diego Martinez (Jr., Midfield), Matt O’Hara (Jr., Midfield/Defense), Jake Ruocchio (Sr., Defense), Hunter Rust (Sr., Defense)
Losses: Xavier Millan (Sr., Midfield), Dallas Hopkins (Sr., Defense), Trevor Juralewicz (Sr., Defense), Blake Weiner (Sr., Midfield), Keith Fallon (Sr., Goalkeeper), Chris Meyers (Sr., Defense)
Newcomers: Max Anderson (So., Goalkeeper), Rocco Raimondi (Sr., Goalkeeper), Luis Camarena (Jr., Midfield), Aidan Clauberg (Fr., Defense/Midfield), Chase Destafney (Fr., Defense/Midfield), Anthony Marsango (Sr., Forward), Cody McLeod (Fr., Defense), Gabriel Occhipinti (Fr., Midfield), Jackson Pagnotta (Sr., Defense), Bryan Zdanowicz (Sr., Forward)

Manchester following its Central Group II championship victory. Photo by Bob Badders)

For a lot of athletes, the 2020-21 season was a year they might care to forget. Not Manchester. The Hawks athletic program authored some major highlights during the last school year and one of the first was the boys soccer team making program history. After an uneven regular season playing in what turned out to be a deep Class B South division, the Hawks regrouped and made a surprising run to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II – the first sectional title of any kind in the history of the program. There were some extenuating circumstances to the championship – No. 1 seed Holmdel had to drop out of the tournament because of multiple positive COVID tests, plus the section did not include any teams from outside the Shore Conference – but considering Manchester’s rather short history of soccer success, it was a momentous achievement.

What makes last year’s championship so exciting is that it followed a successful step forward in 2019 and sets up, perhaps, an even bigger 2021 with so many players back in the fold. That includes a senior core of Brandon Sogness, Logan Duffy and Vincent Paolillo to go with returning senior defenders Jake Ruocchio and Hunter Rust. The trio of Sogness, Duffy and Paolillo have been key cogs in each of the past two seasons and will be leaders on this year’s team as it pursues a Class B South championship.

Even with a standout senior class, Manchester’s younger players might be the driving force of the team’s success this season and certainly beyond. Junior Owen Edwards was an All-Shore player a year ago and the star of the Hawks’ championship run, while Muberaq Aderogba proved a reliable scorer as a sophomore as well. Sophomore Joey Kurak showed promise as a freshman, Diego Martinez and Matt O’Hara are capable juniors and there is another young group joining the supporting cast this season. The defense and goalkeeper – which will come down to sophomore Max Anderson and senior Marco Raimondi – will be two keys to the season after some losses to graduation, but Manchester will have plenty of scoring to go with its newly-acquired championship experience.

Pinelands

Head Coach: Nino Scotto di Carlo, fifth season
2020 Record: 12-1-2 (11-1-1, first in Class B South)
Returners: Adam Grelak (Sr., Midfield), James Cahill (Sr., Forward), Mike Staino (Sr., Defense), Stephen Demilio (Sr., Forward/Midfield), Brogan Duelly (Jr., Midfield), Gage Molinaro (Jr., Defense), Josiah Hart (So., Midfield)
Losses: Johnny Hart (Midfield), Gavin Harris (Goalkeeper), Carter Mathis (Defense), Nate Szwed (Midfield), Carter Courtney (Defense), Logan Middlecoop (Midfield)
Newcomers: Aaron Johnson (So., Goalkeeper)

There was no official Class B South championship last season but if one was awarded to the first place team at the end of the season, that would make four straight Class B South championships for Pinelands. Since taking over as head coach in 2017, Nino Scotto di Carlo has taken the Wildcats from a program that was on the cusp of breaking through to one that has become the standard in the division. There have been star players and big-time goal-scorers to graduate during the run and still, Pinelands has persevered as a defending champion.

This season comes with two challenges for Pinelands. The first is to continue its run of division titles despite graduating two-time divisional Player of the Year Johnny Hart, who broke through as a First Team All-Shore Player in 2020. The players who will need to step up in his absence are seniors Adam Grelak and James Cahill, with Grelak returning as a center midfielder and Cahill showing he can be a top scoring option on a very good team a year ago. Brogan Duelly and Stephen Demilio also made significant contributions a year ago and Mike Staino and Gage Molinaro are key returners to the defense, which will play in front of first-year sophomore starter Aaron Johnson in goal.

The other challenge for Pinelands in the upcoming season is to translate its B South dominance into further success outside the division, particularly come tournament time. The Wildcats were one win away from an NJSIAA sectional championship in 2018 and this year, they will have a number of chances to boost their program profile by playing all three Toms River public schools in out-of-division matchups. The division will again be in play and as long as scoring is not too much of an issue without Hart, Pinelands will have a chance to break through in the postseason as well.

Lacey

Head Coach: Steve Torre, fifth season
2020 Record: 11-3-1 (11-2-1, second in Class B South)
Returners: Kody Besser (Sr., Defense), Jason Marchitello (Jr., Midfield), Bryan Cardoso (Sr., Forward), Ryan Fitzgerald (Jr., Goalkeeper), Dom Iorio (Sr., Defense), Ethan Riley (Jr., Forward/Midfield), Connor Bencik (Sr., Midfield/Forward), Chad Moore (Jr., Defense), Logan Gross (Jr., Midfield), Jack Costa (Sr., Midfield), Mateo Musmanni (Jr., Defense)
Losses: George-Kyle Hernandez (Midfield), Noah Hamouda (Forward), D.J. Edinger (Forward), Anthony Leporino (Goalkeeper), Tosh Mrazck (Midfield)
Newcomers: Jason Velez (So., Forward), Dillon Raparelli (Sr., Midfield), Dom Vecchio (Sr., Forward), Nick Vecchio (So., Forward), Mateo Pasqualicchio (So., Forward)

Lacey senior Kody Besser (left) and Pinelands sophomore Josiah Hart. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Save for a first-round loss in the modified NJSIAA Playoffs, Lacey did not have a chance to play outside of the divisional schedule in 2020. Within that schedule, however, Lacey was very effective, losing two close games to Pinelands while boasting a balance of goal prevention and scoring. This season, most of the goal-scoring from last year is gone, but the return of All-Shore senior center back Kody Besser will give the Lions the makings of a dominant back line that includes a dynamic player who can also push up and score.

Beyond Besser, Lacey will have some questions to address, but does appear to have some potential answers – not to mention seven returning starters. Juniors Jason Marchitello and Ethan Riley will be key figures in the midfield, while seniors Bryan Cardoso and Connor Bencik both side up to forward after Cardoso played in the back and Bencik in the midfield last year. Evan with Cardoso off the back line, Lacey will have experience alongside Besser in senior Dom Iorio and juniors Chad Moore and Mateo Musmanni.

Two newcomers to watch for Lacey will be first-year starter Ryan Fitzgerald in goal and sophomore striker Jason Velez. Lacey is set to be solid in the back and has some pieces to work with in the middle, so in order to get over the hump in Class B South, the Lions will have to remain solid in goal and find some goal-scorer with so much of last year’s production lost to graduation.

Point Pleasant Boro

Head Coach: Pete Casalino, 17th season
2020 Record: 2-6-2 (2-6-1, seventh in Class B South)
Returners: Aidan Huhn (Sr., Defense), Charles Latendorf (Sr., Midfield), Jeff Thompson (Sr., Defense), Jared Elliot (Jr., Midfield), Brett Leschinski (Sr., Midfield), Alex Corso (Sr., Forward), Alex Baginski (Jr., Defense), Max Dyba (Jr., Forward), Jack Thompson (Jr., Defense), Andrew Holper (So., Goalkeeper), Chase Norling (So., Midfield), John Witkowski (So., Forward), Owen Clearwaters (So., Forward)
Losses: Danny Gallagher (Sr., Midfield), Connor Robinson (Sr., Defense)
Newcomers: John Ward (So., Forward), Gavin Petrosky (So., Midfield), Mason Muolo (Fr., Defense)

Before Pinelands emerged as the perennial favorite in Class B South, it was Point Boro’s division to lose on a year-in, year-our basis. The Panthers, however, have fallen on hard times over the past three seasons and are now among the teams in the middle of the pack trying to chase down Pinelands and upstart Manchester. The good news for Point Boro is that last year’s struggles could very well be traced back to how young the roster was and that should be less of an issue this season with most of the 2020 back.

Point Boro will have the makings of a strong defense, led by seniors Aidan Huhn and Jeff Thompson alongside juniors Alex Baginski and Jack Thompson. Freshman Mason Muolo is also angling for a role on the defense, while sophomore Andrew Holper returns with experience in goal. The midfield also has some veteran leadership among it, led by seniors Brett Leschinski and Charles Latendorf. Junior Jared Elliot and sophomores Chase Norling and Gavin Petrosky will look to contribute in the midfield as well.

Scoring has been an issue for Point Boro, whose six losses all came by a margin of one goal. To fix that deficiency, the Panthers will look to a stable of strikers that includes a senior in Alex Corso, junior Max Dubya and sophomores Owen Clearwaters and John Ward. Clearwaters showed potential at the beginning of last season, when he scored two goals on opening day to help the Panthers pull out a draw with Manchester – one of just four times the Panthers scored more than one goal. With a little more finishing prowess, Point Boro could become a major threat as a team that has been through close battles and is ready to break through.

Jackson Liberty

Head Coach: Justin Siering, first season
2020 Record: 5-5 (5-4, third in Class B South)
Returners: Ayendi Batista (Sr., Goalkeeper), Elton Canka (Sr., Forward), Evan Wesikopf (Sr., Defense), Youssef Takawy (Sr., Defense), Connor Yurgel (Jr., Midfield/Forward), Nick Malagnone (Jr., Defense), Ryan Petrow (Jr., Midfield), Jim Cappucci (Jr., Midfield/Forward), Adal Garcia (So., Midfield), Gio Batista (So., Defense)
Losses: Tim Cappucci (Sr., Midfield), Gerard Cerino (Jr., Forward)
Newcomers: Sean Mazon (Jr., Defense/Midfield) – transfer from Middletown South; Rocco Malagnone (Fr., Defense/Goalkeeper)

The 2020 season started as well as Jackson Liberty could have hoped, but the season went south for because of injuries, COVID and a backloaded schedule. The Lions stormed out to 4-0 with sweeps of both Barnegat and Point Boro, but they came at a coast when top scorer Elton Canka suffered a season-ending injury vs. Point Boro. What followed were a pair of one-sided losses to Pinelands and later two more losses to Lacey following a COVID-related shutdown.

There were and are some positives to take away from last season for Jackson Liberty. The Lions beat Manchester as part of their 1-5 finish to the season, finished .500 and will bring back Canka this season as part of a roster that should be able to build on the success during the early part of 2020. In addition to bringing back one of the division’s top scoring threats in Canka, the Lions also return B South’s most established goalkeeper in two-time all-division selection Ayendi Batista.

The defense in front of Batista will be experienced, with junior Nick Malagnonea and sophomore Gio Batista back with seniors Evan Wesikopf and Youssef Takawy. The midfield has more to replace, but the return of juniors Connor Yurgel, Jimmy Cappucci and Ryan Petrow, as well as the emergence of sophomore Adal Garcia, give the group some potential. As a program, Jackson Liberty still has to prove it can hang with the likes of Pinelands and Lacey over the course of a full season, but there is potential on this year’s roster to beat any team in the division and become a real factor in the division race.

Donovan Catholic

Head Coach: Ken Oliver, 21st season
2020 Record: 2-8-3 (2-6-2, sixth in Class B South)
Returners: Preston Kyriakoulis (Sr., Midfield/Forward), Raul Soriano (Sr., Defense/Midfield), Matt Bowen (Sr., Defense/Midfield), Anthony DiSapio (Sr., Midfield), Peyton Calvetto (Jr., Midfield/Forward), Harrison Hopkins (Jr., Goalkeeper), Juan Jordan (Jr., Defense/Midfield), Konrad Dzialowski (So., Defense/Midfield), Matt Fletcher (So., Midfield/Forward)
Losses: Clay Yannazzone (Sr., Defense), Vin Mendes (Sr., Forward), Carlos Soriano (Sr., Defense), Dean Carskaddan (Sr., Midfield), Rich O’Brien (Sr., Midfield), Damin Mangin (Sr., Midfield/Forward)
Newcomers: Logan Ascione (Jr., Defense), Ryan Henry (Jr., Defense/Midfield), Nick Paccione (Jr., Goalkeeper), Joel Rodriguez (Jr., Defense/Midfield), Nick O’Brien (So., Defense/Midfield)

Donovan Catholic has spent most of the century as a perennial Class B South championship contender and even has a Shore Conference Tournament championship to its credit during that time, but the program has fallen on hard times over the past five seasons. It has been since 2015 since the Griffins posted a winning record, which also speaks to how much the competition in Class B South has ramped up since Donovan Catholic went 12-5-3 in 2015.

Even through some struggles over the past few seasons, Donovan Catholic has been a tough match for every team in the division and the Griffins are not far from returning to their past glory if a few things can click for them. There will be some talent and production to replace from 2020, but the return of all-division senior Preston Kyriakoulis on the attack gives Donovan Catholic a legitimate threat around which to build their 2021 formation. Raul Soriano and Matt Bowen are poised for a step up as senior defenders, while the junior class is likely to produce some key cogs in the defense and the midfield in front of junior goalkeeper Harrison Hopkins.

Among the juniors to watch is returnee Peyton Calvetto, who will look to become a greater scoring threat going forward with Kyriakoulis. Sophomore Matt Fletcher could also make an impact as a scorer for Donovan Catholic, which has a chance to improve its finishing with Kyriakoulis, Calvetto and Fletcher among the group that can play striker or as an attacking midfielder. They are part of a versatile roster that, if it clicks early on, could be poised for a return to glory.

Lakewood

Head Coach: Gene Drumright, 21st season
2020 Record: 2-5-3 (2-4-3, fifth in Class B South)
Returners: Jesus Avila (Jr., Forward), Fernando Osorio (Sr., Forward), Angelo Calidonio (Jr., Midfield), Alexander Granda (Sr., Midfield), Eduardo Santillan (Sr., Defense), Orlando Vera (Sr., Defense), Nicolas Avila (So., Defense/Midfield), Joshua Carrillo (Jr., Midfield), Flavio Garista (Jr., Forward), Carlos Mateo (Sr., Midfield), Christopher Pedraza (So., Midfield), Edgar Reynoso (Sr., Defense), Antoni Soriano (So., Midfield)
Losses: Marco Alvarado (Forward/Midfield), Roberto Pelaez (Midfield), David Olivares (Midfield), Neri De los Santos (Defense)
Newcomers: Hector de los Santos (Fr., Midfield), Jefferson Ramos (Fr., Defense)

While fielding a young roster over the past two seasons, Lakewood has endured some growing pains but in the process, grew into a more competitive team in 2020 than it was in 2019. The Piners are just three years removed from being a contender near the top of the division and with a mix of some older players and younger ones with potential, Lakewood is positioned to be a sleeper in a division that looks to be tough again in 2021.

Junior Jesus Avila and senior Fernando Osorio return as the most proven scorers from a year ago, when the duo was among the team’s top four scorers. For Lakewood to play its way into the top half of the division standings, the Piners will look to establish a strong midfield and back line to go with the duo up top. Alexander Granda and Carlos Mateo are senior members of the midfield, with Angelo Calidonio, Josh Carillo, Nicolas Avila, Chris Pedraza, Antoni Soriano also in the mix as younger options.

Eduardo Santillan, Orlando Vera and Edgar Reynoso are the seniors on the defense and freshman Jefferson Ramos is in line for playing time in the back as well, with Avila also an option to help on defense. Lakewood went just 1-1-2 when scoring three goals or more and did not record a shutout, so improving the defense will be a key to the Piners’ 2021 success.

Barnegat

Head Coach: Kevin Peters, third season
2020 Record: 0-9-2 (0-9-2, eighth in Class B South)
Returners: Pavan Patel (Sr., Defense), Jesse Hedlund (Jr., Midfield/Forward), Schuyler Jodice (Sr., Forward), Darren Cernansky (Sr., Midfield/Forward), Anthony Ryan (Jr., Defense), Lucas Holland (Jr., Goalkeeper)
Losses: Ken Franke (Sr., Defense), Connor Costello (Sr., Midfield), Maurice Vargas (Sr., Forward), Kester Mbah (Sr., Midfield), Tyler Quinn (Sr., Defense/Midfield)
Newcomers: Julian Marfino (So., Midfield), Nick Santos (Jr., Midfield/Defense), Alex Churney (So., Midfield/Defense), John Pari (So., Defense)

After making a serious bid for the program’s first boys soccer division title in 2019, Barnegat took a step back last season in going 0-9-2 with a young, inexperienced roster. The record, while unsightly, doesn’t quite reflect the competitive level of the Bengals, who managed to keep many of those 11 games close despite failing to prevail in any of them.

It will be a long climb back to the top end of the division for Barnegat and there are some important players to replace, but the Bengals will have far more experience back this season than they did a year ago. Junior Jesse Hedlund showed he could score as a freshman on the 11-win 2019 team and had to adjust to a greater role and more attention as a sophomore a year ago. Senior Schuyler Joidice helped him out by emerging as a legitimate scorer, leading Barnegat with five goals in his first season as a varsity starter.

On the other end of the formation, senior Pavan Patel is back to lead the back line in front of returning junior goalkeeper Lucas Holland. Juniors Anthony Ryan and Nick Santos will play key defensive roles, as will sophomores John Pari and Alex Churney. Churney and Santos can also help out in the midfield, where senior Darren Cernansky and Julian Marfino also figure to play a part. With so many Class B South programs bringing back quality players, getting back to the top-half of the division will be challenging for the Bengals, but they can once again be a competitive team on a daily basis with a chance to pull out some results.

 

Class B South Starting XI (with 2020 stats)

Elton Canka, Sr., Forward, Jackson Liberty (3 goals)

James Cahill, Sr., Forward, Pinelands (6 goals, 4 assists)

Logan Duffy, Sr., Forward, Manchester (5 goals, 5 assists)

Jesus Avila, Jr., Forward, Lakewood (3 goals)

Preston Kyriakoulis, Sr., Midfield/Forward, Donovan Catholic (7 goals, 4 assists)

Owen Edwards, Jr., Midfield, Manchester (11 goals, 5 assists)

Brandon Sogness, Sr., Midfield, Manchester (7 goals, 4 assists)

Adam Grelak, Sr., Midfield, Pinelands (1 goal, 3 assists)

Vincent Paolillo, Sr., Midfield/Defense, Manchester (5 goals, 3 assists)

Kody Besser, Sr., Defense, Lacey (4 goals)

Ayendi Batista, Sr., Goalkeeper, Jackson Liberty (3 shutouts)

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Owen Clearwaters, So., Forward, Point Boro (2 goals)

Ethan Riley, Jr., Forward, Lacey (1 goal, 3 assists)

Joey Kurak, So., Midfield, Manchester (2 goals, 3 assists)

Schuyler Joidice, Jr., Forward, Barnegat (5 goals)

Jimmy Cappucci, Jr., Midfield, Jackson Liberty (1 goal, 1 assist)