Get our free mobile app

With a lot of effort from a lot of parties involved, there was a high school boys soccer season in New Jersey last fall – even if it was not the kind of season people have grown accustomed to. Although it would be foolhardy to assume this upcoming season will be completely normal, the upcoming 2021 season at the Shore Conference is scheduled to look like any other season and that means it should end with a much clearer picture of who the best teams are.

Even without a lot of the head-to-head matchups that settle top-10 debates, it was fairly obvious who the best four teams were last year and it was hard to deny the dominance of the Shore’s No. 1 team. That team is back this season and could be even better, so while there will be contenders aplenty, No. 1 is clear-cut rolling into Tuesday’s opener.

With 2020 Record (Overall, Division)

1. Christian Brothers Academy (13-0-1, 9-0-1)

It was not a surprise that CBA ended up the best team in the Shore Conference in 2020 – it hardly ever is – but the dominance with which the Colts handled 13 of 14 opponents was eye-opening for a team that did not win any championships in 2019 and lost a number of impact starters. The Colts allowed only four goals during their 14-game season and even in their scoreless draw against winless Manalapan, they shut down the opposition. Now, the Colts have a mix of scoring, defense and goalkeeping back and will again be the team to beat in the Shore Conference.

From left, CBA players Jack Longo, Will Thygeson and Shane Borenius. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

2. Toms River North (15-1-1, 12-1-1)

Last year might have been Toms River North’s most capable team of winning the Shore Conference Tournament since the Mariners last won it in 2005. The only problem was that there was no SCT. The COVID-shortened 2020 season eliminated any possibility of seeing some high-end matchups between Ocean County and Monmouth County teams last year but the Mariners are set on making up for lost time this year. Scoring might not come as easily after graduating the top two scorers from a year ago, but the midfield and back line remain largely intact. That’s a recipe for success, one that could deliver the Mariners a tournament title for the third consecutive season.

Photo by Matt Manley

3. Wall (17-0, 14-0)

Five Shore Conference teams won a version of an NJSIAA sectional championship last season but three of them stood out because of the season those championships completed. CBA and Toms River North represented two of those seasons and Wall was the other. The Crimson Knights became the first Shore Conference team since CBA in 2011 to complete a perfect season, going 17-0 with a sectional championship to cap the run. Just like Toms River North – and every other team at the Shore, for the most part – Wall did not get to test itself to the fullest as it might have during a normal year, but the Knights will have another strong group to take into the postseason this year.

Photo by Matt Manley

4. Freehold Township (11-4-1, 11-3)

While other teams finished higher in the 2020 rankings, Freehold Township remains the defending Shore Conference Tournament champion, although the key members of that team are mostly gone. Still, the Patriots routinely reload, and this year will be no different. A deep, athletic roster is again Freehold Township’s calling card and the Patriots will try to ride this year’s new lineup deep into the postseason after taking a run at CBA in the Class A North race.

5. Colts Neck (15-2, 12-2)

The Cougars boast the best returning scorer in the Shore Conference in David Tuschmann (25 goals in 2020) as part of a starting lineup that will feature three returning starters. Some bench players will climb into bigger roles this season and the lower levels of the program have plenty to offer this year’s lineup. After getting swept in the regular-season series against Wall, Colts Neck will be out to pay back the Crimson Knights while seeking another, more conventional NJSIAA sectional title.

Photo by Matt Manley

6. Ocean (6-5-2, 5-4-2)

The last two seasons have been a roller coaster for Ocean, which was one of the state’s top five teams in 2018. The Spartans reached the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III championship game in 2019 and brought back a young-but-experienced group a year ago. Despite the postseason experience, Ocean could not get out of the first round of the 2020 NJSIAA Playoffs and that has this year’s senior-led group motivated to raise their level in 2021.

7. Toms River East (7-8-2, 5-7-1)

After a 2-7 start to the season, Toms River East closed the season on a tear, reaching the championship game of the Central East Group III South Playoffs and losing to Wall in a tightly-contested 2-1 game. The Raiders will have a great chance to build on that success thanks to the return of two top scoring threats and most of the defense. There is a big gap to close between themselves and Toms River North and will have to take their best shot at the Mariners in the season-opener on Wednesday, but the Raiders will have a longer season to put it all together for the stretch run.

8. Long Branch (12-3, 11-2)

Over the past two seasons, Long Branch has established itself as a program that can beat any opponent, which the Green Wave got to prove playing in both Class A North and in the Central Jersey Group IV section. Long Branch will once again reside in A North, but will be a Group III team in 2021. With some scoring, skill and leadership to replace, the Green Wave will be put to the test, but the talent is in place to keep the run of the last two years going.

9. Jackson Memorial (6-7-1, 5-6-1)

Like its Class A South counterpart Toms River East, Jackson Memorial got off to a rough start in 2020 and in its case, a COVID-related shutdown had a lot to do with it. Once the Jaguars got back and settled, they found their groove by nearly climbing back to .500, with the only Toms River North stopping them in the NJSIAA Playoffs. A collection of young players got invaluable experience last season and will be key pieces this year and looking ahead to the immediate future.

10. Rumson-Fair Haven (7-5-2, 7-2-2)

The rebuild at Rumson is taking shape following a solid showing in 2020 and with Holmdel potentially coming back to the pack this season, 2020 could be a big year for one of the Class A Central challengers to the throne that the Hornets have occupied for four straight seasons. Rumson will have the scoring prowess to give any team headaches but the key to the Bulldogs’ season will be whether or not they can replace the defense from a year ago.

 

Top 10 Watchlist

Manchester – Fresh off its first sectional title in program history, the Hawks have a wealth of experience back to make an even more memorable run this season.

Monmouth – The Falcons lost to Manchester in the sectional championship game and have enough back to go on another deep run in November.

Howell – The Rebels took a step forward last season with a junior-heavy team and should be ready to compete for an A North public division title in 2021.

Pinelands – Even while trying to replace All-Shore First-Teamer Johnny Hart, the Wildcats have their eyes on a fifth straight Class B South title.

Marlboro – The Mustang s hit some bad luck in 2021 and as much as any team, are looking to put last season behind them and get back to the level they reached in 2019 as a 14-win contender in Class A North.

Holmdel – The Hornets have a lot of talent to replace but they have proven time and time again that they can reload.

Southern – The Rams finished as the No. 4 team in the final Top 10 in 2020 and even without the established stars from that team, it will be worth keeping an eye on how the team follows up its best season in more than 30 years.