Boys Soccer – 2022 NJSIAA Tournament Preview: The Small Schools of the Shore
Over the past seven full seasons, Group II has been dominated by two teams: Holmdel and Delran. While Delran has won more trophies during that stretch of time, Holmdel has had the better of the Bears when meeting head-to-head and the two power programs in Group II could be on a collision course once again as both are among the favorites in their respective sections.
Holmdel will meet plenty of resistance in Central Jersey Group II, as it did in 2021, when Rumson-Fair Haven knocked off the Bears in the sectional final. Rumson is back with much of its 2021 starting XI and is likely to clash with Holmdel in the sectional quarterfinals. Those are just two of the contenders from the Shore in Central Group II, with Point Pleasant Boro, Manasquan, Wall and Manchester primed for strong showings and Monmouth Regional, Raritan and Barnegat lying in the weeds, hoping to spring an upset.
The Shore has not had a power player in Group I the way Holmdel has been in Group II, but there is a candidate to become that team. Shore Regional is back in Group I this season and the Blue Devils never quite put it all together in their previous attempt to conquer Group I with a talented wave of players in 2014 and 2015. This time around, the Blue Devils are especially young, but more battle-tested than they were back in the mid-2010's and could author a long run into the Central Jersey Group I bracket -- the only Group I section that contains Shore Conference teams.
The small schools of the Shore have had quite a bit of success in the state tournament, so let's have a look at how this year's batch of teams stacks up against the rest of the state.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 2 Holmdel, No. 4 Point Pleasant Boro, No. 6 Manasquan, No. 7 Rumson-Fair Haven, No. 8 Wall, No. 14 Monmouth, No. 15 Raritan
Top Seed: Bordentown
Defending Champion: Rumson-Fair Haven
2022 Favorite: Holmdel. With talent and chemistry, the Hornets are an impressive team to watch, but have been tripped up twice: once by Rumson-Fair Have to cost them a division title and again by Howell in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals. Maybe the state tournament will be the time for Holmdel to shine and with last season ending in heartbreak in the sectional final, the Hornets will be motivated to finish the job this year. There will be plenty of obstacles, highlighted by No. 3 Governor Livingston, top-seeded Bordentown, Point Boro, No. 6 Manasquan and, of course, defending champion Rumson-Fair Haven.
Darkhorse: Wall. The Crimson Knights have seen Holmdel twice, beat Rumson-Fair Haven and won a tournament game against Ocean. If they can get by round one vs. Spotswood, Wall is capable of beating a Bordentown side that has a pair of losses to Group I schools Palmyra and Florence. Each of Wall’s last two NJSIAA Tournament’s ended on penalties, so the Crimson Knights are proven to be a tough out. Monmouth has a tough draw in Governor Livingston but has a puncher’s chance. Raritan will have to deal with Holmdel in the first round – a very tough draw for a team hoping to make a run.
Bracket Breakdown: It could be reasonably argued that the four best teams in the CJ II field are all on the same side of the bracket: Holmdel, Governor Livingston, Manasquan and Rumson-Fair Haven. That leaves the other side open for Bordentown, Wall, Point Boro and South River to battle it out and the two Shore teams in that group should like their chances. While Wall has the program success to its credit, Point Boro has a tight group of juniors and seniors that have been building toward this for the last two years.
Championship Prediction: No. 2 Holmdel over No. 8 Wall. The Shore has been exceedingly successful in this section and when it has been another team, it has been Governor Livingston. Holmdel and Rumson made it to last year’s final, but would have to meet up in the quarterfinals this season. That could open things up for Manasquan on that end of the bracket, while Point Boro and Wall are in play to come out of the other end. Ultimately, though, the two teams with the championship history are hard to ignore.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 9 Manchester, No. 16 Barnegat
Top Seed: West Deptford
Defending Champion: No. 6 Delran
2022 Favorite: Delran. The Bears played another tough schedule and a few more losses than usual dropped them down to the No. 6 seed. Do not be fooled, though. Delran remains loaded with talent and that schedule has them ready to run through the South Jersey Group II field again. The only catch this season is that run will have to go through road venues at places like Haddonfield, Cinnaminson and West Deptford.
Darkhorse: Manchester. The Hawks have multiple scoring threats that can give opposing teams problems and that should be enough to get Manchester at least one win this tournament. If the Hawks can get through No. 8 Sterling, West Deptford would likely be waiting, but the Hawks may have a shot against an Eagles team that has not scored more than two goals against a team with a winning record, other than a pair of Group I teams (13-5 Audobon and 9-8 Gateway).
Bracket Breakdown: This has been the Delran bracket in recent years and even though the Bears had to settle for the No. 6 seed this year, there is little reason to believe Delran won’t defend its championship and remain the favorite to win Group II. The good thing for the Shore Conference teams in the field is both – Manchester and Barnegat – are lined up to face the No. 1 seed early on and that No. 1 seed is not Delran.
Championship Prediction: No. 6 Delran over No. 1 West Deptford. The last time Delran failed to win a sectional title that was actually contested was in 2014, when Delran was in Central Jersey Group II. Since moving down to the South Jersey section, the Bears have rattled off six consecutive sectional championships and look poised to make it a seventh, even if the last three rounds have to be on the road.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 8 Shore, No. 12 Point Beach, No. 14 Henry Hudson, No. 15 Asbury Park
Top Seed: Dunellen
Defending Champion: No. 3 Florence
2022 Favorite: Florence. The Flashes remain the heavy favorite to reclaim the Central Group I title. Shore can rival Florence in strength of schedule, but is still a young team trying to piece it all together.
Darkhorse: Shore. The Blue Devils have a real shot to make a run to the final, just as they did in the Shore Coaches’ Cup. Shore is only four years removed from making it to the Central Group II championship game as a No. 14 seed, so the No. 8 seed in Central Group I is well within the realm of possibility.
Bracket Breakdown: While this bracket is unlikely to be jammed with upsets, there is a pretty good chance Dunellen and No. 2 Roselle Park could be vulnerable within the first three rounds, if not the first two. Point Beach might have a win or two in it, but the Garnet Gulls will have to get by one of the bracket favorites in New Egypt, that is if they can get by Highland Park in the first round. Henry Hudson got a difficult draw in Florence and Asbury Park will be heavy underdogs in round one at Roselle Park.
Championship Prediction: No. 3 Florence over No. 4 New Egypt. Florence opened the season unbeaten in its first nine games and prior to a 5-0 loss to Lawrence on Tuesday, its only losses were by one goal to two different No. 1 seeds: Rancocas Valley (South Group IV) and Bordentown (Central Group II).