Boys Soccer – 2022 Shore Sports Network Coach of the Year: Tom Mulligan, CBA
The Christian Brothers Academy soccer team has been a state-championship contender for nearly five decades and the first 40 years of their emergence came under the direction of legendary coach Dan Keane.
This fall, CBA christened a new turf field that and, naturally, named it in Keane’s honor. It was a move toward the future while honoring its past and while the season started with the spotlight on its former coach, it ends with a nod toward its current leader.
After completing his seventh season as the CBA head coach by leading his alma mater to an eighth state championship, Tom Mulligan is the first-time winner of the Shore Sports Network Coach of the Year Award.
While the Coach of the Year can come in many different forms, it typically goes to someone whose team greatly exceeded expectations or achieved something close to unprecedented. Those are difficult criteria to meet at CBA, where the standard is winning the Shore Conference Tournament and the NJSIAA Non-Public A title. After completing a 19-1 season, CBA has now won 12 Shore Conference Tournament championship and eight overall Non-Public A titles, but 2022 marked only the fourth time CBA has won both in the same year.
The three other teams that won both conference and state championships – the 1998, 2011 and 2016 squads – are considered to be the three all-time teams in school history and the 2022 team has joined that exclusive company. The difference between this team and those other three is it wasn’t all that obvious that this level of excellence was in store for 2022, while those other three entered the season expected to be dominant teams.
At certain points of the season, CBA was not a dominant side. In its first game of the season, CBA dropped a 1-0 decision against Marlboro on an overtime golden goal by the Mustangs. Although the Colts would win every game the rest of the way, CBA found itself in tight games throughout the season, including one-goal wins in four of its six Class A North divisional wins – two of which came in overtime.
It was more of the same in the Shore Conference Tournament, in which CBA won three out of its four games by a one-goal margin, including an overtime win over Southern Regional in the round of 16. It took a game-winner in the 79th minute for the Colts to beat Middletown North in the semifinals and they then held off Howell, 2-1, to win the title.
While CBA was often locked in close matches, it also had its share of dominant performances. The Colts overmatched Group II champion Delran, Non-Public B champion Gill St. Bernard’s, Central Jersey Group IV runner-up Monroe and crushed New York power Chaminade, 8-0.
In the NJSIAA Tournament, the results met a happy medium for CBA. After dropping St. John Vianney, 4-0, in its first state playoff game, the Colts played competitive games against high-level teams, all while dominating in one key sense: they did not give up a goal.
CBA deconstructed a one-loss Pingry team in a 2-0 win in the sectional semifinals, then took down St. Peter’s Prep, 2-0, in the South Jersey championship game at Keane Field.
In the championship game, the Colts faced Seton Hall Prep – the No. 1 team in New Jersey and the team that defeated CBA, 2-0, to win the 2021 Non-Public A title. CBA settled into its possession game, held the Pirates to one shot on goal and eventually cracked the stingy Pirates defense on a goal by Will Thygeson in the 77th minute.
With its final triumph, CBA completed a 19-1 season, with all 19 wins coming consecutively, and conceded just seven goals all season long – four of which came during the Shore Conference Tournament. Mulligan and assistants Rory Fitzgerald and Jim Keady molded that caliber of defensive outfit despite boasting three first-year starters on the back line (Max Koczan, Christian DeOliveiro and Joe Lucigno) and a first-year starter in goal (Miles Gallagher).
While the attack returned two of the Shore’s best players in Thygeson and Jack D’Eletto, CBA graduated Shore Conference Player of the Year Dylan Cupo after the 2021 season, graduated two starting midfielders and was still able to complement its new-look defense throughout the season.
Talent is the reason CBA has tightened its vice-grip on the Shore Conference since Mulligan took over, but Mulligan has proven in each of his seven years that he knows how to get the most out of that talent. In his other two state-championship seasons, there were other teams in the Shore Conference that either exceeded expectations (Asbury Park in 2016) or won on an even greater scale than CBA did (Holmdel and Ocean in 2018), but this season, no team in the conference was better, none got more out of its talent and none overachieved more than the Colts did.
It all adds up to Mulligan’s best coaching job in his seven years and a job worthy of his first Coach of the Year honor.