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After a regular season full of Top 10 turnover, the Shore Conference Tournament served to reinforce the seeding that the committee of coaches landed on prior to the tournament. No team seeded worse than No. 9 reached the SCT quarterfinals and each of the top four seeds made it to Barnegat for the semifinals. With top-seeded CBA taking the conference tournament crown, there isn’t much to update from the last set of rankings, which followed the first two rounds of the tournament.

With that being said, the state tournament still has a chance to change things. The race for No. 1 is all but over, but the No. 2 and No. 4 rankings are still prizes to be won, as well as spots in the top 10 for teams that are just on the outside looking in at the moment.

1. Christian Brothers Academy (17-1, 7-0) Last Week: 1

The newly-crowned Shore Conference Tournament champions are basically a lock to finish the season ranked No. 1 after beating Toms River North convincingly for a second time. CBA will have a very difficult road to win a state championship, but even if Toms River North or Freehold Township gets hot and wins a championship in a loaded Group IV, neither can jump CBA given the Colts topped both of them. It’s never over until it’s over, but you can go ahead and put CBA down at No. 1 for 2021 and do it in ink.

2. Toms River North (12-2-1, 7-0) Last Week: 2

Toms River North slammed Freehold Township in the SCT semifinals to become the clear No. 2 team in the Shore Conference, but that race is not over. Both Toms River North and Freehold Township will be contenders in their respective NJSIAA Group IV sections and if both can somehow win sectional titles, they would meet for a third time. If Freehold Township should get to a Group IV final without going through Toms River North, that SCT win by the Mariners was resounding enough that Toms River North might still have to finish No. 2.

3. Freehold Township (13-3-1, 6-1) Last Week: 3

The SCT semifinal vs. Toms River North got away from the Patriots in the second half, but it was surrendering two goals on two shots with the wind on its side in the first half that did Freehold Township in. Despite the forgettable showing in the SCT semifinals, Freehold Township is still in play to finish No. 2 at the Shore and the way the Central Jersey Group IV bracket stacks up, the Patriots are in a great position to make a serious bid for a championship and, in turn, the No. 2 spot in the final rankings.

4. Manalapan (8-4-5, 4-2-1) Last Week: 4

Following a scrappy performance in a 1-0 loss to CBA in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, Manalapan heads into the NJSIAA Tournament hoping to make some noise as a No. 9 seed. After going 0-10-1 in 2021, the Braves have had a tremendous showing in 2021 and it’s not done yet. Manalapan is as prepared as a team can be to make a deep run in a Central Jersey Group IV field that does not have a dominant team at the top. Even as a No. 9 seed, Manalapan has a real shot to get to the championship game, which would go a long way toward solidifying the No. 4 ranking.

5. Marlboro (7-6-1, 4-3) Last Week: 5

Although only a game over .500, Marlboro still has the most logical claim to the No. 5 spot in the conference. The Mustangs have wins over two teams also in the conversation for No. 5 (Long Branch and Rumson-Fair Haven) and played CBA closer than another top-five contender (Wall). To stay here, though, Marlboro is probably going to have to advance at least one round in the NJSIAA Tournament and as the No. 12 seed in Central Jersey Group IV, that won’t be easy. With that being said, Marlboro has gone through the Class A North grind and has the wherewithal to deal with Old Bridge in round one and, should the Mustangs advance, the Howell-Princeton winner in round two.

6. Long Branch (11-6-1, 3-4) Last Week: 6

After reaching the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship game at Hunterdon Central in 2019, Long Branch is back in Group III for 2021 and is a major threat to win its first sectional championship since 1997. The Green Wave have the kind of team that can go on the road and battle a team like Ocean or Hopewell Valley, and that one-two punch is likely to be the one Long Branch will have to conquer to complete the run through Central Jersey Group III.

7. Wall (9-4-2, 4-1-2) Last Week: 7

Of all the teams ranked between Nos. 4 through 7, Wall might have the most potential to surge up to No. 4 to end the season. The Crimson Knights have played well since losing to Rumson-Fair Haven, 5-1, and although their latest game was a 3-0 loss at CBA, Wall should be primed to make another deep run in the postseason after winning sectional championships each of the past two seasons. It won’t be easy: Holmdel could be Wall’s sectional quarterfinal opponent, but if the Crimson Knights can make it to next week, they are a good bet to make it to the Group II semifinal.

8. Rumson-Fair Haven (8-4-2, 5-0-1) Last Week: 8

The Bulldogs had to lick their wounds after getting shutout by Wall in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16, but they still enter the Central Group II Playoffs sitting pretty. While it won’t be a cakewalk, Rumson has a favorable draw as the No. 3 seed in the section and with the way the brackets broke, the Bulldogs could very well be playing at home for as long as they are around, which would include the Group II semifinal should Rumson win the section.

9. Holmdel (10-5, 4-2) Last Week: 9

Holmdel was struggling heading into the Shore Conference Tournament, but stepped up its game by handing Lacey its first loss of the season in the round of 16 before pushing Freehold Township to the limit in the quarterfinals. If the Hornets can get by Monday’s NJSIAA Tournament opener, they could very well host a game against Wall, which would be a long-awaited matchup that hasn’t quite materialized over the years. Should Holmdel make it to next week and go on yet another run to a sectional title, there could be a case for the Hornets to climb into the top five by season’s end.

10. Lacey (15-1-1, 7-0) Last Week: 10

Lacey’s only loss came in overtime to a solid Holmdel side, so the Lions can feel good about themselves heading into the South Jersey Group III Tournament as a No. 3 seed. There is a good chance two of the three games Lacey would have to win in order to reach the sectional final will be against Shore Conference opponents and those would-be opponents are teams Lacey has already defeated (Toms River South and Pinelands). Lacey could conceivably move up with three NJSIAA Tournament wins but to make a big jump, it may take a run all the way to the Group III final for the Lions.

 

Top 10 Watchlist

Howell (9-6, 2-5) – A win over Ocean during state-tournament tune-up week has the Rebels on the brink of the Top 10 and a deep run in Central Jersey Group IV would likely land Howell in the final rankings.

Monmouth (9-5-5, 4-2) – Monmouth has had mixed results in recent weeks, but this is a team that was on the brink of a sectional title last year and had a strong showing in the SCT.

Ocean (11-5-2, 3-3-1) – The No. 2 seed in Central Jersey Group III, the Spartans are looking to reach the sectional final round for the third straight tournament.

Shore (10-4-2, 2-3-1) – Now in Group I, Shore is one of the conference’s best bets to win a sectional championship, especially with the way the Blue Devils have played (7-1-1) since starting the season 3-3-1.

Pinelands (11-5, 6-1) – If the Wildcats can hold serve at home as the No. 2 seed in South Jersey Group III, they will be back in the sectional final round for the second time in four seasons and perhaps even more.