Boys Soccer – CBA Returns as No. 1 in 2023 Preseason Shore 16
New for 2023-24, Shore Sports Network is bringing you a first in the history of Shore Conference Soccer coverage: the Shore 16. Rather that hit the brakes at the No. 10 ranked team in the conference, we are cruising into the mid-teens and giving you the top 16 teams in the Shore Conference each and every week.
The Shore 16 begins with a look at the top rosters heading into the season: a mix of teams with proven players back, talented newcomers now in the fold and tradition that aleviates heavy graduation losses. The No. 1 team should come as no surprise given its success over the last decade (and beyond), but there is some real wiggle room for the rest of the rankings heading into Thursday’s busy opening-day slate.
In year’s past, the magic number for teams as it pertained to the Shore Conference Tournament was always No. 8: by securing a top-eight seed, teams could avoid going on the road in the SCT round of 16. With the new SCT format, however, the key number is 10. That is the number of teams that will get a bye past the first round of the SCT, and while only the 11 group winners will be eligible, group winners ranked in the top 10 figure to have a decided leg up on teams that are not.
With a lot of big games jammed into the next four weeks, the rankings could change dramatically from week-to-week, but under the new SCT format, almost everything will be decided on the field.
1. Christian Brothers Academy
Not only is CBA defending a Shore Conference Tournament championship for the second straight season; the Colts are also defending the Non-Public A championship and an end-of-season No. 1 ranking in the state. Graduating SSN Player of the Year Will Thygeson and First Team All-Shore Forward Jack D’Eletto will create some challenges for this year’s CBA team, but the return of All-Shore honorees Dylan Millevoi, Dimitry Corba, Lawrence Mancino and goalkeeper Miles Gallagher keep the Colts comfortably at No. 1 heading into the year.
The Hornets are the only team in the Shore Conference to return a First-Team All-Shore selection and they have two of them: junior striker Stephan Kapranov and senior midfielder David Weiner. That one-two punch alone makes Holmdel a viable contender to win everything on the table this season, but the Hornets will have to fill in some voids in the back and in goal in order to shore up any potential weaknesses. That process is usually a relatively smooth one at Holmdel, so expect the Hornets to be a top-ranked team all year.
The Mustangs were built around a steady senior defender and experienced goalkeeper heading into the 2022 season and by the end of last fall, they had the makings of a powerful attack that will put defenses to the test throughout this season. Junior Trevor Barrett is the conductor in the middle of the formation, while Cade Jacobs and Wyatt Oechsner provide some proven scoring ability. If the defense rounds into form – which it can certainly do, based on the personnel – Marlboro will be a busy team late in the tournament schedule.
4. Toms River North
During what can aptly be called a rebuilding year for Toms River North in 2022, the Mariners still managed to win a share of the Class A South championship and reach the semifinals of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV bracket. That team returned just one starter from the 2021 South Group IV title team and the result is a 2023 team that will boast nine players in the lineup with starting experience. Toms River North will be one of the Shore’s deepest teams and if they can find some finishers to complement forward Anthony Ruggiero, the Mariners will be playing for multiple titles again this fall.
Two years removed from a trip to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, Manalapan returns most of its 2022 lineup. The depth and experience will help offset the graduation of standout Anthony Sarkisov, who was the focus of opposing defenses in each of Manalapan’s games last year. Scoring was an issue in 2022, but the Braves have an experienced group that has spent the offseason building chemistry and, based on Manalapan’s personnel and program history, won’t need more than one goal to win on most days.
6. Colts Neck
Not since the program’s first season – when there were no seniors at all in the school – can Cougars coach Art Collier recall running out a team as young as the one he has this fall. To be clear, that does not count Colts Neck out of anything; the Cougars return a proven scorer in junior Kyle Moore and his freshman brother, Sean, has a chance to post a freshman campaign to remember. The defense is a mystery at this point, but Colts Neck is healthier and more experienced in goal heading into this season.
7. Middletown North
After a surprise run to the 2022 Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals as a No. 13 seed, Middletown North will ride into this season with elevated expectations thanks to a roster full of players who contributed significantly to those tournament results. The Lions did graduate their top defender in All-Shore First-Teamer C.J. Crolius and leading scorer Mac Colantino, but they have two juniors ready to step into those roles in fullback Ryan Barnao and forward Josiah Stepney.
With six starters back from a team that finished No. 2 in the final SSN Top 10, Howell has the ingredients to make another bid for A North, SCT and Central Group IV titles in 2023. Four of the players Howell graduated, however, accounted for its four All-Shore selections – three of whom were First-Team honorees. That kind of production and presence is not easily replaced, but even if the replacements can’t quite replicate any of it, Howell is not likely to fall back too deep into the pack.
9. Long Branch
The only team in the Shore 16 with a new head coach, Long Branch will try to keep its machine churning with Tim Farrell taking over head-coaching duties for Adrian Castro. With seven starters back, Long Branch is well-positioned to replace two All-Shore players in Anthony Vazquez and Jeremy Hernandez and continue its push toward the final four of the SCT – a stage the Green Wave have yet to reach as a program.
Despite graduating its top two scorers in Matt Karolak and Aiden Sugre, Manasquan brings back a plethora of quality varsity players and once the pieces all settle into their roles, the Warriors could have themselves a championship-caliber side. There are some questions in the back, but junior Griffin Linstra will bring stability to the defense, while Cristian Gonzalez leads a well-rounded attack that has the potential to tear up the net.
11. Southern – It’s a roster heavy on juniors and sophomores, but Southern is putting together a very sound program that could be very dangerous as soon as this season.
12. Middletown South – Shawn McCann (11 goals in 2022) gives the Eagles a legitimate scorer and they showed last year they can develop talented players and plug them in.
13. Freehold Township – With only three starters back from last year and playing in a brutal A North division, the Patriots will start the season as a work in progress. If their recent history is any indication, they will end it as a legitimate title contender.
14. Wall – The loss of Nick Damiano to a season-ending knee injury lowers Wall’s ceiling, but a stellar defense and strong midfield will keep the Crimson Knights in the running for a Top 10 spot.
15. Rumson-Fair Haven – Losing Ronan Hogg to the academy ranks is a big blow to Rumson’s attack, but there is enough program depth here for the Bulldogs to rally for a solid season.
16. Shore – The Blue Devils were mighty impressive while winning the Central Group I title and now bring back a team that should be even better, but climbing the ranks within the Shore Conference and within Group I are two different animals.