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With September soccer now behind us, the attention in Shore Conference soccer shifts toward wrapping up the six Shore Conference division races and, eventually, the postseason. There is a little more then a week to go before the Shore Conference Tournament is seeded, so the results of the next nine days will be viewed within the context of fitting teams into the field.

As far as ranking the top of the Shore, the picture is pretty clear at the moment. Christian Brothers Academy just beat Toms River North, 4-2, on Saturday in a match between the top two teams in the rankings and if there is any question over No. 2 vs. No. 3, the two teams currently occupying those spots in the rankings are scheduled to play before the tournament is seeded as well.

There is also a clear No. 4 team emerging, to the point that it’s possible said team could beginning making the case to be No. 3, although there is likely more work to be done on that front. It’s still a bit of a jumble after No. 4, but it does seem as though with each week, we ae getting more answers than new questions, which is not always the case.

1. Christian Brothers Academy (9-1, 6-0) Last Week: 1

CBA left no doubt about who the No. 1 team in the Shore Conference is by beating Toms River North, 4-2, on Saturday, but its work prior to the Shore Conference Tournament is not yet done. On Tuesday, CBA will head to Manalapan to face a surging Braves side that has not lost since opening day against Freehold Township and has not allowed a goal in any of its past five matches. On top of that, CBA will host Ocean on Thursday and then face a quality East Brunswick side on Saturday in Monroe, so this remains an important stretch for the Colts.

Toms River North senior Will Buono (left) and CBA senior Marco Mastriani battle for the ball. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

2. Toms River North (6-1, 5-0) Last Week: 2

Although Toms River North did not beat CBA on Saturday, the Mariners played very well for periods of the game and, according to CBA coach Tom Mulligan, had the look of a “championship team.” There is a very good chance Toms River North and CBA could meet again and if they do, it will be on the turf at Barnegat High School with the Shore Conference Tournament championship on the line. Toms River North still doesn’t have the No. 2 seed locked up because the Mariners have a game scheduled with Freehold Township on the day of the SCT cutoff, but it’s hard to envision a scenario in which they drop below No. 3.

3. Freehold Township (6-2, 4-1) Last Week: 3

The Patriots are the clear No. 3 for the time being, but their schedule over the next 10 days plus a rash of injuries to their roster could significantly impact their standing. Senior captains J.T. Gold and Christian Mojares are likely out for the season due to injury, according to coach Josh Mehl, and with two key players on the shelf, Freehold Township will have to survive a stretch that includes Marlboro, Wall, St. Joseph of Metuchen and Toms River North before the Shore Conference Tournament is seeded. Freehold Township has done plenty to warrant consideration for a top-three seed but if this stretch treats them poorly, the Patriots might have a hard time checking in at No. 3 with an extended losing streak. That being said, a win over either Marlboro or Wall should be enough to lock up No. 3.

4. Rumson-Fair Haven (6-1-2, 4-0-1) Last Week: 5

Back on Saturday, Sept. 25, Rumson-Fair Haven was coming to grips with losing a senior center midfielder, captain and All-Shore performer in Luke Pentikis for a significant period of time. Since then, the Bulldogs have made a resounding case to be the No. 4 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament but rallying from a two-goal deficit to beat Ocean, followed by a convincing 5-1 beating of Wall. Those two results against ranked opponents, combined with a potential Class A Central championship – which Rumson can clinch by beating Raritan on Tuesday – would finish off an impressive regular-season resume.

Rumson junior Alec Pentikis on the attack. (Photo by Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

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

As the season progresses, Manalapan looks more impressive by the day. The Braves have not lost since opening day and have won five straight – all via a shutout – to climb into the top five of the Shore rankings. Manalapan can’t win the outright Class A North championship, but the Braves can both play spoiler to CBA and capture the public division championship by beating or tying the No. 1 Colts on Tuesday in Manalapan. With a win or draw, Manalapan could capture the public division title if Marlboro defeats Freehold Township on the same day.

6. Holmdel (5-2, 3-1) Last Week: 7

Holmdel moves up a spot despite not doing a whole lot last week and that is because of the movement of the team that is now ranked right after the Hornets. Holmdel lost a tight game at Rumson, beat a Class A North team that beat Rumson (Middletown North) and took down Ocean and Monmouth. The Red Bank loss a week ago raises some concerns, but the Bucs have notched results against several high-profile opponents, so that is not denting Holmdel’s resume at the moment.

7. Wall (6-2-2, 3-1-2) Last Week: 4

Wall appeared to find the best version of itself when the Crimson Knights turned in a 2-0 win over Toms River East last Saturday, but the following Saturday sent them back to the drawing board. This past weekend, Rumson handed Wall a 5-1 defeat, which was the most goals scored in a single game against the Crimson Knights in the last 10 years. Now, Wall will look to bounce back by beating Colts Neck, which would clinch no worse than a share of the Class B North championship to cap a jumbled pursuit for said accomplishment.

8. Ocean (7-3, 2-3) Last Week: 8

The Spartans’ defense has taken a hit over the past week or so and it showed in losses to Monmouth and Rumson in which Ocean conceded three goals in each match. The good news for Ocean is that it can light up the scoreboard and that will be put to the test this week, when the Spartans travel to play No. 1 CBA on Thursday. There isn’t much chance Ocean climbs much higher than this spot, but a good showing vs. CBA is important because, in addition to giving the Spartans a chance to move up, it will protect them from losing ground to some of the Class A North teams that played CBA close and are currently ranked behind Ocean.

9. Marlboro (5-3, 4-2) Last Week: 9

The first of those Class A North teams ranked behind Ocean is Marlboro, which is well-positioned for the postseason at the moment, but still has some work to do. The Mustangs’ last Class A North game is a big one: a Tuesday showdown against a banged-up Freehold Township squad, with the Patriots needing a win to inch closer to a public division title. Marlboro also has an opportunity to boost its SCT profile, with remaining pre-cutoff games against Toms River East and Rumson, in addition to the match at Freehold Township.

10. Long Branch (6-5, 2-4) Last Week: 10

Long Branch is another team that has battled some injury issues, which will make this stretch of five games in nine days especially challenging. The Green Wave have lost five competitive games to quality competition, so there is little reason to think they can’t go 2-3 in these next five matches to secure a Shore Conference Tournament berth and go in as a dangerous team. While the volume of games is borderline overwhelming, only two of the teams (Rumson and Lakewood) on the slate currently boast winning records.

 

Top 10 Watch List

Lacey (7-0-1, 5-0-0) – Class A North’s dominance outside of the division has Marlboro and Long Branch ahead of the Lions for the time being, but Lacey keeps finding ways to win, even under some tough circumstances.

Monmouth (8-4-1, 4-2-0) – A pair of penalty kicks doomed Monmouth against Red Bank on Friday, which cooled off the previously-surging Falcons.

Red Bank (4-5-2, 2-3-1) – The Bucs are that team that has played up to the good competition, but also down to the lesser competition and it could wind up costing them when it comes to qualifying for the SCT. If Red Bank gets in, though, there is a lot to like about what it has done so far in 2021.

Toms River East (5-3, 4-2) – A loss to Brick Memorial takes Toms River East farther down in the conversation for a Top 10 spot, but a Thursday game against Marlboro is an opportunity to reverse the trend.

Howell (3-5, 1-5) – It has been a struggle for Howell to get to the .500 mark, but with games remaining against two 2-6-1 teams in Middletown South and Freehold Boro before the cutoff, the Rebels are in position to get in and continue to be a tough out.

Neptune (6-3, 4-2) – With games against Brick, Matawan and St. Rose before the SCT cutoff, Neptune is more looking to solidify itself as a team worthy of a home game rather than to make a big jump up the rankings.

Middletown North (4-6, 1-5) – Despite a losing record and a 9-0 loss to CBA on the resume, Middletown North has been competitive and has come up with some quality results over the course of the season, most notably a win over No. 4 Rumson-Fair Haven.