HOLMDEL – A heavy favorite to win the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III sectional championship, the Holmdel boys soccer team – seeded No. 1 in the bracket - was a bounce of the ball or two away from elimination at the hands on No. 12 Matawan on Tuesday in the sectional quarterfinals.

After coming to grips with their soccer mortality during a shootout win over the Huskies on Tuesday, the Hornets made sure No. 2 Monmouth Regional had no such chance to knock off the No. 1 seed in the championship game on Friday.

Junior Anthony Arena recorded a hat trick, assisted another and initiated an own goal to lead the Hornets to a 6-0 rout of the Falcons, securing the program’s sixth sectional championship and second in three years.

Photo by Matt Manley
Photo by Matt Manley

“This is a great feeling for me, because I wasn’t on the team when we won this two years ago,” Arena said. “This was one of our main goals, so to get to this point is satisfying. We definitely want to win the whole thing, but it’s good to get another trophy.”

Holmdel took the wind in the first half and took advantage one quarter of the way through the first half. Arena lined up a direct kick in the 11th minute and bent a 20-yard shot into the upper right of the frame to open the scoring.

“We usually run plays out of the free kicks, but going with the wind, I thought it was a good time to get a shot there,” Holmdel coach John Nacarlo said.

The junior striker then converted a penalty kick in the 33rd to stretch the lead to 2-0 after Cyrus Darvish drew the foul in the box. That goal came shortly after junior Jack Murray had a header wiped away by an offsides call, a goal that would have also been assisted by Arena on a free kick.

Arena added his 34th goal to cap the hat trick and make the score 5-0 in the 63rd, with Darvish playing him through with a pass on the ground.

Holmdel's third goal came 2:23 before the half on an own goal. Arena sent a cross toward the back left post and while fighting Holmdel and a strong wind for the ball, Monmouth freshman goalkeeper Dominick Santaniello wound up with the ball in the net.

Senior Mikey Neff and sophomore Eric Hinds each added a goal for Holmdel, with Arena assisting the sixth goal by Hinds in the 64th. Neff scored his goal from inside the six-yard box in the 51st on a deflected cross from junior Mark McStay.

Monmouth did not get off a shot against Holmdel’s defense until midway through the second half and finished with only two. The Falcons spent most of the game defending against Holmdel’s possession, which manufactured 20 shots, including 12 on frame.

“This was the last game we’re going to play against a team that just tries to defend us the way (Monmouth) did,” Nacarlo said. “We’ve seen it all year and our guys know how to handle it. We we patient, we kept our width, moved the ball around the back to spread them out and were able to get some chances.”

Friday’s championship appearance was the first for the Monmouth boys soccer program since 1965.

Holmdel, meanwhile, will try to reach the Group II final for the fourth time – all since 2011. The Hornets last won an overall group title in 2010, when they won Group III and finished 22-1.

In order to reach the Group II final for the second time in three years, Holmdel will have to get past Delran in an anticipated Group II semifinal Tuesday at Hopewell Valley High School. The Bears are currently ranked No. 5 in N.J., according to NJ.com, while the Hornets are ranked No. 10.

“Delran has been a hyped game all year,” Arena said. “Obviously, both teams had to make it this far for it to happen, but we’re excited that it’s happening. We really wanted to play (Christian Brothers Academy) in the Shore Conference Tournament, but it never happened, unfortunately. But we have the opportunity to play a great team now, and that’s all you can ask for.”

Outside of the 1-1 draw that ended with a victory on penalty kicks, Holmdel has been dominant during its tournament season. The Hornets outscored their opposition 19-1 during the Shore Conference Tournament and own a 23-1 differential during the state tournament, which includes the Matawan game.

“We didn’t play well in the first three games of the tournament, even though we had a couple of one-sided wins,” Nacarlo said. “I think going through the Shore Conference Tournament the way we did, the kids might have let down their guard a little bit. We had two good practices after the Matawan game and I think that really refocused them.”

Delran has been similarly dominant during the South Jersey Group II Tournament, outscoring opponents 21-2 in its four wins.

“They’re going to do what they do,” Nacarlo said. “They are going to play their 4-4-2 (formation) and they’ll be physical and we’re going to do what we do. Both teams have had a lot of success this year, so I think we’re both going to come out and try to play our game.”

Holmdel could be hampered in that game if the health of junior Joe Arena and senior Matt Leon is an issue. Arena left Friday’s game with a hamstring injury, while Leon has been battling a groin injury. According to Nacarlo, Leon has been playing through the discomfort in recent weeks, while Arena’s hamstring problem began in practice on Thursday.

With Arena out of the game during the second half, senior forward Justin McStay moved to the middle of the formation with Darvish.

“We’re a much different team when Joe Arena is not in the game,” Nacarlo said. “He’s such a vital part of how we’ve played all year and taking him out forces us to change a lot of what we do. Obviously, Justin can fill in for him and do a good job, but then we don’t have Justin up top with (Arena). It doesn’t seem like it’s serious, so we’ll try to get him rested and ready to go on Tuesday and see how it goes.”


Box Score

Holmdel 6, Monmouth 0

Monmouth (15-10)000
Holmdel (20-1-1)336


Goals (Assists): (H) Anthony Arena (DK) 11’, Anthony Arena (PK) 33’, own goal 38’, Mikey Neff (Mark McStay) 51’, Anthony Arena (Cyrus Darvish) 63’, Eric Hinds (Anthony Arena) 64’
Shots: Holmdel, 20-2
Saves: (M) Dominick Santaniello 6; (H) Matt Lionette 1

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