Boys Soccer – Howell Leads Postseason Shake-Up in Brielle Orthopedics Shore Top 10
With just two weeks left in the 2021 high school soccer season in New Jersey, the teams of the Shore Conference are running out of chances to make their case for the final Brielle Orthopedics Shore Sports Network Top 10. On the other hand, there a lot of Shore Conference teams still playing in the NJSIAA Tournament, seven of the teams in the Top 10 are still playing and of the three that are not, two lost to other teams ranked in the Top 10.
As has been the case for the last several weeks, there is not much opportunity for the top three to change, but there is still potential for a lot of shuffling among spots four through 10. We finally got some serious shuffling in that group, with a team debuting in the 2021 Top 10 in the middle of the field.
This week is always as fun as any during the soccer season and a lot remains on the line for the teams still playing, not the least of which is an NJSIAA sectional title.
1. Christian Brothers Academy (18-1, 7-0) Last Week: 1
CBA has already proven itself as the best team in the Shore Conference, but this week, the Colts are not only competing with some of the best teams in the state; they are cementing their status within the illustrious history of the program. There have been teams that entered the season with more fanfare and had more All-State, All-Shore and Division I talent, but the list of CBA teams that has lost one game while winning every title in front of them is very short. To raise the stakes this year, the road CBA has to travel to get there might be as challenging as it has ever been, with St. Augustine visiting Lincroft on Monday and potential matchups against the top two teams in the state to follow: nationally-ranked Pingry in the sectional final and No. 2 Seton Hall Prep in a would-be Non-Public A championship.
2. Toms River North (14-2-1, 7-0) Last Week: 2
The Mariners were visibly distraught over missing their opportunity to win the Shore Conference Tournament last week, but their response this week has revealed a team with great character and championship-level perseverance. Since the 3-0 loss to CBA in the SCT final, Toms River North has won two state tournament games by an aggregate score of 13-1, including 8-0 in the two first halves. The road to a third straight sectional championship – and a second in three years in the always-competitive South Jersey Non-Public A bracket – now goes through No. 1 Clearview and possibly No. 2 Kingsway, with No. 11 Cherokee lying in the weeds on the other side of the bracket as well. The way Toms River North is playing, it shouldn’t matter much who the opponent is – if the Mariners play like they did last week, they are likely to be making the trip to Kean for the Group IV final on Nov. 21.
3. Freehold Township (15-3-1, 6-1) Last Week: 3
The Central Jersey Group IV bracket appeared to be a wide-open one at the outset of the NJSIAA Tournament, but it turns out only one side of the bracket would be topsy-turvy. Freehold Township is the No. 2 seed and has held serve at home through the first two rounds as it prepares to play a No. 3 New Brunswick team that did the same to earn a trip to Western Monmouth County for the sectional semifinals. Freehold Township has been a second-half dynamo in its first two CJ IV matches, outscoring Hillsborough and East Brunswick by a combined score of 6-1. Like Toms River North, Freehold Township looks like it is on a mission since losing in the SCT semifinals to that very Toms River North team and there is potential for those two to meet again if both claim sectional championships this week.
4. Manalapan (8-4-6, 4-2-1) Last Week: 4
While Manalapan holds down its No. 4 spot even after a first-round NJSIAA Tournament exit on Monday, there are still some teams coming for the Braves’ spot over the next two weeks. For the time being, Manalapan boasts wins over Long Branch, Marlboro and Howell and a penalty-kicks win over Ocean. Three of those four teams, however, are still playing and in the case of Long Branch and Howell, both of those losses were in September and by one-goal margins. If either team (or both) survives into next week, Manalapan my suffer a drop, but considering the Braves are coming off a 0-10-1 2020 season, a guaranteed top 10 finish with the prospect of finishing in the top five is a rousing success.
5. Long Branch (12-6-2, 3-4) Last Week: 6
In suffering some frustrating losses to quality teams during its Class A North, non-conference, and Shore Conference Tournament schedules, Long Branch always had the big picture in mind. Now, the Green Wave are two wins away from winning the program’s first NJSIAA sectional championship in 24 years and are making a run at that feat in Central Jersey Group III after only losing to Group IV schools and CBA during the season. With that being said, the remainder of Long Branch’s games will be difficult, with a trip to second-seeded Ocean on tap for Monday and a possible trek to face high-scoring No. 1 seed Hopewell Valley if both teams advance. If Long Branch can do it, a jump to No. 4 could be in order.
6. Howell (10-6-1, 2-5)
For the first time this year, Howell is in the top 10 and the Rebels kicked down the door to join the madness. The season started out 2-5 with all five losses coming by a single goal and to teams in the Class A North division, so even as their record was unsightly, the Rebels were competitive against the same caliber teams it is playing in the NJSIAA Tournament. With some hard lessons under its collective belt, Howell has met the challenge, surviving a penalty shootout at Princeton to start its run and breaking out with a three-goal second half Thursday to beat Marlboro. Now, Howell heads to No. 8 West Windsor-Plainsboro South with a chance to reach its first sectional final since 2007 as the Rebels chase the program’s first sectional title since 1988.
7. Marlboro (7-7-2, 4-3) Last Week: 5
For the second time this season, Marlboro’s run in a tournament ended in the quarterfinal round at the hands of another Class A North opponent. After losing on a golden goal against Manalapan in the SCT quarterfinals, the Mustangs ran into a second-half buzzsaw against Howell on Thursday and ended their season with a .500 record. The quality of opponents throughout the year keeps Marlboro comfortably in the Top 10, but Rumson-Fair Haven and Holmdel are still playing and Wall – despite its elimination from the Central Group II bracket at the hands of Holmdel – is still in play to be ranked higher should things go well for Holmdel and Rumson on Monday.
8. Rumson-Fair Haven (9-4-3, 5-0-1) Last Week: 8
Although the Bulldogs have noteworthy losses to Marlboro and Wall, they have a few things going for them when it comes to the rankings. First, they are the outright champions of the Class A Central division, which includes wins over Holmdel and Ocean – both of whom are still playing in the NJSIAA Tournament. Second, Rumson is still playing for a championship as well, and the farther the Bulldogs advance, the more they do to make their own case to be a top-five team. With either Delran or Cinnaminson likely heading north to face the winner of the Central Jersey Group II section, Rumson could get a chance to host one of the state’s best sides for a spot in the Group II title game. A win over either of those two would provide a major boost for the Bulldogs when it comes to any set of rankings.
9. Holmdel (11-5-1, 4-2) Last Week: 9
Although only ranked No. 9 at the moment, Holmdel still has a chance to play its way up to No. 4 in the final rankings – even more so than Rumson does. Holmdel’s only match against teams ranked ahead of them at the moment were 2-1 losses to Rumson-Fair Haven and Freehold Township, so if Holmdel can win the Central Jersey Group II section over Rumson (or over South River), that would be grounds to jump the Bulldogs and, perhaps even Marlboro. If Holmdel can somehow run the table and win Group II, that could very well require wins over one of Delran or Cinnaminson, as well as Bernards – all of which are ranked in the state top 20. With an end to the season like that, it would be hard to deny the Hornets a spot in the top five.
10. Wall (10-4-3, 4-1-2) Last Week: 7
For the second time in three years, Wall’s season ended on penalty kicks after a scoreless draw. After reaching the Group III final two years ago and losing to Mendham in a shootout, the Crimson Knights suffered the same fate Thursday against Holmdel in the Central Jersey Group II quarterfinals. Wall’s defense came on strong at the end of the season and delivered a strong performance on Thursday, with goalkeeper Joe Gisoldi doing his part as well. A recent win over Rumson in the SCT gives Wall hope to make one last leap in the rankings, but with their season over, the Crimson Knights are looking for some help to inch up while hoping no unranked team makes an unexpected championship run.
Lacey (15-2-1, 7-0) Last Week: 10 – With its first-round exit and Howell’s late-season surge, Lacey falls from the Top 10 and ends what was a big season for the Lions, who won the Class B South championship for just the second time since 1993.
Top 10 Watchlist
Ocean (13-5-2, 3-3) – There are other unranked teams worthy of a mention at the end of the year, but only three are still playing in the NJSIAA Tournament. One is Ocean, which can make a statement while shaking up the Top 10 Monday by beating a ranked Long Branch side.
St. Rose (9-7-1, 6-0) – The Purple Roses probably can’t make the Top 10 given a head-to-head loss to Wall and the relative strength of the other state brackets compared to Non-Public B, but they are certainly making interesting by playing as well as they are at the end of the season.
Toms River South (10-5-2, 2-4-1) – Toms River South is on fire at the moment and a real threat to win the South Jersey Group III section, but its chance to make a case for the Top 10 probably does not come until the Group III final, if the Indians can get there.