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There was a point this summer when those with their finger on the pulse of high-school athletics did not think there would be a fall sports season in New Jersey and even after the season was underway, it has been put to the test by the current proliferation of the COVID-19 virus.

Despite all that, we have made it to the final week of the fall season, with three rounds of the NJSIAA Tournament left to go. With most of the Top 10 teams separated into different brackets, there are not a whole lot of other questions to answer with respect to the order of the Top 10, but there is a cluster of Group IV teams (Toms River North, Southern, Long Branch and Freehold Township) that could have something to say about that.

1. Christian Brothers Academy (11-0-1, 9-0-1) Last Week: 1

After CBA beat Holmdel last Saturday, that seemed to all but wrap up the No. 1 spot in the Shore Sports Network Top 10. While it is true that CBA could still lose a game, but with the way the Colts handled some of the Shore’s best – Holmdel, Freehold Township, Long Branch, Rumson-Fair Haven, among others – it seemed far-fetched that the Colts would lose again. Then Manalapan played CBA to a 0-0 draw, which is a reminder that strange things can happen in 100 minutes. The tie doesn’t knock CBA off the top perch, but one more negative result could put the No. 1 spot back in play.

2. Wall (14-0, 14-0) Last Week: 7

Other teams have more impact wins, but the Crimson Knights just got two big ones to become the lone Shore Conference team to get to 14-0. Beating Colts Neck twice last week gave Wall its first pair of victories against a team currently in the Top 10 and it could be the case that the Crimson Knights are done playing teams that will finish in the Top 10. That might make it hard for Wall to climb one last spot and perhaps even hold off Holmdel or a sectional champion from Group IV, but if the Crimson Knights finish 17-0, it’s going to be hard to rank them any lower than No. 2.

Wall senior Jake Pepe celebrates his goal Tuesday vs. Colts Neck. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

3. Holmdel (12-1-1, 11-0-1) Last Week: 3

The Hornets finished off their regular season with a pair of wins over Shore and like with CBA tying Manalapan, a 1-0 overtime win over the 4-11 Blue Devils puts Holmdel’s spot in the top-three up for questioning as the state tournament advances towards Saturday’s championship games. Holmdel has some difficult potential matchups in its Group II and I bracket, starting with a talented Monmouth side on Tuesday, so a sectional championship would put Holmdel in the conversation for the No. 2 spot.

4. Southern (12-1-1, 12-1-1) Last Week: 8

Southern is back in the top-five after an impressive week in which the Rams went 1-0-1 against previously-unbeaten Toms River North and scored seven goals in two games against a Mariners side that had conceded only eight times in its first 12. Kevin Kiernan scored four goals in the two games, including the overtime winner on Monday night to regain the Shore Conference goal-scoring lead and make a strong case that he should be the Shore Conference Player of the Year. With a chance to potentially play Long Branch and either Freehold Township and Toms River North on the way to a sectional title, Southern has some potential to climb in the rankings with one more big week.

5. Freehold Township (11-3, 11-3) Last Week: 4

The Patriots move ahead of Toms River North, but big weeks by Wall and Southern bump Freehold Township one spot despite its seven-game winning streak. While Freehold Township appears to be rounding into form and figuring out how to best deploy its talent, the Patriots have not been tested quite as much as they would be in most years because there are not as many proven teams in Class A North this year. Still, a 3-0 win over Long Branch and losses only to CBA (twice) and Long Branch put the Patriots in position to finish as high as No. 2 if they can win their Central East Group IV South section.

6. Long Branch (11-2, 11-2) Last Week: 5

Everything about Freehold Township’s profile applies almost to the word to Long Branch, which has a better divisional record than Freehold Township because the Green Wave played one fewer match against CBA. With a chance to potentially play Southern and either Toms River North or Freehold Township during a run to a sectional title game, Long Branch will have a chance to make its case as the second-best team at the Shore.

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

There were plenty of positives in Toms River North’s two games vs. Southern this week: the Mariners scored six goals in two games and showed an ability to comeback against a good team. Unfortunately for them, the Mariners did not pick up a win vs. Southern, forcing Toms River North to settle for a first-place tie with the Rams in the Class A South standings. It also means Toms River North remains without a team currently ranked in the Top 10, which gives both Freehold Township and Long Branch – two teams the Mariners could play this week in the NJSIAA Tournament – an edge at the moment.

8. Colts Neck (12-2, 12-2) Last Week: 6

Any scenario in which either Colts Neck or Wall won both games of the head-to-head between the two B North front-runners last week meant that the winner would climb up to No. 2 while the loser fell to No. 8. With Southern beating Toms River North as well, Colts Neck is the only Top 10 team without a win or draw against a team currently in the Top 10, so the Cougars are relegated to the No. 8 spot. Without another high-profile team in its section, Colts Neck is likely to settle in at No. 8 unless one of the seven teams ahead of the Cougars lose earlier than expected.

9. Rumson-Fair Haven (7-4-2, 7-2-2) Last Week: 10

With its 4-1 thrashing of Raritan to cap this past week, Rumson leaps the Rockets in the Top 10 after debuting at No. 10 last week. The Bulldogs took second place in the A Central standings behind Holmdel and if it can keep this current run going, Rumson could win its way to third meeting with Holmdel after dropping both regular-season showdowns by an aggregate score of 3-0.

10. Raritan (7-3-2, 7-3-2) Last Week: 9

After starting 7-0, Raritan has failed to win in each of its past five matches, with a draw and a loss Rumson this past week while playing without senior midfielder Emir Pupovic due to a red card in the final game of the prior week. The lineup will get a boost just in time this week, with the Rockets set to host Rumson on Tuesday in the sectional semifinal round. The winner will be the nominal favorite to reach the Central East combined Group II and I final.

 

Top 10 Watchlist

Neptune (8-7, 7-7) – The Scarlet Fliers have rattled off seven straight wins, with the latest an impressive win over Ocean to reach the sectional quarterfinals.

Jackson Memorial (6-6-1, 5-6-1) – Another hot team that had to shake off a slow start, Jackson Memorial has won six straight and will try to earn some serious redemption on Tuesday with a postseason rematch with Toms River North.

Brick (8-7, 7-7) – The win over Southern is looking even better after the Rams had a memorable week, but the Green Dragons had lost four straight prior to a 4-1 state-tournament win over Lakewood on Saturday.

Pinelands (11-1-1, 11-1-1) – This week is an opportunity for Pinelands to make its case that it can make waves outside of B South and it begins with a match vs. Neptune on Tuesday.

Lacey (11-2-1, 11-2-1) – Like Pinelands, Lacey finally has a chance to prove itself against a team from outside B South, with Toms River East paying the Lions a visit on Tuesday.