Boys Soccer – Kluxen Scores Two as TR South Reaches Fourth Straight Sectional Final
TOMS RIVER - Toms River South sophomore Shane Kluxen has been told several times this year by doctors, trainers, coaches and his mother alike that it might be a good idea to keep his head off the ball for a little while.
That, however, is a near impossibility for a player who specializes in jumping over defenders and scoring with his head, especially when it's playoff time.
Kluxen scored two more goals on headers Wednesday and the Indians blanked Northern Burlington, 2-0, to advance to Friday's Central Jersey Group III championship game against top-seeded Ocean.
"All but two of his goals have come off his head this year," Toms River South coach Ed Leibe said of Kluxen. "He's so good in the air and it adds a dimension to our team that we are definitely missing a little bit when he's not out there. He's been working really hard on his foot skills and he's gotten a lot better in a short period of time, so he's been a big player for us."
Friday's game will be Toms River South's fourth consecutive trip to a sectional final and the Indians are seeking their third straight championship after losing in the overall Group III final in each of the past two seasons.
Kluxen now has six goals in Toms River South's seven postseason games between the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Tournaments, one of which he missed due to precautionary measures because he was suffering from headaches. He scored an equalizer in a shootout win over Christian Brothers Academy in the SCT, left the game right after heading the ball into the goal and did not play in the next game - a loss to Ocean in the semifinal round.
Throughout the ordeal, Kluxen was not diagnosed with a concussion and returned to action against Westampton Tech in the Central Jersey Group III first round.
"I've been told it's probably a good idea to stay away from the headers for a little while, but I can't do that," Kluxen said. "That's my game. That's who I am. If I'm going to play, I'm going to play hard and do what I have to do to help the team."
The sophomore has now scored two goals in back-to-back state tournament games after finishing two against Toms River East in the quarterfinals and two more on Wednesday.
Toms River South jumped on top Wednesday in the 21st minute on a play that began with a free kick by junior center back Ryan Laycock from just inside midfield. Junior Danny Caruso headed the ball down near the goal and Kluxen tapped it past the goal line with his head. A defender cleared the ball out of the net, but the sideline official raised his flag to signal a goal.
The second of Kluxen's goals was far more emphatic. Matt Babcock served a corner kick to the far left post and the sophomore forward elevated over a defender and slammed a header back to the right corner of the goal.
Northern Burlington challenged Toms River South sophomore goalkeeper Jalen Folsom with five shots on goal, but Folsom was up to the task. Greyhounds junior Christian Herdt broke free for an opportunity from eight yards out that could have tied the game at 1-1, but Folsom made the quick-reaction save to preserve the lead and deny Northern Burlington on its best chance of the game.
Wednesday's win earns Toms River South another chance to beat Ocean after the Spartans defeated the Indians, 3-2, in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, which were held at Ocean. It took a 45-yard, wind-aided free kick by Ocean's Job Cajas in the 76th minute to break the 2-2 tie, so Toms River South is hoping fortune will favor the road team when the teams meet again at 11 a.m. on Friday.
"I thought the first game we played against them was a really competitive, well-played game," Leibe said. "They had an extra day of rest for that one and they will have an extra day in this one as well, so I don't know how that's going to play. I think we were both a little banged up at the time, and I know for us, we're as healthy as we've been. There is some history between the two teams and I'm friends with those (coaches) over there, so it should be fun."
One thing the Indians will indeed have going for them is that Kluxen will play this game after missing the SCT meeting. With the sophomore in the fold, Toms River South has a four-forward rotation of Babcock, junior Ruben Gallo, senior Isaiah Dominguez and Kluxen.
"It was really hard to not be able to help the team in that game," Kluxen said of the first Ocean meeting. "From the beginning of this tournament, even though it's away, we were hoping to get a chance to play Ocean again."
Dominguez also missed most of the year with a foot injury but scored both goals in the loss to Ocean on Oct. 23. He and Kluxen have been coming off the bench as scoring threats while Babcock has also played in the midfield with junior Clem Slavick when two of the other forwards are on the field.
"Having Isaiah and Shane healthy gives us a lot of options," Leibe said. "We can cycle those guys in and keep them fresh, we can throw them all in there and put pressure on the other team's backs. We haven't really had them all playing well at the same time until now, so I think that's why you're seeing us be a little more dangerous now than we were earlier in the year."
The newfound depth for Toms River South has the Indians on the cusp of a third straight sectional title, although they won the last two on their home field. With the last two Group III semifinals being played at Toms River North, the Indians have not won an NJSIAA Tournament game outside of Toms River since winning the overall Group IV title in 2009.
Of course, the Indians have won road conference tournament games against Freehold Township and CBA over the last three seasons, and have also beat Ocean two years ago in the Group III semifinal in Toms River.
"We have a lot of guys on this team who played last year," Kluxen said. "They want to get back to the championship game and try to finish what they started."
Toms River South 2, Northern Burlington 0
|No. Burlington (11-7-2)||0||0||0|
|TR South (16-5-2)||2||0||2|
Goals (Assists): (TRS) Shane Kluxen (Danny Caruso) 21', Shane Kluxen (Matt Babcock) 30'
Shots: Toms River South, 10-8
Saves: (NB) Kristian Slaby 3; (TRS) Jalen Folsom 5