Boys Soccer – NJSIAA Tournament Preview: Group III
Group III has historically been kind to the Shore Conference and that has been the case over the past several years as well. Before Ocean won the Group III championship last year, Toms River South won three consecutive sectional championships and reached the Group final in both 2016 and 2017.
While Ocean and Toms River South are not the powerhouse teams they have been in recent years, there are a number of teams who could very well pick up the ball and run with it (figuratively speaking, of course). The top two seeds in Central Jersey Group III are from the Shore Conference and there is also a cluster within South Jersey that could potentially make noise as well. Up north, meanwhile, Matawan is the Shore's lone representative and the Huskies carry with them a growing reputation as giant-killers in the state tournament.
North Jersey Section 2, Group III
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 9 Matawan
Defending Champion: No. 7 Millburn
Top Seed: Cliffside Park
Favorite: Cliffside Park. Summit’s run to the Union County Tournament co-championship – which ended in a thrilling, come-from-behind draw against unbeaten Elizabeth – injects some intrigue into this bracket if but Summit and Cliffside Park can reach the semifinal. Ultimately, Cliffside Park has to be considered the favorite with its strong resume and homefield advantage.
Darkhorse: No. 11 West Morris. The Wolfpack enter the tournament coming off a win over 17-2 Montville and are a 10-4-3 No. 11 seed. No. 10 Mendham also has some potential staying power past the quarterfinal round and Matawan has proven in recent years that it can play with anyone in a state tournament game.
Bracket Overview: Matawan has reached the sectional semifinal round in each of the past two seasons with a lot of the players who were a part of those runs still on board. In order to make it three years in a row, Matawan will have to get past No. 8 Nutley in the first round and, likely, No. 1 Cliffside Park.
(1) Cliffside Park over (16) J.F.K. Iselin
(9) Matawan over (8) Nutley
(5) Ferris over (12) Woodbridge
(4) Summit over (13) Cranford
(3) Belleville over (14) Orange
(11) West Morris over (6) Chatham
(7) Millburn over (10) Mendham
(2) Colonia over (15) Irvington
(1) Cliffside Park over (9) Matawan
(4) Summit over (5) Ferris
(11) West Morris over (3) Belleville
(7) Millburn over (2) Colonia
(1) Cliffside Park over (4) Summit
(11) West Morris over (7) Millburn
(1) Cliffside Park over (11) West Morris
Central Jersey Group III
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Wall, No. 2 Colts Neck, No. 7 Neptune, No. 8 Freehold Boro, No. 10 Middletown North, No. 11 Ocean, No. 12 Brick, No. 13 Red Bank
Defending Champion: Ocean
Top Seed: Wall
Favorite: Wall. With homefield advantage throughout the sectional tournament, Wall will be tough to beat. The Crimson Knights are 8-1 at home with three goals allowed, two of which came in a 3-2 win over Monmouth Regional. Wall has conceded more recently with seven goals allowed over the past three games, but that was against three of the better teams on the schedule – Monmouth, Freehold Township and CBA.
Darkhorse: Ocean. The Spartans failed to qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament, but made it back to the .500 mark prior to losing to Toms River South in their final regular season match. Ocean has only two starters back from its Group III title team a year ago but has been competitive against good competition this season and still has the program pedigree to knock off a lot of teams in the field.
Bracket Overview: Wall is in prime position to win its first sectional title since 2004 but will have some competition at the top of the bracket from Colts Neck – last year’s CJ III runner-up – and No. 3 Steinert with its junior scoring tandem of Dylan Kotch (18 goals) and Romario Azer. Neptune and Middletown North will clash in the first round after Neptune won the regular-season meeting between the B North rivals and the winner is likely to get another crack at Colts Neck. Brick and Red Bank have tough first-round games but have both shown at times this season they can hang with good competition. Freehold Boro could be a wild-card team with its scoring ability but will have to snap out of a recent slump to beat No. 9 Burlington Township before it can get a shot at Wall in the quarterfinals.
Opening Round Picks
(1) Wall over (16) Pennsauken
(8) Freehold Boro over (9) Burlington Twp.
(5) Northern Burlington over (12) Brick
(4) Allentown over (13) Red Bank
(3) Steinert over (14) Nottingham
(11) Ocean over (6) Hopewell Valley
(7) Neptune over (10) Middletown North
(2) Colts Neck over (15) Lawrence
(1) Wall over (8) Freehold Boro
(4) Allentown over (5) Northern Burlington
(3) Steinert over (11) Ocean
(2) Colts Neck over (7) Neptune
(1) Wall over (4) Allentown
(3) Steinert over (2) Colts Neck
(1) Wall over (3) Steinert
South Jersey Group III
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 5 Toms River South, No. 6 Pinelands, No. 7 Toms River East, No. 8 Lacey
Defending Champion: No. 11 Seneca
Top Seed: Moorestown
Favorite: Moorestown. Fresh off winning the South Jersey Coaches’ Tournament, the Quakers enter the state tournament as one of the favorites in Group III. South Jersey Group III was up-for-grabs last year, when Seneca beat Pinelands in the sectional final, but Moorestown’s stellar season sets up the Quakers to represent South Jersey in the Group III semifinal with four more strong showings. Mainland has been a perennial contender that could await Moorestown in the final while No. 9 Ocean City and Toms River South are two programs with championship pedigrees that could derail the Quakers before then.
Darkhorse: No. 7 Toms River East. Hammonton looks like a potential threat in the opening round as a No. 13 seed but if there is a team suited to make a surprise appearance in the final and, perhaps, take out Moorestown, keep an eye on Toms River East. The Raiders have played just about every opponent close, perhaps too close even – they have five ties this season. Toms River East used to going the distance and navigating through close games and with a young roster, that should make up for whatever the Raiders might lack in tournament experience.
Bracket Overview: The four Shore Conference teams in the field are all ranked in succession and will all likely need to do some work on the road in order to make a run at a title. Toms River East has a draw that could be conducive to a deep run while Toms River South is playing well enough to cause Moorestown problems in a potential semifinal match. Pinelands, meanwhile, will start the tournament off hosting Seneca in a rematch of last year’s sectional final, which should provide the Wildcats plenty of motivation.
(1) Moorestown over (16) Winslow
(9) Ocean City over (8) Lacey
(5) Toms River South over (12) Absegami
(13) Hammonton over (4) Cherry Hill West
(3) Mainland over (14) Timber Creek
(6) Pinelands over (11) Seneca
(7) Toms River East over (10) Cumberland
(2) Triton over (15) Deptford
(1) Moorestown over (9) Ocean City
(5) Toms River South over (13) Hammonton
(6) Pinelands over (3) Mainland
(7) Toms River East over (2) Triton
(1) Moorestown over (5) Toms River East
(7) Toms River East over (6) Pinelands
(1) Moorestown over (7) Toms River East