Boys Soccer – NJSIAA Tournament Preview: Groups I and II
Last year, the best team in N.J. came from Group II and over the last several years, the best teams in Group II have been among the state's best. Holmdel's two-year run as the champion put the Hornets among the state's elite programs, while Delran has been in that conversation based on its work over the past decade.
While both programs have taken a step back in top-to-bottom roster talent, each remains a favorite to win the Group II title as No. 1 seeds in their respective sections. Both, however, are more vulnerable this year and several Shore teams could stand to benefit. Monmouth Regional has arguably its most complete team in a long time, Rumson-Fair Haven has re-emerged as a threat in Central Jersey and Manasquan will try to ride its hot streak from the Shore Conference Tournament into another run to the South Jersey Group II final.
In Group I, Point Beach, Asbury Park and Keyport will all start the tournament on the road and try to overcome some inexperience to author deep runs in the Central Jersey field.
Central Jersey Group II
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Holmdel, No. 3 Monmouth, No. 6 Rumson-Fair Haven, No. 14 Raritan
Defending Champion: Holmdel
Top Seed: Holmdel
Favorite: Holmdel. The Hornets have had a couple of weeks to stew after losing a penalty-kick shootout to Toms River South in the round-of-16 of the Shore Conference Tournament. In each of the past two seasons, Holmdel responded well to losses and while this is not the same team, it does have enough leaders from those teams to carry that attitude into this year’s state playoffs.
Darkhorse: No. 12 Robbinsville. The Ravens held their own against some of Mercer County’s best teams and should have the chops to hang with No. 5 South Plainfield in the first round and, potentially, Rahway in the quarterfinals. With Holmdel on the same side of the bracket, Robbinsville could have a tougher time getting to the final than No. 14 Raritan – which has played Monmouth and Rumson-Fair Haven tough this season and would not see Holmdel until the final – but the Ravens have the best chance of any double-digit seed to win a pair of games.
Bracket Overview: Few teams have dominated a section the way Holmdel has dominated Central Jersey Group II over the past two seasons. The Hornets had to survive penalty kicks against Matawan two years ago in the sectional semifinals but in the other seven games in 2017 and 2018, Holmdel outscored opponents by a combined score of 49-2, including 27-1 in four games last year. Governor Livingston could be a dangerous game in the quarterfinal round and any of No. 2 Delaware Valley, Monmouth or Rumson-Fair Haven should be more competitive than Holmdel’s last two sectional final opponents, but the Hornets remain the heavy favorite.
(1) Holmdel over (16) East Brunswick Tech
(8) Governor Livingston over (9) Voorhees
(12) Robbinsville over (5) South Plainfield
(4) Rahway over (13) Metuchen
(3) Monmouth over (14) Raritan
(6) Rumson-Fair Haven over (11) A.L. Johnson
(7) Spotswood over (10) South River
(2) Delaware Valley over (15) Roselle
(1) Holmdel over (8) Governor Livingston
(12) Robbinsville over (4) Rahway
(3) Monmouth over (6) Rumson-Fair Haven
(2) Delaware Valley over (7) Spotswood
(1) Holmdel over (12) Robbinsville
(3) Monmouth over (2) Delaware Valley
(1) Holmdel over (3) Monmouth
South Jersey Group II
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 3 Manasquan, No. 7 Barnegat, No. 13 Manchester
Defending Champion: No. 1 Delran
Top Seed: Delran
Favorite: Delran. When it comes to the best Group II programs in the state, Holmdel and Delran are on the top tier by themselves. Other teams have been good in individual seasons but few teams in the state churn out winners like those two. Like Holmdel, Delran had plenty to replace from a year ago and still managed to lock up a No. 1 seed in the state tournament. In Delran’s case, the Bears played their usual loaded schedule and will be ready for battle against a field with two other top seeds – Manasquan and No. 2 Oakcrest – that look dangerous after strong showings in their respective conference tournaments.
Darkhorse: No. 12 Delsea. The Crusaders are a 12-win team that has only recently dropped from Group III to Group II and still plays plenty of Group IV and Group III teams during the regular season. They did not beat a lot of those larger schools, but Delsea has a pair of quality wins over Triton and Seneca in October. Manchester – which has played recent close games against Colts Neck and Pinelands – also deserves some consideration playing at Cinnaminson in round one.
Bracket Overview: This bracket appears as though it will come down to the top-three seeds, with Manasquan and Oakcrest playing for the right to travel to Delran for the final. Manasquan is one of the state’s hotter teams right now and played three consecutive shootout games in the Shore Conference Tournament, with a 1-0 regular-season win over Brick Memorial sprinkled in. Oakcrest, meanwhile, knocked off St. Augustine, but went 1-2-1 in its four games since, including a loss to a Southern team Manasquan beat on penalties in the SCT. Barnegat, meanwhile, drew its highest seed in school history at No. 7 and if the Bengals can get by No. 10 Sterling, they will likely have a shot at Oakcrest.
(1) Delran over (16) Cedar Creek
(9) Middle Twp. over (8) Pleasantville
(12) Delsea over (4) Bordentown
(4) Cinnaminson over (13) Manchester
(3) Manasquan over (14) Lower Cape May
(6) Haddonfield over (11) West Deptford
(7) Barnegat over (10) Sterling
(2) Oakcrest over (15) Haddon Heights
(1) Delran over (9) Middle Twp.
(12) Delsea over (4) Cinnaminson
(3) Manasquan over (6) Haddonfield
(2) Oakcrest over (7) Barnegat
(1) Delran over (12) Delsea
(3) Manasquan over (2) Oakcrest
(1) Delran over (3) Manasquan
Central Jersey Group I
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 10 Point Beach, No. 14 Keyport, No. 16 Asbury Park
Defending Champion: No. 5 Highland Park
Top Seed: Florence
Favorite: Florence. The Flashes look legit as a No. 1 seed with 14 wins and some good showings against larger schools. After starting 9-0, Florence is 5-5 over its last 10, so while they have played well, the Flashes don’t come in red hot. Highland Park should pose a serious threat as the two-time defending champ while No. 2 Middlesex and No. 3 New Egypt look formidable on the other side of the bracket.
Darkhorse: Point Beach. There is not a lot of postseason experience on this Point Beach team but the Garnet Gulls have scrapped with some solid competition this season and should be ready to take their act on the road to Manville. Asbury Park is a lot to handle on the attack and could be tricky for top-seeded Florence in round one.
Bracket Overview: Central Jersey I looks like a top-heavy bracket, with Florence, Middlesex, New Egypt and Highland Park standing out as the primary contenders. Point Beach could play the spoiler role as the No. 10 seed, while No. 4 Bound Brook will also try to crash the party by taking out defending champion Highland Park in the sectional quarterfinal round.
Round-by Round Picks
(1) Florence over (16) Asbury Park
(8) Roselle Park over (9) Piscataway Tech
(5) Highland Park over (12) Burlington City
(4) Bound Brook over (13) Stem Civics
(3) New Egypt over (14) Keyport
(6) South Hunterdon over (11) Riverside
(10) Point Beach over (7) Manville
(2) Middlesex over (15) Edison Academy
(1) Florence over (8) Roselle Park
(5) Highland Park over (4) Bound Brook
(3) New Egypt over (6) South Hunterdon
(2) Middlesex over (10) Point Beach
(1) Florence over (5) Highland Park
(3) New Egypt over (2) Middlesex
(1) Florence over (3) New Egypt