Boys Soccer – NJSIAA Tournament Preview: The Shore in Group 3
If homefield advantage matters in winning an NJSIAA sectional championship, the Shore Conference teams playing for both the Central and South Group III titles are in some trouble. Middletown South is the No. 4 seed in Central Jersey and that is the best seed of any Shore team between the two brackets.
What the Shore lacks in seeding stature it makes up for in the number of battle-hardened teams. Middletown South, Middletown North and Toms River South spent most of their seasons squaring off against Group IV teams and in the case of the Middletown teams, both faced Christian Brothers Academy at least one time. Colts Neck and Ocean, meanwhile, faced a schedule that stacks up with just about any team in the field.
Group III always provides the possibility of an unpredictable bracket and that could be particularly true this season in Central Jersey. Just last year, while Robbinsville won the section as a No. 1 seed, the Ravens had to finish off the title by beating No. 10 Allentown in the championship game. Don't be surprised to see another unusual number next to a team playing for either a Central or South Jersey championship in Group III this year.
Central Jersey Group III
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 4 Middletown South, No. 6 Middletown North, No. 7 Colts Neck, No. 9 Ocean, No. 13 Matawan, No. 14 Brick, No. 16 Jackson Liberty
Top Seed: Robbinsville
Defending Champion: Robbinsville
Favorite: Robbinsville. The Ravens finished off a Group III championship last year after entering the tournament as a No. 1 seed in Central Jersey and will try to do it again over the next two-and-a-half weeks. The goal-scoring prowess might be even better this season, and although Robbinsville is not perfect (Shore Regional is one of five teams to be them), the Ravens are proven.
Darkhorse: Matawan. Disregard whatever Matawan’s body of work says: when the state tournament starts, Matawan flips the switch. Under coach Tyler Isaacson, the Huskies made it to three consecutive sectional semifinals from 2016 to 2018 and made it back to the sectional semifinals last season. What’s more is in three of those semifinal trips, Matawan was a double-digit seed, including a 2022 semifinal run as No. 14 seed – one spot worse than the spot the Huskies drew this year.
Bracket Breakdown: Although the Shore Conference does not have a top-three seed in the CJ III field, the Shore teams in the bracket are dangerous. Middletown South has wins over CBA and Marlboro, Middletown North is the No. 4 team in the Shore Conference, Colts Neck is one of the highest-scoring teams in Group III, Ocean has program pedigree and wins over Middletown South and Long Branch, and we just discussed Matawan’s history playing the underdog role. The Colonial Valley Conference will counter with a list of its own quality teams in Robbinsville, No. 2 Steinert, resurgent No. 3 Lawrence, No. 5 Hopewell Valley and No. 8 Allentown. Brick and Jackson Liberty will have their work cut out for them, but Brick, in particular, has been tough on opponents of late.
Championship Prediction: Robbinsville over Middletown North. The road to the final will be a challenging one and Robbinsville’s experience navigating it will help. Middletown North is also tournament-tested and the Lions will be motivated after losing at home in last year’s first round to eventual sectional runner-up Allentown, which made it to the CJ III final as a No. 10 seed.
(1) Robbinsville over (16) Jackson Liberty
(8) Allentown over (9) Ocean
(5) Hopewell Valley over (12) Ewing
(4) Middletown South over (13) Matawan
(3) Lawrence over (14) Brick
(6) Middletown North over (11) Westampton Tech
(7) Colts Neck over (10) Bordentown
(2) Steinert over (15) Hamilton West
(1) Robbinsville over (8) Allentown
(5) Hopewell Valley over (4) Middletown South
(6) Middletown North over (3) Lawrence
(2) Steinert over (7) Colts Neck
(1) Robbinsville over (5) Hopewell Valley
(6) Middletown North over (2) Steinert
(1) Robbinsville over (6) Middletown North
South Jersey Group III
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 9 Lacey, No. 14 Toms River South
Top Seed: Clearview
Defending Champion: No. 4 Cherry Hill West
Favorite: Clearview. The Pioneers are 12-2-4 and all but one of those losses and ties have come against South Group IV No. 1 seed Washington Township (two losses and a tie) and South IV No. 7 Kingsway (two ties). One of those ties was a penalty-kick shootout win over Washington in the South Jersey Coaches’ Cup championship game – a title run that included a convincing, 6-1 drubbing of South IV No. 2 seed Lenape. No. 2 Shawnee and No. 3 Ocean City are legacy programs and No. 4 Cherry Hill West is the defending champion, so Clearview will have to earn it.
Darkhorse: No. 11 Seneca. The Golden Eagles open the NJSIAA Tournament facing a No. 6 Mainland team that they beat, 5-1, on Oct. 2. If Seneca can pull it off again, it would face either an Ocean City team that has lost three out of its last four matches or a 5-9-3 Toms River South squad.
Bracket Breakdown: Two Shore Conference teams reside in South Jersey Group III and both will be on the road in round one. Lacey picked up a feel-good win over Toms River East on Monday to get ready for its trip to Moorestown – a game the Lions will have a great chance to win. With Clearview likely awaiting the winner, though, Lacey will have to pull off a stunner to make it past this weekend. Toms River South might actually be better positioned to reach the semifinals, but will have to find a way to start winning close games (five one-goal losses) against good teams – a struggle that has led to a five-game losing streak heading into the tournament.
Championship Prediction: Clearview over Shawnee. Clearview has a difficult path to the final despite its No. 1 seed, while Shawnee might have earned the better overall draw. If the top two seeds do clash, the host Pioneers have the slight edge.
(1) Clearview over (16) Triton
(8) Moorestown over (9) Lacey
(5) Delsea over (12) Deptford
(4) Cherry Hill West over (13) Timber Creek
(3) Ocean City over (14) Toms River South
(11) Seneca over (6) Mainland
(10) Hammonton over (7) Absegami
(2) Shawnee over (15) Cumberland
(1) Clearview over (8) Moorestown
(4) Cherry Hill West over (5) Delsea
(11) Seneca over (3) Ocean City
(2) Shawnee over (10) Hammonton
(1) Clearview over (4) Cherry Hill West
(2) Shawnee over (11) Seneca
(1) Clearview over (2) Shawnee