Boys Soccer – NJSIAA Tournament Preview
Four Shore Conference teams - Wall, Rumson-Fair Haven, Shore and Christian Brothers Academy - enter the NJSIAA Tournament as No. 1 seeds in their respective bracket and both Ocean and Toms River South have high enough seeds to warrant high expecations as the tournament kicks off in full force on Tuesday.
Below is a quick look at each of the 10 sections that include at least one Shore Conference team.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 6 Middletown North, No. 9 Red Bank
Defending Champion: South Plainfield
Top Seed: Mendham
Favorite: Summit. The Hilltoppers enter the tournament on a 15-game unbeaten streak and although they have a tough road to hoe with either Middletown North or Chatham – both battle-tested teams – visiting in round two, they are playing the best of anyone in this field at the moment. Red Bank is a good bet to get through the first game and take a shot at No. 1 Mendham (remember, the Bucs played in the CJ III final last year). Middletown North has a very difficult draw, but the Lions play a rough-and-tumble schedule to get them ready for a challenge like this. Mendham, meanwhile, will have No. 4 and defending champion South Plainfield to deal with, which will be especially tough with the Tigers coming off a GMC championship draw against South Brunswick.
Sleeper Team: No. 11 Chatham. Again, very tough draw for Chatham, but this is a program with a history of success and if it can survive the first game, an upset of Summit is not out of the question.
Prediction: Mendham over Summit. With such a hard road to get to the final, it will be interesting to see if Summit can a) make it and b) have enough left to beat a Mendham team that seems prepared to take the crown.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 7 Freehold Twp., No. 8 Manalapan, No. 10 Colts Neck, No. 14 Marlboro, No. 16 Freehold Boro
Defending Champion: Manalapan
Top Seed: New Brunswick
Favorite: No. 2 South Brunswick. The Vikings lost t New Brunswick, but just earned a tie in the GMC final against a South Plainfield team that handed New Brunswick its first loss. Top seeds usually mean very little in this bracket, unless there is a juggernaut team, which there is not. Manalapan’s showing in the SCT suggest a legitimate title defense could be in the cards, while Freehold Township remains more than capable of winning the whole thing. Marlboro is an interesting No. 14 seed playing at a third-seeded Princeton team that has dominated CJ III over the years but now must navigate a deeper CJ IV field.
Sleeper Team: No. 11 Hunterdon Central. The Red Devils are always a tough out and will be a load for both East Brunswick and potentially Princeton.
Prediction: No. 5 Montgomery over Freehold Twp. A rematch of a quarterfinal game last year, the Cougars are due for a deep run after failing short in the sectional quarterfinals in four of the last eight years. A bracket that stays true to the seeds would be a surprise.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Wall, No. 3 Ocean, No. 7 Neptune, No. 8 Long Branch, No. 9 Jackson Liberty, No. 15 Toms River East
Defending Champion: Princeton
Top Seed: Wall
Favorite: Ocean. The Spartans beat top-seeded Wall in two of the three meetings this season and will play a solid, but beatable Steinert team in the semifinals if the seeds hold true to form, albeit on the road. The toughest potential match-up could actually be No. 5 Burlington Township, which has played a quality schedule and can score.
Sleeper Team: Long Branch. The Green Wave took down Wall on the road last year and will likely have a chance to do it again in this year’s sectional quarterfinals. Burlington City is a formidable team on that side of the bracket, but so is Long Branch.
Prediction: Ocean over Burlington Twp. Playing at home, after the experience of losing the SCT final to CBA, the Spartans should bounce back enough to get to the semifinals and at that point, it’s anybody’s game. With those weapons and tough games under its belt, Ocean could very well get it done.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Rumson-Fair Haven, No. 9 Holmdel, No. 10 Monmouth, No. 14 Matawan, No. 16 Raritan
Defending Champion: Governor Livingston
Top Seed: Rumson-Fair Haven
Favorite: No. 2 Bordentown. The high-powered Scotties have only two losses this year and those have come against Williamstown and Delran. There is not really a team in the field that has eye-popping wins this year, so this tournament could go like it did last year, when Governor Livingston (not in the tournament this year) got hot as a No. 13 seed thanks to a tough schedule that prepared them for life in the tournament. Holmdel is a live underdog at No. 9, especially with a recent win over Rumson, while Monmouth could very well snag a road win and get a shot at Bordentown.
Sleeper Team: No. 12 Delaware Valley. Here is your battle-tested, double-digit seed. Delaware Valley has won just once in its last seven games, but in their last two games, the Terriers beat Cranford and lost to Gill St. Bernard’s 3-2. Matawan has played better of late, and although a first-round matchup against Bernards is awfully tough, the Huskies should make it a game.
Prediction: Bordentown over Rumson. The Bulldogs have a relatively manageable path to the final, but they will likely have to bounce back against Holmdel in round two. The winner of the Bernards and Bordentown game will be coming off a huge win, but the Bulldogs will take their chances at home. The 2013 season ended in a sectional final at Borden Stadium, so this tournament is all about redemption for the program, even though not many players on this team were contributors two years ago.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Shore, No. 8 Point Beach, No. 14 Keyport
Defending Champion: Shore
Top Seed: Shore
Favorite: Shore. The Blue Devils are coming off their first loss of the season, but are far ahead of the field on talent and résumé. Shore has been picked off at home before, but if the Blue Devils play well, the teams in this field will be hard-pressed to beat them.
Sleeper Team: No. 10 New Egypt. A sleeper in number more than name, the Warriors have established a perennial contender in CJ I and even if the regular season was not as dominant as it has been in recent years, they will be ready to make a run.
Prediction: Shore over No. 6 Bound Brook. The Crusaders will have to get through either Metuchen or New Egypt, but they have a weapon in 30-goal scorer Gerald Cubero to ride to the final and give Shore something to think about. The Blue Devils should almost certainly get there, but they could get some resistance in the final.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 11 Jackson Memorial, No. 13 Toms River North
Defending Champion: Washington Twp.
Top Seed: Washington Twp.
Favorite: Washington Twp. The Minutemen just saw a 43-game unbeaten streak snapped by Rancocas Valley on Saturday, but they still enter as the premier public school program in N.J. over the past three years. The last team to beat Washington was Shawnee – which edged Jackson Memorial on Monday in a first-round game – and No. 2 Cherokee has not beaten Washington in five years.
Sleeper Team: Toms River North. The Mariners knocked off Rancocas Valley last year and in a bracket with some powerhouse top seeds, their proven track record of success in this South Jersey IV bracket makes them a dangerous No. 13.
Prediction: No. 2 Cherokee over Washington Twp. It has been a long time coming and after Washington Township showed some vulnerability in a 2-0 loss to Rancocas Valley, it is time for Cherokee to get its win over its rival.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 2 Toms River South, No. 3 Lacey, No. 7 Central
Defending Champion: Ocean City
Top Seed: Delsea
Favorite: Toms River South. After coming up one win short of a sectional title last year, the Indians have all the ingredients to finish the job this year and capture the program’s first sectional crown since winning all of Group IV in 2009. Only Delsea can take Toms River South away from its home field and the Crusaders will have a very tough semifinal opponent in either No. 4 Cherry Hill West or No. 5 and defending champion Ocean City. The Indians will likely play some familiar competition along the way, with a potential match against No. 7 Central in the quarterfinals and division rival Lacey in the semifinals. Lacey already won at Toms River South once this year before the Indians won the second meeting to clinch the Class A South title, so that would be quite the rubber match.
Sleeper Team: No. 9 Hammonton. The double-digit seeds in this bracket don’t jump off the page, but Hammonton is a team that appears capable of winning a pair of games on the road, including a potential quarterfinal at Delsea in round two.
Prediction: Toms River South over Cherry Hill West. The two most battle-tested teams will reach the sectional final and after falling one win shy last year and pushing CBA in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, the Indians look ready to win a sectional title once again. The Indians caught fire in a wide-open Group IV in 2009 and will to do the same in a Group III field that appears up for grabs.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 3 Point Boro, No. 6 Manasquan, No. 10 Pinelands, No. 16 Barnegat
Defending Champion: Cinnaminson
Top Seed: Haddonfield
Favorite: Haddonfield. Like in Central Jersey II, none of the top teams in the field have played overly challenging schedules, but both Haddonfield and Middle Township are impressive teams with championship banners to their credit as programs. Haddonfield has thrown up nine shutouts during an 11-game stretch in which the Bulldogs have gone 9-1-1 while outscoring opponents 45-3. The loss game at the hands of Eastern and is the only loss suffered by Haddonfield this season. Point Boro is the Shore’s best hope in the bracket after suffering a heartbreaking overtime loss in the Central Jersey II semifinals to Governor Livingston last year, but might have to get by a tough Manasquan team in the quarterfinals.
Sleeper Team: Audubon. A night-and-day side, Audubon has played tight games with Haddonfield and Sterling and also been blown out by both. In a section that doesn’t have an obvious sleeper (an oxymoron, certainly), the Green Wave look like a possibility.
Prediction: Haddonfield over Point Boro. Middle is going to be a very difficult game on the road for Point Boro, but the Panthers have been waiting for a shot at redemption and they are hard to put away. Beating both Middle and Haddonfield is a tall order, but Point Boro is capable.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 CBA, No. 5 Donovan Catholic, No. 9 St. John Vianney, No. 12 Red Bank Catholic
Defending Champion: Notre Dame
Top Seed: CBA
Favorite: No. 2 Pingry. The Big Blue are a defending state champion and although that was in Non-Public B, there is still the championship pedigree for an opponent to overcome. Pingry is as hardened as any team, as is CBA, so that potential final would be a fun one.
Sleeper Team: No. 8 St. Joseph Metuchen. It’s very hard to see any team other than the top four advancing to the sectional semifinals, but if there is one team that can make things interesting, it is a young, improving Falcons team that is always capable of being a thorn in the side of CBA. The last time CBA had a junior-heavy SCT championship team, St. Joe’s stunned the Colts in penalty kicks in the 2010 tournament. Donovan Catholic has always been competitive in the state tournament, so the Griffins could be a challenge for Notre Dame in the quarterfinals.
Prediction: CBA over Pingry. Once the semifinals are set, it’s back to “anything goes.” St. Augustine has had better teams and Notre Dame is not quite the same team without Brian Hawkins, but either is capable of winning on the road. In the end, we should get a CBA-Pingry showdown and the Colts are still on a mission, especially against a Pingry team that has been ahead of them in the state rankings for most of the year.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 4 St. Rose, No. 5 Ranney, No. 10 Mater Dei Prep
Defending Champion: Pingry
Top Seed: Gloucester Catholic
Favorite: St. Rose. It’s hard to make much of the top three seeds after perusing their schedules and while St. Rose has come up short against the top teams on its schedule, the Purple Roses have played all of those teams tough and they just tuned up for the tournament with a win over Donovan Catholic. Then again, Ranney knocked off the Roses earlier in the year, so perhaps it's the Panthers who could be in for a surprise run to the sectional final.
Sleeper Team: No. 7 Immaculata. Like St. Rose, Immaculata plays a pretty legitimate schedule and has scored some impressive results along the way – including a tie against Bernards, wins over Somerville and Delaware Valley (twice) and a close 3-2 loss to Gill St. Bernard’s.
Prediction: Immaculata over St. Rose. Although the Purple Roses lost a lot of scoring to graduation from a year ago, they are in prime position to make this run with a junior-heavy group. Immaculata would be a formidable foe in the title game, but the Roses have prepared well for this tournament.