Another soccer season is upon and after everything that happened in 2018, the boys at the Shore have a lot to live up to in 2019.

For just the second time, three Shore Conference teams won overall group championships in the same season and for the first time ever, those three finished ranked in the top five in the state, including Holmdel at No. 1. Holmdel, Ocean and Christian Brothers Academy led the way in making 2018 among the best seasons ever for Shore Conference soccer, with Non-Public A champion CBA beating Delbarton to win a state championship and yet still only finishing No. 3 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10.

It is safe to say the Shore Conference will not be what it was last year, but those standards are not the norm and there is still plenty to watch out for in 2019. CBA is likely to have an edge when it comes to reloading but a handful of teams are looking to hit their stride this year and take advantage of what could be a wide-open conference.

Photo by Matt Manley.

1. Christian Brothers Academy (19-4, 6-1 in A North) Final 2018 Ranking: 3

Like many of the top teams from last year, CBA suffered significant losses in its starting lineup, but since CBA is CBA and has a deep well of talent, the drop-off should not be as dramatic as it will be with teams like Ocean, Jackson Memorial and Holmdel. It also does not hurt that the Colts return leading scorer Luke Pascarella, who capped the 2018 season with perhaps the biggest goal in program history to win the NJSIAA Non-Public A title. Mike Casper, Connor Anderko and Jack Longo also return to the starting XI and will solidify what should be a stellar defense.

2. Manasquan (14-7-2, 5-1-0 in A Central) 2018 Rank: 7

There were a lot of great performances by Shore Conference teams during the state tournament but no team is as well-positioned to build on its great run more than Manasquan is. The Warriors return an All-Shore striker in Tommy Johnson, and All-Shore goalkeeper in Joe Weinstein, a Coaches’ All-County midfielder in Drew Greenblatt and a host of role players who contributed last year. Factor in the return of junior midfielder Simon Cardenas from the Cedar Stars Academy and the Warriors have all the pieces in place to have a special season after coming up a win shy of a sectional championship in 2018.

3. Freehold Township (11-5-3, 4-3-0 in A North) 2018 Rank: Not ranked

The Patriots got lost in the shuffle last year because of the overwhelming success of the Shore’s top teams but that could due, in part, to Freehold Township’s youth. This year, the Patriots are one of the team’s best positioned to win the Shore Conference, then represent the represent the Shore deep into the state tournament. Bennett Messinger leads a crop of returning starters who are poised to help Freehold Township challenge for its second SCT title in six years and second sectional title in the last five.

4. Jackson Memorial (15-3-1, 6-1-0 in A South) 2018 Rank: 4

With Dan Russo in the fold, Jackson Memorial very likely would have opened the season No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and would be among the favorites to win the Group IV championship. Without Russo – who opted to play with the New York Red Bulls Academy Club before heading to play at Notre Dame next year – the Jaguars remain a contender for both Shore Conference and sectional championships thanks to a standout defense, but will have an unproven scoring attack after losing 31 goals between Russo and Joe Schlageter.

5. Holmdel (22-0-1, 6-0-0 in A Central) 2018 Rank: 1

As great as the group that graduated after last year’s historic 22-0-1 season was, Holmdel is still returning its leading scorer from that team. Senior Jack Giamanco was a constant all season in racking up 23 goals while Anthony Arena battled a hamstring injury. Eric Hinds and Mark Walier also return as seniors and will have to shoulder much more of the load as the only players on this year’s team to get big minutes last year. Both Giamanco and Hinds stepped into starting roles for the first time last year and Holmdel will need similar success from its eight new starters this season.

6. Wall (13-4-2, 5-2-0 in B North) 2018 Rank: 5

The Crimson Knights lost their top five scorers from a year ago – including one to injury – but bring back a strong defensive unit led by All-Shore senior Tagg Angrum in front of junior goalkeeper Sebastian Campanile. The Class B North division’s top teams all underwent a lot of turnover, leaving Wall in the best position to win that division. If the Crimson Knights can get a boost of offense from returnees like Jack Gotsch and Jake Pepe, they will be a dangerous at any stage of any tournament.

7. Southern (9-6-2, 5-1-1 in A South) 2018 Rank: 8

With one of the Shore’s top juniors and overall junior classes, Southern has a chance to have one of its best runs in boys soccer ever over the next two years. Kevin Kiernan was a second-team All-Shore selection last year and will be joined by classmates J.P. Prosperi and Nico Leonard in leading the team over the next two years. With a head-to-head win over Jackson Memorial last year and a second-place finish in A South, the Rams enter 2019 with a chance to hang a banner by season’s end.

8. Middletown South (11-10, 3-4 in A North) 2018 Rank: Not ranked

The 2018 Middletown South boys soccer season was the kind of roller-coaster ride one might expect of a young team but it ended on a high note. The Eagles beat unbeaten Hillsborough in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group IV Tournament after squandering a chance to make the Shore Conference Tournament. Although Middletown South graduated its top player – All-Shore center back Jon Santos – the Eagles return every other starter from last year and are set up nicely to challenge for the A North public title and into the postseason.

9. Toms River South (9-6-2, 3-3-1 in A South) 2018 Rank: Not ranked

For the second straight year, Toms River South lost a standout midfielder to the Cedar Stars Academy, with current senior Jack Seitz following in Clem Slavick’s footsteps. The loss of Seitz is definitely a hit to the lineup but Toms River South still has a lot of experience back and a group that will be hungry to make up for a disappointing 2018 by the program’s lofty standards. Jalen Folsom has been one of the Shore’s top keepers over the past two seasons and with a solid defensive unit in front of him, the Indians should be in every game.

10. Point Pleasant Boro (7-13, 3-4 in B South) 2018 Rank: Not ranked

Last season was an outlier for Point Boro, which has been a perennial contender in B South but stumbled to an 0-8 start in 2018 and never quite recovered. Despite those struggles, goalkeeper Steve Redler had a strong season and is back as a senior, as are Christian D’Amato, Mariano Maradiegue and Will Flaherty – a senior nucleus that will look to lead the way. With two-time defending champion Pinelands graduating its two dangerous forwards, the division should be up for grabs, which bodes well for a program with Point Boro’s pedigree and a returning talent.

 

Top 10 Watchlist

Matawan – Marcelo Colonna leads a senior-heavy group that has made two deep state tournament runs together.

Long Branch – A North is a beast and now that the Green Wave spent a year playing that schedule, a step forward could be in order.

Freehold Boro – Isaac Ball is one of A North’s top returning players and will be an x-factor for a Colonials team that let some close ones slip away last year.

Lacey – Despite losing Kip Byrne, Lacey has plenty of scoring back and should challenge for a B South title.

 

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