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The regular-season finish line is already in sight and if it feels like it went fast, it is because it has. The Shore Conference is on the verge of wrapping up a full slate of division games, plus Shore Conference Tournament group qualifiers in a matter of one month. Those two pursuits have accounted for most of the schedule so far, but there have been a handful of key crossover games that teams have managed to squeeze in. Two of them happened at the end of the week, with Southern travelling to Manalapan and Toms River North paying a visit to Christian Brothers Academy.

With the Shore Conference Tournament picture becoming much clearer over the last week and set to become even more so by day’s end on Monday, the Shore 16 is finding some solid ground.

1. Christian Brothers Academy (8-1, 4-0) Last Week: 1

With a win over Toms River North on Saturday, CBA further cemented its status as the Shore’s No. 1 team. The No. 1 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament is all but wrapped up, but the Colts would still like to finish off an undefeated season in Class A North play with wins over Manalapan and Middletown South this week.

2. Howell (5-1-2, 3-1-1) Last Week: 3

After going 3-0-1 against a difficult schedule two weeks ago, Howell posted another tie vs. a ranked opponent and finished off the past week with a tough, 1-0 win over Manchester that clinched the Rebels a spot in the SCT. That spot is likely to be as a top-four seed, with the Rebels among the mix of teams that will slot in right behind No. 1 CBA. On the division front, Howell has a huge game Thursday vs. Middletown North, which will decide the Class A North non-public champion while also carrying significant SCT seeding implications.

3. Southern (7-0-2, 4-0-1) Last Week: 4

The Rams have not yet wrapped up the Class A South division title and will have to survive a trip to Central this week in order to do so, but as it pertains to the Shore Conference Tournament, Southern is in solid shape. A road win over Manalapan to close out the week sets Southern up to challenge for the No. 2 seed if it can sweep the week and head into Friday’s seeding meeting undefeated.

4. Toms River North (6-2, 4-1) Last Week: 5

They are playing from behind, but the Mariners still have an opportunity to win the Class A South championship outright. Both Central and Southern have a tie to their respective records, which means if Central can beat Southern, Toms River North can clinch the division by beating Jackson Liberty Tuesday and closing it out vs. Central on Thursday. Even if the division is not on the line Thursday, that Toms River North-Central showdown will have an impact on SCT seeding.

5. Middletown North (7-2, 3-1) Last Week: 7

With its only losses coming against Toms River North and CBA, Middletown North has built itself a résumé that packs a serious punch. The Lions can win the Class A North public championship this week with a wins over Freehold Township and Howell and if they can secure that title, they will almost certainly lock up the No. 12 seed in the SCT – the No. 1 spot for among the teams that finish second in their respective SCT groups.

6. Central (7-1-1, 4-0-1) Last Week: 12

The Golden Eagles shocked the Shore on Saturday when they bounced Holmdel out of the Shore Conference Tournament with a 2-1 win over the Hornets. Central is the second-place team in its group and while Middletown North remains in pole position for the No. 12 seed, the Golden Eagles are right on the Lions’ tail. If Saturday’s statement was not enough, Central has a chance to make believers of any holdouts this week with showdowns against both Southern and Toms River North.

7. Holmdel (6-1-1, 4-0-0) Last Week: 2

A string of bad luck led to Holmdel tying Howell in the first game of group play, culminating in top scorer Stephan Kapranov missing the game due to illness. On Saturday, it was a mix of bad luck, a capable opponent and faulty execution. In other words, a typical soccer game. The Hornets had two close calls against Manasquan and Holmdel leading up to Saturday and now, Holmdel has itself a true wake-up call going forward as the Hornets attempt to win Class A Central, the Coaches’ Cup and Group II.

8. Colts Neck (6-1, 3-0) Last Week: 8

Colts Neck’s schedule has gradually ramped up and will hit the next level this week with games against Long Branch and Manasquan with the Class B North championship on the line. The first wave of games includes high-scoring wins over Lacey, Ocean and Shore, so when Colts Neck has been called upon to step up to a challenge, the early returns are promising. Once the results are in this week, the Cougars’ seeding possibilities will become clearer.

9. Marlboro (4-2-2, 2-2-1) Last Week: 9

With a 100-minute, 1-1 battle vs. Howell last week, Marlboro affirmed it can compete with the top teams in the field – including CBA. Scoring has been a challenge at times for the Mustangs, which is likely to keep them outside the top four seeds in the SCT. With a strong finish this week against Middletown South, the Mustangs can nail down a top-seven seed.

10. Manalapan (4-4, 1-3) Last Week: 10

Outside of three wins in SCT group play, Manalapan’s only win is over Middletown South, but three of the Braves’ four losses are by one goal and all four are against top 10 teams. Manalapan is a group winner that has a compelling case to be seeded as high as No. 6 in the field despite a modest record.

11. St. Rose (6-1-3, 3-0-2) Last Week: Not ranked – The Purple Roses make their first appearance in the Shore 16 thanks to two high-profile wins over Manasquan and Freehold Township, which goes with a tie vs. Long Branch and an unbeaten streak that is up to nine games.

12. Manasquan (6-3, 3-0) Last Week: 6 – Losses to St. Rose and Manasquan send the Warriors tumbling from No. 6 to No. 12, but they will have a chance at redemption this week during the final stages of the Class B North race, as well as in the SCT.

13. Ocean (5-2-1, 3-2-0) Last Week: 15 – After a brief lull that included losses to Colts Neck and Manasquan, Ocean fortified its place in the Shore 16 with a huge, 1-0 win at Middletown South.

14. Middletown South (3-4-1, 1-3-0) Last Week: 11 – The Eagles missed a chance to clinch an SCT berth last week, losing to Ocean and tying Lakewood. With games this week against Marlboro and CBA, Middletown South will either storm into the SCT or limp in with a record below .500.

15. Long Branch (6-2-1, 2-1-0) Last Week: 16 – Since starting 0-3, Long Branch has pieced together a seven-game unbeaten streak that includes an overtime win over Rumson-Fair Haven last week.

16. Rumson-Fair Haven (5-2-1, 4-0-0) Last Week: 14 – The Bulldogs need a lot of help to get into the SCT, but the Class A Central is there for the taking this week with games vs. Holmdel and Wall.


Dropped Out

Freehold Township (2-7-1, 0-4-0) Last Week: 13 – After a 2-2 start to the season, Freehold Township is 0-5-1 and will try to regroup to make a run in the Coaches’ Cup.

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