In most years, the Shore Conference Tournament provides a chance to evaluate the entire Shore on a level playing field. This year, it has only confirmed that while there might be one champion, there may not be a standout team.

Whether the champion is Manasquan, Freehold Township or there are co-champions – a distinct possibility considering how many games have gone to overtime and penalty kicks during this tournament – the last team(s) standing will have some blemishes on the resume.

Freehold Township and Manasquan both have a chance to seize the No. 1 spot over the next three weeks but there is still work to be done on both of their parts. The debate over the No. 1 spot could very well remain unsettled through the end of the season and for right now, with one team still technically unbeaten and so many SCT games ending on penalty kicks, there can only be so much change based on tournament results.

1. Holmdel (14-0-1, 6-0-0) Last Week: 1

Holmdel did not make it out of the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16 but still has not actually lost a game. On top of that, the two teams in the championship game are both teams Holmdel defeated and two of the semifinalists played in two games that ended on penalty kicks during the SCT. The shootout loss to Toms River South makes Holmdel a vulnerable No. 1 but with every team hiding a few blemishes, the Hornets remain a viable No. 1.

2. Christian Brothers Academy (10-3-3, 4-2-1) Last Week: 2

The Colts came up short of a second straight trip to the SCT championship game but remain in the No. 2 spot thanks to a loaded resume. It also helps that Manasquan needed penalty kicks to beat CBA, but in the same vain, CBA needed penalty kicks to beat Jackson Memorial. A head-to-head win over Freehold Township keeps CBA ahead of the Patriots heading into the week but if Freehold Township wins both the SCT and the outright A North title, that could change before the start of the NJSIAA Tournament.

Freehold Township senior Bennett Messinger (left) and Holmdel senior Jack Giamanco. (Phorto by Paula Lopez)

3. Freehold Township (13-5, 5-1) Last Week: 3

Head-to-head losses to Holmdel and CBA make it difficult for Freehold Township to get over the hump for the No. 1 spot but the Patriots could make an undeniable case with two wins this week. With wins over Manasquan to win the SCT on Wednesday and Middletown South to win the Class A North championship on Friday, Freehold Township would have an outright division title in the Shore’s toughest division and an overall conference title. Those credentials would be hard to pass up, especially for a team that enters the week 9-1 over its last 10 games.

4. Jackson Memorial (12-2-1, 6-0-0) Last Week: 4

The Jaguars nearly pulled off an improbable comeback against CBA in the SCT quarterfinals thanks to a pair of penalty kicks in the final five minutes of regulation. Even with the loss in penalty kicks, the Jaguars went toe-to-toe with another top-five team and have now played three competitive games against teams ranked in this week’s top-five with a 1-1-1 record. As a Group IV team, Jackson Memorial has a chance to boost its resume by playing deep into the NJSIAA Tournament.

5. Manasquan (8-5-3, 4-2-0) Last Week: 9

At this point, it is hard to judge Manasquan for anything that happened during a 3-5-1 start to the season. The Warriors have overhauled their lineup and are now one win away from the program’s first Shore Conference Tournament championship. Losses to Holmdel, Jackson Memorial and Wall still matter in the rankings but with each big win, Manasquan dulls their impact. Winning the SCT might not get them to No. 1 but if the Warriors can carry this hot streak into the state tournament, No. 1 is still on the table.

6. Marlboro (12-3, 5-2) Last Week: 5

Losses to Manasquan and Long Branch appear to be signs of a funk for the Mustangs, who will have one more week to shake out of it before the NJSIAA Tournament starts. They will face a good test on Wednesday against Holmdel in a game pitting the top two seeds of the SCT on the same day Freehold Township plays Manasquan in the championship game. If Marlboro can refocus during this week, the Mustangs will still be one of the top contenders in Central Jersey Group IV.

7. Wall (13-3, 6-1) Last Week: 6

Wall’s exit from the SCT came in a competitive, 2-1 road loss at Freehold Township on a rainy afternoon so the Crimson Knights have nothing to hang their heads about heading into the state tournament. They can reasonably feel like they could have beaten both Marlboro and Freehold Township, which accounted for two of their three losses. Central Jersey Group III is always difficult, but Wall will go in with, perhaps, its best shot at a sectional championship since winning Group III in 2004.

8. Colts Neck (9-4-1, 4-1-1) Last Week: 8

Despite graduating most of its starting lineup, Colts Neck was 15 minutes from taking Freehold Township to penalties and one goal in regulation from beating the Patriots to reach the Shore Conference Tournament final. Coach Art Collier and his staff have quickly whipped this group into one that can once again make noise in the state tournament after reaching the Central Jersey Group III final last year and challenging for divisional and SCT championships already this season.

9. Southern (11-2-2, 5-1-1) Last Week: 7

The Rams nearly pulled out a stunning victory over Manasquan in which Kevin Kiernan scored in the final 20 seconds to send the SCT quarterfinal to overtime, but the Warriors prevailed in overtime. Southern still has some solid results on its resume but that one really would have boosted the Rams’ profile. With Colts Neck beating Toms River South and Jackson Memorial – opponents that handed Southern its tie and loss in Class A South – the Rams settle into the No. 9 spot this week as they prepare to navigate a difficult-but-open South Jersey Group IV field.

10. Long Branch (7-7-1, 5-2-0) Last Week: Not ranked

The Green Wave return to the Top 10 after a week-long hiatus following an impressive, 3-1, win over Marlboro that gives them a chance to grab a share of the Class A North championship. If Freehold Township loses to Middletown South, Long Branch would share the A North crown with the Patriots and Marlboro. Even without a division championship to its name, Long Branch will be a dangerous double-digit seed in Central Jersey Group IV thanks to a difficult regular-season schedule that continues this week with a road test at Jackson Memorial.

 

Dropped Out

Toms River South (6-5-2, 4-2-1) Last Week: 10 – Their best results this season are scoreless draws (vs. Holmdel and Southern) but the Indians proved they are a dangerous postseason team thanks to a strong defense and goalkeeper Jalen Folsom.

 

Top 10 Watch List

Middletown South (9-4-3, 2-2-2) – The Eagles will try to play spoiler on Friday against Freehold Township with the Class A North title on the line and perhaps set themselves up for a move into the top 10 by season’s end.

Monmouth (13-4, 4-2) – The Falcons have been very close in their biggest games (Holmdel, Manasquan and Wall) and with a high seed in Central Jersey Group II, they will have a chance to get over the hump.

Rumson-Fair Haven (7-6-1, 3-2-1) – The Bulldogs have wins over the two Shore Conference Tournament finalists and have been competitive with every team on their schedule.

Toms River East (6-5-3, 3-3-1) – With some experience in close games against quality opponents and a junior-heavy group that has improved over the course of the season, the Raiders look like a sleeper to go deep in South Jersey Group III.

Toms River North (6-6-1, 2-2-1) – The Mariners have not quite lived up to the standard they set by beating Freehold Township on opening night but that is a pretty high bar to clear. It could turn out to be a win over the SCT champion.

 

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