It takes a lot to unseat an undefeated team as the No. 1 team in the Shore Conference but Freehold Township has done a lot over the last three weeks. The Patriots have stated their case as the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, but the race is not over. There is a pack of teams sprinting to the finish trying to grab the No. 1 spot to close out the season and while the Patriots and unbeaten Holmdel are the leaders, both have work to do.

1. Freehold Township (14-5-1, 6-1-0) Last Week: 3

Despite losing head-to-head to Holmdel and CBA, Freehold Township takes over the No. 1 spot for the first time. Head-to-head results certainly matter, but any team that has a Shore Conference Tournament and Class A North outright championship to its credit needs to be the No. 1 team in the rankings, at least until the state tournament is completed.

Freehold Township junior Josh Leonetti celebrates his winning penalty kick. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

2. Holmdel (15-0-1, 6-0-0) Last Week: 1

Holmdel hasn’t lost in 52 straight games and yet, for the second straight year, the Hornets gave up the No. 1 spot because of a loss on penalty kicks in the Shore Conference Tournament. The No. 1 ranking is still on the table for a Holmdel team that remains a serious threat to win Group II.

3. Christian Brothers Academy (11-3-3, 4-2-1) Last Week: 2

CBA lost an SCT heartbreaker for the third straight year and if the last two seasons are any indication, expect the Colts to bounce back in the state tournament. With some heavy-hitters in Non-Public A, CBA can still make enough of a statement over the next two weeks to climb back to the top of the rankings.

4. Jackson Memorial (13-2-2, 7-0-0) Last Week: 4

Like CBA, Jackson Memorial plays in a loaded enough group that the Jaguars could finish No. 1 with a good state tournament showing. Given a head-to-head loss to Freehold Township, that probably means the Jaguars would have to at least reach the Group IV final, but if that happens, a win over Manasquan and a 100-minute draw vs. CBA before losing on penalties are results that prove Jackson’s worthiness.

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

Add Manasquan to the list of teams playing for the No. 1 spot at the Shore over the next several weeks. The Warriors lost the SCT final on penalties after winning back-to-back games on penalties and will now try to continue that hot streak in Group II. With Delran and Holmdel (or whichever teams beat them) standing between Manasquan and the Group II final, the Warriors have a great opportunity to craft a No. 1 resume.

6. Marlboro (12-4, 5-2) Last Week: 6

A recent slide might have eliminated Marlboro from contention for the No. 1 ranking, but playing in Group IV gives the Mustangs a glimmer of hope. As the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group IV, they will have home games all the way through the sectional final round as long as they keep holding serve on their turf.

7. Wall (13-4, 6-1) Last Week: 7

With head-to-head losses to three A North teams – Marlboro, Freehold Township and CBA – Wall is probably the first team in the most recent rankings that is out of the running for the No. 1 spot in the final Top 10. The Crimson Knights have a legitimate chance to win the program’s first Group III title in 15 years but it is going to take a collective flop on the part of the six teams above them in order to make a case for No. 1.

8. Colts Neck (11-4-1, 5-1-1) Last Week: 8

Last year’s loss to Ocean in the Central Jersey Group III final looked to be a missed opportunity for Colts Neck but alas, here are the Cougars 18 seniors lighter and still the No. 2 seed in Central Jersey Group III bracket. If Colts Neck can protect home field in the first three rounds, they will could very well get a second crack at Wall and, in turn, a sectional championship.

9. Southern (12-2-2, 5-1-1) Last Week: 9

Southern did not make the SCT semifinals and did not win a division so a No. 1 finish might seem far-fetched, but there is precedent. Toms River South had the same credentials in 2009 and in a very similar Shore Conference landscape, made a surprise run to the Group IV championship to steal the No. 1 ranking at the Shore. The Rams have shown throughout the year they can play with anyone and that scenario remains on the table.

10. Long Branch (8-7-2, 5-2-0) Last Week: 10

A Long Branch ascension to No. 1 is probably a little far-fetched, but the Green Wave have shown over the last month-plus that they are not to be taken lightly. Long Branch got a tough draw in the state tournament with its first-round match against Freehold Township, but that is also a tough draw for Freehold Township.

 

Top 10 Watchlist

Toms River South (8-5-2, 4-2-1) – The Indians will try to rebound in South Jersey Group III after a disappointing NJSIAA Tournament showing last year. A strong showing in the SCT suggests they are ready.

Middletown South (9-5-3, 2-3-2) – One year after knocking off unbeaten Hillsborough in the first round, Middletown South will have to tangle with defending CJ IV champion East Brunswick in the Eagles state tournament opener.

Monmouth (15-4, 4-2) – Two years removed from a trip to the CJ II final, Monmouth is reloaded and hopeful it can give Holmdel a serious challenge this time around.

Rumson-Fair Haven (8-6-2, 3-2-1) – The Bulldogs are the last team to beat Holmdel in the NJSIAA Tournament and as the No. 6 seed in the Central Group II bracket, they would love to have the chance in the sectional final.

Toms River East (6-5-5, 3-3-1) – The Raiders have gone the distance in five games this year and with a tough schedule in their rearview mirror, the immediate future in South Jersey III could be bright.

Toms River North (8-7-1, 3-3-1) – With No. 1 Clearview awaiting them in the South Jersey IV opening round, the Mariners have a chance to shock South Jersey right off the jump.

 

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