Boys Soccer – Thygeson Strikes Late, CBA Shuts Out Seton Hall Prep for Non-Public A Title
SOMERSET -- During his standout career as a two-sport standout at Christian Brothers Academy, senior Will Thygeson has established a reputation as a big-game player.
On Saturday, in the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship game against Seton Hall Prep at Franklin High School, with the No. 1 ranking in the state on the line, Thygeson delivered the biggest play in the biggest game of his decorated career.
Thygeson scored the game-winning goal in the 77th minute and CBA dethroned the defending champion Pirates with a 1-0 victory, capturing the program's eight ever Non-Public A championship and third in the last seven seasons.
CBA's win avenges a 2-0 loss to Seton Hall Prep in the 2021 championship game and caps a 19-game winning streak by the Colts to finish off the 2022 campaign. CBA lost its opener to Marlboro, 1-0, in overtime and won every game it played from that point on this season.
Saturday's result also snaps a 44-game unbeaten streak for Seton Hall Prep against New Jersey competition, dating back to a late-October loss to West Orange during the truncated 2020 season.
"It feels a little bit poetic," Thygeson said. "Coming back, playing in the state finals for the second year in a row and this time coming out on top against, once again, another incredible Seton Hall Prep team. It took literally every ounce of energy that our boys had, but I'll tell you what: it feels a lot better walking out of here this year than it did last year."
Since his varsity career at CBA started in the fall of his sophomore career, Thygeson has played in six championship games -- three sectional finals, two state finals and a Shore Conference Tournament finals -- and has scored at least once in all but one of them, giving him six goals in the six title games.
On top of his clutch performance on the pitch, Thygeson also scored a goal in CBA Hockey's state-championship victory over Delbarton to cap the 2021-22 season.
"I have said it time and time again: Will is a winner," CBA coach Tom Mulligan said. "The bigger the moment, the bigger Will Thygeson plays. He is a winner, he is going to be so, so missed by this program, but the impression he has left will be everlasting."
Thygeson's latest championship score is likely to go down as his most memorable. After his team had owned the possession advantage against Seton Hall Prep throughout most of the game, Thygeson and the Colts were still searching for that first goal as the clock ticked inside of five minutes to play in regulation.
"The first half, we were fighting to get some opportunities and we just weren't getting on the end of them," Thygeson said. "They have some guys who can, on any given play, score, so it was important to get a goal as soon as possible."
In the 77th minute, the opportunity finally fell in CBA's lap. Junior Dimitry Corba pounced on an attempted clearance from the Seton Hall Prep defense and redirected it back toward the Pirates end on one touch.
Thygeson made a diagonal run and turned upfield to run down Corba's long pass. With Seton Hall defender Alex Oladapo on his hip, he drew out goalkeeper Aidan Donovan and slipped a left-footed shot to the far corner of the goal with 3:26 showing on the game clock.
"I had been up against Alex all game," Thygeson said. "He's a helluva defender. I went up against him last year two and he is a great athlete, great defender. I found myself on the right side of the field a little bit and I made the diagonal run back to the left. It was an excellent ball through and then it was just a one-on-one race to the ball and luckily, I came out on top and was able to tuck it away.
"It was kind of a surreal moment. It was an amazing feeling. I have never felt anything like it."
With his goal on Saturday, Thygeson made it two straight games in which he has scored the lone goal in a 1-0 CBA win to claim a championship. The senior forward broke the ice with a 68th-minute goal Wednesday in CBA's 1-0 win over St. Peter's Prep to win the South Jersey Non-Public A section.
While Thygeson has remained a constant for CBA in title games, CBA's defensive group remained a constant for the Colts throughout the state tournament. The unit had a solid-but-not-spectacular performance during the Shore Conference Tournament, in which the Colts allowed four goals in four games en route to a second straight conference championship.
"We won the Shore Conference, but everyone on the back line knew we didn't play our best," senior Charlie Paparella said. "Going into states, we are not letting anyone score."
"We knew that if we put a zero up on the board as a defense, we were going to win the game," junior Max Koczan said. "That's all our attackers said: 'If you guys keep them to zero, we're going to win.' And they were right."
During the Non-Public A run, however, the CBA defense was impenetrable. Junior goalkeeper Miles Gallagher and his back four of senior Joe Lucignano and juniors Koczan, Christian DeOliveiro and Lawrence Mancino produced four straight clean sheets to close out the season, giving them a total of 14 for all of 2022.
"Our back line, plus Miles Gallagher and Charlie Paparella at the six -- all year, there was a lot of talk about our attacking three, but the MVP's of the team were on our defensive end," Thygeson said. "We shut out a Seton Hall Prep team that has a bunch of firepower and our defense doesn't get talked about enough. I think it's one of the best defenses to ever come through CBA and I think the stats attest to that and I think anybody watching these games can see we have some real talent back there."
The final shutout was the group's masterpiece, as CBA limited Seton Hall Prep to two dangerous chances, which came off the powerful foot of junior striker and leading scorer Eddie Krupski. The first of those shots hit the right post thanks to a slight parry by Gallagher in the third minute -- the first of three saves by Gallagher to earn his clean sheet.
"We knew that on any set piece, they were trying to look for (Krupski)," Koczan said. "He is a big boy and it's really hard to get around him, so we just put one in front and one behind and we kind of locked him up in that sense. Any chance he was going to get, he was going to have to shoot the ball from outside the 18 and you saw that."
"Remarkable group in the back," Mulligan said. "I told them they haven't received their due credit yet, but it's coming."
CBA was also airtight on Seton Hall Prep's set pieces and corner kicks, shutting down a Pirates squad that totaled 11 goals in the two games prior to facing the Colts.
Last year, Seton Hall Prep capped a dominant defensive season by shutting out CBA, 2-0, in the state final and finishing the season with five goals allowed in 21 games. This year's CBA team was almost as dominant, finishing with seven goals allowed in 20 games.
"It started last year after the game against Seton Hall Prep," Lucignano said. "All of us got together and we talked about what we thought we could do coming into the season. We're really good friends, so the chemistry really clicked. We let up seven goals all season, so it really paid off."
Not only was the performance in the back dominant -- it was also unexpected. Mancino was the only returning starter on the back line, with Paparella moving to the defensive center midfield spot after playing outside back a year ago. On top of the new faces on the defense, a knee injury knocked returning starting goalkeeper Joe Grossman out for the season, fording Gallagher into the lineup.
"Losing guys like Declan Kelly and Jack McGagh to graduation and watching Joe Grossman go out at the beginning of the season, there was a little nervous energy going into the season with our defense," Thygeson said. "But I have played with those guys back there and I knew that they would come together and figure it out. I had complete fair in them and they surpassed even my wildest expectations."
While the championship ending to the season was the first one for this group of CBA players and the first for the program since 2018, the script was a familiar one to Mulligan. The Colts have now won three state championships since Mulligan took over as the program's head coach and each time, CBA lost in the finals the previous season and did all of its scoring in the championship game in the 72nd minute or later.
"These championships never get old," Mulligan said. "They are always exciting, they are always fun and I guess that's one of the things that keeps me coming back. I look forward to putting in the work starting in June and ending, for us recently, on a weekend mid-to-late November. The work is worth it, is all I can say."
While he was not on the team in 2018, Thygeson was in attendance at Kean University when CBA shocked Delbarton with a golden goal in the final two minutes of the second overtime -- his introduction to CBA's resilience and flair for the dramatic in a championship setting.
"I think (our tradition) is a real advantage for us, because our coaching staff has experience in big moments," Thygeson said. "I can remember being in eighth grade and watching Luke Pascarella hit an overtime winner in 2018 and hoping one day that I would be in those shoes and have a chance like that, and that all comes from our coaching staff."