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In a year that has featured so much turnover in the bottom seven spots of the Shore Sports Network Top 10, one might think there would be some surprise participants in Saturday’s Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals. Instead, the teams that were expected to be there, for the most part, are there.

That means that, for a change, the Top 10 looks relatively similar to the last time we saw it. Lacey took a while to officially break in but the Lions are finally in the field along with nine other squads that have been there for most of the season.

Strangely enough, the only potential chaos left would be for any of the top three teams to lose after those three – CBA, Freehold Township and Toms River North – entered the tournament looking like safe bets to pass into the final four. For now, though, the Top 10 is actually fairly straightforward.

1. Christian Brothers Academy (14-1, 7-0) Last Week: 1

CBA has remained dominant in its protection of the No. 1 and pursuit of a Shore Conference title. The Colts handled Colts Neck in an SCT tune-up game on Saturday, then disposed of Pinelands, 5-0, thanks to a four-goal second half. While CBA has looked somewhat vulnerable at times during its 14-1 season, the Colts are still the clear favorite to win the conference tournament and appear to be getting even better with each game.

2. Toms River North (10-1-1, 7-0) Last Week: 2

While the Shore Conference Tournament seeding committee opted to give Freehold Township the No. 2 seed – understandable considering Freehold Township’s strength of schedule – Toms River North remains No. 2 in the SSN rankings because the Mariners began the season there and have not done anything to lose that spot. In its first tournament game, Toms River North sent a message to the rest of the field by picking apart Shore, 7-1, after the Blue Devils came in on a seven-game unbeaten streak.

3. Freehold Township (11-2-1, 5-2) Last Week: 3

Drawing Howell as their first opponent in the SCT was a tough task for the Patriots and getting past that challenge should have Freehold Township feeling even better about its postseason prospects. A difficult road to the SCT championship game continues Saturday against Holmdel, with a potential rematch against either Toms River North or Long Branch on the other side of a successful result.

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

Manalapan has not won a match straight up since Oct. 1, but the Braves nevertheless built up a resume worthy of the No. 4 seed and defended their home turf by getting past Ocean on penalties in Wednesday’s round of 16. There has been a lot of volatility between Nos. 4 through 10 in the rankings and that part of the top 10 remains unstable, but kudos to Manalapan for defending its No. 4 spot for another week while moving a game closer to a return to the SCT semifinals.

5. Marlboro (7-5-1, 4-3) Last Week: 10

A loss to Toms River East bounced Marlboro to the brink of dropping out of the rankings, but the Mustangs have rebounded nicely with a win over Rumson-Fair Haven and a penalty-shootout win over Monmouth on Wednesday. Standing between Marlboro and a trip back to the SCT semifinals is Manalapan, which upended the Mustangs, 1-0, in a regular-season battle between the two rivals.

6. Long Branch (11-5-1, 3-4) Last Week: 5

All of Long Branch’s losses are to Class A North teams, with the exception of a loss to Elizabeth, so the Green Wave continue to beat the teams on their schedule that are the most beatable. Long Branch is 0-4 against teams ranked ahead of it and will play the other one of those teams on Saturday. Toms River North will be a handful for Long Branch, but the Green Wave have played every opponent tough and should make it a difficult game for Toms River North as well.

7. Wall (9-3-2, 4-1-2) Last Week: 8

The regular season came with some ups and downs but it looks, for the moment, that the postseason is bringing out the best in Wall. The Crimson Knights had a break from game action between a loss to Freehold Township and the SCT opener and have played like a refreshed team in two tournament games. They beat a upstart Central squad, 4-1, then handled eighth-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven, 3-0, on the road after losing to those same Bulldogs, 5-1, on the same field during the regular season.

8. Rumson-Fair Haven (8-4-2, 5-0-1) Last Week: 6

Although they lost to Wall Wednesday, Rumson still has an outright Class A Central title to its credit and will be set up nicely for the NJSIAA Group II Tournament now that Luke Pentikis is back in the fold following an injury-related absence.

9. Holmdel (9-4, 4-2) Last Week: 7

Holmdel is proof that going through a rough patch right before the tournaments begin is not necessarily a problem. The Hornets lost two out of three heading into the SCT, then won two games to get into the SCT quarterfinals – including an overtime win over a previously-unbeaten Lacey squad. Holmdel will take on the challenge of Freehold Township on the road as the Hornets look to get back to the SCT semifinals for the third time in the last four tournaments.

10. Lacey (13-1-1, 7-0) Last Week: Not ranked

Lacey kept winning and winning but did not officially crack the SSN Top 10, although the final Shore Conference Tournament projections on SSN posted the Lions at No. 5. Strangely enough, Lacey officially enters the rankings the day after losing its first game of the season. The Lions showed their heart by tying Holmdel in the final seconds, but gave up the golden goal to end the unbeaten streak.


Dropped Out

Toms River East (8-5-1, 5-2) Last Week: 9 – A first-round exit at the hands of St. Rose drags Toms River East out of the rankings. The Raiders will try to work their way back in with a strong showing in the Group III Playoffs.


Top 10 Watchlist

Howell (8-6, 2-5) – The Rebels have a strong Top 10 case, having only lost to Class A North teams ranked in the top six. There are some roadblocks, but Howell can still find its way in before the end of the year.

Monmouth (9-4-4, 4-2) – The Falcons suddenly find themselves draw-prone, with three ties in their last four games. Two of those went to a shootout and while the latest was a loss to Marlboro, Monmouth is prepared for anything in the Group II Tournament.

Ocean (10-4-2, 3-3) – Ocean has firepower and has shored up its defense with each passing week, making the Spartans a dangerous team in the Group III Playoffs coming off the shootout defeat at Manalapan.

Shore (9-4-2, 2-3-1) – Shore’s seven-game unbeaten streak came to a screeching halt against a dominant Toms River North side, but the Blue Devils gained some valuable experience heading into the Group I Tournament.


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