The way Stepan Kapranov scored at will as Holmdel’s striker during his sophomore season set the bar too high for most players to clear in their follow-up campaign. He posted 18 goals and six assists and was the only sophomore on the 2022 Shore Sports Network All-Shore First Team.

Not only did Kapranov coast past his 2022 statistical output during his junior season in 2023; he did it while playing a new position and, more importantly, leading Holmdel to more postseason hardware in a junior season that earned him the distinction as the 2023 Shore Sports Network Player of the Year.

Kapranov’s 21 goals and 12 assists this season tied him for second in the Shore Conference in total scoring, while his 21 goals were tied for third behind only Joey Kurak of Manchester (28) and Kyle Moore of Colts Neck (22). All that scoring came along with a change in position, with Kapranov shifting from forward to attacking center midfield to account for Holmdel’s roster turnover between 2022 and 2023.

Holmdel junior Stephan Kapranov defended by Howell junior Tye Maser. (Photo: Tom Smith |
Holmdel junior Stephan Kapranov defended by Howell junior Tye Maser. (Photo: Tom Smith |

Last season, Holmdel won its first NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship in four years thanks to a balanced starting XI that fed Kapranov up top. His sophomore season was his first as a high-school player, as Kapranov passed on playing as a freshman to honor his academy commitment.

From the time he stepped on a high school pitch, Kapranov has made Holmdel an explosive offensive team in a way the Hornets had been since the graduation of its last SSN Player of the Year, Anthony Arena, in 2018. Holmdel has been loaded with midfield, back-line and goalkeeper talent in the years since Arena’s graduation – as well as during his decorated career – and has even boasted high-scoring forwards. None of those players since Arena, however, has blended the talent, creativity and production like Kapranov has in the years since.

This season, however, Holmdel had options to play up top and, for the first time in a long time, questions in the back. The midfield brought back All-Shore senior David Weiner and two experienced players in Jaime Palmer and Kieran Hynes, but the group was expecting to tack a more defensive tact than in years past in order to take pressure off a back line that returned just one starter.

That is where Kapranov’s prowess came into play. A natural creator, Kapranov got the ball at his feet more often as a midfielder and made things happen for a Holmdel attack that scored 63 goals in 20 games – the second-best scoring pace in the conference behind only Colts Neck.

Considering his gaudy stats, Kapranov was relatively quiet when it came to scoring during Shore Conference Class A Central divisional competition. He started fast with four goals in the first two games, including a hat trick against Raritan. He finished with four goals and one assist in regular-season, divisional play.

Holmdel was surprisingly boxed out of the knockout round of the revamped Shore Conference Tournament, but Kapranov was the Hornets’ top performer in the group stage. Three days after his hat trick vs. Raritan, Kapranov scored a career-high five goals in a win over Manchester, which featured a head-to-head matchup with Kurak, the Shore’s leading scorer. A 2-1 loss to Central Regional knocked Holmdel out of the tournament, but Kapranov did his part in the game by scoring a goal to give Holmdel hope late in the match. Kapranov missed Holmdel’s other group-play match – a 0-0 draw vs. No. 2 ranked Howell – due to illness.

With the Shore Conference Tournament title out of reach, Holmdel turned its attention to the Shore Conference Coaches Cup and used the tournament to find itself. Kapranov scored in all four of Holmdel’s Coaches Cup matches, finishing the tournament with five goals and five assists. He had a hand in all four goals (one goal, three assists) in a 4-3 win over Lakewood in the quarterfinals, scored an equalizer in a 2-1 win over Manchester in the semifinals, and struck for an overhead volley in a 2-0 victory over Rumson-Fair Haven in the tournament final.

All of Hornets’ trials throughout the season led up to their sectional title defense to close out the year and just as he did during the Coaches Cup, Kapranov showed out. He started off with a goal and an assist in an opening-round rout of East Brunswick Magnet and contributed an assist in a 2-0 win over Wall in the sectional quarterfinals.

In the sectional final vs. Manasquan, Holmdel was tied with the Warriors into the 73rd minute, when Kapranov made a championship-clinching play. He won the ball close to midfield, beat a host of defenders on the right side, created space and served a perfect cross to teammate Frankie Brusco for a near-post, one-timed finish. The goal stood up and Holmdel won its second straight Central Group II title – its ninth sectional title in the last 18 seasons.

Holmdel’s season ended with a 4-2 loss to Delran in the Group II semifinals, but Kapranov put on another show in bowing out. He buried an upper-90 volley to open the scoring in the first half and later slammed in a pinpoint direct kick to cut Delran’s lead to 4-2.

Should he decide to play one more year of high-school soccer next season, Kapranov will return as the only two-time First Team All-Shore selection in the Shore Conference while trying to lead what will be an otherwise inexperienced Holmdel team to a third consecutive sectional championship. With 39 goals and 16 assists to his credit over the past two seasons, Kapranov is well within range of 50 goals and 150 career points and is drawing Division I interest, according to Holmdel coach Matt Isaacson.

More than that, though, he is responsible for serving as the top offensive player on back-to-back sectional championship teams for a program that has set a standard of competing for championships year-in and year-out. As Holmdel’s third ever Shore Conference Player of the Year, Kapranov has done his part to add to the Hornets’ soccer lore.

Matt Manley's Player of the Year Ballot (Top Five)

1. Stepan Kapranov, Holmdel

2. Lawrence Mancino, CBA

3. Nick Turturro, Howell

4. Christian DeOliveira, CBA

5. Joey Kurak, Manchester

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