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Whenever it's time to rank the top teams in the Shore Conference at the beginning of the season, it usually happens with the assumption that the season will help sort out what the final Top 10 looks like.

With a limited 2020 schedule, however, that does not include a Shore Conference Tournament, it is possible that many of the top teams only play games within their division, which will make the last top 10 of 2020 more speculative than usual.

The first one, however, is always speculative and it helps that some quality teams from 2019 have some impact talent back - including the reigning No. 1 team at the Shore.

Photo by Matt Manley

1. Freehold Township (14-6-1) Final 2019 Rank: 1

A season that includes a division championship in Class A North – the Toughest Division in the Shore Conference ™ - and a second Shore Conference Tournament championship in six years is a rousing success in every way, but Freehold Township’s players walked off the field for the last time in 2019 in heartbreaking fashion in the first round of the state tournament. That bitter taste drove the Patriots and their seven returning starters throughout the offseason, during quarantine and into the return to the field. Now that a season is imminent, Freehold Township has the personnel – reigning SSN Player of the Year Zach Orrico, Adam Havens, Josh Leonetti, John Wilhelm and Joe Lardaro chief among them – to again finish the year as the top team at the Shore, even if the route to get there in this altered season looks much different.

2. Southern (12-3-3) Final 2019 Rank: Not ranked

No team loses as much as Southern does as a result of the condensed season. Coming out of last year and with 10 starters set to return, the Rams were eyeing realistic opportunities to win the Class A South championship, the Shore Conference Tournament and a South Jersey Group IV title, which would mark an unprecedented season for a program that was routinely in the bottom half of the Class A South standings for most of the last quarter-century. While the loss of official division and conference championships is a buzzkill, Southern still gets a chance to prove itself against a strong A South field and against what currently stands as a loaded NJSIAA Tournament section.

3. Toms River North (12-8-1) Final 2019 Rank: 9

The Mariners made history last season by winning the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV championship as a No. 16 seed, taking down top-seeded Williamstown, Cherry Hill East, Jackson Memorial and Egg Harbor to win the title before losing a hard-fought game to Hunterdon Central. On top of any momentum it may get from the championship run, Toms River North brings back eight starters and a ton of depth to lean on heading into a difficult Class A South schedule and perhaps in an even-more-loaded NJSIAA bracket.

4. Christian Brothers Academy (13-4-3) Final 2019 Rank: 2

CBA’s season will start more than a week late because of multiple confirmed COVID-19 cases among its student body, which will, at the very least, delay its scheduled meetings with Long Branch. The result of that home-and-home between the Colts and the Green Wave could have propelled one of the teams higher in the rankings, but instead, CBA will have to wait until Oct. 10 to open its season against Middletown North, followed by two games vs. No. 1 Freehold Township in the ensuing week. The Colts already faced the challenge of replacing eight starters but it any program is equipped to replace that many starters, wait out a two-week hiatus and still hang around the top five, it is CBA.

5. Long Branch (11-8-2) Final 2019 Rank: 7

With CBA out of action for two weeks, Long Branch is scrambling to add an opponent for the opening three days of the season so it can show the Shore what it has in 2020 right out of the gate. The Green Wave got off to a slow start in 2019 but turned it on late, starting with a late run to finish tied for second place in Class A North and followed by a rampage through the Central Jersey Group IV playoffs, which ended in the sectional final vs. Hunterdon Central. Long Branch lost some goal-scoring, but will be stable in the midfield with Jason Laviola, in the back with Brian Completo and in goal with Tyler Abbot.

6. Colts Neck (11-4-2) Final 2019 Rank: 10

With very little returning in its starting lineup from a team that reached the Central Group III final in 2018, Colts Neck rallied to make another deep tournament run in 2019 – this time reaching the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals and falling, 1-0, in overtime to eventual champion Freehold Township. Unlike last season, Colts Neck brings back most of its lineup and will have at least one standout a every level of the formation: Steve Ciccarone in the back, Jake Gershon in the midfield and David Tuschmann up top.

7. Wall (17-4-2) Final 2019 Rank: 3

In any prior season in New Jersey, the 2019 Wall Boys Soccer Team would have won a share of the NJSIAA Group III championship game. The Crimson Knights did not concede a goal in six tournament games and only lost in the final game because the state changed the rules for the group final, allowing for penalty kicks to decide a champion instead of settling for co-champions in the event of 100 scoreless minutes. Wall’s defense was its rock in 2020 and for most teams, the graduation of those four players plus an injury to returning goalkeeper Sebastian Campanile would sink said team’s chances the following year. The Crimson Knights, however, routinely churn out quality back lines and will have plenty of returning goal-scoring to help offset the losses on the defensive side.

8. Jackson Memorial (15-3-2) Final 2019 Rank: 5

Like Wall, Jackson Memorial does not sweat losing defensive personnel and also like Wall, Jackson is losing a lot of it. The Jaguars leaned on a senior back line to win a third straight Class A South championship in 2019 and will have to patch together a new final line of defense in front of returning all-division goalkeeper Charlie Harrison. Fortunately for the Jaguars, they bring back leading scorer Drew Walenty, younger brother Evan and Steve Bado as scoring threats. Class A South is loaded with contenders but Jackson Memorial remains the champion until another team finishes ahead of the Jaguars.

9. Marlboro (14-5) Final 2019 Rank: 9

After finishing 2018 as the Shore’s most improved team by win total, Marlboro stormed out of the gate in 2019, making a case as the Shore’s best team, period. The Mustangs rumbled into the Shore Conference Tournament as the No. 2 seed and into the Central Jersey Group IV playoffs as No. 1, but fell in competitive games on their home field in both. Some key seniors from last year’s team are gone and replacing that production will be a test for the program, but the Mustangs did show they can plug different players in and still play good soccer during the 2019 run.

10. Monmouth (15-5-2) Final 2019 Rank: Not ranked

Although the Falcons graduated two top scorers, including All-Shore First-Teamer Mason Martelloni, they bring back a promising core of juniors that made major contributions as freshmen, plus a senior goalkeeper in and All-Shore candidate Dominick Santaniello. Monmouth will be part of what should be a spirited Class A Central race that includes three-time division champ Holmdel, Rumson-Fair Haven, Ocean and Raritan and any team that comes out on top among that group will deserve esteemed standing among the rest of the Shore.

 

On the radar

Holmdel (16-0-2) Final Rank: 4 – The cast from the dominant teams of 2017 and 2018 is all graduated and the core of this year’s team served as role players last year. Still, the Hornets have a good number of experienced varsity players from a team that finished 16-0-2 a year ago and is in the midst of a 54-game unbeaten streak.

Pinelands (8-6-1) – The Wildcats are approaching powerhouse status in Class B South and are just hoping for an opportunity of some kind to show they can play with anyone outside of it

Rumson-Fair Haven (9-6-3) – After a big jump in wins a year ago, Rumson returns enough talent to make a serious push to finish atop the A Central field.

Middletown North (7-11) – Fast starts have not been enough for the Lions in recent years, but a proven group of seniors should help this year’s squad sustain a high level throughout the year.

Ocean (10-10-1) – A surprise run to the Central Group III final has the Spartans feeling good about their young squad, which returns a top scorer in Aidan Tisony.

Manasquan (11-6-4) Final Rank: 6 – Losing Tommy Johnson changes the complexion of the team but not all is lost. Given some time, the Warriors could round into dangerous late-season team.

Toms River East (6-6-5) – Despite losing top scorer Dane Bodziak, Toms River East has most of its lineup back after performing well late in 2019.

Middletown South (9-5-4) – The Eagles lost a very strong senior class but bring back leading scorer Matt Glynn and some supporting players from 2019.

Toms River South (10-6-2) – The Indians made noise in last year’s SCT thanks to great goalkeeper play and even with the graduation of Jalen Folsom, they should be strong there – and elsewhere on the field – again in 2020.

Manchester (10-10) – A young Hawks team showed their chops by playing Pinelands and Colts Neck tough on the road with a lot on the line late in the 2019 season. With only a keeper to replace, Manchester should be even more improved this year.