Manley's Blog

Bad Day for Defending Champs

Posted in Uncategorized by mattmanley on September 16, 2010

If the players on Toms River South and Marlboro somehow forgot that this is indeed a new season, they were reminded with a dose of reality on Wednesday. Jackson Memorial, one of the popular sleepers of the preseason, knocked off the defending Group IV champion and No. 1 ranked Indians 3-2 behind a late goal by Connor Saker, while defending SCT champion Marlboro was blitzed by a very impressive-looking Howell team.

We’ll start in Jackson, where the Jaguars flexed their muscles on their home field behind Saker, who scored his second and third goals of the season, both of which were go-ahead scores. I don’t want to sound like I’m raining on Jackson’s parade here, because this is a big win in the Jaguars quest to climb the A South mountain for second time in four years, but this Toms River South squad was a vulnerable one considering their preseason ranking. I’ve done four preseason rankings now and I thought Manalapan in 2007, Howell in 2008 and CBA last year were all stronger teams heading into the season. I just didn’t think it was realistic to expect Toms River South to go any better than 9-3 or 10-2 in A South, and with the noted struggles the Indians have endured on grass surfaces the past few years, this game was a dangerous one for TR South. This was a great win for Jackson, just not a surprising one.

If you think I’m slighting South by calling them the least of the last four preseason No. 1’s, consider this: I thought Manalapan was the second weakest of the group and they won a sectional title and tied Clifton in the Group IV championship game. Howell had a relatively disappointing season, while CBA was always the bridesmaid and never the bride, finishing runner up in A North, the SCT and in Non-Public A. The Indians have a ton of experience and still have as good of a chance as anyone to win the SCT, but they do have some soft spots that showed up a little bit on Wednesday. No need to worry because as I said, there were bound to be some bumps in the road for South, just as there were at the beginning of last year. One of last year’s bumps? You guessed it: a 2-1 loss at Jackson Memorial.

I tried to catch the end of this game, but the traffic from Marlboro down to Jackson was enough to make me miss the final minutes. I was hoping for overtime, but Saker and the Jags had other ideas. I don’t mind because the second meeting will be under the lights at TR South and I’ll be there for that one. While I missed what turned out to be the game of the day, Howell made sure that the high-profile match-up of Wednesday’s schedule was nothing more than a statement. The Rebels dominated the second half of the game en route to a 4-1 win over Marlboro and while the Howell coaching staff was quick to point out that they are a long way off from where they want to be, the Rebels made up for some deficiencies in their possession game and containment of Marlboro’s possession with speed and a good finisher up top in Ozcan Onder.

While Howell wasn’t great in terms of putting passes together, I thought their defense went from average in the first half to superb in the second to hold Marlboro with a shot (yes, shot; not shot on goal) for an entire half is impressive and that’s what the Rebels were able to do Wednesday. I’d say they kept the grass-stains off of keeper Luke Weber’s jersey, but he was wearing green anyway.

Based on his speed and production from last year, Ozzie Onder is arguably the most dynamic scorer in A North this year and he has certainly made his case through two games. He has four goals and he is one of those players that gets the crowd buzzing when he gets the ball at his feet. He doesn’t wow you with his ball-skills, but he can take on defenders and with his speed, once he’s even, he’s leavin’.

John Hlava took an absolute rip toward the upper 90 with his team already up 4-1, but Marlboro keeper Wojciech Kochan saved it. Hlava also scored a goal in Howell’s win over Middletown South and he was all over the field, making runs on the attack and pressuring Marlboro’s backs.

Speaking of Marlboro’s backs, they had a rough day on Wednesday. If you go back to last year, Marlboro had plenty of games where they didn’t play particularly well, but they had an experienced defense and an All-Shore goalie to help keep them in games. As I wrote in the preseason, I think the Mustangs will be fine when it come to scoring goals, but the struggles will be keeping the ball out of the net and that was pretty apparent on Wednesday.

– In other action, Toms River North bounced back with a win on the road against a very good Southern team. Ethan Decker scored to even the score at 1 and at this point, it could have gone either way and the Mariners pulled it together and got a goal from Tanner Sica to take control. Chris Ackerman had two goals and is a feel-good story as a senior junior who won a starting job this preseason after not seeing varsity time last year. Ackerman has played well so far and his hard work paid off with two scores in a win on Wednesday.

– Kudos to Brick Memorial for battling Toms River East tooth and nail for 80 minutes. Unfortunately, the first half was the full 40 minutes instead of 39:58, because Buddy Gibbons’ game-winner came in the final two seconds before the half. The Mustangs have an uphill climb in A South this year and did not appear ready for that haul in a 4-0 loss to TR South on Monday, but Wednesday’s effort showed they have some fight in them.

– Both Middletown’s take 4-0 losses, North to Freehold Township and South to CBA, which makes Friday’s battle for Middletown a virtual must win for each. North has a little more leeway because it beat Manalapan on Monday, but South has played what appear to be the two best teams in Howell and CBA and would be in decent shape if it can knockout the rivals to the North.

– Not much to talk about in B South other than the fact that Lacey and Central still appear to be on a crash course to decide the division. To be honest, I thought Central was a lock at the beginning of the season, but with the way Lacey played Wall tough on Friday and how they’ve dismantled two straight B South opponents, it’s definitely not a sure bet either way. Mark the date on your calender: September 22nd at Lacey.

– Unfortunately for me, Point Boro and Wall will play on the same day and same time as the Lacey-Central showdown, and like the B South battle, this should be a closer battle than I originally thought. Wall continued to roll with a 4-1 win over Lakewood, but the more I consider Boro’s collection of talent, the more I think they can outlast Wall. It’s hard to ask for anything more than what Wall has done through four games, but Point Boro has done just as much. We’ll see what they’re made of on Saturday against Toms River South…and Monday against Toms River East…and Wednesday against Wall. That’s right: three top 10 teams in a span of five days. Nothing’s make-or-break at this point in the season, but either we’ll be talking an awful lot about Point Boro at the end of next week or we’ll forget about them for a few weeks.

– Manasquan is going to play a lot of games like the one it played Wednesday against Point Boro: 1-0 dogfights. I don’t think they match-up player-for-player with Point Boro or Wall, but I’d be very surprised if they didn’t win at least one of the four games against those two. In other Manasquan news, senior Sean Kennedy is the early volunteer to pick up the scoring void left by Ben Drake and Jeff Algor, with two of the team’s thee goals through the first three games. The other goal, by the way, was an own goal.

– Jackson Liberty really is getting close. Monsignor Donovan never trailed in a 2-1 win over the Lions, but Liberty got a big goal from freshman Anthony Mandola and sophomore Brandon Benecke saved 13 shots in net to keep the score close. The talent has taken time to develop and even iff the wins don’t start flowing this year, the talent is still coming. Within a couple of years, Liberty can make some noise in this division, although Point Boro is set up really well for the next few years and Wall remains a factory.

Tomorrow is another heavy A Central day, with B North still looking like a race for second and Shore and St. Rose still ahead of the game in B Central. With that said, Shore already got a score from Asbury Park and with a lot more experience than it had last year, Point Beach could be a lot for Shore to handle, although the Blue Devils should be a little better on their home field.

I will probably stop over at Vianney-Red Bank for an unofficial viewing (no story, maybe some video) followed by a trip to Raritan to see Holmdel take on the Rockets. This game loses a little juice with RBR taking it to Raritan on Tuesday, but it will still be a battle. It will also be the debut of Dan Metzger, who has missed Holmdel’s first two games due to club commitments.

Freehold Township-Manalapan and Howell-Manasquan are two more games to keep and eye on. It’s easy to write off the Braves and Warriors, but Manalapan has played Township tough and Manasquan is going to be tough to score on when they get going.

In B North, Red Bank Catholic tries to snap out of its early-season funk against a solid Ocean team coming off a tough loss to Freehold, while those Colonials will try to make it two in a row when they take on Monmouth, which is looking for their first division win beating Shore 2-1 out of division on Monday. Neptune meanwhile, will likely be just another victim of Colts Neck, which looks poised to blow through B North before getting to a much tougher schedule in the postseason. I’m starting to think this schedule might hurt them down the road, but I’m still betting on a real challenger emerging among the Long Branch, Ocean and Freehold grouping. Colts Neck is next in line for the No. 1 spot in the Shore and with no obvious challengers in its own division, it may take an unreal season from Howell or CBA in A North to knock them off the perch.


3 Responses

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  1. catherine ackerman said, on September 16, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Chris Ackerman TRN is a junior this year, not a senior.

  2. Laura said, on September 16, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    You need to work on your run on sentences and punctuation use.

    • mattmanley said, on September 16, 2010 at 11:12 pm

      Have you read a sports blog? They’re all verbal diarrhea. But if it’s one and two-fragment sentences the people want, one and two-fragment sentences people shall have. I appreciate the high standards, Laura.

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