Manley's Blog

Evolution of a Champion

Posted in Uncategorized by mattmanley on November 20, 2010

I was talking with goalkeeper Dan Marino after Holmdel’s 2-1 win over Chatham on Friday night, and he brought up a game that I kind of forgot about. He recalled saving 35 shots in a 0-0, penalty-kick loss to Nutley as a freshman in 2007, obviously a game that any goalie would remember. The funny thing is, as soon as Marino brought the game up, I remembered it. No, I wasn’t there, but I remember talking to coach John Nacarlo when he called the game in and his tone was both frustrated and extremely excited. He started five or six freshmen that year and while they certainly did not control the game against the No. 1 seed, they did come close to pulling one out.

He was especially complimentary of his keeper that day and while he knew he had a talented class of freshmen that year, I got the sense that it was that game and that performance that created the visions of a title at Holmdel. The Hornets had a loaded class when you think back: Sean Davis, Dan Metzger, Andrew Zheng, Rishi Desai, Matt Sawaged and Marino. Even without Davis, who may be the best of the bunch, Holmdel was the best team in Group III and maybe one of the best five teams in the state.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, and before this year, there wasn’t any smooth sailing. After such a promising first year, three of the six freshman starters elected not to play – Davis, Metzger and Desai. Holmdel was still a formidable team, but when Metzger and Desai came back in 2009, there was something off about the team. Not everyone was on the same page and the team couldn’t put more than a couple of wins together.

This year, the vision came to pass with Metzger playing on another level and a depth of the senior class adding to the mix with players like Tim Centineo, Alex Castiglia and Evan Teitelbaum having breakout seasons. In addition, Desai transformed himself into a sweeper and Matt Sawaged settled into his position on the outside and flourished. Those six transformations – along with the emergence of the underclassmen – helped turn Holmdel from a talented group of players into a really good team. Okay fine, a great team.

But two guys stand out to me because of their longevity : Marino and Zheng. Marino has been a four-year starter and individually speaking, he may have had his best year as a freshman. But at some point this year, the light seemed to click back on and he reemerged as a top keeper who could win a game for you. Then there’s Zheng, who has been both Mr. Consistent and Mr. Everything. Over the four years, Zheng has a better body of work than anybody on the team and he built that body of work by playing every position on the field, with the exception of goalkeeper. He played a strong game Friday in the center midfield, and quietly might have been the best player on the field from start to finish for Holmdel.

Then there was Metzger. Sean Davis has often drawn more attention for his skill over the last four years and he was the guy we all speculated about coming into the year. When Metzger decided to come back, it almost seemed like he was a consolation prize for Nacarlo after Davis decided not to play. As good as Davis is, it’s hard to imagine anyone playing a better half of soccer than Metzger did in Friday night’s second half. While Zheng’s solid 80 minutes was a representation of his steady four-year career, Metzger’s brilliant finish was just as apropos. Just he did in his first three years, Metzger showed flashes in the first half, but had little t show for it. Chatham threw a lot of attention his way and he have many chances to make anything happen. Then, with the chips in the middle of the table, Meztger came up aces, not just in scoring the two goals, but by winning every ball near him and beating defenders over and over. As far as I could tell, Metzger flipped his switch right after Chatham’s goal in the 36th minute. It was visible.

Coming into this year, I didn’t think Dan Metzger had a switch to flip. I saw Kyle Bethel as a junior and he had it. On the other side, Hunter Gorskie was a great player at Marlboro, but I don’t think he had the switch. He was just good all the time, and he wasn’t going to be any better just because the moment called for it. Going into the year, I thought Metzger was Gorskie – a natural defender who was asked to be a goal-scorer at the high school level. With all due respect to Gorskie, who was tremendous, Metzger exceeded that level and it’s because he was at this best in the biggest moments. Even in the loss to TR North, Metzger scored a minute after TRN took the lead to tie the game and was relentless in the final six minutes, although, he couldn’t put one in. Friday night, he put two in and they were the final two and biggest two of his unusual an ultimately spectacular varsity career.

Rise of the South

I don’t mean to sound like I’m telling anyone to do their job, but it may be time for the Ledger/NJ.com to trek south to find the top teams in the state. That, or at least assume they are the best. It’s become a fact of life that the North Jersey teams are, on the whole, ranked higher that their Southern counterparts in most cases and for what it’s worth, I totally drank that Kool-Aid this year. Maybe that fact of life should be filed away with other obsolete theories like the Earth being flat, Pluto being a planet and Greg Oden being a future hall-of-famer. The Southern part of the state is 4-0 through four games and although the two North Jersey teams are considered heavy favorites tomorrow, that clearly means nothing right now.

Holmdel and St. Rose were not surprising wins by any stretch and while St. Augustine’s win opened some eyes, they are a legit program that’s been ranked around the Top 10 all year. But Cherokee’s win is the real awakening. Not only because I unknowingly predicted it with last year’s Toms River South headline, but because that now means that Southern New Jersey has won at least a share of the last four championships, with West Orange winning the last outright title for the North in 2006. All year, we heard about how great teams like Clifton, West Orange, Montville, Ramapo, Cliffside Park, Chatham, Pingry and Seton Hall Prep were. Yet, here we are and Cliffside Park is the only Top 10 team in NJ.com’s Top 20 with a title. And when South Jersey has been ranked, it’s been head-scratching. Princeton 13 and Holmdel 20 heading into the week? I had every coach who saw both teams tell me Holmdel was three goals better. Trenton Catholic No. 20 last week? They would have been the No. 22 seed in the SCT. North Jersey has some great talent and rich tradition, but Since I’ve watched the state final, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that a state top 20 should be so heavy on North Jersey teams. Unless you’re trying to sell papers. I wouldn’t blame someone for ranking a team from Kansas if it sold a newspaper.

Again, to be fair, I was on board with North Jersey two. We’ve all been guilty of it for the last few years and if there was ever a time to rethink how we view the state, this is the year.

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4 Responses

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  1. Don said, on November 21, 2010 at 4:36 am

    Holmdel deserves the number 1 ranking in the shore after this win.

  2. Holmdel Soccer said, on November 21, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    they deserver number 1 ranking in the state

  3. Nick said, on November 22, 2010 at 6:45 am

    Holmdel definitely deserves the #1 rank in the shore over CBA without question. But #1 in the whole state is asking a little much. It would be interesting to see all the State Champs play each other though

  4. Holmdel Soccer said, on November 23, 2010 at 12:57 am

    ima smack u nick. holmdel is number 1 right matt?=]


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