WALL AND TOMS RIVER NORTH EARN SECTIONAL TITLES IN BOYS SOCCER
By Eric Braun
This boys soccer season was enjoyable if anything else. What started out with 46 Shore Conference teams vying for their right to hoist championship hardware during mini-camps, preseason workouts and preseason scrimmages, came to an end on Sunday, Nov. 17. Of the 46 teams, 35 qualified for the NJSIAA tournament with a .500 record or better and ended with just two teams laying claim to their respective Sectional Group titles.
SOUTH JERSEY SECTIONAL GROUP IV CHAMPION TOMS RIVER NORTH
Toms River North became this season’s Cinderella story working its way from barely making the tournament with a record of 6-6-1, earning the 16th seed and running the table to its first NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV Sectional Group title since 2009.
The Mariners opened their season with an impressive win over Freehold Township (5-4) and followed it up with a win over Point Pleasant Boro before losing to Marlboro (4-0). They closed out September with a record of 4-4-1. They then started October the same way they did in September with two wins, beating Jackson Liberty (3-0) and Donovan Catholic (2-0) before losing to Manasquan in the opening round of the Shore Conference Tournament (3-0) and then Toms River East (1-0), to bring their record to 6-6-1 – right at the state cutoff mark for 13 games.
From that point on, Toms River North would make their mark on the soccer world and show that it does not matter how you start, but how you finish. The Mariners would go on an improbable run through the tournament as the 16th seed that started by knocking off top-seeded Clearview (2-0) behind two goals from Parker Nickelsen, with Dawson Kaniuk earning the shutout with three saves. Next up was a clash with third-seeded Cherry Hill East, and once again the Mariners earned a 2-0 shutout behind goals from Nickelsen and Jake Bauerband, with Kaniuk recording his sixth shutout of the season.
Toms River North’s next two games were one-goal contests, starting with fourth-seeded Jackson Memorial in the semifinal. The Mariners used some late-game heroics from Nickelsen and Ali Baish, who connected with just under two minutes left in regulation to give the Mariners a 2-1 victory over the Jaguars. Against second-seeded Egg Harbor in the championship game, the Mariners came from behind and earned the 2-1 overtime victory off the right foot of Nickelsen, who beat the keeper far post for the win, to capture their first title since 2009.
Toms River North would come up short in the NJSIAA Group IV semifinal game against Hunterdon Central, 2-1, but the Mariners will be a force to reckon with next season after the run and experience they got this season.
CENTRAL JERSEY SECTIONAL GROUP III CHAMPION WALL TOWNSHIP
Wall Township finally got the monkey off their backs winning the Central Jersey Sectional Group III championship game over last year’s winner and B North foe Ocean Township for their first title since 2004.
The Knights’ defense has been a staple for the program all season long and no stat is more eye-popping than their 17 shutouts during their championship run. Wall opened September with seven shutouts that included wins over Freehold Boro (2-0), St. Rose (2-0), Red Bank Regional (4-0), Middletown North (1-0), Manasquan (1-0), Neptune (1-0) and Shore Regional (5-0). During this stretch they lost to Matawan (3-1) and Marlboro (1-0).
When the calendar changed to October, the Knights wrapped up the top seed in the NJSIAA tournament with a record of 11-2 record in their 13 games that counted toward seeding. This included three more shutouts – 7-0 over Saint John Vianney, 3-0 over Colts Neck and 2-0 over Ocean Township.
They opened Shore Conference Tournament play with a 4-0 win over Point Pleasant Beach and a 3-2 win over Monmouth Regional. They were knocked out of the SCT in the quarterfinals against eventual champion Freehold Township, 2-1, and then closed out their regular season with a 3-1 loss to Christian Brothers Academy.
Wall rallied and made the most of their top seed and reeled off six more shutouts to finish their season with a record of 17-4-2. Against Pennsauken, the Knights jumped out to a 3-0 half time lead and added three more in second half to secure the 6-0 opening-round win with goals from senior Tagg Ancrum (2), senior Matt Penkethman, junior Jake Pepe, senior Michael Beer and sophomore Kyle Horowitz, while junior Sebastian Campanile recorded four saves for the shutout.
Wall would face a familiar foe in Freehold Boro in the quarterfinals and beat the Colonials, 2-0, for the second time this season. Scoring for Wall were Ancrum and Pepe with Campanile recording seven saves.
In one of their toughest games of the season, Wall needed double overtime and penalty kicks to get past Allentown in the semifinal. Wall advanced to the final, winning penalty kicks, 4-3, and was back in the final for the first time since 2013, when they lost to Allentown.
In this year’s final they had to face B North power and last season’s Sectional and Group champion, Ocean Township. The two teams played in early October with the Knights coming out on top and more importantly got a first-hand look at what the Spartans had in store for them. The two teams battled through a scoreless first half before Wall’s Thomas Perry scored the goal of his high school career – the lone goal of the game – and the Knights program was back on top.
In the NJSIAA Group III semifinal, Wall topped Triton, 1-0, on a goal from junior Nico DellaPietro in overtime, and the Knights were headed to the Group III final against Millburn. After a scoreless regulation and overtime, both teams would lay their championship lives on the penalty kick mark. The Knights’ season came to an end in defeat, losing in penalty kicks, 3-2.
The Knights’ season is one to remember in program history, as the team closed out the season ranked #48 in New Jersey with a record of 17-4-2.