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Matawan to rely on experience, depth for better soccer season

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By Wayne Witkowski

When Matawan Regional High School’s boys soccer team was eliminated last November in its NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group II opener to Bernards High School, 2-1, on the last shot of the first round of penalty kicks, it was a microcosm of the season.

Matawan ended up 6-8-5, with five losses coming by a goal and another two by two goals. Blame it on a young lineup with only three seniors and blame it on injuries — particularly one that sidelined graduated senior Brandon Dhume for half the season, although he still led the team in scoring, highlighting the team’s struggling offense. Matawan scored 24 goals, but 10 of them came in the first three games of the season. It was shut out five times, although two of them were scoreless ties with Manasquan High School and Holmdel High School.

In the Shore Conference A Central Division, the Huskies went 1-6-3, but four losses came by a goal and two of those losses were to St. John Vianney High School.

With goalie Colin Thompson and defender Amil Muminovic as the other graduates, the Huskies enter summer workouts with well-founded optimism led by captains Jacob Labinger, Keleb Mehari and Tyler Chin, who will all be seniors in the fall. The season opens Sept. 8 at Shore Regional High School.

Matawan’s next game Sept. 13 is its home opener against Holmdel.

“I expect good things this year,” said Tyler Isaacson, who is entering his second season as varsity coach. “It’s an older class. We should be able to compete if we stay healthy and depending on how the ball bounces at times.

“There is a lot of depth, which is absolutely a key, and players are really interchangeable [by position] and can play different styles. It will be different from last year — not one goal scorer but goals coming from a lot of different players. It will be their preparation that will make a difference.”

Isaacson utilizes 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 formations.

Versatility shows in the captains, where Mehari and Labinger will shift from midfield to defender at different times. Chin is a defender.

They are among eight returning players — seven of them seniors — who started most of last season, and a number of juniors carry ample game experience for the Huskies, who play Sunday nights in a 10-game high school summer league in Tinton Falls with teams that include Christian Brothers Academy, St. John Vianney, Manasquan, Red Bank Regional High School, Long Branch High School and Sayreville War Memorial High School. They’ll play in the Toms River Tournament with two games scheduled for each day Aug. 14 and 15 as a prelude to the official start of practice.

There will be scrimmages against Marlboro High School, Brick Township High School, Manalapan High School and Middetown High School North.

For the rising seniors, Charlie Costello will play where needed at midfield and forward, while John Vail at forward was the No. 2 scorer last season and will be called upon to score more goals. Tyler Walling is back in the midfield, and Anthony Quatrocchi and Liam Nappi return as starting defenders.

Senior Ethan Goldenthal and junior Chris Malozzi are the goalkeepers practicing for the starting spot.

Griffin Hayward, a junior in the fall, started in the midfield, and fellow junior Matt Weisburg played meaningful minutes — as did Bob Johns at forward. Ryan Cavanagh, a sophomore, also is expected to contribute in the midfield.

“A number of players also played sports in the spring and stayed in good shape,” Isaacson said.

Although only two freshmen from last season move up to the varsity team, there are 18 incoming freshmen — many with impressive skills coming off the Aberdeen/Matawan Club travel program that Isaacson also heads — that could earn a roster spot, including goalkeeper Mike Malozzi.

“They will be huge contributors next year,” Isaacson said.

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