By Wayne Witkowski
High school student-athletes, particularly graduating seniors, can be apprehensive about a coaching change.
However, all-state player and preseason All-American Matt Thorsheim and his dozen classmates on Christian Brothers Academy’s (CBA) soccer team entering their senior seasons feel only minor adjustments are needed by them in their quest for a state championship, which the school last won in 2011.
Tom Mulligan moves up to head coach from assistant coach, where he served for 23 years under Dan Keane, who retired after his 40th season last fall with a 558-161-44 career coaching record at CBA. The team ended a 19-4-1 season last fall in a 2-0 loss to nemesis Delbarton School in the NJSIAA Non-Public A finals.
“Coach Keane was a great coach and so is coach Mulligan. Either way, we’ll have a great season,” said Thorsheim, an attacking midfielder. “Coach Mulligan will be doing some new tactics. There won’t be much of a change and we’ve felt that from the start of the season.”
Mulligan, who played at CBA under Keane and completed his 25th year in the spring as a science teacher at the school with an emphasis on biology, agreed.
“Basically, any arrangement, any formation is nothing more than a bunch of numbers,” Mulligan said. “You line up 11 players. The other team lines up 11 players. [Schemes] are not that significant.”
But Mulligan plans on moving players around, as he feels versatility is a strength of this year’s team — along with its experience and depth.
Mulligan feels he gained a wealth of soccer knowledge from Keane.
“Dan Keane had a tremendous influence on me as a player and a coach,” said Mulligan, who went on to a college career after CBA at Drew University. “He’s considered a legend among CBA followers. One of his strongest attributes was to allow players to take ownership of the game and of the season. He’s had five state championships, nine Shore Conference titles (including a 2-0 victory over Ocean Township High School last fall). It’s very difficult to follow a legend, and I’m up for the challenge.”
Keane commended Mulligan’s selection as his successor.
“He’s excellent. I coached him in the early ’80s. He’s highly skilled and committed to soccer and waited his turn for a long time,” Keane said. “He’s a soccer man, certainly dedicated and his is a soccer family. The program is in good hands. I have the highest regards that this program will continue along fine, no doubt about it. I’m excited for them.”
Thorsheim, who scored 13 goals last season — second to rising senior Patrick Kollman’s 18 goals — and who had a runaway team-high 21 assists, is ready again to do his part. Thorsheim said he worked even harder on his fitness in the offseason than in the past. He is on the All-American watch list with rising senior midfielder Ryan O’Connor.
Thorsehim made a commitment over the summer to a college career at Bucknell University, where his brother, Chris, recently completed his college career. The elder Thorsheim scored a team-leading eight goals with six assists for Bucknell (7-6-5) last fall before signing professionally to play for the Middelfart G&BK club in Denmark’s Second Division, whose season is underway.
Chris Thorsheim was one of the standouts along with Scott Thompson on that 2011 team that went 21-0, beating Delbarton in overtime for the state title and earning a No. 4 national ranking in one leading poll.
“This team has the ability to be at that same level,” Keane said. “They’ll be exciting to watch.”
The younger Thorsheim will work hard to help make that happen when the season begins with a Shore Conference A North Division match at Freehold High School at 4 p.m. Sept. 8.
“It’s definitely at the top of the list,” Thorsheim said of winning a state championship. “We had a bitter taste last season. We’re all waiting for it to come around and to get redemption.”
“These seniors have the goal of getting to the final [of the state] championship one more time,” Mulligan said. “They’ll have to remain focused and disciplined — two traits of winning a championship.
“Last season was almost perfect. They fell short in the final, but the experience that the playoffs in the Shore Conference and state tournaments provided was invaluable. Hopefully, we will rely on that experience when it comes to that point this season. They have extremely high expectations. We’re looking forward to the challenge of reaching those goals.”
Three players who graduated last season are off to college, including fullback Tom Lozanski, who will play soccer at Fairfield University, and midfielder Nick Meyer, who will play at Fordham University. Fullback Tim Mikulski is looking to walk on to the team at the University of Notre Dame.
Scott Misson, a rising senior defender, will be the captain of this year’s team. Misson and outside fullbacks Thomas Judge, who had 11 goals and is headed next fall to James Madison University, and Colin Lankau, who will be a senior, will combine to minimize shots on returning goalkeeper Aedan Boriotti, a rising senior. Boriotti allowed 14 goals and made 55 saves while securing 15 shutouts last fall.
“The best teams have the strongest defense. We ran up against that when we played Delbarton [in the state finals],” Mulligan said. “Then you take the game to the next level of possessing the ball and the final third [of the field] to finish [threats].”
Ryan Nigro, who had seven assists last fall as a junior at CBA, will complement O’Connor at midfield along with rising senior Matt Mawson. Aaron Robertson is a solid forward.
“We have a lot of weapons we can rely on to score goals,” Mulligan said, as CBA is looking to surpass the 73 goals it scored last season.
They will work on that area of the game during scrimmages, which already included Monroe Township High School Aug. 25, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School Aug. 29 and Toms River High School North Aug. 31. CBA will play Sept. 1 in a tri-scrimmage with Princeton High School at Gill St. Bernard’s School starting at 4 p.m.