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Huskies feeling confident heading into state boys’ soccer tourney

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By Wayne Witkowski

Matawan Regional High School’s boys’ soccer team went into its NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group II opener Oct. 31 as the No. 4 seed at home against 13th-seeded Newark Tech High School with many things it never had in past state tournaments: its most wins, its second division championship in school history and a swagger.

“This season was a great accomplishment,” second-year coach Tyler Isaacson said. “We had 11 different goal scorers and a stingy defense that had seven shutouts and allowed 19 goals. It was a total team effort. It was a very difficult division in which teams beat up each other.”

Matawan finished 11-3-3 and was tied with Raritan for the Shore Conference A Central Division championship at 7-2-3. Its only other boys’ soccer division championship came in the 2012 season.

“I feel good about our chances to go deep into the tournament,” Isaacson said. “But it’s a totally different animal now.”

Isaacson cautioned that last season, his No. 13-seeded team knocked off the No. 2 seed in the state tournament.

“It’s the same group of kids kicking the ball together in summer leagues, indoor leagues and having the chemistry we need,” said midfielder Jacob Labinger, whose eight goals and six assists led a balanced attack coming into the tournament. “This is a senior group experienced on varsity with a deep bench, a very solid core group.”

Tyler Walling and John Vail follow with four goals each, while Ethan Goldenthal was steady in goal.

Labinger said he could see his team coming together from the first captains’ practice during the summer.

“The speed of play was faster here than I’ve ever been around,” Labinger said. “We all work off each other — not depending on one guy.”

It was a season for the Huskies to scoff the skeptics, whose forecasts predicted Matawan to finish at the bottom of the division.

So there was a feeling among the team of plenty to gain and nothing to lose when the Huskies played a Newark Tech team far more dangerous than its 6-11-1 record would indicate. Newark Tech had close 2-0 losses with highly regarded Seton Hall Preparatory School and Montclair Kimberly Academy and a 1-0 setback to Nutley High School, but it also had won its last two games coming into the tournament by a combined 15-4 margin.

Matawan advanced with a 1-0 victory. Walling scored in the first half, and Goldenthal needed to make only two saves.

But Isaacson said his team needs to build momentum from here.

“We need to possess the ball and attack quickly — but to defend first,” Isaacson said as the key for the state tournament. “We have a good defensive team and need to lock teams down.”

Goldenthal has been integral, with middle defender Kaleb Mehari anchoring the back line.

“Ethan has been exceptional,” Isaacson said. “He’s excellent with his feet and has made big saves when we needed them. I can’t say how important our overall defense has been.”

It’s especially important for his team to do more off set pieces and to break up other teams’ opportunities off them in the postseason, Isaacson said.

Matawan came into the state tournament shrugging off its last game — a 4-0 loss to Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals for the farthest advance Matawan has ever made into the tournament, according to Isaacson.

CBA went on to repeat as Shore Conference Tournament champions, winning the finals, 2-0, against Marlboro High School — the team that handed the Colts the only loss, 3-1, of their 20-1 season coming into this week. Matt Mawson, off a pass from Patrick Kollman, and John Askin, set up off a restart taken by Thomas Judge, scored the goals, and stellar fullback Scott Misson, who did not play in the loss to Marlboro, led the defensive charge. Goalkeeper Aedan Boriotti notched his 12th shutout.

“They were a superior team, well-balanced,” Isaacson said of the loss to CBA, which returned nearly all of its leading players from last year’s team that went all the way to the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship game. “We wished we played better, but they had a lot to do with that.”

Matawan’s loss to CBA tied the most goals it allowed this season, with the other one coming in a 4-3 season-opening loss to Shore Regional High School. Isaacson said he envisioned a memorable season during the second go-round of the division schedule when Matawan avenged the Shore Regional loss, 2-1, and beat a quality Holmdel High School team for the second time — both times by 1-0 scores.

A 2-1 nondivision victory over an Asbury Park High School team that came into the game with a 9-0 record punctuated Matawan’s 6-0-2 run leading into the game against CBA.

“Right then, I knew we could do something special, that we were on the right track,” Isaacson said.

“We expect nothing but the best,” Labinger said. “Every game now could be our last game, which is big for us as a senior-based team. We don’t want to come off the field feeling we did not give it our best.”

With all the positives, the one lingering negative was sole ownership of the division championship that slipped away when Matawan tied Raritan High School for the second time in the season in a scoreless standoff and had a 1-1 tie in mid-October with a .500 Red Bank Regional High School team that also beat the Huskies early in the season.

But all of that was left behind as the Huskies embarked on their new season this week.

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