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Holmdel captures first Shore Conference Tournament boys’ soccer title

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Records were broken and history was made when the Holmdel High School boys’ soccer team defeated Ocean Township High School to win the Shore Conference Tournament.

The 7-1 victory on Oct. 26 in Oakhurst marked the first time Holmdel won the tournament in program history.

Holmdel’s historic achievement was sparked by the five-goal performance from junior forward Anthony Arena.

That five-goal total broke a Shore Conference Tournament record for most goals in a game, and Arena also set a new school record for most goals in a season with 29 so far this campaign. The previous record-holder, Zach Bond, scored 25 goals during his senior year in 2012.

Despite his individual accolades, Arena was happier about winning the tournament championship with his teammates.

“It wasn’t just me today,” he said after the game. “Guys kept feeding me the ball in great position. It’s obviously a great feeling to keep scoring, but it’s a team effort. We had everybody winning the ball in the middle and assisting me. So many guys did a great job today.

“It was probably the best feeling I ever had in my life, especially since everyone that I grew up with is on this team. So for us to come together and win this is great. We’re not done; we’re definitely not done.”

His teammate and good friend, senior forward Justin McStay, praised Arena, stating that he’s one of the best. McStay had Holdmel’s other two goals and posted three assists in the championship game.

“This kid is incredible,” McStay said about Arena. “I grew up with this kid. He’s one of my closest friends. He’s like a brother to me. But this kid is something special. I’m telling you right now, I love playing with him. He’s the best player I ever played with.”

Against Ocean Township, Holmdel was trailing, 1-0, early in the game, but the Hornets quickly knotted the score at 1-1 on a goal by Arena. The forward scored his second goal of the night with a few minutes left in the first half to give the Hornets a 2-1 lead. The Hornets scored five goals in the second half to put the game away.

“[The score being] 2-1 at halftime was huge for us,” McStay said. “It gave us confidence. We came out of halftime fired up. We wanted more. Ocean was down in every game of the Shore tournament and came back, so we knew we had to bury them to make sure. That’s a great team — one of the best teams we faced all year. They’re really good.”

Holmdel hadn’t surrendered a goal in its previous games of the Shore Conference Tournament, having scored shutouts against Jackson Memorial High School, 4-0, in the semifinals, Howell High School, 5-0, in the quarterfinals and Shore Regional High School, 3-0, in the second round. The second-seeded Hornets received a bye in the first round.

Holmdel coach John Nacarlo was proud of his team’s effort

“We just played our game,” Nacarlo said. “We knew that if we came out to play, possessed the ball and really attacked from the outside, we would be OK.”

Nacarlo wants the team to enjoy the championship, but also to stay motivated for the tasks ahead.

“We just need to stay motivated,” the coach said. “We’ve had a lot of lopsided games, so we need to just stay humble and motivated to win.”

Nacarlo has high expectations for the team as focus shifts to the state sectional tournament.

“We want to win a state title,” he said. “That’s what we came out here to do.”

With a 17-1 record, the Hornets have the No. 1 seed in the Central Jersey, Group 2 tournament, which was set to begin on Oct. 31. The Hornets began state tournament play in the first round on Oct. 31 against No. 16-seeded North Star Academy of Newark (7-11).

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