It’s fair to say this year was wide open when it came to teams trying to establish themselves as a top team in the Shore Conference. Several of last year’s top teams graduated players and lost others to Academy. Holmdel was the clear cut preseason favorite in the Conference, and Jackson Memorial turned a few heads earning the top seed in the Shore Conference Tournament.
For Ocean head coach Tom Reilly, expectations were not that high for his Spartans heading into the season, but he knew they would be good enough to compete.
“We knew we had some bright spots in our team this year,” Reilly said.
“Our goal coming into the year was to reestablish ourselves in B North and to try and be there in the end to win it.”
After a successful start to the season, the Spartans earned the third-seed in the SCT, and something clicked just at the right time.
“We started to score goals,” Reilly said.
“Sometimes teams go through a stretch where they aren’t able to capitalize on important chances.”
That clearly was not the case for the Spartans who scored an unprecedented 19 goals in just four games. The real test would come in the SCT finals where the Spartans would meet preseason favorite Holmdel for the title.
Reilly and his staff we aware of the fire power that the Hornets brought to the table, and made an adjustment that proved crucial in the game.
“We went into the game with a strong defensive mind,” Reilly said.
“For the most part we man marked our back four on their top two guys.”
The decision to essentially double team their top two strikers at all time paid off in the end, as the Spartans were able to keep the Hornets off the score sheet.
According to Reilly they hoped to hit the Hornets with a counter to try and break through, but it was a reliable senior who would come up big for the Spartans on two set pieces.
Tyler Nowak scored not one but two goals off set pieces in the SCT final leading the Spartans to their first title since 2001.
“He’s been around for us for four years, and has played every position we have needed him to play,” Reilly said.
“This year we had the guys to have him more forward, and he came up big for us.”
Looking ahead to next year, Reilly will bring the same expectations they had as this year, and hopes to have more success in the state tournament. Ocean was eliminated by Middletown South in a Central Jersey Group III game 12-11 in PK’s.
“We want to be able to play well enough at the start of next year, so we are in a good position,” Reilly said.
“We were a kind of disappointed about the state tournament, and hopefully we can do better next season.”