The Christian Brothers Academy boys’ soccer team did not get the biggest prize, but it got everything else.

After going 13-0-1 in last year’s COVID 19-shortened season that did not include a state tournament, the returning Colts got to show their full potential this season. The Lincroft school finished 20-2 and was undefeated against New Jersey competition until the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship game, when Seton Hall Prep, West Orange, took a 2-0 victory in a well-played game by each side.

En route to the final, CBA won the Shore Conference A North title, the Shore Conference Tournament crown and the South Jersey Non-Public A championship. Its only other loss came against LaSalle College High School, Wyndmoor, Pa. From there, the Colts won 18 straight before meeting Seton Hall Prep.

It marked the seventh straight fully-played season that CBA reached the sectional finals and the fifth time they won them during that span. Last year they won a COVID-induced, makeshift Central East H Non-Public regional title, which did not have the same pizzaz as the traditional state tourney.  

“Most years at CBA are good years; this one was even extra special following last year’s shortened season,” coach Tom Mulligan said. “Just to be able to play in the tournament and be able to compete against some of the state’s best teams and make it to the last day was a privilege.”

And while winning a state title is always the goal for a program as consistent as CBA, Mulligan knows that falling one game short to a St. Peter’s Prep team that finished 20-0-1 is no disgrace. The Jersey City champs scored an early goal, forcing the Colts to chase for the entire game.

CBA had several good chances but could not convert. With 10 minutes remaining, Mulligan removed a defender for an extra forward and the Marauders took advantage of a mistake in the back to score a late goal. It was the only time all season the Colts were shut out, and the loss came on the heels of a wild, 5-4 win over Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, in the South Jersey final.

“I have to credit Seton Hall’s defense for holding the line and preventing us from putting the ball in the net,” Mulligan said. “You gotta credit their coaching and their tactics coming into the game. I told the boys ‘There’s nothing to be ashamed of, you lost to a very good team.’”

While a victory would have made it the ultimate season, a loss does not diminish a great season in which the Colts outscored their opponents, 63-21.

The coach credited the leadership of his senior class of Ryan Hayes, Jack McGagh, Will Geiger, Luke Cousins, Marco Mastriani, Tiarnan King, Dylan Cupo, Brian Dinnell, Vincent Fasano, Jake Homowitz, Declan Kelly and Nick Bartlewitz.

“The seniors kind of took the group as a whole and carried them,” Mulligan said. “The sophomores and juniors basically wanted to continue working hard and practicing and pushing the seniors to get to that final goal.”

CBA’s success started in the back, where Hayes and Joe Grossman split time in goal by each playing one half per game. They were aided by Kelly and McGagh – whom Mulligan called “my dynamic duo” – as central defenders; and the outside back tandem of sophomore Lawrence Mancino and junior Charles Paparella.

The group combined for 11 shutouts, and accomplished the near-unthinkable by shutting out all four teams it played in the Shore Conference Tournament.

“We had experience with the senior in goal and we had a talented young kid who grew up a lot this year,” Mulligan said of his keepers. “Declan and Jack both grew into the position and became a force. Their confidence grew along with their understanding … They exceeded our expectations. Mancinio and Paparella got tremendous experience.”

The midfielders featured Homowitz, King and sophomore Dylan Millevoi, while Marco Mastriani came off the bench whenever CBA needed a spark. “He really was our 12th starter,” Mulligan said.

Millevoi was second on the team in scoring with nine goals and two assists, although his scoring totals were slowed after suffering a mid-season injury. But the coach said, “He has that potential. We hope he can fill that [scoring] void left for us next year.” Millevoi was joined by Homowitz and King, who Mulligan said “were the workhorses and the engine that drove the team.”

The forward line featured Cupo in the middle, and speedy juniors Will Thygeson and Jack D’Eletto on the flanks. Like his twin sister Morgan at Red Bank Catholic, Cupo led his team in scoring with 21 goals and five assists and also has SAT scores of 1520, which should make him attractive to colleges for both his soccer and intellectual prowess. The two wings combined for 11 goals and 15 assists.

“They really were a fun group to watch,” Mulligan said. “Each one in their own right has the ability to take on the entire defense and really put a threat on to that defensive back line. The two juniors with their speed on the flanks have the ability to get around the backside of any outside back. Dylan is just an old-school forward. He plays with his back to the goal, has the ability and strength to turn on people; and he has that finishing quality that every coach desires.”

In the end, Cupo and his teammates gave Mulligan the type of season every coach also desires.

“You’re never guaranteed any of the successes we had,” Mulligan said. “We kept crossing new paths … and some games were very thrilling and exciting, and we found ourselves making it to the last day of the season. That’s what you hope for.”