Students from Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, celebrate winning  the school’s 23rd Meet of Champions title last November. The team returns three of their top five runners this school year. John Blaine photo
Students from Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, celebrate winning the school’s 23rd Meet of Champions title last November. The team returns three of their top five runners this school year. John Blaine photo

Back to school means back to sports and, as usual, there will be plenty to look out for in Catholic high school athletics this fall.

Some teams are attempting to defend state championships; others are in their first year of existence. There are returning players to watch, as well as new coaches.

One of those story lines is the Red Bank Catholic football team, which defeated Mater Dei in a memorable NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III final at the Meadowlands last December.

Notre Dame-bound tight end Kevin Bauman said that in a quest to do it again, there is no looking back.

“We put that behind us,” Bauman said. “We know that last year cannot help us achieve our goals this year. Instead, our focus is on each day, one at a time. We return a bunch of starters on both sides of the ball, as well as have new guys who are ready to take on their role in replacing the players we lost. We have high expectations for ourselves, and we know we have what it takes to reach our goals.” 

The Caseys’ girls cross country team should maintain its state dominance as senior Maddie Kopec leads a powerful cast of runners who claimed their second Non-Public A crown in three seasons last year.

Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, returns two reigning state champs, as the cross country team won its 23rd Meet of Champions title and eighth in the last nine years, while the soccer team grabbed its second state crown in three years. The harriers return three of their top five runners, but the soccer team must replace 17 seniors. Defenders Connor Anderko and Jack Longo, forward Luke Pascarella and midfielder Michael Casper are the lone returning starters.

“Every year in high school brings new challenges with new groups of players,” soccer coach Tom Mulligan said. “To repeat as champions, we will have to accept our roles and trust the process through a very challenging schedule. We have players who want to be part of the program and are willing to put in the work necessary.”

Exciting Growth

St. Rose welcomes a new athletic director in Dennis Carey, who is in his second year as a vice principal and whose main focus will be on athletics. Carey is positive about the girls soccer team, which returns a large contingent of players who won the South Jersey Non-Public B championship last year. Rutgers commit Julianne Leskauskas (29 goals, 9 assists) is one of the Shore Conference’s top performers, while Caitlin Clayton is also a key returnee.

The Belmar school is also excited to see how the second-year surfing team can build off a solid inaugural season. St. Rose has 25 participants this season and will host matches this year, which “is a big step forward for the program,” Carey said. 

Middletown’s Mater Dei field hockey is not coming off a championship but is thrilled to still be competing. After a decision was made to drop the field hockey program after last season, the players and parents rallied around the cause and got the program re-instated. 

Coach Krista Portelli said her team is ready to prove the school made the right decision.

“The turnout for the girls who have committed has been amazing, not just for the student athletes but their entire family and the school are huge supporters of us being a success,” Portelli said. “I am excited to be a part it.”

Overseeing the program will be first-year Athletic Director Rich Buckheit, who spent two years as the Patrick School AD and will also serve as the Seraphs’ boys’ basketball coach.

At Trenton Catholic Academy, the Iron Mikes are bringing back girls soccer for the first time since 2015. It will begin as a JV program in hopes of building back up to varsity.

“I am overall very enthusiastic,” coach Natalie Wilson said. “We have had a lot of interest from girls who have then told their friends or siblings. As a result, we had a good turnout over our summer trainings. We also have multiple girls coming in as freshmen who have heard about the program and been to our trainings.

“We must figure out the best way to communicate expectations for the season so that the girls know what is expected of them and what their responsibility is both individually and to the team,” she said. “Once everyone is able to be in the same setting at once, we will be able to set these expectations, goals, and begin to develop overall knowledge and understanding of the game.”

In addition, TCA’s boys soccer team is coming off a division championship and returns key players Chazz Jones, Darwin Salguero, John Ramirez, Ernest Uche and Jorge Pomales.

Looking Ahead

In Toms River, Donovan Catholic’s football team will try and build off last year’s 6-3 record as it returns multi-talented senior quarterback Ryan Clark. The girls tennis team comes off a 20-1 season in which it reached the SJ Non-Public A semifinals. Senior Mara Stapleton and junior Ava Cahill were key singles players, while juniors Nicole Tarabocchia and Hannah Braverman excelled at doubles.

Holmdel’s St. John Vianney has some goal scorers in several sports to watch who are returning, as senior Grace Langdon scored 17 in field hockey last year, and senior Armand Valintino collected 12 goals and 4 assists in boys soccer.

Some big news at Notre Dame this fall is changes at the top. The boys soccer team has been taken over by Dan Donigan, the former Rutgers and University of St. Louis coach who guided eight teams to the NCAA tournament and will try and work his magic at the high school level.

Sean Clancy takes over as interim head coach of the football team, and the Irish will conduct a search for the full-time coach after the season. Clancy was tapped to provide stability after serving as an assistant the past seven years. He inherits a team that returns the bulk of its starters from a 7-3 squad that shared a division title.