It was a hot, steamy, late-summer day when Christian Brothers Academy’s boys soccer team dropped its season opener to Marlboro on Sept. 8.

Shock waves ran through the Shore Conference community and beyond. The Colts of Lincroft were coming off a season in which they won three titles and reached the state final, while Marlboro was 7-7-2 last year.

Coach Tom Mulligan looked upon it as a blessing.

“I think it was one of the better things to happen to this year’s team,” Mulligan said. “It was disappointing. It was a shock to our system. It was our first game on our new field and we lost. It wasn’t a great start to the season.

“But the pressure of having to be such a high-profile team was off them immediately. The pressure now was to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

That’s exactly what CBA did as it would not lose another match. The Colts won 19 straight, claiming a division title, Shore Conference Tournament crown and NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A crown for the second straight year. All that remained was what eluded them last season – a state title. In the way stood defending champion Seton Hall Prep of West Orange, which took a 2-0 win over CBA in last year’s final.

In an epic Nov. 13 game between New Jersey’s top two ranked teams (CBA was No. 2), Will Thygeson scored the championship winning goal with under four minutes remaining to give the Colts a thrilling 1-0 victory at Franklin High School. It was CBA’s third Non-Public A state crown in seven years and eighth overall.

And while much was made about the Colts gaining revenge on Seton Hall for last year, Mulligan felt the impetus to win a title came more from within the program.  

“To be honest, we get to a lot of these finals and oftentimes the graduating class sets the challenge for the following year’s group,” he said. “Last year’s group with Dylan Cupo and Declan Kelly and those guys were saying ‘You guys aren’t getting to the final.’ They kind of rub it into the kids who were their teammates because they care a lot about them. They see it’s a culture and the expectations that are set year in and year out. So, the real challenge is from the alumni. There’s a standard for CBA soccer, and are you going to uphold that standard?”  

Pulling Together

Despite returning some talent from last year, CBA had work to do in order to form a cohesive unit.

“I had a new assistant coach on the varsity level,” Mulligan said. “I was juggling a lot of change at the beginning of the season. Once we kind of ironed it out, I would say by the third or fourth game, the kids realized we’re pretty good and the confidence started to grow.”

The final lineup was a defensive unit that allowed just seven goals and recorded 14 shutouts, including four straight in the state tournament.

Junior Miles Gallagher was named starting goalie. The revamped back four included seniors Joe Lucignano and Max Koczan and juniors Christian DeOliveiro and Lawrence Mancino, who was the lone returning starter.  

“Once again, kids at CBA wait their turn and pay their dues,” Mulligan said of the new starters. “When it’s time to step in and contribute we’re prepared.”

Another key to the stingy defense was senior Charlie Paparella, who was inserted as a defensive midfielder and did a stellar job marking the opposition’s top scorer.

“He wins all the balls for us in front of the defense,” Mulligan said. “I don’t think there’s a kid on the team that can outwork Paparella.”

Junior Dimitry Corba was an engine in the midfield, able to win numerous balls and becoming a dangerous playmaker down the stretch. Senior Logan Szuwalski was a first-year starter who “gave us a different dynamic in the middle. He could calm down the play, distribute the ball. He continually developed as the season progressed and played a big part in it.”  

Up front were seniors Thygeson and Jack D’Eletto and junior Dylan Millevoi. Thygeson and D’Eletto were three-year starters who put tremendous pressure on defenses and “when they got the ball at their feet and started running at defenders, you could feel the crowd,” Mulligan said. “They were electric players on the wings.”  

Millevoi was the man in the middle who made other teams pay when they put too much attention on Thygeson and D’Eletto. He tied Thygeson for the team lead in goals with 11 while D’Eletto had 10.

“Dylan was a key player,” Mulligan said. “His contributions can’t be overlooked.”

But when it came to the team’s storybook hero, it had to be Thygeson. Despite saying he was ready to play, the veteran was forced to sit out of the Shore Conference Tournament by the coaching staff and team trainer due to a hamstring injury. Thus, he could only watch from the sidelines when the Colts took a 2-1 win over Middletown North in the title game.

“I told him we were gonna need him for the state tournament and I wasn’t going to risk his health for any game,” Mulligan said. “I knew how difficult the state run would be.”

Thygeson made up for the games he missed by producing three goals and an assist in four state wins.  And two of those goals were magical. Prior to his late game-winner against Seton Hall, he scored the game’s lone goal with 13 minutes left against St. Peter’s Prep of New Brunswick in the South Jersey final.

“That just goes to show you his positive attitude and his work ethic in pursuit of a championship,” Mulligan said. “He wants to be remembered. He’s very big into the CBA program. He wants to know about our history. He’s always asking questions – ‘Coach, who was your best forward, who was your best defender?’ He wanted to leave 2022 as a legacy team and wants it to compare to the great teams in our history.”

Spotlight on St. Rose

Although it came one game short of the ultimate goal, St. Rose of Belmar enjoyed an outstanding season that ended in a shootout loss to Gill St. Bernard’s of Gladstone in the Non-Public B championship game at Franklin Nov. 13. After a scoreless 100 minutes of soccer, the Purple Roses lost a heart-breaker, 3-2, on penalty kicks

James Vitale scored four goals against Princeton Day School and Moorestown Friends in the first two rounds. St. Rose defeated Bishop Eustace in a shootout in the South Jersey championship game.

“After our game the Gill St. Bernard’s coach (Tom Bednarsky) congratulated me,” Mulligan said. “I said to him, ‘I hope you’re ready because St. Rose will be very prepared, they’re a very well coached team and they’re gonna be organized.’ St. Rose’s defense, their coaching and their goalie propelled them to the brink.”