The Lacey boys soccer team has made the kind of progress over the last four years that makes it easy to take for granted its 8-0-1 start to the 2011 season. Still, there is plenty of motivation for the Lions to keep their proverbial claws drawn.
“We’ve had some good seasons, but we still haven’t won a division title,” seventh-year head coach Joe Humenik said. “Our guys are aware of that fact, and they want to finish the job. There’s still the postseason and all the other stuff, but the division’s the first thing, and that’s what they’re focused on.”
It has been 15 years since Lacey won a division title of any kind, and the drought carries with it a little added sting after the Lions missed a golden opportunity to win the Shore Conference Class B South championship last season. Lacey started the division schedule 7-0, but lost two of its last three division games and finished 8-2 to Central Regional’s 8-1-1.
This season, Lacey has been even more dominant to open the season and is one of three teams, along with Shore Regional and nationally-ranked Christian Brothers Academy, in the entire Shore Conference that are still unbeaten.
“The last two years, things kind of came to a screeching halt for us,” Humenik said. “So we know that we have to keep this going.”
Unlike last year, no team in B South is within striking distance of the Lions at this point. Lacey would have to lose three of its final four division matches in order to lose the division title, a hard scenario to fathom considering that Lacey has outscored its division opponents 20-2 in six games.
Before resuming the division schedule on Wednesday against Brick, Lacey will play NJSIAA Group IV power Toms River South on Friday, and Manasquan – the leader in the Class C Central division – on Monday. Lacey has made a name for itself around the Shore Conference by performing outside of its division, a resume that includes a win over Toms River South, the 2009 Group IV champion.
“Our team always gets pumped up to play teams out of our division, especially the Toms River games,” said Humenik, a graduate of Toms River South. “The win at South last year was a big thrill for us, and it really gave us confidence heading into the postseason. We have been on the road for five games, and we’re looking forward to playing a quality opponent on our home field.”
So far this year, Lacey already has wins over Wall and Jackson Memorial and a tie against Class A South leader Toms River East (6-1-1) and will look to add Toms River South to that list on Friday.
“I thought our game against East was the best we’ve played this year, and I’m hoping for that same effort and intensity against South,” Humenik said.
As much as Humenik insists he and his team expected another strong season similar to the 14-6 showing it had last year, even he has been impressed with his players considering Lacey had to replace senior leaders Max Dolphin and Dan Ratyniak, who scored 15 goals to go with eight assists.
For scoring, Lacey has turned, primarily, to junior Kevin Tonkovich and senior Chris Thompson. Tonkovich has tallied nine goals and four assists through nine games and has overcome some soreness in his hip, which caused him to miss a month of action last year.
“We were a little worried that he might be having trouble with the same hip, and we took it easy with him,” Humenik said. “But after a little rest, the soreness has faded, and he’s basically back to 100 percent.
Thompson, meanwhile, has seven goals and five assists and has transformed himself from a hustle player on the outside midfield to a goal-scoring threat.
Lacey has gone with a youth movement to replace three defensive starters, including Dolphin in the middle. Sophomore Tyler Dickson has taken over in the middle for Dolphin while classmate Evan Reitmeyer has stepped in as an outside back. Senior Mark Dalton is in his first year as a starter while fellow senior Dan Moore is the lone returning player on the defense.
Senior Logan McDonald moved from outside fullback to goalkeeper this year and has been a leader for the defense while recording four shutouts. Moore, Tonkovich, McDonald and senior center midfielder Joe Stapleton are the four captains.
“Having Logan back there gives us a senior to help us direct the younger guys back there,” Humenik said. “All of our captains have kept our practices intense and been big for us on the field. It’s tough to replace the guys we lost but our captains have been instrumental in helping us get back to where we need to be.”