GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - Northwestern University men's soccer coach Tim Lenahan returned to his roots at Richard Stockton College on Saturday for the South Jersey Soccer Festival at G. Larry James Stadium.

Lenahan, a former Stockton soccer player, went on to become an Ospreys assistant coach for five years and head coach for eight years.

The South Jersey Soccer Festival is held at Stockton every two years, and this time it was a bit more special because Northwestern is the defending Big Ten champion. Lenahan was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2011.

The Wildcats played an exhibition game with Rutgers University, another outstanding NCAA Division I program that won the Big East Tournament last year and reached the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament.

"I get back to (South Jersey) at least five times a year," Lenahan said before the game. "Stockton is very special to me. We come back every two years, so half of my team has never been here. They really like the shore, and they love playing a mini-golf tournament every night in Ocean City on the Boardwalk.

"Since we're the Big Ten champions, we hope to start off where we left off. We have only 14 or 15 days in the preseason, and this is only our second practice game. We played at Monmouth University in our first game and lost 3-1. It was like an early preseason NFL game because we substituted a lot."

Northwestern has only two New Jersey players, but they both played an important role in the exhibition game. The Wildcats' goalie was Tyler Miller, a Bishop Eustace graduate and a member of this year's Ocean City Nor'easters soccer team. Teammate Nick Gendron, from Ramsey High School in Bergen County, scored the game's only goal on a header in front in the third minute of play. Northwestern won the exhibition game 1-0.

Miller prepared his teammates for the trip by telling them about southern New Jersey.

"I've been coming to the shore with my family ever since I was a young child," the 19-year-old sophomore from Woodbury said. "It was great to be with the Nor'easters this summer. They're a great group of guys.

"What we (Northwestern) have to do in the preseason is develop chemistry and play together."

Brian and Cindy Miller, Tyler's parents, watched from the stands with other family members and friends. They said Tyler used to play on the Pittsgrove Premier traveling soccer team with two of the Rutgers players - former St. Augustine Prep star Connor Hurff and Rancocas Valley Regional alumnus Bobby Spracklin.

Hurff, the 2010 Press Player of the Year, was injured last year and redshirted. Scott Hurff, his father, watched his son warm up before the game.

"It's exciting," Scott Hurff said. "All the work he's put into it, it's nice to see it get rewarded."

One of the key Northwestern players is junior Lepe Seetane, of Lesotho, who has a pulled hamstring but should be ready for the regular season. The 5-foot-2 forward scored five goals last year.

"I played here (at Stockton) when I was a freshman," Seetane said. "It's exhausting in the preseason with two practices a day. A game like this is great. You get to see if something works or if it doesn't. We had a good season last year, but losing in the (NCAA) first round was disappointing. We definitely go further in the tournament this year."

Leah Braidi, Jess McQuillen, Cara Parliament, Rachel Carlson and other members of the Stockton women's soccer team sold refreshments.

Stockton men's soccer coach Jeff Haines, a longtime friend of Lenahan, was one of the key organizers of the event.

"This gives the fans in our area a chance to see really good Division I soccer," Haines said. "It gives our players a chance to see if they can pick up a few things. We have a great facility here and other coaches have contacted us. Maybe next time we do this we can have a doubleheader."

Contact Guy Gargan:

609-272-7210