GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Cumberland Regional High School boys coach Ryan Czop didn’t think twice when given the chance to enter his team in the Stockton Soccer Classic.
The 15th annual Classic brought 20 of South Jersey’s top teams to the intramural fields at Richard Stockton College for a preseason tournament Sunday.
There has been a waiting list of teams wanting to enter in recent years.
“This is the premier tournament in South Jersey,” Czop said. “It’s perfect. It’s a real test. We will find out where we stand and what kind of improvements we need to make during the next couple of practices getting ready for that first game on Friday the 7th.”
Four teams from last season’s final Press Elite 11 rankings were in the field. Of the 20 teams, 11 were locals, including nine from the Cape-Atlantic League.
Czop is entering his second season as coach of the Colts fromthe Tri-County Conference. The team went 3-14-2 last season but returns 15 players with varsity experience.
“It’s good camaraderie for our team, too, because they’re all hanging out,” Czop said. “They get two hours in between games so they can talk about whatever. It’s good team bonding.”
Cumberland senior Brandon Shidner said the change of scenery was good for the team, too.
“It’s definitely better than practice,” Shidner said with a laugh. “It’s a lot more fun, and I like the competition and seeing who we’re going to be playing this year, too.”
Shidner will play up top and has the potential to be one of the area’s top forwards.
“It’s definitely a good test,” Shidner said. “There are teams with a lot of skill out here. It’s nice to see what they can do and what we can do.”
The event has become one of the highlights of Stockton’s soccer schedule.
Members of the team work the concession stand and even run the flag on the sidelines to help the officials.
The parking lots at the intramural fields and observatory were nearly filled to capacity. Cars lined each side of the street along Pomona Road with various pop-up tents peppering the landscape.
The first games of the day started at 8 a.m. with the finals not starting until close to 7 p.m.
“We love it,” Stockton coach Jeff Haines said. “It’s a fundraising event for us. It’s a day off from our training in preseason camp and we get a chance to recruit. It’s a great day.”
Sacred Heart’s Steve Tobolski and St. Augustine Prep’s Mickey Smyth are two of the area’s top returners.
Bothspent Sunday fine-tuning their skills.
“It’s good,” said Tobolski, who scored 17 goals last season as a freshman. “It shows us what we need to work on in the preseason.
“There are some top teams here. We’re a young team. For the young guys like me, coming into my sophomore year, it’s a challenging level for sure. This gives us more work.”
Smyth was a first-team all-star last season after leading the Prep to 12 wins and the semifinals of the South Jersey Non-Pubic A tournament.
The Prep was at the tournament for the first time.
“It’s definitely going to help us as a team with bonding,” Smyth said. “And the weather today held off, thankfully. It’s not too hot so it’s definitely a good day. If I had one more year I would definitely like to come back and do it again.”
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