EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The Mainland Regional High School boys soccer team doesn’t have many weaknesses within its talented team.
On Monday, coach Chris Meade took extra steps to ensure there won’t be any heading into Tuesday’s state semifinal game. Mainland practiced that evening on the turf field at Egg Harbor Township High School.
Mainland (19-2-2), No. 3 in The Press Elite 11, will face Central Jersey champion Toms River South at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Toms River North High School, a designated neutral site with a turf field that’s determined prior to the season.
“A big thanks to EHT and (EHT athletic director Mike Pellegrino) for letting us use this. Playing on our own field is nothing like this,” said senior midfielder Keegan Ford.
Pellegrino has a son, Ryan, and daughter, Meghan, on the Mainland boys and girls soccer teams.
“The athletic directors in the (Cape-Atlantic League) are always helping each other out, and we can’t thank EHT enough,” Meade said.
Over the weekend, the Mustangs replaced practice by splitting the players and coaches into three teams and partaking in competitive drills.
The atmosphere Monday was loose but back to business.
“We even got the goalies involved with the foot skills which was hectic,” senior goalie Matt Stellitano joked. “It was a lot of fun. It was a lighthearted atmosphere and we all knew that for giving us that day we were going to go really hard tonight.”
Mainland won the South Jersey Group III championship Friday, beating top-seeded Ocean City 2-1. It was the second straight sectional title for the Mustangs, who won their first ever sectional championship last season.
Mainland, which plays on grass, has only been on turf five times this season.
“Attention to detail is what we’ve been talking about all year and these guys know that this time of the year it’s the difference in games,” Meade said. “We’ve been pressing that all year, and more-so now, because one little foul-up can cost us the game, and at this point, cost us the season.”
The Mustangs know all about that from last season.
Tuesday’s game is a rematch of last year’s state Group III semifinal against Toms River South. The Indians (17-5-2) won last year, 2-1, after scoring a pair of goals within two minutes of each other in the second half.
That game left a bad taste in the mouths of the Mustangs going into this season, especially the 12 seniors on the team.
“Everyone is focused,” said Ford, 17, of Linwood. “I know everyone is pumped up for this game. We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing all season, stay focused and good things will happen.”
Junior striker Jack Sarkos, who has fielded a handful of looks from NCAA Division I soccer programs, is the Mustangs’ leading scorer with 25 goals to go with eight assists. Ford has a team-high 14 assists with six goals. Other offensive contributors are seniors Conner Juckett (11 goals, five assists), Sam Watt (nine goals, six assists) and Dom Bongiovanni (six goals, six assists).
Stellitano has 15 shutouts this season, and is fronted by a stellar defense that includes seniors Dan Adams, Jimmy Kryjer, Geoff Anapolle, Joe Palmieri and Patrick Turner. The rest of Mainland’s seniors are Kyle Gallagher and Nick Nutile, who play key roles.
“I feel like this is what the past 365 days has been about,” said Stellitano, 18, of Northfield. “We all wanted to get one step further than we did last year. This is exactly where we got last year so we certainly want to win this next one. It means a lot to everyone here.”