Two years ago, Shadrach Asadu emerged as one of the most exciting young players in the Cape-Atlantic League, scoring 27 goals during a breakout sophomore season.
But there was little to show for it, as the CAL coaches voted its leading scorer as an honorable mention.
Sure, he was only a sophomore and Atlantic City was a one-and-done team in the sectional tournament, but a strong year was overlooked. That stuck with him a little.
This season, there was no overlooking the 18-year-old Atlantic City resident, who moved to the United States from Ghana when he was in the eighth grade. He scored 34 goals, running away with the league scoring title.
He set numerous school records and helped establish Atlantic City as one of the best programs in South Jersey.
Asadu is The Press of Atlantic City Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
“I felt like we were rewarded for everything this year,” Asadu said. “I felt pretty blessed to be here with my teammates. We showed the hard work we put in, and I was rewarded as the best player.”
Asadu’s 34 goals broke Atlantic City’s single-season scoring record held by Akwasi Adu (31 goals in 2012). He also led the team with 15 assists. That accounts for 49 of the Vikings’ program-record 71 goals.
“That shows what kind of player he was,” Atlantic City coach Maurice Lozzi said.
Heading into the season, Asadu was already the school’s career leader for goals, and finished with 81.
He earned the most votes in the CAL and All-South Jersey soccer teams, Lozzi said, and also got to play in the state all-star game.
For roughly two-thirds of the season, Asadu stood atop the leading scorers in the state. Only a groin injury suffered during a grueling week of games against St. Augustine Prep, Mainland Regional and the South Jersey Soccer Coaches Association Tournament finally slowed him down a bit.
“I think he put together a really monster season for us,” Lozzi said. “He put us where we’ve never been before.”
But despite a first-round loss in the Coaches Tournament and losing the CAL American by half of a game, Asadu rebounded his team. The Vikings made a run in South Jersey Group IV, which included upsetting top-seeded Jackson Memorial in the second round.
A semifinal loss to Rancocas Valley Regional in overtime ended the best season in school history.
“Unbelievable,” is the word Asadu used to described the season. “Nobody expected us to go that far, but we believed in ourselves. I’m very grateful and happy.”
Team and Coach of the Year
John Napoli left a pretty good team in the hands of his assistant Chris Meade. He also left some unfinished business.
The Mustangs, featuring 12 seniors, reached new heights during the 2017 season. They won the second S.J. Group III title in program history and advanced to their first ever state final.
With the talent there, they still needed direction, and Meade, in his first year as head coach, was able to provide that. He instilled a couple new systems and trusted his players to make the right decision when it counted during games.
Mainland (19-3-3), No. 3 in The Press Elite 11, is The Press Team of the Year. Meade is The Press Coach of the Year.
“The work ethic that a first-year coach expects is a lot. But any coach isn’t going to get what he wants, but in the back of my mind, I had to trust them,” Meade said. “The talent was there. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to turn the switch on and off.”
Mainland started the year off overly confident, and it bit them in a 2-1 loss to Atlantic City in just the fourth game of the season. The Mustangs bounced back, winning 13 in a row, including a rematch with Atlantic City, that helped them win the CAL American Division.
Approaching the game with a “loosey-goosey” attitude as Meade put it, put them on the right track.
But the focus was on the state tournament. Mainland cruised through its first three opponents before winning a thrilling S.J. Group III final against Ocean City.
Since the end of last season, Mainland had targeted a rematch with Central Jersey champion Toms River South, which beat the Mustangs in last year’s state semifinal. Mainland won this year’s game in a nine-round shootout to advance to the state final, which it lost 2-1 to Mendham.
“Any questions I had in regard to answering the bell were obviously answered,” Meade said. “These guys are different in the way they approach their job. I learned a heck of a lot from them.”
A look ahead
Mainland graduates 12 players, including three first-team Press All-Stars, including two on the second team and three honorable mentions. But the Mustangs return junior striker Jack Sarkos, who expects to be the best scorer in the CAL next season, and several other sophomores and juniors who got playing time early in the season.
Atlantic City and St. Augustine Prep, though graduating several seniors, look to rebuild and compete in an American Division that could again be up for grabs.
Ocean City will again be strong again in the CAL National. Pinelands Regional, which won its first Shore Conference B South title in 28 years, loses just one senior and could be a top contender in S.J. Group III again.
Final Press Elite 11
1. Washington Township 21-3-1
2. Delran 19-4-2
3. Mainland Regional 19-3-3
4. Glassboro 19-3-3
5. Rancocas Valley 14-7-3
6. Haddonfield 21-3-1
7. Bishop Eustace 16-4-2
8. Ocean City 18-3-1
9. Atlantic City 17-4-1
10. Shawnee 13-4-3
11. Pinelands Regional 17-4-1