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Stockton's Larry Abanilla #14 battle for the ball against College of New Jersey's James Pike #21 during the first half of men's soccer game at Stockton University Wednesday Oct 11, 2017. (The Press of Atlantic City / Edward Lea Staff Photographer)

New Jersey Athletic Conference men’s soccer coaches picked Stockton University to finish fifth in the 10-team league this fall.

The NJAC head coaches’ preseason poll was released Tuesday, with perennial title contender Montclair State voted No. 1. The Red Hawks won the NJAC championship in seven of the previous 13 seasons and reached the fourth round of the NCAA Division III Tournament in 2018. They have won 12 conference championships since 1961.

Montclair earned eight of the 10 first-place votes. Ramapo and Rowan each earned one first-place vote and finished second and third, respectively, in the poll. Rutgers-Camden was fourth, followed by the Ospreys in fifth.

Finishing sixth through 10th, respectively, were William Paterson, Rutgers-Newark, Kean, The College of New Jersey and New Jersey City. For the second consecutive year, the coaches named Kean the conference dark horse.

Stockton returns three all-NJAC players from 2018 — goalkeeper Michael Lescano, back Larry Abanilla and midfielder Christian Bik (St. Augustine Prep). All three are seniors.

Last season, the Ospreys went 8-9-3 (4-3-2 NJAC).

Greg Ruttler, a Stockton alumnus, will enter his fifth year as Ospreys head coach with a 43-27-12 record.

The Ospreys open their season at the Drew Fall Festival. They will face New Paltz at 1 p.m. Aug. 30 and play in either the consolation or championship game Aug. 31. Drew and Centenary are the tournament’s other teams.

The NJAC will open its 61st season of men’s soccer Aug. 30 with all 10 teams playing noninterference games. The first league matches of the season are scheduled for Sept. 21.

The top six finishers in the NJAC regular season will advance to the league tournament that starts Nov. 2.

The semifinals are set for Nov. 6, and the championship match will be played at the home of the higher seed Nov. 9. The NJAC champion will earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.

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