Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School’s boys’ soccer team stepped out of the shadows and into the championship limelight in 2021. The Bulldogs captured the program’s first-ever NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II crown, overcoming their long-time nemesis Holmdel, 2-1, in the championship final. Battling their one-sided history against the Hornets as well as Holmdel’s own championship pedigree, RFH did not bend in the final defeating the defending champions in overtime on Alec Pentikis’ goal. The enthusiasm from that state sectional has not worn off at all. In fact, it has the RFH program right where Head Coach Jeff Soares wants it.
“It seems like the whole town is excited,” said Soares. “Eighty-six players tried out – the most ever. It was a dream of mine to have the kids inspired to stay in the program.”
Winning will do that, and Rumson did a lot of winning last fall, starting with their Shore Conference A Central Division title. The Bulldogs were unbeaten in conference play and topped defending champion Holmdel for the title. They finished the season with an 11-6-3 record. That regular season crown was followed by their run to the CJ II championship, again topping the Hornets. That state sectional victory has given this year’s team momentum it is feeding off.
The 2022 Bulldogs will be built around two of conference’s finest players, Pentikis and Antonio Santos, the two goal scorers in the sectional final. It was Luke and Alec Pentikis who were the face of Rumson soccer while the program was moving forward. Luke, a four-year starter, has graduated while Alec, a forward, is back for his fourth year. He has led the Bulldogs in goal scoring in each of his three seasons (16 last year). He was the top junior in the Shore Conference last fall.
“Alec is the guy we will be leaning on to put the ball in the back of the net,” said Soares, who added that Pentikis could be the best player in the Shore this season.
Santos missed part of last season due to injury, and when he returned, Rumson took off. Like Alec Pentikis, he shined bright in the postseason. The midfielder finished 2021 with seven goals and six assists.
“Antonio does it all,” remarked Soares. “He has great vision.”
As a freshman, Ronan Hogg showed great potential. Coming back bigger and stronger this year, Soares noted, Hogg will play an important role on offense helping to provide scoring balance. Junior Declan Fry, a lockdown defensive midfielder, and senior center back Reece Moroney will be the key figures on defense for Rumson. Junior Liam Bennett, who was utility player in ’21, will have a more significant role at midfield this year.
Looking ahead to the 2022 campaign, Soares cited one difference: the schedule. He has beefed up his non-division schedule significantly, including a game with St. Benedict’s, which is the No. 2-ranked high school team in the country, to have his team prepared for the defense of its CJ championship.
“I want them to be battle-tested,” Soares explained.
There is something else that will be special about the season to Soares. This will be his fourth year at the helm of the program, and these seniors will be the first class that has been with him from start to finish. They paved the way for Rumson, which had won just one game the season before Soares took over.