COLTS NECK, N.J. - The Colts Neck High School boys soccer team caught fire at the end of the 2018 season to make it to the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 championship game.

Winning five of six to finish off the regular season, Colts Neck continued its hot streak in the sectional tournament by rolling off three impressive victories to get to the finals where they eventually lost to the Group 3 state champion Ocean Township and finished the season with a 12-8 record.

Colts Neck is set up to build off their terrific late season run this fall with a team filled of great young talent, despite the losses of Brooks Condon, Paul Tepedino and a host of impactful seniors to graduation.

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“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Colts Neck coach Art Collier about the 2019 season. “We lost 18 seniors from last year’s team. That’s an awful lot of good players and leadership to try to replace. We have a lot of potential. We have a lot of decent players at key positions.”

Stepping up to fill in the shoes of Condon and Tepedino offensively this season for the Cougars will be seniors Ely Ferro and John Farfan.

Farfan scored three goals and had six assists in 2018 as starting forward for the Cougars. Collier says the team will lean on Farfan early on because of his experience from last season.

Ferro on the other hand will be switching roles this season, moving up from being primarily a defender to a center midfielder role.

Both Collier and Ferro believe the senior is well primed to have a breakout season for the Cougars in 2019.

“I’ll be more of a playmaker for us this season,” Ferro said. “I’ll be taking a lot of set pieces, so I’m hoping to get a lot of assists and goals off those. I’m hoping to be a breakout player.“

Joining Farfan up top on the forward line will be sophomore David Tuschmann, who opened up some eyes with his strong play in the sectional tournament last season. Collier expects big things from Tuschmann in his sophomore campaign.

Adam and Derek Haaf are both expected to make key contributions to Colts Neck offense from the midfield and forward spots respectively.

Senior Christian Rivero will lead up the defense as the team’s center defensive midfielder.

Gaining great experience from being a part of last year’s postseason run, Rivero understands what the team needs to focus on going into this season.

Rivero will also look to continue the great leadership set by the seniors from last year’s team and instill those hard working values into the squad this season.

“We have to try to replicate what the seniors did last year to have a good season,” Rivero said. “Work hard. Practice hard. Go into every game with a good mindset. Get the wins that we can and try to get points against the tougher teams we face.”

Junior Stephen Ciccarone is another player that contributed a lot from being a part of the last season’s postseason run Collier believes.

After having a standout sophomore season, Ciccarone is expected to have a great junior campaign and be one of the team’s best defenders on the back line.

Senior Scott DePope will be another key defender for the Cougars this fall.

Fellow classmate Zach Welch and juniors Jacob Carreira and Jake Gershon will each contribute at different spots on the back line and in the midfield to help out the Colts Neck defense throughout the season.

Sophomore Tom Samaras will also be a key player defensively as well as offensively for Cougars in the midfield.

Samaras scored a goal in Colts Neck’s 2-0 win over Rumson-Fair Haven in its final scrimmage of the preseason.

The Cougars are still figuring out what type of system they will use the most this season based on the personnel they have on their roster.

Colts Neck will have the luxury of having a solid safety valve in net with goalkeeper Dylan Jacobs returning for his senior season.

Jacobs played well in his first year in net at the varsity level and established himself as a great leader at the back end of the Colts Neck defense.

“I know the way we like to play and how our coach likes to play, so that helps me direct the guys in front of me to form our defense,” Jacobs said. “It’s important for me to get our guys in the right spots at the right time. I think we can do really good things this year.”

An early season mission for the Cougars will be to avoid a slow start like last season when the team started out 1-5 and was 3-6 midway through the season.

That will be a challenge for Colts Neck, who in its first seven games of the season will have tough matchups against Holmdel, Jackson Memorial, Ocean and Neptune.

To prepare for those challenging games, Collier believes his team needs to embrace an underdog mentality going into the season and for the whole season for that matter.

Another thing Collier feels his team needs to continue to work on is finding its own identity and not just rest on the morals of what last year’s team was able to accomplish down the stretch.

“Last year’s team had its own personality and developed it four to five games into the season,” Collier said. “This year’s team is developing its own personality a little more quicker. Time will tell what kind of personality this team will have.”

Colts Neck opens up the season on Thursday at home against Red Bank Catholic

Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports