MAPLEWOOD/SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — With a strong returning nucleus, the Columbia High School boys soccer team hopes to build off a successful 2020 season in which the Cougars finished with a 9-4 record that included winning the Super Essex Conference Colonial Division title and reaching the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association North East G, Group 4, quarterfinals.
“We’re coming off a very positive season last year, winning the Colonial Division and getting promoted to the Liberty Division,” said head coach Ryan Muirhead, who also serves as the CHS varsity baseball head coach. “We had an overall record of 9-4. Three of those four losses were to West Orange, who ended up being a top-20 team in the state, I believe. The first two were our first two games of the season, and the third was in the quarterfinal of the state tournament.
“We did, however, graduate 17 seniors. We had four players transfer, and, unfortunately, we’re all still mourning the loss of Moussa Fofana, who would’ve been a senior this year. So, in general, we’re going to be a team that will undoubtedly have ups and downs this season, as new players are adapting to one another as well as the varsity level and playing in a stronger division.”
Fofana was fatally shot at Underhill Field in early June.
The Cougars return several key players.
Senior Charlie Herley earned first team honors and Christian DeJesus was an honorable mention selection in the All–Super Essex Conference Colonial Division last season.
Herley is a four-year varsity starter and captain who plans to play collegiate soccer. “He’s pound-for-pound one of the most athletic kids on the field, and we’re counting on him to play a vital role in our team,” Muirhead said.
DeJesus and junior Malachy Meyer also are captains who will provide leadership. DeJesus emerged as a standout last year. ”Christian had a breakout season last fall in the center of our midfield. He’s great at helping us find and attack dangerous spaces and one of our most passionate defenders in the midfield,” Muirhead said.
Meyer is one of three juniors who have been playing varsity since their freshman year. “He’s a very versatile player, a terrific ball winner and a very strong defender,” Muirhead said. “He’s going to play multiple roles for us this year.”
Juniors Braden Miller and James Van Varick also will be valuable contributors.
“Braden is a spark plug for our offense, a terrific tackler and a great distributor, especially under pressure,” Muirhead said. “Braden is another junior who has been on varsity since his freshman year and really helps key our offense.”
“James is the last of the three juniors who’ve played varsity all three years. We’re counting on him as the other half of our center-back pairing. He’s a willing defender and a tremendous distributor out of the back. He’s got skills that far exceed that of a traditional center back.”
Seniors Cole Strupp and Benno Broncel lead a promising group of varsity newcomers.
“Cole is likely the frontrunner to win our goalkeeper position, despite spending most of his career in the program as a field player,” Muirhead said. “We had a big hole with the departure of a junior transfer last year, and we think Cole is going to really help us bridge the gap to some of our younger goalies.
“Benno is quite literally the biggest piece of our back line. We’re counting on him heavily to help us defend against set pieces, while also providing senior leadership and organization,” Muirhead said.
Other varsity newcomers include seniors Drew Newman, Zach Johnson, RJ Benn and Sebastian Kalogerou and juniors Anderson Jimenez, Cyrus Merriweather and Holden Reeves.
“I think it’s going to be an exciting season,” Muirhead said. “There’s a lot of really good programs in this Liberty Division, and we’ll be crossing over with the American Division as well, so I know our guys are excited to be out on the field against this competition. We’ve got a lot of growing to do as a team, though, so I’m sure our success will be dictated by how quickly we are able to jell.”
This will be Muirhead’s sixth year with the program. He was an assistant coach for two years, and the junior varsity and freshman coach for one year each. Prior to coming to Columbia, he was a volunteer coach at his alma mater, Verona High School.
In addition to Columbia, the Liberty Division schools are Verona, Bloomfield, Newark Academy, Belleville, Nutley, Caldwell and West Essex.
Columbia’s home games will be held at Underhill Field. The Cougars open the season on Sept. 9 against Verona at Underhill.
Sept. 9 vs. Verona, 6:15 p.m.
Sept. 11 at Nutley, 2:30 p.m.
Sept. 14 vs. Glen Ridge, 4 p.m.
Sept. 17 vs. Newark Academy, 4 p.m.
Sept. 20 at West Essex, 4 p.m.
Sept. 22 at West Orange, 4 p.m.
Sept. 25 at Union, 11 a.m.
Sept. 28 at Caldwell, 4 p.m.
Sept. 30 vs. Millburn, 4 p.m.
Oct. 7 at Summit, 4 p.m.
Oct. 12 vs. Westfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 at Governor Livingston, 4 p.m.
Oct. 18 at Belleville, 4 p.m.
Oct. 20 vs. Bloomfield, 4 p.m.
Oct. 22 vs. Jonathan Dayton, 4 p.m.
Oct. 26 at Newark East Side, 4 p.m.
Oct. 28 vs. Lakeland, 4 p.m.