By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
MAYS LANDING — The week the Oakcrest High boys soccer team had may have just saved their 2023 season.
After starting the season 2-2, the Falcons fell on hard times, losing five straight games while getting outscored 22-3 over the final two weeks of September. But Oakcrest ended the skid with a 5-0 win over Lower Cape May on Monday, beat a tough Middle Township team 3-1 on Wednesday, then took down Wildwood Catholic Academy, 5-1, on Thursday in our Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week.
Those three victories pushed Oakcrest’s record to 5-7 and got them back into the state playoff picture. The Falcons are now sitting at No. 12 in South Jersey Group 2, a half-point ahead of Pleasantville. The top 16 teams in the section earn berths in the state playoffs.
Against Wildwood Catholic, the forward duo of seniors Jack O’Brien and Alyns Polynice — a transfer from Atlantic City High — couldn’t be stopped, as they combined for three goals and five assists. The only goal they didn’t have a hand in was the final tally, which came from defender Youseff Abdalla, who pushed forward and dribbled his way through half the Crusaders’ defense before ripping a shot into the lower left to push Oakcrest’s lead to 5-1.
“We definitely needed this week. We were on a five-game losing streak but three wins I a row gets our heads back up. But we have to stay hungry. We had a hard game (on Wednesday) so we were all a little beaten down, but we had to get off to a good start (Thursday). It was good to take a 2-goal lead into halftime,” said O’Brien, a West Chester University recruit who leads the team with 15 goals and six assists. “We just need as many wins as we can get right now, and we’re playing like it. I’m proud of our team.”
Oakcrest (5-7, 3-6 Cape-Atlantic League National) threatened several times early and finally broke through in the 25th minute as Polynice sent a ball into the 18-yard box and O’Brien beat a pair of defenders before depositing a shot into the lower left corner. The Falcons made it 2-0 about five minutes later when O’Brien sent in a cross that Polynice knocked home for his third goal of the season.
“Our chemistry is definitely getting better. In the beginning of the season, all of us had never really played together,” O’Brien explained. “This is a brand new team, and now that we’re 12 games in we’re getting used to each other, our passes have gotten a lot better.”
“It’s easy to play with a guy like Jack, he’s probably the best striker in the Cape-Atlantic League. Who wouldn’t want to play soccer with him? I’m really happy to be here and to keep growing. It’s October, so the playoffs are getting closer. The more wins we get, the more chemistry we are building. Me and Jack are going to keep getting better, and our chemistry will keep getting better,” Polynice said. “I’m much more comfortable. (At the start of the season) it was a whole new team with a lot of new faces, but now it’s October and this is it — this is when we want to be playing well. We want to accomplish some things and I think we’re going to be a team that nobody wants to face (in the postseason).”
Early in the second half, Polynice played a nice ball down the left side and sent in a cross. O’Brien took a touch then blasted a right-footed shot to the lower left to give Oakcrest a 3-0 lead. The lead reached 4-0 about seven minutes later when Grant Tran scored before Wildwood Catholic (5-6, 4-3 CAL United) got on the board on a Charlie Dunner tally. By that time, however, the damage had been done.
“My assistant coaches were all over me about kids dragging, and I was like, ‘yeah, they are going to drag but give them a few minutes to get their legs under them.’ You go from the physicality of Middle Township and then Wildwood Catholic is trying to bait you into certain things defensively where they are sitting so far back — early in the year we’d get frustrated by something like that and just kick the ball at them, but now we’re being more patient,” said Oakcrest coach Scott Meile. “You’re seeing Jack, Alyns and Jacobo (Villota) all putting together a little patience in the middle of the field. We made a couple of switches where we put Bruce off the back line and moved him into the midfield to kind of, defensively, settle things down.”
Polynice had his best game of the season with a goal and three assists.
“My mindset is always to attack and try to get the win. I’m getting more comfortable every day,” he said. “My mindset is always there, that doesn’t change. My confidence is getting better every day, and everybody is finding each other’s feet. I think we’re going to keep getting better every day.”
“Alyns has varsity experience from Atlantic City so we knew all along there was something there, we just had to figure out how to best utilize him,” Meile said.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier next week as the Falcons take on Mainland, Bridgeton and Seneca, but Oakcrest’s final five games of the regular season are all at home.
“In the preseason, we knew that September — just the way the schedule fell — it was going to be a very challenging month for us. We knew it was going to be a tough start. It started out with the weather being too hot to play against Pleasantville, then we go play at Timber Creek and that was a challenging game with the heat. It just kind of snowballed out of our hands for a little while, but now we’re starting to get our feet back under us,” Meile said. “Beating Middle (on Wednesday) and beating a division team in Lower (on Monday) and getting a nondivisional win against Wildwood Catholic — we knew we were going to have to start putting some wins together if we were going to make it to the state tournament.”
Added O’Brien, “we can’t relax. We have to stay hungry. We have to play the next few weeks like we did this week and just try to get as many wins as we can. Staying hungry is the most important part.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Oakcrest hosts Mainland on Monday at 4 p.m. Wildwood Catholic travels to Buena Regional on Monday at 4 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter (X) @GDsullysays