With 40 years at the helm, Graf stepped away from the job and was replaced by Albanese. It was a seamless transition since he had been Graf’s assistant for 11 seasons, and the Bulldogs have not lost a beat.
Metuchen (13-5) successfully defended the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Blue Division championship and was the second seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I tournament as second seed. The team began play Nov. 3 with a home match against Highland Park High School (15th seed). A victory would pave the way for the Bulldogs to host the winner of 17th-seeded Middlesex High School and 10th-seeded New Egypt High School Nov. 6. The semifinals are Nov. 10 and the finals are Nov. 13. All matches are at the higher-seeded team.
“The small-school spirit, working with Ken and coaching great athletes are what convinced me to not leave,” Albanese said. “Under Ken, I learned how to win but that it’s more important our players exhibit class, respect and sportsmanship.”
Albanese’s coaching leadership has not gone unrecognized by his peers. He was recently named Blue Division and conference coach of the year.
“Everyone was surprised by how well senior tri-captain Ryan Josell (14 goals, six assists) has played but not me,” Albanese said. “He worked hard to improve, has been named to the all-division and all-conference first teams and is being recruited by a number of Division III colleges.”
Tri-captain Cameron O’Connell (16 goals, four assists) has been equally valuable and, along with Josell, has formed one of the best one-two punches in the GMC. Seniors Christian Nunez (six goals, three assists) and Cameron Kessler have also had a positive impact at midfield, which sets the tempo for the Metuchen attack.
Defensively, the Bulldogs have been led by sophomore Jack Bradley, seniors Liam Weeks and Mike Plunkett and junior Kyle Harry. Senior goalkeepers Tom Davis and Kieran Brennemann have commanded the net and have provided the team with consistency and reliability throughout the season.
In other state tournament games involving area boys soccer teams, Bishop George Ahr High School (10-6-1) is the sixth seed in Non-Public A South and hosted Camden Catholic High School (11th seed) Nov. 3. The winner travels to meet third-seed St. Augustine High School Nov. 6.
In the same bracket, eighth-seed St. Joseph High School of Metuchen (10-9-1) hosted ninth-seed St. John Vianney High School Nov. 3, with the winner to meet topseed Christian Brothers Academy Nov. 6.
In girls state tournament action, secondseed Bishop Ahr (16-2) had the opportunity to amend for its 3-0 loss to East Brunswick High School in the GMC Tournament semifinals by hosting the winner of the first-round match between seventh-seed St. Rose High School and 10th-seed Paul VI High School Nov. 5 in the Non-Public A South bracket.
Metuchen (15-3-1) is the second seed in Central Jersey Group I and hosted 15thseed Bound Brook High School Nov. 2.
As the football regular season winds to a close, the only area team that can qualify for the postseason playoffs is Metuchen. The Bulldogs (6-1) are the seventh-ranked team in Central Jersey Group II and can secure a berth in the eight-team bracket with a victory at Spotswood High School (6-2) Nov. 7.
Also at stake is the GMC Blue Division championship. A year ago, the teams met for the division crown with Spotswood winning a tough-fought game, 10-6.
Metuchen still has one other regular-season game remaining on the schedule. The Bulldogs host Highland Park High School (1-2 division, 3-4 overall) in the renewal of a rivalry game that traditionally used to be played Thanksgiving Day.
The Bishop Ahr gymnastics team — one of the parochial high school’s marquee sports programs — made a triumphant return to the top of the GMC by winning the conference meet Oct. 24.
The Trojans were led by freshman Ariyana Agarwala, who won the all-around medal, three events and placed second in another. Her performance, along with that of fellow freshman Skylar Davisson, enabled Bishop Ahr to finish with 109.95 points to capture first place.
Agarwala placed first on the bars (9.575), beam (9.7) and floor (9.65), and she finished runner-up in the vault (9.525). Davisson finished tied for third in the allaround (36.825), fifth on bars (8.9), third on beam (9.075) and tied for fourth on floor (9.3).
J.P. Stevens High School’s Shannon Gregory placed second in the all-around (37.5), first on vault (9.6), second on bars (9.475), fifth on beam (9.0) and second on floor (9.425).
Bishop Ahr also completed a perfect 7-0 record in dual meets.