Receiving seven of the of the 10 first-place votes, MSU was a near overwhelming favorite to win a third straight championship. New Jersey City University, which fell in the each of the last two conference title games to Montclair State, was picked second and got the other three first-place votes. Richard Stockton was chosen third followed by Rutgers-Camden, The College of New Jersey, Ramapo, Rowan, Kean, Rutgers-Newark (the league’s darkhorse choice) and William Paterson.
Montclair State, which is ranked seventh in the National Soccer Coaches Association Division III Preseason Poll, has dominated the conference the past two seasons posting a 16-2 mark while earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament. Last year, MSU went 19-3-1 (7-2 in the NJAC) and defeated NJCU 1-0 in the tournament title game in Jersey City. The two teams would later meet in the Sectional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament with Montclair pulling out a 3-2 overtime win. The Red Hawks fell to perennial NCAA contender Messiah the following day, 1-0. Over the last two seasons, Montclair has posted a 39-4-2.
The Red Hawks kickoff their season on Saturday, August 30 as they face Penn State Altoona in the Citrano Medical Labs Kick-off Classic held at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. Montclair returns 10 of 11 starters from last year’s team, including four All-Conference members.
Leading that group is senior goalkeeper Nick Mele ( Delran, NJ / Delran), who was chosen Second-Team All- America by the NSCAA. Mele, the NJAC Goalkeeper of the Year and First-Team All-NJAC selection, posted a 0.60 goals against average and made 87 saves while posting 12 shutouts. A three-time NJAC Defensive Player of the Week award winner, Mele set the Montclair single-season record for victories and posted the second-highest total for shutouts in a season as he led the conference in both those categories. In addition, he was second in the league in save percentage (.870) and fourth in total saves. In the final NCAA Division III statistics, Mele was ranked sixth in save percentage and 18th in goals against average. The Red Hawks were ranked in the Top 20 as a team in goals against average (16th), save percentage (9th) and shutouts per game (9th).
Also back is senior striker Tyler Masterson ( Long Valley, NJ / West Morris Central). Masterson was named to both the NSCAA and D3Kicks.com Metro Region First Team and earned All-NJAC First Team honors as he led the team in points, goals and game-winning goals. Masterson, who finished second in the NJAC in points scored and goals, and led the league in game-winning tallies, collected 16 goals and 36 points while knocking in seven game-winning markers.
Senior Eric Pfeifer ( Wyckoff, NJ / Ramapo) and junior Joseph Cullen ( Clementon, NJ / Highland) round out the returning All-Conference players. Pfeifer anchored one of the nation’s stingiest defensive units as MSU allowed just 13 goals in 23 games last season. Pfeifer will be joined by senior captain Owen Amster ( Somerville, NJ / Somerville) and Brian Miles ( Newtown, CT / Newtown). Cullen started all 23 contests last season and received Third-Team All-Region honors from the NSCAA while garnering Second-Team All-NJAC accolades.Following Montclair’s appearance in Baltimore, the Red Hawks return back for home for a four-game homestand beginning on Wednesday, September 3 as they face Mount St. Vincent at the MSU Soccer Park (3:30 pm). Montclair opens up it NJAC slate on Saturday, September 20 versus Rowan University in a 6:00 pm matchup under the lights of Sprague Field.