Eastern Regional High School girls soccer coach Jamie McGroarty is no stranger to the NJSIAA (New Jersey State Interscholastic Association). In fact, during his 20 years as head coach, McGroarty has become used to preparing the Vikings during the season for their playoff push.
“Each year, you have to judge your team and say, ‘Are we getting the most out of our players?’ And I think this year we are getting the most out of our players.”
McGroarty is proud of the Eastern program he’s helped build and attributes his run of success to putting players in their best positions. With McGroarty at the helm since 2003, the Vikings only missed the playoffs once – in 2008.
“We are very fortunate that our (regular) season prepares us for the playoff run,” he said. “The playoffs actually give us more time (off). During the regular season, you’re pretty much playing every other day.”
The Eastern girls soccer program has had a seemingly unprecedented run of dominance throughout McGroarty’s tenure. All the more impressive is that the team consistently competes against New Jersey’s top talent.
Every season since 2017-’18, the Vikings have finished in first place atop the Olympic Conference standings. Even during an “off year” in conference, they finished third and ended up in the NJISSA tournament final, losing to Tom’s River.
The team’s greatness can’t be overstated.
“Playing in the Olympic Conference gives us such an advantage,” McGroarty observed. “To me, it is really the top tier of talent in the state … When I look at the schedule, the stretch I was a little worried about was when we played all of the (better) teams in the (national) division.”
Despite challenging games outside the division, Eastern remained undefeated.
“I thought there was a chance we could go 0-4 against their top teams, but we won all of them, by several goals,” McGroarty explained of when he felt his team “came together.” “That stretch in my mind, I felt like that is where we (as a team) needed to be.”
The only team that gave Eastern repeated trouble this year was Shawnee High, who handed the Vikings their only loss and one of three ties. McGroarty believes Shawnee challenges his team every year.
“I think Shawnee is one of the most talented teams in South Jersey,” he acknowledged. “Producing top players every single year, for us to have success against them most years (in the past) doesn’t really make sense …
“They were the better team the first game, we were the better team the second time, beating them in penalty kicks in the South Jersey Coaches Association Tournament.”
With playoffs fast approaching, the Vikings are primed for another deep playoff run. McGroarty said his team’s strengths are time of possession and strong defense, reasons that Eastern has only allowed 12 goals over 22 games, with 12 total shutouts.
“I think our strength all year has been our defense and our goalie,” McGroarty noted. “We’re been really good defensively. Our defense allows us to stay in games while our forwards prepare to score …. That’s what we’ve leaned on between this year and last year.”
The Vikings won their first-round playoff game on Oct. 26, beating Atlantic Tech 8-0.