By Tim Morris
The Shore Conference A North Division has a well-earned reputation for excellence in girls soccer.
Now, with the return of 2015 NJSIAA Group III state champion Colts Neck High School to the division, it has become possibly the toughest in the state with two state champions in the fold.
In addition to Doug Phillips’ Cougars, who ended 2015 as the best team in the state with a 24-0-1 record, Freehold Township High School captured the Group IV co-championship, battling undefeated Ridge High School to a 0-0 draw in the finals.
Freehold High School and Manalapan High School also have statewide reputations. Freehold has been the dominant program in the Freehold Regional High School District (FRHSD) for more than a decade, with two state titles to go along with several division crowns.
Manalapan has a Central Jersey title in its trophy case and won A North last year.
Howell High School is just a year removed from appearing in a state sectional final, and Marlboro High School has had deep playoff runs in recent campaigns.
Whoever survives A North this fall will be ready for the postseason tournaments.
Doug Phillips’ Cougars had one of those magic seasons in 2015, winning everything: the division, Shore Conference Tournament, state sectional and state championship. It was a season for the ages, as the Cougars went through the draining season unbeaten.
The Cougars still have the remarkable Frankie Tagliaferri, a U.S. National Team member, and seven other starters back from the state championship team. Although they lost some scoring with the graduation of Bridgette King, Alison Russo and Amanda Visco, the Cougars are still loaded and begin 2016 as the team everyone is targeting.
Speed, skill and team defense are Colts Neck’s strengths, according to Phillips.
The Cougars will rely on their defense the first month of the season, as Tagliaferri fulfills her U-17 national team obligations.
Lauren Fester, Ali Ryan and Kara Camarco return on the back line of a formidable defense. The returning midfielders are Nicole Loehle, Kayla Lee, Kristen Gambardella, Kristi Mikula, Isabella Fitzhenry and Jenna Buckley.
Tara Walenczyk, Loehle, Camarco and Tagliaferri are the Cougars’ captains.
Tagliaferri is a marvel on the soccer field. As lethal as she is one-on-one, she does so many things that make her teammates better. She’s the consummate team player and is difficult to defend. She had 28 goals and 18 assists last year, which speaks for her talent and the Cougars’ ability to be a serious threat to repeat as state champions.
Completing the Cougars’ rosters are Alexandra Ryan, Kassidy Stepnosky, Peyton Kirol, Erin Chirumbole, Jenna Buckley, Isabella Pecoraro, Crystal Cutler and Victoria Spieler (goalie).
It was a dream season for the Dave Patterson’s Patriots (20-4-2) when the postseason got underway. They reached the Shore Conference Tournament finals against Colts Neck, losing, 1-0. In the state tournament, they rallied from two goals down to beat Hunterdon Central Regional High School for the Central Jersey, Group IV crown, 3-2, on Lacey Powell’s goal. They tied undefeated Ridge, 0-0, to win the Group IV co-championship — the program’s first.
The Patriots head into 2016 looking to keep it going.
“We hope to continue to be successful in the division, conference and state,” Patterson said. “We graduated seven college soccer players but bring back key returnees as well.
“We know that in order to be successful, it will require a true team effort each and every game and look forward to the opportunity to challenge ourselves against the competition.”
One of those key players is senior Nicole Sasso, who is one of the best two-way midfielders in the Shore — if not the state. Her propensity for winning 50-50 balls is what sparks the Patriots’ attack.
Last year, speedy winger Jasmine Colbert had a breakout year with 14 goals and eight assists. The junior could have another big season. Her twin, Jada Colbert, has moved to midfield from defense to help the offense.
Also returning are Kirsten Reszkowski and Alyssa Reszkowski, who are tri-captains with Sasso, as well as Brianna Cuccinelli, Angela DeCicco, Meaghan Latona, Laura Noseworthy, Haily Tanner, Amanda Meinster, Meghan Summonte and Paige Farrell. This is an experienced group of seniors and juniors.
Newcomers are Alessia LaRosa, Sarah Hughes, Anna Priborkina, Lauren Speck, Deanna D’Amico, Jessica Judge, Jen Weinstock, Christa Rasponte, Nicole Mella, Karissa Oliviero and Kristen MacFarlane.
Rick Garretson’s Braves graduated their clutch go-to scorer in Amanda Ferraro, but the head coach has 13 players returning — nine of them seniors — as they look to defend their division title.
“We have a lot of talent and enough talent to battle for another A North title,” said Garretson, who starts his 21st year as Manalapan’s head coach.
The seniors returning from the division championship team are Olivia Connors, Mya Donnelly, Ariel Kamen, Marisa Presby, Julia Adamkiewicz, Christine Critelli, Ashlyn Hovan, Kayla Saltzman and Lauren Silvia.
Junior forward Arielle Kaplan is the leading scorer among the returnees, with nine goals and seven assists. Taylor Acevedo, Angela Carbonara and Gabriella Naletilic are juniors who saw action last year.
Kamen is one of the conference’s better goalies. She had seven shutouts last year.
Newcomers expected to contribute are junior Kathryn DeLuca and promising freshmen Jillian Abramo, Lauren Bruno, Jordyn Ferraro, Briana Ramirez and Simona Tsvilikhovski.
Freehold has been the benchmark in the FRHSD for quite a long time. The team was 9-8-1 last year and is looks to regain its stature as one of the Shore’s elite squad.
While head coach Elyse Ingui is on maternity leave, Nick Filippone is in charge of the program. He has a team that lost much of its firepower but is strong on defense.
The Colonials return goalkeeper Jordan Cerio and backs Amanda Tran, Kate Lemunyon, Taylor Rupprecht and Olivia Duffy. This is a strong unit that will be difficult to dent.
On offense, the Colonials look to returning forwards/midfielders Kaleigh Rudic, Gianna Ritornaro, Stephanie Avillo, Ashley Fuentes, Maria Amalfitano and Carly Coloumbe.
Completing the squad are Carly Daum and Stephanie Moir.
One of the FRHSD’s legendary players, Shannon Mayrose, is now coaching the Rebels, who were 9-7 in 2015. Her immediate goal is to bring a unified culture from from the seniors to the freshmen to the the program.
Mayrose has seven starters to build the 2016 team around. They are Marissa Dare; Amanda Verdoni; Rachel Kern, the goalie who was the Group IV javelin state champion during the spring track and field season; Kayla Ray; Erika DeSantis; Katire Klein; and Jess O’Brien.
Also returning are Sara Huguenin, Lauren Melendez, Gianna Enea, Angela Sulfaro and Alexis Serido, who saw playing time last season.
Mayrose said she wants the Rebels to “have a competitive season in A North and tournament play.”
Marlboro has a new coach as well in Marc Strumwasser. He has a team that is senior-heavy with a mixture of juniors and sophomores.
The season goal, the coach pointed out, is to compete in A North and qualify for the state and Shore Conference tournaments.
Seniors Jaclyn Bernstein, Julia Caracappa, Alexa Chapman, Rebecca Gorenstein, Sara Katz, Gina Senia and Mia Rosenthal are the team leaders.
Back from last year with them are juniors Francesca Donato, Alexandra Jay and Sydney Weber. Sophomores Jillian Chapman, Celine Brady and Samantha Howard also return.
The new faces include senior Lindsay Kornhauser; juniors Samantha Meiskin, Taylor Funari and Olivia Amabile; and freshmen Sofia James, Alexandra O’Hare and Victoria Tzitzis.
The season began Sept. 9 in Freehold Township, with the Patriots spoiling Mayrose’s coaching debut. Sasso and Jasmine Colbert scored for Freehold Township in the 2-0 win.
Kern stopped 15 shots for the Rebels.