Cougars setting sights on success under new coach Russo

  1 / 3 
Colts Neck High School girls basketball player Madison Hunt tries to dribble past Rumson-Fair Haven's Grace Colucci at half-court during a scrimmage on Dec. 9 in Rumson. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  2 / 3 
Colts Neck High School girls basketball player Julianna Gibson dribbles the ball up the floor during a scrimmage on Dec. 9 in Rumson. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  3 / 3 
Colts Neck High School girls basketball coach Nick Russo speaks to his team during a scrimmage on Dec. 9 in Rumson. Russo led Saint John Vianney to nine state championships as head coach of the Lancers.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
×
  1 / 3 
Colts Neck High School girls basketball player Madison Hunt tries to dribble past Rumson-Fair Haven's Grace Colucci at half-court during a scrimmage on Dec. 9 in Rumson. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  2 / 3 
Colts Neck High School girls basketball player Julianna Gibson dribbles the ball up the floor during a scrimmage on Dec. 9 in Rumson. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  3 / 3 
Colts Neck High School girls basketball coach Nick Russo speaks to his team during a scrimmage on Dec. 9 in Rumson. Russo led Saint John Vianney to nine state championships as head coach of the Lancers.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

COLTS NECK – There is a new voice at the helm of the Colts Neck High School girls basketball team this winter: former Saint John Vianney High School girls basketball coach Nick Russo.

Russo led the Lancers during the Holmdel school’s era of dominance in the 1990s, winning nine state titles, nine Shore Conference Tournament championships and five NJSIAA Tournament of Champions crowns.

Russo is excited about a new chapter in his coaching career and said he has enjoyed his time so far as the coach of the Cougars.

“It has been really fun,” he said. “They are a great bunch of kids. They work hard and are willing to learn. It’s been a pleasure so far.”

Russo has taken the reins of a team that finished 10-4 in 2020-21 in a season that was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seniors Julianna Gibson, Madison Hunt and Taryn Jacobs headline the players returning to the lineup.

Gibson, a center who recently committed to play at Saint Francis University, averaged 6 points and 6 rebounds per game in 2020-21. She led the team in blocked shots and made 17 steals.

Hunt will play point guard following the graduation of Jessica Thesing, who was Colts Neck’s leading scorer in 2020-21.

Hunt has handled several roles in the backcourt over the previous three seasons and has the ability to take on a new role. She contributed 24 assists, 43 rebounds and 19 steals a year ago.

Jacobs is expected to be a scoring threat in the paint and on the wing and has played well in the team’s preseason scrimmages, Russo said.

As a junior, Jacobs averaged more than 5 points per game. She contributed 43 rebounds and was one of the team’s top three-point field goal shooters.

Senior Isabella Marcinkiewicz and sophomore Savannah Butz will complete the starting five.

Junior Katie Finnegan is a returning player with varsity experience. Juniors Sarah Moran and Lauren Zeltser are expected to contribute off the bench.

“We have a lot of people competing for spots right now,” Russo said. “We have competition every day, which is good.”

One factor that led Russo to pursue the position at Colts Neck were people he knew in the Colts Neck area who were telling him that he and the players would be a perfect fit and so far, Russo believes that is true.

He said the school’s administrators have been great to him since his arrival and he said he is excited to have the opportunity to do some great things with the Cougars.

“These girls are great,” Russo said. “Practice has always been my favorite part of coaching and these girls have been working hard and are willing to learn. Most of them are two-sport or three-sport athletes. Hopefully we will be able to improve and by the end of the season be in top form.”

Colts Neck will begin the 2021-22 season by playing Manchester High School in the first round of the 37th annual WOBM Christmas Classic tournament on Dec. 18.