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Defense helps carry Cougars to 10-8 record in 2021-22 campaign

Colts Neck High School girls basketball player Taryn Jacobs secures the offensive rebound against two Red Bank Regional defenders underneath the hoop during a game played on Feb. 3 in Little Silver. Red Bank defeated Colts Neck 46-35.

Nick Russo, who took the coaching reins of the Colts Neck High School girls basketball team prior to the start of the 2021-22 season, said this week that the best part about the campaign has been having the opportunity to coach the players who comprise the squad.

“They are great people,” he said. “They work hard and do whatever you ask them to do. It’s been a pleasure being around them every day.”

Russo, the former Saint John Vianney High School coach and nine-time state champion, has guided the Cougars to a 10-8 record. Defense has been the key to the success the team has enjoyed.

The coach knew coming into the season that his team would face challenges on offense and so Russo has helped the Cougars embrace the makeup of being a defensive-minded unit.

The Cougars are 9-0 when their opponent scores fewer than 40 points and have held their opponents to under an average of 30 points in their 10 victories.

“Our defense has been great all year,” Russo said. “We play really hard and play good defense.”

The outstanding defense is what the Cougars have used to build their offense, the coach adds.

Seniors Julianna Gibson and Tayrn Jacobs have led the way offensively.

Gibson has been a force in the paint, averaging more than 13 points per game and leading the team in rebounds and blocked shots.

“It’s really good to have someone you can count on every night to score,” Russo said of Gibson.

Gibson’s play down low has opened up the wing for Jacobs and her ability to shoot the ball well from three-point range.

Jacobs leads the team with 30 three-point field goals and is averaging just under 8 points per game.

Senior Madison Hunt leads the team in assists and steals and has played well in the backcourt.

Sophomore Savannah Butz and junior Katie Finnegan have blossomed in their roles as starters.

Finnegan has provided additional shooting from the outside and has made 18 three-point field goals.

Butz is averaging close to 5 points and 4 rebounds per game next to Gibson in the frontcourt.

Colts Neck has gone 6-3 in its Shore Conference B North Division games and is second behind undefeated Saint John Vianney in the division standings.

After going 6-1 during a seven-game stretch midway through the season, the Cougars have dropped three straight contests, including a 46-35 loss to Red Bank Regional High School on Feb. 3 in Little Silver.

The Cougars’ offensive struggles were evident in the first half against the Bucs, as they trailed 26-16 at halftime.

Colt Neck tried to fight back in the second half with Jacobs and Finnegan getting hot from three-point range, but the Bucs answered each score to pull away with the upset victory.

Jacobs led the Cougars with 10 points, while Finnegan connected on three three-point field goals in the second half.

Understanding his team’s struggle to score, Russo said after the loss to Red Bank that the Cougars need to play consistent defense and he hopes they can do that moving forward.

The Cougars are aiming for berths in the Shore Conference Tournament and in the Central Jersey Group III state sectional tournament.

Most importantly, however, the Cougars are focused on their main task of trying to get better each day and enjoying the thrill of playing a full season on the hardwood.

“We don’t really talk much about wins and losses. We talk about getting better each day and that is what we are hoping to do,” Russo said.

Colts Neck is scheduled to host Neptune High School on Feb. 8.

Colts Neck High School girls basketball player Julianna Gibson knocks down a free throw attempt at the line during a game against Red Bank Regional on Feb. 3 in Little Silver. Gibson scored eight points in the contest.
Colts Neck High School girls basketball player Madison Hunt tries to drive past Red Bank's Camryn Gardner to the basket during a game played on Feb. 3 in Little Silver. Colts Neck lost 46-35.
Colts Neck High School girls basketball player Katie Finnegan surveys the court from outside the wing during a game against Red Bank Regional on Feb. 3 in Little Silver. Finnegan scored nine points in the contest.
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