COLTS NECK – Despite a commitment to a strict United States U-17 National Team schedule, Colts Neck sophomore Frankie Tagliaferri gave Cougars head coach Doug Phillips a commitment to join the high school team in 2014 because she wanted to help her school win a long-awaited championship.

After missing the Shore Conference Tournament final against Wall nearly two weeks earlier, Tagliaferri helped push Colts Neck over the hump against the only team to beat the Cougars this year.

Junior Ali Russo buried a wind-aided direct kick, Tagliaferri connected with Bridgette King for a second goal and the Cougars defense shut down Wall Friday to win their first NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III title since 2003 with a 2-0 victory. Colts Neck will face South Jersey Group III champion Moorestown on Tuesday at Toms River North with a trip to the Group III final on the line.

Ali Russo (6) celebrates her goal with senior Haley Cartas (17), the first of two Colts Neck goals that lifted the Cougars to a 2-0 win over Wall Friday. (Photo by Matt Manley)

“This feeling, it’s almost indescribable,” Russo said. “We really wanted to win the Shore Conference Tournament and we came up short. That wasn’t going to happen again today. We wanted this really badly and to actually win is such an amazing feeling.”

“Playing for your school and playing with your best friends is a different feeling,” Tagliaferri said. “Winning a championship together like this is an unbelievable feeling, something that I’ll never forget.”

Colts Neck played the SCT final without Tagliaferri – who was with the national team over the weekend of the championship game – and lost to Wall, 1-0. The Cougars’ only two losses this season came at the hands of Wall, which beat Colts Neck 3-2 in overtime in the regular season after dropping a 5-1 decision to the Cougars in the first meeting between the Class B North rivals.

“It killed me not to be there,” Tagliaferri said of the SCT final. “I was looking for updates the whole time and when I saw the final, it just made me realize that we had to bounce back for the state tournament and get this done.”

Instead of simply leaning on the return of Tagliaferri to make the difference in the fourth meeting between the two rivals, the Cougars made adjustments to their formation and the players resolved to play better.

“We changed it up a little bit by starting Ali Russo as the defensive center midfield,” Phillips said. “I felt like we needed more energy in there, and she’s able to provide that wherever she plays. She’s usually our outside back, but I felt like we could handle our responsibilities back there and add a little more to the middle of the formation.”

The Cougars also helped their cause by scoring first. A foul off to the left of the 18-yard box gave Colts Neck a free kick that amounted to a short-distance corner kick in the 11th minute. With the wind blowing toward the Wall goal, Russo tried to place the ball on the back post to set up a teammate for the header, but the ball bent in the wind and landed in the net after Wall keeper Alex Panasuk got a finger on it.

“I was just trying to play a cross,” Russo said. “I was hoping for something that someone could maybe get a toe-poke or a head on.”

Tagliaferri set up the second goal by taking the ball on a counter-attack at midfield and dribbling toward the left post. After drawing the defense to her, she slipped a through-ball toward the right post, where King ran onto the ball, touched it to the six-yard box, and slid a shot to the far left corner of the goal for a 2-0 Cougars lead in the 26th minute.

Junior Bridgette King scored the second goal for Colts Neck. (Photo by Matt Manley)

“It was key for me and Bridge (King) to play with energy up top and to make sure everyone is making those runs off the ball,” Tagliaferri said. “Her and I, we’ve been playing together since U-8 so there is a lot of chemistry there. Each of us knows what the other one is going to do, and we know either one of us can finish.”

Although Tagliaferri and King each had a chance to extend the lead in the second half and freshman Kayla Lee hit the bottom of the crossbar, the Cougars would not need another goal thanks to their defense, anchored by junior standout Amanda Visco and a unit committed to limiting Wall’s potent attack out of the air.

“Set pieces was something we really worked on defending this week and we didn’t give up anything off set pieces, which was what we were aiming for,” Russo said of a defense that at one point thwarted four Wall corner kicks within a span of two minutes, all with the wind blowing toward the goal.

Regardless of the outcome of the Moorestown game, this Cougars team has made its mark within the context of the soccer program and even exceeded the expectations of its coach.

“We went to play Freehold Township in the first scrimmage without Frankie and we tied them and I looked at my assistant and said, ‘Whoa, we’re not that bad,’” Phillips said. “Then we tied Freehold Boro and Manalapan and we thought, ‘We could be pretty good.’

“Then, when Frankie came back on the scene, we became a very dynamic team offensively to go along with what we had in the back. I saw we were solid, but never in a million years did I think we’d end up here.”


Box Score

Colts Neck 2, Wall 0




Wall (19-4-1)




Colts Neck (19-2)




Goals (Assists): (CN) Russo (DK) 11’, King (Tagliaferri) 26’
Shots: Colts Neck 8-3
Saves: (W) Panasuk 2; (CN) Eagan 1