Summer runs, summer ball skills, summer training…check!  Laces are tightening up, the cardio and off-season workouts are all but done, and the only thing left to do is to wait for that opening-day whistle.  Coming off another impressive run for the Shore Conference teams in the NJSIAA tournament, only Holmdel was able to bring the Group championship hardware home when the Hornets beat Ramapo, 1-0, in the Group II championship game.  Shore Regional and Colts Neck also made runs to the finals before losing 2-0 in the Group I final and 4-0 in the Group III final, respectively.  Shore Conference powers Red Bank Catholic, St. Rose, Mater Dei, Wall and Howell each made deep runs into the tournament but fell short of their championship goal.
Holmdel captured its first NJSIAA title, and did so with a valiant team effort.  Going up against the 10th-ranked team in New Jersey, the entire Hornets roster contributed in the win.  Ultimately, the difference was the first-half goal by Gabby Bair, who connected on a direct kick from 25 yards out for the game’s lone goal as the Hornets held off a powerful Ramapo attack.
Holmdel will once again be knocking on the Group II championship door this year with the majority of their starting lineup back. Bair (27 goals and 12 assists as a junior) returns for her senior season along with Rebecca Stanziale (5 goals and 6 assists), sisters Abbey and Kailey Flynn (combined 5 goals and 16 assists), and should be able to build. on their offensive production with another year under their belts.  Defensively, the Hornets are led by another pair of sisters in Maggie and Casey Matthijs, but will have to get used to another voice behind them after the graduation of keeper Helen Burleigh.
Holmdel¹s Gabriella Bair
Shore Regional got turned away in the Group I championship by Kinnelon, but it was one of the best turnarounds in Shore’s girls soccer program. Coming off a 2013 in which they went a respectable 9-8-4, the Blue Devils catapulted to an impressive 18-6-1 in 2014 and along the way captured the Central Jersey Group I championship 2-0 over Metuchen and a NJSIAA Group I semifinal 3-0 win over Audubon.
The Blue Devils will be looking for a third straight run to the NJSIAA Group final but will have to look for offensive production from Shannon Bonner and Katie Stephens to pick up the production left behind by graduating senior Samantha McDonough. Combined last season, Bonner and Stephens joined McDonough among the team’s top scorers with a combined 16 goals and 9 assists.  Returning to the offensive fray for Shore Regional will be younger sister Devon McDonough (5 goals and 3 assists), Sophie Haurits (5 goals and 3 assists), Jessica Egan (4 goals) and Lauren Britton (4 goals and 1 assist).  The late season returns of both Devon McDonough and Haurits from early-season injuries provided the offensive power alongside Samantha McDonough.
Shore Shannon Bonner
Colts Neck, another Shore Conference team that found success in 2014, returns top conference goal-scorer in Frankie Tagliaferri, a Penn State commit and US U-17 National pool player.  The reigning Player of the Year, Tagliaferri returns as an offensive threat, as well as bringing her veteran leadership heading into her junior year. Entering the Shore Conference Tournament as the No. 1 seed, Colts Neck lost the SCT final to Wall, 1-0, while playing without Tagliaferri, who was honoring a U.S. National commitment.  Colts Neck bounced back to capture a Central Jersey Group III championship win over Wall, 2-0, before falling to four-time group champion Northern Highlands and ending a 20-3 season.
Along with the presence of Tagliaferri, coach Doug Phillips returns a potent offense that includes Ali Russo and Bridgette King, both of whom gained valuable big-game experience last season and also accounted for a goal each in the CJ III final against Wall.
Colts Neck Frankie Tagliaferri
Wall Township is the reigning Shore Conference Tournament Champion and will once again be a team that creates headlines as a team to watch in 2015. The Crimson Knights returned the majority of their SCT championship run but will have to replace four significant players in Abigayle Musto, Danielle Gardner, Heather Arbachesky and Christie Cancro – all of whom graduated this past spring.
The core four had been with the varsity program for all four years of their high school careers and the veteran leadership came out in full force in 2014.  The Knights ended their run with a record of 20-4 and their first SCT Championship since 1998.
Coach Mike Juska loses the leadership and vision of Musto and Cancro in the midfield, and replacing their presence in the middle will be one of his challenges this season.  Defensively, the loss of Gardner as a sweeper and vocal leader leaves another void.  The Knights, however, do return a veteran group led by junior keeper Alex Panasuk, and midfielders Dari Lyons and Amy Paternoster.
Additional Teams to keep an eye on this season will be perennial powers Red Bank Catholic, St. Rose, Freehold Boro, Freehold Township and Toms River North.  Teams with something to prove after big graduation losses will be Brick Memorial, Howell, Central and Mater Dei.
Golden Cleat Watch: Frankie Taliaferri (Colts Neck), Nicole Whitley (Freehold Township), Lindsay Hernandez (Brick Memorial), Gabby Bair (Holmdel), Shannon Bonner (Shore), Rebecca Hamilton (Howell), Casey Palmer (Brick) and Dasey DiElmo (Pinelands)
Games to watch: Colts Neck vs Wall (Sept. 10), Red Bank Catholic vs Shore (Sept. 15), Freehold Township vs Howell (Sept. 28), Brick Memorial vs Jackson Memorial (Sept. 26) and all Shore Conference Tournament games that are tentatively slated to start on Oct. 21.