BAYVILLE - When he had a chance to reflect on what his Colts Neck girls soccer team had just accomplished on Saturday night at Central Regional High School, Doug Phillips praised the collective unit but had to pay tribute to the once-in-a-generation player that once again carried the program to a Shore Conference Tournament championship.

"We had a good team," Phillips said. "But what she does is magic."

"She" is Frankie Tagliaferri and she scored two goals on laser-precision free kicks in the second half Saturday to lead Colts Neck to a 3-0 win over No. 2 seed Freehold Township for the Cougars' second consecutive Shore Conference Tournament title.

"For a player like Frankie - who is going to go down as arguably the greatest player in the history of the Shore Conference - for her to put a stamp on her career by winning another Shore Conference Tournament and doing what she did today against a great soccer team is an incredible statement," Phillips said.

Photo by Matt Manley
Photo by Matt Manley

Tagliaferri's first free kick goal put her team ahead 1-0 in the 50th minute and she capped the scoring by bending a 22-yard free kick to the upper far corner of the goal in the 66th.

Colts Neck had recently dodged a near miss by Freehold Township's Jada Colbert on a clean look from the right side of the 18-yard box when Tagliaferri drew a foul within five yards of the 18-yard box. On the ensuing free kick, Freehold Township set up its wall and Tagliaferri proceeded to bend the ball around the right side of the wall and inside the near post.

"A lot of players want to try to take that shot to the upper 90 on the left side of the goal," Tagliaferri said. "I always try to practice curving it around the right side of the wall because the goalie isn't on that side and if I get it past the wall, it's basically an automatic goal."

Sixteen minutes later, with her team now ahead 2-0, Tagliaferri had a chance to put the game on ice with a free kick from 25 yards out on the left side. She bent a shot that hooked just inside the far right post and also dipped just under the crossbar for a picturesque finish.

Over her four varsity seasons at Colts Neck - particularly the past three - Tagliaferri has been at her best on the biggest stages: each of the last three Shore Conference Tournaments, as well as last year's NJSIAA Group III final against nationally-ranked Northern Highlands. But goals like the ones she scored Saturday, according to Tagliaferri herself, are the types of plays that are developed when no one is watching.

"Those are the kinds of shots I practice over and over again when no one is around," Tagliaferri said. "You make those shots by practicing them as much as possible."

Sophomore Kristi Mikula scored the second Colts Neck goal in the 54th after Kayla Lee played her through the back line. Mikula ran the ball down and slid it past Freehold Township keeper Angela DeCicco.

"I guess I just saw an opening up the line," Mikula said. "Kay played a great ball over and I was able to run onto it and get behind the defense, and then I was fortunate to get it past the goalie."

During first half Tagliaferri earned Colts Neck's only dangerous opportunity while the rest of the outside attackers and forwards were not able to recognize the open runs with Tagliaferri occupying multiple defenders and Lee playing quality passes through the defense. Miklua began to find that room in the second half and, on her goal, took full advantage of the space Freehold Township conceded while accounting for Tagliaferri.

"The conversation came up with Kristi at halftime where I told her, 'Kris, when Frank gets the ball and turns, you've got to get vertical earlier,'" Phillips said. "She's drawing so much attention that that space is on. Kristi's only a sophomore and she's a natural outside mid for her club team. We've needed her more as a forward, and she can really run."

On Tagliaferri's one first-half chance, Patriots defenders Sarah Hughes and Kiersten Reszkowski  closed off the far post shot to Tagliaferri's left and forced her to shoot the ball inside the near post, where DeCicco planted herself to cover the most vulnerable part of the goal.

Since returning from the U-17 World Cup in Jordan, Tagliaferri has 18 goals in seven games. Colts Neck earned the No. 5 seed while playing most of the season without her and is 7-0 since her return.

Over the last three years, Tagliaferri has led Colts Neck to two SCT titles, a runner-up in 2014 - when she missed the SCT final due to a U-17 National Team commitment - and two consecutive Group III title appearances, including the win last year. She will also graduate as the program's all-time leading scorer and regarded by many as the best Shore Conference girls soccer player since Christie Rampone played at Point Boro.

With the accolades Tagliaferri has racked up, she has made a strong case as the best high school player in Shore Conference history, regardless of what her collegiate career at Penn State holds.

"It's a completely different feeling winning here than winning overseas," Tagliaferri said. "Playing in the World Cup, it's playing for a different reason with a different group. Here, it's for my school, it's with my best friends, my family comes out to see me play and it's amazing to feel the support."

"She has a real legacy she's leaving behind," Phillips said of Tagliaferri. "She's the leading scorer in program history. She's going to be talked about for years to come."


Box Score

Colts Neck 3, Freehold Twp. 0

Colts Neck (13-2-1)033
Freehold Twp. (14-2-4)000

Goals (Assists): (CN) Frankie Tagliaferri (DK) 50', Kristi Mikula (Kayla Lee) 54', Frankie Tagliaferri 66'
Shots: Freehold Twp., 10-8
Saves: (CN) Victoria Spieler; (FT) Angela DeCicco

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