Soccer – Shore Conference Teammates and Rivals Re-Unite in Big Ten Showdown
PISCATAWAY - When Rutgers hosted Penn State Thursday night at Yurcak Field, not only was it a meeting of two of the top 25 women's soccer programs in the country, but it was a reunion of three of the top players to come out of the Shore Conference over the last several decades.
Colts Neck alumni Frankie Tagliaferri and Amanda Visco and former Freehold Township star Nicole Whitley shared the field Thursday for the first time since they competed with and against one another as high school seniors in the 2015 Shore Conference Tournament championship game.
In that SCT final, two goals by Tagliaferri and a lockdown effort by Visco and the defense led Colts Neck to a 3-0 win over Whitley and the Patriots. On Thursday, defense ruled the day on both sides as the visiting No. 14 Nittany Lions and No. 20 Scarlet Knights battled to a scoreless draw.
PHOTO GALLERY: Penn State at Rutgers by Paula Lopez
This time, it was Visco and Whitley sharing a uniform as two sophomore contributors for Rutgers while Tagliaferri - a freshman - appeared off the bench for Penn State. During their years competing against one another in the Shore Conference, it was Visco who was out to stop Whitley, but the former Colts Neck centerback and starting defending for the Scarlet Knights found herself accounting for Tagliaferri when she came stepped on the pitch.
Whitley did not start on Thursday, but has been a productive player in her first season at Rutgers. Her two goals and three assists place her fourth on the team in total scoring.
Tagliaferri, meanwhile, has appeared in all 14 games as a reserve and has notched two goals. Her high school career was stuff of legend, as she scored 81 goals despite missing time due to her commitment to the U.S. U-17 National Team.
She also helped lead Colts Neck to Shore Conference Tournament titles in 2015 and 2016 and the NJSIAA Group III championship in 2016. She scored three of Colts Neck's four combined goals in the two SCT championship games and scored the lone goal in a 1-0 state-final win over Northern Highlands - ranked No. 1 in the country at the time.
Former Howell standout Becca Hamilton is also a sophomore on the Penn State roster.
Tagliaferri's career put her in the conversation as arguably the best high school player in history of the state, and one of the women who can measure up to Tagliaferri in that conversation was in attendance Thursday night in Piscataway. United States star Carli Lloyd returned to her alma mater and was recognized prior to the game. Lloyd was also an All-State player for Delran High School prior to playing for Rutgers from 2001 to 2005.
Rutgers and Penn State met in the semifinals of the Women's College Cup in 2015, the same year Lloyd led the U.S. to the Women's World Cup championship by recording a hat trick during the first 16 minutes of the World Cup final vs. Japan.