Colts Neck girls’ soccer team bringing back strong defensive group

Scott Jacobs

Kevin Hein has modest expectations for his Colts Neck High School girls’ soccer team.

But they are expectations nonetheless.

Last fall, the Cougars went 10-7-2 and reached the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 sectional tournament semifinals, falling to Brick Township High School, 1-0. Hein is expecting a similar campaign in 2019.

Colts Neck has six starters back from that team, including goalkeeper Kaitlyn Torres and two of her backs, Catherine O’Connor and Jenna Kushnir. With a strong defense, the Cougars will be able to keep themselves in games.

Colts Neck’s regular season will begin on Sept. 3 at home against Howell High School. Opening tap is scheduled for 4 p.m.

“Defense is our strength. That’s nice to fall back on,” Hein said. “That can make up for mistakes in front of them.”

Torres, a junior, is entering her third year as a starter already. In 2018, she made 151 saves, including two or three ridiculous saves per game.

In one goal games, she made the difference.

“She kept a fair share of goals out of the net last year,” Hein said.

Torres’ central defender, O’Connor, is on her level as a player. Hein called her one of the top two or three defenders in the entire Shore Conference.

Next to O’Connor, Kushnir, a senior, is going into her third year as a starting back. In front of her, defensive midfielder Eva Roros excels at stealing the ball and transitioning it back to the offensive third.

With Torres, O’Connor, Kushnir and Roros, Colts Neck has an elite and experienced defensive unit.

It just doesn’t really have any offense returning for this fall. The Cougars scored 32 goals a year ago. The players responsible for 28 of them graduated in the spring.

But two other starters, center midfielder Madelyn Moore and center midfielder/center back Ella Cano, are back for 2019. Hein will definitely need Moore to generate offense. He may use Cano, a versatile player, to play center back again and strengthen the defense even more.

If he decides to play Cano on defense, he will need other players to step up on offense. Freshman Julianna Coniglio is one candidate to step up and produce. As an attacking center midfielder on her club team, Coniglio is a dynamic player with the ball at her feet.

Her ability to spot lanes, make runs and generally make the most of any situation could work in the midfield or up front, but Hein is leaning toward playing her up front. The coach needs offense.

But he also does not need to depend fully on a freshman. Hein is switching Colts Neck’s field alignment from a 4-3-3 to either a 4-5-1 or a 4-4-2. He wants the extra midfielder to generate more possessions for the Cougars.

“We have to get the attack going,” he said. “Sometimes it looks good in scrimmages, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Colts Neck is not polished yet, but Hein is confident that the Cougars will improve as the season goes on.

“I see us losing close games early, learning from it and not making the same mistakes late in the season,” he said. “By state tournament time, we’ll be a team people don’t want to play.”