COLTS NECK – A year ago the Cougars won 18 games and lost only three on their way to putting together the program’s best season in seven years when that team went 17-4 and advanced to the NJSIAA South Group III semifinals.


Last season’s team also advanced to the South Group III semifinals before losing to No. 2 seed Notre Dame as the three seed.


Entering this season the Cougars were tasked with replacing close to 200 goals from a year ago including first-team All-Shore Ally Largey’s 105 goals, Camryn Allmer’s 49 goals and Taylor Niedzielski’s 28 goals – all of whom graduated.


Fortunately for the Cougars, however, midfielder Sarah Shaughnessy returned for her senior year after scoring 53 goals with 27 assists a year ago.


“Losing Ally, Camryn and Taylor definitely puts a lot of pressure on me to score this year but it also made me want to work harder,” said Shaughnessy. I know I have a great team behind me though that gives me a lot of help.”


Shaughnessy has been a starter for the Cougars since her freshman year when she burst onto the scene scoring 26 goals with 11 assists and has been a mainstay ever since.


Christine Latteri is in her fourth year as head coach for Colts Neck and has witnessed first hand Shaughnessy’s growth as a player and how she’s evolved into a team leader.


“Sarah’s grown into a tremendous player for us and she’s on the draw for us this year which is awesome,” said Latteri. “She has a very accurate shot and is able to catch under pressure and connect for us really well. There’s some pressure on her to score this year but she just tries to play the best she can every single game and get some goals for us.”


Shaughnessy is one of the top goal scorers in the Shore Conference this season often putting the team on her shoulders. She’s found the back of the net 48 times already this season and has added 14 assists.


In the Cougars 13-10 win over Manalapan on April 16, Shaughnessy scored five goals and assisted on two, helping her eclipse the 200-point career mark. Earlier this season she scored her 100th goal of her career and now has 147 goals and counting.


“Sarah’s a great leader, her goals kind of spark our team especially when it’s a close game,” added Latteri. “She works really hard all over the field getting ground balls and getting it to other attackers so she doesn’t just score. Part of her leadership is getting the ball to other girls who don’t necessarily score as much as her. The girls absolutely look up to her.”


Shaughnessy has been playing lacrosse since the fifth grade and admits it wasn’t love at first sight.


“I’ll admit it that I hated lacrosse when I first started,” Shaughnessy said. “Once I started playing travel lacrosse with kids from Howell that’s when I started to love it. So I’ve been playing since fifth grade but I really didn’t start to love the game until around seventh grade.”


Whatever the reason is for Shaughnessy’s newfound love of the game, Latteri is delighted it took place. “We look to her to lead us and the girls feed off of her. She incorporates everyone on the attack by setting picks and cutting and she’s just there, all over the field for us every game.”


The Cougars are 6-4 this season and in first place in the Class A North with a 4-0 record and Shaughnessy is quick to credit her teammates.


“As a midfielder I do rely on my other two midfielders Kellie (Russo) and Katie (Thomas),” said Shaughnessy. “We do a lot all over the field and they help me out on the draw a lot. Katie was always a defender and this is her first year at mid so seeing her attack has been great. She’s improved tremendously on the attack and when I direct it to Katie we’re good, she settles it.”


Russo is second on the team in scoring with 21 goals and 11 assists, while Thomas has added eight goals and eight assists. Junior attacker Lexi Frost has seen the back of the net 14 times with five assists while juniors Catherine O’Connor (seven goals, eight assists) and Gabby Cataldo (five goals, two assists) and senior Kayla Wade (five goals, one assists) have all contributed.


After bowing out of the state playoffs in the semifinals the past two years, Shaughnessy would like nothing more on her way out the door than to lead the team into the finals and possibly a state title.


“I’m hoping we can make it further than we have the past years,” said Shaughnessy. “I think we can if we keep working hard and pick up our game with a lot of big games ahead of us. If we can get those wins that would be great, especially in my senior year.”


However, no matter what happens in the postseason, Shaughnessy’s lacrosse career is far from over. Earlier this season she committed to Wagner College to continue her academic and scholastic career.


“I’m so excited,” said Shaughnessy about playing for Wagner. “Honestly, it was a last-minute thing. I went to a clinic, the coach liked me and then she offered. I’ve always loved the school, I just never thought it would happen and it did; it’s such a relief. And we just got a brand new coach so that’s great and the program’s great.”