USA TODAY High School Sports is publishing a series called “The Class of 17”, highlighting 17 members of the Class of 2017 whom we will be watching in the coming year. Here is No. 16, Colts Neck (N.J.) soccer player Frankie Tagliaferri. The athletes were selected by the USA TODAY HSS staff.
Name: Frankie Tagliaferri
School: Colts Neck, N.J.
Frankie Tagliaferri is facing a choice that, at least for her, isn’t really a choice at all.
Tagliaferri is among the final 28 players hoping to make the U.S. Women’s National Team for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup that will compete in October in Jordan. If she does, she will miss most of her senior season for Colts Neck (N.J.) and its chance to repeat as state champions.
Rather than not playing for her high school, she intends to play as much as her schedule will allow if she makes Team USA. She will be on the field when her high school team reports to practice Aug. 15 and play in scrimmages and possibly a few games, depending on the departure date for training camp.
Colts Neck coach Doug Phillips has said the school already has received a waiver for Tagliaferri to play in the New Jersey state tournament, should Colts Neck qualify and her academics are in order. State rules require participation in at least 50 percent of the team’s games, a figure Tagliaferri is unlikely to reach with a deep World Cup run by Team USA.
“The team at Colts Neck means too much to me to give it up completely,” she said. “For me, especially the past two years, my best friends are on this team and Phillips does so much for me that I need to do it with them.”
That commitment is no surprise to Phillips.
“She has a lot of respect throughout the school, students, teachers, the administration and in the community,” he said. “I noticed from Day 1, when she came in as a freshman, every time the media is talking to her and she’s in the spotlight so much, she always says ‘we’ and ‘our.’
“She deflects greatness to other people who help her be great. She’s a class act in that way and that helps explain why she’s so well-liked.”
Tagliaferri, who started with soccer at age 5 and has played up against older girls throughout her career, was named the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Girls Soccer Player of the Year for 2015-16.
She posted 28 goals and 18 assists, including five goals and five assists in six postseason matches. Among them was a penalty kick in the 55th minute of the state Group III final that was the match’s lone goal in a 1-0 victory that ended Northern Highlands’ four-year run as state champion. Colts Neck finished 24-0-1.
Colts Neck opens this season ranked No. 1 in the USA TODAY High School Sports/National Soccer Coaches Association Preseason Super 25 for girls fall soccer. The season begins Sept. 9 vs. Neptune.
When Phillips talks about Tagliaferri, he recounts a story that shows how hard she pushes. Colts Neck had a 2 ½ hour practice on a Saturday morning. When he asked Tagliaferri at school the following Monday what she did after practice, she said she spent two hours working on individual drills, shooting and technique.
“Nobody else is doing that stuff,” he said. “I don’t really remember any player doing that in my 18 years of coaching. She loves this, but has zero complacency. She constantly wants to get better. ….
“It’s all cliché, but it’s all true. She’s got this swagger where she knows she’s good, but she’s balanced it perfectly with this humility where she knows she’s got to get better.”
Phillips says he knew Tagliaferri was going to be good from the outset. Where she’s grown is by adding size to go along with her speed. Tagliaferri agrees with that assessment, but adds in another element to her success.
“A lot of people talk about my speed and explosiveness off the ball, but any athlete can have that,” she said. “To have the mentality to work hard and put the effort in and the work in is what I think separates me from other players. …
“I know that I leave in a year for college and the pace there is faster so my speed has to be ready and I have to be fit. I want to keep going until the end, I don’t want to come out because I’m too tired.”
Tagliaferri, who committed to Penn State as a sophomore, has helped put Colts Neck on the national map along with a number of other recent players. Now, she is hoping to further put herself on the international map at the World Cup.
“If you take a day off then someone else is working and if you’re a great athlete in your area or your state, you might not realize that,” she said. “With the national team, you’re playing against girls who are as good as you are and they are working hard.
“When you play on the national level, every little thing matters — speed, strength, mentality, personality, everything. To be the best, you have to make sure you’re good at all those little things.”