Colts Neck field hockey Head Coach Maria Merlucci has reached the 100th win milestone. The feat was achieved on Sept. 14 when the squad routed Matawan in a home game by an 8-0 tally. Goals by Faith Hannwacker (four), Kylie Dawson (two), Nora Ismail (one) and Liriana Seferovic (one) led to the victory.
Merlucci received the traditional water cooler dunking as the buzzer sounded the end of the contest. An on-field celebration followed a collaborative team hug of the beloved coach.
Merlucci started the program in 1998 and was head coach for the first four years. However, she gave birth to a special needs child in 2001 and moved to an assistant coach position from 2002 to 2011. Her daughter passed away in 2009, and she resumed as head coach in 2012.
Over the five years leading up to this season, the Cougars posted a 66-18-4 record and gained a reputation as a top contender of the Shore Conference.
Merlucci led the squad to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2 Group 3 championship in 2017 and the NJSIAA Central East C championship in 2020 during those five years. The program also claimed A-North Division championships in 2017 and 2019.
In recent years, Colts Neck annually battled Middletown South for the A-North Division title and South Head Coach Jordan Hickman was eager to share her thoughts on the Cougar coach.
“I have the utmost respect and admiration for Coach Merlucci,” Hickman said. “We have developed a little program rivalry –friendly of course – over the last several years, and it is evident that her dedication to the game and her knowledge of the sport are cornerstones in the success of her program. No matter how competitive our games got, her players are always well-coached and respectful, which is a true testament to her impact on the Colts Neck field hockey program.”
CNHS Supervisor of Extracurricular Activities David Zwirz added, “Coach Maria Merlucci is one of our most trusted, veteran coaches at Cots Neck High School. She has always and continues to run her program the right way. They work hard, strive to meet expectations and often exceed them. Coach Merlucci cares about all of her players very much, and you can tell by how closely knit they become and by how many team-building activities they do together. I am proud to have Coach Merlucci on staff and excited to see her hit such a well-deserved milestone.”
Merlucci said, “This milestone is a huge accomplishment, considering Colts Neck does not have a direct feeder program, and most athletes come in to the program as frosh who have never played before. I have only coached five or six club or travel players in my tenor as head coach, so I have been truly blessed with hard workers who practice three hours a day and play in off season leagues – a true testament to the players for putting the work in in the offseason. We also have amazing parents who sacrifice vacations to make sure kids are at practice and games.”
Merlucci’s most prominent advocate is her husband, Chad, who can be heard encouraging the players from the stands at every game. “The girls refer to him as Coach Chad,” Merlucci said. “He is indeed the program’s biggest supporter.”