Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 44
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
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MAGIC FEET: Princeton High girls’ soccer senior star Chantal Celestin controls the ball last Thursday as third-seeded PHS fell to No. 1 and eventual champion Pennington 2-1 in overtime in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals. Celestin and her teammates rebounded from that setback to rout Nottingham 6-0 last Monday in the opening round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III tournament. Third-seeded PHS, now 14-3, will host No. 6 Holmdel on November 5 in the sectional quarterfinals with the winner advancing to the semis on November 9.

With Senior Star Celestin Dazzling in Midfield, PHS Girls’ Soccer Aiming to Make State Run

Bill Alden

Chantal Celestin and her teammates on the Princeton High girls’ soccer team could have been intimidated when they faced powerful Pennington last Thursday in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals.

The nationally-ranked and top-seeded Red Raiders have won the last four MCT titles and boasted a potent one-two punch of Renee Washington and Kaitlyn Kerr.

Pennington’s reputation and championship tradition, though, didn’t faze senior midfielder Celestin and third-seeded PHS.

“We weren’t scared that they were nationally ranked,” said Celestin. “We just wanted to go in and play our game and see what happens.”

The dazzling Celestin used the MCT platform to display the game that has made her one of the most entertaining players in the area. The slender and elusive Celestin bobbed and weaved through the Pennington defense all night, putting the Red Raiders on their heels with her slick passes.

Celestin’s play helped PHS battle Pennington to a 0-0 draw at half. Some 33 minutes into the second half, the Red Raiders broke the ice and got on the board with a goal by Kerr.

With PHS on the ropes, Celestin knew she had to raise the level of her game. She sent a superb pass up the wing which senior forward Paula Levine slid into the goal to knot that game with 4:57 left in regulation.

“I really just tried to lift my team at that point,” said Celestin, reflecting on her response to the Pennington goal.

“I knew we were all kind of shocked and that we were going to start playing frantic so I wanted to keep feet on the ball and do what I had to do to play the ball in and Paula got the goal.”

Levine’s goal sent the game into overtime but Pennington ended PHS’ title dreams as Kerr scored off a corner kick to win the game 2-1.

Although Celestin was disappointed by the result she had no qualms with how PHS battled Pennington, who went on to win its fifth straight county crown with a 4-0 win over Robbinsville in the title game.

“Unfortunately, the outcome didn’t come our way but we played our hearts out,” said Celestin, the daughter of Ron Celestin, the former PHS boys’ soccer head coach and current Princeton University women’s soccer assistant coach.

“We got back in the game when we were down and we did what we had to do. It was a pretty good game from what I saw.”

Celestin has had a pretty good time all fall as she has returned to action after being sidelined last season with a knee injury. “It’s fun getting back; I missed it all last year,” said Celestin. “I am having a blast with the girls and the competition.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand is having fun seeing Celestin back in his lineup.

“When I think of Chantal as the total player, it starts with what she does in the transitional moment,” said Hand.

“She is so fast to the ball and so committed to getting the ball that she changes the dynamic again and again in the game. She can take an ugly ball and put it on the carpet as well and as quickly as any high school player I have ever seen. It’s magic.”

PHS got a magical effort from senior goalie Gabby Vukasin in the loss to Pennington.

“Gabby was marvelous; she very well focused,” said Hand of his keeper who recorded 11 saves in defeat.

“I think she played a terrific positional game; she seemed to be in the right spot all night. She was reading the play and when she had to go get a ball, she did it. She had some of those ‘Gabby’ saves that are just exceptional.”

The Little Tigers showed some exceptional competitiveness as they battled Pennington all over the field.

“We didn’t spend too much time trying to settle the ball because they weren’t going to give us that time,” added Hand.

“We were getting our feet in and disrupting their possession and defining 50/50 balls more liberally than we might normally. I think we became less cautious and more effective.”

Hand is hoping his players can build on their effort against Pennington and make a deep run in the state tournament.

“The girls were disappointed with the result but one of the first comments I heard a few minutes after the game was that we made a statement to ourselves tonight about knowing what it takes and that we can do a lot of things,” said Hand.

The third-seeded Little Tigers made a statement in the Central Jersey Group III opener last Monday as they routed No 14 Nottingham 6-0 with Emma Karp scoring three goals. PHS, now 14-3, will host No. 6 Holmdel on November 5 in the sectional quarterfinals with the winner advancing to the semis on November 9.

Celestin, for her part, thinks PHS can use the Pennington game as a springboard to do something special in the state tourney.

“We definitely have been growing as a team,” said Celestin. “Losing 2-1 to a nationally ranked team, I think we are pretty excellent at this point. We could definitely go far in the states.”

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