Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 46
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
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FREE AND CLEAR: Princeton High boys’ soccer star senior forward Thatcher Foster controls the ball last Friday as top-seeded PHS blanked No. 2 Freehold in the Central Jersey Group II sectional title game. The 6‘5 Foster scored on a header in the second half to help put the game out of reach.

With Senior Star Foster Using His Head, PHS Boys’ Soccer Wins Sectional Crown

Bill Alden

In the fall of 2006, Thatcher Foster enjoyed watching the Princeton High boys’ soccer team beat Monroe to win the Central Jersey Group III sectional crown.

As Foster, then a freshman player on the PHS JV soccer team, sat in the stands that day at Harris Field, a seed was planted in the minds of him and his classmates.

“We watched that team win the sectional and we thought, ‘could we ever be as good as them?’” recalled Foster.

Last Friday, Foster helped answer that question in the affirmative, heading in a second-half insurance goal as top-seeded and undefeated PHS topped No. 2 Freehold Boro 2-0 in this year’s sectional final.

The victory improved PHS to 19-0-4 and set up a state semifinal matchup against South Jersey champion Moorestown (13-8) slated for November 17 with the winner advancing to the Group III title game on November 20.

There will be some extra spice to the semifinal game as PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe will be matching wits with his brother Mike, the Moorestown head coach.

As Foster was mobbed by teammates and fellow students in a raucous post-game celebration, he savored the sectional title.

“It has been so much fun,” said a grinning Foster. “It’s been our team, all the seniors. There are 11 of us or something like that. We had a goal of winning a county and sectional championship, something we hadn’t done in the four years we have been here.”

The 6‘5 Foster had a lot of fun on his goal which came with 13:38 left in the second half as he used all of his height to head in a pass from Andrei Spirin.

“We have been working on crosses in practice the whole time,” said Foster, a two-sport star who helped the PHS boys’ basketball team advance to the sectional finals this past March.

“Andrei and Evan [Gershkovich] set up a great corner. I was lucky enough to use my goofy, tall, and lanky body to get in there and get a header. We knew it was going to come, it was a matter of time. What a time; it is awesome.”

Foster credited PHS’s awesome defense with giving the team a special confidence.

“I don’t think we have let up a goal on the turf all season; I can’t say enough about our defense,” noted Foster, referring to a Little Tiger defensive unit that has recorded 17 shutouts this season and has only surrendered six goals on the season.

“Max [Reid], Allen [Bryant], Wilson [Urias] and Scott [Schwarz], John Marsh and all of those guys and, of course [goalie] Steve [Hellstern], have just been holding it down all season.”

In Foster’s view, the team is united up and down the field. “We are all best friends; we have been friends since freshman year,” said Foster.

“We get into practice and we work hard at the same time. We are all such a tight knit unit, we know where we are going to be on the field. We hang out with each other; I think it correlates.”

PHS head coach Sutcliffe sees a special camaraderie in the squad which emanates from Foster and his classmates.

“It’s a loose group, they are close,” said Sutcliffe. “We have 12 seniors and two juniors in their last year of eligibility. A lot of these guys have been through four years at Princeton High. There is a core of them that have been through club level since U-8 so all those seniors are close. They have been the guidance throughout the season.”

It was two of PHS’s younger players, though, who got things rolling in the win over Freehold as freshman Aidan Passannante got the Little Tigers on the board late in the first half when he banged home a feed from junior Lido Guzman.

“We just tried to put some pressure on their backs,” said Sutcliffe, in reflecting on the goal.

“Fortunately Lido had a beautiful ball to Aidan and he did a great job with it. It was awesome.”

It was awesome for Sutcliffe to see Foster come through with his tally as he played his final home game.

“Thatcher has just worked so hard; we challenged him to achieve what he is capable of achieving and he really showed that today,” said Sutcliffe.

“We were watching him early in the warmup and I knew from his body language and his touches that he was going to give a quality effort. That’s his third head ball goal; what a time to score. I am so proud of him and he should be proud of himself to score that goal.”

Like Foster, Sutcliffe points to the PHS defense as the element that sets the team apart from the competition.

“I think there is a great maturity, especially among the players in the back,” asserted Sutcliffe.

“There is a calmness and sense of maturity and self assuredness. They are kind of quiet; that is Hellstern’s style and the other guys kind of feed off of that. Steve never gets too high, he never gets too low. They work hard for him. I think that is a story of the year for this team; it is a special team because of those guys. The other guys are trying to put plays together and get into the front third and create chances and we are finding a way. But it really is the guys in the back that are the core of the team.”

While Sutcliffe is thrilled by the sectional title, he is hoping his club can win the program’s first state championship since 1995.

“They have a little bit of the magic, no doubt about it,” said Sutcliffe in assessing his team.

“When you win championships, they are all different. I think I am most proud of this team winning the MCT in the way they won it and then setting the bar so high and going through one game at a time to win it. We set our goals and persevered one day at a time. You work hard and as [former Princeton University and current U.S. coach] Bob Bradley said, the way you measure it all is by how many championships you can win and that’s kind of been our theme as well.”

Foster, for his part, believe PHS has what it takes to win another championship.

“We are going to keep going; we are really confident that we can do it right now,” said Foster. “If we can continue this going into the state finals, it would be pretty surreal.”

And no matter what happens, PHS has lived up to the example set by that 2006 club.

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