Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 44
 
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

SUPER SAVER: Princeton High boys’ soccer goalie Stephen Hellstern stretches to make one of his 10 saves in PHS’ 1-0 win over Steinert in the Mercer County Tournament championship game last Friday. The Little Tigers will start their quest for a state title on November 2 when they host a Group III Central Jersey quarterfinal game against the winner of the Lawrence-Neptune first round clash.

With Hellstern Coming Up Huge in Goal, PHS Boys’ Soccer Wins MCT, Stays Perfect

Bill Alden

Stephen Hellstern didn’t quite know what to expect when he took over the starting goalkeeping job for the Princeton High boys’ soccer team this fall.

“I felt a little bit of everything,” said sophomore Hellstern, who was replacing graduated senior star Jason Barber.

“I was concerned; I had never played competitive high school soccer. I did have a lot of confidence from playing on my club team (the Princeton Soccer Association’s Union 90 team). We had played a lot of big games; we won the New Jersey Cup and played in the regionals. Half of our defense is from Union 90, the other half is from Union 89 and I have played with them too.”

Hellstern’s confidence in himself turned out to be justified as he posted 11 shutouts coming into the Mercer County Tournament championship game last Friday against Steinert.

Displaying a cool head and unerring skills, Hellstern produced his 12th shutout of the season as top-seeded and undefeated PHS edged No. 3 Steinert 1-0 on a rainy night at Mercer County Community College.

The soggy conditions did make Hellstern’s job a little more difficult. “When it’s dry you are more confident,” said Hellstern, who had 10 saves on the evening as PHS improved to 17-0 on the season. “I had my faithful towel back there so I was good.”

Hellstern’s heroics against Steinert started early as he made a big save nine minutes into the contest.

“The confidence soars after that,” added Hellstern. “You’re nervous but after you make that first save, you’re confident after that.”

The keeper’s comfort level was also heightened by the play of the Little Tigers defensive unit, which features Pete McInerney, Ari Silver, Chris Bechler, and Will Slade.

“I can’t say enough about them,” asserted Hellstern. “Pete is great. Ari is a rock out there. They all did a great job on Ryan Fitzgerald.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe credited Hellstern with being a rock for his team in the win over Steinert.

“Stephen was the man of the match without question,” said Sutcliffe. “He made some great saves. He just plays beyond his years; he’s not like a 16-year-old. He approaches the game like a professional. He’s very focused and very talented.”

PHS needed Hellstern’s focus as Steinert employed a different strategy than it featured in its 2-1 loss to the Little Tigers during the regular season.

“I was disappointed in the way we came out; it was much different from the Hun game,” said Sutcliffe, referring to his team’s riveting win over Hun in the MCT semis which saw PHS prevail in a penalty kick shootout.

“In the first game when we played them, it was on grass and it was dry; they worked the ball more on the ground. Today they were lofting the ball with purpose into our back line. That made it really hard for us. I’m glad we were able to ride it out.”

A heady loft shot from junior midfielder Corey Marsh on a restart which found the back of the net midway through the first half helped keep PHS perfect on the season.

“It’s an example of Corey being a heads up player,” said Sutcliffe.

“Corey is a very, very smart player; he has a good soccer brain. Our guys around the ball are also heads up players. It’s a players’ game and you can’t call a time-out. You have to trust the players.”

With the MCT title in hand, the Little Tigers will now set their sights on winning the Group III state tournament. PHS earned the top seed in the Group III Central Jersey sectional and will next be in action on November 2 in the quarterfinals when it hosts the winner of the Lawrence-Neptune first round matchup.

The team does need to catch its breath after the grueling MCT which saw it play three games in five days.

“We need a break, we’re fortunate to get a bye because this is a hard tournament,” said Sutcliffe, whose team won the sectional last year before falling 1-0 to Shawnee in the Group III semis.

“It has been just a great run. They know how to play; they know how to play under adversity, every single player. They know what it takes to win several championships. They have won two, now there is one more.”

Hellstern, for his part, believes PHS has what it takes to get that third title. “We have confidence and team chemistry,” maintained Hellstern.

“We are all close to each other now; we have bonded. It’s great to have won the Mercer County Tournament but there are bigger and better things to win. We’re looking forward to the states.”

If Hellstern keeps doing big things in goal, PHS should be looking forward to a deep run in the state tournament.

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