The Princeton High girls’ soccer team had some agonizing near misses against Hopewell Valley in the Central Jersey Group III sectional semifinals as the team were knotted in a scoreless tie heading into the waning moments of regulation.
With second-seeded PHS dominating possession, Meghan Brennan was confident the Little Tigers could break the ice against the No. 3 Bulldogs, who had posted a 1-0 win in the regular season meeting between the teams.
“Every time we got a free kick, I was hoping it was here,” said senior forward Brennan.
Then with seven minutes left, freshmen defender Haley Bodden lofted a free kick towards the box and Brennan rose above the HoVal defense to head it into the back of the net.
In reflecting on her tally, Brennan credited Bodden’s service. “We all had our different runs and everybody was working really hard and Haley played the perfect ball,” recalled Brennan. “She couldn’t have placed it more perfectly.”
Minutes later, Kate Kerr fired a shot over the HoVal goalie to put the finishing touches on a 2-0 win over the Bulldogs.
The victory improved PHS to 15-2-1 as the Little Tigers earned their first trip to the sectional championship game since 2004. PHS is slated to face No. 8 Colts Neck on November 20 in the sectional title game with the victor to advance to the state Group III semifinals on November 27.
For Brennan, seeing PHS advance to the sectional title game has come as a pleasant surprise.
“At the beginning of the season, it was really hard to know what to expect,” said Brennan.
“We had 11 new players so you never really know how that’s going to go. From day one, we decided that we were going to take it day by day and work as hard as we could in practice and not set any lofty goals. I think we have done a great job sticking together, Staying behind each other and playing as a team and just putting all we have into it.”
In Brennan’s view, PHS gathered steam as the season progressed. “I think it was more of a gradual process; there wasn’t one particular turning point,” said Brennan.
“We had two losses early in the season so I think that kind of helped us get momentum. We got inspiration from those losses to come back and rebound and work hard.”
PHS head coach Greg Hand liked the work he was getting from his team as it knocked on the door against HoVal late in the second half.
“I thought for the last 20-25 minutes we had momentum,” said Hand. “We were creating really well; almost scored on several occasions. It always seems to be the case, the harder you play the more your technique and tactics really show themselves. The kids seemed to be really aware and connected in the last 20 minutes of the game.”
Hand was not surprised that the combination of Bodden and Brennan connected on the game winner. “Haley has been on the money all year long with restarts,” said Hand. “Meghan is just a big player who really stepped up.”
Kerr’s insurance goal was a prime example of how the PHS players have stepped up in big moments this fall.
“It was beautiful; it is the time you want somebody to be taking the initiative on her own and finding a way to finish,” said Hand. “I thought it was an excellent play from the first touch to the finish.”
The team’s excellent play in the second half stood as a microcosm of PHS’s title run.
“It is nice to know what we are capable of which is what we did in the second half,” said Hand. “It came out; the kids certainly worked hard enough to earn that.”
Brennan, for her part, is thrilled to see PHS come on so strong in her senior season.
“It is so amazing; everyone wants their senior year to be successful,” said Brennan.
“I am so glad we have made it this far. It is farther than I have ever made it. I love this team so much. It makes it so much more special to be with all of them during this.”