Kate Kerr acknowledged that the Princeton High girls’ soccer team may have experienced a little stage fright last Wednesday as it faced Moorestown in the state Group III semis.
“I think we were all just a bit nervous, never having been here before” said PHS senior midfielder Kerr.
“We didn’t know what to expect. We never played or heard about Moorestown. I guess we were kind of on our heels in the first half but we did everything we could.”
With Moorestown coming out of the gate at full speed, PHS found itself trailing 2-0 heading into halftime.
The Little Tigers used the break for some soul-searching. “We just knew that we had to pick it up in the second half because we weren’t playing our game in the first half,” said Kerr.
PHS did pick up the tempo in the second half, producing some spirited play at its offensive end of the field. Over the last 10 minutes of the game, Kerr, Ally Rogers, and Shannon Pawlak each generated scoring chances. But the Little Tigers were unable to find the back of the net and ended up losing by the 2-0 margin.
In reflecting on the loss which left PHS with a final record of 16-3-1, Kerr felt that the Little Tigers just ran out of time. “If we had 10 more minutes, maybe we could have been able to finish because we were making some really great runs,” said Kerr.
Still, it was a great run for Kerr and her classmates, Meghan Brennan, Vanessa Guzman, Madison Luther, and Lauren Ullmann.
“I think the seniors on the team took it all very seriously and we all took it to heart,” asserted Kerr.
“We all realized how important and how much it affected us and we were all in this together. We were all supporting each other because we knew that we are all on the same page on this.”
PHS head coach Greg Hand was on the same page as Kerr in assessing his team’s valiant effort in defeat.
“We played an excellent team tonight; I think we had to work our way into that game and it took us at least 40 minutes to get there,” lamented Hand.
“By the time we came out in the second half and having agreed pretty much that the ingredient that was missing is exactly that ingredient we brought in the second half which is a commitment to win the play. We played them even, we had as good as they did throughout the second half.”
In Hand’s view, the team’s progress throughout the contest served as a microcosm of a season that saw PHS get off to a pedestrian 2-2 start before gathering steam and winning the first sectional title in program history.
“There has been an enormous learning curve, we have gotten better and better” said Hand, who is in his 22nd season at the helm of the program.
“Tonight’s second half is the best we have played all year, no doubt. The Notre Dame game [a 5-1 win on October 16] was perhaps our best one in the regular season. The Pennington game [0-0 stalemate in the Mercer County Tournament semis won by the Red Raiders on penalty kicks] was terrific. To get here, we had to get through a challenging tournament schedule. Our second half tonight was the best soccer we have played. And the fact that this team was very new, essentially reconstituted from last year’s team, and could learn so much about how to play the game on all levels, from individual through the whole team is a real exciting thing and a great accomplishment.”
The team’s corps of seniors played a major role in that process. “It is just a terrific group,” asserted Hand.
“Count everybody from the two seniors who stuck with us after being sidelined by ACLs [Ciara Celestin and Ellee de Baun] all the way through the kids like Madison Luther in the back who played 80 minutes in virtually all of our tournament games this year who last year was hardly getting any minutes at all and to those real money players who had terrific senior seasons, Kate, Meghan, and Lauren. It is just terrific leadership and real inspiration from them in terms of their passion for the game and their caring about the team.”
With such younger players as Haley Bodden, Kaitlyn Carduner, Gabby Deitch, Taylor Lis, Emily Pawlak, Shannon Pawlak, Jordan Provorny, Eva Reyes, and Ally Rogers slated to return, the future looks bright for the Little Tigers.
“One of the messages tonight was you can’t talk about how we are going to be next year unless you earn the right to talk about it,” said Hand.
“If you look at tonight’s game as a whole with two halves, one where we had problems that we weren’t solving really well to the second half where we came out and really did something significant, they earned the right to talk about what they might be able to do next year.”
Kerr, for her part, enjoyed being the talk of the school over the last few weeks.
“We are very proud of ourselves; everyone has been so supportive at school,” said Kerr, who plans to continue her soccer career at Franklin and Marshall.
“Everyone in the hallways is telling us congratulations. We are all proud of ourselves, no one expected us to get this far.”