Making history in 2012, the Princeton High School girls’ soccer team went 14-1-1 over its last 16 games on the way to winning the program’s first-ever Central Jersey Group III sectional crown.
As the squad started its preseason training in mid-August, longtime PHS head coach Greg Hand believes his returning players have picked up where they left off.
“They are bringing back a lot of confidence,” said Hand, who guided the Little Tigers to 16-3-1 record last fall and is in his 23rd season guiding the program.
“We have a large number of returners who have been playing a lot since the end of the last high school season. I am seeing a lot of fitness across the board along with both tactical and technical improvement. We have had a productive start. We are healthy and having good hard training.”
Hand is expecting a productive fall from his pair of star forwards, senior Ally Rogers and junior Shannon Pawlak.
“Ally is a good athlete,” said Hand, who will also use senior Jordan Provorny at forward. “
“She doesn’t play soccer after the end of the high school season but she always gives us 100 percent. Shannon Pawlak is a very committed, year-round soccer player and has her heart set on playing at the next level. She had some very good coaching on the outside. She is sharper than she has ever been and is technically very sound.”
Despite losing stars Kate Kerr and Meghan Brennan to graduation, the PHS midfield should be sound this fall, spearheaded by the pair of senior co-captains Dana Smith and Eva Reyes together with sophomore Haley Bodden.
“In the central part of the midfield will be Dana Smith who has done so much for us at different spots on the field,” said Hand, whose team kicks off the season by hosting Hamilton on September 6.
“She may be a recruited lacrosse player [Lafayette] but it never feels like soccer is her second sport. She has great leadership abilities. She can be an attacking midfielder or play in a holding role. Reyes played on the outside last year; she will now be playing in a central role. Haley Bodden played on defense last year and we are moving her into midfield. She has played a lot of soccer in addition to being a very tough player. She has improved her soccer skills.”
A trio of promising sophomores, Gabby Deitch, Sasha Ryder, and Taylor Lis, gives the Little Tigers some firepower on the wing.
“Gabby Deitch, Sasha Ryder, and Taylor Lis will be on the outside,” added Hand. “Between the end of high school season and now, they have been building their game.”
Due to the abundance of talent in the middle of the field, PHS will be changing its look tactically.
“We will be playing a 3-5-2 formation at times; we feel we can have an attacking midfield,” said Hand.
“They should give us loads of service and they have better mastery of the ball.”
With junior Emily Pawlak and senior Kaitlyn Carduner patrolling the backline, Hand feels good about his defense.
“Emily Pawlak will be in the central defender role,” said Hand. “She is a natural and strong defender. Kaitlyn is one of our most tenacious and responsible defenders. She is aggressive and so fast. She is hard to get around.”
The Little Tigers boast some depth among their corps of defenders with freshman Zoe Tesone, sophomore Maya Sarafin, senior Krysta Holman, and senior Emily Costa.
“Zoe Tesone is a strong defender, she is a great addition,” said Hand. “Maya Sarafin will be getting more time than before. Krysta Holman is looking very good. Emily Costa is a player in the back who is going to get important minutes.”
PHS will need sophomore goalie Rachel Eberhart to look good as she follows graduated star goalie Lauren Ullmann, who is now playing at MIT.
“Rachel is definitely a better keeper through her training year round,” said Hand.
“She is very quick. As a younger player, she needs to communicate better and direct the other players.”
In assessing his team’s potential this fall, Hand is more concerned with daily progress than wins and losses.
“I have no specific goals; we just need to keep improving on the most basic elements of soccer,” said Hand. “We understand the concepts of support but we need to support all of our possessions, not 80 percent but 100 percent. The second thing we need to work on, especially when we play harder teams, is the most simple things, like first touches because the quality of first touches can always get better.”
While it will be tough to PHS to match last year’s finish, Hand is confident that he will get a quality effort from his players this fall.
“I like the attitude of this team as much as any girls’ soccer team I have coached,” said Hand.
“They are so dedicated and there is a sense of working together. They are serious about what they are trying to do but they are having a blast doing it.”