Over the last three years, Kevin Halliday has risen through the ranks of the Princeton High boys’ soccer team.
The shifty forward has gone from looking to get on the field as a freshman to the top scorer last fall with 23 goals for a PHS squad that shared the Group III state championship with Ramapo.
But this year, Halliday hasn’t been able to lean on veteran players, like his older brother Zach, who is currently a freshman with the Tufts University men’s squad.
“It is different with the transition from last year when we had 16 seniors, an incredible senior class leading us to a state championship,” said Halliday, who is a team co-captain this fall along with classmate John Blair.
“They all left and it is that moment when look, it’s on me, I don’t have anyone else to lead the team. I have got to start stepping up. Sometimes I haven’t known what to do but I try my best.”
Last week, with PHS trailing Nottingham 2-0 in the first half and mired in a rare two-game losing streak, Halliday knew that he had to step up.
“Let me tell you, the nerves kick in,” said Halliday, reflecting on his thoughts as PHS fell behind against the Northstars.
“In my career at Princeton, it’s been we go down I still feel like we are going to win the game. After we lost those last two games, I was nervous. I try to not to show it on the outside. I tried to rally the team.”
Halliday did just that as he blasted in a feed from Blair to get the Little Tigers on the board midway through the first half.
“I hadn’t been with the ball up by the 18 basically the entire game so I got it there and that’s just a play that seniors have to make,” said Halliday, who is following in his older brother’s footsteps as he recently committed to Tufts and will join the men’s soccer team there. “I was in the role so I had to step up and make the play.”
PHS went on to pull out a 3-2 win over Nottingham as Blair found the back of the net on a soaring free kick in the second half and freshman Zeno Mazzocato scored on a penalty kick in overtime to seal the comeback.
“We did a helluva job,” asserted Halliday, who has a team-high 1-0 goals in the season.
“Other than those first five minutes, we played well and we held down their really good forwards. We held them down; the defense stepped it up and our offense started holding the ball, which is something we haven’t been doing.”
Halliday credited Mazzocato with doing a great job in burying the penalty kick.
“That is a big time play from a freshman,” said Halliday. “I am so proud of him for being able to put that one away for the team.”
PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe was also proud of his precocious freshman star.
“It is a learning curve at this level and Zeno has worked very hard,” said Sutcliffe.
“He is learning from the older guys, John, Kevin and Chase [Ealy], some of the more experienced senior level players and credit to him for finding a way to draw that foul. Credit to him for stepping up and taking the PK. He initiated that; I didn’t choose him to take it.”
Sutcliffe was not surprised that Halliday stepped up in the first half when PHS desperately needed a goal.
“Kevin had a big goal, really the most important goal in a long time for us,” said Sutcliffe.
“His work rate, his mentality, his resilience, his belief, his experience define him. He is our most experienced player, perhaps the most experienced player in the CVC, a 4-year varsity player. No one else has a player in all the state championships, state semis, and all those games. He shows that, he never gives up.”
Blair showed his quality with the sensational free kick that knotted the game at 2-2.
“That is one of his strengths, it could not have come at a better time,” said Sutcliffe.
“We don’t need that when we are 3-0 up. We need that when we are 2-1 down, so the quality and timing was fantastic. Credit to John for hitting it.”
With PHS starting play in the Mercer County Tournament, where it is seeded sixth and will host No. 11 Hun School in a first round contest, Sutcliffe is hoping that the win over Nottingham can be a turning point for his side.
“It is so important because we had dropped two in a row and we were down 2-0, and the natural thing is to think that things are going to be even more difficult to turn around,” said Sutcliffe, whose team tied Notre Dame 1-1 last Thursday before falling 2-1 to Hopewell Valley on Monday as it moved to 8-4-1.
“I think this is going to be a game that is going to change our place in our season as we enter into the MCT and look beyond that.”
Halliday, for his part, believes the comeback effort signals good things to come for PHS.
“This win is huge,” said Halliday. “We are going to need this game. Even if we had tied it, it would be pretty detrimental.”