Sparked By Cooke’s Emergence as Star Goalie, PHS Field Hockey Primed for Big MCT Run
TOUGH COOKIE: Princeton High field hockey goalie Grace Cooke displays her game face earlier this fall. Last Thursday, senior goalie Cooke made 10 saves to help PHS edge Notre Dame 1-0 as the Tigers held their annual Senior Day celebration. Two days later, Cooke posted another shutout as fourth-seeded PHS defeated 13th-seeded Hightstown 4-0 in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament. The Tigers, who improved to 12-2-1 with win, were slated to host fifth-seeded Notre Dame in an MCT quarterfinal contest on October 15 with the victor advancing to the semis on October 17 at Lawrence High. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
As the Princeton High field hockey team held its annual Senior Day celebration last Thursday when it hosted Notre Dame, Grace Cooke had trouble believing how far she had come in her four years with the program.
Taking up the sport when she entered PHS, Cooke switched to goalie as a sophomore and emerged as one of the top keepers in the area.
“It has been a great experience; I started field hockey my freshman year, it was kind of late,” said Cooke.
“I can’t even put into words how grateful I am for everything and for everyone who supported me along the way. It was some hard work but it definitely paid off. I have had some great coaches who have helped me so much.”
The emotions of Senior Day gave Cooke extra intensity going into the Notre Dame game.
“It was really exciting, it is just crazy that it has been four years here,” said Cooke.
“I love everyone and I am going to miss everyone, For me it was just added motivation, I just really wanted to win for my team. I think that we were all feeling really connected today.”
The Tiger defense stayed connected through the contest as PHS pulled out a 1-0 victory with the tally coming on a second half penalty stroke by senior star Morgan Swanke.
“The defense has really been doing well, they have improved so much his season,” said Cooke.
“It started out as kind of a young line, we only had one returning starter from last year. There is a never give up attitude, they keep trying.”
Cooke has utilized her experience to keep the back line on the same page.
“We stress communication all over the field,” said Cooke. “I really try to make sure that it starts in the back and that we are all on the same page. We have really been working on everyone communicating, which has made a huge difference in our play.”
With PHS clinging to its 1-0 lead late in the game against Notre Dame, Cooke had to make some sprawling saves to deny the Irish as they generated back-to-back penalty corners.
“I just wanted to get the ball out, I know my defense has my back no matter what,” said Cooke, who ended up with 10 saves in the victory. “If I just do a little bit, they will get it.”
In Cooke’s view, getting the win was important heading into postseason play.
“It was a good confidence builder and our game against Lawrence on Tuesday (a 1-1 tie) was also a really good confidence builder,” said Cooke, who posted another shutout as fourth-seeded PHS defeated 13th-seeded Hightstown 4-0 in a Mercer County Tournament opening round contest last Saturday, setting up an MCT quarterfinal rematch against fifth-seeded Notre Dame slated for October 15 with the winner advancing to the semis on October 17 at Lawrence High.
“We are feeling strong, ready to work hard and to be relentless in the counties.”
PHS head coach Heather Serverson credits her senior class with helping the squad develop a strong bond this fall.
“They have done a great job over the years on and off the field; it’s not just about being a great player, it is about being a great person,” said Serverson, whose group of seniors includes Emma Andersen, Meg Callahan, Madison Fetch, Ava Greene, Anisha Iyer, Kate Liggio, Ria Sharma, and Eleanor Wilkinson in addition to Cooke and Swanke.
“They have done a really fantastic job of mentoring the younger players this year. They have done a really good job helping the freshmen and sophomores incorporate into the program and find their place and feel comfortable and feel wanted and validated.”
Reflecting on the win over the Irish, Serverson praised her players for taking care of business at both ends of the field.
“Notre Dame is a good team; they are a great program,” said Serverson.
“They showed us some things we need to work on going forward. I am very pleased with the way we played today. We found a way to make it happen. Our goal was to be relentless offensively and play good team defense. When we don’t play like a team defensively, that is when we have those gaping holes and things happen.
Having Cooke as the last line of defense is comforting for Serverson. “Grace is our anchor in the back; she does a great job of directing the defense while still managing her own game,” said Serverson.
“It is a really big task as a goalie; it is hard to do your own thing when directing everyone else.”
With the MCT culminating this week and the state tourney starting later this month, Serverson believes that PHS will be hard to beat.
“Playing good team defense is No. 1 and we need to be feistier offensively,” said Serverson, whose team brought a 12-2-1 record into the MCT quarters.
“We don’t quite look like we want it as much as we really do, so in practice we are going to work on some more offensive push as a unit. We have the capability to make it to the final game at counties, whether or not we make it there this year is to be seen. That is definitely our goal; I think we have the potential this year to do that.”
Cooke, for her part, believes that the Tigers can accomplish their goals if they stick together in crunch time.
“We have been focusing on communication and defense all over the field,” said Cooke.
“It is not just the defensive mids and the back three but even the forwards. We are just trying to make sure that we doing everything we can to get this ball. Everyone really just enjoys playing with each other.”