Fueled by Upbeat Chemistry, Senior Leadership, PHS Girls’ Soccer Enjoyed Positive Campaign
COMING TOGETHER: Princeton High girls’ soccer players Morgan Beamer, left, and Vanessa Ponce celebrate a goal in recent action. Fueled by team chemistry, PHS went 8-6-3 this fall, advancing to the quarterfinals of the Mercer County Tournament before getting edged 1-0 at Old Bridge in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Although the PHS girls’ soccer team didn’t go as far in postseason play as it had hoped, Val Rodriguez believes that her senior group helped the squad accomplish something special.
“I had a group of girls that I enjoy spending time with; they are good kids, they are fun kids with good character who care about each other,” said PHS head coach Rodriguez, whose senior group included Morgan Beamer, Caroline Ealy, Molly Frain, Kirin Kunukkasseril, Shaylah Marciano, Eva Petrone, Voula Papakonstantinou, and Lauren Rougas.
“I finally reached my goal here, creating a team like that, being part of a team like that. They made that a priority this year and they stayed committed to it from start to finish. The seniors work hard, they are committed to the game and a lot of them are going on to the next level to play college sports of some kind, either lacrosse or soccer.”
Showing commitment to start postseason play, seventh-seeded PHS pulled out a 1-0 win in overtime against 10th-seeded Nottingham on October 19 in the first round of the Mercer County Tournament on a penalty kick by junior star Vanessa Ponce.
“That was a fun game for us; Nottingham is a good team,” said Rodriguez.
“They have some talent out there and they play hard for the entire game always. For us to go out there and pull out a win was important for our season and for our morale. It shows our grit. It showed our girls we could really play together and pull something off.”
In the MCT quarters at second-seeded Princeton Day School two days later, it looked like the Tigers could pull off an upset as they jumped off to a 1-0 lead in the first half on a brilliant strike by Kunukkasseril only to lose 2-1.
“I felt that rush after Kirin’s goal; PDS is a strong team and I think my team gave it their best,” recalled Rodriguez.
“We defended their best attack really well. They just came up with goals on two mistakes that we had. We weren’t able to 1 versus 1 defend on their first one and on the second one they caught us sleeping a little bit on a throw in and got a quick shot and that was all it took.”
Moving on to the state tournament, PHS competed in the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional where it was seeded 10th and lost 1-0 at seventh-seeded Old Bridge on October 28 in a first round contest to end the season with an 8-6-3 record.
“We went out there; it is always tough when you travel,” said Rodriguez. “We traveled an hour, it was a 2:00 game. I felt like we just didn’t really get into our rhythm the way we needed to. We didn’t really find the energy that we needed to. We played pretty well and solid. We didn’t take advantage of some opportunities that we needed to; that is what it comes down to.”
That defeat proved to be a microcosm of the season as a lack of firepower kept PHS from taking things to a higher level.
“The girls that we had played their best,” said Rodriguez, whose team didn’t have the services of last year’s leading scorer Sophia Lis, who was sidelined this fall with a leg injury.
“They played well together; they solved a lot of stuff. We needed to score more goals. I told the guys at the the end of the season, the good teams are going to score against us so we have to be able to put a couple in. I think that is where we started to fall short; we just weren’t putting in goals,”
Pointing to close losses to such formidable foes like Allentown and Hopewell Valley as well as to PDS, Rodriguez was proud of how her squad battled to final whistle all throughout the fall.
“All of those games could have gone the other way, that made the season a little bit disappointing,” said Rodriguez, noting that three of her players, Rougas and Marciano along with junior Greta Bush were chosen as members of the Mercer 33 all-star team.
“In most of the losses, we were proud. We didn’t walk off the field upset with ourselves. We felt we were right there.”
Looking ahead, Rodriguez feels she has the right mix to produce another competitive campaign.
“I think that group is going to remain strong together; they learned a ton from these seniors,” said Rodriguez, whose team will welcome back such performers as junior Ponce, junior Christine Tkac, junior Ava Thomson, junior Grace Heilbronn, and freshman Sarah Granozio, along with sophomore Lis and Bush.
“A lot of them had to battle out there for 80 minutes in many games so they understand what it is going to take. Our eight seniors are going to be tough to replace as always. I think that this group that is returning is up for it.”