September 30, 2020

Looking to Build on Superb 2019 Campaign, PHS Boys’ Soccer Working Hard Through COVID

ABOVE THE REST: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Nick Petruso, right, soars high to head the ball in a game last fall. Senior Petruso, who led the Colonial Valley Conference (CVC) in goals last year with 21, will be the go-to finisher for the Tigers again this fall. PHS is slated to start its 2020 campaign when it plays at Hamilton West on October 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Going with a young lineup on 2019, the Princeton High boys’ soccer team got better and better as the season unfolded.

“We won 14 games and led the CVC (Colonial Valley Conference) in shutouts; Nick [Petruso] was the leading goal scorer in the league,” said longtime PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe, who guided his team to a 14-7 record last fall.

“We went to the Mercer County Tournament semi and the sectional quarterfinal. That is an excellent season.”

Dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the guidelines put in place for competition, PHS has been rolling with the punches as it looks at an unusual season in 2020.

“It is more complex getting things started each day and then debriefing and releasing the team at the end of the training session,” said Sutcliffe, whose team is scheduled to start its 2020 campaign when it plays at Hamilton West on October 3.

“There are just many more details. Our guys have been fantastic. They are respectful of the guidelines and disciplined. I can’t say enough about how they are doing their part.”

Those complexities haven’t dampened the joy the PHS players and coaches have felt in being reunited on the pitch.

“They are excited to be out there and the coaching staff is too,” said Sutcliffe.

“It was just so nice to see all of the players again this fall. It has been refreshing. It is just so great to be back with the team at Valley Road every day. We are very fortunate.”

PHS is fortunate to have high-scoring senior star Petruso, who tallied 21 goals in 2019, leading its forward unit.

“Nick looks to be in very good form, he has grown as a player,” said Sutcliffe, whose corps of forwards will also include senior Ian Pompliano, senior Youri Laoui, and sophomore Richard Wegmann.

“He spent a lot of time strength training during the lockdown. He is in good shape, he had a good first two weeks of preseason.”

The PHS midfield will be bolstered by the return of seniors Rakuyo Tamada and Will Novak after injuries that sidelined them in 2019.

“Rakuyo got his ankle cracked in the second game of the season so he was out for the season,” said Sutcliffe.

“He rehabbed and did well. He played all spring and summer. He is back, his form is excellent right now. He can unlock a defense and he is a creative center midfielder. Will is a center midfielder and has also had a good preseason. These are two players that we have got back full time; their impact is seen and felt every day.”

Sutcliffe believes he has a number of midfielders who can make an impact in senior Rafa Davis Grandi, junior Breno Azevedo, junior Nico Carusone, senior Andrew DeLuca, junior Owen Deming, senior Drew Petrone, and junior Charlie Novak.

“Breno and Rafa are Brazilians, so they can speak Portuguese during the game,” said Sutcliffe.

“We have a plethora of midfielders with Nico, Andrew DeLuca, Owen, Drew, and Charlie.”

The PHS back line features an experienced group of seniors in the Parker twins, Ethan and Dylan; Simon Sheppard; James Novak; and Alex Milley, along with sophomore Jack Serxner.

“The Parker twins are both seniors now and they have a lot of experience, Ethan and Dylan have been great,” said Sutcliffe.

“We also have Simon and James Novak at left back; and Alex, Simon, and Ethan are center backs. Dylan is a wide back as is James. We have a promising sophomore in Jack, he is an outside back too.”

At goalie, senior Jared Bell is poised for a big final campaign. “Jared is the starter, it is his third year and he has a lot of minutes played during his career,” said Sutcliffe.

“He led the CVC in shutouts last year with 12. Along with our back four and collective defending, that was one of our highlights of last season.”

Noting that PHS is slated to play a schedule including nearly all of its CVC foes and hopes to make the state sectional, Sutcliffe wants his players to savor the moment as they go for titles.

“I would say that the No. 1 goal is that we want to enjoy being out there, that is an expectation that we have,” said Sutcliffe.

“We want to have a level of success that we can be proud of at the end, whatever that is. We also want our senior class to have a great season. We want to win the league and we want to win the section, those are the two trophies.”