September 30, 2020

PHS Girls’ Soccer Thrilled to Be on Field, Focusing on Developing Potent Offense

BUSHMASTER: Princeton High girls’ soccer star Greta Bush prepares to boot the ball up the field in a game last year. Senior defender and team co-captain Bush will provide energy and skill for the Tigers. PHS opens regular season play by hosting Hamilton West on October 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For the Princeton High girls’ soccer team, its preseason training has centered on getting the most out of every moment on the field.

With the 2020 season in doubt for months due to COVID-19 pandemic, the PHS players were more than appreciative when the Board of Education gave the green light for fall sports to proceed.

“They are thrilled; we keep on focusing on the fact that look we are here and who would have really thought and that we would be on the field in person with games next weekend,” said Rodriguez, whose team is coming off an 8-6-3 campaign last fall and starts its 2020 season by hosting Hamilton West on October 3.

“We are maximizing this opportunity and really, really enjoying it. The girls are positive about it. We have gotten through our team selections, we have announced our captains (seniors Lily Gabriello, Phoebe Frankel, and Greta Bush along with junior Sophia Lis) and we are excited for the season to happen.”

For the most part, practices have been business as usual once the players get on the field.

“It has been great, being with the girls and having practice,” said Rodriguez.

“Once we get started and just before we finish, it feels pretty much normal. I am screaming directions with a mask on. They are mask free, they are training, and they are competing. They are doing all of the things that they normally would have, apart from reminding them being six feet apart and things like that. In the shooting lines, you can’t stand next to each other and talk closely like you used to. That is the only real difference that I see when we are training. It is more the arrival and the departure that we have to be very cautious of and the pasta parties that we can’t have, and the senior celebrations with food. It is all the extras that you miss out on that are so important.”

Determined to do all they can to have a season, the players have been diligent in following the protocols.

“The security guards that are on staff to make sure that we are all following rules and checking in, they are like ‘look at those girls, they are doing everything right,’” said Rodriguez.

“Of course they are, they don’t want to lose their season. I think all of our seniors have a voice on our team and are natural leaders to begin with. People gravitate to what they say and what they do. It is not just out seniors, it is our junior class as well.”

Rodriguez is looking for Lis, who was sidelined in 2019 as she recovered from a leg injury, and sophomore Megan Rougas, to develop into a lethal one-two punch at forward.

“Sophia returning is going to be a huge thing for us; her partner in crime Megan is going to shake some things up there,” said Rodriguez.

“Sophia is 100 percent, she is full steam ahead and is looking strong. Megan brings speed for sure but her foot skills are really strong as well. I think the combination of those two is going to be pretty good.”

PHS features some very good players in the midfield, highlighted by senior Vanessa Ponce, sophomore Sarah Granozio, and junior Naomi Bazar.

“Vanessa, for sure, will be leading the way; we also have Sarah that nobody in the CVC got to see,” said Rodriguez, noting that Granozio was sidelined due to injury in 2019.

“She lost a season that she didn’t anticipate losing, she is a very strong middie for us. Naomi is somebody who is quiet but she is tricky. She got some minutes last year but I think she is going to be in the mix a lot this year.”

Along the back line, the Tigers boast a battle-tested unit led by Bush and fellow seniors in Grace Heilbronn, Ava Thomson, Gabriello, and Frankel.

“Greta is looking like the same Greta, full of spunk, energy, and hustle; she is tenacious wherever we put her,” said Rodriguez.

“Grace runs up the flank and is in the mix on defense. We are looking at other girls in the back to be real solid for us like Ava, Lilly, and Phoebe.”

At goalie, Rodriguez believes that junior Moji Ayodele could emerge as a star.

“Moji has been waiting her turn, she is going to be fun to watch,” said Rodriguez.

“She is high energy and very tall; with her wingspan and her jumps, she is going to save some game changers for us. We are going to hear her back there a lot in a good way.”

Looking ahead to the season, Rodriguez sees sharper finishing as the key to success for the Tigers.

“We want to score a lot of goals this year, we haven’t been putting up the numbers like we have in years past,” said Rodriguez.

“We want to get back to that possession game, building our attack. We want numbers in the attack and we want to put the ball in the net. We need to score those goals against the tough teams, two, three, four of them, if necessary. We have got some finishers. They can be very selfish when needed and unselfish at the same time. We tell the players, ‘if you are on frame, you are going to goal.’”