October 14, 2020

Sparked by Bell’s Skill, Leadership at Goalie, PHS Boys’ Soccer Shuts Out Steinert 3-0

BELLWETHER: Princeton High boys’ soccer goalie Jared Bell leaps to make a stop against Steinert last Wednesday. Senior star Bell made three saves in the contest to help PHS defeat the Spartans 3-0. The Tigers, who dropped to 2-1 with a 3-2 loss to Robbinsville last Saturday, play at Notre Dame on October 14 and at Hopewell Valley on October 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Jared Bell found himself under fire as the Princeton High boys’ soccer team hosted Steinert last Wednesday.

The PHS senior goalie held the fort as the Spartans generated a number of scoring opportunities and had the Tiger defense on its heels for much of the first half.

But utilizing the bonds he has developed with his defense, Bell helped PHS thwart Steinert and kept the Spartans scoreless as the Tigers clung to a 1-0 lead at halftime on a goal by senior star Nick Petruso.

“We really managed to pull through with communication,” said Bell.

“Almost every kid on our defense I think of as a leader. They are always talking, they are setting a good example.”

In the second half, PHS played some very good soccer, tacking on goals by Richard Wegmann and Andrew DeLuca in pulling away to a 3-0 triumph even as it lost Petruso to a leg injury just after halftime.

“After Nick went out, then we really know we had to step up and that mentality really set in,” said Bell, who ended up with three saves in the victory.

As a battle-tested senior, Bell has stepped up to make his voice heard on the field.

“From my sophomore year to now, I have definitely developed as a communicator on this team,” said Bell, who posted 12 shutouts in 2019 during his junior campaign.

“It is really necessary for our back four and myself to really give instructions to the middle third and the front third.”

In addition, Bell has developed technically as well. “It is gradual, it is a process,” said Bell. “With COVID, it was a little tough to find training and games to play. I try to play as much as I can.”

Bell loves playing with the PHS back four of fellow seniors James Novak, Ethan Parker, Dylan Parker, and Simon Sheppard.

“With all four of my defenders, I have been playing with them since I was eight years old,” said Bell. “I have been best buddies with them for years.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe acknowledged that his squad wasn’t at its best in the early stages against Steinert.

“We weren’t happy about them dictating the play in the first half for the most part,” said Sutcliffe.

“It seemed like we couldn’t do anything well or right, aside from Nick converting on that goal.”

At halftime, Sutcliffe tweaked his formation to help get the Tigers in rhythm.

“We made some changes positionally,” explained Sutcliffe. “We put Breno [Azevedo] back alongside with Rafa [Davis  Grandi] as a holding center mid. That worked out well. I just think it was our level of urgency, just getting to the ball quicker, winning the duels, and winning the headers. Then the soccer will take care of itself, so that was our message at half.”

Sophomore forward Wegmann showed some urgency, tallying a goal and an assist in the second half.

“That is what he is capable of; he has got breakaway speed, he can isolate defenders one versus one and make something dangerous happen,” said Sutcliffe.

“He has some gifts that other guys don’t in terms of his speed plus he is a good player. It was great for Richard.”

In Sutcliffe’s view, his back line is capable of doing some big things.

“They are all seniors along with Jared and Rafa in front of them,” said Sutcliffe.

“There is a familiarity and there is a history. They have all been on this team for a number of years. They have a lot of minutes together. They have to keep working hard to meet the tests of some of these teams that we are going to face.”

Having Bell as the last line of defense is comforting for Sutcliffe.

“Jared has been great; we have discussed some goals that we want to try to achieve as a team defensively,” said Sutcliffe. “He has taken an extra amount of responsibility.”

Sutcliffe was pleased to see his squad take things to a higher level down the stretch against Steinert. “The second half is the best we have played overall,” said Sutcliffe.

“I am happy about the response today to a poor first half. It was not a good first half, not acceptable. More importantly, we played well, we had some clinical finishes. I couldn’t be happier with our effort.”

With PHS playing a limited schedule due to COVID-19 concerns, Sutcliffe wants to see maximum effort every time out.

“We are going to play 11 CVC (Colonial Valley Conference) games and then a sectional tournament,” said Sutcliffe, whose team dropped to 2-1 with a 3-2 loss to Robbinsville last Saturday, and plays at Notre Dame on October 14 and at Hopewell Valley on October 17.

“We are treating every match like it is a postseason tournament game. We are trying to build that.”

Bell and his teammates are determined to make the most of this fall.

“We are just happy that we have a season; it was looking like we weren’t going to have one,” said Bell.

“Every minute we are on the field we are grateful. I feel this is really our year. During freshman year on the freshman team, we had an undefeated season. This should be one of our biggest years as a program.”