Novak Thrilled to Return for Senior Campaign, Starring as PHS Boys’ Soccer Won Sectional Semi
WILLPOWER: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Will Novak, left, controls the ball against Hunterdon Central last Saturday in the Central West Group 4 sectional final. Top-seeded PHS ended up falling 1-0 the second-seeded Red Devils. Two days earlier, senior midfielder Novak scored two goals to help the Tigers defeat fifth-seeded Hightstown 5-0 in the sectional semis. PHS ended 2020 campaign with a 9-3-1 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Will Novak wasn’t looking to be a hero as the Princeton High boys’ soccer team hosted Hightstown in the Central West Group 4 sectional semifinals last Wednesday.
Instead, after missing all of the 2019 season and most of the previous campaign due to injury, senior midfielder Novak was thrilled just to be on the pitch for the game.
“I was cleared at the end of last year; I spent this whole past year just training and trying to get back in shape and focusing on rehab,” said Novak, whose twin brother James and younger brother Charles also play for PHS.
“My mentality is a little different than everybody else’s. If I can be on the field, you can put me anywhere and I am going to be happy to be there. I am taking every opportunity I have to do what I can to help the team. I am loving every second of it.”
Against Hightstown, Novak seized opportunity, scoring a pair of first half goals to help PHS take a 2-0 lead and the Tigers never looked back on the way to a 5-0 triumph and a spot in the sectional final against Hunterdon Central.
On his first goal, which came with 15:08 left in the half, Novak converted a pass from classmate Nick Petruso.
“I was anticipating the ball coming across, I knew I was going to have to hit it with my left foot,” said Novak.
“I had the same shot earlier this season and I missed it. I am just happy it went in today.”
Just over two minutes later, Novak struck again, set up by a superb feed from another senior, Youri Laoui.
“It was a great ball by Youri and I brought it down,” said Novak. “My brother (James) was mad at me for not sliding it across for a tap in but I saw a goal and I had to put it away.”
PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe saw Novak’s goals as turning the tide for the Tigers.
“Youri found him wide on the first one which was really beautiful,” said Sutcliffe.
“Then he cut across at the top of the 18 and hit that volley. What more can you say? It is what you need in any game, and especially a tournament game, to try to score early. That set the tone, it helped so much. Credit to Will.”
With PHS having defeated Hightstown 3-0 in a regular season meeting on October 31, Novak and his teammates were determined to come out strong and seize momentum in the rematch.
“We had the mentality of we have got to do what we can to get ahead early,” said Novak.
“And then to be solid defensively and keep a clean sheet. We got on the score sheet early and overall it was a good game.”
Building on that early lead, PHS dominated possession as it pulled away to the victory with Petruso, Ian Pompliano, and Andrew DeLuca each finding the back of the net in the second half.
“As soon as we got our goals, I have to say Rafa [Davis Grandi] and Rakuyo [Tamada] were fantastic in midfield,” said Novak.
“Defensively, they were controlling the ball. From the back line all the way up the field, we felt very confident. It was a good game.”
Coming into the fall, the squad’s seniors made a pact to give their all on the field to make the most out of a 2020 campaign that was limited by COVID concerns.
“We had a meeting at the beginning of the season,” recalled Novak.
“We all said to one another whatever we have in front of us, whether it is a state championship or a conference title, we want to do everything we can to win that.”
Although PHS ended up falling 1-0 to Hunterdon Central two days later in the sectional final, Novak believed that the Tigers did everything they could to jell at the right time.
“We are getting there on top of the soccer, the team is really starting to come together,” said Novak.
“We are playing more as a team, it is really nice to see. This is some of our best soccer that we are playing.”