Stepping into the starting goalie spot for the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team from day one this fall as a freshman, Grace Barbara has been under the gun.
“There are some very strong players on some of these opponents’ teams,” said Barbara. “Since I am a freshman it has been a little bit difficult with these very skilled players.”
Last week, Barbara faced one of the toughest opponents around as PDS played at Pennington, the perennial state Prep A champion.
“Pennington is a great team, I have a lot of friends from my club team, YMS, on that team so it is definitely a rivalry,” said Barbara.
“We knew going into the game that it was going to be a tough one, Pennington is ranked second in the nation. They had lost to Hun 2-0 and we were strong with Hun so we felt going into the game that if we played our best and played to the level of the opponents, we would pull through with a win or a tie.”
The squads were level through the first half, locked in a 0-0 stalemate with Barbara making several good saves to thwart the Red Raiders.
“I felt pretty good in the first half, attacking two corners,” said Barbara. “Winning those definitely boosted my confidence and the team’s. Everyone played their hearts out.”
In the second half, however, Pennington’s attack broke through with two goals as PDS fell 2-0 in the October 14 contest.
While Barbara was disappointed with the loss, she gained some valuable experience from the setback.
“They are a skilled team so I can learn a lot, especially from the goals,” said Barbara, who ended up with 10 saves in the setback.
“I can work on sets and high balls coming from long and the short balls pegged down in the corners. I can definitely work on that in practice.”
Barbara has developed a good working relationship with the PDS defensive unit. “I feel like my defense back here with Erin Hogan, Alexis Davis, and Stef Soltesz has been working great with me,” said Barbara.
“Abby Atkeson was stepping back on defense today. I feel quite protected back here, even though we are only playing with three in the back a lot of the time.
Playing goalie since grade school, Barbara is relishing her debut campaign for the Panthers.
“I was always interested in the position and I started in U-8 so I have been playing for quite a while,” said Barbara, who made two saves to earn the shutout as PDS topped New Brunswick 7-0 last Monday in improving to 9-3-3.
“My club team, the YMS Pride, really got me ready for the high school season and this is just a great opportunity because I am just playing with high skilled players on my team and the other teams. It is really building me up.”
PDS head coach Pat Trombetta saw the matchup with Pennington as a great opportunity with postseason play around the corner.
“We usually play them late in the season and it gives us a measurement of where we stand,” said Trombetta, whose team is the defending Mercer County Tournament champion and is seeded sixth in this year’s MCT where it will host No. 11 Notre Dame on a first round contest on October 25.
Trombetta liked the way his defense stood tall all night long against Pennington.
“We put Abby [Atkeson] and Kirsten [Kuzmicz] in the back, that’s something that we haven’t done all year,” said Trombetta.
“I think it worked, it kept us in the game. Grace made some good saves, she was in control. Abby and Kirsten had good games today. Stef did a great job in the back again; she was solid.”
The Panthers didn’t do as good a job at the offensive end of the field as they generated chances but couldn’t find the back of the net.
“We couldn’t connect,” lamented Trombetta. “We had a couple of opportunities here in the second half that we probably could have done better with.”
While Trombetta hoped for a better result against Pennington, he had no qualms about his team’s competitiveness.
“I was proud of the effort, we played aggressive, we played physical, and we stayed with them,” said Trombetta, whose team is also competing on the state Prep B tourney where it is seeded first and has a bye into the semis.
“We played toe-to-toe with them and that’s all you can ask as a coach when you are playing one of the top teams around.”
Barbara, for her part, believes the Panthers can emerge as a top team in postseason play.
“I feel like even though we did lose, we played a great game,” said Barbara. “This was a great segue way for the tournaments. We will be playing some skilled teams in the postseason just like Pennington and it got our heads in check.”