Dana Smith played sweeper along the back line for much of the game as the Princeton High girls’ soccer team hosted Hamilton last Thursday.
But when Hamilton scored a goal early in the second half to knot the game at 1-1, the speedy Smith moved up into the PHS attack.
Giving the team a lift, Smith put the Hornet defense on its heels as she made some penetrating runs at the Hamilton goal.
With just over seven minutes left in regulation, Smith’s pace and persistence paid off as she blasted a shot into the lower corner of the goal to give PHS a 2-1 lead. The Little Tigers added an insurance goal by Shannon Pawlak in the waning seconds of the game to post a hard-earned 3-1 victory.
In reflecting on her game-winning tally, junior Smith said it came down to being composed when she got her chance.
“We were really trying to fight back and get the go-ahead goal,” said Smith. “That ball was just bouncing around in the box and it landed at my feet and I took the time. On my first couple of shots I was rushing them, so I looked up and found that side of the net. It was what we had to do to put the game away.”
Smith, who also stars for the PHS girls’ lacrosse team, is more than happy to provide versatility for the Little Tigers.
“I like playing both ways,” said Smith. “I like getting a chance to go forward and make things happen but I also know that I have to play in the back and make sure to keep balls away from Lauren [goalie Lauren Ullmann] and support the team that way. Right now because we are missing Emily Pawlak and we need the defense to be together so I want to be there to help out my team and do whatever I need to do.”
In Smith’s view, PHS has been coming together well. “We have really been making sure that we connect and find feet and play together as a whole team,” said Smith.
“We have great depth on our bench and we have been making sure that everyone finds a way to help the team. We all get forward together and we all get back together. We don’t let things like giving up a goal slow us down; we need to rise up and keep powering through.”
As a battle-tested junior, Smith is looking to help the team through utilizing her experience.
“Now I have more of a leadership role, we have three freshmen playing really good minutes so I am helping them out,” said Smith.
“Especially with Haley Bodden in the back with me; it is her first time playing that position so I like being able to help her. It is also setting an example for the other girls in practice, games, and off the field too.”
PHS head coach Greg Hand knows that Smith can help his squad in a number of ways.
“Dana is a creator; she makes things happen,” asserted Hand. “Whether it is winning the ball or settling something that is pretty ugly and getting it down to the ground again. She is always moving quickly and is a quick decision maker. She is dynamic.”
In Hand’s view, his team made some good decisions with the ball as it overcame Hamilton.
“We have been focusing since the beginning of the year on how to play within the system that we have,” said Hand, whose team topped Steinert 2-0 last Saturday in improving to 6-2.
“It is one thing to establish a 4-4-2, it is another thing to do what that system needs you to do. I felt we had very good supporting play throughout the first half and in big chunks of the second half too. And in the second half, when we might have been rushing too much, I thought we still managed to stay composed and keep supporting. We were relaxed enough when we received the ball to find feet rather than just play too quickly. It created situations where we had great final passes and terrific finishing.”
The Little Tigers also showed some character as they battled back after the Hamilton tally.
“The goal was dismaying; I don’t think they created it particularly well, they just got the goal,” said Hand.
“So our team was a little disappointed but we did seem to bounce back and we certainly played with a lot of heart needing a goal. I think we had great composure given that sense of pressure.”
After a disappointing 1-0 loss to Hopewell in the season opener, PHS has shown more creativity on the offensive end of the field.
“It all seems like part of the same progression; the Robbinsville loss looks like a step back but I think we have learned from every game,” said Hand, who will be looking for his squad to keep progressing as it hosts WW/P-S on October 4 before playing at WW/P-N on October 9.
“We are just a better team than we were 10 days ago. After the loss to Hopewell in the opener, there was no question of how hard we worked, the question was how are we are going to score and we have kept trying to answer that question.”
Smith, for her part, feels that the team’s daily focus has helped it find the right answers.
“We are not thinking about what is happening next week and the weeks after that,” said Smith.
“We are not thinking about any tournaments, counties and states, that are coming up. We have to keep working hard everyday in practice and not getting complacent with our wins.”