Shannon Pawlak and her teammates on the Princeton High girls’ soccer were frustrated as they found themselves locked in a 1-1 halftime tie at WW/P-S last week.
“For some reason, we got off to a really slow start,” said PHS junior forward Pawlak.
“It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what was going on. We knew coming off the field that we were better than how we were playing and we can do better than this.”
Midway through the second half, Pawlak got PHS feeling a lot better as she slotted home a feed from Ally Rogers to give the Little Tigers a 2-1 lead.
“Ally Rogers hit a really good cross to me and luckily I was just running in the middle and got in front of the defender and was able to play it in,” recalled Pawlak.
“It was a simple pass in. It was a really good play by Ally and a good possession by us. It gave us hope because we kept breaking their defense and we kept getting shots and we knew it was coming and to finally get it was definitely satisfying.”
Minutes later, Pawlak enjoyed another satisfying moment as she buried a penalty kick to give PHS a lead of 3-1, which turned out to be the final score of the contest.
“Usually I go low right but now my strategy is to look and see what direction the goalie leans in right before I kick it,” explained Pawlak. “It is kind of how I feel.”
With 21 goals in this season and 13 in the team’s last six games, Pawlak feels good about the way her teammates are setting her up.
“I have been having a lucky season but along with that, the way we play as a team is helping me,” said Pawlak, who chipped in an assist last Thursday as PHS topped WW/P-N 2-0 in improving to 9-1.
“It is not just me who is making the goals; it is the whole team as a collective unit. By building through the defense and building through the midfield and Ally giving me great crosses, that is mainly where my goals are coming from. It is the work of everybody else.”
Pawlak, though, acknowledges that she has taken a more cold-blooded approach this fall around the net.
“I think I am just creating a lot more opportunities than last year,” said Pawlak.
“I am a little bit more selfish in front of the net, which just comes with the position.”
PHS head coach Greg Hand believes that Pawlak’s diligence alone has helped to create a lot of scoring chances for the Little Tigers.
“Shannon never stops working, she is in a spot where you are going to fail a lot more than you are going to succeed; I think she knows that,” said Hand.
“She is intense on the field. She is terrific, she makes great decisions. We just need to have one or two players there that she can play to if she doesn’t like where she is. She paid a lot of dues since last season. She has worked very hard to become stronger, more agile, and develop every dimension of the game of soccer. Everything we are seeing this year is a product of that hard work since last year.”
Hand liked the good work he saw from his players in the WW/P-S game as they picked up their intensity after the sluggish first half.
“Several kids just really stepped up in the second half and really had an impact on the momentum of the game in the first few minutes,” asserted Hand.
“Haley Bodden was a great ball-winner in the midfield. Dana Smith was just really organizing things throughout that second half and finding players and relieving pressure. Ally Rogers had some fantastic crosses, she has shown us a knack for getting around players and getting crosses in. The quality of the crosses that she served today is something that any forward would like to have.”
With the county tournament starting later this month, Hand believes his squad has the quality to be a title contender.
“We’ll be in the mix; the one-goal games that we have won we could have lost had luck gone the other way,” said Hand, whose team hosts Notre Dame on October 17 before playing at Hopewell Valley on October 22.
“I love the fact that we seem to be able to compete with everybody and at least make a game of it and find ways to create against them. We are still working on our defensive team concept.”
Pawlak, for her part, is confident that the team can emulate last year’s stretch run which saw the program win its first sectional title.
“We have been playing similarly to last year, I think we have the same amount of talent,” said Pawlak.
“I think as we keep progressing through our games, we can go as far hopefully.”