Sparked by Bunce’s OT Goal, Atkeson’s Tenacity, PDS Girls’ Soccer Wins 2nd Straight Prep B Crown
TITLE FIGHT: Princeton Day School girls’ soccer player Hannah Bunce, left, fights for the ball in recent action. Last week, junior star Bunce scored the winning goal as top-seeded PDS defeated second-seeded Montclair Kimberley Academy 1-0 in overtime in Prep B title game. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
On paper, the 2015 state Prep B girls’ soccer championship game had the makings of a nail biter as top-seeded Princeton Day School hosted second-seeded Montclair Kimberley Academy.
Defending champion PDS brought a 16-2-1 record into the November 3 clash while MKA was 17-1 and boasted one of the top players in the state, prolific scorer and Boston College-bound Olivia Vaughn.
Pat Trombetta knew that his PDS squad faced a formidable challenge in the visitors.
“They have outscored their opponents 90-10 and they made it to the Essex County finals,” said Trombetta.
“Their only loss this season was against a powerhouse Montclair team so we knew that we were on for a battle.”
The Panthers fired the first volley, nearly scoring 1:40 into the contest as a point blank shot from Damali Simon-Ponte flew just over the cross bar.
That sequence set the tone as the teams produced a riveting classic before an overflow crowd at Baker Field with numerous end-to-end runs and some bruising physical play as they battled to a scoreless draw through regulation.
Trombetta sensed from the first whistle that his squad was up for the fight.
“We had a lot of young players out there and the way they played today, I didn’t see any nerves at all from the get-go,” said Trombetta. “We were settled in and we were ready to play.”
Adding to the drama, Vaughn got knocked out of the game with a nose injury 15 minutes into the second half and starting goalie Hope Buchan left the contest with a facial cut in the waning moments of regulation.
As teams heading into sudden death overtime, PDS junior star forward Hannah Bunce felt momentum was on the side of the Panthers.
“I felt a goal was coming, I think we all did,” said Bunce.
“We had many opportunities and we were beating them down the sides plenty of times. It was just a matter of time before the ball went into the back of the net.”
Seven minutes into the first overtime period, Bunce took a feed from freshman Kelsey Lane and blasted it into the back of the net to give the Panthers that goal and their second straight Prep B title.
“I was just thinking you have to score, you have to score,” said Bunce. “It is the final two minutes and we have to get one in. This was a physical game and it could have gone either way but I think that we had more heart. We wanted it more, we were definitely in it to win it, no matter what.”
The PDS students raced on the field en masse to celebrate Bunce’s golden goal, mobbing the Panther players as they hugged each other.
With the Panthers having fallen short of a Mercer County Tournament title as they fell to Notre Dame in the semis, PDS junior midfielder Abby Atkeson and her teammates were primed to give their all in one last bid for a championship this fall.
“We played really well in that game and we wanted to bring that same energy and same kind of focus and same kind of intensity into this one,” said Atkeson.
“I am just so proud of these girls for all that they have done and accomplished this season. We have had an incredible season with such a young team. We have so many freshmen and we have only one senior (Izzy Meyercord) and the fact that that didn’t intimidate us coming into this game was great.”
Atkeson was not intimidated as she drew the assignment of marking MKA star Vaughn all over the field.
“I had a lot of help from the back four, Izzy Meyercord, Emily Simons, Becca Kuzmicz, and Maddie Coyne are amazing; they helped me cover all of that space,” said Atkeson.
“The best defense is a good offense and Damali and Hannah were making great runs up the side. We had a lot of really good crosses into the middle, which was great.”
Trombetta credited Atkeson with playing a great role in the PDS defensive effort by stifling Vaughn.
“I thought Abby Atkeson did a tremendous job on her, unfortunately Vaughn went out with an injury,” said Trombetta.
“I thought we were containing her pretty well and that is all Abby right there. Abby did a helluva job handling that responsibility.”
It came as no surprise to Trombetta that Bunce notched the game winner.
“Hannah Bunce has been tremendous all season, what a breakout year for her,” asserted Trombetta.
“She was knocking on the door all game long, she is a tough mark for any team with her physicality and speed and that left foot is a cannon.”
In Trombetta’s view, PDS’s depth and versatility made it so tough to beat this fall as it went 17-2-1.
“I think it is the balance we have on this team,” said Trombetta. “You have got a great keeper (sophomore Grace Barbara) and you have got a great defense. If you look at our midfield, we relied on two freshmen today, Madison McCaw and Kelsey Lane. What composure down there for Kelsey, setting up Hannah, she just threaded the needle on that pass and Hannah finished it.”
The dramatic win over MKA was a fitting finish to a great season. “The first goal in the beginning of the season was to defend our title, that was our primary goal from day one,” said Trombetta, who also guided the program to the 2013 MCT crown.
“We got this opportunity today and we jumped all over it. It is great, this is our third straight championship. I am real happy for Izzy, she is a senior captain and missed the last two years with a broken leg. To be able to play a whole season and then go out on top like this is really special for her.”
Atkeson, for her part, was thrilled with the happy ending. “The fact that we were able to defend our championship title was awesome, it is the highlight of the season,” said Atkeson.
“We had a great season and we wanted to finish it up with a nice bow and a championship and this is a great way to do that.”