PFC Napoli U16 Makes Regional Semis Utilizing Cohesive Style, Clutch Play
SEMI TOUGH: Members of the Princeton Football Club (PFC) Napoli U16 girls’ soccer team pose after they represented New Jersey at the Region 1 Tournament in West Virginia earlier this month. Napoli went 2-1 in group play to advance to the semifinals where it fell 2-1 to Montgomery United (Pa.) 2-1 in the second period of overtime. Pictured in the front row, from left to right, are Alison Walsh (Montgomery High), Vannessa Ponce (Princeton High), Kaitlyn St. Amour (WW/P-North High), Stavroula Papakonstantinou (PHS), Vanessa Devlin (Princeton Day School), Jessica Wu (PHS), and Talya Deutsch (Montgomery). In the back row, from left, are head coach Milen Nikolov, Ashley Moritz (WW/P-North), Neena O’Mara (Montgomery), Nicolette Evich (Hopewell Valley Central High), Emily DeNero (Hopewell Valley), Molly Frain (PHS), Sophia Kavulich (The Pennington School), Morgan Beamer (PHS), Claire Tellier (Hopewell Valley), Dylan Wellborne (The Lawrenceville School), and assistant coach Natalie Wilson. Not pictured is Elizabeth Nielsen (WW/P-South High).
When his Princeton Football Club (PFC) Napoli girls’ soccer team fell in the final four of the State Cup last season, Milen Nikolov believed the defeat could end up being a blessing in disguise.
“When they lost in the semifinal for the state cup on penalty kicks, I told them you are going to get another chance and this is a lesson,” said PFC Napoli head coach Nikolov.
The U16 squad learned its lesson, advancing to the State Cup final this spring and coming through in the clutch to earn the title.
“We won the semifinal in OT and the final went to OT and penalty kicks, they showed great character,” said Nikolov, noting the core of the team started playing together in the fall of 2011 when they were in grade school and that he has coached the squad since it was formed.
Competing in the regionals earlier this month, the PFC Napoli was looking to show that it belonged in that competition.
“They had no experience playing at this level and the other thing is that they are a very young team,” said Nikolov.
“Most of the girls are freshmen, I only have three sophomores. For most of the teams at the regionals, the majority of their players were sophomores. I didn’t want to put high expectations on them. I just told them, let’s go one game at a time and see how it goes.”
Things were going very well at the start for PFC Napoli as it started group play by topping Hostspurs Elite 2002 (Pa.) 2-0 as Neena O’Mara and Sophia Kavulich both found the back of the net. The squad went 2-0 and clinched a spot in the semis after edging Pipeline SC ’02 Black (Md.) 3-2 with goals from O’Mara, Emily DeNero, and Dylan Wellborne.
After ending group play with a 2-0 loss to WVFC 2002 Black, PFC Napoli faced Montgomery United (Pa.) in the semis.
Molly Frain gave PFC Napoli a 1-0 lead, but Montgomery tied the game late in regulation and then prevailed on a goal in the second overtime period.
“It was a good start, but with four minutes to go, they scored from a free kick and that kind of changed the momentum,” said Nikolov.
“It was very hot and we were just four minutes shy of going to the final and that set them back in the overtime. We didn’t stop fighting, but we were exhausted physically and mentally at that point.”
In its playoff run, the squad made a point with its skill and cohesive play.
“Technically they are very strong, which allows us to keep possession and move the ball,” said Nikolov.
“We are not a team that’s only hope is on the dead ball situations or long balls. We like to play with the ball. We like to keep it and knock the ball around. That is our style, the possession style. With the core group being together for six-seven years, that really helps. They know each other, they know what their teammates like to do and where they like to go.”
In Nikolov’s view, PFC has the potential to go even further in upcoming seasons.
“They are good football players and I think they are going to get another shot,” said Nikolov.
“They have the future before them and now we have more experience to play at this level. We know what it takes so hopefully next year or the year after, they can go again.”