Despite Graduation Losses After Making State Final, PHS Boys’ Soccer Maintaining Winning Culture
READING THE GAME: Princeton High boys’ soccer star Thomas Reid controls the ball in a game last fall. Senior defender Reid has emerged as the leader of the PHS back line. The Little Tigers get the 2018 season underway when they play at WW/P-South on September 6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Last fall, the Princeton High boys’ soccer team added a special chapter to the program’s storied history.
Catching fire after a rocky start, PHS won the Group 4 Central Jersey title and advanced to the state final where it fell to powerhouse Kearny to end the fall with a 17-6-1 record.
Despite suffering some heavy graduation losses, PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe believes that his current crop of players has what it takes to maintain the team’s winning tradition.
“We have a good spirit in the camp and in the group; we have some really good young players who understand fully about the situation and the standard around PHS boys’ soccer,” said Sutcliffe, who is entering his 22nd season at the helm of the program.
“They are showing good signs of being able to do their best to keep that standard high. We are enjoying it.”
PHS will be featuring two of those good young players at forward in sophomores Nick Petruso and Ian Pompliano.
“Nick will be one forward, he really came on last year,” said Sutcliffe of Petruso, who scored some key goals for PHS in its postseason run last fall.
“He spent the first two thirds of the season trying to get used to the demands of it all at that level; credit to him for doing as well as he did. Nick is going to have to find a way to score goals and find some game winners and important goals.
“Ian is a good hold-up forward; he has got a good left foot. He has got good size and he is pretty good in the air. Those are the two primary guys right now.”
A quintet of seniors, Atticus Lynch, Grant Luther, Josh Nieman, Sebastian Ratzan, and Van Lal Ven, figure to be important players for the PHS midfield.
“We have Atticus Lynch and Grant Luther in the middle,” said Sutcliffe. “Josh Nieman and Sebastian Ratzan are out wide. Van Lal Ven is another outside mid; he is an instrumental guy.”
Some new faces are emerging as instrumental players for the Little Tigers in the middle of the field.
“We have Will Novak as our attacking center mid, he is outstanding,” added Sutcliffe, noting Novak played for the Princeton Football Club (PFC) Boca U-16 (2002) boys’ team that won their age group at U.S. Club National Cup in July.
“He is more of a playmaker, but he can do it all. We have got another guy on that Boca team, Noah LaPoint, who is a center mid and he has done well to work his way in. He has had some quality minutes. We got another guy in the midfield Matt Cincotta, a center mid, who is a rising junior.”
On defense, senior Thomas Reid has been doing very well. “Reid was the most improved player on the team last year; he was the only junior in the starting lineup, everyone else was a senior,” said Sutcliffe, whose defensive unit will also include senior Alec Korsah along with sophomore Brendan Coffee, freshman Myles Ryan, and the Parker brothers, sophomores Ethan and Dylan.
“He had a great second half; he picked up right where he left off. Reid is great with everything that he does — the way that he carries himself with confidence, his patience with younger guys, and his competitiveness.”
There is a good competition at goalie as PHS looks to fill the void left by the graduation of star Patrick Jacobs.
“We have three goalies, Jared Bell, a sophomore, Spencer Katz, a junior, and our senior Josh Pletcher,” said Sutcliffe.
“We have confidence in all three of them, they are working hard for one another and challenging one another for the position. It will be a season-long situation where they will be competing with each other.”
While the Little Tigers don’t have a senior-laden unit, Sutcliffe doesn’t see any drop off in skill on the pitch.
“We don’t have a large senior class but there is a lot of quality and we have a sophomore class where even though they are only sophomores, they are not inexperienced,” said Sutcliffe.
“They have played a lot of soccer, they had a good freshman season. They are all club players. We had a good spring in the weight room with them and we have been training all summer. The alumni come back and play pick up games.”
In Sutcliffe’s view, taking care of the basics around the goal and maintaining a winning mentality will lead to another good fall for PHS.
“The keys are not relinquishing cheap goals, to keep as many clean sheets as we can; we need to get better every single week at keeping possession of the ball and really refining our attack and restart,” said Sutcliffe.
“Most important, I would say is the resilience of the senior class. If something goes wrong or we have a bad run, never lose faith because it is just not acceptable with Princeton boys’ soccer. It has never been part of the culture.”