September 8, 2021

Despite Losing 14 Seniors to Graduation, PHS Boys’ Soccer Reloading, Not Rebuilding

KEY MAN: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Richard Wegman dribbles the ball in a contest last fall. Junior Wegman should be a key offensive threat this fall for PHS. The Tigers start their 2021 season by hosting Robbinsville on September 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Over the years, the Princeton High boys’ soccer team has proven that it is one of those programs that doesn’t rebuild, it reloads.

After losing 14 seniors from a squad that went 9-3-1 last year and advanced to the Central West Group 4 sectional final, the cupboard is far from bare as PHS opens its 2021 season by hosting Robbinsville on September 8.

“We have a really good nucleus of senior players, five of whom have been on the team a while; this is their third year,” said PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe, who is in his 25th season at the helm of the program and guided the Tigers to 2009 and 2012 Group 3 state titles in addition to several sectional and county crowns and passing the 300-win milestone in 2016.

“The preseason has been great. There is a sense of excitement at the prospect of some normalcy here.”

PHS tested itself in the preseason, scrimmaging such formidable foes as Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Christian Brothers Academy, and Gill St Bernard’s, among others.

“We just kept getting better at everything which is encouraging,” said Sutcliffe.

“That would be the primary observation, we got better every scrimmage.”

Senior Nico Carusone and junior Richard Wegman have emerged as the primary offensive threats at forward for the Tigers.

“They are finding some understanding,” said Sutcliffe, who will also be looking at sophomore Felipe Matar Grandi Davis and senior Joe Borovoy up top.

“It has been promising in terms of their performance in the preseason friendlies we have had which have been pretty demanding.”

The PHS midfield boasts a number of promising players in senior Owen Deming, junior Emanuel Noyola, sophomore Nick Matese, sophomore Patrick Kenah, senior Cooper Ealy, and senior Drew Petrone.

“We have a holding center mid, a third year player in Owen, he is a good lacrosse player too,” said Sutcliffe.

“He is really good, he is a good player. He is experienced, he has been around like Nico and Richard. Emanuel has shown very well, he is really good. We have some other younger players like Nick, he has also shown very well. We have a plethora of midfielders with other guys who are really showing well like Patrick, Cooper, and Drew.”

Along the back line, Sutcliffe is looking at senior Breno Azevedo, senior Charlie Novak, senior Reuben Breitman, junior Nat Tudor, junior Zhibo Huang, junior Erik Luijendijk, senior Alexander DeLuca, and junior Leo George.

“Breno is back, he is very good,” said Sutcliffe. “Charlie Novak is an excellent player at left back. We have some good additional guys in Reuben and Nat at center back. Zhibo and Erik are good players. Zander and Leo are also in the mix.”

After taking a hiatus from soccer, senior Carl Birge is back with the program and has earned the starting spot at goalie.

“Carl is the catcher on the baseball team, he played goalie early days so he has got a background,” said Sutcliffe, who has two backup goalies in junior Oleg Brennan and senior Troy Curran.

“He did not play last fall, he last played as a freshman. He has been working all summer and is showing pretty well. He has got great agility and strong hands. He has a soft touch on the ball. He brings another dimension because he is an experienced, distinct varsity athlete in another sport already. He brings some confidence and is close with the other seniors. It takes a while but the athleticism lends itself and he is smart.”

In order to continue the program’s winning tradition this season, PHS will need to play some smart soccer and maintain the intensity all fall.

“The back four have to be really sharp and have a quick learning curve in front of a new goalkeeper,” said Sutcliffe.

“The players have to keep competing with one another in order to enjoy their soccer and create a competitive environment in training, not just in the second week or the fourth week but in the sixth, eighth weeks when it matters most. We have been fortunate with that in the past, soccer is a big deal in the Princeton community.”