November 17, 2021

PDS Boys’ Soccer Battles to the End in State Final But Loses 3-1 to Powerhouse Gill St. Bernard’s

FINAL PUSH: Princeton Day School boys’ soccer player William Vasquez battles for the ball in the South Jersey Non-Public B sectional. Senior Vasquez scored two goals to help seventh-seeded PDS defeat fifth-seeded Ranney School 3-1 in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) South Jersey Non-Public B sectional last Thursday. On Sunday, Vasquez and the Panthers fell just short of a state title as they lost 3-1 to Gill St. Bernard’s in the Non-Public B state final to end the fall with a 12-12 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

In its run to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) South Jersey Non-Public B sectional title, the Princeton Day School boys’ soccer team relished its role as road warriors.

Seventh-seeded PDS won 3-1 at second-seeded Holy Cross Prep in the sectional quarterfinal on November 4, 3-2 at sixth-seeded Bishop Eustace in the semis on November 8, and then prevailed 3-1 at fifth-seeded Ranney School in the sectional final last Thursday.

But facing powerful Gill St. Bernard’s in the Non-Public B state final at the spacious Kean University field last Sunday, the Panthers found themselves at a disadvantage far from home.

“In our sectional run we played on relatively small fields,” said PDS first-year head coach Brian Thomsen.

“We were able to withstand pressure, able to handle pressure better, able to play out quickly and counterattack quickly on those fields. That Gill team was just able to spread us out more than we have been used to in the past four weeks. We haven’t seen a team like that in terms of the quality of player since Hopewell Valley three weeks ago. We were playing against a true possession-oriented team that worked on that all year.”

Despite chasing Gill all over the field, the Panthers only trailed 1-0 at halftime. After intermission, the Knights scored two goals to take a 3-0 lead and put the game out of reach. PDS did answer back with a late goal by senior star Milan Shah to make it a 3-1 final.

“The boys never stopped trying, they never stopped playing,” said Thomsen, whose team finished the fall with a 12-12 record.

“The No. 1 thing I kept telling them at the end is that you guys made it to the state final.”

In reflecting on the run to the final, Thomsen pointed to a halftime talk in a 6-0 loss to Hopewell on October 18 as a turning point.

“I said to the guys right then and there, you need to believe in yourselves the whole game,” said Thomsen.

“It doesn’t matter what happens in a game, you can respond with more energy. If you keep getting back up every time, after you get scored on or you get fouled or whenever you get dominated, you guys are going to be a hard team to beat. That is really what makes runs special, not every time does the best soccer team win. Talent doesn’t always win.”

Taking that message to heart, the Panthers showed grit in their run to the sectional title.

“The program hasn’t won anything since 2016 when they won the Prep B,” said Thomsen.

“It has been five years since we have won anything. To be able to win the Non-Public B South sectional title in the first year that we are in it and play in a state championship game, it helps the current guys feel fantastic about only being 12-12. The second part is that it helps the guys who are returning. It is going to attract some players. We showed that with only 12 of 23 kids who played club soccer, we can win a sectional title.”

In his first season at the helm of the program, Thomsen grew along with his players.

“I have got a lot of experience as a 30-year old coach but I am relatively inexperienced with the high school game,” said Thomsen.

“Having to learn how to run a program was one of the biggest learning lessons I will take from this year. Figuring out how to motivate young male athletes in high school was another learning experience as well. I learned what I could bring to the table was lot more than just soccer. We talked a lot more about things that have to do with mentality and have to do with goals and everything like that.”

Those talks yielded dividends down the stretch. “It worked at the end, it all came together,” said Thomsen.

“In all of those games where we played and got dominated and beaten, we kept talking about learning lessons to take from them.”

Thomsen was happy to see things come together for his eight seniors in their final campaign with the Panthers.

“I think their impact speaks for itself, it is a senior class that learned a lot about themselves,” said Thomsen, whose senior group included Max Johnson, John Ramos, Connor Topping, William Vasquez, Hussein Zaher, Boaz Ziv-Loewy, and Zach Law in addition to Shah.

“It is a senior class that is going to be remembered for the first sectional title. With high school soccer, half of the battle is because you love your school and your community. I talked a lot to them and the team about leaving a legacy and leaving that memory behind them and for the school. They won’t ever be able to forget this.”