November 17, 2021

PHS Girls’ Soccer Defeats HoVal 2-0 in Sectional Final As Lis Continues Extraordinary Run with a Pair of Goals

STANDING TALL: Princeton High girls’ soccer player Sophia Lis, left, celebrates after scoring a goal against Hopewell Valley in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional final last Friday. Senior star and Lehigh-bound Lis scored two goals in the contest as top-seeded PHS prevailed 2-0 over the second-seeded Bulldogs. The Tigers, who improved to 20-2 with the triumph, will now play at South champion Lacey (15-6-1) in the Group 3 semis on November 17 with the victor advancing to the state Group 3 final on November 21 at Kean University. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For the Princeton High girls’ soccer team, the third time proved to be the charm as it hosted Hopewell Valley in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional final last Friday.

With PHS having lost 3-2 to HoVal in the regular season and then dropping a 3-1 decision in the Mercer County Tournament semis, the top-seeded Tigers turned the tables on the second-seeded Bulldogs, winning 2-0 in the sectional final.

PHS, which improved to 20-2 with the triumph, now play at South champion Lacey (15-6-1) in the Group 3 semis on November 17 with the victor advancing to the state Group 3 final on November 21 at Kean University.

Coming into round three with Hopewell, Tiger head coach Dave Kosa fine-tuned his game plan.

“We were definitely trying to be the aggressor and get on the attack first,” said Kosa, who is in his first season guiding the program.

“We taped the first two games; it was learning what we did not so good and just trying to take away some of the things that they do well. We limited their corners, we didn’t let them behind us. They got behind us in the first two games and in this case they didn’t so that took away a lot of their set pieces and a lot of their corner kicks. Second of all, we were looking to win all of the 50/50 balls. We scouted them against Brick in the sectional semis and Brick controlled most of the play. They were all over them too, they were really, really aggressive, marking closely. We took that and used that to our advantage.”

Having the home field advantage in the sectional final was a big plus for the Tigers.

“The fans were amazing; we had the Tiger Cage going, the student section, that was great,” said Kosa.

“Our field is not as wide as theirs, it is just comfortable. We haven’t lost at home this year. We had a lot of motivation with them beating us twice, we were so pumped up.”

PHS senior star and Lehigh-bound Sophia Lis got the crowd pumped up, tallying a goal 20 minutes into the contest to put the Tigers up 1-0.

“We talked about that, no matter whether we go up one or down one or whoever scores first, we just have to make sure that we stay poised together and that is something that we did,” said Kosa, noting that PHS jumped out to a 1-0 lead over HoVal in the MCT semis and failed to close the deal

“After we scored that first one, Moji [goalkeeper Moji Ayodele] went down and said let’s make sure that we stay focused and concentrating on our goal here. Let’s not get too high because there is a lot of game to play. We learned from game two and that helped us.”

Early in the second half, Lis struck again, tallying at the 51st minute to provide the final margin of victory for PHS.

“When the stakes are raised, she raises her game,” said Kosa of Lis, who has 36 goals and 21 assists this year, including seven goals in sectional play.

“She is a great kid and a great player. She is just so talented, there were a couple of other ones where she was so close as well. It  doesn’t seem like pressure bothers her.”

The Tiger defense held the fort the rest of the way. “They had one or two that went off the post,” said Kosa.

“Moji played great, even though she didn’t have to make that many clutch saves. She was controlling us back there.”

The coach’s daughter, senior sweeper Annie Kosa, also helped control things along the back line as she played through a calf injury.

“We didn’t think she was going to play at all when it was Thursday night or even Friday,” said Kosa.

“Up until 12 after our team lunch, she was going down to see the trainer. So going from that to play, she was rocking it back there. She played magnificent, clearing everything out. There were a couple of times where someone got by the first line of defense and she is there doing slide tackles. It was amazing to see, here is a kid who you don’t think is going to play and she shines in a final game like that. I was amazed.”

It was an amazing feat for PHS to win the sectional crown, the program’s first since 2012.

“We kept on talking about it, it was beyond our wildest dreams and then it was really have a shot,” said Kosa.

“We are playing really well, we have a great record, we win our division, we are looking for the top seed and we get that. Everybody is going to have to come to Princeton. It just meant everything, winning it in front of everybody here was so special.”

The Tigers have been saving their best for last. “I was just looking back at the state tournament games,” said Kosa.

“Robbinsville gave us a good run (a 1-0 in the quarterfinals on November 5). Colts Neck is a really strong Shore team, 3-1 there was a great win for us (on November 9 in the sectional semis). As for Hopewell, in the two games that they beat us, they had more of the play. For us to have more of the play, it just shows us how far we have come. We are playing our best soccer now.”

In peaking at the right time, it has a been a total team effort for PHS.

“Everybody understands their role, we just play off of each other’s strengths,” said Kosa.

“We know who we need to score; who we need to defend, to do this or that to shut down the opposing players. Everybody just backs one another up. Probably the most amazing thing to see as the season has gone on is how close they have become.”

In order to beat Lacey, the Tigers will need to produce a very strong effort.

“They are playing really good soccer also, they have beaten some good teams, they play good competition in the Shore Conference,” said Kosa.

“Their losses are against some really strong teams as well. All of their losses are one-goal losses, either 2-1 or 1-0 so they are in every game. They are also very talented, we scouted them and we know about them. We were able to see the field, we were able to see who their top players are and what they are all about. We are going to be ready for them.”

While the Tigers have done their preparation, Kosa knows that the game will come down to PHS sticking with what has gotten it to this point.

“We just have to go down there and play our game,” said Kosa.

“It is just going to be a matter of who executes the best soccer. We have just got to go out, work our butts off, and take care of business. We need to keep playing better and play our best soccer on Wednesday.”