PHS Girls’ Soccer Falls Just Short in State Group 3 Final; Battling to the End in 2-1 Overtime Loss to Wayne Valley
PEAKS AND A VALLEY: Princeton High girls’ soccer player Megan Rougas, center, battles for the ball in a game this season. Last Sunday, senior star Rougas and PHS made the program’s first-ever state final appearance and fell just short of the crown as they lost 2-1 in overtime to Wayne Valley. The Tigers finished the fall with a final record of 21-3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
When it was over, Megan Rougas embraced Sophia Lis on the field as they consoled each other.
Although the two senior stars for the Princeton High girls’ soccer team were upset in the wake of the squad falling 2-1 in overtime to Wayne Valley in the state Group 3 final last Sunday afternoon at Kean University, that sadness couldn’t take away from what the Tigers accomplished this fall.
Utilizing a blend of skill and togetherness, PHS enjoyed a dream season this fall, advancing to the state final for the first time in program history and ending the campaign with a 21-3 record.
While her eyes were reddened from tears, Rougas managed a smile in reflecting on how the fall unfolded for the Tigers.
“Unexpected is the word I would use,” said standout midfielder and co-captain Rougas.
“I have seen so much talent pass through this school, with players like my sister (Lauren), and Sophia’s sisters (Taylor, Devon). I think we were the underdogs this year. We took everything we could. We took giant steps, we did exactly what we needed to do to get to where we needed to be. We made it to the top, somehow, some way. I could not be prouder of these girls.”
The Tigers expected a battle from Wayne Valley, the Passaic County champions, who entered the final at 21-3 and riding a 16-game winning streak.
“We knew coming in that this was going to be a really tough game,” said Rougas.
“They combine, they play the feet, they are really fast, they go end line to end line. Their two top goal scorers are D-1 commits. We know they are a great team. We watched a lot of game film, we prepared and we did everything that we needed to do.”
Wayne Valley didn’t waste any time showing that skill, taking a 1-0 lead just 85 seconds in the contest, scoring off a corner kick.
Battle-tested PHS, though, was unfazed by the early deficit, tying the contest just over 10 minutes later on a goal by Lis.
“We know how it feels; we have played Hopewell, they score first, that’s OK,” said Rougas.
“We know exactly how to come back from that. I think we did a really, really great job.”
It was no surprise that the Lehigh-bound Lis netted the tying tally. “She is genuinely my idol, I could not be more proud,” said Rougas of her classmate and close friend who scored 38 goals this fall, the second highest single-season total in CVC history behind the 65 scored by Steinert’s Lisa Gmitter in 1982.
“You will see four girls on her and two seconds later, she has the ball going into goal. She is amazing. I am so happy I was able to have a couple of years with her because of injuries and everything.”
Over the second half, PHS had to hold the fort as Wayne Valley had a lot of possession and generated a number of scoring opportunities. Tiger goalkeeper Moji Ayodele made some key saves to keep the contest tied, ending up with 12 saves on the day. In the overtime, Wayne Valley finally broke through as Izzy Rathjen knocked in a rebound off the crossbar at the 88th minute.
Rougas was proud of how the Tigers battled to the end. “We had a lot of grit and we always keep our heads up no matter what,” said Rougas. “That is something that is so unique about this team.”
It didn’t take long for Rougas to sense that there was something special about this PHS team.
“It was the first one against Robbinsville, leaving the field having it 5-0,” said Rougas referring to the season-opening win.
“It is always a close game with them. We were like this could be it, this could be the year.”
PHS head coach Dave Kosa was thrilled with what his squad accomplished this year.
“I am extremely proud of the season we had and all of the hard work that we put in,” said Kosa, who was in his first season as the program’s head coach after serving as an assistant the last six years.
“This is the state final and for us to get down 1-0 right off the bat maybe we were nervous, whatever it was. We did battle back and we tied it. We had our chances. That is a great team over there. We had the fight for 88 minutes or so, I couldn’t be more proud of our girls.”
Kosa credited his group of seniors with setting the tone for the program’s unprecedented run.
“The seniors were phenomenal, they are going to be sorely missed,” said Kosa, whose Class of 2022 included his daughter, Annie Kosa, and Naomi Bazar in addition to Lis, Rougas, and Ayodele.
“Their leadership and just bringing everybody together; it has been a special season. For us to lose it like this is heartbreaking but that is soccer. As we look back on it, we are going to be more and more proud of the special season that we had.”
Rougas, for her part, will have only smiles as she looks back on the 2021 campaign.
“I have never had such close teammates in my life,” said Rougas.
“I have been in this program for four years and these girls are basically my sisters. We spend all day, every day together and I could not be more grateful for that opportunity.”