August 31, 2022

Bouncing Back from Injury-Plagued 2021 Season, Sherman Stars as PU Women’s Soccer Tops Fairfield

STATE OF GRACE: Princeton University women’s soccer player Grace Sherman celebrates after scoring a goal against Fairfield University last Sunday night at Class of 1952 Stadium. The Tigers ended up prevailing 2-0 to improve to 2-0. In upcoming action, Princeton plays at Rhode Island (0-3-1) on September 1 and at No. 3 Rutgers (4-0) on September 4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

With the Princeton University women’s soccer team knotted in a scoreless draw with visiting Fairfield University last Sunday evening in the first half, Grace Sherman got free in the box and took advantage.

Princeton senior forward Sherman took a pass from Heather MacNab, calmly dribbled past Fairfield goalie and slotted the ball into the net to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead at the 13:22 mark of the contest played at Class of 1952 Stadium.

“I just saw space behind behind their back line so I decided to make a cutting run through,” said Sherman. “Heather [MacNab] played the ball to me and I took a touch and I tried to stay calm. I took a touch around the goalkeeper and I knew I was going to finish it.”

The score felt particularly good since Sherman would have been unable to do that a year ago as she was sidelined for much of the season after suffering a leg injury on the first day of preseason.

“I have been waiting for this moment for so long, I played a little bit last year but was never truly healthy,” said Sherman, who made only nine appearances last season. “I was never truly ready. I had the summer and now I am ready.”

Despite Sherman’s tally, Princeton struggled to find the back of the net, clinging to 1-0 halftime lead even though it had outshot the Stags 10-0.

“We have been working on possession this week in practice, just being able to keep composure and have confidence to keep the ball,” said Sherman. “We were pretty proud of the ability to keep the ball. It is frustrating not to score more but I know that will come.”

With 7:43 left in regulation, Princeton came through as junior midfielder Aria Nagai blasted a volley into the net for her first career goal and the final score of the night as Princeton prevailed 2-0 and improved to 2-0.

“Our team is definitely a grind team and I knew that we are never going to give up,” said Sherman.

“We are never going to stop working hard, it is just getting the win and moving on.”

With the Tigers starting the season with a 4-2 win over Colgate last Friday, Sherman saw the opening weekend as a good step forward.

“I am proud of it, there are definitely some things that we need to get sorted out,” said Sherman. “That is part of non-conference play. Our team is very underclassmen-heavy so just getting them exposure is really important.”

As a team captain, Sherman is looking to set a positive example for the younger players.

“I know what it is like to have the sport taken away from you,” said Sherman.

“I want to make the most of these amazing people that I am around. I want to win some games and have some fun doing it. That is my mentality this year.”

Princeton head coach Sean Driscoll had fun seeing Sherman come through with her goal.

“It was a really nice finish, it was great ball on the top from Heather,” said Driscoll. “Grace had great composure. She just took it down and dribbled the keeper and made a great shot. She worked really hard tonight. I thought she worked on both sides of the ball really well. She leads with her passion. Her skill set is very good but she leads with such energy. It was really great to see her get that.”

Nagai’s goal was also a highlight for Driscoll. “It tells you how hard it is to score in this game, Aria is a unbelievably talented player, both of them are,” said Driscoll. “It is really hard to get goals in this sport. To see both of them, as talented as they are who haven’t had a lot of goals, get goals, was really great.”

While the Tigers didn’t play great this weekend, Driscoll saw progress.

“I think we definitely made some strides, we are learning more about the players,” said Driscoll. “We have to find the right pieces and rotations and how to keep people fresh and healthy. That is part of what today was, how do we keep everybody still invested and fresh so we are not incurring more injuries.”

Some of the team’s young guns came through as sophomore MacNab scored three goals in the opener and was named the Ivy Player of the Week while freshman Kelsee Wozniak had a goal and two assists against Colgate and was named the Ivy Rookie of the Week. Two other freshmen, Drew Coomans and Pietra Tordin, also showed flashes.

“Heather had a big weekend,” said Driscoll. “Kelsee was really, really good this weekend. She just gives you another look because of her physicality, she doesn’t look like a freshman. I think all of the freshmen in general when they went out and played, gave us something. Drew had her moments, Pietra is crafty.”

Senior defenders Morgan Wiese, Kamryn Loustau, and Gracyn Kuerner, sophomore goalie Tyler McCamey, and junior midfielder Jen Estes also gave the Tigers some solid play over the weekend.

“In terms of upperclassmen, I thought Morgan was very steady,” said Driscoll. “Kammie got a lot of minutes and did really well as a left back, that is not her normal position. Tyler made an unbelievable save tonight, we needed that. She was disappointed with how she performed the other night. She bounced back and had a really good performance tonight. Gracyn looks really good at right back, she has done really well. Jen is a forward and is playing midfield now for us because of the injuries we have. There are so many good players, it is a matter of how you piece it together.”

Driscoll tipped his hat to Fairfield, where he coached before coming to Princeton. After the game, he joined the Stags’ team huddle to address them and praise them on their effort.

“I was really impressed with Fairfield, I thought they worked extraordinarily hard,” said Driscoll. “I said to them that my favorite team of course is Princeton but my second favorite will always be Fairfield because my mom and dad both went to school there and I coached there for five years. It is a place that means a lot to me. I had a really, really good experience there and it took a lot for me to move down here even though Princeton is such a great school. I have lived in Fairfield all of my life; to leave was a big, big step and there is a lot of sentimental value.”

With Princeton playing at Rhode Island (0-3-1) on September 1 and at No. 3 Rutgers (4-0) on September 4, the Tigers will have to work hard to keep on the winning track.

“We have got a lot coming up and we have a lot to figure out; we have to figure out how to best set ourselves up to have success,” said Driscoll. “The game with Rutgers last year was an unbelievable game (a 4-3 win for Princeton). The game against Rhode Island will be interesting, it is our first road game. We traditionally are a good road team. We have so many young kids and it is not knowing how they are going to respond. We can only learn. It is a great team, I love the team. There are a lot of positives, we are just going to get better.”

Sherman, for her part, is bringing a positive mentality into the road swing.

“It is just composure, being strong and confident that we can do this, that we can beat Top 10 opponents,” said Sherman. “We have the grit, the grind and the mentality to do it so we might as well do it.”