Featuring Mix of Battle-Tested Veterans, Skilled Newcomers, PDS Girls’ Soccer Primed to Grow Into Something Special
RUF AND TOUGH: Princeton Day School girls’ soccer player Kirsten Ruf, left, battles a Hun player for the ball in action last season. Senior defender Ruf figures to be a pillar of the PDS defense this fall. The Panthers kick off their 2022 season by hosting Peddie on September 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
As Chris Pettit heads into his second season at the helm of the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team, he believes that increased familiarity will breed success.
“I think personality-wise, there is a greater understanding on both sides and playing-wise as well,” said Pettit, who guided PDS to an 8-8-1 record last fall in his debut campaign. “There is a greater kind of awareness and understanding of how we are going to play this year. It has made it easier because it is more integrated, having them appreciate and understand what we are doing. My hope is that this year we can pick up more or less where we left off.”
Pettit will be depending on his returning players to help integrate a large group of newcomers into the program.
“We have 12 freshmen so none of those players have been through it before; that probably makes up 50 percent of our squad,” said Pettit, whose team kicks off its 2022 season by hosting Peddie on September 8. “We are pretty young and inexperienced so it has definitely been some of the usual learning curves. They just haven’t done anything this intensive before. Club is every other couple of days where this preseason is every day.”
Senior star forward Grace Romano brings experience and skill to the table for the squad, having led PDS in scoring last season with 15 goals and four assists.
“Grace is good, she has stepped up as a senior leader,” said Pettit, noting that junior Abby Weed (3 goals, 2 assists in 2021) will also be seeing time at forward. “She chipped in with quite a few goals last year and will hopefully be a real weapon for us in terms of goals. I would like to see her improve her assists. Going north on both of those numbers would obviously be good for her and the leadership part.”
Another player who figures to pile up some numbers this fall is junior Adriana Salzano (13 goals, 2 assists).
“My hope is that Adriana will be in and around the goals and assists; our intent to put her in those dangerous positions and get the best of her,” said Pettit. “She has certainly progressed technically. The biggest thing with Adriana is that she is matured a lot from last year. My hope is that she has a greater understanding of mentally how to play the game, control herself and her teammates through the game rather than letting other factors influence how she plays. If she does that, she will do much better in terms of numbers and more importantly everybody around her will be much better. That is how good she is.”
A pair of freshmen, Mackenzie Brodel and Ella McLaren, figure to help the Panthers get better this fall.
“Mackenzie is more of a central forward who likes to hold the ball and links up well with attackers underneath,” said Pettit. “I am hoping for big things from Ella. She has already got the kind of physical size and the athleticism to handle high school which not all freshmen do. She also has the technical capabilities as well as the understanding of the game. I am hoping that she will really be somebody who will give us defensive protection and enable us to control games. I fully expect her to chip in with some goals and assists as well.”
In the midfield, sophomore Sophia Zhou (1 assist) and freshman Julia Hartman should chip in with some good play.
“Sophia was a little bit of a surprise last year, she played a lot and did really well,” said Pettit. “We are looking for her to develop a little more. She is very effortless with the ball. She drifts past people with the ball at her feet to create space rather than moving for it. I quite like the fact that there is a little bit of a difference there from our other players. Jules will be in the midfield and will play some key minutes. She is going to have to develop into the pace and physicality of the high school game. Technically, she has got it and she certainly understands the game.”
A pair of talented veterans, junior Tochi Owunna and senior Kirsten Ruf, will spearhead the Panther back line.
“Tochi is looking good, she has been able to do a full preseason,” said Pettit. “She was phenomenal last year, we will probably be using her at central although there may be times where we move her out wide. Between her and Ruf at center back, they make a pretty good defensive platform. They are both very good on the ball. I give them the freedom to go and get involved in the play, not both at the same time. It means they are the extra man, they don’t get picked up. Provided we do it in the right moment and in a controlled manner, that is good for the team and dangerous for the opposition. They will be the pillars back there.”
On the wings, sophomore Reese Overman and junior Jenn Lightman will provide cover for Owunna and Ruf.
“Reese played a lot last year, she was a relative unknown and just took to it well,” said Pettit. “My hope is that now that with another year under her belt, she will be able to maintain from last year and push on a little bit. Jenn, who played left back a lot, is a returning junior. The back four is reasonably intact from last year.”
Another newcomer, freshman Emma Burns, will add some class to the back four.
“Emma is technically very, very good, she has got some of the best technical skills on the team,” said Pettit. “Her understanding and awareness are very good and she is excellent on the ball. The question is, can she handle the physical nature? I am fully expecting that she is so good with the other two, she will overcome that.”
Sophomore Shelby Ruf is stepping into the starting goalie spot after having played mainly defense last fall.
“Shelby is big, athletic and physical; she is a standout lacrosse player,” said Pettit, noting that last year’s starter, Jess Hollander, is competing for the PDS cross country team this fall. “Her hand-eye coordination is very good from the lacrosse work. Obviously there is going to be a steep learning curve for her. She actually finished the season for us in goal because Jess broke her foot. We played some state tournament games with Shelby in goal and she did OK with no training at all. One of the big benefits of it for us with Shelby is that she was a field player. She played center back and defensive center mid last year so we use her as a field player. She can be that 11th player; that is a big bonus for us, especially as we are going to be a possession-oriented team.”
In order to have a big season, the Panthers need to cash in on that possession.
“It has to click in front of goal; last year we had a couple of games where we scored a lot of goals but then we had a lot of games where we didn’t create as many chances as we should and then we missed the chances we did create,” said Pettit.
“My hope is that this year, we will have a better understanding and composure in and around the final third. Now that the players will know the patterns and formation and stuff a little more, my hope is that we can create more opportunities. If we can get that done, we will be in much better shape.”
In any event, PDS appears to be a squad that can grow into something special.
“We are a very young, inexperienced team so we are going to need to get lucky with injuries,” said Pettit. “Last year, come the crunch point of the season, Ali Surace broke her foot and Jess broke her foot. If everybody stays fit and healthy and the freshmen take to it very well, I am expecting that we can be stronger than last year. Hopefully we get off to a fast start and then good things can start to happen. The growing becomes a lot easier rather than if you have lost five or six to start.”