October 12, 2022

With Freshman McLaren Stepping Up Her Production, PDS Girls’ Soccer Tops Mo-Beard in Prep B Quarters

MAC ATTACK: Princeton Day School girls’ soccer player Ella McLaren, left, prepares to boot the ball in recent action. Last Thursday, freshman midfielder McLaren tallied a goal and an assist as fourth-seeded PDS defeated fifth-seeded Morristown-Beard 3-1 in a state Prep B quarterfinal contest. The Panthers, who defeated George School (Pa.) 1-0 last Saturday to improve to 8-3, will be hosting Pennington on October 13 and then starting play in the Mercer County Tournament. In addition, PDS will be playing at top-seeded Rutgers Prep in the state Prep B semis on October 20. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

It was Ella McLaren’s first tournament game for the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team and things didn’t get off to a good start.

With fourth-seeded PDS hosting fifth-seeded Morristown-Beard in a state Prep B quarterfinal contest last Thursday, the visiting Crimson tallied a goal in the first 30 seconds of the game.

“It was definitely a challenge; it is not great to fall behind but it didn’t bother us,” said PDS freshman midfielder McLaren. “It motivated us to work harder. It was a wake up we needed to play better and more together.”

That work paid off as PDS knotted the game at 1-1 when junior star Adriana Salzano converted a penalty kick with 2:24 left in the first half.

“That helped us with our mentality,” said McLaren. “It was alright we are tied, we don’t have to be rushed and panicked. Now we can settle down and play our game and not worry about playing theirs.”

McLaren broke the deadlock with 8:34 left in regulation, taking a corner kick from senior star Grace Romano and knocking it off her chest into the goal.

“I saw a goal, I know I am good in the air,” said McLaren, recalling the play. “I went for a header and it hit my body but it went in. I am very happy with that.”

That proved to be the winning tally as PDS added a goal by Romano just over a minute later to pull away to a 3-1 triumph.

“It really is a confidence builder,” said McLaren, who picked up an assist on Romano’s goal. “I have never played in a game like this before.”

As the season has gone on, McLaren has been building her confidence in her debut campaign.

“I have always played with older girls so it is not really much of an adjustment,” said McLaren. “It is getting used to new chemistry and new players. It is having to fit in with them and knowing where I am needed.”

With three goals in her last four games, McLaren is fitting in nicely with the Panthers.

“I feel like once I got one, I was motivated to get more,” said McLaren, who scored her first goal in a 2-0 win over the Hill School (Pa.) on September 28. “I know I can get one so I need to just keep going.”

PDS head coach Chris Pettit was proud of the way his squad kept going after yielding the early goal.

“Really from that moment on, I thought we were very, very good,” said Pettit. “We pressed well, our shape was good. We really had them under pressure.”

Getting the goal from Salzano late in the first half was critical.

“It was very important because as much as we dominated, we missed the chances that we created,” said Pettit. “If you are at one-nil down, then you have that doubt in the back of your mind. We scored so it is now we play the second half, we already know about this team and it is even. Sophia [Zhou] did a great job getting in front of the girl and it was clearly a penalty. Dre was obviously very calm with the finish. That really gave us the platform to go on. I felt comfortable at halftime that we were going to going to win the game. Whereas when you are one-nil down, you are still scrambling.”

After halftime, PDS kept the pressure on by getting balls deeper down the field.

“In the second half, when we started doing that higher up the field,” said Pettit. “We had a bit more variety, playing the balls behind. Then all of a sudden we opened them up and made them have to react to something differently rather than just sitting there and collapsing on the space.”

Pettit credited McLaren with providing some high level play for the Panthers.

“Ella has been stepping up and she has been stepping up at times playing center back and at times playing the six (defensive midfielder),” said Pettit. “She has everything she needs to instantly be a success at high school. She is huge because she is technically very good, but she is also drives and plays without fear. She plays without consequence and that is good, especially in attacking area. Physically, she can handle it. She drives through and makes things happen.”

Getting the insurance tally from Romano sealed the deal for PDS.

“I was happy with that goal because the buildup play was good; that was one of those balls that was played between the defenders into that line where Grace could run onto it,” said Pettit, whose team will be playing at top-seeded Rutgers Prep in the state Prep B semis on October 20.

“Whereas in the first half, as much as we had all of the play, we kept playing it to Grace and Abby Weed’s feet. That allowed them to sit in the middle and say you can have that.”

With the Panthers hosting Pennington on October 13 and then starting play in the Mercer County Tournament, Pettit is happy with where his squad is at heading into postseason play.

“We are a young team, it was going to take a while for us to jell,” said Pettit, whose team edged George School (Pa.) 1-0 last Saturday in improving to 8-3. “Now I feel like the players are starting to settle and to understand what we are asking of them and what their own strengths and weaknesses are as individuals. We are starting to figure it out — that is my hope. I feel now we are getting to the point where our understanding of each other and our togetherness has been very good so that helps.”

For McLaren, playing with Salzano has helped her become a stronger player.

“Coming into the season, I really looked up to Adriana,” said McLaren. “I wanted to be as good as her, if not better. She has definitely motivated me and pushed me to be the best I can be.”