Senior Defender DiGioacchino Enjoyed the Ride As PHS Field Hockey Advanced to Sectional Quarters
STICKING TOGETHER: Princeton High field hockey player Gianna DiGioacchino, right, hugs Kayla Christopher after a goal in recent action. Last Friday, senior standout defender and team co-captain DiGioacchino helped PHS put up a valiant battle as the sixth-seeded Tigers fell 4-2 to third-seeded Hillsborough in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group 4 Central Jersey sectional quarterfinals. PHS ended the season with a 14-3 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Although the Princeton High field hockey team dug an early hole against Hillsborough in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group 4 Central Jersey sectional quarterfinals last Friday, nobody was hanging their heads.
“Even when were down 3-0 at the half, we were all in such good spirits,” said PHS standout defender and team co-captain Gianna DiGioacchino. “It was so great to see.”
Entering the fourth quarter trailing 4-0, PHS produced a spirited rally, tallying two goals to narrow the gap to 4-2 with 2:24 left in regulation.
While the sixth-seeded Tigers ended up falling by that 4-2 score to the third-seeded Raiders, DiGioacchino enjoyed the competition as PHS ended the season with a 14-3 record.
“It was amazing because we were all having so much fun the entire time,” said DiGioacchino. “It was great hockey, it was a great game in general.”
The PHS defense had a busy afternoon dealing with a skilled Raider team that controlled possession for much of the contest.
“We haven’t been tested too much but in practice we have been doing all defense drills and just really working together,” said DiGioacchino. “That is our main thing.”
As the most battle-tested player on the PHS back line, DiGioacchino has focused on getting that unit working together.
“It was a big change for me coming into the year because I really had to step into that role,” said DiGioacchino.
“I feel like I have been able to make a big difference this year just with my voice. Just being able to help everybody out, that has been my biggest goal.”
While the Tigers didn’t accomplish their goal of advancing in the sectional, DiGioacchino enjoyed the ride this fall.
“It was an amazing season, I could not have asked for anything better,” said DiGioacchino.
“This team is probably my favorite team I have ever played on in my four years.”
Serving as a captain had been a highlight of the season for DiGioacchino.
“It was just such an honor to be captain with the Christopher twins (Hannah and Kayla),” said DiGioacchino. “We were already best friends before; this bought us closer than we could ever imagine. It was just so much fun.”
DiGioacchino had a lot of fun playing with her classmates in their final fall together.
“It is crazy, almost all of us have been playing together since freshman year,” said DiGioacchino. “It is pretty insane how close we are.”
As a bonus for DiGioacchino, she got to play a few games with her younger sister, Sofia, a freshman who was called up from JV for postseason play.
“It was amazing, last game she went in but our parents weren’t there to see,” said DiGioacchino. “I am really glad we were able to have our parents watch us play together.”
PHS head coach Heather Serverson was glad to see her team fight to the final whistle.
“That is what I am most proud of; that is a hard thing for us to do and fight back,” said Serverson who got goals from junior Erin Liggio and sophomore Sophie Gono down the stretch. “I told them I am most proud of what you did in the last 10 minutes of that game, that meant more to me than anything else. They fought the whole time, I am so proud of that. They got feisty.”
Serverson liked the feisty play she got from Liggio and Gono in the circle.
“We held Erin back a little bit in the beginning because Delaney [Keegan] is out and then we realized we have to move her back up in the front,” said Serverson. “Sophie is a very diverse player. She is a defender but she has been the one taking the ball up the field a lot. She has been doing a great job with that offensive transition. She has really come into her own with that.”
Hillsborough’s offensive skill set presented a challenge for the Tigers.
“They had really good stickwork and they have a really good passing game,” said Serverson of the Raiders. “They are hungry for it, they step up to the ball really well, which threw us off a little bit. We started to adjust to it but just a little too late.”
In reflecting on the fall overall, Serverson was proud of what her squad accomplished.
“I think we had a great season, we had to deal with a couple of setbacks and putting people in different positions,” said Serverson, who also guided the Tigers to the Mercer County Tournament semis. “Overall I am really proud of them, they adjusted well. I couldn’t ask for more.”
The PHS senior group set a positive tone through the ups and downs.
“They were great leaders, on and off the field,” said Serverson, whose senior class included Anna Terry and Aisling O’Dell in addition to the Christopher twins and DiGioacchino.
“They are really great with the younger players. They are always supportive, they are always trying to help people out on the field. They are great leaders, keeping the tone positive. It is a family, that is the culture that we create. They did a great job of keeping it going.”
Looking ahead to next fall, Serverson believes that the program can keep going in the right direction.
“Hopefully, we will have a similar, if not better, season next year,” said Serverson. “We got some people seasoned in the game today so they got experience. I am looking forward to great things next year.”
DiGioacchino, for her part, experienced a lot of great things over the last four years.
“What I will remember is just how close every single team I was on was,” said DiGioacchino, who is heading to Skidmore College and will be playing for its field hockey program. “I am still best friends with the seniors who were on this team when I was a freshman. That is the culture we build here. It is like a real family — playing with my sister was literally family.”