September 13, 2023

Bolstered by Returning Veterans, Strength in Numbers, PDS Girls’ Soccer Poised for Major Breakthrough

FANCY FOOTWORK: Princeton Day School girls’ soccer player Adriana Salzano controls the ball in game last season. Senior star Salzano, a Monmouth University commit, figures to be an offensive catalyst for the Panthers this fall. PDS, which defeated Lawrenceville 3-0 last Friday in its season opener as Ella McLaren, Makena Graham, and Salzano each scored goals, plays at Nottingham on September 13, hosts WW/P-North on September 14, and plays at Hightstown on September 18. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Heading into his third season at the helm of the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team, Chris Pettit believes the program is poised for a major breakthrough.

“We did OK the first year, last year we were much more successful and the aim this year is to be even more successful than last year,” said Pettit. “I have high hopes for this season, we have a lot of returning players. We have grown the program a little bit to go from 17 in my first year to 27 now. It is getting a little bit of a consistency there which I hope will improve because the way we play, the possession style, is not your typical high school style. It takes a little time to get some of those concepts across.”

The Panthers will need that strength in numbers as they are playing a full Colonial Valley Conference schedule for the first time.

“I am excited for it; it is lot of local rivalries which will be established or built upon, that is an exciting element,” said Pettit of the move to CVC. “I think having the additional ability to get power points will obviously help us. We had a good record last year but we still ended up on the road in the state tournament. It will require a slightly different approach because certainly this year the way the games fell we have a lot of three-game weeks. I said this to the girls, they are going to have to step up. We can’t have the same players playing 80 minutes three times in five days, it is just not going to happen. Bigger squads will help with that. My hope is that those extra opportunities will spur and foster a healthy competition within the club as well.”

The squad’s forward unit of senior Abby Weed (6 goals, 3 assists in 2022), sophomore Mackenzie Brodel (2 goals, 1 assist), junior Makena Graham (1 assist), and freshman Ava Katz should keep the Panthers competitive.

“Abby chipped in with some goals and assists last year, I think she will hopefully continue to increase those numbers this year,” said Pettit, whose team topped Lawrenceville 3-0 last Friday in its season opener as Ella McLaren, Adriana Salzano, and Graham each scored goals. “Mackenzie is returning, so she is going to have a greater comfort level, so I hope she will increase her numbers as well. Makena gives us a different look, she is very pacy, a plan B almost. I think that will unsettle a few teams. We have got Ava who is an attacking midfielder or forward. She is technically strong and physically she will be able to handle high school. She has the mental capacity to understand it and deal with it as well. I think she will score goals but also create chances for others. She is a perfect fit for our possession style of play.”

Senior midfielder Adriana Salzano, who scored a team-high 12 goals along with five assists last fall, gives PDS a strong offensive threat.

“She will play a host of different positions, primarily she will be in the attacking midfield,” said Pettit, noting that Salzano has committed to attend Monmouth University and play for its women’s soccer program. “My hope is that she is the glue that knits it all together, providing that sprinkling of stardust as someone who can just do things differently. She has that superior technical ability to just change games on her own. That is part of what we need to do, to make sure that she is in the right positions to get those moments. I think the players around her can do that.”

The quartet of junior Sophia Zhou (2 goals, 1 assist), sophomore Jules Hartman (2 goals, 1 assist), sophomore Ella McLaren (4 goals, 1 assist), and freshman Sophia Vriesendorp will join Salzano in the midfield.

“Sophia will be getting a lot of minutes at defensive center mid,” said Pettit. “Jules and Ella will be there again. I think that is a good mix. Sophia is a really talented freshman who can play a range of midfield and attacking midfield positions. She will really help round out our midfield attacking line. Technically she is very strong and has a good work rate. I am hoping for big things from her as well.”

The pair of senior Tochi Owunna and sophomore Emma Burns will play a big role in the Panther defensive unit.

“Tochi is going to be big for us, she is a very experienced, talented, and technical,” said Pettit. “Between her and Emma, they are both are very technical and read the game very well and will hopefully give us the defensive platform to build on. Ella will probably play some time in the back.”

At goalie, junior Shelby Ruf is looking to build on the progress she made last year in her first season playing the position.

“Shelby is back in goal, last year was her first year in goal; this time around, she is going to be much more conformable,” said Pettit. “She is more familiar and has been working very hard on stuff during preseason. The hope is that is an improvement for us from last year.”

In Pettit’s view, his players need to be more ruthless around goal in order to become harder to beat.

“I think the key this year for us is to be able to score early; last year we were out-possessing teams 500 passes to 200 passes and we would win 1-nil or win 2-1,” said Pettit, whose team plays at Nottingham on September 13, hosts WW/P-North on September 14, and plays at Hightstown on September 18. “We would do all of the pretty things very well and not score and then it becomes kind of a mind game or a mental block. My hope is this year with some of the new-found optimism and a little bit more quality in the attacking third that we get off to a faster start and score some goals and all of a sudden, we build on that. We also gave away too many goals, so my hope is that defensively we can be a bit more robust. The key for us will be putting the ball in the back of the net.”