Boys’ Soccer Player of the Year

Grato’s presence gave Knights best year

By: Bob Nuse
   There were very few times this season when Kyle Grato found himself alone on the soccer field.
   "He demanded a lot of attention with the season he had last year and he still got a lot done," said Trevor Warner, Grato’s coach at West Windsor-Plainsboro High North. "He’s the best player on the field game-in and game-out and he always draws the attention of the other team. He still managed to score six goals for us."
   After a junior year in which Grato scored 18 goals and had eight assists, the attention he demanded from opposing defenses limited him to six goals and nine assists this season. But what mattered most to Grato wasn’t his goal total, but the Knights’ win total.
   In just its fourth season as a varsity program, WW-P North went 10-5-1, winning a Colonial Valley Conference Patriot Division championship and reaching the second round of the Central Jersey Group III tournament in the process.
   "It was frustrating, but I knew I wouldn’t have the individual soccer success like I had last year," Grato said. "Everyone else on the team needed to step up and they did. Our team did a great job of reacting to what the other team was doing.
   "I think we were a little more successful as a team. If the other team had two players marking me, that left other guys on our team free."
   Grato’s play helped the Knights to their first CVC division championship, while also helping the team earn the No. 1 seed in the CJ III tournament. He did this while constantly being the center of attention for opposing defenses.
   "I think Kyle deserves a lot of credit for the way he handled himself this year," Warner said. "He was in a tough situation where the other team always knew where he was on the field. But rather than get frustrated, I think Kyle did a great job of helping the other players on our team get better. And because of that we had a successful season."
   Kyle Grato is the Princeton Packet Boys’ Soccer Player of the Year.
   Grato was one of several seniors on the Knights’ roster this season who found themselves thrust into a key role on the varsity as freshmen four years ago. The experience those players gained helped translate into the success of this season.
   "It was weird going through everything we went through," Grato said. "A lot of our seniors were with the team when we were freshmen. We went from losing to winning with the same kids. I think we did a good job setting the foundation for the program. We didn’t even have a senior class that first year. So we had to step up and play right away and get that varsity experience."
   And Grato played a big role in the Knights going from four wins that first season to 10 wins each of the last two seasons.
   "Everybody knew that for us to go, Kyle had to be involved in the play," Warner said. "I think you have to give a lot of credit to our other players because they really stepped up. In our state games it was apparent that they were going to shut No. 19 down. It was a question of whether he got free and got it done or if somebody else stepped up.
   "Teams tried to mark him with two or three players at times. They might be able to do it for 77 minutes, but there would always be two or three minutes where he would break free and that’s when he can take over."
   During his four-year career with the Knights, Grato established a school record with 34 goals scored. This year his individual production wasn’t what it was last year, but he certainly was the key to the Knights’ success.
   "When he got the ball he got whacked a little," Warner said. "He took some abuse and he got kicked a lot. People would try to frustrate him and get him out of his game. But when he got the ball, 90 percent of the time something positive happened for us."
   Next year Grato is hoping to make positive things happen at Rutgers University, where he will continue his career at the college level.
   "At the next level I’ll probably play a defensive role, so that will be a big change," he said. "I’ll probably play defensive midfield or stopper, which is where I’ve played with my club team. I did more with the ball and got into the attack a little more with the high school team."
   For his high school team, Grato proved to be a player his coaches and teammates could count on. And he helped to bring a program from its infancy to a championship in four years.
   "The seniors on our team, we went through a lot," Grato said. "Most of us have played together since we were young and we came along together. That first season was tough, but we grew as a team and we got better each year. This year was the best year we’ve had.
   "It’s frustrating that we didn’t go a little farther in the state tournament, but 99 percent of the teams that go into the tournament end their season with a loss. I thought we had a good year."
   For Grato, it was a year where he was rarely left alone. But that’s the mark of a great player.