CRANBURY: PHS soccer run ends in semis

By Bob Nuse, The Packet Group
   When the Central Jersey Group III tournament started, the Princeton High boys soccer team hardly looked like a team ready to make a run at a sectional title.
   The Little Tigers had gone 1-4-1 in the six games leading up to their CJ III opener against Neptune. But this is Princeton. And at Princeton, success in the post-season seems to come naturally.
   The Little Tigers opened tournament play with a 4-0 win over Neptune and followed that up with a near-flawless performance in a 3-0 win over Hopewell Valley in the quarterfinals. Princeton’s run through the tournament finally came to an end with a 1-0 loss to top-seeded Allentown in the semifinals on Tuesday.
   ”I couldn’t be more proud of the team and what they overcame in terms of having such a young team in 2013,” Princeton coach Wayne Sutcliffe said. “They were having to gain a lot of experience in a short period of time and meet the mark that has been set by so many teams over the last seven years, where we have won a major championship every year for seven years.”
   Princeton graduated 12 seniors from the team that won the Group III state championship a year earlier. But with a solid nucleus back the expectations remained high for the Little Tigers.
   ”We lost 12 seniors,” Sutcliffe said. “In the first game nine weeks ago we had six players debut that day as sophomores and freshmen. It was the same in this last game, we had four sophomores and three freshmen on the field and we could have won the game. I think that says a lot.”
   Allentown scored the only goal of the game when Will Sjaastad sent a free kick nearly the length of the field and Kevin Primich finished it off for a goal.
   ”We were fully aware they would keep sending long balls to the box, and we wanted to get to the half with the game either 0-0 or 1-1,” Sutcliffe said. “We just weren’t able to break through and score that first goal.”
   With the loss, the Little Tigers finished 10-6-2 with a team that will bring back 19 players when it returns to the pitch next fall.
   ”I couldn’t be happier,” Sutcliffe said. “I am so proud of them. Maybe not everyone knows we are bringing back 19 guys from a team that had a good run in the tournament. It is a credit to their learning how to win games in the postseason without a lot of experience.
   ”The seniors, I am very proud of them. There are just six of them and there are not many players in New Jersey that can say they won a state championship. I am very proud of the contribution they made and the leadership they showed this year. It is not easy to find yourself as one of six seniors from a team that just lost 12 from the year before and won the biggest prize in New Jersey soccer. That is a lot of pressure.”
   Princeton will lose Kevin Halliday, John Blair, Andrew Braverman, Renaud Miahle, Michael Papakonstantinos and Dalton Sekelsky to graduation but will have plenty to build around when the 2014 season gets started.