Five of eight fall sports compete against larger teams in new NJSIAA grouping

Graphic: Helen Schrayer

Graphic: Helen Schrayer

Several PHS sports teams changed groups this year, mostly due to the school’s increased enrollment after two large freshman classes. Previously, almost all of the sports teams competed in Group 3; this season, five of eight fall sports teams compete in Group 4, which is made up of schools with larger student bodies than those in Group 3. Field hockey, volleyball, and girls tennis are the only ones to remain in Group 3.

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), the governing body for high school sports in New Jersey, considers a variety of factors when making group placements each season. “It depends on the amount of teams for [a] sport, and the amount of teams … per location. They try to make it the same number of teams in each region of the state,” said Athletic Director John Miranda.

For the most part, the effects of teams playing in different divisions will be unnoticeable until the postseason. “Our division stays the same, our conference stays the same, so [the change] is just for state tournament play,” Miranda said.

Boys soccer and girls cross country both finished second in their respective state tournaments last season, but will now participate in their sports’ Group 4 tournaments, rather than those of Group 3. The move will force the teams to play against bigger schools’ teams during championship season, which could pose new challenges.

“We’ll have tougher competition because we’re against bigger schools than us,” said girls cross country runner Sarah Klebanov ’16. “I think we were over the cut-off by just ten people.”

Girls cross country is now in the same group as West Windsor-Plainsboro South, which it lost to in the Mercer County Tournament last year.

“We’ll have to run against West Windsor-Plainsboro South more, which is a really good team and … competition for us,” Klebanov said. “But we’re still looking to Meet of Champions even though we’re in the bigger group, and hopefully [we’ll] be successful there.”

Boys soccer right midfielder Mark Petrovic ’16 actually believes that facing larger schools will be a good challenge for his team. “I think it’s actually better for the team despite the fact that the teams that we’re likely to face are better,” he said. “We would be the huge favorites coming into the Group 3 state tournament, and I think coming into the Group 4 tournament after the MCT season will be … a fresh challenge that will keep us on our toes, so we won’t come in with an expectation that we had formed from last year.”

While the soccer and cross country teams changed groups to reflect the increasing size of PHS, football remains in Group 4, but moves from the Central subdivision to North 2. However, unlike the soccer and cross country squads, Head Coach Charles Gallagher does not anticipate tougher competition in his state tournament. “No, [I don’t anticipate tougher competition] at all,” he said. “Central Jersey Group 4 is stellar. They had like the number three team in the state [last year]. So no, it won’t be any more difficult.”

Although group affiliation does not necessarily affect a team’s regular season schedule, Gallagher feels that playing a team from North 2 during the regular season could be helpful for the football team. “I would like to include maybe a North Jersey team in the [schedule] … maybe we could do an out-of-conference game next year … go up, and play one of those teams, just to get a good feel because right now we’re all in Mercer County and there are only two teams that are in our division and that’s both West Windsors. So it would be wise to get up there and play a little bit more,” Gallagher said.

None of the sports teams’ moves are permanent, as all sport groupings are re-evaluated on a year-by-year basis, but moves between groups are rare. Boys soccer had been in Group 3 for over 20 years before its move this season, winning all of its state championships there. Football was also in Central Group 4 for multiple seasons before moving to the North 2 subdivision for the first time this year.

Teams are largely unphased by their moves across groups, and many still anticipate winning seasons.

“Without a doubt. Like I said, our schedule hasn’t changed, so we have to … put a string of wins together, and [making the playoffs] is a possibility,” Gallagher said.

“I think it’s going to be harder to get to the final just because the strongest teams in Group 4 are really strong,” Petrovic said. “But I think we still have a good chance to do it.”

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