“Things didn’t look great during the preseason… We lost a couple games, tied a couple games, but once we started to develop chemistry, we were a lot better,” said goalie Sawyer Peck ’17.
The players struggled during preseason, losing or tying their games, with crucial members unable to play due to injuries or other obligations. But despite previous difficulties, they took wins in their first two regular season games against Nottingham High School and South Brunswick High School with at least a seven-point margin.
“I think our freshmen played really well initially. They came out really confidently. At no point did they show inexperience,” Peck said.
By the time the team played Colonial Valley Conference rival Notre Dame, it had racked up a 9–2–0 record. Notre Dame held an 81-game conference winning streak coming into the match, and none of the PHS seniors on the team had ever beaten them. The team proceeded to defeat Notre Dame in the back-to-back games at 4–3 and 6–5, respectively.
“After we beat Notre Dame, the first and second time, we started playing ‘Margaritaville’ or ‘Sweet Caroline’ in the locker room, and we were all singing and cheering. It was great,” said assistant captain and defender Tooker Callaway ’18.
With the victories, the boys won the Colonial Valley Conference, the team’s first Conference Title since 2011.
“We knew we had a chance to beat them, but after it was done, it was surreal. Everyone started to look at us, NJ.com put us in the top 20 teams in the state, we were pretty high up on the rankings,” Peck said.
Following the set with Notre Dame, the boys went on a two-game skid, their first set of consecutive losses this season. They tied their next two games against Robbinsville High School and Middletown High School North, before bouncing back with two victories.
“We knew we would get out of [the losing streak], but there were times where people were starting to get angry at each other because we felt that other people were … not doing what we knew they were capable of,” Peck said.
Ultimately, the team returned to the basics, returning from flashy theatrics to a grinding “blue-collar” style— a mentality that is simple, physical, and aggressive, which they had established earlier in the season. Head coach Terrence Miller shifted the focus of practices toward skill, rather than conditioning, to prevent fatigue; this was done in preparation for the team’s schedule intensifying with more back-to-back games as the season progressed.
The team’s first postseason action began with an 8–4 victory against Pope Paul VI High School in the second round of the Mercer County Tournament after having a bye in the first round. The Tigers placed a birth in the MCT finals after shutting out Robbinsville in the third round by a score of 4–0. In a nail-biter, the team lost 4–3 to the Hun School of Princeton; the first time the Tigers had made it to the finals since 2011.
“In these single elimination tournaments you have to be ready, because all it takes is one hiccup or one bad game and you’re knocked out. We’ve learned that everything is condensed, and everything gets more and more important. Hopefully we can make a run in States, but once you get to the playoffs all the teams are tough.” said Head Coach Terrence Miller.
Now, the team is engaged in the aforementioned New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament, where they are the ninth seed out of 30 schools. On February 20, the team beat Ridgewood hIgh School 6–3 in the first round. The Team, having had their best season in six years, is now a few wins away from its first state championship appearance but is also one loss away from the end of a three-month ride.