With a winning start to the season, the boys soccer team is looking to continue to grow as a group in the coming weeks. The boys opened the year with an eight-game winning streak before losing to Steinert High School 1–0, and their current record stands at 11–2, as of October 20. Additionally, the team was ranked eighteenth in the state and fourth in the Group 3 rankings as of October 14.
Part of the reason for the team’s victories is the emphasis it has placed on its cohesion this year. Even prior to preseason, the team attended a soccer camp at Lehigh University where its members were able to spend time together for three consecutive days, both on and off the soccer field.
“There’s no doubt that the players, after going to the camp and work[ing] in the summer, are what we call ‘on the same page,’” said Head Coach Wayne Sutcliffe. “And there’s no doubt that if they had not done that, it would be a lot different in terms of the cohesiveness and understanding of one another.”
“There were a lot of sophomores and seniors on the team [last year], and there wasn’t that connection between the two, whereas this year everyone on the team is friends, and there’s no outsider on the team,” said Co-Captain Chris Harla ’16, who plays defensive midfield for the team.
“This year is different from other years due to the fact that the guys are all friends on and off the field. We all hang out together and get along really well,” said Co-Captain and forward Chase Ealy ’15.
To further improve their chemistry, the boys have been eating team lunches before every game, while in past years the team only ate lunch together before important tournament games.
According to Harla, another component that has helped improve the team’s cohesion and performance is working together and using teamwork rather than relying on individual play during tough games. He said that one game that really tested the team was the match against Harrison High School on September 13, which Princeton won 3–0. The team worked together to score three goals in the span of six minutes, which, according to Harla, proved the team was up to the challenge of facing a strong opponent.
Another influential game this season was against Hopewell Valley Central High School, which Princeton also won, but by a smaller margin of 1–0. Ealy said, “I would definitely say the Hopewell game [brought the team together]. It was under the lights at [Hopewell’s] turf and they had a pretty big crowd, but we still pulled off an awesome win against a tough team.”
Losses have also been helpful in motivating the team to improve.
“I’d say our loss to Steinert was an eye-opener that we needed to step up and treat every practice like a game,” said forward Cole Snyder ’16. “So I think that probably brought us together because we know we lost one [game] and we don’t want to lose another one for [Mercer County Tournament] seedings and state seedings.”
According to Sutcliffe, uniformity and bonding have paid off in unselfish play and improvement of the team as a whole.
“Each player, if he works as hard as he can in training and gets better every game, is taking an individual effort to improve, and collectively the whole team gets better,” said Sutcliffe.
“Some of the strongest aspects of the team right now would be that everyone’s fitness is really great and everybody’s really in [the games] for the same things,” said Ealy. “Nobody’s there to be a show-off or to get the most goals. Everyone’s really there to get the wins and to support everybody else on the team.”
Both Ealy and Harla noted possession of the ball as something to work on, explaining that passing is much more effective than always playing long balls. According to Harla, the advantage of the players’ speed and and their ability to cover both the front and the back of the field will help the team succeed as they move into championship season.