In the past 20 years, Princeton High School has won three state championships for boys soccer: 1995, 2009, and 2012. Coming off a record-breaking regular season, the 2015 team was eager to write itself into PHS soccer history.
The Little Tigers finished their regular season with an undefeated record of 14–0–3. The team ended its season number one in the Colonial Valley Conference with a divisional record of 3–0.
The team’s first opponent was Westfield High School, and after the game went into overtime it ended in a tied score of 0–0. The boys went on to win the game in the last few minutes, with Co-Captain Chris Harla ’16, a center back, scoring the winning goal. This match launched the Little Tigers on a 17-game undefeated streak.
Players look to this game as one of the highlights of the season. “I’d say our best performance of the season was against Westfield,” said Co-Captain Pete Luther ’16, a central midfielder.
The team’s identity has been very clear this season: defensive focus and discipline. “Our team’s greatest strength is probably our defensive prowess,” Luther said. “We’re really set down at the back.”
For the first 17 games, the team never had to play while trailing. Furthermore, the boys shutout their opponents in eight of the first 15 games.
On October 25, the team got its first taste of defeat in the semifinals of the Mercer County Tournament, losing 2–1 to The Pennington School. Pennington managed to outlast a late surge by the Little Tigers.
“It was pretty tough,” Luther said of the Pennington game. “We hadn’t lost … before that … I think there are a lot of building points that we can get from the game. They’re clearly the best team we [had] played this season and we responded well after they scored.”
Despite the loss to Pennington, the team continued its season into the State Tournament. On November 3, number three seeded Princeton battled Marlboro High School in the first round of the NJSIAA state tournament. Cole Snyder ’16 scored a goal off a punt from goalkeeper Owen Lindenfelder ’16. The final score was 1–0, as Princeton got one game closer to the ultimate goal of a state championship.
The team undertook to set short-term goals to achieve the ultimate task, however it fell short at its 3–1 sectional semifinal loss against Freehold Township High School. Dwight Donis ’16, a center defender, scored in the second half, after the team conceded three goals in the first half.
With this season behind them, the coaching staff awaits new faces joining the team. Sixteen of the current players will be graduating in June. Despite the loss in personnel, this year’s graduating class believes that PHS will continue to be successful next year and in years to come.
“We are losing a bunch of guys, but we have a bunch of guys on the team now who will be able to step up for next year,” said Harla. “Of course, we have guys from our JV team who will be able to step up and keep the legacy of the program going.”
“There are certainly still going to be a lot of guys with experience,” said Luther. “They will be able to teach the younger guys how we do things around here. We are Princeton Soccer, and we always have high expectations.”