Princeton High boys’ soccer looks to build upon a successful 2019 season

Princeton High School defender Rafael Davis (right #8) has the ball as Notre Dame High School defeats Princeton, 5-2, at the MCT Tournament in Hopewell on Oct. 21.

The Princeton High School boys’ soccer players and coaches are focused on building upon the success of the team’s 2019 season.

The majority of the Little Tigers roster is set to return for 2020, which includes most of its starting lineup.

“This season was very successful with regards to our final record, reaching the Mercer County Tournament semifinals and the Central Jersey, Group 4 quarterfinals. We led the Colonial Valley Conference in shutouts and had the second leading goal scorer in the league with Nick Petruso,” Princeton coach Wayne Sutcliffe said.

Princeton comes off a season that produced a 14-7 overall record and a 10-4 showing in the Colonial Valley Conference.

“Consistency ebbed and flowed this year. We had a good start for the first five or six games and then we dropped a couple,” Sutcliffe said. “There were periods where the consistency was great.”

The Little Tigers went to the semifinal round in the Mercer County Tournament and were defeated by Notre Dame High School, 5-2. Notre Dame would then go on to lose in the Mercer County Tournament title game against the Pennington School, 4-3.

Princeton entered the NJSIAA Central Group, 4 sectional tournament as the fifth seed. The Little Tigers were eliminated with a 1-0 defeat to Long Branch High School in the quarterfinals. Long Branch would lose in the state sectional final to Hunterdon Central Regional High School, 2-0.

The young team’s strengths were players becoming quick studies, working hard, showing a lot of courage and winning some good games, Sutcliffe said.

“The guys that were on this team this year have to continue to work hard and improve with their respective club teams. They will need to get stronger, more mature and not take anything for granted,” Sutcliffe said. “I want the guys to be excited about next season, because there is a lot to look forward to for them.”

Junior Nick Petruso led the team in scoring with 21 goals, 10 of which being game winners, and nine assists.

“He had a tremendous junior season,” Sutcliffe said. “Next year, I will look for him to be a better player for 80 minutes of the game or more. I hope he will become a little more vocal as a leader, even though [Petruso’s] forte is leading by example in many ways.”

Junior goalkeeper Jared Bell will also be returning for Little Tigers. He collected more than 40 saves in the net.

“He led the [Colonial Valley Conference] in shutouts with 11. That was quite an effort from [Bell] and the defensive back four at the time,” Sutcliffe said. “Next year, he has to keep maturing and being more consistent.”

Experience will play a big role for the 2020 team, when 14 juniors are set to return to the roster.

“A lot of the players found themselves in some big games this year. They gathered experience in the [Colonial Valley Conference] campaign, then the [Mercer County Tournament] and the state tournament,” Sutcliffe said. “It is just a matter of drawing on that experience and maturing over the next year.”

Junior midfielder Rafael Davis Matar Grandi, senior midfielder Breno Azevedo, junior defender James Novak and junior defender Ethan Parker were a group of players who really stepped up this season, Sutcliffe said.

“We had high hopes for them coming into 2019 and these guys really established themselves,” Sutcliffe explained. “They were a factor in the success of this season.”

Princeton’s 2020 team will consist of mostly upperclassmen, who Sutcliffe said he hopes will bring maturity and readiness to play in crucial games.