Featuring seasoned veterans, skilled rookies, PDS women’s soccer, ready to grow into something special

Ruf and Tough: Princeton day school girls soccer player Kirsten Ruf (left) battled the Huns for the ball last season. Senior guard Ruff will be the backbone of PDS’ defense this fall. The Panthers kick off their 2022 season with a home game against Peddie on September 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Bill Alden

As Chris Pettit enters his second season at the helm of the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team, he believes that increased familiarity breeds success.

“I think there’s a deeper understanding in terms of personality, in terms of both sides and in terms of the game,” said Pettit, who led PDS to an 8-8-1 record in his debut last fall. “People have a greater awareness and understanding of how we are playing this year. It’s easier because it’s more integrated and allows them to appreciate and understand what we’re doing. I hope this year we can more or less move from Where we stopped, keep going.”

Pettit will rely on his returning players to help integrate a slew of freshmen into the program.

“We have 12 freshmen, so none of these players have been through it before; that’s probably 50 percent of our team,” said Pettit, whose team hosts Peddie on Sept. 8 to start 2022 season. “We’re young and inexperienced, so it’s definitely some of the usual learning curve. They just haven’t done such an intensive thing before. The club has every day of this pre-season every few days.”

Veteran star forward Grace Romano brings experience and skill to the team, leading PDS scoring last season with 15 goals and four assists.

“Grace is fine, she’s moved up to senior leadership,” Pettit said, noting that junior Abby Wade (3 goals, 2 assists in 2021) will also see time at the forward position. “She scored quite a few goals last year and will hopefully be a real weapon for our goals. I would like to see her improve her assists. Going north on both numbers is obviously good for her and for the leadership.”

Another player who has amassed some numbers this fall is junior Adriana Salzano (13 goals, 2 assists).

“I want Adriana to be on and around goals and assists; we intend to put her in those dangerous positions and make the most of her,” Petit said. “Of course she has improved technically. The great thing about Adriana is that she is a lot more mature than last year. I hope she understands more psychologically about how to play the game and control herself and her teammates through the game, rather than letting other factors affect her game Way. If she does, she’ll be better at numbers and, more importantly, everyone around her will be better. That’s her good.”

A pair of freshmen, MacKenzie Broad and Ella McLaren, will help the Panthers get better this fall.

“McKenzie is more of a center who likes to handle the ball and connect well with the attackers underneath,” Pettit said. “I hope Ella can do great things. She already has the size and athleticism not all freshmen have to handle high school. She also has technical skills and an understanding of the game. Someone who defends and lets us control the game. I fully expect her to contribute some goals and assists as well.”

In midfield, sophomore Sophia Zhou (1 assist) and freshman Julia Hartman should play well.

“Sofia was a bit of a surprise last year, she played a lot and she played really well,” Petit said. “We’re looking for her to develop further. Her ball is easy. She floats past the ball under her feet to create space, while Not moving for it. I really like the fact that it’s a little bit different from the rest of our players there. Jules is going to play some key minutes in midfield. She’s going to have to develop the rhythm and physicality of a high school game. From technique Speaking of which, she already understands, and of course she understands the game.”

A pair of talented veterans, junior Tochi Owunna and senior Kirsten Ruf, will spearhead the Panthers backline.

“Tocci looks good, she’s been able to do a full preseason,” Pettit said. “She was great last year and we might use her in the middle, although sometimes we’ll move her to the wing. Between her and the centre-back Ruff, they’re a good defensive platform. They’re both very good on the ball. “I give them the freedom to be part of the drama, not both at the same time. That means they’re redundant and they don’t get picked up. If we do that in a controlled way at the right time, that’s great for the team. Beneficial, but dangerous for opponents. They will be the backbone there.”

On the wing, sophomore Reese Offman and junior Jenn Letterman will provide screens for Owunna and Ruf.

“Reese played a lot last year, she’s a relative unknown and just took it well,” Pettit said. “My hope is that now that she has another year, she will be able to maintain the same level as last year and keep going. Jenn, who often plays left-back, is a returning junior. Compared to last year, the back four are intact .”

Another freshman, freshman Emma Burns, will add some lessons to the back four.

“Emma is very, very good technically and she has some of the best technical skills on the team,” Petit said. “Her understanding and awareness is excellent, and she’s great on the ball. The question is, can she handle the physical nature? I totally expect her to get along well with the other two and she’ll get over that.”

Sophomore Shelby Ruff is moving into the starting goalie role after playing mostly defense last fall.

“Shelby is tall, athletic, and athletic; she’s a great hockey player,” Pettit said, noting last year’s starter Jess Hollander will play on the PDS cross country team this fall. “She has really good hand-eye coordination in lacrosse. Obviously, she’s going to have a steep learning curve. She actually finished the season for us because Jesse broke her foot. We and Shell Bee played some state championships together and she didn’t have any training at all. One of the biggest things about Shelby for us is that she’s a field player. In the middle of last year, she played linebacker and defensive center, so we put She acts as a player on the court. She can be No. 11; that’s a big bonus for us, especially since we’re going to be a possession-oriented team.”

In order to have a big season, the Panthers need to cash in on this property.

“It has to click in front of the goal; we had a couple of games last year that scored a lot of goals, but then we had a lot of games that didn’t create the chances we should have created and then we missed the ones we created,” Petit said.

“I hope this year, we will have a better understanding and composure in and around the last third. Now the players know more about formations and formations, I hope we can create more chances. If we can do that, we will be in much better shape.”

Regardless, PDS seems like a squad that could grow into something special.

“We’re a very young, inexperienced team, so we need to get lucky with injuries,” Pettit said. “Last year, at a crucial point in the season, Ali Surace broke his foot and Jess broke his foot. “If everyone stays healthy and the freshmen take it well, I hope we can be stronger than last year. Hopefully we can get off to a quick start and then good things will start to happen. Growth becomes easy. Much more than losing five or six starts.”

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