PRINCETON — A new era starts this fall for Princeton boys soccer as David Gray becomes the third coach in the history of the program.
Gray’s resume includes more on field experience than previous coaches.
“It doesn’t mean everything, but I hope my experience as a player can translate to the team – enthusiasm, energy, technical ability and tactical understanding,” he said. “Hopefully it’ll be higher quality soccer. But as much as I can do as a coach, it will up to the boys.”
Gray, a 2000 graduate of PHS, played under Princeton’s first coach, John Garvin, for four years. He followed this up with four years of soccer at Monmouth College. He has served as the girls’ freshmen and sophomore coach as well as assisted with both the boys and girls varsity teams in the past.
Defense will be the foundation of Gray’s teams.
“I think you build out of the back,” said Gray, who succeeds Jason Bird as head coach. “I start with defense.”
“We’re playing a different defensive strategy this year,” said senior captain Drew Pranka. “We’ve shifted into the flatback four. We’ll have to play a lot more cohesively. Overall it should help us move the ball forward through the backfield instead of just lobbing it over the top.”
With the flatback four defense, fans will see four defenders lined up across the width of the field and pushing forward when the Tigers possess the ball. But when the other team is in possession, depending on where in the field the attack comes from, the appropriate defender will step up to challenge the ball and the others will rotate behind him.
The flat four also lends itself well for one of the defenders to go on the attack and take an offensive role, much like in hockey. Pranka and fellow senior Zack Burrows may be well suited for this.
Junior Isaac Salazar will be tending the goal.
“He’s got some good fresh soph/JV experience. He’s got a big frame. I think he’s ready to man the goal well,” Gray said.
The squad currently consists of 20 members – 14 seniors and six juniors. Gray says that there are some sophomores and freshman he’ll be rotating in but he has not named any on the team as of yet.
The offense will be anchored by returning midfielders Brenton Schmidt on the outside and Garrett Duffin, who moves inside this year.
“Tanner Kuhne will be an important midfielder,” Gray said. “Elliot Beetz is looking good as well,” Gray says, “I look for him to take a leap forward this year.”
But perhaps the key to the offense will be the successful return of Ky Mecum. A rare athlete who possess the triple threat of speed, quickness and strength, Mecum was out all of last year due to a knee injury.
“He got varsity time as an underclassman,” Gray said. “I’m looking forward to what he can do. If he’s healthy, he could account for a lot of our scoring. He worked on his touch when he couldn’t do much else. He’s been working hard. Hopefully that all pays off.”
After opening the season in Stillman Valley on Monday, the Tigers travel to Oregon for what is one of the most anticipated parts of the season for Pranka.
“Every year we’ve been right there. Last year we took second. It’d be great if we could win it this year,” he said.
Last year the Tigers advanced to the sweet sixteen of the state playoffs before bowing out to Somonauk in the sectional finals. This year?
“Of course we’d love to win regionals and then sectionals and go to state,” said Pranka, “that’s what every team wants. But I’ll be happy if we play together as a team. If we do that, good things will happen.”
The Blue-White Soccer Night will be held Thursday in Tiskilwa.
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