Rebounding from an injury-plagued 2021 season, Sherman stars as PU Fairfield women’s football tops

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STATE OF GRACE: Princeton University football player Grace Sherman celebrates after scoring a goal against Fairfield University last Sunday night at Class of 1952 Stadium. The Tigers ended up winning 2-0 to advance at 2-0. In upcoming action, Princeton will play Rhode Island (0-3-1) on Sept. 1 and No. 3 Rutgers (4-0) on Sept. 4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

OWith the Princeton University women’s soccer team finding themselves in a scoreless draw with visiting Fairfield University last Sunday night in the first half, Grace Sherman broke free in the surface and took advantage of it.

Princeton senior striker Sherman received a pass from Heather MacNab, calmly dribbled past the Fairfield keeper and shoved the ball into the net to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead at 13:22 of the game at the Class of 1952 Stadium.

“I just saw space behind their back line, so I decided to do a cut pass,” Sherman said. “Heater [MacNab] played the ball to me and I took a touch and tried to stay calm. I took a touch around the goalkeeper and I knew I was going to finish him.

The scoring was particularly good as Sherman would have been unable to make it a year ago as she was sidelined for much of the season after suffering a leg injury on the first day of pre-season.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long, I played a bit last year but never really got healthy,” said Sherman, who made just nine appearances last season. “I was never really ready. I had the summer and now I’m ready.

Despite Sherman’s tally, Princeton struggled to find the back of the net, clinging to a 1-0 halftime lead even though they had edged the Stags 10-0.

“We worked on possession this week in training, just to keep our composure and have the confidence to keep the ball,” Sherman said. “We were quite proud of our ability to keep the ball. It’s frustrating not to score more but I know it will come.

With 7:43 left in regulation time, Princeton scored as junior midfielder Aria Nagai volleyed into the net for her first career goal and the final score of the night as Princeton won 2 -0 and improved to 2-0.

“Our team is definitely a grind team and I knew we were never going to give up,” Sherman said.

“We will never stop working hard, it’s just about winning and moving forward.”

While the Tigers started the season with a 4-2 victory over Colgate last Friday, Sherman saw the opening weekend as a good step forward.

“I’m proud of it, there are definitely things we need to work out,” Sherman said. “It’s part of non-conference play. Our team is very composed of subclasses, so it is very important to make them known.

As team captain, Sherman seeks to set a positive example for young players.

“I know what it’s like to be taken out of the sport,” Sherman said.

“I want to get the most out of these amazing people I meet. I want to win games and have fun doing it. That’s my mentality this year.

Princeton head coach Sean Driscoll had fun watching Sherman achieve his goal.

“It was a really nice finish, it was a great ball over the top from Heather,” Driscoll said. “Grace had a lot of composure. She just took it off and dribbled past the keeper and had a great shot. She worked really hard tonight. I think she worked really well on both sides of the ball. She leads with her passion. Her skills are very good but she leads with such energy. It was really great to see her get that.

Nagai’s goal was also a highlight for Driscoll. “It shows you how hard it is to score in this game, Aria is an incredibly talented player, both are,” Driscoll said. “It’s really hard to get goals in this sport. To see them both, as talented as they are, who haven’t had a lot of goals, score goals, it was really great.

While the Tigers didn’t play well this weekend, Driscoll saw progress.

“I think we’ve definitely made some progress, we’re learning more about the players,” Driscoll said. “We have to figure out the right parts and the right rotations and how to keep people fresh and healthy. It’s part of what today was, how can we keep everyone still invested and fresh so we don’t get more injuries.

Some of the team’s young talent showed through as second MacNab scored three goals in Game 1 and was named Ivy Player of the Week while rookie Kelsee Wozniak scored a goal and two assists against Colgate and won was named Ivy Rookie of the Week. Two other freshmen, Drew Coomans and Pietra Tordin, also showed flashes.

“Heather had a big weekend,” Driscoll said. “Kelsee was really, really good this weekend. She just gives you another look because of her physique, she doesn’t look like a freshman. I think all freshmen in general, when they came out and played, gave us something Drew had his moments, Pietra is crafty.

Senior defensemen Morgan Wiese, Kamryn Loustau and Gracyn Kuerner, sophomore goaltender Tyler McCamey and junior midfielder Jen Estes also gave the Tigers solid play over the weekend.

“As far as the upper classes, I thought Morgan was very stable,” Driscoll said. “Kammie had a lot of minutes and did really well as a left back, it’s not her normal position. Tyler made an amazing save tonight, we needed it. She was disappointed with the way she played the other night She bounced back and put in a really good performance tonight Gracyn looks really good at right back she did really well Jen is a striker and now plays in midfield for us because of the injuries we have. There are so many good players, it’s a matter of how you put them together.

Driscoll tip his hat to Fairfield, where he coached before coming to Princeton. After the game, he joined the Stags team to address them and congratulate them on their efforts.

“I was really impressed with Fairfield, I thought they worked extraordinarily hard,” Driscoll said. “I told them my favorite team is of course Princeton but my second favorite will always be Fairfield because my mum and dad both went to school there and I coached there for five years. It’s a place that means a lot to me. I had a very, very good experience there and it took me a long time to move here, even though Princeton is such a good school. I have lived in Fairfield all my life; leaving was a big, big step and there is a lot of sentimental value.

With Princeton playing Rhode Island (0-3-1) on Sept. 1 and No. 3 Rutgers (4-0) on Sept. 4, the Tigers will have to work hard to stay on the winning streak.

“We have a lot to come and we have a lot to figure out; we have to find the best way to set ourselves up for success,” Driscoll said. “The game with Rutgers last year was an amazing game (a 4-3 win for Princeton). The game against Rhode Island will be interesting, it’s our first game on the road. We’ve traditionally been a good road team We have so many young kids and we don’t know how they’re going to react We can only learn They’re a great team I love the team There’s a lot of positives we’re just going to to improve.

Sherman, for his part, brings a positive mentality to the road swing.

“It’s just composure, being strong and confident that we can do it, that we can beat Top 10 opponents,” Sherman said. “We have the guts, the grind and the mentality to do it, so might as well do it.”

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