For the Princeton High School girls' lacrosse team, it really was deja vu all over again when it faced Rancocas Valley High School in the Central Jersey, Group 4 state sectional final on May 24.

A year ago, Princeton trailed Rancocas Valley by three goals at halftime before rallying for a 9-8 victory and the state sectional title.

This time around the Little Tigers were down by two goals heading into the second half and went on to win, 10-5, for their second straight state sectional championship.

“The message at halftime was that everyone realized this is exactly what happened last year, so we know exactly what to do,” said first-year Princeton head coach Meg Reilly, who was an assistant on last year’s team. “We needed to play our game with the transition and slow the ball down. Our possessions were not that long in the first half. In the second half we got our long possessions and we were able to play that attack where we use everybody.”

Princeton’s defense held the Red Devils to one goal in the second half and the offense did the rest. Shaylah Marciano and Mariana Lopez-Ona scored three goals apiece, while Kate Becker contributed two to help Princeton improve to 18-2.

Rancoacs Valley had held a 4-2 lead at the half.

“I think we really turned it on in the second half,” Princeton junior defender Leila Doran said. “We got really frustrated because we were getting beat on the crease pretty consistently in the first half. We had Lauren (Rougas) and Olivia Intartaglia face-guard (Sydney Sventy) which really helped us collectively beat them on the drives and on the feeding.”

Sventy scored all five goals in the game for RV, but just one in a second half as Princeton took command of the game.

“We have a really solid defense,” Doran said. “We have been working together for three and four years now so we know each other really well and work very well together. We think of it as 50/50 between the offense and defense and we have to be upholding our end of this game. So we try to keep them out as much as we can.

“I feel like we are really improving. We’re constantly encouraging each other and I think that is a big part of our success. We definitely wanted to repeat what we dis last year so this was a big goal. But our ultimate goal is to get as far as we can.” 

Princeton advanced face Eastern Regional High School in the Group 4 state semifinals. The game was originally scheduled to be played on Wednesday, but was moved to Thursday due to weather. A year ago the Little Tigers fell to Clearview Regional High School, 20-7, in the Group 4 state semifinals. 

The defensive effort against Rancocas Valley was not unusual for this year’s Princeton team. In 20 games, the Little Tigers had allowed more than eight goals just once in the last seven games.

“Our defense communicated so well,” Reilly said. “They forced every single person out. They forced them out all the way. We man-marked (Sventy) with one of my fastest defenders, Lauren Rougas, and had Olivia Intartaglia on her as well. Between the two of them they are both fantastic soccer/basketball players and they have the multi-sport skills.”

Gigi Peloso made five saves in goal in the victory.

“Gigi was so composed, especially for a freshman,” Reilly said. “Her clears were right on. It was just impeccable defense.”

Princeton’s only two losses this season have come against prep powers Pingry and Lawrenceville (in the Mercer County Tournament final). The team has steadily improved all season to be playing at its best in the state tournament. 

“The girls deserve it,” Reilly said. “They are such a talented team and they work together. They know each other’s strengths. The more time we have together the better we get. These six seniors are so special I never want it to end.

“I think losing to Lawrenceville and having that humble wake-up call for us was great preparation for the next challenge. If we can play with a team like Lawrenceville we knew we were absolutely ready for this.”

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