Don’t call the Princeton Tigers’ girls soccer team ‘a team’.
They’re a family.
Just check out Jordan Thompson’s shirt, which reads “Our Family vs. Your Team.”
“We are very close,” said Thompson, a senior beginning her fourth season as a starter for the Tigers. “Throughout the season we go out to eat practically every day together after every game, we spend a lot of time together.”
Thompson is confident that togetherness will play a key role in a big season ahead for the Tigers, which missed qualifying for the Class AAA state tournament last season by one goal in their final game.
“I think we just have to remember we are a team,” Thompson said. “It is not (about) having individual talent, but stay as a team and have faith in what we can do.”
Fellow senior Jessica Inman still recalls the disappointment of that 3-2 loss to Nitro in regional play that ended their season. The Tigers, which learned a valuable lesson in defeat, are hoping to get back to that point, and beyond.
“I think last year at the end of that game we started to give up and they just showed a lot more heart than we did,” said Inman, who is also a four-year starter for the Tigers. “That is one thing we are going to have to learn to do ourselves. That isn’t coachable, you just have to have the heart.”
It also doesn’t hurt to have nine starters back on the pitch.
“I am really excited, I think we are going to be really good,” Thompson said. “They have a lot of talent coming up this year. We have actually had a lot of talent coming up every year and it just keeps getting better and better.
“We got really far last year. It was really hard to walk off that field and we are not going to let that happen this year.”
All Princeton did last season was win its sectional for the first time since joining the Mountain State Athletic Conference, losing just four games during the campaign, including the final heartbreaker against the Wildcats.
“I think we are going to have to work as a team and work together and try our best,” Inman said. “I think we just have to believe in ourselves every game and we just have to give it our all, like it is our last game.”
There is little secret that the Tigers should be in for a good season, but seniors like Thompson and Inman have cautioned their younger teammates about being overly vocal in their expectations.
“We know that, and we have a few people that excessively talk about it and we push for them not to do that because we could talk about it and get big-headed and just get knocked down,” Thompson said. “If we just keep our heads in the game and not think about it, we know where we are going in our hearts, but we don’t have to brag about it.”
Soccer practice has begun across the area for teams in West Virginia, with the Tigers starting before anyone, kicking it off with “Midnight Madness” on Monday morning at 12:01 a.m.
“It is a lot of fun,” Thompson said. “It gives us time to get used to each other and learn to work with each other and just have fun instead of taking it serious straight from the beginning.”
Thompson, who hasn’t been able to practice since Monday after suffering a sprained ankle, did the work in July to prepare for her senior year.
“I actually ran a lot and it really made me mad when I got hurt because I had actually worked,” said Thompson, who will be back on the pitch Monday. “Most of the seasons before this season I was like, ‘I am not going to do it, I will just wait.’
“Then the next year I actually did it and then I get hurt, I was so mad.”
The Tigers will spent August working for three hours each morning during the week under a very hot sun at the Princeton soccer facility across from the school.
“That kind of dedication doesn’t bother either of the seniors. They love the game, and the more physical the better for Inman.
“It is physical, being out in the heat is difficult too...,” Inman said. “I have just been playing it for so many years, I just love it.
“It is just something l love to do. I just like all of it, I love the intensity.”
Princeton will host its annual preseason Kick-o-Rama on Aug. 10-11, and will open its regular season with Robert C. Byrd on Aug. 17.
The Tigers will have a target on their stripes after winning their sectional against stellar competition in the MSAC.
“It is a pretty hard conference,” Inman said. “The teams we play are really good. They are just out there to beat you and we have to be out there to win and stay with them as much as we can.”
Coached for a fifth season by Michelle Dye — the only soccer player in the Princeton Senior High School Sports Hall of Fame — the Tigers are hoping to join other local girls soccer teams that have enjoyed success, including PikeView and Graham, both of which have made recent appearances in state tourneys.
“That shows that girls soccer is getting stronger and starting to be more well known,” Inman said.
Dye likes her squad, which includes such talented performers as Thompson, Inman, three-year starter Stephanie Lambert, junior Shaylah Walls and sophomore Amanda Barrett.
“We pass really well and we communicate and we move as a team,” said Inman, who expects to switch from midfield to defense this season. “Nobody is selfish, we use everybody on the field.
“I think we have both strong offense and defense. I think it is a little early to tell, but the first game will decide what is going to show the most.”
Thompson and Inman are the lone four-year starters on this ... family.
“Jordan is a great wing player, (has) excellent crosses on the ball, she gives it her all,” Dye said. “(Jessica) does defense and midfield for us, she is just a smart, smart player. She is in the position where she controls the game, she was also a captain for us last year.”
Princeton is ready for a season that will include 19 games, with two tilts apiece slated with rivals Woodrow Wilson, Greenbrier East and James Monroe, along with a single contest against Bluefield.
“We have just got to pretend that every game is our competition,” Thompson said. “We can’t act like none of them are the competition and it is an easy game, we have to be ready for every game.”
A historic season is now just a memory in Princeton. A new season is ready to begin. These Tigers are thinking about even more history.
“We just have to forget about that and just move on,” Thompson said. “I think we can go further. I think we can go all the way.”
—Contact Brian Woodson
Don’t call the Princeton Tigers’ girls soccer team ‘a team’.
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