It is pretty apparent that, for the sixth year running, a Pennington boys soccer player is going to take home the end of season honors.
But which one is the better question: with four returning All-Area players on the roster, this could be the closest race in a long time.
The nationally-ranked Red Raiders ran out to their second straight 2-0 victory Saturday on senior day, this time against Hun. Pennington (2-0) got two goals from Stas Korzeniowski, one in each half, to win the contest comfortably.
Korzeniowski, who has become a beast up front thanks to a six-inch growth spurt since he entered high school, has all four of Pennington’s goals on the season. For the senior, who has been a part of three Mercer County Tournament titles in his time on campus, just getting to play some matches this season has been a blessing.
“I think as seniors, it means a lot, every game that we have available for us,” Korzeniowski said. “We just want to make the most of every opportunity. Every game, we just come out with the same energy, even if there is nothing to play for: we just want to win, do our best, and work as a team.
“Three games or none, that is all we can ask for.”
With the game slow to develop, Pennington finally found a way through the Hun defense in the 15th minute. Gessner played a beautiful 50-yard diagonal pass across the pitch that Korzeniowski brought down deftly into his path. Korzeniowski then needed just one touch before he slotted home into the corner for a 1-0 lead.
Even though they were dominating the game, Pennington could not put the visitors away until the 68th minute, ironically from one of the very few chances Hun had. The Raiders’ corner was headed away by midfielder Jack Borden (another POY candidate and two-time All-Area player), then despite the call from the bench to front Korzeniowski near midfield (the defender did not), Borden found the 6-5 striker with a ball to feet. Korzeniowski turned one defender, then beat the other on the dribble, before finding the net from the edge of the 18 to effectively end the contest.
“The vision on Lukas’ pass, and then Jack’s strength in the air and clearing it, both were such good assists,” Korzeniowski, who will be playing for the University of Pennsylvania next fall, said. “On the second on, I just saw behind me there were two guys behind me, and if I got past the first guy, it would be a one-v-one. I checked my shoulder before the corner, and was hoping a ball would come out. Obviously, it did.
“I wouldn’t have been in either position if not for the two balls, so like you said, it was a team effort.”
That assist was Borden’s third of the season, and showed why he might be the best “6” in the state.
“Out of his four goals, I have three assists,” Borden, who will be playing at Lafayette University next fall, said. “It means a lot to be able to be out here playing. Stas and I, we were freshman starters along with Mani (2018 Area Player of the Year Mansour Diop. We were looking forward to our Senior Day ever since our freshman Wildwood camp. It meant the world to us, especially having our friends and family here.”
Pennington played without reigning Area Player of the Year Babacar Niang, who should be on the field Friday night. This senior class will get at least one more opportunity to play at home, with a contest Friday night against Malvern Prep (PA) on the schedule. After that, it is going to be something that Head Coach Chad Bridges plays by ear, depending on what is going on with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Either way, though, this program has been ranked as one of the top 25 teams in the country for the third time in five years, and has pulled clear as the team at the top of the mountain in Mercer County. That was something that was a long way off at the start of last decade, but has been continually built upon by each team that has continued this long run of dominance.
“We don’t have those team bus trips this year to bond,” Borden said. “We don’t really have the locker room environment anymore, so we have to make up for it at practice and off the field. Our practices are really, really strong, or to help us as a collective.”