Having been teammates since fifth grade, Princeton’s Ben Hallberg and Cooper Nowak have long grown accustom to each other’s play style on the pitch.
From those early days to their freshman year where both garnering starting spots on a young squad to this year where both seniors were a part of a Mississippi 8 Conference Champion team, the forward in Nowak and goalkeeper in Hallberg have matured and pushed each other along the way to improve.
“Watching those two go against each other in practice is awesome to see,” said Princeton Head Coach Jason Senne.
The competition between the two to score and to stop scoring has resulted in both becoming standout players for the Tigers’ soccer team.
With their stellar seasons, each were able to take home big time Mississippi 8 Conference awards with Hallberg receiving the conference’s keeper of the year while Nowak claimed his second consecutive player of the year award.
Watching both gain such big accolades for the team, both believe the awards were well deserved for one another. “It definitely is an award that he fully deserved,” said Hallberg, as Nowak was able to rack up 31 goals and five assists so far on the season.
Nowak also shared the high praise for his goalie. “We love him. People don’t give him enough credit because he doesn’t get a lot of saves but when it gets to him, he usually stops them,” said Nowak, with Hallberg making 138 saves on the way to a 11-3-2 record for the year.
As for what makes both such standout players, both have several qualities that allow them to find success in many ways on the field.
For Hallberg, it’s his frame and athleticism said Senne. “Frame wise, he is six-foot-four and he is super athletic. Being that tall is great for him because some of those balls that maybe could be floaters and get in; he can get to those,” said the coach.
Another factor to Hallberg’s great play is the courageous energy the keeper plays with. “He is a fearless guy and as a goalkeeper, that is something you have to have. He is a special player,” said Senne.
On Nowak’s side, no one was better to ask than Hallberg on what makes him so difficult to stop. “His shot power is amazing. His placement, awareness and IQ. He can threaten you being a striker but he then he can also play the target man receive a pass and play it off to someone else. Not only is he great at scoring the goals, but great at creating them too,” said the senior goalie.
With this award being the second Mississippi 8 Player of the Year for Nowak, Senne believes this one was even more deserved. “Early in his career he relied on his speed. Lately, if you watch him he’s developing that shorter game and finding ways to come across the middle, setting up his teammates and finishing on stuff that is coming to him.”
“I’m really proud of the growth he has had. I’m seeing that change and it made him an even better player,” Senne continued, also adding that Nowak will be a solid addition to any collegiate soccer program.
Garnering all this individual praise for both players, the two remain humble, knowing the accolades came thanks to their teammates also playing well around them. “It’s all to my teammates and them getting me the ball. It’s great but it’s my teammates getting me the ball,” said Nowak.
“It’s huge to win these awards but it’s not just us, it’s the team,” added Hallberg.
Before the season comes to an end, the two look to add more awards to their careers.
However, these awards will be of the team variety. “We have the personal achievements but we are also going for the team trophies,” said Hallberg.
In order to continue that mission for a team trophy, like a section title, the Tigers will first have to get past Monticello as the two met on the pitch on Oct. 19 in the Section 6AA Semifinals.
Having already grabbed a 4-3 victory over the Magic back on Oct. 6, Princeton isn’t overlooking Monticello. “It’s going to be hard to beat them twice but we are ready and we are hungry,” said Nowak.
Other Tigers claim honors
Joining Nowak and Hallberg in picking up awards were several other Tiger players.
Along with Nowak and Hallberg taking home All-Conference Honors were Preston Senne, Jayden Loshaw and Beck Wogen.
Just missing out on also claiming All-Conference awards were Luke Dufner, Cam Dassow, Jake Downey, Owen Anderson, Reese Strube and Timmy Donnay. as all were honorable mentions.
Preston Senne, son of Tigers’ head coach Jason Senne, along with Nowak and Hallberg were also nominated for All-State Honors.
Seeing his son in the junior defenseman be up for such a prestigious nomination was an awesome moment for the head coach. “He takes such pride in getting those shutouts and working with the goalie. I’m proud as a dad and as a coach even prouder,” said Jason Senne.