It’s rare to see a player take the leap from a supporting role to leading scorer in any sport, but that’s exactly what Princeton men’s soccer forward Daniel Ittycheria has done in his sophomore season. After a solid start to his collegiate career off the bench last year, Ittycheria led the Tigers on the scoreboard with nine goals in 15 games, achieving the second highest mark across the Ivy League.
While such a jump is rare, Ittycheria’s standout season has been years in the making. The New Jerseyean attended the Pingry School just an hour away from campus, where he discovered a love for the game and became an All-State performer with 20 goals in 2022.
“During COVID when everything was shut down, that’s when I realized how much I missed the sport,” Ittycheria told The Daily Princetonian. “I realized I didn’t have that much time left in soccer, and I wanted to keep playing.”
During the long collegiate recruiting process, Princeton emerged as a clear favorite for Ittycheria due to both the academic and soccer program.
“Just visiting the campus, I could really imagine myself being a student here,” Ittycheria said. “Meeting some of the players and coaches, I already saw myself easily fitting in with the guys here.”
During Ittycheria’s first season at Princeton, he played limited minutes and spent the season becoming comfortable with the team’s schemes, but he managed to record one goal and three assists in this season. With the departure of many seniors, including forward Daniel Diaz Bonilla ’23, there was plenty of room for Ittycheria to grow. Ittycheria’s burst of goals constantly drew the attention of Princeton’s opposition and landed him in the top 30 in the nation in goals per game, an outcome that wasn’t expected by many — with the exception of Ittycheria himself.
“I knew someone on the team had to take a big step because we graduated a lot of good players last year,” Ittycheria shared. “I wouldn’t say I was entirely surprised by the amount of goals because as an athlete, I think everyone has to be confident in themselves that they can go and do a good job on the field.”
With all the scoring and increased attention, Ittycheria seized his role as a key player in Princeton’s men soccer moving forward. Despite being just a sophomore, he didn’t shy away from stepping into a leadership role off the field as well.
“I’m gonna give credit to the seniors, they did a great job of building a team culture this year,” Ittycheria said to the ‘Prince’. “I think my role was to try my best to guide the [first-years] and get them more acclimated to college soccer and just college life in general.”
While Ittycheria’s season was no doubt a huge success, it was one of only a few bright spots for Princeton this year. Despite hanging with the rest of the Ivy League in the beginning of the season, the Tigers eventually finished in seventh with just one Ivy win, a mark that Ittycheria wants to improve. To Ittcyheria, this growth process starts during the offseason and spring matches.
“We’re coming off a pretty disappointing year as a team, so I know it sounds a little cliché, but being super competitive in practice and pushing each other to be better is going to be super important,” he said.
Ittycheria has two more years of eligibility left and will no doubt continue to be a standout player, but as with many athletes, there is the thought of continuing his career after his college years are over.
“It’s kind of crazy that it’s not out of reach now,” Ittycheria said of playing professionally. “Now, I’m still a sophomore, but if there’s a path there, I would love to take it.”
For Ittycheria, his unwavering confidence is a defining trait and mentality that he pushes any aspiring young athlete to have.
“You have to be confident [in] yourself. Because if you’re not confident [in] yourself, then how is the coach going to be confident in playing you in the game or match?” he finished. “I think that’s the most important thing going into college sports.”
Tate Hutchins is a contributor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’
Please send corrections to corrections[at]princeton.edu.