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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction.)

DEVINE PROVIDENCE: Princeton High senior forward Nick Devine celebrates after scoring the first goal in PHS 2-0 win over Steinert in the MCT championship game. Devine scored a team-high 24 goals to help lead the Little Tigers to a 15-6-1 record and the second Central Jersey Group III sectional title in school history.
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PHS Soccer's Devine, PDS Field Hockey's Welsh Emerge as Town Topics' Top Fall Performers

By Bill Alden

Nick Devine struggled along with the rest of his mates on the Princeton High boys' soccer team as the Little Tigers stumbled to a 3-5-1 start.

Devine, a native of South Africa who toiled on the PHS junior varsity team in the fall of 2002, caught fire in October as he scored seven goals in a four-game stretch that got PHS rolling.

Sparked by Devine's aggressive and productive play up front, PHS went on a 12-game winning streak that saw it win the Mercer County title and take the second Central Jersey Group III sectional title in the program's history. Devine, a senior, scored the game-winning goals in both the county and sectional championship games.

Devine, who had specialized in karate and rugby before moving to the U.S. two years ago, ended up scoring 24 goals in the season which was the top figure not only for PHS but for all Mercer County public school players. The heroics of the unsung South African earn him the nod as the Town Topics' top high school male performer of the fall season.

Other male performers who deserve mention include Hun School cross country star Morgan Seybert, who won the Mercer County boys' championship race, the Mid-Atlantic Prep League title, and placed second in the state prep A meet, together with versatile PHS football star David Mostoller, who rushed for 645 yards and was a force on a Little Tiger defense that emerged as a formidable unit.

Top Female Performer

For Betsy Welsh, 2002 was a lost year athletically as she was sidelined while battling Hodgkin's disease.

Gaining strength from her ordeal and a renewed appreciation for the joys of competition, Welsh was a tower of power as she returned to action this fall for the Princeton Day School field hockey team.

Leading an unheralded Panthers team that started four freshmen and was coming off a 4-9-1 campaign, Welsh scored five goals and passed for 15 assists to carry the team into the state Prep title game.

Although PDS fell in that title clash to Lawrenceville, Welsh left the field smiling knowing that her force of will had driven the Panthers to get the most out of their potential as they finished 10-8-3.

Welsh's combination of courage, leadership, and skill make her the choice as the top high school female performer of the fall season.

Going with Welsh was no easy choice as several other female performers excelled this fall. Angela DiPastina's heroics at No. 1 singles led the Hun girls' tennis team to its third straight MCT title and the program's first-ever state prep A crown. DiPastina posted a 20-1 individual record and won her third straight prep title at first singles.

Meaghan Lynch led the pack for the PHS girls' cross country team as it won the program's first Central Jersey Group III sectional title and placed second in the Mercer County meet. Stuart senior Kelly Fitzpatrick was the driving force for a Tartan field hockey team as she scored 14 goals and had eight assists to lead the team to a 12-3-4 mark and the state Prep semis and the MCT title game.

Top Newcomers Dom Natale transferred to Hun this fall from Delbarton looking for a chance to become a starting quarterback.

The 6'3 185-pound junior didn't waste long proving that he could cut it on the varsity level. In the Raiders' season opener at Hill, Natale hit on 10-of-17 passes for 162 yards in Hun's 31-0 win.

Natale got better and better as the fall went on, ending up with a glittering stat line, completing 96-of-175 passes for 1,840 yards and 19 touchdowns for the 7-2 Raiders. Natale produced the most eye-popping performance of the fall when he threw for 511 yards in a win over Caldwell High on October 25.

Natale's poise and production make him the choice as the top high school male newcomer of the fall season.

Another newcomer who deserves special mention is PHS junior Carlos Espichan, who switched to soccer this fall after running cross country and was a revelation in the midfield for the Little Tigers.

As for the newcomers on the girls' scene, it didn't take long for freshman Ali Zindman to show that she was going to be a pivotal perfomer for the PDS field hockey team.

Wearing goggles and flying all over the field, the intense Zindman made an impact starting with the Panthers' season opener against Stuart. Zindman emerged as a key set-up player for PDS, passing for 11 assists as the team made its improbable run to the state Prep championship game.

Her intensity and athleticism earn Zindman the nod as the top high school female newcomer of the fall season.

Other freshmen who made an impact included Ashley Chappo, who scored seven goals and had six assists for the PDS girls' soccer team, and Stuart's Kelly Bruvik, who ended up as the No. 2 scorer for the Tartans field hockey team with eight goals and two assists.

Top Coaches

It would've been easy for Wayne Sutcliffe to get upset when his PHS boys' soccer team struggled in the early going this fall, playing in an uncharacteristically disorganized manner.

But even as the team dropped to 3-5-1, Sutcliffe kept his cool and kept insisting that his club had the talent and mindset to be a force before it was said and done.

The sixth-year head coach Sutcliffe obviously knew what he was talking about as the team proceeded to reel off an amazing 12-game winning streak. During that hot stretch, PHS notched the MCT crown and the program's second Central Jersey Group III sectional title.

When the club's dream run ended when it fell 1-0 in the state semis to eventual state champion Ocean City, Sutcliffe kept positive, lauding his team for its quality of play even as it was eliminated.

While Sutcliffe was quick to credit the team's veterans for its dramatic stretch drive, it is clear that the coach's calming stewardship was a major factor in the team's success. Sutcliffe's patience and class make him the choice as the top coach among the high school male teams this fall.

As Jill Thomas assessed her PDS field hockey team this summer, she said the club had a group of freshmen that could energize a program coming off a 4-9-1 season.

While noting that she could use youth as an excuse to justify a rebuilding season, Thomas vowed that her club was ready to win this fall.

How right she was as the young Panthers got stronger and stronger as the fall wore on. As Thomas had predicted, the team's quartet of freshmen, Ali Zindman, Kate Briody, and the Crouse twins, Ali and Nina, emerged as pivotal players.

The team ended up improving to 10-8-3 and making it to the state Prep championship game where it fell 2-1 to powerful Lawrenceville. Thomas' blend of energy and nurturing earn her the nod as the top coach among high school female teams this fall.

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