Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 24
 
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
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HISTORY PROJECT: Princeton High boys’ golf star Fraser Graham displays his putting form. This spring, Graham, a junior, won the individual title in the Mercer County Tournament and NJSIAA Tournament of Champions. He is the first PHS player to earn those titles.

PHS Golf Champ Graham, PDS Lax Star O’Brien Get the Nod as Town Topics’ Top Spring Performers

Bill Alden

Fraser Graham came to a decision last fall that helped him make history this spring for the Princeton High boys’ golf team.

The multi-talented Graham, who also stars for the PHS boys’ ice hockey team, decided to forego travel hockey last fall so that he could put in time on his golf game over the off-season.

“I had a talk with my dad last summer and between the two sports, we thought it would make sense to concentrate more on golf,” said Graham, a junior. “In the past, I didn’t touch the clubs from October to March. This year, I played in tournaments in October and November and I went to Florida to play in February and March. I also starting working with a professional for the first time.”

It didn’t take long for Graham’s hard work to pay dividends this spring as he took first place this April in the prestigious Garden State Cup at Blue Heron Pines Golf Club in Cologne.

In early May, Graham proved that the Garden State Cup win was no fluke as he took individual honors at the Mercer County Tournament at Mountain View.

Graham caught fire on the back nine, shooting 1-under over that stretch to finish with a two-over 74 in taking the individual crown by two strokes over Ryan Siegler of WW/P-N, becoming the first PHS golfer to win the county title.

In Graham’s view, his breakthrough at the Garden State Cup paved the way for his MCT triumph.

“That was the first time I had won something like that,” said Graham, who shot 3-over 75 to win the Garden State Cup event. “I have been working hard on my game; it was good to see it pay off.”

Graham kept up the good work as he tied for third in the Group II Central/South Jersey sectional tournament at Running Deer Club to qualify for the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions (TOC).

Saving his best for last, Graham carded a one-over 72 to place first in the field of 132 players at the TOC which was held at the Rumson Country Club.

Once again, Graham’s win made history as his victory was the first for a PHS player in the season’s penultimate event.

It did take a while for things to sink in that day and afterward for Graham. “I saw a couple of 73s on the board,” recalled Graham. “People were asking who shot the 72 and when I said it was me, they were telling me that I was probably the winner. I had to wait for 10 minutes or so to find out for sure. I was excited. It was hard to understand at first; I was kind of in shock. In the last few days, it has been sinking in that I am the first Princeton High guy to win it.”

As Graham competes in the New Jersey Amateur this summer and looks to qualify for the U.S. Junior Amateur at the Egypt Valley in Ada, Mich. this July, he believes he now understands what it takes to win in top-notch competition.

“I realize that I can shoot the numbers to win and play with the best people in the state,” said Graham.

“I don’t have to worry about whether I fit in. I have confidence in every type of shot; I don’t have to worry about technique.”

For putting together the greatest season in the annals of PHS golf, Graham is our choice as the Town Topics’ top male performer of the spring high school season.

Top Female Performer

As a freshman attacker for the Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse team in 2008, Carly O’Brien looked lost on the field at times in making the transition to the high school game.

In 2009, a battle-tested O’Brien emerged as a key member of the supporting cast for a veteran PDS squad which went 13-2 led by senior stars Cammie Linville and Mariel Jenkins.

With Linville having moved on to the Lafayette women’s lax team and Jenkins playing for Harvard, O’Brien knew that she had more responsibility on her shoulders.

“We definitely had to fill in for them; they were a really big loss,” said O’Brien, referring to Linville and Jenkins. “I think we are doing a good job of keeping up.”

The powerful O’Brien didn’t waste any time taking a leading role, scoring four goals in an opening day loss to Peddie.

Over the rest of the spring, the prolific attacker routinely produced multi-goal games, including a seven-goal outburst in a 14-6 win over Hun in late April.

Once the postseason rolled around, O’Brien was just as lethal. In a come-from-behind win over Hopewell Valley in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals, O’Brien notched five goals to lead PDS to an 11-10 win. In the MCT title game, O’Brien added five more goals as the Panthers topped Stuart 11-8 to win their first county crown.

O’Brien also produced in the state Prep A tournament, scoring some key goals as the sixth-seeded Panthers pulled road upsets over Kent Place and two-time defending champion Oak Knoll on the way to a title clash with Peddie.

Although O’Brien scored five goals in the championship game, PDS fell short as it lost 11-9 to the Falcons to end the season at 14-4.

In assessing her big season, O’Brien said experience and teamwork were the keys to success.

“I guess being an upperclassman makes a difference,” said O’Brien, who ended the season with 63 goals and 13 assists. “Every person on the team adds to it; we don’t have certain players that are the main players. We spread things out.”

PDS head coach Jill Thomas certainly appreciated what O’Brien brought to the team this spring.

“Carly gets the ball and you can’t stop her; she is strong” said Thomas. “She uses her positioning and her stick very well. She can put the ball in the net. It’s strength but it’s also a gift. She is a finisher and she is believing much more in herself this season.”

O’Brien’s self-belief and production earn her the nod as the Town Topics top female performer this spring.

Top Newcomers

Coming into the spring, Princeton High boys’ tennis coach Sarah Hibbert knew that she needed some untested sophomores to come through in order to have a successful season.

“The big key to the season is the new players,” said Hibbert, whose quartet of sophomores includes Eddie Percarpio, Robert Zhao, Kevin Qiu, and Julian Edgren.

“The sophomores need to settle into their positions and rise to the occasion. They all have played a lot of tennis and matches but it’s a different experience when it affects the school.”

Percarpio emerged as a first among equals, earning the third singles spot. While he took some lumps at points this spring, Percarpio rose to the occasion down the stretch, posting some solid wins as the sixth-seeded Little Tigers topped Jackson Liberty and No. 3 Ocean Township on the way to Group III Central Jersey sectional semifinals.

While PHS fell to No. 2 Holmdel in the sectional semis, it ended the season at 14-4 and the play of Percarpio portended a bright future. “Eddie has really come a long way,” said Hibbert in reflecting on the season.

For making a solid impact in his debut season, Percarpio is the choice as the Town Topics top male newcomer this spring.

When freshman Kate Weeks joined the Hun School girls’ lacrosse team it was clear that she could score.

But Hun head coach Ali Kittle needed Weeks to diversity her game to be most effective for the Raiders. She put Weeks at center, making her assume greater defensive responsibilities.

The gifted Weeks assumed her new role with aplomb, triggering the Hun offense from the middle of the field and becoming a solid defensive performer.

As the spring went on, Weeks became a go-to player for the Raiders, ending up with 45 goals and eight assists to help Hun post a 10-5 final record.

Kittle liked the way Weeks grew into her new role. “Kate is a fabulous athlete, bottom line,” asserted Kittle, noting that Weeks was recently named to the U.S. U-19 national team.

“It is exciting to watch her play. She is offensive-minded but playing center this year, she had to play a lot of defense. It was great to see her communicating with her teammates and the way they helped each other. She is great girl; she puts up a lot of points but you wouldn’t know it.”

Weeks’ two-way excellence in her freshman campaign makes her the pick as the Town Topics top female newcomer this spring.

Top Coaches

Ray O’Brien had an inkling that his Princeton Day School baseball team might do some special things this spring.

“We are such a senior laden and experienced team,” said O’Brien, who guided the Panthers to a 9-10 record in 2009 in his first season at the helm of the program.

“Last year we lost a lot of close games, one or two-run games. We are expecting to win those kind of games this year. The guys who were juniors last year weren’t used to being leaders. Now they have the experience; I think that should put us over the top. I think we could have an exceptional season.”

PDS proved to be an exceptional team from the start of the 2010 season, getting out of the gate at 8-2.

Featuring senior stars Jim Fuhrman, Jon Scott, Dylan Kelly, Tim Barrett, and Dennis Cannon, the Panthers entered the postseason determined to make deep runs in both the state Prep B tourney and the Mercer County Tournament.

Showing grit to go with its veteran talent, PDS rallied from a 4-1 deficit to Pennington in the Prep B semis on the way to a 5-4 win in extra innings and then stunned Hopewell Valley in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals, winning 9-8 after trailing 8-1 in the sixth.

In the Prep B title clash against Rutgers Prep, the Panthers fell behind 2-0 in the first inning. But with Scott blasting a key two-run homer in the bottom of the first and pitching ace Fuhrman getting into a groove, PDS ended up cruising to a 9-2 win and the program’s first Prep B crown since 2001.

An elated O’Brien pointed to senior leadership as the key factor in the team’s championship campaign.

“I think it’s steadily built up the last four years with the seniors and their leadership trickling down to the juniors and underclassmen,” said O’Brien, whose team fell 4-3 to powerful Steinert in the MCT semis to end the spring at 18-6.

“Everybody believes in themselves. We talked about it in the offseason and we kept pounding it home in Florida. Game by game, more people started buying into it. We get in the dugout and it is — ‘who is going to be a hero tonight.’ They are all interchangeable and they all have guts. They are great to coach.”

For doing a great job in guiding the Panthers to a state title, O’Brien is the Town Topics’ top coach of a male team this spring.

Over the past few years, Hopewell Valley has been a nemesis for Jill Thomas and her Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse team, topping the Panthers in the last three Mercer County Tournament championship games.

During the regular season, PDS head coach Thomas and her squad turned the tables on the Bulldogs, utilizing a stingy defense and an opportunistic attack to earn a 9-5 win as the teams clashed in mid-April.

But when PDS faced HoVal in the MCT semis a few weeks later, history appeared to be repeating itself as the Panthers fell behind 7-2 at halftime.

PDS senior attacker Caitlin Shannon and her teammates were heartened by Thomas’ halftime message that day.

“Basically she was saying get that energy back, get that spirit back,” recalled Shannon. “Jill does an awesome job of getting that oomph out of us when we need it.”

With Shannon and Carly O’Brien leading the way, the Panthers rallied to pull out a dramatic 11-10 win. In the MCT championship game against Great Road rival Stuart, PDS built an early lead and weathered a second-half charge by the Tartans to pull out an 11-8 win and earn its first county crown.

The Panthers fell just short of a title double, pulling off road upsets over Kent Place and two-time defending champion Oak Knoll in the state Prep A tournament on the way to a title clash with Peddie. PDS ended up losing 11-9 to the Falcons to end the spring at 14-4.

For Thomas, the championship season was the product of character as much as talent.

“We had so many injuries and obstacles; different things happened along the season,” said Thomas.

“We really had to come together and count on everybody. We had to weather some really, really tough games on the road. We weathered back-to-back overtime games. We just stuck to our goal and stuck to our plan. We believed.”

Thomas’ role in holding the Panthers together on the way to a county title makes her the choice as the Town Topics’ top coach of a female team.

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