Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 25
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
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CLEAR VISION: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse senior star Michael Irving clears the ball in action this season. Returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for most of the 2010 season, defenseman and tri-captain Irving stepped up at both ends of the field this spring for PHS. He scored 27 points and picked up a program-record 167 ground balls as PHS went 15-5-1 and won the CVC Colonial Division championship.

PHS Lacrosse Senior Standouts Irving, Blair Get Nod as Town Topics’ Top Spring Performers

Bill Alden

Michael Irving was unable to fulfill his promise last spring for the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team as his 2010 campaign was curtailed by an ACL injury in mid-April.

Undergoing an arduous rehab after having surgery on June 30, star defenseman Irving hoped to be back for the spring of 2011.

But as he trained last winter, Irving realized that he was ahead of schedule. “I had a really fast recovery,” said Irving.

“I was working out one day and a friend’s parent said why don’t you come out and practice with the hockey team. I am cleared and I don’t know why I don’t.”

Irving laced up his skates for PHS, making a valuable contribution as the Little Tigers won the Mercer County Tournament championship game.

“I love hockey and I really missed it,” said Irving. “At first, I felt like my legs were out of shape but I got used to it. It was kind of like I never left.”

Buoyed by his hard skating, Irving hit the field running this spring for the PHS boy’s lax team, chipping in a goal and three assists from his defenseman spot in a season-opening 6-1 win over WW/P-N.

“Michael is gifted with perception; he sees angles and he closes gaps so efficiently,” said PHS head coach Peter Stanton in assessing Irving’s strengths.

“His decision-making is instantaneous; he’s never in doubt. He makes a quick decision, commits to it and, most of the time, makes a good play.”

When the Little Tigers had some trouble scoring in getting out of the gate at 1-3-1, tri-captain Irving showed his leadership as he and fellow captains Robby Dowers and Griffin Peck read the team the riot act.

“Griffin Peck, Michael Irving, and I called a team meeting and we said we need to get our stuff together and play lacrosse like we should be playing,” recalled Dowers. “We just came out everyday in practice after that and everyone worked hard.”

Stanton certainly appreciated that part of Irving’s contribution to the Little Tigers “Our captains were fantastic,” said Stanton. “Robby Dowers, Michael Irving, and Griffin Peck were really great leaders; they set the example everyday.”

With PHS racheting up the intensity and Irving proving to be a star at both ends of the field, the Little Tigers caught fire.

PHS reeled off 11 straight wins and advanced to the MCT title game against top-seeded Notre Dame. The sixth-seeded Little Tigers trailed 6-3 after three quarters but with Irving and the defensive unit going into clamp-down mode, PHS batted back to force overtime. Although the Tigers fell 8-7, their resolve was unquestioned.

PHS went on to advance to the state Group III quarters where they fell to second-seeded Ridge 10-5. PHS, though, ended the season on a high note, topping Allentown 16-3 to win the CVC Colonial Division title with Irving chipping in a goal.

The tally gave Irving 27 points on 11 goals and 16 assists, demonstrating the upgrade in his offensive game. On the defensive end, Irving set a program record, scooping up 167 ground balls, helping the Little Tigers hold foes to 5.48 goals per game as they went 15-5-1.

In Stanton’s view, Irving and his classmates left a special legacy in the program’s history.

“It’s one thing when a team comes in as freshmen and you see them get better and better each year,” said Stanton. “These guys did it within one season as seniors. It’s rare when you see boys at that age commit to what it takes to improve that quickly.”

For providing a unique combination of versatility and leadership that helped trigger that improvement, Irving is the choice as the Town Topics top male performer of the spring high school season.

Top Female Performer

April 26 was a dark day for Taylor Blair and her teammates on the PHS girls’ lacrosse team.

That afternoon, the Little Tigers were defeated 15-13 by rival WW/P-S as a late rally fell short and they fell to 3-4. But that defeat was nothing compared to the loss that PHS suffered later that day as senior player Emma Brunskill passed away.

For the next few days, the players were distraught, breaking into tears at practice and wondering if they could regain their focus when they returned to competition.

Senior attacker Blair, who was especially close to Brunskill, took matters into her own hands on April 30 as PHS hosted Hopewell Valley. Blair scored two goals, including the 100th of her career, to help PHS edge the Bulldogs 9-8.

“It was rough after we had had a hard week,” said Blair in reflecting on that win.

“It is a good break and distraction from what is happening. I think a lot of the girls took out their emotions in this game and that was good for us to have. We made it let’s play for Emma and give it 150 percent.”

As the spring went on Blair took things out on PHS’s foes, going on a scoring spree as the Little Tigers turned into a juggernaut. The powerful Blair scored six goals in a 20-16 win over Notre Dame in early May and then piled up nine points on seven goals and two assists in a 16-5 win over Robbinsville in the opening round of the MCT.

Blair kept rolling in the MCT, scoring three goals in a 14-13 win over HoVal in the quarterfinals and then chipping in two goals as the Little Tigers topped WW/P-S 11-8 in the semis.

Saving her best for last, Blair exploded for eight goals in the MCT title game, leading PHS to an 11-8 win over WW/P-N as the Little Tigers won their first-ever county crown.

Afterward, Blair saw her outburst as a reflection of the team’s collective will. “I had a pretty good game,” said Blair. “I was really nervous at first. I think with just the emotion and everything, we knew we had to put it all on the field.”

PHS head coach Christie Cooper, though, knew how important Blair’s play was to the success of her squad.

“Taylor was on fire and she has been on fire for the last couple games,” said Cooper. “When Taylor plays at her best, our entire team plays at its best. I love that she got to drive for that last goal and really secure that win for us at the end.”

Blair continued her drive to the goal in the state tournament, scoring two goals and two assists as PHS stretched its winning streak to eight. Against West Morris, Blair scored six points on five goals and an assist but it wasn’t enough as the Little Tigers fell 16-14 to end their season at 11-5. She ended the spring with 56 goals and 16 assists.

Blair’s display of courage as she raised her game under trying circumstances and carried PHS to a county title makes her the pick as the Town Topics’ top female athlete.

Top Newcomers

As Hun School baseball head coach Bill McQuade looked ahead to the spring, he knew that his team’s success depended on pitching.

“We have 18 guys on the team and we need to find six guys who can get the ball over the plate,” said McQuade.

That task was made more difficult by the team’s inexperience. “I am looking for the trio of Austin Goeke, Mike Manfredi, and Alex Fabian to be the main starting pitchers,” said McQuade.

“The question is going to be how the young guys handle the pressure of being aces, they are sophomores and they haven’t gone against the likes of Lawrenceville, Peddie, Hamilton, and Steinert.”

Fortunately for McQuade and the Raiders, sophomore Goeke thrived under that pressure in his debut season with the program. Goeke was the opening day starter and showed flashes of brilliance against Lawrenceville as he gave up two earned runs in four innings in a game that Hun lost when the Big Red rallied for three runs in the bottom of the fifth.

As the spring went on, Goeke got better and better, firmly establishing himself as the club’s top starter.

“Austin pitched well; he has become our ace which is a tough role for a young kid to fill,” said McQuade of Goeke.

“He is trying to do better each game. He is working on his stuff and being a pitcher, not a thrower.

In the state Prep A semifinals, Goeke showed how far he had come as a pitcher, hurling a brilliant four-hitter as Hun edged Lawrenceville 2-1 to improve his record to 5-1. A day later Hun cruised past Peddie 11-2 to win the Prep A crown and end the spring at 12-7.

For emerging as Hun’s unquestioned ace as it won its first Prep A crown since 2008, Goeke gets the nod as the top male newcomer of the spring.

While Jim Smirk was seeing good things from some of the younger athletes on his PHS girls’ track team, that wasn’t translating into big success at meets.

After a loss to Hightstown in late April, Smirk tried to light a fire under his less experienced competitors.

“We needed to have the younger athletes take responsibility and not just be bodies out there,” said PHS head coach Smirk. “We told the girls to have faith in their training and more self-belief in competition.”

Freshman thrower Michelle Bazile heeded Smirk’s message, stepping up big down the stretch. Bazile threw the shot put 30 feet and posted a throw of 96 feet in the discus at the Mercer County Championships.

In the Central Jersey Group III sectional meet, Bazile threw personal records of 32-1 for fifth in the shot put and 105-4 for sixth in the discus. She ended up 14th in discus and 21st in the shot put at the Group III state meet.

“Michelle Bazile is a freshman; we saw what she was doing in training and we challenged her,” said Smirk in reflecting on Bazile’s improvement late in the season.

In meeting that challenge and emerging as one of the top throwers in the area, Bazile is the choice as the top female newcomer this spring.

Top Coaches

In 2010, the Hun baseball team was blessed with a core of senior stars.

Led by such battle-tested veterans as Mike Ford, Anthony Galan, Will Mooney, Brendan Dudeck, Julian Dandridge, Robert Vanisko, and Pat Andrews, the Raiders went 15-5 and won the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title.

This spring, longtime Hun head coach Bill McQuade acknowledged that the program was undergoing a youth movement by necessity.

“I have never had so many young kids,” said McQuade as he looked ahead to his 41st season at the helm of the Raiders.

“We will be splitting the games up three innings at a time. If our pitchers throw strikes, I think we can play good enough defense and score enough runs to win some games.”

Hun suffered some growing pains, going through a 5-5 stretch after winning five of its first seven games.

But building on a strong effort in taking second place in the MAPL tournament, the Raiders saved their best for last in the state Prep A tourney.

Sparked by the power hitting of David Dudeck and the pitching of Austin Goeke, Hun edged Lawrenceville 2-1 in the Prep A semifinals.

In the title game, Hun broke open up a tight contest with Peddie, producing a four-run rally in the fourth and cruising to a 11-2 win and its first Prep A crown since 2008.

Afterward, a beaming McQuade expressed his pride in how his young squad had come of age over the spring.

“This was a fun year to coach because you came into it with not the highest of expectations,” said McQuade, whose team ended the spring with a 12-7 record.

“When you had the teams with Mike Russo and those guys, the pressure was on right from day one on them and the coaches. You are supposed to win. This is one where we said we’ll be a different team at the end of the year than we are at the beginning of the year. We clearly we are. Right now we can compete against a lot of teams and do well.”

McQuade’s steady hand and upbeat approach helped mold the young Raiders into champions and makes him the choice as the top coach among male teams this spring.

In the early stages of the spring, Christie Cooper’s biggest task in coaching the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team centered on getting her players to play aggressively at both ends of the field.

But in late April, the third-year coach was hit with a challenge unlike any she had ever faced in her lacrosse career as senior reserve Emma Brunskill died.

As the team mourned Brunskill’s loss and resumed the season with a 9-8 win over Hopewell Valley, the players shifted their focus.

“They didn’t care what happened; they just wanted to play and have fun and think about lacrosse,” said Cooper. “Let everything else be something they can think about afterwards.”

Cooper credited the squad’s core of seniors with holding things together. “The seniors in general, just being able to support themselves and support the underclassmen really set the tone and the example,” said Cooper.

“They were like I am going to push through this so you can push through this and we are all going to push through it together. I think the togetherness is something that is going to carry through the season.”

Displaying a deeper unity and a tenacious spirit, the Little Tigers came together down the stretch, reeling off eight straight wins and taking the program’s first-ever county title in the process.

While the 11-5 record and the title were special, Cooper believed her team learned some deeper lessons from the way the spring turned out.

“A couple of weeks ago they could have put their heads down,” said Cooper, reflecting on her team’s late surge which ended when the Little Tigers fell 16-14 to West Morris in the Central Jersey Group III sectional quarterfinals.

“We said we didn’t care if we win or if we lose because it was our team unity that mattered at that point. It taught them what a team is. It’s being a support system for each other and pulling each other through on and off the field.”

For supporting her players and helping them pull through the spring in memorable fashion, Cooper is the pick as the top coach of a female program this spring.

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