Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 26
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
DOING IT ALL: Hun School junior star Mike Russo tracks down a fly ball this spring. Russo starred on the mound, at the plate, and in the field as Hun went 20-4 and won both the state Prep A and Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) titles.

Hun Baseball's Russo, PDS Lax Star Crouse Earn Nod as Town Topics' Spring Standouts

Bill Alden

Mike Russo came into the spring as the unquestioned ace of the Hun School baseball team's pitching staff.

Mixing fastballs in the high 80s with improving breaking stuff, the 6'5 junior lived up to his advance billing as he posted a 6-1 record.

Russo's maturity on the mound was reflected by his ability to get better as he went deeper into games. "I usually get stronger because I feel more comfortable at the end of the game, said Russo, who was a key reserve this past winter for the Hun boys' basketball team and helped the squad win the Prep A and Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) titles. "I throw harder and things start working better."

But Russo provided a lot more to the Raiders than a good outing every few games. When he wasn't on the mound, the athletic Russo patrolled centerfield for Hun. Russo proved to be one of Hun's best defensive players as he displayed a knack for tracking down balls all over the field.

At the plate, Russo emerged as one of Hun's top offensive threats, tying for the team-high in homers (7) and piling up a team-best 42 RBIs. His production in the middle of the lineup helped Hun put together a record-breaking campaign which saw the team set all kinds of offensive marks.

"I feel a lot more comfortable at the plate after I got a few hits in the beginning of the season," said Russo. "You have to be relaxed; you can't hit the ball when you're uptight."

With Russo finding a comfort level on the mound, in the field, and at the plate, Hun set the most important standard of all as its 20-4 record marked the most wins in a single season in program history. Along the way, the Raiders won the MAPL title and the state Prep A crown, the team's first title in the tournament since 2002.

Hun head coach Bill McQuade was comfortable with all the things Russo brought to the team this spring. "He's one of the best athletes on the team," asserted McQuade. "He's a good hitter; he's probably our best outfielder in terms of chasing down the ball. He plays for the love of the game."

Russo, for his part, loved being on this year's Hun baseball team. "This is one of the best Hun teams I've been on," said Russo. "We definitely can do some damage to other teams. If we are making the plays and hitting the ball, I don't think anyone can beat us."

For playing such a pivotal role in Hun's historical campaign, Russo is the Town Topics' top male performer of the spring high school season.

Top Female Performer

Stocked with a core of battle-hardened senior stars, the Princeton Day School girls' lacrosse team figured to be a powerhouse this spring.

True to form, PDS breezed to easy victories in its first four games. But then on a pleasant mid-April afternoon, the Panthers hit a major bump in the road as its top returning scorer, senior attacker Katie Briody, went down with a season-ending ACL injury in her left knee in a win over Stuart Country Day.

One of Briody's classmates, Nina Crouse, took it upon herself to step up in Briody's absence. While always a productive player, the gifted Crouse went on a scoring spree as the Panthers didn't miss a beat.

In PDS' next game after Briody's injury, Crouse tallied four goals to help the Panthers top Lawrence High. Over the rest of the spring, Crouse exploded time and time again. The shifty, skilled attacker scored six goals in a win over Pennington in early May and then in a three-game stretch scored seven goals against Hopewell Valley, six against Princeton High, and six against Stuart.

The humble Crouse credited teammates like her twin sister, Allie, and Keely Langdon with helping fuel her scoring outburst.

"Me and Allie know where each other are going to go in field hockey and lacrosse," said Crouse. "I can tell where Keely is going to go to if it's not there. I know to get out and draw my defender out of that. I think we all read each other as a team."

PDS head coach Jill Thomas was proud of how the Crouses and Langdon produced in the wake of Briody's injury. "When you lose a key player, it's important that you regroup," said Thomas.

"You can use that as an excuse or be what we are. They decided to be what we are. We still have the same goals. The Crouses and Langdon are the ones who put the ball in the net but it takes work to get the ball in the net."

Crouse may have saved her best play for the state Prep A tournament as she scored eight goals in PDS' win over Morristown-Beard in the Prep A quarterfinals and then tallied seven as the Panthers cruised to a satisfying 22-11 win over crosstown rival Hun in the prep semis.

Crouse's scoring prowess helped PDS end the regular season with a 15-0 record as the Panthers won the Patriot Conference and Bedesem Division titles. While the Panthers lost 16-9 to Oak Knoll in the Prep A title game and later dropped a 5-4 heartbreaker to HoVal in the Mercer County Tournament to finish 17-2, Crouse focused on enjoying the day-to-day atmosphere around the team.

"We have a real chemistry," said Crouse, who ended the season with a team-high 80 points on 66 goals and 14 assists. "We all get along really well; we don't have conflicts with each other. We're all encouraging each other."

As one of the key ingredients in PDS' special mix, Nina Crouse earns the nod as the Town Topics top female performer of the spring season.

Top Male Newcomer

Princeton Day School boys' tennis head coach Rome Campbell had high hopes this spring for freshman singles player Neil Karandikar.

But even the longtime coach wasn't prepared for what the lean Karandikar accomplished in his debut season for the Panthers.

The precocious Karandikar served notice that he was something special when he breezed to the title at second singles in the Mercer County Tennis Tournament, topping Stewart Fernandez of WW/P-S 6-1, 6-1 in the championship match.

Campbell acknowledged that Karandikar's performance in the county tourney was an eye-opener. "He was the biggest surprise," said Campbell, whose team swept all three singles flights at the MCT and placed second in the team standings.

"He really showed that he deserved to be the second singles champion with the shot making he showed and his all-around game. He's really come on and found his niche on the team. He's really comfortable with the rest of the boys; he's always got a smile on his face."

Karandikar, for his part, said he drew strength from his teammates."I think it's been great having really supportive teammates around," asserted Karandikar. "I really like my teammates, first of all. Bo [Marshall], David [Holland]; we all get along. I just like being part of the team. We motivate each other when we are on the court and even when we're off it."

Karandikar solidified his niche on the team as he rolled through the rest of the spring. He culminated the season by routing Nikhil Anbarasan of Rutgers Prep 6-1, 6-0 in his championship match to win the second singles crown in the state Prep B tournament and help the Panthers to their third straight team title.

In reflecting on the progress of Karandikar, who posted a 21-1 record this spring, Campbell said the freshman grew into a force. "He really did mature as the season went on," said Campbell. "We knew he was a seasoned tournament player but he exceeded my expectations."

Karandikar's consistent brilliance in his debut campaign makes him the choice as the Town Topics' top male newcomer of the spring season.

Top Female Newcomer

On a sweltering day in May 2004, University of Virginia women's lacrosse star Amy Appelt came to Princeton Stadium and terrorized the Tigers in the NCAA championship game.

The powerful Appelt bulled her way through the Princeton defense, scoring four goals as Virginia stunned previously undefeated Princeton 10-4 in the title contest.

This spring, Amy's younger sister, Sarah Appelt came to Princeton to play for the Hun School girls' lacrosse team.

The younger Appelt didn't waste any time showing that she had a similar finishing touch as her older sister.

In Hun's second game of the season, Appelt scored five goals in a 20-12 win over Stuart. Two days, later Appelt tallied four goals as Hun topped George School 17-5.

Hun head coach Lauren Provenzano wasn't surprised by Appelt's superb play. "She's really something else," asserted Provenzano of Appelt. "I met her last year and I knew I had quite a player coming in. A lot of my movement on the field is dependent on her. I know she will be double and triple-teamed but I think the rest of the girls know that so they are set up for that."

Appelt went on to have a banner debut season, leading the Raiders in all major scoring categories as she scored 66 points on 48 goals and 18 assists to help Hun go 7-6.

For making a sudden impact in the mold of her All-American sister, Appelt is the pick as the Town Topics' top female newcomer of the spring season.

Top Coaches

The Princeton High boys' golf team appeared to be in for a season of transition this spring with the graduation of its Class of 2006.

That group, which featured such standouts as Jordan Gibbs, Mike DiMeglio, Jason Barry, Kyle Rasavage, and Greg Heisen, among others, had helped the program go 56-2 in dual matches from 2004-06 and qualify for the Tournament of Champions in its last two seasons.

But longtime PHS head coach Sheryl Severance was confident the program could continue its winning ways as a smaller group of stars got their opportunity to shine.

"The guys are excited to get a chance to show what they can do," said Severance. "The guys have to not expect too much out of themselves. Last year we were ranked No. 1 in the state in the beginning of the season and that put pressure on the guys."

The Little Tigers served notice that they were going to be a force as they won both the Cherry Hill Invitational and the Bunker Hill Invitational early in the spring.

With senior star Peter Teifer solidifying his status as one of the top golfers in the area, PHS kept rolling. The Little Tigers won the program's fourth Mercer County Tournament title in the last six seasons as Teifer tied for first in the individual standings but then fell in a playoff.

Days later, PHS placed first in the North Jersey Section 1 and 2 Group 3 championship at Overpeck Golf Course to once again qualify for the Tournament of Champions (TOC).

At the TOC, the Little Tigers made school history as they took the Group III state title and finished second overall in the event.

PHS' top four players combined for a 319, just four strokes behind the overall champion Gloucester Catholic. PHS finished eight strokes better than third place Christian Brothers and eight strokes better than Millburn, the second-best Group III team.

Teifer was the team's low man, shooting a six-over 76 to put him ninth in the individual standings. Teifer was followed by Will Madden with an 80 while Curtis Smith carded an 81 and senior George Graham posted an 82.

For Severance, who has guided the program for 15 seasons, the state title was sweet. "I hope it means a lot, we're losing two very good players so who knows when it will happen again," added Severance.

"It's the first state title for the school since the boys' soccer team won in 2002. It's the first state title ever for the golf team as far as I know. It should draw attention around the school. I think it is a very driven team; they are very determined and extremely talented. I'm glad they were able to show their talent."

For driving that talent to make history, Severance is the choice as the top coach among male teams this spring.

Jill Thomas knew she faced a major challenge with her goalie situation as her Princeton Day School girls' lacrosse team started play in the 2007 season.

With last year's starter having transferred, PDS was going with untested Maria Cannavo in the net.

Two weeks into the season, another major challenge was thrown Thomas' way as top returning scorer Katie Briody went down with a season-ending knee injury.

The Panthers, though, refused to feel sorry for themselves. With Cannavo emerging as a clutch player and the trio of Keely Langdon and the Crouse twins, Allie and Nina, picking up the scoring slack for the injured Briody, PDS buried one foe after another.

The Panthers rolled through the regular season with a 15-0 mark, winning the Patriot Conference and Bedesem Division titles along the way.

Although the Panthers fell short in both the state Prep A and Mercer County Tournament (MCT) title games, Thomas was proud of the spirit the team showed in responding to Briody's injury.

"I think that's where character comes in," said Thomas. "They'll forget the scores of these games but they won't forget the effort they put in together to make sure it happened."

And while tears followed the Panthers' finale in its heartbreaking 5-4 loss to Hopewell Valley in the MCT championship game, Thomas will focus on the smiles the team drew all spring long.

"It was a great season," said Thomas, whose club ended the season with a glittering 17-2 record. "I think tomorrow or next week when the team has a chance to get past today, I hope they will remember what a great season we had."

For holding her team together through adversity and helping it win two titles, Thomas gets the nod as the Town Topics' top coach among female teams this spring.

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