Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 12
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
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COLD PLAY: Princeton High boys’ hockey senior star Fraser Graham controls the puck in action this winter. Graham scored a team-high 68 points on 27 goals and 41 assists in sparking PHS to an 18-5 season which saw the Little Tigers win the county crown for the first time since 2005 and make their first appearance in the state tournament since 2006-07.

PHS Hockey Star Graham, PDS Hoops’ Smukler Get Nod as Town Topics’ Top Winter Performers

Bill Alden

Tim Campbell harbored some concern about whether senior forward Fraser Graham would be a little rusty at the beginning of the season for the Princeton High Boys’ hockey team.

With Graham having won the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions golf individual title last spring, he devoted his efforts this past summer to swinging his clubs rather than the hockey stick.

It didn’t take long for PHS head coach Campbell to realize that he had nothing to worry about when it came to Graham.

“He looks like he has been on the ice all summer,” said Campbell. “It will take him a while to get his legs. He has the hand-eye coordination and game sense, that doesn’t go away.”

Once the games began, Graham showed the rest of the Colonial Valley Conference that his hockey skills were as sharp as ever.

The 6’0, 155-pound forward and team co-captain was a force from the start of the season, triggering the PHS offense with his stickhandling and vision on the ice as the Little Tigers took a 4-2 record into the 2011 portion of their schedule.

Graham started the new year with a bang scoring two goals in an 11-1 rout of Nottingham and then exploding for a career game, tallying all five goals in a 5-4 win over Notre Dame.

Graham kept up his torrid scoring through the remainder of the regular season, helping PHS go 14-4 and earning the No. 2 seed going into the Mercer County Tournament.

In the MCT, Graham totaled six points on two goals and four assists in the first two rounds to help PHS make its second straight trip to the title game where it faced No. 5 Notre Dame.

With PHS shooting for its first county crown since 2005, Graham’s playmaking made a big difference as he assisted on all four goals in a 4-1 victory over the Fighting Irish.

Graham was determined to do whatever it took to help PHS prevail. “I got a few shots off and I saw that the best play to make was passing,” said Graham.

“Before the game, we realized that we had to come out strong and play a good defensive game. We couldn’t have any letdowns and we tried to play a full 45 minutes.”

A week later, Graham was at it again when PHS faced Bernards in its first appearance in the state tournament since the 2006-07 season. With PHS trailing 3-1 early in the third period, Graham led a dramatic rally, scoring one goal and assisting on two other goals as the Little Tigers pulled out a 4-3 overtime victory.

While PHS fell 5-2 to Middletown South in the next round to end the season at 18-5, Campbell had no doubt that Graham stood among the elite in the state’s hockey scene.

“Fraser’s playmaking abilities are unparalleled,” said Campbell of Graham, who finished the season with a team-high 68 points on 27 goals and 41 assists.

“He is the best player in the county and I’d say he is one of the best players in the state. He is so smart and obviously very talented.”

For providing singular skills in helping PHS win the county crown and make it back to the state tournament, Graham is the choice as the Town Topics top male performer of the winter high school season.

Top Female Performer

As Mika Ryan took the helm of the Princeton Day School girls’ basketball program, she quickly discerned the dominant personality trait possessed by junior guard Janie Smukler.

“Janie has to be one of the most competitive people I have ever been around,” said Ryan. “A lot of times the coaches want to win more than the players but Janie might want to win more than anybody.”

Smukler’s competitive fire helped the Panthers get out of the gate with an 11-4 record. Along the way, Smukler had big games in wins over the likes of Lawrenceville, Hun, Pennington, St. Patrick, and Springside (Pa.).

For Smukler, who passed the 1,000-point mark in her career in January, her consistent production was combined with a new take-charge attitude that sprang, in part, from helping the PDS girls’ soccer team win the Prep B title this past fall.

“I am a captain this year so I have more of a leadership role,” said Smukler.

“I have to speak more on the court; I have to focus on being a leader and playing at the same time which is a lot harder. Soccer prepared me to be more of a leader.”

Smukler’s leadership became even more crucial later in January when PDS junior forward Sarah Godwin was sidelined with a season-ending knee injury.

While the Panthers could have sputtered without the versatile Godwin, Smukler shouldered more of the load for the Panthers as she helped the squad to an impressive postseason run.

In the Mercer County Tournament, Smukler sparked the eighth-seeded Panthers to the semifinals, scoring 27 points in a 51-33 opening round win over Robbinsville and then pouring in 24 as PDS topped Hopewell Valley 60-44 in the quarters. Smukler scored 14 in the semis as PDS battled Trenton hard before succumbing 40-23.

Smukler helped the Panthers get one step further in the state Prep B tourney, scoring 21 to help PDS outlast Montclair Kimberley 41-34 in the semis.

In the title game at Rutgers Prep, Smukler scored a game-high 19 points but it wasn’t enough as the Panthers fell 59-36 to the powerful Argonauts to end the winter with a 16-9 record.

While Smukler was disappointed by the loss, she was proud of how the Panthers competed to the end.

“I am so proud of our team,” said Smukler, who averaged a team-high 19.2 points a game and was first on the Panthers in assists (61) and steals (59) and second in rebounds (110). “With Sarah getting injured, it was tough but we really stuck through it. We worked really hard. We didn’t give up. We kept playing.”

Providing the competitive fire and production that helped PDS fight to the final buzzer earns Smukler the nod as the top female performer of the winter season.

Top Newcomers

Will Stange is used to being the precocious newcomer on the local swimming scene.

As a six-year-old in his first season with the Community Park Bluefish, Stange emerged as a star after procuring a pair of goggles and going undefeated the rest of the summer.

Stange adapted quickly to club swimming, becoming a stalwart for the Princeton Piranhas, qualifying for national competitions.

This winter, Stange joined the Princeton High boys’ swimming team and made an immediate impact. He established himself as a middle-lane swimmer by the first meet and posted wins in the 200 freestyle, 500 free, and 100 backstroke.

For Stange, joining the Little Tigers was something he had been looking forward to for a while.

“I was pretty excited going into it,” said Stange. “Over the summer I was pretty psyched up hearing all about it and that we are going to have a strong team this year.”

From the team’s first meet, Stange felt a comfort level. “I wasn’t nervous, I had just gotten back from a really big club meet,” said Stange, reflecting on his debut for the Little Tigers on December 3 in a win over Hamilton High.

“I know we are all going to have fast swims throughout the season and drop time.”

The strong contributions of Stange and fellow freshmen Peter Kalibat, Scott Purdy, and Scott MacKenzie helped give PHS the depth to go undefeated in regular season dual meets.

Stange kept rolling in the postseason, placing first in the 200 free and second in the 100 back to help PHS cruise to the county crown as it piled up 338 points, well ahead of the 193 scored by runner-up and three-time defending champion Notre Dame.

In the state tournament, Stange was a force, winning the 500 free and taking second in the 200 free in the Central Jersey Public B sectional final as PHS routed Ocean 112-58. Days later in the state semis, Stange was even better, winning the 200 free and 400 free as PHS topped Haddonfield 92-78 to reach the state title meet.

Stange took thirds in the 200 and 500 free in the state championship meet but it was not enough as the Little Tigers fell 90-80 to Scotch Plains Fanwood.

Hand was thrilled with what Stange and his classmates added to the squad all winter long.

“I am just happy about what genuinely straight forward nice guys that they are,” said Hand of his freshmen standouts.

“They seem to care about what it means to be on a team. I know they have a lot of talent. They are clearly contributing to the team; they are showing a lot of enthusiasm.”

For making a contribution that helped PHS advance to a state championship meet, Stange is the pick as the top male newcomer this winter.

As Princeton Day School girls’ hockey head coach Kat Smithson looked ahead to the 2010-11, she thought the addition of newcomer goalie Daisy Mase could make a difference for the Panthers.

“Daisy’s work ethic is undeniably one of her strongest points,” said Smithson.

“She is an extremely talented player, she also has the ability to communicate with her defensemen and forwards. She knows where to be. She brings an aura of confidence and a ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude.”

Sophomore Mase proved her worth in the early going, sparkling between the pipes as the Panthers got off to a 2-0-1 start, giving up just six goals in those three contests.

After helping the Panthers go 9-5-4 in regular season action, Mase saved her best for last in the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) ‘B’ Bracket playoffs.

Looking sharp from the opening faceoff to the final whistle, Mase gave up only one goal on the weekend as PDS blanked Shady Side (Pa.) 2-0 in the semis and then edged Hill 2-1 in the ‘B’ title game. She ended the season with a .914 save percentage and gave up just 40 goals all winter, earning honorable mention All-WIHLMA honors.

For Smithson, the title was an important step for the program. “We haven’t done that since Gretchen [assistant coach Gretchen Jaeckel] and I have been here,” said Smithson. “In the past, it was hard to keep their heads in it. The girls stayed focused this year.”

The focus that Mase provided in goal in helping the Panthers win a title makes her the choice as the top female newcomer of the winter season.

Top Coaches

The Princeton High boys’ hockey team entered the winter with two overriding goals — winning a county title and making a trip to the state tournament.

Buoyed by an underdog run to the county title game in 2009-10 and boasting a battle-tested group of veterans, PHS head coach Tim Campbell saw those goals as realistic even though the Tigers had ended the previous season at a 9-10-3 campaign even with their MCT heroics.

“The potential is endless,” asserted Campbell. “This is the first time we have had a full roster and every single player I dress will see ice time. They need to be consistent and play hard for 45 minutes. I have been looking forward to this season since the last whistle of the final game last year.”

Across town, the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team and head coach Scott Bertoli set their sights set on ending a drought in the state Prep playoff which had seen the proud program going without a title since 2006.

“The preps are something we haven’t won in four or five years; the senior class really wants it,” said Bertoli.

“With the success of our soccer teams this fall, there is also a little internal competition because everyone is friends.”

In February, things came together for both squads as they made their tournament dreams a reality.

PHS entered the MCT at 14-4 and seeded No. 2 and proceeded to mow through the competition. The Little Tigers topped WW/P-N and Hopewell Valley on the way to the title game where they beat Notre Dame 4-1.

A week later, PHS produced some drama as they hosted Bernards in their first state tourney appearance since the 2006-07 season.

Trailing 3-1 entering the third period, the Little Tigers rallied for a 4-3 overtime win. PHS’s state run ended two days later when it fell 5-2 to eventual state finalist Middletown South to end the winter with a sparkling 18-5 record.

In reflecting on the county crown, Campbell was proud of the character his team displayed in achieving that goal.

“It is always special to win the county but to go to a title game two years in a row is a great achievement,” asserted Campbell, noting that the program went 4-17 in his debut season in 2007-08.

“Some coaches never get to a final once. It is so difficult to get back to a title game two years in a row; it shows tenacity and mental discipline. We went through six tough teams in those tournaments.”

Meanwhile, the Panthers played their best hockey of the season in the state Prep tournament.

The third-seeded Panthers topped No. 6 Pennington 3-1 to open the competition. Facing perennial power and second-seeded Morristown-Beard in the semis, PDS produced a superb effort as it blanked the Crimson 4-0.

In the title game, PDS faced its stiffest challenge, hosting defending champion and top-seeded Pingry, which had already topped the Panthers 6-4 in regular season play.

Rising to the occasion, the Panthers overcame an early 1-0 deficit to pull out a thrilling 4-2 victory.

For Bertoli, the significance of the win went beyond regaining the Prep crown.

“What is satisfying is beating two very good teams, two perennial top 10 programs,” said Bertoli, whose team was upset by Notre Dame in the MCT semis and ended the winter at 16-9-1.

“The kids will appreciate the fact that it is the Prep championship. All I talk about is quality wins and beating good teams. In the last three weeks we have done that. We have won eight games in a row; we beat some quality programs. For me, it is enjoyable to sit back and watch good hockey.”

Since Campbell and Bertoli both guided their teams to benchmark achievements for their programs, they share the honor as the top coach of a male team this winter.

There is no question that Greg Hand did a superb job coaching the PHS boys’ swimming team.

Blessed with a core of junior standouts and an infusion of talent from some gifted freshmen, PHS went undefeated in regular season action and cruised to the county and Public B Central Jersey sectional title.

The Little Tigers topped Haddonfield in the Public B state semis and then suffered their only loss of the season as they fell to Scotch Plains Fanwood in the state championship meet.

But while Hand did an impressive job in guiding the boys to within points of a state crown, his work with the PHS girls’ squad stood as a masterful example of doing more with less.

While the team featured three bona fide stars in sophomores Serena Deardorff, Jen Enos, and Marisa Giglio, the rest of the lineup was cobbled together from a workmanlike supporting cast.

The team was swamped in a regular season meet by powerful WW/P-S and finished a respectable but not spectacular fourth in the county meet.

The Little Tigers, though, produced some spectacular work in the Public B state tournament. PHS cruised past Ocean Township and Lawrence High to qualify for the sectional finals and an expected nailbiter with Manasquan.

Getting season-best efforts all over the pool, PHS produced its top performance of the season as it cruised to an 106-64 win over the Warriors.

For Hand, the sectional title culminated an unlikely run for his spirited if not overly talented squad.

“We came in not thinking we would win as many dual meets as we did,” said Hand, whose team fell to Chatham on the Public B semis.

“I thought we had a great run in January when the tough part of our schedule came. We had five tough ones one after the other leading up to a pretty good showing in the counties. We did a really nice job in states; the Manasquan meet certainly highlighted the year because it was something they had to go and grab and they showed a ton of character.”

For squeezing the most out of his girls’ squad, Hand is the choice as the top coach of a female program this winter.

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