Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 12
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
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RETURN ENGAGEMENT: Princeton High senior swimmer Sean MacKenzie displays his breaststroke form. After taking a hiatus from the team last winter to devote his efforts to club swimming, MacKenzie made a triumphant return to the Little Tigers this season. The Columbia-bound MacKenzie was the outstanding male swimmer at the Mercer County Championships and then led PHS to the Public B Central Jersey sectional title.

PHS Swimmer MacKenzie, Stuart’s Lewis Get Nod as Town Topics’ Top Winter Stars

Bill Alden

It was a run of the mill early season meet when the Princeton High boys’ swimming team hosted Hamilton in early January.

With PHS boasting another solid squad, there was no drama surrounding the final result as they competed against struggling Hamilton.

But as the swimmers lined up for the 200 freestyle, shouts of “Sean, Sean” started ringing through the John Witherspoon Middle School pool.

The yells were for senior Sean MacKenzie, who was making his first appearance for PHS since 2007.

The Columbia-bound MacKenzie, who had not competed for PHS in the 2007-08 season in order to devote his efforts to club swimming, made a triumphant return as he breezed to victory in that 200 free race.

“I missed it so much; it feels like I never left,” said MacKenzie, in reflecting on the Hamilton meet. “Things feel the same again, it was just like old times.”

MacKenzie’s return triggered a lot of good times for the Little Tigers the rest of the season.

At the Mercer County Championships, MacKenzie won the 200-meter individual medley and the 400 freestyle, getting named as the meet’s outstanding male swimmer for the second time in his career. His heroics helped PHS finish third in the team standings at the meet.

Coming into the Public B state tournament, MacKenzie came down with a severe cold. As a result, MacKenzie was limited to just one individual race in the top-seeded Little Tigers’ first round win over No. 8 Rumson-Fair Haven and its sectional semifinal win over No. 4 Lawrence.

In the sectional final against third-seeded Ocean Township, MacKenzie put in a full day’s work. Despite coughing loudly on the deck at the North Brunswick High pool, MacKenzie won the 100 butterfly and the 500 free.

In addition he helped the Little Tigers to wins in the 200 medley relay and the 400 free relay as PHS took the sectional crown with a convincing 99-71 victory.

MacKenzie kept rolling in the Public B state semis, winning the 200 individual medley and 100 fly as PHS fell 103-67 to powerful Mountain Lakes.

The defeat in the final meet didn’t dim the MacKenzie’s joy in returning to the PHS squad.

“I am definitely glad I came back, this is why I came back,” said MacKenzie.

“I missed this, the first two years were great. This definitely tops it off. I just feel like these guys have done everything they needed to do at the right time and it was good to be part of it.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand was glad to have MacKenzie as part of his squad.

“He has always swum so hard for us,” said Hand. “He is an incredible relay swimmer as well as individual performer. He is completely there for the team and we were just so happy he was with us this season.”

For making a triumphant return that resulted in glory at the country meet and a sectional title, MacKenzie is the choice as the Town Topics’ top male performer of the winter high school season.

SH: Top Female Performer

Playing against arch rival Princeton Day School in the opening round of the state Prep B tournament, the Stuart Country Day basketball team found itself trailing 21-18 at halftime.

But as the Tartans hit the court for the second half, it became clear that junior star guard Diamond Lewis wasn’t about to let Stuart lose.

Displaying her sprinter’s speed and competitive fire, Lewis raced through and around the Panthers, pouring in a game-high 29 points as Stuart rallied for a 48-44 win.

“We were definitely fired up; we knew we had to win this game, no ifs, ands or buts,” said Lewis afterward. “We had to come out hard; we should not have lost last week. We were determined to win tonight.”

Days later, ninth-seeded Stuart fell behind 28-16 to No. 8 WW/P-N after one quarter in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament.

Once again, Lewis took Stuart on her shoulders. This time, Lewis scored 26 points, including the game-tying free throw in regulation, as the Tartans pulled out a 63-55 overtime win.

While Stuart fell in the Prep B semis and the MCT quarters, Lewis continually put a rise in the opposition as the Tartans finished with a 14-10 record.

Lewis posted glittering statistics this winter, averaging 18.9 points, 3.2 assists, and 3.7 steals a game on the season. She also made history as she passed the 1,000 point mark in a late January win over Hightstown.

Stuart head coach Tony Bowman certainly appreciated what Lewis brought to the table for his team.

“Diamond made a difference,” said Bowman after the win over PDS in the Prep B tourney.

“She’s a leader; that’s what she is supposed to do. She picked up the pace when everybody else was a tad slow. She dribbled inside and hit Amber [Bowman]for 3s. Those are the things that good point guards do and that’s what she did today.”

The combination of her dynamic play and leadership earns Lewis the nod at the Town Topics top female performer this winter.

SH: Top Newcomers

The Princeton High wrestling program has struggled to win dual meets in recent years.

This winter, the Little Tigers fought valiantly but could only manage a 4-16 record.

But while the program had trouble getting into the win column, freshman Damien Freeman piled up victory after victory.

Wrestling at 125 pounds, Freeman turned heads when he took third in his weight class at the Mercer County Tournament.

Freeman kept rolling at the District 17 Tournament as he took third to qualify for the Region V tournament at Hunterdon Central and a shot at the Meet of Champions in Atlantic City.

Although Freeman didn’t advance to Atlantic City as he fell in the quarterfinals to end with a 25-8 individual record, he marked himself as a potential future champion.

For emerging as a bright spot in a rough season for the Little Tigers, Freemen is the choice as the top male newcomer of the winter season.

This past fall, Janie Smukler didn’t take long to make a big impression for the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team.

The precocious freshman striker scored two goals in the first 10 minutes during PDS’ season-opening 5-1 win over Hill.

Proving that wasn’t beginner’s luck, Smukler led the Panthers in scoring as they went on to win the state Prep B title.

Starting her PDS girls’ basketball career this winter, it seemed improbable that Smukler could match her soccer feats.

But Panther hoops head coach Jessica Katz maintained that basketball was actually Smukler’s best sport.

“Janie is really quick,” said Katz. “She is not a soccer player playing basketball; she is a basketball player. She sees the floor well; she can pass and has a good shot.”

The freshman point guard went out and lived up to her coach’s scouting report.

Showing a cool head in handling the ball and a hot hand when it came to shooting, Smukler was a star player for the Panthers from the opening tip of the season.

She ended the winter averaging a team-high 16.8 points a game as the Panthers went 9-8.

Smukler’s production and maturity earn her the nod as the top female newcomer of the winter season.

SH: Top Coaches

Taking the helm of the Princeton High boys’ basketball team in the 2007-08 season, Jason Carter immediately injected some life into a moribund program.

The 1996 PHS alum helped his alma mater go from 7-15 to 12-11 as the program earned its first trip to the state tournament since 2001.

Carter’s superb debut, though, was just the opening act for the drama to come this winter.

Pushing a quartet of veteran stars in DeQuan Holman, Brian Dunlap, A. J. Dowers and Skye Ettin and getting the most out of his supporting cast, Carter molded PHS into one of the powers in local hoops circles.

The Little Tigers won the CVC’s Patriot Division title and advanced to the semifinals of the Mercer County Tournament.

In the state tournament, a gritty PHS squad emerged as road warriors, turning heads with a dramatic run in the Group III Central Jersey sectional.

The fifth-seeded Little Tigers won at No. 4 Point Pleasant in the sectional quarterfinals and then stunned top-seeded Monmouth Regional on its court in the sectional semis.

As the Little Tigers took the floor at Franklin High to face No. 3 Neptune in the sectional title game, the team has attracted a legion of supporters from students to parents to alums to townies.

Senior guard Dunlap relished the support sparked by the team’s success as it made it to the sectional final for the first time since 1994.

“Everybody came into this year knowing that it might be something special; there is no doubt that this school hasn’t seen something like this in a long time,” asserted Dunlap. “It is great to see the fan support.”

While PHS ended up falling 72-44 to Neptune in the title game to end the winter at 18-7, the defeat couldn’t diminish the team’s accomplishments and impact on the community.

“I told coach Karim [Shahid Abdul-Karim] that the win on Saturday changed our lives,” said Carter, referring to the thrilling 55-46 victory over Monmouth Regional.

“It changed these kids lives because something like that is so monumental. People value kids that can go out there and win. It’s not about the win, it’s about the courage that it takes to go out there and compete. People value that.”

For giving his players the courage to make a thrilling tournament run, Carter is the pick as the top coach of a male team this winter.

A lot of tears were shed last February when the Hun School girls’ basketball team said goodbye to its group of seniors after falling to Peddie in the state Prep A title game.

With current Lehigh player Emily Gratch setting the pace with 1,585 career points, that class led the Raiders to four straight Prep A title games and an overall record of 84-24.

Coming into this winter, Hun head coach Bill Holup faced a major challenge as he dealt with life after Gratch and her productive classmates.

Holup, though, challenged his players by putting together a schedule designed to harden them for the playoffs.

Playing some of the best teams on the east coast, the Raiders ended up posting wins over such powerful programs as Archbishop Carroll (Washington, D.C.), St. Francis Academy (Md.), and Eastern High.

Along the way, Holup posted the 200th win of his coaching career, which saw him guide Stuart Country Day before coming to Hun 10 seasons ago.

Hun ended up in the Prep A title game against Peddie and took a 44-40 lead over the Falcons into the fourth quarter. Running out of gas, the Raiders fell 64-53 to the 13-time champs.

But in the process, Hun’s battle-tested team, which featured Arielle Collins, Cara Fiori, Meg Rigous, Jah-Leah Ellis, and Cyndra Couch, proved it had the mettle to compete with anyone.

Holup enjoyed the ride as his veterans showed they had learned a lot through their tears after last year’s finale.

“They followed the steps from last year’s senior class,” asserted Holup, whose team went 20-7.

“The effort, the attitude and the spirit that they have is so positive, they are so much fun to be around. Obviously it helped with the talent they brought but I enjoyed the fact that they are great kids and that is really important to me.”

For guiding those kids to a great season, Holup is the choice as the top coach among female teams this winter.

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