Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 13
 
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
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TEAM PLAYER: Hun School senior forward Emily Gratch looks for a teammate in action this season. Gratch’s leadership and basketball skills helped Hun to a 19-8 mark and the title games of both the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) and state Prep A tournaments.

Hun Hoops Star Gratch, PDS Goalie Jabs Get Nod as Town Topics’ Top Winter Stars

Bill Alden

Some athletes pay lip service to the notion of team first but not Emily Gratch.

The senior forward for the Hun School girls’ basketball team did whatever the Raiders needed this winter, whether it was a big shot, a deft pass, a pat on the back, or stacking up the chairs after a home game to clean the gym.

A starter from the day she walked into Hun in 2004, Gratch saved her best for last this winter as she concluded her glittering career in style.

The Lehigh-bound Gratch scored a team-high 17.0 points a game to lead Hun to a 19-8 mark and the title games of both the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) and state Prep A tournaments.

Gratch’s leadership and basketball skills came in handy as she helped Hun rebound from a five-game losing streak in the middle of the season. With Gratch keeping a cool head and providing some hot shooting, Hun reeled off 12 straight wins coming into MAPL title game.

Gratch ended her career with more than 1,550 points, the second-most in program behind only Courtney Tierney.

And while Gratch’s career ended on a disappointing note as the Raiders fell to Peddie in the Prep A championship game, that didn’t take away from the bonds she formed with her teammates.

“It’s not like I try to be a leader; I just have so much fun with the girls,” asserted Gratch, who helped Hun go 84-24 in her career.

“On and off the court, we are best friends. I will do anything for the girls; I am there for them for anything.”

Hun head coach Bill Holup admires all the things that Gratch did for the Raiders in her four years.

“It’s unbelievable what she has meant to the program,” said Holup, who calls Gratch the best player he has coached during his tenure with the program.

“We know that she can score. When she draws double and triple teams, she’ll dish it off to somebody that’s open. The rebounding is always there, as is her defense. She will even handle the ball when we need it. We really look to her.”

Off the court, Gratch and her classmates set a special tone. “They are not just talented basketball players, they are tremendous people,” asserted Holup, referring to his group of seniors. “The rest of us are better people for having gotten to know them.”

For providing talent and character in leading Hun to new heights, Gratch is the choice as the Town Topics’ top female performer of the high school winter season.

Top Male Performer

Coming into the winter, Princeton Day School boys’ ice hockey coach Scott Bertoli acknowledged that his team was thin in numbers.

With two main lines and four key defensemen, Bertoli knew that the team couldn’t afford any bad luck.

But the injury bug hit the Panthers as star defenseman Erik Donovan, junior forward Max Popkin, and high-scoring forward Mike Darrar were all sidelined at various points this season.

Dealing with such adversity, it would have been understandable if the undermanned Panthers had folded.

With PDS forced to rely on goalie Nick Jabs to hold the fort, the junior played like a man as the Panthers put together a superb campaign.

In the state Prep tournament semifinals, Jabs was sharp as he stifled Pennington in a 7-2 win.

Against high-powered Morristown-Beard in the Prep title game, Jabs stood on his head for the first two periods of the contest. Repelling one rush after another, Jabs made 27 saves in the first two periods as the teams skated to a scoreless tie.

While Jabs couldn’t hold off the Crimson single-handedly as they broke through in the third period, he ended up with 34 saves in the 4-0 loss.

In reflecting on his performance, Jabs knew that he was carrying a heavy burden for the Panthers. “Coming into the game coach asked me if I was ready to make 30 or 40 saves and I said ‘yeah,’” recalled Jabs. “It started in warm-ups; I felt good. I went out there and after the first couple of shots, it just started to click.”

Bertoli, for his part, made no bones about Jabs’ contribution. “Let’s be honest, if it wasn’t for Nick it could have been two or three to nothing in each period,” said Bertoli, reflecting on his goaltender’s stellar effort.

Jabs’ performance against Mo-Beard, however, was just the prelude to the remarkable run he put together in the Mercer County Tournament (MCT).

With the Panthers making their return to the competition after a hiatus of several years, Jabs emerged as the star of the MCT. He posted shutouts in three straight games as the seventh-seeded Panthers topped No. 10 Pennington 3-0, second-seeded Notre Dame 2-0, and 14th-seeded Hun 1-0 to reach the title game.

In the championship game, Jabs held fourth-seeded Hopewell Valley to one goal through two periods but the short-handed Panthers ran out of gas, falling 4-2 to the Bulldogs.

While the final result was disappointing, the Panthers ended the winter with a 13-7-3, a mark they certainly would not have achieved without Jabs’ heroics between the pipes.

For being the last line of defense that held PDS together, Jabs gets the nod as the Town Topics’ top male performer of the winter season.

Top Newcomers

Amber Bowman faced an extra set of challenges as she entered her freshman season this winter with the Stuart Country Day basketball team.

In addition to getting up to speed at a higher level of basketball, Bowman had to make some personal adjustments as she got used to playing for her father, Stuart head coach Tony Bowman.

The speedy guard made a smooth transition on both counts, emerging as a star and a team player. Bowman averaged 13.4 points a game as she helped Stuart go 14-10 and reach the Prep B semifinals and the MCT quarterfinals.

In reflecting on her debut season, Bowman said playing for her father helped her excel.

“It’s fun; I don’t think of him as my dad,” said Bowman. “When he is instructing us, he’s just coach. He’s instructing us to make us better as a team.”

Coach Bowman acknowledged that there were some bumps in the road as his daughter adjusted to his on-court guidance.

“It’s sometimes difficult; she takes what I say personally because I’m dad,” said Bowman. “She’s looking at me as coach; that’s what we’re doing now. It took us a while to get that point but we are there now.”

Showing his fatherly pride, Bowman praised his daughter’s progress in her debut season

“She brings athleticism; she’s able to finish and hit the jumper,” asserted Bowman. “She is going to the basket and looking for the open player. She’s averaging four or five assists a game so that complements everything.”

The younger Bowman, for her part, enjoyed dealing with the on-court challenges she faced at the high school level.

“It’s more running; it’s more plays,” said Bowman. “I’m adjusting to it.”

For giving Stuart a consistent spark and fitting seamlessly into the team culture, the Bowman is the pick as the Town Topics’ top female newcomer of the winter season.

Skye Ettin kept an open mind as he moved up to the Princeton High varsity boys’ basketball team this season.

“I didn’t really know what to expect coming into this,” said sophomore forward Ettin.

“I tried to do what the coach told me and work really hard. I try to be as a aggressive as I could and bring as much energy as I could to the team.”

The 6’3 Ettin brought energy and production to the Little Tigers all winter long, slashing to the basket as he opened up opposing defenses.

Ettin also showed a deft touch from the outside and at the foul line as he emerged as a stalwart of a PHS team that made the state playoffs for the first time since the 2000-01 season.

He averaged 10.6 points and 7.6 rebounds a game as he helped Princeton go 12-11 this winter, a marked improvement on the 7-15 record posted in 2006-07.

PHS head coach Jason Carter appreciated what Ettin brought to the team.

“Skye has a great attitude,” said Carter. “Skye is extremely coachable. You tell him one thing and he can adjust. He’s smart; he loves basketball and he’s becoming a great basketball player.”

The fearless attitude and polished game displayed by Ettin in his debut campaign make him the choice as the Town Topics’ top male newcomer of the winter season.

Top Coaches

As she took the helm of the Princeton Day School girls’ basketball team, Jessica Katz exuded confidence.

“I’m looking for a winning season; that’s not an unrealistic goal,” maintained Katz.

“I think we are going to surprise some people. It’s a different team from last year; we have an inside presence. We are going to have to play smart, hard defense. We have to keep moving the ball and make sure to get all five players involved.”

Katz’s aims seemed unrealistic with the program coming off a disappointing 6-15 season.

But with the combination of hard-nosed senior guard Hannah Epstein and precocious freshman center Tiffany Patterson, the Panthers served notice early on that things were going to be different as they got off to a 4-2 start, including a rare win over Prep A foe Blair.

PDS built on that solid start, posting wins over Colonial Valley Conference squads Princeton High and Robbinsville as well as a sweet win over perennial nemesis Lawrenceville.

Earning a third-seed in the state Prep A playoffs, PDS came through with a home win over Blair to advance to the semifinals.

While PDS fell to Hun in the semis, it ended up the season with an 11-11 mark and gained new respect in local hoops circles.

Senior star Epstein credited Katz with playing a major role in the program’s reversal of fortune.

“Coach Katz has a very positive outlook on things,” said Epstein. “She is really, really focused on the basics which I think has made a huge difference for us. She came in and set the standard; we knew who was boss. But she also knows how to be our friend and have fun which makes for a really good balance.”

For utilizing a positive approach combined with a focus on fundamentals in turning PDS around, Katz is the choice as the Town Topics’ top coach among winter girls’ teams.

For the last six seasons, the goal had been the same for the Princeton High boys’ basketball team achieving the .500 record necessary to qualify for the state tournament.

But despite having plenty of talented athletes go through the program, the Little Tigers had fallen well short of that goal year after year.

This winter, former PHS star athlete Jason Carter became the latest head coach to chase that goal as he took over the team.

Carter vowed to utilize a no-nonsense approach as he looked to rebuild a program that was coming off a 7-15 campaign.

“I run a tight ship; if I say something at practice, I want them to just do it,” asserted Carter, a football, basketball, and lacrosse star at PHS who went on to play football and soccer at Rowan College.

“Our guys are going to play hard and compete in every game. We are going to play defense. We have athleticism and speed and we are going to use it.”

PHS didn’t wait long to put its athleticism and speed to use as it routed Lawrence 73-40 in the season opener.

The Little Tigers hit some bumps in the road as they lost six of their first nine games. But with the unwavering Carter at the helm, PHS caught fire as it won five straight games.

In that fifth win, PHS beat powerful Hamilton 67-63 to clinch the elusive state tournament berth. In the next week, PHS beat local rival Princeton Day School to advance to the MCT quarterfinals.

In late February, 13th-seeded PHS travelled to No. 4 Monmouth Regional to play in the opening round of the NJSIAA Group III Central Jersey sectional. Digging itself an early 8-0 hole and them falling behind by 17 points early in the second half, the Little Tigers never stopped fighting, clawing to within four points.

While PHS ended up losing the game 71-58 to end the season at 12-11, Carter was proud of what his team accomplished.

“It’s been awesome; it’s been a fun ride,” said Carter. “We had this expectation at the beginning of the season and any time you meet your goal, it’s satisfying. I’m hoping we can take it to the next level. We have a nice group of players.”

For breathing new life into the PHS program with his no-nonsense approach, Carter gets the nod as the Town Topics’ top coach among boys’ teams this winter.

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