(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
Taylor Vickers-Annis didn't start his final spring with the Princeton High boys' lacrosse team in the manner in which he envisioned.
The star defender tore ligaments in his left shoulder while snowboarding prior to the season, sidelining him until mid-April.
Vickers-Annis was rusty upon his return, struggling to get his footwork back in sync as he did the rehab work necessary to get his shoulder back to full strength.
Last Wednesday in a game at Peddie, Vickers-Annis showed that he is just about 100 percent as he helped spearhead a defense that held the Falcons scoreless in the first half and then scored his first goal of the season in the fourth period as the Little Tigers breezed to an 11-4 victory.
Afterward, Vickers-Annis was happy with the defensive unit's collective effort. "We came out pretty strong," said Vickers-Annis. "In the beginning of the season, it took us a while to settle. I felt like we looked pretty good. Sometimes we had trouble in transition; we did a pretty good job of it today."
The Little Tigers' defensive corps which features such veterans as Jesse Mostoller, Casey Rahn, Chad Pinto, and star goalie Sam Finnell in addition to Vickers-Annis, has developed a special bond on the field.
"We're really tight," explained Vickers- Annis. "This is our second full year together. We're really close; it's easy for us to work together. We know where everyone is."
Vickers-Annis feels that his game is tightening up the more action he has seen this spring. "I'm feeling a lot better; it was really sore in the beginning," recalled Vickers-Annis.
"The biggest thing that hurt me was not being able to run and stay in shape. When I came back, it wasn't my shoulder that was so bad, it was my feet; they weren't there and it wasn't second nature. The last three games, I'm really starting to feel like it's coming back."
Vickers- Annis, who will be playing for Rutgers next season, is dedicated to getting the fundamentals of his position to be second nature.
"I'm always working on getting the basics more solid," said Vickers-Annis. "Position defense is most important; if I don't have good position, I can't throw checks. I also work on my throwing, catching, ground ball; all the basics."
PHS head coach Peter Stanton likes the way his defense has mastered the fundamentals.
"That's been the strength of our team all year," said Stanton, referring to his defense which came up big again as the Little Tigers beat Hun 10-7 last Monday to improve to 14-1.
"There are some times when we are clicking offensively and there are times where we are throwing the ball away. The defense is the steady unit throughout."
Having Vickers-Annis back in form has been a steadying force for the PHS defense. "Missing the time that he did, he lost his footwork and timing," said Stanton. "That takes practice and repetitions; he's getting that back now, for sure."
The PHS offense needs to get its timing down on a more consistent basis. "We're trying to hold them to a high level," said Stanton. "We can't throw the ball away and have those kind of mistakes; we have to reduce them as much as possible."
The Little Tigers have high aspirations this spring. "We want to contend for a state championship," asserted Stanton, whose team clinched the CVC title with its 13-7 win over Notre Dame on May 8 and will find out its state tournament assignment later this week. "After next week, the pressure will keep increasing; if you lose a game, your season is over. In those close games, possession matters."
In Stanton's view, his club has developed a chemistry which should help them come through when it matters. "I told the guys that I've never seen a team that's been able to come back from 5-0, 4-1, 7-3 in the same season," said Stanton. "It's a matter of team cohesion. I told the guys that's what's going to keep us together through the tough times."
Vickers-Annis, for one, believes that PHS has what it takes to get through the tough games it will face in the state tourney. "I think we can really go deep in the state tournament; I'd love to win it all," maintained Vickers-Annis.
"This is the closest team we've had in my four years here. We're all together; we hang out all the time. There is a lot of talent on this team. I think we can still get better; I feel like we're getting better every game."
And with Vickers-Annis getting more in sync each game, his final PHS lax spring could end in a memorable fashion.
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