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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
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FINISHING KICK: Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse senior star Hannah Epstein heads to goal last Thursday on her way to four goals in a 15-10 win over Stuart Country Day in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals. Last Saturday, Epstein chipped in two goals and an assist but it wasn’t enough as third-seeded PDS fell 14-9 to No. 1 Hopewell Valley in the MCT championship game. The Middlebury-bound Epstein ended her senior season with 91 points on 59 goals and 32 assists.

Senior Leader Epstein Battles to the End as PDS Girls’ Lax Falls to HoVal in MCT

Bill Alden

Things didn’t look good for the Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse team as it found itself trailing top-seeded Hopewell Valley 9-5 coming into the second half of the Mercer County Tournament championship game last Saturday.

But PDS’ gritty senior star Hannah Epstein wasn’t discouraged as she hit the field for the last 25 minutes of regulation at Robbinsville High.

“We just played Stuart in the semis and we watched them come back after we were leading 4-0,” said Epstein.

“They scored four goals in a row to make it even so we knew that was a thing we could do.”

For a while in the second half, it looked like the third-seeded Panthers could do it as they narrowed the gap to 12-9.

“We definitely came out tougher in the second half,” said Epstein. “We were going for the balls harder; we were going for the sticks more. I think everyone just realized we have 25 minutes to go and we have got to get this now or we are not going to get it.”

In the end, PDS didn’t get it as the Bulldogs held on for a 14-9 triumph, the second straight year they have bested PDS in the MCT title game.

Epstein, who scored two goals and had an assist in the second half, was determined to go out with a bang.

“I definitely felt the clock ticking away,” recalled Epstein, managing a smile.

“Even if we weren’t going to come out with a win, I wanted to finish strong and finish with a good last half of lacrosse at PDS.”

The high-scoring senior, who ended the season with 91 points on 59 goals and 32 assists, was proud of how far the Panthers came in ending up 11-7.

“It’s been leaps and bounds from the beginning,” said Epstein. “We started out with six freshmen on the team and a lot of inexperienced players. We had individuals and we definitely finished as a team. Everyone knew their role. Everyone was playing 10 times harder than they were in the beginning; we had a much tougher mentality.”

Epstein pointed to regular season wins over Stuart and Lawrenceville as key steps forward in the team’s progression.

“We always talk about how we have to feel ‘it.’ I think the first time we actually felt it as a team was when we played Stuart the first time,” said Epstein, referring to the team’s 7-4 win over the Tartans.

“I think we had some ups and downs after that and then we came back and beat Lawrenceville (8-7); that was a huge win for us. For the tournament, we just picked it up another level.”

PDS head coach Jill Thomas liked the way Epstein has taken her game to a higher level over the last four years.

“Hannah is the only four-year starter; she’s going to go to Middlebury and you are going to read about her,” said Thomas. “She’s been a great leader, a great player; she has a lot to be proud of.”

Thomas took a lot of pride in the way her team battled the powerful Bulldogs.

“That’s a great team over there; they have been No. 1 all year,” said Thomas, referring to HoVal, which improved to 17-3 with the win Saturday.

“I would like the outcome to be a little different, maybe have some different breaks and have some harder shots. I’m proud of my kids.”

The Panthers made their own breaks as they got better and better as the season went on.

“We started the week with a 19-6 win over WW/P-N; they beat us in our second game of the season on April 2,” said Thomas, who got three goals from junior Mariel Jenkins in the loss to HoVal with fellow junior Cammie Linville chipping in two. “We beat a very talented Stuart team soundly 15-10; we belonged here.”

Thomas is confident her team will be there again next season. “We only graduate three, two were on the field today,” said Thomas, referring to Epstein and Erin Burns.

“Alexa [Maher] finished two weeks ago with stress fractures. When you have a program you want it to always be able to show up; every year, year after year. We had five freshmen and two sophomores out there today so we’ll be around for a while.”

Epstein has certainly enjoyed being around the PDS program the last four years.

“I counted up my career record; it’s a miraculous number of wins,” said Epstein.

“I had the most incredible experience with the team and the people and working together. We are all best friends. We really look forward to coming to practice everyday and we just really have a good time. I’ll remember those kind of memories.”

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