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PHS Boys’ Soccer Junior Star Halliday, PDS Tennis’ Asch Earn Recognition as Town Topics’ Top Fall Performers

ABOVE THE REST: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Kevin Halliday, center, flies up for a header in action this fall. Junior forward Halliday scored 23 goals to help PHS earn a share of the state Group III title. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Kevin Halliday showed plenty of promise in his first two years with the Princeton High boys’ soccer team, providing solid play at forward.

But this fall, with PHS getting off to a rocky start as the team’s defense struggled to find its form, Halliday lifted his game to a higher level.

Utilizing his athleticism, competitiveness, and burgeoning finishing skill, Halliday became the go-to offensive star for PHS, emerging as one of the top scorers in the area in helping the Little Tigers catch fire.

Before the regular season was half over, Halliday hit the 10-goal mark, becoming the first PHS player in double figures since Andrei Spirin in the Little Tigers’ 2009 state title campaign. It was no coincidence that PHS reeled off 11 straight wins after losing two of its first three games.

Once PHS hit the state tournament, Halliday was even more deadly. He scored a goal in a 4-3 opening
round win over Jackson Liberty and then scored the game winner in a 2-1 overtime triumph over Middletown South in the sectional semis. In the sectional title game, Halliday had one of the best games of his career, notching two goals as PHS edged top-seeded Allentown 4-3.

In the Group III semis against Moorestown, Halliday found the back of the net three minutes into the contest, setting the tone as PHS went on to a 2-0 win. The Little Tigers ended up tying Ramapo 1-1 to share the state title, the program’s first Group III crown since 2009.

In reflecting on his scoring prowess which saw him end the season with 23 goals, Halliday pointed to his experience and work ethic as key factors. “I think just being in the right place at the right time,” said Halliday.

“To be honest, I wouldn’t say that any of my goals have been beating five guys and ripping it up. It is just knowing where the pass is going, knowing where the ball is going to end, and finishing it. I think it is matter of that little bit of luck and a little bit of experience and hard work.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe lauded Halliday’s combination of skill and desire.

“First of all, he has got great technique,” maintained Sutcliffe. “His tactical awareness complements that. He is a terrific athlete and he is a great competitor. He just gets in and combines with Zach [Halliday], Aidan [Passannante], Colin [Lamb] and Jeremy [Goldsmith]. He has this great ability to read the game. I think he separates himself a little bit because of his desire and his athleticism.”

For providing the offensive production that helped spark PHS to a state title, Halliday is the choice as the Town Topics’ top male performer of the fall high school season.

Top Female Performer

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amantha Asch came into the fall with her sights set on two competitions as as she started the final campaign of her stellar career with the Princeton Day School girls’ tennis team.

First, she wanted to win her fourth straight Mercer County Tournament singles title and help the Panthers repeat as team champions.

Then she wanted to end her PDS career with a bang by taking the Prep B title at first singles and leading the squad to the team title at the tourney.

Displaying her skill and focus, Asch did everything in her power to achieve those goals.

At the MCT in early October, she marched to the first singles title, not dropping a set on the way to the crown. In so doing, she put herself in elite company as one of the select few players to ever win four straight singles titles at the event. Asch won the second singles crown as a freshman and then took the first singles title the next three years.

“I think I have gotten a lot stronger since last year and I have more power,” said Asch, reflecting on the development of her game. “I have gotten bigger and my serve has gotten a lot better.”

While Asch was proud of her undefeated MCT record, she didn’t leave Mercer County Park totally happy about the competition as PDS fell short of the team title, finishing fifth in the team standings.

“I am a little disappointed that we didn’t get the team title because I feel like our team was even better going into this year,” said Asch. “That is the way it goes but I am still really happy about it.”

Noting that the Panthers were hungry for the Prep B crown, Asch wrote a happy ending to her career in late October. Asch didn’t lose a set on the way to the title at first singles and PDS outdueled Morristown-Beard for the team title as freshman Renee Karchere-Sun won at second singles and the first doubles pair of Charlotte Zaininger and Mary Atkeson prevailed in their flight.

Asch ended the season undefeated and lost just two matches over her PDS career.

In the view of PDS head coach Ed Tseng, though, Asch brought a lot more than just wins to the Panther program.

“The thing I will remember is the leadership she brings to the younger players,” said Tseng of Asch, who will be continuing her tennis career at Wake Forest University.

“For her senior project, she organized a tennis charity event for Eden and raised more than $10,000. Helping the community like that is more important than all of her wins. She has a great work ethic. She doesn’t want to miss a day. She loves it and she is putting in the time; that is a pretty great combination.”

For culminating her brilliant PDS career with county and Prep titles, Asch gets the nod as the Town Topics’ top female performer this fall.

Top Newcomers

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hen John Woodside gathered his Princeton high boys’ cross country runners together before the season, he emphasized that he was looking for a team effort and that different runners would step up at different times as needed.

Sophomore Jacob Rist took the coach’s message to heart as he made the move up to the PHS varsity squad.

Hitting his stride in postseason competition, Rist took 11th at the Mercer County Championships as PHS ended up second in the team standings. He followed that by taking 12th at the Central Jersey Group III sectional meet, helping the Little Tigers to their second straight team crown at the meet.

Rist capped his breakout season with a 51st place finish at the state Group III meet as PHS placed fifth in the team standings.

In Woodside’s view, Rist’s performance in the Group meet at Holmdel Park exemplified how the sophomore standout grew as a runner this fall.

“He didn’t run on varsity as a freshman; he has improved dramatically in a year,” asserted Woodside.

“For a sophomore, he ran a savvy race. He started further back on purpose in the first mile. It is tough, you want to be competitive but the first mile can eat you up. It rises 130 feet. It doesn’t hurt that he has talent. He works hard and he is very consistent.”

Rist’s emergence as a key performer for a championship PHS team makes him the choice as the top male newcomer this fall.

As Sarah Hibbert assessed her 2012 team, she made it clear that freshman Christina Rosca was destined to make an immediate impact this fall at first singles.

“Christina has a lot of experience; she has a complete repertoire of skills,” asserted Hibbert.

“She is a solid baseliner who is not afraid to go to the net. She works with private coaches outside of the team; she is always looking to get better.”

Rosca got better and better as the season on. She helped PHS to an undefeated regular season and starred at the Mercer County Tournament, taking second at first singles.

With PHS losing second singles star, Chenchen Wang, to a season-ending knee injury right before the MCT, Rosca had to come up big if PHS was going to make a deep run in the state tournament.

Displaying an all-around game and a maturity beyond her years, Rosca picked up big wins as PHS won the Central Jersey Group III sectional and then topped Moorestown 3-2 in the Group 3 state semis. Rosca won her match against Mendham in the finals but that was PHS’s sole win as it fell 4-1.

In addition to helping the Little Tigers to a brink of a state team title, Rosca advanced to the semis in the state singles tourney.

All in all, it was a memorable fall for Rosca. “I especially like playing in the state tournament and the county tournament because I play very good people,
especially in the later rounds,” said Rosca. “It has been a good experience. It has definitely been fun to be on this team.”

It was certainly fun for Hibbert to see Rosca live up to expectations. “I can’t say enough good things about her,” said Hibbert.

“She plays a lot. She works really hard; you can always count on her to give 100 percent in her matches. She raises the level of play to whom she faces. She is very mature for a freshman and will be a great player for us in the future.”

For producing a great debut campaign and coming up big when it mattered most, Rosca is the top female newcomer of the fall season.

Top Coaches

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fter having not lost a regular season game over the three campaigns from 2009-11, the Princeton High boys’ soccer team got off to a rough start this fall.

The proud PHS program dropped two of its first three games, falling 2-1 to Allentown in overtime on September 10 and then getting edged 2-1 by Hightstown two days later.

But longtime head coach Wayne Sutcliffe was not concerned. “I am not discouraged at all,” said Sutcliffe after the loss to Hightstown. “We don’t like dropping games but our best soccer, without a doubt, is in front of us.”

With junior striker Kevin Halliday emerging as one of the top scorers in the area and the PHS defense stiffening up, the Little Tigers started playing some very good soccer as it reeled off 10 straight wins heading into the Mercer County Tournament.

After topping Trenton in the opening round of the MCT, PHS suffered a lopsided 4-0 loss to eventual champion Pennington in the county quarters.

While Sutcliffe and his players were bitterly disappointed by the result, they used the loss as motivation, redoubling their training intensity in the hiatus that followed due to Hurricane Sandy.

“We had some key injuries to key players early on in the first half and then we found our form,” said Sutcliffe.

“But then we sort of lost it a little bit. The storm, for everyone, was a challenge. We were without a game for two weeks and I am proud of the team for having the maturity and the strength to get through that and get better in that two weeks because we got better even though we didn’t play a game. We were out here everyday training.”

The Little Tigers showed their maturity in clutch situations as they won four straight one-goal games in the Central Jersey Group III sectional tourney, culminating with a dramatic 4-3 win over top-seeded Allentown in the title game as PHS earned its second straight trip to the Group III semis.

Facing a battle-tested Moorestown team coached by Sutcliffe’s brother, Mike, in the semifinal at Toms River North, the Little Tigers scored two goals in the first four minutes to set the tone in a 2-0 win. The triumph was particularly sweet since PHS had lost 2-0 to Timber Creek on the same field in the 2011 Group III semis.

By virtue of that victory, PHS earned the unenviable task of battling undefeated and defending state champion Ramapo for the Group III title. The Little Tigers trailed 1-0 at halftime but they weren’t fazed.

PHS knotted the game at 1-1 midway through the half and then the game escalated into a pulsating hand-to-hand battle with the Raiders hanging on for dear life as the Little Tigers continually pressed forward.

“I just thought that our urgency and our experience and our quality just came through in the second half,” said Sutcliffe, reflecting on his team’s rally.

While PHS ended up outshooting the Raiders 17-4 on the day, the game ended up in a 1-1 draw through 80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime with the teams being declared as co-champions under NJSIAA rules.

Although Sutcliffe felt that his team had the better of the play and should have won the crown outright, he was able to appreciate the shared title.

“It is still a state championship and I am so proud of our guys,” said Sutcliffe, whose team ended the season with an 18-3-1 record giving him 253 victories in his 17 years guiding the program.

“It has been a really demanding season with the hurricane and the injuries and the postseason. The postseason tournament was very demanding on all of us. I am so proud of them. There are 12 seniors and they gave us everything we had.”

And for being the steady hand at the helm through the rocky ride that ended up with a state crown, Sutcliffe is the choice as the top coach of a male team.

The Princeton High girls’ soccer team underwent a major changing of the guard as it entered the fall.

The Little Tigers lost five key seniors from a 2011 squad that went 10-4-4 and added 11 new faces to its roster.

“The whole 11 looks different, said PHS head coach Greg Hand. “We are a substantially different team than we were. The challenge is to find the right players and the right mix.”

In the early going, PHS had trouble mixing in its new players, starting 2-2, losing to Hopewell Valley and Robbinsville. But then the Little Tigers started to click, featuring athleticism all over the field and anchored by senior goalie Lauren Ullmann.

PHS ended the regular season at 10-2 and advanced to the Mercer County Tournament semifinals where it battled eventual champion Pennington to a scoreless draw through 80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime. While the Little Tigers ended up getting
eliminated on penalty kicks, the performance gave the team confidence going in the state tourney.

Looking sharper and sharper as the season went on, PHS outscored its foes 10-1 in the first three rounds of the Central Jersey Group III sectional on the way to the title game against Colts Neck. Locked in a scoreless stalemate at halftime, the Little Tigers went on to a 1-0 win and the program’s first sectional title.

Going against a speedy and tough Moorestown side in the Group III semis, PHS saw its run end with a 2-0 loss.

Proud of how his team battled to the end, Hand marveled at how far PHS came this fall.

“Our second half tonight was the best soccer we have played,” said Hand, whose team posted a final record of 16-3-1.

“And the fact that this team was very new, essentially reconstituted from last year’s team, and could learn so much about how to play the game on all levels, from individual through the whole team is a real exciting thing and a great accomplishment.”

Hand’s role in crafting the mix that led to a breakthrough season makes him the choice as the top coach of a female team.

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