Whitney Hayes focused on soccer as a grade schooler but he found a new sporting love by middle school.
“I played soccer a lot as a kid,” said Hayes. “In seventh grade I stopped playing travel soccer and switched to the lacrosse side, playing on select teams.”
Entering Princeton High in 1998, Hayes decided not to put all of his eggs in one basket, playing soccer as well as lacrosse. That move paved the way for one of the most decorated two-sports careers in PHS history.
As a soccer player, Hayes scored 26 goals and had 16 assists over his career, getting honored as a two-time All-State and three-time All-CVC performer.
On the lacrosse field, Hayes set a new standard, scoring a school-record 397 career points on 169 goals and 228 assists. He was a two-time All-American, a three-time All-State performer, and the N.J. Attackman of the Year.
This Saturday, Hayes’ excellence on two fronts is being recognized when he will be inducted into the Princeton High Athletics Hall of Fame as part of its eighth class of honorees.
Joining Hayes in the class will be John Friel ’36, August Friel ’37, Joseph Friel ’38, Tom Friel ’50, Rich Volz ’67, Craig Rendall ’76, Patricia Dinella McMillan ’82, Lamont Fletcher Jr. ’82, Alec Hoke ’83, coach Frank Francisco, and the 1966 boys’ track and field team.
Hayes, for his part, was surprised to get the call to the PHS Hall of Fame. “I thought it was for a crowning achievement for a person, I thought I was too young to be a part of it,” said Hayes, 30. “It is great to be asked.”
In assessing his PHS career, Hayes acknowledged that he was not a great soccer player.
“I didn’t play varsity until I was a sophomore,” recalled Hayes. “In freshman year, I dressed for a few games at the end and got exposed to it. For me, the challenge was a skill level. I was a much better athlete than a soccer player. I could run with everybody but couldn’t always finish. I had to work harder to make more chances.”
Hayes enjoyed working with PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe. “Wayne was a tremendous coach,” said Hayes, who also relished the chance to play with older brother Dixon in both soccer and lacrosse.
“He was very much a players’ coach. He developed them as people as much as players. He listened to the leadership on the team. It was not just about being a successful team; he made it fun. He adapted strategy to the team that he had.”
In lacrosse, Hayes enjoyed success from the beginning, working his way into the starting lineup as a freshman.
“It was a step up in competition but I have always enjoyed that,” said Hayes. “I wanted to play against the better players. I had played with guys on the weekends and in their yards so I knew them.”
PHS did well against some of the better teams in the state during Hayes’ career. “My sophomore year, we ran the table in the regular season and lost to the eventual champion Delbarton in the playoffs,” said Hayes.
“My next year we beat the No. 1 seed AL Johnson in the tournament and coach [Peter] Stanton broke his hand celebrating.”
Like Sutcliffe, Stanton had a big influence on Hayes. “Coach Stanton was fantastic, he has a strong personality that you can’t help but like,” added Hayes.
“Like Wayne, he was interested in your development as a person. If you scored 10 goals but were a jerk to your teammates, the latter was something that he would focus on as being more important. He was a great mentor.”
Stanton, for his part, lauds Hayes’ special on-field focus. “Whit has remarkable awareness,” said Stanton. “Lacrosse is a one-on-one game but on the offensive side it is six guys against seven guys and he had a sense of playing the game within the game.”
Hayes’ game sense resulted in an understated style. “He made the game look so easy; he would get five goals and it would look so smooth and easy,” said Stanton of the 5’10, 175-pound Hayes.
“He had the gifts of perception, timing, and awareness. Those are skills that are virtually impossible to teach. They are innate gifts. He made his teammates better.”
In developing his gifts, Hayes utilized a fierce competitiveness. “He was exceptionally tough and I know how hard he worked at it,” said Stanton. “I saw him do the most amazing things on our Saturday practices when he was going full speed and he didn’t have to do that as our best player.”
That work paid off as Hayes went on to star for the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team, helping the Tigers reach the NCAA Final 4 in 2004 and tallying 69 points on 32 goals and 37 assists in his Tiger career.
“It was great to be home for college, that enabled people I knew to see me,” said Hayes, who graduated from Princeton in 2007 with a degree in politics and a finance certificate.
“My parents came to every game. I got to play with both of my brothers [Dixon and younger brother Sam]. I was sure I would have at least three fans at the home games with my parents and Peter. I grew up watching games on the soccer and lacrosse fields at Princeton and I thought that was a higher level so it was great to play on those fields in college.”
Stanton certainly enjoyed watching his former star excel at the college level. “It’s funny, Bill Tierney [former Princeton University coach] said Whitney was one of the biggest surprises he had in his career,” said Stanton.
“He was unheralded as a recruit. I was really happy to see him get the chance to play at Princeton. I know it was a dream come true for him.”
It is no surprise to Stanton that Hayes is achieving another dream this Saturday with the Hall of Fame honor.
“The Hall of Fame is for a select few; from the years I coached, he is the first person I would put in,” said Stanton.
“He was outstanding for four years. He did some awesome things. He still holds the school career record for points. When he graduated, he held New Jersey records for career assists and assists in a season.”
For Hayes, it is an awesome feeling to be singled out as a Hall of Famer. “There have been a lot of tremendous people who have gone through Princeton High and to be considered along with them is an honor,” said Hayes.
As Hayes reflects on going through PHS, he considers the bonds he made with his peers to be one of the lasting benefits of his high school experience. “I got to know a lot of great people; I developed friendships that I have to this day,” said Hayes, who currently works as an investment baker in New York City for UBS.
“Some of my best friends in the world are the guys I went with to Princeton High. I have been in their weddings and I still see them. It is something that lasts a lifetime.”
And having produced a once in a lifetime PHS career, it is fitting that Hayes is being recognized this Saturday as one of the best athletes in school history.