With his Princeton High girls’ basketball team bringing a winless record into its game last Friday against Hightstown, Dan Van Hise threw down the gauntlet to his players.
“I went into the locker room before the game and said ‘girls this is it, I am expecting this one to be our first win,’” said first-year PHS head coach Van Hise.
“I don’t like to put pressure on them but I decided to handle this one differently.”
PHS handled the pressure with aplomb as it pulled out a 44-38 victory to get into the win column. Showing that nothing good comes easy, the Little Tigers had to hit six free throws in the last minute of regulation to overcome the Rams.
“We were up three in the last minute,” recalled Van Hise.
“Haley Bodden played great, she was rebounding well and playing aggressively. She got fouled and hit both to give us a five-point lead. They hit a 3-pointer and got within two. There were 25 seconds left and we knew they were going to foul and they fouled Catherine Curran-Groome and she hit two to put us up four. They missed a 3-pointer and Mary Sutton got fouled and hit two free throws to clinch it.”
For Van Hise, getting the first win as a head coach was a relief.
“I couldn’t take enough deep breaths and I could finally relax,” said Van Hise.
“You try and try and you get to finally exhale. Collectively we all could exhale. The girls were really excited.”
The girls actually helped Van Hise keep his cool in the frenetic waning moments of the contest.
“They were confident in the last minute, and they kept me calm,” said Van Hise, who got 12 points apiece in the victory from junior star Sutton and sophomore standout Julia Ryan.
“I was telling Clarence [assistant coach Clarence White] I didn’t think our first win would come in a close game in the last minute. I thought it would be a game that we won by 10 or 12. It was nice to see them hold it together and show that composure.”
A day later, the Little Tigers put together another nice effort as they gave perennial power Trenton a scare before losing 39-32 and dropping to 1-13.
“We should have won that game, we were up four points going into the fourth quarter,” said Van Hise.
“We had held them to 21 points through three quarters. We got in a lot of foul trouble in the fourth quarter. We have tried to play Bryanna Blue and Liz Jacobs together as much as we can and that was the best that they did together.”
Van Hise and his players are confident that their best basketball is ahead of them as the season heads into the homestretch.
“After the Hopewell loss [on January 28] I was searching for motivation and I told them we have seven games left and I asked them to write down on a piece of paper how many wins they thought we could get over the rest of the season,” said Van Hise, whose team plays at Princeton Day School on February 5 and at Nottingham on February 7 before hosting Hamilton on February 11.
“I told them to be realistic. I told them I would come up with the average number and that would be our goal. They came in at just below five so I made five the goal.”