On one hand, the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team was bitterly disappointed by its 5-4 loss to Notre Dame last Saturday in the quarterfinals of the Mercer County Tournament.
But that defeat sowed the seeds for a memorable effort two days later as PDS edged perennial power Rutgers Prep 10-8 last Monday in the state Prep B championship game.
Senior goalie and tri-captain Culver Duquette said the Panthers were on a mission as they hit the turf at Jan Baker Field last Monday.
“Coming off of Saturday against Notre Dame, the first thing that coach D’Andrea (assistant coach Rich D’Andrea) said was that this game would define this team, not our season, it would show who we are as people,” said Duquette, noting that Rutgers Prep had routed PDS 16-3 in the 2013 Prep B final. “To recuperate and bring it all together for a game like this was just a treat.”
PDS head coach Rob Tuckman, who was guiding the squad for the final time after announcing his retirement from coaching last fall, saw a special sense of urgency in his players.
“They were hyped up for it, especially coming off of Saturday,” said Tuckman, whose team ended the spring with a 13-3 record. “It made it all about just this game and they were able to really focus on it.”
The Panthers didn’t waste any time showing their focus on Monday, jumping out to a 5-1 lead over Rutgers Prep.
“That was great; throughout the season we haven’t really been a first half team and we really brought it this time,” said sophomore midfielder Jonah Tuckman, the head coach’s son.
Early in the second half, though, Rutgers Prep brought out its firepower, tying the game at 5-5 with 11:05 remaining in the third quarter.
“They have got a lot of talent but we have been preaching all season long that it is game of peaks and valleys,” said the younger Tuckman.
“It was one of our valleys and they took a peak and we just knew that we had to respond in the same way and we did.”
PDS responded with a barrage of goals, producing a decisive 5-1 run to grab a 10-6 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“I think we knew we could do it so we got out there and just played with confidence and never doubted ourselves at any point,” noted Tuckman. “Our defense was putting up stops and our offense was putting the ball in the net.”
Tuckman put three balls in the back of the net himself and assisted on a fourth goal in the run.
“It was absolutely due to my teammates,” said Tuckman, reflecting on his outburst. “They happened to get me the ball and I finished it. They were just creating opportunities and I was happy to finish them.”
Duquette and the defense had to hold the fort at the finish, thwarting a furious Rutgers Prep rally.
“This whole year, any time the other team has gotten momentum it is about how we answer,” said Duquette. “Our defense has been key for that, they make my job as easy as possible. I just clean things up.”
As the final whistle blew, the PDS players all threw their gloves and sticks in the air and sprinted to mob Duquette in front of the goal.
In the view of head coach Tuckman, accomplishing the goal of a state title was sweet.
“We have been knocking on the door and this is a big one for us,” said Tuckman, reflecting on the program’s first Prep B title since 1996. “The program has been building and building.”
Building strength at both ends of the field helped the Panthers become a championship squad.
“The defense has really been the foundation of this team and it is fitting that at the end of this game, the defense had to make a hold and they did and that is what they have done all season long,” said Tuckman, who is handing the coaching reins to D’Andrea, a former star goalie at Georgetown.
“We are a six-man team on offense and we have been all season long. They didn’t focus on one, it was a team effort. Every game we had five, six, or seven scorers. I have six kids with double-digit scoring for the season.”
Duquette, for his part, credits the team’s youthful core with maturing quickly.
“We are a young team and the younger kids are stepping up,” said Duquette, reflecting on the day which saw sophomore Tuckman, freshman Will Brossman and junior Jacob Shavel all tally three goals with sophomore Connor Fletcher chipping in a goal and two assists.
“The first thing we said is that the younger kids had to understand that they could step up and have an impact right away in this program. You see that today, all of our goals are scored by juniors, sophomores, and freshmen.”
The PDS seniors made an impact by keeping the team on an even keel. “After last season and losing some of our best players because it was a great senior class, we said that nothing changes this year and that we can go further,” said Duquette, whose fellow captains are classmates Lewie Blackburn and Ben Levine with Gabe Castagna, Zack Banks, Nelson Garrymore, and Connor Bitterman rounding out the squad’s Class of 2014. “We proved that today.”
The younger Tuckman and the underclassmen were determined to stop at nothing to earn the title.
“We wanted to go out with a bang; these seniors have meant a lot to us and we wanted to give them something to remember,” said Tuckman.
“It is huge, not just for my dad, but the team hasn’t won in forever. It was great to finally get one. Timing is everything.”
For Tuckman’s dad, the win on Monday was something he will never forget.
“It is wonderful,” said Tuckman, with his voice cracking and his clothes soaked after having the water bucket dumped on him by his players in the raucous postgame celebration. “It is a great way to end my career as a head coach.”