It would have been understandable if the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team brought a sense of dread into its state Group III South sectional final matchup at perennial power Moorestown High last Thursday.
After all, Moorestown entered the game with a 22-0 record, riding a 73-game winning streak, ranked No. 1 in New Jersey and in the top 5 nationally.
But PHS head coach Kelsey O’Gorman saw the clash with the high-powered Quakers as a reward.
“It was a great opportunity for us,” said O’Gorman. “You know that if you are going up against Moorestown in the states that you are having a great season. We wanted to at least reach the same game that we reached last year and we made it to the sectional final again. We were excited to take them on and see that level of lacrosse.”
While Moorestown showed that it was at a higher level than PHS as it posted a 17-5 win, O’Gorman had no qualms with her team’s performance.
“We were excited to show our talent and I think we did,” said O’Gorman, who got three goals from Gabby Gibbon in the defeat with Emilia Lopez-Ona adding a goal and an assist with Allie Callaway chipping in a goal. “We didn’t slow down and we played to the end.”
With a final record of 17-4, the Little Tigers showed a lot this spring. “I couldn’t be happier with the way the girls played and conducted themselves,” said O’Gorman.
“They were a well rounded team and a class act. They followed the lessons I tried to instill and they gave 100 percent all of the time and you can’t ask for more than that. We finished strong, we were a force to be reckoned with.”
One of PHS’s strongest efforts this spring came against Notre Dame in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals as the Little Tigers avenged a 15-10 regular season loss to the Irish.
“The win over Notre Dame in the county semis was a highlight,” recalled O’Gorman of the 19-9 triumph over the Irish.
“The girls played some great lacrosse, there were very few errors. To take such a lead on a team that had beaten us early in the season and then to hold them off when they made a run was great.”
O’Gorman credited the team’s seniors with sparking its run to the MCT and sectional title games.
“The seniors were awesome, all eight of them,” asserted O’Gorman of the program’s Class of 2014 which included Emilia Lopez-Ona, Dana Smith, Liz Jacobs, Emily Young, Krysta Holman, Stephanie Hauer, Kristi DeMilt, and Taylor Chiang.
“They were very mature. They took the underclassmen under their wings. The reason we went so far this year was due to their maturity. It is going to be hard to replace these seniors. They have made an impact on the program and the coaches.”
Penn-bound Lopez-Ona made an indelible impact on the program. “Emilia fought with all of her heart and soul,” said O’Gorman of Lopez-Ona who passed the 300-goal mark in her career in May and totaled 120 points this season on 89 goals and 31 assists.
“She lives and breathes lacrosse. She has enhanced her game over time; she has the determination to go out and practice hour after hour.”
The Little Tigers got determined play across the board from its senior group.
“Dana Smith (15 goals, 20 assists, and 81 ground balls inn 2014) had such fight, showed great fight on the ground balls,” said O’Gorman.
“Liz Jacobs (53 goals, 9 assists) has more power than any high school player I have ever seen. Taylor was such a versatile player. Steph Hauer (1 goal, 21 ground balls) and Kristi DeMilt (2 goals, 16 ground balls) knew how to keep the defense tight. This was one of the best defensive teams we have had. There were a lot of games where the defense was the MVP.”
With a solid core of returners, including juniors Gabby Gibbons (64 goals, 25 assists, 24 ground balls), Oona Ryle (8 goals, 1 assist, 37 ground balls), and Mira Shane (160 saves at goalie) along with sophomores Allie Callaway (23 goals, 1 assist) and Julia Ryan (13 goals, 8 assists, 28 ground balls), the Little Tigers figure to keep piling up the wins.
“We have a lot of great players coming back,” said O’Gorman. “Gabby and Allie work well together, they have big shoes to fill on offense. Ryle and Lis will go on our face-off unit. Mira is our backbone, she is great at communicating and directing our defense.”
PHS will need to keep showing backbone in the future to build on the success it experienced this spring.
“I think that they know that there are going to be challenges along the way and with hard work they can be really successful,” said O’Gorman, referring to her returning players.
“We didn’t let the early losses to North (WW/P-N) and Notre Dame set the tone. We knew we had a lot to offer. We brought it up to a new level for Princeton lacrosse.”