June 18, 2014

PHS Lacrosse Senior Standouts Halliday, Lopez-Ona Get the Nod as Town Topics’ Top Spring Performers

LATE SHOW: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse player Kevin Halliday heads upfield in action this spring. Senior midfielder Halliday’s late-game heroics helped PHS edge Allentown 11-10 in overtime to win its second straight Mercer County Tournament championship. Halliday scored the tying goal in the waning seconds of regulation and then tallied the game-winner in overtime. The Tufts-bound Halliday had 54 goals and 19 assists in his final campaign as PHS posted a record of 16-4.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LATE SHOW: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse player Kevin Halliday heads upfield in action this spring. Senior midfielder Halliday’s late-game heroics helped PHS edge Allentown 11-10 in overtime to win its second straight Mercer County Tournament championship. Halliday scored the tying goal in the waning seconds of regulation and then tallied the game-winner in overtime. The Tufts-bound Halliday had 54 goals and 19 assists in his final campaign as PHS posted a record of 16-4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Kevin Halliday isn’t one to give up easily.

With the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team trailing Allentown 10-9 with seconds remaining in the second half of the Mercer County Tournament championship game, PHS senior midfielder Halliday visualized a happy ending.

“When I came over to the wing, I was like oh god if I could get a goal right here, it would be a highlight play,” said Halliday.

The ball came to Halliday’s side and he scooped it up and sprinted to the goal and made the highlight play he envisioned, burying the ball in the back of the net with 4.1 seconds left to knot the game at 10-10 and force overtime.

“I wasn’t expecting it to happen; it bounced out and I got the ball,” said a smiling Halliday.

“There was one guy, I saw the time and I thought it is now or never. I went to the goal and luckily I was able to get by the other guy and get it in the net.”

Moments later, Halliday got another good bounce as he gathered in the ball on the overtime face-off and fired in the game-winning tally 10 seconds into the extra session.

Having committed to attend Tufts University and play for its men’s soccer team, Halliday brought a special sense of urgency this spring to the lacrosse field.

“This is it for me in lacrosse,” said Halliday. “I had fantasies of maybe trying out for the team at Tufts. I thought that would be fun but I think it is time that I focus on soccer. I have to choose one by the time I am in college. I will still love lacrosse. I will still play it when I am back here.”

Halliday had a lot of fun this spring, tallying 54 goals and 19 assists as PHS advanced to the Group III sectional semis and posted a final record of 16-4.

PHS head coach Peter Stanton credited Halliday with making a major contribution to the team’s success.

“Kevin is fantastic,” asserted Stanton. “He has the things that you can’t coach — the quickness, the change of direction, creativity, and vision. He is just a special athlete.”

For Halliday, the special camaraderie the Little Tigers developed this spring may have been the most memorable thing about his final lax campaign.

“Our coach (PHS head coach Peter Stanton) has been saying all year that this is one of the best teams he has coached,” said Halliday.

“We are so close; in every practice, everyone is working together. It is competitive; defense versus offense but it’s all good.”

For being one of the best players in the area and competing to the end, Halliday is the choice as the Town Topics top male performer of the spring season.

Top Female Performer

When Emilia Lopez-Ona started her career with the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team in the spring of 2011, she didn’t have records on her mind.

Instead, she was simply looking to get the most out of her ability. “Part of the beauty of the sport is in terms of the growth and the ability of someone to improve,” said Lopez-Ona.

“The sport allows for people to make rapid transitions throughout their career. I know that I have watched a lot of the younger players on our team raise the level of their games.”

Lopez-Ona, though, took her game to an incredibly high level, hitting the 300-goal mark in her career with a 6-goal performance in a 14-10 win over Allentown on April 24.

The game was stopped and the PHS players mobbed Lopez-Ona, waving posters and posing for photos.

“I am glad I scored it here at home; my dad was able to see it, he missed my 100th because he was coming back from a business trip,” said Lopez-Ona, who is heading to Penn where she will play for its women’s lacrosse program.

“It means a lot that my teammates would do that; they were truly happy for me. Watching them do that for me, it feels really nice.”

While Lopez-Ona possesses true athletic gifts in terms of speed and coordination, PHS head coach Kelsey O’Gorman points to diligence as the key ingredient in the midfielder’s success.

“It didn’t come easy; she works really hard,” said O’Gorman. “Those 300 goals came from coming out here when no one is on the turf with a bag of balls and shooting nonstop. She has worked hard for this milestone. I am really proud of her; it is phenomenal to coach a player like her.”

Lopez-Ona ended up producing a phenomenal spring, scoring 89 goals and getting 31 assists as the Little Tigers went 17-4 on the way to advancing to the MCT championship game and the finals of the state Group III South sectional.

Noting that the Little Tigers started the season with two losses in their first three games, Lopez-Ona liked the way PHS improved collectively as the spring went on.

“When we do need to make changes as a team, we can control the tempo and the possessions in the middle of the game to gather ourselves,” said Lopez-Ona. “That shows a lot of maturity.”

O’Gorman, for her part, credited Lopez-Ona with being the catalyst that drove the PHS team.

“Emilia fought with all of her heart and soul,” said O’Gorman. “She lives and breathes lacrosse. She has enhanced her game over time.”

Lopez-Ona’s blend of competitive fire and skill earns her the nod as the top female performer this spring.

Top Newcomers

After pitching ace Ben Gross was sidelined this spring by arm problems, things looked bleak for the PHS baseball team.

Little Tiger head coach Dave Roberts, though, had a feeling that sophomore Joaquin Hernandez-Burt could help fill the void in his debut season at the varsity level. “He is a sophomore but he is big and he has some velocity,” said Roberts when assessing Hernandez-Burt in March.

The precocious sophomore turned out to be a big plus for the Little Tigers, emerging not only as the team’s ace but one of the top pitchers in the area. Hernandez-Burt posted a 5-4 record for a 9-14 PHS squad. He posted a sparkling 2.25 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings pitched.

By the end of the spring, Roberts credited Hernandez-Burt with playing a pivotal role as the Little Tigers made their first appearance in the state tournament since 2001.

“Joaquin has been tremendous all year, he has been dominant on the mound,” said Roberts.

“He’s been our absolute workhorse; every single outing he had would qualify as a quality start. He has two shutouts; he’s been awesome on the mound.”

Hernandez-Burt’s stellar mound work makes him the pick as the top male newcomer of the spring.

Kathy Quirk wasn’t sure if Julie Fassl would be around the Hun School this spring for her freshman season on the softball team.

“I will tell you that the first couple of weeks in field hockey with her were brutal,” said Quirk of Fassl, who was transferring into Hun. “She said ‘I can’t stay here, this isn’t for me, I miss my high school friends.’ I really thought we were going to lose her.”

Fassl stayed at Hun and emerged as a valuable contributor for the field hockey team.

In the spring, she was a star for the softball team from day one, starting at catcher and hitting third in the Hun batting order. She provided superb defense behind the plate all spring long and was a reliable producer offensively.

“Fassl really stepped up, she was the only player in our lineup who didn’t have a strikeout this year,” said Quirk.

“She ended up making All-MAPL (Mid-Atlantic Prep League) and All-Prep as a freshman catcher. I had coaches saying to me after games that she is the real deal.”

For stepping up in such impressive fashion, Fassl is the selection for top female newcomer.

Top Coaches

Before the spring even started, Rob Tuckman knew he would be savoring this season with the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team.

Last fall, PDS head coach Tuckman announced that he would be retiring from coaching after the 2014 campaign.

Coming into the season, Tuckman had the sense that the Panthers were poised for big things as he looked ahead to his eighth season at the helm of the program.

“If we stay healthy, we can make runs,” asserted Tuckman. “We want to hang banners. We are going for the state Prep B title and the county championship.”

Featuring a potent offense and a stingy defense, PDS started the season with a 9-1 run, including wins over such formidable foes as Voorhees, Rutgers Prep, Peddie, and Somerville.

The Panthers started the postseason by overcoming an 8-2 halftime deficit to edge Montclair Kimberly 11-10 in the Prep B semis and then rolled to a 15-2 win over New Egypt in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament.

After stubbing its toe with a 5-4 loss to Notre Dame in the MCT quarters, PDS finished the season by hosting defending champion Rutgers Prep two days later in the Prep B title game.

The Panthers were primed to prevail in Tuckman’s finale. “They were hyped up for it, especially coming off of Saturday,” said Tuckman. “It made it all about just this game and they were able to really focus on it.”

Showing that focus, PDS jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the title game. After Rutgers Prep knotted the contest at 5-5 early in the second half, the Panthers produced a decisive 5-1 run on the way to a 10-8 win and the program’s first Prep crown since 1996.

To make things sweeter for Tuckman, his son, sophomore midfielder, Jonah, contributed three goals and two assists to help trigger the triumph which left the Panthers with a final record of 13-3.

As Tuckman reflected on the afternoon with his players hugging each other and posing for photos nearby, he couldn’t think of a happier ending.

“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.”

For ending things with a bang, Tuckman gets the nod as the top coach of a male program.

After falling to WW/P-N and Notre Dame in the first week of the season, the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team could have suffered a crisis of confidence.

“We didn’t let the early losses to North (WW/P-N) and Notre Dame set the tone,” said PHS head coach Kelsey O’Gorman. “We knew we had a lot to offer.”

Indeed, the Little Tigers reeled off a 13-game winning streak, avenging the defeat to Notre Dame by beating the Irish 19-9 in the Mercer County Tournament semis.

After dropping a 13-11 nailbiter to WW/P-N in the MCT championship game, PHS won three straight games in the state tournament, outscoring its foes 48-24, in advancing to the Group III South sectional title game.

While the Little Tigers fell 17-5 to the powerful Quakers, O’Gorman was proud of how her players acquitted themselves.

“We were excited to show our talent and I think we did,” said O’Gorman, whose team posted a final record of 17-4. “We didn’t slow down and we played to the end. We brought it up to a new level for Princeton lacrosse.”

O’Gorman’s role in getting PHS to a higher level earned her the nod as the top coach of a female team this spring.