December 6, 2017

PHS Stars Hare, Beamer; PDS Field Hockey’s Sindhwani Earn the Nod as Town Topics’ Leading Fall Performers

HIGH BEAM: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Drew Beamer controls the ball in a game this fall. Senior midfielder Beamer led PHS with 22 goals this fall, helping the Little Tigers advance to the state Group 4 title game and finish with a 17-6-1 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Will Hare was the understudy to frontrunner Alex Roth for the Princeton High boys’ cross country team in 2016 while Drew Beamer provided cover in the midfield for the PHS boys’ soccer team last season as senior stars led the way.

This fall, however, Hare shot to the front of the pack for the Little Tigers with Roth having graduated and competing at Penn while Beamer emerged as one of the top scorers in the area.

Coming into his final high school campaign, Hare was ready to take a leading role.

“I knew I needed to step up big time, not just on the course but as a leader,” said Hare.

Hare placed first in the opening CVC meet and kept on winning all fall.

A major highlight came on late October when he took first individually in the Boys’ Varsity race at the Mercer County Championships, covering the 5,000-meter course at Thompson. Park in Jamesburg in a time of 15:46.22. Hare’s heroics helped PHS win its second straight team title at the event.

In reflecting on the triumph, Hare acknowledged that had some butterflies in his stomach before the race.

“I was a little nervous last night and I was talking to my best friend, former and future teammate Alex Roth,” said senior Hare, who is following in Roth’s footsteps by committing to attend Penn and compete for its cross country and track program.

“He won this race last year and he was like don’t worry about it, you are going to win this race. It meant a lot; it gave me a big boost.”

Two weeks later, Hare returned to Thompson Park for the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional and placed first in 15:39.00 to lead the way as the Little Tigers won team title by a razor thin margin, compiling a score of 67, one point better than runner-up WW/P-South.

At the state Group 4 meet at Holmdel Park, Hare did it again, taking first in 16:01 as the Little Tigers placed second in  the team standings and qualified for the Meet of Champions (MOC).

While PHS ended up falling short of defending its MOC title in the meet at Holmdel, Hare excelled, placed fourth overall in a time of 15:55.00.

Hare went on to take fourth at the NXN Northeast Regional at Bowdoin Park in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. and qualify for the NXN National Championships in Portland, Ore. where he ended his brilliant campaign by taking 103rd of 199 runners.

In the view of  PHS head coach Jim Smirk, Hare has left a special mark on the program.

“Will has decided that it is not enough just to be fast but he has got to be at the top and he has to be a champion,” said Smirk.

“That is how he is racing, that is how he is winning. He is not flashy, he is not that guy you watch for him and go ‘oh man look how smooth he is.’ He is that one that you look at and say, ‘that kid is powerful, look at how he races, look at the intensity, the drive, the focus.’ That is what he is bringing to our team.”

Likewise, Beamer entered the fall primed to raise his game as he was moved to an attacking central midfielder spot.

“I think it is lot of that (being moved up) and I think it is a lot of better endurance, I can make more runs,” said Beamer in reflecting on his scoring surge. “I have gotten a bit taller.”

Finding himself in the middle of the attack, Beamer stood tall, starting the season with two goals in a 5-1 win over Steinert

That performance set the tone as the lanky Beamer repeatedly scored key goals for the Little Tigers

“I was in the right place at the right time for most of them, that is all I can ask for,” said Beamer, reflecting on his scoring surge. “We have done a lot of work to get in the right spots.

In the state tournament, Beamer kept us his good work as the Little Tigers won their first ever Central Jersey title at the Group 4 level after having been moved up from Group 3.

In the state opener, Beamer tallied three goals as PHS cruised to a 5-0 win over Middletown South. In the sectional final against top-seeded and defending state champion Hunterdon Central, Beamer tallied the game-winning goal as PHS prevailed 1-0 in overtime.

The Little Tigers then edged Washington Township 1-0 in the Group 4 semis to advance to the championship game. In the final against powerhouse Kearny, Beamer scored one last goal, tallying in the second half as PHS fell 3-1 to the undefeated and second-ranked Kardinals.

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe was not surprised that Beamer came through in the state title game.

“It is so fitting that Drew got one tonight to pull out it to 2-1,” said Sutcliffe of Beamer, who ended the fall with 22 goals and no other teammate having more than five. “He is the engine of the team. He is absolutely fantastic and he proved it tonight.”

For Beamer, while scoring the goals was nice, it is the memories of winning with his teammates that will leave the most indelible memories.

“It is the good times we had after the wins; the bus rides home after the good wins,” said Beamer, who has committed to attend Wheaton College (Illinois) and play for its men’s soccer program.

“I don’t think anyone really ever expected this so we were just going with it as it came; I think that was the best part. We didn’t do as well as we wanted to in the regular season so we didn’t try to prove anything but we did come out here and do a good job.”

For going from understudies to being pivotal performers in championship campaigns, Hare and Beamer share the honor as the Town Topics top male performer of the fall season.

Top Female Performer

Sasha Sindhwani put in a lot of work to ensure that she would be a go-to player for the Princeton Day School field hockey team this fall.

“This season has been about conditioning, skills were developed outside,” said Sindhwani. “I play for the Princeton Field Hockey Club.”

Sindhwani started the 2017 campaign with a bang, tallying a goal and an assist in a season-opening 6-0 win over Stuart Country Day on September 7 and then contributing two goals and an assist a day later in a 6-0 win over South Hunterdon.

“We have all been here for quite a while now,” said Sindhwani, reflecting on the team’s hot start. “We all join as a team; it is not separate groups. We just have each other’s backs and I think that is really working for us.”

Sindhwani’s offensive prowess helped PDS go 10-4 in regular season play and then advance to the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals and the state Prep B title game.

PDS head coach Heather Farlow credited Sindhwani for triggering the attack.

“Sasha has been outstanding,” said Farlow of Sindhwani who had a team-high 24 goals and added five assists as the Panthers finished the fall at 12-6. “She is playing very confidently and we are trying to give her positive strokes. We are really super pleased with how she is doing.”

For translating her hard work into a breakthrough campaign, Sindhwani gets the nod as the top female performer this fall.

Top Newcomers

It didn’t appear that Nick Petruso was destined to make any impact for the PHS boys’ soccer team on 2017.

Freshman Petruso started the fall on the program’s freshman squad and was later moved up to the junior varsity team.

By October, the precocious Petruso was called up to the varsity. “At first practices were hard; I didn’t know any of the players, they didn’t know me,” said Petruso.

“When I started playing a few games, I would sit on bench and then each game, I would get more and more time.”

Realizing that Petruso could get the ball into the back of the net, his varsity teammates started looking for him in the box. “They motivate me; they get me the ball,” said Petruso.

The highlight of Petruso’s debut campaign came when he scored two second half goals to help third-seeded PHS defeat second-seeded Monroe 2-1 in the Central Jersey Group 4 semifinals. The Little Tigers went on to win the sectional title and advance to the state Group 4 tittle game

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe praised Petruso for having a major impact on the squad.

“Nick helps everybody else raise their level,” said Sutcliffe of Petruso, who also scored a goal on PHS’ 2-1 win over Long Branch in the second round of the sectional and ended up with four goals in his month on varsity.

“If a young player is performing like that even the senior most of the higher level players has to do better.”

Petruso’s clutch play down the stretch after his midseason promotion makes him the choice as the top male newcomer of the fall.

In assessing his Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team this fall, Pat Trombetta knew that his newcomers needed to grow up in a hurry.

“We are going to have to receive some major contributions from our freshman class,” said PDS head coach Trombetta, whose roster included 11 ninth-graders.

“We expect a learning curve there, but some of these players have the ability to be impact players and they are going to have to learn quickly and adapt to high school soccer.”

Freshman forward Kelly Beal was up to the task, showing an ability to finish around the goal that sparked the Panther attack. Utilizing pace and skill, Beal ended up leading PDS with 11 goals and eight assists as the team shared the state Prep B title with Montclair-Kimberley, giving the program five straight state championships.

Beal’s freshman campaign was highlighted by a brilliant effort in the Prep B semis which saw her tally three goals in a 6-0 win over Newark Academy.

“We told Kelly to utilize her speed and a lot of times she is cutting in,” said Trombetta after the win over Newark.

“We asked to use the width and take the ball down, she has been doing a great job. She had a couple of great finishes today; she is a nice talent.”

Beal’s offensive production which helped pave the way to another Prep B title for PDS makes her the pick as the top female newcomer.

Top Coaches

Hitting some bumps in the road, it was a rocky regular season for the Princeton High boys’ soccer team.

After getting off to a 4-0-1 start, PHS struggled a bit, going through a 6-3 stretch in late September and early October.

The squad’s uneven play prompted some soul-searching.

“There were certain guys whose level, maybe at midseason, needed to get better,” said PHS head coach Sutcliffe. “We were honest with one another about that.”

In the Mercer County Tournament, the Little Tigers started to raise the level of their game, advancing to the semifinals before falling 2-1 in overtime to eventual champion Pennington.

Building on that effort, PHS caught fire in the state Group 4 Central Jersey sectional. The third-seeded Little Tigers knocked  14th-seeded Middletown South (5-0), 11th-seeded Long Branch (2-1), third-seeded and 15th-ranked Monroe (2-1) and top-seeded and No. 14 Hunterdon Central (1-0 in overtime) to earn the program’s first-ever Group 4 sectional title with PHS having ben moved up from Group 3 in 2015.

In the Group 4 semis, the Little Tigers tok down another top 20 foe, edging No. 16 Washington Township 1-0.

The squad’s marvelous run came to an end as it fell to second-ranked and undefeated Kearny 3-1 in the state final.

While Sutcliffe would have loved to add a Group 4 title to the pair of Group 3 titles he has earned in his 21-season tenure, he was thrilled with his team’s late surge.

“They really did a fantastic job in terms of raising their level, meeting the demands of it all, and believing,” said Sutcliffe, whose squad ended the fall at 17-6-1.

“These guys believed. We won five straight Group 4 games, including wins against three of the top teams in New Jersey.”

For Sutcliffe, the success in Group 4 was a landmark in the program’s proud history.

“It is a whole new level of success because we are arguably the smallest Group 4 school in the tournament,” said Sutcliffe.

“Our player pool isn’t as large, but we have so much quality. It is one of my favorite moments in my career here, the run this year, especially when we beat Monroe and then we beat Hunterdon Central and then we beat Washington Township. Just getting to this game, it is one of my favorite, most cherished moments with respect to it all.”

The steadfast leadership that Sutcliffe displayed in guiding PHS through a gauntlet of Top-20 foes to a state final earns him the nod as the top coach of a male team this fall.

When the PHS girls’ volleyball team became a varsity program five years ago, the team had trouble finding opponents for matches.

“Our first year we only played handful of games,” said PHS head coach Patty Manhart. “Our league, (the West Jersey Interscholastic Volleyball League) was just created three years ago.”

But with Manhart bringing experience as a former women’s volleyball player at Fairleigh Dickinson University and instilling the PHS players with her passion for the game, it didn’t take long for the Little Tigers to become a force in the WJIVL.

In 2015, PHS went 4-12 and then more than quadrupled its win total the next season, going 17-5 and winning the WJIVL tournament.

Coming into this fall, Manhart was confident that the program could keep progressing.

“Our starting point coming back was really solid; that comes from these girls having that experience,” said Manhart.

“This is not a rebuilding year for us. This was our baseline and we have been fine-tuning. We have progressed throughout the course of the season. We have all gotten better and we have room to grow.”

PHS produced a sizzling start, going 12-0 before falling 2-0 to Rancocas Valley. Avenging that defeat, which was the team’s only regular season loss, the Little Tigers defeated Rancocas Valley 2-0 in the WJIVL title game to earn their second straight league crown.

“That was part of the bar that they set,” said Manhart, reflecting on the title repeat.

“They knew coming back that other teams were graduating some of their good players and we were coming back with a pretty strong core. They have had their sights set on that back- to-back; I know that girls are going to be excited that they get to put another year on the banner.”

The players were excited to earn the program’s first-ever state tourney wins as the Little Tigers defeated East Orange and Monroe to advance to the state Group 4 quarterfinals.

But in a measure of how far the program has come in its five years on the varsity level, the players weren’t satisfied with that tourney run which ended when PHS fell 2-1 to Westfield in the quarters.

“It definitely feels good, it is exciting; we made it to the point of what the seeding would dictate, a fourth against a fifth, which was good,” said Manhart.

“If you ask the girls, you will hear a tone of disappointment. It would have been fun to surprise some people and that is what the girls set their sights on. They were hoping to go as far as possible.”

In reflecting on her team’s brilliant campaign, which saw it post a final record of 31-2,  Manhart hopes the disappointing finale won’t take away from what was accomplished.

“That is indicative of the girls working hard all season round and putting everything into every match,” said Manhart.

“I hope they hold onto that. Your season is more likely than not going to end in a loss but it shouldn’t take away from the overall record. I hope that is what the girls leave the season with and not let that last loss color the rest of the year.”

More important than the wins, Manhart believes her seniors are leaving the program with a deeper love of the game along with a heightened self-confidence.

“Their growth from when they started to where they are now, they all see it together,” said Manhart, reflecting on her senior group.

“During the season, Rachel [Cheng] told me she feels at the peak of her volleyball career. It is such a nice feeling to see yourself getting stronger and finally have that confidence that I am good at this, I can hang with these other teams that I respect. It is nice that they are recognizing themselves in that way.”

For putting the PHS volleyball program on the map and making such a strong impact on her players, Manhart is the choice as the top coach of a female team.