March 20, 2019

Overcoming String of Injuries, Shaky Start, PDS Girls’ Hockey Produced Strong Finish

DOWN PAT: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey player Julie Patterson controls the puck in a game this season. Senior star forward and team captain Patterson led PDS in scoring with 37 points on 25 goals and 12 assists, helping the Panthers post a 12-12 final record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Things didn’t look very promising for the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team is it headed into winter break in December.

PDS brought a 2-6 record into the holidays, hampered by a string of injuries to key players.

With the goal of a winning season appearing out of reach, the Panthers went back to basics.

“We just tried each week to work on little things that we wanted get better at and using the games as guides to how did we do with those things,” said PDS head coach Lorna Cook.

“For the most part, I think we were pretty happy with our progress. We started playing a lot better and got our game together at the end of the year.”

The squad’s attention to detail paid off as it went 10-6 in last 16 games to end up with a 12-12 record and showed that progress with some stirring postseason efforts. The Panther fought fought valiantly in state Prep semis before losing 3-2 to Morristown-Beard and then edged Holton Arms 2-1 in the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) Miran Division semis before  falling 3-0 to Rye Country Day (N.Y.) in the final.

In Cook’s view, the team’s performance against Mo-Beard was a highlight of the winter.

“In my opinion, it was our best game of the season,” maintained Cook, whose team build a 2-1 lead in the second period against the Crimson before yielding two unanswered goals in the period.

“I think we really focused a lot on just putting together our best effort at the right time. With our team it makes a big difference who is out. It was rough going for a while. We had a lot of young players who got opportunities that way. We were really excited to have everybody healthy for that game. We had a great third period, their goalie played really well for them.”

The injury bug hit when the Panthers faced Holton Arms in the WIHLMA contest as sophomore star Hailey Wexler was a late scratch but they persevered in pulling out the victory.

“We had to make adjust quickly and count on our players to step up and they did that in the Holton game,” said Cook.

Senior star forward and team captain Julie Patterson stepped up throughout the winter and her career as a four-year star for the program.

“It is obviously going to be a big hole to fill for next year; she is just a physical presence on the ice,” said Cook of Patterson who led PDS in scoring with 37 points on 25 goals and 12 assists and will be continuing her hockey career next winter at Wilkes University.

“She just wants to score. She has the drive to do whatever it takes to put the puck into the net when you are in a tough spot like that Holton game. She buried two for us and got us the win. Those are things that are going to be hard to replace. We are hopeful that she left her mark on the younger players and they are going to be able to figure out how they can fill that role as well.”

The squad’s other seniors, Sasha Sindhwani, Flynn Gorman, and Bryn April, also played important roles.

“I love the senior class we have had this year, they just work so hard; they are good kids and teammates,” said Cook.

“They listen and they really try to do what we are asking of them. They find any way they can to contribute.”

The Panthers got a big contribution from the Wexler twins, goalie Jillian and forward Hailey.

“Jillian obviously is a beast in net; sometimes the team over relies on her and when that is the case, you have to come back at it and make sure that we are playing better in front of her,” said Cook.

“I think she deserves that and we are going to keep working at it. For Hailey, lacrosse is her main sport but she still brought it every day for hockey, trying to do her best. As the season went on, she was having more and more fun too and that makes a big difference.

PDS had other sophomores who made a difference in Hannah Choe, Maisie Henderson, Aaliyah Sayed, and Jules Romano.

“Hannah had a really good season for us, she stepped up too; she plays unafraid, blocks a lot of shots and is there to compete at every opportunity,” said Cook.

“Maisie played defense and forward, depending on where we needed her. She really likes playing defense now, but we had her at center because we really needed a defensive center. That is where we used her at the end of the year and I think that is why our team started picking up the pace. Aaliyah had a good year, she improved a lot. Jules has that determination of doing whatever it takes to get from point A to point B.”

Another set of twins, Caroline and Charlotte Haggerty, led a junior group which also included Ellie Schofield, Annabel Thomas, and Brianna Astbury.

“The Haggerty twins were a huge part of our success this year; Caroline really stepped up at defenseman for us, she was reliable and tough,” said Cook.

“She got better at handling the puck, creating time and space for herself. Charlotte was balancing the school play with the season so it was a little tough on her. She competes so hard every time she is on the ice. She had this inner drive to make sure that she was working as hard as possible. For Ellie, it is not just the speed she brings, it is her compete level. She loves to backcheck, she wants to get that puck back. She understands how important it is to have possession. Annabel had a great year for us too; she had to step up when we were missing people on our trip to Maryland and played really well. It was a bummer how early she got hurt. Bri keeps improving; I love seeing how her soccer sense translates on the ice. She is improving her skill set and the more she does that, the more she is able to contribute.”

One of the team’s newcomers, freshman Natalie Celso, showed marked progress this season.

“Natalie had to come up huge for us down in Maryland as far as what she was able to do on the ice for us,” said Cook, noting that the squad’s other freshmen, Becca Wilner, Courtney Richter, Lizzie Thomas, and Franny Gallagher all made strides this winter. “She stepped up that weekend and kept going from there. She improved tremendously over the season and I am excited to see what she can do next year.”

Cook is excited to see more development in the PDS program, which has historically featured a mix of veteran hockey players and athletic neophytes.

“The way we approach it is that we welcome new players and we do things together as a team,” said Cook.

“But we also do things that are separate so that they have to keep working on their skills.”