PHS Track’s Wildberg, Girls’ Lax Star Lopez-Ona Earn the Nod as Town Topics’ Spring Standouts
WILD FINISH: Princeton High boys’ track senior star Nils Wildberg displays the medal he earned for winning the inaugural NJSIAA Indoor Meet of Champions Long Jump Showcase in February. The Dartmouth College-bound Wildberg enjoyed a big spring season for the Tigers. He culminated his PHS career by making history at the New Balance National Championships in Greensboro, N.C., leaping to personal best of 24’ 3.5, good for a school and Mercer County all-time record as he earned All-America status.
By Bill Alden
Nils Wildberg ended the winter track season by making history.
Despite being hampered by a nagging knee injury, the Princeton High senior placed first in the inaugural NJSIAA Indoor Meet of Champions Long Jump Showcase in late February, becoming the first PHS individual state champion in 36 years, joining Peter Sharpless (two titles – outdoor high jump 1980 and 1981) and Stephen Fletcher (four titles – 55 hurdles indoors and 110 hurdles outdoors in both 1982 and 1983) as the only three boys athletes to ever achieve a state crown.
“You have to be in that right mindset for success,” said Wildberg, reflecting on his title.
“I jumped surprisingly well for training that little. That day I guess I was just mentally strong. I had worked extra hard the fall and the beginning of winter and knew I’d have a chance to take the title indoors. I guess you could say I was bouncing off the walls.”
PHS associate head coach Ben Samara credited Wildberg’s title to his will to win.
“To not have the training and practice time in, I was very concerned about rust, but he has an incredible determination to get things done,” said Samara.
“He wanted to be state champion. He was determined to get it done and he did.
Displaying that determination, Wildberg was able to build on that momentum once the spring rolled around, excelling in the sprints as well as the long jump.
At the Mercer County Championships, Wildberg won the long jump. Two weeks later, Wildberg starred at the Group 4 Central Jersey sectional meet, winning the long jump and taking second in both the 100 and 200-meter dashes.
“Nils is getting ready to do some big things. If we are going to win the group meet, it is going to be on his back,” said Samara after the sectional.
“He had the eighth fastest 100 time in the state and the fifth fastest 100 time in the state, not to mention what he does in the long jump. He has blossomed into an all-around stud.”
While PHS fell one point short of the team title at the state Group 4 meet as host Franklin scored 44 points and the Tigers getting 43, Wildberg did some big things. He won the long jump with a personal best of 23’11 and took fourth in both the 100 and 200 meters.
At the Meet of Champions, Wildberg fell short of his high standards, placing second in the long jump with a leap of 22’ 6 in a competition that was contested on a sub-varsity runway into a headwind.
Undaunted, the Dartmouth College-bound Wildberg ended his PHS career by making history at the New Balance National Championships in Greensboro, N.C., leaping to personal best of 24’ 3.5, good for a school and Mercer County all-time record as he earned All-America status.
Wildberg’s perseverance and self-belief helped pave the way to his success.
“Learning to trust yourself and at the same time, believing everything will work out for you,” said Wildberg.
When you have an injury like this, you really learn a lot about your body and yourself mentally.”
For starring in the sprints and jumps and making history in the process, Wildberg is the choice as the Town Topics’ top male performer of the spring high school season.
ON A ROLL: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Mariana Lopez-Ona races upfield in action this spring. The Michigan-bound Lopez-Ona helped PHS win the sectional title and make the MCT final on the way to an 18-3 record. Lopez-Ona ended the season with 130 points on 98 goals and 32 assists, giving her a total of 417 career points on 317 goals and 100 assists. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
Mariana Lopez-Ona will never forget this spring and her final campaign with the PHS girls’ lax program
“This has been my favorite season with a team,” said senior star midfielder Lopez-Ona. “It is such a good group of girls.”
PHS first-year head coach Meg Reilly was thrilled to have Lopez-Ona in the group.
“We have Mariana with her goal scoring skills and her defensive skills as well, a lot of times she can get an interception or cause a turnover from low defense and bring it all the way up. She is also fantastic at the draw.”
With Lopez-Ona displaying her skill set and piling up amazing stats in the process, PHS was a force from the start of the season.
The Tigers opened 2019 by routing WW/P-South 19-6 as Lopez-Ona tallied six goals and two assists. That win set the tone as the squad’s multifaceted attack rolled past one foe after another. The Tigers catapulted into the state Top 20 rankings, topping such formidable foes as Allentown (16-15 on April 11), Notre Dame (12-6 on April 8), Hunterdon Central (25-14 on April 25), and Clearview (13-11 on April 29).
Along the way, Lopez-Ona passed the 300-goal mark in her career. While she was proud of achieving that milestone, she was more focused on the team being on the same page.
“Our best games are when we all play together and when we use every single person on the field,” said Lopez-Ona.
“When we had that run, everyone was contributing and everyone was working hard. We just need to make sure that everyone is up on that level.”
In the Mercer County Tournament, PHS was seeded second and displayed that high level of play as it routed WW/P-North 20-7 and Allentown 14-8 to advance to its first county final since 2014.
Although the Tigers ended up falling to two-time defending champion and top-seeded Lawrenceville 13-7 in the championship game, Lopez-Ona was a bright spot for PHS, scoring three goals and battling hard on draws.
After that setback, Lopez-Ona was confident that the Tigers could rebound with a deep run in the state tournament.
“Everyone needs to leave it our on the field, all 11 players need to be pushing themselves to the absolute limit,” said Lopez-Ona.
“Coming into it, we know we can compete. It is making sure that we keep our level up and don’t underestimate anyone.”
Competing hard, PHS earned its second straight Central Jersey Group
4 sectional title, defeating Hightstown 17-3 and Howell 21-4 to set up a title game rematch with Rancocas Valley. Lopez-Ona came up big once again for the Tigers, dominating the draw controls and contributing three goals as PHS pulled away to a 10-5 win.
The Tigers saw their state run halted in the Group 4 semis as the fell 9-8 to Eastern to end the spring with an 18-3 record with Lopez-Ona tallying a goal and an assist in her finale.
Those two points gave the Michigan-bound Lopez-Ona 130 points on 98 goals and 32 assists this spring. As a result, she ended her unforgettable career with a total of 417 points on 317 goals and 100 assists.
Due to her glittering stats and clutch play in leading PHS to a second straight sectional crown, Lopez-Ona gets the nod as the top female performer this spring.
GATE CRASHER: Hun School baseball player Carson Applegate follows through on a swing in game this season. Freshman star outfielder Applegate hit .381 to help Hun win its fourth straight state Prep A title and post a 22-2 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
Carson Applegate was a highly touted player before he ever played an inning for the Hun School baseball team.
Joining the Hun program this spring, the precocious Applegate had already committed to attend Kentucky and play for its Division I baseball program that competes in the high-powered SEC.
Applegate lived up to the hype, batting leadoff and starting in center field, performing like a seasoned veteran from day one.
“As long as I fit into the team, whatever works best for team,” said Applegate.
“We are practicing everyday and getting better as a team, working to be the best we can.”
Proving to be one of the best players on the team, Applegate hit .381 with 24 hits, 28 runs, and 11 RBIs as he helped Hun win its fourth straight state Prep A title and post a 22-2 record.
Applegate’s older brother, former Hun star Jason Applegate, a senior pitcher for Villanova, helped the freshman aspire to do big things.
“My brother is a huge
influence on me,” said Applegate. “He always pushes me to be the best I can and I look up to him. He is my mentor.”
Hun head coach Tom Monfiletto not surprised that Applegate was an influential player in his debut campaign. “He is such a great athlete and he is aggressive,” said Monfiletto.
“With him in the one hole, you can’t relax. If you put one over when he is at bat, he is going to go after it and he is going to get on base.”
For making an immediate impact as Hun enjoyed another championship campaign, Applegate is the choice as the top male newcomer.
Even though Jaelyn Bennett was a freshman, she brought tons of experience to the Stuart Country Day School lacrosse team.
“The kid is competing, she plays year round,” said Stuart head coach Missy Bruvik.
“She is passionate about the game and she has put in a lot of time and effort to be able to do what she does out there. She has great talent, she brought great knowledge of the game to all of us and shared all of that.
Bennett’s game sense helped her emerge as a versatile performer, helping Stuart overcome a 1-4 start to finish with 6-7 record, advancing to the second round of the Mercer County Tournament and the state Prep B quarters along the way.
“Jaelyn can play pretty much anywhere on this field and she is going to contribute no matter where she is,” said Bruvik.
“She can find the back of that cage and she has got the speed to beat the defense. She was a force on attack. She scored over 40 goals and was our leading scorer.”
Bennett’s savvy and productivity make her the pick as the top female newcomer
Joe Moore knew he was filling some huge shoes as he took the helm of the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team.
Having never been a head coach, the former Syracuse men’s lax star Moore faced a challenge in succeeding Rich D’Andrea, who had guided PDS to a state Prep B title and three straight Mercer County Tournament crowns.
“I have my style that I got from Syracuse; if we can push transition, we are going to push transition,” said Moore, 30, who served as an assistant for PDS during the 2018 season.
“I tell the kids all the time that everybody on the field needs to be comfortable scoring goals. Our defenseman practice shooting, our goalies practice shooting, everybody is involved.”
The Panthers got off to a rough start, losing two of their first four games, getting defeated 13-5 at Hun in its opener and falling 15-12 to Lawrenceville in its fourth outing.
“It is going to be about how we respond to adversity, we don’t play 100 kids; we have a small number of kids so we need everybody to do their part day in, day out,” said Moore.
“The key to success for us is going to be when we hit those hard points in games or in the season in general and how we respond. I have told them a million time ‘KYP’ – know your personnel, know your teammates. It is knowing the other other guys strong points and weak points and making adjustments accordingly.”
Displaying a steady hand and upbeat approach, Moore helped the Panthers get on the winning track as they reeled off eight straight wins heading into postseason play.
In the MCT, the top-seeded Panthers rolled past PHS 18-3 and Robbinsville 17-5 on the way to the title game.
Facing second-seeded Notre Dame in the final, the Panthers found themselves trailing 6-4 at halftime, leaving rookie coach Moore a little nervous.
“I am not going to lie, I was definitely concerned,” said Moore. “We were faced with adversity. We were hoping to go out with a quick start. All of the respect to Notre Dame, they rattled us right off the bat. We had to make a lot adjustments on the fly.”
Those adjustments helped make the difference as PDS rallied to pull out a 7-6 win and a fourth straight MCT crown.
A relieved Moore was proud to extend the program’s county dominance.
“I have the ultimate respect for Rich and what he has done for this program,” said Moore, who led the Panthers to a final record of 13-3.
“It is a goal I had since I stepped into this program to continue winning the Mercer County Tournament. It is a weight off of my shoulders to get this win. It really comes down to my coaching staff and these kids. They have played their butts off all year and they deserve every piece of this.”
Reflecting on his first season, Moore relished the community feeling around the Panther program. “The thing I most like is that we are tiny and we really are a family and we play together,” said Moore. “It is a winning tradition.”
For keeping that winning tradition intact in his debut campaign at the helm of the PDS program, Moore is the top coach of a male team this spring.
For Meg Reilly, becoming the head coach of the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team was a dream job.
The 2010 PHS alumna had played field hockey, basketball, and lacrosse during her high school days and was an assistant coach for the program over the last four years
“I have always loved Princeton; I was absolutely in love with my high school experience,” said Reilly who succeeded Sara Doran.
“I got to play so many sports, sing a cappella and just do so much at once. I loved the atmosphere of PHS.”
While Reilly, a 2014 Muhlenberg grad, wasn’t seeking a promotion, she threw herself into the head coaching role.
“I wasn’t itching to do it yet but the opportunity presented itself,” said Reilly, a third-grade teacher at Riverside Elementary. “Once I got the opportunity, then I realized how much I wanted it.”
Blending some talented freshmen with a group of battle-tested veterans, Reilly had PHS on the winning track from the beginning as the Tigers posted a 14-1 regular season record.
Once postseason play rolled around, PHS kept excelling. In the Mercer County
Tournament, the Tigers defeated WW/P-North 20-7 and Allentown 14-8 to make its first trip to the final since 2014.
“This team truly loves each other,” said Reilly, after the win over Allentown in the county semi.
“We still have the cohesive unit that powers us through it very time. They truly believe in each other, they trust each other. That is all that matters, that is the biggest thing for us.”
The Tigers ended up falling to two-time defending champion and top-seeded Lawrenceville 13-7 in the championship game but rebounded with a run to the program’s second straight Central Jersey Group 4 sectional title.
“It is amazing; the girls have worked so hard,” said Reilly in the wake of PHS’ 10-5 win over Rancocas Valley in the sectional final.
“They know each other’s strengths even better, they set each other up better. The more time we have together, the better we get. These six seniors (Serena Bolitho, Kathryn DeMilt, Megan Mavoides, Morgan Mavoides, Olivia Intartaglia, and Mariana Lopez-Ona) are so special, I never want this season to end.”
While the season ended with a heartbreaking 9-8 loss to Eastern in the state Group 4 semis, Reilly was thrilled with how her girls fought to the end.
“I am proud of the way they play together as a team, 18-3 is an incredible record,” said Reilly. “They never stop hustling.”
Bringing an incredible school spirit to her new role and inspiring her players to never quit, Reilly gets the nod as the top coach of a female team.