December 4, 2019

Hun Football’s Franzoni, Stuart Field Hockey’s Mullen Earn the Nod as Town Topics’ Leading Fall Performers

IN THE ZONE: Hun School football player Ian Franzoni races up the field this fall. Senior running back and Brown commit Franzoni had a huge final campaign for the Raiders, gaining 1,178 yards rushing on 87 attempts for an average gain of 13.5 yards a carry. He ran for 12 touchdowns and also made 12 receptions for 322 yards and four TDs. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Ian Franzoni was primed to assume a leading role this fall for the Hun School football team.

After paying his dues the previous three seasons as the backup to star running back Josh Henderson, now playing for the University of North Carolina, Franzoni stepped into the starting tailback spot for the season opener at Cheshire Academy (Conn.) in early September.

In a sign of things to come, Franzoni piled up more than 300 yards total offense against Cheshire, including kick returns, rushing, and receiving as the Raiders rolled to a 44-7 win.

A week later, Franzoni showed that his opening salvo was no fluke, rushing for 275 yards and three touchdowns on nine carries in the victory as Hun routed Canada Prep 50-8.

In reflecting on his sizzling start, Franzoni saw it as the result of being prepared to excel.

“Last year Josh was here but when I got my carries, I felt like I did a lot of good running,” said Franzoni. “This year, I knew it was my time and I had to step up when I could.”

Franzoni, for his part, supplemented his work this summer  by connecting with former Hun star and NFL veteran Nick Williams.

“I trained with Nick Williams, who was with the Falcons for a couple of years,” said Franzoni.

“I give him a lot of credit for the success I am having. He is a great guy, he helped me a lot. That was definitely helpful for my confidence and everything.”

Franzoni kept succeeding throughout the fall, rushing for 107 yards with three touchdowns on nine carries in a 56-20 win over Capital Prep (Conn.) on September 28 and gaining 192 yards and three touchdowns in a losing cause as Hun fell 35-32 to Peddie on October 26.

With Hun going 5-2 in games played and picking up two other wins by forfeit, Franzoni piled up some eye-popping stats. He ended up with 1,178 yards rushing on 87 attempts for an average gain of 13.5 yards a carry. In addition, he rushed for 12 touchdowns and made 12 receptions for 322 yards with four TDs. Including 54 return yards, Franzoni finished with a total offense number of 1,554 yards for an average of 222 yards a game.

Hun head coach Todd Smith was not surprised that Franzoni emerged as a superstar this fall. “Ian just got stuck behind Josh,” said Smith.

“It wasn’t that we didn’t know how good he is, we knew how good he is. We are real proud of him because there are probably not too many guys in the country who have put in the time and effort like he has.”

In serving as a team captain this fall, Franzoni saw his work ethic as his key leadership quality.

“I feel honored that the coaching staff and my teammates have recognized me as someone that can lead the team in a way that they want to,” said Franzoni, who has committed to attend Brown University and play for its football program.

“I knew when I got elected as a captain, I had to step up as a leader and lead by example. That’s what I try to do in the offseason, punch the clock when you need to, and work as hard as you can so my guys can follow and try to have the most success this season that we can.”

For providing amazing production to go with his leadership, Franzoni is the choice as the Town Topics’ top male performer of the fall season.

TOP OF THE LINE: Stuart Country Day School field hockey player Caroline Mullen controls the ball in a game this fall. Senior star and Tufts-bound Mullen had a big final campaign for Stuart, tallying 11 goals and seven assists as the Tartans advanced to the Mercer County Tournament final and the state Prep B semis. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Top Female Performer

Coming into the 2019 season, Caroline Mullen knew she had be a take-charge player for the Stuart Country Day School field hockey team.

“Being one of the few seniors on the team, I have been looking to step up,” said Mullen.

“I am more experienced, every year I get better at learning how to work with different people. I am a little more aggressive this year.

With Mullen setting the tone in the midfield with her hustle and skill, Stuart overcome a 1-1-1 start to catch fire, winning six of its next seven games heading into the Mercer County Tournament.

In the opening round of the MCT, Mullen scored two goals as seventh-seeded Stuart defeated 10th-seeded WW/P-North 3-0. In the quarters, Mullen chipped in a goal as Stuart stunned second-seeded Lawrence 2-1.

Continuing her hot play, Mullen tallied a goal and an assist as Stuart whipped third-seeded Allentown 4-0 in the MCT semis. In the final, Mullen and the Tartans battled valiantly before falling 1-0 to four-time defending champion Lawrenceville.

In the state Prep B tourney, Mullen had a goal as third-seeded Stuart defeated sixth-seeded Newark Academy 3-0 in the opening round to advance to the semis where it fell 1-0 to second-seeded Princeton Day School.

Over the course of the fall, Mullen tallied 11 goals and seven assists as the Tartans went 11-4-1.

Stuart head coach Missy Bruvik credited Mullen with being the driving force behind Stuart’s success.

“Caroline is the catalyst for every practice and every game, directing kids,” said Bruvik of Mullen, who has committed to attend Tufts University and play for its field hockey program.

“Caroline is just special; her passion for the game shows in her play, on her face, and in her intensity. That is a 60-minute player in every game and every practice. We have a lot of new kids on this team and they feel like she is leading me 60 minutes at a time, I will learn the game. They have a tutor on the field all the time.”

Mullen, for her part, enjoyed the ride in her final campaign for the Tartans.

“We lost a lot of people from last year; we have a lot of freshmen and we do have a smaller team this year,” said Mullen. “Considering how many new girls we have and how well we have all played together, I am really happy.”   

Bringing Stuart together with her intensity and skill makes Mullen the choice as the top female performer.

Top Newcomers

After making progress running for the Princeton High cross country freshman program in 2018, Addison Motto got a bit of shock this fall as he jumped up to the varsity level.

“I think the mileage was difficult. I was used to running like seven miles max and that got pushed up to 10, which was big,” said Motto, noting that the team’s more experienced runners helped him deal with the heavier training load.

Making his varsity debut at the New Balance Shore Coaches Invitational at Holmdel Park in early October, those extra miles paid dividends as Motto placed 53rd in the Boys’ Varsity C race in a time of 18:10 over the challenging 5,000-meter course.

“That was really neat; I had a very good race that day,” recalled Motto.

“It was my first time running that course fully. I remember freshman year I ran the 2-mile on that course. I was going at a much slower pace than the actual 5k so that was big improvement.”

PHS head coach Jim Smirk was impressed by Motto’s grit as he hung with the big boys at Holmdel.

“Addison ran gutty; he got out early, he fought his way through the roller coasters and kind of got banged around a little bit and tackled ‘The Bowl,’” said Smirk

“It was a personal best for the course and the season so I’m really happy seeing that kind of effort. We need to be faster, but that’s part of the deal: as you get more battle-tested and realize what you need to do to be more successful you start digging a little deeper.”

Motto kept digging hard, taking 54th at the Fall Classic in 18:07 and then helping PHS take fifth at the Mercer County Championships by coming in 42nd individually in a time of 17:32.

“For me, I think the county meet was the big highlight,” said Motto.

“That was my first time really going under 18. I think I PR’d by 25 seconds, which is huge. I went into it thinking that I want to try my hardest. I just wanted to try to help out the team and I saw that opportunity.”

Over the course of the fall, Motto gave his all for the team. “Last year, I remember coming out of races still having energy and not being super tired,” said Motto.

“I think I changed that this fall, I was breathless at the end of races. It is awesome, I love being part of the team. It feels great being with the bigger guys.”

Motto’s emergence as a key contributor for the PHS team in his first fall as a varsity runner earns him the nod as the top male newcomer.

Neha Khandkar was determined to make the most out of every moment this fall as she earned the third singles spot in her freshman season with the Princeton Day School girls’ tennis team.

“It takes up a lot of time so you have to be sure to use every minute of practice, you have to use it like it is a match,” said Khandkar.

“You can’t squander even a second of it. Now that I have better players to hit with, it has helped my movement on court and it has also helped my mental stamina.”

That daily focus helped Khandkar rally to win the third singles final at the MCT after dropping the first set 6-3 to senior Nicole Samios of Princeton High.

Khandkar went on to win the next two sets 6-4, 6-1 to earn the title. “Going into the second set, I realized that I was beating myself, so I needed to stay more conservative and use more topspin,” said Khandkar.

“I had be patient and wait for the right opportunity to come to the net, that is where I finish points best.”

Building on that triumph, Khandkar went on to win the third singles title at the state Prep B tournament.

In earning championships this fall, Khandkar took a matter-of-fact approach to her matches.

“I see the competition I have,” said Khandkar. “I know what to expect and what I can improve.”

PDS head coach Will Asch was thrilled with the way Khandkar competed this fall.

“Neha is incredible, first of all, she is a real team player, she likes to train with her teammates,” said Asch.

“She will hit with anybody, that is really nice. She has the all around game and she has a head for the game. She loves to play, she is a very good athlete and moves really well.”

For producing a superb debut campaign and earning two singles crowns along the way, Khandkar is the top female newcomer this fall.

SIX PACK: Princeton Day School girls’ soccer coach Pat Trombetta surveys the scene in a game this fall. Trombetta guided PDS to its sixth straight state Prep B title and the Mercer County Tournament semis as it ended 2019 with a 16-3-1 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Top Coaches

In his 23 years coaching the Princeton High boys’ soccer program, Wayne Sutcliffe never had a team quite like his 2019 squad.

“It’s the youngest team we’ve ever had,” said Sutcliffe. “I couldn’t be more pleased with their commitment and improvement.”

Coming off a disappointing 8-6-3 season in 2018, Sutcliffe’s crew of sophomore and juniors got better and better as the season went on, going 14-7 overall, advancing to the semifinals of the Mercer County Tournament and Central Jersey Group 4 quarterfinal.

There wasn’t a senior on the field when fifth-seeded PHS lost 1-0 to 13th-seeded and eventual sectional finalist, Long Branch, on November 1 in the sectional.

“The growth throughout the campaign was clear,” said Sutcliffe. “A lot of guys saw a lot of minutes in a lot of games. By November, they were different players than they had been in August, specifically in the junior and sophomore class. The synergy and the chemistry was really good. Consequently, the work rate and the effort and commitment were there. We were really a team. That didn’t surprise me or coaching staff. It was great to see.”

Looking ahead, Sutcliffe sees a great future for his young group.

“There’s clear desire on their part to win some silverware next year,” said Sutcliffe.

“Especially for all the guys who are going to be in their senior year. There was a feel good factor within the team at the end of the year. You can kind of read things like the vibe of the team, and I know guys are excited about next year. They’re going to have to come back and compete with each other because it’s not going to be easy to get on.”

For molding his inexperienced squad into a unit to be reckoned by playoff time, Sutcliffe is the choice as the top coach of a male team.

With the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team having won five straight Prep B titles coming into 2019, Pat Trombetta knew that his squad had a target on its back.

“We have played a couple of scrimmages and teams are coming at us like it is tournament time because of our reputation,” said PDS head coach Trombetta,

“We played Rutgers Prep in a scrimmage and they had a group of fans there, yelling and supporting like it was a tournament game. I was amazed. I am looking at kids, we haven’t even finalized our varsity roster yet. It was good for the kids to get that kind of experience.”

As Trombetta got his the roster squared away, he was looking for the team to be playing its best when it mattered most.

“I want us to improve our play during the season; we have to finish more of our opportunities in front of goal and not squander good chances,” said Trombetta.

“Last season, we would just play a solid half at times,  I want to see them play a full 80 minutes this year. We look at our program, we want to maintain the standards we have established in the past and I am looking forward to the season. It should be another fun year.”

It turned out to be a very fun year for the Panthers as they started the fall by posting a regular season record of 11-2-1, highlighted by a 3-1 win over Pennington on September 19, on the way to earning the second seed for the Mercer County Tournament.

In the MCT, PDS topped 15th-seeded WW/P-North 5-0 in an opening round contest and then edged seventh-seeded and local rival Princeton High 2-1 in the quarterfinals. Unable to get its offense going, the Panthers fell 2-0 to third-seeded Pennington in the semis. Bouncing back from the disappointment of the loss to the Red Raiders, the eventual MCT champion and state Prep A winner, the PDS produced another Prep B title run.

In the semis, the top-seeded Panthers topped fifth-seeded Montclair Kimberley Academy 2-1. In the final, PDS jumped out to a 2-0 lead over third-seeded Newark Academy in the final and held off a late charge from the Minutemen to secure a 2-1 triumph and the sixth straight Prep B crown.

In reflecting on the championship campaign, Trombetta noted that his 2019 group achieved its goal of finishing opportunities.

“I look back at my 13 years here and the statistics; the highest number of goals we ever scored was 57,” said Trombetta.

“They had 71 goals this year and a goal differential of plus 50. Those two statistics are very impressive; that doesn’t happen without the whole team playing offense and defense.”

PDS senior defender Tulsi Pari credited Trombetta and his staff with preparing the squad for success.

“The coaches dedicate so much of their time, not just during practices and games, but with all of them scouting,” said Pari, after the win over Newark.

“They are watching game film and helping us prepare for what we need to do.”

Having utilized that attention to detail to build the Panthers into a Prep B dynasty, Trombetta is the pick as the top coach of a female team.