April 8, 2020

PHS Hockey Standout Trainor, Stuart Hoops’ Melvin Get the Nod as Top Performers of the Winter Season

BIG TRAIN: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Aidan Trainor brings the puck up the ice in a game this winter. Senior star forward and team captain Trainor tallied 24 goals and 19 assists this season to help PHS go 18-4-2 and win its first Mercer County Tournament title since 2011. Trainor ended up with 212 career points on 102 goals and 110 assists. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For Aidan Trainor, playing for the Princeton High School boys’ hockey team has been a family affair.

The senior forward was preceded in the program by his older brothers Anthony ’17 and Robby ’19 and has played the last two seasons with younger brother Colm ’21.

But Trainor’s family feeling on the squad extended beyond his brothers as he enjoyed a special experience during his time with the program.

“I have been lucky enough to play on four great teams in my four years at PHS — we have been really successful,” said Trainor.

The prolific Trainor played a key role in that success, tallying 212 career points on 102 goals and 110 assists.

Coming into his final campaign this winter, Trainor was determined to go out with a bang.

“This is my last year; it is easy to ignore that and not to think about that when you are a freshman, a sophomore, or even a junior,” said Trainor. “This year, I have a bigger sense of urgency to perform and just do my best to help the team succeed.”

PHS first-year head coach Joe Bensky was thrilled to have Trainor on his team. “It is not a secret how good he is, what impresses me is how approachable he is as a 17-year-old young man,” added Bensky. “The kids really like him and look up to him. He doesn’t have a cocky attitude, he is a great young man.”

With Trainor tallying 24 goals and 19 assists over the winter to spark a balanced attack that featured five players with 17 or more goals, PHS put together an impressive regular season record of 15-3-2.

Heading into the postseason, Trainor believed that the Tigers were primed to contend for championships. “We are looking like a good hockey team right now and I am confident in our ability to perform,” said Trainor. “We have upperclassmen that have been to those moments before. We have been to the threshold and haven’t been able to cross it. We have a very seasoned group and with the mix of all the young kids that we have, I think we can really make a run for it this year.”

PHS went on to cross that threshold as it made a memorable run to the Mercer County Tournament title. After beating Paul VI 8-2 in the county quarters as Trainor contributed three goals and an assist and then advancing past Notre Dame in the semis on a forfeit, the second-seeded Tigers faced six-time defending champion and top-seeded Hun in the title game. Falling behind the Raiders 5-0 by early in the second period, PHS rallied for a 7-5 win to produce its own miracle on ice nearly 40 years to the day of the U.S. men’s hockey team’s upset of Russia at the 1980 Winter Olympics and earn its first county crown since 2011.

The Tigers ended up falling to Southern 4-1 in the first round of the state Public B tournament to end up with an 18-4-2 record.

For performing at a high level and inspiring his teammates as PHS earned a title in unforgettable fashion, Trainor is the choice as the Town Topics top male performer of the winter season.

MAKING STRIDES: Stuart Country Day School basketball player Nia Melvin dribbles upcourt in a game in the Mercer County Tournament championship game in late February. Junior guard Melvin averaged 12.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game with team highs in assists (129), steals (89), and three-pointers (59) to help Stuart go 21-7 as it won its third straight state Prep B title and made the program’s first-ever trip to the MCT final.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Top Female Performer

Nia Melvin produced a milestone campaign this winter in her junior season for the Stuart Country Day School basketball team.

The star guard passed the 1,000-point mark in her Stuart career in last January and then helped the Tartans win their third straight state Prep B title, make the program’s first ever trip to the Mercer County Tournament championships game, and set a team record for wins in a single season with a 21-7 final record.

Heading into the winter, Melvin honed both her on-court and vocal skills. “I worked on conditioning, ball handling, and then my shot,” she said.  “More than just scoring, it is important that I step into a leadership role, talking to my teammates and communicating with them.”

Competing at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, Ariz., in December helped Melvin and her teammates take their work ethic to a higher level. “Since Phoenix, I would say that we changed our mentality,” said Melvin, reflecting on the event which saw the Tartans go 1-4. “We realized how seriously we have to take every practice, every game, and putting everything into our hustle and effort. It was a reality check.”

One of the most memorable games for Melvin came when she scored 21 points in a 79-21 win over Immaculate Conception on January 28 to pass the 1,000-point mark. “It is something I have definitely been looking forward to before I even started playing basketball at Stuart,” said Melvin. “It is something I wanted to accomplish, and I am really proud to have made it.”

Stuart head coach Justin Leith credited Melvin with impacting the team positively on and off the court. “First and foremost, she is a great kid and that is my favorite thing about Nia,” said Leith. “The word to describe Nia is kind — she is a great person. You almost get the opposite of that on the basketball court. She is relentless on both sides of the floor. Even though she has had a stellar career thus far, she is continuing to improve. Her shooting is more consistent; she has always been a very good shooter, but she is pushing to be that great shooter, especially recently.”

Displaying that shooting prowess in one of her top performances of the winter, Melvin tallied 26 points as Stuart defeated Moorestown Friends 73-40 on January 30. “I was in my rhythm and in the zone,” said the 5’9 Melvin, who also had seven rebounds and seven assists along with five steals in the win.“As a team and individually, we have been trying to step it up before MCTs and Prep Bs.”

The Tartans did step up in the postseason, rolling past Academy of St. Elizabeth 65-33 in the state Prep B title game and then routing WW/P-North 75-15, Hopewell Valley 51-23 and Notre Dame 68-38 in the MCT on the way to a clash with nationally ranked Trenton Catholic Academy in the county title game. While Stuart fell 60-43 to TCA, it proved it could play with the elite.

Sparking that run with her all-around play, Melvin averaged 12.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game with team highs in assists (129), steals (89), and three-pointers (59).

Melvin’s relentless play and her growth as a leader for a Stuart team that made history earn her the nod as the top female performer.

Top Newcomers

Ava Rose has proven to be a wrestling prodigy.

Taking up the sport two years ago with the Princeton Wrestling club as a middle schooler, Rose burst on the scene as a Princeton High freshman, winning the girls’ South Jersey Region title at 100 pounds and then advancing to the final of the NJSIAA girls’ wrestling championships.

Rose surprised herself by making the state final. “I thought that I would get in, but I didn’t think I’d get so far,” said Rose.

“Most of it was winning regions, which was a big thing for me. It was really exciting, but also a lot of new pressure that I wasn’t used to.”

In reflecting on her debut campaign, Rose credited PHS junior Chloe Ayres, who won her second straight girls’ state title at 107, as a key influence.

“She’s really responsible and knows a lot,” said Rose. “I don’t know a lot about girls wrestling. Also, she’s always on top of things. It’s nice to have someone like that so you know what you’re doing. It’s nice to have because we’re always supporting each other since we’re the only girls on the team.”

PHS first-year head coach Jess Monzo enjoyed having Rose on his squad. “Ava impressed a lot of teams,” said Monzo of Rose who posted a 30-3 overall record this winter, going 2-0 on the varsity versus boys, 15-2 against girls, and 13-1 against JV boys.“She impressed a lot of coaches. You don’t see that kind of success for a first-year girl. She’s wrestling against boys at 106 and she only weighs about 102 or 103. She’s a little light.”

Looking ahead, Rose is determined to build on her impressive freshman season. “I know that I won a lot, and I’m happy with my record, but I still have three people that beat me so there’s something to work towards so I can beat them next time,” said Rose. “I always write down all the people that beat me on my phone so I can remember their names because I’m really forgetful. I’ll work toward beating them next time. I’m going to try to do a lot more tournaments in the offseason, bigger ones so I can experience the pressure so I don’t choke up as much. Then I also want to do a lot of offseason training. I really want to get a lot better, so I want to put in a lot of work with it.”

For beating just about everybody she faced on the mat this winter, Rose is the selection as the top female newcomer.

Jack Scott brought a special basketball pedigree to the Hun School boys’ hoops team when he joined the program as a sophomore this season.

His father, Joe, was a star guard for the Princeton University men’s hoops team who went on to serve as the head coach for the Tigers and was recently hired for his second stint as the head coach at Air Force while his mother, Leah, was a standout point guard for the Princeton women’s team and an assistant coach at Princeton, Dartmouth, and Arizona State.

Living up to those bloodlines, Scott emerged as a key backcourt performer for Hun, averaging 8.3 points a game and leading the squad in assists (61) and steals (30).

With that background, Scott developed an immediate comfort level at Hun. “Both of my parents went to Princeton and my dad coached at Princeton,” said Scott. “I know a lot of people in the area so it made sense. I love the campus, I love my teammates. I go into town and I go to the University.”

Hun head coach Jon Stone loved welcoming Scott back to town. “Jack is patient, he lets the game come to him,” said Stone. “He is a great shooter and it is only a matter of time before he makes a couple in any game.”

While the Raiders went through some ups and downs over the winter as they posted a 12-14 record, Scott maintained an upbeat approach to go with his multi-faceted game.  “We are getting some momentum,” said Scott. “We are 100 percent on the same page. We love each other, it is great chemistry.”

For giving Hun momentum with his play in the backcourt as he joined the program, Scott is the choice as the top male newcomer.

SHOUT OUT: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball head coach Doug Davis shouts out instructions in a 2019 game. Davis guided PDS to its first state Prep B title since 2016 this winter as the Panthers topped the Doane Academy 64-50 in the title game. The squad posted a final record of 14-11.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Top Coaches

With an upper school enrollment of around 160 girls, Stuart Country Day School is one of the smaller institutions competing in New Jersey scholastic sports.

But under the leadership of head coach Justin Leith, the Stuart basketball program made a huge impact on the state hoops scene this winter.

Over the course of the 2019-20 season, the Tartans won their third straight state Prep B title, advanced to the program’s first-ever Mercer County Tournament final, produced a 17-game winning streak, and ended up with a 21-7 record.

Taking its lumps at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, Ariz., in December helped steel Stuart for its stirring stretch run.

“We want to be an elite level program; we still are not there yet but we went to Arizona and we played the best,” said Leith, whose team went 1-4 at the event. “We played the No. 2 team in the country, we played a couple of top teams from Canada.”

Returning to New Jersey, the Tartans went on a roll, reeling off 17 straight wins and not losing again until they fell to nationally-ranked Trenton Catholic Academy 60-43 in the MCT title game.

Coming into the clash against TCA, Tartan junior guard Aleah James and her teammates were ready to prove that they were a top team.

“We came in laser focused and set on showing everybody exactly who we are because sometimes I think people take the Stuart name for granted,” said James. “We are a small Catholic school and four years ago, nobody would have known our name. I was here today to show everybody what I can do and what we can do as a team and how powerful we are now.”

In reflecting on the season, Leith was just as proud of how his players carried themselves as he was of what they accomplished on the court.

“First and foremost, they are wonderful kids to be around and they are great to each other,” said Leith after the loss to TCA. “We won 17 games in a row, this is the first game in 2020 that we lost and that is not playing against weak opponents. We won out January, that was one of the goals. We did it and we continued it all the way to the end of the season. I think this is the most wins in school history. It is the first time that we made it to the Mercer County final and we won our third Prep B.”

Building on this year’s accomplishments, Leith believes the program is poised to make more history next season.

“It is like I just said to them, it is tough to play your county tournament final against the No. 15 team in the country but we love that, we relish playing the top opponents,” said Leith.

“Now we know where we stand. If we work hard in the off-season, we come back next year a little bit better. Like last year, we lost to Pennington in the MCT semifinal and then we got one step further this year. The goal next year will be to win and to come in here, not as the underdog but as the team to beat. Everybody knows that we are unequivocally one of the top teams in the state. You have Saddle River Day, who is No. 3 in the state, and we beat them so where does that put us? TCA is one of the top 15 teams in the nation and they showed it today. We will be there sooner rather than later.”

Leith’s role in building tiny Stuart into a state hoops powerhouse makes him the choice as the top coach of a female team this winter.

Losing to archrival Pennington in the state Prep B semifinals to end the 2018-19 season left a bitter taste in the mouths of the players on the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team.

As the team went through its preseason practices this winter, PDS head coach Doug Davis saw a hunger around the program to take the next step.

“There were a lot of missed opportunities last year, that is from the top down,” said Davis. “We are thinking about things we could do better as a coaching staff and what our guys who were there last year can improve on this season. We are really trying to right the wrong and go a bit farther. We want to play together as a team a little bit more. There were some spots last year where we didn’t play together as much.”

Davis depended on his group of seniors Jomar Meekins, Lucas Green, Tazee Mahjied, Alan Norcott, and Jaylin Champion-Adams to bring things together this winter.

“There is a different energy on the team and in the gym,” said Davis. “We have five seniors. It is their last time playing together. It is the last time playing high school basketball. They are ready to go. I think they will lead from there.”

In the view of Davis, the winning formula for the Panthers was simple. “It is playing within ourselves and bringing that defensive tenacity,” said Davis. “If we do that and we execute on offense, I think we will be in good shape. There are a lot of guys who you can just interchange, it is going to be one of the things to help us out and have success.”

With junior transfer and star forward Ethan Garita and junior guard Dameon Samuels providing some stellar play to help out the seniors, PDS got off to a solid 9-4 start.

The Panthers hit a rough patch in last January and early February, losing five of six games.

But displaying the tenacity that Davis instilled in his squad, PDS caught fire in the state Prep B tourney. The second-seeded Panthers defeated seventh-seeded Newark Academy 86-47 in an opening round contest and then defeated third-seeded Wardlaw Hartridge 55-39 in the Prep B semis.

Heading down to Burlington to play top-seeded Doane Academy in the title game before a standing-room only crowd in a bandbox gym, the gritty Panthers pulled out a 64-50 win to earn the program’s first Prep B crown since 2016.

In reflecting on the triumph, Davis credited his seniors with leading the way.  “They are a really good group; they like each other and like to play with each other,” said Davis, whose team ended the winter at 14-11. “They really showed that today. Throughout the course of the season, we have gotten smarter as a team. For those seniors to win this one and go out as winners on top, it feels really good.”

The steady leadership of Davis in getting the most of out of his squad and helping those seniors go out in a blaze of glory makes him the top coach of a male team.