June 3, 2020

With Senior Group Hungry to Get Back to States, Lost Season Hard to Swallow for PHS Boys’ Lax

MOVING FORWARD: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse player Ben Quinones races upfield in a game last spring. Senior star and captain Quinones had led the way for PHS on and off the field as the 2020 season was halted in mid-March in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Having failed to qualify for the state tournament the last two seasons, the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team was bringing a lot of hunger into the 2020 campaign.

“We did a lot of really good work in the offseason; we did a lot of leadership reading and had discussions,” said PHS head coach Chip Casto, who led the Tigers to a 6-9 record last year.

“I usually post a note every day of the season outside of my classroom but this year the seniors wanted to start posting notes earlier and said let’s count down so we started with 100 days to go. We have been really looking forward to this year coming off the last two years of not even making the state tournament. It is just uncharacteristic so they were itching to get back.”

PHS got back on the field for a week in March before school was closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and weeks later the season was formally canceled.

With the players working from home, the team’s veterans have kept things together.

“I had the seniors take the lead on this; we had a hefty amount of new players, freshmen and upperclassmen, so the seniors were calling around to make sure that was happening,” said Casto.

“We have been doing two Zoom workouts a week now. Ben Quinones is our only captain but the whole senior class has been showing great leadership along with him. They brought it up with me saying OK, let’s have competitions. We had a mile run competition, we had a pushup competition. The first one we did was a trick shot competition  and the winner had his brother throw the ball over their house and he took a cup to his helmet and caught the ball on his helmet.”

The squad’s senior group, which included Sam Brandt, James Wert, Liam Deming, Jack Stein, and Rocco Salvato in addition to Quinones, was primed to be competitive this spring.

“The seniors have been doing it for four years, they were freshmen in 2017 when Johnny Lopez-Ona and all of those guys took a run in the state tournament,” said Casto.

“They remember how those seniors acted, competed, and laughed. They were really influenced by that team and were so excited to try to emulate them.”

For Casto, not having the chance to influence his players on a daily basis has been one of the toughest aspects of the canceled season.

“It is the practices, the everyday interaction; I am so glad that I am able to teach in the high school that I coach in,” said Casto.

“Some coaches don’t teach in the high school where they coach. The biggest thing that I miss is the days in school and game days when we have a cue where we wink at each other, try to be a little secretive in our group and how we talk to each other. We have code words in the hallway. It was a great bunch of guys that were really ready to commit to that.”

In Casto’s view, the guys that return to the field next year for PHS should have a deeper commitment to the game and each other.

“They are certainly getting an opportunity to learn some adult issues, like how do you use things like this to your benefit and to advance your understanding of the world around you,” said Casto.

“Coach Stanton (assistant coach Peter Stanton) and I are very aware of this and the understanding that we use every year is that you are not given this, it is not going to happen all the time. You have to enjoy it while you have got it. It can be pulled out from under us. So next year everybody will be chomping at the bit.”