March 10, 2021

Topping Enjoys Big Senior Day for PDS Girls’ Hoops, Hitting Game-Winning Shot as Panthers Edge PHS

TOP MOMENT: Princeton Day School girls’ basketball player Caroline Topping surveys the situation last Wednesday as PDS hosted Princeton High and held its annual Senior Day ceremony. Senior guard Topping enjoyed a memorable home finale for the Panthers in the contest, sinking the game-winning shot as PDS edged the Tigers 30-29. A day later, the Panthers fell 39-29 at PHS in the rematch of locals to end the season with a 1-7 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Caroline Topping sensed that the Princeton Day School girls’ basketball team was primed for a breakthrough as the program held its annual Senior Day celebration last Wednesday afternoon.

Even though PDS brought a winless record into the game against crosstown rival Princeton High, who was at 5-2, senior guard Topping was confident that the Panthers would be competitive.

“There was a lot of extra emotion, I have been waiting for this moment since I was a freshman,” said Topping.

“I have been so excited. We all just had good energy today. We had a psych, we all wore bucket hats. It was a lot of fun.”

In the second quarter, Topping had a lot of fun, tallying seven points as PDS outscored the Tigers 12-5 to build a 23-13 lead at halftime.

“We had the momentum, we had the right energy,” said Topping.

“We weren’t panicking. We had control of everything. I did feel in a groove, especially hitting that three. I am not usually a three-point shooter; it just really gave me the confidence. The speech earlier and the celebration gave me confidence and made me feel good about myself.”

That confidence wavered somewhat as PHS rallied in the second half and knotted the game at 26-26 early in the fourth quarter.

“At that point, we had a lot of energy but it wasn’t controllable,” said Topping.

“We had never been put in that position before where we are winning. We started to panic a little bit. We had a lot of energy but it wasn’t controllable. We were just trying to go forward. We weren’t acting like we were winning even though we were.”

With 36.8 seconds left in regulation, PDS was trailing 29-28 and got possession. The Panthers called a time out and devised a play to get Topping open for a mid-range jumper. PDS executed the play and Topping got an open look, only to miss the shot. After Panther sophomore Kirsten Ruf rebounded the miss, Topping got another opportunity and drained a jumper with 9.9 seconds left that proved to be the margin of victory in a 30-29 triumph.

“I better make this one, I took a deep breath,” said Topping, recalling her thoughts as she put up the winning shot.

“I was really nervous. If I get the second chance and I miss again, that would not be good. I would feel like I would be letting the team down.”

For Topping, ending her Senior Day in such dramatic fashion left her with an indelible memory.

“I am definitely going to remember this, especially with this year and the craziness,” said Topping, who ended up with a game-high 11 points in the contest. “We definitely clicked today and had the right energy.”

Over the course of the season, PDS has been clicking under the tutelage of new head coach Seraphine Hamilton.

“It has been great; it is a little different from last year with a new coach but her game is really good,” said Topping.

“We play a transition game and we do man defense. We have a lot of freedom but we also have strict plays with a lot of cuts. It is a whole different game, you need a lot more IQ with this.”

Coach Hamilton, for her part, has enjoyed working with the squad’s senior group which included Jules Romano, Ava Sarnow, Anna Ellwood, and Anna Zhang in addition to Topping.

“Their leadership is great, having so many of them has been wonderful,” said Hamilton.

“We have had an
untraditional season where we started out doing nonverbal communications stuff. They were really present on that, talking about their workouts. They started out strong from the beginning. We had a second wave of the season where people came back from the quarantine. It is almost like we had a whole new team. They were really great about helping players through the plays and showing them the pace. I am new to them so our drills are new. It is showing them what the expectations are. What I am most grateful for is that they trusted me from the beginning.”

Hamilton was grateful to be able to put together a Senior Day celebration which featured posters of the Class of 2021 hanging behind the bench and booklets with messages from their teammates.

“In a weird year, I don’t think they thought they’d get this,” added Hamilton.

“Not only being able to play the game and having a traditional-ish ceremony, their parents were allowed in the gym. It was getting something as close to the norm as that, we had the posters and the booklets.”

The Panthers had one of the best stretches of the year when they seized momentum on the second quarter.

“I loved it, we haven’t played that zone in a while so it was nice for them to see what they can do out of it,” said Hamilton.

“We are a really long team so that was to our advantage. They are a good team and they are really well coached so they were going to make the adjustment. They switched their defense too and we had to make some adjustments.”

In setting up the game-winning shot, Hamilton
utilized a coaching adjustment.

“We talked about that play at halftime and we walked through it on the floor,” said Hamilton.

“We haven’t played against a 2-3 zone yet so we just haven’t practiced it a lot. That is a quick hitter that gets you into the paint pretty quickly and that is what we were struggling to do.”

Seeing Topping hit the game winner was a fitting conclusion.

“Caroline has had a great shooting game today,” said Hamilton, who also got eight points from freshman Adriana Salzano in the victory.

“I told her the last shot you took, you looked a little hesitant so don’t question your decision, be decisive trust anything that comes out of your hands. If you are going to shoot, shoot it, if you are going to pass, pass. Caroline has really been a strong leader for us this season. She really deserves it.”

After seeing her squad suffer some tough losses this winter, Hamilton was thrilled by the victory and what it meant to the players.

“They have been working their butts off and they have improved significantly this year,” said Hamilton, whose team fell 39-29 at PHS a day later in the rematch of the locals to end the season with a 1-7 record.

“My biggest concern about them is that not getting the results that they wanted, they wouldn’t be able to see all of the great things that they have done. I am really proud of them. This is like the reward. They deserved to win so many games with all of the work that they have been doing. Here the result helps them see that improvement.”

Topping, for her part, is proud of how the team has bonded through adversity and continued to get better.

“Basketball season has always been my favorite season,” said Topping, who played field hockey last fall and is joining the volleyball team to finish the second part of the winter season.

“It is a lot of positivity with the team, we really mend together. I am close with all of the freshmen and all of the classes. It is a good environment to be in. Even though we don’t win the most games, we have a lot of fun and we work hard. By the end of the season, we always progress a lot.”