March 31, 2021

PDS Girls’ Hockey Produces 5-0-1 Campaign, Fueled by Senior Stars, Talented Young Performers

HAIL STORM: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey star Hailey Wexler, left, races up the ice in a game this season. Senior forward Wexler’s offensive production helped PDS go 5-0-1 this season. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

John Ritchie was expecting big things from his Princeton Day School girls’ hockey this winter.

Looking ahead to the season, PDS head coach Ritchie asserted that his squad possessed the depth and talent to post one of the best records in program history.

Ritchie’s confidence proved to be well-founded as the Panthers ended up going 5-0-1.

While Ritchie was proud of his team’s undefeated season, he was disappointed that COVID concerns and inclement weather led to the cancellation of scheduled clashes against some of the elite teams in the state.

“We will take it, we finished it on a good note for the seniors by not losing,” said Ritchie, whose team skated to a 2-2 tie against Trinity Hall in its season finale on February 22.

“It is one of those situations where you don’t have much control. I would have loved to play some of those other teams. We scrimmaged Summit but we didn’t get to play them in a real game. We didn’t get to play Mo-Beard, we didn’t get to play Pingry. We count those teams as the top of the state and they showed that again this year. Unfortunately with this group we didn’t get a chance to test them this year.”

The PDS group had a good time on a daily basis as it got plenty of ice time at McGraw Rink.

“If nothing else, from a social aspect for a bunch of teenagers to be able to come to the rink four or five days a week whether it was for practice or the few games that we had was a huge positive for everybody,” said Ritchie. “It was a good year overall.”

As the players dealt with the COVID protocols and the cancellations, they displayed a positive mindset.

“The thing I told them is that life can be that way sometimes where it is just out of your control,” said Ritchie.

“They did a great job all year. They were grateful for the season, they stayed together. They never complained once about wearing masks. They never complained about not having a locker room. They never complained about not having a lot of games. I could not have, and our coaching staff could not have, asked for any more from the girls. The maturity level of them for high schoolers is probably a lot better than I would have been.”

The team’s corps of seniors Maisie Henderson, Hannah Choe, Madeline Chia and the Wexler twins, Hailey and Jillian, showed mature leadership.

“It is so bittersweet because when I started they were all freshmen; I wasn’t the head coach but I was on the staff so it was the first group of girls that I watched go from freshmen to seniors,” said Ritchie, who was in his second year at the helm of the program.

“One unique thing about high school versus the club sport is that you don’t get that opportunity to see the full four year maturation process. They are a special group. It is really interesting to see where they started and how they finished. They all have bright futures in different areas, whether it is in sports or in academics. They were really, really key in my first year as head coach. They helped myself and my staff implement what we expected in terms of what we liked and how the locker room was organized. They bought in right away, they were eager. They are definitely going to be missed.”

Featuring a strong group of returning players in juniors Ally Antonacci, Natalie Celso, Franny Gallagher, Courtney Richter, and Frances Bobbitt along with sophomores Lauren Chase, Abigail Ashman, and Nora Appleby and freshmen Emily McCann, Logan Harrison, Isabel Cook, Colleen Mayer, Lily Ryan, and Elena Sichel, the PDS program has a bright future.

“We are really high on the skill level of the younger players,” said Ritchie.

“The seniors leaving is going to give them the opportunity to step up. This year, they were able to learn. Part of our long term goal of trying to attract girls that want to try the sport and also girls that play it as their primary sport. In each of our classes, we have several girls of higher skill level. That is going to help us year after year.”

Due to that skill level through the roster, Ritchie believes that the Panthers can develop into one of the elite teams in the state.

“I definitely think we have the capabilities,” said Ritchie. “Once the talent level is there and the numbers are there, then it is up to us as coaches to make sure that we put that all together. I think we have the capability to be at the top of the state but it will be a good challenge for us.”