With Emotions Running High As it Returns to Field, PDS Boys’ Lax Fired Up For Big 2021 Campaign
STICKING WITH IT: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse player Drew McConaughy controls the ball in a 2019 game. Senior McConaughy is looking to have a big final campaign for PDS. The Panthers open their 2021 campaign by hosting the Hun School on April 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
While the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team doesn’t boast strength in numbers in terms of a large roster, it is bringing a lot of emotion into the 2021 season.
“The consistent feeling across the board is that we are happy to be together,” said PDS head coach Joe Moore, reflecting on the mood around the squad as it returns to the field after the 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic.
“We have a pretty strong senior class that was really disappointed last year. Seeing what the seniors went through last year has definitely lit a fire under us but also has made us really just appreciate being back together. From a performance standpoint, we have some holes to fill so we are just trying to learn as much about one another as quickly as we can here.”
The heartbreak triggered by the passing away of beloved longtime coach Pete Higgins last June at age 57 is adding more fire to the Panthers on a daily basis.
“His loss is still fresh in the PDS community and for all of the kids that are in our program right now,” said Moore.
“We are playing with him on our hearts. We will be doing some things to recognize him with the shooting shirt under our jerseys and stickers on our helmets.”
The Panthers boast some strong shooters on attack in senior Xander Gardner, freshman Sebastian Rzeczycki, and sophomore Harry Bernardi.
“We are going to look at Xander to lead us down there; he is a senior attack man and two years back he got some time,” said Moore, who guided the Panthers to their fourth straight Mercer County Tournament title in 2019 to cap his debut campaign guiding the program.
“We are always pretty light at PDS in terms of depth. We are playing with a few different guys on offense. We will probably be rotating guys like Sebastian, he has a really good body and is talented in terms of playing up top and going behind the net. He will be playing with Xander a lot. The third spot will probably be rotating with Harry and a couple of other guys as well. We are still feeling it out.”
A pair of seniors, Trevor Kunkle and Drew McConaughy along with freshmen Logan Herrmann and Charlie Hogshire, will be carrying the load in the middle of the field.
“We will be looking at Trevor to lead us in the midfield,” said Moore.
“Drew will be in the mix. We also have Logan who has been looking really strong in practice. He is definitely going to be a two-way middie for us. Charlie has phenomenal stick skills and lacrosse IQ. We will be playing with him up top and behind.”
On the back line, senior Gibson Linnehan brings experience and skill.
“The defense will definitely be led by Gibby, he is just such a good overall player,” said Moore, noting that Linnehan has committed to attend Providence College and play for its Division I men’s lax program.
“His biggest contribution to the team is his off-field contribution as a leader. From an on-field standpoint, what is so special about Gibson is that he is such a good one-on-one defender. Not only can he get the ball on the ground, he is really good at picking it up and pushing transition and making good decisions. He is going to be our go-to, similar to Coby Auslander a couple of years ago. We will look to him to do three or four different things.”
Seeing time along with Linnehan on defense will be senior Alex Darenkov, senior Aidan McChesney, and sophomore Nick Somogyi.
“We will have Alex as a close defenseman; he is a big body and a good one-on-one guy,” said Moore.
“Aidan has made a ton of progress; he is going to be on close for us and is doing a lot for us. We do have strong short-stick middies as well. Nick is a great athlete he will be a short stick defender for us that we will be looking to get a lot of game time.”
After waiting for his chance to start, senior Eric Gellasch is primed for a big final campaign.
“We have a strong goalie with Eric in goal, he hasn’t had a ton of game experience but he is a strong player,” said Moore.
“He is going to play next year at Clarkson. He is a legit goaltender who will do well for us.”
In Moore’s view, PDS will need to play a deliberate, disciplined style in order to produce a successful spring.
“We are already talking about ways that we want games to go in terms of flow,” said Moore.
“We definitely want to rely on our defense to cause turnovers and then get the ball down to the offense and take the air out of the ball and just crush as much clock as we can just because we don’t have a ton of depth. That is our identity here year in, year out. I think we are going to be stronger on the defensive side of the ball. We will rely on our seniors across the board to make the right decisions in games and see if we can squeeze out some wins.”
Opening the 2021 campaign by hosting the Hun School on April 15 and then playing at Springside Chestnut Hill (Pa.) two days later, the Panthers face two strong tests.
“We have Hun and Springside, those are two challenging games,” said Moore.
“I look at it as a win-win because if we win, we are getting off to a really, really strong start. If we lose, we are going to walk away with a ton of things that we are working on and can learn from so that will just make us better.”