July 7, 2021

Hun Baseball’s Applegate, PHS Lax Star Henderson Get the Nod as Top Performers of Spring Campaign

GATE CRASHER: Hun School baseball player Carson Applegate follows through on a swing this year. Junior star Applegate’s exploits with the bat and on the mound helped Hun go 19-2 as the Raiders won the program’s fifth straight state Prep A title along the way. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Carson Applegate started things with a bang this spring in his junior season with the Hun School baseball team.

Leading off in the season opener against LaSalle College High (Pa.), Applegate ripped a triple.

“On the first pitch of the season, he hit off the fence for a triple, that is what he does,” said Hun head coach Tom Monfiletto of Applegate, who has committed to attend the University of Kentucky and play for its Division I baseball program.

“He is aggressive, he is an unbelievable competitor. He is super athletic, he has every tool you could imagine.

Star infielder/pitcher Applegate kept displaying his tools all spring, banging out hits and piling up wins on the mound as Hun produced a season for the ages, going 19-2 and winning the program’s fifth straight state Prep A title.

Applegate’s performance in a 10-0 win over Lawrenceville in Hun’s home opener in mid-April exemplified his exploits in 2021.

On the mound, Applegate hurled five scoreless innings of two-hit ball while striking out 12 and walking just one. Batting in his customary lead-off spot, he went 3-for-4 with a triple, two runs scored, and an RBI.

As Applegate took the mound that day, he was primed for a big outing.

“This was our first home game in about two years,” said Applegate. “I have been thinking about this game since the schedule came out. Luckily I was able to pitch today. I probably didn’t say a word the whole day because I was so focused and so excited to play. It is great being back on the field.”

He showed a similar focus with the bat. “I love leading off, I love starting a game off,” said Applegate.

“Today, I didn’t even take batting practice. The triple felt great, I just got under it a little bit. I have been working in keeping my hands smooth and keeping my hands through the ball. It felt pretty good. As I slide into third, I did a little fist pump to the dugout, just seeing all of the guys excited is awesome.”

Monfiletto was excited to have Applegate at the top of his batting order.

“He is a complete hitter, he is aggressive and he is an outstanding plus runner as well,” said Monfiletto. “He is the perfect combination for that role.”

Applegate’s pitching effort was equally impressive. “He was locked in today on the mound. He was 100 percent locked in,” said Monfiletto.

“You could tell in pregame that he was going to bring his best today. We knew we had to because Lawrenceville has a very good team this year. He brought his best and it was great.”

Applegate ended up producing some great numbers this spring with the bat and on the mound. He hit .561 with two homers, two triples, 13 doubles, 16 RBIs, and 30 stolen bases. The righty with a 90 mph+ fastball had 75 strikeouts in 41 innings, yielding just 12 hits and one earned run.

Applegate, for his part, enjoyed being a part of a superb Hun squad.

“I am very confident in our guys,” said Applegate, who capped the season by helping the Mercer All-Stars advance to the final of the Carpenter Cup in late June, a tournament featuring high school all-star teams from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

“We are going to be pretty good this year, we are going to do a lot of good stuff.”

With Applegate producing a dominant year with the bat and on the mound as Hun enjoyed a season to remember, he is the choice as the Town Topics’ top male performer of the spring season.

SHOWTIME: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Shoshi Henderson heads to goal in a game this season. Senior star midfielder and co-captain Henderson tallied 118 points this spring on 43 goals and 73 assists to help PHS go 9-6 and advance to the South Jersey Group 4 sectional semifinals. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Top Female Performer

In her first two seasons for the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team, Shoshi Henderson played in the shadow of some veteran stars.

Looking up to standouts Mariana Lopez-Ona and Shaylah Marciano, who are both playing for the University of Michigan women’s lacrosse program, Henderson learned the ropes in the 2018 and 2019 campaigns as a freshman and a sophomore, developing into a skilled playmaker and becoming a key member of the supporting cast for the Tigers.

After the 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic, Henderson hit the field this spring for her senior season and found herself playing a radically different role.

“I have been the young person on this team the whole time,” said Henderson.

“I am just really trying to channel what Mariana and Shaylah and all of those upperclassmen did for me. I am trying to mentor these young ones and hopefully we will really have a strong sophomore, junior, and senior class.”

Channeling that knowledge, Henderson developed a potent one-two punch with junior Kate Becker.

“I love playing with Kate, it is just so fun to have someone who has a high lax IQ that loves the game as much as I do,” said Henderson.

“We have gotten so good at catching and passing. I pass it to her before she is even open, I know where she is going to be.”

PHS head coach Meg Dunleavy credited Henderson bringing leadership this season to go with her considerable lax IQ.

“Shoshi is looking the best I have ever seen her. She has all the skills that she has always had, but now she has a big burst of leadership and confidence,” said Dunleavy of Henderson, who is headed to Pomona College where she will be playing for its women’s lax program.

“Shoshi is a low attacker and she is phenomenal but this year she is going to have to be playing midfield.”

Over the course of the spring, Henderson put up some phenomenal numbers, tallying 118 points on 43 goals and 75 assists to help PHS go 9-6 and advance to the South Jersey Group 4 sectional semifinals.

A highlight moment for Henderson this spring came when she tallied six goals and four assists as PHS defeated visiting Monroe 17-8 in the opening round of the sectional.

Extending her career in what could have been her last home appearance had Henderson reflecting on her PHS career.

“There have been a lot of ups and downs, but lacrosse has been a highlight of my high school career, sports in general,” said Henderson, who starred in the fall for the Tiger field hockey program.

“I love everybody on those teams. That sectional title in 2019 was such a special season. Now it means so much more knowing that I didn’t have my junior year. These are such good memories I will have for the rest of my life, so I love it.”

For producing a memorable senior season that saw her excel as a playmaker and a leader, Henderson is the choice as the top female performer this spring.

STRING MUSIC: Princeton High boys’ tennis player Jonathan Gu hits a backhand in a match this spring. Sophomore Gu made a stellar debut for PHS in 2021, starring at first singles as the Tigers went 17-1, winning the Colonial Valley Conference tournament and the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Top Newcomers

Jonathan Gu was poised to make a big impact for the Princeton High boys’ tennis as a freshman in 2020.

But with the season getting lost due to the pandemic, Gu never got the chance to display his skills.

This spring, Gu made up for lost time in his PHS debut, starring in the first singles spot and helping the Tigers go 17-1 as the squad won the Colonial Valley Conference tournament and the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional title before losing 3-2 to Chatham in the state Group 3 semis.

Gu was thrilled to finally get on the court for the Tigers.

“It is cool,” said Gu. “Last year I was excited for the season and we didn’t get it and I was pretty disappointed. Last year I met some of the other guys. We didn’t really play a lot and then this season we know each other a lot better, it is pretty fun.”

PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert was excited to see Gu get his chance to shine.

“It is great to have him back on court; last year he came out for tryouts and then unfortunately the season was cut short,” said Hibbert.

“We were all excited to see what he could do, but we never got a chance to watch him play last year. Getting the chance to see him and Jack [second singles player Jack Ling] play some of their preseason matches was really exciting.”

Once in action for PHS, Gu displayed an exciting skill set. “He has got a great overall game,” said Hibbert of Gu, who plays in regional and national tournaments and was ranked 116th in the USTA Boys’ 16 National Standings List this spring.

“He is a lefty as well, which is a helpful thing because sometimes the spin is a little bit different. He is a good attacker at net.”

Gu, for his part, relished playing in the top spot for the Tigers.

“There is pressure on you playing No. 1,” said Gu. “In tournaments, I play people that are older than me as well. I think my serve, especially, has improved a lot. I have been playing every day with the team and then doing matches and then playing on the weekend. I am playing a lot and it is paying off.”

Handling that pressure with aplomb and living up to his advance billing as a star, Gu gets the nod as the top male newcomer this spring.

Tessa Caputo has been around Princeton Day School lacrosse for a while.

She watched her older brother Cal, 2019 PDS grad, star for the Panther boys’ lax team.

“I started playing, probably when I was in second grade,” said Caputo. “He has helped my game so much, just watching him play and learning from him.”

Applying those lessons this spring in her freshman season for the PDS girls’ squad, Caputo didn’t waste any time becoming a star, tallying hat tricks in her first two games for the Panthers.

“It is so good to be able to get out here, I didn’t know what I was expecting with everything,” said Caputo.

“I lost most of my middle school season and then the summer season. Even if it is a shortened season and starting late, it is just so good to get out here.”

Caputo found a good fit with the Panthers. “It is my first year playing with the team and they have been so welcoming,” said Caputo. “It is so nice to get to play with these girls.”

As she developed a comfort level with her new teammates, Caputo aimed to be an all-around player for the Panthers.

“I am just trying to do whatever I can, even if it is not goals,” said Caputo. “It is just being a good team quarterback to help the team effort.”

After Caputo tallied three goals and two assists in a 12-0 win over Stuart Country Day School in mid-April, PDS head coach Jill Thomas didn’t mince words in assessing what the freshman was bringing to the table.

“This is the greatest compliment I can pay her — she can play,” said Thomas of Caputo, who ended up leading the Panthers in goals (42) and points (59) as the went 8-7. “She had a one-handed pass and the one-handed block out here. She can play.”

Caputo’s superb play and production this spring makes her the choice as the top female newcomer.

Top Coaches

Over the last few years, the Princeton High girls’ track program has been laying the foundation for something special.

The PHS girls placed second in the Mercer County Championships in 2019 and were poised to take the title last spring before the season was canceled due to the pandemic.

Coming into the 2021 season, the Tigers had to overcome some hurdles as the team couldn’t train together in January and then had to work through the snow storms that hit the area in February to compete in an abbreviated winter season.

But once the spring rolled around, PHS was primed to prove it was the top team in the county in a modified format that included Colonial Valley Conference showdown meets featuring several events at one site and divisional qualifiers leading into the CVC championship meet.

“We were really happy,” said PHS head coach Ben Samara. “We’re really looking forward to leaving it all out there in the championship meet.”

Things didn’t come easily for PHS at the CVC championship meet as the competition, originally scheduled for the last Friday and Saturday in May, had to be finished on June 1 due to inclement weather over the weekend.

In addition, the Tigers had to hold off a stern challenge from Hopewell Valley but came through in the end, piling up 127 points to take first with the Bulldogs coming in second at 115.

“Even after we went 1-2-3 in the two-mile on Saturday, we still had Hopewell up by a couple of points,” said Samara. “We over-performed for the whole meet by 20 points. They over-performed by 10 or so points. They didn’t back down at all. It took some big things on that third day — a really, really tough 800 meters from Yana Medvedeva to get four big points. And then two events that we weren’t even thinking about at the beginning of the season — the 4×100 relay and the triple jump, just looking at the stats through the course of the season, we saw there was an opportunity to pick up some points there.”

Getting the breakthrough win was special for Samara and his athletes.

“It’s huge,” said Samara, whose team was led by Kendall Williamson, the winner in both the 100 and 200 meters; Robin Roth, the first-place finisher in the 3,200 and the runner-up in the 1,600; and Peyton Reynolds, who won the pole vault.

“For the last several years, we’ve had some really great girls teams that have had the chance to win the county or conference title and just circumstances have not worked out. We had a really great team in 2019 and we lost a couple girls right before the meet. Then we had a very strong team in 2020 and of course the season gets canceled. This one wasn’t just for the girls this year, it was for the girls in the past two years as well. A lot of them were sending well wishes and a couple of them spoke to the team. It was a big moment for several years, not just for this year.”

That positive spirit permeating the program made a big difference for this year’s squad.

“It’s not just about training and competing,” said Samara. “The camaraderie and friendships that they’ve developed on the team, they don’t want to leave that. It really becomes something special throughout the course of a season.”

Samara’s role in creating a winning and nurturing environment that resulted in the CVC crown earns him the nod as the top coach of a female team this spring.

Coming into her 28th and final season guiding the Princeton High boys’ golf program, Sheryl Severance wasn’t sure what to expect.

“There were question marks,” said Severance, who had decided to retire from teaching and coaching at the end of the 2020-21 school year.

“Some of the freshman will tell you that they are really good golfers; I saw them for four days last year and you can’t really make an assessment before we went out for COVID. I knew we would be good but I didn’t know how good.”

A five-stroke win over WW/P-North in late April proved to be a confidence builder for PHS.

“As we went into it, I don’t think the kids thought we could win,” said Severance, whose team prevailed 161-166.

“I think they thought we had been putting some good numbers but some people are breaking 40 one day and the next day they are at 45. It just came together nicely, it wasn’t even one of our lowest scores. It was 161 and our low score this year at Princeton Country Club was 151. I think there were nerves, but we pulled it out.”

The Tigers kept excelling, finishing second in the NJSIAA Central and South Jersey, Group 4 boys golf sectional, and then 14th overall and fourth in Group 4 at the state Tournament of Champions.

Culminating the 2021 campaign, PHS won the first-ever CVC Boys’ Match Play Tournament, defeating WW/P-North 157-167 in late May at the Springdale Golf Club to end the season with a 15-0 record in dual match competition.

The squad was determined to make a big run to help coach Severance enjoy a fitting finale, according to senior star and team captain Adam MacMillan,

“She instilled a lot of confidence in us every match,” said MacMillan of Severance. “She liked to start it with a huddle and has a quote she uses almost every day that she will tell us. She was able to build a chemistry. Knowing that this was her last season we really did push ourselves as much as we could to play well. We knew we wanted to make it special for her, we wanted to send her off with a great season.”

For Severance, ending her storied tenure on such a high note was great.

“If you have to go out, you want to go out this way,” said Severance, who guided the Tigers to state titles in 2007 and 2008; sectional titles in 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2019; and Mercer County Tournament crowns in 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2007. “It was a fantastic year. The group of kids were amazing.”

Reflecting on her time guiding the squad, Severance had an amazing time.

“It is sad, I am never going to do this again,” said Severance, who plans to spend time with her grandchildren and on the golf course in retirement. “I really enjoyed myself, it was a good run.”

Capping off her historic run with a championship campaign makes Severance the choice as the top coach of a male team.