October 1, 2014
EXPLOSIVE START: Princeton University running back Dre ­Nelson heads upfield last Saturday evening in Princeton’s 56-17 win over visiting Davidson. Junior Nelson got the night off to a good start, returning the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. Nelson also scored on a 23-yard run in the second quarter and ended the evening with 203 all-purpose yards, piling up 146 yards on returns, 28 yards rushing, and 29 yards receiving. Princeton, now 1-1, plays at Columbia (0-2) on October 4 in the Ivy League opener for both teams.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

EXPLOSIVE START: Princeton University running back Dre ­Nelson heads upfield last Saturday evening in Princeton’s 56-17 win over visiting Davidson. Junior Nelson got the night off to a good start, returning the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. Nelson also scored on a 23-yard run in the second quarter and ended the evening with 203 all-purpose yards, piling up 146 yards on returns, 28 yards rushing, and 29 yards receiving. Princeton, now 1-1, plays at Columbia (0-2) on October 4 in the Ivy League opener for both teams. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Dre Nelson was determined to give the Princeton University football team a spark as it hosted Davidson last Saturday, looking to bounce back from an opening day loss to the University of San Diego.

Taking the opening kickoff, the junior speedster darted down the sidelines for an 89-yard return for a touchdown.

“Coach [Andrew] Aurich, the special teams coach, talks to us everyday about getting the game started right,” said the 5’5, 175-pound Nelson, who also competes in track and holds the Princeton record for the 60-meter dash at 6.84.

“Every time he talks about the kickoff, he always wants me to house the first one. The guys picked up the blocks; everyone was around when I scored. They were blocking hard. Everybody did their job and we got a touchdown. It is 11-on-11 so there is one guy and I have to beat him. It was one-on-one, I made the move and had the score.”

Nelson’s scoring jaunt was the opening salvo of an explosive night for Princeton as it rolled to a 56-17 win over the Wildcats before a crowd of 15,205 at Princeton Stadium that was treated to a postgame fireworks show as part of the program’s Community and Staff Day festivities.

In Nelson’s view, the Tigers ratcheted up the intensity in the wake of the 39-29 opening day loss to San Diego.

“Practice was the same as far as what we do but everybody was angry about the loss,” said Nelson. “We had to take it up another level as far as our effort and how intense we were from the top down. We practiced harder, that was a big difference.”

Nelson’s hard running led to another score in the second quarter as he raced for a 23-yard TD gallop.

“The line blocked really well and coach [Sean] Gleeson, our running back coach, has been on us, especially after last week’s performance, about running hard, breaking the first tackle, breaking arm tackles, and running through defenders,” said Nelson, who piled up 203 all-purpose yards in the win with 146 yards on returns, 28 yards rushing, and 29 yards receiving.

“So all of us, D’Andre [Atwater], Will [Powers], [Joe] Rhattigan, and me had our mindset to run hard this week and that is kind of what happened on that touchdown.”

Senior quarterback and co-captain Quinn Epperly, for his part, credited the win to an up-tempo mindset.

“We had a lot more energy with this week of practice and it definitely carried over into the game,” said Epperly.

“That was something we have always tried to pride ourselves on, especially last year. It is something we didn’t do a good enough job in San Diego; you could see that we were way too flat. I think that just playing hard was big. Coach [Bob Surace] tells us all the time that will solve a lot of problems. You may not execute perfectly but if you are hitting hard and coming off the ball hard and you are just doing everything as fast and hard as you can, good things will happen.”

Princeton head coach Surace saw some very good things from his team last Saturday evening.

“We really looked fast; where if I watched the film last week, we looked not fast,” said Surace.

“We looked faster, explosive, we finished. I saw linemen downfield doing the things we have done, finishing our blocks and picking the runner up. There was so much more energy coming from those guys. That was really fun to see.”

It was fun watching Epperly on Saturday as he displayed his all-around talents, rushing for 118 yards and four touchdowns and going 15-of-18 passing for 176 yards.

After Davidson responded to Nelson’s TD return with a field goal to narrow the gap to 7-3, Epperly took over. The 6’3, 215-pound quarterback scored on touchdown runs of four yards, six yards, and one yard as the Tigers built a 29-3 lead by early in the second quarter.

Wildcat running back David Rogers made it a 29-10 game as he sprinted for a four-yard touchdown run. The Tigers answered with Nelson’s touchdown run and a 31-yard field goal by Nolan Bieck to take a 39-10 advantage into halftime.

In the third quarter, Davidson put together a 23-play, 75-yard march that took nearly 11 minutes and culminated with a 12-yard touchdown pass from J.P. Douglas to William Morris to make it 39-17.

The Tigers scored 17 unanswered points to put the finishing touches on the rout. Bieck hit a 40-yard field goal late in the third quarter and Epperly scored his fourth TD of the evening early in the fourth quarter. Senior Will Powers rambled for a nine-yard touchdown run with 3:24 left in regulation to close out the scoring.

For Surace, the victory was a testament to his team’s character and resilience.

“We looked heavy-legged and lethargic when we got to the game in San Diego,” said Surace, who got some heavy hitting from linebacker Rohan Hylton in the win over Davidson as the sophomore standout made 11 tackles and was later named the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week.

“We didn’t finish like we needed to finish. That was a big point on all three sides of the ball, that this doesn’t look like a championship team or a special team. This looks like an average team. I thought it was really great to see us respond. There is a lot of pride in that locker room and we hit on those words, pride and mentality. To see the seniors and upperclassmen do things that way, you felt that energy. The crowd was awesome, that is a big boost.”

The Tigers took their cue from Epperly when it came to playing with pride. “You didn’t see him this week pouting or throwing his helmet, he never does that,” said Surace.

“He just goes and plays football. You see a guy who just enjoys it. There were two or three runs where he was the hammer. It is just fun to see because he loves playing. He defines himself as a football player, who happens to throw the ball extremely accurately. You just love the leadership of our guys and the way he came out. It is not by rah rah, it is by how you finish and how you execute as a quarterback.”

Epperly, for his part, is motivated by Princeton’s poor execution in the defeat to San Diego.

“That is still unacceptable, we should have never lost,” said Epperly. “There is not going to be any letup with anything. We realize practicing hard just gets us to this point. We are going to face more adversity in the season so we have got to keep that mindset up and never let that taste out of our mouth.”

With Princeton heading to Columbia (0-2) on October 4 in the Ivy League opener for both teams, Nelson believes that tasting victory can get the Tigers rolling.

“It is a great win,” said Nelson. “I feel like we started to get our rhythm and get some great plays going. It is good to get a win and it is always nice to have a big win like we did today.”

GETTING LOOSE: Princeton University women’s soccer player Tyler Lussi heads upfield in action earlier this season. Last Saturday at Yale, sophomore star Lussi came up big, scoring a goal late in the second half to give the Tigers a 1-0 victory over the Bulldogs in the Ivy League opener for both teams. Princeton, now 2-3-2 overall and 1-0 Ivy, hosts Dartmouth (3-2-2 overall, 0-0-1 Ivy) on October 4 at Roberts Stadium.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GETTING LOOSE: Princeton University women’s soccer player Tyler Lussi heads upfield in action earlier this season. Last Saturday at Yale, sophomore star Lussi came up big, scoring a goal late in the second half to give the Tigers a 1-0 victory over the Bulldogs in the Ivy League opener for both teams. Princeton, now 2-3-2 overall and 1-0 Ivy, hosts Dartmouth (3-2-2 overall, 0-0-1 Ivy) on October 4 at Roberts Stadium. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As the Princeton University women’s soccer team headed into its Ivy League opener last Saturday at Yale, things weren’t going well.

The Tigers were coming off a Virginia swing which saw them lose 3-2 at Richmond on September 19 before getting defeated 4-1 at William and Mary two days later.

In addition, Princeton was forced to go with a number of young players as several key veterans were sidelined by injury.

“We have so many injuries, we literally had 12 or 13 healthy players,” said Princeton head coach Julie Shackford, whose starting lineup at Yale featured a quartet of freshmen in Natalie Larkin, Alessia Azermadhi, Vanessa Gregoire, and Beth Stella.

To make matters worse, starting goalie Darcy Hargadon had to leave the game after eight minutes due to a quad injury, giving way to unheralded sophomore Hannah Winner.

“It was wild,” recalled Shackford. “You are playing with 12 or 13, you lose your keeper, and you are playing on the road in a league game.”

Winner, for her part, felt some butterflies as she took the pitch. “It was a little nerve-wracking at first but I went back to all of my work in practice,” said Winner in a video interview on the Princeton sports website. “I had the support of my team behind me. I calmed down and I was ready to rock and roll.”

After a shaky start, the Tigers calmed down collectively. “We rallied for sure in the second half,” said Shackford. “We were putting a lot of pressure on them.”

That pressure finally yielded dividends as Tiger sophomore star Tyler Lussi struck, converting a feed from Gregoire into the back of the net, putting Princeton up 1-0 with six minutes remaining in regulation.

“Vanessa played a great ball in,” recalled Shackford of Gregoire, who was later named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week. “Tyler has been forcing things lately so hopefully this will help her relax.”

The Tigers didn’t relax after the goal as Winner and the defense held the fort and Princeton came away with a hard-earned 1-0 victory, the 10th straight game in the hotly-contested series to be decided by two goals or less and the third straight decided by one goal.

“We all just pulled it together; everyone was in it working hard,” said Winner, reflecting on the last six minutes of the contest.

“We know from experience that you can be scored on in the last two seconds of the game so everybody was focused. Our plan was to keep it up the field for as long as possible and just play our hearts out until the final whistle.”

Shackford was proud of how her team played to the final whistle. “We were phenomenal with game management after the goal,” said Shackford, whose team improved to 2-3-2 overall with the victory.

As Princeton hosts Dartmouth (3-2-2 overall, 0-0-1 Ivy) on October 4, Shackford is hoping the Tigers can build on the win over Yale.

“I think it gives you a lot of momentum,” said Shackford, whose team currently sits atop the Ivy race along with Columbia (5-1-3 overall, 1-0 Ivy) and Harvard (6-2 overall, 1-0 Ivy). “If you had just 12 players and had a league loss going into Dartmouth, that would be a big hole to get out of.”

Princeton is lucky to have a great group of freshman players. “The freshman class is phenomenal,” said Shackford, who also inserted freshman Mikaela Symanovich as a sub on Saturday. “They are leaders, they are hard, they want it, they have adapted so well.”

Going forward, the injury-depleted Tigers face a hard task in their bid for a league crown.

“We have to defend well and stay together,” said Shackford. “People have to have some extraordinary performances.”

Winner is confident the Tigers will stay on task. “We are taking it one day at a time and working hard in each practice,” said Winner.

“Having a win under our belt is great but we are looking forward to the next game. It is a clean slate and we have got to just get those next three points.”

BEAM OF LIGHT: Princeton High quarterback Dave Beamer gets ready to throw a pass in a game last fall. This past Saturday, junior Beamer passed for 273 yards and four touchdowns as PHS edged Hightstown 36-29 to improve to 3-0. The Little Tigers will look to keep on the winning track when they host Lawrence High (2-0) on October 2.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BEAM OF LIGHT: Princeton High quarterback Dave Beamer gets ready to throw a pass in a game last fall. This past Saturday, junior Beamer passed for 273 yards and four touchdowns as PHS edged Hightstown 36-29 to improve to 3-0. The Little Tigers will look to keep on the winning track when they host Lawrence High (2-0) on October 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Although the Princeton High football team had won its first two games this fall, junior quarterback Dave Beamer hadn’t gotten into a groove yet with his passing game.

“I was talking to the coaching staff and we said we are trying to get him to have that breakout game,” said PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher of Beamer.

As the Little Tigers played at Hightstown last Saturday afternoon, Beamer wasn’t on target in the early stages of the contest. “He didn’t start out great, I think he was 0-for-2 or 0-for-3 on his first few passes,” recalled Gallagher.

But with PHS trailing 8-0, Beamer found Rory Helstrom for a touchdown and some great things ensued from that point as he passed for 273 yards and three more TDs to help the Little Tigers pull out a 36-29 thriller.

“He connected with Rory on our first touchdown; I think that was his first completion,” said Gallagher, reflecting on a performance which saw Beamer go on to hit scoring strikes of 80 yards to Helstrom, 19 yards to Jack Cook, and 8 yards to Nick Fliss, the last of which broke a 29-29 tie in the fourth quarter.

“He was about 50 percent on his completions (10-for-21) which was great. On the 80-yarder to Rory in the second quarter, he took a huge hit. He had to throw it over their defender and he did a really good job getting it to Rory.”

The Little Tigers certainly needed Beamer’s breakout day as the contest turned into a shootout that saw five lead changes.

“We knew they had weapons and we have weapons,” said Gallagher. “It was 21-15 at half and I said to the guys I thought we need to get three more touchdowns to win the way the game was going. It was a slugfest, both Hightstown and PHS were throwing haymakers.”

As has been the case all season, junior star Rory Helstrom proved to be a lethal weapon for the Little Tigers, scoring two touchdowns on pass receptions and rushing for a third TD.

“Rory had five receptions for 170 yards, rushed for around 60 and had some good kick returns,” said Gallagher.

“He went down after his last TD, he was dehydrated and had cramps. With all of the things he can do, you just hope you get one of those guys. He’s that player for us.”

Senior inside linebacker and back-up running back Smallzman is also a special player for the Little Tigers.

“Sam Smallzman came in for Rory at running back on that last drive and we fed him the ball,” said Gallagher. “We gave it to him six times in a row right up the middle and we ran out the clock.”

Coming on the heels of a 0-10 campaign last fall, PHS’s 3-0 run to start the season has been heartening for Gallagher.

“To say I am proud of the guys would be an understatement,” said Gallagher, who is in his second year at the helm of the program.

“You don’t get to do this every year. I think the last time we were 3-0 was in 2009 when we went to the playoffs. To be 3-0 is special where we are coming from.”

While Gallagher is proud of his team’s record, he doesn’t want his players to get ahead of themselves.

“We are going to take it one game at time,” said Gallagher. “I think the kids are really selling out. I didn’t want to put too much pressure on them but Hightstown was a huge game. It was a division game, a group game, and I told the kids that is a game we have to win. We are in the thick of things. The kids are excited and we are in a rhythm.”

With PHS hosting Lawrence on October 2 in a short turnaround from Saturday, the focus is on maintaining the winning rhythm.

“Lawrence is a brand new team from last year with a new coach, they are 2-0 and they had a bye last week,” said Gallagher.

“We have to take a lot of mental reps this week. The guys need to get their rest. We want to keep the kids healthy and fresh. We want them to come out Thursday, ready to jump out again. We want to keep playing and keep winning.”

ON THE SAME PAIGE: Princeton High girls’ country runner Paige Metzheiser heads to the finish line in a 2013 race. Last week, senior Metzheiser took seventh in a meet at Mercer County Park, helping PHS to wins over Hamilton and Robbinsville. On Saturday, Metzheiser placed 24th as PHS finished third in the Varsity 2 division at the Bowdoin Cross Country Classic in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. In upcoming action, the Little Tigers race against Allentown on October 1.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ON THE SAME PAIGE: Princeton High girls’ country runner Paige Metzheiser heads to the finish line in a 2013 race. Last week, senior Metzheiser took seventh in a meet at Mercer County Park, helping PHS to wins over Hamilton and Robbinsville. On Saturday, Metzheiser placed 24th as PHS finished third in the Varsity 2 division at the Bowdoin Cross Country Classic in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. In upcoming action, the Little Tigers race against Allentown on October 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton High girls’ cross country team, the goal this fall is to reach a higher level of competitiveness.

“We are trying to extend ourselves, we have shown that we can run tough,” said PHS head coach Jim Smirk.

“We have reacted in races; now we want to create a situation where we are changing races. Every time we lace them up, it is about how are we going to get better as athletes and competitors, not just physically, but mentally.”

PHS got better last week as it dominated a meet at Mercer County Park, placing five in the top nine in posting wins over Hamilton and Robbinsville. Junior Emma Eikelberner led the way for PHS, placing second in a time of 18:50 over the 5,000-meter course. Senior Julie Bond was next in third with senior Paige Metzheiser taking seventh, senior Mary Sutton finishing eighth, and junior Lou Mialhe coming in ninth.

In Smirk’s view, Eikelberner has made a lot of progress, physically and mentally.

“Emma ran a 29-minute 5k as a freshman so she has earned every second off of her time,” said Smirk.

“She is learning how to fill the role of being a top runner. In the spring she had a breakthrough and she put in a lot of work over the summer.”

Senior Bond has worked on remaining injury free. “She looks great, we shut her down early in the spring so she would be ready for cross country,” said Smirk

“That is the season she likes the best, we said the day after track was the first day of pre-training for cross country. She ran much better this week than last week, we know she can be a stellar runner for us.”

Metzheiser produced a stellar effort in the meet last week. “She is one of the girls whose skill set we are trying to broaden,” said Smirk.

“She has been sitting in the middle of the pack and grinding it out. We want her to get leadership options and not just be part of the pack. She is going to be challenged. With her 800 pedigree, she can get out of her depth against more experienced runners who have some tricks.”

PHS is relying on the experience of Sutton and Mialhe to make a difference as the fall unfolds.

“They are definitely tested,” said Smirk. “They know what they need to do from here on out.”

The trio of Sarah Klebanov, Sophia Zahn, and Izzy Trenholm are figuring out what they need to do on the varsity level.

“Sarah is kid who had been dancing around the edge of the varsity, spring track didn’t shake out well for her,” said Smirk.

“She worked to rebuild herself this summer; she is exciting to watch. She shook two girls off from HoVal in the meet in the last ¼ mile, she uncorked a great kick. Sophia has been dancing around the varsity too. Izzy is a sophomore; we are looking for her to move up. She is still pretty raw, last year was her first year. She is growing into it and what it means to be a varsity athlete.”

Smirk believes his team has the depth to do well in championship meets.

“One of the things we have prided ourselves on is having the best 5,6,7 when we get to the state meets,” said Smirk, whose team races against Allentown on October 1 as it prepares for the county meet later this month.

“We believe in the importance of every single runner in the line. Even if they don’t beat someone’s No. 5, they are providing the drive from the back.”

The squad is driven to do some special things this fall. “They are going to go after it; we know there are tough teams out there,” said Smirk, whose team took third in the Varsity 2 division at the Bowdoin Cross Country Classic in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., last Saturday, led by Sutton in 11th place and Bond in 20th.

“We have always raced well as a group, now it is more about taking advantage of each other’s strengths and racing together to create a competitive dynamic.”

FRONT ROW: Princeton Day School field hockey player Rowan Schomburg gets in position near the goal in recent action. Last week, junior star Schomburg tallied a goal and two assists as PDS topped Hun 4-0. The Panthers, now 2-6, play at Lawrenceville on October 1 and at Pennington on October 6 before hosting Princeton High on October 7.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FRONT ROW: Princeton Day School field hockey player Rowan Schomburg gets in position near the goal in recent action. Last week, junior star Schomburg tallied a goal and two assists as PDS topped Hun 4-0. The Panthers, now 2-6, play at Lawrenceville on October 1 and at Pennington on October 6 before hosting Princeton High on October 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last fall, Rowan Schomburg deferred to the senior stars on the Princeton Day School field hockey team as they carried the offensive load for the Panthers.

But after being a member of the supporting cast of a team led by the graduated Sarah Brennan, Emma Quigley, Mary Travers, and Emily Goldman, Schomburg has been thrust into a leading role as a junior in 2014.

“The seniors put a lot of pressure on us juniors this year and I put a lot of pressure on myself, said Schomburg.

“I want to be a good role model for the underclassmen. I try to give them the best opportunities that I can. Whether that is working with Elizabeth [Brennan] in the midfield or anyone on offense, I try to make them look good.”

Last week against visiting Hun, Schomburg made the PDS attack look very good, contributing a goal and two assists as the Panthers pulled away to a 4-0 triumph.

With PDS having lost three straight games by a combined score of 11-2 coming into the September 23 contest, the Panthers were determined to right the ship.

“We wanted to play a full 60 minutes really strong so our mindset was transitions and finishing, which we have had trouble with a little bit,” said Schomburg.

“Possession was really key in this game, we really tried to focus on passing to a player rather than to a space. I think we improved on that and we are hoping to improve on that even more in upcoming games.”

Despite controlling possession from the outset, it took PDS nearly 20 minutes to score as Schomburg set up Brennan for the first goal with 10:23 left in the first half.

“I was definitely looking forward to it, I knew it was coming,” said Schomburg. “I knew we would finish it strong but that was definitely a good starting point.”

In the waning seconds of the half, Schomburg got her goal, fighting through a scramble in the circle.

“I just saw the backboard; I didn’t see the goalie at all so I just pushed it into the net,” recalled Schomburg.

Despite leading 2-0 at half, PDS kept pushing to the final whistle. “We wanted to win the second half so even if they got a goal we wanted to come back and get another goal,” said Schomburg, who assisted on PDS’s third goal as Lauren Finley found the back of the cage with Madison Mundenar completing the scoring for the Panthers.

“We always wanted to stay on top and I think we did that. We came out of the gate really strong and I think we kept that intensity and energy all the way through the second half.”

PDS head coach Tracey Arndt liked the way her team played hard all the way to the final whistle against Hun.

“It is just a matter of consistency,” said Arndt. “I think we were just done with hanging our heads at the end of every game, knowing that we would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.”

In Arndt’s view, focusing on fundamentals helped pave the way to the win over the Raiders.

“We did have a few days of practice which was really nice,” said Arndt. “We really just broke it down and worked on some skills. We took some time to make sure that they look up before they pass so they just don’t get rid of it. We started to spread out a little more, both width and depth-wise. I think that helped us and just getting hungry. If you want to score, are you are going to get in and do what’s right.”

Schomburg is showing the right stuff for the Panthers this fall. “Rowan had the other girls around her last year so she played that supportive role,” said Arndt.

“Now that we have looked up to her from the beginning. She still wanted to play the supportive role but we said you are them. She gets it. She gets what it means to work hard, she gets what it means to be tenacious. She gets what it means to be a teammate, I think because of that she will do whatever she can to get her team to score. She is an absolute coach’s dream; she is really stepping up.”

Senior tri-captain Dana Poltorak provided some tenacity to the PDS attack. “We switched her forward in the second half, she really had some flow to her skill and some fluidity,” said Arndt.

“She just continued to fight. If she lost the ball, she got it right back. I think it’s a big thing for our forwards, we say you are the actual first line of defense. We can’t wait until it gets back to our defense. Our girls are really putting pressure on them and getting a lot of jabs in while the defense is heading down. Once you do that, your next line can step up.”

The PDS defense held the line in thwarting Hun. “We moved Katie Shih back there and she did a good job of stepping up,” said Arndt.

“Niki van Manen has been talking more and organizing the defense. Kyra Hall on the other side as a young player wasn’t necessarily as aggressive as she needs to be, although she was in practice. It is just a matter of pulling that out of here, she’s stepped up to a lot of cross balls which was really good. Kiely French plays very simple, we moved her over to one of the rushers on corners and I think it has really helped. Katie [Alden] is back there in goal really supporting the team.”

Arndt is hoping that the Panthers can keep up their aggressive play. “I sure hope so; they are working hard at practice,” said Arndt, whose team fell 3-2 to South Hunterdon last Monday to move to 2-6.

“All I am asking them to do is to stay consistent and work hard and walk off the field proud, whether it is a win or a loss. We’ll be fine with good attitudes and hard work.”

In Schomburg’s view, the win over Hun could be a turning point for the squad. “I think we really needed this,” said Schomburg. “This is a great starting point, it is really going to propel us forward.”

FINISHING TOUCH: Princeton Day School girls’ soccer player Hannah Bunce chases down the ball in recent action. Last Friday, sophomore Bunce scored the game-winning goal as PDS rallied to beat Germantown Academy (Pa.) 3-2. The Panthers, who topped Blair 3-1 on Saturday to improve to 5-2-1, play at Lawrenceville on October 2 before hosting Montclair Kimberley on October 6.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FINISHING TOUCH: Princeton Day School girls’ soccer player Hannah Bunce chases down the ball in recent action. Last Friday, sophomore Bunce scored the game-winning goal as PDS rallied to beat Germantown Academy (Pa.) 3-2. The Panthers, who topped Blair 3-1 on Saturday to improve to 5-2-1, play at Lawrenceville on October 2 before hosting Montclair Kimberley on October 6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Hannah Bunce wasn’t fazed as the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team fell behind twice in the first half against visiting Germantown Academy (Pa.) last Friday.

“We definitely knew that they were going to be a tough challenge,” said sophomore Bunce, reflecting on the contest which saw PDS trailing 1-0 and 2-1.

“We focused. We worked hard, we kept going and we stayed positive and the next thing you know we were banging in one goal after another.”

The Panthers tied the game at 2-2 late in the first half and then Bunce banged in the biggest goal of the afternoon, tallying the game-winner with 3:02 left in regulation as PDS pulled out a 3-2 victory.

“I knew a goal would come,” said Bunce. “We kept working, we just had to be patient. I was a little nervous when the ball came to me. I just took a whack at it. I was thinking don’t miss.”

With a high school season under her belt, Bunce feels less nervous on the field this fall.

“As a freshman, I lacked a lot of confidence playing on varsity,” said Bunce.

“This year, I am a little more confident on the field, I know my place and the older girls help out with that.”

PDS head coach Pat Trombetta believes the dramatic win over Germantown should be a confidence builder for his squad. “We didn’t play a great first half but what we did is battled,” said Trombetta.

“We came from behind 1-0 and 2-1. At halftime we made a couple of adjustments. For us as a team, this is a special win because we needed a win against a real high caliber team to give them a boost of confidence. This goes a long way.”

Trombetta is seeing more confident play from Bunce. “We talked about crash the net, crash the net, and that’s how we won the game with a girl crashing the net,” said Trombetta, who also got goals from Abby Atkeson and Alexa Soltesz in the victory.

“We saw that keeper coming off her line a lot. She was very aggressive so we were hoping that we were going to beat her on a couple of those. Hannah was in the right place at the right time there, crashing the net. We moved Hannah from outside mid to up top this year; she is creating some opportunities. She has a left foot cannon on her. She takes the corner kick from that one side of the field as well and some of our free kicks. She has come along, she has adjusted to this new position. She is doing a great job.”

Freshman goalie Grace Barbara did a great job for the Panthers against Germantown, making 10 saves, including some leaping stops and a full-out dive late in regulation to deny Germantown. “Grace kept us in the game, she had a fantastic game,” asserted Trombetta.

In addition to scoring the first PDS goal of the afternoon, sophomore Abby Atkeson gave the Panther defense a big lift.

“We knew that No. 1 was a special player for them; she was the playmaker and she was beating us left and right in the first half,” said Trombetta.

“We put Abby on her and she did a great job of shutting her down. She blanketed her for the rest of the game. I think that made a big difference.”

In recent games, the PDS attack has been making a big difference. “All along we have been getting the opportunities but we haven’t been finishing but now we got four goals in the Peddie game and three goals in the Germantown Academy game,” said Trombetta, whose team took another step forward last Saturday, beating Blair 3-1 with a pair of goals by Alexa Soltesz and one by Allison Klei to improve to 5-2-1.

“I think things are starting to come together on the offensive end. Now we are starting to play as a team and finish our chances.”

Bunce, for her part, believes the win over Germantown is proof that things are coming together for the Panthers.

“We are getting our thing going,” said Bunce. “It was definitely a confidence builder; they were a good team.”

While the Princeton Day School cross country program doesn’t boast strength in numbers, it does feature some high quality runners.

As the PDS boys’ squad defeated visiting Pennington 24-35 last week, Panther sophomore Ian Moini set the pace, covering the 5,000-meter course in 16:35, more than a minute better than runner-up Ryan Rizzuto of Pennington (17:40).

PDS head coach Merrell Noden wasn’t surprised that Moini cruised to victory.

“Ian is on his way to becoming the best runner in PDS history; he is a year older, that is part of it,” said Noden, noting that Moini went to cross country camps this summer in Indiana and at Princeton University.

“He is more focused and more intense. He wants to do everything hard and fast. I want him to do a long run of 70 minutes each week and he comes back after a hard 40 minute run. He ran 17:08 twice last year. He did 16:50 at the Newark Academy Invitational earlier this season. I think he can get down to the low 16s this year.”

Sophomore Kevin Sun is coming on fast for the Panthers. “Kevin had never run before this year; he is an incredible workhorse,” said Noden.

“Without knowing what he was doing, he was running 60 miles a week this summer. He has run only four races in his life to this point. We finish practice and he wants to go out and run another 20 minutes; he always adds to whatever we are doing.”

PDS is getting good work from the trio of junior Nick Chen, junior Peter Klein, and freshman Tommy Batterman.

“Nick Chen is a steady guy for us; he was under 20 for us last year,” said Noden.

“Peter Klein is a good looking runner for us, he is showing steady improvement. Tommy Batterman has been fourth, fifth, or sixth for us in every race; we expect him to keep improving.”

As for the girls’ team, Noden is expecting big things from sophomore Morgan Mills.

“Like Ian with the boys, Morgan is on her way to being the best girl runner ever at PDS,” said Noden of Mills who posted a time of 20:29 in placing first as the Panther girls defeated Pennington 23-32.

“She insists on training with the boys. She ran a 20:08 last year against New Hope, that is the best time ever for a PDS girl. I think she can get in the mid 19s.”

Noden believes that junior Emma Sharer can get better and better as the season unfolds.

“Emma is a smooth and efficient runner,” added Noden. “She has started slowly but I expect her to improve and get to where she was last year when she helped the girls’ team to its first medalist performance at the prep meet.”

Freshman Bridget Kane has been a big help so far this fall. “I didn’t know her before she showed up this summer,” said Noden, noting that senior captain Emma Kaplan is currently sidelined by injury but could return later this fall. “She was instantly able to run with our top girls. She has been third for us in every meet.”

ONE TO WATCH: Hun School field hockey player Julie Fassl looks for the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore Fassl scored a goal to help Hun beat the George School 4-2 and improve to 3-3. The Raiders host Steinert on October 3.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ONE TO WATCH: Hun School field hockey player Julie Fassl looks for the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore Fassl scored a goal to help Hun beat the George School 4-2 and improve to 3-3. The Raiders host Steinert on October 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming into last week, the Hun School field hockey team appeared to be on the right track.

The Raiders had won two of their last three games, including an impressive 2-0 victory over WW/P-S on September 20.

Hun head coach Kathy Quirk was happy with the way things were going. “Oh definitely, we were making progress,” said Quirk in assessing her team’s 2-2 start.

But the Raiders took a step backward when they played at the Princeton Day School on September 23, falling 4-0 to the Panthers.

“We didn’t come ready to play today, it was very
obvious,” said Quirk.

“They pounded and pounded away at the goalie and we took one shot and stood and watched. We just couldn’t seem to capitalize today. We had too many long passes go out that normally we run and get. Their goalie [Katie Alden] played a nice game.”

Hun has been getting some nice play from the trio of seniors Vicki Leach and Julia Blake along with sophomore Julie Fassl as all three had produced in Hun’s previous three games with Leach tallying two goals and two assists in that stretch and Blake chipping in two goals and an assist, and Fassl contributing a goal and two assists.

“Leach and Fassl have been bright spots, so has Julia Blake,” said Quirk, who got a 20-save effort from senior goalie Reina Kern in the loss to PDS.

With the Hun program having shown a penchant for late-season surges in recent years, Quirk believes her squad can get back on the winning track.

“We have to change our attitudes a little,” said Quirk, whose team topped the George School (Pa.) 4-2 last Saturday with goals by Maura Kelly, Julia Revock along with Blake and Fassl as it improved to 3-3.

“We just have to get more aggressive. We have to look up before we pass. We need to work on confidence.”

September 24, 2014
ROUGH WATER: Princeton University running back DiAndre Atwater carries the ball in 2013 action. Last Saturday, junior Atwater rushed for a game-high 80 yards but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 39-29 at the University of San Diego in its season opener. The Tigers will look to get on the winning track when they host Davidson on September 27 at Princeton Stadium.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ROUGH WATER: Princeton University running back DiAndre Atwater carries the ball in 2013 action. Last Saturday, junior Atwater rushed for a game-high 80 yards but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 39-29 at the University of San Diego in its season opener. The Tigers will look to get on the winning track when they host Davidson on September 27 at Princeton Stadium. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Princeton University football team having lost the season opener in each of his four years at the helm of the program, Bob Surace sensed that things would be different this fall.

As the Tigers prepared to kick off the 2014 campaign at the University of San Diego last Saturday, head coach Surace liked what he was seeing from his players in the build-up to the contest.

“We had a good week of practice,” said Surace. “We got on the bus after Friday’s practice, feeling good. In practice there had been very few corrections.”

But practice didn’t make perfect as the Tigers shot themselves in the foot on several occasions in falling 39-29 to San Diego before a sun-splashed crowd of 3,324 at Torero Stadium.

The Tigers dug an early 14-0 hole, forcing them to fight an uphill battle the rest of the afternoon.

“We get off to a slow start and gave up a 90-yard drive, that hurt,” lamented Surace.

After the teams exchanged punts in the first two possessions of the contest, San Diego got rolling as quarterback Keith Williams hit Reggie Bell for an 82-yard pass play that got the Toreros to the Princeton 11-yard line. Two plays later,  Williams hit Brandon White for a 10-yard touchdown.

Princeton went three and out on its next possession and Bell struck again with a 55-yard punt return that gave San Diego the ball at the Tiger 31. Williams ended up scoring on a one-yard quarterback plunge as the Toreros extended their lead to 14-0.

With senior quarterback Quinn Epperly finding a rhythm, Princeton went on the march. The reigning Ivy League Offensive Player of the year hit 4-of-8 passes and then ran 12 yards for a touchdown to complete a 15-play, 78-yard march as the Tigers narrowed the gap to 14-6 in the waning seconds of the quarter.

It seemed like Princeton was righting the ship in the second quarter. Getting the ball at the San Diego 36, the Tigers started moving again. Connor Michelson came on in a multi-quarterback set and hit Epperly with a 12-yard pass to get the ball to the Torero 11. Two plays later, Joe Rhattigan found paydirt for the Tigers on a 12-yard touchdown scamper to make it a 14-12 game.

The Toreros answered two possessions later as Williams hit White with a 25-yard pass and then found that man Bell again for a 26-yard scoring strike to push the San Diego advantage back to 21-12.

Princeton fought back putting together a 58-yard drive that culminated in a 34-yard field goal by Nolan Bieck and cut the Torero lead to 21-15 at the half.

Surace, for his part, was happy with what he saw after the shaky start. “We were playing well in the second quarter, we had more consistency,” said Surace. “In the first quarter, we didn’t tackle well but after that we had only a handful of missed tackles. We played better on all three sides of the ball.”

Building on the progress in the second quarter, the Tigers nosed ahead 22-21 early in the third quarter. Dre Nelson returned the second half kickoff 35 yards to give Princeton the ball at its 36. Running back DiAndre Atwater then broke loose for a 54-yard gallop to get the ball to the San Diego 10. Two plays later, Epperly hit Matt Costello for a 4-yard TD pass and Bieck hit the extra point to make it 22-21 in favor of the Tigers.

But the Princeton offense sputtered from that point, doomed by a series of mental miscues.

“We got the ball back and had a third and one and they stuffed us,” recalled Surace.

“We had six drives in a row without a first down. It was a number of errors. One time it was a missed block, then it was a missed throw, and then a missed catch.”

While Princeton stalled, Bell kept rolling, scoring on a 48-yard touchdown pass with 5:25 left in the third quarter as San Diego regained the lead at 29-22.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Toreros got their advantage back to double digits as Williams hit D’Angelo Barksdale for a five-yard touchdown strike as San Diego extended the margin to 36-22. Minutes later, the Toreros added a field goal to make it 39-22.

The Tigers kept battling and Epperly found Seth DeValve for a 22-yard TD pass with 2:25 remaining as Princeton closed the gap to the final score of 39-29.

“We better concentrate on detail or we are going to struggle,” said Surace, reflecting on the loss which marked the eighth straight opening day defeat for the program.

“To go into a game and not play the coverage the way we played in practice, that makes no sense to me.”

Although disappointed by the result, Surace did see some positives coming out of the afternoon.

“There were a number of things,” noted Surace, who got 237 yards passing for two touchdowns from Epperly with DeValve making nine catches for 123 yards and Atwater rushing for 80 yards.

“We didn’t have the typical first game penalties. We stopped the run very well, they averaged 2.2 yards. The effort was good, not great. DiAndre and DeValve ran hard.”

The Tigers will need to take care of the little things as it hosts Davidson (1-3) in its home opener with a big crowd expected at Princeton Stadium as the program celebrates community and staff day with a postgame fireworks display to cap off the festivities.

“We need to fix things; we need to work on being more exact in the details,” said Surace.

“The veterans did some things that were uncharacteristic. It will be good getting that game film. We need to make a good leap from the first to the second game.”

ON TARGET: Princeton University men’s soccer player Cameron ­Porter controls the ball in recent action. Senior forward Porter leads Princeton with four goals, helping the Tigers to a 1-2-2 start. In upcoming action, Princeton plays at Drexel on September 24 before hosting Binghamton on September 27.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ON TARGET: Princeton University men’s soccer player Cameron ­Porter controls the ball in recent action. Senior forward Porter leads Princeton with four goals, helping the Tigers to a 1-2-2 start. In upcoming action, Princeton plays at Drexel on September 24 before hosting Binghamton on September 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the Princeton University men’s soccer team had trouble keeping the ball against 13th-ranked Georgetown last Wednesday, Tiger forward Cameron Porter made the most out of the limited possession.

Late in the first half, senior star Porter found the back of the net on a feed from Andrew Doar to give Princeton a 1-0 advantage going into halftime.

“I saw the ball going wide from Myles [McGinley] with a quick switch and once I see that coming in I know I have to get myself in a good position in the box,” said Porter. “Once it comes in to me, it is my job to finish it.”

In the second half, Princeton didn’t do a good job as Georgetown scored three unanswered goals to pull away to a 3-1 win.

In Porter’s view, the Tigers need to learn from the setback. “It was challenging to keep the ball, they had the best of the possession and I think it was a good lesson for us,” said the 6’1, 175-pound Porter, a native of Centerville, Ohio.

“It really teaches us that if we are going to be out here and we are going to compete against the top teams, we are going to have to learn, when we have the ball to make connections that make sense. What it seems like was happening is that we would win the ball and lose it right back. We need to learn how to keep the ball and learn how to go forward with meaning.”

With a team-high four goals this season, Porter has emerged as the team’s most dangerous player going forward.

“I am feeling good; I think it’s important as a senior that I score consistently,” said Porter, a two-time All-Ivy League performer who now has 20 goals in his Princeton career.

“The last few seasons it has kind of eluded me to score the goals in the big games and now it is coming along. Hopefully as the season develops those can turn into game winners.”

Getting moved inside on the field has helped Porter be more of a scoring threat.

“Last year I played more of an out wide position and now I am getting to play more of the center forward position,” said Porter. “You get those services and the opportunities to finish more often.”

Porter is hoping the experience of playing against Georgetown will help Princeton down the road.

“It is really all about preparing for the Ivy League and that’s why we play teams like this,” said Porter.

“They are going to be better than any team we play in the league so it is important to learn from this and take it to the other Ivies.”

Princeton head coach Jim Barlow concurred, acknowledging that Georgetown proved to be a handful for Princeton.

“They are all athletic and good on the ball, they stretch you out,” said Barlow.

“I thought we were a little disappointed that more guys didn’t have a better game. When you are playing a team that good, everyone has to have a good day. We had a lead and we felt like we could still raise the level at the start of the second half in terms our ability to go forward and making it harder for them to possess. We struggled in both of those areas. We had a few big breakdowns defensively and we couldn’t keep it when we wanted. Credit them, they put so much pressure on you. They press hard; we just felt like we could never get it going.”

Barlow credits Porter with getting Princeton going offensively. “He has done well with his opportunities,” said Barlow. “He didn’t have many chances tonight, he didn’t have the ball much either but he still winds up with a goal. He is off to a good start. Hopefully he can keep it going in this next stretch of games.”

As Princeton girds for Ivy League play, Barlow is hoping to get it going as it wraps up its non-conference slate.

“We don’t have much time now, we have three more games now before we get to the Ivy League,” said Barlow, whose team rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie Boston University 2-2 last Saturday in moving to 1-2-2 and plays at Drexel on September 24 before hosting Binghamton on September 27.

“We want to try to continue to improve and get some momentum as we get into the Ivy League season.”

Porter, for his part, believes the Tigers can make a run for the Ivy title after coming up just short the last two seasons.

“We have a lot of seniors and juniors in the starting lineup and that is something we haven’t had in a while,” said Porter.

“The team has a sense of maturity and a sense of urgency. I think we are all learning from these games.”

NO DOUBTING THOMAS: Princeton University men’s water polo player Thomas Nelson looks for the ball in a game earlier this season. Junior star Nelson has tallied 14 goals this fall, helping the Tigers to an 8-1 start. In upcoming action, Princeton hosts George Washington and Bucknell on September 28.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

NO DOUBTING THOMAS: Princeton University men’s water polo player Thomas Nelson looks for the ball in a game earlier this season. Junior star Nelson has tallied 14 goals this fall, helping the Tigers to an 8-1 start. In upcoming action, Princeton hosts George Washington and Bucknell on September 28. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Things started on a down note for the Princeton University men’s water polo team as it competed in its first full weekend of Southern Division action.

The Tigers fell 10-9 at Johns Hopkins on Saturday morning, suffering their first loss this season after a 6-0 start.

“We had chances to get up but we missed,” said Princeton head coach Luis Nicolao.

“Alex Gow had a good game in goal for us but they know how to play in their pool. The mistakes are compounded in a smaller venue.”

Princeton, though, rebounded from the setback and took advantage of its chances the rest of the weekend, topping Navy 12-7 on Saturday evening and then edging George Washington 14-12 on Sunday.

“We were a little upset with some of the mistakes we made Saturday morning,” said Nicolao, whose team scored six unanswered goals in the second quarter against the Midshipmen.

“Any time we play Navy, we know it’s going to be a battle and the guys are always up for that. We got a jump on them and then we steamrollered them. We missed some chances in the first quarter. We came out in the second quarter and put away some opportunities and capitalized on their mistakes. Our lefty freshman Connor McGoldrick had a good game against GW. It is another smaller venue and it is one of those games you have to get through. We capitalized on their errors.”

Having lost heartbreakers in the CWPA semis in 2012 and in the finals last year, the team’s core of veterans are primed for battle.

“The senior class, in general, is excited to go out on top,” said Nicolao, whose Class of 2015 includes Drew Hoffenberg, Sam Butler, Kayj Shannon, and Kevin Zhang.

“They are doing everything they can to not end the season like the last two years.”

With the Tigers at 8-1, Nicolao believes things are headed in the right direction.

“We have depth,” said Nicolao, who has gotten 22 goals from Hoffenberg already with freshman Jordan Colina adding 16, junior Thomas Nelson chipping in 14, junior Jamie Kuprenas tallying 11, and sophomore Jovan Jeremic with 10.

“Drew has always been an amazing player for us. Jordan and Thomas are having big years. Jamie Kuprenas has stepped up. Kayj Shannon is out for a while and it seems like every game, someone else steps up. I think our team defense overall has been a strength, particularly in our big wins over Irvine, Navy, and Cal Baptist. We have two quality goalies (junior Gow and freshman Vojislav Mitrovic), we are playing both of them a lot. We have balance, guys are coming off the bench and helping us.”

Despite the promising start, Princeton has plenty of room for improvement.

“We need to learn each other better; we have some big games coming up and we go to California in three weeks,” said Nicolao, whose team hosts George Washington and Bucknell on September 28.

“It is just the first phase of the season. If we can stay healthy, it could be a special year.”

 

PILING ON: Princeton High linebacker Sam Smallzman flies on top of the pile as PHS stymies Ewing last Friday on its way to a 7-0 win over the Blue Devils. Senior star Smallzman contributed a fumble recovery and game-sealing interception along with a slew of tackles as the Little Tigers improved to 2-0. PHS will look to keep on the winning track as it plays at Hightstown on September 27.(Photo by John Dowers)

PILING ON: Princeton High linebacker Sam Smallzman flies on top of the pile as PHS stymies Ewing last Friday on its way to a 7-0 win over the Blue Devils. Senior star Smallzman contributed a fumble recovery and game-sealing interception along with a slew of tackles as the Little Tigers improved to 2-0. PHS will look to keep on the winning track as it plays at Hightstown on September 27. (Photo by John Dowers)

With Harris Field packed last Friday evening as the Princeton High football team played under lights specially brought in for Homecoming festivities, the school’s studio band got the fans on their feet with a spirited halftime rendition of the Supremes’ classic “Respect.”

The crowd kept cheering all night long as PHS earned a large dose of respect, stifling Ewing en route to a hard-earned 7-0 win.

It was the second straight victory for the Little Tigers, who have emerged as one of the pleasant surprises of the fall, bouncing back from a 0-10 campaign in 2013.

Afterward, a beaming senior linebacker Sam Smallzman said he and his teammates fed off the festive atmosphere of the throng estimated at 2,000.

“It was great, the whole school was here,” said Smallzman. “It was the first game under the lights ever at PHS. It was a great feeling to give our fans that. It was great to have them support us.”

For Smallzman, it was an especially great moment, considering that he was sidelined early last season with an ACL and meniscus injury.

“I worked all off season,” said Smallzman. “My teammates pushed me and believed in me to get back. I am doing what I can for them.”

On Friday, Smallzman did quite a lot for the Little Tigers, making a slew of tackles, recovering a fumble in the third quarter, and coming up with an interception in the last minute of regulation to seal the victory.

While Smallzman stood out, the defensive performance was definitely a group effort.

“Coach Goldy [defensive coordinator Scott Goldsmith] does a great job of making sure that we all have fun,” said Smallzman.

“We are really getting after it, swarming, and communicating. We have a great group of guys; we all trust each other to lock it down. It was just no big plays, everyone swarm, wrap up, and communicate. I think we did a great job.”

Smallzman has a big job as the team’s defensive signal caller. “I call the plays but it is really everybody,” said Smallzman. “There is no one guy who does it all. It was great to get a shutout.”

Smallzman won’t soon forget getting the game-clinching play on the late interception.

“I was missing them earlier in the game, I had one that hit me in the hands,” said Smallzman. “I read the QB, I jumped it, and the rest is history.”

PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher liked the way his defensive unit jumped all over the Blue Devils.

“We tried to put together a great defensive scheme,” said Gallagher.

“Coach Goldsmith, our d-coordinator, is doing a great job. We are firing on all cylinders. It was a great total team effort from the front line of the defense to the backers to the defensive backs. They are all making plays.”

The Little Tigers got a special effort from Smallzman. “He is a beast in the middle, we love him,” asserted Gallagher.

“He is the heart and soul but at the same time he is one of several guys this year. Last year, there weren’t as many guys out there. There were one or two guys trying to carry the load. We have other great players out there who are filling everything that needs to be filled to win football games because you just can’t do it with two or three kids.”

The Little Tigers were thrilled to get a second straight win to start the season.

“I think they say the hardest part about being 1-0 is getting to be 2-0,” said Gallagher, whose offense came through when it counted as junior star Rory Helstrom scored the lone touchdown of the night on an 11-yard run in the third quarter after PHS got the ball deep in Ewing territory on a botched fake punt by the Blue Devils.

“It is a big confidence boost. Getting that first win gave us confidence. I felt good this week. I was a little bit nervous about feeling good and confident; I haven’t had that feeling too often. But now we are 2-0. We are just going to take it one a game at a time. We have got a strong Hightstown team next week.”

Gallagher felt his team drew strength last Friday from the standing-room only crowd on hand at Harris Field.

“Without a doubt, to come out here and see the entire stands filled, what a great atmosphere,” said Gallagher.

“Thanks to the PTO and the football booster club because this wasn’t cheap. They did a great job of helping the PHS football program out and putting on a great event.”

Smallzman is hoping for some more great moments in the upcoming weeks. “We are just taking it game by game,” said Smallzman.

“We beat Hamilton West and as soon as that was over, we moved on, and focused on Ewing. The same goes for this week. We will watch a little film and move on and start getting ready for next week.”

 

EMERGING FORCE: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Jurriaan Dijkgraaf chases down the ball last Saturday in PHS’s 3-2 win over Ewing. Senior Dijkgraaf scored two goals in the game as PHS improved to 6-0. The Little Tigers play at Lawrence on September 30.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

EMERGING FORCE: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Jurriaan Dijkgraaf chases down the ball last Saturday in PHS’s 3-2 win over Ewing. Senior Dijkgraaf scored two goals in the game as PHS improved to 6-0. The Little Tigers play at Lawrence on September 30. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Jurriaan Dijkgraaf and the Princeton High boys’ soccer team appeared to be on cruise control as they jumped out to a 2-0 lead over Ewing last Saturday.

“We got off to a good start,” said senior midfielder Dijkgraaf. “We got a quick goal from Nick Halliday, that was a really good goal. Then I got a goal. We felt like the game was in lockdown. We had a good feeling going into halftime.”

The Little Tigers, though, weren’t feeling so great in the second half as Ewing scored to cut their lead to one goal.

“A 2-0 lead is a really dangerous lead in soccer,” said Dijkgraaf. “You feel like you got this and then they score and it is oh god.”

Dijkgraff scored a second goal on the day to give PHS some breathing room. “That was a really good ball from Chase Ealy,” said Dijkgraaf, recalling the goal. “The defender got a touch on it and then I could just slot it in.”

That tally turned out be the game-winner as Ewing scored on a penalty kick to make it a 3-2 game and nearly tied the game up in the waning moments as a header off a set piece went just wide.

“This was a really scary game,” said Dijkgraaf, reflecting on the victory, which improved PHS to 6-0. “I was scared on the last corner.

Dijkgraaf has turned a corner this season, emerging as a star player this fall after being part of the supporting cast in 2013.

“I changed position this year, I am playing on the left,” said Dijkgraaf.

“I used to play all the way up top, next to Chase. It is hard being a striker sometimes and not being able to go back and get that ball. I like being able to do both. I just try to go hard and give it my all.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe likes the work he is getting from Dijkgraaf.

“Jurriaan is finding the net, he’s a tireless worker,” said Sutcliffe. “He works hard, he is either one or two in all of our fitness tests. He gives us some energy that other guys can’t give us. He’s got to keep working and get better but it has been great to see him finding the score sheet.”

Senior co-captain Chase Ealy has been giving PHS energy and offensive production.

“Chase is a tireless worker, he has been a great captain,” said Sutcliffe. “His versatility is great. He has been scoring, he has been finding the final pass to the next guy. His work rate during the game, nobody works harder. The best news is that he is going to keep getting better.”

While Sutcliffe acknowledged that the second half wasn’t one of his team’s better stretches of play this fall, he liked the way his players persevered.

“It is good to have some challenges in games as long as you can come out on top, learning while you are winning,” said Sutcliffe.

“Credit to Ewing, they found a  way to make it hard on us. Fortunately we found a way to respond. These are the little tests that you have to pass. Every game we have been in this season has been like that. We have been challenged at one point or another by every opponent this year. That is the only way you can grow and get better as a team.”

Sutcliffe believes PHS is growing into something special. “I think the spirit and the chemistry of the team is great, that matters most in the tournaments,” asserted Sutcliffe.

“We are seeing some evidence of last year’s experience. I am happy with the work rate of the team, the camaraderie, the competitiveness, and the fact that we are so deep. We couldn’t ask for anything more. We are totally pleased with their effort and their open-mindedness and willingness to learn and get better. We can capture the biggest prizes in New Jersey soccer if we keep getting better and trusting one another.”

Dijkgraaf, for his part, believes the team’s good chemistry could make the difference as the fall unfolds.

“We just want to keep winning,” said Dijkgraaf. “This team is really close. There is no gap between age groups. It is a really good feeling. I think we are just closer than last year. I think that will help us.”

 

HUSTLE PLAY: Princeton High field hockey player Trish Reilly races up the field in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, junior midfielder Reilly contributed an assist to help PHS top Stuart Country Day 4-0. The Little Tigers, now 6-1, play at Lawrenceville on September 24, host Lawrence High on September 26, and play at WW/P-N on September 29.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HUSTLE PLAY: Princeton High field hockey player Trish Reilly races up the field in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, junior midfielder Reilly contributed an assist to help PHS top Stuart Country Day 4-0. The Little Tigers, now 6-1, play at Lawrenceville on September 24, host Lawrence High on September 26, and play at WW/P-N on September 29. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As the Princeton High field hockey team hit the field Saturday to host Stuart Country Day, it was riding a wave of emotion from the weekend’s Homecoming festivities.

“We were fired up with the whole entire homecoming aspect,” said PHS junior midfielder Trish Reilly.

“We started getting fired up last night so we were ready to go. We just wanted to get an early lead. Stuart is a strong team and we know they are aggressive. We definitely wanted to get some goals in the net before they got going.”

Reilly helped PHS get on the board early, setting up a Lucy Herring goal five minutes into the contest.

“Lucy and I do a lot of cross ball drills in practice,” said Reilly. “She is just always in the right pocket and in the right place at the right time. It is nice; I know where she will be without even having to look.”

The Little Tigers looked formidable all afternoon long as they pulled away to a 4-0 win over Stuart.

“We kept our composure which we are trying to work on,” said Reilly. “We had positive energy.”

Reilly brings energy all over the field for PHS. “I am almost like the assistant to both offense and defense,” explained Reilly, who tallied a goal and an assist on Monday as PHS toped Hopewell Valley 4-1 to improve to 6-1.

“I have Georgia [McLean] or Kennedy [Corrado] behind me and I am always trying to help them so they can get a great tackle. Or I am feeding it up the field to Avery [Peterson] and Campbell [McDonald] so they can get a good shot.”

PHS head coach Heather Serverson likes the way Reilly contributes all over the field.

“Trish is great on the right side offensively,” said Serverson. “She is able to get the ball up and down the right corner and cross it for us. Plus she is always hustling back on defense. She is the first midfielder to mark; she is everywhere.”

Senior forward Lucy Herring, who scored two goals in the win over Stuart, has been on the mark all season.

“Part of the key for Lucy is that she played a little bit of midfield for us last year and ever since then it’s really enhanced her center forward position,” said Serverson.

“She always comes back to help as a forward and that is a hard thing to get them trained to do. Plus, she is always talking. She is really aware of options once she has the ball in the circle, which is one of the places where most players lose their composure. She is able to maintain that.”

Serverson also liked the way senior Campbell McDonald came through in the circle on Saturday as she scored PHS’s two other goals.

“It was nice, especially because she is coming off that injury,” said Serverson. “She pulled a hamstring so she is finally able to get down the field quickly like she used to be able to. Her stick has been on lately too, she caught quite a few that were going to go out of bounds. She caught them right on the edge there so that was great.”

In Serverson’s view, her team’s quick start against Stuart was another encouraging sign.

“I am just happy that we are able to go out and start a game with intensity,” said Serverson, whose team plays at Lawrenceville on September 24, hosts Lawrence High on September 26, and plays at WW/P-N on September 29.

“In our previous games, we came out flat or areas of the field were flat. But today everyone was on the same page at the same time and that is something we have really been working on. I am so proud of them for that.”

Reilly, for her part, is confident that the Little Tigers will keep bringing the intensity.

“We definitely want to go far this season,” said Reilly. “The focus is capitalizing and just starting out strong. We want to capitalize on our corners a lot more. We are good at getting those but we want to finish them.”

 

LINCHPIN: Princeton Day School boys’ soccer star Marco ­Pinheiro kicks the ball in recent action. Last Thursday, senior midfielder Pinheiro scored a goal to help PDS top South Hunterdon 4-0. The Panthers, who improved to 3-1-1 with the victory, host the Blair Academy on September 27 before playing at the Hun School on September 30.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LINCHPIN: Princeton Day School boys’ soccer star Marco ­Pinheiro kicks the ball in recent action. Last Thursday, senior midfielder Pinheiro scored a goal to help PDS top South Hunterdon 4-0. The Panthers, who improved to 3-1-1 with the victory, host the Blair Academy on September 27 before playing at the Hun School on September 30. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Marco Pinheiro is determined to get the most out of his senior year on the Princeton Day School boys’ soccer team.

“I am trying to attack more and with the players we have around me,” said star midfielder Pinheiro.

“CJ [Uche] in the middle has learned how to sit back and control the ball and get it up the field. We have some good holding players up top with Dave [Cedeno] and Connor [Fletcher]. We have some center backs who know how to get the ball up to David and Connor and they lay it off, so it is a lot easier when everybody is on the same page.”

PDS was on the same page last Thursday as it pulled away to a 4-0 win over South Hunterdon, its third win in its last four games.

“I think we are usually good at keeping the ball but today we were able to keep the ball higher up the field and get more people into attack,” said Pinheiro, reflecting on the victory which improved the Panthers to 3-1-1.

“Kevin Hagen was getting up, Peter Sanderson was getting up the line so that was better. We usually keep the ball in the back but today we got forward.”

While Pinheiro was snakebitten early in the game as one of his shots rattled off the crossbar and another went just wide, he slotted a second half penalty kick into the back of the net to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead.

“I just try to stay focused; I tend to go to the same side,” said Pinheiro, reflecting on his approach to PKs.

“You miss a free kick or a shot, it could get into your head. I try to just focus on what is coming next.”

As a senior captain, Pinheiro is focused on developing team unity. “I just try to get everybody together,” said Pinheiro.

“We do things outside of school, we do stuff on the field at practice. We are all together. I think it is a good spirit and that’s what we try to do here.”

PDS head coach Malcolm Murphy is seeing a good spirit collectively from his squad in the early going.

“I am pretty happy with where they are now,” said Murphy. “The concept is getting through to them that if you keep the ball you can manipulate the game. Without the ball, all you are doing is defending. We had a lot of sessions with possession and they are doing well in the sessions, the question is can we bring that to the field now.”

Murphy is very happy with the play he has been getting from Pinheiro, who has three goals on the season.

“He has been an exceptional player for years; he and his brother (Rui, a 2012 PDS alum now playing at Tufts University) have been great for the school,” said Murphy.

“He reads the game very well; he’s got great technique. As a set piece, free kick taker, he is very good. He is confident, he is very composed. Lots of players with that skill level, can be lethargic. He’s not, he is chasing the game. He wants to go play at college and he should at a very high level.”

In the win over South Hunterdon, the Panthers raised their level of play in the second half after squandering a number of scoring chances in the last 40 minutes of the contest.

“At halftime, the challenge for this group after they have missed so many chances, it is that psychology. Can they still compete in the second half or will the opposition come and close them down,” said Murphy.

“Today the three goals that they got in the second half were pure possession, building it up and then balls played back. They did very well, hopefully that will cushion them a little bit when it comes to the psychology of the game. You don’t win games in the first half, it is a long game. You have to play for the 80 minutes.”

Murphy is hoping his team can build on that second half outburst. “I think they are in a very good place right now,” added Murphy, whose team hosts the Blair Academy on September 27 before playing at the Hun School on September 30.

“We have got some hard games coming up. Possession-wise, over 80 percent of the field, I think we can compete with anybody but can we separate ourselves with the finishing. It is no good having all the game and not putting it away.”

Pinheiro, for his part, believes the Panthers can produce a big finish this fall. “It is pretty much the same team as last year, we have just matured a lot,” said Pinheiro.

“People have found their spots and taken over their roles. Everyone is playing well and working for each other. In the loss against Pennington (2-0 on September 11), we played a great game. We were able to keep the ball. We think that we can go out and play with anybody.”

 

Kara Borden and her teammates on the Hun School girls’ soccer team were out of synch in the early going as they hosted Germantown Academy (Pa.) last week.

“In the first half I felt like we weren’t possessing the ball,” said freshman forward Borden.

“We were kicking it in and just hoping for the best. We weren’t playing as a team. At halftime, coach [Joanna Hallac] said just relax and play our game and play how we know.”

In the second half, with Hun trailing 1-0, the precocious Borden displayed her game, chipping in a goal to knot the game at 1-1, which turned out to be the final score as neither team found the back of the net over the rest of the contest.

“I got the ball and the goalie was out and then she turned to run back and I thought I don’t know whether I should shoot it or not,” said Borden, recalling her tally, the first of her Hun career.

“I took a touch and relaxed and I tried to chip it over her head and it almost hit the crossbar. I got so nervous. I was waiting, like is that going in. It felt so good when it went in.”

Borden is hoping to get a lot more goals in for Hun this fall. “It is a lot as a freshman forward to score goals, especially when we are down one,” said Borden, who tallied another goal along with an assist last Thursday as Hun edged Princeton Day School 2-1.

“It always feels good when you accomplish what you want to do. Finishing is a great accomplishment and hopefully as the season goes on I can score more and more goals and help my team out.”

Borden knows that it is going to be a challenge to finish on the high school level.

“You play a lot of bigger and older girls, they are just as big and fast as you,” said Borden.

“I usually try to outrun the girls. When I play high school, I can’t so I have to play around girls or combine with others.”

Hun head coach Joanna Hallac lauded Borden for her big goal against Germantown.

“It was exciting,” said Hallac. “I think it hung in the air, it was like slow motion. She was composed under pressure. I thought she did a really nice job reading the situation and finishing.”

Hallac believes Borden can put a lot of pressure on Hun’s foes as the season goes on.

“I expect many more of those from her, I think she can make a big impact,” said Hallac.

“With Marleigh Nociti’s speed and Kara’s tenacity and strength up top, that is a nice combination. Kara causes a lot of headaches for the other team.”

Hun’s strong finish against Germantown was a nice step forward for the squad, which fell 2-1 to South Brunswick in its season opener on September 13. “In the second half they came to life, there was more spark,” said Hallac. “They were playing with a sense of urgency. They were playing the kind of soccer that I know that they can play, just being dangerous and creating dangerous chances and actually finishing one of them finally.”

Junior goalie Courtney Arch helped spark the Raiders as she closed the door on Germantown in the second half.

“She is much more confident and much more composed, taking control and command out there,” said Hallac. “It is nice to see her developing. She made a really nice save there at the end to preserve the tie.”

Hun got some composed play up and down the field. “I thought the back line was solid with Ashley Maziarz and Jess Johnson,” said Hallac. “Natalie Csapo had a nice game. Jess Sacco was making some nice runs out of the middle. Everyone really contributed.”

In Hallac’s view, Hun is just scratching the surface of how good it can be this fall.

“There are a lot of new players so they are still getting used to playing with each other,” said Hallac, whose team topped Nottingham 5-0 last Saturday to improve to 2-1-1 and plays at the George School (Pa.) on September 26 and at Pennington on September 30.

“I think this was much better, they know what needs to be done. We still have plenty of work to do.”

Borden, for her part, believes Hun can do some big things this fall. “I think we can build from this,” said Borden. “I feel like this is a confidence builder and that we are getting better every single game.”

ON THE RUN: Stuart Country Day field hockey player Julia ­Maser heads upfield in 2013 action. Last Saturday, Maser and the Tartans got stymied as they fell 4-0 at Princeton High to drop to 1-4. Stuart will look to get on the winning track as it plays at Blair Academy on September 24 and at Montgomery High on September 29.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ON THE RUN: Stuart Country Day field hockey player Julia ­Maser heads upfield in 2013 action. Last Saturday, Maser and the Tartans got stymied as they fell 4-0 at Princeton High to drop to 1-4. Stuart will look to get on the winning track as it plays at Blair Academy on September 24 and at Montgomery High on September 29. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Playing at powerful Princeton High last Saturday, the Stuart Country Day School field hockey team dug an early hole, yielding a goal in the first five minutes of the contest.

Stuart head coach Missy Bruvik saw that her squad was unsettled in the early going.

“I thought it took us 10 minutes to get going,” said Bruvik. “There was a lot going on around with the Princeton homecoming. I told them to focus on the field and not worry about those other elements.”

Although Stuart went on to fall 4-0 to once-beaten PHS (5-1), Bruvik liked the way her players responded after the slow start.

“I thought after we settled down, we did a better job,” said Bruvik, whose team dropped to 1-4 with the setback.

“We did some things well, we looked to transfer the ball. Even though they had two goals in the second half, I thought we did a better job of trying to pressure them and almost getting to some of those balls.”

Senior goalie Harlyn Bell and sophomore defender Izzy Engel held up well under the relentless PHS pressure.

“I thought Harlyn Bell was outstanding in the goal cage, she had a great game,” said Bruvik of Bell, who recorded 23 saves on the afternoon. “Izzy Engel played a good game at center back. She was on the ball.”

The Tartans produced a very good effort earlier in the week when they fell 4-3 in overtime to WW/P-N.

“I thought we played really well against North the other day,” said Bruvik, reflecting on the September 18 contest in which Stuart got goals from Cate Donahue, Ali Hannah, and Tori Hannah.

“We scored the first goal and they scored three. We came back and scored in the last minute to tie it up. That was a good game; we showed resiliency.”

With games at Blair Academy on September 24 and at Montgomery High on September 29, the Tartans will need to show more resiliency.

“I still challenge the kids to communicate more on the field,” said Bruvik. “Also in our defensive circle, we need tight marking. We need to work on conditioning. We had girls who were tired early playing at this pace.”

 

FIRST IN LINE: Hun School lineman Panayiotis Zavaliangos looks for a hit in a 2013 game. Last Saturday, Zavaliangos’ play in the trenches helped Hun top Wyoming Seminary 56-14 in its season opener and first game under new head coach Todd Smith. The Raiders host Poly Prep (N.Y.) on September 27 in their home opener.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FIRST IN LINE: Hun School lineman Panayiotis Zavaliangos looks for a hit in a 2013 game. Last Saturday, Zavaliangos’ play in the trenches helped Hun top Wyoming Seminary 56-14 in its season opener and first game under new head coach Todd Smith. The Raiders host Poly Prep (N.Y.) on September 27 in their home opener. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The Hun School football team approached its season opener at Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) last Saturday like a business trip.

“We went out there the night before,” said Hun head coach Todd Smith, who was making his debut at the helm of the program.

“We practiced at Wilkes University and then we took the team out to dinner. We got up the next day and played a football game.”

Once the game started, the Raiders took care of business with aplomb, jumping out to a 28-6 first quarter lead on the way to a 56-14 victory.

“I was really happy with the way we came off the ball,” said Smith. “We wanted the ball right away so we could set a tone. I think the first drive was eight plays, it was our longest of the day. We mixed the run and pass well. I was happy with all facets of the game, special teams, offense, and defense. I was excited by how we played.”

While Smith was able to contain his excitement in the wake of the triumph, the players enjoyed the moment.

“I was pretty even-keeled,” said Smith, who has been involved in a lot of victories as the head coach at WW/P-S from 2005 to 2012 and the offensive coordinator at Hopewell Valley last fall.

“It was a happy bus ride home. It was really good for them to see how their hard work paid off. We hadn’t gone against another team since Nottingham, scrimmage and those practices can drag.”

The Raiders got some hard running from senior and Virginia-bound Christopher Sharp, who rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns and also caught a 43-yard touchdown pass.

“Chris did a great job on offense, both catching and running the ball,” said Smith. “He has that balance of power and speed. He played four quarters and went both ways and came out of it fine. He is in great shape.”

Junior transfer quarterback Simon Vadas enjoyed a great debut for Hun, hitting on 7-of-9 passes for 158 yards and three touchdowns.

“Simon did a great job managing the game,” noted Smith. “He hit Julian Williams on a 37-yard TD and Chris on a 43-yarder. We wanted to put him in good spots and I thought he did really well.”

The Raiders also got some terrific special teams performances. “Justin Morrison did a great job; he had two punt returns and two kickoff returns and had about 200 return yards,” said Smith.

“He gave us a short field. Danny Seelagy was 8-for-8 on kicks and got our last TD so that was a good 14 point day for him.”

In the trenches, post-graduate Cameron Kitchen was all over the field. “Cameron was the dominant player for us on defense,” said Smith.

“It is unusual for a defensive lineman to lead you in tackles but he had 10 tackles, 5 for a loss, and 4½ sacks.”

Despite Hun’s dominance last Saturday, Smith knows the Raiders will have their hands full when they host powerful Poly Prep (N.Y.) on September 27 in their home opener.

“We are playing the toughest team on our schedule,” said Smith of Poly Prep (4-0).

“I was happy with the tempo and speed that we had on Saturday but we can’t afford any mental mistakes. It will be the most physical game of the year. I wish it came later in the schedule because they have already played four games and this will be our second. But I came to Hun for games like this. To be the best, you have to beat the best.”

 

September 20, 2014

Before a packed house under the lights brought into Harris Field for homecoming, the Princeton High football team defeated Ewing 7-0 on Friday night. PHS scored on a 11-yard touchdown run by junior star Rory Helstrom in the third quarter as it moved to 2-0. Senior linebacker Sam Smallzamn keyed the defensive effort with a fumble recovery and a fourth quarter interception that sealed the win. The Little Tigers, who hadn’t won a game since 2012 before their season opening 28-7 victory against Hamilton on September 13, will look to keep on the winning track when they play at Hightstown on September 27. For more details on the win over Ewing, including quotes from Smallzman and head coach Charlie Gallagher, see the September 24 issue of the Town Topics.

September 17, 2014
HAPPY DAYS: Princeton University football head coach Bob Surace is all smiles at the program’s recent media day. Last fall, Surace had a lot of smiles about as the Tigers went 8-2 overall and 6-1 Ivy, tying Harvard for the league crown. Princeton will be looking to build on that success as it kicks off its 2014 campaign by playing at the University of San Diego (1-1) on September 20.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HAPPY DAYS: Princeton University football head coach Bob Surace is all smiles at the program’s recent media day. Last fall, Surace had a lot of smiles about as the Tigers went 8-2 overall and 6-1 Ivy, tying Harvard for the league crown. Princeton will be looking to build on that success as it kicks off its 2014 campaign by playing at the University of San Diego (1-1) on September 20. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In 2013, the Princeton University football team answered the question of whether it was ready to compete for an Ivy League title in resounding fashion.

Overpowering its foes by scoring 43.7 points a game, the Tigers went 8-2 overall and 6-1 Ivy, tying Harvard for the league crown.

As Princeton looks ahead to its 2014 campaign, the issue now is whether the program can handle prosperity.

Speaking recently at the team’s annual media day, Princeton head coach Bob Surace said that his staff is invoking a bit of Japanese philosophy to inspire his players as they prepare for their season opener at the University of San Diego (1-1) on September 20.

“We use the word, “kaizen,” which means continuous improvement,” said Surace, a 1990 Princeton alum and All-Ivy center who is bringing a 15-25 record into his fifth year at the helm of his alma mater.

“Instead of competing and worrying about all the things down the road, you compete against Princeton to see how good we can be. So Quinn Epperly (star senior quarterback) is competing to be a better Quinn Epperly. I love that.”

Surace and his staff have gone out of their way to stifle any feeling of complacency among their players.

“Our guys went right back to work,” asserted Surace, whose team was picked to finish first in the Ivy preseason media poll.

“Last season ended and we had our final meeting and our banquet and before that meeting we told them they will get a few days to celebrate and do the bonfire and some of those good things that came with last year. On that next Monday, we are back in the weight room and we are 0-0. They have done a great job with that approach and working to get better.”

In Surace’s view, the team’s season-ending 28-24 loss at Dartmouth last November has helped reinforce that mentality.

“We put ourselves in a hole a number of times last year and that’s tough to do repeatedly,” said Surace.

“There was Brown, Lafayette, Penn and then you get to Dartmouth and at some point it is going to catch up to you. It caught up to us, they are a terrific team and we’ll worry about them when we get there. I think that it just shows all year long we were great at executing certain things — not having penalties in the red zone and we had them that game, catching the ball, we had some drops, being aligned in the right gaps and they had a few long runs where we were misaligned. Those types of things are huge things.”

Princeton is looking for even better execution from senior quarterback and co-captain Epperly even though he is coming off a huge campaign which saw the 6’3, 215-pound lefty throw 25 touchdown passes and rush for 18 more on his way to being the 2013 Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year.

“Quinn’s a guy who has played a lot of snaps and no matter how much he has played and how much experience he has, he wants to get better,” said Princeton offensive coordinator James Perry of Epperly, who passed for 2,137 yards and rushed for 570 last fall.

“That was true in the winter and that was true in the spring and in camp it has been true so far. He has been an extremely hard worker and his intention this fall will be to play better than last year and I know he played very well. I think he can play better but he left some room for improvement there and I expect him to with the work he has put in. He clearly had a tremendous year from an accuracy standpoint and he did a lot of things very well last year throwing the ball but we expect him to be able to read defenses like a guy who has played a ton of football.”

Epperly will have a corps of good receivers to target in a quartet of seniors, Matt Costello (48 catches for 534 yards in 2013), Seth DeValve (49 catches for 527 yards), Connor Kelley (44 catches for 444 yards) and Robby Templeton.

“We have got four seniors at wideout who have all played a ton of football,” said Perry. “It’s as hard a working group as you will find. That’s a position we have leadership and some things that, especially the way we play, are very beneficial.”

The Tigers also feature depth at running back with the return of juniors DiAndre Atwater (457 yards rushing in 2013) and Dre Nelson (287 yards rushing) along with senior Will Powers (215 yards rushing).

“Atwater has done well, we have a lot of returners, it is not just coach speak,” said Perry.

“That is a position we are extremely deep in. Will Powers has been playing for 4 years; he is a guy who has played a ton of football and is doing very well. Dre Nelson is another guy who has played a ton of football and probably had the best offseason you could possibly have. You can’t be in better shape than he is right now, he has done everything we have asked for.”

With five senior starters on the offensive line in Spenser Huston, Jack Woodall, Joe Tull, Taylor Pearson, and Mike Ramos, Princeton should be in good shape in the trenches when it has the ball.

“At the line position, we are fully committed to playing guys,” said Perry. “If you are really going to play fast the way we want to, you are going to have to play them. Those guys really embrace it because not many lines in the country are going to play eight or nine people with the regularity that we do. If you are the 10th guy you know you are one guy away from getting on the field against San Diego. We have a lot of guys who have played and know the drill so they know if they can get into the mix, they are going to play.”

On the defensive line, however, the Tigers don’t feature a lot of guys who have played, losing all three starters, most notably All-American Caraun Reid, now playing in the NFL for the Detroit Lions.

As a result, defensive co-coordinator Steve Verbit will be mixing and matching things with that unit.

“We have a lot of guys who are doing some good things, both young and old alike,” said Verbit, noting that his DL rotation currently includes senior Victor Prato, juniors Dan Dreher, Evan Kappatos, and Ian McGreary, sophomores Ty Desire and Brannon Jones, along with freshmen Kurt Holuba and Logan Dziak.

“All eight of those guys are working extremely hard and taking it one day at a time and we are seeing improvement in each of them. I am sure at one point during the course of the season, and it may be as early as San Diego, all eight of those guys may be in the mix.”

At linebacker, Princeton will be depending on two battle-tested seniors, co-captain Mike Zeuli (72 tackles in 2013) and Garrit Leicht (61 tackles), to hold the fort on the inside.

“Mike has played a ton of football so has Garrit; they are having a solid camp and we are leaning on those guys,” said defensive co-coordinator Jim Salgado, who will be using junior Marcus Stroud and sophomore R.J Paige at outside linebacker.

“They have got to make sure they get everybody lined up, make the proper call, and the proper checks. They have been doing a good job of it in training camp so far.”

The secondary figures to be a very good unit for the Tigers with junior and two-time All-Ivy performer Anthony Gaffney (22 tackles and two interceptions in 2013) starting at corner along with classmate John Hill (36 tackles and three interceptions) and the pair of juniors, Matt Arends (61 tackles and one interception) and sophomore Dorian Williams (43 tackles and one interception), at safety.

“It is nice to have guys that have played a lot of football for us at the back end; we have got guys who have played at the corner position and the safety position,” said Salgado.

“It definitely gives us comfort back there if we need to get somebody down in the box, maybe to stop the run or to send pressure, because you feel comfortable with guys who have done it and can cover.”

The return of junior Khamal Brown, who missed last season after having brain surgery in 2012 when he suffered an arteriovenous malformation, or AVM, a tangle of blood vessels connecting to arteries, that had ruptured and sent blood pooling into his brain, provides inspiration and depth in the defensive backfield.

“He looks good, he’s made some plays now in practice in camp,” said Salgado.

“Obviously being out for a year, he has to get used to playing again. All in all, he is ready to go. He is as physical a defensive back that we have as a corner or if you put him in at safety. There is no worry about him going in there and making contact. I am real excited to have him back. I love that kid, he was with me up in the box all last year and that helped him. When you are sitting up there and watching a game and really absorbing what we are trying to get done, it has given him a great understanding of what our defense is all about.”

This week, the Tigers are all about beating San Diego. “I know that these guys are totally focused on starting the season well, in four years now we haven’t won that opener,” said Perry.

“When we go out and play that opener, we have got to go out on that first drive and perform well. Come September 20, they will be ready for that first drive.”

Surace, for his part, vows that his team will be ready to throw everything at its foes this fall.

“I like the way we have been progressing throughout the practices, we have got a long ways to go before San Diego.” said Surace.

“We are going to play the best players and the best plays. Whatever we think is the best personnel for a given play, that is who will be in on all three sides of the ball.”

 

SERIOUS BUSINESS: Princeton University football co-captains, senior linebacker Mike Zeuli, left, and senior quarterback Quinn Epperly, strike a serious pose during the program’s recent media day. The Tigers kick off their 2014 campaign at the University of San Diego (1-1) on September 20.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SERIOUS BUSINESS: Princeton University football co-captains, senior linebacker Mike Zeuli, left, and senior quarterback Quinn Epperly, strike a serious pose during the program’s recent media day. The Tigers kick off their 2014 campaign at the University of San Diego (1-1) on September 20. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After playing defensive back in his first two seasons with the Princeton University football team, Mike Zeuli was switched to linebacker last fall.

It didn’t take long for Zeuli to make an impact in his new spot, making 18 tackles in a season-opening loss to Lehigh.

“There was definitely a couple of challenges as far as learning a new spot, being more physical and playing more in the box,” said Zeuli, reflecting on the move. “I feel like I got more comfortable and I really liked it.”

As the fall unfolded, Zeuli made things uncomfortable for Princeton’s foes, recording a team-high 72 tackles and earning second-team All-Ivy League honors.

Shifting Zeuli to linebacker helped shore up a defense that came up big as the Tigers went 8-2 overall and 6-1 Ivy to share the league title with Harvard.

“Once we would see our offense get rolling we would get off the field so we can get them back on the field and they can score some more points,” said the 6’2, 230-pound Zeuli, a native of Marlton, N.J. “It was definitely feeding off of each other.”

For Zeuli, helping the Tigers win the title was a high point, particularly considering that Princeton went 1-9 in his freshman season.

“You come in and it was just one of the toughest years being a freshman, with a lot of work, a lot of everything,” said Zeuli.

“All of a sudden you are losing every game and it was bad but last year was awesome. It made up for it.”

This fall, Zeuli is looking to enjoy an awesome senior campaign, taking a leadership role as team co-captain as the Tigers are primed to win a second straight league title.

“You only have 10 games left and you have to make the best of all of them,” said Zeuli, who is fired up to kick things off in 2014 when Princeton plays at the University of San Diego (1-1) on September 20.

Serving as co-captain along with classmate and star quarterback Quinn Epperly, Zeuli is determined to be the best leader he can be.

“It was just humbling to think that guys on the team look to me as a leader,” said Zeuli, reflecting on being voted captain.

“I hope that I can live up to that and do a good job. I am definitely more lead by example. Guys have problems or questions, they come to me. I am trying to be more vocal as a leader on the defense. I still just have to go out there and do the job and play.”

Assessing how things have gone in the preseason camp, Zeuli believes the Tigers are putting in some good work.

“It has been going well, we are out here working, trying to make plays, trying to get better everyday,” said Zeuli.

While the Princeton team has a bull’s eye on its back as a defending league champion and being picked to finish first this fall by the preseason media poll, Zeuli said the Tigers aren’t feeling pressure to repeat.

“I don’t know if we think about that,” said Zeuli. “You just take every game as it comes and just try to win every game. It’s no different than any other year.”

As Zeuli and his teammates gird for the season, their focus is on seizing the moment.

“You are always trying to fight complacency, whether you are up 20 in a game or coming off an Ivy League championship,” said Zeuli.

“You always still want to play your best. You need to just relax, play, and have fun.”

SISTER ACT: Princeton University field hockey player Annabeth Donovan brings the ball upfield in recent action. Last Sunday, sophomore defender Donovan played a strong game in a losing cause as Princeton fell 1-0 to visiting Bucknell in overtime to drop to 0-4. Donovan is the third member of her family to star for the Tiger field hockey program as older sisters Kaitlin ’10 and Amy ’13 played before her. Donovan and the Tigers will look to get on the winning track this weekend as they host Dartmouth on September 20 in their Ivy League opener and then play at American University a day later.(Photo by Beverly Schaefer, Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

SISTER ACT: Princeton University field hockey player Annabeth Donovan brings the ball upfield in recent action. Last Sunday, sophomore defender Donovan played a strong game in a losing cause as Princeton fell 1-0 to visiting Bucknell in overtime to drop to 0-4. Donovan is the third member of her family to star for the Tiger field hockey program as older sisters Kaitlin ’10 and Amy ’13 played before her. Donovan and the Tigers will look to get on the winning track this weekend as they host Dartmouth on September 20 in their Ivy League opener and then play at American University a day later. (Photo by Beverly Schaefer, Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Annabeth Donovan was initially looking to buck the family trend when she started looking at college options.

Although her grandfather, both parents, and two older sisters are Princeton University alums, Donovan wanted to go elsewhere.

“When I was little I looked forward to going to Princeton but when I was actually looking at colleges, I said I was never coming here because of my sisters,” said Donovan.

But the school’s excellence in field hockey and academics swayed Donovan to follow in family tradition.

“Once you know Princeton, it is hard to turn it down, especially in the field hockey aspect because it is one of the best programs,” said Donovan, a native of Unionville, Pa. “It is such a good school.”

Joining the field hockey program last fall, Donovan got a good education, soaking up lessons from senior star Julia Reinprecht on the way to making first-team All-Ivy League and being named the league’s Co-Rookie of the Year.

“The biggest things I learned from her is her sense of leadership and her composure on the field and the way she was able to motivate and lead the team,” said Donovan, whose sisters, Kaitlin ’10 and Amy ’13, also starred for the Tiger field hockey program.

“I think she really taught me a lot about playing in that central position. I learned a lot, just how to organize and control a game.”

As a sophomore, Donovan is looking to apply what she learned from Reinprecht.

“It is definitely more calm but it is a new team and we are figuring out our new dynamics,” said Donovan. “There is still a lot of things that we have to work out, it is early in the season.”

Princeton is definitely a work in progress as it fell 1-0 in overtime to Bucknell last Sunday to drop to 0-4.

“I think we definitely improved, we have been working on our mentality during practice and I think it is starting to show,” said Donovan, reflecting on the loss which came two days after a 5-2 defeat to No. 8 Penn State.

“We are just trying to be tougher, trying to stay on marks, recovering back into lines and having the feeling of urgency. I think we showed that today, which is a big improvement.”

Noting that Princeton faced nationally ranked Duke, Virginia, and Penn State in its first three contests this fall, Donovan said that experience has toughened up the squad.

“We are lucky enough to play three top-10 teams early in the season and those top 10 teams are really going to exploit our weaknesses and show us what we have to work on,” said Donovan.

“So while yes it is hard going in and playing such highly ranked teams and maybe not winning, we learn exactly what we need to do because they capitalize on every mental breakdown or tactical error that we make. It just helps improve and recognize what we need to work on.”

Donovan acknowledges that the Tigers need to sharpen up their finishing around the goal.

“We have lots of freshmen and young players filling in there so right now it is just working on that dynamic,” said Donovan.

“Up front, especially, learning how players move and where they go is a big aspect so it is working on that chemistry and that will come in games. We are  getting it up there, we are getting chances. It is just learning how each other plays.”

Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn concurred, frustrated by her team’s failure to score on a day when it outshot Bucknell 10-7 and built a 5-2 edge in penalty corners.

“We had a lot of pretty good opportunities but you have to find a way to finish,” said Holmes-Winn. “I know that sounds simple but when you have opportunities you have to find a way to put them into the net.”

In assessing the loss, Holmes-Winn said her team has to find a way to maintain possession.

“We gave the ball up a ton in our midfield and that is something we just have to fix,” said Holmes-Winn.

“It is more mental errors than really a lot of physical stuff. We just have to get into a groove and we haven’t found that groove yet.”

In the view of Holmes-Winn, Donovan has found a groove along the back line.

“She has energy and she is consistent,” said Holmes-Winn. “She is mentally very strong and sharp. It just has to be a balance between that energy and that composure. I really think she has that balance right, just having that role model in Julia was really key. We need other players stepping up and providing a little more direction.”

Princeton also needs to play more directly. “We have to attack the game mentally,” said Holmes-Winn.

“When, for example, we are defending and the ball hits their foot we know it’s our free hit, get on the ball instead of wondering whose free hit is it. Mentally, we are not engaged enough in the moment and understanding how we can manipulate the moment to our advantage.”

While Princeton, which won its 19th Ivy League title in the last 20 years last season on the way to the NCAA quarterfinals, is not happy with its 0-4 start, Holmes-Winn is far from discouraged about the Tigers’ prospects.

“It is a long season and we just have to find a way to win the mini-moments throughout the match and capitalize in the form of a finish,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team opens its Ivy campaign by hosting Dartmouth on September 20 and then plays at American University a day later.

“We certainly have the capability, we absolutely do. I think the belief is there; it is just on game day being able to show what we are capable of.”

Donovan, for her part, believes the Tigers are capable of doing some big things this fall.

“We have definitely been improving every game, slowly but surely,” maintained Donovan. “It is not where you start, it is where you finish.”

 

HEAD GAMES: Princeton University men’s soccer players, Andrew Mills. left, and Thomas Sanner use their heads during Princeton’s scoreless draw with St. John’s last Wednesday. The Tigers, who edged Seton Hall 5-4 last Sunday to improve to 1-1-1, host Georgetown on September 17 in a game to be televised on ESPNU before playing at Boston University on September 20.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HEAD GAMES: Princeton University men’s soccer players, Andrew Mills. left, and Thomas Sanner use their heads during Princeton’s scoreless draw with St. John’s last Wednesday. The Tigers, who edged Seton Hall 5-4 last Sunday to improve to 1-1-1, host Georgetown on September 17 in a game to be televised on ESPNU before playing at Boston University on September 20. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Andrew Mills is shouldering additional leadership responsibility for the Princeton University men’s soccer team, by necessity.

With fellow senior and All-Ivy League defender Josh Miller having been sidelined by injury, Mills, a midfielder at times during his college career, is spearheading the Princeton backline.

“I played center back in all of my youth so it is nothing new,” said Mills. “I played a little center mid last year so that was kind of a switch up. I am pretty comfortable back there.”

Last Wednesday evening, Mills showed his comfort level in the central defender role, helping Princeton battle St. John’s to a scoreless tie through two overtimes as the Tigers tightened things up after a 3-2 opening day loss to Fairleigh Dickinson University on September 5.

“On Friday, we gave up three soft goals off of set plays and today we
really limited their chances on restarts,” said the 6’2, 195-pound Mills, a native of Sacramento, Calif.

“We gave up a couple of corners that could have been avoidable but we seemed to deal with them pretty well. There were only a couple that I felt they were really getting dangerous. Beyond that, we were just tighter with our line. We were making sure that we were more organized, keeping our communication high.”

There is good communication between Mills and his eight classmates on the squad.

“We are a really tight knit group, just among ourselves as a friend group,” said Mills, a team tri-captain along with classmates Miller and Myles McGinley.

“We have had a lot of experience on the field so one of the things we are really stressing is our leadership between all of our seniors. We have three captains right now, it shows that our team is really geared towards leadership up and down. Our senior class is leading from the guys who are playing and the guys who aren’t playing a lot, all nine.”

Princeton head coach Jim Barlow likes the leadership he is getting from Mills.

“Mills has done a great job being a leader in the back,” said Barlow. “He is keeping the team connected and has a good way of keeping shape and starting the team attack.”

In Barlow’s view, the team’s defensive unit did a great job collectively in the draw with St. John’s.

“That was about as well as Joe Saitta has ever played,” asserted Barlow. “He was really solid, plugging holes and getting all of his passes right, winning balls in the air. Patrick Barba was solid. Andrew Doar must have run 20 miles, he doesn’t get every play right but he gives you so much in terms of competing, mobility, and covering ground.”

Even though Princeton didn’t find the back of the net on the evening, Barlow was encouraged by his team’s offensive energy as it outshot the red Storm 13-11.

“I think we are going to get goals,” said Barlow, whose team piled up the goals last Sunday as it edged Seton Hall 5-4 with Julian Griggs and Cameron Porter each scoring twice as the Tigers improved to 1-1-1.

“I liked Cam’s play tonight, he is such a handful. Thomas [Sanner] had a very good first half. Brendan McSherry had his moments. Nico [Hurtado] had his moments. I think we are going to be a tough team for teams to deal with. We just got to keep trying to push it and keep getting results as we are doing it.”

While Barlow had hoped that the game would result in a win, he drew plenty of positives from the effort.

“It is a step in the right
direction, we still have a ways to go,” said Barlow, whose team hosts Georgetown on September 17 in a game to be televised on ESPNU before playing at Boston University on September 20. “I think we all feel good about the team we have and where it can go from here.”

Mills and his classmates are hoping to go on an Ivy title run this fall. “This is our last chance, the last two years we were one game away,” said Mills.

“We let the Harvard game and the Penn game both slip away from us last year and this year, I don’t feel that we are letting those slip. I look back toward the year we went 7-0, that was the year before our senior class came in. We are looking to replicate something like that special team did.”

 

BREAKING THROUGH: Princeton High football player Rory ­Helstrom breaks away on a run last season. Last Saturday, junior star ­Helstrom came up big as PHS defeated Hamilton 28-7 for the program’s first win since November, 2012. Helstrom rushed for 131 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He also made a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter that put the Little Tigers ahead to stay. PHS hosts Ewing (0-1) on September 19.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BREAKING THROUGH: Princeton High football player Rory ­Helstrom breaks away on a run last season. Last Saturday, junior star ­Helstrom came up big as PHS defeated Hamilton 28-7 for the program’s first win since November, 2012. Helstrom rushed for 131 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He also made a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter that put the Little Tigers ahead to stay. PHS hosts Ewing (0-1) on September 19. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Rory Helstrom and his teammates on the Princeton High football team viewed their season opener against Hamilton last Saturday as the chance to set a positive tone after going winless last fall.

“We knew the first game would really demonstrate how we are going to play the rest of the season,” said junior running back/linebacker Helstrom.

“If we came out hot and won the first game, we could keep doing well and that would give us momentum for the homecoming game.”

The 5’10, 165-pound Helstrom made sure that the Little Tigers started out with a bang, sprinting down the sideline for a 74-yard touchdown run on PHS’s first drive of the season to give it a 6-0 lead.

“I just saw a cutback and I took it,” said Helstrom. “Once I got outside one guy, there was no one left and I just took it down the sideline.”

As the first half unfolded, though, PHS squandered two possessions deep in Hamilton territory and went into halftime down 7-6.

“We had opportunities in the red zone but we just couldn’t convert them,” lamented Helstrom. “We had trouble with that.”

In the third quarter, Helstrom seized opportunity once again, producing a scintillating 91-yard punt return for a touchdown that put PHS ahead 12-7.

“I saw a lot of guys coming so I went left,” recalled Helstrom. “Then I just went right and there was no one left so I just took it.”

The Little Tigers took it from there, adding touchdowns on an 80-yard scoring strike from Dave Beamer to Joe Hawes and a nine-yard run by Sam Smallzman to pull away to a 28-7 win, the program’s first victory since topping New Brunswick 22-14 on November 16, 2012.

While the big plays on offense turned heads in the win, the foundation of the triumph was a stifling defensive effort.

“We knew if we got into their backfield we could beat them,” said Helstrom.

“Coach Goldsmith [defensive coordinator Scott Goldsmith] kept sending us on blitzes to rush the quarterback because he had trouble dealing with the pressure.”

PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher likes the way Helstrom puts opposing defense under pressure.

“He is a playmaker, everybody is going to have to do something to try to defend him which will hopefully open things up for other players as well,” said Gallagher of Helstrom, who rushed for 131 yards on the day.

“We are just excited that he is on our squad and we don’t have to defend against him. He’s a player on offense and he’s a player on defense. You can tell that he is just a talented football player.”

The Little Tigers boast another talented offensive weapon in junior quarterback Dave Beamer, who passed for 110 yards in the victory.

“Dave Beamer is a great quarterback, we are really high on him,” asserted Gallagher.

“He can be one of the best quarterbacks in this area, there is conversation about other QBs but we love Dave. He has a great arm.”

Gallagher loved the way his defense performed as it made four interceptions and held the Hornets to 207 yards total offense.

“Defensively we are doing a great job too,” said Gallagher, whose team had lost 34-0 to Hamilton last year. “We are swarming to the ball and making some plays.”

As preseason camp went on, Gallagher got the sense that his team was primed to do the job in the opener.

“We got better every scrimmage that we played this year,” noted Gallagher. “You want to peak for that first game, you want to be ready. Now we have to carry that peak through the season.”

For second-year head coach Gallagher, getting his first career win was a peak experience.

“I don’t know if it has sunk in yet, to be honest with you,” said a beaming Gallagher, who got the obligatory water bucket shower as part of a raucous post-game celebration which saw the Little Tigers jumping for joy with hugs all around.

“I am excited for the players and I am excited for myself, no doubt. It is good to be 1-0, we are not going to be looking at any division races yet or anything like that. We are going to take it one game at a time. We have a tough Ewing squad next week, I think they made the playoffs last year.”

Helstrom, for his part, hopes that the triumph sets the tone going forward as the Little Tigers host Ewing (0-1) on September 19 as part of the school’s homecoming festivities.

“It is the first win since two years ago,” said Helstrom. “We want to use this to keep rolling and win the rest of the season.”

 

POWER PLAY: Princeton High girls’ tennis star Rory Lewis blasts a serve in action last season. Senior tri-captain Lewis has starred at third singles this fall as PHS has produced a 5-1 start. In upcoming action, the Little Tigers host Lawrence on September 17 before playing at Notre Dame on September 19 and at Steinert on September 22.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

POWER PLAY: Princeton High girls’ tennis star Rory Lewis blasts a serve in action last season. Senior tri-captain Lewis has starred at third singles this fall as PHS has produced a 5-1 start. In upcoming action, the Little Tigers host Lawrence on September 17 before playing at Notre Dame on September 19 and at Steinert on September 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Based on its match last week against WW/P-S, it appears that the Princeton High girls’ tennis team is going to be a force to be reckoned with at the upcoming Mercer County Tournament.

Although PHS lost 3-2 to the Pirates, who have won five of the last six  MCT team titles, the Little Tigers showed that they are a top level squad.

“It was really close, it could have gone either way,” said PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert, who got wins from Christina Rosca at first singles and Rory Lewis at third singles.

“It came down to three third sets. It would have been a better step if we had won it but it was definitely a good experience. Overall, everyone fought hard. I want the girls to learn from this.”

Having junior superstar Rosca at first singles makes PHS hard to beat.

“Chris looked great in her match,” said Hibbert of Rosca, who won the first singles crown at the MCT last year and went on to take state singles championship.

“She was blasting the ball, she was in good form. She has got some more pace on her shots. Her footwork is better; her serve is a little better.”

At second and third singles, PHS features two battle-tested seniors in Katelyn Hojelbane and Lewis, respectively.

“The two of them are at a very similar level; on any given day one can beat the other,” said Hibbert, noting that Lewis played second singles in 2013 and that Hojelbane held that spot the year before.

“They are both hard workers with solid ground strokes. Confidence will be a big thing for them; they need to believe in themselves because their games are there.”

Hibbert believes her first doubles team of senior Zhenia Dementyev and junior Nikhita Salgame and the second doubles pair of junior Gilliam Samios and sophomore Elise Gerdes should be solid.

“Their styles complement each other,” explained Hibbert. “Zhenia is more aggressive and likes taking over at the net. Nikhita is very steady and keeps the ball in play. Gillian is willing to be aggressive and Elise is a steady player. I didn’t want to put the two aggressive players together and the two steady players together. It is better to balance styles.”

In terms of team leadership, the Little Tigers are benefitting from the complementary styles of seniors Lewis, Dementyev, and Hojelbane,

“All three seniors are co-captains,” said Hibbert. “ All three have different styles and I like that Rory is not the most vocal of the three. She is always working hard and is always ready to go, she is a true leader by example. Zhenia and Katelyn are also great leaders. Katelyn and Zhenia organize the team bonding stuff and cheer on the girls.”

The Little Tigers have the potential to put away most foes. “Overall we have a good group of girls, everyone is working really hard,” said Hibbert, whose team topped Ewing 5-0 last Monday to improve to 5-1 and hosts Lawrence on September 17 before playing at Notre Dame on September 19 and at Steinert on September 22.

“The key is to solidify our doubles teams. Being strong at the bottom is as important as being strong at the top. You can have the best first singles player but you need two other points to back her up. We have good players waiting in the wings. We will be looking to give some players experience at the varsity level.”

If things come together, Hibbert believes her squad can make a very good run at the MCT, which is slated for September 29 and October 1.

“The key is to have everyone there and healthy this year,” said Hibbert. “It can be very close, a lot will depend on the draws and who plays well on the day.”