February 26, 2014
JACK OF HEART: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Jackson Andres heads up the ice last Thursday in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals. Junior forward Andres had two assists in a losing cause as fifth-seeded PHS fell 7-2 to top-seeded Notre Dame at Mercer County Park. The Little Tigers, now 13-5-2, will be competing in the state Public B tournament this week where they are seeded 21st and will play at No. 12 Nutley on February 26 in a first round contest.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

JACK OF HEART: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Jackson Andres heads up the ice last Thursday in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals. Junior forward Andres had two assists in a losing cause as fifth-seeded PHS fell 7-2 to top-seeded Notre Dame at Mercer County Park. The Little Tigers, now 13-5-2, will be competing in the state Public B tournament this week where they are seeded 21st and will play at No. 12 Nutley on February 26 in a first round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Playing top-seeded Notre Dame in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals last Thursday, the fifth-seeded Princeton High boys’ hockey team dug itself an early 2-0 hole.

While underdog PHS could have folded, the Little Tigers replied with a goal by Connor McCormick to make it a 2-1 game after one period.

Notre Dame then scored the first two goals of the second period and PHS once again fought back as Spencer Reynolds found the back of the net to narrow the gap to 4-2. But PHS ran out of gas at that point as the Irish pulled away to 7-2 victory.

While Little Tiger head coach Terence Miller was frustrated by the result, he had no qualms with the effort he got from his players.

“I told my guys you came up against a good team, they have had a good season, they were the No. 1 seed in the tournament and I can’t be upset with the effort,” said Miller, whose team dropped to 13-5-2 with the setback.

“I thought we played to the end and we showed some pride. Obviously, it is a disappointing result but at the end of the day, all I can do is congratulate the other team; they deserved it tonight. As a group, I like the way we fought. We battled to the end and that is really the most important thing.”

In Miller’s view the gap is narrowing between his club and perennial power Notre Dame, who beat PHS 8-2 in the teams’ regular season meeting.

“It is a bounce here or a bounce there and it is a different game if we pull it back to 5-3,” said Miller.

“We had a couple of uncharacteristic turnovers in our own zone that landed in the back of our net. That is completely demoralizing and deflates the whole team. We have got some young guys that are out there in big spots. They will learn; they will get better from this.”

Junior forward Jackson Andres gave PHS a big effort against Notre Dame, assisting on both Little Tiger goals and throwing his body all over the ice.

“When he stays within himself, he is an effective player,” said Miller of Andres. “He is a big strong kid. When he is churning and doing things the right way, he can really help carry us. He was a big factor for us tonight. He brings a lot of energy with some physical play.”

With PHS playing at Nutley in the opening round of the state tournament on February 26, the Little Tigers will be hitting the ice with plenty of energy as they look to build on their good showing in the MCT.

“We have been playing well, we are looking forward to the state tournament and doing some damage there,” said Miller.

“We are the 21st seed and they are the 12th but I think it is a winnable game for us. It is new life, a new tournament here so we are excited about that.”

EGGED ON: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player John Egner takes the puck up the ice in the state Prep championship game last week at McGraw Rink. Senior forward Egner scored the winning goal as PDS edged visiting Morristown-Beard 4-3 in the February 18 contest.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

EGGED ON: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player John Egner takes the puck up the ice in the state Prep championship game last week at McGraw Rink. Senior forward Egner scored the winning goal as PDS edged visiting Morristown-Beard 4-3 in the February 18 contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team looking to add to a 3-1 lead over visiting Morristown-Beard in the second period of the state Prep championship game last week, John Egner was in the right place at the right time.

The puck caromed off the Mo-Beard goalie and PDS senior forward Egner banged it home to give the Panthers a 4-1 lead in the February 18 contest at McGraw Rink.

“That was a great play by Fletch [Connor Fletcher] in the corner, he walked out and took the shot,” said Egner.

“The puck just bounced up and I saw it going behind the goalie and I crashed the net and luckily I got to slam it in there. It was a pretty easy one because my linemates made the play happen.”

Egner’s tally turned out to be the game-winner as PDS held off a Mo-Beard rally to earn a 4-3 win and the program’s first outright Prep crown since 2011.

For Egner, being the scorer of the deciding goal came as a bit of a surprise.  “I just try to use my speed to get the puck deep,” said Egner.

“Definitely our line, me, Fletcher, and [Lewie] Blackburn, has had to step up this year and play against some top lines. I know I am not going to score a lot of goals really but when I do, I take advantage of it. It is really to just play hard and that’s what I work on, being the hardest working one out there.”

PDS knew it faced a tough test in Mo-Beard, which had tied the Panthers 2-2 in the Prep title game last year and had posted a 3-0 win this January in the regular season clash between the rivals.

“In the past couple of years, we have started a little rivalry against them and it is definitely special to play them,” said Egner.

“Everybody remembered the game last year; we definitely didn’t like the way it ended and so this year was kind of a redemption year. We knew they had a really good team coming in; we played them a couple of times during the season and both were really good games.”

The Panthers came out firing, jumping out to a 3-1 first period advantage. “That was big; we knew we had to get a great start,” said Egner. “We knew that we couldn’t sit back and let them take control of the game. To get a 3-1 lead in the beginning was big.”

After Mo-Beard narrowed the gap to 4-3 heading into the third period, PDS had to regain control of the contest.

“Coach [Scott Bertoli] told us to play our game, we are in the right spot right now,” recalled Egner.

“We took it to them in those two periods and just had to go out in the third and keep it going and get on the board first and try to hold them back.”

While PDS didn’t get on the board in the third, it stifled the Crimson to earn the title.

“The third period was good, we played shutdown defense,” said Egner. “Logan [freshman goalie Logan Kramsky] played great, it was a whole team effort in the third. Everyone played great.”

Afterward, the Panthers had a great time, lingering on the ice to celebrate with the trophy and take pictures with friends and family.

“I just can’t believe, it went by so fast,” said Egner. “It is crazy. It means a lot, definitely to all the seniors and everyone in the locker room, the whole team really. We wanted to win for our coaches and go out with a bang here and luckily we got that done.”

PDS head coach Bertoli liked the way his gritty team has gotten things done this winter. “It is a completely different group from last year,” said Bertoli, who got two goals and two assists from senior star Sean Timmons in the win over Mo-beard with Connor Bitterman adding one goal.

“Last year, we were offensively dynamic and this group just grinds it out, they are willing to be patient and they do a lot of the little things. As a coach, it is so much more gratifying watching this team compete.”

Bertoli got the sense that this year’s group had a special competitive spirit in December when it fought hard in the Barber Tournament in Massachusetts.

“We played some good New England competition and we were up there without two or three of our top guys,” said Bertoli.

“We just saw some of the role players from last year’s group like the Blackburns, the Egners, the Bittermans, just elevate their game for no other reason or choice. If they weren’t willing to compete and take their game to another level then we weren’t going to be successful, not only up there but moving forward throughout this season. They are big time players and big time competitors, you saw it tonight, these guys score goals when we need to score goals.”

When PDS found itself locked in a tight battle with Mo-Beard, Bertoli was confident that his team would get it done.

“We have been in playoff-type games for the last month and a half and we find ways to win,” said Bertoli.

“It is not pretty at times but it is effective and that’s the composition of this group. We are not going to blow teams out, we understand that. They are going to battle through adversity. I don’t think last year’s group was trailed more than 30 minutes the entire season. We trailed in the Lawrenceville game back and forth and we trailed Mo-Beard until we turned it around in the regular season. This group has trailed in six or eight games and has come back and won. That is a sign of a really good team.”

In Bertoli’s view, another sign pointing to PDS’s success this winter was the work ethic displayed by the Panthers.

“To me personally, what is most rewarding and gratifying is knowing how hard this group had to work,” said Bertoli, whose team ended the season with a 15-7-2 record after dropping three tight games last weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Invitational at the Hill School (Pa.).

“As a coach, I couldn’t be more proud of the fact that this group has exceeded expectations this year, not to take anything away from them at the start of the year and to downplay what our outlook was. It was just to improve on a daily basis and get better and not look at the big picture and take it day by day and it blows me away to think that this group would be as decorated as they are.”

Enjoying the big finale at McGraw Rink was certainly a rewarding experience for Egner.

“There are a lot of memories, this one is definitely up there now,” said Egner.

“I have had so many great times, I have met so many great people. My best friends in my whole life are in this rink and some of the greatest moments I have ever had have been here. I am going to cherish this game and remember it and just think back to all the great times that I have had here.”

With the Hun School boys’ hockey team making its first appearance in the Mercer County Tournament since 2009, Spy Avgoustiniatos and his teammates were determined to make their presence felt.

“We really want to get the Hun name out there and play hard and get the win,” said Hun senior forward Avgoustiniatos, noting that the Raiders have won the county crown three times. “Last year we won our league and we want to build on that.”

As the second-seeded Raiders faced No. 3 Robbinsville in the MCT semis last Thursday, things didn’t come easy at first as Hun found itself trailing 1-0 midway through the first period.

“Coach [Ian McNally] pulled us aside and said we didn’t get the start that we wanted but let’s get into it and beat this team,” recalled Avgoustiniatos.

The Raiders responded with three straight goals in a span of 2:37 and never looked back in a 7-2 rout of the Ravens.

“One goal came along, I put the second one in and we just kept on rolling and we knew we had them all the way,” said Avgoustiniatos.

On his tally, Avgoustiniatos banged in a feed from classmate Alec Karanikolas.

“It was all Alec, there was a scramble in front of the net and he got the puck,” said Avgoustiniatos. “I was saying ‘Alec backdoor’ and he passed it back.”

With 5:50 left in the third period, Avgoustiniatos added an insurance goal to make it a 6-2 game, diving to the ice and nudging the puck past the Robbinsville goalie as he flew past the net.

“I was 100 percent sure that didn’t go in; the puck was right there, I saw it and I took two whacks at it and I just really wanted to get it in there,” said  Avgoustiniatos.

“I thought I didn’t have it and then I saw the other teammates coming up to me. It was a great feeling, they told me you got that one. It was sweet.”

A night later, Avgoustiniatos and his teammates enjoyed a great feeling as they topped Notre Dame 4-2 in the MCT title game. In his view, the combination of battle-tested upperclassman and the arrival of the precocious freshman trio of Evan Barrett, Jon Bendorf, and Blake Brown has made Hun a force to reckon with this winter.

“We were really excited for all the skilled freshmen that were coming in; it started from preseason going into the season, we really built that friendship,” said Avgoustiniatos.

“We are really getting along, there is not that huge gap between the older guys and younger guys. We really incorporated them and made them feel at home and come together as a hockey team and it is what gets a spark there.”

And helping to spark Hun on its MCT title run has left Avgoustiniatos with a lot of pride in what he has accomplished on the ice.

“It is an amazing experience,” asserted Avgoustiniatos. “I want to leave my legacy at Hun for the hockey team.”

BLAKE STREET: Hun School boys’ hockey player Blake Brown heads up the ice last week at the Mercer County Tournament. Last Friday, freshman forward Brown scored a goal and had an assist to help second-seeded Hun top No. 1 Notre Dame 4-2 in the MCT championship game.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BLAKE STREET: Hun School boys’ hockey player Blake Brown heads up the ice last week at the Mercer County Tournament. Last Friday, freshman forward Brown scored a goal and had an assist to help second-seeded Hun top No. 1 Notre Dame 4-2 in the MCT championship game. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Hun School boys’ hockey player Blake Brown didn’t waste any time making an impact in his first Mercer County Tournament championship game.

As second-seeded Hun faced off with top-seeded and defending champion Notre Dame last Friday evening at Mercer County Park, the puck squirted to freshman forward Brown and he banged it home eight seconds into the contest to give the Raiders a 1-0 lead.

“I just got the puck and that was pretty much it, there was one guy behind and I just got it top shelf,” said Brown. “It was huge, the first goal is everything to the team; that’s what gets teams going, the first goal.”

The Raiders added another goal in the first period to take a 2-0 lead into the second period but then Notre Dame got going as it scored two goals in a 29-second span in the second to knot the game at 2-2.

With the teams locked in the 2-2 stalemate heading into the third period, Hun was determined to regain the momentum.

“We couldn’t give up, we had to keep pounding them,” said Brown, recalling the team’s discussion at the intermission before the third period. “We just have to keep working hard and pushing it; we can’t let up.”

Seconds into the final frame, Brown struck again feeding classmate Jon Bendorf, who proceeded to find the back of the net.

“I saw Benny, there was a free lane open to him and I just passed it to him and he finished it,” said Brown.

Minutes later, Bobby Wurster scored on a one-timer from the point to put Hun up 4-2 and the Raiders finished off Notre Dame with some stifling defense as neither team scored again.

“Everyone was blocking shots and working hard,” said Brown, reflecting on Hun’s third period effort. “We were making sure that no one was left open in front of the net, everybody got the back door people.”

At the final whistle, everyone on the Hun squad joined in a raucous on-ice
celebration which saw gloves and sticks flying.

For Brown, winning the MCT crown marked the fruition of a childhood ambition.

“It is huge,” said Brown. “I used to go to the West Windsor schools and I always watched the county tournaments when I was younger.”

Hun’s young guns dominated the tournament as classmate Evan Barratt was named MVP and the trio combined for three goals and five assists in the title game.

“We have been playing for a while, Benny is on my club team for six years and we have always been together,” said Brown, who competes on the Mercer Chiefs with Bendorf.

“We worked over the summer. All of us were on the district all-star team. I dish them the puck and they finish it.”

Hun head coach Ian McNally was not surprised that Brown triggered things for the Raiders.

“The start of the first and then the start of the third was big, I think Blake Brown was a big catalyst in all of that,” said McNally.

“He is the guy that gets everyone fired up before they go on the ice. He’s the guy giving fist pumps and yelling so it was good for him to be the guy that goes out and says follow me. They were both awesome goals.”

With Notre Dame tying the game at 2-2 and seizing momentum in the second period, McNally looked to get his guys fired up for a big final period as he talked to them at intermission.

“The message was you don’t know if you are going to have another chance like this; you always assume that you are going to play in a bunch of big games and championship games but you never know if you are going to get back,” said McNally.

“You are here now, take advantage of it, you never know when you are going to get back again.”

The Raiders responded with aplomb, producing spirited hockey at both ends of the ice.

“They were behind and they had to get a little desperate and score and we just kept them in their zone for minutes at a time,” said McNally.

“That was by far the best period of hockey we have played and it was good to see because it was a big stage and we don’t get too many games like this with a lot of fans and something on the line. I think they got excited and everybody rose to the occasion.”

Winning the title, the fourth county crown in program history, was an exciting moment for the Hun players.

“It means a lot to these guys; these guys have always been asking to play in it and we haven’t been able to,” said McNally, whose team topped Episcopal Academy (Pa.) 10-5 on Monday in the Independence Hockey League (IHL) semis to improve to 18-7 and was slated to face Academy of New Church on February 25 in the title game.

“Their classmates at school can relate to what the MCT is, they can’t relate to the IHL. In this week leading up to it, there was a buzz at school. People knew about it and the boarding kids got bussed over for it. For these guys it means a lot, it is the one that they wanted to win this year.”

McNally acknowledged that his trio of freshmen played a key role in winning the title.

“They were unreal tonight, every time they were on the ice, it was a goal scoring opportunity,” said McNally, reflecting on the player of Brown, Barratt and Bendorf.

“It is funny, I was harping on them to get off the ice faster than they do … but sure enough in a one-and-a-half minute shift they turn around and score a goal so it is hard to get too mad at those guys.”

Senior goalie Devin Cheifetz made things hard on Notre Dame in crunch time, recording 28 saves on the evening.

“Devin was awesome today; I have been with Devin a long time in club and high school hockey and when it is really on the line, he shows up,” said McNally.

“He got better throughout the game. In the third period, he was so confident and poised. You are just assuming that he is going to save it. It was one of his better games of the year.”

It has been an awesome winter for Hun, even though the team’s immaturity has McNally pulling out his hair at times.

“It is youthful enthusiasm; the reason we get into shootout games is the energy level is up and down,” said McNally.

“You saw it again tonight. We scored in bunches and then the other team gets momentum for five or six minutes and we just hold on tight. That is how the team has been, we just thrive off a high energy shift by the younger guys.”

Brown, for his part, likes the way Hun brings the energy on a constant basis.

“Everybody works their butts off and everybody plays their hearts out every shift,” said Brown.

February 19, 2014
TOMMY GUN: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Tom Schreiber races upfield in 2013 action. Two-time first-team All-American midfielder and senior captain Schreiber is looking to go out with a bang this spring. Schreiber already has 149 career points, the most ever by a Princeton middie, and has a chance to become the second four-time first-team All-Ivy League player in program history and the first Princeton player to reach at least 90 goals and 90 assists in a career. The 9th-ranked Tigers start their 2014 campaign by hosting Hofstra on February 22.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TOMMY GUN: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Tom Schreiber races upfield in 2013 action. Two-time first-team All-American midfielder and senior captain Schreiber is looking to go out with a bang this spring. Schreiber already has 149 career points, the most ever by a Princeton middie, and has a chance to become the second four-time first-team All-Ivy League player in program history and the first Princeton player to reach at least 90 goals and 90 assists in a career. The 9th-ranked Tigers start their 2014 campaign by hosting Hofstra on February 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Over the last two years, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team has been on the verge of adding to the program’s storied tradition of postseason success.

The Tigers have advanced to a pair of Ivy League championship games and have played in the the opening round of the NCAA tournament but came up short in all three contests.

As the 2014 season gets underway on February 22 when 9th-ranked Princeton hosts Hofstra, the squad’s group of 15 seniors is looking to go out with a bang.

“It is a senior laden group, they came in with high expectations and some goals have remained unmet,” said Princeton head coach Chris Bates, whose team went 9-6 overall last season, ending the spring with a 12-8 loss to Yale in the Ivy title game.

“It is their last go-around so there is a sense of urgency. We have gone through the rigors together; they have a good perspective. They know things are not going to happen overnight, it is a long season.”

The Tigers have a midfield unit that can make things happen, led by two-time first-team All-American and senior captain Tom Schreiber, the team’s leading scorer in 2013 with 60 points on 28 goals and 32 assists.

“We are actually trying to dial him back, he can dominate practices,” said Bates.

“He has such a skill set and he is playing with so much confidence. He has an edge to his game and that has a ripple effect on the rest of the team. He makes everyone else better. But we know people are going to try to take him out of the game and the others will have to be better and take the next step.”

Bates is confident that junior Kip Orban (27 goals, 7 assists in 2013) and sophomore Jake Froccaro (24 goals, 10 assists) can make defenses pay if they focus too much on Schreiber.

“Orban’s confidence has grown; he is adding layers to his game,” said Bates.

“He is working on his off-ball game. He has put in a lot of goals for us and I would be surprised if he doesn’t replicate that. Jake has a broken finger and we hope to have him for Hofstra. He gives us a different dynamic, he makes us a tough matchup there. He will need some time to get his wind and get his legs under him.”

The return of seniors Tucker Shanley (20 goals, 8 assists in 2012) and Forest Sonnefeldt (17 goals, 6 assists in 2012) from injury should make the midfield even tougher to contain.

“Shanley is back, it is nice to have depth,” said Bates. “We need to merge him into the first group. He needs to make better shot decisions and make good plays, it can’t be feast or famine. Forest Sonnenfeldt is back from injury, he is a big body and can set picks and he can really shoot it.”

On attack, junior Mike MacDonald has emerged as a top shooter, scoring a team-high 43 goals in 2013.

“Mike is a tough kid and he does more than finishing,” said Bates of MacDonald, who added 16 assists last spring.

“He is pretty athletic and pretty fast but he likes to lay low. He can dodge and he has a really good understanding of what we want to do on offense. He is finishing my sentences.”

Bates is hoping that sophomore Ryan Ambler (11 goals, 17 assists) and junior Will Rotatori (2 goals, 3 assists) can show a good understanding of the offense as they join MacDonald on the top attack line.

“Ambler is bigger, stronger, and is more confident,” said Bates. “He is finishing the ball really well. I think he is going to take a nice jump this year, he knows his role as a sophomore. Rotatori will be the third guy on attack. He is quick, tough, and fearless. He distributes the ball well. He is used to carrying the ball and we don’t need him to do that as much. He needs to find the right spot off the ball. He needs to figure out how to complement the others.”

At the key face-off spot, Princeton will be looking for junior Justin Murphy to have a big year.

“Murph is the guy we are going to live or die with,” said Bates of Murphy who went 111-of-218 on face-offs in 2013.

“Jack O’Brien is a freshman who did some nice things in the fall. He is another option. We have two other athletes, Sam Gravitte, a longstick, and Zach Currier, who we could use.”

Princeton features some blue-chip athletes as shortstick defensive midfield in a trio of seniors, Jack Strabo, Nick Fernandez, and Hunter deButts.

“We have Jack Strabo and Nick Fernandez at short-stick middie, they are basically 4-year starters,” said Bates.

“They have grown as leaders and they are hard-working, athletic guys. They can really run the field. Hunter deButts has energy and athleticism.”

Senior Derick Raabe provides energy and skill at longstick midfield, leading the Tigers by picking up 73 ground ball in 2013.

“Derick is a natural there; he is great on ground balls,” said Bates, who also plans to use senior Brendan Bronvino and freshman Gravitte at LSM.

Youth will be served on defense as the Tigers will be relying on sophomore Mark Strabo along with a pair of freshmen, Will Reynolds and Bear Goldstein.

“Mark Strabo is back and healthier; he is a good solid cover guy and he is beginning to understand how to play defense at the college level,” said Bates, who will also be using 6’7 junior Alex Beatty on defense.

“Will Reynolds is pretty heralded and he is all of that. He is a big presence; he is calm and tough. He is a foundation player already; he gives us a sense of calm even though he is a freshman. He has an athletic IQ; he may get beaten once but not again. Bear Goldstein has good feet and can cover the ball well. He is fearless, he is a Texas football kid and will put his helmet in there. He has good stick control and we think he has a lot of upside.”

Bates isn’t quite sure what is up at goalie as senior Brian Kavanagh (8.50 goals against average in 2 games in 2013), junior Eric Sanschagrin (11.86 goals against average in 5 games), and sophomore Matt O’Connor (9.38 goals against average in 12 games) are all vying for the spot.

“That is the big question mark; it is a three-man race,” said Bates. “Brian Kavanagh has notched himself into it; he has looked good in scrimmages. Eric and Matt run hot and cold. Matt was a length ahead in the fall but not so much now. We want to have one step up so we can settle this. Brian is a mature kid and the other two have more game experience. We are going to end up with a good goalie.”

The Tigers will need to step up in order to top Hofstra (0-1) in the opener this Saturday.

“Hofstra is always ready for us, it is good test,” said Bates. “We have some guys playing their first game so it is interesting to see what happens when the lights go on. We need to be smart and manage the nerves.”

Paying attention to game management will be a key if the Tigers are to reach their goals this spring.

“The defense will need to grow up,” said Bates. “We need to be smart and manage the game on the offensive end. We can be pedal to the metal but we can’t just fire low angle or low percentage shots.”

ATTACK MODE: Princeton University women’s lacrosse star Erin McMunn heads to the goal last season. Junior attacker ­McMunn, Princeton’s top scorer in 2013 with 69 points last spring on 40 goals and 29 assists, should trigger the Tiger offense this spring. No. 16 Princeton opens its 2014 campaign by playing at eighth-ranked Loyola (1-0) on February 22.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ATTACK MODE: Princeton University women’s lacrosse star Erin McMunn heads to the goal last season. Junior attacker ­McMunn, Princeton’s top scorer in 2013 with 69 points last spring on 40 goals and 29 assists, should trigger the Tiger offense this spring. No. 16 Princeton opens its 2014 campaign by playing at eighth-ranked Loyola (1-0) on February 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

If the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team can stay in the present, it could have a bright future.

“The kids are really focused on everyday; they are playing well and learning the system,” said Princeton head coach Chris Sailer whose team went 10-7 overall in 2013 and advanced to the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

“They are working on elevating their game. We have fallen victim to letting the game situation dictate everything. Whether we get off to a good start or a bad start, we need to have confidence in who we are and in our systems. We need to keep fighting and playing our system. The theme this season is the power of now.”

As the 16th-ranked Tigers open their season at No. 8 Loyola on February 22, they boast a lot of firepower on attack.

“Our attack is shaping up very nicely,” asserted Sailer, a Hall of Fame coach,  who is in her 28th season at Princeton and has led the Tigers to three NCAA titles and 332 wins.

“We have great players who are playing well together. We have good depth, it is good to see. We have a really well-rounded offense; we should be balanced in our scoring. I think it is going to be a strength for us.”

Junior Erin McMunn figures to trigger the Tiger offense, having scored 69 points last spring on 40 goals and 29 assists. Senior Mary-Kate Sivilli (19 goals and 7 assists in 2013) and sophomore Alexandra Bruno (26 goals and 4 assists) should also be key weapons for Princeton.

“We are going to look for a lot out of Erin, she has a sure stick and can finish,” said Sailer.

“Sivilli is having a great year; she had a good fall. She is becoming a leader of the unit. She helps McMunn organize the attack. She sees the field really well; I think this is going to be her best season. Bruno has been hampered by her back but she coming on strong. She is a great shooter. She is an intelligent player and sees the game well.”

The Tigers have several others who have some game on attack. “We have a number of kids who are doing well, Erika Grabbi is a junior who is coming into her own,” added Sailer.

“She is fast and explosive and is one of our most talented 1 v 1 players. We have freshman Olivia Hompe, who is playing around the crease with McMunn, they are developing a good connection. She is a talented kid. Grace Bowen is coming off a stress fracture and she is playing herself into a role. Steph Paloscio (2 goals, 2 assists) has done well. She is little but quick and speedy. Anna Menke is a big, strong kid. We don’t have anyone who isn’t ready play, they can helps us in different situations.”

At midfield, Princeton boasts a strong one-two punch in senior Sarah Lloyd (19 goals, 14 assists) and junior Erin Slifer (19 goals, 20 assists).

“Lloyd and Slifer have been mainstays for us,” said Sailer. “Sarah had been dealing with an injury but she is back. We had a scrimmage at the end of practice the other day and she was all over the field. She is great on the draw, she is great on ground balls and is great in transition and dodging. Slifer is a big, strong player. She came into her own at the end of last season. She became a go-to kid for us. She is a large presence at both ends of the field.”

Sailer is hoping that freshman Anna Doherty and sophomore Anya Gersoff will emerge as go-to players in the midfield,

“Doherty has been doing very well; she is incredibly quick and explosive,” said Sailer. “She can be really good for us. Anya Gersoff (14 goals, 4 assists) has been really impressive. We are expecting a lot from her. She plays field hockey and missed our fall season as a freshman and I think she was behind last year. She expected more from herself because lacrosse is her love. I give her credit, she trained on her own. She worked hard on her footwork. She can do things with the stick and the ball that are really impressive.”

On defense, Princeton will rely on the battle-tested trio of sophomore Liz Bannantine, senior Liz Cutting, and senior Colleen Smith.

“Bannantine, Cutting, and Smith give us three veterans which is good,” said Sailer.

“We have been playing our middies with our attack to get the sets down. That is one thing we have to work on with the defense, we need to get them reps with the first midfield. Cutting and Smith have the experience and Bannantine is really smart on the field.”

The Tigers have some good reinforcements to back up its veteran leaders. “Maddie Rodriguez is a recruited walk-on from Minnesota and she has really surprised us,” said Sailer.

“She is fitting in well; she just goes out there and does her business. Erin Williams is a senior and will get some minutes. Erin Curley, a junior, is doing better. Freshman Amanda Leavell is fast and athletic. She has to learn the system; she will be good.”

Sailer is still trying to figure who is going to get the most minutes at goalie as she is looking at senior Caroline Franke (10.01 goals against average in 15 games in 2013), junior Annie Woehling (9.40 goals against average in five games), and promising freshman Ellie DeGarmo.

“Franke had the experience and performed well in game situations; Annie has been having some good practices,” said Sailer.

“Ellie was All-Met in a tough league in Maryland and she is pushing the two returners. We are hoping that one will emerge. It is a good thing to have options. Against some teams, we may want someone quicker and against other teams, we may want someone who is bigger and holds the angles better. Franke has the early edge coming off of last season; we still haven’t made a firm decision.”

Princeton knows it is facing a big-time team in Loyola (1-0), which is coming off a 16-12 win over perennial power Virginia.

“Loyola is a daunting challenge, we played them in the fall season at Penn,” said Sailer.

“Loyola is fast, fast, fast. They have great attackers, great dodgers. They are good at looking for each other and they have one of the best goalies in the country. We hung in there with them, we played well in spurts. Our defense wasn’t as far along as it is now and we gave up too many goals. We need to compete better on 50/50 balls and in transition. I think it gives us an edge to have been on the field with them rather than just see them on film.”

In Sailer’s view, the Tigers could go far this spring. “This group has great potential, you never know until the ball goes up,” said Sailer.

“We have good talent, we are going to be challenged by a tough early schedule. I think we have the ability to compete against every team we play. We need to grow throughout the season.”

HOT HAND: Princeton University women’s basketball player Blake Dietrick dribbles upcourt in recent action. Junior guard Dietrick came up huge last weekend as Princeton topped visiting Brown 81-70 on Friday and then defeated Yale 96-75 a night later. Dietrick scored a career-high 27 points in the victory over Brown and then bettered that with 28 points a night later in the rout of Yale. She was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week. The Tigers, now 15-6 overall and 6-1 Ivy League, head to New England this weekend to play at Dartmouth (3-19 overall, 0-8 Ivy) on February 21 and at Harvard (17-5 overall, 7-1 Ivy) the next day.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HOT HAND: Princeton University women’s basketball player Blake Dietrick dribbles upcourt in recent action. Junior guard Dietrick came up huge last weekend as Princeton topped visiting Brown 81-70 on Friday and then defeated Yale 96-75 a night later. Dietrick scored a career-high 27 points in the victory over Brown and then bettered that with 28 points a night later in the rout of Yale. She was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week. The Tigers, now 15-6 overall and 6-1 Ivy League, head to New England this weekend to play at Dartmouth (3-19 overall, 0-8 Ivy) on February 21 and at Harvard (17-5 overall, 7-1 Ivy) the next day. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Blake Dietrick misfired when the Princeton University women’s basketball team lost to Harvard last month.

The junior guard hit just 3-of-15 shots as the Tigers fell 78-68 to the Crimson, suffering their only Ivy League loss of the season and just their third league loss since the end of the 2008-09 season.

After the setback, Dietrick made a promise to herself. “I was extremely frustrated after the Harvard game with my own performance and the team’s performance,” said the 5’10 Dietrick, a native of Wellesley, Mass.

“That kind of flipped the switch for me; I am not going to let this team down. I am going to push everybody in practice. I think we have brought a fire and intensity we didn’t have that day.”

Last weekend, Dietrick displayed her fire and intensity, scoring a career-high 27 points in an 81-70 win over visiting Brown on Friday and then bettering that with 28 points a night later as Princeton routed Yale 96-75, improving to 15-6 overall and 6-1 Ivy.

While everybody in Jadwin Gym could see that Dietrick was lighting up the scoreboard, the stat line wasn’t her focus.

“I don’t think about it that way, I am just trying to get better every day,” said Dietrick, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for her big weekend.

“I don’t like to know how many points I have during a game. I don’t want to think about it. There were a lot of things that I did wrong in those two games and a lot of things I can still improve so I am focused more on that than the good stuff.”

When Dietrick gets the hot hand, she sees it as an opportunity to set up her teammates.

“I am a point guard and I like to pass the ball as well,” said Dietrick, who had 25 points in the first half against Yale and is now averaging 16.0 points a game, third-best in the league.

“So if I have a lot of points in the first half, obviously they are going to be concerned about me which is going to create opportunities for my teammates so that was what I was looking for in the second half. I was trying to get other people involved and keep playing our game. I wasn’t trying to take over or anything like that.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart was more impressed with Dietrick’s overall floor game than her gaudy scoring stats.

“I looked at the stats after the game last night and I was like wow she had 25 points and then at halftime today I was like oh my god she has 25,” said Banghart.

“I think that says a lot about Blake, I don’t even notice when she is scoring. I notice how she is managing our game, how she is really taking leadership on the court and being the lead guard we need her to be. Scoring is great and she is great at it but it doesn’t paint the whole picture for her. She has emerged into our floor leader. We need her to score so I can’t have her thinking she is just a point guard because then she starts to distribute. She is a scoring lead guard.”

Banghart has seen her team emerge from the Harvard loss with a new identity.

“The Harvard game was such that we were totally out of rhythm and I think they doubted themselves during the game and that is just not us,” said Banghart.

“The team is becoming theirs, they know they can be beaten and it is don’t be afraid of it, whatever. It is us doing our thing.”

With Princeton playing at Dartmouth (3-19 overall, 0-8 Ivy) on February 21 and at Harvard (17-5 overall, 7-1 Ivy) a day later, Banghart has little doubt that the Tigers are primed for a big weekend.

“Michelle Miller and Alex Wheatley, the sophomores who were like deer in the headlights, are starting to take on some ownership of the game plan and ownership of the personnel,” said Banghart.

“Our seniors (Kristen Helmstetter and Nicole Hung) have buoyed the ship, they have asked their younger teammates to step up. It is February now, you are not young any more.”

Dietrick, for her part, is ready to step up in the rematch with Harvard. “Being mad about that Harvard loss just makes me want to fight harder everyday,” said Dietrick.

“We are back in the swing of it. Every day at practice, we look better and better so I think we are ready to go. I think from here on out, we are going to be really tough to beat.”

KEY FIGURE: Princeton University women’s hockey player Gabie Figueroa controls the puck in recent action. Last Saturday, senior defenseman and team co-captain Figueroa contributed an assist but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 5-3 to visiting Yale. The Tigers, now 13-10-4 overall and 9-8-3 ECAC Hockey, play at Colgate on February 21 and at Cornell the next day in the last weekend of regular season before starting play in the league quarterfinals.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

KEY FIGURE: Princeton University women’s hockey player Gabie Figueroa controls the puck in recent action. Last Saturday, senior defenseman and team co-captain Figueroa contributed an assist but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 5-3 to visiting Yale. The Tigers, now 13-10-4 overall and 9-8-3 ECAC Hockey, play at Colgate on February 21 and at Cornell the next day in the last weekend of regular season before starting play in the league quarterfinals. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton University women’s hockey team, its annual Senior Day regular season home finale got off to a good start as the Tigers hosted Yale last Saturday.

After the team’s six seniors were introduced one by one, the Tigers proceeded to jump out to a 2-0 lead as freshmen Hilary Lloyd and Fiona McKenna both found the back of the net.

Responding to a Yale goal late in the opening period, Princeton got its lead back up to two as McKenna scored again to put the Tigers ahead 3-1 with 12:37 left in the second period.

But things went downhill from there as Yale scored four unanswered goals to win 5-3 and rain on the seniors’ parade.

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal made no effort to hide his disappointment as he assessed his team’s performance.

“It is frustrating all the way around, we had two 2-goal leads and then we crapped out,” said Kampersal, whose team dropped to 13-10-4 overall and 9-8-3 ECAC Hockey.

“We let them score 10 seconds after each time we scored which is absolutely ridiculous. We outshoot them 25-5 in the first period but we probably should have gotten a couple of more. We had a wide open net that we missed and then after that it was a weird game. I thought it was one of the worst losses I have been involved with in a long time.”

The defeat was especially stinging since it came on the send-off for the team’s seniors, Denna Laing, Sally Butler, Gabie Figueroa, Rose Alleva, Olivia Mucha, and Katie Jones.

“They are a great group, no question,” said Kampersal. “They have set the standard for us this year. I just wish today went better for them.”

Kampersal is hoping things go better next weekend when Princeton ends regular season action by playing at Colgate on February 21 and at Cornell the next day.

“We just have to forget it and compete next weekend,” said Kampersal, whose club stands sixth in the EACH standings and has clinched a spot in the league quarterfinals which will see the top four teams getting home ice in best-of-three series during the weekend of February 28-March 2.

“Now it is time to get ready for the playoffs and try to improve our seeding and play our best hockey the week after.”

SPEED TO BURN: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Colburn Yu speeds to victory in a 100 breaststroke race. Last Friday, senior Yu placed first in the breaststroke and took second in the 200 individual medley as top-seeded PHS defeated No. 2 Lawrence 115-55 to win its sixth straight Public B Central Jersey Sectional title. The Little Tigers will take on Summit in the Public B state semis on February 19 with the winner advancing to the championship meet on February 23.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SPEED TO BURN: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Colburn Yu speeds to victory in a 100 breaststroke race. Last Friday, senior Yu placed first in the breaststroke and took second in the 200 individual medley as top-seeded PHS defeated No. 2 Lawrence 115-55 to win its sixth straight Public B Central Jersey Sectional title. The Little Tigers will take on Summit in the Public B state semis on February 19 with the winner advancing to the championship meet on February 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While his teammates on the Princeton High boys’ swimming team whooped it up on the deck at the Neptune Aquatics Center last Friday after winning the Public B Central Jersey Sectional, Colburn Yu stood quietly by.

For senior star Yu, top-seeded PHS’s 115-55 triumph over No. 2 Lawrence High had a been there, done that feel.

“This is my fourth year at sectionals and each year the boys team has won so I know the gist of everything already,” said Yu, who was a key contributor when PHS won the Public B state title in 2012.

“Coach Hand told us not to assume things and just don’t think that you will win because you never know what to expect. I think we all swam pretty hard. We all made sure that we did what we needed to do in order to win this meet. Our score shows that.”

Yu did his part in the victory, taking second in the 200 individual medley and winning the 100 breaststroke, his specialty, as the Little Tigers improved to 12-0. For Yu, finishing behind classmate Avery Soong in the IM was a matter of taking care of business.

“The IM is not really my best event. I think the only reason I am good at it is because of my breaststroke,” said Yu.

“I was talking to Avery about this beforehand and we were just saying that if we go 1-2 in the IM we are going to be good and that’s basically what we did.”

Yu felt good about his win in the breaststroke, displaying the technique that helped him win the county title in the event.

“I have always noticed that breaststrokers tend to be smaller than the other strokes,” said the wiry Yu, who competes for the X-Cel club team and will be continuing his swimming career at Johns Hopkins.

“I feel like the breaststroke is more of a technique stroke than how big you are. I know that my technique is pretty good. I have gotten training specifically for breaststroke. When we go to the semifinals and hopefully we will make it to the finals, I will definitely bring it up a notch and go around my best time which should be a 57 or 58.”

It was not surprising to Yu that PHS took things up a notch in the sectional final.

“I think it is really special, not a whole lot of kids get to have four sectional titles,” said Yu.

“Our team has a lot of depth. I give credit to the seniors who were here two years ago. I learned a lot from them and hopefully what I have learned from them, I pass down to the kids who are underclassmen this year. Once we leave, they are going to need to work a lot harder to be able to win meets. Our senior class tends to score the most points at all of these meets.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand thinks pretty highly of this year’s senior group.

“The titles speak to the talent but the way they have approached their membership on the Princeton High team is the real standout performance,” said Hand, who has now guided the PHS boys’ swimmers to six straight sectional titles.

“These guys have always been there for each other. They always get committed to a total effort when we get to the meets that are the toughest. These guys have been able to swim in a state final, which they lost, a state final, which they won, and a state semifinal, which was virtually a tie. It was very disappointing but they walked away satisfied with the effort, that was the deal. We couldn’t control the 100th of a second thing and then here they are going to a state semifinal.”

Hand sees Yu as being in control of his swimming. “I think Colburn has got some great perspective now on the sport and how to meet the demands of the sport, how to respond to the challenges and disappointments that the sport offers,” said Hand.

“He has the classiness of being pretty selfless about his achievements and giving it up for the team.”

Three of the team’s other senior stars also gave PHS some big performances in the sectional final as Peter Kalibat won both the 200 and 500 freestyle races while Will Stange was victorious in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke and Matt Purdy took first in the 50 and 100 free races.

“I really admire Pete Kalibat for just knocking out consistently strong swims in the 200 and the 500, likewise, Will Stange, the same with his swims,” said Hand.

“Matt Purdy sprinted really well today. He did a great 100. He took it out slower and tried to build every 25 which is not a strategy he has used much before.”

PHS will have to compete really well as it now faces Summit in the Public B state semis on February 19 in a rematch of last year’s semis that saw the Little Tigers lose an 87-83 nailbiter.

“For sure, these guys don’t assume anything, getting to this level,” said Hand, whose team would advance to a third state final in the last four years on February 23 if they can overcome Summit.

“Summit’s power points are down but the last thing to do would be to misjudge that team, a defending state champion, the team that beat us last year. They graduated some but have some other kids on their roster.”

Yu, for his part, believes PHS’s older kids can lead the team to a second state title in the last three years.

“I know that the seniors and juniors both know what it feels like to go to the state finals and we can definitely step it up and tell the younger kids what it is to step it up,” said Yu. “As long as they see we are in the mood, they are going to follow.”

TANGY ADDITION: Princeton High girls’ swimming star Melinda Tang displays her freestyle form in recent action. Last Friday, freshman Tang won the 100 butterfly and took third in the 100 freestyle as top-seeded PHS defeated No. 2 Lawrence 110-60 in the Public B Central Jersey sectional finals. The Little Tigers, now 12-0, will face Ocean City in the Public B state semis on February 19 with the winner advancing to the championship meet on February 23.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TANGY ADDITION: Princeton High girls’ swimming star Melinda Tang displays her freestyle form in recent action. Last Friday, freshman Tang won the 100 butterfly and took third in the 100 freestyle as top-seeded PHS defeated No. 2 Lawrence 110-60 in the Public B Central Jersey sectional finals. The Little Tigers, now 12-0, will face Ocean City in the Public B state semis on February 19 with the winner advancing to the championship meet on February 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though Melinda Tang is a freshman, she embraced the high stakes atmosphere as the Princeton High girls’ swimming team faced Lawrence last Friday in the Public B Central Jersey sectional finals.

“I knew the competition would be hard and it was really exciting,” said Tang after top-seeded PHS topped No. 2 Lawrence 110-60 at the Neptune Aquatics Center. “It is the first of everything for me.”

Tang played a big role in the victory for the Little Tigers, winning the 100 butterfly and taking third in the 100 freestyle.

“It is sectional finals so you have to race a lot faster,” said Tang, reflecting on her individual swims.

In emerging as a star for PHS, Tang has learned some lessons in time management.

“I do club swimming [X-Cel] too so the biggest challenge is juggling everything,” said Tang. “I am juggling school, practice here and practice there, meets, and stuff.”

Tang has learned some lessons from the team’s veterans in taking care of her business.

“They have taught us a lot, they lead our team,” said Tang. “They build up a lot of moments with us so we bond together.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand likes the way his girls’ squad has come together.

“It is a really nice team,” said Hand, whose team improved to 12-0 with the win over Lawrence.

“The girls do everything they can to control the won-loss record but I think they are pretty realistic. We just come out and swim our best every time and if we are good enough to get a result, that is great. I like their spirit and camaraderie, it continues to grow.”

Hand credits Tang and her classmates with bringing a special competitive spirit.

“It is terrific when your freshmen are excited, nervous, but not worried,” said Hand, who has gotten good work from newcomers Jamie Liu, Jennifer Bond, and Maddie Whaley in addition to Tang.

“It shows that they are nice and grown up for their age in all the ways you would hope for. They swim because they love it; they love cheering for their team. At some level it is not about winning and losing but just about doing your best, that is a great foundation to build on.”

As usual, PHS got some great swims from its pair of sophomore stars, Brianna Romaine and Madeleine Deardorff. Romaine placed first in both the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke while Deardorff was victorious in the 200 individual medley and the 500 free.

“I thought Brianna had a really good meet today, two solid wins and a good relay swim,” said Hand.

“It was solid throughout the lineup. We asked Maddie Deardorff to go 500 again for a second time in a row; that is changing up the lineup to give some relief to some other kids. I am pretty happy with swims across the board.”

With PHS taking on Ocean City in the Public B state semifinals on February 19, Hand is looking for some more solid efforts.

“I think they are feeling pretty courageous about the next round,” said Hand, whose team would advance to the state championship meet on February 23 if they can top Ocean City.

“To go into a meet excited to swim fast on a day when the other team is going to be equally fast or faster, that is a great statement to make. No matter what, I am glad that the girls get to take this extra step and have that experience. Regardless of the outcome, it is going to be something that they remember.”

Tang, for her part, is looking to enjoy some more firsts in her debut season.

“Today was a step forward,” said Tang. “The focus going into next week is to do our best and hopefully make the state finals.”

THRUSTING FORWARD: Princeton High fencer Martine Appel, left, shows her form. Senior Appel has starred at foil for PHS this winter as the program has made progress in its first season as an official varsity team.

THRUSTING FORWARD: Princeton High fencer Martine Appel, left, shows her form. Senior Appel has starred at foil for PHS this winter as the program has made progress in its first season as an official varsity team.

For Theo Varga, substituting to teach a gym class at Princeton High in 2012 set him on a path which helped a new program gain a foothold in the school’s sporting scene.

“We ran out of things to do and we went outside and I had them doing footwork drills for fencing,” recalled Varga.

“One of the teachers saw that and said the school was looking for a fencing coach and I should apply.”

Varga, who fenced at Dickinson College, took that advice and ended up being named as the head coach of the PHS fencing program that fall.

Noting that the team was still competing on a club basis but looking to transition to official team status, Varga hit the ground running.

“I got the official word in November and the season was starting after Thanksgiving,” said Varga.

“I had to jump right into it. At that point, they knew they wanted it to be a team.”

When Varga took the helm there were around 15-20 fencers who had been with the team since its inception in the 2011-12 school year and another 15 or 20 who came to practice to find out what fencing was about. Varga reached out to the middle schools in town and another 25-30 freshmen have joined the program this year.

In Varga’s view, the program took a big step forward when it competed in the District 2 tournament early last year.

“We had never been to the districts, they didn’t know what to expect and neither did I,” said Varga.

It was at North Hunterdon and it was a big event. There were 12 schools and the parents for all the teams. We did well. The girls epee team finished sixth. Melody Ting made the round-robin individual and placed eighth in the district for the epee. There were a lot of students who started the sport that year, they were learning the sport in November and in January they were on the strip. We wanted to show what we could do and learn from the experience.”

With the program gaining official status, there has been progress all around.

“We are trading off with other teams to use the gym, on Mondays and Thursdays, we are in the cafeteria,” said Varga.

“As the team grows, finding a space is going be a challenge. We usually have 25-30 kids at practice. We practice four days a week, although things have been a little chopped up because of the weather. We did the Santelli tournament and we did a weekend of tournaments in Morristown. The girls team posted a win against PDS.”

Varga is seeing a higher level of fencing from his athletes. “A lot of the students, especially the ones who had been there from the start, had fenced with clubs with the Y or Sebastiani,” said Varga.

“We didn’t have to teach them fencing from the ground up. My assistant coach, Sam Blanchard, and I could have those fencers do drills to develop a skill while we take the new fencers and teach them the basics.”

The team’s progress was reflected in its showing earlier this month at the 2014 District competition.

“We took sixth in girls epee, we had two of the top eight,” said Varga, whose epee lineup includes Claire Schultz, Michelle Kyin, and Sarah Golobish.

“Melody Ting and Kate Horvath took sixth and seventh, respectively, in the individual epee.”

At girls’ foil, the Little Tigers have a good foundation in place. “Martine Appel and Danielle Almstead have grown a lot in foil and have really picked up the sport,” added Varga, whose girl foilists include Ursula Blanchard and Architha Sudhakhar.

The girls’ squad boasts some young talent at sabre. “We have a couple newcomers in sabre; Jacqui Hua is a freshman, she competes nationally and has taken part in the Junior Olympics,” said Varga, who has utilized Josephine Mugnier and Mary Ashley Stough at sabre. “She is skilled and she helps the others learn the sport.”

For the boys, the season has involved a steep learning curve. “The boys are having a growing year, we had to start epee and foil from scratch,” said Varga, noting that Jack Stange, Nikhil Vasireddi, Collin Nichols, and Dylan Lim are competing at epee with Seth Sawant, Mitchell Chi, and Alex Rey seeing action at foil.

PHS has shown promise at boys’ sabre as it placed eighth at the districts. “Philip Trevisian and Alex Lai have been very enthusiastic at sabre,” said Varga, who has Jackson Graham and Manus Kreike-Martin at the weapon.

Varga, for his part, has enthusiastically taken on the challenges associated with getting a varsity program up and running.

“I am learning a lot about how a varsity league is set up and what it is like to work with ADs; it has been a learning experience,” said Varga, who credits assistant coach Blanchard with playing a big role in helping the program grow.

“My teaching experience has been in English. I have never taught kids a physical skill. I have worked on devising things that will get them to do the sport.”

The PHS kids have responded well to Varga and each other. “They have been very supportive and encouraging,” said Varga, noting that the school district and Princeton community has provided important support for the program.

“The goal is to be competitive and win but they want to help each other. They show each other encouragement.”

FINISHING TOUCH: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey player Colby Triolo goes after the puck in a game earlier this season. Last Wednesday, senior forward Triolo enjoyed a big finale at McGraw Rink, tallying a goal and getting two assists to help PDS defeat Summit 9-1 on the program’s annual Senior Night. The Panthers went on to take fourth in ‘A’ bracket last weekend in the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) tournament at the Hill School (Pa.), ending the season at 11-8-1.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FINISHING TOUCH: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey player Colby Triolo goes after the puck in a game earlier this season. Last Wednesday, senior forward Triolo enjoyed a big finale at McGraw Rink, tallying a goal and getting two assists to help PDS defeat Summit 9-1 on the program’s annual Senior Night. The Panthers went on to take fourth in ‘A’ bracket last weekend in the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) tournament at the Hill School (Pa.), ending the season at 11-8-1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Colby Triolo, the idea of taking up ice hockey at Princeton Day School started as kind of an offhand quip.

“I was practicing my interview for coming to PDS and my father asked me what I am going to do to get involved in the community and I said well I am going to try out for ice hockey,” said Triolo.

“I was completely joking but I wanted to make the interview good. I thought about it and I was like I should try out for ice hockey and that it is how it started.”

Triolo acted on her thought and joined the PDS girls’ hockey team as a freshman in the winter of 2010-11. Hampered by injury that season, Triolo really got into the game as a sophomore.

While Triolo has developed a passion for hockey, she acknowledges that she isn’t the most skilled player on the ice.

“I love it,” said Triolo. “I am focusing on not falling because that blue line is really tricky sometimes. Whenever I focus on scoring, that doesn’t work.”

Last Wednesday, Triolo showed focus and some scoring prowess, tallying a goal and getting two assists to help PDS defeat Summit 9-1 on the program’s annual Senior Night.

Triolo and her classmates had a sense of urgency as they took the ice at McGraw Rink for the last time.

“Because none of us are going on to play hockey in college, this is the last time in front of our peers and our school playing a game here and it was give it all we have, because there is no going back,” said Triolo, whose fellow seniors include Mary Travers, Robin Linzmayer, Mimi Matthews, and Abby Sharer.

“In the locker room, we were dancing. Now we have this clapping thing and it gets us really excited. One of us starts a beat and it keeps going and going.”

The PDS seniors enjoyed an exciting night as they all ended up on the score sheet with Mathews notching three goals, Travers tallying two goals and an assist, Linzmayer chipping in a goal and an assist, and Sharer picking up an assist.

“It just shows the heart of our seniors, how much we care and how much we appreciate this team,” said Triolo, one of the squad’s assistant captains. “Our teammates were really working hard to get each of us a goal.”

The team’s chemistry shows through on and off the ice. “Personally I feel like our class has been so close all four years,” said Triolo of the PDS squad, which fell 1-0 to Portledge School (N.Y.) last Saturday in the semis of the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) tournament at the Hill School (Pa.) and ended up placing fourth in the tourney’s ‘A’ bracket. “Our team this year, I don’t know what it is, we are not a team, we are a family.”

This fall, Triolo will be joining a new family as she heads to Cornell University to study engineering.

“The first time I was there was for a hockey camp two years ago,” recalled Triolo.

“I just wanted to improve and come back and get ice time so I went to Cornell. I thought I kind of like this school. I went back last year on a tour and I was like I am in love with this school. It just feels like home.”

Over the course of her PDS career, Triolo certainly found a home with the hockey team. “It has made my PDS career like nothing else I could say,” asserted Triolo, who plans to play a club sport at Cornell.

“Every year everyone says ice hockey is the best season and it truly is, just knowing that you have the locker room to come to after school. I don’t know if it is because we are so separate or we are back here, but you just get so close to your teammates. Ice hockey is a really great sport.”

NET GAIN: Hun School girls’ basketball player Anajha ­Burnett dribbles upcourt in recent action. Last Wednesday, senior guard Burnett chipped in 12 points as fourth-seeded Hun defeated No. 5 No. 5 Kent Place 77-23 in the opening round of the state Prep A tournament. On Saturday, Hun fell 72-50 at top-seeded Blair Academy to end its season with a 10-11 record.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

NET GAIN: Hun School girls’ basketball player Anajha ­Burnett dribbles upcourt in recent action. Last Wednesday, senior guard Burnett chipped in 12 points as fourth-seeded Hun defeated No. 5 No. 5 Kent Place 77-23 in the opening round of the state Prep A tournament. On Saturday, Hun fell 72-50 at top-seeded Blair Academy to end its season with a 10-11 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

On the eve of its state Prep A tournament opener last Wednesday, the Hun School girls’ basketball team suffered a heartbreaking loss to powerful Lodi Immaculate.

Rallying from a 14-7 first quarter deficit, Hun forced overtime as the teams were knotted at 37-37 at the end of regulation. The Raiders, though, managed only one point in the extra session in losing 40-38.

Hun head coach Bill Holup acknowledged that the setback stung. “We made some defensive adjustments and did some good things offensively,” said Holup, reflecting on the February 11 contest. “It was a tremendous game, back and forth; we just came up a little short.”

A day later, though, the fourth-seeded Raiders came up big as they routed No. 5 Kent Place 77-23 in the Prep A first round contest.

“We had four girls in double figures; it was a good way for the seniors to end their careers at home,” said Holup, who got 15 points from freshman Clare Moloney in the victory with junior Janelle Mullen adding 14, senior Erica Brown contributing 13, and senior Anajha Burnett chipping in 12.

“We had senior day on Tuesday and that was a tough loss. It was a nice win for us, we got everyone into the game and we were able to practice some things we have been working on.”

Holup like the resilience his players displayed. “They were coming off a real tough loss and they played well,” said Holup.

“A good thing about basketball is that you have a lot of games and the opportunity to move on. They were able to take care of business.”

Against top-seeded Blair Academy on the Prep A semifinal, Hun was unable to take care of business as it lost 72-50 to end the winter with a 10-11 record.

While Holup would have liked to see the season go longer, he credits his players with making the most of the campaign as they dealt with the loss of senior star center and top scorer Johnnah Johnson, who was sidelined with a knee injury for much of the winter.

“They could have thrown in their hats and given up in mid-December,” said Holup.

“They saw the adversity and they stepped up and saw it as a challenge.

Each one of them wanted to contribute. They have gotten more confidence in each other. If you are more confident in your teammates, you don’t want to let them down. They have stayed positive. Each kid has each other’s back; that is what makes a team.”

STROKE OF BRILLIANCE: Leah Moran pulls in the stroke seat for the Peddie School women’s varsity 4. Moran, a Princeton resident who took up rowing during her freshman year at Peddie in 2010, will be joining the Bucknell University crew program this fall.

STROKE OF BRILLIANCE: Leah Moran pulls in the stroke seat for the Peddie School women’s varsity 4. Moran, a Princeton resident who took up rowing during her freshman year at Peddie in 2010, will be joining the Bucknell University crew program this fall.

When Leah Moran entered the Peddie School in 2010, the Princeton resident dreamed of someday playing college basketball.

Joining the perennial Prep A champion girls’ hoops program, Moran hoped to win some championships and hone her skills for the next level.

But when legendary Peddie coach Sean Casey left the school to become the upper school principal for a school in Atlanta before the 2010-11 season, the Falcons went through a rebuilding phase.

Moran, for her part, was switched from her natural shooting guard position to the point guard for her sophomore and junior seasons and went through some ups and downs with the program.

But as things turned rocky with basketball, Moran took up rowing and experienced a smoother ride and achieved her dream of being a college athlete, committing to the Bucknell University crew program.

Moran has no regrets about sticking with basketball. “I have learned a lot from the ups and downs,” said Moran.

“I have learned about sticking with it and working hard. We have focused on being one group as a whole. When we play together more, we make each other better.”

Things have gone a lot better this winter on the court as the Peddie hoops has enjoyed a renaissance, bringing a 12-3 record into the state Prep A title game at Blair which was slated for February 18.

“It feels so good to be doing really well,” said Moran. “I have had a different role and I still enjoy the game so much. We got help from a number of good new players that came in.”

Taking up rowing as a freshman turned out to be a very good move for Moran.

“We are required to do a fall sport; I had heard that the crew team was good and I decided to do rowing,” said Moran.

“You have to be a novice as a freshman. It was definitely hard to get used to it at first. We only had one race in the fall and one race in the spring; it was more learning how to row.”

By sophomore year, Moran had the hang of her new sport. “I was pretty OK with the technique by sophomore year,” said Moran, crediting Peddie coach Barb Grudt, a former Olympic rower who had coaching stints at Penn and Dartmouth, with helping her develop her skills.

“It is not an individual sport, you really have to work with your teammates to become one.”

Last year, Moran took on the role of stroke in the Peddie varsity 4, becoming the rower who sets the rhythm for the boat.

“At first I was really nervous about being stroke but the more I did it, the easier it got,” said Moran. “It gives me confidence; people rely on me in the boat and it shows that the coach has faith in me. The boat is depending on me.”

Moran’s developing confidence in rowing led her to change her college plans.

“I thought I was going to play basketball in college but I realized I had a better shot at crew and I really got into it,” said Moran. “I really liked my team and I really liked my coach.”

As Moran looked at such schools as Boston College, North Carolina, and Williams, she found herself really liking Bucknell.

“It seems similar to Peddie,” said Moran. “I have interest in a lot of things besides rowing. One of my favorite things is singing. They want athletes to participate in other things. They want rowers to work hard when you are on the water. They encourage you to study abroad in the fall; a lot of schools only want you to do that in the summer. I think it is a good fit.”

Moran is ready to work hard for the Bison rowing program. “I am really excited,” said Moran, who is looking forward to a big season this spring with the Peddie crew team and then some heavy ergometer training over the summer in preparation for her Bucknell debut.

“I feel like if I didn’t do a sport in college I would be lost. I love to compete and love being on a team.”

Moran certainly found out a lot about herself through the twists and turns of her Peddie sports career.

February 12, 2014
MONUMENTAL CHALLENGE: After being named as the new head coach of the Princeton University sprint football team, Sean Morey poses last week next to the bronze statue, by Daniel Chester French, honoring the Princeton student-athlete in the Jadwin Gym lobby. Morey, a former Brown football star and 1997 Ivy League Player of the Year who went on to play nine seasons in the NFL, faces a daunting challenge in his first coaching job as the Tigers haven’t won a game in Collegiate Sprint Football League (CSFL) action in more than a decade. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

MONUMENTAL CHALLENGE: After being named as the new head coach of the Princeton University sprint football team, Sean Morey poses last week next to the bronze statue, by Daniel Chester French, honoring the Princeton student-athlete in the Jadwin Gym lobby. Morey, a former Brown football star and 1997 Ivy League Player of the Year who went on to play nine seasons in the NFL, faces a daunting challenge in his first coaching job as the Tigers haven’t won a game in Collegiate Sprint Football League (CSFL) action in more than a decade.
(Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Sean Morey spent a few hours last Saturday evening cleaning the carpet in the Princeton University sprint football office in the B level at Jadwin Gym.

As the former Brown football star receiver and 1997 Ivy League Player of the Year, who went on to play nine seasons in the NFL, takes over as the new head coach of the moribund Princeton sprint program, he is starting from the ground up, literally and figuratively.

The Tigers haven’t won a game in Collegiate Sprint Football League (CSFL) action in more than a decade as their losing streak has passed the 80 mark and Morey brings exactly zero coaching experience to the job.

But he does possess a deep understanding of what it means to succeed as an underdog in the world of NFL football since the undersized 5’11, 193-pound Morey molded himself into a Pro Bowl special teams performer and earned a Super Bowl ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006.

The upbeat Morey is primed to apply some of those NFL lessons to his new football challenge as he replaces Steve Everette, the former Princeton High coach who guided the Tiger sprint program from 2011-13.

“I am excited for the opportunity to impart the understanding of the game and some of the wisdom that is garnered from the daily grind and the remnants of experiences, whether they be good or bad,” said Morey, 37, sitting in his office surrounded by boxes, desks, and chairs pushed together, game films, and a flat screen on one wall, and two whiteboards.

“There are ways you can approach situations in life with an open mind, a good attitude, with a strong work ethic, with constructive criticism, and being honest about yourself. I have developed this mentality that there is nothing too big that you can’t figure out. Yet you have to take a step back and assess the situation, be honest, be self critical, correct your mistakes, and move forward.”

One of the big problems that Morey has to address in getting Princeton on the right track is attracting more players to a program that has had two forfeits in the last three seasons due to inadequate manpower stemming from injury problems and that does not get any admissions slots for its athletes.

“I am going to have to be creative and look at the intramural sports that are played through campus recreation and identify the kids that might have played some high school football and have an interest in coming out,” said Morey, who can’t use players weighing more than 172 pounds under CSFL rules.

“On-campus recruiting is important and I anticipate reaching out to all of the high schools in the area and building rapport with the coaches so that if kids can get into Princeton that have that aspiration of being a scholar athlete but they are not big enough for it, or as heavily recruited and they will fall within the weight restrictions, to give them an opportunity to compete. We can’t recruit or bring them on campus because there is really not a budget for that. I will probably look more into that and try to identify more creative ways to expose potential candidates to the program. I think the viability of any program is directly related to the ability to practice competitively and to prepare adequately and the only way to do that is that you must have enough players on the field.”

Having worked at Princeton the last two years on a fellowship in general athletic administration should aid Morey in the effort to draw more players.

“It helps because I felt like the first year I spent a lot of time building relationships with people and getting to know people,” said Morey, whose wife, Cara, is an assistant coach for the Princeton women’s hockey team.

“I would take a little extra time to talk and get to know people. I feel like I know who is Princeton athletics.”

Once Morey gets those players, he is going to focus on getting them to know dedication.

“They are going to get out of this what they want to put into it,” said Morey, who acknowledged that he may have put too much of himself into his football career, suffering more than 20 concussions during his NFL years and acknowledging that he takes such drugs as Ritalin and Propranolol to deal with the after-effects of the concussions and function better on a daily basis.

“I do know what it takes to commit to something greater than yourself and to be respectful, to be kind, to be honest, to be dedicated to something. I believe that  with the right mindset, you can overcome challenges.”

In Morey’s view, the team’s returning players have displayed an admirable mindset as they have endured a steady diet of losing, including a 2013 campaign that saw the Tigers go 0-7 and get outscored 330-88 in the six games they did play.

“I think part of the reason I took the job is that I already have relationships; I was covering the games as an event manager,” said Morey, noting that the alumni support has been the backbone of the program through its lean times.

“I never saw anybody quit, I saw some bad body language at times. I felt like that, by and large, the kids played hard, and they finished every play. They are good kids. I think their GPA is the highest of any sport so they are smart kids. I feel like they are well rounded and they have a lot of different things going on. I appreciate that. When they come to our lifts, our runs, or our practices, and certainly the games, they are going to have to find a way to compartmentalize and focus on the task at hand.”

Morey is also working on the task of getting a better feel for the eight-team CSFL, which has been dominated by Army in recent years.

“I still have to learn more, I don’t know enough as it stands,” said Morey, who is interviewing for assistant coaches to fill out his staff and sees himself as playing more of a role in devising defensive schemes.

“I do think that surprisingly, it is a very physical league. Army and Navy have deep squads and they have the type of player who is very aggressive and plays hard.”

In Morey’s view, he can help his players get up to speed by passing on the knowledge he gained during his NFL career.

“I can help with technique, leverage, understanding concepts on how to win the one-on-one battles, and how to prepare to play the game, how to watch film, and practice tempo,” said Morey, who will be holding five practices this spring under CSFL rules and will have the team participate in a strength and conditioning program as well.

“We will be making sure that people are using the techniques that we coach and teach them. We will hold them accountable to being on time, to having a good attitude, and working hard which is fairly necessary if you want to be competitive at anything.”

The Princeton players will have a good role model when it comes to work ethic and competitiveness in their new head coach. “I was always the first in there and the last one to leave, literally,” said Morey, who had a two-page to-do list at his side.

“It almost became obsessive, especially for me to extend my career because I knew I could lose my job any day. To have garnered the kind of respect to be a captain on every team and go to the Pro Bowl, I felt that I had to live up to that. If I slacked off, it would be a sign of disrespect.”

The respect that Morey has for his coaches will influence his approach. “You can learn something from everyone,” said Morey, who played for such prominent NFL coaches as John Harbaugh, Andy Reid, Bill Belichick, and Bill Cowher.

“I don’t think I will ever be a coach that will manifest some false sense of Machiavellian power rants to motivate. I want to teach, I want to teach the game, I want players to develop as people and as competitive athletes. My expectation is that they have a very positive experience, that they learn, that they get better, that they have fun, and they compete.”

While the rebuilding process will be arduous, coming in on the ground floor with Morey should be a positive experience for the Princeton players.

FRESH APPROACH: Princeton University men’s basketball  player Spencer Weisz heads to the hoop in recent action. Last Saturday, freshman star Weisz and classmate Steven Cook came up big as Princeton topped Cornell 69-48 to earn its first Ivy League victory of the season. Each player produced a career high in points as Weisz tallied a game-high 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor while Cook chipped in 13 points as he hit 5-of-7 shots from the field. The Tigers, now 13-6 overall and 1-4 Ivy, play at Brown on February 14 and at Yale on February 15.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FRESH APPROACH: Princeton University men’s basketball player Spencer Weisz heads to the hoop in recent action. Last Saturday, freshman star Weisz and classmate Steven Cook came up big as Princeton topped Cornell 69-48 to earn its first Ivy League victory of the season. Each player produced a career high in points as Weisz tallied a game-high 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor while Cook chipped in 13 points as he hit 5-of-7 shots from the field. The Tigers, now 13-6 overall and 1-4 Ivy, play at Brown on February 14 and at Yale on February 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

On Friday evening, the Princeton University men’s basketball team squandered a 13-point first half lead in losing 53-52 to Columbia, seeing its prospects for an Ivy League title take a potentially fatal hit as the Tigers fell to 0-4 in league play.

A night later, Princeton topped Cornell 69-48 for its first Ivy triumph and, more importantly, saw reason to hope for future title runs as freshmen Spencer Weisz and Steven Cook each produced career-highs in points.

Weisz tallied a game-high 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor while Cook chipped in 13 points as he hit 5-of-7 shots from the field, delighting a crowd of 2,964 on hand at Jadwin Gym.

In reflecting on the win which improved Princeton to 13-6 overall and 1-4 Ivy, Weisz said the Tigers focused on relaxing to break their slide.

“Before the game and the pregame talk, coach really emphasized to just have fun,” said Weisz, who has been averaging 8.9 points a game with a previous career best of 17 points.

“We were playing with too much tension all around and we needed to loosen up.”

For Cook, his breakthrough effort came down to feeling more at ease on the court.

“I definitely felt a lot more comfortable,” said Cook, a 6’5, 185-pound native of Winnetka, Ill. whose career high coming into the night was five points. “We had a great week of practice and I had gotten a lot of encouragement from the guys after not getting a ton of opportunities in the beginning of the season.”

It was Cook’s third start of the season and he acknowledges getting the opportunity has brought some pressure.

“It has been tough, there are a lot of adjustments that you have to make, especially as a freshman,” said Cook. “I tried to stay ready and play hard.”

Developing a bond with his classmate Weisz has helped Cook in the adjustment process.

“It has been great, Spencer has so much that he brings to the court and so much that he brings to the team,” said Cook.

“He is a great passer, he is a great shooter, he knocked down three 3’s tonight. He is very versatile and he is always looking to make people around him better, he reminds me a lot of T.J. [senior point guard and team captain T.J. Bray] actually. T.J. does a lot of similar things and really makes us better.”

Weisz, for his part, is looking for Cook more and more on the court. “We have a few more years together but I feel like we are creating a solid base together now,” said Weisz.

“In practice, things are starting to click a lot more and I am looking forward to the rest of the season and the years to come after.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson is hoping that the win over Cornell is a harbinger of good things to come over the rest of the season.

“I thought we did a nice job of having a short-term memory; I don’t think anybody in this program got much sleep last night,” said Henderson, who got 17 points, six assists, and five rebounds from senior star Bray in the victory over the Big Red.

“It is amazing what a couple of shots falling does for a team’s soul. I felt like we got our groove back a little bit and we have got to keep it going.”

In Henderson’s view, the Tigers benefited by loosening up a little bit. “I think just the way the ball was moving and the mental approach to the game,” said Henderson, when asked to discuss the biggest positives of the team’s performance.

“I don’t think we do very well with tension so I thought they were loose, they were ready to go, there was energy and that’s the way you play the game.”

Inserting Cook into the starting lineup has given the Tigers a jolt of energy.

“Steven can really make shots and he is a good rebounder,” said Henderson.

“It was really the week leading up to our Division III game (an 84-54 win over Kean on January 26) that things started clicking, with the way he was moving. When you start losing games, everything has to change a little bit. I am fortunate that we have Steve here and he was patient and he has given us some boost that we needed.”

The Tigers got a boost on Saturday from the presence of numerous alums of the program who were on hand at Jadwin for a post-game function in honor of former coach and Hall of Famer Pete Carril.

“We did talk about it. I certainly felt this way when I came here,” said Henderson, a former Princeton star whose team plays at Brown on February 14 and at Yale on February 15.

“The reason we are here is for a lot of the guys that are here tonight. I think they are here to say thanks to coach. We are lucky, we get the opportunity to do that with him everyday. I think there are only a handful of programs in the country that have a consistency with the players wanting to come back and most important, the way that we think. We try to play smart and play tough. From Geoff Petrie to Armond Hill to Craig Robinson and too many players to name who are here tonight. Nobody is feeling sorry for us, those guys want us to fight and that is what I think these guys did tonight and I am happy for them.”

Weisz, for his part, made it clear that he and his teammates are inspired by their predecessors.

“Also I think the perspective of having the alumni in the stands for the Carril event really helped,” said Weisz.

“We had John Thompson III [Princeton hoops alum and current Georgetown head coach] talk to us earlier in the year and he was talking about how the older guys pay attention to what we are doing here in the season. We are playing for more than just ourselves, we are playing for the program’s history and the guys that came before us.”

SIIRO HOUR: Princeton University men’s hockey player Ryan Siiro skates up the ice in recent action. Last Saturday, freshman forward Siiro contributed an assist in a losing cause as Princeton fell 4-3 to No. 14 Clarkson. The Tigers, now 4-19 overall and 3-13 ECAC Hockey, play at Brown on February 14 and at Yale a day later.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SIIRO HOUR: Princeton University men’s hockey player Ryan Siiro skates up the ice in recent action. Last Saturday, freshman forward Siiro contributed an assist in a losing cause as Princeton fell 4-3 to No. 14 Clarkson. The Tigers, now 4-19 overall and 3-13 ECAC Hockey, play at Brown on February 14 and at Yale a day later. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While it has been a rough winter for the Princeton University men’s hockey team as it has sunk to the cellar of the ECAC Hockey standings, the Tigers may have hit rock bottom last Friday when they hosted St. Lawrence.

Getting outshot 50-25 by the Saints, Princeton lost 7-1, giving up five unanswered goals after it had narrowed the gap to 2-1 in the second period.

Afterward, Princeton head coach Bob Prier didn’t mince any words as he assessed his team’s performance.

“That’s as bad a loss as we have had all year,” said Prier. “They outworked us, outplayed us. They probably won 90 percent of the stick battles and 90 percent of the face-offs, which means that they wanted it way more than we did in our own rink.”

In the loss to St. Lawrence, the Tigers were plagued by their tendency this winter of starting slowly.

“I thought we came out a little flat; we looked a little tired,” said Prier. “We obviously weren’t as prepared as they were. I take full responsibility for that. We felt like we were ready to go but we have to figure a way to come out of the gate a little bit stronger. We will do everything we can to do it and bounce back and come back and get some of these tough points here.”

When the Tigers narrowed the gap to 2-1 midway through the second period on a goal by freshman Ryan Siiro, Prier thought his team might be able to right the ship.

“I think it was turning; we just weren’t real responsible with the puck shortly thereafter,” lamented Prier. “I think we maybe tried to do a little bit too much and we had lot of turnovers.”

A night later, the Tigers did produce a much stronger effort as they fell 4-3 to No. 14 Clarkson with senior Andrew Ammon scoring two goals and freshman Hayden Anderson chipping in his first career goal. Princeton outshot the Golden Knights 37-32 on the evening before a standing room only crowd of 2,245 at Baker Rink.

The play of unheralded defenseman Anderson has been a bright spot for the Tigers who dropped to 4-19 overall and 3-13 ECAC Hockey with the loss to the Golden Knights.

“We have Hayden Anderson on the left defense, give him credit, he plays his butt off and does everything you ask him,” said Prier of the 6’0, 200-pound native of Edina, Minn.  “He is a walk on right out of high school.”

Prier also credited sophomore Kyle Rankin with giving the Tigers a lift as he has been switched to defenseman from forward.

“Rankin has done a good job,” said Prier. “He is a good skater and he can get us out of the zone so we will see how it evolves. He may not be back there permanently but until we can get some depth and some guys back there, it is a good spot for him.”

In order for Princeton to get out of its slide which has seen it lose five straight games, the players have to show more unity and intensity on the ice.

“We need more passion, pride, and commitment to each other,” maintained Prier, whose team heads to New England this weekend to play at Brown on February 14 and at Yale a day later.

“We have to work on figuring out how to come out with a lot more fire and the desire to win battles and be more responsible with pucks.”

TAYLOR MADE: Princeton High girls’ swimmer Taylor Chiang competes in the 100 breaststroke last Thursday in the quarterfinals of the state Public B Central Jersey sectionals. Senior tri-captain Chiang help first-seeded PHS top No. 8 Holmdel 110-60 in the meet. On Monday, the Little Tigers defeated No. 4 Middletown South 94-76 in the semis to qualify for the sectional championship meet against No. 2 Lawrence on February 14 at Neptune High.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TAYLOR MADE: Princeton High girls’ swimmer Taylor Chiang competes in the 100 breaststroke last Thursday in the quarterfinals of the state Public B Central Jersey sectionals. Senior tri-captain Chiang help first-seeded PHS top No. 8 Holmdel 110-60 in the meet. On Monday, the Little Tigers defeated No. 4 Middletown South 94-76 in the semis to qualify for the sectional championship meet against No. 2 Lawrence on February 14 at Neptune High. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As one of the team captains for the Princeton High girls’ swimming team, Taylor Chiang aims to both inspire and focus the squad.

“Mostly, I try to get people pumped up for meets,” said senior star Chiang, who serves as team captain along with classmates Belinda Liu and Kelsey Schwimmer.

“I try to make sure that everyone has the same mindset and that we are all not going into one meet saying this meet doesn’t matter. That is not what we are striving for, even if it’s a good chance we could win the meet, we want to be going in and swimming fast.”

Last Thursday, Chiang helped keep PHS on track as the top-seeded Little Tigers defeated No. 8 Holmdel 110-60 in the quarterfinals of the state Public B Central Jersey sectionals.

Chiang took second in the 100 butterfly and third in the 100 breaststroke to help PHS roll to victory. Individual victors for PHS at the meet included Jamie Liu in the 200 freestyle, Brianna Romaine in the 200 individual medley and the 100 backstroke, Melinda Tang in the 50 free, and Madeleine Deardorff in the 100 butterfly.

In Chiang’s view, she probably got more out finishing third in the breast than taking second in the fly.

“Holmdel has some really fast girls in the 100 breast which is refreshing to see just because it pushes you a little bit,” said Chiang.

“They actually got first and second in the race and it is really great to race fast swimmers.”

In reflecting on her PHS career, Chiang believes she has become a much more versatile swimmer.

“In freshman year, I was trying to just work hard and by the end of the year I was hitting good times in the breaststroke,” said Chiang.

“From there, I went back to the club and I just started getting a little better and I started swimming other things like the fly. I also swim the 200 free relay too.”

As PHS looks to make a deep run in the state tournament, Chiang believes the team has to maintain its work rate.

“Even though it is the end of the season, we need to be keeping the training going and not be saying oh let’s taper, let’s relax,” said Chiang, who helped PHS defeat fourth-seeded Middletown South 94-76 last Monday in the sectional semis as the Little Tigers, now 11-0, earned a spot in the sectional championship meet against second-seeded Lawrence on February 14.

“Keeping things focused is definitely key because if focus isn’t there and we start to relax in the training environment, that is not going to translate well into meet situations.”

Chiang is used to a variety of competitive situations as she also stars at lacrosse and is heading to Swarthmore College where she will be playing for its women’s lax program.

“I will play winter lacrosse and swim,” said Chiang, explaining how she juggles her two sports.

“When it hits lacrosse time, I swim for a little bit and then I just cut that off. I go back in the fall when it comes to swimming.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand feels that Chiang has been a hit as a captain.

“Taylor is a great leader,” asserted Hand. “She has a big voice but she uses it judiciously and so you have this good mix of always hearing her but she always has something good to say. She is very supportive as a captain. She really reaches out to kids and keeps the team loose and focused.”

Hand saw solid focus from his team in the win over Holmdel. “It was good spirit for the first stage of the single elimination tournament,” said Hand.

“I don’t think anybody is backing down from the idea that we have a shot at the sectional title and maybe a great opportunity therefore to swim in a state semifinals and really push ourselves.”

Chiang, for her part, is determined to push herself hard to the end.

“It has been a long four years and I have been swimming since I was four,” said Chiang.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet that this could be my last year of swimming. It has definitely been a good run. Even though it is a hard sport to get yourself to do sometimes, I have definitely enjoyed it a lot.”

IN TUNE: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Avery Soong heads to victory in the backstroke last Thursday as top-seeded PHS rolled past eighth-seeded Ocean Township 123-47 in the quarterfinals of state Public B Central Jersey sectional. Senior star Soong, who is in his first season with PHS after transferring to the school in 2012, helped the Little Tigers top fourth-seeded Hopewell 109-61 last Monday in the sectional semis to advance to the championship meet on February 14 at Neptune High against second-seeded Lawrence. PHS, which won the Public B state title in 2012, will be going for the program’s sixth straight Central Jersey title in the meet on Friday.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

IN TUNE: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Avery Soong heads to victory in the backstroke last Thursday as top-seeded PHS rolled past eighth-seeded Ocean Township 123-47 in the quarterfinals of state Public B Central Jersey sectional. Senior star Soong, who is in his first season with PHS after transferring to the school in 2012, helped the Little Tigers top fourth-seeded Hopewell 109-61 last Monday in the sectional semis to advance to the championship meet on February 14 at Neptune High against second-seeded Lawrence. PHS, which won the Public B state title in 2012, will be going for the program’s sixth straight Central Jersey title in the meet on Friday. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Swimming star Avery Soong moved to Princeton last year from Pennsylvania but focused his efforts on club swimming rather than join the Princeton High boys’ squad for his junior season.

This winter, though, Soong has joined forces with PHS for his senior campaign and is happy to be part of the squad.

“I have been cleared to join this team so we can make a run,” said Soong. “It feels so good. I swim with Will Stange and Gabe Bar-Cohen everyday with the Piranhas so that has been a help.”

Last Thursday, the trio of Soong, Stange, and Bar-Cohen came up big as top-seeded PHS rolled past eighth-seeded Ocean Township 123-47 in the quarterfinals of state Public Public B Central Jersey sectional.

Soong won the 100-yard backstroke and took second in the 200 freestyle while senior Stange won the 200 free and freshman Bar-Cohen placed first in the 100 butterfly.

For Soong, battling Stange in the 200 free was a highlight of the meet. “I saw Will at the end,” said Soong, who made a furious rally and ended up second by less than a second. “I go to get every win but he out-touched me.”

In Soong’s view, the PHS performance against Ocean was a good first step in what the Little Tigers hope is going to be a run to a state title.

“This is a meet for preparation and seeing what it feels like with the short schedule and to get it going in the states,” said Soong.

PHS head coach Greg Hand liked the way his team took care of business in the victory over Ocean.

“We didn’t have to swim our fastest lineup; we gave different tasks to everybody and it was nice to see kids handle that,” said Hand, whose team showed its speed on Monday when it topped fourth-seeded Hopewell 109-61 in the sectional semis to advance to the championship meet on February 14 where it will be going for the program’s sixth straight Central Jersey title.

“It was nice to see Matt Tams swim an IM (individual medley) at the end of the year. He hasn’t had too many chances to do that in his career. It was great to see him as a breaststroker working real well through the first half of his race and coming back in the breaststroke leg and really looking solid, reflecting how well he has trained throughout the season. There were a lot of races like that and then other ones where guys were trying to hit target times or work on something specific.”

It has been nice for the Little Tigers to add Soong to their lineup.

“We are very lucky to have him; he has contributed a lot to the team,” said Hand, whose squad improved to 11-0 with the win over HoVal.

“He clearly enjoys being a part of this very tight senior class. To add one solid swimmer to that bunch in a year like this is real good for the team.”

Another newcomer, Bar-Cohen, has emerged as a key contributor for the Little Tigers.

“Gabe had a terrific counties and before that, a great meet against Notre Dame at the end of the regular season so he has been coming along steadily,” said Hand.

“He hasn’t been a club swimmer for very long. He swims on the Piranhas where he is flourishing. I get the impression that every time he is just going to go out and give his best, already at his young age he is reconciled to the fact that the only thing you can do is his best job in his own lane. I think that rubs off on other people.”

PHS displayed a good mindset across the lanes on Thursday. “It was a fairly quiet deck in this meet but I don’t think that mattered at all,” said Hand.

“I thought everybody was paying attention and supporting each other well and that’s just we wanted.”

Soong, for his part, wants to end his only season for PHS with a bang.

“We have got to go fast, we have to bring our best or it will be lost,” said Soong.

“This is one of our strongest senior classes in a long time and we are willing to make it worth it.”

And adding Soong has made that senior group even stronger.

TON OF HEART: Princeton Day School guard Langston Glaude, right, dribbles around a defender in a game earlier this season. Last Sunday, senior standout Glaude scored 17 points in a losing effort as the sixth-seeded Panthers fell 56-55 at No. 3 Montclair Kimberley in the opening round of the state Prep B tournament. The Panthers, who dropped to 5-12 with the defeat, will compete in the Mercer County Tournament (MCT) to wrap up its season. PDS, a semifinalist in the 2013 MCT, is seeded 14th and will play at No. 3 Ewing on February 18 in a first round game.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TON OF HEART: Princeton Day School guard Langston Glaude, right, dribbles around a defender in a game earlier this season. Last Sunday, senior standout Glaude scored 17 points in a losing effort as the sixth-seeded Panthers fell 56-55 at No. 3 Montclair Kimberley in the opening round of the state Prep B tournament. The Panthers, who dropped to 5-12 with the defeat, will compete in the Mercer County Tournament (MCT) to wrap up its season. PDS, a semifinalist in the 2013 MCT, is seeded 14th and will play at No. 3 Ewing on February 18 in a first round game. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After a stirring run to the championship in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) tournament last winter, the Hun School boys’ basketball team fell short of an encore performance at this year’s competition last weekend at the Hill School.

In opening round action on Friday, the fifth-seeded Raiders topped fourth seeded Lawrenceville 58-48 as senior star Josh McGilvray led the way with 12 points. A day later, the Raiders couldn’t get their offense going as they lost 49-31 to the host, top-seeded Hill, in the semis.

Hun, now 8-12, will start play in the state Prep A tourney this week where it is seeded fourth and is slated to host No. 5 Lawrenceville on February 12 in a first round contest.

Erica Dwyer and Johnnah Johnson starred for the Hun girls’ squad as it advanced the MAPL semis. In an opening round contest on Friday, junior guard Dwyer and senior center Johnson each scored 15 points as fourth-seeded Hun routed  No. 5 Hill 67-41. In the semis, the Raiders fell 69-49 to top-seeded Blair. Hun did enjoy a major highlight as Robert Morris-bound Johnson hit the 1,000-point milestone in her Raider career during the contest.

The Raiders, now 9-9, will wrap up their season by taking part in the state Prep A tournament this week. Hun is seeded fourth in the tourney and will host No. 5 Kent Place on February 12 in an opening round matchup.

———

A year after advancing to the state Prep B title game, the Princeton Day School boys basketball team didn’t make it out of the first round this winter.

The sixth-seeded Panthers fell 56-55 at No. 3 Montclair Kimberley last Sunday in an opening round contest. Senior guards Deante Cole and Langston Glaude played their hearts out in a losing cause with Cole scoring 18 points and Glaude chipping in 17. Senior forward Ford Schneider also starred for PDS, picking up a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

The Panthers, who dropped to 5-13 with the defeat, will take part in the Mercer County Tournament to wrap up its season. PDS, a semifinalist in the 2013 MCT, is seeded 14th and will play at No. 3 Ewing on February 18 in a first round game.

The PDS girls’ squad, which features freshmen and sophomores, absorbed an important learning experience as they got a taste of postseason action. The seventh-seeded Panthers fell 61-9 at No. 2 Rutgers Prep last Saturday in the opening round of the state Prep B tourney. Freshman guard Alexis Davis led the way for the Panthers, scoring eight points.

PDS rebounded with a 65-34 win over King’s Christian School on Monday in a regular season contest in improving to 2-11. In upcoming action, the Panthers will be competing in the Mercer County Tournament where they are seeded 14th and will play at No. 3 Allentown on February 18 in the first round.

Another young team, Stuart, fought hard in dropping in the Prep B opener. The fifth-seeded Tartans lost 41-26 at No. 4 Pennington last Sunday. Stuart trailed just 28-23 after three quarters before Pennington pulled away to the win. Junior Harlyn Bell and senior Maggie Walsh each scored six points to lead Stuart, which fell to 7-7 with the defeat.

In upcoming action, the Tartans play at David Brearley High on February 13 and at Bound Brook on February 14 before hosting King’s Christian on February 18.

FIRED UP: Connor Walker guards the net during his career as a star goalie for the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team. This winter, Walker, a 2013 PDS alum, is honing his skills by playing for the Phoenix Firebirds, a high-powered Tier 1 travel program. Walker posted a 3.21 goals against average in his first 21 appearances for the Firebirds.                                             (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FIRED UP: Connor Walker guards the net during his career as a star goalie for the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team. This winter, Walker, a 2013 PDS alum, is honing his skills by playing for the Phoenix Firebirds, a high-powered Tier 1 travel program. Walker posted a 3.21 goals against average in his first 21 appearances for the Firebirds. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Connor Walker started last summer planning to study business at the University of Massachusetts by the time September rolled around.

But when the former star goalie for the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team was offered the opportunity in August to play for the Phoenix Firebirds, a high-powered Tier 1 travel program, and learned that he could defer his freshman year at UMass, he ended up in Arizona this fall rather than in New England.

As Walker reflects on his time in Phoenix, he believes the experience has helped him grow up a lot.

“Almost all of the kids on the team are from the area, I am the only kid from the east,” said Walker.

“I was the odd kid in, it is working out well now. I am hanging out with them. The team finds a family within the organization and I live with them. I am working full time at a jewelry company boxing up jewelry in a warehouse. I feel independent. I wake up every day at 6 in the morning to go to work. I have a lot more responsibility.”

Walker has been working harder on the ice for the Midget U18 AAA team. “We are in the North American Prospect League (NAPL),” said Walker.

“We practice Sunday through Wednesday and often do dry land training after the practice. I would say the level of play is similar to high school but the teams are more consistent. There is no drop off from the first line to the third line. In high school, the first line might be good but there is a drop off.”

As the season has gone on, Walker is getting up to speed with his new team.

“At PDS, I played with some of the same guys for four years so things were more consistent,” said the 5’8, 180-pound Walker, who posted a goals against average of 3.21 in his first 21 appearances for the Firebirds.

“No one knows me out here, it took a while for us to figure each other out. It is much faster, I had to adapt. I am much faster than I was before. I am a small goalie so I need to be fast.”

Former Princeton University goalie Craig Fiander, who was worked with Walker in several clinics, believes that the young netminder can handle himself.

“Connor is agile, quick, and technically sound,” said Fiander, who has been running his Textbook Goaltending summer camps in the area for more than 15 years. “He has a great demeanor.”

Noting that Walker served as a guest counselor for Textbook Goaltending last summer, Fiander said the goalie inspired the campers.

“I have worked with a guy like Kalemba [former Princeton University goalie and New Jersey native Zane Kalemba] and it was good having another Jersey local kid like Connor on the ice for a couple of sessions,” said Fiander.

“It is great for the kids to see what he has done. It is important for the kids to know his story and have some one to look up and aspire to.”

In Fiander’s view, Walker should aspire to keep playing the game.

“At the end of the day, I think he has the skills to play at a higher level, like D-III college or juniors,” said Fiander. “If he gets an opportunity, he will really, really shine.”

While Walker has enjoyed his time in Phoenix, he is looking for opportunities closer to home. “I met with the coach here two weeks ago and he said there was a possibility I could play tier 2 juniors,” said Walker.

“I am going to try to find a team out east in the EHL or the USHL. I want to try to play as long as possible.”

February 6, 2014
LENDING ASSISTANCE: Princeton University women’s hockey player Sally Butler races up the ice in recent action. Last Saturday, senior forward Butler had an assist on the game-winning goal by Denna Laing as Princeton edged Dartmouth 3-2. Butler leads the Tigers in assists this season with 13.  Princeton, now 11-9-3 overall and 7-7-2 ECAC Hockey, plays at St. Lawrence on February 7 and at Clarkson on February 8.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LENDING ASSISTANCE: Princeton University women’s hockey player Sally Butler races up the ice in recent action. Last Saturday, senior forward Butler had an assist on the game-winning goal by Denna Laing as Princeton edged Dartmouth 3-2. Butler leads the Tigers in assists this season with 13. Princeton, now 11-9-3 overall and 7-7-2 ECAC Hockey, plays at St. Lawrence on February 7 and at Clarkson on February 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Sally Butler, her next-to-last regular season weekend at Baker Rink started on a down note as the Princeton University women’s hockey team dropped a 3-2 heartbreaker to Harvard last Friday evening.

Coming into Saturday’s game against Dartmouth, Butler and her teammates were determined to hold their heads high in the wake of the loss to the Crimson.

“We were going for the Ivy League championship; we had a chance,” said senior forward Butler, referring to the Harvard loss.

“We had to put it behind us right after the game. Coach [Jeff] Kampersal told us to let it go and just focus on today because Dartmouth is always a tough team to play against.”

The Tigers proceeded to show their mental toughness as they edged Dartmouth 3-2.

While Princeton got off to a slow start against the Big Green, it rose to the occasion in the latter stages of the contest. “I think we picked it up as the play went on,” said Butler, a 5’9 native of Etobicoke, Ontario.

Princeton seized momentum when it scored two goals in the first five minutes of the third period to take a 3-1 lead.

“That was huge,” said Butler reflecting on that key sequence. “It is always good to get two quick like that and step on a team and get the momentum and get them second-guessing themselves but they did fight back and at the end there it got scary.”

It was good for Butler to set up classmate Denna Laing for Princeton’s third goal, a tally that turned out to be the game-winner.

“Laing was just in front with her stick on the ice so I was lucky to get it through to her and she just put it away,” said Butler, recalling her assist which was her team-high 13th on the season. “She has been having a great season putting the puck in the net so you just get it to her and it goes in.”

With Princeton going 2-1 since returning from its exam break to improve to 11-9-3 overall and 7-7-2 ECAC Hockey, Butler believes the Tigers are going in the right direction.

“It is not a bad start, obviously it would have been nice to beat Harvard yesterday,” said Butler.

“It is always big for us, not just because of the standings but because of the rivalry so that would have been nice. We just have to look forward.”

The Tigers have been benefiting from a nice chemistry this winter. “We definitely have a better dynamic this year, the team as a whole gets along better,” said Butler.

“We have a very good bunch in the freshmen and they are going to be great for the team down the road.

Princeton head coach Kampersal is proud that his team didn’t let down in the wake of the disappointing loss to Harvard.

“I think we had so much passion, energy, and heart last night,” said Kampersal.

“It is always tough to bounce back the next day, particularly against a really good team like Dartmouth that is in the same boat as us, fighting for points. So that was a good, gutsy win.”

Kampersal liked the guts his team showed over the last 20 minutes of the contest.

“In the third period, we are usually stronger than most of the teams that we play,” asserted Kampersal.

“I think we are in really good shape. The Tuesday night game [a 6-1 win over Penn State on January 28] was good to get us going after exams; sometimes that hurts us for this weekend. They did a good job.”

Kampersal credited Butler with doing a good job of hanging in on her feed to Laing for the decisive goal.

“They didn’t play together this week but they played together that one shift and that was nice,” said Kampersal.

“Sally was actually out there a little bit longer that she should have been but she made a nice little play to her.”

Sophomore forward Jaimie McDonnell had a nice game as she contributed a goal and an assist in the third period.

“Jaimie had a big goal for sure and then she played tough and blocked a couple of shots at the end,” said Kampersal.

“I like her toughness on the boards. She is a hockey player so she has good instincts.”

The Tigers also got some tough play along the blue line. “I thought the defense did a good job,” added Kampersal.

“I thought Ali Pankowski clicked all weekend. She put a lot of shots on net and played good, solid D. I thought Gabie Figueroa and Brianne Mahoney stepped up and did a good job.”

If the Tigers are going to stay in the top eight in the ECACH standings and make the playoffs, they are going to have to keep stepping up.

“We are fighting for our playoff lives again,” said Kampersal, whose team is currently in sixth place and just missed qualifying for the postseason last winter.

“We have six to go and they are all against tough opponents so I told them that every game is going to be like the Harvard, Dartmouth games, an absolute battle.”

In Kampersal’s view, his players are prepared to fight to the end. “All year, their approach has been really good,” said Kampersal, who will be looking for Princeton to keep on the winning track as it plays at St. Lawrence on February 7 and at Clarkson on February 8.

“Sometimes we start out a little slow but their weekly approach in terms of how they sleep, how they eat, how they train has been focused. Yesterday they played their hearts out against Harvard so there was not much to say, you can’t ask for any more than that.”

Butler, for her part, is determined to play her heart out to the final whistle of her career.

“It is bittersweet, all good things come to an end,” said Butler, who has tallied 77 points on 36 goals and 41 assists in 112 appearances for Princeton.

“I think the goal is to just keep the season alive as long as possible and, beyond that, you just have to give your best effort everyday. You need enjoy it while it is still here and make it last as long as it can, that is what we are going to be aiming to do.”

 

SEEING RED: Princeton University women’s basketball player Kristen Helmstetter, center, fights through two Harvard players in Princeton’s 78-68 loss last Friday to the visiting Crimson. The defeat marked Princeton’s first home Ivy League loss since 2009. Helmstetter and the Tigers got back on track a night later, topping Dartmouth 76-53 to to improve to 11-6 overall and 2-1 Ivy.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SEEING RED: Princeton University women’s basketball player Kristen Helmstetter, center, fights through two Harvard players in Princeton’s 78-68 loss last Friday to the visiting Crimson. The defeat marked Princeton’s first home Ivy League loss since 2009. Helmstetter and the Tigers got back on track a night later, topping Dartmouth 76-53 to to improve to 11-6 overall and 2-1 Ivy. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When the Princeton University women’s basketball team found itself trailing Harvard 44-30 at halftime last Friday, senior co-captain Kristen Helmstetter decided it was time for some words of wisdom.

“I think it was important as a senior that both me and Hung [senior co-captain Nicole Hung] needed to tell our team, it is fine we are good, settle down, and play like Princeton plays,” said Helmstetter.

“We play hard and we play with heart. As long as we do that, we’ll get back into the game and we did that.”

With Helmstetter scoring seven points in the second half, the Tigers cut the Harvard lead to one point on three different occasions in the second half. Princeton, though, couldn’t get over the hump as the Crimson pulled away to a 78-68 win in the early season Ivy League showdown.

Helmstetter acknowledged that four-time Ivy champion Princeton didn’t play hard enough in the first half as it trailed by as much as 31-13 at one point.

“I think where we struggled in the beginning was on the defensive end, we lacked accountability there,” said Helmstetter.

“They are a good offensive team and unfortunately we weren’t on point today on defense and that hurt us.”

The Tigers showed some accountability as they outscored Harvard 38-34 over the last 20 minutes of the contest.

“We came out and won the second half,” said Helmstetter. “We did think the tide was turning. It is a game of runs and unfortunately that came to an end.”

A night later, the tide turned for Princeton as it topped Dartmouth 76-53 while Harvard lost 67-38 at Penn leaving the Tigers at 11-6 overall and 2-1 Ivy while the Crimson moved to 13-5 overall and 3-1 Ivy. Harvard is currently in a three-way tie with Cornell and Yale atop the league while Princeton and Penn are both a half-game behind in fourth.

“Everyone has back-to-back games and some teams deal with it differently,” said Helmstetter, a 6’0 native of nearby Bridgewater who earned second-team All-Ivy honors last winter.

“Each team is going to continue to play Friday, Saturday and we’ll see who comes out on top.”

While Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart wasn’t banking on her team going undefeated in the league, she was surprised to see the Tigers suffer their first Ivy loss at home since February 13, 2009 when they fell 56-54 to Yale at Jadwin.

“I have been in the league a long time; I think it has happened twice in the round robin before the Princeton team so it almost never happens,” said Banghart, noting that the team was rusty, seeing its first game action after a 19-day hiatus for exams.

“I said I hate to burst your bubble but I wasn’t expecting an undefeated run. I was hoping it wouldn’t be at home but I certainly wasn’t expecting to be undefeated and neither will Harvard.”

Banghart did see progress in the second half. “It is always better to be early on defense and late on offense,” said Banghart, who got 16 points from sophomore Michelle Miller in the win over Dartmouth with sophomore Alex Wheatley chipping in 11 points.

“We had it completely reversed; we were late on defense and early on offense. Rebounding is a product of how you defend so I thought in the second half we were much more aggressive.”

With 11 games left in the Ivy campaign, that aggressiveness could pay dividends as the Tigers go for their fifth straight league crown.

“The Ivy League title is won with seniors and on the defensive end so if we are good defensively, we have enough weapons and enough looks to win this thing,” said Banghart, whose team plays at Columbia on February 7 and at Cornell on February 8.

“We just have to shore up our defense. I like our body of work over a 14-game season.”

Helmstetter still likes Princeton’s title chances, noting that there is a lot of basketball to be played.

“All I can do is tell my underclassmen to keep their heads up; it is only one game and one game means nothing,” said Helmstetter.

“People lose games when you play back to back and I think that is a good message for them to know that each night is a new night and to come out with a new mentality and win that next game.”

 

ANCHOR WOMAN: Princeton University women’s water polo goalie Ashleigh Johnson makes a save in action last season. Sophomore Johnson, a third-team All-American in her debut campaign who went on to lead the U.S. to the gold medal at the 2013 FINA Junior World Championships last summer, figures to anchor the Princeton defense this season. The seventh-ranked Tigers will get the 2014 campaign underway by hosting their annual Princeton Invitational from February 8-9.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ANCHOR WOMAN: Princeton University women’s water polo goalie Ashleigh Johnson makes a save in action last season. Sophomore Johnson, a third-team All-American in her debut campaign who went on to lead the U.S. to the gold medal at the 2013 FINA Junior World Championships last summer, figures to anchor the Princeton defense this season. The seventh-ranked Tigers will get the 2014 campaign underway by hosting their annual Princeton Invitational from February 8-9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Luis Nicolao is facing a problem in guiding his Princeton University women’s water polo team that would be the envy of most coaches.

With Princeton coming off a 28-6 season and CWPA eastern title, Tiger head coach Nicolao’s cupboard may be too full as he welcomes back most of the stars from that squad.

“Our practices have been great; we have 12 or 13 great players and the scrimmages have been very good and very competitive,” said Nicolao, whose team earned a fifth-place finish at the 2013 NCAA Championships.

“We can’t start more than six players but 11 think they should start and they are right. I tell them the key is depth. We need to play the whole team and get the bench to where the players are interchangeable.”

Princeton has turned heads in the water polo world, rising to seventh in the latest national poll before it has even played a game this season.

“It’s nice to have the ranking but the girls know that it means nothing,” said Nicolao.

“It puts a bigger target on our backs. The only ranking that matters is being No. 1 in the east at the end of April.”

The Tigers will get their 2014 season underway this weekend by hosting their annual Princeton Invitational and the players are primed to show how good they are.

“They are excited to get started,” said Nicolao. “There is a level of confidence but they know last year doesn’t matter. There are a lot of teams gunning for us, it is going to be very tough.”

With sophomore star goalie Ashleigh Johnson returning after earning third-team All-American honors in her debut campaign, the Tigers will be tough to score on.

“Ashleigh had a really great summer playing internationally,” said Nicolao of Johnson, who helped the U.S. win the gold medal at the 2013 FINA Junior World Championships last summer and was named the tournament’s top goalie.

“She is a special athlete. She is so good she gives the chance to win any game. We are fortunate to have her.”

The Tigers are fortunate to have some other good defenders around Johnson.

“We are a very strong defensive team,” asserted Nicolao. “We have gotten even stronger with the addition of freshmen Morgan Hallock, she is 6’2 and plays with the junior national team, and another freshman, Sydney Saxe. We have only gotten deeper.”

Princeton is also deep on offense, led by senior co-captain Katie Rigler, who tallied 66 goals and 15 assists last season.

“Rigler is doing great; she is a senior and should have a big year,” said Nicolao.

“But the key is balance, we have seven or eight girls who can score 30 goals so we can’t key on Katie,” said Nicolao, citing such stars as sophomore Diana Murphy and a quartet of talented juniors in Jessie Holecheck, Taylor Dunstan, Ashley Hatcher, and Camille Hooks. “We have a lot of firepower, it is a matter of playing well.”

In Nicolao’s view, the Tigers have a chance to do very well this season.

“I think our potential is unlimited,” said Nicolao. “We can’t let emotion get the best of us and we can’t think we have won games before even playing them. We have to play the game and execute.”

As Princeton welcomes Wagner, Iona, and the NYAC this weekend for its Invitational, it is looking to execute well.

“It will be nice to get some games and see some different opponents,” said Nicolao.

“We have a good first month; we play Michigan, UC San Diego, and Hartwick. We have some early challenges but we have to keep our perspective because nothing is won in February.”

 

VALUABLE ASSET: Princeton High boys’ swimmer Will Stange heads to victory in a 500 freestyle race earlier this season. Last Saturday at the Mercer County Swimming Championships, senior star and Cornell-bound Stange earned Most Valuable Swimmer honors, setting both meet and school records in the winning 200-meter individual medley and 100 backstroke. Stange’s heroics helped power PHS to a fourth straight county crown.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

VALUABLE ASSET: Princeton High boys’ swimmer Will Stange heads to victory in a 500 freestyle race earlier this season. Last Saturday at the Mercer County Swimming Championships, senior star and Cornell-bound Stange earned Most Valuable Swimmer honors, setting both meet and school records in the winning 200-meter individual medley and 100 backstroke. Stange’s heroics helped power PHS to a fourth straight county crown. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Mercer County Swimming Championships having ended about a half hour earlier and the WW/P-N pool going quiet with the exit of the competitors and spectators, there was a solitary figure in the water pounding out lap after lap.

Fittingly, that swimmer was Princeton High senior star Will Stange, who had spent most of the day alone at the head of the pack, setting both meet and school records in the winning 200-meter individual medley and 100 backstroke as he helped power PHS to a fourth straight county crown.

Stange, who also helped PHS win the 200 medley relay and take second in the 400 free relay, was named as the meet’s Most Valuable Swimmer. For Stange, earning the individual accolade was important in the context of the impact it could have on the team.

“It was great; it sets me up personally and gets me excited for the rest of the season,” said Stange. “Hopefully it psyches everybody else up coming out of this meet.”

In addition to Stange’s heroics, PHS got wins from senior star Peter Kalibat in the 200 and 400 freestyle races while classmate Colburn Yu won the 100 breaststroke.

The Little Tigers needed those wins as they were pushed hard by Notre Dame, piling up 277 points to hold off the Fighting Irish who came in at 239.

After helping PHS open the meet with a solid victory in the 200 medley relay, Stange was psyched up to go for a record in the 200 IM.

“I was thinking about it; they told me last night that it was 2:08 and I went 2:11 in the preliminary,” said Stange, who finished nearly half a lap ahead of teammate and fellow senior Colburn Yu in clocking a time of 2:07.42.

“I figured it wasn’t going to mess me up for the 100 back so I will go for it. I am in my own lane, nobody else affects me.”

Later, in the backstroke final, Stange messed with the competition as he broke a record he had set a night earlier in the preliminaries.

“I was trying to go a little bit faster to be honest,” said Stange, who posted a time of 56.85, more than four seconds ahead of runner-up Aly Sayed of WW/P-S. “I was hoping for a 56 low but 56.8 is really nice.”

It was very nice for PHS to win a fourth straight county crown. “It couldn’t be any better,” said Stange, reflecting on the four-peat. “You never enter a meet without trying to win so for us to be able to do that really means a lot.”

For PHS head coach Greg Hand, Stange and his classmates have shown they know what it takes to win when the chips are down.

“We have got a senior class that, more than anything, has established a track record of being guys who step up when the pressure is the greatest,” said Hand.

“I am thinking of great semifinals and finals meets in states in the last few years, county environments, and the toughest of the dual meets. These guys love the sport and they are definitely at their best in the toughest conditions.”

Stange saved one of his greatest performances for his last county meet. “This was a brilliant meet for Will,” said Hand of Stange, who has committed to swim at Cornell next season.

“Since freshman year, we have asked for perhaps more versatility from him than anybody. In this meet, it seemed to be the time to allow him to swim the IM and show the kind of mastery he has of all the strokes and also to go 200 yards for us instead of the constant 100s. He showed the depth of his training, his endurance, and his will to compete with everything he has got.”

The Little Tigers also got a superb competitive effort from Kalibat. “I would say Peter Kalibat was the swimmer who was most challenged today in his wins,” said Hand.

“Will was in a spot where he really had to race the clock and keep his discipline and  accomplish what he was in the water for. Pete was up against a guy who he knows pretty well [Hamilton’s Griffin Hutton] and is really talented and he dug deep, especially in his 200 win. He went out hard and said that he swam the last 75 or so feeling really tight. It is a real tribute to the fact that he has been there before and has felt that feeling 100s of times; that gives him the ability to recognize it and just swim through it.”

In Hand’s view, the county four-peat is a tribute to his swimmers’ mental and  physical gifts. “What four county titles means to me is that we are extremely fortunate to have the character and the talent of the kids that we have had,” said Hand.

Posting a 9-0 record in dual meet competition this winter and getting seeded first in the upcoming Public B Central Jersey sectional where it will host eighth-seeded Ocean Township High on February 6, PHS is poised to test its talent against anyone in the state.

“The guys are well positioned, I think we know who we are going to swim in sectionals,” said Hand, who has guided the program to five consecutive Public B Central Jersey titles and a state crown in 2012.

“We are going to have to get through a tough Hopewell team and a tough Lawrence team and that’s not simple.”

Stange and his teammates, for their part, will be taking a basic approach in the states as they look to add another title.

“We know where we have to improve going into states and we are going to adjust our lineup accordingly depending on the team we are against,” said Stange.

“We are going to push it one meet at a time, hopefully all the way to the state championship.”