March 6, 2013
LAST SHOT: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Scott Bechler dribbles the ball last week against Hopewell Valley in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group III sectional. Senior guard Bechler scored 15 points to help fourth-seeded PHS top No. 13 HoVal 62-42 in the February 26 contest. Two days later, Bechler scored a team-high 16 points but it wasn’t enough as the Little Tigers fell 56-43 to fifth-seeded Lawrence High in the second round of the tourney. PHS finished the season with a 12-11 record.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LAST SHOT: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Scott Bechler dribbles the ball last week against Hopewell Valley in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group III sectional. Senior guard Bechler scored 15 points to help fourth-seeded PHS top No. 13 HoVal 62-42 in the February 26 contest. Two days later, Bechler scored a team-high 16 points but it wasn’t enough as the Little Tigers fell 56-43 to fifth-seeded Lawrence High in the second round of the tourney. PHS finished the season with a 12-11 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It is an image that is burned into Scott Bechler’s mind when he looks back at his time with the Princeton High boys’ basketball team.

“I remember freshman year when we had a home game in the states and we lost and seeing Skye Ettin in the locker room afterwards,” said senior guard Bechler. “It was motivation to never let that happen again.”

As fourth-seeded PHS hosted 13th-seeded Hopewell Valley last week in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group III sectional, the memory of Ettin’s sadness wasn’t the only motivation as the Little Tigers had fallen in overtime to the Bulldogs in the regular season opener in December.

“We said before the first game of the season that it was a must win and we lost,” said Bechler.

“All season long, we have been looking back on that game, saying we should have won. We get another chance in the playoffs and we couldn’t be more excited to get revenge.”

In the early going of the February 26 contest, it looked like PHS may be squandering its chance at payback as it trailed 10-6 after the first quarter. The battle-tested Bechler, who helped the PHS boys’ soccer team tie for the Group III state title this fall, wasn’t concerned.

“A lot of times this year we have come out a little slow,” said Bechler. “It is the first round of the states and we have a couple of juniors who have never been here before. They only scored 10 points in the quarter; everyone was just getting ready and getting into the swing of things.”

In the second quarter, Bechler and PHS got into the swing of things as they outscored HoVal 19-11 to take a 25-21 lead at halftime.

“We settled in a little bit and everyone came out hard,” said Bechler. “We got the jitters out and that is when you can come really hard.”

The Little Tigers kept coming on in the second half, rolling to a 62-42 win, triggering a raucous on-court celebration as the student fans mobbed the players.

Bechler scored 15 points in the victory, hitting three 3-pointers in the second half, continuing a late surge that started when he poured in a career-high 31 points against Hamilton on February 7.

“After a game like Hamilton West where everything went your way, you have a responsibility to keep shooting because people are depending on you,” said Bechler, who hit nine three-pointers in his outburst against the Hornets.

“It is my last few games; any game could be my last. It is a lot of pressure but it is a lot of motivation.”

In topping HoVal, the Little Tigers focused on applying defensive pressure.

“The number one thing was to stop Austin Hill, we know he can shoot lights out and that he was scoring 15 points a game,” said Bechler.

“We knew if we could shut him down, it would be tough for them to score a lot of points.”

Two days later, however, PHS found it tough to score points as it fell 56-43 to fifth-seeded Lawrence in the second round of the state tourney to end its season.

While PHS head coach Mark Shelley was disappointed that PHS didn’t advance beyond the second round, he and his players enjoyed the ride.

“One of the great things in the locker room is that every senior said how much fun they had playing this year,” said Shelley, whose team finished the winter at 12-11.

“That’s what you ultimately want as a coach. Obviously you want the win. We had some special moments this season. We talked about Scotty’s nine 3s, we won a game by 40 which they said they have never done. We beat Trenton at Trenton. We got two home playoff games and we won one. There are so many positives. I told them I can tell you now that when you get to college and beyond, you will look back on this fondly. As long as you came out of here saying that you had fun and played as hard as you could, that is all we ask.”

Shelley acknowledged that the Little Tigers faced a hard task in subduing Lawrence.

“The whole game was stopping penetration,” said Shelley, whose team led 27-23 at halftime.

“When we got down five in the fourth quarter, we knew we would have to go man and we can’t guard them that way. All year we have had trouble guarding quick teams off the dribble. They are a really good shooting team so you have to extend on them in the zone. So if we back off on them, we let them have some open looks so we are kind of taking chances. We weren’t real fundamental with our defensive rotation at times. But give them credit; if a team can shoot and penetrate like that, they are tough to defend.”

Bechler’s shooting helped make PHS tough to beat down the stretch. “In practice, we do a three-point drill at the end of practice everyday; it is almost like I have to overload the other team because he is just lights out,” said Shelley of Bechler, who scored a team-high 16 points in the defeat to Lawrence.

“They [Bechler’s shots] don’t even hit the net when he gets in a zone like that. He has a quick release, he catches and gets set. There are a lot of fundamentals besides just the actual shot.”

In Shelley’s view, Bechler and his classmates gave a lot to the team this winter.

“They have been tremendous, just providing leadership both in word and deed,” said Shelley, referring to the team’s Class of 2013 which includes Elliott Golden, Ellis Bloom, Lior Levy, and Christian Giles in addition to Bechler.

“We were talking about some of them as freshmen, they were just so quiet and now to see them vocal and setting the tone in practice, it is great. We used that to challenge some of our juniors, Peter [Mahotiere] and Cal [O’Meara], who have been more role players this year, they are going to have to be vocal leaders next year.”

Shelley is looking forward to his second year at the helm of the PHS program.

“We have a real good group, we won’t have the dominant players like we do this year but we will have a real balanced group of 12 or 13 players,” said Shelley. “It will be a different team, we are going to be short.”

Bechler, for his part, was fired up to get two state tournament games with his group of classmates.

“We have been playing together for so long,” said Bechler. “We have been playing travel, we have been playing Dillon. We have been playing together for years so we realize that this could be our last week of organized basketball together so you don’t have to say anything else to get us going.”

STICKING POINT: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Patrick McCormick controls the puck in recent action despite a foe’s outstretched stick. Junior defenseman McCormick picked up an assist in a losing cause as 18th-seeded PHS fell 6-4 at No. 15 Sparta last week in the opening round of the Public B state tournament. The defeat left the Little Tigers with a final record of 11-9-1.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STICKING POINT: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Patrick McCormick controls the puck in recent action despite a foe’s outstretched stick. Junior defenseman McCormick picked up an assist in a losing cause as 18th-seeded PHS fell 6-4 at No. 15 Sparta last week in the opening round of the Public B state tournament. The defeat left the Little Tigers with a final record of 11-9-1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton High boys’ hockey team, its Public B state tournament opening round contest at Sparta last week proved to be a microcosm of the season.

Midway through the second period of the February 26 contest, 18th seeded PHS trailed No. 15 Sparta 4-1 and appeared to be headed to a one-sided loss.

The Little Tigers, though, fought back and drew to within 5-4 late in the third period. Sparta responded with an empty net goal to hand PHS a season-ending 6-4 defeat.

PHS head coach Tim Campbell was proud of the way his team battled to the final whistle.

“We really did make a comeback,” said Campbell, who got two goals and an assist from Jackson Andres together with a goal and two assists from Connor McCormick, a goal from John Reid, and an assist from Patrick McCormick in the defeat which left PHS with a final record of 11-9-1.

“We came into the third period down by two and I told them in the intermission that we had a lot to play for and not a lot to lose. We were a little shorthanded; we had guys dealing with injuries and Harrison Naylor was out. The game was emblematic of the season.”

Over the course of the winter, the Little Tigers showed resolve as they encountered a series of hurdles.

“We never fully got up and running,” said Campbell, whose team started 3-4-1 before surging in January.

“We started with some injuries. We had some tough losses. I feel good about the season; we dealt with adversity. We won some close one-goal games. We started the calendar year really well. Some of those wins could have been losses.”

Campbell had a feeling that his team would be facing an uphill battle this year.

“It is what I expected with our graduation losses,” said Campbell. “I knew it was going to be a battle for us every night and we were going to have a lot of one-goal games. We can take a lot of positives. Coming into the year, our two biggest goals were to do well in the Mercer County Tournament (MCT) and to make states. We got a fourth seed in the MCT but we didn’t go as far as we wanted. The next thing was the states. The kids knew the math and we were over .500 at the cut off.”

PHS certainly got some good work from its senior kids. “It is a good senior class,” said Campbell of the team’s Class of 2013, which included Matt DiTosto, Danny Kingsley, Mike Dunlap, and Gabe MacGregor.

“They made it to the MCT finals in their first three years and won it as sophomores. Matt was a good leader. He is a very skilled player and a hard worker. He plays three times his size. Mike stepped in the first part of the season when we didn’t have our starting goalie. Danny was an emotional leader; the kids loved him.”

The Little Tigers have some skilled players coming back in juniors Patrick McCormick, Harrison Naylor, Spencer Reynolds, and Robert Quinn together with sophomores Andres, Reid, and Connor McCormick.

“The sophomore and junior classes are loaded with talent,” said Campbell. “They have a lot of experience and they are producers. Robert Quinn has come a long way at goalie.”

As his players head into the offseason, Campbell is confident they will keep productive.

“I just want them to stay competitive; any coach will tell you that it is good for them to play other sports,” said Campbell.

“I enjoy seeing them make the transition to lacrosse and baseball. Over the summer, they will do clinics and camps. A lot of them play travel and are in early fall leagues. I know they will be ready and in shape when we start again on November 15.”

February 27, 2013

 

MIGHTY MAC: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Mike MacDonald prepares to unload the ball in a 2012 game. Last Saturday, sophomore attackman MacDonald scored three goals to help Princeton top Hofstra 10-7 in its season opener. The 12th-ranked Tigers play at No. 3 Johns Hopkins (3-0) this Friday in Baltimore.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MIGHTY MAC: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Mike MacDonald prepares to unload the ball in a 2012 game. Last Saturday, sophomore attackman MacDonald scored three goals to help Princeton top Hofstra 10-7 in its season opener. The 12th-ranked Tigers play at No. 3 Johns Hopkins (3-0) this Friday in Baltimore. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Featuring a lineup stocked with freshmen and untested upperclassmen, Chris Bates knew that he had to exercise some patience as his Princeton University men’s lacrosse team opened its season at Hofstra last Saturday.

“We reminded ourselves as coaches to stay calm and not start barking at guys; we needed to stay composed,” said Princeton head coach Bates, who started four freshmen on Saturday and unveiled a totally revamped defense.

“There was so much uncertainly with new faces, more on the defensive end. You don’t know how that is going to jell and how the guys are going to do with the nerves of a game.”

After trailing 3-1 in the first quarter, Princeton jelled, scoring four unanswered goals in the second period on the way to a 10-7 victory before a crowd  of 1,556 at Shuart Stadium.

Showing composure, Princeton was not rattled when it fell behind early. “I didn’t think Hofstra did anything that we didn’t expect,” said Bates.

“We didn’t play well offensively, we had some turnovers. I give everybody credit, everybody stayed true to what we were trying to do.”

After a Mike MacDonald goal made it 3-2, it became the Ryan Ambler show for Princeton in the second quarter as the precocious freshman tallied a goal and two assists to help the Tigers take a 6-3 halftime lead.

“The fourth goal was Ryan’s, we exhorted him from the sidelines to be more aggressive and he sped right by his guy and fired it in,” said Bates of Ambler, who got another assist in the fourth quarter and was later named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week.

“He doesn’t turn the ball over and he shares the ball, he gets assists by getting to people at the right spot at the right time.”

Senior midfielder Bobby Lucas came through at the right time for Princeton, winning six-of-eight face-offs in the second half.

“We had a man up to start the half and we seemed settled in defensively,” said Bates.

“They get a goal and it is 6-4; you are never comfortable. We weren’t doing well on face-offs to that point. In the third and fourth quarter, Bobby Lucas was the change. He really gave us life, he controlled the face-offs.”

Junior star Tom Schreiber helped Princeton control the fourth quarter, tallying a goal and an assist as the Tigers outscored the Pride 3-1 over the last 15 minutes of the contest.

“Schreiber gave us some goals and he controls the game with his energy,” said Bates of Schreiber, who had two goals and an assist on the day with sophomore Mike MacDonald chipping in three goals. “He got some ground balls and did things that don’t show up on the scoresheet. He settles you down.”

The new-look Princeton defense settled in nicely, giving up four goals over the last 51:18 of the game after yielding three goals in the first 8:42 of the contest.

“They started to play better as a unit, they got more confidence,” said Bates, in assessing the defensive effort.

“Jack Strabo and Chris White gave us veteran leadership at shortstick middie. That is the most underrated position, it is thankless. They played so well that we didn’t need to slide as much. Derick and Nick settled down, Alex Beatty and Mark Strabo also played well. Greg Raymond (assistant coach) did a good job of preparing them; we were ready for what Hofstra does.”

Freshman goalie Matt O’Connor appeared to be ready for prime time, making six saves in his college debut as he follows in the footsteps of four-year starter Tyler Fiorito.

“One of the reasons we recruited him is that he has such high character; he is unflappable, he doesn’t get too high or too low,” said Bates of the former Lawrenceville School standout.

“He had a good week of practice. I think he is going to get better and better. He is a gamer, he always gives you his best. He just has to be consistent, he doesn’t have to be brilliant like Tyler was at times.”

Leaving Hofstra with a victory was a major high for the Tigers. “We are excited to get out of there with a win, it is a tough place to play,” said Bates.

“The weather was brutal, it was raining sideways and it was cold. It affected our stickwork. If we had gone up to Hofstra and come out with a loss, we might be doubting ourselves. It was great to get a win in that environment, Princeton hadn’t won up there in six years.”

This Friday, 12th-ranked Princeton heads into another hostile environment as it plays at No. 3 Johns Hopkins (3-0) in Baltimore.

“As Greg Raymond said, Hopkins is Hofstra on steroids,” said Bates. “They are a very seasoned team, they have upperclassmen everywhere. They are playing with a lot of confidence, they are feeling pretty good about themselves. They play with a lot of energy and they have no weaknesses.”

Bates promises that Princeton will bring plenty of energy into the annual showdown with the Blue Jays.

“We have to be opportunistic and play smart,” said Bates. “We can’t turn the ball over and we have to face-off well. I can tell you that the guys will be excited to be playing at Homewood Field, this is always an important game for us. It is a going to be on national TV and there is going to be a buzz. We have got to withstand their early barrage, we know they are going to try to knock us out. We have to bob and weave and counter punch.”

If the Tigers can build on their effort at Hofstra, they should have a puncher’s chance against Hopkins.

LAY OF THE LAND: Princeton University men’s senior hockey player Eric Meland controls the puck in recent action. Last Saturday against visiting Yale, defenseman Meland  came up big on Senior Night, tallying a goal and an assist but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 4-3 before a packed house at Baker Rink. The Tigers, now 9-14-4 overall and 7-10-3 ECAC Hockey, wrap up regular season play with games at Dartmouth (13-10-4 overall, 9-8-3 ECACH) on March 1 and at Harvard (8-16-3 overall, 5-13-2 ECACH) on March 2.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LAY OF THE LAND: Princeton University men’s senior hockey player Eric Meland controls the puck in recent action. Last Saturday against visiting Yale, defenseman Meland came up big on Senior Night, tallying a goal and an assist but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 4-3 before a packed house at Baker Rink. The Tigers, now 9-14-4 overall and 7-10-3 ECAC Hockey, wrap up regular season play with games at Dartmouth (13-10-4 overall, 9-8-3 ECACH) on March 1 and at Harvard (8-16-3 overall, 5-13-2 ECACH) on March 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Eric Meland and his classmates on the Princeton University men’s hockey team, there was a short-term goal when they took the ice at Baker Rink for Senior Night.

“We wanted to win,” said senior defenseman Meland. “A win would go a long way to securing home ice so it isn’t our last game here.”

The night’s festivities, which included a ceremony at the first intermission with the six seniors and their families, prompted Meland to reflect on the longer-term significance of his Tiger hockey experience.

“Princeton hockey really helps you grow as a person,” said Meland, whose fellow seniors include Rob Kleebaum, Will MacDonald, James Kerr, Michael Sdao, and Mike Condon.

“You go through ups and downs and you do it as a team. It is always nice to look at the guy across from you and know that he is going through everything you are going through. Successes and failures are shared by all.”

Battling No. 13 Yale before a packed house of 2,374 at Baker Rink, the Tigers battled hard to make it a successful evening. Coming off a disappointing 4-1 loss to Brown on Friday, the Tigers took leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in the first period.

“We came out with more jump,” said Meland,  who assisted on a Jack Berger goal that opened the scoring. “I think the effort was there.”

The rivals were knotted 2-2 heading into the third period and Meland put the Tigers up 3-2 with 10:48 left in regulation.

“In my position back there, I have the ability to sneak in the back door,” said Meland.

“I saw Rob Kleebaum had the puck on the side of the net and he slid it across the front of the net. I happened to be a victim of circumstance and I was able to backdoor it.”

Unfortunately, Yale came back and scored two goals in the last 10 minutes of the game to pull out a 4-3 win.

“It is game of bounces but we control our own fate,” said Meland, reflecting on the Yale rally that dropped Princeton to 9-14-4 overall and 7-10-3 ECAC Hockey, tied for ninth in the league standings.

“We can’t blame anybody but ourselves for this loss; it is something we can learn from.”

Meland, a 6’1, 190-pound native of Grand Forks, N.D., has proven to be a good learner as he has moved to defenseman from forward.

“I was excited about it; you have a little more time on the puck on defense,” said Meland, who has 13 points on two goals and 11 assists this season and 60 career points on 16 goals and 44 assists.

“I was excited to fill an offensive defenseman role and do everything I can to help the team win this year.”

With Princeton playing at Dartmouth (13-10-4 overall, 9-8-3 ECACH) on March 1 and at Harvard (8-16-3 overall, 5-13-2 ECACH) on March 2, the Tigers will need to get on the winning track to move up to eighth place and earn home ice for the first round of the ECACH playoffs.

“We can go out there and give it our all; it is a matter of the puck bouncing here or there,” said Meland.

“It is a results-based game so it is just a matter of bearing down at this point.”

Last fall, Anya Gersoff did her best to thwart shooters as a goalie for the Princeton University field hockey team.

Freshman Gersoff yielded only one goal in a back-up role for the national champion Tigers.

This spring, Gersoff has shed her pads and is trying to beat goalies as an attacker for the Princeton women’s lacrosse team.

Last Saturday, Gersoff was primed to make her lax debut as Princeton hosted Villanova in its season opener.

“It was so exciting to get out there,” said Gersoff, noting that her field hockey experience last fall helped calm her nerves.

Gersoff ended up making an exciting debut, scoring two goals to help the Tigers pull away to a 10-5 win over the Wildcats.

In reflecting on her effort, Gersoff said that playing goalie in the fall helps her be a savvy scorer in the spring.

“You kind of know what a goalie doesn’t like to see,” said Gersoff. “When I am playing goalie I always hate it when there is a shooter and they look at you and you are like oh no so there is that little bit of intimidation stuff.”

The Tigers had a little trouble with their shooting in the first half as they led just 3-0 despite having piled up 15 shots.

“We didn’t play as well as we would have liked to the whole game,” said Gersoff. “In the first half, our shooting was a little rough but we will get better.” Early in the second half, Villanova drew to within 3-2 and Princeton responded with its best stretch of the contest, going on a 6-1 run to seize control.

“We just have so many great leaders on this team and they made it so we should step up,” said Gersoff, reflecting on Princeton’s second half surge.

“We just followed suit and we were able to put it in the back of the net a few times.”

Gersoff got into the act, scoring two straight goals in that run. Her first career goal put the Tigers up 8-3.

“I remember I picked up the ball and I had an open lane and I went to goal,” said Gersoff, recalling her initial college tally. “I was like wow I scored.”

The Tiger freshmen accounted for six of Princeton’s 10 goals as Gersoff’s classmates Alex Bruno and Stephanie Paloscio also scored two apiece.

“We have always gotten along well as a freshman class,” said Gersoff. “I knew that there was something special about us when we came in.”

Not being available to take part in the lacrosse fall training has required a special effort on Gersoff’s part this spring.

“It was a really hard adjustment,” said Gersoff. “I figured it out eventually, it is going OK. It is still an adjustment.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer, for her part, is confident her team figured some things out as it overcame a sluggish start.

“I think we definitely had the jitters a little bit,” said Sailer. “We didn’t look like we have been scrimmaging and practicing. I think it was just a little bit of that first game jitters that hopefully we worked out and we’ll come out a little stronger next time.”

Sailer liked her team’s strong play as it pulled away from Villanova in the second half.

“I think our kids knew that we had to make things happen so we got some turnovers in transition,” said Sailer. “We had some fast breaks, we had some nice connections in the attack end.”

The production of Gersoff and classmates Bruno and Paloscio was a nice plus for the Tigers.

“They really did lead the way finishing but the other kids did a lot between the lines,” said Sailer, referring to the trio of freshmen.

“I was really pleased, those three are all just smart shooters and really strong players so it was great to see them have such a great day on their first day out.”

Princeton got some smart play from such veteran performers as junior midfielder Sarah Lloyd and senior defender Caroline Rehfuss.

“I thought Sarah Lloyd did a really good job on the draw,” asserted Sailer.

“I thought Rehfuss did really well, she had four caused turnovers and No. 40 (Villanova offensive star Jackie Froccaro) had just one goal.”

With senior star attacker Jaci Gassaway sidelined due to a knee injury, the Tigers are going to need to do a better job of communicating on offense.

“We have to be confident in ourselves,” added Sailer, whose team plays at Georgetown on March 1 before hosting Southern California on March 3.

“We need more vocal leadership from our upperclassmen on the field. We didn’t have anyone in the attack end who was settling people and being that voice down there. Jaci was that person for us; we have got to work through that. It was an ugly win but we will take the ‘w’ to start the season.”

Gersoff, for her part, believes Princeton can build on its positive start. “It is always great to get a win in the first game of the season,” said Gersoff.

“We have been playing really well in our scrimmages and practices. We can just step it up a little more all over the field.”

OUT OF CONTENTION: Princeton University women’s hockey player Molly Contini heads up the ice in recent action. Last Friday, freshman forward Contini scored the winning goal as Princeton edged Brown 2-1. A day later, Princeton fell 4-2 at Yale to drop into ninth place in the final ECAC Hockey standings and end an 11-year streak of making the league playoffs. The Tigers finished the winter at 11-16-2 overall and 6-14-2 in ECAH play.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

OUT OF CONTENTION: Princeton University women’s hockey player Molly Contini heads up the ice in recent action. Last Friday, freshman forward Contini scored the winning goal as Princeton edged Brown 2-1. A day later, Princeton fell 4-2 at Yale to drop into ninth place in the final ECAC Hockey standings and end an 11-year streak of making the league playoffs. The Tigers finished the winter at 11-16-2 overall and 6-14-2 in ECAH play. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton University women’s hockey team, the task last weekend was clear.

If the Tigers won their games at Brown and Yale, they would clinch eighth place in the ECAC Hockey standings and the final spot in the upcoming league playoffs.

Princeton achieved step one on Friday as it edged Brown 2-1 with junior Olivia Mucha and freshman Molly Contini finding the back of the net in the first period and freshman goalie Kimberley newell making 23 saves.

“Mucha got us going early, she made a nice move and found a seam,” said Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal.

“When she is scoring goals, we are a better team. Contini took a pass from Kelly Cooke on a 2-on-1 and roofed a backhand, that was a big-time goal. That was early in the game, I was hoping we would get more but Brown played really well. Kim Newell (freshman goalie) played solid all weekend, she did what we needed.”

Against Yale the next day, it looked like Princeton was on the way to the win it needed as it jumped out to an early 2-0 lead.

“We got the lead but we were not playing that well,” said Kampersal who got goals from Mucha and sophomore Brianna Leahy.

“We got a shorthanded goal to go up 2-0. We didn’t take our foot off the pedal but Yale played with a lot of passion. It was their Senior Day.”

Even though Princeton led 2-1 going into the third, Kampersal had a bad feeling.

“I knew we were hanging on,” said Kampersal. “We were tired on Saturday. Our fatigue and their passion made the difference in the third period.”

Things fell apart in the third period as Princeton yielded three unanswered goals to lose 4-2. Princeton’s loss combined with a victory by Colgate over Rensselaer left Princeton at 11-16-2 overall and 6-14-2 in ECAH play and in ninth place and out of the league playoffs for the first time since 2001.

The abrupt ending to the season was painful for Kampersal and his players.

“It’s definitely hard to go out like that,” said Kampersal. “It is not the year we hoped for. We have some things to be proud of but we have to coach better and play better. The three seniors (Alex Kinney, Kelly Cooke, and Corey Stearns) all had good years. Cookie and Corey carried us to the end, they played great.”

In Kampersal’s view, this year’s disappointment could sow the seeds for future success.

“It was definitely a negative but it can also be a positive,” asserted Kampersal.

“It is a slap in the face, but it can get us to focus more on things and be re-motivated to get back to where we were in 2006 and 2007. We need to work hard and come back in unbelievable physical shape. We need to be more disciplined and be better hockey players.”

NEAR THE SUMMIT: Princeton High boys’ swimmer Peter Kalibat powers to a victory in the 500 freestyle in a meet earlier this season. Last week, junior star Kalibat won the 200 and 500 free races as PHS dropped an 87-83 nailbiter to Summit in the state Public B semifinals. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

NEAR THE SUMMIT: Princeton High boys’ swimmer Peter Kalibat powers to a victory in the 500 freestyle in a meet earlier this season. Last week, junior star Kalibat won the 200 and 500 free races as PHS dropped an 87-83 nailbiter to Summit in the state Public B semifinals.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton High boys’ swimming team was rarely tested as it cruised to the state Public B semifinals, Greg Hand made sure that his swimmers kept focused.

“The challenge was to establish habits of how we are going to conduct ourselves when we know we have a succession of meets that don’t require your best,” said PHS head coach Hand, whose team bought a 15-0 record into its clash last week against Summit in the state semis at the WW/P-S pool.

“You don’t want to be lackadaisical and not pay attention to the details like how are we going to relate to each other on the deck and when our teammates are in the water. We had to value starts, turns, and finishes and the last 10 yards of the race and establish a culture of taking themselves seriously no matter what the score is.”

As his swimmers battled Summit in a rematch of last year’s state semis, which saw the Little Tigers prevail on the way to a state title, Hand liked their serious mindset.

“The focus you could see before boarding the bus all the way to the end of the meet was excellent,” said Hand.

“In the face of a different kind of challenge they did everything they could to beat Summit, that alone said something about them.”

While PHS ended up falling to Summit by 87-83, the pluck displayed by the Little Tigers said a lot about their competitive fire.

“We really swam aggressively; there was very little discussion about the score on the deck,” said Hand.

“There were external indicators of the internal. Entering the states we had 4,036 power points and we scored 4402 against Summit so that was an increase of around 360 in two meets. That is the best increase we have ever had in that time frame.”

The Little Tigers produced 1-2-3 sweeps in both the 200 and 500 freestyle races to keep the pressure on Summit as junior Peter Kalibat placed first in both events followed by senior John Bond and junior Scott MacKenzie.

“They fit together; I think they thought their best swimmer would take second to Peter,” said Hand.

“After we went so fast in the 200, I think they got nervous. John and Scott were swimming so well. John had a PR in 200 and in 500, where he broke his record by five seconds. The 500 kept us in there, it was big to get the 13-3. We knew that they had a fast 200 free relay and that left us in a significant hole.”

The Little Tigers nearly climbed out of that hole as junior star Will Stange won the 100 back and senior Daniel Andronov and junior Colburn Yu went 2-3 in the 100 breast to help PHS draw within 81-75 heading into the 400 free relay, the last event of the meet.

Trailing 81-75 heading into the meet-ending 400 free relay, PHS had a chance to pull out a victory. The Little Tigers needed to finish first and second in the relay to win the meet or a first and third to earn a tie and have the meet decided by power points, which ended up being in PHS’s favor.

With the din reverberating in the WW/P-S bubble, Summit took a lead in the relay only to see Stange produce an amazing anchor leg that led to the top relay quartets ending in a dead heat. As a result, Summit was able to pull out the 87-83 win and PHS’s hopes for a title were dashed.

“I would put his swim in the context of the whole team going in lane four,” said Hand, reflecting on Stange’s heroics.

“Matt Purdy did a nice job in the 100 and then he came back and swam a second faster than that race. He set a tone. Kalibat swam a 47.62, which is an extremely fast split particularly considering he already had two fast swims. Yu came in and did a season PR and that split still left us 10 or 12 yards behind when their fastest swimmer (Will Benn) started off. I have seen some great comebacks, Nina Rossi had several. Will’s swim was something of the same quality; to close a big lead like that is exceptional.”

Hand was not surprised that Stange stepped up when the chips were down.

“Will was a real leader on the deck, not just in the sense of encouraging the others but setting a model in the sense that he was really going to do something big,” said Hand.

“He is not an introvert, he is gregarious and friendly. He has a strong sense of himself in a positive sense, not in a vain or egotistical sense. When he says he is going to go in and go after that guy, the other guys are inspired.”

In reflecting on the season, Hand said the team’s corp of seniors provided inspiration.

“We have an understated but impressive group of young men who were real leaders, five of the seven were with us for four years and other two were with us for two years,” said Hand of his seniors, who include Peter Cohen, Alden Reyes, John Robles, Patrick Schultz, and Stephen Schultz, in addition to Andronov and Bond.

“There was so much character and so little fanfare. Each is a terrific guy. They were level headed guys and they kept us well-centered. In four years, they went to two state semis and two finals and went 67-4 in dual meets.”

With such stellar juniors returning in Kalibat, Stange, Yu, Purdy, and MacKenzie, PHS should continue its tradition of tournament success.

“We have some terrific guys who are coming back who we know are committed,” said Hand.

“We know how they train and how much they like the PHS team. All of them are going to get better, every team counts on that. Summit had all those guys come back for them and they were so much better this year.”

CLOSING STATEMENT: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Lior Levy drives to the hoop in recent action. Senior star Levy is enjoying a superb final season, averaging a team-high 14.0 points for the Little Tigers.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CLOSING STATEMENT: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Lior Levy drives to the hoop in recent action. Senior star Levy is enjoying a superb final season, averaging a team-high 14.0 points for the Little Tigers. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Lior Levy, things have come together in his senior season with the Princeton High boys’ basketball team.

The 6’8 center is averaging a team-high 14.0 points a game for PHS and has contributed a slew of assists, rebounds, and blocked shots.

Having dealt with injury and illness over much of his high school career, Levy is savoring his success this winter.

“It has been fun,” said Levy, who had mono as a freshman and suffered an ACL injury the next season.

“I have been injured the past few seasons and even last year my knee was hurting me. I am healthy so I have been able to take advantage of that this season.”

Enjoying good health has positively impacted Levy’s mindset and training. “I think I am more confident; I have been in more of a leadership role this year,” said Levy.

“I worked hard over the summer. I went to a bunch of camps so that is where some of the confidence came from. I think just my skill is up from last year.”

Last week, Levy displayed his confidence as the Little Tigers battled state Prep B champions Pennington, scoring 13 points and making some key assists and blocked shots as PHS dropped a 59-57 nailbiter to the Red Raiders.

Even though the Little Tigers lost on a last-second layup to fall to 11-10, Levy was encouraged by the team’s performance.

“We executed great tonight, Ellis [Bloom] was hitting every shot,” said Levy, reflecting on a game which saw PHS heading 31-27 at halftime and 44-43 entering the fourth quarter. “We were moving the ball well, we just needed one more shot here or there.”

Triggering the offense from the high post, Levy helped keep the PHS offense on the move.

“I love it, around the free throw line, top of the key, that is where I am best,” said Levy.

“We were moving the ball well, cutting off of me. They were overplaying sometimes and we got some nice looks.”

With PHS starting play in the state tournament this week, Levy believes the game against Pennington will be good preparation for that competition. PHS is seeded fourth in the Central Jersey Group III sectional and was slated to host 13th-seeded Hopewell Valley on February 26 with the winner advancing to the sectional quarters on February 28.

“That is a really good team, they have had a great season and you have got to give them credit,” said Levy.

“Playing a good team like that is definitely going to help us for the state tournament. If we played the way we played today, it will be tough to beat us.

PHS head coach Mark Shelley feels his team’s performance against Pennington is a good sign going into state competition.

“We feel really good about the way we are playing,” said Shelley. “That was as well as we have played offensively since the Trenton game. Defensively we played well, they just hit some big shots with hands in their face.”

Shelley is heartened by Levy’s excellent play in his final campaign.

“I think Lior has done really well; he has really battled through some things,” said Shelley.

“He has really enjoyed playing this year. He is a leader; not just in scoring. He leads us in blocked shots and is among the leaders in assists. We run everything through him; if we are under pressure the ball goes to him. Lior has been shooting the ball well and he has been more assertive down low.”

The PHS seniors have become more assertive collectively as the season has headed into the homestretch.

“When the end is in sight for seniors, sometimes they give a better effort,” said Shelley, whose group of seniors includes Elliott Golden, Ellis Bloom, Christian Giles, and Scott Bechler in addition to Levy.

“It is nice; they have been leaders by example and in word. Today I was going to give them the day off but they got everyone to come down for a shootaround. They set a standard, they are always working.”

Shelley is hoping that work will pay off this week in the state tournament.

“We are excited about it,” said Shelley. “The pressure is there and we don’t have to talk about it. We just want to take it one game at a time and see how it goes. We are going to focus on the fundamentals in preparing.”

Levy, for his part, is focusing on enjoying a big finale with his classmates. “I have been playing with these guys my whole life so it will be good to go out like this,” said Levy, who is looking to continue his hoops career as a post-graduate with a prep program next year.

AGONY OF DEFEAT: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball players, Davon Reed, left, and Ford Schneider, show their disappointment after PDS lost 47-45 to Pennington last Thursday in the state Prep B championship game. The defeat left the Panthers with a final record of 19-8.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

AGONY OF DEFEAT: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball players, Davon Reed, left, and Ford Schneider, show their disappointment after PDS lost 47-45 to Pennington last Thursday in the state Prep B championship game. The defeat left the Panthers with a final record of 19-8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Davon Reed hit the floor soon after the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team fell 47-45 to host Pennington last Thursday in the state Prep B championship game.

The senior star lay prone on the court with his shirt pulled up over his head, absorbing the disappointment of the defeat as Pennington fans celebrated around him.

After PDS head coach Paris McLean pulled Reed away from the surging crowd, the record-setting guard was able to put things in perspective in the wake of the scintillating contest which saw neither team lead by more than five points.

“It was definitely a great game; we got our money’s worth,” said Reed, who scored a game-high 24 points in the setback. “Unfortunately, we didn’t walk away with the win.”

While Reed walks away from PDS with a program-record 2,102 points on his way to the University of Miami men’s hoops team, he desperately wanted a title to go with his individual feats.

“I am definitely grateful and proud of myself that I scored it but I would trade it in for both of these championships, the counties and the preps,” said Reed.

In a grueling stretch, which saw PDS play five tournament games over six days, the Panthers came agonizingly close to a title double. In the county tournament, the fifth-seeded Panthers topped No. 12 Steinert 59-56 in the first round on February 16, defeated fourth-seeded Ewing 74-56 on February 18 in the quarters, and then fell 65-56 to No. 1 and eventual champion Notre Dame last Wednesday in the semis.

Meanwhile on the Prep B front, No. 2 PDS topped third-seeded and defending champion Rutgers Prep 46-38 on February 17 in the semis before the heartbreaking loss to top-seeded Pennington last Thursday.

“We don’t like to make excuses, playing five games in six days is tough but you know what I am proud of my guys, we came out and battled every game,” said Reed. “We win three straight and the last two were against two really good teams and it was a little different, we weren’t able to pull it out.”

After splitting two regular season games with rival Pennington, PDS was determined to win the rubber match.

“This game we knew was for all the marbles; my boys were just ready to play,” said Reed, who averaged 23.2 points a game this season.

“We know that everybody else is starting to believe in us but we knew from the start so we got to know we can win this game.”

While PDS head coach McLean was proud of his team’s effort, the pain of the defeat stung.

“What a great game; it had everything you wanted, back and forth play, drama, big shots, big opportunities, just two great programs going at it,” said McLean, whose team ended the season with a 19-8 record.

“Each team has marquee players; both teams are doing extremely well and that’s a testament to the way our program has grown and the way that Pennington has grown. It is great for the county. It is a lot to take in but this one hurts, this one hurts.”

The Panthers had a chance to win the game or put it in overtime as they had a final possession with 5.4 seconds in regulation.

“They made the last foul shot and we get a timeout,” recalled Mclean.

“We run situation drills everyday in practice. We drew it up, we knew they would key on Davon. We got a good look to the basket, we just didn’t finish. We came up short; it was on the lip of the rim.”

The impact of Reed on the PDS program over the last four years has been nothing short of amazing.

“You could go with numbers and points and wins and losses but what he has done has brought respectability back to the program,” said McLean.

“He has made other players say OK PDS is an option. He has been fantastic for us as a school leader, as a basketball leader. He has made his team better. He himself has became a better person.”

The team’s core of seniors led the way, helping PDS get stronger as the season unfolded.

“It has been a great senior class; I described them on Senior Day as a diverse group in terms of not just outward identity but in terms of their interests and their position play,” said McLean.

“Good teams need to have strong seniors and we had strong senior leadership this season. Every last one of them, Alec Jones, Tavante Brittingham, Tom Martino, Davon Reed, and B.J. Dudeck, right down the line in no particular order because any one of them could step up and they know our motto, you don’t have to be a captain to be a leader. Anybody can be a leader.”

Coming to the end of the line last Thursday made for an emotional scene in the Panther locker room.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the locker room, coaching staff, players,” said McLean.

“When you put in that much time and effort to battle back and come here back-to-back years, that is tough. They fought through it, they willed it to the end. We didn’t even run out of gas, a couple of things just didn’t go our way. But there was no quit; what a special, magical run. If you look at our program, 11 wins, 15 wins, 16 wins, 19 wins, we keep getting better.”

Even with the graduation of Reed and his classmates, McLean is confident that PDS can keep getting better.

“We have great young kids,” said McLean, who will welcome back juniors Langston Glaude, Deante Cole, Chris Okorodudu, and Ford Schneider.

“It is a great learning experience. I am tired of learning experiences, though. We need to take the next step. We have some great young men coming back and we have some great JV players. I just hope that people don’t think that because Davon Reed leaves, the PDS program is going to roll over and die. No, it is going to continue to build and be stronger.”

Reed, for his part, is proud to have helped the Panthers build something special.

“It wasn’t always pretty,” said Reed, reflecting on his career. “We weren’t always down, we weren’t always up. I am glad about the way the program is headed. It is headed in a good direction; people really care about basketball at Princeton Day School.”

GAINING INDEPENDENCE: Hun School boys’ hockey player Alex Vukasin waits for the puck in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, senior star Vukasin scored a goal to help Hun defeat the Haverford School (Pa.) 5-3 in the Independence Hockey League (IHL) championship game. The win gave the Raiders a final record of 16-5-4.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GAINING INDEPENDENCE: Hun School boys’ hockey player Alex Vukasin waits for the puck in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, senior star Vukasin scored a goal to help Hun defeat the Haverford School (Pa.) 5-3 in the Independence Hockey League (IHL) championship game. The win gave the Raiders a final record of 16-5-4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After having lost in double overtime to Pennington in the Independence Hockey League (IHL) championship game last winter, the Hun School boys’ hockey team was on a mission this season to capture the elusive title.

But as Hun hosted the Haverford School (Pa.) last Friday in the IHL championship game, it looked like history might be repeating itself when the Raiders fell behind 1-0.

Hun head coach Ian McNally acknowledged that his players were a bit frazzled in the early going.

“It is the third time we have played them and that is the best they have come out so you know what, they definitely outplayed us at the start, they came out flying,” said McNally.

“In our league we didn’t lose a game, I think we had 10 wins and two ties so we didn’t have a ton of adversity. The result of that was that our guys started panicking on the bench and panicking on the ice, just getting a little frenzied.”

Senior star Eric Szeker concurred, attributing the slow start to some nerves.

“I think the jitters got to us in the first couple of shifts there,” said Szeker. “They scored a quick one on us and that kind of woke us up and we got our feet moving again.”

The Raiders got moving in the right direction as Nick Guns scored a goal to make it 1-1 and then in between periods the Raiders were reassured by a calming message from McNally.

“He said to stick with it,” recalled Szeker. “We knew we were going to get our goals. We know that we have a good offense. We can put pucks home and he told us to just to stay with it. The defensive zone was our main focus in this game.”

The Raiders seized control of the game in the second period, outscoring Haverford 3-0 in that 15-minute stretch.

“It is the last game of the season and we have to leave it all on the line and it was one of our better periods of the year,” said Szeker, who scored early in the second period to put Hun ahead 2-1. “We got a lot of goals and it helped set us up for the third period.”

Szeker’s classmate, star forward Alex Vukasin, scored the fourth goal in the last minute of the period to give the Raiders some extra momentum heading into the last 15 minutes of regulation.

“That definitely wasn’t a pretty one but it was sure satisfying,” said Vukasin.

“Basically we know that we are not a team with super-skilled players on this team, we have good players on this team. We know that our goals come from fighting in the crease, we have a lot of rebound goals. My goal was a rebound. We have been making sure that we win puck battles, that is pretty much our team motto this year.

Those goals plus a power play tally by Szeker in the third period proved to be enough as Hun held off a late Haverford rally to win 5-3 and earn the title.

The Raiders did have to battle to earn the title as they were playing shorthanded down the stretch, at one point having to kill off a 5-on-3 situation.

“We were on our heels, they definitely made a final push,” said Szeker, reflecting on the waning moments of the win which left Hun with a final record of 16-5-4.

“It is the end of their season too and they don’t want to lose either; they came out hard but as a team we stuck together and we got the job done at the end.”

In Vukasin’s view, the determination of the Hun seniors helped pave the way to the title.

“This shows the tenacity our seniors have had in the four years, we have had tough times,” said Vukasin, who also had an assist on Szeker’s third period goal.

“Last year we just missed it so we were pushing and pushing this year and we finally came through. The seniors on our team wanted it and the young guys followed our example, maintaining the same work ethic as we have been doing and putting in 100 percent every practice.”

McNally was not surprised that Szeker and Vukasin came through in the finale.

“I told Eric before the game, just be the guy,” said McNally, who also got a goal in the victory from senior Jordan Wang.

“He is the best player in the league, I said go ahead and show that and he did. He was very vocal, he scored two goals. He was our captain and he led us. Alex is so consistent, you know exactly what you are going to get out of him every game. He did it again. He can beat people to these pucks and outmuscle them and score goals. He helped us gain momentum.”

The Raiders gained momentum from the leadership of its senior class. “The seniors were great, especially down the stretch when we played the second half of the league and went 6-0 after we tied a couple in the first half,” said McNally, whose group of seniors included Andrew Zhou, Peter Nawn, Matt Waxman, and Anton Salienko in addition to Szeker, Vukasin, and Wang.

“That was on them. We had a meeting about that, we have seven of them and they led the way. It was good, even the younger guys were talking let’s do it for the seniors. The right message has been sent where I don’t have to be the one pushing all the time. They are doing it themselves.”

In McNally’s view, the program sent a major message by winning the IHL crown.

“I think it is big,” said McNally, who cited the effort of junior goalie Devin Cheifetz in the title game as he made 39 saves and fought through a second period neck injury.

“Throughout the day at school, people were coming up to me saying good luck in the game and that didn’t really happen last year because we just generated a little buzz for Hun hockey. I just told the players afterward congratulations you guys just started this program, doing this. It means a lot, it justified our team and it put us on the map. We played strong all year, we did it when it mattered, we won the league and we only plan to get better from here.”

Szeker, for his part, will remember the strong bonds the team formed this winter in its championship campaign.

“We were family on and off the ice,” said Szeker. “At school in the lunch time, everyone sits together. Everyone hangs out on free periods that we have; everyone is with each other. It is hockey 24/7 with us and to bring something home is really special for all of us.”

February 20, 2013

 

IN THE NICK OF TIME: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Nick Fernandez races up the field in action last spring. Junior Fernandez has been moved to defense from midfield this spring and will play a key role as Princeton deals with the loss of defenseman Chad Wiedmaier, longstick midfielder John Cunningham, and goalie Tyler Fiorito to graduation. The Tigers open their 2013 season by playing at Hofstra (1-0) on February 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

IN THE NICK OF TIME: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Nick Fernandez races up the field in action last spring. Junior Fernandez has been moved to defense from midfield this spring and will play a key role as Princeton deals with the loss of defenseman Chad Wiedmaier, longstick midfielder John Cunningham, and goalie Tyler Fiorito to graduation. The Tigers open their 2013 season by playing at Hofstra (1-0) on February 23.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

They were a trio of stars who not only formed the backbone of the defense for the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team but also helped the proud program make it back to the NCAA tournament.

The Big 3 of defenseman Chad Wiedmaier, longstick midfielder John Cunningham, and goalie Tyler Fiorito earned All-American honors and helped spur a bounce-back season for Princeton in 2012 that saw the Tigers go 11-5 after a nightmarish 4-8 campaign the year before.

Although Wiedmaier, Cunningham, and Fiorito have graduated along with 10 classmates, their influence will be felt this spring.

“The senior class was so strong on the field and off the field,” said Princeton head coach Chris Bates, whose team went 6-0 in Ivy League regular season play in 2012 and ended the spring by losing 6-5 to Virginia in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“We have vowed to them to build on that foundation. It is not going to happen overnight. We have some holes to fill and kids need to get game experience in those areas.”

The Tigers do boast a nice foundation at attack where they welcome back senior Jeff Froccaro (27 goals and 12 assists in 2012) and sophomore Mike MacDonald  (22 goals and eight assists).

“Jeff is playing well and Mike’s game has developed,” said Bates, whose team opens its 2013 campaign by playing at Hofstra (1-0) on February 23.

“Ryan Ambler, a freshman, is the third attacker. He is really doing a lot for us. He is going to give us 60-minute games. He complements the other guys real well; I think we have a chance to be really good there.

Bates has some other good guys who should provide depth up front in sophomore Will Rotatori and senior Luke Armour (three goals and three assists).

“Will Rotatori is the fourth guy; he played well in the fall and is doing well so far this spring,” said Bates, who is entering his fourth year at the helm of the Princeton program and has a 26-18 record guiding the Tigers. “Luke Armour is another option there; he is a veteran.”

Princeton’s top offensive option figures to be All-American junior midfielder Tom Schreiber, who scored 32 goals and 28 assists last spring, the first Tiger to hit 60 points since Ryan Boyle in 2004.

“Schreiber is a captain as a junior, it is his team,” said Bates. “Tom brings something different when he is out there. Day in, day out, his competitive nature shines through. It is great when your best player is your hardest worker. We want the other guys to grab hold of that.”

Bates also wants Schreiber to spread the wealth, when necessary. “We are trying to help develop his game,” said Bates. “He doesn’t have to be Atlas with the players we have around him; there are days when he is going to be neutralized and he has to be a facilitator.”

The Tigers have some skilled players around Schreiber in the midfield. “Kip Orban (eight goals and three assists) ended up being on the first line last year; I think he is going to blossom into a prime-time player,” said Bates.

“He is a big, strong kid with a great shot. Hunter DeButts (two goals and four assists) needs to cut down on his turnovers and be smarter on his shots. He is very hard to cover so he could be good. Jake Froccaro, Jeff’s brother, has helped on extra man. He is skilled and savvy like his brother; he is going to get better and better.”

Princeton will feature two savvy veterans in the defensive midfield in junior Jack Strabo (four goals and one assist) and senior Chris White (two goals and four assists).

“Jack is ready to take the next step; the fact that we moved Nick Fernandez to close defense shows the confidence we have in him,” said Bates.

“Chris White is a captain and he is doing a really good job with that. He is playing really, really well; he is very steady and understands our defense.”

At longstick midfielder, lanky sophomore Alex Beatty is trying to fill the big shoes left by Cunningham.

“Alex Beatty is at long pole; he is 6’7 and he is a nemesis to Tom [Schreiber] everyday in practice; he is pretty athletic.”

In order to shore up the depleted defense, Bates has moved one of his most athletic players, junior Fernandez, to close defense from the midfield.

“Fernandez is so athletic and so mobile; he has picked things up very well,” asserted Bates.

“He has been working very hard with the pole. There are going to be a lot of eyes on him. He needs to direct our defense.”

The defense will feature a bevy of new faces with juniors Derick Raabe, Rob Posniewski, and Brian Reilly together with freshmen Mark Strabo and Brian Pickup in the mix.

“Derick Raabe has been good,” said Bates. “It is a new world for those guys. It is going to take some games for those guys to pick everything up. Mark Strabo is tough as nails; he has been playing very well. Rob Posniewski, Brian Reilly, and Brian Pickup should also help.”

At goalie, Princeton faces the daunting task of replacing Fiorito, who started from day one as a freshman and posted a goals against average of 7.07 last spring. In a case of what goes around, comes around, Bates is leaning toward installing freshman Matt O‘Connor as the starter over sophomore Eric Sanschagrin and junior Brian Kavanaugh.

“Matt O’Connor is ahead of Eric by a nose,” said Bates. “Matt is a strong lefty. He saves a lot of balls; he has a commanding presence. Eric is a pure stopper, he reads the ball so well. We have confidence in all three guys. We want one guy to emerge; we don’t want to have anyone looking over their shoulder.”

At face-off, Bates has confidence in several guys. “Bobby Lucas is the prime guy,” said Bates of the senior who won 91 of 164 face-offs last season.

“Justin Murphy (15-of-30) is a dedicated, hard worker. The Froccaros are very streaky; when they are on, they can get three in a row and you can pick up a couple of goals.”

Bates acknowledged that Princeton is going to need to score a lot of goals to keep its head above water as the new defense takes shape.

“The schedule is pretty unforgiving, Hofstra, Johns Hopkins, and North Carolina in the first few weeks,” said Bates.

“Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. It is going to be a roller-coaster. We can score goals and I am confident the defense will jell. Greg Raymond [assistant coach] does a great job with the defense, they are coming along.”

MID-RANGE WEAPON: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Charlotte Davis heads up the field in action last season. The Tigers are depending on senior star Davis (20 goals, five assists in 2012) to be a force in the midfield this spring. Princeton opens its 2013 season by hosting Villanova on February 23.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MID-RANGE WEAPON: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Charlotte Davis heads up the field in action last season. The Tigers are depending on senior star Davis (20 goals, five assists in 2012) to be a force in the midfield this spring. Princeton opens its 2013 season by hosting Villanova on February 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While missing out on postseason play last spring left the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team with an empty feeling, Chris Sailer believes the experience gave her players a fuller appreciation of what it takes to excel.

“Last year was a tough year for all of us,” said Princeton head coach Sailer, who is entering her 27th season at the helm at Princeton and has won 322 games and three NCAA titles in her Hall of Fame career.

“It led to some important reflection and renewed commitment. The girls have been motivated all year long in the off season and now in the preseason.”

The team’s offseason featured a trip to Malta and London in October that Sailer believes gave her players a boost as they look to rebound from last spring’s disappointment.

“The foreign trips always help a team; you spend so much time together and you do cool things together,” said Sailer, whose team opens the 2013 season by hosting Villanova (0-1) on February 23.

“This group has a unique chemistry. They are so supportive of each other; they get along so well. They enjoy being out on the field and playing together. I think we are in a good place.”

The addition of new assistant coaches Jenn Cook and former Princeton standout Anne Murray ’09 has positively impacted the team’s chemistry.

“That has been awesome, they add a new energy,” said Sailer. “They bring new sets of eyes on everybody and new ideas. There are new drills. The kids have really enjoyed working with them.”

Sailer enjoys having the one-two punch of senior Jaci Gassaway (38 goals and 16 assists in 2012) and sophomore Erin McMunn (18 goals and 30 assists) back to trigger the Princeton attack.

“Jaci and Erin are both good players and they play so well together,” said Sailer. “They lift other people around them.”

While Gassaway and McMunn figure to be the Tigers’ biggest offensive weapons, Sailer believes she has other people who are going to be dangerous.

“I think we are going to have a balanced attack,” asserted Sailer, whose team went 8-7 overall last spring with a 4-3 mark in Ivy League play.

“We have a lot of kids who have stepped up, both returners and freshmen. It is not going to just be the Jaci and Erin show.”

Among those in the mix on attack are senior Sam Ellis (9 goals and seven assists), junior Mary-Kate Sivilli (10 goals, nine assists), sophomore Erika Grabbi (two goals), junior Grace Bowen, together with freshmen Alex Bruno and Anya Gersoff.

“Sam Ellis is a senior; she is an explosive kid,” said Sailer. “Mary-Kate Sivilli started about half the games for us; she plays solid in front of the net. Grabbi and Bowen have both improved from last year; they can help us out in certain situations. We have a couple of good freshman. Bruno is really smart; she is a good shooter and she knows how to read defenses and finish. Gersoff played field hockey last fall and had a great experience. She jumped in with us this spring. She is a lax rat; she has incredible stick skills.”

The Tiger midfield is led by skillful senior Charlotte Davis (20 goals, five assists).

“Char is off to a great start in preseason; we had a scrimmage with Temple this week and she was so solid,” said Sailer. “She is hard to contain with her drive and shot; she is going to be a huge leader for us.”

Junior Sarah Lloyd (17 goals and five assists) and freshman Erin Slifer (10 goals and seven assists) could prove hard for Princeton’s foes to contain this spring

“Sarah Lloyd has been doing well,” said Sailer, whose midfield unit will also include senior Jenna Davis and a pair of promising freshmen in Anna Menke and Stephanie Paloscio.

“She is more of a 1-on-1 player this year; we want her to go to goal. Slifer is an all-around solid player at both ends of the field. She is a good defender and a solid attacker. We are looking for her to do more on attack.”

Sophomore Blake Dietrick, who is currently starring at guard for the Ivy-leading Princeton women’s basketball team, could be a solid addition for the Tigers.

“Dietrick is an athletic kid; we really wanted her to play lacrosse but basketball is her first love and she didn’t play for us last year,” said Sailer, noting that Dietrick was an All-American lax player in high school. “She will join us in mid-to-late March and we will see how she fits in.”

Senior captain Caroline Rehfuss (one goal, three assists, 15 groundballs) adds athleticism and leadership to the Princeton defense.

“Rehfuss is playing so well, she has been on fire,” asserted Sailer.

“She is so smart on the field, her positioning is great. She is also good in transition. She is going to be the backbone of the unit.”

The unit will also feature juniors Colleen Smith and Liz Cutting along with talented freshman Liz Bannantine.

“Colleen Smith is aggressive and very smart; Cutting is playing really well, she made a lot of progress,” added Sailer, who will also be using junior Erin Williams and sophomore Erin Curley on defense.

“Liz Bannanine is doing really well; she is like deButts [former All-American defender Lindsey deButts] in transition.”

Sophomore goalie Annie Woehling is doing well as she builds on a freshman campaign that saw her post a goals against average of 9.50 in 15 starts.

“Annie has a year under her belt and has been tested under fire,” said Sailer.

“She is much more confident and less nervous. She knows what is expected at this level. She is a quick kid.”

Sailer is confident that her squad can rebound from last year’s frustration. “Our goal is certainly to make it to the postseason,” said Sailer.

“We have the potential to be one of the top teams in the Ivies, we are going for the title. It was tough to be left out last year. We have a good group of kids. We have good senior leadership; we have a senior leading every unit. We have good balance; it is not a situation where we have a strong unit and a weak unit.”

AD LIB: Princeton University women’s squash star Libby Eyre strokes the ball in recent action. Last weekend, Eyre and the Tigers placed fourth at the Howe Cup national collegiate team tournament to finish the season with a 12-2 record. The Tigers were ranked No. 1 for much of the season and went 7-0 in Ivy League play to win their first league title since 2009. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

AD LIB: Princeton University women’s squash star Libby Eyre strokes the ball in recent action. Last weekend, Eyre and the Tigers placed fourth at the Howe Cup national collegiate team tournament to finish the season with a 12-2 record. The Tigers were ranked No. 1 for much of the season and went 7-0 in Ivy League play to win their first league title since 2009.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Gail Ramsay could sense that there was something special about her Princeton University women’s squash team before the season even began.

Taking a trip to South Africa last October, the Tigers came together on and off the court.

“Any change of scenery with squash is great because you get to see different styles; we won three close matches there,” said longtime Princeton head coach Ramsay.

“It was great for team bonding. Any time you can get them to have a deeper commitment to each other that is a help. I felt that there was a good dynamic on this team.”

Princeton displayed its commitment to excellence when it upset top-ranked Harvard 5-4 in mid-January to improve to 5-0 and take the top spot in the national rankings.

“Looking at it on paper, they had a lot of experience,” said Ramsay, noting that the Crimson boasted players with national team credentials.

“We have some top players but they had the upper hand in experience. We were at home, felt comfortable on the court. There were a lot of close matches, we hung in there and made it happen. It was a perfect storm. It was quite an energy boost for us.”

The victory helped catapult Princeton to a perfect 11-0 regular season and the program’s first Ivy League title since 2009.

“The seniors had just missed out earlier in their careers,” said Ramsay. “I was excited that they had a chance to take a championship with them in addition to having a tremendous experience.

Last weekend, Princeton hoped to add another championship as it headed to Yale to compete in the Howe Cup national collegiate team tournament.

“We went in at No. 1,” said Ramsay. “We wanted to win and we thought we could.”

But after cruising past Brown 9-0 in a quarterfinal contest, the Tigers fell 6-3 to Trinity in the semis to see their title hopes dashed.

“Trinity was a big challenge,” said Ramsay, whose team went on to fall to Penn 7-2 in the third-place match.

“We played well enough; we could have pulled that out. We didn’t play the big points well, we didn’t capitalize when we had chances.

While Princeton didn’t come up big last weekend, Ramsay is proud of how her squad overcame challenges throughout the season.

“We were so excited to be Ivy champs; it is one of the toughest years in years to do it,” said Ramsay.

“That is always our first goal. We were the only team to beat Harvard this year; they went on to beat Trinity in the Howe finals. We have been working at it with this group for a few years, looking for that extra 5 or 10 percent improvement. I thought they accomplished a lot; we just didn’t get the icing this weekend.”

Senior star Julie Cerullo certainly accomplished a lot for Princeton in her stellar career.

“Julie was No. 1 for four years, a 3-time All American, and will probably get a fourth,” said Ramsay.

“It was great to have a leader like that at the top of the lineup. She came back every year improved and pulled her teammates along with her. She was disciplined and organized. Seniors at Princeton have a lot going on and she was very accountable. She was a good example for me and the team.”

Cerullo’s fellow senior, Casey Cortes, also set a good example for her teammates.

“Casey contributed a lot; she had some huge wins for us over the years,” said Ramsay, noting that Cortes played at No. 9 and No. 10 for most of the year.

“When she was determined to win, she usually did. She was an incredibly strong person emotionally, playing the 8-9-10-11 is tough, going against your best friend to make or not make it. She ended up 10th for us at the Howe Cup but that didn’t sway her leadership.”

The future looks bright as Princeton returns eight of her nine top players including junior Libby Eyre, sophomore Nicole Bunyan, freshman Rachel Leizman, sophomore Alex Lunt, junior Lexi Saunders, junior Alex Sawin, freshman Tara Harrington, and sophomore Hallie Dewey.

“I think we will be better,” said Ramsay, noting that she has some promising freshmen on the way who could crack the top nine.

“It is hard for me to see what the other teams will be like. But within our space, if everyone continues to improve at the rate we are improving, we will be better. They are all pretty bright, they need to take the conceptual and turn it into reality. The need to get over the match and past it but then break it down and figure out how to do A or do B better.”

PULLING AWAY: Princeton University women’s basketball player Niveen Rasheed dribbles upcourt in a game earlier this season. Last weekend, senior star Rasheed overcame some poor shooting to pile up 42 points and 22 rebounds as Princeton topped Dartmouth 77-65 on Friday and defeated Harvard 67-51 a night later. The Tigers, now 16-5 overall and 7-0 Ivy League, host Columbia (3-18 overall, 1-6 Ivy) on February 22 and Cornell (11-10 overall, 3-4 Ivy) the next day.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PULLING AWAY: Princeton University women’s basketball player Niveen Rasheed dribbles upcourt in a game earlier this season. Last weekend, senior star Rasheed overcame some poor shooting to pile up 42 points and 22 rebounds as Princeton topped Dartmouth 77-65 on Friday and defeated Harvard 67-51 a night later. The Tigers, now 16-5 overall and 7-0 Ivy League, host Columbia (3-18 overall, 1-6 Ivy) on February 22 and Cornell (11-10 overall, 3-4 Ivy) the next day. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Niveen Rasheed’s shot was off last weekend but that didn’t upset the senior star for the Princeton University women’s basketball team.

Although Rasheed hit just 11-of-36 shots for a 30 percent clip, she was thrilled to help Princeton top Dartmouth 77-65 on Friday and defeat Harvard 67-51 a night later.

“It’s OK when I have an off shooting day, I don’t really care because we are still winning the game and we have players like Blake [Dietrick] and Michelle [Miller] coming off the bench and making up for it,” said 6‘0 senior guard Rasheed, a native of Danville, Calif.

“That just shows you about our team. I am a little off, but that’s why I got my teammates covering my back. As long as I am playing good defense and making an effort on the court, I still feel like I am making a contribution.”

Rasheed was happy to see the Tigers produce a better effort against Harvard than they did Friday in a subpar performance in the win over Dartmouth.

“Yesterday was just a negative feeling after the game; even though we got the win, it didn’t feel right,” said Rasheed, who scored 25 points in the win on Friday.

“It was great to see the team rally back and come with intensity. Harvard played their best, better than we have seen them play on film. They gave us a battle but I was proud of everyone; it was a total team effort right there. In the battle with the Crimson, Princeton trailed 15-7 early in the first half but then hit four straight three-pointers to seize control of the contest.

“It was a very mature thing for us to not get down,” said Rasheed. “Our backs were against the wall so we just turned it up and went on our run. We got hold of the momentum and we kept it and didn’t look back.”

The wins helped Princeton maintain its momentum in its quest for a fourth straight Ivy title as the Tigers improved to 16-5 overall and 7-0 Ivy League, two games ahead of second place Penn and three games ahead of Dartmouth and Harvard.

“You know that both these teams really needed this win and wanted this win and even if they were two games down in the league, beating us would have been huge for them,” said Rasheed, who ended up with 17 points and 10 rebounds in the win over the Crimson which was the 31st straight league triumph for Princeton. “So both teams came in fighting and they gave us games both nights.”

With the games winding down for Rasheed and her classmates, she is not taking anything for granted.

“We know we have the leadership role on this team and we are cherishing every moment,” said Rasheed.

“It’s sad, knowing that this is the last time we will ever see these teams. It is definitely bittersweet and we are enjoying every moment.”

Rasheed is nearing some more milestone moments in her stellar career as she ended the weekend with 1,497 career points.

“Once I hit 1,000 points, I haven’t thought about that,” said Rasheed, the Ivy Player of the Year last season who is leading the league in scoring (16.9) and is second in rebounding (9.2). “Now it is one mission, one goal, get to that tournament and get that win.”

While the Tigers hit some bumps in their non-conference schedule working in some new faces and adapting to a different offense, Rasheed believes that things have come together.

“It took us a little while; we have such a young team with some new players,” said Rasheed, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for a third straight time.

“Our offense is clicking, our defense has been solid. Our freshmen are getting experience, our sophomores were key contributors to this game. It is really comforting knowing that when you go on the bench, there is going to be the next five coming in with the same energy and attack.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart, for her part, is comforted by her team’s depth which was on display Saturday as the bench players outscored the starters 35-32 with back-up point guard Dietrick scoring a career-high 19 points and Miller adding eight.

“It is great, that second group is very offensive and if they continue to progress defensively, we are going to get even better,” said Banghart.

“That is why it is a team, you can’t be good at everything, you have to have people who are good at everything and that’s what we have.”

The Tigers need a solid team effort to subdue the Crimson. “This was a great battle, a good Ivy League game,” said Banghart.

“It was two teams playing hard. Harvard was desperate for a win, coming into our gym already with two losses and we matched and exceeded that effort. We gave up maybe 20 second half points against a team that we held to 17 points below their average. That is sign of a good team.”

All the signs now point to Princeton making it four straight Ivy crowns. “We said it was separation weekend so no doubt, I think we separated ourselves really nicely,” said Banghart.

“We have one more road weekend and two more home weekends so if we take care of our business we will be what we wanted to be at the beginning of the year which is Ivy League champs.”

The presence of Rasheed helps separate the Tigers from their league foes.

“As the lights turn on, Niveen Rasheed comes to play,” said Banghart.

“It is what we have come to expect, it is what you guys come for, it is what the fans come for. We are running out of time with her, so people should come and enjoy her.”

Banghart is determined to help her players make the most of their time over the balance of the regular season.

“I like our defense but offensively we need to understand pace, timing, recognition, and purpose,” said Banghart, whose team hosts Columbia (3-18 overall, 1-6 Ivy) on February 22 and Cornell (11-10 overall, 3-4 Ivy) the next day.

“We show signs of that and then signs of not. It is just tinkering and critiquing and getting really picky.”

Rasheed, for her part, acknowledges that the Tigers must pick up their game if they are to achieve their lofty goals.

“It doesn’t really matter where we stand in the league, if we are three games up or not,” said Rasheed.

“We still have to get better and not get complacent about how we play because we have a bigger mission. We can’t develop bad habits, we have to play better basketball and we have a lot of things to work on.”

Madeleine Deardorff and her teammates on the Princeton High girls’ swimming team looked forward to the challenge posed by Chatham last Thursday in the Public B Central Jersey sectional finals.

“We knew they were amazing coming in,” said freshman star Deardorff. “I think we all came in really psyched up and we all wanted to swim our best. I think we were all really motivated.”

As Deardorff toed the starting blocks for the 100 butterfly and the fifth event of the meet at the Neptune Aquatic Center, second-seeded PHS already trailed No. 1 Chatham 39-23.

The precocious freshman, though, was undaunted, outdueling Kara Miller-Radest to win the race by 2.08 seconds.

“At each turn, I would see that she was coming,” said Deardorff, recalling the thrilling race which saw her clock a winning time of 58.41. “I just gave it my all and I saw what came out of it. I was happy.”

Even though PHS ended up losing the meet 112-58 to suffer its only defeat of the season, Deardorff was happy with the team’s performance. “I think this was one of our best meets and people swam best times,” said Deardorff.

“We were all really excited with our swims; I think this was a great way to top off the season.”

Fellow freshman Briana Romaine earned PHS’s other individual victory in the meet as she placed first in the 100 freestyle. The Little Tigers also prevailed in the 200 medley relay.

Deardorff produced another superb swim herself later in the meet when she took second in the 100 breaststroke by a mere .04 to Anna Dexheimer. “I was really exhausted but she was too,” said Deardorff.

“I think I just tried my best. I knew they were fast. I was just sprinting and giving it my all. I did not hold back at all.”

In producing a superb freshman campaign, Deardorff hasn’t held back. “The biggest challenges were that I knew a lot of the swimmers on the other teams; I knew that they were fast and that some of them were older,” said Deardorff, who also competes for the X-Cel swim club.

“I think that was really challenging and just nerves. Having two meets per week is definitely different.”

Having her older sister, senior star Serena, on the team helped Deardorff thrive this winter.

“It has been great,” said Deardorff. “I have seen her go throughout the years at PHS and I have always been excited to come here and have this season with her. It was really exciting.”

The seniors kept up the excitement to the end on Thursday. “The seniors are great leaders this year,” said Deardorff.

“They motivated us. They were really helpful with this loss, making sure that we didn’t get down on ourselves.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand tipped his hat to the contributions made by the seniors this winter in a season that saw PHS go 13-1 and win its first-ever county title.

“It is always wonderful to have kids who get it and the group that we are graduating has been such a great group because they all got it from the start,” said Hand, whose senior group included Marisa Giglio, Victoria Carroll, Felicia He, and Corey Allikas, in addition to Serena Deardorff.

“They have grown up as people. They came in understanding it is about team and about hard work and that fun follows from that. They didn’t come in demanding to have fun; they came in asking the right things of themselves.”

Serena Deardorff and Giglio showed the right stuff as they piled up a slew of points for PHS over their careers. In the loss to Chatham, Deardorff took second in the 50 free and third in the 500 free while Giglio placed second in both the 200 individual medley and the 100 backstroke.

“Serena and Marisa have been real stars, they are very fast swimmers who have trained with a club for many years,” said Hand.

“They have put a lot into the sport and I hope it continues to give a lot back to them, they have earned that.”

Even in defeat, PHS put a lot into their effort last Thursday. “We were looking for a team attitude, an individual attitude that says the right thing about what the season meant to us and what the team means to us,” said Hand.

“We saw that tonight. The girls were happy during the meet, the score notwithstanding, because everybody was into it. We really have some ferocious competitors on this team, no matter how fast they go. Today there was real excitement in the water. I felt that a few days ago, that this would be an exciting dual meet even if the score wasn’t very close and I think they created that by the way they swam. You can tell when somebody is going all out and they were.”

Hand is excited about the program’s outlook going forward. “I feel great about the future as far as the kids we have got and who they are and what they try to do everyday,” said Hand.

“You can see with a team like Chatham to win at this level, you need three great entries in each event and it is rare to be able to put that together. If you have kids who do what you want kids to do on a high school team, then you know that this side of education is working and sports really matters.”

Deardorff, for her part, believes that PHS can reach an even higher level of success in the future.

“I know a few girls who swim that are in eighth and seventh grade so we do have some people coming up and I think that is really encouraging for us,” said Deardorff.

“We definitely are really losing some really fast swimmers but I think we will be able to handle that. Winning our first counties really helped to get our spirits up; it really motivated us for next year.”

HIGH FIVE: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Daniel Andronov displays his freestyle form in a race earlier this season. Last Thursday, senior Andronov placed second in both the 100 free and 100 breaststroke to help top-seeded PHS defeat No. 2 Lawrence 118-52 in the Public B Central Jersey sectional final at the Neptune Aquatic Center. It marked the fifth straight sectional title for PHS, who was slated to face Summit in the Public B semis on February 19 with the winner advancing to the championship meet on February 23 at The College of New Jersey. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HIGH FIVE: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Daniel Andronov displays his freestyle form in a race earlier this season. Last Thursday, senior Andronov placed second in both the 100 free and 100 breaststroke to help top-seeded PHS defeat No. 2 Lawrence 118-52 in the Public B Central Jersey sectional final at the Neptune Aquatic Center. It marked the fifth straight sectional title for PHS, who was slated to face Summit in the Public B semis on February 19 with the winner advancing to the championship meet on February 23 at The College of New Jersey.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Daniel Andronov, joining the Princeton High boys’ swimming team last year as a junior proved fortuitous on many levels.

The quiet Andronov, who transferred from Edison High, enjoyed the PHS team’s camaraderie and spirit on the deck. In the water, Andronov’s talent in the breaststroke helped PHS go undefeated on the way to its first-ever state Public B championship.

“The team wasn’t as strong at Edison so it was a big difference,” said Andronov.

“The other team wasn’t as large either. It is a very different environment. We approach meets more seriously. I think it is a very nice atmosphere.”

This winter, Andronov has developed deep bonds with his teammates. “I am not much of a social person so it takes me a while to get used to new environments and new people,” said Andronov.

“This year, I feel much more acquainted with the team and much more comfortable.”

Last Friday, Andronov showed his comfort level with high stakes competition as he helped top-seeded PHS defeat No. 2 Lawrence 118-52 in the Public B Central Jersey sectional final at the Neptune Aquatic Center.

The Little Tigers are slated to face Summit in the Public B semis on February 19 with the winner advancing to the championship meet on February 23 at The College of New Jersey.

Andronov placed second in both the 100 freestyle and 100 breaststroke in the win over Lawrence. Individual victors for PHS in the meet included junior Will Stange in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke, junior Colburn Yu in the 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley, and junior Peter Kalibat in the 200 and 500 freestyle races.

“It is something that is always great for a program,” said Andronov, reflecting on the sectional title, which marked the fifth straight for the Little Tigers.

“It is a nice segue; it gives us a bit of confidence going into the next meets which are going to be the hardest meets we are going to have this season. It is a steppingstone for the state title.”

Even though PHS had topped Lawrence 115-55 in a regular season meeting, Andronov and his teammates weren’t overconfident coming into Friday’s meet.

“It gives you a bit of comfort knowing that you have beat them already,” said Andronov.

“But we try to take every team as though they are as fast or better than us and approach the team with the mentality that we need to swim as fast as we can.”

In picking up his two second-place finishes, Andronov had to swim through some fatigue.

“I have been a little tired from training,” said Andronov who competes with the X-Cel swim club.

“It is good to race as often as we do, it gives us confidence in the pool so we are not very nervous on days where we have big meets. It was good to get that experience. I was happy with the breaststroke but still feeling like training in the latter half of the race. I think it was pretty good.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand was happy to see his boys’ squad achieve a fifth straight sectional crown.

“I think of a program in terms of the kids who are in it at the moment so what it means to the program is almost entirely expressed in what it means to the kids who accomplished it,” said Hand, whose team improved to 15-0 with the victory over Lawrence.

“It is a program in the sense that we have had kids who have been here for four years and other kids who are just starting, so to be able to have that recreated again and again is a special thing. We are very fortunate to be able to have done it.”

PHS was certainly fortunate to have an addition like Andronov. “Daniel just joined us last year when he came to Princeton and has really shown himself to be a dedicated, team-oriented person,” said Hand.

“He is a person of relatively few words but the guys really like him. He just has great character; he loves to race. I think he has grown as a swimmer. He has definitely gotten a lot better since last year, he is consistently around one minute in the breaststroke and that is a great asset for a team.”

While Hand knows that his team is no lock to win a second straight title, he is confident it will keep getting better.

“We know that Tuesday is our toughest meet and we want to be at our best that day,” said Hand.

“Just like last year, we didn’t discover until Summit what we could do and we discovered an even deeper level when we got to the final. I won’t make any predictions; I think these guys are fighters. They love the sport, I think they really like each other and they are committed to working for each other.

Andronov, for his part, is confident that PHS will fight hard in its bid for a title repeat.

“I think it is something we can definitely accomplish,” said Andronov. “I think one part of it is supporting each other. When I started swimming, I didn’t have people cheering for me. Having people cheering for you really does actually make a difference. I think we need to come together as a team. I think we need to approach it with a confidence that we can do it and it is possible but we shouldn’t be too overconfident.”

DOING GREAT: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball player Chris Okorodudu looks for an opening in recent action. Last Sunday, junior star Okorodudu scored 12 points to help PDS rally from a 28-19 halftime deficit to top Rutgers Prep in the state Prep B semifinals. A day later, he contributed 14 points as PDS topped Ewing in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals. In the MCT, No. 5 PDS will play No. 1 Notre Dame in the semifinals on February 20. As for the Prep B tourney, the second-seeded Panthers will play at top-seeded Pennington on February 21 in the championship game.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

DOING GREAT: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball player Chris Okorodudu looks for an opening in recent action. Last Sunday, junior star Okorodudu scored 12 points to help PDS rally from a 28-19 halftime deficit to top Rutgers Prep in the state Prep B semifinals. A day later, he contributed 14 points as PDS topped Ewing in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals. In the MCT, No. 5 PDS will play No. 1 Notre Dame in the semifinals on February 20. As for the Prep B tourney, the second-seeded Panthers will play at top-seeded Pennington on February 21 in the championship game. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Chris Okorodudu, joining the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team this winter as a junior has proven to be an inspired move.

“It has been great; it has been one of the best decisions I have made in my life,” said Okorodudu, who transferred to PDS from WW/P-N. “I love this program and I love everyone in it.”

Last Sunday in the state Prep B semifinals against visiting Rutgers Prep, the 6’6 Okorodudu endeared himself to the program, scoring 12 points as the second-seeded Panthers rallied from a 28-19 halftime deficit to pull away to a 46-38 win over the third-seeded Argonauts. PDS will now play at top-seeded Pennington on February 21 in the Prep B championship game.

There was no panic in the locker room at intermission as the Panthers assessed their situation.

“We have been saying this all year, we bend but we don’t break,” said Okorodudu. “We just had to keep fighting. We were able to do that today and pull out the win.”

In Okorodudu’s view, fighting hard on defense was the key to the PDS rally which saw the Panthers outscore the Argonauts 16-7 in the third quarter to make it a 35-35 game heading into the last eight minutes of regulation.

“I think it was our defensive intensity,” said Okorodudu, reflecting on the comeback.

“We have so much talent on the other end that when we play defense, that gets us going.”

Okorodudu got going offensively, scoring five points in both the third and fourth quarters.

“The coaches always have my back; they instill me with a lot of confidence,” said Okorodudu. “They keep telling me to keep shooting and keep being aggressive and I tried to do that today.”

Having each other’s backs also played a key role in the victory. “It shows how strong we are as a team, we have really bonded now that we are in the playoffs” said Okorodudu, who scored 14 points Monday as fifth-seeded PDS topped Ewing 74-56 in the quarterfinals of the Mercer County Tournament to move to 18-6 and advance to a semifinal matchup against top-seeded Notre Dame on February 20 at Mercer County Community College.

“We know we have a lot of seniors and we are just trying to play for them and take this team as far as we know we can go.”

The Panthers brought a little extra motivation into Sunday as they had fallen to Rutgers Prep in the Prep B championship game last winter.

“I wasn’t here last year but I know that was the elephant in the room,” said Okorodudu. “We lost to them last year so we had to get them back this year.”

PDS head coach Paris McLean attributed the comeback against Rutgers Prep to a commitment on the defensive end.

“The team really stepped it up defensively; they knew they didn’t put forth their best effort in the first half,” said McLean.

“Rutgers Prep did a great job of crashing; they had size and they were beating us to the 50/50 balls and loose balls in the first half and that was giving them extra possessions. We did a better job closing out, we hedged our screens and boxed out. We just got back to fundamentals defensively.”

McLean was thrilled to see Okorodudu and fellow junior Langston Glaude step up down the stretch.

“We have been waiting for Chris O. to have a breakout game and this was it,” asserted McLean, who got a game-high 14 points from Glaude with senior star and Miami-bound Davon Reed scoring nine points one day after he passed the 2,000-point mark in his PDS career.

“Chris has been steadily improving all season, getting comfortable with his new teammates and he has really stepped up. Langston was good at both ends of the floor. Offensively and defensively, he was a menace at both ends.”

The Panthers appear to be growing more and more comfortable with playoff pressure.

“It was a great team win and I told the young men that they earned the right to be back here, nothing was given to them,” said McLean. “It is tough go to the state finals back-to-back, they really stepped up.”

Okorodudu, for his part, believes the squad is going to keep giving its best.

“We have to come out strong, it doesn’t matter who we play,” said Okorodudu.

“We have to play our game and don’t let the other team dictate what we do.

This definitely gives us momentum, we have just got to keep it rolling.”

COOPERATIVE EFFORT: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player Cody Triolo controls the puck in a recent game. Last week, senior star Triolo and his nine classmates enjoyed a special Senior Night as they topped Don Bosco 5-2 on February 12. The Panthers went on  to take second at the Hill School Tournament last weekend, falling 2-1 in double overtime to the hosts in the championship game last Sunday to finish the winter with a 21-3-1 record.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

COOPERATIVE EFFORT: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player Cody Triolo controls the puck in a recent game. Last week, senior star Triolo and his nine classmates enjoyed a special Senior Night as they topped Don Bosco 5-2 on February 12. The Panthers went on to take second at the Hill School Tournament last weekend, falling 2-1 in double overtime to the hosts in the championship game last Sunday to finish the winter with a 21-3-1 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Cody Triolo and Rob Colton took different journeys but arrived at the same destination last week after the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team played its last game this season at McGraw Rink.

Senior stars Triolo, Colton, and their eight classmates gathered on the ice with the rest of the their teammates and a contingent of friends, family, and coaches as they savored a 5-2 win over Don Bosco and the 19th win of an historic campaign.

There were hugs, laughs, and rounds of photos as the group held the Zamboni machine at bay for their impromptu party.

Triolo, a lacrosse standout who will be playing at Lehigh next year, wasn’t sure that he would ever become a starter on the ice for the Panthers.

“I was never really the most skilled guy on this team, it is just my grind that has gotten me to where I am today,” said Triolo.

“I think most importantly I was just having fun. Once I committed to Lehigh, I just took off all the pressure of scoring points and doing well on the stat sheet for ice hockey so I was able to just focus on having fun. When you focus on having fun, it turns out that you do get on the stat sheet.”

Colton, for his part, wasn’t even at PDS until he was a junior as he played at Robbinsville before transferring.

“Honestly it was the best experience of my life and probably the best decision I have ever made from academics to athletics,” said Colton, in reflecting on his move to PDS.

“It is the best group of guys that I have ever worked with and coach Scott Bertoli is probably the best hockey coach I have ever had. This whole experience here has been nothing but great and I am really going to miss it.”

The Panthers were determined to produce a great effort in their last home game.

“I think the major thing that was going through our heads is that this was our last career game here at this rink which is huge,” said Triolo.

“We build this program back up with our hard effort and we wanted to make sure that we closed the deal. We wanted to get this win the most; to us, this may have meant more than Prep championships. It is closing out all of your hard work. You want to do a nice job putting the finishing touches on things. We just really wanted to come out hard and make sure that we got the win.”

PDS came out hard against Don Bosco, jumping out to a 2-0 lead 10 minutes into the contest with Colton and younger brother, sophomore star Ross Colton, notching the first two goals.

“It is always big to set the tone,” said Colton. “I was really happy that I was able to get that goal and get it started.”

Colton and his younger brother combined for three goals as the Panthers pulled away from Don Bosco. For the older Colton, it has been a pleasure to take the ice with his sibling.

“The last time we played together before last season was when I was eight and he was six,” said Colton.

“For us to be able to play with each other in my last year of hockey here is amazing. We always know where each other are on the ice and it is definitely something special.”

PDS head coach Bertoli saw the matchup with perennial powerhouse Don Bosco as a special step for the Panther program.

“What I am most proud of is the fact that we are able to play a quality opponent like Don Bosco, getting them in here and having them on the schedule,” said Bertoli, whose team won its Harry Rulon-Miller Invitational in December and shared the state Prep title with Morristown-Beard in February.

“I said to the guys, ‘yes I would love to win this game this afternoon but I am proud of you for even creating this opportunity. You guys as seniors have done so much for this program.’ They have brought this thing back to prominence and there is no question of that. It is one of the top two or three programs in the state the last two years.”

Saying goodbye to his senior contingent isn’t easy for Bertoli. “I’ll never have a group like this, both in number and their impact on the program, their attitude, their effort,” said Bertoli, whose group of seniors also includes Conrad Denise, Connor Walker, Eddie Meyercord, Andrew Clayton, C.J. Young, Taran Auslander, Tucker Triolo (Cody’s cousin), and Grahame Davis in addition to Triolo and Colton.

“It is no coincidence that this program turned around four years ago when this group came in as freshmen. They are just good hockey players and it has been great to watch them grow and evolve and become the confident young men that they are. To go out in the course of the last two years and put up the record that they have put forth is a testament to them and their commitment to the school and the program.”

While the Class of 2013 will leave a major void, its influence on the program will be felt for years to come.

“You are never going to replace what they have brought to the program yet they are not taking the program with them,” noted Bertoli.

“There are a number of quality kids that are here and interested in coming here that will take this and further it. That’s a credit to these kids that are in that locker room. Playing hockey for PDS means a lot to them and they are very proud kids. They should walk around with their heads up high.”

The Panthers gave one more proud effort last weekend as they took second at the Hill School Tournament, falling 2-1 in double overtime to the hosts in the championship game last Sunday to finish the winter with a 21-3-1 record.

For Triolo, seeing the season end is tough but the benefits of the experience will last a lifetime.

“It is definitely hard to let go but at the same time we are moving on and Panther hockey will always be in our blood and we will take that elsewhere,” said Triolo. “It has built character in us so it will still be with us.”

Colton, for his part, is proud of the high level hockey PDS played all winter long.

“When we marked out the four tournaments we were playing in this year, we wanted to be competitive in every single one,” said Colton, who is looking to continue his hockey career at the college level.

There is no doubt that Triolo, Colton, and their fellow seniors have left an indelible mark on PDS boys’ hockey.

SAVING FACE: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey goalie Daisy Mase eyes the puck as she makes a save in recent action. Last weekend, senior star Mase played well as PDS placed fourth in the Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic (WIHLMA) to end the season with a 10-8 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SAVING FACE: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey goalie Daisy Mase eyes the puck as she makes a save in recent action. Last weekend, senior star Mase played well as PDS placed fourth in the Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic (WIHLMA) to end the season with a 10-8 record.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Daisy Mase lost a lot of sleep after she transferred to the Princeton Day School in the fall of 2010 and became the starting goalie for the PDS girls’ hockey team.

“The sophomore year transition was so hard for me; I was living an hour away,” said Mase, who hails from Sicklerville, N.J. and also stars for the Princeton Tiger Lilies club team.

“During sophomore year, we had 8:50 p.m. practices for the Tiger Lilies on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was getting home at 11:30 and then getting up again at 5:30 in the morning, doing homework in between that and sleeping in the car. I had a blanket in my locker at school.”

As Mase took the ice against Summit at McGraw Rink last Wednesday for her Senior Night and last regular season home game, she reflected on how much she has gained from her experience over the last three years.

“I don’t regret anything; PDS has given me so much,” said Mase. “I can’t even imagine my life any differently than what it is now.”

Mase has certainly given the Panthers a lot between the pipes, utilizing her feistiness and talent to emerge as one of the top girls’ goalies in the state.

In a 4-3 win over Summit, Mase flashed her skills, making 25 saves on the evening and withstanding a barrage in the first period as she kept Summit from jumping into the lead.

“It was unexpected but it just kind of happened; I made the saves,” said Mase, referring to her first period heroics.

“I got the confidence to begin with and just went on from there. I would much rather have the constant shots and get peppered with shots than have a random breakaway and then nothing for a while. You get cold and you are sitting there. When I am getting peppered I am not focusing on anything else other than the puck. I am forced to stay focused whereas when I am not getting shots, my mind wanders.”

During the pregame ceremony, Mase became focused on the impending end to her PDS career.

“It didn’t hit me until the music came on that this is the end of my senior year and this is it for me,” said Mase, who is one of three seniors on the PDS squad along with forward Zeeza Cole and defenseman Louise Hutter.

“It was pretty emotional for everyone, they were saying do it for the seniors and just work hard for one of the last games.”

Emotions ran high for Mase last weekend as she wrapped up her career by starring for PDS in the Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic (WIHLMA).

“We are in the A division of WIHLMA for the first time ever,” said Mase. “I am going to be sharper than anything, if I am emotional now I am going to be emotional then.”

Although PDS fell 6-1 to Portledge and 3-2 to Pingry at the tourney to end up fourth, Mase starred, making 28 saves in the Portledge game and then coming back with 34 stops in the loss to the Blues.

For Mase, her experience off the ice at PDS has been just as positive as her work in the crease.

“That has been even better because I had never gone to school with girls that I have played with,” said Mase.

“You never see people you play with in a social situation in school; it was always different. Hockey friends are different than school friends. It doesn’t really seem like it but you are a different person outside and inside school.”

All in all, Mase has become a different person since those sleepless nights three years ago.

“It is just growing up, you are mature,” said Mase, who made 480 saves this winter with a save percentage of .897 to help the Panthers go 10-8 and is considering playing in college at the Division III level.

“You step up as a leader when the team is playing badly. That is the position of the goalie anyway to be the backbone of the team, always keeping positive and motivating the girls. Sometimes you have to give them a little kick, your defense needs that every once in a while. They have to step it up.”

February 13, 2013

 

CONDO VALUE: Princeton University men’s hockey goalie Mike Condon controls the puck in a game earlier this winter. Last weekend, senior netminder Condon came up big as the Tigers posted a 4-2 win at Colgate on Friday and then triumphed 1-0 at Cornell the next day. Condon, who made 36 saves against Colgate and then had 39 in his shutout of the the Big Red, was later named the ECACH Goaltender of the Week. Princeton, now 9-10-4 overall and 7-6-3 ECACH, hosts Clarkson (7-14-7 overall, 6-7-3 ECACH) on February 15 and St. Lawrence (13-11-4 overall, 6-6-4 ECACH) the next day.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CONDO VALUE: Princeton University men’s hockey goalie Mike Condon controls the puck in a game earlier this winter. Last weekend, senior netminder Condon came up big as the Tigers posted a 4-2 win at Colgate on Friday and then triumphed 1-0 at Cornell the next day. Condon, who made 36 saves against Colgate and then had 39 in his shutout of the the Big Red, was later named the ECACH Goaltender of the Week. Princeton, now 9-10-4 overall and 7-6-3 ECACH, hosts Clarkson (7-14-7 overall, 6-7-3 ECACH) on February 15 and St. Lawrence (13-11-4 overall, 6-6-4 ECACH) the next day. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming into last weekend’s trip north to Colgate and Cornell, the Princeton University men’s hockey team hadn’t exactly been road warriors.

The Tigers went 1-7-3 in their first 11 away contests and were coming off a rough New England jaunt which saw them fall 4-2 at No. 8 Yale on February 1 and then absorb a 5-1 setback at Brown the next day.

While Princeton head coach Bob Prier acknowledged that he was disappointed by that weekend, he was confident his team could benefit from the experience. “We tried to forget about it,” said Prier.

“We had a good week. We needed a day off so we didn’t practice on Wednesday. We were pretty tired. The Yale game took a lot out of us. We didn’t play poorly but we didn’t play well enough to win. We weren’t ourselves in the Brown game. We learned from it, we compiled videos of some habits that weren’t strong that weekend. We didn’t watch it as a team. We had the guys watch it on their own.”

Even though the Tigers were down to 16 skaters as they braved the blizzard and made their way to New York last weekend, Prier was upbeat about his team’s prospects against Colgate and Cornell.

“It was a challenge, not a concern,” said Prier. “We had three solid lines and three pairs of defensemen. If we wanted to be successful this weekend, everyone had to pitch in.”

In the early going against Colgate, it looked like undermanned Princeton was on its heels as it was knotted at 1-1 after the first period but had been outshot 18-8.

In the second period, however, the Tigers found their stride, scoring two unanswered goals with Alec Rush and Jack Berger both finding the back of the net. Princeton went on to a 4-2 victory as Jonathan Liau added an insurance goal and senior goalie Mike Condon made 36 saves.

“We had 16 scoring chances and they had nine, we didn’t waste too many opportunities,” said Prier.

“We did a real good job in tight on the goal. We generated a lot of chances and kept them out. It was nice to see Jack get his first goal. Alec got another and Liau got his first. It was nice to get balanced scoring; all three lines were involved. Guys did things they don’t usually do, everyone helped with the penalty killing.”

A night later, Condon did some great things, making 39 saves as Princeton blanked Cornell 1-0.

“Mike was the MVP of the weekend, he was clearly the best player on the ice,” asserted Prier of his netminder who was later named the ECACH Goaltender of the Week for his performance on the trip.

“He made a huge save with a minute and a half left and he made another big one in the second. He came up huge.”

In Prier’s view, his team’s performance before a crowd of 4,267 jamming Lynah Rink marked a huge step forward.

“The guys played really well on the road,” said Prier, whose team got the lone tally of the contest on a second period goal by Andrew Ammon as it improved to 9-10-4 overall and 7-6-3 ECACH, moving into a three-way for third place in the league standings with Rensselaer and Dartmouth.

“Cornell is a hostile environment, their crowd is electric. It is a tough place to win. It gives you a lot of confidence to win on the road like that.”

The play of sizzling netminder Condon, who now sports a goals against average of 2.42 and a save percentage of .926, is making the Tigers tough to beat.

“When your goalie is playing that well, it really gives your team confidence,” asserted Prier of Condon, a 6’2, 195-pound native of Needham, Mass. who is now sixth in the ECACH in goals against and fourth in save percentage. “It makes everyone better, they don’t grip the stick as tightly.”

The play of junior captain Berger together with bruising senior defenseman and assistant captain Michael Sdao helped Princeton enjoy one of its better weekends of the season.

“Jack Berger scored on Friday; we keep stats tracking impact on the game and he was fabulous,” said Prier of Berger, who now has nine points on a goal and eight assists.

“He played like a captain, he played like a leader. Mike Sdao was also outstanding. He kept the puck safe and made things hard on our opponents. He was not on the ice on any of the goals against us. It is great when you have a leader on the front end and one on the back end playing like that.”

Prier is hoping for a great home weekend when Princeton hosts Clarkson (7-14-7 overall, 6-7-3 ECACH) on February 15 and St. Lawrence (13-11-4 overall, 6-6-4 ECACH) the next day.

“We approach every game the same,” said Prier, whose team has a 6-2 record so far this season in the friendly confines of Baker Rink.

“We get their tendencies on special teams but we need to focus on ourselves. We need to sprint to spots. Our transition game is getting so much better. We have got some momentum and we want to use it this weekend.”

HOME DAMAGE: Princeton University men’s basketball player Ian Hummer drives to the basket in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, senior star Hummer scored 15 points in a 63-46 win over Brown to reach 1,455 career points, moving him up to fourth on Princeton’s all-time scoring list. A night later, Hummer scored 14 points but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 69-65 to Yale to see their 21-game home winning streak in Ivy League play snapped. Princeton, now 11-8 overall and 4-1 Ivy, plays at Dartmouth (6-14 overall, 2-4 Ivy) on February 15 and at Harvard (13-7 overall, 5-1 Ivy) a day later.(Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

HOME DAMAGE: Princeton University men’s basketball player Ian Hummer drives to the basket in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, senior star Hummer scored 15 points in a 63-46 win over Brown to reach 1,455 career points, moving him up to fourth on Princeton’s all-time scoring list. A night later, Hummer scored 14 points but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 69-65 to Yale to see their 21-game home winning streak in Ivy League play snapped. Princeton, now 11-8 overall and 4-1 Ivy, plays at Dartmouth (6-14 overall, 2-4 Ivy) on February 15 and at Harvard (13-7 overall, 5-1 Ivy) a day later. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

Ian Hummer moved up two spots on the career scoring list for the Princeton University men’s basketball team last Friday as the Tigers hosted Brown.

The senior forward scored 15 points in Princeton’s 63-46 win over the Bears to give him 1,455 points, moving him up to fourth all-time, passing Craig Robinson ’83 (1,441) and then Pete Campbell ’62 (1,451).

Hummer, though, is focused on the moment, not his place in Tiger hoops history.

“I want to go out and play as best I can, I want to put two halves together,” said Hummer, when asked what the scoring milestones mean to him. “There have been a couple of times where I have had some good first halves … and I have kind of shot away the second half.”

In the victory over Brown, Hummer liked the way the Tigers played collectively.

“A lot of guys are stepping up,” said Hummer. “I think Denton Koon made a couple of jump shots and went 3-for-3 on 3-pointers. Hans [Brase] is playing quite well. Will [Barrett] is playing well. T.J. [Bray] is playing extremely well. Brendan Connolly is really stepping up. Overall, it is an inside-out effort. We have athletic, mobile forwards and guards.”

Still, Hummer saw room for improvement. “Even though it was a good win, we need to rebound better, myself included,” said Hummer.

“A couple of their guys had offensive rebounds. If we cut those out and cut down on our turnovers a little bit, we are looking pretty good.”

A night later against visiting Yale, the Tigers committed 16 turnovers and things didn’t go well as Princeton fell 69-65 to suffer its first loss this winter in Ivy League play.

In reflecting on the setback, Hummer acknowledged that he wasn’t at his sharpest.

“I kind of forced the issue,” said Hummer, who ended up with 14 points, six assists, and five rebounds in the loss which dropped Princeton to 11-8 overall and 4-1 Ivy.

“I had seven turnovers, which is way too many. It is more the fact that I forced a little too much rather than them frustrating me. The last couple of games I have been taking care of the ball and cutting down on my turnovers. This is first game in a little while where I have had a lot of turnovers so I have to play a little better and lead my team.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson tipped his hat to Yale, who shot 65 percent in the first half to lead 34-26 at intermission.

“I thought Yale played lights out,” said Henderson, whose team came into the evening riding a 21-game home winning streak in Ivy play.

“They got us on our heels and we never responded. We never had a counter punch. We made a little bit of a run but it is a disappointing result. I thought they were terrific. They turned us over and we have been taking care of the ball nicely.”

The Tigers had the chance to pull out the win as they had the ball with 38 seconds left in regulation and trailing by 67-65. Princeton, though, couldn’t get a shot and ended up losing the ball and Yale made two free throws to seal the victory.

“At the very end without being able to get a shot off, that really hurt us,” said Henderson, reflecting on that final sequence.

“We wanted to get the ball to the basket. Against a zone, you have to get it inside and I think that pass that was turned over was just a poor angled pass into the post. We just got spread out and there was a lot of deferring; somebody has got to make a play.”

Henderson was disappointed with his team’s failure to make plays on 50/50 balls.

“As a coach of this team and as an alum, I don’t think this is what Princeton basketball should be about,” lamented Henderson.

“We lost a lot of loose balls and we didn’t come up with the rebounds that we needed to come up with. Those things have been hallmarks of this program for a long time.”

Still, Henderson believes that Princeton can live to the program’s tradition of winning Ivy titles.

“We have got nine games left,” said Henderson, whose team trails Harvard (13-7 overall, 5-1 Ivy) in the league standings and plays at Dartmouth (6-14 overall, 2-4 Ivy) on February 15 before playing at the front-running Crimson a day later.

“I never thought we were going to go undefeated in the league. I am disappointed to lose at home; we have been playing really well. I am disappointed and I know the guys are too but we are not hanging our heads for a second here. We are going to get right back out there.”

Hummer, for his part, is confident that the Tigers will remain in the title chase.

“I think we still have the mindset that we are one of the better teams in the league,” said Hummer.

“This doesn’t change it at all. It stinks that we had to lose at home and lose against a team I thought we could play well against.”

COOKING TIME: Princeton University women’s hockey player Kelly Cooke heads up the ice in recent action. Senior forward and assistant captain Cooke has emerged as Princeton’s go-to scorer this winter, tallying a team-high 13 goals in 25 games, the eighth best in ECAC Hockey. The Tigers, now 9-14-2 overall and 4-12-2 in ECACH action, play at No. 6 Clarkson (23-7 overall, 15-3 ECACH) on February 15 and at St. Lawrence (16-11-3 overall, 11-5-2 ECACH) a day later. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

COOKING TIME: Princeton University women’s hockey player Kelly Cooke heads up the ice in recent action. Senior forward and assistant captain Cooke has emerged as Princeton’s go-to scorer this winter, tallying a team-high 13 goals in 25 games, the eighth best in ECAC Hockey. The Tigers, now 9-14-2 overall and 4-12-2 in ECACH action, play at No. 6 Clarkson (23-7 overall, 15-3 ECACH) on February 15 and at St. Lawrence (16-11-3 overall, 11-5-2 ECACH) a day later.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After scoring a total of 11 goals in her first three seasons on the Princeton University women’s hockey team, Kelly Cooke has saved her best for last.

The gritty 5’1 forward has emerged as Princeton’s go-to scorer in her senior season, tallying a team-high 13 goals in 25 games, the eighth best in ECAC Hockey.

For Cooke, her outburst has been a bit surprising, even to her. “I don’t know; I think it is partly desperation,” said Cooke, a native of Andover, Mass. who starred at Noble and Greenough before coming to Princeton.

“I think a lot of it is playing with Corey [classmate Corey Stearns]. We played together in high school. We have played all year together and it has worked out well for both of us. She is such a great playmaker. I have been getting lucky, she has been setting me up all year.”

Coming into its game against visiting Cornell last Saturday, Cooke and the Tigers were desperate to bounce back from a disappointing 6-1 loss to Colgate the day before.

“I think every one realized after last night that in order to make the playoffs, we have to play our hearts out every night,” said Cooke, who scored Princeton’s lone goal in the defeat to Colgate.

The Tigers went out and fought the No. 4 Big Red tooth-and-nail, trailing just 1-0 heading into the third period.

“It was great that everyone came back and played the way we did today,” said Cooke. “We had all of our lines and defensive pairs playing well tonight which gave us a chance to win.”

Princeton tied the game at 1-1 with 18:04 left in regulation and it looked like the Tigers might pull off the upset. But the Big Red scored seven minutes later and went on to a 4-1 victory as Princeton dropped to 9-14-2 overall and 4-12-2 in ECACH play.

“We hung on for a long time and once we got that goal, we definitely had the momentum,” recalled Cooke. “But when they scored, it took the wind out of our sails.”

Cooke and classmates Stearns and Alex Kinney have made a habit of hanging out together before games this winter.

“It is crazy how fast time flies; you always hear that from the seniors when you are coming up through the ranks,” said Cooke.

“After the first warmup, Kinney, Corey, and I always sit in the stands for just a minute or two before we go to the locker room. It was weird sitting there today, knowing that we are not going to come back here as players.”

For Cooke, moving up the ranks to serve as an assistant captain this season has presented some challenges.

“It is definitely tough,” said Cooke. “Our coaches always say that instead of just worrying about yourself, you have to worry about the whole team which is a tough place to be but it is also great to see the team grow throughout the year.”

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal wanted his team to show some growth in the wake of its disappointing performance against Colgate.

“Yesterday was really unfortunate; we were really flat,” said Kampersal. “It was just a real bummer, we laid a big egg. That was a humongous game; it is still not over for us but that was a humongous game. Today, the kids wanted it. I thought yesterday, they didn’t want it as much as Colgate did. Today they wanted it badly.”

In Kampersal’s view, the team brought some extra emotion to the table on Saturday, knowing it was the last home game for the seniors and that it had fallen to ninth place in the ECACH standings, one spot out of a playoff berth.

“It was Senior Day and the fact that they know that every point right now is really critical,” said Kampersal

“Cornell scored a really nice goal there at the end to make it 2-1. They made a nice zone entry and a nice catch. They are a really skilled team and they made the most of their chances but I thought Kim [freshman goalie Kimberly Newell] played great and everybody played really well, staying out of the box and doing the little things, all that stuff that we didn’t do the day before.”

Cooke has certainly done a lot of good stuff this winter for the Tigers. “Cookie has had a humongous year, no question,” said Kampersal.

“She brings a lot of heart and soul with a lot of quickness and good penalty killing. She has scored some big goals this year. I think that her and Corey playing together helps.”

The Tigers have also been sparked by the play of Stearns and Kinney. “Corey is a really good playmaker, she is a dynamite puck handler and passer,” asserted Kampersal of Stearns, who leads Princeton in scoring with 27 points on four goals and 23 assists.

“Kinney has had a good solid senior year, no question. She had some big goals earlier in the year. She has been a steady, calm player.”

Princeton will need to come up with some big goals if they are to get back into the top eight and earn a spot in the ECACH playoffs.

“We have to get points in the north country, no question and then it is the Yale, Brown weekend,” said Kampersal, whose team plays at sixth-ranked Clarkson (23-7 overall, 15-3 ECACH) on February 15 and at St. Lawrence (16-11-3 overall, 11-5-2 ECACH) a day later. “Hopefully that will set up to be another playoff weekend, we’ll see.”

Cooke, for her part, believes that the Tigers have the spirit to force their way into the playoff picture.

“We all brought it tonight and the will was just to compete with a team that is fourth in the country like that; it shows a lot about our team’s will,” said Cooke.

“We have definitely hit rock bottom at times but we have always managed to come out of it. We had great games against Yale and Brown last weekend; we were really flowing well. I definitely think that if we play this way next weekend and the weekend after, we are good to be in the playoffs.”

No matter what happens, Cooke is enjoying the way she has played in her final campaign.

“I guess we have been appreciating it all year, we knew it was going to come to an end so we definitely savor our moments,” said Cooke, who now has 44 points in her Tiger career on 24 goals and 20 assists. “Corey and I are having the seasons of our life so it has been a pretty fun ride so far.”

TOURNAMENT RUN: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Scott Bechler drives to the basket in a game earlier this season. Last week, senior guard Bechler scored a game-high 15 points to help PHS rally from a 19-5 deficit to pull out a 53-45 win over Nottingham. The Little Tigers, now 10-8, host Hamilton on February 14 before starting play in the Mercer County Tournament where they are seeded eighth and will host No. 9 Nottingham in an opening round contest on February 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TOURNAMENT RUN: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Scott Bechler drives to the basket in a game earlier this season. Last week, senior guard Bechler scored a game-high 15 points to help PHS rally from a 19-5 deficit to pull out a 53-45 win over Nottingham. The Little Tigers, now 10-8, host Hamilton on February 14 before starting play in the Mercer County Tournament where they are seeded eighth and will host No. 9 Nottingham in an opening round contest on February 16.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton High boys’ basketball team, last week proved to be a good preview of the challenges it will face in postseason play.

PHS started the week by rallying from a 19-5 deficit to defeat Nottingham 53-45 on February 4. Three days later, the Little Tigers took on a powerful Hillsborough squad and fell 55-39.

In the view of PHS head coach Mark Shelley, his team displayed the fortitude it will need to make a deep playoff run with its comeback win against the Northstars.

“We showed a lot of character,” said Shelley, whose team outscored Nottingham 20-9 in the second quarter to take a 23-22 halftime lead and then sealed the deal with an 18-7 fourth quarter.

“We told them they don’t have to do it all at once and that to focus on just winning that quarter. We got hot, Scott [Bechler] hit a couple of threes and we got back into it pretty fast.”

The Little Tigers also produced the scoring balance necessary to thrive in tournament time as senior guard Bechler tallied 15 points with Elliott Golden adding 12 and Lior Levy and Cal O’Meara chipping in eight points apiece.

“That’s when we play our best; that is when we are harder to guard and we are passing well,” said Shelley.

Against Hillsborough, PHS got to test its skills against a high level foe. “My thought when we played Hillsborough is that it is as good a team as we will see,” said Shelley.

“They are not as dynamic as Notre Dame in the sense that don’t have three quality players like them. They have a bunch of really solid players and they play a really good zone. They are long and athletic. We only had 15 points at halftime and we were running good offense. We just couldn’t get shots to fall and we had a few too many turnovers. It was nice to play them at this point of the season, it had zero bearing on the state tournament and it didn’t affect our division.”

It will be nice for PHS to end the regular season with a home game against Hamilton on February 14 as it prepares for the postseason push.

“We are going to come out hard in practice on Tuesday and have a lighter day on Wednesday,” said Shelley, noting that the team lost practice time and had a game with Florence cancelled due to the snow storm that hit the area last weekend.

“It is good to have a game on Thursday and get tuned back up. Hopefully we can have a good game.”

Having been seeded eighth in the upcoming Mercer County Tournament, Shelley believes the Little Tigers can do some damage against its local rivals.

“I do [think we can make a good run] but we have to take it one game at a time,” said Shelley, whose team has a 10-8 record and will host ninth-seeded Nottingham on February 16 in the opening round of the MCT.

“There is Notre Dame (No. 1 seed) out there, that makes it tough. We played Trenton, WW/P-S, Ewing, and PDS, we were competitive with all of them. Notre Dame is the only team where the guys have been wide-eyed so it is a challenge.”

In the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional, PHS has been seeded fourth and will host No. 13 Hopewell Valley on February 26 in an opening round contest looking to turn the tables on a Bulldog squad that beat PHS in the first game of the season.

“We love our seed in the state; HoVal is better now but so are we,” added Shelley.

“We didn’t play good defense that night and it was the first game under my system. We know we are going to have at least one home game and maybe two.”

In order to do well in the playoffs, PHS needs to stick to its system. “I think it comes down to fundamentals and sharing the ball,” said Shelley.

“We have to do what we do and do it well. If we are playing our matchup zone well, we should be able to contain anybody. We are leading the CVC in defense (giving up 51.9 points a game), which we are very proud of.”

The Little Tigers will also need to play with the resolve it displayed in the comeback win over Nottingham.

“The mindset has to be confident but calm,” asserted Shelley. “We can’t get too hyped up or nervous. There is a certain element in the postseason of physical and mental toughness. The basketball is more rugged.”

BELL CURVE: Princeton High wrestler Victor Bell, left, takes on a foe in recent action at 195 pounds. Sophomore Bell is one of the young wrestlers who has been gaining valuable experience this winter for PHS.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BELL CURVE: Princeton High wrestler Victor Bell, left, takes on a foe in recent action at 195 pounds. Sophomore Bell is one of the young wrestlers who has been gaining valuable experience this winter for PHS. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Undergoing a youth movement and being hit with a number of injuries, the Princeton High wrestling team has taken more than its share of lumps this winter.

As PHS head coach Rashone Johnson has guided his team through its rocky road, he feels that this year’s struggles will pay dividends in the long run.

“These growing pains will help us for the future,” said Johnson. “We have gained toughness; we have had to build and rebuild. I am hoping that by going through this now we won’t have to go through this in the future. Some of the injuries are out of your control, that is the nature of the sport. But what you can help is the readiness for the season. They need to train to start, believing that they will be one of the guys whose number is going to be called.”

The numbers worked out well for PHS last week as it posted a 50-20 win at WW/P-N in improving to 3-12.

“I definitely feel like that was a good step; we needed it,” said Johnson, reflecting on the February 5 victory which saw Will Meisel (138 pounds), David Klinges (170), and James Gate (182) each win by pin with Patrick Sockler (126) posting a technical fall. “With the injury-laden season, we have had a run of just falling short.”

In Johnson’s view, senior star Klinges, who has wrestled most of the season at 160, is putting together a fine last run and should be a factor at the upcoming district competition.

“Klinges has given everything he has, he is battle-tested,” said Johnson. “This year, 160 has been a wide-open weight class. He took fourth in the districts last year so he has a better idea of what to expect. I am looking for him to be at regionals, I think he is picking it up and peaking at the right time.”

Another senior, Will Harrison, has picked things up considerably over his PHS career.

“If you had the opportunity to see him as a freshman and what he is like now, it is night and day,” said Johnson of Harrison, who was recently named as the winner of the Gary Dambro Excellence Award, which goes to a county wrestler who shows courage and determination throughout the season.

“He couldn’t chew gum and walk straight at the same time. The biggest area of progress is confidence. His confidence has been a huge area of progress. I don’t mean on the mat but how he carries himself in school and in his life.”

Johnson is looking for a trio of sophomores, Patrick Sockler, Thomas Miers, and Victor Bell, to carry the team in the future.

“Patrick and Thomas have both done well, they have had their moments,” said Johnson.

“I feel they both just need to be more consistent. Unfortunately Bell had to sit out last week due to injury. He is going to be solid; I am expecting big things from Victor Bell.”

In Johnson’s view, PHS could do some big things over the next few years.

“We have been a senior, upperclassmen team and the underclassmen could enjoy life and have a good time on JV,” said Johnson, whose team hosts Burlington Institute of Technology on February 13 before competing in districts.

“The upperclassmen now are sophomores and juniors. These guys are still learning how to wrestle. They know a lot of wrestling moves, they just have to put things together. We are going slow and steady as we try to improve.”

BIG MAC: Hun School boys’ basketball senior star Grant ­Mackay takes the ball to the basket in recent action. Last Monday, 6’7 senior forward Mackay came up big, scoring a game-high 12 points as Hun defeated Lawrenceville 46-31 in the championship game of the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL). The Raiders, now 19-5, will wrap up their season by competing in the state Prep A tournament where fifth-seeded Hun will play at No. 4 Peddie on February 13 in an opening round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BIG MAC: Hun School boys’ basketball senior star Grant ­Mackay takes the ball to the basket in recent action. Last Monday, 6’7 senior forward Mackay came up big, scoring a game-high 12 points as Hun defeated Lawrenceville 46-31 in the championship game of the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL). The Raiders, now 19-5, will wrap up their season by competing in the state Prep A tournament where fifth-seeded Hun will play at No. 4 Peddie on February 13 in an opening round contest.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Trailing the Hill School by 10 points entering the fourth quarter last Saturday in the opening round of the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) tournament, the Hun School boys’ basketball team didn’t appear to be heading to a title.

But outscoring sixth-seeded Hill 19-7 over the last eight minutes of the contest, third-seeded Hun pulled out an improbable 37-35 win as Hashim Moore hit a lay-up with 0.1 seconds left on the clock.

Hun head coach Jon Stone acknowledged that his mind was on survival, not trophies, as the teams headed into the waning moments of the contest.

“I was thinking how I am getting out of this with a win,” recalled Stone, who got 15 points from senior star Fergus Duke in the win including a three-pointer to tie the score at 35-35.

“We were a couple of seconds and a basket away from not winning. You have to make your breaks, sometimes you are lucky and sometimes it comes from hard work.”

Building on the momentum from that narrow escape, Hun kept winning as it topped host and No. 2 seed Peddie 49-38 on Sunday in the MAPL semis and then defeated No. 1 Lawrenceville 46-31 on Monday evening to win the title.

The victory over the Big Red in the championship game was particularly sweet since Hun had dropped a 47-45 overtime thriller at Lawrenceville on January 22 in the regular season meeting between the rivals.

“We knew that they were a very good team; we were hoping for a different result,” said Stone, reflecting on the earlier loss.

In Stone’s view, achieving a better result on Monday came down to mental toughness.

“We were focused today,” said Stone, who got 12 points from Grant Mackay in the win with Duke and Moore chipping in 11 apiece.

“We came out with a goal in mind and we made big plays. It was a big team effort. I told the guys in the locker room afterward that everybody was a part of it. The guys that didn’t play, work hard everyday in practice and push the other guys. The guys that did get in each made big plays.”

The Raiders have been getting big plays from senior stars Mackay and Duke all winter. “Grant is so good and so tough,” said Stone, whose team outscored the Big Red 14-4 in the fourth quarter to pull away to the victory.

“He doesn’t fill the scoreboard but he always fills the scoresheet. He does so much. He hit four 3’s tonight, he is playing so well. When they got close tonight, Fergus hit a couple of 3s and had an assist. They have hit big buckets all year long for us.”

It was a big moment for Stone as the Raiders celebrated their first MAPL crown since 2009.

“It is fantastic; I am very happy,” said Stone, whose team improved to 19-5 with the victory. “You play for winning this and the states. It is all the hard work paying off.”

In addition to putting in a lot of hard work, Hun’s players have developed bonds that helped them get through the ups and downs this winter.

“I think we had good chemistry from the beginning but it has grown and deepened,” said Stone. “This team has learned from its losses and gotten better.”

Stone is hoping his team can play even better as it wraps up its season by competing in the state Prep A tournament where fifth-seeded Hun will play at No. 4 Peddie on February 13 in an opening round contest.

“We have a hard game on Wednesday to come back here against Peddie,” said Stone.

“We have to build on this. I think we just need to stay focused on the task at hand and keep getting the leadership that we have had from the veterans.”