October 16, 2013
STICKING OUT: Princeton Day School field hockey player Sarah Brennan looks for the ball in recent action. Last Thursday, senior star midfielder Brennan scored a goal to help PDS upset South Hunterdon 5-3 as the Panthers improved to 6-7. In upcoming action, PDS hosts New Hope-Solebury (Pa.) on October 16 in its regular season finale before starting action in the Mercer County Tournament where it is seeded ninth and will be playing at No. 8 and defending champion Lawrenceville.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STICKING OUT: Princeton Day School field hockey player Sarah Brennan looks for the ball in recent action. Last Thursday, senior star midfielder Brennan scored a goal to help PDS upset South Hunterdon 5-3 as the Panthers improved to 6-7. In upcoming action, PDS hosts New Hope-Solebury (Pa.) on October 16 in its regular season finale before starting action in the Mercer County Tournament where it is seeded ninth and will be playing at No. 8 and defending champion Lawrenceville. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Tracey Arndt realized that her Princeton Day School field hockey team faced a major challenge when it hosted cross-town rival Princeton High last Wednesday.

“We knew Princeton was going to be a great team, they always are,” said PDS head coach Arndt, whose team entered the day with six losses on the year while PHS had only two defeats on its ledger.

“We saw them in the summer when we were training and then we saw them in the preseason so we just knew that it was going to be a battle.”

PDS showed its fighting spirit against the Little Tigers as the game proved to be a taut contest from beginning to end. The teams were knotted in a scoreless tie at halftime. The underdog Panthers took a 1-0 lead midway through the second half on a goal by senior star Mary Travers. The Little Tigers, though, responded with two goals down the stretch to pull out a hard-earned 2-1 victory.

Afterward Arndt spent extra time consoling her disappointed players, lauding them for their effort in a losing cause.

“One of our focuses was to keep possession and do what is best for each other, make each other look good,” said Arndt.

“Except for the result, I am really proud of how our girls played. It was a matter of pulling it together and making it really cohesive. I think they kept possession so well. We were knocking on the door and we got one in during the second half, which was awesome.”

A day later, the Panthers broke through with a signature win, posting a 5-3 victory over a South Hunterdon squad that brought a 12-1 record into the contest. Senior star Emma Quigley scored two goals in the victory while classmates Emily Goldman, Sarah Brennan, and Travers added one apiece with junior goalie Katie Alden making 10 saves.

In Arndt’s view, the skill and leadership of her quartet of senior captains, Brennan, Goldman, Quigley, and Travers, has held the team together through the ups and downs of a fall that has seen the Panthers go 6-7.

“The four of them have been tremendous,” asserted Arndt. “I think they all have great skills and leadership on the field. I have asked so much of them. I have asked them to play several different positions. I have asked them to do things off the field because I am not in the building. I think the world of them. They have been great athletes and people.”

With the county and state Prep B tournaments around the corner, Arndt believes her team can do some great things in the postseason.

“I say we are in a good situation,” said Arndt, whose team hosts New Hope-Solebury (Pa.) on October 16 in its regular season finale before starting action in the Mercer County Tournament where it is seeded ninth and will be playing at No. 8 and defending champion Lawrenceville.

“As a coach, you always want to peak at the right time. I absolutely think we tried our best today and we had really awesome moments of hockey so I am really proud of the girls and I am looking forward to the games to come.”

FEELING HIS WAY: Hun School boys’ soccer player Felix ­Dalstein dribbles the ball up the field in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, Dalstein and the Raiders fought hard but came up short as they lost 2-1 in overtime at the Blair Academy. Hun, now 4-7, hosts the Hill School (Pa.) on October 19 before starting play in the Mercer County Tournament and state Prep A tourney.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FEELING HIS WAY: Hun School boys’ soccer player Felix ­Dalstein dribbles the ball up the field in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, Dalstein and the Raiders fought hard but came up short as they lost 2-1 in overtime at the Blair Academy. Hun, now 4-7, hosts the Hill School (Pa.) on October 19 before starting play in the Mercer County Tournament and state Prep A tourney. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Showing its potential, the Hun School boys’ soccer team recently reeled off a three-game winning streak as it bounced back from a 1-4 start.

But in the last week, Hun has slipped, losing three straight games with its latest defeat coming when it fell 2-1 at the Blair School in overtime last Saturday.

Hun head coach Pat Quirk acknowledges that he has been frustrated by his team’s failure to build on the run of good form. “It was a confidence builder,” said Quirk, referring to the winning streak. “We were taking so many steps forward and now we took a step back with the Blair game.”

While Quirk had no qualms with his team’s effort against Blair in its Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) opener, he noted that Hun wasn’t sharp when it needed to be.

“It was not the result we wanted,” said Quirk, who got a goal from Andres Gonzalez in the loss to Blair which left the Raiders at 4-7.

“We got off to a slow start, they got a goal in the first two or three minutes.  We were able to tie it but we couldn’t convert our chances later on. We hit a post and we hit some wide. There was a mix up on a free kick at the end which led to their goal.”

The Hun defense has been unsettled as senior goalie Chris Meinert was sidelined after a 5-1 win over the Princeton Day School on October 2.

“Chris Meinert suffered five fractures in his face in the PDS game,” said Quirk.

“We brought Taylor Heilman in because had played some soccer before. He made 20 saves against St. Benedict’s in his first game. He is still learning the position. Chris is hoping to be back in a week or so. He should be back just as we start the county tournament.”

Quirk is confident the Raiders can get back on the right track. “I think we just need to regain some confidence,” said Quirk.

“We have a week off before our next game against Hill on Saturday. We have a few things to work on, starting with our finishing. We will be working on conditioning until Thursday. We need to work on defending free kicks and corner kicks.”

The team is relying on its trio of senior stars, Bailey Hammer, Felix Dalstein, and Gonzalez, to give it some good work.

“Bailey and Felix need to step it up, they have to realize that they are seniors and this is it for them,” said Quirk.

“They have the ability to play at an exceptional level. When they elevate their game along with Andres Gonzalez, the rest of the team does too.”

With the Raiders competing in the upcoming Mercer County Tournament and the state Prep A tourney as well as going for the MAPL crown, Quirk knows that his team has plenty to play for.

“I am getting excited about the county tournament,” said Quirk. “I think we could get a seed in the middle and we have a chance to win some games. I tell the guys they have three opportunities to make a name for ourselves with counties, Prep A, and MAPL.”

October 9, 2013

sports1Things didn’t start off well for the Princeton University football team last Saturday as it hosted Columbia in the Ivy League opener for both squads.

In its first possession, Princeton went three-and-out with two incomplete passes and a three-yard run. Minutes later, the Tigers shot themselves in the foot as they had two touchdowns called back due to penalties and then missed a field goal as the game remained scoreless midway through the first quarter.

But those early stumbles seemed like ancient history by the end of an afternoon that saw Princeton roll to a 53-7 rout of Columbia, piling up 629 yards of total offense in the process as it improved to 2-1 overall while the Lions dropped to 0-3.

In so doing, the Tigers made history as their 53-point output was the second straight game in which they hit the 50-point mark in the wake of a 50-22 win over Georgetown on September 28, marking the first time the program has scored at least 50 points in back-to-back games since the 1907 campaign when it did so against Bucknell and Wesleyan.

While junior quarterback Quinn Epperly, who triggered the onslaught as he threw four touchdown passes and ran for two more, was proud of the team’s historical accomplishment, he doesn’t think fans will have to wait for a century to see more such offensive fireworks.

“It is what we have been practicing for,” said Epperly, who connected on 19-of-25 passes for 272 yards and rushed for 54 yards on 11 carries.

“We knew what we were capable of. We knew this is what should be the usual and we haven’t been performing up to the standard in years past. This is really just the beginning of what should be a very high scoring offense.”

In Epperly’s view, the team’s offensive prowess comes down to a simple formula.

“I think it is just hard work,” said Epperly, who was later named the Ivy Offensive Player of the Week for his performance.

“We have been up here, not just me, but almost all of the guys have been up here all summer, working and throwing multiple times a week and working out everyday. I think the work that we have put in is finally starting to pay off. It is not finished nor have we done much so far you are starting to see a little bit of what it is about and how it is paying off.”

A beaming Princeton head coach Bob Surace was pleased with the second straight 50-point outburst but sounded a cautionary note.

“I told the guys I was proud of them,” said Surace. “You can’t take anybody lightly, especially us from what we have been through. We need to continue to practice well, we need to practice with effort and play focused football. I told them that I am going to watch that video and there are going to be as many corrections this week as there have been. We got a punt blocked; we had scores called back because of penalties. Our kickoff coverage was inadequate so we are going to work on some things and we have to keep improving. The teams we play week to week are going to be quality opponents and we have got to get better.”

Although the Tiger offense turned heads, Surace was quick to credit the defensive effort as Princeton held Columbia to five first downs, -6 yards rushing, and 139 yards of total offense.

“It is a team thing, it is not just the offense.” asserted Surace. “When we struggled and had an early drive and didn’t get much and then we had two scores taken off the board and then missed a field goal, we just kept playing. The defense kept getting the ball back so I do think there is a team concept to that. I think they really complemented each other well. It seems like that is the best we have played since I have been here in forcing three-and-outs.”

Senior linebacker Jason Ray, who had five tackles on the day, said the defense did gain strength from offense’s dominance.

“When they have long drives, we have more time to rest,” said Ray. “Since Lehigh, we really had a focus of getting off the field on third down. When we are fresh coming out there after the offense scores on a 12-play drive, it makes a big impact on us because we are able to give it all we have on those three downs and get off the field.”

The first of those long scoring drives came late in the first quarter when Princeton marched 85 yards on seven plays to go ahead 7-0 after Epperly hit Roman Wilson with a 13-yard touchdown pass.

The Tigers ended the quarter in the middle of a drive which culminated with an Epperly touchdown run of three yards to make it a 14-0 game with 14:26 left in the half. That march covered 62 yards on nine plays.

Princeton increased its lead to 22-0 when it went 80 yards on 10 plays as Epperly hit Seth DeValve for a 20-yard scoring strike. Tyler Roth hit Joe Bonura with a pass for a two-point conversion.

Epperly ran and passed the Tigers down the field on its next possession. The junior lefty rushed for 19 yards and threw for 30 more as Princeton marched 63 yards in 13 plays, scoring on an Epperly pass to Wilson to put the Tigers ahead 29-0.

After Columbia struck for its only score of the game on a 70-yard pass play, the Tigers were on the move again. With Epperly finding Matt Costello for a 39-yard pass play, Princeton got to the Lion 20. For the third time of the half, Epperly  chucked a TD pass to Wilson, this one covering 20 yards as the Tigers took a 36-7 lead into intermission. Senior Wilson ended the day with  nine catches for 144 yards and those three touchdowns.

In the second half, Princeton pounded Columbia into submission, scoring on an Epperly one-yard TD run and a Nolan Bieck field goal in the third quarter to make it 46-7. Early in the fourth quarter, sophomore Dre Nelson got loose for the Tigers, racing 55 yards to the Columbia nine and then sprinting to paydirt on the next play for the final score of the day as Princeton eclipsed the 50-point mark to go up 53-7.

Basking in the glow of the win, Surace pointed to the team’s unity as a key factor in its success.

“Everybody is together in the locker room after a game or a practice. That is the only way you can work with multiple quarterbacks, multiple receivers, multiple running backs. You really see a true team. Alex Ford is getting a pick at the end and the guys are going nuts. Having played on some good teams and having coached some good teams, that camaraderie is important. They are not all going to be like this. There are going to be a lot of tough, tight games.”

With Princeton hosting a tough Patriot League foe Lafayette (1-3) this Saturday, Surace is determined to keep his team from resting on its laurels.

“There is that phrase, you are either coaching it or allowing it to happen,” said Surace.

“Last week, everybody is patting our guys on the back and everybody is telling them how good they are. I know the errors that we made. You are not going to win games against certain teams if you have a blocked punt. If you can’t execute field goals better, that is not going to happen. When you get points taken off the board twice in a series, that is a hard thing. So we have corrections to make if we are going to play better against Lafayette.”

Epperly, for his part, believes that Princeton is primed to play better and better as the fall unfolds. “I definitely think that we are all very confident and know what we can do,” said Epperly.

“I think now it is just going out and proving it and with every win, I think more confidence is going to come.”

 

sports2Cassidy Arner has been around the Princeton University field hockey program for nearly half her life.

As a middle schooler, she watched her older sister, Candi, a star for Princeton from 2005-09 who was a two-time All-Ivy League performer.

The younger Arner kept the family’s Princeton tradition alive, joining the Tiger program in 2011.

After making 31 appearances off the bench in her first two seasons with the team, junior Arner has worked her way into the starting lineup this fall.

“I have been coming to games for so long and I always wanted to be part of it,” said Arner. “It is a great thing for me to finally be on the field. This feels awesome.”

Last Friday against visiting Columbia, Arner did some great things for 11th-ranked Princeton, scoring two first half goals as the Tigers overwhelmed the Lions 5-0, improving to 6-3 overall and 3-0 Ivy League.

In reflecting on the tallies, which were her first two scores of the season, Arner said she was in the right place at the right time.

“It happened really quickly; Amanda Bird just gave an amazing aerial over to me,” said Arner, assessing her first goal, which came just 24 seconds into the contest.

“I could not have asked for a better pass or a better set-up. I was just lucky to be there. That play on the second goal was just an amazing give and go from Allegra Mango. Again, my teammates just set me up perfectly. That is the great part about being on Princeton field hockey.”

A recent change of position from defense to midfield has helped Arner take a bigger part in the Tiger attack.

“This is my second game playing midfield; I was defense before at the beginning of the year,” said Arner.

“I am really liking it. It has taken some getting used to, hopefully this trend continues. I think it definitely helps my confidence; it is always nice to score. It was just getting used to the position and getting used to taking shots, which is not something I have been doing in the past.”

In the win Friday, Princeton peppered Columbia, building a 31-4 edge in shots on the evening as it scored its five goals in the first half and cruised from there.

 “We did a really good job of clicking and persisting in the circle, which is what we talk about a lot in practice,” said Arner.

“Kristen [Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn] always says be strong on the ball in the circle, don’t let it out. I think tonight we were really threatening in there for the first time.”

Holmes-Winn, for her part, liked the way her team attacked the game. “We just wanted them to be really decisive within the parameters of the game plan,” said Holmes-Winn, who got two goals from junior Allison Evans in the win over the Lions with freshman Cat Caro also scoring as defending national champion Princeton won its 16th straight Ivy contest.

“I think we did a very good job of stretching Columbia out and playing the simple ball, which is something we have been talking about, and training on a lot. I thought they performed well, especially in the first half.”

Arner’s performance certainly gave the Tigers a lift. “Cassie has been playing halfback for us and she has been working really hard since moving to that wing position,” said Holmes-Winn.

“She was very threatening, which is something we have been asking that position to be. She delivered so that was really good to see.”

Princeton also played some really good defense in the victory over the Lions.

“It starts with the strikers and goes through the midfield and the backs,” said Holmes-Winn.

“When you defend, it is absolutely a team effort and every single line is responsible for getting good pressure on the ball and making sure that we are layering in behind. I thought that was a real highlight.”

While Princeton has been under pressure, having lost three of its last five games coming into Friday, Holmes-Winn believes her squad is heading in the right direction.

“We haven’t turned the corner yet but I think we are getting closer,” said Holmes-Winn.

“This team has a major upside, which is so encouraging. We just have to keep prioritizing and just kind of tic-tacking our way through the things we know we need to do better to get to that next level. We are nowhere near our potential, which is really exciting. We have to keep making progress, though.”

Noting that the team’s losses came to Top-10 teams (Penn State, Syracuse, and Connecticut), Holmes-Winn believes those setbacks could sow the seeds for  success later in the season.

“I never like to lose and I don’t think you have to lose to learn lessons,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team is next in action when it plays at top-ranked Maryland (10-0) on October 11 and at Delaware (8-3) on October 13.

“You play those teams so you can learn about yourself. It’s not about where we are now; it is about where we are in November. We need those games so we understand what we can do and what we can’t do. Then we can kind of create around those boundaries so we are playing within our means because that is critical in terms of long term success.”

In Arner’s view, the win over Columbia is a harbinger of good things to come.

“I think this was a step forward for our confidence and just knowing that we are able to be scrappy like that,” said Arner.

“It is really going to count in the games coming up. I think all the pieces are definitely there. It is just about coming to the game with the mentality we had in the first half here, attacking, threatening, and playing with confidence.”

 

sports3As the Princeton High boys’ soccer team has dealt with losing 12 seniors from last year’s state championship team, the defense has been a particular area of concern this fall.

The Little Tigers, who tied Ramapo 1-1 last December in the state Group III finals, lost their whole starting backline to graduation.

For Dalton Sekelsky, who moved into the starting center half position this fall for his senior campaign, there were some nervous moments early on.

“I thought there would be a little bit of trouble,” said Sekelsky. “We saw that in the first week of preseason in the summer but we have pulled it together and we are pretty solid.”

Last Thursday, Sekelsky and the PHS defense showed that it is becoming more than solid as the Little Tigers blanked Steinert 2-0. It was the fifth straight shutout of the Little Tigers, who last surrendered a goal against Hightstown on September 10 in the first half of a 2-1 win.

In Sekelsky’s view, the clean sheet against Steinert was another step forward in the growth of the new defensive unit.

“It has been a good development for them coming into this season,” said Sekelsky.

“They are pretty big kids. They are pretty good with the ball, they don’t lose it too much.”

As the veteran member of the backline group, Sekelsky has taken extra responsibility on his shoulders. “I try to keep everybody focused in the midfield and the back,” noted Sekelsky.

The Little Tigers had an extra motivation to win the game in the wake of PHS christening its new turf field in late September.

“We wanted to win this game and keep a tradition going on this new turf,” said Sekelsky. “None of the soccer teams or field hockey has lost on it yet.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe knew that his team faced a fight with the Spartans as the teams have traditionally played hard-fought battles.

“It is always a good test, always a very close game,” said Sutcliffe.

“Last year, I think it was 1-0 us in the second overtime. Credit to Steinert and their play, I just thought we found a way to win today.”

With the game knotted in a scoreless tie at halftime, PHS ratcheted up its intensity over the last 40 minutes of the contest.

“I felt like we got a little more familiar with things as the game went on,” said Sutcliffe.

“We pressed on; we were able to find one another better. We were able to get into the front third and hit the final pass a little better and find one another a little better.”

PHS broke the ice when freshman Andrew Goldsmith tallied his first career goal with 16:50 remaining in regulation.

“There was a good bit of play that preceded the goal,” said Sutcliffe. “Nick Halliday hit a good square ball to him and credit to Andrew for hitting a first-time, left-footed shot off the post. He will remember that for a long time.”

The combination of seniors Kevin Halliday and John Blair produced some good play in tallying the second goal as Blair chased down a ball and then Halliday volleyed a shot that deflected off a Steinert defender and found the back of the net.

“Kevin’s mentality in and around the area is to let it fly and take some chances and that is what happens sometimes,” said Sutcliffe, whose team topped Ewing 4-0 last Thursday to improve to 7-1-1 with Blair contributing a goal and two assists and Halliday adding a goal. “But credit to John Blair for really doing the hard work prior to that, that really put us in a good spot.”

Sutcliffe likes the mentality his rebuilt defense has been showing as it has now gone nearly a month without yielding a score.

“We keep working hard to improve on that; we are fine-tuning things,” said Sutcliffe. “I am very proud of another clean sheet. It is a lot of progress.”

In Sutcliffe’s view, Sekelsky’s improvement is a big reason for the success of the defense.

“Dalton has been fantastic, he just keeps getting better and better every week,” said Sutcliffe. “His feet are getting better, his touch is getting better. He is just reading the game and the little nuances of the game.

Junior goalie Laurenz Reimitz has also been a bright spot, getting better and better with a year of starting experience under his belt.

“What a great stride Laurenz had made; all credit to him, he has worked so hard,” said Sutcliffe.

“In training, we have really emphasized hitting a lot of flighted balls into him and putting him under pressure. He is doing well in commanding the box and communicating with the back four. He has put himself in a position where we not only trust him, but we can relay on him in a big game. I am so happy about that.”

With his team riding an 8-game unbeaten streak, Sutcliffe is very happy with how things are going.

“We are so focused on the little things on the field,” said Sutcliffe, whose team plays at WW/P-N on October 12 before hosting Nottingham on October 15.

“The record is one thing and that is the most important thing in the end. In terms of our quality, we are playing better soccer. We have been able to keep the ball primarily and have been better in and around the penalty area.”

Sekelsky, for his part, believes things are going to end well for the Little Tigers this fall.

“I am pretty sure we can go for a state championship again,” said Sekelsky. “This is how we started out last season and we are going in a good direction.”

 

Start of boys raceWhile Mark Shelley is hoping for good results in his first year guiding the Princeton High boys’ cross country team, he is more focused on building the foundation for success.

“I am process-oriented,” said Shelley, who joined the program as an assistant coach last year before replacing John Woodside as head coach this fall.

“I don’t talk about beating WW/P-S, for instance, I talk about running the best race possible. I am really focused on daily development. We really, really try for a developmental approach: we try to not put pressure on the runners.”

Last Saturday, PHS handled the pressure of the Shore Coaches Invitational with aplomb, taking third of 24 teams in the Varsity C race.

“We had a lot of guys set personal bests at Holmdel and others got their first experience. Our No. 3 runner [Kevin Vahdat] dropped out due to a leg problem, which was smart. If he had run his regular race, we could have won.”

Junior star Jacob Rist ran a terrific race, taking fifth overall in a time of 16:53.

“Jacob is very coachable,” said Shelley. “He listens carefully and asks good questions about training. He has perfect running form. Last year he was in the high 18s at the Shore meet and was at 17:30s in the state meet so he improved by 30 seconds. Breaking 17 at Holmdel is legit.”

PHS boasts another legit star in battle-tested senior Conor Donahue, the eighth-place finisher at the Shore meet in a time of 17:04. “Conor is very knowledgeable about the sport,” said Shelley.

“He understands his body and the difference between being sore and injured. He struggled with quad tightness and Jim Smirk has really helped him with that. Conor has been a leader for us, not just in running. The seniors have done a very good job working with the younger runners and setting a good example. Cross country is a sport that requires a lot of self-discipline.”

Freshman Alex Roth has done a good job of following the example set by the PHS veterans, taking 18th last Saturday in a time of 17:37.

“He has taken off tremendously, he has been in the low 17s,” said Shelley, noting that the program has a good group of freshmen, including Ty Watsky, who ran an 18:15 time in the JV race at the Shore meet.

“We are trying to keep him within the process. He was hurt a little bit and we had him ride the bike for a few days so he could get his legs back. Alex has been humble; he doesn’t say a lot, he just goes about his business.”

With the county and sectional competitions coming up in a few weeks, Shelly is hoping that his team can take care of business when it counts most.

“I want them to be fast at the right time,” said Shelley, who hopes to have Vahdat and senior Anders Berg at full health in time for those events.

“We have the potential to be competitive in the big meets. To win an elite race, we have to have all our key runners do well on the same day. We want to run our best races at the right time; that is the goal going into the counties and sectionals.”

 

sports6When Neeraj Devulapalli started doing volunteer work five years ago for the National Junior Tennis and Learning of Trenton (NJTLT), his focus was local.

“I liked the experience and what I started to realize is that the kids at NJTLT only played once a week when they were there,” said Devulapalli, a senior at the Princeton Day School and a boys’ tennis star for the Panthers.

“They had no opportunity to carry it on outside of that, like they can with a sport like basketball. They have the tennis courts at Cadwalader Park but they didn’t have the equipment. They couldn’t just go across the street and get a tennis racket. I wanted to make tennis more accessible. I wanted it to be a more common sport in the area.”

As a result, Devulapalli started gathering tennis equipment for the Trenton youths, putting out collection boxes at the Garden State Tennis Academy in Edison where he trains.

But as Devulapalli got involved in that effort, he realized that the needs stretched far wider than the Trenton area.

“I did a lot of research online and found others doing the same thing,” said Devulapalli.

“I didn’t want to send the equipment to one place,
I wanted to make it a broader, more global thing.”

As a result, he created “Game Set Health!,” a non-profit organization dedicated to collecting and donating used tennis rackets, balls, and equipment across the globe to those in need.

To date, Game Set Health has donated over 1,000 tennis balls, 150 rackets, and other equipment such as shoes, clothes, and strings to New York, Florida, Kenya, India, and Canada in addition to New Jersey.

“The first shipment went to New York, Florida, Canada, and Kenya,” said Devulapalli. “It was 40 balls, 40 rackets, other equipment.”

In order to make that donation, Devulapalli had to navigate through logistical and financial issues.

“I went to UPS in North Brunswick and the first shipment was going to cost $2,000 if they shipped it,” recalled Devulapalli.

“They agreed to pack it for free and then I took it USPS in Kendall Park and we sent it at the less expensive USPS rate. It is a drill now.”

Getting the 501(c)(3) charter status for his organization was another challenge for Devulapalli.

“In the summer after my freshman year, the organization was formally started,” said Devulapalli.

“The 501(c)(3) process takes a while. There is a lot of paper work and it is hard for an underage person to get it started. I needed five adults over 21 who weren’t family to support me.”

Devulapalli has found support for his efforts across the world. “We have formed a network of tennis charities,” said Devulapalli, whose group is global partners with the Victoria Tennis Academy in Kisumu City, Kenya.

“We will have 4-way Skype conference with one guy in Italy and another in Atlanta to talk about ways to increase shipments and figure out more organizations to get involved.”

The recipients of the equipment have shown their gratitude in a number of ways.

“The most prevalent follow-ups are in the form of pictures,” said Devulapalli. “The guy from Kenya is really good about that. The kids are really underprivileged there; they are not only getting rackets and balls, they are getting clothing. I have pictures of kids wearing the clothing to school. The places in Florida and Toronto send me letters; the kids thank you so much.”

Devulapalli is thankful for the equipment donors who have stepped up. “It is a really good feeling, it is great to see how willing people are to help,” said Devulapalli, noting that he has received equipment from as far away as Arkansas and Ohio. “I can see that people care so much.”

While Devulapalli is heading off to college next fall, he is more than willing to maintain the organization.

“I am 100 percent planning to keep this going when I am in college,” said Devulapalli, who is opening a website, gamesethealth.org, and hopes to organize a tennis/soccer tournament at PDS to raise money for the effort.

“My parents and family have really helped a lot. My mom knows the shipment drill. I am trying to recruit members by trying to get local involvement in schools.”

For Devulapalli, managing the organization has definitely been a labor of love.

“It is a year-round enterprise,” said Devulapalli. “I spend 15-20 hours in a tough week and 6-8 hours in other weeks. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to have a global impact. It is fulfilling; it is fun.”

 

For much of the first half last Wednesday, the Princeton Day School boys’ soccer team held its own as it hosted cross-town rival Hun.

After surrendering a goal at the 12-minute mark, PDS tightened up defensively until the waning moments of the half when Hun tallied with 3:20 remaining to take a 2-0 lead into intermission.

The roof fell in for the Panthers in the beginning of the second half as they surrendered two goals in the first three minutes on the way to a 5-1 loss.

PDS head coach Malcolm Murphy acknowledged that it was a tough day for his side.

“It was one of those games, the changes of circumstance hurt us,” said Murphy.

sports5“We tried to play out of the back and I thought for 15 minutes we were keeping the ball very well. One thing happens and because of the youthfulness of the side, they panic and can’t settle down any more.”

The combination at forward of junior Marco Pinheiro and senior Culver Duquette were on the ball as they put pressure on the Hun defense.

“I think Marco and Culver certainly led the line,” said Murphy, who got a goal from Pinheiro in the second half of the Hun game on a penalty kick.

“They were enterprising, they were creative. They brought a new dynamic. They went at them and did not let the opposition settle. They kept the speed of the game up; the tempo was tremendously high. They brought in a lot of subs by then but it still didn’t change the dynamic. They were keeping their back four honest certainly.”

Along the backline, junior Christian Vik provided some dynamic play for the Panthers.

“We took one of the forwards, Christian Vik, and put him at central defender,” said Murphy. “He played extremely well back there.”

With PDS hosting Rutgers Prep on October 10 before playing at Pennington on October 15, Murphy is hoping that his squad will show some forward movement.

“Now with the accumulation of injuries and just moving people around, we have got last year’s midfield and forwards playing in the back,” said Murphy, whose team was missing five players due to injury last Saturday as it fell 5-0 to the Lawrenceville School to drop to 3-5-2.

“It will work itself out and if it doesn’t this year, it will give them some experience for next year. They are a young squad. There is still hope. You play it as it goes.”

 

sports7Even though the Hun School girls’ soccer team lost 4-2 to Pennington School last week in falling to 0-7 on the season, Joanna Hallac liked what she saw from her players.

“We came out playing real hard,” said Hun first-year head coach Hallac, whose team led 2-1 at halftime against Pennington. “We didn’t hold on to the lead but it gave the girls hope and motivation.”

Last Friday against visiting Springside/Chestnut Hill Academy (Pa.), Hun came out hard again and took a 1-0 lead at intermission. This time, the Raiders built on the halftime advantage and pulled away to a 4-0 victory.

“We were really due for a win and the girls were convinced that it would come on Friday,” said Hallac, who got goals from Marleigh Nociti, Ashley Maziarz, Jess Johnson, and Tanya Clark in the triumph.

“We put it all together for 80 minutes. We were playing well from the start but at halftime I told them we were letting Springside hang around and we needed to play even better. We played a great second half and really took care of business. It was really nice to see.”

Two of the team’s veterans, senior tri-captain Olivia Braender-Carr and junior tri-captain Maziarz, have been doing well for the Raiders.

“I have tried Braender-Carr in the midfield but she makes such good runs out of the back and distributes the ball so well that I am keeping her on defense,” said Hallac of Braender-Carr, who tallied two assists in the win on Friday.

“Ashley Maziarz has come back and having her out there is a calming presence; she settles things through the back and the midfield.”

Some of the squad’s younger players are calming down on the field. “Abby Gray has been close to scoring, she is really coming along,” said Hallac of the freshman, who picked up an assist against Springside.

“Marleigh Nociti has been playing well.  She is really fast and she is using her speed to her advantage. She is not just firing shots, she is combining.”

Hallac and her players were fired up to break into the win column. “It was a relief,” said Hallac, who previously served as a head coach at Weston High (Conn.).

“It is hard going into a new situation and knowing what they have done in the past and what the expectations are. The girls really needed this. They have been playing well but they needed validation in the form of a win.”

In the wake of the victory, Hallac is hoping her team can start rolling as it opens its Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) campaign this Saturday at the Blair Academy.

“I told them I would rather peak in the middle and at the end; we are heading into the meat of our schedule,” said Hallac.

“We need to work on consistency of effort and consistency of play. We need to play the ball on the ground and possess it offensively. We have talked about capitalizing on opportunities, both on mistakes by our opponents and when we get a shot. We also can’t make lapses that give the other teams chances.”

 

sports8In the first three games of the season, the Hun School football team has done a lot of good things.

The Raiders have displayed an ability to move the ball on the ground and in the air. In the trenches, they have been physical and hard-nosed.

But a failure to take care of the ball has left the Raiders without a win to show for their good work. The latest case in point came last Saturday when Hun made four turnovers in falling 30-14 at Germantown Academy (Pa.).

“That seems to be a recurring theme,” said Hun head coach John Law in reflecting on his team’s sloppiness with the ball.

“We have cleaned up a lot of things but the last thing that we have to take care of is the turnovers. What is frustrating for us is that these kids can play.”

As a result, Law and his coaches are going to harp on playing error-free football.

“We need to be mentally complete; we need to play a complete game,” said Law.

“We play a schedule that is good and that is what we want. We are going to do some drills this week focusing on ball security.”

Hun is getting some very good play at running back from junior Christopher Sharp, who had a big game in a losing cause last Saturday, gaining 182 yards on 19 carries, including a 75-yard touchdown jaunt.

“That is what has got us excited; we have some young kids handling the ball who are really talented,” said Law.

“It was a breakout game for Christopher. He is a special kid, he is learning how to read holes and trust the holes and when to break it out. He is a rising star.”

Senior linebacker/running back Colton Jay Jumper has emerged as a star for the Raiders in his first year with the program.

“Jumper is a leader for us on defense, we’ll go as he goes,” asserted Law of the Lookout Mountain, Tenn. native. “He has a nose for the ball. He hadn’t run the ball at his other school. We have him doing lead blocking and running the ball in short yardage situations.

Another leader for Hun has been senior receiver/defensive back Cam Dudeck. “I think Cam Dudeck is making catches and is helping us on defense,” said Law of Dudeck, who made six receptions for 49 yards last Saturday.

“I am really happy with him. He has been so consistent and I hope that rubs off on some of the other players.”

As Hun prepares to play at the Blair Academy on October 12 in its Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) opener, Law knows that his team has to play more consistently to knock off the Buccaneers.

“It is always a big one for us,” said Law. “It will be an old-fashioned slugfest. They know us and we know them. It is a heavyweight fight with the last one standing as the winner and hopefully that will be us. The kids are ready to go, we have some talented kids. We are not surviving the mistakes right now. A win would give them great momentum.”

 

l-r Hun #8 and Stuart #6Over the first 10 games of the season, Madison Kirton hadn’t scored a goal for the Stuart Country Day School field hockey team.

But as Stuart hosted WW/P-N last Thursday, junior forward Kirton produced a breakthrough effort, scoring a goal as time ran out in the first half and then tallying again three minutes into the second half.

Sparked by Kirton’s heroics, Stuart pulled away to a 4-1 victory over the Northern Knights as it improved to 4-7.

Afterward, a beaming Kirton acknowledged that she was thrilled to find the back of the cage. “I was in a little bit of a slump so definitely this built up my confidence and it built up everybody’s confidence,” said Kirton.

Although Stuart had lost 4-0 to Hun a day before the WW/P-N contest, Kirton had the sense that the Tartans were poised for a big performance.

“We definitely took what we learned off the field yesterday and applied it today,” said Kirton. “We were more aggressive today and we tried to communicate more on and off the field. I think just supporting each other was the biggest thing that helped us win today.”

While Stuart dominated possession in the early stages of the contest, it was a goal by sophomore star Tori Hannah midway through the first half that got things rolling in the right direction for the Tartans.

“Tori definitely set the tone for the game today,” said Kirton. “That goal in the first half made us more tenacious.”

Kirton displayed her tenacity minutes later when she got loose in the circle and banged home a feed from sophomore Sam Servis to give the Tartans a 2-0 lead at halftime.

“I was paying attention to Sam,” recalled Kirton. “We have learned to be aware of where everyone is on the field. She had a great pass to me and I just got my stick there.”

After WW/P-N scored a goal early in the second half to make it a 2-1 game, Kirton struck again, converting a pass from Servis into her second tally.

“You can’t let it effect you when they score,” said Kirton. “You just have to keep battling and that’s what we did. The score for us doesn’t really matter, it is more how you play the game and you come back. I was definitely more aggressive in the circle today.”

Kirton certainly enjoys playing with Servis as the two are developing a solid connection on attack.

“We definitely look for each other because she is the right inner and I am the left so it is easy to do those crosses,” said Kirton. “We try to play with each other up the field.”

Stuart head coach Missy Bruvik liked the way that her team performed all over the field in the victory over WW/P-N.

“I thought all of them played well,” asserted Bruvik. “The win was a total team effort and everyone’s contributions were timely and significant to the outcome. I think every player felt she had a solid performance and was inspired by her teammates’ efforts.”

Bruvik acknowledged that Kirton’s finishing touch proved to be inspirational for the Tartans. “Madison had two big goals,” said Bruvik. “I thought her, as well as the rest of the kids, were positioning themselves beautifully. We are doing a better job of anticipating; before we were doing way too much watching the game. We have been working on a lot of full field transition, where you need to be off ball.”

Sophomore Hannah has been giving Stuart a needed spark on the offensive end.

“We brought a freshman up, Izzy Engel, who has done a nice job at that right midfield spot which allows Tori more freedom to push up,” explained Bruvik. “Tori is really playing an offensive mid. She is defensive minded but it gives her a chance to carry the ball and see her teammates and put the ball on goal herself. She has always had that innate athletic ability but the stick skills are just more consistent right now.”

In Bruvik’s view, the win over WW/P-N is a sign that her team is developing better consistency. “I think it is a confidence builder,” said Bruvik, whose team hosts the Blair Academy on October 9 in its annual Play for the Cure breast cancer awareness fundraiser.

“They were looking for each other better. They are filling the spaces better and trying to put the ball into the spaces better. It was just timing and sheer effort today.”

Kirton, for her part, believes things are looking up for the Tartans. “I think moving forward we are ready to end the season with a bang,” said Kirton.

 

October 2, 2013
GROUND CONTROL: Princeton University quarterback Quinn ­Epperly heads up the field in recent action. Last Saturday, junior star Epperly scored four touchdowns rushing to help Princeton top Georgetown 50-22. Epperly became the first Tiger to tally four rushing touchdowns in a game since legendary running back Keith Elias accomplished the feat in 1993. The Tigers piled up 326 yards on the ground against the Hoyas in improving to 1-1. Epperly gained 69 yards on five carries, highlighted by a 59-yard touchdown jaunt in the second half. Princeton hosts Columbia (0-2) on October 5 in the Ivy League opener for both teams.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GROUND CONTROL: Princeton University quarterback Quinn ­Epperly heads up the field in recent action. Last Saturday, junior star Epperly scored four touchdowns rushing to help Princeton top Georgetown 50-22. Epperly became the first Tiger to tally four rushing touchdowns in a game since legendary running back Keith Elias accomplished the feat in 1993. The Tigers piled up 326 yards on the ground against the Hoyas in improving to 1-1. Epperly gained 69 yards on five carries, highlighted by a 59-yard touchdown jaunt in the second half. Princeton hosts Columbia (0-2) on October 5 in the Ivy League opener for both teams. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In routing Georgetown 50-22 last Saturday, the Princeton University football team did something it hadn’t accomplished in nearly 13 years.

It marked the first time a Tiger squad had reached the 50-point mark in a game since a 55-28 win over Brown on October 19, 2000.

But as a measure of the heightened expectations around a Princeton program that went 5-5 last fall after back-to-back 1-9 seasons, Tiger head coach Bob Surace wasn’t thrilled by his team’s performance in the win over the Hoyas.

“We didn’t play great by any means,” said Surace, whose team improved to 1-1 with the victory.

“We missed a lot of opportunities in the second quarter. We still have a lot of room to grow. It is good to get a win and be correcting things off of that.”

But coming a week after Princeton had squandered a 22-3 halftime lead in losing 29-28 to No. 18 Lehigh, Surace was happy to see his team close the deal as it outscored the 1-4 Hoyas 21-7 in the second half after building a 29-15 lead by intermission.

“We used the term finish,” said Surace. “It is not just finishing games, it is finishing plays. In the Lehigh game, they converted on third and fourth downs by inches and we had opportunities to get first downs and we came up just short.”

The Tigers came up big in the running game Saturday, gaining 326 yards on the ground with Brian Mills leading the way with 110 yards and junior quarterback Quinn Epperly rushing for four touchdowns, becoming the first Tiger to do so since legendary running back Keith Elias accomplished the feat in 1993.

“Each week we look at ways to run the ball,” noted Surace. “We have a good stable of running backs and we have some quarterbacks who can run the ball. We have been good with the ball handling so far. In week one, DiAndre Atwater had more than 100 yards and this week, Mills had more than 100. We have been running the ball hard and finishing runs. The receivers are blocking well downfield. I have really been happy with that.”

Surace wasn’t happy to see his team fall behind 12-8 last Saturday. “We were up 8-0 and they had a really good drive and got a touchdown,” said Surace. “We got the ball in bad field position and they ruled a play a fumble and we didn’t see it that way. It is one of those things that happens, whether it is right or wrong, you have to go to the next play. The sports analytic people say there is no such thing as momentum. Momentum is your next day’s starting pitcher or the next play.”

The Tigers did regain some momentum, forging ahead 15-12 on a one-yard touchdown run by Epperly late in the first quarter and then building the lead to 22-12 one possession later as Mills bolted 53 yards for a touchdown.

Strong defensive play helped the Tigers hold the fort when they hit a lull offensively in the second quarter.

“I like that we complemented each other in the second quarter,” said Surace.

“We struggled with our protection on offense and our defense played unbelievable. We scored on the last drive of the half and then we got the ball back in the second half and scored on the first drive. We got the ball back and scored again. It was a really good sign.”

Surace is hoping for another good effort by his squad as it hosts Columbia (0-2) on October 5 in the Ivy league opener for both teams.

“We are both 0-0 in the league,” said Surace. “We have had our home opener and we have had our road opener and we have handled things well. I hope that playing a team like Lehigh (now 4-0 and ranked 10/13 nationally) will help us down the road, they beat New Hampshire on Saturday.”

In Surace’s view, Columbia has the ability to beat anyone in the Ivy League.

“They have a running back, Marcorus Garrett, who was first-team All-Ivy, he is as good as it gets, he is averaging 7 or 8 yards a carry,” said Surace of the back who has 240 yards on 30 carries this season.

“The scores in their games have dictated that they throw the ball. Any time you have a running back like that, there is a chance that you can get into a slugfest. Their receivers have been doing a good job. They have a quarterback [Trevor McDonagh] starting his second game; he is a good football player. He is a kid we really liked. On defense, they are a strong group up front and they have speed on the back end.”

While Columbia has suffered two lopsided losses this season, falling 52-7 to Fordham and 37-14 to Monmouth, Surace believes the scores are deceiving.

“They have struggled with turnovers; I think they have made eight turnovers in two games and that is a hard way to win,” said Surace.

“Pete Mangurian is a great coach, he was in the NFL forever. The fear is that they clean up the turnovers.”

If Princeton can build on its effort against Georgetown, it could clean up in the matchup against the Lions.

“I thought the first game we didn’t finish and last week we took a step in the right direction,” said Surace.

“I think the effort showed up in the box score. We have played together, how we handle success is key.”

MILLER TIME: Princeton University men’s soccer player Josh Miller gets ready to clear the ball in recent action. Sophomore defender Miller has been a bright spot for the Tigers, who fell 1-0 in overtime to Florida Gulf Coast University, to move to 2-5 on the season. The Tigers open their Ivy League campaign when they play at Dartmouth (4-0-3) on October 5.

MILLER TIME: Princeton University men’s soccer player Josh Miller gets ready to clear the ball in recent action. Sophomore defender Miller has been a bright spot for the Tigers, who fell 1-0 in overtime to Florida Gulf Coast University, to move to 2-5 on the season. The Tigers open their Ivy League campaign when they play at Dartmouth (4-0-3) on October 5.

Hosting Florida International (FIU) on Friday and Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) two days later, the Princeton University men’s soccer got off to a slow start in both contests.

On Friday, the Tigers were outshot 11-3 by FIU in the first half but were able to eke out a 1-0 lead at intermission and then pull away to a 4-2 victory as Cameron Porter and Thomas Sanner each scored two goals.

Things didn’t go so well on Sunday, however, when Princeton fell 1-0 in overtime as it was outplayed in the first half and was unable to find the back of the net over the last 40 minutes of regulation despite outshooting FGCU 12-4 in that stretch.

In the wake of the loss to FGCU, Princeton head coach Jim Barlow made no effort to hide his frustration.

“We had a really, really tough first half and put ourselves in position to lose a close game because we started so poorly,” said Barlow, whose team dropped to 2-5 with the setback to the Eagles.

“Gulf Coast was pretty sharp in the first half but we just weren’t ready to play today. It was the same the other night. FIU killed us in the first half. I don’t know why we are starting so slowly and taking such a long time to get into it.”

While Princeton did get into a better rhythm in the second half, it was too little, too late.

“The second half was better; we did create chances but we didn’t put them away,” said Barlow.

“There is just so much parity in college soccer, to play well in spurts like that is giving the other team a chance to win the game on one play. We didn’t really give a chance away after halftime until the first overtime when they got two chances. It was a big game for us and we didn’t come out sharp. It is frustrating. We see a lot of potential in spurts and in stretches but we would like to be able to count on a certain level of play from enough guys in every game so you know what you are going to get from game to game.”

The Tigers are getting a high level of play from defenders Billy McGuinness and Josh Miller along with midfielder Myles McGinley.

“Billy McGuinness and Josh Miller were awesome; those two guys are just so rock solid in the center back,” said Barlow.

“When we are having days where we are playing really poorly like we were in the first half, those two guys are still putting out fires and bailing people out and saving the day time and time again. Those two guys deserve a lot of credit when a lot of guys in front of them are having bad days. It is good to have Myles healthy again. That was a plus for the weekend, having gone a few games without him. He is an important player for us and he had a pretty good second half too.”

As Princeton starts its Ivy League campaign with a game at Dartmouth (4-0-3) on October 5, it is going to be important for the Tigers to show urgency from the opening whistle.

“Every Ivy League game is such a battle and the competing part is raised to an even higher level so that part is going to be really important,” said Barlow.

“If we have stretches like we did in the first half today we are in trouble. So how you work on that is a challenge we will have to figure out during a week of training. We know we have the talent to beat anyone on our schedule if we are sharp. We also know that we have a lot of good teams on our schedule who can beat us. So it is going to be a lot of close games like it always is and we have got to get better.”

FIRST LOOK: Princeton University women’s soccer player ­Jesse McDonough keeps her eye on the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, freshman midfielder McDonough scored her first college goal but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 3-2 to visiting Yale in overtime in the Ivy League opener for both teams. The Tigers, now 4-2-2 overall and 0-1 Ivy, play at Dartmouth on October 5.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FIRST LOOK: Princeton University women’s soccer player ­Jesse McDonough keeps her eye on the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, freshman midfielder McDonough scored her first college goal but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 3-2 to visiting Yale in overtime in the Ivy League opener for both teams. The Tigers, now 4-2-2 overall and 0-1 Ivy, play at Dartmouth on October 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

A year ago, the Princeton University women’s soccer team rallied from an early deficit to pull out a 2-1 overtime win at Yale in the Ivy League opener.

The bounces went the Tigers’ way in that contest as they prevailed when a Bulldog player inadvertently headed in a ball into her own goal on a throw in.

That victory helped catapult Princeton on a memorable campaign which saw it go 7-0 in Ivy play and advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Last Saturday when the rivals met to start their 2013 league campaign, Yale turned the tables on the Tigers, rallying from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 to force overtime and then winning the contest 3-2 on a goal against the run of the play.

In reflecting on the setback, a disappointed Princeton head coach Julie Shackford acknowledged that her squad let one get away.

“I thought we did enough to win; we just didn’t finish our chances,” said Shackford, whose team outshot Yale 22-16 on the afternoon, including 4-1 in the extra session. “You can’t let those leads slip away. That was disappointing.”

The Tigers were in the lead much of the day as they jumped ahead 1-0 with 14:28 remaining in the first half as freshman Jesse McDonough converted a feed from junior Lauren Lazo for her first career goal.

After Yale knotted the game at 1-1 early in the second half, Princeton forged back ahead 2-1 as freshman Haley Chow found the back of the net on a scramble in front of the goal for her first career tally. The Bulldogs tied the game up at 2-2 minutes later on a goal by Melissa Gavin and neither team scored over the rest of regulation.

In the first overtime, Princeton put the pressure on, generating four shots and dominating possession. But Yale got loose on a counterattack and Paula Hagopian scored to win the game with 1:16 left in the first extra session.

The breakthrough tallies by McDonough and Chow were highlights for the Tigers.

“I thought Jesse McDonough did well,” said Shackford, whose team moved to 4-2-2 overall.

“I thought Haley Chow came in and did well for us. We definitely have some freshmen who are making contributions.”

While Princeton definitely had its moments, it didn’t show consistency. “It just wasn’t our day,” said Shackford.

“We just weren’t on top of the game for as long as we usually are. There were not enough stretches where we were dominant. I definitely think there were some defensive lapses.”

Despite the lapse against Yale, Shackford is confident that her squad will be in the thick of the Ivy race this fall.

“It was unfortunate; it was a tough Ivy League battle,” said Shackford, whose team gets back into Ivy action when it plays at Dartmouth on October 5.

“We have just got to stick together; as we know it is tough to go through the Ivy League undefeated.”

TOP FLIGHT: Princeton High girls’ tennis star Christina Rosca hits a backhand last Wednesday on her way to a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Claudia Siniakowicz of WW/P-S in the first singles title match at the Mercer County Tournament (MCT). Sparked by Rosca’s heroics, PHS placed second of 19 schools in the MCT team standings, piling up 20.5 points as it finished just behind WW/P-S, which had 24 points.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TOP FLIGHT: Princeton High girls’ tennis star Christina Rosca hits a backhand last Wednesday on her way to a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Claudia Siniakowicz of WW/P-S in the first singles title match at the Mercer County Tournament (MCT). Sparked by Rosca’s heroics, PHS placed second of 19 schools in the MCT team standings, piling up 20.5 points as it finished just behind WW/P-S, which had 24 points. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After finishing second at first singles at the Mercer County Tournament (MCT) last fall as a freshman and being seeded No.1 coming into this year’s tourney, it would have been understandable if Christina Rosca felt some pressure.

But Princeton High sophomore Rosca wasn’t fazed by the attention coming her way.

“I didn’t really think about it that much,” said Rosca. “I don’t usually look at draws even in normal tournaments that I play. I just go out and play each point as well as I can, so I never really felt pressure.”

Rosca ended up playing extremely well at the MCT, rolling to the title without losing a set. In the championship match, Rosca posted a 6-1, 6-0 win over Claudia Siniakowicz of WW/P-S.

“I thought my serve was very accurate this match,” said Rosca, reflecting on her performance in the final. I was really happy with how I served. Also I think I did a great job with attacking and coming to the net.”

Sparked by Rosca’s heroics, PHS placed second of 19 schools in the MCT team standings, piling up 20.5 points as it finished just behind WW/P-S, which had 24 points.

For Rosca, moving one spot up the ladder at first singles was satisfying. “I am very happy that I was able to play well this year and win,” said Rosca.

“Last year, I was a little disappointed that I lost but there was no shame in losing to Sam [former Princeton Day School star and current Wake Forest player Samantha Asch] because she was an exceptional player. I am definitely happy that I was able to play well and do it.”

Rosca has worked hard to become an exceptional player in her own right.

“I think my serve has improved a lot,” asserted Rosca. “Also I think my movement and footwork has gotten better. I am able to transition into the net more efficiently and faster.”

PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert is thrilled with what Rosca brings to the team.

“Obviously Chris was a highlight for us winning at first singles,” said Hibbert.

“She has continued working hard. She has really upped all aspects of her game. She can put a lot of pace on the ball but she does have other options to fall back on as well. She is a team player as well. She enjoys being out there, rooting for the other girls. She wins her matches and she doesn’t take off. Instead she goes around and sees who else is playing which is really nice.”

The Little Tigers produced other highlights at the MCT as the first doubles team of Allison Hubert and Nikhita Salgame took second as did the the second doubles pair of Zhenia Dementyev and Gillian Samios. Rory Lewis placed third at second singles while Katelyn Hojelbane took fourth at third singles.

“Overall, we had a good tournament,” said Hibbert. “We got four through to the finals. That’s certainly a great showing. Especially considering that the doubles were moved around, split up a little bit, and didn’t have very much warning.”

The play of Lewis and Hojelbane at singles showed the depth of the Little Tigers.

“Rory won the third place match 0 and 0; she could have played a little bit better in her semifinal match and I think she feels that way as well,” said Hibbert. “But to recover from that and turn around and play such an impressive third place match is important. Katelyn was hoping to have that happen last year but with her sliding up to second singles she was put in a tougher position. She has worked really hard.”

The PHS doubles teams were in a tough position coming into the tournament as the lineups were recently shuffled after Chenchen Wang decided to take the fall off to give a knee injury more time to heal.

“We were scrambling a little bit to put pairings together but I am really pleased with the way both teams played,” said Hibbert, whose team topped WW/P-N 5-0 in a dual match on Monday and hosts Notre Dame on October 2 before playing at Hopewell Valley on October 4 and at WW/P-S on October 8.

“They both made the finals which is impressive in a tough county. We are planning on going forward with these girls since the teams did well here. We are going to try to keep these pairings intact. Their positions may swap.”

Hibbert is hoping that the MCT will help toughen up her team for another deep run in the state tournament.

“It is a lot of matches and it is good competition between the best teams in the county,” said Hibbert, who guided the Little Tigers to the Group III state championship match in 2012.

“It looks like it is one of the closer first and second place finishes. We are very pleased with that result and we hope it will help us going forward.”

In Rosca’s view, PHS has the potential to produce some good results over the rest of the fall in the wake of its effort at the county tourney.

“It definitely gives us a lot of confidence, especially the new pairings, because we didn’t really know how things would turn out in this tournament,” said Rosca.

“They were a little nervous. I think that they did really well. I think we are grouped very well and we can be a great team this year.”

HELL-RAISER: Princeton High football player Liam Helstrom celebrates after scoring a touchdown in 2012 action. Last Friday, senior receiver/linebacker Helstom caught a touchdown pass in a losing cause as PHS fell 27-14 at WW/P-S. Helstrom had seven receptions for 71 yards in the contest along with 11 tackles and two forced fumbles. The Little Tigers, now 0-3, will look to get in the win column when they play at Hamilton (0-3) on October 5.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HELL-RAISER: Princeton High football player Liam Helstrom celebrates after scoring a touchdown in 2012 action. Last Friday, senior receiver/linebacker Helstom caught a touchdown pass in a losing cause as PHS fell 27-14 at WW/P-S. Helstrom had seven receptions for 71 yards in the contest along with 11 tackles and two forced fumbles. The Little Tigers, now 0-3, will look to get in the win column when they play at Hamilton (0-3) on October 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton High football team trailed WW/P-S 27-7 last Friday night with a few minutes remaining in the game, Liam Helstrom wasn’t about to throw in the towel.

With PHS senior star Helstrom making some key receptions, including a 5-yard touchdown catch with 54.5 seconds left, the Little Tigers made it a 27-14 final.

“That just shows, as coach [Charlie Gallagher] says, the kind of team that we are,” said Helstrom, who made a total of seven catches for 71 yards on the evening in the defeat which left PHS at 0-3.

“We weren’t going to win the game but I am not out there to slack off and put my head down. I am out there to play football; it is my senior year.”

Entering the evening, PHS believed it could play a good game against WW/P-S.

“We came out thinking we were going to win the game,” said Helstrom. “South was 0-2, we were 0-2. We had a good thing going, we thought we could beat them from watching film. A couple of plays didn’t go our way at the beginning.”

In the early stages of the contest, the Little Tigers made some big plays as the game was knotted at 7-7 after one quarter with PHS scoring on a Sam Smallzman quarterback sneak after falling behind 7-0.

In the second quarter, PHS got outscored 13-0 to trail 20-7 at halftime. In the third quarter, the Little Tigers had a 15-play drive but got nothing to show for it. WW/P-S scored a touchdown with 4:24 left in the fourth to go up 27-7 before PHS went its late drive to close out the scoring for the evening.

While PHS was fighting an uphill battle for most of the contest, Helstrom enjoyed the struggle.

“I had fun the whole game,” said Helstrom. “Even when I am down, I am still busting hard. I didn’t want these kids to think that they could just stroll in on us and just roll through their homecoming. I was just going to pop them every once in a while.”

Having played tight end last season, Helstrom is having fun as he has switched to wide receiver.

“Playing tight end taught me a lot about using my hands, plus going into the weight room and thinking about going up against these big 250-pound guys, I had to lift a lot more,” said the 6’2, 185-pound Helstrom, who bench presses 285 pounds.

“Now I am out here against 150-pound kids running track. I have what they call deceptive speed.”

Helstrom also utilizes his power and speed on defense as he starts at linebacker after previously playing at defensive end.

“They moved me to linebacker,” said Helstrom, who had 11 tackles and 2 forced fumbles in the WW/P-S game.

“I always thought of myself as more of a defensive end. It’s good for the power that they got going. So there are holes and cutback lanes that I find. Sam [Smallzman] is telling me what to do; he is a real good linebacker.”

PHS first-year head coach Gallagher saw good effort from his players against WW/P-S.

“We have got a lot of fight; I think that is our motto right now,” said Gallagher.

We play good football from the beginning to the end. We are a little thin on numbers and everybody is going both ways. We got players playing with banged up knees and one got knocked in the head tonight and is possibly concussed.”

Gallagher acknowledged that PHS took a hit when Will Harrison broke his collarbone against Hightstown on September 20.

“We only have three seniors right now,” said Gallagher. “We have one senior, Will Harrison, who is out for the season. He is our star running back, free safety, punt returner, kick returner, PAT holder. We had to step up; we did a nice job with that. He’ll be missed all year. He has been with this program for four years and it is just heartbreaking.”

The Little Tigers are depending on Helstrom together with junior Smallzman, junior Colin Buckley, and sophomore Rory Helstrom, Liam’s younger brother, to show a lot of heart.

“Liam is a great football player, he loves playing football,” asserted Gallagher.

“Sam Smallzman loves playing football, Rory Helstrom loves playing football and so does Colin Buckley. Some of those guys are standout guys and other coaches come up to me and say we have got to be worried about this guy and we got be worried about that guy. It is flattering for those guys.”

Gallagher loved seeing his team drive for the late touchdown against the Pirates.

“We want to score points and the bottom line is that the kids didn’t want to come out of the game, they wanted to punch it in,” said Gallagher.

“Liam and Sam haven’t connected in the end zone yet so that was big for them. They wanted to get that touchdown. That was Sam’s first touchdown throw of the year. He has thrown his share of picks and we talked about reducing that. I think he had just one pick and he had the touchdown so that is not a bad day from Sam.”

PHS will be looking to have a big day as it plays at Hamilton on October 5. “We’ll be taking a trip to Hamilton so we will be on the road for the seventh week in a row,” said Gallagher.

“It is two 0-3 teams and somebody is going to get a win. It is a second opportunity for us; we played a 0-2 team today. Unfortunately we came out on the losing end. I know that coach Tom Hoglen has a good program, a good staff and good
players and hopefully we’ll give them another battle.”

Helstrom, for his part, is ready to keep fighting. “We are not going to put our heads down,” said Helstrom.

“We are going to bust up Hamilton West as much as we can and even if comes down to two minutes to go and we are down by two touchdowns, we are still going to bust our butts.”

SMOOTH TRANSFER: Princeton Day School girls’ tennis player Maria Martinovic rips a forehand last week at the Mercer County Tournament (MCT). Junior Martinovic, a transfer from the Lawrenceville School, placed second at second singles in her MCT debut, helping PDS take third in the team standings. In upcoming action, the Panthers host Lawrenceville on October 5 before playing at the Hun School on October 7.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SMOOTH TRANSFER: Princeton Day School girls’ tennis player Maria Martinovic rips a forehand last week at the Mercer County Tournament (MCT). Junior Martinovic, a transfer from the Lawrenceville School, placed second at second singles in her MCT debut, helping PDS take third in the team standings. In upcoming action, the Panthers host Lawrenceville on October 5 before playing at the Hun School on October 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Maria Martinovic, joining the Princeton Day School girls’ tennis team after transferring from the Lawrenceville School has proved to be a good move.

“I love the team, they are awesome, all of them,” said junior Martinovic. “Everyone was so welcoming and nice.”

Last week, Martinovic made a very nice debut at the Mercer County Tournament (MCT), taking second at second singles.

“I was really happy with how I played,” said Martinovic, reflecting on her fine performance, which helped PDS take second in the team standings behind champion WW/P-S and runner-up Princeton High.

“There were a lot of good schools. My second match on Monday was really difficult. I was really happy that I won that one. The semi was good too.”

Martinovic, though, did acknowledge that she wasn’t happy with how she played in losing 6-4, 6-0  to Haley Rich of WW/P-S in the championship match.

“It was a really tight match at first,” said Martinovic, who was teary-eyed after the setback. “I was just really nervous, I felt that way. When you are nervous, I feel like you should be moving your feet more and trying to hit your way out of it. I was kind of pulling back and doing the opposite. I think that is why I lost.”

The loss was a good learning experience for Martinovic. “Hopefully next year, I will know how to deal with that,” said Martinovic, who topped Arial Bosworth of WW/P-N 6-4, 6-0 in the semis to reach the title match.

“In my other matches, I wasn’t as nervous so it was easier for me to deal with when it was close. In this one, I really felt it.”

PDS head coach Ed Tseng felt good about how his team performed collectively at the MCT. “We are obviously pleased to have everyone through to today,” said Tseng, whose players advanced to the semis in all five flights of the tourney.

“There are a lot of good teams, a lot of the matches could have gone either way. I am pleased with the way that everyone has played.”

Tseng has been pleased to welcome Martinovic to the squad. “She is very nice player, a smart player,” said Tseng.

“She is a great team player as well. We are very happy and fortunate to have her.”

PDS got some nice play from its other singles players at the MCT as sophomore Renee Karchere-Sun took third at first singles while junior Emily Dyckman placed fourth at third singles.

“Renee is stepping up her game and we are happy to have her at No. 1,” said Tseng. “Emily fought hard. I am very pleased with the results. She had a tough final match but she played great, she never gave up. That’s the main thing I look for.”

The Panthers got what they were looking for in doubles as the first pair of Charlotte Zaininger and Devika Kumar placed third while the second doubles team of Hope Boozan and Touria Salvati took fourth.

“Our first doubles got third place so we are happy about that,” said Tseng. “They played great; they played smart. Our second doubles played well together.”

In Tseng’s view, the experience of playing in the MCT should help his team down the road. “It is always nice to play more matches to get our timing and rhythm and get ready to finish the rest of the season strong,” said Tseng, who guided the Panthers to the state Prep B championship last fall.

“The girls were nervous coming in which is totally normal. But once they saw that we had a chance, they played well. It is two of the best days of the season. It is a great atmosphere; it is fun. It is good for team bonding and it is good tennis.”

Martinovic, for her part, believes that PDS has the chance to accomplish some great things over the rest of the fall.

“I think we can do really well; I think we have a really deep team this year,” said Martinovic.

“We all hit with each other so sometimes our singles will hit against our doubles players so they challenge each other and that’s good.”

FORWARD PROGRESS: Princeton Day School field hockey star Mary Travers, left, runs upfield in recent action. With Travers moving to forward from her customary midfield spot, PDS has caught fire, reeling off three straight wins as it topped Hun 3-1 last Thursday before beating Blair 3-0 last Saturday and blanking Pennington 5-0 on Monday. Travers scored a total of five goals in those victories. PDS, now 5-4, hosts Hill on October 2, Lawrenceville on October 5, South Hunterdon on October 7, and Princeton High on October 9, with the latter game being the program’s annual Play 4 the Cure fundraiser.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FORWARD PROGRESS: Princeton Day School field hockey star Mary Travers, left, runs upfield in recent action. With Travers moving to forward from her customary midfield spot, PDS has caught fire, reeling off three straight wins as it topped Hun 3-1 last Thursday before beating Blair 3-0 last Saturday and blanking Pennington 5-0 on Monday. Travers scored a total of five goals in those victories. PDS, now 5-4, hosts Hill on October 2, Lawrenceville on October 5, South Hunterdon on October 7, and Princeton High on October 9, with the latter game being the program’s annual Play 4 the Cure fundraiser. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Mary Travers’ thoughts were centered on one present as she celebrated her 18th birthday last Thursday.

With her Princeton Day School field hockey team mired in a three-game losing streak, senior star Travers had a simple wish as the Panthers played at Hun. “Coming into this game, I was super excited because it is my birthday,” said Travers. “I told everyone on the team all I want is for us to win.”

Moving to forward from her normal midfield spot, Travers helped make her wish come true, scoring the go-ahead goal as PDS rallied from a 1-0 halftime deficit to pull out a 3-1 victory over the Raiders.

Although PDS had been struggling recently, Travers had a sense that the Panthers were primed for a breakthrough.

“This week we had two really good practices,” said Travers, a team co-captain along with classmates Sarah Brennan, Emily Goldman, and Emma Quigley.

“We even came out a little to do some extra conditioning because throughout the season we know what we want but we haven’t been necessarily working for what we want and executing. So working for what we want instead of just wanting it has been a big change.”

That desire paid dividends against Hun as the Panthers were not fazed by trailing 1-0 at halftime.

“I honestly wasn’t thinking about that at all,” said Travers. “We knew that we had been playing with them the whole first half and we knew that we could come back. In some of our earlier games this season, when we got a goal scored against us, we kind of had the mindset that was it. So we were really focused, we said 1-0, that’s OK, the game is only halfway done.

The Panthers were sparked by a Bian Maloney goal early in the second half which knotted the game at 1-1.

“I think our warmup was a little slow, it wasn’t our best so we came into the first half a little slowly,” said Travers. “I think Bian’s goal really catalyzed some energy that we needed.”

Travers showed energy minutes later as she scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal.

“It was awesome; I have never played forward before so it was a change for me,” said Travers, reflecting on the goal.

“We have been working a lot on just keeping our sticks down in the circle. Coach [Tracey] Arndt has really tried to hammer that into our heads and that was what was going through my head. There are girls around but if I have my stick down, it might pop out and I will have an opportunity there.”

With PDS losing top scoring threat Quigley earlier this season due to a thumb injury, Travers was more than willing to assume a more offensive role for the Panthers.

“When Emma first got out, we struggled with that because she is a huge scorer for us and an amazing asset,” said Travers.

“We have tried a couple of different things to adjust and this is the latest iteration of that, putting me forward and keeping Sarah [Brennan] back spread us out and helped us work a little more upfield.”

PDS head coach Tracey Arndt is proud of the way her team has adjusted collectively.

“It was a little tough for us but we kept persevering and we said we are going to work through the fundamentals and make sure that we are sound that way,” said Arndt.

“We took the mentality that it doesn’t matter what the score is. We have got the speed, we have got the skill. It is a just a matter of putting it together. We have had some injuries. I think today was just a culmination of finally being frustrated enough to do what it takes to get over the hump. We still have a long road ahead of us.”

Arndt marvels at all the things that Travers does for the team. “Mary is fantastic; she is certainly an all-around person,” said Arndt of Travers, who scored a goal in a 3-0 win over Blair last Saturday and then tallied a hat trick on Monday as PDS blanked Pennington 5-0 to improve to 5-4.

“I love her spirit. I love her heart. I love her work ethic. She is the definition of a competitor but also is a very kind person. She is a finisher for us as well. So having her in the back, we were hiding some of her skill so we kind of just looked at each other and I said do you want to do it and she said “yup.” It is a new role for her. She was asking appropriate questions and at the end of the day you just have a feel for that cage. You start to salivate for it, that is the only word I can think of.”

Senior star Brennan, who has scored a goal in three straight contests for the Panthers, has also shown a good feel for the game.

“Sarah has been doing great too; she and Mary usually work together in the center,” said Arndt.

“It was Sarah who had to do a lot of that work today getting back and transferring fields and getting it up to the forwards where it is usually Sarah and Mary working together. They just kind of worked together on a different line from the midfield to the forward. She has a lot of grit and competitiveness to her as well. She has always had skills but they have really been refined in the last year. She made it a goal to be able to play Division I college field hockey. She said I have to do what it takes and she has really been working hard.”

PDS has been getting some good work from its defense, having posted back-to-back shutouts and giving up only one goal in its three-game winning streak.

“Nikki van Manen has been moved from an outside mid position to a sweeper, back position,” said Arndt.

“She has really stepped up her game which is great. Katie Alden [this reporter’s daughter] really stepped up in goal. The one thing we were focusing on with her was don’t worry about all those people around you, focus on the ball and making that first save and I think she did a great job that way. We have got some young players back there. At the end of the day, it was beating them to the 50/50 balls. I tell them all the time, that is going to win or lose games. The more times you have the ball, the more chances you have to score.”

In Arndt’s view, PDS has the chance to win a lot of games this fall if it can keep on the ball.

“I think we did some things well tactically that we haven’t done in the past,” said Arndt, whose team hosts Hill on October 2, Lawrenceville on October 5, South Hunterdon on October 7, and Princeton High on October 9, with the latter game being the program’s annual Play 4 the Cure fundraiser.

“Mentally we were down a goal and I said we have to win that half, that at least gives us a chance to get a tie if we won the second half 1-0. We just kept fighting and fighting. Nobody likes to lose, that is the overall goal. We have so much more hockey to play and still a lot of things to do but certainly this was a nice win.”

Travers, for her part, believes that the win over Hun can be a harbinger of things to come.

“I think we needed a win to boost us,” said Travers. “As Coach Arndt said after the game, this is the up part of the roller-coaster and we are going to keep going up.”

TUCKING IN: Hun School boys’ soccer player Tucker ­Stevenson, center, goes after the ball in recent action. Junior forward Stevenson has emerged as a scoring threat for the Raiders, tallying three goals and an assist in the team’s last four games. Hun, which edged Nottingham 3-2 on Monday to improve to 3-4, plays at Princeton Day School on October 2 and at the George School on October 5 before hosting Trenton Catholic on October 7.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TUCKING IN: Hun School boys’ soccer player Tucker ­Stevenson, center, goes after the ball in recent action. Junior forward Stevenson has emerged as a scoring threat for the Raiders, tallying three goals and an assist in the team’s last four games. Hun, which edged Nottingham 3-2 on Monday to improve to 3-4, plays at Princeton Day School on October 2 and at the George School on October 5 before hosting Trenton Catholic on October 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last fall, Tucker Stevenson was about 7,000 miles away from the Hun School boys’ soccer team as he did a semester in India.

While Stevenson enjoyed that journey, he is happy to have rejoined the Raiders.

“I went to India for four months,” said junior Stevenson. “I played soccer over there but I missed the guys so coming back has been awesome.”

Upon returning to the squad, Stevenson has found a home at forward, moving up the field from the defender position he played as a freshman.

Over the last week, Stevenson has been displaying his finishing touch, scoring his first goal of the season in a 4-2 loss to Germantown Academy on September 21, adding another tally in a 3-2 loss to Pennington on September 24, and then scoring the game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory at Bridgewater-Raritan last Friday.

In reflecting on the tally in the Pennington game, Stevenson noted that he utilized strength and positioning to find the back of the net.

“That was a great feed from Connor Hufer,” said Stevenson. “It got deflected actually. I was able to hold off the defender, turn and hit one in. That’s what I bring to the table.”

Stevenson’s goal knotted the Pennington game at 2-2 and even though Hun went on to lose the contest 3-2, he saw the performance as a step forward for the Raiders.

“That was one of the better 80-minute games we have played,” said Stevenson.

“We have put it together for 60 or 65 minutes but that was a pretty complete game we played. It hurts because we beat ourselves really. I don’t think we were outplayed at all, kudos to them for finishing their opportunities.”

In Stevenson’s view, Hun deserves kudos for its battling spirit. “We are kind of a scrappy team; we are not the most skilled,” said Stevenson, who contributed an assist on Monday as Hun edged Nottingham 3-2 to improve to 3-4.

“We are down to fight; we are not just going to roll over. This team doesn’t really have losses. Yes we lose but we learn from it all. It hurts to have another number in the loss column; I think we learned a lot from this and we’ll grow from it.”

Hun head coach Pat Quirk saw his team’s performance in the Pennington game as an example of its growth.

“I thought we played extremely well,” said Quirk, who also got a goal from senior midfielder Andres Gonzalez in the game.

“It was a well-played game of soccer. We did what we have been preaching to them which was to get creative around the goal and not just trying to settle on long balls. We were trying to get some combinations going inside the goal and we were just unlucky. That is the way it has been going all season. We make a few mistakes and every team seems to capitalize on all of our mistakes. We haven’t been able to capitalize too much.”

Quirk likes the way Stevenson is starting to capitalize on his opportunities.

“I think Tucker is getting in a rhythm, their kid in the back, [Austin] Sumners, is probably the best defender we will see all season,” said Quirk. “He gave Tucker a little run for his money. But Tucker has a way of getting dangerous; he uses his body well. He is able to get his hips around the ball. Everything he shoots stays on net.”

Seeing Gonzalez find the back of the net was another positive for Quirk.

“That was the first time we actually had him out wide, he has been playing in the middle and the back, he has played a little at center mid,” said Quirk. “He did well; he got dangerous and put it away.”

Others who did well for Hun against Pennington include senior midfielders Felix Dalstein and Bailey Hammer together with sophomore defender Alex Semler and defender Max Vounatsos.

“This is a team that is never going to give up and that stems from the seniors in the middle, Felix and Bailey,” said Quirk.

“They play a full 80 minutes and never stop working. Our center backs Semler and Maxime have been playing really good soccer; two guys that haven’t been playing very often in the back.”

In Quirk’s view, his team is headed in the right direction. “After our first game, it looked a lot like this,” said Quirk, whose team plays at Princeton Day School on October 2 and at the George School on October 5 before hosting Trenton Catholic on October 7.

“We scored a few more and then we had a little bit of a lull. I think we are back on track. We just need to capitalize on the balls in the box. We have a lot of balls bouncing inside the 18 that we have trouble putting away there.”

Stevenson, for his part, thinks the bounces are going to start going Hun’s way.

“It was tough before, coming back there were some new pieces and we are trying to put it all together,” said Stevenson.

“Now that we have had a couple of games under our belt, I feel like we are getting in a groove.”

EYE ON THE BALL: Hun School field hockey player Julia Blake goes after the ball in action last fall. Last Thursday junior standout Blake scored the lone goal for Hun in a 3-1 loss to Princeton Day School. The Raiders, now 1-4, play at Stuart Country Day on October 2 before hosting Springside Academy (Pa.) on October 4, Princeton High on October 5, and Solebury School (Pa.) on October 8.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

EYE ON THE BALL: Hun School field hockey player Julia Blake goes after the ball in action last fall. Last Thursday junior standout Blake scored the lone goal for Hun in a 3-1 loss to Princeton Day School. The Raiders, now 1-4, play at Stuart Country Day on October 2 before hosting Springside Academy (Pa.) on October 4, Princeton High on October 5, and Solebury School (Pa.) on October 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After starting the season with three close losses, the Hun School field hockey team appeared to be turning the corner as it hosted Princeton Day School last Thursday.

Building on a 1-0 win over WW/P-S three days earlier, Hun led the Panthers 1-0 at halftime in the annual meeting of cross-town rivals.

But in the second half, PDS scored three unanswered goals to pull out a 3-1 win over the Raiders.

As a result of the setback, Hun head coach Kathy Quirk went back to the drawing board.

“I thought that we were playing extremely well,” said Quirk, referring to her team’s first half effort.

“I don’t know what happened in the second half. We seem to get complacent when we get a goal.”

Quirk held an extended post-game session with her team in the wake of the loss.

“We just talked about being more goal hungry,” said Quirk. “We have to be more aggressive in the circle. We knock at the door but we are not scoring enough. One goal is not enough to win games.”

Quirk was happy to get goals from newcomer Julie Fassl in the victory over WW/P-S and from junior Julia Blake in the PDS game.

“Julie is a freshman; she is still young and learning,” said Quirk. “She scored a goal against WW/P-S and I think that gave her confidence. Julia Blake is doing a nice job for us.”

With Hun at 1-4, Quirk is looking for senior captains Francesca Bello, Alex Kane, and Hannah Bettner to get the team on the winning track.

“The kids are working hard,” said Quirk. “I talked to the captains about leadership and leading on and off the field. I need them to light a fire under the team.”

The Raiders have been getting some fiery play from junior goalie Reina Kern, who made 16 saves in the loss to PDS.

“Reina has been doing a nice job,” said Quirk. “She has been getting pounded at times. She is working hard and has to keep positive. I know she is the last person on defense but sometimes the ball is coming through 10 players in front of her.”

With Hun having shown a penchant in recent years for coming through down the stretch, Quirk hopes her team can make another late run.

“I think we do have the potential for that,” said Quirk, whose team plays at Stuart Country Day on October 2 before hosting Springside Academy (Pa.) on October 4, Princeton High on October 5, and Solebury School (Pa.) on October 8.

“I am thinking about making some changes in the lineup. I am looking to get some more speed on the forward line and some gutsiness in the circle.”

September 25, 2013
AT HIS BEST: Princeton University running back DiAndre ­Atwater heads upfield last Saturday as Princeton opened its 2013 season with a 31-27 defeat to visiting Lehigh. Sophomore Atwater had a big game in a losing cause, running for a career-best 111 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns. Atwater and the Tigers will look to get into the winning column when they play at Georgetown on September 28.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

AT HIS BEST: Princeton University running back DiAndre ­Atwater heads upfield last Saturday as Princeton opened its 2013 season with a 31-27 defeat to visiting Lehigh. Sophomore Atwater had a big game in a losing cause, running for a career-best 111 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns. Atwater and the Tigers will look to get into the winning column when they play at Georgetown on September 28. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In 2012, the Princeton University football team opened its season by falling behind 17-0 to Lehigh at halftime.

In the second half, the Tigers mounted a furious rally only to come up short in a 17-14 defeat.

Last Saturday, Princeton flipped the script on the visiting Mountain Hawks as the teams renewed their rivalry in the Tigers’ season opener.

With the no-huddle offense clicking, the Tigers roared out to a 22-3 lead by intermission over No. 18 and 2-0 Lehigh.

“We came out pretty strong,” said Princeton senior safety and co-captain Phil Bhaya. “We made a couple of plays. We were playing fast.”

But this time, it was the Mountain Hawks who fought back, outscoring the Tigers 26-6 in the second half to pull out a dramatic 29-28 victory before 6,982 at Princeton Stadium and a national television audience as the contest was shown on NBC Sports.

A forlorn Princeton head coach Bob Surace acknowledged that Lehigh put on a dazzling show over the last 30 minutes of the game.

“They executed great on offense in the second half,” said Surace, reflecting on the defeat which was Princeton’s fourth straight loss in the series.

“We couldn’t get off the field. I think in the third drive [in the second half], they had a 15-play drive. They had a couple of other drives. Both teams had good tempo to their offenses. Not getting off the field on those key plays put some guys on the field more than we would have liked. They did a great job.”

Staying on the field so long appeared to wear down the Princeton defense.

“We’ll look at it on film and see if our energy was the same; my initial impression is no it wasn’t,” said Surace. “We’ll see if we have to rotate more guys. They were on the field a lot.”

Princeton had plenty of energy on the offensive side of the ball as it piled up 501 yards, nearly matching the 513 yards gained by Lehigh.

“Both teams ended up with 500 yards of offense,” said Surace. “It was almost like whatever team had the ball last. I think we punted twice and they punted three times. We couldn’t get each other off the field. If you could get back-to-back drives, that was the key. We wanted to get three-and-outs because they were tired.”

In the first half, the Tigers ran the Mountain Hawks ragged, starting with its first possession of the game. After senior linebacker Jason Ray recovered a Lehigh fumble, Princeton took over at its 24-yard-line and proceeded to march 76 yards in six plays, taking a 6-0 lead on an 18-yard touchdown gallop by sophomore DiAndre Atwater. The Tigers made it 8-0 as Ray ran in a two-point conversion.

Midway through the second quarter, Princeton increased its lead to 15-0 as junior quarterback Quinn Epperly passed and ran the Tigers up the field. Epperly connected on two straight passes to Matt Costello and hit Atwater on a seven-yard aerial to get Princeton to the Lehigh 14-yard line. After Atwater rushed for 10 yards, Epperly made a 4-yard touchdown run.

Lehigh answered with a field goal to make it 15-3 but the Tigers went on the march again, this time triggered by the passing of Princeton’s other junior quarterback, Connor Michelsen, to senior star Roman Wilson. Michelsen found Wilson for gains of 23 and 33 yards as Princeton advanced to the Lehigh 5. Epperly then came on and culminated the 75-yard march with a 5-yard scoring strike to Wilson as Princeton built a 22-3 advantage at intermission.

In Wilson’s view, the Tigers hurry-up offense had the Mountain Hawks on their heels. “That is how we try to play,” said Wilson. “We want to play as fast as we can, whether the defense is ready for it or not.”

In the second half, Princeton seemed ready to put the game out of reach, taking the opening kickoff and marching 55 yards to the Lehigh 21. The drive stalled and the Tigers lost the ball on downs, eschewing a field goal attempt in the wake of a blocked kick by Lehigh in the first half.

Led by senior quarterback Brandon Bialkowski, Lehigh caught fire. With Bialkowski hitting on 7-of-10 passes, the Mountain Hawks drove to the Princeton five. Tailback Keith Sherman took it from there, scoring on a five-yard touchdown run as Lehigh narrowed the gap to 22-9.

After a Princeton three-and-out, the Mountain Hawks went on the march again. Bialkowski connected on 8-of-10 passes, including a 15-yard touchdown pass to Zach Hayden as Lehigh made it a 22-16 game.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Mountain Hawks flew past the Tigers, marching 73 yards after blocking another Princeton field goal attempt. A pass play of 48 yards from Bialkowski to Josh Parris got Lehigh to the Princeton 4. The quarterback then found Dylan Colgate in the end zone and the Mountain Hawks converted the extra point to edge ahead 23-22 with 11:31 remaining in regulation.

Showing resilience, Princeton responded with a 71-yard scoring march which saw both Michelsen and Epperly make big plays as the former completed three straight passes to get Princeton into Lehigh territory while the latter made a key run and pass to move the Tigers to the Lehigh 17. Atwater produced another big run, spurting 17 yards for paydirt and his second touchdown of the evening. Princeton’s two-point conversion failed, leaving the Tigers ahead 28-22 with 8:03 left in the fourth quarter.

But Bialkowski kept up his hot play, hitting on 7-of-8 passes to get the Mountain Hawks to the Princeton 17. Running the ball four straight plays from there, Lehigh capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Sean Farrell to go ahead by 29-28.

The Tigers got the ball with 2:45 remaining and made one first down on a 13-yard run by Atwater, who ended the game with a career-high 111 yards on 13 carries. A Michelsen pass, though, was intercepted three plays later and Lehigh ran out the clock to seal the victory.

Wilson, for his part, was in no mood to see the performance against Lehigh as a moral victory for the Tigers.

“We showed flashes but it didn’t matter because we didn’t finish,” said a glum Wilson, who made a career-high nine receptions for 168 yards in the game.

“That was the big difference. A lot of the time it is the little things. That is what we are going to have to do, go back and watch the film and fix those little things.”

While Surace was proud of how his team battled, he acknowledged that it squandered a big opportunity.

“When they took the lead by one, for our offense to go down the field and score a touchdown was a good sign,” said Surace, whose team plays at Georgetown on September 28.

“The bottom line is that we didn’t win. We can’t sugarcoat that but when you are looking for positives, that was a real positive. We showed a lot of heart in that drive. There are positives you can take against a team like Lehigh but the bottom line is we had a chance to make a statement and we didn’t.”

300 HITTER: Princeton University water polo head coach Luis Nicolao, center, makes a point during a game last season. Last Saturday, Nicolao earned his 300th win guiding the Tiger men’s program as Princeton topped Johns Hopkins 15-10. Nicolao, who has been overseeing both Princeton water polo teams for 16 seasons, also has 348 wins at the helm of the Tiger women’s program. In upcoming action, the 13th-ranked Princeton men’s squad, now 6-0, heads west for its annual California swing where it will play seven games between September 27-29.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

300 HITTER: Princeton University water polo head coach Luis Nicolao, center, makes a point during a game last season. Last Saturday, Nicolao earned his 300th win guiding the Tiger men’s program as Princeton topped Johns Hopkins 15-10. Nicolao, who has been overseeing both Princeton water polo teams for 16 seasons, also has 348 wins at the helm of the Tiger women’s program. In upcoming action, the 13th-ranked Princeton men’s squad, now 6-0, heads west for its annual California swing where it will play seven games between September 27-29. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It didn’t take long for Luis Nicolao to realize that his Princeton University men’s water polo team might be something special this year.

Hosting its annual Invitational at DeNunzio Pool from September 13-15, Princeton opened the season by edging No. 16 Santa Clara 9-7 and went on to beat Harvard 14-7 and Iona 11-6 to make it a perfect weekend.

“It was a good confidence builder, we had some new faces in the water and you never know what you are going to have before the season starts,” said longtime head coach Nicolao.

“We felt like we had a nice squad and some nice additions and once we got into the games, it was good to see that.”

Nicolao saw some good things last weekend as 13th-ranked Princeton went on the road to start Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Southern Southern Division play and came away with three more victories to improve to 6-0. The Tigers topped Johns Hopkins 15-10 and Navy 12-7 on Saturday and then defeated George Washington 9-5 on Sunday.

“We call it the tour of death,” said Nicolao, referring to the annual swing to the DC-Baltimore area.

“Hopkins and GW have different dimensions with a shallow end. We are just looking to get out of there with wins any way we can.”

The win over Hopkins was special as it marked the 300th win for Nicolao at the helm of the Tiger men’s program.

“It means I have been here a long time and I am getting up in age,” joked Nicolao, who also coaches the Tiger women’s team and has guided that program to a 348-128 mark as he enters his 16th year at Princeton.

“It’s nice. It is a combination of being here a while and having a lot of good players.”

Nicolao was proud of the way his team took care of business as it started league play.

“I thought we controlled the tempo in all three games,” said Nicolao. “We wanted to shorten the game and milk the shot clock. Regardless of which pool we are in, we want to play good defense. I think we did that except for a couple of quarters.”

The team’s offense showed plenty of balance, triggered by junior star and co-captain Drew Hoffenberg, who has 17 goals and 11 assists so far this season.

“We have multiple guys who can score,” said Nicolao, who is getting good production out of sophomore Thomas Nelson, junior Kayj Shannon, freshman Jovan Jeremic, sophomore Jamie Kuprenas, and senior Kurt Buchbinder.

“If one guy is off, another steps up. Drew is so smart and is such an all-around player. He is enjoying our depth, it takes pressure off of him.”

The defense is sparked by the goalie tandem of senior Ben Dearborn and sophomore Alex Gow.

“Ben is back and healthy,” said Nicolao. “We believe we have two ‘A’ goalies. I have complete confidence in both of them and we will go with the guy who has the hot hand. If we are going to go far, it is with defense. I have been really impressed by our defense, we have played really good defense this season.”

The team’s cohesiveness in and out of the water has also impressed Nicolao.

“I think right now, I am happiest about the chemistry,” said Nicolao. “We have a great group of guys and we are excited about what could happen this season.”

Princeton has an exciting week ahead as it heads west on its annual California swing. On September 27, Princeton plays at Chapman and Long Beach State. A day later, the Tigers are at La Verne, Southern Cal, and UCLA. Princeton wraps up the trip on September 29 when they play at Claremont, McKenna, and Whittier.

“We always look forward to that trip,” said Nicolao. “We are playing high-level teams, we are facing the No. 1 (Southern Cal) and 2 (UCLA) teams next weekend so I don’t think we will be undefeated on Monday. We will just concentrate on our own game, playing our 5-man and 6-man offense. We try to get in as many games as we can.”

KICKING IN: Princeton High boys’ soccer player John Blair boots the ball in last year’s Group III state championship game which saw PHS tie Ramapo 1-1 for the title. This fall, senior midfielder and co-captain Blair has emerged as a top offensive threat for the Little Tigers, tallying three goals and a team-high five assists as PHS has produced a 3-1 start. The Little Tigers will look to keep on the winning track as they host Hamilton on September 26, play at Harrison on September 28, and then host Steinert on October 1.(Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

KICKING IN: Princeton High boys’ soccer player John Blair boots the ball in last year’s Group III state championship game which saw PHS tie Ramapo 1-1 for the title. This fall, senior midfielder and co-captain Blair has emerged as a top offensive threat for the Little Tigers, tallying three goals and a team-high five assists as PHS has produced a 3-1 start. The Little Tigers will look to keep on the winning track as they host Hamilton on September 26, play at Harrison on September 28, and then host Steinert on October 1. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

John Blair quickly assumed the role of set-up man for Princeton High boys’ soccer team this fall, picking up three assists in the first two games of the season.

But with PHS clinging to a 1-0 lead against visiting Trenton High early in the second half last week, the senior midfielder displayed his finishing skills, getting free on a breakaway and calmly slotting the ball past the Tornado goalie.

“I saw the defender take a big touch; I went out and pressured him,” said Blair, reflecting on his tally in the September 17 contest. “I took a touch by him and just passed it around the goalkeeper.”

Blair’s goal opened the floodgates as the Little Tigers added three unanswered goals in a 12-minute span on the way to a 6-0 win.

“It gave us some motivation,” said Blair in assessing the impact of his tally. “We shut their offense down which really put the pressure on their defense. They lost their mental focus and we took advantage of that.”

For the Little Tigers, the lopsided win represented a major step forward at both ends of the field.

“It was the first clean sheet of the season which is a good thing; it is always our main goal,” said Blair.

“The phrase goes ‘offense wins games, defense wins championships’ so that is a good step in the right direction. For us to score six goals is also great. It is the most goals we have scored in a game so far this year and for there to be six different scorers, that is a good spread.”

While Blair enjoyed finding the back of the net in the victory over Trenton, he focuses on being a playmaker for PHS.

“My main goal is to get it to Kevin Halliday,” said Blair, referring to PHS star striker Halliday, who had 23 goals last year.

“All three of my assists were to Kevin so we are connecting pretty well. If we can continue to do that all season, we will be good.”

Having worked his way up in the PHS pecking order from reserve to key starter, Blair is savoring his final campaign with the program.

“I love being on the field, there is nothing like it, just the rush that I get and being able to play with my teammates is really cool,” said Blair, who certainly enjoyed himself last Thursday, tallying two goals and two assists as PHS routed Robbinsville 7-0 to improve to 3-1.

As a team co-captain along with Halliday, Blair prides himself on maintaining a cool head on the field.

“I try to keep the underclassmen’s heads up; they don’t have the experience that Kevin and I have because there are only three returning starters on the field along with Laurenz [Reimitz] in goal,” said Blair.

“We are really inexperienced so when they make a mistake, a lot of them will put their heads down so my goal is to keep their heads up so that instead of making another mistake they can fix it the next time.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe believes that the win over Trenton shows that his squad is heading in the right direction.

“We are finding our form,” said Sutcliffe. “We are still a long way off but I think we are going to be fine. I am very happy with the game today, getting the first clean sheet in the home opener, it was great.”

Sutcliffe is very happy with the play he is getting from Blair. “John is a playmaker; he is our creative midfielder,” asserted Sutcliffe.

“Credit to him for coming out and really getting a quality goal early in the second half. I think we got some confidence after that second goal.”

Having a skilled finisher like Halliday at striker gives PHS a lot of confidence.

“Kevin is a guy who brings three years of being on the field” said Sutcliffe of Halliday, who scored a goal in the win over Trenton and added two more in the victory over Robbinsville to give him six on the season.

“He is getting in; he is finding his moments. We have just tried to get him up in and around and as close to the goal as we can.”

Junior star Chase Ealy produced a big moment late in the first half of the Trenton game, streaking down the side and blasting in the first goal of the contest.

“Chase on the flank is our priority; we always try to get to spring him from the left flank and get him in where he is most dangerous,” said Sutcliffe. “This all started last year. His first goal was great, he had a great game.”

PHS got a great game from his defense, which features new starters in senior Dalton Sekelsky together with sophomores Dwight Donis and Edgar Morales.

“The emphasis was to stay a little better organized; we found ourselves just chasing too much and being a little disorganized,” said Sutcliffe, whose team hosts Hamilton on September 26, plays at Harrison on September 28, and then hosts Steinert on October 1.

“Dalton is a first-year starter but his first three games have been fantastic.

I think with Dwight and Edgar in the center of the park, all credit to them, they played well. It was Laurenz’s first shutout of the year so credit to him too.”

Blair, for his part, believes that defending Group III state  co-champion PHS can be a title contender once again, even with heavy roster turnover.

“We have seven new starting faces, it is a big number,” said Blair. “We definitely have the individual talent, so if we are able to begin to work together as a team as we showed today, we could make it as far as we did last year.”

BREAKING LOOSE: Princeton High field hockey player Lucy ­Herring races up the field in action last season. On Wednesday, junior forward Herring scored the lone goal for PHS as it lost 2-1 to Hopewell Valley. The Little Tigers, who tied Peddie 3-3 on Saturday to move to 2-2-1, play at WW/P-S on September 25 and at Ewing on September 27 before hosting Notre Dame on September 30.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BREAKING LOOSE: Princeton High field hockey player Lucy ­Herring races up the field in action last season. On Wednesday, junior forward Herring scored the lone goal for PHS as it lost 2-1 to Hopewell Valley. The Little Tigers, who tied Peddie 3-3 on Saturday to move to 2-2-1, play at WW/P-S on September 25 and at Ewing on September 27 before hosting Notre Dame on September 30. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With two years of varsity experience under her belt for the Princeton High field hockey team, Lucy Herring is calmer in the heat of battle.

“I think as a freshman and at the beginning of sophomore year, I was always very frantic with the ball and kind of jumpy whenever I got the ball,” said junior forward Herring.

“This year, I am definitely focusing on knowing my options before I get the ball and really slowing my tempo down in order to make better plays. It is just in the back of my mind now so I am always thinking about it.”

With PHS trailing Hopewell Valley 2-0 last Wednesday, Herring’s new coolness paid dividends for the Little Tigers as she scored with 4:55 left in regulation, firing in a feed from sophomore Trish Reilly.

“There was a lot of space on that and Trish was looking up,” recalled Herring.

“As she got the ball, she saw me at the top of the circle and it was a nice sweep. It was a good arrangement of passes and plays.”

While PHS continued to put the pressure on until the final whistle, it failed to add any goals and fell by that 2-1 margin.

Herring acknowledged that the Little Tigers waited too long to show a sense of urgency in the loss to the Bulldogs.

“We definitely didn’t expect the intensity that we should have from the start,” said Herring.

“At halftime, we realized that we really needed to pick it up. After that we really picked up our intensity and started pushing the ball forward. The communication improved tremendously in the second half. Through that, we were able to hear each other more and know where each other was.”

In addition to being battle-tested, Herring has put in extra work on her game to spur her improvement.

“Being a junior and it being my third year on the team has made me better,” said Herring.

“Also, playing with the Princeton field hockey club has helped me improve tremendously. We have sessions on Sundays during the fall and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the winter. The Princeton University coach Kristen Holmes Winn is remarkable; I can’t speak highly enough of her.”

PHS head coach Heather Serverson, for her part, wished that her players had shown a higher level of energy against HoVal.

“One of our goals was to make sure that we had at least 75 percent of all the loose balls and we didn’t do that,” said Serverson.

“Hopewell really stepped up to the ball well. We didn’t make that adjustment; we were waiting for it behind them. We were trying to hit it through them rather than around them, which wasn’t doesn’t work with a Hopewell team. They are very good at stopping the ball.”

While Serverson did see some good play from her team over the latter stages of the contest, it was too little, too late.

“We were focusing on quick passing instead of dribbling and telling the girls to know what’s open before you have the ball,” said Serverson.

“We cleaned it up a little bit with the passing but we couldn’t seem to intercept. We had the intensity that we needed in the beginning of the game too late. I think that’s what happened.”

In Severson’s view, Herring did give PHS what it needed. “I think Lucy played very well today,” asserted Serverson.

“She was one of the only forwards who cut back to the ball; she was one of the few that made the adjustment.”

In reflecting on the setback, Serverson believes that her squad needs to adjust its mentality.

“We need to learn a little bit more resilience,” said Serverson, whose team tied Peddie 3-3 last Saturday to move to 2-2-1.

“We need to adjust the intensity of our practices. The changes need to happen there and then I think it will come more easily on the field.”

Herring, for her part, believes the loss to HoVal could be a blessing in disguise if the Little Tigers build on how they played in the second half.

“Now we know how much better we can play once we put our minds together and get that communication set,” said Herring.

“We need to know our options before we get the ball, we can kind of work off of that and make sure before the next game that we think about that and remember how much better we played.”

GREAT BRIT: Princeton Day School girls’ soccer player Brit Murray controls the ball in recent action. Senior defender and co-captain Murray has sparked the Panthers at both ends of the field as the team has produced a 6-0 start. In upcoming action, PDS hosts Shipley School (Pa.) on September 26 before playing at Blair on September 28.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GREAT BRIT: Princeton Day School girls’ soccer player Brit Murray controls the ball in recent action. Senior defender and co-captain Murray has sparked the Panthers at both ends of the field as the team has produced a 6-0 start. In upcoming action, PDS hosts Shipley School (Pa.) on September 26 before playing at Blair on September 28. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Brit Murray was ready to shoulder more responsibility this fall in her senior campaign with the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team.

Having established herself as a pillar of the PDS defense over the last three years, Murray was asked to contribute to the Panther offense.

“Our coach [Pat Trombetta] asked me to be more of an attacking player and get more in the offense and get involved,” said Murray.

“With the outside backs getting up, it is really helping the center mids and the forwards and everyone is working hard off of each other. With me getting up, it is just opening up so much more space for everything.”

Against visiting Hun last Thursday, Murray’s new emphasis on scoring paid dividends as she booted in a Kirsten Kuzmicz pass some nine minutes into the contest to give PDS a 1-0 lead.

“It was a nice pass from Kirsten Kuzmicz, one of our great center mids; we have been working on that pass for a while,” said Murray.

“Kirsten has it in the middle and plays it out wide to whoever is running on it so we just try to take that shot. We have been doing a set play sometimes. It is coming together nicely. I was thinking I want to get it somewhere close to the net. I just tried to shift my foot in the direction of the net.”

Things kept going in the right direction for the Panthers as they pulled away to a 4-0 victory over Hun and improved to 5-0.

“I think this was our first game where we actually moved the ball around the field,” asserted Murray.

“We worked hard together; we were working for each other and not individually. I think our communication was just great. Our passing was great. Everything was just coming together like we have been practicing. That’s what we have been hoping for as a team.”

PDS is coming together much better as a team this fall, showing a new unity as the squad already surpassed its 2012 win total when it went 4-9-4.

“I think last year, our chemistry was not there,” said Murray, who helped the Panthers improve to 6-0 as they blanked the Hill School 3-0 last Monday.

“I think our chemistry is what is really helping us this year. We have tried to do a lot of team bonding; we are all just on the same page I think. On the field we always want to work for each other and not individually.”

Murray is assuming extra responsibility for that chemistry, serving as a team co-captain with classmate Lily Razzaghi.

“Lily and I have made it a point this year to make sure that everyone is on the same page and that the chemistry was perfect,” said Murray, who recently committed to the Iona College women’s soccer program. “No one is fighting or arguing; we just want to be like one team.”

PDS head coach Pat Trombetta credits Murray and the team’s other veterans with setting the right tone this fall.

“The team chemistry is excellent this year; that is due a lot to our leadership with the captains and the upperclassmen,” said Trombetta.

“Overall we have a strong upperclassmen group and they know with nine freshmen on the squad, they are taking them under their wings and being very good mentors and so forth. I like the way the girls are working together. It is a very close-knit group.”

Trombetta liked the way his team clicked in the win over Hun. “I was very happy with the effort today, especially in the first half,” said Trombetta whose team led 3-0 at intermission as junior Alexa Soltesz and freshman Allison Klei found the back of the net along with Murray in the first 40 minutes of the contest.

“I think the first half was probably our most complete half of the season. Everything was clicking on all cylinders. We were looking for each other. We were distributing the ball nicely.”

In Trombetta’s view, Murray’s two-way play has served to make PDS a more complete team.

“The difference with Brit Murray this year is that she is looking to attack from the outside,” said Trombetta.

“That is a big difference for us; we haven’t had that in the past. She is doing very well with it. I am giving her more free rein than I have in the past. They are coordinating pretty well out there. She is another weapon we can use coming out of the back.”

Junior forward Alexa Soltesz is another key weapon for the Panthers. “Alexa is a player who is going to get tightly marked up there,” said Trombetta.

“She still finds a gap and she has a quick explosive first step that opens up things for her.”

Senior midfielder Eloise Stanton is emerging as a key player for PDS.

“Eloise has been a bright surprise for us; she has four goals on the season and is probably our high scorer right now,” said Trombetta of Stanton, who scored a goal in the second half in the win over Hun.

“One of the things I said in the beginning of the season is that we needed contributions from our outside midfield and Eloise has stepped up and has accepted that challenge and she is doing great.”

PDS appears ready to challenge for titles. “I think we are definitely going to make a lot of noise in the preps,” said Trombetta, whose team hosts Shipley School (Pa.) on September 26 before playing at Blair on September 28.

“In the counties, we have got to do a better job of finishing. We have had a lot of opportunities, even today, in front of the net that we didn’t finish. If we can start finishing our chances, I think we could surprise a couple of teams.

Murray, for her part, believes the Panthers will finish strong. “I definitely feel it. I think we can make it to Prep championships. I think we are going to get a good seed in the MCT. I feel we are going to go far.”