April 2, 2015
CLEAR THINKING: Princeton University men’s lacrosse goalie Eric Sanschagrin clears the ball last Sunday in Princeton’s 10-8 loss to visiting Brown. Senior Sanschagrin made 15 saves in the contest as Princeton dropped to to 6-2 overall and 2-1 Ivy League. The Tigers, now ranked 13th nationally, will look to get back on the winning track when they play at No. 20 Stony  Brook (7-2) on April 4.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CLEAR THINKING: Princeton University men’s lacrosse goalie Eric Sanschagrin clears the ball last Sunday in Princeton’s 10-8 loss to visiting Brown. Senior Sanschagrin made 15 saves in the contest as Princeton dropped to to 6-2 overall and 2-1 Ivy League. The Tigers, now ranked 13th nationally, will look to get back on the winning track when they play at No. 20 Stony Brook (7-2) on April 4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As the ESPNU announcers introduced the television broadcast of the clash between the No. 10 Princeton University men’s lacrosse team and No. 13 Brown last Sunday, the focus was on offense.

Utilizing an uptempo, run-and-gun style, visiting Brown came into the day averaging 16.88 goals a game, second best in the country. Princeton, for its part, was scoring 12.57 goals a game with a shooting percentage of .370, the fourth highest in the country.

The announcers, who included former Princeton great Ryan Boyle ’04, were hyping the game as a shootout, predicting that the teams would both end the day in the teens in goals at least.

Nine minutes into the contest, that script was playing out as Brown raced out to a 4-1 lead before a crowd of 1,746 at Class of 1952 Stadium

But at that point, Princeton senior goalie Eric Sanschagrin and the Tiger defense huddled and decided to deliver a plot twist.

“They do a great job in transition so they got some quick ones in the beginning of the first quarter and after that we just talked as a unit and said this is it, we are going to start shutting this down,” said Sanschagrin.

With Sanschagrin finding a rhythm, making a number of big saves, the Tigers closed the door on the Bears, holding them to one goal the rest of the half. At the other end of the field, Brown goalie Jack Kelly was standing on his head as well but Princeton did get two past him to narrow the gap to 5-3 at halftime.

Our team was putting me in good spots to make saves, there were a lot of times that they were rolling (Dylan) Molloy inside and keeping him to a single shot and I was able to pick up some of those,” said Sanschagrin, reflecting on his first half effort.

“I was talking at halftime to one of our faculty fellows, I said I don’t know if the TV guys are happy that it is a battle of goalies but I think it was good TV.”

The rest of the contest made good viewing for the national audience as Princeton tied the game at 5-5 before Brown scored five unanswered goals to take a 10-5 lead. The Tigers responded with three straight goals to make it a 10-8 game with 3:54 left in regulation. Neither team scored after that as the Tigers dropped to 6-2 overall and 2-1 Ivy while Brown improved to 8-1 overall, 2-0 Ivy.

While the loss stung, Sanschagrin had no qualms with Princeton’s defensive effort on the day.

“We knew we had a big challenge at us this week but I think coach (Chris Bates) prepared us well; we had a good game plan,” said Sanschagrin, who ended with 15 saves, one short of his career single-game high.

“Brian Pickup absolutely did a phenomenal job in his matchup on Dylan Molloy. I don’t know if he had a single goal in the whole game. I was really impressed with that and proud of the way he played. But in any game like this when you lose a close one there are plenty of plays where you want stuff back.”

For Sanschagrin, who had made 10 starts in the previous three seasons, getting the chance to be Princeton’s top goalie this spring has been special.

“This is living the dream, this is something I have always looked forward to and I kept battling,” said Sanschagrin, a 5’10, 185-pound native of Carlsbad, Calif.

“This year is finally the first year I got to start the season from the beginning and it has been a lot of fun. This group of guys has grown pretty close together and it is special to have an opportunity to play here where decades of Hall of Fame level goalies have performed. It is great to be a part of that, I try to do my best not to embarrass myself out there.”

Keeping his nose to the grindstone in the offseason, Sanschagrin is making the most out of his opportunity.

“I worked hard this summer to get in shape; I saw a lot of shots,” said Sanschagrin, who is giving up 10.82 goals a game with a save percentage of .518.

“I try to be a better leader out there and clear the ball with poise. As a goalie you just have to be confident, that is something that is developed over the years.”

Sanschagrin’s play this season has  earned the confidence of teammates and coaches.

“I didn’t play particularly well against Rutgers (a 12-11 win for Princeton) and they turn right back to me for the Yale game (an 11-10 win for Princeton),” said Sanschagrin.

“Things like that show that the team has confidence in you too. I can go out there and I can play my game and trust that if I don’t make a save on one I should, I am going to bounce back and make the next couple. It comes down to that mentality, you just have to say next shot and it is good when the team has confidence in you. Hopefully in games like this I can come up with a couple of saves and let us battle back in.”

Princeton head coach Chris Bates was proud of how his team battled through the ups and downs against Brown.

“We talked about it being a game of runs and the efficiency with their offense,” said Bates.

“We were mentally prepared for that. We knew whether we are going on a four-goal run or they are, we knew we would be able to take next steps. We talked  about playing with poise all week and I think we did. I thought we stayed under control. We didn’t get too high or too low, which kept us in really because there were times they could have pulled away and we didn’t let them.”

Like many, Bates was a little surprised that the contest became a battle of goalies.

“Kelly was lights out for them, he was clearly a difference maker,” said Bates. “We got frustrated; we had 30 shots at halftime and three goals. If you want a story line, there it is. At the end of the day you have to put the ball in the back of the net. I thought our shot selection was OK. We generated a high volume of shots but they were not going in, that is the name of the game. Eric had a very solid day. Early on, we had a question or two but then he settled right in. He played with confidence, he gave us the game we needed to win it. Defensively we did a good job.”

The Tigers didn’t get the job done offensively, hitting a 20-minute lull after tying the game at 5-5 early in the third quarter.

“Face-offs were part of it, we didn’t have the ball and they were able to create some transition,” said Bates.

“We had some early offense opportunities but when they make saves on those and the ball goes the other way, it is the nature of the game they want to play, that up and down.”

While Bates liked the way his team fought after it got down 10-5, he acknowledged it was too little, too late.

“We took a little while to get ourselves going; we shot the ball but I thought we didn’t play with great energy,” said Bates, who got three goals and an assist from senior star Mike MacDonald.

“At that time of the game when you are down five with five minutes to go, you have got no choice. We stepped up and put the foot on the gas pedal a little bit. We can score, this is a team that can get on its runs.”

Sanschagrin, for his part, believes that Princeton is still in a position to make a good run this spring.

“We know we are going to see that team again; we are thinking down the line at the Ivy tournament,” said Sanschagrin.

“The lesson to take is that we have to be able to respond and keep battling in close games. There were plenty of plays that we executed well. We have just got to finish the play. You can’t have plays where you execute half and don’t finish. There were a lot of times where their goalie made big saves off what would have been big momentum type plays for us. It is not good when that happens but we try to battle through those.”

DANNY BOY: Princeton University baseball player Danny Hoy turns a double play against Brown last Sunday. Junior standout Hoy had a big weekend at the plate, going 6-for-13 with two runs, four RBIs, a double and a homer but it wasn’t enough as Princeton split the twinbill with Brown before getting swept by Yale in a doubleheader the next day. The Tigers, now 4-17 overall and 1-3 Ivy League, head north next weekend for doubleheaders at Harvard on April 4 and at Dartmouth on April 5.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

DANNY BOY: Princeton University baseball player Danny Hoy turns a double play against Brown last Sunday. Junior standout Hoy had a big weekend at the plate, going 6-for-13 with two runs, four RBIs, a double and a homer but it wasn’t enough as Princeton split the twinbill with Brown before getting swept by Yale in a doubleheader the next day. The Tigers, now 4-17 overall and 1-3 Ivy League, head north next weekend for doubleheaders at Harvard on April 4 and at Dartmouth on April 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After the Princeton University baseball team fell 4-3 to Brown early Sunday afternoon in its Ivy League opening doubleheader, the Tigers were determined to make amends in the nightcap.

“If you want to have a chance to win the league, you can’t just let it go,” said Princeton junior infielder/outfielder Danny Hoy. “You have got to go out there and get the next win for sure.”

The Tigers got off to a hot start in game two, scoring five runs in the first two innings to jump out to a 5-0 lead.

“We came out hot and that is always huge,” said Hoy, a 5’8, 175-pound native of Sellersville, Pa. “We had two good guys on the mound today, Nick Brady starting and Nick Donatiello coming out of the pen, so leads usually don’t go away with those two.”

Hoy had a key hit in a three-run second inning rally, stroking a two-run double down the left field line.

“He was throwing me a bunch of curveballs and mixing the fastball in here or there but the curve ball was the only one he was getting over the plate,” said Hoy, reflecting on his at-bat against Brown righty Reid Anderson. “That was what I was looking for, I got it, and put a good swing on it.”

The Tigers went on to an 8-2 victory, making key double plays in the sixth and seventh to back up the sharp mound work of starter Brady and reliever Donatiello.

“Our pitchers being able to get the ground balls and fielders just being able to execute is huge,” said Hoy.

“Being up by two or three runs is comfortable but one or two is not so comfortable. Being able to hang on to that three or four run lead was big for our mentality.”

Princeton wasn’t able to pull out any wins a day later as it got swept by visiting Yale, falling 2-1 and 8-3 to move to 4-17 overall and 1-3 Ivy. Hoy, though, enjoyed a big weekend at the plate, going 6-for-13 with two runs, four RBIs, a double, and a homer.

“There is the hype of the Ivy League as a freshman or sophomore, it is go time,” said Hoy, who is now hitting .325 and leads Princeton in doubles (8), homers (4), and RBIs (19). “Now you get the feel of the game and the pace of the game and it kind of slows down for you a little bit. The experience always helps.”

Hoy is enjoying his Princeton experience, having followed in the footsteps of older sister, Jen, a Tiger women’s soccer star from 2009-12.

“Her coming here definitely had a huge impact on me coming here,” said Hoy.

“I worked hard in school so I knew I wanted to go somewhere with a good academic record so I was looking at Wake Forest and schools like that. With this being close to home and Jen being here, you really couldn’t go wrong coming here. She loved it; she had nothing but amazing things to say about here. Playing for coach (Scott) Bradley is great, he is second to none. He is extremely knowledgeable, one of the best coaches around. School is tough obviously but athletically it is has been everything I expected and more.”

Looking ahead to the rest of the spring, Hoy is expecting the Tigers to show more toughness.

“We have a lot of talent on this team, way too much talent to lose, we know that,” said Hoy. “We are playing with a chip on our shoulders.”

DOING BETTER: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Anna Doherty eludes a foe in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore Doherty scored three goals but it wasn’t enough as Princeton lost 12-10 to Delaware. After scoring two goals in Princeton’s first seven games, Doherty has tallied seven in the next two outings, scoring four in a 19-7 win over California last Wednesday before the Delaware contest. Princeton, now 7-2 overall and 2-0 Ivy League, plays at Yale (6-5 overall, 1-2 Ivy) on April 4.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

DOING BETTER: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Anna Doherty eludes a foe in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore Doherty scored three goals but it wasn’t enough as Princeton lost 12-10 to Delaware. After scoring two goals in Princeton’s first seven games, Doherty has tallied seven in the next two outings, scoring four in a 19-7 win over California last Wednesday before the Delaware contest. Princeton, now 7-2 overall and 2-0 Ivy League, plays at Yale (6-5 overall, 1-2 Ivy) on April 4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Through the first seven games of the season, Anna Doherty had scored just two goals for the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team.

Then last Wednesday, the sophomore midfielder from nearby Bernardsville fired in four goals to spark a 19-7 win over California.

For Doherty, the scoring outburst was much needed. “I think Wednesday was important for me to get a little more confidence on attack,” said Doherty, who tallied 24 goals in her freshman campaign.

“I think I have been focusing a little bit too much on defense this season. I didn’t really have much confidence on attack so I think that was a big game for me.”

Last Saturday against visiting Delaware, Doherty produced another big game as she scored three goals but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 12-10 to the Blue Hens.

While Doherty was pleased to build on her performance against Cal, it was of little consolation.

“I was happy to get three but in the end it’s about the team and the outcome,” said Doherty. “I just wish we could have put it all together today.”

When Doherty put Princeton ahead 10-9 with her third tally of the day midway through the second half to cap a 3-1 run, it looked like the Tigers might be seizing momentum.

“It was a close pass, she tried to pick it off and didn’t get it and I saw my opportunity,” said Doherty, recalling the tally.

The Tigers, though, never scored again as they dropped to 7-2 overall. “You have to give it to them, they made hard plays and we weren’t at our best,” acknowledged Doherty.

“We just didn’t capitalize on the opportunities that we had and we had a lot of unforced errors and Delaware capitalized on those. We weren’t there mentally today, I think.”

Princeton’s task was made harder in the absence of senior star Erin McMunn, who is currently sidelined with a leg injury.

“It definitely hurts not having McMunn, she is just such a presence on attack, even just her talking,” said Doherty.

“She really leads our attack but we have a lot of other personnel and I think we can definitely make it work.”

In Doherty’s view, the Tigers need to focus on working harder in training.

“I think the focus is executing in practice and really putting that into the games because we know we have the skill,” said Doherty. “We just have to put our best effort out there every time we step onto the field and we didn’t do that today.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer acknowledged that it wasn’t her team’s best game.

“I think that was great for us getting up 10-9 but then on our last six possessions we weren’t able to come away with goals,” said Sailer.

“That is a problem. We had turnovers, we had shots that the goalie saved. Meanwhile they had three at the other end; it is hard to pull out a close game that way. Lack of execution was our biggest issue, just individual execution today. It was all over the field.”

Sailer pointed to the draw as an issue for the Tigers. “I think they won by one on draw control (12-11) but we didn’t compete hard enough on the draws, that was also an issue,” said Sailer. “There were stretches where we just didn’t have possession. We really needed it.”

While Princeton was on target with its shooting, it wasn’t aggressive enough in generating opportunities.

We only had 18 shots so 10 goals off of 18 is good but we need more shots than that; we need more possessions than that,” said Sailer. “You have to credit Delaware on that. I thought they came in, they played with a ton of energy, they really went after it.”

Sailer credited Doherty with giving the Tigers a spark. “I think Doe has had a great week, she has really been playing hard, going to the cage hard,” said Sailer.

“She had another three goals today. She had two in seven games and now she has had seven in two games. Getting her on fire is helping us, she had a really good game.”

Looking ahead to the Ivy League stretch drive, Sailer said her players need to play hard at all times. “I think the lesson that you learn is that you have to show up every day, you can’t take anything for granted,” said Sailer, whose team, now ranked 16th nationally and currently 2-0 in league action, plays at Yale (6-5 overall, 1-2 Ivy) on April 4.

“I think you have to come out fired up. We know right now that, except for Maryland, we are in the Ivies from here on out. We have got to play our best. We have to execute better and make better decisions on the field.”

In Doherty’s view, the memory of the Delaware defeat should spur that kind of intensity.

“We are going to remember this game and let it drive us through the rest of the season because this is an awful feeling,” said Doherty. “We don’t want it to happen again.”

IN THE FAST LANE: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Georgia McLean races upfield in 2014 action. Last Friday, sophomore midfielder McLean contributed two goals and an assist to help PHS top Hun 14-3, giving new head coach David Schlesinger the first victory in his tenure with the program. PHS, now 2-2,  hosts WW/P-N on April 1.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

IN THE FAST LANE: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Georgia McLean races upfield in 2014 action. Last Friday, sophomore midfielder McLean contributed two goals and an assist to help PHS top Hun 14-3, giving new head coach David Schlesinger the first victory in his tenure with the program. PHS, now 2-2, hosts WW/P-N on April 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Over the last few years, when one watched the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse  team, the No. 17 shirt was sure to catch the eye.

The player wearing that jersey, gritty midfielder Dana Smith, was a 5’1 whirling dervish, gobbling up ground balls and triggering the PHS offense.

Smith graduated last June and is now making an impact on the Lafayette College women’s team, starting 11 of the team’s first 12 games this spring.

Although Smith is gone, the No. 17 is still figuring into the action as it has been inherited by sophomore Georgia McLean.

“I want to emulate Dana because I love the way she plays; I took her number on purpose,” said McLean, who wore No. 5 last year in her freshman campaign.” I have also had this number when I was a little girl on PGLax.”

Last Friday, McLean performed a very good imitation of Smith, tracking down a number of grounds balls in the midfield and chipping in two goals and an assist as PHS topped Hun 14-3, bouncing back nicely from a 5-1 loss to Shore in its season opener two days earlier.

“I was trying to get really pumped up for the game,” said McLean. “I ate my carbs last night and I was really fired up. I really wanted to come back from the first game.”

In McLean’s view, the Little Tigers were firing on all cylinders in the win over Hun.

“I think that we worked on a lot of midfield transitions, that was a big part of the game,” said McLean.

“We had a new play to utilize our best shooters, Allie (Callaway) and Gabby (Gibbons), they are amazing. I think we were more in synch because we had more practice and I think the plays that we did were really effective today.”

McLean has put in a lot of practice to become a better player as a sophomore.

“I really try to work on my shot and stuff like that,” said McLean, who chipped in two goals to help PHS top Bishop Eustace 13-10 last Monday as it improved to 2-2. “As a sophomore, you feel more confident on the field.”

PHS’s first-year head coach David Schlesinger was thrilled with the work he is getting from McLean.

“Georgia is amazing, she probably had about 30 ground balls today,” said Schlesinger.

“She is a very quick, tough, feisty player and she is going to make tons and tons of plays this year. We are very fortunate to have a player of her ability.”

In Schlesinger’s view, PHS played a lot better against Hun than it did in the opening day loss.

“I thought we played a little bit calmer than we did on Wednesday,” said Schlesinger.

“They pressured us but they didn’t put quite the same pressure that Shore did. I think we turned the ball over less and we had a lot more opportunities so the whole game was different. We have got some very talented offensive players and once they start relaxing a little more instead of feeling like they have to go, go, all the time then our offense will really start to click.”

Things were also clicking at the defensive end for the Little Tigers against Hun.

“I thought we played very strong defense; we have the ultimate defender in Mira,” said Schlesinger, referring to senior goalie Mira Shane.

“I thought our defense played very well. The game was called very, very tight so it limited some of our aggressiveness defensively but we adjusted and pulled out a victory.”

For Schlesinger, getting his first victory at PHS was sweet. “It is better than a second loss, it is also the 50th win of my career,” said a smiling Schlesinger, who previously coached at Eastern High and Wissahickon High (Pa.).

“It is good, any time you are in a new program, this is the third time I have started at another high school, you have to build credibility and you have to build it very quickly. The best way to do that is to pile up some wins.”

In McLean’s view, Schlesinger has already built up a lot of credibility with his new charges.

“It has been awesome, he is a really great coach,” said Schlesinger. “He has really taught me a lot about shooting and attack. We do a lot of team building to bring the team together. I think the team has really jelled.”

SPECIAL DELIVERY: Princeton High baseball player Joaquin Hernandez-Burt fires the ball in action last spring. After going 5-4 with a 2.25 ERA in 2014, junior Hernandez-Burt has emerged as the team’s ace. PHS is slated to open its 2015 campaign by hosting Robbinsville on April 1.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SPECIAL DELIVERY: Princeton High baseball player Joaquin Hernandez-Burt fires the ball in action last spring. After going 5-4 with a 2.25 ERA in 2014, junior Hernandez-Burt has emerged as the team’s ace. PHS is slated to open its 2015 campaign by hosting Robbinsville on April 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the Princeton High baseball program doesn’t have strength in numbers, it boasts some talented players.

“We are limited in depth, we only have 29 kids in the whole program,” said PHS head coach Dave Roberts, who guided the Little Tigers to a 9-14 record in 2014.

“I am probably carrying 13 players on varsity. I am very happy with the quality of the starting players.”

PHS features a quality starting pitcher in junior Joaquin Hernandez-Burt, who led the Little Tigers in win (5) and innings pitched (49) last season, going 5-4 with a 2.25 ERA.

“Joaquin had a little arm trouble over the winter so we are working him back slowly,” said Roberts, whose team is slated to open its 2015 campaign by hosting Robbinsville on April 1.

“Physically, he’s grown a couple of inches. He is a little heavier, he is filling out. He works hard, we are expecting him to return to where he was last year.”

Roberts is expecting senior Ben Danis, senior Ben Grass, and junior Colin Taylor to round out his mound staff.

“Ben Danis will be used quite frequently, he had some good outings last year,” said Roberts.

“Ben Grass pitched for the Legion team and is joining us as a senior, he will get some innings. Colin Taylor will get some time on the mound.”

Taylor and fellow junior Hayden Reyes will be counted on to trigger the PHS offense.

“Colin and Hayden give us a good one-two punch at the top of the order,” asserted Roberts.

“Taylor is strong in the one hole and we are going to keep Hayden at No. 2. The key is getting those two guys on base. When we were most successful last year, they were able to steal bases and we were able to move them up and score on sacrifice flies.”

Senior John Reid and Hernandez-Burt provide punch in the middle of the lineup.

“I am looking at Reid in the four spot, he had a great year for us last season, he can get RBIs,” said Roberts. “Joaquin also offers a lot with the bat.”

Defensively, PHS looks strong in most spots with Hernandez-Burt and freshman Paul Cook at first base, junior Matt Lambert at second, Reyes at short, Taylor at third, sophomore Tim Frawley at catcher, and an outfield consisting of Reid, Danis, and Steve Majeski.

“I am totally confident in second base, shortstop and third base,” said Roberts.

“They are all good athletes and they look like infielders should. Reid has been in left field for three years. Danis was in centerfield last year and Majeski played well for the Legion team last summer.”

While Roberts is confident in his starters, he acknowledges that they are going to have to be iron men in order for PHS to have a good season.

“It is getting healthy and staying healthy,” said Roberts. “Stamina and endurance will be key. We have 24 games in the regular season and we will be playing four games a week. They need mental strength and focus.”

IN THE SWING: Princeton High softball player Emily DiLella takes a hard swing in a game last spring. Junior first baseman DiLella figures to be a key performer for the Little Tigers this spring as they look to improve on the 7-16 record they posted last season. PHS is slated to get its 2015 season underway by hosting Robbinsville on April 1.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

IN THE SWING: Princeton High softball player Emily DiLella takes a hard swing in a game last spring. Junior first baseman DiLella figures to be a key performer for the Little Tigers this spring as they look to improve on the 7-16 record they posted last season. PHS is slated to get its 2015 season underway by hosting Robbinsville on April 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Considering the obstacles the Princeton High softball team has faced dealing with this wintry preseason, it is a good thing that the team features a core of seasoned veterans.

“With three weeks in the gym, you are going crazy,” said PHS head coach Dave Boehm, who welcomes back eight returning starters for a team that went 7-16 in 2014.

“We have been hitting with machines in the cage and the pitchers have been throwing to the hitters. We were able to use our outfield the other day and get in a little bit of work outside.”

A trio of pitchers, sophomore Kayla Volante, senior Sarah Eisenach, and senior Nancy Gray will be sharing the pitching workload this spring.

“Kayla has picked up some speed and she has good movement on the ball,” said Boehm, whose team is slated to start the season by hosting Robbinsville on April 1.

“I think she is going to have a good year. Sarah will hold her own, she is a workhorse. She gets the job done when she is out there. She gives 100 percent all the time. Nancy might start some games, she has been looking pretty good in the gym. She has worked hard.”

Boehm believes he has a pretty good hitting attack, featuring a blend of table setters and some punch in the middle of the order. Freshman Bianca Guidi, Volante, and junior Kelli Swedish should be catalysts while junior Stephanie Wu, Eisenach, Gray, and junior Emily DiLella can knock runs in.

“Guidi will bat leadoff; she has decent size and is pretty fast,” said Boehm.

“She is going to be a player. I have Volante, Swedish, Eisenach, and Wu next followed by Gray and DiLella. Wu and Swedish led us in hitting last year. Eisenach has been a steady hitter. She has a big bat, just needs to make more contact.”

With the team’s lack of work outside, Boehm acknowledges that he is considering a number of defensive combinations. Sophomore Christina Cuomo will be at catcher with DiLella and Eisenach at first base and junior Jordan Petrone, sophomore Celia Gleason, and junior Natalie Campisi likely to see time at second. Gray and Wu will be getting looks at both shortstop and third. The outfield could include Volante, Guidi, Campisi, Swedish, and junior Genna Garlock.

Once the Little Tigers get in some time on the field, Boehm is confident that the squad can get into a groove.

“Overall, I think improving on our win total from last year is realistic, I think we can win double digits like we did two years ago,” said Boehm.

“They have to be convinced that they can do it. We have the potential. I think this is the most travel players I have ever had on the team. We need to be more consistent on the field and at the plate. They can’t get down if they have a bad inning. We are looking forward to getting it going, believe me.”

CLOSE SHAVE: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse player Jacob Shavel races past a foe in a game last season. PDS will depend on senior star Shavel to provide production from the midfield this spring. The Panthers were slated to open their season by hosting Voorhees on March 31 before playing at Germantown Academy (Pa.) on April 2 and at Hun on April 7 as they welcome new head coach Rich D’Andrea.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CLOSE SHAVE: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse player Jacob Shavel races past a foe in a game last season. PDS will depend on senior star Shavel to provide production from the midfield this spring. The Panthers were slated to open their season by hosting Voorhees on March 31 before playing at Germantown Academy (Pa.) on April 2 and at Hun on April 7 as they welcome new head coach Rich D’Andrea. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After serving as the assistant coach for the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team for the last three years, Rich D’Andrea doesn’t have to make drastic changes as he assumes the reins from Rob Tuckman.

With Tuckman having guided the Panthers to a state Prep B title and a 13-3 record last spring in his swan song after previously announcing in the fall that he was stepping down, the program is in good shape.

“Rob did such a good job of transition, so a lot of the systems are in place, the base packages, clears, and rides,” said D’Andrea, a former star goalie at Peddie and Georgetown who served as the head coach at WW/P-N for a year before coming to PDS.

“He really built the program up. It is a hardworking group and they understand the values of pushing each other and policing each other.”

The Panthers got in a lot of hard work in late March on their annual spring training trip to Hilton Head, S.C.

“The trip worked out well, the boys worked really hard,” said D’Andrea. “They looked good. We played some good teams. It was really nice down in Sea Pines, the best part was probably the off field stuff. I think the dynamic of each team is different.”

PDS features a dynamic attack unit in the trio of senior Chris Azzarello, junior Joey Levine, and freshman Elon Tuckman.

“Chris is returning, he had good numbers last year, he is a good finisher,” said D’Andrea of the Ohio-Wesleyan-bound Azzarello.

“We are expecting him to have a big year. Joey Levine also had a nice year last season. He had been developing nicely in the offseason. He shoots the ball very well, I think he will have a good year. Elon Tuckman had a really, really nice preseason. He was putting the ball into the net, he is our lefty finisher.”

One of the team’s top finishers, Cornell-bound junior Connor Fletcher, figures to spearhead the midfield.

“Fletch is Fletch, he is a monster,” said D’Andrea. “He has worked really, really hard on the finer points of the game. One of the big things this year is that we are looking to stay balanced. Going to one or two guys works for a few games but you end up becoming one-dimensional.”

The midfield should be multi-dimensional with the likes of junior Jonah Tuckman, sophomore Nick Day, sophomore Will Brossman, and senior and RPI-bound Jacob Shavel.

“Jonah Tuckman had a fantastic year last season, he was a utility player, doing face-offs, man-down, man-up,” said D’Andrea.

“Nick Day, a sophomore who came over from WW/P-N, is a face-off specialist so Jonah won’t have to do that. Jonah is the type of kid who will do anything for the team you ask of him. He is a coach’s son and a student of the game. Will Brossman scored three goals against Rutgers Prep in Prep B title game; he had a great offseason. Jacob gives us a good wrinkle there in the midfield. He has been an attacker the last three years, we have him at midfield in terms of adding some depth where we need it.”

There is depth on the Panther defense as that unit features seniors Christian Vik and Kevin Towle along with juniors Amir Melvin and James Fragale and sophomore Coby Gibson.

“Vik and Towle are both big and physical, they communicate really well,” said D’Andrea of Vik, who is headed to Swarthmore, and the Kenyon-bound Towle.

“They can be calming to a defense. They are strong and good at clearing, they get the ball up and down the field. Amir Melvin is a  big, rangy athletic guy and has a good stick. He could see some time at longstick midfielder. James Fragale is another defender with a good stick. Coby Gibson had a great preseason.”

D’Andrea is hoping the senior goalie and Muhlenberg College recruit Chris Markey will have a great season as he moves into the starting role after the graduation of Culver Duquette.

“Chris is really technical in everything he does, watches a lot of tape, working on positioning, hand placement, and stepping into the ball,” said D’Andrea, who will be using freshman Eugene Yoon as his backup goalie.

“As a leader he is stepping up, really directing the defense really well in Hilton Head.”

With a tough schedule that now includes some Pennsylvania prep powers along with games against formidable foes such as Hun, Peddie, and Hopewell Valley, PDS will need to step up collectively on a daily basis.

“They need to be ready to compete hard day in, day out,” said D’Andrea, whose squad was slated to open the season by hosting Voorhees on March 31 before playing at Germantown Academy (Pa.) on April 2 and at Hun on April 7.

“I think our balance on offense is a strength; we have six, seven, or eight guys who are comfortable finishing. The defense plays well as a group, working together inside, not as individuals.”

In D’Andrea’s view, the team’s biggest strength could well be the diligence the group has displayed all year long.

“It is the hardest working group of guys I have been around,” said D’Andrea, noting that all five seniors on the team are committed to play lacrosse for college programs.

“They were on the field a lot shooting in the offseason and they got together in the weight room two days a week.”

AS NEEDED: Hun School boys’ lacrosse player Chris Aslanian heads upfield last Monday in Hun’s 14-13 win over the IMG Academy (Fla.) in overtime. Postgraduate Aslanian tallied four goals and three assists in the victory to help the Raiders improve to 3-0. Hun plays at Blair in April 1 before hosting PDS on April 7.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

AS NEEDED: Hun School boys’ lacrosse player Chris Aslanian heads upfield last Monday in Hun’s 14-13 win over the IMG Academy (Fla.) in overtime. Postgraduate Aslanian tallied four goals and three assists in the victory to help the Raiders improve to 3-0. Hun plays at Blair in April 1 before hosting PDS on April 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Chris Aslanian and the Hun School boys’ lacrosse team didn’t show any opening day jitters as they started their season by hosting Don Bosco last Wednesday.

With post graduate Aslanian chipping in a goal and an assist, Hun jumped out to a 5-0 lead after the first quarter.

“I think it is just a total team effort, just coming out there, we wanted to have a fast start,” said Aslanian.

“We have a lot of talent on our offense. Our coach really harps on playing team offense, working together, using each other and playing unselfish.”

Hun kept it together the rest of the afternoon, cruising to a 16-5 win over the Ironmen. Aslanian ended up with three goals and four assists, repeatedly connecting with fellow post-grads Chris Donovan and Brendan Rooney.

“We are also boarders at the school; we live here and we have been playing together for a while,” said Aslanian.

“We definitely have a chemistry. I think our whole offense is really great. We really understand the whole idea behind it, just working together as a team. Everyone does their own part.”

In reflecting on his big debut, Aslanian spread the credit around. “I think any guy can do that, I was in the right spot at the right time,” said Aslanian, who had another big day last Monday, scoring four goals as Hun edged IMG Academy (Fla.) 14-13 in overtime to improve to 3-0.

“We have a lot of talent around here and I just happened to be the beneficiary of all the hard work.”

Aslanian, a former standout at Westfield High who has committed to attend Hobart College and play for its men’s lax program, is finding Hun to be a good spot for him.

“It has been a great experience, the guys have been awesome,” asserted Aslanian. “It has been a really smooth transition. The coaching staff is amazing, I love it here.”

Earning the respect of the guys, Aslanian was voted by the players to be one of the team captains this spring.

“I was truly honored to have my teammates vote for me; I think it has been great so far,” said Aslanian.

“I have only been here a year. We have a lot of captains who have been here for a while and they kind of run the show and I just try to do my little part.”

Hun head coach MV Whitlow likes how Aslanian is getting it done. “Chris is a really dynamic player, he is always looking for his teammates,” said Whitlow. “He is very talented, he can shoot the ball really well but he also has great vision.”

The Raiders’ dynamic performance against Don Bosco was heartening to Whitlow. “We wanted to start fast and I think we did start fast,” said Whitlow.

“We wanted to play uptempo and I thought we did play uptempo. We want to push our opportunities and share the ball and when that happens a lot of guys are going to get good looks and today they went in.”

Junior midfielder Alex Semler’s good work on face-offs helped get Hun rolling.

“We were happy because we were winning face-offs, Alex Semler is pretty tough at the X,” said Whitlow.

“He has really been working hard. He is a team guy and he wants to get the ball for us. When we have the ball that much, we are going to have success as long as the guys share the ball, trust each other, and play unselfishly.”

Hun played well at the defensive end of the field, stifling the Ironmen. “Tucker Stevenson anchors things back there on the defense; having Jon Levine behind him in goal really helps,” said Whitlow.

“Robert Kuhn is a great defensive midfielder. Chris Fake and the addition of Kyle Horihan are big back there.”

With its talent and work ethic, Hun appears poised to have a big spring.

“I think the players having worked so hard, really trust the coaching staff,” said Whitlow, whose team plays at Blair on April 1 before hosting PDS on April 7.

“The flip side of that is that the coaches really trust the players to make plays on the field and we empower them to do that, to be free thinkers and creators. They trust each other, that is the most important thing.”

In Aslanian’s view, maintaining that trust could result in the Raiders becoming a true powerhouse.

“I think if we just stay the course and keep working together and playing unselfishly and really work on that, we can do a lot of big things,” said Aslanian.

JUST FINE: Hun School baseball player Justin Pontrella takes a swing in 2014 action. Last Monday, senior first baseman Pontrella contributed two RBIs as Hun topped Academy of New Church (Pa.) 19-1 in its season opener. In upcoming action, the Raiders play at Blair on April 1 before hosting Lawrenceville on April 2.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

JUST FINE: Hun School baseball player Justin Pontrella takes a swing in 2014 action. Last Monday, senior first baseman Pontrella contributed two RBIs as Hun topped Academy of New Church (Pa.) 19-1 in its season opener. In upcoming action, the Raiders play at Blair on April 1 before hosting Lawrenceville on April 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As Bill McQuade enters his 45th season guiding the Hun School baseball team, that wealth of experience should come in handy as he looks to utilize the ample supply of talent at his disposal.

“It has been a long, long time since we have had this kind of depth,” said Hun head coach McQuade, who guided the Raiders to an 8-12 record in 2014.

“We have a lot of good players and there is not much difference between them. We need to move the pieces around. We have so many pieces and they all have to buy into it. It is next man in; they have to perform as well as they can so we can move the pieces.”

McQuade has lots of good options when it comes to his mound corps. “We have six, seven, or eight guys who can pitch one, two, or three innings, they can throw strikes and change speeds,” said McQuade.

Senior Jason Applegate, junior Rob Huselid, and junior George Revock figure to be the front line hurlers.

“The starters are Applegate, Huselid, and Revock; we think they can go three, four, five, or six innings,” said McQuade, whose team topped Academy of New Church (Pa.) 19-1 last Monday in its season opener with Applegate getting the win on the mound.

“Jason is looking good; he has got the arm. He is going to Villanova so he can just relax and play the game. He is one of our captains and a 4-year player. He will play outfield when he is not pitching, he is a very good hitter. Robby Huselid has improved so much. He threw sidearm last year and had a good curve. He is 6’6, I suggested that he change his arm slot. He worked hard in the weight room, gained 30 pounds and is coming with a three-quarter delivery and his curve is breaking down hard. He is going to be something now, nothing fazes him, he doesn’t get uptight on the mound. If something bad happens, he just goes on to the next batter. Revock did really well last year.”

The trio of Revock, junior Jordyn Smith, and senior Justin Pontrella will be alternating between first base, pitcher,  and designated hitter.

“Jordyn Smith got bigger and stronger, he can pitch and play first,” said McQuade. “George is left-handed so I like having him at first. Some of the plays there are easier for him. His bat has to be in the lineup. He is thinking about playing in college and he knows it will have to be with his hitting. Pontrella is in the mix. He can pitch, he throws strikes.”

Others in the pitching mix include junior James Werosta, senior Matt Kooker, sophomore Blake Brown, senior Kyle O’Sullivan, and senior Nick Perez.

“Werosta pitched a lot last year; Kooker got some innings,” added McQuade. “They both play in the infield. Blake Brown can play all nine positions. O’Sullivan has been playing with us for four years. He may have been our most effective pitcher on our Florida trip, we threw him after some faster pitchers. He throws strikes and changes speeds. Nick Perez is a shortstop and another team captain. He could be a pitcher, too; he might be our closer. He throws hard and has a good curve.”

Perez will help trigger what figures to be a very good offense. “Brown, Kooker, and Peter Schintzler are at top of order,” said McQuade.

“Perez may be in second or third hole. He was driving the ball in Florida, going gap to gap. Alex Mumme, a junior transfer from Montgomery, was our most consistent hitter in Florida. He played center field and will be in the middle of the order. Revock, Pontrella, and Jordy Smith are also in the middle of the order. Gideon Friedberg will be in there. He hit well in Florida. He is solid, he is going to Franklin & Marshall. He is going to be a key to the team. He has to stay healthy and come up big. We have a lot of youth behind him at catcher.”

McQuade had lots of flexibility in terms of his defense with Smith, Pontrella, and Revock as options at first base, the speedy Schintzler at second, Perez at short, and either Kooker or Werosta at third, and Friedberg holding down the catcher spot. In the outfield, McQuade is looking at Brown, Kooker, Mumme, Applegate, and Evan Barratt.

In order to have a big spring, the Raiders need to take care of the basics.

“The pitchers have to do a good job of throwing strikes and keeping guys off the bases,” said McQuade, whose team plays at Blair on April 1 before hosting Lawrenceville on April 2.

“We need to catch the ball in the field. I think we will hit the ball, we don’t have power hitters but we have a lot of guys who make contact. We have talent.”

SUPER SAVER: Stuart Country Day School lacrosse goalie Harlyn Bell makes a save in a game last spring. Senior goalie Bell will be counted on to lead the Stuart defense this spring. The Tartans started the season with a 17-6 win over the Country Day School of the Sacred Heart (Pa.) last Monday, giving new head coach Kelsey O’Gorman a win in her debut. Stuart plays at the George School (Pa.) on April 7.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SUPER SAVER: Stuart Country Day School lacrosse goalie Harlyn Bell makes a save in a game last spring. Senior goalie Bell will be counted on to lead the Stuart defense this spring. The Tartans started the season with a 17-6 win over the Country Day School of the Sacred Heart (Pa.) last Monday, giving new head coach Kelsey O’Gorman a win in her debut. Stuart plays at the George School (Pa.) on April 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Kelsey O’Gorman, it has been an easy move, literally and figuratively, to take the helm of the Stuart Country Day School lacrosse program.

O’Gorman, the former head coach of the Princeton High girls’ team and a physical education teacher at the school, has enjoyed coming across town to lead the Tartans.

“I thought it was a great opening; I saw a good opportunity,” said O’Gorman, who guided PHS to a 17-4 record last spring and trips to the finals of both the Mercer County Tournament and Group III South sectional.

“I was taking over for coach (Caitlin) Grant, I knew her from college (TCNJ) and she said it was a great group of girls. It has been exciting to see how everything works at Stuart and bring to some of my experiences to the program.”

Stuart features a trio of exciting playmakers in junior stars, Tori Hannah, Sam Servis, and Julia Maser.

“Those three juniors bring a lot to the field, from draws to passing to scoring,” said O’Gorman, who is taking over a team that went 8-6 in 2014.

“I think the draw is the hot spot for us, we get so much possession. It is nice because that is something you normally have to work on a lot at the beginning. I have a lot of faith in our draw unit.”

Senior Nneka Onukwugha, junior Harley Guzman, and freshman Ali Hannah will also see work in the offensive end.

“Harley and Nneka will help the attack,” added O’Gorman, whose team was on the attack in its opener as it posted a 17-6 win over the Country Day School of the Sacred Heart (Pa.) last Monday. “Tori’s younger sister, Ali Hannah, will be helping us on attack.”

On defense, junior Rose Tetnowski should be a big help to a young group.

“Rose is one of our most experienced defenders; she is great at clearing the ball,” said O’Gorman.

“She is a smart player and a good all-around athlete. We are still working with some younger players on defense. We have a lot of talent there but we are looking for veterans to lead the way.”

Senior goalie Harlyn Bell figures to be a key leader for the Tartans this spring.

“Harlyn has a lot of spunk, she knows how to lead a team,” asserted O’Gorman. “She brings things together on defense and is verbal in the crease.

She has great footwork, she is a great player.”

In O’Gorman’s view, things are coming together as the players get used to their new coach.

“We just need to grow as a team and learn from each game,” said O’Gorman, whose team will look to keep on the winning track when it plays at the George School (Pa.) on April 7.

“They are definitely coachable girls. When they are at practice, they are ready to learn. They have to be versatile players because we will be asking them to step into roles that are best for the team. They go with the flow.”

O’Gorman believes the team can go far this spring. “I am looking to take Stuart lacrosse up a notch and compete at a whole new level,” said O’Gorman. “We had practice today at 6 a.m. It is intense.”

March 25, 2015
HOLDING COURT: Princeton University women’s basketball head coach Courtney Banghart stares out at the court during a game this season. Under Banghart’s leadership, Princeton captured national attention as it brought a 30-0 record into the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament last weekend. Writing the final chapters to an historic saga, eighth-seeded Princeton edged No. 9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 80-70 last Saturday in a first round contest before falling 85-70 to top-seed and host Maryland on Monday. The win over Green Bay marked the first NCAA tournament victory in program history.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HOLDING COURT: Princeton University women’s basketball head coach Courtney Banghart stares out at the court during a game this season. Under Banghart’s leadership, Princeton captured national attention as it brought a 30-0 record into the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament last weekend. Writing the final chapters to an historic saga, eighth-seeded Princeton edged No. 9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 80-70 last Saturday in a first round contest before falling 85-70 to top-seed and host Maryland on Monday. The win over Green Bay marked the first NCAA tournament victory in program history. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

If there was any doubt that the Princeton University women’s basketball team had captured the imagination of those far and near with its 30-0 regular season, the scene at the XFINITY Center in College Park, Md. last Saturday gave conclusive proof of the team’s impact.

As eighth-seeded Princeton faced No. 9 Wisconsin-Green Bay in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the eyes of the nation were on the 30-0 Tigers. The game was televised on ESPN2 and President Obama, whose niece, Leslie Robinson, is a freshman player on Princeton, was on hand in the sixth row behind the Tiger bench. A raucous horde of orange clad Princeton fans in attendance made the gym feel like Jadwin south.

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart acknowledged that the scene made her a bit nervous.

“I think people are really rooting for us; that added some pressure for me,” said Banghart, whose team produced the best regular season record in Ivy League hoops history, men’s or women’s.

“I know this is a really good story and I didn’t want it to end. In the NCAA tournament, a tough couple of possessions can end it. I think this has become America’s team and it is a great team to root for because they are made of the right people.”

In the first half, the 13th-ranked Tigers had some shaky possessions, making 12 turnovers and giving up some layups as Green Bay took a 35-34 lead at halftime.

“I don’t think that we played so well in the first half but instead of those guys getting in a shell and saying we were missing a great opportunity, they just got better and that was what they have done all year,” said Banghart.

Playing sharper at both ends of the court, the Tigers pulled away to an 80-70 win over the Phoenix, earning the first NCAA tourney win in program history and just the second ever for an Ivy women’s team.

The Princeton supporters on hand, including a beaming President Obama, were in an uproar as the Tigers closed in on the historic win.

“To think of how many people were there supporting us, all the way from our Princeton administration to our alums who so badly wanted to win in their years, it was a home game for us,” said Banghart, who got 20 points from junior Michelle Miller in the win with junior Annie Tarakchian contributing 19 points and 17 rebounds and classmate Alex Wheatley adding 15 points and 10 rebounds.

“Today Princeton was here in full effect and that was really special, that is a really great college basketball environment for women’s basketball. To draw that many home-based fans is special. I am a proud coach and I am really happy for these kids. At Princeton, you are part of something and we felt like we were part of something really special today.”

Princeton senior guard Blake Dietrick and her teammates were determined to make the Tiger fans happy with a big second half.

“I think we came out with an attitude of OK we have got our feet wet, we know we are in this game, we know we can win this game,” said Dietrick, recalling the team’s mindset at halftime.

“We know we can play a lot better than we did in that first half. We were smiling, we were happy, we were good. We were ready to play the game we love. I just think that change really helped us.

Miller, for her part, fed off the support from the stands. “We had great energy from our fans,” said Miller.

“It just got me more excited to play this game. I think anytime you have the president in your fan base, you automatically win that contest.”

For Banghart, who had been winless in eight previous appearances in the NCAA, four times as a player and assistant coach at Dartmouth before four trips as head coach of the Tigers from 2010-13, the triumph was an exciting breakthrough.

“This means a lot because it is something that we will remember forever,” said Banghart.

“Those kids in the locker room will always have a win in a tournament game. I have been a fan of the NCAA tournament forever and I will always be. To have an opportunity to be someone who is able to bring our team to the second round of the NCAA tournament is a highlight. I am enormously proud of Princeton; it is a place that deserves this moment and I am just the one who is in charge of speaking on behalf of them.”

On Monday in the second round contest against top-seeded and host Maryland, the Tigers had their moments. Battling the Terps tooth-and-nail in a riveting first half, the Tigers led 30-26 with five minutes left and trailed just 42-38 at intermission.

But with Maryland heating up from the perimeter, the Terps opened the half with a 20-4 run to seize control of the contest. Hitting 7-of-8 shots from three-point range over the last 20 minutes, the Terps pulled away to an 85-70 win. Dietrick led Princeton with 26 points with sophomore Vanessa Smith scoring 15 in 28 minutes off the bench.

“What a great college basketball game as we expected it to be,” said Banghart in a video of her postgame press conference included on the Princeton athletics website.

“I give a lot of credit to Maryland. We forced them to shoot really well to beat us and that was our goal going in, we were going to make them make shots from the perimeter, 15 feet and out. Man they shot the ball really well. Anyone who watched the game will see that it was two really, really good teams and it is not about anything besides that. Two good teams battling and unfortunately we were not the team that won the game.”

While junior star Wheatley was disappointed by the outcome, the loss didn’t dim what the Tigers had accomplished this winter.

“I don’t think I can summarize it yet, it is still sinking in,” said Wheatley, who had 10 points and three rebounds in the defeat to Maryland. “I am so proud of my teammates. This season has been absolutely phenomenal; 31-1 is something to be really proud of and something I won’t soon forget.”

Banghart, for her part, provided a fitting summary of what the Tigers achieved in their season for the ages.

“What this team did is they made history,” said Banghart. “All you want to do in your life is to leave a legacy and do something of impact. There is not anyone attached to this team that doesn’t think they did both of those things. They left a legacy that will be remembered forever and they made an impact that has touched so many. You hope that sometime in your life’s work you do both of those things. This particular team did them both in the same year. I don’t think anybody will forget this team, including me. It was really fun.”

MILLER’S TIME: Princeton University women’s basketball player Michelle Miller fights around a defender in recent action. Last Saturday, junior guard Miller contributed a team-high 20 points to help eighth-seeded Princeton defeat ninth-seeded Wisconsin-Green Bay 80-70 in the first round of the NCAA tournament at College Park, Md. and improve to 31-0. It marked the first-ever win in the NCAA tourney for No. 13 Princeton, which saw its dream season come to an end with an 85-70 loss to top-seeded Maryland last Monday.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MILLER’S TIME: Princeton University women’s basketball player Michelle Miller fights around a defender in recent action. Last Saturday, junior guard Miller contributed a team-high 20 points to help eighth-seeded Princeton defeat ninth-seeded Wisconsin-Green Bay 80-70 in the first round of the NCAA tournament at College Park, Md. and improve to 31-0. It marked the first-ever win in the NCAA tourney for No. 13 Princeton, which saw its dream season come to an end with an 85-70 loss to top-seeded Maryland last Monday. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As the Princeton University women’s basketball team prepared for its NCAA first round contest against Wisconsin-Green Bay last Saturday, Michelle Miller wasn’t up to par.

“I had a fever on and off this week,” said Princeton junior guard Miller, a 5’10 native of Pasadena, Calif. “Yesterday I felt better so I practiced.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart was concerned that she might not have Miller for the clash between the eighth-seeded Tigers and the ninth-seeded Phoenix at College Park, Md.

“Michelle was a scratch until about 12 hours ago; we have our team doctor here with us and our trainer and I am never happy when both of them are working more than I am,” said Banghart of Miller, a Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence winner who aspires to be a doctor.

“She was going through some weird viruses and flus and things. We are a little beat up in that respect.”

Once on the court Saturday at the XFINITY Center, Miller was ready to get to work. “I wasn’t feeling sick or anything like that,” said Miller. “I got tired a little faster than usual.”

Miller’s shooting made Green Bay feel ill in the first half as she hit on 6-of-10 shots in the first half, including 3-of-3 from three-point range, to score 15 points and keep Princeton alive in a contest which saw the Tigers trailing 35-34 at halftime.

“I was just trying to come out aggressive,” said Miller, reflecting on her first half performance.

“If I have an open look for a three I am going to take it. The threes were going in today.”

The shots started going in more frequently for Princeton in the final 20 minutes of the game as the Tigers pulled away to an 80-70 victory to earn the first NCAA tourney win in program history, improving to 31-0 in the process.

In the second half, Miller turned her focus to defense, getting switched to cover Green Bay’s Mehryn Kraker, who had burned Princeton for 12 points in the first 20 minutes of the contest.

“She scored a lot for them in the the first half so I was just trying to limit her a little bit,” said Miller of Kraker, who cooled off a bit in the second half and ended up with 21 points.

“She still got a couple of more 3s. I was mad, I hit the ball with my hand on one pass and it still went right to her. I just tried to limit her shot, I know that she is one of the key shooters.”

In reflecting on the keys to the Princeton win, Miller cited more intensity at both ends of the court.

“We just had breakdowns in the first half on a couple of easy ones on some fast breaks and some backdoors, things we don’t normally give up,” said Miller, who scored a team-high 20 points on the afternoon.

“I think just locking that down and then offensively I think getting the ball inside. Wheatie (Alex Wheatley) stepped up a lot in the second half, (Annie Tarakchian) shot well and played well in the second half too. Different people stepped up for us in different parts of the game. Blake (Dietrick) hitting her free throws down the stretch. It reflects that we do have the kind of people who can step up for us.”

Winning a game in the NCAA tournament is something Miller will never forget.

“It is really incredible, this has been our goal for a long time,” said a grinning Miller, an honorable mention All-Ivy League player this season who averaged 11.9 points a game.

“Going back to my freshman year, when coach has you fill out your preseason goal sheet, it is what are your team goals, it is win a tournament game. Now I am a junior and we have finally checked that one off the list.”

Coach Banghart, for her part, knew she could count on Miller for an incredible effort once she took the court on Saturday.

“She battled through it as I knew she would; it is a great opportunity,” said Banghart. “When your best shooter is willing to defend with toughness you become a good team. We asked Michelle to get better on the defensive end and she has done that.”

The win on Saturday fulfilled Banghart’s vision for Miller and her classmates when they joined the program.

“She talked about our senior class when we were freshmen as being key in terms of getting us to the tournament,” recalled Miller, who had two points and eight rebounds last Monday as Princeton’s historic run came to an end with an 85-70 loss to top-seeded and host Maryland.

“She wanted our class to be the key in terms of taking the next step and actually having some success in the tournament and we got one today.”

ZACH ATTACK: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Zach Currier looks for an opening in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore midfielder Currier contributed two assists and three ground balls to help Princeton edge Yale 11-10. The 10th-ranked Tigers, now 6-1 overall and 2-0 Ivy League, host No. 13 Brown (6-1 overall, 1-0 Ivy) on March 29.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ZACH ATTACK: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Zach Currier looks for an opening in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore midfielder Currier contributed two assists and three ground balls to help Princeton edge Yale 11-10. The 10th-ranked Tigers, now 6-1 overall and 2-0 Ivy League, host No. 13 Brown (6-1 overall, 1-0 Ivy) on March 29. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When Princeton University men’s lacrosse head coach Chris Bates reviewed the tape of his team’s game against Yale last Saturday, he saw plenty of room for improvement.

“When we looked at the film, we saw that we didn’t execute well anywhere on the field,” said Bates.

“There are lessons there. We struggled facing off, they have always been good there. We got out ground-balled and there was some suspect offense.”

But while Bates didn’t like the video, he was pleased with what he saw on the field as Princeton pulled out an 11-10 win over the Bulldogs.

“To come away with a win against Yale, we are thrilled,” said Bates, whose team improved to 6-1 overall and 2-0 Ivy League with the triumph. “That is a talented team that beat a very good Maryland team earlier.”

In Bates’ view, his team’s come-from-behind 12-11 at Rutgers on March 17 helped set the tone for the effort against Yale.

“We knew they were going in to be a handful and they were,” said Bates, referring to Rutgers, which led Princeton 8-5 at halftime of the annual local showdown.

“We demonstrated some poise. At halftime, we don’t want to bark but we reminded them of some fundamental things. We played a workmanlike second half, Mike (MacDonald) got hot and that was important. We remained even-keeled. There is a quiet confidence about this team; they continue to play hard in crucial moments and execute.”

Predictably, there were some crucial moments in the Yale game as it marked the sixth straight regular season one-goal decision in the series.  Although Princeton outscored Yale 5-1 in the second quarter to take a 7-4 lead at halftime, Bates had a feeling things would tighten up.

“We were able to pull away a little in the second but we let them back in the game,” said Bates.

“They keep possession with face-offs and they were able to get that run. We are still young defensively. Yale makes you pay but our group kept after it. Eric (Sanschagrin)  made a couple of saves.”

The Princeton group is showing an encouraging propensity for coming through in tight contests.

“Getting two one-goal wins in a week helps you grow up,” said Bates, whose team went 2-7 in one goal games the last two years. “We are learning how to win close games and that only comes with experience.”

Senior midfielder and sole team captain Kip Orban is growing into a force, scoring four goals in the win over Yale.

“Kip played well; he is playing like a captain and, frankly, like an All-American,” asserted Bates. “He is playing like a man, using his size and strength. They put a shortstick on him and a pole on Zach (Currier); we were surprised by that.”

The team’s corps of defensive midfielders gave Princeton another strong performance.

“Austin deButts, Bobby Weaver and Austin Sims have the thankless job in the defensive midfield,” said Bates.

“They were solid. They kept the ball going up the side of the field. You don’t notice them but that is a sign that they had a good game, it is like offensive linemen in football.”

Bates certainly took notice of the heart and soul displayed by sophomore defender Bear Goldstein as he played through pain.

“Bear Goldstein had a possibility of not playing because of injury, his was a game-time decision,” said Bates.

“That kid’s toughness and leadership on that side of the field was big. If he doesn’t play, I am not sure we win that game. He knew it was a big Ivy game and that his team needed him out there.”

The 10th-ranked Tigers have a very big Ivy game this Sunday as they host No. 13 Brown (6-1 overall, 1-0 Ivy).

“They have a new offensive coordinator and they are playing at a high pace and generating a high volume of shots,” said Bates, referring to Brown. “It is going to come down to face-offs, making saves, and controlling tempo.”

SAILING ALONG: Princeton University women’s lacrosse head coach Chris Sailer surveys the action during a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, Hall of Famer Sailer earned the 350th win of her 29-year tenure at Princeton as the Tigers topped Harvard 17-12. No. 13 Princeton, now 6-1 overall and 2-0 Ivy League, hosts California on March 25 and Delaware on March 28.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SAILING ALONG: Princeton University women’s lacrosse head coach Chris Sailer surveys the action during a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, Hall of Famer Sailer earned the 350th win of her 29-year tenure at Princeton as the Tigers topped Harvard 17-12. No. 13 Princeton, now 6-1 overall and 2-0 Ivy League, hosts California on March 25 and Delaware on March 28. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After winning its first four games of the season, the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team hit a roadblock on a trip to Virginia earlier this month.

Playing a powerful University of Virginia squad, Princeton fell behind 12-4 on the way to an 18-11 loss to the Cavaliers in the March 14 contest.

While the loss stung, Princeton head coach Chris Sailer believes it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

“I think we really needed that; of course you want to win but we had some wins where we hadn’t played our best,” said Sailer.

“We needed to make some changes and adjustments. We needed to play with a different energy and effort. We needed to focus the girls. We had to keep fighting when things weren’t going our way. We got a lot of goals in the second half so that was good to see.”

A week of spring break followed the Virginia game and that gave the Tigers a chance to recharge in time for home games against Penn State last Wednesday and Harvard on Saturday.

“We did some fun things; we did bowling at Colonial Lanes and we did laser tag,” said Sailer. “After a tough loss, we needed to just have some fun together and I think that put us in a good frame of mind for Penn State.”

The 13th-ranked Tigers had fun in the clash with Penn State, overcoming an early 4-2 deficit to pull out a 12-11 win.

“I think they were ranked 11th when we played them,” said Sailer, who got four goals from senior Erin Slifer in the win with senior Erin McMunn contributing three goals and an assist and junior Stephanie Paloscio adding two goals and two assists. “It was our seventh win in the last eight games against them. It is always a competitive game.”

On Saturday, Princeton faced a competitive foe in an improved Harvard team.

“It is a really good team, they have a lot of athletic kids,” said Sailer, a 1981 Harvard alum who starred in field hockey and lacrosse for the Crimson. “It is the most physical game we have played this year; they have a very physical defense.”

In the clash against the Crimson, the Tigers jumped out to a 5-3 lead only to give up three straight goals. Princeton added a tally by senior Erika Grabbi in the last minute of the half to take a 6-5 lead at intermission. The rivals were knotted at 8-8 early in the second half before the Tigers went on a 5-0 run to gain control of the contest, never looking back on the way to a 17-12 triumph.

“They had their runs but I think the momentum changed early in the second half when we had that 5-goal run, that seemed to break their back,” said Sailer, whose team improved to 6-1 overall and 2-0 Ivy League by virtue of the victory.

The Tigers showed some resilience as they regrouped after McMunn left the Harvard game in the first half due to an injury.

“Initially when she went out we struggled,” said Sailer. “We were figuring it out and it was great to see other girls come through.”

Grabbi ended up with two goals off the bench while Hompe contributed five goals, Paloscio added three goals and three assists, and star midfielder Slifer chipped in four goals and two assists. Slifer was later named the Ivy league Player of the Week.

“Erica had played at UVa and did well; she played within herself against Harvard,” said Sailer.

“She was smart with her decisions, calm and collected. Hompe had a great game, we are feeding off of her energy. It is great to see Stephanie consistently getting goals and assists. She had two goals and an assist against Penn State. She is very crafty, very smart, very alert. She is tough to mark because she is really small. She is playing well.”

The win also marked a milestone as it was Sailer’s 350th career victory. “I didn’t think it was something that people would celebrate; I knew I got my 300th win a while ago,” said Sailer, a Hall of Fame coach who now has a 350-139 record in 29 years guiding Princeton.

“It just represents a lot of great kids and assistant coaches that I have had. I am so fortunate to coach at a place like Princeton with the kids and staff that I have had. It makes me think about how the kids have earned all of those wins.”

With Princeton hosting California on March 25 and Delaware on March 28, Sailer is looking to add to that win total.

“The focus is to continue to get better; we were not taking enough risks on defense,” said Sailer.

“Against Penn State, Amanda Leavell had a great game with stick checks and ground balls. Liz Bannantine made a clutch play at the end of the game, getting a ground ball when they were pressing forward. We have to stretch ourselves and do more on the field, we could see that in the loss at Virginia. We want to have better defensive intensity and execute all over the field. The focus is on ourselves; we need to keep our house in order.”

HERE COMES MR. BROWN: Hun School boys’ hockey player Blake Brown controls the puck in a game this winter. Sophomore forward Brown emerged as Hun’s top scorer with 52 points on 22 goals and 30 assists, helping the Raiders to post a record of 22-3-3 and win the state Prep title and a second straight Mercer County Tournament crown.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HERE COMES MR. BROWN: Hun School boys’ hockey player Blake Brown controls the puck in a game this winter. Sophomore forward Brown emerged as Hun’s top scorer with 52 points on 22 goals and 30 assists, helping the Raiders to post a record of 22-3-3 and win the state Prep title and a second straight Mercer County Tournament crown. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Standing at 5’8 and weighing 140 pounds, Blake Brown doesn’t immediately catch the eye as the Hun School boys’ hockey team takes the ice.

But when the puck is around the net, sophomore forward Brown looms large as his speed, scrappiness, and finishing skill make him a threat to score at any time.

Hun head coach Ian McNally appreciates Brown’s nose for the goal.

“Blake can move the puck with Jon (Bendorf) and Evan (Barratt) but he can also wait until they find their shot and bang in the rebound,” said McNally.

“He is the workhorse. He is the dog that goes into the corner to get it and then goes to the front of the net and it eventually comes back to him.”

With Barratt sidelined most of the season with a knee injury, Brown lifted his game, becoming Hun’s top scorer as it rolled to one of the best seasons in program history. Combining with classmate Bendorf, the Raiders showed early on that they were going to be a force.

In a critical test in December against perennial nemesis Princeton Day School, Brown tallied two goals and an assist while Bendorf scored a dazzling end-to-end first period goal that gave Hun a 1-0 lead, jumpstarting the Raiders to a 6-1 triumph as they improved to 6-0-1.

“Coach read us alumni messages about this game and how we were never able to beat these guys in past years,” said Brown. “It is sweet to be finally able to do it.”

Hun ended 2014 on a high note as it won the Purple Puck tournament, topping host Gonzaga in a shootout in the title game after the teams battled to a 4-4 stalemate through regulation time. Brown chipped in a goal and an assist in the title game.

Brown produced some of his best work this winter in the state Prep tournament, tallying four goals to help top-seeded Hun defeat fourth-seeded Montclair Kimberley 7-3 in the semifinals and then adding two goals as the Raiders edged No. 2 Morristown-Beard 5-3 in the title game, earning the program’s first Prep crown since 1996.

“Blake had six goals in two games and they were all within two feet,” said McNally, noting that Brown’s final tally against Mo-Beard marked the 100th point of his Hun career. “He was in the right spot.”

Brown helped Hun take a second straight MCT title, tallying three goals and five assists in three games as Hun outscored its foes 21-0 in breezing to the championship.

“This brings the school together; we don’t get a lot of championships at Hun,” said Brown, reflecting on the team’s postseason success. “Hopefully we will bring a new chapter to Hun and start winning a lot of championships.”

Brown ended up as Hun’s top scorer with 52 points on 22 goals and 30 assists as the Raiders posted a final record of 22-3-3.

“Blake works hard for all of his points, he is not flashy and you might not realize how many points he scored,” said McNally.

For stepping up and emerging as Hun’s top scorer in a championship campaign, Brown is the choice as the Town Topics’ top male performer of the high school winter sports season.

Top Female Performer

It didn’t take long for Abbey Berloco to start turning heads in her freshman campaign with the Princeton High girls’ swimming team.

Making her high school debut against Hopewell Valley in early December, precocious freshman Berloco set a program record in the 50 freestyle with a time of 24.58, bettering the previous mark by 0.11.

For Berloco, getting records was secondary to simply getting better in her first season at the high school level. “I am just hoping for some more personal bests and having a really good season,” said Berloco, who puts in five or six two-hour training sessions a week with her Hamilton Aquatics club team. “My goals are I just want to improve and I want to keep enjoying the sport.”

Berloco ended up having a very, very good season. After helping PHS go undefeated in regular season competition, she won both the 50 and 100 freestyle races at the Mercer County Swimming Championships in early February as the Little Tigers won their third straight county crown. Berloco set a meet record in both races and was named the meet’s Most Valuable Swimmer (MVS) on the girls’ side.

Getting the MVS wasn’t a goal for Berloco as she wasn’t even aware the award existed until she won it.

“I didn’t even know that there was a MVS, everyone said we have to go up for awards,” recalled Berloco. “I was like OK. I was really shocked when I heard my name called.”

While Berloco was thrilled to earn the individual award, she was more excited about the team’s superb performance.

“Everyone did such an amazing job,” said Berloco. “It is great to be part of that; it was really fun to win counties.”

With Berloco dominating the sprint events, PHS kept winning, as it took the Public B Central Jersey sectional title and then topped Ocean City in state semis to advance to the Public B state final, where it fell 100-70 to Scotch Plains-Fanwood to suffer its only loss in a 15-1 season.

Berloco ended the winter in style, combining with sophomore Melinda Tang, junior Madeleine Deardorff, and junior Brianna Romaine to take first in the 400 free relay at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions. Individually, Berloco placed fifth in the 50 free.

In reflecting on Berloco’s exploits, PHS head coach Carly Misiewicz pointed to the freshman’s love of competition.

“She is a stellar athlete without a doubt,” said Misiewicz. “She gets in there and swims her heart out no matter what. If she is a body length ahead or a lap ahead of everybody, she puts her heart and soul into it. That is all you can ask for and that is what makes her the kind of swimmer that she is. She puts in 200 percent effort all of the time.”

Berloco’s excellence from the first race of her freshman season to the last makes her the pick as the top female performer this winter.

Top Newcomers

Entering the winter, Princeton High boys’ basketball head coach Mark Shelley believed that sophomore Zahrion Blue would make an impact in his first varsity season.

“Blue is going to be really good; he can play the wing, he can play inside,” said Shelley. “He has grown, he is about 6’2. He is versatile.”

The athletic Blue grew into a star for the Little Tigers, providing some punch in the paint along with sharpshooting on the perimeter. He ended up averaging 10 points and three rebounds a game as PHS produced a late surge to end up with a 10-12 record after a 4-10 start.

Blue, for his part, felt at home in his move up to varsity. “I have to play hard,” said Blue. “I think I should be on varsity; it is my level.”

For proving that he could thrive at a higher level, Blue gets the nod as the top male newcomer of the winter season.

Malia Leveson was asked to do a lot for the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team this winter.

Although a natural forward, she was moved back to defense to bolster the team’s blue line unit.

“I think it has been good for me,” said Leveson, reflecting on the move. “I play forward for my club team. It was good playing defense at the beginning of the year, it helps me see the ice better and understand all the positions.”

Later in the season, Leveson was shifted back to offense and she responded by tying junior Ashley Cavuto for the team lead with 21 points, scoring a team-high 11 goals with 10 assists as the Panthers posted a 9-12-2 record and advanced to the semis of the ‘A’ bracket at the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) tournament.

Leveson earned All-WIHLMA honorable mention for her heroics, enjoying having the responsibility of being the team’s go-to scorer, letting her production speak for itself.

“I definitely like that a lot,” said Leveson of her role as a top scorer. “I am more of a leader on the ice rather than in the locker room.”

For making an impact at both ends of the ice in her debut season, Leveson is the choice as the top female newcomer.

Top Coaches

Before the season even started for the Hun School boys’ hockey team, head coach Ian McNally faced a major challenge.

The team’s offensive catalyst, gifted sophomore forward Evan Barratt, broke his knee in the fall and was sidelined indefinitely.

“We are missing Barratt and that is a big roadblock for us so we had to rise to it,” said McNally.

Responding to McNally’s leadership, the Raiders rose to the occasion, getting off to a 10-1-1 start in 2014 and closing the year by winning its first title at the Purple Puck Tournament in the Washington, D.C. area.

“We have the skill but we also have chemistry and work ethic and you don’t always get that with the skill,” said McNally. “If you have those three things, you can do well in any league.”

The Raiders kept doing well as the winter unfolded, winning the state Prep title for the first time since 1996 and then rolling to its second straight Mercer County Tournament championship.

In reflecting in Hun’s dream season, McNally noted that it was a total team effort.

“The story of us is depth, regardless of who is here we still play the exact same way,” said McNally, whose team ended the season with a 22-3-3 record.

“Sometimes when you don’t have guys, you have to change the strategy and things like that. Going into every big game, we had to change the lines and whoever it was got it done. Sometimes it was the defense, sometimes it was the big guns and sometimes it was the third line.”

For holding things together as Hun produced one of the best campaigns in program history, McNally is pick as the top coach of a male team this winter.

When Greg Hand retired from teaching and coaching at PHS last June, he left quite a legacy when it came to the school’s swimming program.

Guiding the PHS boys’ and girls’ swimming teams since 1996-97, Hand molded the Little Tigers into a powerhouse. In his tenure, the boys’ squad has gone 202-46-3 with seven county crowns, 12 sectional titles, five appearances in the state finals, and a New Jersey Public B championship in 2012. During that stretch, the Little Tiger girls’ team has posted a record of 152-63-2 with two county crowns, seven sectional titles, and four appearances in the Public B championship meet.

Hand’s replacement, Carly Misiewicz, was in elementary school when he started coaching and had big shoes to fill.

The 2013 Rider University alum and former swim star for the Broncs, who had assisted Hand in his final season at the helm, drew on his experience as she took over.

“He has been great, if I have any questions, he helps me,” said Misiewicz, referring to Hand’s influence.

“He has given me practices that he has done before, saying here is a schedule, do what you want to do but here is this as well if you want it. He gave me all of his resources and he is still such a great mentor. I look up to him so much and I can only hope to be the coach that he is some day.”

With her recent experience of competing at the Division I level, Misiewicz incorporated some new wrinkles into the PHS training regimen.

“We have changed our dryland a little bit, stepping it up a notch,” said Misiewicz, who started swimming at age 4 and was competing year-round by age 8.

“We are doing medicine balls, we are using the combat ropes, the big, thick ropes. We do abs, weighted lunges, weighted squats for just a half-hour or 45 minutes, before or after practice.”

Junior star Brianna Romaine credited Misiewicz with injecting a fresh approach.

“Now with Coach Miz taking a head coach role, it changed the dynamic in a good way,” said Romaine. “It is all positive. Our team is really behind each other and I think overall that is what made us so good.”

Under Misiewicz’s spirited leadership, PHS went on to produce a dynamic campaign, winning its third county title in a row and a second straight Public B Central Jersey sectional title. Advancing one step further than it did in 2014, PHS topped Ocean City in the Public B state semis to set up a championship showdown against Scotch Plains-Fanwood.

While the Little Tigers fell 100-70 to the Raiders, Misiewicz was all smiles as she reflected on the final effort in her team’s superb campaign.

“Why I love being a part of this team so much is that every person is so classy,” said Misiewicz, whose team posted a final record of 15-1.

“They are not going to bad mouth the other team because we lost, no one is a sore loser. Every person on the team knows that we did everything that we could, they swam faster. You can’t swim faster than you are capable of swimming.”

Displaying class and enthusiasm as she guided the Little Tigers to a winter to remember, Misiewicz is the choice as the top coach of a female team.

AGE OF JACKSON: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse player Jackson Andres heads up the field in a game last spring. Senior standout and Drexel-bound Andres figures to be a catalyst again for PHS in 2015 with his blend of physicality and skill. The Little Tigers open regular season play this spring by hosting the Christian Brothers Academy on March 25.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

AGE OF JACKSON: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse player Jackson Andres heads up the field in a game last spring. Senior standout and Drexel-bound Andres figures to be a catalyst again for PHS in 2015 with his blend of physicality and skill. The Little Tigers open regular season play this spring by hosting the Christian Brothers Academy on March 25. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The seemingly interminable winter hitting the area has had a chilling effect on the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team as it prepares for the upcoming season.

“It has been a challenge,” said PHS head coach Peter Stanton, noting that the team’s two scheduled preseason scrimmages were cancelled.

“There has been a lot of gym work. We have had the turf field a number of times but that has normally been with the girls’ team on one half and us on the other, with baseball on the side. We have been trying to make the most out of our time.”

But Stanton, recently inducted into the New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Fame, believes his team will warm up as spring unfolds as has been its custom over the years.

“We want to be that team you don’t want to play in May,” said Stanton, whose team opens regular season play by hosting the Christian Brothers Academy on March 25. “We pride ourselves on being the team that improves the most during the season.”

Stanton is seeing improvement in sophomore Johnny Lopez-Ona and believes he will emerge as a go-to player.

“Johnny started last year as a freshman and he’s going to be a leader there for us this season,” said Stanton, who guided PHS to a 16-4 record last spring and the program’s second straight Mercer County Tournament title.

“He is a little quicker and better at stick protection and dodging. Last year,  Matt Corrado, Matt Purdy, and Kevin Halliday could create with dodging and Johnny was more of a backside player, being in position to finish or make assists. This year he will be creating more.”

PHS boasts some other players who should bolster the attack. “Chris Diver played in midfield last year and we moved him down to attack,” said Stanton of the senior stalwart.

“He played on our man-up unit last year. He is a very savvy player and has good field sense. Besides that we have a host of players in attack including sophomore Eamonn McDonald, sophomore Brendon McCormick, and senior Chris Munoz.”

In the midfield, junior Rory Helstrom, a star running back for the 8-2 PHS football team last fall, figures to carry a heavy load.

“It all starts with Rory, he is very explosive,” said Stanton. “If he can get by a player in football, he can certainly do it in lacrosse. He is a gifted athlete and he has worked hard in the weight room.”

A pair of talented junior athletes, Nick Halliday and Luis Lazo, will give Helstrom some support in the midfield.

“Nick Halliday and Luis Lazo got shifts last year on defense so they got a little bit of experience,” said Stanton of the pair who starred for the PHS boys’ soccer team this fall as it won the county crown and advanced to the Group 3 state title game. “More importantly, they were with the team and saw how the older kids did things.”

The PHS midfield also include a number of new faces. “We have a lot of new guys,” added Stanton. “Mark and Luke Duarte are sophomore twins. Oliver Hamit, a sophomore, is returning from shoulder surgery. Justin Marciano is another sophomore in the midfield along with Patrick Jacobs, a freshman.”

Three of the team’s best guys, senior Jackson Andres, senior Colin Buckley, and senior Joe Hawes, will spearhead the defensive unit.

“Jackson is phenomenal, he is so disruptive to other teams,” said Stanton, adding that sophomore Norman “Tooker” Callaway, senior Christian Sandford, and freshman Ian Jacobs should also see time on defense.

“He can take over the game and will score some goals for us. The same is true for Joe Hawes, we can put him against our opponent’s best attackman and he can neutralize that guy, giving Jackson and Colin more favorable matchups. Colin is physical, he has a lot of experience.”

Senior goalie Kenan Glasgold is better for the experience he got last spring in his first season as a starter.

“Kenan had a very good year last season,” said Stanton. “He is looking a lot better right now than he looked at this time last year.”

While it might take a few weeks for PHS to get in synch this spring, Stanton is confident it can have a very good season.

“We are combining inexperience with expectations of competing for a county title and being in the mix for a Group 3 title; we need to have patience and have a tolerance for mistakes that we are going to make as we grow,” said Stanton, noting that assistant coach Chip Casto is focusing on coming up with the offensive scheme that will get the most out of the team’s potential.

“We do have senior leadership with some outstanding players who really want to win. We need to focus on long term goals and how we are going to end up in May.”

LEADING THE WAY: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Allie Callaway heads to goal in a game last season. Junior attacker and George Mason — bound Callaway brings a strong finishing touch to the PHS offense. The Little Tigers, who are welcoming a new head coach, David Schlesinger, open the 2015 season by playing at Shore on March 25 before hosting Hun on March 27.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LEADING THE WAY: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Allie Callaway heads to goal in a game last season. Junior attacker and George Mason — bound Callaway brings a strong finishing touch to the PHS offense. The Little Tigers, who are welcoming a new head coach, David Schlesinger, open the 2015 season by playing at Shore on March 25 before hosting Hun on March 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In taking the helm of the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse program, David Schlesinger knows that he walked into a good situation.

“The preseason has been great, the girls are wonderful,” said head coach Schlesinger, the replacement for Kelsey O’Gorman, who is now guiding the Stuart Country Day School lax program after leading PHS to a 17-4 season in 2014 and an appearance in the Group III South sectional final. “They are incredibly coachable and eager to learn.”

Schlesinger has plenty of lacrosse knowledge to pass on to his new charges, having played three seasons for the Colgate University men’s team in the late 1970s before coaching the Moorestown girls’ youth programs and then guiding Eastern High and Wissahickon High (Pa,) girls’ programs. He has also coached for the Ultimate Goal lacrosse club headed by former Princeton University women’s lax assistant coach Michele DeJuliis.

With that wealth of experience, Schlesinger brings a detailed approach to his new assignment.

“We will be a very disciplined, aggressive team that tries to make the small plays like draw controls and ground balls,” said Schlesinger, whose team opens the 2015 season by playing at Shore on March 25 before hosting Hun on March 27.

“We want to have a smooth transition from offense to defense and defense to offense. We want to be very disciplined on offense, organized and aggressive on defense. We really start from the goal out. If you prevent goals, you have a much better chance to win.”

PHS boasts one of the top goalies in the area in four-year starter and Michigan-bound Mira Shane.

“I am incredibly fortunate to inherit a goalie like Mira Shane,” said Schlesinger.

“As great a goaltender as she is, she is a better person. She is one of our tri-captains.”

With a defensive unit featuring senior Oona Ryle, junior Gabrielle Deitch, junior Trish Reilly, senior Campbell McDonald, and sophomore Gwen Koehler, the Little Tigers should be able to hold foes at bay.

“Oona Ryle is one of our captains and will be a leader on defense,” said Schlesinger.

“Gabby Deitch is very fast. Trish Reilly is going to Lehigh to play field hockey. We moved Campbell McDonald to defense to take advantage of her speed and physicality. Gwen Koehler is a terrific young player. We have speed, smarts, and good lateral movement on defense.”

The PHS midfield includes a number of terrific athletes. “I have an embarrassment of riches in the midfield,” asserted Schlesinger.

“Starting with Julia Ryan, who has committed to Holy Cross, and Taylor Lis; they are both tall, strong, really fast with strong stick skills. Jordyn Cane is very fast, highly skilled; she is coming into her own. Freshman Abaigael Ryan was a real standout in our play day. She will be pushing other girls for playing time, I can play her all over the field. She will be a good utility player as a freshman.”

On attack, the Little Tigers have plenty of firepower in senior Gabrielle Gibbons, junior Allie Callaway, junior Sydney Reynolds, and sophomore Georgia McLean.

“Gabby is a very decorated player, she is our third captain,” added Schlesinger.

“She is heading to VCU; she is a good finisher. Allie Callaway is going to George Mason; she is a big strong player. She is highly skilled with an incredible shot. Sydney Reynolds is a very crafty, highly skilled player. Georgia McLean is one of the most aggressive, quick players I have ever coached.”

While PHS has the skill to have another big season, Schlesinger believes its success will depend on being cool under fire.

“We need discipline when we are facing the better teams,” said Schlesinger, noting that PHS is playing such formidable teams as Shore, Bishop Eustace, Clearview, Rumson-Fair Haven, Lawrenceville, Notre Dame, and WW/P-N.

“Sometimes when you get pushed, there are breakdowns. We will have some early setbacks and we will need to bounce back from that. There is no one I need to hide. It frees us up as coaches to do neat things with the team.”

STANDING TALL: Hun School boys’ lacrosse goalie Jon Levine guards the net in a game last season. Junior star and Princeton-bound Levine will be a key performer for Hun this spring as it looks to improve on the 13-7 record it posted last year. The Raiders get their 2015 campaign underway this week by hosting Don Bosco on March 25, playing at Somerville on March 28, and then hosting the IMG Academy on March 30.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STANDING TALL: Hun School boys’ lacrosse goalie Jon Levine guards the net in a game last season. Junior star and Princeton-bound Levine will be a key performer for Hun this spring as it looks to improve on the 13-7 record it posted last year. The Raiders get their 2015 campaign underway this week by hosting Don Bosco on March 25, playing at Somerville on March 28, and then hosting the IMG Academy on March 30. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The watchword around the Hun School boys’ lacrosse team this spring is trust.

“We need to focus on team building more than ever and developing trust,” said Hun head coach MV Whitlow, who guided the Raiders to a 13-7 record last year and a second straight appearance in the state Prep A championship game.

“We need to exhibit a level of character and we need to to trust in each other, trust in the process, trust in the coaches, and trust in the players.”

To help develop that trust, Hun traveled back to Arizona this month for its annual preseason trip.

“It was a great trip, we had a lot of time on the field to practice and did a lot of things together off the field,” said Whitlow.

“We did horseback riding on the Verde river and climbed Camelback Mountain again. We are emphasizing being the best version of ourselves in everything that we do.”

Whitlow will be looking to some key veterans to help Hun be at its best in the midfield as senior Brendan Black, junior Owen Black, senior Cole West, senior Julian Williams, junior Chris Andrews, and junior Patrick Brake give the Raiders a lot of firepower in that unit.

“We have two main midfield units that we are running,” said Whitlow, whose team opens the season by hosting Don Bosco on March 25.

“Brendan and Owen Black are on one line, they are looking very, very good. Cole West and Julian Williams are together on another. Chris Andrews and Pat Brake are on another line, they put up points last year. We have increased depth.”

On the defensive end of the field, Hun boasts some battled-tested performers in senior Tucker Stevenson, sophomore Chris Fake, and senior goalie Jon Levine.

“Tucker is one of our captains; he is a dynamic player,” asserted Whitlow. “We will play him up top and down low. We can play him all over the field. He’s a seven-year guy at Hun, he came in together with Brendan Black. Chris Fake is a sophomore, he is real talented. Another captain, Jon Levine, is back in goal. He is looking real strong.”

If the Raiders can get on the same page, they should be a very strong team this spring.

“We need to come together as a team,” said Whitlow, noting that offensive coordinator Jeff Snow has implemented a new offensive scheme that should result in a more up-tempo attack.

“I think the guys are very committed to the team success and not individual stuff. We have high character guys who care a lot for each other. A theme we have shared is to focus on the process, consistent winning comes from the process; not focusing on the outcome. We have ramped up the schedule and the guys are hungry and ready to take the next step.”

QUICK LEARNER: Hun School girls’ lacrosse player Julia Salerno heads up the field in a game last spring. Sophomore Salerno figures to be a top defender for the Raiders this spring, who will be guided by new head coach Liz Cook.  Hun opens its 2015 season by playing at Princeton High on March 27.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

QUICK LEARNER: Hun School girls’ lacrosse player Julia Salerno heads up the field in a game last spring. Sophomore Salerno figures to be a top defender for the Raiders this spring, who will be guided by new head coach Liz Cook. Hun opens its 2015 season by playing at Princeton High on March 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By the end of last spring, Liz Cook was ready to take a hiatus from coaching high school lacrosse.

“I was a Princeton Day School varsity coach, I was coaching at Princeton Lacrosse Club and Garden State Elite,” said Cook, who had been coaching at PDS for 15 years.

“I was really busy, there was not enough time for my kids. I wanted to take a break from high school lax and still coach the club teams. After the end of the PDS season, I told them what I was planning.”

But then Cook got an offer she couldn’t refuse as the Hun School reached out to her to see if she would take over a girls’ lacrosse program that had struggled to a 1-11 record in 2014.

“Hun is very much like PDS, there are a lot of similarities between the kids at both schools,” said Cook, a former three-sport star at PDS who went on to play field hockey, ice hockey, and lacrosse at Brown University.

“I knew some of the players from Garden State Elite. I knew they were struggling; it was a chance to really make a difference. It was a good fit.”

So far, Cook appears to be a good fit for the Hun program, heartened by how her players have responded to the coaching change.

“They have been great, they have taken me in with open arms,” asserted Cook, who is succeeding Haley Sanborn.

“They have bought into my philosophy. We all have a vision, we are all on the bus and they each have a ticket.”

The team’s recent preseason trip to South Carolina helped forge the bond between Cook and her new charges.

“We went to Hilton Head and had a ball,” asserted Cook. “We played a lot of lacrosse and did a lot of team building things. They feel like my kids already.”

A major goal for Cook this spring is to build up her team’s confidence as Hun looks to get back on the winning track.

“My philosophy for this year is to make everything positive,” said Cook.

“We have a team motto, “TNT”, meaning today, not tomorrow; do it now. Each girl picked a word that is special to them and they will focus on that in addition to the team.”

Cook is focusing on putting together a potent attack, noting that she is still working on figuring out the best way to deploy such talented players as juniors Emma Consoli and Katie Consoli, junior Mariesa Cay, sophomore Delia Lawver, junior Lindsay Ruddy, junior Maura Kelly, sophomore Shannon Dudeck, and sophomore Sophia Albanese.

“We have a lot of talent, the Consoli girls are great in the midfield, they really see the field,” said Cook.

“Cay is playing attack right now, she is really strong. Lawver is also good. They all have so much skill and lacrosse IQ. They are looking to me to put it together. It is hard for me to know right now where everyone is going to be. I may be moving people to positions they haven’t played in the past because I can see that they have the talent for that role.”

Things are more settled for the Raiders on defense. “We have a good defensive unit,” said Cook. “We have a lot of seniors, Amanda Barbour, Shannon Graham, Taylor Nehlig, and Reina Kern, along with sophomore Julia Salerno. The defensive unit is pretty much set.”

Cook is expecting sophomore goalie Maddie McNulty to have a good year.

“Maddie has made huge strides, she has worked hard,” said Cook. “She went to a lot of camps and has a personal coach. She has really come along.”

As Cook begins the rebuilding process, she is looking for the players to trust her approach.

“They have to stay with the plan; they might come against adversity and think it is not going to work,” said Cook.

“They need to stay with  the vision, no matter what happens. They have some fresh wounds from a season that was not what they wanted record-wise.”

Although it is early, the Raiders appear to have the chemistry to stick together through thick and thin.

“I have never had a team like this, they are all really good friends,” said Cook. “There is no drama; I never heard any of them say a negative word about anyone else. They really support each other.”

March 18, 2015
PERFECT STORM: Members of the Princeton University women’s basketball team react last Monday evening after learning their assignment in the upcoming NCAA tournament during a Selection Show viewing party held at the Shea Rowing Center on campus. The 30-0 Tigers were sent to College Park, Md., where they are seeded eighth and slated to play ninth-seeded Wisconsin- Green Bay (28-4) on March 21 in an opening round contest.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PERFECT STORM: Members of the Princeton University women’s basketball team react last Monday evening after learning their assignment in the upcoming NCAA tournament during a Selection Show viewing party held at the Shea Rowing Center on campus. The 30-0 Tigers were sent to College Park, Md., where they are seeded eighth and slated to play ninth-seeded Wisconsin- Green Bay (28-4) on March 21 in an opening round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In late November, the Princeton University women’s basketball team practiced at the University of Maryland’s XFINITY Center as it prepared for a game at American University.

Now after completing a 30-0 season with a 55-42 win at Penn last week, Princeton is headed back to College Park for the opening round of the NCAA tournament where the eighth-seeded Tigers are slated to play ninth-seeded Wisconsin-Green Bay (28-4) on March 21.

The winner of the game will face the victor of the contest between top-seeded and host Maryland (30-2) and 16th-seeded New Mexico State (22-7) in the second round on March 23 for a Sweet 16 spot in the Spokane Regional.

While Princeton, which has risen to No. 13 nationally in the AP poll, had hoped for a higher seed and to host opening weekend NCAA games, it is now focused on beating the Phoenix.

“I think we were a little surprised but that is OK,” said Princeton senior guard and captain Blake Dietrick, speaking at the Selection Show viewing party held at the Shea Rowing Center on campus.

“It is true that we haven’t beaten a top 25 team so that is certainly something that works against us. I think we are just really excited to play Green Bay and hopefully give them a really good game and get our first tournament win. This season is not about the seed we got, it is about us. It is about getting this win for us, for our program, for our coaches, and for our our fans. I wouldn’t say that is a major concern, it is us winning a game for Princeton.”

In Dietrick’s view, the Tigers have proven their mettle by prevailing in a handful of close calls.

“The Penn game, the Hampton game, the American game, the first Yale game, those were all tests for us,” said Dietrick, the Ivy League Player of the Year who led the Tigers this year in scoring (14.9) and assists (5.0).

“They are tests of our team, tests that we can play in a competitive game. They show we don’t have to get out to a quick early lead to be comfortable to get shots. I think we are definitely ready.”

Junior forward Annie Tarakchian and her teammates are going into the tournament with a chip on their shoulder as they look for the program’s first NCAA win after losses in the four previous trips to the Big Dance.

“We definitely have something to prove, regardless of what our seed is,” said Tarakchian, a first-team All-Ivy performer who averaged 10.1 points and 9.2 rebounds a game this season.

“We haven’t had a tournament win yet and that is our goal. Now we know our opponent and our goal is the same, to get a win. I think we have to stay focused, work hard, and play hard. I think we all have to stay grounded and stick together. We are a five-on-five team. We can’t go one-on-one or how a lot of tournament teams play.”

While Princeton may not have faced the most rigorous non-conference slate, playing only one other tournament team, Pitt, Tarakchian believes the Tigers are sufficiently battle-tested.

“We have faced so many different opponents; I think we are ready to adjust to whatever they throw at us,” said Tarakchian.

“We practice against a variety of styles so the coaches do a good job of getting us ready for whatever is at hand.”

Tarakchian will be sporting a different look in the tourney, having bleached her hair blonde, making good on an early season promise to Dietrick.

“Back when we were 2-0, we were just talking and Blake said if we go undefeated, Annie will you bleach your hair and I said no doubt,” recalled Tarakchian.

“Lo and behold we are 30-0 and I have bleached hair. It is awesome. I am a woman of my word. I was thinking as this was happening, this could be way, way worse. This could actually help me. We are going to have a lot of fun dancing in the tournament.”

For Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart, it is always fun to be involved in the tournament.

“First of all any time you can get to the NCAA tournament, and it is not a cliche, it is amazing,” said Banghart, a former star player and assistant coach at Dartmouth who made four trips to the NCAA in her Big Green years and has now guided the Tigers to five appearances in March Madness.

“Seeing all of those teams pop up, name after name, they are good, they are good, so on. I have always said this, any time I can see my name on that board, I am happy because it is so hard to do.”

Banghart knows that Princeton is facing a very good team in Wisconsin-Green Bay.

“Green Bay is a good team,” said Banghart.  “They have won 28 games, they have a really balanced offensive attack, they are tough defensively, they have been to the tournament multiple years. They share the ball well, I think everybody on their team has made at least five 3s on the year. They play about 10 kids, who average double figure minutes. I like the matchup because there is not an athletic advantage right away. Often on the bigger stage, there is more size to deal with. We will have the athletic and size advantage so that is a first for us. In that sense it is how well we play, not how well do they play.”

While Princeton had hoped to stage games on the opening weekend of the tournament, Banghart isn’t going to dwell on the disappointment over what many believe to be an unfairly low seeding in light of its 30-0 campaign and national ranking.

“There are a lot of coaches who are going to think that we are not seeded properly,” said Banghart.

“The only people having control over that is the bracketology people. We have control of how well we play. We have to play well to win; that is all we are going to worry about. Rutgers and Seton Hall might not have been in the 8-9 game if they would play us. The thing that has been really hard is that you can only play the teams that are going to play you. We played Pitt, they are in the tournament. We played Michigan, they had a bad year. We can only play the teams that will play us.”

Former Princeton Director of Athletics Gary Walters weighed in afterward, expressing his dismay at the seeding determination in no uncertain terms.

“It is incomprehensible to me as a former player, coach, member of the NCAA men’s basketball selection committee, and a chairman of that committee,” said Walters.

“I have no understanding of how they can possibly place Princeton as an eighth seed when it is seventh in the Sagarin rating, 11th in the RPI, and 13th in the coaches poll.”

In Banghart’s view, the Tigers can now take matters into their own hands.

“I think these guys are coming in with a sense of accomplishment and a chance to show the rest of the world that we get to play you now because someone else took care of the scheduling for us,” said Banghart.

Having beaten VCU in the opening round of last year’s WNIT, Princeton has shown that it can win in the postseason.

“Without a doubt it helps because it is a team we had never seen, it is a team where you trust your coaching staff and the scouting report,” said Banghart. “It is a one and done mentality, we don’t have that in our league. I think it is unbelievably helpful.”

Dietrick, for her part, doesn’t want to see her final campaign end any time soon.

“It is awesome, it has been great,” said Dietrick. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything else, I wouldn’t want to do it with any other group of girls. I love everybody on this team and I am just hoping that we can keep it going.”

Tarakchian believes Princeton has what it takes to make an NCAA breakthrough.

“We just have to break that first round thing,” said Tarakchian. “I think this is the year, this team is truly special. I think from top to bottom, we have proved it this year.”

Coming into his freshman year at Princeton University in 2012, Abram Ayala had enjoyed a swift rise in the wrestling world.

First competing in the sport as a sophomore at Archbishop McCarthy High in Fort Lauderdale, Ayala was an all-state performer by his junior year. He then came to New Jersey, transferring to wrestling powerhouse Blair Academy. He ended up eighth in the 2011 National Prep Championships at 135 points and fifth at the 2012 NWCA (National Wrestling Coaches Association) Nationals at 149 pounds.

But Ayala hit a roadblock in his freshman campaign with the Tigers. Weakened from cutting too much weight and hampered by a knee injury, he got into the doghouse with the Princeton coaches.

“The coaches decided that it would be best for me to take some time off and get things in order, academically and otherwise,” said Ayala. “It was a reset.”

The hiatus from the team turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Ayala. “It was perfect for me,” asserted Ayala. “I took some time off, I healed my knee. I rediscovered my passion for wrestling. I started training hard and being more disciplined.”

A refocused Ayala emerged as a force in his sophomore season, moving up to 197 pounds and going 27-12, taking fifth in the EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) Championships and earning a spot in the NCAA Championships.

Building on that success, he has posted a 32-5 record this season and is heading back to the NCAA meet this weekend in St. Louis, Mo., where he is seeded seventh at 197.

While Ayala’s rise to prominence is unlikely, he is not surprised by his success.

“Every year I have improved, I have always been a bit behind,” said Ayala. “I was not fully formed as a high school wrestler. Now in college I have seen how some guys don’t get better from high school. Every year, I expect to get better.”

Ayala’s initially got into wrestling in high school to stay out of trouble more than anything. “I didn’t have much to do, I was just hanging out with my friends and being a nuisance,” recalled Ayala. “The faculty thought wrestling would be good for me. I liked it immediately.”

After going undefeated on the JV level as a sophomore, Ayala took sixth in the states as a junior. With an eye on someday wrestling for Princeton, Ayala came to New Jersey to join Blair’s nationally-known program.

“It was huge, initially it was a shock because everyone was so good,” said Ayala, reflecting on the start of his Blair career. “In the northeast, people start wrestling earlier. Some kids came to Blair with more experience than I had as a junior. It was tough to get used to that at first.”

Showing his toughness early on, Ayala proved he could compete with his heralded teammates.

“I lost four of my first five matches in preseason, three were by pins and my one win was by one point,” said Ayala.

“I wasn’t used to losing, let alone getting pinned. The season began at a prestigious tournament, Germantown Invitational. My coach said I had been putting in the work and I could win it. I made it to finals and beat a kid who went on to win prep nationals. It was a great atmosphere with a packed house. It gave me confidence, it set me rolling.”

Ayala kept rolling, placing eighth in the 2011 National Prep Championships at 135 points and taking fifth at the 2012 NWCA Nationals at 149 pounds.

Achieving his goal of going to Princeton, where both his parents are alums, Ayala struggled with the demands of college wrestling.

“The first one was the weight issue, in high school because of competition, you could get away with cutting weight and intimidating others with your strength,” said Ayala.

“In college, all the wrestlers are tough and if you don’t have the energy to go hard for seven minutes, you aren’t going to do well. College academics and college wrestling are so mentally draining, if your lifestyle is not right, your aren’t going to do well. I lost too much weight. I started at 112, and wrestled at 135 and 149 at Blair. I was growing through high school. In the summer before freshman year, I was up to 199 at my heaviest and I cut down to 165.”

After winning the first three matches of his career, Ayala hit a wall, not cracking the Tiger lineup in a move up to 174 and then tearing the meniscus in his left knee and undergoing surgery. Looking to regain a spot on the team, Ayala made the most of the summer break.

“I came back that summer and stayed at school,” said Ayala. “I did SAT counseling for underprivileged kids and I helped run a science camp. I also worked with the coaches and trained. I became as strong as possible. I lifted a lot of weights. I was up to 205 pounds. I knew I couldn’t cut weight any more.”

Coming back that fall, Ayala made the lineup at 197 and started turning heads. He won 14 of his last 16 regular season matches and placed fifth in EIWA tournament. He won a consolation match at the NCAAs with both of his losses there coming to wrestlers seeded in the top 6.

“I pretty much maintained the speed and dexterity that I had as a smaller wrestler, the bigger guys are not used to that precision,” said Ayala, reflecting on his success as a sophomore. “I realized I could compete in that weight class. I got a feel for the weight class as the year went on.”

This season, Ayala picked up where he left off in his sophomore year, using the losses at the NCAAs as additional motivation.

“My conditioning is better, I am stronger and faster,” asserted Ayala, who earned first-team All-Ivy League honors this season. “I am just a better athlete, I expect to win.”

While Ayala was disappointed to take third at the EIWAs this year, he believes that experience will help him at the NCAA competition.

“I took the Easterns as a matter of course,” said Ayala, who fell to Penn’s Canaan Bethea in the semis. “I didn’t attack it the way I could have. It is really good what happened, it helped me realize what I need to do to be at the top of the podium at nationals.”

Ayala is confident that he can rise to the top of the podium this weekend in St. Louis.

“I know what is coming, I have positive visualization,” said Ayala. “I have the skills and physical talent to beat every single person in my bracket. It comes down to being right mentally and having the right attitude.”

Being joined by teammates, junior Chris Perez (149), sophomore Jordan Laster (141), sophomore Brett Harner (184), and freshman Jonathan Schleifer (165), at the NCAA competition is a big positive for Ayala.

“It keeps the spirits up and gives me other people to wrestle with,” said Ayala. “It will pay dividends next year, all those wrestlers are back and they have competed at that national level. It is a new level of excellence for Princeton wrestling. It just shows coach (Chris) Ayres is a genius at putting together a program.”

SHARPSHOOTER: Princeton University men’s lacrosse star Kip Orban looks for an opening in recent action. Last Saturday, senior midfielder and team captain Orban enjoyed a huge game, scoring a career-high seven goals on seven shots as Princeton pulled away to a 17-11 win at Penn. The Tigers, now 4-1 overall and 1-0 Ivy League, are currently 13th nationally and were slated to play at Rutgers on March 17 before hosting No. 9 Yale (5-1 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 21.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SHARPSHOOTER: Princeton University men’s lacrosse star Kip Orban looks for an opening in recent action. Last Saturday, senior midfielder and team captain Orban enjoyed a huge game, scoring a career-high seven goals on seven shots as Princeton pulled away to a 17-11 win at Penn. The Tigers, now 4-1 overall and 1-0 Ivy League, are currently 13th nationally and were slated to play at Rutgers on March 17 before hosting No. 9 Yale (5-1 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Kip Orban had scored a goal in 29 straight games for the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team until he was held scoreless two weeks ago in an 11-4 loss at Maryland.

As senior midfielder and team captain Orban hit the field last Saturday at Penn in Princeton’s first game since the Maryland defeat, he didn’t waste any time getting on the board.

Taking the first shot of the game, Orban rifled the ball into the back of the net 54 seconds into the contest to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.

“We got off well on the first possession,” said Princeton head coach Chris Bates. “The captain bangs a shot from deep, that brings everyone to their feet.”

Orban kept bringing people to their feet all afternoon, scoring a career-high seven goals on seven shots and adding two assists as Princeton pulled away to a 17-11 win in the Ivy League opener for both teams. He was later named the Ivy League Co-Player of the Week along with Brown defenseman Larken Kemp.

“I am not sure I have ever seen a midfielder be that lethal,” asserted Bates, who also got five goals and three assists from junior Ryan Ambler with senior Mike MacDonald chipping in three goals and six assists.

“There was nothing inside 12 yards. He had a holster on and was just letting it go. It was also nice to see him have a couple of assists. He was the star of the game. Mike and Ryan were finding him and they were finding each other. The big three had an obscene amount of points.”

Princeton found the back of the net early and often, jumping out to a 7-2 lead by the first minute of the second quarter.

“They had a bunch of penalties and we got into a rhythm,” said Bates. “The kids were able to get their hands free and we got it to 7-2.”

The Quakers got going in the second period, narrowing the margin to 10-8 at halftime.

“We made some questionable shots; we had a couple of breakdowns,” said Bates.

“We were facing off well, not only with Sam (Bonafede) but the wings. It didn’t look like they were going to be able to go on long runs, we were getting the ball. If we were smart with the ball, we thought we would be OK.”

Things turned out OK in the second half for Princeton as it reeled off five straight goals over a 25-minute stretch to build a 15-9 lead on the way to the victory, which improved the Tigers to 4-1 overall.

“At half we said Penn is not going anywhere, they play with too much emotion and energy,” said Bates.

“It was back and forth a little bit but once we got it to five goals, we were able to execute. They had some long two-minute possessions and we were able to make a stop and get the offense the ball and they made better shots. I think we are growing up a little bit with that.”

The Tigers executed on the face-off X with freshman Bonafede going 17-for-28 and getting named as the Ivy Rookie of the Week.

“Sam is such a gritty competitor, even when he makes his initial move or counter and doesn’t get the ball, he stays low to the ground and is scrappy on ground balls and gets the ball loose,” said Bates. “Sam Gravitte and Zach Currier are playing well on the wings; we have a nice trio there.”

It was a nice win for Princeton as the players were preoccupied by mid-terms while they were preparing for Penn.

“It was a grind, there is no let up so it was nice to get through midterms and get a ‘W,’ said Bates, whose team is now ranked 13th nationally and was slated to play at Rutgers on March 17 before hosting No. 9 Yale on March 21.

“The guys were zombies at practice but they regrouped for Saturday. I think there was a sense of purpose. They were coming off the high of Hopkins (a 16-15 overtime win) and then the low of Maryland. It was the first Ivy game and we have a healthy respect for Penn.”

With Princeton on spring break this week, Bates is hoping his players can recharge as they head into the thick of their Ivy schedule.

“The extra time will give us a little break and the chance to add a few wrinkles,” said Bates. “We can get some sleep and have some injuries heal up. Yale is the second Ivy game and it is a team that has had our number a little bit here in recent years. The guys will be excited for that, no doubt.”

HALE AND HEARTY: Princeton University softball player Haley ­Hineman races down the line in a game last spring. Sophomore infielder Hineman is batting .333 this spring, helping Princeton to a 3-7 start. In upcoming action, the Tigers play in the Liberty Tournament from March 19-21 at Lynchburg, Va.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HALE AND HEARTY: Princeton University softball player Haley ­Hineman races down the line in a game last spring. Sophomore infielder Hineman is batting .333 this spring, helping Princeton to a 3-7 start. In upcoming action, the Tigers play in the Liberty Tournament from March 19-21 at Lynchburg, Va. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton University softball started its season by losing four of five games at the Florida Atlantic tournament last month, the players displayed a spirit that could carry them to big things this spring.

“The girls came in and floored me with the culture and chemistry they have shown from the beginning,” said Princeton head coach Lisa (nee Sweeney) Van Ackeren.

“It started on the first weekend. Sometimes it takes a few weeks to develop but they were clearly excited to play and play for each other. We saw progress in each game; we analyzed what worked and what we needed to do differently and they did a good job with that.”

In its second weekend of play, Princeton did an even better job, going 2-2 at the University of Central Florida tournament with junior Skye Jerpbak and sophomore Haley Hineman triggering the offense as the Tigers posted a 9-1 win over Florida A&M and a 10-2 victory over Iowa while losing 3-2 to UCF and 5-4 to Long Island.

Jerpbak was named the Ivy League Player of the Week after hitting .636 on the tournament, going 7-for-11 with six RBIs, two doubles, a home run, and a walk. Hineman, for her part, went 5-for-8 with two runs and an RBI.

“Skye and Haley had outstanding weekends at UCF,” said Van Ackeren. “We did our offseason training on offense a little differently. We had a lot more live at-bats to get them into the right mindset at the plate. It was good to see it pay off. They had been cold the first weekend.”

Battle-tested seniors Rachel Rendina and Cara Worden had some good at-bats in the UCF with Rendina going 4- or-14 with 2 RBIs and Worden hitting 4-for-13 with four runs, three RBIs, and a homer.

“If runners are on base and it is a clutch situation, you want them up,” said Van Ackeren.

“Rendina is one of the grittiest and toughest hitters and Cara is the same way. You can just look in Cara’s eyes and see that she is going to come through.”

Freshman Kylee Pierce has come through in a table-setter role at the top of the Princeton lineup.

“Kylee has gone unnoticed in the two-hole,” said Van Ackeren, whose team fell 6-5 to Maryland last Monday to drop to 3-7 on the season.

“She is incredible in her ability to execute the situational game. She will hit that grounder to move up the runners. She might not have a hit in the box score but that is very important.”

As for pitching, freshman Ashley LaGuardia has been an important addition to the Tigers. LaGuardia shared Ivy Rookie of the Week and Pitcher of the Week honors for her work in the UCF tourney where she threw 13 2/3 innings, appearing in all four games while picking up a win over Florida A&M and posting a 2.05 ERA.

“Ashley is a tiny thing, 5’3 or 5’4, but she throws hard; she is a Jersey kid so she comes with that toughness,” said Van Ackeren of the Wayne, N.J native who has thrown 37 of the team’s 65 innings this spring.

“She was nervous about her first weekend as any freshman is but once she realized it is the same game, she settled down. We told her we needed her to pitch a lot of innings with some of the injuries we have had and she was happy to do it. She is the kind of pitcher who get better the more she throws.”

Van Ackeren is hoping the Tigers will get better and better as they wrap up a busy spring break week by competing in the Liberty Tournament from March 19-21 at Lynchburg, Va.

“We have so many games coming up over the break; I anticipate that all five pitchers will throw some innings,” said Van Ackeren, whose mound corps also includes junior Shanna Christian, senior Meredith Brown, sophomore Claire Klausner, and sophomore Erica Nori.

“They all bring something different to the table, which is great. I want the pitchers to be a little bit tougher on the mound; when it is bases loaded with two outs, to get that final out. We want good offensive production; I am looking for us to be batting even better.”

SLIDESHOW: Kelly Curtis handles her skeleton sled before a recent training session. Curtis, a former star athlete at Princeton High who went on to be a track All-American at Springfield College and a Penn Relays champion in the heptathlon, is currently training with the USA bobsled and skeleton development team. She placed first in the skeleton at the Eastern Regionals last weekend to earn a spot at the National Team Trials in October.(Photo Courtesy of Kelly Curtis)

SLIDESHOW: Kelly Curtis handles her skeleton sled before a recent training session. Curtis, a former star athlete at Princeton High who went on to be a track All-American at Springfield College and a Penn Relays champion in the heptathlon, is currently training with the USA bobsled and skeleton development team. She placed first in the skeleton at the Eastern Regionals last weekend to earn a spot at the National Team Trials in October. (Photo Courtesy of Kelly Curtis)

After wrapping up an All-American track career at Springfield College, Kelly Curtis seemed to have found her calling.

The former Princeton High track and basketball star took a position as an assistant coach with the St. Lawrence University track team and entered the school’s masters program in educational leadership.

“It is totally different; I remember my first meet and being so nervous for my athletes, it is like being a parent,” said Curtis, a three-time All-American in the combined events and the 2011 Penn Relays Heptathlon Champion. “It was good, it was what I thought I wanted to do.”

But Curtis started to get the itch to get back into competing. “It was exciting to be a normal adult and eat what I wanted to but my clothes weren’t fitting and I wanted something to motivate me,” said Curtis. “I am not into CrossFit or distance running.”

Influenced by some Springfield track teammates who had joined the U.S. bobsled program, Curtis decided to head over to nearby Lake Placid in August, 2013 to take part in a combine and see if she had a future in winter sports.

Excelling in the fitness tests which included 5-meter sprints, shot puts, standing long jumps, along with squats and power cleans in the weight room, Curtis was invited to a bobsled driving school that December.

It didn’t take long for Curtis to realize that she had found a new calling.

“My first run was in a 2-man bobsled,” recalled Curtis. “I was in the back of the bobsled; it was like a bumpy roller-coaster ride. I thought it was amazing, I am hooked, that’s it.”

The U.S. coaches also urged Curtis to try her hand at skeleton, another sliding sport which entails riding a small sled down a frozen track while lying face down, during which the rider can reach speeds over 80 mph.

“It is more crazy when you are watching; it is not as crazy when you are doing it,” said Curtis.

“On my first run, the coach dropped me off at top and said hope to see you at the bottom. Your body just reacts. There are no brakes; there is no other option than to go down.”

While enjoying coaching, Curtis decided that she couldn’t wait to pursue the U.S. sledding option.

“I was trying to decide all last spring,” said Curtis. “The St. Lawrence athletes and coaching staff wanted me to come back for a third year because they are hosting the nationals. If this was any other thing, I would have come back. But if I was serious about representing my country in international competition, I had to be fully committed. I am already behind the other sliders. I just turned 26 and some of the girls are teenagers. It takes four years to know what you are doing.”

Encouraged by Jamie Greubel, a former Hun School standout who earned a bronze medal in the two-man bobsled at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Curtis entered some bobsled competitions last fall.

“It was really exciting,” said Curtis, reflecting on her debut last November in Calgary. “I just wanted to get off the line and push as hard as I could and just get in the back for the ride. I was sending good vibes to the driver. We ended up finishing third. Jamie and a Great Britain sled finished ahead. It was great being on the podium in my first competition.”

Curtis, who took silver and bronze in bobsled competitions this January in Lake Placid, ultimately concluded that skeleton afforded her the best opportunity to move up the ladder in the U.S. sledding program.

“I decided to come back as a skeleton racer in January,” said Curtis, who is currently training in Lake Placid and has opened a website for donations, fundly.com/kcskelly, to help her cover expenses.

“I have a better opportunity to move up in skeleton. After Rio (the 2016 Summer Olympics), the track athletes will be moving back to bobsled. The track background is a great fit for me, there are a lot of track athletes in bobsled. In skeleton, you see athletes from different sports. We have field hockey players, pole vaulters, gymnasts. It is better if I stick with skeleton; I can determine my own destiny.”

In order to best fulfill her destiny, Curtis is going through an arduous training regimen, on and off the ice.

“I work on acceleration with off ice training in the morning with short sprints and then hit the weight room with power cleans and squats,” said Curtis.

“It is training like a short sprinter and a power lifter. Then it is recovery stuff with flexibility and hurdle drills. In bobsledding, you spend five hours at the course for two runs. There is a lot of sled maintenance and set up, a one hour warm up, and two hours of actual runs and only 20 seconds of activity for me for pushing. For skeleton, you move the sled yourself and there is less maintenance. We come out for three hours, which is usually two or three runs. I am pretty spent after two or three runs.”

Making up for lost time, Curtis is relishing the training process. “My window of opportunity is so short, every day I am out there I am so happy to be doing this,” said Curtis, who is shooting to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics but acknowledges that the 2022 Winter Games may be more realistic considering when she took up sliding. “Skeleton is different, you have to relax to go your fastest. As soon as you tense up, you have trouble on turns.”

While Curtis is troubled at times by the wintry conditions that come with her new sport, her Olympic dream gives her the fuel to overcome the chill.

“I hate the cold,” said Curtis, who placed first in the skeleton at the Eastern Regionals last weekend to earn a spot at the National Team Trials in October.

“It might be freezing when you are warming up on the side of a mountain but when you are representing your country, you don’t feel the cold. I am just trying to be one with the sled.”

STEPPING UP: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball player Chase Lewis drives to the basket in a game this winter. Sophomore guard Lewis emerged as the team’s top player, helping PDS post a record of 5-17.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STEPPING UP: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball player Chase Lewis drives to the basket in a game this winter. Sophomore guard Lewis emerged as the team’s top player, helping PDS post a record of 5-17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team faced Hightstown in a Mercer County Tournament consolation game last month, it was not just the season finale, it was the end of an era.

The clash marked the last game for PDS head coach Paris McLean, who had previously decided to step down at the end of the 2014-15 campaign after eight seasons guiding the program.

“Now is the right time for me to step down, we have a great group and I need to do other things around the school and I realized that I didn’t have time in my schedule to keep coaching basketball,” said McLean, a former PDS football and hoops star who served as an assistant coach for three seasons before taking the helm.

The Panthers gave McLean a great effort in the finale as they fell 57-43 to Hightstown, a marked improvement from a 64-39 loss to the Rams in a regular season meeting between the foes.

“We played well, it was a good way to end,” said McLean, whose team posted a final record of 5-17.

“Of course you want to end with a win but we battled to the end. We improved from the first time we played them. We went to their place and they ran us out of the gym. J.P. Radvany had a couple of 3s and Chase Lewis played really well. I was happy for the seniors, they all got the chance to play and showcase their skills one last time.”

Seniors Chris Azzarello, Josiah Meekins, Zaire Mitchell, Neil Kumar, Rob Hoffman, Marco Pinheiro, Cody Meagher, and Radvany gave the program more than just their skills on the court.

“Some were coming back, like Marco and Chris, and some were playing for the first time,” said McLean.

“If we didn’t have them, we would have had to move up some freshmen and sophomores who needed to play JV this year. They gave great leadership and were great ambassadors for the school.”

McLean tipped his hat to veterans Radvany, a Villanova baseball recruit, and Meekins for their special contributions.

“J.P. played as a freshman and came back as a junior, he didn’t have to play this year but he did,” said McLean.

“With all of the sports specialization now, he could have just focused on baseball. Josiah was consistent, he played all four years with varsity and six years at school, if you count middle school.”

Sophomore guard Chase Lewis had a great year for the Panthers, emerging as the team’s top player and floor leader.

“I don’t know if I could have experienced what Chase did as a sophomore,” said McLean.

“He was the best player on the team. He was the best ball handler, scorer, and defender. He had a lot of burden on his shoulders and he handled it beautifully.”

Sophomores Mark Washington, Paul Franzoni, Hassan Ladiawala, along with junior James Fragale will have more on their shoulders next season.

“Mark Washington stepped up at the the end,” added McLean. “Paul Franzoni got better as the season went on. Hassan Ladiwala improved, and James Fragale will be a good senior.”

In McLean’s view, the returners will benefit from being thrown into the fire this winter.

“I think it is court experience; it is not going to be measured this year,” said McLean. “It is when the sophomores become juniors and then seniors. They are battle-tested. They took their lumps this year but they saw growth.”

As for McLean, he takes a slew of positive memories from his experience in guiding the program, a tenure which was highlighted by the spectacular career of Davon Reed, who scored a program-record 2,102 points and led the Panthers to  Prep B finals in 2012 and 2013 before going on to star for the University of Miami.

“When I inherited the program, it was really down,” said McLean. “We got it up pretty quickly. We had great kids. I will remember winning Prime Time and making it to consecutive Prep B finals but more importantly it is the friendships and the player that you are still in touch with. Coaching Davon was a once in a lifetime thing. It was fun to be part of something special; he let us be a part of it.”