WILL TO SUCCEED: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Will Stange heads to victory in a backstroke race this fall. The Cornell-bound Stange produced a brilliant senior campaign for PHS, helping the Little Tigers win a fourth straight county crown and advance to the state Public B state championship meet. Stange was the boys’ Most Valuable Swimmer at the county meet, setting both meet and school records in winning the 200-meter individual medley and 100 backstroke races at the competition. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
The past fall, Will Stange earned Eagle Scout status in the Boy Scouts, an honor which signifies diligence, spirit, and leadership.
Over the winter, Stange exhibited the same characteristics in his senior season for the Princeton High boys’ swim team.
Stange helped PHS roll to an undefeated regular season and then played a key role as the Little Tigers won their fourth straight Mercer County Champions team title.
Showing his versatility and talent, Stange set both meet and school records in the winning the 200-meter individual medley and 100 backstroke races, getting named as the boys’ Most Valuable Swimmer at the counties.
For Stange, earning the individual accolade was important in the context of the impact it could have on the team.
“It was great; it sets me up personally and gets me excited for the rest of the season,” said Stange. “Hopefully it psyches everybody else up coming out of this meet.”
PHS head coach Greg Hand, for one, was psyched by Stange’s performance in the county meet.
“This was a brilliant meet for Will; since freshman year, we have asked for perhaps more versatility from him than anybody,” said Hand.
“In this meet, it seemed to be the time to allow him to swim the IM and show the kind of mastery he has of all the strokes and also to go 200 yards for us instead of the constant 100s. He showed the depth of his training, his endurance, and his will to compete with everything he has got.”
PHS went on to produce a brilliant run in the Public B state tournament, winning its sixth straight sectional crown and making it to the championship meet where they dropped an 87-83 nailbiter to Moorestown to end the winter at 13-1.
The meet came down to the final event, the 400 free relay, with PHS needing to place first to win the title. Stange was on the anchor leg and entered the water trailing. While he couldn’t make up the difference as PHS took second, he was proud to give his all.
“We knew what we had to do,” said Stange, who will heading to Cornell this fall and competing for the Big Red swimming program.
“All of us went in and talked behind the block. We knew we had to win it in order to win the meet. We went all out but couldn’t get it, that’s alright.”
For Stange, swimming with his classmates was better than alright. “We have been good friends through thick and thin and it is great to go out here rather than anywhere else,” said Stange, whose classmates include Peter Kalibat, Scott MacKenzie, Matt Purdy, Matt Tam, Avery Soong, and Colburn Yu.
“We had an incredible run. I love this team as much as any other, probably more than any other. It is just such a close-knit group that we have. It is going to be hard next year not to be with them.”
PHS head coach Greg Hand is going to miss Stange and his classmates. “They went out just the way they came in with a full effort,” said Hand.
“That’s not just in the pool in a tough meet but it really applies to the way they have trained throughout their swimming career and the kind of passion they bring to high school swimming. I admire it so much. They are role models for everybody younger. They keep things in perspective. Today when we needed to swim fast and not back down, that was a piece of keeping things in perspective. It is not a perspective that says things like this doesn’t matter. It says that things like this do matter, so do everything that you can about it and live with what you get.”
For his spirit and coming through when it mattered, Stange is the choice as the Town Topics top male performer of the winter high school sports season.
Top Female Performer
Brianna Romaine gave a lift to the PHS girls’ swim team in her freshman season in 2012-13, establishing herself as a dependable sprinter.
Romaine thrived in the team’s supporting cast, complementing senior stars Serena Deardorff and Marisa Giglio as the Little Tigers won their first-ever team title at the Mercer County Swimming championships.
This winter, Romaine was ready to take a leading role with one season under her.
“I feel like I know the drill better,” said Romaine. “I know how I need to prepare myself before my races. Before I would warm up randomly but now I know that I need to get in at the break and I need to swim before. I know that I always need to drink water. I am more aware of things.”
Romaine had the sense that the squad was primed to do some big things this winter. “I could not be more proud of the girls’ team,” asserted Romaine.
“We are a young team. We have some very strong freshmen. Our captains are really organized and they are great leaders. The counties are definitely something to look forward to.”
With Romaine dominating in the sprints, PHS went undefeated in regular season action and then started the postseason by winning its second straight county title. Romaine came up big at the county meet, setting a meet record of 1:04.85 in winning the 100 backstroke and also placing third in the 100 freestyle.
PHS head coach Greg Hand was impressed by Romaine’s spirit and ability.
“Brianna is a real fighter,” said Hand. “She is a role model for kids both older and younger than her because she is utterly unabashed about trying to get the result that she wants as far as her own swim is concerned.”
Romaine and the Little Tigers ended up going far in the state Public B meet, winning the program’s first Central Jersey sectional title since 2011 before falling 96-74 to Ocean City in the state semis.
A week later, at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions, Romaine placed eighth in the 100 freestyle and helped the 400 free relay take sixth.
For Romaine, going fast comes naturally. “I have always done sprint training,” said Romaine. “I just love the rush, going up and getting after it right away.”
Romaine’s ability to get it done time after time makes her the pick as the top female performer of the winter season.
Soon after Evan Barratt, Jon Bendorf, and Blake Brown hit the ice for the Hun School boys’ hockey team, the program was looking to them to make an immediate impact.
“A third of the team is freshmen,” said Hun head coach Ian McNally. “They are not going to be on the fourth line so it will make a big difference if they can step in right away and produce.”
Bowing to the inevitable, McNally put the trio of forwards together on the same line.
“In week two we put those three together and we have tinkered here or there with other ones but those three are here for good,” said McNally.
“They just move the puck very well and they knew each other and have played together before. They all just went to an all-star game together for their bantam league.”
It didn’t take long for the combination to become the Killer Bees for Hun’s foes as the Raiders established themselves as one of the top teams in the area.
Hun ended up winning two titles, topping Notre Dame 4-2 in the Mercer County Tournament championship game and then defeating Academy of New Church (Pa.) 6-4 in the Independence Hockey League (IHL) championship game.
The trio of Barratt (23 goals, 38 assists) Bendorf (36 goals, 30 assists), and Brown (28 goals, 32 assists) were the team’s top three scorers as it ended the winter with a 20-7 record.
The three stars quickly developed a chemistry once they were put together. “It has been a lot of fun going to the Hun School and playing with Jon and Blake,” said Barratt.
“We were clicking right away; it was awesome. We have definitely brought the scoring.”
McNally, for his part, is looking forward to a lot of fun times over the next few seasons.
“With this group of freshmen, the hopes are high for the future,” said McNally.
“The freshmen forwards were 1-2-3 in scoring. We said last week that we had no more practices left, only a playoff game. We said that big players show up in big games and they did that. We had 10 goals in two title games and Barratt had 10 points.”
For providing the scoring punch that helped Hun win two titles, the trio of freshmen share the nod as the top male newcomers.
It didn’t take long for Kristin Serafin to turn heads this winter as she joined the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team.
“The girls are definitely impressed with Kristi, they think she is going to be a star in the league,” said PDS head coach Lorna Gifis Cook in December as she looked ahead to the season.
“She has so much potential. There are things we can work on with her but her instincts are so good.”
Serafin didn’t waste any time showing that she was going to be a star, tallying two goals and an assist as PDS topped Hill 6-2 in its season opener.
Showing offensive skills and providing tenacious defense, Serafin helped PDS go 11-8-1 and advance to the semis in the WIHLMA ‘A’ bracket. She finished the season with 19 points on seven goals and a team-high 12 assists.
“Everyone has a really high opinion of Kristi, she’ll be really fun to watch over the next three years” asserted Cook in reflecting on the season. “She is a true defenseman and we haven’t had that in a while.
For being a true standout in her debut season, Serafin is the choice for top female newcomer.
Scott Bertoli and Ian McNally have a lot in common.
They are both natives of Canada who came to Princeton University and played for the Tiger men’s hockey team.
They both ended up in the Princeton area and they each coach local high school boys’ hockey teams with Bertoli guiding PDS and McNally at the helm of the Hun program.
Coming into this winter, the two Princeton alums faced similar coaching challenges.
For Bertoli, it was keeping the Panthers at a high level after losing nine seniors to graduation from a 2012-13 squad that went 21-3-1 and shared the state Prep championship.
“We need to establish who this team is and what our identity is going to be,” said Bertoli.
“Last year, we had 17 returning players and we knew who we were. We have guys taking bigger roles and more responsibility. It will take time to evolve and find out who we are and what allows us to be the most effective.”
McNally, for his part, was welcoming a bevy of new faces to a program that went 16-5-4 and won the Independence Hockey League (IHL) title.
“We lost seven seniors, two post-graduates, and three or four other kids,” said McNally.
“We have a lot of kids who never played but we should be even stronger. There is a positive hunger, we have an influx of new kids who don’t know any better.”
PDS and Hun proved to be up to the challenges, solidifying their status as two of the better programs around.
The Panthers took two out of three games at the Barber Tournament in Massachusetts in December and posted a milestone 6-3 win over Lawrenceville in mid-January, its first triumph over the BigRed since the 2000-01 season.
PDS topped a powerful Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) team 6-4 in mid-February and then edged Morristown-Beard 4-3 in the state Prep title game to earn the program’s first outright state crown since 2011.
The squad ended the season at 14-7-2 and earned the admiration of Bertoli. “It is a completely different group from last year,” said Bertoli.
“Last year, we were offensively dynamic and this group just grinds it out, they are willing to be patient and they do a lot of the little things. As a coach, it is so much more gratifying to watch this team compete.”
Hun proved to be a dynamic team as its trio of freshman forwards, Evan Barratt, Jon Bendorf, and Blake Brown, sparked it to a pair of titles. Entering the Mercer County Tournament for the first time since 2009, the Raiders topped defending champion Notre Dame 4-2 in the championship game on February 21. Four days later, Hun defeated Academy of New Church (Pa.) 6-4 in the IHL championship game.
“Last year, we won one title and this year we won two; the program is getting better every year,” said McNally, whose team posted a final record of 20-7.
“The expectations were higher coming into the year. Last year, we hoped to win our league, this year we expected to win our league. The biggest difference was in how we viewed ourselves.”
For getting their programs to overcome challenges and meet high expectations, Bertoli and McNally are the joint choice for top coaches of a male team.
Last winter the Princeton High girls’ swim team came out of nowhere to win its first-ever title at the Mercer County Championships.
Coming into 2013-14, PHS had a bull’s eye on its back and the task of making up for the loss of graduated stars Serena Deardorff and Marisa Giglio.
Early in the season, PHS head coach Greg hand got the sense that his squad was coming together quickly.
“Regardless of the opponent, I will always be looking for a certain few qualities in the team,” said Hand.
“I think we have made a lot of progress since training began, pulling ourselves together and understanding how we do things. We competed; we were really there for each other.”
The Little Tigers didn’t lose a regular season meet and defended their county title in style, rolling to a second straight crown, piling up 222 points with Steinert second at 169, and WW/P-S taking third with 156.
PHS didn’t stop there, putting together an inspiring run in the state Public B tournament. Getting seeded No. 1 in the Central Jersey sectional, PHS lived up to its rank, rolling into the final and topping second-seeded Lawrence 110-60 to win the program’s first sectional crown since 2011.
“I don’t think anybody is backing down from the idea that we have a shot at a sectional title and maybe a great opportunity therefore to swim in a state semifinal and really push ourselves,” said Hand.
While PHS fell 94-76 to Ocean City in the state semifinal, Hand liked the spirit he saw from his team throughout the winter.
“The girls do everything they can to control the won-loss record but I think they are pretty realistic,” said Hand, whose squad finished the winter with a 12-1 record.
“We just come out and swim our best every time and if we are good enough to get a result, that is great. I like their spirit and camaraderie, it continues to grow.”
Hand’s role in getting the best out of his team as it won two titles makes him the pick as the top coach of a female team.