October 30, 2013
OVERACHIEVERS: Princeton University linebacker Jason Ray heads upfield in recent action. Last Saturday, senior star Ray made 12 tackles to help Princeton top Harvard 51-48 in triple overtime. The Tigers, now 5-1 overall and 3-0 Ivy League, are tied for first in the league standings with Penn (4-2 overall, 3-0 Ivy) and will look to keep on the winning track when they host Cornell (1-5 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on November 2.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

OVERACHIEVERS: Princeton University linebacker Jason Ray heads upfield in recent action. Last Saturday, senior star Ray made 12 tackles to help Princeton top Harvard 51-48 in triple overtime. The Tigers, now 5-1 overall and 3-0 Ivy League, are tied for first in the league standings with Penn (4-2 overall, 3-0 Ivy) and will look to keep on the winning track when they host Cornell (1-5 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on November 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Christopher Eisgruber is a busy guy these days as he settles into his new role as the president of Princeton University.

But last Saturday afternoon, he took the time to send a message to mark a bit of school history.

Eisgruber was one of the many well-wishers who contacted Princeton University football coach Bob Surace in the wake of the Tigers’ epic 51-48 triple overtime win at previously undefeated Harvard.

“I am lucky it was a road game,” said Surace, a former Tiger football star reflecting on the marathon which was the first triple overtime game in program history.

“I had 70 e-mails and texts waiting for me when I got on the bus, from the president of the school, to alums, to my college roommates. That’s what happens when you coach at your alma mater.”

The congratulations were certainly justified as Princeton achieved a second straight win for the ages over the arch rival Crimson, matching the drama of last year’s triumph which saw Princeton rally from a 34-10 fourth quarter deficit to stun a then-undefeated Harvard squad 39-34.

For Surace, it was special to simply be on the sideline of a second straight classic. “We are just calling the plays, it is the players who are out there executing and playing their hearts out,” said Surace, whose team piled up 520 yards of total offense and exceeded 50 points for the third time this season in improving to 5-1 overall and 3-0 Ivy League while the Crimson dropped to 5-1 overall, 2-1 Ivy.

“It was a beautiful thing to be part of a special game between two such historic schools. It gives you chills.”

Like Muhammad Ali needed Joe Frazier to push him to his limit, Princeton and Harvard bring out the best in each other.

“I think it was two really good teams playing against each other,” said Surace.

“It was like a pay-per-view boxing match; sometimes you get a dud and sometimes you get a classic where you keep the ticket. It was two teams where there was going to be a wave of points each way.”

Like last year, the decisive blows were landed by the passing combination of Quinn Epperly to Roman Wilson. In 2012, Epperly hit Wilson for a 34-yard touchdown that provided the margin of victory. On Saturday, lefty junior Epperly floated a six-yard pass to senior Wilson in the third overtime to clinch the win.

Epperly ended the day with personal records of 37 completions (37-for-50 for 321 yards) and six touchdown passes. He was later named the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week for the third time this season and has now accounted for 15 touchdowns in the air while rushing for 11 more. Wilson, for his part, made nine catches for 76 yards and a touchdown and rushed for another score.

“They both continue to work hard and lead the team,” said Surace, reflecting on what Epperly and Wilson have meant to the Tigers this year.

“They are cool, they don’t flinch. Quinn made a fumble earlier in the game and came right back on the next drive.”

Epperly helped Princeton jump out to a 13-0 first quarter lead as he hit Connor Kelley with a five-yard touchdown pass on Princeton’s initial possession and then found Des Smith on a six-yard scoring strike later in the quarter.

Harvard battled back in the second quarter as quarterback Connor Hempel hit Ricky Zorn for a 33-yard touchdown pass. The Crimson then forged ahead 14-13 after a 60-yard scoring gallop by Paul Stanton.

Epperly found Kelley on another 5-yard touchdown pass as the Tigers regained the lead at 21-14.

Running back Stanton scored again, this time on a two-yard plunge as Harvard knotted the game at 21-21 in the waning seconds of the first half.

As his players assembled in the locker room for halftime, Surace kept it short and sweet. “I told the guys to leave it all on the field and they did it in bucketfuls,” recalled Surace.

“Our locker room was in a trailer under the stands and when we came out there were parents, friends, and students cheering us, it was a wall of sound. It gave me goose bumps.”

Riding that emotion, Princeton scored on its first possession of the second half as Epperly hit Matt Costello for a 10-yard touchdown pass to put the Tigers up 28-21. Harvard responded with a 23-yard scoring strike from Hempel to Tyler Ott and the teams headed into the fourth quarter knotted at 28-28.

The Tigers regained the lead as Epperly hit Seth DeValve with a touchdown pass to make it 35-28. Capitalizing on a Princeton fumble which gave it the ball at the Tiger 19, Harvard tied the game at 35-35 with 2:50 left in regulation on another Hempel scoring strike to Ott.

The contest headed into overtime and Harvard executed well on the first possession as Hempel found Ott in the end zone to go ahead 42-35. With Wilson scoring on a nine-yard reverse aided by a big block from Epperly, the Tigers evened the contest at 42-42

The teams traded field goals on their next two possessions to make a 45-45 game. Making a fine defensive stand, Princeton held Harvard to another field goal and took over trailing 48-45.  Epperly hit Costello with an 18-yard pass to get the ball to the Harvard 6. Two plays later, he lofted the ball to the corner of the end zone which Wilson snared to clinch the win and end the 3 hour, 59 minute saga.

With Princeton hosting Cornell (1-5 overall, 0-3 Ivy) and its record-setting quarterback Jeff Mathews on November 2, Surace is hoping that his team can build on the dramatic win over Harvard unlike last year when the Tigers fell 37-35 to the Big Red.

“We didn’t let down last year, they just beat us,” maintained Surace, reflecting on the game which saw Mathews pass for 525 yards.

“We have to execute against a quarterback of that caliber. They have 25 guys returning with starting experience. They nearly beat Harvard (a 34-24 loss on October 12). There is such parity in the league. You take 200 plays in a game and flip three and things would be different. We have to be more exact.”

In Surace’s view, the character his team has developed in going through the ups and downs over the last three seasons could make the difference.

“I told them I am proud; they are such a tough group,” said Surace, whose team is tied for first in the Ivy standings with Penn (4-2 overall, 3-0 Ivy).

“I have been using a saying I got from Jason Garrett’s [former Tiger quarterback and current Dallas Cowboys head coach] camp this summer and that is ‘hold the rope.’ If a call doesn’t go your way or there is a fumble, you don’t give up; you just keep playing.”

STICKING WITH IT: Princeton University men’s hockey player Tyler Maugeri, right, battles a Dartmouth player in a game last winter. On Friday, junior forward Maugeri helped Princeton edge Dartmouth 3-2 in its season opener in the 2013 Liberty Hockey Invitational at the Prudential Center in Newark. A day later, Maugeri added a goal in a losing cause as Princeton fell 3-2 to defending NCAA champion Yale. The Tigers are next in action when they play at 19th-ranked Cornell on November 1 and at Colgate a day later. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STICKING WITH IT: Princeton University men’s hockey player Tyler Maugeri, right, battles a Dartmouth player in a game last winter. On Friday, junior forward Maugeri helped Princeton edge Dartmouth 3-2 in its season opener in the 2013 Liberty Hockey Invitational at the Prudential Center in Newark. A day later, Maugeri added a goal in a losing cause as Princeton fell 3-2 to defending NCAA champion Yale. The Tigers are next in action when they play at 19th-ranked Cornell on November 1 and at Colgate a day later. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Princeton University men’s hockey deadlocked 2-2 with Dartmouth in overtime last Friday in the season opener, Tiger forward Tucker Brockett found the puck on his stick in the crease.

Taking advantage his scoring chance, junior Brockett rifled the puck into the net to give Princeton a 3-2 victory and tally his first career goal.

“It was Tucker’s first goal but if you saw the goal you would never know it,” said Princeton head coach Bob Prier.

“He did a good job of getting his hands free and showed tremendous poise putting it on the top shelf. It was a goal scorer’s goal.”

The Tigers showed poise throughout the weekend as they hosted the 2013 Liberty Hockey Invitational at the Prudential Center in Newark, following the win over Dartmouth with a tough 3-2 loss to defending national champion Yale.

“We were playing good systematic hockey for the first weekend,” said Prier. “The resilience is good. We are playing shift to shift, that is the sign of a veteran team. It is a game of momentum and the key is how you react when you don’t have the momentum. We are showing more poise when the other team is on the power play or gets a goal.”

In the win over Dartmouth, Princeton seized the momentum, jumping out to a 2-0 lead on goals by senior captain Jack Berger and freshman Ben Foster.

“Berger’s goal was huge for us; it was a power play goal,” said Prier. “The special teams were good all weekend, we were 5-for-5 on the kill and the PP was 38 percent and we can clean up things even more.”

More importantly, Prier liked how his team responded when Dartmouth scored two third period goals to force overtime.

“I think the advantage of being a veteran team and having gone through the ups and downs is just that,” asserted Prier, whose roster includes nine seniors.

“They had an unflappable mindset, it is what it is. It is bonus hockey and it is still our game. We scored early in OT.”

While Princeton fell 3-2 to Yale on Saturday, Prier liked the mentality exhibited by his players.

“We are breaking down the film and we played really well,” said Prier, who got goals from Tyler Maugeri and Andrew Ammon in the setback. “Yale had only three odd-man rushes and scored on two of them. They have a bit of a swagger. We played desperate in the third period when we needed to. We are resilient.”

Senior goalie Sean Bonar displayed some resilience over the weekend, making 38 saves in the win over Dartmouth and recording 27 saves in the loss to Yale.

“I was really happy with Bonar; he was unflappable,” said Prier of Bonar, who has a save percentage of .929 on the season.

”When your goalie is playing loose and controlling his rebounds, that goes a long way in making the whole team feel loose. Sean has matured tremendously.”

“There were flashes from everyone, everyone was trying to make plays,” said Prier.

“We didn’t play nervous. We didn’t dump the puck and when we had time, we handled it well. We need to play quicker out of our zone when we have possession of the puck.”

Princeton will be looking to make some big plays this weekend as it heads north for games at 19th-ranked Cornell on November 1 and at Colgate a day later.

“Every weekend is tough,” said Prier. “You look at the results from last weekend and hands down, we have the best league in the country. Cornell is really strong, they swept Nebraska-Omaha last weekend and they will be flying. We need to put pressure on them and really go after them.”

OPENING LINE: Princeton University women’s hockey player ­Denna Laing looks for the puck in a game last season. Last Friday, senior captain and forward Laing tallied a goal as Princeton edged Dartmouth 3-2 in its season opener. In upcoming action, the Tigers, who fell 4-0 at Harvard on Saturday, host their first home weekend at Baker Rink, welcoming third-ranked Cornell on November 1 and Colgate a day later.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

OPENING LINE: Princeton University women’s hockey player ­Denna Laing looks for the puck in a game last season. Last Friday, senior captain and forward Laing tallied a goal as Princeton edged Dartmouth 3-2 in its season opener. In upcoming action, the Tigers, who fell 4-0 at Harvard on Saturday, host their first home weekend at Baker Rink, welcoming third-ranked Cornell on November 1 and Colgate a day later. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming into the opening weekend of the season, Jeff Kampersal believed that the arrival of seven freshmen to the program would make a difference for his Princeton University women’s ice hockey team.

The new faces didn’t waste any time making an impact as the Tigers played at Dartmouth last Friday in the first game of the 2013-14 campaign.

Freshman Cassidy Tucker notched Princeton’s first goal of the season late in the first period and then classmate Hilary Lloyd tallied the game-winner early in the third period as Princeton skated to a 3-2 victory.

“Cassidy’s goal got us going,” said Princeton head coach Kampersal, who also got a goal from senior captain Denna Laing in the win.

“She stripped a Dartmouth player of the puck when we were shorthanded and then got a 1-on-0 and roofed it. Jaimie MacDonell made a nice play on the wall and got the puck to Gabie Figueroa who found Lloyd on a back door.”

Kampersal liked the way his team battled collectively as it fought back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits.

“We were a little nervous in the first five minutes against Dartmouth but we pulled it together and played,” said Kampersal. “We were down a goal twice and we came back.”

A day later, the Tigers came out firing at Harvard, outshooting the 7th-ranked Crimson 44-30. But Harvard’s excellences on special teams, going 3-for-4 on the power play, combined with some stellar goaltending by Emerance Maschmeyer resulted in a 4-0 triumph for the Crimson.

“The girls were pumped up by the win over Dartmouth and played really well against Harvard in the 5-on-5,” said Kampersal. “They got some power play goals, a couple that were a little flukey. We had a lot of quality chances, we just couldn’t put any away.”

In Kampersal’s view, his squad produced a quality effort in its first weekend of action. “We had a lot of positives from the way we played,” said Kampersal.

“We learned where we are; it was good to play two Ivy League teams who were in the same position. I think just the fact we could roll lines and show our depth and conditioning made me happy.”

The Tigers will need to utilize that depth when they host their first home weekend at Baker Rink, welcoming third-ranked Cornell on November 1 and Colgate a day later.

“Cornell lost two big defensemen to graduation and another player to the Olympics but their cupboard is still loaded,” said Kampersal.

“They are one of the best teams in the country, for sure. We have played them tough the last few times we have seen them so maybe this is the year we can break through. Colgate will be neck and neck with us all season so that is a very important game.”

Noting that his players will be getting some extra ice time this week since Princeton is on fall break, Kampersal is looking to fine-tune things.

“We need to work on special teams and conditioning,” said Kampersal. “We did have some power play chances and we didn’t put any away. It wasn’t from lack of effort, we had some shots.”

DOUBLE THREAT: Whitney Hayes heads to goal during his career with the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team. Hayes, a 2007 Princeton alum, was a hometown hero before heading across town for college, starring at lacrosse and soccer for Princeton High as he produced one of the most decorated two-sports careers in school history. This Saturday, Hayes’ excellence on two fronts is being recognized when he will be inducted into the PHS Athletics Hall of Fame as part of its eighth class of honorees.(Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

DOUBLE THREAT: Whitney Hayes heads to goal during his career with the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team. Hayes, a 2007 Princeton alum, was a hometown hero before heading across town for college, starring at lacrosse and soccer for Princeton High as he produced one of the most decorated two-sports careers in school history. This Saturday, Hayes’ excellence on two fronts is being recognized when he will be inducted into the PHS Athletics Hall of Fame as part of its eighth class of honorees. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Whitney Hayes focused on soccer as a grade schooler but he found a new sporting love by middle school.

“I played soccer a lot as a kid,” said Hayes. “In seventh grade I stopped playing travel soccer and switched to the lacrosse side, playing on select teams.”

Entering Princeton High in 1998, Hayes decided not to put all of his eggs in one basket, playing soccer as well as lacrosse. That move paved the way for one of the most decorated two-sports careers in PHS history.

As a soccer player, Hayes scored 26 goals and had 16 assists over his career, getting honored as a two-time All-State and three-time All-CVC performer.

On the lacrosse field, Hayes set a new standard, scoring a school-record 397 career points on 169 goals and 228 assists. He was a two-time All-American, a three-time All-State performer, and the N.J. Attackman of the Year.

This Saturday, Hayes’ excellence on two fronts is being recognized when he will be inducted into the Princeton High Athletics Hall of Fame as part of its eighth class of honorees.

Joining Hayes in the class will be John Friel ’36,  August Friel ’37, Joseph Friel ’38, Tom Friel ’50, Rich Volz ’67, Craig Rendall ’76, Patricia Dinella McMillan ’82, Lamont Fletcher Jr. ’82, Alec Hoke ’83, coach Frank Francisco, and the 1966 boys’ track and field team.

Hayes, for his part, was surprised to get the call to the PHS Hall of Fame. “I thought it was for a crowning achievement for a person, I thought I was too young to be a part of it,” said Hayes, 30. “It is great to be asked.”

In assessing his PHS career, Hayes acknowledged that he was not a great soccer player.

“I didn’t play varsity until I was a sophomore,” recalled Hayes. “In freshman year, I dressed for a few games at the end and got exposed to it. For me, the challenge was a skill level. I was a much better athlete than a soccer player. I could run with everybody but couldn’t always finish. I had to work harder to make more chances.”

Hayes enjoyed working with PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe. “Wayne was a tremendous coach,” said Hayes, who also relished the chance to play with older brother Dixon in both soccer and lacrosse.

“He was very much a players’ coach. He developed them as people as much as players. He listened to the leadership on the team. It was not just about being a successful team; he made it fun. He adapted strategy to the team that he had.”

In lacrosse, Hayes enjoyed success from the beginning, working his way into the starting lineup as a freshman.

“It was a step up in competition but I have always enjoyed that,” said Hayes. “I wanted to play against the better players. I had played with guys on the weekends and in their yards so I knew them.”

PHS did well against some of the better teams in the state during Hayes’ career. “My sophomore year, we ran the table in the regular season and lost to the eventual champion Delbarton in the playoffs,” said Hayes.

“My next year we beat the No. 1 seed AL Johnson in the tournament and coach [Peter] Stanton broke his hand celebrating.”

Like Sutcliffe, Stanton had a big influence on Hayes. “Coach Stanton was fantastic, he has a strong personality that you can’t help but like,” added Hayes.

“Like Wayne, he was interested in your development as a person. If you scored 10 goals but were a jerk to your teammates, the latter was something that he would focus on as being more important. He was a great mentor.”

Stanton, for his part, lauds Hayes’ special on-field focus. “Whit has remarkable awareness,” said Stanton. “Lacrosse is a one-on-one game but on the offensive side it is six guys against seven guys and he had a sense of playing the game within the game.”

Hayes’ game sense resulted in an understated style. “He made the game look so easy; he would get five goals and it would look so smooth and easy,” said Stanton of the 5’10, 175-pound Hayes.

“He had the gifts of perception, timing, and awareness. Those are skills that are virtually impossible to teach. They are innate gifts. He made his teammates better.”

In developing his gifts, Hayes utilized a fierce competitiveness. “He was exceptionally tough and I know how hard he worked at it,” said Stanton. “I saw him do the most amazing things on our Saturday practices when he was going full speed and he didn’t have to do that as our best player.”

That work paid off as Hayes went on to star for the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team, helping the Tigers reach the NCAA Final 4 in 2004 and tallying 69 points on 32 goals and 37 assists in his Tiger career.

“It was great to be home for college, that enabled people I knew to see me,” said Hayes, who graduated from Princeton in 2007 with a degree in politics and a finance certificate.

“My parents came to every game. I got to play with both of my brothers [Dixon and younger brother Sam]. I was sure I would have at least three fans at the home games with my parents and Peter. I grew up watching games on the soccer and lacrosse fields at Princeton and I thought that was a higher level so it was great to play on those fields in college.”

Stanton certainly enjoyed watching his former star excel at the college level. “It’s funny, Bill Tierney [former Princeton University coach] said Whitney was one of the biggest surprises he had in his career,” said Stanton.

“He was unheralded as a recruit. I was really happy to see him get the chance to play at Princeton. I know it was a dream come true for him.”

It is no surprise to Stanton that Hayes is achieving another dream this Saturday with the Hall of Fame honor.

“The Hall of Fame is for a select few; from the years I coached, he is the first person I would put in,” said Stanton.

“He was outstanding for four years. He did some awesome things. He still holds the school career record for points. When he graduated, he held New Jersey records for career assists and assists in a season.”

For Hayes, it is an awesome feeling to be singled out as a Hall of Famer. “There have been a lot of tremendous people who have gone through Princeton High and to be considered along with them is an honor,” said Hayes.

As Hayes reflects on going through PHS, he considers the bonds he made with his peers to be one of the lasting benefits of his high school experience. “I got to know a lot of great people; I developed friendships that I have to this day,” said Hayes, who currently works as an investment baker in New York City for UBS.

“Some of my best friends in the world are the guys I went with to Princeton High. I have been in their weddings and I still see them. It is something that lasts a lifetime.”

And having produced a once in a lifetime PHS career, it is fitting that Hayes is being recognized this Saturday as one of the best athletes in school history.

FEELING LOW: Princeton High field hockey senior star ­Emilia Lopez-Ona takes the ball upfield in recent action. Last Thursday, Lopez-Ona and her teammates played their hearts out as they fell to Hopewell Valley on strokes in the Mercer County Tournament semifinal in a game that was scoreless through regulation and 20 minutes of overtime. PHS, now 12-4-1, will start action in the Group III North Jersey, Section 2 sectional where it is seeded fifth and will play at No. 4 Warren Hills on October 30.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FEELING LOW: Princeton High field hockey senior star ­Emilia Lopez-Ona takes the ball upfield in recent action. Last Thursday, Lopez-Ona and her teammates played their hearts out as they fell to Hopewell Valley on strokes in the Mercer County Tournament semifinal in a game that was scoreless through regulation and 20 minutes of overtime. PHS, now 12-4-1, will start action in the Group III North Jersey, Section 2 sectional where it is seeded fifth and will play at No. 4 Warren Hills on October 30. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The Princeton High field hockey team didn’t produce its best effort when it played Hopewell Valley in mid-September.

Coming out flat offensively, PHS dug a 2-0 hole on the way to a 2-1 loss to the Bulldogs.

When the teams met in a rematch last Thursday in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals, the Little Tigers gave extra effort from the opening whistle, battling HoVal tooth-and-nail all over the field.

After teams fought to a scoreless draw in the first half at Mercer County Community College, PHS turned up the heat after intermission on the chilly evening, controlling possession and generating several good scoring chances.

Neither team, however, was able to break through and the game headed into overtime.

PHS head coach Heather Serverson had a good feeling as her team got ready for the extra session.

“I think it really got the girls’ intensity and energy up,” said Serverson. “I think they had a great talk about specific things to do like quick passing and less dribbling and getting the ball in behind their defense.”

During the 20 minutes of overtime, PHS made several forays into the HoVal defensive end but couldn’t hit the back of the cage and the game was decided on strokes. The Bulldogs managed to convert three strokes to PHS’s one in order to survive and advance to the MCT title game.

With her players walking away teary-eyed from the MCCC field, Serverson lauded their effort.

“I think they played a great game, they played as well as they could,” said Serverson, whose team moved to 12-4-1 with the setback. “They left it all out on the field, I don’t think there is one more thing that they could have done.”

Serverson tipped her hat to HoVal and its play. “It is just tough to get through their defense, they were double and triple teaming us,” lamented Serverson. “It was just little things they took advantage of to win the game. You have to be prepared for everything at this level and they were better prepared.”

PHS got high-level play all evening long from junior Lucy Herring and senior Emilia Lopez-Ona.

“I think Emilia and Lucy really stood out,” asserted Serverson. “Lucy has been playing some great offense and defense all at the same time. Emilia is Emilia, she is a competitor.”

In Serverson’s view, her team’s effort in the MCT should serve it well as it competes in the upcoming state tournament.

“I said to the girls if you don’t learn from a loss it wasn’t worth it,” said Serverson, whose team was seeded fifth in the Group III North Jersey, Section 2 sectional and will play at No. 4 Warren Hills on October 30. “Hopefully we learn from it and we are able to move on.”

FINAL SPRINT: Princeton High boys’ cross country runner Conor Donahue sprints down the final stretch in a recent race. Last Friday, senior star Donahue placed ninth at the Mercer County Cross Country Championships at Washington Crossing Park, covering the 3.1 mile course in a time of 16:21. Sparked by ­Donahue’s heroics, PHS placed fourth of 18 schools in the team standings, trailing just champion WW/P-S, runner-up Robbinsville, and WW/P-N.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FINAL SPRINT: Princeton High boys’ cross country runner Conor Donahue sprints down the final stretch in a recent race. Last Friday, senior star Donahue placed ninth at the Mercer County Cross Country Championships at Washington Crossing Park, covering the 3.1 mile course in a time of 16:21. Sparked by ­Donahue’s heroics, PHS placed fourth of 18 schools in the team standings, trailing just champion WW/P-S, runner-up Robbinsville, and WW/P-N. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Conor Donahue wasn’t just racing against his foes when he competed last Friday in the Mercer County Cross Country Championships at Washington Crossing Park.

“I didn’t run too well when we came here for the dual meet,” said Princeton High senior Donahue.

“After the dual meet, I talked to coach [Mark] Shelley and asked him when is the next time we are doing the Washington Crossing because I really want to work on this, this, and this. We did a really good run here with 800 meter repeats on the hill. I think I found out more about the course. Before I had this mentally if I was in a race here, oh it is this course again.”

Donahue’s hard work paid dividends on Friday as he placed ninth overall in a time of 16:21 over the 3.1 mile course.

“I am extremely happy,” said Donahue. “I finally beat the course. With the workouts we did here, I was able to put that aside and work through everything.”

Sparked by Donahue’s heroics, PHS placed fourth of 18 schools in the team standings, trailing just champion WW/P-S,  runner-up Robbinsville, and WW/P-N.

For Donahue, running with junior teammate Jacob Rist, the 16th-place finisher on Friday, kept him in contact with the front pack.

“It helps so much,” said Donahue. “Jacob did well today. I think he wanted to do better but he is having some problems with his Achilles heel right now. He is great. Every single dual meet, we have had, when were together, we have been able to pull off countless strategies. We work together very well.”

Over the last quarter-mile, Donahue produced a blistering sprint to pull away from Rist and get himself up into the Top 10.

“I love kicking; I picked off a couple of guys,” said Donahue, who won the 1,600-meter run last spring in the Mercer County Track Championships.

“I was working on that last stretch before the final straightaway because I think that is where I failed in my past races so I passed a couple of guys there and I passed a guy near the end. I am happy with that.”

Donahue is happy to assume a leadership role in his final campaign with the Little Tigers.

“First there is organizing the guys which is fun,” said Donahue. “I would like to think that when I am working hard and the younger guys see that, they get influenced by that hard work. I know that happened to me when I was going through my sophomore year, I looked up to the older guys, I saw how hard I am working.”

In excelling so far in his final cross country campaign, Donahue has combined racing savvy with work ethic.

“I always have worked hard, it is experience,” said Donahue. “I am just seeing the results. One of my favorite things about running is when you work hard and you see the results of hard work directly in the race.”

In Donahue’s view, the Little Tigers have the potential to get a good result at the Central Jersey Group III sectional meet slated for November 9 at Thompson Park in Monroe.

“I think we are a contender for the Group III state championship,” said Donahue.

“If we get everybody together. I am starting to see some clear lines. I think we have a really good chance.”

MAKING STRIDES: Princeton High girls’ cross country star Lou Miahle heads to the finish line in a race earlier this season. Last Friday, sophomore Miahle led the way for PHS as the Mercer County Cross Country Championships, clocking a time of 19:42 over the 3.1 mile course at Washington Crossing State Park to take ninth individually. Paced by Miahle, PHS finished second of 15 schools in the team standings, trailing only WW/P-S. Following Miahle for PHS was Mary Sutton in 14th place  with Julie Bond finishing 15th and Paige Metzheiser taking 16th.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MAKING STRIDES: Princeton High girls’ cross country star Lou Miahle heads to the finish line in a race earlier this season. Last Friday, sophomore Miahle led the way for PHS as the Mercer County Cross Country Championships, clocking a time of 19:42 over the 3.1 mile course at Washington Crossing State Park to take ninth individually. Paced by Miahle, PHS finished second of 15 schools in the team standings, trailing only WW/P-S. Following Miahle for PHS was Mary Sutton in 14th place with Julie Bond finishing 15th and Paige Metzheiser taking 16th. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Mialhe

Mialhe

Mialhe

Mialhe

Even though she is just a sophomore, Lou Mialhe has emerged as the frontrunner this fall for the Princeton High girls’ cross country team

“It is lovely; it feels great,” said Mialhe, reflecting being at the front of the PHS pack. “I feel kind of like a role model. It is the first time I have ever felt that.”

Last Friday at the Mercer County Cross Country Championships, Mialhe
handled her leading role well, clocking a time of 19:42 over the 3.1 mile course at Washington Crossing State Park to take ninth individually.

Paced by Mialhe, PHS finished second of 15 schools in the team standings, trailing only WW/P-S. Following Mialhe for PHS was Mary Sutton in 14th place with Julie Bond finishing 15th, and Paige Metzheiser taking 16th.

On one hand, Mialhe was pleased with her effort. “Timewise I am happy,” said Mialhe. “I wanted to break 20 and I did.”

But befitting her status as a team leader for PHS, Mialhe wasn’t satisfied with her place.

“I was shooting to beat at least two South (WW/P-S) girls, I didn’t quite accomplish that,” lamented Mialhe.

“I let them go at the very beginning and I wasn’t able to catch up. I ran with the fourth South girl for half of the second lap. She got me up on that hill so I was behind all four South girls.”

Mialhe acknowledged that she is still working on developing her mental toughness.

“I am not confident enough in myself which is what coach [Jim] Smirk says as well,” said Mialhe.

“He thinks that since I am younger, I am not confident enough in myself to push harder and go to the top of my ability. He says I should be more confident. I need to improve my mental approach.”

With the Central Jersey Group III sectional meet slated for November 9 at Thompson Park in Monroe, Mialhe is confident that PHS can produce a top performance there.

“I think we really need to run as a pack; our top three or four runners really need to stick together,” said Mialhe.

“We need to really learn to push each other together. I thought it would come faster but obviously it takes a lot more work; it should be coming soon. I am waiting for us to get that mental strength.”

As Princeton Day School runner Ian Moini competed in the freshman race at the Mercer County Championships last Friday, he enlisted an unlikely partner in crime.

Moini found himself in lockstep with the Hun School’s Alex Ill at the front of the pack at the Washington Crossing State Park course.

“I knew the guy from Hun,” said Moini, referring to Ill. “We were pacing together. We were looking to run the race smart. We were running as a team. In the backwoods, we said we are going to take over now.”

Coming down the stretch, the pair staged a mano a mano battle for the title as they sprinted to the line. Ill edged Moini out by an eyelash, clocking a 17:30.16 over the 3.1-mile course with Moini coming in at 17:30.41.

Knowing that he gave everything he had, Moini was able to live with the narrow defeat.

“With that sprint, it is just whoever got there,” said Moini. “We were within 0.5 seconds of each other so it is not really a big deal getting second place. I am not disappointed with that.”

Moini was joined at the top in the freshman race by classmate Sam Noden, who took fifth. A depleted boys’ varsity team took 18th in that race while the PDS girls’ varsity team placed ninth in their competition. Freshman Morgan Mills set the pace for the Panther girls’ team, taking 35th individually in 20:59 with senior Abby Sharer placing 45th and senior Liz Gudgel finishing 49th.

Moini acknowledged that he might have taken first if he had started his kick earlier.

“Alex was a little bit winded by the hill; I have been training hills all summer so I was ready for the hill,” said Moini.

“If I had started the kick as I got out of the hill and got 10 yards on him, I probably could have been able to win. Being in the top two and both of us being from private schools, that is really good.”

For Moini, his running career took off at another local private school, the Chapin School.

“I started in seventh grade at the Chapin School,” said Moini. “I didn’t like it right away, I didn’t start liking it until eighth grade. I had always run around 6:30 a mile and in this first race there was a kid who had won Junior Olympics the year before. I went out and beat him. I ran a 5:55 and it was the fastest I had ever done. I went on that year to run a 5:34 which was my fastest. Last year I got second for my age group at the New Jersey Junior Olympics. I have all the records at the Chapin School for running.”

Adjusting to high school competition, Moini has proved to be a fast study. “I am very happy,” said Moini.

“Sam Noden and I have been training together all year. I had two injuries and I am wearing an ankle brace. I missed some races because of that. My first race back was the Newark race and I ran my second fastest time all year.”

Buoyed by his good showing last Friday, Moini is hoping to end the season with a bang as PDS competes in the state Prep B championship meet on October 30 at the Blair Academy.

“We are looking forward to the preps; it is a tough course,” said Moini. “This is more than looking for a time as a freshman. I think that this is more about getting a top 10.”

SERVING UP A REPEAT: Princeton Day School girls’ tennis player Renee Karchere-Sun pounds a serve in recent action. Last week, sophomore Karchere-Sun took second at first singles to help PDS repeat as state Prep B champions. The Panthers got individual Prep B crowns from junior Maria Martinovic at second singles and classmate Emily Dyckman at third singles. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SERVING UP A REPEAT: Princeton Day School girls’ tennis player Renee Karchere-Sun pounds a serve in recent action. Last week, sophomore Karchere-Sun took second at first singles to help PDS repeat as state Prep B champions. The Panthers got individual Prep B crowns from junior Maria Martinovic at second singles and classmate Emily Dyckman at third singles.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Ed Tseng knew that his Princeton Day School girls’ tennis team faced a major challenge in its bid to win a second consecutive state Prep B title.

“One of the things that make it hard to repeat is that there are a lot of good teams and players out there,” said PDS head coach Tseng.

“You are facing the unknown and that can be scary. The girls were excited. I thought we had a good chance if we played pretty well and gave a good effort.”

Gill St. Bernard’s put a scare into PDS as the two teams were tied for first place coming into the championship round last Thursday.

“I was glad to see us do well on Sunday,” said Tseng, whose team advanced to the finals in four of the five flights of the event.

“We were tied with Gill for first although I would have like to have been in the lead. We knew we had to come out on Thursday and play well.”

The PDS players were anxious about their prospects as they headed into the last day of the competition.

“I was getting all the questions from them about how many wins did we need to get the title,” said Tseng.

“I told them there were so many different combinations that they just need to go out and play a good match and see where the numbers fall.”

The numbers ended falling PDS’s way as the Panthers tallied 11 points to Gill’s 10 in winning their second straight Prep B crown.

Wins by junior Maria Martinovic at second singles and classmate Emily Dyckman at third singles made the difference for PDS. Martinovic topped Sharon Jin of Gill 6-2, 6-0 while Dyckman defeated Stephanie Fuentes 6-3, 7-5.

“Maria and Emily were on courts right next to each other so I was able to watch them both,” recalled Tseng.

“They both got off to similar leads. I think Maria had some confidence going into the second set; she got into a zone. Emily was up 5-4 and serving for the match but lost that game. She is a fiery player and she was able to win those final two games to get the win.”

PDS got some fiery play in defeat on Thursday as first singles player Renee Karchere-Sun fell to Krishna Patel of Gill, 6-1, 7-5 while the second doubles team of Hope Boozan and Touria Salvati lost in three sets, as Nikita Isrania and Caroline Friezo of Montclair Kimberley prevailed 2-6, 7-6, 6-3.

“Renee had chances to pull out that second set but the Gill player was able to win it,” said Tseng.

“If it had gone to a third set, anything could have happened. The second doubles won the first set and then lost the second. I think they were deflated coming into the third.”

At the end of the day, though, everyone on the PDS squad was pumped up. “Once we won, it was awesome,” said Tseng.

“It is great to see Maria and Emily win individual titles but it is so much more special to win as a team. Samantha Asch [former PDS star and current Wake Forest player] won a lot of individual titles but she said she enjoyed the team titles a lot more. It was a good show of mental toughness, going into the final day we were tied and anything could happen. They need to give a full effort and they did that.”

In Tseng’s view, an all-for-one and one-for-all attitude helped pave the way to victory.

“I think one quality that made this team special is that we have a lot of players with experience, either in tournaments or for the school team,” said Tseng.

“They are used to pressure and playing in big matches. The more experienced players can help the younger players. The younger players bring a fresh approach and excitement and they help the team with that attitude. It is a nice big family. As a team, we would do anything for each other.”

TITLE SHOT: Princeton Day School field hockey player Sarah Brennan prepares to shoot the ball in recent action. Last Wednesday, senior star and Princeton University-bound Brennan scored two goals to help third-seeded PDS top No. 6 Newark Academy 3-0 in the opening round of the state Prep B tournament. The win earned the Panthers, now 9-9, a berth in the Prep B semifinals where they will play at second-seeded Morristown-Beard on October 30 with the winner advancing to the title game on November 3.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TITLE SHOT: Princeton Day School field hockey player Sarah Brennan prepares to shoot the ball in recent action. Last Wednesday, senior star and Princeton University-bound Brennan scored two goals to help third-seeded PDS top No. 6 Newark Academy 3-0 in the opening round of the state Prep B tournament. The win earned the Panthers, now 9-9, a berth in the Prep B semifinals where they will play at second-seeded Morristown-Beard on October 30 with the winner advancing to the title game on November 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Over the last year, Sarah Brennan has put in extra effort to make herself a better field hockey player.

“I play year round with Mystx club, they are based out of Feasterville, Pa.” said Brennan, a senior midfielder for Princeton Day School.

“Mrs. Reinprecht [club coach Tina Reinprecht] and Mrs. Arndt [PDS coach Tracey Arndt] said I needed to work on my ball control and my hit; those are the two things I worked really hard on in the off-season to try to get ready for this high school season. I am much more comfortable handling the ball and taking a leadership role on the team.”

Last Wednesday, Brennan showed her comfort level and skill, scoring two goals to spark third-seeded PDS to a 3-0 win over No. 6 Newark Academy in the opening round of the state Prep B tournament.

As Brennan and her teammates hit the field, they were determined to keep their season going.

“Our mindset was just to win; everyone was going to do whatever they could to win,” said Brennan, reflecting on the win which earned PDS a berth in the Prep B semis where they will play at second-seeded Morristown-Beard on October 30 with the winner advancing to the title game on November 3.

“This could be the seniors’ last game on Smoyer. Winning was our only option basically.”

Brennan took matters into her hands, scoring off a penalty corner 2:15 into the game and then adding another tally late in the first half as PDS took a 2-0 lead into intermission.

“We have practiced corners a ton,” said Brennan. “Mrs. Arndt was practicing with me, Mary [Travers], and Emma [Quigley] a lot yesterday; it was insert, hit, insert, hit. It is just a routine. On the second goal, I had an open shot. You look at the black and you try to hit it.”

The Panthers tacked on their third and final goal when Quigley scored early in the second half as they improved to 9-9 and won their third straight game, outscoring their foes 11-0 in that stretch.

In Brennan’s view, the Panthers have been playing their best hockey of the season over the last week.

“We are all working as a team; there is not much individualistic work, there is more passing and give-and-goes,” said Brennan.

“We do know how to come from behind. We know we are never out of a game, we can always come back because we have been on both ends of it just in this season. We play until the final whistle.”

Brennan is going to be playing beyond the final whistle this year as she has committed to Princeton University, the alma mater of her mother and father.

“My parents left the decision entirely up to me; they were great,” said Brennan.

“They were so supportive. It is just really exciting to be right down the road playing for Kristen Holmes-Winn. I couldn’t be luckier. I did my official visit this fall and I saw Andrea Jenkins [former PDS star] a bunch there. I am so excited to be playing with her again; she is a great player and a great friend.”

PDS head coach Arndt believes that Brennan has taken her game to a higher level.

“Sarah was on today and when she is on, she is on in terms of her hit and her finishing,” said Arndt.

“She has really stepped her game up since the beginning of the season but even from last year. She is ready for what college is going to bring. There are just little details that we want to get but she is really becoming a finesse player and doing exactly what she needs to do for us.”

In Arndt’s view, PDS did what it needed to do in the win over Newark Academy.

“Today was important, it was a win or you are out type of game so we needed to get on the board early, which I think we did and that was important,” said Arndt.

“Some of the game plan we were looking to accomplish was achieved. We got a lot of shots on goal which was great but as a coach I certainly want more to go in.”

Arndt knows her team will have to put in more work if it is to accomplish its goal of playing for a start title.

“So we’ll go back to the drawing board and make sure we are ready for Morristown-Beard,” said Arndt.

“We are in a lucky position because we have a week before the game and some other teams have a bunch of games in between the state game. We have got time to heal any injuries, refocus, and make sure that our next goal is to be the best we can against Morristown Beard. They are a great team so we have to be ready for them.”

PDS seems to be playing its best heading into the final week of the season. “We have been finishing; I really focus on winning each half,” said Arndt.

“If we think of it as 60 minutes, it gets long. I think it is better to focus in on a few minutes at a time and they have been winning those little battles so that’s been important. I think we have been finding our niche of who is playing in the positions that we need them to. I hope we are peaking at the right time but there is still stuff to do. With one game, anything can happen and so we just have to be focused on that game.”

The quartet of Panther seniors, Brennan, Quigley, Travers, and Emily Goldman, are ready to go out with a bang. “They are great friends and teammates,” asserted Arndt. “They knew this could be their last time together and they did everything.”

Brennan, for her part, vows that she and her classmates are going to leave it all on the field.

“This is the seniors’ last year, we are going to finish it,” said Brennan.

“It is a really special group of captains. I think that this team obviously means the world to us. We will do anything for them.”

SURVIVAL MENTALITY: Princeton Day School girls’ soccer player Lilly Razzaghi clears the ball in a game earlier this season. Senior defender Razzaghi and her teammates survived a major scare in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament last Saturday as top-seeded PDS edged No. 16 Hamilton 3-2 in overtime. The Panthers came back on Monday and topped ninth-seeded Robbinsville 3-0 in the MCT quarterfinals to improve to 14-1-1 and set up a semifinals clash with fourth-seeded Princeton High on October 30 with the winner advancing to the title game on November 2. PDS is also competing in the state Prep B tournament where it is seeded first and hosting fifth-seeded Rutgers Prep in the semifinals on October 31 with the victor earning a spot in the championship game on November 3.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SURVIVAL MENTALITY: Princeton Day School girls’ soccer player Lilly Razzaghi clears the ball in a game earlier this season. Senior defender Razzaghi and her teammates survived a major scare in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament last Saturday as top-seeded PDS edged No. 16 Hamilton 3-2 in overtime. The Panthers came back on Monday and topped ninth-seeded Robbinsville 3-0 in the MCT quarterfinals to improve to 14-1-1 and set up a semifinals clash with fourth-seeded Princeton High on October 30 with the winner advancing to the title game on November 2. PDS is also competing in the state Prep B tournament where it is seeded first and hosting fifth-seeded Rutgers Prep in the semifinals on October 31 with the victor earning a spot in the championship game on November 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With her right thigh heavily taped, Brit Murray struggled as the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team hosted Hamilton last Saturday in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament.

The PDS senior defender repeatedly misfired as the top-seeded Panthers found themselves in a battle with the upset-minded 16th seeded Hornets.

“I was having a horrible day with my free kicks,” said Murray. “I have a little hamstring injury but it is fine, it is getting better. I didn’t let it bother me.”

The scrappy Hamilton squad certainly bothered PDS, fighting back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to tie the contest 2-2 late in regulation and force overtime.

In the waning moments of the second overtime and the game apparently heading to a penalty-kick shootout, the Iona College-bound Murray had one last chance to find the back of the net as she lined up a free kick from 35 yards out.

“With 38 seconds left, I knew I had to show something,” said Murray. “I was really nervous because they have been really bad all day.”

Harnessing her nerves, Murray launched a soaring volley that flew over the Hamilton goalie into the back of the net, giving PDS the win and triggering a raucous celebration as Murray’s teammates mobbed her.

“Our mantra for the whole game was to never give up,” said a beaming Murray, reflecting on her moment of glory.

“We kept trying to score. I never gave up on that and just kept trying to get it in the net.”

Murray credited the Hornets with trying hard all game long and pushing the Panthers to the limit. “We knew they could come back at any time,” said Murray.

“They were really good on their free kicks and their corner kicks and in the air with the ball. We knew if we gave up any of those, they could come back which they did.”

The Panthers came back on Monday and topped ninth-seeded Robbinsville 3-0 in the MCT quarterfinals to set up a semifinals clash with fourth-seeded Princeton High on October 30 with the winner advancing to the title game on November 2.

PDS head coach Pat Trombetta wasn’t surprised at how hard Hamilton played. “We knew going into this game that they had nothing to lose,” said Trombetta, who got goals from Allison Klei and Erin Murray in regulation in the win over the Hornets.

“Any CVC team on any given day can beat anybody, that is how strong the county soccer is here.”

Trombetta lauded Murray for her display of skill and mental strength. “I give Brittany a lot of credit because her free kicks were off today but it is all about battling back and launching the one that counted the most,” said Trombetta. “That was a beautiful kick.”

The battle was even harder for PDS as two of its key players, Alexa Soltesz and Kirsten Kuzmicz, left the game due to injury.

“I thought we had control of the game but when one of your defensive forces Kirsten is not out on the field the tide starts turning,” said Trombetta.

“On that corner kick where they got the second goal, she is one of our girls that clears it and so we had a void there and they took advantage of it so I give them credit for keeping pressing the whole game.”

With the Panthers also competing in the state Prep B tournament where they are seeded first and hosting fifth-seeded Rutgers Prep in the semifinals on October 31, Trombetta is hoping that the win over Hamilton will spark his squad to a big postseason.

“The way I look at it, the girls know right now that there are no games that are going to be easy to win,” said Trombetta, whose team improved to 14-1-1 with the victory over Robbinsville.

“Each game is going to get more difficult. When you survive a game like this, you can go on a roll. It can be a momentum build-up for us as we go from there.”

Murray, for her part, is confident that PDS can keep rolling. “I feel like if we all work together we can get the job done,” asserted Murray.

“We need to play for each other and play for the people who are injured. We all want to win. There is a lot of pressure because everyone wants to beat us. Honestly, we just have to keep moving forward and keep being strong.”

October 23, 2013
CAPTAIN JACK: Princeton University men’s hockey star Jack Berger goes after the puck in a game last winter. Senior forward and two-time captain Berger will be counted on for production and leadership as the Tigers look to improve on the 10-16-5 record they posted last season. Princeton opens up its 2013-14 campaign by hosting the Liberty 2013 Hockey Invitational at the Prudential Center in Newark where the Tigers will play Dartmouth on October 25 and Yale the next day.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CAPTAIN JACK: Princeton University men’s hockey star Jack Berger goes after the puck in a game last winter. Senior forward and two-time captain Berger will be counted on for production and leadership as the Tigers look to improve on the 10-16-5 record they posted last season. Princeton opens up its 2013-14 campaign by hosting the Liberty 2013 Hockey Invitational at the Prudential Center in Newark where the Tigers will play Dartmouth on October 25 and Yale the next day. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming into the 2013-14 campaign, the Princeton University men’s hockey team is in search of consistency.

Last winter, the Tigers went 10-16-5 overall, showing flashes of good play but then taking steps backward. In regular season action, the Tigers swept Cornell, Harvard and Cornell but, in turn, were swept by NCAA champion Yale, Quinnipiac, and Clarkson. Princeton ended the season on a down note, losing 2-0 to Cornell at Baker Rink in a best-of-three opening round series in the ECAC Hockey playoffs.

As Princeton head coach Bob Prier looks forward to his third season at the helm of the Tigers, he wants his players to be sharper on a daily basis.

“It comes down to routine and habits,” said Prier, whose team opens the season by hosting the Liberty 2013 Hockey Invitational at the Prudential Center in Newark where the Tigers will play Dartmouth on October 25 and Yale the next day. “We need to practice with a purpose and when we are starting to divert, get back to what we need to do.”

In Prier’s view, the Tigers need to enjoy making that effort. “We are fortunate to be part of this process,” said Prier. “We have to have an attitude of gratitude.”

Prier certainly feels thankful to nine seniors on his roster. “We need to use experience to our advantage,” said Prier, whose team posted 6-3 and 4-3 wins over Ryerson University in exhibition games last weekend at Baker Rink.

“They have been here for a while, they have seen almost everything. They have come back from three goals down to win and they have seen other teams do that to us. They know how to hang on and win games. They know that they need to stick to the process.”

There is plenty of experience at forward where Princeton welcomes back leading scorer, senior Andrew Calof (14 goals and 24 assists in 2012-13) along with senior captain Jack Berger (3 goals and 9 assists), senior Andrew Ammon (8 goals and 8 assists), junior Tyler Maugeri (9 goals and 14 assists), sophomore Mike Ambrosia (5 goals and 6 assists) and junior Tucker Brockett.

“Calof has got to be the best player on the ice every night for either team,” asserted Prier.

“He has the ability to do that. When you have the best player, that puts you in a good position. Berger had a lot of weight on his shoulders as a junior and being the team leader. He has had that experience and he knows that he can’t put too much pressure on himself. He was making plays this weekend. He looked more comfortable with the puck and was playing more relaxed. Ambrosia is far more healthier this year. Maugeri has another year under his belt. Ammon works hard all the time, he is learning to pull up some of the time. Tucker played well over the weekend.”

A pair of freshmen, Ben Foster and Ryan Siiro, are already pulling their weight.

“Foster and Siiro are older kids who were seasoned in junior hockey,” said Prier.

“Ryan does a good job of protecting the puck and Ben is one of those really good all around players. He can be physical, but he can also skate and shoot.”

The Tigers figure to boast a well-rounded unit of defensemen, led by junior Andrew Ave, senior Jeremy Goodwin, together with freshmen Quin Pompi and Marlon Sabo.

“Ave looked really good over the weekend, he is playing with more jump,” said Prier, who will also use senior Kevin Ross, junior Tom Kroshus, sophomore Kevin Liss, freshman Tommy Davis, and freshman Hayden Anderson on defense.

“Goodwin had a strong weekend, he was really physical. Pompi did well, he is real mobile and really responsible with the puck. Sabo is a big body and we need those.”

At goalie, Princeton is hoping for strong play from senior Sean Bonar and freshman Colton Phinney.

“We hope Sean has a big year, he was worked on things that he needed to improve on,” said Prier of Bonar, whose posted a 3.24 goals against average and a save percentage of .901 last winter as he went 2-5-1.

“He is playing with poise and is doing better controlling rebounds. He wants to win, he wants to do well. Colton had a strong game on Saturday. He has a good compete level, he never gives up on the puck. Once he adjusts to the speed of the shots, he is going to be fine. We think both goalies can be really good. We are going to start Sean and see how he does.”

The Tigers are fired up to be starting their season at the 17,625-seat Prudential Center, the home of the New Jersey Devils affectionately known as “The Rock.”

“We are really lucky to be playing at a venue like the Rock,” said Prier, noting that the games don’t count towards the league standings and a champion of the event will be determined based on wins and goal tiebreakers.

“It is close to home and should be an exciting tournament. Dartmouth is returning most of their guys, so they shouldn’t be different from last year. They are big and skilled. It is nice to play a defending national champion like Yale so early in the season.”

The weekend will give the Tigers a chance to start developing the consistency they will need to be a force in the ECACH.

“Our league is so strong, every night is a battle,” asserted Prier. “We are a better team at this point than we were last year.”

ROMAN CHARIOT: Princeton University football star Roman Wilson races upfield in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday at Brown, senior receiver Wilson made 6 catches for 63 yards to help Princeton overcome a 17-0 first half deficit on the way to to a 39-17 win. Princeton, now 4-1 overall and 2-0 Ivy League, heads back to New England this weekend for a critical league clash as it plays at Harvard (5-0 overall, 2-0 Ivy) on Saturday.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ROMAN CHARIOT: Princeton University football star Roman Wilson races upfield in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday at Brown, senior receiver Wilson made 6 catches for 63 yards to help Princeton overcome a 17-0 first half deficit on the way to to a 39-17 win. Princeton, now 4-1 overall and 2-0 Ivy League, heads back to New England this weekend for a critical league clash as it plays at Harvard (5-0 overall, 2-0 Ivy) on Saturday. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When the Princeton University football team fell behind 17-0 at Brown in the first half last Saturday evening, some of its veteran players could have started feeling an uncomfortable sense of deja vu.

After all, two years ago, Princeton dug an early 17-0 hole at Brown on the way to a discouraging 34-0 whipping at the hands of the Bears.

But as Princeton head coach Bob Surace surveyed the scene, he didn’t get any sense that history was about to repeat itself.

“I looked at the guys on the sideline and they weren’t dismayed or shocked or awed,” said Surace. “I felt confident that we could get things together. I was thinking we have to get some things fixed and get back to playing good football.”

Surace’s confidence was increased when junior quarterback Quinn Epperly led the Tigers on a 15-play, 88-yard scoring march that culminated with an 8-yard touchdown run by Brian Mills with 2:05 left in the second quarter as the Tigers narrowed the gap to 17-6 at halftime.

In the dressing room, Surace reinforced his view that the Tigers were very much in the ballgame.

“At half, I went in and grabbed the guys and said we can’t score 20 points on one play, it is one play at a time,” recalled Surace. “I said keep executing and keep fighting and we will be OK.”

After the break, Princeton played a lot better than OK as it reeled off 33 unanswered points on the way to a 39-17 victory.

“The second half was about as well-played as it could be for us,” said Surace, whose team improved to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in Ivy League.

“We came out and got a score and we made one play after another. I think there were about 20 plays in a row that were executed well. On defense, we got some big three-and-outs. We had some great tackling. By the end of the third and into the fourth, we were able show depth and use our strength and conditioning.”

Epperly is showing that he may be the best player in the Ivy League as rushed for 99 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 233 yards in the win over the Bears. The  6’1, 220-pound native of Knoxville, Tenn., who has now rushed for 11 touchdowns and thrown for nine on the fall, was named the Ivy Offensive Player of the Week for the second time in three weeks.

“He is playing at a high level,” said Surace of Epperly, who ran for all three of his touchdowns in the second half, highlighted by a scintillating 39-yard scoring gallop early in the fourth quarter.

“His game management and decision-making have been great. He runs the play that is called. He is so big and strong that he is a force when he runs the ball up the middle. But you don’t realize how fast he is in the open field, he is very elusive.”

While some big plays went against Princeton in the first half as John Spooney sprinted 71 yards for a touchdown and Michael Walsh returned a blocked punt 18 yards for a score, Surace looked to his veterans to right the ship.

“We have a really good group of leaders,” asserted Surace. “Last year Mike Catapano and Andrew Starks were such great leaders. When people asked me who were going to be the leaders this year, I said ‘who isn’t a leader?’ We have such a good group of guys, they have been through ups and downs. They held steady and stuck together on Saturday.”

The Tigers will need that leadership this weekend as the team heads back to New England for a battle of Ivy leaders as Princeton plays at Harvard (5-0 overall, 2-0 Ivy) in a critical game this Saturday with Penn the other league frontrunner at 3-2 overall and 2-0 Ivy.

In Surace’s view, Harvard poses a formidable obstacle for the Tigers in their drive for an Ivy crown.

“They haven’t lost and there is a reason why,” said Surace, noting that the Crimson have won 15 straight home contests.

“You look at the statistics and they are great. When you watch them on film, they live up to the statistics. They have two quarterbacks and one is completing about 68 percent of his passes [Connor Hempel] and the other is completing 70 percent [Michael Pruneau].  Their tailback [Paul Stanton] is tremendously explosive and they are balanced at receiver. They have some big tight ends and their slot receivers are very good. They have a very good offensive line. On defense, they are in attack mode. They have forced 19 turnovers and have made 20 sacks. Zach Hodges reminds me of Javon Kearse [former NFL star], he is so long and so athletic; he is tough to block.”

In order for Princeton to prevail, the Tigers will have to be mentally tough. “They are going to make plays and we can’t make silly turnovers to help them,” said Surace, whose team stunned Harvard last year in a game for the ages, rallying from a 34-10 fourth quarter deficit to pull out a 39-34 victory.

“We have to do a good job of possessing the ball and make big plays when we have a shot. We have such high respect for them. We have to be focused for four quarters and 60 minutes. We have to make sure that we are exact in our alignments and assignments. We have to be focused on detail.”

DOWN SHIFT: Princeton University women’s soccer player ­Melissa Downey dribbles the ball in a game earlier this season. Last week, junior forward Downey scored the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win over Lehigh and then added another tally in a 3-3 tie with Columbia last Saturday. Princeton, now 5-4-4 overall and 0-3-1 Ivy League, plays at Harvard (8-3-2 overall, 4-0 Ivy) on October 26.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

DOWN SHIFT: Princeton University women’s soccer player ­Melissa Downey dribbles the ball in a game earlier this season. Last week, junior forward Downey scored the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win over Lehigh and then added another tally in a 3-3 tie with Columbia last Saturday. Princeton, now 5-4-4 overall and 0-3-1 Ivy League, plays at Harvard (8-3-2 overall, 4-0 Ivy) on October 26. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After missing most of her 2012 season with the Princeton University women’s soccer due to a knee injury, Melissa Downey has been out of sorts this fall.

Coming into last Wednesday’s game against visiting Lehigh, Downey hadn’t tallied a goal, mirroring a team-wide slump, as the Tigers were scoreless in their first three games of October.

Falling behind Lehigh 1-0 early in the second half, Princeton broke the ice as Jessica Haley scored with 33:12 left in regulation.

Then some 30 minutes later, Downey came through in the clutch, blasting home a rebound off a Tyler Lussi shot to provide the margin of victory as Princeton prevailed 2-1.

Downey was in the right place at the right time in finding the back of the net.

“It is very slick and the keeper has been coughing it up all night,” said Downey.

“It is something we talked about at halftime, to just keep following and following. We wanted to put a lot of pressure on them to make mistakes. I didn’t even think about it. I just reacted; it still hasn’t hit me.”

For Downey, her first goal was worth waiting for. “Better late than never; it has been a tough season personally coming back from having almost a year off,” said Downey, who scored a second goal on Saturday as Princeton tied Columbia 3-3 to move to 5-4-4 overall and 0-3-1 Ivy League. “Finding myself has been elusive; that felt really good.”

It was good for Princeton’s confidence to battle back from the Lehigh goal as it had gone 0-3-1 in its last four games coming into the contest.

“I am really happy with how we responded, we didn’t let down,” said Downey, a native of McLean, Va. who now has four goals and seven assists in her Princeton career.

“Of course, that was a tough counter, no one likes giving up that kind of goal but we kept creating tons of chances and I am proud of the fact that no one let down.”

The goal by Haley proved to be a turning point for the Tigers. “It definitely lifted us; it definitely gave us some hope,” said Downey. “I am glad we got that.”

Princeton head coach Julie Shackford was proud to see Downey experience her moment of glory.

“I am happy for her because she has been so frustrated in terms of trying to get her game back,” said Shackford. “She was dangerous tonight so that was nice.”

Junior Haley looked dangerous all night around the box. “What a beautiful goal from Jess Haley,” said Shackford. “Jess played well tonight, she has played well the last few games actually.”

Shackford sees the win as a potential turning point for Princeton. “I hope it gives us a little confidence going forward,” said Shackford, whose team is next in action when it plays at Ivy frontrunner Harvard (8-3-2 overall, 4-0 Ivy) on October 26. “You play spoiler and see what happens.”

Downey, for her part, believes the Tigers can do well going forward. “I think we are looking to finish really strong, we are not looking to slow down,” said Downey.

“The Ivy League is so even this year, people are winning we don’t expect to. It could be that a lot of teams drop games so you never know. You can never stop playing in the Ivy League, even if there is a clear better or worse team. I am just really happy that we got this win; we needed this lift.”

NET GAME: Princeton High doubles player Nikhita Salgame hits a volley in a match earlier this fall. Last Thursday, sophomore Salgame and her partner, senior Allison Hubert, posted a straight set win at second doubles as PHS topped Chatham 3.5-1.5 in the the state Group III semifinals. Later in the day, the Little Tigers came up short against Montville in the state championship match, falling 4-1.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

NET GAME: Princeton High doubles player Nikhita Salgame hits a volley in a match earlier this fall. Last Thursday, sophomore Salgame and her partner, senior Allison Hubert, posted a straight set win at second doubles as PHS topped Chatham 3.5-1.5 in the the state Group III semifinals. Later in the day, the Little Tigers came up short against Montville in the state championship match, falling 4-1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

At around 11 on Thursday morning, the players on the Princeton High girls’ tennis team were all smiles as they gathered together after beating Chatham 3.5-1.5 in the state Group III semifinals.

But about three and a half hours later, the players were glumly lined up on a fence at the Mercer County Park tennis complex as they watched Katelyn Hojelbane fall at third singles to wrap up a 4-1 defeat to Montville in the Group III championship match.

PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert acknowledged that things went awry in the afternoon after the semifinal victory.

“We fought hard, we tried but unfortunately we didn’t play as well this afternoon as we did this morning,” said Hibbert, whose team moved to 16-1 with the defeat to Montville.

“I don’t know if it was being a little bit tired or a carryover from the excitement this morning. We weren’t quite able to get the level back up again. Credit them, they came out and played well. Unfortunately we just weren’t able to rise to the challenge this time.”

The win over Chatham did require PHS to expend a lot of energy, mentally and physically.

“We had a great match this morning, that was a very tough team,” said Hibbert.

“It was really exciting for the girls to move on to the final. The girls really fought hard. I am proud of the way everyone played. They knew they would have to work hard and everyone did and they put us in position to get to the final.”

It was exciting for Hibbert to see her sophomore star Christina Rosca win the state singles title on Wednesday and then post victories in both of her matches on Thursday.

“Chris won yesterday and was able to come back and win both of her matches today,” said Hibbert. “So she won three matches in less than 24 hours so that is pretty good going for her, especially at this level of competition.”

PHS has shown it can compete at the highest level as it has advanced to the state final two straight years.

“Being in the group final is certainly a great accomplishment, there are a lot of tough teams in this group,” said Hibbert.

“We were hoping that last year we would learn from our really close loss in the final for this year. Unfortunately it wasn’t able to happen.”

In Hibbert’s view, the group of players she has assembled could make that happen.

“We do have a young team; we only have one senior [doubles player Allison Hubert],” said Hibbert.

“It looks good for the future. We’ll keep trying. We are getting closer and hopefully next year, we’ll win it.”

STATEMENT WIN: Princeton High sophomore tennis star ­Christina Rosca pounds a backhand in a match earlier this fall. Last Wednesday, Rosca rallied to pull out a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Fair Lawn’s Valerie Shklover in the NJSIAA state girls’ singles final at Mercer County Park. It was the first-ever state singles crown for a PHS player. A day later, Rosca helped the Little Tigers reach the Group III team championship match where they fell 4-1 to Montville.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STATEMENT WIN: Princeton High sophomore tennis star ­Christina Rosca pounds a backhand in a match earlier this fall. Last Wednesday, Rosca rallied to pull out a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Fair Lawn’s Valerie Shklover in the NJSIAA state girls’ singles final at Mercer County Park. It was the first-ever state singles crown for a PHS player. A day later, Rosca helped the Little Tigers reach the Group III team championship match where they fell 4-1 to Montville. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It looked like Princeton High sophomore Christina Rosca could be in over her head as she played Fair Lawn’s Valerie Shklover in the NJSIAA state girls’ singles final last Wednesday.

Rosca felt some butterflies in her stomach as she fell behind 5-1 to senior Shklover in the match at Mercer County Park.

“At the beginning of the match, I was nervous and I didn’t really play the way I am supposed to play,” recalled Rosca.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing at the beginning because of the nervousness.”

But the poised Rosca kept her head and went on to pull out a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.

“I think I settled in because I realized my back was against the wall and I really needed to pick it up,” said Rosca. “I started playing better.”

In reflecting on the win, Rosca attributed it to a more mature mentality on the court.

“I think my mental state and attitude made a really big difference,” said Rosca, who had reached the state semis last year in her freshman campaign and rallied from a set down in this year’s semi to make the title match.

“That is something I have improved a lot on. A year ago or a half a year ago I think I would have lost those matches because I would have let my emotions get the better of me. Staying calm really helps. As time progressed, starting last year from the state tournament, I saw sometimes in matches, it is not a difference of strokes or technique but rather it is a difference of how you play the important points and your mental attitude.”

It was important to Rosca to make history for her school. “It definitely means a lot, it is the first time a player from PHS has ever won it so I think this is a huge achievement for me,” said Rosca.

“That is more than I imagined I could have done. I am definitely happy to represent PHS.”

Rosca was happy to have a raucous group of teammates and friends on hand to root her on.

“That is really the first time I have had an entourage of people cheering for me,” said a smiling Rosca.

“It was definitely a fun experience and I was really happy they were there for me.”

Being there for the PHS team and helping it make it to the Group III state final the next day was a fun experience for Rosca.

“I think playing for the team is an aspect I really like about high school tennis because it is something I don’t get to experience that the rest of the year besides that fall,” said Rosca, who won both of her matches at first singles as PHS topped Chatham 3.5 -1.5 in the state semis before falling to Montville 4-1 in the championship match. “I am really eager to help my team do really well.”

IN FORM: Princeton High boys’ soccer star Kevin Halliday prepares to kick the ball in a game last year. Senior star ­Halliday has scored a team-high 10 goals this fall for PHS, which moved to 8-4-1 with a 2-1 loss to Hopewell Valley last Monday. The Little Tigers start play in the Mercer County Tournament this week, where they are seeded sixth and will host No. 11 Hun School in a first round contest.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

IN FORM: Princeton High boys’ soccer star Kevin Halliday prepares to kick the ball in a game last year. Senior star ­Halliday has scored a team-high 10 goals this fall for PHS, which moved to 8-4-1 with a 2-1 loss to Hopewell Valley last Monday. The Little Tigers start play in the Mercer County Tournament this week, where they are seeded sixth and will host No. 11 Hun School in a first round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Over the last three years, Kevin Halliday has risen through the ranks of the Princeton High boys’ soccer team.

The shifty forward has gone from looking to get on the field as a freshman to the top scorer last fall with 23 goals for a PHS squad that shared the Group III state championship with Ramapo.

But this year, Halliday hasn’t been able to lean on veteran players, like his older brother Zach, who is currently a freshman with the Tufts University men’s squad.

“It is different with the transition from last year when we had 16 seniors, an incredible senior class leading us to a state championship,” said Halliday, who is a team co-captain this fall along with classmate John Blair.

“They all left and it is that moment when look, it’s on me, I don’t have anyone else to lead the team. I have got to start stepping up. Sometimes I haven’t known what to do but I try my best.”

Last week, with PHS trailing Nottingham 2-0 in the first half and mired in a rare two-game losing streak, Halliday knew that he had to step up.

“Let me tell you, the nerves kick in,” said Halliday, reflecting on his thoughts as PHS fell behind against the Northstars.

“In my career at Princeton, it’s been we go down I still feel like we are going to win the game. After we lost those last two games, I was nervous. I try to not to show it on the outside. I tried to rally the team.”

Halliday did just that as he blasted in a feed from Blair to get the Little Tigers on the board midway through the first half.

“I hadn’t been with the ball up by the 18 basically the entire game so I got it there and that’s just a play that seniors have to make,” said Halliday, who is following in his older brother’s footsteps as he recently committed to Tufts and will join the men’s soccer team there. “I was in the role so I had to step up and make the play.”

PHS went on to pull out a 3-2 win over Nottingham as Blair found the back of the net on a soaring free kick in the second half and freshman Zeno Mazzocato  scored on a penalty kick in overtime to seal the comeback.

“We did a helluva job,” asserted Halliday, who has a team-high 1-0 goals in the season.

“Other than those first five minutes, we played well and we held down their really good forwards. We held them down; the defense stepped it up and our offense started holding the ball, which is something we haven’t been doing.”

Halliday credited Mazzocato with doing a great job in burying the penalty kick.

“That is a big time play from a freshman,” said Halliday. “I am so proud of him for being able to put that one away for the team.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe was also proud of his precocious freshman star.

“It is a learning curve at this level and Zeno has worked very hard,” said Sutcliffe.

“He is learning from the older guys, John, Kevin and Chase [Ealy], some of the more experienced senior level players and credit to him for finding a way to draw that foul. Credit to him for stepping up and taking the PK. He initiated that; I didn’t choose him to take it.”

Sutcliffe was not surprised that Halliday stepped up in the first half when PHS desperately needed a goal.

“Kevin had a big goal, really the most important goal in a long time for us,” said Sutcliffe.

“His work rate, his mentality, his resilience, his belief, his experience define him. He is our most experienced player, perhaps the most experienced player in the CVC, a 4-year varsity player. No one else has a player in all the state championships, state semis, and all those games. He shows that, he never gives up.”

Blair showed his quality with the sensational free kick that knotted the game at 2-2.

“That is one of his  strengths, it could not have come at a better time,” said Sutcliffe.

“We don’t need that when we are 3-0 up. We need that when we are 2-1 down, so the quality and timing was fantastic. Credit to John for hitting it.”

With PHS starting play in the Mercer County Tournament, where it is seeded sixth and will host No. 11 Hun School in a first round contest, Sutcliffe is hoping that the win over Nottingham can be a turning point for his side.

“It is so important because we had dropped two in a row and we were down 2-0, and the natural thing is to think that things are going to be even more difficult to turn around,” said Sutcliffe, whose team tied Notre Dame 1-1 last Thursday before falling 2-1 to Hopewell Valley on Monday as it moved to 8-4-1.

“I think this is going to be a game that is going to change our place in our season as we enter into the MCT and look beyond that.”

Halliday, for his part, believes the comeback effort signals good things to come for PHS.

“This win is huge,” said Halliday. “We are going to need this game. Even if we had tied it, it would be pretty detrimental.”

BUCK SHOT: Princeton High junior fullback/linebacker Colin Buckley, right, delivers a shot in recent action. Last Saturday, Buckley and PHS fell 36-5 to visiting Willingboro in their first game on the school’s new turf field. The Little Tigers, now 0-6, play at Burlington Township on October 26.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BUCK SHOT: Princeton High junior fullback/linebacker Colin Buckley, right, delivers a shot in recent action. Last Saturday, Buckley and PHS fell 36-5 to visiting Willingboro in their first game on the school’s new turf field. The Little Tigers, now 0-6, play at Burlington Township on October 26. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Excited to finally be playing their first game on the school’s new turf field, the players on the Princeton High football team made a grand entrance last Saturday.

The PHS players sprinted en masse between a cordon of cheerleaders with music blaring moments before the kickoff against visiting Willingboro.

Unfortunately, the Chimeras spoiled the homecoming party as they raced out to a 28-3 lead on the way to a 36-5 triumph.

In reflecting on the defeat, which left his team at 0-6, PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher liked the way his team hung in there during the second half.

“We got on the scoreboard in the second half,” said Gallagher. “We didn’t know it was going to come via a safety but we’ll take it any way we can, especially with underclassmen getting out there on the field. We were playing well, we held tough. We are playing good football; we are getting after it on defense.”

While the PHS defense forced two fumbles in addition to getting the fourth quarter safety, Gallagher acknowledged that his offense misfired.

“We need to work on offense and the game plan,” said Gallagher. “We need to be able to run down the field and pass down the field. We didn’t get into the end zone. We shoot ourselves in the foot when we get inside the 20 with errant snaps, fumbles, and interceptions.”

Despite the miscues, sophomore quarterback Dave Beamer did make some big plays in his second start in place of injured Sam Smallzman.

“I was yelling at him; it is his second game and he is a veteran now,” said Gallagher. “He’s young; I am not going to get all over him.”

In Gallagher’s view, youth is a strength for the Little Tiger program. “We have a lot of sophomores out there; most likely those guys are supposed to be playing some good JV football and we are moving them to the varsity level,” said Gallagher.

“The speed of the game has obviously changed and they are just learning. I am excited for them; I know they are excited to have that opportunity. Guys like Matt Ochoa, Noah Ziegler, and Matt Toplin are doing a nice job for us. These are sophomores who are going to be around for a long time and we are going to take our lumps this year.”

With PHS having lost some key starters to injury and others playing both ways, it needs to be as sharp as possible.

“We want to eliminate the mistakes, the fumbled snaps, bad throws, and things like that, those things can be fixed,” said Gallagher, whose team plays at Burlington Township on October 26.

“That is just playing good fundamental solid football and trying to move down the field. I am not sure why we are making the mistakes. We do a nice job in practice. At the same time, obviously our numbers are hurting a little bit so we are not getting that great quality look in practice that we need.”

Despite the steady diet of losing, the Little Tigers have shown a hunger for the game.

“You look at a kid like Liam Helstrom, he is out here having fun, he is out here playing football,” said Gallagher, referring to his senior star who has played well at receiver and linebacker all season long.

“I keep getting complimented by the refs, saying my God, your guys are fighting. They are scratching, they are clawing; they are not getting terribly upset about it. They are out there playing football. It is a game, they realize the bigger picture for 2013. We want to get some wins, no doubt about that. We’ll work hard and get ready for Burlington Township.”

For the Princeton Day School cross country team, the arrival of freshman Morgan Mills from overseas has symbolized the program’s new direction.

With Mills asserting herself as the top runner for the girls’ team, the Panthers have posted dual meet wins over Pennington, Hun, Stuart, Rutgers Prep, and Hamilton and placed eighth in the Varsity E girls’ race at the Shore Coaches Invitational.

PDS head coach Merrell Noden is certainly happy that Mills returned to America.

“Morgan Mills moved here from London,” said Noden “She ran for a school there, St Paul’s, and the Thames Valley Harriers. She is very competitive; she does most of her training with our boys’ runners. She is also a very good competitive swimmer.”

Senior Liz Gudgel has proven to be a top competitor and leader for the Panthers.

“I have never seen a runner improve her 5k so much in a year as Liz has,” said Noden.

“She ran a 24:24 last year and her best this year is around 20:38 or 20:40. She worked very hard over the summer. She is one of our captains and is doing a good job.”

The team’s other senior captain, Abby Sharer, has shown grit as she battled through injury this fall.

“Abby has shin splints; she is so determined and brave,” said Noden, noting that Abby’s, younger sister, sophomore Emma, has also been in PDS’s top five this fall. “We got to that point where she could have taken three or four days off and see if it clears up or baby it and keep running. She chose the latter.”

Sophomore Meghan Wilmott has also gotten better this fall. “Meghan did a lot of running over the summer, she has been right in the mix,” said Noden.

The PDS boys’ squad is also running well this fall, benefiting from the addition of two freshmen, Ian Moini and the coach’s son, Sam Noden.

“Ian Moini already has a lot of experience; he has run in Junior Olympic events,” said Noden.

“He likes shorter, fast, aggressive runs. He is very talented, he has run a 17:08 5k. It has been a great pleasure to coach Sam, I try to treat him like everybody else. I have been very impressed by his improvement. On July 4, he ran a 5k in around 20:30. He has 5k down to 17:53.”

Senior Jake Hall has impressed Noden with his toughness and leadership. “Jake is a basketball player,” said Noden.

“He does a lot of running and last year asked if I would mind if he ran in some races. We were short on runners and he ended up being our second runner. He has improved since last year. He’s a tough guy, he has been a good captain.”

With the country meet slated for October 25 at Washington’s Crossing Park and the state Prep B championships taking place on October 30 at the Blair Academy, Noden is looking for more good results.

“We will run Ian and Sam in freshman race at the counties; we think Ian has a chance to win,” said Noden. “We will run a weakened team in the boys’ varsity race. We will run a strong girls team in the varsity race; we think we can score well and maybe get fifth or sixth. We have a lot of kids who want to improve their times. They have a better chance to do that at Washington’s Crossing rather than Blair.”

For Noden, though, the placings are secondary to getting his runners to fall in love with the sport.

“My goal is have the kids learn something about running and cross country, to make them enjoy it and stay with it, and to improve,” said Noden.

“I think just about every one of our runners has improved this fall. They all get along well and support each other and that is important.”

PINPOINT AIM: Princeton Day School boys’ soccer player Marco Pinheiro aims a free kick in recent action. The play of junior star Pinheiro has been a bright spot for the Panthers as they stood at 3-7-3 after a 1-0 loss to Lawrence High last Friday. PDS starts postseason play next week as it plays at Newark Academy on October 30 in the opening round of the Prep B tourney and then travels to Allentown on Saturday for a first round contest in the Mercer County Tournament.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PINPOINT AIM: Princeton Day School boys’ soccer player Marco Pinheiro aims a free kick in recent action. The play of junior star Pinheiro has been a bright spot for the Panthers as they stood at 3-7-3 after a 1-0 loss to Lawrence High last Friday. PDS starts postseason play next week as it plays at Newark Academy on October 30 in the opening round of the Prep B tourney and then travels to Allentown on Saturday for a first round contest in the Mercer County Tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It has been mix-and-match for the Princeton Day School boys’ soccer team this fall as it has dealt with a series of injuries.

Last Friday as PDS hosted Lawrence High for its Senior Day, two of the honorees, Culver Duquette and Tom Hagan, were sidelined by injury while junior Oscar Vik was in a sling due to a shoulder problem.

During the second half on Friday, the Panthers dealt with some more misfortune as goalie Aaron Gold left the contest due to a knock and Christian Vik had to move from midfield to the keeper spot. Undeterred by the upheaval, PDS battled the Cardinals tooth-and-nail, dropping a 1-0 decision.

PDS head coach Malcolm Murphy was proud of his team’s resilience. “I thought the first half, I thought we did very well, considering that we have so many injuries,” said Murphy, whose team fell to 3-7-3 with the loss.

“I thought they played well, composed and kept the ball like we like them to do.”

Murphy acknowledged that his team didn’t do enough with the ball, getting held scoreless for a fifth straight game.

“We didn’t do enough in the final third; that’s what we struggle with even when we have a full team out,” said Murphy.

“We can get the ball up there, we just can’t manage to keep it up there with enough effort on goal.”

The change at goalie didn’t faze the Panthers as they pressed forward until the final whistle.

“With the injury we had to switch the midfield around but by now they should be used to it,” said Murphy.

“They never know who they are playing next to. We overcame what happened and they have finally become immune to it. It is just a case of going out and seeing what they could get. I think the last 10 minutes, they put something together.”

PDS got some good play from several individuals, including junior midfielder Marco Pinheiro, senior Sean Hudson, and senior Gabriel Vazquez.

“There is always Marco, he is out there playing well, “added Murphy. “Sean Hudson at the back was excellent again. Vazquez did a lot of work up top and it is not easy for a forward in this type of game. When you are looking to keep possession like this you look for more technical players, but they work hard for us.”

With the Panthers entering postseason play next week as it plays at Newark Academy on October 30 in the opening round of the Prep B tourney and then travels to Allentown on Saturday for a first round contest in the Mercer County Tournament, Murphy is looking for more flexibility from his squad.

“We’ll just have to look at the tactics, especially the Prep B, to see if there is anything where we can take a little bit maybe from the back four and give to the forwards,” said Murphy, whose team is seeded sixth in the Prep B tourney and 14th in the MCT.

“Each game is a one-off and you have to go out and play to win. We have just got to make sure and see if we can switch a couple of players around and out them higher up the field.”

BREAKING THROUGH: Hun School football player Andrew ­Foster, left, breaks through the line in recent action. Last Saturday, senior star Foster helped Hun top Hill 41-0 as the Raiders earned their first win of the season and gave new head coach John Law the first victory of his tenure. Hun, now 1-4, plays at Lawrenceville on October 26.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BREAKING THROUGH: Hun School football player Andrew ­Foster, left, breaks through the line in recent action. Last Saturday, senior star Foster helped Hun top Hill 41-0 as the Raiders earned their first win of the season and gave new head coach John Law the first victory of his tenure. Hun, now 1-4, plays at Lawrenceville on October 26. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It may be early October but the Hun School football team didn’t hesitate in celebrating its 41-0 win over the Hill School (Pa.) last Saturday by dousing head coach John Law with a bucket of water.

After losing its first four games under new head coach Law, the Raiders had plenty of reason to treat the victory like a championship effort.

“We were so hungry for this win,” said junior running back Christopher Sharp. “At 0-4, we needed this win. This is a great game, a great feeling right now.”

Even though Hun jumped out to a 14-0 lead, the coaches didn’t want the players feeling too good about themselves.

“In the locker room, everybody was happy but the coaches came to us and said we have got to play like we are down 14-0 right now so we have to come out stronger than we did in the first half,” recalled Sharp. “That really helped us.”

The Raiders produced a strong second half, scoring 14 points in the third quarter and tacking on 13 more in the fourth while stifling the Hill offense. Hun’s final score for the day came on a four-yard touchdown run by former Princeton High star Zack DiGregorio.

“We have come out strong in the first quarter or the beginning of the second quarter this season and then we just die off,” said Sharp.

“This past week of practice, we conditioned and worked and worked. It is really paying off now, we are finishing.”

Sharp played a big role in finishing off Hill, rushing for 121 yards and a touchdown.

“I feel as though I had a good game but it is all due to the line,” said Sharp. “They played a great game.”

It was a very good feeling for Sharp and his teammates to get that first win for their coach.

“I love Coach Law, personally I feel like he is one of the greatest coaches in New Jersey,” asserted Sharp.

“He is great and this win for him feels great. I know that there is a lot of talking, people thinking it is his fault that we are losing but it really is not. I am so happy we got this win for him.”

Coach Law, for his part, was more happy for his players than he was for himself.

“I have been at it a long time and it does feel good,” said a beaming Law.

“It is never about me in my 24 years here. I am absolutely thrilled that we got a win but it is about the kids for me. I just love that they were so happy today. I have been looking for that. We kept believing in them. We kept grinding and I told them if they do the basics, this game will be good to them and I thought the game was good to them today.”

The Hun players put their noses to the grindstone last week as they looked to break their losing streak.

“On Monday, we said we were going to strip the bus down and then rebuild it,” said Law.

“The biggest thing was their mental approach in how to play the game for four quarters. That was the focus on Monday, just having them be mentally tough and handling the pressure of the game; handling the ebbs and flows of it and not crumbling and not get down. That is what it is all about and what we have been fighting for for four weeks.”

Law liked the way Sharp handled things as he not only paced the Hun rushing attack but played well at defensive back.

“He is learning and learning fast, now he gets it,” said Law, noting that Sharp was moved to running back this season after playing receiver last year.

“This is what we expected out of him and I am real proud of him today. He played both sides of the ball, he put a lot on his back today and I am so happy for him.”

The play of the Hun offensive line also made Law happy. “We got back to the old fashioned Hun way to play,” said Law. “If you can control the line of scrimmage, you can control a lot of other things.”

The Raiders also dominated in the trenches on defense, getting after Hill quarterback Matt Foltz all game long as they picked up five sacks.

“The big thing was that we wanted the quarterback uncomfortable and I think that was the key,” said Law.

“I ran a three-front and I never had to get to a four-front. We were putting on pressure that way. Our goal was to keep a quarterback like that uncomfortable and they did and it worked for us.”

Hun can’t start feeling comfortable about things as it plays at high-powered Lawrenceville (3-2) on October 26.

“We know we have a test against Lawrenceville, that is going to be a major emotional game for us,” said Law.

“We are going to use this as our foundation to move forward. I have a lot of confidence now that they will compete. If they compete and they take the right mental approach to the game, we are going to show up and that is all we can do.”

Sharp, for his part, believes that the Raiders will compete very hard against the Big Red.

“We are going to practice harder than we did this past week,” maintained Sharp.

“It was a great confidence builder but we are staying humble and we are not going to get too cocky with it. We are just going to come out strong.”

LONG TERM SUCCESS: Former Hun School football head coach Bill Long, center, holds one of the mementos he received last Saturday when he was honored for his outstanding tenure guiding the program. Pictured with Long, from left, are Hun Athletic Director Bill Quirk and school Headmaster Jonathan Brougham. Long, who retired from Hun this summer after a distinguished 27-year career as a teacher, coach, and dean, guided the football program from 1987-1997 and posted a record of 79-19.(Photo Courtesy of the Hun School)

LONG TERM SUCCESS: Former Hun School football head coach Bill Long, center, holds one of the mementos he received last Saturday when he was honored for his outstanding tenure guiding the program. Pictured with Long, from left, are Hun Athletic Director Bill Quirk and school Headmaster Jonathan Brougham. Long, who retired from Hun this summer after a distinguished 27-year career as a teacher, coach, and dean, guided the football program from 1987-1997 and posted a record of 79-19. (Photo Courtesy of the Hun School)

As Bill Long enjoys his first fall in retirement after a distinguished 27-year career as a teacher, coach, and dean at the Hun School, he and his wife, Nancy, are heading west this week to start a six-week trip to Calgary, Seattle, and Arizona.

But before he left for that journey, Long was honored last Saturday by Hun for his success in heading the Raider football program from 1987-1997.

The school held a ceremony for Long at the halftime of the Hill-Hun football game, where he was introduced by Athletic Director Bill Quirk and given an ‘H’ made out of wood from the old gym floor and painted red and black.

After the game, a reception was held in his honor on campus, which drew numerous former players and his coaching staff. He received a lamp made out of a Hun football helmet and signed by former players along with a book of letters from players who couldn’t make it back for the evening.

Long, who retired after the 2012-13 school year, was moved by the outpouring of affection.

“What was particularly nice is that the impetus came from past players,” said Long, a 2004 inductee to the Hun Athletics Hall of Fame who guided the Raiders to a 79-19 mark in his 11 seasons at the helm.

“They talked to Nancy, they wanted to surprise me at the Nassau Inn during the summer camp. Nancy contacted Bill Quirk and he suggested that we do something at Homecoming so others could come.”

While Long enjoyed the mementos he received, the biggest gift he got on Saturday was the presence of so many former players and his assistant coaches.

“There were 80-100 people at the reception with around 40-50 players and all of my assistant coaches,” said Long, who was the Dean of Students at Hun upon his retirement and now lives on the Jersey shore.

“I had 12 minutes to speak. I worked three hours in Ocean County Library on Friday preparing the speech, making sure I mentioned all of the people that were going to be there. The main thing I said was that it was my honor and privilege to work alongside every one of the players and coaches.”

For Long, it was his work ethic that helped set him apart as one of the top football coaches in the area.

“I would work all day Sunday on football and I would be thinking about it 24 hours day,” recalled Long, whose teams won more than 20 games in a row during a stretch from 1989-1991 and had three undefeated seasons with five state Prep A crowns.

“I would wake up thinking where a guy could be better on punt coverage than someone else we were using. It was all consuming.”

Spending all that time on football was a labor of love for Long, who is legendary for his positive influence on his players.

“It was the relationships with the players and the assistant coaches that meant the most,” said Long, noting that one of the highlights of his tenure came in 1994 when his son, Bill, served as a team captain.

“I thank my wife Nancy for being a great mother and raising our kids while I was raising other people’s kids.”

October 16, 2013
TURNING IT ON: Princeton University defensive back Anthony Gaffney surveys the action in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, former Pennington School standout and sophomore star Gaffney contributed a key interception and four tackles as Princeton rallied from a 20-11 deficit to defeat visiting Lafayette 42-26. Gaffney’s interception was one of three turnovers produced by the Tiger defense in the second half. Princeton, now 3-1 overall and 1-0 Ivy League, plays at Brown (3-1 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on October 19.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TURNING IT ON: Princeton University defensive back Anthony Gaffney surveys the action in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, former Pennington School standout and sophomore star Gaffney contributed a key interception and four tackles as Princeton rallied from a 20-11 deficit to defeat visiting Lafayette 42-26. Gaffney’s interception was one of three turnovers produced by the Tiger defense in the second half. Princeton, now 3-1 overall and 1-0 Ivy League, plays at Brown (3-1 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on October 19. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As the Princeton University football players arrived for work last Saturday before their game against visiting Lafayette, they were greeted by a message from Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, David and Goliath.

Princeton head coach Bob Surace hung a quote in each locker indicating that courage is not something that makes you brave when the tough times start, it is “what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they are not so tough after all.”

Having gone 1-9 in back-to-back seasons before posting a 5-5 record last fall, the team’s veterans weren’t fazed when they fell behind Lafayette 20-11 in the first quarter last Saturday. Picking up the intensity on defense and finding a rhythm offensively, the Tigers pulled away to a 42-26 win before a crowd of 7,494 at Princeton Stadium.

Afterward, Surace credited his team with displaying the character it has developed in working through the program’s recent struggles.

“I told the guys in the locker room how proud I am of them,” said Surace, whose team improved to 3-1 overall with the victory.

“That was kind of exciting going into halftime. This is the type of football that you play, with two good teams and for us to play that well in the second half, as a football coach, you are proud in how you finished the game. In that fourth quarter, some of things we did in running the clock out, just those gut check drives, those are the things you work on from spring ball, December, January, and February, all the way through to the summer time. The work that these guys put in, you want it to pay off. That was a really hard fought win and I am proud of them.”

The Tiger defense fought particularly hard as it rebounded from a shaky first quarter that saw it get burned by local product Ross Scheuerman, a former Allentown High star, who scored on touchdown runs of 69 and 18 yard in the first 10 minutes of contest.

“I think they really came together,” said Surace, reflecting on the defensive effort. “It is a mix of veterans and young guys. I thought once we started humming up front and the pass rush got better, it really helped us get off the field. I thought we did some different things in our scheme and our coaches in general made some really good adjustments.”

Sophomore defensive back Matt Arends said the Tigers made an attitude adjustment to slow down the Lafayette offense. “I would say the biggest thing is that we weren’t gap responsible for the first quarter,” said Arends, who ended the day with a team-high 10 tackles and one pass breakup.

“We weren’t being as physical as we could have been. Once we decided we could just take it to them up front and at the second line, we hit it. The big cutbacks and the gap responsibilities that we didn’t have in the first quarter, we fixed, and I think that is what made the difference.”

In the second half, the defense made a big difference through forcing turnovers as John Hill and Anthony Gaffney came up with interceptions while Mike Zeuli had a fumble recovery.

“I think the biggest thing is that we knew they were coming, it was just a matter of when they were going to come and they came today,” said Arends, referring to the caused turnovers.

“They came in bunches which is what we have been talking about. We have been close. In practice, we are always working on stripping the ball. Today it finally hit. It was great to see and I think what we saw was just keeping the defense motivated and that we could just pound them.”

While it almost seemed like a quiet day offensively after exploding for 53 and 50 points the prior two weeks, Princeton pounded Lafayette into submission with its multi-faceted attack.

Junior quarterback Quinn Epperly had another productive day, hitting on four touchdown passes and running for another as Princeton rolled up 447 yards of total offense.

But it was junior receiver Connor Kelley who was most emblematic of Princeton’s versatility, producing a career game with eight receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown.

“I think the way our offense is designed, a lot of guys are contributing,” said the 6’2, 220-pound Kelley, who started his Princeton career as a quarterback before getting moved to receiver.

“We are working extremely hard all week long in practice. That is just how it works. Anybody can have that kind of game at any time, that’s what makes our offense great. Up front, those guys are workers. If the running game is not really working, we have other options. People are stepping up all over the field. I think this game is big evidence of that.”

Princeton certainly stepped up after the rocky start against the Leopards. Epperly hit Roman Wilson with a two-yard touchdown pass midway through the second quarter to cut the Lafayette lead to 20-18. With seven seconds left in the half, Nolan Bieck hit a career-long 40-yard field goal to give Princeton a 21-20 lead at intermission.

In the third quarter, Princeton cashed in on the Gaffney interception to extend its lead. Four plays after former Pennington School star Gaffney returned the pick to the Lafayette 20-yard-line, Epperly found Kelley in the end zone for a five-yard touchdown pass as Princeton went up 28-20.

Lafayette answered with a touchdown pass from Andrew Dzurik to Mike Duncan on a flea flicker to narrow the gap to 28-26 with 9:03 remaining in the third quarter.

Later in the quarter, the Tigers put together another scoring drive as a 29-yard pass play from Epperly to Kelley on a fourth down and five kept the march alive. Epperly hit tight end Des Smith on a five-year scoring strike as Princeton got its lead to 35-26.

The final score of the day came when Epperly rushed for a one-yard touchdown with 9:02 remaining in regulation.

Princeton was able to run out the last 5:50 of the contest, rushing the ball eight times in nine plays as the clock hit 0:00.

Surace enjoyed watching the Tigers close the deal with the display of power running. “Will Powers and different guys just ran the ball so hard at the end; our line came off the ball so well,” said Surace, whose team heads into the thick of its Ivy League campaign by playing at Brown (3-1 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on October 19.

“We come into tomorrow with a good feeling, this is what it is going to take to beat other Ivy teams. I know how physical Brown is; I know how hard they play. We need to be like that every drive if we are going to have success. The last time we played them there, it was one of the ugliest losses. That was a 34-0 loss, that  was a really hard feeling, that was a long bus ride.”

In Surace’s view, the earned courage from that experience will help the Tigers this Saturday and beyond.

“I don’t see a blowout left on the schedule,” maintained Surace. “If it happens, I hope it is in our favor. If we are going to get through these games, we need a thick skin. In those gut check moments, you have got to get the first down on third and one and run through things.”

HEADS UP: Princeton University men’s soccer player Chris ­Benedict, left, battles a foe in action earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior back Benedict helped key a superb defensive effort as Princeton tied Brown 0-0. The Tigers, who moved to 4-5-1 overall and 1-0-1 in Ivy League play with the draw, host Columbia (5-2-2 overall, 0-0-2 Ivy) on October 19.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HEADS UP: Princeton University men’s soccer player Chris ­Benedict, left, battles a foe in action earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior back Benedict helped key a superb defensive effort as Princeton tied Brown 0-0. The Tigers, who moved to 4-5-1 overall and 1-0-1 in Ivy League play with the draw, host Columbia (5-2-2 overall, 0-0-2 Ivy) on October 19. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Jim Barlow, seeing his Princeton University men’s soccer team achieve a 0-0 draw at Brown last Saturday provoked decidedly mixed feelings.

“We played really well against Brown; it was disappointing not to win,” said Princeton head coach Barlow, whose team outshot the Bears 21-10 as it moved to 4-5-1 overall and 1-0-1 in Ivy League play.

“I thought we were on top of them for most of the game. We had more chances and more possession. In the second overtime, Brown picked it up; they had two really good chances so we could have lost the game.”

Senior goalie Seth MacMillan stood tall for the Tigers as he made a career-high six saves in the stalemate.

“MacMillan played well,” said Barlow. “He was in control of the box, he did well on restarts and crosses.”

In Barlow’s view, his team played well collectively in the draw. “The two center backs, Billy McGuinness and Josh Miller, were really good,” said Barlow.

“You would be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t play well, everyone who got in did well. Myles McGinley played well and had a lot of chances. Thomas Sanner had four good chances. In the OT, he had a one-on-one and he kicked it into the goalie instead of finding the corner like he usually does. He was definitely a presence up front, he got on the end of a lot of balls.”

In Barlow’s view, Princeton has definitely picked up the intensity since a 1-0 defeat to Florida Gulf Coast University on September 29.

“We were really disappointed with that loss,” said Barlow. “From that game on, we have been more consistent and more solid. We are healthier and the guys have figured out their roles and responsibilities.”

A come-from-behind 2-1 win at Dartmouth in early October got Princeton headed in the right direction.

“We had a good first half and they had one shot and scored,” recalled Barlow.

“We were down 1-0 at halftime and the guys stuck with it and had a really big win. To start out with road games against Dartmouth and Brown, who are usually title contenders, and not have a loss is good. We feel good about where we are; we are in control of things.”

Barlow feels good about how his defense is playing as it has given up just one goal in its last three games.

“The defense had been good. In addition to the center backs, Joe Saitta has played real well at left back, the two Ivy games were his best games of the season,” added Barlow.

“Chris Benedict was really solid against Drexel [a 1-0 win on October 8] at right back and did well again on Saturday.”

With the first six teams in the Ivy League closely bunched, Princeton will need to be at its best as it hosts Columbia (5-2-2 overall, 0-0-2 Ivy) on October 19.

“We scrimmaged Columbia this year and we know them well,” said Barlow, noting that the program will be holding a ceremony at halftime of the game to honor its 1993 NCAA Final 4 team. “They are a very solid team, they are very good.”

ROARING ALONG: Princeton High girls’ tennis star Rory Lewis slams a backhand in a match earlier this season. Last Monday, junior Lewis posted a straight-set win at second singles to help Princeton top Steinert 5-0 and win its third straight sectional title and earn a date in the state Group III final four, which is slated to take place on October 17 at Mercer County Park. The Little Tigers, now 15-0, will face Chatham, the North Jersey Section 2 champion, on Thursday morning with the winner advancing to the state championship match that afternoon against the victor of Montville-Moorestown semi.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ROARING ALONG: Princeton High girls’ tennis star Rory Lewis slams a backhand in a match earlier this season. Last Monday, junior Lewis posted a straight-set win at second singles to help Princeton top Steinert 5-0 and win its third straight sectional title and earn a date in the state Group III final four, which is slated to take place on October 17 at Mercer County Park. The Little Tigers, now 15-0, will face Chatham, the North Jersey Section 2 champion, on Thursday morning with the winner advancing to the state championship match that afternoon against the victor of Montville-Moorestown semi. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While Rory Lewis is affectionately known as “the machine” by her teammates on the Princeton High girls’ tennis team due to her unyielding work ethic, she views the time spent on the game as a labor of love.

“It is not really training to me, it is just fun,” said junior Lewis, who plays second singles for PHS.

“It is a break from school and all those other things. I love to do it and you get better if you work at it so that it is a good by-product. It is just about loving to do it.”

Last Friday, Lewis had plenty of fun as she posted a 6-1, 6-1 win over Artemis Tapliga of Wall as the Little Tigers posted a 5-0 win in the Central Jersey Group III sectional semifinals.

On Monday, she defeated Rachael Peters 6-0, 6-0 as PHS topped Steinert 5-0 to win its third straight sectional title and earn a date in the state Group III final four, which is slated to take place on October 17 at Mercer County Park. The Little Tigers, now 15-0, will face Chatham, the North Jersey Section 2 champion, on Thursday morning with the winner advancing to the state championship match that afternoon against the victor of Montville-Moorestown semi.

In reflecting on her win in the Wall match, Lewis credited a positive approach with helping her prevail.

“I just came out aggressively; I was confident in my strokes,” said Lewis. “That is the most important thing in tennis and it was working. I played well.”

For Lewis, moving up to singles from doubles this year is a reflection of her increased confidence.

“It was a big change but last year I got a lot of confidence,” said Lewis. “My doubles partner, Maddie [Cahill-Sanidas], was great. She really helped me build my confidence. In the beginning of preseason, I really wasn’t sure of my strokes. She helped me gain the confidence needed to play in any spot. When I got second singles this year, I was glad and I decided I had to step it up and I was able to.”

In order to step up in her new spot, Lewis has learned to deal with the solitary nature of singles.

“You have to pump yourself up more, especially if you are down,” said Lewis, who took third in second singles at the Mercer County Tournament last month.

“You don’t have somebody out there giving you advice. At the same time, you get used to it. Obviously, it means you moved up, and you have to stay focused and not feel alone and just enjoy it. I have been through a few rough patches where I am not so sure but I have been able to pull through most of the time.”

Lewis was pumped up to see PHS pull through in the state tournament. “It is awesome; it is a great experience,” said Lewis. “We all love tennis and it means we get to play more. It is fun, it is great.”

PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert loved seeing her team advance. “Any time you are able to get to a sectional final you are pleased with the result,” said Hibbert, whose first singles star Christina Rosca is in the running for another title as she will play in the state singles final on October 16.

“I knew we had a lot of potential this year and it would come down to how we could get the doubles players fitting into their roles. We obviously have strength at the top of the lineup with Chris and Katelyn [Hojelbane] returning and Rory making the jump up from doubles. One of the things we do best is carry depth through our lineup. I knew that the doubles [Zhenia Dementyev/Gillian Samios at first doubles and Allison Hubert/Nikhita Salgame at second doubles] would be a key to our season and they have come together really well so far.”

A key to PHS’s success this fall has been Lewis’ development into a singles star. “I think the biggest thing she has improved on this year is her confidence,” said Hibbert.

“She has really been able to play up to her level. Last year, she came in and she didn’t play as well during preseason because of the nerves and the pressure she puts on herself. I think partnering with Maddie helped her. Maddie was such an outgoing aggressive, terrific person that it kind of pulled Rory along. She has more confidence and belief in herself. She has really been able to translate that into winning matches. She still puts pressure on herself and she still wants to win and work as hard. She is the first one there; she is always willing to work harder and do more. She is a good asset.”

Hojelbane had to work hard in her match at third singles as she rallied from an early deficit to pull out a 6-4, 6-1 win over Shaina Donner.

“I went out there when she was down 4-1. I could tell it was just nerves and not tennis right now so I said you just need to relax, move your feet, hit your shots and play your game and don’t look at the scoreboard and you will be able to come back,” recalled Hibbert.

“She won 12 out of the next 13 games so she listened quite well and got herself relaxed and was able to play her game. It is nice to have that taken care of because doubles is funny, the better team doesn’t always win. You always want to have confidence in your team but it is always nice when you can just watch.”

Hibbert is confident her team can take the final step in the state final four, having fallen in the semis in 2011 and then in the finals last year. “It depends on matchups; we were hoping it was a possibility,” said Hibbert.

“We take it one match at a time and see how it goes. Five of these girls played in the states last year and I think having that experience and being as close as we were last year and we just missed out on it. I know they are going to want it just as much, if not more. It may or may not happen. There are a lot of strong teams out there. We want to get there and see what happens.”

Lewis, for her part, believes that the strong bonds the team has developed this fall lead the players to compete harder for each other.

“It is support all around; we give each other a lot of support,” said Lewis, noting with a smile that every player on the team has a nickname.

“That is part of it, you have to feel like your team has confidence in you, and that win or lose, they are not going to care. It is just about friendship and being really close. We have gotten closer with each match and it is great.”