May 16, 2012

LESSON PLAN: Princeton University women’s water polo head coach Luis Nicolao instructs his players in a game earlier this season. Last weekend, the Tigers gained some valuable lesson as they took sixth in their first appearance at the NCAA Championship. The Tigers went 1-2 in the competition to finish the season with a 29-6 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton University women’s water polo team, its first-ever trip to the NCAA Championship proved to be eye-opening on several levels.

“No doubt there was a lot of excitement; it was a tremendous learning experience,” said Princeton head coach Luis Nicolao, reflecting on the 8-team competition which took place last weekend at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex.

“We had never gotten this far. We also had to deal with the hurdles of handling academic responsibilities on the road.”

The sixth-seeded Tigers faced a big hurdle in their first round contest last Friday as they played third-seeded USC.

“They are just so strong; it was great experience going against them,” said
Nicolao, whose team fell 14-2 to the Trojans, the eventual runners-up to champion Stanford. “They are physical, smart, and fast; they make you pay for every mistake.”

While the Tigers didn’t play their smartest game in a consolation contest against Iona the next day, they were able to prevail 9-5.

“We have seen them a few times so we knew it would be a tough game,” said Nicolao, who got three goals from sophomore star Katie Rigler as the Tigers outscored the Gaels 3-0 in the fourth quarter to earn the victory.

“You want to win at NCAAs. We didn’t play our best but we were able to pull away in the fourth. We missed some easy shots but we really played well
defensively.”

In the fifth place game against Loyola Marymount on Sunday, the Tigers sputtered down the stretch as they fell 15-11.

“That was the hardest game to take,” said Nicolao, whose team pulled to within 12-11 in the fourth quarter after trailing by three goals for much of the second half.

“We had our chances; we missed opportunities both offensively and defensively. You have to consider the quality of opponent and the fatigue from the weekend. We played hard.”

Learning some hard lessons over the weekend should serve as motivation going forward for a Tiger team that is only losing three seniors.

“Getting the taste of this and seeing how exciting it is, set the bar higher,” said Nicolao, whose team finished the season with a 29-6 record.

“They want to get back there and do better. The girls are all driven. We talked on the bus ride back from the airport about doing that little extra to be better.”

In any event, it has been a special ride for Nicolao this spring. “The group came together,” asserted Nicolao, who is in his 14th year overseeing both the men’s and women’s water polo programs at Princeton.

“Last year we lost the one-goal games; this year, we were winning them. We have a good foundation in place for Princeton water polo. We will have a target on our backs next year but we are excited to get going again. The girls can be proud of what they did.”

LEAP DAY: Princeton High girls’ track star Maddie Lea flies through the air in competition earlier this season. Last Saturday, Lea took third in the triple jump at the Mercer County Championships, helping the Little Tigers to their first-ever team title in the 34-year history of the outdoor meet. It was a photo finish as the Little Tigers accumulated 87 points, edging runner-up WW/P-S, who totaled 86.5 points. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Jim Smirk has adopted a straightforward mantra this spring for his Princeton High girls’ track team.

“We have been telling the kids to do good things and good things will happen,” said PHS head coach Smirk.

Last Saturday at the Mercer County Championship meet, the Little Tigers did a lot of good things and something great happened as PHS won its first team title in the 34-year history of the outdoor meet. (The program did win the indoor county title in 1989.)

It was a photo finish as the Little Tigers accumulated 87 points, edging runner-up WW/P-S, who totaled 86.5 points.

Coming into the county meet at Steinert High, Smirk saw his squad as a title contender.

“We knew we had a pretty good team,” said Smirk. “We thought of ourselves as a top three team. Last year, we felt we didn’t have our team quite together. We have been talking about redefining what are team could be.”

Senior star Bryell Wheeler certainly had it together last Saturday, placing first in the 100 (12.32), long jump (17‘2.50) and triple jump (38‘1.25), and taking fourth in the 200 (26.35).

“Bryell has had nagging hamstring issues this spring,” said Smirk. “Coach [Ben] Samara and I sat down with her last week and said ‘here’s the deal, you recognize your talent but in the big meets you struggle. We think you are ready to do well but you have to believe it.’ She went out and competed.”

Wheeler’s competitive will has been reflected by her versatility. “She was always strong at the 100 and the long jump; every year she has grown by adding an event,” added Smirk.

“Over the winter, Ben started working on triple jump with her. It is a true technical event and we thought she was ready for that. The 100 and long jump are really power events.”

The Little Tigers also got a powerful contribution from their other jumping star Maddie Lea, who took third in the triple jump (35’7.50).

“Maddie Lea deserves a lot of credit,” said Smirk. “She and Bryell have been training partners all year; the two girls are both incredible jumpers. Maddie is a state level jumper in the triple jump and long jump.”

PHS boasts a high-level distance runner in senior Elyssa Gensib who won the 1,600 and took second in the 3,200. Gensib nipped WW/P-S star Caroline Kellner in the 1,600, clocking a time of 4:58.27, 1.31 ahead of the Pirate runner. In the 3,200, Gensib finished nearly 10 seconds behind Kellner, coming in at 10:56.24 with the WW/P-S standout posting a winning time of 10:46.73.

“Caroline wanted to be a four-time county champ in mile and she had never been under 5:00; we knew what she was going after,” said Smirk

“I said to Elyssa, ‘I have been running you in those 800s to help your speed, all you have to do is believe.’ In the the stretch between 1,000 and 1,400 meters, Caroline eats people up. Elyssa needed to get in middle and show the will to stay on her shoulder and have a shot in the last 300. It was one of the most exciting miles I have ever seen; both girls executed their race plans. Kellner had a blazing 800 but Elyssa had the guts to stay with her and use her speed at the end.”

Smirk had a feeling that Gensib would display some good finishing speed.

“She has been training that way,” explained Smirk.

“She been doing tempo work on the road where she is able to modulate. In the last four weeks, she has been doing tempo work in the track: it is mentally tougher. She was putting in the work for those last 40 meters.

Sophomore throwing star Michelle Bazile showed mental toughness as she won the shotput (36‘4.50) and took second in the discus (127’3).

“Coming off basketball, we were working to have her focus on discus with her height and strength,” said Smirk.

“Then she goes out and wins the shot put, ‘are you kidding me?’ but when we looked at her last 20 throws, she was the pinnacle of consistency.” said Smirk.

“We should have seen that she was ready to go 36 feet. The duel in the discus was really impressive. Every time Michelle would do a long throw, the girl from Hightstown [Aziza Ahmed] would go a little further. Michelle as a sophomore, stepped in there with complete confidence. She was really competing.”

As the meet drew to a conclusion, Smirk wasn’t sure whether PHS had done enough to win the competition.

“After the triple jump and discus, it was coming down to 4×400,” said Smirk.

“If we took fifth, we had a shot but we were in second heat. I wasn’t sure what we got but then Todd Smith [the WW/P-S coach] came up to me and congratulated me.”

Once it sunk in that PHS had won the title, Smirk felt a deep sense of pride in how far the program has come.

“It is huge; when I started years ago as head coach, I wrote down goals and I said is a county title even possible with Trenton, WW/P-S, WW/P-N, and Hopewell, which was a dynasty then.” said Smirk, whose squad will look for another title when it competes in the Central Jersey Group III sectional meet from May 25-26.

“It was great that we got it with a group of girls who have gone through a lot. The seniors lost a teammate when Helene [Cody] passed away. They are more battle-tested. Doing what they did over time is a testament to how much they have been able to grow.”

LIFE OF REILLY: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player ­Katie Reilly runs upfield in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, senior star and co-captain Reilly chipped in two goals and an assist to help PHS top Notre Dame 18-15. The Little Tigers, who improved to 12-3 with the win, are starting state tournament play where second-seeded PHS was slated to host No. 15 Roxbury on May 15 in the opening round of Group III North sectional. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While Katie Reilly was bitterly disappointed when the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team fell to WW/P-S last week in the Mercer County Tournament quarters to end its title defense, she thought something positive could come from the defeat.

“The South game was a huge bummer; we totally wanted to win that game,” said PHS senior star defender and co-captain Reilly, reflecting on the 11-10 loss to the Pirates.

“It fuels us now because we don’t have a county title under our belt. It fuels us for states, we are saying we want to go as far as we can.”

Last Friday, PHS hit the gas as it topped Notre Dame 18-15 in a regular season contest, improving to 12-3 and tuning up for its state tourney run that was slated to start when the second-seeded Little Tigers host No. 15 Roxbury on May 15.

In Reilly’s view, facing Notre Dame was an ideal way to prepare for state play.

“They are always a really athletic and tough competition so we wanted to get in a good quality game before the states,” said Reilly.

“We were trying to get on a roll. When they did score, we would answer back.”

PHS is hoping it can keep rolling for a while in the states. “We call our team a family and we are saying we want to keep the family together and keep the season going,” said Reilly. “It is fun being in the postseason but I don’t want it to end.”

Reilly has a sisterly bond with classmate and fellow star Mia Haughton that will continue as the longtime friends will both be heading to Amherst College where they will be playing for the school’s women’s lax team.

“We have been playing soccer and lacrosse together since fourth grade so it is pretty ridiculous,” said Reilly. “So our parents have been saying the era continues.”

For Reilly, holding the PHS defense together is her main focus on the field. “I have always been more defensive-minded,” said Reilly, who also starred as a defender for the PHS girls’ soccer team.

“I try to lead vocally and by example and I try to be the master of the ground ball. I feel like that is my role, getting draw controls and ground balls.”

In recent games, Reilly has been making more noise on the offensive end. “If I can score, great, but I don’t think of that as my role on the team,” said Reilly, who had two goals and an assist in the win over Notre Dame with Haughton adding four goals and Emilia Lopez-Ona leading the way with eight tallies.

“When it comes, I love it. I think it is because I am lot more confident with my stick skills than I was last year because in working the off season and all summer, I tried to focus on my stickwork.”

In order for PHS to make a deep run in the states, it needs to keep focused when it has the ball.

“We have got to keep our attack in shape,” said Reilly. “We just learned a few new plays; we might see North (WW/P-N) again and they know our plays by now. The key for us is going to be winning the draws and keeping the momentum.”

A big key for PHS is the family feeling around the squad, which stems, in part, from how the players came together last spring in the wake of the death of senior player Emma Brunskill.

“We win as a team; we lose as a team,” asserted Reilly. “That has been helping us all season; we sacrifice for the team. We love each other. It is a special bond from last year which has carried over.”

LATE SHOW: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse player Alex Rifkin races up the field in recent action. Last Saturday, Rifkin scored two fourth quarter goals to help sixth-seeded PHS rally to a 10-9 win over No. 11 Northern Burlington in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament. PHS, which improved to 9-7 with the victory, was slated to face third-seeded WW/P-S on May 15 in the county quarters with the winner advancing to the semis on May 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team was trailing Northern Burlington 9-7 going into the fourth quarter of their Mercer County Tournament opening round contest last Saturday, Alex Rifkin sensed that a rally was inevitable.

“We all knew that we expected way more of us and we all knew that we had it in us to win this game,” said senior midfielder Rifkin.

“The coaches didn’t say too much. It was more of the players just knowing what we needed to do and just executing.”

Rifkin executed with aplomb down the stretch, scoring two unanswered goals as sixth-seeded PHS drew even with the No. 11 Greyhounds at 9-9 with 4:34 left in regulation.

A minute later, fellow senior Coleman Preziosi, found the back of the net to give PHS a 10-9 lead. That tally turned out to be the game-winner as neither team scored over the last 3:33 of the contest.

In Rifkin’s view, the win was due, in part, to some veteran leadership. “Our seniors stepped up at the end,” asserted Rifkin. “There was some key shooting and some hard fighting in the midfield.”

For Rifkin, burying the game-tying goal was a matter of shooting practice paying off.

“I was really hoping that one was going to go in; I had practiced that shot from the top left everyday,” recalled Rifkin, who ended the day with two goals and two assists. “I knew I needed to hit it and I just did what I needed to do.”

Coming into this season, Rifkin was prepared to assume more responsibility offensively.

“I worked a bunch on the offseason on my shooting and I was working on my speed,” said Rifkin.

“I feel it is just finding my role on the team, I had to step up this year. I knew they needed me to score goals and I was going to do what the coaches needed me to do.”

PHS head coach Peter Stanton likes the way Rifkin has stepped up in his final campaign.

“Alex is an offensive talent,” said Stanton, who got three goals from Matt Purdy in the win over Northern Burlington with Preziosi and Kirby Peck adding two goals apiece.

“He is the type of player who can run by people and he can shoot the ball and put it in the goal on the run which is a pretty good gift. He can also find the open guy and pass for the assist so he is a double threat.”

Stanton acknowledged that Northern Burlington proved to be a threat to the Little Tigers, showing a lot of pluck after having lost 20-9 to PHS days earlier in a regular season contest.

“I think that enters into it a little bit,” said Stanton, when asked if his team had trouble getting pumped up for the rematch.

“But I think mostly you have to look at a team like that and applaud them for having such heart to come back and play us so hard.”

The PHS comeback came down to sharper play at both ends of the field.” “We gave up our goals going in transition and on the man up,” explained Stanton, whose team improved to 9-7 with the victory and was slated to face third-seeded WW/P-S on May 15 in the county quarters with the winner advancing to the semis on May 17.

“We just wanted to stop fouling and we wanted to play defense with our feet and take away those opportunities. We needed to protect the ball a little bit better. We made some adjustments with our shooting.”

Another key factor was the clutch play of the team’s seniors as they didn’t want to make an early exit from county competition, having advanced to the title game last spring.

“They are the ones that need to do it; they are the ones we rely on,” said Stanton, noting that senior goalie Elliot Wilson came up big down the stretch. “To their credit when things didn’t go well, they didn’t get discouraged.”

In Stanton’s view, the late rally could be an encouraging sign going forward. “We are hoping that the experience of having a close game and playing under pressure and needing to do heroic things late in the game benefits us,” said Stanton, whose team will also be competing in the state tournament this month.

“Obviously we would have liked to play a little better but our hope is that we benefit from this game.”

Rifkin, for his part, believes that PHS can raise the level of its game in tournament play.

“I absolutely think we will be dangerous going on,” maintained Rifkin. “We went on a five-game win streak earlier in the season and I think this team has the capability of building the momentum going into this tournament after last year’s epic loss in the finals [an 8-7 overtime loss to Notre Dame]. We need to know that we can’t take any  game for granted. We need to go into every game ready to go, ready to perform, and ready to win.”

FINAL LOOK: Princeton High baseball player Matt Hoffman looks for a sign in a game earlier this season. Senior outfielder Hoffman has produced a solid season in his final campaign for PHS, hitting .375 through the team’s first 20 games with 16 runs and 24 hits. The Little Tigers, now 3-18, were slated to wrap up their season with a game at Pennington on May 15.

On one hand, it was another tough day in a disappointing spring for the Princeton High baseball team.

Battling Nottingham tooth and nail, PHS came up short, losing 4-2 to drop to 3-17.

But senior outfielder Matt Hoffman refused to focus solely on the result, drawing joy from simply being on the diamond with his teammates.

“We all love baseball so it is just a love for the game that brings us out here,” said Hoffman.

“We are all friends on the team and we come out here. Whenever you get to hang out with your friends and play baseball at the same time, it is a good day.”

Hoffman had a good day at the plate for PHS, pounding out a single, drawing two walks, and scoring a run as the Little Tigers fought an uphill battle after falling behind 1-0 in the first.

The Little Tigers scored in the bottom of the second to tie the game 1-1 but then gave up three runs in the top of the fourth. Hoffman scored in the bottom of the fifth as PHS trimmed the Nottingham lead to 4-2.

In the bottom of the seventh, Hoffman lashed a single to left field and advanced to second after classmate Nico Mercuro was hit by a pitch. The Little Tigers, though, failed to generate any more offense as they fell 4-2.

In reflecting on his seventh inning hit, Hoffman said he utilized his savvy to out-duel the Northstar pitcher.

“I went down 0-2 quick,” recalled Hoffman. “I remember from a previous at bat when it was 0-2, he threw a fast ball at 0-2 high, and then he threw a curve ball to that batter. I knew he was going to throw a curve ball and it was low. When it was 2-2, I knew he wasn’t going to throw another curve ball so I was expecting a fast ball and it was right down the middle.”

Earlier in the game, Hoffman showed his patience as he drew two walks. “I haven’t really walked that much this year and I have been struggling a little bit so I have been trying to work the count a little more,” said Hoffman, who had a batting average of .375 through PHS’s first 20 games with 16 runs and 24 hits.

“A walk is as good as a single, I am just trying to get on and help the team anyway I can.”

The diligent Hoffman puts in daily work in making himself as valuable as possible to the team.

“My hitting has been up and down this year; I have had 0-for-3 games and 4-for-4 games,” said Hoffman, a versatile athlete who starred for the PHS boys’ basketball and cross country teams in addition to baseball.

“There has been games where I have been happy and games where I haven’t been happy. I always try to come out before the game and take extra swings.”

The team’s senior group, which includes Will Greenberg, Ben Harrison, Nick Bowlin, Clay Alter, Alex Mitko, Mike Dunlap, and Mike Manley, in addition to Hoffman and Mercuro, is happy to be going out together.

“We have been playing with each other for a long time so we are all friends,” said Hoffman, noting that some of the seniors have been playing together since Little League.

“So when we come out here, everyone has a good time. If someone gets down we are all there to pick each other up.”

In Hoffman’s view, PHS head coach Dave Roberts has set a good tone for the program.

“Coach Roberts is a great coach; he always runs a great practice,” said Hoffman, who is headed to the University of Michigan where he hopes to play club baseball or basketball. “He and I have always communicated well. I love this team.”

As he goes through his final days with the team, Hoffman would love to see the Little Tigers end on a high note.

“We want to win; I think the focus all year has been get as many wins as you can,” said Hoffman.

“Now that we are in the last stretch, we have been getting around five wins a season and we are at three right now so we always try to get one more win than last year.”


FORWARD LOOKING: Hun School boys’ lacrosse player Iain ­Alexandridis looks for an opening in action earlier this season. Senior attacker/midfielder Alexandridis and his classmates have set a positive tone in helping the Raiders make steady progress this spring. Hun, now 7-10, wraps up the season with a game at Lawrenceville on May 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As the Hun School boys’ lacrosse team breaks out of its huddles during games, the players typically shout ‘1-2-3, hard work’ in unison.

That rallying cry is an apt description of a 2012 season which has seen a young Hun squad make strides under first-year head coach Don Green.

“There is unbelievable progress from when we started scrimmaging in the beginning of the year to where we are now,” said Green.

“We are two completely different teams and that is because the kids have worked hard the entire season. It is a total credit to them.”

The Raiders faced a hard task last Wednesday when they hosted a talented, experienced Hill School (Pa.) team.

“An opponent like that forces us to do everything that we talked about correct at the same time,” said Green, noting that Hill’s roster includes a number of players headed to high-level Division I college lacrosse programs.

“Some of the other teams that we face don’t force you to play your best but a team like this does. So our focus was to break the game into small segments and just continue to try to make the plays and put them together and play lacrosse the right way.”

While Hun came up on the short end in a 14-4 loss, Green liked the brand of lacrosse he saw from his team.

“Without a doubt, we tightened up in the second half,” said Green whose team was outscored 4-2 in the second half after trailing 10-2 at halftime.

“We are doing the right things; they are in the right spot. It is just going to be a little gaining of experience and that’s what these games provide. The game against Hill, the Inter Ac game, and the game against Lawrenceville are going to provide very valuable experience against teams that are going to force us to be our best.”

Hun’s most experienced players have made a valuable contribution to the learning process.

“The seniors have been leaders for us,” asserted Green, whose Class of 2012 includes Alex Gunstensen, Mark Burke, Andrew Colicchio, James Arnold, Benjamin Schenkman, and Iain Alexandridis.

“They have been teachers; they have been mentors. We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing and they taught them how to be varsity lacrosse players and varsity athletes.”

A number of Hun’s young players have proven this spring that they can cut it at the varsity level.

“We have a lot of players who have grown significantly and Matt Bruno is without a doubt one of them,” said Green, referring to his sophomore goalie.

“In these tight games, he has stood on his head and made some key saves. I think Tucker Stevenson is a future star, you see moments of greatness out of him. Cameron Dudeck is a phenomenal athlete. We are lucky to get him away from baseball. Devin Cheifetz is a player who has grown dramatically. He used to be a hockey player who kind of played lacrosse, now he is a lacrosse player and a very good one. He is really the heart and soul of our team.

Green likes the heart his team has shown as it has played some formidable foes down the stretch.

“It is about growth in competitive situations,” said Green, whose team lost 10-3 at Germantown Academy (Pa.) last Saturday in Inter Ac play in moving to 7-10 and wraps up the season with a game at Lawrenceville on May 17.

“It is maintaining focus, maintaining discipline, and learning to become a complete lacrosse team. A lot of young guys are gaining great experience. Playing Hill and Lawrenceville as freshmen makes you good. When you are covered by a defenseman going to an Ivy League school, it is a trial by fire.”

In Green’s view, the Hun program has the potential to grow into something very special.

“There is a very bright future,” said Green, noting that Hun’s junior varsity team has only lost once this spring.

“Our JV team has a lot of young guys who are unbelievable. There is a buzz about the future here.”

It started raining but that didn’t dampen Lily Halpern’s spirits as she was honored last week at her Senior Day celebration with the Princeton Day School softball team.

“I have seen so many Senior Days but I had never imagined what it would be like,” said first baseman Halpern, who was feted along with classmate Gabi Phillips in the festivities which took place before PDS faced Hightstown on May 8.

“As this year is coming to a close, it is unbelievable. It felt really awesome to be up there and to know that your teammates are really going to miss you and appreciate you. It was really nice.”

Halpern certainly appreciates the effort her teammates have put in as the Panthers have only had nine players on their roster.

“It has definitely been a tough season,” said Halpern. “I know that someone could have just said I am not going to do this anymore and quit and then we would not have had a team. People have really hung in there. I think for all the challenges we have faced, we have done a really good job of not giving up and not getting discouraged.”

In the game against Hightstown, the Panthers didn’t quit even though they absorbed a 19-0 loss.

“Throwing the ball is so difficult when it is wet, let alone pitching with it,” said Halpern.

“Despite a tough first inning, we really hung in there the next few innings. We could have gotten some more hits and capitalized on the bases but defense-wise we were better after the first inning.”

Despite being shorthanded, PDS has capitalized on occasion, topping Rutgers Prep twice and putting up some good fights in other games.

“Those two wins were definitely good,” said Halpern, who is headed to Brown University this fall.

“I think our game against Princeton High (a 17-8 loss on April 24) was actually pretty good, we hung in there. Even yesterday (against New Hope-Solebury), we kept battling back and maybe it should have been a win. It was down to the last run.”

PDS head coach Paul Lano praised the leadership Halpern and Phillips have provided in their final run with the team.

“They have supplied the absolute stoic maturity that is needed from seniors,” said Lano, who is in his first year guiding the Panther program.

“They are both very proud players and they exhibit all the things that you want from a mature player. You can’t always count on your oldest players to be the wisest. They can have a very jaded view of things and not want to help but Lily and Gabi have been extremely helpful working with the younger players. They have been very helpful working with me; it has been great having two young adults to lean on.”

The two seniors have put in some good work defensively this spring “They are both very good at their positions; in fact Gabi gets comments from every team we played about just how fast she is and how much ground she covers,” added Lano.

“She is a soccer player and she knows how to glide. Things went really well at first base for Lily. It was difficult for her to adjust catching the ball with one hand. She is such a good student of the game; she knows that two hands is the priority. As a first baseman, you need to stretch; that was a battle for her. She does a fine job over there.”

In Lano’s view, the Panthers are positioned to produce some fine play over the next few seasons.

“We are excited about the potential future of this program and the team,” asserted Lano, whose squad is 2-8 and was slated to finish their season with a game against Pennington on May 15.

“We have budding players in all the right spots. Our left side of our infield [shortstop Tess Zahn and third baseman Kate Fleming] is going to be solid. Our battery [of pitcher Dina Alter and catcher Jess Toltzis] is solid as can be. We are growing in the right direction; we are learning the game together. We have some people in positions that we have left to train. It shouldn’t be a problem to be very competitive in the next two years to come.”

The combination of sophomores Alter and Toltzis gives PDS a solid foundation upon which to grow.

“Next year will be their third year in a row with each other and they’ll know everything they need to know about each other,” said Lano.

“They have the right demeanor. Dina is very stealthy; she is a quiet player. She takes instruction very, very well. Kiki [assistant coach Kiki Johnson] has had Dina on a very short lease and she operates very well under it. She doesn’t mind being led in the right direction. With Jess behind the plate, everything is under control.”

Halpern, for her part, leaves with special memories of her final year with the program.

“I think our spirit has been really amazing so that is something I will remember,” said Halpern, who played as a freshman and sophomore but took a hiatus from the team during her junior year to concentrate on the college application process.

“It has been fun to come back. I am glad we were able to have a team. I don’t know when I will get to play again so it has really been fun to have this opportunity.”


May 9, 2012

DOGGED PURSUIT: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Tom Schreiber, right, gets harassed by Yale defender Peter Johnson last Sunday in the Ivy League Tournament championship game. The Bulldogs pulled away to a 15-7 victory over the Tigers to earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Later that evening, Princeton found out it will get a chance to pursue its dream of a national title as it received an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney. The Tigers will head south to play at fifth-seeded and defending national champion Virginia (11-3) on May 13 in an opening round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Tyler Fiorito acknowledged that the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team didn’t take care of business when it hosted Yale last Sunday afternoon in the Ivy League championship game.

Knowing that a win could be its only route into the upcoming NCAA tournament, Princeton got overrun by a sizzling Yale team, falling 15-7 to the Bulldogs before a crowd of 1,422 at Class of 1952 Stadium.

In a post-game press conference that had the feel of a wake, a red-eyed Fiorito tipped his hat to Yale, which has now won nine straight games and improved to 11-4.

“They are a good offensive team,” said senior goalie and tri-captain Fiorito, who made just four saves on the day, a far cry from the 13 stops he piled up when Princeton edged the Bulldogs 10-9 in five overtimes in their regular season meeting on March 24.

“They are playing with a lot of confidence and they have some good inside guys. I think they held the ball and brought it behind the net and really attacked us from there. They weren’t taking too many outside shots and they were patient with the ball. They finished their opportunities today.”

Fiorito thought that Princeton might be finished for the year as the loss dropped the Tigers to 11-4 and put them firmly on the bubble for a spot in the 16-team NCAA field.

“We had our chance today, we had it in our hands,” said Fiorito, who was named last week as the Ivy League Player of the Year after helping the Tigers go 6-0 in regular season league action.

“It didn’t go our way; I think it is disappointing for us. We’ll look back at this as a lost opportunity if this is it. We fought hard.”

About seven hours later, however, things went Princeton’s way as the Tigers received an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney, where they will play at fifth-seeded and defending national champion Virginia (11-3) on May 13 in a first round contest.

Princeton head coach Chris Bates knows that the Tigers will have to take some lessons from the Yale defeat in order to beat Virginia.

“It is a tough locker room to be in right now, I don’t think any of us were prepared for this,” said Bates, whose team fell behind 4-0 in the second quarter but rallied to trail just 7-5 early in the third quarter before Yale put the game away with a decisive 6-0 run.

“I give Yale a ton of credit. I thought they played hard; they made plays for themselves. At the end of the day, I don’t think we did what we needed to do to win a big playoff game.”

Bates’ heart went out to his seniors who took the setback to Yale hard.

“I am most disappointed for our seniors who have done everything possible to shape a culture and win games like this,” said Bates, whose Class of 2012 features tri-captain Fiorito, John Cunningham, and Chad Wiedmaier.

“We are not ready for this to be over. I am proud of these guys; I love these guys.”

Bates didn’t love what he saw offensively from his team on Sunday. “I thought Yale controlled the tempo of the game, they wanted to shorten the game and have long possessions,” said Bates, who got two goals and two assists from Alex Capretta in the loss to Yale with Mike MacDonald chipping in two goals and the trio of Forest Sonnenfeldt, Jeff Froccaro, and Kip Orban adding one goal apiece.

“That gets an offense out of a rhythm; we never felt good. We never had the ball moving. Our legs never got under us offensively to gain some momentum and then you do score, if you are not winning the face-off, you have to play defense and recharge the batteries again. That is a challenge.”

In Bates’s view, his team is up for the challenge posed by Virginia. “We can play and beat anybody in the country,” asserted Bates, whose team could get a rematch with the Bulldogs as the winner of the Princeton-Virginia clash will face the victor of the Notre Dame-Yale opening round contest in the NCAA quarters on May 20 in Philadelphia. “I don’t think anyone in the locker room has a doubt; we know we can.”

Fiorito, for his part, has no doubt that the Tigers can do some damage in the NCAA tourney.

“I think we are a great team,” said Fiorito. “I think every time we step on the field, we are going to bring it. I think a lot of teams would fear us. We are a tough team. I think if they put us in there, we would do well. If we get in, we are going to make a little run here.”

Chad Wiedmaier is leaving quite a legacy as he wraps up his career with the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team.

Last week, the 6’1, 200-pound native of Chatham became the first Princeton men’s lacrosse player to be a four-time first-team All-Ivy selection with Cornell’s Max Siebald being the only other four-time first-team pick in league history.

Earlier this spring, senior defenseman and Tiger tri-captain Wiedmaier was named as one of 10 finalists for the Lowe’s Senior Class Award for men’s lacrosse. The award recognizes excellence in what is called the “4 C’s” of classroom, competition, community, and character.

While those accomplishments are special, Wiedmaier realizes that such honors mean that his time at Princeton is fleeting.

“It is bittersweet, I know that no matter what, I am going to be out of here really soon,” said Wiedmaier, who spent last summer helping young people in Uganda, working with Fields of Growth to help the Africans learn lacrosse.

“It hasn’t really hit me emotionally. I know mentally it is about to happen. I don’t think I will really feel it until the last whistle blows.”

While it looked like Princeton may have blown a chance to go for a national title after losing 15-7 to Yale last Sunday in the Ivy tournament championship game, Wiedmaier and the Tigers, now 11-4, will hit the field again as they received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and will play at fifth-seeded Virginia (11-3) on May 13 in an opening round matchup.

As Wiedmaier and his teammates faced Brown last Friday in the Ivy semifinals, they knew the stakes were high.

“It is my last chance,” said Wiedmaier. “We knew if we didn’t win tonight that we would be done for the year probably.”

The semis matchup was tricky since Princeton had routed Brown 13-2 in late March and realized the Bears would be hungry for revenge.

“We embarrassed them the last time we played them so we knew they were going to give us everything they have got,” said Wiedmaier.

“Their backs were to the wall, the only way they were getting into the NCAA tournament was winning the whole tournament.”

Sure enough, an inspired Brown team gave the Tigers trouble, taking a 4-3 lead in the second quarter before Princeton went on a 4-0  run to end the half on the way to a 9-6 victory.

“They were spinning us around inside with their inverts, we calmed down a little bit and zoned up inside,” explained Wiedmaier, who was later named to the All-Tournament team. “Once we started seeing that, it all made sense.”

The Tiger defensive unit has calmed most attacks this spring as it ranks sixth nationally in scoring defense, giving up 7.33 goals a game.

“There is a ton of chemistry there, not just the seniors but the shortsticks and middies,” said Wiedmaier, reflecting on a season which has seen him scoop up 32 ground balls and produce a team-high 33 caused turnovers.

“We have just gotten more and more comfortable as this year has gone on. Against Brown, the first time we played them we may have slid once — it was just individual defense. But tonight and recently, especially after we lost to Syracuse, we have been a sliding team on defense and we have been pressing on that a lot more. That’s what is going to pull us through.”

Coming off a frustrating 4-8 campaign in 2011, the Tigers have utilized an upbeat approach in rebounding to make it through to the NCAA tournament.

“You can just tell the vibe with our whole team,” said Wiedmaier. “We have been playing very loose lately and that is when we play our best. It is just a lot more fun this year than last year.”

If Wiedmaier and the Tigers can have more fun in the NCAAs, that would burnish his already special legacy.

ON THE MOVE: Trina Salcido encourages her Princeton University softball team from the coaching box in 2011. Last week, Salcido stepped down from her post as the head coach of the Tiger softball program. In her five years at the helm, Salcido guided Princeton to an overall record of 81-136 and a 47-53 Ivy League mark. She coached the program to the 2008 Ivy title in her debut season. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

For Trina Salcido, entering into married life means that she is going to take a break from another family.

After five years as the head coach of the Princeton University softball team, Salcido stepped down from her post last week.

Salcido, who is engaged to Rutgers women’s swimming head coach Phil Spiniello with a wedding date set for August, is going to miss the daily contact with her brood on the diamond.

“It is special to be part of their four years and see them mature and grow as people; it is such a valuable role,” said Salcido.

“It is rewarding to see them fail and succeed at practice and helping them develop. The gift of daily contact is great.”

In reflecting on her tenure, Salcido pointed to the deep bonds she developed with her coaching colleagues as another highlight.

“I will miss the relationships I have built with the other coaches at Princeton, both assistant and head coaches,” said Salcido, who served as an assistant with the program for three years before taking the helm for the 2008 season.

“It has been great to sit beside them and to be able to go into their offices and draw perspective from them on where Princeton has been and where it is going. I am inspired by them and feel part of something bigger. It is a core group that believes in the same goals and shares best practices. Everyone is trying to help each other.”

In 2011, Salcido gained a different perspective on things when freshman player Khristin Kyllo died of natural causes.

“Knowing her for two years in the recruiting process and in her fall here is really why I coach,” said Salcido.

“Khristin was a great kid. Losing her was the hardest thing in my life. I never had to deal with a tragedy like that. Both of my parents are still alive and I have three sisters. I have become so close to her family; it is a gift to have a relationship like that. When you get a life and death perspective, you learn to appreciate each day and each moment. You see that things are bigger than winning or losing.”

Salcido did enjoy some winning moments in her tenure, guiding Princeton to an 18-2 Ivy mark in 2008 that stands as a record for regular season league victories.

“We really struggled the year before and we were able to turn it around,” said Salcido, reflecting on that 2008 campaign that helped her produce an overall record of 81-136 and a 47-53 Ivy League mark. “It was an inspired year.”

In Salcido’s view, the program is positioned to enjoy some big years. “I love the foundation that is in place; we are going to have numbers,” said Salcido, who guided her 2012 squad to a 14-32 overall record and 8-12 in Ivy play with five of the league losses being by one run.

“When I came here we had 13 players. There will be 19 players next season for the first time. We have depth of talent at more positions. We have depth in the bullpen, there will be four or five pitchers and three catchers. It creates opportunities for competition and for more people to step up. It gives a coach more options in games. You can also weather injuries. The new coach is going to be able to hit the ground running.”

RIGGED UP: Princeton University women’s water polo player Katie Rigler prepares to fire the ball in recent action. Sophomore star Rigler, a native of Fullerton, Calif., will be making a special homecoming this weekend as the Tigers compete in the NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex. Rigler, the team’s leading scorer with 69 goals, will look to come up big as the sixth-seeded Tigers (28-4) face No. 3 USC (21-5) in a quarterfinal matchup on May 11. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

For Katie Rigler, exhibiting good pitching form on the baseball diamond helped put her on the path to water polo stardom.

“A business client of my mom’s saw a picture of me pitching in a baseball game and he asked if I had any interest in trying water polo since he figured I would know how to throw a ball,” recalled Rigler. “I decided to give it a try and instantly fell in love with the sport.”

But Rigler, a native of Fullerton, Calif., was not an instant success at her new game. “At first, I did not know where I was supposed to be in the pool and got excluded from almost every possession on defense,” recalled Rigler.

“About the only thing I knew how to do was shoot hard. Eventually I got the hang of the basics and could focus on the individual aspects of my game.

A key step in Rigler’s development came when she decided to play for the Huntington Beach Club team that was coached by Natalie Benson, a two-time Olympic water polo star.

“Natalie Benson, in my opinion, is the best women’s water polo player to ever play and getting the chance to pick her brain and learn from her was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Rigler, who went on to star for Rosary High and compete for the USA junior national team.

“She brought a level of passion for the game that was actually contagious for me. My mindset and commitment to water polo completely changed during my time at Huntington Beach — losing wasn’t an option anymore and I began to expect more out of myself than just having fun.”

Seizing the opportunity to join the Princeton University women’s water polo team in 2010, sophomore star Rigler will be looking to help the Tigers pursue a title as they compete in the NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship this weekend at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex.

While sixth-seeded Princeton, now 28-4, faces an uphill battle at the competition, starting with a quarterfinal match-up against No. 3 USC (21-5) on May 11, Rigler believes the Tigers can’t be satisfied merely by making the NCAAs.

“We can’t be complacent with where we are,” said Rigler. “We need to keep looking forward and hope to improve. Although we have had much success this season, it will be disappointing if we don’t continue to play well in front of such a large crowd.”

SoCal native Rigler has special motivation to play well in San Diego. “I am beyond excited to come back home,” said Rigler. “My whole family will be coming and most of my water polo friends from home play on the teams we are competing against.”

In reflecting on her Princeton career, Rigler acknowledged that it took her a while to feel at home during her debut season.

“Freshman year is really tough for any athlete; the hardest transition I found to be was figuring out my role on the team,” said Rigler.

“I did not feel comfortable trying to take over as an offensive leader right away; however, at the same time I did not want to be complacent and lose confidence. Another hard transition was the length of the season compared to the short two-month high school season. By the end of the season, I was completely exhausted.”

As the season went on, Rigler’s transition was eased through the team’s special chemistry.

“Getting to know my teammates was the highlight of my year,” asserted Rigler, who scored a team-high 56 goals in 2011 as the Tigers went 18-11 and took fifth in the Eastern Championships.

“Despite a disappointing end to the season, I enjoyed every second of it. We had so many different personalities on the team that practice and especially traveling was always entertaining. It was also nice to have a pretty successful season individually. I was really nervous about how well I would play against college girls so it was a relief to do well.”

As Rigler and the Tigers headed into the 2012 campaign, they were optimistic about doing well.

“Although we were disappointed to lose six seniors, we were so excited to gain just as many freshmen,” said Rigler.

“All of the new freshmen are so goofy and bring tons of energy and excitement to the team that it was hard not to be hopeful for the new season.”

Pulling out some exciting wins early in the season helped Princeton get on a roll.

“There was a lot more confidence with this team,” said Rigler, who has scored a team-high 69 goals so far this season and is one of 10 Tigers with at least 21 goals.

“I still can’t believe how many big games we trailed in and came back to win. Our team never gave up. I think much of this is due to our depth. We can constantly keep bringing in fresh players to wear down our opponents.”

In order to win the Easterns crown and earn the program’s first trip to the NCAA Championship, the Tigers had to pull through some close games, rallying to beat host Brown 7-6 in overtime in the semifinals and then edging Maryland 6-5 in the title game.

“The Brown game was a testimony to our team’s energy and depth; after halftime we got fired up and came out strong to eventually tie the game,” said Rigler, reflecting on a game which saw Princeton trailing 5-2 in the third quarter.

“Many of our players, including myself, were struggling that game and our bench came up huge. Camille Hooks had the game of her life and scored both the tying and game winning goals. We did not fold over in the midst of adversity. Instead we came back even stronger and finished with a win.”

The Tigers needed to be strong down the stretch to get the victory over Maryland as they scored two goals early in the fourth quarter to take a 6-4 lead and then held off a spirited charge from the Terps.

“I was feeling really confident about winning the game going into halftime,” recalled Rigler.

“Our biggest struggle all season was staying strong the first half and we accomplished that against Maryland. Although it was a big game, I felt really calm most of the game. The final minute or two brought out some nerves because we were so close to winning a championship. Other than that I think our whole team felt really confident and under control the entire game.”

Rigler raised her game at the Easterns, scoring a total of seven goals over the weekend on the way to being named tournament MVP.

“Winning the MVP award was definitely an honor,” said Rigler. “There are so many talented players and I felt really blessed to be chosen for the award. I think now it just means I have to work that much harder to hopefully defend it next year.”

The Tigers face a big job in trying to topple USC this Friday. “We have a really tough matchup against USC in the first round that most people are predicting to be an easy win for USC,” said Rigler.

“However, we hope to play the same game we have played all year and maybe surprise some people.”

But no matter what happens this weekend during Rigler’s homecoming, she believes there are plenty of big games in Princeton’s future.

“This is the most exciting part of our team,” asserted Rigler. “We are only going to get better. We have another big freshman class coming in next year with only three seniors leaving.”

FLIGHT TIME: Princeton High girls’ track star Bryell Wheeler flies high last Wednesday as PHS topped Nottingham 91-40. Senior standout Wheeler, a top sprinter and long jumper, has added the triple jump to her portfolio and has emerged as a star in that event. Wheeler and the Little Tigers will next be in action when they compete in the Mercer County Championships on May 12 at Steinert. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Bryell Wheeler has established herself as a dynamic sprinter and Elyssa Gensib is a gifted distance runner but they are both diversifying in their senior campaign to help the Princeton High girls’ track team.

For Wheeler, doing more for the squad comes down to increasing her focus on the jumping events.

“I started doing the triple jump in winter track and on my first jump I did 31’6,” said Wheeler.

“Ever since then, I keep setting personal records. In the Mercer Relays I did 38’1 and we set a record with 72’2. My best event is now the triple, it used to the 100.”

Last Wednesday in a 91-40 win over Nottingham, Wheeler showed she could still flash plenty of speed, overcoming injury to win the 100.

“I pulled my hamstring last week but it is recovered now,” said Wheeler.

“I was a little scared to come out with that. My time was 12.7. In the first meet of the season running against Trenton and North (WW/P-N), I ran a 12.2. But it was a really sunny day so I guess the weather has something to do with it.”

Wheeler did draw confidence due to putting in extra conditioning work. “I am lifting more,” said Wheeler. “I am getting stronger.”

The willowy Gensib, for her part, has displayed her strength through competing in shorter races.

“I am really happy because, except for one meet where I ran only one event, I have been running at least two or three events every meet,” said Gensib.

“I feel like it just makes me stronger even though I am tired. I can go and do something I didn’t think I would have been able to do before.”

Against Nottingham, Gensib flashed her speed in the 800 as she posted a solid victory.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from the other team; I was just trying to go for 2:20,” said Gensib, reflecting on her win in the 800.

“When we were about 200 meters in, I was like OK this is going to be a Princeton thing with all the PHS girls up front. I was just trying to focus on what I am supposed to accomplish in the middle of the race which is to push when it is a little uncomfortable. I ran a 2:23. I was a little surprised because I thought I was slower.”

Gensib also pushed hard in the 4×400, helping PHS to a win in that event as well.

“I like running the 4×400 because it is fun when you have other girls with you,” said Gensib. “It is not a solo effort so everybody works together. It is nice.”

The team’s corps of distance runners which includes Jenna Cody, Amelia Whaley, and Belinda Liu in addition to Gensib works together well.

“It is good to have some girls that you know what they run like and you can help each other out,” said Gensib.

“We know what it is supposed to feel like; it is good because we have the support of one another so when we go to big meets, it is not like oh I am by myself. It is nice that other people are going through the same thing.”

With the county meet slated for May 12 at Steinert High, Gensib plans to feed on that support.

“It is going to be a really tough race, especially the 1,600 because there is a good girl from South (WW/P-S) and a girl from North (WW/P-N),” said Gensib, who came up big last Saturday at the Mercer Twilight Invitational at Robbinsville, winning the 1,600 in 5:04.57 and the 3,200 in 10:52.90.

“It is not going to be an easy race so I am really excited to see what I can do when I get pushed like that.”

Wheeler is looking to push herself over the rest of the spring. “I want to place in nationals in triple jump, I have already qualified,” said Wheeler, who plans to compete in college and is considering Virginia State and Rider.

“I want to make it to the New Jersey Meet of Champions in the long jump, triple and 100, maybe the 200.”

Gensib likewise is aiming to produce some championship performances in her swan song with the Little Tigers before she heads off to the University of Pennsylvania and joins its track program.

“It is sad because I am going to really miss my coach [Jim Smirk] and teammates,” said Gensib.

“My coach has brought me so far because I just started running seriously last year. I would have never thought I would be running like this. I just want to make him proud and see what I can get out of this year before I go to college.”

MAKING STRIDES: Princeton High distance runner Kevin Ivanov heads to the finish line in a cross country race last fall. This spring, senior star Ivanov has been excelling in the mile as he looks to end his PHS career with a bang. Last Saturday, Ivanov did well at the Mercer Twilight Invitational at Robbinsville, taking fifth in the 1,600 with a time of 4:33.19. Ivanov and the Little Tigers are next in action on May 12 when they compete in the Mercer County Championships at Steinert. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While many athletes are influenced to get into sports by a parent, sibling, or friend, Princeton High senior track star Kevin Ivanov took a different path.

“When I was six years old, I used to run my dog around the block,” recalled Ivanov.

“I wouldn’t walk her, she would walk me and always pull me along. From that, I just loved running.”

Ivanov unleashed his running talents in middle school. “I actually started running competitively in eighth grade,” said Ivanov.

“I ran a 5:12 mile. I bought a set of spikes then and I have the same spikes five years later.”

Last Wednesday, he put those spikes to good use as PHS hosted Nottingham. He won the 2-mile in 10:07 and then helped the PHS 4×400 to a victory.

“It was my first 2-mile in over a year,” said Ivanov. “I was trying to get a sub-10 but I ran a 5:07 in the first mile and then a 4:59 something in the second mile.”

For Ivanov, the mile remains his favorite event. “It is the perfect combo,” said Ivanov, who did well last saturday in the Mercer Twilight Invitational at Robbinsville, taking fifth in the 1,600 with a time of  4:33.19.

“In the beginning, it is just testing out whether you have the willpower to go through all four laps. In the last lap and a half, you have to give everything you have got. I generally kick with around 250-300 meters to go and go all out at the 200 meter mark.”

PHS head coach John Woodside appreciated the will his squad showed against Nottingham even as it lost the meet.

“We had some of our distance runners going in alternate events and they did a nice job,” said Woodside, noting that his team was shorthanded as a number of athletes were sidelined due to breaking team rules.

“Ian McIsaac got second in the 400 against some really good runners. Bruce Robertson was right there; he was just out of the running. It was nice to see those guys competing.”

Woodside likes the way Ivanov is competing. “Kevin was great today,” said Woodside.

“He ran all by himself in the two-mile; that was a tremendous race. He looked really good on the relay. He is ready to go.”

PHS has gotten good work from his distance crew which includes Conor Donahue in addition to Robertson, Ivanov, and McIsaac.

“Bruce is excellent,” said Woodside. “In the meet last week against Hightstown, Kevin won the mile but Ian was right there with him. Conor did well in the 800 today. These guys have stepped up, the distance guys have been doing it all season. It is not just the top kids, it is all of them.”

PHS is seeing some young kids step up in the sprints. “The sprinters are young; that’s mostly what I am looking at,” added Woodside.

“Dave Flatscher is a sophomore and Brandon Yao is a freshman; those are guys who are running well. I think that is what we are banking on; we don’t have a lot of veterans. One of the seniors, Tim Miranda, is doing a nice job. He has really come along, especially in the 200.”

With the county meet slated for May 12 at Steinert and the sectional coming up later in the month, Woodside is hoping his athletes can come along quickly.

“We are looking at developing the guys and do the best with what we have got,” said Woodside.

Ivanov, for his part, will be giving his best effort as he wraps up his PHS career.

“I have just a few weeks left, I am trying to go out with a bang like a lot of our seniors,” said Ivanov. “Most of us are still competing hard and going for the gold.”

CO-STAR: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse player Cody Triolo looks for an opening in recent action. Last Friday, junior midfield star Triolo scored three goals as PDS rallied for a 12-10 win over Morristown-Beard in the opening round of the state Prep B tournament. The fourth-seeded Panthers got knocked out of the Prep B tourney last Monday when they lost 8-5 at No. 1 Montclair Kimberley. PDS will look to make another postseason run when they compete in the Mercer County Tournament where the seventh-seeded Panthers host No. 10 Hightstown on May 12 in an opening round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team trailed Morristown-Beard 6-3 at halftime last Friday in a state Prep B tournament contest, Cody Triolo wasn’t overly concerned.

“Lacrosse is pretty much a game of runs,” said PDS star midfielder Triolo.

“At that point, we just talked about having our body language ready to play. We wanted to just keep playing. Even if we don’t win the game, if we put forth our best effort, that is what we are looking for and that is what the coaches are looking for.”

Triolo and the fourth-seeded Panthers produced a superb effort over the last 24 minutes of the contest, outscoring the fifth-seeded Crimson 5-1 in the third period to seize momentum on the way to a hard-earned 12-10 victory.

While junior standout Triolo chipped in two goals to help spark the second half rally, he wasn’t a one-man show.

“We kept our composure and we just kept working hard throughout,” said Triolo, who ended up with three goals and an assist in the victory. “It was really a team effort; a bunch of guys stepped up today.”

In Triolo’s view, team chemistry and character helped PDS overtake Mo-Beard.

“When we are scoring, the guys on the sideline are going crazy,” said Triolo. “It is just the environment that kept us going and we thrived off of that. I think it shows as a team, we can face adversity.”

Triolo draws inspiration from the unity on the Panthers. “I was just thriving off of everybody else’s energy,” said Triolo.

“I knew that they were going to play for me so I was going to play for them. I put my best effort out there. I like to just work hard and see what comes from it.”

Having already committed to Lehigh University and its lacrosse program, Triolo is working harder on a daily basis.

“That commitment makes me more serious,” said Triolo, noting that Lehigh is heading to the upcoming NCAA tournaments and has been ranked in the top 10 nationally for much of the season.

“It makes me want to get better everyday because at that next level you really have to be on top of your game everyday.”

PDS head coach Rob Tuckman believes that Triolo’s efforts help raise the level of everyone around him.

“Cody is an outstanding player and what he does is two things,” said Tuckman.

“Number one, he starts the offense which then creates opportunities for other guys. He also sets tempo. Cody plays at 150 percent so when he goes at that speed and that intensity, it picks up everybody else.”

In the victory over Mo-Beard, several different Panthers took advantage of opportunities as Taran Auslander and Tyler Olsson scored three goals apiece with Garret Jensen chipping in two.

“That is the kind of stuff we have been looking for,” said Tuckman. “Instead of leaning on just one guy we are now balancing and really getting it from all over which is great. We are getting it from both the attack and middies which is something teams are going to have to contend with.”

In addition to the offensive prowess, the Panthers have made progress defensively.

“Defense wins championships; that has been our motto,” said Tuckman, whose team fell short of the Prep B title as it lost 8-5 to top-seeded Montclair-Kimberley last Monday in a semifinal contest.

“When our defense tightens up and plays strong, our offense gets that energy that it needs. We really started setting up some transition goals and really creating opportunities.”

Sophomore midfielder Connor Bitterman played a key role in the PDS transition game in the win over Mo-Beard, excelling on face-offs and making some superb runs up the field.

“Connor was terrific; face-offs have been our Achilles heel,” said Tuckman, whose team dropped to 7-5 with the loss to Montclair-Kimberley.

“I don’t think we won a face-off in the first half so you start every possession on defense and you have to build out from there. Connor created opportunities so we didn’t have to just start on defense. Instead, we are dogfighting in the center of the field. He makes great decisions. He has such wheels; he is so fast.”

Senior star Jensen showed his usual fighting spirit, making a key steal and goal early in the third quarter to help trigger a 5-1 PDS run.

“Garret has been solid,” said Tuckman. “He is banged up, so for him it is a herculean effort every time he steps on the field. He is our senior captain; he has really been an incredible leader. His gutting it out through the pain is really a reflection of the leadership he provides.”

Building on its run to the Prep B semis, Tuckman believes his team can do some damage in the upcoming Mercer County Tournament.

“I think we are a good team,” asserted Tuckman, whose club is seeded seventh in the MCT and will host No. 10 Hightstown on May 12 in an opening round contest.

“I think we are playing our best right now. I think in the county, it is wide open. We are excited to be a part of that. If we can get a couple of wins under our belt early and get the momentum going, I think we can be a really effective team.”

In Triolo’s view, the Panthers have been building up momentum in training that can pay off.

“The environment in practice has been great, we have been working really hard,” said Triolo. “Our focus is there, I think, even though it is definitely a grind.”

SOLID BIRCH: Hun School baseball star Devan Birch takes a cut in a game earlier this season. Junior Birch has been a catalyst for the Raiders with his play at shortstop and offensive contributions as a leadoff hitter. Last Monday, Birch chipped in three RBIs as 10th-seeded Hun topped No. 7 WW/P-S 10-2 in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament. The Raiders, now 7-10, will face second-seeded Notre Dame in the NCT quarterfinals on May 9 at Mercer County Park. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It looked like the season might be falling apart for Devan Birch and the Hun School baseball team as they hosted Mercersburg Academy for a doubleheader two weeks ago.

Hun fell 6-4 in the opener to drop to 2-8 on the spring and trailed by six runs in the nightcap. The Raiders, though, rallied to pull out an 11-8 win in extra innings.

In the view of junior star Birch, that comeback has proven to be a turning point for the Raiders.

“We played our butts off and played a really good game in the opener,” said Birch.

“They are a really good team. Getting down 6-0 and coming back to win that game in extra innings was huge, absolutely huge.”

Hun ultimately pushed its winning streak to four as it got back on the right track. After dropping tough games to local powers Notre Dame and Steinert last week, the 10th-seeded Raiders continued its rebound by topping No. 7 WW/P- 10-2 last Monday in the first round of the Mercer County
Tournament.

Hun, now 7-10, will face second-seeded Notre Dame in the NCT quarterfinals on May 9 at Mercer County Park.

Birch notes that the Raiders have adopted a more serious mentality. “I think there is just a big change in attitude,” said Birch, who chipped in three RBIs in the county win over WW/P-S.

“Coming out of the gate, I feel like we thought we would just walk out there and win because of the way we ended last year. We had a big time wakeup call. I feel that once we changed the attitude around and got everything together we realized that when we go out and play our game we can beat anyone in the county. It showed in the past couple games.”

The recent move of Birch to shortstop from leftfield also helped Hun’s game.

“To me, it doesn’t matter, I’ll play whatever is best for the team,” said Birch, known affectionately as “Devo” by his teammates.

“Last year, I played left field all year. This year, I started off there and moved to short. I think I have done fairly well; I am definitely comfortable there. I am comfortable wherever as long as I am on the field.”

Birch is comfortable handling the leadoff role in the Hun batting order where he tries to use his speed to be a catalyst for the Raiders.

“I am not trying to do too much, I just try to get on,” said Birch. “I am very confident that our top hitters can hit the ball. So if I can get on, they will move me around and we will score some runs.”

Hun head coach Bill McQuade believes that shifting Birch to shortstop has been a confidence builder for the team.

“Moving Devo to shortstop changed the complexion of our infield,” said McQuade.

“Immediately we fielded the ball better. He is one of the best shortstops we have ever had. He has incredible quickness. You saw the pop ups he goes and catches. He fields the slow roller as well as any shortstop I have ever had.”

Having Birch stay put at the top of the Hun order has helped the Raiders get rolling. “He is on base, he steals,” said McQuade.

“You want your leadoff hitter to be that engine that makes you take off. When he is having a great game, it picks everybody up. He gets on and steals a base and all of a sudden we have that energy and enthusiasm.”

McQuade has seen a renewed energy around his team in the wake of the Mercersburg doubleheader.

“After you have lost a few it is tough, it is hard to get that out of the back of your mind that you lost,” said McQuade.

“They were pumped these past two weeks. The practices have been more enthusiastic; the kids are into it.”

A lot of kids have been stepping up for Hun. “Dave Dudeck has had a good season; he is big and strong and he attacks the ball,” said McQuade, noting that the return of catcher Gavin Stupienski and ace pitcher Austin Goeke from injury has given the Raiders a big lift.

“Brandon Smith has really been solid at the infield at second. Stevie Wells is starting to hit the ball.”

McQuade is hoping his team can hit its stride at tournament time, similar to last year when the program rode a late surge to a state Prep A title.

“I am hoping we can; we talk to them all the time about it,” said McQuade.

“We have got the players who can do it if we get the pitching and we come together. We need to get off to a good start. If we fall behind, I am not so sure. When we get a lead and then shut them down, we do better.”

Birch, for his part, believes the Raiders can end on a high note. “If we take it one game at a time, we have a good shot to take it pretty deep in any tournament,” said Birch.

“The majority of the same kids coming back from last year, we lost two or three starters, our catcher [Chris Leach] and shortstop [Mark Rende] were just huge. But after battling over that, with the same core group I feel we can do the same thing we did last year.”

RUNNING THE SHOW: Hun School girls’ lacrosse star and team captain Emily Decicco races up the field in a game earlier this season. Senior defender Decicco has spearheaded the Hun backline this spring with her intensity and leadership. Last Saturday, the Hun program held its annual Senior Day ceremony but things didn’t end well for the Raiders as they fell 16-13 to Notre Dame in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament and dropping to 5-6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Emily Decicco felt a rush of emotion as the Hun School girls’ lacrosse team got ready to take the field against visiting Notre Dame last Saturday in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament.

The Hun program celebrated its Class of 2012 and senior defender Dicicco was the last of her classmates honored in the pregame ceremony.

“I have been on this turf for seven years now so it was definitely a big game for us,” said Decicco, reflecting on the Senior Day festivities.

For over a half, it looked like it was going to be a big day for the eighth-seeded Raiders as they took an 8-7 lead over No. 9 Notre Dame at halftime and clung to a 9-8 advantage some six minutes into the second half.

But Notre Dame went on a 3-0 run to take an 11-9 advantage and Hun could never regain the lead. The Raiders drew to within one at 11-10 and 12-11 but that was as close as they got on the way to a 16-13 loss.

While Decicco was disappointed by the defeat, she had no qualms with how Hun battled Notre Dame.

“Although this isn’t the outcome I wanted to see in my final game here, I am proud of us,” said Decicco, reflecting on the loss which dropped Hun to 5-6. “We fought hard right to the end.”

The fiery Decicco tries hard to lead the Raiders from the backline. “I keep us going from behind; I oversee the field,” said Decicco. “I definitely keep the morale.”

Decicco also picks her spots to get the offense going, using her speed to make end-to-end forays.

“Nothing feels better than running it down the field and passing to  Francesca [Bello] or Kate [Weeks] and seeing them put it in the back of the net,” said Decicco.

With Hun’s season winding down with MCT consolation contests, Decicco is looking for the Raiders to put forth a big effort.

“We are definitely going to bring everything we have to our last few games,” said Decicco, who is heading to Cornell where she plans to walk on to the women’s lacrosse team.

Hun head coach Beth Loffredo thought her team may have brought too much emotion into the game with Notre Dame.

“They were too pumped; they were having trouble controlling themselves,” said Loffredo.

“They were too fidgety; everything was too fast. We needed to slow it down. It was our Senior Day and Kate Weeks has a sick cousin who we were playing for today.”

Even though Hun held the lead for much of the first 30 minutes of the contest, Loffredo had an uneasy feeling.

“I felt like we were playing catchup the whole time; I thought we should have been further ahead,” said Loffredo, who got six goals from junior star Kate Weeks in the loss to Notre Dame with Francesca Bello chipping in three.

“I never felt comfortable. I was waiting for a run but they just didn’t do it and the other team poured it on.”

Loffredo credited her seniors for having a nice run over their years at Hun. “It is great having those kind of people around us everyday; athletically they are great and as far as people, they are even better,” said Loffredo, whose group of seniors includes Lucia Perasso, Peyton Lutz, and Lily MacGregor, in addition to Decicco.

“It is definitely sad that they are going to be leaving us but they are going on to big things. Emily is going to Cornell and Lucia is going to Princeton. Peyton is heading to Hobart/William Smith; she is going to play there.”

With Hun having fallen 22-14 to Lawrenceville earlier in the week to get eliminated from the state Prep A tourney, Loffredo wants her players to take some lessons from the setbacks.

“I am hoping they remember the feeling so when we go into it next year, they take it as seriously as I want them to,” said Loffredo. “I want us to just play our best and end on a good note.”

In Decicco’s view, things look bright for a Raider program that has already made good progress.

“I think I will remember just seeing us grow from what we were when I first started playing here to now,” said Decicco, in reflecting on her career.

“It just makes me really happy. I am really excited to see where this program will go because we have a lot of young talent.”

May 2, 2012

ALEX THE GREAT: Princeton University men’s lacrosse star Alex Capretta heads to goal in recent action. Last Saturday against visiting Cornell, senior midfielder Capretta scored a career-high five goals to help the Tigers post a 14-9 win over the Big Red. Princeton will now host the Ivy League tournament that will determine the conference’s automatic qualifier for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. The first-seeded Tigers (10-3 overall, 6-0 Ivy) will play No. 4 Brown (7-7 overall, 3-3 Ivy) while second-seeded Cornell (9-3 overall, 4-2 Ivy) will take on No. 3 Yale (9-4 overall, 4-2 Ivy) in the semifinals on Friday night with the victors to meet on Sunday at noon in the title game. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The hooting and hollering continued at Class of 1952 Stadium long after the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team whipped Cornell 14-9 last Saturday night to complete an undefeated Ivy League regular season.

But in the Princeton locker room, Alex Capretta stood quietly in a corner, smiling broadly and clutching the silver trophy the Tigers earned for their victory.

After serving as an understudy in his first three years with the program, senior midfielder Capretta took a starring role in Princeton’s win over the Big Red, scoring a career-high five goals to trigger the Tiger offense before a standing-room only crowd of 4,133.

“The way it works, one shot goes in and another shot goes and eventually it feels seamless,” said Capretta, reflecting on his big night.

“You get into a really smooth rhythm and it feels great. I think the motivation was a little higher than normal today.”

The motivation will be even higher this weekend as Princeton will host the four-team Ivy League tournament that will determine the conference’s automatic qualifier for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

The first-seeded Tigers (10-3 overall, 6-0 Ivy) will play No. 4 Brown (7-7 overall, 3-3 Ivy) while second-seeded Cornell (9-3 overall, 4-2 Ivy) will take on No. 3 Yale (9-4 overall, 4-2 Ivy) in the semifinals on Friday night with the victors to meet on Sunday at noon in the title game.

“I never know if the next game is going to be my last; we have only one more game guaranteed,” said Capretta.

“We really want to make sure that there is a second game after that and hopefully a third and a fourth after that. We want to keep going.”

Coming into the season, there was no guarantee that Capretta would even be a starter for the Tigers. The 6’2, 205-pound native of Mill Valley had scored a grand total of 10 points on eight goals and two assists in his first three seasons. He has been a revelation this spring, however, tallying 19 goals and eight assists, including the overtime game-winner against Yale and four goals in a victory over Rutgers.

“I think a lot of it has to do with experience and being really familiar with coach [Chris] Bates’s offense and his sets,” said Capretta, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for his performance against Cornell.

“In addition, I think we just have fantastic chemistry on offense. I know what everybody is going to do and everybody knows what I am going to do and we are all really comfortable together. My success is a product of their success. They are due just as much credit as I am.”

Princeton head coach Bates wasn’t surprised that Capretta produced a successful performance against the Big Red.

“I thought all week that Alex would play well; one of his best friends from high school is Roy Lang on the other team,” said Bates.

“I just knew that Alex was so committed and really has taken so many positive steps. I had a really good feeling that he was going to have a good game so I couldn’t be more happy for him and I am proud of him.”

Bates was happy to see the Tigers jump out to a 3-0 lead against the Big Red on the way to a 8-4 advantage at halftime.

“The last reminder I had for them was ‘fellas enjoy the moment,’” recalled Bates.

“We play well when we are loose; we play better when we are not tight. I thought we came out well; when the lights go on and that opening face-off takes place, we are ready to go. This team has continued to impress me with how they come prepared. It gets you loose; to put three quick ones on the board is clearly the way you want to start the game.”

The Princeton offense continued its freewheeling ways throughout the contest.

“We scored on early offense like we do; we are living and dying on it a little  bit but we create opportunities for ourselves and we are giving guys latitude,” said Bates, who got three goals apiece from Jeff Froccaro and Forest Sonnenfeldt in the win with Mike MacDonald adding two and Tucker Shanley chipping in one. “At the end of the day, we shot the ball very well and we found the open man.”

On the defensive end, the Tigers kept Cornell from getting open space. “Cornell is good, they are tough and they move the ball well,” said Bates. “We bent at times but we didn’t break. Tyler [Fiorito] stood tall in goal. We played with good energy. You could see our athleticism. Jonathan Meyers, Chad Wiedmaier, Rob Castelo, and John Cunningham all played well. It is a good solid group that I thought played physically and with good emotion. They really gave us a good 60-minute effort.”

Bates enjoyed an emotional moment as the team gathered en masse at the middle of the field to hoist the trophy.

“I am happiest for the seniors; these guys have really worked to shape a culture here and take the next step,” said Bates, reflecting on the group which has spearheaded the turnaround from last season’s 4-8 mark.

“This hasn’t happened here since 2001, to go 6-0 and be the sole Ivy champs. You can just see that there is a sense of accomplishment. This was a big goal for us. We didn’t want to share it so this is a nice accomplishment for this group.”

Star goalie and team tri-captain Fiorito attributes Princeton’s success this spring, in large part, to a special group dynamic.

“I think with what happened to coach; we have all bonded together,” said Fiorito, reflecting on the death of Bates’s wife, Ann, this past November after a lengthy battle with brain cancer.

“I think we have a great group of guys; there is big talk of family here. I think this year is special; we have really come together through our senior class and through coach Bates. I think we know there are great things ahead of us.”

Fiorito enjoyed a special moment with the trophy in the raucous post-game celebration.

“Going up there and holding it up with John [Cunningham] and Chad [Wiedmaier] and seeing our team running towards us is a special moment,” said Fiorito, who had 11 saves in the victory.

“As a senior, those are the moments you will remember. You may not remember how the game went or all the moments in the game but you will remember holding the trophy up and seeing your teammates running towards you.”

Fiorito is hoping Princeton can continue a run that has seen the Tigers win four straight games and eight of its last nine and jump to No. 10 nationally in this week’s Nike/Inside Lacrosse Media Poll.

“We are going to bring it every single time that we can because it could be the last time we suit up together,” said Fiorito, who had 16 saves when Princeton beat Brown 13-2 in the team’s March 31 regular season meeting.

“I am trying to enjoy every moment with this team; we really enjoy playing with each other. I think we have been building momentum over the last few weeks and that’s what we are trying to do, peak at the right time.”

In Capretta’s view, things are coming together at the right time.

“In the beginning of the season, we weren’t coming out as strong,” said Capretta “One of our emphases in the second half of the season was to come out strong; to step on the gas pedal and just never let up and it’s paid off.”

If Capretta and the Tigers can keep their feet on the gas, there could be some other trophy celebrations to come this spring.

HOOK SHOT: Princeton University women’s water polo player Camille Hooks fires the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, freshman star Hooks scored three goals, including the game-winner, as Princeton edged host Brown 7-6 in overtime in the semifinals of the Eastern Championships in Providence, R.I. A day later, Hooks and the Tigers nipped Maryland 6-5 to win the title. The 13th-ranked Tigers, now 28-4, earned the No. 6 seed in the 2012 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship and will face third-seeded USC in the quarterfinals on May 11 at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It didn’t take long for Luis Nicolao to realize that his 2012 Princeton University women’s water polo team might be something special.

“From day one, it has been a fun group to coach,” said Princeton head coach Nicolao. “All year, this group has been confident. We have won a lot of close games.”

Last weekend, Tigers knew they were in for some tight contests as they competed in the Eastern Championships in Providence, R.I. at Brown University’s pool.

“I tell the girls that when you get to Easterns, every game is a challenge,” said Nicolao, who is in his 14th season overseeing both the men’s and women’s water polo programs at Princeton. “Everyone is playing for their lives.”

The Tigers proved to be up for the challenge, topping Harvard 9-6 in the quarterfinals and edging host Brown 7-6 in overtime in the semis to earn a shot at Maryland in the title game. Exuding its trademark confidence, Princeton avenged a regular season defeat to the Terps, winning 6-5 to earn the program’s first trip to the NCAAs.

The 13th-ranked Tigers, now 28-4, earned the No. 6 seed in the 2012 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship and will face third-seeded USC in the quarterfinals on May 11 at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex.

In the game against Harvard, it looked like Princeton might have to wait another year to make it to the NCAAs, as it fought hard but was deadlocked 3-3 at halftime.

“I told them to keep playing their game,” recalled Nicolao. “It has been our M.O. this year. We come out slowly and then we rally. I think that is a testament to our depth. We are able to wear teams down.”

Princeton sophomore star Katie Rigler got her shots to fall, scoring four goals to lead the way for the Tigers in the win over the Crimson.

“Rigler always has the top attention of the other teams,” said Nicolao of the native of  Fullerton, Calif., who was later named the  MVP of the CWPA Eastern Championship and to the all-tournament first team. “She always gets the top defender. She is always going at it and battling.”

In the semifinal contest against host Brown, the Tigers found themselves in an uphill battle.

“Our shots were not falling and their crowd was going wild,” said Nicolao. “Midway through the third quarter we were down 5-2 and I made wholesale changes. I put in five fresh bodies and they got it back to 5-5.”

Freshman star Camille Hooks came up big to help Princeton survive the bears, scoring with eight seconds left in regulation to knot the game at 6-6 and force overtime and then scoring the game-winner with 2:07 remaining in the first extra period.

“Hooks had the game of her life,” asserted Nicolao of the Beverly Hills, Calif. native who had three goals in the contest. “She is a steady, smart player. She never gets rattled and she made some huge shots.”

The Tigers faced a huge challenge in the championship game as they looked to turn the tables on a 14th-ranked Maryland squad that beat Princeton 7-6 in the regular season game between the teams.

“We talked about coming out better than we did before against them,” said Nicolao, noting that the Tigers trailed the Terps 7-1 in that March 31 contest. “Maryland comes out fast; they had Michigan down 3-0 the night before in the semis.”

With Princeton tied 3-3 at half with the Terps, Nicolao sensed that his squad was primed to pull out another close victory.

“The girls believed in themselves; we had the better play in the first half but the shots weren’t falling,” said Nicolao. “At half, there was a feeling that we are going to get this.”

The teams were locked in a 4-4 stalemate heading into the fourth quarter and Princeton seized the momentum as Taylor Dunstan and Brittany Zwirner found the back of the net to give the Tigers a lead they never relinquished.

“We got two goals on counter attacks early in the fourth quarter and then it was hold-your-breath time,” said Nicolao, who also got two goals from Rigler in the win with senior goalie Kristen Ward making 13 saves. “We kept playing great defense.”

While the win was a great moment for Nicolao and his program, he experienced some mixed emotions in the wake of the triumph.

“It was so exciting but it was also bittersweet,” said Nicolao. “I am lifelong friends with the Maryland coaches [Carl Sayler and Serela Kay] and I saw the look on their faces. I have been on that side and I know what it’s like. I am so thrilled to win it; I am so happy for the girls. We can’t stop smiling today.”

Having endured some tough defeats in the Easterns helped Nicolao motivate his players.

“It has been a tough road; it has been a long haul,” said Nicolao, who last guided the Tiger women to the Eastern title in 2000 and an appearance in the Collegiate National Championships, the predecessor to the NCAAs.

“We have lost some tough games in the semis. We won two of three games this weekend by one goal. It is hard to get to this point, I told them to go out and make the most of the moment.”

Nicolao is looking for his players to make the most of their opportunity as they compete in the NCAAs.

“We have to play great defense; we are going to be seeing great opponents,” said Nicolao. “We have to be relaxed but not just happy to be there.”

But no matter what happens in San Diego, Nicolao will have many happy memories of the 2012 campaign.

MIDDLE MAN: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse star Zach ­Halliday races up the field in a scrimmage this spring. Last Saturday, junior midfielder Halliday chipped in a goal and three assists in a losing cause as PHS fell 11-7 at Notre Dame. The Little Tigers, who dropped to 5-6 with the loss to the Fighting Irish, play at WW/P-S on May 3 before hosting Northern Burlington on May 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

From the beginning of his freshman year at Princeton High, Zach Halliday distinguished himself as a savvy midfielder on the soccer field.

Utilizing anticipation, hustle, and ball skills, Halliday quickly became a mainstay for the Little Tigers and has developed into one of the top players in the area.

Transferring those qualities to the lacrosse field, junior Halliday is emerging as a go-to player this spring for PHS.

“I am used to seeing the whole field in soccer so I am able to see the field in lacrosse,” explained Halliday, who also plays midfield in lacrosse. “I am able to distribute and get my teammates involved.”

Last Saturday at Notre Dame, Halliday was involved all over the field, tallying a goal and three assists along with picking up several steals and ground balls.

Halliday’s all-around effort wasn’t enough, though, as PHS fell 11-7 to the Fighting Irish.

While Halliday is proud to be taking a bigger role for the Little Tigers, individual stats are not his primary focus.

“I have been able to contribute more on both offense and the defensive end but really it is all about what the team does and if we win or lose,” said Halliday. “So today overall was a disappointment for me.”

With Halliday picking up an assist and a goal in a one-minute span to help PHS rally to a 5-5 tie with the Fighting Irish midway through the third quarter, he was hoping for a win.

“I was thinking that the team had a chance to come back and make some plays,” recalled Halliday.

“We got a goal and then a man-up opportunity but unfortunately we weren’t able to capitalize and make the plays that they did today.”

In Halliday’s view, PHS can take a valuable lesson from the Notre Dame loss in terms of maintaining intensity.

“I think we have to learn to always play hard because if you have a three-minute letdown, your team is going to be put in a hole that you may not be able to recover from,” said Halliday.

PHS has shown the ability to recover collectively, bouncing back from a 0-4 start to win four straight games coming into the contest against the Fighting Irish.

“The coaches really changed things at practice; they really started drilling us and the whole team started buying in,” said Halliday.

“We are taking things one play at a time. I think going step-by-step and keeping things simple helped us get to where we are.”

PHS head coach Peter Stanton likes the way his squad has stepped up over the past few weeks.

“I feel like we have gotten a lot better,” asserted Stanton, whose team dropped to 5-6 with the defeat to the Fighting Irish.

“The guys have learned to use their teammates and trust their teammates. We move the ball a lot better and we get assisted goals. We have just gotten a lot more cohesive offensively.”

Stanton credits Halliday and senior midfielder Alex Rifkin with helping to jump start the PHS offense.

“Zach is somebody who can play defense; he can get ground balls and he can start transitions,” said Stanton, who got two goals from Rifkin in the loss to Notre Dame with Matt Olentine, Coleman Preziosi, Matt Purdy, and Kevin Halliday chipping in one apiece.

“He understands the game very well; he plays all over the field. Alex has been unbelievable; he has been outstanding.”

In Stanton’s view, the loss to Notre Dame showed that the Little Tigers need to further sharpen their game.

“We have to learn how critical mistakes are,” said Stanton. “We feel that we outplayed them for long stretches at a time. Many of their goals came after we made a bad pass or dropped the ball. They are a very opportunistic team who made us pay for those mistakes.”

With tournament time around the corner, PHS still has the opportunity do some special things this spring.

“We have to know that we are capable of playing better; sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don’t,” said Stanton, whose team plays at WW/P-S on May 3 before hosting Northern Burlington on May 8. “Today was a day when things didn’t go our way.”

Halliday, for his part, believes things can go the right way for PHS if the team maintains its work ethic.

“To get back on the winning track I think the team is just going to have to take it hard at practice and put this in the back of our heads,” said Halliday. “We need to remember it but try to learn from it and really try to move on.”

MATCHING UP: Princeton High softball player Angela Matchum throws the ball in recent action. The play of senior outfielder Matchum has helped tighten up the PHS defense as the Little Tigers have gotten off to an 8-8 start. PHS, which fell 9-8 to Hightstown last Monday, hosts Nottingham on May 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the Princeton High softball team produced an encouraging 6-5 start, the squad has yet to prove that it can beat the elite teams in the area.

After falling to such powers as Robbinsville, Allentown, and Steinert, PHS was looking for a breakthrough when it hosted WW/P-S last Wednesday.

Through five innings, the Little Tigers were right there with the twice-beaten Pirates, trailing just 3-0.

But in the top of the sixth, PHS gave up four runs on the way to a 9-0 defeat.

PHS head coach Dave Boehm was frustrated by his team’s sloppiness in the setback.

“We had too many walks today and too many errors,” said Boehm. “It is a tough loss, they are a good team but we weren’t really a threat to them today. That girl is a good pitcher; she throws hard, she throws inside and outside.”

Although PHS has been on the outside looking in against the top teams, it has shown it can be a threat on most days.

“We have played some real good games and then we have a game like today where we had five good innings and then the wheels came off,” said Boehm, noting that freshman Sarah Eisenach and junior Charlotte Gray have developed into an effective one-two pitching tandem.

“We have to knock off one of those big teams. We have got to beat a big boy on the block but we are not going to do it when we make that many mistakes.”

In Boehm’s view, the Little Tigers need to be more aggressive to get over the hump.

“They have to have more confidence; they have to get their bats off of their shoulders,” said Boehm.

“The one inning today where we put the bat on the ball, they made good contact.”

The play of junior star outfielder Marisa Gonzalez has given PHS plenty of confidence as she was hitting at a .595 clip through the team’s first 12 games.

“Marisa is making plays for us,” asserted Boehm of Gonzalez, who passed the 100-hit mark in her career last Saturday as the Little Tigers beat Ridgefield 8-4 and Teaneck 15-3 to win the Teaneck  Highwaywoman Tournament.

“She can make things happen. If we are going to push a run across, we have to get her on base or she has to drive it in.”

All in all, good things are happening for a PHS program that is on the rise.

“For the most part, I am happy with the way the team has played,” said Boehm, whose team hosts Nottingham on May 2.

“They have just got to get it through their heads that they can make the plays and hang with these teams. I think sometimes in the past teams would come off the bus and we knew we were beat. That hasn’t happened this year; it’s a good team.”

DANI GIRL: Hun School softball pitcher Dani Beal fires the ball in recent action. Junior Beal’s progress this spring has helped Hun go 8-4 after a shaky 1-2 start. In upcoming action, the Raiders host Steinert on May 2 and Northern Burlington on May 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Hun School softball team lost two of its first three games this spring, Kathy Quirk liked the work ethic she was seeing from her players on a daily basis.

“We practice hitting everyday; we have stations and we hit basketballs, footballs, and soccer balls,” said longtime Hun head coach Quirk.

“We play little games, the girls have been working really hard. When we separate into teams for practice games, it is intense. Neither team wants to lose.”

In the wake of losing 7-3 to Blair in early April to fall to 1-2, that intensity started to pay dividends as the Hun bats came alive. The Raiders hit double figures in wins over Princeton Day School (11-1) and Lawrenceville (11-6) and have proceeded to go on a roll that has seen them win seven of their last nine games.

“We had a tough loss against Blair; we have been playing well since that game,” said Quirk. “We got rolling with the win over Lawrenceville; we have been improving everyday.”

The team’s improvement was graphically demonstrated last week when the Raiders hosted Peddie. After having fallen 13-2 to the Falcons in the season opener on March 28, Hun topped Peddie 5-3 in the rematch.

“We had the game of our life against Peddie,” said Quirk, whose team jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning. “Dani [Beal] putting them down in the top of the first gave her confidence.”

The progress of junior pitcher Beal has been a key factor in Hun’s hot streak.

“She stepped up on the pitching mound; she has confidence in her teammates,” said Quirk of Beal who pitched well in a losing cause last Saturday as Hun fell 3-2 at Blair to move to 8-4.

“She knows she is not going to strike out everybody and that her teammates will make the plays behind her.”

Junior catcher Carey Million has been making plenty of big plays for the Raiders. “Million has done a nice job behind the plate and at bat,” said Quirk.

“She has home runs in back-to-back games. They were not inside the park; they were line drives over the fence. It is nice to see.”

Hun has been getting some nice work in the infield from Julia Blake and Joey Crivelli.

“Julia Blake, for a freshman, is playing great at shortstop,” said Quirk. “She had 10 assists and four putouts in the win over Peddie. She is playing with confidence; she has also been hitting well. Crivelli doing a solid job at third base, she is coming through with big plays.”

Sophomore outfielder Kristen Manochio has emerged as another big plus for Quirk’s squad.

“Manochio is doing a nice job; she’s making contact and moving people around the bases,” said Quirk. “She is solid for us in the outfield.”

Quirk is confident her team can keep up its solid play when it competes in the state Prep A playoffs later this month.

“No matter where we play, we have to have the same intensity,” said Quirk, whose team hosts Steinert on May 2 and Northern Burlington on May 8. “I am very happy with how we are playing, I am hoping we can keep on track.”

GOING TO THE MATT: Princeton Day School baseball star Matt Cook delivers the ball in a game earlier this spring. Senior pitcher Cook came up big last week, getting the win in a 3-2 victory over Peddie. The Panthers, now 10-6, plays at South Hunterdon on May 2 before starting action in the Mercer County Tournament where sixth-seeded PDS will host No. 11 Ewing on May 5 in a first round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton Day School baseball team, routing Rutgers Prep 18-3 last Friday was a measure of how far the squad has come since last spring.

“Last season we played them three times and they beat us up pretty good; that was a sweet win,” said PDS head coach Ray O’Brien, whose team improved to 10-6 with the victory, already more than doubling its win total from 2011 when it went 4-14.

The sweet swing of freshman JP Radvany helped trigger the rout for the Panthers as he smacked a three-run homer and piled up six RBIs in the contest.

“JP has been great; we knew coming in that he was pretty good,” said O’Brien.

“But he is only a freshman and he still had to come in and hit ball at the varsity level. I was really impressed with him in our first game back from Florida; we were playing a really good St. Augustine team and he was seeing the ball and taking pitches. He was recognizing pitches while some of our other guys were getting fooled. He is playing well above his years. He has really been good in the four-hole for us; he is hitting .529 with 27 RBIs.”

PDS has playing well collectively over the last few weeks. “We have won five out of six; we made a few changes to our lineup and the guys have settled in,” said O’Brien.

“We moved guys around. We have Rob Colton at catcher and moved Bradley Freid to his spot in the outfield. We moved Sean McCoy to first and we have JP at designated hitter. We moved one of our freshmen, Jake Alu, to third. We have kept the batting order; we have kept it the same the last seven or eight games. We can play small ball if necessary and the guys are comfortable banging away.”

O’Brien is growing increasingly comfortable with his pitching rotation. “Greg Auerbach, a junior, has given us the most innings; Matt Cook and Jacob Eisenberg are two seniors,” said O’Brien,

“Eisenberg has thrown some real good ballgames. Cook is 3-0 and pitched well against Peddie (a 3-2 win) last week. Cole [McManimon] has had a couple of victories. The pitchers have settled in and are throwing strikes and we are playing good defense behind them.”

The Panthers’ play has benefitted from blending battle-tested veterans with some precocious newcomers.

“It is a good mix,” said O’Brien. “Cook, Eisenberg, McCoy, and Beau Horan are giving us good senior leadership. Beau is playing good defense and hitting .407; things are coming together for him. We also have an influx of some good young players. Rob Colton has come in and is hitting at .500. He is a tough kid; we can’t have enough of those.”

In O’Brien’s view, the team has shown a toughness stemming from a  9-6 loss in extra innings to Pennington on April 14.

“In that first Pennington game; we were down 5-0 and then we came back,” said O’Brien. “We thought we let it slip away. We came out the next day and pounded Lawrenceville and we have been playing well ever since.”

With postseason action on the horizon, O’Brien is hoping that the Panthers can keep up its hot play.

“Right now we are playing consistently,” said O’Brien, whose team plays at South Hunterdon on May 2 before starting action in the Mercer County Tournament where sixth-seeded PDS will host No. 11 Ewing on May 5 in a first round contest.

“Hopefully we are peaking at the right time. If we play well, we can beat anyone.”

WELL DONE: Stuart Country Day senior lacrosse star Ani ­Hallowell heads up the field in recent action. Last Thursday, midfielder Hallowell scored five goals in a losing cause as Stuart fell 18-8 to the Lawrenceville School. The Tartans, who lost 13-7 to Rutgers Prep last Monday in the state Prep B tournament to drop to 1-8, play at Hamilton on May 2. Later in the week, Stuart starts action in the Mercer County Tournament where the 15th-seeded Tartans play at No. 2 Princeton High on May 4 in an opening round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Ani Hallowell didn’t waste any time displaying her offensive skills last Thursday as the Stuart Country Day School lacrosse team hosted Lawrenceville.

The Stuart senior star midfielder snatched the first two draws and snaked through the Lawrenceville defense to score two goals in the first 1:38 of the contest.

In reflecting on her hot start, Hallowell acknowledged that she had a little extra jump in her step against the Big Red.

“I guess I had a lot of energy today; my head was definitely in the game today,” said Hallowell. “I try to do that every game and I try to keep focused and in the game.”

With Hallowell triggering the attack, the underdog Tartans led Lawrenceville 6-5 with 10 minutes left in the half.

“We have a lot of new players and we know they have been trying to step up and today, we all stepped up and came together,” said Hallowell. “It really looked great in the first few minutes; we had a lot of confidence.”

Things didn’t go so great for the Tartans after that as the deeper Big Red gradually wore down Stuart. Lawrenceville reeled off a 6-0 run to take an 11-6 lead at halftime.

The gritty Tartans kept battling but couldn’t find a rhythm in the second half as they ultimately fell 18-8.

“We don’t tend to get discouraged when we get down; we try to answer back and fight back with as many goals as we can,” said Hallowell, who ended up with five goals on the day.

“There was just a little bit of miscalculation on passes and things like that but we definitely fought hard. I am proud of my team for that because there are a lot of new players on our team and we have definitely stepped it up a lot.”

As Stuart’s most battle-tested performer, Hallowell goes out of her way to encourage the team’s new players.

“I definitely try to be more of a leader of the team as a captain and as a senior,” asserted Hallowell.

“It is my fourth year on varsity so I know what it takes to play. I try to help the younger and the less experienced players more, so that our team can get better.”

Stuart first year head coach Caitlin Grant believes that Hallowell carries more than her share of the load for the Tartans.

“Ani is just an awesome player all around; she goes through everyone,” said Grant.

“I think the team relies on her too much sometimes. They watch her; they need to realize they can all contribute in a great way.”

Grant had fun watching her team push Lawrenceville in the first 15 minutes of the contest.

“We started out great; our passes were connecting,” said Grant who got a goal from Isabel Soto and two from Hallowell’s younger sister, sophomore Amy Hallowell. “Our girls played great together; we were winning the draws.”

The Tartans eventually ran out of gas against the Big Red. “We don’t have any subs; sometimes we have just one extra player,” said Grant, whose team fell 13-7 to Rutgers Prep last Monday in the first round of the state Prep B tournament to drop to 1-8.

“It’s hard because these midfielders run the whole game. They don’t get any breaks. These girls give it their all and they don’t give up.”

Freshman goalie Harlyn Bell has been giving her all as she has quickly picked up the game and her position.

“It is her first year playing lacrosse; she has only been playing for the past two months,” said Grant.

“I think she is great; she is aggressive. She clears the ball. Now, she is loud on defense. She really stepped it up this year.”

The future looks bright for Stuart as several young players have been stepping up this spring.

“Meghan Shannon as a defender has really stepped it up and on low defense,” added Grant.

“Isabel Soto is going to be one of the stars of the team next year; I am just waiting for her to burst out. I think we have some great girls on this team, a lot of them are young. Amy is a sophomore, Meghan is a sophomore. Harlyn is a freshman. So that makes me really happy.”

Grant is happy with the progress she has been seeing in her debut season at the helm of the program.

“I think we make small improvements every game and I wish that the season was longer,” said Grant, whose team plays at Hamilton on May 2 and then starts action in the Mercer County Tournament when the 15th-seeded Tartans play at No. 2 Princeton High on May 4 in an opening round contest.

I believe that in our Prep conference, us included, it is any team’s game on any day. It is whoever comes out wanting to win it.”

Hallowell, for her part, believes the Tartans can do some big things down the stretch.

“Going forward, we just need to keep our heads up and know that we can win games,” said Hallowell.

“We just have to keep our heads in the game and be on our game everyday.”

NEXT STEP: Paul Johnson, right, and Chad Bridges are all smiles in a recent shot. Johnson, a former Hun School and University of Virginia soccer star, has teamed up with Bridges to run the Next Level Soccer Academy (NLSA). With NLSA thriving, now including seven teams and approximately 150 players, the organization is looking to take the next step and build a year-round facility to serve as its headquarters and a training center for local athletes.

Paul Johnson knows the value of combining soccer with academics.

In the late 1990s, Johnson put together a legendary high school soccer career for the Hun School, earning All-American and All-State honors and playing with the U.S. U-17 and U-19 programs.

Utilizing his soccer prowess and Hun education, Johnson went on to the University of Virginia where he became a starter and a key performer for the school’s 2003 ACC championship squad.

Returning to the Princeton area after graduation, Johnson formed FC Trenton United club in 2007 to instill values of soccer, education, and community service.

Two years later, Johnson teamed up with longtime friend Chad Bridges, merging his operation into Bridges’ Next Level Soccer Academy (NLSA).

For Johnson, becoming involved with Bridges and NLSA was a natural step.

“Chad wholeheartedly goes after it and he wants the best for the kids,” said Johnson, who coaches the Pennington School boys’ soccer team with Bridges, the school’s Dean of Students.

“He tends to be an extension of me, sharing my values and my goals. I kind of shut down what we were doing and pulled it over to him. He does a lot of community outreach and we decided to join forces.”

With NLSA thriving, now including seven teams and approximately 150 players, the organization is looking to take the next step and build a year-round facility to serve as its headquarters and a training center for local athletes.

“From the beginning I knew there was a need for a facility in the Mercer County area,” said Johnson, who is the NLSA Director of Training and Player Development while Bridges serves as the executive director of the organization.

“We saw the need, whether it was for under privileged kids or those that were privileged. They clearly have nowhere to train year round so stuff was being lost.”

As a high school star, Johnson saw how a year-round facility can aid development.

“I had the good fortune to go to IMG, now the Bollettieri Sports Academy, when I was with the national team during my high school career,” said Johnson, referring to the famed training facility for athletic, academic, and personal development in Bradenton, Fla.

“I kind of wanted to replicate that up here. It gives the kids an opportunity to stay off the streets and gives them an outlet to further their careers. We know the percentage of high school athletes that get to go and play in college and get scholarships is less than 4 percent. It is really minimal so every minute and every training session means something.”

Noting that the proposed structure will be modeled after the Philadelphia Eagles Nova Care training center featuring a bubble covered by steel and fabric, Johnson said it will be a multi-purpose facility.

“It will be 350,000 square feet with soccer fields, basketball courts, and pyramid seating so you’ll be able to sit on both sides and watch,” said Johnson.

“It is going to have a full gym and a training room where you will be able to do rehab. It will also have a classroom for tutoring, homework, and SAT preparation. We are not saying that we are only soccer. There will be soccer lines on the fields but we are also open to lacrosse, field hockey, and flag football. We are open to the community for rentals as well.”

In order to jump start fundraising for the project, NLSA is holding its Banquet/Gala on May 19 at Dave and Busters near the Franklin Mills Mall.

“It is called ‘Goals to Gold,’ the ‘goals’ is an acronym for giving objectives to achieve leadership skills,” said Johnson, referring to the function which is open to the public with tickets costing $125 for adults and guests 18 and over and further information available on the organization’s website at www.nextlevelsoccer.net.

The NLSA is also launching another fundraising initiative, “10 Million People Who Care,” in which it is seeking donations of $1 or more from millions of donors.

“We realized at the end of the day that so many people say they care and want to help,” explained Johnson, noting that the club is looking to get the word out through social and mainstream media.

“We decided we could raise money from all of those people. We are looking for 10 million people to donate a dollar essentially. The actual funding is a little more. We figure once we get there; we can bridge it with a bank.”

Johnson sees the NLSA as a bridge between sports and the community.

“At the end of the day you have to sell a product that is going to help the kids and have the kids in mind,” said Johnson, noting that NLSA has been giving back to the community through working at soup kitchens, donating balls to Haiti, doing food and clothing drives and holding a Trenton World Cup day where the organization provided soccer instruction and T-shirts.

“We see a need in the area; we are hoping that people will buy into it and want to donate to us. The kids need to have good facilities.”

Making that vision a reality can help kids achieve their dreams. “We want to grow the game as well as grow the kids in the area; our goal is to do it the right way,” added Johnson, who pointed out that the NLSA will be hosting camps this summer and will be running the Turning Wheels College Showcase Camp from July 8-11 at the Golden Goal Soccer Complex near Lake George in New York.

“We want to help as many kids in the future that we can; hopefully the sooner the better. We have been told it is going to be hard and how are we going to raise this money. There have got to be people in this world that care; we trust the human heart.”

April 25, 2012

STAYING ALIVE: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Cassie Pyle races up the field in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior midfielder Pyle scored four goals to help Princeton top Dartmouth 12-9 as the Tigers stayed alive for a berth in the four-team Ivy League tournament. No. 19 Princeton faces another must-win situation this Wednesday evening when it hosts 15th-ranked Penn (7-5 overall, 5-1 Ivy). A loss by the Tigers would drop them to fifth place and out of the Ivy tourney. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While Cassie Pyle and her teammates on the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team knew they faced a must-win situation when they hosted Dartmouth last Saturday, they didn’t dwell on the big picture.

“We knew we had to win this game; it was a huge game to get into the tournament and just for our team in general,” said senior midfielder Pyle, reflecting on the contest against the No. 7 Big Green which Princeton needed to win to stay alive for a berth in the four-team Ivy League tournament.

“We are better than we have been playing so we really wanted to prove that to ourselves. But the one thing that we didn’t want to do was come in thinking that we had to win and all the negative aspects of that. We just wanted to focus on how big of an opportunity this was for us.”

In the early going, Dartmouth seized opportunity, jumping to a 3-1 lead before the game was six minutes old.

“You are a little bit worried but you stick with your game plan,” said Pyle, reflecting on the early deficit.

“We knew that if we stuck to it we would be good and we didn’t get on each other. We didn’t yell at each other; it was a good feeling all the way around.”

Pyle got the Tigers feeling really good, scoring three goals over the next 10 minutes as Princeton went on a 4-1 run to forge ahead 5-4.

“It was the roll we got on; it really pumped us up and got us excited,” said Pyle.

“I  think better than ever, we really got excited about the little things that people did. We just fed off that.”

The Tigers took a 7-5 lead into halftime and then took care of things after that, posting a 12-9 win in improving to 7-6 overall and 4-2 Ivy.

No. 19 Princeton faces another must-win situation this Wednesday evening when it hosts 15th-ranked Penn (7-5 overall, 5-1 Ivy). A loss by the Tigers would drop them to fifth place and out of the Ivy tourney.

Pyle liked how Princeton responded Saturday down the stretch as it built on the momentum it seized in the first half.

“Our halftime was getting excited about what we did but really focusing on the fact that they could easily come back,” said Pyle, a 5’4 native of Alexandria, Va. who ended up with a team-high four goals on the day.

“They are a great team, they had such an impressive attack and defense and everything. We didn’t want to let them come back. They did get a few goals in the beginning but we wanted to keep pushing and never let up or get timid.”

With only a handful of games left in her career, Pyle is looking to push hard to the end.

“It is definitely sad; I want to have as many games as I can,” said Pyle, who now has a team-high 36 goals this season and a total of 106 in her superb career.

“You definitely want to end the season stronger than when you started it and I definitely think we have a strong possibility of doing that at the end of the day. If we finish the season strong, I will be so happy.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer was happy with the strong performance her team produced in the win over Dartmouth.

“I think it really shows our resilience; we knew our backs were, and will continue to be against the wall,” said Sailer.

“It is clear that we want to get to postseason so you really saw that fight today. In a competitive game, we haven’t really put together goalkeeping, offense, and defense. Today we did that; every single kid stepped up and that is what we needed to beat a very talented Dartmouth team.”

In Sailer’s view, Pyle stepped up in a big way for the Tigers. “Cassie is a competitor too; she did so well,” added Sailer. “She is so quick; she is so hard to defend. She had an awesome day.”

Freshman goalie Annie Woehling had some awesome moments in the win, making nine saves, including several point-blank stops.

“When she is making saves like that, it gives you so much momentum and the team so much confidence,” said Sailer, referring to Woehling, who was later named the Ivy Defensive Player of the Week. “We have got to work on the clears a little bit but I felt she had a great day.”

A pair of freshmen came through on the offensive end as Erin McMunn tallied three goals and two assists while classmate Erin Slifer chipped in two goals and two assists.

“They raised their games, no question,” asserted Sailer, who also got two goals from junior midfielder Charlotte Davis with junior attacker Sam Ellis chipping in one.

“McMunn has always been a feeder but today she comes through with three goals and two assists. She and Slifer played on the same club team so they definitely have that connection. They had some gorgeous goals out there today.”

The Tigers will have to keep making connections in order to beat Penn.

“Penn is an experienced team; they have been in these type of situations a lot of times,” said Sailer.

“They have a great goalie [Emily Leitner]; she is a big kid who takes up a lot of the cage and is really talented. They have got Erin Brennan, who is now a senior. They have players that are able to do some damage, both off the challenge and off the feed. They are always known for their defense.”

In the wake of Princeton’s performance against Dartmouth, Sailer believes her team is up for that challenge.

“If we can play like we played today, I like our chances there,” said Sailer. whose team beat Penn twice last year, prevailing in the regular season and in the Ivy semifinals. “We just gained a ton of confidence and really played smart lacrosse and executed well.”

Pyle, for her part, is confident that the Tigers can execute in a second straight grudge match.

“We are really happy to have these two games at the end because they are such big rivalries; it is so exciting,” said Pyle.

“We are going to try to do the same thing that we did today, not focus on the negative aspects but focus on the opportunities. We need to really ride the momentum from this game and just keep pushing and getting better.”