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.”

TOM TERRIFIC: Princeton University men’s lacrosse star Tom Schreiber flings the ball upfield in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore midfielder Schreiber tallied four goals and an assist as Princeton topped Harvard 12-5. The 12th-ranked Tigers, now 9-3 overall and 5-0 in Ivy League play, host No. 7 Cornell, 9-2 overall and 4-1 Ivy, on Saturday night in a pivotal clash. The winner will host the upcoming Ivy tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Chris Bates vowed that he was not going to let his Princeton University men’s lacrosse team look past
Harvard.

But with a showdown against Cornell looming on the horizon, the Princeton head coach wasn’t sure if his players were getting the message as they prepared last week to face the Crimson on Saturday.

“We were not happy with how they practiced; I think they were tight,” said Bates. “Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were average practices. They were a little sloppy; they didn’t execute well.”

But showing that practice performance isn’t necessarily a harbinger of things to come, the Tigers roared out of the gate in Cambridge last Saturday, jumping out to a 5-1 lead after the first quarter and bringing a 7-2 advantage into halftime.

Princeton sophomore star Tom Schreiber scored two goals in the first nine minutes of the contest with freshman Kip Orban adding two more and classmate Mike MacDonald chipping in one as the Tigers seized the momentum in the first quarter.

“I was surprised at how they came out like gangbusters,” said Bates. “We learned that we have to trust these guys to perform when the lights go on. Schreiber got the first two. They came off a couple of broken plays; he sensed the magnitude of the game. Orban got the next two. We scored on six of our first nine possessions.”

Getting the early edge got Princeton into a flow that continued until the final whistle.

“That gives you breathing room; it loosens you up,” said Bates, who got four goals from Schreiber on the day with Orban scoring two and MacDonald, Jeff Froccaro, Forest Sonnenfeldt, Tucker Shanley, Chris White, and Derick Raabe chipping in one apiece. “If we hadn’t gotten off to a start like that, we may have gotten tight like we were in practice.”

With its defense tightening the screws after intermission, the Tigers never looked back, pulling away to a 12-5 win over the Crimson before a crowd of 1,809 at Harvard Stadium.

The victory improved 12th-ranked Princeton to 9-3 overall and 5-0 in Ivy League play, setting up the long-awaited clash against rival Cornell this Saturday night at Class of 1952 Stadium. The No. 7 Big Red, who fell to Brown 10-9 last Saturday, bring a 9-2 overall record and 4-1 Ivy mark into the contest that will be nationally televised on ESPNU. The winner of the showdown will host the upcoming Ivy tournament.

In stifling Harvard, Princeton got a winning effort from senior defender and tri-captain Chad Wiedmaier, who produced a monster game with three caused turnovers, seven ground balls, and one assist.

“Wiedmaier didn’t play particularly well against Harvard last year,” said Bates. “He was playing like a man possessed last Saturday. He was sliding well; he caused turnovers, got ground balls and even got an assist. The defense played well as a whole; it was one of our better games of the year.”

One of the better-kept secrets on Princeton this season has been the play of senior defender Jonathan Meyers.

“Meyers has been in Chad’s shadow; he has had a really solid year and an on-ball defense,” said Bates, of a defense that was anchored superbly again by senior goalie and tri-captain Tyler Fiorito as he recorded 15 saves.

“He is key on the man-down unit; he is a big reason why we are doing well there. He is leading the team in ground balls.”

Sounding a cautionary note, Bates pointed out that Princeton didn’t do well on face-offs in the win over Harvard.

“One area of concern was that we didn’t face off well,” said Bates. “Their guy did a good job. If you had told me that we would be 5-of-21 on face-offs and win by seven, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

As Bates looks ahead to Cornell, he is concerned about the impact of the Big Red’s stunning loss to Brown (6-7 overall, 2-3 Ivy) last weekend.

“Cornell is very good; they got caught against Brown,” noted Bates, whose team clinched a share of the Ivy crown through the combination of its win over Harvard and Cornell’s loss to Brown.

“That could serve to motivate them even more since everything is still on the line for them. We have a share of the title but if we lose to Cornell, it won’t feel too good.”

Princeton would feel very good to be at home for the Ivy tourney which will be held on May 4 and 6.

“Heading into the tournament having beaten Cornell, and being in friendly confines, and having people come to us would be a lift emotionally and psychologically,” said Bates.

Bates acknowledges that Cornell has plenty of people who can pose problems for his squad. The Big Red are averaging 12.45 goals a game and have six players with at least 14 goals.

“Cornell gets scoring from a lot of different players; we expect that [Rob] Pannell may be back,” said Bates, referring to the Big Red senior star who has been sidelined since early March due to a broken foot.

“They have two good offensive midfield lines and an attack that produces. It is easier to prepare for a team that has one or two main scoring threats. They are solid defensively, they play good team defense, some of the best we have seen in a while. It is just a good all-around team.”

The Tigers will need a good all-around effort to overcome Cornell. “We need to face off well; Tyler has to play a Tyler game,” said Bates.

“We need to minimize turnovers and have good decision-making on offense. The defense has been solid; we have been consistent in that area. We know what we are going to get.”

DOUBLE CLICK: Princeton High boys’ tennis first doubles players Kevin Qiu, left, and Adib Zaidi chat between points last week at the Mercer County Tournament. The duo of Qiu and Zaidi took third place in their flight, helping PHS tie Peddie for fifth in the team standings of the 18-school event which took place at Mercer County Park. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Kevin Qiu knew he had to assume the role of mentor in his partnership with freshman Adib Zaidi at first doubles for the Princeton High boys’ tennis team.

Having played two years at doubles for the Little Tigers, Qiu has helped neophyte Zaidi learn the ropes on working in tandem.

“It is tougher because Adib is a singles player so he always feels like he needs to cover everything,” said Qiu.

“When you play doubles, you have got to remember it is not about believing in yourself but believing in each other. You have to trust each other to carry the work and to just play to the best of your abilities.”

Last week at the Mercer County Tournament, the duo showed a lot of ability in the opening rounds, posting two straight-set wins on the way to the semifinals.

Qiu and Zaidi thought they had a good chance to top John Hu and Peter Ku of WW/P-S in the semis.

“Coming in, we really expected to win,” said Qiu. “We practiced new things to try to counter how they play. I had played them last year so we knew to really work on our poaches and volleys. We kept on telling ourselves point by point.”

Unfortunately for Qiu and Zaidi, they didn’t get enough points as they fell 6-3, 6-3 to the WW/P-S pair, who went on to win the title.

Showing their growing trust, Qiu and Zaidi overcame the disappointment from the semis loss to beat Brandon Kumar and Rohan Gupta of Peddie 6-1, 6-4 to take third place.

“We were pretty sad from our South match so we just went in there and told each other to work hard,” recalled Qiu.

“We can get a medal and get points for our team; that was pretty much the mindset going in.”

PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert was happy to see her first doubles tandem fight for that third place medal.

“They have the potential to be a great team; they both have really strong shots and good doubles knowledge,” said Hibbert, whose team ended up in tie for fifth with Peddie in the team standings of the 18-school competition that was won by WW/P-S.

“The key for them is just playing well at the same time; I think these last couple of matches have really helped. They were right there in the semis; it was a real close match. They had some chances that they were unfortunately unable to capitalize on. I was proud of the way they were able to turn it around and still come back and get third today.”

The PHS second doubles pair of freshmen Tyler Hack and Rishab Tanga battled valiantly for third place but came up short as they fell 6-3, 6-2 to Dan Wang and Sanandh Ravu of WW/P-N.

“They fought hard; there were some really long points and some exceptionally long games and they were right there,” said Hibbert.

“They are both freshmen and this is a first experience for them. I am really proud of the way they got through their first round against Peddie; it was a real tough team. They were playing more experienced teams. I think another few matches here the rest of the season and next year they have the potential of doing great things.”

The PHS singles players experienced some frustration as they were knocked out on the first day. Eddie Percarpio fell in the opening round at first singles while Robert Zhao and Julian Edgren were eliminated in the second round at second and third singles, respectively.

“We had some tough matches; we had some tough draws, “ added Hibbert, reflecting on the performance of her singles players.

“The guys all lost to either a No. 1 or 2 seed so there is no shame in that. They put up good fights; sometimes that is all you can ask for.”

In Hibbert’s view, the experience gained at the MCT should toughen PHS for the fights ahead.

“I hope these matches will help us moving forward,” said Hibbert, whose team has a match at Allentown on April 26, hosts Steinert on April 27, and then plays at Ewing on April 30.

“Our doubles will be a little more experienced and our singles will have good competition as well. We start the meat of the season next now; four matches a week and states. It all happens quick.”

Qiu, for his part, believes that he and Zaidi will be even more competitive going forward.

“I think after this tournament, we improved dramatically,” said Qiu. “All that stuff is going to translate well.”

BLACK MAGIC: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse player ­Louie Blackburn heads up the field in recent action. Last week, sophomore midfielder Blackburn scored two fourth quarter goals as PDS edged Hun 9-8. The Panthers, now 4-3, are next in action when they host the Ranney School on April 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team falling behind Hun 8-7 early in the fourth quarter last week, Louie Blackburn decided to take matters into his hands.

Even though the sophomore midfielder had been held scoreless for the first three quarters, Blackburn thought he could make a difference.

“I just told myself that someone had to step up,” recalled Blackburn. “We needed to put a few in the back of the net; we hadn’t been shooting a lot earlier in the game. Our coach [Rob Tuckman] said just ‘get it on net boys and it will go in.’”

Blackburn took those words to heart, scoring with 6:47 left in regulation and then finding the back of the net nearly ninety seconds later in what turned out to be the game winner as PDS pulled out a 9-8 nailbiter.

In reflecting on the rally, Blackburn acknowledged that the Panthers needed to wake up down the stretch.

“I was laying back a little bit; I wasn’t happy with how non-aggressive we were playing as a whole team,” said Blackburn.

“I thought we were letting up a little bit but our coach always tells us to never stop, never let off the gas pedal. We just kept going there and finished strong in the fourth quarter.”

With a season of high school lacrosse under his belt, Blackburn feels he is a stronger player.

“I think I have grown a bit into my own body,” said Blackburn, who also stars for the PDS boys’ hockey team.

“I have been getting mentally stronger which is the most important thing on the field. I have gotten a lot of help from the older guys on the team in stepping up.”

Blackburn has gotten some help from his older brother, Peter, a 2011 PDS grad, who starred in lacrosse and hockey.

“My brother always says the confidence will come as you get older,” said Blackburn.

“Hopefully that is what I have been seeing here in the past couple of games and hopefully it will continue throughout.”

PDS head coach Rob Tuckman liked the confidence his players displayed as they staged their late rally.

“I thought possession was the difference,” said Tuckman. “When we had the ball on our stick and we were on the offensive end, we played well and we played confident. We put it in the back of the net.”

In Tuckman’s view, Blackburn will continue to put more in the net if he keeps getting mentally stronger.

“For Louie, it is all about confidence,” said Tuckman. “If we can get him feeling good, he plays well.”

Having junior star Cody Triolo patrolling the midfield gives Tuckman an additional dose of confidence.

“Cody is solid all the way around; even when they were sliding quick on him, he still managed to be a force on the field,” said Tuckman, whose team ran into a force last Friday as it fell 13-3 to undefeated Somerville to move to 4-3. “He is great to have.”

PDS freshman goalie Griffin Thompson is proving that he has the potential to become something special.

“Griffin had a good second half today; he is coming off injury and he has to get his sea legs,” said Tuckman, who credited senior captain Zac Higgins and junior Derek Bell with spearheading the Panther defense in front of Thompson.

“He is getting there; he is a freshman so the hooting and hollering can get to him at times.”

The Panthers have been getting better as they go through the season.

“I think as we are moving forward, we are playing well,” said Tuckman, whose team hosts Ranney School on April 27.

“We have some adjustments that we have to continue to make but I think, all in all, I feel pretty good about it.”

Blackburn, for his part, feels that PDS can do some good things if it makes those adjustments.

“I always think there is room for improvement; never stop and never accept a loss,” said Blackburn.

“I think if we continue to improve as much as we should, we’ll finish up with a really strong season and record.”

HARD LESSON: Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse head coach Jill Thomas makes a point during her team’s 19-5 loss at Lawrenceville last Thursday. Learning some lessons from that defeat, PDS rebounded to beat George School (Pa.) 13-5 last Saturday and Stuart Country Day 14-5 on Monday. The Panthers, now 7-6, play at Princeton High on April 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After not making much of an impact last spring in her debut season on the Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse team, Lucy Linville decided to do something about it.

“I didn’t play very much freshman year,” said Linville. “I worked really hard in the summer. I went to a lot of clinics and worked on it.”

She supplemented that work by training sessions with older sister and former PDS star, Cammie, now a junior standout for the Lafayette College women’s team.

“Over breaks and when she comes home, we go out and play lacrosse,” said Linville.

Last Saturday, Linville did a pretty good imitation of her older sister, tallying four goals and an assist to help PDS top George School (Pa.) 13-5.

The offensive outburst was critical for Linville and the Panthers as they were looking to bounce back from a deflating 19-5 loss at Lawrenceville two days earlier.

“We had a lot of confidence and the Lawrenceville game really shot us down,” said Linville.

“We have been working so hard in practice, especially yesterday after that loss. We needed to get back.”

In Linville’s view, the Panthers got back in the flow offensively in the win over George.

“It definitely gave me confidence,” said Linville. “I think it gave the whole team confidence because many of our goals did not come from our top scorers and there were a lot of assists.”

PDS head coach Jill Thomas came into the game with a basic message. “I told them today that our goal was one word, ‘rebound,’ and they did,” said Thomas.

The Panthers didn’t waste any time bouncing back, jumping out to a 9-1 halftime lead.

“I  think we were good in transition,” said Thomas, whose team was good again last Monday as it topped Stuart Country Day 14-5 to improve to 7-6.

“There was a lot of communication; a lot of young kids stepped up today. We got out of the gate well. We didn’t even show up on Thursday but we got over it.”

Thomas likes the way Linville has been stepping up. “Lucy is figuring out how to not have those ups and downs and move forward,” added Thomas, who also  got a big day in the win over George from another sophomore as Emma Quigley contributed a goal and two assists.

“She has been more consistent day-to-day-to-day. She made some nice connections on the field today. That’s good because the more people who can put the ball in the net or pass the ball or catch it down low, it only adds to our play on offense.”

The PDS defense was spearhead by the combination of freshman Kirsten Kuzmicz and junior Louise Hutter.

“Kirsten just leads by example; we have her almost playing a center field position,” said Thomas.

“With her getting those interceptions and knocking those balls down, everyone gets a little more confidence watching her. Hutter just reads it; she sees it coming and is there when the ball gets there and is there when the ground ball gets there. We count on her to be the captain of the defense. She stepped up and got more people communicating.”

Thomas is counting on her team to get better and better as it heads down the homestretch.

“We still have a lot of people who are injured and a lot of people who aren’t in game shape yet from injuries,” said Thomas, whose team plays at Princeton High on April 27.

“They are getting the idea of what it means. So if they can keep doing all the little things, I think they’ll be alright.”

In Linville’s view, things will go well for PDS if it can maintain the scoring balance it displayed in the victory over George.

“I think building more confidence and getting everybody in the offense is key,” said Linville.

“I think definitely having people who don’t normally score get in there will help us, the defense doesn’t know who to cover.”

CONSOLATION PRIZE: Hun School boys’ tennis star Chris Seitz hits a forehand last week at the Mercer County Tournament. After absorbing a painful 7-6, 7-6 loss to eventual champion Robbinsville’s Ramy Bekhiet in the first singles semifinal, Seitz bounced back to take third place. The Villanova-bound senior star topped Pennington’s Jerry Jiang 6-2, 6-3 in the third place match held last Wednesday at Mercer County Park. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Chris Seitz ended his final appearance at the Mercer County Tournament with a victory.

But for the Hun School boys’ tennis senior star, the triumph wasn’t the one he wanted as it came in the third-place match at first singles rather than in a championship showdown.

After taking second at first singles in his first three appearances at the MCT, Seitz was primed to end his county run in a blaze of glory with a crown.

Seeded No. 2, Seitz cruised through the opening rounds of the competition on April 16 with two straight-set victories.

In the semifinal last Wednesday, Seitz came up on the short end of a straight-set decision, falling 7-6, 7-6 to Robbinsville’s Ramy Bekhiet, who went on to win the title.

Seitz acknowledged that he had to overcome disappointment as he took the court for the subsequent third-place match against Pennington’s Jerry Jiang.

“It is definitely hard to go out an hour later after that match,” said Seitz. “It was really tough.”

Displaying his mental toughness, Seitz gutted out a 6-2, 6-3 win over Jiang.

“I definitely had to fight through things in the opening set but it was a good match,” said Seitz.

“I think the ball Jerry was giving me was just a lot more friendly than the semis match. I could take it higher and control the points more.”

While Seitz would have liked a higher finish in his county finale, he leaves with some indelible memories of the competition.

“It is still good to do so well at this tournament,” said Seitz, reflecting on his third-place finish.

“I will always remember freshman year, just coming in and taking second. It was so good; the four years were amazing.”

Seitz’s game has shown good improvement over the last four years. “I have definitely gotten a lot stronger,” said Seitz. “I am able to control the points and play defense if I have to.”

Next year, Seitz will test his strength at the college level as he heads to Villanova University where he will compete for the school’s men’s tennis program.

“I really like their business program and the fact that I could play Division I tennis too,” said Seitz, in reflecting on his college decision.

Hun head coach Todd Loffredo liked the way that his senior star took care of business in the third place match.

“I think he was upset because he thinks he let the team down,” said Loffredo, referring to Seitz’s semifinal loss.

“We were happy to see him come out here and play against Jerry, who had a really good match against Kenny Zheng [in the quarterfinals] and then played a really close first set against Michael Song. Chris was ready to play here; he wanted third place.”

Over his Hun career, Seitz showed he could play with the best in the county.

“I remember his first year when he almost beat out [Neil] Karandikar [of Princeton Day School],” said Loffredo.

“I am proud of him. We are both a little disappointed but he did his best and that’s all you can ask.”

In Loffredo’s view, he got all he could ask from his players collectively as the Raiders tied for seventh place in the team standings at the 18-school competition.

“I feel like at the MCT we always hit our stride,” said Loffredo. “The kids have played with each other enough where they are finally used to playing with each other. It is a lot of tennis and they come together as a team and I really like how they support each other. All of them played really well.”

With Hun having produced a 4-2 start in dual match play, Loffredo sees some good tennis ahead for the squad.

“We are going to do our best; we are just looking forward to finishing the season strong,” added Loffredo, whose team has home matches against Rutgers Prep on April 26 and Lawrenceville School on May 1. “Hopefully we can keep a winning record going and keep spirits high.”

Seitz, for his part, believes Hun can produce a spirited finish. “We are doing really well right now,” asserted Seitz.

“We have a lot of confidence going into dual matches and we just have to stay positive. The Prep A will be a good opportunity to finish the season strong.”

CELEBRATION TIME: Hun School girls’ lacrosse star Kate Weeks, right, and Bri Barrett celebrate after a goal in a recent contest. Last Saturday, junior star Weeks scored seven goals to help Hun top Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) 16-4. The Raiders, now 4-3, host the Hill School (Pa.) on April 25 before getting into postseason play. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Kate Weeks is not one to rest on her laurels.

After scoring 61 goals last spring in her sophomore season with the Hun School girls’ lacrosse team and recently committing to Boston College and its women’s lacrosse team, Weeks hasn’t gone on cruise control.

“I just work on every aspect of my game,” said junior midfielder Weeks, who plays for the Ultimate Lacrosse club program and New Jersey’s U19 national tournament team. “I practice, practice, and practice.”

The fruits of Weeks’ labor were on display last Thursday even as Hun lost 21-12 to visiting Peddie. The junior standout scored eight goals, showing some elusive moves and powerful shots from a variety of angles as she tormented the Peddie defense.

Despite being the clear go-to player for the Raiders, Weeks isn’t dwelling on her stats.

“Whatever it takes to win, just do it,” said Weeks, who scored seven goals last Saturday as Hun topped Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) 16-4 in improving to 4-3.

“Whoever gets the goal is whoever gets it. I just want to do what it takes to win the game.”

In the early going against Peddie, it looked like Hun was going to stay in the game against the powerful Falcons.

The Raiders trailed 7-6 with 5:45 left in the first half with Weeks having tallied five to that point.

“I think we started really strong,” said Weeks. “Peddie is a great team. I think we came out and did very well against a hard team.”

The Falcons, though, scored the final two goals of the half and then went on a 9-2 run after halftime. Hun didn’t stop fighting, outscoring Peddie 5-3 over the last eight minutes of the contest.

“I think we played really, really strong, especially over the last three minutes,” said Weeks.

“Our true athletic ability comes out with our double teams and everything. We fought until the end; there was no laziness.”

For Weeks, ending her college search with the decision to attend Boston College isn’t going to make her lazy.

“I just picked the school that I fell in love with but also had a top team,” said Weeks.

“I went with my gut. I got an athletic scholarship and that helped a lot. I basically got down to five from my top 10 and chose from there. Now I am working 10 times harder since I committed.”

Hun head coach Beth Loffredo admires Weeks’ commitment to the game.

“Kate is just so driven and focused,” said Loffredo. “She puts in the work that is required to be as good as she is and she makes people around her better. She makes coaches better.”

Loffredo was hoping that Hun would give Peddie a better game. “I thought we would come out a little bit stronger but I always set my expectations really high, especially for this group,” said Loffredo. “We didn’t adjust well enough or quickly enough. It really hurt us.”

While Hun may not have initially adjusted to the Peddie onslaught, Loffredo was proud of how her team kept battling.

“Even though we were still behind by nine goals, once we get our momentum and we know what works for us, we are hard to stop,” added Loffredo. “A couple more minutes and it could have been a different score.”

Loffredo credits senior defensive star Emily Decicco with making a big difference for the Raiders.

“Emily is one of those people where you get her going and she can can get everybody else going and get that momentum,” said Loffredo.

“It is not easy to be a 17 or an 18 year old kid and trying to be a captain and hold everyone accountable. She is doing a great job. She really makes it clear to them, ‘I am staying positive, we are still in this.’ She does a great job with transition. She is smart; she works hard.”

Hun has the chance to do some great things down the stretch if it can smarter all over the field.

“Going forward, we need to be playing solid through our lowest attacker to our goalie,” said Loffredo, whose team hosts the Hill School (Pa.) on April 25 before getting into postseason play.

“There are just little pieces where we are falling apart. I think when we do come together, we will be a force. I am just waiting for it all to click.”

In Weeks’ view, the Hun players are clicking on and off the field. “We are strongly bonded; we are like a family,” said Weeks.

“You win together, you lose together. We are 10 times better than last year. You have to work hard everyday and that’s what we are going to do.”

ON THE MARK: Hun School boys’ lacrosse player Mark Burke fires the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, senior midfielder and team captain Burke tallied three goals to help Hun top Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) 12-3. The Raiders, now 5-4, play at Peddie on April 26, at South Brunswick on April 28, and at Somerville on May 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Showing some inexperience, the Hun School boys’ lacrosse team found itself trailing Princeton Day School 7-4 in the third quarter last week in the annual meeting between the local rivals.

But with the game seemingly slipping away, the Raiders summoned some youthful energy to make a spirited rally, scoring the last three goals of the period to even the game at 7-7.

Hun forged ahead 8-7 in the first minute of the fourth as Iain Alexandridis found the back of the net. The Raiders, though, never scored again as they dropped a 9-8 nailbiter to PDS.

In assessing the setback, first-year Hun head coach Don Green saw the game as a valuable learning experience.

“We showed tremendous composure; we haven’t been behind and able to come back yet,” said Green, who is using a number of freshmen and sophomores in key roles this spring.

“So the fact that we were able to do that and be competitive in a tight game was great to see. It is building and that is our goal for this year. We want to build for the future, having the seniors help the young guys and start a tradition.”

Green pointed to senior midfielder Mark Burke as a veteran who is really helping the Raiders.

“I have really been impressed with Mark Burke; he has really stepped up as a senior captain and a leader,” asserted Green of Burke, who tallied three goals last Saturday as Hun topped Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) 12-3 to improve to 5-4.

“He is playing as hard as anyone I have ever seen and his leadership is showing through.”

Burly junior midfielder Zach Bicho has been giving Hun some hard work in the critical face-off area.

“Bicho has been dominating the face-offs and making very intelligent decisions with the ball after the face-off,” said Green of Bicho, who contributed four goals in the win over Mercersburg to go with his outstanding face-off work.

“That is keeping us in games and keeping us competitive so what he is doing is invaluable.”

Freshman attacker Brendan Black exemplifies the wave of young stars that are coming up through the ranks for Green’s squad. Black tallied a team-high four goals in the loss to PDS and added a goal and an assist in the victory over Mercersburg.

“Brendan Black is an extremely intelligent lacrosse player; he plays a lot and that is the thing,” added Green, who is getting major contributions from sophomores Matthew Bruno, Cameron Dudeck, and Devin Cheifetz together with freshmen Matteo Favalaro, Jameson DeMarco, and Tucker Stevenson.

“He looks like a freshman because he is tiny. If it weren’t for that, you would think that he is a senior from the way he plays. His field IQ and lacrosse IQ are tremendous. When he is a junior and senior, he is going to be a big-time impact player.”

In Green’s view, the Raiders have the potential to develop into a big-time team.

“We see tremendous progress, leaps and bounds,” said Green, whose team plays at Peddie on April 26, at South Brunswick on April 28, and at Somerville on May 1.

“Right now we are talking about getting over the hump. Some of it is experience in a game like today; it was two teams that were going back and forth. The bottom line is that if we just get a little better in every aspect, we are going to jump over that hump.”

April 18, 2012

ARMOUR PLATED: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Luke Armour fires the ball up the field in a game last season. Junior attacker Armour was on target last Saturday, tallying three goals and an assist to help Princeton top Dartmouth 21-6. No. 13 Princeton, now 8-3 overall and 4-0 Ivy League, plays at Harvard (6-6 overall, 2-2 Ivy) on April 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As a kid, Luke Armour became a fan of the New Jersey Pride of Major League Lacrosse, developing a greater appreciation for the fine points of the game.

“Growing up, I was watching the greats,” said Montclair native Armour.

“I was watching Jesse Hubbard, Jon Hess, and Chris Massey when they played on the Pride.”

Looking to follow in the footsteps of that trio of Princeton lax legends, Armour came to the nearby Lawrenceville School and emerged as a star.

In 2009, he joined the Tiger men’s lax program and was assigned No. 16, the number worn by Hubbard.

For Armour, just donning a Princeton uniform is a dream come true.

“It is extremely special; it is really an honor to be out there,” said Armour. “To wear No. 16 is a total honor.”

Last Saturday, junior attacker Armour brought honor to the Tigers and that No. 16, tallying three goals and an assist as Princeton dismantled Dartmouth 21-6 before a sun-splashed crowd of 1,618 at Class of 1952 Stadium.

While Armour was proud to make a solid contribution as Princeton improved to 8-3 overall and 4-0 Ivy League, he credited his teammates with putting him in a position to succeed.

“To be honest, I think on the goals that I scored, the credit should really go to the guys who set it up,” said the 5’11, 190-pound Armour, who now has six points this year on three goals and three assists and is up to 21 points in his Tiger career with 13 goals and eight assists.

“We had great movement off ball and great ball movement. My goals were the easy part.”

It was great for Armour to be in action as he been hampered by injury this spring.

“I tore my plantar fascia in my right foot,” said Armour, who was sidelined after Princeton’s loss to North Carolina on March 10 and returned to action on April 10 in the Tigers’ 13-4 win over Rutgers.

“I have just been working to get my shape back and get back in the swing of things. I feel really great out there and I think that if I can give us a little boost and some energy on the offensive side that would be great.”

For Armour, that month on the sideline was spent working hard to get back up to speed.

“I took four weeks off,” recalled Armour, noting that his stint Saturday was his first substantial action of the season.

“I was in a boot and I took all the pressure off my foot. Then I started running around and strengthening and doing rehab. Our training staff has been great; now I feel pretty much back to normal. I started practicing a week and a half ago. It has been great to be back with my friends. It was really hard watching from the sidelines, particularly on days like today when it is pristine. It is great to be be back.”

Princeton head coach Chris Bates liked having Armour back. “We have played relatively well offensively and when you are out, it is tough to break a lineup,” said Bates.

“Luke is always ready. He will always let us know he is ready and we appreciate that he wants to play. It was nice for him to come out and put a couple of goals in the back of the net and just get back into the flow.”

After falling behind 1-0 on a goal by former Princeton High standout and Dartmouth sophomore Mike Olentine, the 13th-ranked Tigers got into the offensive flow, outscoring the Big Green 10-1 over the rest of the half.

“It was a pretty slow first quarter in some regards but we possessed the ball well,” said Bates, whose team clinched a spot in the upcoming Ivy League tournament with the win and can host the tourney if it prevails in its April 28 clash against No. 3 Cornell (9-1 overall, 4-0 Ivy).

“On the offensive end, we stayed balanced and poised and didn’t try to do too much too early. We systematically broke down their defense which is what we  wanted to do.”

Against Dartmouth, the Tigers excelled on both fast breaks and extended possessions.

“It is kind of who we want to be,” said Bates, who got three goals and two assists from sophomore star Tim Schreiber with Jeff Froccaro and Mike MacDonald also registering hat tricks.

“We want to take advantage of early offense because that has been very good to us but also be smart and understand the time and tempo. We need to understand how much defense we have played and what risk we are taking with our pass. That was our main thrust of the week and I thought we did a good job of it.”

As it won its second straight game since a 10-9 loss to Syracuse on April 7, Princeton appears to be in good shape to put together an inspired stretch drive which will see it play at Harvard (6-6 overall, 2-2 Ivy) on April 21 before the showdown a week later against Cornell at Class of 1952 Stadium.

“We are still smarting or hurting, I don’t know what the word is, from Syracuse a little bit but the hope is that it can serve as a motivation going forward,” said Bates.

“That is one that we really wanted back but at the end of the day, we control our destiny. We have Harvard. We need to do what we need to do there and then it’s Cornell. We are where we need to be. Our belief is that our best lacrosse is ahead of us so hopefully today was a good step in that direction.”

Armour, for his part, believes the Tigers are heading in the right direction.

“We are really excited for Harvard,” said Armour. “I think the coaches do a great job preparing us each week for the different matchups. Everyday, the focus is on doing what we do and running our system. We think we are in a really great spot right now and we are very confident. We are really looking forward to not only these next two weeks but also the Ivy tournament.”

GREAT BRITTANY: Princeton University women’s water polo player Brittany Zwirner prepares to fire the ball in a recent game. Last Sunday, junior star Zwirner scored the game-winning goal with 2.4 seconds left as Princeton edged Brown 9-8 in the CWPA Southern Division Championship game. The Tigers, now 25-4, will be competing in the Eastern Championships at Brown from April 27-29. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last spring, the Princeton University women’s water polo team developed a penchant for losing the close games.

The Tigers lost four contests by one goal and six by two goals in 2011 on the way to an 18-11 record.

In the first weekend of the 2012 season, the Tigers pulled out a 6-5 win over Colorado State, setting a different tone in the view of longtime head coach Luis Nicolao.

“We got off to a good start,” said Nicolao. “We had a 1-goal win over Colorado State and won some games easily after that; that was a good sign.”

Indeed, the Tigers reeled off 14 wins before a loss to No. 12 San Jose State. Heading into last weekend’s CWPA Southern Division Championships at Bucknell, Princeton stood at 22-4 and ranked 14th nationally.

“We were excited to get to the end of the year,” said Nicolao, reflecting on his team’s mood as it looked ahead to the Southerns and the Eastern Championships to follow. “We are not taking anyone lightly but we are confident.”

Last Saturday, Princeton showed its confidence was justified as it beat George Washington 11-8 and host Bucknell 14-6 in opening day action.

“We came out slow against George Washington but we had a nice second quarter,” said Nicolao.

“Playing Bucknell in their pool was a challenge. We had a lot of girls scoring and the defense played well. We held them to two goals in the second half, you don’t see that too often.”

In the finals, Princeton faced a Brown team it had beaten 18-8 in regular season play. The rematch, though, turned into a nailbiter and Princeton continued its habit of winning the close games this year, edging the Bears 9-8 to win the title.

“Brown is no doubt a quality team; our first game was not a true measure of their team,” said Nicolao. “They play a zone defense and all of our shots were falling that game. On Sunday, the shots weren’t going in.”

Junior star Brittany Zwirner hit the biggest shot for Princeton in the win over Brown, scoring the game-winning goal with 2.4 seconds left. Zwirner finished the game with four goals while sophomore Katie Rigler chipped in three.

“Brittany was out with an injury before; it is important to have her back,” said Nicolao.

“Rigler can dominate; she is a great player. As a sophomore, she has gained more confidence and she realizes she can dominate.”

Longtime coach Nicolao has been taken aback by the dominance his team has shown this spring.

“No doubt, I am surprised,” said Nicolao, who is in his 14th year at the helm of the program.

“I didn’t expect to have only lost four games to this point. We have a lot of depth and lot of balance. We have eight girls who have scored around 30 goals. All year, we have had a nice balance of scoring. If two girls are off, two others will step up.”

That balance paved the way to Princeton’s first Southern crown since 2008 and its seventh overall.

“Any time you get a title, it is great,” said Nicolao, reflecting on the championship. “Our ultimate goal is to win the Easterns and go to the NCAAs.”

In order to achieve that goal in that competition, which is being held at Brown from April 27-29, Princeton will need to tighten things up.

“We have to play really good defense,” said Nicolao. “We are going to see some tough opposition. We can’t rely on offense. If we string together three good defensive games, we have a chance. There are three or four teams that can win.”

GRAND PRIZE: Princeton University baseball player Blake Thomsen takes a cut in recent action. Last Sunday, freshman third baseman Thomsen hit a grand slam homer to help propel Princeton to a 13-7 win over Penn in the finale of a four-game set between the teams. The Tigers, who went 3-1 over the weekend, are now 16-13 overall and 9-3 in Ivy League play. Princeton has a game at St. John’s on April 18 before heading to Columbia for doubleheaders on April 21 and 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After falling in extra innings to visiting Penn in the opening game of a doubleheader last Sunday, Blake Thomsen and his teammates on the Princeton University baseball team were looking to get off to a good start in the nightcap.

“We definitely needed to bounce back strongly and get ourselves going in this tough division,” said freshman third baseman Thomsen.

“Everyone is playing well. Cornell is playing really well; we knew to keep pace with them we had to get back in it.”

With one swing of the bat in the bottom of the first inning, Thomsen helped set a torrid pace for the Tigers, smashing a grand slam over the wall in left center field to give Princeton an 8-1 lead.

The Tigers cruised to a 13-7 win as they improved to 16-13 overall and 9-3 in Ivy League play. In the wake of going 3-1 in the four-game set with Penn, Princeton stands second in the Ivy’s Gehrig Division, trailing Cornell (24-8-1 overall, 10-2 Ivy).

For Thomsen, his grand slam was a matter of anticipation paying off.

“I was just thinking it was a new pitcher and I thought he would try to get ahead with a first pitch fastball,” said Thomsen, a 5’11, 180-pound native of Newport Beach, Calif., recalling the blast. “He did and I was ready for it.”

After getting off to a relatively slow start in his college career, Thomsen was ready for a break-out moment.

“I was in a bit of a slump; I feel like I have my comfort level back at the plate,” said Thomsen, who went 5-for-11 with five RBIs and three runs scored in the four-game set with Penn to raise his batting average to .267.

“I am seeing the ball a little better, I am having some better at-bats. I’d say this weekend is when I really started to feel kind of similar mentally to back when I played high school ball.”

For Thomsen, making the transition from high school ball to college has involved some growing pains.

“The biggest adjustment is that every guy has got something at just a little higher level than high school,” said Thomsen, who now has two homers and 12 RBIs on the season.

“So whether they locate their pitches better or they throw harder, everyone  is tougher. The balls are hit a little harder defensively; there is definitely a pretty sizable jump.”

The Tiger veteran players have helped Thomsen as he makes that jump.

“They have helped me a lot; these guys have been through everything I am going through, whether it be a freshman slump, making a couple of errors, or dealing with a big Ivy weekend,” said Thomsen.

“They have been there, they have done it and they have been really helpful explaining what is going on and all of that.”

Princeton head coach Scott Bradley liked the way his team came back to win the fourth game of the Penn weekend which saw the Tigers sweep the Quakers 7-3 and 4-3 in Saturday’s action.

“We probably got what we deserved this weekend,” said Bradley. “We got some breaks yesterday and then caught some breaks in the first game today and got ourselves back into it. We then caught a couple of bad breaks with the ball that Sammy Mulroy hit in the bottom of the seventh. It was huge for us to come back and win this.”

In Bradley’s view, Thomsen’s grand slam should be a huge confidence builder in his development. “Blake had a good day, he was good in the first game too,” said Bradley.

“We sort of have a spot at third base where we run a few different guys out there. It was big for Blake. We think he is capable of swinging the bat and helping us out offensively and we need that. We have struggled with the bats a little bit.”

Junior Steve Harrington helped the Princeton batting attack over the weekend, going 7-for-16 with six RBIs.

“Stevie, we know, is a very good hitter; he does a lot for us,” asserted Bradley.

“He has a great feel for hitting. He is a squash player so it takes him a little bit longer to get going out of squash. We did the same thing last year; we got him at-bats and got him into it. We played him mostly against righties and then as we got going he started playing more against lefties. He is a very, very good solid college hitter.”

Princeton has to keep playing solid ball if it is to keep pace with Cornell before the teams clash in doubleheaders on April 27 and 29.

“Every weekend is huge,” said Bradley, whose team has doubleheaders at Columbia (14-19 overall 6-6 Ivy) on April 21 and 22.

“Cornell just keeps winning; they are terrific right now so all we can do is go out and just try and win the games that we can. Hopefully, when we go face-to-face with them, we are still in a position where we can control our own destiny.”

Thomsen, for his part, believes that Princeton has to keep in control mentally to be in a position to succeed.

“For the team we just have to come to play every game,” said Thomsen. “We can’t afford mental lapses. Everyone is going to make physical mistakes but we have got to be at our best mentally every game. We can’t take a game off. For me it is the same thing, just keeping concentrated and keeping my approach.”

RALLY TIME: Princeton University softball player Nicole ­Ontiveros, right, celebrates after scoring a run in action earlier this spring. Last Saturday, senior centerfielder Ontiveros stroked a key RBI single to help Princeton rally for a 4-3 win over Penn and a doubleheader split. A day later, though, the Tigers were swept by the Quakers 4-1 and 5-1 as they fell to 12-23 overall and 6-6 in Ivy play. In upcoming action, Princeton hits the road for doubleheaders at Lehigh on April 18 and at Columbia on April 21 and 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Nicole Ontiveros is trying to get the most out of every moment this spring in her final campaign with the Princeton University softball team.

“It adds an extra element to the game, knowing this is the last time I am going to play,” said senior centerfielder Ontiveros. “I just try to go all out in everything I do.”

Last Saturday in the third inning of Game 2 against visiting Penn, Ontiveros faced a big time at-bat.

With Princeton having lost to the Quakers 8-0 in Game 1 and trailing 2-0 in the nightcap, Ontiveros came to the plate with a runner on second and the Tigers in danger of falling out of contention for the Ivy League South Division title.

“I just wanted to get that run home,” recalled Ontiveros. “I was up there and I was thinking I need to get a hit, there was no other option. I had to do it.”

Ontiveros came through, slapping a single up the middle to narrow the gap to 2-1. Her clutch hitting changed the tone of the contest as Princeton scored two runs in the fourth and added another in the fifth on the way to a 4-3 victory.

“Everyone started getting right on her, line-driving everywhere,” said Ontiveros, reflecting on the comeback win. “We definitely know there is a sense of urgency because we have to win these games. It is really important right now.”

A day later, though, the Tigers weren’t able to come through as they got swept by Penn 4-1 and 5-1 to move to 12-23 overall and 6-6 in Ivy play. Princeton now stands third in the Ivy’s South Division, trailing Cornell (19-16 overall, 10-2 Ivy) and Penn (23-14, 8-4 Ivy).

Coming off a 2011 season which saw Princeton stumble to a 7-13 league mark, Ontiveros sees a renewed intensity around the Tigers this spring.

“I think the heart on the team this year is a lot different,” said Ontiveros, a native of Laguna Niguel, Calif. who is hitting .319 with a team-high 36 hits.

“We have a lot of freshmen that are really aggressive and really love the game. We are just a lot louder this year. Everyone really, really wants to win.”

For Ontiveros, the journey from her freshman year to this spring has been special.

“It’s awesome being a senior, starting freshman year and going through all the years so differently,” said Ontiveros, who is planning to go to medical school after graduation and aspires to be a plastic surgeon.

“It is great being a leader on the team and just getting to help my teammates with the experience I have had.”

As she heads into the final weeks of her college softball career, Ontiveros is hoping to go out with a great
experience.

“I am really proud of us that we came back and we didn’t let the first loss get us down which I think shows a lot about this team,” said Ontiveros, who will look to keep up her hot hitting when Princeton hits the road for doubleheaders at Lehigh (28-16, 11-1 Patriot League) on April 18 and Columbia (10-25 overall, 4-8 Ivy) on April 21 and 22.

“The fight is there and I think that is the main difference between last year’s team and this year’s team. We won’t give up ever.”

GOAL ORIENTED: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse star Emilia Lopez-Ona heads to goal last Friday in PHS’s 11-9 win over Allentown. Sophomore star Lopez-Ona scored eight goals in the contest which matched teams who came into the day undefeated. Last Monday, Lopez-Ona fired in 10 goals as PHS edged Hopewell Valley 18-16 in improving to 6-0. In upcoming action, the Little Tigers host WW/P-S on April 18, play at WW/P-N on April 21, and then have a rematch at ­Allentown on April 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As a freshman last spring on the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team, Emilia Lopez-Ona didn’t attract a lot of attention from opposing defenders.

“I was playing behind two upperclassmen attackers and they were both amazing scorers,” said Lopez-Ona.

“They got the top defenders on them and I was able to score that way with the weaker defenders.”

Coming into her sophomore season, the willowy Lopez-Ona knew she would have to carry more of the offensive load for the Little Tigers and she prepared accordingly.

“This year, I definitely have to step up on the offense and in the midfield; it is a bigger role,” added Lopez-Ona. “I worked a lot in the offseason. I play for Building Blocks lacrosse.”

Last Friday, Lopez-Ona’s work paid huge dividends for PHS as she scored eight goals to help the Little Tigers edge Allentown 11-9 in a battle of teams who came into the day undefeated.

When PHS fell behind 8-5 late in the first half, it looked like Allentown was on the verge of pulling away from the Little Tigers.

But Lopez-Ona took matters into her own hands, scoring three unanswered goals as PHS knotted the game at 8-8 heading into halftime.

“I think being down and being able to come back with another few goals and work on it as a team, chipping away at that, really psyched us up coming into the second half,” recalled Lopez-Ona.

In the second half, the Little Tigers showed patience, holding the ball for long stretches and picking their spots as they took a 10-8 lead and then held off the Redbirds down the stretch.

“We knew Allentown was going to be our toughest game,” said Lopez-Ona, who tallied two of PHS’s second half goals and assisted on the other.

“It definitely gives a lot more confidence and our confidence builds through the season. We thrive off of that.”

Lopez-Ona’s on-field connection with senior star and Amherst College-bound Mia Haughton gives her additional confidence.

“I think a lot of it is that we have compatible skills,” explained Lopez-Ona, who scored 10 goals last Monday in an 18-16 win over Hopewell Valley as the Little Tigers improved to 6-0.

“She is an amazing feeder, she can feed from any release point. She knows where to put the ball. I am pretty good at getting open and finishing.”

PHS head coach Christie Cooper felt pretty good about her team’s chances even when it was on its heels in the first half.

“I wasn’t concerned; we might have gone up two and then they came back and I said to my assistant coach, this is going to be a game of ups and downs and that’s OK,” said Cooper.

“You have those in lacrosse and that’s good. It is what you can do when you are down that determines what the outcome is going to be.”

Having Lopez-Ona can certainly tilt the outcome in PHS’s favor. “Emilia is a smart player,” said Cooper, who got a goal and three assists from Haughton in the victory over Allentown with Elizabeth Jacobs and Chiara Favalaro chipping in the other goals.

“We can utilize all of our players on attack but it is always nice to know  that you have girls you can go to in a big game. It is not like I was telling her to do anything special. She finds that ball and gets it into the cage because she knows that is what we need at any given point.”

The performance of freshman goalie Mira Shane in the cage was another key factor in the Little Tigers’ win over Allentown.

“What makes her a good goalie is that she doesn’t follow steps, she just reacts to the ball,” said Cooper of Shane who had nine saves, including some point blank stops down the stretch.

“She isn’t trying to think I have to step here or I have to step there, she just reacts and that makes a great goalie. Every game she rises to the challenge; her age is not a factor at all. It is ‘OK who are we playing, who are their best players, where do they shoot, OK, ready.’ That is her mentality.”

While Cooper was excited by the way her team rose to the challenge collectively against Allentown, she knows there is a lot of lacrosse still to be played this spring.

“It is a great win but we play them again and there is a chance that we will see them in the Mercer County Tournament,” added Cooper.

“So it is great to win but it doesn’t mean much in the long run. It means a lot to them right now and it feels really good. It will help propel us into the next half of the season but it doesn’t make or break the rest of the season.”

In Cooper’s view, PHS has the ability to do some special things in the second half of the season.

“I think we have a lot of potential because we play like a team,” asserted Cooper, whose team hosts WW/P-S on April 18, plays at WW/P-N on April 21, and then has a rematch at Allentown on April 23.

“We work from our goalie down to our lowest attackers; that’s really important. It showed today with different players stepping up when other players were getting marked. You need to be able to do that in a tight game like that.”

Lopez-Ona, for her part, believes the team’s special chemistry could make the difference in the tight games ahead.

“We have lost a lot of seniors; I think we knew this was going to be a whole new year with a mix of returning players and new players,” said Lopez-Ona.

“We all know how big of a role team chemistry off the field is. So I think that using that knowledge from last year, we are able to put it into place this year, and it is definitely helping. These are my best friends. I think we have got a team with a lot of young potential mixed in with some older leadership.”

WILL POWER: Princeton High baseball star Will Greenberg surveys the scene in action last spring. Senior catcher Greenberg has been swinging a hot bat for the Little Tigers, producing eight RBIs in four games last week as PHS went 2-2. The Little Tigers, now 2-6 on the season, are playing at Allentown on April 19, hosting Steinert on April 20, competing in the Papa Bear Invitational at Delran High on April 21, and then playing at Ewing on April 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After knocking in a total of four runs in two wins earlier last week, Will Greenberg kept up his hot hitting as the Princeton High baseball team hosted Trenton High last Wednesday.

The senior catcher smacked a two-run triple in the first inning to help PHS jump out to a 4-0 lead over the Tornadoes.

“It was an outside fastball and I just went the other way,” said Greenberg, reflecting on the triple.

“Luckily it went right down the line. It actually bounced on the line and bounced by the rightfielder. I was happy with it.”

By the end of the afternoon, though, Greenberg wasn’t too happy as the Little Tigers squandered their early lead and went down to a 6-5 defeat,

“We got a lot of runs in the first inning; we just weren’t able to keep going after that,” lamented Greenberg. “We thought it would hold up but it clearly wasn’t enough.”

After the Tornadoes tied the score at 4-4 in the top of the sixth, PHS got it going in the bottom of the frame as Matt Hoffman stroked an RBI single to put the Little Tigers back in front. But Trenton rallied for two runs in the top of the seventh to pull ahead.

Greenberg liked the way the Little Tigers battled after losing their lead. “We definitely didn’t want to lose this game,” said Greenberg. “We did show a little bit of fight to get that run in the sixth.”

In assessing the show he has been putting on offensively so far this season, Greenberg pointed to patience as a key factor.

“I think I am swinging at the right pitches and that is the difference right now,” said Greenberg. “Last year I might have swung at the 1-1 curveball and this year, I am taking it and hitting the next pitch.”

PHS’s large group of seniors has been making a difference in the early going as the Little Tigers topped Hightstown 3-1 on April 9 before routing crosstown rival Princeton Day School 13-3 a day later.

“We think with the group of seniors that we have this year, that we can win more games than we used to,” said Greenberg, whose classmates on the team include Hoffman, Nico Mercuro, Ben Harrison, Clay Alter, Alex Mitko, Mike Dunlap, and Nick Bowlin.

“We have been winning; the Hightstown and PDS games were pretty big for us. The win over PDS was amazing; it was the first time in a long time.”

PHS head coach Dave Roberts was concerned that his club could experience a letdown after the high of the victory over the Panthers.

“Yesterday was obviously a huge emotional game for us; now the one thing I made sure to remind them immediately after that game yesterday was that Trenton beat us last year,” said Roberts.

“We are not surprised at the fact that they are good and competitive. I was definitely concerned about this game.”

Those concerns proved valid as PHS appeared to lose intensity after grabbing the early lead against the Tornadoes, showing lapses in the field and on the basepaths.

“I thought we shut it down mentally after that and it really came back to haunt us,” said Roberts, whose team had another down day as it fell 6-2 to Hamilton last Monday in dropping to 2-6.

“We picked a bad time to play our worst defensive game. Our baserunning was pretty bad today. We got picked off at first; we got thrown out stealing. Things we hadn’t been doing this season.”

Roberts is depending on his crew of seniors to pick things up in the wake of the disappointing defeat.

“The seniors are carrying the load; they are doing a good job,” asserted Roberts, whose team is playing at Allentown on April 19, hosting Steinert on April 20, playing in the Papa Bear Invitational at Delran High on April 21, and then playing at Ewing on April 23.

“They are doing everything they are supposed to be doing, you can’t ask for much more. I just hope it continues going in the right direction and hopefully they guide these guys into realizing that today was just a bad day and that we can move forward.”

Greenberg, for his part, believes that PHS can use the lessons learned from the loss to keep going in the right direction.

“We had a lot of confidence going into this game,” said Greenberg, who knocked in two more runs in an 18-8 loss to Robbinsville last Friday.

“This game killed us and it can go either way after this. We can take it as something to make us play better or it can devastate us. Hopefully, it is not the second, You can’t stop playing; you can’t get four runs and think it is over and expect them to lay down.”

FREID UP: Princeton Day School baseball player Bradley Freid lays down a bunt in recent action. Junior Freid’s offensive production and play at catcher has helped PDS produce a 4-5 start. In upcoming action, the Panthers host Hun on April 18, play at Blair on April 20, play at Notre Dame on April 21, and then host Bound Brook on April 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It would have been easy for the players on the Princeton Day School baseball team to hang their heads last Thursday as they fell behind visiting Pennington.

Coming off a disappointing 13-3 loss to Princeton High the day before, PDS found itself trailing Pennington 5-0 going into the bottom of the fourth inning.

But the Panthers didn’t fold, breaking through with two runs in the fourth on a single by senior star Matt Cook. An inning later, PDS narrowed the gap to 5-4 on a two-run single by freshman JP Radvany.

In the sixth, the Panthers tied the contest as freshman Ross Colton served an RBI single into right field. An inning later, PDS kept threatening, getting a runner to second only to have him thrown out at the plate on a single by Sean McCoy.

The game went into extra innings and the Red Raiders tallied four runs in the top of the eight. Still, the Panthers didn’t give in, scoring on a single by senior Beau Horan who advanced to second but was stranded there as the Panthers went down to a 9-6 loss.

Afterward, PDS head coach Ray O’Brien was proud of the resolve shown by his club.

“I am happy with the way the kids hung in and the way they battled back,” said O’Brien.

“We are a work in progress; we have a lot of young guys. The guys battle; we were down 5-0 to a good team and we put the winning run on a couple of times. I am happy with their effort.”

O’Brien acknowledged that his team needs to pay more attention to detail.

“We are making too many little mistakes that are costing us those close games,” said O’Brien. “There is some stuff that we just have to tighten up.”

Last Friday, PDS tightened things up considerably, rolling to a 10-0 win over Lawrenceville as senior pitcher Jacob Eisenberg got the win and Horan chipped in three extra-base hits.

In O’Brien’s view, his group of seniors have the winning background to help get the Panthers on the right track.

“These guys played on a championship team so they know what needs to be done,” said O’Brien, who guided the Panthers to the state Prep B title in 2010.

“They know that we need a little tweaking here or there. They need to get some guys on board and we’ll be OK.”

The Panthers have some good young guys in the freshman quartet of Ross Colton, Jake Alu, JP Radvany, and Cole McManimon.

“They are playing and they are helping,” said O’Brien, whose team went on to lose 13-3 to Gill St. Bernard’s last Saturday to move to 4-5.

“Ross Colton had a big hit today. Jake [Alu] finished the game today on the mound. He did a great job; he battled the whole time. JP Radvany is our starting first baseman and Cole is one of our main pitchers.

With PDS having already matched last year’s win total when it went 4-14, O’Brien is confident the team can produce a good finish.

“It is definitely a different situation than last year,” said O’Brien, whose team hosts Hun on April 18, plays at Blair on April 20, plays at Notre Dame on April 21, and then hosts Bound Brook on April 23.

“We just need everybody pulling the rope in the same direction. We are getting there.”

RUNNING INTO TROUBLE: Hun School baseball star Devan Birch shows his speed on the basepath in recent action. Hurt by some key injuries, Hun has gotten off to a slow start this spring, falling to 1-6 in the wake of a 10-4 loss to Rutgers Prep last Monday. The Raiders will look to get on the winning track when they play at Princeton Day School on April 18 and at Pennington on April 19 before hosting Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) for a doubleheader on April 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Hun School baseball team, a couple of injuries have put a cloud over a promising spring.

The Raiders lost senior star catcher and key hitter Gavin Stupienski to a shoulder injury in the second game of the season while junior pitching ace Austin Goeke has been working through some arm problems.

As a result, Hun head coach Bill McQuade has been forced to juggle his batting order and his pitching rotation.

“When we lost Stupienski, it takes our No. 2 or 3 hitter out of the lineup and it takes a very good catcher out,” said McQuade.

“Goeke has had some arm struggles and he hasn’t pitched much for us this year so that backs everyone else up. It leaves Alex Fabian and Mike Manfredi for league games. Some kids that haven’t pitched much get other games and if they throw strikes and we catch the ball, we are fine. Sometimes we don’t throw strikes very well or catch it very well so it puts pressure on the whole team in different ways.”

Hosting powerful Germantown Academy (Pa.) last week, things didn’t go well for Hun right from the start. The Raiders fell behind 4-0 in the top of the first inning and never got closer than that on the way to suffering a 14-3 loss. “I told the guys we had to play a perfect game to beat them,” said McQuade.

“They are better than us in a few of the positions and that is OK. I just wanted to see us compete, that’s all.”

The Hun players did keep chattering in the dugout as the game went on and senior star Dave Dudeck gave his teammates something to cheer about with an RBI single in the third and a titanic homer over the left field fence in the sixth.

“Dudeck just crushes it and he has matured as a hitter,” said McQuade. “He is waiting more on the pitch so he can hit the off speed as well as the fastball.”

The Raiders will need to mature quickly if they are to get on the right track. “It is a tough start and our schedule is hard,” said McQuade, whose team lost 10-4 to Rutgers Prep last Monday in dropping to 1-6.

“We have seven games in the next week and a half and the teams we are playing are good. Our schedule is far tougher than in recent years but it doesn’t matter. I would rather play good teams and I think the kids would rather play tough teams. It starts to test them to see how much they actually love the game and how good they are compared to other teams.”

In McQuade’s view, the focus going forward is basic. “Our goal is just to get better by the end of the year, similar to last year,” said McQuade, referring to 2011 when Hun rode a late surge to state Prep A championship.

“Our pitching staff is fairly inexperienced; they have to grow so we can compete when tournament time comes around in May.”

Hun has the right mentality to keep competing hard. “I think this is a good group of kids; they play the game to win,” said McQuade, whose team plays at Princeton Day School on April 18 and at Pennington on April 19 before hosting Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) for a doubleheader on April 21.

“If the other team is better than us, so be it. We just need to have fun and compete.”

April 11, 2012

NICKED UP: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Nick Fernandez heads up the field in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore defensive midfielder Fernandez scored his first career goal but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 10-9 at Syracuse. Princeton, which dropped to 6-3 with the defeat, was slated to host Rutgers on April 10 and Dartmouth on April 14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming off a 13-2 rout of Brown, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team picked up where it left off as it played at Syracuse last Saturday.

The Tigers jumped off to a 3-0 lead before a crowd of 4,629 in the Carrier Dome on goals by Mike MacDonald, Tucker Shanley, and Tommy Schreiber.

“It was absolutely the way we wanted to start,” said Princeton head coach Chris Bates.

“They started a freshman goalie [Bobby Werdwell] who had never played a college game before and that may have been part of it. They struggled covering us. They jumped into a zone because they weren’t matching up well with us.”

That adjustment helped turn the matchup into the latest classic of the storied series that has seen the programs meet in four NCAA championship games and play a number of regular season thrillers.

With Princeton suddenly having trouble clearing the ball out of its defensive end, the Orange rallied to cut the deficit to 5-4 at halftime.

“We had the ball twice in the second quarter,” lamented Bates. “Clearing was the name of the game. They put pressure on us and we didn’t handle it with poise.”

In the third quarter, Princeton regained its poise, outscoring the Orange 2-1 to take a 7-5 lead. But then the roof fell in on Princeton as Syracuse struck for four straight goals in the waning moments of the quarter to go ahead 9-7.

“The last 1:45 was backbreaking; you want to save a timeout for fourth quarter but maybe should have taken it then to slow them down,” said Bates.

“Syracuse plays the way they play. They go on runs and it is a game of momentum.”

While Princeton regained the momentum early in the fourth quarter with two unanswered goals, Syracuse scored with 4:11 left in regulation and hung on for a 10-9 victory.

“We came back and got two goals to tie it up,” said Bates, whose team fell to 6-3 overall as its four-game winning streak got snapped.

“Then there was a clearing error and they made a transition play for their 10th goal. We didn’t execute well after that. We had it a couple of times and threw the ball away. Our extra man opportunity didn’t generate anything. On the last possession, we didn’t run the play the way we should. We weren’t balanced. We got the ball to Tommy [Schreiber] but we didn’t space it right.”

In Bates’s view, the Tigers gave the Orange attack a little too much space. “We got away from some things defensively in wins over Penn and Brown,” said Bates, whose team was outshot 40-28 on the day and made 19 turnovers with Syracuse only committing eight.

“We have not been riding as much. We need communication and intensity on our rides; we need to get back to basics there.”

In the wake of the Syracuse loss, the Tigers took care of some basics in training as they prepared for a big week which included a home clash with Rutgers for the Meistrell Cup slated for April 10 before an Ivy League contest against visiting Dartmouth (2-7 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on April 14.

“To put a positive spin on things, we had really good practices on Easter night and on Monday,” said Bates, whose team is ranked 13th nationally and 3-0 in league play, locked in a battle atop the Ivies with No. 5 Cornell (8-1 overall, 4-0 Ivy).

“I hope it is eye-opening. This is a loose group; we need an attention to detail and focus on a daily basis.”

ARMED FORCE: Princeton University softball player Kelsey VandeBergh whips the ball to first base in recent action. Senior third baseman VandeBergh came up big last weekend as the Tigers went 3-1 in doubleheaders at Yale and Brown, pounding out two homers with five RBIs. In upcoming action, Princeton, now 9-20 overall and 5-3 Ivy League, hosts LaSalle (6-26 overall) for a doubleheader on April 12 before two critical home doubleheaders against Ivy rival Penn (20-13 overall, 5-3 Ivy) on April 14 and 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In 2011, the Princeton University softball team got off to a 4-4 start in Ivy League play only to go into a tailspin that saw it lose nine of its last 12 league contests.

This spring, Princeton has gotten off to a similar start in league play, posting a 5-3 mark after going 3-1 last weekend by sweeping a doubleheader at Yale on Friday before splitting a twinbill at Brown the next day.

As Princeton head coach Trina Salcido assesses her club, she doesn’t believe last year’s history is going to repeat itself.

“I think we are peaking at the right time, the No. 1-to-6 hitters are solid and we are starting to get help from the 7-8-9 hitters,” said Salcido, whose team is 9-20 overall and will host a doubleheader against LaSalle on April 12.

“The two junior pitchers (Liza Kuhn and Alex Peyton) are clicking and they are working well with both of our younger catchers (freshman Cara Worden and sophomore Maddie Cousens). I am really pleased with that. I feel the confidence level is better than last year.”

The Tigers came out confidently against Yale, scoring a pair of runs in the second and fourth innings to take a 4-1 lead.  Princeton tacked on two more runs in the seventh on the way to a 6-3 victory. In the nightcap, the Tigers jumped out to leads of 3-0 and 6-2 and held off the Bulldogs to post a 6-4 win.

“We started well at Yale,” said Salcido, who got two hits apiece from Kelsey VandeBergh, Tory Roberts, and Cousens in the opener with Peyton going 3-for-4 in the nightcap. “We hit in multiple innings; that builds confidence.”

The Tigers carried that confidence into the opener at Brown, pounding out eight hits with VandeBergh and Roberts each getting two RBIs in a 6-5 win, which saw Princeton score two runs in the top of the seventh to fight back from a 5-4 deficit. In Game 2, the Tigers had nine hits but couldn’t string together a big rally as they lost 2-1 in 11 innings.

“We closed out the first game at Brown; we could have done better in the second game,” said Salcido.

“Neither team scored until the 10th inning. We had opportunities all the way through. We talk about focus all the way through, you can’t wait until the late innings. There has to be a sense of urgency to get on the board first. When you let someone hang around, anything can happen.”

“Our two seniors have done a great job, leading by example,” asserted Salcido.

“They are taking full advantage of every inning of every game. They come out and work hard everyday in practice. They are not letting any moment slip away.”

While Salcido feels that her club has let a couple of wins slip away in Ivy play, she is not dwelling on what might have been.

“I would love to be sitting square with Cornell at 7-1; at 5-3, we have lost a little bit of control over things,” said Salcido, whose team is tied with Penn for second place in the Ivy’s South Division behind Cornell.

“The control we do have is to take one game at a time and not look at the big picture. We have to play our game. The hitters need to make adjustments and the pitchers need to stay sharp.”

The Tigers will need to be sharp this weekend as they host critical doubleheaders against Penn (20-13 overall, 5-3 Ivy) on Saturday and Sunday.

“They have a great freshman pitcher,” said Salicido, referring to Alexis Borden, who is 12-4 with a 1.43 ERA.

“They do a good job of really getting up for Ivy divisional play; you know that they are always going to be great competitors.”

HIT PARADE: Princeton High softball star Marisa Gonzalez makes contact last Wednesday in PHS’s 13-7 loss to Hopewell Valley. Junior outfielder and tri-captain Gonzalez had a big day in a losing cause, pounding out three hits with a homer and three RBIs. Last Monday, Gonzalez kept up her hot hitting with a double and a single as PHS topped Hightstown 7-2 to improve to 2-2. In upcoming action, the Little Tigers host Trenton High on April 11, play at Robbinsville on April 13 and at Allentown on April 14, and then host Hamilton on April 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Over the last two seasons, Marisa Gonzalez has been an offensive catalyst for the Princeton High softball team from the leadoff spot in the batting order.

But this spring, Gonzalez has been moved to the third spot to take advantage of a hitting prowess that saw the outfielder hit an eye-popping .592 last spring.

Last Wednesday against visiting Hopewell Valley, the junior star paid dividends in her new role, pounding out three hits with a homer and three RBIs. Gonzalez’s heroics weren’t enough, though, as the Little Tigers fell 13-7 to the Bulldogs.

While disappointed by the loss, Gonzalez believes she can do damage from the middle of the order.

“I think it is good for the team,” said Gonzalez. “We know that Louise [Eisenach] and Hannah [Gutierrez] can get on base ahead of me. I can drive them in and that can put us up in the beginning of the game.”

In the loss to HoVal, PHS played well in the beginning as the teams were deadlocked at 1-1 through four innings. The Bulldogs broke the game open with three runs in the top of the fifth and seven more in the sixth.

Trailing 11-2 in the seventh, the Little Tigers showed some fight with a five-run uprising which saw Gonzalez contribute a 2-run single.

“I think it was good that our energy was up,” said Gonzalez, reflecting on the rally. “We have to come out like that in the beginning instead of when we get behind and try to chase back.”

In Gonzalez’s view, PHS has the ability to come out with a better result against a team like HoVal

“I think we should have won this game; I know we are a good team,” said Gonzalez. “Once a few errors start being made, it just has this snowball effect. If we make the plays and pick each other up, we’ll be fine.”

Growing into a team leader, Gonzalez is taking more responsibility this spring for picking up her teammates.

“I am a captain this year so I am taking more of a leadership role,” said Gonzalez, who showed leadership last Monday, getting two hits as PHS topped Hightstown 7-2 to improve to 2-2. “At practice, I have been helping out girls with stuff. The focus is not on me, it is more a focus on the team. “

PHS head coach Dave Boehm likes the way Gonzalez is helping the Little Tigers from the middle of the order.

“Marisa is our sparkplug,” said Boehm. “We have to bat her third so she can drive in runs. We have put some people in front of her who can get on base.”

Boehm was frustrated that PHS didn’t do a better job of getting people on base against HoVal.

“We have faced better pitchers and have hit better,” said Boehm. “I thought we just didn’t do it today. We just have to hit.”

In Boehm’s view, better days are ahead for the Little Tigers. “We have that one bad inning and unfortunately it plays on you,” said Boehm, whose club hosts Trenton High on April 11, plays at Robbinsville on April 13 and at Allentown on April 14, and then hosts Hamilton on April 16.

“I think they realize that they are a better team than they played today. We haven’t come around yet; hopefully it will happen soon.”

Gonzalez, for her part, is confident that PHS will come around as the spring unfolds.

“We all know we can do it,” asserted Gonzalez. “It is just the focus that really should improve. We need to tighten up our defense a little more and we have to get our bats going. I think we’ll be fine.”

FAST EDDIE: Princeton High boys’ tennis star Eddie Percarpio chases down a ball in action last season. Senior Percarpio is moving up to first singles this season after playing at No. 2 last year. PHS starts its 2012 campaign by hosting Trenton on April 11 and Hopewell Valley on April 12 before playing at Robbinsville on April 13. The Little Tigers will then start play in the Mercer County Tournament on April 16 at Mercer County Park. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Sarah Hibbert has put together an intriguing combination in crafting her lineup this spring for the Princeton High boys’ tennis team.

“It is a mixed bag,” said PHS head coach Hibbert. “We have three seniors at singles but also three freshmen in doubles.”

In Hibbert’s view, that mix could yield something special. “We have the potential to do good things; it is a matter of getting people settled in their positions,” said Hibbert, who guided the Little Tigers to a 15-3 season in 2011 and a spot in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional semifinals. “We looked very competitive in scrimmages against Lawrenceville and Princeton Day School.”

Hibbert is confident that senior Eddie Percarpio will be competitive at first singles, as he moves up from No. 2 and switches positions with classmate Robert Zhao.

“Eddie relaxed a little more this year; he is ready to accept the position of being No 1,” said Hibbert, whose team starts its 2012 campaign by hosting Trenton on April 11 and Hopewell Valley on April 12 before playing at Robbinsville on April 13.

“He is definitely a fighter. He works hard for every point; he never gives up. He has moved up every year; it good to have him leading the charge.”

It should be good for PHS to have Zhao at No. 2 after his time at first singles.

“The experience he got at first singles should help him have a successful season at No. 2,” said Hibbert.

“He is really solid on his ground strokes. While he seems relaxed on the court, he can fight when it matters most. He won a 16-14 tiebreaker that clinched the Lawrenceville scrimmage.”

The third senior at singles is Julian Edgren, who will hold down the No. 3 spot.

“Julian has worked really hard on his game,” said Hibbert. “He had a close challenge match with Rob. He will rise to the level of his opponent.”

The first doubles pair of senior Kevin Qiu and freshman Adib Zaidi should give PHS some high-level play.

“Qiu and Zaidi are friendly with each other,” said Hibbert. “Adib has a strong serve and good ground strokes. Kevin has been on doubles the past two years and has experience. The two of them play well together.”

At second doubles, Hibbert has matched up freshmen Tyler Hack and Rishab Tanga, due in part to the chemistry they have already developed.

“Hack and Tanga played a lot together in the preseason and they complement each other,” added Hibbert.

“One guy can tell what they other guy is going to do before he does it; they communicate well. They may not be battle-tested but it is important to be confident in your partner. They seem to work well together; they bring out the best in each other.”

If the PHS players can bring out their best on a consistent basis, the Little Tigers could be championship contenders.

“I would like to see us challenge for county and sectional titles,” said Hibbert, whose team will start play in the Mercer County Tournament on April 16.

“We’ll see how it goes when we get into matches; we have to see what the other teams have. I definitely think the doubles playing well is a key and having everyone contribute. We need three people to step up to every match and it could be different people in different matches.”

After presiding over a rebuilding season last spring in his first year at the helm of the Princeton Day School boys’ tennis team, Will Asch liked the way the Panthers started the 2012 season.

Facing Notre Dame in its season opener on April 3, the Panthers breezed to a 5-0 win over the Fighting Irish.

Asch is hoping the win will be a harbinger of good things to come as the program looks to bounce back from a 3-6 campaign.

“Everybody played well, everybody was happy,” said Asch. “We have some seniors and quite a few good young players. We don’t have any superstars but we have a very solid team.”

In Asch’s view, sophomore first singles player Neeraj Devulapalli has the potential to develop into a star.

“Neeraj is a very good striker of the ball,” said Asch. “He hits the ball hard and has a good serve. He has played a lot of tennis; has done a lot of USTA Middle States tournaments. He may not be able to beat the best players in the area right now but he can compete with them.”

The Panthers have some good competitors vying for its two other singles spots. “Our No.1 is clearly No. 1 but the three next guys have all beaten each other,” noted Asch, whose team got beaten in its second match, falling 3-2 to Pennington last Thursday.

In the first two matches, Asch used sophomore D.J. Modzelewski at second singles and senior James Sanderson in the third spot.

“D.J. is a very tough competitor; he has worked hard on his game,” said Asch.

“He played No. 3 for us last year so he has experience. He is a very good listener and learner; he is a good student of the game. Sanderson played JV as a freshman and sophomore; he wasn’t on the team last year. He is a very good athlete. He has physical maturity as a senior; he is fast and strong. He doesn’t have the most beautiful strokes but they are effective.”

Battle-tested senior Matt Kilgore figures to see action at singles as well. “Matt is hurt right now; rolled his ankle on a tennis ball,” said Asch.

“He played a lot of tennis when he was younger. He is a very good player who hits the ball hard; he is a really nice player.”

The Panthers boast a nice pair at first doubles in junior Peter Kilbourne and senior Jason Hirsch.

“Peter is our best net player; he has a very good overhead and he is good at volleying,” asserted Asch.

“Jason is a very strong baseliner; he is a lefty and that gives people trouble. They have played together for a year so that is a big help. They understand each other on the court.”

Against Notre Dame and Pennington, PDS had the pair of Kunaal Patade and Adam Straus-Goldfarb at second doubles although Asch said others may get a chance at that slot. “There are a lot of kids close to each other; we’ll see how that plays out,” said Asch.

The Panthers have the right mentality to play some very good tennis this spring, according to Asch.

“I have some kids who really want to work hard,” said Asch, whose team has matches at Hun on April 11 and at Rutgers Prep on April 13 before starting play in the Mercer County Tournament on April 16 at Mercer County Park.

“The chemistry of the team is very good; that is the most important factor. The kids are working hard on conditioning.”

BIG BEN: Hun School boys’ lacrosse player Ben Schenkman looks to clear the ball in recent action. Senior defenseman and tri-captain Schenkman’s fine play on the back line has helped Hun produce a 2-1 start. In upcoming action, Hun hosts Pennington on April 12 and Voorhees on April 14 before playing at Princeton Day School on April 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Change has been the theme this spring for the Hun School boys’ lacrosse team.

Don Green has taken the helm of the program as its new head coach and is guiding a squad that is working in a number of new faces.

“We are young experience-wise and age-wise and there might be bumps along the way,” said Green, the replacement for Tom Kelso, who led the Raiders to a 9-8 record last spring “There is a lot of room for growth; they have a real willingness to learn.”

The Raiders have already shown growth this spring, bouncing back from an opening day 14-2 loss to Chestnut Hill (Pa.) to beat Blair 14-7 on March 31 and then top Academy of New Church (ANC) (Pa.) 12-3 last Thursday.

“We had a good effort at both ends of the field against ANC; the guys are learning how to put together a complete game,” said Green, who was the head coach of the Montgomery High boys’ lax team the last two years.

“The win over Blair gave us confidence that we can win. The guys are starting to play together.”

The team’s senior captains, Mark Burke, Iain Alexandridis and Ben Schenkman, have played a key role in holding the team together.

“They are providing good leadership; they are really supportive of the young guys,” said Green, referring to his trio of senior captains. “You know that the young guys are going to make mistakes and they are there for them.”

Attackman Alexandridis and midfielder Burke have been sharing the playmaker role for the Raiders.

“Iain and Mark handle the ball; they run the offense,” said Green, who got four goals from Burke in the victory over ANC with Alexandridis chipping in four assists. “The younger guys are in catch and shoot mode.”

One of the team’s top young guns is freshman attacker Brendan Black, who had five goals in the win over Blair and then added one in the win over ANC.

“Black is a smaller guy,” said Green. “He’s good off the ball; he knows when to cut and when to go to the net.”

Junior Zach Bicho has been helped to control the ball in the midfield. “Bicho has been really good the last two games,” said Green, noting that freshman Jameson Demarco has also been producing in the midfield.

“He has been dominating face-offs and getting us possession. He has been putting up some points as well.”

On defense, senior star Schenkman is emerging as a dominant force. “Ben just plays hard all the time; he has a great motor,” asserted Green. “He gives us leadership by example; he motivates the other kids to play hard.”

Green points to Cameron Dudeck and Greg Flood as other defensemen who have been influenced by Schenkman.

“Cam Dudeck is a sophomore; he is a future star,” added Green. “Greg Flood, a junior defender, is also very good.”

At goalie, sophomore Matthew Bruno has the potential to be another future star. “Bruno has great promise as a sophomore,” said Green, who is using senior Alex Gunstensen as backup goalie. “His quickness is the main thing; he really gets to the ball.”

Green believes that his players have quickly adapted to his approach. “It has worked out really well; the guys are very optimistic,” said Green, who started the spring as the assistant coach to Steve Bristol before the two swapped positions.

“It is a great group of people; there is a great chemistry. The older guys have gone far beyond what I have seen before in terms of helping the younger guys.”

If the team continues its sharp learning curve, Hun could do some great things this spring.

“By the end of the year, I want to have everybody thinking for themselves and making their own decisions out there,” said Green, whose team hosts Pennington on April 12 and Voorhees on April 14 before playing at Princeton Day School on April 17.

“We have to learn to be more hard-nosed and continue with the good chemistry. I would like to be silent on the sideline because they know exactly what they need to do.”

SHORT STORY: Hun School softball player Julia Blake makes a play last Wednesday in Hun’s 7-3 loss to visiting Blair Academy. Freshman shortstop Blake contributed an RBI single in the loss, which left Hun at 1-2. The Raiders will look to get on the winning track when they host Princeton Day School on April 11 and then play at Lawrenceville on April 13 and Episcopal on April 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The pitchers dominated in the early stages last Thursday as the Hun School softball team hosted Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) rival Blair Academy.

The squads were locked in a scoreless duel through two innings with Hun’s Kristen Manochio producing the only hit in the contest.

In the top of the third, however, the tone of the game changed as Blair broke the ice by scoring three runs. The Raiders answered back with two runs in the bottom of the frame as Joey Crivelli and Julia Blake stroked RBI singles.

The Buccaneers, though, regained the momentum, scoring four runs in the top of the fourth. Hun added a run in the bottom of the fifth but neither team scored after that as Blair hung on for a 7-3 victory.

As Hun head coach Kathy Quirk reflected on the loss, she said the game turned on Blair’s aggressiveness at the plate.

“They did one thing that we didn’t — they hit the ball,” lamented Quirk, whose team dropped to 1-2 with the loss.

“We just didn’t hit the ball. We practice everyday, saying do this and do that. If you can’t transfer it into a game, you are not going to win games.”

Quirk was heartened by how her team battled back with its rally in the bottom of the third.

“I thought we ran well; we capitalized on their errors,” said Quirk. “We played the small game and then we got too far behind to play the small game. It is one step forward and one step back.”

The trio of junior star catcher Carey Million, junior third baseman Crivelli, and freshman shortstop Blake played well in the loss to Blair.

“It is good to have Million back behind the plate,” said Quirk, noting that her talented catcher has been dealing with a hand injury.

“Crivelli gave us a little spark. She bunted the ball and got on base; that is what she does. I was very pleased with Julia Blake defensively. I am expecting more from her offensively; she has been hitting the ball.”

While Hun is likely to hit some bumps in the road this spring, Quirk is expecting the Raiders to develop into a formidable club.

“We will keep working on the offense and hitting and finding the right combination,” said Quirk, whose team hosts Princeton Day School on April 11 before playing at Lawrenceville on April 13 and Episcopal on April 16.

“We’ll get better each game. We have only one senior and the rest are young. We are going to take lumps.”

April 4, 2012

IN THE SWING: Princeton University baseball star Alec Keller prepares to swing in a game earlier this season. Sophomore Keller has emerged as a star for the Tigers this spring, currently hitting a team-high .425. Last weekend, Princeton got its Ivy League title defense off to a strong start, going 3-1 as it split a doubleheader against Dartmouth on Saturday and then swept Harvard in a twinbill on Sunday. The Tigers, who improved to 9-10 overall and 3-1 Ivy, play doubleheaders at Yale on April 7 and at Brown on April 8. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

As a freshman last spring, Alec Keller was part of the supporting cast for a Princeton University baseball team that came through with the Ivy League title.

Adjusting to college baseball and dealing with some nagging injury issues,  infielder/outfielder Keller produced a solid debut season, hitting .297 with 27 hits, 13 runs, and three doubles.

Looking forward to his sophomore campaign, Keller had the feeling that he could assume a leading role for the Tigers.

“Coming into this year, I knew the ropes a little bit more,” said Keller. “I was more prepared and more confident that I could do certain stuff. I feel a lot healthier so that’s definitely been big. I had some back problems last year.”

A month into the 2012 season, Keller has been doing some big things for the Tigers, batting a team-high .425 and piling up 31 hits.

Last Sunday, Keller’s hot bat helped Princeton sweep a doubleheader from visiting Harvard. In a 4-1 win in Game 1, Keller went 1-for-4 with an RBI. In the nightcap, Keller had three hits with a run and an RBI to help Princeton to a 12-6 win as it improved to 9-10 overall and 3-1 in Ivy League play.

In assessing the wins over Harvard, Keller noted that it took a while for the the Princeton bats to get rolling.

“We kind of fell into a lull in the first game today but Matty [Bowman] picked us up on the mound and we scraped it across,” said the 6’1, 185-pound  Keller, a native of Richmond, Va.

“We have got to win those games when they come; that [good pitching] won’t always be there. In the second game, they were kind of down the line on pitching and we took advantage of that.”

While the Tigers started the weekend and the Ivy season by splitting with Dartmouth, Keller was satisfied seeing the Tigers scrape out a 3-1 weekend.

“We wanted to start 4-0 but Dartmouth is probably the best team we are going to face at this point,” said Keller, who went 2-of-7 in the twinbill against the Big Green as Princeton won 8-0 and then lost 8-2 in a rematch of the 2011 Ivy League Championship Series.

“Last year we dropped two to them in the regular season so we split this year. We have just got to come out next weekend and take advantage and hopefully take four.”

In Keller’s view, the Tigers are poised to build on last year’s reversal of fortune which saw Princeton win the Ivy title after having posted the worst record in the league in 2010.

“We had so many unproven guys; even though we knew we were talented, we didn’t how we would piece it together,” said Keller. “Now, we have more expectations than we did before because we know guys can do certain things so that helps.”

Princeton head coach Scott Bradley got the effort he expected from his players as they started their Ivy title defense.

“Every day you come out and every game is critical,” said Bradley, who is in his 15th season at the helm of the Tigers.

“We have had years where you lose by a game so every game that you play is important. We have always stressed to our teams the importance of being able to forget what happened the game before and we are at that point now.”

Putting the split to Dartmouth in the rear view mirror, Princeton took care of business on Sunday against the Crimson.

In Game 1, Princeton got enough out of the three hits and seven walks it generated to get the win as Matt Bowman was sparking on the mound, giving up six hits with nine strikeouts.

The Tiger bats exploded in the nightcap as Princeton pounded out 16 hits with senior star Sam Mulroy going 3-for-3, junior Steve Harrington getting three hits and three RBIs, freshman catcher Tyler Servais going 2-for-5 with a homer and two RBIs, and former Hun School star Mike Ford contributing two hits and two RBIs.

Bradley liked the way his team scratched out the win in the opener. “We took advantage, for some of our guys drawing walks is a good thing,” noted Bradley.

“We have had some stretches where we have been overly aggressive. We did what we needed to do to get on base and Matty Bowman was terrific on the mound.”

Noting that Keller, Mulroy, and Bowman have been carrying the Princeton offense this spring, Bradley was happy to see others get into the act in the second game.

“It was not just good for the team; it was good for those guys,” said Bradley.

“We had some guys who need to get going. It was good for Mike Ford. Tyler Servais is really showing us something; it is so nice having a switch hitter you can put in the middle of the lineup.”

It has been nice for Princeton to have Keller doing so well this spring in the lead-off spot.

“I think he has been healthy this year; he just had some minor little nagging injuries last season where he would play for a couple of days in a row and then we would have to sit him out,” said Bradley.

“He did a great job on his conditioning and working with our trainers and everything else where he has stayed healthy all year.”

With Princeton currently locked in a four-way tie with Columbia, Cornell, and Penn for first place in the Ivy League’s Gehrig Division, Bradley knows his squad faces a healthy challenge in its bid to repeat as league champions.

“I think the Ivy League is going to be very, very competitive like it always is,” asserted Bradley, whose club has doubleheaders this weekend at Rolfe Division foes Yale (6-17-1 overall, 0-4 Ivy) and Brown (4-16 overall, 2-2 Ivy).

“We have brought some really terrific new young coaches into the league and they are on our half. Brett Boretti (Columbia), John Cole (Penn), and Bill Walkenbach (Cornell) have really breathed a lot of energy into those programs and you can just see the starts that they have all gotten off to. It’s going to go down to the last Sunday. There is no doubt that it is going to be very competitive for everybody.”

Keller, for his part, believes Princeton can come out on top against its Ivy competition notwithstanding the pressure of being the defending champion.

“We know that teams are gunning for us,” said Keller. “We feel that if we bring our best and they bring their best, we are going to win. I don’t think the bull’s eye is going to affect us.”

SEEING RED: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Charlotte Davis heads up the field last Saturday in Princeton’s 13-12 overtime loss to visiting Cornell. Junior midfielder Davis scored two goals in the defeat to the Big Red which saw the Tigers score two late goals to rally from an 11-9 deficit and force overtime. Princeton, now 4-4 overall and 2-1 Ivy League, plays at Temple on April 4 before hosting Yale on April 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Chris Sailer wasn’t surprised to see her Princeton University women’s lacrosse team locked in a nailbiter against visiting Cornell last Saturday.

“Cornell has nine seniors out there; they have experience and they have had some good wins,” said Princeton head coach Sailer, whose team came into the day ranked 19th in the nation by the Inside Lacrosse media poll while the Big Red was No. 17. “So we were anticipating a competitive game and that is what we got.”

The evenly matched teams were tied 7-7 at halftime. Princeton edged ahead 9-9 with 7:37 into the second half but then gave up three straight goals to fall behind 11-9 with 6:23 left in regulation.

At that point, Sailer called a timeout to settle down her team. “I wanted to give them a little rest; we were doing a ton of running,” recalled Sailer.

“I wanted to give them a couple of plays that we were looking to run. We also talked about what we wanted to get into defensively if Cornell got the ball. We just wanted to get them organized and ready to go for the last six minutes. In lacrosse, you can score a lot of goals in six minutes. We weren’t worried but we knew we had to be prepared for what was coming up.”

The Tigers came up big over the last six minutes of regulation as Cassie Pyle and Sarah Lloyd found the back of the net to force overtime.

In the extra session, Princeton fell behind 13-11 but then got within one on a tally by Barb Previ. That turned out to be the last goal of the topsy-turvy battle as Cornell held on for a 13-12 victory.

“That is tough to go down two goals early in overtime but again it is nothing you can’t recover from,” said Sailer, whose team dropped to 4-4 overall and 2-1 in Ivy League play with the setback.

“We were able to get the one goal off of a nice play but then we just didn’t organize as well as we needed offensively and Cornell took away some of our top kids.”

Cornell’s top player, senior star Jessi Steinberg, made things tough on Princeton as she tallied four goals and an assist.

“We knew she is a quick kid; she has such a good stick,” said Sailer of Steinberg, the second-leading scorer in the Ivy League with 45 points.

“You try to prepare for it and what her moves are but she beat us a couple of times. There was a little missed communication and not getting to those low angle shots. She drops that stick and it is a really good move.”

Princeton senior star Pyle showed some good moves as she scored three goals and played a key role on the defensive end.

“I thought Cassie had a nice game; she came through for us on the attack end,” said Sailer, who got two goals apiece from Lloyd, Erin McMunn, and Charlotte Davis; with Previ, Mary-Kate Sivilli, and Jaci Gassaway each chipping in one tally. “She had a big job because she was guarding Steinberg and was able to get some goals of her own. She has been consistent; she is a tough kid.”

The loss to Cornell was particularly tough to swallow for Princeton, coming on the heels of a heartbreaking 9-8 defeat at Johns Hopkins on March 25 which saw the Tigers squander an early 4-1 lead.

“We have now lost four games by a total of six goals, two of them in OT,” said Sailer, whose team’s other setbacks include a 11-10 double overtime loss to Rutgers and a 12-9 defeat to Duke.

“So I said to the kids, that tells me two things. It means that we are right  there. We could be 8-0, we are competing in all of these games against all of these opponents. But we are just not making the plays when it happens and having the confidence in the clutch to pull out the win.”

In Sailer’s view, her players need to relax more in crunch time in order to start pulling out close games.

“We were talking about that a lot, there are just some things we can focus on in practice, putting them more and more in game situations,” said Sailer, whose team will look to get back on the winning track when it plays at Temple (7-4) on April 4 before hosting Yale (3-6 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on April 7.

“Just little things we will try and change. I just want the kids to remember that it really is just a game and you just have to go out and play. If you are afraid of what might happen then you are not going to be in a good mental state. You have to be willing to make plays and be the hero and risk being the goat. You have to be fearless and play strong.”