May 30, 2012

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR: Princeton High softball star Louise Eisenach makes contact in action this spring. The leadership and production of senior shortstop and tri-captain Eisenach helped PHS become more competitive this season. PHS went 9-14, tying a single season record for victories, as it won the Teaneck Highwaywoman Tournament and edged Lawrence High 3-2 in the first round of the Mercer County Tournament, its first triumph in county play in recent memory, if ever. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton High softball team had never won a game in state tournament competition, the squad was not intimidated when it played at Nottingham last week in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group 3 tourney.

“We had no lack of confidence coming into that game,” said PHS first-year head coach Dave Boehm, reflecting on the matchup between his 11th seeded Little Tigers and the sixth-seeded Northstars.

“We had played two close games with them. We lost in the top of the seventh and bottom of the seventh.”

While PHS got off to a rough start in the contest, falling behind 4-0 after two innings, the squad didn’t fold. The Little Tigers rallied for a run in the top of the fifth on an RBI single from senior Hannah Zink but couldn’t tally after that on the way to a 4-1 defeat

“We knew they had a good pitcher who was going to be tough,” said Boehm, whose team ended the spring at 9-14, tying a program record for single-season wins.

“We gave up four runs in the first two innings and no more after that. They had five hits; we had two.”

The Little Tigers showed toughness this spring in making some key breakthroughs as they won an in-season tourney and edged Lawrence High 3-2 in extra innings in the first round of the Mercer County Tournament.

“We won the Teaneck tournament, we had lost there the last three years,” said Boehm, whose team beat Ridgefield 8-4 and Teaneck 15-3 on the way to the title of the Teaneck Highwaywoman Tournament.

“We took the next step in MCT; that was our first county win in recent memory. That team had beaten us 13-0 last year and really pounded us. I think they came in there thinking they were going to roll us over. We stepped up; it was an exciting game.”

Junior star outfielder Marisa Gonzalez stepped up this spring, moving to the No. 3 spot in the PHS batting order and responding by hitting over .500.

“Marisa had 38 hits and 42 RBIs; she was the most important part of our team,” asserted Boehm, noting that Gonzalez will be playing high-level travel ball over the summer. “She has 112 hits going into senior year; she has a good chance at getting 150.”

The team’s senior trio of Louise Eisenach, Hannah Zink, and Angela Matchum made a good contribution.

“They took more of a leadership role,” said Boehm. “Louise came into her own; she really stepped up as a leader. Zink was steady at first base and a good influence on the younger players. Matchum played a nice right field for us.”

PHS has some nice pieces in place with the freshman pitcher Sarah Eisenach, junior third baseman Hannah Gutierrez, junior catcher Maddie Cahill-Sanidas, and junior outfielder Helen Eisenach.

“Sarah pitched two-thirds of our games and I batted her fourth a lot,” said Boehm.

“She will throw the ball harder. I think she will hit with more power in the future, she just needs to shorten her stroke. All of them (Gutierrez, Cahill-Sanidas, and Helen Eisenach) are solid players. We will have three good arms and good players in outfield with Gonzalez, Helen, and Charlotte Gray.”

In order to become even more competitive, PHS needs to play harder on a constant basis.

“We need to play a full seven innings,” said Boehm. “There were games where we got behind and chipped away and then there were games where we lost leads. We hung tough.”

For Boehm, taking the helm of the program after serving as an assistant coach the last four seasons was not a tough transition.

“I enjoyed it; I knew that I didn’t have a team that was going to rip the cover off so I knew we had to play some hit and run, bunt, and steal bases,” said Boehm.

“Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t but it was fun. It was a good group of girls; they responded well. They had fun, even in practice. There was a good chemistry. The seniors and juniors were helping the younger players.”

SAVED BY BELL: Stuart Country Day School lacrosse goalie Harlyn Bell clears the ball in a game this spring. The development of freshman Bell into a star was a major plus for Stuart this season. Bell and the Tartans topped Nottingham 16-5 in their season finale to end with a 4-11 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Stuart Country Day lacrosse team, its season-ending 16-5 win over Nottingham reflected how much the team has grown over the spring.

“It was a great way to end the season,” said Stuart first-year head coach Caitlin Grant.

“The team played well together defensively. They really came together, like we have been working on.”

Senior star Ani Hallowell ended her career in style, scoring six goals to help lift Stuart to a 4-11 final record.

“Ani was the heart and soul of the team,” asserted Grant of Hallowell, who is headed to Holy Cross.

“She scored goals. She helped all over the field. She had 113 goals in her career with around 70 this year.”

The Tartans saw young players step up all over the field with freshman goalie Harlyn Bell, freshman attacker Nneka Onuwugha, and junior attacker Alaina Ungarini turning heads.

“Bell was a brand new goalie and I think she was one of the best we saw in the area,” said Grant.

“She likes the responsibility; she sets a high standard for herself and gets upset when she doesn’t hit her goals. Nneka Onuwagha had never even touched a stick before this year and she ended up with four or five goals. Alaina was kind of timid at first. Last year was the first time she had played. She took it upon herself to score more and she did.”

Sophomore Amy Hallowell figures to pick up some of the scoring load after the graduation of older sister Ani.

“Amy Hallowell was in her sister’s shadow at the beginning; she let Ani take over,” said Grant.

“I know it is tough; I played with my older sister in high school. Amy is a great player. She has around 50 goals so she is in line to get 100. She is going to step up more without Ani there.”

Grant believes that offensive balance will be a key to the program’s continued progress.

“I want them to learn that they can really work together and not rely on one player,” said Grant. “Each of them can take the ball to the goal.”

For Grant, getting the chance to work with the Tartan program helped her become a better teacher of the game.

“It is different from Notre Dame High where I played,” said Grant, who went on to play college lax at The College of New Jersey.

“We had so many players that we could pick and choose and work on plays and more intricate things right away. With Stuart, there are a lot of new players. We have to work on throwing and catching and the basics; we had to teach some of them the rules.”

But while the program may not be strong in numbers, it boasts a special unity.

“It is such a tight little group, you know everyone right away,” said Grant. “We had only 17 or so players. They work well together. Everyone has to play.”

In order to enjoy more success in the future, the Stuart players can’t wait until next spring to improve.

“We have a summer camp and I would like them to come to that; I also have pointed them in the direction of summer clinics and camps,” said Grant.

“I want to talk to next year’s captains [Amy Hallowell and Isabel Soto] about having the team play with each other in the offseason so they know the ins and outs of their game and we can start working on plays right away.”

May 23, 2012

CLOSING SPEED: Princeton University women’s track star sprinter Eileen Moran flies to the finish line in a recent action. Senior Moran ended her Tiger career in style with a spectacular performance earlier this month at the Ivy League Outdoor Heptagonal championships. The native of Homer Glen, Ill. placed first in the 100 and 200 dashes, anchored Princeton to the 4x100 title, and helped the Tigers take second in the 4x400. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Eileen Moran is not the quickest sprinter out of the blocks.

“My start is not the very best; I have trouble with reaction,” said Moran, a senior star for the Princeton University women’s track team.

“I am always trying to catch the other runners in the races. I have to clear my mind in the blocks. If I am thinking too much, I don’t react as well.”

But Moran showed that she can finish in style, producing a spectacular performance earlier this month at the Ivy League Outdoor Heptagonal championships in her final appearance in a Princeton uniform.

The native of Homer Glen, Ill. placed first in the 100 and 200 dashes, anchored Princeton to the 4×100 title, and helped the Tigers take second in the 4×400.

“I could not have asked for a better way to end my career,” said Moran, reflecting on the Heps meet in which she helped earn 38 of Princeton’s 134 points as the Tigers took second to Cornell.

“I thought after the first day of preliminaries that if I could do exactly what I did that day, things would go well. I was crossing off each event. The 4×100 was a highlight; we had been close indoors and we wanted to defend our title.”

Moran took up sprinting as a freshman at Providence Catholic High School and it didn’t take long for things to go well.

“I was pretty successful; I had to learn technical things,” said Moran, who had played basketball and did Irish dancing before focusing on track.

“I qualified for the states in the 400 as a sophomore and placed fifth. The 400 was my best event in high school.”

That success got Moran thinking about competing at the next level. “Once I qualified for states and placed, I started getting letters from college coaches,” said Moran.

“I got a lot of letters as a junior. My top three were Cornell, Princeton, and Notre Dame. I came on a recruiting trip to Princeton and had a great time with the team. It was the first time I had been around a team that was so close.”

It was the positive feeling around the Tiger team that helped Moran develop a comfort level with college track.

“The time we put into training was the biggest adjustment,” said Moran, who was moved from the quarter mile to the shorter sprinting events during her freshman campaign.

“I was used to training hard with my club team in high school. I was trying to balance training and school. We had a really great group of upperclassmen, they always tried to involve us and spend time with us. They really tried to get to know us; it was a fun group to be around.”

For Moran, the breakthrough in shorter sprints came in Indoor Heps in her sophomore season when she took second in the 200.

“I ran against a girl from Columbia (Sharay Hale); she was one of the best sprinters ever in the Ivy League,” said Moran, who clocked a time of 24.67 with Hale finishing first in 24.20. “It was cool to race her.”

As a junior, Moran displayed her coolness under pressure at the Outdoor Heps, fighting off injury to take first in the 100, second in the 200, and help Princeton to victory in the 4×100 as the team  won the meet to complete a Heps triple crown [cross country, indoor, and outdoor].

“I was really surprised by that meet; I spent a lot of time in the training room that year because my hamstring was acting up,” said Moran.

“I was really nervous going into the meet; we had the triple crown on the line. I didn’t want to hurt the team. Somehow I got through it. The week before I felt out of shape; I was running times that I hadn’t run since high school.”

This year, Moran stepped into a new role with the Princeton team, serving as a captain.

“I was honored; the team votes for it so to be elected was exciting,” said Moran.

“I was happy to have the responsibility. I try to lead by example; I don’t want to be super bossy. These kids are between 19 and 22, I want to let people do their own things.”

Princeton women’s track assistant coach Thomas Harrington, who specializes in the sprints and hurdles, is not surprised that Moran emerged as a team captain.

“Eileen worked hard,” said Harrington. “She could demand that her teammates work hard because they can see the results she got from putting in extra time.”

Harrington was proud of the results Moran achieved in her final Heps this spring.

“She came to compete at that meet,” recalled Harrington. “In the past we have been strong in the distance events but this year we needed the sprinters to step up. I said ‘Eileen you are our leader and you have to lead by what you do.’”

While Moran may not be in the lead out of the blocks, she uses technical acumen to outpace her foes.

“She is really good at the drive phase, the first 30 or 40 meters of the race,” explained Harrington, noting that Moran used that technique to pull way from the competition in the 100 and 200 at the Heps.

“If a runner has a sustained drive phase, it allows you to hit top-end speed later in the race when others are breaking down. Eileen stays down in drive phase for 30-40 meters and then comes up and is hitting max speed at 80 meters and then she chews up the other runners.”

In Harrington’s view, Moran has gotten the most out of her potential as a runner.

“I told her the goal every year was to get higher on the podium; she totally maximized her talent,” added Harrington.

“She learned all the things she needed to know. If I said run into a wall she would say which part. I had to grow as a coach, she made me a better coach. I had to find new ways to push her.”

Moran, for her part, has used that coaching to develop a greater self belief.

“I would say I am more confident; I still get nervous before meets but I am more confident in my abilities,” said Moran.

“I know what I am capable of; a lot of it comes from the coaches, telling you if you follow this training, you will get to this result.”

As a result, Moran leaves Princeton with program records in the indoor 60 (7.57) and 300 (40.36) in addition to being part of record-setting 4×100 (46.03)

4×200 (1:40.15), and 4×400 (3:39.96) relays.

“It is exciting; it is cool because Peter Farrell [Princeton women’s track head coach] keeps track of records and every time someone breaks one, he gives the history of the person who had it and talks about where they are now,” said Moran.

“He usually calls them about the new record. You feel like you have become a piece of history.”

And by finishing her career in style, Moran has established herself as one of the best sprinters in the program’s history.

FEELING THE PULL: Katie Baker, center, pulls hard from the stroke seat in a race this spring in her senior campaign for the Princeton University women’s open crew third varsity 8. Baker, a former star athlete at Stuart Country Day School, went from a walk-on rowing neophyte to a mainstay of the Tiger women’s open crew program during her college career. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

During her sports career at Stuart Country Day School, Katie Baker liked to keep busy, starring at field hockey, basketball, and lacrosse.

Entering Princeton University in the fall of 2008, Baker looked into club field hockey, lacrosse, ultimate frisbee and varsity crew as ways to fill her athletic fix.

The Princeton Junction native ultimately decided to devote her considerable energy to rowing.

“I was doing rowing in the morning and field hockey in the afternoon,” recalled Baker. “It was very tiring, I decided I had to pick one and I went with crew.”

Having never rowed before, Baker faced some major challenges in adjusting to her new sport.

“The conditioning was the toughest part, I had to adapt to the idea of always conditioning,” said Baker.

“The first time I rowed it was very exciting and very new. It was very hard to get it; I had the fear of falling into water.”

Overcoming those fears and clearly getting it, Baker has emerged as a mainstay for the Princeton women’s open program, helping the Tigers win the Ivy Sprints team title earlier this month as she ended her college crew career on a high note.

For Baker, coming close to a title as a freshman helped cement her commitment to rowing.

“In my freshman spring, we didn’t have enough for a freshman so I was on a freshman 4,” said Baker.

“We got second at Eastern Sprints; that was exciting. I was getting used to it; I was much more confident than when I started. I was less worried that I would do something to catch a crab (a stroke that goes bad).”

As a sophomore, Baker’s increasing confidence and skill level led her to be moved to the vital stroke seat, the rower sitting closest to the stern whose cadence sets the rhythm for the boat.

“It was a lot more about getting better and faster,” said Baker, reflecting on her sophomore campaign.

“I was in the third varsity 8. I became a stroke; it was exciting. They talked about me doing it for freshman 4 and I was terrified. Once I tried it, I really liked it. You get to think more about how to use power rather than just rowing. You focus on what the boat needs and how you can help.”

In 2011, Baker got a firsthand experience with a powerful crew, toiling alongside a first varsity 8 that went on to the win the grand final at the NCAA Championships.

“It was awesome to train with them; it was great to watch that happen,” said Baker, who went to the NCAA regatta with the varsity 4.

“I think it is completely true that you feel like you are pushing the top boat. You have to have someone to race everyday to be able to race.”

For Baker, a big part of her senior year has been savoring every day at the boathouse.

“I definitely wanted to embrace all of it instead of just going through it,” said Baker.

“I wanted to really experience things; enjoying being part of the team and being on the water.”

Baker experienced plenty of success on the water this spring, stroking the third varsity 8 to an undefeated season, culminating with a first place finish at the Ivy Sprints.

“It definitely came together more in the spring; people were being moved around before that,” said Baker, in assessing the boat’s superb season.

“We were always fast; we never won a race by less than eight seconds. Even when it was windy and rough, I never doubted anyone. We had trust and confidence in each other.”

The level of trust throughout the program helped the Tigers prevail in the overall team standings at the Ivy Sprints.

“It was great, our goal was to win as a team,” said Baker, who will be cheering on her teammates on the first and second varsity 8s and varsity 4 this weekend as they compete in the NCAA Championships at Mercer Lake. “To have every boat medal is great. Crew is so hard but so worth it when you win.”

In the final analysis, the bonds that Baker developed with her classmates may be the most worthwhile aspect of her crew experience.

“We have all shared the same things,” said Baker, who is looking to teach and coach at a prep school after graduation.

“We had hard days where we helped each other and we had the experience of a national championship. I have always been a committed person but this is a whole new level of commitment. You really have to have a tenacity. Having a group like that and that kind of structure is extremely rewarding.”

JERSEY STRONG: U.S. women’s soccer star Carli Lloyd controls the ball last week in a training session at Princeton University. Lloyd, a New Jersey native and former Rutgers standout, has been enjoying the national squad’s training camp at Princeton’s Roberts Stadium, which is running from May 10-25. The U.S. team is gearing up for a May 27 game against China in Chester, Pa. and the upcoming Olympic Games. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

During her All-American soccer career at Rutgers University Carli Lloyd enjoyed some fierce battles against local rival Princeton.

“There was probably the most amount of yellow cards during our games,” said Lloyd, a 2005 Rutgers alum who has been playing with the U.S. women’s national team since graduation.

“It was an intrastate rival; it was a battle. You knew every time coming out that it wasn’t going to be an easy match. It was a good rivalry that we had against them. Princeton was a really strong team.”

For the last two weeks, Lloyd has been feeling at home on enemy territory as the U.S. national squad has been based at the Princeton soccer facilities for a training camp in preparation for a May 27 game against China in Chester, Pa. and the upcoming Olympic Games.

“This is great; this is a top-notch facility,” said star midfielder Lloyd, a 5’8 native of Delran standing on the sidelines of Roberts Stadium last Thursday after a morning training session.

“I think all the people working at Princeton have treated us really well; they have done  anything for us. Our hotel area is great. It is a perfect set-up. I think Pia [U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage] is really happy about it and hopefully we’ll have some more camps here in the future.”

After undergoing a grueling camp in Florida last month, Lloyd and her teammates are fine-tuning things during their stay at Princeton.

“It was a tough two-week camp in Florida but we made it through,” said Lloyd.

“This camp is a little bit longer but because there is a game attached at the end of it, I think that makes it a little bit easier. It’s tough with the roster cut so it is a pretty important camp. There is a lot going on; there is a lot of preparation before we move on to the next camp.”

With the U.S. team capturing international attention last summer in its dramatic run to the World Cup final where it lost to Japan in a penalty shootout, the players are hoping to shine in their next major competition.

“We didn’t get the result we wanted to at the World Cup and any time we can bounce back, and not so much have a second chance, but have another big event to show ourselves on the world stage, that’s great,” said Lloyd.

“We are going to waiting another three years after this Olympics for the next world cup. I am super excited. You never want to take anything for granted, you want to take it one game at a time. It is not going to be easy.”

It is going to be easy for the U.S. to get excited about playing in the English venues, which are among the most storied in world soccer.

“I think it is a privilege to even be considered to be able play in those stadiums,” said Lloyd, who was a key player on the U.S. gold
medal team in the 2008
Beijing Games.

“Wembley is such a prestigious stadium. Coming off a World Cup in Germany where they did a phenomenal job, I think we are going to get that same kind of vibe coming to London. They are pretty excited about soccer there.”

U.S. head coach Sundhage likes the vibe she is getting at the Princeton camp.

“Everything I have heard about Princeton has been fantastic; I wonder if it is that good but just look around with the turf and the real grass, it is hard to tell the difference,” said Sundhage, reflecting on the camp which was slated to run from May 10-25.

“I am very happy with the fact that we chose to stay here; they have been treating us well and it is a good feeling to be around this area.”

In Sundhage’s view, her players have been thriving in the Princeton environment.

“They are competing very well; I think the intersquad game that we played the other day was one of the best I have ever seen,” said Sundhage.

“They are really doing a good job to compete against each other; if we do a good job of that, we can win against any team in the world. They look very good.”

Lloyd, for her part, knows it is going to require a full team effort for the U.S. to defend its Olympic crown.

“I think it is going to take every one of us, all 18 players,” asserted Lloyd, who has 131 caps and 34 goals in her career with the national team.

“I don’t think there is a single star player on this team that is going to win it for us. We have got great talent. We have a great attacking front six and a solid back four and good people coming off that bench. We just have to play our game. We have to take some risks and we know we may give up some goals but we just have to score more than the other teams.”

The 30-year-old Lloyd is primed to make a big contribution to the U.S. attack.

“I am feeling really good; I am the fittest I have ever been,” said Lloyd, who has eight goals in 12 appearances this year for the U.S.

“I think my role has changed which had given me a little more freedom. Since Shannon Boxx is holding in the center midfield, I can run around and create things and be that playmaker and make things happen and get myself in and around the box for scoring opportunities.”

And having the opportunity to train at Princeton has proven to be a good fit for Lloyd and her teammates.

UNLIKELY RUN: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse star Garret Jensen runs up the field in a game earlier this spring. Attackman Jensen helped seventh-seeded PDS make an unlikely run in the Mercer County Tournament as the Panthers knocked off second-seeded Notre Dame and sixth-seeded Princeton High on the way to the title contest last Saturday against No. 1 Hopewell Valley. Jensen scored a goal in the championship game but it wasn’t enough as the Panthers fell 6-2 to the Bulldogs to end the season at 10-7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Tyler Olsson and his fellow seniors on the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team, spending some quality time together in South Carolina a few months ago helped strengthen their resolve to go out with a bang this spring.

“At Hilton Head, where we had our spring training, we were all in the same house together,” said star midfielder Olsson, whose classmates on the team include Garret Jensen, Mike Davila, Zack Higgins, Lyndy Lapera, and Walker Ward.

“We spent hours on end together. We are a pretty closely knit group.”

Last Saturday in the Mercer County Tournament championship game, Olsson and the seniors came agonizingly close to ending their careers with a title, falling just short in a 6-2 loss to powerful Hopewell Valley.

The seventh-seeded Panthers battled toe-to-toe with No. 1 HoVal, trailing by just 3-2 entering the fourth quarter. PDS, though, couldn’t find the back of the net over the last 12 minutes while the Bulldogs scored three goals.

“Their defense pressured out and kind of shut us down,” said Olsson. “We weren’t taking the right shots, we kept shooting high right into the stick.”

Having upset second-seeded Notre Dame and No. 6 Princeton High on the way to the title game, PDS had high hopes of pulling off another upset even when they were behind 2-1 at halftime against HoVal.

“That’s what we have been all year,” said Olsson, referring to squad’s underdog mentality.

“We took out Notre Dame; we took out PHS. We are a second half team. We have come back in the second half of multiple games. That is just how we do it; I thought we had this one.”

For Olsson, who also stars for PDS’s ice hockey team, playing in the MCT final in lacrosse was reminiscent of the success he has experienced on the ice.

“I have won MCT in hockey and the Preps in hockey but have never done anything in lacrosse for this program,” said Olsson.

“This is just huge, making it to the finals of MCTs. Hopefully we will bring the program back up to what it used to be.”

PDS head coach Rob Tuckman saw the trip to the MCT final as a huge step forward.

“It is all icing at this point; nobody expects a seven seed to be playing the final,” said Tuckman, who got goals from Cody Triolo and Jensen as the Panthers ended the spring with a 10-7 record.

“We played against the No. 1 seed and they are the No. 1 seed for a reason, they are now 18-2. Part of it is that they have an incredible defense and their defense played very well against us today.”

The Panthers had their chances, including a critical sequence early in the fourth quarter when they missed a good chance to draw within one goal only to see HoVal race down the field and score.

“We knocked on the door there, had it been on goal there and gone in then it is 4-3 instead of 5-2 in that transition,” said Tuckman.

“You could go back to lots of different plays. Overall it was a great season. I am really proud of the team.”

Tuckman is proud of what his seniors have given to the team. “It goes without saying; you look at a kid like Garret who is banged up beyond belief and still puts it out everyday,” said Tuckman, reflecting on the program’s Class of 2012.

“We have Tyler Olsson, who doesn’t stop fighting, and Michael Davila, who has been a staple for us in terms of leadership. Losing Zack in the prep semifinals was really tough. He helped our young defense figure out how to play the role they need to play. They are leaving a legacy for sure.”

The young players coming back are primed to add to that legacy. “I am excited for what is to come; we are definitely building this program,” asserted Tuckman.

“As we said to them yesterday in practice, everything we have done is to build experiences and build this program so when we get to big moments like this we are ready for them.”

In Olsson’s view, there should be plenty of big moments ahead for the Panthers.

“Since my freshman year, there has been a huge change,” said Olsson. “We have grown and brought in some new talent. We are just starting to rebuild the program and what happened in hockey can happen in lacrosse.”

CAREER ADVANCEMENT: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Mia Haughton heads to goal in recent action. Last Friday, senior midfielder and co-captain Haughton tallied a goal and four assists as second-seeded PHS rallied to top No. 7 Mount Olive 10-7 in the second round of the North Jersey Group 3 sectionals and stayed alive in the state tourney. The Little Tigers were slated to host No. 3 WW/P-N on May 22 in the sectional semifinals with the winner advancing to the title game on May 24. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team trailing Mount Olive 4-3 at halftime last Friday in the second round of the state tournament, Mia Haughton realized that she might have just 25 minutes remaining in her high school career.

“Katie [Reilly] and I were talking, we definitely didn’t want this to be our last game,” said senior star Haughton, who is a co-captain of the Little Tigers along with classmate Reilly. “We weren’t playing our game in the first half.”

As a result, the Little
Tigers engaged in some soul searching at halftime of the North Jersey Group 3 sectional contest.

“Coach [Christie] Cooper talked it over with us and said we weren’t playing as a team,” recalled Haughton.

“We can only win as a team. We got together and said ‘family’ which is what our team says to remind us that we are a team. We needed to play more as a unit rather than playing as individuals.”

In the second half, Haughton helped the second-seeded Little Tigers find a rhythm, assisting on four straight goals as PHS forged ahead 8-5 on the way to a 10-7 win.

“The opportunities started coming and one thing is that we just slowed it down,” said Haughton, who tallied a goal and four assists on the game with sophomore standout Emilia Lopez-Ona scoring five goals and Elizabeth Jacobs chipping in two as the Little Tigers improved to 14-3.

“In the first half we just kept rushing and rushing and we never got into a settled offense so we settled it down and got into it. The cuts were coming and my assists were easy.”

For Haughton, it has been easy working with longtime friend Reilly in leading the Little Tigers.

“Being a captain, I feel like I have to step up and fill that leadership role,” said Haughton.

“It really helps to have Katie by my side. We are a unit. We are going to Amherst College together so the bond is going to continue. We have been playing together our whole life. We understand each other on the field so it is really good to have her with me.”

But in line with the team’s emphasis on family, Haughton notes that many have pitched in when it comes to leadership.

“The majority of our players are younger and underclassmen; anyone can step up and play the leadership role,” said Haughton.

“Between Emilia [Lopez-Ona] and Liz [Jacobs] and our defense which is all underclassmen and a freshman goalie [Mira Shane], they can step in and fill those leadership roles. That’s all you can ask for.”

With PHS slated to host No. 3 WW/P-N on May 22 in the sectional semis, Haughton and her teammates will be asking for even more from themselves.

“We definitely have to pick it up in practice and get serious because we are in the semifinals,” said Haughton, noting that PHS and WW/P-N split their two regular season meetings.

“As long as I have been here, we have never made it this far. We broke the second round curse, we are just really excited.”

END GAME: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse star Kirby Peck heads upfield in recent action. Last Saturday, senior midfielder Peck scored two goals but it wasn’t enough as 13th-seeded PHS fell 9-6 to No. 20 Fair Lawn in the opening round of the Group 3 state tournament. The defeat left the Little Tigers with a final record of 10-9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It has been a grueling May for the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team.

Coming into its Group 3 state tournament opening round contest last Saturday morning against visiting Fair Lawn, PHS has played five games since May 8, including a draining 8-7 overtime loss to Princeton Day School on Thursday in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals.

Looking flat, the 13th-seeded Little Tigers fell behind 3-0 in the first quarter against the 20th-seeded Cutters and found themselves trailing 4-1 at halftime.

PHS head coach Peter Stanton could sense that his players were dragging a little bit.

“The last couple of weeks, we have played Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, everybody is in the same position but we are a little worn down,” said Stanton.

“Getting to this point required some overachieving; it was about all we had left in the tank.”

Summoning up what energy was left, PHS drew to within 6-3 with 3:23 left in the third quarter. But the Cutters tacked on two goals late in the period and went on to a 9-6 win.

While Stanton was disappointed to see the season come to an end, he liked the way his team fought to the final whistle.

“Whatever game we are in, whatever the situation is, we always want our players to say at the end of the game that they played their hardest and they left it all on the field,” said Stanton, who got two goals apiece from Alex Rifkin, Kirby Peck, and Matt Purdy in the defeat as his team finished the season at 10-9.

“We wanted our guys to make more plays and be a little more aggressive to make an effort they could be proud of.”

In reflecting on the spring, Stanton praised his team’s capacity to improve. “We are proud that we had some situations where we lost games to teams and bounced back,” said Stanton.

“We lost to HoVal in our opener and the second time we played them, we took them. We lost to North [WW/P-N] in a one-goal game and we beat them later. We lost to South [WW/P-S] in a one-goal game and we came back and beat them. So in a lot of those challenge situations, we showed improvement the second time around. We are pleased that our guys didn’t get discouraged by bad results.”

Stanton credited his core of seniors with helping the Little Tigers rise to the challenge.

“I think Kirby Peck and Alex Rifkin really wanted to put the team on their back and carry them as far as they could,” asserted Stanton.

“Elliot Wilson in goal had some really magical moments. Coleman Preziosi was someone that other teams always looked at as a weapon.”

The Little Tigers had a secret weapon in spiritual leader Tom Sacchetti, a senior who provided special emotional support after suffering a season-ending injury in the preseason.

“Tom didn’t see the field once this year but he came to every practice that he could,” said Stanton.

“He helped us out so much on the sideline. It is just an amazing kid who had zero percent chance of getting on the field but gave so much to the team. That is the kind of character that is really hard to replace.”

The Little Tigers have some talent in place to maintain the program’s winning tradition with such returning players as Matt Purdy, Matt Olentine, Zach Halliday, Kevin Halliday, Jack Persico, Pat McCormick, Matt Corrado, Stephen Clark, and Jack Andres.

“We love our underclassmen; we have a good number of them,” said Stanton.

“Our sophomores were really able to make a lot of plays this year. We had some freshmen contribute. We had kids on JV who we think are really going to be good players.”

In order to be really good, those young players will need to embrace a heightened work ethic.

“Hopefully what we learned is what it takes to be really successful,” added Stanton.

“More and more with the athleticism of the game and the skill level of the game improving all across the board, it requires some effort year round. Guys have to go to the weight room. Guys have to spend time at the wall. Guys have to spend time in the offseason on the game and I think our guys understand that.”

FRESH APPROACH: Hun School softball player Caitlin Hoagland shows her defensive focus in a game this spring. Freshman first baseman Hoagland had a solid debut season as the Raiders posted a 9-7 record this spring. Hun ended the season by falling 8-3 to Peddie last Thursday in the state Prep A semifinals. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Hun School softball team, beating Peddie in late April proved to be a double-edged sword when the rivals met again last Thursday in the state Prep A semifinal.

“I think we did have confidence but they came out fired up,” said Hun head coach Kathy Quirk. “They weren’t going to let us beat them again.”

Sure enough, host Peddie tallied three runs in the bottom of the first inning to jump out to a 3-0 lead. The Raiders answered back with two runs in the top of the third to narrow the gap to 3-2. In the bottom of the fourth, however, the Falcons broke through with four runs and never looked back on the way to an 8-3 win.

In reflecting on the loss, Quirk was disappointed about falling short but sees better things on the horizon.

“We had 11 hits but we couldn’t string them together,” said Quirk, noting that her team made crucial errors to aid the Peddie rallies.

“The only good thing is that we are young; we have a lot of girls coming back.”

The youthful Raiders showed growth as they rebounded from a sluggish start to end the spring at 9-7.

“We did better than our expectations,” said Quirk. “I never expected to win nine games this year.”

Junior pitcher Dani Beal played a key role in the team’s improvement. “I am proud of Dani and how she progressed,” asserted Quirk.

“Once she got confidence in herself and her teammates, she was really good. She pulled herself together.”

The return of junior catcher Carey Million to the lineup after an early-season wrist injury gave the Raiders a jolt of confidence.

“We missed Million when she was out,” added Quirk. “Once she got herself strong enough to both catch and hit, she was a big spark. I think she had three or four homers and hit around .500.”

Several of the squad’s younger players had strong campaigns. “Julia Blake, for a freshman, was phenomenal at shortstop, both hitting and defensively,” said Quirk.

“Joey Crivelli did a good job at third base. We moved her from second; she got a lot of hard hit balls and fielded bunts really well. She worked hard. Cait Hoagland did a nice job at first; she used her stretch to make some plays. She has a bright future. Kristen Manochio did a good job in center field; she also had some big hits.”

The team’s lone senior, outfielder Emily Kuchar, gave Hun a big lift emotionally.

“Emily was a four-year player and a two-year starter,” said Quirk. “Her enthusiasm everyday was invaluable.”

In order to build on this spring’s progress, the Hun players will need to be enthusiastic about their offseason training.

“I think the lesson is that hard work pays off,” said Quirk. “You can’t start on March 1. You have to lift weights over the winter. The girls need to have more upper body strength; it makes you stronger and more aggressive. I am excited, we have a great group coming back.”

THE RIGHT STUFF: Hun School baseball player Alex Fabian delivers a pitch in action this spring. Senior Fabian displayed his versatility for the Raiders this season, hitting .325 and playing at catcher and outfield in addition to pitching. Hun lost 5-0 to Blair and 7-5 to Peddie last Saturday to get eliminated from the state Prep A tournament. The Raiders finished the spring with a 9-14 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After his Hun School baseball team topped Lawrenceville 4-2 last Wednesday in the opening round of the state Prep A tournament, Bill McQuade sensed that his team could be primed for another late surge to a title.

“We had a great win over Lawrenceville,” said longtime Hun head coach McQuade, whose team got hot in the latter stages last spring in rolling to the Prep A crown.

“Austin Goeke threw only 71 pitches in that win. He was incredible; his fastball was really working. He was really on in his last three or four starts. Coming out of that game, we were pretty happy. We felt we were on a roll. We had five or six guys who were hitting well and we just needed some decent pitching.”

But things didn’t go well for the Raiders last weekend at Blair Academy as they were knocked out of the double-elimination tournament by virtue of losing 5-0 to Blair and 7-5 to Peddie in Saturday action.

In the loss to Blair, the Raiders’ bats went quiet in the clutch. “We ran into a tough Blair team; Alex Fabian pitched for us in that game and he did well,” said McQuade.

“They got single runs in five innings. We put men on base, we just couldn’t get them home. Stevie Wells got two doubles and I don’t think we got him to third.”

Later in the day, Hun fought hard but came up short in a back-and-forth contest against Peddie.

“We started Jason Applegate; he is a freshman but we expect so much from him,” said McQuade, whose team fell behind 3-0 in the first inning and then scored in the top of the third to take the lead only to see Peddie score two in the bottom of the frame and then add two more in the fifth to secure the win.

“He battled but he walked too many. Gavin Stupienski hit a homer and we went ahead. We got a run to make it 5-5 and then we gave up two unearned runs and couldn’t score again.”

Seeing his team finish 9-14 as it failed to defend its Prep A title left McQuade with a sour taste in his mouth.

“It is disappointing if you look at the end,” said McQuade. “There is a ‘but’ and it is a huge ‘but’ and that is we didn’t have Goeke for most of the beginning of the season and we didn’t have Gavin for much of the season.”

While the season could have been a nightmare after a 2-8 start, the emergence of junior Eddie Paparella and some defensive fine-tuning helped the Raiders remain competitive.

“Paparella developed into a star,” said McQuade. “He batted .432 and colleges are looking at him. What solidified us in the infield was moving Paparella to third base and Birch to shortstop. Birch is a natural shortstop, he is the best we have had since M.L. Williams.”

The team’s core of seniors, led by captain David Dudeck, Brandon Smith Stupienski, and Fabian, gave the Raiders a solid foundation.

“Losing Dudeck is tough; he is such a great kid and nobody works harder,” said McQuade of Dudeck, who hit .418 with three homers and 20 RBIs this season and will be playing football for Boston College this fall.

“We moved Smith to second from third; that also helped. His character and dedication to the game is special. We never got a chance to see the real Gavin; he has been injured for much of the last two years. He is going to UNC-Wilmington; he is going to be a heckuva player there if he stays healthy. Fabian really matured as a player. He volunteered to help us at catcher; he had never played there and that really helped us. We had four seniors who were heavy contributors.”

McQuade cited Thom Browne as another senior who provided a special contribution when it comes to character.

“Thom Browne had four years in the program with the first three years on JV,” added McQuade.

“He never said a word; he had a great attitude. He got a big win over Mercersburg for us.”

In McQuade’s view, the program has pieces in place to get some big wins in the future.

“If we get a whole year out of Austin [Goeke], that will be big,” said McQuade, whose other top returners include Birch (.375 average and a team-high 28 runs this spring) and Wells (.333 with two homers and 19 RBIs).

“Applegate will be a player. Mike Manfredi (.273 with 10 RBIs) grew up this year. He developed into a heavy hitter; he played third, first, and outfield. He can pitch, he could be a relief ace for us next year.”

In order to maximize their development, the Hun players will need to put in some heavy work over the offseason.

“If they want to be really successful, they have to start right now,” asserted McQuade.

“They need to work on conditioning and play a lot of baseball this summer. They need to work on all facets of the game, including the mental part of the game.”

McQuade, for his part, believes that having a hungry mentality could be the key ingredient to future success.

“Coming into this year, everyone was excited,” said McQuade. “We were coming off a Prep A title and had almost everyone back. I told them what you did last year means nothing. We will be reminding them of that next year.”

May 16, 2012

HELD OFF: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Jeff Froccaro fights through a hold in action earlier this season. Last Sunday, junior star Froccaro scored two goals but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 6-5 to fifth-seeded and defending champion Virginia in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. The Tigers ended the spring at 11-5 overall and 6-0 in Ivy League regular season play as they rebounded from a 4-8 campaign in 2011. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

During their NFL championship run in the early 1960s, the proud Green Bay Packer players used to say they never lost a game, they just ran out of time.

As Princeton University men’s lacrosse head coach Chris Bates reflected on his team’s 6-5 loss at fifth-seeded and defending champion Virginia last Sunday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, he had a similar feeling.

“If the game had gone a minute longer, we would have been ahead,” said Bates, whose team rallied from a 5-2 halftime deficit. “It was a matter of time until we broke through; we had momentum.”

With his team coming off a deflating 15-7 loss to Yale on May 7 in the championship game of the Ivy League tournament, Bates could sense that his players were regaining momentum as they went through practice last week.

“The mood was confident, upbeat, and positive as it should have been,” said Bates. “I thought we were where we needed to be.”

The proud Princeton defense was back to where it needed to be against the Cavaliers as it stymied Virginia’s high-octane attack.

“We were very uncharacteristic the week before,” said Bates, whose team had been giving up 6.85 goals a game before the Yale loss. “They rose to the challenge and the capabilities of who they were playing.”

The Tiger offense was not up to the challenge in the first half, repeatedly misfiring and making some costly miscues.

“I thought the key to the game was our missed shots and our offensive decision-making,” said Bates, whose team scored on just two of its 15 shots on goal in the opening half.

“We had some dropped shots and turnovers. I attribute a lot of that to Virginia’s defense, they played some zone and some man.”

Princeton was hurt by two defensive lapses as it yielded goals in the waning moments of both the first and second quarters.

“They dominated play early and we held them to two goals,” said Bates. “We score and everything seems to be going well and then they get a goal with nine seconds left in the quarter. The goal at the end of the half haunted us.”

Senior goalie Tyler Fiorito haunted the Cavaliers as he made 12 saves and controlled the crease area.

“I thought Tyler was spectacular in the cage,” asserted Bates of tri-captain Fiorito, who ended his career with a total of 624 saves, second best in program history.

“If you are going to win a game like that, you need your goalie to play well. He did everything in his power to help us win. He anticipates plays; he causes turnovers. It is a real bonus to have that in a goalie.”

Even though Princeton was trailing 5-2 at the half, Bates thought the Tigers had a great chance to pull out a win. “At halftime we challenged them,” recalled Bates. “We told them we were not out of this game.”

Controlling tempo in the third quarter, Princeton scored two unanswered goals to draw within 5-4 heading into the final 15 minutes of the contest.

“Bobby [Lucas] was getting face-offs and we started to get a rhythm,” said Bates, whose team ended up outshooting the Cavaliers 19-8 in the second half. “They started to turn the ball over.”

After falling behind 6-4 with 7:07 left in the contest, Princeton fought back to set up a nailbiting finish.

“Tom [Schreiber] did his thing to get us to 6-5,” said Bates, who got two goals and two assists from Schreiber on the day with Jeff Froccaro scoring two goals and Forest Sonnenfeldt adding one.

“On the last possession, we had plenty of time. We put our best playmakers and shooters out there. We had three shots with two of them at point blank.”

After the loss, Bates had a hard time as he addressed his players. “I was choked up; I was not prepared for it to be over,” said Bates, whose team ended the season with an 11-5 record.

“This group of seniors is special to me and the program with everything they endured and how they helped shape a culture. I was sad for them and their families to see it end.”

With Princeton having rebounded from a 4-8 campaign in 2011, Bates believes that change in culture will endure.

“The pieces are in place; we are losing three great players in Tyler, John Cunningham, and Chad Wiedmaier along with 11 other terrific seniors,” said Bates. “But there is lots of optimism and lots of hunger. We have three-quarters of the team coming back.”

In order to get back to national title contention, the Tigers will have to learn to get over the hump in tight games. In addition to the narrow loss last Sunday, the Tigers fell 10-8 to Johns Hopkins, 9-8 to North Carolina, and 10-9 to Syracuse this spring.

“It takes some intangibles and some execution,” said Bates. “You have to handle the pressure of big games. You have got to execute, make plays, and take care of the ball, ground balls, and face-offs. It also comes down to the character in the room. We need to make strides to be more game ready and situation ready.”

While the clock may have run out too soon on the Tigers last Sunday, Bates will long remember the character his players displayed in helping his son Nick and him carry on after the death of his wife, Ann, last November.

“It has been a privilege to be around these guys,” said Bates. “It has been great to come out everyday and focus on the group and making them better. It has been therapeutic for Nick and me. These guys rallied around me and my family. I will never forget that; it has meant so much.”

OPEN SEASON: Members of the Princeton University women’s open crew celebrate after the Tigers won the title at the inaugural Ivy League Sprints last Sunday at Cooper River in Cherry Hill. The Tigers piled up 76 points to edge runner-up Radcliffe by three points at the regatta with Yale taking third and Cornell finishing fourth. (Photo Courtesy of Ryan Samson/The Ivy League)

When Princeton University women’s open crew head coach Lori Dauphiny  looks back on the inaugural Ivy League Sprints, one image, in particular, will come to her mind.

“Every kid from Princeton who competed came away with a medal,” said Dauphiny, reflecting on the event which was held last Sunday at Cooper River in Cherry Hill. “That is really cool; that doesn’t happen too often.”

The Tigers piled up 76 points to edge runner-up Radcliffe by three points at the regatta with Yale taking third and Cornell finishing fourth.

Dauphiny, though, would have liked to see her varsity 8 rowers with gold draped around their necks rather than the bronze they earned from coming in third behind winner Radcliffe and second place Cornell.

“Overall I thought they rowed a good race but we were disappointed,” said Dauphiny, whose top boat clocked a time of 6:22.06 over the 2,000-meter course with Radcliffe at 6:17.74 and Cornell at 6:20.53. “We thought we had a possibility of winning the race and we fell short.”

While the Tiger varsity 8 entered the competition with a 7-0 record in Ivy regular season races, Dauphiny knew it wasn’t a powerhouse.

“This boat is not the most consistent; we had a solid regular season,” said Dauphiny. “We went undefeated in the Ivy League but we lost some races outside of the conference. The team know its strengths and weaknesses; it takes time to develop.”

In Sunday’s racing, the top boat showed it can address weaknesses on the fly.

“At Ivy sprints, they were a little frenzied in the heat; it was not our best race,” recalled Dauphiny.

“We talked about it and made changes in our cadence for the final and we executed. We know they are responsive; they are working on skills and racing better.”

The Princeton second varsity 8 displayed its racing prowess, winning its grand final by overcoming Brown down the stretch.

“The second varsity also had a very good regular season; it is a boat that tends to come from behind,” said Dauphiny, whose second boat clocked a winning time of 6:27.95 with the Bears coming in at 6:31.21.

“They are slower to get going; they gain speed and finish strong and that is what they did on Sunday. They got a better start than usual. They were trailing Brown for much of the race but went through them.”

Putting the final touches on an undefeated season, the third varsity produced a dominating effort, covering the course in 6:38.49, more than 10 seconds ahead of runner up Brown.

“They got off to a good start,” said Dauphiny. “If a race like that can be comfortable, they had it with open water at the end.”

The varsity four wasn’t comfortable with its second place finish as it got nipped by Radcliffe by just over two seconds.

“The boat felt it had an opportunity to win so there was some disappointment,” said Dauphiny. “They rowed a good race but fell short.”

In Dauphiny’s view, winning the team title says good things about the overall strength of the program.

“It should be a help for the future, it shows development and depth,” said Dauphiny.

With the NCAA Championships being held at nearby Mercer Lake from May 25-27, Dauphiny is hoping the combination of proximity and depth will help Princeton be a contender.

“It is definitely not a disadvantage; it’s wonderful to be close to home during final exams and not be traveling,” said Dauphiny, noting that the competition utilizes a team format involving the varsity 8, second varsity 8, and the varsity 4.

“We are excited to have another chance. It is nice that the whole team is recognized; maybe we have a shot at doing better in the team standings.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 9, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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