April 4, 2012

CATCHING ON: Princeton High catcher Will Greenberg returns the ball to the pitcher in a game last year. Greenberg is a leader of a large group of battle-tested seniors who are looking to improve on the 5-19 record PHS posted in 2011. The Little Tigers, who started their 2012 campaign by losing 10-0 to Notre Dame last Monday, host Hopewell Valley on April 4 before playing at Hightstown on April 9 and at Princeton Day School on April 10. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Dave Roberts is confident that he is on the same page with his players on the Princeton High baseball team as the squad heads into the 2012 season.

“This is a group that has only known me as the head coach,” said Roberts who is entering his fourth year at the helm of the PHS program.

“They know what I want and what I expect. They are focused. We have time to work on the fine points; we don’t have to worry about basics.”

PHS boasts a large group of battle-tested seniors as it looks to improve on the 5-19 record it posted in 2011.

“It is now or never for the seniors, they have been through it,” said Roberts, whose senior group includes Will Greenberg, Matt Hoffman, Ben Harrison, Nico Mercuro, Alex Mitko, Mike Dunlap, and Mike Manley.

“Four of them, Greenberg, Mercuro, Harrison, Hoffman, have been starters since they were sophomores.”

The PHS mound corps has been through a lot. “We have tons of experience; every single guy has varsity experience,” asserted Roberts, whose team started the season by losing 10-0 to Notre Dame last Monday.

“Alter had two wins and a save last year while Dunlap pitched 30 innings. Harrison had a rough year last year. As a sophomore he won two games; we are expecting a bounce back year from him. Rohit Chawla is outstanding; we could use him as a spot starter or in relief. Ellis Bloom pitched 10-12 innings last year; he comes right in from third base and warms up quickly. He pitches out of the stretch all the time; we like to use him in relief.”

Roberts likes his infield, which features Mercuro at shortstop, junior Matt Farinick at second base, and Harrison at first, in addition to junior Bloom at third.

“They are tight and sharp; they have had a very nice spring,” said Roberts, who also gets sharp play at catcher from Greenberg. “They are a good unit; I think they will be really good.”

The Little Tiger outfield is shaping into a good unit with Mitko on center field flanked by Hoffman in right and Manley in left.

“We have the same guys in center field and right field,” added Roberts. “Manley has stepped up as a senior; he was injured a lot as a junior.”

With run production figuring to be down across the board due to the less-lively BBCOR (Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution) bats now being standard, PHS is looking to take advantage of its speed.

The top of the Little Tiger order is athletic with Bloom at leadoff, Mitko at No. 2, Hoffman in the three hole, Mercuro at cleanup, and Greenberg batting fifth.

“We have the same top five in the batting order as last year; the best thing is that they are our fastest guys and they can all steal bases,” said Roberts.

“We have really been working on our baserunning this spring. We have been working on hit and run, bunting, stealing bases. We are going to have to manufacture runs.”

In Roberts’ view, PHS could manufacture a lot of wins this spring. “I think we have real good potential,” asserted Roberts, whose team hosts Hopewell Valley on April 4 before playing at Hightstown on April 9 and at Princeton Day School on April 10.

“The focus is there; the guys have worked hard. Our success boils down to two things — can we be smart on the bases and can we produce enough runs. We don’t have strikeout pitchers but they throw strikes and I am confident we will play good defense. We have to do the little things on offense.”

Having so many veterans in his lineup gives Roberts the confidence that his team will take care of those little things.

“I think the experience factor will help us,” said Roberts, noting that the Little Tigers fell just short in a number of close games last spring.

“We have been there before in close games and I don’t think we should be tight in those situations this year.”

BEAU KNOWS: Princeton Day School baseball player Beau Horan is serious about having a big senior season. The star shortstop and team tri-captain, a top recruit for the highly-regarded Division III school Williams College (Mass.) and its baseball program, figures to be a key player for PDS as it looks to rebound from a 4-14 season in 2011. The Panthers, now 1-1 this spring after an 11-1 loss to St. Augustine last Saturday, will be hosting the Hill School (Pa.) on April 4, the George School on April 5, South Hunterdon on April 9, and Princeton High on April 10.

Working a bunch of new players into its lineup last spring, the Princeton Day School baseball team went through a transition phase.

After struggling to a 4-14 mark in 2011, the PDS players are primed to show what they learned from the tough spring.

“I think the mood is upbeat and the guys are excited about the season,” said PDS head coach Ray O’Brien.

The Panthers showed progress on their annual preseason trip to Florida in late March.

“We only had gym time and parking lot time before we went down to Florida because our field here wasn’t ready,” said O’Brien.

“We went 3-3 down there. The last game was official and we won 11-6 over Apollo Ridge High from Spring Church, Pa. I was pleased with the effort and attitude on the trip.”

In O’Brien’s view, the 2012 squad boasts good experience with an infusion of young talent.

“It is a good group of seniors,” said O’Brien, noting that three members of the Class of 2012, Jacob Eisenberg, Beau Horan, and Sean McCoy, are serving as team captains.

“We have four freshmen (Jake Alu, Ross Colton, JP Radvany, and Cole McManimon) who have come in and they are all going to make a contribution.”

PDS has several pitchers who should be able to make valuable contributions this spring as seniors Matt Cook, Tom Keegan, and Jacob Eisenberg together with junior Greg Auerbach and freshmen McManimon and Alu figure to get innings.

“Cook and Eisenberg were steady and gave us a lot of innings last year,” said O’Brien, whose club moved to 1-1 with an 11-1 loss to St. Augustine last Saturday and will be hosting the Hill School (Pa.) on April 4, the George School on April 5, South Hunterdon on April 9, and Princeton High on April 10.

“Greg Auerbach threw the ball well in Florida. I think we have three good arms at the top end of the rotation. Tom Keegan had an injury bug and we are hoping he can come around. We have some freshmen who can eat up some innings for us. Cole McManimon is a tall kid who is throwing well. Alu should also pitch.”

The pitchers will benefit from a strong infield which has been coming together nicely.

“We have Sean McCoy at third base; he is one of the senior captains and he is playing well,” said O’Brien.

“Beau Horan is another senior captain and he is looking very good; he should be one of the best shortstops in the area. He has played pretty much since his freshman year. He has committed to Williams College so it is good that he is settled. Ross Colton is doing a real nice job. He is fielding well and I think he will be able to hit some. We have another freshman, J.P. Radvany, at first base; he was probably our best hitter in Florida. Bradley Freid has one year of catcher under his belt,  we are looking for him to be better.”

PDS hopes to be better across the outfield as well. “We have B.J. Dudeck in center field again, he is playing well,” said O’Brien.

“We are looking at Cook in left field when he is not pitching. Rob Colton surprised us down in Florida; he did a good job. We will also use Alu out there.”

With the implementation of BBCOR (Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution) bats this spring, which have a smaller “sweet spot” with balls coming off them more like wood, the PDS offense will look to manufacture runs.

“We have five proven hitters in Dudeck, McCoy, Horan, Cook, and Freid; we had good offensive numbers last year,” said O’Brien.

“I think the freshmen will make a contribution. We will have to go back to some small ball and scratch some runs across. We don’t have mashers so I think it works well for us.”

O’Brien is confident that things will go well this spring. “I think we have the potential to do well, if the pieces fall into place,” said O’Brien. “We will go as far as our pitching takes us. We are optimistic.”

THE RIGHT STUFF: Princeton Day School softball pitcher Dina Alter delivers the ball in a game last spring. Sophomore hurler Alter is showing maturity as PDS fights an uphill battle this spring with only nine players on the roster. The Panthers, now 0-2, are next in action when they host South Hunterdon on April 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It was the top of the fifth inning last Thursday and the Princeton Day School softball team trailed 13-1 as it hosted Morrisville High (Pa.) in its season opener.

But PDS sophomore pitcher Dina Alter was still firing away, challenging the opposing batters as though she were locked in a nailbiter.

She retired two hitters on groundout and the Panthers got the third out in a rundown to post a shutout frame.

While the Panthers failed to score in the bottom of the inning to end up losing 13-1 under the 10-run mercy rule, first-year had coach Paul Lano came away from the game admiring the pluck of his young hurler.

“I think Dina stood up to the challenge of a good hitting team,” said Lano.

“She showed maturity and she is a 15-year old sophomore. It is nice to have a pitcher that hangs in there like that. I kept checking with her and she said she was fine. When we don’t make plays, the innings last longer than they should have. That can be frustrating for a pitcher but it didn’t faze her.”

The Panthers have hung in there collectively as the team only has nine players on its roster.

“They are happy to have a team,” said Lano. “I told them before the game, this is your team, this is it. We are nine strong and they won’t take no for an answer. We are going to go out and play and take on all comers.”

The Panthers got some good play from sophomore co-captains Jess Toltzis and Tess Zahn in the opening day setback. Catcher Toltzis was a rock behind the plate, throwing out several runners while shortstop Zahn made some sharp plays in the field and contributed a single and the team’s lone run offensively.

“Jessica proved today that she is a great defensive team leader and Zahn gives us a spark,” asserted Lano.

“The team’s leadership is in good hands. Both captains are very vocal and encouraging which is nice.”

The play of sophomore third baseman Mary Kate Flemming was also encouraging; she looked good with the glove and pounded out a double.

“She made a change with her hands at the plate and she belts one deep to centerfield,” said Lano. “The left side of our infield is very strong.”

Lano acknowledges that the Panthers have a strong challenge ahead of them this spring.

“We have a lot of work to do; we need to work on the fundamentals,” said Lano, whose infield also includes senior Lily Halpern at first and freshman Katie Alden at second with the outfield featuring junior Netesa Bland, senior Gabi Phillips, and freshman Sabrina Matlock.

“We have a defensive system and they have an understanding of it. It is different from what they are used to but as they get better at it they will execute better.”

With the pitching battery of Alter and Toltzis, the Panthers have the core in place to get better.

“We have the centerpieces to build the program around, that is the hard part,” said Lano, whose club dropped to 0-2 with a 16-4 loss at Pennington last Monday and is next in action when it hosts South Hunterdon on April 9. “We can add pieces around them.”

STEVIE WONDER: Hun School baseball star Stevie Wells takes a big cut in a game last spring. The powerful junior first baseman should provide plenty of punch in the middle of the batting order for the Raiders as they go for a second straight state Prep A title. Hun, now 0-1 this spring, hosts Blair on April 4, plays at Hopewell Valley on April 5, and then hosts Germantown Academy (Pa.) on April 10. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In 2011, the Hun School baseball team saved its best for last.

Going through a 2-3 stretch in the middle of the season, the Raiders caught fire and rode that late surge to a state Prep A title.

“Last year we came out of nowhere; the kids played extremely well at the end,” said longtime Hun head coach Bill McQuade, whose team ended the spring with a 12-7 record.

“We did everything we needed to do. We caught the ball; we got good pitching and timely hitting.”

McQuade is confident that his squad can pick up where it left off last year. “Overall, I think we are a little better than we were at this point last year,” said McQuade, who is entering his 42nd year at the helm of the program. “Most kids are back and they are older and stronger.”

The Raiders certainly have some good kids at key defensive positions. “You always want to be strong up the middle,” said McQuade, whose team started its 2012 season with a 9-7 loss to Lawrenceville last Wednesday.

“We have Gavin Stupienski at catcher. We needed to replace Chris Leach and he has turned out to be very good there. We have Eddie Paparealla at shortstop. He played third base a little bit last year. He had a great summer and he has to come through. He has spectacular plays some games and then makes errors in others. He works his tail off. In center field, we have David Dudeck; he is such a competitor. He is fast and he has a good arm.”

In McQuade’s view, Dudeck’s work ethic sets a tone for the team. “Dave is workout-aholic; he is in here at 6 in the morning lifting weights,” said McQuade of Dudeck who is heading to Boston College this fall where he will be playing for the Eagles’ football program.

“We were leaving for our Florida trip on March 12 and I told the guys to report at 6 a.m. I get there at 5:30 and I see a bucket holding open the gym door. I go in there and he is hitting with his dad in the batting cage.”

McQuade is expecting some good work on the mound from star pitchers, junior Austin Goeke and senior Alex Fabian.

“Goeke has to be the ace; he is throwing harder than last year and has a better curve ball and is working on a change-up,” said McQuade.

“He really wants to be a pitcher. Fabian has come on too; he is still working on his control. He has been working out and his fastball is much stronger; his curveball is better. I love his attitude.”

Hun should have better depth at pitching this year with junior Mike Manfredi, freshman Jason Applegate, junior Christian Galkowski, senior Thom Browne, senior John Campbell, and junior Stevie Wells all having the chance to see action on the mound

“Mike Manfredi is going to get some innings; he pitched for us last year and helped at designated hitter and third base,” added McQuade.

“Jason Applegate is a freshman and he is going to be a player. He can pitch and will be competing for right field job. Christian Galkowski is a lefty junior transfer from Notre Dame; he wears big glasses and looks like the “Wild Thing” character from the Major League movie. He is an easygoing kid who gets people out. We have other kids who can throw strikes, Thomas Browne, John Campbell, and Stevie Wells can give us an inning here or there. We have six kids we can rely on.”

The Raiders have a solid infield upon which it can rely. “I have Stevie at first base; he can crush the ball and he is much better defensively,” said McQuade.

“He is a great kid; I can’t say enough about what kind of a person he is. I have Bailey Hammer at second. I told him to follow Dave Dudeck around. He starts going to the gym at 6 to lift weights and I see a difference in him in one week and how he is carrying himself. Brandon Smith is at third and has looked unbelievable in preseason. He has done everything we have asked of him. He is looking really good in the field and at the plate.”

In the outfield, Hun has some good players flanking centerfielder Dudeck, “Devan Birch in left field has tremendous speed,” said McQuade.

“He may even get a better jump on the ball than Dave. The two of them could cover the outfield on their own. Brett Forman and Campbell are also in the mix in right field.”

On offense, that team speed will come in handy as the Raiders figure to be playing more small ball this spring.

“With the BBCOR (Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution) bats, the ball doesn’t jump off the bats,” noted McQuade. “It is going to be like playing with wood bats, you can hear the difference. We will need to manufacture runs. We are focusing on baserunning and bunting runners along.”

While McQuade knows it will be tough to repeat as Prep A champions, he believes his squad has the pieces in place to produce another big spring.

“If it all comes together defensively, we could be very good,” said McQuade, whose club hosts Blair on April 4, plays at Hopewell Valley on April 5, and then hosts Germantown Academy (Pa.) on April 10.

“The pitching has to hold up; we need to be strong up the middle.  At the plate, we have to hit line drives and find gaps.”

WELL PLAYED: Stuart Country Day School lacrosse star ­­Ani ­Hallowell heads up the field in action last season. Senior attacker Hallowell figures to be a key offensive threat for the Tartans this spring. Stuart team opens its 2012 campaign by playing at Rutgers Prep on April 4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As a freshman at Notre Dame High in 2002, Caitlin Grant decided to give lacrosse a try.

Grant took to the game and went on to have a fine career for the Fighting Irish. She then played two years at The College of New Jersey.

After injuries ended her college playing career, Grant got involved in another phase of the game, becoming an assistant coach for the Notre Dame girls’ program while she was still a student at TCNJ.

“My freshman year at Notre Dame was the first year I touched the stick,” said Grant.

“I was lucky to have great coaches along the way, I have been taking in everything I have been taught.”

Now, Grant is applying those lessons as she takes the helm of the Stuart Country Day lacrosse program, ushering in a youth movement for a program in transition.

“We are a very young team,” said Grant, a 2010 TCNJ alum who is replacing Sara Wagner.

“We had our first scrimmage last week and we only had 12 girls. We were starting a lot of freshmen who have never played before.”

With so many lax neophytes, Grant is focusing on the basics. “It goes back to the basics, throwing and catching the ball,” said Grant, whose team opens its 2012 campaign by playing at Rutgers Prep on April 4.

“You don’t need fancy plays. You can have a simple offense, you need to do the core things right.”

The Tartans do have a core of veterans in the Hallowell sisters, senior Ani and sophomore Amy, together with senior Cat Reilly and junior Isabel Soto who have been stepping up.

“The few upperclassmen that we have are very good leaders, they keep the intensity up,” said Grant. “The kids are so coachable; they are sponges. We are learning from each other.”

Grant will be looking for the Hallowell sisters to trigger the offense with juniors Alaina Ungarini and Nicole Andrzejcyk helping out on attack.

The defensive wings will be Reilly and Soto with sophomore Meghan Shannon and a pair of freshmen, Isabel Lapuerta and Vidhi Raturi, playing low defense. Freshman Harlyn Bell is the starting goalie.

Even though Stuart is coming off a 2-10 season, Grant believes the Tartans can be competitive this spring.

“These girls have so much potential, they are picking things up fast,” asserted Grant.

“I am proud of their progress so far. There are a lot of good teams in the areas; everyone is so competitive. I think we can hang with those teams as long as we believe in ourselves.”

Grant believes the team’s success will come down to intensity and execution.

“The keys will be never giving up and being comfortable with ball on the stick,” said Grant.

“Communication on defense is huge. Talking really makes a difference, it keeps you on your toes and it disrupts the offense.

As Grant steps into the head coaching role, she is hoping to make a difference.

“I feel so lucky to have this position, I want us to come out with a bang,” said Grant.

“I want to build a strong program; I want us to be good so people will want to come and play here.”

March 28, 2012

OVERDUE: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Alex Capretta heads up field in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior star Capretta tallied three goals and an assist, including the game-winning score, as Princeton edged Yale 10-9 in five overtimes. It was the longest game in the history of both programs. No. 11 Princeton, now 5-2 overall and 2-0 in Ivy League action, plays at Brown (3-3 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 31. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team dropped a 1-goal decision to North Carolina earlier this month, Chris Bates pointed to the Tigers’ lack of composure in the clutch as a decisive factor.

After that 9-8 loss to the Tar Heels on March 10, Princeton didn’t have a nailbiter in its next two contests as it cruised to wins over Penn and Villanova.

But last Saturday at Yale, the Tigers got ample opportunity to display their poise as they found themselves in a marathon pressure cooker for the ages as the rivals played into five overtimes, the longest game in the history of both programs.

Showing composure and persistence, Princeton outlasted the feisty Bulldogs as an Alex Capretta goal gave the Tigers a 10-9 win after 18:21 of overtime before 1,057 at Reese Stadium.

A relieved head coach Bates was proud of his team’s resolve as it improved to 5-2 overall and 2-0 in Ivy League play while Yale dropped to 2-4 overall, 0-2 Ivy.

“We are happy to get away with a win and be 2-0 in the Ivy League but we still have room to grow,” said Bates.

“We can put that in our memory bank. We played with good poise. We executed in trying times. It is a good to win a game like that; it gives you confidence.”

At earlier points in the game, it looked like Princeton was going to win with ease. The Tigers jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the first quarter, seemingly picking up where it left off from an impressive 11-4 win over Penn a week earlier.

“We started off well,” said Bates. “We were scoring goals in a flurry which is good. We got three relatively quick goals and then the game settled down.”

The teams went back and forth over the next two quarters with Yale outscoring Princeton 4-2 to make it a 5-5 game heading into the fourth quarter.

Once again, it looked like the Tigers seized the momentum as they reeled off a 4-1 run to take a 9-6 lead with 3:35 remaining in regulation.

“We had another little burst, Alex had two goals and Tucker [Shanley] had one,” recalled Bates.

But then showing the kind of lapse that plagued it earlier in the season, Princeton yielded three unanswered goals as Yale forced overtime.

“It was uncharacteristic of us,” said Bates, reflecting on the waning moments of the fourth quarter.

“They got one in transition and it was 9-7 and you could feel that the momentum shifted. They got some face-offs and scored. They are a good team.”

There were wild swings of momentum in the marathon extra session as the foes combined for 26 shots, seven turnovers, nine saves, and three extra-man opportunities.

“It was frenetic; each period had its own personality,” recalled Bates, whose team outshot Yale 18-8 in the overtimes and 49-38 on the day.

“We had some shots that I was sure were going in. There were a lot of penalties. They dominated one period; we only had possession for 20 seconds.”

In Bates’ view, it was fitting that Capretta notched the game-winner. “Finally at the end, Alex got one,” said Bates of Capretta, who had tallied three goals and an assist in the win, giving him 15 points so far this spring after scoring a total of 10 in his first three seasons.

“He had a good game; he is having a really good senior year. He is playing with poise and under control. It was good to see him get that one.”

The Tigers got a poised effort from senior star goalie Tyler Fiorito. “Tyler took the next step; he made two really big saves,” said Bates of tri-captain Fiorito, who made 13 saves in the game and now has a 7.29 goals against average this season. “There was one in the fourth overtime and one in the fifth. They were All-American saves to keep them from winning the game.”

Bates also tipped his hat to his defensive unit which features such standouts as senior tri-captains Chad Wiedmaier and John Cunningham together with classmate Jonathan Meters and sophomore Rob Castelo.

“It is always a work in progress: I think we have some of the most talented individuals in the country there,” said Bates. “But it comes down to how we communicate and operate as a unit.”

With 11th-ranked Princeton playing at Brown (3-3 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on Saturday, Bates is expecting another nailbiter.

“It is going to be a battle; we had a very close game with them last year (a 5-4 win in four overtimes),” said Bates. “Every Ivy game is up for grabs.”

But with Princeton developing an ability to stay cool under pressure, Bates likes his team’s chances.

“It is a pretty mature group; the leadership is solid and it is not just the captains,” said Bates.

“The guys are growing up. I think we have guys who want to step up and make plays. As evidenced Saturday, the guys are willing to take shots. You need the payoff and we are getting it.”

LIGHT WAVES: Members of the Princeton University men’s lightweight first varsity power to victory in action last spring. The Tigers’ top boat got its 2012 campaign off to a good start as it topped Navy last Saturday. In upcoming action, the Tigers host Columbia and Georgetown on March 31 at Lake Carnegie with the Fosburgh Cup on the line. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

The 2011 postseason left a bitter taste for a proud Princeton University men’s lightweight program that is used to performing its best when it matters most.

After having swept the Eastern Sprints and the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regattas in 2009 and 2010, the Tigers’ first varsity fell well short of a three-peat last spring, taking fourth at the Easterns and sliding to fifth at the IRAs.

While Princeton head coach Marty Crotty wants his returning rowers to learn from last year’s frustration, he is happy to have them put 2011 in the rear view mirror.

“These guys do a good job; they came in here in September and didn’t dwell on what happened,” said Crotty.

“Everybody knows the score. There were things that I got wrong and things beyond our control that led to underperformance. The coaches and individuals had conversations over the summer and put everything to rest. These guys are so driven, they are just looking to make this year’s team and varsity 8 as fast as possible.”

Last Saturday, Princeton’s top boat showed some good speed as it won its season opening regatta, topping Navy in Annapolis, Md., retaining the Joseph Murtaugh Cup in the process.

“I am more nervous about this than any race even though we are now 3-0,” said Crotty, whose top boat clocked a time of 5:57.2 over the 2,000-meter course on the Severn River with Navy more than five seconds behind in 6:02.5.

“You don’t know what to expect because it is the first race. You don’t know how fast you are going to be until they put a crew next to you that is racing for your shirts. The Navy guys are tough, gritty, and always race hard. The course is usually windy.”

Crotty liked the toughness his first varsity displayed as it pulled away to victory.

“We were waiting for something to happen; maybe that’s what suits this boat,” said Crotty.

“Between 300 and 800 meters, we were vulnerable. We made a great move after 800 meters. I got to see something I hadn’t seen, an acceleration they hadn’t shown. It ended up to be a very nice cushion.”

Princeton has seen some great stuff from senior star and team captain Gianthomas Volpe.

“He’s been great,” said Crotty of Volpe, a native of Naples, Italy who has competed for the Italian national program. “He is not very animated, not very vocal. He keeps a very even keel and he leads through his actions. The guys respect him for what he is producing.”

Another senior stalwart, Steven Cutler, has been producing for the Tigers. “Steve is extremely diligent; he is really into his rowing,” added Crotty.

“Like Volpe, he leads by example. He rowed with the U.S. U-23 team all summer. The results he gets performance-wise make him our best starboard rower.”

Two other seniors, Alex Rubert and Nick Bax, are apparently saving their best for last. “Alex is back after a year out of the varsity; he is having the type of year that makes me look bad for keeping him out,” said Crotty.

“Last year, he did fine but I had a lot of options. This year, he is doing everything to put him solidly in the first varsity. He is stronger than ever and he is really tall for a lightweight. We can do things with him that can give the boat speed. Nick is having a very consistent year. In the past, he was very athletic; he produced some good results but was injured a lot. He is illness and injury free this year.”

In Crotty’s view, the result last Saturday was encouraging as the Tigers look to regain their championship form. “Any time you are .01 second ahead and bring home the Murtaugh Cup, that is positive,” said Crotty.

“It is a good starting point. We have 5-6 weeks to work on fitness and gaining tactical proficiency. This crew is only going to get better.”

Princeton will need to get better this Saturday as it faces a big test when it hosts Columbia and Georgetown at Lake Carnegie with the Fosburgh Cup on the line.

“We need to be aggressive off the line and not give anything away,” said Crotty. “Then we need to get to base speed and get to work. In our league, most races are not settled until the last half. I like this group; they take care of business. I really enjoy coaching them.”

DAY BREAK: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse star Zach Halliday breaks into the open last week in a preseason scrimmage. Junior midfielder Halliday figures to be a key offensive force for the Little Tigers this spring. PHS opens the 2012 season by playing at Hopewell Valley on March 31. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Peter Stanton, coaching the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team this spring is giving him plenty of teaching moments.

Losing a core of 10 players to graduation who led PHS to a 15-5-1 record in 2011 and an appearance in the Group III state quarterfinals, the Little Tigers are going with a bevy of untested performers.

“There is a genuine humility with this group of boys,” said Stanton, who is entering his 17th season at the helm of the PHS program.

“They know that they don’t know everything; they know they have a lot to learn.”

PHS will be expecting a lot from senior attackman Coleman Preziosi, who has learned to diversify his game.

“Coleman was a player for us last year who could shoot lefthanded,” said Stanton, whose team opens the 2012 season by playing at Hopewell Valley on March 31.

“He was the recipient of some great passes and he was a reliable finisher. This year, he can create a lot more. He has improved his dodging; he is a more complete player.”

Stanton believes he will see improved play from the rest of his attack unit which will include senior Nick Sandford, sophomore Matt Purdy, and junior Matt Olentine.

“Nick [Sandford] and Matt [Purdy] are doing a pretty nice job; they are sound players,” said Stanton. “Matt Olentine will get opportunities. We will mix and match.”

In the midfield, few can match the all-around contribution of senior star Kirby Peck.

“Kirby does a pretty good job on face-offs and he can defend,” said Stanton.

“He can create opportunities in transition and he is a good shooter. He is also giving us more leadership.”

The Little Tigers are also depending on senior Alex Rifkin and junior Zach Halliday to lead the way in the midfield.

“Alex Rifkin scored some crucial goals for us last year; he is a very good dodger,” said Stanton, who will also be using Pat McCormick, Matt Corrado, and Tyler Nkati in the midfield.

“He has improved his defending; he is better at riding and clearing. He is a more complete player. Zach has been the dirty work player for us in the past; he will be contributing more on offense this year.”

The PHS defense is a work in progress with the graduation of such stars as Dean DiTosto, Robby Dowers, Jack Miller, and Michael Irving.

“Jack Persico is doing a good job,” added Stanton. “Jackson Andres will also be involved. We have Jonah Glasgold, Anthony Tang, and Matt DiTosto back there.”

Stanton likes what he is seeing from senior goalie Elliot Wilson as he takes over for Griffin Peck.

“Elliot was really good in our scrimmage against Bergen Catholic,” said Stanton. “He has really good hand speed. He is also very fast, he can come out and get loose balls.”

If PHS is to maintain its winning ways, its young players will have to be fast learners.

“We have been pretty pleased with how we have done in scrimmages; we have competed favorably against some pretty good teams,” said Stanton.

“We don’t really know what this team’s potential is; it is a wait-and-see approach. The work rate is good; there is a steep learning curve. The boys are excited to learn the game together. We have to overcome experience; you do that with effort.”

MID-RANGE GAME: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse star Mia Haughton heads up the field last season. The Amherst College-bound senior midfielder figures to be an offensive catalyst for PHS this spring as it looks to build on a stirring 2011 season that saw the Little Tigers win the Mercer County Tournament on the way to an 11-5 final record. PHS is slated to start the 2012 season by hosting Montgomery High on March 27 and then playing at Hopewell Valley on March 31. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last year, the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team authored a profile in courage.

In late April, the PHS players were devastated when senior midfielder Emma Brunskill passed away.

Playing through their grief and forging a deep bond in the process, the Little Tigers produced a stirring run, winning the Mercer County Tournament for the first time and advancing to the second round of the state tournament.

Last year’s tragedy and triumph has influenced the squad as it gets ready to start the 2012 campaign.

“I think the girls realize how important it is to bond on and off the field,” said PHS head coach Christie Cooper, who is in her fourth year at the helm of the program and guided the Little Tigers to an 11-5 record last spring.

“They realize that off-the-field relationships can impact their play on the field. After last year, they realize that there are a lot more important things than lacrosse and that the sport is a fun thing to do so they should just enjoy it.”

Cooper believes that the PHS midfield trio of Amherst College-bound senior Mia Haughton, together with sophomore standouts Emilia Lopez-Ona and Elizabeth Jacobs will be fun to watch this spring.

“Haughton and Lopez-Ona; they have the ability to pass to each other,” said Cooper, whose team was slated to start the season by hosting Montgomery High on March 27 and then playing at Hopewell Valley on March 31.

“They read each other without a sound; they can just look at each other. Lopez-Ona can catch anything and Haughton makes great feeds. Jacobs is stepping up; she plays without thinking. She just plays the game and uses her brute force.”

Another senior, William Smith-bound Chiara Favalaro, will be the driving force of the attack unit that will also feature junior Vivien Bazarko and sophomore Olivia Kelley.

“Kelley and Bazarko are new so Favalaro will be the leader; she is helping them make the transition,” said Cooper.

The Little Tiger defense is being led by a third battle-tested senior, Katie Reilly, who will be joining Haughton at Amherst.

“Reilly is a tremendous leader; she always gives constructive talk,” said Cooper. “She leads by example.”

Reilly has a good group to lead as the PHS backline will also include sophomore Dana Smith, junior Clara Celestin, sophomore Kristi Demilt, and junior Madison Luther.

“Dana is a wonderful athlete and we are happy to have Celestin back there,” said Cooper.

“Luther is in just her second year playing the game but has really picked things up.”

Freshman Mira Shane has been picking things up quickly at goalie as she takes over for graduated star Devin Chambers.

“Mira has been a great surprise,” asserted Cooper. “Goalie was a big question mark; it is one position where we really needed a replacement. She talks on the field and she gets along with everyone. She doesn’t act like a freshman. She’s getting outside training. I was nervous before but I am not now.”

As Cooper looks ahead to the season, she knows there are going to be some nerve-wracking moments.

“We have lots of potential but our side of the CVC is very strong,” said Cooper.

“The teams are evenly matched; there are no easy games. You have to play the best to get better. It could be tough for seeding in the tournaments but we are better for it and it will help in the postseason.”

But after last year, PHS has a better perspective on what it takes to get through tough times.

“It is a new season and a new team but the bond from the girls last year has carried on with this group,” said Cooper.

HANDS-ON TEACHING: Jason Barry, left, helps student Evan McGrain, a member of Rider University golf program, with his putting form. Barry, a 2006 Princeton High alum and former Little Tiger golf star, has made the sport his career. He works full-time for Mercer County Golf Academy where he is now the Director of Junior Golf. In addition, he has obtained Level 1 certification from the PGA teaching professional program and is working on getting Class A status.

During his days as a star player a few years back for the Princeton High boys’ golf team, Jason Barry realized that he had a knack for teaching the game.

“If one of my teammates was struggling with something, I could watch him and help him out,” said Barry, a 2006 PHS alum who helped the Little Tigers win two Mercer County Tournament team titles during his high school career.

Shortly after graduating from PHS, Barry decided to make teaching golf his career.

“I played for a season at Bucks County Community College and I realized I was starting to like teaching more than playing,” recalled Barry.

“I had started working at the Pennington Golf Center after high school, running junior camps. I really enjoyed teaching and watching kids get better.”

In 2008, Barry started working full-time at the Mercer County Golf Academy where he is now the Director of Junior Golf.

Now, he is immersed in running junior programs and camps as he passes on his love of the game and hones his skills as a teacher. The academy offers a Futurestars Golf for players ages 6-12 and Tournament Training for players 13 and older. In addition, there are week-long camps during from April 2-6 and April 9-13 and throughout the summer.

The academy staff also includes Director of Golf Bob Corbo, together with teaching professionals Pete Palmisano, Mike Michaelides, Chris Miyahara, and Shareen Lai.

“The pre-tournament program introduces the game to kids, stressing fundamentals like the grip and set-up,” explained Barry, noting the ongoing programs take place at the Princeton Country Club (PCC) on Wheeler Way, which includes a state-of the-art indoor facility.

“We teach the basics of the game. The tournament program is for kids who have been playing for a while and have played in tournaments or looking to start in tournaments. We cover situations they can encounter in competition. It is the road to the college game. We have Division I coaches on staff and we can get the kids in front of college coaches.”

The week-long camps provide more in-depth training and game analysis.

“We have them play 18 holes in the morning; we do critiques at lunch and then do drills in the afternoon,” added Barry, referring to the camps which take place at PCC, Mountain View, and the Mercer Oaks courses.

“The mental stuff is really huge, we teach them to commit to a target and stick to routine so you don’t talk yourself into a bad shot. I put them in the woods, I put them in a bunker so they won’t fall apart if they run into those things.”

Barry developed an early commitment to golf. “I started playing when I was 7; my uncle taught me the game,” recalled Barry, who took up the game in Northern California and came east when he was in fifth grade.

“When I was 8 years old, my mom would drop me off at the course in the summer and I would stay from 7 in the morning until 7 at night. It was hard to pull me away. I was absolutely addicted to the game; I was just fascinated with it.”

During his PHS career, Barry found a group of fellow golf addicts. “It was awesome; we had 10 or 11 guys who could break 40,” said Barry, whose Little Tiger teammates included Jordan Gibbs, Mike DiMeglio, Peter Teifer, Kyle Rasavage, and Greg Heisen, a group that helped PHS go 56-2 in dual match play over Barry’s final three seasons with the program.

“It was great to have that much talent at the same time. We had a lot of fun. We were good friends; we hung out on the weekends and competed against each other.”

Making golf a career has certainly been fun for Barry. “I want to do this the rest of my life; I want to go on the PGA tour and be one of the best teachers out there,” asserted Barry, who has obtained Level 1 certification from the PGA teaching professional program and is working on getting Class A status.

“I like teaching kids with a good work ethic and will to succeed and then seeing the results. Butch Harmon is my idol; he talks a lot about keeping it simple. I try to soak up things from the big names.”

FIRING RANGE: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse star Cody Triolo fires the ball in a game last spring. Junior midfielder Triolo, a second-team All Prep B performer in 2011, should be a key weapon for the Panthers this spring. PDS starts the 2012 season by hosting the Academy of New Church on March 29. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last spring, Rob Tuckman aimed to get his Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team back on the map.

The Panthers achieved that goal, going 10-5 and advancing to the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals and the state Prep B semis.

As the PDS head coach looks ahead to the 2012 campaign, he is looking for his squad to take another step up the ladder in local lax circles.

“We are setting our goals pretty high; there are a lot of solid programs in the area and I know they are doing the same thing,” said Tuckman, whose team opens the 2012 season by hosting the Academy of New Church on March 29.

“It just depends on who steps up on the day of important games. I think we can exceed our record last year, we are looking to make a mark.”

The Panthers have some marksmen at attack in seniors Garret Jensen and Tyler Olsson together with junior Bump Lisk and freshmen Jacob Shavel and Chris Azzarello.

“Garret is going to run the attack; Olsson is popping in and out,” said Tuckman.

“Bump just got out of hockey; I expect him to be a real factor by April. Jacob is the younger brother of Aaron Shavel (a senior star on the 2011 squad); he’s looking good. Like a lot of younger siblings of good players, he has taken some lumps but really knows the game. I think he could match or exceed what Aaron did for us. Chris is a great finisher. We are young on attack but we are playing at a high level.”

Junior star Cody Triolo provides PDS some high-level play in the midfield.

“Cody has all the shots; he is a game changer,” said Tuckman, noting that Triolo has recovered well from a collarbone injury he suffered while playing for the PDS hockey team this winter.

“He just signed with Lehigh so he is really excited about that. Having a player committed to a D-I program really ups the ante for everyone.”

Tuckman is excited about the rest of his midfield that includes junior Taran and a pair of sophomore standouts in Connor Bitterman and Lewis Blackburn.

“Taran Auslander is a real surprise; he has upped his game,” added Tuckman.

“He is one of our strongest players; he controls the pace for us in the midfield. Bitterman and Blackburn have a year under their belts; they are playing with more confidence and with more muscle on their bones.”

In Tuckman’s view, PDS’s defensive unit should provide some muscle this spring.

“I think defense is probably the strongest part of our team right now,” asserted Tuckman.

“Our senior captain Zack Higgins is a tenacious player for us back there. Derek Bell is a transfer from Hopewell Valley and he is very good. Walker Ward has really stepped up as a senior. He has great knowledge of the game and what we are trying to do.”

At goalie, the Panthers will be going with a tandem of freshman Griffin Thompson and sophomore Nelson Garrymore who have shown knowledge of the game beyond their years.

“Griffin is a really good shot blocker; he makes outstanding saves,” said Tuckman.

“He has been around the game a long time and he understands where players should be. He is a good distributor. He doesn’t act like a freshman, he is a good communicator and good leader on the field. Nelson is right there with him. He is a bigger kid and has a year under his belt. He is also a very good shot blocker.”

In Tuckman’s view, if the Panthers play smart, they could have a very good spring.

“We go at a fast pace; we have to make good decisions,” said Tuckman. “If we play with discipline and play hard, we should be successful.”

RUNNING START: Hun School softball star Joey Crivelli runs to first base in action last spring. Junior infielder Crivelli figures to be a key player for the Raiders this spring as they look to improve on the 10-6 record they posted last season. Hun opens its 2012 season by playing at rival Peddie on March 28. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

On paper, the Hun School softball team looks to be a battle-tested unit, losing only two seniors to graduation from a club that went 10-6 last spring.

But those two graduates left a huge void as one, Meghan Hayes, was the team’s workhorse ace pitcher and the other, first baseman MacKenzie Pyne, emerged as a clutch hitter and superb leader for the Raiders.

“We have a lot of returning players but we are still young,” said longtime head coach Kathy Quirk, who is in her 36th season at the helm of the program and guided the Raiders to the state Prep A semifinals last spring.

The team’s youth is most evident in its mound corps as junior Danielle Beal and freshman Caitlin Hoagland will be handling the pitching duties.

“It will be a rotation; it may even be an in-game rotation where one goes three innings and the other goes the last three or four,” said Quirk, whose team starts the 2012 season by playing at rival Peddie on March 28.

“Neither throws super-fast. They need to throw strikes and get the ball into play and let the defense do its work behind them.”

The Raiders boast a solid defense with junior Joey Crivelli at third base, freshman Julia Blake at shortstop, senior Stefanie Fox at second, and sophomore Cameron McNair at first along with Beal and Hoagland. Junior star Carey Million will be the starting catcher with freshman Vicky Leach backing her up.

The outfield will be the same as last year with sophomore Alexa Fares in left field, sophomore Kristen Manochio in center, and senior Emily Kuchar in right, with junior Christina Kilgariff as the top reserve.

Quirk believes her team can produce some offensive firepower. “I think we can score runs,” said Quirk.

“Beal is hitting the ball well; Blake is also hitting well. We will have Million in the middle of the lineup. Crivelli is quick on the bases. McNair has had some big hits in scrimmages.”

In Quirk’s view, her team could do some big things this spring if it grows up fast.

“We are young and lacking some varsity experience,” said Quirk. “I think we can hold our own. We need to be confident in ourselves. We need to throw strikes and play good defense.”


FLEET WEEKS: Hun School girls’ lacrosse star Kate Weeks heads to goal in action last season. Hun will be depending on junior midfielder Weeks, who scored 61 goals last year, to be a top offensive weapon again this spring. The Raiders start regular season play with a game at the Blair Academy on April 4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Beth Loffredo, her debut season last spring as the head coach of the Hun School girls’ lacrosse team turned into a bumpy ride.

It took a while for the players to adjust to Loffredo’s approach and then, just as everybody was getting on the same page, the team was derailed by a spate of injuries as it posted a 5-9 final record.

This spring, Loffredo and her players are in synch from the start. “A lot of the girls came in with accurate expectations this year,” said Loffredo, whose team opens regular season play with a game at the Blair Academy on April 4.

“They know we are going to be working hard but that we like to have fun. We take lacrosse seriously; we are looking to build a strong program.”

The Raiders boast a serious offensive weapon in the midfield with junior Kate Weeks, who scored 61 goals last year and has already passed the 100-goal mark in her career.

“Kate’s athletic ability speaks for herself,” said Loffredo. “What people might not know because they aren’t around her everyday is her pure passion for the game and helping others get better. She is a true player and a true leader. The other players want to get better and catch her passes inside the eight.”

Hun has some other good players patrolling the midfield in sophomore Francesca Bello, junior Maddie Schade, and junior Olivia Albanese.

“Bello is another leader; she is only a sophomore but I have her calling plays,” said Loffredo.

“It is fun having her on the team. Maddie Schade is getting game-educated. She is playing club lax and when she comes to play now, she can just play. She is attack-minded and working on her body control. Albanese is such a fluid player.”

The Hun attack will feature some young talent in freshman Erica Dwyer, sophomore Brianna Barrett, and junior Tina Ruiz-Mitchell.

“They are good athletes,” added Loffredo. “I can rely on them to do the right thing on the field.”

The battle-tested pair of senior Emily Decicco and junior Lauren Apuzzi provide the right stuff along the back line.

“Emily is a really good athlete; she tries really hard,” asserted Loffredo. “She is awesome to coach. Apuzzi is another good smart defender.”

At goalie, Loffredo will be going with the tandem of senior Lucia Perasso and sophomore Alex Kane.

“Lucia and Alex are splitting time,” said Loffredo. “Perasso is really smart. She is really good in the classroom and she picks things up quickly on the field. Kane is a good athlete; she instinctively knows where she should be. I think we will be doing a rotation this season.”

Loffredo is hoping that her players picked up a lot over the school’s recent spring break as the team got to spend extra time together on and off the field.

“We stuck around for break and had 2-a-days and team dinners,” said Loffredo.

“We have had four scrimmages this year which has given us a chance to get our feet under us. I told the girls there is no pressure with the scrimmages. I am happy if you win, I am happy if you lose; I just want you to learn things.”

If the Raiders can soak up the lessons from the preseason, they should get back on the winning track.

“We are working on consistency,” said Loffredo. “We will be look wonderful and disciplined one moment and then 30 seconds later we will look disorganized. We need smart execution. As long as we stay healthy and keep disciplined, we should have a good season.”

March 21, 2012

WILD RIDE: Princeton University women’s basketball star Niveen Rasheed battles past a foe in action this winter. Last Saturday, the junior star and Ivy Player of the Year produced 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a losing cause as ninth-seeded Princeton fell 67-64 to eighth-seeded Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Bridgeport, Conn. The contest featured six lead changes and eight ties before the Tigers succumbed. The loss to the Wildcats left Princeton with a final overall record of 24-5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As Princeton University women’s basketball head coach Courtney Banghart broke down her squad’s matchup against Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, she had the sense that the game was destined to be a nailbiter.

“I figured that was a game where neither team was going to pull away; both teams grind it out,” said Banghart, whose team came into the game ranked No. 24 in the latest national poll.

That analysis was certainly borne out when the teams met last Saturday at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. The contest featured six lead changes and eight ties before eighth-seeded Kansas State pulled out a 67-64 squeaker over the ninth-seeded Tigers.

“It was a game of small runs,” lamented Banghart, whose team ended the winter with an overall record of 24-5 and 14-0 Ivy League. “Unfortunately they had their last small run at the end of the game.”

Kansas State started the game with a 5-0 run but the Tigers were undeterred despite having fallen behind early the last two years in the NCAA tournament on the way to lopsided losses.

“It was a confident team all week and it was a confident team on the day of the game,” asserted Banghart. “I told them it didn’t matter how we started, it was going to be a 40-minute game between two good teams.”

The trio of All-Ivy performers, junior Niveen Rasheed and seniors Devona Allgood and Lauren Edwards, weren’t about to let the Tigers get routed this time.

Each produced some dazzling play to bring Princeton to within 31-27 at half and keep the Tigers in the game until the final buzzer.

“I thought our stars played better than their stars but that their role players played better than ours,” said Banghart, who got 20 points, nine rebounds, and six assists from Ivy Player of the Year Rasheed with Allgood chipping in 15 points and 12 rebounds and Edwards adding 15 points.

The Tigers, though, couldn’t contain one of the Wildcat role players, senior Branshea Brown, who scored 22 points and had seven rebounds.

“Brown had career high of 13 points as a sophomore; she was the role player who made a difference,” said Banghart, referring to Brown, who is averaging 5.6 points a game this season.

“We talked about making adjustments but they had her in at the same time as [Jalana] Childs and we didn’t want to take a big off Childs.”

The Tigers got off to a big start in the second half, going on a 12-4 run to take a 39-35 lead. The Wildcats battled back to regain the lead and built a 53-45 cushion with 8:17 remaining. Princeton, though, didn’t fold, reeling off seven unanswered points to get within a point with 6:53 left in the contest. The Tigers couldn’t get over the hump, never regaining the lead on the way to the three-point setback.

“I liked the way we executed in transition; we were keeping with it,” said Banghart, reflecting on her team’s second half effort.

“I told the kids before the game to do what we do and be who we are and don’t get lost in the moment. We showed discipline on defense and in the looks we generated on offense.”

In the final analysis, the Tigers couldn’t generate the clutch plays when they needed them down the stretch against Kansas State, which went on to lose 72-26 to top-seeded Connecticut last Monday in the second round.

“It was a game of possessions; we are kicking ourselves over some possessions we would like to have back,” said Banghart. “There were a few plays that made the difference, they made some shots at the end.”

The tears flowed in the locker room afterward as Banghart addressed her players.

“I think what I liked most about this year’s team is they held themselves to their own standards, no matter what the scoreboard said; they were strong, alone, and fearless,” said Banghart.

“I thanked the team afterward for caring to care. They cared out loud; we didn’t hide our goals. We signed on for this so that is why there is so much heartache afterward.”

While the ending was unhappy, the Tigers showed plenty of heart over the winter as they won their third straight Ivy crown.

“We were able to grow together after the Navy loss,” added Banghart. “We competed well against Top 25 teams. They weren’t happy when we beat Brown by double figures but knew we didn’t play our best. They celebrated each other.”

The squad’s trio of seniors, Allgood, Edwards, and reserve guard Laura Johnson, are a group to celebrate.

“I feel like I grew up with them,” asserted Banghart, reflecting on her seniors, who helped Princeton go 41-1 in Ivy play the last three years as the Tigers posted an overall record of 74-13 in that stretch.

“You look upon certain years as highs and I think they will feel that way when they look back on our time together.”

In Banghart’s view, the program is well placed to keep growing. “It all ended too soon; we hoped we could skip the step of competing well before getting that first NCAA win,” said Banghart.

“It falls on the next group to take that step. If we are building a program the right way, it is someone else’s turn to carry on. We start up again in a few weeks.”

MEMORABLE RUN: Princeton University men’s basketball player Douglas Davis runs up the court in recent action. Last Monday, senior guard Davis, a former Hun School standout, scored a game-high 20 points but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 82-61 at Pittsburgh in the second round of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) to end the season at 20-12. Davis’s output in the finale gave him 1,550 in his career as he passed Kit Mueller ’91 at 1,546 to stand second at Princeton in scoring only to the 2,503 points put up in three seasons by Bill Bradley ’65. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

Last week, the Princeton University men’s basketball team started the postseason by giving up 47 points in the first half at Evansville as the programs met in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI).

The Tigers, though, scored 48 and kept rolling over the last 20 minutes of the contest, pulling away in the waning moments to earn a 95-86 triumph.

“We scored 95 points in a game on the road and we didn’t defend,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, in reflecting on the win that improved the Tigers to 20-11.

“What I liked most about those points is that a lot of them came off assists. We move the ball nicely and when we do that, you are really hard to guard.”

As Henderson looked forward to his team’s CBI second round matchup at the University of Pittsburgh last Monday, he knew his team had to tighten things up on the defensive end.

“In their wins, they score in the 70; in their losses, they are in the 50s,” said Henderson.

“You really have to defend if you are going to be successful. We are going to work on a lot of different looks because I think they have some talented scorers on the floor.”

Playing at the Peterson Events Center where it rarely loses, Pitt gave Princeton a heavy dose of its offensive talent, jumping out to a 49-25 lead at half.

“We knew when they scored points, they were dangerous,” said Henderson. “A team that makes just over five 3-pointers a game makes nine; we just couldn’t handle that. We can’t give up 49 points in a half and win many games except if you are in Evansville, Indiana.”

While the Tigers put up a fight in the second half, cutting the Pitt lead to 66-55 with 5:58 remaining in regulation, they ran out of gas on the way to a season-ending 82-61 loss.

“I thought we played well in spurts but they were the better,” said Henderson. “They are used to winning games here, we knew that.”

In the wake of the defeat, Henderson tipped his hat to his three seniors, Douglas Davis, Patrick Saunders, and John Comfort.

“We have been playing really good basketball and I am really proud of our seniors,” said Henderson.

“We had a rough start to the season at 1-5 and for us to finish the season winning 9 of 10 down the stretch, that was really important for us especially with what is going into next year. It was an important senior class that chose Princeton when we were down. Doug, Pat, and John chose Princeton and did something to get you back to where you need to be.”

Henderson was particularly proud of Davis, who scored a game-high 20 points in the finale to give him 1,550 in his career. As a result, the former Hun School star passed Kit Mueller ’91 at 1,546 to stand second in scoring at Princeton only to the 2,503 points put up in three seasons by Bill Bradley ’65.

“Doug is now the second all-time leading scorer in the school behind Bill Bradley,” noted Henderson. “He passed a very good player in Princeton basketball history in Kit Mueller.”

Davis, for his part, spread the credit as he reflected on his accomplishment.

“I am definitely proud of it,” said Davis. “It is an honor to be mentioned with Kit Mueller and Bill Bradley but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates so. I am thankful for them.”

Speaking for those teammates, junior star Ian Hummer lauded Davis and his fellow seniors for their contributions.

“Doug is a great player, he is the second all time scorer in Princeton history, that says it all,” said Hummer, who ended the night with 14 points after being held scoreless in the first half.

“He is also a great person off the court. It is a group of seniors on our team that we all love. Patrick and John are great teammates. They didn’t play as much as Doug has but they are still a huge part of this team.”

In view of junior Mack Darrow, playing in the CBI could prove to be a huge boost for the Tigers going forward.

“I think this tournament has been good in terms of being a springboard for next season,” added Darrow, who went 3-of-3 from the three-point range in the loss to Pitt to end up with nine points.

“I know that VCU won this and the next year was in the Final 4. Obviously, you can only hope to replicate something like that. But after our freshman year, we were in the CBI and I think we were close as a group and we won the league the next year. If that could happen again next year, that would be great. I think it definitely has a chance to happen, given the chance to play extra basketball together, it will really help us.”

Henderson, for his part, believes that the experience of playing Pitt and winning down the stretch to earn that opportunity can only help the Tigers.

“That is a good Pitt team,” said Henderson. “We knew the challenges of coming in here and playing well and trying to beat this team. I am just overall happy about the season.”

BIG WEEK: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Jeff Froccaro fires the ball last Saturday in Princeton’s 11-4 win over Penn. Junior attacker Jeff Froccaro tallied two goals and an assist in the victory as the Tigers improved to 4-2 overall and 1-0 in Ivy League play. Froccaro, who scored a career-high seven points on five goals and two assists in a win over Villanova on March 13, was later named the Ivy Co-player of the Week for his exploits along with Harvard’s Jeff Cohen. No. 12 Princeton plays at Yale (2-3 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 24. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming off two tough losses and facing midterm exams together with a big game against No. 10 Villanova followed by its Ivy League opener with Penn, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team saw last week as pivotal.

“It was definitely huge because last year this is the week where we started to have a tough time,” said junior star Jeff Froccaro. “We wanted to make sure that we beat these teams and start well in the Ivy League.”

Attackman Froccaro took matters into his own hands, tallying a career-high five goals and two assists in a 14-8 victory over Villanova on March 13 and then chipping in two goals and an assist as Princeton topped Penn 11-4 last Saturday before a sunsplashed crowd of 2,518 at Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium.

In Froccaro’s view, the win over Villanova helped give the Tigers momentum as they looked to turn the tables on a Penn team that beat Princeton 8-3 in 2011.

“I think Villanova was a huge momentum swing for us; we just kind of used all the energy from that game and brought it to this one,” said Froccaro, who was later named the Ivy Co-player of the Week for his exploits along with Harvard’s Jeff Cohen.

“This was definitely a big game; we were mad that we lost last year to them. It was a really, really bad loss for us. We wanted to beat Penn; that was the next step for us. Obviously starting off the Ivy League with a win, that is something that is very important.”

While the Tigers jumped out to a 3-1 lead over the Quakers with Froccaro scoring twice, the game tightened up and Princeton led just 4-3 at halftime.

“We weren’t putting the ball in the back of the net,” said Froccaro. “The coaches were saying keep up the pace and keep working hard and get ground balls and we’ll win the game.”

In the second half, the Tigers picked up the pace, reeling off six unanswered goals over the first 23:58 to build a 10-3 cushion and put the game out of reach.

“We were flying around; the guys felt loose,” said Froccaro, reflecting on Princeton’s second half performance. “The guys were not hesitating to just play to their potential.”

For Froccaro, moving to attack this season from midfield has helped him realize his potential as a scorer.

“It has been different; I played attack in high school but it took a little getting used to,” said Froccaro, who is second on the Tigers in points with 16 on 12 goals and four assists.

“I think I am doing pretty well back there. I am working hard in practice; I am shooting more and luckily the ball has been going in. I am comfortable playing with Tommy Schreiber and Mike Grossman; they are two good guys. We are playing all over the place behind the cage.”

Princeton head coach Chris Bates likes the way Froccaro has been playing in his new spot.

“Jeff is a gamer; he puts the ball in the back of the net,” said Bates, whose team improved to 4-2 overall with the victory over Penn.

“I thought he had some good feeds too. He had one assist but I thought it was a big one.”

The ball movement on attack led to a balanced scoring effort for the Tigers.

“The depth is good; it is good to get Forrest [Sonnenfeldt] back,” said Bates, who got three goals and two assists from freshman Mike MacDonald with Tucker Shanley adding two and Tom Schreiber chipping in a goal and three assists.

“I think overall we pulled away in the second half; I give our guys credit. Tucker [Shanley] came out and gave us a big bump in the second half; he got two big goals which we needed and then Chris White stuck the next one. Will Himler gives us another assist. They locked up Tom [Schreiber] a little bit. I thought their defense was very good but Tom still ends up with four points and settles us down and does a good job.”

Bates was happy with his defense, which held Penn scoreless for a 33:28 minute span from midway through the second quarter into the fourth.

“I think our shortsticks were a big reason for that,” said Bates. “Tyler [Fiorito] has settled down and made some big saves. We got lucky; they hit a couple of pipes and missed the cage a couple of times with good looks.”

Princeton looked good at both ends of the field as it pulled away from the Quakers.

“We are a good team when we get a little buffer,” added Bates, who was happy to see his team put on a good show on an afternoon which saw many alums on hand as Sherrerd Field was officially dedicated.

“I was proud that we came out and executed. We are just trying to get our guys to play in the moment and understand that even when it is a one-goal game, if we continue to do what we do, things will pop. There are times when we try to do too much, too quickly both offensively and defensively. The pressure gets a little bit big and that’s when we make some questionable decisions.”

Dealing with exams and two tough foes last week, the Tigers, now ranked 12th nationally, showed an ability to deal with pressure on multiple fronts.

“We come out of a midterm week so guys were tired,” said Bates, whose team plays at Yale (2-3 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 24.

“They are exhausted and we battled back. This was a big one to start the Ivies off right. We can take a breath and have a week to prepare for a good Yale team. This was a critical week and we feel like we passed the test so far.”

Froccaro, for his part, is proud of how the Tigers took care of business.

“It was really tough having that big weekday game because a lot of guys had midterms on Tuesday,” said Froccaro.

“We just got through it. We are used to having a lot of work and practice so we just kind of grind it out and get the job done.”

CLEAR FOCUS: Princeton University women’s lacrosse senior star Lindsey deButts clears the ball in a game earlier this spring. Last Saturday, All-American defender deButts helped Princeton top Virginia 9-7. The 19th-ranked Tigers, now 3-2 overall and 1-0 in Ivy League action, play at Columbia (1-4 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 21 and at No. 14 Johns Hopkins (6-2) on March 24. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Lindsey deButts is wearing a large knee brace on her left leg and is coming off hip surgery over the offseason but the senior star defender for the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team is not one to complain.

“I think it would be hard to find any senior who isn’t a little beaten up,” said DeButts, who also had hernia surgery in her junior season and didn’t practice until two days before the 2011 season opener.

“I have had a few extra injuries maybe but when you step on the field for a game, you do what you have to do to get through it. I think everyone has some bump or bruise somewhere.”

Last Saturday, deButts fought through the pain to help Princeton edge Virginia 9-7 before a crowd of 1,238 at Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium.

With the teams locked in a 4-4 stalemate at halftime, DeButts and the Tigers knew that they needed to ratchet up the intensity if they were going to come out on top.

“We wanted to pick it up and be a little more aggressive,” said deButts. “We knew that they were going to come out hungry in the second half.”

Princeton showed its hunger, scoring three straight goals to start the second half and putting together a 5-1 run to build a 9-5 lead. Then after Virginia scored two straight goals, the defense held the fort to secure the victory as the Tigers improved to 3-2 overall.

“This was a great complete game for us, I think, at both ends,” asserted the 5‘7 deButts, a native of Alexandria, Va. “The attack had some really nice goals and on defense, we had some great stops.”

In deButts’s view, the win over Virginia was a great confidence builder for the Tigers.

“I think this was a big game for us; we had lost two tough games, most recently the one to Duke (12-9 on March 3),” said deButts, reflecting on the tight rivalry which is now knotted at 15-15 all-time.

“UVa is No. 10 so it was a big game to prove that we are still in this season. The Duke game is behind us now and we are moving forward with this win. We hadn’t won against UVa since my freshman year. Last year we lost by one. Regardless of their ranking, it is always a tough game.”

As the defensive quarterback for the Tigers, deButts feels a responsibility to help the Princeton back line play tough.

“I try to keep everyone composed and keep that talk up,” explained deButts, a two-time All American, who has 11 ground balls and eight caused turnovers so far this season.

“I think today, it was really a team defense. Annie [Woehling] played great in the goal; she had an incredible game and I think that really helped anchor the rest of the team. It really gave us the confidence and we were feeding off of each other. It was a real team effort.”

As deButts looks ahead, she is confident the Tigers can make a good run in Ivy competition.

“The Ivies have become super competitive over the last couple of years; it makes it really exciting and really fun,” said deButts.

“I think we are anxious to get going. We just had Brown and we start in again with Columbia. I think this is a good way to start hitting our stride.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer believes the win over Virginia can get Princeton headed in the right direction.

“It is a huge confidence builder for us,” asserted Sailer. “That Duke game was just one we wish we could have another shot at; we let that get away. In our loss to Rutgers, we just didn’t play very well so we are starting to put things together. To come out and compete against a good team that has had some wins against Loyola and Syracuse, I think this is going to do a lot for us.”

Freshman goalie Woehling did a lot for the Tigers in the win over Virginia, making 13 saves.

“Obviously Annie had a terrific day in the goal; she probably had more saves today than she has had all year,” added Sailer of her goalie who came into the day with a total of 16 saves in Princeton’s first four games. “She doubled her save total so that was a huge game.”

In Sailer’s view, the combination of deButts and fellow senior Cathy Bachur also played a major role in containing the high-powered Cavaliers.

“The defense played a really good game; we knew Virginia has a ton of movement, a ton of cuts and we didn’t give them any open looks,” said Sailer.

“Lindsey is so tough; she is playing on a sprained knee right now and you would never know it. She just gets out there and competes. Bachur is just so steady. I thought the defense, as a unit, did really well today.”

The Tiger offensive unit was sparked by the one-two punch of senior Cassie Pyle and junior Jaci Gassaway with the former tallying three goals and an assist and the latter chipping in two goals and an assist.

“Cassie is just so quick; she is really hard to contain,” said Sailer, who also got goals from Charlotte Davis, Sarah Lloyd, Sam Ellis, and Erin Slifer.

“She found her opportunities and took them. Jaci is definitely a leader down there; she calms things down; she calls out plays and is always good for some goals and/or assists. She and Cassie had some really beautiful give-and-go plays today. They were reading the defense really well early and had a couple of really nice goals in the beginning of the game.”

With Princeton finding its game, Sailer is looking for a nice spring. “The Ivy is going to be tough, you look at four or five teams that have a legitimate shot at it and so you just have to be at your best every game,” said Sailer, whose team topped Brown 18-8 on March 10 in its Ivy opener and plays at Columbia (1-4 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 21 and at No. 14 Johns Hopkins (6-2) on March 24.

“We have Columbia, we have Hopkins, and then we have Cornell and then we have a few non-conference games in the middle of the Ivies but that is clearly going to be our focus as we move forward. We won the tournament last year; we would like to win the regular season title this time.”

For deButts, the focus is on savoring her last season in a Princeton uniform.

“It is so weird that it is the final year,” said deButts. “I think every game, you appreciate the time out there and you realize that you don’t have many games left. I think all of us are trying to make the most of each game.”

RIGHT START: Princeton University starting pitcher Zak ­Hermans delivers a pitch in action earlier this spring. Junior righthander Hermans is off to a 2-1 start this season for the Tigers with 19 strikeouts in 15 innings. The Tigers, who moved to 4-6 after taking two of three games at Richmond last weekend, play at UNC-Greensboro on March 21 before heading to Navy for a four-game set between March 23-25. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

Scott Bradley knew that his Princeton University baseball team faced a major challenge earlier this month when it played a three-game set at two-time defending national champion and second-ranked South Carolina.

The Gamecocks brought a 10-1 record into the weekend and were among the nation’s leaders in team ERA. Princeton, for its part, had played just four games, going 2-2 in a season-opening set at Florida Atlantic.

“When you play a team like South Carolina, you know they are going to throw so many bodies at you,” said Bradley.

“They are able to match up righty-righty and lefty-lefty. They can throw a submarine guy at you or a fireballer. Our guys needed 100 at-bats to be ready for that.”

While the Tigers may have been a bit overmatched, they were definitely ready to battle. Princeton pushed the Gamecocks in each of the games, falling 2-1, 6-1, and 3-1.

In the opener on March 9, junior pitcher Zak Hermans was sparkling, yielding just one run in five innings of work. The Tigers fell behind 2-0 but rallied in the ninth to pick up a run on a Mike Ford RBI ground out before losing 2-1.

A day later, Princeton fell 6-1 as the Gamecocks scored five runs between the fifth and eighth innings to pull away.

In the finale, Sam Mulroy and Alec Keller each went 2-for-4 with Matt Bowman giving up three runs in seven innings of work.

“I felt that our pitching and defense was terrific,” asserted Bradley in reflecting on the weekend.

“Zak Hermans has been great. Mike Ford and Matt Bowman are also throwing well. Kevin Link, A.J. Goetz, and Ryan Mavis didn’t get a lot of work out of the bullpen because the starters threw so well. We made a couple of errors late in the second game and they pulled away. But other than that, we have been playing really well defensively.”

Offensively, the Tigers have been relying on veterans Mulroy and Bowman with sophomore Keller showing progress.

“Mulroy and Bowman have been swinging the bat well,” added Bradley. “Keller has been terrific, he has had a couple of hits in each game.”

Princeton’s bats came alive last weekend as the Tigers beat Richmond 21-14 on Saturday and 15-9 a day later to improve to 4-6.

Coming off an inspiring 2011 season that saw Princeton win the Ivy League title after being in the cellar of the Gehrig Division the previous spring, Princeton won’t be able to fly under the radar this spring.

“It is a young team,” noted Bradley. “I told them that nothing was expected last year so things were easier. The key now is to see whether they can play with a bull’s eye on their back.”

Bradley is happy to see that his players are meeting expectations when it comes to their daily approach to business.

“Our work ethic and the way we have been going about things has been great,” maintained Bradley.

“We are going to have a lot of close, low scoring games. Last year, we were able to get the big hit or make the big play. We got a lot of two-out hits. You don’t know if that is going to happen again this year.”

With Princeton having taken two of three from Richmond to begin its annual Southern swing, Bradley will be looking for more progress as the Tigers play at UNC-Greensboro on March 21 before heading to Navy for a four-game set between March 23-25.

“I want to see the hitters make adjustments,” said Bradley. “We need to keep pitching well and play good defense.”

PERFECT ENDING: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Derek Colaizzo displays his freestyle form. The senior sprinting star helped PHS to an undefeated season which saw the Little Tigers win their second straight county crown and first state Public B title. Colaizzo was named the Most Valuable Swimmer on the boys’ side at the county meet. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Derek Colaizzo and his fellow seniors on the Princeton High boys’ swimming team knew that they had the opportunity to accomplish some special things this winter.

After winning the county title as juniors and going on to narrowly lose 90-80 to Scotch Plains-Fanwood in the Public B state championship meet, the PHS seniors were looking to take that final step.

“We want to go after it; it is one of our only chances in a long time and who knows when this opportunity is going to come again,” said Colaizzo, reflecting on the team’s quest for a state title.

“We just got lucky with all of these great seniors. A lot of us have different interests but when we come together, we have a tight bond.”

There was no luck involved as sprinting star Colaizzo helped the Little Tigers roll to an undefeated regular season.

In the county meet, Colaizzo and PHS made a major statement as the Little Tigers won six of eight individual events and all three relays in cruising to their second straight county crown with 356 points, nearly doubling the 190 points accumulated by runner-up Notre Dame in the meet held at Lawrence High.

The Princeton University-bound Colaizzo won the 50 and 100 freestyle races and helped PHS to victories in the 200 medley relay and the 400 free relay and was named as the meet’s Most Valuable Swimmer on the boys’ side.

In Colaizzo’s view, the dominant performance was the product of seniors looking to go out on a high note.

“There is a core of six seniors and we just wanted to go after it and have this last meet be our best,” said Colaizzo, whose classmates on the squad included Victor Honore, Addison Hebert, Matt Kuhlik, Harun Filipovic, and Jacques Bazile.

“We looked at some of those records and we thought maybe we had a chance of being able to break some of those so we went after it that way too.”

For Colaizzo, winning the meet’s top individual honor was a breakthrough moment.

“I was kind of shooting for it; I was trying to win all my events and see what would happen,” said Colaizzo, who posted a time of 24.11 in winning the 50 free and then came back with a 53.26 effort in the 100 free to edge teammate Kuhlik by 0.20.

“It means so much. I think it was based on winning individual events and I was so close last year. I just got touched out in the butterfly and I won the 50. It really means a lot that I pulled through and I was able to come out on top in both events this year.”

Despite the team’s dominance in the county meet, Colaizzo knew the Little Tigers faced a major challenge as they pursued their ultimate goal of a state title.

“I think we have a very good chance but it is going to be tough,” said Colaizzo, who plans to walk on to the Princeton University men’s swim team.

“There are a lot of good teams out there. The teams we run into in the state  semis and finals are really good. We got beaten so badly my freshman and sophomore years. Last year we just beat Haddonfield in the semis and just lost to Scotch Plains Fanwood.”

As it turned out, PHS cruised through the competition in the Public B tourney to earn a rematch with Scotch Plains in the state finals.

With Colaizzo setting the tone as he produced a blistering anchor leg to help PHS open the meet with a win in the 200 medley relay, the Little Tigers never looked back on the way to a 109-61 win and the program’s first state title. Colaizzo went on to win the 50 free, place second in the 100 free, and help the 400 free relay to victory.

In reflecting on the title, PHS head coach Greg Hand was thrilled with how Colaizzo and his classmates ended their careers.

“Certainly they did give their best when it was needed; I guess if you boil it down, that is the most important thing,” said Hand, whose swimmers set eight school records in the victory.

“The most surprising thing was just how fast they were today and so I am always going to remember that. Coaches are extremely lucky to get a team that came together like this over the last two years. There was a huge amount of good fortune just having a constellation of guys like this together at the same time.”

For shining brightly all winter long, Colaizzo is the choice as the Town Topics top male performer of the winter high school season.

Top Female Performer

Megan Ofner took a lot on her shoulders this season in her final campaign with the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team.

As a two-time team captain and the team’s most skilled offensive player, Ofner was ready to do whatever the Panthers needed.

“I am just happy to help the team; my job is to do anything and everything I can for the team,” said Ofner. “We have a short bench so I try to do anything I can do to help them and encourage everyone.”

When the Panthers stumbled a bit at midseason, Ofner remained upbeat. “We definitely know our strengths and weaknesses better than we did in the beginning of the season,” asserted Ofner. “We are ready to act on them and continue on with a great season.”

Ofner acted on those words, scoring a team-high 32 points on 19 goals and 13 assists, earning second-team All-WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) honors in the process.

She ended her PDS career with 124 points and realized her dream of playing at the next level, committing to play for the Sacred Heart women’s hockey team next winter.

Ofner’s impact was most evident in the final weekend of the season when the Panthers took part in the WIHLMA ‘B’ bracket tournament. The slick forward tallied a total of three goals and three assists as PDS topped host Shady Side Academy (Pa.) 4-3 and Portledge School (N.Y.) 4-2 on the way to winning the ‘B’ bracket for a second straight year.

Head coach Lorna Gifis Cook sensed that Ofner was going to end her PDS career with a bang.

“Megan had the two best games I saw her have this season,” said Cook, reflecting on the successful final weekend which left the Panthers with a final record of 10-7. “She was all over the ice in that first game; when we came in between the second and third periods you could see how much she wanted to win.

In Cook’s view, Ofner raised the bar for the Panthers throughout the winter. “Megan is a very serious hockey player; you can tell that the sport means a lot to her,” said Cook.

Ofner’s production and leadership make her the pick as the Town Topics top female performer.

Top Newcomers

When Scott Bertoli assessed his PDS boys’ hockey team coming into the season, he had the sense that freshman Ross Colton could make an immediate impact for the Panthers.

“Ross is a heck of a talent,” said Bertoli, whose program also welcomed Colton’s older brother, junior star Robert. “He is a Tier 1 player and will step right in and help us as a freshman.”

The younger Colton soon proved he could compete with the best, scoring a shorthanded goal in a thrilling 2-2 tie with Lawrenceville in mid-January and then adding a goal in a 4-1 win over eventual county champion Notre Dame.

Over the course of the winter, Colton kept producing, ending the season with 35 points on 23 goals and 12 assists. Colton’s precocious play was a major factor in PDS going 18-5-1 and posting wins over such formidable foes as the Hill School (Pa.), Portledge School (N.Y.), Malvern Prep, (Pa.) and Moses Brown (R.I.).

“Ross is arguably the most talented kid on the ice every time he suits up,” added Bertoli.

“He is just a dynamic offensive player. He is very adept at reading plays and creating scoring opportunities. All that being said from the offensive side, he kills penalties. He is very responsible defensively; he really has a good understanding of the game.”

For emerging as a key performer from the start of his career, Colton earns the nod as the top male newcomer this winter.

With the Hun School girls’ basketball team being led by a pair of senior guards in Ashley Ravelli and Jackie Mullen, freshman Erica Dwyer took a spot in the background for the Raiders.

But as the season went on, Dwyer gained confidence in her shot and became more and more of a factor for the Raiders.

She ended the winter with 27 3-pointers and was a key player for the Raiders as they advanced to the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) semis and the state Prep A title game.

Hun head coach Bill Holup was proud of Dwyer’s progress this winter and sees a bright future for the sharp-shooting guard.

“Erica is a player that when she gets hot the opposition needs to watch out,” said Holup, noting that Dwyer ended up averaging five points and 1.5 assists a game this winter in helping the Raiders go 15-12.

“She hit five threes in a game against Peddie in the MAPL quarterfinals and had a number of other games where she made multiple threes. I think she learned a lot from Jackie and Ashley and she will continue to get better as next year she will be expected to take over in the backcourt as a primary scorer and ball handler.”

Dwyer’s development into a perimeter threat for Hun makes her the pick as the top female newcomer.

Top Coaches

In the view of many, it was state championship or bust this winter for the Princeton High boys’ swimming team.

But showing the caution that comes with years of experience, PHS head coach Greg Hand wasn’t about to assume anything coming into the season.

“It would be absurd to talk right now about how good we can be,” said Hand, whose team went went 16-1 in 2010-11 and narrowly fell to Scotch Plains-Fanwood in the state Public B championship meet.

“We know that we have just about everybody back from a very good team. It is a matter of how we will compete.”

After going undefeated in regular season competition, the Little Tigers showed how good they can be as they dominated the county meet.

“I was impressed; everyone dug deep today,” said Hand, whose team won six of eight individual events at the meet and all three relays in taking their second straight county title.

“I had the sense that they really wanted to put together a strong meet overall and everybody wanted to contribute to that. Regardless of where guys were placing, I thought they raced with a lot of determination.”

That determination was evident as PHS rolled through the state Public B tournament, producing a performance for the ages in the championship meet as the Little Tigers routed defending champion Scotch Plains-Fanwood 109-61. PHS swimmers won nine of 11 events in the final and set eight school records in the process.

“They really did pull together as a unit over the last few weeks,” said Hand, whose team ended the winter with a 17-0 record.

“You could see it everyday, just the way the seniors were getting more involved with taking care of the younger guys. People were taking the idea seriously that if you were going to have a chance for the championship, we would all have to be on the same page.”

For being the steady force that got his swimmers on the same page, Hand is the top coach of a male team this winter.

Mika Ryan brought high hopes into the winter for her Princeton Day School girls’ basketball team.

With a core of three senior stars in Janie Smukler, Sarah Godwin, and Molly Rubin, the Panthers figured to be one of the top squads in the area and Ryan put together a tough schedule to challenge the veteran unit.

But by the second game of the winter, PDS was down to six players as Smukler suffered a season-ending knee injury with Godwin sidelined by an ongoing knee problem, and freshman Kirsten Kuzmicz getting felled by a badly sprained ankle.

“I have never experienced anything like this in my lifetime of coaching,” said Ryan, a sideline veteran whose career has included stints as an assistant at Virginia and Rider together with a 10-year run as the head coach of The College of New Jersey women’s program.

“It just seems that we can’t catch a break. This is as big a challenge as I have ever faced just because we have no bodies.”

As the winter went on, Ryan tried to make the best of the situation, even giving her team a nickname based on the World War II film drama, The Dirty Dozen.”

“We came up with a nickname, the ‘dirty half-dozen,’” said Ryan, who gave her players camo T-shirts bearing the nickname.

“We are trying to turn negatives into positives. They have been fighting and giving their all. They are giving a lot, showing resilience and resolve. They are working their way through this. High school sports isn’t all about wins and losses. I am hoping they will value this experience.”

The Panthers ended up giving Ryan one of the more rewarding experiences of her coaching career as they produced a Cinderella run to the Mercer County Tournament semifinals. The 12th-seeded Panthers upset fifth-seed WW/P-S 47-45 and No. 4 Ewing 42-39 to make it to the semis where they fell to top-seeded Hopewell Valley.

“It is hard for me to even talk about it; we have hung together all year through so many ups and downs,” said Ryan, reflecting on the late surge which left the Panthers with a 9-13 record.

“I just love being around them. They never give in, they never stop playing. We might play crappy sometimes but we play awfully hard. They have to be one of my all-time favorite teams. I go to practice and I leave feeling good. They are everything that is right about PDS. I mean that, they are so resilient.”

For holding her team together though the injury-decimated campaign, Ryan gets the nod as the top coach of a female team this winter.

March 14, 2012

DANCE FEVER: Princeton University women’s basketball player Alexis Rodgers, center, high-fives a teammate after the Tigers learned of their NCAA tournament assignment at the team’s Selection Show viewing party last Monday at the Triumph Brewing Company. In its third straight trip to the Big Dance, Princeton (24-4 overall,14-0 Ivy League) has been seeded ninth in the Kingston (R.I.) Region and is facing No. 8 Kansas State (19-13 overall, 9-9 Big 12) on Saturday in Bridgeport, Conn. in a first round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In her first trip to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, Niveen Rasheed got caught up in the hoopla of March Madness.

“The last time I played this game, I was a freshman and I will say that I was really excited and star struck,” said junior star Rasheed, recalling Princeton’s 65-47 loss to St. John’s in 2010.

Last year, Rasheed was unable to play when Princeton advanced to its second straight NCAA tourney as she was recovering from an ACL injury suffered earlier in the season.

“It was rough; one of the hardest things to do was to watch my team and watch us slowly lose the game,” said Rasheed, reflecting on the squad’s 65-49 defeat to Georgetown.

With the No. 24 Tigers, 24-4 overall and 14-0 Ivy League, heading to the 2012 NCAA tournament seeded ninth in the Kingston (R.I.) Region and facing No. 8 Kansas State (19-13 overall, 9-9 Big 12) on Saturday in Bridgeport, Conn., Rasheed believes Princeton will take a more business-like approach.

“We all have that common goal, we are not just satisfied by making the tournament,” said Rasheed. “We are hungry to take that extra step.”

In Rasheed’s view, this Tiger squad has what it takes to make that step which would leave it with a likely second round matchup on March 19 against top-seeded Connecticut, who is facing 16th seeded Prairie View in the other game at the Bridgeport site.

“I think this is the team, this is the year,” asserted Rasheed. “I think we prepared ourselves as best we could in the preseason. I am happy with the team that we are bringing into this.”

While Rasheed was happy to be named the Ivy Player of the Year earlier this week, she doesn’t view that honor as an individual achievement.

“It is just a testament to my team,” said Rasheed, a 6’0 native of Mill Valley, Calif. who is averaging a team-high 16.8 point and 8.8 rebounds a game.

“It just shows you how deep we are and how we have so many threats. An honor for me is an honor for my team.”

The team spent last week honing those threats in practice sessions after beating Penn 79-42 in the regular season finale on March 6. “A lot of it was just focusing on ourselves,” said Rasheed, who now has 1,114 points in her Princeton career.

“In the Ivy season, we don’t have the time to focus on ourselves and things we need to get better at. I think we had a great three-four days of practice; we brought in boys to bring a higher intensity and stronger people. We had football players in, they are strong.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart, for her part, believes she got a strong effort from her players last week in their pre-tournament preparation.

“I like the mini camp we had this weekend,” said Banghart, during the team’s Selection Show viewing party last Monday evening at the Triumph Brewing Company on Nassau Street.

“We were really refining who we are. I like where we are but it doesn’t matter where we are today. I hope I like where we are on Saturday.”

Banghart likes the team she is bringing into the tournament. “I have been in the tournament seven times now and this is the first time where I have not really worried about the matchup,” asserted Banghart, who went to the tournament four times as a Dartmouth player and assistant coach. “If our kids show up, we are a really good team.”

The Tigers are facing a good team in the Wildcats, who are coached by Deb Patterson and have posted wins over such powerhouses as Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and the University of Texas this season and feature a talented pair of guards in Brittany Chambers and Mariah White.

“Kansas State has been up and down, they play in a great conference,” said Banghart.

“It is hard to look at their record because they play some of the best teams in the country. They are not going to overwhelm you with athleticism. They are well coached; they have had a lot of success.”

In Banghart’s view, her team should benefit from having gone through the NCAA experience the last two seasons.

“Even for teams that go there every year, there are so many distractions,” said Banghart.

“Everything is regimented; it is really regulated. I hope now that there is excitement, as there should be, but there won’t be stars in our eyes any more.”

Banghart is glad to have star Rasheed in action for the 2012 appearance in the Big Dance.

“Niveen is hungry now; she is experienced now,” said Banghart. “She has been to two tournaments; she watched one. To have a player of that caliber changes your team.”

With Princeton having earned the highest seed given to an Ivy team in the tourney, she believes her squad is poised to show its caliber to the nation.

“This team likes to make history, we were just named today as the first Ivy women’s team to ever be ranked in the Top-25 with a 24 ranking,” said Banghart.

“These guys are striving to go beyond circumstances; they dare to be great and so it is fun to be around it. I hope we can use the experience of the past two years to know how bad it feels to have all the excitement come crashing down after a 40-minute effort.”

Rasheed, for her part, is primed to help Princeton live up to that ranking.

“Never in my mind did I think we would be a Top-25 team; that just shows our hard work,” said Rasheed.

“I am proud of our team; it is awesome to get that national recognition but I have been proud of my team ever since stepping on this campus. We have a lot at stake; we really want to prove ourselves and show that we are not a fluke.”

RECOVERY TIME: Princeton University women’s basketball star Devona Allgood looks to pass the ball in recent action. Allgood was hobbled recently by a hip injury but that has cleared up and she is ready for her final trip to the NCAA tournament. The three-time Ivy League champion Princeton squad (24-4 overall, 14-0 Ivy) has been seeded ninth in the Kingston (R.I.) Region and will be facing No. 8 Kansas State (19-13) in a first round contest on March 17 in Bridgeport, Conn. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While it has been a smooth ride for the Princeton University women’s basketball team this winter as it posted another undefeated season in Ivy League play, senior star Devona Allgood hit some turbulence last February.

The All-Ivy center suffered a hip pointer, which caused her to hobble through the team’s Senior Night and Ivy title clinching ceremony against Dartmouth and then sit out of practice for a week.

In the team’s last weekend of the regular season, Allgood came off the bench as she looked to get back up to speed.

Starting in Princeton’s regular season finale against Penn on March 6, Allgood showed that she will be at 100 percent come NCAA tournament time, scoring a team-high 12 points as Princeton routed Penn 79-42 to improve to 24-4 overall and 14-0 in Ivy action.

The 24th-ranked Tigers have been seeded ninth in the Kingston (R.I.) Region and will be facing No. 8 Kansas State (19-13 overall, 9-9 Big 12) in a first round contest on March 17 in Bridgeport, Conn. The winner will face the victor of the matchup between top-seeded Connecticut and 16th-seeded Prairie View in a second-round contest on March 19.

A relieved Allgood saw her performance against Penn as proof that she is primed for the postseason.

“It is feeling a lot better; a week of rest really helped so I should be ready to go,” said the 6‘3 Allgood, a native of Huntersville, N.C., who now has 1,162 points in her Princeton career.

“They did a great job of feeding me the ball tonight; everybody has their time when they are feeling it.”

Allgood did feel some deep emotions as she played her final game at Jadwin Gym.

“It is great to be out here; all I can think about is the great four years I have had here,” said Allgood, who is averaging 10.0 points a game this winter and was named last week as a second-team All-Ivy performer, her third straight all-league honor.

“It is bittersweet that I am leaving but there is a season for everything and this one is nearing the end. I am excited that I can continue and that I can play in the tournament too.”

The Tiger are excited about running the table again in Ivy play. “It is not something that happens a lot; it is hard to do,” said Allgood, who helped Princeton go 14-0 in Ivy action in the 2009-10 season and 41-1 in league play over the last three seasons.

“It shows our toughness and it shows that we are not going to be complacent. Ivy schedules are tough, you play back-to-back Friday and Saturday. We have to come hard every single game.”

As the Tigers get ready for their third straight trip to the NCAA tourney, they are fine-tuning their game.

“Right now the focus is on us and making sure that we can do certain things well,” said Allgood.

“We need to make sure that we are still growing and not just settling for where we are right now. We just need to keep working hard at practice, competing and making each other better.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart liked the way Allgood competed over the last three games as she came back from her injury.

“She missed all last week with a hip problem so I thought  we weren’t going to have her,” said Banghart.

“We used her sparingly on Friday and she was so efficient. You hope that she is peaking at the right time. When you took the game away from her for a week, it was like ‘oh god it is over’ so I think she is making every minute count which is exciting. She was sharp all weekend, this is the best Devona has played all year.”

In order to get her team to post another perfect Ivy campaign, Banghart has pushed her players to be sharp.

“Is so rare because it is really hard to do,” said Banghart. “Part of it is sometimes I have to be a little bit crabby to keep them on a standard. Fortunately, there is game film and fortunately, we have got really competitive kids and we are deep. If you are not going to bring your effort, it is no problem because somebody else will. I think that innate competitiveness helps them stay hungry.”

After having fallen to Georgetown in the 2011 NCAA tournament and St. John’s in the 2010 tourney, the Tigers are hungry to get past the first round.

“It is a finite experience; it means a lot to my seniors if they get a win,” said Banghart.

“For this particular team, it is our one shot so I don’t think they feel the pressure of the past two teams not winning. They just realize that with this particular group, there is a chance to win a tournament game. We have had a great non-conference schedule. I just hope that we are good enough on that day to take down whoever it is we get put up against.”

Allgood, for her part, is confident that the Tigers will take advantage of their chance in this year’s tourney.

“We have experience being there so we hope that really shows and that we are not lost in the excitement,” said Allgood.

“I think that we would really like to show our growth. We know what we are capable of and that is what we are trying to prove.”

SENIOR PORTRAIT: Princeton University men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson, far left, enjoys the Senior Night ceremony last week with the team’s Class of 2012, from left, Douglas Davis, Patrick Saunders, and John Comfort. The trio of seniors enjoyed a special finale as they helped Princeton beat Penn 62-52 in the March 6 contest. The win improved Princeton to 19-11 overall and 10-4 Ivy League. The Tigers were hoping to keep on the winning track as they competed in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) where they were slated to play at Evansville on March 13 in first round action. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

When Patrick Saunders, Douglas Davis, and John Comfort joined the Princeton University men’s basketball team in 2008, they found a program in transition.

The Tigers went 6-23 the year before they trio arrived and then improved to 13-14 in their freshman seasons.

For Saunders, the lessons learned that freshman year laid the foundation for the success to come as the Tigers have regained their status as an Ivy League title contender.

“When we were freshmen, we had good upperclassmen to look up to, guys like Marcus Schroeder and Zach Finley,” said Saunders, a two-time team captain who will be looking to keep winning as the Tigers compete in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) where they were slated to play at Evansville on March 13 in first round action.

“So I think it started there and they just taught us how to really play hard and to give everything you have got in every practice and game. I think it was just a continual thing of bringing a culture of hard work.”

That work ethic was on display last week as Princeton beat Penn 62-52 before a crowd of 3,590 at Jadwin Gym on Senior Night for the trio of Saunders, Davis, and Comfort to end the regular season at 19-11 overall and 10-4 in Ivy League play.

Even though the Tigers entered the March 6 contest having been eliminated from this year’s Ivy title race, they were determined to give the Quakers a battle as the latter needed a win to force a title playoff game with Harvard.

In the view of Davis, Princeton had plenty to play for in the latest installment of its bitter rivalry with the Quakers.

“Every time you step on the floor you are trying to win,” said Davis, a former Hun School standout who has helped Princeton go 66-27 over the last three seasons with an Ivy League title and three postseason appearances in that stretch.

“I wasn’t going to feel right to let Penn share the Ivy League title and winning it on our home court. Our rivalry with Penn goes way back. Harvard is good but our rivalry is with Penn. Harvard won the Ivy but Penn wasn’t going to win it on our court.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson liked the way his seniors rose to the occasion in their regular season finale.

“Any time you can get your seniors to play like that, it is very special,” asserted Henderson, who got 12 points from Davis and 10 points from Saunders with junior star Ian Hummer leading the way as he contributed 18 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists.

“I thought Doug was good on [Zack] Rosen. It is a good group. I feel fortunate I could coach a team with seniors like this.”

It was a good feeling for Princeton to beat Penn and thwart its title shot.

“I think when Penn is good, it is good for us,” added Henderson, a 1998 Princeton alum and former Tiger star guard.

“Beating your travel partner and rival has always meant a lot to me. I think it means a lot to these guys too. It is a special game. I have always thought it was a special rivalry and I think it still is, I hope it continues.”

The Tigers are hoping to continue their strong play in the CBI. “These guys are really enjoying playing with each other; they are making each other better,” said Henderson, whose team won eight of its last nine regular season contests.

Davis, for his part, has enjoyed seeing how far the program has come in his four years.

“It just took a lot of hard work,” said Davis, a second-team All-Ivy performer this season who is third on the Princeton scoring list with 1,499 points.

“We all came from schools that won in high school so we wanted to have that translate at the college level and I feel that the upperclassmen really helped mold us into good college players. We were fortunate enough to turn this thing around. It wasn’t just this class, it was the class before us and the guys under us as well.”

MAT QUEST: Princeton University star wrestler Daniel Kolodzik, right, takes control in a recent match. Senior Kolodzik took fourth at 157 pounds at the 2012 Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) championships earlier this month to make the NCAA Championships for the first time in his college career. Kolodzik and fellow Tigers, junior Garret Frey (125) and sophomore Adam Krop (141), will be competing in the NCAAs this week in St. Louis, Mo. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Daniel Kolodzik thought he had done enough to earn a spot in the NCAA wrestling championships last year in his junior campaign with the Princeton University program.

“Last year, I finished sixth in the Easterns and they only took the top five,” said Kolodzik.

“We crunched the numbers and with the rankings I thought I was going to get an at-large bid but they took some Big 10 guys over me. I don’t know if it was because they came from bigger name wrestling schools than Princeton or they wanted to get more fans. I had a chip on my shoulder all through this season.”

After putting together an All-Ivy League season at 157 pounds this winter, Kolodzik almost didn’t get a chance to compete in the 2012 Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) championships as he got ill days before the event, which Princeton was hosting at Jadwin Gym.

“I was in the infirmary early in the week for a few days with pneumonia,” said Kolodzik.

Fueled by his resolve, though, Kolodzik got out of his sick bed to place fourth in the Easterns, thereby achieving his goal and qualifying for the NCAA Championships which are being held in St. Louis, Mo. from March 15-17.

In reflecting on his big performance at the Easterns, Kolodzik said it definitely helped to be at home.

“It was fantastic, all the alums from my time were there cheering us on as well a lot of the older alums,” said Kolodzik, who will be joined by fellow Tigers, junior Garret Frey (125) and sophomore Adam Krop (141), at the NCAAs.

“It was really exciting to come off the mat and have those guys cheering for you. We have never wrestled in Jadwin before because we always wrestle up at Dillon; it was really cool to be at Jadwin.”

Now Kolodzik is looking to earn cheers in St. Louis at the national competition.

“It is definitely special,” said Kolodzik, who has a 31-9 record this season. “It is good to have some down time to rest and recover. Coach [Chris Ayres] always says it is better to be over-rested and undertrained rather than overtrained and under-rested. As a competitor, you always want to be on the top of the podium. I know that I am going against a tough kid (Maryland’s Kyle John) in the first round. I have a game plan, the focus is on that match. If I win, then the focus is on the next match.”

It took a while for Kolodzik to develop the focus necessary to succeed on the mat at the college level.

“It is a tough adjustment going to college wrestling from high school,” explained Kolodzik, a native of Bellbrook, Ohio who won two state championships during his career with the Miami Valley School.

“In high school, it is a matter of getting to know the sport. In college, everyone knows how to wrestle. It comes down to attitude and mindset. It took two years for me to get the hang of it.”

Over the last two years, Kolodzik has displayed a winning attitude. “In my sophomore year, I had some wins over top-20 ranked wrestlers but I also some bad losses,” said Kolodzik, who posted 25 wins as a junior.

“I leveled off as a junior; I was more consistent. I really figured things out as a senior; experience is big, attitude is huge. I have figured out an approach that works for me. I look at matches as being like fights.”

Kolodzik has enjoyed seeing the Princeton program benefit over the last few years from taking a more serious approach to the sport.

“It has been great; when I came, we were in the second recruiting class and you didn’t see the level of talent in the room that you see now,” said Kolodzik, noting that this is the first time Princeton has sent three wrestlers to the NCAAs to his knowledge.

“It has been great to watch the maturity of the program. Early on, we had guys who were smart but had different interests. Now it is purely a wrestling team.”

For Kolodzik, juggling wrestling with his studies has given him a greater maturity as he heads off into life after college.

“When people are thinking about coming to Princeton to wrestle, we tell them that it is a unique experience, you are doing the hardest sport at the hardest school,” said Kolodzik, who will be applying some of those lessons when he starts working for Royal Bank of Canada in New York City after graduation.

“It is not just a sport, it is a lifestyle. You have to watch your weight and stay in shape all year. You think about wrestling all the time. There is no time to blow off steam. I have come to enjoy the work and not look it as a grind. I enjoy the fight; it is a very fulfilling experience.”

FINAL SALVO: Princeton High girls’ hockey player Keely Herring prepares to send the puck up the ice in a game this winter. Senior star Herring scored four goals in her final game as the Little Tigers fell 6-5 to Shady Side Academy (Pa.) in the consolation contest of the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) ‘B’ bracket. Herring tallied 30 points this winter on 20 goals and 10 assists and ended up with a total of 59 points in her career on 37 goals and 22 assists. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It would have been understandable if the Princeton High girls’ hockey team had gone through the motions when it played Shady Side Academy (Pa.) in its season finale.

The Little Tigers brought a 1-10 record into the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) ‘B’ bracket consolation contest, having fallen to Portledge School (N.Y.) the day before.

But sparked by senior stars Keely Herring and Abby Hunter, PHS battled to the final whistle as it lost 6-5 to host Shady Side.

“Keely was fired up, she said ‘girls this is our last game; we are going to bring it;’ both she and Abby were gung ho,” said PHS head coach Christian Herzog, noting that Herring scored four goals in the finale with Hunter adding the other tally.

“I was proud of the way we ended the season; we fell behind but kept coming back. They couldn’t put us away.”

Herzog was proud of the contributions made by Herring and Hunter over their four years with the program.

Herring tallied 30 points this winter on 20 goals and 10 assists and ended up with a total of 59 points in her career on 37 goals and 22 assists. Hunter had eight goals and 14 assists this winter to bring her career total to 44 points on 20 goals and 24 assists.

“It is tough to see them go; they really have a passion for the program,” said Herzog, noting that the Johns Hopkins University-bound Herring earned All-WIHLMA honorable mention recognition this season.

“They are not only great players, they are fine young ladies. Keely was our MVP. If you tell her we need a goal this shift, she will do everything to go out and get it. I really relied on Abby’s forechecking and Keely’s sniping. They carried the load in the junior and senior years. I wish we had more depth around them; they could have put up even better numbers.”

In a show of his respect for Hunter, Herzog created a new program award in her honor.

“We now have an award in Abby’s name for head, heart, and hustle,” said Herzog, who chose Hunter as the initial recipient of the award.

PHS’s other two seniors, goalie Tobi Afran and defenseman Vinita Su, also showed plenty of heart.

“Tobi gave everything she had, she played when she was hurt,” said Herzog, noting that Afran earned the Captains Award while Su won the Sportsmanship Award.

“She played really well in that last game and had 894 saves in her career. Vinita showed a lot of dedication. She was not the most skilled player but she always worked hard and was ready to take bruises for the team.”

A trio of freshmen, Lucy Herring, Campbell McDonald, and Julia DiTosto, helped raised PHS’s skill level.

“We had some younger skilled players who can really help us, Lucy Herring had 13 points and Campbell McDonald had 12,” said Herzog.

“Lucy got the Coaches Award. She never misses a practice and is always working hard. She is always moving her feet. When the puck is near Campbell, you see her fire. DiTosto really helped us on defense; she will be our No. 1 defensive player next year.”

While Herzog would have liked to see his team pick up some more wins, he loves the fire he gets from his players on a consistent basis.

“The girls had a ton of fun in Pittsburgh that last weekend,” said Herzog.

“They never stopped fighting. The other coaches always tell me that our girls play hard no matter what the score is.”

FIRING LINE: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey player ­Robin Linzmayer fires the puck up the ice in action this winter. Sophomore defenseman Linzmayer chipped in 16 points on eight goals and eight assists, helping PDS go 10-7 as it culminated the season by winning the ‘B’ bracket of the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Lorna Gifis Cook wasn’t sure what to expect when the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team culminated its season by playing in the ‘B’ bracket of the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) tournament.

“I was kind of anxious to see how they would respond since we didn’t make the ‘A’ bracket due to some close losses,” said head coach Cook. “I thought that might be disappointing.”

As the tournament unfolded last month at the Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh, the Panthers responded with their best hockey of the winter, topping Shady Side 4-3 in the semis and then topping Portledge School (N.Y.) 4-2 in the final.

“We were led by the seniors,” said Cook reflecting on the successful weekend that left the Panthers with a final record of 10-7.

“They were fired up; Megan [Ofner] had the two best games I saw her have this season. She was all over the ice in that first game; when we came in between the second and third periods you could see how much she wanted to win. We had a fun weekend.”

Cook had a lot of fun this winter serving as interim coach in the place of Kat Smithson, who took the season off to recover from a concussion.

“It was a difficult situation but the girls really made it fun,” said Cook. “They were open to a new coach. They rallied around each other and came together as a team.”

The team’s trio of seniors, Ashley Egner, Lucy Marquez, and Ofner, played a key role in holding things together.

“I was counting on the seniors to make sure that everyone at practice was committed to play and not thinking about their homework or tests,” said Cook.

Egner provided an upbeat approach while Sacred Heart University-bound Ofner raised the bar hockey-wise, earning second-team All-WIHLMA honors as she led the team with 32 points on 19 goals and 13 assists, ending her PDS career with 124 points.

“Ashley had a positive attitude; she was always smiling and she wants everybody to be happy,” said Cook of the Union College-bound Egner who contributed 10 points on five goals and five assists.

“Megan is a very serious hockey player; you can tell that the sport means a lot to her. It would be easy for her to get frustrated and I think Ashley helped her to keep from getting frustrated.”

Back-up goalie Marquez became a spiritual leader. “I didn’t know what Lucy’s role would be before the season but she became the team mom,” said Cook of Marquez, who is heading to Cornell.

“Everyone felt they could go to her. She was not going to get the chance to play a lot with Daisy [Mase] at goalie but she was ready to go hard everyday.

The hard work paid off for PDS younger players as well. Junior Zeeza Cole scored 17 points on 11 goals and six assists while sophomore Mimi Matthews chipped in 13 points on five goals and eight assists and freshman MacKenzie Howe tallied five goals.

Junior goalie Daisy Mase earned All-WIHLMA second team honors with a goals against average of 2.3 and a save percentage of 0.916 while sophomore defenseman Robin Linzmayer added 16 points on the way to making All-WIHLMA honorable mention. Sophomore Colby Triolo contributed two assists as she developed into a solid defenseman.

“I did see a lot of improvement in the players,” said Cook. “Zeeza [Cole] and Mimi [Matthews] stepped up. Colby [Triolo] got better. Robin played well on defense all year. You can’t take Daisy for granted, not too many teams have a goalie like that. MacKenzie had two goals in the WIHLMA in the front of the net; she took abuse all weekend and hung in there.”

Cook, for her part, didn’t take any moment for granted as she got her chance to guide PDS this winter.

“For me, it was special,” said Cook, a former star for the Middlebury College women’s hockey team who helped the Panthers to two NCAA Division III national titles.

“I started with Nassau Hockey when I was five years old so this is the rink where I learned to play. My mom went to Miss Fine’s School. It was a sentimental experience; it was something that meant a lot to me. It was a challenge and a great opportunity; I am very grateful for the experience.”