December 3, 2014
FLOOR LEADER: Hun School girls’ basketball player Erica Dwyer races up the floor in a game last season. The Raiders are counting on senior guard Dwyer to provide leadership and production this winter. Hun has a busy opening week of the season as it is  scheduled to host Abington Friends School (Pa.) on December 2 and Friends Central on December 5 before playing at the St. Andrew’s School (Del.) on December 6 and then hosting Lawrenceville on December 9.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FLOOR LEADER: Hun School girls’ basketball player Erica Dwyer races up the floor in a game last season. The Raiders are counting on senior guard Dwyer to provide leadership and production this winter. Hun has a busy opening week of the season as it is scheduled to host Abington Friends School (Pa.) on December 2 and Friends Central on December 5 before playing at the St. Andrew’s School (Del.) on December 6 and then hosting Lawrenceville on December 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With a roster evenly distributed between six returners and six newcomers, a major focus early on for the Hun School girls’ basketball team is to get everybody on the same page.

“We need to jell between the veterans and the younger players,” said Hun head coach Bill Holup, who guided the Raiders to a 10-11 record last winter. “We always play a tough schedule so we will be thrown into the fire early.”

Holup is looking for senior guards Janelle Mullen and Erica Dwyer to take a lead role in that bonding process.

“We are relying on Mullen and Dwyer to bring everything together,” said Holup.

“Janelle is a three-year player, she transferred in as a sophomore. Erica is a 4-year player. They both have accepted the leadership role in the first couple of scrimmages. Janelle is a little quieter. Erica has really stepped up into that role, pushing the team to be better. Janelle is a D-1 player, she recently signed a letter of intent to St Peter’s. Both are terrific ballhandlers and outside shooters who are able to penetrate and dish.”

Battle-tested junior guards Jess Johnson and Amber Bourke will need to step up.

“Jess is a three-year player and is coming off a great soccer season and has a lot of experience,” said Holup.

“Amber is extremely talented, she is one of the fastest players out there. She just needs to improve her confidence.”

Holup is confident that newcomers, sophomore Julie Fassl, sophomore Mia Cura, freshman Kendall Dandridge, and post-graduate Maiya Rawlinson, can make an impact.

“Julie’s overall effort has been phenomenal, she is getting up the court,” said Holup of Fassl, who played JV ball last winter.

“She asks questions, she wants to understand things. Mia is up from JV; her sister, Bella, played four years for us and graduated last year. She is always wanting to learn, her attitude has been tremendous. Kendall is coming off an extremely successful soccer season. I hope that momentum carries into basketball, she is a great athlete, she is physically stronger than most freshmen. She has good court sense. She is not just running around out there, she knows what she is doing on the court. Maiya is a terrific player from South Jersey. She has athleticism. She gets outside on the wing, she has a pull up jumper. She is long and is able to play good defense. She had knee surgery last spring so we are hoping to have her in January.”

On the inside, sophomore Clare Maloney is developing into a force.

“Clare got a lot of action last year when Johnnah [Johnson] got hurt; I think she started 15 games,” said Holup, whose team has a busy opening week of the season as it was scheduled to host Abington Friends School (Pa.) on December 2 and Friends Central on December 5 before playing at the St. Andrew’s School (Del.) on December 6 and then hosting Lawrenceville on December 9..

“She got thrown into the fire pretty quickly and developed a lot. We are happy to have her back. She gives us great size inside, helps with defense and rebounding. She needs to be ready to catch the ball because Erica and Janelle will be dishing it to her.”

A pair of juniors, Lindsay Ruddy and Alexis Goeke, provide the Raiders with additional height down low.

“Ruddy and Goeke both give us good size,” added Holup. “Ruddy has experience from the JV, she just needs to be a little more aggressive. Alexis is learning the game, she is an extremely good athlete.”

If the pieces come together, it could be a very good winter for Hun. “When we are at 100 percent, we have a lot of talent,” said Holup.

“There is a very positive vibe around the team that I am getting this year. Even if we come up short in some games, I know the effort is going to be there. We are not going to go out and be intimidated by anyone.”

OPENING DRIVE: Stuart Country Day School basketball player Harley Guzman dribbles upcourt in a game last year. Stuart will be looking for junior guard Guzman to trigger the offense again this winter. The Tartans start regular season play with a game at Barrack Hebrew Academy (Pa.) on December 3 and then compete in the George School (Pa.) Invitational from December 5-6.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

OPENING DRIVE: Stuart Country Day School basketball player Harley Guzman dribbles upcourt in a game last year. Stuart will be looking for junior guard Guzman to trigger the offense again this winter. The Tartans start regular season play with a game at Barrack Hebrew Academy (Pa.) on December 3 and then compete in the George School (Pa.) Invitational from December 5-6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Justin Leith has a lot on his plate in his first year as the athletics director at Stuart Country Day School.

But with a resume that includes starring for the Merrimack College basketball team before playing pro ball in Europe, Asia, Central and South America, and having coached the boys’ hoops team at the Asheville School in North Carolina the last three years, Leith couldn’t resist the chance to take the helm of Stuart’s basketball program this winter.

“I didn’t walk into this thinking I was going to coach; I hit the ground running in July and I was working on a lot of hires,” said Leith, noting that previous coach Dana Leary had left the program this spring after guiding the Tartans to an 8-8 record last season.

“It was kind of organic, it just happened. It was not a new thing for me to have this work load. I thought the girls would be getting a unique experience. I run a college/pro level practice with my background. They are being held to a higher standard in terms of work load.”

Leith has been enjoying the experience so far. “I have never coached a full girls team before,” said Leith, noting that he has done skills training with smaller groups of girl players.

“I was a little apprehensive. I was reserved for about 30 seconds and then I saw something I didn’t like and I was myself. The girls have responded well. I can’t say that there haven’t been bumps in the road in the first two weeks but they are working hard.”

Under Leith’s tutelage, the Stuart players will have to work hard at both ends of the court.

“It will be an in-your-face defense; we will do a little bit of everything, man, zone, full court,” said Leith, whose team starts regular season play with a game at Barrack Hebrew Academy (Pa.) on December 3 and then competes in the George School (Pa.) Invitational from December 5-6.

“They need to be able to switch in and out of things. We will not do anything stagnant, anything we do will be in your face. It may take time, but I love teaching kids how to play basketball. We will run motion and there will be autonomy within the offense. When kids are used to being told to go here, go there, they learn just a spot or a position, they don’t learn the game. As an example, I told them they should be able to go and play pickup with the Miami Heat and not get in the way. They don’t have that ability but they should know the game and where to be.”

The Tartans do have an inside game with Kate Walsh and Nneka Onukwugha, who both stand about 6 feet tall.

“We do have some height,” said Leith. “We can do some high-low stuff with Kate and Nneka. They are both getting better everyday. They are pushing through things they have never been asked to do. They are good adapters so far.”

On the perimeter, Stuart will be featuring senior Harlyn Bell and junior Harley Guzman.

“Harlyn is a mix, she will play both guard and forward,” said Leith, who will also be using junior Rose Tetnowski, sophomores Ally McGowen, Julia Kahn, and Vanessa Williams along with freshman Allison Walsh at guard.

“She has been great as a leader. Harley has been working hard, we are asking her to do a lot. In our scrimmages, her energy was transformative.”

If the Tartans can show a collective energy on a daily basis, they figure to make a lot of progress this winter.

“I think we can do some special things,” said Leith. “I am not guaranteeing wins but I think they can have a special experience. If they can get better at each practice and can be much better in the last practice than they were in the first, that will be success.”

SERVIS-ORIENTED: Stuart Country Day School field hockey player Sam Servis goes after a ball in action this season. Junior star Servis, an All-Prep B performer along with classmate Tori Hannah, helped the Tartans post a 6-14-1 record this fall.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SERVIS-ORIENTED: Stuart Country Day School field hockey player Sam Servis goes after a ball in action this season. Junior star Servis, an All-Prep B performer along with classmate Tori Hannah, helped the Tartans post a 6-14-1 record this fall. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Stuart Country Day School field hockey team, its season-ending 6-0 victory over the Solebury School (Pa.) marked the culmination of an encouraging stretch drive.

While Stuart fell 2-1 to Pennington in the state Prep B quarterfinals and dropped a 1-0 nail-biter to Notre Dame in the days before the Solebury win, Tartan head coach Missy Bruvik saw plenty of progress in the final week of the campaign.

“We had a great Senior Day game against Solebury,” said Bruvik, who got two goals apiece from junior stars Tori Hannah and Sam Servis in the victory with Cate Donahue and Nneka Onukwugha also scoring.

“We got the opportunity to play Notre Dame and we lost 1-0; we didn’t give up a goal until the second half, we played so well, things clicked. We played a good game against Pennington. We gave up an early goal and that hurt us.”

Although the Tartans ended the fall at 6-14-1, Bruvik liked the way her players competed.

“The kids never gave up, they always played hard,” said Bruvik. “We had a lot of games that could have gone either way.”

While Stuart had only three seniors, Harlyn Bell, Fayette Plambeck and Onukwugha, they gave the team a lot this fall. “Harlyn Bell did a terrific job in goal,” said Bruvik.

“Fayette started every game in the back and was our only four-year player. Nneka had a great Senior Day game.”

The Tartans boasted a great group of juniors with a pair of All-Prep B performers in Hannah and Servis along with Donahue, Julia Maser, Elena Bernewitz, Rose Tetnowski, and Kate Walsh.

“I can’t wait for them to come back for next year, they are really the core of the team,” said Bruvik.

“They lead with how hard they work and their dedication. They have a lot of experience. Tori and Sam have great stickwork. Since freshman year they have put in that extra time outside of school and it really shows. Cate was one of our leading scorers.”

Bruvik saw dedication from top to bottom. “I love how hard our JV players worked; we were taking our numbers and getting the most out of them,” said Bruvik.

“Every kid got to play and improve. They understand what it takes to have a good program. It is a great group of kids. They don’t take themselves too seriously but they know when to work hard. They gave everything they had and I appreciate their efforts.”

November 26, 2014
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: Princeton University women’s basketball players, Annie Tarakchian (No. 15) and Taylor Williams (No. 22) turn up the defensive pressure on a Drexel player last Wednesday at Jadwin Gym. The Tigers topped Drexel 59-43 in their home opener. Last Sunday, junior forward Tarakchian came up big for the Tigers, posting the team’s first double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds in a 63-56 win at American University. Princeton, now 4-0, will head to Mexico this week to compete in the 2014 Cancun Challenge.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: Princeton University women’s basketball players, Annie Tarakchian (No. 15) and Taylor Williams (No. 22) turn up the defensive pressure on a Drexel player last Wednesday at Jadwin Gym. The Tigers topped Drexel 59-43 in their home opener. Last Sunday, junior forward Tarakchian came up big for the Tigers, posting the team’s first double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds in a 63-56 win at American University. Princeton, now 4-0, will head to Mexico this week to compete in the 2014 Cancun Challenge. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Looking at the Princeton University women’s basketball schedule, its game at American University last Sunday didn’t appear to be anything special.

While American, a member of the Patriot League, went 22-10 last winter on the way to the WNIT, the matchup didn’t generate the buzz of taking on a Top-25 foe.

Yet, courtesy of Tiger freshman forward Leslie Robinson, the niece of first lady and Princeton alumna Michelle Obama (nee Robinson) ’85, the trip to Washington D.C. turned into a weekend to remember.

With Robinson’s special family ties, the Tigers got red carpet treatment. “We headed down on Saturday; we had a private tour of the White House,” said Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart. “We got to go on the White House court and played a pick up game.”

Mrs. Obama and daughters, Malia and Sasha, were on hand Sunday evening as the Tigers took on the Eagles.

“It was a great college environment, around 2,000 were there with the presence of the Obamas,” said Banghart.

With Princeton up 36-26 at halftime, the Tigers got a special message at intermission.

“Michelle came in at halftime, telling us how much she was enjoying the team and how she and her daughters were having a good time,” said Banghart, whose team posed for photos with the Obamas in the locker room.

Banghart enjoyed seeing her team come out in the second half and pull out a 63-56 win over American. “They were attentive to the game plan,” said Banghart, who got 19 points from senior guard Blake Dietrick with Michelle Miller chipping in 15.

“When a team is down by 10 in the second half like American, they play with reckless abandon and take chances. You can’t prepare for that. We weathered that OK. We didn’t make all the free throws but we got some big offensive rebounds.”

The Tigers are off to a big start this season as the victory improved their record to 4-0.

“I am happy that they are committed to the right things defensively, talk is just talk but they are showing it in their play,” said Banghart, whose team was at its stifling best when it topped Drexel 59-43 last Wednesday in its home opener and is only giving up 51.0 points a game and holding foes to a .345 field goal percentage.

“We haven’t hit our stride offensively. We have played teams from four different conferences with three of the games on the road.”

Star point guard Dietrick has hit her stride in the early going, averaging 13.3 points and 5.0 assists per game.

“Blake has started off the year strongly; she is the lead guard and has done a good job of handling the ball and getting everyone involved,” said Banghart of Dietrick, who was named the Ivy League Co-Player of the Week along with Penn’s Sydney Stipanovich. “She knows how important her role is and that she also needs to make shots.”

Two juniors, Annie Tarakchian and Amanda Berntsen, have been making important contributions this season. Tarakchian posted the team’s first double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds in the win over American while Berntsen had a career-high five steals in the win over Drexel.

“Annie is a great rebounder and is committed to that part of the game; she is a work in progress on defense and the offensive end, she is improving in those areas,” said Banghart.

“Amanda gives us a ton of energy, extreme focus, and is a relentless competitor. Her role is usually to shut down the other team’s best player.”

Banghart is looking to see other players step up. “We need to continue to build depth; we have a solid eight,” added Banghart, whose squad is averaging 65.0 points a game with seven players averaging 5.0 or more points led by Miller at 14.0 points per contest.

“Robinson has been a positive addition, bringing energy at both ends of the court. Vanessa Smith is attacking better than she did last year.”

The Tigers will be hoping to enjoy another positive experience on the road as they head to Mexico this week to take part in the 2014 Cancun Challenge. Princeton is slated to play Wake Forest on Thursday, Montana on Friday, and UNC-Charlotte on Saturday.

“Wake is tough, I think I would rather play them at their own gym than in this situation,” said Banghart.

“Charlotte and Montana are two very solid teams. They will be three tough games in a row. It will be more adversity. We are finding solutions in discomfort. Our goal is to make them uncomfortable in the preseason.”

GREEN WAVE: Princeton University running back Joe Rhattigan fends off a tackler in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore Rhattigan scored a touchdown but it wasn’t nearly enough as Princeton fell 41-10 to Dartmouth in the season finale. The Big Green has now won five straight games in the rivalry. The defeat left Princeton with a final record of 5-5 overall and 4-3 Ivy League.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GREEN WAVE: Princeton University running back Joe Rhattigan fends off a tackler in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore Rhattigan scored a touchdown but it wasn’t nearly enough as Princeton fell 41-10 to Dartmouth in the season finale. The Big Green has now won five straight games in the rivalry. The defeat left Princeton with a final record of 5-5 overall and 4-3 Ivy League. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming into its season finale last Saturday against visiting Dartmouth, the Princeton University football team was looking to play the spoiler role.

Entering the final weekend, Dartmouth was in second place in the Ivy League standings behind undefeated Harvard and needed to beat Princeton and have Yale upend the Crimson to get a share of the league title.

Instead, Dartmouth spoiled Princeton’s Senior Day, rolling to a 41-10 win over the Tigers before a crowd of 6,663 at Princeton Stadium.

Dartmouth, though, didn’t get a piece of the title as Harvard pulled out a 31-24 win over Yale to cap a perfect campaign.

In the view of Princeton head coach Bob Surace, Dartmouth did produce a championship-caliber performance.

“The bottom line is that we lost at the line of scrimmage today, that is very disappointing and disheartening,” lamented Surace, whose team finished the year at 5-5 overall and 4-3 Ivy while Dartmouth ended up at 8-2 overall, 6-1 Ivy. “I knew they were really good coming in to it and thought they were the equal of Harvard.”

The loss stung as the Class of 2015 went out on a down note, one year after they had helped Princeton earn a share of the Ivy crown with Harvard.

“It is emotional because of guys like Mike Zeuli, Quinn Epperly, Connor Michelsen, Connor Kelley, Will Powers, you can go on and on,” said Surace, whose Class of 2015 included 27 players and posted wins over every Ivy foe except Dartmouth in their careers.

“They have just given their all to the program, the disappointment mostly is for them. I just didn’t do a good enough job of getting the rest of the guys to be as exact as we needed to be. I thought we played two teams that were super this year in Dartmouth and Harvard and another really, really good team in Yale.”

Princeton faced a super player Saturday in Dartmouth junior quarterback Dalyn Williams, who hit 30-of-35 passes for 305 yards and four touchdowns against the Tigers.

“He is such a good athlete; when we first played him a couple of years ago, he had that improvisational skill,” said Surace.

“I told Buddy (Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens) before the game that he has done a really good job with him, learning to pick his moments and spots. It is one of those darned if you do, darned if you don’t things; you want to stop him from running and he has become such an accurate passer, he beats you that way.”

Williams struck early on Saturday, hitting Bo Patterson for a 58-yard touchdown pass on the fourth play from scrimmage as the Big Green jumped out to a 7-0 lead.

The Tigers answered back with an 11-play, 44-yard march that culminated with a Nolan Bieck field goal as they narrowed the gap to 7-3.

“We kicked a field goal and the score was relatively within reach for a long time in the first half,” said Surace. “I didn’t think we were winning the line of scrimmage which was disappointing; that’s a hard thing to flip.”

Dartmouth’s strength in the trenches started to take a toll as it marched 80 yards midway through the second quarter and went ahead 14-3 on a 4-yard TD pass from Williams to Ryan McManus. The Big Green tacked on a field goal with six seconds left in the quarter to take a 17-3 halftime lead.

In the second half, Dartmouth dominated, reeling off 24 unanswered points before the Tigers scored on a 1-yard touchdown run by Joe Rhattigan with 9:34 left in the fourth quarter to make it 41-10 and end the scoring for the day.

Sophomore Rhattigan acknowledged that the Tigers were stifled all day by the Big Green.

“The Dartmouth defense played well; you can see it in the stats, you could see it on the field,” said Rhattigan, reflecting on a day that saw Princeton get outgained 518 yards to 228.

“There are things on our side of the ball that we could definitely have improved on. I think they played well. From what I saw, they were very gap conscious. They were filling gaps, they were shedding blocks well. They were just giving us a hard time up front.”

The Tigers hit the field Saturday looking to play well and break a four-game losing streak in the series with Dartmouth.

“Every game is the same, you play the game to win,” said Rhattigan. “Ivy League title or not, you want to win the game so we definitely had a lot to play for. There was 20-something seniors playing their last game. We owed it to them to give it our best.”

Surace, though, conceded that Princeton’s best wasn’t good enough this season.

“Last week, when we were eliminated, I was reminded of a story,” said Surace.

“We had a mediocre year when I was a player here and Pete Carril (Hall of Fame Princeton men’s basketball coach) said to us first place or no place, there is nothing in between and that’s the bottom line. One team celebrates and the other seven of us didn’t get done what we needed to accomplish. We are a 5-5 team and that’s what we are. We are a fourth place team in a really good league and we  have to improve on a number of things.”

Rhattigan, for his part, believes the returning players can take some lessons from the departing seniors in the quest to return to the top of the Ivies.

“They teach you the way of Princeton football and how you have to be to win,” said Rhattigan.

“They were part of that championship team last year. They were part of this team this year. You learn from them, they obviously have the experience.”

NET VALUE: Princeton University men’s water polo goalie Vojislav Mitrovic guards the net in a game earlier this season. Last Sunday, freshman star Mitrovic made 15 saves in a losing cause as Princeton fell 7-6 to Brown in the CWPA championship game. The defeat left the Tigers with a final record of 23-4.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

NET VALUE: Princeton University men’s water polo goalie Vojislav Mitrovic guards the net in a game earlier this season. Last Sunday, freshman star Mitrovic made 15 saves in a losing cause as Princeton fell 7-6 to Brown in the CWPA championship game. The defeat left the Tigers with a final record of 23-4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After suffering an 11-9 loss to St. Francis in the 2013 CWPA (Collegiate Water Polo Association) championship game, the Princeton University men’s water polo team seemed poised to take the next step this fall.

Coming into this year’s CWPA tourney last weekend at Navy, Princeton was 21-3, ranked No. 8 in the country, and riding a ten-game winning streak.

“I thought we had momentum,” said Princeton head coach Luis Nicolao. “It was the first weekend all year where we were all healthy and had a full squad. We were confident but we knew it was going to be tough.”

Princeton played with confidence and showed toughness as it topped Johns Hopkins 18-5 in the quarterfinals.

“It was a great start, we played well in all facets of the game,” said Nicolao, who got four goals from junior Thomas Nelson in the win with freshman Jordan Colina adding three. “We got the attack going and we had a great defensive effort. We showed we were ready and prepared.”

The Tigers produced another great effort as they edged host Navy 6-3 in the semis.

“It was the typical Princeton-Navy game; it was really intense and very physical,” said Nicolao, a Navy water polo star in his college days.

“We got up early and we were able to hold on with some good defense. It was a great game, it was a great environment.”

In the championship game against Brown, the Tigers fell down early and couldn’t get over the hump as they dropped a 7-6 nailbiter to fall just short of earning a bid to the NCAA tournament.

“We knew they were really good; they had a great game plan and they played really well,” said Nicolao.

“We didn’t play well, we didn’t execute. We made mistakes and fell behind 3-0. We had to grind it the whole game. We got it to 5-5 but we never got the lead. We just weren’t able to capitalize on opportunities. Things didn’t click, balls weren’t falling for us. We still had a chance to win but we didn’t find the back of the net. Brown played a great game, I was impressed by them.”

While the season-ending loss stung, Nicolao was impressed by what his players achieved this fall as they went 23-4.

“We really had a great year; we lost only four games and we were ranked in the top 10 most of the year,” said Nicolao.

“In our sport, it comes down to one game and we didn’t win. It is hard to think about it right now but in time, the players will realize we had a great season.”

The team’s group of seniors made a great impact on the program. “They are going to be missed,” said Nicolao, whose Class of 2015 includes Drew Hoffenberg, Sam Butler, Kayj Shannon, and Kevin Zhang.

“We went to three CWPA championship games in their four years. I will take that from every class. They fought hard, they gave us their all, and they made us relevant.”

In Nicolao’s view, the Tigers will continue to be relevant on the national scene.

“We have a great returning group, we have a lot of good pieces,” said Nicolao, who will welcome back such stars as junior Jamie Kuprenas, sophomore Jovan Jeremic, freshman Connor McGoldrick, freshman Vojislav Mitrovic, in addition to Nelson and Colina.

“I hope we have a chip on our shoulder. We are the first Princeton team to lose two CWPA championship games back-to-back. I hope that gives them a little extra motivation. It is a matter of us doing what we have to do, working hard in the offseason and coming back in great shape. The goal is always to get to the CWPA finals and see what happens. It takes some luck and we didn’t have that yesterday.”

PRESSURE COOKER: Princeton University men’s basketball player Steven Cook fights through two University of Incarnate Word defenders last Saturday at Jadwin Gym. Sophomore Cook scored 14 points in 33 minutes off the bench but it wasn’t enough as Princeton lost 79-68 to the Cardinals. The Tigers, now 1-3, head to California this week where they will compete in the Wooden Legacy, an eight-team event Thursday through Sunday in Fullerton and Anaheim. Princeton starts play in the competition by facing UTEP on November 27.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PRESSURE COOKER: Princeton University men’s basketball player Steven Cook fights through two University of Incarnate Word defenders last Saturday at Jadwin Gym. Sophomore Cook scored 14 points in 33 minutes off the bench but it wasn’t enough as Princeton lost 79-68 to the Cardinals. The Tigers, now 1-3, head to California this week where they will compete in the Wooden Legacy, an eight-team event Thursday through Sunday in Fullerton and Anaheim. Princeton starts play in the competition by facing UTEP on November 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Princeton University men’s basketball team hosting the little-known University of Incarnate Word last Saturday morning at 11 a.m., things were a little quiet at Jadwin Gym.

With the crowd of 1,554 on hand growing listless, Princeton sleepwalked through the first 12 minutes of the contest, finding themselves down 29-12 to the school from San Antonio, Texas, which is in its second year of Division I play.

Waking up a little bit, the Tigers went on a 15-2 run to narrow the gap to 31-27 at halftime.

Princeton forged ahead 43-40 in the early stages of the second half before the Cardinals responded with a 16-8 run of their own.

Then Princeton sophomore forward Steven Cook put a charge into the crowd, flying in for a thunderous dunk from the baseline. Adding a free throw on the play to make the UIW lead to 56-54, it seemed like the Tigers had seized the momentum.

Instead, Princeton squandered that advantage as the Cardinals fought back and regained control of the contest.

“I really thought the play that stood out was when Steve had a nice baseline drive with the and one finish and they come right back and come down with 6 minutes left and get their own and one, which was a huge swing play,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson. “Then we come down the floor and miss a layup; we are just not understanding what it is going to take.

The Tigers never got closer than three the rest of the game as they went on to lose 79-68 and drop to 1-3.

Afterward, Henderson didn’t mince words in assessing the setback. “It was a disappointing loss for us,” said Henderson, who got a career-high 22 points from sophomore Spencer Weisz in the defeat.

“I don’t want to make light of us at all because I think we have got a long way to go but we seem to manage to allow teams to do what they do really well. We are a work in progress with more work than I would like us to be needing, especially going into a really difficult weekend ahead.”

Cook, for his part, shared Henderson’s frustration. “I thought a lot of improvements could be made across the board as a team,” said Cook, who scored 14 points and had seven rebounds and three assists in 33 minutes of work off the bench in the loss.

“Defensively I don’t think we did a great job. Individually, I think about improvements I could be making. We are always about work. It is a long season and we are just four games in.”

Henderson is seeing improved play from Cook. “He is terrific, I don’t think he is going to come off the bench any more,” said Henderson. “We have got to get him in there because he has been very good. I think Steve has done what we have asked him to do. He is aggressive going to the rim.”

Cook acknowledged that he has benefitted from having a year of college ball under his belt.

“I am personally feeling more comfortable,” said Cook, a 6’5, 185-pound native of Winnetka, Ill.

“We are a young team in general but that is no excuse. We need to step up, we have a lot of experience, even among the young guys, and we need to play that way. We need to play with poise.”

In Henderson’s view, the Tigers also need to do some soul searching. “I hope they learn that it has got to sting and it has got to hurt,” said Henderson, whose team heads to California this week where it will compete in the Wooden Legacy, an eight-team event Thursday through Sunday in Fullerton and Anaheim.

“They have to look themselves in the mirror a little bit and say OK what are you afraid of here? Are you afraid to be great, are you afraid to work really hard in practice, are you giving it everything you have got at all times?”

Cook, for his part, believes the Tigers are ready to give their all. “We don’t let ourselves be disappointed for too long; this program has always been about work,” asserted Cook.

“We have to stay focused on what we need to do, individually and as a team. We are going to have a big practice on Monday and we are going to work from there.”

LATE SPARK: Princeton University field hockey player Teresa ­Benvenuti makes a hit in action this fall. Junior star Benvenuti, who was sidelined for six games due to injury this season, returned to the lineup down the stretch and helped the Tigers win the Ivy League title and top Monmouth 4-3 in an NCAA play-in game. Princeton fell to Maryland 5-1 in the first round of the NCAA tournament to end with a final record of 8-11.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LATE SPARK: Princeton University field hockey player Teresa ­Benvenuti makes a hit in action this fall. Junior star Benvenuti, who was sidelined for six games due to injury this season, returned to the lineup down the stretch and helped the Tigers win the Ivy League title and top Monmouth 4-3 in an NCAA play-in game. Princeton fell to Maryland 5-1 in the first round of the NCAA tournament to end with a final record of 8-11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Having gone 35-6 overall and 14-0 Ivy League with an NCAA title in its previous two seasons coming into 2014, the Princeton University field hockey team found itself in an unfamiliar position by mid-October.

After losing 8-1 to Maryland on October 15, Princeton stood at 3-9 overall and 2-1 Ivy.

Having won nine straight Ivy crowns, the Tigers had reason to believe it wasn’t their year.

Instead, Princeton maintained its customary intensity. “They could have thrown in the towel; it is not easy to lose but they stuck together and kept working hard,” said Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn.

“I give them a lot of credit, that is not easy to do. It was validating in that we were able to keep players interested and focused. The kids were coming out before practices after losses and wins.”

Catching fire down the stretch, Princeton won four straight Ivy games to earn its 10th straight league title and a date at Monmouth for an NCAA play-in game.

The Tigers edged Monmouth 4-3 in that contest to earn another shot at Maryland in the first round of the national tourney.

“It was a random game, no team had control of the game at any point,” said Holmes-Winn. “Monmouth fought hard and so did we. I was proud of the girls who stuck through that, it wasn’t pretty.”

Holmes-Winn got some beautiful play in the victory from senior Allison Evans, who scored two goals in the win to pass the 100-point plateau in her Princeton career.

“I am really happy that it happened,” said Holmes-Winn. “It was really nice for her to have that achievement. She has come up so big for us on many occasions. She has been a constant presence for us on the front line over the last four years.”

Junior star Teresa Benvenuti tallied two goals and an assist in the victory, continuing a late surge after being sidelined in the middle of the season with a nose injury.

“Typically Teresa is a back/midfielder, but with her coming back from injury it just made sense for us to put her in the front,” said Holmes-Winn. “We needed some firepower and energy and she gave us both.”

In the rematch with Maryland, Princeton showed plenty of energy but it wasn’t enough as the Terps prevailed 5-1.

“Maryland is difficult to control because they have power and control over the ball,” explained Holmes-Winn, whose team ended the fall with an 8-11 record.

“We were trying to keep the numbers even all over the field. They have a ton of pace and can pick you apart. When someone is eliminated from the play, they are able to come at you with numbers.”

While the numbers weren’t as sparkling overall for Princeton as in past years, Holmes-Winn was proud of the character displayed by her players in the face of adversity.

“I am proud that we performed as well as we did in the back end of the season,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team dropped 4-3 regular season decisions to national champion Connecticut and national runner-up Syracuse.

“Being a winner is not only about getting the ‘W,’ it is how you live your life, how you treat others, what kind of teammate you are and how you approach schoolwork, and they are winners.”

Holmes-Winn credited her group of seniors with setting a winning tone.

“They are an inclusive group,” said Holmes-Winn, whose Class of 2015 includes Cassidy Arner, Colleen Boyce, Julia Boyle, Sydney Kirby, and Stephanie Goldberg in addition to Evans. “They really helped out with the transition for the freshmen, on and off the field. The team dynamic was really good.”

In looking ahead to 2015, Holmes-Winn believes her returning players must focus on being in really good condition.

“They need to do more in terms of fitness in the offseason,” said Holmes-Winn.

“You have to be super fit coming into the season. We are two games behind our opponents in the first month. We just have to hit the ground running. We play tough teams in the beginning by design. I think our lack of fitness hurt us in some of those early games. We can’t have fitness as a barrier.”

Princeton also needs to hone its mental toughness in order to remain among the elite of college field hockey.

“We have to have athletes who care about being great players and doing the work necessary,” said Holmes-Winn.

“We have had great American athletes who want to play for the national team. If not they will just be scraping by in the Ivy League and they won’t be playing for national championships.”

CAPTAIN’S CORNER: Princeton University women’s hockey player Brianna Leahy goes after the puck in action last weekend. Senior captain Leahy scored two goals on the weekend but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 7-3 to St. Lawrence on Friday and then lost 3-2 to defending national champion Clarkson on Saturday. Princeton, now 6-3-1 overall and 4-2 ECAC Hockey, hosts No. 2 Minnesota, 12-1-2 overall, for a two-game set on November 29 and 30.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CAPTAIN’S CORNER: Princeton University women’s hockey player Brianna Leahy goes after the puck in action last weekend. Senior captain Leahy scored two goals on the weekend but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 7-3 to St. Lawrence on Friday and then lost 3-2 to defending national champion Clarkson on Saturday. Princeton, now 6-3-1 overall and 4-2 ECAC Hockey, hosts No. 2 Minnesota, 12-1-2 overall, for a two-game set on November 29 and 30. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Looking at the final score, it would appear that the Princeton University women’s hockey team was overmatched when it hosted St. Lawrence last Friday.

Although the Tigers dropped a 7-3 decision to the Saints, Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal saw no reason for his players to hang their heads.

“I thought we played decently overall, the score doesn’t necessarily indicate  how close a game it was,” said Kampersal, noting that the contest was tied at 3-3 heading into the third period.

“We played fairly well, both teams made mistakes but they capitalized on the big mistakes we made and that was pretty much the difference.

Trailing 1-0 after getting outshot 11-2 in the first period, Princeton came alive in the next 20 minutes, outscoring St. Lawrence 3-2.

“We didn’t funnel the puck to the net in the first period so we had more hunger to get the puck and crash the net,” said Kampersal, who got goals from Hilary Lloyd, Brianna Leahy, and Molly Contini in the period. “All of our goals were rebound goals. We had guts, we played hard.”

Sophomore forward Contini has shown guts, coming back from missing last year due to hip surgery to lead the Tigers in goals with six.

“Molly is very smart, she has incredible hands and she can set up a goalie,” said Kampersal. “She knows what she wants to do with the puck. She has improved a lot in her skating over the summer.”

The Tigers showed improvement the next day as they battled the defending national champion Clarkson tooth and nail, before losing 3-2.

Princeton fell behind 1-0 in the first period but evened things up on a goal by sophomore defenseman Kelsey Koelzer. After the Golden Knights took a 2-1 lead in the second, the Tigers answered back with a tally by senior captain Leahy. Clarkson scored the decisive goal early in the third period as Princeton dropped to 6-3-1 overall and 4-2 ECAC Hockey.

“We just need more fight,” said Kampersal, whose team hosts perennial power and second ranked Minnesota, 12-1-2 overall, for a two-game set on November 29 and 30. “No matter who we play in our league, everyone is going to be real tough.”

And despite going 0-2 last weekend, Princeton showed plenty of toughness.

The temperature had dropped to the mid-20s last Wednesday evening around 9:30 but the chill didn’t keep Princeton High boys’ soccer player Nick Kapp from stripping off his jersey and running toward the stands at Toms River North High.

Having scored the lone goal as PHS edged Ocean City 1-0 in the Group 3 state semifinals, the senior forward was fired up to celebrate with the hardy PHS fans on hand.

Kapp’s tally came with 12:32 remaining in regulation as he banged in the rebound on a cross by Jurriaan Dijkgraaf.

“Dijkgraaf got the ball on the side; he has got the speed to beat all of those guys on that side so I knew he was going to get in,” said Kapp, recalling the goal.

“All I was trying to do was to anticipate it and make sure I was in the right spot at the right time. It went to the goalie, he rebounded it out. I anticipated it and just tried to get my foot on it and get it in the back of the net.”

With PHS dominating play, building up an 11-1 edge in shots, Kapp and his teammates had the sense that a goal was coming.

“We possessed the ball very well, we found ways to break their defense down,” said Kapp.

“We just kept chipping away at them until eventually we got one. He was a good goalie, no doubt but I think after a while getting 11 shot to 1, I feel like a goalie is going to get tired out eventually. He made a great save of the cross before the goal but he didn’t have the energy to get back up quick enough to make the second save.”

As a substitute, Kapp has given the Little Tigers energy and production off the bench.

“One of my previous club coaches told me that hard work pays off so I just work as hard as I can whenever I am on the field,” said Kapp, who scored in PHS 4-1 win over Red Bank Regional in the sectional final and also scored a goal in a victory over Steinert in the semis of the Mercer County Tournament.

“Now it has been paying off with goals. I just keep trying to get my name on the scoresheet. It is a great time.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe recognized the great contribution he has gotten from Kapp down the homestretch of the season.

“We are getting timely goals from Nick,” said Sutcliffe. “It is the third one in the late season to put us in a position to either draw level or win it. Credit to him for being in the right place and credit to Jurriaan for really hitting the final pass. It is a thing we work on in training.”

Although PHS went on to fall 4-3 to South Plainfield last Sunday in the Group 3 final, that loss can’t diminish the bond the team has formed in a fall that saw it win division, county, and sectional titles.

“Every day, every practice, we are working hard together,” said Kapp, who added another tally in the championship game. “We are a family. We are not just working for ourselves, we are working for each other.”

TITLE CHASE: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Chase Ealy controls the ball during PHS’s 4-1 win over Red Bank Regional in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional title game. Last Sunday in Group 3 state championship game against South Plainfield, senior star and co-captain Ealy scored a goal but it wasn’t enough as PHS fell 4-3. The loss left the Little Tigers with a final record of 18-3-2.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TITLE CHASE: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Chase Ealy controls the ball during PHS’s 4-1 win over Red Bank Regional in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional title game. Last Sunday in Group 3 state championship game against South Plainfield, senior star and co-captain Ealy scored a goal but it wasn’t enough as PHS fell 4-3. The loss left the Little Tigers with a final record of 18-3-2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In the fall of 2012, Chase Ealy joined the Princeton High boys’ soccer team as a sophomore and helped the squad win a Group 3 state title.

Last Sunday, senior striker and co-captain Ealy had PHS on track to another state crown as he scored a goal late in the first half to give the Little Tigers a 2-1 lead over South Plainfield in this year’s Group 3 championship game at Kean University.

“I saw the open space, I took it and got a fantastic ball from Nick Kapp,” said Ealy, recalling his tally.

“I couldn’t ask for anything better. It floated right between me and the goalie; their goalie is good but I expect to win those and I did.”

Having rallied from an early 1-0 deficit in the title game, Ealy was expecting the team to build on its 2-1 advantage.

“I thought it was great, the momentum was definitely with us,” said Ealy. “Honestly I thought all we had to do was to get to halftime and we were going to take it into the second half.”

But South Plainfield answered with a goal in the waning seconds of the half to make it a 2-2 game at intermission and change the tone of the contest.

“Credit to the guy who hit the ball for them, it was a fantastic shot,” said Ealy. “They took the momentum right back at the end there.”

The momentum continued to go South Plainfield’s way in the second half as they added two goals to take a 4-2 lead. PHS added a late tally by Kapp but it wasn’t enough as the team went down to a 4-3 defeat.

While Ealy and his teammates were disappointed with the outcome, they were greeted by a standing ovation from the PHS supporters at the end of the game.

“The guys came into it with the right attitude, they fought hard,” said Ealy. “The competition was great, you couldn’t ask for better. The other team was just ready for us, they got a couple of bounces on their shots and in the end they pulled it out.”

Ealy was proud of how the Little Tigers competed all fall. “It was a young team that people didn’t expect much from,” said Ealy. “They took it as far as they could. I will remember the MCT, the sectionals, and all three games versus Allentown and how hard these guys fought.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe lauded his team’s fighting spirit. “We were persistent in our cause, which is not surprising,” said Sutcliffe. “The way we pressed on, I just couldn’t be more proud of our mentality and our resilience in the game. It just wasn’t quite our day, but that is soccer.”

When the Little Tigers took the 2-1 lead, Sutcliffe was thinking that the day could turn out well for the Little Tigers.

“We thought we were in a good position to go ahead and actually win it but credit to them,” said Sutcliffe.

“We weren’t finding one another quite well enough. They are a good team on the counter and we knew that. They have a good goalkeeper but we still put up three and really could have won the game.”

Exceeding expectations, PHS proved itself to be a very good team this fall, posting a final record of 18-3-2 on the way to division, county, and sectional titles.

“They are just fantastic; we are a such a young team,” said Sutcliffe. “I am so proud of the senior class that fought through a lot of adversity for four years. Three championships is fantastic. The success of the team was beyond some people’s expectations.”

Sutcliffe sees more championships on the horizon. “So many players, due to  the hard work and improvement, just got so much better as the whole campaign went on,” said Sutcliffe, crediting his coaching staff of Carlos Salazar, Salvi Baldino, Ward Ingersoll, and Brian Ruddy with helping to accelerate that progress. “We just can’t wait until next season. We have such a young team and we are going to be in great shape.”

Ealy, for his part, believes the program is poised to keep rolling. “In future years, this team is going to continue winning,” said Ealy. “They have a fantastic core of young players. These guys are going to be really good.”

In reflecting on his PHS experience, Ealy leaves with some fantastic memories.

“It is everything; I came into a team that was full of legacy,” said Ealy. “You are always in the title games, you are always fighting for them. It is exactly what I wanted to get back to my senior year and we did it. We got there. I would have loved to win but we continued the legacy. We won as much as we could.”

HIGH STICKING: Hun School field hockey star Julia Blake (No. 12) celebrates after a Raider goal this fall. Senior star and co-captain Blake starred in the midfield, helping Hun post an 8-11 record.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HIGH STICKING: Hun School field hockey star Julia Blake (No. 12) celebrates after a Raider goal this fall. Senior star and co-captain Blake starred in the midfield, helping Hun post an 8-11 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the Hun School field hockey team didn’t make the kind of postseason run this fall that it has been known for in recent years, it did end the season on a high note.

The Raiders rolled to a 6-1 win over Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) in its finale, snapping a six-game losing streak to post a final record of 8-11.

“The seniors knew it was their last game and they came out strong,” said Hun head coach Kathy Quirk.

“We had a nice ceremony for them before the game and they felt good about themselves.”

One of Hun’s top seniors, co-captain Vicki Leach, ended things with one of the strongest performances of her career, tallying four goals and two assists in victory against Mercersburg.

“Vicki came out feisty in front of the cage,” said Quirk. “She is very
unselfish, she is not afraid to pass but she was in the right place in the right time to score goals that day.”

Even in defeat, Hun showed feistiness collectively. “I think when we were playing Springside, we were down 3-0 and came back to lose 4-3,” recalled Quirk.

“We were down 4-0 to Germantown Academy and scored two goals to make it close. When we wanted to, we showed we could score goals.”

The Raiders also made improvement at the defensive end of the field. “I think the defense stepped up; they were so young and inexperienced,” said Quirk, noting that senior co-captain Julia Blake and sophomore Sophia Albanese were the only returning players.

“Charlotte Stout, Taylor Nehlig, Shannon Graham, Julia and Sophia really played well. Julia did a great job leading back there; she would get the ball side to side and would carry it up the field when needed.”

In addition to Leach and Blake, Hun got good work from its other seniors, Nehlig, Graham, and Penn-bound goalie and co-captain Reina Kern.

“They all had a really big impact, they all contributed in their own way,” said Quirk.

“Taylor really blossomed this year. I am glad that she got out of goal and became a field player. She was not afraid to go after opponents and just bother them on the field. Shannon was new to the team last year, coming over from soccer. With her soccer and lacrosse experience she was able to pick up the game quickly and did a good job skill-wise on defense. Reina ended her season on a high note. She really progressed from her freshman year to her senior season. She was a true leader on the field, not afraid to direct her teammates.”

In Quirk’s view, the program is headed in the right direction. “We have a good group of players returning,” added Quirk, whose core of returners includes junior Shannon Dargan, sophomore Julie Fassl, junior Gabrielle Cifelli, freshman Julia Revock, sophomore Delia Lawver, junior Sierra Hessinger, sophomore Sophia Albanese, junior Mariesa Cay, and junior Maura Kelly.

“Shannon Dargan is ready to step up on goal. Fassl is just a coach’s dream. She works hard and asks questions. She puts out 100 percent all the time. She has speed up and down the field and sends the ball across well. She has a great hit. Cifelli will be on the line next year. Revock learned a lot this season and Delia played well. We have some good defensive players coming back in Sierra and Sophia. Cay and Kelly will help in the midfield. We have good numbers, we carried 21 and are losing just five.”

Going forward, Quirk is looking for her team to carry the play on a more frequent basis.

“Sometimes they waited too long to put out the intensity; sometimes we would give up a goal before we got going,” said Quirk.

“It is a good group. I hope they work hard over the summer and come back in good shape.”

CARRYING ON: Princeton Day School field hockey player ­Lauren Finley moves the ball up the field in a game this fall. Junior Finley was a bright spot for the Panthers this season as they posted a 2-15 record.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CARRYING ON: Princeton Day School field hockey player ­Lauren Finley moves the ball up the field in a game this fall. Junior Finley was a bright spot for the Panthers this season as they posted a 2-15 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Undergoing a youth movement by necessity this fall with only three seniors on the roster, the Princeton Day School field hockey team predictably took its lumps.

Although PDS went 2-15, Panther head coach Tracey Arndt saw a lot of positives.

“A 2-15 record never sounds pretty but when you reflect on it, we were successful,” said Arndt.

“We had girls who had never played before and we had six freshmen on the field at times. They improved mentally, they played teams at a higher level and never backed down. Their individual skills all improved. They did what we asked them to do as coaches and you can’t ask for more than that.”

The Panthers gave their all in the state Prep B quarterfinals at the Ranney School, battling through a downpour before succumbing 1-0 in overtime.

“It is what I hoped for,” said Arndt. “With the weather being the way it was, they could have used that as an excuse but they didn’t. It was new to play in those conditions. They kept fighting and fighting. Katie Alden made a great stick save at the end of the first half. Kate Laughlin played great on defense. Dana Poltorak had that look in her eyes. We walked off the field proud of how we played.”

Arndt was proud of what the senior tri-captains contributed as Alden starred in goal, Poltorak showed improved stick skills, and Niki van Manen spearheaded the back line before being sidelined by illness.

“We are going to have a huge void without Katie,” said Arndt of Alden, who was a first-team All-Prep B selection and made honorable mention CJFHCA All-Mercer County.

“We had to overcome not having Niki. Dana gave us a great hit. The seniors gave us great leadership.”

In Arndt’s view, the squad has a great foundation in place, featuring such returning players as juniors Lauren Finley, Kate Laughlin, and Rowan Schomburg, together with sophomores Kiely French, Emma Garcia, Kyra Mason, Catherine Stephens, and freshmen Elizabeth Brennan, Kyra Hall, Emma Latham, Catherine Laylin, Gretchen Lindenfeldar, Madison Mundenar, Elena Schomburg, and Claire Szuter.

“I am hoping we can start next year where we left off this year, we have a great core coming back,” said Arndt.

“The girls learned it is about playing where you are needed. They all did whatever we asked, they all improved at knowing the game. At the end of the season, they were coming up to me asking what can I do to get better, what clinics and camps can I go to.”

The players also learned some lessons beyond field hockey as they stuck together through adversity.

“It is about why we are here,” said Arndt. “They had a strong purpose. They showed pride in playing for PDS and in the effort they gave everyday.”

Despite finishing the season by losing six straight games and getting outscored 23-2 in the stretch, the Hun School boys’ soccer team didn’t get down on itself.

“The kids never quit, they played hard, no matter what the score,” said Hun head coach Pat Quirk, whose team finished the fall at 4-14-1.

“The record was not as successful as we wanted but it was still a fun season.”

Quirk pointed out that some untimely injuries did make things harder for the Raiders this fall.

“We have a lot of the right pieces but we couldn’t get them all healthy at the right time,” said Quirk. “We would try to plug one hole and then we would have another hole.”

One of the key pieces for Hun this fall was senior striker Tucker Stevenson.

“Tucker was a great guy for the program,” asserted Quirk, whose other seniors included Brendan Black and Esham Macauley.

“He was with us for three years, he studied abroad one fall. He was always happy and trying to have fun. He scored in the last game and he scored our first goal this season so I thought that was fitting.”

In Quirk’s view, the program has a good foundation in place with such players as sophomores Pat Nally, Connor Hufer, Logan Leppo, and Andrew Kaye together with juniors Alex Semler, M.J. Cobb, Chris Andrews, and Kieran Choi.

“Nally and Hufer played well in the middle but as sophomores, it is hard to go against junior and seniors there,” said Quirk.

“M.J. Cobb played a great defense for us. When he got hurt that was tough, that was a hole we couldn’t plug. We had three juniors and a sophomore in the back (Semler, Andrews, and Kaye in addition to Cobb) and the goalie  (Leppo) was a sophomore. Kieran Choi was in his second year for us and played defensive midfield and did a good job for us there.”

That core of players showed a love for the game, working hard in practice each day.

“The game is the teacher, the more we play, the more we learn,” said Quirk.

“That is why we scrimmage a lot in practice. They kept their heads up. In high school sports, something can switch at any time.”

Quirk believes his program can switch things up next fall and get back on the winning track. “The guys tried really hard, they can only get better and stronger,” said Quirk.

“We are still looking for that guy who can put the ball in the back of the net. I want them to just realize that it is still fun no matter what the record is and that you can still have a good time. I want them to get better each day in the offseason. We have been at the bottom and we want to rise to the top.”

November 19, 2014
OPENING STATEMENT: Princeton University men’s basketball player Spencer Weisz prepares to put up a shot in a recent practice session. Last Friday, sophomore forward Weisz contributed a game-high 18 points as Princeton topped Rider 64-58 in the season opener for both teams. The Tigers, who fell 63-60 at George Mason on Sunday to drop to 1-1, play at Lafayette on November 19 before hosting Incarnate Word on November 22.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

OPENING STATEMENT: Princeton University men’s basketball player Spencer Weisz prepares to put up a shot in a recent practice session. Last Friday, sophomore forward Weisz contributed a game-high 18 points as Princeton topped Rider 64-58 in the season opener for both teams. The Tigers, who fell 63-60 at George Mason on Sunday to drop to 1-1, play at Lafayette on November 19 before hosting Incarnate Word on November 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Spencer Weisz gained some valuable lessons last winter in his freshman campaign with the Princeton University men’s basketball team.

Helping Princeton win eight of its last 10 Ivy League games after a 0-4 start in league play, Weisz averaged 8.7 points and 4.8 rebounds a game on the way to being named the Ivy Rookie of the Year.

Last Friday, when Princeton fell behind visiting Rider 39-30 in the season opener for both teams, Weisz applied some of that knowledge.

“We got down nine and I just felt with the experience that I had last year, it was time to step up and make some plays,” said Weisz.

Princeton proceeded to put together a 28-12 run with Weisz chipping in eight points during that stretch, seizing control of the contest on the way to a 64-58 victory before a crowd of 1,939 at Jadwin Gym.

In Weisz’s view, the comeback served as a valuable blueprint for the Tigers. “There was a long way to play and we needed to just settle in offensively and defensively,” said Weisz, who ended up with a game-high 18 points for the night along with six rebounds and two assists.

“Throughout the season there are going to be times when we are playing well but our shots aren’t falling. It is going to be scrapping and clawing for tough wins and fortunately we were able to come out with the win tonight.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson liked the mental toughness displayed by his squad on opening night.

“The biggest thing that I would talk about and would take away from the game is the poise,” said Henderson.

“I thought that they didn’t get rattled when they got down by nine. It is a fairly young group but they have the ability to stay with things. We said at the 16 minute timeout that we can’t play much worse so have some poise and let’s see where this thing goes and I thought they stayed with it. I thought Hans [Brase] made a couple of huge 3s to close the gap for us. We got to the line a couple of times. We were really good at getting to the line tonight, we took 20 free throws, which I was happy about. I thought the guys didn’t lose their cool.”

Princeton’s defensive effort also made Henderson happy. “It is the first game of the season, you don’t have a lot of information and we did some things we had only worked on a little bit,” said Henderson.

“I thought we came up with some really big plays, that is a tough Rider team so we are happy to get it. You have to count on your defense to get you back into the game. We were able to score but if we weren’t stopping them in that stretch, it would not have mattered.”

With senior star Denton Koon currently sidelined with a knee injury, Henderson is counting on his team’s depth and character to show through.

“Denton went down with a knee injury and I thought the group really responded well,” said Henderson, whose team went down last Sunday, falling 63-60 at George Mason to move to 1-1.

“Whenever you lose a senior, it is tough. Denton has been, in particular, very helpful in encouraging his teammates.”

Henderson is also encouraged by his squad’s diligence. “I just really like this team, I like the way that they are thinking about things,” said Henderson.

“They are concentrating on getting better. We really have so much to work on. I like the young guys, I like the old guys. I like the way that they are all going about their business.”

In assessing areas for improvement, Henderson focused on sharper offensive execution.

“There were a lot of turnovers (15),” said Henderson, whose team plays at Lafayette on November 19 before hosting Incarnate Word on November 22.

“We have potential to be good with the ball, we are trying to eliminate the dumb ones. There were a lot of walks called, which we will have to look at because we have been teaching that move for a long time around here. We have to look at that because I thought those were some really nice moves in the post. Overall, it is just valuing the ball and executing. Amir [Bell] is going to be on the floor for us and has to get us into something that everybody recognizes.”

Freshman guard Bell, for his part, produced a nice debut, contributing seven points, four rebounds, and three assists in 30 minutes of action.

“At the start, you just want to get into the flow,” said Bell. “As a team we  played really well. I was trying to help us in the best way possible and contribute to the game and, with my teammates, get a great win.”

Weisz sees a lot more wins on the horizon for Princeton as long as it plays sharper at both ends of the court.

“We have to execute better defensively and I think that starts with our veterans,” said Weisz. “From there we will be able to have better offense and be better as a team as a whole.”

FINAL PUSH: Princeton University senior quarterback Quinn Epperly gets ready to fire the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, Epperly rushed for three touchdowns in a losing cause as Princeton fell 44-30 at Yale. The defeat dropped the Tigers to 5-4 overall and 4-2 Ivy League, thereby extinguishing their hopes for a second straight Ivy title with Harvard leading the pack at 9-0 overall, 6-0 Ivy followed by Yale (8-1 overall, 5-1 Ivy) and Dartmouth (7-2 overall, 5-1 Ivy) as the teams head into the last week of the season. Princeton hosts Dartmouth on November 22 in its season finale.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FINAL PUSH: Princeton University senior quarterback Quinn Epperly gets ready to fire the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, Epperly rushed for three touchdowns in a losing cause as Princeton fell 44-30 at Yale. The defeat dropped the Tigers to 5-4 overall and 4-2 Ivy League, thereby extinguishing their hopes for a second straight Ivy title with Harvard leading the pack at 9-0 overall, 6-0 Ivy followed by Yale (8-1 overall, 5-1 Ivy) and Dartmouth (7-2 overall, 5-1 Ivy) as the teams head into the last week of the season. Princeton hosts Dartmouth on November 22 in its season finale. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Playing at the Yale Bowl last Saturday as the 100th anniversary of the venerable stadium was celebrated, the Princeton University football rolled up 29 first downs, 386 yards of total offense, and scored 30 points.

While that production would be sufficient to win a lot of games, it wasn’t enough against the highest-scoring Yale squad in a century as the Bulldogs pulled away to a 44-30 triumph before a crowd of 23,260.

The defeat dropped Princeton to 5-4 overall and 4-2 Ivy League, thereby extinguishing its hopes for a second straight Ivy title with Harvard leading the pack at 9-0 overall, 6-0 Ivy followed by Yale (8-1 overall, 5-1 Ivy), and Dartmouth (7-2 overall, 5-1 Ivy) as the teams head into the last week of the season.

Princeton head coach Bob Surace lamented his team’s lack of execution in key moments against Yale.

“It is just frustrating, we put so much time and effort into preparation and the effort was outstanding but we made fundamental mistakes,” said Surace.

“Against a team as good as Yale, you have to be more detailed and more exact. They had eight or nine explosive plays and we had one.”

Two critical mistakes in special teams play turned the tide against Princeton as Yale blocked a punt to score a touchdown to take a 17-14 lead early in the second quarter and then added a field goal after a botched snap led to a short punt and gave the Bulldogs good field position.

“Those 10 points against a team as good as Yale makes it tough,” said Surace. “They have been scoring, getting 54, 51, 49 points in games this season.”

In the early stages of the contest, it looked like Princeton may be headed to a 50-point afternoon.

“Offensively we got off to a good start, we went right down the field and scored,” said Surace, whose team took a 7-0 lead on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Conner Michelsen to James Frusciante.

Yale responded with a seven-yard scoring strike from Morgan Roberts to Robert Clemons to make it a 7-7 game. Two possessions later, Princeton’s defense came up big as Matt Arends intercepted a Roberts pass to give the Tigers the ball at the Yale 29. Princeton cashed in as Quinn Epperly scored on a 7-yard run to give Princeton a 14-7 advantage midway through the first quarter.

After getting 10 points due to Princeton’s punting miscues to go up 20-14, the Bulldogs kept rolling as star running Tyler Varga rushed 30 yards for a TD to make it 27-14.

Princeton answered with an 11-play, 63-yard march that culminated with a one-yard touchdown run by Epperly.

But blunting the Tigers’ momentum, Yale added a field goal with no time remaining to take a 30-21 lead into intermission.

In the third quarter, Princeton seemed to be poised for a comeback. “In the second half we stopped them and we got the ball inside their five,” said Surace. “But we dropped a snap and then had to go for a field goal and the kick hit the upright. It is not our day when the kick hits the upright. We continued to battle back.”

But it turned out to be a losing battle as Varga scored on a 13-yard pass to make it 37-21. After Epperly ran for his third TD of the day to narrow the gap to 37-27, Varga struck again with a six-yard run as Yale took its biggest lead of the day at 44-27. Bieck kicked a field goal for the Tigers midway through the fourth quarter to end the scoring.

Surace tipped his hat to the Yale offense, which totaled 568 yards and is now averaging 43.0 points a game.

“Varga is having an unbelievable year, you have got to be at your best to stop him,” said Surace of the senior tailback who rushed for 137 yards on 26 carries in the win over Princeton.

“He had a 30-yard run when a safety got tripped by an umpire. We did as good a job as anyone on him. Their quarterback was outstanding all game. When we had a rusher on him, he found the right guy. When he had time, he was almost automatic. They have some really good receivers.”

Despite the frustrating setback, Surace is confident that Princeton can end the fall on a high note as it hosts Dartmouth on November 22 in the season finale and assumes the spoiler role with the Big Green still alive in the Ivy title race.

“You only get 10 games and each one is important and enjoyable,” said Surace. “They present different challenges. You have peaks and valleys in a season and we have responded well to the low points this season.”

Dartmouth presents some major challenges for Princeton, who will be looking to end the season on a high note and avenge a 2013 loss to the Big Green that kept it from winning an outright Ivy crown.

“Their quarterback [Dalyn Williams] is one of the best players in the league and he is having his best year,” said Surace.

“They run the ball well and they are strong up front. They have a really good group of receivers, starting with [Ryan] McManus. They always play well on defense, they are well coached and they run to the ball. We have to be focused on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Emotions will be running high but all those things can be a distraction. We have to play our best game in order to have a chance to beat them.”

Surace turned emotional when he reflected on how senior stars Epperly and linebacker Mike Zeuli competed in the Yale loss.

“Seeing Quinn Epperly on Saturday was inspiring,” said Surace. “He has been in pain and has been been injured but he was fighting so hard. Mike Zeuli plays as hard as any player I have ever coached. They are not the only two guys doing that but they are the captains and they are out front. The guys follow that.”

SHANNY TOWN: Princeton University women’s hockey player Cristin Shanahan glides up the ice. Last Saturday, junior forward Shanahan scored the winning goal as Princeton edged Rensselaer 2-1 in overtime. The Tigers, now 6-1-1 overall and 4-0 ECAC Hockey, host St. Lawrence on November 21 and Clarkson on November 22.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SHANNY TOWN: Princeton University women’s hockey player Cristin Shanahan glides up the ice. Last Saturday, junior forward Shanahan scored the winning goal as Princeton edged Rensselaer 2-1 in overtime. The Tigers, now 6-1-1 overall and 4-0 ECAC Hockey, host St. Lawrence on November 21 and Clarkson on November 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Cristin Shanahan saw no need for finesse when she got the chance to give the Princeton University women’s hockey team an overtime win against visiting Rensselaer last Saturday.

With just over two minutes gone in the extra session, Shanahan received the puck on the doorstep of the goal on a nice pass from Kiersten Falck and she closed the deal with aplomb.

“I wasn’t really the playmaker there, my teammates did a good job,” said Shanahan, whose tally gave Princeton a 2-1 win as it improved to 6-1-1 overall and 4-0 ECAC Hockey.

“I don’t know how Falck manages to thread the puck through every single time. She got it to me, it was a perfect puck laying right there for me and I had the open net so I slammed it home.”

The triumph marked the third overtime win for the Tigers in their last four games as they had edged Union 3-2 in OT on Friday and had topped RIT 4-3 in overtime on November 7.

In Shanahan’s view, Princeton’s clutch play exemplifies the team’s special spirit.

“I have never played on a team that loves hockey so much,” said Shanahan. “We just love coming to the rink, we love being here. It just means a lot playing with kids who love it; coming through in those moments shows how much heart we have.”

Shanahan acknowledges that the Tigers need to play better so they don’t have to keep going to overtime to get wins.

“I think our team just has to work on being consistent through the whole game,” said Shanahan.

“We are a very strong team. I think we have a ton of potential and that we can absolutely kill this season. One thing we have to do is play 60 minutes.”

With two seasons of college hockey under her belt, Shanahan feels she is getting more out of her potential this winter.

“I think I am way more confident, I have noticed that and the coaches have told me that,” said Shanahan, a 5’6 native of Ottawa, Ontario who is second in goals scored for the Tigers this season with four, trailing only Molly Contini’s total of five.

“I am doing my own thing and not worrying about how other people are playing. I am just focusing on my game and doing my thing; it is finally working out for me.”

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal is looking for his team to do better at maintaining its focus.

“We have come up at big moments and have made big plays,” said Kampersal, whose team took a 1-0 lead in the first period on a goal by sophomore Morgan Sly.

“We have spurts of really hard-working play where we are really getting to work and we are strong on the puck and getting shots on goal and then other times when it is not very pretty and we are throwing pucks away, playing a little ping pong with the puck. We have done a good job defensively of keeping teams to the outside for the most part so we don’t let up a ton of shots, which is good.”

In the win over Rensselaer, the Tigers did a good job when it mattered most.

“We didn’t generate enough shots on offense tonight but again we killed off the big penalty at the end of regulation, which was huge, and then to get the goal right after was even bigger,” said Kampersal, who got 20 saves from junior goalie Kimberly Newell. “We got all the points, they are not drawing pictures on the scoresheet, luckily.”

Shanahan’s game-winning shot brought a smile to Kampersal’s face. “Shanny is solid, she slammed that home, which was great,” added Kampersal. “The pass by Falck was a big league pass. It was a really nice play all around. Leahy sent them in with a nice entry. That group played fairly well all day.”

While Kampersal is happy that Tigers are undefeated so far in ECACH play, he knows that won’t last long if the team doesn’t get more consistent.

“They are finding ways to win games,” noted Kampersal, whose team hosts St. Lawrence on November 21 and Clarkson on November 22.

“There has been adversity where we might have folded in years past, like getting down 3-0 to RIT last week or having Union score on us with 30 seconds to go last night and losing the lead late here. They kept with it and they kept resiliency. We will take where we are at, no question, but we definitely need to play a lot better and work on being consistent for 60 minutes.”

Shanahan, for her part, believes the Tigers can get better and better as the season unfolds.

“We are all pumped, I was just talking to some of my teammates and we think we are going to play home ice in the playoffs,” said Shanahan. “We are hoping to be Ivy champs. We think we have something special going here.”

GROUP EFFORT: Princeton High girls’ cross country runner Lou Mialhe heads to the finish line in a race last fall. Last Saturday, junior star Mialhe led the way for PHS at the Group 3 state championship meet, placing 14th individually to help the Little Tigers take second in the team standings. Mialhe covered the 5,000-meter course at Holmdel in a time of 19:45. The Little Tigers will be back at Holmdel on November 22 as they qualified for Meet of Champions (MOC), the program’s first appearance at the prestigious event since 2010.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GROUP EFFORT: Princeton High girls’ cross country runner Lou Mialhe heads to the finish line in a race last fall. Last Saturday, junior star Mialhe led the way for PHS at the Group 3 state championship meet, placing 14th individually to help the Little Tigers take second in the team standings. Mialhe covered the 5,000-meter course at Holmdel in a time of 19:45. The Little Tigers will be back at Holmdel on November 22 as they qualified for Meet of Champions (MOC), the program’s first appearance at the prestigious event since 2010. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton High girls’ cross country team, its second-place finish at the Group 3 state championship meet last Saturday was a microcosm of the program’s rise up the ranks over the last few years.

“We didn’t have a great start, I had us at seventh or eighth at the first mile,” said PHS head coach Jim Smirk, reflecting on the competition which took place at Holmdel.

“We ran effectively on the back end of the race. They are veteran runners; I like the way they stuck with the race plan and trusted their training.”

In placing second to champion Mendham, PHS was paced by junior Lou Mialhe, who took 14th individually, covering the 5,000-meter course in a time of 19:45. Senior Mary Sutton placed 20th in 20:01 with junior Emma Eikelberner coming in 28th at 20:12, senior Paige Metzheiser taking 32nd in 20:17, and senior Julie Bond finishing 57th in 20:49

The team’s second-place finish booked PHS a trip to the Meet of Champions (MOC) on November 22 at Holmdel, the program’s first appearance at the prestigious event since 2010.

“It wasn’t just our goal this year; we set out to do it a couple of years ago,” said Smirk, whose team’s 20:12 average time on Saturday was a program record for the Holmdel course.

“When Elyssa [Gensib] and Jenna [Cody] graduated, we lost two top-end runners and there was a void in the program. We had to re-imagine ourselves. Julie Bond and Mary Sutton were sophomores and Paige was a JV runner. We take a lot of pride in what we accomplished; we didn’t get a big infusion of talent. When you go back a few years ago, we weren’t at this level. We were a decent team, we would make states. Every season we got better, not just in cross country.”

Running together in a tight pack has helped PHS make strides. “This is what the program is built on, they had to be ready to do the work to make the MOC,” said Smirk. “It was not going to happen overnight. The pack raised the level of each runner.”

Mialhe has raised her level of performance over the last few weeks. “Lou struggled early; she had an interruption in her training,” said Smirk.

“She was in Peru this summer in a place where she couldn’t really run. I am impressed by her ability to hit on all cylinders but it is very much because of the team. Girls like Emma took the burden off of her; Mary did that too. All five of the top runners have placed first for us at some point.”

Harnessing her talent and intensity has helped senior Sutton become a top performer for the Little Tigers.

“Day in, day out, we have to pull Mary back and have her be more patient,” said Smirk.

“A year ago, had this happened she would not have been able to do as well. We fell behind but at the 2-mile mark, she pops out in the lead for us and I realized that Mendham was the only team with two runners ahead of us. She dominated that middle mile. She still looked great and was able to set Lou up for a fantastic finish. That is four years of high quality work.”

Junior Eikelberner showed her quality on Saturday by overcoming a shaky start.

“She was 82nd at the first mile; she got swallowed up a little bit at the beginning,” said Smirk.

“Last year or even earlier this season, she might have panicked but she kept her focus and ran very well. She took an elbow in the jaw late in the race and just took the thump and kept going. She was locked in and she ran great.”

Metzheiser’s consistency has been a great plus for PHS this fall. “Paige has been a rock for us,” asserted Smirk. “She has given us constant quality, with no injuries, no setbacks. She just got a little better each race; she has been a big part of our success.”

The presence of Bond in the race despite a nagging hip injury helped PHS succeed on Saturday. “As of 3:30 on Friday, she was sitting out the race,” said Smirk.

“We kept her on the bike. I said that if she could convince me that we would be a better team with her on the line, she could go. She didn’t have to convince me because some of the other girls did. They said our best team would be with her on the line because of the fact that she is on the line makes us a better team no matter what she does. The proof was in the pudding. She was only 10 seconds off her Shore Coaches time. She was hampered by a hip injury but she was very confident and strong.”

While PHS was proud of its strong performance last Saturday, it isn’t planning to rest on its laurels as it returns to the MOC.

“They weren’t talking about getting second on the bus ride home, they were talking about next week and doing better,” said Smirk.

GOLDEN GOAL: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Andrew Goldsmith controls the ball last Thursday as first-seeded PHS hosted sixth-seeded Red Bank Regional in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional final. Sophomore Goldsmith scored a second-half goal to help PHS pull away to a 4-1 win. The Little Tigers will now face Ocean City on November 19 in the Group 3 state semifinals at Toms River North.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GOLDEN GOAL: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Andrew Goldsmith controls the ball last Thursday as first-seeded PHS hosted sixth-seeded Red Bank Regional in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional final. Sophomore Goldsmith scored a second-half goal to help PHS pull away to a 4-1 win. The Little Tigers will now face Ocean City on November 19 in the Group 3 state semifinals at Toms River North. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While Andrew Goldsmith has been a key playmaker for the Princeton High boys’ soccer team as it has won the county crown and advanced to Central Jersey Group 3 sectional final, he hadn’t scored a goal all fall.

The sophomore midfielder picked a good time to finally find the back of the net, scoring a vital second half goal as first-seeded PHS pulled away to a 4-1 win over sixth-seeded Red Bank Regional last Thursday in the sectional title game.

Goldsmith’s tally made it 3-1 and gave the Little Tigers breathing room on the way to the triumph, which earned them a spot in the state Group 3 semis where they will face Ocean City on November 19 at Toms River North.

“When they played that ball in, I thought the goalie was going to come out and get it but then I hear people screaming my name to run on it and I ran it,” recalled Goldsmith.

“I was going to score that one after getting so many opportunities this year. I needed to get my first one and it is a great feeling.”

Despite falling behind 1-0 in the first half against Red Bank, Goldsmith and his teammates had the feeling that they could find the back of the net and seize momentum.

“We knew that this goalie was really good and we found that he comes off his line very quickly,” said Goldsmith.

“We just knew that once we get in the break, we knew we would get more opportunities. We just had to stay composed because we knew the goal was going to come.”

PHS knotted the game at 1-1 on a goal by Nick Kapp late in the first half. With nearly 14 minutes gone on the second half, PHS forged ahead 2-1 and then Goldsmith tallied to help break Red Bank’s spirit.

“Whenever you go up two goals in a major tournament or even in a normal game, it is very tough to get your heads up,” said Goldsmith, whose goal was followed minutes later by a tally from Luis Lazo.

PHS has been getting tougher and tougher as the postseason has unfolded, playing its best soccer when it matters most.

“We were only focused on this game, you have to take it one game at a time,” said Goldsmith. “We just keep improving every game.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe kept the faith even as his team dug the early hole against Red Bank.

“We had plenty of time and with their high line and us getting in behind a couple of times, we were not that concerned,” said Sutcliffe.

“I was more concerned with the quality of their goalkeeper and the possible fact that he might have had a career day.”

Kapp’s game-tying tally changed the tone of the day for PHS. “What a timely goal, it was good work on the behalf of every guy, just trying to find a way to keep it and get in behind them,” said Sutcliffe. “It was a quality goal, that was the turning point in the game.”

In reflecting on his team’s high quality play down the stretch, Sutcliffe attributed it to chemistry and depth.

“I think more than anything, it is a great work ethic, camaraderie, and quality,” said Sutcliffe.

“We have a lot of quality and depth on the team. We are finding a way to let a lot of players become the personality player, and not just one player or two players. Our depth and our quality, I think has carried us through in the last four weeks.”

For Sutcliffe, winning another sectional crown and getting through to the state semis with this group means a lot. “I am as happy now as I have ever been winning any championship,” said Sutcliffe, who guided PHS to state titles in 2009 and 2012.

“Last year, we really worked hard with 17 new varsity players. I am particularly happy for the seniors. It is not a big class in numbers, there are only six of them and they have just persevered. They have been challenged by the juniors and the sophomores. The end result of that is what you saw today, a lot of quality and finding a way to win.”

Goldsmith, whose older brother, Jeremy, starred for the 2012 state championship team, saw the sectional title as redemption after the Little Tigers produced a subpar campaign in 2013.

“It is great,” said Goldsmith. “I have gotten a lot of grief from last year when we got knocked out in the first round of MCTs and the semifinals of the sectionals coming off a state championship year. This is just a great feeling and I can’t wait to call my brother up and tell him about it.”

RIST AND REWARD: Princeton High boys’ cross country runner Jacob Rist competes in a 2013 race. Last Saturday, senior Rist placed 35th individually at the Group 3 state championship meet to set the pace for PHS as it took 13th in the team standings. Rist clocked a time of 17:05 over the 5,000-meter course at Holmdel.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

RIST AND REWARD: Princeton High boys’ cross country runner Jacob Rist competes in a 2013 race. Last Saturday, senior Rist placed 35th individually at the Group 3 state championship meet to set the pace for PHS as it took 13th in the team standings. Rist clocked a time of 17:05 over the 5,000-meter course at Holmdel. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the Princeton High boys’ cross country team didn’t finish as high at the Group 3 state championship meet last Saturday as it did last fall, Mark Shelley saw progress.

“Other people ran great races and we couldn’t control that,” said PHS head coach Shelley.

“What we could control, we did well. We ran very, very well. We were 11th last year and 13th this year but I think this was a better performance in terms of hitting our potential. I was very pleased, we were going south at the state meet last year in terms of injuries and this year we were headed in the other direction.”

Senior Jacob Rist battled through injury to set the pace for the Little Tigers, placing 35th as he covered the 5,000-meter course at Holmdel in a time of 17:05.

“Jacob has not been 100 percent this fall, he had achilles tendinitis,” said Shelley of Rist, who took ninth at the Central Jersey sectional meet on November 8 to help PHS finish second in the team standings in that competition.

“He gutted it out; he wanted to break 17 and came really close. The only way for him to heal would have been to take six weeks off but he is a senior and didn’t want to do that. We listened to his parents and doctor.”

Another PHS runner, sophomore Alex Roth, gutted it out as he overcame knee problems to place 57th at the state meet.

“We were amazed with how Alex did,” said Shelley. “He ran 17:05 at Thompson Park last week and then ran a 17:24 at Holmdel on a harder course. Holmdel has more hills. He was tentative with his knee earlier. At Holmdel, there is the hill in the beginning and he got out a little better. He was just seven seconds off his Holmdel record. He has six weeks off with just rehab; it shows his natural ability and how seriously he took rehab.”

Senior James Cao gave the team a serious effort as he finished 93rd with a time of 17:55.

“James was emotional after the race, it was his last race,” said Shelley. “He has always been the ultimate teammate, the kids love him and we as coaches love him.”

Shelley loves what he has seen from junior Noah Chen over the last few weeks.

“Noah is very talented and very personable; he has sometimes struggled with consistency in workouts and meets,” said Shelley of Chen, who was PHS’s third finisher at the state meet, taking 62nd in a time of 17:28.

“We have seen a positive change in his consistency over the last few weeks. He is going to be a leader for us next year. Getting him to harness his ability has been our goal.”

Sophomores Jonathan Petrozzini and Patrick O’Connell showed their ability as they took 89th and 105th, respectively, on Saturday,

“Petrozzini and O’Connell are both sophomores and it was their first state meet,” said Shelley.

“Petrozzini has had problems with hips and O’Connell had strep throat and was out 10 days; it has been tough for him to get his stamina back. Both PR’s at Holmdel.”

In Shelley’s view, his runners gained some mental toughness as they dealt with the ups and downs of the season.

“It was frustrating that we had a number of injuries to our top guys,” said Shelley.

“It hurt us in terms of competitiveness but it gave the opportunity for freshmen and sophomores. We had two freshmen, Nick Delaney and Alex Ackerman, who got to run some varsity races. One of the things about sports is that it is like life, you get lessons in dealing with adversity, individually and collectively. Individually, you may lose your place and you have to still be a good teammate. The team might not do as well as we want. The lessons go beyond cross country. We want to help the kids take the lessons and learn from them.”

With a stellar group of young runners returning, Shelley believes the future is bright if those lessons are heeded.

“We have a great group of kids; we have a super foundation for the next two or three years,” said Shelley.

“We had a freshman, three sophomores, and a junior run on Saturday; we may have been the youngest team in the state meet. They need to be running consistently in the summer, that let’s us do more focused practices in the fall and it also helps prevent injuries because you increase the base. We are looking for them to be in the 30-50 weekly mileage range, depending on the individual runner. They have seen that guys like Jacob do that and how it has helped.”

CHARLIE COMPANY: Princeton High football head coach Charlie Gallagher plots his next move in a game earlier this season. Gallagher’s leadership helped PHS make the state playoffs, where the seventh-seeded Little Tigers fell to second-seeded Brick Township 48-12 last Friday in an opening round contest.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CHARLIE COMPANY: Princeton High football head coach Charlie Gallagher plots his next move in a game earlier this season. Gallagher’s leadership helped PHS make the state playoffs, where the seventh-seeded Little Tigers fell to second-seeded Brick Township 48-12 last Friday in an opening round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Despite the daunting prospect of facing defending sectional champion and second-seeded Brick Township in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group 4 state playoffs last Friday evening, the seventh-seeded Princeton High squad was cautiously optimistic.

“The kids were real excited, we thought we had a good game plan and that it was a good matchup for us,” said PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher, reflecting on the program’s first state playoff appearance since 2009.

“We had told them before the game that yardage was at a premium. It was a playoff game, we were playing a high caliber opponent that doesn’t give up a lot of points. We are going to have to battle for every yard.”

But the contest quickly turned into an uphill battle for the Little Tigers as they fell behind 14-0 early in the first quarter.

“We opened up with an onside kick because they only had four on the line; we thought this set up well because most teams have five guys,” said Gallagher.

“They didn’t catch it. We kicked it out of bounds, they had a short field and scored in three or four plays. We had a third and long on our next possession and we had a 30-yard catch and then we fumbled the ball. Even though they didn’t have good field position, they were able to march in for another score.”

After PHS quarterback Dave Beamer scored on a one-yard touchdown run to make it 21-6 in the second quarter, Gallagher thought the Little Tigers were back in business.

“No doubt, we thought we were in the game,” said Gallagher. “We have been down before this season and made comebacks. But that Sclafani (Brick quarterback Carmen Sclafani) kid was real talented. We didn’t have an answer for him. We matched up well against the rest of the team but they had one kid who was real special. He was a dual threat, he could run and he could pass.”

Ultimately, Sclafani proved to be the difference, rushing for two touchdowns and passing for another as Brick pulled away to a 48-12 win.

Despite the final margin, PHS wasn’t hanging its heads in the wake of the defeat, which marked the final chapter of a heartening reversal of fortune that saw the team post an 8-2 record after going 0-10 last fall.

“We talked about how proud we were of the team,” said Gallagher, recalling his postgame message.

“The seniors had a great run, they put so much into it. Going 8-2 was a remarkable turnaround. Most guys picked us at the bottom of the division in the beginning of the season. We had no number of wins in mind, we just wanted to compete. We competed at a high level and got eight wins, the guys should be very proud.”

For second-year head coach Gallagher, there were a number of proud moments this fall.

“The first win stands out (a 28-7 victory over Hamilton in the season opener) although it seems like a long time ago,” said Gallagher, crediting senior captains Sam Smallzman, Brian Tien, and Colin Buckley with setting a positive tone.

“The second win over Ewing on homecoming under the lights was a great event. It was great to see such a huge crowd. People told me it was one of the most memorable sporting events they had seen at PHS. Even though it was a loss, the Winslow game stood out. I liked how the kids rebounded. There were lessons that needed to be learned and learned quickly.”

Gallagher likes the program’s future prospects. “We have an up and coming line that got better every week,” said Gallagher, noting that linemen Noah Ziegler, Matt Toplin, and Ethan Guerra will return to wreak havoc in the trenches.

“We have Beamer and Rory Helstrom back; it is good to have continuity on offense. We have to fill a couple of holes but the future is bright. The guys are excited to get back to it.”

The excitement surrounding PHS’s memorable fall has Gallagher optimistic that others will want to join the fun.

“I think the kids had a really great time,” said Gallagher. “The tale of the tape will be next year in August. I hope kids from John Witherspoon and Cranbury want to play for a quality football team because we have it right now. Winning attracts kids.”

FEELING INVINCIBLE: Vince Boccanfuso poses with his wife, Rita and daughters, Lynn, far left, and Beth, far right, before officiating in his 300th college football game. Boccanfuso, a 1966 Princeton High graduate who starred in football and track, is being inducted this Saturday into the ninth class of the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

FEELING INVINCIBLE: Vince Boccanfuso poses with his wife, Rita and daughters, Lynn, far left, and Beth, far right, before officiating in his 300th college football game. Boccanfuso, a 1966 Princeton High graduate who starred in football and track, is being inducted this Saturday into the ninth class of the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

Starting his Princeton High sports career as a sixth-string, 120-pound receiver for the freshman football team in 1962, Vince Boccanfuso didn’t seem destined for stardom.

But using his speed and persistence, Boccanfuso worked himself up to the first team that season.

Taking off from there, Boccanfuso became a standout athlete for the PHS football and track teams.

On the gridiron, he was a two-year varsity starter who earned All-County and All-Suburban honors as a senior.

On the track, Boccanfuso emerged as a star sprinter and jumper, winning the county crown in the 100-yard dash and taking second in the 220 and the long jump in the county meet as a senior in 1966 and then winning Central Jersey Group IV titles in the 100, 220, and long jump.

This Saturday, Boccanfuso ascends to the pantheon of PHS sports as he will be inducted into the ninth class of the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

He will be joined in the class by Wilbur E. Hines ’66, Henry Wilkinson ’69, Alec Hoke ’83, Jim Laverty ’87, Liz Hewson Blankstein ’88, Larry Madden ’64, Roger Madden ’65, Charles Edward Madden ’68, John Philip Madden ’69, and the 1960 baseball team.

Reflecting on his Little Tiger career, Boccanfuso cites his participation in the summer Princeton Playground Program as the genesis of his athletic success.

“Way back when, Princeton High, Valley Road, Harrison Street, all those different schools had a program; it was a place for kids to go in the summer,” recalled Boccanfuso, age 66.

“It was like a day care. They had softball teams and at the end of the summer, they had a track meet at PHS and I did really well in eighth grade.”

That performance put him on the radar of PHS track coach Gerry Groninger.

“One day freshman year I was sitting in homeroom and Gerry Groninger tapped me on the shoulder and said I want you to run for me,” said Boccanfuso, noting that Groninger had heard about his track prowess from the director of the summer program.

Boccanfuso did the 100, 220, long jump, and high jump and was a star from the outset.

To maximize his speed, Boccanfuso adopted an unorthodox workout method.

“I used to train with Bart Bennett; he would run the hurdles and I would sprint right next to him because no one could keep up with us.”

As a 5’9, 137-pounder in his senior year, Boccanfuso had to race past defenders to make an impact on the football.

“I was called by one of the papers as the fastest schoolboy player in the state,” recalled Boccanfuso.

Boccanfuso’s connection with quarterback and close friend, Bill Cirullo, also helped him excel as a receiver.

“We grew up on Humbert Street together; we lived across the street from each other,” said Boccanfuso of Cirullo, the longtime principal at the Riverside School.

“We started playing football in the backyard when we were five or six. I could not have done what I did without him throwing to me.”

Boccanfuso did some special things in track, starring as the 1966 team won the state title.

“Winning three events in one day at the Central Jersey Group IV meet was a highlight,” said Boccanfuso, proudly noting his personal bests in the 100 (9.8), 220 (21.3), long jump (21’5) and high jump (6’0).

“I also had a big county meet. Everybody was happy with the state title. I had busted my knee up in football so it was rough to do some of the things I did that season.”

Over his PHS career, Boccanfuso was happy to have come under the influence of some special coaches.

“Tom Murray was the biggest factor in my life besides my father,” asserted Boccanfuso. “He lived around the corner. I think he got me moved up from the sixth to first team that freshman season. He was also a track coach. He was a great guy, he is a fantastic man.”

Off the field and track, Boccanfuso did some great things as well during his high school years, getting selected for New Jersey Boys State and receiving the PHS Gold Key for meritorious service.

After PHS, Boccanfuso went to Rutgers where he earned a BA and was too busy working himself through college to continue his sports career. He went on to earn an MBA from Rider and a PhD in finance from Columbia.

During college, he became involved in a different aspect of sports that helped change the course of his life.

“I got to the point where I knew I wouldn’t be playing football forever,” said Boccanfuso.

“I wanted to keep involved in the game. In my senior year in college I took a
cadet class in 1969. I passed and became a high school ref.”

While working his way up to Director of Contracts for Sarnoff Corporation, Boccanfuso rose through the ranks of officiating.

“In 1976, a college official told me I ought to be a college ref,” said Boccanfuso, who has also worked as a high school lacrosse ref and runs the clock at Princeton University basketball and lacrosse games.

“I started doing D-3 games. In 1985, I was promoted to 1-AA. I did an FCS championship game in January 2012. It was the highlight of my officiating career along with doing three Yale-Harvard games.”

Getting inducted into the PHS Hall of Fame this Saturday will create another lasting highlight for Boccanfuso.

“It is hard to describe,” said Boccanfuso, who will be introduced by his daughters, Lynn and Beth, with wife, Rita, a fellow 1966 PHS alum, in attendance. “I am elated that they would think of me. It is unbelievable.”

November 12, 2014
SENIOR MOMENT: Princeton University field hockey star Sydney Kirby (No. 6) celebrates after a Tiger goal earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior midfielder Kirby starred in her final home game for the Tigers, chipping in two assists as Princeton edged Penn 4-3. The win give the Tigers the outright Ivy League title. In upcoming action, Princeton, now 7-10 overall, 6-1 Ivy, will head across the state to play at Monmouth (13-7 overall, 4-1 MAAC) on November 12 in an NCAA tournament play-in game with the winner advancing to face second-seeded Maryland in the Round of 16.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SENIOR MOMENT: Princeton University field hockey star Sydney Kirby (No. 6) celebrates after a Tiger goal earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior midfielder Kirby starred in her final home game for the Tigers, chipping in two assists as Princeton edged Penn 4-3. The win give the Tigers the outright Ivy League title. In upcoming action, Princeton, now 7-10 overall, 6-1 Ivy, will head across the state to play at Monmouth (13-7 overall, 4-1 MAAC) on November 12 in an NCAA tournament play-in game with the winner advancing to face second-seeded Maryland in the Round of 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Sydney Kirby was determined to do something special on her Senior Day for the Princeton University field hockey team as it hosted Penn last Saturday.

“Senior Day is always exciting and it is always a little bittersweet because you never know if it is going to be the seniors’ last game,” said star midfielder Kirby, reflecting on her thoughts before the Tigers took the field to host Penn in their home finale.

“I know the seniors wanted to play their best games for everyone. We spent four years here and we owe it to the program to play our best. We love playing for everyone, the team was so excited.”

Although Princeton came into the day tied with Columbia for first place in the Ivy League standings at 5-1, it could have been the last game for the Tigers. If the Lions prevailed in their game against Harvard going on simultaneously, they would get the league’s bid to the NCAA tournament by virtue of beating Princeton 3-2 in late September.

Kirby helped Princeton get off to an exciting start against Penn, assisting on a goal by Hailey Reeves off of a penalty corner to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.

After the Quakers took a 2-1 lead, Kirby figured in another goal, setting up a Teresa Benvenuti tally with seven seconds remaining in the first half.

“It definitely helped our momentum, going into halftime losing would not have been awesome,” said Kirby.

“We came out in the second half and it is like the score was 0-0 so it’s anybody’s game. We would have come back no matter what, we had never lost hope.”

Building on the momentum from the goal just before intermission, Princeton ended up outscoring Penn 2-1 in the second half to pull out a 4-3 win. At the same time, Columbia lost to Harvard 4-1, thereby making the Tigers the outright Ivy champs.

Princeton, 7-10 overall, will now head across the state to play at Monmouth (13-7 overall, 4-1 MAAC) on November 12 in an NCAA tournament play-in game with the winner advancing to face second-seeded Maryland in the Round of 16.

Although the Tigers have suffered through a rough fall which saw them go 1-9 in non-conference games, winning the title makes up for a lot of the disappointment.

“This means everything,” said a beaming Kirby, reflecting on the program’s 20th Ivy title in the last 21 years.

“We have had ups and down for sure and we have never lost sight of what is important and winning the Ivy League title is what we all come here to do. Everything else is icing on the cake.”

With Princeton having gone 45-14 overall and 20-1 Ivy in Kirby’s first three years, highlighted by winning the 2012 NCAA title, dealing with 10 losses this fall has been tough.

“It has been a different season, people aren’t used to it and that is a fact,” said Kirby, a native of Cleveland Heights, Ohio and the team’s leading scorer this fall with 18 points on six goals and six assists. “We have learned to deal with the adversity and it has made us stronger now.”

Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn lauded her team’s strong character in coming through to win another Ivy crown.

“It has been so hard, it has been such a tough season but they persevered,” said Holmes-Winn.

“I am just so happy for them. I don’t think our record necessarily reflects the team that we have. Honestly we have been training well.”

Princeton had to navigate its way through a nerve-wracking second half to get the win over Penn.

“We would win the ball and turn it over, it was a lot of back and forth,” said Holmes-Winn.

“When you have a team that is chasing the game, they can take more risks which they were. Penn was trying to smash the ball into the middle of the field and hope for a mistake. I think we managed that chaos pretty well but this was not an easy game. I am so proud of the girls for sticking to it.”

The team’s core of seniors helped the Tigers stick with it through the topsy-turvy fall.

“They are just really sweet kids,” said Holmes-Winn of the program’s Class of 2015, which includes Cassidy Arner, Colleen Boyce, Julia Boyle, Allison Evans, and Stephanie Goldberg in addition to Kirby.

“One of the big things when the freshmen come in is helping integrate them into the fabric of the team. This year has been the best integration and it is largely due to the seniors and how they have chosen to include them and make them feel like a part of the family very quickly. I think that has been really good for the team. They have been great players and they have worked hard. They are great kids.”

Junior Maddie Copeland made great a play on the winning goal as she backhanded a blast past the Penn goalie with 8:56 left in regulation.

“It is execution, we have had breakaways like that,” said Holmes-Winn. “It was just really good to see the finish come through and it was just a sensational shot from Maddie. That’s the beauty of the game right there. She will go backhand 100 percent of the time; don’t even bother defending her forehand because she isn’t going to shoot there. She is really good at it.”

Holmes-Winn credited Kirby and sophomore Annabeth Donovan with providing good work all over the field.

“Sydney’s work rate is great, both she and A.B. work so hard in the middle of the field,” asserted Holmes-Winn. “They plug a lot of holes; they really keep our structure intact.”

Senior striker Evans also came up big, tallying Princeton’s third goal early in the second half.

“That’s been Allie, ever since she has been a freshman she has been coming up with huge goals for this team,” said Holmes-Winn of Evans, who now has 40 goals in her Tiger career. “I am not surprised.”

With Princeton having won four of its last five games heading into the clash at Monmouth, Holmes-Winn believes her team could pull some surprises in the NCAAs.

“I think our best games have been against the likes of UConn and Syracuse, I really rate those teams. We play better when there is a little more structure in the game. This is a game that had very little structure and we don’t necessarily thrive with that.”

Kirby, for her part, believes the Tigers can thrive in postseason play. “I 100 percent do,” said Kirby, when asked if the Tigers could make an NCAA run.

“No one is expecting it, everyone is underrating us. We have gotten better every day this week and we are only going to get better from here.”

GOOD HANS: Princeton University men’s basketball player Hans Brase (with ball) looks to make a move in a recent practice session. Junior forward Brase, Princeton’s leading returning scorer after averaging 11.2 points per game in 2013-14, figures to be pivotal player for the Tigers this winter. Princeton opens up its 2014-15 campaign by hosting Rider on November 14.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GOOD HANS: Princeton University men’s basketball player Hans Brase (with ball) looks to make a move in a recent practice session. Junior forward Brase, Princeton’s leading returning scorer after averaging 11.2 points per game in 2013-14, figures to be pivotal player for the Tigers this winter. Princeton opens up its 2014-15 campaign by hosting Rider on November 14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The concept of “next man up” has become a catchphrase in the pro football world as the injury rate that naturally results from the collision sport necessitates that reserves will be called on to get their opportunity to shine.

That principle is serving as a theme for the Princeton University men’s basketball team as it opens up its 2014-15 campaign by hosting Rider on November 14. Princeton is looking to make up for the void left by the graduation of T.J. Bray, who led the Tigers in points, assists, and steals last winter on the way to earning first-team All-Ivy League honors.

“It is who is stepping up, I can’t answer that question right now,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, speaking at the program’s annual media day.

“Of the teams I have had since I have been here, this is the most balanced team that we have had. I think this team’s strength is whose turn is it to score.”

Henderson does acknowledge that junior Hans Brase, the team’s leading returning scorer with 11.2 points per game last winter when the Tigers went 21-9 overall and 8-6 Ivy on the way to the second round of the CBI (College Basketball Invitational), will be expected to shoulder a greater share of the scoring load.

“Hans is pivotal for us,” said Henderson, who welcomes back a number of experienced upperclassmen including seniors Ben Hazel (6.1 points in 2013-14), Denton Koon (7.7 points), and Clay Wilson (4.5 points). “He has got to stay out of foul trouble, he is going to have the ball in his hands a lot. Can he understand time and place, and that there is a time for that, and not a time for that.”

Brase, for his part, is ready for his time in the spotlight. “The way we work, a lot of people say how are we going to replace T.J. but we never  really replace people,” said the 6’8, 231-pound Brase, who played with the German second national team last summer.

“Our program is built on the next people are up so now it is my turn. As juniors and seniors it is our turn. I don’t feel like I have a bigger load, it is just my turn next.”

Sophomore guard Spencer Weisz, the Ivy Rookie of the Year last winter when he averaged 8.7 points and 4.8 rebounds a game, is also prepared to take a star turn.

“I feel like I am going to have to make some plays more without T.J.  here but then again everyone on the team brings a little bit of diversity to the table,” said Weisz.

“People can put the ball on the floor and shoot pretty well. Maybe I will get some more post touches for myself. I need to play within the offense and take more of a leadership role than I did last year.”

Henderson is looking for a more balanced offensive approach from his club, which relied heavily on the three-pointer last year as it made a team-record 278 baskets from beyond the arc.

“There are a lot of stats out there that show if you make a lot of 3s, you are going to win a lot of games,” said Henderson, whose team will be without the services of Koon for a while as he is sidelined with a knee injury.

“I hope we don’t rely on it the way we did. We have the emphasis on going to the rim.”

Princeton will also be looking to stop foes from getting to the rim. “Defensively, I think we hit a skid in league play and we have got to have a little more fire in the eyes so to speak,” said Henderson, whose team started 0-4 in Ivy play last season before winning eight of its last 10 league contests.

“We have been zeroing in on that. We faltered defensively and then we got back on track, which I was proud of. We became the best defensive team in the league but it was a little too late.”

Henderson knows that his team can’t falter again early in league play if it wants to be a title contender.

“It is a tough league, I think the talent level is really good,” said Henderson, whose team was picked fourth in the Ivy preseason poll behind defending champion Harvard, Yale, and Columbia.

“We are the 11th highest rated league in the country. I do think that it is the most underrated league. Every team is well coached, everybody is making the extra pass and doing a little more to make sure you win. I was in the Big 10 for a long time and I thought there was some good coaching here. This is equally as tough.”

In Henderson’s view, some of the team’s new faces could do good things this winter.

“I like the freshmen a lot, the thing I like the most is a complete buy-in into what we do,” said Henderson, whose crop of newcomers includes Amir Bell, Alec Brennan, Jackson Forbes, Mike LeBlanc, and Aaron Young. “I am happy about the freshmen.”

The team’s group of sophomores, which includes Pete Miller (2.5 points), Steven Cook (4.5 points), Henry Caruso, and Hun School alum Hashim Moore in addition to Weisz, is also making Henderson happy.

“That said, the sophomore class has made a huge leap forward which is what you want,” added Henderson. “It is a very solid sophomore class, right now they are all showing signs.”

As the Tigers host Rider this Friday, they will be looking to show that are ready to make a leap forward this winter.

“We know the Rider guys pretty well, I like local games,” said Henderson. “Our non-conference is designed to help us trend up, that is what we want.”

ON THE REBOUND: Princeton University women’s basketball head coach Courtney Banghart answers a question at the program’s recently-held media day. The Tigers will be looking to regain the Ivy League crown they lost to Penn last winter after winning four straight league titles. Princeton tips off its 2014-15 season this weekend with games at Pittsburgh on November 14 and at Duquesne on November 16.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ON THE REBOUND: Princeton University women’s basketball head coach Courtney Banghart answers a question at the program’s recently-held media day. The Tigers will be looking to regain the Ivy League crown they lost to Penn last winter after winning four straight league titles. Princeton tips off its 2014-15 season this weekend with games at Pittsburgh on November 14 and at Duquesne on November 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton University women’s basketball team, winning four straight Ivy League titles from the 2009-10 season through 2012-13 may have lulled the program into a false sense of security.

“You get numb to winning, it becomes — that’s what we do here,” said Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart, at the program’s annual media day.

While Princeton won plenty of games last winter as it posted its fifth straight 20-victory season, the Tigers fell to Penn in the regular season finale to finish second to the Quakers in the Ivy standings.

Banghart is relishing being in the role of the hunter this winter. “It is a  different mentality in terms of chasing a title versus protecting a title,” said Banghart, who guided Princeton to a 21-9 record last winter as the program won its first postseason game by advancing to the second round of the WNIT.

“It is something the program hasn’t had in a few years. We have proven it’s not what we do here, it is what we earn here and we didn’t earn it last year.”

As Banghart looks ahead to the the 2014-15 season, which starts this weekend with games at Pittsburgh on November 14 and at Duquesne on November 16, the eight-year head coach believes that tightening up things defensively is the key to earning another league crown.

“We went to four NCAA tournaments and in every one of those years we were the best defensive team, whether we played one-on-one, two-on-two, or three-on-three,” said Banghart.

“I always say you want to go into a competition and if the ref said by the way it is two-on-two today, you would still win it. Last year no way, we were not the best defensive team. So come hell or high water, we are going to be the best defensive team in the league this year if we are going to be champions.”

Princeton welcomes back a lot of experience in its quest to regain the league crown as the roster includes 12 letter winners from last year.

“We pretty much know what we are made of because we bring so much back,” said Banghart, noting that Princeton had four sophomores and a junior in its starting lineup for the WNIT win over Virginia Commonwealth University.

“I was able to focus a lot on the films from last year this summer to figure out where the holes were. We are certainly ahead of where we were. I don’t know if we will be where we need to be but we are certainly ahead of where we were in a lot of facets.”

One of those key returners, junior shooting guard Michelle Miller, said the Princeton players have come back with a more hungry attitude in the wake of last year’s second-place finish.

“I think we are all really driven this year,” said Miller, who averaged 11.7 points a game last winter.

“We are all really hungry to get the league title back and I think that has really changed our mentality. We hadn’t lost before so it became something like winning is what we do but you realize it is not, by any means, something that is given to you. You have to go out and earn it every single game and that starts with the way you practice.”

Senior point guard, Blake Dietrick, a first-team All-Ivy selection last year when she averaged a team-high 14.3 points a contest, is ready to earn it on the defensive end.

“From top to bottom, we have totally renewed our defensive commitment and desire,” said Dietrick.

“That is just being accountable on every play. If someone misses a help rotation we are not going to say it’s OK, get it the next time. We are going to say that is unacceptable.”

Banghart likes the commitment she has seen so far from the team in the preseason.

“I like the energy of this group,” said Banghart. “I like the enthusiasm, I like the youth, I like the experience.”

The trio of freshmen Kenya Holland, Tia Weledji, and Leslie Robinson should provide Princeton with a burst of energy.

“We are making it an obligation of our upperclassmen to ensure that our freshmen help us,” said Banghart, whose top returning veterans include juniors Alex Wheatley (10.2 points per game in 2013-14), Taylor Williams (6.7 points and 4.1 rebounds), Annie Tarakchian (6.1 points and 4.7 rebounds), and Amanda Berntsen (5.7 points) along with senior Mariah Smith (3.0 points) and sophomore Vanessa Smith (5.1 points).

“We tried last year to play without freshmen and it didn’t go so well. If we want to be as good as we can be, those freshmen have to help us. The seniors and juniors have been doing a really good job of bringing them along.”

Banghart believes that the 6’0 Robinson, the daughter of former Princeton men’s hoops standout Craig Robinson and the niece of President Obama, is poised to have a really good debut season.

“Leslie Robinson is a really special talent,” said Banghart. “Leslie’s dad played here, he was a two-time player of the year, and she obviously has some pretty famous family history. She comes at the game honestly. She brings toughness and she brings coachability.”

The Tigers face some tough tests on opening weekend. “Those are two really good challenges on the road,” said Banghart. “I haven’t even worried about what Pitt and Duquesne do yet, except that I know they are programs that carry with them a tradition as do we. I want our kids to be thrown into the fire early.”

As Princeton looks to add to its recent tradition of winning Ivy titles, competing well in non-conference games will lay the foundation for success.

“Yesterday’s thought of the day at practice was that what gets evaluated is performance, not potential,” said Banghart.

“We haven’t had any performance yet so we will see. I think it is a better league than it was four years ago. It means that the top teams have to be legitimately good and we have a role in that. We are obligated to do well nationally and represent our league well.”