March 13, 2013

 

GOING FOURTH: Princeton University women’s basketball player Lauren Polansky looks for an opening. Last Saturday, senior point guard Polansky helped Princeton top Brown 80-51 as the Tigers clinched a fourth straight outright Ivy League crown in their Jadwin Gym finale this winter. Princeton, which improved to 21-6 overall and 12-1 Ivy with the victory, was slated to wrap up regular season play with a game at Penn (16-11 overall, 9-4 Ivy) on March 12. The Tigers will find out their assignment for the upcoming NCAA tournament on March 18.                              (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GOING FOURTH: Princeton University women’s basketball player Lauren Polansky looks for an opening. Last Saturday, senior point guard Polansky helped Princeton top Brown 80-51 as the Tigers clinched a fourth straight outright Ivy League crown in their Jadwin Gym finale this winter. Princeton, which improved to 21-6 overall and 12-1 Ivy with the victory, was slated to wrap up regular season play with a game at Penn (16-11 overall, 9-4 Ivy) on March 12. The Tigers will find out their assignment for the upcoming NCAA tournament on March 18. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In one respect, Lauren Polansky has experienced an agonizing winter in her final season with the Princeton University women’s basketball team.

The gritty point guard and two-time Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year has been slowed by stress fractures in both feet.

“It was really hard sitting out so many games and not practicing,” said the 5’8 Polansky, a native of Mill Valley, Calif., who was sidelined for four games due to injury and was relegated to a reserve role for several others.

“Getting back into it you lose some of your confidence and aggressive mentality so that was hard to turn around.”

Last Saturday, it was hard for Polansky to hold back the tears as she and her classmates went through the Senior Night ceremony when Princeton hosted Brown in their final Jadwin Gym appearance.

“It hadn’t really sunk in, the depth of it, until right before the game when we are all putting our stuff on in the locker room and we were about to walk up and it all kind of hit me at once,” said Polansky, who was honored along with teammates Niveen Rasheed, Kate Miller, and Meg Bowen together with team manager Amanda Roman.

“I thought I was going to be crying and then I saw my mother crying. I was like you have enough emotion for the both of us; I am going to have to keep it together. I thought I was going to be the one senior bawling. The beginning of the game was a little hard, emotions were running tough. We were thinking more about that than the actual game. Our heads were kind of in the clouds a bit.”

The Tigers settled down, pulling away to an 80-51 win over the Bears and clinching their fourth straight Ivy League title in the process. As a result, the players’ heads ended up high above the Jadwin floor as they climbed a ladder one by one to cut down the net in celebrating the crown.

“There is no better way to go out,” said Polansky, reflecting on the victory which improved Princeton to 21-6 overall and 12-1 Ivy.

“We are really fortunate that it ended today. We were upset by the loss [a 58-55 defeat to Harvard on March 1] but it gave us the opportunity to finish it in this way. It was an incredible way to go out; I wouldn’t have it any other way with the families, friends here. It was an amazing atmosphere.”

It has been been an incredible journey for Polansky and her fellow seniors who are the winningest class in Ivy women’s hoops history with an overall record of 95-19 and and an Ivy mark of 53-2.

“We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into,” said Polansky. “We were the first class to have all of the players stay and nobody quit since we have been here. I just think that says a lot about the heart and the commitment that everyone has and the true love of the game and each other. The one surprise is that it hasn’t been easy this entire time. You think you are dominating but there have been some ups and downs and I think we have really been able to pull each other through it together. There is a huge bond. One day I will be down and the others will pull me up and the next day, it will be the other way around. I couldn’t be happier ending it with these girls tonight.”

That bond drove Polansky to be a positive force even as she was benched by her foot woes.

“As a captain, that’s what you have to do, you have to put the team first and you do what you need to do to help everyone out,” said Polansky.

“I am feeling good, the time off really helped and this is the time to get going.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart, for her part, feels very good about what her senior class has accomplished.

“They took a real risk on me as a young head coach; they bought in right away to what I was doing,” said Banghart.

“It is easy in this type of moment to think how fun it is but it is a long season, there are a lot of ups and downs to competitive sports where you battle each other everyday, you fight for playing time. The way these guys have stayed cohesive, stayed competitive, and stayed successful is unbelievable.”

In Banghart’s view, it is pretty unbelievable to have won four straight Ivy crowns.

“It is rare because it is really hard to do and it involves a lot of moving parts,” said Banghart, a former star guard at Dartmouth who helped the Big Green win two Ivy crowns during her playing days.

“It involves trusting a long process and patience when things are hard; getting punched in the face and bouncing back. I know how hard it is to do it and I am just really happy for them.”

Banghart is not surprised by how Polansky bounced back from her foot problems.

“I think all of the seniors have their own mantra and for her, it is just that in a lot of ways she is the glue for the team,” said Banghart.

“That is a special quality of hers and it has never been about her but it has been about cutting the nets down and she has done it four times.”

The team’s special qualities were lauded by Princeton basketball legend Bill Bradley, who spoke to the Tigers on Friday after they topped Yale 77-44 to clinch a share of the league title.

“I thought what was neat was that over about 15 minutes he said three things,” recalled Banghart.

“He said the way that this team shares the ball is really special, which coming from someone like him that means a lot. The second thing he said is the toughness that we showed on the defensive end was a pleasure and is the best he has seen. Then the third thing he said is watching the team on the floor and watching their replacements on the bench celebrate each other is what athletics is about.”

Having seen Princeton go 0-3 in its previous NCAA tournament appearances, Banghart is hungry to celebrate a win in March Madness.

“I don’t think we have played well yet in the NCAA tournament so we have to play well,” said Banghart, whose team was slated to wrap up regular season play with a game at Penn (16-11 overall, 9-4 Ivy) on March 12 and will learn its NCAA assignment during the March 18 selection show.

“It is a 40-minute game. We don’t have to be the better team over the course of the year, we have to be the better team for those 40 minutes. So far, we are 0-for-3 in being the better team for 40 minutes. I think we will play better, we are more experienced. We are also deeper which helps.”

In Polansky’s view, the Tigers are primed for an NCAA breakthrough. “In the first couple of years I think it was the big stage that really got us and not really knowing what to do, the inexperience of the group,” said Polansky, who has piled up 389 rebounds, 278 assists, and 203 steals in her career.

“I think with four out of five senior starters along with Kristen [Helmstetter] who has come on in a huge way, there is experience. You never know who you are going to get matched up against, where you are going to be, and how you are going to play that day but I am really liking the group we are coming into it with. I think that having our past three years experience is definitely going to work in our favor.”

It certainly works in Princeton’s favor to have the resilient Polansky up and running again at point guard.

PARTING SHOT: Princeton University men’s hockey player Rob Kleebaum heads up the ice in a game earlier this winter. Senior forward Kleebaum saw his Tiger career come to an end last weekend as Princeton fell 2-0 to visiting Cornell in a best-of-three ECAC Hockey opening round playoff series. The defeats left the Tigers with a final overall record of 10-16-5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PARTING SHOT: Princeton University men’s hockey player Rob Kleebaum heads up the ice in a game earlier this winter. Senior forward Kleebaum saw his Tiger career come to an end last weekend as Princeton fell 2-0 to visiting Cornell in a best-of-three ECAC Hockey opening round playoff series. The defeats left the Tigers with a final overall record of 10-16-5.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Rob Kleebaum and his teammates on the Princeton University men’s hockey team worked hard to earn home ice for the opening round of the ECAC Hockey playoffs.

“I thought our last three games we were doing the things that we needed to do to be successful,” said forward Kleebaum, reflecting on a 1-1-1 stretch which helped Princeton clinch eighth place in the ECACH standings and the right to host No. 9 Cornell last weekend in a best-of-three series.

“I thought we showed that coming into tonight, that definitely gave us momentum.”

For senior Kleebaum, it was special to get some more action in the friendly confines of Hobey Baker Rink.

“I wanted to get back to Hobey; it is nice to play some more games here,” asserted Kleebaum, a 6’0, 210-pound native of Sherwood Park, Alberta.

“The more important thing is that we get home ice, that is a huge advantage, especially against a team like Cornell. You don’t want to go play in their rink.”

Unfortunately, Princeton squandered that advantage as it fell 4-0 on Friday and 4-2 the next night to get eliminated from the playoffs and end the season with a a 10-16-5 overall record.

In Game 1, Princeton looked like it was continuing its spirited play of late, playing Cornell to a scoreless tie midway through the season period.

“I thought we played well,” said Kleebaum, who was all over the ice and generated several scoring chances for the Tigers.

“We were jumping on pucks and reloading hard. We need to be harder around the net though. When we get chances, we have to put them in and bury a team.”

The Big Red finished their chances, scoring two goals in the last 8:51 of the period and then adding two more in the third.

As Kleebaum looked ahead to Game 2, he knew that the Tigers needed to show a sense of urgency in the offensive zone.

“We need to get hungry around the net,” said Kleebaum. “Everything needs to be a life-or-death chance if you are in the slot or anywhere around the net.”

Early in Saturday’s contest, the Tigers showed that hunger, outshooting the Big Red 13-7 in the first period and taking a 1-0 lead on a Will MacDonald goal at the 12:27 mark.

Princeton head coach Bob Prier, for his part, liked the way his team got out of the gate.

“I thought we started pretty well; I thought we started like last night,” said Prier.

“It was good to get that first goal. It was a pretty good start; it looked like it was going to be our game.”

The game started to unravel for the Tigers in the second period as they were outshot 18-6 and got whistled for three penalties as the Big Red knotted the contest at 1-1.

“We took some poor penalties and lost momentum, it is as simple as that,” said Prier, reflecting on the period.

“It is a lesson that I had hoped we had learned throughout the year, obviously we didn’t and it came back to really bite us in the tail here this weekend. When you get less power plays than the opposition two games in a row against the third penalized team in the country, you do that and it is tough sledding.”

After Princeton fell behind 3-1 in the first 5:57 of the third period, the Tigers got a tough break as they had an apparent goal waved off with 10:59 remaining in regulation.

“It was a high stick or a high glove,” said Prier, when asked about the sequence.

“That is what review is for; it is a good call. It would have been nice to have it but at the same time, the technology is used to make sure that we get the right calls and it’s the right call.”

Undeterred, Princeton kept battling as Andrew Calof scored with 45 seconds left in an extra attacker situation. The Tigers made a final push in the waning seconds but Cornell was able to get possession and tally an empty net game to seal the end of the series.

“It is tough to end a team’s season; these kids want to play together, they want to keep it going,” said Prier.

“Cornell did a really good job of playing trap hockey for the whole second half of the game. We had a tough time penetrating that, they did a good job. It was probably boring to watch but hey, a win is a win.”

It will be tough for Prier to say goodbye to Kleebaum and his fellow seniors. “It is a great group of guys, an awesome group of guys,” asserted Prier, whose Class of 2013 includes Eric Meland, Will MacDonald, James Kerr, Michael Sdao, and Mike Condon in addition to Kleebaum.

“I wish them the best of luck. I know that a lot of them are going to play hockey beyond here and some may not. They are all class act kids, good men.”

In Prier’s view, the progress his freshman class made this winter gives the program cause for optimism.

“I think we got a lot better; we had a beat up freshman
class, unfortunately a lot of guys were injured but a lot of them came a long way,” said Prier.

“I thought Michael Zajac had a terrific game today. He really showed up for both games, he really moved his feet really well. If he has a big summer, he could certainly propel himself. It would have been nice to have Kevin Liss all year, that’s for sure. Once he gets healthy, he’ll be really strong. Mike Ambrosia and Kyle Rankin came a long way this year. They have all certainly had a chance to develop. On this team, the young guys get a lot of ice time. I think the future looks bright; it is promising.”

GOING IN: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Erin McMunn heads to goal in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore attacker McMunn scored a career-high five goals to help Princeton top Brown 18-11 in its Ivy League opener. The Tigers, now 3-1 overall and 1-0 Ivy, play at 11th-ranked Virginia (2-4) on March 16.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GOING IN: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Erin McMunn heads to goal in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore attacker McMunn scored a career-high five goals to help Princeton top Brown 18-11 in its Ivy League opener. The Tigers, now 3-1 overall and 1-0 Ivy, play at 11th-ranked Virginia (2-4) on March 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As a freshman on the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team last spring, Erin McMunn utilized her passing skills to make an immediate impact.

The attacker passed for a team-high 30 assists on the way to being named the Ivy League Rookie of the Year.

Coming into the 2013 campaign, McMunn was looking to diversify her game.

“I liked to focus a lot on feeding last year but this year I have switched my focus a little bit,” said McMunn, a 5’8 native of Westminster, Md.

“I just go out there and have fun everyday and see what happens and see what kind of game it turns out to be. That’s what I am looking for. I think coming in as a sophomore and just really relaxing and wanting to expand and do new things is something that is really fun and exciting for me this year.”

Last Saturday, McMunn had a lot fun with her shooting, firing in a career-high five goals to help Princeton top Brown 18-11 in its Ivy League opener.

“I think it was just seeing what was opening up on attack,” said McMunn, reflecting on her scoring outburst.

“If I had it, I wanted to be able to take it. But at the same time, if a couple of girls were getting hot on attack and things were opening up for them, we were just trying to get it to the open spots and see what we could create when we are moving.”

While Princeton didn’t open up well against Brown, trailing 4-2 midway through the first half, McMunn and her teammates weren’t fazed. “I don’t think there were any concerns, I think we were just very excited to be out here on a nice day and we were a little jittery to get off to a good start,” recalled McMunn.

The Tiger offense, though, started working well after that, closing the half with an 8-1 run with McMunn scoring four goals in that pivotal stretch.

“I think the biggest thing is that we just calmed ourselves down, took a breath, and focused on executing the little things,” said McMunn.

“We really started stringing some plays together in transition, getting some solid one-on-one looks in the settled offense, and I think just the little things we were doing right made a big difference for us.”

Princeton played a solid second half as it pulled away to the victory and improved to 3-1 overall and 1-0 Ivy.

“I feel like in the second half we just came out confident and we wanted to have a good time and finish the game,” said McMunn, who now leads Princeton in points (16) and goals (11).

“I think we did a good job. They started to come out a little more and get excited but we weren’t letting their pressure waver us or letting their hype bring our level down at all. I think we did a really nice job of responding to that and just playing our game and doing what we do on the field.”

For McMunn, the performance was even more heartening, considering that it came in the Ivy opener.

“I think this was a huge game for us; for our attack to be able to put up 18 goals was huge,” said McMunn.

“Our defense came up with some big defensive stands. We did a really great job of putting together all the things we have been working on in practice in the game today. It is really starting to come together for us. We wanted to start with a strong showing in the Ivy League. I think this was a great confidence booster for us.”

The Tigers will need another strong effort this Saturday as they head south to take on 11th-ranked Virginia (2-4).

“We are hungry to get back into NCAA competition,” said McMunn.

“We felt like we could have played better against Georgetown [an 11-6 loss on March 1]. We have really been working on little things in practice and trying to up our game to that next level, so I think playing against UVa is going to be a great chance for us to really see where we are and how far we have come.”

AMBLING ALONG: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Ryan Ambler heads up the field last week against Villanova. Freshman attacker Ambler contributed five points on three goals and two assists as the Tigers rallied for a 14-11 win in the March 5 contest. Sixth-ranked Princeton, which fell to 3-1 with a 16-15 loss at No. 8 North Carolina last Saturday, was slated to host Manhattan on March 12 before playing at No. 13 Penn (4-1) on March 16 in the Ivy League opener for both teams.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

AMBLING ALONG: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Ryan Ambler heads up the field last week against Villanova. Freshman attacker Ambler contributed five points on three goals and two assists as the Tigers rallied for a 14-11 win in the March 5 contest. Sixth-ranked Princeton, which fell to 3-1 with a 16-15 loss at No. 8 North Carolina last Saturday, was slated to host Manhattan on March 12 before playing at No. 13 Penn (4-1) on March 16 in the Ivy League opener for both teams. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team trailed Villanova 10-8 heading into the fourth quarter last week, Ryan Ambler and his Tiger teammates weren’t feeling any sense of panic.

“The coaches said keep fighting,” said freshman attacker Ambler, recalling the message the players received in their huddle after the third quarter of the March 5 contest.

“We were getting opportunities on offense. On defense, I thought we did a pretty good job. Villanova is a great team; they ran around and threw picks at us. They were pretty unconventional and I think coach [Chris] Bates said keep playing our game offensively, keep moving the ball and keep working off ball.”

In the fourth quarter, Ambler raised his game. scoring two goals in the first four minutes to spark a 6-1 Princeton run.

“I took my chances; I let the game come to me,” said the 6’1, 180-pound Ambler, a native of Rydal, Pa. who ended the game with five points on a career-best three goals and two assists.

“One time I had a shorty, they didn’t slide to me and I took my chance. On the other one, Jake [Froccaro] made a great play and fed it to me inside and I capitalized.”

For Ambler, playing in the same line with sophomore Mike MacDonald and senior Jeff Froccaro has helped his production.

“It is great; Mike MacDonald moves the ball really well and Jeff is a great veteran leader,” said Ambler of the trio which combined for nine goals in a losing cause last Saturday as Princeton fell 16-15 at North Carolina.

Both of those guys are dynamic as well as first line and second line middies. I think we can throw six, seven guys at people, maybe more. I think we are pretty dangerous. When we play together and work the ball, I think we are a very hard team to guard.”

Princeton head coach Bates, for his part, liked the way his team kept working in the win over Villanova.

“We stayed composed,” said Bates, who got three goals from Jeff Froccaro in the win with MacDonald, Kip Orban, and Jake Froccaro adding two apiece.

“Being down most of the game, I give  our guys credit, we took the next step in terms of getting ground  balls. We started to face off a little bit better and then offensively, we honestly felt like if we had the ball, we were going to be able to score goals.”

Putting Jeff Froccaro on face-off duty in the fourth quarter of the Villanova game turned the tide as he won 5-of-7 face-offs.

“We wanted to try to save Jeff, his knees are old,” said a smiling Bates of Froccaro, who went on to score four goals in the loss to North Carolina with MacDonald tallying five and junior star Tom Schreiber contributing four.

“Just tying the ball up and winning some forward, he gave us the ball and he gave us momentum. You could tell that was the difference in the game. We started to feel a little bit better offensively. We started to generate some shots and goals. We planned on not using him at all today. We were struggling so much there that we absolutely needed to get another look. Every time that kid gets into a game, he is a gamer, scoring big goals. He doesn’t always make the best decisions but I’ll take them.”

Bates certainly likes the game that Ambler has displayed so far in his freshman campaign.

“He is great; Ryan keeps making plays,” asserted Bates of Ambler, who now has 10 points on four goals and six assists for the 3-1 Tigers.

“He doesn’t back down from the stage. He shares the ball, he sees the field so well. Our guys love playing with him; he really makes us better. He finished some plays, he made some great feeds. They shorted him early which is a slap and he ran right by them. I give that kid credit. He had a whale of a game. He and Jeff were the differences really.”

Ambler, for his part, credits Bates, who coached his older brother, Colin, at Drexel, with paving the way to his sizzling start.

“He knows what he is doing when he is recruiting,” said Ambler, who will look to keep up his good play with sixth-ranked Princeton slated to host Manhattan on March 12 before playing at No. 13 Penn (4-1) on March 16 in the Ivy League opener for both teams.

“He brought me in, the transition has been pretty smooth with these guys. That is probably the best part, working on the chemistry with these guys.”

HARD TO SAY: Princeton University men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson instructs freshman Hans Brase in a game earlier this season. Last weekend, Princeton saw a chance at an Ivy League title slip out of its grasp as it fell 71-66 at Yale on Friday and 80-67 at Brown the next night. Those defeats combined with two wins by Harvard clinched the title for the Crimson as they improved to 19-9 overall and 11-3 Ivy while Princeton dropped to 16-11 overall and 9-4 Ivy. The Tigers were slated to wrap up regular season play with a game at Penn (9-21 overall, 6-7 Ivy) on March 12.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HARD TO SAY: Princeton University men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson instructs freshman Hans Brase in a game earlier this season. Last weekend, Princeton saw a chance at an Ivy League title slip out of its grasp as it fell 71-66 at Yale on Friday and 80-67 at Brown the next night. Those defeats combined with two wins by Harvard clinched the title for the Crimson as they improved to 19-9 overall and 11-3 Ivy while Princeton dropped to 16-11 overall and 9-4 Ivy. The Tigers were slated to wrap up regular season play with a game at Penn (9-21 overall, 6-7 Ivy) on March 12. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming into last weekend, the Princeton University men’s basketball team controlled its own destiny.

Sitting in first place in the Ivy League standings with a one-game edge on second-place Harvard in the loss column, Princeton needed to post wins over Yale and Brown over the weekend and then finish the deal with a victory at Penn in the regular season finale on March 12 to clinch the outright league title and a berth in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

On Friday, though, Princeton couldn’t slow down Yale as the Bulldogs hit 60.5 percent of their shots to earn a 71-66 win and complete a season sweep of the Tigers.

Even with the loss to Yale, Princeton still was in play for a shot at March Madness as a win over Brown on Saturday combined with a victory against Penn would send the Tigers into a one-game playoff with Harvard for a spot in the NCAAs.

But Princeton ran into more trouble against Brown, falling behind early as news came in that Harvard was pulling away to a victory at Cornell. With things looking bleak, the Tigers did a get a jolt of momentum as Denton Koon hit a halfcourt three-pointer at the buzzer to pull the Tigers within four at the half against the Bears.

“I thought Denton’s three at the end of the half was going to be a boost for us because we were really struggling,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson in his postgame comments on the Princeton athletics website.

The struggles, however, continued as Princeton found itself trailing 62-50 with 3:36 left in regulation. The Tigers got the Brown margin down to four points on five occasions in the last 1:28 but couldn’t get closer as the Bears pulled away to an 80-67 win and extinguished Princeton’s chances for an NCAA bid.

“I thought they did some nice things defensively but once again it was us, that was a major concern,” said Henderson, whose team moved to 16-11 overall and 9-4 Ivy in the wake of its lost weekend with champion Harvard ending the regular season at 19-9 overall and 11-3 Ivy.

“If we could make more free throws or a three in there and it could have been a totally different game. We just couldn’t quite get over the hump.”

The team’s defensive struggles against Yale and Brown were particularly perplexing since the Tigers entered the weekend leading the Ivy League in scoring defense, giving up 57.0 points per game.

“We were hanging around a little too much; there was less substance,” said Henderson.

“I think that is what happens when you are not defending. This hurts, this is not where we want to be. It is not what we hung our hat on all season. You have to be the aggressor on the defensive end, we have been good at that most of the season but we lost sight of a couple of guys. We just couldn’t find our way.”

It also hurts to see the Princeton seniors fall short of what they saw as their destiny.

“I am really disappointed for our seniors,” said Henderson, whose group of seniors features the program’s second all-time scorer, Ian Hummer, together with Mack Darrow and Brendan Connolly.

“We have one game left and we are going to prepare for that but to be officially out of the race is tough; this is why those guys came to school here. It is a very special senior class and I am very disappointed right now.”

Lisa Sweeney had a good feeling about her Princeton University softball team before it even played a game this spring.

“We went into the first weekend with confidence,” said first-year head coach Sweeney, referring to the team’s season-opening appearance at the North Florida Osprey Invitational in Jacksonville, Fla. from March 1-3. “We knew we had put in the work in February to be ready for games.”

The Tigers went 3-2 in the Florida event and then improved on that last weekend as they posted a 3-1 record at the UMBC Dawg Pound Invitational in Baltimore, Md.

In action last Saturday, Princeton fell 4-3 to Seton Hall before bouncing back to top Coppin State 6-3.

“Seton Hall is a good team; we had a freshman [Shanna Christian] pitching and it was a good test for her,” said Sweeney.

“It came down to one pitch, a good hitter for them hit a home run. It was a good test to go against competition like that. Coppin State is a very good hitting team, they are consistent and have power. Alex Peyton threw very well.”

A day later, Princeton was clicking on all cylinders as it defeated Mt. St. Mary’s 4-2 and then routed host UMBC 11-2.

“There are still things we need to work on but we can take away a lot of positives,” said Sweeney, reflecting on the Sunday sweep which lifted the Tigers to a record of 6-3.

“Up and down the lineup, we are hitting well. This week, we are talking about not leaving runners on. When we get runners in scoring position, we have to capitalize.”

Sophomore Alyssa Schmidt has been capitalizing on her opportunities so far this season as she is hitting at a .514 clip with a team-high 19 hits in nine appearances.

“I can’t say enough about her,” said Sweeney, referring to Schmidt. “Her approach in the box is beautiful. She is relaxed in every situation; her approach to each at-bat is the same. She is really confident right now.”

Sweeney is developing confidence in her batting order as five players besides Schmidt are hitting .300 or better in Kayla Bose (.529), Sarah McGowan (.438), Maddie Cousens (.333), Peyton (.321), and Tory Roberts (.300).

“I think that is due to all the hard work we are putting in and confidence,” said Sweeney, who team is hitting .313 overall and has scored 47 runs in nine games. “We are not just working on the physical part of hitting, we are working on developing confidence mentally and taking a positive approach.”

Pitching has been another positive for the Tigers in the early going as Princeton has a team ERA of 2.55 spreading innings among several hurlers.

“Liza [Kuhn], Alex, and Shanna are all doing well; Meredith Browne is a sophomore and she will also help,” said Sweeney, a four-time Patriot League Pitcher of the Year at Lehigh during her college days.

“The pitchers have all been working hard, they are some of the grittiest players on our team and some of our hardest workers. We have a real pitching unit. When someone is on on the mound, the others are happy for her and want her to do well. When you are on the mound, it is great to know that everyone is behind you.”

Princeton has been getting some great leadership from its corps of seniors which includes Candy Button, Nikki Chu, and Lizzy Pierce in addition to Peyton and Kuhn.

“All five seniors bring it everyday,” said Sweeney, “They are relentless. They set the tone for the team; what we are about and where we are heading. Their time is limited, every senior goes through that. They fall in love with the program and they want their time to be meaningful.”

Sweeney feels that she and her players have wasted little time in getting on the same page.

“I think we are melding very well; they have shown a willingness to embrace a new coach,” asserted Sweeney.

“They are good people; they are willing to learn and to do things a little differently. My assistant coach, Jen Lapicki, is unbelievable. In terms of the culture we want to create and our values, we match up perfectly. The players see that we are a united front.”

LONG TOSSING: Princeton High boys’ track star Tim Brennan throws the discus in previous spring action. This past winter, senior Brennan came up big for the PHS indoor squad. He won the shot put at the Mercer County Indoor Track Championship and went on to place second at the Central Jersey Group III sectionals and third at the state Group III championships. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LONG TOSSING: Princeton High boys’ track star Tim Brennan throws the discus in previous spring action. This past winter, senior Brennan came up big for the PHS indoor squad. He won the shot put at the Mercer County Indoor Track Championship and went on to place second at the Central Jersey Group III sectionals and third at the state Group III championships.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While Ben Samara had an eye on the spring as he coached the Princeton High boys’ winter track team, his athletes made the most of the indoor season.

“I think it was really good,” said PHS head coach Samara. “The main goal is to develop a good base for the spring and we did that. We also accomplished a lot of good things along the way.

Senior standout Tim Brennan solidified his status as one of the more accomplished throwers in the area, winning the shot put at the Mercer County Indoor Track Championship and then going on to place second at the state sectional and third at the state Group III championships.

“He went back and forth with the guy from North all season and he really got jacked up for the county meet,” said Samara of Brennan, who posted a personal best of 53‘11.75 in winning the county title.

“He is a gamer. He was training and lifting weights all through the winter so for him to throw like that was really impressive.”

Another impressive performer for the Little Tigers was senior runner Ian McIsaac, who finished second at the county meet in the 800 before taking third in the 1,600 and fourth in the 800 at the Central Jersey Group III sectional meet and then placing third in the 1,600 at the state Group III championships.

“It started at the Lavino Relays when he anchored our sprint relay and splitted a 1:58; I knew Ian was going to do some big things this season,” said Samara.

“He broke the school record in the 1,600 at successive meets. He has 4:25 at the sectional and 4:23 at the group meet. He trained through the season and has been doing his base training, he is gunning for PRs in both the 800 and 1,600 this spring. He is training hard.”

PHS also got some good contributions from junior Conor Donahue, sophomore Jacob Rist, and sophomore Joe Gray.

“For Conor Donahue to get sixth at the county meet in the 1,600, he came up with one of the best kicks I have ever seen,” asserted Samara.

“He showed so much heart; I am hoping he builds off of that this spring. Rist is really training hard; he is getting to where he wants to be. Another guy who had a great season was Joe Gray, who is a sophomore. His indoor best last year was 54 and his outdoor best was around 51. To run 52 on 200-meter tracks shows a lot of progress. He should get close to 50 seconds outdoors.”

Samara saw progress across the board from his athletes. “We have a lot of good young guys,” added Samara.

“Jeremy Cohen is a freshman and he was keeping up with all of the upperclassmen in their workouts. He has the kind of work ethic you like to see. We have two other guys, Alex Henry, a sophomore, and Noah Chen, a freshman, who came in on the distance side. They were
running 5:10 in the 1,600 at the beginning of the season and they were down to 5:00 by the end. It shows what hard work can do.”

In the final analysis, Samara is more focused on developing work ethic than winning medals.

“It’s not about blowing people away at the county meet; it is about developing guys and their character and hoping that they will get something out of the experience besides wins and losses,” said Samara.

“If you are doing winter track, it is because you want to be there. It isn’t easy training outside in the cold like we do.”

SIR DUKE: Hun School boys’ basketball player Fergus Duke lofts a jumper in a game this season. Sparked by senior guard Duke’s clutch play and leadership, Hun went 20-6 this season and won the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SIR DUKE: Hun School boys’ basketball player Fergus Duke lofts a jumper in a game this season. Sparked by senior guard Duke’s clutch play and leadership, Hun went 20-6 this season and won the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Hun School boys’ basketball team, the Peddie School gym became its home away from home this winter.

Between three tournaments and a regular season appearance, Hun ended up playing eight contests this season at Peddie, more games than it played in its own gym.

The Raiders prospered in Hightstown, winning seven of those eight games, including an inspiring run to the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title.

In its final game at the gym, Hun topped Peddie 65-53 in the state Prep A semis, producing a performance that exemplified the Raiders’ outstanding campaign.

“I think we came out and we struggled a little bit early; I think we were lethargic after the MAPL,” said Hun head coach Jon Stone reflecting on the February 13 contest.

“It is hard to play a team a few days after you have already beaten them. We battled through it. We took a two-point lead at halftime, which was big since we didn’t play too well. We had a good stretch in the third quarter; we got it going. We were balanced on offense and got contributions from everyone who came in; that was the story of our season.”

The Hun season ended three days later when it fell to eventual champion St. Benedict’s 65-37 in the Prep A semis. “We were down 6-0 and battled back; we were ahead 16-15 after one,” recalled Stone.

“We really struggled in the second and third quarter. We had trouble defensively with their fast break. They were getting easy shots. It was unfortunate; we didn’t play as well as we have been. I think we were a little bit tired and they are a very good team.”

Notwithstanding that setback it was a very good season for Hun, which posted a final record of 20-6.

“Those two things, a 20-win season and a MAPL title stand out,” said Stone.

“We showed resolve and mental toughness; we showed the ability to win a lot of close games. We were down 11 points in the 4th quarter against Hill in the MAPL opener and won. We were down 13 points at halftime to Notre Dame, came back, and won. Those two games stick out.”

Another thing that will stick out for Stone when looking back at this season was the team’s upbeat mentality.

“It was a great group of kids, they listened, learned, and were accountable,” said Stone. “Some of our most fun practices were our hardest. Our chemistry was excellent on and off the court. You see that with good teams.”

The Raiders boasted some good chemistry in the backcourt with its pair of seniors, Fergus Duke (11.8 points and 2.6 assists a game) and Princeton-bound Hashim Moore (8.7 points, 2.4 assists, 5.9 rebounds).

“We had six games in a row where we had a lead and lost it and Fergus had a flurry and we were back up,” said Stone, noting that both Duke and Moore were first-team All-MAPL picks.

“He hit big shot after big shot. He made a lot of big plays on the defensive end as well. He blossomed into a great leader. Hashim had the ability to control a game even when he wasn’t scoring. His big hands got many a loose ball or steal. He is an exceptional passer; he has the ability to see the floor. I think half of Fergus’s baskets came on assists by Hashim; they were a great combination.”

The combination of 6’7 senior Grant MacKay (7.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2-0 assists) and 6’6 classmate Jake Newman (7.4 points, 3.3 rebounds) gave Hun an inside-out punch.

“Down the stretch, Grant played as well as anybody,” asserted Stone. “He made honorable mention All-MAPL. He worked hard; he shot 45 percent from 3-point range. He has the ability to stuff the stat sheet, getting rebounds, assists, steals, and blocked shots. Newman didn’t shoot the ball as well down the stretch as he did earlier but he really handled the ball well. He was defending guards, his length and quickness made it tough on them. He is a smart player.”

With the quartet of Josh McGilvray (7.2 points, 3.6 rebounds), Michael Bourke (5.8 points), Jason Geter (2.0 points, 2.5 rebounds), and David Li (2.7 points, 1.2 rebounds) slated to return, Hun should be plenty tough next season as well.

“We are excited to have four of our top eight back; McGilvray really developed into a good big man,” said Stone.

“We played better when he was in the starting lineup. He is very unselfish, and has the ability to change shots. Bourke was playing his best ball at the end of the season; he developed nicely. Geter is our glue guy. He make plays at both ends of the floor; he is the kind of guy that every team needs. Li gives us energy. When he makes a play, everyone is happy, the crowd, the guys on the bench and the coaching staff. He is a real presence for us. We lose a lot of scoring but if the younger guys develop and we get a couple of new players we should be right up there again.”

TAKING HER LEAVE: Princeton Day School girls’ basketball player Hannah Levy looks to pass the ball in action this winter. Senior star Levy provided versatility and leadership this season as PDS posted an 8-14 record.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TAKING HER LEAVE: Princeton Day School girls’ basketball player Hannah Levy looks to pass the ball in action this winter. Senior star Levy provided versatility and leadership this season as PDS posted an 8-14 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton Day School girls’ basketball team, its late-season victory at Hamilton provided a glimpse of the squad’s potential.

“To beat a very athletic team like that in their own gym was a good win, especially late in the season,” said PDS head coach Mika Ryan, reflecting on the 34-25 triumph over the Hornets. “The underclassmen had a good game, that was very encouraging.”

Unfortunately, the Panthers didn’t produce enough performances like that this winter as they posted a final record of 8-14.

“It was a difficult season,” acknowledged Ryan, whose team was knocked out in the first round of the Mercer County Tournament and fell in the state Prep B quarterfinals.

“One reason we struggled is that we didn’t compete in practice like we needed to. That is where you get better, competing against each other everyday.”

Ryan is hoping that an emphasis on competitive fire will pay dividends down the road.

“My approach is that you compete as hard as you can, no matter who you are playing,” said Ryan.

“We don’t talk about wins and losses, we talk about competing. The underclassmen think like I do, they get it, they understand my approach. I am looking forward to next season.”

The graduation of the team’s trio of seniors, Hannah Levy, Daniela Levitan, and Lauren Johnson, will leave a void next season.

“Hannah was a jack of all trades, she willingly played any position we asked,” said Ryan.

“She always gave her best. Daniela was in the program for four years and she contributed to PDS athletics and the team. LJ was on the varsity for three years, she was a really tough on-ball defender. She was scrappy, she was a hustler. She has an energy we will miss.”

Going forward, the Panthers should draw plenty of energy from sophomore Erin Murray, freshmen Morgan Van Liew and Olivia Okorodudu, together with juniors Emily Goldman and Tess Zahn.

“I am excited about the returning players,” said Ryan. “It is hard to ask inexperienced players to be responsible for intangibles. They learned a lot and improved a lot. We have Erin Murray at point guard, Morgan Van Liew and Olivia Okorodudu inside, and Emily Goldman is a good swing player. Emily comes late from field hockey and it takes her a while to get her legs under her. She is a versatile player. I want to see her spend more time on basketball this summer.”

Ryan is looking to make sure her players spend a lot of time honing their competitiveness on and the court over the offseason.

“I strongly encourage all my players to play a spring sport; it is good for their cross training and it is good for them to be around other coaches,” said Ryan.

“In the summer, we are going to be doing conditioning and agility drills. We will be playing in the summer league in Moody Park, which is two nights a week. We are also going to the Princeton University team camp in the first week of August. You are guaranteed five games, they offer clinics. It is a real good experience. It is a chance to play and work on team building skills. We didn’t go last year, I am so excited that we are going back.”

March 6, 2013

 

SENIOR MOMENT: Princeton University men’s basketball star Ian Hummer celebrates in the waning moments of Princeton’s 58-53 win over Harvard last Friday. Senior star Hummer contributed 23 points and 14 rebounds in the victory as he moved into second on Princeton’s career scoring list. A night later, Hummer scored 13 points to help the Tigers beat Dartmouth 68-63. That win combined with Harvard’s 75-72 loss at Penn left Princeton atop the Ivy standings as the Tigers moved to 16-9 overall and 9-2 Ivy and Crimson fell to second at 17-9 overall and 9-3 Ivy. Princeton wraps up regular season action by playing at Yale (12-17 overall, 6-6 Ivy) on March 8, at Brown (12-14 overall, 6-6 Ivy) on March 9, and at Penn (8-20 overall, 5-6 Ivy) on March 12.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SENIOR MOMENT: Princeton University men’s basketball star Ian Hummer celebrates in the waning moments of Princeton’s 58-53 win over Harvard last Friday. Senior star Hummer contributed 23 points and 14 rebounds in the victory as he moved into second on Princeton’s career scoring list. A night later, Hummer scored 13 points to help the Tigers beat Dartmouth 68-63. That win combined with Harvard’s 75-72 loss at Penn left Princeton atop the Ivy standings as the Tigers moved to 16-9 overall and 9-2 Ivy and Crimson fell to second at 17-9 overall and 9-3 Ivy. Princeton wraps up regular season action by playing at Yale (12-17 overall, 6-6 Ivy) on March 8, at Brown (12-14 overall, 6-6 Ivy) on March 9, and at Penn (8-20 overall, 5-6 Ivy) on March 12. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In its two Ivy League losses this season, the Princeton University men’s basketball team showed plenty of heart but failed to make enough big plays to avoid defeat.

Falling short against Yale on February 9 in a 69-65 defeat, the Tigers couldn’t get off a shot in the waning seconds when a three-point bucket could have won the contest. A week later at Harvard, Princeton misfired down the stretch, hitting just 31 percent of its second half shots on the way to a 69-57 setback.

Last Friday in a showdown with Ivy frontrunner Harvard, it looked like Princeton was letting another game slip away as it squandered a 46-36 second half lead to find itself trailing 51-48 with 2:44 left in regulation.

But this time, Princeton came up with the clutch plays in crunch time and pulled out a 58-53 win over the Crimson to delight a Jadwin Gym throng of 4,413.

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson was proud of how his team came through when it counted against the Crimson.

“At times this season when we have been down, we haven’t been able to find that moment where we can kind of push through something,” said Henderson.

“I thought tonight was just a huge thing for our program. At 51-48 Will Barrett gets fouled and makes both free throws. We get a huge stop and then Ian [Hummer] comes down and gets the tip-in. Not to mention the tip out on the missed free throw and T.J.’s diving play. That was a big moment for us. I am just really happy.”

Henderson was even happier a night later when Princeton topped Dartmouth 68-63 and Harvard fell 75-72 at Penn, leaving the Tigers in first place in the league standings at 16-9 overall, 9-2 Ivy with the Crimson next at 17-9 overall, 9-3 Ivy.

While Princeton’s win over Harvard wasn’t a thing of beauty, Henderson was impressed with his team’s grit.

“The box score doesn’t look that pretty on our end and it didn’t look pretty the first time,” said Henderson.

“I thought the game was won on the free throw line and with our defense. We didn’t give up too many second chance points.”

Senior star Hummer effectively ended Harvard’s chances for a win when he punched back a missed Mack Darrow free throw in the waning seconds that a diving T.J. Bray batted to Denton Koon, who was then fouled.

“I knew I couldn’t get it; [Steve] Mondou-Missi is a handful but the miss was so perfect, it just came off the back iron and popped right back and I tried to just hit it right out. I was afraid I hit to too hard but luckily TJ was right there to make a diving play.”

After Koon drained two free throws to make it 58-53, Hummer turned to the Princeton student section and gleefully pumped his fist.

“I knew it was going to go our way, the way we were shooting the ball on the free throw line,” said Hummer, recalling his impromptu celebration.

“I wasn’t really worried; whoever was going to be on the line was going to make them. The excitement got the best of me and I went in the opposite direction, I had no idea what I was doing. It is what it is, I got caught up in the moment.”

The Tigers realized that Friday was a pivotal moment of the season, having entered the game trailing Harvard by one game in the loss column.

“We know it is a must-win,” said Hummer, who ended the evening with 23 points and 14 rebounds and was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for the seventh time this season and ninth time in his career.

“I think the way we played last weekend, we were pretty confident coming into this game. I thought we didn’t play our best game up at Harvard. I thought the way we were playing, we could really give them a good run. It is always a good game when we play Harvard and it is always a dogfight. I am just so glad that we came out on top.”

Henderson, for his part, is glad to have Hummer on his side. “He was just terrific; I am an alum here too and I think first, I have to say I am so happy for him because he cares about winning,” said Henderson, a 1998 Princeton grad and former Tiger basketball star.

“But as alum it is just fun to watch him play. I am proud that he wears the orange and black. He just does everything for us; 23 and 14, 7-of-7 from the line. He has really worked at those things, especially the free throw shooting. That is huge for us. That is what we want to be, constantly improving and he is a walking example of that.”

Hummer has improved into one of the greatest players in Princeton history, becoming the second leading scorer in Tiger history, passing Kit Mueller (1,546 points) and Douglas Davis (1,550) on the career list with his output on Friday and ending the weekend at 1,577 points.

That milestone, though, wasn’t nearly as important to Hummer as the numbers on the scoreboard at the end of Friday evening.

“It means nothing if I didn’t get the win tonight,” said Hummer, who will be looking for more wins this week as the Tigers wrap up regular season action by playing at Yale on March 8, at Brown on March 9, and at Penn on March 12.

“It is just icing on the cake. First and foremost, I want to be in contention for an Ivy League title and whatever happens, happens. I am just happy it came in a win.”

STRETCH DRIVE: Princeton University men’s basketball player Brendan Connolly heads in for a layup in Princeton’s  58-53 win over Harvard on Friday. A night later, senior center ­Connolly contributed six rebounds to help the Tigers Princeton top Dartmouth 68-63 on Senior Night.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STRETCH DRIVE: Princeton University men’s basketball player Brendan Connolly heads in for a layup in Princeton’s 58-53 win over Harvard on Friday. A night later, senior center ­Connolly contributed six rebounds to help the Tigers Princeton top Dartmouth 68-63 on Senior Night. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Will Barrett started his career with the Princeton University men’s basketball team as a member of the Class of 2013 but a foot injury set him back a year.

Brendan Connolly, meanwhile, has been a stalwart of the class, providing yeomen’s work in the paint over the last four years.

On Saturday, both played key roles as the Tigers celebrated Senior Night with a 68-63 win over Dartmouth before 3,167 at Jadwin Gym.

The 6’10 forward Barrett scored a game-high 24 points, including 18 in a second-half outburst which saw him hit five three-pointers, while the 6’11, 255-pound Connolly clogged up the middle getting six rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.

In reflecting on his big performance, Barrett said he was fired up to help things go well for his original classmates in their final Jadwin appearance.

“I work my butt off day in, day out for my teammates so it is nothing really different but just losing five of my best friends, it changes everything for me,” said Barrett.

“I have 15 other best friends that I get to have after this but we were all a little teary eyed in the locker room after the game, we went up and hugged each other.”

Connolly, for his part, admired Barrett’s effort Saturday and on a daily basis.

“It was special,” said Connolly. “He is right when he said he has worked his butt off, he is down here all the time, getting shots up. I was hoping that Will and Jimmy [Sherburne] would be there tonight with us. That was part of the initial plan. I am really happy for Will and I am happy Jimmy is back and he says he is doing well and his shoulder is healing up. I am really happy for them and what they are going to be able to do next year.”

In reflecting on his last game at Jadwin, Connolly is happy for the experience he has enjoyed over the last four years.

“Mack [Darrow] and Ian [Hummer] are two of the best friends I have ever had and I think they always will be,” said Connolly.

“I trust those guys with my life and I think they trust me with theirs. It is  pretty amazing; coming in here, you have no idea that is what the result is going to be four years later. I just thank God that I have those guys and some other guys on campus too that I can always turn to. It is just special, there is not one way to pinpoint how exactly it is, it just is. I think anyone who has gone here and played with the same guys for years will tell you that.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson pinpointed Barrett and Connolly as key contributors in the win over Dartmouth.

“Will made some huge shots, I think it was a five-point lead and it went to eight; it might have gone to 10 or 11 once,” said Henderson, whose team improved to 16-9 overall and 9-2 Ivy League and got a huge lift when it found out later that Harvard fell 75-72 at Penn in dropping to 17-9 overall and 9-3 Ivy, prompting roars from the Tiger locker room.

“He shot the ball with confidence, you have got to make shots. I think it is indicative of how our team is; we have different ways to beat people which is good. I thought Brendan was important because [Gabas] Maldunas was hurting us. A couple of times they were really looking for him and Brendan took away six rebounds tonight which was important.”

In Henderson’s view, his senior players have made a huge impact on the team.

“It is a special group,” said Henderson, whose senior corps also includes reserve guards Ameer Elbuluk and Isaac Serwanga.

“When I first got here, I thought Dan Mavraides and Kareem Maddox and Bobby Foley and those guys in that class, had to do something that no Princeton class has ever had to do, which is take the program back to where it needed to be. This class, Ian, Brendan, and Mack, have been very successful. They have kept it where it needs to be and that is really important too.”

Barrett and his teammates know that the weekend sweep, which started with a 58-53 win over Harvard on Friday, doesn’t guarantee success in the Ivy title race which sees Princeton play at Yale on March 8, at Brown on March 9, and ending the regular season at Penn on March 12.

“After the game last night, we were talking to each other and we said this game means absolutely nothing if we don’t take care of what we have to take care of tomorrow and the next weekend,” said Barrett. “We just have to stay focused.”

While Connolly is focused on ending his Tiger career on a high note, he has already gained memories that will last for a lifetime.

“It is a good way to reflect back on everything and just remember how special things have been and some of the things we have been able to do here,” said Connolly.

INSIDE TRACK: Princeton University women’s basketball player Meg Bowen battles for inside position in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior center Bowen scored 21 points to help Princeton top Dartmouth 68-60 and get back on the winning track after losing 58-55 at Harvard a day earlier to snap a record 33-game Ivy League winning streak. Princeton, now 19-6 overall and 10-1 Ivy, can clinch its fourth straight league crown this weekend as it hosts Yale on March 8 and Brown a day later.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

INSIDE TRACK: Princeton University women’s basketball player Meg Bowen battles for inside position in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior center Bowen scored 21 points to help Princeton top Dartmouth 68-60 and get back on the winning track after losing 58-55 at Harvard a day earlier to snap a record 33-game Ivy League winning streak. Princeton, now 19-6 overall and 10-1 Ivy, can clinch its fourth straight league crown this weekend as it hosts Yale on March 8 and Brown a day later. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

All good things must to come to an end and so it was for the Princeton University women’s basketball team last Friday at Harvard.

After winning 33 straight Ivy League games, Princeton fell 58-55 to the Crimson, suffering its first league defeat since a 73-67 loss at Harvard on February 4, 2011.

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart had no qualms with her team’s effort in defeat.

“We expected Harvard to play well, they have nothing to lose,“ said Banghart.

“They know they are playing for the NIT. I thought we came prepared. We shot 7-of-35 in the second half and still had a chance to win so that tells you how hard we played. It was not from lack of effort, we had a lot of free throws and we hit the glass.”

It was Princeton’s misfiring, though, that proved to be the difference as the Tigers made just 16-of-62 shots (25.5 percent) on the evening.

“We missed more open shots than in any game I can remember since I have been here,” said Banghart, whose team outrebounded Harvard 47-39 and made 20-of-28 free throws.

“We are used to getting good looks and winning by 30. When they didn’t go in, it made us tense. We missed two uncontested layups in the second half.”

In reflecting on the winning streak, Banghart takes pride in what it says about the way Princeton takes care of its business.

“What the streak means is that the program is doing something right on a daily basis,” said Banghart.

“As graduation falls, the program is not falling. The people not getting time are still getting better. You have seen that with our sophomores this year like Blake [Dietrick] and Mariah [Smith]. I don’t believe that the players think that much about the streak. I don’t think they felt under pressure to continue it. We are just a part of their day at Princeton.”

In Banghart’s view, the loss could lead to some good things down the road. “It means that if we don’t shoot well in the NCAA, we have done that before,” said Banghart.

“It was the first time all year that we didn’t shoot well and we weren’t able to right the ship. The more times you do something, the better you get at it. When you are in so many games where you win by 30, that doesn’t help you. We are not going to be up by 20 at half in the first round of the NCAAs. We will need to grind through possessions and this will make us better able to do that.”

A night later at Dartmouth, Princeton handled the grind well, overcoming a 36-33 halftime deficit to pull out a 68-60 win and improve to 19-6 overall and 10-1 Ivy.

“Their hearts were heavy and we didn’t know how they would respond,” said Banghart, reflecting on the mood around the team as it took the court against the Big Green.

“We know we are going to get everyone’s best shot. We didn’t shoot that well again. We were playing like we were scared to lose rather than going for the win.”

Seniors Niveen Rasheed and Meg Bowen each scored 21 points to key the Princeton rally.

“They were huge, this is a league for seniors,” asserted Banghart. “Meg commanded presence inside. Niveen willed us to win, she was making the hustle plays. She had three offensive rebounds in the last few minutes. She knew that the bench wasn’t playing as well as it has been and she said I’ll take care of this tonight.”

With Princeton leading the Ivy race over Harvard (17-8 overall, 8-3 Ivy) and Penn (15-10 overall, 8-3 Ivy) by two games with three to play, the Tigers can clinch its fourth straight league crown this weekend as it hosts Yale on March 8 and Brown a day later for its last weekend this season at Jadwin Gym.

“I told them after the Dartmouth game, we are going home to win a fourth Ivy title and that’s pretty cool,” said Banghart.

“We got what we needed last weekend. You don’t get used to winning the Ivy League title, it isn’t an easy thing to do. We are just going to enjoy it. Hopefully, we get to cut down the nets on Senior Night against Brown, we couldn’t script it any better than that.”

SEEING RED: Princeton University men’s hockey player ­Michael Sdao handles the puck in recent action. Last Saturday, senior defenseman and assistant captain Sdao scored a goal to help Princeton edge Harvard 2-1 in overtime. The Tigers, who improved to 10-14-5 overall and 8-10-4 ECAC Hockey with the win, ended the regular season in eighth place, earning home ice for the opening round of the playoffs as they host No. 9 Cornell (12-14-3 overall, 8-11-3 ECACH) this weekend. Princeton swept the Big Red in the teams’ previous meetings this year, topping Cornell 5-3 on November 9 and 1-0 on February 9.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SEEING RED: Princeton University men’s hockey player ­Michael Sdao handles the puck in recent action. Last Saturday, senior defenseman and assistant captain Sdao scored a goal to help Princeton edge Harvard 2-1 in overtime. The Tigers, who improved to 10-14-5 overall and 8-10-4 ECAC Hockey with the win, ended the regular season in eighth place, earning home ice for the opening round of the playoffs as they host No. 9 Cornell (12-14-3 overall, 8-11-3 ECACH) this weekend. Princeton swept the Big Red in the teams’ previous meetings this year, topping Cornell 5-3 on November 9 and 1-0 on February 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Entering last weekend, the Princeton University men’s hockey team was in position to finish anywhere from seventh to 10th place in the final ECAC Hockey standings.

But heading on the road to play at Dartmouth on Friday and at Harvard the next day in the wake of having dropped four straight games at home, the Tigers seemed destined to settle towards the bottom of the pack.

Displaying a steely resolve, the Tigers battled back from 1-0 deficits each night to earn a 2-2 tie with the Big Green and a 2-1 overtime win against the Crimson.

Princeton’s undefeated weekend combined with other results lifted the Tigers (10-14-5 overall and 8-10-4 ECACH) to eighth place, earning home ice for the opening round of the playoffs as they host No. 9 Cornell (12-14-3 overall, 8-11-3 ECACH). The best-of-three series starts Friday night at Baker Rink with Game 2 set for Saturday and Game 3, if necessary, slated for Sunday.

Reflecting on his team’s work in New England, Princeton head coach Bob Prier saw a lot of positives.

“We played six solid periods this weekend, it is the most consistent we have played all year,” said Prier.

“The resilience was great all weekend. They stuck to the process and played to win. They were reloading on the forecheck and going hard. They were really moving their feet all weekend. We created offensive zone time in both games. We had a lot of shots and lot of opportunities.”

In the tie with Dartmouth, Will MacDonald and Andrew Ammon both cashed in on opportunities with MacDonald scoring a first period goal that evened the game at 1-1 and Ammon scoring to make it 2-1.

“It was such a good response, he worked so hard,” said Prier of MacDonald’s tally.

“He was flying all weekend. Ammon had such a nice goal. It was hard work by Tyler Maugeri and Kyle Rankin to get control of the puck. Ammon got the puck off as soon as it hit his stick and got it right under the goalie’s stick.

In the win over Harvard, senior assistant captain Michael Sdao scored the tying goals and junior star Andrew Calof notched the winning tally, hitting the 100-point mark in his career in the process. “

“Sdao played fantastic, he was skating really well all weekend,” said Prier. “The guys can tell how much he wants it and they are inspired by him. Calof is a unique player, he has turned it up a notch in recent games even if it hasn’t necessarily shown on the scoresheet. He has the puck a lot and he is a one man transition game. He skates right by the forecheck.”

Senior goalie Mike Condon did a good job of keeping Princeton’s foes in check, making 30 saves against Dartmouth and 28 in the win over the Crimson.

“Condon gave up only three goals against two tough teams on the road,” said Prier of Condon who now sports a goals against average of 2.42. “He is so good with the puck, it resonates with the team.”

Prier is hoping his team will be tough at home this weekend against traditional power Cornell.

“It is an advantage, we are excited,” said Prier, who is expecting more big crowds in a season that has seen Princeton post an average attendance of 2,208. “We have a good opponent coming in. It is not who you play, it is how you play. It is up to us to play well and take advantage of being home.”

With Princeton having beaten Cornell 5-3 on November 9 at Baker Rink before edging the Big Red 1-0 on February 9 in Ithaca, Prier is confident about his team’s chances in the opening round and beyond.

“We like the matchup but we are not thinking as much about our opponent as we are focusing on us,” said Prier.

“If we continue to play this way and continue to skate like we have in the last three games, we can be dangerous in the playoffs. When you have the puck more, you start seeing the smaller parts of the game. You get more power plays. This weekend was the first time this year where we had back-to-to back games with more power plays than the other team. We worked hard for that.”

OH BROTHER: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Jeff Froccaro unloads the ball in a game last season. This past Friday, senior attacker Froccaro scored three goals to help Princeton top Johns Hopkins 11-8. Froccaro’s younger brother, freshman midfielder Jake, played a big role in the win, tallying two goals and two assists. The No. 5 Tigers, who improved to 2-0 with the victory, were slated to host Villanova on March 5, play at No. 11 North Carolina on March 9, and then host Manhattan on March 12.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

OH BROTHER: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Jeff Froccaro unloads the ball in a game last season. This past Friday, senior attacker Froccaro scored three goals to help Princeton top Johns Hopkins 11-8. Froccaro’s younger brother, freshman midfielder Jake, played a big role in the win, tallying two goals and two assists. The No. 5 Tigers, who improved to 2-0 with the victory, were slated to host Villanova on March 5, play at No. 11 North Carolina on March 9, and then host Manhattan on March 12. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Playing at storied Homewood Field against high-powered Johns Hopkins last Friday evening, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team knew it was going to be hit with an early barrage.

The third-ranked Blue Jays lived up to expectations, outshooting No. 12 Princeton 17-5 in the first quarter.

But counterpunching effectively, Princeton avoided a knockout punch, ending the first period locked in a 3-3 tie.

“They generated a lot of shots, they were not all high-quality,” said Princeton head coach Chris Bates.

“Matt O’Connor [Tiger freshman goalie] made a few saves early and settled in. We only had five shots but we got three goals so we were efficient.”

The Tigers maintained that efficiency all evening long, pulling out an 11-8 win before a crowd of 2,352 watching in Baltimore and a national audience tuning in on ESPNU.

“I was pleased with our composure,” asserted Bates in reflecting on the win which improved Princeton to 2-0.

“We played with focus and we played together. It was a big stage and we handled it.”

Princeton handled things particularly well down the stretch, outscoring Hopkins 3-1 in the fourth quarter.

“I thought Hopkins pressed a little, we settled down and made plays,” added Bates.

“I thought they were trying to solve us. When it was 10-8, Chris White made a huge goal. It might not have been the most high percentage shot but when your senior captain is playing with that kind of emotion, it is great to see. It put a nail in the coffin.”

It was great for Princeton to see the Froccaro brothers come through in a big way against the Blue Jays. Senior attacker Jeff Froccaro scored three goals while freshman Jake Froccaro tallied two goals and two assists. The brothers combined for a goal in the third quarter with Jake assisting and Jeff scoring.

“Jake just came out and said that kid can’t cover me, give me the ball,” said Bates of the younger Froccaro, who scored two of Princeton’s first four goals on Friday.

“As a freshman, that is a good level of confidence to see. He was probably not at the top of their scouting report so to get production out of him was probably a little demoralizing for them and set a tone for us. Those guys play together so well. They love to play the game, there is a big brother, little brother connection, Jake gave it to Jeff just like in the back yard, great to see that it works on a stage like Homewood Field. Jeff is playing with confidence.”

Another confident Tiger is sophomore attacker Mike MacDonald, who scored two goals in the win over Hopkins and now has five on the season.

“Mike can play, when he is in the flow our offense is better,” asserted Bates. “He is strong and confident. He can dodge and get to the cage. He is only a sophomore but he is already a leader for us. He adds a layer to our offense.”

The Tiger defense continued its strong early play. “I thought they did a good job,” said Bates, whose team gave up just one goal over the last 24:23 of the contest with freshman goalie O’Connor making 10 saves on the evening.

“When the lights are on, we are doing a good job. We have made some mistakes back there and Matt has bailed us out. Each week, I give credit to Greg Raymond [assistant coach], he has them prepared.”

With Princeton, now ranked No. 5, slated to host Villanova on March 5, play at No. 11 North Carolina on March 9, and then host Manhattan on March 12, the Tigers need to cut down on their mistakes to keep winning.

“We are playing with confidence and we are seeing rewards so that is good,” said Bates.

“Day in, day out we have to continue to improve. This can’t be the peak for us. I am happy to take 2-0 but it won’t mean anything if we go out and lose two this week. We are confident and loose and I like that. I told them that healthy nerves are good, they will regret it if they don’t put in a 60-minute effort.”

ASSISTANCE PROGRAM: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Sarah Lloyd heads upfield last Sunday in Princeton’s 18-13 win over Southern California. Junior midfielder Lloyd passed for six assists in the victory, tying the program’s single-game record, to trigger Princeton’s most impressive offensive outburst of the young season. The Tigers, now 2-1 overall, open Ivy League play by hosting Brown (3-0 overall, 1-0 Ivy) this Saturday. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ASSISTANCE PROGRAM: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Sarah Lloyd heads upfield last Sunday in Princeton’s 18-13 win over Southern California. Junior midfielder Lloyd passed for six assists in the victory, tying the program’s single-game record, to trigger Princeton’s most impressive offensive outburst of the young season. The Tigers, now 2-1 overall, open Ivy League play by hosting Brown (3-0 overall, 1-0 Ivy) this Saturday.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Sarah Lloyd didn’t score a goal but she proved to be a catalyst as the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team topped Southern California 18-13 last Sunday.

The junior midfielder passed for six assists, tying the program’s single-game record, to trigger Princeton’s most impressive offensive outburst of the young season.

Coming off a disappointing 11-6 loss to Georgetown two days earlier, Lloyd and her teammates were primed for a big effort against the Trojans, who are in their first year as a Division I program.

“We were really looking forward to coming out as soon as we could and making an impact,” said Lloyd, who hadn’t scored a point this season until Sunday.

“We didn’t think we played as well as we could have against Georgetown so we were ready for the second chance to prove ourselves.”

The Tigers were ready to go to the net. “We were definitely looking to be more intense and aggressive on the attack and I think we did a good job of that,” said Lloyd, reflecting on the win which improved Princeton to 2-1.

Lloyd’s record day was a product of that aggressiveness and the savvy she has gained over her college career.

“I was just kind of looking to see what opens up,” said Lloyd, who now has 32 goals and 23 assists in her Princeton career and tied the single game assist record established by sophomore Erin McMunn in a game last year.

“We were trying to push transition a lot. I guess the experience definitely helps in seeing the field and knowing what my teammates are going to do.”

With Mary-Kate Sivilli scoring five goals and Anya Gersoff and Erin McMunn both tallying three, Lloyd benefited from some sharpshooting teammates.

“We needed that,” said Lloyd, a 5’7 native of Severna Park, Md., whose spirited play and bright red hair make her stand out on the field.

“In our first couple of games, we haven’t had great shooting games; we did a lot better in that area today.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer saw the win over USC as something the Tigers needed.

“I was really pleased with the start we got off to,” said Sailer, whose team jumped out to a 6-2 lead. “Like I told the kids, it’s not perfect yet. There is a long way that we have to go but we made some good strides today and we definitely did compete.”

The Tigers definitely pushed the pace on offense, making run after run straight to the crease.

“It was definitely a focus to be a threat in the transition game; to look for some fast break goals, to look for goals off the secondary options off the break and before we just settled down and got into our sets,” said Sailer, whose team outshot the Trojans 34-23.

“I didn’t realize that she had that many assists; what really stood out about Lloyd today for me was her play on the draw,” said Sailer of Lloyd. who had eight draw controls and three ground balls to go with her six assists on the afternoon.

“She was phenomenal; digging out those ground balls, controlling the draw. Just her fight was really, really impressive. And then to see her line on the assists; I think a lot of those were off transition and I think she worked really hard to get herself in that position, she would win the draw and come down or she would get the ball in transition doing that extra work. She is a smart kid, she saw the open players and was able to give them the ball.”

It was extra special for the Tigers to get two goals from senior star Jaci Gassaway, who is playing through a knee injury.

“That is just so huge, you saw everybody’s reaction,” said Sailer. “It is just such an emotional lift for the team, Jaci is such a great player so anything we can get from her this season, we are happy for.”

Sailer wasn’t as happy about her defense which was shredded by USC freshman star Caroline de Lyra, who scored eight goals.

“We need to be able to figure out the play sooner and make those adjustments,” said Sailer.

“I think if we made those same adjustments in the first half that we were able to make at halftime, it would have been a different story. We did make the adjustments after halftime and took away that option. Number 25 [de Lyra] was just a really smart player for them and she took advantage of our miscues. But we did sort it out and I think our defense plays tough.”

With Princeton starting Ivy League play by hosting Brown (3-0 overall, 1-0 Ivy) this Saturday, Sailer knows that the Tigers need to play smarter.

“We are really excited for the Ivies, I think it is a solid win for us to build on,” asserted Sailer.

“We can play a whole lot better than we did today but it is a big improvement. I think we are definitely moving in the right direction and I think we will have some good energy coming off of this win.”

Lloyd, for her part, believes that Princeton is primed for a good effort against Brown.

“We are going to go into Brown and really look to keep getting better,” said Lloyd.

“We just need to improve a couple of fundamental things, a couple of things in transition and a couple things on defense.”

LAST SHOT: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Scott Bechler dribbles the ball last week against Hopewell Valley in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group III sectional. Senior guard Bechler scored 15 points to help fourth-seeded PHS top No. 13 HoVal 62-42 in the February 26 contest. Two days later, Bechler scored a team-high 16 points but it wasn’t enough as the Little Tigers fell 56-43 to fifth-seeded Lawrence High in the second round of the tourney. PHS finished the season with a 12-11 record.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LAST SHOT: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Scott Bechler dribbles the ball last week against Hopewell Valley in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group III sectional. Senior guard Bechler scored 15 points to help fourth-seeded PHS top No. 13 HoVal 62-42 in the February 26 contest. Two days later, Bechler scored a team-high 16 points but it wasn’t enough as the Little Tigers fell 56-43 to fifth-seeded Lawrence High in the second round of the tourney. PHS finished the season with a 12-11 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It is an image that is burned into Scott Bechler’s mind when he looks back at his time with the Princeton High boys’ basketball team.

“I remember freshman year when we had a home game in the states and we lost and seeing Skye Ettin in the locker room afterwards,” said senior guard Bechler. “It was motivation to never let that happen again.”

As fourth-seeded PHS hosted 13th-seeded Hopewell Valley last week in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group III sectional, the memory of Ettin’s sadness wasn’t the only motivation as the Little Tigers had fallen in overtime to the Bulldogs in the regular season opener in December.

“We said before the first game of the season that it was a must win and we lost,” said Bechler.

“All season long, we have been looking back on that game, saying we should have won. We get another chance in the playoffs and we couldn’t be more excited to get revenge.”

In the early going of the February 26 contest, it looked like PHS may be squandering its chance at payback as it trailed 10-6 after the first quarter. The battle-tested Bechler, who helped the PHS boys’ soccer team tie for the Group III state title this fall, wasn’t concerned.

“A lot of times this year we have come out a little slow,” said Bechler. “It is the first round of the states and we have a couple of juniors who have never been here before. They only scored 10 points in the quarter; everyone was just getting ready and getting into the swing of things.”

In the second quarter, Bechler and PHS got into the swing of things as they outscored HoVal 19-11 to take a 25-21 lead at halftime.

“We settled in a little bit and everyone came out hard,” said Bechler. “We got the jitters out and that is when you can come really hard.”

The Little Tigers kept coming on in the second half, rolling to a 62-42 win, triggering a raucous on-court celebration as the student fans mobbed the players.

Bechler scored 15 points in the victory, hitting three 3-pointers in the second half, continuing a late surge that started when he poured in a career-high 31 points against Hamilton on February 7.

“After a game like Hamilton West where everything went your way, you have a responsibility to keep shooting because people are depending on you,” said Bechler, who hit nine three-pointers in his outburst against the Hornets.

“It is my last few games; any game could be my last. It is a lot of pressure but it is a lot of motivation.”

In topping HoVal, the Little Tigers focused on applying defensive pressure.

“The number one thing was to stop Austin Hill, we know he can shoot lights out and that he was scoring 15 points a game,” said Bechler.

“We knew if we could shut him down, it would be tough for them to score a lot of points.”

Two days later, however, PHS found it tough to score points as it fell 56-43 to fifth-seeded Lawrence in the second round of the state tourney to end its season.

While PHS head coach Mark Shelley was disappointed that PHS didn’t advance beyond the second round, he and his players enjoyed the ride.

“One of the great things in the locker room is that every senior said how much fun they had playing this year,” said Shelley, whose team finished the winter at 12-11.

“That’s what you ultimately want as a coach. Obviously you want the win. We had some special moments this season. We talked about Scotty’s nine 3s, we won a game by 40 which they said they have never done. We beat Trenton at Trenton. We got two home playoff games and we won one. There are so many positives. I told them I can tell you now that when you get to college and beyond, you will look back on this fondly. As long as you came out of here saying that you had fun and played as hard as you could, that is all we ask.”

Shelley acknowledged that the Little Tigers faced a hard task in subduing Lawrence.

“The whole game was stopping penetration,” said Shelley, whose team led 27-23 at halftime.

“When we got down five in the fourth quarter, we knew we would have to go man and we can’t guard them that way. All year we have had trouble guarding quick teams off the dribble. They are a really good shooting team so you have to extend on them in the zone. So if we back off on them, we let them have some open looks so we are kind of taking chances. We weren’t real fundamental with our defensive rotation at times. But give them credit; if a team can shoot and penetrate like that, they are tough to defend.”

Bechler’s shooting helped make PHS tough to beat down the stretch. “In practice, we do a three-point drill at the end of practice everyday; it is almost like I have to overload the other team because he is just lights out,” said Shelley of Bechler, who scored a team-high 16 points in the defeat to Lawrence.

“They [Bechler’s shots] don’t even hit the net when he gets in a zone like that. He has a quick release, he catches and gets set. There are a lot of fundamentals besides just the actual shot.”

In Shelley’s view, Bechler and his classmates gave a lot to the team this winter.

“They have been tremendous, just providing leadership both in word and deed,” said Shelley, referring to the team’s Class of 2013 which includes Elliott Golden, Ellis Bloom, Lior Levy, and Christian Giles in addition to Bechler.

“We were talking about some of them as freshmen, they were just so quiet and now to see them vocal and setting the tone in practice, it is great. We used that to challenge some of our juniors, Peter [Mahotiere] and Cal [O’Meara], who have been more role players this year, they are going to have to be vocal leaders next year.”

Shelley is looking forward to his second year at the helm of the PHS program.

“We have a real good group, we won’t have the dominant players like we do this year but we will have a real balanced group of 12 or 13 players,” said Shelley. “It will be a different team, we are going to be short.”

Bechler, for his part, was fired up to get two state tournament games with his group of classmates.

“We have been playing together for so long,” said Bechler. “We have been playing travel, we have been playing Dillon. We have been playing together for years so we realize that this could be our last week of organized basketball together so you don’t have to say anything else to get us going.”

STICKING POINT: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Patrick McCormick controls the puck in recent action despite a foe’s outstretched stick. Junior defenseman McCormick picked up an assist in a losing cause as 18th-seeded PHS fell 6-4 at No. 15 Sparta last week in the opening round of the Public B state tournament. The defeat left the Little Tigers with a final record of 11-9-1.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STICKING POINT: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Patrick McCormick controls the puck in recent action despite a foe’s outstretched stick. Junior defenseman McCormick picked up an assist in a losing cause as 18th-seeded PHS fell 6-4 at No. 15 Sparta last week in the opening round of the Public B state tournament. The defeat left the Little Tigers with a final record of 11-9-1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton High boys’ hockey team, its Public B state tournament opening round contest at Sparta last week proved to be a microcosm of the season.

Midway through the second period of the February 26 contest, 18th seeded PHS trailed No. 15 Sparta 4-1 and appeared to be headed to a one-sided loss.

The Little Tigers, though, fought back and drew to within 5-4 late in the third period. Sparta responded with an empty net goal to hand PHS a season-ending 6-4 defeat.

PHS head coach Tim Campbell was proud of the way his team battled to the final whistle.

“We really did make a comeback,” said Campbell, who got two goals and an assist from Jackson Andres together with a goal and two assists from Connor McCormick, a goal from John Reid, and an assist from Patrick McCormick in the defeat which left PHS with a final record of 11-9-1.

“We came into the third period down by two and I told them in the intermission that we had a lot to play for and not a lot to lose. We were a little shorthanded; we had guys dealing with injuries and Harrison Naylor was out. The game was emblematic of the season.”

Over the course of the winter, the Little Tigers showed resolve as they encountered a series of hurdles.

“We never fully got up and running,” said Campbell, whose team started 3-4-1 before surging in January.

“We started with some injuries. We had some tough losses. I feel good about the season; we dealt with adversity. We won some close one-goal games. We started the calendar year really well. Some of those wins could have been losses.”

Campbell had a feeling that his team would be facing an uphill battle this year.

“It is what I expected with our graduation losses,” said Campbell. “I knew it was going to be a battle for us every night and we were going to have a lot of one-goal games. We can take a lot of positives. Coming into the year, our two biggest goals were to do well in the Mercer County Tournament (MCT) and to make states. We got a fourth seed in the MCT but we didn’t go as far as we wanted. The next thing was the states. The kids knew the math and we were over .500 at the cut off.”

PHS certainly got some good work from its senior kids. “It is a good senior class,” said Campbell of the team’s Class of 2013, which included Matt DiTosto, Danny Kingsley, Mike Dunlap, and Gabe MacGregor.

“They made it to the MCT finals in their first three years and won it as sophomores. Matt was a good leader. He is a very skilled player and a hard worker. He plays three times his size. Mike stepped in the first part of the season when we didn’t have our starting goalie. Danny was an emotional leader; the kids loved him.”

The Little Tigers have some skilled players coming back in juniors Patrick McCormick, Harrison Naylor, Spencer Reynolds, and Robert Quinn together with sophomores Andres, Reid, and Connor McCormick.

“The sophomore and junior classes are loaded with talent,” said Campbell. “They have a lot of experience and they are producers. Robert Quinn has come a long way at goalie.”

As his players head into the offseason, Campbell is confident they will keep productive.

“I just want them to stay competitive; any coach will tell you that it is good for them to play other sports,” said Campbell.

“I enjoy seeing them make the transition to lacrosse and baseball. Over the summer, they will do clinics and camps. A lot of them play travel and are in early fall leagues. I know they will be ready and in shape when we start again on November 15.”

February 27, 2013

 

MIGHTY MAC: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Mike MacDonald prepares to unload the ball in a 2012 game. Last Saturday, sophomore attackman MacDonald scored three goals to help Princeton top Hofstra 10-7 in its season opener. The 12th-ranked Tigers play at No. 3 Johns Hopkins (3-0) this Friday in Baltimore.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MIGHTY MAC: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Mike MacDonald prepares to unload the ball in a 2012 game. Last Saturday, sophomore attackman MacDonald scored three goals to help Princeton top Hofstra 10-7 in its season opener. The 12th-ranked Tigers play at No. 3 Johns Hopkins (3-0) this Friday in Baltimore. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Featuring a lineup stocked with freshmen and untested upperclassmen, Chris Bates knew that he had to exercise some patience as his Princeton University men’s lacrosse team opened its season at Hofstra last Saturday.

“We reminded ourselves as coaches to stay calm and not start barking at guys; we needed to stay composed,” said Princeton head coach Bates, who started four freshmen on Saturday and unveiled a totally revamped defense.

“There was so much uncertainly with new faces, more on the defensive end. You don’t know how that is going to jell and how the guys are going to do with the nerves of a game.”

After trailing 3-1 in the first quarter, Princeton jelled, scoring four unanswered goals in the second period on the way to a 10-7 victory before a crowd  of 1,556 at Shuart Stadium.

Showing composure, Princeton was not rattled when it fell behind early. “I didn’t think Hofstra did anything that we didn’t expect,” said Bates.

“We didn’t play well offensively, we had some turnovers. I give everybody credit, everybody stayed true to what we were trying to do.”

After a Mike MacDonald goal made it 3-2, it became the Ryan Ambler show for Princeton in the second quarter as the precocious freshman tallied a goal and two assists to help the Tigers take a 6-3 halftime lead.

“The fourth goal was Ryan’s, we exhorted him from the sidelines to be more aggressive and he sped right by his guy and fired it in,” said Bates of Ambler, who got another assist in the fourth quarter and was later named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week.

“He doesn’t turn the ball over and he shares the ball, he gets assists by getting to people at the right spot at the right time.”

Senior midfielder Bobby Lucas came through at the right time for Princeton, winning six-of-eight face-offs in the second half.

“We had a man up to start the half and we seemed settled in defensively,” said Bates.

“They get a goal and it is 6-4; you are never comfortable. We weren’t doing well on face-offs to that point. In the third and fourth quarter, Bobby Lucas was the change. He really gave us life, he controlled the face-offs.”

Junior star Tom Schreiber helped Princeton control the fourth quarter, tallying a goal and an assist as the Tigers outscored the Pride 3-1 over the last 15 minutes of the contest.

“Schreiber gave us some goals and he controls the game with his energy,” said Bates of Schreiber, who had two goals and an assist on the day with sophomore Mike MacDonald chipping in three goals. “He got some ground balls and did things that don’t show up on the scoresheet. He settles you down.”

The new-look Princeton defense settled in nicely, giving up four goals over the last 51:18 of the game after yielding three goals in the first 8:42 of the contest.

“They started to play better as a unit, they got more confidence,” said Bates, in assessing the defensive effort.

“Jack Strabo and Chris White gave us veteran leadership at shortstick middie. That is the most underrated position, it is thankless. They played so well that we didn’t need to slide as much. Derick and Nick settled down, Alex Beatty and Mark Strabo also played well. Greg Raymond (assistant coach) did a good job of preparing them; we were ready for what Hofstra does.”

Freshman goalie Matt O’Connor appeared to be ready for prime time, making six saves in his college debut as he follows in the footsteps of four-year starter Tyler Fiorito.

“One of the reasons we recruited him is that he has such high character; he is unflappable, he doesn’t get too high or too low,” said Bates of the former Lawrenceville School standout.

“He had a good week of practice. I think he is going to get better and better. He is a gamer, he always gives you his best. He just has to be consistent, he doesn’t have to be brilliant like Tyler was at times.”

Leaving Hofstra with a victory was a major high for the Tigers. “We are excited to get out of there with a win, it is a tough place to play,” said Bates.

“The weather was brutal, it was raining sideways and it was cold. It affected our stickwork. If we had gone up to Hofstra and come out with a loss, we might be doubting ourselves. It was great to get a win in that environment, Princeton hadn’t won up there in six years.”

This Friday, 12th-ranked Princeton heads into another hostile environment as it plays at No. 3 Johns Hopkins (3-0) in Baltimore.

“As Greg Raymond said, Hopkins is Hofstra on steroids,” said Bates. “They are a very seasoned team, they have upperclassmen everywhere. They are playing with a lot of confidence, they are feeling pretty good about themselves. They play with a lot of energy and they have no weaknesses.”

Bates promises that Princeton will bring plenty of energy into the annual showdown with the Blue Jays.

“We have to be opportunistic and play smart,” said Bates. “We can’t turn the ball over and we have to face-off well. I can tell you that the guys will be excited to be playing at Homewood Field, this is always an important game for us. It is a going to be on national TV and there is going to be a buzz. We have got to withstand their early barrage, we know they are going to try to knock us out. We have to bob and weave and counter punch.”

If the Tigers can build on their effort at Hofstra, they should have a puncher’s chance against Hopkins.

LAY OF THE LAND: Princeton University men’s senior hockey player Eric Meland controls the puck in recent action. Last Saturday against visiting Yale, defenseman Meland  came up big on Senior Night, tallying a goal and an assist but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 4-3 before a packed house at Baker Rink. The Tigers, now 9-14-4 overall and 7-10-3 ECAC Hockey, wrap up regular season play with games at Dartmouth (13-10-4 overall, 9-8-3 ECACH) on March 1 and at Harvard (8-16-3 overall, 5-13-2 ECACH) on March 2.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LAY OF THE LAND: Princeton University men’s senior hockey player Eric Meland controls the puck in recent action. Last Saturday against visiting Yale, defenseman Meland came up big on Senior Night, tallying a goal and an assist but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 4-3 before a packed house at Baker Rink. The Tigers, now 9-14-4 overall and 7-10-3 ECAC Hockey, wrap up regular season play with games at Dartmouth (13-10-4 overall, 9-8-3 ECACH) on March 1 and at Harvard (8-16-3 overall, 5-13-2 ECACH) on March 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Eric Meland and his classmates on the Princeton University men’s hockey team, there was a short-term goal when they took the ice at Baker Rink for Senior Night.

“We wanted to win,” said senior defenseman Meland. “A win would go a long way to securing home ice so it isn’t our last game here.”

The night’s festivities, which included a ceremony at the first intermission with the six seniors and their families, prompted Meland to reflect on the longer-term significance of his Tiger hockey experience.

“Princeton hockey really helps you grow as a person,” said Meland, whose fellow seniors include Rob Kleebaum, Will MacDonald, James Kerr, Michael Sdao, and Mike Condon.

“You go through ups and downs and you do it as a team. It is always nice to look at the guy across from you and know that he is going through everything you are going through. Successes and failures are shared by all.”

Battling No. 13 Yale before a packed house of 2,374 at Baker Rink, the Tigers battled hard to make it a successful evening. Coming off a disappointing 4-1 loss to Brown on Friday, the Tigers took leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in the first period.

“We came out with more jump,” said Meland,  who assisted on a Jack Berger goal that opened the scoring. “I think the effort was there.”

The rivals were knotted 2-2 heading into the third period and Meland put the Tigers up 3-2 with 10:48 left in regulation.

“In my position back there, I have the ability to sneak in the back door,” said Meland.

“I saw Rob Kleebaum had the puck on the side of the net and he slid it across the front of the net. I happened to be a victim of circumstance and I was able to backdoor it.”

Unfortunately, Yale came back and scored two goals in the last 10 minutes of the game to pull out a 4-3 win.

“It is game of bounces but we control our own fate,” said Meland, reflecting on the Yale rally that dropped Princeton to 9-14-4 overall and 7-10-3 ECAC Hockey, tied for ninth in the league standings.

“We can’t blame anybody but ourselves for this loss; it is something we can learn from.”

Meland, a 6’1, 190-pound native of Grand Forks, N.D., has proven to be a good learner as he has moved to defenseman from forward.

“I was excited about it; you have a little more time on the puck on defense,” said Meland, who has 13 points on two goals and 11 assists this season and 60 career points on 16 goals and 44 assists.

“I was excited to fill an offensive defenseman role and do everything I can to help the team win this year.”

With Princeton playing at Dartmouth (13-10-4 overall, 9-8-3 ECACH) on March 1 and at Harvard (8-16-3 overall, 5-13-2 ECACH) on March 2, the Tigers will need to get on the winning track to move up to eighth place and earn home ice for the first round of the ECACH playoffs.

“We can go out there and give it our all; it is a matter of the puck bouncing here or there,” said Meland.

“It is a results-based game so it is just a matter of bearing down at this point.”

Last fall, Anya Gersoff did her best to thwart shooters as a goalie for the Princeton University field hockey team.

Freshman Gersoff yielded only one goal in a back-up role for the national champion Tigers.

This spring, Gersoff has shed her pads and is trying to beat goalies as an attacker for the Princeton women’s lacrosse team.

Last Saturday, Gersoff was primed to make her lax debut as Princeton hosted Villanova in its season opener.

“It was so exciting to get out there,” said Gersoff, noting that her field hockey experience last fall helped calm her nerves.

Gersoff ended up making an exciting debut, scoring two goals to help the Tigers pull away to a 10-5 win over the Wildcats.

In reflecting on her effort, Gersoff said that playing goalie in the fall helps her be a savvy scorer in the spring.

“You kind of know what a goalie doesn’t like to see,” said Gersoff. “When I am playing goalie I always hate it when there is a shooter and they look at you and you are like oh no so there is that little bit of intimidation stuff.”

The Tigers had a little trouble with their shooting in the first half as they led just 3-0 despite having piled up 15 shots.

“We didn’t play as well as we would have liked to the whole game,” said Gersoff. “In the first half, our shooting was a little rough but we will get better.” Early in the second half, Villanova drew to within 3-2 and Princeton responded with its best stretch of the contest, going on a 6-1 run to seize control.

“We just have so many great leaders on this team and they made it so we should step up,” said Gersoff, reflecting on Princeton’s second half surge.

“We just followed suit and we were able to put it in the back of the net a few times.”

Gersoff got into the act, scoring two straight goals in that run. Her first career goal put the Tigers up 8-3.

“I remember I picked up the ball and I had an open lane and I went to goal,” said Gersoff, recalling her initial college tally. “I was like wow I scored.”

The Tiger freshmen accounted for six of Princeton’s 10 goals as Gersoff’s classmates Alex Bruno and Stephanie Paloscio also scored two apiece.

“We have always gotten along well as a freshman class,” said Gersoff. “I knew that there was something special about us when we came in.”

Not being available to take part in the lacrosse fall training has required a special effort on Gersoff’s part this spring.

“It was a really hard adjustment,” said Gersoff. “I figured it out eventually, it is going OK. It is still an adjustment.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer, for her part, is confident her team figured some things out as it overcame a sluggish start.

“I think we definitely had the jitters a little bit,” said Sailer. “We didn’t look like we have been scrimmaging and practicing. I think it was just a little bit of that first game jitters that hopefully we worked out and we’ll come out a little stronger next time.”

Sailer liked her team’s strong play as it pulled away from Villanova in the second half.

“I think our kids knew that we had to make things happen so we got some turnovers in transition,” said Sailer. “We had some fast breaks, we had some nice connections in the attack end.”

The production of Gersoff and classmates Bruno and Paloscio was a nice plus for the Tigers.

“They really did lead the way finishing but the other kids did a lot between the lines,” said Sailer, referring to the trio of freshmen.

“I was really pleased, those three are all just smart shooters and really strong players so it was great to see them have such a great day on their first day out.”

Princeton got some smart play from such veteran performers as junior midfielder Sarah Lloyd and senior defender Caroline Rehfuss.

“I thought Sarah Lloyd did a really good job on the draw,” asserted Sailer.

“I thought Rehfuss did really well, she had four caused turnovers and No. 40 (Villanova offensive star Jackie Froccaro) had just one goal.”

With senior star attacker Jaci Gassaway sidelined due to a knee injury, the Tigers are going to need to do a better job of communicating on offense.

“We have to be confident in ourselves,” added Sailer, whose team plays at Georgetown on March 1 before hosting Southern California on March 3.

“We need more vocal leadership from our upperclassmen on the field. We didn’t have anyone in the attack end who was settling people and being that voice down there. Jaci was that person for us; we have got to work through that. It was an ugly win but we will take the ‘w’ to start the season.”

Gersoff, for her part, believes Princeton can build on its positive start. “It is always great to get a win in the first game of the season,” said Gersoff.

“We have been playing really well in our scrimmages and practices. We can just step it up a little more all over the field.”

OUT OF CONTENTION: Princeton University women’s hockey player Molly Contini heads up the ice in recent action. Last Friday, freshman forward Contini scored the winning goal as Princeton edged Brown 2-1. A day later, Princeton fell 4-2 at Yale to drop into ninth place in the final ECAC Hockey standings and end an 11-year streak of making the league playoffs. The Tigers finished the winter at 11-16-2 overall and 6-14-2 in ECAH play.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

OUT OF CONTENTION: Princeton University women’s hockey player Molly Contini heads up the ice in recent action. Last Friday, freshman forward Contini scored the winning goal as Princeton edged Brown 2-1. A day later, Princeton fell 4-2 at Yale to drop into ninth place in the final ECAC Hockey standings and end an 11-year streak of making the league playoffs. The Tigers finished the winter at 11-16-2 overall and 6-14-2 in ECAH play. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton University women’s hockey team, the task last weekend was clear.

If the Tigers won their games at Brown and Yale, they would clinch eighth place in the ECAC Hockey standings and the final spot in the upcoming league playoffs.

Princeton achieved step one on Friday as it edged Brown 2-1 with junior Olivia Mucha and freshman Molly Contini finding the back of the net in the first period and freshman goalie Kimberley newell making 23 saves.

“Mucha got us going early, she made a nice move and found a seam,” said Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal.

“When she is scoring goals, we are a better team. Contini took a pass from Kelly Cooke on a 2-on-1 and roofed a backhand, that was a big-time goal. That was early in the game, I was hoping we would get more but Brown played really well. Kim Newell (freshman goalie) played solid all weekend, she did what we needed.”

Against Yale the next day, it looked like Princeton was on the way to the win it needed as it jumped out to an early 2-0 lead.

“We got the lead but we were not playing that well,” said Kampersal who got goals from Mucha and sophomore Brianna Leahy.

“We got a shorthanded goal to go up 2-0. We didn’t take our foot off the pedal but Yale played with a lot of passion. It was their Senior Day.”

Even though Princeton led 2-1 going into the third, Kampersal had a bad feeling.

“I knew we were hanging on,” said Kampersal. “We were tired on Saturday. Our fatigue and their passion made the difference in the third period.”

Things fell apart in the third period as Princeton yielded three unanswered goals to lose 4-2. Princeton’s loss combined with a victory by Colgate over Rensselaer left Princeton at 11-16-2 overall and 6-14-2 in ECAH play and in ninth place and out of the league playoffs for the first time since 2001.

The abrupt ending to the season was painful for Kampersal and his players.

“It’s definitely hard to go out like that,” said Kampersal. “It is not the year we hoped for. We have some things to be proud of but we have to coach better and play better. The three seniors (Alex Kinney, Kelly Cooke, and Corey Stearns) all had good years. Cookie and Corey carried us to the end, they played great.”

In Kampersal’s view, this year’s disappointment could sow the seeds for future success.

“It was definitely a negative but it can also be a positive,” asserted Kampersal.

“It is a slap in the face, but it can get us to focus more on things and be re-motivated to get back to where we were in 2006 and 2007. We need to work hard and come back in unbelievable physical shape. We need to be more disciplined and be better hockey players.”

NEAR THE SUMMIT: Princeton High boys’ swimmer Peter Kalibat powers to a victory in the 500 freestyle in a meet earlier this season. Last week, junior star Kalibat won the 200 and 500 free races as PHS dropped an 87-83 nailbiter to Summit in the state Public B semifinals. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

NEAR THE SUMMIT: Princeton High boys’ swimmer Peter Kalibat powers to a victory in the 500 freestyle in a meet earlier this season. Last week, junior star Kalibat won the 200 and 500 free races as PHS dropped an 87-83 nailbiter to Summit in the state Public B semifinals.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton High boys’ swimming team was rarely tested as it cruised to the state Public B semifinals, Greg Hand made sure that his swimmers kept focused.

“The challenge was to establish habits of how we are going to conduct ourselves when we know we have a succession of meets that don’t require your best,” said PHS head coach Hand, whose team bought a 15-0 record into its clash last week against Summit in the state semis at the WW/P-S pool.

“You don’t want to be lackadaisical and not pay attention to the details like how are we going to relate to each other on the deck and when our teammates are in the water. We had to value starts, turns, and finishes and the last 10 yards of the race and establish a culture of taking themselves seriously no matter what the score is.”

As his swimmers battled Summit in a rematch of last year’s state semis, which saw the Little Tigers prevail on the way to a state title, Hand liked their serious mindset.

“The focus you could see before boarding the bus all the way to the end of the meet was excellent,” said Hand.

“In the face of a different kind of challenge they did everything they could to beat Summit, that alone said something about them.”

While PHS ended up falling to Summit by 87-83, the pluck displayed by the Little Tigers said a lot about their competitive fire.

“We really swam aggressively; there was very little discussion about the score on the deck,” said Hand.

“There were external indicators of the internal. Entering the states we had 4,036 power points and we scored 4402 against Summit so that was an increase of around 360 in two meets. That is the best increase we have ever had in that time frame.”

The Little Tigers produced 1-2-3 sweeps in both the 200 and 500 freestyle races to keep the pressure on Summit as junior Peter Kalibat placed first in both events followed by senior John Bond and junior Scott MacKenzie.

“They fit together; I think they thought their best swimmer would take second to Peter,” said Hand.

“After we went so fast in the 200, I think they got nervous. John and Scott were swimming so well. John had a PR in 200 and in 500, where he broke his record by five seconds. The 500 kept us in there, it was big to get the 13-3. We knew that they had a fast 200 free relay and that left us in a significant hole.”

The Little Tigers nearly climbed out of that hole as junior star Will Stange won the 100 back and senior Daniel Andronov and junior Colburn Yu went 2-3 in the 100 breast to help PHS draw within 81-75 heading into the 400 free relay, the last event of the meet.

Trailing 81-75 heading into the meet-ending 400 free relay, PHS had a chance to pull out a victory. The Little Tigers needed to finish first and second in the relay to win the meet or a first and third to earn a tie and have the meet decided by power points, which ended up being in PHS’s favor.

With the din reverberating in the WW/P-S bubble, Summit took a lead in the relay only to see Stange produce an amazing anchor leg that led to the top relay quartets ending in a dead heat. As a result, Summit was able to pull out the 87-83 win and PHS’s hopes for a title were dashed.

“I would put his swim in the context of the whole team going in lane four,” said Hand, reflecting on Stange’s heroics.

“Matt Purdy did a nice job in the 100 and then he came back and swam a second faster than that race. He set a tone. Kalibat swam a 47.62, which is an extremely fast split particularly considering he already had two fast swims. Yu came in and did a season PR and that split still left us 10 or 12 yards behind when their fastest swimmer (Will Benn) started off. I have seen some great comebacks, Nina Rossi had several. Will’s swim was something of the same quality; to close a big lead like that is exceptional.”

Hand was not surprised that Stange stepped up when the chips were down.

“Will was a real leader on the deck, not just in the sense of encouraging the others but setting a model in the sense that he was really going to do something big,” said Hand.

“He is not an introvert, he is gregarious and friendly. He has a strong sense of himself in a positive sense, not in a vain or egotistical sense. When he says he is going to go in and go after that guy, the other guys are inspired.”

In reflecting on the season, Hand said the team’s corp of seniors provided inspiration.

“We have an understated but impressive group of young men who were real leaders, five of the seven were with us for four years and other two were with us for two years,” said Hand of his seniors, who include Peter Cohen, Alden Reyes, John Robles, Patrick Schultz, and Stephen Schultz, in addition to Andronov and Bond.

“There was so much character and so little fanfare. Each is a terrific guy. They were level headed guys and they kept us well-centered. In four years, they went to two state semis and two finals and went 67-4 in dual meets.”

With such stellar juniors returning in Kalibat, Stange, Yu, Purdy, and MacKenzie, PHS should continue its tradition of tournament success.

“We have some terrific guys who are coming back who we know are committed,” said Hand.

“We know how they train and how much they like the PHS team. All of them are going to get better, every team counts on that. Summit had all those guys come back for them and they were so much better this year.”

CLOSING STATEMENT: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Lior Levy drives to the hoop in recent action. Senior star Levy is enjoying a superb final season, averaging a team-high 14.0 points for the Little Tigers.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CLOSING STATEMENT: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Lior Levy drives to the hoop in recent action. Senior star Levy is enjoying a superb final season, averaging a team-high 14.0 points for the Little Tigers. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Lior Levy, things have come together in his senior season with the Princeton High boys’ basketball team.

The 6’8 center is averaging a team-high 14.0 points a game for PHS and has contributed a slew of assists, rebounds, and blocked shots.

Having dealt with injury and illness over much of his high school career, Levy is savoring his success this winter.

“It has been fun,” said Levy, who had mono as a freshman and suffered an ACL injury the next season.

“I have been injured the past few seasons and even last year my knee was hurting me. I am healthy so I have been able to take advantage of that this season.”

Enjoying good health has positively impacted Levy’s mindset and training. “I think I am more confident; I have been in more of a leadership role this year,” said Levy.

“I worked hard over the summer. I went to a bunch of camps so that is where some of the confidence came from. I think just my skill is up from last year.”

Last week, Levy displayed his confidence as the Little Tigers battled state Prep B champions Pennington, scoring 13 points and making some key assists and blocked shots as PHS dropped a 59-57 nailbiter to the Red Raiders.

Even though the Little Tigers lost on a last-second layup to fall to 11-10, Levy was encouraged by the team’s performance.

“We executed great tonight, Ellis [Bloom] was hitting every shot,” said Levy, reflecting on a game which saw PHS heading 31-27 at halftime and 44-43 entering the fourth quarter. “We were moving the ball well, we just needed one more shot here or there.”

Triggering the offense from the high post, Levy helped keep the PHS offense on the move.

“I love it, around the free throw line, top of the key, that is where I am best,” said Levy.

“We were moving the ball well, cutting off of me. They were overplaying sometimes and we got some nice looks.”

With PHS starting play in the state tournament this week, Levy believes the game against Pennington will be good preparation for that competition. PHS is seeded fourth in the Central Jersey Group III sectional and was slated to host 13th-seeded Hopewell Valley on February 26 with the winner advancing to the sectional quarters on February 28.

“That is a really good team, they have had a great season and you have got to give them credit,” said Levy.

“Playing a good team like that is definitely going to help us for the state tournament. If we played the way we played today, it will be tough to beat us.

PHS head coach Mark Shelley feels his team’s performance against Pennington is a good sign going into state competition.

“We feel really good about the way we are playing,” said Shelley. “That was as well as we have played offensively since the Trenton game. Defensively we played well, they just hit some big shots with hands in their face.”

Shelley is heartened by Levy’s excellent play in his final campaign.

“I think Lior has done really well; he has really battled through some things,” said Shelley.

“He has really enjoyed playing this year. He is a leader; not just in scoring. He leads us in blocked shots and is among the leaders in assists. We run everything through him; if we are under pressure the ball goes to him. Lior has been shooting the ball well and he has been more assertive down low.”

The PHS seniors have become more assertive collectively as the season has headed into the homestretch.

“When the end is in sight for seniors, sometimes they give a better effort,” said Shelley, whose group of seniors includes Elliott Golden, Ellis Bloom, Christian Giles, and Scott Bechler in addition to Levy.

“It is nice; they have been leaders by example and in word. Today I was going to give them the day off but they got everyone to come down for a shootaround. They set a standard, they are always working.”

Shelley is hoping that work will pay off this week in the state tournament.

“We are excited about it,” said Shelley. “The pressure is there and we don’t have to talk about it. We just want to take it one game at a time and see how it goes. We are going to focus on the fundamentals in preparing.”

Levy, for his part, is focusing on enjoying a big finale with his classmates. “I have been playing with these guys my whole life so it will be good to go out like this,” said Levy, who is looking to continue his hoops career as a post-graduate with a prep program next year.

AGONY OF DEFEAT: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball players, Davon Reed, left, and Ford Schneider, show their disappointment after PDS lost 47-45 to Pennington last Thursday in the state Prep B championship game. The defeat left the Panthers with a final record of 19-8.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

AGONY OF DEFEAT: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball players, Davon Reed, left, and Ford Schneider, show their disappointment after PDS lost 47-45 to Pennington last Thursday in the state Prep B championship game. The defeat left the Panthers with a final record of 19-8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Davon Reed hit the floor soon after the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team fell 47-45 to host Pennington last Thursday in the state Prep B championship game.

The senior star lay prone on the court with his shirt pulled up over his head, absorbing the disappointment of the defeat as Pennington fans celebrated around him.

After PDS head coach Paris McLean pulled Reed away from the surging crowd, the record-setting guard was able to put things in perspective in the wake of the scintillating contest which saw neither team lead by more than five points.

“It was definitely a great game; we got our money’s worth,” said Reed, who scored a game-high 24 points in the setback. “Unfortunately, we didn’t walk away with the win.”

While Reed walks away from PDS with a program-record 2,102 points on his way to the University of Miami men’s hoops team, he desperately wanted a title to go with his individual feats.

“I am definitely grateful and proud of myself that I scored it but I would trade it in for both of these championships, the counties and the preps,” said Reed.

In a grueling stretch, which saw PDS play five tournament games over six days, the Panthers came agonizingly close to a title double. In the county tournament, the fifth-seeded Panthers topped No. 12 Steinert 59-56 in the first round on February 16, defeated fourth-seeded Ewing 74-56 on February 18 in the quarters, and then fell 65-56 to No. 1 and eventual champion Notre Dame last Wednesday in the semis.

Meanwhile on the Prep B front, No. 2 PDS topped third-seeded and defending champion Rutgers Prep 46-38 on February 17 in the semis before the heartbreaking loss to top-seeded Pennington last Thursday.

“We don’t like to make excuses, playing five games in six days is tough but you know what I am proud of my guys, we came out and battled every game,” said Reed. “We win three straight and the last two were against two really good teams and it was a little different, we weren’t able to pull it out.”

After splitting two regular season games with rival Pennington, PDS was determined to win the rubber match.

“This game we knew was for all the marbles; my boys were just ready to play,” said Reed, who averaged 23.2 points a game this season.

“We know that everybody else is starting to believe in us but we knew from the start so we got to know we can win this game.”

While PDS head coach McLean was proud of his team’s effort, the pain of the defeat stung.

“What a great game; it had everything you wanted, back and forth play, drama, big shots, big opportunities, just two great programs going at it,” said McLean, whose team ended the season with a 19-8 record.

“Each team has marquee players; both teams are doing extremely well and that’s a testament to the way our program has grown and the way that Pennington has grown. It is great for the county. It is a lot to take in but this one hurts, this one hurts.”

The Panthers had a chance to win the game or put it in overtime as they had a final possession with 5.4 seconds in regulation.

“They made the last foul shot and we get a timeout,” recalled Mclean.

“We run situation drills everyday in practice. We drew it up, we knew they would key on Davon. We got a good look to the basket, we just didn’t finish. We came up short; it was on the lip of the rim.”

The impact of Reed on the PDS program over the last four years has been nothing short of amazing.

“You could go with numbers and points and wins and losses but what he has done has brought respectability back to the program,” said McLean.

“He has made other players say OK PDS is an option. He has been fantastic for us as a school leader, as a basketball leader. He has made his team better. He himself has became a better person.”

The team’s core of seniors led the way, helping PDS get stronger as the season unfolded.

“It has been a great senior class; I described them on Senior Day as a diverse group in terms of not just outward identity but in terms of their interests and their position play,” said McLean.

“Good teams need to have strong seniors and we had strong senior leadership this season. Every last one of them, Alec Jones, Tavante Brittingham, Tom Martino, Davon Reed, and B.J. Dudeck, right down the line in no particular order because any one of them could step up and they know our motto, you don’t have to be a captain to be a leader. Anybody can be a leader.”

Coming to the end of the line last Thursday made for an emotional scene in the Panther locker room.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the locker room, coaching staff, players,” said McLean.

“When you put in that much time and effort to battle back and come here back-to-back years, that is tough. They fought through it, they willed it to the end. We didn’t even run out of gas, a couple of things just didn’t go our way. But there was no quit; what a special, magical run. If you look at our program, 11 wins, 15 wins, 16 wins, 19 wins, we keep getting better.”

Even with the graduation of Reed and his classmates, McLean is confident that PDS can keep getting better.

“We have great young kids,” said McLean, who will welcome back juniors Langston Glaude, Deante Cole, Chris Okorodudu, and Ford Schneider.

“It is a great learning experience. I am tired of learning experiences, though. We need to take the next step. We have some great young men coming back and we have some great JV players. I just hope that people don’t think that because Davon Reed leaves, the PDS program is going to roll over and die. No, it is going to continue to build and be stronger.”

Reed, for his part, is proud to have helped the Panthers build something special.

“It wasn’t always pretty,” said Reed, reflecting on his career. “We weren’t always down, we weren’t always up. I am glad about the way the program is headed. It is headed in a good direction; people really care about basketball at Princeton Day School.”

GAINING INDEPENDENCE: Hun School boys’ hockey player Alex Vukasin waits for the puck in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, senior star Vukasin scored a goal to help Hun defeat the Haverford School (Pa.) 5-3 in the Independence Hockey League (IHL) championship game. The win gave the Raiders a final record of 16-5-4.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GAINING INDEPENDENCE: Hun School boys’ hockey player Alex Vukasin waits for the puck in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, senior star Vukasin scored a goal to help Hun defeat the Haverford School (Pa.) 5-3 in the Independence Hockey League (IHL) championship game. The win gave the Raiders a final record of 16-5-4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After having lost in double overtime to Pennington in the Independence Hockey League (IHL) championship game last winter, the Hun School boys’ hockey team was on a mission this season to capture the elusive title.

But as Hun hosted the Haverford School (Pa.) last Friday in the IHL championship game, it looked like history might be repeating itself when the Raiders fell behind 1-0.

Hun head coach Ian McNally acknowledged that his players were a bit frazzled in the early going.

“It is the third time we have played them and that is the best they have come out so you know what, they definitely outplayed us at the start, they came out flying,” said McNally.

“In our league we didn’t lose a game, I think we had 10 wins and two ties so we didn’t have a ton of adversity. The result of that was that our guys started panicking on the bench and panicking on the ice, just getting a little frenzied.”

Senior star Eric Szeker concurred, attributing the slow start to some nerves.

“I think the jitters got to us in the first couple of shifts there,” said Szeker. “They scored a quick one on us and that kind of woke us up and we got our feet moving again.”

The Raiders got moving in the right direction as Nick Guns scored a goal to make it 1-1 and then in between periods the Raiders were reassured by a calming message from McNally.

“He said to stick with it,” recalled Szeker. “We knew we were going to get our goals. We know that we have a good offense. We can put pucks home and he told us to just to stay with it. The defensive zone was our main focus in this game.”

The Raiders seized control of the game in the second period, outscoring Haverford 3-0 in that 15-minute stretch.

“It is the last game of the season and we have to leave it all on the line and it was one of our better periods of the year,” said Szeker, who scored early in the second period to put Hun ahead 2-1. “We got a lot of goals and it helped set us up for the third period.”

Szeker’s classmate, star forward Alex Vukasin, scored the fourth goal in the last minute of the period to give the Raiders some extra momentum heading into the last 15 minutes of regulation.

“That definitely wasn’t a pretty one but it was sure satisfying,” said Vukasin.

“Basically we know that we are not a team with super-skilled players on this team, we have good players on this team. We know that our goals come from fighting in the crease, we have a lot of rebound goals. My goal was a rebound. We have been making sure that we win puck battles, that is pretty much our team motto this year.

Those goals plus a power play tally by Szeker in the third period proved to be enough as Hun held off a late Haverford rally to win 5-3 and earn the title.

The Raiders did have to battle to earn the title as they were playing shorthanded down the stretch, at one point having to kill off a 5-on-3 situation.

“We were on our heels, they definitely made a final push,” said Szeker, reflecting on the waning moments of the win which left Hun with a final record of 16-5-4.

“It is the end of their season too and they don’t want to lose either; they came out hard but as a team we stuck together and we got the job done at the end.”

In Vukasin’s view, the determination of the Hun seniors helped pave the way to the title.

“This shows the tenacity our seniors have had in the four years, we have had tough times,” said Vukasin, who also had an assist on Szeker’s third period goal.

“Last year we just missed it so we were pushing and pushing this year and we finally came through. The seniors on our team wanted it and the young guys followed our example, maintaining the same work ethic as we have been doing and putting in 100 percent every practice.”

McNally was not surprised that Szeker and Vukasin came through in the finale.

“I told Eric before the game, just be the guy,” said McNally, who also got a goal in the victory from senior Jordan Wang.

“He is the best player in the league, I said go ahead and show that and he did. He was very vocal, he scored two goals. He was our captain and he led us. Alex is so consistent, you know exactly what you are going to get out of him every game. He did it again. He can beat people to these pucks and outmuscle them and score goals. He helped us gain momentum.”

The Raiders gained momentum from the leadership of its senior class. “The seniors were great, especially down the stretch when we played the second half of the league and went 6-0 after we tied a couple in the first half,” said McNally, whose group of seniors included Andrew Zhou, Peter Nawn, Matt Waxman, and Anton Salienko in addition to Szeker, Vukasin, and Wang.

“That was on them. We had a meeting about that, we have seven of them and they led the way. It was good, even the younger guys were talking let’s do it for the seniors. The right message has been sent where I don’t have to be the one pushing all the time. They are doing it themselves.”

In McNally’s view, the program sent a major message by winning the IHL crown.

“I think it is big,” said McNally, who cited the effort of junior goalie Devin Cheifetz in the title game as he made 39 saves and fought through a second period neck injury.

“Throughout the day at school, people were coming up to me saying good luck in the game and that didn’t really happen last year because we just generated a little buzz for Hun hockey. I just told the players afterward congratulations you guys just started this program, doing this. It means a lot, it justified our team and it put us on the map. We played strong all year, we did it when it mattered, we won the league and we only plan to get better from here.”

Szeker, for his part, will remember the strong bonds the team formed this winter in its championship campaign.

“We were family on and off the ice,” said Szeker. “At school in the lunch time, everyone sits together. Everyone hangs out on free periods that we have; everyone is with each other. It is hockey 24/7 with us and to bring something home is really special for all of us.”