March 14, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WILLING LEARNER: Hun School boys’ basketball player Will Kelly looks for an opening in a game this season. Senior center Kelly’s defensive prowess and development on the offensive end of the court helped the Raiders go 14-12 this winter. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Hun School boys’ basketball team, the 2011-12 season turned into a roller-coaster ride.

Working some new players into the rotation, the Raiders took their lumps as everyone got on the same page, hovering around the .500 mark for much of the winter.

But Hun found its stride late in the season, putting together an 8-2 stretch heading into the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title game. The Raiders fell to the Blair Academy in that contest and then lost to the Buccaneers days later in the state Prep A semis to end the winter at 14-12.

In assessing the campaign, head coach Jon Stone acknowledged that it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

“It took us a long time to figure out what we were good at and for us to jell,” said Stone.

“We had some of our best games after losses which showed that the team had resolve. Until our last two games, we won eight of 10 which is a good stretch for anybody.”

Stone credited the team’s core of seniors with helping Hun come together.

“All five of them showed leadership,” said Stone, whose group of seniors included Rashid Epps, Bo McKinley, Will Kelly. Bobby Ganges, and Dapo Lana.

“They made a difference on the younger players and they made it fun for the coaches.”

Epps and McKinley made a big difference for the Raiders, providing the team with a potent inside-out punch.

“Epps was our most consistent player; we depended on him to score, get rebounds and steals,” asserted Stone.

“He was second in scoring and first in rebounds and steals. He always played hard. Bo struggled in the beginning but towards the end he was as good as any guard around. He had the ability to shoot and make big shots. He did most of our ballhandling which is tough on our league.”

The trio of Kelly, Ganges, and Lana brought good things to the table. “We were a different team with Kelly on the floor; he was such a good defensive player,” added Stone.

“He continued to grow and make progress offensively. Bobby was our sixth man from the start. He did a lot for us and really understood his role. In some games he came in and settled us down. In others, he came in and gave us a spark. Dapo brought it everyday in practice. He pushed the first team and helped make them better.”

The Raiders are bringing back a core of players in Fergus Duke, Grant MacKay, and David Li who give the program a solid foundation going forward.

“Duke and MacKay started all year and both had good seasons,” said Stone. “Li improved as much as anyone. He came all the way across the world from China; he understands the game and our plays better. He plays hard and he likes to compete; the guys embraced him.”

Despite the ups and downs, Stone embraced his guys this winter. “It was a great team to coach,” said Stone, pointing to wins over Trenton Catholic and MAPL foes Lawrenceville, Peddie and Hill as highlights of the season. “The leadership was good and the players were accountable.”

March 7, 2012

STERN CHALLENGE: Hun School boys’ hockey player Brad Stern controls the puck in a game this winter. Sophomore defenseman Stern helped spark the Raiders to a fine season which saw them go 10-9-1 and advance to the Independence Hockey League (IHL) championship game. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

There were no mysteries when the Hun School boys’ hockey team faced Pennington last month in the Independence Hockey League (IHL) championship game.

“We had split with them, losing most recently,” said Hun first-year head coach Ian McNally.

“We are basically on the same practice schedule at IceLand. We got to know them and their coaching staff.

Coming into the rubber match between the local rivals at the Academy of New Church school rink, McNally believed that Hun had the upper hand.

“We had a positive mindset coming into the game,” added McNally. “In the semis we had beaten Haverford 8-1 in one of our best efforts of the year. It was really a dominating performance for us.”

The title game, though, turned out to be a low-scoring nailbiter. “The rink at ANC is a little smaller; within five minutes, we saw that we were going to have less time with the puck,” said McNally.

“It turned into a dump and chase type of game which we hadn’t really played this year. We were up 1-0 the majority of the game. I told the guys that we weren’t going to win 1-0 and to not get in the mindset of holding on. Our goalie, Devin Cheifetz. was really playing well. He had more than 30 saves and played his best game of the season.”

The Raiders ended the contest down in the dumps as Pennington scored with 49 seconds left in regulation to force overtime and then won the game 2-1 on a tally in the second extra period.

“With a minute left, I was thinking that maybe we were going to win 1-0,” recalled McNally, who got a goal from Alec Karanikolas as the Raiders finished the season at 10-9-1.

“They pulled their goalie. The puck popped out and all of a sudden, they tied it at 1-1 and then they scored in overtime. It is hard in a situation like that. If you lose 4-1, it is mentally different, it is not such a jarring result. The term ‘sudden death’ certainly has meaning. One minute you are winning and then you are out. A lot of guys were down afterward, particularly our seniors Harry [Hagen] and Brendan [Hurley].”

In McNally’s view, there was no reason to be down about the season as Hun finished first in the IHL regular season standings and showed plenty of progress adjusting to a new coach.

“I didn’t know what to expect at the beginning of the year,” said McNally, a 2007 Princeton University graduate who played two seasons for the Tiger men’s hockey program.

“We advanced farther than I thought we would during the season. I think that it went better than expected, especially in the league. If you get to the last game and it means something, you have done something right.”

The team’s two seniors, Hagen and Hurley, showed the right stuff, thriving in their role as team leaders.

“At the start of the year, I didn’t pick captains because I wanted to get to know the boys,” said McNally.

“Picking a captain is a pretty important decision, I didn’t want to just name the most experienced players or the oldest guys. Halfway through the season, I made Harry and Brendan the captains. They did a good job; it was not a large leadership group with a bunch of other seniors. They showed that they cared about the program and if we win or not.”

The Hun program appears to be in good shape as McNally will be welcoming back a number of stellar performers.

“We have a lot of good players coming back,” said McNally, noting that returners Brad Stern, Alex Vukasin, and Cheifetz earned All-IHL honors while Eric Szeker and Karanikolas received honorable mention.

“The foundation is very solid. I want us to win the league but that is not the end of the road. I want us to be one of the top programs in the area. I want the guys to take hockey seriously and to have it in their minds that they play hockey for the Hun School and that is a big deal. You don’t stop in February and just pick it up again in November.”

HEAVY TRAFFIC: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Lior Levy, center, encounters some heavy traffic in the paint in recent action. Last week, Levy tallied a team-high 12 points in a losing cause as 12th-seeded PHS fell 50-47 at No. 5 Ocean Township in the first round of the Group III Central Jersey sectional. The loss left the Little Tigers with a final record of 12-13. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Playing at Hamilton with a chance to win the CVC Valley Division title outright, the Princeton High boys’ basketball team came up short.

“It was a setback,” said PHS head coach Jason Carter, reflecting on the February 24 contest that saw the Little Tigers fall 53-38.

“We got out of the gate slowly and got down 14-2. It was too many points down to recover. Hamilton has talent and they seem to peak at the right time.”

Looking to put that disappointment in the rear view mirror, PHS worked overtime to prepare for its clash at Ocean Township in the first round of the Group III Central Jersey sectional.

“We were looking to bounce back from the Hamilton game,” said Carter.

“We had Ocean scouted out and had a detailed scouting report. We saw them play Point Borough and we watched a half-hour of video on them the night before. We felt we could pressure them and cause some turnovers.”

The 12th-seeded Little Tigers put No. 5 Ocean under pressure, battling hard before falling 50-47 with junior Lior Levy scoring a team-high 12 points and senior Davon Black adding 11.

“We played them straight up, it was an up and down game,” said Carter, whose team trailed 24-22 at half and outscored Ocean 16-13 in the fourth quarter.

“We had a shot with 14 seconds left; we got a wide open look on a 3-pointer but came up empty. Maybe we should have gone for a two but you have to trust your instincts. A few weeks earlier against WW/P-N we were down late and Scott Bechler hits a 3-pointer to give us the win.”

The Little Tigers have come farther than Carter expected in producing an encouraging 12-13 campaign.

“I think it was completely positive,” said Carter, noting that the team did tie Hamilton for the division title.

“Having a new roster, I had no expectations going into the season. The team just formed on the second day of tryouts; some of the guys had played together before but they were not a team.”

In Carter’s view, senior leaders Matt Hoffman and Black played a key role in molding PHS into a team.

“I couldn’t be prouder of two seniors,” said Carter. “They had confidence in themselves; they listened to the coaches and believed in what we were saying.”

Carter gained more and more confidence in Hoffman as the season unfolded.

“Hoffman had a big year; he averaged 12 points and had several games with two or three 3-pointers,” said Carter.

“He had 25 points against Pennington. I didn’t expect him to put up those kind of numbers.”

Black, for his part, put his heart into every game, shouldering a lot of responsibility at both ends of the court.

“Davon ran the offense, distributed the ball, and finished,” said Carter. “He covered the other team’s best athlete every night and then was faced with double teaming when we had the ball.”

The influence of Hoffman and Black rubbed off on their younger teammates. “I think a lot of guys wore the varsity jersey for the first time and took advantage of the opportunity,” asserted Carter.

The PHS corps of juniors has the opportunity to be something special.

“We need the juniors to keep improving,” said Carter, whose junior group includes Jordan Phelps, Scott Bechler, Elliot Golden, Ellis Bloom, and Peter Schulman in addition to Levy.

“We need to scrimmage as much as possible and the guys need to play AAU. As Michael Jordan says, great players become great when no one is looking. They need to work on their own games. They have got to want it and I think they do.”

EXTRA EFFORT: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Patrick McCormick heads up the ice in recent action. Last Thursday, sophomore defenseman McCormick scored a goal in the last minute of regulation as 16th-seeded PHS forced overtime in its clash against top-seeded Kinnelon High in the second round of the state Public B tournament. PHS went on to lose 3-2 in the extra session to end the season at 15-7-2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When the Princeton High boys’ hockey team edged Rumson-Fair Haven in the first round of the state Public B tournament to earn a shot at top-seeded Kinnelon High, the PHS players were fired up for the challenge.

It didn’t take long for the 16th-seeded Little Tigers to prove last Thursday that they were going to pose a major challenge to the powerful Colts, jumping out to a 1-0 lead after first period in the game played at the Skylands Ice World in Stockholm.

“We got off to a really good start; I wouldn’t say that we were dominating them but we were playing really well for us,” said PHS head coach Tim Campbell, who got the early tally from senior star Will Greenberg.

“We played like there was no tomorrow. We usually play up to the competition. They are the biggest, fastest team we have seen and we skated with them. It was so much fun to watch.”

The Little Tigers yielded a goal in the second period and then fell behind 2-1 with 2:33 remaining in regulation. While PHS could have been satisfied with hanging in there, the plucky squad kept skating hard.

“We pulled Josh [Berger] from goal with a minute left and Patrick [McCormick] scored with 31.5 seconds left to force overtime,” recalled Campbell. “At that point, I really thought we were going to beat them.”

But the Little Tigers’ upset bid fell short as Kinnelon cashed in on a power play in the extra session to pull out a 3-2 victory.

“We had to take a necessary penalty in the overtime; they had a guy all alone in front of the net,” said Campbell, whose team ended the winter with a final record of 15-7-2.

“He would have buried it so we had to pull him down. They just barely scored on the power play.”

In the wake of the disappointing defeat, Campbell urged his players to be proud of their effort.

“Other than winning, which everyone would choose, this was Plan B,” asserted Campbell, who got 32 saves from goalie Berger in his finale.

“The best way you could go out is losing to the No.1 seed in overtime. I told them to walk out of the locker room with their heads held high. They can be upset that the season is over but not upset about how they lost.”

It is going to be upsetting for Campbell to say goodbye to his trio of seniors, Greenberg, Berger, and Kirby Peck.

“The three seniors are really important to us; it is going to be a big loss,” said Campbell.

“Josh was a four-year starter and Will and Kirby have been go–to players for us. They will be sorely missed.”

PHS has a solid foundation in place with such returners as Matt DiTosto, Gabe MacGregor, Mike Wasson, Bence Stipsicz, John Reid, and the McCormick brothers, Patrick and Connor.

“All the underclassmen now know what it is like to be where we want to be in the postseason,” added Campbell.

“You are taking bumps and bruises in December and January then playing your best hockey in February. We have established ourselves as one of the dominant programs in the league, going to three straight county finals. They know this is what PHS wants to do every year.”

While Campbell and his players wanted their year to last a little longer, the Little Tigers produced one of the more rewarding seasons in program history.

“Last year was special, doing what we did with that group of seniors,” said Campbell.

“There was something extra with this season. Everything we got, we worked so hard for. Nobody expected us to do what we did so it was really sweet. We proved we could win without last year’s seniors.”

HOMECOMING DANCE: Mie Graham steps through the defensive zone last Saturday for the Duke University women’s lacrosse team as it faced Princeton at The Class of 1952 Stadium. The former Princeton High standout and junior defender for Duke enjoyed her homecoming, helping the Blue Devils edge the Tigers 12-9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It was a long-awaited homecoming for Mie Graham but she didn’t get to spend much time at home.

Last Saturday, the former Princeton High star athlete returned to her old stomping grounds as a starting junior defender for the Duke University women’s lacrosse team which was facing Princeton at The Class of 1952 Stadium.

“This was definitely on my calendar,” said a smiling Graham, who was cheered on by her parents and some former PHS teammates.

“It was fun knowing that the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team was here. I had talked to coach [Christie] Cooper before the game and she told me they were all coming out. I was excited to come up here and play. It is just weird staying at a hotel when you are at home. We were at the Marriott Forrestal last night.”

The 5’8 Graham had a lot of fun as the day unfolded, helping a stingy Duke
defense hold the fort as the fifth-ranked Blue Devils beat Princeton 12-9.

For much of the game, Graham was matched up against Princeton’s leading scorer Jaci Gassaway and she stepped up to the challenge, helping to hold the Tiger star to just one goal.

“We tend to share our matchups but in terms of size and strength that is kind of how our coaches matched us up against attackers,” explained Graham.

“Gassaway and I match up well against each other. I enjoy playing on the crease and she is one of the quarterbacks of the offense behind the cage. So that is someone I ended up seeing a lot.”

Graham was quick to point out that she got plenty of help from her colleagues on the Blue Devil defensive corps.

“We lost one of our star defenders, Bridget Nolan, who tore her ACL; a lot of us are upperclassmen who have seen a lot of time before so we are lucky in that we are adjusting to losing Bridget,” said Graham, who has picked up seven ground ball and caused three turnovers so far this season for the 5-2 Blue Devils.

“We are not subbing too much on the defense, the four of us are basically playing the whole game but it is good for our
consistency. Playing with Molly [Mackler] in the cage, we all feel so comfortable together right now. I feel like we are all at the same level of maturity right now and we are all really working well together so it is really a unit.”

Displaying the stick skills that made her a potent scorer for PHS, Graham also helped trigger the Duke offense with some good clears out of the defensive zone.

“I think it is a trust thing playing on the field I didn’t play much last year or the year before,” said Graham, who was going to get to spend one day at home this week after Duke played Stony Brook on Monday.

“This year, Molly can throw me a good clear and I can get it up the field. That is a great thing about Duke. Our transition has always been such a pride thing for us; we really move the ball up the field well. We put in all the work in practice. These are things that I know how to do and that I have been doing for years so it is just trusting that and having confidence.”

DOG BITES: Princeton University men’s hockey player Rob Kleebaum heads up the ice in recent action. Junior forward Kleebaum tallied five points on three goals and two assists last weekend but it wasn’t enough as 11th-seeded Princeton fell 2-1 to No. 6 Yale in a best-of-three ECAC Hockey first round playoff series. The Tigers lost 4-2 to the Bulldogs on Friday and then came back the next day with a 5-4 win on overtime to force a decisive third game. Yale came through in Game 3 on Sunday, topping the Tigers 7-3 as Princeton ended the winter at 9-16-7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Having gone 0-7-1 in its last eight games with Yale, the Princeton University men’s hockey team had reason to dread its trip to New Haven last weekend to face the Bulldogs in the first round of the ECAC Hockey playoffs.

But Princeton head coach Bob Prier and his 11th-seeded Tigers liked their chances in the best-of-three series with the sixth-seeded Bulldogs.

“I think the guys felt confident going in; we prepared as much as we could,” said Prier, whose team had lost 5-2 to Yale just a week earlier as it wrapped up regular season play.

“We wanted to give them positive reinforcement going into the weekend. We showed a ton of clips where we exposed Yale the last time we played them; we had 13 goal mouth opportunities.”

Unfortunately for the Tigers, Yale took advantage of its chances around the goal in the opener on Friday night, jumping out to a 2-0 lead.

“Our achilles heel all year was that we came out flat,” said Prier. “When we don’t start slowly, we generally win. We need to get that jump and adrenaline going before the game. They came out hard but we played pretty darn well after that.”

With Rob Kleebaum scoring a goal and assisting on a Jack Berger tally, the Tigers narrowed the Yale lead to 3-2 early in the third period. The Bulldogs, though, tacked on an empty net goal to hold on for the 4-2 win.

“We put together the line of Kleebaum, Berger, and Marc Hagel; they are all big, strong guys,” said Prier.

“They really controlled the puck; it seemed like they would have it 40 seconds at a time. They were mucking and grinding; that was a really nice playoff line.”

A night later, the Tigers broke through against the Bulldogs, pulling out a 5-4 overtime win. Princeton built a 2-0 lead after two periods and then weathered a storm in a wild third period before an Andrew Calof tally 33 seconds into the extra session gave the Tigers the win and forced a decisive third game.

“I am really proud of the way the guys played; we really dominated a lot of that game,” said Prier.

“We gave them a 5-on-3 late, that was a matter of a young team being too emotional. Calof elevated the level of his play, we were lucky to have him on that 2-on-1 in overtime. In the last two games, he showed that he can be one of the elite players. He had two goals in each game. He didn’t have his best game on Friday and he really responded. “

In the third game, Princeton fell behind 3-0 midway through the first period and fought an uphill battle from there, ultimately succumbing 7-3.

“I don’t think we played poorly in the first period, they were just really precise on the shots that they did have,” said Prier, whose team ended the season with an overall record of 9-16-7.

“It was back and forth after that. In the third period, we had a 4 x 4 and we pulled the goalie and had opportunities. It was 5-3 and we continued to battle back. They got an empty net goal and then scored on a power play. We fought right to the end.”

For first-year head coach Prier, getting to take the helm of the Tiger program was a special opportunity.

“I was so fortunate to have a group of guys like this to fall into,” said Prier, a former star and longtime assistant coach at St. Lawrence “As far as my personal development, I learned so much.”

Prier acknowledged that he needs to apply some of the newly-acquired knowledge to get the Tigers back on the winning track.

“We were organized but we have to be better organized,” said Prier. “I need to do a better job of managing things from day to day. I learned a lot from what transpired this season. It starts at the top; I could not have worked harder but I need to work smarter.”

In Prier’s view, the Tigers have the talent in place to get back to the top of the ECACH.

“I am very excited about the future, we will have additional competition with a good group of young guys coming in,” said Prier, whose program is losing just three seniors in Hagel, Derrick Pallis, and Brodie Zuk.

“We will have 10 juniors next year; that is a big difference from having 10 sophomores.”

With the Tiger players having adjusted to a different coaching approach, the team won’t have to go through a transition phase next winter.

“Are we all on the same page?- probably not but we will be,” said Prier.

“A lot of kids made progress getting on the same page. There is not a lot of difference between winning and losing in this league. To win consistently, you have to be focused every practice and play consistently. You can’t turn it on like a light switch. You have to have habits ingrained and we have to get there. There is no better group to do it, they are fabulous guys.”

BEDEVILED: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Barb Previ heads to goal last Saturday against Duke. Senior attacker Previ scored two goals in a losing cause as Princeton fell 12-9 to the Blue Devils. The Tigers, now 1-2 and ranked 17th nationally, will open Ivy League action, when they play at Brown (2-1 overall, 1-0 Ivy) on March 10. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It was a rough week for the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team.

On Wednesday evening, the Tigers fell 11-10 in double overtime to Rutgers and then three days later Princeton came up short again in a 12-9 loss to No. 5 Duke.

But in assessing the loss to Duke on Saturday, Princeton head coach Chris Sailer sees some good weeks ahead.

“I thought we really showed a lot of fight; it was definitely a much improved effort from Wednesday night,” said Sailer, whose team dropped to 1-2 in the wake of the defeat to the Blue Devils.

“I think we are almost there. We just made a few critical mistakes that gave them a goal or took away an opportunity from us.”

The Tigers spent Saturday playing from behind as they battled to overcome those mistakes. Princeton fell behind 5-2 and then fought back to trail Duke by just 6-5 at halftime.

After getting outscored 5-1 in the early stages of the second half, the Tigers mounted another rally, scoring three unanswered goals to get within 11-9. But with Duke controlling possession, Princeton could never get closer than that.

In Sailer’s view, her team ran out of time at the end. “Duke did a great job of stalling the ball, they killed clock,” said Sailer.

“We were able to get out and get a little pressure on them and get a couple of more chances towards the end. We just couldn’t get another score. I was really pleased with the way our kids competed today.”

The Tigers need to fine tune a few aspects of their game in order to get ahead of the competition.

“We have to spend more time on penalty situations; we were 0-for-2 and they were 2-for-2 and that’s the game right there,” said Sailer.

“We had a couple of mistakes on plays, whether it was ground balls around the crease or a slide here or there. And then the draw controls, we have been working on them a lot this week and we are going to continue to. We have to win more of the ones that are on the ground or in the air so that is going to continue to be a focus.”

Sailer liked the focus displayed by senior All-American defender Lindsey deButts.

“I thought Lindsey did well today,” said Sailer of deButts, who had four caused turnovers and two ground balls on the day. “She had some big steals; she really stood out.”

On offense Princeton showed balance as Barb Previ, Sarah Lloyd, and Cassie Pyle scored two goals apiece with Mary-Kate Sivilli, Jaci Gassaway, and Charlotte Davis chipping in one each.

“It was a lot of different people scoring; it wasn’t one person doing all the scoring,” said Sailer.

Promising freshmen Erin McMunn and Erin Slifer also made an impact, showing skill and savvy.

“McMunn had two nice assists; she is definitely fitting in,” added Sailer. “Slifer is a stud through the midfield area; she is mature and very strong.”

With Princeton starting Ivy League play with a game at Brown (2-1 overall, 1-0 Ivy) on March 10, Sailer believes her team will be stronger after taking its lumps this week.

“We are excited to have the whole week to practice before we open our Ivy League season,” said Sailer, whose team is ranked 17th nationally in this week’s Inside Lacrosse media poll.

“We are in the first week of competition; we are going to continue to learn and improve all season long.”

FEELING THE BURN: Princeton University men’s basketball player Jimmy Sherburne puts the pressure on Harvard’s Brandyn Curry in Princeton’s recent win over the Crimson. The emergence of junior back-up guard Sherburne as a key reserve has given a spark to the Tigers. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As the Princeton University men’s basketball team started this season by losing five of its first six games, junior back-up guard Jimmy Sherburne struggled to find his niche on the squad.

Sherburne got off on a down note this winter, making six turnovers in 23 minutes off the bench as Princeton fell to Wagner in its season opener.

After that inauspicious outing, Sherburne was locked to the bench, playing a total of four minutes in the Tigers’ next five games.

But impressing the Princeton coaches with his defensive prowess and improving on the offensive end, Sherburne has worked his way back into the rotation, emerging as a valuable reserve.

Last weekend, Sherburne showed how far he has come this season. On Friday, he scored six points and had three rebounds in 18 minutes as Princeton topped Yale 64-57. A day later, the 6’3, 197-pound Sherburne contributed six points on two 3-pointers and two rebounds in 16 minutes to help the Tigers rout Brown 81-47.

The victory lifted Princeton to 18-11 overall and 9-4 in Ivy League play and put it in the spoiler’s role. While Harvard finished the weekend at 12-2 in league play to knock Princeton out of the league race, the Tigers could thwart archrival Penn’s bid for a title shot. The Quakers brought an 19-11 overall record and an 11-2 Ivy mark into the foes’ annual regular season finale slated for March 6.

Mirroring the progress made by Princeton this winter as it rebounded from its shaky start, Sherburne has gained a comfort level on the court.

“It sounds like a long time ago,” said Sherburne, a native of Whitefish Bay, Wisc., reflecting on his poor performance against Wagner.

“I have been buying into what the coaching staff wants me to do. Coach [Mitch Henderson] called me a little stubborn this year and I see why he may say that. I think mostly I am starting to feel comfortable with my role.”

In assessing his improvement, Sherburne also credits the help of his fellow players.

“My teammates have faith in me and they are bringing me along too; that has been big for me,” added Sherburne, who has tallied 42 points, 30 rebounds, and 22 assists in 235 minutes of action this winter. “The more I play out there, the more I just feel that I can help out a little bit.”

Princeton head coach Henderson believes Sherburne has turned into a big help for the Tigers.

“If there is anybody on the team who cares about us doing well and winning and what he can do to help, it is Jimmy,” said Henderson.

“I ask him to do a lot of things that are hard to do in practice. I ask him to play on the scout team, I ask him to play important roles for the team and he doesn’t ever say anything so Jimmy is important for us going forward.”

Henderson liked the way his team kept playing hard against Yale as it took a 37-28 halftime lead and weathered a second half storm as the Bulldogs knotted the game at 40-40 with 12:11 remaining in regulation.

“I loved the way we played to start the game,” said Henderson, who got 18 points in the win over Yale from Ian Hummer with T.J. Bray chipping in 10 points, five rebounds, and two assists.

“This is a good Yale team with [Jeremiah] Kreisberg, [Greg] Mangano, and [Reggie] Wilhite. All three guys can score in different ways. We just got away from what we do a little bit. There was a lid on the basket. Mack Darrow’s 3-pointer on that pass from Ian put us up 43-40 and it kind of let the air out of the whole tension we were creating for ourselves.”

Junior star Hummer saw the victory over the Bulldogs as a mirror image in reverse of Princeton’s 58-54 loss at Yale in early February.

“We brought it close up at Yale and they had a few key possessions that put them over the top,” said Hummer.

“We had a couple of plays in this game that put us over the top. We are playing really good basketball. I think if we play as a team, we can make those plays at the end of the game.”

Henderson, for his part, likes the way his team has progressed even as it has fallen out of contention for the league crown.

“We are trying to treat every game as a game that is important to us and our development,” said Henderson.

“As long as we keep doing that I think we are in good shape. We haven’t really talked about what-ifs, I don’t think these guys think about it much. We are just focused on trying to get better.”

For Sherburne, focusing on getting better helped him reach a breakthrough in his Tiger career.

“During the Harvard game at home, I had a moment where I felt like I wasn’t worrying about anything else,” recalled Sherburne.

“I just felt like I was playing and I think that is important for me to just go out there and play. I felt like this is it, this is how I want to feel and it is a good feeling.”

MAN UP: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Mike Grossman flies up to fire a shot in recent action. Last Friday, senior star Grossman tallied two goals and two assists in a losing cause as Princeton fell 10-8 to second-ranked Johns Hopkins. Princeton, now 2-1 and ranked 14th in this week’s Inside Lacrosse media poll, faces No. 8 North Carolina (4-1) on March 10 in the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Mike Grossman and the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team couldn’t find a rhythm offensively in the early stages of their clash against visiting Johns Hopkins last Friday evening.

The 11th-ranked Tigers were outshot 19-7 by No. 2 Hopkins in the first half and found themselves trailing 5-2 at the half.

“I thought we could have come out and played better in the first half,” said senior attacker Grossman, reflecting on a night which saw the Tigers generate zero shots in the second quarter.

“I thought we had jitters; we kept tossing the ball away. I honestly feel like I didn’t break a sweat in the first half, which is a little frustrating.”

The Tigers, though, did make the Blue Jays sweat in the second half, cutting the Hopkins lead to 7-5 at one point and then making a late surge in ultimately falling 10-8 before a crowd of 2,407 at Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium.

Princeton’s formula for getting back into the game was basic, according to Grossman.

“I thought we just had to toughen up and play harder on ground balls and get the ball,” said Grossman, in assessing a second half which saw Princeton outshoot the Blue Jays 29-10 and hold a 16-13 edge in ground balls.

“We just didn’t have the ball enough in the first half and you really can’t win without the ball.”

Once Princeton got the ball, Grossman did some good things with it. “I felt nice when we had the ball,” said Grossman, a 6‘1, 195-pound native of Potomac, Md. who tallied two goals and two assists on the evening.

“I have been playing both attack and coming from the box. Today I was getting a pole more often than not so that was a change. It is just six offensive guys; it works well. They definitely switched up the matchups which was the first time we had seen that but the offense works when we are all moving well together.”

In Grossman’s view, the Tigers, now 2-1, are moving in the right direction. “We know we can play with them, but we beat ourselves which is frustrating,” said Grossman, who has seven points this season on three goals and four assists.

“They are a very good team. It is just one game and it is the third game of the season. There is a long way to go. We showed plenty of promise today.”

Princeton head coach Chris Bates concurred, noting that the Tigers hung in there against the powerful Blue Jays even though they weren’t at their sharpest.

“I thought we did a decent job in the second scratching and clawing; I think Hopkins did a decent job making plays when they needed to,” said Bates.

“We don’t feel like we played well anywhere but we were within striking distance. It is a missed opportunity. There are some positives we can take out of this. It was a B- effort. If we play an A effort, we can go toe-to-toe with anybody.”

Bates likes the effort he is getting from Grossman in his final campaign.

“Mike is a senior; I feel like he is embracing a leadership role and wants to make a play,” said Bates.

“What Michael does isn’t pretty but he has got a great IQ. He has got his head up; he sees the slide and distributes the ball well. We are comfortable at the end of the game putting the ball on his stick. He’s ready to take that next step in terms of being a fourth quarter guy that makes big plays.”

In the game Friday, the Blue Jays came up big in the early stages of the fourth quarter, going on a 4-1 run to build a 10-5 lead.

“I give Hopkins credit; they inverted and they possessed the ball,” said Bates who got two goals from Jeff Froccaro in the loss to Hopkins with Tom Schreiber chipping in a goal and two assists.

“That’s Hopkins and it forces you out of rhythm but then we broke down at times. They capitalized when were a step slow. I thought they shot the ball relatively well.”

With Princeton facing No. 8 North Carolina (4-1) on March 10 in the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Bates is hoping his team will capitalize on another shot at a traditional lax power.

“That is a big stage; I think that will be good for our guys,” said Bates. “They are talented, they are deep and well coached. We’ll start thinking about them in a day or two. I think the guys will be ready. It is team that we have had great games with the last two years. It’s top-ranked team in that venue so I think we’ll be excited to make amends for this one.”

In Grossman’s view, the Tigers’ corp of seniors are ready to lead the way as Princeton looks to get back on the winning track.

“It is a big class, there are 13 of us,” said Grossman. “When we came in here we made it our goal to go to the Final 4 and do whatever it takes to get there and we obviously haven’t done that so that’s the ultimate goal. We feel with so many kids contributing that we know what it takes. We just can’t have the jitters that we had today.”

February 29, 2012

SENIOR MOMENT: Princeton University women’s basketball star Lauren Edwards drives to the hoop in recent action. Last Saturday, star guard Edwards came up big on her Senior Night, scoring a career-high 29 points as Princeton topped Dartmouth 94-57 to clinch the Ivy League title outright and a berth in the next month’s NCAA tournament. The Tigers, now 21-4 overall and 11-0 Ivy, play at Yale on March 2 and at Brown on March 3 before hosting Penn on March 6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Lauren Edwards is not one to grab the spotlight for the Princeton University women’s basketball team, preferring to go about her business in an understated manner.

But last Saturday, senior guard Edwards took center stage as Princeton hosted Dartmouth, needing a win to clinch the Ivy League title outright and a berth in the next month’s NCAA tournament.

Prior to the game, Edwards and her two classmates on the team, Devona Allgood and Laura Johnson, were honored in the program’s annual Senior Night ceremony.

“It was certainly really emotional, walking up there with my family and seeing where the program has come in our four years,” said Edwards, a native of Los Angeles.

“Seeing how it has transformed into this great tradition of having a great team and a program that really prides itself on working hard, practicing hard, and earning our wins. It is really emotional and it was great to see.”

Riding that wave of emotion, Edwards hit the court and produced one of the greatest games of her career, pouring in a career-high 29 points as the Tigers rolled to a 94-57 win over the Big Green, improving to 21-4 overall and 11-0 Ivy and ensuring a third straight trip to March Madness.

“This was one of my last two home games of the season and I have to give all I have got,” said Edwards, who hit 11-of 16 shots on the evening, including 7-of-10 from three-point range.

“I am probably not going to play after Princeton so this is my last time playing in an organized sport. I love this team and all I want to do is go out with a bang.”

The Tigers were banging in their shots as they ended up going 36-68 (52.9 percent) from the floor.

“I think a lot of the shooters were clicking today, we were sharing the ball well,” said Edwards, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for her weekend which also saw her score 17 points in a 74-44 win over Harvard on Friday.

“Laura Johnson came out and she hasn’t really started much. She starts tonight and came out with a 3-pointer. After that I knew it was going to be a good night.”

One of the greatest moments of the night for Edwards came when she left the game for the final time and hugged each of the Princeton coaches on her way down the bench.

“It was great to whisper a little something in their ear, telling them how they have helped me through the years and how much I have grown because of them,” said Edwards, who now has 1,273 points in her career. “I love them and I love this team.”

Edwards has loved having an impact on her younger teammates this season as a senior leader.

“This is a team that I have to lead now, Devona and I as co-captains and LJ [Johnson] as the other senior,” said Edwards, who is a finalist for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award.

“We had to take control of our underclassmen and teach them the way our seniors taught us. The seniors set the foundation when we came in with this new coaching staff with a whole new system of play, a whole new offense, and a whole new defense. They taught us and we want to play it forward.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart appreciated the leap of faith her seniors took when they decided to join the program.

“They took a big chance on me and the university and on the program and they have only done right by it,” said Banghart.

“I had never coached a college basketball game when they committed and in our first year, we were 7-23 and now this. We have three straight titles, they could become the only class in Ivy League history to have two undefeated seasons. They have done it the right way, they have done it by celebrating each other. They have done it by a great work ethic. They have done it by setting high standards. These are really special people.”

Banghart was thrilled to see Edwards experience such a special game on Senior Night.

“Her parents are here; they came all the way from Los Angeles for this,” noted Banghart.

“I think she is peaking at the right time; she is not the kind of player who likes to stand out in front of everybody. I think she realizes now that the next step for our program is that she does need to step out in front of everybody and it’s nice to see. She did look great tonight, we felt we could get her some open looks and we did and she knocked them down. She is catching fire late; it is the right time for us.”

While another perfect Ivy campaign would be nice, Banghart has her sights set on catching fire in the NCAAs.

“Every game is its own entity and as long as we are making steps forward, I don’t really care about the undefeated record,” said Banghart, whose team plays at Yale on March 2 and at Brown on March 3 before hosting Penn on March 6.

“I care that my team gets better every single day and that we are the better team that day on the opening round.”

For Banghart, the joy of winning the Ivy title is tempered by her desire to see Princeton make an impact on the national stage.

“All my coaching friends say enjoy it,” added Banghart, reflecting on winning the title.

“I say I am trying to but I see such a high ceiling for this team that I want to just keep going. To win one at a school is pretty special but to win three in a row shows the collective effort of this group year after year. We have a great staff; we work hard for it and we want to enjoy it.”

Edwards, for her part, enjoyed the title clinching moment and the post-game celebration which saw the Tigers cut down the net on the basket near their bench.

“It is great; it is not something we take for granted,” said Edwards. “We work hard to get it. We work for every win and every championship. We punched our ticket today; we are pretty excited about that.”

In order to produce an exciting NCAA run, Edwards knows that the Tigers have to keep working hard.

“The last two years we have had to play more athletic teams and we haven’t been able to match their athleticism,” said Edwards, referring to NCAA first round losses to Georgetown last year and St. John’s in 2010.

“This year we want to focus on being able to do that and keeping up our intensity, especially the intensity that we have had in the preseason, playing against top-ranked teams like Stanford and Delaware.”

UPLIFTING START: Princeton University men’s lacrosse players Mike MacDonald (No. 26) and Tom Schreiber, second from left, lead the celebration after a goal last Saturday in Princeton’s season-opening 12-6 win over Hofstra. Freshman attacker MacDonald scored three goals in his college debut while sophomore star Schreiber tallied a career-high seven points on three goals and four assists. MacDonald was later named the Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Week along with Brown’s Nick Piroli while Schreiber was chosen as the Ivy Player of the Week. In upcoming action, No. 11 Princeton hosts second-ranked Johns Hopkins on March 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last spring, Tom Schreiber became the first freshman to lead the Princeton University men’ lacrosse team in both goals and assists.

But while Schreiber earned Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors for his production as he scored 29 points on 16 goals and 13 assists, he didn’t get a lot of help as the Tigers stumbled to a 4-8 record.

Last Saturday in the 2012 season opener against visiting Hofstra, Schreiber again triggered the Tiger offense, scoring a career-high seven points on three goals and four assists.

But this time, the 6’0, 190-pound sophomore got plenty of help as the Tigers pulled away to a 12-6 victory over the Pride as Princeton christened its new Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium before a crowd of 1,222.

Schreiber certainly noticed a difference from last year. “We flowed a lot better; everybody was in the right spots,” said Schreiber, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for his performance.

“Guys were breaking off ground balls. We were getting transition goals. It was a team effort and things went our way finally. We had a lot of assisted goals today. Everyone was moving out there and everyone is moving the ball. It doesn’t matter who is putting it in the net; we are  just happy to put 12 goals on the board.”

Schreiber helped get things flowing for the Tigers as he saw time at attack and in the midfield.

“Like any other player, you love being out there, “ said Schreiber, reflecting on his dual role.

“I did that a little bit in high school; I didn‘t come off the field much. If I can keep in good enough shape, hopefully I can continue to do it and get a lot of looks.”

Over the offseason, Schreiber worked hard to refine the game he showed during his freshman campaign.

“Shooting is one thing I worked on a lot; I struggled with that a little bit today,” said Schreiber. “And just like anybody else, I worked on getting stronger and faster.”

Freshman attacker Mike MacDonald credited Schreiber with being a catalyst of Princeton’s strong effort in the opener.

“Tom Schreiber stepped up and put some in the net,” said MacDonald, who scored three goals in his college debut and was named the Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Week along with Brown’s Nick Piroli. “He kept us calm and kept us going.”

In MacDonald’s view, the offensive effort Saturday is a harbinger of things to come.

“It is still early but I think our offense is going to click,” said MacDonald, a native of Georgetown, Ontario, who starred at Trinity Pawling.

“We have a new system under coach Bates [Princeton head coach Chris Bates] here. We are all working hard everyday with it in practice and I think it is going to go really well.”

MacDonald admitted that it took a while for him to get his game going in his first taste of college action.

“I was a little bit nervous going in there; I threw a couple of balls away at the start,” said MacDonald.

“There were a couple of guys who helped me through it and calmed me down. Coach Bates trusted me and left me out there even when I threw balls away. I think when the nerves calmed down a little bit, it went my way.”

Princeton head coach Bates trusted his offense to fire away. “We talk a lot about generating shots,” said Bates, whose team outshot the Pride 39-20 on the day.

“At halftime we have 17 or 19 shots. We are like OK because that is how an offense gets a rhythm. We backed up the cage and shot it relatively well.”

With Princeton coming off a rough season and having played unevenly in preseason scrimmages this year, Bates was looking to see some fire in his players.

“I saw the emotion; it started with face-offs and ground ball stats,” said Bates, whose squad won 13-of-22 face-offs and had a 28-19 edge in ground balls.

“If we are going to shoot the ball 39 times and out-face-off and out- ground ball teams, we are going to be very good. Defensively I thought we were OK, that will be a work in progress. I think we learned that when the lights go on, we have got some guys who can play.”

There is no question that Schreiber has emerged as a prime-time player for the Tigers.

“Tom is going to make plays but he is going to make other people around him better,” said Bates.

“He is a kid who wants the ball on his stick. At attack, when Michael Grossman had played down there with Jeff Froccaro and Mike MacDonald, you don’t have a real quarterback. With Tom back there a little bit, he is going to get the ball in transition and settle everybody down.”

In Bates’s view, the win should have a settling effect on a program that had its confidence shaken in 2011.

“It is huge; it is relief in some ways,” said Bates, whose team is ranked No. 11 in this week’s Inside Lacrosse media poll and will face No. 2 Johns Hopkins on March 2.

“It is the first one so you just don’t know. You watch us play last week and you think we are OK. You just aren’t sure what you are going to get when the curtain comes up. I thought the energy was really good. We played through mistakes. It was a good way for us to start; it gives them  some validation for hard work. It has been  a lot in the off season and for them to just come and get off on the right foot is a nice relief.”

Schreiber, for his part, believes Princeton is headed in the right direction.

“The coaches just keep pushing us; we did a lot of shooting,” said Schreiber. “We finally got the offense going, we got our confidence up. Once we start scoring early, we got a little momentum.”

PIVOTAL POINT: Princeton University men’s squash player ­Kelly Shannon goes after the ball in recent action. Senior star Shannon battled through injury to help Princeton edge Trinity 5-4 two weeks ago in the College Squash Association (CSA) national team championship, ending Trinity’s 13-year run as national champion. Shannon, playing at No. 4, won his match to break a 4-all tie and clinch the crown for Princeton. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

After dealing with a series of injuries over the first three years of his career with the Princeton University men’s squash teams, Kelly Shannon reached the breaking point last winter.

“I was very close to quitting,” said Shannon, who had hurt his back as a freshman and then dealt with a nagging hip problem the next two seasons.

“I went into coach’s office and told him I was not having fun doing this. I was not part of the team, I couldn’t go back to dinner with the other players because I was always rehabbing and icing.”

Shannon decided to stick it out and that turned out to be a fortuitous decision for the Tiger program and squash history.

After returning for his senior campaign this winter and battling through more injuries, Shannon recorded the victory that took down a dynasty, winning the final match as Princeton edged perennial champion Trinity 5-4 in the College Squash Association (CSA) national team championship, ending the Bantams’ 13-year title run.

As Shannon and his teammates gathered before the final at Jadwin Gym on February 19, there was a sense of confidence among the Tigers.

“It was a pretty electric atmosphere; we were all ready, playing music in the locker room and making jokes,” said Shannon, a native of Calgary, Alberta who plays at No. 4 for the Tigers.

“In the past we felt we had the talent to win; we thought we had five wins in us if everything fell into place but we didn’t get ourselves in position to do it. Our win at Harvard in the regular season was huge. We built from there; we were on fire at the end. The biggest difference is that we felt like we earned it, not just waiting for it to happen.”

Even though Princeton was down 4-2 when Shannon took the court for his match against Trinity’s Reinhold Hergeth, he had a feeling that things would turn out OK.

“I actually thought it might go that way,” said Shannon, who was joined in the final shift by teammates Todd Harrity at No. 1 and Dylan Ward at No. 7.

“The biggest mismatches for us were in the final shift, matches that I thought would go our way the majority of the time. I was still nervous but confident.”

Shannon had to work through some nerves in pulling out the first game of his match.

“I came out, the crowd was crazy and the new ball was flying,” recalled Shannon, who fell behind early before rallying to a 13-11 win in game one.

“It was tough to settle in right away. I relied on my match experience. I got into my zone; I was playing my game.

After taking the second game 11-8, Shannon hit a rough patch in the next game.

“I go up 5-0 and then he fights back to 5-5,” said Shannon. “I was getting a little nervous; he made me work hard. He was starting to hit the wall, I didn’t have to do anything special, just tighten up my game.”

As Shannon pulled ahead, he didn’t want to get tighter and tried to take his mind off the gravity of the situation.

“I had in the back of my mind that it was the last match but I wanted to block that out,” said Shannon.

“I blocked it out intentionally but when I saw people come over from Todd’s match, I kind of knew what was going on.”

When Shannon prevailed 11-9 to win the match and the elusive title, he didn’t know quite how to react.

“It was so surreal, I thought I would celebrate more,” said Shannon, who had won his match in the epic 2009 CSA final which saw Princeton drop a 5-4 heartbreaker to Trinity.

“I felt like a weight was lifted. We had talked about this for years. It was hanging over the squash world for 13 years. Now I can breathe again, I wanted it so bad.”

For Shannon, the win made his struggles worthwhile. “I have had a tough college career; I have had hip injuries the previous two years,” said Shannon, who will end his college career this weekend by competing in the CSA individual championships at Amherst College.

“I then had a shoulder injury in the fall and twisted my ankle when I got back from that. I found a routine to keep the hip injury calm. What is key for me is feeling comfortable, getting my timing back, and playing my game.”

Longtime Princeton head coach Bob Callahan was comfortable having the title match resting on Shannon’s shoulders.

“I couldn’t think of another guy I would want out there other than Shannon when it was 4-all,” asserted Callahan, who is in his 30th season at the helm of the Princeton program and last led the Tigers to the national crown in 1993.

“This year, he was all about the team. He cared so deeply; he called me everyday and said what could I do to help the team.”

The win over Trinity touched past and present Princeton team members.

“I got 500 e-mails the next day,” said Callahan. “The former players were so happy, they had been saddled with the losses to Trinity. Mauricio Sanchez (former Tiger star and 2009 Princeton alum) sent me an e-mail, saying it was the happiest day of his life. I think it is wonderful for the program and wonderful for the kids. We had nine competitors, everyone won at least two matches in the tournament.

Like Shannon, Callahan wasn’t sure how to celebrate after the win. “I wouldn’t allow myself to breathe until the last point,” said Callahan. “It was not elation, it was a relief. I could exhale after all these years. Paul [Trinity coach Paul Assaiante] was the first guy to come and give me a hug.”

Callahan has gained a lot of affection for his championship squad. “They showed guts all season and a belief that they could make it happen,” said Callahan, who credited Shannon and classmates Chris Callis, Clay Blackiston, and David Pena with providing inspired senior leadership.

“On one Sunday in 2012, things came together for a bunch of good kids who had been working hard for a long time. They brightened the lives of former Princeton players and supporters.”

The championship campaign has left Shannon with memories that will last for a long time.

“I will never forget this year’s team, not because we won but because we went through so much together,” said Shannon.

“Chris Callis and I were the senior captains and we were going to whip the team into shape but once you get down to it we couldn’t do everything because of schedules and people missing practices. We did do as much as we could. We had mandatory runs for the first time; we did lots of track work and did some tough fitness stuff. We got through the whole thing as a team. Different people stepped up at different times. We came together as a team. The chemistry was there and that is what made the difference.”

SLINGSHOT: Princeton University women’s hockey player Denna Laing heads up the ice in recent action. After spending much of last week in a sling due to a collarbone injury, sophomore forward Laing came up big as the seventh-seeded Tigers faced second-seeded Harvard in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals over the weekend, tallying two goals and an assist in the series. Laing’s heroics, though, weren’t enough as the Tigers fell 5-3 on Friday and 4-3 in overtime the next day to finish the season at 12-15-4 overall. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Denna Laing personified the grit that is a hallmark of the Princeton University women’s hockey team when the Tigers played at Harvard last weekend in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals.

Playing through several injuries, Laing tallied two goals and an assist in the matchup between seventh-seeded Princeton and the No. 2 Crimson.

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal admired Laing’s courageous effort. “I give Denna a lot of credit; she was banged up with a couple of bad ribs and then she hurt her collarbone in practice,” said Kampersal.

“She was in a sling most of the week and then comes out and plays like that. She is a pretty tough kid.”

While Princeton showed its toughness in the series, it wasn’t enough as the Tigers dropped two nailbiters to get knocked out of the playoffs and end the season at 12-15-4 overall.

In the opener on Friday, the Tigers battled back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 to tie the game at 3-3 early in the third period only to lose 5-3. A day later, Princeton scored a goal with 1:04 left in regulation to knot the game at 3-3 and force overtime. But the Crimson found the back of the net 17:59 onto the extra session to win the game and the series.

Kampersal was proud of his team’s pluck. “We didn’t start off well and that was a bummer,” said Kampersal, noting that the Tigers found themselves trailing 2-0 after the first period of the opener.

“We played five strong periods after that and stormed back in both games. The kids did a really good job; I think we put a scare into them.”

The Tigers, though, couldn’t close the deal when they had the Crimson on the ropes.

“On one hand, I think we deserved better,” said Kampersal. “But when we had chances to put them away, we didn’t hammer the nail into the coffin. In the overtime, we had three golden opportunities and didn’t score. They had two and they scored on their second.”

For Kampersal, the finality of the loss was heartbreaking. “It is tough this year with the quality of the kids in the locker room,” said Kampersal. “You don’t want it to end. You feel a void the next day and then you have to start to pick up the pieces.”

Over the course of the winter, Princeton pieced together things under trying circumstances.

“I am proud of the way we played this season,” asserted Kampersal. “We were shorthanded the whole year. We played 13 skaters in some games and 14 in others. The kids were resilient. They were flexible with changing positions; everyone contributed.”

The team’s group of seniors certainly made a major contribution this season and over their careers. “The seniors brought a lot of heart and soul; they leave a big void for leadership and as players they really helped us out,” said Kampersal of his Class of 2012 which includes Ann-Marie Elvin, Julie Johnson, Heather Landry, co-captain Charissa Stadnyk, co-captain Paula Romanchuk, Danielle DiCesare, and Rachel Weber.

Going forward, the Tigers
will have a different look without those seniors. “I didn’t have to do a ton of coaching; they were an experienced group,” said Kampersal, who was recently named to serve as the head coach of the U.S. Under-18 women’s national team.

“We will have a younger group next year; we will spend more time on the basics.”

In Kampersal’s view, those younger players have the potential to give Princeton’s foes a hard time.

“If the sophomores have a good summer and stay healthy, they can be a dominant group,” asserted Kampersal.

“We need to get stronger physically; we knocked off the puck at times. We really need to make a commitment to the off-ice training.”

While the result last weekend was disappointing, the Tigers achieved one of their main goals coming into the campaign.

“We said at the beginning of the year that we were not going to worry about results as much this season and worry more about effort and giving your best everyday,” said Kampersal. “If you do that, you can leave the room with your head held high.”

As the Princeton players left Cambridge last weekend, they had every reason to hold their heads high.

ONE-TWO PUNCH: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Matt Kuhlik, right, enjoys a break with classmate Derek Colaizzo last Sunday as PHS topped Scotch Plains-Fanwood 109-61 in the state Public B championship meet. Kuhlik and Colaizzo dominated the sprint events at the meet. In the 50 freestyle, Colaizzo was first while Kuhlik took second. Kuhlik then placed first in the 100 free with Colaizzo coming in third. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The celebration started early for the Princeton High boys’ swimming team as it faced Scotch Plains-Fanwood last Sunday afternoon in the state Public B championship meet.

After PHS senior stars Victor Honore and Addison Hebert finished 1-2 in the 100-yard butterfly, the two classmates chest-bumped on the deck of The College of New Jersey Aquatics Center and let out shouts of joy.

Above them in the jam-packed balcony, the Little Tiger supporters started rhythmically chanting “P-H-S, P-H-S, P-H-S.”

Although there were still six events left in the meet, PHS already led 47-31 and the rout was on.

The Little Tigers went on to produce a performance for the ages that won’t soon be forgotten, rolling to a 109-61 victory to earn the program’s first state title and cap a 17-0 season.

In the process, PHS swimmers won nine of 11 events and set eight school records.

The new bests came in the 200 medley relay (1:35.89, produced by Will Stange, Colburn Yu, Victor Honore, and Derek Colaizzo), 200 individual medley (Addison Hebert, 1:56.53), 50 freestyle (Colaizzo, 21.12), 100 butterfly (Honore, 49.79), 100 free (Matt Kuhlik, 46.93), 500 free (Peter Kalibat, 4:38.83), 200 free relay (Colaizzo, Hebert, Harun Filipovic, and Kuhlik, 1:28.85), and the 100 breaststroke (Yu, 1:00.16).

Senior standout Kuhlik was taken aback by the team’s dominance. “I was really surprised, that is the only way to put it,” said Kuhlik, noting that PHS had lost 90-80 to Scotch Plains in last year’s B final.

“We were coming in here thinking that it was going to be a really close meet. They swam well but we just basically had the best swims we could possibly have. I thought we went fast Tuesday (beating Summit 104-66 in the Public B semis) but this was a whole other level.”

Sprint specialist Kuhlik produced two of the more blazing efforts, taking second in the 50 freestyle just behind classmate Derek Colaizzo and then winning the 100 free.

“My 50 free really got me excited because I had my best time there,” said Kuhlik, who clocked a 21.47 time in the 50 before coming up with a 46.93 effort in his victory in the 100.

“I was going into the 100 free trying to beat Joe Dunn, knowing how fast he is. I felt amazing during my swim and had my best swim there too.”

In Kuhlik’s view, this year was PHS’s time to finally be the best. “Going into the year, the expectations were really high obviously,” said Kuhlik.

“I think we definitely wanted to make it back. Obviously this is the seniors’ last chance to win and we really wanted to win it. This is probably one of the best teams that we are going to have for a while because we will be graduating a lot of seniors. We have other good swimmers but we are going to be a pretty young team next year. I think they will do well but this was our year to win it here.”

Kuhlik and his classmates have developed bonds as they pursued their goal of a state title.

“We are all really good friends; we push each other to go faster,” said Kuhlik, whose fellow seniors include Jacques Bazile and Harun Filipovic in addition to Colaizzo, Hebert, and Honore.

“I can remember being freshmen and we were all really excited because we did well and won sectionals or whatever. We have really grown as a group together. It is going to be pretty sad losing all these guys next year.”

One of the team’s good young swimmers, sophomore star Will Stange, said the seniors have helped the team grow into something special.

“It is a good competition between the seniors and the rest of the team because they push us and we push them,” said Stange, who posted a victory in the 100 backstroke and took third in the 200 free. “It just works out well, it is constructive. We just get each other faster.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand, for his part, was stunned by the speed displayed by his swimmers on Sunday.

“I think everybody was surprised by each other’s performance today,” said Hand.

“Certainly they did give their best when it was needed. I guess if you boil it down, that is the most important thing. The most surprising thing was just how fast they were today and so I am always going to remember that. Coaches are extremely lucky to get a team that came together like this over the last two years. There was a huge amount of good fortune just having a constellation of guys like this together at the same time.”

Hand had the sense that his squad was building toward an explosive effort.

“They really did pull together as a unit over the last few weeks,” said Hand.

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

The fact that the seniors wrote such a historic final chapter was especially heartening for Hand.

“I couldn’t be more happy for them,” said Hand. “I thought a couple of times recently that they would know later on in their lives, even if they had lost today, that they had earned two state finals and performed really well and they had something to be proud of right there. Everybody knows just how great it feels to be the champion; I am so glad that they could have it.”

Coming into the rematch with Scotch Plains, Hand had the feeling that it was going to be a close meet.

“There didn’t seem to be any reason to switch up much from the Summit meet, the matchups seemed fine,” said Hand.

“We certainly got more points than we thought we would but that was because, as a lot of kids said during the meet, they were swimming out of their mind. It is an overused phrase, I am sure, but I haven’t seen many things like it.”

Kuhlik, for his part, was thrilled to see his PHS career end on such a high note.

“It is a great way to end it because every year, I think we have gotten  better,” said Kuhlik, who will be swimming next year at Emory University.

“Last year, it was special just to be in the state final because we weren’t expected to be that good and this year we came in with really high expectations so this was just a great way to end it. I couldn’t think of a better way to end my senior year than winning the state championship.”

SAVING TIME: Princeton High boys’ hockey goalie Josh Berger gloves a save in a recent game. Last Monday, senior netminder Berger made 24 saves to help 16th seeded PHS top No. 17 Rumson-Fair Haven 4-2 in the first round of the state Public B tournament. The win advanced the Little Tigers, now 15-6-2, to a second round contest at top-seeded Kinnelon (17-7) on March 1 at the Skylands Ice World in Stockholm. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Senior goalie Josh Berger didn’t want his time with the Princeton High boys’ hockey team to end last Monday when the Little Tigers hosted Rumson-Fair Haven in the first round of the state Public B tournament.

“This high school career has been really good to me,” said Berger. “Personally, this team means a lot; it is a really special experience. As a senior, you want it to keep going; you don’t want to go home.”

Instead, Berger helped make sure that Rumson went home, recording 24 saves as 16th-seeded PHS won 4-2 over the No. 17 Bulldogs at the Mercer County Park rink.

The win advanced the Little Tigers, now 15-6-2, to a second round contest at top-seeded Kinnelon (17-7) on March 1 at the Skylands Ice World in Stockholm.

Berger knew that it wasn’t going to be easy to subdue Rumson. “The shore teams are always gritty,” said Berger. “They are aggressive and fast. We were relieved to stick right with them, play smart hockey, and get the win.”

Some big first period saves by Berger helped set the tone of the contest. “I got off to a good start and made some lucky saves,” said Berger. “I got into a groove and just focused on the next shot after the next and just keeping them out and doing my job.”

The savvy Berger seems to do his job best when the post-season rolls around.

“I think February so far has presented itself with some ups and downs but I always look forward to the postseason,” said Berger.

“It is very exciting for me as a goaltender. I am really just anxious to prove myself a little more before I take my leave.”

In the view of PHS head coach Tim Campbell, Berger has proven himself to be a clutch performer.

“Josh is a postseason goalie, he really is,” asserted Campbell. “There is no question that he is a little inconsistent during the regular season but he finds his game in the postseason. He was a difference maker today. Late in that second period, if they would have tied it up, I think that would have taken a lot of momentum out of our game.”

The Little Tigers had to employ a physical game to hold off the Bulldogs. “We know now after this that we can be physical and that is all it takes, just one experience,” said Campbell, who got two goals and two assists from sophomore Mike Wasson as PHS overcame an early 1-0 deficit to post the win.

“I told them at intermission that these are the fun games. It is a physical, big boy game. We are not necessarily used to that but now we know that we are capable of bringing that part of the game. It is a lot of fun. If you are a teenage kids there is nothing more fun than going out and banging each other on an ice rink. It is good experience.”

It has been a rewarding experience for Campbell to guide his trio of seniors, Berger and forwards Will Greenberg and Kirby Peck.

“There are only three of them and they are so tight and such a close knit group,” said Campbell, who got a goal and two assists from Greenberg in the win over Rumson with Peck contributing an assist. “They want to play just a little more hockey and I want to coach just a little more hockey.”

PHS will have to play its best hockey of the season if it is to overcome the
challenge posed by powerful Kinnelon.

“What do you say, it is Kinnelon, it is the No. 1 seeded team in the state,” said Campbell.

“Honestly, and I mean this sincerely, I am looking forward to it and playing the best team in Public B. If you are going to go out, what better way to go out, not that I am expecting to go out. But if we do if we get bounced by the No. 1 team, I won’t lose any sleep over that. It is one of those no-pressure situations and I don’t mind them one bit.”

Berger, for his part, is primed for that situation. “I love playing as the underdog and really putting all the pressure on them,” said Berger.

“We can match ourselves up against them; they are a really top team in New Jersey. We will just play with heart.”

WARDING OFF: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey goalie Walker Ward makes a save last week in PDS’s season-ending 3-1 win over Malvern Prep (Pa.). Senior Ward came up big in his finale, making 24 saves as the Panthers ended the winter with an 18-5-1 record. (Photo by Rob Klein)

As goalie Walker Ward enjoyed being one of the three players honored at the Senior Ceremony last week for the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team, he got in a reflective mood.

“It was sort of surreal; my whole high school career flashed in front of my eyes,” said goalie Ward, who was feted along with classmates Garrett Jensen and Tyler Olsson.

“I was remembering back to freshman year when I was a forward and coming up to now being in goal. It has been such a journey; I have grown so much from it. Hockey has really made me a better person. Not always getting the start and being injured, this has taught me that you have to stay mentally strong and always stick with it.”

Having been sidelined for seven weeks due to injury, Ward got to demonstrate that mental strength, getting the start in the team’s finale against Malvern Prep (Pa.) on February 21.

“Coming off the injury I was so excited,” said Ward. “I was so ready to get back in the net because I haven’t played since January 3. The guys were so supportive and they made it that much easier on me.”

Ward, in turn, certainly provided some good support for the Panthers between the pipes, making 24 saves as PDS skated to a 3-1 victory over the Friars.

Looking sharp from the start of the game, Ward had a good rhythm throughout the contest.

“Making the early saves got me some confidence,” said Ward. “The third period I started getting really energetic. I was skating back and forth to the board. With us putting the puck in the net a couple of more times, I just got more confident. I knew that I could keep us in the game if we had a two-goal lead so I wasn’t worried.”

The win gave the Panthers a final record of 18-5-1, as they ended the season by winning three straight games after suffering a disappointing 4-3 loss to Pingry in the state Prep semifinals.

In Ward’s view, PDS’s strong finish speaks volumes about the team’s character.

“I think the fact that we lost that game and came back and won the last three games of the season shows who we are as a team,” asserted Ward.

“We could have given up and said the season is done, these are three random games. But we stuck with it and did it for each other. We ended up with a great record and we are really happy with how it came out.”

PDS head coach Scott Bertoli was happy to see Ward come up big in his finale.

“Unfortunately Walker didn’t get in as many games this year because he has been hurt since the second week of January,” said Bertoli.

“But the kid competes and he wants to be out there. We talked about it yesterday. I wondered about him not playing for several weeks and was that going to be something that was going to hold him back but he felt confident, he knew he could do the job. It was great for him to go out with that type of experience and feel good about himself.”

For Bertoli, coaching his trio of seniors has been an uplifting experience. “I could have gone on and on about those three; in my mind, they epitomize what we are trying to do here,” said Bertoli.

“They are first rate student athletes, they have all matriculated from the PDS middle school so PDS hockey has been in their blood for a long time. I am sure if you asked each of them; this is what they wanted to do. They have aspired to play varsity hockey at PDS and they have been fortunate enough to do it for four years here and they have really watched the transformation of this program over the course of the four years.”

Bertoli credits Jensen with being a catalyst of that transformation. “It starts with Garrett, I could have told you after watching him skate two or three times his freshman year that that kid was going to be a captain senior year,” said Bertoli.

“He is everything you want in a team player and especially in a captain. The kid leaves it on the ice every single game. You never have to worry about what kind of effort that kid is going to bring. He is fearless.”

In assessing Olsson, Bertoli noted that he struck fear into PDS’s foes.

“Tyler has really been the rock of that defensive corps this year; he is a physical presence out there,” added Bertoli.

“I think what I am most proud of with him is that he was able to mold his game to his strengths. We wanted to play up-tempo and that is not one of his strengths but it didn’t hold him back. He was able to do things and he was able to transition in the neutral zone. I think he really figured out how to play both his game and the game that we wanted to play as a team.”

The win over Malvern Prep was icing on the cake for the Panthers. “I told the team yesterday at practice that you have already defined the season in my mind,” said Bertoli.

“It has been a great year, you have done things that no one has done in a long time and this is just how you are going to end your season. Are you going to end it on a high note and go out and have a good feeling or are you going to have a little sense of disappointment. Had we not won this game, we would have gotten over it. It wasn’t going to define who we were.”

In Bertoli’s view, consistency defined this year’s team. “Last year was a good team; we won a lot of big games but we lost a lot of bad games,” noted Bertoli.

“This team was steady and gave a good effort from start to finish. It was one bad period against Pingry which took away a near perfect season. We were consistent with strong effort, day after day, game after game.”

Ward, for his part, relished the daily interaction with his teammates.

“The environment in the locker room, that is the one thing I will always remember,” said Ward, who is heading to Hobart where he plans to walk on to the men’s hockey team.

“A win is a win and whoever loses, loses. But in there is where the family really is; we are all in there together, talking about everything.”


Boys Swim Team

(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Members of the Princeton High boys’ swim team celebrate last Sunday after they beat Scotch Plains-Fanwood 109-61 in the Public B state champions meet held at The College of New Jersey. The win gave the PHS program its first state title and capped a 17-0 season. In the process, Little Tiger swimmers won nine of 11 events and set eight school records.

 

PARIS SHOW: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball head coach Paris McLean energetically instructs his players last Wednesday evening as they played Rutgers Prep in the state Prep B title game. Although fourth-seeded PDS fell 72-30 to the second-seeded Argonauts, McLean was proud of the 16-11 season produced by his team as it advanced to the Prep B championship game for the first time since 2004. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After absorbing a 72-30 drubbing at Rutgers Prep last Wednesday evening in the state Prep B title game, the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team didn’t hurry off the court.

Instead, the PDS players stood as one and watched as the Argonauts received the championship trophy and enjoyed a raucous celebration with their fans.

For Panther head coach Paris McLean, making his players stick around was designed to serve as motivation for the future.

“We can come back here,” said McLean, whose team finished the winter with a 16-11 record as it made its first appearance in the Prep B championship game since 2004.

“We have to work hard and do the things we need to do in the off-season and stay together as a team. That is why we watched Rutgers Prep celebrate. That is a very, very good basketball team.”

The loss in the championship game to the second-seeded Argonauts didn’t take away from the fact that it has been a very good season for the No. 4 Panthers.

“I told our boys to be proud of what they did,” said McLean, whose team upset top-seeded Morristown-Beard 48-42 in the Prep B semis.

“You look at our program over the past three years; we go from 11 wins to 15 wins to 16 wins and the title game. If that is not progress, I don’t know what is.”

McLean acknowledged that his team was in over its head against a defending champion Rutgers Prep, who had beaten the Panthers 73-46 in the regular season meeting between the rivals.

“Any time you play against five guys who are going on to the next level, it is tough,” said McLean. “It was men against boys, it was their seniors against our sophomores.”

The young Panthers did push Rutgers Prep in the second quarter, putting together a 10-7 run to narrow the gap to 27-16.

“We made a run, I think we cut it to 11,” said Mclean. “It was a stop and a bucket, a stop and a bucket. But they shot the lights out. They can shoot, they can rebound, they are big and they are athletic.”

PDS junior star Davon Reed showed some big game and athleticism, scoring 23 points in a losing cause.

“He had three bodies on him,” said McLean of Reed, who is averaging 24.3 points a game this season and has received more than 15 offers to join Division I college programs.

“If that is not one of the best players in the country, I don’t who is. I am not just talking about Xs and Os, to be that talented but to not start barking at your teammates or belittling them and to just to pick them all up consistently, that is character above anything.”

In McLean’s view, the Panthers have the talent in place to pick up a lot of wins next season.

“Obviously you have the centerpiece in Davon,” said McLean “You have Deante [Cole], you have Langston [Glaude]. We brought some kids off the bench tonight that never saw the varsity floor. We are young but we are good. We have kids who love the game and want to work hard and get better.”

After watching Rutgers Prep enjoy the spoils of victory, the tears flowed in the PDS locker room.

“If you walked in there, you wouldn’t see a dry eye,” said McLean. “It is not just because they are upset about the loss but they understand our time together this season is over. We spend a lot of time together; it is a tight team. We will start up again real soon, there is no rest for us.”


February 22, 2012

SURPRISE ATTACK: Princeton Day School girls’ basketball star Molly Rubin dribbles upcourt last Wednesday in PDS’s 42-39 win over Ewing in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals. Senior point guard Rubin scored 12 points to help the 12th-seeded Panthers upset No. 4 Ewing. Two days later, ­Rubin scored 18 points but it wasn’t enough as PDS fell 54-28 to top-seeded Hopewell Valley in the MCT semis. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Molly Rubin’s shooting hand was taped but that didn’t stop her from firing away for the Princeton Day School girls’ basketball team as it played at Ewing last Wednesday in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals.

The senior point guard, who has been playing through a sprained right hand, came up big as 12th-seeded PDS stunned No. 4 Ewing 42-39.

Rubin coolly dribbled through Ewing’s high-pressure defense and scored 11 points to help spark the upset.

“I think we worked pretty well today and played our hardest,” said Rubin. “We really wanted to win.”

The Panthers brought plenty of confidence into its uphill battle against powerful Ewing, having upended fifth-seeded WW/P-S 47-45 in the first round of the county tourney two days earlier.

“We had some good momentum coming into this game,” said Rubin.

“A 12th-seed has never gotten to the county semis so we have proved something.”

PDS rode that momentum to a solid start against Ewing, jumping out to a 13-8 lead after the first quarter. The Blue Devils, though, outscored the Panthers 13-9 in the second quarter to narrow the Panther lead to 22-21 at the half.

Down the stretch, the game turned into a nailbiter as the teams traded the lead several times. PDS hit six-of-eight free throws in the last 30 seconds and got a spectacular blocked shot from Emily Goldman right before the buzzer to pull out the unlikely win.

Rubin wasn’t surprised that PDS came through in the clutch at the charity stripe.

“We all made our free throws,” said Rubin, who hit two key foul shots with 20.9 seconds left. “We have been shooting free throws a lot in practice.”

The win was even sweeter considering that PDS has gone through an injury-riddled campaign which saw its roster sliced to just six players for much of the winter.

“Everyone has stepped up and played all different positions,” said Rubin.

“I have never played post before; I think it has been a team effort with people stepping up where there has been a void.”

PDS head coach Mika Ryan had the sense that her players were ready to step up in the Ewing contest.

“I think people fail to appreciate the difficulty of our schedule,” said Ryan, whose team’s Cinderella run ended last Friday when it fell 54-28 to top-seeded Hopewell Valley in the MCT semis to end the season at 9-12.

“We have played a really tough schedule; we might look like skinny suburban girls but we are pretty tough.”

The Panthers didn’t waste any time showing their toughness against Ewing as they seized the early momentum.

“I thought we had a pretty good start,” said Ryan. “The key to our start is that we didn’t let them score in transition. We knew if we started that, it would be a long night for us because that really ignites them and gets them going. I thought we did a terrific job of getting back.”

In the final moments of the contest, the Panthers executed well at both ends of the court.

“The free throw shooting was key and we didn’t turn the ball over,” added Ryan.

“We did a good job of containing No. 4 [Candice Scott-Mason] and we didn’t give up anything easy in transition.”

Another key to the victory was the play of the battle-tested Rubin and classmate Sarah Godwin, who led all scorers with 19 points.

“I knew that as long as they were playing hard, our two seniors weren’t coming out,” said Ryan.

“I have sat them out at times this year because they haven’t always performed but they were magnificent tonight.”

In Ryan’s view, Rubin’s performance exemplified the grit PDS has displayed this season.

“I thought Molly played a very good floor game; she made good decisions,” said Ryan.

“She handled the ball well and was good handling the press. She took shots when she had them. She didn’t force anything. That was an issue five or six games ago when she was just trying to do too much. We have asked her to do too much this year. She has to be the point guard, the center, and guard the other team’s best player.”

The Valparaiso-bound Godwin, who returned to the lineup in January after being sidelined by a knee injury since last season, gave the Panthers a major spark when she hit a three-pointer and a second long jumper in the first quarter.

“That was key because she is kind of a streaky shooter,” said Ryan.

“For her to get off to such a good start was key for us; it got her confidence going. It was nice to see.”

It has been nice for Ryan to guide a group with so much character. “It is hard for me to even talk about it; we have hung together all year through so many ups and downs,” said Ryan.

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

Rubin, for her part, has enjoyed her PDS hoops experience. “I love the PDS program,” said Rubin.

“Mika has been great and the team has been great. It is definitely exciting to do this with people like my teammates. It is really fun. It is a good way to end the season and go out strong.”