September 30, 2020

ABOVE THE REST: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Nick Petruso, right, soars high to head the ball in a game last fall. Senior Petruso, who led the Colonial Valley Conference (CVC) in goals last year with 21, will be the go-to finisher for the Tigers again this fall. PHS is slated to start its 2020 campaign when it plays at Hamilton West on October 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Going with a young lineup on 2019, the Princeton High boys’ soccer team got better and better as the season unfolded.

“We won 14 games and led the CVC (Colonial Valley Conference) in shutouts; Nick [Petruso] was the leading goal scorer in the league,” said longtime PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe, who guided his team to a 14-7 record last fall.

“We went to the Mercer County Tournament semi and the sectional quarterfinal. That is an excellent season.”

Dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the guidelines put in place for competition, PHS has been rolling with the punches as it looks at an unusual season in 2020.

“It is more complex getting things started each day and then debriefing and releasing the team at the end of the training session,” said Sutcliffe, whose team is scheduled to start its 2020 campaign when it plays at Hamilton West on October 3.  more

BUSHMASTER: Princeton High girls’ soccer star Greta Bush prepares to boot the ball up the field in a game last year. Senior defender and team co-captain Bush will provide energy and skill for the Tigers. PHS opens regular season play by hosting Hamilton West on October 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For the Princeton High girls’ soccer team, its preseason training has centered on getting the most out of every moment on the field.

With the 2020 season in doubt for months due to COVID-19 pandemic, the PHS players were more than appreciative when the Board of Education gave the green light for fall sports to proceed.

“They are thrilled; we keep on focusing on the fact that look we are here and who would have really thought and that we would be on the field in person with games next weekend,” said Rodriguez, whose team is coming off an 8-6-3 campaign last fall and starts its 2020 season by hosting Hamilton West on October 3.

“We are maximizing this opportunity and really, really enjoying it. The girls are positive about it. We have gotten through our team selections, we have announced our captains (seniors Lily Gabriello, Phoebe Frankel, and Greta Bush along with junior Sophia Lis) and we are excited for the season to happen.”

For the most part, practices have been business as usual once the players get on the field.

“It has been great, being with the girls and having practice,” said Rodriguez. more

GETTING A LEG UP: Hun School boys’ soccer player Jack Tarzy displays his skills in a game last fall as he controls the ball under pressure. Junior defender/midfielder Tarzy figures to be a key player for the Raiders this fall. Hun begin its 2020 campaign by hosting Life Center Academy on October 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Pat Quirk wasn’t sure if his Hun School boys’ soccer team would ever hit the field for the 2020 season.

With rivals Peddie and Lawrenceville canceling their fall sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Quirk was relieved and grateful when Hun gave its teams the green light to start their season.

“We are extremely lucky that the school is letting us have this activity,” said Raider head coach Quirk, who is in his 13th season at the helm of the program and guided the squad to a 6-10-3 record last fall as it advanced to the state Prep A semifinals and the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals.

“I think we are the only MAPL (Mid-Atlantic Prep League) school that is trying to have competition.”

While Hun is savoring the chance to compete, it is being cautious as it trains.

“Our school was very conservative when it came to allowing us to practice over the summer,” said Quirk.

“They gave us a week in August and then we hit that state two-week dead period. They allowed us to come out and we started tryouts on September 14. We just split into a junior varsity and varsity on Wednesday so the varsity has only really been playing together for the last three days. That is the biggest thing we tell them — you guys hold the season in your hands. Basically, we are still playing with masks on when we are practicing.”

The Raider players are thrilled to be back together. “They are excited, especially the seniors,” said Quirk, whose team starts its 2020 campaign when it hosts the Life Center Academy on October 3.

“They saw what happened to the spring athletes. We just keep saying that the goal is going to look different this year as a whole. The overall goal is always just to get better each day and to have fun with your friends and just to enjoy the opportunity that we have.”

A lot of players should get the opportunity to see action this fall for Hun.

“As long as I can remember, we haven’t had this deep a roster,” said Quirk.

“We have 19 kids and I would say one through 18 would probably see the field any day. It is going to be tough; we are going to have to find spots for guys.”

At forward, Quirk has a number of guys who could fill that spot in senior Amar Anand, sophomore Massimiliano Verduci, senior Levin Willems, and junior Hector Suriel.

“Amar can score a lot of goals so we could put him up there top as a senior and leader,” said Quirk.

“We are still toying with a couple of ideas. Mas scored a couple of goals for us last year and he is looking pretty good. Levin can get mixed in up there. Hector is a new kid from the Dominican who just got out of quarantine, he was late getting to school. We are expecting him to play up top as well.”

Across the midfield, junior Osman Bayaztoglu, sophomore Tyler Stark, junior Aden Spektor, freshman Conor Frykholm, and sophomore Will Zeng are in the mix.

“We have Osman in the midfield and maybe Tyler and Aden,” said Quirk.

“Conor is a freshman that came up from the middle school and has been doing well in practice. Will will probably play somewhere in the midfield.”

On defense, Quirk will be looking at junior Jack Tarzy, junior Lucas Mazzoni, junior John Balian, junior A.J. Torres, and freshman Joey Bucchere, among others.

“We see Jack right now in the back, he has played there a little bit in the past and he does well with the game in front of him and distributing,” said Quirk.

“Also in the back will be Aiden or Tyler; whoever is not in the midfield will probably play back there. Lucas has been pretty strong for us on the left side. He will be playing in a wingback area. John will also be on defense and A.J. will be too. We have a new freshman Joey who reminds me of Gibson Campbell ’20. He has got pace and a lot of ball control.”

Senior star goalie Alex Donahue will be controlling the defensive end of the field for Hun.

“Alex has one more year, he got bigger and he worked hard,” said Quirk.

“As soon as gyms were open, he got going and was back into it. He is a voice in the back. He can control his back line and distribute the ball.”

While 2020 figures to be an unusual year as Hun navigates the COVID-19 situation, Quirk believes his players will make the most of things.

“It is just enjoying the opportunity that we have and working to come together as a team,” said Quirk.

“We are going to get this opportunity right now to train with each other and to really grow as a unit and really build this bond that we continually talk about. It is just supporting each other, being good teammates with each other.”

September 23, 2020

IN TRAINING: Members of the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team go through some drills at a recent preseason training session. The Panthers will open their 2020 campaign when they host Monroe on October 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

While the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team won’t get the chance this fall to go for its seventh straight state Prep B title as the tournament has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it could still be a memorable season for the squad.

“From a coaching standpoint, it is challenging because you are not playing in a tournament so you don’t have any hardware on the line,” said PDS head coach Pat Trombetta, who guided the Panthers to a 16-3-1 record in 2019 as the program won its sixth straight state Prep B title and also advanced to the Mercer County Tournament semifinals.

“One of our goals every year is to defend our crown but the girls know that won’t happen this year so they just want to keep up the competitiveness of the program. Our No. 1 goal this year is to complete an entire season. They know that everybody has to participate and do their part as far as all of the protocols. They want to win as many games as possible and be competitive.”

The squad’s core of seniors is setting a positive tone as they look forward to competing in their final high school season.

“We have six seniors and with the spring season being canceled, they obviously had concerns because some of that impacted those who played spring sports,” said Trombetta, who team starts the 2020 season by hosting Monroe on October 1. more

ON THE BALL: Princeton Day School field hockey player Jadyn Huff, left, controls the ball in a game last year. Sophomore forward Huff figures to be a go-to finisher for PDS this fall. The Panthers start their 2020 season by hosting the Pennington School on October 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

There is a sense of gratitude for the Princeton Day School field hockey team as it has toiled through its preseason training.

With PDS having closed to in-person learning in March and the fall season in doubt for many months, the Panthers players were excited to get the go-ahead to start practice on August 24.

“It has been good for the kids to get back doing a fall sport and having a preseason after not being in school for almost five months,” said PDS head coach Heather Farlow, who guided the Panthers to an 8-7-3 record in 2019 and a trip to the state Prep B final.

“It is a nice change for all of them. It is challenging in so many ways but the kids have been really resilient and are just appreciating the connections with each other so much more.”

Farlow appreciates the leadership she is getting from senior captains Gianna Gasparro, Skye Harris, Olivia Phillips, and Aaliyah Sayed.

“I have four seniors returning from last year and because I knew that we were going to have to have smaller groups, these four seniors worked with me all summer,” said Farlow, whose team begins regular season action by hosting the Pennington School on October 2. more

SAVING GRACE: Stuart Country Day School field hockey goalie Audrey Blandford makes a save in a recent preseason workout. Junior star Blandford will be anchoring the Stuart defense again this fall. The Tartans start their 2020 season by hosting the Hun School on October 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Having started coaching the Stuart Country Day School field hockey team in the mid-1980s, Missy Bruvik boasts a vast wealth of knowledge and experience.

But Bruvik has never seen anything like the 2020 preseason where she has been compelled to modify her tried and true coaching approach to incorporate COVID-19 protocols.

“I feel like because we were doing optional workouts in August, we used that time to learn how to best do some coaching to keep the kids engaged,” said Bruvik, who took a five-year hiatus from the program in the early 2000s to follow her daughter Kelly and son Ryan as they competed in college athletics in field hockey and golf, respectively. more

September 16, 2020

FAY DAY: Katie Fay enjoys some classroom time. Fay, a former standout swimmer at Duke University who came to Princeton Day School in 2009 and has helped run the school’s Annual Fund, Alumni Giving, and Capital Giving, became the PDS director of athletics and physical education in July. She is succeeding Tim Williams, who left the school this spring to take the same position at the University School of Milwaukee. (Photo provided by Katie Fay)

By Bill Alden

For Katie Fay, attending a retirement party for a beloved former swimming coach in 2009 proved to be a transformative experience.

As Fay, a former star swimmer at Deerfield Academy and Duke University who went on to the banking world, soaked in the testimonials to Hank Buntin, the longtime coach of the Summit YMCA Seals, she started re-examining the course of her life.

“There were hundreds of people who came out for his retirement just to say how he had impacted them and changed their lives,” said Fay.

“Listening to the stories and speeches that went on for hours, I thought ‘what am I doing now? I am not touching anyone’s life, I am not making any impact.’ It really made me think. I had always wanted to be at an independent school. If I stay in this, it is going to be one more bonus, one more promotion, and I am never going to get myself out.”

Inspired to make her impact, Fay began searching for a prep school job.

“I just starting to look at schools all over the country; I was applying to schools for jobs in admissions and advancement where I thought my skill set would be most transferable,” said Fay.

“One of the things I always asked when I was interviewing was how these schools feel about coaching. That was really important to me, not being a faculty member but being able to be engaged in the student side of life.”

Ending that search, Fay found a home at Princeton Day School, getting hired as the associate director of the Annual Fund in 2009.

“It was a beautiful campus, but it was the people that I met at the time,” said Fay, who became director of alumni giving a year later and was then named the director of capital giving and later joined the Thrive! Campaign as director of capital giving. more

GAME ON: Members of the Princeton High girls’ soccer team go through a training session before the 2019 season. Last week, the PHS athletes and coaches got the go-ahead from the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education (BOE) for a fall varsity season. The teams started preseason practices last Monday with games to begin during the week of September 28. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Val Rodriguez was on pins and needles as the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education (BOE) met last week to decide whether fall sports could go ahead for Princeton High varsity teams with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing.

“I was doubtful, I have to be honest,” said Rodriguez, the head coach of the PHS girls’ soccer team, reflecting on the September 8 meeting. “I remained as hopeful as I could be.”

Tiger football head coach Charlie Gallagher shared the concerns of his colleague as the meeting unfolded.

“I was nervous, some of the Board members that had some concerns talked initially before any Board member that spoke in the affirmative,” said Gallagher, noting the PHS fall coaches had formed a task force and met over the summer to formulate return-to-play plans and protocols along with Director of Athletics Brian Dzbenski. more

September 9, 2020

RETURN ENGAGEMENT: Benito Gonzalez fires a pitch in 2009 game during his career with the Princeton High baseball team. Gonzalez, who went on the pitch for The College of New Jersey baseball program, has returned to his old stomping grounds, teaching at the Princeton Unified Middle School and coaching the PHS junior varsity baseball team. In addition, he took the helm of the Post 218 American Legion baseball team, succeeding longtime coach Tommy Parker. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

By Bill Alden

Benito Gonzalez experienced a turning point in his baseball career as he headed into the latter stages of his Princeton High career.

“I enjoyed playing for the team, I felt much better about my junior and senior seasons,” said Gonzalez, a 2010 PHS alum.

“Looking back, I feel like that is where I turned a corner and started thinking more about playing in college and things like that.”

Gonzalez went on to play college ball for The College of New Jersey, developing into a star relief pitcher.

“I threw a lot of two seamers and sliders at first; it was something that coach noticed,” said Gonzalez, who went 4-4 in 40 appearances in his career with the Lions, posting an ERA of 3.73 with 40 strikeouts in 70 innings. more

FINDING THEIR STRIDE: A group of girl runners show their form at the Princeton Recreation Department cross country camp held in late August at Greenway Meadows Park. The coed program, run by Princeton High cross country head coach Jim Smirk, drew approximately 45 runners. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

With its dirt trails, steep hills, and manicured soccer fields nestled in a bucolic setting off of Rosedale Road, the Greenway Meadows Park is a superb training venue for distance runners.

Over the last two weeks of August, the park was teeming with runners as the Princeton Recreation Department held a two-week cross country program run by Princeton High cross country head coach Jim Smirk.

“When we found out that we were unlikely to have a school sponsored preseason, we really felt like there was an opportunity for us to provide them with some quality training and face to face time,” said Smirk, noting that the fall season is still in doubt due to COVID-19 concerns.

“Our goal was to provide a safe training environment and  with the opportunity to reconnect with each other. Our team is so important to each other and we wanted to do that.” more

September 2, 2020

SCHOLARLY APPROACH: Gigi Venizelos tags a runner in a 2019 game during her junior season for the Hun School softball team. While Venizelos didn’t get to compete in her senior year as the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she did receive a special honor, getting named as a recipient of the Trenton Softball Hall of Fame scholarship award. Star infielder Venizelos is headed to Colgate University, where she will be playing for its Division I softball program. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For Gigi Venizelos, traveling to Florida every spring for the Hun School softball team’s annual preseason trip proved to be a highlight of her high school career.

“I think what will stand out the most is how much the Quirks [head coach Kathy Quirk and assistant coach Bill Quirk] made the team and the program into a family,” said star shortstop and team co-captain Venizelos.

“Going down to Florida for the week before the season started was a staple in our team growth and becoming a family unit. I would say that is the most important thing of how much of a family we became.”

The jaunt to Florida this March will leave Venizelos with some unpleasant memories, as that is when she and her fellow seniors were called back to New Jersey and the players never saw the field together again as the season was ultimately canceled due to COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was tough, being the seniors, we were really looking forward to getting to play out our last season with the team,” said Venizelos. more

August 26, 2020

MORE TO COME: Paul Cooke showing his game face as he got ready for his sophomore season with the Swarthmore College baseball team. Former Princeton High standout Cooke has hit .267 with one homer and five RBIs over two abbreviated campaigns with the Garnet. (Photo by Brandon Hodnett, provided courtesy of Swarthmore College Athletics Communications)

By Bill Alden

Paul Cooke hasn’t been able to get in a complete season in his first two years with Swarthmore College baseball team, but he has still made an impact for the program.

As a freshman in 2019, former Princeton High standout Cooke hit .600 with six hits in 10 at-bats, one homer and four RBIs before getting sidelined for the rest of the season by an ankle injury.

This past spring, Cooke picked up two hits and an RBI before the season was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic, giving him a career batting average of .267 in college play.

Before he even took the field for his first game as a freshman, Cooke had developed a comfort level with the squad.

“I was really lucky to have six seniors my freshman year that were just really welcoming and did a great job of getting you up to speed and showing you the ropes,” said Cooke. more

STAGGERED START: Members of the Princeton High boys’ cross country team take off at the start of the Mercer County Championship meet last fall. While the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) gave the green light to fall sports last Thursday, there is no certainty that PHS athletes will be able to compete this fall. Under the NJSIAA plan, outdoor sports — football, cross country, field hockey, girls’ tennis, and soccer — can go ahead with practices to start on September 14 and competition beginning from September 28-October 2. At this point, Princeton Public Schools and private schools in town are still considering their options regarding the fall season. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

While the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) gave the green light to fall sports last Thursday, a slew of questions remain before it will truly be game on for Princeton schools.

Under the NJSIAA plan, outdoor sports — football, cross country, field hockey, girls’ tennis, and soccer — can go ahead. Practices can begin on September 14 with girls’ tennis to start competition on September 28 and cross country, field hockey, and soccer to have opening day on October 1. Football will start on October 2.

The indoor fall sports — gymnastics and girls’ volleyball — will be moved to a winter start with practices beginning on February 16 and games on March 3. Winter sports teams can begin practice on December 3 with competition starting on December 21.

The NJSIAA, though, set forth a key caveat, noting that “all of these dates are subject to change based on guidance from the governor and Department of Health.”

An important date looming for Princeton High sports is September 14 as that is when Princeton Public Schools officials are slated to decide whether the district will be allowed to go ahead with a fall sports season.

With the neighboring West Windsor-Plainsboro district having already opted out of fall sports, PHS Athletic Director Brian Dzbenski recognizes that the PPS has other priorities besides sports.

“We in Princeton are really focused on bringing the kids back into the building as soon as possible and having teaching and learning going on,” said Dzbenski, noting that under the current district plan the school year is scheduled to start remotely on September 14 with the PHS students not slated to be on campus until October 19. more

August 19, 2020

HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE: Chase Ealy, left, battles a foe during recent action in the Mercer County Amateur Master Soccer League (MCAMSL) at Mercer County Park. Former Princeton High boys’ soccer star Ealy helped organize a team of PHS alums, the Princeton Wanderers, to play in the MCAMSL this summer. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

It has become a summer tradition for Princeton High boys’ soccer alums to meet up when they are back in town for some spirited pick-up games and camaraderie.

“Over the summer whenever we are home, we will always get together and have a couple of beers and kick around,” said former PHS soccer standout Chase Ealy ’15. “We hang out and get to see each other again.”

But with the COVID-19 limiting field availability, Ealy and his buddies decided to enter a team in the Mercer County Amateur Master Soccer League (MCAMSL).

“We were having a really hard time finding somewhere to play casually so we said ‘you know what, this league already exists, why don’t we see if we can play in the league,’” said Ealy of the league which plays at Mercer County Park.

“A bunch of Princeton boys have always played in the league on other teams but this year I said we have enough guys that we could have a Princeton team. As we reached out to people, they were saying yes.” more

SMOOTH STROKE: Travis Petrone of the West Windsor-Plainsboro all-star team shows his hitting form last Friday in the Southern New Jersey Babe Ruth 13-year-old state tournament at Bacon Field in Hopewell. Outfielder/pitcher Petrone helped the WW-P squad battle hard as it fell 7-3 to Nottingham on Friday and 8-5 to Ewing/Hopewell a day later to get knocked out of the double-elimination competition. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

When the West Windsor-Plainsboro all-star squad fell behind 5-0 to Nottingham in the second inning of the opener at the Southern New Jersey Babe Ruth 13-year-old state tournament last Friday evening, it could have thrown in the towel.

Instead, WW-P battled back, scoring three runs in the top of the fifth to narrow the gap to 5-3 in the game played at Bacon Field in Hopewell.

After Nottingham responded with two runs in the bottom of the sixth, WW-P got runners on first and third in the top of the seventh but the rally fizzled as it ended up falling 7-3.

“It was nice that the kids hung in there,” said WW-P manager Jason Petrone, whose roster included Princeton residents Eddie Kuczysnski, Michael Prete, Ben Walden, Alex Winters, and Travis Petrone. more

August 12, 2020

SEEING RED: Doug Davis shouts out instructions in a 2019 game during his tenure as the head coach of the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team. Davis, a former Princeton University men’s hoops star who guided PDS to its first state Prep B title this past winter, is heading down Route 206 to take the helm of the Lawrenceville School boys’ hoops program. He will be succeeding longtime Big Red coach Ron Kane. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Doug Davis knows something about winning titles.

During his career with The Hun School boys’ basketball program, sharpshooting guard Davis helped the Raiders win state Prep A and Mid-Atlantic Prep League championships in 2007.

Going across town to Princeton for college, Davis started from day one with the Tigers and provided one of the greatest highlights in program history, draining a buzzer-beater to beat Harvard an Ivy League championship playoff game in 2011 during his junior season.

Getting into coaching, Davis started at the Berkshire School (Mass.) and then returned to the area to take the helm of the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball program in 2018 and guided the Panthers to the state Prep B title this past winter.

Now, Davis is bringing his championship touch down Route 206 as he recently became the new head coach of the Lawrenceville School boys’ hoops program, succeeding longtime coach Ron Kane.

“I want to be at the top of this league again, that is definitely going to require some buy-in from the players but it is definitely doable with all of the resources that Lawrenceville has,” said Davis, reflecting on his vision for the program that posted a 6-19 record in the 2019-20 campaign.

“It is an amazing place to be. I truly believe that if we set our goals and sights on winning again, we can do it.” more

LION-HEARTED: Ben Amon fires a pitch this spring in his freshman season for The College of New Jersey baseball team. Amon, a former Princeton High standout, posted a 0-1 record in two starts for the Lions, piling up 16 strikeouts in 14 innings with a 3.21 ERA before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo provided courtesy of TCNJ Athletic Communications)

By Bill Alden

Ben Amon experienced a baptism of fire in his first start on the mound for The College of New Jersey baseball team.

Former Princeton High star Amon gave up five runs in the first inning at Ursinus as he made his college debut on March 4.

“That was 100 percent a great learning experience; I went out in the first inning having the same mindset as in high school ball,” said Amon, reflecting on the rocky start.

“I thought I could just throw my stuff and it will be good enough to get them out. I quickly learned in that first inning that wasn’t going to be the case.”

Settling down after that early barrage which saw Ursinus bang out five hits, including a two-run homer, Amon yielded only two hits and picked up six strikeouts over the next six innings as TCNJ fell 5-3. more

IN THE SWING: Jackson Durbin of the West Windsor Plainsboro Babe Ruth 15-year-old all-star team follows through on a swing last weekend at the Southern New Jersey State tourney. After falling 5-0 to host Hamilton/Northern Burlington last Saturday in its opening game of the double-elimination competition, WWP topped Lawrence 6-0 on Monday. The squad is slated to get a rematch with Hamilton/NB on August 11 with the winner advancing to the championship round against Atlantic Shore on Wednesday. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Andrew Liggio realized that his West Windsor Plainsboro Babe Ruth 15-year-old all-star team was in for a challenge as it faced host Hamilton/Northern Burlington at Switlik Park in the Southern New Jersey State tourney.

“Hamilton is a great team, it is well coached and they have been together for three years,” said WWP manager Liggio.

“They have gone through the states back-to-back years and have played in the Mid-Atlantic tournament. They have everyone back.”

While WWP fell behind 2-0 in the bottom of the second inning, Liggio wasn’t discouraged.

“I liked how the boys came out and played defense,” said Liggio, whose squad includes Princeton residents Jude Blaser, Jackson Durbin, Daniel Harlan, Leyton Shroff, Jonathan Tao, and Jake Zuckerman. “I think our bats were a little sleepy to start.” more

August 5, 2020

STICKING WITH IT: Julia Ryan heads to goal during her career for the Temple University women’s lacrosse team. While Princeton High alumna Ryan’s senior season with the Owls was cut short this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she enjoyed a productive career, tallying 16 goals and 14 assists over her four years. (Photo by Zamani Feelings, provided courtesy Temple Athletics Strategic Communications)

By Bill Alden

Having displayed steady progress during her first three seasons for the Temple University women’s lacrosse team, Julia Ryan was primed for a big finale to her college career this spring.

“I was part of a class of 10 at Temple, so we had been waiting for our senior season since we walked in the door as freshmen,” said Ryan, a former Princeton High standout.

“We were such a tight unit and of the starting lineup, I think we had nine seniors and two juniors on the field. So it was a veteran squad and we were really looking to build.”

Ryan and the Owls showed their prowess in a tight 16-14 loss to then-No. 6 Princeton on February 15.

“The Princeton game was this huge moment for us because we really pushed them,” recalled Ryan, a 5’10 attacker who had an assist in the setback.

“At halftime, we were ahead 8-6 and we were all sitting in the locker room, saying guys we can do this. We have never had this feeling before. Even though we ended up losing, it was such a good, well-fought game. We were all so proud of ourselves, that was really an exciting game for us.”

But after getting off to a promising 5-4 start, the excitement ended for Temple as the season was canceled in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I will never forget that meeting because the coaches were in there, they told us and then they left us alone and let us sit in a circle and talk,” said Ryan, recalling when she and her teammates learned that their season was over.

“Lacrosse is a great character building experience; it is also grueling for four years. I remember sitting there and I was very upset. I said to the group that I didn’t think I was going to be upset but I really am.” more

July 29, 2020

POST TIME: Gracie Poston catches her breath after running a hurdles race at the Princeton Recreation Department’s high school track camp held at the Princeton High track earlier this month. The program, which took place from July 13-15, drew about 40 athletes and culminated with FAT (fully automatic timing) races on its final day. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

The loud crack of a starter pistol can be startling to some, but it was music to the ears of Ben Samara as he presided over the Princeton Recreation Department’s high school track camp earlier this month.

For Princeton High track head coach Samara, getting to work with athletes after the spring season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic was a blast.

“I can’t believe we are actually here,” said a smiling Samara of the camp which took place at the Princeton High track from July 13-15.

“It is kind of crazy to hear the sound of the gun go off and to see these kids, who invest so much time in this to be able to enjoy themselves. It is just so rewarding.”

The athletes enjoyed being together even as they observed the protocols put in place due to COVID-19.

“The kids were so thrilled to see each other, it was great to just be around athletes training again,” said Samara of the program which drew about 40 athletes, who came mainly from PHS but also Allentown and Hillsborough. more

FULL SPEED AHEAD: Matt Perello sprints to the finish line in a race at the Princeton Recreation Department’s high school track camp held at the Princeton High track earlier this month. After his senior season for PHS track was canceled this spring due to COVID-19 pandemic, star sprinter Perello is looking forward to racing at the college level as he will be attending Bucknell University and competing for its men’s track program. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

After a disappointing junior campaign last year for the Princeton High boys’ track team, star sprinter Matt Perello knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish this spring.

“Last season wasn’t the best for me, I was plateauing a little bit; I was coming off an injury so it wasn’t really good for me,” said Perello, whose personal bests coming into this spring were 11.09 in the 100 and 22.31 in the 200.

“I still had PRs from sophomore year that I really wanted to break last year so this spring season, I really wanted to break all of those. I wanted to break 22 seconds in the 200. I wanted to break 50 seconds in the 400. I wanted to break 11 seconds in the 100. Running track in high school, you are always looking to  get better. You are trying to self-improve and improve your team.” more

July 22, 2020

CATCHING UP: Cole Palmeri, right, guards the plate last week for the The Program, the Hun School baseball team entry in the Last Dance World Series statewide New Jersey high school baseball tournament. The event was organized for this July in order to give seniors an opportunity to play with their teammates one last time. Recently graduated Palmeri played catcher in both games as Hun topped Pennington 5-2 before falling 3-2 to Trenton Catholic to get eliminated from the competition. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Cole Palmeri would have loved to play a few more baseball games with his Hun School teammates, but the couple that they did get together meant a lot.

Palmeri caught both games that the Hun entry, known as The Program, played in the single-elimination Last Dance World Series last Wednesday and Tuesday at the Trenton Babe Ruth field.

The Hamilton resident was behind the plate for Hun’s pitching staff in a 5-2 win over Pennington in the Last Dance opener on July 14 and had a key RBI before Hun was eliminated with a 3-2 heartbreaking loss to Trenton Catholic Academy a day later in the four-team Trenton Regional (Group 10B) of the South Region.

“That was great to get out there and play again,” said Palmeri. “To get back out there with my teammates especially after having the season canceled in the spring, it was kind of a good little redemption tour to get back out there, especially for me as a senior. It was good to get one last chance to play with my guys.” more

LAST HURRAH: Brian Frost takes a cut last week as he competed for the PC Tigers, the Princeton High entry in the Last Dance World Series statewide New Jersey high school baseball tournament that was organized to give seniors the chance to play with their teammates one last time. Recently graduated Frost and the PC squad went 0-3 in pool play in the Lawrenceville Regional (Group 7) of the South Region to get eliminated from the competition. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Brian Frost and his fellow seniors on the Princeton High baseball team were primed to go out with a bang this spring.

“The six or seven seniors that we have were all really looking forward to it,” said infielder Frost, referring to the 2020 campaign.

But weeks into preseason, schools were closed to in-person learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic and weeks later, the whole spring sports season was formally canceled.

“It really stunk for us; we were looking forward to getting out there, we had a week or two of practice before everything shut down,” recalled Frost.

“We were all still hoping there would be a season. We were hoping to do some captain’s practices or something like that.” more

July 8, 2020

SPECIAL RUN: Tim Williams makes a point to his Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team in 2016 during its run to the state Prep B title. Williams coached the squad for several seasons in addition to his role as the school’s Director of Upper School Athletics. After a nine-year run as the PDS AD, Williams is leaving the school to take the same position at the University School of Milwaukee. During Williams’ Panther tenure, PDS teams won 33 county and state Prep championships. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Speaking in the Southern drawl of his native Tennessee, Tim Williams may have seemed out of place when he came north in 2011 to become the new Director of Upper School Athletics at the Princeton Day School.

But it didn’t take long for the genial Williams to develop a rapport with his new colleagues.

“You come to a new school and you are not sure exactly what you are going to get,” said Williams, who had been the athletic director and boys’ basketball head coach at the Louisville Collegiate School before taking the PDS job.

“The coaches seemed to trust me tentatively to begin with and then they really came to be close. I was close to them and vice versa. We were able to really work in concert together and get the best out of the kids and get the best out of the teams.”

In addition, Williams quickly became close to the PDS student-athletes.

“I love the kids, that is why I got into this business at the start,” said Williams.

“I love going out to the games and practices and bantering back and forth. My favorite thing is when the kids come back after they have been at college for a year or a couple of years. They come back and stop by your office just to say hi and let you know how they are doing. I think it is a telltale sign that it is a real healthy program.” more

CHICAGO FIRE: Blane Soper keeps his eye on the ball in a 2019 game during his senior season with the Hun School baseball team. This spring, Soper got his college career off to a promising start, hitting .217 with five runs and four RBIs in six games for the University of Chicago before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Although Blane Soper wasn’t sure what to expect when he tried out for the University of Chicago baseball team, he rose rapidly to a promising start for the squad.

The 2019 Hun School graduate was recruited as a preferred walk-on as pitcher, and Soper not only made the team, but shifted fully to playing outfield, and earned a starting spot and had a five-game hitting streak to start his collegiate career this spring.

“It was super surreal, a great experience,” said Soper. “I was ecstatic. It was always trying not to be complacent and better myself and contribute to the team in the best way I can.”

During his Hun career, Soper did a little bit of everything but mostly pitched and played left field. UChicago first took interest in him at a showcase event after his junior season in  high school, and Soper further impressed them at their camp.

He was admitted to the highly ranked academic school on his own, and came to their fall baseball tryouts as a preferred walk-on, looking to earn his way onto a team past a win over last year’s top-ranked team in Division III (4-3 over Trinity University (Texas) in March, 2019).

“Being a student-athlete in college definitely transforms your college experience,” said Soper.

“I really wanted to play in college and I really wanted to go to a really competitive academic school. UChicago is really exciting for me. Being D-3 and having a good rapport with the coach and him seeing me in the past, I felt good about having that ability to go to a really great school and also be a student-athlete. I felt pretty good about myself approaching the tryouts because over the summer I played Legion and I put on a lot of good weight in the weight room.” more