July 8, 2015
MAN UP: Sam Smallzman looks for a hit last Wednesday in the Sunshine Football Classic. The recently graduated Princeton High star linebacker Smallzman helped the West squad to a 21-0 win in the all-star contest held at The College of New Jersey.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MAN UP: Sam Smallzman looks for a hit last Wednesday in the Sunshine Football Classic. The recently graduated Princeton High star linebacker Smallzman helped the West squad to a 21-0 win in the all-star contest held at The College of New Jersey. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Sam Smallzman has been a spectator at The College of New Jersey stadium for two Sunshine Classic all-star games in recent years, cheering on teammates from the Princeton High football team.

“I watched my senior captains playing in my freshman year, Alex Mitko and Jeff Barsamian along with Eric Shorter,” said Smallzman. “Last year, it was Liam Helstrom in the game.”

Last Wednesday, star linebacker Smallzman added to that program tradition as he was on the field at TCNJ for the West squad in the 19th Sunshine Football Classic sponsored by Fisher Capital LLC along with PHS teammates Joe Hawes, Tad Moore, Tommy Moore, Omar Moustafa, Colin Buckley, and Brian Lemus-Camey.

“It was a great opportunity to play one more football game with my boys,” said Smallzman.

“I was just grateful to play. It was different than in the season. It was laid back, we had fun.”

The West had a lot of fun on Wednesday evening, rolling to a 21-0 win over the East. The game was scoreless after one quarter and the West seized momentum by outscoring the East 14-0 in the second. After neither team scored in the third quarter, the West added a touchdown with 4:57 left in regulation to seal the win.

With the West players huddled up and joyously chanting in unison in the wake of the game to celebrate their victory, it was clear that the squad had developed instant chemistry.

“We all knew each other for just a week,” said Smallzman. “Even though we played against some of these guys, we got really tight in the practices, having fun and joking around. It was everybody, coaches and players, there were a lot of great guys on this team.”

The West produced some great plays on defense, holding the East to 154 total yards, including just one pass completion for 33 yards.

“It was just ball out and have fun, that was it,” said Smallzman, reflecting on the defensive effort which was highlighted by a blocked field goal in the second quarter when the West was clinging to a 6-0 lead. “It was play your keys but don’t be afraid to make mistakes and just go after it. I think our defense had its own attitude.”

Heading to the University of Pennsylvania where he is playing for its sprint football program, Smallzman is bringing a positive attitude to the next stop in his gridiron career.

“I was looking at that school throughout high school,” said Smallzman, who currently weighs 185 pounds and will have to cut some weight to make the 172-pound threshold for sprint football. “I talked to the sprint coaches down there. I think I will like it.”

For Smallzman, the Sunshine Classic experience proved to be a fitting culmination to a special final campaign that saw PHS go 8-2 in 2014 after posting a 0-10 record the year before.

“I think this was a great moment,” said Smallzman. “It was for a great cause, helping kids with cancer. It was giving back for all the support we got. It was a good way to end that senior season.”

PERFECT STORM: Teddy Durbin of the Princeton Little League (PLL) squad takes a swing in Intermediate 50/70 tournament action. Last Friday, Durbin was the starting pitcher and combined with Jake Renda and Jackson Rho to produce a perfect game as Princeton beat Metuchen 13-0 in five innings in its opening game at the Section 3 tournament. Durbin and PLL went on to top Middletown 6-1 on Saturday and Ocean Township 5-2 on Sunday to advance to the final round of the double elimination tournament. Princeton is next in action on July 9 at Farmview Field, needing one win to clinch the sectional title.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PERFECT STORM: Teddy Durbin of the Princeton Little League (PLL) squad takes a swing in Intermediate 50/70 tournament action. Last Friday, Durbin was the starting pitcher and combined with Jake Renda and Jackson Rho to produce a perfect game as Princeton beat Metuchen 13-0 in five innings in its opening game at the Section 3 tournament. Durbin and PLL went on to top Middletown 6-1 on Saturday and Ocean Township 5-2 on Sunday to advance to the final round of the double elimination tournament. Princeton is next in action on July 9 at Farmview Field, needing one win to clinch the sectional title. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Teddy Durbin’s pregame preparation helped pave the way for a spectacular pitching effort as the Princeton Little League (PLL) squad hosted Metuchen last Friday in the opener of the Section 3 Intermediate 50/70  tournament.

“I like to watch the teams in their batting cages when they warm up and I saw that they weren’t really catching up to some fastballs so I focused on pounding the plate,” said Durbin, a rising ninth grader headed to Princeton High. “I would mix in a few changeups and curveballs in there if I needed to.”

Durbin retired all five batters he faced, striking out four before being lifted after 22 pitches to preserve his availability under the tournament pitch limits. Jake Renda relieved Durbin and then Jackson Rho came on to close out the game. Both Renda and Rho retired every hitter they faced giving the PLL a five-inning perfect game as it rolled to a 13-0 win in a game shortened by the 10-run mercy rule.

While Durbin was proud to take part in the perfect game, the main emphasis was on how the team took care of business collectively.

“It is pretty exciting but I think we are mainly focused on powering through right now and just trying to win games,” said lefty Durbin. “It was really important and we just wanted to get this one done.”

Getting it done at the plate, Durbin contributed two hits as Princeton jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first inning and never looked back.

“It felt pretty good today,” said Durbin. “The team looked pretty good overall swinging the bat.”

Durbin’s father, PLL manager Jon Durbin, felt very good about the pitching effort he got in the opener.

“The pitchers were totally on today and I think the whole pitching staff right now is understanding the concept that when you play in Little League international tournaments, it is incredibly important to be efficient,” said manager Durbin.

“You don’t want to get into deep pitch counts because these games are so stacked on top of each other. Teddy got us going right out of the gate. He powered through the first four or five guys in the lineup followed by Jake Renda who came in and did the same thing and then Jackson Rho shut them down at the end.”

Princeton showed plenty of hitting power with Ben Kioko blasting a homer well over the left field fence in the second inning to highlight an attack which saw Judd Petrone and Cameron Gray contribute run-scoring doubles.

“The thing we focused on in practice this week to get them ready for the tournament was that we did all the batting practice on the field with live pitching,” said Durbin.

“We didn’t do any substantial hitting in the cages this week. We wanted them to see live pitching so it was a combination of teammates actually going live and pitching to them as well as graduates from the program who came back, who were older and could throw harder with other kinds of breaking balls. Last night they had a great hitting practice and it just worked beautifully for us. You could see that their bats were really dialed in.”

PLL continued to be dialed in the rest of the weekend, topping Middletown 6-1 on Saturday and then beating Ocean Township 5-2 on Sunday.

In the win over Middletown, Teddy Durbin produced another sterling mound effort, giving up no runs on three hits with 11 strikeouts in six innings of work. The offense was triggered by leadoff hitter Ben Petrone, who went 1-for-3 with a double and an RBI, and Kioko who went 2-for-3 with a homer and three RBIs.

Against Ocean, Rho pitched superbly, going 5 1/3 innings, giving up two runs and two hits with eight strikeouts and two hits. Kioko hit a two-run homer in the first inning to get the PLL offense going. In the top of the seventh, Durbin, Rho Gautam Chalwa had RBIs to account for PLL’s final three runs.

The wins over the weekend advanced PLL to the final round of the double elimination tournament. Princeton is next in action on July 9 at Farmview Field, needing one win to clinch the sectional title.

“We are very excited to advance to the sectional finals,” said manager Durbin.  “No PLL Team has ever gotten this far, but we are not satisfied with just getting to the finals. We’ll stick with the approach that has been serving us well in practices with increasing the power and the speed of all our drills. All of the pitchers will be rested and ready to go come Thursday, so we are in a good place right now as the only undefeated team and with such strong, well-rested pitching.”

In the view of the younger Durbin, the lessons learned from getting knocked out of last year’s sectional has served PLL well this summer as it goes for the title.

“We are definitely more experienced this year,” said Durbin. “Last year, it was pretty obvious that we were nervous coming out in the first game but this year we are feeling comfortable on our home field.”

BOUNCING AROUND: Michael Dowers of Princeton Youth Sports (PYS) dribbles through traffic in recent action in the  Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League. Last Monday, Dowers scored 12 points in a losing cause as PYS, the Princeton High boys’ hoops team entry in the summer league, fell 58-42 to Belle Mead Physical Therapy. In other action last Monday, Bring Me Food fell 42-36 to Winberie’s to suffer its first loss of the season and King’s Pizzarama topped Princeton Pi 69-64.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BOUNCING AROUND: Michael Dowers of Princeton Youth Sports (PYS) dribbles through traffic in recent action in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League. Last Monday, Dowers scored 12 points in a losing cause as PYS, the Princeton High boys’ hoops team entry in the summer league, fell 58-42 to Belle Mead Physical Therapy. In other action last Monday, Bring Me Food fell 42-36 to Winberie’s to suffer its first loss of the season and King’s Pizzarama topped Princeton Pi 69-64. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When the Princeton Youth Sports (PYS) team dug an early 16-0 hole against Belle Mead Physical Therapy last Monday in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League, it could have folded.

Instead, PYS, the Princeton High boys’ hoops team entry in the summer league, outscored Belle Mead 19-12 over the rest of the half to narrow the gap to 28-19 at halftime.

Midway through the second half, PYS pulled within 42-35 when Michael Dowers hit a three-pointer from the corner. But with only six players on hand, the team ran out of gas down the stretch on a humid night inside the PHS gym as Belle Mead pulled away to a 58-42 win.

Head coach Mark Shelley was proud of the way PYS kept battling. “I feel like we are more competitive this summer than we have been the last couple,” said Shelley, who will be entering his fourth season at the helm of the PHS program this winter.

“We won the first game this season. Not having Matt Hart tonight hurt, that game is five or 10 points closer. He is really good. He is away at an exposure camp all week in Boston so that is good. I am pleased with the competitiveness because a couple of years ago and to some extent last year, we just got run out of almost every game. There were some 30, 40 point games.”

Rising senior Michael Dowers, who tallied 12 points in the loss, is showing more game this summer.

“He is not just a three-point shooter; now, he is going to the basket some and that is going to have to happen,” said Shelley.

“When Matt is not here or he is hurt or Z (Zahrion Blue) is hurt, we need a third scorer. Michael has emerged, his defense has gotten better.”

Blue, who emerged as a star for PHS last winter in his sophomore campaign, got to the basket on Monday, scoring a team-high  of 15 points. “I thought Z was forcing a little bit early but then I think he settled in,” said Shelley.

“We ran a couple of easy sets I drew up just to get him the ball in a good spot, not necessarily to get a layup but just so they couldn’t clog the lane on him. We got him on the baseline a couple of times.”

Point guard Cristobal Silva is showing some good things this summer. “Cristo cuts very well, he has a good basketball IQ,” said Shelley of the rising junior.

“We have got him and Sam Serxner, who is not here tonight, who are both point guards. They are both good players but they are different players. Silva does some really nice things. He didn’t shoot as well as normal tonight, they were putting some pressure on him but he is a good shooter. He is a pure shooter. What we need him to do is to handle the pressure. I saw some growth from last week to this week.”

Rising senior Patrick Lafontant has been providing some good shooting this summer for PYS.

“Patrick was on JV last year and he has a scorer’s mentality,” said Shelley. “He is gym rat if there ever was a gym rat. If the gym was open at 3 a.m., he would be shooting at 3 a.m. He is there all the time. I told him after the game that your minutes are going to be determined by how well you improve defensively. He has got a lot of room to grow there but he can certainly help us. He is a good athlete, he has a great shot.”

In Shelley’s view, playing in the summer league, which features college age players and older, will help the team grow. “We talk about individual and collective improvement,” said Shelley, whose team dropped to 1-6 with the loss on Monday.

“So we want individual improvement, whether it is being a better shooter or for someone like Michael Dowers, it is being able to put the ball on the floor and finish inside. And there is some collective, like helping Zahrion emerge. At the end of the year, he became one of our two main guys. It is also letting some kids who played JV get a taste of a very tough opponent in terms of the speed of the game and toughen them up a little bit. I always give the guys a choice, do you want to play in this or a conventional summer league and they always want to do this. It is fun for them.”

Toughening up this summer should pay dividends in the winter for PHS. “We are looking forward to a good season,” said Shelley. “I think we will be improved from last year. That’s our goal, to do better.”

July 1, 2015

Caitlin Cleary’s approach to rowing changed when she joined the Princeton National Rowing Association’s Mercer Rowing Club (PNRA/Mercer) women’s top open 8 last spring.

“I stroked for the 4 in the fall and then moved to the 8 in the spring,” recalled Cleary, now a rising senior at Princeton High.

“It was a really good experience, there was a lot of high level racing. It was great to be in boat with such experienced rowers. They gave me a template of what I needed to do to prepare for races. Rena White inspired me, doing extra work on the ERG (ergometer) and doing extra running.”

Cleary enjoyed a memorable experience as the boat finished fifth at the 2014 USRowing Youth Nationals at Lake Natoma near Sacramento, Calif. “I was very surprised that we made the grand final,” said Cleary. “I didn’t know what to expect. After that, I wanted to work even harder in the summer.”

 Coming back for another year with the top 8, Cleary and her boat mates expected to do even better on the national stage this season.

“We only lost our cox and bow; the unspoken goal to medal at national,” said Cleary. “We worked hard all year towards doing that. We wanted to see how far we could take it.”

That work started paying dividends last fall as the boat nearly won its division in the famed Head of Charles regatta in Boston in October.

“We were second at Head of Charles and we realized we could really do something this year,” said Cleary.

As the boat went through the spring, it got better and better. “We were gaining a lot of speed, our splits were faster,” said Cleary. “We were fitter, our times on the ERG were better. There were seven of us that had rowed together for two years. We had good technique and we were really good in the middle 1000.”

Utilizing that speed and technique, the boat achieved its goal of medaling at nationals, placing a close second to Saugatuck Rowing Club (Conn.) in the Grand Final last month at the USRowing Youth National Championships at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla.

“We wanted to make small moves, we are not the greatest at starts,” said Cleary, reflecting on the grand final which saw PNRA/Mercer mount a furious rally as it clocked a time of 6:35.960 over the 2,000-meter course with Saugatuck coming in at 6:34.599.

“We wanted to throw in some hard 5s. We started in fifth but we moved up in the middle 1000. We have a rhythm and a powerful stroke together. With 750 left, we were in third. We passed Holy Names and in the last 500 we were going after Saugatuck. We sprinted like we never had before. We were behind them and then it was neck and neck, they beat us by 1.4 seconds. It was really exciting.”

It was exciting on many levels for the boat to achieve its breakthrough. “It was a big moment for the crew and a big moment for the club,” said Cleary, who was joined on the boat by Badia Shehab, Kelly Fischer, Hayley Bork, Kate Edmondson, Katie Lustig, Kate Hickey, Alex Natale, and White. “It was the best that an 8 had done. We wanted to put Mercer on the map.”

Cleary credits head coach Ted Sobolewski with putting PNRA/Mercer in position to compete for a national title.

“He has helped us with technique, fitness and conditioning,” said Cleary. “He has really pushed us. He has a vision, he is always one to say if you want it, you have to go out and get it.”

In reflecting on her crew experience, Cleary believes that pushing herself hard has helped her out of the water as well.

“It has taught me to persevere mentally and physically,” said Cleary. “I have learned about dedication, teamwork, and overall grit. If you really put in the work, you can go places.”

 Being elected as a team captain for her senior year, Cleary is determined to help PNRA/Mercer solidify its place among the elite programs in the nation.

“I was thrilled when I found out I was going to be a captain, it is really an honor to know that your teammates trust you to push the team to the next level,” said Cleary, who plans to row in college and will start looking at Division I programs later this summer.

“I want to lead by example and put in the extra work and have the other girls follow. If you put in the work, you can get better. If we can outwork the other crews, we can beat them.”

PATIENCE OF A SAINT: Robby Dowers controls the ball in action this spring during his senior season with the St. Lawrence University men’s lacrosse team. Former Princeton High standout Dowers, who served as a team captain for St. Lawrence, tallied a goal and an assist with nine ground balls and three caused turnovers in 2015 to help the Saints post a 9-8 record.

PATIENCE OF A SAINT: Robby Dowers controls the ball in action this spring during his senior season with the St. Lawrence University men’s lacrosse team. Former Princeton High standout Dowers, who served as a team captain for St. Lawrence, tallied a goal and an assist with nine ground balls and three caused turnovers in 2015 to help the Saints post a 9-8 record.

Robby Dowers only got into five games in his sophomore season with the St. Lawrence University men’s lacrosse team but he saw plenty of progress.

“I adjusted to the speed of the game; there were still four or five upperclassmen ahead of me but I was competing with them everyday in practice,” said Dowers, a former Princeton High boys’ lacrosse player who was a four-year starter for the Little Tigers. “I was playing on the man-down unit, anything to get on the field.”

In the fall of his junior year, Dowers put himself in position to see a lot of playing time. “We had a couple of guys graduate and I knew if I worked hard, I was going to start at the end of fall ball,” said Dowers, a 6’3, 195-pound defender. “I had a meeting with coaches and they said if you keep working hard, we see good things.”

Starting every game his junior year in 2014, Dowers did a lot of good things, getting 25 ground balls with 13 caused turnovers to help the Saints go 8-6.

“It was a four-man rotation, then one kid broke his thumb and I was getting on the field. In college, you study a lot of film and you see what a person likes to do and you try to take that away. I tried to do that and it worked sometimes.”

Dowers produced some of his best work that season in a 10-9 win over Nazareth, getting a ground ball and a caused turnover.

“One of my favorite games was against Nazareth; they had beaten us by three the year before,” said Dowers.

“It was an intense game. At one point, I was clearing the ball, I saw an attacker and passed to him and then he threw to another attacker who scored. I thought to myself, I get this.”

Dowers’ play got the respect of his teammates as he was elected as a co-captain for the 2015 season.

“It means a lot, it says a lot about my character,” said Dowers, reflecting on being chosen as a captain.

“I was a captain at PHS and it was cool to be captain both in high school and college. I try to set an example on the field and do the right things.”

Before the team even played a game, Dowers faced a leadership test as teammate and fellow senior Garrett Gagne was killed in a car accident on New Year’s day.

“It happened on January 1, everyone was in shock,” said Dowers, reflecting on the tragedy.

“On January 2, I called each guy on the team to make sure everyone was okay. It was three or four hours on the phone. Guys were thankful that someone was checking on them. It was the toughest thing I had done. It definitely made us closer and realize how we care for everyone on the team.”

Dowers faced a tough situation early in the 2015 season when he was sidelined by a knee injury.

“We were practicing inside, I got caught and fell on my knee,” said Dowers, who had notched his first career goal in a season-opening 19-10 win over Castleton.

“It was swollen, I couldn’t bend it. There was no ligament damage so the trainer said I would be out 10 days to two weeks. Missing two weeks of practice was tough, a lot of things change.”

 Upon returning to action, Dowers felt a special sense of urgency. “When I came back, I had a practice and then a game,” said Dowers, who ended up tallying a goal and an assist with nine ground balls and three caused turnovers in 2015 to help the Saints post a 9-8 record.

“I started every game junior year and every game this season before the injury. I missed two games and sat in a third. I got up to full speed. I started playing lacrosse in third grade and I was thinking this it for organized sports, I may be playing in summer tournaments and things like that but it is not the same.”

Reflecting on his college lacrosse experience, Dowers believes it has gotten him to be more disciplined on and off the field.

“You learn a lot from organized sports; it shaped the way I am as a person,” said Dowers, who majored in economics and minored in math and is looking to get a job in finance.

“It helped me with decision-making. I feel I am good at it, I make the right decisions. It has helped me with time management skills. You have to go to class, eat, sleep and take care of yourself. You know you have practice each day and that it takes three or four hours with lifting, watching film, and meetings.”

Taking up wrestling helped Omar Moustafa reach new heights as a football player in his senior season at Princeton High.

“I joined the wrestling team as a junior and that helped with leverage, being in control when blocking or tackling a guy,” said Moustafa.

“Wrestling made me a better athlete. Rashone (PHS wrestling head coach Rashone Johnson) put us through tough workouts.”

With the PHS football coming off a 0-10 season in 2013, Moustafa and his teammates were determined to make themselves tougher last fall.

“The thing about my junior year is that we knew we had potential but we had so many inexperienced players,” said Moustafa.

“What turned around from my junior year to senior was the effort that everyone put in, we really worked hard. We were confident going into the season. We had gone through adversity and had worked so hard.”

That confidence proved justified as the Little Tigers roared out of the gate with a 5-0 start on the way to an 8-2 campaign.

“Beating Hamilton West meant everything,” said Moustafa, reflecting on the team’s 28-7 win over Hamilton in the season opener, which snapped a 10-game losing streak and was the program’s first win since topping New Brunswick 22-14 on November 16, 2012.

“It set the tone and helped us do well. We knew we were going to do better but there were some unknowns. Starting 5-0 was great.”

Playing at guard and tackle on the offensive line and at defensive tackle, Moustafa was a mainstay in the trenches for PHS. “I showed versatility, I played well where I was put,” said Moustafa.

Moustafa’s versatility and good play was rewarded as he was chosen to play for the West Squad in the 19th Sunshine Football Classic sponsored by Fisher Capital LLC on July 1 along with Little Tiger teammates Sam Smallzman, Ben Danis, Tad Moore, Tommy Moore, Colin Buckley, Brian Lemus-Camey, and Joe Hawes.

As he looks forward to playing in the all star game, which is taking place at The College of New Jersey with a 7:00 p.m. kickoff, Moustafa points to a night game this past September as a high point of the season for the Little Tigers.

“Shutting out Ewing for homecoming was great, there was a crowd of 3,000  under the lights,” said Moustafa, referring to PHS’ 7-0 win over the Blue Devils.

“It was a feeling like no other, it felt like football was back in Princeton. I glanced up after warmup and looked around and said that is a lot of people.”

Moustafa and his teammates felt great after their regular season finale when they topped WW/P-N 47-21 to earn West Jersey Football League’s Valley Division title outright.

“We knew we were going to have at least a tie for the title no matter what happened but we didn’t want to share it with North,” said Moustafa.

“They had two good running backs and their quarterback, Kevin Murphy, was a good scrambler. We had a game plan, we wanted to move with him and contain him. We wanted to be undisputed champions.”

A much-improved PHS defense helped pave the way to the title. “One thing I noticed is that we were more hard-nosed,” said Moustafa, reflecting on the campaign which ended with a 48-12 loss to Brick Township in the state playoffs. “We hit harder, we played faster, we tackled better.”

Playing football helped Moustafa do better in other areas of his life. “It was the first sport I was actually passionate about,” said Moustafa, who is heading to Monmouth University and is thinking about walking on to the school’s football team.

“I was not the best student as a freshman but when I started playing as a sophomore, it helped me with time management. I started doing better in school, I had a 3.6 GPA in my junior year. It taught me so many lessons, discipline, being respectful.”

Getting the chance to play in the Sunshine Classic is a windfall for Moustafa.

“When I learned I had been picked, it was great,” said Moustafa. “I was disappointed that I might not get to play another football game and now I get to play with the best of the best.”

The best part of the game for Moustafa is the opportunity to take the field again with some of his PHS teammates.

“I am really good friends with all of those guys, we didn’t just hang out at school and say hi in the halls, we would go out to Chinese buffets and things like that,” said Moustafa. “The chance to play with them again is special, they are brothers to me.”

BUCKING UP: Princeton High senior fullback Colin Buckley makes a block last season. Buckley’s hard-hitting play at fullback and defensive end helped PHS go 8-2 in 2014 and earned him a spot on the West team in 19th Sunshine Football Classic sponsored by Fisher Capital LLC on July 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BUCKING UP: Princeton High senior fullback Colin Buckley makes a block last season. Buckley’s hard-hitting play at fullback and defensive end helped PHS go 8-2 in 2014 and earned him a spot on the West team in 19th Sunshine Football Classic sponsored by Fisher Capital LLC on July 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton High football team was coming off a 0-10 season in 2013, Colin Buckley sensed that things would be a lot different last fall for his senior campaign.

“We definitely changed the culture,” said PHS fullback/defensive end Buckley.

“We were tired of everyone talking about us as losers and going 0-10. I was telling people that we were going to turn it around.”

Buckley and PHS didn’t waste any time turning things around as they opened the 2014 season by defeating Hamilton 28-7.

“It was a huge win,” said Buckley. “They were picked to win the division and we had been written off.”

Over the course of the fall, PHS wrote one of the best turnaround stories in recent years, going 8-2 and winning the West Jersey Football League’s Valley Division crown.

As a byproduct of that success, Buckley was chosen to play for the West Squad in the 19th Sunshine Football Classic sponsored by Fisher Capital LLC on July 1 along with Little Tiger teammates Sam Smallzman, Ben Danis, Tad Moore, Tommy Moore, Omar Moustafa, Brian Lemus-Camey, and Joe Hawes.

PHS showed that it had plenty of stars as it started 5-0, featuring a potent offense and a hard-hitting defense. “We were on a roll, we were gaining confidence,” said Buckley.

Moving to fullback from guard, Buckley helped spark the running game by clearing holes for junior star Rory Helstrom as he rushed for 1136 yards on the season.

“It is fun blocking for a running back like Rory who can break it at any time,” said Buckley.

The powerful Buckley got his turn to carry the ball, rushing for 289 yards on 46 carries for six touchdowns

“It was a lot of fun running the ball, the offensive line did a really good job,” said Buckley.

On defense, Buckley helped anchor things from the trenches in his defensive end spot.

“Sam Smallzman coming back from an ACL was huge, he called the signals and made a lot of tackles,” said Buckley, who also stars on defense for the PHS boys’ lacrosse team. “Having Tommy Moore at defensive end was big.”

It was big for PHS to earn a division title. “It meant a lot, we would stop in the hall to look at the trophy,” said Buckley, who is headed to Texas Christian University where he is considering playing intramural football, club lacrosse and rugby.

“I think we had age and commitment. It shows what you can do if you put the hard work in.”

Looking ahead to the Sunshine Classic, which is being played at The College of New Jersey,  Buckley is committed to doing his best.

“I am definitely excited,” said Buckley. “It is one more chance to put on the pads. It had been fun but it is tough learning a whole new offense. They have me at fullback.”

Buckley is particularly excited to be back on the field with his PHS teammates.

“It feels great, you know they have your back and I have their back,” said Buckley. “I just want to have fun, we are playing for a great cause.”

THIRST FOR SUCCESS: Princeton High football star Joe Hawes grabs some water during a game last fall. Hawes has made an immediate impact for PHS, taking up football for the first time after serving as the backup goalie for the Little Tiger boys’ soccer team. The lanky Hawes ended up emerging as the team’s main deep threat in the passing game, making 24 catches for 568 yards and eight touchdowns. Hawes, who is headed to Howard University where he will be joining its football program, was chosen to play for the West team in the 19th Sunshine Football Classic sponsored by Fisher Capital LLC on July 1 (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

THIRST FOR SUCCESS: Princeton High football star Joe Hawes grabs some water during a game last fall. Hawes has made an immediate impact for PHS, taking up football for the first time after serving as the backup goalie for the Little Tiger boys’ soccer team. The lanky Hawes ended up emerging as the team’s main deep threat in the passing game, making 24 catches for 568 yards and eight touchdowns. Hawes, who is headed to Howard University where he will be joining its football program, was chosen to play for the West team in the 19th Sunshine Football Classic sponsored by Fisher Capital LLC on July 1 (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Taking up football for the first time last fall, Joe Hawes wasn’t sure what his role would be on the Princeton High team.

“The toughest thing was finding my spot and where I fit in with everyone playing,” said Hawes, who had been a backup goalie for the PHS boys’ soccer team in addition to playing goalie for the boys’ ice hockey team and starring at defense on the boys’ lacrosse squad.

Utilizing his multi-sport background, Hawes caught on quickly. “There was one time in practice where Beamer (PHS quarterback Dave Beamer) threw it wide and I did a full-out dive like a soccer goalie move to make the catch,” said Hawes. “The hand-eye coordination also helped.”

Hawes helped PHS from the start, producing a spectacular scoring play in the ream’s season-opening 28-7 win over Hamilton.

“That was great, there is nothing like catching an 80-yard TD in your first football game,” said Hawes.

The lanky Hawes ended up emerging as the team’s main deep threat in the passing game, making 24 catches for 568 yards and eight touchdowns. He also started at defensive back and handled the punting duties.

Hawes’ superb debut campaign earned him a spot on West Squad for the 19th Sunshine Football Classic sponsored by Fisher Capital LLC on July 1 along with Little Tiger teammates Sam Smallzman, Ben Danis, Tad Moore, Tommy Moore, Omar Moustafa, Colin Buckley, and Brian Lemus-Camey.

“I expected to be chosen but it is still nice to be considered one of the best players in the area,” said Hawes.

With PHS coming off a 0-10 season in 2013,  few expected the Little Tigers to end up as one of the best teams in the area. Building on the win over Hamilton, PHS got off to a 5-0 start and ended the fall at 8-2, winning the the West Jersey Football League’s Valley Division crown in the process.

“That gave us hope,” said Hawes “At halftime we were down but we pushed through, showing that we were not that 0-10 team and that we had the players.”

Even though PHS got pushed around a little bit in its season finale, falling 48-12 at Brick Township in the state playoffs, Hawes and his teammates drew positives from that experience.

“On the bus ride home, no one was sad, everyone was happy,” recalled Hawes.

“We knew we had made history for PHS. We played a pretty good game, the score was not indicative. I had 135 yards receiving and we put up some good offensive numbers.”

 While Hawes wonders what might have been if he had taken up football before his senior year, he has no regrets.

“If I started earlier, who knows what would have happened and who would have been recruiting me,” said Hawes, who is heading to Howard University and will be joining its football team.

“I am happy the way it turned out. I made football friends. I won two MCT titles in lacrosse, that was also a highlight. I still have some great soccer friends. I wouldn’t really want to change anything.”

Buoyed by his experience this fall, Hawes is excited about continuing his football career at the next level.

“I am going to Howard and will be playing football,” said Hawes. “I got in and I e-mailed the coach and he said we have a place for you in camp. It starts August 7.”

 Hawes is using the preparation for the Sunshine game, which will be played at The College of New Jersey, as a way to speed up his football education.

“I am getting to learn,” said Hawes. “The HoVal coach is great; Hun had a great season and their line coach is here. I don’t feel that I am much behind these guys. They have me at tight end. They had a lot of wide receivers and I am in on passing plays. It is getting me fired up; I see the intensity the other players have.”

No matter how much he gets the ball in the game, Hawes is fired up to be back on the field with his PHS teammates.

“It is like a flashback to our great season,” said Hawes. “If a PHS player makes a good play in practice, I remember a play from the season that was exactly like it. We have the most players on the West team.”

Looking ahead to his college football career, Hawes knows that he has to hit the weights in order to be a playmaker for Howard.

“The biggest thing is strength-wise; I didn’t lift that much for soccer,” said Hawes.

“I need to get stronger and faster. I have the agility and the hands. Howard sent me a program. I am seven weeks behind but I have a month before I go. I will be lifting and working everyday.”

BIG BEN: Ben Kioko of the Princeton Little League (PLL) squad delivers a pitch last Thursday in the finals of the District 12 Intermediate 50/70 tournament. Kioko pitched four strong innings and contributed four RBIs at the plate to help Princeton defeat Millstone-Roosevelt 15-3 and win the title. PLL will be hosting the Section 3 tournament at Farmview Fields, starting on July 3.

BIG BEN: Ben Kioko of the Princeton Little League (PLL) squad delivers a pitch last Thursday in the finals of the District 12 Intermediate 50/70 tournament. Kioko pitched four strong innings and contributed four RBIs at the plate to help Princeton defeat Millstone-Roosevelt 15-3 and win the title. PLL will be hosting the Section 3 tournament at Farmview Fields, starting on July 3.

After the Princeton Little League (PLL) team defeated Millstone-Roosevelt 15-3 last Thursday to win its second straight District 12 Intermediate 50/70 title, Ben Kioko saw the repeat performance as exemplifying the squad’s maturity.

“I think it just shows that we have really grown from our first year being 11s to now,” said pitcher/third baseman Kioko, a rising eighth grader at John Witherspoon School.

“In our last year as 13s, we have gotten really better; we have improved. We have been able to take it home twice.”

In the title game, Kioko showed his improvement on the mound and at the plate. Starting the game at pitcher, Kioko went four innings and gave up two runs before being relieved by Judd Petrone for the fifth and final inning in a game shortened by the 10-run rule. He contributed two hits and four RBIs to the offense, batting in the cleanup spot.

“The curve ball was really effective and I liked how the fastball had a lot of speed,” said Kioko, reflecting on his pitching effort which saw him strike out four and give up three hits.

“I was being quite accurate. I don’t think I wasted too many pitches. I like the fact that I could come up and get the two RBIs in the first inning and then come back on the mound and get outs.”

 Kioko likes the unity the team has developed over the years. “I think camaraderie is a strength,” said Kioko. “We are well mended; we work together a lot.”

Showing its power and strength, PLL broke open the game with a seven-run fourth inning.

“It was the long ball that got us going,” said manager Jon Durbin. “The other day it was Ben Amon hitting a homer and today it was Jake Renda who smoked that one out by the batting cages. He is a 12-year-old and he is a big boy for being a 12-year- old. I think you can tell our team is pretty big physically compared to the other teams.”

Princeton also benefitted from the big pitching effort provided by Kioko. “I think he has got a really good fastball, he is one of the hardest throwers around for this age group,” said Durbin referring to Kioko.

“He has developed a nice curve, slurve pitch. There are four guys on the Millstone team that can really hit the ball and we had talked to him before the game about the importance of not just throwing them a lot of fastballs, even their first time up which normally you would just challenge them. You need to mix it up and not just try to overpower them.”

Kioko complemented his mound work with some powerful hitting. “His swing is good and fundamentally sound, he really hits the ball hard,” said Durbin.

“That one hit was a ground ball through the infield that went all the way to the fence.”

Durbin was proud to see his team go all the way to a District 12 title for a second straight year.

“It is a big deal and we are honored to do it,” said Durbin, reflecting his team’s encore performance.

“I think knowing that the team is so senior and so experienced that, for us, we really have our eye on winning the sectionals.”

With PLL hosting the Section 3 tourney at Farmview starting on July 3, Durbin believes his team has to play even sharper in order to prevail in that competition.

“When we start playing in the sectionals, the level of the game is going to increase several notches,” said Durbin.

“There is going to be a lot more speed and power. We will adjust the practices. In batting practice, the ball is going to be coming in a lot faster. When we do infield and outfield, we will be hitting the balls a lot harder to the infielders and we will be hitting fly balls that are a lot higher and deeper so they get adjusted to navigate that kind of stuff. So that is the game plan on top of what we normally do in terms of building the team camaraderie and unity to get things going.”

Durbin is confident that his players are up to the challenge. “I think they are into it, they want to go the distance,” said Durbin. “I think they really sense that they have the potential to go some places and get down the road.”

Kioko, for his part, believes that Princeton can go the distance. “I think we just need to take a very serious approach and not make any mental errors,” said Kioko.

“Physical errors are going to happen but we have got to be sharp mentally. I think we could definitely make it past sectionals.”

FEEDING FRENZY: Davon Black heads upcourt in action last year in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League. This summer, former Princeton High standout Black has helped new league entry “Bring Me Food” get off to a hot start in its debut campaign. Last Friday, he scored 14 points to help the team beat SAT Smart 56-33. On Monday, Bring Me Food topped King’s Pizzarama 62-52 to improve to 5-0 (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FEEDING FRENZY: Davon Black heads upcourt in action last year in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League. This summer, former Princeton High standout Black has helped new league entry “Bring Me Food” get off to a hot start in its debut campaign. Last Friday, he scored 14 points to help the team beat SAT Smart 56-33. On Monday, Bring Me Food topped King’s Pizzarama 62-52 to improve to 5-0 (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Davon Black acknowledges that the newly-formed “Bring Me Food” team wasn’t on the same page as it made its debut this June in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League.

“Kyle Froehlich is a Princeton High senior this year who just graduated; he just made a business called Bring Me Food and he wanted to enter a team in the men’s summer league,” said former PHS hoops standout Black, adding that the business is a food delivery service app with five drivers.

“He told me to get five of my guys and he brought five of his guys. The first game was a big struggle, there are a lot of egos on the team and we couldn’t figure out who was going to bring the ball up.”

Bring Me Food won its opener 55-34 over Princeton Youth Sports on June 12 and things started to come together.

“In the second game, we figured out that I am going to bring the ball up and control the offense and not really score as I have been used to scoring,” said Black, a 2012 PHS alum.

“This team has eight guys who can put it up. If I have to lower my scoring to win, that is what I am going to do.”

Featuring an inside-out game with Bert McCallum and Lior Levy providing yeomen’s work in the paint along with Kevin Kane and Nick Davidson producing from the perimeter, Bring Me Food has been piling up the wins.

Last Friday, the team pulled away from SAT Smart/Princeton Soup and Sandwich 56-33, starting the second half with a 26-13 run to win its fourth straight game on the season.

“We found a groove; Kevin (Kane) has played in the league for four years with the high school team, he is a good shooter,” said Black, who scored 14 points in the win over SAT Smart with Kane tallying 15 on five 3-pointers and McCallum chipping in 11.

“I told him to have confidence. Bert is a monster down low, they didn’t have anyone to stop him. Lior is also good. It is inside-out, we are playing good ball.”

As Bring Me Food, which topped King’s Pizzarama 62-52 last Monday in improving to 5-0, heads into the second half of the regular season, Black is confident that it can contend for a championship.

“We are a different team than what I have brought to the park recently; I have tried to play with my friends from PHS, that was more fun basketball,” said Black, noting that he has enrolled at Mercer County Community College and is planning to play for its men’s basketball team under head coach Howard Levy, a former Princeton hoops standout and assistant coach.

“Now this year, we are looking to make a push. We are young and hungry. We have the young legs. We are coming for a title.”

June 24, 2015
SPECIAL RUN: Merrell Noden displays the ready smile that was a hallmark of his approach in coaching the Princeton Day School cross country program over the last four seasons. Noden, who passed away on May 31 at age 59 after battling lung cancer, strove to get his runners to enjoy the sport. Running was at the core of Noden’s being as he set track records at the Lawrenceville School, competed for the Princeton University cross country team, and later ran at Oxford as a grad student. In addition to competing, he wrote about the sport for Sports Illustrated and other publications.

SPECIAL RUN: Merrell Noden displays the ready smile that was a hallmark of his approach in coaching the Princeton Day School cross country program over the last four seasons. Noden, who passed away on May 31 at age 59 after battling lung cancer, strove to get his runners to enjoy the sport. Running was at the core of Noden’s being as he set track records at the Lawrenceville School, competed for the Princeton University cross country team, and later ran at Oxford as a grad student. In addition to competing, he wrote about the sport for Sports Illustrated and other publications.

In coaching the Princeton Day School cross country program over the last four seasons, Merrell Noden was thrilled whenever his runners were at the front of the pack.

But his main ambition in leading his charges wasn’t centered on achieving personal records or top-3 finishes.

“My goal is to have the kids learn something about running and cross country, to make them enjoy it and stay with it, and to improve,” said Noden in a 2013 interview.

For Noden, who passed away on May 31 at age 59 after battling lung cancer, running stayed at the core of his being until the end.

As a student at The Lawrenceville School, Noden ran a 4:11.9 mile on a distance medley team that set a U.S. high school indoor record; and, on his own, he set an Eastern high school indoor 880 record of 1:54.0. At Princeton University, he ran cross-country for four years while graduating summa cum laude.

After a stint teaching at Princeton Day School, he earned an MPhil in English Literature at Oxford University. While at Oxford, he trained and raced with the North London Athletics Club and earned an Oxford Blue. He would continue to run for pleasure and competition throughout his life.

Returning from Oxford, he started writing for Sports Illustrated and produced a number of insightful stories on track athletes, among many other subjects. After a distinguished tenure at SI, Noden branched into freelancing, contributing to a variety of publications.

In 2011, he took the helm of the PDS boys’ and girls’ cross country teams and found a new audience to regale with his love of running.

Reflecting on his time with Noden, PDS assistant cross country coach Chris Devlin said that Noden clicked with the young runners.

“He was very knowledgeable about the sport,” said Devlin, who joined the coaching staff in 2012. “He had run at Princeton and written for Sports Illustrated but you would never know that from talking to him. He was one of the nicest and most down-to-earth guys. The kids really related to him.”

Emma Kaplan, a member of the cross country team for the last three years who recently graduated from PDS, credited Noden with inspiring a love of running.

“He helped everyone appreciate the sport,” said Kaplan. “He told us stories about his experiences as a runner and some of the people he had run against. He helped everyone set goals.”

Noden, in turn, appreciated seeing the PDS runners achieving their goals.

“He recognized everyone’s improvement, not just the top five runners,” said Kaplan.

“He was good at recognizing the accomplishments of others. He had a special connection with everyone on the team.”

Devlin and the runners, though, recognized that Noden was struggling with his illness, which first manifested itself in 2012, when he missed a few practices and ran less regularly with his athletes. By 2013, he was using a cane and a walker to get around. Last fall, he would customarily coach sitting in a golf cart or a chair.

There was no thought, however, on Noden’s part of taking the easy way out and giving up his coaching duties.

“His brain may have said stop coaching but his mind and heart said not yet,” said Devlin.

“It was a love of the sport and a love of the team, he wanted to be there for the kids. He was inspirational; he would get dropped off at the bottom of the hill and would make his way to the pagoda. He never mentioned anything about his illness. I made sure I got a golf cart whenever I could for him. He was like a military service guy, never bringing up anything about what he was going through.”

While Noden may have suffered in silence, his steadfast presence spoke volumes about his commitment to the sport and team.

“It was hard to see him go through that much pain, especially when you had seen how active he was before,” said Kaplan.

“He still came out to practice even though sometimes he was not able to walk and the other coaches had to help him. He wanted to come out and support us. I think it was because he loved the sport so much, everyone who knew him knows that he loved running so much. He enjoyed coaching us as well. At one point his son, Sam, was on the team.”

Noden’s love for the sport and his runners leaves a major void for the PDS program.

“It is going to be really hard to fill his shoes,” said Kaplan. “He was so understanding and connected so well with everyone.”

For Devlin, it is hard to imagine coaching without Noden. “I will miss the bus trips,” said Devlin.

“He would tell stories on the bus. His friendship and the knowledge he had was special. We would talk about fantasy football. He knew I was a big Notre Dame fan and he would joke about whether he was going to bet on them. He took me on as a coach when I had hardly any background in running and taught me what I know about the sport. We haven’t just lost a coach, we have lost a friend and a mentor. One of the kids said on a web post that he may be gone but he will always be there with me when I am running.”

This reporter got a first hand exposure to Noden’s gift for imparting running lore at the 2013 Mercer County Championships. As Noden was sitting hunched over near the finish line at Washington Crossing State Park waiting for his runners, we struck up a conversation. He talked about how one of his athletes had competed for the Thames Valley Harriers in London and spoke glowingly of his time with the North London club. Noden’s eyes sparkled as he then recalled how he used to do 20-milers in and around the park we were sitting in to train for marathons.

As the runners approached the finish line, Noden smiled and turned his focus to the race at hand, looking right at home notwithstanding how bad he must have felt being confined to his chair.

Things started quietly for the Princeton Little League (PLL) squad as it started the defense of its District 12 Intermediate 50/70 tournament title against Millstone-Roosevelt last Sunday afternoon.

PLL trailed 1-0 after two innings and it appeared that the game was going to be a nail-biter in the competition, which utilizes a modified baseball field using a 50-foot pitching distance and 70-foot base paths and is open to players ages 11-13.

But Ben Amon led off the third inning for PLL with a bang, lining a homer over the right field fence at the Farmview Fields. Later in the frame, Teddy Durbin added a long single to drive in two runs to give PLL a 3-1 lead.

PLL never looked back from that point, coasting to 13-1 win a game that ended after the fifth inning due to the 10-run rule. The team’s outburst included a three-run double by Jackson Rho, a towering three-run homer over the left field fence from Jake Renda, and a run-scoring double from Durbin. Jackson Rho started on the mound and went four innings to get the win while Ben Kioko came on in relief in the fifth and struck out the side.

In reflecting on the victory, PLL manager Jon Durbin said that the third inning was the turning point of the contest.

“I think when we came out in the first inning we were a little on the tight side, even though we hit the ball,” said Durbin.

“Once Ben Amon hit his home run, everything settled down. We got a run back and it was OK, we are on the board now. I think you saw our bats come out. We were starting to smoke the ball and everyone was hitting. We had eight hits that generated the 13 runs. Jackson Rho, Teddy and then Jake Renda all had big hits with multiple runners on base and that is going to generate a lot of runs fast.”

In Durbin’s view, the team drew confidence from having won the District 12 title in 2014.

“This year we are the defending champs and a lot of the guys are back from last year’s team,” said Durbin.

“Our team has nine 13-year-olds and three 12-year-olds so this is the most senior, experienced team that we have field in the three years the 50/70 districts have been going on.”

That experience was reflected in PLL’s fundamentally sound play in all phases of the game.

“I think our defense was actually stellar today,” asserted Durbin. “The double play that Ben Petrone, Nick Trenholm and Teddy turned was fabulous. It is hard on this size field to turn one that quick and have it come off like that.  Then  there was Judd Petrone’s catch in centerfield against the fence, he basically took a home run away from the other team. Coach (Chris) Trenholm was making the point that it is fantastic that we are hitting the ball and that Jackson Rho pitched so well but when your defense is good, it really makes it tough on the other team, even if they are a good hitting team.”

The victory advanced Princeton to the final round of the District 12 against the winner of the elimination game between Millstone-Roosevelt and East Windsor. The finals start on June 25 at Farmview with Princeton needing just one win in the double-elimination format to to clinch the crown.

“The big challenge this year for us this year is making sure that we stay focused in districts,” said Durbin.

“We are using districts this year as a way to bring the team together and really to get ready for the sectionals tournament. We are saying don’t take  anything for granted, don’t get overconfident just because we won big today. You want to come out here and play the game the way you are supposed to be very fundamentally sound.”

With Princeton hosting the sectional tourney, which starts on July 3, Durbin is confident his team can give the home fans plenty to cheer about.

“I think the message has been pretty consistent, get the whole team working together during districts and then, knock on wood, if we win districts, we’ll be ready to go for sectionals,” said Durbin.

“The level of competition at the sectionals goes up several notches. We are in the Central Jersey section and it has all the shore towns so you are going to see teams like Middletown and Lacey.”

ON THE FLY: Princeton Post 218 American Legion baseball second baseman Matt Lambert gathers in a fly in recent action. Last Monday, Lambert, a Princeton High standout, contributed two hits and three RBIs in a losing cause as Post 218 fell 10-5 to Hamilton Post 31 to drop to 2-12. In upcoming action, Post 218 faces Hightstown Post 148 on June 27 at Mercer County Park, hosts Ewing Post 314 on June 29, and plays at Hopewell Post 339 on June 30. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ON THE FLY: Princeton Post 218 American Legion baseball second baseman Matt Lambert gathers in a fly in recent action. Last Monday, Lambert, a Princeton High standout, contributed two hits and three RBIs in a losing cause as Post 218 fell 10-5 to Hamilton Post 31 to drop to 2-12. In upcoming action, Post 218 faces Hightstown Post 148 on June 27 at Mercer County Park, hosts Ewing Post 314 on June 29, and plays at Hopewell Post 339 on June 30. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Over the final four and a half innings last Monday evening, the Princeton Post 218 American Legion baseball team battled powerful Hamilton Post 31 to a 5-5 standstill.

But having dug an early 5-0 hole, Princeton’s late heroics went for naught as visiting Hamilton left Smoyer Park with a 10-5 victory.

While Princeton manager Tommy Parker liked the spirit his team displayed, he acknowledged that it can’t afford lapses.

“That’s what I just told them out there, once we settled down, we did battle back,” said Parker, who got two hits and three RBIs from second baseman Matt Lambert in the defeat with catcher Steve Majeski and left fielder Ben Danis knocking in one run apiece.

“It has got to be that effort all the way. It is a game of inches, they hit it anywhere we weren’t and we hit it where they was. That’s really what it was.”

With his club having lost 10 of its last 11 games in moving to 2-12, Parker said it has been plagued by uneven play this summer.

“The issues are not hitting, that has been it more than anything,” said Parker. “We can’t make mistakes defensively, those little things, like throwing to the  wrong base, because even if you get away with it, it sets a tone. You have to think the game all the time and that has been my message, think the game and give 100 percent.”

Despite the rough stretch, Parker is seeing some good individual efforts. “It has been game to game, different guys have stepped up in different games, like Joe Studholme tonight,” said Parker.

“He has proven when he is available, that he has been hard to hi, that has been a bright spot. Tommy Pecora had an excellent game pitching against Trenton the other night and he has been getting his bat on the ball. This Paul Cooke is going to be remarkable. Chris Sumners has been playing first base and designated hitter and we discovered this kid can pitch. He had them baffled the other day in Trenton.”

With 10 games left in regular season play, Parker is looking for his players to bear down over the homestretch.

“The future is bright, I am always optimistic,” said Parker, whose team faces Hightstown Post 148 on June 27 at Mercer County Park, hosts Ewing Post 314 on June 29, and plays at Hopewell Post 339 on June 30.

“I just want to see us put our noses to the grindstone, give 100 percent and give our best effort. Let’s not give any games away. They need to stay focused, keep their heads in the game, and play baseball like they know they can.”

Parker, for his part, hopes that kind of effort will yield results that are more indicative of the team’s talent level.

“I feel for these guys, they are better than they appear,” maintained Parker.

“The fan that is not here will look at the score and say wow, these guys are bad. There are good ballplayers here, the numbers don’t necessarily say anything about the ability of this team. They are good enough to compete. They are playing against the best of the best. If you make a mistake they are going to take advantage of it, all the way up and down the line.”

INSIDE JOB: Mark Aziz of Ivy Inn handles the ball down low in recent action in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League. Aziz’s powerful inside game at both ends of the court has helped Ivy Inn get off to a 4-0 start this season. Ivy Inn and SAT Smart/Princeton Soup and Sandwich (3-0) are the only teams remaining undefeated so far this summer. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

INSIDE JOB: Mark Aziz of Ivy Inn handles the ball down low in recent action in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League. Aziz’s powerful inside game at both ends of the court has helped Ivy Inn get off to a 4-0 start this season. Ivy Inn and SAT Smart/Princeton Soup and Sandwich (3-0) are the only teams remaining undefeated so far this summer. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Mark Aziz, last year turned out to be a lost season as he looked to help Ivy Inn go for a second straight title in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League.

Aziz suffered a fractured jaw in the fourth game of the 2014 season and was sidelined the rest of the summer. “It was tough sitting on the sidelines and watching us lose,” said Aziz, reflecting on a season that saw Ivy Inn knocked out of the playoffs in the quarterfinals.

Returning to action this season, Aziz, a former standout for The College of New Jersey men’s hoops program,  has been providing his customary tough play inside for Ivy Inn.

Last Friday, Aziz scored eight points and did yeomen’s work in the paint, getting key rebounds and making some blocked shots as Ivy Inn defeated Aria Health 40-27.

In reflecting on the win, Aziz was proud of how Ivy Inn put the clamps on Aria.

“Defensively, as always, we were there all the time, especially with the communication, ” said Aziz. “We got a lot of good pressure; we forced them to take difficult shots in traffic. It definitely helped.”

Aziz focuses on helping to raise the defensive intensity for Ivy Inn. “My role is anchoring the defense, first and foremost,” said Aziz, who has also played pro ball overseas.

“We have got some more scoring power with Sherm (Brittingham) and Tommy (Soulias) so that’s not my main concern. It is just a matter of playing defense and rebounding and not giving the refs a hard time.”

With Ivy Inn defeating Dr. Palmer 46-33 last Monday to improve to 4-0, Aziz believes the team could be a force this summer.

“We got a couple of new guys with us, they are gelling perfectly,” said Aziz.

“We all play well together and complement each other so well so it’s a great start for us. I am real surprised. I am real happy with how we have started so far.”

No matter how things end up this summer, Aziz is just happy to be on the court again for Ivy Inn.

“It is great to be back, for sure,” said Aziz. “It is a great group of guys and I love being here for sure. When you don’t play competitive any more throughout the year, you just look forward to getting together with these guys and taking advantage of the time together. It makes it a little more lighthearted.”

It was a muggy Thursday evening in mid-June but the atmosphere in the Hun School gym was reminiscent of a big game in mid-winter.

The bleachers in Shipley Pavilion were more than half full and the telltale sounds of whistles and squeaking sneakers filled the air.

While there wasn’t a key high school game in progress, it was a big night on the local hoops scene as it marked the opening night of the newly-formed Victory Sports Pro-Am Summer Basketball League.

League director Bryan Caver, a former Seton Hall men’s hoops standout, was happy to see the strong turnout for the triple-header which featured an entertaining run-and-gun brand of hoops under the league’s format of four 10-minute quarters with a running clock and a 24-second shot clock.

“I just think the avid fan really wants to see some good basketball and that is what we are trying to provide, guys competing at a high level in the summer time,” said Caver of the league, which is holding triple-headers on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at Hun starting at 6:00 p.m. with playoffs slated to begin on August 4.

“Guys that you get to see on TV, Charles Cook played at Dayton this year, Trey Lowe is going to Temple, you get to see them up close. You don’t realize how good these guys are until you see them up close.”

Caver, who has become familiar with the area through working for Mercer County Special Services as a Behavioral Interventionist, realized that there was a need for such high-level competition in the summer.

“I knew a couple of area guys and overseas guys that come home who play Division 1, who really didn’t have a place to play in the summer,” said Caver.

“They were just kind of watching leagues. The Jersey Shore League still exists but it is not the same competition that it was. About two years ago I kind of pondered it and I thought what I want for myself if I was still playing. We just wanted to create an environment where these guys could compete.”

Hun turned out to be an ideal environment for the league. “There were a couple of different places considered but this location is perfect,” said Caver.

“We have guys coming from all different areas so it is accessible. I really thank the Hun family for allowing us to do this, especially athletic director Bill Quirk. They love their basketball but to give an outside entity an opportunity to come and share the facility, I truly appreciate that.”

Caver was taken aback by the number of guys who wanted to get an opportunity to play in the league.

“The moment we started contacting these colleges and universities, they were all for it,” said Caver, pointing out that the league is NCAA-sanctioned.

“We had two tryouts because of the response. We thought we would have some area talent but the vast amount of talent has been a surprise. We have players from Rider, Princeton, and Rutgers. There are some from D-3 schools and some overseas guys. We have guys coming from as far away as Bloomfield. It is a vast array of talent and players.”

While Caver is happy with the talent the league has attracted this summer, he sees it as only a start.

“This season, I want to see an influx of guys, this is what the pro-am is about,” added Caver,

“Guys hearing about it and making room for those guys who want to compete and play in this league. I want the NBA guys to know there is a place they can come to near home. I want to get even more talent and raise the level. I want more than eight teams, I want 16 teams.”

Buoyed by the promising start, Caver is confident that the league can become a fixture on the local sporting scene.

“We hope to keep this going for many years to come,” said Caver, noting that Victory Sports is looking to start programs in other sports, including soccer, field hockey, and football.

“I feel there was a place for this. As you can see, we have some talent and these guys are competing. I just really want people to come out and watch and enjoy the level of competition that we have and the level of the basketball that we are bringing to this area. There is nothing like this in the area and there hasn’t been in a long time.”

PAYING THE PRICE: Amir Bell heads upcourt this winter in his freshman season with the Princeton University men’s basketball team. This summer, point guard Bell is honing his skills by playing for the T. Rowe Price team in the newly-formed Victory Sports Pro-Am summer basketball league. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PAYING THE PRICE: Amir Bell heads upcourt this winter in his freshman season with the Princeton University men’s basketball team. This summer, point guard Bell is honing his skills by playing for the T. Rowe Price team in the newly-formed Victory Sports Pro-Am summer basketball league. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Playing for the T. Rowe Price team on opening night last Thursday in the newly-formed Victory Sports Pro-Am summer basketball league, Amir Bell displayed his competitive fire.

The rising sophomore guard for the Princeton University men’s basketball hit the floor hard at the Hun School gym, diving for loose balls and intensely going to the hoop.

Bell’s grit and 11 points, though weren’t enough as T. Rowe Price fell 77-64 to P.E.M.G.

Afterward, Bell showed another side of his competitive nature as he glumly assessed the defeat.

“We didn’t play defense down the stretch; we missed a lot of shots that we were making in the first half,” said a frowning Bell.

“We have to keep pushing through when we get tired. We should have won that game. That is what summer league is for, to get better at things like that so we have to continue working.”

Bell is looking forward to pushing himself in the summer league. “You get to play, make sure you stay fresh and solid until the season comes,” said Bell. “It should be a really good opportunity, really good competition.”

With incoming Princeton freshmen hoops players Myles Stephens, Devin Cannady, and Noah Bramlage, joining Bell on the T. Rowe Price roster, he is getting the opportunity to take his new teammates under his wing.

“We are trying to build some chemistry, teach them some things that will happen during the season,” said Bell. “We want to help them out, make them run parts of the system.”

Coming off a superb debut campaign, Bell is looking to build up his game individually.

“I have been working on my midrange jump shot and my three-point game,” said Bell, a 6’3, 160-pound native of East Brunswick who averaged 8.8 points a game as a freshman and dished out 77 assists. “I want to be a better leader and a better communicator with my teammates next year.”

Bell and the Tigers are poised to do better than last winter when they posted an overall record of 16-14 and went 9-5 in Ivy League play.

“It should be a really big year for us, trying to bring momentum that we gain over the summer into the season,” said Bell.

“We have a lot of guys who are back and have some experience. We are hungry and we have pretty big expectations for ourselves. It should be fun.”

NATIONAL IMPACT: Members of the Princeton National Rowing Association’s Mercer Rowing Club (PNRA/Mercer) display the medals they won at the  recently-held USRowing Youth National Championships at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida. The Women’s Youth Eight plus coxswain took silver while the Women’s Youth Lightweight Eight earned bronze. Pictured in the front row, from left, is the lightweight crew of Elise Gorberg, Eileen Hu, Lauren Miller, Jenna Kugel, Katarina Stough, Hannah Ash, Kathryn Miller, Celia Varga, and Sara Hansen. In the back row, from left, is the open eight of  Badia Shehab, Caitlin Cleary, Kelly Fischer, Hayley Bork, Kate Edmondson, Katie Lustig, Kate Hickey, Alex Natale, Rena White, and coach Ted Sobolewski.

NATIONAL IMPACT: Members of the Princeton National Rowing Association’s Mercer Rowing Club (PNRA/Mercer) display the medals they won at the recently-held USRowing Youth National Championships at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida. The Women’s Youth Eight plus coxswain took silver while the Women’s Youth Lightweight Eight earned bronze. Pictured in the front row, from left, is the lightweight crew of Elise Gorberg, Eileen Hu, Lauren Miller, Jenna Kugel, Katarina Stough, Hannah Ash, Kathryn Miller, Celia Varga, and Sara Hansen. In the back row, from left, is the open eight of Badia Shehab, Caitlin Cleary, Kelly Fischer, Hayley Bork, Kate Edmondson, Katie Lustig, Kate Hickey, Alex Natale, Rena White, and coach Ted Sobolewski.

Coming up big on the national stage, the Princeton National Rowing Association’s Mercer Rowing Club (PNRA/Mercer) rowers won a silver medal in the Women’s Youth Eight plus coxswain event and a bronze medal in the Women’s Youth Lightweight Eight plus coxswain event earlier this month at the USRowing Youth National Championships at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida.

The national championship regatta featured more than 1700 athletes from 163 clubs and high school rowing programs from 30 states competing in 18 sweep rowing and sculling categories.

The women’s open eight trailed early in the Grand Final but moved into third place behind Saugatuck Rowing Club (Conn.) and Holy Names Academy (Wash.) half way through the 2000-meter race.  Just before the 1500-meter mark, PNRA/Mercer pulled ahead of Holy Names and continued to gain on Saugatuck through the last 500 meters. As the race ended, PNRA/Mercer clinched the silver medal spot, missing the National Championship by less than 1.4 seconds as it clocked a time of 6:35.960 with Saugatuck coming in at 6:34.599.

Senior star Rena White credited PNRA/Mercer head coach Ted Sobolewski with providing the vision that helped inspire the boat to reach new heights.

“When Coach Ted came to coach Mercer in fall of 2012, he told us our goal is to win a medal in the premier Women’s Youth Eight event, even though we never even had a girl’s eight crew reach the Grand Final at Nationals,” said team co-captain White, a senior at Princeton High who will be rowing at Stanford University in the fall.  “It seemed like a really lofty goal at the time, but we achieved it within three years.”

In addition to White, the crew included co-captain senior Hayley Bork (Robbinsville High) who will row at UCLA in the fall, senior Alex Natale (The Hun School) who will row at the University of Virginia in the fall, seniors Kelly Fischer who will row at the University of Notre Dame next year and Badia Shehab who will row at the University of Tennessee in the fall (both from Hopewell Valley Central High), juniors Kate Hickey (Notre Dame High) and Caitlin Cleary (Princeton High School), sophomore Katie Lustig (Council Rock North High) and coxswain senior Kate Edmondson, who will cox at the University of Miami in the fall.

The women’s lightweight eight also battled to the end in taking bronze, trailing the second place finisher Oakland Strokes by only 0.4 seconds. Saugatuck took first in a time of 6:48.229 with Oakland next in 6:52.055 and Mercer third in 6:52.454.

Rowers in PNRA/Mercer’s lightweight eight included senior Hannah Ash (Princeton High) who will swim for Occidental College in the fall, freshman Sara Hansen and junior Eileen Hu (both from WW/P-S), juniors Elise Gorberg (WW/P-N), Jenna Kugel (Montgomery High), as well as sisters junior Kathryn Miller and sophomore Lauren Miller (Steinert High) and sophomore Celia Varga (Princeton Day School).

In reflecting on the boat’s bronze medal performance, coxswain Katarina Stough said it was the product of a competitive mindset.

“Coach Ted has instilled a winning attitude in all of us, which is something that I will carry with me in all aspects of my life” said Stough, a PHS senior who will cox for Georgetown University next year.

Stough provided leadership for the lightweight crew which included several underclassmen competing at the national level for the first time.  Rounding out the girls’ accomplishments at Youth Nationals, PNRA/Mercer finished 13th in the nation in Women’s Youth Four with coxswain category.

The PNRA/Mercer boys are seeing their own progress under first-year coach Justin Ochal, a collegiate teammate of Sobolewski’s at Northeastern University.  PNRA/Mercer finished 11th in the nation in the Men’s Youth Eight with coxswain category and finished 12th in the nation in the Men’s Youth Lightweight Four with coxswain.

June 17, 2015
STARTING POINT: Dana Smith heads upfield in action this spring during her freshman campaign for the Lafayette College women’s lacrosse team. Smith a former Princeton High standout, started 16 of 17 games for the Leopards on defense, picking up 21 ground balls and causing 12 turnovers.(Photo provided courtesy of Lafayette College)

STARTING POINT: Dana Smith heads upfield in action this spring during her freshman campaign for the Lafayette College women’s lacrosse team. Smith a former Princeton High standout, started 16 of 17 games for the Leopards on defense, picking up 21 ground balls and causing 12 turnovers. (Photo provided courtesy of Lafayette College)

Dana Smith was a bundle of nervous energy as she headed to make her debut for the Lafayette College women’s lacrosse team this February at Monmouth University.

“It was very exciting, it was a Saturday game so we went to team breakfast and then had a bus ride,” said former Princeton High standout Smith.

“In college, the games are farther away. It is good and bad to have that much time to think about it.”

Smith did get playing time in the opener, coming on as a substitute. “I got in at the end of the game,” recalled Smith. “I just got to play 15 minutes. I was able to hold my own; I had learned a lot from the fall.”

Utilizing her speed and Energizer Bunny approach to the game, the 5’1 Smith more than held her own over the rest of the season, starting the team’s next 16 games, picking up 21 ground balls and causing 12 turnovers.

For Smith, the move up to college lacrosse was daunting at first. “It was a big change, the amount of hours you put in, even in the offseason,” said Smith, who also starred for the PHS girls’ soccer team.

“It was unlike anything I had experienced; there was such a learning curve with the style and speed of play. Even the rules were different. I had a lot of great role models, playing for my club coaches and older girls who I knew had told me what to expect. I don’t know how it was going to feel but I was going to be prepared.”

Smith had to learn a new position as she was switched to defense from her customary midfield spot. “We had a lot of changes on defense,” said Smith.

“I played defense earlier at PHS so I have always been comfortable on defense, I played a zone defense for the first time. One of the things I love about this sport is that it is constantly changing. It has been fun learning zone defense and getting to play that.”

It was fun for Smith to test herself against the skilled players she competed with and against at the college level.

“Every game I had to give it my best shot,” asserted Smith. “There are 27 amazing players on our team so when you get on the field, you have to make the most of it. That was the mind-set.”

A 14-12 victory over UC Davis on February 22 and a solid effort in a February 28 loss to Temple, in which she had three ground balls and two caused turnovers, helped Smith gain a comfort level on the field.

“It was my first college win,” said Smith, referring to the UC-Davis game. “It was great to see what it felt like to win a game at Lafayette. In the Temple game, I felt I understood what I was supposed to do and I really contributed.”

While Lafayette didn’t get as many wins as Smith would have hoped as it went 4-13 overall, Smith sees a bright future for the Leopards.

“Our team was very young, we have an awesome sophomore class and a class of 10 freshmen,” said Smith, noting that the team went 2-3 in its last five games with two of the losses being by one goal.

“The juniors who are going to be seniors are going to give us really good leadership. We had a freshman goalie and we got better working with her. Last year, our assistant coach, Anna White, was one of the best on draw controls, she was the Patriot League record holder. We had trouble figuring that out for a while and we got better and better working together.”

Things came together for Smith off the field as well this year. “I have a lot of great friends on and off the lacrosse team,” said Smith, who was joined on the lax squad by fellow freshman and former Princeton Day school star Lucy Linville.

“Everyone in the class gets along. There are a lot of other athletes. It is a small school so we get to know each other.”

Smith will be spending the summer coaching with the Ultimate Lacrosse club and honing her game.

“I am working on my speed because in college the game is so fast,” said Smith.

“I want to take every inch because I don’t have the height. You don’t have much time to make decisions.”

Looking ahead to her sophomore year, Smith is primed to take things to a higher level.

“I think I will be a lot more confident,” said Smith. “When I was a captain in high school, I was able to direct things on the field. As a defender this year, I felt timid about speaking up. Getting into 17 games, I had to make decisions and there is not as much indecision. I was very gratified to get in. You feel good, I have worked hard and it has paid off. I was able to help the team; next year I will be able to contribute more.”

SHOOTING STAR: Hun School boys’ lacrosse star Chris Donovan heads to goal in a game this spring. Post-graduate and Georgetown-bound Donovan scored 105 points on 56 goals and 49 assists to help Hun got 19-1 and win its first state Prep A title since 1998.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SHOOTING STAR: Hun School boys’ lacrosse star Chris Donovan heads to goal in a game this spring. Post-graduate and Georgetown-bound Donovan scored 105 points on 56 goals and 49 assists to help Hun got 19-1 and win its first state Prep A title since 1998. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Arriving at the Hun School as a post-graduate and boarding student this past fall, Chris Donovan quickly developed a comfort level with his new surroundings.

The lacrosse star forged bonds with new teammates and fellow post-grads Brendan Rooney and Chris Aslanian as they were in the same boat, moving to the school and living in the dorm.

“Half of the team boards and we are up with each other until 1 in the morning talking about lacrosse and the state championship before going to bed,” said the Georgetown-bound Donovan, who hails from Morristown. “Aslanian is my roommate, we talk about lacrosse all the time.”

It didn’t take long for the attack unit of Donovan, Rooney, and Aslanian to become the talk of local lacrosse circles as highly touted Hun posted wins over Don Bosco, Somerville, and national power IMG Academy (Fla.) in its three games.

The 6’0, 175-pound Donovan, for his part, served notice that he was going to be a force, tallying eight points on three goals and five assists in the 16-5 opening day win over Don Bosco.

As the season went on, Donovan and Hun kept rolling, going 15-0 in regular season play, highlighted by victories over perennial state Prep A champion Lawrenceville, St. Augustine, Episcopal (Pa.), Shawnee, Bergen Catholic, and Hill (Pa).

In the process, Hun gained national attention, climbing to the top 10 in the Under Armour Power Rankings and the Lax Power computer rankings.

“Chris, Rooney, and me had a great connection,” said Donovan, who had five goals against Lawrenceville, a goal and three assists against St Augustine, six goals and an assist against Episcopal, six goals and four assists versus Bergen Catholic, and two goals and four assists in the Shawnee win.

“We stay after practice everyday, catching passes. Rooney has taught me a lot of things I will never forget, like behind the back shots.”

Competing in the state Prep A tournament and the Inter-Ac Challenge after the season, Hun did a lot of good things with Donovan triggering the attack. In a 19-4 win over Peddie in the Prep A semifinals, Donovan chipped in two goals and two assists. As for the Inter-Ac Challenge, Donovan had three goals and three assists to help Hun beat Academy of New Church 13-4 in the quarters and then contributed two goals and four assist as Hun topped Episcopal 9-4 in a rematch of their regular season contest.

Donovan was at his best when the titles were on the line. Against top-ranked and undefeated Haverford School (Pa.) in the Inter-Ac final, Donovan distinguished himself in a losing cause, tallying six points on two goals and four assist as Hun fell 15-8.

Coming into the Prep A title game three days later against 13-time champion Lawrenceville, Donovan and his teammates were determined to end the season on a high note.

“Bouncing back from Monday night was very tough,” said Donovan. “We gave it our all against the No. 1 team in the nation, they played incredibly. We knew we had to come out hard, we knew we were going to be tired. This got pushed back because of that. We are just hungry and humble, that is our motto this year.”

Showing his hunger to score, Donovan fired in a game-high four goals and added an assist as Hun rolled to a 14-6 win over the Big Red to earn its first Prep A crown since 1998.

In helping the Raiders go 19-1 and finish No. 4 in the Under Armour poll and sixth in the Lax Power rankings, Donovan led the team with 105 points on 56 goals and 49 assists. He scored at least two points in every game he played, and he scored three or more goals 11 times.

After the win over Lawrenceville in the Prep A title game, Hun head coach MV Whitlow put into perspective what Donovan’s presence this year meant for the Raiders.

“Chris is an inspiring player; his performance Monday night against Haverford was truly an inspiring performance,” said Whitlow.

“They were shutting him off today so I put him in the midfield to let him be the athlete that he is and he had four goals. He is truly a generational player, no doubt about it. We are very fortunate to have had him here because he is such a good young man from a great family.”

For making such a great impact as he helped Hun to its best season in a generation, Donovan is the choice as the Town Topics’ top male performer of the spring season.

Top Female Performer

This year’s senior class on the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team has gone through a lot.

During the last four years, the program has had three head coaches, been hit with some key injuries, and saw a star player leave the team in midseason this spring.

But amid the upheaval, Mira Shane has been a rock for the Class of 2015. Starting in goal from day-one as a freshman and never leaving her post, Shane provided dependability, a fiery competitive spirit, and skill.

As David Schlesinger took the helm of the program this spring, he quickly realized he had something special in Shane.

“I am incredibly fortunate to inherit a goalie like Mira Shane,” said Schlesinger.

“As great a goaltender as she is, she is a better person. She is one of our tri-captains.”

Shane’s leadership came in handy as the team hit a rough patch in the middle of the season, losing six in a row to fall to 5-10.

“We lost a lot of seniors from the year before, we needed to shape a new team, not building off what we had done,” said Shane.

“This season was about establishing a new foundation. I kept saying we need to grow up. It was about growing up and having the best head and heart to play lacrosse and be better people to see what a loving team can do.”

With Shane producing some incredible play in the cage, PHS showed that it could be a title contender. The fifth-seeded Little Tigers advanced to the Mercer County Tournament semifinals where they dropped a 5-4 heartbreaker to top-seeded and eventual champion Notre Dame with Shane making 16 saves in a losing cause.

“Mira is amazing; she is so athletic and so quick,” said Schlesinger, who consoled Shane afterward as the goalie slumped over in tears near the team huddle after giving her all physically and emotionally.

“Her understanding of the position has grown so much this year, the way she plays angles and now she is a step ahead of the shooters. She knows what she wants to give up. She is forcing the shooters to shoot where she wants them to shoot. She is an amazing leader, a great player.”

In the North Group 3 sectional, ninth-seeded PHS topped eighth-seeded Roxbury 13-9 in the opening round and then pulled off one of the upsets of the season as it stunned top-seeded Northern Highlands 7-4 in the quarters.

In Shane’s view, that win spoke volumes about the team’s character.

“I think it just showed the amount of heart we had,” added Shane. “We had faced a lot of adversity this year. It was an up and down season.”

While the season ended on a down note as PHS fell 9-8 in overtime to fourth-seeded Hopewell Valley in the sectional semis, Shane believed that the final record of 10-13 didn’t accurately reflect the kind of team that PHS developed into this spring.

“I was really proud of what we accomplished,” said Shane, who made 14 saves in the finale. “We may not have the killer record to reflect that but we grew as a team.”

Shane certainly accomplished a lot in her career making over 200 saves this spring and around 700 in her stellar career.

Shane’s intensity, skill, and leadership make her the pick as the top female performer this spring.

Top Newcomers

Earning the first singles spot on the Princeton High boys’ tennis team over two seniors was the first sign the freshman Noah Lilienthal was something special.

In describing Lilienthal’s game, PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert noted that he possessed a maturity on the court. “Noah is a very consistent player,” said Hibbert. “He is a seasoned tournament player. He is mostly a baseliner but has a good all around game.”

Lilienthal’s combination of skill and experience was on full display when he produced a breakout performance in the final day of the Mercer County Tournament in late April, overcoming a one-set deficit to upset top-seeded and defending champion Jerry Jiang 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 in the semis and then beating second-seeded Kabir Sarita of WW/P-S 6-3, 6-4 in the finals to earn the first singles crown.

The county title surprised even Lilienthal. “It was really exciting,” said Lilienthal, who was seeded third. “At first I couldn’t believe it, and that was the same with the last match. It is a win that will give me confidence but I am the same player I was yesterday and the same player I was the day before that. It just shows that I have been putting in the hard work and hopefully I can continue.”

Hibbert, though, believed all along that Lilienthal had such a performance in him.

“Noah is great, everyone today got to see his quality of tennis on display, his shotmaking, his feet, his footwork, his movement, all of that,” said Hibbert.

“The presence as a freshman to be able to take out last year’s champion in the semi and then take out another highly experienced, solid player in the finals back-to-back, he had an amazing day.”

Showing his presence, Lilienthal helped PHS win the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional title for the first time since 2008 and top Tenafly in the Group 3 semis before falling to perennial power Millburn in the state championship match.

Lilienthal, for his part, was thrilled to see PHS advance to the final.

“We have worked really hard to get to this spot, we all do it as a team,” said Lilienthal. “We all contribute. It shows that we have really good character and I was happy we could do it for Princeton.”

For making a huge contribution to that success, Lilienthal is the choice as the top male newcomer this spring.

Coming into this spring, it was clear that the Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse team was undergoing a youth movement.

The Panthers’ roster featured 12 freshmen and and five sophomores with the only seniors being co-captain Morgan Foster and Kirsten Kuzmicz.

Looking ahead to the season, longtime head coach Jill Thomas believed that what her team lacked in experience, it could make up for with skill and enthusiasm.

“This team is a great group of girls who are fun to work with every day,” said Thomas. “There is lots of energy, potential, and talent. We will look to Morgan Foster and Kirsten Kuzmicz to lead this young team throughout the 2015 season.”

But from the outset, the young guns were on target for the Panthers. In the team’s season-opening 15-6 win over Sewickley Academy (Pa.), freshman Madison Mundenar tallied five points on three goals and two assists with freshman Kyra Hall adding three goals and sophomore Morgan Mills chipping in six goals.

Mundenar, for her part, kept up a torrid pace, scoring four goals with an assist in a 14-2 victory over WW/P-S and adding three more goals in an 18-7 win over Shipley (Pa.) as the Panthers jumped out to a 3-0 start.

While the Panthers suffered some growing pains in the middle of the season, going 4-4 after the sizzling start, Mundenar helped lead the way as the squad rolled to the state Prep B title.

The speedy, skilled attacker scored four goals as first-seeded PDS defeated eighth-seeded Morristown-Beard 18-9 in the Prep B quarterfinals and had two more in a 15-5 win over the Ranney School in the semis.

Saving her best for last, Mundenar contributed five goals and an assist as the Panthers defeated second-seeded Pennington 18-11 in the Prep B championship game. Her outburst in the finale gave Mundenar 54 points on the season with 40 goals and 14 assists as PDS went 11-6.

During the title celebration, Thomas tipped her hat to her freshman contingent.

“They are not freshmen any more,” said Thomas. “They have grown so much and that is pretty darn terrific.”

By growing into a star who helped PDS earn a state title, Mundenar is the choice as the top female newcomer.

Top Coaches

In 2013, MV Whitlow took over a Hun School boys’ lacrosse program that wasn’t in great shape, coming off a disappointing 7-11 campaign the previous spring.

Whitlow righted the ship guiding the Raiders to an 11-6 record and an appearance in the state Prep A title game where they fell 17-6 to perennial power Lawrenceville. He continued to solidify that foundation as Hun went 13-7 in 2014, making another trip to the Prep A finals, creeping closer to Lawrenceville, losing 11-6.

As Whitlow looked ahead to this spring, he believed that his players were poised to take things to a higher level.

“I think the guys are very committed to the team success and not individual stuff,” said Whitlow.

“We have high character guys who care a lot for each other. A theme we have shared is to focus on the process, consistent winning comes from the process; not focusing on the outcome. We have ramped up the schedule and the guys are hungry and ready to take the next step.”

The Raiders displayed their hunger and skill as they rolled to a 15-0 regular season campaign, beating such formidable foes Don Bosco, national power IMG Academy (Fla.), perennial state Prep A champion Lawrenceville, St. Augustine, Episcopal (Pa.), Shawnee, Bergen Catholic, and Hill, (Pa.).

Hun’s prowess turned heads nationally as the team made the top 10 in the Under Armour Power Rankings and the Lax Power computer rankings.

In the postseason, the Raiders showed that they belonged among the nation’s elite. In the prestigious Inter-Ac Challenge, Hun advanced to the finals where they fell 15-8 to top-ranked and undefeated Haverford School (Pa.) in a hard-fought battle. Three days later, the Raiders put the crowning touch on a memorable campaign as they topped Lawrenceville 14-6 to snap its 13-year title streak and win its first Prep A crown since 1998.

In the wake of earning the Prep A crown, Whitlow lauded his team for its achievements and character.

“I really wanted these guys to have champions next to their name and they will have it now and we will hang a banner,” said Whitlow, whose team ended the spring with a 19-1 record, ranked fourth nationally by Under Armour and sixth by LaxPower.

“This team will live on at the school because they deserve that and they worked for it. The group really didn’t care about individual stuff, they were all about the team and the teammates. They really worked hard in the offseason and they were a truly selfless, high character group of young men.

Whitlow’s role in bringing the group together to produce a legendary season makes him the choice as the top coach of a male team this spring.

After serving as an assistant coach for the Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse team for 15 years, Liz Cook was ready to take a break from high school lax.

Planning to limit her coaching to club programs, Cook stepped down from her PDS post at the end of the 2014 season.

But weeks later, she got the chance to take the helm of a struggling Hun girls’ program coming off a 1-11 season and decided she couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

“Hun is very much like PDS, there are a lot of similarities between the kids at both schools,” said Cook, a former three-sport star at PDS who went on to play field hockey, ice hockey, and lacrosse at Brown University.

“I knew some of the players from Garden State Elite. I knew they were struggling; it was a chance to really make a difference. It was a good fit.”

In looking to reverse Hun’s fortunes, Cook took an upbeat approach. “My philosophy for this year is to make everything positive,” said Cook.

“We have a team motto, ‘TNT’, meaning today, not tomorrow; do it now. Each girl picked a word that is special to them and they will focus on that in addition to the team.”

After getting off to a 1-3 start, Hun got on the right track rallying to a 14-13 overtime win against PDS, the eventual state Prep B champions.

In Cook’s view, that win reflected how the squad had come together.

“They believe in each other and stand by each other, they have a gift in that way,” said Cook.

“There isn’t any drama on our team and they take care of each other. They knew when we were down, we could come back and they believed. They kept saying we believe and that was what our motto, believe. Before we went to bed we had a group chat last night, we were saying goodnight, we believe, we believe.”

That self-belief led to a number of impressive wins over the course of the season as Hun topped Prep B finalist Pennington, Mercersburg (Pa.) and posted two victories over Stuart Country Day. A major highlight came in late April when the Raiders edged Blair 10-9 in the state A quarterfinals.

In reflecting on the season which saw the Raiders improve to 7-8, Cook said the team’s progress came down to focusing on daily effort.

“I told them the culture of losing is over; they see that they are able to attain anything they go after,” said Cook.

“I told them they needed to improve every day in practice and in every game and they did that. They always had the talent, they just needed some guidance.”

For providing the guidance that changed the culture around the Hun team and helped it improve dramatically, Cook is the pick as the top coach of a female team this spring.

RETURN TO ACTION: Chris Hatchell heads upcourt last year for Winberie’s as he helped the team win the championship in the Princeton Recreation Department Men’s Summer Basketball League. After announcing his retirement from the league, Hatchell changed his mind and was back in action for Winberie’s last Monday as it topped King’s Pizzarama 63-54. In other action on Monday, Dr. Palmer defeated Princeton Youth Sports 50-30 and Princeton Pi topped Aria Health 67-64.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

RETURN TO ACTION: Chris Hatchell heads upcourt last year for Winberie’s as he helped the team win the championship in the Princeton Recreation Department Men’s Summer Basketball League. After announcing his retirement from the league, Hatchell changed his mind and was back in action for Winberie’s last Monday as it topped King’s Pizzarama 63-54. In other action on Monday, Dr. Palmer defeated Princeton Youth Sports 50-30 and Princeton Pi topped Aria Health 67-64. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Chris Hatchell appeared to have gone out in a blaze of glory last year in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League.

Hatchell, the sharpshooting guard and longtime stalwart for Winberie’s, helped the team top King’s Pizzarama 2-0 in the best-of-three championship series and then said he was retiring from the league as he approached his 40th birthday.

But Hatchell couldn’t stay away from the game and he was back on the court for Winberie’s last Monday as it dueled King’s at John Witherspoon School in a rematch of last year’s finals.

“I wasn’t going to play but I asked Kurt to put me down on the roster too because a lot of guys don’t always show,” said Hatchell.

“When you have been playing the game for as long as I have been playing it is hard to get away from and I got an itch. I can still play. I probably won’t make all the games; it is more about staying in shape.”

Hatchell also had some family reasons for returning to the fray. “My son is two and I want him to see a little bit more,” said Hatchell, gesturing to the boy who was sitting in a corner of the gym.

“He was out there last year but he is a little older and I want him to see me running up and down the court.”

With Winberie’s trailing 17-7 in the early going on Monday, Hatchell caught fire from the outside to help the team forge ahead 31-30 at halftime.

“We are an older team so we just have to get into the rhythm of things,” said a smiling Hatchell who scored all six of his points on the evening in the first half.

With the game tied at 44-44 with about nine minutes left in regulation, Winberie’s went on a 19-10 run to pull away to a 63-54 win.

“In close games we have the advantage because of our experience,” said Hatchell, reflecting on the team’s late surge in a game that saw Terrence Bailey score a game-high 19 points for Winberie’s with Princeton University football star Anthony Gaffney scoring 18 for King’s in a losing cause.

“We had a little size against those guys so we were able to post up down low.”

Experiencing a 49-46 loss to Aria Health in its season opener last Friday helped Winberie’s sharpen its focus, according to Hatchell.

“I think it is kind of good to lose early with a new team because now we have the loss under our belt and we should be playing together a little bit more,” said Hatchell.

“We are a veteran team; as the season goes on and we get our legs back under us, we will be OK.”

In Hatchell’s view, the team’s veteran leadership makes it formidable. “I can’t say enough about our core, Kurt (Simmons), Chris (Edwards), and Cliff (Pollard),” said Hatchell.

“I think as long as we stay together and we just add pieces, we will be able to play for a long time.”

Having made the decision to keep playing with his buddies, Hatchell is poised for another title run.

“I didn’t come back for nothing,” said Hatchell with a laugh. “Kurt said let’s do it again so I said one more time.”

June 10, 2015
FINAL CUT: Princeton High baseball player John Reid follows through on a swing in a game this spring. Senior outfielder Reid hit .333 this season with 10 RBIs to help PHS post a final record of 10-15.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FINAL CUT: Princeton High baseball player John Reid follows through on a swing in a game this spring. Senior outfielder Reid hit .333 this season with 10 RBIs to help PHS post a final record of 10-15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton High baseball team didn’t culminate its season with an appearance in the state tournament, it still had plenty to play for in the last week of action.

Bringing an 8-15 record into its final two games, PHS was determined to hit the 10-victory mark, something the program had not achieved under current head coach Dave Roberts in his seven seasons at the helm of the program.

With its bats booming, the Little Tigers achieved that goal, beating sectional quarterfinalist Nottingham 13-3 and then pulling away from Trenton 11-2 in its season finale.

Head coach Roberts, for his part, was thrilled to see his squad end on a high note.

“We were all very excited to win that game; to beat them by 10 was really nice,” said Roberts, referring to the victory over Nottingham.

“Against Trenton, the guys did a great job of wearing down their No. 1 pitcher and getting to their bullpen.”

For Roberts and his players, getting that 10th win was sweet. “We had gotten to nine and nine the last two years,” said Roberts. “As a team, no doubt getting to 10 wins was the biggest positive.”

Another big positive this spring was PHS’s productivity with the bat, as it posted a team batting average of .339 and averaging 5.7 runs a game. Freshman Paul Cooke led the hit parade for the Little Tigers, pacing the team in batting (.442) and RBIs (16). Junior Hayden Reyes batted .420 and classmate Joaquin Hernandez-Burt hit .403 with a team-best 12 doubles. Senior Steve Majeski hit .362 with senior John Reid and junior Matt Lambert both coming in at .333, junior Colin Taylor batting .311, and senior Ben Danis finishing at .306.

“The offensive performance was terrific; I think the highest team average we have had since I have been here was .270,” said Roberts.

“It was a talented group of kids who worked hard; all we did in March was hit. They were aggressive. They were listening to what we were telling them. We executed a lot of hit and runs; we had a lot of kids who could handle the bat. The offensive production and the infield play were the stories of the season; we had a great infield.”

Another great story of the season was the play of the squad’s seniors, three of whom (Majeski, Ben Grass, and Marcus Henderson) played junior varsity last year.

“The seniors were fantastic; Ben Grass and Marcus Henderson were huge on the mound, they hadn’t played at the varsity level before and they had six wins between the two of them,” said Roberts who got a 4-4 season from Grass with Henderson going 2-5. “Majeski, Reid, and Danis did a phenomenal job with the bat.”

With a good core of players returning, highlighted by a junior group of seven, PHS appears poised to take things to a higher level next season.

“I have been excited about them for a long time; the core three of Reyes, Taylor, and Hernandez-Burt have proven to be stellar,” said Roberts, referring to his junior class.

“You add Matt (Lambert), Tim (Frawley), and Micah (Daley-Harris) to that and Dan Gross should be back. Paul Cooke had a phenomenal year for a freshman with 34 hits; he has a really sweet swing. We took a huge step forward, it was good stuff from everyone. I think everybody who is returning left excited; wishing they could start next season a day later.”

LEAPING LEVY: Princeton High girls’ track star Noa Levy clears the bar at 5’2 in the high jump at the Meet of Champions last Wednesday at South Plainfield. The jump was a personal record for sophomore Levy and gave her a 15th place finish at the meet.(Photo by John Dowers)

LEAPING LEVY: Princeton High girls’ track star Noa Levy clears the bar at 5’2 in the high jump at the Meet of Champions last Wednesday at South Plainfield. The jump was a personal record for sophomore Levy and gave her a 15th place finish at the meet. (Photo by John Dowers)

Youth was served for the Princeton High track team as a number of its top athletes competed at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions last Wednesday at South Plainfield.

Sophomore distance star Alex Roth continued his strong spring campaign, taking 15th in the boys’ 3,200 with a time of 9:20.32.

Roth’s classmate, Noa Levy, produced a breakthrough performance in the girls’ high jump. With the competition starting at 5’2, a height she had never cleared, Levy made it on her second attempt. Her personal record jump gave Levy a 15th place finish at the meet.

In the boys’ 4×800, PHS took 15th as the quartet of sophomore Patrick O’Connell, sophomore Alex Roth, junior Noah Chen, sophomore Cy Watsky, and senior Ben Siegel posted a time of 8:16.58. The Little Tigers girls’ 4×800 of senior Paige Metzheiser, junior Lou Mialhe, senior Julie Bond, and sophomore Annefleur Hartmanshenn placed 23rd in a time of 9:46.64.

The girls 4×400 relay of junior Maia Hauschild, freshman Jackie Patterson, junior Jordan Vine, and Metzheiser, finished ninth in 3:59.03. Paced by two big splits from Hauschild (57.9) and Patterson (58.9), the quartet posted the  second best 4×400 in school history.

Hauschild made some history on her own, running in two open meets last week, one on June 2 and another last Saturday, producing two consecutive personal bests in the 400 meters, running 57.85 and then 57.47. Her 57.47 is a top-five time in Mercer County for the last five years.

PHS athletes will be looking for some more top performances as they compete in the 2015 New Balance Nationals Outdoor meet from June 19-21 at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, N.C.

SENIOR LEADER: Princeton High softball player Sarah Eisenach displays her pitching form. Senior Eisenach went 4-9 this spring with a 4.40 ERA and 80 strikeouts as PHS went 7-16. Eisenach, the team’s lone senior, also contributed at the plate, hitting .263 with a team-high 15 RBIs.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SENIOR LEADER: Princeton High softball player Sarah Eisenach displays her pitching form. Senior Eisenach went 4-9 this spring with a 4.40 ERA and 80 strikeouts as PHS went 7-16. Eisenach, the team’s lone senior, also contributed at the plate, hitting .263 with a team-high 15 RBIs. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Playing at WW/P-N in the Mercer County Tournament, the Princeton High softball team showed its potential.

Despite having previously lost 18-5 and 13-2 to the Northern Knights in regular season play, 11th-seeded PHS defeated sixth-seeded WW/P-N 8-3.

In reflecting on the upset, Little Tiger head coach Dave Boehm credited his squad with producing a sharp effort in all phases of the game.

“We didn’t make mistakes, we made the plays,” said Boehm, who got two hits apiece from Nancy Gray, Kelli Swedish, and Kayla Volante in the win with pitcher Sarah Eisenach going the distance, striking out seven and giving up two hits.

“We didn’t let things snowball. Sarah [Eisenach] pitched a heck of a game and we got some clutch hits.”

Unfortunately, the team’s 10-3 loss to Notre Dame on May 16 in its season finale was a more accurate reflection of how things went this spring as PHS posted a record of 7-16.

“In the Notre Dame game we were tied 3-3 in the fifth inning,” recalled Boehm, whose team was defeated in the MCT quarterfinals by third-seeded Steinert.

“There are two outs and there is a close play at first, they get the call, the next girl hits a single and then the next girl hits a three-run homer and we are down 5-3. They added some more. I said to the girls that the game summed up our season. We played well but it would be one bad call or giving the other team an extra run and it looks like a blow out but it was actually a better game.”

In reflecting on the season, Boehm acknowledged that he had hoped to see his team post a better record.

“Going 7-16 is a little disappointing, it is the same record we had last year,” said Boehm.

“I thought we could add to our win total. We lost some close games, we had two one-run losses to WW/P-S, a 7-6 loss to Trenton, and a 4-3 loss to Nottingham.”

The Little Tigers, though, had some memorable games this season “Winning the Teaneck tourney and beating WW/P-N in the counties were highlights,” said Boehm. “I think our best game was a 3-1 loss to Steinert in the regular season.”

Senior pitcher-first baseman Eisenach gave PHS her best effort over the last four years.

“She was our only senior and she was the leader of the team,” said Boehm, who went 4-9 with 80 strikeouts and hit .263 with a team-high 15 RBIs.

“She got the girls to run and work out. She wasn’t on a team that did great the last four years but she always played well. We are going to miss her. She pitched and could play first, second, or even shortstop.”

In Boehm’s view, PHS has potential to be a very good team next year in light of its group of returning players.

“I am looking forward to next year, I think we can do well,” said Boehm.

“We could have an infield of Swedish (.344 batting average in 2015) at third, Gray (.270) at shortstop, (Stephanie) Wu (.283) at second, (Emily) DiLella (.276) at first, and (Christina) Cuomo (.186) at catcher. Volante (2-7 record with 4.82 ERA and 69 strikeouts) will be the main pitcher, Gray will see some time in the circle. She has been working with a pitching coach. We will have six seniors; we realize that we only have them for one more year but we are hoping they can have big final year. We have a good core of sophomores with Volante (.314 battling average), Gray, and Cuomo. (Bianca) Guidi (.263) was a good freshman player.”

BIG THREE: Princeton Day School senior baseball stars, from left, Cole McManimon, Jake Alu, and JP Radvany, take a break during the team’s preseason trip to Florida. The trio were the mainstays of the program over the last four years and helped PDS go 10-14 this spring and reach the state Prep B semifinals. Each will be going on to play at a Division I college program with McManimon heading to Lehigh University, Alu to Boston College, and Radvany to Villanova University.

BIG THREE: Princeton Day School senior baseball stars, from left, Cole McManimon, Jake Alu, and JP Radvany, take a break during the team’s preseason trip to Florida. The trio were the mainstays of the program over the last four years and helped PDS go 10-14 this spring and reach the state Prep B semifinals. Each will be going on to play at a Division I college program with McManimon heading to Lehigh University, Alu to Boston College, and Radvany to Villanova University.

Murphy’s Law appeared to govern the Princeton Day School baseball team much of this spring.

In posting a 10-14 record, PDS lost eight games by one run and suffered five walk-off defeats. It had a potential win over Hamilton taken away from it when a game-tying 2-run homer in the bottom of the last inning was disallowed after one of the umpires made a hotly-disputed call that the batter didn’t touch home plate.

While senior star, James “JP” Radvany could have been bitter about how things unfolded, he was able to draw positives from the experience.

“It was a crazy up and down year; we had a lot of bad luck but we were also in a lot of exciting games and that was fun,” said Radvany.

“It was great to play one last season with Jake (Alu) and Cole (McManimon). It was not the year that we wanted to have but it was the most number of wins we have had in a season while I was at PDS. With everything that happened, we were still one out from making the Prep B finals. It was tough at times to go through a season like that but it was a really close group of guys. We leaned on each other and we really enjoyed playing with each other.”

Radvany enjoyed some big games this spring, hitting two homers and getting seven RBIs in an 11-10 loss to Allentown in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament and starring in a 12-9 win over Pennington in an MCT consolation contest.

“That was one of my better games in high school; I was seeing the ball well,” said Radvany, referring to the Allentown game.

“The game against Pennington in the MCT consolation game was a highlight; we had lost to them before. I got my 100th career hit and got the win on the mound in relief.”

Over the spring, Radvany hit .371 and tied McManimon for the team lead in RBIs with 31. Radvany ended his PDS career ranked first in program history in RBIs and third in hits.

“That is surreal,” said Radvany, who also starred for the PDS boys’ basketball team and won the school’s Gold P senior athletics award. “I should stay in the record books for a while. It is a good form of recognition.”

PDS head coach Ray O’Brien lauded what his big three of Radvany, Alu, and McManimon brought to the program, both this spring and over the last four seasons.

“It is not often that three kids come in and step right in as freshman starters and have the career that they had,” said O’Brien, whose other seniors included Sean Flahive, Cody Meagher, and Davin Bialow.

“JP ended up third in hits and first in RBIs. I have been coaching at PDS for 10 years and I have not seen anyone have the all around season that Jake had (a team-best .523 average with 45 hits, 38 runs, 10 doubles, three triples, and three homers). It was a terrific year for him from start to finish. He ended up as the all-time hit leader. Cole was healthy in Florida for our spring trip and pitched a great game against Hill with a one hitter and 15 strikeouts. Cole couldn’t pitch as much as we wanted him to because he had a stress fracture in his shin (3-3 record, 2.11 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 2015) but he had a great year batting for us (.359 with a team-high four homers to go with 31 RBIs).”

In reflecting on the season overall, O’Brien lamented the team’s run of bad fortune.

“We started off 5-1 and then had that Hamilton game and it seemed like the baseball gods were against us after that,” said O’Brien. “You can’t believe all of the things that went wrong for us, injuries, bad breaks, and bad hops.”

A heartbreaking defeat to Gil St Bernard’s in the Prep B semis exemplified the team’s star-crossed campaign as PDS brought a 7-3 lead into the bottom of the last inning only to lose 8-7 on a walk-off grand slam.

“That game was a microcosm of the season,” said O’Brien. “On two separate occasions we were one strike away from going to the prep finals. The last inning you just couldn’t believe with bad hops, bloopers, two strikes on last batter who then hits a fly ball into the wind that turns into a grand slam.”

O’Brien believes he has a good core of returners in place with sophomore catcher Paul Franzoni, junior third baseman Dom Gasparro, and junior second baseman Sam Guarino along with a group of young pitchers.

“Paul is getting bigger and stronger; Dom had a good year, he was particularly good in the field,” said O’Brien.

“Sam was really good at second, he turned 20 double plays and started hitting at the end. We have some sophomore pitchers (Ryan Sparks, Chase Fleming, Russ Kirczow) that are still developing. As they mature and get bigger, our pitching will be OK.”

The returning players, though, have quite a void to fill as they follow the likes of Radvany, Alu, and McManimon. Each of the team’s big three is going on to play at a Division I college program with Radvany heading to Villanova University, Alu to Boston College, and McManimon to Lehigh University.

“For me and the seniors, it is a tough way to go out,” said O’Brien. “We felt that we had the best team in the preps. It is rare that we have 3 D-I players at the same time; they will be sorely missed.”

Radvany will certainly miss playing with his PDS teammates. “It has meant a lot, a lot of people say that high school ball is what you will enjoy the most, because it is not the pressure of college ball,” said Radvany.

“It was great to play with two of my best friends, all three of us are going on to play D-1. We are like brothers, we had dinner on Thursday night before graduation to talk about some of the glory days.”

As he looks ahead to starting his college carer, Radvany is determined to give it his best.

“The main thing in the summer is to get bigger and stronger physically; I am going from the oldest to the youngest and will be one of the frailest physically,” said Radvany, who is playing for the Lawrence Post 414 American Legion team this summer.

“There are a lot of studs. I am also making a transition into being more of an outfielder. They have an opening in the outfield. They have a senior at first base who is one of the best players in the Big East. If I have to sit a year and learn from him that would be fine but I want to do whatever I can to get on the field. As an athlete, you are always looking for a challenge and I am ready for the challenge.”

WINNING POSITION: Chris Edwards of Winberie’s establishes an inside position in a game last year in the Princeton Recreation Department Men’s Summer Basketball League. Edwards helped Winberie’s win the 2014 championship series and will be back to help the team defend its title this summer. The league tips off its 27th season on June 10 with a triple-header at the Community Park basketball courts.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

WINNING POSITION: Chris Edwards of Winberie’s establishes an inside position in a game last year in the Princeton Recreation Department Men’s Summer Basketball League. Edwards helped Winberie’s win the 2014 championship series and will be back to help the team defend its title this summer. The league tips off its 27th season on June 10 with a triple-header at the Community Park basketball courts. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When Winberie’s faced King’s Pizzarama last July in the best-of-three championship series of the Princeton Recreation Department Men’s Summer Basketball League, it was a clash of grizzled veterans against young turks.

Utilizing its savvy, Winberie’s was able to prevail over upstart King’s, posting two tightly contested victories to win the series 2-0.

As the summer hoops league tips off its 27th season on June 10 with a triple-header at the Community Park basketball courts, league commissioner Evan Moorhead expects a similar scenario to play out this year.

“I think the overall theme will be, can the old guard, Winberie’s, Ivy Inn, and Dr. Palmer, hold off the young guns, like King’s, Aria Health, Belle Mead Physical Therapy, and SAT Smart,” said Moorhead, noting that the league will have 10 teams this summer, up from nine in 2014, and that there has been a key rule change as it will take seven team fouls rather than 10, as in the past, to trigger one-on-one bonus free throws.

“The older teams have experience but not the youthful legs any more. Experience tends to win it, with Winberie’s and Ivy Inn winning the last two years.”

Winberie’s and Ivy Inn appear poised to lead the old guard again this summer.

“The big story is that Chris Hatchell is officially retired,” said Moorhead, the assistant director of the Rec Department.

“Kurt Simmons is the GM. Cliff Pollard, Chris Edward, and Terrence Bailey are back. Any time you have Bailey, you can score points. Ivy Inn is back and Skye Ettin (former Princeton High and TCNJ standout) is going to be playing with them. Shahid Abdul-Karim, Buddy Thomas, and Mark Aziz are all back.”

Another veteran unit, Dr. Palmer, has returned after a one-year hiatus from the league. “Dr. Palmer is back with some new names but also some familiar players,” added Moorhead. “They have Mika Palmer, Gary Wilson, Larry Upshur and Brad Billmeier. They say they have a 6’10 player.”

Last year’s finalist, King’s Pizzarama, figures to be a powerful young gun. “King’s will have a similar team; they had a really good season last summer,” added Moorhead.

“They have the two Princeton football players, Anthony Gaffney and Jakobi Johnson. They have also added Justin Leith (a former Princeton Day School standout and current Stuart Country Day athletic director who played pro basketball overseas).”

Another young gun, Jesse Krasna, who gave Winberie’s some young legs to help its title run last summer, will be heading a new league entry, Aria Health.

“Jess has broken off and has a new team,” said Moorhead. “He has the Sibol twins (John and Zach) from the old Blue Devils team. Jesse is a heck of a player and he brings people together. He has experience in the league and he knows what it takes to be competitive so I am assuming his team will be tough.”

SAT Smart, the TCNJ entry, has the potential to be a tough team. “Bobby Brackett will be one of the top players in the league,” said Moorhead. “They have a couple of guards back. They will be competitive if the guards can get Bobby the ball in the post.”

Princeton Youth Sports (PYS), the Princeton High boys’ hoops entry, along with Princeton Pi, Bring Me Food, and Belle Mead Physical Therapy, will be hoping to be competitive with rosters stocked with young players.

PYS should feature high-scoring Matt Hart, an ALL-CVC performer last winter for PHS while Princeton Pi returns last summer’s leading scorer, Juwan Harrison. New entry, Bring Me Food, figures to get firepower from Davon Black, a former PHS standout who was a first-team All League performer last summer for Northeast Realty. Belle Mead boasts strength on the perimeter with All-League performers Jalen Parham, Jonathan Gregory, and Matt Johnston.

Moorhead, for his part, believes the action on the Community Park courts will heat up with the temperatures.

“We have started to hit up the social media,” said Moorhead. “With the rain last week and 58 degree temperatures, it is hard to think about summer hoops. Hopefully the temps will be going up and that will bring people out.”