August 26, 2020

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 19, 2020

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

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

August 12, 2020

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

By Bill Alden

Doug Davis knows something about winning titles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

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

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

August 5, 2020

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 29, 2020

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

July 22, 2020

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

By Justin Feil

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

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

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

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

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

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

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

July 8, 2020

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Justin Feil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 1, 2020

STICKING POINT: Hun School boys’ lacrosse player Trevor Deubner, right, battles to get past a foe in a game last spring. Senior star attackman and University of North Carolina-bound Deubner was primed to quarterback Hun’s high-powered offense in his final campaign. The Raiders totaled 21 goals as they started 0-2 before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Even though the Hun School boys’ lacrosse team got off to a 0-2 start this spring, Jeff Snow felt fortunate.

Hun fell 14-9 to St. Stephens & St. Agnes School (Va.) in its season opener on March 10 and then lost 13-12 to Penn Charter (Pa.) a day later. But by the end of the week, schools were closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and then weeks later the spring sports season was formally canceled.

“We were one of the lucky schools — the only one in New Jersey to the best of my knowledge — to have actually played two games,” said Hun head coach Snow, a former assistant with the program who took the helm this spring, succeeding previous head coach MV Whitlow after he stepped down last fall.

“In the past we had gone to the desert of Arizona to train, but we felt that this group needed to be challenged and play right away.”

Snow was encouraged by how the Hun offense clicked in the two games and saw good things on the horizon. more

TRAINED EYE: Jim Stagnitta eyes the action in his role as the head coach coach of the Whipsnakes of the Premier Lacrosse League. Stagnitta, who boasts 32 years of college and pro coaching experience, is bringing his wealth of knowledge to the high school level, having recently been hired as the head coach of the Hun School boys’ lacrosse program. (Photo provided courtesy of the Hun School)

By Bill Alden

With a resume that includes extensive college and pro lacrosse coaching experience, Jim Stagnitta is now bringing that wealth of knowledge to the local high school scene as he will be taking the helm of the Hun School boys’ lacrosse program.

Over his 32 years in the game, Stagnitta had guided such college programs as Rutgers University, Arcadia University, University of Pennsylvania, and Washington and Lee University. On the pro level, he has been the head coach of the Denver Outlaws and the Charlotte Hounds of Major League Lacrosse as well as the offensive coordinator for the Florida Launch. He is currently the head coach of the Whipsnakes in the Premier Lacrosse League.

In reflecting on his move to Hun, which was announced last week, Stagnitta believes the time is right for him to bring his expertise to that level.

“I’m no stranger to high school lacrosse,” said Stagnitta as quoted in a press release issued by Hun regarding his hiring.  more

LINE OF FIRE: Stuart Country Day School lacrosse goalie Caroline Letrent tracks a shot in a 2019 game. Letrent, the lone senior on the Stuart squad this spring, didn’t get to experience a big finale as the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Mark Maser coached his daughter Julia when she played travel lacrosse and then enjoyed watching her star for the Stuart Country Day lax program.

Over the years, Maser worked with the WW/P Lightning Lacrosse and Ultimate Lacrosse club programs before his daughter went on to play at Colby College.

This spring, when Stuart’s longtime lacrosse head coach Missy Bruvik decided to step down, Maser was ready to get into high school coaching.

“I have known Missy Bruvik for a number of years and as a parent who watched the Stuart program for many years, I thought I knew the game,” said Maser, 56, a native of Long island who played lax at the Coast Guard Academy and went on to practice law after completing his military service.

“I would get into Missy’s ear every once in a while. In conversations, I said if I ever got the time I would love to coach because I think I would do it a little bit differently.”

As he looked forward to guiding the Tartans, Maser was looking to employ an up-tempo game.

“I have a different philosophy on how to play the game,” said Maser. more

June 24, 2020

GETTING DEFENSIVE: Cornell University women’s lacrosse star defender Taylor Lis, right, stymies a foe in a game this season. Former Princeton High standout Lis enjoyed a superb career at Cornell, earning honorable mention All-Ivy League honors in 2019 as a junior and then helping the Big Red get off to a 4-2 (2-0 Ivy) start this spring before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo provided courtesy of Cornell Athletic Communications)

By Bill Alden

During her first two years with the Cornell University women’s lacrosse team, Taylor Lis toiled as a back-up midfielder, making a total of seven appearances through her sophomore season.

But switching to defense near the end of her second campaign in 2018, former Princeton High standout Lis emerged as a star on the Cornell backline.

In her junior year, the 5’9 Lis started all 16 games, registering 11 ground balls and five caused turnovers on the way to earning honorable mention All-Ivy League honors.

This spring, Lis kept up her good work, coming up with six ground balls and three caused turnovers to help the Big Red get off to a 4-2 (2-0 Ivy) start this spring before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In reflecting on her progress, Lis sensed that getting moved to the backline would be a big plus for her.

“It was definitely a tough transition but one that I expected on a certain level,” said Lis.

“It took me a while to develop my offensive skills and then it turned out that we needed someone in the back line. That is where I liked playing the most so I transitioned into that role and that is when I started to play in every game.” more

BLUE SKY: Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse player Skylar Mundenar goes after the ball in a 2019 game. Senior star Mundenar was primed for a big final campaign this spring before the season got canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Jill Thomas was expecting her Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse team to experience many special moments at Smoyer Field this spring.

“They really, really had it all going on,” said PDS head coach Thomas, who guided the Panthers to an 8-7 record in 2019 as they made the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals and the state Prep B semis.

“I just knew that it was going to be one of those years. A lot of people are about stats but these guys were all about themselves and their year.”

But after two weeks of preseason, the year took a stunning turn as schools were closed in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the spring season was subsequently canceled.

Although the PDS players have been confined to home, they did get to enjoy a very special moment at Smoyer.

“They got to pick up their gear at school; we put it out on the bench six feet apart,” recalled Thomas.

“Tracy [assistant coach Tracy Young], myself and Kira [Dudeck], who is the JV coach, were there and we sat at Smoyer on the field six feet apart and everyone came and picked up their gear. They did all the social distancing things. That was really special to see. Google Meet is great but to actually see kids and wave and say hi was great.” more

June 17, 2020

KNOCKED OFF TRACK: Matt Perello heads to the finish line in a race last spring for the Princeton High boys’ track team. The Bucknell University-bound senior star sprinter Perello was primed for a big senior campaign only to see the season canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Ben Samara saw a lot of positives as the Princeton High track team got its preseason training underway in early March.

“The day before we started our preseason, our girls 4×400 had just run their season-best time at the indoors Meet of Champions,” said PHS head coach Samara.

“Everybody was healthy; we were feeling really good. Our girls’ squad, in particular, had their sights set on that county championship this spring. On the guys side, we had some pretty good individuals even though we graduated most of our squad that was really placing highly last year. Matt Perello was looking really good in the sprints. Dora Servil was looking very, very good. I think he would have had a strong spring as well.”

But after a week of training, schools were closed to the COVID-19 pandemic and in early May, the spring sports season was formally canceled.

“We were just getting set up and getting into the swing of things when it became obvious that things were going to change big time,” said Samara. more

FOR PETE’S SAKE: Pete Higgins shows his game face as he posed for a picture. Longtime Princeton Day School coach and teacher Higgins passed away earlier this month, leaving a huge void in the PDS and lacrosse communities. (Photo by Andrew Lee, provided courtesy of PDS)

Pete Higgins cut an intimidating figure on the sidelines over the years for the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse program, typically wielding a stick as he barked out colorful commentary to players and officials alike.

But underneath the burly Higgins’ gruff exterior beat a heart of gold as he was legendary for his catalog of humorous stories, his connections through the lacrosse world starting with his native Long Island, and most of all, his zeal in developing his players.

So when Higgins suddenly passed away after a brief illness (unrelated to COVID-19) earlier this month at age 57, the PDS and lacrosse communities were left heartbroken.

“It is clear that he had a infectious personality, everybody loved being around Higgs, everybody loved a good Higgs story,” said PDS boys’ lax head coach Joe Moore.

“It is hard to understand how much he impacted the PDS community. I think I have fully understood that in the last couple of weeks here since he passed. It seems like everybody in the PDS community really had some sort of special connection with Higgs and you see how he touched everybody in the PDS community in some way. That is so unique.”

Working at PDS for 23 years, taking on a variety of roles from teaching health and PE, coaching varsity and middle school lacrosse, coaching middle school basketball, working in the school weight room and being involved in its peer leadership program, Higgins crossed paths with thousands of students and families over the years. Things were also busy at home for Higgins with his wife, Rebecca, and their four children, Catie, Jane, Mickey, and Quinn. more

June 10, 2020

SHOW OF SUPPORT: The Parker twins, Dylan, right, and Ethan, celebrate after winning a point in a match last spring for the Princeton High boys’ tennis team. After playing doubles last year, the junior standouts were primed to move up to singles spots in the lineup for the Tigers before the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Parkers and the rest of the squad have been supporting each other virtually as they look to foster team camaraderie in the lost season. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

With the lineup of her Princeton High boys’ tennis team getting reshuffled due to graduation losses, Sarah Hibbert wasn’t sure what to expect this spring.

“It would have been interesting to see because we did lose three of our starters from last year’s lineup,” said PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert, who guided the Tigers to an 11-5 campaign in 2019 as they advanced to the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional final.

“We did have a freshman, Jonathan Gu, come in who was going to be playing singles based on the challenge matches we had done in the first couple of days. It looked like the Parker twins, Dylan and Ethan, were also going to be at singles but we had only gotten through one round of challenge matches. That would have given us strength at the top.”

But PHS never got to show its strength as it only got five days on the courts before school was closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak in mid-March and weeks later the spring season was formally canceled.

“We had a week of preseason, I had established the team from 48 down to 20 in four days,” said Hibbert.

“In some ways it made it easier because we had established that you guys are the ones that are going to play this season so at the point that we went virtual at least I had set the team so it wasn’t oh like you might have still been cut.” more

NEXT LEVEL PERFORMERS: Jomar Meekins, left, defends a foe in a game this winter for the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team during his senior campaign and Brianna Astbury tracks the ball last fall in action for the PDS girls’ soccer team. They are two of 14 Panther student-athletes who graduated last week and will be continuing their athletic careers at the college level. Meekins is headed to Bard College where he will be playing for its men’s basketball program while Astbury is going to Muhlenberg College and will compete for its women’s soccer program. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

While the high school spring sports season was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, a group of 14 accomplished athletes at the Princeton Day School will get to continue their athletic careers at the college level.

Having honored its senior athletes all spring on social media, PDS recognized those stellar performers headed to college sports programs last week as the school prepared for its graduation ceremony that took place on June 6.

The female standouts who will continue their athletic careers at the next level include field hockey stars Caroline Haggerty and Lexie Hausheer, a quartet of soccer stalwarts Brianna Astbury, Riley Felsher, Ariana Jones and Tulsi Pari, volleyball player Brynna Fisher, and lacrosse standout Ellie Schofield.

As for the male athletes, those headed to college sports programs include lacrosse stars Jake Bennett and Cal Caputo, baseball standout John Carroll, and a trio of basketball stalwarts, Jaylin Champion-Adams, Lucas Green, and Jomar Meekins.

In reflecting on this group of athletes, outgoing PDS Upper School Athletic Director Tim Williams lauded them for their impact over the past four years.

“It’s always a bittersweet time of year to congratulate your seniors on their accomplishments and see them depart, and for our seniors this spring, the same holds true,” said Williams. more

June 3, 2020

TOUGH TO TAKE: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse player Cal Caputo heads to goal in a game last year. Senior attacker and co-captain Caputo was primed for a big finale as PDS was shooting for a fifth straight Mercer County Tournament title before the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Caputo will get to continue his lacrosse career at the next level as he has committed to attend Williams College and play for its men’s lax program. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

As the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team headed into the second week of preseason this March, Joe Moore sensed that things were coming together for his squad.

“It was going well; in first few weeks, we spend a lot of time filling in the gaps from the guys that left the year earlier,” said second year head coach Moore, who guided PDS to a 13-3 record last spring and the program’s fourth straight Mercer County Tournament title.

“We graduated a lot of guys on offense last year, especially in the midfield, so we were trying in the early part of the season to identify guys who could fill those holes. We were actually getting more and more excited about the season as time went on because we were seeing all of those holes being filled and new guys stepping up.”

With senior stars and co-captains Cal Caputo and Jake Bennett leading the attack, PDS was primed for another championship campaign.

“Without being too cocky about it but for our guys it is an expectation for our team with four counties in a row, especially for guys like Cal and Jake who have been around for four years,” said Moore, whose other senior co-captains included Andrew Ciccarone and Kevin Dougherty.

“They have gotten three so for them to go out and finish on a high note was something that they definitely wanted to do.” more

MOVING FORWARD: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse player Ben Quinones races upfield in a game last spring. Senior star and captain Quinones had led the way for PHS on and off the field as the 2020 season was halted in mid-March in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Having failed to qualify for the state tournament the last two seasons, the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team was bringing a lot of hunger into the 2020 campaign.

“We did a lot of really good work in the offseason; we did a lot of leadership reading and had discussions,” said PHS head coach Chip Casto, who led the Tigers to a 6-9 record last year.

“I usually post a note every day of the season outside of my classroom but this year the seniors wanted to start posting notes earlier and said let’s count down so we started with 100 days to go. We have been really looking forward to this year coming off the last two years of not even making the state tournament. It is just uncharacteristic so they were itching to get back.”

PHS got back on the field for a week in March before school was closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and weeks later the season was formally canceled.

With the players working from home, the team’s veterans have kept things together. more