December 3, 2014
SHARP AND QUICK: Hun School senior running back Chris Sharp sprints up the field in a game this fall. The University of Virginia bound Sharp rushed for 1,085 yards and totaled 23 touchdowns, sparking Hun to a 7-1 record and the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SHARP AND QUICK: Hun School senior running back Chris Sharp sprints up the field in a game this fall. The University of Virginia bound Sharp rushed for 1,085 yards and totaled 23 touchdowns, sparking Hun to a 7-1 record and the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Christina Rosca wasn’t sure if she had enough time to play for the Princeton High girls’ tennis team this fall.

Rising up to the mid-20s in the national 18-and-under rankings, Rosca was spending her weekends playing in tournaments all over the country. In the classroom, she was shouldering a heavy load with five AP courses.

But enjoying a special bond with her PHS teammates, Rosca made time to compete for the Little Tigers.

“They are all really good players and they are all really good people,” said junior star Rosca.

“I really enjoy being with them. It is really enjoyable to be in a team environment compared to playing as an individual all the time.”

Rosca’s teammates enjoyed having her around to head up the lineup. Playing at first singles, Rosca won the individual crown in her flight at the Mercer County tournament for the second straight year, topping Brianna Shvets of Hopewell Valley 6-2, 6-1 in the final as she cruised to the title without losing a set. Her brilliance helped PHS win the county team title for the first time since 1984.

“I was really pleased with the way Chris stepped up and took control early and was able to put the pressure on Brianna,” said PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert, reflecting on Rosca’s county triumph. “From there she was able to stay tough and close it out.”

While Rosca was happy to successfully defend her first singles crown, she was thrilled to see the Little Tigers prevail as team champion as they edged runner-up and perennial power WW/P-S with WW/P-N taking third.

“It means a lot,” said Rosca. “We have been really close the last two years and some unfortunate things have happened, some injuries and stuff like that.”

Good things kept happening for PHS as they won the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional crown and then edged Northern Highlands 3-2 in the Group 3 state semifinals before falling to powerful Millburn in the finals.

“This is a really great group of girls, they have won the sectional title four years in a row and made it to the group final the last three so that was really exciting,” said Hibbert.

“To add the county tournament title this year as well was icing on the cake, especially for our three seniors.”

For Rosca, whose only loss for PHS this fall came against Millburn, her court savvy helped her remain a force on the court.

“No matter who I play, I always try to be really aggressive and come into the net as much as possible but off of the right balls, not just any ball,” said Rosca, who was too busy to defend the NJSIAA girls’ singles championship she won in 2013.

In the view of PHS doubles star, Zhenia Dementyeva, Rosca was not just any teammate.

“That one, Chris Rosca, is the most humble person, she is really talented and she is amazing at school at the same time,” said Dementyeva.

“She doesn’t let it get to her head, she is extremely grounded and everybody loves Chris.”

For sticking with the PHS squad and making more history in the process, Rosca is the pick as the Town Topics’ top female performer this fall.

Top Male Performer

When Todd Smith took the reins of the Hun School football team this fall, he knew he had to deploy senior star Chris Sharp by land and air.

“Sharp is our workhorse,” said Smith. “He is playing at wide receiver as much as running back.”

With Hun coming off a 2-6 season in 2013, the University of Virginia-bound Sharp set the tone early, rushing for 149 yards and two touchdowns and catching a 43-yard touchdown pass as Hun routed Wyoming Seminary 56-14 in its season opener.

That was just the beginning for the 6’2, 205-pound Sharp, an unstoppable combination of power and speed.

He ended up rushing for 1,085 yards on 81 attempts for an eye-popping average of 13.4 yards a carry and 19 touchdowns. Sharp made nine receptions for 281 yards and four more touchdowns.

Sharp ended his career on a high note, rushing for 212 yards as Hun routed Mercersburg Academy 64-16 in its season finale to earn the outright Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title, finishing the fall at 7-1 overall and 5-0 in league play. Sharp’s final run in a Hun uniform, a 96-yard scoring gallop down the sideline to start the third quarter, put him over the 1,000-yard rushing mark this fall.

Even before the season started, Sharp had the sense that it was going to be a big fall for the Raiders.

“We saw that we had something special in August and we just wanted to finish,” said Sharp.

“We wanted to go undefeated in the MAPL and that’s what we did. With the kids that came in, we knew it was going to be a different feel. It was just like fresh and new things were brewing up with the Hun football team. It is exciting to see the fruition and what grew out of it.”

The humble Sharp spread the credit around as he reflected on hitting the 1,000-yard plateau.

“It was a very special moment to share with my teammates and family, especially on senior day,” said Sharp.

“The first thing I did was to thank all of the linemen, the fullback, and the quarterback. I can’t do it all by myself.”

Even Sharp himself was taken aback by his glittering statistics. “I love running the ball and being able to catch the ball out of the receiver position is a blessing as well,” said Sharp, who also starred at linebacker for the Raiders. “It is just amazing to see the growth that I have gone through.”

Smith, for his part, enjoyed taking part in that growth process. “Chris is just a fantastic kid, it is a shame we only had seven games with him,” said Smith, whose team had one win on a forfeit by Peddie.

“He got 1,000 yards and a boatload of touchdowns to go with it. He has gotten so much better as the year went on. I am just really excited about his future, I think he is going to be a great football player at the next level.”

Sharp’s greatness this fall and the impact it had on Hun’s championship season makes him the pick as the top male performer this fall.

Top Newcomers

It didn’t take long for Grace Barbara to make an impression in her freshman season as goalie on the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team.

“Grace Barbara is starting in goal, she is a dynamite keeper,” said PDS head coach Pat Trombetta, when assessing his squad prior to the start of the season.

“She is very talented. She can play balls with her feet and gives us a lot of options. She is playing beyond her years, she is yelling out there and is in control.”

Trombetta’s analysis proved to be spot on as Barbara emerged as one of the top keepers in the area, anchoring a stingy PDS defense.

Even in a 2-0 defeat to perennial power and eventual county champion Pennington, Barbara demonstrated her brilliance, making 10 saves as she stymied the Red Raiders for most of the contest.

“They are a skilled team so I can learn a lot, especially from the goals,” said Barbara.

“I can work on sets and high balls coming from long and the short balls pegged down in the corners. I can definitely work on that in practice. There are some very strong players on some of these opponents. Since I am a freshman it has been a little bit difficult with these very skilled players.”

Barbara kept working hard and her skill helped PDS end the season on a high note as the Panthers edged Morristown-Beard 1-0 in the state Prep B championship game.

“Grace played out of her mind,” said Trombetta of Barbara, who made 12 saves in earning the shutout. “She made some elite saves, three times she leaped and punched balls out over the bar.”

Due to her brilliance and grace under fire, Barbara is the choice as the top female newcomer this fall.

After spending three years as a back-up for the Princeton High boys’ soccer team, Joe Hawes saw that he was destined to be riding the pine this fall for the squad.

Looking for some action, Hawes decided to make the move to football. “I hadn’t tried football; my parents never really wanted me to,” said Hawes.

“This year, they were like you can’t do anything else why don’t you try football. I wasn’t getting playing time in soccer so I was why not.”

Starring at lacrosse helped Hawes pick up his new sport. “The footwork and the physical play of lacrosse was a help,” said Hawes. “Knowing that you have a set play and doing what you have to do.”

Hawes got the sense early that he could make a mark on the football field.

“I think it was the Ewing game, our homecoming,” added Hawes, who made an 80-yard TD reception in the PHS’s opening day win over Hamilton. “I was just super confident. I knew in my mind what I had to do and I got it done.”

PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher appreciated the way Hawes got things done this fall.

“Joe is doing well, we would like to call his number more often,” said Gallagher.

“What is great about the squad right now is that we have a lot of playmakers, whether it be Rory Helstrom or Sam Smallzman or Joe Hawes or Colin Buckley or Dave Beamer or the special teams.”

Emerging as the team’s deep threat, Hawes put up some good numbers, making 20 catches for 434 yards and eight touchdowns in regular season action, helping PHS enjoy a remarkable reversal of fortune as it went from 0-10 in 2013 to an 8-2 record this fall.

Reflecting on his move to football, Hawes knew that he made the right choice.

“This has been the best; I think the thing is that we just all want it,” said Hawes, who also starred at defensive back and handled the punting duties. We are making history here, bringing football back into Princeton. We are all working for the same goal and we want it in our hearts.”

For taking up football and proving to be such a key performer in a renaissance season for PHS, Hawes is the top male newcomer of the fall season.

Top Coaches

In the fall of 2013, Joanna Hallac’s tenure as the head coach of the Hun School girls’ soccer team got off to a rough start.

Hampered by injury and with the players getting used to their new leader, Hun lost its first seven games.

But as the fall went on and the team got healthier, it produced a late-season surge which saw Hun advance to the state Prep A championship game where it lost 2-0 to perennial power Pennington.

Coming into this fall, Hallac believed the team’s strong finish could have a carry-over effect.

“The mood is good, even from when the season ended last year knowing that we were losing only two players,” said Hallac, who guided Hun to a 7-12-1 record in 2013. “They were feeling good about the direction of the program.”

The upward direction continued this fall as Hun posted a number of impressive victories, topping Princeton Day School, East Brunswick, Peddie, Robbinsville, and Hill along the way.

But it was the 2-0 win over Pennington on September 30 that signaled how far Hun had come.

“They went out there and played their hearts out,” said Hallac, assessing the triumph.

“I was really proud of the way they performed. It finally convinced them of what they could do. I think they were starting to believe it last year but they walked into that game believing that they could truly play with anyone and they proved it.”

Bouncing back from a disappointing loss to Allentown in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals, Hun proved its quality in historic fashion, topping Pennington 2-0 in the state Prep A final, thrilling a home throng of around 1,000 and ending Pennington’s 11-year title streak.

In reflecting on the triumph, Hallac said it was a group effort. “It was huge, the girls deserve all of the credit, they show up and they work hard every day,” said Hallac, whose team ended the fall with a 14-4-1 record.

“Even when we have setbacks, they learn from it and we move forward. It means so much to the school. The whole school came out here and the whole day was scheduled around this. I have never seen anything like it, I think it meant a lot to the community and that is what we are about here. I think it is really great for Hun.”

Providing a blend of steadiness and competitiveness to help Hun reach such heights, Hallac is the choice as one of the top coaches of a female team this fall.

With the graduation of stars Jenna Cody and Elyssa Gensib in 2012, the Princeton High girls’ cross country team entered a transition phase that fall.

As a result, PHS head coach Jim Smirk had to groom some new talent and rework his immediate goals.

“When Elyssa and Jenna graduated, we lost two top-end runners and there was a void in the program,” said Smirk.

“We had to re-imagine ourselves. Julie Bond and Mary Sutton were sophomores and Paige Metzheiser was a JV runner. “

Without an infusion of top talent, Smirk adopted a pack mentality approach with his runners.

“I think that has been a hallmark of our team for a long time,” said Smirk. “We talk about the ability to hold each other’s hands across the line, which we know would actually be a disqualification but that is our goal. We want to look like one finishing.”

The team gradually worked itself up the ladder as its sum was greater than its parts. “We were a decent team, we would make states. Every season we got better, not just in cross country.”

This fall, however, the Little Tigers emerged as a team to be reckoned with, placing third of seven teams in the Girls’ Adidas Invitational race at the Shore Coaches Invitational and then taking second at the Mercer County championship meet.

PHS followed that up by placing first in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional meet and taking second in the state Group 3 meet. The team’s second-place finish at the Group meet booked PHS a trip to the Meet of Champions (MOC), the program’s first appearance at the prestigious event since 2010.

In Smirk’s view, making the MOC was the fruition of the program’s pack mentality.

“This is what the program is built on, they had to be ready to do the work to make the MOC,” said Smirk, whose team took 10th at the MOC. “It was not going to happen overnight. The pack raised the level of each runner.”

For raising PHS back to elite status in the state cross country circles, Smirk is the co-coach of the fall among female programs.

On paper, it appeared that the Princeton High football team could be headed for another rough campaign.

Coming off a 0-10 campaign in 2013, the Little Tigers were looking to replace some key seniors and had a roster of just over 30 players.

But second year head coach Charlie Gallagher was optimistic as he looked ahead to the fall.

“We have a good core of guys coming back, there is a sense of urgency,” said Gallagher. “The schedule is different and they see opportunities for wins.”

Opening the season by beating Hamilton 28-7 for the program’s first victory since 2012, the wins started piling up.

Turning heads with a potent offense led by running back Rory Helstrom and quarterback Dave Beamer together with a punishing defense spearheaded by Sam Smallzman and Colin Buckley, PHS produced a 5-0 start, knocking off Ewing, Hightstown, Lawrence, and Steinert.

In the wake of the 28-14 win over Steinert, Gallagher described the special feeling around the team.

“They have jelled from the very beginning,” asserted Gallagher. “It is great team chemistry and we are just happy to be coaching them up.”

After stubbing its toe in a loss at Winslow, PHS resumed its winning ways by routing WW/P-S, Robbinsville and WW/P-N by a combined score of 140-21. The 47-21 victory over North gave PHS an 8-1 regular season record and clinched the West Jersey Football League’s Valley Division title for the Little Tigers.

While PHS fell 48-12 to Brick Township in its first playoff appearance since 2009, the loss couldn’t dim what they team accomplished in its remarkable turnaround.

“We talked about how proud we were of the team,” said Gallagher, recalling his postgame message after the Brick defeat.

“The seniors had a great run, they put so much into it. Going 8-2 was a remarkable turnaround. Most guys picked us at the bottom of the division in the beginning of the season. We had no number of wins in mind, we just wanted to compete. We competed at a high level and got eight wins, the guys should be very proud.”

For getting the Little Tigers to compete at such a high level that they went from last to first in their division earns Gallagher the nod as one of the top coaches of a male program this fall.

Although the 10-6-2 record it posted in 2013 would be satisfying for a lot of teams, it was a downer for the proud Princeton High boys’ soccer program.

Used to contending for county and state titles, PHS was knocked out of the Mercer County Tournament in the first round and exited in the sectional semis at the state level.

Looking ahead to the 2014 season, longtime PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe had the sense that his team possessed the mentality to again be a postseason force.

“The goal of this group is to achieve something,” said Sutcliffe. “They are aware that if you take it one training session at a time and one game at a time, big things can happen.”

With senior striker Chase Ealy and senior goalie Laurenz Reimitz stepping up along with a battle-tested group of juniors, PHS did some big things as it regained its championship form.

The Little Tigers won penalty kick shootout thrillers over Steinert in the MCT semis and Allentown in the final to earn the county title.

“It has been rare that I have had a team that was as close as this team,” said Sutcliffe, reflecting on the MCT crown.

“There is a great spirit. We have had some great teams. This team, on the field and off the field, is a closer knit group and that has transcended to our quality and our spirit and our vitality. All of which helped us tonight and in the semi. And helped us close out the Colonial Division of the CVC.”

Seemingly improving game to game, PHS rolled through the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional, topping Red Bank Regional 4-1 in the title game.

After edging Ocean City 1-0 in the Group 3 semis, PHS advanced to its third state title game in six seasons, having won crowns in 2009 and 2012.

While the Little Tigers came up short in the championship game, falling 4-3 to South Plainfield, Sutcliffe was thrilled with what his squad accomplished.

“They are just fantastic; we are a such a young team,” said Sutcliffe, who guided the Little Tigers to a final record of 18-3-2.

“I am so proud of the senior class that fought through a lot of adversity for four years. Three championships is fantastic. The success of the team was beyond some people’s expectations.”

Sutcliffe’s role in restoring PHS to its championship form makes him the pick as the co-coach of the fall among male programs.

READING THE GAME: Princeton High boys’ hockey player John Reid heads up the ice in a game last winter. Senior forward Reid’s all-around game should be a big asset for PHS this winter. The Little Tigers start their 2014-15 campaign this week with games against Montgomery on December 2 and Nottingham on December 4.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

READING THE GAME: Princeton High boys’ hockey player John Reid heads up the ice in a game last winter. Senior forward Reid’s all-around game should be a big asset for PHS this winter. The Little Tigers start their 2014-15 campaign this week with games against Montgomery on December 2 and Nottingham on December 4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With new head coach Terence Miller taking the helm last winter and the roster featuring a number of untested players, there was a sense of the unknown surrounding the Princeton High boys’ hockey team at the beginning of the 2103-14 campaign.

Exceeding expectations, PHS emerged as one of the pleasant surprises of the season, going 14-6-2 as it made the Mercer County Tournament semifinals and advanced to the second round of the Public B state tournament.

Coming into this season, the Little Tigers are buoyed by the experience they gained last winter. “We only lost two key seniors (Patrick McCormick and Spencer Reynolds) so we are coming back with a lot of confidence,” said head coach Miller.

“We have a full senior roster, we have a total of eight and six of those are returners. We had a lot of freshmen log minutes last year and they got lots of experience. By the end of the season, they had really improved. I feel like we might be a little deeper this year.”

That depth is evident at forward where the team welcomes back a quartet of proven scorers in seniors Jackson Andres, John Reid, and Connor McCormick along with Connor’s younger brother, sophomore standout Brendon McCormick.

“Andres found the score sheet a lot last year, he was our leading scorer,” said Miller, whose team starts its 2014-15 campaign this week with games against Montgomery on December 2 and Nottingham on December 4.

“He was a key piece last year and we are expecting him to be again this year. Reid is really establishing himself as a leader this year. He is a great all around player; he has a nice, simple game, he is good in all three zones. Both the McCormicks will be at forward. Connor is another senior who I am expecting to have a big year. Brendan played well last year as a freshman and is quarterbacking our power play.”

The team boasts offensive depth with the return of junior Nathan Drezner, senior Chris Munoz, and junior Matt Cirillo along with the addition of promising freshman Justin Joyce.

“Drezner, Munoz, and Cirillo will see time,” added Miller. “We have a freshman, Justin Joyce, who will add to our depth. He plays travel for Princeton bantams and is a strong player.”

On defense, the pair of sophomores, Tooker Callaway and Eamonn McDonald, will lead the way.

“Tooker Callaway is going to be a real mainstay; he is a big, strong kid with good range,” said Miller. “He is a good shooter and has a good hockey IQ. McDonald was a starter last year and really logged some minutes. He is looking confident. They both have played well in scrimmages.”

Miller is confident that freshman Max Garlock and sophomore Anthony Trainer will also play well on the blue line.

“Garlock is a new addition; he is a good player and a good skater,” said Miller. “He has a good puck-moving game and has good vision. Anthony Trainer didn’t see a lot of time last year but he plays for the Mercer Chiefs and came back a year bigger and a year stronger.”

Sophomore goalie Sawyer Peck has emerged as a strength for the Little Tigers.

“Peck looks really sharp; he logged lots of time last year and got better and better as the season went on,” said Miller, who will be using senior Joe Hawes as his backup goalie.

“He looks more confident. Technically, he looks good. He is a classic butterfly goalie. He just needs to work on being quicker and stronger.”

In Miller’s view, developing team chemistry will be a must in order for PHS to be one of the stronger teams in the area.

“Our leadership is going to be key, Pat McCormick and Spencer Reynolds were not only good players for us last year, they were great leaders,” said Miller.

“This year’s seniors need to step up. We have a good core group. We have a lot of good pieces. We will need to work on putting the pieces together in the best way. It is not going to be easy, we are not going to sneak up on anybody.”

STICK SKILL: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player ­Connor Fletcher takes the puck up the ice in a game last season. Junior forward Fletcher figures to be a top offensive weapon for the Panthers this winter. PDS gets regular season action underway by playing at St. Joseph Prep on December 3, hosting Bishop Eustace on December 4, and then playing at St. Augustine on December 9.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STICK SKILL: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player ­Connor Fletcher takes the puck up the ice in a game last season. Junior forward Fletcher figures to be a top offensive weapon for the Panthers this winter. PDS gets regular season action underway by playing at St. Joseph Prep on December 3, hosting Bishop Eustace on December 4, and then playing at St. Augustine on December 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Over the last two winters, the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team turned to stellar groups of seniors for production and leadership as it enjoyed big campaigns.

This winter, though, PDS will need a bunch of younger players to grow up in a hurry in order to match the achievements of last year which saw the Panthers win the state Prep title or the season before when it posted a record of 21-3-1 and shared the Prep title with Morristown-Beard.

“It has been some time, maybe four or five years since we have had to fill so many spots,” said PDS head coach Scott Bertoli, who guided the Panthers to a 14-7-2 record last winter.

“There is sense of apprehensiveness among the younger players. The biggest challenge is are they big enough to compete physically against some of the teams we will be playing against. Our schedule is challenging and difficult.”

In order to compete at a high level, the Panthers will need to get on the same page tactically.

“The biggest thing is to figure out what kind of team we are going to be and what is going to be our identity and what is the make up,” said Bertoli, whose team gets regular season action underway by playing at St. Joseph Prep on December 3, hosting Bishop Eustace on December 4 and then playing at St. Augustine on December 9.

“I think it will be similar to last year. We have to work hard and be very good and responsible defensively. It will be a lot of low scoring games, we are not going to score a ton of goals.”

Bertoli is depending on juniors Kyle Weller and Connor Fletcher along with senior Will Wright, to carry the scoring load.

“Fletcher, Weller and Wright are the only three returning forwards who I would slot in as a first or second line player,” said Bertoli.

“They look good. We are going to struggle to score goals, we will be challenged to score on 5-on-5. We will put some things in to be effective on the power play. We lost our top five wingers from last year, that is a tremendous void.”

Other options at forward include junior Keith Asplundh, senior Harrison Latham, and freshman Tyler Coffey.

“The guys offer different skill sets,” added Bertoli. “Keith Asplundh played on the third line last year. He has improved, he is a year older and looks more comfortable. Tyler Coffey is a freshman, he is a highly skilled forward. He will be on the first line with Weller and Wright.”

The one-two punch of junior Chris Helmlinger and senior Will Garrymore along with sophomore Gianluca Travia will spearhead things on the blue line.

“Defense looks to be a strength, Chris and Will are big kids who have played a ton of minutes for us,” said Bertoli. “Gianluca played more at the end last year and gave us solid minutes.”

A trio of freshman, Nick Petruolo, Eric Sherman, and Eugene Yoon, should solidify the Panther defensive unit.

“Nick Petruolo is a high-end, two-way defenseman,” said Bertoli. “He is big, strong, and poised; he likes to get involved offensively. Eric Sherman is very skilled, he is a tremendous skater. He is a little undersized but plays hard and really competes. Eugene Yoon is a wide body, physical, high energy player. I think the three freshmen will be seeing a lot of time right from the start.”

At goalie, sophomore Logan Kramsky and junior Mark Anarumo give PDS depth between the pipes.

“I am looking at them as a strong tandem; both guys have a level of experience,” said Bertoli.

“Logan was unbelievable as a freshman in big games for us last year. When Mark got his opportunities, he played well. I think we will go back and forth with them.”

In Bertoli’s view, the Panthers have the opportunity to produce another big season.

“The kids will get stronger and mature,” said Bertoli. “I know they will work hard, they take this seriously. I expect us to go out and play hard, improve and win games. I expect us to have some growing pains early on. We should improve as we go on. We have some good smart players who have played at a good level. We will need to develop them. It will be a lot of coaching and putting them in a position to be successful.”

SPECIAL K: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey star Kristi ­Serafin heads up ice in a game last season. PDS will be relying on skilled sophomore defenseman Serafin to be a force on the blue line this winter. The Panthers get regular season action underway this week by hosting Summit on December 2 before playing at the Hill School (Pa.) on December 3 and hosting Pingry on December 5.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SPECIAL K: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey star Kristi ­Serafin heads up ice in a game last season. PDS will be relying on skilled sophomore defenseman Serafin to be a force on the blue line this winter. The Panthers get regular season action underway this week by hosting Summit on December 2 before playing at the Hill School (Pa.) on December 3 and hosting Pingry on December 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team doesn’t boast strength in numbers with just 13 players on the roster, it does feature some high-quality talent.

Many of the Panthers play club hockey outside school and their love of the game is contagious.

“We have a lot of younger players that bring a lot to the table,” said PDS head coach Lorna Cook, who guided the Panthers to an 11-8-1 record last winter.

“I am also impressed with the older players and how much they have improved. We have more travel players than we have had in the past. They all seem to have a good time and get along with each other. The high school team is their time to have fun with it.”

Cook is having fun watching sophomore defenseman Kristi Serafin progress into a force.

“Kristi looks great, I love the intensity she brings,” said Cook, whose team gets regular season action underway this week by hosting Summit on December 2 before playing at the Hill School (Pa.) on December 3, and hosting Pingry on December 5.

“She is very skilled, she has a lot of upside. She sees the ice better this year and she is more comfortable with the puck on her stick. In our system, the d-men take more of a role in the offense. We have been looking to move the puck more.”

Two newcomers, freshman Malia Leveson and sophomore transfer Kiely French, have been looking good on the blue line.

“Malia is a center playing defense; she is really good with the puck and she is a really good skater,” said Cook.

“Kiely is a really great girl to coach. She wants to learn and wants to get better. She will help us, she is very aggressive.”

PDS will be looking for some aggressive play from sophomores Ashley Cavuto and Daphne Stanton in the middle of the offense.

“Ashley and Daphne are the two centers,” said Cook. “We need to have that strength in the middle. They will be good for us, they will make the wingers better.”

On the wing, the Panthers have a number of good options in junior Emma Stillwaggon, senior Anna Williams, senior assistant captain Sophie Jensen, freshman Emma Latham, and senior assistant captain Sophie Ward.

“Emma Stillwaggon is always a grinder for us; she doesn’t have a lot of size but she is a tough kid,” said Cook.

“Anna sets a great example with how hard she goes at plays. She draws penalties and aggravates the other teams. She has shown improvement in her stick skills. Sophie Jensen has impressed us with her positional play. She is putting herself in position to be a good option. Emma Latham has a lot of potential. She has good instincts. Once she gets the puck, she knows what to do. Sophie Ward is still coming back from being out, she is really good at being positionally sound.”

The tandem of sophomore standouts Annika Asplundh and senior captain Katie Alden gives PDS some depth at goalie.

“Annika is looking really good, she has been playing girls’ travel hockey for the first time after just playing with the boys and that has helped her adjust to the speed,” said Cook.

“You see a wide range of shooters in high school hockey. She is getting better in the one-on-one situations. Katie seems to get better and more confident every year. It really helps us to have two goalies at practice.”

In order to have a big season, the Panthers will need to thrive in scoring situations.

“I think it comes down to capitalizing on opportunities, the power play has to step up,” said Cook.

“They need to be aggressive and be in shape. In order to capitalize on opportunities, they have to go at 100 percent and fight for all of the pucks.”

WILLING AND ABLE: Hun School boys’ basketball player Eric Williams dribbles upcourt in a game last season. The Raiders will be looking to senior Williams to have a big year as they look to improve on the 8-13 record posted last winter. Hun tips off its 2014-15 campaign by hosting the Phelps School (Pa.) on December 4.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

WILLING AND ABLE: Hun School boys’ basketball player Eric Williams dribbles upcourt in a game last season. The Raiders will be looking to senior Williams to have a big year as they look to improve on the 8-13 record posted last winter. Hun tips off its 2014-15 campaign by hosting the Phelps School (Pa.) on December 4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming off a frustrating 8-13 campaign in 2013-14, the Hun School boys’ basketball team is primed for a fresh start this winter.

“The mood is good; the chemistry is good,” said Hun head coach Jon Stone, reflecting on how preseason practice is going. “The energy is good, the talent is good.”

While Hun may not be as tall as it has been in past years, the team boasts some good talent in the frontcourt in newcomers Dominic Robb and Ben Seipt along with senior returner Kyle Borden.

“Dom has a 7’1 wingspan, he is a great presence inside offensively and defensively,” said Stone, whose team tips off its 2014-15 campaign by hosting the Phelps School (Pa.) on December 4.

“Ben is very versatile; he is about 6’5 and is really put together. He shoots, he passes, he posts up, he can do a little of everything. Kyle keeps getting better every year. He is a tremendous athlete and he has the ability to make plays.”

In the backcourt, Hun features ability and character in senior star Eric Williams, post-graduate Austin Harriott, senior Tucker Stevenson, and senior Chris Sharp, a football star headed to the University of Virginia.

“Eric has been with us four years and had a good season last year,” said Stone.

“He is a great shooter and a great floor guy. He understands the game; he is a kid who gets it. Austin is very good, he is a D-1 kid for sure. He has good sense and feel for the game; he is a really good passer. Tucker is a great glue guy; he plays hard all the time. Chris hasn’t played in two years but he is a glue guy. He has those same intangibles as Tucker, he is a great kid.”

Stone believes his squad could grow into something really good. “With so many new faces and so many guys who have little Hun varsity experience, this group could be like the Jon Lee, R.J. Griffin group (Mid-Atlantic Prep League champs in 2009), getting better as the year goes on,” said Stone.

“The chemistry is key, both on and off the court. They are developing it off the court and now they need to show it on court in games. It is a process. The flip side is that we have a lot of good pieces; we have kids with different skill sets. I am excited for the season, it is a great group.”

FORWARD PROGRESS: Hun School boys’ hockey star Blake Brown controls the puck in a game last winter. Sophomore forward Brown figures to be a key performer for the Raiders in 2014-15 after helping the team win both the Mercer County Tournament and the Independence Hockey League titles last winter. Hun is slated to get the season underway this week with home games against Red Bank Catholic on December 2, Malvern Prep (Pa.) on December 3, and Academy of New Church (Pa.) on December 5.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FORWARD PROGRESS: Hun School boys’ hockey star Blake Brown controls the puck in a game last winter. Sophomore forward Brown figures to be a key performer for the Raiders in 2014-15 after helping the team win both the Mercer County Tournament and the Independence Hockey League titles last winter. Hun is slated to get the season underway this week with home games against Red Bank Catholic on December 2, Malvern Prep (Pa.) on December 3, and Academy of New Church (Pa.) on December 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After winning both the Mercer County Tournament and the Independence Hockey League (IHL) titles last winter, the Hun School boys’ hockey program is seeing itself in a new light.

“The energy is there, the program is here,” said Hun head coach Ian McNally. “They feel we have arrived and the guys are into it.”

That energy has been apparent as the Raiders have gone through their preseason preparation.

“The mood is fantastic, they were excited through the fall to get going,” said McNally, who guided the Raiders to a 20-7 record last winter. “The practices have been high tempo, the guys are itching to go. We have had three scrimmages and they went well.”

The Raiders boast a high quality trio of sophomores at forward in Evan Barratt, Blake Brown, and Jon Bendorf. That trio provided much of the firepower for Hun last winter as each player tallied 60 points or more with Barratt accumulating 23 goals and 38 assists, Brown chipping in 28 goals and 32 assist, and Bendorf tallying 36 goals and 30 assists.

“We certainly scored a lot last year and the guys are just as impressive this year, they are a year bigger and a year stronger,” said McNally, noting that Barratt is currently sidelined with an injury.

There is additional depth up front with the addition of  post-graduate Brayden Stasow and junior Kyle Pettoni along with the return of junior Justin Grossman, junior Kevin Guns, and junior Patrick Brake.

“Stasow is a smart, dependable player, he can contribute in all facets, taking face-offs, killing penalties; he is an all-around player,” asserted McNally.

“Pettoni is a similar type of player. He is smart, takes face-offs, and is responsible defensively. We can roll out our offense line after line which we haven’t been able to do in the past.”

On defense, the Raiders will be relying on three battle-tested returners in seniors Bobby Wurster and Chris Rossi along with talented sophomore Tanner Preston (3 goals and 28 assists last season).

“Bobby Wurster is going to be really good, it his first full season with us,” said McNally, who will also be using junior Reed Doerler, junior Griffin Moroney, and senior Dan Seelagy along the blue line.

“He transferred in as a sophomore and last year, he had a lot of club commitments and played only half the games. He is a big, strong, tall player and will be the leader on the back. Chris is also a leader for us. He is very proud of Hun hockey, he has played a lot of hockey. Tanner was awesome last year. The three freshmen forwards got more attention but he was just as good. When Bobby wasn’t there, he was our top defensemen. We have six good defensemen and that unit is going to be a strength for us.”

With the graduation of four-year starting goalie Devin Cheifetz, Hun will be looking to junior Travis “Diesel” Pelke and sophomore Thomas Brake to fill the void between the pipes.

“I coached Diesel in youth hockey and have watched him play travel this fall and in our scrimmages,” said McNally.

“He is incredibly calm and consistent, you know he is going to make the first save and he will make a lot of saves on the second shot. He is consistent with mental stability and the guys feed off of that. No matter what happens, he acts the same way. Thomas has definitely made a push. He played all fall with Princeton youth hockey, he is a very good goalie and he will see time.”

Having left the IHL, Hun is upgrading its schedule as it looks to burnish its standing among the prep powers in the state.

“We are playing an independent schedule, we are playing strong teams in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and some from New York,” said McNally, whose team is slated to get the 2014-15 season underway this week with home games against Red Bank Catholic on December 2, Malvern Prep (Pa.) on December 3, and Academy of New Church (Pa.) on December 5.

“The key for us is to string three good games together in a week. In the past, we would have one big game a week to focus on. This year we will have to play consistently on back-to-back nights without the preparation time.”

FLOOR LEADER: Hun School girls’ basketball player Erica Dwyer races up the floor in a game last season. The Raiders are counting on senior guard Dwyer to provide leadership and production this winter. Hun has a busy opening week of the season as it is  scheduled to host Abington Friends School (Pa.) on December 2 and Friends Central on December 5 before playing at the St. Andrew’s School (Del.) on December 6 and then hosting Lawrenceville on December 9.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FLOOR LEADER: Hun School girls’ basketball player Erica Dwyer races up the floor in a game last season. The Raiders are counting on senior guard Dwyer to provide leadership and production this winter. Hun has a busy opening week of the season as it is scheduled to host Abington Friends School (Pa.) on December 2 and Friends Central on December 5 before playing at the St. Andrew’s School (Del.) on December 6 and then hosting Lawrenceville on December 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With a roster evenly distributed between six returners and six newcomers, a major focus early on for the Hun School girls’ basketball team is to get everybody on the same page.

“We need to jell between the veterans and the younger players,” said Hun head coach Bill Holup, who guided the Raiders to a 10-11 record last winter. “We always play a tough schedule so we will be thrown into the fire early.”

Holup is looking for senior guards Janelle Mullen and Erica Dwyer to take a lead role in that bonding process.

“We are relying on Mullen and Dwyer to bring everything together,” said Holup.

“Janelle is a three-year player, she transferred in as a sophomore. Erica is a 4-year player. They both have accepted the leadership role in the first couple of scrimmages. Janelle is a little quieter. Erica has really stepped up into that role, pushing the team to be better. Janelle is a D-1 player, she recently signed a letter of intent to St Peter’s. Both are terrific ballhandlers and outside shooters who are able to penetrate and dish.”

Battle-tested junior guards Jess Johnson and Amber Bourke will need to step up.

“Jess is a three-year player and is coming off a great soccer season and has a lot of experience,” said Holup.

“Amber is extremely talented, she is one of the fastest players out there. She just needs to improve her confidence.”

Holup is confident that newcomers, sophomore Julie Fassl, sophomore Mia Cura, freshman Kendall Dandridge, and post-graduate Maiya Rawlinson, can make an impact.

“Julie’s overall effort has been phenomenal, she is getting up the court,” said Holup of Fassl, who played JV ball last winter.

“She asks questions, she wants to understand things. Mia is up from JV; her sister, Bella, played four years for us and graduated last year. She is always wanting to learn, her attitude has been tremendous. Kendall is coming off an extremely successful soccer season. I hope that momentum carries into basketball, she is a great athlete, she is physically stronger than most freshmen. She has good court sense. She is not just running around out there, she knows what she is doing on the court. Maiya is a terrific player from South Jersey. She has athleticism. She gets outside on the wing, she has a pull up jumper. She is long and is able to play good defense. She had knee surgery last spring so we are hoping to have her in January.”

On the inside, sophomore Clare Maloney is developing into a force.

“Clare got a lot of action last year when Johnnah [Johnson] got hurt; I think she started 15 games,” said Holup, whose team has a busy opening week of the season as it was scheduled to host Abington Friends School (Pa.) on December 2 and Friends Central on December 5 before playing at the St. Andrew’s School (Del.) on December 6 and then hosting Lawrenceville on December 9..

“She got thrown into the fire pretty quickly and developed a lot. We are happy to have her back. She gives us great size inside, helps with defense and rebounding. She needs to be ready to catch the ball because Erica and Janelle will be dishing it to her.”

A pair of juniors, Lindsay Ruddy and Alexis Goeke, provide the Raiders with additional height down low.

“Ruddy and Goeke both give us good size,” added Holup. “Ruddy has experience from the JV, she just needs to be a little more aggressive. Alexis is learning the game, she is an extremely good athlete.”

If the pieces come together, it could be a very good winter for Hun. “When we are at 100 percent, we have a lot of talent,” said Holup.

“There is a very positive vibe around the team that I am getting this year. Even if we come up short in some games, I know the effort is going to be there. We are not going to go out and be intimidated by anyone.”

OPENING DRIVE: Stuart Country Day School basketball player Harley Guzman dribbles upcourt in a game last year. Stuart will be looking for junior guard Guzman to trigger the offense again this winter. The Tartans start regular season play with a game at Barrack Hebrew Academy (Pa.) on December 3 and then compete in the George School (Pa.) Invitational from December 5-6.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

OPENING DRIVE: Stuart Country Day School basketball player Harley Guzman dribbles upcourt in a game last year. Stuart will be looking for junior guard Guzman to trigger the offense again this winter. The Tartans start regular season play with a game at Barrack Hebrew Academy (Pa.) on December 3 and then compete in the George School (Pa.) Invitational from December 5-6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Justin Leith has a lot on his plate in his first year as the athletics director at Stuart Country Day School.

But with a resume that includes starring for the Merrimack College basketball team before playing pro ball in Europe, Asia, Central and South America, and having coached the boys’ hoops team at the Asheville School in North Carolina the last three years, Leith couldn’t resist the chance to take the helm of Stuart’s basketball program this winter.

“I didn’t walk into this thinking I was going to coach; I hit the ground running in July and I was working on a lot of hires,” said Leith, noting that previous coach Dana Leary had left the program this spring after guiding the Tartans to an 8-8 record last season.

“It was kind of organic, it just happened. It was not a new thing for me to have this work load. I thought the girls would be getting a unique experience. I run a college/pro level practice with my background. They are being held to a higher standard in terms of work load.”

Leith has been enjoying the experience so far. “I have never coached a full girls team before,” said Leith, noting that he has done skills training with smaller groups of girl players.

“I was a little apprehensive. I was reserved for about 30 seconds and then I saw something I didn’t like and I was myself. The girls have responded well. I can’t say that there haven’t been bumps in the road in the first two weeks but they are working hard.”

Under Leith’s tutelage, the Stuart players will have to work hard at both ends of the court.

“It will be an in-your-face defense; we will do a little bit of everything, man, zone, full court,” said Leith, whose team starts regular season play with a game at Barrack Hebrew Academy (Pa.) on December 3 and then competes in the George School (Pa.) Invitational from December 5-6.

“They need to be able to switch in and out of things. We will not do anything stagnant, anything we do will be in your face. It may take time, but I love teaching kids how to play basketball. We will run motion and there will be autonomy within the offense. When kids are used to being told to go here, go there, they learn just a spot or a position, they don’t learn the game. As an example, I told them they should be able to go and play pickup with the Miami Heat and not get in the way. They don’t have that ability but they should know the game and where to be.”

The Tartans do have an inside game with Kate Walsh and Nneka Onukwugha, who both stand about 6 feet tall.

“We do have some height,” said Leith. “We can do some high-low stuff with Kate and Nneka. They are both getting better everyday. They are pushing through things they have never been asked to do. They are good adapters so far.”

On the perimeter, Stuart will be featuring senior Harlyn Bell and junior Harley Guzman.

“Harlyn is a mix, she will play both guard and forward,” said Leith, who will also be using junior Rose Tetnowski, sophomores Ally McGowen, Julia Kahn, and Vanessa Williams along with freshman Allison Walsh at guard.

“She has been great as a leader. Harley has been working hard, we are asking her to do a lot. In our scrimmages, her energy was transformative.”

If the Tartans can show a collective energy on a daily basis, they figure to make a lot of progress this winter.

“I think we can do some special things,” said Leith. “I am not guaranteeing wins but I think they can have a special experience. If they can get better at each practice and can be much better in the last practice than they were in the first, that will be success.”

SERVIS-ORIENTED: Stuart Country Day School field hockey player Sam Servis goes after a ball in action this season. Junior star Servis, an All-Prep B performer along with classmate Tori Hannah, helped the Tartans post a 6-14-1 record this fall.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SERVIS-ORIENTED: Stuart Country Day School field hockey player Sam Servis goes after a ball in action this season. Junior star Servis, an All-Prep B performer along with classmate Tori Hannah, helped the Tartans post a 6-14-1 record this fall. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Stuart Country Day School field hockey team, its season-ending 6-0 victory over the Solebury School (Pa.) marked the culmination of an encouraging stretch drive.

While Stuart fell 2-1 to Pennington in the state Prep B quarterfinals and dropped a 1-0 nail-biter to Notre Dame in the days before the Solebury win, Tartan head coach Missy Bruvik saw plenty of progress in the final week of the campaign.

“We had a great Senior Day game against Solebury,” said Bruvik, who got two goals apiece from junior stars Tori Hannah and Sam Servis in the victory with Cate Donahue and Nneka Onukwugha also scoring.

“We got the opportunity to play Notre Dame and we lost 1-0; we didn’t give up a goal until the second half, we played so well, things clicked. We played a good game against Pennington. We gave up an early goal and that hurt us.”

Although the Tartans ended the fall at 6-14-1, Bruvik liked the way her players competed.

“The kids never gave up, they always played hard,” said Bruvik. “We had a lot of games that could have gone either way.”

While Stuart had only three seniors, Harlyn Bell, Fayette Plambeck and Onukwugha, they gave the team a lot this fall. “Harlyn Bell did a terrific job in goal,” said Bruvik.

“Fayette started every game in the back and was our only four-year player. Nneka had a great Senior Day game.”

The Tartans boasted a great group of juniors with a pair of All-Prep B performers in Hannah and Servis along with Donahue, Julia Maser, Elena Bernewitz, Rose Tetnowski, and Kate Walsh.

“I can’t wait for them to come back for next year, they are really the core of the team,” said Bruvik.

“They lead with how hard they work and their dedication. They have a lot of experience. Tori and Sam have great stickwork. Since freshman year they have put in that extra time outside of school and it really shows. Cate was one of our leading scorers.”

Bruvik saw dedication from top to bottom. “I love how hard our JV players worked; we were taking our numbers and getting the most out of them,” said Bruvik.

“Every kid got to play and improve. They understand what it takes to have a good program. It is a great group of kids. They don’t take themselves too seriously but they know when to work hard. They gave everything they had and I appreciate their efforts.”

November 26, 2014

The temperature had dropped to the mid-20s last Wednesday evening around 9:30 but the chill didn’t keep Princeton High boys’ soccer player Nick Kapp from stripping off his jersey and running toward the stands at Toms River North High.

Having scored the lone goal as PHS edged Ocean City 1-0 in the Group 3 state semifinals, the senior forward was fired up to celebrate with the hardy PHS fans on hand.

Kapp’s tally came with 12:32 remaining in regulation as he banged in the rebound on a cross by Jurriaan Dijkgraaf.

“Dijkgraaf got the ball on the side; he has got the speed to beat all of those guys on that side so I knew he was going to get in,” said Kapp, recalling the goal.

“All I was trying to do was to anticipate it and make sure I was in the right spot at the right time. It went to the goalie, he rebounded it out. I anticipated it and just tried to get my foot on it and get it in the back of the net.”

With PHS dominating play, building up an 11-1 edge in shots, Kapp and his teammates had the sense that a goal was coming.

“We possessed the ball very well, we found ways to break their defense down,” said Kapp.

“We just kept chipping away at them until eventually we got one. He was a good goalie, no doubt but I think after a while getting 11 shot to 1, I feel like a goalie is going to get tired out eventually. He made a great save of the cross before the goal but he didn’t have the energy to get back up quick enough to make the second save.”

As a substitute, Kapp has given the Little Tigers energy and production off the bench.

“One of my previous club coaches told me that hard work pays off so I just work as hard as I can whenever I am on the field,” said Kapp, who scored in PHS 4-1 win over Red Bank Regional in the sectional final and also scored a goal in a victory over Steinert in the semis of the Mercer County Tournament.

“Now it has been paying off with goals. I just keep trying to get my name on the scoresheet. It is a great time.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe recognized the great contribution he has gotten from Kapp down the homestretch of the season.

“We are getting timely goals from Nick,” said Sutcliffe. “It is the third one in the late season to put us in a position to either draw level or win it. Credit to him for being in the right place and credit to Jurriaan for really hitting the final pass. It is a thing we work on in training.”

Although PHS went on to fall 4-3 to South Plainfield last Sunday in the Group 3 final, that loss can’t diminish the bond the team has formed in a fall that saw it win division, county, and sectional titles.

“Every day, every practice, we are working hard together,” said Kapp, who added another tally in the championship game. “We are a family. We are not just working for ourselves, we are working for each other.”

TITLE CHASE: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Chase Ealy controls the ball during PHS’s 4-1 win over Red Bank Regional in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional title game. Last Sunday in Group 3 state championship game against South Plainfield, senior star and co-captain Ealy scored a goal but it wasn’t enough as PHS fell 4-3. The loss left the Little Tigers with a final record of 18-3-2.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TITLE CHASE: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Chase Ealy controls the ball during PHS’s 4-1 win over Red Bank Regional in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional title game. Last Sunday in Group 3 state championship game against South Plainfield, senior star and co-captain Ealy scored a goal but it wasn’t enough as PHS fell 4-3. The loss left the Little Tigers with a final record of 18-3-2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In the fall of 2012, Chase Ealy joined the Princeton High boys’ soccer team as a sophomore and helped the squad win a Group 3 state title.

Last Sunday, senior striker and co-captain Ealy had PHS on track to another state crown as he scored a goal late in the first half to give the Little Tigers a 2-1 lead over South Plainfield in this year’s Group 3 championship game at Kean University.

“I saw the open space, I took it and got a fantastic ball from Nick Kapp,” said Ealy, recalling his tally.

“I couldn’t ask for anything better. It floated right between me and the goalie; their goalie is good but I expect to win those and I did.”

Having rallied from an early 1-0 deficit in the title game, Ealy was expecting the team to build on its 2-1 advantage.

“I thought it was great, the momentum was definitely with us,” said Ealy. “Honestly I thought all we had to do was to get to halftime and we were going to take it into the second half.”

But South Plainfield answered with a goal in the waning seconds of the half to make it a 2-2 game at intermission and change the tone of the contest.

“Credit to the guy who hit the ball for them, it was a fantastic shot,” said Ealy. “They took the momentum right back at the end there.”

The momentum continued to go South Plainfield’s way in the second half as they added two goals to take a 4-2 lead. PHS added a late tally by Kapp but it wasn’t enough as the team went down to a 4-3 defeat.

While Ealy and his teammates were disappointed with the outcome, they were greeted by a standing ovation from the PHS supporters at the end of the game.

“The guys came into it with the right attitude, they fought hard,” said Ealy. “The competition was great, you couldn’t ask for better. The other team was just ready for us, they got a couple of bounces on their shots and in the end they pulled it out.”

Ealy was proud of how the Little Tigers competed all fall. “It was a young team that people didn’t expect much from,” said Ealy. “They took it as far as they could. I will remember the MCT, the sectionals, and all three games versus Allentown and how hard these guys fought.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe lauded his team’s fighting spirit. “We were persistent in our cause, which is not surprising,” said Sutcliffe. “The way we pressed on, I just couldn’t be more proud of our mentality and our resilience in the game. It just wasn’t quite our day, but that is soccer.”

When the Little Tigers took the 2-1 lead, Sutcliffe was thinking that the day could turn out well for the Little Tigers.

“We thought we were in a good position to go ahead and actually win it but credit to them,” said Sutcliffe.

“We weren’t finding one another quite well enough. They are a good team on the counter and we knew that. They have a good goalkeeper but we still put up three and really could have won the game.”

Exceeding expectations, PHS proved itself to be a very good team this fall, posting a final record of 18-3-2 on the way to division, county, and sectional titles.

“They are just fantastic; we are a such a young team,” said Sutcliffe. “I am so proud of the senior class that fought through a lot of adversity for four years. Three championships is fantastic. The success of the team was beyond some people’s expectations.”

Sutcliffe sees more championships on the horizon. “So many players, due to  the hard work and improvement, just got so much better as the whole campaign went on,” said Sutcliffe, crediting his coaching staff of Carlos Salazar, Salvi Baldino, Ward Ingersoll, and Brian Ruddy with helping to accelerate that progress. “We just can’t wait until next season. We have such a young team and we are going to be in great shape.”

Ealy, for his part, believes the program is poised to keep rolling. “In future years, this team is going to continue winning,” said Ealy. “They have a fantastic core of young players. These guys are going to be really good.”

In reflecting on his PHS experience, Ealy leaves with some fantastic memories.

“It is everything; I came into a team that was full of legacy,” said Ealy. “You are always in the title games, you are always fighting for them. It is exactly what I wanted to get back to my senior year and we did it. We got there. I would have loved to win but we continued the legacy. We won as much as we could.”

HIGH STICKING: Hun School field hockey star Julia Blake (No. 12) celebrates after a Raider goal this fall. Senior star and co-captain Blake starred in the midfield, helping Hun post an 8-11 record.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HIGH STICKING: Hun School field hockey star Julia Blake (No. 12) celebrates after a Raider goal this fall. Senior star and co-captain Blake starred in the midfield, helping Hun post an 8-11 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the Hun School field hockey team didn’t make the kind of postseason run this fall that it has been known for in recent years, it did end the season on a high note.

The Raiders rolled to a 6-1 win over Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) in its finale, snapping a six-game losing streak to post a final record of 8-11.

“The seniors knew it was their last game and they came out strong,” said Hun head coach Kathy Quirk.

“We had a nice ceremony for them before the game and they felt good about themselves.”

One of Hun’s top seniors, co-captain Vicki Leach, ended things with one of the strongest performances of her career, tallying four goals and two assists in victory against Mercersburg.

“Vicki came out feisty in front of the cage,” said Quirk. “She is very
unselfish, she is not afraid to pass but she was in the right place in the right time to score goals that day.”

Even in defeat, Hun showed feistiness collectively. “I think when we were playing Springside, we were down 3-0 and came back to lose 4-3,” recalled Quirk.

“We were down 4-0 to Germantown Academy and scored two goals to make it close. When we wanted to, we showed we could score goals.”

The Raiders also made improvement at the defensive end of the field. “I think the defense stepped up; they were so young and inexperienced,” said Quirk, noting that senior co-captain Julia Blake and sophomore Sophia Albanese were the only returning players.

“Charlotte Stout, Taylor Nehlig, Shannon Graham, Julia and Sophia really played well. Julia did a great job leading back there; she would get the ball side to side and would carry it up the field when needed.”

In addition to Leach and Blake, Hun got good work from its other seniors, Nehlig, Graham, and Penn-bound goalie and co-captain Reina Kern.

“They all had a really big impact, they all contributed in their own way,” said Quirk.

“Taylor really blossomed this year. I am glad that she got out of goal and became a field player. She was not afraid to go after opponents and just bother them on the field. Shannon was new to the team last year, coming over from soccer. With her soccer and lacrosse experience she was able to pick up the game quickly and did a good job skill-wise on defense. Reina ended her season on a high note. She really progressed from her freshman year to her senior season. She was a true leader on the field, not afraid to direct her teammates.”

In Quirk’s view, the program is headed in the right direction. “We have a good group of players returning,” added Quirk, whose core of returners includes junior Shannon Dargan, sophomore Julie Fassl, junior Gabrielle Cifelli, freshman Julia Revock, sophomore Delia Lawver, junior Sierra Hessinger, sophomore Sophia Albanese, junior Mariesa Cay, and junior Maura Kelly.

“Shannon Dargan is ready to step up on goal. Fassl is just a coach’s dream. She works hard and asks questions. She puts out 100 percent all the time. She has speed up and down the field and sends the ball across well. She has a great hit. Cifelli will be on the line next year. Revock learned a lot this season and Delia played well. We have some good defensive players coming back in Sierra and Sophia. Cay and Kelly will help in the midfield. We have good numbers, we carried 21 and are losing just five.”

Going forward, Quirk is looking for her team to carry the play on a more frequent basis.

“Sometimes they waited too long to put out the intensity; sometimes we would give up a goal before we got going,” said Quirk.

“It is a good group. I hope they work hard over the summer and come back in good shape.”

CARRYING ON: Princeton Day School field hockey player ­Lauren Finley moves the ball up the field in a game this fall. Junior Finley was a bright spot for the Panthers this season as they posted a 2-15 record.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CARRYING ON: Princeton Day School field hockey player ­Lauren Finley moves the ball up the field in a game this fall. Junior Finley was a bright spot for the Panthers this season as they posted a 2-15 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Undergoing a youth movement by necessity this fall with only three seniors on the roster, the Princeton Day School field hockey team predictably took its lumps.

Although PDS went 2-15, Panther head coach Tracey Arndt saw a lot of positives.

“A 2-15 record never sounds pretty but when you reflect on it, we were successful,” said Arndt.

“We had girls who had never played before and we had six freshmen on the field at times. They improved mentally, they played teams at a higher level and never backed down. Their individual skills all improved. They did what we asked them to do as coaches and you can’t ask for more than that.”

The Panthers gave their all in the state Prep B quarterfinals at the Ranney School, battling through a downpour before succumbing 1-0 in overtime.

“It is what I hoped for,” said Arndt. “With the weather being the way it was, they could have used that as an excuse but they didn’t. It was new to play in those conditions. They kept fighting and fighting. Katie Alden made a great stick save at the end of the first half. Kate Laughlin played great on defense. Dana Poltorak had that look in her eyes. We walked off the field proud of how we played.”

Arndt was proud of what the senior tri-captains contributed as Alden starred in goal, Poltorak showed improved stick skills, and Niki van Manen spearheaded the back line before being sidelined by illness.

“We are going to have a huge void without Katie,” said Arndt of Alden, who was a first-team All-Prep B selection and made honorable mention CJFHCA All-Mercer County.

“We had to overcome not having Niki. Dana gave us a great hit. The seniors gave us great leadership.”

In Arndt’s view, the squad has a great foundation in place, featuring such returning players as juniors Lauren Finley, Kate Laughlin, and Rowan Schomburg, together with sophomores Kiely French, Emma Garcia, Kyra Mason, Catherine Stephens, and freshmen Elizabeth Brennan, Kyra Hall, Emma Latham, Catherine Laylin, Gretchen Lindenfeldar, Madison Mundenar, Elena Schomburg, and Claire Szuter.

“I am hoping we can start next year where we left off this year, we have a great core coming back,” said Arndt.

“The girls learned it is about playing where you are needed. They all did whatever we asked, they all improved at knowing the game. At the end of the season, they were coming up to me asking what can I do to get better, what clinics and camps can I go to.”

The players also learned some lessons beyond field hockey as they stuck together through adversity.

“It is about why we are here,” said Arndt. “They had a strong purpose. They showed pride in playing for PDS and in the effort they gave everyday.”

Despite finishing the season by losing six straight games and getting outscored 23-2 in the stretch, the Hun School boys’ soccer team didn’t get down on itself.

“The kids never quit, they played hard, no matter what the score,” said Hun head coach Pat Quirk, whose team finished the fall at 4-14-1.

“The record was not as successful as we wanted but it was still a fun season.”

Quirk pointed out that some untimely injuries did make things harder for the Raiders this fall.

“We have a lot of the right pieces but we couldn’t get them all healthy at the right time,” said Quirk. “We would try to plug one hole and then we would have another hole.”

One of the key pieces for Hun this fall was senior striker Tucker Stevenson.

“Tucker was a great guy for the program,” asserted Quirk, whose other seniors included Brendan Black and Esham Macauley.

“He was with us for three years, he studied abroad one fall. He was always happy and trying to have fun. He scored in the last game and he scored our first goal this season so I thought that was fitting.”

In Quirk’s view, the program has a good foundation in place with such players as sophomores Pat Nally, Connor Hufer, Logan Leppo, and Andrew Kaye together with juniors Alex Semler, M.J. Cobb, Chris Andrews, and Kieran Choi.

“Nally and Hufer played well in the middle but as sophomores, it is hard to go against junior and seniors there,” said Quirk.

“M.J. Cobb played a great defense for us. When he got hurt that was tough, that was a hole we couldn’t plug. We had three juniors and a sophomore in the back (Semler, Andrews, and Kaye in addition to Cobb) and the goalie  (Leppo) was a sophomore. Kieran Choi was in his second year for us and played defensive midfield and did a good job for us there.”

That core of players showed a love for the game, working hard in practice each day.

“The game is the teacher, the more we play, the more we learn,” said Quirk.

“That is why we scrimmage a lot in practice. They kept their heads up. In high school sports, something can switch at any time.”

Quirk believes his program can switch things up next fall and get back on the winning track. “The guys tried really hard, they can only get better and stronger,” said Quirk.

“We are still looking for that guy who can put the ball in the back of the net. I want them to just realize that it is still fun no matter what the record is and that you can still have a good time. I want them to get better each day in the offseason. We have been at the bottom and we want to rise to the top.”

November 19, 2014
GROUP EFFORT: Princeton High girls’ cross country runner Lou Mialhe heads to the finish line in a race last fall. Last Saturday, junior star Mialhe led the way for PHS at the Group 3 state championship meet, placing 14th individually to help the Little Tigers take second in the team standings. Mialhe covered the 5,000-meter course at Holmdel in a time of 19:45. The Little Tigers will be back at Holmdel on November 22 as they qualified for Meet of Champions (MOC), the program’s first appearance at the prestigious event since 2010.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GROUP EFFORT: Princeton High girls’ cross country runner Lou Mialhe heads to the finish line in a race last fall. Last Saturday, junior star Mialhe led the way for PHS at the Group 3 state championship meet, placing 14th individually to help the Little Tigers take second in the team standings. Mialhe covered the 5,000-meter course at Holmdel in a time of 19:45. The Little Tigers will be back at Holmdel on November 22 as they qualified for Meet of Champions (MOC), the program’s first appearance at the prestigious event since 2010. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton High girls’ cross country team, its second-place finish at the Group 3 state championship meet last Saturday was a microcosm of the program’s rise up the ranks over the last few years.

“We didn’t have a great start, I had us at seventh or eighth at the first mile,” said PHS head coach Jim Smirk, reflecting on the competition which took place at Holmdel.

“We ran effectively on the back end of the race. They are veteran runners; I like the way they stuck with the race plan and trusted their training.”

In placing second to champion Mendham, PHS was paced by junior Lou Mialhe, who took 14th individually, covering the 5,000-meter course in a time of 19:45. Senior Mary Sutton placed 20th in 20:01 with junior Emma Eikelberner coming in 28th at 20:12, senior Paige Metzheiser taking 32nd in 20:17, and senior Julie Bond finishing 57th in 20:49

The team’s second-place finish booked PHS a trip to the Meet of Champions (MOC) on November 22 at Holmdel, the program’s first appearance at the prestigious event since 2010.

“It wasn’t just our goal this year; we set out to do it a couple of years ago,” said Smirk, whose team’s 20:12 average time on Saturday was a program record for the Holmdel course.

“When Elyssa [Gensib] and Jenna [Cody] graduated, we lost two top-end runners and there was a void in the program. We had to re-imagine ourselves. Julie Bond and Mary Sutton were sophomores and Paige was a JV runner. We take a lot of pride in what we accomplished; we didn’t get a big infusion of talent. When you go back a few years ago, we weren’t at this level. We were a decent team, we would make states. Every season we got better, not just in cross country.”

Running together in a tight pack has helped PHS make strides. “This is what the program is built on, they had to be ready to do the work to make the MOC,” said Smirk. “It was not going to happen overnight. The pack raised the level of each runner.”

Mialhe has raised her level of performance over the last few weeks. “Lou struggled early; she had an interruption in her training,” said Smirk.

“She was in Peru this summer in a place where she couldn’t really run. I am impressed by her ability to hit on all cylinders but it is very much because of the team. Girls like Emma took the burden off of her; Mary did that too. All five of the top runners have placed first for us at some point.”

Harnessing her talent and intensity has helped senior Sutton become a top performer for the Little Tigers.

“Day in, day out, we have to pull Mary back and have her be more patient,” said Smirk.

“A year ago, had this happened she would not have been able to do as well. We fell behind but at the 2-mile mark, she pops out in the lead for us and I realized that Mendham was the only team with two runners ahead of us. She dominated that middle mile. She still looked great and was able to set Lou up for a fantastic finish. That is four years of high quality work.”

Junior Eikelberner showed her quality on Saturday by overcoming a shaky start.

“She was 82nd at the first mile; she got swallowed up a little bit at the beginning,” said Smirk.

“Last year or even earlier this season, she might have panicked but she kept her focus and ran very well. She took an elbow in the jaw late in the race and just took the thump and kept going. She was locked in and she ran great.”

Metzheiser’s consistency has been a great plus for PHS this fall. “Paige has been a rock for us,” asserted Smirk. “She has given us constant quality, with no injuries, no setbacks. She just got a little better each race; she has been a big part of our success.”

The presence of Bond in the race despite a nagging hip injury helped PHS succeed on Saturday. “As of 3:30 on Friday, she was sitting out the race,” said Smirk.

“We kept her on the bike. I said that if she could convince me that we would be a better team with her on the line, she could go. She didn’t have to convince me because some of the other girls did. They said our best team would be with her on the line because of the fact that she is on the line makes us a better team no matter what she does. The proof was in the pudding. She was only 10 seconds off her Shore Coaches time. She was hampered by a hip injury but she was very confident and strong.”

While PHS was proud of its strong performance last Saturday, it isn’t planning to rest on its laurels as it returns to the MOC.

“They weren’t talking about getting second on the bus ride home, they were talking about next week and doing better,” said Smirk.

GOLDEN GOAL: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Andrew Goldsmith controls the ball last Thursday as first-seeded PHS hosted sixth-seeded Red Bank Regional in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional final. Sophomore Goldsmith scored a second-half goal to help PHS pull away to a 4-1 win. The Little Tigers will now face Ocean City on November 19 in the Group 3 state semifinals at Toms River North.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GOLDEN GOAL: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Andrew Goldsmith controls the ball last Thursday as first-seeded PHS hosted sixth-seeded Red Bank Regional in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional final. Sophomore Goldsmith scored a second-half goal to help PHS pull away to a 4-1 win. The Little Tigers will now face Ocean City on November 19 in the Group 3 state semifinals at Toms River North. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While Andrew Goldsmith has been a key playmaker for the Princeton High boys’ soccer team as it has won the county crown and advanced to Central Jersey Group 3 sectional final, he hadn’t scored a goal all fall.

The sophomore midfielder picked a good time to finally find the back of the net, scoring a vital second half goal as first-seeded PHS pulled away to a 4-1 win over sixth-seeded Red Bank Regional last Thursday in the sectional title game.

Goldsmith’s tally made it 3-1 and gave the Little Tigers breathing room on the way to the triumph, which earned them a spot in the state Group 3 semis where they will face Ocean City on November 19 at Toms River North.

“When they played that ball in, I thought the goalie was going to come out and get it but then I hear people screaming my name to run on it and I ran it,” recalled Goldsmith.

“I was going to score that one after getting so many opportunities this year. I needed to get my first one and it is a great feeling.”

Despite falling behind 1-0 in the first half against Red Bank, Goldsmith and his teammates had the feeling that they could find the back of the net and seize momentum.

“We knew that this goalie was really good and we found that he comes off his line very quickly,” said Goldsmith.

“We just knew that once we get in the break, we knew we would get more opportunities. We just had to stay composed because we knew the goal was going to come.”

PHS knotted the game at 1-1 on a goal by Nick Kapp late in the first half. With nearly 14 minutes gone on the second half, PHS forged ahead 2-1 and then Goldsmith tallied to help break Red Bank’s spirit.

“Whenever you go up two goals in a major tournament or even in a normal game, it is very tough to get your heads up,” said Goldsmith, whose goal was followed minutes later by a tally from Luis Lazo.

PHS has been getting tougher and tougher as the postseason has unfolded, playing its best soccer when it matters most.

“We were only focused on this game, you have to take it one game at a time,” said Goldsmith. “We just keep improving every game.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe kept the faith even as his team dug the early hole against Red Bank.

“We had plenty of time and with their high line and us getting in behind a couple of times, we were not that concerned,” said Sutcliffe.

“I was more concerned with the quality of their goalkeeper and the possible fact that he might have had a career day.”

Kapp’s game-tying tally changed the tone of the day for PHS. “What a timely goal, it was good work on the behalf of every guy, just trying to find a way to keep it and get in behind them,” said Sutcliffe. “It was a quality goal, that was the turning point in the game.”

In reflecting on his team’s high quality play down the stretch, Sutcliffe attributed it to chemistry and depth.

“I think more than anything, it is a great work ethic, camaraderie, and quality,” said Sutcliffe.

“We have a lot of quality and depth on the team. We are finding a way to let a lot of players become the personality player, and not just one player or two players. Our depth and our quality, I think has carried us through in the last four weeks.”

For Sutcliffe, winning another sectional crown and getting through to the state semis with this group means a lot. “I am as happy now as I have ever been winning any championship,” said Sutcliffe, who guided PHS to state titles in 2009 and 2012.

“Last year, we really worked hard with 17 new varsity players. I am particularly happy for the seniors. It is not a big class in numbers, there are only six of them and they have just persevered. They have been challenged by the juniors and the sophomores. The end result of that is what you saw today, a lot of quality and finding a way to win.”

Goldsmith, whose older brother, Jeremy, starred for the 2012 state championship team, saw the sectional title as redemption after the Little Tigers produced a subpar campaign in 2013.

“It is great,” said Goldsmith. “I have gotten a lot of grief from last year when we got knocked out in the first round of MCTs and the semifinals of the sectionals coming off a state championship year. This is just a great feeling and I can’t wait to call my brother up and tell him about it.”

RIST AND REWARD: Princeton High boys’ cross country runner Jacob Rist competes in a 2013 race. Last Saturday, senior Rist placed 35th individually at the Group 3 state championship meet to set the pace for PHS as it took 13th in the team standings. Rist clocked a time of 17:05 over the 5,000-meter course at Holmdel.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

RIST AND REWARD: Princeton High boys’ cross country runner Jacob Rist competes in a 2013 race. Last Saturday, senior Rist placed 35th individually at the Group 3 state championship meet to set the pace for PHS as it took 13th in the team standings. Rist clocked a time of 17:05 over the 5,000-meter course at Holmdel. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the Princeton High boys’ cross country team didn’t finish as high at the Group 3 state championship meet last Saturday as it did last fall, Mark Shelley saw progress.

“Other people ran great races and we couldn’t control that,” said PHS head coach Shelley.

“What we could control, we did well. We ran very, very well. We were 11th last year and 13th this year but I think this was a better performance in terms of hitting our potential. I was very pleased, we were going south at the state meet last year in terms of injuries and this year we were headed in the other direction.”

Senior Jacob Rist battled through injury to set the pace for the Little Tigers, placing 35th as he covered the 5,000-meter course at Holmdel in a time of 17:05.

“Jacob has not been 100 percent this fall, he had achilles tendinitis,” said Shelley of Rist, who took ninth at the Central Jersey sectional meet on November 8 to help PHS finish second in the team standings in that competition.

“He gutted it out; he wanted to break 17 and came really close. The only way for him to heal would have been to take six weeks off but he is a senior and didn’t want to do that. We listened to his parents and doctor.”

Another PHS runner, sophomore Alex Roth, gutted it out as he overcame knee problems to place 57th at the state meet.

“We were amazed with how Alex did,” said Shelley. “He ran 17:05 at Thompson Park last week and then ran a 17:24 at Holmdel on a harder course. Holmdel has more hills. He was tentative with his knee earlier. At Holmdel, there is the hill in the beginning and he got out a little better. He was just seven seconds off his Holmdel record. He has six weeks off with just rehab; it shows his natural ability and how seriously he took rehab.”

Senior James Cao gave the team a serious effort as he finished 93rd with a time of 17:55.

“James was emotional after the race, it was his last race,” said Shelley. “He has always been the ultimate teammate, the kids love him and we as coaches love him.”

Shelley loves what he has seen from junior Noah Chen over the last few weeks.

“Noah is very talented and very personable; he has sometimes struggled with consistency in workouts and meets,” said Shelley of Chen, who was PHS’s third finisher at the state meet, taking 62nd in a time of 17:28.

“We have seen a positive change in his consistency over the last few weeks. He is going to be a leader for us next year. Getting him to harness his ability has been our goal.”

Sophomores Jonathan Petrozzini and Patrick O’Connell showed their ability as they took 89th and 105th, respectively, on Saturday,

“Petrozzini and O’Connell are both sophomores and it was their first state meet,” said Shelley.

“Petrozzini has had problems with hips and O’Connell had strep throat and was out 10 days; it has been tough for him to get his stamina back. Both PR’s at Holmdel.”

In Shelley’s view, his runners gained some mental toughness as they dealt with the ups and downs of the season.

“It was frustrating that we had a number of injuries to our top guys,” said Shelley.

“It hurt us in terms of competitiveness but it gave the opportunity for freshmen and sophomores. We had two freshmen, Nick Delaney and Alex Ackerman, who got to run some varsity races. One of the things about sports is that it is like life, you get lessons in dealing with adversity, individually and collectively. Individually, you may lose your place and you have to still be a good teammate. The team might not do as well as we want. The lessons go beyond cross country. We want to help the kids take the lessons and learn from them.”

With a stellar group of young runners returning, Shelley believes the future is bright if those lessons are heeded.

“We have a great group of kids; we have a super foundation for the next two or three years,” said Shelley.

“We had a freshman, three sophomores, and a junior run on Saturday; we may have been the youngest team in the state meet. They need to be running consistently in the summer, that let’s us do more focused practices in the fall and it also helps prevent injuries because you increase the base. We are looking for them to be in the 30-50 weekly mileage range, depending on the individual runner. They have seen that guys like Jacob do that and how it has helped.”

CHARLIE COMPANY: Princeton High football head coach Charlie Gallagher plots his next move in a game earlier this season. Gallagher’s leadership helped PHS make the state playoffs, where the seventh-seeded Little Tigers fell to second-seeded Brick Township 48-12 last Friday in an opening round contest.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CHARLIE COMPANY: Princeton High football head coach Charlie Gallagher plots his next move in a game earlier this season. Gallagher’s leadership helped PHS make the state playoffs, where the seventh-seeded Little Tigers fell to second-seeded Brick Township 48-12 last Friday in an opening round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Despite the daunting prospect of facing defending sectional champion and second-seeded Brick Township in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group 4 state playoffs last Friday evening, the seventh-seeded Princeton High squad was cautiously optimistic.

“The kids were real excited, we thought we had a good game plan and that it was a good matchup for us,” said PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher, reflecting on the program’s first state playoff appearance since 2009.

“We had told them before the game that yardage was at a premium. It was a playoff game, we were playing a high caliber opponent that doesn’t give up a lot of points. We are going to have to battle for every yard.”

But the contest quickly turned into an uphill battle for the Little Tigers as they fell behind 14-0 early in the first quarter.

“We opened up with an onside kick because they only had four on the line; we thought this set up well because most teams have five guys,” said Gallagher.

“They didn’t catch it. We kicked it out of bounds, they had a short field and scored in three or four plays. We had a third and long on our next possession and we had a 30-yard catch and then we fumbled the ball. Even though they didn’t have good field position, they were able to march in for another score.”

After PHS quarterback Dave Beamer scored on a one-yard touchdown run to make it 21-6 in the second quarter, Gallagher thought the Little Tigers were back in business.

“No doubt, we thought we were in the game,” said Gallagher. “We have been down before this season and made comebacks. But that Sclafani (Brick quarterback Carmen Sclafani) kid was real talented. We didn’t have an answer for him. We matched up well against the rest of the team but they had one kid who was real special. He was a dual threat, he could run and he could pass.”

Ultimately, Sclafani proved to be the difference, rushing for two touchdowns and passing for another as Brick pulled away to a 48-12 win.

Despite the final margin, PHS wasn’t hanging its heads in the wake of the defeat, which marked the final chapter of a heartening reversal of fortune that saw the team post an 8-2 record after going 0-10 last fall.

“We talked about how proud we were of the team,” said Gallagher, recalling his postgame message.

“The seniors had a great run, they put so much into it. Going 8-2 was a remarkable turnaround. Most guys picked us at the bottom of the division in the beginning of the season. We had no number of wins in mind, we just wanted to compete. We competed at a high level and got eight wins, the guys should be very proud.”

For second-year head coach Gallagher, there were a number of proud moments this fall.

“The first win stands out (a 28-7 victory over Hamilton in the season opener) although it seems like a long time ago,” said Gallagher, crediting senior captains Sam Smallzman, Brian Tien, and Colin Buckley with setting a positive tone.

“The second win over Ewing on homecoming under the lights was a great event. It was great to see such a huge crowd. People told me it was one of the most memorable sporting events they had seen at PHS. Even though it was a loss, the Winslow game stood out. I liked how the kids rebounded. There were lessons that needed to be learned and learned quickly.”

Gallagher likes the program’s future prospects. “We have an up and coming line that got better every week,” said Gallagher, noting that linemen Noah Ziegler, Matt Toplin, and Ethan Guerra will return to wreak havoc in the trenches.

“We have Beamer and Rory Helstrom back; it is good to have continuity on offense. We have to fill a couple of holes but the future is bright. The guys are excited to get back to it.”

The excitement surrounding PHS’s memorable fall has Gallagher optimistic that others will want to join the fun.

“I think the kids had a really great time,” said Gallagher. “The tale of the tape will be next year in August. I hope kids from John Witherspoon and Cranbury want to play for a quality football team because we have it right now. Winning attracts kids.”

FEELING INVINCIBLE: Vince Boccanfuso poses with his wife, Rita and daughters, Lynn, far left, and Beth, far right, before officiating in his 300th college football game. Boccanfuso, a 1966 Princeton High graduate who starred in football and track, is being inducted this Saturday into the ninth class of the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

FEELING INVINCIBLE: Vince Boccanfuso poses with his wife, Rita and daughters, Lynn, far left, and Beth, far right, before officiating in his 300th college football game. Boccanfuso, a 1966 Princeton High graduate who starred in football and track, is being inducted this Saturday into the ninth class of the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

Starting his Princeton High sports career as a sixth-string, 120-pound receiver for the freshman football team in 1962, Vince Boccanfuso didn’t seem destined for stardom.

But using his speed and persistence, Boccanfuso worked himself up to the first team that season.

Taking off from there, Boccanfuso became a standout athlete for the PHS football and track teams.

On the gridiron, he was a two-year varsity starter who earned All-County and All-Suburban honors as a senior.

On the track, Boccanfuso emerged as a star sprinter and jumper, winning the county crown in the 100-yard dash and taking second in the 220 and the long jump in the county meet as a senior in 1966 and then winning Central Jersey Group IV titles in the 100, 220, and long jump.

This Saturday, Boccanfuso ascends to the pantheon of PHS sports as he will be inducted into the ninth class of the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

He will be joined in the class by Wilbur E. Hines ’66, Henry Wilkinson ’69, Alec Hoke ’83, Jim Laverty ’87, Liz Hewson Blankstein ’88, Larry Madden ’64, Roger Madden ’65, Charles Edward Madden ’68, John Philip Madden ’69, and the 1960 baseball team.

Reflecting on his Little Tiger career, Boccanfuso cites his participation in the summer Princeton Playground Program as the genesis of his athletic success.

“Way back when, Princeton High, Valley Road, Harrison Street, all those different schools had a program; it was a place for kids to go in the summer,” recalled Boccanfuso, age 66.

“It was like a day care. They had softball teams and at the end of the summer, they had a track meet at PHS and I did really well in eighth grade.”

That performance put him on the radar of PHS track coach Gerry Groninger.

“One day freshman year I was sitting in homeroom and Gerry Groninger tapped me on the shoulder and said I want you to run for me,” said Boccanfuso, noting that Groninger had heard about his track prowess from the director of the summer program.

Boccanfuso did the 100, 220, long jump, and high jump and was a star from the outset.

To maximize his speed, Boccanfuso adopted an unorthodox workout method.

“I used to train with Bart Bennett; he would run the hurdles and I would sprint right next to him because no one could keep up with us.”

As a 5’9, 137-pounder in his senior year, Boccanfuso had to race past defenders to make an impact on the football.

“I was called by one of the papers as the fastest schoolboy player in the state,” recalled Boccanfuso.

Boccanfuso’s connection with quarterback and close friend, Bill Cirullo, also helped him excel as a receiver.

“We grew up on Humbert Street together; we lived across the street from each other,” said Boccanfuso of Cirullo, the longtime principal at the Riverside School.

“We started playing football in the backyard when we were five or six. I could not have done what I did without him throwing to me.”

Boccanfuso did some special things in track, starring as the 1966 team won the state title.

“Winning three events in one day at the Central Jersey Group IV meet was a highlight,” said Boccanfuso, proudly noting his personal bests in the 100 (9.8), 220 (21.3), long jump (21’5) and high jump (6’0).

“I also had a big county meet. Everybody was happy with the state title. I had busted my knee up in football so it was rough to do some of the things I did that season.”

Over his PHS career, Boccanfuso was happy to have come under the influence of some special coaches.

“Tom Murray was the biggest factor in my life besides my father,” asserted Boccanfuso. “He lived around the corner. I think he got me moved up from the sixth to first team that freshman season. He was also a track coach. He was a great guy, he is a fantastic man.”

Off the field and track, Boccanfuso did some great things as well during his high school years, getting selected for New Jersey Boys State and receiving the PHS Gold Key for meritorious service.

After PHS, Boccanfuso went to Rutgers where he earned a BA and was too busy working himself through college to continue his sports career. He went on to earn an MBA from Rider and a PhD in finance from Columbia.

During college, he became involved in a different aspect of sports that helped change the course of his life.

“I got to the point where I knew I wouldn’t be playing football forever,” said Boccanfuso.

“I wanted to keep involved in the game. In my senior year in college I took a
cadet class in 1969. I passed and became a high school ref.”

While working his way up to Director of Contracts for Sarnoff Corporation, Boccanfuso rose through the ranks of officiating.

“In 1976, a college official told me I ought to be a college ref,” said Boccanfuso, who has also worked as a high school lacrosse ref and runs the clock at Princeton University basketball and lacrosse games.

“I started doing D-3 games. In 1985, I was promoted to 1-AA. I did an FCS championship game in January 2012. It was the highlight of my officiating career along with doing three Yale-Harvard games.”

Getting inducted into the PHS Hall of Fame this Saturday will create another lasting highlight for Boccanfuso.

“It is hard to describe,” said Boccanfuso, who will be introduced by his daughters, Lynn and Beth, with wife, Rita, a fellow 1966 PHS alum, in attendance. “I am elated that they would think of me. It is unbelievable.”

November 12, 2014
STREAK BUSTERS: Hun School girls’ soccer player Jess Sacco controls the ball in recent action. Last Wednesday, senior midfielder Sacco helped top-seeded Hun defeat second-seeded Pennington 2-0 in the state Prep A final. Hun’s triumph snapped Pennington’s streak of 11 straight Prep A titles.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STREAK BUSTERS: Hun School girls’ soccer player Jess Sacco controls the ball in recent action. Last Wednesday, senior midfielder Sacco helped top-seeded Hun defeat second-seeded Pennington 2-0 in the state Prep A final. Hun’s triumph snapped Pennington’s streak of 11 straight Prep A titles. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

There was electricity in the air as the Hun School girls’ soccer team hosted powerful Pennington in the state Prep A championship game last Wednesday.

A throng of around 1,000 surrounded the grass field by Stony Brook, offering raucous support to a top-seeded Hun squad that was determined to snap second-seeded Pennington’s streak of 11 straight Prep A titles.

At first, Hun senior star and co-captain Jess Sacco and her teammates were taken aback by the scene.

“We came out here and saw the fans and everyone was freaking out because we were nervous,” said Sacco.

“But then it was take a deep breath and then just go out there and enjoy it because we love this game and we love each other.”

Hun didn’t love the way the game went early on as a skilled Pennington squad dominated possession, generating a slew of scoring opportunities.

“They definitely had us scrambling for about 20 minutes,” acknowledged the Lehigh-bound Sacco.

“I think our defense and goalie kept our heads in it. I think the midfielders definitely worked their butts off. I am really proud of the freshmen like Nicole Apuzzi, Kara Borden, and Kendall Dandridge, they are all amazing.”

Junior goalie Courtney Arch, who had earned a shutout in a 2-0 Hun victory when the rivals met in the regular season on September 30, was working under fire as Pennington star and Stanford-bound Alana Cook produced a number of chances.

“It is a little terrifying, I remember last game I stopped her shot before and in reality she is just another girl and another player,” said Arch. “She just happens to be phenomenal. Once I start making the best saves, I know I can make the small saves.”

Hun put Pennington on its heels when senior co-captain and Lehigh-bound Ashley Maziarz found the back of the net on a stunning free kick to the top corner from 30 yards out with 1:31 remaining in the first half.

“It was just a phenomenal shot,” said Arch of Maziarz’s brilliant strike. “I think that made Pennington a little frantic and that  gives us a confidence boost. Whenever we score, we play better because we just get more confident with ourselves.”

Riding the momentum from the goal, Hun played better and better in the second half, thwarting Pennington’s offense and getting an insurance goal from freshman phenom Borden with 1:31 to seal an historic 2-0 victory.

The crowd stormed the field to congratulate the Hun players, who were hugging each other in the middle of the pitch before they gathered together to claim the championship plaque that had been so long in the stranglehold of Pennington.

A beaming Hun head coach Joanna Hallac was thrilled with her team’s effort and the support it has generated in the Hun community.

“It was huge, the girls deserve all of the credit, they show up and they work hard every day,” said Hallac.

“Even when we have setbacks, they learn from it and we move forward. It means so much to the school. The whole school came out here and the whole day was scheduled around this. I have never seen anything like it, I think it meant a lot to the community and that is what we are about here. I think it is really great for Hun.”

The Hun squad showed its resilience as it weathered the first half storm. “Things got a little hairy there for a good 20 minutes but we survived it,” said Hallac.

“Courtney had to come up big in the first half. She had to come up big throughout the game but especially in that middle 20 minutes of the first  half. They believed they could do this. They did it once already and they knew they could do it again. Pennington has so many dangerous players but we were able to defend well as a team. Our back four were unbelievable, Courtney was great. This was a real team effort and a real team victory.”

Arch, for her part, heaped praise on the gritty defensive unit, which featured junior Jess Johnson and Dandridge along with Maziarz.

“They are the best group of girls I have played with,” asserted Arch. “We know how to react under pressure and we know that, no matter what, we have each other’s backs. We recover and we work hard for each other so we always have that trust between each other which I think makes us really dynamic.”

In Hallac’s view, that ability to stay cool under pressure stemmed, in part, from last fall when Hun recovered from a 0-7 start to make the state Prep A final, where it fell 2-0 to Pennington.

“We ended last year on such a good, positive note and we had a lot of momentum and that helped carry us into this year,” said Hallac.

“I think there was just a lack of experience with these types of games last year and now the bulk of the kids had it and these freshmen have just been great, the pressure doesn’t seem to get to them. They really have done such a huge job along with these veteran returning players. I am really impressed with their play in these big game situations.”

Another key factor in the team’s success has been the obvious unity among the players.

“The chemistry off the field directly feeds the chemistry on the field, these girls really just love each other and support each other off the field,” said Hallac, whose team wrapped up the fall last Sunday by beating Mercersburg Academy 4-0 to finish with a final record of 14-4-1.

“They are like one unit, seniors, freshmen, it doesn’t matter what grade they are, they all hang out together off the field.”

Arch believes that chemistry has helped Hun stick together on the field. “I think it is that on and off the field we are best friends,” said Arch. “Off the field, we all eat lunch together. We still hang out with each other. We are a second family here, I love it.”

For Sacco, that family feeling drives the team’s competitive fire.

“Everyone plays with a lot of heart, we may not have the most talent but we have a lot of heart,” said Sacco.

“Every time we get out on that field, we play for each other and give it 110 percent. We didn’t have a letdown today, we knew we would have to go out there for 80 minutes and really battle every single second. I think we did that very well.”

IN THE NICK OF TIME: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Nick Halliday chases down a ball in recent action. Last Friday, junior midfielder Halliday assisted on the game-winning goals as first-seeded PHS topped No. 9 Hopewell Valley 3-1 in the Central Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals. The Little Tigers, who defeated fourth-seeded Allentown 3-0 in the sectional semis on Monday, will play for the championship when they host sixth-seeded Red Bank Regional on November 13.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

IN THE NICK OF TIME: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Nick Halliday chases down a ball in recent action. Last Friday, junior midfielder Halliday assisted on the game-winning goals as first-seeded PHS topped No. 9 Hopewell Valley 3-1 in the Central Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals. The Little Tigers, who defeated fourth-seeded Allentown 3-0 in the sectional semis on Monday, will play for the championship when they host sixth-seeded Red Bank Regional on November 13. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Zach and Kevin Halliday played prominent roles as the Princeton High boys’ soccer won Group 3 state titles in 2009 and 2012.

Oldest brother, Zach, a 2013 PHS alum, was a key reserve on the 2009 team and then was a star midfielder for the 2012 squad.

Kevin, a 2014 PHS grad and standout striker, was the leading scorer in 2012 as he tallied 23 goals.

Both of the Halliday brothers are now competing for the Tufts University men’s soccer program, which finished first in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) regular season standings this fall and has earned a spot in the upcoming NCAA Division III tournament.

Their younger brother, Nick, now a junior midfielder for the Little Tigers, absorbed some valuable lessons from seeing his older brothers in action on the pitch.

“I definitely watched them play many big games and I saw how they reacted,” said the youngest Halliday. “They always kept a calm head so that is what I try to do.”

Last Friday as top-seeded PHS hosted No. 9 Hopewell Valley in the Central Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals, Halliday took a page out of his brothers’ book.

With PHS locked in a 1-1 tie with HoVal late in the second half, Halliday coolly lobbed a corner kick into the box which was converted into a goal by Dwight Donis as the Little Tigers went on to a 3-1 victory.

“In the Allentown game, I assisted Dwight,” said Halliday, referring to the regulation goal tallied in PHS’s victory in the Mercer County Tournament championship game on November 1.

“I always look for him. I put it right around the six and hope he gets it and today he got it. It was nice.”

While PHS got off to a nice start against HoVal as Chase Ealy converted a penalty kick early in the first half, things got a little dicey when the Bulldogs knotted the game at 1-1 with 37:34 remaining in the second half.

“We were concerned but we have been in close games over the past few weeks and we knew we could pull out the win,” said Halliday. “It has given us confidence.”

Halliday and his classmates have gained confidence through lessons learned last fall from their first varsity campaign.

“A lot of players were sophomores last year and we had a lot of experience,” said Halliday. “Now we keep going in the big games and we get it done.”

This fall, Halliday has been getting it done as he has learned a new position on the field.

“Coming into the season I didn’t play outside mid,” said Halliday. “On my club team I play center mid so playing outside mid was a new place for me. I am finally getting comfortable with the whole situation. As long as I put in a good ball on the corners and work hard on defense and don’t let people get by my side, that is what I have got to do.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe likes the work he is getting from Halliday. “Nick has been great,” said Sutcliffe. “He is so industrious, he works so hard. He’s right there with his brothers, no doubt.”

Sutcliffe was proud of how his squad made the right plays down the stretch in the win over HoVal.

“It is just a matter of advancing, that is the mindset,” said Sutcliffe. “That is what we did and that is what we are pleased with.”

In Sutcliffe’s view, PHS has developed an extra layer of toughness from its run to the Mercer County Tournament championship, which saw it prevail in penalty kick shootouts in the semis and title game.

“I think our guys throughout the experience of the last three weeks, being in one-goal games and going into overtime, are pretty battle tested,” said Sutcliffe.

Junior defender Dwight Donis showed the value of that experience as he tallied another key goal for the Little Tigers.

“It is just a matter of whoever can contribute,” said Sutcliffe. “Dwight was great, he scores the game winner and he had his hands full on defense.”

Another defender, junior co-captain Chris Harla, made a huge play in the HoVal game as he cleared a ball off the line late in the first half.

“Chris made a fantastic save prior to them going level,” said Sutcliffe. “I can’t say enough about his improvement throughout the campaign to get better and read things like that and be in the right spot at the right time. He was fantastic today.”

PHS’s improvement collectively through the fall has Sutcliffe believing that the program can earn another state crown.

“We have already won two championships this fall and now we find ourselves in the sectional semis and we are at home,” said Sutcliffe, whose team topped fourth-seeded Allentown 3-0 in the semis on Monday on goals by Alex Ratsen, Cole Snyder, and Luis Lazo to improve to 16-2-2 and will host No. 6 Red Bank Regional in the championship game on November 13. “We have what it takes, no doubt about it.”

Halliday, for his part, is confident that he can add to his family’s tradition of tournament success.

“As long as we work hard and make no mistakes, we can definitely get another title,” said Halliday.

As the most experienced defender on the Princeton High girls’ soccer team, Emily Pawlak has assumed a take-charge role on the backline.

“A lot of it is communication; I see the field; you will hear me yelling a lot, coaching people, telling them where to go and telling them what balls to play,” said senior standout Pawlak.

“At the same time, I shield for people. I see that as a good job of mine. If a ball gets through and our fullback misses it, I am normally there and I try to stop that. I am just the eyes of the team in the back.”

Last week as eighth-seeded PHS hosted No. 9 Burlington in the first round of the Central Jersey Group 3 sectionals, Pawlak and her defensive unit didn’t let anything through as the Little Tigers prevailed 1-0.

“We have some really fast fullbacks who were able to counterattack,” said Pawlak, reflecting on the defensive effort.

“Burlington had great speed up top and we were able to stop that easily. It was just some hard tackling and some aggressive play.”

After PHS took the lead early in the second half on a goal by junior star Taylor Lis, it had to hold off a Burlington squad that repeatedly pressed forward looking for the equalizer.

“That is concerning, you don’t want them to get momentum and we were trying to stall that as much as possible,” said Pawlak.

“It was tough because they were bringing a lot on us but I thought we played well; we really stopped that from happening.”

Pawlak liked the way PHS kept its momentum to the final whistle. “It was a good win, they were a tough team but we were able to play around them and play our game,” said Pawlak.

“Sometimes we get in the habit of not playing our game; we know we can do better at times. I was happy we played our game for the full 80 minutes.”

While Pawlak was unhappy to see her twin sister Shannon, PHS’s top offensive threat, get sidelined with a leg injury earlier this fall, she is proud of how other teammates have risen to the occasion.

“Shannon is always someone I could look for; my club coach always jokes that we have twin telepathy,” said Pawlak.

“When we play, somehow we always find each other. It is tough but we have some girls who filled her role. I think by now I can say we have had girls who have stepped up and played and shown that they can take the position but I miss her.”

PHS head coach Val Rodriguez was looking for her players to step up in the second half against Burlington after the teams played to a scoreless draw through the first 40 minutes of the contest.

“The message at halftime was that we did everything to show that we could win this game without putting numbers on the scoreboard and that’s what matters, proving it on the scoreboard,” said Rodriguez.

“We talked about spreading the field, playing quick, two-touch soccer and passing it around them.”

The PHS players responded well to Rodriguez’s message. “We used our outside mids really well and got some end line crosses off,” said Rodriguez.

“We had numbers in the box; that goalie had some tremendous saves. We had multiple opportunities and we haven’t been doing that recently so that was the piece of the play that has been lacking ever since Shannon Pawlak has been gone.”

In seizing opportunity to find the back of the net, the Little Tigers relied on a sister act as freshman Devon Lis set up older sister, Taylor.

“It was such a game-time decision, coach Wash [Kori Washington] said let’s try Devon because her corners are going to be more driven so Devon to Taylor was ideal,” said Rodriguez. “I thought Taylor had a solid game, she created some great opportunities.”

Rodriguez credited Pawlak with spearheading a solid defensive effort.

“Our defense is doing a good job of learning to contain, not biting, and staying on their feet,” said Rodriguez.

“Emily keeps everybody organized, she is a really important voice on the field. Emily is the engine back there, she organizes everything, she makes great decisions, when to step and when to contain, when to tackle, when to play feet, and when to clear. She really knows the game well.”

For a PHS team that has been hit with the injury bug this fall, winning a game in the state tourney was sweet.

“It is exactly what we needed, a tournament win,” said Rodriguez, whose team’s tournament run ended when it lost 2-1 at top-seeded Colts Neck to end the fall with a 9-7-2 record.

“We had a really tough game against Ewing in the counties that could have gone either way. It was really great to get a win today.”

Pawlak, for her part, was thrilled to get a win in her final appearance at home.

“This is my last game on the turf here,” said Pawlak. “I wanted to go out with a good game. There were nerves in the beginning but I just wanted to bring it and have a good way to end.”

GROUND CONTROL: Princeton High running back Rory ­Helstrom runs to daylight in recent action. Last Friday, junior star ­Helstrom rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns as PHS defeated WW/P-N 47-21 to improve to 8-1 and earn the West Jersey Football League’s Valley Division title. The Little Tigers will begin their quest for a state title as they compete in the Central Jersey Group 4 playoffs, where they are seeded seventh and will play at second-seeded Brick Township (8-1) on November 14 in a quarterfinal contest.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GROUND CONTROL: Princeton High running back Rory ­Helstrom runs to daylight in recent action. Last Friday, junior star ­Helstrom rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns as PHS defeated WW/P-N 47-21 to improve to 8-1 and earn the West Jersey Football League’s Valley Division title. The Little Tigers will begin their quest for a state title as they compete in the Central Jersey Group 4 playoffs, where they are seeded seventh and will play at second-seeded Brick Township (8-1) on November 14 in a quarterfinal contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As the Princeton High football team got ready to play WW/P-N last Friday night with the West Jersey Football League’s Valley Division title up for grabs, Charlie Gallagher put the onus on the squad’s unsung heroes.

“In my pregame speech I had all the linemen stand up and said it is on your backs,” recalled PHS head coach Gallagher. “We are going to run the ball a lot tonight.”

Accepting the coach’s challenge, the linemen proceeded to dominate the trenches as PHS rolled up 382 yards rushing in defeating WW/P-N 47-21 and improving to 8-1.

Junior star Rory Helstrom led the ground attack, gaining 204 yards on 21 carries with three touchdowns. Senior Colin Buckley rushed for 112 yards on 10 attempts with two TDs while classmate Sam Smallzman gained 73 yards on two carries, highlighted by a 50-yard touchdown run.

“It was cold and windy, we didn’t know how much we would need to pass,” said Gallagher.

“Rory, Colin, and Sam ran the ball well, they all broke long ones. We saw they had put up a lot of points. We knew we were going to be able to run the ball and we wanted to manage the clock.”

The PHS defense managed to stifle the Northern Knights, holding them to seven points through three quarters.

“We did a good job of containing the running game, they had some good runs up the middle but that was it,” said Gallagher. “We put pressure on the quarterback, I think we had five or six sacks.”

The Little Tigers felt very good about earning the division title. “They knew it hadn’t been done in a while, it would be something meaningful,” said Gallagher.

“We have been motivated coming into every game but it was definitely an added motivational factor. We are excited, it feels great.”

In Gallagher’s view, the achievement is a great testament to the squad’s work ethic and character.

“I think it shows that all the hard work paid off,” said Gallagher.  “We have great senior leadership and three great senior captains in Sam Smallzman, Colin Buckley, and Brian Tien.”

PHS will be putting in some hard work this week as it prepares to compete in the Central Jersey Group 4 playoffs, where it is seeded seventh and will play at second-seeded Brick Township (8-1) on November 14 in a quarterfinal contest.

“I will tell the kids that it is real simple, we have a chance to lose it if we don’t play our game,” said Gallagher, reflecting on the matchup.

“It is about us. If we go out and play good football, we can win. It is a one-game season now, we are going to take it one week at a time. We have won eight games so there is a confidence level. In the beginning of the season, we wanted to just compete because we didn’t know who we were. Now we just want to win.”

GRAND FINALE: Hun School running back Chris Sharp heads upfield in a game earlier this fall. Last Sunday, senior star and Virginia-bound Sharp ended his career on a high note, rushing for 212 yards as Hun routed Mercersburg Academy 64-16 to earn the outright MAPL title, finishing the fall at 7-1 overall and 5-0 in league play. Sharp’s final run in a Hun uniform, a 96-yard scoring gallop down the sideline to start the third quarter, put him over the 1,000-yard rushing mark this fall.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GRAND FINALE: Hun School running back Chris Sharp heads upfield in a game earlier this fall. Last Sunday, senior star and Virginia-bound Sharp ended his career on a high note, rushing for 212 yards as Hun routed Mercersburg Academy 64-16 to earn the outright MAPL title, finishing the fall at 7-1 overall and 5-0 in league play. Sharp’s final run in a Hun uniform, a 96-yard scoring gallop down the sideline to start the third quarter, put him over the 1,000-yard rushing mark this fall. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When Christopher Sharp joined the Hun School football team in 2011, he soaked up some valuable lessons when the Raiders produced a Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) championship campaign.

“In my freshman year, we had seniors like Wendy Laurent and Dave Dudeck,” said Sharp. “You are growing up and you want to be just like them.”

Last Sunday, Sharp followed in the footsteps of Laurent and Dudeck,  rushing for 212 yards as Hun routed Mercersburg Academy 64-16 to earn the MAPL title outright, finishing the fall at 7-1 overall and 5-0 in league play.

“We saw that we had something special in August and we just wanted to finish,” said Sharp. “We wanted to go undefeated in the MAPL and that’s what we did.”

To add icing to the cake, Sharp’s final run in a Hun uniform, a 96-yard scoring gallop down the sideline to start the third quarter, put him over the 1,000-yard rushing mark this fall.

“It was a very special moment to share with my teammates and family, especially on senior day,” said Sharp, who is heading to the University of Virginia and will be playing for its football program.

“The first thing I did was to thank all of the linemen, the fullback, and the quarterback. I can’t do it all by myself.”

As Sharp took off down the sideline on that final jaunt, he wasn’t exactly sure if he should go the distance.

“Coach [Todd Smith] told me at half that I had 31 yards to go,” said Sharp, who scored four touchdowns on the day.

“I broke it and at first I didn’t really know what to do. I hit 31 and I thought do I keep going. I wasn’t sure. I went with my gut and went all the way. It was amazing.”

Hun experienced an amazing turnaround under new coach Smith as it rebounded from a frustrating 2-6 campaign last fall.

“Coming into the season, I knew it was going to be special,” said Sharp. “With the kids that came in, we knew going in it was going to be a different feel. It was just like fresh and new things were brewing up with the Hun football team. It is exciting to see the fruition and what grew out of it.”

Sharp grew into a force this fall, producing dazzling runs and receptions as the engine of the Hun offense.

“I love running the ball and being able to catch the ball out of the receiver position is a blessing as well,” said Sharp. “It is just amazing to see the growth that I have gone through.”

In reflecting on the team’s perfect MAPL campaign, Hun head coach Smith cited the amazing support his program received this fall.

“It is not just me and the MAPL title, it is all the coaches that coach here,” said Smith.

“It is the people in the admissions department. It is the school itself, the draw of Hun. Great kids want to come to Hun and we want to match that with athletics. These kids have so many academic activities in front of them; we are trying to match that on the field for them. That was a school-wide effort this whole season.”

While Hun didn’t get the opportunity to play November 1 at Peddie as the Falcons forfeited the contest due to a shortage of healthy players, the Raiders were prepared to close the deal against Mercersburg.

“We gave the kids the day off yesterday, we brought them in early this morning and had a good walk-through,” said Smith, who got four touchdown passes from quarterback Simon Vadas in the win on Sunday with Cameren Kitchen, Justin Morrison, and Fred Hansard scoring touchdowns in addition to Sharp.

“Everything has been productive. We have been able to talk football, it has been an intelligent conversation. That game today was just a team taking care of business.”

Smith certainly liked the way Sharp took care of business this fall. “Chris is just a fantastic kid, it is a shame we only had seven games with him,” said Smith.

“He got 1,000 yards and a boatload of touchdowns to go with it. He has gotten so much better as the year went on. I am just really excited about his future, I think he is going to be a great football player at the next level.”

The team’s senior class as a whole made a great contribution this fall. “I am real happy for them, it started in the summer,” said Smith.

“They all bought into the summer workouts, the kids that could make it down here. I think they fought through camp, it was rigorous and they did a great job. They could see how much the hard work paid off.”

Putting in that hard work helped the players develop some deep bonds. “We just grew as a family as it went on,” said Smith, who experienced a special family moment after the game as he proposed marriage to his girlfriend after the game in front of the players, parents, supporters, and coaches and achieved the biggest win of the day as he got an affirmative answer.

“It was never individual. It was just let’s do a great job and play for each other. When you have 11 kids playing as one out there, there is no end to it.”

In putting the happy ending in perspective, Sharp said it was a group effort. “We were strong everywhere,” said Sharp.

“Our offensive line and defensive line are big and they get great pushes. We have receivers and we can run the ball as well. We didn’t have too many weaknesses going into the season and we just stayed healthy and that’s how it played out. Today was amazing, it was kind of like a fantasy.”

November 5, 2014
MULTI-TASKING: Princeton High boys’ soccer goalie Laurenz Reimitz follows through on a kick in a game earlier this season. Last Wednesday, senior Reimitz came up big as second-seeded PHS topped third-seeded Steinert on penalty kicks in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals after the rivals battled to a 1-1 tie through regulation and two overtimes. Reimitz made some key saves in the first overtime and stopped a penalty kick in the shootout before booting in the clinching PK himself. On Saturday in the MCT title game, he made four saves as PHS edged top-seeded Allentown in another shootout as the teams were tied at 1-1 after regulation and two overtimes. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MULTI-TASKING: Princeton High boys’ soccer goalie Laurenz Reimitz follows through on a kick in a game earlier this season. Last Wednesday, senior Reimitz came up big as second-seeded PHS topped third-seeded Steinert on penalty kicks in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals after the rivals battled to a 1-1 tie through regulation and two overtimes. Reimitz made some key saves in the first overtime and stopped a penalty kick in the shootout before booting in the clinching PK himself. On Saturday in the MCT title game, he made four saves as PHS edged top-seeded Allentown in another shootout as the teams were tied at 1-1 after regulation and two overtimes. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Laurenz Reimitz prefers a minimum of drama when he is playing goalie for the Princeton High boys’ soccer team.

“I usually like a quiet game, it is the one most goalkeepers like,” said senior Reimitz.

But last Wednesday when second-seeded PHS battle third-seeded Steinert in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals, Reimitz emerged as the protagonist in an epic drama.

The rivals battled to a 1-1 tie through regulation with Reimitz making some key saves to hold the Spartans at bay. In the first overtime, with Steinert applying intense pressure, Reimitz made a leaping stop and then kicked away a shot seconds later to keep the Little Tigers alive.

The contest remained deadlocked through 20 minutes of overtime and went into a penalty kick shootout. On Steinert’s first attempt, Reimitz came up big and punched the shot away. Then, producing a Hollywood ending, Reimitz volleyed in the penalty kick that clinched the win for PHS.

Reimitz kept a clear head in making the point blanks saves in overtime.

“It is just kind of reactions I guess, there is not much going through a goalkeeper’s mind on a shot like that,” said Reimitz.

In the shootout, Reimitz battled through some nerves. “Inside your head is going crazy but on the outside you have to act calm and that is just what I tried to do,” said Reimitz.

In taking his penalty kick, Reimitz calmly bounced the ball into the back of the net.

“In practice, we have taken them,” said Reimitz. “We have never been to a penalty shootout before so I haven’t been in that situation. Coach trusted me, he asked me before the PKs if I want to take one and I said yes. It wasn’t a great penalty kick but it worked.”

Over the last three years, Reimitz worked hard to improve technically. “The big thing was crosses,” said Reimitz, who made seven saves in the win over Steinert.

“In sophomore year and even last year, big guys would just bully me around. I have worked on my physique. Every practice and every time before a game we do crosses. I have been working on them a lot.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe has seen great improvement in his senior keeper.

“Laurenz was just terrific tonight, he has just worked so hard,” said Sutcliffe.

“He put together all the experience that he has as a three-year starter. He played in the state final when he was a sophomore. He found a way, credit to him. He leads the CVC in shutouts and we know why.”

In reflecting on his star turn, Reimitz agreed that experience made the difference for him.

“It helped me tremendously,” said Reimitz. “I got a little bit lucky sophomore year with one goalkeeper deciding not to play who would have been starting. That gave me so much experience, it is unbelievable.”