On April 1, the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team had to hang on for a 9-7 victory over Hightstown.
When the CVC foes met seven weeks later in the South Group 3 sectional quarterfinals, there was no drama as fourth-seeded PHS jumped out to a 7-1 first quarter lead and never looked back on the way to a 14-6 win over the fifth-seeded Rams.
For Little Tiger head coach Peter Stanton, the different margins of victory in the contests reflected a progress borne of resilience.
“After the game, their coach said ‘wow your guys are so much better than before,’” said Stanton.
“It was good to hear that from someone else. We answered the bell every time; we had a few bad games where we got beat by large margins. A lesser group could have given up but this group never stopped working.”
In the sectional semifinals at top-seeded Shawnee, PHS put in some good work, jumping out to a 3-0 lead after the first quarter. The roof fell in on the Little Tigers as they were outscored 8-1 and ended up losing 15-5 in the May 21 contest.
“The game plan was what we executed well in the first quarter — which was to play aggressively and go out and attack; we played to our strengths,” said Stanton, reflecting on the season-ending defeat.
“They are a mature and athletic team. They are a team comprised of seniors with a lot of success in football and lacrosse. I said to the guys it was liking holding a beach ball under water, eventually you lose your handle on the ball.”
Stanton liked how far his team came this spring as it rebounded from a 2-6 start to post a final record of 9-9.
“What we are most happy about is that we made progress,” said Stanton.
“Looking back at what I know now, the expectations were high and we held the boys to that. I think that is the only way to really progress. You can’t say, hey let’s just be OK, it is hard to make progress that way. We had seven sophomores on the field a lot of the time, that is an awful lot to ask of them.”
As a result, Stanton asked a lot of his team’s veteran-laden defense, which was spearheaded by senior defenders Jackson Andres, Joe Hawes and Colin Buckley along with senior goalie Kenan Glasgold.
“On defense we felt like we had so much talent that they could keep us in games and give us a chance to win and they did that against Rumson-Fair Haven (a 6-5 loss on April 27) and in the win over HoVal (7-6 on May 5),” asserted Stanton.
The senior class, which included attacker Chris Diver and midfielder Stephen Clark in addition to the defensive stars, provided talent and character.
“I have not had as many players who worked as hard as Colin; he would stay after practice running additional sprints,” said Stanton, noting that Andres, Buckley, and Hawes were named as first-team All-CVC performers while Glasgold was a second-team choice.
“Jackson has a rare combination of talent and passion for the game. Joe Hawes made the switch to defense. He didn’t play much lacrosse before coming to high school; it is amazing how far he came. Kenan gave us reason to believe that we could stay in games. Chris had a difficult transition to attack from midfield and by the end of the season, he really got it. Clark came a long way on the field.”
In Stanton’s view, there is plenty of reason for optimism going forward, considering the team’s progress this spring and the return of such talented players as junior midfielder Rory Helstrom, a first-team All-CVC selection, and sophomore attacker Johnny Lopez-Ona, an honorable-mention All-CVC performer.
“We are definitely excited about the future,” said Stanton, who was inducted into the New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Fame earlier this year.
“Like I told the players after the last game, I am finishing my 20th year and the fact that the team improved so much and we have a good amount coming back makes me as excited as I have been to keep coaching.”