February 26, 2014
JACK OF HEART: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Jackson Andres heads up the ice last Thursday in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals. Junior forward Andres had two assists in a losing cause as fifth-seeded PHS fell 7-2 to top-seeded Notre Dame at Mercer County Park. The Little Tigers, now 13-5-2, will be competing in the state Public B tournament this week where they are seeded 21st and will play at No. 12 Nutley on February 26 in a first round contest.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

JACK OF HEART: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Jackson Andres heads up the ice last Thursday in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals. Junior forward Andres had two assists in a losing cause as fifth-seeded PHS fell 7-2 to top-seeded Notre Dame at Mercer County Park. The Little Tigers, now 13-5-2, will be competing in the state Public B tournament this week where they are seeded 21st and will play at No. 12 Nutley on February 26 in a first round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Playing top-seeded Notre Dame in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals last Thursday, the fifth-seeded Princeton High boys’ hockey team dug itself an early 2-0 hole.

While underdog PHS could have folded, the Little Tigers replied with a goal by Connor McCormick to make it a 2-1 game after one period.

Notre Dame then scored the first two goals of the second period and PHS once again fought back as Spencer Reynolds found the back of the net to narrow the gap to 4-2. But PHS ran out of gas at that point as the Irish pulled away to 7-2 victory.

While Little Tiger head coach Terence Miller was frustrated by the result, he had no qualms with the effort he got from his players.

“I told my guys you came up against a good team, they have had a good season, they were the No. 1 seed in the tournament and I can’t be upset with the effort,” said Miller, whose team dropped to 13-5-2 with the setback.

“I thought we played to the end and we showed some pride. Obviously, it is a disappointing result but at the end of the day, all I can do is congratulate the other team; they deserved it tonight. As a group, I like the way we fought. We battled to the end and that is really the most important thing.”

In Miller’s view the gap is narrowing between his club and perennial power Notre Dame, who beat PHS 8-2 in the teams’ regular season meeting.

“It is a bounce here or a bounce there and it is a different game if we pull it back to 5-3,” said Miller.

“We had a couple of uncharacteristic turnovers in our own zone that landed in the back of our net. That is completely demoralizing and deflates the whole team. We have got some young guys that are out there in big spots. They will learn; they will get better from this.”

Junior forward Jackson Andres gave PHS a big effort against Notre Dame, assisting on both Little Tiger goals and throwing his body all over the ice.

“When he stays within himself, he is an effective player,” said Miller of Andres. “He is a big strong kid. When he is churning and doing things the right way, he can really help carry us. He was a big factor for us tonight. He brings a lot of energy with some physical play.”

With PHS playing at Nutley in the opening round of the state tournament on February 26, the Little Tigers will be hitting the ice with plenty of energy as they look to build on their good showing in the MCT.

“We have been playing well, we are looking forward to the state tournament and doing some damage there,” said Miller.

“We are the 21st seed and they are the 12th but I think it is a winnable game for us. It is new life, a new tournament here so we are excited about that.”

SOCKING IT TO THEM: Princeton High wrestler Patrick Sockler, right, grapples with a foe in recent action. Last Saturday, junior Sockler took third at 126 pounds at the District 17 tournament to advance to this week’s Region 5 competition. 	(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SOCKING IT TO THEM: Princeton High wrestler Patrick Sockler, right, grapples with a foe in recent action. Last Saturday, junior Sockler took third at 126 pounds at the District 17 tournament to advance to this week’s Region 5 competition.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Princeton High junior Patrick Sockler walked off the wrestling mat on Saturday with a grin on his face as he shook coach Rashone Johnson’s hand.

Sockler took third in the District 17 tournament held at Hunterdon Central High, defeating Connor Mills of Delaware Valley High 8-5 to capture third place at 126 pounds.

“I dominated the match all the way through but I think I could have done better,” said the energetic Sockler, who improved his overall record 28-6 and was the only PHS wrestler to advance to this week’s Region 5 tournament.

“He did feel a lot stronger than me, you could just look at our builds, he’s like a bull. My thing is quickness so my wrestling style worked really well against his.”

Sockler’s big effort helped the Little Tigers finish seventh in the team standings at the tournament won by host Hunterdon Central.

PHS had three other wrestlers make it through to the semifinals as junior Thomas Miers finished fourth at 132, capping a dominating 28-6 season. Junior Victor Bell took fourth at 195 to end the winter with a 20-13 mark while freshman star James Verbeyst placed fourth at 113 pounds, finishing 23-7 in his debut campaign.

Johnson was pleased with his team’s effort even though the Little Tigers fell short of their goals coming into the competition.

“The team’s performance wasn’t bad,” said Johnson. “The guys wrestled tough but we made a couple mistakes here and there and it cost us the hardware for the tournament.”

Verbeyst echoed his coach’s sentiments, maintaining that he wasn’t satisfied with his performance.

“I was expecting to at least get top three (at districts),”  said Verbeyst. “I was getting tired at the end of the match and wasn’t staying in good position.”

Sockler, for his part, worked hard to get himself in a good position at the district competition. After an inconsistent freshman campaign that saw him finish 11-7 followed by an injury-plagued sophomore season, Sockler made it his mission to bounce back with vengeance this year.

“I’m happy with third; I’ve been trying to place in districts for three years now,” noted Sockler, who placed fourth at the county tournament earlier this month.

“It’s a big improvement from my last two years. This is my first year wrestling the varsity season all the way through.”

For Sockler, staying healthy resulted in him exceeding his goals for the season.

“I think I’m happy with my season,” said Sockler, who battled a midseason shoulder injury last year on his way to a 12-7 record.

“I placed in the first two tournaments of the season, third and first, respectively, and then in the counties and districts. I met my expectations and probably went a little bit over them, but I may have set them low. I probably didn’t believe in myself as much as I should have.

Johnson believes good things are on the horizon for his wrestlers. “The last guys standing today, those are the guys that did the most work with me over the summer, those guys will be fine,” said Johnson.

“We have only two seniors in the lineup. All those guys are all coming back next year so there are positives in that those guys will have the experience of knowing the pressure in this round.”

EGGED ON: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player John Egner takes the puck up the ice in the state Prep championship game last week at McGraw Rink. Senior forward Egner scored the winning goal as PDS edged visiting Morristown-Beard 4-3 in the February 18 contest.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

EGGED ON: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player John Egner takes the puck up the ice in the state Prep championship game last week at McGraw Rink. Senior forward Egner scored the winning goal as PDS edged visiting Morristown-Beard 4-3 in the February 18 contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team looking to add to a 3-1 lead over visiting Morristown-Beard in the second period of the state Prep championship game last week, John Egner was in the right place at the right time.

The puck caromed off the Mo-Beard goalie and PDS senior forward Egner banged it home to give the Panthers a 4-1 lead in the February 18 contest at McGraw Rink.

“That was a great play by Fletch [Connor Fletcher] in the corner, he walked out and took the shot,” said Egner.

“The puck just bounced up and I saw it going behind the goalie and I crashed the net and luckily I got to slam it in there. It was a pretty easy one because my linemates made the play happen.”

Egner’s tally turned out to be the game-winner as PDS held off a Mo-Beard rally to earn a 4-3 win and the program’s first outright Prep crown since 2011.

For Egner, being the scorer of the deciding goal came as a bit of a surprise.  “I just try to use my speed to get the puck deep,” said Egner.

“Definitely our line, me, Fletcher, and [Lewie] Blackburn, has had to step up this year and play against some top lines. I know I am not going to score a lot of goals really but when I do, I take advantage of it. It is really to just play hard and that’s what I work on, being the hardest working one out there.”

PDS knew it faced a tough test in Mo-Beard, which had tied the Panthers 2-2 in the Prep title game last year and had posted a 3-0 win this January in the regular season clash between the rivals.

“In the past couple of years, we have started a little rivalry against them and it is definitely special to play them,” said Egner.

“Everybody remembered the game last year; we definitely didn’t like the way it ended and so this year was kind of a redemption year. We knew they had a really good team coming in; we played them a couple of times during the season and both were really good games.”

The Panthers came out firing, jumping out to a 3-1 first period advantage. “That was big; we knew we had to get a great start,” said Egner. “We knew that we couldn’t sit back and let them take control of the game. To get a 3-1 lead in the beginning was big.”

After Mo-Beard narrowed the gap to 4-3 heading into the third period, PDS had to regain control of the contest.

“Coach [Scott Bertoli] told us to play our game, we are in the right spot right now,” recalled Egner.

“We took it to them in those two periods and just had to go out in the third and keep it going and get on the board first and try to hold them back.”

While PDS didn’t get on the board in the third, it stifled the Crimson to earn the title.

“The third period was good, we played shutdown defense,” said Egner. “Logan [freshman goalie Logan Kramsky] played great, it was a whole team effort in the third. Everyone played great.”

Afterward, the Panthers had a great time, lingering on the ice to celebrate with the trophy and take pictures with friends and family.

“I just can’t believe, it went by so fast,” said Egner. “It is crazy. It means a lot, definitely to all the seniors and everyone in the locker room, the whole team really. We wanted to win for our coaches and go out with a bang here and luckily we got that done.”

PDS head coach Bertoli liked the way his gritty team has gotten things done this winter. “It is a completely different group from last year,” said Bertoli, who got two goals and two assists from senior star Sean Timmons in the win over Mo-beard with Connor Bitterman adding one goal.

“Last year, we were offensively dynamic and this group just grinds it out, they are willing to be patient and they do a lot of the little things. As a coach, it is so much more gratifying watching this team compete.”

Bertoli got the sense that this year’s group had a special competitive spirit in December when it fought hard in the Barber Tournament in Massachusetts.

“We played some good New England competition and we were up there without two or three of our top guys,” said Bertoli.

“We just saw some of the role players from last year’s group like the Blackburns, the Egners, the Bittermans, just elevate their game for no other reason or choice. If they weren’t willing to compete and take their game to another level then we weren’t going to be successful, not only up there but moving forward throughout this season. They are big time players and big time competitors, you saw it tonight, these guys score goals when we need to score goals.”

When PDS found itself locked in a tight battle with Mo-Beard, Bertoli was confident that his team would get it done.

“We have been in playoff-type games for the last month and a half and we find ways to win,” said Bertoli.

“It is not pretty at times but it is effective and that’s the composition of this group. We are not going to blow teams out, we understand that. They are going to battle through adversity. I don’t think last year’s group was trailed more than 30 minutes the entire season. We trailed in the Lawrenceville game back and forth and we trailed Mo-Beard until we turned it around in the regular season. This group has trailed in six or eight games and has come back and won. That is a sign of a really good team.”

In Bertoli’s view, another sign pointing to PDS’s success this winter was the work ethic displayed by the Panthers.

“To me personally, what is most rewarding and gratifying is knowing how hard this group had to work,” said Bertoli, whose team ended the season with a 15-7-2 record after dropping three tight games last weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Invitational at the Hill School (Pa.).

“As a coach, I couldn’t be more proud of the fact that this group has exceeded expectations this year, not to take anything away from them at the start of the year and to downplay what our outlook was. It was just to improve on a daily basis and get better and not look at the big picture and take it day by day and it blows me away to think that this group would be as decorated as they are.”

Enjoying the big finale at McGraw Rink was certainly a rewarding experience for Egner.

“There are a lot of memories, this one is definitely up there now,” said Egner.

“I have had so many great times, I have met so many great people. My best friends in my whole life are in this rink and some of the greatest moments I have ever had have been here. I am going to cherish this game and remember it and just think back to all the great times that I have had here.”

With the Hun School boys’ hockey team making its first appearance in the Mercer County Tournament since 2009, Spy Avgoustiniatos and his teammates were determined to make their presence felt.

“We really want to get the Hun name out there and play hard and get the win,” said Hun senior forward Avgoustiniatos, noting that the Raiders have won the county crown three times. “Last year we won our league and we want to build on that.”

As the second-seeded Raiders faced No. 3 Robbinsville in the MCT semis last Thursday, things didn’t come easy at first as Hun found itself trailing 1-0 midway through the first period.

“Coach [Ian McNally] pulled us aside and said we didn’t get the start that we wanted but let’s get into it and beat this team,” recalled Avgoustiniatos.

The Raiders responded with three straight goals in a span of 2:37 and never looked back in a 7-2 rout of the Ravens.

“One goal came along, I put the second one in and we just kept on rolling and we knew we had them all the way,” said Avgoustiniatos.

On his tally, Avgoustiniatos banged in a feed from classmate Alec Karanikolas.

“It was all Alec, there was a scramble in front of the net and he got the puck,” said Avgoustiniatos. “I was saying ‘Alec backdoor’ and he passed it back.”

With 5:50 left in the third period, Avgoustiniatos added an insurance goal to make it a 6-2 game, diving to the ice and nudging the puck past the Robbinsville goalie as he flew past the net.

“I was 100 percent sure that didn’t go in; the puck was right there, I saw it and I took two whacks at it and I just really wanted to get it in there,” said  Avgoustiniatos.

“I thought I didn’t have it and then I saw the other teammates coming up to me. It was a great feeling, they told me you got that one. It was sweet.”

A night later, Avgoustiniatos and his teammates enjoyed a great feeling as they topped Notre Dame 4-2 in the MCT title game. In his view, the combination of battle-tested upperclassman and the arrival of the precocious freshman trio of Evan Barrett, Jon Bendorf, and Blake Brown has made Hun a force to reckon with this winter.

“We were really excited for all the skilled freshmen that were coming in; it started from preseason going into the season, we really built that friendship,” said Avgoustiniatos.

“We are really getting along, there is not that huge gap between the older guys and younger guys. We really incorporated them and made them feel at home and come together as a hockey team and it is what gets a spark there.”

And helping to spark Hun on its MCT title run has left Avgoustiniatos with a lot of pride in what he has accomplished on the ice.

“It is an amazing experience,” asserted Avgoustiniatos. “I want to leave my legacy at Hun for the hockey team.”

BLAKE STREET: Hun School boys’ hockey player Blake Brown heads up the ice last week at the Mercer County Tournament. Last Friday, freshman forward Brown scored a goal and had an assist to help second-seeded Hun top No. 1 Notre Dame 4-2 in the MCT championship game.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BLAKE STREET: Hun School boys’ hockey player Blake Brown heads up the ice last week at the Mercer County Tournament. Last Friday, freshman forward Brown scored a goal and had an assist to help second-seeded Hun top No. 1 Notre Dame 4-2 in the MCT championship game. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Hun School boys’ hockey player Blake Brown didn’t waste any time making an impact in his first Mercer County Tournament championship game.

As second-seeded Hun faced off with top-seeded and defending champion Notre Dame last Friday evening at Mercer County Park, the puck squirted to freshman forward Brown and he banged it home eight seconds into the contest to give the Raiders a 1-0 lead.

“I just got the puck and that was pretty much it, there was one guy behind and I just got it top shelf,” said Brown. “It was huge, the first goal is everything to the team; that’s what gets teams going, the first goal.”

The Raiders added another goal in the first period to take a 2-0 lead into the second period but then Notre Dame got going as it scored two goals in a 29-second span in the second to knot the game at 2-2.

With the teams locked in the 2-2 stalemate heading into the third period, Hun was determined to regain the momentum.

“We couldn’t give up, we had to keep pounding them,” said Brown, recalling the team’s discussion at the intermission before the third period. “We just have to keep working hard and pushing it; we can’t let up.”

Seconds into the final frame, Brown struck again feeding classmate Jon Bendorf, who proceeded to find the back of the net.

“I saw Benny, there was a free lane open to him and I just passed it to him and he finished it,” said Brown.

Minutes later, Bobby Wurster scored on a one-timer from the point to put Hun up 4-2 and the Raiders finished off Notre Dame with some stifling defense as neither team scored again.

“Everyone was blocking shots and working hard,” said Brown, reflecting on Hun’s third period effort. “We were making sure that no one was left open in front of the net, everybody got the back door people.”

At the final whistle, everyone on the Hun squad joined in a raucous on-ice
celebration which saw gloves and sticks flying.

For Brown, winning the MCT crown marked the fruition of a childhood ambition.

“It is huge,” said Brown. “I used to go to the West Windsor schools and I always watched the county tournaments when I was younger.”

Hun’s young guns dominated the tournament as classmate Evan Barratt was named MVP and the trio combined for three goals and five assists in the title game.

“We have been playing for a while, Benny is on my club team for six years and we have always been together,” said Brown, who competes on the Mercer Chiefs with Bendorf.

“We worked over the summer. All of us were on the district all-star team. I dish them the puck and they finish it.”

Hun head coach Ian McNally was not surprised that Brown triggered things for the Raiders.

“The start of the first and then the start of the third was big, I think Blake Brown was a big catalyst in all of that,” said McNally.

“He is the guy that gets everyone fired up before they go on the ice. He’s the guy giving fist pumps and yelling so it was good for him to be the guy that goes out and says follow me. They were both awesome goals.”

With Notre Dame tying the game at 2-2 and seizing momentum in the second period, McNally looked to get his guys fired up for a big final period as he talked to them at intermission.

“The message was you don’t know if you are going to have another chance like this; you always assume that you are going to play in a bunch of big games and championship games but you never know if you are going to get back,” said McNally.

“You are here now, take advantage of it, you never know when you are going to get back again.”

The Raiders responded with aplomb, producing spirited hockey at both ends of the ice.

“They were behind and they had to get a little desperate and score and we just kept them in their zone for minutes at a time,” said McNally.

“That was by far the best period of hockey we have played and it was good to see because it was a big stage and we don’t get too many games like this with a lot of fans and something on the line. I think they got excited and everybody rose to the occasion.”

Winning the title, the fourth county crown in program history, was an exciting moment for the Hun players.

“It means a lot to these guys; these guys have always been asking to play in it and we haven’t been able to,” said McNally, whose team topped Episcopal Academy (Pa.) 10-5 on Monday in the Independence Hockey League (IHL) semis to improve to 18-7 and was slated to face Academy of New Church on February 25 in the title game.

“Their classmates at school can relate to what the MCT is, they can’t relate to the IHL. In this week leading up to it, there was a buzz at school. People knew about it and the boarding kids got bussed over for it. For these guys it means a lot, it is the one that they wanted to win this year.”

McNally acknowledged that his trio of freshmen played a key role in winning the title.

“They were unreal tonight, every time they were on the ice, it was a goal scoring opportunity,” said McNally, reflecting on the player of Brown, Barratt and Bendorf.

“It is funny, I was harping on them to get off the ice faster than they do … but sure enough in a one-and-a-half minute shift they turn around and score a goal so it is hard to get too mad at those guys.”

Senior goalie Devin Cheifetz made things hard on Notre Dame in crunch time, recording 28 saves on the evening.

“Devin was awesome today; I have been with Devin a long time in club and high school hockey and when it is really on the line, he shows up,” said McNally.

“He got better throughout the game. In the third period, he was so confident and poised. You are just assuming that he is going to save it. It was one of his better games of the year.”

It has been an awesome winter for Hun, even though the team’s immaturity has McNally pulling out his hair at times.

“It is youthful enthusiasm; the reason we get into shootout games is the energy level is up and down,” said McNally.

“You saw it again tonight. We scored in bunches and then the other team gets momentum for five or six minutes and we just hold on tight. That is how the team has been, we just thrive off a high energy shift by the younger guys.”

Brown, for his part, likes the way Hun brings the energy on a constant basis.

“Everybody works their butts off and everybody plays their hearts out every shift,” said Brown.

February 19, 2014
SPEED TO BURN: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Colburn Yu speeds to victory in a 100 breaststroke race. Last Friday, senior Yu placed first in the breaststroke and took second in the 200 individual medley as top-seeded PHS defeated No. 2 Lawrence 115-55 to win its sixth straight Public B Central Jersey Sectional title. The Little Tigers will take on Summit in the Public B state semis on February 19 with the winner advancing to the championship meet on February 23.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SPEED TO BURN: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Colburn Yu speeds to victory in a 100 breaststroke race. Last Friday, senior Yu placed first in the breaststroke and took second in the 200 individual medley as top-seeded PHS defeated No. 2 Lawrence 115-55 to win its sixth straight Public B Central Jersey Sectional title. The Little Tigers will take on Summit in the Public B state semis on February 19 with the winner advancing to the championship meet on February 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While his teammates on the Princeton High boys’ swimming team whooped it up on the deck at the Neptune Aquatics Center last Friday after winning the Public B Central Jersey Sectional, Colburn Yu stood quietly by.

For senior star Yu, top-seeded PHS’s 115-55 triumph over No. 2 Lawrence High had a been there, done that feel.

“This is my fourth year at sectionals and each year the boys team has won so I know the gist of everything already,” said Yu, who was a key contributor when PHS won the Public B state title in 2012.

“Coach Hand told us not to assume things and just don’t think that you will win because you never know what to expect. I think we all swam pretty hard. We all made sure that we did what we needed to do in order to win this meet. Our score shows that.”

Yu did his part in the victory, taking second in the 200 individual medley and winning the 100 breaststroke, his specialty, as the Little Tigers improved to 12-0. For Yu, finishing behind classmate Avery Soong in the IM was a matter of taking care of business.

“The IM is not really my best event. I think the only reason I am good at it is because of my breaststroke,” said Yu.

“I was talking to Avery about this beforehand and we were just saying that if we go 1-2 in the IM we are going to be good and that’s basically what we did.”

Yu felt good about his win in the breaststroke, displaying the technique that helped him win the county title in the event.

“I have always noticed that breaststrokers tend to be smaller than the other strokes,” said the wiry Yu, who competes for the X-Cel club team and will be continuing his swimming career at Johns Hopkins.

“I feel like the breaststroke is more of a technique stroke than how big you are. I know that my technique is pretty good. I have gotten training specifically for breaststroke. When we go to the semifinals and hopefully we will make it to the finals, I will definitely bring it up a notch and go around my best time which should be a 57 or 58.”

It was not surprising to Yu that PHS took things up a notch in the sectional final.

“I think it is really special, not a whole lot of kids get to have four sectional titles,” said Yu.

“Our team has a lot of depth. I give credit to the seniors who were here two years ago. I learned a lot from them and hopefully what I have learned from them, I pass down to the kids who are underclassmen this year. Once we leave, they are going to need to work a lot harder to be able to win meets. Our senior class tends to score the most points at all of these meets.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand thinks pretty highly of this year’s senior group.

“The titles speak to the talent but the way they have approached their membership on the Princeton High team is the real standout performance,” said Hand, who has now guided the PHS boys’ swimmers to six straight sectional titles.

“These guys have always been there for each other. They always get committed to a total effort when we get to the meets that are the toughest. These guys have been able to swim in a state final, which they lost, a state final, which they won, and a state semifinal, which was virtually a tie. It was very disappointing but they walked away satisfied with the effort, that was the deal. We couldn’t control the 100th of a second thing and then here they are going to a state semifinal.”

Hand sees Yu as being in control of his swimming. “I think Colburn has got some great perspective now on the sport and how to meet the demands of the sport, how to respond to the challenges and disappointments that the sport offers,” said Hand.

“He has the classiness of being pretty selfless about his achievements and giving it up for the team.”

Three of the team’s other senior stars also gave PHS some big performances in the sectional final as Peter Kalibat won both the 200 and 500 freestyle races while Will Stange was victorious in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke and Matt Purdy took first in the 50 and 100 free races.

“I really admire Pete Kalibat for just knocking out consistently strong swims in the 200 and the 500, likewise, Will Stange, the same with his swims,” said Hand.

“Matt Purdy sprinted really well today. He did a great 100. He took it out slower and tried to build every 25 which is not a strategy he has used much before.”

PHS will have to compete really well as it now faces Summit in the Public B state semis on February 19 in a rematch of last year’s semis that saw the Little Tigers lose an 87-83 nailbiter.

“For sure, these guys don’t assume anything, getting to this level,” said Hand, whose team would advance to a third state final in the last four years on February 23 if they can overcome Summit.

“Summit’s power points are down but the last thing to do would be to misjudge that team, a defending state champion, the team that beat us last year. They graduated some but have some other kids on their roster.”

Yu, for his part, believes PHS’s older kids can lead the team to a second state title in the last three years.

“I know that the seniors and juniors both know what it feels like to go to the state finals and we can definitely step it up and tell the younger kids what it is to step it up,” said Yu. “As long as they see we are in the mood, they are going to follow.”

TANGY ADDITION: Princeton High girls’ swimming star Melinda Tang displays her freestyle form in recent action. Last Friday, freshman Tang won the 100 butterfly and took third in the 100 freestyle as top-seeded PHS defeated No. 2 Lawrence 110-60 in the Public B Central Jersey sectional finals. The Little Tigers, now 12-0, will face Ocean City in the Public B state semis on February 19 with the winner advancing to the championship meet on February 23.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TANGY ADDITION: Princeton High girls’ swimming star Melinda Tang displays her freestyle form in recent action. Last Friday, freshman Tang won the 100 butterfly and took third in the 100 freestyle as top-seeded PHS defeated No. 2 Lawrence 110-60 in the Public B Central Jersey sectional finals. The Little Tigers, now 12-0, will face Ocean City in the Public B state semis on February 19 with the winner advancing to the championship meet on February 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though Melinda Tang is a freshman, she embraced the high stakes atmosphere as the Princeton High girls’ swimming team faced Lawrence last Friday in the Public B Central Jersey sectional finals.

“I knew the competition would be hard and it was really exciting,” said Tang after top-seeded PHS topped No. 2 Lawrence 110-60 at the Neptune Aquatics Center. “It is the first of everything for me.”

Tang played a big role in the victory for the Little Tigers, winning the 100 butterfly and taking third in the 100 freestyle.

“It is sectional finals so you have to race a lot faster,” said Tang, reflecting on her individual swims.

In emerging as a star for PHS, Tang has learned some lessons in time management.

“I do club swimming [X-Cel] too so the biggest challenge is juggling everything,” said Tang. “I am juggling school, practice here and practice there, meets, and stuff.”

Tang has learned some lessons from the team’s veterans in taking care of her business.

“They have taught us a lot, they lead our team,” said Tang. “They build up a lot of moments with us so we bond together.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand likes the way his girls’ squad has come together.

“It is a really nice team,” said Hand, whose team improved to 12-0 with the win over Lawrence.

“The girls do everything they can to control the won-loss record but I think they are pretty realistic. We just come out and swim our best every time and if we are good enough to get a result, that is great. I like their spirit and camaraderie, it continues to grow.”

Hand credits Tang and her classmates with bringing a special competitive spirit.

“It is terrific when your freshmen are excited, nervous, but not worried,” said Hand, who has gotten good work from newcomers Jamie Liu, Jennifer Bond, and Maddie Whaley in addition to Tang.

“It shows that they are nice and grown up for their age in all the ways you would hope for. They swim because they love it; they love cheering for their team. At some level it is not about winning and losing but just about doing your best, that is a great foundation to build on.”

As usual, PHS got some great swims from its pair of sophomore stars, Brianna Romaine and Madeleine Deardorff. Romaine placed first in both the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke while Deardorff was victorious in the 200 individual medley and the 500 free.

“I thought Brianna had a really good meet today, two solid wins and a good relay swim,” said Hand.

“It was solid throughout the lineup. We asked Maddie Deardorff to go 500 again for a second time in a row; that is changing up the lineup to give some relief to some other kids. I am pretty happy with swims across the board.”

With PHS taking on Ocean City in the Public B state semifinals on February 19, Hand is looking for some more solid efforts.

“I think they are feeling pretty courageous about the next round,” said Hand, whose team would advance to the state championship meet on February 23 if they can top Ocean City.

“To go into a meet excited to swim fast on a day when the other team is going to be equally fast or faster, that is a great statement to make. No matter what, I am glad that the girls get to take this extra step and have that experience. Regardless of the outcome, it is going to be something that they remember.”

Tang, for her part, is looking to enjoy some more firsts in her debut season.

“Today was a step forward,” said Tang. “The focus going into next week is to do our best and hopefully make the state finals.”

THRUSTING FORWARD: Princeton High fencer Martine Appel, left, shows her form. Senior Appel has starred at foil for PHS this winter as the program has made progress in its first season as an official varsity team.

THRUSTING FORWARD: Princeton High fencer Martine Appel, left, shows her form. Senior Appel has starred at foil for PHS this winter as the program has made progress in its first season as an official varsity team.

For Theo Varga, substituting to teach a gym class at Princeton High in 2012 set him on a path which helped a new program gain a foothold in the school’s sporting scene.

“We ran out of things to do and we went outside and I had them doing footwork drills for fencing,” recalled Varga.

“One of the teachers saw that and said the school was looking for a fencing coach and I should apply.”

Varga, who fenced at Dickinson College, took that advice and ended up being named as the head coach of the PHS fencing program that fall.

Noting that the team was still competing on a club basis but looking to transition to official team status, Varga hit the ground running.

“I got the official word in November and the season was starting after Thanksgiving,” said Varga.

“I had to jump right into it. At that point, they knew they wanted it to be a team.”

When Varga took the helm there were around 15-20 fencers who had been with the team since its inception in the 2011-12 school year and another 15 or 20 who came to practice to find out what fencing was about. Varga reached out to the middle schools in town and another 25-30 freshmen have joined the program this year.

In Varga’s view, the program took a big step forward when it competed in the District 2 tournament early last year.

“We had never been to the districts, they didn’t know what to expect and neither did I,” said Varga.

It was at North Hunterdon and it was a big event. There were 12 schools and the parents for all the teams. We did well. The girls epee team finished sixth. Melody Ting made the round-robin individual and placed eighth in the district for the epee. There were a lot of students who started the sport that year, they were learning the sport in November and in January they were on the strip. We wanted to show what we could do and learn from the experience.”

With the program gaining official status, there has been progress all around.

“We are trading off with other teams to use the gym, on Mondays and Thursdays, we are in the cafeteria,” said Varga.

“As the team grows, finding a space is going be a challenge. We usually have 25-30 kids at practice. We practice four days a week, although things have been a little chopped up because of the weather. We did the Santelli tournament and we did a weekend of tournaments in Morristown. The girls team posted a win against PDS.”

Varga is seeing a higher level of fencing from his athletes. “A lot of the students, especially the ones who had been there from the start, had fenced with clubs with the Y or Sebastiani,” said Varga.

“We didn’t have to teach them fencing from the ground up. My assistant coach, Sam Blanchard, and I could have those fencers do drills to develop a skill while we take the new fencers and teach them the basics.”

The team’s progress was reflected in its showing earlier this month at the 2014 District competition.

“We took sixth in girls epee, we had two of the top eight,” said Varga, whose epee lineup includes Claire Schultz, Michelle Kyin, and Sarah Golobish.

“Melody Ting and Kate Horvath took sixth and seventh, respectively, in the individual epee.”

At girls’ foil, the Little Tigers have a good foundation in place. “Martine Appel and Danielle Almstead have grown a lot in foil and have really picked up the sport,” added Varga, whose girl foilists include Ursula Blanchard and Architha Sudhakhar.

The girls’ squad boasts some young talent at sabre. “We have a couple newcomers in sabre; Jacqui Hua is a freshman, she competes nationally and has taken part in the Junior Olympics,” said Varga, who has utilized Josephine Mugnier and Mary Ashley Stough at sabre. “She is skilled and she helps the others learn the sport.”

For the boys, the season has involved a steep learning curve. “The boys are having a growing year, we had to start epee and foil from scratch,” said Varga, noting that Jack Stange, Nikhil Vasireddi, Collin Nichols, and Dylan Lim are competing at epee with Seth Sawant, Mitchell Chi, and Alex Rey seeing action at foil.

PHS has shown promise at boys’ sabre as it placed eighth at the districts. “Philip Trevisian and Alex Lai have been very enthusiastic at sabre,” said Varga, who has Jackson Graham and Manus Kreike-Martin at the weapon.

Varga, for his part, has enthusiastically taken on the challenges associated with getting a varsity program up and running.

“I am learning a lot about how a varsity league is set up and what it is like to work with ADs; it has been a learning experience,” said Varga, who credits assistant coach Blanchard with playing a big role in helping the program grow.

“My teaching experience has been in English. I have never taught kids a physical skill. I have worked on devising things that will get them to do the sport.”

The PHS kids have responded well to Varga and each other. “They have been very supportive and encouraging,” said Varga, noting that the school district and Princeton community has provided important support for the program.

“The goal is to be competitive and win but they want to help each other. They show each other encouragement.”

FINISHING TOUCH: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey player Colby Triolo goes after the puck in a game earlier this season. Last Wednesday, senior forward Triolo enjoyed a big finale at McGraw Rink, tallying a goal and getting two assists to help PDS defeat Summit 9-1 on the program’s annual Senior Night. The Panthers went on to take fourth in ‘A’ bracket last weekend in the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) tournament at the Hill School (Pa.), ending the season at 11-8-1.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FINISHING TOUCH: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey player Colby Triolo goes after the puck in a game earlier this season. Last Wednesday, senior forward Triolo enjoyed a big finale at McGraw Rink, tallying a goal and getting two assists to help PDS defeat Summit 9-1 on the program’s annual Senior Night. The Panthers went on to take fourth in ‘A’ bracket last weekend in the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) tournament at the Hill School (Pa.), ending the season at 11-8-1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Colby Triolo, the idea of taking up ice hockey at Princeton Day School started as kind of an offhand quip.

“I was practicing my interview for coming to PDS and my father asked me what I am going to do to get involved in the community and I said well I am going to try out for ice hockey,” said Triolo.

“I was completely joking but I wanted to make the interview good. I thought about it and I was like I should try out for ice hockey and that it is how it started.”

Triolo acted on her thought and joined the PDS girls’ hockey team as a freshman in the winter of 2010-11. Hampered by injury that season, Triolo really got into the game as a sophomore.

While Triolo has developed a passion for hockey, she acknowledges that she isn’t the most skilled player on the ice.

“I love it,” said Triolo. “I am focusing on not falling because that blue line is really tricky sometimes. Whenever I focus on scoring, that doesn’t work.”

Last Wednesday, Triolo showed focus and some scoring prowess, tallying a goal and getting two assists to help PDS defeat Summit 9-1 on the program’s annual Senior Night.

Triolo and her classmates had a sense of urgency as they took the ice at McGraw Rink for the last time.

“Because none of us are going on to play hockey in college, this is the last time in front of our peers and our school playing a game here and it was give it all we have, because there is no going back,” said Triolo, whose fellow seniors include Mary Travers, Robin Linzmayer, Mimi Matthews, and Abby Sharer.

“In the locker room, we were dancing. Now we have this clapping thing and it gets us really excited. One of us starts a beat and it keeps going and going.”

The PDS seniors enjoyed an exciting night as they all ended up on the score sheet with Mathews notching three goals, Travers tallying two goals and an assist, Linzmayer chipping in a goal and an assist, and Sharer picking up an assist.

“It just shows the heart of our seniors, how much we care and how much we appreciate this team,” said Triolo, one of the squad’s assistant captains. “Our teammates were really working hard to get each of us a goal.”

The team’s chemistry shows through on and off the ice. “Personally I feel like our class has been so close all four years,” said Triolo of the PDS squad, which fell 1-0 to Portledge School (N.Y.) last Saturday in the semis of the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) tournament at the Hill School (Pa.) and ended up placing fourth in the tourney’s ‘A’ bracket. “Our team this year, I don’t know what it is, we are not a team, we are a family.”

This fall, Triolo will be joining a new family as she heads to Cornell University to study engineering.

“The first time I was there was for a hockey camp two years ago,” recalled Triolo.

“I just wanted to improve and come back and get ice time so I went to Cornell. I thought I kind of like this school. I went back last year on a tour and I was like I am in love with this school. It just feels like home.”

Over the course of her PDS career, Triolo certainly found a home with the hockey team. “It has made my PDS career like nothing else I could say,” asserted Triolo, who plans to play a club sport at Cornell.

“Every year everyone says ice hockey is the best season and it truly is, just knowing that you have the locker room to come to after school. I don’t know if it is because we are so separate or we are back here, but you just get so close to your teammates. Ice hockey is a really great sport.”

NET GAIN: Hun School girls’ basketball player Anajha ­Burnett dribbles upcourt in recent action. Last Wednesday, senior guard Burnett chipped in 12 points as fourth-seeded Hun defeated No. 5 No. 5 Kent Place 77-23 in the opening round of the state Prep A tournament. On Saturday, Hun fell 72-50 at top-seeded Blair Academy to end its season with a 10-11 record.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

NET GAIN: Hun School girls’ basketball player Anajha ­Burnett dribbles upcourt in recent action. Last Wednesday, senior guard Burnett chipped in 12 points as fourth-seeded Hun defeated No. 5 No. 5 Kent Place 77-23 in the opening round of the state Prep A tournament. On Saturday, Hun fell 72-50 at top-seeded Blair Academy to end its season with a 10-11 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

On the eve of its state Prep A tournament opener last Wednesday, the Hun School girls’ basketball team suffered a heartbreaking loss to powerful Lodi Immaculate.

Rallying from a 14-7 first quarter deficit, Hun forced overtime as the teams were knotted at 37-37 at the end of regulation. The Raiders, though, managed only one point in the extra session in losing 40-38.

Hun head coach Bill Holup acknowledged that the setback stung. “We made some defensive adjustments and did some good things offensively,” said Holup, reflecting on the February 11 contest. “It was a tremendous game, back and forth; we just came up a little short.”

A day later, though, the fourth-seeded Raiders came up big as they routed No. 5 Kent Place 77-23 in the Prep A first round contest.

“We had four girls in double figures; it was a good way for the seniors to end their careers at home,” said Holup, who got 15 points from freshman Clare Moloney in the victory with junior Janelle Mullen adding 14, senior Erica Brown contributing 13, and senior Anajha Burnett chipping in 12.

“We had senior day on Tuesday and that was a tough loss. It was a nice win for us, we got everyone into the game and we were able to practice some things we have been working on.”

Holup like the resilience his players displayed. “They were coming off a real tough loss and they played well,” said Holup.

“A good thing about basketball is that you have a lot of games and the opportunity to move on. They were able to take care of business.”

Against top-seeded Blair Academy on the Prep A semifinal, Hun was unable to take care of business as it lost 72-50 to end the winter with a 10-11 record.

While Holup would have liked to see the season go longer, he credits his players with making the most of the campaign as they dealt with the loss of senior star center and top scorer Johnnah Johnson, who was sidelined with a knee injury for much of the winter.

“They could have thrown in their hats and given up in mid-December,” said Holup.

“They saw the adversity and they stepped up and saw it as a challenge.

Each one of them wanted to contribute. They have gotten more confidence in each other. If you are more confident in your teammates, you don’t want to let them down. They have stayed positive. Each kid has each other’s back; that is what makes a team.”

STROKE OF BRILLIANCE: Leah Moran pulls in the stroke seat for the Peddie School women’s varsity 4. Moran, a Princeton resident who took up rowing during her freshman year at Peddie in 2010, will be joining the Bucknell University crew program this fall.

STROKE OF BRILLIANCE: Leah Moran pulls in the stroke seat for the Peddie School women’s varsity 4. Moran, a Princeton resident who took up rowing during her freshman year at Peddie in 2010, will be joining the Bucknell University crew program this fall.

When Leah Moran entered the Peddie School in 2010, the Princeton resident dreamed of someday playing college basketball.

Joining the perennial Prep A champion girls’ hoops program, Moran hoped to win some championships and hone her skills for the next level.

But when legendary Peddie coach Sean Casey left the school to become the upper school principal for a school in Atlanta before the 2010-11 season, the Falcons went through a rebuilding phase.

Moran, for her part, was switched from her natural shooting guard position to the point guard for her sophomore and junior seasons and went through some ups and downs with the program.

But as things turned rocky with basketball, Moran took up rowing and experienced a smoother ride and achieved her dream of being a college athlete, committing to the Bucknell University crew program.

Moran has no regrets about sticking with basketball. “I have learned a lot from the ups and downs,” said Moran.

“I have learned about sticking with it and working hard. We have focused on being one group as a whole. When we play together more, we make each other better.”

Things have gone a lot better this winter on the court as the Peddie hoops has enjoyed a renaissance, bringing a 12-3 record into the state Prep A title game at Blair which was slated for February 18.

“It feels so good to be doing really well,” said Moran. “I have had a different role and I still enjoy the game so much. We got help from a number of good new players that came in.”

Taking up rowing as a freshman turned out to be a very good move for Moran.

“We are required to do a fall sport; I had heard that the crew team was good and I decided to do rowing,” said Moran.

“You have to be a novice as a freshman. It was definitely hard to get used to it at first. We only had one race in the fall and one race in the spring; it was more learning how to row.”

By sophomore year, Moran had the hang of her new sport. “I was pretty OK with the technique by sophomore year,” said Moran, crediting Peddie coach Barb Grudt, a former Olympic rower who had coaching stints at Penn and Dartmouth, with helping her develop her skills.

“It is not an individual sport, you really have to work with your teammates to become one.”

Last year, Moran took on the role of stroke in the Peddie varsity 4, becoming the rower who sets the rhythm for the boat.

“At first I was really nervous about being stroke but the more I did it, the easier it got,” said Moran. “It gives me confidence; people rely on me in the boat and it shows that the coach has faith in me. The boat is depending on me.”

Moran’s developing confidence in rowing led her to change her college plans.

“I thought I was going to play basketball in college but I realized I had a better shot at crew and I really got into it,” said Moran. “I really liked my team and I really liked my coach.”

As Moran looked at such schools as Boston College, North Carolina, and Williams, she found herself really liking Bucknell.

“It seems similar to Peddie,” said Moran. “I have interest in a lot of things besides rowing. One of my favorite things is singing. They want athletes to participate in other things. They want rowers to work hard when you are on the water. They encourage you to study abroad in the fall; a lot of schools only want you to do that in the summer. I think it is a good fit.”

Moran is ready to work hard for the Bison rowing program. “I am really excited,” said Moran, who is looking forward to a big season this spring with the Peddie crew team and then some heavy ergometer training over the summer in preparation for her Bucknell debut.

“I feel like if I didn’t do a sport in college I would be lost. I love to compete and love being on a team.”

Moran certainly found out a lot about herself through the twists and turns of her Peddie sports career.

February 12, 2014
TAYLOR MADE: Princeton High girls’ swimmer Taylor Chiang competes in the 100 breaststroke last Thursday in the quarterfinals of the state Public B Central Jersey sectionals. Senior tri-captain Chiang help first-seeded PHS top No. 8 Holmdel 110-60 in the meet. On Monday, the Little Tigers defeated No. 4 Middletown South 94-76 in the semis to qualify for the sectional championship meet against No. 2 Lawrence on February 14 at Neptune High.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TAYLOR MADE: Princeton High girls’ swimmer Taylor Chiang competes in the 100 breaststroke last Thursday in the quarterfinals of the state Public B Central Jersey sectionals. Senior tri-captain Chiang help first-seeded PHS top No. 8 Holmdel 110-60 in the meet. On Monday, the Little Tigers defeated No. 4 Middletown South 94-76 in the semis to qualify for the sectional championship meet against No. 2 Lawrence on February 14 at Neptune High. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As one of the team captains for the Princeton High girls’ swimming team, Taylor Chiang aims to both inspire and focus the squad.

“Mostly, I try to get people pumped up for meets,” said senior star Chiang, who serves as team captain along with classmates Belinda Liu and Kelsey Schwimmer.

“I try to make sure that everyone has the same mindset and that we are all not going into one meet saying this meet doesn’t matter. That is not what we are striving for, even if it’s a good chance we could win the meet, we want to be going in and swimming fast.”

Last Thursday, Chiang helped keep PHS on track as the top-seeded Little Tigers defeated No. 8 Holmdel 110-60 in the quarterfinals of the state Public B Central Jersey sectionals.

Chiang took second in the 100 butterfly and third in the 100 breaststroke to help PHS roll to victory. Individual victors for PHS at the meet included Jamie Liu in the 200 freestyle, Brianna Romaine in the 200 individual medley and the 100 backstroke, Melinda Tang in the 50 free, and Madeleine Deardorff in the 100 butterfly.

In Chiang’s view, she probably got more out finishing third in the breast than taking second in the fly.

“Holmdel has some really fast girls in the 100 breast which is refreshing to see just because it pushes you a little bit,” said Chiang.

“They actually got first and second in the race and it is really great to race fast swimmers.”

In reflecting on her PHS career, Chiang believes she has become a much more versatile swimmer.

“In freshman year, I was trying to just work hard and by the end of the year I was hitting good times in the breaststroke,” said Chiang.

“From there, I went back to the club and I just started getting a little better and I started swimming other things like the fly. I also swim the 200 free relay too.”

As PHS looks to make a deep run in the state tournament, Chiang believes the team has to maintain its work rate.

“Even though it is the end of the season, we need to be keeping the training going and not be saying oh let’s taper, let’s relax,” said Chiang, who helped PHS defeat fourth-seeded Middletown South 94-76 last Monday in the sectional semis as the Little Tigers, now 11-0, earned a spot in the sectional championship meet against second-seeded Lawrence on February 14.

“Keeping things focused is definitely key because if focus isn’t there and we start to relax in the training environment, that is not going to translate well into meet situations.”

Chiang is used to a variety of competitive situations as she also stars at lacrosse and is heading to Swarthmore College where she will be playing for its women’s lax program.

“I will play winter lacrosse and swim,” said Chiang, explaining how she juggles her two sports.

“When it hits lacrosse time, I swim for a little bit and then I just cut that off. I go back in the fall when it comes to swimming.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand feels that Chiang has been a hit as a captain.

“Taylor is a great leader,” asserted Hand. “She has a big voice but she uses it judiciously and so you have this good mix of always hearing her but she always has something good to say. She is very supportive as a captain. She really reaches out to kids and keeps the team loose and focused.”

Hand saw solid focus from his team in the win over Holmdel. “It was good spirit for the first stage of the single elimination tournament,” said Hand.

“I don’t think anybody is backing down from the idea that we have a shot at the sectional title and maybe a great opportunity therefore to swim in a state semifinals and really push ourselves.”

Chiang, for her part, is determined to push herself hard to the end.

“It has been a long four years and I have been swimming since I was four,” said Chiang.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet that this could be my last year of swimming. It has definitely been a good run. Even though it is a hard sport to get yourself to do sometimes, I have definitely enjoyed it a lot.”

IN TUNE: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Avery Soong heads to victory in the backstroke last Thursday as top-seeded PHS rolled past eighth-seeded Ocean Township 123-47 in the quarterfinals of state Public B Central Jersey sectional. Senior star Soong, who is in his first season with PHS after transferring to the school in 2012, helped the Little Tigers top fourth-seeded Hopewell 109-61 last Monday in the sectional semis to advance to the championship meet on February 14 at Neptune High against second-seeded Lawrence. PHS, which won the Public B state title in 2012, will be going for the program’s sixth straight Central Jersey title in the meet on Friday.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

IN TUNE: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Avery Soong heads to victory in the backstroke last Thursday as top-seeded PHS rolled past eighth-seeded Ocean Township 123-47 in the quarterfinals of state Public B Central Jersey sectional. Senior star Soong, who is in his first season with PHS after transferring to the school in 2012, helped the Little Tigers top fourth-seeded Hopewell 109-61 last Monday in the sectional semis to advance to the championship meet on February 14 at Neptune High against second-seeded Lawrence. PHS, which won the Public B state title in 2012, will be going for the program’s sixth straight Central Jersey title in the meet on Friday. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Swimming star Avery Soong moved to Princeton last year from Pennsylvania but focused his efforts on club swimming rather than join the Princeton High boys’ squad for his junior season.

This winter, though, Soong has joined forces with PHS for his senior campaign and is happy to be part of the squad.

“I have been cleared to join this team so we can make a run,” said Soong. “It feels so good. I swim with Will Stange and Gabe Bar-Cohen everyday with the Piranhas so that has been a help.”

Last Thursday, the trio of Soong, Stange, and Bar-Cohen came up big as top-seeded PHS rolled past eighth-seeded Ocean Township 123-47 in the quarterfinals of state Public Public B Central Jersey sectional.

Soong won the 100-yard backstroke and took second in the 200 freestyle while senior Stange won the 200 free and freshman Bar-Cohen placed first in the 100 butterfly.

For Soong, battling Stange in the 200 free was a highlight of the meet. “I saw Will at the end,” said Soong, who made a furious rally and ended up second by less than a second. “I go to get every win but he out-touched me.”

In Soong’s view, the PHS performance against Ocean was a good first step in what the Little Tigers hope is going to be a run to a state title.

“This is a meet for preparation and seeing what it feels like with the short schedule and to get it going in the states,” said Soong.

PHS head coach Greg Hand liked the way his team took care of business in the victory over Ocean.

“We didn’t have to swim our fastest lineup; we gave different tasks to everybody and it was nice to see kids handle that,” said Hand, whose team showed its speed on Monday when it topped fourth-seeded Hopewell 109-61 in the sectional semis to advance to the championship meet on February 14 where it will be going for the program’s sixth straight Central Jersey title.

“It was nice to see Matt Tams swim an IM (individual medley) at the end of the year. He hasn’t had too many chances to do that in his career. It was great to see him as a breaststroker working real well through the first half of his race and coming back in the breaststroke leg and really looking solid, reflecting how well he has trained throughout the season. There were a lot of races like that and then other ones where guys were trying to hit target times or work on something specific.”

It has been nice for the Little Tigers to add Soong to their lineup.

“We are very lucky to have him; he has contributed a lot to the team,” said Hand, whose squad improved to 11-0 with the win over HoVal.

“He clearly enjoys being a part of this very tight senior class. To add one solid swimmer to that bunch in a year like this is real good for the team.”

Another newcomer, Bar-Cohen, has emerged as a key contributor for the Little Tigers.

“Gabe had a terrific counties and before that, a great meet against Notre Dame at the end of the regular season so he has been coming along steadily,” said Hand.

“He hasn’t been a club swimmer for very long. He swims on the Piranhas where he is flourishing. I get the impression that every time he is just going to go out and give his best, already at his young age he is reconciled to the fact that the only thing you can do is his best job in his own lane. I think that rubs off on other people.”

PHS displayed a good mindset across the lanes on Thursday. “It was a fairly quiet deck in this meet but I don’t think that mattered at all,” said Hand.

“I thought everybody was paying attention and supporting each other well and that’s just we wanted.”

Soong, for his part, wants to end his only season for PHS with a bang.

“We have got to go fast, we have to bring our best or it will be lost,” said Soong.

“This is one of our strongest senior classes in a long time and we are willing to make it worth it.”

And adding Soong has made that senior group even stronger.

TON OF HEART: Princeton Day School guard Langston Glaude, right, dribbles around a defender in a game earlier this season. Last Sunday, senior standout Glaude scored 17 points in a losing effort as the sixth-seeded Panthers fell 56-55 at No. 3 Montclair Kimberley in the opening round of the state Prep B tournament. The Panthers, who dropped to 5-12 with the defeat, will compete in the Mercer County Tournament (MCT) to wrap up its season. PDS, a semifinalist in the 2013 MCT, is seeded 14th and will play at No. 3 Ewing on February 18 in a first round game.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TON OF HEART: Princeton Day School guard Langston Glaude, right, dribbles around a defender in a game earlier this season. Last Sunday, senior standout Glaude scored 17 points in a losing effort as the sixth-seeded Panthers fell 56-55 at No. 3 Montclair Kimberley in the opening round of the state Prep B tournament. The Panthers, who dropped to 5-12 with the defeat, will compete in the Mercer County Tournament (MCT) to wrap up its season. PDS, a semifinalist in the 2013 MCT, is seeded 14th and will play at No. 3 Ewing on February 18 in a first round game. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After a stirring run to the championship in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) tournament last winter, the Hun School boys’ basketball team fell short of an encore performance at this year’s competition last weekend at the Hill School.

In opening round action on Friday, the fifth-seeded Raiders topped fourth seeded Lawrenceville 58-48 as senior star Josh McGilvray led the way with 12 points. A day later, the Raiders couldn’t get their offense going as they lost 49-31 to the host, top-seeded Hill, in the semis.

Hun, now 8-12, will start play in the state Prep A tourney this week where it is seeded fourth and is slated to host No. 5 Lawrenceville on February 12 in a first round contest.

Erica Dwyer and Johnnah Johnson starred for the Hun girls’ squad as it advanced the MAPL semis. In an opening round contest on Friday, junior guard Dwyer and senior center Johnson each scored 15 points as fourth-seeded Hun routed  No. 5 Hill 67-41. In the semis, the Raiders fell 69-49 to top-seeded Blair. Hun did enjoy a major highlight as Robert Morris-bound Johnson hit the 1,000-point milestone in her Raider career during the contest.

The Raiders, now 9-9, will wrap up their season by taking part in the state Prep A tournament this week. Hun is seeded fourth in the tourney and will host No. 5 Kent Place on February 12 in an opening round matchup.

———

A year after advancing to the state Prep B title game, the Princeton Day School boys basketball team didn’t make it out of the first round this winter.

The sixth-seeded Panthers fell 56-55 at No. 3 Montclair Kimberley last Sunday in an opening round contest. Senior guards Deante Cole and Langston Glaude played their hearts out in a losing cause with Cole scoring 18 points and Glaude chipping in 17. Senior forward Ford Schneider also starred for PDS, picking up a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

The Panthers, who dropped to 5-13 with the defeat, will take part in the Mercer County Tournament to wrap up its season. PDS, a semifinalist in the 2013 MCT, is seeded 14th and will play at No. 3 Ewing on February 18 in a first round game.

The PDS girls’ squad, which features freshmen and sophomores, absorbed an important learning experience as they got a taste of postseason action. The seventh-seeded Panthers fell 61-9 at No. 2 Rutgers Prep last Saturday in the opening round of the state Prep B tourney. Freshman guard Alexis Davis led the way for the Panthers, scoring eight points.

PDS rebounded with a 65-34 win over King’s Christian School on Monday in a regular season contest in improving to 2-11. In upcoming action, the Panthers will be competing in the Mercer County Tournament where they are seeded 14th and will play at No. 3 Allentown on February 18 in the first round.

Another young team, Stuart, fought hard in dropping in the Prep B opener. The fifth-seeded Tartans lost 41-26 at No. 4 Pennington last Sunday. Stuart trailed just 28-23 after three quarters before Pennington pulled away to the win. Junior Harlyn Bell and senior Maggie Walsh each scored six points to lead Stuart, which fell to 7-7 with the defeat.

In upcoming action, the Tartans play at David Brearley High on February 13 and at Bound Brook on February 14 before hosting King’s Christian on February 18.

FIRED UP: Connor Walker guards the net during his career as a star goalie for the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team. This winter, Walker, a 2013 PDS alum, is honing his skills by playing for the Phoenix Firebirds, a high-powered Tier 1 travel program. Walker posted a 3.21 goals against average in his first 21 appearances for the Firebirds.                                             (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FIRED UP: Connor Walker guards the net during his career as a star goalie for the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team. This winter, Walker, a 2013 PDS alum, is honing his skills by playing for the Phoenix Firebirds, a high-powered Tier 1 travel program. Walker posted a 3.21 goals against average in his first 21 appearances for the Firebirds. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Connor Walker started last summer planning to study business at the University of Massachusetts by the time September rolled around.

But when the former star goalie for the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team was offered the opportunity in August to play for the Phoenix Firebirds, a high-powered Tier 1 travel program, and learned that he could defer his freshman year at UMass, he ended up in Arizona this fall rather than in New England.

As Walker reflects on his time in Phoenix, he believes the experience has helped him grow up a lot.

“Almost all of the kids on the team are from the area, I am the only kid from the east,” said Walker.

“I was the odd kid in, it is working out well now. I am hanging out with them. The team finds a family within the organization and I live with them. I am working full time at a jewelry company boxing up jewelry in a warehouse. I feel independent. I wake up every day at 6 in the morning to go to work. I have a lot more responsibility.”

Walker has been working harder on the ice for the Midget U18 AAA team. “We are in the North American Prospect League (NAPL),” said Walker.

“We practice Sunday through Wednesday and often do dry land training after the practice. I would say the level of play is similar to high school but the teams are more consistent. There is no drop off from the first line to the third line. In high school, the first line might be good but there is a drop off.”

As the season has gone on, Walker is getting up to speed with his new team.

“At PDS, I played with some of the same guys for four years so things were more consistent,” said the 5’8, 180-pound Walker, who posted a goals against average of 3.21 in his first 21 appearances for the Firebirds.

“No one knows me out here, it took a while for us to figure each other out. It is much faster, I had to adapt. I am much faster than I was before. I am a small goalie so I need to be fast.”

Former Princeton University goalie Craig Fiander, who was worked with Walker in several clinics, believes that the young netminder can handle himself.

“Connor is agile, quick, and technically sound,” said Fiander, who has been running his Textbook Goaltending summer camps in the area for more than 15 years. “He has a great demeanor.”

Noting that Walker served as a guest counselor for Textbook Goaltending last summer, Fiander said the goalie inspired the campers.

“I have worked with a guy like Kalemba [former Princeton University goalie and New Jersey native Zane Kalemba] and it was good having another Jersey local kid like Connor on the ice for a couple of sessions,” said Fiander.

“It is great for the kids to see what he has done. It is important for the kids to know his story and have some one to look up and aspire to.”

In Fiander’s view, Walker should aspire to keep playing the game.

“At the end of the day, I think he has the skills to play at a higher level, like D-III college or juniors,” said Fiander. “If he gets an opportunity, he will really, really shine.”

While Walker has enjoyed his time in Phoenix, he is looking for opportunities closer to home. “I met with the coach here two weeks ago and he said there was a possibility I could play tier 2 juniors,” said Walker.

“I am going to try to find a team out east in the EHL or the USHL. I want to try to play as long as possible.”

February 6, 2014
VALUABLE ASSET: Princeton High boys’ swimmer Will Stange heads to victory in a 500 freestyle race earlier this season. Last Saturday at the Mercer County Swimming Championships, senior star and Cornell-bound Stange earned Most Valuable Swimmer honors, setting both meet and school records in the winning 200-meter individual medley and 100 backstroke. Stange’s heroics helped power PHS to a fourth straight county crown.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

VALUABLE ASSET: Princeton High boys’ swimmer Will Stange heads to victory in a 500 freestyle race earlier this season. Last Saturday at the Mercer County Swimming Championships, senior star and Cornell-bound Stange earned Most Valuable Swimmer honors, setting both meet and school records in the winning 200-meter individual medley and 100 backstroke. Stange’s heroics helped power PHS to a fourth straight county crown. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Mercer County Swimming Championships having ended about a half hour earlier and the WW/P-N pool going quiet with the exit of the competitors and spectators, there was a solitary figure in the water pounding out lap after lap.

Fittingly, that swimmer was Princeton High senior star Will Stange, who had spent most of the day alone at the head of the pack, setting both meet and school records in the winning 200-meter individual medley and 100 backstroke as he helped power PHS to a fourth straight county crown.

Stange, who also helped PHS win the 200 medley relay and take second in the 400 free relay, was named as the meet’s Most Valuable Swimmer. For Stange, earning the individual accolade was important in the context of the impact it could have on the team.

“It was great; it sets me up personally and gets me excited for the rest of the season,” said Stange. “Hopefully it psyches everybody else up coming out of this meet.”

In addition to Stange’s heroics, PHS got wins from senior star Peter Kalibat in the 200 and 400 freestyle races while classmate Colburn Yu won the 100 breaststroke.

The Little Tigers needed those wins as they were pushed hard by Notre Dame, piling up 277 points to hold off the Fighting Irish who came in at 239.

After helping PHS open the meet with a solid victory in the 200 medley relay, Stange was psyched up to go for a record in the 200 IM.

“I was thinking about it; they told me last night that it was 2:08 and I went 2:11 in the preliminary,” said Stange, who finished nearly half a lap ahead of teammate and fellow senior Colburn Yu in clocking a time of 2:07.42.

“I figured it wasn’t going to mess me up for the 100 back so I will go for it. I am in my own lane, nobody else affects me.”

Later, in the backstroke final, Stange messed with the competition as he broke a record he had set a night earlier in the preliminaries.

“I was trying to go a little bit faster to be honest,” said Stange, who posted a time of 56.85, more than four seconds ahead of runner-up Aly Sayed of WW/P-S. “I was hoping for a 56 low but 56.8 is really nice.”

It was very nice for PHS to win a fourth straight county crown. “It couldn’t be any better,” said Stange, reflecting on the four-peat. “You never enter a meet without trying to win so for us to be able to do that really means a lot.”

For PHS head coach Greg Hand, Stange and his classmates have shown they know what it takes to win when the chips are down.

“We have got a senior class that, more than anything, has established a track record of being guys who step up when the pressure is the greatest,” said Hand.

“I am thinking of great semifinals and finals meets in states in the last few years, county environments, and the toughest of the dual meets. These guys love the sport and they are definitely at their best in the toughest conditions.”

Stange saved one of his greatest performances for his last county meet. “This was a brilliant meet for Will,” said Hand of Stange, who has committed to swim at Cornell next season.

“Since freshman year, we have asked for perhaps more versatility from him than anybody. In this meet, it seemed to be the time to allow him to swim the IM and show the kind of mastery he has of all the strokes and also to go 200 yards for us instead of the constant 100s. He showed the depth of his training, his endurance, and his will to compete with everything he has got.”

The Little Tigers also got a superb competitive effort from Kalibat. “I would say Peter Kalibat was the swimmer who was most challenged today in his wins,” said Hand.

“Will was in a spot where he really had to race the clock and keep his discipline and  accomplish what he was in the water for. Pete was up against a guy who he knows pretty well [Hamilton’s Griffin Hutton] and is really talented and he dug deep, especially in his 200 win. He went out hard and said that he swam the last 75 or so feeling really tight. It is a real tribute to the fact that he has been there before and has felt that feeling 100s of times; that gives him the ability to recognize it and just swim through it.”

In Hand’s view, the county four-peat is a tribute to his swimmers’ mental and  physical gifts. “What four county titles means to me is that we are extremely fortunate to have the character and the talent of the kids that we have had,” said Hand.

Posting a 9-0 record in dual meet competition this winter and getting seeded first in the upcoming Public B Central Jersey sectional where it will host eighth-seeded Ocean Township High on February 6, PHS is poised to test its talent against anyone in the state.

“The guys are well positioned, I think we know who we are going to swim in sectionals,” said Hand, who has guided the program to five consecutive Public B Central Jersey titles and a state crown in 2012.

“We are going to have to get through a tough Hopewell team and a tough Lawrence team and that’s not simple.”

Stange and his teammates, for their part, will be taking a basic approach in the states as they look to add another title.

“We know where we have to improve going into states and we are going to adjust our lineup accordingly depending on the team we are against,” said Stange.

“We are going to push it one meet at a time, hopefully all the way to the state championship.”

 

ENCORE PERFORMANCE: Princeton High girls’ swimming star Madeleine Deardorff displays her freestyle form. Last Saturday, Deardorff placed first in the 200-meter individual medley and second in the 100 butterfly to help PHS win its second straight Mercer County Swimming Championships title.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ENCORE PERFORMANCE: Princeton High girls’ swimming star Madeleine Deardorff displays her freestyle form. Last Saturday, Deardorff placed first in the 200-meter individual medley and second in the 100 butterfly to help PHS win its second straight Mercer County Swimming Championships title. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Having broken through with its first-ever Mercer County Swimming Championships title last winter, the Princeton High girls’ swimming team was primed for an encore.

“I think we were all extremely motivated,” said PHS sophomore star Madeleine Deardorff, reflecting on the 2014 county meet which concluded last Saturday at WW/P-N. “We came in here with confidence.”

That confidence proved to be justified as PHS rolled to a second straight crown, piling up 222 points with Steinert second at 169 and WW/P-S taking third with 156.

Deardorff helped lead the way for the Little Tigers, taking first in the 200-meter individual medley and second in the 100 butterfly. Classmate Brianna Romaine set a meet record of 1:04.85 in winning the 100 backstroke and also placed third in the 100 freestyle. Freshman Melinda Tang won the 100 fly and took fourth in the 400 free.

Deardorff was all smiles as she reflected on PHS’s title repeat. “We did exactly what we wanted to do and I am really excited,” said Deardorff, who also helped PHS to wins in the 200 medley and 400 free relays.

“I think this team is so united and I think that we are all motivated towards each other. I think it is so great.”

“In winning the 200 IM, Deardorff enjoyed an exciting battle with Rabia Syed of WW/P-S, posting a winning time of 2:27.78 with Syed coming in at 2:29.13 as she earned her first individual county title.

“I came in and I just wanted to do my best,” said Deardorff. “Rabia and I are really good friends and I was really pumped. That was awesome, I was so happy with that.”

Although Deardorff placed second in the 100 fly, she was happy to duel with freshman teammate Tang.

“Melinda and I go on and off in that event,” said Deardorff. “It was really fun, I love racing her. She motivates me and I motivate her. I think it was really good.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand liked the way his swimmers raced hard from the beginning to the end of the meet.

“The thing that I am most proud of is that in the trials/finals format they did so much two days ago and then came back today and swam lights out,” said Hand.

“They really just rose to the demands of the situation. We had so many swims where kids really challenged themselves to go out hard and to trust their training and come back and get a result and it happened throughout the meet.”

In Hand’s view, Deardorff exemplified the squad’s mental toughness.

“Maddie is such a versatile swimmer, all of her strokes are solid,” said Hand.

“She has been dealing with meet pain throughout recent training when she swims breaststroke, nonetheless she swam a really good breast leg in prelims and finals. The great thing about her race is that she was willing to take out the real strong piece in the fly as fast as she needed to and it is so easy to waste yourself in that.”

Romaine produced one of the great races of the day in her record-breaking win in the 100 back.

“Brianna is a real fighter,” asserted Hand. “She is a role model for kids both older and younger than she is because she is utterly unabashed about trying to get the result that she wants as far as her own swim is concerned.”

One of PHS’s younger stars, freshman Tang, certainly came up with some big swims. “Melinda, at least outwardly, just lets stuff roll off her back,” said Hand, who also got good efforts from freshmen Jamie Liu and Mattie Whaley at the county meet.

“She gets in and goes after it. She is always a spark plug for keeping things cheerful and relaxed which is quite a benefit in an environment like this.”

With PHS having been seeded first in the Public B Central Jersey sectional, Hand is hopeful that his team can do well in the high-stakes environment of the state tournament.

“Before it begins my sense is we are positioned reasonably well but it is a real grind to keep it together, focused and to try to bring a better meet every time out,” said Hand, whose team is 9-0 in dual meet competition this season and is slated to host eighth-seeded Holmdel on February 6 in the sectional quarterfinals.

Deardorff, for her part, is confident that PHS can build on its effort in the counties as it looks to make a deep run in the state tourney.

“I think we have the potential to go very far this year and I am really excited about it,” said Deardorff.

“I just want to go in with a lot of confidence and do the best we can. I think that everybody needs to do their absolute best and do what we did coming into this.”

 

HOLDING THE FORT: Princeton High boys’ hockey goalie ­Sawyer Peck guards the net in a game earlier this season. Last Wednesday, freshman Peck make 35 saves to help PHS top Freehold 5-1. The Little Tigers, now 9-3-2, are slated to play at Jackson on February 7 and then face WW/P-N on February 10 at Mercer County Park.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HOLDING THE FORT: Princeton High boys’ hockey goalie ­Sawyer Peck guards the net in a game earlier this season. Last Wednesday, freshman Peck make 35 saves to help PHS top Freehold 5-1. The Little Tigers, now 9-3-2, are slated to play at Jackson on February 7 and then face WW/P-N on February 10 at Mercer County Park. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton High boys’ hockey team, getting outshot 36-19 last Wednesday by a Freehold High team that brought a 9-4-1 record into the contest at Baker Rink hardly seemed like a blueprint for success.

But with PHS freshman goalie Sawyer Peck producing his best game of the season with 35 saves and a balanced offense that featured four different goal scorers, the Little Tigers pulled away to a 5-1 win over the Patriots.

In the wake of his superb effort, Peck saw the evening as emblematic of why he thrives under the pressure that comes with playing goalie.

“I love having more responsibility; you can make or break some games,” said Peck. “It is hard mentally but it feels great when you have a game like this.”

While Freehold tried to break Peck down, he was up to the task. “They just tried to wear me down but our coach has put me through some tests to build some endurance,” said Peck.

In the second period, Peck was tested repeatedly as Freehold generated 15 shots and had a 5-on-3 power play in the waning minutes of the frame but was unable to find the back of the net.

“I was in a groove and I knew I really had to be on top of my game, especially when they got the 5-on-3,” said Peck, reflecting on the second period.

“I knew it was going to be pretty hard. It is always a momentum builder to stop those. That is where a team is most vulnerable and if we can still come through, that is a pretty big confidence booster.”

As Peck gets deeper into his debut campaign, he has gained more and more confidence.

“As a freshman, the coaches don’t have crazy expectations for me so they make me feel safe,” said Peck, who has been sharing time between the pipes with senior Robert Quinn.

“Our coaches have been working with me very, very hard. They have been working with everybody very hard. We do lots of skating at practice and lots of goalie drills.”

For Peck, being a goalie is something that is in his blood. “My dad played goalie in college and he wanted one of the sons to be a goalie like him and I guess I was the last one,” said Peck, whose oldest brother Griffin was a standout defenseman for PHS while his next oldest brother Kirby was a high-scoring forward.

“I started at around seven or eight years old. I played hybrid but by the time I hit middle school I went full on goalie.”

PHS first-year head coach Terence Miller saw Peck as the player of the game in the win over Freehold.

“As I told the team, Sawyer was by far the No. 1 star of the game,” said Miller, whose squad improved to 9-3-2 with the victory.

“He came up big for us. The turning point of the game, in my opinion, was the 5-on-3. Instead of the momentum shifting to them, we killed off the 5-on-3 and we killed off the 5-on-4 and we went into the locker room before the third, still up two. Our penalty kill came up huge tonight and Sawyer was the biggest part of that.”

In Miller’s view, Peck has been making big progress this winter.

“To come in as a freshman and play as well as he has speaks to his work ethic and his talent,” said Miller.

“He has been working on his stamina, getting  quicker and recovering a little faster off the initial shot. He has done a good job of that.”

The Little Tigers did a good job collectively in overcoming a tough Freehold squad.

“Freehold was a good team, that was one of the faster teams we have played all year,” said Miller.

“They play in a tough conference against some good shore teams and we knew it was going to be a tough battle tonight and I thought we answered the challenge well.”

PHS’s offensive balance was critical in the victory. “That is always a good sign when you get some depth scoring,” said Miller, who got two goals from Brendon McCormick with Connor McCormick, Spencer Reynolds, and Jackson Andres chipping in one apiece.

“I thought the goal to start the third period by Jackson was a big goal to push that lead out a little further.”

In addition to Peck, two other newcomers have helped bolster the Little Tigers around the blue line.

“I think the two freshmen defensemen, Tooker Callaway and Eamonn McDonald, have been holding their own,” said Miller, whose team is slated to play at Jackson on February 7 and then face WW/P-N on February 10 at Mercer County Park.

“They have been asked to carry a lot of the work load for us and they have done a nice job for us as freshmen, filling some big holes.”

Peck, for his part, is thrilled to be carrying on a family tradition by starring for PHS.

“When I watched my brothers, I thought I was ages away from playing,” said Peck, whose older sister, senior Merritt, plays for the PHS girls’ hockey team. “But now I am here and it feels incredible.”

 

TEARING IT UP: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Peter Mahotiere powers up the court in recent action. Last Thursday, senior forward Mahotiere scored 17 points to help PHS rally to a 69-59 win in overtime at Princeton Day School. The Little Tigers, who improved to 5-10 with a 69-53 victory over Hightstown last Friday, host Lawrence on February 8 before playing at Hamilton on February 11.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TEARING IT UP: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Peter Mahotiere powers up the court in recent action. Last Thursday, senior forward Mahotiere scored 17 points to help PHS rally to a 69-59 win in overtime at Princeton Day School. The Little Tigers, who improved to 5-10 with a 69-53 victory over Hightstown last Friday, host Lawrence on February 8 before playing at Hamilton on February 11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Peter Mahotiere and his teammates on the Princeton High boys’ basketball team weren’t fazed even though they trailed 20-6 at Princeton Day School last Thursday.

“We knew we couldn’t give up,” said senior forward Mahotiere. “Our fans were there and we knew we couldn’t disappoint them so we started playing like a team. We didn’t do one-on-one stuff, we did 5-on-5 basketball.”

PHS did claw back to knot the game at 38-38 in the third quarter only to fall behind 48-38 early in the fourth quarter.

Once again, the Little Tigers didn’t come apart. “We just banded together,” recalled Mahotiere.

“We were like OK, we need to rebound and box out and we can’t make a 15-point shot. We need to chip away, chip away and just keep on going.”

The teams went into overtime tied at 55-55 and PHS pulled away to a 69-59 triumph as Mahotiere took the team on his broad shoulders.

“I was just posting up and my teammates got me the ball,” said Mahotiere, who ended the evening with 17 points.

“They knew I had a mismatch and they wanted to utilize it. I just posted up, they got me the ball and I made post moves.”

After having lost close games to Notre Dame and Trenton in the last week before topping Hopewell Valley on January 28, the Little Tigers were hungry to make a statement.

“We are tired of close losses so we were like OK we are going to win now because we need a win and we are better than our record and we need to show it,” said Mahotiere.

“It is great to be close to good teams but a win is better and we are going to carry it over.”

Mahotiere aims to carry PHS, whether or not he is leading the offense. “I try to score but if I am not scoring, I don’t get down,” said Mahotiere. “I try to get rebounds. I try to get my team open shots. I try to get assists. I try to get us second, third, and fourth chance shots.”

PHS head coach Mark Shelley sees Mahotiere a vital cog for the PHS team.

“He is really a senior leader, I saw him this morning before our first exam and he just looked at me and said ‘I am ready,’” said Shelley.

“He doesn’t say a whole lot. Even when he is not scoring, he does so many other things. He hits the boards and he is tough for a big man to guard with the ball. He relieves pressure for our guards.”

PHS utilized Mahotiere’s inside presence to put the pressure on PDS in OT.

“Towards the end when they had some foul outs, they went with a real small lineup to try to spread the floor and try to beat our press,” said Shelley.

“We ran what we call thumbs down, it is basically our isolation set for our big man and we ran it four times in a row and I think Peter got one layup and he went to the line two other times. We said at beginning of overtime, we are fine, we have an advantage. I don’t think they can score enough to beat us and we are going to get Peter inside and the team agreed with that.”

Shelley likes the improvement he has seen from his players this season as they have bounced back from some tough losses.

“I am probably as proud of them as I have been of any team,” said Shelley, whose squad beat Hightstown 69-53 last Friday to improve to 5-10 as junior guard Kevin Kane led the way with 26 points.

“I’ve been fortunate through the years to have some really good teams and sometimes the most affirming are the ones that have struggled because you see the growth both individually and collectively. I feel like in the last week we have grown a lot; we played so well at Notre Dame and almost beat Trenton and really laid it on Hopewell in the second half.”

Coming across town to beat PDS was certainly an affirming experience for the Little Tigers.

“It is also important for these guys, no matter whether you win a state title or not, there are always one or two games you look back on as special,” said Shelley.

“These guys, may not appreciate it now but in five or 10 years this will be a game I think they will remember. I think as a coach that is what you want for them. You want a positive fulfilling athletic experience and this is part of that. It is a rivalry game and it was special to win.”

In Shelley’s view, the triumph should have plenty of impact on the short term as well.

“I think it means several things,” said Shelley, whose team hosts Lawrence on February 8 before playing at Hamilton on February 11.

“It continues to provide encouragement for their growth. They feel like what we are doing is working. It helps them trust each other and jell as a team. It gives us some important momentum. We feel like there were a lot of games that we should have won that we didn’t. We feel like we can beat anybody that we still play. We really believe that. We feel like if we play as a team, that will happen. We respect everybody we play because we certainly know that anybody can beat us.”

Mahotiere, for his part, is confident that some good things can happen as he wraps up his PHS career.

“There are eight seniors and I have been playing with all of them since sixth grade,” said Mahotiere.

“I want to end off with a bang, all of us do. I think we are going to start winning more games and even if we don’t make it to the playoffs, we are going to go out with a bang and do our best.”

 

With his Princeton High girls’ basketball team bringing a winless record into its game last Friday against Hightstown, Dan Van Hise threw down the gauntlet to his players.

“I went into the locker room before the game and said ‘girls this is it, I am expecting this one to be our first win,’” said first-year PHS head coach Van Hise.

“I don’t like to put pressure on them but I decided to handle this one differently.”

PHS handled the pressure with aplomb as it pulled out a 44-38 victory to get into the win column. Showing that nothing good comes easy, the Little Tigers had to hit six free throws in the last minute of regulation to overcome the Rams.

“We were up three in the last minute,” recalled Van Hise.

“Haley Bodden played great, she was rebounding well and playing aggressively. She got fouled and hit both to give us a five-point lead. They hit a 3-pointer and got within two. There were 25 seconds left and we knew they were going to foul and they fouled Catherine Curran-Groome and she hit two to put us up four. They missed a 3-pointer and Mary Sutton got fouled and hit two free throws to clinch it.”

For Van Hise, getting the first win as a head coach was a relief.

“I couldn’t take enough deep breaths and I could finally relax,” said Van Hise.

“You try and try and you get to finally exhale. Collectively we all could exhale. The girls were really excited.”

The girls actually helped Van Hise keep his cool in the frenetic waning moments of the contest.

“They were confident in the last minute, and they kept me calm,” said Van Hise, who got 12 points apiece in the victory from junior star Sutton and sophomore standout Julia Ryan.

“I was telling Clarence [assistant coach Clarence White] I didn’t think our first win would come in a close game in the last minute. I thought it would be a game that we won by 10 or 12. It was nice to see them hold it together and show that composure.”

A day later, the Little Tigers put together another nice effort as they gave perennial power Trenton a scare before losing 39-32 and dropping to 1-13.

“We should have won that game, we were up four points going into the fourth quarter,” said Van Hise.

“We had held them to 21 points through three quarters. We got in a lot of foul trouble in the fourth quarter. We have tried to play Bryanna Blue and Liz Jacobs together as much as we can and that was the best that they did together.”

Van Hise and his players are confident that their best basketball is ahead of them as the season heads into the homestretch.

“After the Hopewell loss [on January 28] I was searching for motivation and I told them we have seven games left and I asked them to write down on a piece of paper how many wins they thought we could get over the rest of the season,” said Van Hise, whose team plays at Princeton Day School on February 5 and at Nottingham on February 7 before hosting Hamilton on February 11.

“I told them to be realistic. I told them I would come up with the average number and that would be our goal. They came in at just below five so I made five the goal.”

 

LATE SHIFT: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey star Mary Travers skates up the ice in recent action. Last Wednesday, senior forward Travers scored a third period goal for PDS’s only tally in a 4-1 loss to the Portledge School (N.Y.). The Panthers, 9-5-1, play at Lansdale Catholic on February 5 and then host Princeton High on February 7.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LATE SHIFT: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey star Mary Travers skates up the ice in recent action. Last Wednesday, senior forward Travers scored a third period goal for PDS’s only tally in a 4-1 loss to the Portledge School (N.Y.). The Panthers, 9-5-1, play at Lansdale Catholic on February 5 and then host Princeton High on February 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Mary Travers realizes that her time on the ice is fleeting as the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team heads into the final weeks of the season.

PDS senior forward Travers, who will be playing field hockey at Tufts University this fall, is savoring her final weeks of ice hockey.

“It is different, not playing ice hockey is going to be so weird,” said Travers.

“I have been playing since I was four. I have been skating forever, much longer than field hockey. I am really trying to go into everything with the mentality that I only have x number of practices left so even if this practice is only a one-hour ice slot, it counts. I want to not only to do my best for myself but for my teammates who I care so much about and who support me so much.”

Travers and her teammates did their best last Wednesday as they hosted Portledge School (N.Y.). PDS trailed 1-0 after two periods and then fell behind 2-0 before Travers scored to make it 2-1 with 10:23 left in regulation.

While the Panthers put the pressure on Portledge, they couldn’t knot the contest and surrendered two late goals to fall 4-1 and drop to 9-5-1.

“We played completely with them; everyone stepped up,” said Travers.

“I was so proud of everyone; we were playing together and everyone was giving 110 percent.”

Coming into the third period, the Panthers were looking to play even harder.

“The message over the second period break was that everyone was giving 100 percent but there is always a little more to give,” said Travers.

After Portledge doubled its lead to 2-0, Travers found the back of the net on a power play.

“Our practice yesterday was basically all penalty kill, power play; that has been a big focus, knowing that if we can capitalize on the power plays we have a much better chance,” said Travers.

“They were definitely coming up on us. Normally, we try and do passes among Kristi [Serafin], Robin [Linzmayer], and I on the top to get them moving and draw them out but they were already up on us so those passes weren’t open. We have two great girls in front of the net in Emma and Mimi so if you can get a shot on net, you know they are going to be right there so that was what was I thinking.”

While PDS couldn’t get over the hump against Portledge last Wednesday, Travers is looking forward to having another shot at the Long Island team.

“We played the whole game and we finished it out so that is huge to me,” said Travers.

“Also we will play them in the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) tournament so we are focused on that right now. We have proved to ourselves that we can play with them.”

The infusion of some key newcomers has helped PDS play better this winter.

“I think with such a strong freshman class it has really helped; they bring so much to the team,” said Travers.

“They are all playing club and they push everyone else to be better, even the seniors. I see them doing really well and I got to hustle in practice. They contribute so much, I think that’s  a huge amount of our success.”

This fall, Travers will try to emulate those freshmen as she joins the Tufts field hockey program.

“I am excited to work towards earning a spot and show the Tufts team who I am,” said Travers.

“We all have quotes in front of our lockers this winter and mine is the ‘will to prepare is more important that the will to win.’ I think that is so true. I really have that mentality. You don’t have to be the most skilled player, you just have to work the hardest and give it your all and hustle. That is what you have to do. There are such skilled girls on that team. I don’t even know if I am going to see the field but I know how hard I am going to work.”

In the meantime, Travers is going to work her hardest for PDS this winter as she enjoys her final moments on ice.

 

ON POINT: Stuart Country Day School basketball star Harley Guzman lines up a shot in recent action. Last Friday, sophomore point guard Guzman scored 10 points to help Stuart top Villa Victoria 39-14. The Tartans, now 7-5, are slated to play at Hightstown on February 5 before hosting Kings Christian School on February 6. In addition, the Tartans will start play in the state Prep B tournament with a quarterfinal contest scheduled for February 9.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ON POINT: Stuart Country Day School basketball star Harley Guzman lines up a shot in recent action. Last Friday, sophomore point guard Guzman scored 10 points to help Stuart top Villa Victoria 39-14. The Tartans, now 7-5, are slated to play at Hightstown on February 5 before hosting Kings Christian School on February 6. In addition, the Tartans will start play in the state Prep B tournament with a quarterfinal contest scheduled for February 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Harley Guzman took some lumps last winter in her freshman season with the Stuart Country Day School basketball team as she assumed the point guard role.

“Last year, it was my first year playing on a high school team and it was really stressful, especially playing harder teams,” said Guzman.

After working on her ball-handling in the offseason, Guzman is feeling a comfort level this winter in running the Stuart offense.

“This year, I changed my mindset,” said Guzman. “I feel more confident with the ball this year.”

Last Friday, Guzman displayed her newfound confidence, starring as Stuart rolled to a 39-14 win over Villa Victoria.

“We just really knew what we were doing,” said Guzman. “Yesterday at practice we were really working on our plays and perfecting them so it really showed in tonight’s game.”

In addition to helping Stuart execute its plays, Guzman contributed 10 points, including two 3-pointers.

“That’s mostly due to the really good picks that my teammates were setting for me,” said Guzman. “They gave me a clear shot.”

Stuart head coach Dana Leary appreciated her team’s good effort against Villa Victoria as it improved to 7-5.

“I think we are really coming together as a team, offensively and defensively,” said Leary.

“The girls seem more confident when they are out on the court. We are executing and I would say that we are really progressing as team from the start of the season to now. You can definitely tell the difference.”

In Leary’s view, Guzman’s play has made a big difference for the Tartans.

“Harley really holds our team together offensively running the point,”

said Leary.

“That is a hard position and she is a leader on the floor for us. She is our floor leader. She has the ability to run the offense and hit big shots when we need them.”

Junior forward Harlyn Bell and senior center Maggie Walsh also made some big shots in the win over Villa Victoria.

“Harlyn is much more aggressive; she has been stepping up for us the last few games,” said Leary.

“She is looking to attack the basket more; she is looking for her shot. Maggie always works hard inside. Tonight she did a great job rebounding offensively with the put backs, following the shots.”

The team’s hard work collectively is paying dividends. “I am happy with our overall record,” said Leary, whose team is slated to play at Hightstown on February 5 before hosting Kings Christian School on February 6.

“As a team we are progressing. Next week we have three games and then Sunday we have the Prep B quarterfinals. We are just continuously preparing for the next game and what’s ahead of us.”

Guzman, for her part, sees good things ahead for the Tartans. “I just feel like we work better together,” said Guzman.

“Last year, we got frustrated more often. We are all friends here; we are more comfortable with each other. We are around the same age because we are a younger team.”

 

January 29, 2014
SOCHI EXPRESS: Jamie Greubel, left, pilots a bobsled in a recent World Cup race. Greubel, a 2002 Hun School alum, was named as one of the three bobsled drivers for the U.S. squad to compete in the upcoming 2104 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.(Photo by Charlie Booker, Courtesy of USA Bobsledding)

SOCHI EXPRESS: Jamie Greubel, left, pilots a bobsled in a recent World Cup race. Greubel, a 2002 Hun School alum, was named as one of the three bobsled drivers for the U.S. squad to compete in the upcoming 2104 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Charlie Booker, Courtesy of USA Bobsledding)

During the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, Jamie Greubel was on the outside looking in as an alternate brakeman for the U.S. women’s bobsledding team.

“The other alternates and I watched the split times from the Olympic Training center on Colorado Springs,” said Greubel, a former Hun School standout who went on to star at Cornell in track.

“That was disappointing but gave me more motivation. It was a stepping stone for me to get even more serous about doing what I need to do to get to the Olympics. It was special to be part of a national team in an Olympic year, being with the team every week, pushing, and traveling with them.”

Pushing hard over the last four years, Greubel, 30, has booked a spot in the upcoming Winter Games as she was named as one of the three bobsled drivers for the U.S. squad.

“I knew based on my world ranking that I was in a good position to make the team,” said Greubel, who is currently in third place in women’s bobsled standings.

“It was definitely a big relief to finally make the team. I have been in the sport for six years. It is incredible. I never thought I would come this far. It has been a lot of growth.”

Greubel’s growth into an Olympian started during her sports career at Hun.

“I played field hockey and did track at Hun,” recalled Greubel, a 2002 Hun alum. “I have always been very competitive. My experience at Hun gave me the motivation and skill to develop into an elite athlete at track.”

Hun assistant director of athletics Kathy Quirk remembers Greubel making a big impression on and off the field during her high school years.

“Jamie was a great kid and a determined athlete; she was always trying to better herself,” said Quirk.

“She was known as an all-around athlete. She was a good field hockey player. She was quick and had a lot of speed. Jamie was driven to do her best in whatever she did. She was a model scholar-athlete; she did very well academically.”

While Quirk saw greatness in Greubel, she is surprised to see her excelling in sledding.

“She was a D-I athlete; I never thought I would see her in the bobsled,” said Quirk,  noting that the two other Hun alums, star rowers Jason Read and Paul Teti, have also competed at the Olympics.

“It is a great honor for Hun and it is a great honor for her. I am looking forward to watching her at the Olympics.”

When Greubel thought of competing at the Olympics during her Cornell career, she hoped it would be in the Summer Games as she developed into a champion heptathlete.

“The coach at Cornell saw that I competed in a lot of events at Hun and that I had the potential to be good at the heptathlon,” said Greubel, who won four Ivy League Heptagonal championships and holds the school record in the heptathlon (outdoor) and pentathlon (indoor).

“It was very challenging to pick up. I made my biggest gains as a senior. I would do better at each competition; one meet my hurdles time would be better and the next meet it would be my shot put. I made it to the NCAAs. I didn’t have the outstanding performance that I wanted. I finished 13th and I was not satisfied with the result. I didn’t know how far I could go. I had only been doing it for four years. At the end of college, no one encouraged me to continue in the heptathlon.”

After graduating from Cornell in 2006, Greubel did get some encouragement to take up sledding.

“I was applying to grad school and one of my older teammates at Cornell who had joined the U.S. men’s bobsled team told me I would be a good fit for the women’s team,” said Greubel, who holds a masters’s degree in elementary education.

“I went to Lake Placid and did a training run. It was pretty shocking to my system. It was not the roller-coaster ride that I had imagined. I was still looking for a competitive outlet.”

Overcoming her initial fears, Greubel became a bobsled competitor. “One of the girls needed a brakeman and she asked me to come to Park City to compete with her,” said Greubel, who joined the U.S. bobsled team in the 2007-08 season.

“I got to go on a different course and I got to compete. It was really exciting; it brought in the competitive notion and I was hooked. I was encouraged; people were telling me that I could be good at this. It made me start thinking seriously about it and I decided to pursue it full time.”

Once she made that decision, Greubel faced a challenging road in mastering her new pursuit.

“It is hard picking up the sport late in life, plus I was paying for grad school and I had to pay to compete,” said Greubel, who has worked as a waitress to help finance her new passion.

“You don’t get expenses covered until you are on the national team and I had grad school debts. The speed I had from track helped. I had to gain 20 pounds to compete; that was a lot of weight to put on for a female and I had to buy a whole new wardrobe.”

After the Vancouver Games, Greubel took on a new role in the sport as she made the switch to driver from brakeman.

“I could take control of my destiny and be in control of the races,” said the 5’9, 170-pound Greubel in explaining the change of position.

“Being a brakeman helped my transition. There are so many things to know about the sport, it is quirky. You are the mechanics of your equipment. Being in the driver’s position gives a new perspective. You have more responsibility in the sled and for the team. You are financing your team.”

Injuring her knee in 2012 helped sharpen Greubel’s perspective. “That was a huge setback, I was making progress,” said Greubel, who was injured playing soccer during a team bonding exercise at a national team camp.

“It really made me think how bad I wanted it. Four months after the ACL, I went to Europe and competed. I had surgery in July and I was racing on November 14. I was learning the other courses. I am glad I did it. It was really important to get that experience.”

While Greubel doesn’t have as much experience as many of the other drivers, she has emerged as one of the top performers in her sport. “As a new driver, I have a steep learning curve,” said Greubel.

“I am in my third full season and some of the drivers are in their 13th season. We have such a competitive push. We have a sled project with BMW. We are up to date technically and competitive. Putting all those things together has been the recipe to success.”

The competitive Greubel is confident that she will experience success in Sochi.

“I like the course; it is definitely challenging; it is a good course for us because we get a strong start no matter who the brakeman is,” said Greubel, whose event is slated for February 18-19.

“There are three uphill sections that are tough for a drive. It is easy to get down but hard to go fast. We will have to try different lines. I am excited to go for a medal. I have been in the medal hunt every week in the world cup races. I feel strong about my chances. It is about being consistent and having consistent races. I am focusing on the present and enjoying this experience.”

PINNING IT DOWN: Princeton High wrestler Thomas Miers, right, takes control in a match earlier this season. Junior star Miers has emerged as a force this winter at 132 pounds, going 20-2 with six pins. This weekend, Miers will be looking to pick up more wins as PHS competes in the Mercer County Tournament at Robbinsville.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PINNING IT DOWN: Princeton High wrestler Thomas Miers, right, takes control in a match earlier this season. Junior star Miers has emerged as a force this winter at 132 pounds, going 20-2 with six pins. This weekend, Miers will be looking to pick up more wins as PHS competes in the Mercer County Tournament at Robbinsville. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Thomas Miers, attending the region wrestling championships at the end of his freshman season in 2012 left him imagining one day wearing the black Princeton High singlet in a postseason match with everything on the line.

“I remember going to the region tournament and thinking ‘wow some day I could be here, this is really exciting,” recalled Miers.

Miers was inspired to step up his training that summer ‘to just be like those guys’ and after an up-and-down sophomore season last winter, he has emerged as a force in the 132-pound weight class, compiling an outstanding 20-2 mark with six pins so far in the 2013-14 campaign.

Taking up wrestling in the fourth grade after deciding that he didn’t love basketball, Miers has developed a passion for his sport.

“During middle school, it was just something I did during the winter but once I got into high school it became more of a year-round thing,” said Miers.

At Princeton High, Miers burst onto the scene wrestling varsity as a freshman at 106 pounds, fighting his way to a respectable 11-16 record. After the season, PHS head coach Rashone Johnson gave his class the ‘Tiger Blueprint For Success,’ a list of team and individual goals that explains what you need to do to accomplish those goals.

Miers immediately took to the blueprint and set out on the course Johnson had intended when he developed the approach early in his coaching career, lifting and drilling three times a week and dedicating himself to the sport like never before.

But his summer workouts did not pay immediate dividends on the mat last winter, as Miers went 12-15 in his sophomore campaign.

“I thought I was a lot better than my record showed, it was a tough year,” said Miers, reflecting on the 2012-13 season.

Using the disappointing record as additional motivation, Miers entered last summer focused on making the jump from average to the elite. Along with the standard intense weight lifting program geared towards muscle endurance, Miers began a cardio program, running up to eight miles a day in the heat as he tried to improve his match stamina. He also honed his technique in tournaments at Rider University and in Monroe and North Hunterdon.

“Summer lifting was really tough, we had a circuit lift where we went from one exercise right to the next with very little break was tough, it strengthened us mentally knowing it was a hard lift but we had to push through it,” said Miers.

“That to me is what wrestling is; you just have to be more confident and more mentally tough to know that you can go out there on a mat and break a guy. When it’s a tight match, and you’re tired and he’s tired, and to know that you put in the extra work and you’re able to push through, it’s a big confidence booster.”

Miers credited the offseason work with giving him a new swagger on the mat. “All the preparation and drilling and weight lifting made me a lot more confident in what I was doing,” asserted Miers.

Opening the season with a loss, Miers has won 20 of his last 21 contests and is currently riding a 12-match win streak.

In Miers’ view, the key to his success this season has been his self-confidence and belief that he is better than his competitor along with the heavy dose of endurance training.

“Running definitely has helped a lot, I’m not getting as tired as I used to during the match,” said Miers.

Miers attributes the Little Tigers’ practice habits with giving him a boost, noting that the training is harder than the matches.

“Our warm-up during practice is a lot of sprinting and interval training; we definitely have some of the best conditioning in the county,” said Miers.

With the Mercer County Tournament taking place this weekend at Robbinsville, Miers is as focused as ever.

“My goal is to win it,” asserted Miers, referring to the county tournament which is slated for January 31-February 1. “I’ve trained hard, I think I have the ability to win some of those tight matches. I don’t think people are picking me to win the weight class.”

With PHS having gotten off to a promising 8-8 start in dual meet action, Miers believes the team can turn some heads at the counties.

“I think we’re capable of surprising some people,” said Miers. “We have a strong core group of wrestlers who are experienced and help out the younger and/or less experienced guys with just working on technique and trying to sharpen up their moves. We really need everyone to contribute.”

If he continues to rack up wins, Miers may finally find himself in regions with a chance to make a name for himself just as he dreamed nearly two years ago.

“If I can get in the region tournament, there’s no one who I’ll be afraid to wrestle, I think I can definitely do some damage,” said Miers. “Anything can happen in regions. I’ll be wrestling loose and wrestling confident, everything is up for grabs.”

Buoyed by his superb campaign, Miers is already thinking about what he wants to accomplish in his summer workouts.

“I want to up the ante by making this next summer more difficult; it’s going to be my last shot so I want to go all out,” maintained Miers.

“Lifting with Johnson three days a week, running was big time for me, to know I have the endurance to go out and compete with a guy whether it’s double overtime or triple overtime.”

Miers will be attending The College of New Jersey wrestling camp, hoping to meet stiff competition as he prepares for his final season.

“This summer, his mission has to be to find the best guys and beat them and just stick to the formula,” added PHS head coach Johnson, a former TCNJ standout.

As for his future, Miers is looking into wrestling in college. “I wouldn’t let it necessarily dictate where I went to college but if it helped me get a better education then I would certainly do it,” said Miers. “I have to decide over the next couple of months as I start to look at colleges.”

Johnson certainly believes his junior standout has what it takes to wrestle at the next level.

“Definitely, he has the right attitude that you need to make it,” said Johnson. “You have to be very self-motivated to succeed at the college level.”

But for now,  Miers wants to emulate the wrestlers he saw at regions as a freshman. “I want to be talked about by everyone in the wrestling community,” said Miers.

MERRITT SYSTEM: Princeton High girls’ hockey player Merritt Peck, right, battles for the puck. Last Friday, senior forward Peck and her classmates came through in the program’s annual Senior Night as PHS topped Academy of New Church (Pa.) 3-1. The Little Tigers, now 2-7, play  Pingry on January 29 at Baker Rink before playing Summit on February 1 at Bridgewater Arena.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MERRITT SYSTEM: Princeton High girls’ hockey player Merritt Peck, right, battles for the puck. Last Friday, senior forward Peck and her classmates came through in the program’s annual Senior Night as PHS topped Academy of New Church (Pa.) 3-1. The Little Tigers, now 2-7, play Pingry on January 29 at Baker Rink before playing Summit on February 1 at Bridgewater Arena. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Merritt Peck, hitting the ice at Baker Rink around dawn to practice with the Princeton High girls’ hockey team is a highlight of her day.

“There is a camaraderie about being the only people awake in Princeton at 4:30 in the morning,” said PHS senior forward Peck.

“We all go to breakfast after together; we have built a lot of friendships in the morning. There is something nice about practicing then rather than being after school when everyone is thinking about school. In the morning, all that matters is us.”

Last Friday, however, Peck came to Baker on the night shift and enjoyed a nice evening on the ice as the program held its annual Senior Night and PHS topped Academy of New Church (Pa.) 3-1.

“Right now, I am feeling great,” said Peck. “We had a lot of people come out to see us and we didn’t want to disappoint them. We also want to celebrate on this ice. We come here every day so early in the morning and it feels a lot better to be back here tonight and winning. It is worth it.”

The win in the Baker finale will leave Peck with one of her better PHS memories.

“It is pretty emotional,” said Peck, reflecting on the festivities which featured a pregame ceremony with the senior players and their parents and saw the rink decorated with posters of Peck and her six classmates taped to the glass across from PHS bench and a number of balloons hovering.

“It is exciting to get to say that I won my next to last game here. I am not going to have to look back and say we lost a close one. We won and we deserved to win.”

After having beaten ANC 4-2 on January 22, Peck and her teammates knew they were in for a battle in the rematch. The teams were knotted in a scoreless tie until senior star Lucy Herring found the back of the net with 2:40 left in the first period. Herring’s younger sister, freshman standout Maggie Herring, added a tally in both the second and third period to complete the scoring for the Little Tigers as they improved to 2-7.

“Once you get one, your momentum is really building up,” said Peck. “It also helped that they were getting very angry. A lot of times when people get angry, they lose control. We tried to keep it classy while they got angry. In the end, they were the ones getting the penalties and if we got angry back at them, it would only be hurting ourselves.”

In Peck’s view, the play of the Herring sisters gives PHS a big momentum boost. “I love playing with them; they have such a good dynamic,” said Peck.

“They love playing with each other. They get competitive with each other which is always good because they each want to beat each other but they also want to help each other. They celebrate so much together; their connections are always really clean and exciting.”

While PHS has struggled to get wins in recent years, that hasn’t dimmed the excitement for the players.

“Because we aren’t always expected to win, there is not as much pressure,” said Peck, who also plays field hockey for PHS and served as one of the team captains last fall.

“We are really having a good time and we are not worried about wow that was a really bad play. It is alright, on the next one we are going to get it.”

Peck has a good support network in older brothers Griffin and Kirby, who both starred for the PHS boys’ hockey team and are now at Boston College together.

“They are very excited for me whenever something like this happens,” said Peck, who is following her brothers to Boston College.

“They are really supportive. I always want to follow in their footsteps, so to speak. I like to be able to tell them that I won.”

PHS head coach Christian Herzog believes his senior class has set a really good example for the program’s younger players.

“They are a great group of girls; like they say, character is how you act when no one is watching and these girls have character,” said Herzog, whose group of seniors includes assistant captain Erin Forden, Bea Greenberg, Breanna Hegarty-Thorne, Molly O’Brien, captain Kate Sohn, and Oraya Zinder in addition to Peck.

“Day in, day out, they show up at practice. We take our defeats within the league but they are ready to come out the next day. They never make an excuse or say I don’t feel like coming to practice or we are going to lose again. I don’t have to deal with that type of attitude.”

The Little Tigers were ready to come out with a bang last Friday, lifted by a nice crowd turning up for Senior Night.

“It is the most well attended game of the year,” said Herzog. “We had a group over here and we had a crew of boys over there. We had the parents come and support us. It is good to see the kids in the program get supported by other people who don’t always come to hockey games.”

Herzog tipped his hat to the Herrings for giving the crowd plenty to cheer about.

“The Herring sisters feed off of each other; they almost have that telepathy or connection on the ice,” said Herzog.

“I would be lying if I said they don’t add a huge dynamic to the team. The team’s overall confidence increases when one of them scores. They are two of the fastest skaters on the team. They are close to being equal in terms of both of them having good hands. They both can shoot. It is just a matter of consistently hitting the net, the goals will come. They know that.”

Senior goalie Hegarty-Thorne had a good night in the net, holding ANC scoreless until giving up a goal with 6:22 left in the third period.

“We had a conversation the other day and I told her I need you to play really well and she said ‘yeah coach, feel free to pull me out if some weak goals go in, go for the win,’” said Herzog. “She is a team player. Somebody was watching over her because they had other opportunities, just like we did.”

With PHS hosting Pingry on January 29 at Baker Rink before playing Summit on February 1 at Bridgewater Arena, Herzog is hoping his team can build on the win over ANC.

“It is important in terms of trying to keep some momentum,” said Herzog.

“We have Pingry next Wednesday. I would like to see us have a better showing against them than the last time we played them.”

Peck, for her part, believes any more victories will be icing on the cake after Friday’s showing.

“Of course we would love to win more but we are not going to be disappointed in any way with how the season ends,” said Peck.

“If that doesn’t happen, we are completely satisfied with what has happened. At this point, we have had a lot of strong games and this will be all we need for the rest of the season if that is all we get.”