STEPPING FORWARD: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Dana Smith heads upfield in recent action. Last Saturday, junior star Smith contributed a goal as third-seeded PHS topped No. 14 Lawrence 19-2 in the first round of the Mercer County Tournament. The win lifted PHS to 12-2 as it advanced to host an MCT quarterfinal matchup against No. 6 Princeton Day School slated for May 7 with the winner advancing to the semis on May 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
Last fall, Dana Smith’s excellence at both ends of the field helped the Princeton High girls’ soccer team win the Central Jersey Group III sectional title.
This spring, junior Smith is assuming a similar role for the PHS girls’ lacrosse team, sparking the Little Tigers with savvy defense and some gritty play in the crease.
As third-seeded PHS hosted No. 14 Lawrence last Saturday in the first round of the Mercer County Tournament, Smith’s two-way prowess was on display. The speedy Smith raced up the field to score the first goal on the contest, picked up several ground balls, and helped PHS stymie the Cardinals on the way to a 19-2 win.
Afterward, Smith said she is relishing the chance to play a bigger role for the Little Tigers.
“This year I have been able to get on attack a lot more; I have always been on the defensive side,” said Smith.
“So now I get to move both ways, which has given me the opportunity to get to call plays, to lead plays, and to run through things. I am helping to organize everything; it is a really great position. I really enjoy working with our team since we have so many really talented underclassmen.”
Smith and her teammates enjoyed their MCT victory over the Cardinals. “Lawrence was actually our first game; it feels like our season has come full circle, seeing them again in the counties,” said Smith, reflecting on the win which lifted PHS to 12-2 as it advanced to host an MCT quarterfinal matchup against No. 6 Princeton Day School slated for May 7 with the winner advancing to the semis on May 9.
“So we knew the team and we were ready to perform against them. We have grown so much since that first game. We have learned new plays, new motions.”
PHS’s growth was demonstrated in the Lawrence game by its balanced attack as Gabrielle Gibbons, Oona Ryle, Liz Jacobs, and Emilia Lopez-Ona each scored three goals with Julia Ryan and Taylor Lis chipping in two apiece.
“We have really been working on getting every single player on the field to have their stick skills really sharp and really solid,” said Smith.
“We can trust everyone single player on our attack now. It is really great. It has helped us a lot with our recent success; we have been on a roll recently.”
For Smith, the time she has spent playing defense in soccer has helped her be more effective on attack in lacrosse.
“I play a very similar position in soccer actually,” said Smith. “I think with my experience as a defender I have seen a lot on attack. I watch a lot of attack so now I get to use what I have seen and observed. I get to step back and see where the ball should move next, see the cuts, see the field.”
Smith’s next stop in lacrosse will be Lafayette as she has already committed to play for the Leopards.
“I was looking to play lacrosse in college; I was looking at some great schools,” said Smith.
“Lafayette was the perfect fit for me, close to home, great athletics, and great academics. I really liked the team, the location is perfect. I am so excited to go there after finishing up this season and next season.”
PHS head coach Kelsey O’Gorman was excited to see her team go full throttle in the victory over Lawrence.
“Today was good because we kept our intensity the entire game,” said O’Gorman.
“In the past, when were up against Allentown and against North (WW/P-N), we let that drop and we let them come back and get the win. Coming out today and keeping that intensity up all over the field for the entire 50 minutes is what is going to make us one of the stronger teams.”
The Little Tigers showed its strong depth on Saturday. “We got to try some new plays and some new concepts and strategies,” noted O’Gorman.
“We were able to just seal the deal and make everyone feel confident, comfortable, and involved. We did have quite a few players involved; everyone stepped up today.”
Involving more players has helped team chemistry. “The biggest thing is team bonding,” asserted O’Gorman.
“We hold the rope for each other. We make up for each other’s errors. As a whole, everyone leaves with a smile on their face. That’s what we want. We learned from our two losses. I think that sometimes losing in the beginning of the season is what you need. You bounce back from it.”
Talking about Smith’s impact puts a smile on O’Gorman’s face. “She is a really a strong asset for the team,” said O’Gorman.
“We have her on attack, we have her on defense, running both sides of the field. She is quick, she hustles to every ball. She is feisty. She is respectful, composed, and very reliable. She will definitely pull a player aside and she knows how to verbalize in a direct manner that isn’t offensive.”
With PHS looking at the possibility of seeing No. 3 WW/P-N in the county semis and top-seeded Allentown in the finals, O’Gorman believes her players will be ready to attack if they get that chance.
“I know those losses are something that is going to fuel us,” said O’Gorman, whose team fell 11-10 to WW/P-N on April 8 and 13-11 to Allentown on April 16.
“You can see that. We just want to see them again. These girls always want to be in competition with those teams. We just know that it is going to be exciting if and when we get to those games.”
Smith, for her part, is confident that the Little Tigers can compete with anybody if they stick to their game.
“We really have to focus on staying strong on our basics, catching, throwing, and running with the ball,” said Smith.
“We need to work on being really solid and keeping our heads; not getting too frazzled or confused because that is when we have problems holding on to the ball. We just need to keep each other up and stick together as a team. We want to be patient, we want to move the ball, we want to spread the field and that goes back to us being able to trust every single player on the field.”