May 28, 2014
GIFT OF GAB: Princeton High girls‘ lacrosse player Gabby ­Gibbons, left, gets by a foe in a game earlier this season. Last Thursday, junior star Gibbons and senior standout Emilia ­Lopez-Ona each had five goals as third-seeded PHS topped second-seeded Clearview 17-11 in the Group III South sectional semis to improve to 17-3 and book a spot in the title game on May 28 at No. 1 Moorestown (22-0).(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GIFT OF GAB: Princeton High girls‘ lacrosse player Gabby ­Gibbons, left, gets by a foe in a game earlier this season. Last Thursday, junior star Gibbons and senior standout Emilia ­Lopez-Ona each had five goals as third-seeded PHS topped second-seeded Clearview 17-11 in the Group III South sectional semis to improve to 17-3 and book a spot in the title game on May 28 at No. 1 Moorestown (22-0). (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team trailed Kingsway 2-0 early in the Group III South sectional quarters last week, Gabby Gibbons wasn’t worried.

“I knew that we would come together, we usually do,” said PHS junior star Gibbons.

“It was a slow start but once we got going, I think we just overpowered them.”

Indeed, the third-seeded Little Tigers went on an 8-1 run that turned a 4-3 deficit into an 11-5 halftime lead over No. 6 Kingsway in the May 20 contest.

Gibbons, for her part, scored three goals in that run, including the 100th of her career.

“It was really exciting,” said Gibbons, reflecting on her milestone goals, which prompted her teammates to wave posters honoring Gibbons for her achievement.

“I couldn’t do it without my teammates obviously, they play a huge role in everything.”

Everything went well for PHS in the second half as it rolled to a 16-10 triumph.

“I like the way we ended and how everyone stepped up and contributed,” said Gibbons.

“We had a lot of our sophomores, like Allie Callaway and Julia Ryan, who really stepped up and did a good job. We had the usual contributors like Liz [Jacobs] and Emilia [Lopez-Ona].”

Two days later, the Little Tigers stepped up again, posting a 17-11 win at second-seeded Clearview in the sectional semis to book a spot in the title game on May 28 at No. 1 Moorestown.

In Gibbons’ view, strength at both ends of the field has helped make PHS a title contender.

“I think it is really good because we don’t have one person scoring all the goals,” asserted Gibbons.

“We have a bunch of people who can contribute to the offense. The defense played awesome as well, they have come together so much. Mira [Shane] is fabulous in goal.”

Gibbons has gone out of her way to contribute more all over the field.

“I have been trying to do a little bit of everything,” said Gibbons, who has committed to join the Virginia Commonwealth University women’s lacrosse program and has been playing on two club teams over the last few years to hone her skills.

“I feed a lot. I have been trying to go to goal but also ride and trying to play defense.”

PHS head coach Kelsey O’Gorman appreciates Gibbons’ growth as a player. “Gabby has really been a huge asset in our offense this year,” said O’Gorman,

“She is a triple threat. She is a feeder, she can dodge well and she can shoot phenomenally. She has really matured throughout the years and especially this season. She is going more on defense this year now too. She is a well rounded player.”

Another player who made history for PHS in the win over Kingsbury was senior star and Dartmouth-bound Liz Jacobs.

“Liz also had her 200th goal so it was a milestone game,” said O’Gorman. “Liz’s shot is just unstoppable; she has more power than any high school player I have seen. She is a powerhouse attacker, she is able to execute and she is able to find the open space in the net today.”

With PHS having learned from the experience of falling to Mendham in the sectional final last year, O’Gorman believes her squad, now 17-3, has what it takes to give perennial powerhouse Moorestown (22-0) a battle.

“I think each game we have shown that we can rise to the level of the other team,” said O’Gorman.

“Kingsway was a great opponent today. It just shows you the level of intensity that each team is bringing to the state tournament. It is what we expected and it is a great ride so far for Princeton.”

In Gibbons’ view, that ride could end with a sectional title. “I think we can go one step further,” said Gibbons. “I think we are really playing as a team and I think everyone is just doing terrific.”

ACTION JACKSON: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse player ­Jackson Andres races upfield in recent action. The play of junior defender Andres was a source of strength for PHS this spring as it went 16-4. The Little Tigers ended their season last Thursday when fourth-seeded PHS fell 10-8 at top-seeded Shawnee in the  Group III South sectional semifinal.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ACTION JACKSON: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse player ­Jackson Andres races upfield in recent action. The play of junior defender Andres was a source of strength for PHS this spring as it went 16-4. The Little Tigers ended their season last Thursday when fourth-seeded PHS fell 10-8 at top-seeded Shawnee in the Group III South sectional semifinal. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After falling 10-8 at Shawnee High in the state Group III South sectional semifinals last Thursday, the players on the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team trudged disconsolately across the field to their bus.

As they neared the visiting stands, the PHS parents and supporters who made the trek to the contest gave them an ovation, prompting waves from the players and even a few smiles.

PHS head coach Peter Stanton certainly felt that his squad deserved a hand. “You look at Shawnee and the athletes they have on that team; they were South Jersey Group IV football champions, which is extremely competitive,” said Stanton.

“Their coach told me that pretty much every kid on that team plays both sports so that is a team loaded with big, fast, strong, athletic kids that are good lacrosse players. I think we gave that team everything they could handle. I think that team is really happy that they advanced today.”

Showing no fear, the fourth-seeded Little Tigers came out firing against the top-seeded Renegades, jumping out to a 3-0 lead. Shawnee stormed back with six unanswered goals and then the Little Tigers made it a 6-4 on a goal by senior star Matt Purdy.

Moments later, thunder rumbled in the distance and the game was delayed. After the teams came back, Kevin Halliday scored for the Little Tigers to narrow the gap to 6-5.

There was a second delay and then the game resumed without interruption. Unaffected by the stoppages, PHS got goals from Rory Helstrom and Halliday to take a 7-6 lead with 1:17 left in the third quarter.

Shawnee reeled off four straight goals to seize momentum but the Little Tigers never stopped fighting. Purdy tallied with 1:14 left to make it 10-8 and PHS forced a turnover with 39.3 seconds left. Stanton called a timeout to set up a play but the Little Tigers were unable to find the back of the net as their season ended.

Stanton, for his part, was emotionally spent in the wake of the tough loss. “When a game like that is over, I don’t have the emotions because I am just so pumped on adrenaline from being in a battle,” said Stanton, who got four goals from Halliday in the defeat with Purdy adding two and Rory Helstrom and Joe Hawes adding one apiece.

“Tonight when I go home, it is damn, our time with these kids is over and we’ll feel a lot of sadness.”

The Little Tigers, though, have a lot to be proud of as they produced another stellar campaign.

“You look at how much courage and heart our players showed,” said Stanton, whose team ended with a final record of 16-4.

“We don’t have the numbers and we have played a really long stretch of lacrosse going back to the beginning of the Mercer County Tournament. We played Saturday, Tuesday, and Thursday, and then played Saturday, Tuesday, and Thursday in the states. We are extremely proud of what we accomplished this season to be back-to-back county champions and to advance to play a likely group champion.”

The team’s seniors certainly handled themselves like champions. “It starts with what they did in the offseason as far as preparation,” said Stanton, whose group of seniors included Adam Durner, Zeid Hashem, Patrick McCormick, Warren Santoro, Dalton Sekelsky, Matt Corrado, along with Halliday and Purdy.

“They worked in the summer, they worked in the weight room. They really mentor the younger players. They set the example of how to practice. They set the example of how to play and they set the example of how to lose. They played a great game and they are proud of themselves. I know that in 15-20 years, these guys will be close friends.”

If the team’s returning players can follow the example of the seniors, PHS should remain in the championship mix.

“You love the young kids,” said Stanton. “This is a team of overachievers. These young guys have the role models and the template of how we do it.”

FORESIGHT: Princeton High boys’ tennis player Lucas Mitchell eyes the ball as he hits a forehand in recent action. Mitchell and Zach Hojelbane posted a win at first doubles as third-seeded PHS fell 3-2 to second-seeded and eventual champion Wall Township in the Group III Central Jersey sectional semifinals.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FORESIGHT: Princeton High boys’ tennis player Lucas Mitchell eyes the ball as he hits a forehand in recent action. Mitchell and Zach Hojelbane posted a win at first doubles as third-seeded PHS fell 3-2 to second-seeded and eventual champion Wall Township in the Group III Central Jersey sectional semifinals. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Although the Princeton High boys’ tennis team was seeded third in the state Group III Central Jersey sectional tourney, PHS proved it was a championship caliber squad.

The Little Tigers defeated top-seeded Hopewell Valley 4-1 in a regular season match made up during the tournament and then fell 3-2 to second-seeded and eventual champion Wall Township in a sectional semi that came down to the third set of the second doubles flight.

PHS head coach Christian Herzog was proud of the way his team battled in the loss with Wall, getting wins at third singles from junior Adib Zaidi and at first doubles from the pair of senior Zach Hojelbane and sophomore Lucas Mitchell.

“It was a close match,” said Herzog. “Adib had a really big match; he muscled through some illness and beat an intimidating player. The guys with Wall play with a lot of passion, they are loud and boisterous on the court. My guys knew that going into the match. Our first doubles crushed them.”

With PHS standing at 13-3 after a 5-0 win over Steinert last Wednesday, Herzog is happy with the way his guys have played this spring.

“I think we responded well to our situation in the county tournament,” said Herzog, whose team competed at the county tournament without an injured Zaidi and still finished fourth.

“We won the matches we were expected to win. No one expects us to beat South (WW/P-S). If we had Tyler (second singles player Tyler Hack), I think we could have beaten North (WW/P-N).”

Herzog credited seniors Zack Kleiman and Hojelbane with providing the veteran guidance he expected from them.

“They were strong leaders in terms of keeping the team motivated and focused,” said Herzog.

“They were able to have a good time and some laughs and then bear down and be serious when necessary. They were class acts and good kids.”

Kleiman helped the team bear down before its match against HoVal. “Kleiman gave a heartfelt talk, explaining why that rivalry was important,” recalled Herzog.

“He talked about how it had been going back and forth the last few years and they hadn’t always given us respect. I said that I didn’t have anything to add, he said it all. We went out and beat them 4-1; I was disappointed that we didn’t win 5-0.”

With most of its starting lineup returning, PHS is in position to add to its winning tradition.

“We have five of seven coming back and Andrew Lin was a varsity swing player and competed in MCT and played five or six matches,” said Herzog.

Herzog, for his part, enjoyed getting the team to compete its hardest in his first season at the helm of the team.

“You have to have vision for the whole program,” said Herzog. “You have
to keep the varsity players consistent and help
them get through the big matches.”

HIGH INTENSITY: Cody Triolo warms up before a game this spring in his freshman season for the Lehigh University men’s lacrosse team. Former Princeton Day School standout Triolo made five appearances this spring as a reserve midfielder for the Mountain Hawks.(Photo Courtesy of Lehigh’s Office of Athletic Communications)

HIGH INTENSITY: Cody Triolo warms up before a game this spring in his freshman season for the Lehigh University men’s lacrosse team. Former Princeton Day School standout Triolo made five appearances this spring as a reserve midfielder for the Mountain Hawks. (Photo Courtesy of Lehigh’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Cody Triolo drew plenty of attention when he made his debut this spring for the Lehigh University men’s lacrosse team.

“The first time I handled the ball, Bucknell was trying to get the ball back and I was triple-teamed right away,” said Triolo, a former Princeton Day School standout and reserve freshman midfielder at Lehigh whose first appearance came in the team’s sixth game this spring. “I was able to get out of it.”

While Triolo ended up getting in five games over the course of the spring, he got a lot out of his first campaign at the college level.

“The whole year has been awesome,” said Triolo. “My arsenal of shots and lax IQ have improved. I gained a lot from watching. I was a catalyst in high school, it was cool to take on a different role. Throughout the games, you feel you are part of something larger.”

For Triolo, the fall ball phase of the season helped him gain confidence that he could compete at the college level.

“It is your first taste of college lacrosse,” said Triolo, a two-time first-team All-Prep B performer during his stellar PDS career.

“It is what you have been working for since you got into the recruiting process. The game is so much faster, the players are bigger, stronger, and faster. It was a ton of fun, getting used to the speed of the game was the biggest challenge. I felt very confident after the fall; it showed me what I needed to work on.”

Heading into the regular season, Triolo worked on both the physical and mental aspects of the game.

“I hit the weights pretty hard and worked on being a dual threat with both hands; I was working a lot on my right hand,” said the 5’8, 170-pound Triolo.

“We started preseason practices in mid-January; we condition pretty hard. We started right away with 2-a-days. Fall ball was a time for working on things; it was more competitive in the preseason, guys were going harder and faster. After the fall, it was making the consistent plays and making the right decisions. I saw that the guys on the field were the ones that made plays consistently. The college game is more meticulous; it requires a high lax IQ.”

Once preseason practices started in mid-January, Triolo tried to make a daily impression on the Leigh coaches. “I worked on the scout offense in practice, we ran the opposing team’s offense and that was a lot of fun,” said Triolo.

“You are out there in practice giving 100 percent. The biggest way to get into the games is playing well in practice.”

One of the more fun experiences of Triolo’s freshman year came when Lehigh played at Princeton on April 8.

“That was an awesome game, it was cool to be back,” said Triolo.

“I remember as a kid, going to games there so that was special. A lot of my buddies were there. Most of my high school team found their way there.”

As the season went on, Triolo found a comfort level on the field. “I was really nervous for Bucknell; I got in pretty early against Yale and the nerves weren’t as bad,” said Triolo, who ended up with three shots in his five appearances this spring.

“You are on the field two hours a day so you have the skill set to play. I had two shots against Lafayette; I did a left-handed dodge.”

While Lehigh didn’t cash in on its shot to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA as it fell to Loyola 16-7 in the Patriot League championship game, Triolo is proud of how the team played in posting a final record of 13-5.

“We had good wins against Navy and Army,” said Triolo, referring to the team’s victories in the Patriot semis and quarters.

“We felt really confident going into the Loyola game. We didn’t put in our best effort. It was definitely a quality season. We have a band of brothers, giving 100 percent all the time; there is nothing to be ashamed about.”

That feeling of brotherhood permeated Triolo’s Lehigh experience on and off the field.

“The team really is a family, we hang out all the time; my absolute boys are in my recruiting class,” said Triolo, who did well in the classroom where he is studying engineering.

“The senior class did a great job of welcoming us, they had some funny and great relationships with the freshmen.”

As Triolo looks ahead to his sophomore season, he is determined to make a greater contribution on the field for the Mountain Hawks.

“I do want to get more playing time and have a bigger role; I have to elevate everything I do to a whole new level,” said Triolo, who is planning to play in a men’s league in Robbinsville this summer and take part in the War at the Shore tourney with some Lehigh teammates.

“I need to get stronger and faster and work on my shooting and my decision-making. The game experience will definitely help.”

CORE CONTRIBUTOR: Princeton Day School boys’ tennis player Anupreeth Coramutla follows through on a shot in recent action. Last week, freshman Coramutla placed second in first singles to help PDS win the state Prep B tournament.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CORE CONTRIBUTOR: Princeton Day School boys’ tennis player Anupreeth Coramutla follows through on a shot in recent action. Last week, freshman Coramutla placed second in first singles to help PDS win the state Prep B tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

A year ago, the Princeton Day School boys’ tennis team jumped into first place the first day of the state Prep B tournament only to come back to the pack to end up in a three-way tie for the title.

Sharing the crown with Pennington and Montclair Kimberley Academy left PDS head coach Will Asch feeling disappointed.

“I think sharing the title in most years is just as nice as winning it alone but it didn’t feel that way last year,” said Asch. “We had a big lead after the first day and we lost some tough matches in the finals.”

Last week, PDS didn’t leave anything to chance in the 2014 Prep B tourney, winning nine of 10 matches on the first day to clinch the title before the finals were even played.

The Panthers saw freshman Anupreeth Coramutla advance to final in first singles with senior Neeraj Devulapalli and sophomore Scott Altmeyer following suit at second and third singles, respectively. The second doubles team of  seniors Hari Rajagopalan and Andy Erickson also made it to the finals.

In reflecting on his team’s performance, Asch acknowledged that he was expecting a much closer fight.

“On paper we looked like the best team; we knew we were better than Pennington, we had beaten them twice pretty easily,” said Asch, who got wins from Devulapalli and Altmeyer in the finals to end up with 11 points with MKA second with six and Gill St. Bernard’s third at four.

“MKA is usually very strong but I was talking to their coach and he said a couple of their seniors had not come out and they were in a down year. We all had strong teams but there wasn’t a dominant team. We had a few close wins on Sunday that could have gone either way.”

Seeing veteran star Devulapalli end his career with a title was a highlight for Asch.

“Neeraj played well; he had a tough second set on Tuesday and I was happy to help him work through it,” said Asch.

“He was down 4-3 and won 6-4. He didn’t have his best stuff but sometimes you have to win when you don’t have your best stuff. He was really dominant in his first and second matches. His forehand was working. His pet shot is a crosscourt forehand and it is a great weapon for him.”

The renaissance of Altmeyer at third singles was heartening. “Scott was one of the top ranked players in the middle states in the 12-and-under but he had some injury problems and got away from the game,” said Asch.

“He has gotten back into it. He loves to compete. He is relentless on the court, he just goes and goes. He plays fast; his matches are over while other guys are still in the first set.”

At first singles, Coramutla displayed his competitive drive. “Anupreeth didn’t play well in his first match on Sunday,” said Asch.

“In his second match, he had to play the No. 2 seed, Pete Daly, who everyone was saying was so good. Anupreeth blew him away. It was one of his days, he was doing everything we had practiced. Progress in tennis at a high level is not quick but he seemed to have incredible improvement. He was serving well and making all of his shots. He just couldn’t beat Jerry in the finals.”

The second doubles team of Rajagopalan and Erickson proved to be the X-factor for the Panthers.

“The second doubles was a real surprise in the Prep B,” said Asch. “They came from behind in the first round to beat Gill. Getting two wins from them really helped us stand out. We ended up winning nine of 10 matches on the first day and clinched the title. If they had lost in the first round, that would have put us at seven and a good team like Gill could have had two more wins.”

In Asch’s view, the team’s success was forged through its spirited training sessions.

“I think we have been having really good practices,” said Asch. “It was great having three singles players who were very competitive and enjoyed playing with each other. We had two very good doubles teams and they were able to practice a lot against each other.”

All in all, it was an enjoyable spring for the Panthers. “It was a great year all around,” said Asch, noting that assistant coach Ed Tseng also played a key role. “They were great kids, we had a lot of success and a lot of fun.”

May 21, 2014
ENDING WITH A BANG: Mike Olentine unloads the ball this spring in his final season with the Dartmouth College men’s lacrosse team. Former Princeton High standout Olentine ended his college career with a bang, scoring a program record 10 goals as Dartmouth topped Holy Cross 17-13 in its season finale on April 29. Attackman Olentine was Dartmouth’s top scorer this season with 28 points on 21 goals and seven assists and ended up with 58 points in his career as he totaled 43 goals and 15 assists.(Photo by John and Matt Risely/Dartmouth Athletics)

ENDING WITH A BANG: Mike Olentine unloads the ball this spring in his final season with the Dartmouth College men’s lacrosse team. Former Princeton High standout Olentine ended his college career with a bang, scoring a program record 10 goals as Dartmouth topped Holy Cross 17-13 in its season finale on April 29. Attackman Olentine was Dartmouth’s top scorer this season with 28 points on 21 goals and seven assists and ended up with 58 points in his career as he totaled 43 goals and 15 assists. (Photo by John and Matt Risely/Dartmouth Athletics)

As Mike Olentine took the field for the final game of his career with the Dartmouth College men’s lacrosse program, he was focused on team goals.

“Before the game, the seniors came together as a group,” said Olentine, a former Princeton High football and lax star reflecting on Dartmouth’s finale against Holy Cross on April 29.

“We knew we were going to play most of the game and we really wanted to get a win.”

But within a 1:28 span of the first quarter, Olentine scored three goals and realized that he was in a zone.

“I was moving a lot off the ball and my teammates were finding me,” said the wiry 5’11, 160-pound attackman whose previous single-game high was three goals. “My shooting hasn’t been the greatest this spring but the shots were falling.”

By halftime, Olentine had five goals and he wasn’t about to stop firing away.

“I knew I was scoring a lot of goals,” said Olentine.

“Holy Cross had some good players so I knew I had to keep scoring goals to help us win.”

In the fourth quarter, Olentine realized he had the chance to make some history.

“When I had eight there was a timeout and someone whispered to me that I was one away from the school record,” recalled Olentine. “I kept scoring.”

Olentine ended up adding two more tallies in the last 3:36 of regulation to set a program record of 10 goals and while he was thrilled to hit double figures, the deeper satisfaction came from the fact that Dartmouth prevailed 17-12.

“It was definitely a great end to a career without any regrets; I am ready to move on,” said Olentine.

“The most fun thing about the experience was having happy teammates going out with a win and going out with my classmates that way.”

Coming into his senior year, Olentine knew that he had to use his experience to help the team.

“Going through the fall and heading into the preseason, I realized that I was one of the only players who had a lot of game experience,” said Olentine.

“I was going to play on an attack line with two freshmen and we had a lot of freshmen and sophomores in the midfield. I wanted to be more of a vocal leader and lead on the field. In the past, I was more focused on my game.”

Dartmouth entered the spring with a lot of confidence despite its group of callow players.

“I think even though we had a fairly young team, we had high expectations,” said Olentine.

“We had a lot of hope going into the season. We wanted to qualify for the Ivy League tournament and then win two games.”

Starting the season with an 18-5 loss to North Carolina got Dartmouth headed in the wrong direction.

“I think it was tough going down to North Carolina, they had two games under their belt and they were a strong team,” said Olentine.

“We had some injuries in the preseason which held us back. We didn’t find our groove early on.”

After defeating Sacred Heart 14-10 on March 1, the Big Green lost eight straight, including all six of its Ivy contests.

“Penn State was really strong, they had the third top scorer in the country and one of our defensive guys held him down; we were in that game almost the whole way,” said Olentine, reflecting on the 10-6 defeat to the Nittany Lions on March 18 which started the losing streak.

“We had tough games against Harvard and Cornell; we didn’t play a full 60 minutes.”

Dartmouth did play a full 60 minutes in a 13-10 defeat at Princeton on April 12, pushing the Tigers to the final whistle.

“I was really looking forward to going home; it is fun playing against Princeton,” said Olentine, who scored three goals in the 2013 meeting between the rivals as Dartmouth pulled off a 10-9 upset.

“I watched them a lot when I was a kid. They had a really strong offensive team and our defense had a solid game. We were trading goals with them. I had a goal; that was great.”

The Big Green lost 9-3 to Penn and 12-8 to Brown as they played out the string before the ending the season against Holy Cross.

“Once we were mathematically eliminated from the Ivy League tournament, it was about trying to build going into the next season and sending the seniors out on a high,” said Olentine, who was Dartmouth’s top scorer this season with 28 points on 21 goals and seven assists and ended up with 58 points in his career as he totaled 43 goals and 15 assists.

For Olentine, his Dartmouth experience has helped him be a high achiever on and off the field.

“I have enjoyed every part of my four years, I made best friends that I will have for the rest of my life,” said Olentine, who was named to the New England Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (NEILA) Senior Scholar Academic All-Region Team and will be working as a trader for the Gelber Group in Chicago after graduation.

“Playing D-1 sports is like taking a couple of extra courses; you have something to do everyday. It helped me develop a work ethic, manage my time, and I met some wonderful people along the way.”

BANNER DAY: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse star Kevin Halliday heads to goal last week in action in the Mercer County Tournament. Senior midfielder Halliday came through in the clutch to help fourth-seeded PHS edge second-seeded Allentown 11-10 in overtime in the MCT championship game last Thursday. Halliday scored the game-tying goal with 4.1 seconds in regulation and then notched the decisive tally 10 seconds into overtime as PHS earned its second straight MCT title.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BANNER DAY: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse star Kevin Halliday heads to goal last week in action in the Mercer County Tournament. Senior midfielder Halliday came through in the clutch to help fourth-seeded PHS edge second-seeded Allentown 11-10 in overtime in the MCT championship game last Thursday. Halliday scored the game-tying goal with 4.1 seconds in regulation and then notched the decisive tally 10 seconds into overtime as PHS earned its second straight MCT title. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Kevin Halliday believed the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team was in good shape as it clung to a 9-7 lead over Allentown with three minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Mercer County Tournament championship game last Thursday.

“All year long we have been pretty good at holding the ball in our box when the game is on the line and it is winding down,” said PHS senior star midfielder Halliday.

But with the Little Tigers minutes away from clinching a second straight MCT title, things went awry. “We made a couple of mistakes and they made some great plays,” said Halliday.

Indeed, the Redbirds reeled off three straight goals, the last one coming with 14.1 seconds in regulation, prompting celebration on the Allentown sideline as victory seemed imminent with a 10-9 lead and only a few ticks remaining in the clock.

As Halliday lined up for the last face-off of regulation, he had a vision. “When I came over to the wing, I was like oh god if I could get a goal right here, it would be a highlight play,” recalled Halliday.

The ball came to Halliday’s side and he scooped it up and sprinted to the goal and made the highlight play he envisioned, burying the ball in the back of the net with 4.1 seconds left to knot the game at 10-10 and force overtime.

“I wasn’t expecting it to happen; it bounced out and I got the ball,” said a smiling Halliday.

“There was one guy, I saw the time and I thought it is now or never. I went to the goal and luckily I was able to get by the other guy and get it in the net.”

Moments later, Halliday got another good bounce as he gathered in the ball on the overtime faceoff and fired in the game-winning tally 10 seconds into the extra session.

“The coach said ‘Kevin be a ballhawk, find the ball,’” said Halliday, who had four goals and an assist in the contest.

“I wasn’t expecting to find the ball in front of the net with no one on me but I got it and I am a senior captain and I have got to make that shot.”

Making that shot set off a raucous celebration as the Little Tigers basked in the glow of their second straight MCT crown.

“It is huge for this team and it is huge for this program,” said Halliday, reflecting on the title repeat.

“Before last year, we hadn’t had a Mercer County championship under our belt and we felt like we always had the talent and finally we just got it going. It feels really great to be part of this team.”

In Halliday’s view, PHS’s special unity has helped make it a championship team.

“Our coach (PHS head coach Peter Stanton) has been saying all year that this is one of the best teams he has coached,” said Halliday, who also stars at soccer and will be playing that sport for the Tufts University men’s program starting this fall.

“We are so close; in every practice, everyone is working together. It is competitive; defense versus offense but it’s all good.”

PHS head coach Stanton cited his team’s ability to work through adversity as a key to overcoming Allentown.

“We learned it from the South game (a 10-9 overtime win against WW/P-S in the first round of the MCT), keeping an emotional balance so if a bad play happens, have one bad play and then turn around and have an excellent one,” said Stanton.

“So today there were a lot of times where we had a lead and we could have been saying we got this game and then they came back. We stayed present the whole game and that is a credit to our boys being able to listen what I ask them to do and then do it.”

The squad’s combination of offensive balance and rugged defense has helped the Little Tigers stay at the front of the pack in the county.

“Kevin made the heroic plays today but it is our whole team,” said Stanton, who got three goals from senior Matt Purdy in the win over Allentown with freshman Johnny Lopez-Ona chipping in two goals and three assists and senior Matt Corrado contributing two goals and two assists.

“In the Hopewell game (a 7-3 win over Hopewell Valley in the MCT semis), afterwards we talked about who was the star of that game and we said nobody was great. Our team played great in that whole game and there is nothing more exciting than when a team shares a huge victory.”

Stanton pointed the leadership of Halliday and his fellow seniors as playing a great role in establishing the team chemistry.

“We have been praising them all season long,” said Stanton, whose Class of 2014 included Adam Durner, Zeid Hashem, quad-captain Patrick McCormick, Warren Santoro, Dalton Sekelsky along with captains Purdy, Corrado, and Halliday.

“Nobody outworks those guys. They are phenomenal at supporting the younger players; they are phenomenal at supporting each other. We always talk about let’s be the team that people want to be on and they make it a team you want to be on. We have fun. We have dance contests; we sit around and watch videos together.”

The Little Tigers are looking to have some more fun in the state tournament where they have been seeded fourth in the Group III South sectional.

“That’s the thing about this time of the year, you would like a little time to just sit down and say this is great,” said Stanton, whose team topped 13th-seeded Hightstown 9-5 last Saturday in its state opener to improve to 15-3 and was slated to host No. 5 Lacey in a quarterfinal contest on May 20 with the winner advancing to the semis on May 22.

“This is a major goal for them and they will have an opportunity to enjoy it and hopefully quickly set their sights on the next goal.”

Halliday, for his part, is looking forward to going after the goal of a state crown.

“We have some pretty tough competitors in the states,” said Halliday, who helped the PHS boys’ soccer team to a pair of state Group III titles.

“Shawnee (the top-seeded team in the sectional) is a great team. We saw them last year and lost in a close game and we are hoping to see them again on their turf and seeing what we can do. My experience in lacrosse and soccer is that when you do well in the counties, you get a big boost going into the states.”

GOLD STANDARD: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse goalie Kenan Glasgold makes a save against Hopewell Valley last week in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals. Junior Glasgold made nine saves in the May 13 contest as fourth-seeded PHS won 7-3 over the top-seeded Bulldogs. Two days later, Glasgold had five saves as PHS edged second-seeded Allentown 11-10 in overtime to win its second straight MCT title.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GOLD STANDARD: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse goalie Kenan Glasgold makes a save against Hopewell Valley last week in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals. Junior Glasgold made nine saves in the May 13 contest as fourth-seeded PHS won 7-3 over the top-seeded Bulldogs. Two days later, Glasgold had five saves as PHS edged second-seeded Allentown 11-10 in overtime to win its second straight MCT title. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Knowing that he had a chance to be the starting goalie this spring for the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team Kenan Glasgold put his nose to the grindstone over the offseason.

“I just worked a lot privately with guys, getting guys to shoot on me,” said junior Glasgold.

“I also worked with Brad Conlon, the Princeton goalie coach, over the fall, it was one-on-one training.”

While Glasgold’s diligence paid off as he earned the starting role this spring, it took him a while to develop a comfort level in the crease.

“I was really nervous,” said Glasgold. “My teammates were giving me confidence and I was getting better every game. Our first WW/P-S game (a 10-2 win on March 29) was a good game for me.”

Last week, Glasgold showed why he has earned the confidence of his teammates, making nine saves as fourth-seeded PHS stifled top-seeded Hopewell Valley 7-3 in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals.

In avenging a 10-9 regular season defeat to the Bulldogs, Glasgold spearheaded a stingy PHS defense that held HoVal scoreless in the second half, seizing control of the May 13 contest that was deadlocked 3-3 at halftime.

Glasgold credited the work of the Little Tiger defenders in reflecting on the team’s win.

“That is the best defense I have ever seen, I don’t know what we would have done without them,” said Glasgold, citing the play of Colin Buckley, Jackson Andres, and Joe Hawes.

“We gained momentum because they weren’t scoring and then we scored. It was the most beautiful game of lacrosse I have seen us play, better than the win over Christian Brothers (a 14-5 win on April 25).”

The Little Tigers were determined to play better than they had in their first meeting with HoVal.

“We just had to add more depth, and get more people in,” said Glasgold, who came up with some big stops on Thursday as PHS edged second-seeded Allentown 11-10 in overtime to win its second straight MCT crown. “We also had to want it more; it is all about wanting it.”

PHS head coach Peter Stanton likes what Glasgold had added to the team this spring.

“Kenan has been playing this game as a goalie for less than two seasons; he shouldn’t be that good,” said Stanton. “He worked hard with coach Conlon; they studied tapes.”

In the win over HoVal, Glasgold was particularly good on stopping point blank shots.

“That’s what we have worked on a lot, all you can do there is buy time,” explained Stanton.

“We have said to Kenan it is not your responsibility to prevent every goal. We want you to save the ones you should make and if you can buy a little time, it works to your favor and the shooter’s disadvantage. Sometimes the goalie will rush but he has learned how to be patient.”

Glasgold, for his part, has also learned to keep a clear head when he is under the gun.

“I don’t really know, I just go blank,” said Glasgold, in discussing his flair for making dramatic saves. “There is nothing really to think about.”

And with Glasgold emerging as a star goalie, PHS doesn’t have to think twice about its last line of defense.

SEEING RED: Hun School boys’ lacrosse player Owen Black gets stymied by a Lawrenceville defender last Monday in the state Prep A championship game. Sophomore Black had a goal in a losing cause as Hun fell 11-6 to the Big Red. The Raiders ended the season with a 13-7 record.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SEEING RED: Hun School boys’ lacrosse player Owen Black gets stymied by a Lawrenceville defender last Monday in the state Prep A championship game. Sophomore Black had a goal in a losing cause as Hun fell 11-6 to the Big Red. The Raiders ended the season with a 13-7 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Over the final 36 minutes of the state Prep A boys’ lacrosse title game last Monday, second-seeded Hun School battled the top-seeded and perennial champion Lawrenceville School to a 5-5 stalemate.

Unfortunately for Hun, though, it dug a 6-1 hole in the first quarter which proved insurmountable as host Lawrenceville prevailed 11-6 to win its 13th straight Prep A crown.

Hun head coach M.V. Whitlow acknowledged the his squad was doomed by its rough start.

“I definitely felt like we didn’t play our best lacrosse in the first half but a lot of that you have to attribute to Lawrenceville and how well their players came out and played,” said Whitlow, whose team posted a final record of 13-7.

“It was a tough way for us to end the season. I do think we got some good play from a few guys but collectively, whether it was the magnitude of the game or the youth of our team, we didn’t play our best lacrosse today. I have a lot of respect for the Lawrenceville program and certainly their players.”

In Whitlow’s view, his team is entitled to respect for the way it battled to the final whistle.

“We played better in the second half, I think we settled down,” said Whitlow, who got three goals from Drake Roy in the loss with Cole West, Corey Reynolds, and Owen Black chipping in one goal apiece.

“We started doing the little things and a lot of these guys haven’t been in a game of this magnitude so in a lot of ways, it was a good learning experience for them.”

With Hun having fallen 17-6 to Lawrenceville in the 2013 Prep A title contest, Whitlow believes his program is catching up to the Big Red.

“I think on the scoreboard it is narrowed a little bit,” said Whitlow.

“I think the level at which they graduate and the level at which we graduate indicates that we have closed the gap a little bit. They are a great program with great players and it is going to take a heroic effort by somebody to knock them off and not let them get 14 championships in a row.”

Hun received a heroic effort from its senior class this spring. “I am real proud of my senior class; Cam Dudeck was a real leader and Matt Bruno was an unsung hero for us all season long,” said Whitlow, whose Class of 2014 also included James Jannicelli, Chas Goulburn, Michael McKeon, and Reynolds.

The Raiders boast plenty of class in such returning players as Jon Levine Tucker Stevenson, Alex Semler, Michael McMenamin, Christopher Fake, Brendan Black, and Owen Black along with Roy and West.

“We have a lot of great young kids and they’ll come back stronger from this and they’ll go right back to work and get ready for next year,” said Whitlow.

“They are young men of character from great families and I know that they will bounce back from this. I think they are a little embarrassed right now because I think they know they can play a little bit better.”

In Whitlow’s view, his players need to fine-tune things just a little bit to become champions.

“It is just how hard you have to work and how high a level of composure you  have to have to really compete at the highest level, not just in the offseason, but actually on the field,” said Whitlow.

“They need to learn the level of focus and execution that it takes to create victory in a game of this magnitude.”

IN POSITION: Hun School softball player Vicky Leach gets ready for a play in a game this spring. Junior second baseman Leach helped solidify the Hun infield this season as the Raiders went 9-8 and advanced to the state Prep A semifinals.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

IN POSITION: Hun School softball player Vicky Leach gets ready for a play in a game this spring. Junior second baseman Leach helped solidify the Hun infield this season as the Raiders went 9-8 and advanced to the state Prep A semifinals. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When her Hun School softball team headed to the Blair Academy last week in the state Prep A semifinals, Kathy Quirk was prepared for a nailbiter.

“I thought we were ready,” said longtime Hun head coach Quirk. “I was hoping we were going to win the game but I felt even if we lost, it would be a close game.”

In the early going, Hun followed that script. The Raiders jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. After Blair responded with three runs in the bottom of the first, Hun pushed across a run in the top of the third to make it a 3-2 contest. Blair responded with two runs in the bottom of third but then the Raiders added another run to narrow the gap to 5-3.

In the bottom of sixth, though, Blair broke open the game with six runs and pulled away to a 12-5 victory.

The defeat to the Buccaneers, who went on to beat Peddie to take the Prep A crown, left Hun with a final record of 9-8 and Quirk with mixed emotions.

“From where we were at the beginning of the season with new people here or there and only one returning infielder, we did well,” said Quirk.

“It was just disappointing to end the season the way we did. We fell apart in the sixth inning.”

Quirk liked the way her players handled things over the course of the season.

“It was a great bunch of girls to coach and just a good group of girls,” said Quirk. “They competed hard and stayed together as a team.”

Hun’s quartet of seniors, Alexa Fares, Kristen Manochio, Lauren Moonan, and Kameran McNair, helped hold the team together.

“When I think of Alexis and Kristen, I will remember that they didn’t miss a practice or a game in four years, you don’t see that often,” said Quirk.

“Lauren came to us as a sophomore and it was the same thing with her. Kam always did whatever I asked of her. She was a back-up first basemen and designated hitter and this year she was the starter at first and pitched for us at the end. The other three seniors were regulars most of their careers but Kam really came into her own this season. I am really going to miss her. She is going to Sarah Lawrence and I hope she plays softball there.”

Hun had some younger players who came up big, including freshman catcher Julie Fassl, junior second baseman Vicky Leach, and junior shortstop Julia Blake.

“Fassl really stepped up, she was the only player in our lineup who didn’t have a strikeout this year,” said Quirk. “Leach did a really good job at second. Blake did a great job all year.”

Quirk believes her returning players can do some great things in the future.

“I am excited about the group that we have coming back,” said Quirk. “We have to work hard and learn from our mistakes to put us back on top. We have some new kids coming in and I think we can come on strong next year.”

REACHING OUT: Princeton Day School softball player Kate Fleming reaches for a throw in recent action. Senior first baseman Fleming had a double and an RBI last Wednesday as PDS fell to Trenton 12-3 on the program’s annual Senior Day.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

REACHING OUT: Princeton Day School softball player Kate Fleming reaches for a throw in recent action. Senior first baseman Fleming had a double and an RBI last Wednesday as PDS fell to Trenton 12-3 on the program’s annual Senior Day. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Kate Fleming, playing on the Princeton Day School softball team over the last four years has been a true labor of love.

Fleming and fellow seniors Dina Alter, Jessica Toltzis, and Tess Zahn, didn’t go into each spring with visions of titles.

Instead, they simply tried to keep the program afloat as the team struggled to attract enough players to compete.

“Jess, Tess, Dina, and I all love playing softball; we have all played travel,” said Fleming.

“We always wanted to play and it was great to be able to field teams all the years, even when we thought we weren’t going to have one. Last year, in particular, was really, really tough.”

Last Wednesday, the quartet of classmates got some love as they were honored on Senior Day before the Panthers played Trenton with PDS athletics director Tim Williams and head coach Paul Lano extolling them for sticking things out.

“It was just so nice, we four seniors have had a tough round,” said Fleming. “When we were coming up, we always had to work to get nine players so it was really nice to have a ceremony and have Tim Williams recognize us for it and coach Lano. We loved having him as a coach. It was nice to just hear how he feels about us.”

The seniors’ efforts to promote the program has paid off as this year’s roster totals 14 players.

“This is one of our first years where we have more than one sub,” said Fleming.

“We are so happy because we are able to have extra people on the team. Practices are more fun; we can do more things in practice, which is great. There are so many underclassmen too; it is really great because they will come up in the program and be able to bring the new incoming classes in to our program. I am really excited about that.”

Fleming and her classmates have enjoyed acting as mentors for their younger teammates.

“It has just been a great experience just teaching the younger players because all four of us have had that role,” added Fleming.

“We haven’t been a very advanced team so it’s been fun to really get to know the underclassmen and be able to teach them.”

In the game against Trenton, the Panthers displayed what they have learned as the game was tied at 3-3 going into the sixth inning before the Tornadoes pulled away to a 12-3 win. Fleming crushed a double to the left field fence in the first inning and had an RBI in the fifth to help spark PDS.

“That was probably my biggest hit of the season,” said Fleming, referring to her two-bagger.

“We played awesome today, this is one of the best games we have played. I am just really happy that everyone was on task and everyone’s head was in the game today.”

PDS head coach Lano was thrilled to see Fleming get some big hits against Trenton. “I am happy for her, she is so deserving,” said Lano.

“Tess and Jess were the hit leaders for this team and Kate would fall in right behind them to a degree. Kate was building and building, she was a great defensive player. She would always give quality at-bats. I am just so happy that she got to see what it feels like to hit a couple of bombs.”

Fleming’s heroics were contagious as the Panthers put together a couple of rallies to scratch out their three runs.

“The younger players are all starting to hit and to make contact and that breeds confidence,” said Lano.

“Once you start doing things well that you don’t expect, then you start to become a little more confident and that is what excited me. Everyone was hitting and we had opportunities. In the first couple of innings it was fun to realize it was within reach.”

Lano realizes how much his seniors have given of themselves to help the team’s younger players. “It is the sacrifice that they made that chokes me up, to be honest,” said Lano.

“They have given up a lot of their practice time to provide help and instruction and things for the newcomers and the players who were not as gifted as they were. We knew we had something in the beginning of the year and I think that is why the seniors made that special effort, especially this year. That sacrifice is not common in athletics.”

That sacrifice has laid the foundation for PDS to prosper going forward.

“That is something we all can be proud of but that is their legacy and that is what they are leaving behind,” asserted Lano, whose team fell to Morrisville on Thursday to end the spring at 0-9.

“It is because of their work that they have put in that this program is going to shine. It is going to have even better days that they didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy. That is what it is all about, planting the seeds and they did that, they were part of it.”

Fleming, for her part, believes the program can grow into something special. “I am really happy that we all stuck it out, the four of us,” said Fleming.

“I just appreciate everyone who stuck it out and kept playing with us, even the girls who stepped in last year and this year who have never played before. It is just awesome to see that and hopefully we can continue that in the upcoming years.”

May 14, 2014
TUCK AND RUN: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse player Jonah Tuckman scoops up a ground ball last Monday as PDS hosted Rutgers Prep in the state Prep B championship game. Sophomore midfielder Tuckman contributed three goals and two assist as Panthers edged the Argonauts 10-8 to win their first Prep B crown since 1996.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TUCK AND RUN: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse player Jonah Tuckman scoops up a ground ball last Monday as PDS hosted Rutgers Prep in the state Prep B championship game. Sophomore midfielder Tuckman contributed three goals and two assist as Panthers edged the Argonauts 10-8 to win their first Prep B crown since 1996. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

On one hand, the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team was bitterly disappointed by its 5-4 loss to Notre Dame last Saturday in the quarterfinals of the Mercer County Tournament.

But that defeat sowed the seeds for a memorable effort two days later as PDS edged perennial power Rutgers Prep 10-8 last Monday in the state Prep B championship game.

Senior goalie and tri-captain Culver Duquette said the Panthers were on a mission as they hit the turf at Jan Baker Field last Monday.

“Coming off of Saturday against Notre Dame, the first thing that coach D’Andrea (assistant coach Rich D’Andrea) said was that this game would define this team, not our season, it would show who we are as people,” said Duquette, noting that Rutgers Prep had routed PDS 16-3 in the 2013 Prep B final. “To recuperate and bring it all together for a game like this was just a treat.”

PDS head coach Rob Tuckman, who was guiding the squad for the final time after announcing his retirement from coaching last fall, saw a special sense of urgency in his players.

“They were hyped up for it, especially coming off of Saturday,” said Tuckman, whose team ended the spring with a 13-3 record. “It made it all about just this game and they were able to really focus on it.”

The Panthers didn’t waste any time showing their focus on Monday, jumping out to a 5-1 lead over Rutgers Prep.

“That was great; throughout the season we haven’t really been a first half team and we really brought it this time,” said sophomore midfielder Jonah Tuckman, the head coach’s son.

Early in the second half, though, Rutgers Prep brought out its firepower, tying the game at 5-5 with 11:05 remaining in the third quarter.

“They have got a lot of talent but we have been preaching all season long that it is game of peaks and valleys,” said the younger Tuckman.

“It was one of our valleys and they took a peak and we just knew that we had to respond in the same way and we did.”

PDS responded with a barrage of goals, producing a decisive 5-1 run to grab a 10-6 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

“I think we knew we could do it so we got out there and just played with confidence and never doubted ourselves at any point,” noted Tuckman. “Our defense was putting up stops and our offense was putting the ball in the net.”

Tuckman put three balls in the back of the net himself and assisted on a fourth goal in the run.

“It was absolutely due to my teammates,” said Tuckman, reflecting on his outburst. “They happened to get me the ball and I finished it. They were just creating opportunities and I was happy to finish them.”

Duquette and the defense had to hold the fort at the finish, thwarting a furious Rutgers Prep rally.

“This whole year, any time the other team has gotten momentum it is about how we answer,” said Duquette. “Our defense has been key for that, they make my job as easy as possible. I just clean things up.”

As the final whistle blew, the PDS players all threw their gloves and sticks in the air and sprinted to mob Duquette in front of the goal.

In the view of head coach Tuckman, accomplishing the goal of a state title was sweet.

“We have been knocking on the door and this is a big one for us,” said Tuckman, reflecting on the program’s first Prep B title since 1996. “The program has been building and building.”

Building strength at both ends of the field helped the Panthers become a championship squad.

“The defense has really been the foundation of this team and it is fitting that at the end of this game, the defense had to make a hold and they did and that is what they have done all season long,” said Tuckman, who is handing the coaching reins to D’Andrea, a former star goalie at Georgetown.

“We are a six-man team on offense and we have been all season long. They didn’t focus on one, it was a team effort. Every game we had five, six, or seven scorers. I have six kids with double-digit scoring for the season.”

Duquette, for his part, credits the team’s youthful core with maturing quickly.

“We are a young team and the younger kids are stepping up,” said Duquette, reflecting on the day which saw sophomore Tuckman, freshman Will Brossman and junior Jacob Shavel all tally three goals with sophomore Connor Fletcher chipping in a goal and two assists.

“The first thing we said is that the younger kids had to understand that they could step up and have an impact right away in this program. You see that today, all of our goals are scored by juniors, sophomores, and freshmen.”

The PDS seniors made an impact by keeping the team on an even keel.  “After last season and losing some of our best players because it was a great senior class, we said that nothing changes this year and that we can go further,” said Duquette, whose fellow captains are classmates Lewie Blackburn and Ben Levine with Gabe Castagna, Zack Banks, Nelson Garrymore, and Connor Bitterman rounding out the squad’s Class of 2014. “We proved that today.”

The younger Tuckman and the underclassmen were determined to stop at nothing to earn the title.

“We wanted to go out with a bang; these seniors have meant a lot to us and we wanted to give them something to remember,” said Tuckman.

“It is huge, not just for my dad, but the team hasn’t won in forever. It was great to finally get one. Timing is everything.”

For Tuckman’s dad, the win on Monday was something he will never forget.

“It is wonderful,” said Tuckman, with his voice cracking and his clothes soaked after having the water bucket dumped on him by his players in the raucous postgame celebration. “It is a great way to end my career as a head coach.”

FIGHTING SPIRIT: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Dana Smith races upfield last Saturday in the Mercer County Tournament championship game. Senior midfielder Smith chipped in an assist as third-seeded PHS fell 13-11 to top-seeded and defending champion WW/P-N. The Little Tigers, now 14-3, will start play in the state tournament where they are seeded third in the Group III South section and will host No. 14 Jackson Liberty on May 15 in a first round contest.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FIGHTING SPIRIT: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Dana Smith races upfield last Saturday in the Mercer County Tournament championship game. Senior midfielder Smith chipped in an assist as third-seeded PHS fell 13-11 to top-seeded and defending champion WW/P-N. The Little Tigers, now 14-3, will start play in the state tournament where they are seeded third in the Group III South section and will host No. 14 Jackson Liberty on May 15 in a first round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team trailed WW/P-N by four goals with 1:38 remaining in the Mercer County Tournament championship game last Saturday, Dana Smith wasn’t about to throw in the towel.

Fighting for the draw after the Little Tigers narrowed the gap to 13-9, PHS senior midfielder and Lafayette-bound Smith scooped up the ball and raced through and around two WW/P-N defenders to set up a possession that led to a goal by classmate Emilia Lopez-Ona.

The third-seeded Little Tigers added another tally with 12.7 seconds left but time ran out for them as they fell 13-11 to top-seeded and defending champion WW/P-N.

“We never put our heads down,” said Smith, reflecting on the late rally. “We never quit, that was our goal for this game. No matter what, we were going to fight until the end.”

In Smith’s view, fighting to the end was a reflection of PHS’s growth over the spring.

“I think when we started off the season, we sometimes got very frantic,” said Smith.

“We threw the ball away a lot and caused a lot of turnovers. I was very proud of how the team did today, really controlling those turnovers. We barely lost the ball on attack and that was one of our goals.”

Smith was proud of the brand of lacrosse the Little Tigers displayed against WW/P-N.

“We were playing well as a team; Liz Jacobs and Emilia Lopez-Ona were really connecting,” added Smith, reflecting on the setback which dropped PHS to 14-3.

“Gabby Gibbons was awesome coming around the cage. Mira was great in goal. Our juniors are looking so great. Our sophomores, Taylor Lis and Julia Ryan, have stepped up so much.”

As a senior co-captain and battle-tested veteran, Smith seeks to lead by word and deed.

“I like to play on both sides of the field, I like to be in it on both ends,” said Smith, who had an assist in the title game.

“We have so many younger players that it is nice to be a senior. We have eight seniors so we have really great leadership. It is really awesome to be part of that and be able to guide the underclassmen and to work with coach [Kelsey] O’Gorman to really help raise the level of every single person on this team.”

With PHS getting seeded third in the upcoming state Group III South sectional, Smith believes that competing against the likes of WW/P-N will help raise the level of the Little Tigers’ game.

“We are going to face some really tough competition states and North is a great squad so that is really good practice for how the competition is going to be in Group III South,” said Smith, who will look to get PHS back on the winning track as it hosts 14th-seeded Jackson Liberty in the opening round of the sectional on May 15.

“In games like this, we had to learn how to play under pressure. In those last two minutes, the draws were so tight and we had to learn to come up with those 50/50 balls and fight through every single ground ball and make those clutch shots at the end and that’s really important. Being able to keep our calm even when we are down and the clock is running out.”

PHS head coach Kelsey O’Gorman was proud of the way her team fought to the final whistle in the loss.

“I think we showed our true character and what we are capable of as a team,” said O’Gorman.

“You really can’t count us out. If you gave us two more minutes on the clock, we would have won this game. I was proud that they were able to translate what we talked about in the timeout on to the field in the last two minutes because I think that really shows the true content of a team. I was proud that they left it all on the field today and you can see everyone is leaving saying we gave it our all.”

O’Gorman credited Smith and her classmates with showing character. “Our senior leadership is phenomenal and they know how to take charge,” said O’Gorman, whose group of seniors includes Liz Jacobs, Emily Young, Krysta Holman, Stephanie Hauer, Kristi DeMilt, and Taylor Chiang in addition to Smith and Lopez-Ona. “They know how to help the younger players step up in these types of games.”

Making a run to the county title game should help the Little Tigers step up in the state tourney.

“We ended at the county semifinal game last year so having this game instead of watching in the stands was a great opportunity,” said O’Gorman.

“It was definitely great competition today. I think it does come down to the little things. North played a tremendous game and they did a lot of those little things right. We had a ball out of bounds, a missed draw, an uncontested ground ball and things like that came down to them being on top. It was a great game, we can clean up those things and bring it into the state tournament for our section.”

Smith, for her part, vows that PHS will compete to the end. “We are never going to give up in the state tournament,” asserted Smith.

“It has been four years, I love this team so much. None of us want the season to end so we are going to take it as long as possible. I would love to be playing at the end of May.”

IRISH DANCE: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse senior star Liz Jacobs, center, celebrates with Gabby Gibbons, right, and Allie Callaway after a PHS goal. Last Thursday, the Dartmouth-bound Jacobs exploded for five goals and an assist to help the Little Tigers top Notre Dame 19-9 in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals, avenging a 15-10 regular season loss to the Irish.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

IRISH DANCE: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse senior star Liz Jacobs, center, celebrates with Gabby Gibbons, right, and Allie Callaway after a PHS goal. Last Thursday, the Dartmouth-bound Jacobs exploded for five goals and an assist to help the Little Tigers top Notre Dame 19-9 in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals, avenging a 15-10 regular season loss to the Irish. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Liz Jacobs was held without a goal as the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team fell to Notre Dame 15-10 in early April.

When the rivals met again last Thursday in the semifinals of the Mercer County Tournament, PHS senior star and Dartmouth-bound Jacobs sensed that things were going to come out differently in the rematch.

“It was early in the season and obviously they are a great team,” said Jacobs. “I think throughout the season, we have been jelling a little bit more. I think we always end up doing well at the end of the season.”

After falling behind 3-2 in the MCT contest, which was played at Hightstown High, third-seeded PHS started doing very well as it reeled off seven unanswered goals against the No. 3 Irish to seize momentum. Jacobs spearheaded the 7-0 run, tallying the first three goals, two of them on assists by junior Gabby Gibbons.

“We just picked up a lot of momentum in the transition; we were all making great connections in the midfield,” said Jacobs.

“Gabby had an awesome game and it seemed like we clicked; that was nice. We were all looking for each other.”

The Little Tigers never looked back, pulling away to a 19-9 win over the Irish.

“We just needed to regain control; brush off the last three minutes of the first half and just stay strong and keep persevering,” said Jacobs, who ended up with five goals and an assist in the victory.

“I think a few goals at the beginning of the half definitely helped get us into our groove. I think once we relaxed a little bit as a team, we started playing our game.”

While PHS didn’t quite find its groove on Saturday as it fell 13-11 to WW/P-N in the MCT title game, Jacobs believes the team can end things with a bang as it competes in the state tournament.

“It has been a long four years and we all want to end this on a good note,” said Jacobs of the Little Tigers, who are seeded third in the Group III south sectionals and will host No. 14 Jackson Liberty on May 15 in a first round contest.

“We seem to be coming together a little bit more than we have in the past. We were just on the same page today which was really nice.”

Although the Princeton High golf team finished in the middle of the pack at the Mercer County Tournament last week, Sheryl Severance liked the way her squad competed.

“They played well,” said longtime PHS head coach Severance, whose team placed ninth of 15 schools at the MCT, which was played on May 6 at Mountain View.

“The girls were a little disappointed that they had to play back, they were hitting long shots all day. The boys were happy; they played their games.”

Building on that effort, PHS finished the week with two encouraging wins, topping Hightstown 217-224 on Wednesday and defeating Lawrence 217-235 a day later.

“We hit our low for the season at 217 two matches in a row,” said Severance, whose team defeated Hamilton 232-291 last Monday to improve to 8-7 in dual match action this season.

Senior standout Laura Burke led the way for the Little Tigers in the victories last week, carding a 39 against Hightstown and a 38 against Lawrence.

“Consistency is her strength,” said Severance of Burke, who will be playing in the state girls’ tournament on May 22.

“Her approach shots are right on so that keeps her putts to a minimum. She drives it right down the middle, she spends matches walking down the fairway.”

PHS is also getting good play from two other female players in senior Diane Karloff and freshman Kelly Qiu.

“Diane is playing well; she had a 40 against Hightstown, that is her lowest round in four years and she was really excited,” said Severance.

“Kelly is a freshman and I am excited about her. She doesn’t hit a long ball but she hits it straight. Her chipping and putting are very accurate. She is going to be like Laura when she is older.”

Severance is excited by the progress made this spring by junior Max Rodewald and sophomore Andrew Huang.

“Max Rodewald is playing well; it is his first year with us,” said Severance. “He had a 42 in the win over Lawrence. Andrew Huang started out a little rough this spring; he was away on an orchestra trip and was a little out of synch. He is playing better. He wasn’t hitting well with his driver and that was getting him in trouble. Now he is hitting better with his driver.”

The trio of senior Paul Murray, junior Max Tarter, and freshman Joseph Phelan have also experienced some highs this season.

“Paul Murray is up and down; he has had some nice scores and some rounds in the 50s,” said Severance, whose team will wrap up the regular season by hosting Notre Dame on May 14.

“Max Tarter has had some rounds in the 40s. Joseph Phelan is a freshman and whenever I need a sixth player, I pick him right away. He is consistently between 45-50.”

With a lineup including three seniors in Burke, Karloff, and Murray, Severance believes the program is heading in the right direction.

“We’ll be fine; we will miss Laura at top of lineup and Paul and Diane have been constants in our top 5,” said Severance. “I told the younger players that they are going to have to step up more next year.”

QUICK REID: Princeton High baseball player John Reid slides into second base in recent action. Junior outfielder Reid’s solid play this spring has helped PHS qualify for the upcoming state tournament. The Little Tigers, who improved to 7-11 with a 6-2 win over Notre Dame last Monday, are slated to play at Hamilton on May 15 and at Ewing on May 16 before hosting Trenton on May 17 and Hopewell Valley on May 20.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

QUICK REID: Princeton High baseball player John Reid slides into second base in recent action. Junior outfielder Reid’s solid play this spring has helped PHS qualify for the upcoming state tournament. The Little Tigers, who improved to 7-11 with a 6-2 win over Notre Dame last Monday, are slated to play at Hamilton on May 15 and at Ewing on May 16 before hosting Trenton on May 17 and Hopewell Valley on May 20. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For John Reid, starring on the ice for the Princeton High boys’ hockey team last winter has helped him on the diamond this spring.

“I think I am constantly ready to compete,” said junior Reid, a forward in hockey and an outfielder for the PHS baseball squad.

“I think my competitive drive has actually increased this last year with the great hockey season that we had. I think it definitely benefits my game.”

Batting in the cleanup spot, Reid has emerged as an offensive threat this spring for the Little Tigers.

“I think last year, I was a year younger and I hadn’t seen any varsity pitching,” said Reid.

“Going forward into this year, I was a little more comfortable in the box. It is still tough but I think I have been seeing some better pitches and I have been a little more patient.”

PHS showed its toughness last week, topping Pennington 10-0 on May 5 and then blanking Lawrence 6-0 a day later to clinch a spot in the upcoming state tournament.

“We knew that we had to win those two games to get into the state tournament for the first time since 2001,” said Reid.

“We really put an emphasis on making sure that we got guys on and we got them in. The pitching was great. We knew that we had to win those two games and we ended up doing that.”

In Reid’s view, making the states is important for the PHS in both the short term and the long term.

“I think with the team we have this year, there are some guys that felt bad not being in states for a while,” said Reid.

“I think it means a lot for the program to do that and hopefully build on it for next year as well.”

Things didn’t go as well for PHS last Friday as it fell 4-0 at Nottingham with Reid contributing two infield hits in a losing cause.

“I think lately I have been swinging earlier in counts and I am seeing some more fastballs,” said Reid, reflecting on his performance in the defeat.

“I think it was a tough day today; they kind of lulled us into a slow game and I think that is what brought us down.”

While PHS head coach Dave Roberts was pleased with how his team came through to earn the state berth, he was disappointed to see his team subsequently fall 5-2 to Pennington in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament on Wednesday and then lose to Notttingham.

“The early week was positive; it is hard to remember that we did have a .500 week,” said Roberts.

“We can’t score 16 runs in the first two games of the week and then score two in the next 14 innings. It doesn’t make for a recipe for success.”

Roberts acknowledges that playing in the states will be a huge positive for the program.

“It is exciting; it looks like we will be matched up against Wall; they are a real good shore conference team,” said Roberts.

“It will be great, the seniors deserve a state game and they got themselves a state game. It will be tons of fun.”

Reid’s progress this spring has been exciting for Roberts. “John scratched out a couple of hits today which was nice to see because he had been struggling mightily before that,” said Roberts of Reid who went 1-for-2 last Monday to help PHS defeat Notre Dame 6-2 and improve to 7-11. “It was nice to see him get a little bit back on track today.”

Sophomore Hayden Reyes has given PHS a nice lift, sparking the offense from the No. 2 spot in the lineup and starring at shortstop and pitcher,

“Hayden has been phenomenal since last year,” said Roberts. “Every time we step out here, I definitely feel like whenever he is playing shortstop, he is in the top three shortstops in the CVC defensively and even offensively. He has pitched all his life. He throws strikes, he doesn’t walk people and most importantly he works quick.”

The PHS pitching rotation has been led by sophomore Joaquin Hernandez-Burt.

“Joaquin has been tremendous all year, he has been dominant on the mound,” said Roberts of the Hernandez-Burt, who yielded three hits and a run in five innings to earn the win in the victory over Notre Dame.

“He’s been our absolute workhorse; every single outing he had would qualify as a quality start. He has two shutouts; he’s been awesome on the mound.”

With a roster featuring a number of sophomores and juniors, Roberts believes the program has a quality foundation going forward.

“Hopefully they are learning every day and from every single experience that we have, especially the county tournament game that we lost on Wednesday and the game we lost today,” said Roberts.

Reid, for his part, believes that the lessons learned this year will benefit PHS in the future.

“Pretty much our whole infield is going to be juniors next year,” said Reid. “You take that experience and the few juniors that we do have on the team this year, we should continue with that success.”

STANDING TALL: Princeton Day School baseball player James ­Radvany waits for a throw in action earlier this spring. Junior star and quad-captain Radvany has contributed on the mound and at the plate this spring for PDS, standing out as a bright spot in a tough campaign for the Panthers. PDS, now 4-10, is slated to host New Hope-Solebury (Pa.) on May 16.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STANDING TALL: Princeton Day School baseball player James ­Radvany waits for a throw in action earlier this spring. Junior star and quad-captain Radvany has contributed on the mound and at the plate this spring for PDS, standing out as a bright spot in a tough campaign for the Panthers. PDS, now 4-10, is slated to host New Hope-Solebury (Pa.) on May 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

James Radvany came into the spring expecting that his main duties for the Princeton Day School baseball team would center on playing first base and providing punch in the middle of the lineup.

But when mound ace Cole McManimon was injured in the season opener and sidelined for all of April, Radvany’s portfolio changed as he became the team’s workhorse starting pitcher.

Befitting his stature as a team quad-captain, Radvany willingly assumed the additional responsibility.

“It has been tough, I have had to throw a lot of innings this year,” said junior Radvany.

“My arm wasn’t really ready for that but I have done the best I could and I have labored on.”

Last Wednesday, Radvany put in some hard labor on the mound as he started and went four innings in a 9-1 loss to Hamilton in the opening round of the Mercer  County Tournament.

“I didn’t have my best stuff today but they are a good team,” said Radvany, who gave up seven runs in the first two innings but only one after that.

“They grind out at-bats, they are all good baseball players at the front of their lineup. I had some two-strike counts but they had some good swings. I started to get the ball down a little bit, I left it up in the first two innings. I had some good plays behind me in the last two innings so that helped out.”

After struggling at the plate earlier in the spring, Radvany has been swinging the bat better in recent weeks. He had a single and scored the only run in the loss to Hamilton.

“I started to turn it around pretty well; I have had three or four doubles in the last few games,” said Radvany, who has committed to attend Villanova University and play for its baseball program.

“I have had a lot more hits. I am just trying to stay through the middle. I have had to change my approach a little but I think it is starting to turn around at the right time and that was what I was hoping for.”

While things haven’t turned out this spring as PDS had hoped with the Panthers dropping to 4-10 after losing 2-1 to Wardlaw-Hartridge on Thursday in the opening round of the state Prep B tourney, Radvany and his teammates are staying upbeat.

“Losing Cole in the first game was tough but we have hung in there,” said Radvany.

“We only have one senior but the freshmen have given a lot more than we thought. They have all been great, they have all been better than we expected. It is what you hope for; we have hope for next year.”

May 7, 2014
SPECIAL K: Princeton High softball player Kayla Volante fires a pitch in recent action. Freshman Volante has had an immediate impact on PHS this spring, contributing in the circle and at the plate. The Little Tigers, who fell to 3-12 with a 6-2 loss at Lawrence High last Monday, start action in the Mercer County Tournament this week and also have regular season games at Nottingham on May 7 and at Notre Dame on May 9. PHS is seeded 12th in the MCT and will play at fifth-seeded WW/P-S on May 10 in an opening round contest.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SPECIAL K: Princeton High softball player Kayla Volante fires a pitch in recent action. Freshman Volante has had an immediate impact on PHS this spring, contributing in the circle and at the plate. The Little Tigers, who fell to 3-12 with a 6-2 loss at Lawrence High last Monday, start action in the Mercer County Tournament this week and also have regular season games at Nottingham on May 7 and at Notre Dame on May 9. PHS is seeded 12th in the MCT and will play at fifth-seeded WW/P-S on May 10 in an opening round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Princeton High softball team trailing Lawrenceville 8-0 in the fourth inning last Friday, Dave Boehm urged his players to relax.

“It was just come out swinging,” said PHS head coach Boehm, reflecting on his message to his charges.

“We are looking at too many good pitches; we let good pitches go by and we are swinging at bad ones.”

PHS responded with two runs in the fifth as sophomore Natalie Campisi got things rolling with a single and then her older sister, senior tri-captain Jessica Campisi, along with freshman Kayla Volante delivered RBI hits.

“We got a couple of hits but we have to keep going,” said Boehm, whose team went on to lose 9-2 as the Campisi sisters and Volante all had two hits in a losing cause.

Having dropped nine of its last 11 games, PHS is struggling to get in synch.

“It is just mental mistakes,” said Boehm, whose team fell 6-2 at Lawrence High last Monday to lose its fourth straight game and drop to 3-12 on the season.

“I think it is a learning process for these girls. A lot of them didn’t play varsity last year and they are learning now that the speed of this game is a lot faster than they thought. By the time they think of where they have got to throw, it is already too late.”

Volante threw well in relief against Lawrenceville, holding the Big Red to one run over the last three innings.

“She is not the fastest kid throwing but she has nice movement on her pitches, especially her curve,” said Boehm, noting that Volante has also emerged as a batting threat for the Little Tigers. “It drops out a little bit on the bottom so she will hold us into games.”

Two of PHS’s veterans, junior Sarah Eisenach and senior Liana Bloom, have been holding their own in recent action.

“Sarah is also hitting the ball well,” said Boehm of Eisenach, the team’s top pitcher who performed well in the circle against Lawrence on Monday in a losing cause, recording nine strikeouts.

“I would say the last three games, Sarah has hit the ball very well. Liana Bloom is doing a good job at first base, she is filling in for Emily DiLella, who twisted her knee in Ewing. She is playing well in the field.”

Boehm is confident there are good times ahead for the Little Tigers, who have two freshmen, two juniors, and six sophomores seeing a lot of action this spring.

“I think they will come along,” said Boehm. “We have got a good young nucleus, mostly sophomores. There are only a couple of seniors that are really playing.”

In Boehm’s view, the Little Tigers need to stay loose as they head into a busy homestretch, which includes the start of the Mercer County Tournament and regular season games at Nottingham on May 7 and at Notre Dame on May 9.

“Next week, we have six games,” said Boehm, whose club is seeded 12th in the MCT and will play at No. 5 WW/P-S on May 10 in an opening round contest.

“We start the county tournament on Saturday. I told them at the end there that no one expects you to beat them now so just go out there swinging and play the best you can.”

PICKING IT UP: Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse player Morgan Foster goes after a ball in 2013 action. Last Monday, junior star Foster scored four goals in a losing cause as third-seeded PDS fell 23-16 at No. 2 Morristown-Beard in the state Prep B semifinals. The Panthers, now 5-4, are slated to have a Mercer County Tournament consolation game on May 7 and then play at Peddie on May 9.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PICKING IT UP: Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse player Morgan Foster goes after a ball in 2013 action. Last Monday, junior star Foster scored four goals in a losing cause as third-seeded PDS fell 23-16 at No. 2 Morristown-Beard in the state Prep B semifinals. The Panthers, now 5-4, are slated to have a Mercer County Tournament consolation game on May 7 and then play at Peddie on May 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Morgan Foster and the Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse team, its state Prep B tournament opener last week against Montclair-Kimberley Academy wasn’t just the beginning of the postseason, it represented a vital step in a healing process.

The April 29 contest marked the team’s first action in 12 days as its games the previous week were cancelled after the passing of Nancy Dwyer, the mother of PDS junior goalie Sara Dwyer.

“This game was definitely important for us,” said PDS junior star Foster. “We had a lot riding on it, especially because it is a tournament game and, in light of recent events, you really want to go out there and show that we still have got it.”

Foster didn’t waste any time showing that her finishing skills were as sharp as ever, scoring two goals in the first 6:01 of the game as the Panthers jumped out to a 2-0 lead.

“It got the ball rolling, it got the momentum up,” recalled Foster, who ended up with three goals and an assist on the day as the Panthers prevailed 13-12. “It was going our way for a while. I was really happy that I was able to get the opportunity to score.”

As the team helped Dwyer deal with her loss, it has used that situation as an opportunity to become even closer.

“We really made sure that we were there holding each other’s hands the whole time,” said Foster. “We made sure that every single person was on the same page. We are only as strong as our weakest link.”

Foster acknowledged that PDS had to fight through some weak moments as Montclair Kimberley narrowed an 11-6 PDS lead to 11-10 to turn the game into a nailbiter.

“Towards the end, we were put in situations that we were not exactly happy to put ourselves in,” said Foster.

“But we think it is important that we were able to practice them on such a big stage and get a little bit more experience under our belts for that one.”

The battle-tested Foster, a starter since the beginning of her freshman season, is utilizing her experience.

“As a junior, I am stepping into the role of becoming a senior and having a bigger voice on the team and having the girls look up to me for advice,” said Foster.

PDS head coach Jill Thomas credited Foster with being a catalyst for her teammates in the win over MKA.

“Morgan just got us going, she set the tone,” said Thomas. “She always brings her best to the field. She did a great job of going to goal and finding out what worked against this goalie and then everybody followed suit so that was really good.”

Sophomore Hope Anhut was really good in the win, scoring five goals to lead the PDS attack.

“Hope has taken it to another level; she is more confident,” said Thomas. “We have used our plays to work to her a little bit. They are working well. You have your top dogs out there and they are all together.”

Showing a high level of commitment and courage, junior Kirsten Kuzmicz, normally a midfielder, stepped into goal for Dwyer and made 10 saves.

“What can you say, not bad for three days,” said Thomas, reflecting on Kuzmicz’s performance in the cage.

“She stepped in there and she was tough the whole time. It takes a special person to step in and do what she did today and do it well.”

Thomas was proud of how her players stepped up collectively under tough circumstances.

“It was good to get back; we are just all there for everybody,” said Thomas, whose team fell 17-11 to WW/P-S last Thursday in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament before losing 23-16 to Morristown-Beard last Monday in the Prep B semis. “They have been there for each other the whole week and that has been good.”

Foster, for her part, is determined to be there for her teammates. “I definitely feel like I am out here to score and I am out here to assist and make other people look good,” said Foster. “I would like to think of my play as a balancing act.”

PAINT IT BLACK: Hun School boys’ lacrosse player Brendan Black heads upfield last Monday as second-seeded Hun hosted No. 3 Peddie in the state Prep A semifinal. Junior attacker and Villanova-bound Black tallied two goals and seven assists in the contest as the Raiders prevailed 13-5, improving to 10-4 and earning a date with perennial state champion and top-seeded Lawrenceville in the Prep A title game.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PAINT IT BLACK: Hun School boys’ lacrosse player Brendan Black heads upfield last Monday as second-seeded Hun hosted No. 3 Peddie in the state Prep A semifinal. Junior attacker and Villanova-bound Black tallied two goals and seven assists in the contest as the Raiders prevailed 13-5, improving to 10-4 and earning a date with perennial state champion and top-seeded Lawrenceville in the Prep A title game. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though Brendan Black scored two goals as the Hun School boys’ lacrosse team topped visiting Peddie 13-5 last Monday in the state Prep A semis, the junior star prefers seeing others take care of the finishing duties.

“I just try to quarterback the offense as much as I can and get the other guys good looks because they can stick them in, that’s for sure,” said attacker Black, who had seven assists in the victory, which improved the Raiders to 10-4 and earned them a date with perennial state champion Lawrenceville in the Prep A final. “I just roll with whatever comes.”

One of Black’s favorite targets is his younger brother, sophomore midfielder Owen Black, who tallied two goals for second-seeded Hun in the victory over No. 3 Peddie.

“We do have a connection on the field, I love playing that wing with him,” said Black, who is committed to join the Villanova University men’s lacrosse program along with his brother.

“I know where he is going to be and he knows where I am going to be. We have been playing together forever. We are going to keep playing together for years to come.”

Having defeated Peddie 10-5 in a regular season contest on April 25, Black knew that the Falcons presented a challenge in the tournament rematch.

“They are a great team and we knew they were a threat; they have a really good face-off guy, a good goalie, and good attackmen so they have the formula to win,” said Black.

“We knew that they were going to be a threat. We were nervous but I think we handled them well. We knew if we jumped on them early we would be able to have them. We had great face-off play from Alex Semler so that really helped us get it going offensively.”

Things have been going very well for the Raiders as they have won seven straight games and 10 of their last 11.

“We knew from the start of the year that we were going to have some rough games off the bat but that is always what we want,” said Black.

“Our motto is that it is not about winning at the beginning of the season, it is about May. I feel like now we are really starting to click as a team and it is May 5 and we are getting going now.”

Black credits Hun’s defensive unit with playing a critical role in getting the team going.

“Our defense led by Jim Jannicelli, Cam Dudeck, Chase Goulburn, and Chris Fake is a sound defense,” said Black.

“Our longstick midfielder Tucker Stevenson and our defensive middies, Mike McMenamin and Matt Bruno, don’t get a lot of credit, but they are really a sound group of guys. They protect Jon and Jon makes great saves. The defense is the backbone of our team and they always have been. Without our defense, we wouldn’t be getting the ball on offense.”

In the view of Hun head coach MV Whitlow, the Black brothers also give the team some backbone.

“Brendan is a team captain and is the older brother,” said Whitlow. “Owen brings an on the field leadership with his poise and his lacrosse IQ.”

Sophomore Semler gave the Raiders some intelligent play in the middle of the field.

“I think the biggest difference in the game was Alex Semler at the face-off X because Nick Donahue is one great player and a great face-off guy. We had a face-off-enhanced possession disadvantage in the last game and Alex did a good job at the X so we weren’t at such a possession deficit.”

Once Hun got the ball, juniors Cole West and Drake Roy capitalized with West tallying two goals and four assists and Roy contributing a game-high four goals.

“Cole is a very dynamic player,” said Whitlow. “He is very quick and he has great vision, that’s a good combination. He feeds off other people; he likes to get the ball distributed. He finishes his own looks but he does like to look for his teammates so that brings everybody together. Drake is a great finisher and he is showing great leadership in his shooting touch.”

In Whitlow’s view, veteran leadership has played a key role in Hun’s hot streak.

“We just promoted four guys to assistant captain, who are all seniors in Matt Bruno, Mike McKeon, Chase Goulburn, and Corey Reynolds,” said Whitlow.

“We are getting good leadership from our senior class and as your seniors go is how your team is going to go. It is a good group of guys, it is a tight group of guys.”

Whitlow likes the way Hun has tightened up things at both ends of the field. “It has always been our goal to play our best lacrosse in May,” asserted Whitlow.

“We have been working real hard on a lot of different fundamentals and those things have come to fruition now and we are starting to play our best lacrosse right now.”

Hun will need to play its best lacrosse in order to topple top-seeded Lawrenceville, which has won 13 straight Prep A titles.

“We were always going to define success on our own terms and we are thankful to be able to play in a championship game,” said Whitlow, noting that a date for the title contest is to be determined after both teams wrap up play in the upcoming Inter Ac tourney.

“We have a lot of respect for the Lawrenceville program and the Lawrenceville players. It sets up to be a nice championship game.”

Black, for his part, believes that the Raiders have the game to hang with the Big Red.

“We are really looking forward to it, they are a great, great team with great history,” said Black.

“We know it is going to be a great game and we want to get after it. We feel we are really clicking at the right time. Hopefully, we will keep going until the end.”

CATCHING ON: Hun School baseball player Gideon Friedberg, left, confers with pitcher Patrick Donahue in a game earlier this spring. Junior Friedberg, a transfer from Princeton High, has become a key contributor for the Raiders, playing at third base in addition to catcher. The Raiders, now 7-8, start action in the Mercer County tournament this week where they are seeded 10th and will play at No.7 Ewing on May 7 in a first round contest.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CATCHING ON: Hun School baseball player Gideon Friedberg, left, confers with pitcher Patrick Donahue in a game earlier this spring. Junior Friedberg, a transfer from Princeton High, has become a key contributor for the Raiders, playing at third base in addition to catcher. The Raiders, now 7-8, start action in the Mercer County tournament this week where they are seeded 10th and will play at No.7 Ewing on May 7 in a first round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Gideon Friedberg displayed his development as a hitter last Saturday as the Hun School baseball team hosted the Blair Academy.

After looking overmatched against the Blair pitcher with two swings and misses in the second inning, Hun junior Friedberg connected for a solid single to right field. He then stole second base and went on to score on an error as Hun jumped out to a 1-0 lead.

“I was behind the first two so I figured that he wasn’t going to give me anything off-speed because I didn’t come close to the other two,” said Friedberg. “My approach is to go to right field and I got it and hit it on the line.”

Friedberg’s run, though didn’t hold up as Hun gave up four runs in the top of the sixth and another in the seventh to fall 5-1.

With Hun having dropped four straight heading into the Blair game, Friedberg acknowledged that the team has had trouble closing out games.

“We started out pretty strong there but obviously we weren’t able to string the hits together like we needed,” said Friedberg.

“He pitched a heck of a good game and we just sort of let up, that is the problem we have been having. In the last game we had five strong innings and one bad one and that is what undoes us.”

Despite the recent slump, the Hun players are not hanging their heads. “We are approaching it the same way,” said Friedberg. “We have really good team chemistry and everybody is pulling for each other. It is tough.”

Friedberg, who went to Princeton High for two years before transferring to Hun, is having a good experience with the Raider squad.

“I always knew coach (Bill McQuade) through camps as a young kid and I really liked the culture here and the program and the school is a good fit,” said Friedberg. “I am very happy to be here.”

Getting the chance to play third base this spring in addition to his natural position of catcher, Friedberg believes he is making good progress.

“I grew a little bit and I was in the weight room over the winter getting stronger,” said Friedberg.

“It is a transition over to third but I have a lot more confidence swinging the bat. It is just having another year, getting more confident. I am one of the older guys now.”

Hun head coach Bill McQuade likes the growth he has seen in Friedberg.

“Gideon has a great arm, he has great, soft hands,” said McQuade.

“Like so many of these kids, they have just got to believe in themselves a little more. He can look like he is out of sync and then all of a sudden, he will lash one out to left center or right center. I see that he is playing the game with more intensity and staying more focused. He is a big kid; he is not the little guy that transferred here.”

In reflecting on the loss to Blair, McQuade acknowledged that his team lost focus as the Buccaneers took the lead with a two-run homer in the sixth and then tacked on two more runs in that frame to seize momentum.

“George Revock was on a roll; he had them confused up there and we scratched out the one run,” said McQuade, referring to his sophomore starting pitcher.

“With a couple of hits we could have gotten more. We haven’t been getting key hits in big situations so that hurt us again. The homer changed things but there was a missed cutoff in the outfield and there was a bad pickoff play here. I think that rattled George a little bit and then he threw one over the middle of the plate and the guy yanked it out of the ballpark and that was the difference in the game. One play can turn everything around.”

Dealing with a lot of roster turnover, McQuade sensed that his team was going to be in for a rocky road this spring.

“We knew that coming in; we had young kids or inexperienced older kids so either way you looked at it, we were inexperienced,” said McQuade, whose team came through with a 5-0 win over Peddie last Monday to improve to 7-8.

“We weren’t as physical as we were before. But it makes some of the young kids step up. Now, what is happening is that they are finding out what it is like playing at the varsity level against good competition. But when we revisit the games as coaches, we feel we could have won a number of these games.”

As Hun heads into the postseason, starting action in the Mercer County Tournament this week with the state Prep A tourney around the corner, McQuade believes his team can raise the level of its play.

“They are keeping their heads up, they are still fighting because they know they have to get better and that is what we keep preaching, get better,” said McQuade, whose team is seeded 10th in the MCT and will play at No.7 Ewing on May 7 in a first round contest.

“It is not going to happen overnight. You are never going to get better if you put your head down. So our mantra all along with these kids is to hang in there.”

Friedberg, for his part, is confident that the Raiders can turn some heads come tournament time.

“We just need to have timely hitting,” said Friedberg. “We work together, we have a solid team. We are still coming with the same good attitude.”

April 30, 2014
LEAPING INTO HISTORY: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse midfielder Emilia Lopez-Ona leaps up to take a shot. Last Thursday, senior star and Penn-bound Lopez-Ona notched the 300th goal of her PHS career as she tallied six goals in a 14-10 win over Allentown. She added to her total last Monday, tallying five goals and two assists as PHS edged Lawrenceville 14-12 to improve to 11-2.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LEAPING INTO HISTORY: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse midfielder Emilia Lopez-Ona leaps up to take a shot. Last Thursday, senior star and Penn-bound Lopez-Ona notched the 300th goal of her PHS career as she tallied six goals in a 14-10 win over Allentown. She added to her total last Monday, tallying five goals and two assists as PHS edged Lawrenceville 14-12 to improve to 11-2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Emilia Lopez-Ona, getting the 300th career goal in her Princeton High girls’ lacrosse career didn’t come easy.

After scoring her fifth goal against visiting Allentown last Thursday with 22:20 left in the second half to reach the 299 mark, Lopez-Ona started misfiring.

“After I scored five goals, I think I missed four shots,” said senior star and Penn-bound Lopez-Ona.

“They were open shots. My shooting string loosened up so I had zero whip in my stick. I fired one over the goal. I took one to the pipe.”

With 5:45 left in the contest, Lopez-Ona found the back of the net to hit the 300 milestone. The game was stopped and the PHS players mobbed Lopez-Ona, waving posters and posing for photos.

The moment was special for Lopez-Ona on several levels. “I am glad I scored it here at home; my dad was able to see it, he missed my 100th because he was coming back from a business trip,” said Lopez-Ona, who ended the day with six goals as PHS pulled away to a 14-10 victory over the Redbirds.

“It means a lot that my teammates would do that; they were truly happy for me. Watching them do that for me it feels really nice.”

Noting that she never expected to hit the 300-goal mark when starting her PHS career in the spring of 2011, Lopez-Ona said that her progress reflects a love of the game.

“Part of the beauty of the sport is in terms of the growth and the ability of someone to improve,” said Lopez-Ona.

“The sport allows for people to make rapid transitions throughout their career. I know that I have watched a lot of the younger players on our team raise the level of their games.”

PHS raised the level of its game as it overcame a tough and talented Allentown squad.

“We were able to pull together, the theme of this game was controlling tempo,” said Lopez-Ona.

“They did a great job in the first half of running the motion offense. Our defense was able to hold them for a really long time. To be able to build that lead and change in the second half to control that tempo I think shows a lot of the growth in our team.”

With PHS having prevailed in a number of close games recently, Lopez-Ona believes the team is growing into something special.

“When we do need to make changes as a team, we can control the tempo and the possessions in the middle of the game to gather ourselves,” said Lopez-Ona, who tallied five goals and two assists as PHS edged Lawrenceville 14-12 last Monday to improve to 11-2. “That shows a lot of maturity.”

PHS head coach Kelsey O’Gorman liked the way PHS took control of the Allentown game.

“It is always nice to beat Allentown, especially on your home turf because they are just a great team,” said O’Gorman.

“It is great to have a competitive matchup and we have had a lot of those this year. They play tough the whole game. They picked up their intensity and we picked up ours. A lot of great lacrosse was played today. We had a lot of great contributions from many of our players.”

It was a great moment for the program to celebrate Lopez-Ona’s achievement.

“It was an exciting day for Emilia; I think the biggest thing about her is that she contributes all over the field,” said O’Gorman.

“She is the definition of a midfielder, look at her on the draw, look at her on the circle and on the line. With her knee hurting her and everything, she fights through. She had a lot of fouls on her today and you never see her go where’s the call, she is composed out there. She has had to be dealing with that pressure since she was a sophomore.”

While Lopez-Ona possesses athletic gifts in terms of speed and coordination, it is her diligence that has made her so prolific.

“It didn’t come easy; she works really hard,” added O’Gorman. “Those 300 goals came from coming out here when no one is on the turf with a bag of balls and shooting nonstop. She has worked hard for this milestone. I am really proud of her; it is phenomenal to coach a player like her.”

O’Gorman likes the way PHS is working collectively as it heads into postseason play.

“We are playing smart and taking care of the ball in crucial situations,” said O’Gorman, whose team starts action in the Mercer County Tournament where it is seeded third and is slated to host No. 14 Ewing in a first round contest on May 3.

“I think when we played Notre Dame we had errors nonstop and they kept piling up. Now we are making up for each other’s errors. We have adjusted to the draw a little better. We are ready, it is great to gather that momentum. It is a new season.”

Lopez-Ona, for her part, is confident that PHS can ride that momentum to some deep tournament runs.

“I think if this team stays on the right track in terms of what we are doing with the 50/50 ground balls,
our draw controls, keeping our turnovers low, and controlling the tempo of the game, we can make that change to coming out on top in these bigger games,” said Lopez-Ona.

DAY TRIP: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse player Kevin Halliday races upfield in recent action. Last Friday senior star Halliday tallied seven goals and two assist to help PHS top Christian Brothers Academy 14-5 and improve to 9-2.  The Little Tigers wrap up regular season play by hosting Hopewell Valley on May 1 and will then start postseason action by competing in the Mercer County Tournament.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

DAY TRIP: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse player Kevin Halliday races upfield in recent action. Last Friday senior star Halliday tallied seven goals and two assist to help PHS top Christian Brothers Academy 14-5 and improve to 9-2. The Little Tigers wrap up regular season play by hosting Hopewell Valley on May 1 and will then start postseason action by competing in the Mercer County Tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Kevin Halliday’s propensity for dazzling runs to goal made him one of the deadliest scorers in recent years for the Princeton High boys’ soccer team.

Halliday’s finishing ability caught the eye of college coaches and he will be playing for the Tufts University men’s soccer team this fall, once again joining forces with his older brother Zach, who is a member of the Jumbos’ squad.

The skills that Halliday displays in the fall have proven transferable to the spring as the talented senior is also a top gun for the PHS boys’ lax team.

Last week against visiting Robbinsville, Halliday was a force, tallying three goals and an assist as the Little Tigers pulled away to a 12-5 victory over the Ravens.

Halliday took off on several trademark end-to-end jaunts over the course of the game and provided one of the highlights of the day with a brilliant solo effort in the third quarter, racing past and through the Raven defense to make it 8-4.

“I try to implement athletic knowledge in general,” said Halliday, reflecting on the highlight reel tally.

“Whenever I see a break, hopefully I can open a guy up and give a pass. That time I saw the lane and I thought I would take it. Whenever you are running in front of a guy with his back turned to the goal it is kind of easy.”

Things hadn’t come easy for PHS over the previous week as it lost 17-4 to Lawrenceville on April 14 and 14-2 to Summit on April 19.

“It was definitely important to bounce back after two losses in a week, albeit to good teams,” said Halliday.

“We wanted to take what we learned in the past week and really put it to use today.”

While the Little Tigers sputtered in the first half against Robbinsville, the team got rolling in the second half.

“In the first half, we struggled but I think in the second half we gave it a pretty good effort,” said Halliday.

“It was much sharper, especially in the clearing and the ground balls. In the first half, we couldn’t clear it and we kept giving them second chances by turning the ball over.”

Halliday and freshman Johnny Lopez-Ona looked sharp as they connected on several goals.

“I love little Johnny; he is a great guy,” said Halliday of the precocious Lopez-Ona, who tallied four goals and an assist in the victory over Robbinsville.

“He has been doing really well this year. I think he is a good finisher and he is really impressive being a freshman. I think it is good that we are getting him touches and building up his confidence because that is important as a freshman. He is a great hustler; he knows the game. I am really excited for this program with him coming up the next four years.”

As Halliday plays his last season for the PHS program, he is savoring his final weeks in the game.

“This is it for me in lacrosse,” said Halliday, who exploded for seven goals and two assists last Friday as PHS topped Christian Brothers Academy 14-5 to improve to 9-2.

“I had fantasies of maybe trying out for the team at Tufts. I thought that would be fun but I think it is time that I focus on soccer. I have to choose one by the time I am in college. I will still love lacrosse. I will still play it when I am back here.”

PHS head coach Peter Stanton loves the  way Halliday plays lacrosse.

“Kevin is fantastic,” asserted Stanton. “He has the things that you can’t coach — the quickness, the change of direction, creativity, and vision. He is just a special athlete.”

Junior goalie Kenan Glasgold displayed some athleticism and vision as he made nine saves in the Robbinsville contest.

“Kenan had a couple of clutch saves at clutch moments,” said Stanton. “He had a couple on the doorstep. He saw the ball a lot better today, he was relaxed. What tends to happen when we are playing those tough games is that the goalie is a little bit tight, a little bit tense. They start guessing and saves that they might have been able to make, they take themselves out of it. Today being relaxed, he was able to make saves.”

The one-two punch of juniors Colin Buckley and Jackson Andres adds toughness to the PHS defense.

“Our defense is built around Colin and Jackson controlling the middle of the field,” said Stanton. “If we are able to limit shots to the perimeter, we feel like that is going to give us a chance.”

In Stanton’s view, getting the chance to play perennial powers like Lawrenceville and Summit helps PHS build resilience.

“That’s why we play them, you get exposed, your weaknesses get found out,” added Stanton, whose team wraps up regular season play by hosting Hopewell Valley on May 1. “You also get to see who can play well under pressure. The films that we get from those games are very valuable.”

The pressure is on for PHS as it heads into the postseason this week, starting with the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament on May 3.

“We are on short time,” said Stanton, who guided PHS to the 2013 MCT crown.

“We have Christian Brothers on Friday and that is another one of these big games. We hope to see the progress in that game. After that, it is two games and if we win, then we are CVC champs and then its the county tournament and the state tournament so it is the time to do it.”

Halliday, for his part, believes that the recent losses to high-powered foes can pay dividends for the Little Tigers over the next few weeks.

“Just about any team we see in the county or state tournaments, we can say hey we played guys better than this team and we don’t have to shudder,” said Halliday.

“We can go straight at them and give it our all. I think playing good teams like Summit and Lawrenceville will give us the ability to have the poise and confidence in the postseason.”

SECOND WIND: Princeton Day School boys’ tennis player Neeraj Devulapalli smacks a forehand last week in action at the Mercer County Tournament. Senior Devulapalli placed second at second singles to help PDS take third of 17 schools in the team standings.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SECOND WIND: Princeton Day School boys’ tennis player Neeraj Devulapalli smacks a forehand last week in action at the Mercer County Tournament. Senior Devulapalli placed second at second singles to help PDS take third of 17 schools in the team standings. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Neeraj Devulapalli was ready to go the distance as he competed in his final Mercer County Tournament for the Princeton Day School boys’ tennis team.

After winning his two preliminary round matches at second singles on Tuesday, senior Devulapalli arrived at Mercer County Park on Thursday hungry for a title.

In his semifinal match against Notre Dame’s Joe Sison, Devulapalli dropped the first set 7-6 but was undeterred, rallying to win the next two sets 6-1, 6-2 in advancing to the finals.

“It was tough, I was up 5-2 in the first set and I lost,” recalled Devulapalli. “It was nice to come back after that.”

Taking on Vashishta Kalinadhabhotla of WW/P-N in the championship match, Devulapalli dug another hole, losing the first set 6-2.

But showing his resolve, Devulapalli roared back to take the second set 6-2.

“I wasn’t being aggressive enough in the first set, I took it to him a little more in the second,” said Devulapalli, reflecting on his rally.

The PDS senior, though, ran out of gas in the decisive set. “He came through in the end; I wasn’t able to keep the momentum going,” said Devulapalli.

“I have been playing him since I was 10 years old so we go a ways back, both of us played well. I wish I could have won because I wanted to do well for the team.”

The Panthers proved to be one of the top teams at the tourney taking third behind champion WW/P-S and runner-up WW/P-N in the competition which included 17 schools.

“I love the team,” said Devulapalli. “I love Anupreeth [Coramutla] at first singles. He is playing really well, he is a very talented player. Scott [Altmeyer] had a great tournament. It is a luxury to have someone like that at third singles. At most other schools, he would be playing No. 1.”

PDS head coach Will Asch liked how his team performed at the MCT. “I couldn’t be prouder of how our boys played in the tournament,” said Asch. “I was real pleased.”

Asch was especially pleased with Devulapalli’s effort. “Neeraj had a great day; I was very pleased with both of his matches, he never gave up,” said Asch.

“He was one set down and he came back against a very strong player in the second match. I thought he battled him right to the end. I was real pleased with the way he played down to the last shot, the other kid was just playing too well today, that’s all.”

In Asch’s view, Devulapalli displayed his maturity as he fought through early deficits.

“I think he seemed very positive throughout the whole day,” said Asch. “Experience is helpful; kids grow up.”

Sophomore standout Altmeyer got some great experience at third singles, making it to the championship match where he fell to Kabir Sarita of WW/P-S, who posted a 6-1, 6-0 win.

“Scott was great; I think he was a little overmatched against Kabir but there is next year,” said Asch.

“He has been playing great, he played a tournament this weekend and he won it. He loves to play.”

At first singles, freshman Coramutla produced several great moments as he advanced to semifinals and ultimately finished fourth.

“Anupreeth had a very tough first set in the third place match; he lost it in a tiebreaker,” said Asch. “John Hu (of WW/P-S) is more experienced and I think his experience really showed.”

The first doubles pair of Josiah Meekins and D.J. Modzelewski showed some resilience by shaking off a Round of 16 loss to prevail in the consolation bracket.

“They won the backdraw very easily,” said Asch. “I thought that they would have a good chance to get to the semis and possibly get in the finals. It was a disappointing loss to PHS but they rebounded well. They did a good job; they are a good team. They like each other very much and they work together as a team very well.”

Asch likes his team’s chances as it pursues another state Prep B championship in early May. “I expect that we will have a good showing there so I am very, very pleased,” said Asch, who guided the Panthers to a share of the 2013 Prep B title along with Pennington and Montclair Kimberley.

“I thought the boys learned a lot here, they are very easy to talk to. I think they know what they have to work on.”

Devulapalli, for his part, is ready to keep working for a title. “It is bittersweet, I came in second at preps and MCTs last year so I was hoping for a win somewhere this year,” said Devulapalli.

“I think the competition in the counties is a little bit better than in the preps. I just hope to do better in the next tournament.”

REPLACEMENT VALUE: Princeton High boys’ tennis player Lucas Mitchell goes after a ball last week at the Mercer County Tournament. After playing doubles all spring, Mitchell moved into the singles lineup for PHS at the MCT due to injury and ended up taking third at third singles. The Little Tigers placed fourth of 17 schools in the team competition, which was won by WW/P-S.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

REPLACEMENT VALUE: Princeton High boys’ tennis player Lucas Mitchell goes after a ball last week at the Mercer County Tournament. After playing doubles all spring, Mitchell moved into the singles lineup for PHS at the MCT due to injury and ended up taking third at third singles. The Little Tigers placed fourth of 17 schools in the team competition, which was won by WW/P-S. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Lucas Mitchell got a big surprise last Tuesday when he arrived to compete for the Princeton High boys’ tennis team in the opening day of the Mercer County Tournament.

Having played first doubles all spring for PHS, sophomore Mitchell learned that he was going to be playing third singles at the MCT.

“I was supposed to play doubles but Adib (Zaidi) had a neck sprain so he couldn’t come so we had to make a last minute change in the morning,” said Mitchell.

Unfazed by the last minute change in plans, Mitchell was ready for the opportunity to move up in the Little Tiger lineup.

“I was actually excited,” said Mitchell. “I like to be challenged.”

Mitchell proved up to the challenge as he won three matches to advance to the semifinals.

“I did like the way I played on Tuesday, I thought I was pretty consistent,” said Mitchell.

In the final day of the tourney, Mitchell fell to eventual champion Kabir Sarita of WW/P-S in the semis before winning the third-place match with a hard-earned 7-5, 7-6 victory over Patrick Blake of Hopewell Valley.

In reflecting on the third place finish, Mitchell acknowledged that he had to gut things out.

“That was a really close match, there were a few times when I almost had given up mentally and I just hung in there,” said Mitchell.

“In the end it just came down to a few points. I made an overhead shot and that was it.”

Noting that he has played a lot of singles over the years, Mitchell’s improved net game helped him come through last week.

“I feel more aggressive and I feel more confident, so I know that I could go into the net more,” said Mitchell.

PHS head coach Christian Herzog liked the aggressiveness he saw from all of his players at the MCT as the Little Tigers placed fourth in the team competition won by WW/P-S.

“I was impressed with the boys’ performance, especially considering that it wasn’t our original lineup,” said Herzog. “We talked about going for every ball and every point of the match.”

The first doubles pair of Zach Hojelbane and Zack Kleiman took third but had Herzog going a little batty.

“It looked like they were taking it easy a little too much; it was making me stress out,” said a smiling Herzog. “We joke that sometimes they like to get down to bring out the best in them. They like to make the match harder than it has to be.”

At second doubles, Andrew Lin got called up from the JV and acquitted himself well, playing with Andrew Wei.

“Andrew Lin stepped up and they ended up fourth,” said Herzog. “They took the first set and then had a little bit of a meltdown but that goes to experience. We had a guy that was on the JV and Andrew Wei was the last guy to be cut from the team last year.”

Mitchell was the guy that drew some of the highest praise from Herzog. “I can’t say enough positive things about Lucas; he has really worked hard,” said Herzog, whose team fell 4-1 to WW/P-S last Monday in a dual match to move to 6-1 and will play at WW/P-N on April 30 before hosting Hightstown on May 2 and Nottingham on May 5.

“Even when were doing the ladder in the beginning of the season, it was a really close match between him and Adib. It was a tiebreaker in the third and that’s how Adib beat him out. Lucas’ game is a stronger singles game. He can play doubles. I think he would prefer to play singles but he will do whatever the team needs.”

Mitchell, for his part, believes last week’s experience will help him be a better doubles player over the rest of the spring.

“I will go back to doubles; this has definitely helped my confidence in myself,” said Mitchell.

“Playing first doubles isn’t shabby at all. I feel pretty confident with my partner. Zach (Hojelbane) is a great doubles partner and he is great at the net. He is a real wall, as they say.”