June 25, 2014
LAST CHANCE TO SHINE: Princeton High football star Liam Helstrom heads up the field in action last fall. Helstrom starred on both sides of the ball for PHS, grabbing 50 receptions for 853 yards and seven touchdowns at receiver and making 110 tackles with four forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery from his linebacker spot. Helstrom’s heroics earned him a place on the West team for this year’s Sunshine Classic all-star football game, which is slated for July 1 at The College of New Jersey.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LAST CHANCE TO SHINE: Princeton High football star Liam Helstrom heads up the field in action last fall. Helstrom starred on both sides of the ball for PHS, grabbing 50 receptions for 853 yards and seven touchdowns at receiver and making 110 tackles with four forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery from his linebacker spot. Helstrom’s heroics earned him a place on the West team for this year’s Sunshine Classic all-star football game, which is slated for July 1 at The College of New Jersey. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As a wiry 130-pounder toiling for the Princeton High freshman football team in the fall of 2010, Liam Helstrom didn’t appear to be on the path to becoming one of the best players in the county.

But under the influence of then — PHS varsity coach Joe Gargione — Helstrom committed himself to becoming a physical force.

“Coach Gargione was religious with the weightlifting and the work,” said Helstrom, who moved up to the varsity as a sophomore, playing at tight end and defensive end.

“If you missed one workout he would get on you. As a freshman I went to every weightlifting session. I went from 130 to 160 pounds as a sophomore to 180-85 pounds. It was a lot of red meat and whole milk
and a lot of lifting.”

Last fall in his senior campaign, Helstrom, who grew to 6’2 and 190 pounds, lifted his game to lofty heights, grabbing 50 receptions for 853 yards and seven touchdowns and making 110 tackles with four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Helstrom’s heroics turned heads, earning him a spot on the West team for this year’s Sunshine Classic all-star football game, which is slated for July 1 at The College of New Jersey.

While PHS struggled to a 0-10 record last fall, Helstrom’s intensity never wavered.

“It was tough but since I knew I wasn’t going to be playing in college, I had the mindset to play every game like it was my last game,” said Helstrom, who is headed to Clemson University where he plans to study political science and attend a lot of big-time college football games.

“I knew we wouldn’t be a powerhouse. The year before, some of the seniors had quit. I was still going to have fun no matter what.”

Helstrom enjoyed moving to wide receiver last fall after playing tight end the previous two seasons.

“Offensively, it was back to backyard two-hand touch where everyone is a receiver,” said Helstrom, who enjoyed some big games at the end, making seven catches for 71 yards against WW/P-S, eight receptions for 185 yards and two touchdowns against Trenton, six catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns against Lawrence, and five catches for 149 yards and a touchdown in his finale against Marlboro. “I was stronger than the defensive backs.”

Helstrom’s strength came in handy at linebacker as well. “Defensively, I was the only guy that was going to make some of those tackles, especially after Sam (star linebacker Sam Smallzman) went out,” said Helstrom, who had 11 tackles and 2 forced fumbles in the WW/P-S game. “I was tackling guys 5-10 yards down the field.”

While Helstrom didn’t get to taste victory in his final campaign, he made fans out of his foes.

“I got a lot of respect from the other coaches, telling me that I was playing hard and that I was a leader,” said Helstrom.

Earning respect among his peers, Helstrom recently won the Bob James Award, which is given to the senior male or female athlete who best represents the highest aspirations of PHS athletics.

“There were a helluva lot of good senior athletes so that was the most important football award I won,” said Helstrom.

One of the highlights of Helstrom’s athletic career came in his junior season when his older bother, Carl, and younger brother, Rory, both played on the football team.

“It was a lot of fun, even the practices were a lot of fun, watching Rory go against Carl,” said Helstrom. “You talk about teammates being brothers but there is nothing like playing with your real brothers.”

Helstrom is excited to be getting the chance to go at it one more time on the football field.

“I thought it was awesome; I have been looking forward to it since I was a sophomore, seeing Alex Mitko and those guys play in the game,” said Helstrom, reflecting on getting chosen to play in the Sunshine game.

“It will be the last time I put on a helmet and shoulder pads and hit someone. It is humbling, it will be like sophomore year, I will have to prove something. I know a lot of those guys are really good.”

Having grown into a brilliant two-way performer, Helstrom has already proven he is a very good player.

WHITE WATER: Rena White, left, pulls hard in the stroke seat earlier this month for the Mercer Rowing Club women’s youth varsity 8 at the USRowing Youth Nationals with coxswain Noa Rothstein urging her on. The Mercer boat took fifth in the grand final at the competition on Lake Natoma near Sacramento, Calif., becoming the first women’s boat in club history to make the ‘A’ final in the open 8 category.

WHITE WATER: Rena White, left, pulls hard in the stroke seat earlier this month for the Mercer Rowing Club women’s youth varsity 8 at the USRowing Youth Nationals with coxswain Noa Rothstein urging her on. The Mercer boat took fifth in the grand final at the competition on Lake Natoma near Sacramento, Calif., becoming the first women’s boat in club history to make the ‘A’ final in the open 8 category.

Rena White was proud to see her hard work pay off last season as she competed for the Mercer Rowing Club.

“I was just more serious, focused, and fitter,” said White, who originally joined Mercer in the spring of 2011 as an eighth grader.

“I was doing extra conditioning. In the winter, I was doing 5-7k on the erg (ergometer) before practice and 12k on the erg on Wednesdays when we have half days. I also started rowing in pairs. I am not the biggest runner but I was doing more of that. I was on the lightweight 8 and we took 3rd at nationals.”

But as Princeton High junior White came into the 2013-14 season, she and her boatmates wanted to take things to a higher level.

“We decided to make the jump into the open weights,” said White. “We got a new girl from Hun, two of the novices stepped up and a girl came over from another club.”

Earlier this month, the boat stepped up big time, taking fifth at the USRowing Youth Nationals on Lake Natoma near Sacramento, Calif., becoming the first women’s boat in club history to make the ‘A’ final in the open 8 category.

For White, shifting
position in the boat helped the crew go into overdrive.

“I was 7th seat all spring and then was moved to stroke before the regionals,” said White, who was joined in the boat by Beatrice Sclapari, Caitlin Cleary, Kate Hickey, Kelly Fischer, Badia Shehab, Hayley Bork, Alex Natale, and coxswain Noa Rothstein.

“It was tough, it was a challenge. It was good to be able to set the rhythm for the boat but it is definitely a lot of pressure.”

The Mercer 8 proved it could handle the pressure collectively as it cruised to victory in mid-May in the Mid-Atlantic Junior Championships to qualify for the nationals.

“At regionals, we won by open water,” said White. “It was a really good piece, our best race of the year to that point.”

In the weeks leading up to nationals, White could feel the boat gaining even more speed.

“We were putting up really good splits,” said White. “Our coach (Ted Sobolewski) wasn’t sure if it was tailwind or our lake. Everything started coming together and we really started going for it.”

Starting the nationals in style, Mercer took second in its first heat, trailing only eventual champion Oakland Strokes.

“We were in a really good place, everyone was really focused,” said White, reflecting on the race in which the boat clocked a time of 6:48.596 over the 2,000-meter course with Oakland just ahead in 6:47.389. “We did well enough in that heat to go straight to the semis; that was really helpful.”

In the semis, the boat placed second to secure a spot in the grand final and a shot at a national title.

“Our coach said before the final that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and to leave it on the course,” recalled White.

While Mercer finished fifth in the final, White has no qualms with the result.

“We didn’t expect to medal,” said White in assessing the race which saw Mercer come in at 7:18.051, less than six seconds
away from a bronze medal.

“We surpassed expectations by making grand final. We have four lightweights and looking at the other boats, we saw how much smaller we were. It was not our best race but we were excited to be in grand final.”

In White’s view, the boat’s balance was a key factor exceeding expectations. “We are all pretty fit; we are all in the same place,” said White. “No one is really ahead or behind.”

In her senior season, White will be looking to lead the way as she was elected as a co-captain of the Mercer girls’ squad.

“That was really exciting,” said White, who also won the Mercer girls’ most valuable rower award.

“I want to lead by example and do the best I can everyday. I want kids to realize that whatever shape they are in, they can get good and have fun.”

After enjoying the ride to Lake Natoma this spring, White is looking to have even more fun next year.

“We have seven of nine people on the boat coming back; we are excited but it requires a lot of luck to make it to grand final,” said White, who is looking to row at the Division I level after high school.

“We know that because we made it this year, that doesn’t mean we will make it next year. We all want to be the best boat we can, everyone is focused.”

DEUTSCHLAND: Alex Deutsch takes a cut in recent action for the Princeton Post 218 American Legion baseball team. Former Hun School standout, and Middlebury College-bound, Deutsch has given Post 218 a lift in his first season with the club. Last Monday, centerfielder Deutsch went 3-for-3 with a two-run triple to help Princeton beat Hopewell Post 339 8-4 in eight innings and improve to 2-5.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

DEUTSCHLAND: Alex Deutsch takes a cut in recent action for the Princeton Post 218 American Legion baseball team. Former Hun School standout, and Middlebury College-bound, Deutsch has given Post 218 a lift in his first season with the club. Last Monday, centerfielder Deutsch went 3-for-3 with a two-run triple to help Princeton beat Hopewell Post 339 8-4 in eight innings and improve to 2-5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With two men on base in the third inning last Saturday against Hamilton Post 31, Alex Deutsch came through for the Princeton Post 218 American Legion baseball team.

Centerfielder Deutsch stroked a liner to center to knock in a run, sparking a four-run rally.

“I had seen him in my first at-bat; I walked when he threw me 4 balls and I knew he was going to come with a fast ball,” said Deutsch, reflecting on his approach in that at-bat. “I was looking for the fast ball over the plate and I hit it over the middle.”

Unfortunately for Post 218, the four-run outburst came after the team had dug an early 12-0 hole on the way to a 16-4 loss.

With Princeton having dropped several nailbiters in the first two weeks of the season, the rally was an encouraging sign.

“It’s funny because that is what we needed the entire season,” said Deutsch, who graduated from The Hun School earlier this month and was a co-captain and starting centerfielder for the Raider baseball team this spring.

“We have gotten one or two runs here or there and then we had one big inning when we were down by 12 runs. I think it was more that we were just playing loose.”

After an uneven senior season for Hun, Deutsch has been coming up big this summer for Post 218.

“I have been hitting really well,” said Deutsch, who went 3-for-3 with a two-run triple last Monday to help Post 218 beat Hopewell Post 339 8-4 in eight innings and improve to 2-5.

“I wasn’t consistent over the course of the season for Hun. I have had a hit every game so far with this team. I had a big hit yesterday (an RBI double in a 3-1 win over North Hamilton).”

The Middlebury College-bound Deutsch is enjoying playing his first season with Post 218. “I did all the showcase and the travel stuff the last couple of years so I wanted to play for my town in the last year,” said Deutsch.

“It is fun; it doesn’t get better than playing with a bunch of guys from your town.”

As he heads to Middlebury this fall, Deutsch is looking forward to playing with a new bunch of guys.

“Definitely the playing in the NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference) is a huge thing, it is so competitive,” said Deutsch.

“It is great athletics balanced with academics. When I visited and went up there, it just felt right, they always talk about the cliché moment when you walk on campus. I also love the guys on the team; they have had a rough last couple of years so I am hoping to go up there and help turn things around.”

Post 218 manager Tommy Parker loves having Deutsch on the squad. “Alex has been a great addition, he really has been a catalyst,” said Parker.

Parker is hoping that the four-run rally on Saturday could be a catalyst for his club going forward.

“That is something we can build on, these guys are capable of doing that,” said Parker. “There is no quit in them. You don’t lay down, you just keep pushing and things will happen.”

While the lopsided loss to Post 31 was disappointing, Parker doesn’t believe it is an accurate reflection of his team’s quality.

“We have been playing a lot of close games; we are a much better team than we showed here today,” maintained Parker.

“These guys are as talented as anyone in the league. We have had some really tough ones. The bats are beginning to come alive and that has really been the difference in the games that we haven’t won; we haven’t been able to get the offense. The pitching has been excellent. It will turn around; I can say that.”

In order to turn things around, Post 218 needs to display a mental toughness.

“What I think they need to do to get over the hump is to just have the old school mentality of putting them away when you get up,” said Parker, whose team plays Broad Street Park Post 313 on June 27 at Nottingham High, hosts Trenton Post 93/182 on June 28, Robbinsville Post 530 on June 29, and then plays Lawrence Post 414 at Eggerts Crossing Park on June 30 and faces Ewing Post 314 on July 1 at Moody Park.

“It is learning what true swagger is and having the confidence that when you are down, you are never out until the last strike or the last out. We have 21 more games to go and I have seen things turn around before. Last year, we made a push and this team is better than that.”

Deutsch, for his part, believes Post 218 can make a push. “We are a good hitting team, it is going to come along over the course of the season,” asserted Deutsch. “I honestly can tell you that I have not seen a team that we can’t beat.”

LYNCH-PIN: Atticus Lynch of the Princeton Little League Intermediate Division all-star team races to first base last weekend in the District 12 Intermediate (50/70) tournament. With shortstop Lynch providing plenty of offensive punch, Princeton rolled to the championship round of the double-elimination competition with three straight convincing wins, topping Cranbury 10-0 on Thursday, Millstone-Roosevelt 17-2 on Friday, and defending champion Bordentown 11-1 a day later.

LYNCH-PIN: Atticus Lynch of the Princeton Little League Intermediate Division all-star team races to first base last weekend in the District 12 Intermediate (50/70) tournament. With shortstop Lynch providing plenty of offensive punch, Princeton rolled to the championship round of the double-elimination competition with three straight convincing wins, topping Cranbury 10-0 on Thursday, Millstone-Roosevelt 17-2 on Friday, and defending champion Bordentown 11-1 a day later.

Coming into the District 12 Little League Intermediate (50/70) tournament last week at Farmview Fields, the Princeton squad had to scramble.

“The team was put together 10 days ago,” said manager Jon Durbin. “We started practicing the day after the team was announced so we had six practices as a team.”

While the squad didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, it was able to apply the perspective it gained last year from its first appearance in the Intermediate tourney which utilizes a modified baseball field using a 50-foot pitching distance and 70-foot base paths and is open to players ages 11-13.

“With a year of experience we learned a lot strategically in putting together the team and handling the pitching,” said Durbin.

“Last year we were young, we had only one 13-year-old. This year, we have five 13-year-olds, six 12-year-olds and two 11-year-olds. We are an older, more mature team.”

Showing its maturity and skill, Princeton rolled to the championship round of the double-elimination competition with three straight convincing wins, topping Cranbury 10-0 on Thursday, Millstone-Roosevelt 17-2 on Friday, and defending champion Bordentown 11-1 a day later.

Princeton is slated to host Bordentown on June 24 in the finals and would earn the title with a victory. A loss by Princeton would set up a winner-take-all finale on June 25.

In Durbin’s view, the team’s hot play is due, in part, to a selfless mentality and a heightened emphasis on defense.

“There are two things we have been really focusing on in practice,” said Durbin.

“One is getting all the guys to buy into the team and doing whatever the team needs. It doesn’t matter where you bat or what position you play. They are all in. We are doing extended fielding in practice. We have them doing the same amount of time in the infield as in the outfield so if they are called on to play a position that they are not familiar with, they will be more comfortable.”

Princeton developed a comfort level in the opener as pitchers Akira Nishiu, Jackson Rho, and Atticus Lynch combined for a no-hitter with Lynch and Eli Okoye each getting two hits to spark the offense. Lynch supplied the power in the win over Millstone-Roosevelt, going 4-for-5 with two homers, four runs, and two RBIs.

The combination of timely hitting and superb pitching has made Princeton a force to be reckoned with.

“Atticus has been on fire at the plate and has been playing a terrific shortstop,” said Durbin. “Okoye has been hitting well as has Tommy Reid. Nishiu and Rho have been pitching really strongly.”

Princeton’s strong start along with some sparkling glove work made the difference in the win over powerful Bordentown.

“When we saw Bordentown last year, the guys were thinking they are so big, how can we be on the same field with them,” said Durbin.

“Our confidence was higher this year after the two wins and we were able to push back after they took the lead in the first inning. We had some good defensive plays that put a lid on a couple of potentially big innings. We are not afraid of Bordentown and that is 75 percent of the battle.”

Durbin expects his players to keep battling with the title on the line. “If the boys are still fired up, still focused, and not getting overconfident, we should keep playing well,” said Durbin.

WARMING TO THE TASK: Adam Oresky warms up before a game this past winter in his senior season with the University of Hartford men’s basketball team. Oresky, who played for the Princeton Day School varsity boys’ hoops team from 2008-10, is currently making an impact for King’s Pizzarama in its debut campaign in Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League. Last Wednesday, the 6’8, 200-pound Oresky scored a team-high nine points to help King’s defeat Tortuga’s Mexican Village 49-40. On Monday, he chipped in six points as King’s topped Northeast Realty 41-34 to improve to 3-1.(Photo Courtesy of University of Hartford Athletic Communications)

WARMING TO THE TASK: Adam Oresky warms up before a game this past winter in his senior season with the University of Hartford men’s basketball team. Oresky, who played for the Princeton Day School varsity boys’ hoops team from 2008-10, is currently making an impact for King’s Pizzarama in its debut campaign in Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League. Last Wednesday, the 6’8, 200-pound Oresky scored a team-high nine points to help King’s defeat Tortuga’s Mexican Village 49-40. On Monday, he chipped in six points as King’s topped Northeast Realty 41-34 to improve to 3-1. (Photo Courtesy of University of Hartford Athletic Communications)

During his career with the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team, Adam Oresky was a member of the supporting cast.

Although Oresky, a 2010 PDS grad, didn’t crack the starting lineup in his two years on the Panther varsity squad, he was determined to play basketball in college.

Heading to the University of Hartford, Oresky sought to walk on to the school’s Division I hoops program.

“I tried out my freshman year but I didn’t make it,” said Oresky. “I had to get better; I had to keep working.”

Oresky put in the work and his dream eventually came true as he made the squad as a senior, getting into seven games last winter for the Hawks.

“I always loved playing basketball and just playing in the gym everyday and getting workouts,” said the 6’8, 200-pound Oresky, who noted that he was a rail-thin 165 pounds during his PDS days. “I just stuck with it and I was able to get a spot on the team.”

Last Wednesday, Oresky showed how much his game has progressed as he helped King’s Pizzarama top Tortuga’s Mexican Village 49-40 in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League.

Scoring a team-high 9 points, Oresky helped King’s overcome a 28-27 halftime deficit as they pulled away to the victory.

“We just want to go out and have a good time and see what happens,” said Oresky, who helped King’s start the second half with a 14-0 run that changed the tone of the contest. “Playing defense made the difference, getting stops on defense and turning that into offense.”

Oresky is looking to make a difference for King’s with his inside/out play.

“I shoot if I am open,” said Oresky, who scored six points on Monday as King’s topped Northeast Realty 41-34 to improve to 3-1 in its debut campaign in the summer league.

“I also go and crash the boards and get some rebounds inside. I do a little bit of both so I don’t get locked into one role.”

With King’s showing balance as nine players scored in the victory over Tortuga’s, Oresky believes the team can do some damage this summer.

“We have got a full bench, it is nice having subs when you get tired and everybody gets to play,” said Oresky, noting that former PDS teammate Kenny Holzhammer invited him to join the King’s squad. “I think our chemistry is getting better and we can make a run at it later.”

June 18, 2014
LATE SHOW: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse player Kevin Halliday heads upfield in action this spring. Senior midfielder Halliday’s late-game heroics helped PHS edge Allentown 11-10 in overtime to win its second straight Mercer County Tournament championship. Halliday scored the tying goal in the waning seconds of regulation and then tallied the game-winner in overtime. The Tufts-bound Halliday had 54 goals and 19 assists in his final campaign as PHS posted a record of 16-4.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LATE SHOW: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse player Kevin Halliday heads upfield in action this spring. Senior midfielder Halliday’s late-game heroics helped PHS edge Allentown 11-10 in overtime to win its second straight Mercer County Tournament championship. Halliday scored the tying goal in the waning seconds of regulation and then tallied the game-winner in overtime. The Tufts-bound Halliday had 54 goals and 19 assists in his final campaign as PHS posted a record of 16-4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Kevin Halliday isn’t one to give up easily.

With the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team trailing Allentown 10-9 with seconds remaining in the second half of the Mercer County Tournament championship game, PHS senior midfielder Halliday visualized a happy ending.

“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,” said 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 face-off and fired in the game-winning tally 10 seconds into the extra session.

Having committed to attend Tufts University and play for its men’s soccer team, Halliday brought a special sense of urgency this spring to the lacrosse field.

“This is it for me in lacrosse,” said Halliday. “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.”

Halliday had a lot of fun this spring, tallying 54 goals and 19 assists as PHS advanced to the Group III sectional semis and posted a final record of 16-4.

PHS head coach Peter Stanton credited Halliday with making a major contribution to the team’s success.

“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.”

For Halliday, the special camaraderie the Little Tigers developed this spring may have been the most memorable thing about his final lax campaign.

“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.

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

For being one of the best players in the area and competing to the end, Halliday is the choice as the Town Topics top male performer of the spring season.

Top Female Performer

When Emilia Lopez-Ona started her career with the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team in the spring of 2011, she didn’t have records on her mind.

Instead, she was simply looking to get the most out of her ability. “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.”

Lopez-Ona, though, took her game to an incredibly high level, hitting the 300-goal mark in her career with a 6-goal performance in a 14-10 win over Allentown on April 24.

The game was stopped and the PHS players mobbed Lopez-Ona, waving posters and posing for photos.

“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 is heading to Penn where she will play for its women’s lacrosse program.

“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.”

While Lopez-Ona possesses true athletic gifts in terms of speed and coordination, PHS head coach Kelsey O’Gorman points to diligence as the key ingredient in the midfielder’s success.

“It didn’t come easy; she works really hard,” said 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.”

Lopez-Ona ended up producing a phenomenal spring, scoring 89 goals and getting 31 assists as the Little Tigers went 17-4 on the way to advancing to the MCT championship game and the finals of the state Group III South sectional.

Noting that the Little Tigers started the season with two losses in their first three games, Lopez-Ona liked the way PHS improved collectively as the spring went on.

“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. “That shows a lot of maturity.”

O’Gorman, for her part, credited Lopez-Ona with being the catalyst that drove the PHS team.

“Emilia fought with all of her heart and soul,” said O’Gorman. “She lives and breathes lacrosse. She has enhanced her game over time.”

Lopez-Ona’s blend of competitive fire and skill earns her the nod as the top female performer this spring.

Top Newcomers

After pitching ace Ben Gross was sidelined this spring by arm problems, things looked bleak for the PHS baseball team.

Little Tiger head coach Dave Roberts, though, had a feeling that sophomore Joaquin Hernandez-Burt could help fill the void in his debut season at the varsity level. “He is a sophomore but he is big and he has some velocity,” said Roberts when assessing Hernandez-Burt in March.

The precocious sophomore turned out to be a big plus for the Little Tigers, emerging not only as the team’s ace but one of the top pitchers in the area. Hernandez-Burt posted a 5-4 record for a 9-14 PHS squad. He posted a sparkling 2.25 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings pitched.

By the end of the spring, Roberts credited Hernandez-Burt with playing a pivotal role as the Little Tigers made their first appearance in the state tournament since 2001.

“Joaquin has been tremendous all year, he has been dominant on the mound,” said Roberts.

“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.”

Hernandez-Burt’s stellar mound work makes him the pick as the top male newcomer of the spring.

Kathy Quirk wasn’t sure if Julie Fassl would be around the Hun School this spring for her freshman season on the softball team.

“I will tell you that the first couple of weeks in field hockey with her were brutal,” said Quirk of Fassl, who was transferring into Hun. “She said ‘I can’t stay here, this isn’t for me, I miss my high school friends.’ I really thought we were going to lose her.”

Fassl stayed at Hun and emerged as a valuable contributor for the field hockey team.

In the spring, she was a star for the softball team from day one, starting at catcher and hitting third in the Hun batting order. She provided superb defense behind the plate all spring long and was a reliable producer offensively.

“Fassl really stepped up, she was the only player in our lineup who didn’t have a strikeout this year,” said Quirk.

“She ended up making All-MAPL (Mid-Atlantic Prep League) and All-Prep as a freshman catcher. I had coaches saying to me after games that she is the real deal.”

For stepping up in such impressive fashion, Fassl is the selection for top female newcomer.

Top Coaches

Before the spring even started, Rob Tuckman knew he would be savoring this season with the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team.

Last fall, PDS head coach Tuckman announced that he would be retiring from coaching after the 2014 campaign.

Coming into the season, Tuckman had the sense that the Panthers were poised for big things as he looked ahead to his eighth season at the helm of the program.

“If we stay healthy, we can make runs,” asserted Tuckman. “We want to hang banners. We are going for the state Prep B title and the county championship.”

Featuring a potent offense and a stingy defense, PDS started the season with a 9-1 run, including wins over such formidable foes as Voorhees, Rutgers Prep, Peddie, and Somerville.

The Panthers started the postseason by overcoming an 8-2 halftime deficit to edge Montclair Kimberly 11-10 in the Prep B semis and then rolled to a 15-2 win over New Egypt in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament.

After stubbing its toe with a 5-4 loss to Notre Dame in the MCT quarters, PDS finished the season by hosting defending champion Rutgers Prep two days later in the Prep B title game.

The Panthers were primed to prevail in Tuckman’s finale. “They were hyped up for it, especially coming off of Saturday,” said Tuckman. “It made it all about just this game and they were able to really focus on it.”

Showing that focus, PDS jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the title game. After Rutgers Prep knotted the contest at 5-5 early in the second half, the Panthers produced a decisive 5-1 run on the way to a 10-8 win and the program’s first Prep crown since 1996.

To make things sweeter for Tuckman, his son, sophomore midfielder, Jonah, contributed three goals and two assists to help trigger the triumph which left the Panthers with a final record of 13-3.

As Tuckman reflected on the afternoon with his players hugging each other and posing for photos nearby, he couldn’t think of a happier ending.

“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.”

For ending things with a bang, Tuckman gets the nod as the top coach of a male program.

After falling to WW/P-N and Notre Dame in the first week of the season, the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team could have suffered a crisis of confidence.

“We didn’t let the early losses to North (WW/P-N) and Notre Dame set the tone,” said PHS head coach Kelsey O’Gorman. “We knew we had a lot to offer.”

Indeed, the Little Tigers reeled off a 13-game winning streak, avenging the defeat to Notre Dame by beating the Irish 19-9 in the Mercer County Tournament semis.

After dropping a 13-11 nailbiter to WW/P-N in the MCT championship game, PHS won three straight games in the state tournament, outscoring its foes 48-24, in advancing to the Group III South sectional title game.

While the Little Tigers fell 17-5 to the powerful Quakers, O’Gorman was proud of how her players acquitted themselves.

“We were excited to show our talent and I think we did,” said O’Gorman, whose team posted a final record of 17-4. “We didn’t slow down and we played to the end. We brought it up to a new level for Princeton lacrosse.”

O’Gorman’s role in getting PHS to a higher level earned her the nod as the top coach of a female team this spring.

STRAIGHT SHOOTER: Princeton High golfer Laura Burke displays her swing form. Senior Burke, who has been the team’s top player the last two seasons, enjoyed a superb final campaign, taking third in the Mercer County girls’ golf tournament and 21st in the girls’ NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.

STRAIGHT SHOOTER: Princeton High golfer Laura Burke displays her swing form. Senior Burke, who has been the team’s top player the last two seasons, enjoyed a superb final campaign, taking third in the Mercer County girls’ golf tournament and 21st in the girls’ NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.

Having divided her athletic efforts between golf and soccer, Laura Burke faced a crossroads in 2011 during her freshman year at Princeton High.

“I was playing golf pretty well my freshman year and then I broke my foot playing soccer so I didn’t play in any matches,” recalled Burke.

“I had been playing soccer since third grade. After I broke my foot, my parents said I had to pick one sport so I chose golf.”

Burke made the right choice, emerging as the No. 2 player on the PHS golf team in her sophomore season and then holding down the top spot that last two years.

While being the leading player can be a burden, Burke has enjoyed that role.

“I don’t look at it like that,” said Burke. “I am very competitive; the high school matches didn’t have as much pressure as the tournaments I play in the summer.”

After taking up golf as a grade-schooler, Burke became more competitive by middle school.

“My dad is a golf fanatic so I started when I was young,” said Burke. “I started getting serious in 8th grade. I was taking lessons at Bedens Brook and my coach said I was pretty talented.”

Fitting in with the PHS squad proved to be a serious challenge at first. “It was kind of tough; there is no girls’ team so I had to play with the boys,” said Burke.

“The top boys’ player in the state (Fraser Graham) was on the team at the time so that was pretty intimidating.”

Longtime PHS head coach Sheryl Severance played a key role in helping Burke feel welcome.

“I have gotten so close to Sheryl, she is like my mother at school,” said Burke.

Getting more intense about her game after her junior year prompted Burke to take a brief hiatus from golf before her final PHS campaign.

“Last summer, I tried to play everything,” said Burke. “I was in a different tournament every week, I was all over the country. I had some trouble with my swing; I wasn’t playing my best. I took a break this fall and then worked with a different coach. I felt I was really playing well coming into the spring.”

Burke has enjoyed some highlights this spring, carding a memorable 38 in a win over Lawrence, taking third in the county girls’ tourney, and ending her season by placing 21st in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.

“In the 38 against Lawrence; I had three birdies and a double, it was a weird round,” said Burke.

“I got third in the counties,” said Burke. “I double-bogeyed the last 2 holes so I was pretty disappointed. The Tournament of Champions was nice, playing at Cherry Valley. I shot a 79.”

In assessing her strengths as a player, Burke points to consistency off the tee and on the green.

“It is definitely my driving; I like my RocketBallz (TaylorMade driver),” said Burke, who will be taking a gap year before matriculating to Lehigh where she is hoping to play for the women’s golf team.

“I can put it right in the fairway. I had some trouble in the past with pulling it. When I am practicing my putting, I can do really well with that.”

As Burke reflects on her high school career, she believes that taking on the boys has made her a tougher player.

“I think the experience of playing with the boys has really helped me,” said Burke.

“They put a lot of pressure on me in practice and it was a good feeling to beat them. It helped me gain confidence and has made me more competitive in the girls events.”

VISION OF SUCCESS: Hun School softball head coach Kathy Quirk views the action from the dugout. Quirk, who just completed her 39th season at the helm of the program, was recently inducted into the Trenton Softball Hall of Fame in the women’s coaching division.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

VISION OF SUCCESS: Hun School softball head coach Kathy Quirk views the action from the dugout. Quirk, who just completed her 39th season at the helm of the program, was recently inducted into the Trenton Softball Hall of Fame in the women’s coaching division. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For players on the Hun School softball team, earning the squad’s “Iron Woman” award is a coveted honor.

“It is for commitment; you get it if you don’t miss a practice and you are ready to play in every game,” said Hun head coach Kathy Quirk, explaining the award.

“On this year’s team out of 12 girls, seven got it. I strive to make kids feel that softball is important to them.”

Quirk herself qualifies as an iron lady, having just finished her 39th spring guiding the Hun softball program. In recognition of her longevity and a run of success that has seen the Raiders win 10 state Prep titles in her tenure, Quirk was recently inducted into the Trenton Softball Hall of Fame in the women’s coaching division.

In reflecting on the honor, Quirk, 63, wasn’t expecting it to come her way.

“I was caught off guard, I said you have to be kidding me,” said Quirk. “There are so many qualified coaches in the area and they are just as deserving so it was kind of a shock. It is very well appreciated.”

It was a high school coach that put Quirk on the path to her Hall of Fame career.

“I was influenced to get into coaching by my field hockey coach, Mary Anne Morgan, she was this young, dynamic coach,” said Quirk, a native of Runnymede, N.J. who went to Sterling High.

“I remember we went to camp and she stood on the table and she was dancing to the Supremes. She had such a positive influence on me.”

Quirk starred in field hockey, softball and basketball at Sterling and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 1997.

Applying to Trenton State (now The College of New Jersey) against her father’s wishes, who wanted her to stay home and go to Glassboro State (now Rowan University), Quirk was accepted and came to Mercer County to continue her athletics career and pursue her goal of teaching and coaching.

“When I went to Trenton State I played all three sports up until my senior year,” said Quirk, who was named the school’s top female athlete in her sophomore year.

“My junior year I went abroad and played field hockey over in England and then came back in January so I didn’t play basketball; I just played softball. In my senior year, I just played field hockey and softball.”

After graduating from Trenton State in 1973, Quirk stayed in the area as she found a home at the Hun School.

“I graduated from Trenton State and Hun was looking for a field hockey coach,” said Quirk.

“I remember taking the bus and walking up and coming down here. I can remember what I actually wore that day. It is crazy. By the time I left, they hired me as a health and Phys. Ed. teacher and I was going to coach field hockey, basketball, and softball for $5,500 a year.”

Just months out of college, Quirk had to be a quick study as she plunged into  coaching.

“It was tough because you are not much older than the kids you are coaching,” said Quirk

“I think I was 22 and the school had just taken girls the year before or two years before and some of them were 17, 18. It was a challenge.”

Quirk faced a challenge in making the fledging Hun softball program competitive.

“It was more of a rec type program, more of a JV program, they were still building,” said Quirk.

“We didn’t have the equipment and facilities. I think it was just a gradual thing. We were playing on a grass field and my parents one weekend helped us skin the infield down there. We took wheel barrows and brought it all out; we took the dirt in. At that time, you didn’t have a big budget.”

By the 1990s, Hun was a big-time power in New Jersey prep softball circles. “In 1997, 1998, 1999 we won three in a row, which was really great,” said Quirk, whose office in the school’s Athletic Center has framed photos of each of those teams on the wall with other championships squads. “They were a good bunch of kids, they worked hard.”

Hard work and tenacity are two of the main cornerstones of Quirk’s coaching approach.

“I am a believer in fundamentals and drills,” said Quirk, who was inducted into the Hun School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001.

“I tell them that it is not always the most talented people that win but it is those who have the desire to win. You get that from constant repetition and constant drilling. I am not a screamer and a yeller. I think I prepare them enough that when they step on the field, they are ready to play the game.”

Getting Hun ready to play has been a family affair as Quirk’s husband, Bill, is her longtime assistant, and youngest son, Patrick, has helped out as well.

“We all bring something different to the table,” said Quirk, who guided the raiders to a 9-8 record this spring and an appearance in the state Prep A semifinals. “Pat worked with the infield, I work with the outfielders, Bill works with the batters so we all have our own role. It has been a family type thing.”

Over the years, Quirk’s former players have started to feel like family. “We had an alumni weekend; it was a little crazy, I am trying to coach a game and they are walking on the field to say hello,” said Quirk.

“Some of them have told me I have gotten a little soft in my years. I still hear from players. Aly Klemmer ’10 is coming back today to have lunch with me. I am not their best friend but I think they respect me and know what is expected and I think they appreciate that when it’s all done and all over.”

Quirk has appreciated getting the opportunity to coach for so many years. “I just think that coaching is very special; you form a bond with these girls,” asserted Quirk.

“There are days when they are having a bad day and I have to look past that. I always tell them when you walk into that team room and you walk down to that field, I want two hours of your time and I think they have learned to do that. I think they have learned to grow. I just watch my players, like I watched Kristen Manochio this year who we brought out of center field and to third base and by the end of the season you saw something shine in her eyes when she made a good play. It was not easy for her but as we told her, we believe in you and if we believe in you, you have to believe in yourself. I try to instill that about believing in themselves.”

In the final analysis, Quirk tries to instill life lessons that resonate long after high school.

“I am very competitive but there is more to the game than winning,” said Quirk.

“It is about building character and learning how to work with each other and learning how to be a teammate. It is learning how the game goes and being able to take the losses with the wins.”

OPENING STATEMENT: Bobby Davison of Ivy Inn dribbles the ball upcourt last year in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League. Last Wednesday, Davison helped defending league champion Ivy Inn edge Northeast Realty 53-44 in the opening night of 2014 summer hoops action.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

OPENING STATEMENT: Bobby Davison of Ivy Inn dribbles the ball upcourt last year in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League. Last Wednesday, Davison helped defending league champion Ivy Inn edge Northeast Realty 53-44 in the opening night of 2014 summer hoops action. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Bobby Davison acknowledged that Father Time is catching up with him as his Ivy Inn squad started its 2014 campaign last week in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League.

“Honestly, I never thought I would be one of the oldest guys in the league,” said Davison, a former hoops standout for Princeton High and The College of New Jersey.

“It was like yesterday that I was playing for SMB and now all of a sudden I am 30 and I have been in the league for 15 years.”

It took Ivy Inn a while to get its legs moving last Wednesday in the opener against Northeast Realty stocked with recent PHS alums. Knotted at 31-31 midway through the second half, Ivy pulled away to a 53-44 victory.

“It is never easy as the years go on,” said Davison. “We all have families now and we are not playing nearly as much as we used to. Playing a team like these guys is a very difficult first game for us coming right out of the gate.”

But with age comes savvy and defending league champion Ivy used that quality in overcoming Northeast.

“Arguably, we are the oldest, most experienced team in the league aside from Winberie’s probably,” said Davison, noting that Ivy Inn includes such stalwarts as Shahid Abdul-Karim, Mark Aziz, and Buddy Thomas.

“It is all veteran guys who have won championships, we have managed to keep the nucleus of the team together. Down the stretch you go to the foul line and we make foul shots and that’s what the experience and all that brings.”

Ivy Inn has supplemented that nucleus by adding Sherm Brittingham last year and picking up Greg Ford this summer.

“Last year having Sherm was a huge pickup and immediately we reached out to him again this year; he was excited and more than happy to be part of the team again,” added Davison.

“He just fits what we do, he is a great guy. He is a team player, he plays defense and he’s perfect for the Ivy Inn. I had the opportunity to play with Greg in the Hamilton league and I had so much fun playing with him. I figured this year I would rather play with him than against him. Every year we try to pick up one or two people, this year, it was Greg and I think he is going to be a huge addition to the team.”

In reflecting on his role, Davison is looking to provide some key intangibles for Ivy Inn, which fell 44-40 last Friday to Tortuga’s Mexican Village, the squad featuring the current TCNJ hoops players.

“I don’t get a chance to play as much but as the season progresses my role will increase,” said Davison, an officer with the East Windsor police department.

“I just try to be a leader and help us out on defense. I try to focus all of my attention on the defensive end and then on offense, create shots for the offensive players.”

Davison and his teammates are focused on getting another title this summer. “We have done it a couple of times,” said Davison of Ivy Inn, which has won four crowns in the last six summers.

“It is funny because even when we were running into guys here or there, they were saying we can’t wait to get back out and defend the title. I think it means a lot, guys are excited, they want to come out here and they take pride getting another title and repeating.”

June 11, 2014
WINNING SHOT: Princeton High senior Michelle Bazile goes low as she starts a shot put in action this spring. Last Wednesday, the Brown-bound Bazile won the shot put at the Meet of Champions at South Plainfield High. She produced a school-record heave of 43’6.25 in taking the title. This weekend, Bazile will be competing on the national stage as she takes part in the 2014 New Balance Nationals Outdoors Championships at Greensboro, N.C.

WINNING SHOT: Princeton High senior Michelle Bazile goes low as she starts a shot put in action this spring. Last Wednesday, the Brown-bound Bazile won the shot put at the Meet of Champions at South Plainfield High. She produced a school-record heave of 43’6.25 in taking the title. This weekend, Bazile will be competing on the national stage as she takes part in the 2014 New Balance Nationals Outdoors Championships at Greensboro, N.C.

Michelle Bazile joined the track team at the John Witherspoon School in the spring of 2008 because she was looking to fit in.

“I was kind of anti-social at the beginning of sixth grade and my parents made me go out for a sport in the spring,” said Bazile.

“I disliked running and my dad was the throwing coach so I started throwing. I didn’t really like it but I stuck with it because I didn’t want to run.”

By the time Bazile entered Princeton High in 2010, she was committed to throwing.

“I started to enjoy it more; coming out of eighth grade, I thought it was a pretty good path to pursue,” said Bazile. “Number one, it was something I was enjoying and, number two, throwing can help get you recruited to college.”

Bazile’s path resulted in a state championship last Wednesday as the senior star won the shot put at the Meet of Champions at South Plainfield High.

As Bazile arrived at the meet last Wednesday to compete in the shot and the discus, she wasn’t focused on titles.

“I was just thinking about getting a personal record (PR),” said Bazile. “I didn’t care what I placed as long as I was happy with my distances.”

Early in the competition, Bazile achieved a new distance for her. “This girl named Cheyenne (Cheyenne Bellerand of Emerson High) popped a 43’3 on her first throw,” recalled Bazile. “I was seeded first so I threw last. My PR was 42’4 so I needed to beat my PR by a foot. I had 43’6.25 on my first throw.”

That throw, also a school record, held up and earned Bazile the title with Bellerand taking second.

“I wasn’t thinking about whether I was first,” said Bazile, who didn’t find out that she won until she was competing in the discus on her her way to a 14th place finish in that event. “I didn’t know where I was. I threw 45 on my last throw but my foot hit the board so it was a foul.”

Days after winning the championship, the achievement still hadn’t sunk in for Bazile.

“It’s kind of weird; I can’t believe it actually happened,” said Bazile. “The New Jersey girls at the national championships will be thinking of me as the girl who won. I will have a target on my back.”

In Bazile’s first two years at PHS, it didn’t look like a state title was going to happen for her. As a freshman, she was at 30 feet in the shot and threw 105’4 in the discus to make the sectionals. In her sophomore season, she got her shot in the 36 area and had a personal best of 127’3 in the discus.

“A lot of things started coming together in my junior year,” said Bazile. “For shot put, it helped that I did winter track instead of basketball so I was throwing constantly. At the Penn Relays that year I got my PR in the discus of 139’3 that is still my PR. It is a little frustrating. I was changing a lot of my technique and I got more into weightlifting.”

Entering her senior year, Bazile was confident that she could build on the progress she made as a junior.

“It was not so much about winning titles, it was more about getting personal bests,” said Bazile.

“In the winter, I was looking for 41-42 in the shot; I think I might have been at 41 in the postseason. In the discus, I was looking for 150-160, which is totally within my ability.”

As the season has unfolded, Bazile has been surprised by how well she has done in the shot.

“I had always felt that discus was my specialty until this year,” said Bazile. “I have been consistently throwing the shot put better and I am higher ranked in the shot put.”

Winning both the shot and the discus in the Mercer County Championships in May was a confidence builder for Bazile heading into state competition.

“At the counties, I had my best series in the shot put and the discus,” said Bazile, who had a throw of 41’2.5 to win the shot and a heave of 130’6 in winning the discus.

“I was in the high 120s and 130s in the discus. I had the shot consistently in the 40-41.”

This weekend, Bazile will be taking a shot at more glory as she competes in the 2014 New Balance Nationals Outdoors Championships at Greensboro, N.C.

“I have registered only for the shot in the championship division,” said Bazile, who is heading to Brown University where she will be throwing for its women’s track program.

“For the shot put I am looking to go 45 or better and stay in the circle. In the discus, I am entered in the emerging elite division. I have one more discus competition in my high school career. It would be great to PR but I just want to have fun.”

Bazile has certainly had a lot of fun since she grudgingly took up throwing six years ago.

GUIDING HAND: Greg Hand is enjoying the moment at a Princeton High swim meet this past winter. Hand, the longtime head coach of the PHS boys’ and girls’ swimming teams and the girls’ soccer program, recently announced that he is retiring from teaching and coaching.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GUIDING HAND: Greg Hand is enjoying the moment at a Princeton High swim meet this past winter. Hand, the longtime head coach of the PHS boys’ and girls’ swimming teams and the girls’ soccer program, recently announced that he is retiring from teaching and coaching. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Going by the numbers, it is clear that Greg Hand knows something about winning.

In 23 seasons as the head coach of the Princeton High girls’ soccer team, Hand has compiled a record of 223-152-20 with numerous appearances in the state tournament, a sectional title in 2012, and some stirring runs in the Mercer County Tournament.

Guiding the PHS boys’ and girls’ swimming programs since 1996-97, Hand molded the Little Tigers into a powerhouse. In his tenure, the boys’ squad has gone 202-46-3 with seven county crowns, 12 sectional titles, five appearances in the state finals, and a New Jersey Public B championship in 2012. During that stretch, the Little Tiger girls’ team has posted a record of 152-63-2 with two county crowns, seven sectional titles, and four appearances in the Public B championship meet.

But for Hand, the subject of winning hasn’t been the daily focus as he has worked with the PHS athletes over the years.

“I have wanted to challenge the kids to find out what 100 percent felt like, what it looked like when a team was there so that — to me — is one of the great coaching challenges,” said Hand.

“So if you are functioning at 90 percent, you are not even close. We are talking about working hard every day but also understanding hard work better than you did before you came into the season or better than you did a few years ago and really getting to understand what your potential for work is. I don’t just mean physical exertion but for focus and recovering from mistakes and what that looks like when you are really doing it right.”

After doing things right at PHS since the 1980s on the field, in the pool, and in the classroom teaching AP U.S. history, Hand has decided to retire from teaching and coaching.

In reflecting on his decision, Hand concluded that it is time to take a break from his heavy work load.

“The normal demands were 80-100 hours a week for about 40 years,” said Hand, 63.

“My life has rotated around my professional work as a teacher and a coach on the one hand and my family on the other hand. I don’t have a sense beyond that, even including summers when I have always been looking to preparing for the next academic year and the next seasons that were coming up in the next year. I am interested in finding out what life will be like without that constancy of focus on my profession.”

Hand’s life turned in the direction of teaching after he matriculated to Princeton University.

“It was not something I thought a great deal about but during college, I decided to become certified to become a substitute teacher,” said Hand, a native of Pound Ridge, N.Y. who played basketball and competed in track for his high school.

“I spent many a day during those years substituting at Trenton Central, all five of the middle schools, and the occasional failed effort to be an elementary school teacher for a day. I really, really felt and saw something there. I learned a little about the teacher preparation program so decided to follow up and learn more about it and then enrolled at the program at Princeton. My certificate came through the teacher prep program with the student teaching and so on in my senior year.”

After a stint at the Newgrange School, Hand came to the Princeton school system in 1985 as a teacher at John Witherspoon. He coached the PHS JV boys’ soccer team and served as an assistant for the Little Tiger track program, concentrating on the throwers. He moved to PHS in 1988 and took a three-year hiatus from coaching soccer to get himself established in his new position.

Hand took the helm of the PHS girls’ soccer program in 1991 and threw himself into the job.

“The wonderful challenge of head coaching is to deal with every possible aspect of the sport and also the real time nature of it,” said Hand, who continued to serve as a track assistant coach through spring of 2010.

“As much as you can do on the outside to prepare, to study, and try to improve yourself and try to come up with ideas, a huge amount of the execution in coaching is generally a real time response to what the situation happens to be.”

For Hand, one of the best situations he encountered during his career was the chance to coach his children, Emily, Matt, and Pete, in swimming.

“It was one of the most special things in my life,” asserted Hand, grinning broadly.

“There was a period where I had Emily and Matt. Em had to stop her career early because she had shoulder problems throughout her teenage life. I started with Matt in his freshman year and then after Matt graduated, Pete came in the following year. They were five years apart. It was thrilling in so many ways. The obvious one in terms of a family connection is just getting to experience something with your kids unlike anything else you might be able to do.”

Seeing his boys’ swimming team roll past Scotch Plains-Fanwood 109-61 in the 2012 state Public B championship meet provided Hand with a thrilling memory he won’t soon forget.

“I have never seen anything like it, the opposing coach said she had never seen anything like it,” said Hand.

“They had beaten us the year before, they were marginally the better team. We certainly lost more state championship meets than we won and what that does is to remind me that in sports, the contest is the thing. Winning is just extra special but it involves a whole different set of emotions, it seems to me, it is a combination of joy and in some ways, relief.”

In reflecting on his soccer tenure, Hand cited the impact that special players made on a year-to-year basis.

“One thing that runs through all of the sports but soccer in particular and certainly stands out there is the different character that each team had,” said Hand.

“We were, depending on the year, losing more than we were winning but there was a really good soccer culture and some terrific young ladies and really fine players. I think of teams that were shaped by the character of particular players, let’s say maybe we had a back four that was really solid and one year we had an incredible midfield and the next year we might have a real character forward.”

With that character came some outstanding play. “One of the great things about soccer to me was that regardless of what their particular abilities were, when the game is really flowing and it is not just attractive soccer, it is very effective, sometimes surprisingly effective,” added Hand.

“That is so rewarding when you see it. Sometimes you see it in spurts but other times you would see if for an entire half or a large majority of a game. There were such players and teams throughout the 23 years and some of them made the game look the way it should.”

One of Hand’s chief aims was to get his athletes to raise the level of their game.

“I tried to help kids understand that they have another gear,” said Hand. “That is rooted in my own experience in trying to be a good athlete and seeing it in the world of sports throughout my entire life when people do the things that literally make me catch my breath and almost cry. Student-athletes do have another gear and if they haven’t found it, it doesn’t mean that they won’t find it and if they have found it at some time, it is worth remembering what that was like and trying to connect with that more often.”

In Hand’s view, the pursuit of that extra gear helps a team come together collectively.

“The final thing I can think of in my sense of how athletes and teams get good is trying to help them to see some sort of cyclical relationship between hard work and team spirit,” said Hand.

“When you start working hard and challenging them to be enthusiastic as they are working and they complete some piece of work, whether it is a swimming workout or a real challenging exercise that we are doing in soccer or a certain number of reps of a certain type in track, that hard work generates a certain kind of spirit. The discussion there is to get the team to want to do more because they feel great about what doing more feels like.”

PHS athletic director John Miranda lauds Hand’s quality of work on many levels.

“He was an old school coach, wearing a shirt and a tie to the swimming meets,” said Miranda.

“He was incredibly well organized and incredibly thorough. He was always respected for his sportsmanship and his teams always showed good sportsmanship. He was a great teacher of the different sports but what he taught off the field was more important. He coached thousands of kids over the years, with 100 in swimming every year, 50 girls in soccer program, and 25 throwers.”

While Miranda is happy to see Hand step aside on his own terms, he rues the void being left in his wake.

“He is going to be really missed,” said Miranda. “He is the best combination of athletics, academics, and sportsmanship, a shining example to aspire to.”

Hand, for his part, will miss the daily interaction with his colleagues and students.

“It has been a thrill to be in the company of coaches who are so good at what they do,” said Hand, who plans to remain in Princeton and is looking into doing some track and swimming officiating and volunteer coaching.

“I feel very lucky to have worked with them and learned from them. The second thing, for sure, is the thrill day in, day out of working with student athletes, to try to help them actualize their potential. Even if I am tired, you get to the coaching venue and that is gone for what generally amounts to two or three hours and it is just completely focused and positive. There is always this effort to find a way to be constructive; wasted time is never in the agenda for coaching or teaching and I loved that.”

And Hand has undoubtedly made the most of his time at PHS in setting an example of class and success over the decades.

MAKING STRIDES: Princeton High softball player Stephanie Wu races around the bases in recent action. Sophomore third baseman Wu emerged as a star for PHS this spring, hitting a team-high .364. The Little Tigers went 4-4 in their last eight games to end up with a 7-16 final record.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MAKING STRIDES: Princeton High softball player Stephanie Wu races around the bases in recent action. Sophomore third baseman Wu emerged as a star for PHS this spring, hitting a team-high .364. The Little Tigers went 4-4 in their last eight games to end up with a 7-16 final record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After losing 12 of its first 15 games this season, the Princeton High softball team could have thrown in the towel.

Instead, the Little Tigers came alive down the stretch, playing their best ball of the year.

“In the last 8 games we were 4-4,” said PHS head coach Dave Boehm, whose team ended the season by beating WW/P-N 14-9 on May 14 and topping Trenton 12-4 on May 19 to post a final record of 7-16.

“Of those losses, one was to Notre Dame, who had one defeat at that point, it was 4-0 in a game that was 0-0 in the fifth inning; there was a 5-4 loss to Nottingham in the bottom of the seventh and 6-4 to WW/P-S in the Mercer County Tournament. WW/P-S and Nottingham had 10-runned us earlier in the season.”

Going with the tandem of freshman Kayla Volante and junior tri-captain Sarah Eisenach to share the pitching duties within games helped the Little Tigers get more competitive.

“We called it our two-headed monster,” said Boehm of the rotation that saw Volante compile a 3.10 ERA with 64 strikeouts in 61 innings pitched and Eisenach post an ERA of 6.24 with 67 strikeouts in 79 2/3 innings.

“I think it threw other teams off. Kayla has a little better movement and Sarah is faster and not afraid to go inside on batters. I would have them go two or three innings at a time.”

The trio of seniors Liana Bloom, Katie Kanter, and tri-captain Jessica Campisi helped the team stay on track.

“Liana filled in for Emily DiLella at first base and she did a good job; she played the last 8-9 games and did very well defensively,” said Boehm.

“She struggled at the plate a little bit but she didn’t take that out to the field; she was able to separate that. Katie Kanter is a total team player, even though she is not catching any more, she would put equipment on and warm up pitchers. Jess stepped in at shortstop and did a really good job. She had a number of key hits for us. She works a count; she led us in walks.”

Sophomores Stephanie Wu and tri-captain Kelli Swedish led the way for PHS offensively.

“Wu hit .364, that is very good for a kid who hit about .190 last year,” said Boehm.

“She had big hits and she hit for power. Her homer against Ewing was not wind-aided. Swedish being injured for a while hurt us. We can count on her in left field. She hit .357 and she has some pop. She is our best baserunner, she doesn’t
make a lot of mistakes.”

Volante and classmate Nancy Gray emerged as players who could be counted on.

“Kayla didn’t pitch a lot in the beginning; when we went to the two-inning thing, she got more confident,” said Boehm.

“She knew she didn’t have to pitch the whole game and would be going back to the outfield. She hit .288, which is good for a freshman who has never played at this level before. For a kid who hadn’t caught in a while, Nancy did really well. She shut down the other teams’ running game with her throwing. She would throw a runner out or make it a close play and they wouldn’t run again. She’ll learn to drop down and get even better.”

Boehm expects the team to keep getting better collectively. “We won 11 games last year with six seniors; this year we won seven with a bunch of a new players,” said Boehm.

“I am excited looking at next year. They have to put in work over the offseason; they can’t just come out in March and start playing. They need to work on bunting, hitting, and the fundamentals. I told them they can have the key to the shed and use the equipment.”

THROWING GAS: Princeton Day School baseball player Dom ­Gasparro throws the ball in a game this spring. Sophomore third baseman Gasparro was a bright spot this spring for the Panthers as they posted a 4-12 final record.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

THROWING GAS: Princeton Day School baseball player Dom ­Gasparro throws the ball in a game this spring. Sophomore third baseman Gasparro was a bright spot this spring for the Panthers as they posted a 4-12 final record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Murphy’s Law certainly applied to the Princeton Day School baseball team this spring.

Things started going wrong in the first inning of the season opener as PDS pitching ace and junior quad-captain Cole McManimon was hit by a line drive that broke his hand, knocking him out of action for more than a month.

Playing shorthanded, the Panthers struggled, going 4-12 and getting eliminated in the first round of both the Mercer County Tournament and the state Prep B tourney.

It was all hands on deck for PDS this spring as the shortage of manpower required versatility.

“Some days we dressed 11 and all of the kids had two or three gloves in their bags,” said Panther head coach Ray O’Brien. “Instead of getting down, the kids embraced it. Everyone got to pitch in.”

O’Brien credited his players with maintaining an upbeat attitude as they dealt with the ups and downs.

“When you are going through a difficult season, it can become unpleasant for the players and the coaches but that never happened this spring,” asserted O’Brien. “The guys stuck together and played hard, it was a good group of guys.”

Senior quad-captain Ford Schneider played a key role in holding things together.

“Ford was a great leader, he showed the younger guys how to play,” said O’Brien of the Emory-bound Schneider, who hit .356 on the season.

“He was the epitome of a captain, he set a good example. He is what we want in a PDS player. He hit the ball well and played a good center field. He did whatever we needed.”

Junior shortstop and quad-captain Jake Alu did very well this spring, leading the Panthers in hitting (.419), runs (15) and hits (26) and posting a 2.06 ERA in 20 1/3 innings of work on the mound.

“Jake was our most consistent player; he led the team in most offensive categories,” said O’Brien of the Boston College-bound Alu.

“He was terrific at shortstop. When we needed him to pitch, he did well. We wanted him to be our closer but we didn’t have many opportunities for that.”

Another junior quad-captain, Villanova recruit and first baseman James Radvany closed with a rush, posting a .364 batting average.

“JP ended up with some pretty decent numbers, he started to come on at the end,” added O’Brien. “He got a lot of walks, people pitched around him.”

The team’s quartet of freshmen, Paul Franzoni (.341 batting average), Ryan Sparks (.383 batting average), Zach Dudeck (.453 on-base percentage), and Chase Fleming (23 2/3 innings and 3.25 ERA) came on strong.

“I don’t know what we would have done without Paul Franzoni at catcher; he caught every inning and was really good defensively,” said O’Brien.

“I was surprised at how well he represented himself at the plate, he hit above .300. He will come back bigger and stronger, I am excited to have him for the next three years. Ryan Sparks played first, outfield, and was a left-handed pitcher for us. He did all of that well and he hit well. I think he was our second or third top hitter. Dudeck played really well in the outfield; he ended up with a pretty good on-base percentage. Chase Fleming led us in innings pitched and appearances. He can find the strike zone; he is your typical crafty lefty.”

PDS also got good play from sophomores Dom Gasparro (.300 batting average) and Sam Guarino (.275 batting average). “Dom had a pretty good season, he really came on at the end of the year,” said O’Brien. “Sam really looked good at times, we just need him to be more consistent.”

In O’Brien’s view, enduring this spring’s rocky ride should help the Panthers be more consistent in the future.

“We lost a lot of close games, I think we had four one-run games; we were competitive the whole year and I think that is a good sign,” said O’Brien.

“We were playing so many young guys, to be in those games and be close will help us. We need to learn how to win those games. Having Cole back next year will make a big difference. All three of the big juniors will be captains and I think they will pick up where Ford left off.”

STANDING TALL: Mark Aziz of Ivy Inn, right, establishes inside position against Bobby Brackett of Sneakers Plus in last year’s championship series in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League. Ivy Inn swept the series 2-0 and Aziz was named as Foreal Wooten Playoff MVP. The league tips off its 26th season on June 11 with a triple-header at the Community Park courts.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STANDING TALL: Mark Aziz of Ivy Inn, right, establishes inside position against Bobby Brackett of Sneakers Plus in last year’s championship series in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League. Ivy Inn swept the series 2-0 and Aziz was named as Foreal Wooten Playoff MVP. The league tips off its 26th season on June 11 with a triple-header at the Community Park courts. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The deck has been reshuffled a bit as the Princeton Recreation Department Men’s Summer Basketball League tips off its 26th season this week.

“We definitely lost some of the old standbys in Dr. Palmer, PA Blue Devils, and Clear View,” said league commissioner and Rec Department Assistant Director Evan Moorhead.

“They couldn’t get enough players to commit. Some years we lose one or two teams but that is three pretty strong teams to lose.”

The league does boast the return of a pair of kings in defending champ Ivy Inn and Winberie’s, the 2012 titleists.

“Ivy Inn has the same group and I anticipate they will be in the mix for a championship,” said Moorhead.

“They have Bobby Davison, Mark Aziz, and Shahid Abdul-Karim. Shem Brittingham is back. They also have Lior Levy, Davon Holman, Kevin Tarca, and they have picked up Greg Ford. They should be a really strong team.”

Winberie’s has fortified itself for a title run. “Kurt Simmons has taken the reins from Mark Rosenthal; he knows the league and he knows the guys,” said Moorhead.

“They have picked up Jesse Krasna from the Blue Devils and Paul Johnson who played at Rider. They also got Terrance Bailey from Dr. Palmer. They have Chris Hatchell back along with Chris Edwards and Cliff Pollard. They may be the strongest challenger to dethrone the champions.”

Last summer’s wildcard, the entry comprised of current players from The College of New Jersey squad, which made it to the 2013 championship series, figures to again be a contender.

“The TCNJ team had a great run; it is not often that a team comes into the league and makes a championship run in its first year,” said Moorhead of the squad which is known as Tortuga’s Mexican Village this season after being sponsored by Sneakers Plus last summer.

“With Skye Ettin and Bobby Brackett, they will be tough. I think they have a lot of their guards coming back.”

There will be a strong Princeton High presence with the Princeton Youth Sports entry that contains current PHS players and the Northeast Realty squad, which includes a number of former Little Tiger standouts.

“PYS is back, they take their lumps but they are not in it for the wins and losses, they are looking to get the experience,” said Moorhead.

“Northeast is mostly PHS alums with guys like Ben Harrison, Ian Finnen, Fernando Silva, Davon Black, and Javon Pannell. They should be good and have a nice local following.”

The league’s new entries, which include Princeton Pi/Sketch Yogurt, Princeton Interventional Cardiology, King’s Pizzarama, and Belle Mead Physical Therapy, feature an intriguing mix of performers.

“The Princeton Pi/Sketch Yogurt team has some recognizable guys in graduating PHS players Cal O’Meara, Peter Mahotiere, Matt Donahue, and Paul Murray,” added Moorhead.

“They also have four Hightstown kids and some West Windsor and Ewing kids. They are going to be young but they should be an interesting team. Princeton Intervention has some guys from Raritan Valley Community College, I expect them to be competitive. King’s has Ryan Johnson, a Ewing kid, and Kenny Holzhammer, a former Princeton Day School player. Belle Meade is led by Matt Johnston, who is a Hillsborough guy. Most of the players are from that area.”

With the league opening action with a triple-header at the Community Park courts on June 11, starting at 7:15 p.m., the anticipation is building.

“We have been trying to generate some buzz on Twitter because the season sneaks up on a lot of people,” said Moorhead.

“I think when we get some more consistent warm weather, a bunch of days in the 80s, people will get in summer hoops mode.”

Moorhead is confident things will heat up at Community Park as the summer  unfolds.

“The first 25 years of the league have been great, I am excited to see what the 26th year brings,” said Moorhead.

“There were years when we had NCAA certification and there were a lot of D-I players. There was more talent but I think the league should be as competitive as ever.”

June 4, 2014
CLOSING LINE: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse star Emilia Lopez-Ona heads to goal in action this spring. Senior and Penn-bound Lopez-Ona ended her career with a goal and an assist as PHS fell 17-5 to Moorestown last Thursday in the state Group III South sectional final. Lopez-Ona closed out her career with more than 300 goals and tallied 120 points this season on 89 goals and 31 assists.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CLOSING LINE: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse star Emilia Lopez-Ona heads to goal in action this spring. Senior and Penn-bound Lopez-Ona ended her career with a goal and an assist as PHS fell 17-5 to Moorestown last Thursday in the state Group III South sectional final. Lopez-Ona closed out her career with more than 300 goals and tallied 120 points this season on 89 goals and 31 assists. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It would have been understandable if the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team brought a sense of dread into its state Group III South sectional final matchup at perennial power Moorestown High last Thursday.

After all, Moorestown entered the game with a 22-0 record, riding a 73-game winning streak, ranked No. 1 in New Jersey and in the top 5 nationally.

But PHS head coach Kelsey O’Gorman saw the clash with the high-powered Quakers as a reward.

“It was a great opportunity for us,” said O’Gorman. “You know that if you are going up against Moorestown in the states that you are having a great season. We wanted to at least reach the same game that we reached last year and we made it to the sectional final again. We were excited to take them on and see that level of lacrosse.”

While Moorestown showed that it was at a higher level than PHS as it posted a 17-5 win, O’Gorman had no qualms with her team’s performance.

“We were excited to show our talent and I think we did,” said O’Gorman, who got three goals from Gabby Gibbon in the defeat with Emilia Lopez-Ona adding a goal and an assist with Allie Callaway chipping in a goal. “We didn’t slow down and we played to the end.”

With a final record of 17-4, the Little Tigers showed a lot this spring. “I couldn’t be happier with the way the girls played and conducted themselves,” said O’Gorman.

“They were a well rounded team and a class act. They followed the lessons I tried to instill and they gave 100 percent all of the time and you can’t ask for more than that. We finished strong, we were a force to be reckoned with.”

One of PHS’s strongest efforts this spring came against Notre Dame in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals as the Little Tigers avenged a 15-10 regular season loss to the Irish.

“The win over Notre Dame in the county semis was a highlight,” recalled O’Gorman of the 19-9 triumph over the Irish.

“The girls played some great lacrosse, there were very few errors. To take such a lead on a team that had beaten us early in the season and then to hold them off when they made a run was great.”

O’Gorman credited the team’s seniors with sparking its run to the MCT and sectional title games.

“The seniors were awesome, all eight of them,” asserted O’Gorman of the program’s Class of 2014 which included Emilia Lopez-Ona, Dana Smith, Liz Jacobs, Emily Young, Krysta Holman, Stephanie Hauer, Kristi DeMilt, and Taylor Chiang.

“They were very mature. They took the underclassmen under their wings. The reason we went so far this year was due to their maturity. It is going to be hard to replace these seniors. They have made an impact on the program and the coaches.”

Penn-bound Lopez-Ona made an indelible impact on the program. “Emilia fought with all of her heart and soul,” said O’Gorman of Lopez-Ona who passed the 300-goal mark in her career in May and totaled 120 points this season on 89 goals and 31 assists.

“She lives and breathes lacrosse. She has enhanced her game over time; she has the determination to go out and practice hour after hour.”

The Little Tigers got determined play across the board from its senior group.

“Dana Smith (15 goals, 20 assists, and 81 ground balls inn 2014) had such fight, showed great fight on the ground balls,” said O’Gorman.

“Liz Jacobs (53 goals, 9 assists) has more power than any high school player I have ever seen. Taylor was such a versatile player. Steph Hauer (1 goal, 21 ground balls) and Kristi DeMilt (2 goals, 16 ground balls) knew how to keep the defense tight. This was one of the best defensive teams we have had. There were a lot of games where the defense was the MVP.”

With a solid core of returners, including juniors Gabby Gibbons (64 goals, 25 assists, 24 ground balls), Oona Ryle (8 goals, 1 assist, 37 ground balls), and Mira Shane (160 saves at goalie) along with sophomores Allie Callaway (23 goals, 1 assist) and Julia Ryan (13 goals, 8 assists, 28 ground balls), the Little Tigers figure to keep piling up the wins.

“We have a lot of great players coming back,” said O’Gorman. “Gabby and Allie work well together, they have big shoes to fill on offense. Ryle and Lis will go on our face-off unit. Mira is our backbone, she is great at communicating and directing our defense.”

PHS will need to keep showing backbone in the future to build on the success it experienced this spring.

“I think that they know that there are going to be challenges along the way and with hard work they can be really successful,” said O’Gorman, referring to her returning players.

“We didn’t let the early losses to North (WW/P-N) and Notre Dame set the tone. We knew we had a lot to offer. We brought it up to a new level for Princeton lacrosse.”

CREASE CONTROL: Stuart Country Day School lacrosse goalie Harlyn Bell makes a save in recent action. Junior star Bell was the backbone of the Stuart defense this spring as the Tartans posted an 8-6 record. Stuart ended the season with four straight wins in producing the program’s first winning campaign in seven years.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CREASE CONTROL: Stuart Country Day School lacrosse goalie Harlyn Bell makes a save in recent action. Junior star Bell was the backbone of the Stuart defense this spring as the Tartans posted an 8-6 record. Stuart ended the season with four straight wins in producing the program’s first winning campaign in seven years. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Stuart Country Day School lacrosse team, its season-ending win over Hamilton exemplified the program’s improvement this spring.

Displaying skill and poise, Stuart prevailed 15-11 to end the season on a four-game winning streak and post a final record of 8-6.

“We lost to Hamilton last year and we knew it would be a tough game,” said Stuart head coach Caitlin Grant.

“We have a different team this year. We fought the whole time. It was close. We never said we had it. We had to hold on to the ball in the last two minutes.”

A key factor that helped the Tartans hold off the Hornets in the May 15 contest was scoring balance.

“I loved the fact that a freshman, Mary O’Boyle, who just started playing this year, scored the first goal for us,” said Grant.

“The goals were spread out. Julia [Maser] had seven, Amy [Hallowell] had three. Tori [Hannah] had two and the freshmen had three.”

The team’s trio of seniors, Hallowell, Meghan Shannon, and Victoria Orellana, saved their best for last, coming with big efforts in the win over Hamilton.

“Amy really stepped up; she wanted to make it worth it for her last game,” said Grant.

“She went after every single ball and didn’t drop one pass. She left it all on the field. Meghan was talking and sliding on defense. She was looking to help people, she was really in the defensive mindset. Vicky made an impact. She fought to the restraining line and really played hard.”

The team’s hard work helped it make a bigger impact in local lacrosse circles.

“We went from three wins to eight wins, it was our first winning season in seven years,” said Grant.

“Last year we struggled, we were so young. We had a lot of freshmen playing. We didn’t have the game sense that you need on the varsity level. The teams in the area are very competitive.”

The one-two punch of sophomores Maser and Hannah impacted many games.

“Julia started stepping up at the end of last season; she was much more confident this season,” asserted Grant.

“She and Tori know how to run a two-person play and can score 90 percent of the time. They are confident at holding the ball when we need to do that. Tori’s shot is really on point.”

The squad’s three seniors kept the Tartans on point all spring long. “What I am most grateful for is how they were role models and leaders for the girls,” said Grant.

“They would take girls to the side and help them learn to catch, things like that. They are always positive. When I would come down hard on the team, they would bring the players back up.”

Looking ahead, Grant is confident that Stuart can keep on the upswing.

“The goalie, Harlyn Bell, will be a senior and she is going to be captain,” added Grant.

“She is good at keeping the team together. Most of the returning players will be sophomores and juniors and I am really excited about them.”

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.”