September 12, 2012

CARRYING ON: Hun School field hockey star Carey Million heads up the field in a 2011 game. The Raiders will be looking to senior forward Million to provide offensive production this fall. Hun gets its 2012 season underway by playing at WW/P-S on September 14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the Hun School field hockey team has displayed a penchant in recent years for getting stronger as the fall goes on, it looks like defense is going to be a strength right from the start of the 2012 season.

In assessing her squad, Hun head coach Kathy Quirk knows that she has plenty of talent on defense, starting with junior Alex Kane.

“Kane has been playing extremely well, you can tell that she has played a lot of hockey since last season,” said Quirk, who guided the Raiders to a 7-8-1 record in 2011 on the way to a spot in the state Prep A semifinals.

“She plays center back and you don’t have to worry about her back there. She communicates well; she has a good feel for the game.”

Quirk doesn’t have to worry about depth along the back line with a trio of seniors in Lauren Apuzzi, Maddie Schade, and Sam Heyrich.

“Lauren is solid; she is doing what we are asking her to do,” said Quirk, whose team gets its 2012 season underway by playing at WW/P-S on September 14.

“Maddie Schade is a tall player with a long reach and can get some balls that others can’t. Sam Heyrich is at sweeper and is doing well.”

The team’s last line of defense, sophomore goalie Reina Kern, figures to be another bright spot for the Raiders.

“She has played a lot; she was in the developmental program and Junior Olympics,” said Quirk, who will be using sophomore Taylor Nehlig as her backup goalie.

“She played all summer long. We need her to take verbal command of the game. She needs to see the ball and direct the other kids.”

At forward, the Raiders boast a tandem in senior Carey Million and junior Francesca Bello who can form a commanding presence.

“When the two of them are working together well, they are a great duo,” asserted Quirk.

“Million is such a great competitor; I have her in the center and she seems to take charge. When Bello is on, she is on.”

Hun needs its midfield to be on the same page. That unit features junior Olivia Albanese, sophomore Julia Blake, sophomore Vicky Leach, junior Kristen Manochio, junior Liz Mydlowski, and junior Courtney Leach.

“Albanese has skills,” said Quirk. “Mydlowski is going to see time; she’s a scrappy hard worker. She can play middie or the back line. Faulkner played in Europe this summer.”

Quirk, for her part, hopes to see her team build off of its defensive foundation.

“We have to play as a team, we need to be unselfish and we can’t be afraid to pass,” said Quirk.

“We have to work on transition from the back line all the way to the forward line. We also have to be hungry.”

September 5, 2012

GOOD DAY: Princeton High boys’ soccer star Zach Halliday kicks the ball in a preseason training session. Senior midfielder ­Halliday brings skill and experience to a PHS team that aspires to once again be a power as it comes off a 2011 campaign that saw it win the Mercer County Tournament and the Central Jersey Group III title. The Little Tigers kick off their 2012 season by playing at Hopewell Valley on September 6.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After losing seven seniors to graduation from a squad that went 20-1-2 last fall on the way to winning the Mercer County Tournament and the Central Jersey Group III title, the Princeton High boys’ soccer team could see 2012 as a transition year.

But, as in past seasons, PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe expects his program to keep rolling.

“We have been very fortunate,” said longtime coach Sutcliffe, who has guided the Little Tigers to a record of 53-3-7 over the last three seasons, including an undefeated state championship campaign in 2009.

“We lost some very special players from last year’s team but we bring back 12 seniors.”

PHS boasts a special senior one-two punch in four-year varsity performers Zach Halliday and Aidan Passannante.

“Zach and Aidan have been playing together since grade school,” said Sutcliffe, whose team plays at Hopewell Valley on September 6 to open regular season play.

“They are combining really well; they could be up front or in the midfield. They have been around a lot of older guys. They have seen the hard times in training and they have been in big games. They get it; they understand what needs to be done. It is now their time to see if they can do something special.”

Sutcliffe sees some hard work paying off for senior striker Colin Lamb.

“Colin had a good summer; he did a lot of training and went to college camps,” said Sutcliffe.

“He had a big spring in the weight room. We couldn’t be happier with him. He has the knack of scoring big goals in big games. He scored an overtime goal in a win against Hightstown last year and scored the game winner in our two victories over Notre Dame.”

In addition to the trio of Halliday, Passannante, and Lamb, PHS features several other good attacking players in junior Kevin Halliday, senior Peter Schulman, junior John Blair, sophomore Chase Ealy, and senior Jeremy Goldsmith.

Sutcliffe acknowledges that the team’s attack is a work in progress. “What we need is six or eight guys on the same page around the ball,” said Sutcliffe.

“We are finding our way. It is a slow process. We are not where we are going to be or where we need to be.”

PHS is going to need seniors Scott Bechler and Pablo Arroyo to step up as they lead a defense that lost such stars as Ben Davis, Bruce Robertson, and Kellen Kenny to graduation.

“Scott and Pablo are in their third season as full-time players for us,” said Sutcliffe, whose defense will also include seniors Juan Polanco and Adam Klein.

“They have experience and that is important. They are filling some big gaps. They have a big challenge, probably bigger than the others. We have been built from the back over the years.”

Sutcliffe faces a big challenge at goalkeeper where the Little Tigers are looking at junior Robert Quinn and sophomore Laurenz Reimitz to follow in the footsteps of graduated star George Kusserow.

“Both are showing well; they are full-time soccer guys and it is showing,” said Sutcliffe.

“The other guys are rallying behind them; it is like when Stephen Hellstern [former PHS star goalie] was a sophomore. It is our job to get them to the match fit and confident. We hope to have one guy showing better and go with him.”

While the goal for PHS is postseason success on the county and state level, Sutcliffe focuses on keeping his players in the present.

“We never really talk about that; it is getting into training and working hard everyday,” said Sutcliffe.

“With the return of a lot of players and a large senior class, we are expecting a lot from them.”

And based on the program’s recent history of success, that group should give  PHS a lot.

AIR FORCE: Princeton High quarterback Zack DiGregorio goes to the air in a scrimmage last month. PHS is counting on senior DiGregorio to step up this fall as he takes over the starting QB spot. The Little Tigers will kick off their 2012 campaign by hosting Northern Burlington on September 8.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The Princeton High football team only won three games last fall but that amounted to marked progress since the program was coming off a winless season in 2010.

In the view of PHS head coach Joe Gargione, the improvement experienced last year should carry into this fall.

“I do feel that we are more confident; I believe we are a more solid team,” said Gargione, whose team kicks off its 2012 campaign by hosting Northern Burlington on September 8.

“We were 3-7 last year but we lost three games by a total of 11 points. My big phrase this summer has been don’t be satisfied with being good, always try to be better.”

Senior quarterback Zack DiGregorio has exemplified Gargione’s theme. “Zack has really stepped up; he did a lot of weight training and he got some quarterback coaching,” said Gargione.

“His arm strength is much better, he is moving really well in the pocket. He is being his own guy; he is not trying to be like Alex [last year’s starting QB Alex Mitko]. His attitude is that it is his position now.”

PHS will be featuring junior Will Harrison and senior Javon Pannell at the tailback position with senior Ben Smallzman at fullback.

“Will Harrison is No. 1 right now,” said Gargione. “He is an aggressive runner. He has worked hard. He is not a big kid but he hits the hole hard. Ben has taken a step up at fullback.”

Gargione is depending on junior Liam Helstrom to step up at tight end. “Liam Helstrom at tight end is a big player for us,” asserted Gargione. “He has good hands. He is only 6’2, 170 pounds but he is very strong.”

While PHS is losing a strong receiver in the graduated Eric Shorter (49 receptions for 1,052 yards in 2011), Gargione believes the Little Tigers will have more balance in the passing game with a group of pass catchers that includes senior Will Xu, senior David Klinges, sophomore Ben Danis, and senior Jamyl Williams.

“They are all unique,” said Gargione. “Will is a little guy but he runs well and has good hands. Klinges is lankier and he also has good hands. I expect Danis to play bigger than a sophomore and play smart. Jamyl Williams is an athletic guy who can go up and get the ball. We will spread it out; there won’t be a go-to receiver like Eric Shorter who the defenses can key on.”

A key to PHS’s success this fall could be its strength in the trenches. “We have a lot of depth on the offensive line,” said Gargione.

“Jack Persico is a three-year starter at left tackle. It is good to have an experienced guy protecting the blind side. Cal O’Meara has size; he is athletic and competitive. We also have Matt Vieten, Colin Buckley, and Papakojo Kuranchie.”

That collection of talent should also bolster the defensive front, which will feature the same quintet of Persico, O’Meara, Vieten, Buckley, and Kuranchie. “The depth gives us the option to sub guys in and out,” said Gargione.

PHS has some good guys at linebacker as well. “Grant Schaefer and Ben Smallzman are inside,” said Gargione, noting that the Little Tigers will again utilize a 4-4 defensive scheme this fall. “Klinges and Carl Helstrom are outside. It is a good group.”

The secondary will feature a combination of the team’s running backs and receivers.

“Will Harrison and Javon will split time at safety,” said Gargione. “Will Xu and Jamyl will be the cornerbacks. Danis will switch between outside linebacker and defensive back.”

In Gargione’s view, the Little Tigers can’t beat themselves if they are to increase their win total.

“We need to play consistently all four quarters,” said Gargione. “We have had some mental letdowns in our scrimmages and we need to minimize those. Offensively, we need to reduce the number of errors. We can’t have things like offsides or holding penalties. We need to keep moving forward.”

CENTER STAGE: Princeton High girls’ soccer standout Kate Kerr dribbles the ball in a preseason training session. Senior midfielder Kerr should be a commanding presence in the center of the field for PHS this fall. The Little Tigers get regular season play underway by hosting Hopewell Valley on September 6.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton High girls’ soccer team, this fall is going to be about new faces in new places.

“The whole 11 looks different, said PHS head coach Greg Hand, noting that he lost the core of his team up the middle with the graduation of midfield stars Mason O’Brien and Logan O’Meara together with standout defenders Mia Haughton, Roni Nagle, and Katie Reilly.

“We are a substantially different team than we were. The challenge is to find the right players and the right mix.”

Hand thinks he has some good players at forward in junior Ally Rogers, sophomore Shannon Pawlak, freshman Gabrielle Deitch, and junior Jordan Provorny.

“Ally Rogers is coming back from an ACL injury suffered late last season,” said Hand, who guided the Little Tigers to a 10-4-4 record in 2011.

“She is in great shape, she has gotten more skillful. She is quite tricky and very tenacious. Shannon also has quick feet and is a very quick decision-maker. She has a wicked shot and is able to adjust and place it. Gabby Deitch has shown a lot; she has a solid skill set for a freshman. We know Jordan Provorny from JV, she has developed a lot ”

The development of senior star Meghan Brennan has prompted Hand to move her to midfield from forward.

“We are using Brennan more in midfield; her game has improved in every dimension,” noted Hand, whose club starts its 2012 season by hosting Hopewell Valley on September 6.

“She came in extremely fit. She has an attacking mindset but she is one of those kids who can make things jell. We are expecting a lot from her.”

PHS will also be expecting a lot from battle-tested Kate Kerr in the midfield. “Kate Kerr has been developing through high school,” said Hand.

“She will likely spend most of her time in the front of the midfield with Meghan behind her. She is always fighting and able to get off good shots. She is a presence in the center.”

The pair of freshman Taylor Lis and junior Eva Reyes should give the Little Tigers some good play on the outside of the midfield.

“Taylor is a very smooth player, very aware,” added Hand. “She is visually improving as she gets used to the U-19 environment we are in. On the left side, Eva will hold that spot down. She came in very fit and her feet have improved since the end of last year. She is right-footed but now can do more things with her left.”

In the middle of the defense, junior Dana Smith and freshman Haley Bodden will play key roles.

“Dana Smith is playing sweeper now and is likely to move to stopper,” said Hand, noting that last year’s sweeper, Emily Pawlak, is recovering from a broken foot and should be in action later this month.

“She has a lot of pace and has great judgment. She reads 1-v-1 situations very well. She comes up and tackles well. In front of her is Haley Bodden. She is tall, athletic and keeps her balance. She can keep her space, you can’t move her.”

The athleticism of Kaitlyn Carduner should be a big help as she moves to the defense from her previous spot in the midfield.

“Carduner played midfield last year but we are glad to have her in the back,” said Hand, who will also be using junior Emily Costa and senior Maddie Luther on defense.

“It is a spot she plays on her club team and she has gotten used to it and very confident. She can track people down if we are in trouble.”

The presence of four-year starter Emily Ullmann in goal gives Hand a lot of  confidence.

“Emily trains a lot and trains at a high level,” said Hand of Ullmann, who yielded only eight goals last season in 18 appearances.

“She is an even more complete goalie than she was a year ago; she sees the game so well. She is a real shot stopper and real tactician. Her greatest strength is not just that she talks but that everything she says is on point, helping us to get in a better shape or to execute better.”

In Hand’s view, the Little Tigers have what it takes to ultimately find the right shape.

“The team feels like a really good team; it is nice to see that they have the same approach to training hard,” said Hand.

“We need to get on the same page; we are figuring out what our game is going to be. I think this is a team that could continue improving during the season.”

CLEAR LEADER: Princeton High field hockey star Sydney Watts sends the ball upfield in a recent practice. Providing superb skills and leadership, senior defender Watts will once again anchor the PHS backline. The Little Tigers start their 2012 campaign by hosting Hamilton on September 6.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Although the Princeton High field hockey team came a long way last fall as it posted a 10-6 record, Heather Serverson thought her squad should have gone even further.

“We were very disappointed in not getting past the first round of the states or going further in the Mercer County Tournament,” said PHS head coach Serverson.

Focusing on the last fall’s success, the PHS players are bringing an upbeat attitude into the 2012 season.

“I see a big change in the confidence level,” said Serverson. “We have 16 players who have two or three years experience. We also have some talented first-year and second-year players.”

Serverson has confidence that junior star Emilia Lopez-Ona can make a big impact at forward.

“I wanted to move Lopez-Ona up front last year but I needed her more in the midfield,” said Serverson, whose team starts the 2012 season by hosting Hamilton on September 6.

“I bumped her up this year and she is providing a spark. The others follow her lead. She is such an athlete.”

PHS boasts some other good offensive weapons in seniors Vivien Bazarko and Emma Crain together with sophomores Lucy Herring and Campbell McDonald.

“Vivien is on the right and we are rotating Lucy, Campbell, and Emma in the other spot,” said Serverson. “We have a lot of depth off the bench; I would say we easily have a talented sub for half the team.”

There is a talented crew in the midfield, featuring senior standout Jackie Chmiel along with junior Genevieve Quinn, senior Kelly Dredger, and freshman Trish Reilly.

“We have Jackie Chmiel back; she was out last year with a concussion,” said Serverson.

“We really needed her; she is a talented midfielder. Quinn stepped into Jackie’s spot last year and is playing well. Kelly is in the center. Trish Reilly will see a lot of time if she keeps playing like she has been in the preseason.”

The Little Tigers have put a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of senior leader Sydney Watts.

“Watts is the defensive anchor of the team; she reads plays so well,” said Serverson. “She communicates in a positive way and she can distribute well. She doesn’t act like she is better than everybody else, she sees the team as a unit. She really helped Julia [DiTosto] last year. They play so well together.”

Serverson is expecting sophomore DiTosto to emerge as a force on the defensive end.

“DiTosto was great last year but she has improved 10-fold,” asserted Serverson, whose defensive unit will also include seniors Rebecca Freda and Hannah Kostenbader.

“She worked with May-Ying Medalia [former PHS and Princeton University standout] all summer and she helped teach Julia new skills.”

The Little Tigers will have a new goalie in the wake of the graduation of Tobi Afran. Right now, Serverson is deciding between junior Breanna Hegarty and sophomore Caitlin Duncan.

“Right now both are playing well,” said Serverson. “I have been having them on an even rotation in scrimmages. We are looking for one of them to stand out. It has been really great in practice, they are pushing each other. They work really well together.”

The team’s chemistry should help push PHS to greater heights this fall. “I think with the combination of experience and the group dynamic, our ability to play well together and communicate, we should take it further in the county and state tournaments,” said Serverson.

In order to make a big postseason run, the Little Tigers have to take care of the basics.

“We need to perfect the fundamentals in practice so that they are second nature in games,” added Serverson. “I like to work on the small passing game, you have to possess the ball to score.”

HEADS-UP PLAY: Princeton Day School girls’ soccer player Kirsten Kuzmicz, right, bangs heads with a foe in action last year. Sophomore Kuzmicz figures to spark the Panthers this fall with her physical play in the midfield. PDS kicks off its 2012 season by hosting Germantown Academy (Pa.) on September 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Over the past four years, Janie Smukler provided the finishing touch for the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team.

But now that four-year starter Smukler is at Emory University after completing her PDS career with a total of 73 goals, the Panthers will have to spread the wealth offensively this fall.

“The bottom line is offensive production,” said PDS head coach Pat Trombetta, who guided the team to a 10-7-1 record last fall.

“We will be OK on defense but we will miss Janie. We could count on her when we needed a big goal. If we get in synch as a unit, we could be very good. It will have to be scoring by committee.”

To bolster the PDS attack, Trombetta has reshuffled the deck, relying on senior co-captains Kelsey Scarlett and Ellen Bartolino together with talented sophomore Alexa Soltesz to be dangerous around the net.

“We are going to lean on Kelsey for scoring production, we moved her from outside middie up top,” said Trombetta, whose team starts the 2012 campaign by hosting Germantown Academy (Pa.)  on September 7.

“We have also moved Alex up top from outside. They both have the skills to make the transition. It is a gradual process, we are still getting them connected. Bartolino will also see some time at forward.”

One of the team’s top performers figures to be sophomore midfielder Kirsten Kuzmicz.

“Kirsten will patrol the midfield, she is real solid,” said Trombetta, whose midfield unit will also include senior Hannah Levy, junior Lily Razzaghi, together with sophomores Erin Hogan and Erin Murray, a transfer from Peddie.

“She is a physical player; I look for her to win 50/50 balls and give us some production from that area of the field.”

Trombetta is depending on sophomore Stef Soltesz to control things at the defensive end of the field.

“We have Stef at sweeper, she has unbelievable speed and good decision-making,” asserted Trombetta. “She knows when to break up a play and when to sit back and wait for help.”

Soltesz will be getting help along the back line from Levy along with junior Britt Murray and sophomores Kylie Kieffer and Steinert transfer Kelly Tarcza.

The team’s last line of defense, sophomore goalie Rory Finnegan, is showing progress.

“I think with a year under her belt, she should be better,” said Trombetta. “She has looked good in preseason. She worked hard, she went to a couple of camps. She is committed to getting better.”

A key to PDS getting better will be the growth of the team’s seven sophomores.

“The sophomore class is very strong,” said Trombetta. “I think with the addition of two transfers, it should be even stronger. It could make or break the team.”

In Trombetta’s view, a strong collective work ethic could also make a big difference for the Panthers this fall.

“Out of all the teams I have had, this is one of the hardest working groups,” said Trombetta.

“They are committed to doing their best. We have a very competitive schedule, we have added teams like Germantown, Pennington, and Shipley. That should help come tournament time.”

WILL DO: Princeton Day School boys’ soccer star Willy Cara goes after the ball in a preseason training session. PDS is depending on senior Cara to provide skill and savvy in the midfield this fall. PDS opens its 2012 season with a game at New Hope-Solebury (Pa.) on September 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Saying goodbye to seven seniors from last year’s squad, the Princeton Day School boys’ soccer team is undergoing a youth movement by necessity.

Longtime PDS head coach Malcolm Murphy initially had some trepidation over the callow nature of his squad which includes five sophomores and four freshmen.

“I think everybody was a little concerned because we do have a lot of younger players now,” said Murphy, who guided his veteran club to a 9-7-2 record last fall and a spot in the state Prep B championship game.

“They are not huge or athletic-looking, they are wiry. The teams we are playing against in our conference have a lot of good players and they are going to be coming at us with a lot of juniors and seniors.”

But after a few weeks of preseason training, Murphy has been pleasantly surprised by the soccer acumen displayed so far his young players.

They are very skillful, very technically inclined and tactically inclined,” asserted Murphy, noting that the team showed a good possession game against Nottingham in its first scrimmage. “They know when to hold the ball, they know when to push forward.”

Sophomore midfielder Marco Pinheiro has emerged as one of PDS’s most skillful and imposing players.

“Marco is an extremely good player; he is a little different from the rest because he is tall and carries more weight,” said Murphy of Pinheiro, whose older brother, Rui, was one of the star seniors on the 2011 squad and is now playing for Tufts University.

“No one is going to try to come in and knock him down; he is a big guy. His vision in the scrimmage was tremendous. He anchored the midfield in front of the defense and did extremely well. He’s very good with the ball. He’s got good distribution skills; he can place a ball from 50, 60, or 70 yards with accuracy.”

The rest of the PDS midfield will include a pair of freshmen, Amir Melvin and Matthew Olosunde, along with senior Wily Cara.

Murphy is expecting Cara to be a catalyst in his final campaign with the Panthers.

“We play Willy wide to get him up and down the field,” said Murphy, whose team opens regular season play with a game at New Hope-Solebury (Pa.) on September 5.

“I expect him to be a leader and a true player in there working with these other guys and combining.”

PDS is looking for sophomore Oscar Vik and senior Absnel Esteban to develop into a potent combination at forward. “Oscar Vik stood out tremendously well against Nottingham,” said Murphy.

“We didn’t really need a big physical forward, we were able to play good quality balls in, and he played very well. Absnel Esteban works hard off the ball. We have to work a lot on finishing. We were impressive against Nottingham in finding the front players and getting up there but we were pretty erratic with our finishing.”

Murphy believes he has an impressive defensive unit with freshman Chris Chai and junior Zach Golden in the middle and seniors Taran Auslander and Jack Brickner on the wings.

“The two that have worked together the best were Zach Golden and Chris Chai,” said Murphy.

“Chris is young but he has done so well with his possession. They have impressed me with the way they play off each other. They have got a good understanding of how each other works so we decided to go with them down the middle and try the seniors, Taran and Jack, on the outside.”

At goalie, Murphy will be trying sophomore Christian Vik and junior Tom Hagan.

“We started with Christian Vik against Nottingham; he did extremely well,” said Murphy.

“He is a very aggressive keeper; he gets off his line. They had a couple  of tall players and he was out of his box, clearing and fisting everything. He took a lot of pressure off us. They didn’t have a lot of corners but he dealt with them extremely well. Tom Hagan is the other goalie; he will get his chance. I told them that if I put you in to start and you are doing well, I am going to give you the opportunity to finish the 80 minutes.”

In Murphy’s view, his youthful squad is ready to seize opportunity collectively this fall. “Right at this moment, it can go from strength to strength, week after week,” asserted Murphy.

“I have seen such an improvement already. Psychologically, nothing seems to faze them so far when it comes to keeping the ball. The younger guys are very intelligent in the game. They understand group and team play.”

A-GAME: Princeton Day School field hockey star Andrea ­Jenkins controls the ball at a recent practice. The Panthers are relying on senior forward/midfielder Jenkins to provide good two-way play all over the field this fall. PDS, which has a new head coach in Tracey Arndt, opens the 2012 season with a game at Germantown Academy (Pa.) on September 7.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Having played on the U.S. National Team from 1999-2004, Tracey Arndt is introducing some sophisticated concepts as she takes the helm of the Princeton Day School field hockey team.

Arndt, a former All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year at Penn State, has found a receptive group in her PDS players.

“From the first day, we knew they were hard workers,” said Arndt. “They are transferring skills from practice into the scrimmages, that is very exciting for me to see.”

It hasn’t taken Arndt long to realize that she has an exciting player in senior forward/midfielder Andrea Jenkins.

“Andrea is great; she is one of our captains,” said Arndt, whose team gets the 2012 season underway with a game at Germantown Academy (Pa.) on September 7.

“She has got the skills, she has got the attitude. She knows what to do and is a force to be reckoned with. She is starting to understand that it can be better to give it to somebody and then get it back. You can be in a better position that way. She is a double threat; she is so fast and has both attack and defensive skills.”

In addition to Jenkins, the Panthers boast some other good attacking players in junior Emma Quigley, junior Emily Goldman, and junior Maysa Amer.

“Emma, Emily, and Andrea have played together before and it shows,”added Arndt, the replacement for MC Heller, who guided PDS to a 7-8-1 record in 2011 before leaving the program.

“Maysa got in the right spot at the right time and got a goal for us in a scrimmage against WW/P-S. She knows that she still has to work on her skills.”

PDS is getting some good work in the midfield from juniors Mary Travers and Sarah Brennan.

“Brennan and Travers are holding down the center of the midfield,” said Arndt.

“Mary sees the field well and is a good distributor. Sarah has tenacity; she is around every ball.”

PDS also features a group of younger players who are providing some tenacious play in the midfield.

“We have sophomores on the outside with Dana Poltorak, Morgan Foster, and Bian Maloney,” said Arndt, who has other sophomores Niki van Manen and Sophie Jensen seeing time in the midfield. “They are holding their own; they are all playing well.”

The Panther defense features a quartet of battle-tested seniors in tri-captain Corinne Urisko, Zeeza Cole, tri-captain Cami McNeely, and Sarah Trigg.

“We have Corinne in the middle, Zeeza on the left, Cami on the right, and Sarah in goal,” said Arndt.

“They are committed girls with a high work ethic. I wouldn’t want to try to get through them.”

Arndt has been particularly impressed with how tough Trigg plays in the cage.

“Trigg has been doing a great job; she has the focus that is unique to goalies,” said Arndt, noting that sophomore Katie Alden will be serving as the team’s back-up goalie.

“She can be as sweet as pie but when she puts on that goalie mask, watch out. She has the skills and she is communicating where she needs the defense to be.”

In reflecting on the keys to success this fall, Arndt points to team defense and opportunistic finishing.

“I think one of the keys on defense is to start from the forwards and play all over the field; you need to be patient but aggressive,” said Arndt.

“When we get the ball on attack, it has to be all systems go. We need to sharpen our finishing, whether it be finishing a shot, pass, or tackle.”

Drawing on her field hockey background, Arndt is looking for a high level of commitment from her players.

“I have talked to them about my expectations for them as people first and then as hockey players,” said Arndt.

“I told them I want to see professionalism and a sense of urgency. I want them to take it game by game and half by half. If you focus on the small things, the big stuff will take care of itself.”

After a superb tenure that included multiple Prep and Mercer County Tournament (MCT) titles, Missy Bruvik stepped down in 2006 from her post as the head coach of the Stuart Country Day field hockey team.

Bruvik, who guided the Tartans to a second straight MCT title and an 18-1-1 record in her final campaign, decided to devote her time to watching her daughter, Kelly, as the former Stuart star graduated and joined the Bucknell University field hockey team.

With Kelly having graduated in 2011 after a stellar career that saw her serve as a team captain for the Bison and the Stuart head coaching job coming open after the departure of Julie Martelli, Bruvik has returned to the helm of the Stuart program.

As Bruvik begins her second act as head coach, she is relishing the challenge of rebuilding a program that went 5-7-1 last fall.

“I feel like I am starting over,” said Bruvik, whose team opens the 2012 season with a game at the George School on September 7.

“I am trying to develop the program and get the numbers back up. I am enjoying this group of kids. I am excited to be back as head coach.”

Bruvik senses excitement around Stuart and the program with an influx of new faces. “There are a lot of new kids in the school, I feel that they can be a foundation,” said Bruvik, noting that she has eight freshmen on her roster.

“It will be fun keeping the kids in the program over the next four years. The attitude around the team has been great.”

The Tartans have been getting some great play and leadership from a trio of veteran stars, seniors Olivia Neubert and Nikki Starke together with junior Amy Hallowell.

“Olivia plays in the back, she is going to be the QB back there for us,” said Bruvik, who kept her hand in coaching over the last five years by guiding the Stuart middle school team and helping out with the varsity.

“Amy is smack in the middle of the field; she is the center back and will be one of our key players on defensive and offensive corners. Nikki is controlling the midfield; she is really helping in transition. The returning varsity players are doing a good job of helping to coach and communicating on the field.”

Another key returner is junior Meghan Shannon, who will be helping to anchor the Stuart backline.

“Meghan is playing in the backfield with sophomore Asha Mohandes,” said Bruvik.

The pair of junior Margaret LaNasa and freshman Queen Johnson will be handling the difficult task of replaced graduated star goalie Margo Schmiederer.

“Margaret is our most experienced keeper, she is looking good,” asserted Bruvik.

“Queen Johnson is a freshman who is learning to play goalie. Both girls are lucky to have Gia Fruscione [former Stuart and Princeton University standout goalie] as their coach.”

Bruvik knows she faces a coaching challenge with her young group. “I think it is going to be a combination of working on the basics because we have a lot of young players and then seeing what works in terms of systems,” said Bruvik.

“I think it is going to be a lot of learning, just working together and figuring out where the teammates are and where the ball needs to be. We need to work on outlets and transitions.”

Just weeks into preseason, the Tartans seem to be figuring things out pretty quickly.

“Based on their work ethic, I think the girls will get it,” said Bruvik. “I saw tremendous improvement from our first scrimmage to our second. We will take it day-to-day and keep it simple and try not do too many things too fast.”

August 29, 2012

TEACHING MOMENT: New Princeton Day School field hockey head coach Tracey Arndt makes a point during a practice session last week. Arndt, a former Penn State field hockey All-American and a five-year member of the U.S. National team, is replacing MC Heller at the helm of the program. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As a three-sport star at Pennsbury High in the mid-1990s, Tracey Arndt, nee Larson, figured that soccer would ultimately be her path to college athletics.

“As I went through high school, I thought I was going to play soccer in college if I had a chance,” said Arndt. “That was where there was a little more feedback.”

But after getting some positive feedback from legendary Penn State field hockey head coach Char Morett, Arndt changed her focus.

“I was fortunate to go to a camp that Char Morett was coaching,” said Arndt, who ran track at Pennsbury in addition to playing field hockey and soccer.

“My high school team went to the camp for three years so she got to see some development in me. My skill level was raw but I did have fitness and I had some game sense.”

Arndt ended up getting recruited to the Penn State field hockey program and never looked back. She played in three Big 10 title games for the Nittany Lions and earned a slew of honors including All-American, Academic All-American, Big 10 Freshman of the Year (1996), and Big 10 Player of the Year (1999). She went on to play five years for the U.S. National Team, earning a silver medal at the 2003 Pan American Games.

After her career with the U.S. national program, Arndt got into coaching, working as an assistant at Columbia University and Moorestown High before serving as head coach at Pennsbury from 2006-2009.

Taking a hiatus from high school coaching as she gave birth to son Jack (3) and daughter Camryn (1), Arndt is getting back into the fray, taking over as the new head coach of the Princeton Day School field hockey team.

Upon meeting with the PDS players this past spring, it didn’t take Arndt long to feel a bond with the squad.

“They seemed like they had focused goals,” said Arndt, 34, who teaches middle school in the Pennsbury system and has juggled athletic, academic, and family responsibilities with her husband Jeff, a former football head coach and current middle school teacher.

“The older group and the younger group knew what they wanted to do. They wanted to have a successful year, whatever that meant. They were taking the right steps, going to camps, doing the leagues, and doing what they needed to do. They were ready for someone to come in and get them going.”

For Arndt, going around the world with the U.S. team gave her a broader perspective on team and the game.

“Some of my best friends are my teammates from the national team,” said Arndt.

“I got to travel the world for free. I don’t know what my life would have been like without doing that. It has really taken me to a world I would not have known otherwise. The games were amazing but the experience, the traveling, the friendships we have made; I think that is one of the best things about the sport.”

Going to Penn State turned out to be one of the best moves Arndt has made in her life.

“I really have to credit Char and the other coaches at Penn Sate for turning me into a hockey player,” said Arndt, noting that Morett and assistant Jill Reeve had played for the national team.

“It was basically we have one more spot, you won’t get a lot of money but you can be on the team basically and then I just took it as OK, here is my opportunity to play for a really great school and a really great program. If I don’t get to play my freshman year at least I will have learned a lot. In the  meantime, one of the top recruited players, a freshman got really hurt and another senior got very hurt and down the line here I am playing in the first game against the national champions North Carolina and I was very freaked out. Opportunities came my way; I knew I wasn’t going to be the best player on the team but if I could be the hardest worker I could go as far as I could.”

Arndt’s first coaching opportunity resulted from her Penn State ties as she joined the Columbia staff in 2004, working under college teammate Katie Beach.

“I have an education background, that is where my degree was,” said Arndt, noting that both of her parents are teachers and coaches.

“I always wanted to give back in some way, whether it was at the youth level or at the high school level. Honestly at the time I was going though college I didn’t think that college coaching was going to be what I wanted to do. I got an opportunity after the 2004 Olympics to coach at Columbia with one of my great friends and teammates. That was a really great experience. I have the utmost respect for college coaches; it is a huge time commitment but it is super worth it. I loved every second of it.”

After a year at Columbia, Arndt moved to the high school ranks, taking a job as an assistant at Moorestown High. She then took the helm at her alma mater, leading Pennsbury to a state tournament berth in her first season in 2006 and a league title in 2009.

With her husband Jeff also involved in coaching and teaching, Arndt took a back seat from the high school game, focusing on her young children. She kept in field hockey by coaching the Mystx club program in Feasterville, Pa.

When Arndt learned that PDS was looking for a new head coach to replace MC Heller, she was ready to take on the challenge.

“We heard about this opportunity and Jeff said let’s go for it,” said Arndt. “It is definitely a team effort when you have a family. I am very thankful that this opportunity came up where I can get back into coaching and I am very thankful that we were able to compromise and work this out.”

When it comes to her coaching approach, Arndt isn’t one to compromise. “I have high expectations for them as people first,” asserted Arndt.

“I also try to be as positive as I can, meaning I will give them energy through positive feedback. We will certainly focus on things we need to work on. We try to pull out the best and fix what we need to fix.”

Arndt brings a clear focus to each practice. “I need to be high energy and I think it needs to be efficient,” added Arndt.

“If we are only here for two and a half hours, you are bringing your water bottles with you. I need to be very prepared; I need to have a Plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan C. I think if they see that I am prepared and I am always thinking about what the next thing is, then they will see that I am doing whatever I can to get this team better. Hopefully they will jump in and do whatever they can to get themselves better.”

A week into preseason, Arndt likes the way the PDS players have jumped into things.

“I have been impressed from what I have seen,” said Arndt. “They have been great; I haven’t heard one complaint or even a begrudging voice. I ask them to jump, they ask how high so that has been really exciting to see. They are diving right into the things that I am asking them to do; I am really thrilled about that.”

August 22, 2012

Heading into last August, James Mooney believed he was on track to have a big senior season for the Amherst College men’s soccer team.

But in a flash, Mooney’s prospects for a stirring finale got derailed. “I was playing in a men’s league game and two guys came in on the same ankle and it got badly twisted,” said star midfielder Mooney, a Princeton resident and former Lawrenceville School standout. “At that point, they thought it was a badly sprained ankle but it kept popping.”

It turned out that Mooney had a tendon subluxation of his left ankle that ultimately required surgery to secure the tendon and keep it from slipping out of place. As a result, Mooney didn’t take the field in 2011 and took the spring semester off so he could get a second chance at a final college campaign this fall.

Now, the surgically repaired Mooney is rounding into form, chomping at the bit to get back in action for the Lord Jeffs.

“I am getting there,” said Mooney, who heads to preseason camp this week. “I am trying to get as strong as possible. My conditioning is better, I want to get in as good shape as possible.”

For Mooney, opting to put his senior season on hold was a trying situation. “It was a really, really tough decision,” said Mooney, who had helped Amherst make the NCAA Division III Final Four as a sophomore in 2009 and was named as a co-captain for the 2011 squad.

“I was really good friends with the guys in my class. I talked with my family; I talked to Justin [Amherst head coach Justin Serpone]. I realized that an extra semester off would be good for me in other ways. The spring was going to be really busy if I was going to classes, taking the MCATs, and doing medical school applications.”

Despite being unable to play, Mooney remained a presence around the Lord Jeffs last fall as they went 16-2-2, winning the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) title and making it to the NCAA Sectional Semifinals.

“It was really tough; I was a captain so I tried to go to everything I could,” recalled Mooney.

“I tried to show my face and talk to guys everyday. Being on the sidelines with the guys that don’t play a lot: I saw how you can support the team that way.”

In early November, Mooney went to Boston and had the surgery which involved the insertion of tissue to hold the tendon in place.

It took some time for Mooney to be up and running after the procedure. “I was on crutches for five weeks and in a boot for five weeks,” said Mooney, who lived in an apartment near campus during the spring semester and worked for a professor in a neuroscience lab, giving Mooney the   chance to spend time with his graduating classmates.

“I did exercises to strengthen my ankle. I did anything I could to get in shape. I did the rowing machine. I rode the exercise bike with a boot on. I started running in February, three months after surgery. The location of the injury made it tough to jump right into soccer things. I mainly worked on running and strengthening.”

This summer, Mooney has been able to get on the pitch, playing with some fellow NESCAC competitors in the area.

“I have been playing pick-up games at PDS with some guys going to Tufts, Maxime Hoppenot and Rui Pinheiro, and Asante Brooks, who played at Wesleyan,” said Mooney.

“We have had some good competition, playing small-side games. I have also gone to some Princeton High captains’ practices.

Mooney is looking forward to the Amherst practices, which start on August 22.

“I can’t wait for preseason to start,” asserted the 5’11, 163-pound Mooney, a second-team All-NESCAC and second team Division III All-New England pick at midfield in 2010.

“I am ready to do anything for the team. We have a ton of attacking players so I could play anywhere. If I am a step slow, I can help the team in other ways.”

After what Mooney has gone through over the last year, he is determined to savor every moment of his final college soccer season.

“I have learned to appreciate things and just being on the field,” said Mooney.

“I did a lot behind the scenes last year and I was able to see the team from a different perspective. Being with the guys is about a lot more than what goes on out on the field.”

In Mooney’s view, the Lord Jeffs could do some special things on the field this fall.

“A lot of us have stayed in touch; we are excited about the season,” said Mooney, who hopes to be in action on September 8 when Amherst opens its 2012 campaign with a game at Colby-Sawyer.

“We have won two NESCAC titles and have been to a Final 4 in my first three years. Our coach’s goal is to make it to the national championship game.”

For Mooney, just getting back in action this fall will make him feel like a champion.

MAKING CONNECTIONS: Members of the Konekte traveling party take a break during their trip last month to Haiti. Konekte (which means “to connect” in Haitian Creole) is a Princeton-based organization formed to develop educational initiatives in Haiti. The group sent 22 people to rural Haiti in mid-July to further Konekte’s goals and strengthen the organization’s ties to the people there. The traveling party included several local soccer coaches and the group used the game as a means of promoting goodwill. Pictured, from left, are Vesco Marinov (Princeton Football Club coach), Stoyan Pumpalov (PFC), Anne Hoppenot, Esmeralda Negron (Princeton University women’s soccer assistant coach), Brian Ruddy (PFC), Hristofor Tsochev (PFC), and Pastor Michel Valentin.

Dr. Paul Farmer has gained worldwide acclaim for the development of his Partners in Health project that has provided free treatment and medicine to the impoverished in Central Haiti.

For Stuart Country Day School French teacher Anne Hoppenot and her colleague, Madelaine Shellaby, hearing Dr. Farmer speak encouraged them to make their own impact in Haiti.

“I went to a Sacred Heart conference two years ago and met Paul Farmer,” said Hoppenot. “I was inspired by his work. I wanted to do something for Haiti, the country has been very poor for a long time.”

Hoppenot and Shellaby decided to start their own organization, “Konekte” (which means “to connect” in Haitian Creole) to develop, fund, and implement educational initiatives in Haiti in partnership with local communities from a base in Princeton.

“The main goal is connecting through education; we are both educators,” said Hoppenot,  noting that the Konekte website, http: konekteprincetonhaiti.wee provides more detail about the organization.

“We are helping with schools, raising money to pay teachers. We are helping build a vocational school and start that program. We also want to help small businesses in the area.”

Last month, Hoppenot led a group of 22 people from the Princeton area, ages 15 to 52, to rural Haiti, east of Port au Prince, to further Konekte’s educational goals and strengthen the organization’s ties to the people there. The main purpose of the trip was to help with the construction of the vocational school near Fonds Parisien. In addition, the traveling party organized craft activities, passed out hygiene kits, and participated in religious services.

In addition to the service activities, Konekte used soccer as a critical means of forging ties with the Haitian people.

The Konekte party included four coaches from the Princeton Football Club (PFC), Stoyan Pumpalov, Vesco Marinov, Brian Ruddy, and Hristofor Tsochev, together with Princeton University women’s soccer assistant coach Esmeralda Negron.

“Haitians and soccer are one; we played everywhere we went,” said Hoppenot, a PFC parent whose three sons, Pierre, Antoine, and Maxime, have all gone on to play college soccer.

“We went to the villages and played soccer. Sometimes we took kids and did training. Sometimes we did scrimmages. We organized the first Konekte soccer tournaments with four teams competing.”

In Hoppenot’s view, the soccer coaches made a huge difference, on and off the pitch.

“The PFC guys were great; they were such good role models,” said Hoppenot. “They were great with the kids, they had a good sense of humor. They were such great sports. They participated in everything. They worked hard but had fun at the same time. Es (Esmerelda Negron) took the girls. They don’t get to play much and they related so well to her.”

For Negron, the journey to Haiti was unlike anything she had ever done before. “I know that Anne Hoppenot sent an e-mail to our program detailing the trip and what it was about,” recalled Negron, a 2005 Princeton alum and former soccer star who joined the Tiger women’s coaching staff last year.

“I got in contact with her and said is there room for me? I have never been on a trip like that; it is definitely something I wanted to do. I wanted to see a third world country and share my passion for soccer.”

Negron enjoyed tapping into the passion for soccer displayed by the Haitian children.

“I worked with the young girls,” said Negron. “I look forward to any time I get an opportunity to work with young girls. It is good for them to see a role model and have goals to aspire to. I began with ball drills but the language barrier made that tough. I started to just jump in and play a 5-on-5 pick-up game. The girls really loved it.”

Negron loved the chemistry that developed among the Konekte traveling party.

“It was a phenomenal experience; it was a very eclectic group,” said Negron, noting that the Konekte people stayed at the Peace and Love Hotel in Fonds Parisien which had no air conditioning or hot water.

“There were some high schoolers with their mothers; there were four other soccer coaches and myself. There were college kids. It was a strange mix but everyone got along really well.”

Being on the same page came in handy when the group put in some hard labor, helping the Haitians construct the vocational school.

“I never participated in a lot of construction or heavy duty yard work,” said Negron, noting that one day of the trip involved 12 hours of transporting buckets of cement to help complete the roof on the vocational school.

“It was rewarding to see what we accomplished as a team. Before we left, we finished the roof. I felt like we made a difference. Everybody was inspired to help in any way possible.”

Negron, for her part, was inspired by the power of soccer to bring joy to people beset by poverty and still reeling from the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country.

“In the village of Canes, people were living in mud huts with no running water,” said Negron.

“They had to walk 45 minutes to get a bucket of fresh water. They had no food on hand. We played a pickup game there and all the people were excited. They got lost in the game; I saw the passion for soccer despite their situation.”

Pumpalov, a former Bulgarian soccer pro and the PFC head trainer and director of programs, was not surprised at how the sport fostered good will.

“In the game of soccer the language is the same,” said Pumpalov, who had the PFC donate cleats, jerseys, t-shirts, and balls as part of the effort.

“The kids were good at following directions; there was some talent there. Every time we went back, they were looking forward to seeing us again. We left a lot of stuff with them after the sessions, they really needed it.”

The American kids on the trip impressed Pumpalov with how they pitched in.

“Those kids will take it for rest of [their] life, they got life lessons,” said Pumpalov. “There is no way you can teach that in a classroom. I was extremely happy with how the kids responded on the work site. The most difficult lesson to teach in coaching is getting players to stay committed and not give up. They learned that from the work site.”

While Pumpalov has seen a lot in a soccer, having competed for Bulgaria’s U16, U18, and U21 National Teams before embarking on a pro career and playing 450 games in Bulgaria and Malta, he was taken aback by what he witnessed in Haiti.

“It was a completely different experience for me,” added Pumpalov. “I have been in a lot of places in the world but this is something I never experienced before. We went to places where it was just a shame to see how they live. I want to go back and help those people.”

Hoppenot, for her part, came away from the trip feeling a deeper bond with the Haitian people.

“The Haitians were so welcoming and appreciative,” said Hoppenot. “When you want to help someone, it is great to feel a connection. It was very touching and very moving.”

DELIVERING THE GOODS: Jackson Rho delivers a pitch for the Princeton Little League (PLL) 10-year-old All-Star team in the Monroe Invitational Tournament Championship Game. Princeton took second in the tourney, adding a chapter to a successful summer for PLL in tournament play which saw the league’s teams bring home one championship, two second place finishes, and several strong performances in 19 events.

As the dog days of summer wind down, the Princeton Little League (PLL) baseball program has reached a crossroads.

On one hand, the PLL has established itself as a force to be reckoned with among the 18 programs in the District 12, methodically executing a plan to increase the league’s competitiveness and visibility.

“I feel like Phase I of the effort to rebuild and re-imagine the PLL has been completed and it has been very successful,” said league Co-President Jon Durbin.

“We wanted to improve the quality of play on our recreation program and make a jump in the summer all star program. I think we have probably gone from being a team at the top of the third tier in District 12 to now where I can safely say we are in the top third. We have made a big jump. The PLL board feels that after a concerted four-year effort, Phase I of our long-term plan to improve the quality and branding of the league has been successfully achieved. Moreover, our registrations are at an all-time high, as is the enthusiasm for the league around town.”

That jump in quality was reflected earlier this summer as the PLL enjoyed some superb results in tournament play. The 12U Team, coached by Terry Smith, Jeff Vanderkam, and Brad Brock finished second in the South Brunswick Viking Classic Tournament. The 11’s, guided by Bill Venizelos, Kris Ramsay, and Archie Reid, made a strong showing in the District 12 tournament, beating a powerful Nottingham team, while almost beating Robbinsville, the ultimate champion.

The 10’s, led by Durbin, Al Rho, and Chris Trenholm finished 12-4 and made the “Top Six” in the District 12 tourney, finished second in the Monroe Invitational Tournament, and won the championship in the Basking Ridge Summer Blast Tournament. The 9‘s, coached by Mike Petrone and Ryan Lilienthal, finished 10-5 and made the quarterfinals and semis, respectively, in the Early and Late District All-Star Tournaments.

The 8 Black team, guided by Jason Petrone, played well in all three tournaments with a strong showing in the Late Districts Tournament. The 8 Orange team, coached by Jeff Bergman, Gary Zuckerman, and Adam Seiden, did well in both the Amwell and Hopewell Tournaments while the 7U Coach Pitch Team, coached by Ken Harlan, excelled in the Early District All-Star Tournament.

But while proud of that success, Durbin and the PLL are not about to rest on their laurels.

“Now we enter into Phase II of our long-term plan,” said Durbin. “Phase II will focus on successfully playing a more exciting ‘brand’ of baseball in the form of 50/70 and playing championship caliber district ball year in and year out across the age groups.”

In Durbin’s view, the PLL’s recent decision to switch its Majors Division from the standard Little League field size (46-foot pitching distance and 60-foot base paths) to a 50-foot pitching distance and 70-foot base paths as per an International Little League pilot program will be the centerpiece of Phase II.

“Players will be able to lead-off and steal during the pitcher’s delivery compared to our current format where they are not be able to lead off and have to wait until the ball crosses home plate to run,” explained Durbin.

“It means that infielders will be able to make tougher plays, including double plays, due to the larger field. It means that pitchers will be able to throw a wider variety of pitches, including more breaking balls, and that batters will have more time to react to pitches, so the amount of hits should increase each game.”

In order to thrive in the new 50/70 world, the PLL plans to beef up its focus on skill development.

“We will be continuing our relentless effort to improve the quality of our hitting and now to also focus on pitching development,” maintained Durbin.

“Starting this winter, we are planning to launch a pitching program where up to a dozen players will be identified in each age group based on coaching recommendations between the ages of 8-12 and offered the chance to work out with pro coaches and senior PLL coaches once a week to help develop their accuracy and arm strength. Our ultimate goal is to increase the number of pitchers both for the recreation and summer all-star programs, and therefore increase the quality of play.”

A tangible example of the league’s determination to help the players improve was the installation of soft toss and tee batting stations built on to the existing batting cages at Grover Park.

“It made a huge difference with the kids because not only did it create a safe environment but the kids now saw a structured place for them to practice that kind of hitting,” said Durbin, noting that PLL Co-President Kevin Lambert designed the batting stations.

“Not only would they get help from the coaches, we saw the kids taking what they had been taught by their volunteer and pro coaches and actually doing it on their own in these new hitting stations.”

The PLL will be encouraging younger players to take more initiative in improving their game.

“I think we are going to make a commitment to having all star teams at the youngest age possible, meaning starting at the six and seven-year-old level,” said Durbin.

“Right now we have teams at seven and eight but mostly eight-year-olds. I think the other thing is that we are going to start encouraging younger players at that level to start play spring travel baseball.”

The advent of the 50/70 program could lead PLL to help older players hone their skills as well.

“The PLL Board will be voting next month on whether to make 13-year-olds eligible to play in the new 50/70 Majors Division,” said Durbin.

“This would be an important development for those kids who quite often stop playing the game at age 13. Historically, the 13-year-olds were forced to make the jump to the major league size field, and most of them were not physically ready to do so, and so they would drop out of baseball. Now they will have another year to develop and grow on the intermediate size field before making a jump to the bigger 60/90 field, which we hope will enable more kids to play the game longer.”

In Durbin’s view, the PLL is poised to make some history as it embarks on its Phase II.

“These are all thrilling developments for PLL, and they are happening due to the substantial efforts put forward by our Board of Trustees, our all-volunteer coaching staff, and the commitment of our families,” said Durbin.

“We are confident that the quality of play in the league will continue to get stronger and stronger as a result, and we hope that the kids will have a great experience fostering their love for the game for many years to come.”

August 15, 2012

GONE CAMPING: Dave Dudeck eludes a foe in action last fall in his senior season with the Hun School football team. Dudeck, who made 50 catches for 1,003 yards and 10 touchdowns to help Hun go 7-1 in 2011, started preseason camp last week with the Boston College football program. The 6’0, 195-pound Dudeck will be looking to get playing time at strong safety this fall in his freshman campaign for the Eagles. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For many high school athletes, putting in two hours of hard work at practice on a daily basis and giving 100 percent in games satisfies their desire to succeed.

But for David Dudeck, that kind of effort marked a bare minimum. The recent Hun School graduate typically arrived at school each morning around 6 a.m. to do speed and explosiveness drills with Hun trainers. He also fit in weight training sessions and worked on pass patterns during free periods in the fall.

Dudeck’s combination of athleticism and work ethic helped him produce one of the more impressive two-sport careers in recent Hun history.

On the baseball diamond, Dudeck was an All-Prep A centerfielder who led the Raiders to Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) and Prep A titles. In football, the 6’0, 195-pound Dudeck starred at quarterback as a junior in 2010. As a senior this past fall, he moved to receiver and used his 4.47 speed in the 40-yard dash to make 50 catches for 1,003 yards and 10 touchdowns as he earned New Jersey Prep Player of the Year honors and helped Hun go 7-1.

Dudeck’s two-sport prowess caught the eye of a slew of college baseball and football programs. With his heart set on experiencing big-time college football, Dudeck decided to accept a scholarship from Boston College (BC) and join its football program.

Last week, Dudeck started preseason camp with BC, playing at strong safety as he looks to make an immediate impact for the Eagles.

It was Dudeck’s performance at BC’s one-day camp in June, 2011 that got him on the radar of the Eagle coaches. The camp started at 7:30 a.m. on a Monday and the night before, Dudeck was at a summer baseball tournament that didn’t end until 11:45 p.m. After the tournament, Dudeck drove straight to Boston arriving at 5 a.m. in the morning. He had just enough time to take a two-hour nap before the camp started.

Overcoming fatigue, Dudeck produced an outstanding camp and was able to impress the BC coaches enough to prompt communication throughout the 2011 football season.

“Boston College has always been a dream school for me, so I knew that If I ever wanted a chance I had to go there and perform for them live,” said Dudeck, reflecting on the one-day camp.

“I was like, this is a chance of a lifetime and I’m not going to let anything get in my way.”

Last February that dream came true for Dudeck as he signed a letter of intent with BC, choosing the school over Yale and Navy, his other top choices.

Once the recruiting process ended, the coaching staff’s main concern turns to getting their incoming freshmen prepared for the upcoming season. “Now you’re a BC Eagle, and they want you in the best possible shape for when you come in to camp,” said Dudeck.

As part of that effort, Dudeck moved on to campus June 24 with 15 other members from the class of 2016. As soon as the freshmen arrived, the rookies hit the ground running with workouts and classes.

“Now that you are here, they (coaches) are checking up on you everyday to make sure you are going to class, getting your homework done, and getting your workouts in,” said Dudeck.

Mirroring his Hun routine, Dudeck had a jam-packed schedule in the build-up to preseason camp. He woke up at 5:15 a.m. for morning workouts followed by classes from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.  He would then grab a quick lunch before heading to 7-on-7 practices from 12:45 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Then it was back to the books for tutoring and study hall from 4 to 6 p.m. The day ended with a night class from 6:15 p.m. to 9:15 p.m.

Despite being on the go all day, Dudeck has been able to develop bonds with his freshmen teammates.

“One thing I was happy about was how fast we all became so close,” said Dudeck. “Now we all do everything together.”

In Dudeck’s view, getting to campus in June had a variety of benefits. “Coming here early, getting to be a part of the team, knowing the guys, learning the system, getting adjusted to classes, and just adjusting to life away from family is huge,” said Dudeck. “I definitely miss my family but I talk to everyone at least once a day.”

As he accomplishes his goal of joining a big-time college football program, Dudeck plans to continue his habit of making the most of everyday.

“My mindset going in is that Boston College is an incredible football program so everything that God has blessed me with I want to take there,” asserted Dudeck.

“I want to be a leader there. I want to motivate and push my teammates so that we can bring home a national championship. Those are my goals.”

SOAKING IT UP: Princeton native Flynn Walker guards the net in recent water polo action. Walker, 16, competed in the Junior Olympics this summer for Tiger Aquatics and has participated in the Olympic Development Program (ODP), where he has played for the Northeast zone for the past four years and recently attended a selection camp for the national team. Walker, 16, a rising junior the Lawrenceville School, also stars for the Big Red water polo program.

Flynn Walker began playing water polo at the age of eight years old and it was love at first sight.

“I don’t think there is any sport as fun, intense, and competitive as water polo,” said Walker, a Princeton native.

“I love being in the water, I love the people I get to play with, and I wanted to keep going.”

Walker initially got into water sports through competitive swimming along with his older brother but neither developed a passion for it.

“Both of us didn’t like swimming very much,” recalled Walker. “My brother really got into [water polo], and so the next year, when I was old enough to start, I got into it as well.”

Walker, who started with the Stingrays program in Lawrenceville and then had stints with Navy and Pittsburgh in order to compete in the Junior Olympics, quickly started tasting success in water polo.

Making his first appearance at the Junior Olympics with the Navy club at the 12U level, he helped the squad take seventh overall in the platinum bracket, believed to be the highest finish for an east coast team in that national competition.

A year later, Walker competed for a Pittsburgh 14U team that ended up taking eighth overall in the Junior Olympics.

In helping the Navy and Pittsburgh teams thrive, Walker found his natural role in the sport as he became a goalie.

He had a feel for the pressure-cooker position from having previously played goalie in soccer and games of street hockey so when the Navy club coach needed a goalie for the Junior Olympics, Walker jumped at the chance.

“They saw me play in a tournament and asked if I would play goalie for them, and I gladly accepted,” said Walker.

Walker believes that he was made for the position. Standing 6’4  with a 6’7  wingspan, he has the physical attributes to succeed in the goal. More importantly, he relishes the responsibility that comes with the job.

“I enjoy the feeling of being that last line of defense and stopping people from scoring, and I think that mentality is key to have,” asserted Walker, who is now competing for the Tiger Aquatics water polo program and starred for the Lawrenceville School team last fall as a sophomore.

Walker’s initial success at the Junior Olympics inspired him to continue to play the game at the highest level.

“Those teams were extremely unusual, because east coast teams rarely do that well, so it was a pretty big deal for us,” added Walker, who has now played in seven Junior Olympic tourneys. “It was really fun to play for them and I really enjoyed the experiences.”

In addition to competing in Junior Olympics, Walker, 16, has gotten the opportunity to participate in the Olympic Development Program (ODP), where he has played for the Northeast zone for the past four years and recently attended a selection camp for the national team.

Along with the national camp, Walker has spent most of his time this summer traveling around the country to participate in tournaments on the west coast and camps at various schools as his ambition is to someday play for a top college water polo program.

“I definitely want to play at a higher level, wherever I go, and put everything I have into it. I can’t imagine stopping at this point,” said Walker.

August 8, 2012

BREAKING THROUGH: Chris Edwards of Winberie’s/Miller Lite looks to get past an Ivy Inn defender last week in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League championship series. Last Friday, Edwards scored 14 points to help Winberie’s edge Ivy Inn 45-41 in the decisive third game of the best-of-three series. It was a sweet win for Edwards and his teammates as they had fallen in the title series the last two years. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It was looking like the Winberie’s/Miller Lite squad might be assuming the unwanted role of bridesmaid as the decisive third game of the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League championship series headed to halftime last Friday night.

After having fallen in the title series the last two summers, second-seeded Winberie’s found itself trailing No. 5 Ivy Inn 23-18 at intermission before an overflow crowd at the Community Park courts.

But Winberie’s forward Chris Edwards and his teammates weren’t about to settle for another runner-up finish.

“The morale was a bit low but we were just trying to keep it up,” said Edwards, recalling the team’s halftime meeting.

“We just said that if we do what we had to do, we are going to win the game. We said, hey this is our third year in the finals, we can’t come out here and be the Buffalo Bills [losers of four straight Super Bowls] of the summer league. We have to play with more heart and take it to them.”

Winberie’s team manager Mark Rosenthal had a heart-to-heart chat with Edwards during the break in an effort to provide further inspiration to the forward who had scored just two points in the first half of the contest.

“I talked to Chris at halftime and I said ‘you need to be aggressive,’” said Rosenthal.

“We are a better team when he is more aggressive. He knows that he needs to be more aggressive and he knows he can play against anybody. He was in a bit of foul trouble; I told him to forget about the foul situation and just go out there and play all out and this will work out.”

Edwards responded to the pep talk with aplomb, tallying 12 points in the second half as Winberie’s rallied for a 45-41 victory.

“The second half was a little more aggressive,” said Edwards, who punctuated the win with a thunderous dunk in the waning seconds of the game.

“We were getting out on transition and getting out on the break, Chris Hatchell and I were talking about it; we had to keep running and keep pushing the ball. Once I started to do that, I started getting easy buckets.”

In pulling out the victory, Winberie’s also stepped up the defensive intensity. “We said at the half that 23 points was a little too much for them in the first half,” said Edwards.

“They got a lot of shots. We were double teaming them and rotating better on the defensive end in the second half so that turned the game around.”

In Rosenthal’s view, the play of sharpshooting guard Hatchell helped turn the tide in the favor of Winberie’s.

“Chris Hatchell gave me the guarantee before the game,” said Rosenthal of the former College of New Jersey standout who scored a team-high 16 points in the finale and was voted to receive the Foreal Wooten Award as playoff MVP.

“He told me ‘coach just put the ball in my hands and I promise I will bring you that first championship.’ He is clutch.”

In the moments after Winberie’s clinched that elusive title, Rosenthal celebrated by leaping into the arms of Kurt Simmons.

“Kurt is one of the original members of this team,” said Rosenthal. “He was there through the thin years when we only had two or three wins a season. We have been talking how we wanted to get to this point for a long time. He came through; he was the first guy I looked for when we came off. I had to give him a big hug; this has been a long time in the making.”

A beaming Edwards basked in the glow of finally coming through with the title.

“It means a lot,” said Edwards. “It was now or never; there was no turning back. Our core guys are older players. We are experienced in the league; we have played in the playoffs. We figured that’s what got us over the top.”

OUTSIDE THREAT: Kyle Burke of Ivy Inn dribbles on the perimeter last week in the championship series of the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League. Burke scored a team-high 13 points, including 4 three-pointers, to help Ivy Inn top Winberie’s/Miller Lite 41-32 last Wednesday and knot the best-of-three series at 1-1. Ivy Inn, though, went on to lose the finale 45-41 last Friday at the Community Park courts.
(Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

Kyle Burke acknowledges that he has misfired a bit this season for the Ivy Inn squad in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League.

“I haven’t shot the ball too well pretty much the whole summer,” said Burke, a guard known for his long-range shooting.

In Game 1 of the league’s best-of-three championship series on July 30, Burke tallied just three points as fifth-seeded Ivy Inn fell 48-41 to No. 2 Winberie’s/Miller Lite.

But in Game 2 last Wednesday night at the Princeton High gym, Burke heated up on the perimeter as Ivy Inn looked to stay alive and force a decisive third game in the series.

The former College of New Jersey standout nailed a three-pointer in the waning seconds of the first half to give Ivy Inn a 24-15 lead at intermission. He hit two more key threes in the second half as Ivy Inn pulled away to a 41-32 win.

“That changed the momentum,” said Burke, referring to his three-pointer right before the half. “Anything I can give us is a bonus.”

In reflecting on the win, Burke said each of the Ivy Inn players on hand gave their all.

“We just had a good all-around effort,” said Burke, who scored a total of 13 points, including 4 three-pointers, on the night with Mark Aziz adding 10 points and recently graduated PHS standout Davon Black chipping in six.

“We played a lot harder than Monday night and the results definitely showed that. We usually get off to good starts but we don’t finish. Tonight, we were able to finish.”

While Ivy Inn didn’t finish with the result it wanted as it fell 45-41 to Winberie’s on Friday in Game 3 of the series, the squad showed class to the end.

“When we get down or the other teams make a run, we know to stay composed,” asserted Burke of the team that won four of six summer league titles from 2005 to 2010.

“We don’t yell at each other, we don’t fight. We have been here before so we are mature about it.”

NINE LIVES: Members of the Princeton Basketball Club (PBC) 9th grade AAU boys’ basketball team pose before their recent appearance at the AAU Nationals East 9th Grade Division III tourney at Hampton, Va. The team ended up going 1-1 in pool play to advance to the Round of 32 in the competition. Pictured in the front row, from left, are Luke Apuzzi, JC Silva, John Morelli, Chris Diver, and Max Tarter. In the back row, from left, are Matt Hart, Alex Levine, Kevin Kane, and Nick Mazzone.

Clarence White gave some tough love to Princeton Basketball Club (PBC) 9th grade AAU boys’ basketball team this season.

“The effort last year didn’t satisfy me,” said head coach White. “In the 6th and 7th grade, they didn’t appreciate going to the [AAU] nationals. They didn’t go to the nationals last year; they didn’t play as well as they should. I issued a challenge to them to finish .500 or better this season.”

The players answered White’s challenge, going 25-22 in regular season play and earning a trip to the AAU Nationals East 9th Grade Division III tourney at Hampton, Va.

“They went out and competed this year and got an at-large bid,” said White.

“We won a couple of tournaments, one in Danbury, Ct and another in Massachusetts.”

As the squad looked ahead to its third trip to the nationals, White wanted his players to aim high.

“In the 6th and 7th grades, the team got blown out of the water,” recalled White.

“I think it was due to the bright lights and the atmosphere. I wanted to finish in the top 30 this time.”

In its opener in Pool 9Q last week, PBC showed it was ready to shine on the national stage, edging the Va. Beach Explosion in a 42-41 thriller.

“We came up big on the winning basket; it came off a very well executed play,” said White.

“They celebrated quite a bit afterward, maybe too hard. When I saw their jubilation and excitement, I said this is what you want to remember from this.”

White will remember the courage the team displayed as it overcame a key injury in pulling out the victory.

“We lost Nick Mazzone with an injury; he sprained his ankle in the first game,” said White.

“That was tough because he and Alex Levine are the heart and soul of our defense. Max Tarter had a really good game; Luke Apuzzi also played well. Andrew Hart, a rising 9th grader, hit the winning shot.”

PBC lost its final pool game but did advance to the final 32 where it fell to the Lehigh Valley Timberwolves 58-47 and ended the tournament with a 53-39 loss to Va. Team 757 in a consolation contest.

“We got down by 15 to Lehigh Valley and cut it to five,” said White. “We ran out of gas. Kevin Kane had a good game. In the final game, we started with seven players and were down to six by the end. They had 12 players and used them all. It was a really tough, really physical game. We gave a good effort.”

In White’s view, the memory of the team’s effort in the opener should serve as a confidence builder for the players.

“The main thing I want them to take out of this is the first game,” said White.

“We had a chance to talk about it and think about it. I want them to remember that snapshot. I told them you want to have other celebrations like that in the future; like maybe after a high school state tournament game.”

White believes the team can positively impact the Princeton High program, both in the short term and in the long term.

“If they continue to work hard, it should pay off for them and the high school,” said White, noting that the players figure to take an important role this winter for the PHS junior varsity team.

“What these guys have done is set the bar. We have a group of rising seventh graders who want to go to nationals next year.”

ENDING WITH A BANG: Clint O’Brien takes a swing in action this spring in his senior season with the Gettysburg College baseball team. The former Princeton Day School star athlete saved his best for last in his college career as he hit .382 in 2012 with 50-hits in 131 at-bats and one homer and 23 RBIs. Over his first three years with the program, O’Brien had posted a .250 batting average with a total of 38 hits in 152 at-bats. Ending his career in style, O’Brien banged a homer in his final college at-bat.
(Photo by David Sinclair, Courtesy of Gettysburg College’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Some 52 years ago, Ted Williams ended his Hall of Fame career with the Boston Red Sox in style, clubbing a homer in his last major league at-bat.

This spring, former Princeton Day School star athlete Clint O’Brien took a page out of Williams’s book, culminating his Gettysburg College baseball career with a home run in his final plate appearance.

For O’Brien, that finale will be a moment he’ll never forget. “That felt great; that is how I wanted to end it,” said O’Brien, reflecting on the blast which came on May 1 in a loss to York (Pa.) College.

“That was incredible; I couldn’t believe it. Ask any of my teammates, I was trying to do that. Outside of winning a championship, that was the best way to end things.”

O’Brien’s career-ending heroics were made even sweeter considering that things didn’t always go well for him during his time at Gettysburg.

After starring in football, ice hockey, and baseball at PDS, O’Brien struggled in freshman year. He was a back-up receiver in football and went hitless in one plate appearance for the baseball team. A year later, he played his final season of football and did progress in baseball, hitting .283 with 13 hits in 46 at-bats.

In reflecting on his first two seasons at Gettysburg, O’Brien acknowledged that it was tough juggling football and baseball.

“I was still playing football as a freshman and didn’t have fall ball for baseball,” recalled O’Brien.

“In the football preseason, I went from quarterback to wide receiver and I went without throwing for a long time. After winter ball, I developed tendinitis in my shoulder and elbow and that shut me down for most of my freshman baseball season. Sophomore year was my last season of football. In baseball, I was the utility guy that year. I played left field, right field, center field, third base, and first base. I got back into the swing of things. My arm was healthy and I could throw.”

Focusing solely on baseball by his junior year, O’Brien was able to contribute more as he hit .229, going 24-for-105 with a homer and 16 RBIs.

“I had fall ball that year,” said O’Brien. “As a team, we were not as successful as I would have hoped. We had three juniors and five seniors on that team so it was a really young team. By the end of my junior year, we showed a lot of progress.”

As O’Brien looked ahead to this spring, he was primed to take a key role in building on that progress as a team captain and the lone senior starter.

“It felt good to be captain, that alone made me more ready to step into a leadership position,” said O’Brien.

“Every game, I was the only senior on the field, so I had to be the guy who set the example. I had that experience in the past so it was nothing new for me. My goal was to hit around .400 the whole year.”

O’Brien’s senior year nearly turned into a frustrating experience as he suffered a hand injury early in the season. The 6’3, 205-pound O’Brien, though, didn’t let the pain keep him from producing a banner season as he hit .382, going 50-for-131 with one homer and 23 RBIs.

“In our second-to-last day in Florida, I put a tag on a runner and hurt my left thumb,” said O’Brien, who was the team’s starting first baseman.

“I missed only one game and was the designated hitter in a few games. My swing was OK; it affected my power. Squeezing the glove was the toughest thing.”

The Bullets got into the swing of things this spring as they went 25-13 to post the fourth-highest win total in program history, a marked improvement on the 2011 season which saw them go 12-23.

“It was a great way to go out,” asserted O’Brien, reflecting on the season.

“We had really good guys and a great team chemistry. It was easy for me to rediscover my passion for the game.”

Igniting that passion helped O’Brien regain his status as a star performer. “Not being able to show up and contribute was something that was completely foreign to me,” said O’Brien, who is currently working in media sales for an internet start-up in New York City. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could still do it.”

PAIN CONTROL: Carly O’Brien heads up the field this past spring in her freshman season with the Dickinson College women’s lacrosse team. O’Brien, a former three-sport standout at Princeton Day School, fought through nagging hamstring problems to tally 25 points on 13 goals and 12 assists for the Red Devils in 2012 and rank third on the squad in scoring.
(Photo by James Rasp, Courtesy of Dickinson Sports Information)

As Carly O’Brien went through middle school, she was on track to be a softball star.

The athletic O’Brien starred in the District 12 softball all-star tournament and played travel ball.

But O’Brien’s sports destiny changed in the span of one afternoon. “A friend brought me to her lacrosse practice, “ said O’Brien.

“I really liked it and after the spring of eight grade, I stopped playing travel softball and got into lacrosse.”

It didn’t take long for O’Brien to establish herself as a star in her newfound passion. She made the girls’ varsity lax team at Princeton Day School in 2008 as a ninth grader and emerged as a go-to scoring threat by her sophomore season.

As a junior, she tallied 63 goals and 13 assists to help the Panthers go 14-4 and win the program’s first-ever Mercer County Tournament title. O’Brien kept firing away as a senior, earning first-team All-Prep A honors and ending her PDS career with more than 150 goals.

Having progressed so rapidly in lacrosse, O’Brien was fired up to keep playing the game after high school.

“I realized that lacrosse was my favorite sport; I couldn’t see myself not playing sports in college,” said O’Brien, who also starred in soccer and ice hockey for the Panthers.

Initially, O’Brien saw herself playing at the highest level of the college game.

“At first, I wanted to go to a Division I program,” said O’Brien. “I went to camps, the intensity level was a lot higher. I was looking at Lafayette.”

But O’Brien ended up falling in love with Division III Dickinson College and didn’t need to look any further.

“It was not until the end of junior year that Dickinson got into the picture,” said O’Brien, whose older brothers, Dan and Clint, were star athletes at PDS and played college sports at the D-III level.

“The coach sent me a letter and I met her in the summer before my senior year. I loved her coaching style. I did an overnight visit. I loved the team; I felt really comfortable. I liked that it was a small school; it reminded me of PDS.”

Similar to her PDS career, O’Brien made an impact right away for the Red Devils this spring, tallying 25 points on 13 goals and 12 assists to rank third on the squad in scoring.

O’Brien’s numbers are even more impressive considering that she was battling through injury throughout her freshman year.

“In my second-to-last game in high school, I hurt my hamstring,” said O’Brien, a 5’8 attacker.

“I couldn’t play all fall because I was rehabbing my hamstring. Sitting on the sidelines was frustrating but I got to know my teammates and see how things are done.”

Once the spring rolled around, O’Brien was able to get some things done on the field as she returned to action.

“After we came back from winter break, I was able to play again,” said O’Brien.

“The first game was quite nerve-wracking. It is a lot higher level than high school, the game is a lot faster in college.”

The injury bug, though, ended up slowing O’Brien throughout the spring.

“I originally hurt my right hamstring but then I irritated the left one through favoring the right,” said O’Brien.

“I did physical therapy before and after practice. I did exercises to build up my leg around the hamstring. It was very frustrating. I had to take a couple of games off. I played about half the time; I worked out an arrangement with the coach for when I would come out.”

All things considered, O’Brien feels she got off to a good start in her Dickinson career.

“I tried to contribute as much as I could,” said O’Brien, reflecting on a season which saw the Red Devils go 7-8 overall and 4-4 in Centennial Conference play. “We have a young team. The freshman class were the stars.”

Currently focusing on getting up to full speed, O’Brien is looking to assume a starring role in her sophomore year.

“I am doing physical therapy all summer,” said O’Brien. “I expect to be 100 percent by the fall. The future looks exciting. We didn’t make the playoffs this year and we want to make it next year.”

August 1, 2012

COURTING SUCCESS: Sean McCourt surveys the scene on the dock at the Caspersen Rowing Center on Mercer Lake. McCourt, who has been the head coach of the Mercer Junior Rowing Club (MJRC) since its inception in 2002, is leaving the program to teach and coach crew at the McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tenn. During his decade at the helm of the MJRC, he built the program into a power as the club has earned a slew of medals, including four at the U.S. Rowing Youth Nationals, and has grown from around 40 rowers to 150 strong. (Photo by Lauri Bookholdt)

As 2002 approached, Sean McCourt was ready to move on from rowing after starring at Boston University and then coaching high school crew for three years upon graduation.

McCourt was all set to start a job with a financial services company in the Philadelphia area but then he had a conversation that changed everything.

“Two or three day before I was going to start I got a call from a guy named Nick McQuaid,” recalled McCourt.

“Nick and I had rowed together for one summer at Penn AC and he was the director of operations for the Princeton International Regatta Association (PIRA) at the time. He said we really want you to come and start this rowing program. It is going to be a little token program and we have this event coming up and we want you to work more on this event.”

Intrigued, McCourt decided to put his financial career on hold and devote his energy to the fledging youth rowing program that became known as the Mercer Junior Rowing Club (MJRC).

“I thought I will try this out and see how it goes,” said McCourt, who came to Mercer Lake in 2002 as the head coach of the club, responsible for oversight and training of all crews as well as organizing and overseeing the Princeton National Rowing Association’s (PNRA) summer camps and regattas.

“The guys at the financial firm were super nice about it, they were like try it and if it doesn’t work out, you can come back here. I thought OK, I have a safety net so let me give it a try.”

Once he made his mind up to take on the challenge, McCourt was all in. “When Nick told me it was going to be a ‘token program,” I was like no way,” said McCourt, who had coached for a year at the McCallie School (Tenn.) and two years at his high school alma mater, St. Joseph’s Prep before making the move to MJRC.

“If we are going to do this, we are going to do it right. It is going to be competitive. We built it off the St. Joe’s model. They were a powerhouse team with a lot of success so we tried to incorporate some of the things they did in terms of practices, training plans, and structure.”

Achieving his vision, McCourt succeeded in building MJRC into a power as the club has earned a slew of medals, including four at the U.S. Rowing Youth Nationals, and has grown from around 40 rowers to 150 strong.

After a decade leading the program, McCourt, 34, has decided to pursue a new challenge as he is heading back to McCallie in Chattanooga where he will guide the school’s rowing program and teach history.

In reflecting on his history with MJRC, McCourt chuckles when he recalls the program’s humble beginnings.

“We started in an office trailer in the back; that was our headquarters,” said a grinning McCourt, sitting in a conference room in the program’s headquarters at the Caspersen Rowing Center on Mercer Lake.

“Finn Casperson gave us a $10,000 gift to start the program. The only things we owned at the beginning were the launches, engines, and cox boxes. Basically I got on the phone and called everyone I knew and said can you loan us boats. It was really beg, borrow, and steal the first year. The first couple of years were crazy. There were days that if parts broke, I was making them because we didn’t have enough money to buy new ones.”

It didn’t take long for the new club to make a breakthrough as its girls’ novice 8 came through in that first spring.

“That year we had an international regatta where we had teams from New Zealand, Great Britain, and Croatia,” said McCourt.

“We had some high school races and our novice 8 girls won. That was the big run up the flagpole success moment for the year.”

The program experienced more and more success as its numbers increased and it gained a foothold in the youth rowing scene.

“In 2004, we had a boys’ boat get fourth at the nationals and that started a really good run for us in the mid-2000s between the boys and the girls,” said McCourt.

“We had a really fast girls boat in 2006 that won the regional and lost in the final of the Henley Women’s Regatta. All in all, Mercer has won four medals at the nationals. The girls have won three and the boys have won one.”

Rachel LaBella, a star on that 2006 girls’ 8 that took second at Henley, credits McCourt with having a knack for getting rowers up to speed.

“As a freshman, I thought Sean was tough but fair,” said LaBella, a WW/P-S grad who went on to row at UCLA where she was named the team’s Most Valuable Oarswoman and served as team captain.

“He is good at bringing the best out of his rowers. He always pushed us even when we didn’t think we could go that amount. He helped us push through barriers.”

LaBella noted that McCourt was a big help in her college recruitment process.

“I didn’t realize I could go to a big school like UCLA and row,” said LaBella. “Sean got me talking to coaches. He knows everyone and has a lot of connections.”

For McCourt, seeing novice rowers develop into college athletes has been one of the joys of his job.

“It is definitely a neat experience; I would say Mercer is a program built on spare parts,” said McCourt, noting that the MJRC has sent scores of rowers to college programs over the years.

“We don’t always  get the best athlete coming out of the chute but we get people who work really hard. There are kids who come in and you say I can’t believe that this kid can tie their shoes and the next thing you know they are leaving and they are getting a scholarship. It is really cool to see that transformation.”

While McCourt may have provided the framework for such transformations, he credits the rowers for making it happen.

“I don’t think I am proud of anything I did per se; I am proud of what the kids have done,” asserted McCourt.

“It is their program, whether or not I am here or not here. They are going to get out of it what they put into it so I don’t claim anything as my accomplishment. It’s something they actually did the work for.”

Now McCourt is looking forward to working at McCallie, noting that he will be able to spend more time with his wife, Megan, a former U.S. national team rower and Olympic silver medalist in 2004, and their twins, Caitlin and Connor, who are turning two at the end of August.

He acknowledges, however, that it is tough to be ending his MJRC tenure. “I am definitely sad to leave because you have blood in the program; it is something you kind of created from nothing,” said McCourt.

“It is kind of like your baby in a way and you got it and raised it up a little bit and now you got it to the next level. I always tell the kids at some point you would have left me anyway.”

LaBella, for her part, believes that the MJRC kids will sorely miss McCourt.

“He is leaving really big shoes to fill; he did so much for the program,” said LaBella, who coached with the MJRC and the Mercer Masters this year and credited McCourt with easing her transition to that side of the sport.

“He did administrative work. He was a handy guy fixing boats. He did all that coaching. He was always there for the kids, whatever the situation.”

In McCourt’s view, bringing in new blood isn’t the worst situation. “Change is good as long as they bring in the right person,” said McCourt.

“Someone who is not about themselves but who still wants to win. You have got to bring the competitiveness. At the same time, it really is not about you, it is about the kids having fun.”

And McCourt certainly helped a lot of kids have fun at MJRC over the last decade.

ESCAPE HATCH: Chris Hatchell of Winberie’s/Miller Lite, left, looks to elude Tommy Soulias of Ivy Inn last Monday in Game 1 of the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League championship series. Hatchell scored 13 points to help spark Winberie’s to a 48-41 win over Ivy Inn. Winberie’s can wrap up the best-of-three title series on Wednesday night when the teams play Game 2 at the Community Park courts. If necessary, Game 3 will take place on Friday night. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though Winberie’s/Miller Lite brought an undefeated record into last year’s championship series of the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League, the team was not at 100 percent.

“I hurt my knee against Team TB in the semis before we even got to play [University] Radiology and then Kurt [Simmons] went out in the same game and broke his wrist,” said Chris Hatchell, a star guard for Winberie’s. “We were banged up last year.”

Winberie’s put up a valiant fight in the 2011 series but ended up falling 2-1 to University Radiology, dropping a 36-34 nailbiter in the finale.

When Hatchell and second-seeded Winberie’s hit the Community Park courts last Monday for the 2012 best-of-three championship series against No. 5 Ivy Inn, they believed that experience would hold them in good stead.

“Other than Ivy, we are the most veteran team,” said Hatchell. “We know that if we take care of the ball and don’t turn the ball over, we should be able to beat anybody.”

The series opener against Ivy Inn predictably turned into a nip-and-tuck contest with Winberie’s up 20-19 at halftime and the teams knotted at 36-36 with seven minutes remaining in regulation.

Down the stretch, Winberie’s displayed its savvy and chemistry as it outscored Ivy Inn 12-5 to pull out a 48-41 win and put itself on the verge of a title.

In Hatchell’s view, Winberie’s triumph came down to taking care of basics. “I think rebounding and holding to one shot and not letting them get three-point shots off was key,” said Hatchell, reflecting on the win that improved Winberie’s to 10-2 this summer.

Another key to the triumph was Hatchell’s clutch free throw shooting as he drained four straight in the last minute of the game.

“Before this game, I was playing at Mercer County Park in the Trenton 6’2-and-under league and I actually missed four free throws out there tonight,” said Hatchell, who scored 13 points in the victory with Evan Johnson chipping in 14 and Cliff Pollard adding 11 while Ivy Inn’s Mark Aziz led all scorers with 17.

“I thought I have got to make these now; I hardly ever miss free throws. Instead of going to the line and thinking about it, I was just going up there and shooting. I was thinking too much.”

For Hatchell, the championship series matchup is a bit uncomfortable as he had started this summer with Ivy Inn and played a game with the team in June before returning to Winberie’s.

“We had a good team last year but I didn’t know if all of the guys were coming back,” explained Hatchell, noting that he played with such Ivy Inn denizens as Bobby Davison and Shahid Abdul-Karim during his college years.

“But when I found out that Evan Johnson and a couple of other guys were coming back, I felt bad about leaving that team and I talked to Mark [team manager Mark Rosenthal] and said ‘my fault.’ It makes more sense for me to come back with these guys.”

Hatchell is hoping that Winberie’s can come back on the court on Wednesday and close out the series with a win and avoid having to play a decisive Game 3 on Friday.

“They are a good team but we are a veteran team and we just need to control the ball,” asserted Hatchell.

“We are good inside and outside. I like this team. We play together; we are a good mesh. It is a good group of older guys. As long as we don’t turn the ball over, we should be alright.”

COMMUNITY ACTION: Community Park Bluefish swimmer Charles Elliott powers through the water in a recent meet. Last week at the Princeton Area Swimming and Diving Association (PASDA) championships, Elliott, 14, took fourth in the boys’ 14-and-under 50-meter butterfly and eighth in the 50 freestyle. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After months of construction, the new Community Park Pool opened over Memorial Day weekend to much acclaim.

The Myrtha stainless steel pool boasts new walls and a new floor for the lap pool, an upgraded diving pool with a water slide, a zero-depth entry pool, a wading pool, and a new filtration system.

While the complex made an immediate splash with residents, it has served as a special source of inspiration to a particular group of users — the CP Bluefish swim team.

“Myrtha Pools are designed for very high level swimming and it certainly did not fail to prove that,” said Bluefish head coach Andy Sichet.

“We have broken several old standing records in swim meets and kids just love training in it.”

The Bluefish produced a superb regular season, going 4-1 in dual-meet competition to place second in the Princeton Area Swimming and Diving Association (PASDA) Division I standings.

“With the brand new facility in place, I think we all had high expectations of this years’ swim and dive team,” said Sichet.

“Neither team has disappointed the Princeton community. I am very happy finishing the 2012 summer with a 4-1 record. We certainly made big progress in our speed. Just about every swimmer improved on their original start time by the end of our short season.”

That progress was reflected in how the Bluefish ended the summer as the squad performed well last week in the PASDA championship meet at the Flemington-Raritan Community pool.

“As a team we have improved in overall team scoring points as well as placed better then we have in the prior PASDA championships,” said Sichet, whose team placed fourth of six teams in the competition won by Flemington-Raritan. “I am happy to see any improvement in our swimmers.”

The team’s group of younger girls’ swimmers certainly made Sichet happy as they came up big at the PASDA meet.

Ella Jones, 6, won the girls’ 6-and-under 25-meter freestyle and was second in the 25 backstroke while Madison Csontos, 8, was third in both the 8-and-under 25 free and butterfly. Natalie Hansford, 9, placed first in the 10-and-under 25 backstroke and Grace Hoedemaker, 9, finished second in the 10-and-under 25 butterfly. Eva Petrone, 10, took third in the 10-and-under 25 breaststroke. The combination of Hansford, Petrone, Hoedemaker, and Ria Sharma, 9, won the 10-and-under medley relay.

“Madison Csontos gave us incredible work effort in the summer and Natalie Hansford was one of the best swimmers,” said Sichet.

“Eva Petrone was dedicated  and provided great team support. We can always count on Grace Hoedemaker for points in almost any event.”

The team’s corps of older girls swimmers piled up plenty of points in the PASDA meet.

Madeline Hoedemaker, 11, won the girls’ 12-and-under fly and placed second in both the 100 individual medley and 50 free while Kate McLaughlin, 12, placed third in the 100 IM, 50 fly, and 50 back. Nicole Kratzer, 17, finished fourth in both the 18-and-under 50 breast and 50 butterfly while Charlotte Singer, 14, took third in the 14-and-under breast.

“Kate McLaughlin improved dramatically over the summer and Charlotte Singer has been at every meet and we see improvement every day,” added Sichet. “Nicole Kratzer was a coach and swimmer this year.

Sichet saw some dramatic results from his younger boy swimmers. Jaxon Petrone, 8, won the boys’ 8-and-under 100 IM and the 25 free and placed second in the 25 back while Alosha Darenkov, 8, took second in both the 8-and-under 100 IM and 25 breast and fourth in the 25 free. Gefen Bar-Cohen, 9, won the boys’ 10-and-under 25 free and took second in the 25 breast while Daniel King, 5, took second in the 6-and-under 25 back.

Oliver Hunsbedt, 12, won both the boys’ 12-and-under 100 IM and 50 breast while Eric Li, 12, took second in the 12-and-under 25 back and Noah Chen, 14, took fourth in both the boys’ 14-and-under 100 IM and 50 free.

“Bar-Cohen came in late but you can depend on him to score points,” added Sichet. “Petrone had stepped up; he has become a key racer for us. Hunsbedt is one of our liveliest kids; he is a great character and he gets everyone excited about racing.”

Not to be outdone, CP’s older male swimmers made a major impact at the PASDA competition.

Princeton High boys’ swim star Will Stange, 15, won the boys’ 18-and-under back and took second in the 100 IM and 50 free. Matthew Shanahan, 15, placed fourth in the both 18-and-under 100 IM and 50 back while Jake Valente, 18, took second in the 18-and-under 50 breast, third in the 50 free, and fourth in the 50 back.

“Will is Will; he is an incredible year round swimmer,” said Sichet of rising junior Stange, who helped the PHS boys’ swimming team go undefeated last winter on the way to the program’s first state title.

“It is a privilege to have him on the team. He is one of our biggest assets. Jake Valente has been with us all the way through high school. We are very happy that he continued his tradition of success with the Bluefish.”

As Sichet reflects on the summer, he is as proud of the attitude displayed by his swimmers around the deck as their success in the pool.

“With the combination of a brand new top of the line facility, warm weather, wonderful age-group coaches, larger-than-ever team, the spirit on the Bluefish team was the best I have ever seen,” asserted Sichet.

BELL CURVE: Isabelle Monaghan displays her backstroke form in action for the Nassau Swim Club Lemmings. Last week at the PASDA championship meet, Monaghan, 10, placed second in both the 10-and-under 100-meter individual medley and the 25 butterfly. She also helped Nassau to wins in both the 100 medley relay and 100 freestyle relay. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the Nassau Swim Club Lemmings didn’t have as much depth as in past summers, the team lived up to the program’s winning tradition.

The Lemmings went 4-1 in Princeton Area Swimming and Diving Association (PASDA) Division II dual meets, earning a first place tie in the regular season standings.

“We had a great summer; it was very successful considering the numbers,” said Lemmings coach Beth Nagle.

“We were low, particularly in the 12-and-under and the 10-and-under boys. In some meets, we had just three swimmers in those age groups. We ended up in a three-way tie for first. We beat Ben Franklin and then Ben Franklin beat Trenton and Trenton beat us so it was very competitive.”

Nagle saw individual improvement across the board. “Most of our swimmers dropped their times,” said Nagle. “We made a point of working on stroke technique and starts this summer.”

That work paid off last week in the PASDA championship meet at the Flemington Raritan club as the Lemmings produced a number of outstanding swims.

“Looking at the numbers, we had a successful meet,” said Nagle, whose team placed second of six teams at the meet, scoring 2,447 points to trail only Ben Franklin’s total of 3,006. “Every swimmer placed and we had a couple of great relay races.”

One of the club’s top relays came from the younger girls. “The 10-and-under medley relay is one of my all-time favorite relays,” said Nagle, referring to the quartet of Isabelle Monaghan, Serena Bolitho, Ella Caddeau, and Veronique Diblasio.

“They came within a second of the meet record; they are really good. You throw Samantha Campisi in there on the free relay and they don’t lose anything.”

The core of young swimmers has plenty of experience despite being tender in years.

“We have had them since they were young,” said Nagle. “Isabelle Monaghan has her sister Sophia to look up to. We got Ella Caddeau back this year, that was a good addition.”

Nagle got some good work this summer from her older girls as well. “We are so lucky to have the older girls, they are our faithfuls,” asserted Nagle.

“Brigid Diblasio (age 13) and Becca Adlai-Gail (13) are big point scorers for us. We have a really solid under-18 group with Carla Tuan, Sophia Monaghan, and Susanna Tuan.”

Diblasio won both the girls’ 14-and-under 50 backstroke and 50 freestyle at the PASDA meet while Adlai-Gail placed first in the 14-and-under 50 butterfly. Carla Tuan won the girls’ 18-and-under 10 individual medley while Monaghan won the 18-and-under 50 back and took second in the 18-and-under free.

The Lemmings have a big star in the making on the boys’ side in 6-year-old Daniel Baytin, the winner of the 25-meter freestyle and backstroke at the PASDA meet.

“Daniel Baytin set freestyle and backstroke records at the PASDA meet,” said Nagle.

“At the mini-meet, he won all of his 6-and-under events and then went up to the 8-and-under and took second in the medley. Ben has helped us a lot; he juggles baseball with swimming He is a good athlete. Simon Sheppard is another good younger swimmer.”

Nassau got a lot of help through welcoming Matt Kuhlik, a star for the undefeated state champion Princeton High boys’ team who will be swimming for Emory this fall.

“Matt Kuhlik was a wonderful addition,” said Nagle of Kuhlik, who placed first in the boys’ 18-and-under 50 free and second in the 50 back at the PASDA  meet.

“He was looking for a job this summer and applied to be a lifeguard. He is a fantastic kid. He coached the 12-and-under boys and they looked up to him. He enjoyed being a role model for them.”

Kuhlik’s PHS teammate, Harun Filipovic, has assumed a big role in the Nassau program for years.

“Harun has grown up around the team; he has been swimming with us since he was four,” said Nagle of the Bucknell-bound star who won both the boys’ 18-and-under 50 back and 50 fly at the PASDA championships. “He set a team record in the 50 butterfly for us.”

Nagle liked the attitude she has seen around the team this summer. “As usual, I think Nassau has the best spirit around,” maintained Nagle.

“The lifeguards grew up around the team and now they are coaches. I heard it a million times this summer, kids saying ‘I want to be a lifeguard and a coach.’ The younger swimmers look up to the coaches and the lifeguards.”

The Nassau swimmers develop some deep bonds through spending a lot of time with each other.

“It is our own world,” said Nagle. “Practice ends at 10 in the morning and a lot of kids stay here until 3. It is like a camp.”

In order to keep that spirit going and increase numbers, Nassau is welcoming non-members to join the Lemmings as they will continue working through the summer in a new program called ‘Swimming Spree in August.’

“We are the only PASDA team that practices through August,” said Nagle.

“This year, it is open to anyone who is interested. We have one-hour practices in the morning and evening. We will have the coaching staff on hand and we will participate in the Bruce Nystrom intrasquad meet at the end.”

July 25, 2012

PICKING IT UP: Princeton Post 218 shortstop Beau Horan picks up a grounder in recent action. Horan’s production and leadership helped Post 218 go on a late surge that saw the club win three of its last five games to end the summer with a 7-15 record. The seven wins represented marked progress for a program that went a combined 5-43 over the previous two summers.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In the summer of 2009, Beau Horan was a wet-behind-the-ears shortstop, trying to hold his own in his rookie season with the Princeton Post 218 American Legion baseball team.

Since that debut campaign, Horan has matured into one of the top shortstops in the Mercer County American Legion League (MCALL). Coming off an outstanding senior season for the Princeton Day School baseball team this past spring, Horan is headed to Williams College as a top recruit for the baseball program at the highly regarded Division III school.

This summer, Horan has assumed the role of veteran leader for Post 218, taking the players on the youthful squad under his wing and giving them the benefit of the experience he has gained over the years.

“These guys are getting a lot better,” said Horan, noting that he has been with the Post 218 for six years, counting his play with the program’s Junior Legion squad.

“It is nice to see them grow and get used to winning and playing some close games.”

Post 218 displayed its growth last week as it rallied from a 4-1 deficit to edge North Hamilton 6-5 at Smoyer Park.

“It has been the character of this team all year; we have had a lot of adversity,” said Horan reflecting on the win which saw Post 218 take a 5-4 lead in the fifth inning on a grand slam by Jon Hayden and then tally the winning run on a bases-loaded walk by Jacob Eisenberg in the bottom of the seventh.

“Most of the time we have had around nine guys and we forfeited a game the other day. But when we show up and we have Jacob on the mound we always have a chance to win.”

Leadoff hitter Horan knows that he has to get on base to give Post 218 a better chance to win. Horan had a total of seven hits in two wins over Ewing Post 314 and Trenton Posts 93/182 last week and reached base two times and scored twice in the victory over North Hamilton.

“I made a small adjustment; I am keeping my hands higher and seeing more pitches so I can time it a little better,” said Horan.

“I am feeling a little bit better and getting on base in the leadoff spot and letting the big boys bring me in.”

Post 218 manager Tommy Parker likes the way his players have come up big over the last few weeks of the season.

“I call them the notorious nine; they have really hung in there,” said a grinning Parker, whose club won three of four games before falling 6-4 to Ewing Post 314 last Thursday to end the summer at 7-15.

“They have really hung in there tough all season, but it has really culminated itself in the last few games. I am really proud of them.”

Parker was proud of the contributions he got throughout the lineup in the win over North Hamilton.

“This was a total team effort; we got a big hit by Jon Hayden; that was beautiful,” said Parker.

“Jacob Eisenberg threw a nice game. Beau did a good job at shortstop and got two runs. Zach Tesone made some nice picks at first and had a great double. It was a great effort.”

In Parker’s view, Horan has provided Post 218 with some great leadership.

“Beau has definitely helped keep us focused, especially with the young guys,” said Parker.

“They can be in the ball game and then for a split second be distracted by something else. Baseball guys like Beau keep them focused and keep their energy up. He always has some kind of positive reinforcement if a kid comes in and is hanging his head.”

With Post 218 having picked up seven wins this summer after going a total of 5-43 the last seasons, the team is headed in a positive direction.

“It is absolutely making progress,” asserted Parker. “We have had a couple of injuries where we lost guys for the season. If we could ever get everybody here at the same time, we could be better than seven wins. I am certain of that.”

In Parker’s view, there should be a lot more wins in this group’s future. “They are all young guys, the whole team with the exception of Marcus [Henderson] is going to be back,” said Parker.

“Finishing strong can pick the momentum up. We might do a fall ball program so that the young guys who are still around can play. They asked me the other day what is the most wins I remember and I told them that we had a team that won 14 games and was just one game off the playoffs. I think this team could be as good as that team.”

Horan, for his part, is ready to get going with his new team at Williams. “I received the summer conditioning program about a week or two ago; I am itching to get that started,” said Horan.

“I start there on August 28. I really want to get started with that team and get another four years going.”

And if Horan can make as much progress over the next four years as he has with Post 218, he should have quite a career at Williams.