May 30, 2012

SAVED BY BELL: Stuart Country Day School lacrosse goalie Harlyn Bell clears the ball in a game this spring. The development of freshman Bell into a star was a major plus for Stuart this season. Bell and the Tartans topped Nottingham 16-5 in their season finale to end with a 4-11 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Stuart Country Day lacrosse team, its season-ending 16-5 win over Nottingham reflected how much the team has grown over the spring.

“It was a great way to end the season,” said Stuart first-year head coach Caitlin Grant.

“The team played well together defensively. They really came together, like we have been working on.”

Senior star Ani Hallowell ended her career in style, scoring six goals to help lift Stuart to a 4-11 final record.

“Ani was the heart and soul of the team,” asserted Grant of Hallowell, who is headed to Holy Cross.

“She scored goals. She helped all over the field. She had 113 goals in her career with around 70 this year.”

The Tartans saw young players step up all over the field with freshman goalie Harlyn Bell, freshman attacker Nneka Onuwugha, and junior attacker Alaina Ungarini turning heads.

“Bell was a brand new goalie and I think she was one of the best we saw in the area,” said Grant.

“She likes the responsibility; she sets a high standard for herself and gets upset when she doesn’t hit her goals. Nneka Onuwagha had never even touched a stick before this year and she ended up with four or five goals. Alaina was kind of timid at first. Last year was the first time she had played. She took it upon herself to score more and she did.”

Sophomore Amy Hallowell figures to pick up some of the scoring load after the graduation of older sister Ani.

“Amy Hallowell was in her sister’s shadow at the beginning; she let Ani take over,” said Grant.

“I know it is tough; I played with my older sister in high school. Amy is a great player. She has around 50 goals so she is in line to get 100. She is going to step up more without Ani there.”

Grant believes that offensive balance will be a key to the program’s continued progress.

“I want them to learn that they can really work together and not rely on one player,” said Grant. “Each of them can take the ball to the goal.”

For Grant, getting the chance to work with the Tartan program helped her become a better teacher of the game.

“It is different from Notre Dame High where I played,” said Grant, who went on to play college lax at The College of New Jersey.

“We had so many players that we could pick and choose and work on plays and more intricate things right away. With Stuart, there are a lot of new players. We have to work on throwing and catching and the basics; we had to teach some of them the rules.”

But while the program may not be strong in numbers, it boasts a special unity.

“It is such a tight little group, you know everyone right away,” said Grant. “We had only 17 or so players. They work well together. Everyone has to play.”

In order to enjoy more success in the future, the Stuart players can’t wait until next spring to improve.

“We have a summer camp and I would like them to come to that; I also have pointed them in the direction of summer clinics and camps,” said Grant.

“I want to talk to next year’s captains [Amy Hallowell and Isabel Soto] about having the team play with each other in the offseason so they know the ins and outs of their game and we can start working on plays right away.”

May 23, 2012

UNLIKELY RUN: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse star Garret Jensen runs up the field in a game earlier this spring. Attackman Jensen helped seventh-seeded PDS make an unlikely run in the Mercer County Tournament as the Panthers knocked off second-seeded Notre Dame and sixth-seeded Princeton High on the way to the title contest last Saturday against No. 1 Hopewell Valley. Jensen scored a goal in the championship game but it wasn’t enough as the Panthers fell 6-2 to the Bulldogs to end the season at 10-7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Tyler Olsson and his fellow seniors on the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team, spending some quality time together in South Carolina a few months ago helped strengthen their resolve to go out with a bang this spring.

“At Hilton Head, where we had our spring training, we were all in the same house together,” said star midfielder Olsson, whose classmates on the team include Garret Jensen, Mike Davila, Zack Higgins, Lyndy Lapera, and Walker Ward.

“We spent hours on end together. We are a pretty closely knit group.”

Last Saturday in the Mercer County Tournament championship game, Olsson and the seniors came agonizingly close to ending their careers with a title, falling just short in a 6-2 loss to powerful Hopewell Valley.

The seventh-seeded Panthers battled toe-to-toe with No. 1 HoVal, trailing by just 3-2 entering the fourth quarter. PDS, though, couldn’t find the back of the net over the last 12 minutes while the Bulldogs scored three goals.

“Their defense pressured out and kind of shut us down,” said Olsson. “We weren’t taking the right shots, we kept shooting high right into the stick.”

Having upset second-seeded Notre Dame and No. 6 Princeton High on the way to the title game, PDS had high hopes of pulling off another upset even when they were behind 2-1 at halftime against HoVal.

“That’s what we have been all year,” said Olsson, referring to squad’s underdog mentality.

“We took out Notre Dame; we took out PHS. We are a second half team. We have come back in the second half of multiple games. That is just how we do it; I thought we had this one.”

For Olsson, who also stars for PDS’s ice hockey team, playing in the MCT final in lacrosse was reminiscent of the success he has experienced on the ice.

“I have won MCT in hockey and the Preps in hockey but have never done anything in lacrosse for this program,” said Olsson.

“This is just huge, making it to the finals of MCTs. Hopefully we will bring the program back up to what it used to be.”

PDS head coach Rob Tuckman saw the trip to the MCT final as a huge step forward.

“It is all icing at this point; nobody expects a seven seed to be playing the final,” said Tuckman, who got goals from Cody Triolo and Jensen as the Panthers ended the spring with a 10-7 record.

“We played against the No. 1 seed and they are the No. 1 seed for a reason, they are now 18-2. Part of it is that they have an incredible defense and their defense played very well against us today.”

The Panthers had their chances, including a critical sequence early in the fourth quarter when they missed a good chance to draw within one goal only to see HoVal race down the field and score.

“We knocked on the door there, had it been on goal there and gone in then it is 4-3 instead of 5-2 in that transition,” said Tuckman.

“You could go back to lots of different plays. Overall it was a great season. I am really proud of the team.”

Tuckman is proud of what his seniors have given to the team. “It goes without saying; you look at a kid like Garret who is banged up beyond belief and still puts it out everyday,” said Tuckman, reflecting on the program’s Class of 2012.

“We have Tyler Olsson, who doesn’t stop fighting, and Michael Davila, who has been a staple for us in terms of leadership. Losing Zack in the prep semifinals was really tough. He helped our young defense figure out how to play the role they need to play. They are leaving a legacy for sure.”

The young players coming back are primed to add to that legacy. “I am excited for what is to come; we are definitely building this program,” asserted Tuckman.

“As we said to them yesterday in practice, everything we have done is to build experiences and build this program so when we get to big moments like this we are ready for them.”

In Olsson’s view, there should be plenty of big moments ahead for the Panthers.

“Since my freshman year, there has been a huge change,” said Olsson. “We have grown and brought in some new talent. We are just starting to rebuild the program and what happened in hockey can happen in lacrosse.”

CAREER ADVANCEMENT: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Mia Haughton heads to goal in recent action. Last Friday, senior midfielder and co-captain Haughton tallied a goal and four assists as second-seeded PHS rallied to top No. 7 Mount Olive 10-7 in the second round of the North Jersey Group 3 sectionals and stayed alive in the state tourney. The Little Tigers were slated to host No. 3 WW/P-N on May 22 in the sectional semifinals with the winner advancing to the title game on May 24. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team trailing Mount Olive 4-3 at halftime last Friday in the second round of the state tournament, Mia Haughton realized that she might have just 25 minutes remaining in her high school career.

“Katie [Reilly] and I were talking, we definitely didn’t want this to be our last game,” said senior star Haughton, who is a co-captain of the Little Tigers along with classmate Reilly. “We weren’t playing our game in the first half.”

As a result, the Little
Tigers engaged in some soul searching at halftime of the North Jersey Group 3 sectional contest.

“Coach [Christie] Cooper talked it over with us and said we weren’t playing as a team,” recalled Haughton.

“We can only win as a team. We got together and said ‘family’ which is what our team says to remind us that we are a team. We needed to play more as a unit rather than playing as individuals.”

In the second half, Haughton helped the second-seeded Little Tigers find a rhythm, assisting on four straight goals as PHS forged ahead 8-5 on the way to a 10-7 win.

“The opportunities started coming and one thing is that we just slowed it down,” said Haughton, who tallied a goal and four assists on the game with sophomore standout Emilia Lopez-Ona scoring five goals and Elizabeth Jacobs chipping in two as the Little Tigers improved to 14-3.

“In the first half we just kept rushing and rushing and we never got into a settled offense so we settled it down and got into it. The cuts were coming and my assists were easy.”

For Haughton, it has been easy working with longtime friend Reilly in leading the Little Tigers.

“Being a captain, I feel like I have to step up and fill that leadership role,” said Haughton.

“It really helps to have Katie by my side. We are a unit. We are going to Amherst College together so the bond is going to continue. We have been playing together our whole life. We understand each other on the field so it is really good to have her with me.”

But in line with the team’s emphasis on family, Haughton notes that many have pitched in when it comes to leadership.

“The majority of our players are younger and underclassmen; anyone can step up and play the leadership role,” said Haughton.

“Between Emilia [Lopez-Ona] and Liz [Jacobs] and our defense which is all underclassmen and a freshman goalie [Mira Shane], they can step in and fill those leadership roles. That’s all you can ask for.”

With PHS slated to host No. 3 WW/P-N on May 22 in the sectional semis, Haughton and her teammates will be asking for even more from themselves.

“We definitely have to pick it up in practice and get serious because we are in the semifinals,” said Haughton, noting that PHS and WW/P-N split their two regular season meetings.

“As long as I have been here, we have never made it this far. We broke the second round curse, we are just really excited.”

END GAME: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse star Kirby Peck heads upfield in recent action. Last Saturday, senior midfielder Peck scored two goals but it wasn’t enough as 13th-seeded PHS fell 9-6 to No. 20 Fair Lawn in the opening round of the Group 3 state tournament. The defeat left the Little Tigers with a final record of 10-9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It has been a grueling May for the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team.

Coming into its Group 3 state tournament opening round contest last Saturday morning against visiting Fair Lawn, PHS has played five games since May 8, including a draining 8-7 overtime loss to Princeton Day School on Thursday in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals.

Looking flat, the 13th-seeded Little Tigers fell behind 3-0 in the first quarter against the 20th-seeded Cutters and found themselves trailing 4-1 at halftime.

PHS head coach Peter Stanton could sense that his players were dragging a little bit.

“The last couple of weeks, we have played Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, everybody is in the same position but we are a little worn down,” said Stanton.

“Getting to this point required some overachieving; it was about all we had left in the tank.”

Summoning up what energy was left, PHS drew to within 6-3 with 3:23 left in the third quarter. But the Cutters tacked on two goals late in the period and went on to a 9-6 win.

While Stanton was disappointed to see the season come to an end, he liked the way his team fought to the final whistle.

“Whatever game we are in, whatever the situation is, we always want our players to say at the end of the game that they played their hardest and they left it all on the field,” said Stanton, who got two goals apiece from Alex Rifkin, Kirby Peck, and Matt Purdy in the defeat as his team finished the season at 10-9.

“We wanted our guys to make more plays and be a little more aggressive to make an effort they could be proud of.”

In reflecting on the spring, Stanton praised his team’s capacity to improve. “We are proud that we had some situations where we lost games to teams and bounced back,” said Stanton.

“We lost to HoVal in our opener and the second time we played them, we took them. We lost to North [WW/P-N] in a one-goal game and we beat them later. We lost to South [WW/P-S] in a one-goal game and we came back and beat them. So in a lot of those challenge situations, we showed improvement the second time around. We are pleased that our guys didn’t get discouraged by bad results.”

Stanton credited his core of seniors with helping the Little Tigers rise to the challenge.

“I think Kirby Peck and Alex Rifkin really wanted to put the team on their back and carry them as far as they could,” asserted Stanton.

“Elliot Wilson in goal had some really magical moments. Coleman Preziosi was someone that other teams always looked at as a weapon.”

The Little Tigers had a secret weapon in spiritual leader Tom Sacchetti, a senior who provided special emotional support after suffering a season-ending injury in the preseason.

“Tom didn’t see the field once this year but he came to every practice that he could,” said Stanton.

“He helped us out so much on the sideline. It is just an amazing kid who had zero percent chance of getting on the field but gave so much to the team. That is the kind of character that is really hard to replace.”

The Little Tigers have some talent in place to maintain the program’s winning tradition with such returning players as Matt Purdy, Matt Olentine, Zach Halliday, Kevin Halliday, Jack Persico, Pat McCormick, Matt Corrado, Stephen Clark, and Jack Andres.

“We love our underclassmen; we have a good number of them,” said Stanton.

“Our sophomores were really able to make a lot of plays this year. We had some freshmen contribute. We had kids on JV who we think are really going to be good players.”

In order to be really good, those young players will need to embrace a heightened work ethic.

“Hopefully what we learned is what it takes to be really successful,” added Stanton.

“More and more with the athleticism of the game and the skill level of the game improving all across the board, it requires some effort year round. Guys have to go to the weight room. Guys have to spend time at the wall. Guys have to spend time in the offseason on the game and I think our guys understand that.”

FRESH APPROACH: Hun School softball player Caitlin Hoagland shows her defensive focus in a game this spring. Freshman first baseman Hoagland had a solid debut season as the Raiders posted a 9-7 record this spring. Hun ended the season by falling 8-3 to Peddie last Thursday in the state Prep A semifinals. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Hun School softball team, beating Peddie in late April proved to be a double-edged sword when the rivals met again last Thursday in the state Prep A semifinal.

“I think we did have confidence but they came out fired up,” said Hun head coach Kathy Quirk. “They weren’t going to let us beat them again.”

Sure enough, host Peddie tallied three runs in the bottom of the first inning to jump out to a 3-0 lead. The Raiders answered back with two runs in the top of the third to narrow the gap to 3-2. In the bottom of the fourth, however, the Falcons broke through with four runs and never looked back on the way to an 8-3 win.

In reflecting on the loss, Quirk was disappointed about falling short but sees better things on the horizon.

“We had 11 hits but we couldn’t string them together,” said Quirk, noting that her team made crucial errors to aid the Peddie rallies.

“The only good thing is that we are young; we have a lot of girls coming back.”

The youthful Raiders showed growth as they rebounded from a sluggish start to end the spring at 9-7.

“We did better than our expectations,” said Quirk. “I never expected to win nine games this year.”

Junior pitcher Dani Beal played a key role in the team’s improvement. “I am proud of Dani and how she progressed,” asserted Quirk.

“Once she got confidence in herself and her teammates, she was really good. She pulled herself together.”

The return of junior catcher Carey Million to the lineup after an early-season wrist injury gave the Raiders a jolt of confidence.

“We missed Million when she was out,” added Quirk. “Once she got herself strong enough to both catch and hit, she was a big spark. I think she had three or four homers and hit around .500.”

Several of the squad’s younger players had strong campaigns. “Julia Blake, for a freshman, was phenomenal at shortstop, both hitting and defensively,” said Quirk.

“Joey Crivelli did a good job at third base. We moved her from second; she got a lot of hard hit balls and fielded bunts really well. She worked hard. Cait Hoagland did a nice job at first; she used her stretch to make some plays. She has a bright future. Kristen Manochio did a good job in center field; she also had some big hits.”

The team’s lone senior, outfielder Emily Kuchar, gave Hun a big lift emotionally.

“Emily was a four-year player and a two-year starter,” said Quirk. “Her enthusiasm everyday was invaluable.”

In order to build on this spring’s progress, the Hun players will need to be enthusiastic about their offseason training.

“I think the lesson is that hard work pays off,” said Quirk. “You can’t start on March 1. You have to lift weights over the winter. The girls need to have more upper body strength; it makes you stronger and more aggressive. I am excited, we have a great group coming back.”

THE RIGHT STUFF: Hun School baseball player Alex Fabian delivers a pitch in action this spring. Senior Fabian displayed his versatility for the Raiders this season, hitting .325 and playing at catcher and outfield in addition to pitching. Hun lost 5-0 to Blair and 7-5 to Peddie last Saturday to get eliminated from the state Prep A tournament. The Raiders finished the spring with a 9-14 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After his Hun School baseball team topped Lawrenceville 4-2 last Wednesday in the opening round of the state Prep A tournament, Bill McQuade sensed that his team could be primed for another late surge to a title.

“We had a great win over Lawrenceville,” said longtime Hun head coach McQuade, whose team got hot in the latter stages last spring in rolling to the Prep A crown.

“Austin Goeke threw only 71 pitches in that win. He was incredible; his fastball was really working. He was really on in his last three or four starts. Coming out of that game, we were pretty happy. We felt we were on a roll. We had five or six guys who were hitting well and we just needed some decent pitching.”

But things didn’t go well for the Raiders last weekend at Blair Academy as they were knocked out of the double-elimination tournament by virtue of losing 5-0 to Blair and 7-5 to Peddie in Saturday action.

In the loss to Blair, the Raiders’ bats went quiet in the clutch. “We ran into a tough Blair team; Alex Fabian pitched for us in that game and he did well,” said McQuade.

“They got single runs in five innings. We put men on base, we just couldn’t get them home. Stevie Wells got two doubles and I don’t think we got him to third.”

Later in the day, Hun fought hard but came up short in a back-and-forth contest against Peddie.

“We started Jason Applegate; he is a freshman but we expect so much from him,” said McQuade, whose team fell behind 3-0 in the first inning and then scored in the top of the third to take the lead only to see Peddie score two in the bottom of the frame and then add two more in the fifth to secure the win.

“He battled but he walked too many. Gavin Stupienski hit a homer and we went ahead. We got a run to make it 5-5 and then we gave up two unearned runs and couldn’t score again.”

Seeing his team finish 9-14 as it failed to defend its Prep A title left McQuade with a sour taste in his mouth.

“It is disappointing if you look at the end,” said McQuade. “There is a ‘but’ and it is a huge ‘but’ and that is we didn’t have Goeke for most of the beginning of the season and we didn’t have Gavin for much of the season.”

While the season could have been a nightmare after a 2-8 start, the emergence of junior Eddie Paparella and some defensive fine-tuning helped the Raiders remain competitive.

“Paparella developed into a star,” said McQuade. “He batted .432 and colleges are looking at him. What solidified us in the infield was moving Paparella to third base and Birch to shortstop. Birch is a natural shortstop, he is the best we have had since M.L. Williams.”

The team’s core of seniors, led by captain David Dudeck, Brandon Smith Stupienski, and Fabian, gave the Raiders a solid foundation.

“Losing Dudeck is tough; he is such a great kid and nobody works harder,” said McQuade of Dudeck, who hit .418 with three homers and 20 RBIs this season and will be playing football for Boston College this fall.

“We moved Smith to second from third; that also helped. His character and dedication to the game is special. We never got a chance to see the real Gavin; he has been injured for much of the last two years. He is going to UNC-Wilmington; he is going to be a heckuva player there if he stays healthy. Fabian really matured as a player. He volunteered to help us at catcher; he had never played there and that really helped us. We had four seniors who were heavy contributors.”

McQuade cited Thom Browne as another senior who provided a special contribution when it comes to character.

“Thom Browne had four years in the program with the first three years on JV,” added McQuade.

“He never said a word; he had a great attitude. He got a big win over Mercersburg for us.”

In McQuade’s view, the program has pieces in place to get some big wins in the future.

“If we get a whole year out of Austin [Goeke], that will be big,” said McQuade, whose other top returners include Birch (.375 average and a team-high 28 runs this spring) and Wells (.333 with two homers and 19 RBIs).

“Applegate will be a player. Mike Manfredi (.273 with 10 RBIs) grew up this year. He developed into a heavy hitter; he played third, first, and outfield. He can pitch, he could be a relief ace for us next year.”

In order to maximize their development, the Hun players will need to put in some heavy work over the offseason.

“If they want to be really successful, they have to start right now,” asserted McQuade.

“They need to work on conditioning and play a lot of baseball this summer. They need to work on all facets of the game, including the mental part of the game.”

McQuade, for his part, believes that having a hungry mentality could be the key ingredient to future success.

“Coming into this year, everyone was excited,” said McQuade. “We were coming off a Prep A title and had almost everyone back. I told them what you did last year means nothing. We will be reminding them of that next year.”

May 16, 2012

LEAP DAY: Princeton High girls’ track star Maddie Lea flies through the air in competition earlier this season. Last Saturday, Lea took third in the triple jump at the Mercer County Championships, helping the Little Tigers to their first-ever team title in the 34-year history of the outdoor meet. It was a photo finish as the Little Tigers accumulated 87 points, edging runner-up WW/P-S, who totaled 86.5 points. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Jim Smirk has adopted a straightforward mantra this spring for his Princeton High girls’ track team.

“We have been telling the kids to do good things and good things will happen,” said PHS head coach Smirk.

Last Saturday at the Mercer County Championship meet, the Little Tigers did a lot of good things and something great happened as PHS won its first team title in the 34-year history of the outdoor meet. (The program did win the indoor county title in 1989.)

It was a photo finish as the Little Tigers accumulated 87 points, edging runner-up WW/P-S, who totaled 86.5 points.

Coming into the county meet at Steinert High, Smirk saw his squad as a title contender.

“We knew we had a pretty good team,” said Smirk. “We thought of ourselves as a top three team. Last year, we felt we didn’t have our team quite together. We have been talking about redefining what are team could be.”

Senior star Bryell Wheeler certainly had it together last Saturday, placing first in the 100 (12.32), long jump (17‘2.50) and triple jump (38‘1.25), and taking fourth in the 200 (26.35).

“Bryell has had nagging hamstring issues this spring,” said Smirk. “Coach [Ben] Samara and I sat down with her last week and said ‘here’s the deal, you recognize your talent but in the big meets you struggle. We think you are ready to do well but you have to believe it.’ She went out and competed.”

Wheeler’s competitive will has been reflected by her versatility. “She was always strong at the 100 and the long jump; every year she has grown by adding an event,” added Smirk.

“Over the winter, Ben started working on triple jump with her. It is a true technical event and we thought she was ready for that. The 100 and long jump are really power events.”

The Little Tigers also got a powerful contribution from their other jumping star Maddie Lea, who took third in the triple jump (35’7.50).

“Maddie Lea deserves a lot of credit,” said Smirk. “She and Bryell have been training partners all year; the two girls are both incredible jumpers. Maddie is a state level jumper in the triple jump and long jump.”

PHS boasts a high-level distance runner in senior Elyssa Gensib who won the 1,600 and took second in the 3,200. Gensib nipped WW/P-S star Caroline Kellner in the 1,600, clocking a time of 4:58.27, 1.31 ahead of the Pirate runner. In the 3,200, Gensib finished nearly 10 seconds behind Kellner, coming in at 10:56.24 with the WW/P-S standout posting a winning time of 10:46.73.

“Caroline wanted to be a four-time county champ in mile and she had never been under 5:00; we knew what she was going after,” said Smirk

“I said to Elyssa, ‘I have been running you in those 800s to help your speed, all you have to do is believe.’ In the the stretch between 1,000 and 1,400 meters, Caroline eats people up. Elyssa needed to get in middle and show the will to stay on her shoulder and have a shot in the last 300. It was one of the most exciting miles I have ever seen; both girls executed their race plans. Kellner had a blazing 800 but Elyssa had the guts to stay with her and use her speed at the end.”

Smirk had a feeling that Gensib would display some good finishing speed.

“She has been training that way,” explained Smirk.

“She been doing tempo work on the road where she is able to modulate. In the last four weeks, she has been doing tempo work in the track: it is mentally tougher. She was putting in the work for those last 40 meters.

Sophomore throwing star Michelle Bazile showed mental toughness as she won the shotput (36‘4.50) and took second in the discus (127’3).

“Coming off basketball, we were working to have her focus on discus with her height and strength,” said Smirk.

“Then she goes out and wins the shot put, ‘are you kidding me?’ but when we looked at her last 20 throws, she was the pinnacle of consistency.” said Smirk.

“We should have seen that she was ready to go 36 feet. The duel in the discus was really impressive. Every time Michelle would do a long throw, the girl from Hightstown [Aziza Ahmed] would go a little further. Michelle as a sophomore, stepped in there with complete confidence. She was really competing.”

As the meet drew to a conclusion, Smirk wasn’t sure whether PHS had done enough to win the competition.

“After the triple jump and discus, it was coming down to 4×400,” said Smirk.

“If we took fifth, we had a shot but we were in second heat. I wasn’t sure what we got but then Todd Smith [the WW/P-S coach] came up to me and congratulated me.”

Once it sunk in that PHS had won the title, Smirk felt a deep sense of pride in how far the program has come.

“It is huge; when I started years ago as head coach, I wrote down goals and I said is a county title even possible with Trenton, WW/P-S, WW/P-N, and Hopewell, which was a dynasty then.” said Smirk, whose squad will look for another title when it competes in the Central Jersey Group III sectional meet from May 25-26.

“It was great that we got it with a group of girls who have gone through a lot. The seniors lost a teammate when Helene [Cody] passed away. They are more battle-tested. Doing what they did over time is a testament to how much they have been able to grow.”

LIFE OF REILLY: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player ­Katie Reilly runs upfield in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, senior star and co-captain Reilly chipped in two goals and an assist to help PHS top Notre Dame 18-15. The Little Tigers, who improved to 12-3 with the win, are starting state tournament play where second-seeded PHS was slated to host No. 15 Roxbury on May 15 in the opening round of Group III North sectional. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While Katie Reilly was bitterly disappointed when the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team fell to WW/P-S last week in the Mercer County Tournament quarters to end its title defense, she thought something positive could come from the defeat.

“The South game was a huge bummer; we totally wanted to win that game,” said PHS senior star defender and co-captain Reilly, reflecting on the 11-10 loss to the Pirates.

“It fuels us now because we don’t have a county title under our belt. It fuels us for states, we are saying we want to go as far as we can.”

Last Friday, PHS hit the gas as it topped Notre Dame 18-15 in a regular season contest, improving to 12-3 and tuning up for its state tourney run that was slated to start when the second-seeded Little Tigers host No. 15 Roxbury on May 15.

In Reilly’s view, facing Notre Dame was an ideal way to prepare for state play.

“They are always a really athletic and tough competition so we wanted to get in a good quality game before the states,” said Reilly.

“We were trying to get on a roll. When they did score, we would answer back.”

PHS is hoping it can keep rolling for a while in the states. “We call our team a family and we are saying we want to keep the family together and keep the season going,” said Reilly. “It is fun being in the postseason but I don’t want it to end.”

Reilly has a sisterly bond with classmate and fellow star Mia Haughton that will continue as the longtime friends will both be heading to Amherst College where they will be playing for the school’s women’s lax team.

“We have been playing soccer and lacrosse together since fourth grade so it is pretty ridiculous,” said Reilly. “So our parents have been saying the era continues.”

For Reilly, holding the PHS defense together is her main focus on the field. “I have always been more defensive-minded,” said Reilly, who also starred as a defender for the PHS girls’ soccer team.

“I try to lead vocally and by example and I try to be the master of the ground ball. I feel like that is my role, getting draw controls and ground balls.”

In recent games, Reilly has been making more noise on the offensive end. “If I can score, great, but I don’t think of that as my role on the team,” said Reilly, who had two goals and an assist in the win over Notre Dame with Haughton adding four goals and Emilia Lopez-Ona leading the way with eight tallies.

“When it comes, I love it. I think it is because I am lot more confident with my stick skills than I was last year because in working the off season and all summer, I tried to focus on my stickwork.”

In order for PHS to make a deep run in the states, it needs to keep focused when it has the ball.

“We have got to keep our attack in shape,” said Reilly. “We just learned a few new plays; we might see North (WW/P-N) again and they know our plays by now. The key for us is going to be winning the draws and keeping the momentum.”

A big key for PHS is the family feeling around the squad, which stems, in part, from how the players came together last spring in the wake of the death of senior player Emma Brunskill.

“We win as a team; we lose as a team,” asserted Reilly. “That has been helping us all season; we sacrifice for the team. We love each other. It is a special bond from last year which has carried over.”

LATE SHOW: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse player Alex Rifkin races up the field in recent action. Last Saturday, Rifkin scored two fourth quarter goals to help sixth-seeded PHS rally to a 10-9 win over No. 11 Northern Burlington in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament. PHS, which improved to 9-7 with the victory, was slated to face third-seeded WW/P-S on May 15 in the county quarters with the winner advancing to the semis on May 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team was trailing Northern Burlington 9-7 going into the fourth quarter of their Mercer County Tournament opening round contest last Saturday, Alex Rifkin sensed that a rally was inevitable.

“We all knew that we expected way more of us and we all knew that we had it in us to win this game,” said senior midfielder Rifkin.

“The coaches didn’t say too much. It was more of the players just knowing what we needed to do and just executing.”

Rifkin executed with aplomb down the stretch, scoring two unanswered goals as sixth-seeded PHS drew even with the No. 11 Greyhounds at 9-9 with 4:34 left in regulation.

A minute later, fellow senior Coleman Preziosi, found the back of the net to give PHS a 10-9 lead. That tally turned out to be the game-winner as neither team scored over the last 3:33 of the contest.

In Rifkin’s view, the win was due, in part, to some veteran leadership. “Our seniors stepped up at the end,” asserted Rifkin. “There was some key shooting and some hard fighting in the midfield.”

For Rifkin, burying the game-tying goal was a matter of shooting practice paying off.

“I was really hoping that one was going to go in; I had practiced that shot from the top left everyday,” recalled Rifkin, who ended the day with two goals and two assists. “I knew I needed to hit it and I just did what I needed to do.”

Coming into this season, Rifkin was prepared to assume more responsibility offensively.

“I worked a bunch on the offseason on my shooting and I was working on my speed,” said Rifkin.

“I feel it is just finding my role on the team, I had to step up this year. I knew they needed me to score goals and I was going to do what the coaches needed me to do.”

PHS head coach Peter Stanton likes the way Rifkin has stepped up in his final campaign.

“Alex is an offensive talent,” said Stanton, who got three goals from Matt Purdy in the win over Northern Burlington with Preziosi and Kirby Peck adding two goals apiece.

“He is the type of player who can run by people and he can shoot the ball and put it in the goal on the run which is a pretty good gift. He can also find the open guy and pass for the assist so he is a double threat.”

Stanton acknowledged that Northern Burlington proved to be a threat to the Little Tigers, showing a lot of pluck after having lost 20-9 to PHS days earlier in a regular season contest.

“I think that enters into it a little bit,” said Stanton, when asked if his team had trouble getting pumped up for the rematch.

“But I think mostly you have to look at a team like that and applaud them for having such heart to come back and play us so hard.”

The PHS comeback came down to sharper play at both ends of the field.” “We gave up our goals going in transition and on the man up,” explained Stanton, whose team improved to 9-7 with the victory and was slated to face third-seeded WW/P-S on May 15 in the county quarters with the winner advancing to the semis on May 17.

“We just wanted to stop fouling and we wanted to play defense with our feet and take away those opportunities. We needed to protect the ball a little bit better. We made some adjustments with our shooting.”

Another key factor was the clutch play of the team’s seniors as they didn’t want to make an early exit from county competition, having advanced to the title game last spring.

“They are the ones that need to do it; they are the ones we rely on,” said Stanton, noting that senior goalie Elliot Wilson came up big down the stretch. “To their credit when things didn’t go well, they didn’t get discouraged.”

In Stanton’s view, the late rally could be an encouraging sign going forward. “We are hoping that the experience of having a close game and playing under pressure and needing to do heroic things late in the game benefits us,” said Stanton, whose team will also be competing in the state tournament this month.

“Obviously we would have liked to play a little better but our hope is that we benefit from this game.”

Rifkin, for his part, believes that PHS can raise the level of its game in tournament play.

“I absolutely think we will be dangerous going on,” maintained Rifkin. “We went on a five-game win streak earlier in the season and I think this team has the capability of building the momentum going into this tournament after last year’s epic loss in the finals [an 8-7 overtime loss to Notre Dame]. We need to know that we can’t take any  game for granted. We need to go into every game ready to go, ready to perform, and ready to win.”

FINAL LOOK: Princeton High baseball player Matt Hoffman looks for a sign in a game earlier this season. Senior outfielder Hoffman has produced a solid season in his final campaign for PHS, hitting .375 through the team’s first 20 games with 16 runs and 24 hits. The Little Tigers, now 3-18, were slated to wrap up their season with a game at Pennington on May 15.

On one hand, it was another tough day in a disappointing spring for the Princeton High baseball team.

Battling Nottingham tooth and nail, PHS came up short, losing 4-2 to drop to 3-17.

But senior outfielder Matt Hoffman refused to focus solely on the result, drawing joy from simply being on the diamond with his teammates.

“We all love baseball so it is just a love for the game that brings us out here,” said Hoffman.

“We are all friends on the team and we come out here. Whenever you get to hang out with your friends and play baseball at the same time, it is a good day.”

Hoffman had a good day at the plate for PHS, pounding out a single, drawing two walks, and scoring a run as the Little Tigers fought an uphill battle after falling behind 1-0 in the first.

The Little Tigers scored in the bottom of the second to tie the game 1-1 but then gave up three runs in the top of the fourth. Hoffman scored in the bottom of the fifth as PHS trimmed the Nottingham lead to 4-2.

In the bottom of the seventh, Hoffman lashed a single to left field and advanced to second after classmate Nico Mercuro was hit by a pitch. The Little Tigers, though, failed to generate any more offense as they fell 4-2.

In reflecting on his seventh inning hit, Hoffman said he utilized his savvy to out-duel the Northstar pitcher.

“I went down 0-2 quick,” recalled Hoffman. “I remember from a previous at bat when it was 0-2, he threw a fast ball at 0-2 high, and then he threw a curve ball to that batter. I knew he was going to throw a curve ball and it was low. When it was 2-2, I knew he wasn’t going to throw another curve ball so I was expecting a fast ball and it was right down the middle.”

Earlier in the game, Hoffman showed his patience as he drew two walks. “I haven’t really walked that much this year and I have been struggling a little bit so I have been trying to work the count a little more,” said Hoffman, who had a batting average of .375 through PHS’s first 20 games with 16 runs and 24 hits.

“A walk is as good as a single, I am just trying to get on and help the team anyway I can.”

The diligent Hoffman puts in daily work in making himself as valuable as possible to the team.

“My hitting has been up and down this year; I have had 0-for-3 games and 4-for-4 games,” said Hoffman, a versatile athlete who starred for the PHS boys’ basketball and cross country teams in addition to baseball.

“There has been games where I have been happy and games where I haven’t been happy. I always try to come out before the game and take extra swings.”

The team’s senior group, which includes Will Greenberg, Ben Harrison, Nick Bowlin, Clay Alter, Alex Mitko, Mike Dunlap, and Mike Manley, in addition to Hoffman and Mercuro, is happy to be going out together.

“We have been playing with each other for a long time so we are all friends,” said Hoffman, noting that some of the seniors have been playing together since Little League.

“So when we come out here, everyone has a good time. If someone gets down we are all there to pick each other up.”

In Hoffman’s view, PHS head coach Dave Roberts has set a good tone for the program.

“Coach Roberts is a great coach; he always runs a great practice,” said Hoffman, who is headed to the University of Michigan where he hopes to play club baseball or basketball. “He and I have always communicated well. I love this team.”

As he goes through his final days with the team, Hoffman would love to see the Little Tigers end on a high note.

“We want to win; I think the focus all year has been get as many wins as you can,” said Hoffman.

“Now that we are in the last stretch, we have been getting around five wins a season and we are at three right now so we always try to get one more win than last year.”

FORWARD LOOKING: Hun School boys’ lacrosse player Iain ­Alexandridis looks for an opening in action earlier this season. Senior attacker/midfielder Alexandridis and his classmates have set a positive tone in helping the Raiders make steady progress this spring. Hun, now 7-10, wraps up the season with a game at Lawrenceville on May 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As the Hun School boys’ lacrosse team breaks out of its huddles during games, the players typically shout ‘1-2-3, hard work’ in unison.

That rallying cry is an apt description of a 2012 season which has seen a young Hun squad make strides under first-year head coach Don Green.

“There is unbelievable progress from when we started scrimmaging in the beginning of the year to where we are now,” said Green.

“We are two completely different teams and that is because the kids have worked hard the entire season. It is a total credit to them.”

The Raiders faced a hard task last Wednesday when they hosted a talented, experienced Hill School (Pa.) team.

“An opponent like that forces us to do everything that we talked about correct at the same time,” said Green, noting that Hill’s roster includes a number of players headed to high-level Division I college lacrosse programs.

“Some of the other teams that we face don’t force you to play your best but a team like this does. So our focus was to break the game into small segments and just continue to try to make the plays and put them together and play lacrosse the right way.”

While Hun came up on the short end in a 14-4 loss, Green liked the brand of lacrosse he saw from his team.

“Without a doubt, we tightened up in the second half,” said Green whose team was outscored 4-2 in the second half after trailing 10-2 at halftime.

“We are doing the right things; they are in the right spot. It is just going to be a little gaining of experience and that’s what these games provide. The game against Hill, the Inter Ac game, and the game against Lawrenceville are going to provide very valuable experience against teams that are going to force us to be our best.”

Hun’s most experienced players have made a valuable contribution to the learning process.

“The seniors have been leaders for us,” asserted Green, whose Class of 2012 includes Alex Gunstensen, Mark Burke, Andrew Colicchio, James Arnold, Benjamin Schenkman, and Iain Alexandridis.

“They have been teachers; they have been mentors. We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing and they taught them how to be varsity lacrosse players and varsity athletes.”

A number of Hun’s young players have proven this spring that they can cut it at the varsity level.

“We have a lot of players who have grown significantly and Matt Bruno is without a doubt one of them,” said Green, referring to his sophomore goalie.

“In these tight games, he has stood on his head and made some key saves. I think Tucker Stevenson is a future star, you see moments of greatness out of him. Cameron Dudeck is a phenomenal athlete. We are lucky to get him away from baseball. Devin Cheifetz is a player who has grown dramatically. He used to be a hockey player who kind of played lacrosse, now he is a lacrosse player and a very good one. He is really the heart and soul of our team.

Green likes the heart his team has shown as it has played some formidable foes down the stretch.

“It is about growth in competitive situations,” said Green, whose team lost 10-3 at Germantown Academy (Pa.) last Saturday in Inter Ac play in moving to 7-10 and wraps up the season with a game at Lawrenceville on May 17.

“It is maintaining focus, maintaining discipline, and learning to become a complete lacrosse team. A lot of young guys are gaining great experience. Playing Hill and Lawrenceville as freshmen makes you good. When you are covered by a defenseman going to an Ivy League school, it is a trial by fire.”

In Green’s view, the Hun program has the potential to grow into something very special.

“There is a very bright future,” said Green, noting that Hun’s junior varsity team has only lost once this spring.

“Our JV team has a lot of young guys who are unbelievable. There is a buzz about the future here.”

It started raining but that didn’t dampen Lily Halpern’s spirits as she was honored last week at her Senior Day celebration with the Princeton Day School softball team.

“I have seen so many Senior Days but I had never imagined what it would be like,” said first baseman Halpern, who was feted along with classmate Gabi Phillips in the festivities which took place before PDS faced Hightstown on May 8.

“As this year is coming to a close, it is unbelievable. It felt really awesome to be up there and to know that your teammates are really going to miss you and appreciate you. It was really nice.”

Halpern certainly appreciates the effort her teammates have put in as the Panthers have only had nine players on their roster.

“It has definitely been a tough season,” said Halpern. “I know that someone could have just said I am not going to do this anymore and quit and then we would not have had a team. People have really hung in there. I think for all the challenges we have faced, we have done a really good job of not giving up and not getting discouraged.”

In the game against Hightstown, the Panthers didn’t quit even though they absorbed a 19-0 loss.

“Throwing the ball is so difficult when it is wet, let alone pitching with it,” said Halpern.

“Despite a tough first inning, we really hung in there the next few innings. We could have gotten some more hits and capitalized on the bases but defense-wise we were better after the first inning.”

Despite being shorthanded, PDS has capitalized on occasion, topping Rutgers Prep twice and putting up some good fights in other games.

“Those two wins were definitely good,” said Halpern, who is headed to Brown University this fall.

“I think our game against Princeton High (a 17-8 loss on April 24) was actually pretty good, we hung in there. Even yesterday (against New Hope-Solebury), we kept battling back and maybe it should have been a win. It was down to the last run.”

PDS head coach Paul Lano praised the leadership Halpern and Phillips have provided in their final run with the team.

“They have supplied the absolute stoic maturity that is needed from seniors,” said Lano, who is in his first year guiding the Panther program.

“They are both very proud players and they exhibit all the things that you want from a mature player. You can’t always count on your oldest players to be the wisest. They can have a very jaded view of things and not want to help but Lily and Gabi have been extremely helpful working with the younger players. They have been very helpful working with me; it has been great having two young adults to lean on.”

The two seniors have put in some good work defensively this spring “They are both very good at their positions; in fact Gabi gets comments from every team we played about just how fast she is and how much ground she covers,” added Lano.

“She is a soccer player and she knows how to glide. Things went really well at first base for Lily. It was difficult for her to adjust catching the ball with one hand. She is such a good student of the game; she knows that two hands is the priority. As a first baseman, you need to stretch; that was a battle for her. She does a fine job over there.”

In Lano’s view, the Panthers are positioned to produce some fine play over the next few seasons.

“We are excited about the potential future of this program and the team,” asserted Lano, whose squad is 2-8 and was slated to finish their season with a game against Pennington on May 15.

“We have budding players in all the right spots. Our left side of our infield [shortstop Tess Zahn and third baseman Kate Fleming] is going to be solid. Our battery [of pitcher Dina Alter and catcher Jess Toltzis] is solid as can be. We are growing in the right direction; we are learning the game together. We have some people in positions that we have left to train. It shouldn’t be a problem to be very competitive in the next two years to come.”

The combination of sophomores Alter and Toltzis gives PDS a solid foundation upon which to grow.

“Next year will be their third year in a row with each other and they’ll know everything they need to know about each other,” said Lano.

“They have the right demeanor. Dina is very stealthy; she is a quiet player. She takes instruction very, very well. Kiki [assistant coach Kiki Johnson] has had Dina on a very short lease and she operates very well under it. She doesn’t mind being led in the right direction. With Jess behind the plate, everything is under control.”

Halpern, for her part, leaves with special memories of her final year with the program.

“I think our spirit has been really amazing so that is something I will remember,” said Halpern, who played as a freshman and sophomore but took a hiatus from the team during her junior year to concentrate on the college application process.

“It has been fun to come back. I am glad we were able to have a team. I don’t know when I will get to play again so it has really been fun to have this opportunity.”

May 9, 2012

FLIGHT TIME: Princeton High girls’ track star Bryell Wheeler flies high last Wednesday as PHS topped Nottingham 91-40. Senior standout Wheeler, a top sprinter and long jumper, has added the triple jump to her portfolio and has emerged as a star in that event. Wheeler and the Little Tigers will next be in action when they compete in the Mercer County Championships on May 12 at Steinert. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Bryell Wheeler has established herself as a dynamic sprinter and Elyssa Gensib is a gifted distance runner but they are both diversifying in their senior campaign to help the Princeton High girls’ track team.

For Wheeler, doing more for the squad comes down to increasing her focus on the jumping events.

“I started doing the triple jump in winter track and on my first jump I did 31’6,” said Wheeler.

“Ever since then, I keep setting personal records. In the Mercer Relays I did 38’1 and we set a record with 72’2. My best event is now the triple, it used to the 100.”

Last Wednesday in a 91-40 win over Nottingham, Wheeler showed she could still flash plenty of speed, overcoming injury to win the 100.

“I pulled my hamstring last week but it is recovered now,” said Wheeler.

“I was a little scared to come out with that. My time was 12.7. In the first meet of the season running against Trenton and North (WW/P-N), I ran a 12.2. But it was a really sunny day so I guess the weather has something to do with it.”

Wheeler did draw confidence due to putting in extra conditioning work. “I am lifting more,” said Wheeler. “I am getting stronger.”

The willowy Gensib, for her part, has displayed her strength through competing in shorter races.

“I am really happy because, except for one meet where I ran only one event, I have been running at least two or three events every meet,” said Gensib.

“I feel like it just makes me stronger even though I am tired. I can go and do something I didn’t think I would have been able to do before.”

Against Nottingham, Gensib flashed her speed in the 800 as she posted a solid victory.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from the other team; I was just trying to go for 2:20,” said Gensib, reflecting on her win in the 800.

“When we were about 200 meters in, I was like OK this is going to be a Princeton thing with all the PHS girls up front. I was just trying to focus on what I am supposed to accomplish in the middle of the race which is to push when it is a little uncomfortable. I ran a 2:23. I was a little surprised because I thought I was slower.”

Gensib also pushed hard in the 4×400, helping PHS to a win in that event as well.

“I like running the 4×400 because it is fun when you have other girls with you,” said Gensib. “It is not a solo effort so everybody works together. It is nice.”

The team’s corps of distance runners which includes Jenna Cody, Amelia Whaley, and Belinda Liu in addition to Gensib works together well.

“It is good to have some girls that you know what they run like and you can help each other out,” said Gensib.

“We know what it is supposed to feel like; it is good because we have the support of one another so when we go to big meets, it is not like oh I am by myself. It is nice that other people are going through the same thing.”

With the county meet slated for May 12 at Steinert High, Gensib plans to feed on that support.

“It is going to be a really tough race, especially the 1,600 because there is a good girl from South (WW/P-S) and a girl from North (WW/P-N),” said Gensib, who came up big last Saturday at the Mercer Twilight Invitational at Robbinsville, winning the 1,600 in 5:04.57 and the 3,200 in 10:52.90.

“It is not going to be an easy race so I am really excited to see what I can do when I get pushed like that.”

Wheeler is looking to push herself over the rest of the spring. “I want to place in nationals in triple jump, I have already qualified,” said Wheeler, who plans to compete in college and is considering Virginia State and Rider.

“I want to make it to the New Jersey Meet of Champions in the long jump, triple and 100, maybe the 200.”

Gensib likewise is aiming to produce some championship performances in her swan song with the Little Tigers before she heads off to the University of Pennsylvania and joins its track program.

“It is sad because I am going to really miss my coach [Jim Smirk] and teammates,” said Gensib.

“My coach has brought me so far because I just started running seriously last year. I would have never thought I would be running like this. I just want to make him proud and see what I can get out of this year before I go to college.”

MAKING STRIDES: Princeton High distance runner Kevin Ivanov heads to the finish line in a cross country race last fall. This spring, senior star Ivanov has been excelling in the mile as he looks to end his PHS career with a bang. Last Saturday, Ivanov did well at the Mercer Twilight Invitational at Robbinsville, taking fifth in the 1,600 with a time of 4:33.19. Ivanov and the Little Tigers are next in action on May 12 when they compete in the Mercer County Championships at Steinert. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While many athletes are influenced to get into sports by a parent, sibling, or friend, Princeton High senior track star Kevin Ivanov took a different path.

“When I was six years old, I used to run my dog around the block,” recalled Ivanov.

“I wouldn’t walk her, she would walk me and always pull me along. From that, I just loved running.”

Ivanov unleashed his running talents in middle school. “I actually started running competitively in eighth grade,” said Ivanov.

“I ran a 5:12 mile. I bought a set of spikes then and I have the same spikes five years later.”

Last Wednesday, he put those spikes to good use as PHS hosted Nottingham. He won the 2-mile in 10:07 and then helped the PHS 4×400 to a victory.

“It was my first 2-mile in over a year,” said Ivanov. “I was trying to get a sub-10 but I ran a 5:07 in the first mile and then a 4:59 something in the second mile.”

For Ivanov, the mile remains his favorite event. “It is the perfect combo,” said Ivanov, who did well last saturday in the Mercer Twilight Invitational at Robbinsville, taking fifth in the 1,600 with a time of  4:33.19.

“In the beginning, it is just testing out whether you have the willpower to go through all four laps. In the last lap and a half, you have to give everything you have got. I generally kick with around 250-300 meters to go and go all out at the 200 meter mark.”

PHS head coach John Woodside appreciated the will his squad showed against Nottingham even as it lost the meet.

“We had some of our distance runners going in alternate events and they did a nice job,” said Woodside, noting that his team was shorthanded as a number of athletes were sidelined due to breaking team rules.

“Ian McIsaac got second in the 400 against some really good runners. Bruce Robertson was right there; he was just out of the running. It was nice to see those guys competing.”

Woodside likes the way Ivanov is competing. “Kevin was great today,” said Woodside.

“He ran all by himself in the two-mile; that was a tremendous race. He looked really good on the relay. He is ready to go.”

PHS has gotten good work from his distance crew which includes Conor Donahue in addition to Robertson, Ivanov, and McIsaac.

“Bruce is excellent,” said Woodside. “In the meet last week against Hightstown, Kevin won the mile but Ian was right there with him. Conor did well in the 800 today. These guys have stepped up, the distance guys have been doing it all season. It is not just the top kids, it is all of them.”

PHS is seeing some young kids step up in the sprints. “The sprinters are young; that’s mostly what I am looking at,” added Woodside.

“Dave Flatscher is a sophomore and Brandon Yao is a freshman; those are guys who are running well. I think that is what we are banking on; we don’t have a lot of veterans. One of the seniors, Tim Miranda, is doing a nice job. He has really come along, especially in the 200.”

With the county meet slated for May 12 at Steinert and the sectional coming up later in the month, Woodside is hoping his athletes can come along quickly.

“We are looking at developing the guys and do the best with what we have got,” said Woodside.

Ivanov, for his part, will be giving his best effort as he wraps up his PHS career.

“I have just a few weeks left, I am trying to go out with a bang like a lot of our seniors,” said Ivanov. “Most of us are still competing hard and going for the gold.”

CO-STAR: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse player Cody Triolo looks for an opening in recent action. Last Friday, junior midfield star Triolo scored three goals as PDS rallied for a 12-10 win over Morristown-Beard in the opening round of the state Prep B tournament. The fourth-seeded Panthers got knocked out of the Prep B tourney last Monday when they lost 8-5 at No. 1 Montclair Kimberley. PDS will look to make another postseason run when they compete in the Mercer County Tournament where the seventh-seeded Panthers host No. 10 Hightstown on May 12 in an opening round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team trailed Morristown-Beard 6-3 at halftime last Friday in a state Prep B tournament contest, Cody Triolo wasn’t overly concerned.

“Lacrosse is pretty much a game of runs,” said PDS star midfielder Triolo.

“At that point, we just talked about having our body language ready to play. We wanted to just keep playing. Even if we don’t win the game, if we put forth our best effort, that is what we are looking for and that is what the coaches are looking for.”

Triolo and the fourth-seeded Panthers produced a superb effort over the last 24 minutes of the contest, outscoring the fifth-seeded Crimson 5-1 in the third period to seize momentum on the way to a hard-earned 12-10 victory.

While junior standout Triolo chipped in two goals to help spark the second half rally, he wasn’t a one-man show.

“We kept our composure and we just kept working hard throughout,” said Triolo, who ended up with three goals and an assist in the victory. “It was really a team effort; a bunch of guys stepped up today.”

In Triolo’s view, team chemistry and character helped PDS overtake Mo-Beard.

“When we are scoring, the guys on the sideline are going crazy,” said Triolo. “It is just the environment that kept us going and we thrived off of that. I think it shows as a team, we can face adversity.”

Triolo draws inspiration from the unity on the Panthers. “I was just thriving off of everybody else’s energy,” said Triolo.

“I knew that they were going to play for me so I was going to play for them. I put my best effort out there. I like to just work hard and see what comes from it.”

Having already committed to Lehigh University and its lacrosse program, Triolo is working harder on a daily basis.

“That commitment makes me more serious,” said Triolo, noting that Lehigh is heading to the upcoming NCAA tournaments and has been ranked in the top 10 nationally for much of the season.

“It makes me want to get better everyday because at that next level you really have to be on top of your game everyday.”

PDS head coach Rob Tuckman believes that Triolo’s efforts help raise the level of everyone around him.

“Cody is an outstanding player and what he does is two things,” said Tuckman.

“Number one, he starts the offense which then creates opportunities for other guys. He also sets tempo. Cody plays at 150 percent so when he goes at that speed and that intensity, it picks up everybody else.”

In the victory over Mo-Beard, several different Panthers took advantage of opportunities as Taran Auslander and Tyler Olsson scored three goals apiece with Garret Jensen chipping in two.

“That is the kind of stuff we have been looking for,” said Tuckman. “Instead of leaning on just one guy we are now balancing and really getting it from all over which is great. We are getting it from both the attack and middies which is something teams are going to have to contend with.”

In addition to the offensive prowess, the Panthers have made progress defensively.

“Defense wins championships; that has been our motto,” said Tuckman, whose team fell short of the Prep B title as it lost 8-5 to top-seeded Montclair-Kimberley last Monday in a semifinal contest.

“When our defense tightens up and plays strong, our offense gets that energy that it needs. We really started setting up some transition goals and really creating opportunities.”

Sophomore midfielder Connor Bitterman played a key role in the PDS transition game in the win over Mo-Beard, excelling on face-offs and making some superb runs up the field.

“Connor was terrific; face-offs have been our Achilles heel,” said Tuckman, whose team dropped to 7-5 with the loss to Montclair-Kimberley.

“I don’t think we won a face-off in the first half so you start every possession on defense and you have to build out from there. Connor created opportunities so we didn’t have to just start on defense. Instead, we are dogfighting in the center of the field. He makes great decisions. He has such wheels; he is so fast.”

Senior star Jensen showed his usual fighting spirit, making a key steal and goal early in the third quarter to help trigger a 5-1 PDS run.

“Garret has been solid,” said Tuckman. “He is banged up, so for him it is a herculean effort every time he steps on the field. He is our senior captain; he has really been an incredible leader. His gutting it out through the pain is really a reflection of the leadership he provides.”

Building on its run to the Prep B semis, Tuckman believes his team can do some damage in the upcoming Mercer County Tournament.

“I think we are a good team,” asserted Tuckman, whose club is seeded seventh in the MCT and will host No. 10 Hightstown on May 12 in an opening round contest.

“I think we are playing our best right now. I think in the county, it is wide open. We are excited to be a part of that. If we can get a couple of wins under our belt early and get the momentum going, I think we can be a really effective team.”

In Triolo’s view, the Panthers have been building up momentum in training that can pay off.

“The environment in practice has been great, we have been working really hard,” said Triolo. “Our focus is there, I think, even though it is definitely a grind.”

SOLID BIRCH: Hun School baseball star Devan Birch takes a cut in a game earlier this season. Junior Birch has been a catalyst for the Raiders with his play at shortstop and offensive contributions as a leadoff hitter. Last Monday, Birch chipped in three RBIs as 10th-seeded Hun topped No. 7 WW/P-S 10-2 in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament. The Raiders, now 7-10, will face second-seeded Notre Dame in the NCT quarterfinals on May 9 at Mercer County Park. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It looked like the season might be falling apart for Devan Birch and the Hun School baseball team as they hosted Mercersburg Academy for a doubleheader two weeks ago.

Hun fell 6-4 in the opener to drop to 2-8 on the spring and trailed by six runs in the nightcap. The Raiders, though, rallied to pull out an 11-8 win in extra innings.

In the view of junior star Birch, that comeback has proven to be a turning point for the Raiders.

“We played our butts off and played a really good game in the opener,” said Birch.

“They are a really good team. Getting down 6-0 and coming back to win that game in extra innings was huge, absolutely huge.”

Hun ultimately pushed its winning streak to four as it got back on the right track. After dropping tough games to local powers Notre Dame and Steinert last week, the 10th-seeded Raiders continued its rebound by topping No. 7 WW/P- 10-2 last Monday in the first round of the Mercer County

Hun, now 7-10, will face second-seeded Notre Dame in the NCT quarterfinals on May 9 at Mercer County Park.

Birch notes that the Raiders have adopted a more serious mentality. “I think there is just a big change in attitude,” said Birch, who chipped in three RBIs in the county win over WW/P-S.

“Coming out of the gate, I feel like we thought we would just walk out there and win because of the way we ended last year. We had a big time wakeup call. I feel that once we changed the attitude around and got everything together we realized that when we go out and play our game we can beat anyone in the county. It showed in the past couple games.”

The recent move of Birch to shortstop from leftfield also helped Hun’s game.

“To me, it doesn’t matter, I’ll play whatever is best for the team,” said Birch, known affectionately as “Devo” by his teammates.

“Last year, I played left field all year. This year, I started off there and moved to short. I think I have done fairly well; I am definitely comfortable there. I am comfortable wherever as long as I am on the field.”

Birch is comfortable handling the leadoff role in the Hun batting order where he tries to use his speed to be a catalyst for the Raiders.

“I am not trying to do too much, I just try to get on,” said Birch. “I am very confident that our top hitters can hit the ball. So if I can get on, they will move me around and we will score some runs.”

Hun head coach Bill McQuade believes that shifting Birch to shortstop has been a confidence builder for the team.

“Moving Devo to shortstop changed the complexion of our infield,” said McQuade.

“Immediately we fielded the ball better. He is one of the best shortstops we have ever had. He has incredible quickness. You saw the pop ups he goes and catches. He fields the slow roller as well as any shortstop I have ever had.”

Having Birch stay put at the top of the Hun order has helped the Raiders get rolling. “He is on base, he steals,” said McQuade.

“You want your leadoff hitter to be that engine that makes you take off. When he is having a great game, it picks everybody up. He gets on and steals a base and all of a sudden we have that energy and enthusiasm.”

McQuade has seen a renewed energy around his team in the wake of the Mercersburg doubleheader.

“After you have lost a few it is tough, it is hard to get that out of the back of your mind that you lost,” said McQuade.

“They were pumped these past two weeks. The practices have been more enthusiastic; the kids are into it.”

A lot of kids have been stepping up for Hun. “Dave Dudeck has had a good season; he is big and strong and he attacks the ball,” said McQuade, noting that the return of catcher Gavin Stupienski and ace pitcher Austin Goeke from injury has given the Raiders a big lift.

“Brandon Smith has really been solid at the infield at second. Stevie Wells is starting to hit the ball.”

McQuade is hoping his team can hit its stride at tournament time, similar to last year when the program rode a late surge to a state Prep A title.

“I am hoping we can; we talk to them all the time about it,” said McQuade.

“We have got the players who can do it if we get the pitching and we come together. We need to get off to a good start. If we fall behind, I am not so sure. When we get a lead and then shut them down, we do better.”

Birch, for his part, believes the Raiders can end on a high note. “If we take it one game at a time, we have a good shot to take it pretty deep in any tournament,” said Birch.

“The majority of the same kids coming back from last year, we lost two or three starters, our catcher [Chris Leach] and shortstop [Mark Rende] were just huge. But after battling over that, with the same core group I feel we can do the same thing we did last year.”

RUNNING THE SHOW: Hun School girls’ lacrosse star and team captain Emily Decicco races up the field in a game earlier this season. Senior defender Decicco has spearheaded the Hun backline this spring with her intensity and leadership. Last Saturday, the Hun program held its annual Senior Day ceremony but things didn’t end well for the Raiders as they fell 16-13 to Notre Dame in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament and dropping to 5-6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Emily Decicco felt a rush of emotion as the Hun School girls’ lacrosse team got ready to take the field against visiting Notre Dame last Saturday in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament.

The Hun program celebrated its Class of 2012 and senior defender Dicicco was the last of her classmates honored in the pregame ceremony.

“I have been on this turf for seven years now so it was definitely a big game for us,” said Decicco, reflecting on the Senior Day festivities.

For over a half, it looked like it was going to be a big day for the eighth-seeded Raiders as they took an 8-7 lead over No. 9 Notre Dame at halftime and clung to a 9-8 advantage some six minutes into the second half.

But Notre Dame went on a 3-0 run to take an 11-9 advantage and Hun could never regain the lead. The Raiders drew to within one at 11-10 and 12-11 but that was as close as they got on the way to a 16-13 loss.

While Decicco was disappointed by the defeat, she had no qualms with how Hun battled Notre Dame.

“Although this isn’t the outcome I wanted to see in my final game here, I am proud of us,” said Decicco, reflecting on the loss which dropped Hun to 5-6. “We fought hard right to the end.”

The fiery Decicco tries hard to lead the Raiders from the backline. “I keep us going from behind; I oversee the field,” said Decicco. “I definitely keep the morale.”

Decicco also picks her spots to get the offense going, using her speed to make end-to-end forays.

“Nothing feels better than running it down the field and passing to  Francesca [Bello] or Kate [Weeks] and seeing them put it in the back of the net,” said Decicco.

With Hun’s season winding down with MCT consolation contests, Decicco is looking for the Raiders to put forth a big effort.

“We are definitely going to bring everything we have to our last few games,” said Decicco, who is heading to Cornell where she plans to walk on to the women’s lacrosse team.

Hun head coach Beth Loffredo thought her team may have brought too much emotion into the game with Notre Dame.

“They were too pumped; they were having trouble controlling themselves,” said Loffredo.

“They were too fidgety; everything was too fast. We needed to slow it down. It was our Senior Day and Kate Weeks has a sick cousin who we were playing for today.”

Even though Hun held the lead for much of the first 30 minutes of the contest, Loffredo had an uneasy feeling.

“I felt like we were playing catchup the whole time; I thought we should have been further ahead,” said Loffredo, who got six goals from junior star Kate Weeks in the loss to Notre Dame with Francesca Bello chipping in three.

“I never felt comfortable. I was waiting for a run but they just didn’t do it and the other team poured it on.”

Loffredo credited her seniors for having a nice run over their years at Hun. “It is great having those kind of people around us everyday; athletically they are great and as far as people, they are even better,” said Loffredo, whose group of seniors includes Lucia Perasso, Peyton Lutz, and Lily MacGregor, in addition to Decicco.

“It is definitely sad that they are going to be leaving us but they are going on to big things. Emily is going to Cornell and Lucia is going to Princeton. Peyton is heading to Hobart/William Smith; she is going to play there.”

With Hun having fallen 22-14 to Lawrenceville earlier in the week to get eliminated from the state Prep A tourney, Loffredo wants her players to take some lessons from the setbacks.

“I am hoping they remember the feeling so when we go into it next year, they take it as seriously as I want them to,” said Loffredo. “I want us to just play our best and end on a good note.”

In Decicco’s view, things look bright for a Raider program that has already made good progress.

“I think I will remember just seeing us grow from what we were when I first started playing here to now,” said Decicco, in reflecting on her career.

“It just makes me really happy. I am really excited to see where this program will go because we have a lot of young talent.”

May 2, 2012

MIDDLE MAN: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse star Zach ­Halliday races up the field in a scrimmage this spring. Last Saturday, junior midfielder Halliday chipped in a goal and three assists in a losing cause as PHS fell 11-7 at Notre Dame. The Little Tigers, who dropped to 5-6 with the loss to the Fighting Irish, play at WW/P-S on May 3 before hosting Northern Burlington on May 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

From the beginning of his freshman year at Princeton High, Zach Halliday distinguished himself as a savvy midfielder on the soccer field.

Utilizing anticipation, hustle, and ball skills, Halliday quickly became a mainstay for the Little Tigers and has developed into one of the top players in the area.

Transferring those qualities to the lacrosse field, junior Halliday is emerging as a go-to player this spring for PHS.

“I am used to seeing the whole field in soccer so I am able to see the field in lacrosse,” explained Halliday, who also plays midfield in lacrosse. “I am able to distribute and get my teammates involved.”

Last Saturday at Notre Dame, Halliday was involved all over the field, tallying a goal and three assists along with picking up several steals and ground balls.

Halliday’s all-around effort wasn’t enough, though, as PHS fell 11-7 to the Fighting Irish.

While Halliday is proud to be taking a bigger role for the Little Tigers, individual stats are not his primary focus.

“I have been able to contribute more on both offense and the defensive end but really it is all about what the team does and if we win or lose,” said Halliday. “So today overall was a disappointment for me.”

With Halliday picking up an assist and a goal in a one-minute span to help PHS rally to a 5-5 tie with the Fighting Irish midway through the third quarter, he was hoping for a win.

“I was thinking that the team had a chance to come back and make some plays,” recalled Halliday.

“We got a goal and then a man-up opportunity but unfortunately we weren’t able to capitalize and make the plays that they did today.”

In Halliday’s view, PHS can take a valuable lesson from the Notre Dame loss in terms of maintaining intensity.

“I think we have to learn to always play hard because if you have a three-minute letdown, your team is going to be put in a hole that you may not be able to recover from,” said Halliday.

PHS has shown the ability to recover collectively, bouncing back from a 0-4 start to win four straight games coming into the contest against the Fighting Irish.

“The coaches really changed things at practice; they really started drilling us and the whole team started buying in,” said Halliday.

“We are taking things one play at a time. I think going step-by-step and keeping things simple helped us get to where we are.”

PHS head coach Peter Stanton likes the way his squad has stepped up over the past few weeks.

“I feel like we have gotten a lot better,” asserted Stanton, whose team dropped to 5-6 with the defeat to the Fighting Irish.

“The guys have learned to use their teammates and trust their teammates. We move the ball a lot better and we get assisted goals. We have just gotten a lot more cohesive offensively.”

Stanton credits Halliday and senior midfielder Alex Rifkin with helping to jump start the PHS offense.

“Zach is somebody who can play defense; he can get ground balls and he can start transitions,” said Stanton, who got two goals from Rifkin in the loss to Notre Dame with Matt Olentine, Coleman Preziosi, Matt Purdy, and Kevin Halliday chipping in one apiece.

“He understands the game very well; he plays all over the field. Alex has been unbelievable; he has been outstanding.”

In Stanton’s view, the loss to Notre Dame showed that the Little Tigers need to further sharpen their game.

“We have to learn how critical mistakes are,” said Stanton. “We feel that we outplayed them for long stretches at a time. Many of their goals came after we made a bad pass or dropped the ball. They are a very opportunistic team who made us pay for those mistakes.”

With tournament time around the corner, PHS still has the opportunity do some special things this spring.

“We have to know that we are capable of playing better; sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don’t,” said Stanton, whose team plays at WW/P-S on May 3 before hosting Northern Burlington on May 8. “Today was a day when things didn’t go our way.”

Halliday, for his part, believes things can go the right way for PHS if the team maintains its work ethic.

“To get back on the winning track I think the team is just going to have to take it hard at practice and put this in the back of our heads,” said Halliday. “We need to remember it but try to learn from it and really try to move on.”

MATCHING UP: Princeton High softball player Angela Matchum throws the ball in recent action. The play of senior outfielder Matchum has helped tighten up the PHS defense as the Little Tigers have gotten off to an 8-8 start. PHS, which fell 9-8 to Hightstown last Monday, hosts Nottingham on May 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the Princeton High softball team produced an encouraging 6-5 start, the squad has yet to prove that it can beat the elite teams in the area.

After falling to such powers as Robbinsville, Allentown, and Steinert, PHS was looking for a breakthrough when it hosted WW/P-S last Wednesday.

Through five innings, the Little Tigers were right there with the twice-beaten Pirates, trailing just 3-0.

But in the top of the sixth, PHS gave up four runs on the way to a 9-0 defeat.

PHS head coach Dave Boehm was frustrated by his team’s sloppiness in the setback.

“We had too many walks today and too many errors,” said Boehm. “It is a tough loss, they are a good team but we weren’t really a threat to them today. That girl is a good pitcher; she throws hard, she throws inside and outside.”

Although PHS has been on the outside looking in against the top teams, it has shown it can be a threat on most days.

“We have played some real good games and then we have a game like today where we had five good innings and then the wheels came off,” said Boehm, noting that freshman Sarah Eisenach and junior Charlotte Gray have developed into an effective one-two pitching tandem.

“We have to knock off one of those big teams. We have got to beat a big boy on the block but we are not going to do it when we make that many mistakes.”

In Boehm’s view, the Little Tigers need to be more aggressive to get over the hump.

“They have to have more confidence; they have to get their bats off of their shoulders,” said Boehm.

“The one inning today where we put the bat on the ball, they made good contact.”

The play of junior star outfielder Marisa Gonzalez has given PHS plenty of confidence as she was hitting at a .595 clip through the team’s first 12 games.

“Marisa is making plays for us,” asserted Boehm of Gonzalez, who passed the 100-hit mark in her career last Saturday as the Little Tigers beat Ridgefield 8-4 and Teaneck 15-3 to win the Teaneck  Highwaywoman Tournament.

“She can make things happen. If we are going to push a run across, we have to get her on base or she has to drive it in.”

All in all, good things are happening for a PHS program that is on the rise.

“For the most part, I am happy with the way the team has played,” said Boehm, whose team hosts Nottingham on May 2.

“They have just got to get it through their heads that they can make the plays and hang with these teams. I think sometimes in the past teams would come off the bus and we knew we were beat. That hasn’t happened this year; it’s a good team.”

DANI GIRL: Hun School softball pitcher Dani Beal fires the ball in recent action. Junior Beal’s progress this spring has helped Hun go 8-4 after a shaky 1-2 start. In upcoming action, the Raiders host Steinert on May 2 and Northern Burlington on May 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Hun School softball team lost two of its first three games this spring, Kathy Quirk liked the work ethic she was seeing from her players on a daily basis.

“We practice hitting everyday; we have stations and we hit basketballs, footballs, and soccer balls,” said longtime Hun head coach Quirk.

“We play little games, the girls have been working really hard. When we separate into teams for practice games, it is intense. Neither team wants to lose.”

In the wake of losing 7-3 to Blair in early April to fall to 1-2, that intensity started to pay dividends as the Hun bats came alive. The Raiders hit double figures in wins over Princeton Day School (11-1) and Lawrenceville (11-6) and have proceeded to go on a roll that has seen them win seven of their last nine games.

“We had a tough loss against Blair; we have been playing well since that game,” said Quirk. “We got rolling with the win over Lawrenceville; we have been improving everyday.”

The team’s improvement was graphically demonstrated last week when the Raiders hosted Peddie. After having fallen 13-2 to the Falcons in the season opener on March 28, Hun topped Peddie 5-3 in the rematch.

“We had the game of our life against Peddie,” said Quirk, whose team jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning. “Dani [Beal] putting them down in the top of the first gave her confidence.”

The progress of junior pitcher Beal has been a key factor in Hun’s hot streak.

“She stepped up on the pitching mound; she has confidence in her teammates,” said Quirk of Beal who pitched well in a losing cause last Saturday as Hun fell 3-2 at Blair to move to 8-4.

“She knows she is not going to strike out everybody and that her teammates will make the plays behind her.”

Junior catcher Carey Million has been making plenty of big plays for the Raiders. “Million has done a nice job behind the plate and at bat,” said Quirk.

“She has home runs in back-to-back games. They were not inside the park; they were line drives over the fence. It is nice to see.”

Hun has been getting some nice work in the infield from Julia Blake and Joey Crivelli.

“Julia Blake, for a freshman, is playing great at shortstop,” said Quirk. “She had 10 assists and four putouts in the win over Peddie. She is playing with confidence; she has also been hitting well. Crivelli doing a solid job at third base, she is coming through with big plays.”

Sophomore outfielder Kristen Manochio has emerged as another big plus for Quirk’s squad.

“Manochio is doing a nice job; she’s making contact and moving people around the bases,” said Quirk. “She is solid for us in the outfield.”

Quirk is confident her team can keep up its solid play when it competes in the state Prep A playoffs later this month.

“No matter where we play, we have to have the same intensity,” said Quirk, whose team hosts Steinert on May 2 and Northern Burlington on May 8. “I am very happy with how we are playing, I am hoping we can keep on track.”

GOING TO THE MATT: Princeton Day School baseball star Matt Cook delivers the ball in a game earlier this spring. Senior pitcher Cook came up big last week, getting the win in a 3-2 victory over Peddie. The Panthers, now 10-6, plays at South Hunterdon on May 2 before starting action in the Mercer County Tournament where sixth-seeded PDS will host No. 11 Ewing on May 5 in a first round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton Day School baseball team, routing Rutgers Prep 18-3 last Friday was a measure of how far the squad has come since last spring.

“Last season we played them three times and they beat us up pretty good; that was a sweet win,” said PDS head coach Ray O’Brien, whose team improved to 10-6 with the victory, already more than doubling its win total from 2011 when it went 4-14.

The sweet swing of freshman JP Radvany helped trigger the rout for the Panthers as he smacked a three-run homer and piled up six RBIs in the contest.

“JP has been great; we knew coming in that he was pretty good,” said O’Brien.

“But he is only a freshman and he still had to come in and hit ball at the varsity level. I was really impressed with him in our first game back from Florida; we were playing a really good St. Augustine team and he was seeing the ball and taking pitches. He was recognizing pitches while some of our other guys were getting fooled. He is playing well above his years. He has really been good in the four-hole for us; he is hitting .529 with 27 RBIs.”

PDS has playing well collectively over the last few weeks. “We have won five out of six; we made a few changes to our lineup and the guys have settled in,” said O’Brien.

“We moved guys around. We have Rob Colton at catcher and moved Bradley Freid to his spot in the outfield. We moved Sean McCoy to first and we have JP at designated hitter. We moved one of our freshmen, Jake Alu, to third. We have kept the batting order; we have kept it the same the last seven or eight games. We can play small ball if necessary and the guys are comfortable banging away.”

O’Brien is growing increasingly comfortable with his pitching rotation. “Greg Auerbach, a junior, has given us the most innings; Matt Cook and Jacob Eisenberg are two seniors,” said O’Brien,

“Eisenberg has thrown some real good ballgames. Cook is 3-0 and pitched well against Peddie (a 3-2 win) last week. Cole [McManimon] has had a couple of victories. The pitchers have settled in and are throwing strikes and we are playing good defense behind them.”

The Panthers’ play has benefitted from blending battle-tested veterans with some precocious newcomers.

“It is a good mix,” said O’Brien. “Cook, Eisenberg, McCoy, and Beau Horan are giving us good senior leadership. Beau is playing good defense and hitting .407; things are coming together for him. We also have an influx of some good young players. Rob Colton has come in and is hitting at .500. He is a tough kid; we can’t have enough of those.”

In O’Brien’s view, the team has shown a toughness stemming from a  9-6 loss in extra innings to Pennington on April 14.

“In that first Pennington game; we were down 5-0 and then we came back,” said O’Brien. “We thought we let it slip away. We came out the next day and pounded Lawrenceville and we have been playing well ever since.”

With postseason action on the horizon, O’Brien is hoping that the Panthers can keep up its hot play.

“Right now we are playing consistently,” said O’Brien, whose team plays at South Hunterdon on May 2 before starting action in the Mercer County Tournament where sixth-seeded PDS will host No. 11 Ewing on May 5 in a first round contest.

“Hopefully we are peaking at the right time. If we play well, we can beat anyone.”

WELL DONE: Stuart Country Day senior lacrosse star Ani ­Hallowell heads up the field in recent action. Last Thursday, midfielder Hallowell scored five goals in a losing cause as Stuart fell 18-8 to the Lawrenceville School. The Tartans, who lost 13-7 to Rutgers Prep last Monday in the state Prep B tournament to drop to 1-8, play at Hamilton on May 2. Later in the week, Stuart starts action in the Mercer County Tournament where the 15th-seeded Tartans play at No. 2 Princeton High on May 4 in an opening round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Ani Hallowell didn’t waste any time displaying her offensive skills last Thursday as the Stuart Country Day School lacrosse team hosted Lawrenceville.

The Stuart senior star midfielder snatched the first two draws and snaked through the Lawrenceville defense to score two goals in the first 1:38 of the contest.

In reflecting on her hot start, Hallowell acknowledged that she had a little extra jump in her step against the Big Red.

“I guess I had a lot of energy today; my head was definitely in the game today,” said Hallowell. “I try to do that every game and I try to keep focused and in the game.”

With Hallowell triggering the attack, the underdog Tartans led Lawrenceville 6-5 with 10 minutes left in the half.

“We have a lot of new players and we know they have been trying to step up and today, we all stepped up and came together,” said Hallowell. “It really looked great in the first few minutes; we had a lot of confidence.”

Things didn’t go so great for the Tartans after that as the deeper Big Red gradually wore down Stuart. Lawrenceville reeled off a 6-0 run to take an 11-6 lead at halftime.

The gritty Tartans kept battling but couldn’t find a rhythm in the second half as they ultimately fell 18-8.

“We don’t tend to get discouraged when we get down; we try to answer back and fight back with as many goals as we can,” said Hallowell, who ended up with five goals on the day.

“There was just a little bit of miscalculation on passes and things like that but we definitely fought hard. I am proud of my team for that because there are a lot of new players on our team and we have definitely stepped it up a lot.”

As Stuart’s most battle-tested performer, Hallowell goes out of her way to encourage the team’s new players.

“I definitely try to be more of a leader of the team as a captain and as a senior,” asserted Hallowell.

“It is my fourth year on varsity so I know what it takes to play. I try to help the younger and the less experienced players more, so that our team can get better.”

Stuart first year head coach Caitlin Grant believes that Hallowell carries more than her share of the load for the Tartans.

“Ani is just an awesome player all around; she goes through everyone,” said Grant.

“I think the team relies on her too much sometimes. They watch her; they need to realize they can all contribute in a great way.”

Grant had fun watching her team push Lawrenceville in the first 15 minutes of the contest.

“We started out great; our passes were connecting,” said Grant who got a goal from Isabel Soto and two from Hallowell’s younger sister, sophomore Amy Hallowell. “Our girls played great together; we were winning the draws.”

The Tartans eventually ran out of gas against the Big Red. “We don’t have any subs; sometimes we have just one extra player,” said Grant, whose team fell 13-7 to Rutgers Prep last Monday in the first round of the state Prep B tournament to drop to 1-8.

“It’s hard because these midfielders run the whole game. They don’t get any breaks. These girls give it their all and they don’t give up.”

Freshman goalie Harlyn Bell has been giving her all as she has quickly picked up the game and her position.

“It is her first year playing lacrosse; she has only been playing for the past two months,” said Grant.

“I think she is great; she is aggressive. She clears the ball. Now, she is loud on defense. She really stepped it up this year.”

The future looks bright for Stuart as several young players have been stepping up this spring.

“Meghan Shannon as a defender has really stepped it up and on low defense,” added Grant.

“Isabel Soto is going to be one of the stars of the team next year; I am just waiting for her to burst out. I think we have some great girls on this team, a lot of them are young. Amy is a sophomore, Meghan is a sophomore. Harlyn is a freshman. So that makes me really happy.”

Grant is happy with the progress she has been seeing in her debut season at the helm of the program.

“I think we make small improvements every game and I wish that the season was longer,” said Grant, whose team plays at Hamilton on May 2 and then starts action in the Mercer County Tournament when the 15th-seeded Tartans play at No. 2 Princeton High on May 4 in an opening round contest.

I believe that in our Prep conference, us included, it is any team’s game on any day. It is whoever comes out wanting to win it.”

Hallowell, for her part, believes the Tartans can do some big things down the stretch.

“Going forward, we just need to keep our heads up and know that we can win games,” said Hallowell.

“We just have to keep our heads in the game and be on our game everyday.”

NEXT STEP: Paul Johnson, right, and Chad Bridges are all smiles in a recent shot. Johnson, a former Hun School and University of Virginia soccer star, has teamed up with Bridges to run the Next Level Soccer Academy (NLSA). With NLSA thriving, now including seven teams and approximately 150 players, the organization is looking to take the next step and build a year-round facility to serve as its headquarters and a training center for local athletes.

Paul Johnson knows the value of combining soccer with academics.

In the late 1990s, Johnson put together a legendary high school soccer career for the Hun School, earning All-American and All-State honors and playing with the U.S. U-17 and U-19 programs.

Utilizing his soccer prowess and Hun education, Johnson went on to the University of Virginia where he became a starter and a key performer for the school’s 2003 ACC championship squad.

Returning to the Princeton area after graduation, Johnson formed FC Trenton United club in 2007 to instill values of soccer, education, and community service.

Two years later, Johnson teamed up with longtime friend Chad Bridges, merging his operation into Bridges’ Next Level Soccer Academy (NLSA).

For Johnson, becoming involved with Bridges and NLSA was a natural step.

“Chad wholeheartedly goes after it and he wants the best for the kids,” said Johnson, who coaches the Pennington School boys’ soccer team with Bridges, the school’s Dean of Students.

“He tends to be an extension of me, sharing my values and my goals. I kind of shut down what we were doing and pulled it over to him. He does a lot of community outreach and we decided to join forces.”

With NLSA thriving, now including seven teams and approximately 150 players, the organization is looking to take the next step and build a year-round facility to serve as its headquarters and a training center for local athletes.

“From the beginning I knew there was a need for a facility in the Mercer County area,” said Johnson, who is the NLSA Director of Training and Player Development while Bridges serves as the executive director of the organization.

“We saw the need, whether it was for under privileged kids or those that were privileged. They clearly have nowhere to train year round so stuff was being lost.”

As a high school star, Johnson saw how a year-round facility can aid development.

“I had the good fortune to go to IMG, now the Bollettieri Sports Academy, when I was with the national team during my high school career,” said Johnson, referring to the famed training facility for athletic, academic, and personal development in Bradenton, Fla.

“I kind of wanted to replicate that up here. It gives the kids an opportunity to stay off the streets and gives them an outlet to further their careers. We know the percentage of high school athletes that get to go and play in college and get scholarships is less than 4 percent. It is really minimal so every minute and every training session means something.”

Noting that the proposed structure will be modeled after the Philadelphia Eagles Nova Care training center featuring a bubble covered by steel and fabric, Johnson said it will be a multi-purpose facility.

“It will be 350,000 square feet with soccer fields, basketball courts, and pyramid seating so you’ll be able to sit on both sides and watch,” said Johnson.

“It is going to have a full gym and a training room where you will be able to do rehab. It will also have a classroom for tutoring, homework, and SAT preparation. We are not saying that we are only soccer. There will be soccer lines on the fields but we are also open to lacrosse, field hockey, and flag football. We are open to the community for rentals as well.”

In order to jump start fundraising for the project, NLSA is holding its Banquet/Gala on May 19 at Dave and Busters near the Franklin Mills Mall.

“It is called ‘Goals to Gold,’ the ‘goals’ is an acronym for giving objectives to achieve leadership skills,” said Johnson, referring to the function which is open to the public with tickets costing $125 for adults and guests 18 and over and further information available on the organization’s website at

The NLSA is also launching another fundraising initiative, “10 Million People Who Care,” in which it is seeking donations of $1 or more from millions of donors.

“We realized at the end of the day that so many people say they care and want to help,” explained Johnson, noting that the club is looking to get the word out through social and mainstream media.

“We decided we could raise money from all of those people. We are looking for 10 million people to donate a dollar essentially. The actual funding is a little more. We figure once we get there; we can bridge it with a bank.”

Johnson sees the NLSA as a bridge between sports and the community.

“At the end of the day you have to sell a product that is going to help the kids and have the kids in mind,” said Johnson, noting that NLSA has been giving back to the community through working at soup kitchens, donating balls to Haiti, doing food and clothing drives and holding a Trenton World Cup day where the organization provided soccer instruction and T-shirts.

“We see a need in the area; we are hoping that people will buy into it and want to donate to us. The kids need to have good facilities.”

Making that vision a reality can help kids achieve their dreams. “We want to grow the game as well as grow the kids in the area; our goal is to do it the right way,” added Johnson, who pointed out that the NLSA will be hosting camps this summer and will be running the Turning Wheels College Showcase Camp from July 8-11 at the Golden Goal Soccer Complex near Lake George in New York.

“We want to help as many kids in the future that we can; hopefully the sooner the better. We have been told it is going to be hard and how are we going to raise this money. There have got to be people in this world that care; we trust the human heart.”

April 25, 2012

DOUBLE CLICK: Princeton High boys’ tennis first doubles players Kevin Qiu, left, and Adib Zaidi chat between points last week at the Mercer County Tournament. The duo of Qiu and Zaidi took third place in their flight, helping PHS tie Peddie for fifth in the team standings of the 18-school event which took place at Mercer County Park. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Kevin Qiu knew he had to assume the role of mentor in his partnership with freshman Adib Zaidi at first doubles for the Princeton High boys’ tennis team.

Having played two years at doubles for the Little Tigers, Qiu has helped neophyte Zaidi learn the ropes on working in tandem.

“It is tougher because Adib is a singles player so he always feels like he needs to cover everything,” said Qiu.

“When you play doubles, you have got to remember it is not about believing in yourself but believing in each other. You have to trust each other to carry the work and to just play to the best of your abilities.”

Last week at the Mercer County Tournament, the duo showed a lot of ability in the opening rounds, posting two straight-set wins on the way to the semifinals.

Qiu and Zaidi thought they had a good chance to top John Hu and Peter Ku of WW/P-S in the semis.

“Coming in, we really expected to win,” said Qiu. “We practiced new things to try to counter how they play. I had played them last year so we knew to really work on our poaches and volleys. We kept on telling ourselves point by point.”

Unfortunately for Qiu and Zaidi, they didn’t get enough points as they fell 6-3, 6-3 to the WW/P-S pair, who went on to win the title.

Showing their growing trust, Qiu and Zaidi overcame the disappointment from the semis loss to beat Brandon Kumar and Rohan Gupta of Peddie 6-1, 6-4 to take third place.

“We were pretty sad from our South match so we just went in there and told each other to work hard,” recalled Qiu.

“We can get a medal and get points for our team; that was pretty much the mindset going in.”

PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert was happy to see her first doubles tandem fight for that third place medal.

“They have the potential to be a great team; they both have really strong shots and good doubles knowledge,” said Hibbert, whose team ended up in tie for fifth with Peddie in the team standings of the 18-school competition that was won by WW/P-S.

“The key for them is just playing well at the same time; I think these last couple of matches have really helped. They were right there in the semis; it was a real close match. They had some chances that they were unfortunately unable to capitalize on. I was proud of the way they were able to turn it around and still come back and get third today.”

The PHS second doubles pair of freshmen Tyler Hack and Rishab Tanga battled valiantly for third place but came up short as they fell 6-3, 6-2 to Dan Wang and Sanandh Ravu of WW/P-N.

“They fought hard; there were some really long points and some exceptionally long games and they were right there,” said Hibbert.

“They are both freshmen and this is a first experience for them. I am really proud of the way they got through their first round against Peddie; it was a real tough team. They were playing more experienced teams. I think another few matches here the rest of the season and next year they have the potential of doing great things.”

The PHS singles players experienced some frustration as they were knocked out on the first day. Eddie Percarpio fell in the opening round at first singles while Robert Zhao and Julian Edgren were eliminated in the second round at second and third singles, respectively.

“We had some tough matches; we had some tough draws, “ added Hibbert, reflecting on the performance of her singles players.

“The guys all lost to either a No. 1 or 2 seed so there is no shame in that. They put up good fights; sometimes that is all you can ask for.”

In Hibbert’s view, the experience gained at the MCT should toughen PHS for the fights ahead.

“I hope these matches will help us moving forward,” said Hibbert, whose team has a match at Allentown on April 26, hosts Steinert on April 27, and then plays at Ewing on April 30.

“Our doubles will be a little more experienced and our singles will have good competition as well. We start the meat of the season next now; four matches a week and states. It all happens quick.”

Qiu, for his part, believes that he and Zaidi will be even more competitive going forward.

“I think after this tournament, we improved dramatically,” said Qiu. “All that stuff is going to translate well.”

BLACK MAGIC: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse player ­Louie Blackburn heads up the field in recent action. Last week, sophomore midfielder Blackburn scored two fourth quarter goals as PDS edged Hun 9-8. The Panthers, now 4-3, are next in action when they host the Ranney School on April 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team falling behind Hun 8-7 early in the fourth quarter last week, Louie Blackburn decided to take matters into his hands.

Even though the sophomore midfielder had been held scoreless for the first three quarters, Blackburn thought he could make a difference.

“I just told myself that someone had to step up,” recalled Blackburn. “We needed to put a few in the back of the net; we hadn’t been shooting a lot earlier in the game. Our coach [Rob Tuckman] said just ‘get it on net boys and it will go in.’”

Blackburn took those words to heart, scoring with 6:47 left in regulation and then finding the back of the net nearly ninety seconds later in what turned out to be the game winner as PDS pulled out a 9-8 nailbiter.

In reflecting on the rally, Blackburn acknowledged that the Panthers needed to wake up down the stretch.

“I was laying back a little bit; I wasn’t happy with how non-aggressive we were playing as a whole team,” said Blackburn.

“I thought we were letting up a little bit but our coach always tells us to never stop, never let off the gas pedal. We just kept going there and finished strong in the fourth quarter.”

With a season of high school lacrosse under his belt, Blackburn feels he is a stronger player.

“I think I have grown a bit into my own body,” said Blackburn, who also stars for the PDS boys’ hockey team.

“I have been getting mentally stronger which is the most important thing on the field. I have gotten a lot of help from the older guys on the team in stepping up.”

Blackburn has gotten some help from his older brother, Peter, a 2011 PDS grad, who starred in lacrosse and hockey.

“My brother always says the confidence will come as you get older,” said Blackburn.

“Hopefully that is what I have been seeing here in the past couple of games and hopefully it will continue throughout.”

PDS head coach Rob Tuckman liked the confidence his players displayed as they staged their late rally.

“I thought possession was the difference,” said Tuckman. “When we had the ball on our stick and we were on the offensive end, we played well and we played confident. We put it in the back of the net.”

In Tuckman’s view, Blackburn will continue to put more in the net if he keeps getting mentally stronger.

“For Louie, it is all about confidence,” said Tuckman. “If we can get him feeling good, he plays well.”

Having junior star Cody Triolo patrolling the midfield gives Tuckman an additional dose of confidence.

“Cody is solid all the way around; even when they were sliding quick on him, he still managed to be a force on the field,” said Tuckman, whose team ran into a force last Friday as it fell 13-3 to undefeated Somerville to move to 4-3. “He is great to have.”

PDS freshman goalie Griffin Thompson is proving that he has the potential to become something special.

“Griffin had a good second half today; he is coming off injury and he has to get his sea legs,” said Tuckman, who credited senior captain Zac Higgins and junior Derek Bell with spearheading the Panther defense in front of Thompson.

“He is getting there; he is a freshman so the hooting and hollering can get to him at times.”

The Panthers have been getting better as they go through the season.

“I think as we are moving forward, we are playing well,” said Tuckman, whose team hosts Ranney School on April 27.

“We have some adjustments that we have to continue to make but I think, all in all, I feel pretty good about it.”

Blackburn, for his part, feels that PDS can do some good things if it makes those adjustments.

“I always think there is room for improvement; never stop and never accept a loss,” said Blackburn.

“I think if we continue to improve as much as we should, we’ll finish up with a really strong season and record.”