March 7, 2012

HOMECOMING DANCE: Mie Graham steps through the defensive zone last Saturday for the Duke University women’s lacrosse team as it faced Princeton at The Class of 1952 Stadium. The former Princeton High standout and junior defender for Duke enjoyed her homecoming, helping the Blue Devils edge the Tigers 12-9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It was a long-awaited homecoming for Mie Graham but she didn’t get to spend much time at home.

Last Saturday, the former Princeton High star athlete returned to her old stomping grounds as a starting junior defender for the Duke University women’s lacrosse team which was facing Princeton at The Class of 1952 Stadium.

“This was definitely on my calendar,” said a smiling Graham, who was cheered on by her parents and some former PHS teammates.

“It was fun knowing that the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team was here. I had talked to coach [Christie] Cooper before the game and she told me they were all coming out. I was excited to come up here and play. It is just weird staying at a hotel when you are at home. We were at the Marriott Forrestal last night.”

The 5’8 Graham had a lot of fun as the day unfolded, helping a stingy Duke
defense hold the fort as the fifth-ranked Blue Devils beat Princeton 12-9.

For much of the game, Graham was matched up against Princeton’s leading scorer Jaci Gassaway and she stepped up to the challenge, helping to hold the Tiger star to just one goal.

“We tend to share our matchups but in terms of size and strength that is kind of how our coaches matched us up against attackers,” explained Graham.

“Gassaway and I match up well against each other. I enjoy playing on the crease and she is one of the quarterbacks of the offense behind the cage. So that is someone I ended up seeing a lot.”

Graham was quick to point out that she got plenty of help from her colleagues on the Blue Devil defensive corps.

“We lost one of our star defenders, Bridget Nolan, who tore her ACL; a lot of us are upperclassmen who have seen a lot of time before so we are lucky in that we are adjusting to losing Bridget,” said Graham, who has picked up seven ground ball and caused three turnovers so far this season for the 5-2 Blue Devils.

“We are not subbing too much on the defense, the four of us are basically playing the whole game but it is good for our
consistency. Playing with Molly [Mackler] in the cage, we all feel so comfortable together right now. I feel like we are all at the same level of maturity right now and we are all really working well together so it is really a unit.”

Displaying the stick skills that made her a potent scorer for PHS, Graham also helped trigger the Duke offense with some good clears out of the defensive zone.

“I think it is a trust thing playing on the field I didn’t play much last year or the year before,” said Graham, who was going to get to spend one day at home this week after Duke played Stony Brook on Monday.

“This year, Molly can throw me a good clear and I can get it up the field. That is a great thing about Duke. Our transition has always been such a pride thing for us; we really move the ball up the field well. We put in all the work in practice. These are things that I know how to do and that I have been doing for years so it is just trusting that and having confidence.”

February 29, 2012

ONE-TWO PUNCH: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Matt Kuhlik, right, enjoys a break with classmate Derek Colaizzo last Sunday as PHS topped Scotch Plains-Fanwood 109-61 in the state Public B championship meet. Kuhlik and Colaizzo dominated the sprint events at the meet. In the 50 freestyle, Colaizzo was first while Kuhlik took second. Kuhlik then placed first in the 100 free with Colaizzo coming in third. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The celebration started early for the Princeton High boys’ swimming team as it faced Scotch Plains-Fanwood last Sunday afternoon in the state Public B championship meet.

After PHS senior stars Victor Honore and Addison Hebert finished 1-2 in the 100-yard butterfly, the two classmates chest-bumped on the deck of The College of New Jersey Aquatics Center and let out shouts of joy.

Above them in the jam-packed balcony, the Little Tiger supporters started rhythmically chanting “P-H-S, P-H-S, P-H-S.”

Although there were still six events left in the meet, PHS already led 47-31 and the rout was on.

The Little Tigers went on to produce a performance for the ages that won’t soon be forgotten, rolling to a 109-61 victory to earn the program’s first state title and cap a 17-0 season.

In the process, PHS swimmers won nine of 11 events and set eight school records.

The new bests came in the 200 medley relay (1:35.89, produced by Will Stange, Colburn Yu, Victor Honore, and Derek Colaizzo), 200 individual medley (Addison Hebert, 1:56.53), 50 freestyle (Colaizzo, 21.12), 100 butterfly (Honore, 49.79), 100 free (Matt Kuhlik, 46.93), 500 free (Peter Kalibat, 4:38.83), 200 free relay (Colaizzo, Hebert, Harun Filipovic, and Kuhlik, 1:28.85), and the 100 breaststroke (Yu, 1:00.16).

Senior standout Kuhlik was taken aback by the team’s dominance. “I was really surprised, that is the only way to put it,” said Kuhlik, noting that PHS had lost 90-80 to Scotch Plains in last year’s B final.

“We were coming in here thinking that it was going to be a really close meet. They swam well but we just basically had the best swims we could possibly have. I thought we went fast Tuesday (beating Summit 104-66 in the Public B semis) but this was a whole other level.”

Sprint specialist Kuhlik produced two of the more blazing efforts, taking second in the 50 freestyle just behind classmate Derek Colaizzo and then winning the 100 free.

“My 50 free really got me excited because I had my best time there,” said Kuhlik, who clocked a 21.47 time in the 50 before coming up with a 46.93 effort in his victory in the 100.

“I was going into the 100 free trying to beat Joe Dunn, knowing how fast he is. I felt amazing during my swim and had my best swim there too.”

In Kuhlik’s view, this year was PHS’s time to finally be the best. “Going into the year, the expectations were really high obviously,” said Kuhlik.

“I think we definitely wanted to make it back. Obviously this is the seniors’ last chance to win and we really wanted to win it. This is probably one of the best teams that we are going to have for a while because we will be graduating a lot of seniors. We have other good swimmers but we are going to be a pretty young team next year. I think they will do well but this was our year to win it here.”

Kuhlik and his classmates have developed bonds as they pursued their goal of a state title.

“We are all really good friends; we push each other to go faster,” said Kuhlik, whose fellow seniors include Jacques Bazile and Harun Filipovic in addition to Colaizzo, Hebert, and Honore.

“I can remember being freshmen and we were all really excited because we did well and won sectionals or whatever. We have really grown as a group together. It is going to be pretty sad losing all these guys next year.”

One of the team’s good young swimmers, sophomore star Will Stange, said the seniors have helped the team grow into something special.

“It is a good competition between the seniors and the rest of the team because they push us and we push them,” said Stange, who posted a victory in the 100 backstroke and took third in the 200 free. “It just works out well, it is constructive. We just get each other faster.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand, for his part, was stunned by the speed displayed by his swimmers on Sunday.

“I think everybody was surprised by each other’s performance today,” said Hand.

“Certainly they did give their best when it was needed. I guess if you boil it down, that is the most important thing. The most surprising thing was just how fast they were today and so I am always going to remember that. Coaches are extremely lucky to get a team that came together like this over the last two years. There was a huge amount of good fortune just having a constellation of guys like this together at the same time.”

Hand had the sense that his squad was building toward an explosive effort.

“They really did pull together as a unit over the last few weeks,” said Hand.

“You could see it everyday, just the way the seniors were getting more involved with taking care of the younger guys. People were taking the idea seriously that if you were going to have a chance for the championship, we would all have to be on the same page.”

The fact that the seniors wrote such a historic final chapter was especially heartening for Hand.

“I couldn’t be more happy for them,” said Hand. “I thought a couple of times recently that they would know later on in their lives, even if they had lost today, that they had earned two state finals and performed really well and they had something to be proud of right there. Everybody knows just how great it feels to be the champion; I am so glad that they could have it.”

Coming into the rematch with Scotch Plains, Hand had the feeling that it was going to be a close meet.

“There didn’t seem to be any reason to switch up much from the Summit meet, the matchups seemed fine,” said Hand.

“We certainly got more points than we thought we would but that was because, as a lot of kids said during the meet, they were swimming out of their mind. It is an overused phrase, I am sure, but I haven’t seen many things like it.”

Kuhlik, for his part, was thrilled to see his PHS career end on such a high note.

“It is a great way to end it because every year, I think we have gotten  better,” said Kuhlik, who will be swimming next year at Emory University.

“Last year, it was special just to be in the state final because we weren’t expected to be that good and this year we came in with really high expectations so this was just a great way to end it. I couldn’t think of a better way to end my senior year than winning the state championship.”

SAVING TIME: Princeton High boys’ hockey goalie Josh Berger gloves a save in a recent game. Last Monday, senior netminder Berger made 24 saves to help 16th seeded PHS top No. 17 Rumson-Fair Haven 4-2 in the first round of the state Public B tournament. The win advanced the Little Tigers, now 15-6-2, to a second round contest at top-seeded Kinnelon (17-7) on March 1 at the Skylands Ice World in Stockholm. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Senior goalie Josh Berger didn’t want his time with the Princeton High boys’ hockey team to end last Monday when the Little Tigers hosted Rumson-Fair Haven in the first round of the state Public B tournament.

“This high school career has been really good to me,” said Berger. “Personally, this team means a lot; it is a really special experience. As a senior, you want it to keep going; you don’t want to go home.”

Instead, Berger helped make sure that Rumson went home, recording 24 saves as 16th-seeded PHS won 4-2 over the No. 17 Bulldogs at the Mercer County Park rink.

The win advanced the Little Tigers, now 15-6-2, to a second round contest at top-seeded Kinnelon (17-7) on March 1 at the Skylands Ice World in Stockholm.

Berger knew that it wasn’t going to be easy to subdue Rumson. “The shore teams are always gritty,” said Berger. “They are aggressive and fast. We were relieved to stick right with them, play smart hockey, and get the win.”

Some big first period saves by Berger helped set the tone of the contest. “I got off to a good start and made some lucky saves,” said Berger. “I got into a groove and just focused on the next shot after the next and just keeping them out and doing my job.”

The savvy Berger seems to do his job best when the post-season rolls around.

“I think February so far has presented itself with some ups and downs but I always look forward to the postseason,” said Berger.

“It is very exciting for me as a goaltender. I am really just anxious to prove myself a little more before I take my leave.”

In the view of PHS head coach Tim Campbell, Berger has proven himself to be a clutch performer.

“Josh is a postseason goalie, he really is,” asserted Campbell. “There is no question that he is a little inconsistent during the regular season but he finds his game in the postseason. He was a difference maker today. Late in that second period, if they would have tied it up, I think that would have taken a lot of momentum out of our game.”

The Little Tigers had to employ a physical game to hold off the Bulldogs. “We know now after this that we can be physical and that is all it takes, just one experience,” said Campbell, who got two goals and two assists from sophomore Mike Wasson as PHS overcame an early 1-0 deficit to post the win.

“I told them at intermission that these are the fun games. It is a physical, big boy game. We are not necessarily used to that but now we know that we are capable of bringing that part of the game. It is a lot of fun. If you are a teenage kids there is nothing more fun than going out and banging each other on an ice rink. It is good experience.”

It has been a rewarding experience for Campbell to guide his trio of seniors, Berger and forwards Will Greenberg and Kirby Peck.

“There are only three of them and they are so tight and such a close knit group,” said Campbell, who got a goal and two assists from Greenberg in the win over Rumson with Peck contributing an assist. “They want to play just a little more hockey and I want to coach just a little more hockey.”

PHS will have to play its best hockey of the season if it is to overcome the
challenge posed by powerful Kinnelon.

“What do you say, it is Kinnelon, it is the No. 1 seeded team in the state,” said Campbell.

“Honestly, and I mean this sincerely, I am looking forward to it and playing the best team in Public B. If you are going to go out, what better way to go out, not that I am expecting to go out. But if we do if we get bounced by the No. 1 team, I won’t lose any sleep over that. It is one of those no-pressure situations and I don’t mind them one bit.”

Berger, for his part, is primed for that situation. “I love playing as the underdog and really putting all the pressure on them,” said Berger.

“We can match ourselves up against them; they are a really top team in New Jersey. We will just play with heart.”

WARDING OFF: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey goalie Walker Ward makes a save last week in PDS’s season-ending 3-1 win over Malvern Prep (Pa.). Senior Ward came up big in his finale, making 24 saves as the Panthers ended the winter with an 18-5-1 record. (Photo by Rob Klein)

As goalie Walker Ward enjoyed being one of the three players honored at the Senior Ceremony last week for the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team, he got in a reflective mood.

“It was sort of surreal; my whole high school career flashed in front of my eyes,” said goalie Ward, who was feted along with classmates Garrett Jensen and Tyler Olsson.

“I was remembering back to freshman year when I was a forward and coming up to now being in goal. It has been such a journey; I have grown so much from it. Hockey has really made me a better person. Not always getting the start and being injured, this has taught me that you have to stay mentally strong and always stick with it.”

Having been sidelined for seven weeks due to injury, Ward got to demonstrate that mental strength, getting the start in the team’s finale against Malvern Prep (Pa.) on February 21.

“Coming off the injury I was so excited,” said Ward. “I was so ready to get back in the net because I haven’t played since January 3. The guys were so supportive and they made it that much easier on me.”

Ward, in turn, certainly provided some good support for the Panthers between the pipes, making 24 saves as PDS skated to a 3-1 victory over the Friars.

Looking sharp from the start of the game, Ward had a good rhythm throughout the contest.

“Making the early saves got me some confidence,” said Ward. “The third period I started getting really energetic. I was skating back and forth to the board. With us putting the puck in the net a couple of more times, I just got more confident. I knew that I could keep us in the game if we had a two-goal lead so I wasn’t worried.”

The win gave the Panthers a final record of 18-5-1, as they ended the season by winning three straight games after suffering a disappointing 4-3 loss to Pingry in the state Prep semifinals.

In Ward’s view, PDS’s strong finish speaks volumes about the team’s character.

“I think the fact that we lost that game and came back and won the last three games of the season shows who we are as a team,” asserted Ward.

“We could have given up and said the season is done, these are three random games. But we stuck with it and did it for each other. We ended up with a great record and we are really happy with how it came out.”

PDS head coach Scott Bertoli was happy to see Ward come up big in his finale.

“Unfortunately Walker didn’t get in as many games this year because he has been hurt since the second week of January,” said Bertoli.

“But the kid competes and he wants to be out there. We talked about it yesterday. I wondered about him not playing for several weeks and was that going to be something that was going to hold him back but he felt confident, he knew he could do the job. It was great for him to go out with that type of experience and feel good about himself.”

For Bertoli, coaching his trio of seniors has been an uplifting experience. “I could have gone on and on about those three; in my mind, they epitomize what we are trying to do here,” said Bertoli.

“They are first rate student athletes, they have all matriculated from the PDS middle school so PDS hockey has been in their blood for a long time. I am sure if you asked each of them; this is what they wanted to do. They have aspired to play varsity hockey at PDS and they have been fortunate enough to do it for four years here and they have really watched the transformation of this program over the course of the four years.”

Bertoli credits Jensen with being a catalyst of that transformation. “It starts with Garrett, I could have told you after watching him skate two or three times his freshman year that that kid was going to be a captain senior year,” said Bertoli.

“He is everything you want in a team player and especially in a captain. The kid leaves it on the ice every single game. You never have to worry about what kind of effort that kid is going to bring. He is fearless.”

In assessing Olsson, Bertoli noted that he struck fear into PDS’s foes.

“Tyler has really been the rock of that defensive corps this year; he is a physical presence out there,” added Bertoli.

“I think what I am most proud of with him is that he was able to mold his game to his strengths. We wanted to play up-tempo and that is not one of his strengths but it didn’t hold him back. He was able to do things and he was able to transition in the neutral zone. I think he really figured out how to play both his game and the game that we wanted to play as a team.”

The win over Malvern Prep was icing on the cake for the Panthers. “I told the team yesterday at practice that you have already defined the season in my mind,” said Bertoli.

“It has been a great year, you have done things that no one has done in a long time and this is just how you are going to end your season. Are you going to end it on a high note and go out and have a good feeling or are you going to have a little sense of disappointment. Had we not won this game, we would have gotten over it. It wasn’t going to define who we were.”

In Bertoli’s view, consistency defined this year’s team. “Last year was a good team; we won a lot of big games but we lost a lot of bad games,” noted Bertoli.

“This team was steady and gave a good effort from start to finish. It was one bad period against Pingry which took away a near perfect season. We were consistent with strong effort, day after day, game after game.”

Ward, for his part, relished the daily interaction with his teammates.

“The environment in the locker room, that is the one thing I will always remember,” said Ward, who is heading to Hobart where he plans to walk on to the men’s hockey team.

“A win is a win and whoever loses, loses. But in there is where the family really is; we are all in there together, talking about everything.”

PARIS SHOW: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball head coach Paris McLean energetically instructs his players last Wednesday evening as they played Rutgers Prep in the state Prep B title game. Although fourth-seeded PDS fell 72-30 to the second-seeded Argonauts, McLean was proud of the 16-11 season produced by his team as it advanced to the Prep B championship game for the first time since 2004. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After absorbing a 72-30 drubbing at Rutgers Prep last Wednesday evening in the state Prep B title game, the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team didn’t hurry off the court.

Instead, the PDS players stood as one and watched as the Argonauts received the championship trophy and enjoyed a raucous celebration with their fans.

For Panther head coach Paris McLean, making his players stick around was designed to serve as motivation for the future.

“We can come back here,” said McLean, whose team finished the winter with a 16-11 record as it made its first appearance in the Prep B championship game since 2004.

“We have to work hard and do the things we need to do in the off-season and stay together as a team. That is why we watched Rutgers Prep celebrate. That is a very, very good basketball team.”

The loss in the championship game to the second-seeded Argonauts didn’t take away from the fact that it has been a very good season for the No. 4 Panthers.

“I told our boys to be proud of what they did,” said McLean, whose team upset top-seeded Morristown-Beard 48-42 in the Prep B semis.

“You look at our program over the past three years; we go from 11 wins to 15 wins to 16 wins and the title game. If that is not progress, I don’t know what is.”

McLean acknowledged that his team was in over its head against a defending champion Rutgers Prep, who had beaten the Panthers 73-46 in the regular season meeting between the rivals.

“Any time you play against five guys who are going on to the next level, it is tough,” said McLean. “It was men against boys, it was their seniors against our sophomores.”

The young Panthers did push Rutgers Prep in the second quarter, putting together a 10-7 run to narrow the gap to 27-16.

“We made a run, I think we cut it to 11,” said Mclean. “It was a stop and a bucket, a stop and a bucket. But they shot the lights out. They can shoot, they can rebound, they are big and they are athletic.”

PDS junior star Davon Reed showed some big game and athleticism, scoring 23 points in a losing cause.

“He had three bodies on him,” said McLean of Reed, who is averaging 24.3 points a game this season and has received more than 15 offers to join Division I college programs.

“If that is not one of the best players in the country, I don’t who is. I am not just talking about Xs and Os, to be that talented but to not start barking at your teammates or belittling them and to just to pick them all up consistently, that is character above anything.”

In McLean’s view, the Panthers have the talent in place to pick up a lot of wins next season.

“Obviously you have the centerpiece in Davon,” said McLean “You have Deante [Cole], you have Langston [Glaude]. We brought some kids off the bench tonight that never saw the varsity floor. We are young but we are good. We have kids who love the game and want to work hard and get better.”

After watching Rutgers Prep enjoy the spoils of victory, the tears flowed in the PDS locker room.

“If you walked in there, you wouldn’t see a dry eye,” said McLean. “It is not just because they are upset about the loss but they understand our time together this season is over. We spend a lot of time together; it is a tight team. We will start up again real soon, there is no rest for us.”

February 22, 2012

SURPRISE ATTACK: Princeton Day School girls’ basketball star Molly Rubin dribbles upcourt last Wednesday in PDS’s 42-39 win over Ewing in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals. Senior point guard Rubin scored 12 points to help the 12th-seeded Panthers upset No. 4 Ewing. Two days later, ­Rubin scored 18 points but it wasn’t enough as PDS fell 54-28 to top-seeded Hopewell Valley in the MCT semis. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Molly Rubin’s shooting hand was taped but that didn’t stop her from firing away for the Princeton Day School girls’ basketball team as it played at Ewing last Wednesday in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals.

The senior point guard, who has been playing through a sprained right hand, came up big as 12th-seeded PDS stunned No. 4 Ewing 42-39.

Rubin coolly dribbled through Ewing’s high-pressure defense and scored 11 points to help spark the upset.

“I think we worked pretty well today and played our hardest,” said Rubin. “We really wanted to win.”

The Panthers brought plenty of confidence into its uphill battle against powerful Ewing, having upended fifth-seeded WW/P-S 47-45 in the first round of the county tourney two days earlier.

“We had some good momentum coming into this game,” said Rubin.

“A 12th-seed has never gotten to the county semis so we have proved something.”

PDS rode that momentum to a solid start against Ewing, jumping out to a 13-8 lead after the first quarter. The Blue Devils, though, outscored the Panthers 13-9 in the second quarter to narrow the Panther lead to 22-21 at the half.

Down the stretch, the game turned into a nailbiter as the teams traded the lead several times. PDS hit six-of-eight free throws in the last 30 seconds and got a spectacular blocked shot from Emily Goldman right before the buzzer to pull out the unlikely win.

Rubin wasn’t surprised that PDS came through in the clutch at the charity stripe.

“We all made our free throws,” said Rubin, who hit two key foul shots with 20.9 seconds left. “We have been shooting free throws a lot in practice.”

The win was even sweeter considering that PDS has gone through an injury-riddled campaign which saw its roster sliced to just six players for much of the winter.

“Everyone has stepped up and played all different positions,” said Rubin.

“I have never played post before; I think it has been a team effort with people stepping up where there has been a void.”

PDS head coach Mika Ryan had the sense that her players were ready to step up in the Ewing contest.

“I think people fail to appreciate the difficulty of our schedule,” said Ryan, whose team’s Cinderella run ended last Friday when it fell 54-28 to top-seeded Hopewell Valley in the MCT semis to end the season at 9-12.

“We have played a really tough schedule; we might look like skinny suburban girls but we are pretty tough.”

The Panthers didn’t waste any time showing their toughness against Ewing as they seized the early momentum.

“I thought we had a pretty good start,” said Ryan. “The key to our start is that we didn’t let them score in transition. We knew if we started that, it would be a long night for us because that really ignites them and gets them going. I thought we did a terrific job of getting back.”

In the final moments of the contest, the Panthers executed well at both ends of the court.

“The free throw shooting was key and we didn’t turn the ball over,” added Ryan.

“We did a good job of containing No. 4 [Candice Scott-Mason] and we didn’t give up anything easy in transition.”

Another key to the victory was the play of the battle-tested Rubin and classmate Sarah Godwin, who led all scorers with 19 points.

“I knew that as long as they were playing hard, our two seniors weren’t coming out,” said Ryan.

“I have sat them out at times this year because they haven’t always performed but they were magnificent tonight.”

In Ryan’s view, Rubin’s performance exemplified the grit PDS has displayed this season.

“I thought Molly played a very good floor game; she made good decisions,” said Ryan.

“She handled the ball well and was good handling the press. She took shots when she had them. She didn’t force anything. That was an issue five or six games ago when she was just trying to do too much. We have asked her to do too much this year. She has to be the point guard, the center, and guard the other team’s best player.”

The Valparaiso-bound Godwin, who returned to the lineup in January after being sidelined by a knee injury since last season, gave the Panthers a major spark when she hit a three-pointer and a second long jumper in the first quarter.

“That was key because she is kind of a streaky shooter,” said Ryan.

“For her to get off to such a good start was key for us; it got her confidence going. It was nice to see.”

It has been nice for Ryan to guide a group with so much character. “It is hard for me to even talk about it; we have hung together all year through so many ups and downs,” said Ryan.

“I just love being around them. They never give in, they never stop playing. We might play crappy sometimes but we play awfully hard. They have to be one of my all-time favorite teams. I go to practice and I leave feeling good. They are everything that is right about PDS. I mean that, they are so resilient.”

Rubin, for her part, has enjoyed her PDS hoops experience. “I love the PDS program,” said Rubin.

“Mika has been great and the team has been great. It is definitely exciting to do this with people like my teammates. It is really fun. It is a good way to end the season and go out strong.”

HONOR BOUND: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Victor Honore gets ready to swim the backstroke in recent action. Last Thursday, senior star Honore posted a victory in the 200 individual medley to help PHS top Lawrence High 111-59 in the Public B Central Jersey sectional championship meet. The Little Tigers were slated to face Summit on February 21 in the Public B state semifinals with the winner advancing to the state title meet on February 26 at The College of New Jersey. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While senior star Victor Honore was happy to help the Princeton high boys’ swimming team cruise to the Public B Central Jersey sectional title last Thursday, that isn’t the championship that he covets.

“It is my last sectional so it is pretty satisfying to win,” said Honore, reflecting on PHS’s 111-59 win over Lawrence High last Thursday at the Neptune Aquatics Center.

“But the sectional is just another step in trying to win more. It is my last year with these guys and it feels good having this togetherness.”

Honore and his fellow seniors have their sights set on going out in the ultimate blaze of glory — winning a state championship.

Last winter, the Little Tigers made it all the way to the state Public B title meet where they fell 90-80 to Scotch Plains-Fanwood in suffering their only defeat of the season.

This week, 15-0 PHS will look to take the next step as it is slated to face Summit High in the semis on February 21 with the winner advancing to the title meet on February 26 at The College of New Jersey pool.

Despite PHS’s dominance this season, which saw it crush the competition in winning a second straight county meet, Honore knows the Little Tigers face a tough road in reaching their goal.

“The teams that we might face next week are really good,” said Honore. “They have some real talent; we are looking forward to going against them.”

In the win over Lawrence, Honore showed his talent as he churned out a win in the 200 individual medley.

“I was just trying to get first; I wasn’t focused on a time,” said Honore, who clocked a time of 2:07.52 in earning the victory. “It was just get the points.”

After suffering from the flu and pneumonia last winter, Honore has fought through another dose of illness this season.

“I have been sick quite a bit but nothing like last year,” said Honore, who lost 14 pounds last winter due to sickness. “I am feeling much better.”

Honore feels very comfortable with his stellar group of classmates, who have formed the foundation for the PHS juggernaut.

“Some of my best friends are on the team,” whose fellow seniors include Addison Hebert, Matt Kuhlik, Derek Colaizzo, Harun Filipovic, and Jacques Bazile.

“We all know each other in the hallway; we hang out together at meets. I hang out with some of the guys on weekends. I think one of our greatest traits is just team spirit.”

That stellar group of seniors played a major role in PHS’s win over Lawrence as the Little Tigers won all eight individual events and two of the three relays. Colaizzo won the 50 and 500 freestyle races while Kuhlik placed first in the 100 backstroke and Filipovic won the 100 free.

PHS head coach Greg Hand knows that his seniors are primed for the final push.

“They have been excited about the rest of this tournament since long before the tournament started,” said Hand, who has guided PHS to four straight sectional titles and six of the last eight.

“Everybody is just fired up for the opportunity; nobody is predicting anything. They are just thinking about doing the things that are necessary to swim fast on the day and that is everything from mental to physical.”

In Hand’s view, his battle-tested swimmers know the preparation necessary to be at their fastest when it matters most.

“The guys need to be smart,” said Hand. “They are guys who have so many demands on their time and they have to do a good job of holding it together. That’s part of what education is about. I think that is why we support athletics as taxpayers; we are really asking the kids to do the best they can at balancing their lives and making good choices along the way.”

While the PHS swimmers were understated as they celebrated their victory last Thursday, Hand senses an excitement among his swimmers as they close in on another shot at a state title.

“Last year it seemed really innocent in the sense Pat Riley [former NBA coach] talks about, the innocent climb the first time around,” said Hand.

“I have that same sense as we go through it. We know we have a veteran squad already but here we are in something where they are still nervous in a good way.”

Honore and his teammates are primed for the climb to the state swimming summit.

“We are definitely ready; it is the last go for the seniors,” asserted Honore. “There is not an extra sense of urgency; it is more for our own benefit. We know that we have a great team and that we could do it.”

RETURN TRIP: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Mike Wasson controls the puck last Friday against Robbinsville in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals. Sophomore forward Wasson scored the winning goal in the game as third-seeded PHS edged No. 2 Robbinsville 3-2 to earn its third straight trip to the title game. On Monday, Wasson added a goal and an assist but it wasn’t enough as PHS fell 6-3 to top-seeded Notre Dame in the county championship game. The Little Tigers, now 14-6-2, will next be in action when they compete in the upcoming state Public B tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For a nearly 35-minute segment of the Mercer County Tournament championship game last Monday night, the Princeton High boys’ hockey team outscored Notre Dame 2-1.

Third-seeded PHS battled the No. 1 Fighting Irish to a scoreless stalemate for the first 17 minutes of the contest and outscored Notre Dame 2-1 over the last 17:46 of the game.

But there was a 10-minute stretch in the middle of the second period where the Fighting Irish went on a 5-1 run and that proved decisive as they earned a 6-3 win and the county crown before a standing room only crowd at the Mercer County Park rink.

PHS head coach Tim Campbell liked the way his team started and finished the contest as it fell to 14-6-2.

“We were in really good shape in the first period at 0-0; a tie at the end of the first period against this team as far as I am concerned is getting up on them,” said Campbell, pointing out that his team generated several shots on goal in the first five minutes of the game.

“At intermission, I just said let’s not back down, let’s go out and win the period and we did. We battled in the third period; we didn’t let down. We won it 2-1.”

But Campbell acknowledged that things went awry in the middle portion of the game.

“We gave up a lot of goals right on top of each other in the second period which took some wind out of our sails,” said Campbell, noting the PHS suffered similar lapses in its two regular season losses to the Fighting Irish.

“We had one bad period. If you had a magic wand and could remove a couple of chunks of time we skated right with them.”

But one can’t take away anything from PHS and its fighting spirit. “They have a lot of pride,” said Campbell, who got goals from Mike Wasson, Will Greenberg, and Kirby Peck in the loss with goalie Josh Berger making 37 saves on a night in which the Little Tigers were outshot 43-16.

“If they are going to go down, they are going to go down swinging, figuratively and literally.”

It is a matter of pride for the PHS program to have made three straight county title games.

“For the third straight year, we are the best public school in the county,” said Campbell, whose team topped Notre Dame in last year’s championship game after losing to Princeton Day School in the 2010 final.

“There is a lot to be said for consistency; I am happy with that aspect. We walk out of here with our chins held high. We battled for the majority of the game. We are just dog-tired and exhausted. It has been a physically and emotionally taxing week. It is difficult to repeat and that is why you rarely see even professionals repeat two years in a row.”

Campbell is confident that PHS will put up a good battle in the upcoming state Public B tournament.

“We should  have a decent seed for the states and hopefully have at least one home game,” said Campbell, whose squad made it to the second round of the 2011 state competition.

“We do have momentum, even coming away with a loss. I look forward to it.”

February 15, 2012

SENIOR TOUR: Stuart Country Day School basketball player Angela Gallagher heads up the court in recent action. Last Friday, senior guard Gallagher scored four points in her home finale as Stuart fell 44-22 to the Country Day School of the Sacred Heart (Pa.), On Sunday, seventh-seeded Stuart lost 58-23 to No. 2 Wardlaw Hartridge in the first round of the state Prep B tournament to drop to 0-15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It was Senior Day for the Stuart Country Day basketball team and Angela Gallagher was determined to fight to the last minute of her home finale.

Even though Stuart trailed Country Day School of the Sacred Heart (Pa.) by 25 points in the waning moments of the contest last Friday, there was Gallagher sticking her nose into a scramble for a loose ball.

The senior guard had to leave the game as the trainer checked her head to make sure that she was OK. Moments later, Gallagher was back in the fray, firing up a shot in the last minute as Stuart went on to a 44-22 loss.

Afterward, Gallagher, together with classmates Parris Branker and Jen Dias, posed for photos in front of posters made especially for the Senior Day festivities.

“I thought it so nice; the team was really great,” said Gallagher, who scored four points on the day as Stuart dropped to 0-14.

“Even though we have a really small team, we have become really close. They made us these really nice posters and they made us T-shirts. They were really nice. Of course Senior Day is bittersweet as everyone says.”

In the early going on Friday, the Tartans made it a close game as they went on a 6-0 run to battle back from an early 7-0 deficit.

“That was pretty exciting; in a lot of games we haven’t been very close,” said Gallagher. “That was a time where we were pretty close. It was fun, we had a lot of fans here cheering for us.”

Stuart, though, misfired on offense the rest of the way, as has been the case so often this season.

“We have a lot of trouble running the offense and making shots,” acknowledged Gallagher.

“We have a pretty young team, we are still learning and I am still learning a lot. I have never played guard before.”

The Tartans have had no trouble showing fight, customarily playing hard to the final whistle.

“We always fight throughout the whole time,” maintained Gallagher. “Even at Lawrenceville, where we literally got pummeled but everybody was fighting to the last second and still scoring until the last second.”

Despite the steady diet of losing, the Stuart players haven’t gotten down on themselves.

“I think our team has really good character because a lot of people would get really upset,” said Gallagher.

“I think our team has been really good about that. We have a lot of fun. If we didn’t have fun, we would be depressed the whole time.”

Stuart head coach Tony Bowman has had fun seeing the development of his trio of seniors.

“I think the seniors played hard today; the three girls have contributed a lot over the last three years,” said Bowman.

“There aren’t as many accolades as in the past. But they are leading the girls that we have now, which is good. The freshmen and the sophomores are learning from them right now. They have a work ethic on and off the court.”

Bowman points to Gallagher as one of the team’s most diligent workers.

“Angela is always playing hard; she gives us 100 percent,” said Bowman.

“She works hard; the only thing we want her to do more is score. She had a couple of nice shots today; she played well for us.”

The Tartans have had a hard time making their shots this winter. “Offensively as a team, we just haven’t been able to put the ball in the basket,” said Bowman, noting that his team has been held below 30 points in many games this season.

“The plays work and we just can’t put it in. The kids try hard. We are working on everything in practice. We just haven’t been able to implement it in games yet.”

Bowman hopes his players have learned some lessons in perseverance as they battled through a difficult season.

“You have always got to play to win, even when things look dim,” said Bowman, whose team ended the season by falling to Wardlaw Hartridge 58-23 last Sunday in the first round of the state Prep B tournament.

“You have to look at every game you are in as one you can win. I think sometimes we don’t always believe in ourselves or buy into the system. When you buy into the system, you can put yourself in a competitive position.”

Gallagher, for her part, has gained some self-belief from being in a leadership position.

“Since there are fewer people in basketball than in other sports, you have to take responsibility for your actions more and take responsibility for what everyone else is doing on the court,” said Gallagher.

“So as a senior, you tell the freshmen what to do. We have to guide them as the seniors before us did. It has been a really good learning experience for them and us.”

READY POSITION: Hun School boys’ basketball player Fergus Duke gets ready to launch a jumper in recent action. Last Sunday, junior guard Duke scored a team-high 20 points as third-seeded Hun fell 73-59 to No. 1 Blair in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) championship game. Hun, now 14-11, will meet Blair one last time as the foes play this Saturday in the state Prep A semis in Blairstown. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After falling twice to Blair Academy in regular season play, the Hun School boys’ basketball team came out firing when the rivals met last Sunday in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) championship game.

With a standing room only crowd packing Hun’s Shipley Pavilion, the third-seeded Raiders gave the home fans plenty to cheer about as they jumped out to an early 24-18 lead over the top-seeded Buccaneers.

Hun junior guard Fergus Duke said the Raiders brought plenty of confidence into the contest.

“After last night’s game, we were feeling really good,” said Duke. “We won a close game against Hill and it was the first time we have beaten Hill in a while. We came in fired up today and it showed in the first quarter when were just jacking everything and it was going in. The crowd was going nuts, getting us pumped up.”

But powerful Blair regrouped, reeling off 15 unanswered points to take a 33-24 lead and gain momentum. Hun trailed 40-38 entering the second half but went on a 13-9 run to nose ahead 51-49. Blair scored the final five points of the third quarter and never looked back as it pulled away to a 73-59 win.

Duke acknowledged that the Raiders ran out of gas down the stretch as they fell to 14-11.

“We had a good game up until the beginning of the fourth quarter and we started playing their style of game with more run and gun and that’s what killed us,” said Duke, who tallied a team-high 20 points with backcourt mate Bo McKinley chipping in 19.

“They have got a lot of big bodies and their big men did a good job of contesting our shots. They did a very good job of altering our shots as well. They are a deep team and they did a great job of using their depth. They weren’t worn out at the end and we were.”

With Hun have beaten Mercersburg 50-29 and Hill 41-37 to reach the title game, it was a positive weekend overall for the Raiders.

“We played really well; I am very proud of my team, everyone contributed,” said Duke.

“When we played Mercersburg, when we played Hill and when we played Blair, everyone contributed. No one would have expected us to make it this far, especially throughout the season when we haven’t been winning those close games. Last night against Hill, we showed that we have learned. Blair just outmanned us tonight.”

Hun head coach Jon Stone liked the way everyone on his squad battled in the loss to Blair.

“I think our intensity was great; the kids played really hard,” said Stone. “We got off to a great start. Unfortunately we let them back in it. I think we started the second half really well; we had some great energy. We have some kids who are really good players. We ran out of gas a little bit but it wasn’t for lack of effort.”

Stone credited Blair with having some really good players who made the difference down the stretch.

“Number 10 (Virginia-bound Mike Tobey) was good today; Will Kelly getting his third foul today was a really big deal to us because I thought he did a great job on him in the first half,” said Stone, who noted that his team sorely missed Grant MacKay, out with a season-ending knee injury.

“He was getting him to miss a lot of shots; you take a great shot blocker like Will out of the game and it affected us. But credit to Tobey, he is good. Number 24 (Jermaine Myers) is also good; those are the two best players in the league.”

In Stone’s view, his team played its basketball of the year in advancing to the MAPL title game.

“At the end of the season, we have been getting better and peaking at the right time,” asserted Stone.

“That first quarter was as fun to watch as we have had all year. Both teams were clicking, that’s what you hope for at the end of the year. I just hoped they had scored a few less times.”

While that first quarter was entertaining, Stone acknowledged that getting sucked into a run-and-gun battle with the Bucs wasn’t great strategy.

“I think we let them dictate the tempo a little too much and that’s my fault because we ran out of gas at the end,” said Stone.

With the foes meeting one last time on February 18 at Blair in the state Prep A semifinals, Stone is hoping the fourth time will be the charm for his team.

“I think we need to be more patient,” added Stone. “I thought our toughness was pretty good today. We need to be a little smarter and dictate the tempo a little more. I am proud of our guys and the way we competed. We obviously came up short; they were the better team today.”

Duke, for his part, is ready to keep competing against Blair. “I am excited but tired of playing these guys,” said Duke.

“We are getting very comfortable playing them, it will be another good game.”

OFF THE CHARTS: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey star Megan Ofner fires the puck in a game earlier this season. Senior forward Ofner ended her PDS career with a bang last weekend, tallying a total of three goals and three assists as PDS topped host Shady Side Academy (Pa.) 4-3 and Portledge School (N.Y.) 4-2 on the way to winning the ‘B’ bracket of the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic). The Panthers, who ended the season with a 10-7 record, also got three goals from Mackenzie Howe and one apiece from Robin Linzmayer and Mimi Matthews over the weekend. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Ashley Egner could barely skate when she joined the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team as a freshman in 2008 while Lucy Marquez hadn’t played one minute at goalie when she took over as the squad’s netminder a year later.

Last Wednesday, the two showed how much they have improved over their careers, starring in their final home appearance on the program’s annual Senior Night.

Forward Egner tallied three goals and her first career hat trick while backup goalie Marquez looked sharp in making 19 saves as the Panthers topped Summit 8-1.

The PDS senior group, which also includes top scorer and two-time captain Megan Ofner, went on to finish the season with a bang, winning the ‘B’ bracket of the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) tournament last weekend.

The Panthers topped host Shady Side Academy (Pa.) 4-3 in the semis before defeating the Portledge School (N.Y.) 4-2 in the title game. Forward Ofner, who is headed to the Sacred Heart women’s hockey program led the way, notching two goals and two assists in the semis before tallying a goal and two assists in the title game as the Panthers ended the winter with a 10-7 record.

For Egner, the home finale triggered some deep emotions. “I was really excited but also sad,” said Egner, who served as a tri-captain of the team along with her two classmates.

“There are only three seniors on our team and our team is so small; we get really close through the season and it has gone by so quickly. It means so much; everyone is so excited by the games. It is nice knowing that the whole team is there for you.”

Egner showed some quickness when she scored a superb breakaway goal in the second period that gave PDS a 3-1 lead.

“I wasn’t expecting that at all; I just saw an opening,” said Egner, who is headed to Union where she may play club hockey.

“Lorna [PDS head coach Lorna Gifis Cook] always tends to go wide and cut in and take a shot. I just kind of did it and it just happened to go in. I thought she was going to save it but it hit off her glove. It was a hard shot; if it was softer it probably wouldn’t have gone in. That was awesome.”

Marquez, for her part, wasn’t expecting to make any saves on Wednesday, having spent the last two seasons as a back-up for star goalie Daisy Mase.

“I found out right when we were about to start; I was so excited,” said Marquez, reflecting on getting the starting assignment.

“I was so happy, normally Daisy starts; it was just a thrill. I was nervous because Lorna had told me that if we were down by a lot, she would have to put Daisy in.”

Marquez quickly overcame her nerves, making two saves in the first minutes of the contest.

“Normally the first couple of shots is what really wakes you up and gets you going so those really got me going,” said Marquez.

“That was probably the most focused game I have ever played as well. I was like oh my god, this is my last game, I can’t slip up. This is it.”

For Marquez, her last game turned out to be one of her best. “The game was terrific; everyone played so well together,” asserted Marquez.

“I have never seen the team this year play so well together. This game was the best chemistry game ever. I couldn’t ask for a better senior day.”

In a sense, it is amazing that Marquez had a Senior Day in hockey, considering her late start in the game.

“I did ballet, I did figure skating, I did choir and piano so I was the ultimate sissy girl,” said Marquez, who is headed to Cornell.

“I was a field hockey goalie for my first year here and as a sophomore, Harry comes up to me one day and goes ‘so how do you feel about doing ice hockey. I said ‘alright, throw me in.’ It was amazing, it was one of the best experiences I had through high school.”

Coach Cook, for her part, credited the trio of seniors with enhancing her experience as she took the role of interim head coach this winter with Kat Smithson recovering from a concussion.

“It was hardest on them not having Kat on the bench,” said Cook. “They have played for her the longest. At the same time, I am asking them to step and be leaders and be my go-to people just to know what is going on with the team. They really did a great job of helping Alannah [assistant coach Alannah McCready] and I get comfortable and for the team to be comfortable with us. It was group of three leading us all season long.”

For Egner, developing a comfort level with the game and teammates has made her PDS hockey career unforgettable.

“Hockey is my favorite season; I look forward to it every year,” said Egner.

“Freshman year was the first season that I started; I had never played before. Just the whole thing means so much to me, Megan and me have been best friends since freshman year. Lucy and I have gotten so much closer this year. It has been great becoming friends with everyone on the team; it is such a diverse group of girls.”

ON TARGET: Princeton High boys’ basketball star Davon Black puts up a shot in a game earlier this season. Last Monday, Black scored a game-high 17 points to help eighth-seeded PHS defeat No. 9 Nottingham 52-43 in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament. The Little Tigers, now 10-10, play at top-seeded Notre Dame on February 15 in the MCT quarterfinals. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After going through a dry spell in January, Davon Black and the Princeton High boys’ basketball team finally got back to the .500 mark last week.

Producing a superior defensive effort, PHS topped crosstown rival Princeton Day School 57-48 on February 6 to post its third straight win and improve to 9-9.

A day later, though, the Little Tigers experienced a letdown as they fell 54-35 to Hightstown.

In assessing the loss, senior guard Black acknowledged that PHS came out flat for the clash against the Rams.

“We let it get too high yesterday; we didn’t come out ready to play,” said Black, who scored 11 points in the loss.

“Hightstown is a good team and they jumped right on us at the start of the game. They stayed poised and controlled for the entire game.”

The Little Tigers showed some game in the third quarter when they started the half by outscoring PDS 8-4.

“We had a nice little run but it wasn’t enough,” said Black. “It showed some good signs. Coach [head coach Jason Carter] told me to be a lot more aggressive on the offensive end so I tried to get it going.”

In Black’s view, PHS needs to demonstrate their aggressiveness on a more constant basis to be successful.

“We have to come into every game prepared; we can’t let a team jump on us that fast,” said Black. “We just have to play every game like it is our last.”

The team’s three-game winning streak, which included hard-fought victories over WW/P-N and Lawrence, reflected a jump in PHS’s intensity at both ends of the court.

“I think we are finding our stride now,” said Black. “This game was a letdown but we had three big wins coming in so we were hitting it. We have been playing good defense. Defense starts it all. When you are playing good defense, the offense flows.”

The battle-tested Black, a team captain along with classmate Matt Hoffman, has looked to jump start the Little Tigers.

“As a senior, I just try to be a leader,” said Black, who showed leadership Monday, contributing a game-high 17 points to help eighth-seeded PHS beat No. 9 Nottingham 52-43 in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament.

“I have been on the floor for three years now. I have seen a lot so my role is getting it going for everyone else. I want to dictate on the offensive end and be that defensive stopper. Whatever coach needs, that is what I am going to do.”

With PHS, now 10-10, playing in the MCT quarterfinals at top-seeded Notre Dame on February 15 and the state tournament coming up in a few weeks, Black is hoping to keep things going for as long as possible in his final weeks with the Little Tiger program.

“The focus is to have fun every single day,” said Black. “It has been so much fun here. It is hard knowing that it is coming to an end but my focus is just on the next game.”

February 8, 2012

STATEMENTS OF INTENT: Hun School star senior athletes are all smiles last week after signing letters of intent to join college sports programs. Pictured, from left, are John Loughery (Elon University - football), David Dudeck (Boston College - football), Holly Hargreaves (Rice University - women’s soccer), Wyatt Vinci (University of Connecticut - football), and Wendy Laurent (Penn State- football). (Photo Courtesy of the Hun School)

David Dudeck traveled to Boston during the last weekend of January and had such a good time that he decided to spend a lot more time in the area.

The Hun School senior star athlete committed to the Boston College football program, choosing the school over Yale and Navy, his other top two choices.

“I took my official visit there last weekend,” said Dudeck, who verbally committed to the Eagles on site and then signed his official letter of intent last Wednesday.

“I loved everything about it. I want to play big time football and they are in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). It is a great institution academically. Everything felt right.”

Adding to Dudeck’s comfort level was the reaction of his parents, mother Amy and father Dave, the Hun football head coach.

“I talked about it with my parents on the visit,” said Dudeck. “They were really behind me. I am blessed to have a family that is so supportive.”

Dudeck was also anxious to have the blessing of older brother, Brendan, a former Hun teammate and current back-up quarterback at Navy.

“Brendan supported me 100 percent,” added Dudeck, noting that he ended the recruiting process with great respect for Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo and Yale head coach Tony Reno.

“Of course it would have been wonderful to play with him but he wanted what was best for me. He was pleased that I was happy.”

Getting the chance to play big-time college football is a dream come true for the 6‘0, 200-pound Dudeck.

“I have set goals in my life and this is one of them,” said Dudeck. “I am really lucky and blessed to have this opportunity to play ACC football. I have worked hard for years for this. There is a lot of hard work to come at another level.”

At the outset, that work is going to come in the secondary for Dudeck, a two-way performer for Hun who had 50 catches for 1,003 yards and 10 touchdowns as a wide receiver this past fall for a Raider team that went 7-1 and won the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title.

“They recruited me as an athlete,” said Dudeck, who is also a college prospect in baseball and may consider trying to walk on to the BC team.

“They said they plan to use me on the defensive side of the ball at safety.”

Dudeck has used the academic and athletic opportunities he found at Hun to his best advantage.

“Hun really helped me get organized with my schoolwork and how to best use my time,” said Dudeck, who had gone to public school in Hamilton before entering Hun in ninth grade.

“I took AP and honors courses; doing that will really help for college. Athletically, it was an awesome journey. It was great to play for and with family. I had great opportunities as an athlete. My dad did so much for me and for other kids to help them get into schools.”

Dudeck wasn’t the only Hun athlete to commit to a Division I program last week. Football teammates Wendy Laurent, Wyatt Vinci, and John Loughery each signed a letter of intent with Laurent heading to Penn State, Vinci to Connecticut, and Loughery to Elon.

Raider girls’ soccer star Holly Hargreaves signed to continue her soccer career at Rice University.  Previously, soccer stars Lexi Golestani and Nicole Campellone had committed to the Providence College and Tufts University programs, respectively.

Several PDS athletes got into the act as well with Sarah Godwin signing on to continue her basketball career at Valparaiso University with Beau Horan headed to the Williams College baseball team and girls’ hockey star Megan Ofner on her way to Sacred Heart.

Over at Princeton High, wrestling star Ian Snyder is headed to the Duke University program while Jeff Barsamian has committed to play for the Penn sprint football team. Earlier, PHS lacrosse stars Mia Haughton and Katie Reilly opted to join the Amherst College women’s lax program.

Two Princeton residents, Philip Pecora and James Bunn, who have been star athletes at the Pennington School, also made college decisions last week. Pecora is headed to Bucknell University to play football while Bunn will be joining the baseball program at Virginia Commonwealth University.

GOLD RUSH: Princeton Day School girls’ basketball player ­Emily Goldman rushes up the court in a recent game. Sophomore guard Goldman has provided athleticism and endurance for an injury-riddled PDS squad that has shrunk to six players for much of the season. PDS, now 7-11, hosts Peddie School on February 8 before starting play in both the state Prep B tourney and Mercer County Tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Trying to hold together a team that has shrunk to six players for much of the season has weighed on Princeton Day School girls’ basketball head coach Mika Ryan.

“I think we are one step away from putting a quality game together but it has been Murphy’s Law; something goes wrong or someone gets hurt,” said Ryan.

“The kids’ resilience has been amazing. I leave practices and I feel 1,000 percent better about things.”

Ryan feels good about the return of senior guard Sarah Godwin, who recently got back into action after being sidelined by an ACL injury since last season.

It has been a real lift,” said Ryan, referring to having the services of Valparaiso University-bound Godwin.

“Since I have coached her, she has always been upbeat and encouraging in practice. She doesn’t have game fitness yet but she is going up and down the court well.”

Last Thursday, Godwin displayed her offensive skills, scoring 17 points as PDS lost 58-50 to Burlington Township High.

“They were a very good team and we started out slowly,” said Ryan, whose also seen the return from an ankle injury of promising freshman Kirsten Kuzmicz. “We were down 16 points at half and we cut it to eight. We made a great effort in the third and fourth quarters. We were overmatched.”

Making Herculean efforts as they have battled through a winter of mismatches has drained the Panthers.

“The problem is that the rest of us are beat up,” said Ryan, whose team lost 28-23 to Notre Dame last Monday to fall to 7-11.

“Molly Rubin is tired. She has put us on her back. We have been asking her to do everything, from playing point guard to center. She has been defending the other team’s best player. She was up and down this week.”

Ryan is hoping her team will step up as it enters postseason action later this month by playing at Rutgers Prep on February 12 in the opening round of the state Prep B tourney and then starting action in the Mercer County Tournament.

“I am excited about our prospects going in the Mercer County Tournament,” said Ryan, whose team hosts Peddie School on February 8 before the 12th-seeded Panthers play at No. 5 WW/P-S on February 13 in the first round of the MCT.

“We have beaten two of the three CVC teams we played, defeating Hamilton and Nottingham. When we played Rutgers Prep before, we were the dirty half-dozen.”

In Ryan’s view, the Panthers need to clean up things on offense if they are to make a good postseason run.

“I think we have to eliminate turnovers,” said Ryan, who guided the Panthers to the Prep B title game and the MCT semis last winter.

“We beat ourselves on offense. We don’t value the ball, I have been telling them to just complete the next pass. We defend well but you can’t defend and then not score, particularly against better competition.”

NOT STANDING PAT: Princeton High boys’ hockey star Patrick McCormick fires the puck in a game earlier this season. Last Wednesday, sophomore defenseman McCormick tallied an assist as he set up a Will Greenberg goal in PHS’s 1-0 win over Hamilton. The Little Tigers, now 11-4-2, face Notre Dame on February 8 at Mercer County Park before battling Hun on February 10 at the Ice Land Skating Center. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Patrick McCormick faced a major transition last winter in his freshman season with the Princeton High boys’ hockey team.

In addition to getting his first taste of varsity action, McCormick was shifted to defenseman from his customary position of forward.

As he adjusted to his new spot on the ice, McCormick had a safety net in senior star defenders Dean DiTosto and Griffin Peck.

“Last year, I had Dean and Griffin to rely on if I was having a bad game,” said McCormick. “They could always play over me.”

With DiTosto and Peck having graduated, McCormick has emerged as the iron man along the Little Tiger blue line.

“It is different; the team relies on me a lot more,” said McCormick. “I have to be on my best game every night. It is nice getting all this ice time. Although it is tiring, it is worth it. You feel a lot better when you get that win because you feel like you were more a part of it. I have been constantly improving; I like it a lot more.”

Last Wednesday against Hamilton, McCormick utilized his offensive background in the third period, assisting on the game’s lone goal as the Little Tigers edged the Hornets 1-0 to improve to 11-4-2.

“Before the faceoff, I said to Will [Greenberg] break up the ice and I am just going to throw it up to you,” recalled McCormick.

“So then Will just broke up the ice; I saw him break and I just tried to flick it up out of the zone. He beat the guy in the corner. The guy tried to intercept it and he just went hard to the net. It was a relief.”

McCormick acknowledged that the Little Tigers didn’t bring the right intensity into the Hamilton game, due to having beat the Hornets 7-2 in December.

“When you beat a team badly the first time, you can only go down from there,” said McCormick.

“I guess we went in thinking we had the win. It is not that we played poorly, we just couldn’t finish.”

PHS head coach Tim Campbell was disappointed with the way his team played in the win over Hamilton.

“We were just flat,” said Campbell. “We were just asleep; we came off a big win on Friday [a 3-2 win over Cranford]. I think we just thought we would coast through these guys which, as a coach, is the scariest mentality to see.”

Campbell did like the way his team performed along the blue line. “We were fine defensively,” said Campbell, whose team outshot the Hornets 38-8.

“We just didn’t create any scoring opportunities. Usually it is the other way around, our defense is a little porous. But tonight, they were a brick wall; we only gave up eight shots. It is scary when we don’t score because we can give up one and that is it.”

In Campbell’s view, McCormick is becoming a one-man brick wall for the Little Tigers.

“Patrick is a phenomenal skater,” said Campbell. “Skill-wise, there is not a better defenseman in the league. He is a good skater; he is smart. I kept thinking to myself he is a really smart defenseman. He gets opportunities to rush the puck and he takes advantage of those.”

With the Mercer County Tournament and the state public tourney both around the corner, Campbell is hoping that his club can maintain its recent penchant for peaking at the right time.

“In the past two or three years, we have been a February team, this is where we hit our stride,” said Campbell, whose squad faces Notre Dame on February 8 at Mercer County Park looking to avenge an earlier last-second 4-3 loss to the Fighting Irish and then battles Hun on February 10 at the Ice Land Skating Center.

“I am fine with that as long as we take care of business which we didn’t tonight. We have two big games in front of us. We owe Notre Dame so we will come out ready for that game without a doubt. We look forward to that game and hopefully we have learned lessons from tonight.”

McCormick, for his part, believes the Little Tigers are ready for a big stretch drive.

“I feel like we kind of overlooked this game because we were looking towards Notre Dame,” said McCormick.

“We feel like we are going to be ready for that game; it was heartbreaking. We have got to try and come back and prove something to them. We have a pretty good chance to make a run. We are strongest in the postseason. We usually have lulls midway through the year and we like to pick it up at the end.”

MAD LIB: Princeton High girls’ basketball player Maddie ­Cahill-Sanidas looks to create some offense in recent action. Last Friday, junior forward Cahill-Sanidas scored seven points as PHS lost 56-26 to Lawrence High to fall to 0-13. The Little Tigers will be starting action in the Mercer County Tournament on February 13 when 16th-seeded PHS plays at No. 1 Hopewell Valley in a first round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Maddie Cahill-Sanidas started slowly as the Princeton High girls’ basketball team hosted WW/P-N last week.

The junior forward went scoreless in the first quarter as PHS fell behind 16-6.

In the second quarter, though, Cahill-Sanidas came alive, scoring five points as the Little Tigers played the Northern Knights to a 13-13 standoff.

For Cahill-Sanidas, taking a little time to get rolling has become her modus operandi.

“It always take me a couple of minutes to analyze the situation but I got it,” said Cahill-Sanidas. “I was feeling a lot better in the second quarter.”

PHS was feeling good in the third quarter when it cut the WW/P-N lead to eight points at 36-28. The Northern Knights, though, reeled off 13 unanswered points on the way to a 52-37 victory.

While the loss was disappointing, Cahill-Sanidas thought the Little Tigers had some positive stretches.

“I think in the second half, we really stepped it up,” said Cahill-Sanidas.

“We are capable of playing with that intensity; we just have to learn how to do that for four quarters.”

As one of the more battle-tested players on a young squad that features several freshmen and sophomores, Cahill-Sanidas is stepping up on many levels.

“I see myself as someone who needs to shoot,” said Cahill-Sanidas, a versatile athlete who also stars for the PHS girls’ tennis and softball teams.

“I think I also need to
facilitate and find other people with passes. I think that is important. Jocabed [Muflam], Emma [Wingreen], and I are captains this year, it is a new leadership role for us. We have filled those shoes as the season has progressed.”

The Little Tigers are focusing on making progress offensively. “We need to work on movement on offense,” said Cahill-Sanidas, who scored seven points last Friday as PHS lost 56-26 to Lawrence High to drop to 0-13 .

“We have been trying to work on cutting and getting to the basket. We are trying to utilize our post a little more because we have been doing a lot of outside rather than inside-outside play. We need to work on ball movement in general.”

While the team’s uneven play has been frustrating, Cahill-Sanidas is confident the work will pay off.

“It is not a question of trying hard; in practice we are really conditioning,” said Cahill-Sanidas, who will be trying hard this week as PHS competes in the Mercer County Tournament with the 16th-seeded Little Tigers playing at No. 1 Hopewell Valley on February 13 in a first round contest.

“We have done more running than I have ever done in basketball. It’s not translating on the court and that’s what we are working on. Against WW/P-S, we scored 46 points. Once we get in a rhythm, it works great.”

In Cahill-Sanidas’ view, the team is laying the foundation for developing a rhythm.

“This team has gotten a lot closer; I think the team dynamic is great,” said Cahill-Sanidas,

“We are going to do a lot of work this summer, trying to get used to each other as a team. We haven’t been playing with these girls for that long. We are going to do camps and leagues; we are going to do a lot

VALUABLE ASSET: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Derek Colaizzo displays his freestyle form last Saturday at the Mercer County Swimming Championships. Senior star Colaizzo won the 50 and 100 freestyle races and helped the Little Tigers to victories in the 200 medley and 400 free relays as PHS won its second straight county crown. Colaizzo was named the meet’s Most Valuable Swimmer on the boys’ side. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Greg Hand scrawled “EGAD” on his copy of the program in the section for the boys’ 200-meter medley relay last Saturday at the Mercer County Swimming Championships.

Hand’s exclamation of surprise was prompted by his Princeton High boys’ medley quartet as it opened the meet with a record-setting performance, clocking a time of 1:48.05 to shave more than four seconds off the previous meet record.

That effort was the first of many superb swims as the Little Tigers won six of eight individual events and all three relays in cruising to their second straight county crown with 356 points, nearly doubling the 190 points accumulated by runner-up Notre Dame in the meet held at Lawrence High.

Individual winners for PHS included Derek Colaizzo in the 50 and 100 freestyle races, Matt Kuhlik in the 200 free, Victor Honore in the 100 butterfly, and Will Stange in the 400 free and 100 backstroke.

“I was impressed; everyone dug deep today,” said PHS head coach Hand. “I had the sense that they really wanted to put together a strong meet overall and everybody wanted to contribute to that. Regardless of where guys were placing, I thought they raced with a lot of determination.”

Senior star Colaizzo, who was named the meet’s Most Valuable Swimmer on the boys’ side, saw the effort in the day’s final event, the 400 free relay, as emblematic of PHS’s determination.

Despite having long before clinched the team title, the quartet of Colaizzo, Honore, Addison Hebert, and Kuhlik, produced a sizzling effort, posting a time of 3:33.75, smashing the previous meet record of 3:39.89.

“That was absolutely amazing; we broke our school record and the meet record by six seconds,” said Colaizzo.

“Even though we were ahead by so much we were just thinking we have got to keep going after it. We really wanted that record. We really wanted to have some great swims so we decided to go after it.”

Colaizzo and classmates Honore, Hebert, Kuhlik, Harun Filipovic, and Jacques Bazile came into the meet looking to make a statement.

“Not to sound cocky or anything, but we knew we were pretty strong compared to the rest of the county,” said Colaizzo.

“There is a core of six seniors and we just wanted to go after it and have this last meet to be our best. We looked at some of those records and we thought maybe we had a chance of being able to break some of those so we went after it that way too.”

For Colaizzo, being named as the MVS was something he was going after.

“I was kind of shooting for it; I was trying to win all my events and see what would happen,” said Colaizzo, who posted a time of 24.11 in winning the 50 free and then came back with a 53.26 effort in the 100 free to edge Kuhlik by 0.20.

“It means so much. I think it was based on winning individual events and I was so close last year. I just got touched out in the butterfly and I won the 50. It really means a lot that I pulled through and I was able to come out on top in both events this year.”

After falling just short of the state Public B state title last year, suffering its only loss of the season in the championship meet as it fell 90-80 to Scotch Plains Fanwood, Colaizzo is hoping undefeated PHS call pull through in the states.

“I think we have a very good chance but it is going to be tough,” said Colaizzo, reflecting on the state tournament which starts next week.

“There are a lot of good teams out there. The teams we run into in the state semis and finals are really good. We got beaten so badly my freshman and sophomore years. Last year we just beat Haddonfield in the semis and just lost to Scotch Plains Fanwood.”

Hand, for his part, believes the team’s dominant performance in the county meet was a step forward as the Little Tigers look to peak at the right time.

“I am sure the guys feel a little surprised by some of their performances,” said Hand.

“Nobody has seriously tapered for this meet as is true all over the state. It is nice to know that we could swim fast and get good swims under these conditions. It does help build some confidence. No doubt, we can go faster.”

Colaizzo has no doubt that the team’s group of seniors will bring a special sense of urgency to their final state tourney.

“We want to go after it. It is one of our only chances in a long time and who knows when this opportunity is going to come again,” said Colaizzo, who is headed to Princeton University next year and plans to walk on to the Tiger men’s swimming program.

“We just got lucky with all of these great seniors. A lot of us have different interests but when we come together, we have a tight bond.”

February 1, 2012

CLOSING THE DOOR: Hun School boys’ hockey goalie Devin Cheifetz makes a save in a game last season. This winter, sophomore Cheifetz has emerged as one of the top goalies in the area. He posted two shutouts last week as the Raiders blanked Germantown Academy (Pa.) 4-0 on Wednesday and then defeated Robbinsville 3-0 two days later. Hun, now 9-4, hosts Academy of New Church on February 3 before starting play in the state Prep tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Star goalie Devin Cheifetz is bringing a clearer focus on and off the ice as he goes through his sophomore season with the Hun School boys’ hockey team.

“I think I am a better goalie through my schoolwork,” said Cheifetz.

“Once your schoolwork is done, it is a bit more relaxing and you don’t have another thing on your mind. Having another season under your belt is a great thing. It is more experience, more ice time.”

Last week, Cheifetz showed the benefit of his experience, posting two straight shutouts. On Wednesday, Cheifetz made 20 saves as Raiders blanked Germantown Academy (Pa.) 4-0. Two days later, he recorded 22 stops as Hun defeated Robbinsville 3-0.

In the Robbinsville game, Cheifetz produced some of his biggest saves when the Raiders were shorthanded in a 5-on-3 situation in the second period with the teams knotted in a scoreless tie.

“I think we do better when we are down,” said Cheifetz. “That gives us momentum because that was a big kill.”

Minutes later, Hun cashed in when it went on the power play, scoring twice.

“Once one goal goes in, the momentum changes,” said Cheifetz. “The next goal is the biggest one.”

But in the third period, Cheifetz and the Raiders found themselves under the gun again when Robbinsville went on another 5-on-3.

“It was so nerve-wracking,” said Cheifetz. “I don’t mind it though. It is part of the game and you have to learn from it.”

While Cheifetz knows that he is on a good run, he is the first to say that shutouts are a group effort.

“I am in a groove,” said Cheifetz. “We are on the ice everyday; it is kind of in my blood. I couldn’t do it without my teammates. My defense saved me a lot and I really respect them for that. I couldn’t ask for a better defense.”

Utilizing his stick skills, Cheifetz has helped his teammates get the puck up the ice.

“I love handling the puck,” said Cheifetz. “It is one of my favorite things but sometimes I get in trouble and I understand that. I can’t be stupid with it but practice makes perfect.”

Hun head coach Ian McNally likes the way Cheifetz is keeping the Raiders out of trouble.

“Devin is obviously extremely reliable; a big part of it is that he is able to play the puck,” said McNally, noting the Cheifetz now has six shutouts on the season.

“We don’t seem to spend long periods of time in our zone because if it comes within five feet of him he is able to get it out himself. A lot of teams aren’t able to do that and you certainly don’t plan for a goalie to shoot it hard. I can’t point to a spectacular save in the last two games, he has just been very reliable. He knows how to win. He adjusts himself to the game. If he knows we are only going to score two or three goals, he can’t let up any. He has been playing great.”

Cheifetz’s reliability was particularly key against Robbinsville as Hun found itself in a nailbiter.

“A lot of our games have been a 5-goal win or a 5-goal loss so we haven’t had tight games,” said McNally, whose team improved to 9-4 with the win.

“So it was 0-0 after the first and that is what we talked about at intermission. We are not usually in a position like this so here is a bit of a dogfight and you get to learn how to win.”

The Raiders broke the deadlock when they drew a five-minute major to give them a 5-on-3 with 6:10 left in the second period. Defenseman Brad Stern scored on a blast from the point with 5:57 remaining in the period and forward Chris Rossi tallied minutes later.

“Stern’s power play goal was great,” said McNally, who also got a goal in third period from Alex Bidwell.

“It is everything we have talked about. He looked, he saw that he had an opening and he buried it, so it was perfect. Rossi shot it from behind the net; he was pretty pumped up about that one.”

McNally is pumped up by how his team is playing as it regained momentum after some exam break rustiness.

“They took three days off for exam break but unlike Christmas break where we came out flying, we stunk for a week,” said McNally, whose team hosts Academy of New Church on February 3 before starting play in the state Prep tournament.

“We had a bad week of practice and we were just in a funk. So this week, we got ourselves back. Besides the one week where we had a dip, I think we have been improving the entire season and that continues to show.”

Cheifetz, for his part, is proud of the way the Raiders have continued to come together this winter.

“I love this team; this team is amazing,” asserted Cheifetz. “I think we are bonding as a team off the ice which is really a big help too. A big part of the game is getting the rhythm off the ice.”

DRIVE TIME: Princeton Day School basketball star Davon Reed drives to the hoop last Thursday in PDS’s 68-54 loss to Notre Dame. Junior guard Reed poured in a game-high 29 points in a losing cause. The Panthers, now 11-6, play at Abington Friends on February 1, hosts Life Center Academy on February 3, and plays at Princeton High on February 6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Davon Reed is clearly the go-to player for the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team but he has no desire to be a one-man show.

“I try to be a leader but talent can only go so far from one player or one source,” said junior forward Reed, who is averaging 25.4 points a game this winter and passed the 1,000-point mark in his career in December.

“I try to keep people’s confidence up so we can all go out there and give it our best and do what we do best.”

As PDS hosted powerful Notre Dame last Thursday, the Panthers showed plenty of confidence in jumping out to a 24-16 lead after the first quarter.

“We came out smoking and I don’t think they expected that,” said the 6’5 Reed, reflecting on the team’s early surge.

“They are definitely a big, fast, and strong team; we wanted to come out and just match their tempo. I think we hit them in the mouth first.”

The Fighting Irish, though, struck back, outscoring PDS 11-6 to narrow the gap to 30-27 in the third quarter. Notre Dame started the third quarter with an 11-3 run to seize the momentum.

With the Panthers reeling, Reed took matters into his own hands, making several forays to the hoop.

“I do whatever my team needs me to do,” said Reed. “In a way, I was taking the team on my back. That’s what my team needed me to do so I had to do it.

Reed held up his end of the bargain, ending up with a game-high 29 points but it wasn’t enough as PDS lost 68-54.

With Reed having made a habit of superb displays like his effort against Notre Dame, he has been ranked as one of the top 100 junior players in the country and is the subject of some intense recruiting by college programs.

“It is a blessing, I am excited to receive offers,” said Reed, who noted that he now has 18 offers after getting a commitment from Boston College last week.

“It is definitely overwhelming at time balancing school, basketball, and my social life. I am still taking everything in stride, no particular school is in the lead.”

In reflecting on the Panthers’ progress so far this season, Reed said the team is still looking to find its stride.

“We just need to play
confidently on offense and defense throughout the whole game,” said Reed. “We can’t take any time or plays off. We need to keep going. We haven’t developed that motor yet.”

PDS head coach Paris McLean concurred with Reed’s analysis. “We have got to sustain leads like that,” said McLean, whose team fell 73-46 at Rutgers Prep to drop to 11-6.

“More people need to contribute. Davon is attracting a lot of attention and he is still distributing to the other guys. We need other people to score. It’s not that they are getting the shots, it is that they aren’t hitting them. We also have to be tougher and get more rebounds.”

McLean has no qualms about what he has been getting out of Reed. “Davon could have had even more points tonight, he didn’t shoot it enough,” said McLean.

“He is unbelievable; he does it all. He broke the all-time record of a tournament with 22 rebounds in a game. That is insane. We need more of that.”

In McLean’s view, his squad is getting what it needs with its challenging schedule even if it has been taking some lumps.

“This is the toughest part of our schedule and we knew this,” said McLean, whose team plays at Abington Friends on February 1, hosts Life Center Academy on February 3, and plays at Princeton High on February 6.

“We will see great competition; that will get us ready. When we come to the counties, we can make a nice run. If we run into Notre Dame or someone else of that caliber, we can say we have been here before. The states are wide open. We are excited about that. We have to take it one day at a time.”

Reed, for his part, is excited about PDS’s prospects. “We just have to bounce back; we need to look forward to the next practice and the next game,” said Reed.

“I think we just need to believe. It is physical but if we believe we can do it, I think we will.”

IRISH WAKE: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey senior captain Garret Jensen controls the puck in recent action. Last Friday, Jensen chipped in an assist as PDS topped Notre Dame 4-1. The win was particularly sweet for the Panthers as they had lost to the Fighting Irish in the semifinals of last year’s Mercer County Tournament. In upcoming action, the Panthers, now 15-4-1, play at Academy of New Church on February 1 before starting play in the state Prep tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Garret Jensen and the other veteran players on the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team, the pain from their loss to Notre Dame last year in the Mercer County Tournament still lingers.

“I think it left a bad taste in our mouths when we lost the MCT semifinals because we definitely felt that we were the better team,” said senior captain and forward Garrett Jensen. “We just didn’t get a few bounces.”

As a result, the PDS players had an extra bounce in their step when they hosted Notre Dame at a jam-packed McGraw Rink last Friday in a regular season rematch.

“You could see before the game that everyone was focused in warmups; in the locker room everyone was motivating each other,” said Jensen.

“The crowd really, really helps; playing in front of them makes it all that much better. They give us a lot of energy.”

Jensen didn’t waste any time giving the PDS supporters something to cheer about as he assisted on Grahame Davis’s goal 2:36 into the contest. Some three minutes later, freshman Ross Colton tallied a shorthanded goal to give the Panthers a 2-0 advantage.

“That helps a lot to take all the momentum away from them in the beginning and secure that lead,” said Jensen, reflecting on the Panthers’ strong start. “We know we are the better team; we had to keep playing.”

The Panthers kept playing well, pulling away to a 4-1 victory as junior Rob Colton added two goals to go with the tallies by his younger brother and Davis.

In topping the Fighting Irish, PDS completed an impressive week that also saw it defeat Seton Hall 8-0 and then post a 6-3 triumph over Portledge School (Pa.) as it built on the intensity it showed in a 2-2 tie against Lawrenceville on January 19.

“The Lawrenceville game gave us a lot of motivation; that was another bad taste in our mouth because we felt like we could have won that game,” said Jensen.

“We played really well against Seton Hall and beat them 8-0 and then we came out and played Portledge, who had beaten Lawrenceville and we beat them handily 6-3. So I definitely think that has given us a lot of motivation.”

With the state Prep tournament around the corner, Jensen believes the Panthers are in a good position to defend the title they earned last year with a thrilling victory over Pingry.

“I think we are really starting to play our best hockey; I think as a good team we have to face adversity,” said Jensen.

“I think we are definitely starting to come through adversity. The team is really coming together and playing really well.”

PDS head coach Scott Bertoli knew he didn’t have to do much to motivate his team before the rematch with the Fighting Irish.

“I didn’t have to say much before the game; the kids all knew what that game meant,” said Bertoli.

“We are not going to play in the county tournament so in our minds that was the county finals. We want to talk about who the best two teams in the county are, Lawrenceville aside because they don’t compete in that tournament. I don’t think there is any doubt now who the better team is.”

Bertoli tipped his hat to Notre Dame for competing hard, particularly goalie Steve Anderson, who made 61 saves on the evening.

“I give them credit, they play hard, they work hard,” said Bertoli, whose team outshot the Fighting Irish 65-23.

“They are having a great year, they don’t win 16 or 17 games by accident. They are a good team. I just think we benefit from playing a tougher schedule and we benefit from having more depth than they do. It was pretty evident tonight. We carried play for the majority of the game. You look at the shots and the scoring chances; had it not been for Anderson in net, I think that margin is six or eight goals.”

A big part of PDS’s depth this season is the addition of the Colton brothers. “They are obviously two kids who find the back of the net,” said Bertoli.

“Any time you can add two talented players like that, it goes a long way. In addition to that, they are good 2-way hockey players, good teammates, they care, they are passionate. They wanted to play a higher level of hockey and we have been able to provide that.”

In Bertoli’s view, his team has been building momentum since the tie with Lawrenceville.

“We had a lot of confidence coming out of that Lawrenceville game, to us it was a benchmark game,” said Bertoli, whose team improved to 15-4-1 with a 5-2 win over Rye Country Day (N.Y.) last Monday.

“We want to play at that level. I thought we were awesome all week long. We took it to Seton Hall; there was no doubt from the drop of the puck who the better team was. I look at a Portledge team that is very successful; we haven’t beaten a top team in a number of years. We outchance them, we outplay them, we stick to our game plan and we have a pretty convincing win. We follow that up with a strong, strong effort today. The kids feel good about themselves and they should.”

Jensen, for his part, feels good about the help he has been getting as he carries out his captain’s role.

“It really means a lot, everyone is rallying around each other and feeding off each other’s energy and it is really nice to see,” said Jensen.

“I am the only captain; it is a lot of responsibility trying to keep everyone together and on the same page.”

As he wraps up his PDS hockey career, Jensen is trying his best to end things on a high note.

“It is unfortunate that it is winding down,” said Jensen, who is heading to Trinity College. “Every game I try to give everything I have and take every moment in. It definitely means a lot.”

COUNTY WORKERS: Princeton High wrestler Andrew Wenzler ties up a foe in recent action. Last weekend, senior Wenzler took sixth at 132 pounds at the Mercer County Tournament (MCT). Other Little Tigers also starred at the MCT as senior Nick Gillette won the heavyweight class with Tim Miranda taking third at 113 and David Klinges placing fifth at 152. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Injuries robbed the Princeton High wrestling team of any chance it had to contend for the title at the Mercer County Tournament (MCT) last weekend.

While PHS didn’t enter wrestlers in four of the weight classes due to health issues, the Little Tigers who did compete certainly made an impact.

Senior Nick Gillette won the heavyweight class with Tim Miranda taking third at 113 pounds, David Klinges placing fifth at 152, and Andrew Wenzler coming in sixth at 132.

PHS head coach Rashone Johnson credited his wrestlers for hanging in there through adversity.

“I have been challenging them,” said Johnson, whose squad was 11th of 16 schools in the MCT team standings in the competition held at Robbinsville High which was won by Hopewell Valley.

“We have had so many injuries and it is late in the season. The winter season is the longest so it is natural for people to get tired. These guys have been putting in a lot of training. I have been giving them challenges to keep them fresh.”

Nobody gave Gillette much of a challenge for the heavyweight title as he crushed the competition.

“Nick has been getting in the workouts,” said Johnson. “He really wanted to win this. He had a pin in every match; it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Miranda showed some character as he rebounded from a tough loss to James Mottram of Allentown in the semis to top Hopewell’s Mark Gerstacker in the third-place match.

“Tim is solid but he had a bad match in the semis; he had beaten Mottram in a dual match earlier this season,” said Johnson.

“Maybe he was looking ahead but even in shortcoming something positive came out of it. He avenged an earlier loss to get third.”

PHS also got positive work from Klinges and Wenzler. “Klinges did a great job; he wrestled Bethea tough (Raamiah Bethea, voted the meet’s Outstanding Wrestler),” said Johnson, noting that Tom Miers (106), Matt Wong (138), and Jeff Barsamian (182) each went 2-2 at the MCT.

“I thought he would get third place but he got a quick pin to get fifth. Andrew wrestled tremendously; he had a kick-butt weekend. He is a tough kid.”

The program’s group of seniors has displayed plenty of toughness as they helped PHS  break through with a 9-7 record last winter.

“It is a good group when we are all together,” said Johnson, whose group of seniors includes Ian Snyder and Frank Bozich in addition to Gillette, Miranda, Klinges, Wenzler, and Barsamian. “The seniors helped bring it back for us, we had a lot riding on this season.”

Johnson is hoping that the Little Tigers can do some big things over the remainder of the season.

“We are going to focus on the matches wrestled and not worry about team scores,” said Johnson, whose team faces Cedar Grove and WW/P-S in a tri-meet on February 4.

“It is what it is with the injuries. It will all be worthwhile if we can get some wrestlers to Atlantic City (for the state finals). I think Nick can do it; he has the ability to do it. He only started wrestling in high school and he has been improving as the season has gone on.”

Hun School boys’ basketball players, Jason Geter, far left, and Bobby Ganges, far right, battle two Emily Fisher Charter opponents for a loose ball in action last Saturday. Hun won the game 63-41 to improve to 9-9. For more details on the Raiders, see page 39. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HUNTING SEASON: Princeton High girls’ hockey player Abby Hunter heads up the ice in recent action. Last Wednesday, senior forward Hunter chipped in a goal and an assist as PHS fell 10-2 to Rye Country Day School. Hunter will be looking to end her career on a high note as the Little Tigers wrap up the season with a game at Summit on February 3 and the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) tournament on February 11 and 12. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton High girls’ hockey team was trailing Rye Country Day School 9-2 late in the second period last Thursday, Abby Hunter wasn’t about to stop fighting.

Chasing down a loose puck, the PHS senior forward raced to the net on a breakaway. While Hunter didn’t notch a goal, she drew a penalty to help the Little Tiger cause.

“I really try to give my all, no matter what,” said Hunter. “Coach [Christian] Herzog always says I am like a midfielder, I backcheck so hard.”

PHS ended up losing 10-2 to the Wildcats to fall to 1-8 but Hunter maintains the record doesn’t reflect the hard work the Little Tigers have put into improving.

“The results are not really demonstrative of how well we have been doing,” said Hunter.

“Pingry, who we played last night and lost to 10-6, destroyed us in the beginning of the season. I think we only got two or three goals. We have really grown better at passing and becoming more aware of each other on the ice, especially with so many new additions to the team. We have really come together.”

Hunter’s play against Rye reflected the team’s progress as she assisted on the first goal and scored the second goal.

“On the first goal, I passed it to Campbell [McDonald], who went on a breakaway,” recalled Hunter.

“She shot and Lucy [Herring] was right there to score; it was definitely a good flow. My goal was a nice one. Erin Forden assisted me. It was right on my stick and went through the goalie’s legs which always feels good.”

Playing with freshmen McDonald and Herring on the first line has been a good experience for the battle-tested Hunter.

“It is kind of funny because Keely [Herring] and I coached Campbell and Lucy when they were in middle school,” said Hunter.

“It is fun because I am telling them the same instructions I was telling them back then. They are always in the right place; they know where to be. It is good to have a lot of backup there.”

Hunter and classmate Herring have tried to be good role models for the whole team.

“It is hard for the girls to try really hard because we have practices so early,” said Hunter, noting that the team typically practices at 5:30 in the morning at Baker Rink on the campus of Princeton University.

“What Keely and I try to do is to lead by example, pushing ourselves in practice.”

The two senior standouts have developed a deep bond in the process.

“Starting as freshmen, Keely and I have always been together on lines,” said Hunter, who is a tri-captain of the Little Tigers along with Herring and Vinita Su.

“This year she is playing more defensively. We have gone through a lot, starting as a great team when we were freshman and then losing a lot of players and then getting a lot of people back this year.”

Hunter has received a lot of support from her teammates as she has gone through those ups and downs.

“It has been a roller-coaster for us but it has been really good,” asserted Hunter.

“The girls on the team are really helpful when you are going through things and losing, it is hard to keep your head in the right place. We have so much fun together. With the budget cuts, we have had to do fundraising. That has helped us really come together as a team.”

With PHS wrapping up the season over the next few weeks with a game at Summit on February 3 and the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) tournament on February 11 and 12, Hunter is looking to have plenty of fun in her final days with the team.

“I am not going to be playing D-I or D-III hockey in college,” said Hunter, a native of Toronto who moved to Princeton when she was 10.

“I want to play hard and take advantage of the last few games here because it has been a really huge part of my high school life. This team is everything to me.”

January 25, 2012
PDS Boys Hockey

RENEWING HOSTILITIES: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player Conrad Denise, left, battles Jess Norman of Lawrenceville for the puck last Thursday. Junior forward Denise contributed an assist as the local rivals skated to a 2-2 overtime draw in their first meeting in five years.

Bump Lisk and his teammates on the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team brought plenty of intensity last Thursday as they renewed their rivalry with Lawrenceville.

“Going into the game, everyone wanted to play Lawrenceville,” said junior defenseman Lisk, reflecting on the first matchup between the schools in five years. “This is one we really circled on our calendar.”

Supported by a raucous student section dressed in white lighting up one corner of a jam-packed McGraw Rink, the Panthers circled the wagons as they battled a Lawrenceville team featuring players from such hockey hotbeds as Minnesota and Canada with some post-graduate performers.

PDS fell behind 1-0 minutes into the game and trailed 2-1 midway through the second period only to knot the contest at 2-2 on a Ross Colton tally with 14:07 left in regulation.

The game went into overtime and PDS nearly surrendered a goal seconds into the extra session. After surviving that scare, the Panthers frightened the Big Red, producing one point blank shot that went awry and several other good chances.

With the crowd in an uproar, Lawrenceville went on the power play with 1:37 left in overtime. The Panther defenders held on for dear life as several PDS players dove at shots to keep the Big Red from scoring and the game ended in a 2-2 stalemate.

“There was not a single guy in our locker room who didn’t give everything they had,” said Lisk.

“It was an important game and the guys would have killed to win. At the end, guys would have blocked shots with their neck if they had to.”

The fact that the game ended up in a tie was a killer for the Panthers, according to PDS head coach Scott Bertoli.

“I love the fact that my team is in there kicking and screaming,” said Bertoli, whose team was outshot 35-33 in the thrilling contest.

“They felt like they could have won a hockey game so I like that mentality. I like the fact that not only do they they think they can compete, they think they can beat that team over there. The benchmark for hockey in this area is Lawrenceville and we want our program to be at that level and we will continue to push to get to that level.”

PDS junior forward Conrad Denise voiced the team’s frustration at not cashing in on its chances.

“We are upset; it just shows how much we care,” said Denise, who assisted on Colton’s third period tally.

“We knew in the beginning of the game and before the game even started that we are the better team. When you go out and play a team you know you are better than and you don’t win, it is almost worse than losing when you tie them. It is not like they really outplayed us; we had so many opportunities to control the game and we didn’t do it. It is unacceptable in any game.”

Bertoli likewise rued his team’s failure to put Lawrenceville away. We had an opportunity to win the game,” said Bertoli, whose team did go on to pick up a win last Monday as it topped Seton Hall 8-0 to improve to 12-4-1.

“For a good portion of that game, in the second period and the first half of the third period, I thought we outplayed them. We outchanced them and carried the play. You don’t want to get on guys because they are working hard to get the scoring opportunities but at the end of the day, you are out there to score goals. When we are put in spots on power plays and situations, we really do need to convert on those situations.”

In Bertoli’s view, the renewal of the rivalry after a five-year hiatus was a great opportunity for both schools.

“It’s fun, I told the kids this is the kind of thing you are going to remember,” said Bertoli.

“They will remember this type of environment, playing in front of all your friends and family, girlfriends, and whoever else shows up to watch. Enjoy it, thrive in it. As long as they are agreeable to do it again, it is something we will do. I think it is good for the area. These two teams have been playing for 40 years. I have kids on my team whose dads played in the game 30 years ago.”

Bertoli certainly enjoyed the play of his junior goalie Connor Walker, who made 33 saves in the tie.

“That kid is awesome; he has to be one of the best goalies in the state,” asserted Bertoli.

“He singlehandedly keeps us in games; we put so much pressure on him. Our defense gets so involved and our forwards collapse and what ends up happening is the other teams go on an odd-man rush the other way and thank god you have this kid in the net. He bails you out more often than not.”

Bertoli also tipped his hat to his corps of defensemen which includes C.J. Young, Eddie Meyercord, Grahame Davis, Tyler Olsson, and Taran Auslander in addition to Lisk.

“I think our defense has been our strongest part to date; I have six guys that I can count on to play,” said Bertoli, whose team hosts Portledge School (N.Y.) on January 25 and Notre Dame on January 27 before playing at Rye Country Day School (N.Y.) on January 30.

“They kill penalties, four of them are on the power play on a regular basis. The biggest difference between this team and teams we have had in previous years is their ability to make plays. They are confident to go defense-to-defense and to handle the puck in the neutral zone. It has allowed our forwards to be more efficient on the rush; we get pucks in stride and we take advantage of odd man situations.”

Lisk, for his part, sees an increased confidence level in the PDS program collectively.

“My freshman year, something wasn’t there with the program and now it is,” said Lisk.

“We have just developed so much as a group, especially the juniors. There is a ton of guys in that class, Cody Triolo, Conrad Denise, Rob Colton, me and we have grown together. Everybody works and we all want the same thing, to get another prep championship.”

The disappointment surrounding the stalemate with Lawrenceville will spur the Panthers to work even harder.

“I think that is going to motivate us even more in the long run,” asserted Lisk.

“Everybody here wanted a win and we are going to take this 2-2 tie and not think of it as a tie but almost as a loss because we think we are the better team. We’ll get back on the horse tomorrow and have a good practice.”

PDS fans react to their team's first goal

SUPPORT NETWORK: Going in white-out mode, Princeton Day School students cheer for their boys’ hockey team during last Thursday’s clash against Lawrenceville. The Panthers gave their student supporters plenty to cheer about as they rallied twice from one-goal deficits to tie Big Red 2-2 before a capacity crowd at Lisa McGraw Rink. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Matt Hoffman

FINAL APPROACH: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Matt Hoffman dribbles the ball upcourt last Friday in PHS’s 61-48 win over Steinert. Senior guard Hoffman contributed 16 points in the win with classmate Davon Black scoring 18 as PHS improved to 6-7. Hoffman has caught fire as he heads down the stretch of his Little Tiger hoops career, averaging 14.6 points a game in PHS’s last five contests. In upcoming action, the Little Tigers host WW/P-S on January 27 before playing at WW/P-N on January 31. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Applying a mindset that helped him star for the Princeton High boys’ cross country team, Matt Hoffman has developed a finishing kick on the basketball court.

“In the beginning of the game, I am a little cold,” said PHS senior guard Hoffman.

“But as the game goes on I get into it and get into the flow. I can feel the adrenaline
in my body.”

As PHS heads into the homestretch, Hoffman is saving his best for last, having averaged 14.3 points a game in his last four games before last Friday’s contest against visiting Steinert.

“As a senior, there is a different mentality,” explained Hoffman, who served as a captain this past fall for a PHS boys’ cross country team that won a sectional title.

“Last year, I would be a little scared. If I make a mistake, it doesn’t get to me. Last year, it got to me. Now I just keep running the floor. With the cross country, that’s easy for me.”

Hoffman and fellow senior, Davon Black, have gone out of their way this winter to pass on some lessons to the younger PHS players.

“In practice, Davon and me always take the time to go over to them and ask them about their lives,” said Hoffman, who also stars for the PHS baseball team.

“I talk to them to make sure they keep their heads up because they are young. If they get their heads down, it is hard to come back.”

In the game against Steinert, Hoffman helped PHS rally after it got down 22-20 in the wake of a 6-0 Spartan run early in the third quarter and head coach Jason Carter called a timeout to read the riot act to his charges.

“Coach told us the way we got our lead was playing defense,” recalled Hoffman. “He said to play defense when we go back in. I think, personally, that we play better when we are angrier. I think that is the key sometimes.”

Hoffman channeled that anger into some big offensive plays, hitting a left-handed lay-up and a long 3-pointer as the Little Tigers responded with a 7-0 run to regain momentum.

PHS went on to pull away to a 61-48 win with Hoffman tallying 16 points and Black scoring 18.

“It was definitely good to get a home win; it always sparks interest,” said Hoffman, reflecting on the victory which lifted PHS to 6-7. “This part of the season is the toughest part to get through. It is midway and the guys are a little tired.”

PHS head coach Carter liked the way some of his younger players performed on Friday.

“We do have some young guys, even though the roster says juniors, they are first-time varsity guys and some of them are first-time varsity athletes,” said Carter, who got some good play off the bench from juniors Ellis Bloom and Lior Levy in the win over Steinert.

“We are just getting their feet wet and getting them a little bit of experience. Hopefully you are going to see it down the road in the next month or so. We are taking it one day at a time, one step at a time. We have had really, really good practices the last few days.”

That work in the gym paid dividends down the stretch on Friday as the Little Tigers outscored the Spartans 25-17 in the fourth quarter.

“We just wanted them to play the passing lanes; they weren’t that great of a passing team,” said Carter.

“We wanted to cut down the lanes and try to get some deflections and hopefully the deflections will lead to turnovers and fast break points. We wanted to play more of an up and down game instead of a half court game. We were really proud of how they responded.”

Carter is proud of Hoffman’s play and the senior leadership he is exhibiting. “Matt has been playing well; he has grown a lot in the last two months or so,” added Carter.

“He has been providing some leadership on and off the court. He has been able to come up big when we need someone to step up and make a play. We were in little bit of a lull in the third quarter and he got into the paint with a left-handed layup. We need for a senior to step up and he was able to deliver.”

In Carter’s view, Black is also delivering on a more consistent basis.

“Davon dedicates himself to the team and he has dedicated himself to the game,” said Carter, whose squad hosts WW/P-S on January 27 before playing at WW/P-N on January 31.

“He had some struggles early in the season when some guys were keying up on him. He has learned how to play through being double-teamed and triple-teamed and how to make the team better through that. He has also learned to take advantage when he does have 1-on-1 opportunities.”

Hoffman, for his part, is determined to help PHS take advantage of the opportunities that come its way down the stretch.

“I think we just need to keep our spirits up,” said Hoffman, who will be heading to either Michigan or Cornell next year.

“I think sometimes we get a little bit down and we will have bad games. That’s normal. With coach’s practices recently, we have been more energetic and we feel the sense of urgency. It is coming to the end and we really need to step it up.”