March 28, 2012

HANDS-ON TEACHING: Jason Barry, left, helps student Evan McGrain, a member of Rider University golf program, with his putting form. Barry, a 2006 Princeton High alum and former Little Tiger golf star, has made the sport his career. He works full-time for Mercer County Golf Academy where he is now the Director of Junior Golf. In addition, he has obtained Level 1 certification from the PGA teaching professional program and is working on getting Class A status.

During his days as a star player a few years back for the Princeton High boys’ golf team, Jason Barry realized that he had a knack for teaching the game.

“If one of my teammates was struggling with something, I could watch him and help him out,” said Barry, a 2006 PHS alum who helped the Little Tigers win two Mercer County Tournament team titles during his high school career.

Shortly after graduating from PHS, Barry decided to make teaching golf his career.

“I played for a season at Bucks County Community College and I realized I was starting to like teaching more than playing,” recalled Barry.

“I had started working at the Pennington Golf Center after high school, running junior camps. I really enjoyed teaching and watching kids get better.”

In 2008, Barry started working full-time at the Mercer County Golf Academy where he is now the Director of Junior Golf.

Now, he is immersed in running junior programs and camps as he passes on his love of the game and hones his skills as a teacher. The academy offers a Futurestars Golf for players ages 6-12 and Tournament Training for players 13 and older. In addition, there are week-long camps during from April 2-6 and April 9-13 and throughout the summer.

The academy staff also includes Director of Golf Bob Corbo, together with teaching professionals Pete Palmisano, Mike Michaelides, Chris Miyahara, and Shareen Lai.

“The pre-tournament program introduces the game to kids, stressing fundamentals like the grip and set-up,” explained Barry, noting the ongoing programs take place at the Princeton Country Club (PCC) on Wheeler Way, which includes a state-of the-art indoor facility.

“We teach the basics of the game. The tournament program is for kids who have been playing for a while and have played in tournaments or looking to start in tournaments. We cover situations they can encounter in competition. It is the road to the college game. We have Division I coaches on staff and we can get the kids in front of college coaches.”

The week-long camps provide more in-depth training and game analysis.

“We have them play 18 holes in the morning; we do critiques at lunch and then do drills in the afternoon,” added Barry, referring to the camps which take place at PCC, Mountain View, and the Mercer Oaks courses.

“The mental stuff is really huge, we teach them to commit to a target and stick to routine so you don’t talk yourself into a bad shot. I put them in the woods, I put them in a bunker so they won’t fall apart if they run into those things.”

Barry developed an early commitment to golf. “I started playing when I was 7; my uncle taught me the game,” recalled Barry, who took up the game in Northern California and came east when he was in fifth grade.

“When I was 8 years old, my mom would drop me off at the course in the summer and I would stay from 7 in the morning until 7 at night. It was hard to pull me away. I was absolutely addicted to the game; I was just fascinated with it.”

During his PHS career, Barry found a group of fellow golf addicts. “It was awesome; we had 10 or 11 guys who could break 40,” said Barry, whose Little Tiger teammates included Jordan Gibbs, Mike DiMeglio, Peter Teifer, Kyle Rasavage, and Greg Heisen, a group that helped PHS go 56-2 in dual match play over Barry’s final three seasons with the program.

“It was great to have that much talent at the same time. We had a lot of fun. We were good friends; we hung out on the weekends and competed against each other.”

Making golf a career has certainly been fun for Barry. “I want to do this the rest of my life; I want to go on the PGA tour and be one of the best teachers out there,” asserted Barry, who has obtained Level 1 certification from the PGA teaching professional program and is working on getting Class A status.

“I like teaching kids with a good work ethic and will to succeed and then seeing the results. Butch Harmon is my idol; he talks a lot about keeping it simple. I try to soak up things from the big names.”

FIRING RANGE: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse star Cody Triolo fires the ball in a game last spring. Junior midfielder Triolo, a second-team All Prep B performer in 2011, should be a key weapon for the Panthers this spring. PDS starts the 2012 season by hosting the Academy of New Church on March 29. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last spring, Rob Tuckman aimed to get his Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team back on the map.

The Panthers achieved that goal, going 10-5 and advancing to the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals and the state Prep B semis.

As the PDS head coach looks ahead to the 2012 campaign, he is looking for his squad to take another step up the ladder in local lax circles.

“We are setting our goals pretty high; there are a lot of solid programs in the area and I know they are doing the same thing,” said Tuckman, whose team opens the 2012 season by hosting the Academy of New Church on March 29.

“It just depends on who steps up on the day of important games. I think we can exceed our record last year, we are looking to make a mark.”

The Panthers have some marksmen at attack in seniors Garret Jensen and Tyler Olsson together with junior Bump Lisk and freshmen Jacob Shavel and Chris Azzarello.

“Garret is going to run the attack; Olsson is popping in and out,” said Tuckman.

“Bump just got out of hockey; I expect him to be a real factor by April. Jacob is the younger brother of Aaron Shavel (a senior star on the 2011 squad); he’s looking good. Like a lot of younger siblings of good players, he has taken some lumps but really knows the game. I think he could match or exceed what Aaron did for us. Chris is a great finisher. We are young on attack but we are playing at a high level.”

Junior star Cody Triolo provides PDS some high-level play in the midfield.

“Cody has all the shots; he is a game changer,” said Tuckman, noting that Triolo has recovered well from a collarbone injury he suffered while playing for the PDS hockey team this winter.

“He just signed with Lehigh so he is really excited about that. Having a player committed to a D-I program really ups the ante for everyone.”

Tuckman is excited about the rest of his midfield that includes junior Taran and a pair of sophomore standouts in Connor Bitterman and Lewis Blackburn.

“Taran Auslander is a real surprise; he has upped his game,” added Tuckman.

“He is one of our strongest players; he controls the pace for us in the midfield. Bitterman and Blackburn have a year under their belts; they are playing with more confidence and with more muscle on their bones.”

In Tuckman’s view, PDS’s defensive unit should provide some muscle this spring.

“I think defense is probably the strongest part of our team right now,” asserted Tuckman.

“Our senior captain Zack Higgins is a tenacious player for us back there. Derek Bell is a transfer from Hopewell Valley and he is very good. Walker Ward has really stepped up as a senior. He has great knowledge of the game and what we are trying to do.”

At goalie, the Panthers will be going with a tandem of freshman Griffin Thompson and sophomore Nelson Garrymore who have shown knowledge of the game beyond their years.

“Griffin is a really good shot blocker; he makes outstanding saves,” said Tuckman.

“He has been around the game a long time and he understands where players should be. He is a good distributor. He doesn’t act like a freshman, he is a good communicator and good leader on the field. Nelson is right there with him. He is a bigger kid and has a year under his belt. He is also a very good shot blocker.”

In Tuckman’s view, if the Panthers play smart, they could have a very good spring.

“We go at a fast pace; we have to make good decisions,” said Tuckman. “If we play with discipline and play hard, we should be successful.”

RUNNING START: Hun School softball star Joey Crivelli runs to first base in action last spring. Junior infielder Crivelli figures to be a key player for the Raiders this spring as they look to improve on the 10-6 record they posted last season. Hun opens its 2012 season by playing at rival Peddie on March 28. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

On paper, the Hun School softball team looks to be a battle-tested unit, losing only two seniors to graduation from a club that went 10-6 last spring.

But those two graduates left a huge void as one, Meghan Hayes, was the team’s workhorse ace pitcher and the other, first baseman MacKenzie Pyne, emerged as a clutch hitter and superb leader for the Raiders.

“We have a lot of returning players but we are still young,” said longtime head coach Kathy Quirk, who is in her 36th season at the helm of the program and guided the Raiders to the state Prep A semifinals last spring.

The team’s youth is most evident in its mound corps as junior Danielle Beal and freshman Caitlin Hoagland will be handling the pitching duties.

“It will be a rotation; it may even be an in-game rotation where one goes three innings and the other goes the last three or four,” said Quirk, whose team starts the 2012 season by playing at rival Peddie on March 28.

“Neither throws super-fast. They need to throw strikes and get the ball into play and let the defense do its work behind them.”

The Raiders boast a solid defense with junior Joey Crivelli at third base, freshman Julia Blake at shortstop, senior Stefanie Fox at second, and sophomore Cameron McNair at first along with Beal and Hoagland. Junior star Carey Million will be the starting catcher with freshman Vicky Leach backing her up.

The outfield will be the same as last year with sophomore Alexa Fares in left field, sophomore Kristen Manochio in center, and senior Emily Kuchar in right, with junior Christina Kilgariff as the top reserve.

Quirk believes her team can produce some offensive firepower. “I think we can score runs,” said Quirk.

“Beal is hitting the ball well; Blake is also hitting well. We will have Million in the middle of the lineup. Crivelli is quick on the bases. McNair has had some big hits in scrimmages.”

In Quirk’s view, her team could do some big things this spring if it grows up fast.

“We are young and lacking some varsity experience,” said Quirk. “I think we can hold our own. We need to be confident in ourselves. We need to throw strikes and play good defense.”

FLEET WEEKS: Hun School girls’ lacrosse star Kate Weeks heads to goal in action last season. Hun will be depending on junior midfielder Weeks, who scored 61 goals last year, to be a top offensive weapon again this spring. The Raiders start regular season play with a game at the Blair Academy on April 4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Beth Loffredo, her debut season last spring as the head coach of the Hun School girls’ lacrosse team turned into a bumpy ride.

It took a while for the players to adjust to Loffredo’s approach and then, just as everybody was getting on the same page, the team was derailed by a spate of injuries as it posted a 5-9 final record.

This spring, Loffredo and her players are in synch from the start. “A lot of the girls came in with accurate expectations this year,” said Loffredo, whose team opens regular season play with a game at the Blair Academy on April 4.

“They know we are going to be working hard but that we like to have fun. We take lacrosse seriously; we are looking to build a strong program.”

The Raiders boast a serious offensive weapon in the midfield with junior Kate Weeks, who scored 61 goals last year and has already passed the 100-goal mark in her career.

“Kate’s athletic ability speaks for herself,” said Loffredo. “What people might not know because they aren’t around her everyday is her pure passion for the game and helping others get better. She is a true player and a true leader. The other players want to get better and catch her passes inside the eight.”

Hun has some other good players patrolling the midfield in sophomore Francesca Bello, junior Maddie Schade, and junior Olivia Albanese.

“Bello is another leader; she is only a sophomore but I have her calling plays,” said Loffredo.

“It is fun having her on the team. Maddie Schade is getting game-educated. She is playing club lax and when she comes to play now, she can just play. She is attack-minded and working on her body control. Albanese is such a fluid player.”

The Hun attack will feature some young talent in freshman Erica Dwyer, sophomore Brianna Barrett, and junior Tina Ruiz-Mitchell.

“They are good athletes,” added Loffredo. “I can rely on them to do the right thing on the field.”

The battle-tested pair of senior Emily Decicco and junior Lauren Apuzzi provide the right stuff along the back line.

“Emily is a really good athlete; she tries really hard,” asserted Loffredo. “She is awesome to coach. Apuzzi is another good smart defender.”

At goalie, Loffredo will be going with the tandem of senior Lucia Perasso and sophomore Alex Kane.

“Lucia and Alex are splitting time,” said Loffredo. “Perasso is really smart. She is really good in the classroom and she picks things up quickly on the field. Kane is a good athlete; she instinctively knows where she should be. I think we will be doing a rotation this season.”

Loffredo is hoping that her players picked up a lot over the school’s recent spring break as the team got to spend extra time together on and off the field.

“We stuck around for break and had 2-a-days and team dinners,” said Loffredo.

“We have had four scrimmages this year which has given us a chance to get our feet under us. I told the girls there is no pressure with the scrimmages. I am happy if you win, I am happy if you lose; I just want you to learn things.”

If the Raiders can soak up the lessons from the preseason, they should get back on the winning track.

“We are working on consistency,” said Loffredo. “We will be look wonderful and disciplined one moment and then 30 seconds later we will look disorganized. We need smart execution. As long as we stay healthy and keep disciplined, we should have a good season.”

March 21, 2012

RIGHT START: Princeton University starting pitcher Zak ­Hermans delivers a pitch in action earlier this spring. Junior righthander Hermans is off to a 2-1 start this season for the Tigers with 19 strikeouts in 15 innings. The Tigers, who moved to 4-6 after taking two of three games at Richmond last weekend, play at UNC-Greensboro on March 21 before heading to Navy for a four-game set between March 23-25. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

Scott Bradley knew that his Princeton University baseball team faced a major challenge earlier this month when it played a three-game set at two-time defending national champion and second-ranked South Carolina.

The Gamecocks brought a 10-1 record into the weekend and were among the nation’s leaders in team ERA. Princeton, for its part, had played just four games, going 2-2 in a season-opening set at Florida Atlantic.

“When you play a team like South Carolina, you know they are going to throw so many bodies at you,” said Bradley.

“They are able to match up righty-righty and lefty-lefty. They can throw a submarine guy at you or a fireballer. Our guys needed 100 at-bats to be ready for that.”

While the Tigers may have been a bit overmatched, they were definitely ready to battle. Princeton pushed the Gamecocks in each of the games, falling 2-1, 6-1, and 3-1.

In the opener on March 9, junior pitcher Zak Hermans was sparkling, yielding just one run in five innings of work. The Tigers fell behind 2-0 but rallied in the ninth to pick up a run on a Mike Ford RBI ground out before losing 2-1.

A day later, Princeton fell 6-1 as the Gamecocks scored five runs between the fifth and eighth innings to pull away.

In the finale, Sam Mulroy and Alec Keller each went 2-for-4 with Matt Bowman giving up three runs in seven innings of work.

“I felt that our pitching and defense was terrific,” asserted Bradley in reflecting on the weekend.

“Zak Hermans has been great. Mike Ford and Matt Bowman are also throwing well. Kevin Link, A.J. Goetz, and Ryan Mavis didn’t get a lot of work out of the bullpen because the starters threw so well. We made a couple of errors late in the second game and they pulled away. But other than that, we have been playing really well defensively.”

Offensively, the Tigers have been relying on veterans Mulroy and Bowman with sophomore Keller showing progress.

“Mulroy and Bowman have been swinging the bat well,” added Bradley. “Keller has been terrific, he has had a couple of hits in each game.”

Princeton’s bats came alive last weekend as the Tigers beat Richmond 21-14 on Saturday and 15-9 a day later to improve to 4-6.

Coming off an inspiring 2011 season that saw Princeton win the Ivy League title after being in the cellar of the Gehrig Division the previous spring, Princeton won’t be able to fly under the radar this spring.

“It is a young team,” noted Bradley. “I told them that nothing was expected last year so things were easier. The key now is to see whether they can play with a bull’s eye on their back.”

Bradley is happy to see that his players are meeting expectations when it comes to their daily approach to business.

“Our work ethic and the way we have been going about things has been great,” maintained Bradley.

“We are going to have a lot of close, low scoring games. Last year, we were able to get the big hit or make the big play. We got a lot of two-out hits. You don’t know if that is going to happen again this year.”

With Princeton having taken two of three from Richmond to begin its annual Southern swing, Bradley will be looking for more progress as the Tigers play at UNC-Greensboro on March 21 before heading to Navy for a four-game set between March 23-25.

“I want to see the hitters make adjustments,” said Bradley. “We need to keep pitching well and play good defense.”

PERFECT ENDING: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Derek Colaizzo displays his freestyle form. The senior sprinting star helped PHS to an undefeated season which saw the Little Tigers win their second straight county crown and first state Public B title. Colaizzo was named the Most Valuable Swimmer on the boys’ side at the county meet. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Derek Colaizzo and his fellow seniors on the Princeton High boys’ swimming team knew that they had the opportunity to accomplish some special things this winter.

After winning the county title as juniors and going on to narrowly lose 90-80 to Scotch Plains-Fanwood in the Public B state championship meet, the PHS seniors were looking to take that final step.

“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, reflecting on the team’s quest for a state title.

“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.”

There was no luck involved as sprinting star Colaizzo helped the Little Tigers roll to an undefeated regular season.

In the county meet, Colaizzo and PHS made a major statement 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.

The Princeton University-bound Colaizzo won the 50 and 100 freestyle races and helped PHS to victories in the 200 medley relay and the 400 free relay and was named as the meet’s Most Valuable Swimmer on the boys’ side.

In Colaizzo’s view, the dominant performance was the product of seniors looking to go out on a high note.

“There is a core of six seniors and we just wanted to go after it and have this last meet be our best,” said Colaizzo, whose classmates on the squad included Victor Honore, Addison Hebert, Matt Kuhlik, Harun Filipovic, and Jacques Bazile.

“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, winning the meet’s top individual honor was a breakthrough moment.

“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 teammate 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.”

Despite the team’s dominance in the county meet, Colaizzo knew the Little Tigers faced a major challenge as they pursued their ultimate goal of a state title.

“I think we have a very good chance but it is going to be tough,” said Colaizzo, who plans to walk on to the Princeton University men’s swim team.

“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.”

As it turned out, PHS cruised through the competition in the Public B tourney to earn a rematch with Scotch Plains in the state finals.

With Colaizzo setting the tone as he produced a blistering anchor leg to help PHS open the meet with a win in the 200 medley relay, the Little Tigers never looked back on the way to a 109-61 win and the program’s first state title. Colaizzo went on to win the 50 free, place second in the 100 free, and help the 400 free relay to victory.

In reflecting on the title, PHS head coach Greg Hand was thrilled with how Colaizzo and his classmates ended their careers.

“Certainly they did give their best when it was needed; I guess if you boil it down, that is the most important thing,” said Hand, whose swimmers set eight school records in the victory.

“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.”

For shining brightly all winter long, Colaizzo is the choice as the Town Topics top male performer of the winter high school season.

Top Female Performer

Megan Ofner took a lot on her shoulders this season in her final campaign with the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team.

As a two-time team captain and the team’s most skilled offensive player, Ofner was ready to do whatever the Panthers needed.

“I am just happy to help the team; my job is to do anything and everything I can for the team,” said Ofner. “We have a short bench so I try to do anything I can do to help them and encourage everyone.”

When the Panthers stumbled a bit at midseason, Ofner remained upbeat. “We definitely know our strengths and weaknesses better than we did in the beginning of the season,” asserted Ofner. “We are ready to act on them and continue on with a great season.”

Ofner acted on those words, scoring a team-high 32 points on 19 goals and 13 assists, earning second-team All-WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) honors in the process.

She ended her PDS career with 124 points and realized her dream of playing at the next level, committing to play for the Sacred Heart women’s hockey team next winter.

Ofner’s impact was most evident in the final weekend of the season when the Panthers took part in the WIHLMA ‘B’ bracket tournament. The slick forward tallied 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 for a second straight year.

Head coach Lorna Gifis Cook sensed that Ofner was going to end her PDS career with a bang.

“Megan had the two best games I saw her have this season,” said Cook, reflecting on the successful final weekend which left the Panthers with a final record of 10-7. “She was all over the ice in that first game; when we came in between the second and third periods you could see how much she wanted to win.

In Cook’s view, Ofner raised the bar for the Panthers throughout the winter. “Megan is a very serious hockey player; you can tell that the sport means a lot to her,” said Cook.

Ofner’s production and leadership make her the pick as the Town Topics top female performer.

Top Newcomers

When Scott Bertoli assessed his PDS boys’ hockey team coming into the season, he had the sense that freshman Ross Colton could make an immediate impact for the Panthers.

“Ross is a heck of a talent,” said Bertoli, whose program also welcomed Colton’s older brother, junior star Robert. “He is a Tier 1 player and will step right in and help us as a freshman.”

The younger Colton soon proved he could compete with the best, scoring a shorthanded goal in a thrilling 2-2 tie with Lawrenceville in mid-January and then adding a goal in a 4-1 win over eventual county champion Notre Dame.

Over the course of the winter, Colton kept producing, ending the season with 35 points on 23 goals and 12 assists. Colton’s precocious play was a major factor in PDS going 18-5-1 and posting wins over such formidable foes as the Hill School (Pa.), Portledge School (N.Y.), Malvern Prep, (Pa.) and Moses Brown (R.I.).

“Ross is arguably the most talented kid on the ice every time he suits up,” added Bertoli.

“He is just a dynamic offensive player. He is very adept at reading plays and creating scoring opportunities. All that being said from the offensive side, he kills penalties. He is very responsible defensively; he really has a good understanding of the game.”

For emerging as a key performer from the start of his career, Colton earns the nod as the top male newcomer this winter.

With the Hun School girls’ basketball team being led by a pair of senior guards in Ashley Ravelli and Jackie Mullen, freshman Erica Dwyer took a spot in the background for the Raiders.

But as the season went on, Dwyer gained confidence in her shot and became more and more of a factor for the Raiders.

She ended the winter with 27 3-pointers and was a key player for the Raiders as they advanced to the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) semis and the state Prep A title game.

Hun head coach Bill Holup was proud of Dwyer’s progress this winter and sees a bright future for the sharp-shooting guard.

“Erica is a player that when she gets hot the opposition needs to watch out,” said Holup, noting that Dwyer ended up averaging five points and 1.5 assists a game this winter in helping the Raiders go 15-12.

“She hit five threes in a game against Peddie in the MAPL quarterfinals and had a number of other games where she made multiple threes. I think she learned a lot from Jackie and Ashley and she will continue to get better as next year she will be expected to take over in the backcourt as a primary scorer and ball handler.”

Dwyer’s development into a perimeter threat for Hun makes her the pick as the top female newcomer.

Top Coaches

In the view of many, it was state championship or bust this winter for the Princeton High boys’ swimming team.

But showing the caution that comes with years of experience, PHS head coach Greg Hand wasn’t about to assume anything coming into the season.

“It would be absurd to talk right now about how good we can be,” said Hand, whose team went went 16-1 in 2010-11 and narrowly fell to Scotch Plains-Fanwood in the state Public B championship meet.

“We know that we have just about everybody back from a very good team. It is a matter of how we will compete.”

After going undefeated in regular season competition, the Little Tigers showed how good they can be as they dominated the county meet.

“I was impressed; everyone dug deep today,” said Hand, whose team won six of eight individual events at the meet and all three relays in taking their second straight county title.

“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.”

That determination was evident as PHS rolled through the state Public B tournament, producing a performance for the ages in the championship meet as the Little Tigers routed defending champion Scotch Plains-Fanwood 109-61. PHS swimmers won nine of 11 events in the final and set eight school records in the process.

“They really did pull together as a unit over the last few weeks,” said Hand, whose team ended the winter with a 17-0 record.

“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.”

For being the steady force that got his swimmers on the same page, Hand is the top coach of a male team this winter.

Mika Ryan brought high hopes into the winter for her Princeton Day School girls’ basketball team.

With a core of three senior stars in Janie Smukler, Sarah Godwin, and Molly Rubin, the Panthers figured to be one of the top squads in the area and Ryan put together a tough schedule to challenge the veteran unit.

But by the second game of the winter, PDS was down to six players as Smukler suffered a season-ending knee injury with Godwin sidelined by an ongoing knee problem, and freshman Kirsten Kuzmicz getting felled by a badly sprained ankle.

“I have never experienced anything like this in my lifetime of coaching,” said Ryan, a sideline veteran whose career has included stints as an assistant at Virginia and Rider together with a 10-year run as the head coach of The College of New Jersey women’s program.

“It just seems that we can’t catch a break. This is as big a challenge as I have ever faced just because we have no bodies.”

As the winter went on, Ryan tried to make the best of the situation, even giving her team a nickname based on the World War II film drama, The Dirty Dozen.”

“We came up with a nickname, the ‘dirty half-dozen,’” said Ryan, who gave her players camo T-shirts bearing the nickname.

“We are trying to turn negatives into positives. They have been fighting and giving their all. They are giving a lot, showing resilience and resolve. They are working their way through this. High school sports isn’t all about wins and losses. I am hoping they will value this experience.”

The Panthers ended up giving Ryan one of the more rewarding experiences of her coaching career as they produced a Cinderella run to the Mercer County Tournament semifinals. The 12th-seeded Panthers upset fifth-seed WW/P-S 47-45 and No. 4 Ewing 42-39 to make it to the semis where they fell to top-seeded Hopewell Valley.

“It is hard for me to even talk about it; we have hung together all year through so many ups and downs,” said Ryan, reflecting on the late surge which left the Panthers with a 9-13 record.

“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.”

For holding her team together though the injury-decimated campaign, Ryan gets the nod as the top coach of a female team this winter.

March 14, 2012

FINAL SALVO: Princeton High girls’ hockey player Keely Herring prepares to send the puck up the ice in a game this winter. Senior star Herring scored four goals in her final game as the Little Tigers fell 6-5 to Shady Side Academy (Pa.) in the consolation contest of the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) ‘B’ bracket. Herring tallied 30 points this winter on 20 goals and 10 assists and ended up with a total of 59 points in her career on 37 goals and 22 assists. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It would have been understandable if the Princeton High girls’ hockey team had gone through the motions when it played Shady Side Academy (Pa.) in its season finale.

The Little Tigers brought a 1-10 record into the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) ‘B’ bracket consolation contest, having fallen to Portledge School (N.Y.) the day before.

But sparked by senior stars Keely Herring and Abby Hunter, PHS battled to the final whistle as it lost 6-5 to host Shady Side.

“Keely was fired up, she said ‘girls this is our last game; we are going to bring it;’ both she and Abby were gung ho,” said PHS head coach Christian Herzog, noting that Herring scored four goals in the finale with Hunter adding the other tally.

“I was proud of the way we ended the season; we fell behind but kept coming back. They couldn’t put us away.”

Herzog was proud of the contributions made by Herring and Hunter over their four years with the program.

Herring tallied 30 points this winter on 20 goals and 10 assists and ended up with a total of 59 points in her career on 37 goals and 22 assists. Hunter had eight goals and 14 assists this winter to bring her career total to 44 points on 20 goals and 24 assists.

“It is tough to see them go; they really have a passion for the program,” said Herzog, noting that the Johns Hopkins University-bound Herring earned All-WIHLMA honorable mention recognition this season.

“They are not only great players, they are fine young ladies. Keely was our MVP. If you tell her we need a goal this shift, she will do everything to go out and get it. I really relied on Abby’s forechecking and Keely’s sniping. They carried the load in the junior and senior years. I wish we had more depth around them; they could have put up even better numbers.”

In a show of his respect for Hunter, Herzog created a new program award in her honor.

“We now have an award in Abby’s name for head, heart, and hustle,” said Herzog, who chose Hunter as the initial recipient of the award.

PHS’s other two seniors, goalie Tobi Afran and defenseman Vinita Su, also showed plenty of heart.

“Tobi gave everything she had, she played when she was hurt,” said Herzog, noting that Afran earned the Captains Award while Su won the Sportsmanship Award.

“She played really well in that last game and had 894 saves in her career. Vinita showed a lot of dedication. She was not the most skilled player but she always worked hard and was ready to take bruises for the team.”

A trio of freshmen, Lucy Herring, Campbell McDonald, and Julia DiTosto, helped raised PHS’s skill level.

“We had some younger skilled players who can really help us, Lucy Herring had 13 points and Campbell McDonald had 12,” said Herzog.

“Lucy got the Coaches Award. She never misses a practice and is always working hard. She is always moving her feet. When the puck is near Campbell, you see her fire. DiTosto really helped us on defense; she will be our No. 1 defensive player next year.”

While Herzog would have liked to see his team pick up some more wins, he loves the fire he gets from his players on a consistent basis.

“The girls had a ton of fun in Pittsburgh that last weekend,” said Herzog.

“They never stopped fighting. The other coaches always tell me that our girls play hard no matter what the score is.”

FIRING LINE: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey player ­Robin Linzmayer fires the puck up the ice in action this winter. Sophomore defenseman Linzmayer chipped in 16 points on eight goals and eight assists, helping PDS go 10-7 as it culminated the season by winning the ‘B’ bracket of the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Lorna Gifis Cook wasn’t sure what to expect when the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team culminated its season by playing in the ‘B’ bracket of the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) tournament.

“I was kind of anxious to see how they would respond since we didn’t make the ‘A’ bracket due to some close losses,” said head coach Cook. “I thought that might be disappointing.”

As the tournament unfolded last month at the Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh, the Panthers responded with their best hockey of the winter, topping Shady Side 4-3 in the semis and then topping Portledge School (N.Y.) 4-2 in the final.

“We were led by the seniors,” said Cook reflecting on the successful weekend that left the Panthers with a final record of 10-7.

“They were fired up; Megan [Ofner] had the two best games I saw her have this season. She was all over the ice in that first game; when we came in between the second and third periods you could see how much she wanted to win. We had a fun weekend.”

Cook had a lot of fun this winter serving as interim coach in the place of Kat Smithson, who took the season off to recover from a concussion.

“It was a difficult situation but the girls really made it fun,” said Cook. “They were open to a new coach. They rallied around each other and came together as a team.”

The team’s trio of seniors, Ashley Egner, Lucy Marquez, and Ofner, played a key role in holding things together.

“I was counting on the seniors to make sure that everyone at practice was committed to play and not thinking about their homework or tests,” said Cook.

Egner provided an upbeat approach while Sacred Heart University-bound Ofner raised the bar hockey-wise, earning second-team All-WIHLMA honors as she led the team with 32 points on 19 goals and 13 assists, ending her PDS career with 124 points.

“Ashley had a positive attitude; she was always smiling and she wants everybody to be happy,” said Cook of the Union College-bound Egner who contributed 10 points on five goals and five assists.

“Megan is a very serious hockey player; you can tell that the sport means a lot to her. It would be easy for her to get frustrated and I think Ashley helped her to keep from getting frustrated.”

Back-up goalie Marquez became a spiritual leader. “I didn’t know what Lucy’s role would be before the season but she became the team mom,” said Cook of Marquez, who is heading to Cornell.

“Everyone felt they could go to her. She was not going to get the chance to play a lot with Daisy [Mase] at goalie but she was ready to go hard everyday.

The hard work paid off for PDS younger players as well. Junior Zeeza Cole scored 17 points on 11 goals and six assists while sophomore Mimi Matthews chipped in 13 points on five goals and eight assists and freshman MacKenzie Howe tallied five goals.

Junior goalie Daisy Mase earned All-WIHLMA second team honors with a goals against average of 2.3 and a save percentage of 0.916 while sophomore defenseman Robin Linzmayer added 16 points on the way to making All-WIHLMA honorable mention. Sophomore Colby Triolo contributed two assists as she developed into a solid defenseman.

“I did see a lot of improvement in the players,” said Cook. “Zeeza [Cole] and Mimi [Matthews] stepped up. Colby [Triolo] got better. Robin played well on defense all year. You can’t take Daisy for granted, not too many teams have a goalie like that. MacKenzie had two goals in the WIHLMA in the front of the net; she took abuse all weekend and hung in there.”

Cook, for her part, didn’t take any moment for granted as she got her chance to guide PDS this winter.

“For me, it was special,” said Cook, a former star for the Middlebury College women’s hockey team who helped the Panthers to two NCAA Division III national titles.

“I started with Nassau Hockey when I was five years old so this is the rink where I learned to play. My mom went to Miss Fine’s School. It was a sentimental experience; it was something that meant a lot to me. It was a challenge and a great opportunity; I am very grateful for the experience.”

WILLING LEARNER: Hun School boys’ basketball player Will Kelly looks for an opening in a game this season. Senior center Kelly’s defensive prowess and development on the offensive end of the court helped the Raiders go 14-12 this winter. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Hun School boys’ basketball team, the 2011-12 season turned into a roller-coaster ride.

Working some new players into the rotation, the Raiders took their lumps as everyone got on the same page, hovering around the .500 mark for much of the winter.

But Hun found its stride late in the season, putting together an 8-2 stretch heading into the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title game. The Raiders fell to the Blair Academy in that contest and then lost to the Buccaneers days later in the state Prep A semis to end the winter at 14-12.

In assessing the campaign, head coach Jon Stone acknowledged that it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

“It took us a long time to figure out what we were good at and for us to jell,” said Stone.

“We had some of our best games after losses which showed that the team had resolve. Until our last two games, we won eight of 10 which is a good stretch for anybody.”

Stone credited the team’s core of seniors with helping Hun come together.

“All five of them showed leadership,” said Stone, whose group of seniors included Rashid Epps, Bo McKinley, Will Kelly. Bobby Ganges, and Dapo Lana.

“They made a difference on the younger players and they made it fun for the coaches.”

Epps and McKinley made a big difference for the Raiders, providing the team with a potent inside-out punch.

“Epps was our most consistent player; we depended on him to score, get rebounds and steals,” asserted Stone.

“He was second in scoring and first in rebounds and steals. He always played hard. Bo struggled in the beginning but towards the end he was as good as any guard around. He had the ability to shoot and make big shots. He did most of our ballhandling which is tough on our league.”

The trio of Kelly, Ganges, and Lana brought good things to the table. “We were a different team with Kelly on the floor; he was such a good defensive player,” added Stone.

“He continued to grow and make progress offensively. Bobby was our sixth man from the start. He did a lot for us and really understood his role. In some games he came in and settled us down. In others, he came in and gave us a spark. Dapo brought it everyday in practice. He pushed the first team and helped make them better.”

The Raiders are bringing back a core of players in Fergus Duke, Grant MacKay, and David Li who give the program a solid foundation going forward.

“Duke and MacKay started all year and both had good seasons,” said Stone. “Li improved as much as anyone. He came all the way across the world from China; he understands the game and our plays better. He plays hard and he likes to compete; the guys embraced him.”

Despite the ups and downs, Stone embraced his guys this winter. “It was a great team to coach,” said Stone, pointing to wins over Trenton Catholic and MAPL foes Lawrenceville, Peddie and Hill as highlights of the season. “The leadership was good and the players were accountable.”

March 7, 2012

STERN CHALLENGE: Hun School boys’ hockey player Brad Stern controls the puck in a game this winter. Sophomore defenseman Stern helped spark the Raiders to a fine season which saw them go 10-9-1 and advance to the Independence Hockey League (IHL) championship game. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

There were no mysteries when the Hun School boys’ hockey team faced Pennington last month in the Independence Hockey League (IHL) championship game.

“We had split with them, losing most recently,” said Hun first-year head coach Ian McNally.

“We are basically on the same practice schedule at IceLand. We got to know them and their coaching staff.

Coming into the rubber match between the local rivals at the Academy of New Church school rink, McNally believed that Hun had the upper hand.

“We had a positive mindset coming into the game,” added McNally. “In the semis we had beaten Haverford 8-1 in one of our best efforts of the year. It was really a dominating performance for us.”

The title game, though, turned out to be a low-scoring nailbiter. “The rink at ANC is a little smaller; within five minutes, we saw that we were going to have less time with the puck,” said McNally.

“It turned into a dump and chase type of game which we hadn’t really played this year. We were up 1-0 the majority of the game. I told the guys that we weren’t going to win 1-0 and to not get in the mindset of holding on. Our goalie, Devin Cheifetz. was really playing well. He had more than 30 saves and played his best game of the season.”

The Raiders ended the contest down in the dumps as Pennington scored with 49 seconds left in regulation to force overtime and then won the game 2-1 on a tally in the second extra period.

“With a minute left, I was thinking that maybe we were going to win 1-0,” recalled McNally, who got a goal from Alec Karanikolas as the Raiders finished the season at 10-9-1.

“They pulled their goalie. The puck popped out and all of a sudden, they tied it at 1-1 and then they scored in overtime. It is hard in a situation like that. If you lose 4-1, it is mentally different, it is not such a jarring result. The term ‘sudden death’ certainly has meaning. One minute you are winning and then you are out. A lot of guys were down afterward, particularly our seniors Harry [Hagen] and Brendan [Hurley].”

In McNally’s view, there was no reason to be down about the season as Hun finished first in the IHL regular season standings and showed plenty of progress adjusting to a new coach.

“I didn’t know what to expect at the beginning of the year,” said McNally, a 2007 Princeton University graduate who played two seasons for the Tiger men’s hockey program.

“We advanced farther than I thought we would during the season. I think that it went better than expected, especially in the league. If you get to the last game and it means something, you have done something right.”

The team’s two seniors, Hagen and Hurley, showed the right stuff, thriving in their role as team leaders.

“At the start of the year, I didn’t pick captains because I wanted to get to know the boys,” said McNally.

“Picking a captain is a pretty important decision, I didn’t want to just name the most experienced players or the oldest guys. Halfway through the season, I made Harry and Brendan the captains. They did a good job; it was not a large leadership group with a bunch of other seniors. They showed that they cared about the program and if we win or not.”

The Hun program appears to be in good shape as McNally will be welcoming back a number of stellar performers.

“We have a lot of good players coming back,” said McNally, noting that returners Brad Stern, Alex Vukasin, and Cheifetz earned All-IHL honors while Eric Szeker and Karanikolas received honorable mention.

“The foundation is very solid. I want us to win the league but that is not the end of the road. I want us to be one of the top programs in the area. I want the guys to take hockey seriously and to have it in their minds that they play hockey for the Hun School and that is a big deal. You don’t stop in February and just pick it up again in November.”

HEAVY TRAFFIC: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Lior Levy, center, encounters some heavy traffic in the paint in recent action. Last week, Levy tallied a team-high 12 points in a losing cause as 12th-seeded PHS fell 50-47 at No. 5 Ocean Township in the first round of the Group III Central Jersey sectional. The loss left the Little Tigers with a final record of 12-13. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Playing at Hamilton with a chance to win the CVC Valley Division title outright, the Princeton High boys’ basketball team came up short.

“It was a setback,” said PHS head coach Jason Carter, reflecting on the February 24 contest that saw the Little Tigers fall 53-38.

“We got out of the gate slowly and got down 14-2. It was too many points down to recover. Hamilton has talent and they seem to peak at the right time.”

Looking to put that disappointment in the rear view mirror, PHS worked overtime to prepare for its clash at Ocean Township in the first round of the Group III Central Jersey sectional.

“We were looking to bounce back from the Hamilton game,” said Carter.

“We had Ocean scouted out and had a detailed scouting report. We saw them play Point Borough and we watched a half-hour of video on them the night before. We felt we could pressure them and cause some turnovers.”

The 12th-seeded Little Tigers put No. 5 Ocean under pressure, battling hard before falling 50-47 with junior Lior Levy scoring a team-high 12 points and senior Davon Black adding 11.

“We played them straight up, it was an up and down game,” said Carter, whose team trailed 24-22 at half and outscored Ocean 16-13 in the fourth quarter.

“We had a shot with 14 seconds left; we got a wide open look on a 3-pointer but came up empty. Maybe we should have gone for a two but you have to trust your instincts. A few weeks earlier against WW/P-N we were down late and Scott Bechler hits a 3-pointer to give us the win.”

The Little Tigers have come farther than Carter expected in producing an encouraging 12-13 campaign.

“I think it was completely positive,” said Carter, noting that the team did tie Hamilton for the division title.

“Having a new roster, I had no expectations going into the season. The team just formed on the second day of tryouts; some of the guys had played together before but they were not a team.”

In Carter’s view, senior leaders Matt Hoffman and Black played a key role in molding PHS into a team.

“I couldn’t be prouder of two seniors,” said Carter. “They had confidence in themselves; they listened to the coaches and believed in what we were saying.”

Carter gained more and more confidence in Hoffman as the season unfolded.

“Hoffman had a big year; he averaged 12 points and had several games with two or three 3-pointers,” said Carter.

“He had 25 points against Pennington. I didn’t expect him to put up those kind of numbers.”

Black, for his part, put his heart into every game, shouldering a lot of responsibility at both ends of the court.

“Davon ran the offense, distributed the ball, and finished,” said Carter. “He covered the other team’s best athlete every night and then was faced with double teaming when we had the ball.”

The influence of Hoffman and Black rubbed off on their younger teammates. “I think a lot of guys wore the varsity jersey for the first time and took advantage of the opportunity,” asserted Carter.

The PHS corps of juniors has the opportunity to be something special.

“We need the juniors to keep improving,” said Carter, whose junior group includes Jordan Phelps, Scott Bechler, Elliot Golden, Ellis Bloom, and Peter Schulman in addition to Levy.

“We need to scrimmage as much as possible and the guys need to play AAU. As Michael Jordan says, great players become great when no one is looking. They need to work on their own games. They have got to want it and I think they do.”

EXTRA EFFORT: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Patrick McCormick heads up the ice in recent action. Last Thursday, sophomore defenseman McCormick scored a goal in the last minute of regulation as 16th-seeded PHS forced overtime in its clash against top-seeded Kinnelon High in the second round of the state Public B tournament. PHS went on to lose 3-2 in the extra session to end the season at 15-7-2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When the Princeton High boys’ hockey team edged Rumson-Fair Haven in the first round of the state Public B tournament to earn a shot at top-seeded Kinnelon High, the PHS players were fired up for the challenge.

It didn’t take long for the 16th-seeded Little Tigers to prove last Thursday that they were going to pose a major challenge to the powerful Colts, jumping out to a 1-0 lead after first period in the game played at the Skylands Ice World in Stockholm.

“We got off to a really good start; I wouldn’t say that we were dominating them but we were playing really well for us,” said PHS head coach Tim Campbell, who got the early tally from senior star Will Greenberg.

“We played like there was no tomorrow. We usually play up to the competition. They are the biggest, fastest team we have seen and we skated with them. It was so much fun to watch.”

The Little Tigers yielded a goal in the second period and then fell behind 2-1 with 2:33 remaining in regulation. While PHS could have been satisfied with hanging in there, the plucky squad kept skating hard.

“We pulled Josh [Berger] from goal with a minute left and Patrick [McCormick] scored with 31.5 seconds left to force overtime,” recalled Campbell. “At that point, I really thought we were going to beat them.”

But the Little Tigers’ upset bid fell short as Kinnelon cashed in on a power play in the extra session to pull out a 3-2 victory.

“We had to take a necessary penalty in the overtime; they had a guy all alone in front of the net,” said Campbell, whose team ended the winter with a final record of 15-7-2.

“He would have buried it so we had to pull him down. They just barely scored on the power play.”

In the wake of the disappointing defeat, Campbell urged his players to be proud of their effort.

“Other than winning, which everyone would choose, this was Plan B,” asserted Campbell, who got 32 saves from goalie Berger in his finale.

“The best way you could go out is losing to the No.1 seed in overtime. I told them to walk out of the locker room with their heads held high. They can be upset that the season is over but not upset about how they lost.”

It is going to be upsetting for Campbell to say goodbye to his trio of seniors, Greenberg, Berger, and Kirby Peck.

“The three seniors are really important to us; it is going to be a big loss,” said Campbell.

“Josh was a four-year starter and Will and Kirby have been go–to players for us. They will be sorely missed.”

PHS has a solid foundation in place with such returners as Matt DiTosto, Gabe MacGregor, Mike Wasson, Bence Stipsicz, John Reid, and the McCormick brothers, Patrick and Connor.

“All the underclassmen now know what it is like to be where we want to be in the postseason,” added Campbell.

“You are taking bumps and bruises in December and January then playing your best hockey in February. We have established ourselves as one of the dominant programs in the league, going to three straight county finals. They know this is what PHS wants to do every year.”

While Campbell and his players wanted their year to last a little longer, the Little Tigers produced one of the more rewarding seasons in program history.

“Last year was special, doing what we did with that group of seniors,” said Campbell.

“There was something extra with this season. Everything we got, we worked so hard for. Nobody expected us to do what we did so it was really sweet. We proved we could win without last year’s seniors.”

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.