June 20, 2012

FINISHING KICK: Acasio Pinheiro edges Jeremy Taylor last Wednesday in one of the five heats of the second annual Princeton Community Mile held at the Princeton High track. Pinheiro clocked a time of 5:59.7 to take sixth in the heat with Taylor coming in at 6:00.7 to place seventh. The event, which was sponsored by the Princeton Athletic Club (PAC), drew more than 60 runners. Princeton resident Michael Fonder set an event record with a time of 4:27.2 in winning his heat. (Photo by Andrew Servis, Courtesy of Princeton Athletic Club)

The mile run is an event that has captivated athletes since the 1700s when it came into vogue as a distance for wagered running contests in England.

Roger Bannister’s 1954 feat of running the first sub-four minute mile ranks as one of the great moments in track history.

Last Wednesday evening, the allure of the mile was evident as more than 60 local runners turned up at the Princeton High track to take part in the second annual Princeton Community Mile.

The event, sponsored by the Princeton Athletic Club (PAC), drew participants ranging in age from 8-to-65 with runners grouped into five heats so the the athletes were matched with those in a similar pace range.

“The weather was great, 75 degrees and sunny, and we had a great turnout,” said Princeton Community Mile event director David Kimmel.

“There were people who participated for the second year in a row and also a lot of new faces. It was also great to see families sign up and run.”

Princeton resident Michael Fonder set a new Princeton Community Mile record with a time of 4:27.2 as he competed in the fifth and final heat. Chris Sallade finished second in 4:45.3 and Steven Sipprelle third in 4:47.8.

The race of the night took place in the third heat where Princeton resident Antonio Pinheiro clocked a time 5:35.4, closely followed by Jeremy Cohen in 5:36.7 and Richard O’Brien in 5:43.7.

The top finisher in the first heat was 12-year-old Princeton resident Gus Binnie in a time of 7:21, followed by Ethan Jones in 7:28.6 and Luke Wingreen in 7:36.1.

In the second heat, Lawrenceville resident Tim Christian finished first in 6:35.7, followed by Armand Meyer in 6:45.3 and Angela Pinheiro in 6:49.

Skillman resident Fraser Marlow won the fourth heat with a time of 5:22.4, with Jeff Knoll next in 5:25.3 and Chuck Hetzler third in 5:26.9.

Jen Found of Hopewell recorded the fastest female time of the evening in 5:36.8.

The Princeton Community Mile is the first of three running events being sponsored by the PAC this June. The PAC is a nonprofit running club that organizes group runs and sponsors several running events for the community each year. It is a member club of the USA Track and Field New Jersey and Road Runners Club of America.

Next up in the Wednesday evening series is a June 20 Cross County 5k and youth mile at Rosedale Park in Pennington and a June 27 All-Comers Track Event (3000 meters, 100 meters, 800 meters, 4×400 relay) at the PHS track.

For more information and to sign up online, log onto www.princetonac.org.

June 13, 2012

INNKEEPER: Bobby Davison of Ivy Inn heads up the court against the Ballstars last Monday night in opening night action of the Princeton Recreation Department Men’s Summer Basketball League. Davison and Ivy Inn cruised to a 64-30 win as they look to bounce back from a disappointing 2011 campaign. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Over the last decade, the Ivy Inn team has established itself as a consistent championship contender in the Princeton Recreation Department Men’s Summer Basketball League.

The squad, formerly known as George’s Roasters, won four of six league titles between 2005-2010.

But last summer, the proud unit fell on hard times, going 3-6 and getting eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

Team manager and star forward Bobby Davison acknowledged that 2011 was a nightmare.

“Last year was an unbelievably disappointing year with Scott [Findlay] being hurt and Mark [Aziz] playing overseas,” said Davison, a former hoops standout for Princeton High and The College of New Jersey. “We were pretty much just playing six guys every game. It was tough.”

Coming into last Monday’s season opener against the Ballstars, Ivy Inn boasted plenty of manpower. In addition to Davison, Aziz and stalwarts Shahid Abdul-Karim, Kyle Burke and Buddy Thomas, the team added Davon Black, Tommy Soulias, A.J. Rubin and longtime Winberie’s star Chris Hatchell.

“We have got our nucleus; it is great having Mark back from Egypt and Scott is coaching,” said Davison, a former assistant coach for the PHS boys’ hoops team who is working as a patrol officer for the East Windsor Police.

“I think he is going to get the bug around week three; his knee is healthy. We picked up Davon; that is huge, I coached him a couple of years. I coached Tommy in AAU; he is from Spotswood. We picked up A.J. and a big pick-up was the addition of Hatchell. He wanted to play with another team. It is nice playing with him and not playing against him like I did for so many years.”

The team came together quickly in the game against Ballstars, jumping out to 34-5 halftime lead on the way to a 64-30 win.

“I think it adds a real nice dynamic with our wisdom of basketball and knowledge and their intensity and athleticism,” said Davison, reflecting on the teams blend of experience and young legs. “You know what, they are hungry; they want to prove something.”

In other action Monday, Winberie’s edged SMB 44-41 in overtime as Evan Johnson scored 18 points for the victors while the PA Blue Devils topped the Clinton Kings 52-29 behind 15 points from Kevin Janowski.

For Ivy Inn, stifling defense paved the way to its rout of new league entry Ballstars.

“We talked about it on our pregame; it was first things first, let’s take our time on offense but we have got to get stops on defense,” recalled Davison.

“I think that has been the key for so many years in this league, we have always been able to stop guys. So we talked about going man-to-man right from the gate and just stop them and when we get the ball, let’s be patient and run our offense through Mark. It is the first game and we have to get everyone acclimated with one another.”

Based on the opening night effort, it looks like Ivy Inn could be poised for another good run this summer.

“It was very good,” said Davison, reflecting on a night in which Ivy Inn was led by 16 points from Soulias with Aziz adding 12 and Hatchell chipping in nine.

“The first thing that has helped us for so many years is we are a really unselfish team. We try to add something to the puzzle every year. No matter who we add with these young guys, the older guys are going to welcome them with open arms and instill a little bit of their knowledge and put them right on the team.”

NO SHIRT REQUIRED: Mahesh Sambasivam heads to the tape at Princeton University’s Weaver Stadium last Sunday on his way to winning the Princeton Healthcare 10k. Pennington resident Sambasivam clocked a time of 33:27 to outlast runner-up ­William Washer of Ogdensburg, N.J., who finished in 33:36. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For marathoner Mahesh Sambasivam, running against the clock, not his opponents, is his main focus when racing.

When the Pennington resident toed the starting line last Sunday morning at the Princeton Healthcare 10k, he had a number in mind.

“I was shooting for a 34:30,” said Sambasivam, 45, a veteran of several Boston and New York City marathons.

“I usually run my own pace; first place or second place, it doesn’t matter to me. I go by time.”

The wiry Sambasivam outdid himself on Sunday, running a 33:27 to easily achieve his main goal, and in the process, got a bonus as he placed first of 550 finishers in the 34th annual installment of the race,

Sambasivam outlasted runner-up William Washer of Ogdensburg, N.J., who clocked a 33:36 and was in sight of the winner as the runners hit the track at Weaver Stadium for the home stretch of the race. Kathy Rocker of Metuchen was the top female finisher, taking 23rd overall in a time of 40:10.

In reflecting on his win, Sambasivam credited Washer with pushing him to his superb time.

“It was that guy, he set the pace,” said Sambasivam, motioning to Washer across the track. “I let him go until mile five. Getting in the 33:20s, I am ecstatic.”

For Sambasivam, getting into running some 14 years ago has led to moments of ecstasy over the last decade.

“I started running in 1998; my boss at a previous company was a runner,” said Sambasivam, a native of India who works for ConvaTec.

“I have been hooked on it. I always wanted to get involved in sports and this is a way of getting back into it.”

Sambasivam has taken his involvement in the sport to a high level. “When I don’t train for a marathon, it is 50 or 60 miles a week,” said Sambasivam.

“When I am training for a marathon it is 80 a week. I have been at 40 or 50 recently because I have been very busy at work.”

While Sambasivam may be focused on time targets, placing first was a nice payoff for his diligence on the road.

“It is very motivating,” asserted Sambasivam. “The effort I put in pays off. I am a serious runner; I work my butt off.”

THE REAL MCCOY: Princeton Day School senior baseball star Sean McCoy gets ready to hit in a game this spring. The leadership of senior tri-captain McCoy helped the Panthers go 12-9 this season, a marked improvement on the 4-14 record the program posted in 2011. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming into the spring, Ray O’Brien thought his Princeton Day School baseball team had the pieces in place to have a big season.

“We were so shorthanded and inexperienced last year,” said PDS head coach O’Brien.

“I thought we had a good combination this year. We had some good seniors and a really good freshman class.”

O’Brien’s analysis proved correct as the Panthers went 12-9, a marked improvement on the 4-14 record the program posted in 2011. A major feather in the cap for PDS was its success against Prep A foes Peddie, Blair, Hun, and Lawrenceville.

“I think it was the first sweep of the Prep A teams ever in one season for us,” said O’Brien.

“We beat Hun and Lawrenceville by 10 runs; it was nice to beat them like that.”

It was nice for the team to end the season with a 1-0 victory over New Hope-Solebury.

“It was our senior day and Jacob Eisenberg had a big last game,” said O’Brien.

“He pitched a three-hit shutout and hit a grounder to knock in the winning run. It was a good group of seniors; it was nice to see them go out like that after the way we struggled last spring.”

Senior tri-captain Sean McCoy’s upbeat attitude gave the group a lift. “McCoy gave us leadership beyond his numbers,” said O’Brien of the Pomona College-bound McCoy who hit .273 this spring with 16 runs scored.

“He was a vocal leader. Some guys are quiet and he speaks up. A lot of people talk about being a team player but he lives it. He is always asking me ‘coach where do you need me to play?’ He is the most self-less and team-oriented player I have coached.”

Williams College-bound senior shortstop and tri-captain Beau Horan raised the level of his play this spring. “Beau put things together this year,” said Horan. “He had a good year at the plate and in the field. He was fifth in the team in hitting (.355 batting average) and tied for the team lead in extra-base hits (13).”

In addition, Matt Cook and Eisenberg produced big years in their final PDS campaigns.

“Cook and Eisenberg gave us good pitching. Eisenberg pitched the most innings and won four games,” added O’Brien.

“Cook was versatile. He played in the outfield. He hit well (.302 batting average) and he won three games on the mound. He pitched very well in a 3-2 win over Peddie.”

Freshman first baseman J.P. Radvany played surprisingly well, emerging as the team’s top batting threat.

“Radvany had a really good season, especially for a freshman,” asserted O’Brien, noting that Radvany was a first-team All-Prep B pick with Horan, Rob Colton, and B.J. Dudeck getting named as second-team performers and Eisenberg and Jake Alu earning Honorable Mention.

“He led the team in hits (30), tied for the lead in extra-base hits (13), and led in batting average (.484), RBIs (32), and slugging percentage (.806). He was really consistent all season. After the first game, I moved him to fourth in the order and left him there. He is a big kid with power. Having him and B.J. Dudeck (.379 batting average, 16 RBIs) coming back gives us two big boppers.”

The other freshmen, Alu, Cole McManimon, and Ross Colton, also made an immediate impact.

“Alu (.358 batting average) had a great season, playing outfield and third,” said O’Brien.

“McManimon pitched really well; he had a tough loss to Notre Dame and beat Hamilton West. Ross had a good year; he played well at second. We added five good players with the freshmen and [junior transfer] Rob Colton (.454 batting average).”

The team’s coaching staff also came together, setting a positive tone. “The coaches were a big help,” said O’Brien.

“Kevin Schneider was the pitching coach and he did a really good job. He really settled the kids down, working with pitchers and calling games. Matt Russo worked with the hitters. Brian Dudeck also helped out. It was an enjoyable season all around.”

O’Brien is looking forward to more enjoyable moments in the future. “I think we are getting back on track,” said O’Brien. “I am really excited about next year; we have a lot of kids playing this summer and in the fall.”

TRUE GRIT: Princeton Day School senior boys’ lacrosse star Garret Jensen heads to goal in action this spring. Playing through knee and ankle injuries, Jensen scored a team-high 44 points to help the Panthers advance to the state Prep B semifinals and the Mercer County Tournament championship game. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Garret Jensen and his teammates on the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team sensed they could do some big things this spring.

“Going into the season we knew we had a young team but we thought we were really talented,” said senior attacker Jensen. “We wanted to make the Mercer County and Prep B finals.”

Some three games into the season, it looked like Jensen might not be around for any postseason play.

“I got hurt in the Pennington game,” recalled Jensen. “I tore the IT band in my leg. It really stunk. I missed three games and worked really hard with our trainer.”

Throwing away his crutches, Jensen returned to action in late April and played like a man on a mission.

“Every time I was on the field, I knew I couldn’t give 75 percent, I had to give 110 percent,” said Jensen, who also dealt with a sprained ankle later in the season. “Our whole team felt like that.”

Once playoff time rolled around, the Panthers showed that kind of intensity. In the Prep B tourney, they rallied from a 6-3 halftime deficit to top Morristown-Beard 12-10 in the quarterfinals before dropping a tough 8-5 decision to Montclair Kimberley in the semifinals.

“In the Mo-Beard game, we battled back; we were down at halftime but the second half was all ours,” said Jensen, who made a key steal and goal early in the third quarter to spark the Panthers’ rally.

“Even though we didn’t win the semis, we showed we were capable of playing with them. MKA had a great team last year and we knew they were going to be really good. We had five or six chances at the beginning that didn’t go in and we made it a close game.”

Coming into the county tournament, the seventh-seeded Panthers thought they were capable of being a title contender.

“We had a little chip on our shoulder; we knew we should have been seeded in the top three or four,” said Jensen.

After cruising past Hightstown 15-7 in the opening round, the Panthers faced defending champion and second-seeded Notre Dame.

“We wanted redemption against Notre Dame,” said Jensen. “We had lost to them in the last 30 seconds the year before in the county tournament.

Producing one of the greatest clutch performances of his career, Jensen helped PDS get that redemption. The gritty attacker scored a goal in the waning moments of regulation to make it a 7-7 contest as the Panthers forced overtime. In the extra session, Jensen snaked through the Irish defense to score the game-winner in an 8-7 triumph.

“Getting that overtime win was great, especially as a senior,” said Jensen. “It gave us a lot of momentum going into the Princeton High game.”

The Panthers produced another stunning rally in the matchup at third-seeded PHS in the semis, coming back from a 6-4 halftime deficit to pull out an 8-7 victory in overtime.

“I have a lot of buddies on PHS,” said Jensen. “We really wanted to beat them; we hadn’t won against them in six years. It was great to win on their home field in a tournament game.”

In the title game against top-seeded Hopewell Valley, Jensen ran into injury problems at an inopportune moment, sustaining a concussion as he scored a third period goal to cut the HoVal lead to 3-2.

“I jumped up for a shot and got it over the defender, fortunately it went in but I was off balance and I landed on my head,” said Jensen.

“I tried to go back in but I realized that I couldn’t play. It was tough to not play the last quarter of my high school career.”

While PDS ended up falling 6-2 to HoVal, that didn’t take away from a superb spring that marked a high point in Jensen’s high school career, which also saw him star for the Panther boys’ hockey program.

“I think we are really happy with what we did,” said the Trinity College-bound Jensen, who scored a team-high 44 points on 22 goals and 22 assists this spring and tallied 119 points in his PDS career on 49 goals and 70 assists.

“We really bonded and became a family. I have been on a lot of good teams at PDS but this may have been the greatest experience with the kids, coaches, and what we accomplished.”

PDS head coach Rob Tuckman pointed to Jensen’s performance and guts as an inspiration for the Panthers.

“Garret is banged up, so for him it is a herculean effort every time he steps on the field,” said Tuckman, whose team finished the spring with a 10-7 record. “He is our senior captain; he has really been an incredible leader. His gutting it out through the pain is really a reflection of the leadership he provides.”

For providing both production and courage to help trigger PDS’s post-season run, Jensen is the choice as the Town Topics’ top male performer of the spring high school season.

Top Female Performer


ver the early stages of her career with the Princeton High girls’ track team, Bryell Wheeler established herself as one of the top sprinters in the area.

But as senior star Wheeler went through the indoor season this winter, she realized she had more to give to the Little Tigers.

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

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

Although Wheeler dealt with a balky hamstring this spring, she felt like she was gaining strength as the season went on. “I am lifting more,” said Wheeler. “I am getting stronger.”

In the Mercer County Championships in early May, Wheeler produced one of the strongest performances in school history,  placing first in the 100 (12.32), long jump (17‘2.50), and triple jump (38‘1.25) and taking fourth in the 200 (26.35).

Wheeler’s heroics helped the Little Tigers win its first team title in the 34-year history of the outdoor meet. (The program did win the indoor county title in 1989.) It was a photo finish as the Little Tigers accumulated 87 points, edging runner-up WW/P-S, who totaled 86.5 points.

PHS head coach Jim Smirk appreciated the way Wheeler rose to the occasion.

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

Two weeks later at the sectional meet, Wheeler took first in the 100 (12.61) and the triple jump (a meet record of 38’6.50) with a third in the long jump (16’8-75) to help the program win its first-ever Group 3 title and its first sectional crown since PHS took the Central Jersey Group 2 title in 1989.

“Bryell has gained a lot of confidence in her jumps,” said Smirk of Wheeler who produced a county-record leap of 39‘2.50 to take second in the Group 3 state meet and qualify for the Meet of Champions.

“She has more confidence in her jumps than sprints which is amazing with her sprinting background.”

Wheeler’s amazing performance this season which saw her fight through injury and add record-breaking performances in the triple jump to her sprinting prowess makes her the choice as the Town Topics top female performer this spring.

Top Newcomers


ames “JP” Radvany didn’t waste any time showing that he could be a big contributor this spring in his freshman season for the Princeton Day School baseball team.

“JP Radvany was probably our best hitter in Florida,” said PDS head coach Ray O’Brien, referring to the team’s preseason trip to the Sunshine State.

O’Brien moved Radvany into the clean-up spot in game three and the first baseman made his coach look like a genius.

Radvany ended up leading the Panthers in batting average (.484), hits (30), RBIs (32), and slugging percentage (.806)

The offensive punch provided by Radvany helped PDS go 12-9 and post a sweep of Prep A foes Blair, Hun, Lawrenceville and Peddie.

In reflecting on the spring, O’Brien credited Radvany for playing a key role in the Panthers’ success as the program bounced back from a 4-14 season in 2011.

“Radvany had a really good season, especially for a freshman,” said O’Brien. “He was really consistent all season. He is a big kid with power.”

For making a powerful impact in his freshman campaign, Radvany gets the nod as the top male newcomer of the spring.

As Kathy Quirk assessed her 2012 Hun School softball team, she recognized that it was likely to work through some growing pains.

“We are young and lacking some varsity experience,” said Hun head coach Quirk. “I think we can hold our own. We need to be confident in ourselves.”

Quirk showed a lot of confidence in one of her youngest players, inserting freshman Julia Blake at the key position of shortstop.

Blake justified Quirk’s faith in her, providing sparkling defense from the start and getting into a groove offensively as the season unfolded.

With Blake emerging as a constant in the middle of the diamond and at the top of the batting order, Hun overcame a sluggish start and produced a 9-7 record and advanced to the state Prep A semifinals.

Blake ended her debut season with a batting average of .431, together with 18 runs, 12 RBI’s  two doubles, and a triple.

“Julia Blake, for a freshman, was phenomenal at shortstop, both hitting and defensively,” said Quirk.

Blake’s emergence as a star in a vital spot for Hun makes her the choice as the top female newcomer of the spring.

Top Coaches


ver the past few years, the Princeton High girls’ track team has been solid but unspectacular when it comes to the big meets.

In 2011, the Little Tigers placed fifth in both the Mercer County Championships and the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional meet. A year earlier, PHS took eighth in the county meet and ninth in the sectional competition.

Coming into this year’s county meet, head coach Jim Smirk thought his squad could be ready for a breakthrough.

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

Displaying its depth and competitive fire, the Little Tigers ended being the top team at the meet. It was a photo finish as PHS accumulated 87 points, edging runner-up WW/P-S by 0.5 points.

While Smirk had the sense that his team was special, the county title still came as a surprise.

“It is huge; when I started years ago as head coach, I wrote down goals and I said is a county title even possible with Trenton, WW/P-S, WW/P-N, and Hopewell, which was a dynasty then.” said Smirk, reflecting on the crown which was the program’s first in the 34-year history of the outdoor meet.

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

The Little Tigers showed that growth two weeks later as they took the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional title, piling up a winning total of 88 points with Neptune second at 82 and Jackson Liberty third at 67.5.

The win marked the program’s first-ever Group 3 title and was its first sectional crown since PHS took the Central Jersey Group 2 title in 1989.

“A lot of people say the county title is a fluke but we are showing that we are a consistently good team,” said Smirk.

“We are the team making the least amount of mistakes. I am so impressed by what they have gone through and how they approach everything, on and off the track, with a fervor for being great.”

For guiding PHS to one of the greatest runs in program history, Smirk is the pick as the top coach of a female team this spring.

Rob Tuckman has talked about putting his Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team on the map.

While the Panthers had shown gradual improvement over the last few seasons, they had not enjoyed much success in tournament play.

“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 PDS head coach Tuckman as he looked ahead to the 2012 campaign.

“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.”

Playing a competitive schedule, the Panthers were ready to make a mark when tournament time rolled around.

In the state Prep B quarterfinals, PDS overcame a 6-3 halftime deficit against Morristown-Beard to pull out a 12-10 win over the Crimson. Although the Panthers fell 8-5 to Montclair Kimberley on the Prep B semis, there was more playoff drama to come.

Disappointed by getting the seventh seed in the Mercer County Tournament, PDS proved that it could step up in important games. After cruising past Hightstown 15-7 in the opening round, the Panthers staged two improbable rallies to reach the title game.

In the quarterfinals against second-seeded and defending champion Notre Dame, PDS trailed 5-3 at halftime only to pull out an 8-7 overtime thriller. Two days later in the semis, it was a case of deja vu as PDS overcame a 6-4 halftime deficit to top third-seeded Princeton High 8-7 in overtime.

Facing top-seeded Hopewell Valley in the county championship game, the Panthers trailed just 3-2 heading into the fourth quarter but ran out of magic as the Bulldogs pulled away to a 6-2 triumph.

Although the Panthers didn’t win a title, they certainly made a mark this spring.

“Nobody expects a seventh seed to be playing the final; it is all icing on the cake,” asserted Tuckman, whose team finished with a 10-7 record. “Overall it was a great season, I am really proud of the team.”

Tuckman’s vision and ability to get his team to rise to the occasion makes him the choice as the top coach of a male program this spring.

June 6, 2012

GOING THE DISTANCE: Princeton High girls’ track star Elyssa Gensib displays her form in a 2011 race. Last weekend, senior Gensib took second in the 3,200 at the state Group 3 meet to qualify for the upcoming Meet of Champions (MOC). ­Gensib placed seventh in the 1,600 and made the MOC as a wild card in that event. Gensib will be joined in the June 7 meet at Old Bridge by teammates Jenna Cody (3,200), Bryell Wheeler (triple jump), Maddie Lea (triple jump), and Michelle Bazile (discus). (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

During May, the Princeton High girls’ track team produced one of the greatest stretches in program history, winning the Mercer County Championships and the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional.

While PHS started June by taking seventh last weekend at the state Group 3 meet to see its title streak end, head coach Jim Smirk had no qualms about how his athletes competed.

“We didn’t have things going like previous weekends but we saw some gutsy performances,” said Smirk. “The girls were trying to risk things and do something great; that is what we were looking for coming in.”

Senior distance star Jenna Cody showed plenty of guts as she didn’t let a stumble keep her from finishing seventh in the 3,200 and earning a wild card entry into the Meet of Champions (MOC) slated for June 7 at Old Bridge.

“Jenna breaks out and was going for it in the 2-mile and the girl in front of her falls and she trips over her,” recalled Smirk. “She popped right back up and ran an 11:09.”

Cody’s classmate and fellow distance star, Elyssa Gensib, pushed herself to the breaking point in the 1,600 as she took seventh in 5:00.62 and earned a wild card spot in the MOC.

“In the mile, Elyssa went for it in the third lap and put herself in a good position,” said Smirk.

“She showed some inexperience on the last lap; she would have been a medalist in any of the other group meets.”

In the 3,200, though, Gensib showed some veteran savvy in taking second with a time of 10:48.18.

“She ran a textbook race; she really executed the race plan, especially with such a quality field,” asserted Smirk

“There were six girls in the race who had gone under 11; they are all experienced and fierce competitors.”

Senior standout Bryell Wheeler displayed her competitive fire, fighting through injury to take second in the triple jump with a leap of 39’2.50.

“Bryell went out in the trials in 100; her hamstring was bothering her all weekend,” said Smirk.

“She found a way in the triple jump to take second and set a county record with a pulled hamstring. The next day, she was hurting in the long jump.”

Wheeler’s fellow jumping star, Maddie Lea, found a way to pull out a fifth-place finish in the triple jump.

“Lea was the competitor of the weekend; she was on the outside looking in during the triple jump preliminaries,” said Smirk.

“She fouled on her first two jumps and popped 36 on the last one to qualify. In the finals, she was seventh coming into the final jump and came back with a 37 to get a medal. It takes a strong person to not freak out when things aren’t going her way and still put in a great effort.”

As Smirk looks ahead to the MOC, he is expecting some more great efforts from his athletes.

“We are looking at some exciting things; Elyssa could go for a sub-5 minute mile or go for the 10:34 school record in the 2-mile,” said Smirk, whose sophomore throwing star Michelle Bazile took fourth in the discus at the group meet with a toss of 117’11 to also qualify for the MOC.

“For Jenna, her race is all about proving that she is one of the top runners in the state in the 2-mile; she is not happy with 11:09. We talked after the race and she said everything went the wrong way on Saturday so hopefully everything will go the right way next week. Maddie is looking to end her high school career by getting in the 37’3 – 37’6 area. For Bryell, it is about competing at the highest level. She can come in and loosen up and know when she is jumping. She won’t have to worry about balancing events.”

In any event, Smirk has enjoyed the ride this spring. “It has been fun; sometimes you get the perfect storm,” said Smirk. “The coaching staff and girls have really been doing a good job.”

THE RIGHT CALL: Princeton High senior Daisy Wu calls the shots in action this spring for the Mercer Junior Rowing Club (MJRC). Wu, who made an early transition from rowing to being a cox, is heading to her second straight USRowing Youth National Championships where she will be piloting the MJRC women’s varsity 4. In addition to Wu’s boat, the MJRC is also sending a women’s pair, a women’s lightweight 8, and a men’s open 8 to the competition that will take place from June 8-10 on Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

When Daisy Wu first tried her hand at crew, things didn’t go too well.

“Over the summer before high school, I attended the pre-high camp [held by the Mercer Junior Rowing Club (MJRC)],” recalled Wu.

“At first I started rowing but I was the one who caught the crabs (a bad stroke where a rower is unable to timely remove or release the oar blade from the water) every time.”

As a result, the coaches suggested that Wu try a different role in the boat.

“They said why don’t we put you in the coxswain seat,” said Wu. “They were like you can steer straight, you should try out for the team as a cox.”

Wu made the transition to coxswain and now the Princeton High senior is headed to her second straight USRowing Youth National Championships where she will be piloting the MJRC women’s varsity 4.

In addition to Wu’s boat, the MJRC is also sending a women’s pair, a women’s lightweight 8, and a men’s open 8 to the competition that will take place from June 8-10 on Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Wu took an important step on her journey to the nationals in the fall of her freshman year when she started to grasp the nuances of being a cox.

“I guess the biggest challenge is figuring out that it is not just sitting there and yelling,” said Wu.

“You have to figure out what to say and what gets people going. You have to become friends with the people on your boat quickly since you are all from different schools and put together quickly.”

Last spring, Wu relished the challenge of nationals as she guided a youthful men’s varsity 8 at the competition.

“They were all underclassmen, sophomore or freshmen, and it was them just learning the ropes for what they were going to do the next year,” said Wu. “They are pretty fast this year; they have all been learning. It wasn’t overwhelming for me; it was a great experience.”

As a senior, Wu has had the experience of leading the MJRC girls’ team, serving as captain along with PHS classmate Reina Gabai.

“It felt really cool because Reina was the other captain and she is my best friend,” said Wu.

“It was a big honor to do it with her. Reina was the one who could lead by example because she rows. I was more the motivational backbone for everyone. I wrote speeches; we set up team workshops. We had a lot of psyche parties. I loved it. I thought Reina and I did a pretty good job.”

The work of Wu and Gabai has resulted in a special chemistry around the MJRC boathouse.

“The team this year is great; we became one united front; we weren’t segregated by what boat we were in or how we did,” said Wu.

“We were one really strong team and we just really cared for each other which is why this year has been so great.”

In Wu’s view, the varsity 4 heading to the nationals exemplifies that spirit.

“The athletes are really, really strong and they want it which is really important, that is the biggest thing,” said Wu of the boat that also includes Laura Foster of WW/P-S, Emily Goodman of PHS, Samantha Woo of WW/P-S, and Vicki Jorgensen of WW/P-N.

“It is also because we all click well together. Our personalities are compatible; we want to do it for each other, which is the biggest thing.”

The group, which was put together midway through the season, showed how well they could do as they won the Mid-Atlantic Regional championship regatta on its home course at Mercer Lake in mid-May to qualify for the nationals.

“Our heat was Friday night and the plan was don’t over exhaust yourself,” said Wu.

“Play it smart, if you are in first great. If you are in second, don’t fight it. We were in first during heat and there was a boat next to us battling over the last 250 and we let them have it. We had a pretty good final. We had open water and the boat that was first in the semis, we didn’t even know where they were in the final.”

As the boat heads into the nationals, Wu has her sights set on making another final.

“We ultimately want to get into the A final; that is a big deal,” said Wu, referring to the grand final which features the top six boats in the division.

“The competition is really tough so if we can get into the A final at nationals, that would be a pretty darn good way to end it, even if we don’t win.”

That won’t be the end for Wu and her boat, however, as they will be competing later in the summer at the Henley Royal Regatta in England.

“We have the potential to do well at Henley,” asserted Wu. “We just have to keep working for it. We have the idea that we could go overseas to race and do well.”

TOP GUN: Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse star Hannah Levy heads to goal in action this spring. Junior Levy piled up a team-high 94 points this season on 69 goals and 25 assists to help PDS overcome a 0-5 start and finish with a 9-9 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When the Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse team played at the Hun School in its season finale, it may have been a Mercer County Tournament consolation game but there was still a lot on the line.

PDS came into the contest looking to raise its season record to the .500 mark and seeking to prove it was for real after edging Hun in a regular season contest.

Utilizing a balanced attack, PDS made its point, pulling out an 18-17 win to end a roller-coaster spring on a high note.

For PDS head coach Jill Thomas, the season-ending triumph was meaningful on several levels.

“It evened our record at 9-9,” said Thomas. “I think a lot of people thought our win there earlier in the season was a fluke so to come back and do it again was big. We can use that win as a positive as we go into the offseason.”

The Panthers got a special highlight in the contest as the team’s lone senior, Shannon Towle, scored the game-winning goal in the waning moments.

“For Shannon to get the winning goal in her last game in the PDS uniform was big,” said Thomas.

“You should have seen the look on her face; that goal will be in her thoughts for a long time.”

As Thomas looks back on the spring, she acknowledges that it was a bumpy ride.

“When you are young, it is fun and frustrating,” said Thomas. “At times everyone had some frustration this year but is not where you start, it is where you finish. We were 0-5 on April 4 and then we won our next five games. We played with the big girls in Prep A and took our lumps. All the kids got better, we have everyone coming back but one player; they learned what it means to wear the PDS uniform.”

Junior star Hannah Levy brought a lot of honor to the PDS uniform this
season, scoring 94 points on 69 goals and 25 assists.

“Hannah had a pretty big year; she could have been frustrated with the team but she went out every day and played really hard,” said Thomas of Levy who was named as a first-team All-Prep A performer this spring.

“She is a very talented athlete; she is tough and has a style all of her own. She accounted for almost 100 goals; we depended on her to do so many things. She played low attack; she took the draws. She ran the offense; she ran the defense.”

The Panthers have plenty of returning talent in such players as juniors Corinne Urisko and Ellen Bartolino, freshmen Kirsten Kuzmicz and Morgan Foster, and sophomore Lucy Linville.

“Urisko had 35 goals; she was our unsung hero,” asserted Thomas. “Kuzmicz played nearly every minute of the season and did all the little things. She can play; she is the real deal. Foster came on at the end. Linville had moments of brilliance; she had 15 goals and five assists. I am excited to see what she is going to do over the next two years. Ellen Bartolino was someone who figured it out; she can be a force on the field.”

Junior goalie Sarah Trigg proved she can be a force on the field as she took over the starting role in the wake of the graduation of four-year starter Jess Frieder.

“Trigg made big improvements; she is very tough,” added Thomas of Trigg, who is also a star goalie in field hockey.

“She had big shoes to fill. It is tough going from stopping the ball with your feet in field hockey to using your hands. She improved day in, day out.”

In Thomas’ view, the Panthers should keep improving as long as they keep their noses to the grindstone.

“When you are young, you hope for the best,” said Thomas, noting that there are some strong players coming up the ranks from the school’s JV and middle school programs.

“The main lesson is to never, ever give up and to work hard everyday. They need to put in time with the stick and ball. Summer leagues and camps are nice but the key is spending time with the stick and ball and developing stick skills with both hands.”

HEATED COMPETITION: DeQuan Holman, right, of University Radiology looks to get past Chris Edwards of Winberie’s/Miller Lite in last year’s championship series of the Princeton Recreation Department Men’s Summer Basketball League. Holman and University Radiology went on to win the crown 2-1 in the best-of-three series. The 2012 summer men’s hoops season tips off on June 11 at 7:15 p.m. with a tripleheader at the Community Park courts. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Utilizing a blend of talent and big-game savvy, University Radiology broke through last year to win the title of the Princeton Recreation Department Men’s Summer Basketball League.

The core of the team consisted of Skye Ettin, Brian Dunlap, A.J. Dowers, and DeQuan Holman, former Princeton High hoops standouts who reached the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional finals during their high school careers.

On paper, this group looks like it could become a dominant force in the league, following in the footsteps of such legendary dynasties as Tiger’s Tale, Ivy Inn, and George’s Roasters.

But with the 2012 summer men’s hoops season tipping off on June 11 at 7:15 p.m. with a tripleheader at the Community Park courts, the jury is out on University Radiology’s staying power as it looks to defend the title it earned by beating Winberie’s/Miller Lite 2-1 in a hotly-contested best-of-three championship series.

“I think they are pretty much intact,” said Evan Moorhead, league commissioner and longtime observer of the summer hoops battles.

“There has been talk of a dynasty; we have had a lot of flashes in the pan. Over the first 23 seasons, we have had a lot of teams that thought they were the new Tiger’s Tale or Ivy Inn. They have all the pieces but it remains to be seen.”

Last year’s runner-up, Winberie’s, may not have all of its pieces in place as it looks to mount another championship chase.

“Al Gerido is not playing for them and Chris Hatchell had knee problems at the end of the season,” said Moorhead.

“Mark Rosenthal [team manager] plays it close to the vest. They had a great regular season last year. Hatchell was the regular season MVP and they went undefeated. They will have another strong team if they have some of the same players. I think Evan Johnson, their big guy, is back.”

Another big question coming into the summer is whether Ivy Inn (formerly known as George’s Roasters/Ivy Inn) can get back the mojo that helped the club win four of the last six titles coming into the 2011 campaign.

“Last year was rough for them,” said Moorhead, noting that the club went 3-6 in regular season play and was knocked out in the quarterfinals of the playoffs last summer.

“We will see if they can come back strong. Brian Halligan moved out of state and they will miss his steady play at point guard. Scott Findlay was coming back from a knee injury last summer and may not be playing for them. I think Mark Aziz is back from playing in Egypt and Bobby Davison is there.”

Two other league denizens, Dr. Palmer and SMB, could emerge as dark horses.

“Dr. Palmer hasn’t had a deep run in a while,” added Moorhead. “They always have talent; they always have size. They could be right there in the mix. Greg Ford will be back; he was one of the top scorers in the league last year. SMB finished up in the middle of the pack in the regular season but made it to semis and took Winberie’s into OT.”

The PA Blue Devils are back after making a semifinal run of their won last summer.

“They were strong last year; they made the semis and they were only a basket away from the finals,” said Moorhead.

“They have the same core guys. The guys play in Division III and community college; they keep active and have young legs.”

Another team with youth on its side is Team TB which features several recent PHS grads.

“Team TB has picked up Davon Holliday Black,” said Moorhead of the former Little Tiger star who had played for Princeton Youth Sports, the PHS boys’ hoops entry in the summer league. “There is a lot of talk that they could make a run.”

The league boasts two newcomers in the Ballstars and the Clinton Kings. “The Ballstars are mainly PHS guys like Aaron Thomas, Marcus Budline, Matt Hoffman, Ben Harrison, and a PDS guy Robby Smukler,” said Moorhead.

“The Clinton Kings are similar to PA Blue Devils; They have some college D-3 players; they will be coming down from the Clinton area.”

In Moorhead’s view, the fans coming down to Community Park this summer will be treated to plenty of heated contests.

“This is the first time we have had 10 teams since 2006; it looked like there were only going to be eight teams and then two teams came out of nowhere right before the deadline,” said Moorhead.

“I think it is going to be very competitive. There are not a lot of easy outs on paper; there is a lot of parity.”

May 30, 2012

AHEAD OF THE PACK: Princeton High girls’ track distance stars, Jenna Cody, right, and Amelia Whaley, run away from the competition in a meet earlier this spring. Last weekend, Cody and Whaley helped PHS win the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional title. Senior Cody took second in the 3,200 and fourth in the 1,600 while junior Whaley was fifth in the 3,200. The pair will next be in action when the Little Tigers compete in the state Group 3 championship meet this weekend at South Plainfield. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the Princeton High girls’ track team brings plenty of talent to the table, it is a dogged spirit that has been the main ingredient in a championship run.

“Some people say a good team has to have a swagger but we are not flashy,” said PHS head coach Jim Smirk.

“We talk a lot about ‘sisu,’ a Finnish work for stubborn determination. The girls have a self-confidence, a self-confidence that is earned.”

Last weekend, the Little Tigers displayed their self-confidence and will as they methodically out-dueled the competition on the way to the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional title.

PHS piled up a winning total of 88 points with Neptune second at 82 and Jackson Liberty third at 67.5.

The win marked the program’s first-ever Group 3 title and was its first sectional crown since PHS took the Central Jersey Group 2 title in 1989. It was a second breakthrough in two weeks for the Little Tigers as they had edged WW/P-S earlier this month to win the county championship.

Setting the pace for the Little Tigers in the sectional meet were its two senior superstars, Bryell Wheeler and Elyssa Gensib. Wheeler took first in the 100 (12.61) and the triple jump (a meet record of 38’6.50) with a third in the long jump (16’8-75) while Penn-bound Gensib was first in the 3,200 (10:53.90), second in the 1,600 (5:03.97), and fourth in the 800 (2:20.33).

Fellow seniors Maddie Lea and Jenna Cody also made big contributions with Lea taking second in both the triple jump (36‘2.50) and long jump (16’ 9) and Cody placing second in the 3,200 (11:05.40) and fourth in the 1,600 (5:09.68).

Wheeler displayed grit as well as talent in coming up big, fighting through a nagging hamstring to earn her titles.

“Bryell has gained a lot of confidence in her jumps,” said Smirk. “She has more confidence in her jumps than sprints which is amazing with her sprinting background. She ran the 200 in the prelims and said her hamstring didn’t feel right. We thought she had a better shot in the long jump so she dropped out of the 200. She barely made it to the final in the long jump and then ends up jumping third. I have to give a lot of credit to her performance on day two to coach [Ben] Samara. He got her focused and really helped her deal with the hamstring.”

Lea has displayed a special focus in crunch time. “Last year, Maddie developed into a star athlete.,” said Smirk.

“As the season goes on, she gets better little by little but doesn’t put anything great out there. But in sectionals and states, she is great. You put her in the moment and she gives you every inch and every ounce of effort.”

Distance star Gensib likewise demonstrated her flair for rising to the occasion in the big moment.

“Elyssa was incredible; when you tell most athletes that they are going against a national record holder in the 800 and the mile like Ajee Wilson of Neptune, they say ‘oh god’ but Elyssa said hey I am finally going against someone who will help me see what I can really do,” said Smirk.

“She made a mistake in the mile and was too aggressive in the 800. She was really great in the two-mile. What more can you ask of an athlete; she is great at preparing and is great at making race-time adjustments.”

Senior standout Amelia Whaley made a key adjustment as she rose to fifth place in the 3,200 (11:53.01) despite being placed in the slower second heat.

“I sat down with Amelia and talked about it,” said Smirk. “She was a real veteran; she said there was nothing we could do about it. I told her she has run a dozen workouts on the track by herself so she knows what is it like to run fast alone. We could see the group falling behind her so we knew she was running the right pace.”

Bouncing back from illness that kept her out of the county meet, Cody was up to speed as well.

“We were really happy to have Jenna this weekend,” said Smirk. “In the mile, she was nipped by HoVal girl [Sarah Chandler]. She made a little mistake; she was too passive in the middle of the race. We had a real aggressive race plan for the two-mile. We wanted her to do the first mile in 5:20. Gensib kept pressing and passed her at the right time while Cody kept battling and holding on.”

In producing the championship run, PHS has shown an ability to execute its plan.

“A lot of people say the county title is a fluke but we are showing that we are a consistently good team,” said Smirk. “We are the team making the least amount of mistakes.”

As the Little Tigers head into the state Group 3 championship meet this weekend at South Plainfield, Smirk will be looking for his athletes to dig even deeper.

“It is going to be incredible; Winslow is stacked and they look to be at a different level,” said Smirk.

“What I would like to see is for us to risk a little more. They have performed at their best but maybe not at their absolute best. It is less about points and more about doing their best.”

But no matter what the scoreboard says after Saturday, Smirk has drawn inspiration from how his athletes have performed all spring.

“I am so impressed by what they have gone through and how they approach everything, on and off the track, with a fervor for being great,” asserted Smirk. “It is fun to coach athletes like that.”

UPWARD CURVE: Princeton High boys’ track senior star Bruce Robertson flashes his form through a curve earlier this spring. Last Saturday, Robertson took second in the 800 at the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional meet to help the Little Tigers place fourth in the team standings. Robertson and the team’s other top-6 finishers at the sectional competition will be in action this week at the state Group 3 meet at South Plainfield. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton High boys’ track team, its performance last Saturday at the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional meet represented a step forward.

“Looking at it overall, it is the largest number of qualifiers and largest number of points we have had since I started coaching in 2001,” said PHS head coach John Woodside, whose team placed fourth with Northern Burlington taking first followed by Hamilton and Ocean Township.

“Two years ago, we 10 medals and 41 points. Today we had 11 medals and 46 points. We had a lot of good things happen.”

But Woodside was left with a nagging feeling that even better things could have happened in the meet which took place at Monmouth Regional.

“I think we have a good enough team that we could have done even better,” maintained Woodside.

“The winner had 67 points, that is not that much to win a big meet. The door was wide open.”

Junior throwing star Tim Brennan, though, could not have done much better, winning both the shot put (50’ 7.50) and the javelin (143’3).

“It is hard to describe where to start about him; he is a very important part of our team,” asserted Woodside.

“He is a great kid, great athlete. He works as hard as any kid I have been around. More than that, he helps his teammates get better. He knows how to approach a meet and how to compete. I think of him as the rock. He is a great asset to our team; he is indispensable. He won two events, that is hard to do.”

Senior Bruce Robertson has been an asset to the team and he came up big at the sectional, taking second in the 800 (1:59.69).

“Bruce has been good all year; he had a solid race today,” said Woodside. “It was not spectacular in terms of time but it was a hot day. He ran a good race to finish second. He got himself in a good position; I am happy for him.”

The distance guys were solid across the board for Woodside. “We had 7 qualifiers — three in 1,600 (Ian McIsaac-4th; Conor Donahue-5th; Kevin Ivanov-6th), two in 800 (Robertson-2nd; McIsaac-5th) and two in 3,200 (Luke Bozich-4th; Jacob Rist-5th),” added Woodside.

“McIsaac was the only guy who qualified in two events so we had six different guys. That is the most we have had; it was a good showing. We competed hard. I am proud of them.”

Junior star McIsaac did yeoman’s work for the Little Tigers as he helped the 4×400 relay take fifth in addition to his top-six finishes in the 800 and 1,600.

“I know Ian is a little disappointed but that is good because he wants to do better,” said Woodside.

“He had a little hamstring problem on 1600 and still ran 4:28. The 800 was a good performance for him and he led off the 4×400 relay with a 52.0.”

PHS got a superb performance in the 400 hurdles from sophomore Sabar Dasgupta as he took sixth.

“Sabar ran a tremendous race in the 400 hurdles; “ said Woodside. “He had a big breakthrough a week ago with a 57.8. He ran a 57.50 today so he made breakthrough and beat that a week later.”

Woodside will be looking for more breakthroughs this weekend as his team competes in the state Group 3 meet at South Plainfield.

“We want to try to build on it; that’s the goal,” asserted Woodside. “We are going against really top level guys. We want to improve on what we did this week. The distance runners certainly feel they can do better.”

QIU SCORE: Princeton High boys’ tennis player Kevin Qiu, right, hits a backhand as partner Adib Zaidi moves to the net. The first doubles pair of senior Qiu and freshman Zaidi helped PHS advance to the Central Jersey Group 3 semifinals where they fell to eventual sectional champion Hopewell Valley. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Eddie Percarpio’s shoulder had been ailing but the Princeton High boys’ tennis team senior star was not about to sit out the state tournament.

As PHS played Monmouth in the second round of the Central Jersey Group 3 tourney, Percarpio took the court at first singles even though he could only serve underhanded.

Showing grit and savvy, Percarpio pulled out a 7-6, 6-3 win to help the Little Tigers prevail 5-0.

PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert saw Percarpio’s performance as a sterling example of senior leadership.

“Eddie had a great match; he has been out for a while with a sore shoulder and has been resting it as much as he could,” said Hibbert.

“He asked me to play; he is a senior and it is his last chance in states. He was a great asset for us. He relied on his ground strokes and mental game.

Percarpio’s effort set a tone for the fourth seeded Little Tigers didn’t drop a set in the win over fifth-seeded Monmouth.

“We didn’t know what to expect; we hadn’t played them and we didn’t play teams they compete against,” added Hibbert.

“Once we got started I was pleased with how the guys played and took care of business.”

Advancing to play top-seeded Hopewell Valley in the sectional semis, Hibbert knew her team was facing a formidable foe.

“We had a tough match with them earlier in the season,” said Hibbert, whose team had lost 5-0 to the Bulldogs on April 12 in a regular season meeting.

“I told the guys we are a much different team than we were a month and a half ago. We had played in the county tournament and we had a lot of tough matches. I told them we had a shot at this.”

While PHS ended up falling 4-1 to the Bulldogs in the May 16 rematch, the Little Tiger players certainly gave it their best shot.

“We won two first sets; we only won one first set in the earlier match,” said Hibbert,

“We were a lot more competitive in a lot of the matches. We played a much closer match than the first time. There were a few tough decisions here or there.”

Once again, a senior showed toughness for PHS as third single player Julian Edgren played on through pain even after HoVal had clinched victory.

“It came down to two matches and they were both split through the first two sets, recalled Hibbert.

“After second singles lost, they had it. Julian started getting leg cramps but he stayed out there.”

The team’s core of seniors, Robert Zhao, Kevin Qiu, Percarpio, and Edgren, have demonstrated staying power over their careers.

“They have been a very strong group,” said Hibbert, whose team topped Lawrence 5-0 on May 18 to improve to 13-3 and was slated to wrap up the season with matches against Notre Dame and WW/P-S.

“They came in as freshmen and played at the top of JV and had some varsity matches. By sophomore year, they ended up in the varsity lineup. They have had various spots. The last two years, they were at singles with Kevin as a staple on doubles. It is always sad to lose a core of seniors. The guys are close; they hang out away from tennis and they are friends off the court.

Having gone with freshmen Adib Zaidi, Tyler Hack, and Rishab Tanga in the starting lineup, the Little Tigers boast a good core of players going forward.

“It is a steady group of players; we do have some bright young prospects with the three freshmen who played this year,” added Hibbert. “I think they can be a great help to us in the future at singles or doubles.”

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR: Princeton High softball star Louise Eisenach makes contact in action this spring. The leadership and production of senior shortstop and tri-captain Eisenach helped PHS become more competitive this season. PHS went 9-14, tying a single season record for victories, as it won the Teaneck Highwaywoman Tournament and edged Lawrence High 3-2 in the first round of the Mercer County Tournament, its first triumph in county play in recent memory, if ever. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton High softball team had never won a game in state tournament competition, the squad was not intimidated when it played at Nottingham last week in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group 3 tourney.

“We had no lack of confidence coming into that game,” said PHS first-year head coach Dave Boehm, reflecting on the matchup between his 11th seeded Little Tigers and the sixth-seeded Northstars.

“We had played two close games with them. We lost in the top of the seventh and bottom of the seventh.”

While PHS got off to a rough start in the contest, falling behind 4-0 after two innings, the squad didn’t fold. The Little Tigers rallied for a run in the top of the fifth on an RBI single from senior Hannah Zink but couldn’t tally after that on the way to a 4-1 defeat

“We knew they had a good pitcher who was going to be tough,” said Boehm, whose team ended the spring at 9-14, tying a program record for single-season wins.

“We gave up four runs in the first two innings and no more after that. They had five hits; we had two.”

The Little Tigers showed toughness this spring in making some key breakthroughs as they won an in-season tourney and edged Lawrence High 3-2 in extra innings in the first round of the Mercer County Tournament.

“We won the Teaneck tournament, we had lost there the last three years,” said Boehm, whose team beat Ridgefield 8-4 and Teaneck 15-3 on the way to the title of the Teaneck Highwaywoman Tournament.

“We took the next step in MCT; that was our first county win in recent memory. That team had beaten us 13-0 last year and really pounded us. I think they came in there thinking they were going to roll us over. We stepped up; it was an exciting game.”

Junior star outfielder Marisa Gonzalez stepped up this spring, moving to the No. 3 spot in the PHS batting order and responding by hitting over .500.

“Marisa had 38 hits and 42 RBIs; she was the most important part of our team,” asserted Boehm, noting that Gonzalez will be playing high-level travel ball over the summer. “She has 112 hits going into senior year; she has a good chance at getting 150.”

The team’s senior trio of Louise Eisenach, Hannah Zink, and Angela Matchum made a good contribution.

“They took more of a leadership role,” said Boehm. “Louise came into her own; she really stepped up as a leader. Zink was steady at first base and a good influence on the younger players. Matchum played a nice right field for us.”

PHS has some nice pieces in place with the freshman pitcher Sarah Eisenach, junior third baseman Hannah Gutierrez, junior catcher Maddie Cahill-Sanidas, and junior outfielder Helen Eisenach.

“Sarah pitched two-thirds of our games and I batted her fourth a lot,” said Boehm.

“She will throw the ball harder. I think she will hit with more power in the future, she just needs to shorten her stroke. All of them (Gutierrez, Cahill-Sanidas, and Helen Eisenach) are solid players. We will have three good arms and good players in outfield with Gonzalez, Helen, and Charlotte Gray.”

In order to become even more competitive, PHS needs to play harder on a constant basis.

“We need to play a full seven innings,” said Boehm. “There were games where we got behind and chipped away and then there were games where we lost leads. We hung tough.”

For Boehm, taking the helm of the program after serving as an assistant coach the last four seasons was not a tough transition.

“I enjoyed it; I knew that I didn’t have a team that was going to rip the cover off so I knew we had to play some hit and run, bunt, and steal bases,” said Boehm.

“Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t but it was fun. It was a good group of girls; they responded well. They had fun, even in practice. There was a good chemistry. The seniors and juniors were helping the younger players.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 23, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 16, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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