April 9, 2015

Everything clicked for the Hun School baseball team in its season opener at Academy of New Church (Pa.).

Hun rolled to a 19-1 victory in the March 30 contest, pounding out 15 hits in the process. Starting pitcher Jason Applegate looked sharp, striking out five and giving up a hit in two innings of shutout work.

Three days later against visiting Lawrenceville, things didn’t go so well for the Raiders as they fell 10-0 in six innings. Hun got only two hits and starting pitcher Robby Huselid never got into a groove despite getting five strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings of work.

“We made some good swings, not as many as we could have,” lamented Hun head coach Bill McQuade.

“We put some pressure on them early, I thought. We couldn’t score that one inning (in the second when Applegate was thrown out at home plate). If we had gotten one or two that inning, it would have picked us up. We had guys on there. We needed that one big hit or even a little flair, just something.”

Junior hurler Huselid showed flashes but wasn’t as good as he can be. “Huse didn’t get in a rhythm; he never got in the flow of the game,” said McQuade, who brought in junior George Revock to relieve Huselid  with two out in the top of the fourth inning.

“He had some great things with location and then it looked like he would lose it in between. Now in defense of him, we had all of this time off, working out in the gym. Our pitchers didn’t log many innings on our trip to Florida because we were trying to find out who could throw for us.”

McQuade acknowledged that it wasn’t a great effort all around for his squad.

“Those are all excuses, the bottom line is that we didn’t execute as well as we could have,” said McQuade. “Lawrenceville put the bat on the ball clearly better than we did. We hit into three double plays.”

Hun’s lack of execution perplexed McQuade, considering that the team has looked sharp so far this spring.

“We played well against ANC and in Florida we played against teams of Lawrenceville’s caliber and did really well there,” said McQuade.

In the wake of the setback, it is back to the drawing board for the Raiders.

“When you have four days off you get a few more practices outdoors, which we need to get them going,” said McQuade.

“Now a couple of heads are hanging, they are down a little bit. We need a couple of good practices where everything is upbeat again.”

True to character, the ebullient McQuade, now in his 45th season at the helm of the program, is upbeat about his Hun’s prospects.

“We’ll get better, we have got to get our pitchers more innings, without a doubt,” said McQuade, whose team plays at the Hill School (Pa.) on April 8 before hosting Peddie on April 10 and Steinert on April 11.

“I know that our big three has to get more. George hasn’t been on the mound much, he can be that way, effectively wild, but you have got to be able to locate the ball. Ap (Applegate) is doing a real good job. Huse needs to be a little more consistent.”

ON TARGET: Hun School girls’ lacrosse player Shannon Dudeck possesses the ball in recent action. Last week, sophomore standout Dudeck scored two goals to help Hun defeat Rutgers Prep 12-9 to earn its first win of the season. The Raiders, now 1-2, host Lawrenceville on April 8, play at Princeton Day School on April 10, and then host Stuart Country Day on April 13.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ON TARGET: Hun School girls’ lacrosse player Shannon Dudeck possesses the ball in recent action. Last week, sophomore standout Dudeck scored two goals to help Hun defeat Rutgers Prep 12-9 to earn its first win of the season. The Raiders, now 1-2, host Lawrenceville on April 8, play at Princeton Day School on April 10, and then host Stuart Country Day on April 13. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As the Hun School girls’ lacrosse team prepared for its game against Rutgers Prep last week, it was primed to break into the win column.

“We were confident with our preparation for Rutgers Prep,” said Hun first-year head coach Liz Cook. “We had a productive practice the Saturday before, and we played with our game plan in mind.”

The Raiders played well from the start in the March 30 contest against Rutgers Prep, jumping out to an 8-3 lead at halftime on the way to a 12-9 triumph.

“Our team was definitely clicking, communicating and playing as a team,” said Cook, reflecting on the triumph.

“We had a solid lead at halftime and knew we had to close down Rutgers Prep’s scoring opportunities. We needed possession off the draw and that’s what we fought for second half.”

Hun got a solid game from senior Erica Dwyer in the victory as she tallied three goals and an assist.

“Erica is calm, confident, and dangerous when attacking the net,” said Cook, who got two goals apiece from Maura Kelly, Kate Davis, Shannon Dudeck and Delia Lawver in the win with goalie Maddie McNulty recording 13 saves. “The team looks to her for leadership and we feel at ease when the ball is in her stick.”

For Cook, it was a special feeling to have the first win of her Hun tenure. “It felt great to get that first win,” said Cook, a longtime assistant coach at Princeton Day School.

“The team has put in the effort, time and bonding — they deserved it. I loved watching the players celebrate. The girls came away with a tremendous amount of confidence. They know that on any given day any team can prevail. They know they can play together and that’s how we will move forward.”

Two days later against Blair, Hun played well in jumping out to a 6-3 halftime lead only to fall 10-9.

“The draw was getting away from us in the second half, we couldn’t win possession,” said Cook, assessing the defeat which moved the Raiders to 1-2.

“Our shots were a little off, and we had trouble putting the ball in the net. Some credit as well goes to Blair’s goalie who played a great second half. We played well, the effort was there, however, we just couldn’t close out the second half.”

In Cook’s view, the Raiders can take some valuable lessons from the setback to the Buccaneers.

“We learned from the defeat that anything can happen, and our team had a lot of bright moments,” said Cook, who got two goals apiece in the loss from Dwyer, Lawver, and Kate Consoli with McNulty recording nine saves.

“We learned we can lead, we just need to put two solid halves together. We are sticking to our game plan, believing in our culture and in one another.”

Looking ahead, Cook believes there are a lot of good moments ahead for her squad.

“Overall, the team has come together, and I am pleased with how they have played,” asserted Cook, whose team hosts Lawrenceville on April 8, plays at Princeton Day School on April 10, and then hosts Stuart Country Day on April 13.

“They are having fun and have gotten better with each game. Teamwork is our biggest area of progress. Our defensive unit continues to make big plays while our attack has learned to adapt to a fast-paced game.”

April 2, 2015
IN THE FAST LANE: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Georgia McLean races upfield in 2014 action. Last Friday, sophomore midfielder McLean contributed two goals and an assist to help PHS top Hun 14-3, giving new head coach David Schlesinger the first victory in his tenure with the program. PHS, now 2-2,  hosts WW/P-N on April 1.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

IN THE FAST LANE: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Georgia McLean races upfield in 2014 action. Last Friday, sophomore midfielder McLean contributed two goals and an assist to help PHS top Hun 14-3, giving new head coach David Schlesinger the first victory in his tenure with the program. PHS, now 2-2, hosts WW/P-N on April 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Over the last few years, when one watched the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse  team, the No. 17 shirt was sure to catch the eye.

The player wearing that jersey, gritty midfielder Dana Smith, was a 5’1 whirling dervish, gobbling up ground balls and triggering the PHS offense.

Smith graduated last June and is now making an impact on the Lafayette College women’s team, starting 11 of the team’s first 12 games this spring.

Although Smith is gone, the No. 17 is still figuring into the action as it has been inherited by sophomore Georgia McLean.

“I want to emulate Dana because I love the way she plays; I took her number on purpose,” said McLean, who wore No. 5 last year in her freshman campaign.” I have also had this number when I was a little girl on PGLax.”

Last Friday, McLean performed a very good imitation of Smith, tracking down a number of grounds balls in the midfield and chipping in two goals and an assist as PHS topped Hun 14-3, bouncing back nicely from a 5-1 loss to Shore in its season opener two days earlier.

“I was trying to get really pumped up for the game,” said McLean. “I ate my carbs last night and I was really fired up. I really wanted to come back from the first game.”

In McLean’s view, the Little Tigers were firing on all cylinders in the win over Hun.

“I think that we worked on a lot of midfield transitions, that was a big part of the game,” said McLean.

“We had a new play to utilize our best shooters, Allie (Callaway) and Gabby (Gibbons), they are amazing. I think we were more in synch because we had more practice and I think the plays that we did were really effective today.”

McLean has put in a lot of practice to become a better player as a sophomore.

“I really try to work on my shot and stuff like that,” said McLean, who chipped in two goals to help PHS top Bishop Eustace 13-10 last Monday as it improved to 2-2. “As a sophomore, you feel more confident on the field.”

PHS’s first-year head coach David Schlesinger was thrilled with the work he is getting from McLean.

“Georgia is amazing, she probably had about 30 ground balls today,” said Schlesinger.

“She is a very quick, tough, feisty player and she is going to make tons and tons of plays this year. We are very fortunate to have a player of her ability.”

In Schlesinger’s view, PHS played a lot better against Hun than it did in the opening day loss.

“I thought we played a little bit calmer than we did on Wednesday,” said Schlesinger.

“They pressured us but they didn’t put quite the same pressure that Shore did. I think we turned the ball over less and we had a lot more opportunities so the whole game was different. We have got some very talented offensive players and once they start relaxing a little more instead of feeling like they have to go, go, all the time then our offense will really start to click.”

Things were also clicking at the defensive end for the Little Tigers against Hun.

“I thought we played very strong defense; we have the ultimate defender in Mira,” said Schlesinger, referring to senior goalie Mira Shane.

“I thought our defense played very well. The game was called very, very tight so it limited some of our aggressiveness defensively but we adjusted and pulled out a victory.”

For Schlesinger, getting his first victory at PHS was sweet. “It is better than a second loss, it is also the 50th win of my career,” said a smiling Schlesinger, who previously coached at Eastern High and Wissahickon High (Pa.).

“It is good, any time you are in a new program, this is the third time I have started at another high school, you have to build credibility and you have to build it very quickly. The best way to do that is to pile up some wins.”

In McLean’s view, Schlesinger has already built up a lot of credibility with his new charges.

“It has been awesome, he is a really great coach,” said Schlesinger. “He has really taught me a lot about shooting and attack. We do a lot of team building to bring the team together. I think the team has really jelled.”

SPECIAL DELIVERY: Princeton High baseball player Joaquin Hernandez-Burt fires the ball in action last spring. After going 5-4 with a 2.25 ERA in 2014, junior Hernandez-Burt has emerged as the team’s ace. PHS is slated to open its 2015 campaign by hosting Robbinsville on April 1.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SPECIAL DELIVERY: Princeton High baseball player Joaquin Hernandez-Burt fires the ball in action last spring. After going 5-4 with a 2.25 ERA in 2014, junior Hernandez-Burt has emerged as the team’s ace. PHS is slated to open its 2015 campaign by hosting Robbinsville on April 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the Princeton High baseball program doesn’t have strength in numbers, it boasts some talented players.

“We are limited in depth, we only have 29 kids in the whole program,” said PHS head coach Dave Roberts, who guided the Little Tigers to a 9-14 record in 2014.

“I am probably carrying 13 players on varsity. I am very happy with the quality of the starting players.”

PHS features a quality starting pitcher in junior Joaquin Hernandez-Burt, who led the Little Tigers in win (5) and innings pitched (49) last season, going 5-4 with a 2.25 ERA.

“Joaquin had a little arm trouble over the winter so we are working him back slowly,” said Roberts, whose team is slated to open its 2015 campaign by hosting Robbinsville on April 1.

“Physically, he’s grown a couple of inches. He is a little heavier, he is filling out. He works hard, we are expecting him to return to where he was last year.”

Roberts is expecting senior Ben Danis, senior Ben Grass, and junior Colin Taylor to round out his mound staff.

“Ben Danis will be used quite frequently, he had some good outings last year,” said Roberts.

“Ben Grass pitched for the Legion team and is joining us as a senior, he will get some innings. Colin Taylor will get some time on the mound.”

Taylor and fellow junior Hayden Reyes will be counted on to trigger the PHS offense.

“Colin and Hayden give us a good one-two punch at the top of the order,” asserted Roberts.

“Taylor is strong in the one hole and we are going to keep Hayden at No. 2. The key is getting those two guys on base. When we were most successful last year, they were able to steal bases and we were able to move them up and score on sacrifice flies.”

Senior John Reid and Hernandez-Burt provide punch in the middle of the lineup.

“I am looking at Reid in the four spot, he had a great year for us last season, he can get RBIs,” said Roberts. “Joaquin also offers a lot with the bat.”

Defensively, PHS looks strong in most spots with Hernandez-Burt and freshman Paul Cook at first base, junior Matt Lambert at second, Reyes at short, Taylor at third, sophomore Tim Frawley at catcher, and an outfield consisting of Reid, Danis, and Steve Majeski.

“I am totally confident in second base, shortstop and third base,” said Roberts.

“They are all good athletes and they look like infielders should. Reid has been in left field for three years. Danis was in centerfield last year and Majeski played well for the Legion team last summer.”

While Roberts is confident in his starters, he acknowledges that they are going to have to be iron men in order for PHS to have a good season.

“It is getting healthy and staying healthy,” said Roberts. “Stamina and endurance will be key. We have 24 games in the regular season and we will be playing four games a week. They need mental strength and focus.”

IN THE SWING: Princeton High softball player Emily DiLella takes a hard swing in a game last spring. Junior first baseman DiLella figures to be a key performer for the Little Tigers this spring as they look to improve on the 7-16 record they posted last season. PHS is slated to get its 2015 season underway by hosting Robbinsville on April 1.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

IN THE SWING: Princeton High softball player Emily DiLella takes a hard swing in a game last spring. Junior first baseman DiLella figures to be a key performer for the Little Tigers this spring as they look to improve on the 7-16 record they posted last season. PHS is slated to get its 2015 season underway by hosting Robbinsville on April 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Considering the obstacles the Princeton High softball team has faced dealing with this wintry preseason, it is a good thing that the team features a core of seasoned veterans.

“With three weeks in the gym, you are going crazy,” said PHS head coach Dave Boehm, who welcomes back eight returning starters for a team that went 7-16 in 2014.

“We have been hitting with machines in the cage and the pitchers have been throwing to the hitters. We were able to use our outfield the other day and get in a little bit of work outside.”

A trio of pitchers, sophomore Kayla Volante, senior Sarah Eisenach, and senior Nancy Gray will be sharing the pitching workload this spring.

“Kayla has picked up some speed and she has good movement on the ball,” said Boehm, whose team is slated to start the season by hosting Robbinsville on April 1.

“I think she is going to have a good year. Sarah will hold her own, she is a workhorse. She gets the job done when she is out there. She gives 100 percent all the time. Nancy might start some games, she has been looking pretty good in the gym. She has worked hard.”

Boehm believes he has a pretty good hitting attack, featuring a blend of table setters and some punch in the middle of the order. Freshman Bianca Guidi, Volante, and junior Kelli Swedish should be catalysts while junior Stephanie Wu, Eisenach, Gray, and junior Emily DiLella can knock runs in.

“Guidi will bat leadoff; she has decent size and is pretty fast,” said Boehm.

“She is going to be a player. I have Volante, Swedish, Eisenach, and Wu next followed by Gray and DiLella. Wu and Swedish led us in hitting last year. Eisenach has been a steady hitter. She has a big bat, just needs to make more contact.”

With the team’s lack of work outside, Boehm acknowledges that he is considering a number of defensive combinations. Sophomore Christina Cuomo will be at catcher with DiLella and Eisenach at first base and junior Jordan Petrone, sophomore Celia Gleason, and junior Natalie Campisi likely to see time at second. Gray and Wu will be getting looks at both shortstop and third. The outfield could include Volante, Guidi, Campisi, Swedish, and junior Genna Garlock.

Once the Little Tigers get in some time on the field, Boehm is confident that the squad can get into a groove.

“Overall, I think improving on our win total from last year is realistic, I think we can win double digits like we did two years ago,” said Boehm.

“They have to be convinced that they can do it. We have the potential. I think this is the most travel players I have ever had on the team. We need to be more consistent on the field and at the plate. They can’t get down if they have a bad inning. We are looking forward to getting it going, believe me.”

CLOSE SHAVE: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse player Jacob Shavel races past a foe in a game last season. PDS will depend on senior star Shavel to provide production from the midfield this spring. The Panthers were slated to open their season by hosting Voorhees on March 31 before playing at Germantown Academy (Pa.) on April 2 and at Hun on April 7 as they welcome new head coach Rich D’Andrea.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CLOSE SHAVE: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse player Jacob Shavel races past a foe in a game last season. PDS will depend on senior star Shavel to provide production from the midfield this spring. The Panthers were slated to open their season by hosting Voorhees on March 31 before playing at Germantown Academy (Pa.) on April 2 and at Hun on April 7 as they welcome new head coach Rich D’Andrea. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After serving as the assistant coach for the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team for the last three years, Rich D’Andrea doesn’t have to make drastic changes as he assumes the reins from Rob Tuckman.

With Tuckman having guided the Panthers to a state Prep B title and a 13-3 record last spring in his swan song after previously announcing in the fall that he was stepping down, the program is in good shape.

“Rob did such a good job of transition, so a lot of the systems are in place, the base packages, clears, and rides,” said D’Andrea, a former star goalie at Peddie and Georgetown who served as the head coach at WW/P-N for a year before coming to PDS.

“He really built the program up. It is a hardworking group and they understand the values of pushing each other and policing each other.”

The Panthers got in a lot of hard work in late March on their annual spring training trip to Hilton Head, S.C.

“The trip worked out well, the boys worked really hard,” said D’Andrea. “They looked good. We played some good teams. It was really nice down in Sea Pines, the best part was probably the off field stuff. I think the dynamic of each team is different.”

PDS features a dynamic attack unit in the trio of senior Chris Azzarello, junior Joey Levine, and freshman Elon Tuckman.

“Chris is returning, he had good numbers last year, he is a good finisher,” said D’Andrea of the Ohio-Wesleyan-bound Azzarello.

“We are expecting him to have a big year. Joey Levine also had a nice year last season. He had been developing nicely in the offseason. He shoots the ball very well, I think he will have a good year. Elon Tuckman had a really, really nice preseason. He was putting the ball into the net, he is our lefty finisher.”

One of the team’s top finishers, Cornell-bound junior Connor Fletcher, figures to spearhead the midfield.

“Fletch is Fletch, he is a monster,” said D’Andrea. “He has worked really, really hard on the finer points of the game. One of the big things this year is that we are looking to stay balanced. Going to one or two guys works for a few games but you end up becoming one-dimensional.”

The midfield should be multi-dimensional with the likes of junior Jonah Tuckman, sophomore Nick Day, sophomore Will Brossman, and senior and RPI-bound Jacob Shavel.

“Jonah Tuckman had a fantastic year last season, he was a utility player, doing face-offs, man-down, man-up,” said D’Andrea.

“Nick Day, a sophomore who came over from WW/P-N, is a face-off specialist so Jonah won’t have to do that. Jonah is the type of kid who will do anything for the team you ask of him. He is a coach’s son and a student of the game. Will Brossman scored three goals against Rutgers Prep in Prep B title game; he had a great offseason. Jacob gives us a good wrinkle there in the midfield. He has been an attacker the last three years, we have him at midfield in terms of adding some depth where we need it.”

There is depth on the Panther defense as that unit features seniors Christian Vik and Kevin Towle along with juniors Amir Melvin and James Fragale and sophomore Coby Gibson.

“Vik and Towle are both big and physical, they communicate really well,” said D’Andrea of Vik, who is headed to Swarthmore, and the Kenyon-bound Towle.

“They can be calming to a defense. They are strong and good at clearing, they get the ball up and down the field. Amir Melvin is a  big, rangy athletic guy and has a good stick. He could see some time at longstick midfielder. James Fragale is another defender with a good stick. Coby Gibson had a great preseason.”

D’Andrea is hoping the senior goalie and Muhlenberg College recruit Chris Markey will have a great season as he moves into the starting role after the graduation of Culver Duquette.

“Chris is really technical in everything he does, watches a lot of tape, working on positioning, hand placement, and stepping into the ball,” said D’Andrea, who will be using freshman Eugene Yoon as his backup goalie.

“As a leader he is stepping up, really directing the defense really well in Hilton Head.”

With a tough schedule that now includes some Pennsylvania prep powers along with games against formidable foes such as Hun, Peddie, and Hopewell Valley, PDS will need to step up collectively on a daily basis.

“They need to be ready to compete hard day in, day out,” said D’Andrea, whose squad was slated to open the season by hosting Voorhees on March 31 before playing at Germantown Academy (Pa.) on April 2 and at Hun on April 7.

“I think our balance on offense is a strength; we have six, seven, or eight guys who are comfortable finishing. The defense plays well as a group, working together inside, not as individuals.”

In D’Andrea’s view, the team’s biggest strength could well be the diligence the group has displayed all year long.

“It is the hardest working group of guys I have been around,” said D’Andrea, noting that all five seniors on the team are committed to play lacrosse for college programs.

“They were on the field a lot shooting in the offseason and they got together in the weight room two days a week.”

AS NEEDED: Hun School boys’ lacrosse player Chris Aslanian heads upfield last Monday in Hun’s 14-13 win over the IMG Academy (Fla.) in overtime. Postgraduate Aslanian tallied four goals and three assists in the victory to help the Raiders improve to 3-0. Hun plays at Blair in April 1 before hosting PDS on April 7.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

AS NEEDED: Hun School boys’ lacrosse player Chris Aslanian heads upfield last Monday in Hun’s 14-13 win over the IMG Academy (Fla.) in overtime. Postgraduate Aslanian tallied four goals and three assists in the victory to help the Raiders improve to 3-0. Hun plays at Blair in April 1 before hosting PDS on April 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Chris Aslanian and the Hun School boys’ lacrosse team didn’t show any opening day jitters as they started their season by hosting Don Bosco last Wednesday.

With post graduate Aslanian chipping in a goal and an assist, Hun jumped out to a 5-0 lead after the first quarter.

“I think it is just a total team effort, just coming out there, we wanted to have a fast start,” said Aslanian.

“We have a lot of talent on our offense. Our coach really harps on playing team offense, working together, using each other and playing unselfish.”

Hun kept it together the rest of the afternoon, cruising to a 16-5 win over the Ironmen. Aslanian ended up with three goals and four assists, repeatedly connecting with fellow post-grads Chris Donovan and Brendan Rooney.

“We are also boarders at the school; we live here and we have been playing together for a while,” said Aslanian.

“We definitely have a chemistry. I think our whole offense is really great. We really understand the whole idea behind it, just working together as a team. Everyone does their own part.”

In reflecting on his big debut, Aslanian spread the credit around. “I think any guy can do that, I was in the right spot at the right time,” said Aslanian, who had another big day last Monday, scoring four goals as Hun edged IMG Academy (Fla.) 14-13 in overtime to improve to 3-0.

“We have a lot of talent around here and I just happened to be the beneficiary of all the hard work.”

Aslanian, a former standout at Westfield High who has committed to attend Hobart College and play for its men’s lax program, is finding Hun to be a good spot for him.

“It has been a great experience, the guys have been awesome,” asserted Aslanian. “It has been a really smooth transition. The coaching staff is amazing, I love it here.”

Earning the respect of the guys, Aslanian was voted by the players to be one of the team captains this spring.

“I was truly honored to have my teammates vote for me; I think it has been great so far,” said Aslanian.

“I have only been here a year. We have a lot of captains who have been here for a while and they kind of run the show and I just try to do my little part.”

Hun head coach MV Whitlow likes how Aslanian is getting it done. “Chris is a really dynamic player, he is always looking for his teammates,” said Whitlow. “He is very talented, he can shoot the ball really well but he also has great vision.”

The Raiders’ dynamic performance against Don Bosco was heartening to Whitlow. “We wanted to start fast and I think we did start fast,” said Whitlow.

“We wanted to play uptempo and I thought we did play uptempo. We want to push our opportunities and share the ball and when that happens a lot of guys are going to get good looks and today they went in.”

Junior midfielder Alex Semler’s good work on face-offs helped get Hun rolling.

“We were happy because we were winning face-offs, Alex Semler is pretty tough at the X,” said Whitlow.

“He has really been working hard. He is a team guy and he wants to get the ball for us. When we have the ball that much, we are going to have success as long as the guys share the ball, trust each other, and play unselfishly.”

Hun played well at the defensive end of the field, stifling the Ironmen. “Tucker Stevenson anchors things back there on the defense; having Jon Levine behind him in goal really helps,” said Whitlow.

“Robert Kuhn is a great defensive midfielder. Chris Fake and the addition of Kyle Horihan are big back there.”

With its talent and work ethic, Hun appears poised to have a big spring.

“I think the players having worked so hard, really trust the coaching staff,” said Whitlow, whose team plays at Blair on April 1 before hosting PDS on April 7.

“The flip side of that is that the coaches really trust the players to make plays on the field and we empower them to do that, to be free thinkers and creators. They trust each other, that is the most important thing.”

In Aslanian’s view, maintaining that trust could result in the Raiders becoming a true powerhouse.

“I think if we just stay the course and keep working together and playing unselfishly and really work on that, we can do a lot of big things,” said Aslanian.

JUST FINE: Hun School baseball player Justin Pontrella takes a swing in 2014 action. Last Monday, senior first baseman Pontrella contributed two RBIs as Hun topped Academy of New Church (Pa.) 19-1 in its season opener. In upcoming action, the Raiders play at Blair on April 1 before hosting Lawrenceville on April 2.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

JUST FINE: Hun School baseball player Justin Pontrella takes a swing in 2014 action. Last Monday, senior first baseman Pontrella contributed two RBIs as Hun topped Academy of New Church (Pa.) 19-1 in its season opener. In upcoming action, the Raiders play at Blair on April 1 before hosting Lawrenceville on April 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As Bill McQuade enters his 45th season guiding the Hun School baseball team, that wealth of experience should come in handy as he looks to utilize the ample supply of talent at his disposal.

“It has been a long, long time since we have had this kind of depth,” said Hun head coach McQuade, who guided the Raiders to an 8-12 record in 2014.

“We have a lot of good players and there is not much difference between them. We need to move the pieces around. We have so many pieces and they all have to buy into it. It is next man in; they have to perform as well as they can so we can move the pieces.”

McQuade has lots of good options when it comes to his mound corps. “We have six, seven, or eight guys who can pitch one, two, or three innings, they can throw strikes and change speeds,” said McQuade.

Senior Jason Applegate, junior Rob Huselid, and junior George Revock figure to be the front line hurlers.

“The starters are Applegate, Huselid, and Revock; we think they can go three, four, five, or six innings,” said McQuade, whose team topped Academy of New Church (Pa.) 19-1 last Monday in its season opener with Applegate getting the win on the mound.

“Jason is looking good; he has got the arm. He is going to Villanova so he can just relax and play the game. He is one of our captains and a 4-year player. He will play outfield when he is not pitching, he is a very good hitter. Robby Huselid has improved so much. He threw sidearm last year and had a good curve. He is 6’6, I suggested that he change his arm slot. He worked hard in the weight room, gained 30 pounds and is coming with a three-quarter delivery and his curve is breaking down hard. He is going to be something now, nothing fazes him, he doesn’t get uptight on the mound. If something bad happens, he just goes on to the next batter. Revock did really well last year.”

The trio of Revock, junior Jordyn Smith, and senior Justin Pontrella will be alternating between first base, pitcher,  and designated hitter.

“Jordyn Smith got bigger and stronger, he can pitch and play first,” said McQuade. “George is left-handed so I like having him at first. Some of the plays there are easier for him. His bat has to be in the lineup. He is thinking about playing in college and he knows it will have to be with his hitting. Pontrella is in the mix. He can pitch, he throws strikes.”

Others in the pitching mix include junior James Werosta, senior Matt Kooker, sophomore Blake Brown, senior Kyle O’Sullivan, and senior Nick Perez.

“Werosta pitched a lot last year; Kooker got some innings,” added McQuade. “They both play in the infield. Blake Brown can play all nine positions. O’Sullivan has been playing with us for four years. He may have been our most effective pitcher on our Florida trip, we threw him after some faster pitchers. He throws strikes and changes speeds. Nick Perez is a shortstop and another team captain. He could be a pitcher, too; he might be our closer. He throws hard and has a good curve.”

Perez will help trigger what figures to be a very good offense. “Brown, Kooker, and Peter Schintzler are at top of order,” said McQuade.

“Perez may be in second or third hole. He was driving the ball in Florida, going gap to gap. Alex Mumme, a junior transfer from Montgomery, was our most consistent hitter in Florida. He played center field and will be in the middle of the order. Revock, Pontrella, and Jordy Smith are also in the middle of the order. Gideon Friedberg will be in there. He hit well in Florida. He is solid, he is going to Franklin & Marshall. He is going to be a key to the team. He has to stay healthy and come up big. We have a lot of youth behind him at catcher.”

McQuade had lots of flexibility in terms of his defense with Smith, Pontrella, and Revock as options at first base, the speedy Schintzler at second, Perez at short, and either Kooker or Werosta at third, and Friedberg holding down the catcher spot. In the outfield, McQuade is looking at Brown, Kooker, Mumme, Applegate, and Evan Barratt.

In order to have a big spring, the Raiders need to take care of the basics.

“The pitchers have to do a good job of throwing strikes and keeping guys off the bases,” said McQuade, whose team plays at Blair on April 1 before hosting Lawrenceville on April 2.

“We need to catch the ball in the field. I think we will hit the ball, we don’t have power hitters but we have a lot of guys who make contact. We have talent.”

SUPER SAVER: Stuart Country Day School lacrosse goalie Harlyn Bell makes a save in a game last spring. Senior goalie Bell will be counted on to lead the Stuart defense this spring. The Tartans started the season with a 17-6 win over the Country Day School of the Sacred Heart (Pa.) last Monday, giving new head coach Kelsey O’Gorman a win in her debut. Stuart plays at the George School (Pa.) on April 7.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SUPER SAVER: Stuart Country Day School lacrosse goalie Harlyn Bell makes a save in a game last spring. Senior goalie Bell will be counted on to lead the Stuart defense this spring. The Tartans started the season with a 17-6 win over the Country Day School of the Sacred Heart (Pa.) last Monday, giving new head coach Kelsey O’Gorman a win in her debut. Stuart plays at the George School (Pa.) on April 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Kelsey O’Gorman, it has been an easy move, literally and figuratively, to take the helm of the Stuart Country Day School lacrosse program.

O’Gorman, the former head coach of the Princeton High girls’ team and a physical education teacher at the school, has enjoyed coming across town to lead the Tartans.

“I thought it was a great opening; I saw a good opportunity,” said O’Gorman, who guided PHS to a 17-4 record last spring and trips to the finals of both the Mercer County Tournament and Group III South sectional.

“I was taking over for coach (Caitlin) Grant, I knew her from college (TCNJ) and she said it was a great group of girls. It has been exciting to see how everything works at Stuart and bring to some of my experiences to the program.”

Stuart features a trio of exciting playmakers in junior stars, Tori Hannah, Sam Servis, and Julia Maser.

“Those three juniors bring a lot to the field, from draws to passing to scoring,” said O’Gorman, who is taking over a team that went 8-6 in 2014.

“I think the draw is the hot spot for us, we get so much possession. It is nice because that is something you normally have to work on a lot at the beginning. I have a lot of faith in our draw unit.”

Senior Nneka Onukwugha, junior Harley Guzman, and freshman Ali Hannah will also see work in the offensive end.

“Harley and Nneka will help the attack,” added O’Gorman, whose team was on the attack in its opener as it posted a 17-6 win over the Country Day School of the Sacred Heart (Pa.) last Monday. “Tori’s younger sister, Ali Hannah, will be helping us on attack.”

On defense, junior Rose Tetnowski should be a big help to a young group.

“Rose is one of our most experienced defenders; she is great at clearing the ball,” said O’Gorman.

“She is a smart player and a good all-around athlete. We are still working with some younger players on defense. We have a lot of talent there but we are looking for veterans to lead the way.”

Senior goalie Harlyn Bell figures to be a key leader for the Tartans this spring.

“Harlyn has a lot of spunk, she knows how to lead a team,” asserted O’Gorman. “She brings things together on defense and is verbal in the crease.

She has great footwork, she is a great player.”

In O’Gorman’s view, things are coming together as the players get used to their new coach.

“We just need to grow as a team and learn from each game,” said O’Gorman, whose team will look to keep on the winning track when it plays at the George School (Pa.) on April 7.

“They are definitely coachable girls. When they are at practice, they are ready to learn. They have to be versatile players because we will be asking them to step into roles that are best for the team. They go with the flow.”

O’Gorman believes the team can go far this spring. “I am looking to take Stuart lacrosse up a notch and compete at a whole new level,” said O’Gorman. “We had practice today at 6 a.m. It is intense.”

March 25, 2015
SAILING ALONG: Princeton University women’s lacrosse head coach Chris Sailer surveys the action during a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, Hall of Famer Sailer earned the 350th win of her 29-year tenure at Princeton as the Tigers topped Harvard 17-12. No. 13 Princeton, now 6-1 overall and 2-0 Ivy League, hosts California on March 25 and Delaware on March 28.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SAILING ALONG: Princeton University women’s lacrosse head coach Chris Sailer surveys the action during a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, Hall of Famer Sailer earned the 350th win of her 29-year tenure at Princeton as the Tigers topped Harvard 17-12. No. 13 Princeton, now 6-1 overall and 2-0 Ivy League, hosts California on March 25 and Delaware on March 28. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After winning its first four games of the season, the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team hit a roadblock on a trip to Virginia earlier this month.

Playing a powerful University of Virginia squad, Princeton fell behind 12-4 on the way to an 18-11 loss to the Cavaliers in the March 14 contest.

While the loss stung, Princeton head coach Chris Sailer believes it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

“I think we really needed that; of course you want to win but we had some wins where we hadn’t played our best,” said Sailer.

“We needed to make some changes and adjustments. We needed to play with a different energy and effort. We needed to focus the girls. We had to keep fighting when things weren’t going our way. We got a lot of goals in the second half so that was good to see.”

A week of spring break followed the Virginia game and that gave the Tigers a chance to recharge in time for home games against Penn State last Wednesday and Harvard on Saturday.

“We did some fun things; we did bowling at Colonial Lanes and we did laser tag,” said Sailer. “After a tough loss, we needed to just have some fun together and I think that put us in a good frame of mind for Penn State.”

The 13th-ranked Tigers had fun in the clash with Penn State, overcoming an early 4-2 deficit to pull out a 12-11 win.

“I think they were ranked 11th when we played them,” said Sailer, who got four goals from senior Erin Slifer in the win with senior Erin McMunn contributing three goals and an assist and junior Stephanie Paloscio adding two goals and two assists. “It was our seventh win in the last eight games against them. It is always a competitive game.”

On Saturday, Princeton faced a competitive foe in an improved Harvard team.

“It is a really good team, they have a lot of athletic kids,” said Sailer, a 1981 Harvard alum who starred in field hockey and lacrosse for the Crimson. “It is the most physical game we have played this year; they have a very physical defense.”

In the clash against the Crimson, the Tigers jumped out to a 5-3 lead only to give up three straight goals. Princeton added a tally by senior Erika Grabbi in the last minute of the half to take a 6-5 lead at intermission. The rivals were knotted at 8-8 early in the second half before the Tigers went on a 5-0 run to gain control of the contest, never looking back on the way to a 17-12 triumph.

“They had their runs but I think the momentum changed early in the second half when we had that 5-goal run, that seemed to break their back,” said Sailer, whose team improved to 6-1 overall and 2-0 Ivy League by virtue of the victory.

The Tigers showed some resilience as they regrouped after McMunn left the Harvard game in the first half due to an injury.

“Initially when she went out we struggled,” said Sailer. “We were figuring it out and it was great to see other girls come through.”

Grabbi ended up with two goals off the bench while Hompe contributed five goals, Paloscio added three goals and three assists, and star midfielder Slifer chipped in four goals and two assists. Slifer was later named the Ivy league Player of the Week.

“Erica had played at UVa and did well; she played within herself against Harvard,” said Sailer.

“She was smart with her decisions, calm and collected. Hompe had a great game, we are feeding off of her energy. It is great to see Stephanie consistently getting goals and assists. She had two goals and an assist against Penn State. She is very crafty, very smart, very alert. She is tough to mark because she is really small. She is playing well.”

The win also marked a milestone as it was Sailer’s 350th career victory. “I didn’t think it was something that people would celebrate; I knew I got my 300th win a while ago,” said Sailer, a Hall of Fame coach who now has a 350-139 record in 29 years guiding Princeton.

“It just represents a lot of great kids and assistant coaches that I have had. I am so fortunate to coach at a place like Princeton with the kids and staff that I have had. It makes me think about how the kids have earned all of those wins.”

With Princeton hosting California on March 25 and Delaware on March 28, Sailer is looking to add to that win total.

“The focus is to continue to get better; we were not taking enough risks on defense,” said Sailer.

“Against Penn State, Amanda Leavell had a great game with stick checks and ground balls. Liz Bannantine made a clutch play at the end of the game, getting a ground ball when they were pressing forward. We have to stretch ourselves and do more on the field, we could see that in the loss at Virginia. We want to have better defensive intensity and execute all over the field. The focus is on ourselves; we need to keep our house in order.”

HERE COMES MR. BROWN: Hun School boys’ hockey player Blake Brown controls the puck in a game this winter. Sophomore forward Brown emerged as Hun’s top scorer with 52 points on 22 goals and 30 assists, helping the Raiders to post a record of 22-3-3 and win the state Prep title and a second straight Mercer County Tournament crown.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HERE COMES MR. BROWN: Hun School boys’ hockey player Blake Brown controls the puck in a game this winter. Sophomore forward Brown emerged as Hun’s top scorer with 52 points on 22 goals and 30 assists, helping the Raiders to post a record of 22-3-3 and win the state Prep title and a second straight Mercer County Tournament crown. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Standing at 5’8 and weighing 140 pounds, Blake Brown doesn’t immediately catch the eye as the Hun School boys’ hockey team takes the ice.

But when the puck is around the net, sophomore forward Brown looms large as his speed, scrappiness, and finishing skill make him a threat to score at any time.

Hun head coach Ian McNally appreciates Brown’s nose for the goal.

“Blake can move the puck with Jon (Bendorf) and Evan (Barratt) but he can also wait until they find their shot and bang in the rebound,” said McNally.

“He is the workhorse. He is the dog that goes into the corner to get it and then goes to the front of the net and it eventually comes back to him.”

With Barratt sidelined most of the season with a knee injury, Brown lifted his game, becoming Hun’s top scorer as it rolled to one of the best seasons in program history. Combining with classmate Bendorf, the Raiders showed early on that they were going to be a force.

In a critical test in December against perennial nemesis Princeton Day School, Brown tallied two goals and an assist while Bendorf scored a dazzling end-to-end first period goal that gave Hun a 1-0 lead, jumpstarting the Raiders to a 6-1 triumph as they improved to 6-0-1.

“Coach read us alumni messages about this game and how we were never able to beat these guys in past years,” said Brown. “It is sweet to be finally able to do it.”

Hun ended 2014 on a high note as it won the Purple Puck tournament, topping host Gonzaga in a shootout in the title game after the teams battled to a 4-4 stalemate through regulation time. Brown chipped in a goal and an assist in the title game.

Brown produced some of his best work this winter in the state Prep tournament, tallying four goals to help top-seeded Hun defeat fourth-seeded Montclair Kimberley 7-3 in the semifinals and then adding two goals as the Raiders edged No. 2 Morristown-Beard 5-3 in the title game, earning the program’s first Prep crown since 1996.

“Blake had six goals in two games and they were all within two feet,” said McNally, noting that Brown’s final tally against Mo-Beard marked the 100th point of his Hun career. “He was in the right spot.”

Brown helped Hun take a second straight MCT title, tallying three goals and five assists in three games as Hun outscored its foes 21-0 in breezing to the championship.

“This brings the school together; we don’t get a lot of championships at Hun,” said Brown, reflecting on the team’s postseason success. “Hopefully we will bring a new chapter to Hun and start winning a lot of championships.”

Brown ended up as Hun’s top scorer with 52 points on 22 goals and 30 assists as the Raiders posted a final record of 22-3-3.

“Blake works hard for all of his points, he is not flashy and you might not realize how many points he scored,” said McNally.

For stepping up and emerging as Hun’s top scorer in a championship campaign, Brown is the choice as the Town Topics’ top male performer of the high school winter sports season.

Top Female Performer

It didn’t take long for Abbey Berloco to start turning heads in her freshman campaign with the Princeton High girls’ swimming team.

Making her high school debut against Hopewell Valley in early December, precocious freshman Berloco set a program record in the 50 freestyle with a time of 24.58, bettering the previous mark by 0.11.

For Berloco, getting records was secondary to simply getting better in her first season at the high school level. “I am just hoping for some more personal bests and having a really good season,” said Berloco, who puts in five or six two-hour training sessions a week with her Hamilton Aquatics club team. “My goals are I just want to improve and I want to keep enjoying the sport.”

Berloco ended up having a very, very good season. After helping PHS go undefeated in regular season competition, she won both the 50 and 100 freestyle races at the Mercer County Swimming Championships in early February as the Little Tigers won their third straight county crown. Berloco set a meet record in both races and was named the meet’s Most Valuable Swimmer (MVS) on the girls’ side.

Getting the MVS wasn’t a goal for Berloco as she wasn’t even aware the award existed until she won it.

“I didn’t even know that there was a MVS, everyone said we have to go up for awards,” recalled Berloco. “I was like OK. I was really shocked when I heard my name called.”

While Berloco was thrilled to earn the individual award, she was more excited about the team’s superb performance.

“Everyone did such an amazing job,” said Berloco. “It is great to be part of that; it was really fun to win counties.”

With Berloco dominating the sprint events, PHS kept winning, as it took the Public B Central Jersey sectional title and then topped Ocean City in state semis to advance to the Public B state final, where it fell 100-70 to Scotch Plains-Fanwood to suffer its only loss in a 15-1 season.

Berloco ended the winter in style, combining with sophomore Melinda Tang, junior Madeleine Deardorff, and junior Brianna Romaine to take first in the 400 free relay at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions. Individually, Berloco placed fifth in the 50 free.

In reflecting on Berloco’s exploits, PHS head coach Carly Misiewicz pointed to the freshman’s love of competition.

“She is a stellar athlete without a doubt,” said Misiewicz. “She gets in there and swims her heart out no matter what. If she is a body length ahead or a lap ahead of everybody, she puts her heart and soul into it. That is all you can ask for and that is what makes her the kind of swimmer that she is. She puts in 200 percent effort all of the time.”

Berloco’s excellence from the first race of her freshman season to the last makes her the pick as the top female performer this winter.

Top Newcomers

Entering the winter, Princeton High boys’ basketball head coach Mark Shelley believed that sophomore Zahrion Blue would make an impact in his first varsity season.

“Blue is going to be really good; he can play the wing, he can play inside,” said Shelley. “He has grown, he is about 6’2. He is versatile.”

The athletic Blue grew into a star for the Little Tigers, providing some punch in the paint along with sharpshooting on the perimeter. He ended up averaging 10 points and three rebounds a game as PHS produced a late surge to end up with a 10-12 record after a 4-10 start.

Blue, for his part, felt at home in his move up to varsity. “I have to play hard,” said Blue. “I think I should be on varsity; it is my level.”

For proving that he could thrive at a higher level, Blue gets the nod as the top male newcomer of the winter season.

Malia Leveson was asked to do a lot for the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team this winter.

Although a natural forward, she was moved back to defense to bolster the team’s blue line unit.

“I think it has been good for me,” said Leveson, reflecting on the move. “I play forward for my club team. It was good playing defense at the beginning of the year, it helps me see the ice better and understand all the positions.”

Later in the season, Leveson was shifted back to offense and she responded by tying junior Ashley Cavuto for the team lead with 21 points, scoring a team-high 11 goals with 10 assists as the Panthers posted a 9-12-2 record and advanced to the semis of the ‘A’ bracket at the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) tournament.

Leveson earned All-WIHLMA honorable mention for her heroics, enjoying having the responsibility of being the team’s go-to scorer, letting her production speak for itself.

“I definitely like that a lot,” said Leveson of her role as a top scorer. “I am more of a leader on the ice rather than in the locker room.”

For making an impact at both ends of the ice in her debut season, Leveson is the choice as the top female newcomer.

Top Coaches

Before the season even started for the Hun School boys’ hockey team, head coach Ian McNally faced a major challenge.

The team’s offensive catalyst, gifted sophomore forward Evan Barratt, broke his knee in the fall and was sidelined indefinitely.

“We are missing Barratt and that is a big roadblock for us so we had to rise to it,” said McNally.

Responding to McNally’s leadership, the Raiders rose to the occasion, getting off to a 10-1-1 start in 2014 and closing the year by winning its first title at the Purple Puck Tournament in the Washington, D.C. area.

“We have the skill but we also have chemistry and work ethic and you don’t always get that with the skill,” said McNally. “If you have those three things, you can do well in any league.”

The Raiders kept doing well as the winter unfolded, winning the state Prep title for the first time since 1996 and then rolling to its second straight Mercer County Tournament championship.

In reflecting in Hun’s dream season, McNally noted that it was a total team effort.

“The story of us is depth, regardless of who is here we still play the exact same way,” said McNally, whose team ended the season with a 22-3-3 record.

“Sometimes when you don’t have guys, you have to change the strategy and things like that. Going into every big game, we had to change the lines and whoever it was got it done. Sometimes it was the defense, sometimes it was the big guns and sometimes it was the third line.”

For holding things together as Hun produced one of the best campaigns in program history, McNally is pick as the top coach of a male team this winter.

When Greg Hand retired from teaching and coaching at PHS last June, he left quite a legacy when it came to the school’s swimming program.

Guiding the PHS boys’ and girls’ swimming teams since 1996-97, Hand molded the Little Tigers into a powerhouse. In his tenure, the boys’ squad has gone 202-46-3 with seven county crowns, 12 sectional titles, five appearances in the state finals, and a New Jersey Public B championship in 2012. During that stretch, the Little Tiger girls’ team has posted a record of 152-63-2 with two county crowns, seven sectional titles, and four appearances in the Public B championship meet.

Hand’s replacement, Carly Misiewicz, was in elementary school when he started coaching and had big shoes to fill.

The 2013 Rider University alum and former swim star for the Broncs, who had assisted Hand in his final season at the helm, drew on his experience as she took over.

“He has been great, if I have any questions, he helps me,” said Misiewicz, referring to Hand’s influence.

“He has given me practices that he has done before, saying here is a schedule, do what you want to do but here is this as well if you want it. He gave me all of his resources and he is still such a great mentor. I look up to him so much and I can only hope to be the coach that he is some day.”

With her recent experience of competing at the Division I level, Misiewicz incorporated some new wrinkles into the PHS training regimen.

“We have changed our dryland a little bit, stepping it up a notch,” said Misiewicz, who started swimming at age 4 and was competing year-round by age 8.

“We are doing medicine balls, we are using the combat ropes, the big, thick ropes. We do abs, weighted lunges, weighted squats for just a half-hour or 45 minutes, before or after practice.”

Junior star Brianna Romaine credited Misiewicz with injecting a fresh approach.

“Now with Coach Miz taking a head coach role, it changed the dynamic in a good way,” said Romaine. “It is all positive. Our team is really behind each other and I think overall that is what made us so good.”

Under Misiewicz’s spirited leadership, PHS went on to produce a dynamic campaign, winning its third county title in a row and a second straight Public B Central Jersey sectional title. Advancing one step further than it did in 2014, PHS topped Ocean City in the Public B state semis to set up a championship showdown against Scotch Plains-Fanwood.

While the Little Tigers fell 100-70 to the Raiders, Misiewicz was all smiles as she reflected on the final effort in her team’s superb campaign.

“Why I love being a part of this team so much is that every person is so classy,” said Misiewicz, whose team posted a final record of 15-1.

“They are not going to bad mouth the other team because we lost, no one is a sore loser. Every person on the team knows that we did everything that we could, they swam faster. You can’t swim faster than you are capable of swimming.”

Displaying class and enthusiasm as she guided the Little Tigers to a winter to remember, Misiewicz is the choice as the top coach of a female team.

AGE OF JACKSON: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse player Jackson Andres heads up the field in a game last spring. Senior standout and Drexel-bound Andres figures to be a catalyst again for PHS in 2015 with his blend of physicality and skill. The Little Tigers open regular season play this spring by hosting the Christian Brothers Academy on March 25.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

AGE OF JACKSON: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse player Jackson Andres heads up the field in a game last spring. Senior standout and Drexel-bound Andres figures to be a catalyst again for PHS in 2015 with his blend of physicality and skill. The Little Tigers open regular season play this spring by hosting the Christian Brothers Academy on March 25. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The seemingly interminable winter hitting the area has had a chilling effect on the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team as it prepares for the upcoming season.

“It has been a challenge,” said PHS head coach Peter Stanton, noting that the team’s two scheduled preseason scrimmages were cancelled.

“There has been a lot of gym work. We have had the turf field a number of times but that has normally been with the girls’ team on one half and us on the other, with baseball on the side. We have been trying to make the most out of our time.”

But Stanton, recently inducted into the New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Fame, believes his team will warm up as spring unfolds as has been its custom over the years.

“We want to be that team you don’t want to play in May,” said Stanton, whose team opens regular season play by hosting the Christian Brothers Academy on March 25. “We pride ourselves on being the team that improves the most during the season.”

Stanton is seeing improvement in sophomore Johnny Lopez-Ona and believes he will emerge as a go-to player.

“Johnny started last year as a freshman and he’s going to be a leader there for us this season,” said Stanton, who guided PHS to a 16-4 record last spring and the program’s second straight Mercer County Tournament title.

“He is a little quicker and better at stick protection and dodging. Last year,  Matt Corrado, Matt Purdy, and Kevin Halliday could create with dodging and Johnny was more of a backside player, being in position to finish or make assists. This year he will be creating more.”

PHS boasts some other players who should bolster the attack. “Chris Diver played in midfield last year and we moved him down to attack,” said Stanton of the senior stalwart.

“He played on our man-up unit last year. He is a very savvy player and has good field sense. Besides that we have a host of players in attack including sophomore Eamonn McDonald, sophomore Brendon McCormick, and senior Chris Munoz.”

In the midfield, junior Rory Helstrom, a star running back for the 8-2 PHS football team last fall, figures to carry a heavy load.

“It all starts with Rory, he is very explosive,” said Stanton. “If he can get by a player in football, he can certainly do it in lacrosse. He is a gifted athlete and he has worked hard in the weight room.”

A pair of talented junior athletes, Nick Halliday and Luis Lazo, will give Helstrom some support in the midfield.

“Nick Halliday and Luis Lazo got shifts last year on defense so they got a little bit of experience,” said Stanton of the pair who starred for the PHS boys’ soccer team this fall as it won the county crown and advanced to the Group 3 state title game. “More importantly, they were with the team and saw how the older kids did things.”

The PHS midfield also include a number of new faces. “We have a lot of new guys,” added Stanton. “Mark and Luke Duarte are sophomore twins. Oliver Hamit, a sophomore, is returning from shoulder surgery. Justin Marciano is another sophomore in the midfield along with Patrick Jacobs, a freshman.”

Three of the team’s best guys, senior Jackson Andres, senior Colin Buckley, and senior Joe Hawes, will spearhead the defensive unit.

“Jackson is phenomenal, he is so disruptive to other teams,” said Stanton, adding that sophomore Norman “Tooker” Callaway, senior Christian Sandford, and freshman Ian Jacobs should also see time on defense.

“He can take over the game and will score some goals for us. The same is true for Joe Hawes, we can put him against our opponent’s best attackman and he can neutralize that guy, giving Jackson and Colin more favorable matchups. Colin is physical, he has a lot of experience.”

Senior goalie Kenan Glasgold is better for the experience he got last spring in his first season as a starter.

“Kenan had a very good year last season,” said Stanton. “He is looking a lot better right now than he looked at this time last year.”

While it might take a few weeks for PHS to get in synch this spring, Stanton is confident it can have a very good season.

“We are combining inexperience with expectations of competing for a county title and being in the mix for a Group 3 title; we need to have patience and have a tolerance for mistakes that we are going to make as we grow,” said Stanton, noting that assistant coach Chip Casto is focusing on coming up with the offensive scheme that will get the most out of the team’s potential.

“We do have senior leadership with some outstanding players who really want to win. We need to focus on long term goals and how we are going to end up in May.”

LEADING THE WAY: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Allie Callaway heads to goal in a game last season. Junior attacker and George Mason — bound Callaway brings a strong finishing touch to the PHS offense. The Little Tigers, who are welcoming a new head coach, David Schlesinger, open the 2015 season by playing at Shore on March 25 before hosting Hun on March 27.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LEADING THE WAY: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Allie Callaway heads to goal in a game last season. Junior attacker and George Mason — bound Callaway brings a strong finishing touch to the PHS offense. The Little Tigers, who are welcoming a new head coach, David Schlesinger, open the 2015 season by playing at Shore on March 25 before hosting Hun on March 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In taking the helm of the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse program, David Schlesinger knows that he walked into a good situation.

“The preseason has been great, the girls are wonderful,” said head coach Schlesinger, the replacement for Kelsey O’Gorman, who is now guiding the Stuart Country Day School lax program after leading PHS to a 17-4 season in 2014 and an appearance in the Group III South sectional final. “They are incredibly coachable and eager to learn.”

Schlesinger has plenty of lacrosse knowledge to pass on to his new charges, having played three seasons for the Colgate University men’s team in the late 1970s before coaching the Moorestown girls’ youth programs and then guiding Eastern High and Wissahickon High (Pa,) girls’ programs. He has also coached for the Ultimate Goal lacrosse club headed by former Princeton University women’s lax assistant coach Michele DeJuliis.

With that wealth of experience, Schlesinger brings a detailed approach to his new assignment.

“We will be a very disciplined, aggressive team that tries to make the small plays like draw controls and ground balls,” said Schlesinger, whose team opens the 2015 season by playing at Shore on March 25 before hosting Hun on March 27.

“We want to have a smooth transition from offense to defense and defense to offense. We want to be very disciplined on offense, organized and aggressive on defense. We really start from the goal out. If you prevent goals, you have a much better chance to win.”

PHS boasts one of the top goalies in the area in four-year starter and Michigan-bound Mira Shane.

“I am incredibly fortunate to inherit a goalie like Mira Shane,” said Schlesinger.

“As great a goaltender as she is, she is a better person. She is one of our tri-captains.”

With a defensive unit featuring senior Oona Ryle, junior Gabrielle Deitch, junior Trish Reilly, senior Campbell McDonald, and sophomore Gwen Koehler, the Little Tigers should be able to hold foes at bay.

“Oona Ryle is one of our captains and will be a leader on defense,” said Schlesinger.

“Gabby Deitch is very fast. Trish Reilly is going to Lehigh to play field hockey. We moved Campbell McDonald to defense to take advantage of her speed and physicality. Gwen Koehler is a terrific young player. We have speed, smarts, and good lateral movement on defense.”

The PHS midfield includes a number of terrific athletes. “I have an embarrassment of riches in the midfield,” asserted Schlesinger.

“Starting with Julia Ryan, who has committed to Holy Cross, and Taylor Lis; they are both tall, strong, really fast with strong stick skills. Jordyn Cane is very fast, highly skilled; she is coming into her own. Freshman Abaigael Ryan was a real standout in our play day. She will be pushing other girls for playing time, I can play her all over the field. She will be a good utility player as a freshman.”

On attack, the Little Tigers have plenty of firepower in senior Gabrielle Gibbons, junior Allie Callaway, junior Sydney Reynolds, and sophomore Georgia McLean.

“Gabby is a very decorated player, she is our third captain,” added Schlesinger.

“She is heading to VCU; she is a good finisher. Allie Callaway is going to George Mason; she is a big strong player. She is highly skilled with an incredible shot. Sydney Reynolds is a very crafty, highly skilled player. Georgia McLean is one of the most aggressive, quick players I have ever coached.”

While PHS has the skill to have another big season, Schlesinger believes its success will depend on being cool under fire.

“We need discipline when we are facing the better teams,” said Schlesinger, noting that PHS is playing such formidable teams as Shore, Bishop Eustace, Clearview, Rumson-Fair Haven, Lawrenceville, Notre Dame, and WW/P-N.

“Sometimes when you get pushed, there are breakdowns. We will have some early setbacks and we will need to bounce back from that. There is no one I need to hide. It frees us up as coaches to do neat things with the team.”

STANDING TALL: Hun School boys’ lacrosse goalie Jon Levine guards the net in a game last season. Junior star and Princeton-bound Levine will be a key performer for Hun this spring as it looks to improve on the 13-7 record it posted last year. The Raiders get their 2015 campaign underway this week by hosting Don Bosco on March 25, playing at Somerville on March 28, and then hosting the IMG Academy on March 30.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STANDING TALL: Hun School boys’ lacrosse goalie Jon Levine guards the net in a game last season. Junior star and Princeton-bound Levine will be a key performer for Hun this spring as it looks to improve on the 13-7 record it posted last year. The Raiders get their 2015 campaign underway this week by hosting Don Bosco on March 25, playing at Somerville on March 28, and then hosting the IMG Academy on March 30. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The watchword around the Hun School boys’ lacrosse team this spring is trust.

“We need to focus on team building more than ever and developing trust,” said Hun head coach MV Whitlow, who guided the Raiders to a 13-7 record last year and a second straight appearance in the state Prep A championship game.

“We need to exhibit a level of character and we need to to trust in each other, trust in the process, trust in the coaches, and trust in the players.”

To help develop that trust, Hun traveled back to Arizona this month for its annual preseason trip.

“It was a great trip, we had a lot of time on the field to practice and did a lot of things together off the field,” said Whitlow.

“We did horseback riding on the Verde river and climbed Camelback Mountain again. We are emphasizing being the best version of ourselves in everything that we do.”

Whitlow will be looking to some key veterans to help Hun be at its best in the midfield as senior Brendan Black, junior Owen Black, senior Cole West, senior Julian Williams, junior Chris Andrews, and junior Patrick Brake give the Raiders a lot of firepower in that unit.

“We have two main midfield units that we are running,” said Whitlow, whose team opens the season by hosting Don Bosco on March 25.

“Brendan and Owen Black are on one line, they are looking very, very good. Cole West and Julian Williams are together on another. Chris Andrews and Pat Brake are on another line, they put up points last year. We have increased depth.”

On the defensive end of the field, Hun boasts some battled-tested performers in senior Tucker Stevenson, sophomore Chris Fake, and senior goalie Jon Levine.

“Tucker is one of our captains; he is a dynamic player,” asserted Whitlow. “We will play him up top and down low. We can play him all over the field. He’s a seven-year guy at Hun, he came in together with Brendan Black. Chris Fake is a sophomore, he is real talented. Another captain, Jon Levine, is back in goal. He is looking real strong.”

If the Raiders can get on the same page, they should be a very strong team this spring.

“We need to come together as a team,” said Whitlow, noting that offensive coordinator Jeff Snow has implemented a new offensive scheme that should result in a more up-tempo attack.

“I think the guys are very committed to the team success and not individual stuff. We have high character guys who care a lot for each other. A theme we have shared is to focus on the process, consistent winning comes from the process; not focusing on the outcome. We have ramped up the schedule and the guys are hungry and ready to take the next step.”

QUICK LEARNER: Hun School girls’ lacrosse player Julia Salerno heads up the field in a game last spring. Sophomore Salerno figures to be a top defender for the Raiders this spring, who will be guided by new head coach Liz Cook.  Hun opens its 2015 season by playing at Princeton High on March 27.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

QUICK LEARNER: Hun School girls’ lacrosse player Julia Salerno heads up the field in a game last spring. Sophomore Salerno figures to be a top defender for the Raiders this spring, who will be guided by new head coach Liz Cook. Hun opens its 2015 season by playing at Princeton High on March 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By the end of last spring, Liz Cook was ready to take a hiatus from coaching high school lacrosse.

“I was a Princeton Day School varsity coach, I was coaching at Princeton Lacrosse Club and Garden State Elite,” said Cook, who had been coaching at PDS for 15 years.

“I was really busy, there was not enough time for my kids. I wanted to take a break from high school lax and still coach the club teams. After the end of the PDS season, I told them what I was planning.”

But then Cook got an offer she couldn’t refuse as the Hun School reached out to her to see if she would take over a girls’ lacrosse program that had struggled to a 1-11 record in 2014.

“Hun is very much like PDS, there are a lot of similarities between the kids at both schools,” said Cook, a former three-sport star at PDS who went on to play field hockey, ice hockey, and lacrosse at Brown University.

“I knew some of the players from Garden State Elite. I knew they were struggling; it was a chance to really make a difference. It was a good fit.”

So far, Cook appears to be a good fit for the Hun program, heartened by how her players have responded to the coaching change.

“They have been great, they have taken me in with open arms,” asserted Cook, who is succeeding Haley Sanborn.

“They have bought into my philosophy. We all have a vision, we are all on the bus and they each have a ticket.”

The team’s recent preseason trip to South Carolina helped forge the bond between Cook and her new charges.

“We went to Hilton Head and had a ball,” asserted Cook. “We played a lot of lacrosse and did a lot of team building things. They feel like my kids already.”

A major goal for Cook this spring is to build up her team’s confidence as Hun looks to get back on the winning track.

“My philosophy for this year is to make everything positive,” said Cook.

“We have a team motto, “TNT”, meaning today, not tomorrow; do it now. Each girl picked a word that is special to them and they will focus on that in addition to the team.”

Cook is focusing on putting together a potent attack, noting that she is still working on figuring out the best way to deploy such talented players as juniors Emma Consoli and Katie Consoli, junior Mariesa Cay, sophomore Delia Lawver, junior Lindsay Ruddy, junior Maura Kelly, sophomore Shannon Dudeck, and sophomore Sophia Albanese.

“We have a lot of talent, the Consoli girls are great in the midfield, they really see the field,” said Cook.

“Cay is playing attack right now, she is really strong. Lawver is also good. They all have so much skill and lacrosse IQ. They are looking to me to put it together. It is hard for me to know right now where everyone is going to be. I may be moving people to positions they haven’t played in the past because I can see that they have the talent for that role.”

Things are more settled for the Raiders on defense. “We have a good defensive unit,” said Cook. “We have a lot of seniors, Amanda Barbour, Shannon Graham, Taylor Nehlig, and Reina Kern, along with sophomore Julia Salerno. The defensive unit is pretty much set.”

Cook is expecting sophomore goalie Maddie McNulty to have a good year.

“Maddie has made huge strides, she has worked hard,” said Cook. “She went to a lot of camps and has a personal coach. She has really come along.”

As Cook begins the rebuilding process, she is looking for the players to trust her approach.

“They have to stay with the plan; they might come against adversity and think it is not going to work,” said Cook.

“They need to stay with  the vision, no matter what happens. They have some fresh wounds from a season that was not what they wanted record-wise.”

Although it is early, the Raiders appear to have the chemistry to stick together through thick and thin.

“I have never had a team like this, they are all really good friends,” said Cook. “There is no drama; I never heard any of them say a negative word about anyone else. They really support each other.”

March 18, 2015
SLIDESHOW: Kelly Curtis handles her skeleton sled before a recent training session. Curtis, a former star athlete at Princeton High who went on to be a track All-American at Springfield College and a Penn Relays champion in the heptathlon, is currently training with the USA bobsled and skeleton development team. She placed first in the skeleton at the Eastern Regionals last weekend to earn a spot at the National Team Trials in October.(Photo Courtesy of Kelly Curtis)

SLIDESHOW: Kelly Curtis handles her skeleton sled before a recent training session. Curtis, a former star athlete at Princeton High who went on to be a track All-American at Springfield College and a Penn Relays champion in the heptathlon, is currently training with the USA bobsled and skeleton development team. She placed first in the skeleton at the Eastern Regionals last weekend to earn a spot at the National Team Trials in October. (Photo Courtesy of Kelly Curtis)

After wrapping up an All-American track career at Springfield College, Kelly Curtis seemed to have found her calling.

The former Princeton High track and basketball star took a position as an assistant coach with the St. Lawrence University track team and entered the school’s masters program in educational leadership.

“It is totally different; I remember my first meet and being so nervous for my athletes, it is like being a parent,” said Curtis, a three-time All-American in the combined events and the 2011 Penn Relays Heptathlon Champion. “It was good, it was what I thought I wanted to do.”

But Curtis started to get the itch to get back into competing. “It was exciting to be a normal adult and eat what I wanted to but my clothes weren’t fitting and I wanted something to motivate me,” said Curtis. “I am not into CrossFit or distance running.”

Influenced by some Springfield track teammates who had joined the U.S. bobsled program, Curtis decided to head over to nearby Lake Placid in August, 2013 to take part in a combine and see if she had a future in winter sports.

Excelling in the fitness tests which included 5-meter sprints, shot puts, standing long jumps, along with squats and power cleans in the weight room, Curtis was invited to a bobsled driving school that December.

It didn’t take long for Curtis to realize that she had found a new calling.

“My first run was in a 2-man bobsled,” recalled Curtis. “I was in the back of the bobsled; it was like a bumpy roller-coaster ride. I thought it was amazing, I am hooked, that’s it.”

The U.S. coaches also urged Curtis to try her hand at skeleton, another sliding sport which entails riding a small sled down a frozen track while lying face down, during which the rider can reach speeds over 80 mph.

“It is more crazy when you are watching; it is not as crazy when you are doing it,” said Curtis.

“On my first run, the coach dropped me off at top and said hope to see you at the bottom. Your body just reacts. There are no brakes; there is no other option than to go down.”

While enjoying coaching, Curtis decided that she couldn’t wait to pursue the U.S. sledding option.

“I was trying to decide all last spring,” said Curtis. “The St. Lawrence athletes and coaching staff wanted me to come back for a third year because they are hosting the nationals. If this was any other thing, I would have come back. But if I was serious about representing my country in international competition, I had to be fully committed. I am already behind the other sliders. I just turned 26 and some of the girls are teenagers. It takes four years to know what you are doing.”

Encouraged by Jamie Greubel, a former Hun School standout who earned a bronze medal in the two-man bobsled at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Curtis entered some bobsled competitions last fall.

“It was really exciting,” said Curtis, reflecting on her debut last November in Calgary. “I just wanted to get off the line and push as hard as I could and just get in the back for the ride. I was sending good vibes to the driver. We ended up finishing third. Jamie and a Great Britain sled finished ahead. It was great being on the podium in my first competition.”

Curtis, who took silver and bronze in bobsled competitions this January in Lake Placid, ultimately concluded that skeleton afforded her the best opportunity to move up the ladder in the U.S. sledding program.

“I decided to come back as a skeleton racer in January,” said Curtis, who is currently training in Lake Placid and has opened a website for donations, fundly.com/kcskelly, to help her cover expenses.

“I have a better opportunity to move up in skeleton. After Rio (the 2016 Summer Olympics), the track athletes will be moving back to bobsled. The track background is a great fit for me, there are a lot of track athletes in bobsled. In skeleton, you see athletes from different sports. We have field hockey players, pole vaulters, gymnasts. It is better if I stick with skeleton; I can determine my own destiny.”

In order to best fulfill her destiny, Curtis is going through an arduous training regimen, on and off the ice.

“I work on acceleration with off ice training in the morning with short sprints and then hit the weight room with power cleans and squats,” said Curtis.

“It is training like a short sprinter and a power lifter. Then it is recovery stuff with flexibility and hurdle drills. In bobsledding, you spend five hours at the course for two runs. There is a lot of sled maintenance and set up, a one hour warm up, and two hours of actual runs and only 20 seconds of activity for me for pushing. For skeleton, you move the sled yourself and there is less maintenance. We come out for three hours, which is usually two or three runs. I am pretty spent after two or three runs.”

Making up for lost time, Curtis is relishing the training process. “My window of opportunity is so short, every day I am out there I am so happy to be doing this,” said Curtis, who is shooting to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics but acknowledges that the 2022 Winter Games may be more realistic considering when she took up sliding. “Skeleton is different, you have to relax to go your fastest. As soon as you tense up, you have trouble on turns.”

While Curtis is troubled at times by the wintry conditions that come with her new sport, her Olympic dream gives her the fuel to overcome the chill.

“I hate the cold,” said Curtis, who placed first in the skeleton at the Eastern Regionals last weekend to earn a spot at the National Team Trials in October.

“It might be freezing when you are warming up on the side of a mountain but when you are representing your country, you don’t feel the cold. I am just trying to be one with the sled.”

STEPPING UP: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball player Chase Lewis drives to the basket in a game this winter. Sophomore guard Lewis emerged as the team’s top player, helping PDS post a record of 5-17.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STEPPING UP: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball player Chase Lewis drives to the basket in a game this winter. Sophomore guard Lewis emerged as the team’s top player, helping PDS post a record of 5-17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team faced Hightstown in a Mercer County Tournament consolation game last month, it was not just the season finale, it was the end of an era.

The clash marked the last game for PDS head coach Paris McLean, who had previously decided to step down at the end of the 2014-15 campaign after eight seasons guiding the program.

“Now is the right time for me to step down, we have a great group and I need to do other things around the school and I realized that I didn’t have time in my schedule to keep coaching basketball,” said McLean, a former PDS football and hoops star who served as an assistant coach for three seasons before taking the helm.

The Panthers gave McLean a great effort in the finale as they fell 57-43 to Hightstown, a marked improvement from a 64-39 loss to the Rams in a regular season meeting between the foes.

“We played well, it was a good way to end,” said McLean, whose team posted a final record of 5-17.

“Of course you want to end with a win but we battled to the end. We improved from the first time we played them. We went to their place and they ran us out of the gym. J.P. Radvany had a couple of 3s and Chase Lewis played really well. I was happy for the seniors, they all got the chance to play and showcase their skills one last time.”

Seniors Chris Azzarello, Josiah Meekins, Zaire Mitchell, Neil Kumar, Rob Hoffman, Marco Pinheiro, Cody Meagher, and Radvany gave the program more than just their skills on the court.

“Some were coming back, like Marco and Chris, and some were playing for the first time,” said McLean.

“If we didn’t have them, we would have had to move up some freshmen and sophomores who needed to play JV this year. They gave great leadership and were great ambassadors for the school.”

McLean tipped his hat to veterans Radvany, a Villanova baseball recruit, and Meekins for their special contributions.

“J.P. played as a freshman and came back as a junior, he didn’t have to play this year but he did,” said McLean.

“With all of the sports specialization now, he could have just focused on baseball. Josiah was consistent, he played all four years with varsity and six years at school, if you count middle school.”

Sophomore guard Chase Lewis had a great year for the Panthers, emerging as the team’s top player and floor leader.

“I don’t know if I could have experienced what Chase did as a sophomore,” said McLean.

“He was the best player on the team. He was the best ball handler, scorer, and defender. He had a lot of burden on his shoulders and he handled it beautifully.”

Sophomores Mark Washington, Paul Franzoni, Hassan Ladiawala, along with junior James Fragale will have more on their shoulders next season.

“Mark Washington stepped up at the the end,” added McLean. “Paul Franzoni got better as the season went on. Hassan Ladiwala improved, and James Fragale will be a good senior.”

In McLean’s view, the returners will benefit from being thrown into the fire this winter.

“I think it is court experience; it is not going to be measured this year,” said McLean. “It is when the sophomores become juniors and then seniors. They are battle-tested. They took their lumps this year but they saw growth.”

As for McLean, he takes a slew of positive memories from his experience in guiding the program, a tenure which was highlighted by the spectacular career of Davon Reed, who scored a program-record 2,102 points and led the Panthers to  Prep B finals in 2012 and 2013 before going on to star for the University of Miami.

“When I inherited the program, it was really down,” said McLean. “We got it up pretty quickly. We had great kids. I will remember winning Prime Time and making it to consecutive Prep B finals but more importantly it is the friendships and the player that you are still in touch with. Coaching Davon was a once in a lifetime thing. It was fun to be part of something special; he let us be a part of it.”

FINAL RUN: Hun School girls’ basketball player Janelle Mullen heads to the basket in a game this season. Senior guard and St. Peter’s-bound Mullen produced some big games offensively this winter to help Hun go 6-15.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FINAL RUN: Hun School girls’ basketball player Janelle Mullen heads to the basket in a game this season. Senior guard and St. Peter’s-bound Mullen produced some big games offensively this winter to help Hun go 6-15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Hun School girls’ basketball team, its regular season game against Peddie in late January was embarrassing.

Trailing 40-19 at halftime, the Raiders went on to suffer a 74-40 drubbing.

“When we played them the first time, we didn’t show up,” said Hun head coach Bill Holup.

Getting a rematch with Peddie in the state Prep A semifinals in February, the Raiders showed their competitive fire. Hun led 31-30 at halftime before the Falcons rode a fourth quarter surge to top the Raiders 63-49.

“The second time we played them in states, it was much more competitive,” said Holup, whose team ended the winter with a 6-15 record.

“We ran out of gas, we didn’t have the horses. Amber (Bourke) was out, she didn’t play in the last two games.”

In reflecting on the season, Holup acknowledged that his team was never really at full strength.

“We were short-staffed, that was the story of the season with all of the injuries,” said Holup.

“It was the most challenging season I have had as a coach. I have had teams with less talent but they were healthy and able to hang in there. This year, every practice, every game, I didn’t know who was going to be there. We had kids playing positions they were not used to.”

Senior captains and star guards Erica Dwyer and Janelle Mullen helped the Raiders hang in there this season.

“Dwyer has been here four years, we are a different team when she is on the floor,” said Holup, noting that Dwyer was sidelined for a few games due to a concussion.

“What she provided was immeasurable. She is a three-sport athlete and that is pretty unusual in this day and age. Janelle missed a handful of games with a fractured finger. In her first game back, she dropped 35 points on Willingboro. She hit a 3 at the buzzer to beat Hill at the MAPL (Mid-Atlantic Prep League) tournament. She did some pretty exciting things.”

Junior guard Bourke also did some exciting things this season and will be a key piece of the puzzle for Hun going forward.

“Amber is one of the purest shooters I have ever coached; her form is terrific,” said Holup. “It is beautiful to watch her put up a shot. I expect her to have a big season next year. We will need her to do a lot.”

Sophomore Julia Fassl and freshman Kendall Dandridge showed a lot of pluck this season as they were handed some tough assignments.

“Julie and Kendall were playing out of position at times; I had them playing forwards against girls that were 5’11,” said Holup.

“They never backed down; they stuck their noses in there. Fassl got our Coaches Award. She put in a hard effort no matter what, as did Kendall. She hustled up and down the court.”

While Hun faced a lot of hardship this winter, Holup believes his players gained a lot from the experience.

“It was an extremely challenging season; this is what sports is about,” said Holup, noting that Hun posted two tough wins in the last week of the season, edging Hill (Pa.) 51-50 on the Mullen buzzer-beater in the MAPL semis and then topping Padua (Del.) 63-58 in double overtime in its last regular season game.

“Everyone likes to win but we had adversity every day. It was good to see us play some of our best basketball of the season at the end.”

ON THE NIALL: Hun School boys’ basketball player Niall Carpenter heads up the court in a game this winter. Junior guard Carpenter provided good work in the backcourt to help the Raiders posts 14-10 record and advance to the semis of both the state Prep A tournament and the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) tourney.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ON THE NIALL: Hun School boys’ basketball player Niall Carpenter heads up the court in a game this winter. Junior guard Carpenter provided good work in the backcourt to help the Raiders posts 14-10 record and advance to the semis of both the state Prep A tournament and the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) tourney. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the Hun School boys’ basketball team showed flashes of brilliance this winter, it didn’t take the final step.

“It was good not great, we did some good things and we beat some really good teams,” said Hun head coach Jon Stone, reflecting on the team’s 14-10 campaign.

“We beat St Joe’s Metuchen, they were one of the top teams in the state. We came from behind to beat them; they were a terrific team. We won nine straight games and 11 of 12. When you do that, you can’t say it was a bad season. We had a good win at Lawrenceville; we were behind and came back against a big rival. We had a great one at home against Peddie.”

But after putting together that nine-game winning streak, Hun lost its regular season finale to the Life Center Academy and then fell to the Hill School (Pa.) in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) semifinals and to St. Benedict’s in the state Prep A semis.

“We just couldn’t end the way we wanted to,” said Stone. “We lost in two semis, we wanted to make some finals.”

The season-ending loss to St. Benedict’s reflected Hun’s uneven play at times. The Raiders dug a large hole and then battled back before falling 66-55.

“We really struggled to score; we struggled going into the half,” recalled Stone, whose team trailed 28-6 at one point in the first half of the contest. “We got ourselves back into the game. We chipped away, we got it down to five. I am proud of the way we competed.”

Stone was proud of what he got this winter from his group of seniors, which included Eric Williams, Tucker Stevenson, Akash Mukkavilli, Kyle Borden, Dominic Robb, Ben Seipt, Andrew Dufort, and Chris Sharp.

“It was a terrific group from top to bottom, everyone made a valuable contribution,” asserted Stone.

“Eric, Tucker, and Akash were our 4-year guys, they were rocks for us,” said Stone. Akash was on the bench most of the time but he worked hard, he had his day in the sun. Eric’s leadership was tremendous, his experience was tremendous, he had a really good year. Kyle had been with team for two years; he came as far as anyone, he was terrific at times for us. The three newcomers, Dom, Ben, Drew were also big parts of what we did. Having Chris Sharp back was important; he brings an intensity, he has the ability to compete and just his demeanor helped us.”

Hun boasts a terrific core of returners in juniors Niall Carpenter and Austin Harriott along with sophomore Austin Hutcherson.

“They all had good seasons; they all grew as the season went on,” said Stone. “We are excited to have them back. Austin and Niall were starters most of the year. Hutcherson is younger but he developed. He had some good games. He got hurt and missed the last half of the season.”

While the season might not have been quite as successful as Stone had wanted, he enjoyed working with the squad.

“It was a fun team to coach; we got better as the year went on,” said Stone. “I just wish we had done a little better at the end.”

WORKING OVERTIME: Members of the Woodwinds team celebrate after their 66-63 win in four overtimes against Mason, Griffin & Pierson in the championship game of the 4th/5th grade boys’ division of the Princeton Recreation Department’s Dillon Youth Basketball League last Saturday. Jaxson Petrone scored 28 points and Gabe Majeski added 15 as Woodwinds rallied from 17 points behind in the fourth quarter to force overtime and eventually pull out the contest. William Doran scored a Dillon League record 53 points in the loss. Pictured in the front row, from left, are Gabe Majeski, Nicholas Bazarko, Nicola Carusone, and Quinn Ramsay. In the back row, from left, are coach Brandon Yao, Max Blecher, Jaxon Petrone, Nicholas Zahn, Mathew Land, and coach Benjamin Tso. For more details on the Dillon title games, see the item elsewhere on this page.

WORKING OVERTIME: Members of the Woodwinds team celebrate after their 66-63 win in four overtimes against Mason, Griffin & Pierson in the championship game of the 4th/5th grade boys’ division of the Princeton Recreation Department’s Dillon Youth Basketball League last Saturday. Jaxson Petrone scored 28 points and Gabe Majeski added 15 as Woodwinds rallied from 17 points behind in the fourth quarter to force overtime and eventually pull out the contest. William Doran scored a Dillon League record 53 points in the loss. Pictured in the front row, from left, are Gabe Majeski, Nicholas Bazarko, Nicola Carusone, and Quinn Ramsay. In the back row, from left, are coach Brandon Yao, Max Blecher, Jaxon Petrone, Nicholas Zahn, Mathew Land, and coach Benjamin Tso. For more details on the Dillon title games, see the item elsewhere on this page.

Taking the helm of the Stuart Country Day School basketball program, Justin Leith met with his players before the season to make sure that they were ready to make a deeper commitment to the game.

The players responded enthusiastically and Leith delivered, conducting more intense practices and adding more than 10 games to the schedule from the season before.

While Stuart tired down the stretch as it lost its last five games, Leith believes going through the marathon of hoops will pay dividends down the road.

“The girls were 8-8 last year so they played 16 games; this year it was 27,” said Leith, whose team posted a final record of 11-16.

“It was 11 more games and they were tired. Mentally it is difficult when it is such a long season and they weren’t geared up for that. It was good, it gave the younger players a lot of experience. They are prepared for what Stuart basketball is about.”

More importantly, the players are prepared to work harder in whatever they do. “A work ethic was instilled in them; some of them are in spring sports and they are telling me they are in so much better shape and they are so much tougher,” said Leith, who is also in his first year as the school’s Director of Athletics.

“When you are in the trenches, you don’t realize that improvement. The work ethic that is instilled in them will help them over their lifetime and it will help us next year.”

This year, seniors Nneka Onukwugha and Harlyn Bell gave the Tartans some good play and leadership.

“Nneka was more of a silent leader; she became a worker and led by example,” said Leith.

“She had so many double-doubles for us. Harlyn was more of a vocal leader. She helped set the standard early. I had a meeting with her and said it can’t all come from me. She was good at telling the girls what needed to be done.”

Several of the Stuart players came a long way as the season unfolded. “Madeline Michaels really improved; she started the last few games of the season,” said Leith, noting that Allison Walsh and Virginia Phlen also made strides.

“She played some JV games and when she saw how much she improved, she gained a lot of confidence. Kate Walsh, Harlyn Guzman, and Rose Tetnowski were all starters and all had good seasons. Kate was our leading scorer. We are going to have great senior leadership.”

In Leith’s view, the players’ increased dedication should help things go even better next season.

“We are renovating the fitness center here, it is part of the Stuart transformation,” said Leith.

“They can get stronger and work on their skills. Some girls are going to camps to help add to their experience and help them be a better team. They are doing things that haven’t been done here before.”

Leith, who had coached the boys’ team at Asheville School in North Carolina before coming to Stuart last summer, enjoyed the experience of guiding the Tartans this winter.

“It was cool; it was difficult to start all over again,” said Leith.

“When I started four years ago, I was new to coaching in high school and everything was new to me. This time, I had expectations, some were met, some weren’t. It was an awesome experience. Girls are different in a good way and it was fun to coach them. Everybody got better, every single girl improved by leaps and bounds.”

March 11, 2015
STEPPING FORWARD: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Matt Hart dribbles into the lane in a game this winter. Junior star forward Hart averaged more than 20 points a game this season and was named as a first-team All-CVC performer. Hart’s heroics helped PHS post a final record of 10-12.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STEPPING FORWARD: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Matt Hart dribbles into the lane in a game this winter. Junior star forward Hart averaged more than 20 points a game this season and was named as a first-team All-CVC performer. Hart’s heroics helped PHS post a final record of 10-12. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

There were plenty of question marks surrounding the Princeton High boys’ basketball team as it headed into the 2014-15 season.

“Back in November, we only had three returning varsity players and it looked like having a .500 record would be tough,” said PHS head coach Mark Shelley.

After going through a tough stretch that saw the Little Tigers lose six straight games to fall to 4-10, Shelley found some answers down the stretch. PHS reeled off a six-game winning streak in improving to 10-10 before ending the season with a 66-52 loss to Trenton in the first round of the Mercer County Tournament and a 59-57 defeat at Nottingham in an MCT consolation contest.

“I am proud of the way they bounced back; it would have been easy to mail it in,” said Shelley, reflecting on the 10-12 season.

“We won six in a row, I was real, real proud of them. I feel that was what we were capable of. We had some really big wins. We beat Trenton and Notre Dame in one week. I think that trickled down to the younger guys and they saw the standard we expected.”

The Little Tigers lost Matt Hart down the stretch to a calf injury but still showed plenty of heart in topping WW/P-S 45-42 and Robbinsville 60-55 without their junior star.

“Matt didn’t play the last four games,” said Shelley of Hart, who averaged more than 20 points a game this year. “I was really proud that we kept our winning streak going. We beat South and Robbinsville but it did hurt us against Trenton and Nottingham. We weren’t fundamentally sound against Nottingham. They had one sequence where they had three one-and-ones and got every offensive rebound. It was the fundamental things.”

The team’s group of seniors had plenty of fun as they went through their final campaign.

“They brought passion, they love to play the game,” said Shelley of the team’s Class of 2015 which includes Kevin Kane, J.C. Silva, John Morelli, Chris Diver, and the Moore twins, Tad and Tommy.

“If I had stayed two hours after practice, they would have stayed too. They are gym rats. I encourage kids to play multiple sports but most of them just play basketball. They get a joy from playing.”

High-scoring guard Kane (more than 15 points a game) produced a superb final campaign with the program.

“Kevin had a nice career; we knew he was a good scorer from the time he was a sophomore,” said Shelley.

“His challenge was to pick up his rebounding and defense and I think he did that. He showed leadership and accepted criticism, that’s what you need from your seniors. Even when his shot wasn’t going, he was doing other things for us.”

Point guard Silva (more than 5 points a game) also did a lot of good things for the Little Tigers this winter.

“J.C. was the most improved player last year and is in the running for it this year,” said Shelley.

“He got stronger; he and Kevin did a lot of work in the weightroom. The day after the season, they took the sophomores and juniors into the weightroom to show them their regime. J.C.’s shot got better, he got better going to his left. He was able to manage the game. He was tough and controlled. He made himself into that kind of player. He knew when to speed it up and slow things down.”

The Moore twins, Tad (5 points and 6 rebounds a game) and Tommy (nearly 3 points and more than 3 rebounds a game), who also starred this fall for the 8-2 PHS football team, formed a tough tandem in the paint.

“The Moore twins were a package deal; their energy inside was obvious,” said Shelley.

“Playing football helps, they were willing to be physical. That was important because we were smaller than every team we played. They were much more able to play structured basketball. We run a motion offense and you need discipline in a zone defense. They were dedicated to improving and when they played together, they had a special chemistry on the court, that intangible twin thing. They contributed significantly to some of our big wins down the stretch.”

Back-up guards Morelli and Diver also made valuable contributions. “Morelli didn’t play much but he was the first one up on the bench cheering,” said Shelley. “He was an integral part of the team and so was Chris Diver.”

The return of Hart and Blue (10 points and three rebounds a game) gives PHS two integral pieces to build around next season.

“We have two real scorers in Matt and Zahrion, they both took a larger step this year and they are talking about summer camps and AAU,” said Shelley, noting that forward Hart was a first-team All-CVC choice, the first PHS player to get that honor in years. “They have the work ethic to take another step.”

Shelley likes the work he got this winter from his other returners Michael Dowers, Theodore Tel, Harry Dyevich,  Andrew Goldsmith, and Sam Serxner.

“Dowers, Tel, and Dyevich are solid juniors,” added Shelley. “From the sophomore class, Goldsmith and Serxner played on varsity. That class had a great freshman season last year. It is a really strong overall group. There are no superstars but a lot of good, solid players and good kids. We should be deep next year with 9-10-11 guys that play a good amount. We need to have three double figures scorers to be successful.”

VETERAN MOVE: Princeton High girls basketball player Mia Levy makes a pump fake in a game this season. Senior forward Levy’s play off the bench helped PHS go 8-16 this season, as it more than doubled the win total from last winter when it went 3-16.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

VETERAN MOVE: Princeton High girls basketball player Mia Levy makes a pump fake in a game this season. Senior forward Levy’s play off the bench helped PHS go 8-16 this season, as it more than doubled the win total from last winter when it went 3-16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

On paper, it would appear that the Princeton High girls’ basketball team ended the winter on a down note.

Playing at second-seeded Marlboro in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional, 15th-seeded PHS suffered a lopsided 68-25 defeat in its last game.

But for Little Tiger head coach Dan Van Hise, the state tourney appearance was icing on the cake in a season that saw PHS post eight victories, more than doubling its win total from last winter when it went 3-16.

“You can paint a pretty picture and say that anybody can beat anybody but we looked at that game as a celebration of what we were able to accomplish,” said second-year coach Van Hise, whose team finished with an 8-16 record.

“They weren’t overly physical or that athletic but they didn’t turn the ball over and they made their shots. If they were open, it was going in. We were down by 23 at half and we said let’s go out and have a good second half and get some of the younger players in and try some things we hadn’t done.”

With PHS suffering six straight losses after it posted its sixth victory, Van Hise was happy to see his team notch wins over WW/P-S and Robbinsville in the last week of the regular season.

“It felt good to get to eight; we didn’t let it slip away,” said Van Hise. “We really wanted the senior class to get those eight wins because that was as many wins as they had combined in their first three years, (1 win-4 wins-3 wins); that put our improvement in perspective. We are going to lose our share of games but what is nice to see is that they don’t want to be a doormat any more. We don’t want to be one of those teams that everyone expects to beat; we are getting to the middle of the CVC.”

Evidence of the team’s increased competitiveness was on display in its impressive 57-47 win over Robbinsville in the regular season finale.

“Robbinsville was easily our best game of the year,” said Van Hise. “I think they took us lightly. We shut down their 1,000 point scorer. Zoe Tesone did a great job on her; I think we held her to 10 points. Brianna (Blue) was a monster inside, they didn’t have an answer for her. That is when I felt like the season was a success.”

Van Hise credits the team’s senior class with making that success possible.

“It was a good group; they all do it in a different way and with five of them that is something to say,” said Van Hise, whose group of seniors included Mary Sutton (7.0 points and 2.0 assists per games this winter), Brianna Blue (6.2 points, 6.6 rebounds), Mira Shane (2.9 points, 2.3 rebounds), Catherine Curran-Groome (5.2 points, 3.3 assists), and Mia Levy (1.7 points, 2.8 rebounds).

“There is no doubt how much they love the game even though Mira plays lacrosse and Mary is a runner. You can tell that they grew up together and they really like playing with each other. When you think of Princeton High girls’ basketball, you will think of those girls.”

Each of the seniors filled a key role for the Little Tigers this winter. “Mary would probably say she wanted to have a better season scoring but she does so much to help us,” said Van Hise.

“She makes everyone better. Brianna came on, she was really an inside presence at the end. Mira is Mira. She is always going to give you energy and hustle. Catherine was a rock, she does pretty much the same thing every game. She has some dishes and hits some shots. Mia playing off the bench was there for us all season.”

While the graduation of the Class of 2015 will leave a big void, PHS has a good foundation in the trio of sophomore Zoe Tesone (3.9 points, 5.4 rebounds), junior Julia Ryan (8.7 points, 2.1 rebounds), and freshman Devon Lis (2.0 points, 1.4 rebounds).

“Losing five seniors will be hard but I like the athleticism of the returners,” said Van Hise.

“Zoe is going to be a stud. We need Julia to develop into more than she is. She is always going to be a knock-down shooter but we want her to be good at other things and be that do-everything player for us. Lis has good vision and is already a solid on-ball defender. We will see how they step into new roles and handle more responsibility.”

In reflecting on his second year at the helm, Van Hise believes that the team developed a unity that will serve it well going forward.

“I opened up to them more this year and everyone bought in from the beginning,” said Van Hise.

“That had a lot to do with the seniors and how much everyone respects them. I like the culture and chemistry that we have now.”

TEACHING OPPORTUNITY: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey head coach Scott Bertoli makes a point on the bench in a game this winter. With a roster dominated by freshmen and sophomores, the Panthers took their lumps this season, going 3-16-5.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TEACHING OPPORTUNITY: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey head coach Scott Bertoli makes a point on the bench in a game this winter. With a roster dominated by freshmen and sophomores, the Panthers took their lumps this season, going 3-16-5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With a roster packed with freshmen and sophomores, Scott Bertoli knew that his Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team was destined to take some lumps this winter.

“It was about getting experience at this level; they had to play outside their comfort zone,” said PDS head coach Bertoli, whose squad included 11 sophomores, six freshmen, and just three seniors.

“They were playing older and stronger players and playing at a faster pace than they are used to. I have seen them play at their level and they are comfortable. The forwards score and their d-men control things. It was freshmen and sophomores playing against juniors and seniors. Things got ratcheted up, it was overwhelming at times, giving up inches and 20, 40, or 60 pounds at times.”

Showing growth, the young PDS squad acquitted itself well in its last weekend of the season, battling hard at the Hill School (Pa.) tournament, losing 4-2 to Hun, 4-2 to Lawrenceville, and 5-0 to host Hill.

“We went up there with a very light lineup; three of our top four defensemen didn’t go,” said Bertoli, whose team had lost 6-1 to Hun and 6-0 to Lawrenceville in regular season meetings.

“We had only four defensemen and one of them was Peter Shannon, who had played forward all year. Given our performances earlier in the year against those teams, I thought it was going to be ugly. We had players who hadn’t played a lot of minutes on the ice and they surprised us. Shannon hadn’t been on the blue line and played every other shift and did well. All in all, it was a successful weekend. We went out and competed well.”

Bertoli is confident that his team will be able to compete better next winter. “As the season progressed and played out, they got experience,” said Bertoli, reflecting on the team’s 3-16-5 campaign.

“We will be better off for the experience. I had an interview with every single kid and the last thing I said to most of them was that they needed to find a weight room and make an effort to get stronger. You can’t control how tall you are but you can make yourself stronger. I think with that and a year of experience, we will be much better next year. The freshman group is talented and I expect big things from them as early as next year.”

The team’s freshman contingent boasts some strong players in Eugene Yoon, Tyler Coffey, Ryan Lisk, Eric Sherman, and Nic Petruolo.

“Yoon started the year as the sixth defenseman; he has talent but it is raw talent,” said Bertoli.

“He has an abundance of energy and he is a bulldog on the ice. At times down the stretch he was our best defenseman on the ice. He played really well at Hill tournament. Tyler Coffey got injured early and that turned out to hurt us. He would have been on the first line and would have helped us on the power play. Our power play was really inefficient and we missed him. He is not that big physically but he is strong. He is committed to weightlifting. Lisk, Sherman, Petruolo are all talented players.”

Junior forward Connor Fletcher’s commitment to excellence help hold things together.

“He was unbelievable on so many levels for us,” said Bertoli, noting that Fletcher was elevated to captain midway through the season.

“He was arguably the best player on the ice at the Hill tournament. He was bigger, stronger, and faster than just about everyone there. He doesn’t play club hockey any more so he was just playing 25 high school games. His hockey skills really progressed. He had to do a lot of things on his own to create offense. Besides the hockey piece, he was such a presence in the locker room. He was always upbeat and always encouraging. He is a smart kid, he gets it. He knew we had a lot of young guys. We will be much deeper next year and he will have a good supporting cast.”

Seniors Will Garrymore, Will Wright, and Harrison Latham did a lot of good things in their final campaign with the program.

“I feel for Will Garrymore, he had two good years playing on two really good teams,” said Bertoli,

“Being only upperclassman on defense a lot of the time, we had to overplay him. He was competitive and he battled. He was sick the last weekend and I was sad to see that. Will Wright and Harrison had two years on the varsity level; they are both great kids. They played two years on JV, they persevered and stuck with it. That was great to see, some kids give up after two years on JV. They scored some big goals for us this winter. Harrison dislocated his shoulder in the first scrimmage and his shoulder popped out almost every game. After the Lawrenceville game, I thought he was finished. He got a brace; it limited him but he didn’t stop competing. I named him assistant captain midway through the season which is something I don’t normally do but he deserved it.”

While the Panthers suffered a steady diet of losing this winter, they didn’t lose their appetite for competition.

“One thing that really impressed me is that they were able to shake off a loss and show up with a smile at practice the next day and the work ethic to match,” said Bertoli. “I still had fun, it was a good learning experience.”

FRESH FACE: Princeton Day School girls’ basketball player Ryan Robinson heads upcourt this season. Freshman guard Robinson’s strong play was a bright spot as PDS finished the winter with a 5-16 record.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FRESH FACE: Princeton Day School girls’ basketball player Ryan Robinson heads upcourt this season. Freshman guard Robinson’s strong play was a bright spot as PDS finished the winter with a 5-16 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

At the beginning of the season, there was a bit of a disconnect hampering the Princeton Day School girls’ basketball team.

“It was tough to get the girls to play together at first,” said PDS second-year head coach Kamau Bailey.

“We had six freshmen come in and the sophomores and juniors were not sure what to make of them. There was a little divide at first. Once they understood their roles, we started playing together as a team.”

After the players got on the same page, the Panthers showed progress. “We started getting wins,” said Bailey, whose team posted a final record of 5-16. “We beat Stuart two or three weeks after they had beaten us in their place and after having lost to them twice last year.

“We got a win against Hightstown and they beat us by 38 last year. We were also able to get a win at the George School (Pa.). All three of those were wins against teams we haven’t beaten in a while.”

In Bailey’s view, those breakthroughs were the product of diligence and team unity.

“It shows that the hard work these girls are putting in is starting to pay off,” said Bailey.

“I saw a bunch of progress this season. Our team chemistry and the bond the girls were able to develop was a key component to our continued progress.”

While the Panthers ended the season by falling 66-36 to Ewing in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament and 46-16 to WW/P-S in a MCT consolation contest, Bailey believes that his young squad gained some good lessons from those setbacks.

“I wanted them to see higher caliber teams and what intensity level they are at,” said Bailey, noting that his team had no seniors on the roster this winter and everyone should be returning.

“They need to see that if we are going to play at that level. The girls were doing stuff against Ewing they hadn’t done all year. They got the ball up the court against a pretty tough press. I want then to take something from each loss.”

Sophomore guard Shayla Stevenson raised the level of her play this winter.

“Shayla had an outstanding year,” said Bailey. “As a freshman she had to bear a lot of the burden of the offense. She was our best player and other teams would key on her. With (Bridget) Kane and (Ryan) Robinson in the backcourt, that freed her up to do some scoring, which is her thing.”

The one-two punch of juniors Isabel Meyercord and Helen Healey gave the Panthers some good things in the paint.

“Isabel missed the first four or five games; it took a while for her to get going,” said Bailey.

“She really helped us on the glass and defensively. Helen has gotten a lot better from last year. She grabbed rebounds and used her body to hold off other girls. Her leadership is important for us, she communicates with me and the girls. She gets her teammates together on the court.”

In the backcourt, the freshman pair of Kane and Robinson stood out. “Bridget was tied with Shayla for team lead with 105 points coming into the last game and got five more to end up with 110 and be our leading scorer,” said Bailey.

“It is phenomenal for her to have the confidence and composure to hit those long shots. She went from middle school and jumped over JV and ended up as a starter on varsity. Ryan Robinson gained a lot of confidence. She came into her own with her ability to get the ball and get her shot. She set a school record for bench press for girls. Once she realized that she was stronger than the other girls she would get rebounds and loose balls.”

Another freshman, Madison Coyne, made a strong contribution in her debut campaign.

“Coyne has a good eye for the ball, she had a lot of blocks and had six in one game,” said Bailey, who noted that his other freshmen, Summer Patterson, Katherine Bennett, and Grace Barbara all made progress.

“She had a defensive presence; we just need to get her to attack the basket and not pass up shots. She has a complete game, she can dribble, she gets rebounds, she is a great passer. She is a good athlete and fires up the rest of the girls.”

Bailey is fired up about his team’s prospects. “My deal with this team is that they have all of the tools,” said Bailey.

“They need a few more games and a little more time in the gym with me. They need to get stronger and to execute the plays better. They need to work on their ability to put the ball in the basket.”

March 4, 2015
GOOD RIDE: Princeton High wrestler Thomas Miers controls a foe in a bout this season. Senior star Miers ended his final campaign with a 33-3 record, wrapping up the season by taking part in the Region V tourney last weekend.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GOOD RIDE: Princeton High wrestler Thomas Miers controls a foe in a bout this season. Senior star Miers ended his final campaign with a 33-3 record, wrapping up the season by taking part in the Region V tourney last weekend. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As a grade schooler, Thomas Miers set his sights on becoming a basketball star.

But when it became clear that he was not destined for stardom on the hardwood, he headed to the wrestling mat.

“I started out playing basketball but I was not that good,” said Miers. “My dad wrestled at Phillipsburg and he suggested that I give wrestling a try. I started with the West Windsor Wolverines from 4th to 6th grade. I enjoyed it, a bunch of my friends were in the club.”

While Miers wrestled for the Cranbury School and the Juggernauts club in Hightstown during middle school, he became truly committed to the sport after entering high school.

“I really didn’t get into wrestling until I was a freshmen at Princeton High,” said Miers.

“I think maturity was the big thing. I was a smaller 106 pounder and I wrestled a couple of seniors who were a lot bigger. The pace of high school was quicker, everyone was a lot better than the guys I had been wrestling before, the skill level was much higher.”

Improving at a rapid pace, Miers matured into one of the top wrestlers to come through PHS in recent years. He ended up posting a 33-3 record this winter in his senior season, competing at the Region V meet last weekend to wrap up his high school career.

After freshman year, he racheted up the intensity, embarking on the path that led to his emergence as a star.

“I did a lot of lifting and offseason training with coach [Rashone] Johnson,” said Miers, who also started training outside school with the CJA wrestling club in East Brunswick.

“I got bigger, I felt more confident. I didn’t necessarily have the results I wanted as a sophomore. I was wrestling at 120 pounds.”

Utilizing that confidence, Miers enjoyed a superb junior year that saw him take fourth in the Mercer County Tournament at 132 pounds and post a record of 28-8.

“I improved by leaps and bounds from sophomore year,” said Miers. “I think my conditioning was always there. It did get better through taking up running. I was learning new techniques and wrestling better guys.”

This winter, Miers took things to a higher level, taking second in the MCT at 138 and winning the title at the District 17 tournament.

“I think I peaked at the right time,” said Miers. “Getting the district title was big. I wrestled well at counties, I came up just short. From the first tournament this year to the end, I was a much better wrestler. I would say it is my confidence. Last year I had confidence but I don’t know if I believed that I could do what I accomplished. I was really expecting myself to dominate this year. I made a list of goals and I accomplished all but two, getting to states and winning Mercer Counties and I came very close to those.”

Last weekend at the Region V tourney, Miers came close to the top-three finish needed to qualify for states, losing 3-1 to Chris Muce of Monroe in a wrestleback which would have earned him a spot in the region semis.

“There were some tough losses,” said Miers. “I was upset after the quarterfinal match (a 15-2 loss to Bound Brook’s Mekhi Lewis). I didn’t wrestle my match, there was not that much difference between us. In the wrestleback, I lost a tight one to the Monroe guy who got third. It was a tough match. I went out and gave it my all.”

Miers was proud of how the PHS team gave its all collectively this winter, winning the CVC’s Colonial Division title.

“We won the division, that was great for the program,” said Miers, whose fellow stars on the team included classmates Patrick Sockler at 132 and Victor Bell at 182 along with sophomore James Verbeyst at 126, sophomore Ethan Guerra at 195, and junior Noah Ziegler at 220. “Everyone on the team really worked hard. We had some tough losses but when we wrestled our best, we were dangerous.”

In Miers’s view, PHS head coach Johnson helped him become a much tougher competitor.

“He has been great, he pushed me so much,” said Miers. “He helped me accomplish things I didn’t believe I could do. He helped me go beyond my limits. He kept pushing me and helped me get better.”

With Miers planning to wrestle in college level, he will be bringing a hard-earned resolve to the next level.

“I just believe I can achieve anything I put my mind to,” said Miers. “Before I trained hard but I didn’t believe in what I could do. I think my confidence has really gone up.”