December 2, 2020

RAISING ARIZONA: Princeton University men’s basketball player Richmond Aririguzoh, right, battles in the paint against Lafayette in a 72-65 loss to the Leopards on November 13, 2019. Two weeks later, Aririguzoh grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds as the Tigers fell 67-65 to Arizona State. While the defeat left the Tigers at 0-5, they built on their performance that night to go 10-4 in their next 14 games on the way to a 14-13 campaign and a spot in the Ivy League postseason tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Remy Martin is a fine French cognac, known worldwide for its smoothness.

But two nights before last Thanksgiving, another Remy Martin, the star guard for the Arizona State University men’s basketball team, produced a vintage performance at Jadwin Gym as the Sun Devils battled Princeton.

The 6’0, 175-pound Martin put on a dazzling display in the November 26 contest, electrifying a Jadwin throng of 2,727 that included Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley Sr., the father of Bobby Hurley, the ASU head coach.

Slashing to the basket, draining pull-up jumpers, and hitting from long distance, Martin poured in 33 points, including a 23-point outburst in the second half.

Despite Martin’s heroics, Princeton, which brought a 0-4 record into the evening, was undeterred. With senior center Richmond Aririguzoh dominating in the paint with 16 points and a career-high 18 rebounds, the Tigers overcame a 46-39 second half deficit to lead 60-54 with 6:19 remaining in regulation. more

HOLY MOSES: Princeton High running back/linebacker Moses Santizo looks for an opening in recent action. Senior co-captain Santizo provided leadership and production as PHS went 1-5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Although the Princeton High football team lost 30-6 at Haddon Township in its season finale on November 21, Charlie Gallagher saw reasons to be encouraged.

“The effort was like it has been in every other game, it was outstanding,” said PHS head coach Gallagher, whose team’s lone score in the finale came on a touchdown pass from junior quarterback Jaxon Petrone to classmate Jaiden Johnson as the Tigers finished the fall with a 1-5 record.

“We played a few new guys because we had some guys banged up. We were able to get a good look at some of our younger guys and they just did an outstanding job. These are good program guys who have been at practice every single day on time. When you do that, you deserve a hand in the pot, so to speak. This was a great opportunity.”

Junior running back Lahehmoo Pwee took advantage of his opportunity to play against Haddon, rushing for 55 yards.

“Lahehmoo played halfback for us and did an outstanding job,” said Gallagher.

“When he turned in his equipment, I told him how proud I was of him. We were a little nervous about Lehehmoo, he played the first game and things didn’t go well. He thinks he could have played a better game and we all do. He has grown so much over the past several weeks. In the back of my mind on the bus ride down, it is like this is his audition. Do I leave this game saying do we need a tailback or did Lehehmoo step up and he surely did. He did an outstanding job.”

In Gallagher’s view, the team grew as it persevered through the ups and downs of the season. more

BRINGING HER A-GAME: Princeton Day School girls’ soccer player Adriana Salzano controls the ball in a game this fall. Freshman Salzano made an immediate impact in her debut campaign for PDS, tallying nine goals and six assists. The Panthers ended the season in a 10-game winning streak, posting a final record of 10-1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

While the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team didn’t get to play for any titles this fall with the state Prep B and Mercer County tournaments canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, the squad displayed championship form.

After dropping its season opener 3-2 to Monroe on October 1, PDS reeled off 10 straight victories to post a final record of 10-1.

The highlight of that winning streak came on November 7 when the Panthers played at defending state Group 4 champion and powerhouse Hunterdon Central on short notice and pulled  out a thrilling 2-1 triumph.

With a matchup against local rival Pennington having been canceled due to COVID protocols, PDS was looking for a challenge.

“We wanted to find a top-20 team, we found Bridgewater-Raritan, I think they were No. 19 at the time so we were all set to play Bridgewater on Saturday,” said PDS head coach Pat Trombetta.

“Then we get a call Thursday night saying that they are going under quarantine for a second time. On Friday morning, Hunterdon Central reaches out and says how about a game. They gave me 24 hours’ notice and, by the way, it is at their place.”

With no time to waste, Trombetta put together a game plan overnight. more

November 25, 2020

LENDING A HAND: Princeton University wrestler Lenny Merkin greets Sebby the Sloth, a mascot that he created, in the Utah Salt Flats. Bringing Sebby along for the ride, senior Merkin placed third at the U.S. Senior Nationals in the 67 kilogram (148-pounds) Greco-Roman competition in October. Earlier this month, he made the semifinals in the 67 kg Greco-Roman class at the UWW(United World Wrestling) U23 and Junior Nationals. (Photo provided by Lenny Merkin)

By Justin Feil

When Lenny Merkin headed to Coralville, Iowa, for the wrestling U.S. Senior Nationals last month, he took with him Sebby the Sloth, a mascot that the Princeton University senior created.

“It’s this stuffed animal I carry around to training and tournaments and it ended up taking off internationally,” said Merkin, who maintains Instagram and Twitter accounts for Sebby.

“It blew up and now it’s turning into a side project where I’m trying to use it to grow wrestling and spread the word. I’ve been able to lean on that since I do most of my travels solo. I’ve been able to have this stuffed animal to lean on if I don’t have anyone else.”

Merkin is the rare Princeton wrestler who favors the Greco-Roman style over the college format of folkstyle. In Greco-Roman, one can only do takedowns by attacking an opponent’s upper body with leg attacks being prohibited. In both folkstyle and freestyle, a wrestler can do takedowns by either shooting or throwing.

“Since I got into Princeton, I told the coaches that my goal is to be an asset to the team, but when I have the chance to compete in Greco-Roman, I want to do so and I want to be able to have an opportunity to have an Olympic team, something you can’t do with folkstyle unfortunately,” said Merkin, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., who was a four-time New York prep states champion at Poly Prep. more

DEVIL OF A TIME: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Nick Petruso, left, boots the ball up the field last Saturday as top-seeded PHS battled second-seeded Hunterdon Central in the Central West Group 4 sectional final. Senior star Petruso and the Tigers generated a number of scoring chances but were thwarted as the visiting Red Devils pulled out a 1-0 win. The defeat left PHS with a final record of 9-3-1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

A vivid memory of Nick Petruso’s freshman season on the Princeton High boys’ soccer team in 2017 came when he helped the Tigers edge Hunterdon Central 1-0 in the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional final on a bone-chilling November afternoon.

“That game was extremely difficult,” said Petruso. “We won in overtime.”

So when top-seeded PHS hosted second-seeded Hunterdon Central in the Central West Group 4 sectional final last Saturday, Petruso wasn’t surprised to see the Red Devils put the Tigers under intense pressure in the early stages of the contest.

“Those kids came out strong in the beginning, it was a battle,” said senior striker Petruso. “We made some tough tackles, they were strong.”

With its strong defense stepping up, PHS weathered the storm on the pleasant 60 degree day, thwarting Hunterdon Central as the foes were knotted in a scoreless draw at halftime.

After Hunterdon Central scored to break the ice with 36:48 left in the second half, PHS responded by generating a number of strong chances but couldn’t break through as it ultimately fell 1-0.  more

WILLPOWER: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Will Novak, left, controls the ball against Hunterdon Central last Saturday in the Central West Group 4 sectional final. Top-seeded PHS ended up falling 1-0 the second-seeded Red Devils. Two days earlier, senior midfielder Novak scored two goals to help the Tigers defeat fifth-seeded Hightstown 5-0 in the sectional semis. PHS ended 2020 campaign with a 9-3-1 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Will Novak wasn’t looking to be a hero as the Princeton High boys’ soccer team hosted Hightstown in the Central West Group 4 sectional semifinals last Wednesday.

Instead, after missing all of the 2019 season and most of the previous campaign due to injury, senior midfielder Novak was thrilled just to be on the pitch for the game.

“I was cleared at the end of last year; I spent this whole past year just training and trying to get back in shape and focusing on rehab,” said Novak, whose twin brother James and younger brother Charles also play for PHS.

“My mentality is a little different than everybody else’s. If I can be on the field, you can put me anywhere and I am going to be happy to be there. I am taking every opportunity I have to do what I can to help the team. I am loving every second of it.”

Against Hightstown, Novak seized opportunity, scoring a pair of first half goals to help PHS take a 2-0 lead and the Tigers never looked back on the way to a 5-0 triumph and a spot in the sectional final against Hunterdon Central. more

SEEING RED: Princeton High girls’ soccer player Vanessa Ponce, center, slots the ball up the field last Wednesday as fourth-seeded PHS hosted fifth-seeded Ridge in the Central West C (Group 4) sectional quarterfinals. PHS fell 3-0 to the Red Devils, the eventual sectional champion, to end the fall with a 9-3-1 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Moments after the Princeton High girls’ soccer team fell 3-0 to Ridge in the Central West C (Group 4) sectional quarterfinals last Wednesday, several players huddled together for a group cry on the frigid afternoon.

In a season that almost didn’t happen due to COVID-19 concerns, the PHS players developed deep bonds as their time together became a daily highlight in a difficult fall.

“We were such a close group of kids and coaches, this team means a lot to me,” said PHS head coach Val Rodriguez, whose squad ended the fall with a 9-3-1 record.

“I have known some of the seniors for eight years, some of them I coached back when they were in fifth grade. Some of the families, I have been coaching for 12 years now. So this team coming together with COVID and all of that, losing the game hurts. But it hurts differently this year because now the one thing that we are in-person for and feel genuine about is over.” more

November 18, 2020

LOST WINTER: Princeton University men’s basketball player Richmond Aririguzoh goes up for a lay-up in a 2019 game against Penn before a throng at Jadwin Gym. There won’t be any crowds at Jadwin this season as the Ivy League Council of Presidents said last Thursday that they have canceled winter sports for league schools during the 2020-21 season. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Normally by mid-November, fans would have already been flocking to Jadwin Gym and Hobey Baker Rink to take in Princeton University basketball and hockey games.

As of last November 17th, there had been three hoops games played at Jadwin and five hockey games at Baker in the early stages of the 2019-20 campaign.

But these aren’t normal times, and last Thursday the Ivy League Council of Presidents canceled winter sports for league schools during the 2020-21 campaign, thereby leaving Jadwin and Baker empty this season along with Dillon Gym, DeNunzio Pool, the Stan Sieja Fencing Room, and the Jadwin Squash Courts, among other venues.

In addition, the presidents announced that the league will not conduct competition for fall sports during the upcoming spring semester. Lastly, competition for spring sports is postponed through at least the end of February 2021.

In reaching the decision, which was unanimous, the presidents said that “regrettably, the current trends regarding transmission of the COVID-19 virus and subsequent protocols that must be put in place are impeding our strong desire to return to intercollegiate athletics
competition in a safe manner.”

While Princeton University men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson was disappointed when he learned of the decision, it didn’t come as a surprise. more

PACK MENTALITY: Members of the Princeton High girls’ cross country take off in a race this fall. Last Saturday, PHS utilized the depth in its pack to place first in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Central Jersey Group 4 sectional championship meet at Thompson Park in Jamesburg. Pictured are Yana Medvedeva (left rear), Emma Lips (left foreground), Lucy Kreipke (middle), Kyleigh Tangen (hidden in the back), Sofia DaCruz (front right), and Robin Roth (far right). (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Yana Medvedeva felt an extra push being a senior as she competed in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Central Jersey Group 4 sectional cross country championship meet at Thompson Park last Saturday.

One of four seniors in the Princeton High girls’ lineup, Medvedeva closed out the Tigers scoring in 22nd place as PHS put its first four finishers in the top 10 to win their first CJ Group 4 sectional crown in school history.

“It feels so good,” said Medvedeva after a season-best 20:55.70 clocking. “It’s amazing. I’m a senior so it’s a really full circle moment. Two years ago, we couldn’t even qualify out of the section. I still can’t really believe it.”

The Tigers’ depth allowed them to edge a strong Montgomery team that had the top two individual finishers in the race. As for PHS, Charlotte Gilmore, a senior, led the way in fourth place in 19:32.50. Freshman Kyleigh Tangen – the lone newcomer to the Tigers’ top seven from a year ago – placed sixth in 19:59.30 and sophomore Lucy Kreipke was seventh in 20:04.50. Sophomore Robin Roth closed well for 10th place in 20:16.70. Medvedeva was 22nd, Sofia Dacruz was 33rd, and Emma Lips was 38th. It added up to a 49-54 win over runner-up Montgomery. Hunterdon Central was third with 100 points.

“We knew the race was going to come down to how tight our pack was,” said PHS head coach Jim Smirk.  more

HOLDING THE FORT: Princeton High field hockey goalie Franke deFaria, left, and Grace Rebak thwart a foe in recent action. Last Monday, junior deFaria made four saves in a losing cause as third-seeded PHS fell 1-0 to sixth-seeded Hillsborough in the Central West B sectional quarterfinals. The defeat left the Tigers with a final record of 8-2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

With its season on the line, the Princeton High field hockey displayed its battling spirit.

Trailing sixth-seeded Hillsborough 1-0 in the waning moments of the Central West B sectional quarterfinals, third-seeded PHS generated three penalty corners right before and then after the buzzer.

While it looked like the Tigers scored on the third corner as the ball apparently trickled into the cage, a violation was called and PHS got a penalty stroke. Olivia Weir took the shot but it was turned away by Hillsborough goalie Niyati Ramanathan and the Tigers saw their 2020 campaign end with a disappointing 1-0 defeat.

PHS head coach Heather Serverson liked the way her squad scrapped at the end but wished that intensity had been more constant.

“Clearly when they realized that this might be our last game, they picked it up a bit,” said Serverson, whose team posted a final record of 8-2.

“They fought to the end, they did everything they could. We needed to do that for a larger duration of the game.”

Serverson acknowledged that Hillsborough played aggressively throughout the contest.

“I think Hillsborough did a better job than we did of moving to the ball,” said Serverson. more

BIG GUN: Gunnar Clingman shows his form this fall in his final season with the Princeton Day School boys’ cross country team. Clingman solidified his place as one of the top runners in program history, helping the Panthers go 4-3 and setting a PDS course record on two occasions. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For Gunnar Clingman, producing a breakthrough season as a junior in 2019 put him on course to become one of the top runners in the history of the Princeton Day School boys’ cross country program.

Leading the pack for PDS, Clingman made steady improvement throughout that fall, culminating by taking second at the state Prep B state championship meet, clocking a time of 16:53 over the 5,000-meter course at the Blair Academy.

“I had run a 17:40 as a freshman, that was a one-off day, it was an outlier; my first race as a junior was two seconds off of that,” said Clingman, who took up running as a middle schooler.

“That was kind of ‘wow.’ I was progressing race by race and I kept going until the states. I went into states with a really good  mindset. I talked myself up to that so when I went out with Charlie [Charlie Koenig of Montclair Kimberley Academy] in the state race, I stayed up with him. He ended up taking me, he was a very strong runner. That was the moment where I was ready to keep going.”

With COVID-19 concerns leading to a limited 2020 season and the cancellation of state prep or county championship meets, Clingman turned his focus to the PDS pack.  more

ON THE BALL: Princeton Day School boys’ soccer goalie Trevor Kunkle tracks the ball in recent action. Last Thursday, senior Kunkle posted a shutout in his last high school appearance as PDS defeated Franklin High 2-0 in its season finale. The victory left the Panthers with a 6-5-1 record this fall. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Trevor Kunkle and his fellow seniors on the Princeton Day School boys’ soccer team rose to the occasion last Thursday as the Panthers hosted Franklin High in their final high school game.

With goalie Kunkle posting a shutout and classmate Aidan McChesney notching the winning goal in the first half, PDS earned a 2-0 win to finish the fall at 6-5-1.

“It was definitely a big one, we have a great group of guys,” said Kunkle, reflecting on the finale.

“It is just sad that it is the last game and we won’t be able to put on this jersey again. I am glad that we ended up with a win.”

The Panther defense tightened up after squandering a late lead in a 4-3 loss to Bordentown two days earlier.

“In the last game we kind of folded toward the end,” said Kunkle.

“I am proud of them, they really stepped up and helped me out. I was able to do my job.”

Having started the season sharing time in the net with classmate Bruno Cucchi, Kunkle took over the starting job down the stretch. more

COLLEGE FAIR: Stuart Country Day School senior basketball star Laila Fair (seated) signs a letter of intent to attend Saint Joseph’s University and play for its Division I women’s hoops program. Pictured with Fair, from left, are Miles Fair, Lamar Fair, Rhetta Jack, and Zoe Fair. (Photo provided by Stuart Country Day School)

By Bill Alden

Laila Fair and Ariel Jenkins have beaten the odds when it comes to extending their basketball careers to the next level.

The two Stuart Country Day School senior hoops standouts have committed to attend Division I colleges and play for their women’s basketball programs with Fair heading to Saint Joseph’s and Jenkins on her way to Georgetown.

In a ceremony held in the Stuart gym last Wednesday to celebrate their achievements, Tartan basketball head coach Justin Leith noted how rare it is for a high school player to get that opportunity.

“It was just really nice, everyone was so happy for the girls,” said Leith reflecting on the ceremony.

“In the talk that I gave beforehand, I congratulated both families because it is a significant accomplishment. You go by the statistics, one percent of high school players get a college scholarship. So out of something like 500,000 players, 495,000 kids don’t get that opportunity and only 5,000 do.”

Fair, for her part, has been very diligent in pursuing that opportunity.

“Laila has put the time in; she has a tremendous work ethic,” said Leith of the 6’3 forward who piled up 265 points, 313 rebounds, and 66 blocked shots last winter as Stuart went 18-4, winning its third straight state Prep B title and advancing to the final of the Mercer County Tournament for the first time in program history. more

November 11, 2020

EYEING THE OLYMPICS: Princeton University wrestling star Matt Kolodzik sizes up a Rutgers foe during a 2016 bout. Kolodzik, who completed his Princeton career this past winter by helping the Tigers win their first Ivy League title since 1986, was later named as a co-recipient, along with lacrosse superstar Michael Sowers, of the Roper Award, given to the top senior male athlete at the school. Kolodzik is turning his focus to making the U.S. team for the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Last month, Kolodzik finished sixth in the 65-kilogram (143-pound) freestyle competition at the U.S. Senior Nationals in Iowa. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

As 2020 approached, Matt Kolodzik was focusing on making the U.S. wrestling squad for the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

The Princeton University star had deferred his senior season with the Tigers to train with the NJRTC, a shared Regional Training Center between Rutgers and Princeton wrestling with the end goal to produce Olympians.

But with Princeton 149-pounder Matt D’Angelo getting injured and winning an NCAA individual title as another path to the Olympic Trials, Kolodzik returned to the mat for the Tigers and helped the program make history.

After winning by a technical fall over Andrew Garr of Columbia in his 2020 debut on February 8, Kolodzik came back the next day to defeat Hunter Richard 4-2 as Princeton edged Cornell 19-13 to end a 32-match losing streak to the Big Red and clinch the program’s first Ivy League title since 1986.

“Being on the bench with the team, there is nothing like it,” said Kolodzik, reflecting on the triumph over Cornell. more

RISING STAR: Princeton High football player Jaiden Johnson snags an interception in a game earlier this fall. Last Saturday, junior receiver/defensive back Johnson, who is in his first season playing football, scored a touchdown on an 86-yard kickoff return in a losing cause as PHS fell 61-20 to Scotch Plains-Fanwood. The Tigers, now 1-4, host New Egypt (3-1) on November 14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Coming into the fall, Jaiden Johnson was an unknown quantity for the Princeton High football team.

Having played on the JV boys’ soccer team in his first two years at PHS, Johnson switched to football for the 2020 season.

“I just felt like I had a lot of potential playing football,” said Johnson.

“I decided to make the change. I haven’t played before, this is my first official year ever.”

In taking up football, Johnson had a special influence in his father, Marquis Johnson, a 1994 PHS alum and star athlete for the Tigers who was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010.

“My dad played football, there is definitely genes there,” said Johnson.

“In the offseason, me and my dad worked our butts off to get the result. He pushed me as hard as I could. I gained about 15-20 pounds.”

Starting at both wide receiver and defensive back, Johnson has gotten a crash course on football through the first month of the 2020 campaign.

“This is the fifth game. These past four games were learning games,” said Johnson. more

STICKING TOGETHER: Stuart Country Day School field hockey players Morgan John, left, and Catherine Martin celebrate after a goal in recent action. Seniors John and Martin helped set a positive tone for Stuart as it posted a 5-3-1 record this fall. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Although the Stuart Country Day School field hockey team suffered a pair of one-goal defeats in its last two games of the season, Missy Bruvik was proud of how her players competed to the end.

“We played really hard in both games, we never quit,” said Stuart head coach Bruvik, whose squad fell 2-1 to Bordentown on November 2 and 1-0 to Princeton Day School two days later to end the season at 5-3-1.

“It would have been nice to win one of those last two games. I know the kids felt they gave their best effort.”

In reflecting in the stretch run, Bruvik acknowledged that Stuart struggled to finish in the circle.

“We didn’t score a lot of goals in general all year; we had a lot of 1-0 games,” said Bruvik.

“I also give a lot of credit to the keepers, I could tell that they were getting better too as the season went on. On our corners, we would get them off. We didn’t score off of rebounds, we practiced that.”

While Bruvik may have hoped for better results in the final week of the season, the positives of getting to play nine games in the face of COVID-19 protocols and restrictions is far more meaningful than a win-loss record. more

PERFECT STORM: Members of the Princeton Day School girls’ cross country team show off the spoils of victory after they placed first in the Girls’ Varsity White race at the XC 7-on-7 Invitational meet at Thompson Park in Jamesburg. The victory at the meet was one of many highlights in a special fall which saw the squad post an 11-0 record and won two invitational meets. Pictured, from left, are assistant coach Kelly Grosskurth, head coach John Woodside, Madeline Weinstein, Emily McCann, Alex Hollander, MacKenzie Mazzarisi, assistant coach Chris Devlin, Brooke Law, Maddy Flory, and Harleen Sandhu. (Photo provided by Chris Devlin/PDS)

By Bill Alden

Alex Hollander was prepared for a rocky ride this fall in her senior season for the Princeton Day School girls’ cross country team.

“I was feeling pretty anxious and nervous,” said team co-captain Hollander, noting that PDS had lost some key runners from the 2019 squad who were expected to come back.

“I knew we were going to have a full team because the roster showed that but I hadn’t heard of people who were signed up because they were new freshmen. I definitely wasn’t expecting a good season.”

But the addition of three freshman, Emily McCann, Brooke Law, and Harleen Sandhu, helped ease Hollander’s nerves as the trio excelled from the start of preseason training.

“It lifted my mindset for the year because you are starting off with something so uncertain to begin with because of all of the restrictions,” said Hollander. more

STROKE OF BRILLIANCE: Hun School girls’ tennis player Sophia Lin hits a backhand in a match this fall. Senior co-captain Lin starred at second singles for the Raiders, helping Hun post a 3-2-2 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Joan Nuse took the helm of the Hun School girls’ tennis team in 1987 and guided it to nine Mercer County Tournament titles, three Prep B State crowns, three Prep A State championships, and three Mid-Atlantic Prep League championships, earning a spot in the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

Taking an eight-year hiatus from the program, Nuse coached the Hun boys’ tennis squad for one season and then became the head coach of the Raider swimming team for the next seven years.

This fall, with Hun not having a coach for the girls’ tennis team as the fall approached, Nuse agreed to return for a second act.

“It was interesting to be back, I hadn’t expected to be even doing it,” said Nuse.

“It has been awhile since I have done the girls. I really enjoyed coaching with Ian McNally. He was a lot of fun.” more

By Justin Feil

While Michael Gavin has played on both sides of the ball in his high school career, he was excited to focus on defense this fall as he joined the Hun School football team.

“Last year, I played more offense, but I’ve been much better at defense,” said junior defensive lineman Gavin, who transferred to Hun from the Haverford School (Pa.).

“To play mainly defense this year was new to me, I hadn’t done that since my sophomore year. I played a little bit of it last year, but I’m much better at it than offense.”

Gavin helped to solidify the Raiders defensive line that held Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) in check for a 16-13 win Saturday to end their season. Down 13-8 at halftime despite a Dom DeLuzio 1-yard touchdown run, the Raiders rallied in the second half. Ahmad Dixon’s 35-yard touchdown run gave Hun the lead and a safety on a bad punt snap by Wyoming added some insurance as the Raiders closed their 2020 season at 3-3 overall. more

November 4, 2020

LIGHTNING STRIKE: Jeff Halpern holds the Stanley Cup after helping to coach the Tampa Bay Lightning to the title last month as the team topped the Dallas Stars in the finals. Former Princeton University men’s hockey star Halpern ’99 started coaching in the Tampa Bay organization after a 14-year playing career in the NHL. He was promoted to the Lightning as an assistant coach for the 2018-19 season. (Photo provided by Jeff Halpern)

By Bill Alden

During his career with the Princeton University men’s hockey team in the late 1990s, Jeff Halpern got to lift a championship trophy.

High-scoring forward Halpern ’99 helped Princeton win the ECAC Hockey Championship in 1998 as the Tigers posted a 5-4 win over Clarkson in double overtime in the final at Lake Placid, N.Y.

After concluding his Tiger career a year later, Halpern went on to enjoy a 14-year run in the NHL but never experienced a championship campaign.

Turning to coaching, Halpern joined the Tampa Bay organization and was promoted to the Lightning as an assistant coach for the 2018-19 season.

Last month, Halpern got to grasp the ultimate trophy in hockey, the Stanley Cup, after helping to guide Tampa Bay to the title as the Lightning defeated the Stars in the finals in six games in a series held in the NHL bubble in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

For Halpern, getting to experience that moment is something he will never forget.

“I had a chance to lift it up,” said Halpern. “I have told people you have watched a movie your whole life like The Godfather and, all of a sudden, you are in the movie with the actors and with the scenery. It is a very surreal feeling to think of yourself in that moment.”

Halpern’s time at Princeton was a key stop on his path to that Hollywood ending.

“The biggest thing is the friendships I made with teammates; we spent a lot of time at the rink at practice and games,” said Halpern, a 6’0, 200-pound native of Potomac, Md. who tallied 142 points on 60 goals and 82 assists in his Tiger career and is the fifth-leading scorer in program history.

“One of the biggest things for my development was that we graduated eight or nine seniors after my freshman year, so going into my sophomore year I had the chance to play in almost every situation and play a lot of minutes. That was a really good chance to not just play at a high level in college but to get a big role.” more

NET GAIN: Princeton High girls’ tennis player Lucia Marckioni makes a volley in action last Wednesday in the Central West A (Group 4) sectional quarterfinals. Juniors Marckioni and Sophia Kim posted a straight-set win at first doubles to help top-seeded PHS edge eighth-seeded Watchung Hills 3-2. A day later,Marckioni and Kim earned another win in their flight but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 3-2 to fourth-seeded Hunterdon Central in the sectional semis. PHS finished the fall with a 12-1 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Losing four seniors from a squad that went 14-1 in 2019 and with COVID-19 concerns putting the fall season in doubt, there were a lot of question marks surrounding the Princeton High girls’ tennis team this year.

But with Princeton school officials giving the go-ahead to the 2020 campaign and freshmen Shaila Iyer and Eva Lependorf emerging as stars at first and second singles, respectively, PHS answered those questions, producing an 11-0 regular season record and winning the Colonial Valley Conference title.

“Just being able to get out on the court this season was really nice for everyone,” said PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert.

“We were really impressed with how our regular season went. We didn’t lose a single flight during the regular season when people played in their correct positions.”

While PHS didn’t get to play on its home court for the Central West A (Group 4) sectional quarterfinals as damp courts moved the match to the Mercer County Park indoor tennis complex, the top-seeded Tigers edged eighth-seeded Watchung Hills 3-2.

“The win over Watchung Hills was very exciting; I am proud of the way the middle of the lineup was able to be solid for us,” said Hibbert, who got wins in the match from Eva Lependorf at second singles, junior Bella Lependorf at third singles, and the pair of juniors Lucia Marckioni and Sophia Kim at first doubles.

“I told the girls going into this match that they are going to be strong and to be prepared for that, don’t look at the record.” more

HEAD IN THE GAME: Princeton High girls’ soccer player Vanessa Ponce heads the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Wednesday, senior midfielder Ponce tallied a goal to help PHS defeat Ewing 6-0. On Saturday, Ponce added another goal as the Tigers defeated Hightstown 3-0. PHS, now 6-2-1, hosts Lawrence High on November 4 before playing at Trenton Central on November 6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Vanessa Ponce strives to jump start things offensively for the Princeton High girls’ soccer team from her spot in the midfield.

“I like controlling the ball, I just want to make sure that the tempo is right,” said senior midfielder Ponce.

“We are out here to play. We are taking it game by game. We have to take every opportunity and really make sure that we are taking advantage of that to be better.”

Last Wednesday, Ponce helped PHS take advantage of its opportunities, tallying a goal and doing some nifty playmaking as the Tigers defeated Ewing 6-0.

“We were just looking to get back to the place we were at the beginning of the season,” said Ponce.

“This game was kind of like Hamilton West (a 6-0 win on October 3). I think we did a good job.”

In the victory over Ewing, four other Tigers besides Ponce found the back of the net with junior Sophia Lis tallying two goals and an assist, freshman Casey Serxner notching a goal and an assist, and junior Megan Rougas and freshman Holly Howes chipping in one goal apiece.

“I think it helps with the team dynamic; it brings us ever closer because we try to put each other in the best positions as possible,” said Ponce, reflecting on the balanced scoring. “That is what makes it fun.” more

SUPER SUB: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Richard Wegmann brings the ball upfield in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore forward Wegmann came off the bench and scored two goals to help PHS defeat Hightstown 3-0. The Tigers, now 5-1-1, play at Lawrence High on November 4 before hosting Trenton Central on November 6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Richard Wegmann may not be a starter for the Princeton High boys’ soccer team but he is emerging as a game-changing performer for the squad.

Last Saturday against visiting Hightstown, sophomore forward Wegmann came off the bench to tally a pair of first half goals as PHS went on to a 3-0 win over the Rams, improving to 5-1-1.

In reflecting on his reserve role, Wegmann enjoys bringing a change of pace for the Tigers.

“I am rested and I am ready,” said Wegmann. “I can come on and it is a bit of a surprise because I play a little differently than our other strikers. It is the dynamic of having two choices which is good for us. The coaches are telling me what I can do. If we are making some mistakes, they will point them out to me and I can try to make it better.”

Against Hightstown, Wegmann came on with 25:42 left in the first half and converted a feed from senior Ian Pompliano five minutes later for his first goal. With 13:13 left before halftime, Wegmann knocked in another one, keeping his focus in the middle of a traffic jam around the box.

“It was a great effort by Ian and I was lucky to be in the right spot,” said Wegmann, recalling his first tally. more

GOING TO GOAL: Princeton Day School field hockey player Haley Sullivan dribbles the ball up the field in recent action. Last Saturday, junior forward Sullivan scored two goals to help PDS defeat Hun School 4-1. The Panthers, now 2-5, host Stuart Country Day on November 4 and then play at Bordentown on November 10. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

It was chilly last Saturday morning with the temperature hovering in the high 30s but Haley Sullivan kept warm by repeatedly charging to goal for the Princeton Day School field hockey team as it hosted Hun.

“That is my thing; I like getting those big open breaks and trying to get it in,” said PDS junior forward Sullivan.

Sparking the Panthers, Sullivan fired in two goals for PDS as the Panthers pulled away to a 4-1 win over the Raiders, improving to 2-5.

Sullivan and her teammates were determined to turn the table on Hun, having lost 2-1 to their local foes on October 23.

“We just had the energy back up, we were missing a few players last week so it was good to get everyone back,” said Sullivan. “It is good to come out and get a win.”

PDS displayed energy from the start, jumping out to a 1-0 lead with 9:27 left in the first quarter on a goal by Tessa Caputo. Early in the second period, Sullivan doubled the lead with her first tally of the day. A goal by junior Ally Antonacci increased the PDS margin to 3-0 midway through the quarter.

“We started off strong, we just wanted to get out and get a goal,” said Sullivan.

“We were defending much better, we were talking a lot more, connecting our passes and then getting those corners and getting them in goal.” more

WHIP SMART: Jim Stagnitta surveys the action in his role as the head coach of the Whipsnakes Lacrosse Club of the Premier Lacrosse league (PLL). Stagnitta guided the Whipsnakes to a 12-6 win over the Chaos in the final of the PLL Championship Series this August. Now, Stagnitta is bringing his championship approach to the Hun School boys’ lacrosse program as he will be serving as the head coach of the Raiders. (Photo provided by the Hun School)

By Bill Alden

Over the last month or so, four pro leagues have crowned champions in playoff bubbles prompted by COVID-19 concerns with the Tampa Bay Lightning taking the Stanley Cup, the Los Angeles Lakers winning the NBA title, the Seattle Storm prevailing in the WNBA, and the Los Angeles Dodgers coming through in the World Series.

Back in August, Jim Stagnitta showed how to coach a team to a championship in a bubble, guiding the Whipsnakes Lacrosse Club to the title in the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) Championship Series held in Utah as they defeated the Chaos 12-6 in the title game.

For Whipsnakes head coach Stagnitta, keeping his team fresh mentally and physically was the main focus as the players were sequestered in Herriman, Utah from July 25-August 9.

“I think the challenge once you were there was literally about finding that balance between being able to train our guys and have practice but not overdo it,” said Stagnitta, noting that his team ended up playing six games in 15 days, going 6-0 on the way to the championship.

“Right from the beginning, even training camp, we worked on keeping them healthy. We never had a guy miss a game; we were the only team that didn’t have a guy miss a game. It was keeping that balance of keeping them sharp and continuing to play better and keeping everybody healthy and rested.”

With the Whipsnakes having won the title in the PLL’s inaugural season last year, coming up with an encore performance under the unique circumstances of 2020 was special. more