September 17, 2014
SISTER ACT: Princeton University field hockey player Annabeth Donovan brings the ball upfield in recent action. Last Sunday, sophomore defender Donovan played a strong game in a losing cause as Princeton fell 1-0 to visiting Bucknell in overtime to drop to 0-4. Donovan is the third member of her family to star for the Tiger field hockey program as older sisters Kaitlin ’10 and Amy ’13 played before her. Donovan and the Tigers will look to get on the winning track this weekend as they host Dartmouth on September 20 in their Ivy League opener and then play at American University a day later.(Photo by Beverly Schaefer, Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

SISTER ACT: Princeton University field hockey player Annabeth Donovan brings the ball upfield in recent action. Last Sunday, sophomore defender Donovan played a strong game in a losing cause as Princeton fell 1-0 to visiting Bucknell in overtime to drop to 0-4. Donovan is the third member of her family to star for the Tiger field hockey program as older sisters Kaitlin ’10 and Amy ’13 played before her. Donovan and the Tigers will look to get on the winning track this weekend as they host Dartmouth on September 20 in their Ivy League opener and then play at American University a day later. (Photo by Beverly Schaefer, Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Annabeth Donovan was initially looking to buck the family trend when she started looking at college options.

Although her grandfather, both parents, and two older sisters are Princeton University alums, Donovan wanted to go elsewhere.

“When I was little I looked forward to going to Princeton but when I was actually looking at colleges, I said I was never coming here because of my sisters,” said Donovan.

But the school’s excellence in field hockey and academics swayed Donovan to follow in family tradition.

“Once you know Princeton, it is hard to turn it down, especially in the field hockey aspect because it is one of the best programs,” said Donovan, a native of Unionville, Pa. “It is such a good school.”

Joining the field hockey program last fall, Donovan got a good education, soaking up lessons from senior star Julia Reinprecht on the way to making first-team All-Ivy League and being named the league’s Co-Rookie of the Year.

“The biggest things I learned from her is her sense of leadership and her composure on the field and the way she was able to motivate and lead the team,” said Donovan, whose sisters, Kaitlin ’10 and Amy ’13, also starred for the Tiger field hockey program.

“I think she really taught me a lot about playing in that central position. I learned a lot, just how to organize and control a game.”

As a sophomore, Donovan is looking to apply what she learned from Reinprecht.

“It is definitely more calm but it is a new team and we are figuring out our new dynamics,” said Donovan. “There is still a lot of things that we have to work out, it is early in the season.”

Princeton is definitely a work in progress as it fell 1-0 in overtime to Bucknell last Sunday to drop to 0-4.

“I think we definitely improved, we have been working on our mentality during practice and I think it is starting to show,” said Donovan, reflecting on the loss which came two days after a 5-2 defeat to No. 8 Penn State.

“We are just trying to be tougher, trying to stay on marks, recovering back into lines and having the feeling of urgency. I think we showed that today, which is a big improvement.”

Noting that Princeton faced nationally ranked Duke, Virginia, and Penn State in its first three contests this fall, Donovan said that experience has toughened up the squad.

“We are lucky enough to play three top-10 teams early in the season and those top 10 teams are really going to exploit our weaknesses and show us what we have to work on,” said Donovan.

“So while yes it is hard going in and playing such highly ranked teams and maybe not winning, we learn exactly what we need to do because they capitalize on every mental breakdown or tactical error that we make. It just helps improve and recognize what we need to work on.”

Donovan acknowledges that the Tigers need to sharpen up their finishing around the goal.

“We have lots of freshmen and young players filling in there so right now it is just working on that dynamic,” said Donovan.

“Up front, especially, learning how players move and where they go is a big aspect so it is working on that chemistry and that will come in games. We are  getting it up there, we are getting chances. It is just learning how each other plays.”

Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn concurred, frustrated by her team’s failure to score on a day when it outshot Bucknell 10-7 and built a 5-2 edge in penalty corners.

“We had a lot of pretty good opportunities but you have to find a way to finish,” said Holmes-Winn. “I know that sounds simple but when you have opportunities you have to find a way to put them into the net.”

In assessing the loss, Holmes-Winn said her team has to find a way to maintain possession.

“We gave the ball up a ton in our midfield and that is something we just have to fix,” said Holmes-Winn.

“It is more mental errors than really a lot of physical stuff. We just have to get into a groove and we haven’t found that groove yet.”

In the view of Holmes-Winn, Donovan has found a groove along the back line.

“She has energy and she is consistent,” said Holmes-Winn. “She is mentally very strong and sharp. It just has to be a balance between that energy and that composure. I really think she has that balance right, just having that role model in Julia was really key. We need other players stepping up and providing a little more direction.”

Princeton also needs to play more directly. “We have to attack the game mentally,” said Holmes-Winn.

“When, for example, we are defending and the ball hits their foot we know it’s our free hit, get on the ball instead of wondering whose free hit is it. Mentally, we are not engaged enough in the moment and understanding how we can manipulate the moment to our advantage.”

While Princeton, which won its 19th Ivy League title in the last 20 years last season on the way to the NCAA quarterfinals, is not happy with its 0-4 start, Holmes-Winn is far from discouraged about the Tigers’ prospects.

“It is a long season and we just have to find a way to win the mini-moments throughout the match and capitalize in the form of a finish,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team opens its Ivy campaign by hosting Dartmouth on September 20 and then plays at American University a day later.

“We certainly have the capability, we absolutely do. I think the belief is there; it is just on game day being able to show what we are capable of.”

Donovan, for her part, believes the Tigers are capable of doing some big things this fall.

“We have definitely been improving every game, slowly but surely,” maintained Donovan. “It is not where you start, it is where you finish.”

 

HEAD GAMES: Princeton University men’s soccer players, Andrew Mills. left, and Thomas Sanner use their heads during Princeton’s scoreless draw with St. John’s last Wednesday. The Tigers, who edged Seton Hall 5-4 last Sunday to improve to 1-1-1, host Georgetown on September 17 in a game to be televised on ESPNU before playing at Boston University on September 20.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HEAD GAMES: Princeton University men’s soccer players, Andrew Mills. left, and Thomas Sanner use their heads during Princeton’s scoreless draw with St. John’s last Wednesday. The Tigers, who edged Seton Hall 5-4 last Sunday to improve to 1-1-1, host Georgetown on September 17 in a game to be televised on ESPNU before playing at Boston University on September 20. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Andrew Mills is shouldering additional leadership responsibility for the Princeton University men’s soccer team, by necessity.

With fellow senior and All-Ivy League defender Josh Miller having been sidelined by injury, Mills, a midfielder at times during his college career, is spearheading the Princeton backline.

“I played center back in all of my youth so it is nothing new,” said Mills. “I played a little center mid last year so that was kind of a switch up. I am pretty comfortable back there.”

Last Wednesday evening, Mills showed his comfort level in the central defender role, helping Princeton battle St. John’s to a scoreless tie through two overtimes as the Tigers tightened things up after a 3-2 opening day loss to Fairleigh Dickinson University on September 5.

“On Friday, we gave up three soft goals off of set plays and today we
really limited their chances on restarts,” said the 6’2, 195-pound Mills, a native of Sacramento, Calif.

“We gave up a couple of corners that could have been avoidable but we seemed to deal with them pretty well. There were only a couple that I felt they were really getting dangerous. Beyond that, we were just tighter with our line. We were making sure that we were more organized, keeping our communication high.”

There is good communication between Mills and his eight classmates on the squad.

“We are a really tight knit group, just among ourselves as a friend group,” said Mills, a team tri-captain along with classmates Miller and Myles McGinley.

“We have had a lot of experience on the field so one of the things we are really stressing is our leadership between all of our seniors. We have three captains right now, it shows that our team is really geared towards leadership up and down. Our senior class is leading from the guys who are playing and the guys who aren’t playing a lot, all nine.”

Princeton head coach Jim Barlow likes the leadership he is getting from Mills.

“Mills has done a great job being a leader in the back,” said Barlow. “He is keeping the team connected and has a good way of keeping shape and starting the team attack.”

In Barlow’s view, the team’s defensive unit did a great job collectively in the draw with St. John’s.

“That was about as well as Joe Saitta has ever played,” asserted Barlow. “He was really solid, plugging holes and getting all of his passes right, winning balls in the air. Patrick Barba was solid. Andrew Doar must have run 20 miles, he doesn’t get every play right but he gives you so much in terms of competing, mobility, and covering ground.”

Even though Princeton didn’t find the back of the net on the evening, Barlow was encouraged by his team’s offensive energy as it outshot the red Storm 13-11.

“I think we are going to get goals,” said Barlow, whose team piled up the goals last Sunday as it edged Seton Hall 5-4 with Julian Griggs and Cameron Porter each scoring twice as the Tigers improved to 1-1-1.

“I liked Cam’s play tonight, he is such a handful. Thomas [Sanner] had a very good first half. Brendan McSherry had his moments. Nico [Hurtado] had his moments. I think we are going to be a tough team for teams to deal with. We just got to keep trying to push it and keep getting results as we are doing it.”

While Barlow had hoped that the game would result in a win, he drew plenty of positives from the effort.

“It is a step in the right
direction, we still have a ways to go,” said Barlow, whose team hosts Georgetown on September 17 in a game to be televised on ESPNU before playing at Boston University on September 20. “I think we all feel good about the team we have and where it can go from here.”

Mills and his classmates are hoping to go on an Ivy title run this fall. “This is our last chance, the last two years we were one game away,” said Mills.

“We let the Harvard game and the Penn game both slip away from us last year and this year, I don’t feel that we are letting those slip. I look back toward the year we went 7-0, that was the year before our senior class came in. We are looking to replicate something like that special team did.”

 

BREAKING THROUGH: Princeton High football player Rory ­Helstrom breaks away on a run last season. Last Saturday, junior star ­Helstrom came up big as PHS defeated Hamilton 28-7 for the program’s first win since November, 2012. Helstrom rushed for 131 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He also made a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter that put the Little Tigers ahead to stay. PHS hosts Ewing (0-1) on September 19.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BREAKING THROUGH: Princeton High football player Rory ­Helstrom breaks away on a run last season. Last Saturday, junior star ­Helstrom came up big as PHS defeated Hamilton 28-7 for the program’s first win since November, 2012. Helstrom rushed for 131 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He also made a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter that put the Little Tigers ahead to stay. PHS hosts Ewing (0-1) on September 19. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Rory Helstrom and his teammates on the Princeton High football team viewed their season opener against Hamilton last Saturday as the chance to set a positive tone after going winless last fall.

“We knew the first game would really demonstrate how we are going to play the rest of the season,” said junior running back/linebacker Helstrom.

“If we came out hot and won the first game, we could keep doing well and that would give us momentum for the homecoming game.”

The 5’10, 165-pound Helstrom made sure that the Little Tigers started out with a bang, sprinting down the sideline for a 74-yard touchdown run on PHS’s first drive of the season to give it a 6-0 lead.

“I just saw a cutback and I took it,” said Helstrom. “Once I got outside one guy, there was no one left and I just took it down the sideline.”

As the first half unfolded, though, PHS squandered two possessions deep in Hamilton territory and went into halftime down 7-6.

“We had opportunities in the red zone but we just couldn’t convert them,” lamented Helstrom. “We had trouble with that.”

In the third quarter, Helstrom seized opportunity once again, producing a scintillating 91-yard punt return for a touchdown that put PHS ahead 12-7.

“I saw a lot of guys coming so I went left,” recalled Helstrom. “Then I just went right and there was no one left so I just took it.”

The Little Tigers took it from there, adding touchdowns on an 80-yard scoring strike from Dave Beamer to Joe Hawes and a nine-yard run by Sam Smallzman to pull away to a 28-7 win, the program’s first victory since topping New Brunswick 22-14 on November 16, 2012.

While the big plays on offense turned heads in the win, the foundation of the triumph was a stifling defensive effort.

“We knew if we got into their backfield we could beat them,” said Helstrom.

“Coach Goldsmith [defensive coordinator Scott Goldsmith] kept sending us on blitzes to rush the quarterback because he had trouble dealing with the pressure.”

PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher likes the way Helstrom puts opposing defense under pressure.

“He is a playmaker, everybody is going to have to do something to try to defend him which will hopefully open things up for other players as well,” said Gallagher of Helstrom, who rushed for 131 yards on the day.

“We are just excited that he is on our squad and we don’t have to defend against him. He’s a player on offense and he’s a player on defense. You can tell that he is just a talented football player.”

The Little Tigers boast another talented offensive weapon in junior quarterback Dave Beamer, who passed for 110 yards in the victory.

“Dave Beamer is a great quarterback, we are really high on him,” asserted Gallagher.

“He can be one of the best quarterbacks in this area, there is conversation about other QBs but we love Dave. He has a great arm.”

Gallagher loved the way his defense performed as it made four interceptions and held the Hornets to 207 yards total offense.

“Defensively we are doing a great job too,” said Gallagher, whose team had lost 34-0 to Hamilton last year. “We are swarming to the ball and making some plays.”

As preseason camp went on, Gallagher got the sense that his team was primed to do the job in the opener.

“We got better every scrimmage that we played this year,” noted Gallagher. “You want to peak for that first game, you want to be ready. Now we have to carry that peak through the season.”

For second-year head coach Gallagher, getting his first career win was a peak experience.

“I don’t know if it has sunk in yet, to be honest with you,” said a beaming Gallagher, who got the obligatory water bucket shower as part of a raucous post-game celebration which saw the Little Tigers jumping for joy with hugs all around.

“I am excited for the players and I am excited for myself, no doubt. It is good to be 1-0, we are not going to be looking at any division races yet or anything like that. We are going to take it one game at a time. We have a tough Ewing squad next week, I think they made the playoffs last year.”

Helstrom, for his part, hopes that the triumph sets the tone going forward as the Little Tigers host Ewing (0-1) on September 19 as part of the school’s homecoming festivities.

“It is the first win since two years ago,” said Helstrom. “We want to use this to keep rolling and win the rest of the season.”

 

POWER PLAY: Princeton High girls’ tennis star Rory Lewis blasts a serve in action last season. Senior tri-captain Lewis has starred at third singles this fall as PHS has produced a 5-1 start. In upcoming action, the Little Tigers host Lawrence on September 17 before playing at Notre Dame on September 19 and at Steinert on September 22.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

POWER PLAY: Princeton High girls’ tennis star Rory Lewis blasts a serve in action last season. Senior tri-captain Lewis has starred at third singles this fall as PHS has produced a 5-1 start. In upcoming action, the Little Tigers host Lawrence on September 17 before playing at Notre Dame on September 19 and at Steinert on September 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Based on its match last week against WW/P-S, it appears that the Princeton High girls’ tennis team is going to be a force to be reckoned with at the upcoming Mercer County Tournament.

Although PHS lost 3-2 to the Pirates, who have won five of the last six  MCT team titles, the Little Tigers showed that they are a top level squad.

“It was really close, it could have gone either way,” said PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert, who got wins from Christina Rosca at first singles and Rory Lewis at third singles.

“It came down to three third sets. It would have been a better step if we had won it but it was definitely a good experience. Overall, everyone fought hard. I want the girls to learn from this.”

Having junior superstar Rosca at first singles makes PHS hard to beat.

“Chris looked great in her match,” said Hibbert of Rosca, who won the first singles crown at the MCT last year and went on to take state singles championship.

“She was blasting the ball, she was in good form. She has got some more pace on her shots. Her footwork is better; her serve is a little better.”

At second and third singles, PHS features two battle-tested seniors in Katelyn Hojelbane and Lewis, respectively.

“The two of them are at a very similar level; on any given day one can beat the other,” said Hibbert, noting that Lewis played second singles in 2013 and that Hojelbane held that spot the year before.

“They are both hard workers with solid ground strokes. Confidence will be a big thing for them; they need to believe in themselves because their games are there.”

Hibbert believes her first doubles team of senior Zhenia Dementyev and junior Nikhita Salgame and the second doubles pair of junior Gilliam Samios and sophomore Elise Gerdes should be solid.

“Their styles complement each other,” explained Hibbert. “Zhenia is more aggressive and likes taking over at the net. Nikhita is very steady and keeps the ball in play. Gillian is willing to be aggressive and Elise is a steady player. I didn’t want to put the two aggressive players together and the two steady players together. It is better to balance styles.”

In terms of team leadership, the Little Tigers are benefitting from the complementary styles of seniors Lewis, Dementyev, and Hojelbane,

“All three seniors are co-captains,” said Hibbert. “ All three have different styles and I like that Rory is not the most vocal of the three. She is always working hard and is always ready to go, she is a true leader by example. Zhenia and Katelyn are also great leaders. Katelyn and Zhenia organize the team bonding stuff and cheer on the girls.”

The Little Tigers have the potential to put away most foes. “Overall we have a good group of girls, everyone is working really hard,” said Hibbert, whose team topped Ewing 5-0 last Monday to improve to 5-1 and hosts Lawrence on September 17 before playing at Notre Dame on September 19 and at Steinert on September 22.

“The key is to solidify our doubles teams. Being strong at the bottom is as important as being strong at the top. You can have the best first singles player but you need two other points to back her up. We have good players waiting in the wings. We will be looking to give some players experience at the varsity level.”

If things come together, Hibbert believes her squad can make a very good run at the MCT, which is slated for September 29 and October 1.

“The key is to have everyone there and healthy this year,” said Hibbert. “It can be very close, a lot will depend on the draws and who plays well on the day.”

 

SWEEPING UP: Princeton Day School girls’ soccer player Stef Soltesz controls the ball in her role as sweeper. Last week, senior standout and Gettysburg College-bound Soltesz helped key a solid defensive effort as PDS battled the George School (Pa.) to a scoreless draw through two overtimes. The Panthers, who improved to 1-1-1 with a 1-0 win over Abington Friends (Pa.) last Friday, play at the Hun School on September 18 and at the Peddie School on September 23.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SWEEPING UP: Princeton Day School girls’ soccer player Stef Soltesz controls the ball in her role as sweeper. Last week, senior standout and Gettysburg College-bound Soltesz helped key a solid defensive effort as PDS battled the George School (Pa.) to a scoreless draw through two overtimes. The Panthers, who improved to 1-1-1 with a 1-0 win over Abington Friends (Pa.) last Friday, play at the Hun School on September 18 and at the Peddie School on September 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

A stingy defense was the calling card for the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team last fall as it won the Mercer County Tournament.

With star defenders Lilly Razzaghi and Brit Murray having been lost to graduation from a unit that only yielded six goals last season, senior sweeper Stef Soltesz is looking to hold the fort on the backline this fall.

“I think I need to be loud, positive, and support my team,” said Soltesz. “I need to make sure that I am doing everything I can to help myself improve.”

After PDS battled the George School (Pa.) to a scoreless draw through two overtimes last week, Soltesz believes the team’s defensive unit is showing improvement this fall.

“I think Isabel Meyercord and Erin Hogan are really great in the back, they have both stepped up big time,” asserted Soltesz. “Grace [Barbara], our goalie, is amazing.”

In the tie with George, the Panthers stepped up in the latter stages of the contest, putting intense pressure on the Cougars, just missing goals as a free kick hit a post late in regulation and a chance in the box went just wide in the first overtime.

“I was really impressed,” said Soltesz. “In the beginning of the game we were a little slow. In the second half and the overtime we really picked it up. We were really aggressive; we definitely need to carry that out there throughout the whole game.”

Soltesz and her twin sister, star striker Alexa, give PDS an impressive one-two punch at opposite ends of the field.

“I definitely try to get it to her as much as I can because I know she is really hungry to score,” said Soltesz. “I usually know where she is.”

That connection is continuing on the next level as the twins have committed to attend Gettysburg College and play for its women’s soccer program.

“We had a couple of options actually,” said Soltesz, reflecting on the college choice.

“We ended up going to their summer camp and we really liked the school. The team was great, it reminded me a lot of PDS. I thought it would be a good fit academically and athletically. We definitely want to stay together.”

PDS head coach Pat Trombetta likes the way Soltesz is holding the defense together.

“Stef is solid back there,” said Trombetta. “With her quickness and speed, we push more players upfield, knowing that we have her in the back. That is what is helping us maintain possession and create the opportunities by our backs getting forward.”

“I thought we had the better of play throughout and more possession, we were looking for each other,” said Trombetta, whose team broke through with a 1-0 win over Abington Friends (Pa.) last Friday on a goal by freshman Madison Coyne and will look to build on that when it plays at the Hun School on September 18 and at the Peddie School on September 23.

“It is just misfortune right now, we can’t find the net. I am not frustrated because we are having the opportunities. If we weren’t getting the opportunities on the offensive end, I would have more concern.”

In Trombetta’s view, his squad should get better and better as the fall unfolds.

“It is a good group, they will get it together,” said Trombetta. “It is just going to take a little bit more time than we had hoped for.”

Soltesz, for her part, believes the Panthers are coming together. “I think we are starting to jell as a team and we can tell in practice,” said Soltesz. “We are improving. Everyone is really supportive of each other in school and outside of school. I think we are a good team and we have a good bond.”

 

TAYLOR MADE: Princeton High girls’ soccer player Taylor Lis heads upfield in recent action. Last Friday, junior midfielder Lis contributed four assists as PHS defeated Hamilton 6-0 to improve to 2-1. In upcoming action, the Little Tigers are slated to play at Ewing on September 19 before hosting powerful Pennington on September 20 as part of homecoming weekend.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TAYLOR MADE: Princeton High girls’ soccer player Taylor Lis heads upfield in recent action. Last Friday, junior midfielder Lis contributed four assists as PHS defeated Hamilton 6-0 to improve to 2-1. In upcoming action, the Little Tigers are slated to play at Ewing on September 19 before hosting powerful Pennington on September 20 as part of homecoming weekend. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After the Princeton High girls’ soccer team suffered a frustrating 2-1 loss to Robbinsville to begin last week, the squad concentrated on its passing game as it hosted Hamilton on Friday.

“We actually had a team meeting before this game and we knew what to do in a situation like that,” said PHS junior star Taylor Lis.

“We had to focus on connecting the passing and getting the little things done first and we knew that would build into the bigger pieces.”

Midfielder Lis took that message to heart, connecting for four assists against Hamilton to help the Little Tigers go from a 1-0 halftime advantage to a 6-0 rout of the Hornets.

For Lis, her performance reflected her comfort level at playing in a new spot for PHS as she has been moved to center midfield this season after playing on the outside her first two years.

“Playing in the center mid, a key role of mine is to distribute the ball,” said Lis.

“A lot of the balls were on in behind today so I would get the ball and play in until I stepped up and drew the other girls’ defenders. I was able to play it through on most occasions.”

In the win over Hamilton, it took a while for PHS to get it going as it didn’t score its first goal until under 31 seconds were left in the first half despite generating six straight corner kicks in one seven-minute stretch.

“We were getting a little frustrated,” said Lis. “As soon as we got that first goal, they kept coming. We were getting the passes off. We were getting the quick passes and getting everyone involved throughout the whole field.”

Lis has enjoyed seeing her younger sister, freshman midfielder Devon, get involved in the PHS attack.

“That is definitely fun for me,” said Lis. “I was looking forward to her stepping up to high school. We played together when we were younger. She stepped into my outside mid position and she took my old number too so I like to call her my little mini-me. I love working with her. She is another one, I know exactly how she plays.”

The Little Tigers have loved working with new head coach Val Rodriguez, who has taken the helm of the program from longtime head coach Greg Hand.

“It is a great dynamic, it carried over from what coach Hand was doing when he was here,” said Lis.

“She had been working with him for many years. I know throughout my whole high school career we have had her with us. It is definitely a bit of a different style but we knew what to expect so we were prepared for that. We did great work in the preseason so when the season came, we knew what she expected of us and we knew what to do. It was a pretty smooth transition actually.”

Rodriguez, for her part, liked the way her squad learned from the loss to Robbinsville.

“We watched a lot of film on it and evaluated some of the things we did wrong,” said Rodriguez. “We were possessing for three, four passes and then we would give it away. We did an OK job of winning it right back but we weren’t truly building.”

PHS did a great job of building things in the second half against Hamilton, tallying five goals in a span of 27 minutes.

“It was good soccer; it wasn’t just individual stuff,” said Rodriguez, who got three goals from senior striker Shannon Pawlak with a trio of juniors Serena Dibianco, Haley Bodden, and Gabby Deitch adding one apiece.

“It was team effort. The assists were the biggest piece of it and then the composure to put the ball in the back of the net. They weren’t always easy shots, they placed the ball very well.”

In Rodriguez’s view, Lis showed good composure in setting up her teammates on four of those goals.

“Bringing Taylor into the middle as a junior is huge for our possession,” said Rodriguez.

“She really sees the attack. Being an outside mid, she was constantly going up and down the sidelines. Now we are just focusing on how do we keep her central and involved. As a center mid, assists are the name of the game for her; she is figuring it out.”

On the defensive end, the Little Tigers figured out some things as well.

“The defense stepped up big-time today,” said Rodriguez, whose squad improved to 2-1 with the win over Hamilton and is slated to play at Ewing on September 19 before hosting powerful Pennington on September 20 as part of homecoming weekend.

“We had a rough game defensively against Robbinsville with some defensive things that were a little bit soft. We needed Emily [Pawlak] to lead and the confidence to play the ball out of the back. The backs kept their heads to go wide and keep possession today.”

Lis, for her part, believes the win over Hamilton demonstrates that PHS is headed in the right direction.

“I know we have some big games next week, especially Pennington on our homecoming so this was definitely a confidence booster for that,” said Lis.

“We are going to come out hard in practice and hopefully do the same thing next week. The team chemistry is great, everyone knows each other. We know how each other work. I think that is the biggest part, knowing how your teammates play, knowing what balls to play and to which person. That allows us all to connect.”

 

BACK IN THE SWING: Princeton Day School girls’ tennis star Renee Karchere-Sun smacks a backhand in a match last fall. Junior Karchere-Sun has performed well at first singles this season, helping PDS to a 3-1 start. In upcoming action, the Panthers host the George School (Pa.) on September 17 before playing at the Hill School (Pa.) on September 19 and at the Peddie School on September 23.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BACK IN THE SWING: Princeton Day School girls’ tennis star Renee Karchere-Sun smacks a backhand in a match last fall. Junior Karchere-Sun has performed well at first singles this season, helping PDS to a 3-1 start. In upcoming action, the Panthers host the George School (Pa.) on September 17 before playing at the Hill School (Pa.) on September 19 and at the Peddie School on September 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton Day School girls’ tennis team, facing some tough challenges out of the gate should be good preparation for the tests ahead.

“We had a nice win over Haddonfield to start the season and then we had a tough loss to Montgomery,” said PDS head coach Ed Tseng.

“It was nice to bounce back against Pingry. Emily [Dyckman] and Maria [Martinovic] had tough matches and pulled them out. It is nice to get some tough matches as we get ready for the counties.”

Tseng is seeing a greater toughness in first singles star Renee Karchere-Sun.

“She is a nice No. 1 for us, she has great talent and the nice thing about her is that she worked so hard in the offseason,” said Tseng of junior Karchere-Sun.

“She is playing well, she seems to be mentally tougher. She is pulling out matches this year that she might not have won in the past.”

Junior co-captain Maria Martinovic figures to win a lot of matches at second singles this fall for the Panthers.

“Maria is looking good, we are happy to have her at No. 2,” added Tseng. “She is a co-captain with Emily so she’s a leader as well as a great player. She is able to be steady but aggressive when she needs to be.”

Third singles player, senior Emily Dyckman, has proven to be a steadying presence for PDS over her career.

“Leadership is the No. 1 thing with her, both on and off the court,” said Tseng. “She is solid at No. 3 for us. She is very athletic; she is very competitive. She wants to win every match.”

At first doubles, the Panthers should be competitive with the pair of Devika Kumar and Tauria Salvati.

“Devika and Tauria are both returners, Tauria was at second doubles last year,” said Tseng.

“They are playing very nicely. They are both athletic. We are working on doubles strategy with them and they are good learners. They will face some tough doubles teams but if they do what they know, they will be fine.”

The second doubles spot is currently in the hands of Anna Kovacevich and Arya Jha.

“It is Anna and Arya right now,” said Tseng. “Vasilissa [Paushkin] is coming back from an injury, she will have to earn her way back. Anna and Arya are both nice additions to the team.”

There is a good chemistry around the team. “It is a nice group of girls, there is no drama,” said Tseng, noting that new assistant coach Trevor Campbell, the former PDS junior varsity coach, has been a positive influence on the squad. “They are having fun.”

Tseng, for his part, believes the Panthers can have a lot of fun at the Mercer County Tournament, which is scheduled for September 29 and October 1.

“I can’t talk about the other teams but I like our chances,” said Tseng, whose team topped the Hun School 4-1 on Monday and hosts the George School (Pa.) on September 17 before playing at the Hill School (Pa.) on September 19 and at the Peddie School on September 23.

“In something like the MCT you never know, anything can happen. In my first year (2011), we won and that was the first time PDS had won in something like 25 years. You have to stay in the moment and take it one match at a time.”

 

SHARP EXECUTION: Hun School running back Christopher Sharp heads upfield last fall. Senior star and University of Virginia-bound Sharp should be a force on both side of the ball for Hun this year at running back and linebacker. The Raiders kick off their 2014 campaign by playing at Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) on September 20 as they look to win in the debut of new head coach Todd Smith.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SHARP EXECUTION: Hun School running back Christopher Sharp heads upfield last fall. Senior star and University of Virginia-bound Sharp should be a force on both side of the ball for Hun this year at running back and linebacker. The Raiders kick off their 2014 campaign by playing at Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) on September 20 as they look to win in the debut of new head coach Todd Smith. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As Todd Smith takes the helm of the Hun School football team, he is bringing a different perspective to the program.

Having served as the head coach at WW/P-S for eight seasons and the offensive coordinator for Hopewell Valley last fall, Smith has cut his teeth in the public school environment, a different world than the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) circles in which Hun travels.

Smith’s success, which includes a 63-22 record at WW/P-S from 2005 to 2012 and helping HoVal to the Central Jersey Group III title last fall, is founded upon a voluminous playbook, meticulous attention to detail, and instilling a gung-ho attitude in his players.

Based on the early returns, Smith’s approach is gaining wide support among his new players.

“Camp has been going well,” said Smith, reflecting on the team’s preseason preparation.

“The kids are grasping the concepts. We have the base offense in and we are building off of that. It is the same thing with the defense. The kids are bonding; they are having fun.”

Smith is having fun working with junior transfer quarterback Simon Vadas.

“Vadas has been great, he played well in both scrimmages,” said Smith, whose team kicks off the 2014 campaign by playing at Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) on September 20.

“He has great touch and he is a great leader. The more he learns the offense, the quicker he will be able to get rid of the ball.”

Hun boasts a great offensive weapon in senior star and University of Virginia-bound Christopher Sharp.

“Sharp is our workhorse,” said Smith. “He is playing at wide receiver as much as running back.”

The Raiders figure to get some good work from its
talented receiving corps. “Justin Morrison is our shiftiest athlete, he has got wiggle,” added Smith.

“Cameron Kitchen is at tight end and wide receiver, he is a big target. The other wide receiver is Julian Williams, he is a big time athlete. Donavon Harris played QB last year. We are getting him back for the second game; he will add a lot.”

As usual, Hun will feature a lot of beef in the trenches. “The line looks sharp, we have some local kids and they were able to work out here and they did a lot of weightlifting,” said Smith.

“Fred Hansard is a sophomore, he is 6’5, 295-pounds and he is our anchor. I am happy with right tackle Justin McGriff (6’3, 325). We have two senior guards in Tom Zuewsky (6’3, 275) and Panayiotis Zavaliangos (6’3, 265). The center is Dave Niciforo (6’0, 215), he is a senior and is new to the position and he is getting better and better.”

That bulk will help on the other side of the ball as most of the offensive linemen will also be manning the defensive line.

“The defensive line will have a lot of the same guys as the offensive line,” said Smith.

“Cameron is playing defensive line and one of the defensive ends is Mike McMenamin, who also plays fullback.”

At linebacker, HoVal transfer Kyle Horihan has made an immediate impact in the middle.

“Kyle Horihan has been named a captain, he is at inside linebacker and is flying all over the place,” said Smith. “The outside linebackers are Sharp and Niciforo.”

The secondary boasts some veterans with a trio of seniors in Morrison, Daniel Seelagy, and Mike Salerno.

“Justin is at cornerback,” said Smith. “Daniel Seelagy and Mike Salerno are in a battle for the other cornerback spot.”

For Hun, a lot of the battle this fall will come down to staying away from injury.

“As long as we stay healthy, we should be able to play with anyone,” said Smith, who is determined to restore the program to its winning ways after a 2-6 campaign in 2013 under interim head coach John Law.

“We have not been doing much hitting, it may take us a while to get warmed up in games because that will be some of our first live action. Health is our No. 1 concern.”

If Hun has its pieces in place, Smith will get the chance to show his full repertoire.

“I think we have to stay balanced on offense,” said Smith. “I don’t want to be one-dimensional. We will run to open up the pass and pass to open up the run. On defense, we need to get after the QB and put pressure on the other teams.”

September 10, 2014
OPENING MOVE: Princeton University men’s soccer player ­Cameron Porter goes after the ball in a 2013 game. Last Friday, senior star Porter scored the Tigers’ first  goal of the season as Princeton fell 3-2 at Fairleigh Dickinson University in its season opener, squandering a 2-0 second half lead. The Tigers will look to get on the winning track when they host St. John’s (0-3-1) on September 10 at Roberts Stadium.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

OPENING MOVE: Princeton University men’s soccer player ­Cameron Porter goes after the ball in a 2013 game. Last Friday, senior star Porter scored the Tigers’ first goal of the season as Princeton fell 3-2 at Fairleigh Dickinson University in its season opener, squandering a 2-0 second half lead. The Tigers will look to get on the winning track when they host St. John’s (0-3-1) on September 10 at Roberts Stadium. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last fall, the Princeton University men’s soccer team opened its season by giving up two first half goals at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) on the way to a 3-0 defeat.

Kicking off its 2014 campaign by playing at FDU last Friday evening, Princeton flipped the script, jumping out to a 2-0 lead on a tally by Cameron Porter early in the contest and a goal by Andrew Doar at the 55-minute mark.

Princeton head coach Jim Barlow liked the way his squad got out of the gate.

“We started well, we scored a nice goal about 4-5 minutes into the game; there was a good build-up and a lot of players touched the ball,” said Barlow.

“We felt that we were not only getting forward, we were solid defensively. We were not letting them get any chances. We were on top of things for a long stretch. In the last 20 minutes, they picked it up and had some half-chances. We felt we were in pretty good shape at halftime. We scored a goal about 10 minutes into the second half. It was a little flukey, Andrew Doar meant to cross it but it went in.”

But, stunningly, FDU produced an encore performance, repeating history by scoring three unanswered goals to pull out a 3-2 win in double overtime.

In assessing the harrowing finish, Barlow acknowledged that his squad let things slip away.

“It ended up being a really, really disappointing ending,” said Barlow. “We conceded goals on some silly mistakes.”

The Knights scored twice within a 15-minute stretch to force overtime, tallying at 64:00 and 78:58.

“On the first one, we let a guy make a run through the midfield and then we committed a foul,” said Barlow.

“The free kick deflected off of our wall and into the corner. The second was a penalty kick. Patrick Barba and their forward were running side by side; they were both looking at the ball and got tangled up. The ref called a foul on Patrick; we were disappointed but those things happen and you have to deal with them. They scored and that got them psyched up. It was a big goal.”

Despite that sequence, Barlow didn’t think the Tigers were hanging their  heads as the game went into overtime.

“I still feel like we bounced back from that,” said Barlow. “We went into the second overtime still tied and we made a silly foul in the midfield. On the free kick, our goalie, Ben Hummel, got his hands on it but it bounced off and they scored on rebound.”

While Barlow declined to blame the defeat on the fact that FDU had two games under its belt coming into the evening, he acknowledged that the Tigers lacked game sharpness.

“We were not looking at each other and saying we had to get fresh legs in; we were still getting chances and going forward,” said Barlow.

“We certainly have fitness but we need to manage the game and get all of the little details right and that only comes with playing games.”

The setback didn’t dim Barlow’s belief that Princeton can win a lot of games this fall.

“I think the biggest positive is that we feel that we have a really good team,” asserted Barlow.

“We are strong at every part of the field. We are explosive. We are athletic, we have some speed and strength. We put together a lot of good plays and kept tight in the back.”

The loss, though, did expose Princeton’s need to improve on set pieces.

“We have to be better on the restarts,” said Barlow.

“We did well in the air and on corner kicks but we have to focus on not making fouls and giving up free kicks and penalties. Every game is close so you have to lean on experience and leadership to get through stretches when the other team is throwing the kitchen sink at us.”

A quartet of veterans, seniors Andrew Mills, junior Brendan McSherry, junior Nico Hurtado, and senior Porter, displayed leadership on Friday night.

“Andrew Mills had a really good game at center back,” said Barlow, noting that senior defensive star Josh Miller is still being hampered by injury.

“Brendan McSherry was very good in the midfield; he was an engine for us. He was a leader and organized the team and had a lot of good passes. Hurtado and Porter did a solid job of getting dangerous up top.”

In Barlow’s view, the players have done a good job of rebounding from Friday’s loss.

“You could make the case that this morning’s session was the best one of the season so far,” said Barlow.

“They bounced back and showed intensity; they are feeling a lot of optimism. We would have liked to get a 1-0 start and be growing while we are winning. That didn’t happen, the game is over, and we have to move forward.”

The Tigers will look to make some good things happens as they host St. John’s (0-3-1) in their home opener on September 10 at Roberts Field.

“They are an attacking, exciting team,” said Barlow, whose team plays at Seton Hall on September 14.

“They have a great history and we always have exciting matchups. It is the first day of school and we are hoping for a big crowd; that makes Roberts an exciting place for us.”

SCARLET FEVER: Princeton University women’s soccer player Alessia Azermadhi, left, battles Samantha Valliant of Rutgers for the ball in action last Friday evening. Freshman midfielder Azermadhi played well in her college debut as Princeton fell 5-0 to the Scarlet Knights in its season opener. On Monday, the Tigers moved to 0-1-1 as they battled Seton Hall to a scoreless draw through two overtimes. Princeton will look to get into the win column as it plays at LaSalle on September 12 and hosts Villanova on September 14(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SCARLET FEVER: Princeton University women’s soccer player Alessia Azermadhi, left, battles Samantha Valliant of Rutgers for the ball in action last Friday evening. Freshman midfielder Azermadhi played well in her college debut as Princeton fell 5-0 to the Scarlet Knights in its season opener. On Monday, the Tigers moved to 0-1-1 as they battled Seton Hall to a scoreless draw through two overtimes. Princeton will look to get into the win column as it plays at LaSalle on September 12 and hosts Villanova on September 14 (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Julie Shackford knew that her Princeton University women’s soccer team faced a major challenge as it hosted Rutgers last Friday evening in its season opener.

Rutgers came into Roberts Stadium with three games under its belt and a sparkling 3-0 record while Princeton had been practicing for just two weeks.

“You are playing a team that has been in camp since July 30th,” said Princeton head coach Shackford.

“It is very hard. I always struggle with this, do you play a pansy in the first game instead. I still think at the end of the day that a game like that will help us down the road.”

It turned out to be a hard evening for the Tigers as they saw a 1-0 halftime deficit deteriorate into a 5-0 loss.

“I thought we did well in the first half,” said Shackford, whose squad matched Rutger in shots at 5-5 over the first 45 minutes of the contest, generating some good chances including a Tyler Lussi volley that hit the crossbar.

“I think there is still a lot of inexperience on the field for us. There is no question that we are not game fit and so then it is trying to suss out how much of it is real soccer breakdowns or how much of it is the fatigue.”

Princeton got some good soccer from its trio of freshman starters, midfielders Vanessa Gregoire and Alessia Azermahdi along with defender Natalie Larkin.

“They did well,” said Shackford. “I thought Alessia played well. I thought Alessia, from a defensive perspective, did a lot of dirty work for us.”

Taking a long-term perspective, Shackford believes taking lumps against Rutgers will help Princeton later in the fall.

“I still think at the end of the day that it is a good first test, it is a starting point,” said Shackford.

“We have a lot of things to work out. I think on the day we lost to a very good team and we just have to learn from it going forward. Ultimately our goal is to put ourselves in position to win the league and so how does this step prepare us for that.”

On Monday, Princeton showed progress as it battled Seton Hall to a scoreless draw through two overtimes, achieving the main goals Shackford set coming out of the Rutgers game.

“I just want us to be a little bit more organized defensively and a little bit more active up top,” said Shackford, whose team outshot the Pirates 16-6 and will hope for even more improvement as Princeton plays at LaSalle on September 12 before hosting Villanova on September 14.

SUMMER FLING: Princeton University rising junior Julia ­Ratcliffe displays her form in the hammer throw. In June, Ratcliffe, a native of Hamilton, New Zealand, won the NCAA championship in the event with a throw of  219’ 5. A month later, representing her homeland, Ratcliffe took silver in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland with a heave of 229’ 6.25.(Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

SUMMER FLING: Princeton University rising junior Julia ­Ratcliffe displays her form in the hammer throw. In June, Ratcliffe, a native of Hamilton, New Zealand, won the NCAA championship in the event with a throw of 219’ 5. A month later, representing her homeland, Ratcliffe took silver in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland with a heave of 229’ 6.25. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

As students flood back to Princeton University this week for the start of school, few will have accomplished as much over summer break as Julia Ratcliffe.

In June, the rising Princeton junior and native of Hamilton, New Zealand, won the women’s hammer throw at the NCAA championships in Eugene, Ore., marking the 43rd straight year that Princeton has produced at least one team or individual national champion.

A month later, representing her homeland, Ratcliffe took silver in the hammer throw in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, a prestigious international competition held every four years that features athletes from countries with ties to the British Empire.

Speaking from her summer training base in Wimbledon, England, Ratcliffe believes that her experience this summer will have a long-term benefit.

“I have competed at a high level so when I feel young and under-prepared, it is just to look back and say, I can do this,” said Ratcliffe.

“In high pressure situations like that where there are a lot of distractions, I know that I have the ability to stay focused while still enjoying myself.”

After having finished 11th at the NCAA meet in 2013, Ratcliffe showed an intense focus in taking the title this year.

“I was a bit nervous, I didn’t really want a repeat of last year,” said Ratcliffe. “I knew I basically had to hold it together and not try anything fancy or try too hard and I would probably come away with a different result.”

Ratcliffe was proud of how she kept things together when the finals turned into a two-woman contest between Colorado’s Emily Hunsucker and her.

“I am not in a position often where I have to chase people so when Hunsucker was ahead of me, she threw and then I threw one that beat her and then she threw one that beat me,” recalled Ratcliffe.

“It was oh man, this is going to be a rough one so that was quite cool. I was quite glad that I managed to hold it together through that, it was a novel situation for me. I was glad that I could keep improving on all of my throws because I kind of knew I was going to get one of the top three at least.”

Getting the NCAA title meant a lot to Ratcliffe. “I wasn’t prepared for how big it was,” said Ratcliffe.

“I knew it would be big but everyone went crazy about that, especially people from Princeton. They came up to me and all of my friends from school were so supportive and so proud of me. It means a lot, it made all the training and all the hard cold days worth it. It was more doing it for Princeton and the girls on my team.”

Days after the NCAAs, Ratcliffe headed to England to train for the Commonwealth Games, staying at her aunt’s house in Wimbledon in south London.

“It was a perfect set-up, my dad came over to coach me,” said Ratcliffe. “He was with me twice a day training so we just went down to the local track and threw down there and went to a gym and did some lifting. We had beautiful weather. It was basically ideal training conditions; everything was really accessible and convenient to get to. I could just get out there and train.”

After a training camp with the New Zealand team in Wales, Ratcliffe arrived in Scotland in late July.

“I have been to a few games where there is a village situation but the  Commonwealth Games was definitely the biggest one I have been to,” said Ratcliffe.

“It was just huge. The people of Glasgow and the volunteers, especially, were so helpful. They were falling over themselves to help you out, it made the experience awesome. It just really brought the city together. In the stadium, the noise was phenomenal. It was great because they were cheering for everyone but when a Scottish person came out, it was 10-fold, the noise was overwhelming.”

Despite her relative youth and inexperience on the international level, Ratcliffe was not overwhelmed by the atmosphere once she got into action. She achieved the qualifying standard for the final on her first throw in the preliminary round and then battled Canada’s Sultana Frizell tooth and nail in the medal round. Ratcliffe’s best throw was 69.96 (229’ 6.25), just 2.01 meters short of Frizell’s gold medal throw of 71.97.

“I got the automatic qualifier so that was a huge confidence builder,” said Ratcliffe.

“I was just ready to get out there and throw, I was training for this for all year basically, this and the NCAAs were my big competitions. I was ready, not to get it over with, but to get out there and enjoy myself. I was gutted that I couldn’t hit 70 again. To get on the world stage and throw that consistently, there are only good things to come from that.”

Succeeding on the world stage was a surreal experience for Ratcliffe. “We watched the Commonwealth Games as kids, it is kind of you like you watch the Olympics on TV,” said Ratcliffe.

“It was oh that is so cool, people are doing their country proud and winning medals. You feel so proud to be part of your country and to think that people are watching me on the TV is just something that is hard to believe. It seems not real, the competition that I went to in Glasgow where I got a medal, is it is the Commonwealth Games that you watch on TV?”

Ratcliffe’s medal-winning performance made her a TV star for a week in New Zealand.

“People didn’t know who I was before this so it was quite cool because there wasn’t a big media pressure on me to do well,” said Ratcliffe, who got in some travel during her time in England, going to Paris with her family for her 21st birthday and then traveling around Europe for two weeks with some friends after the Commonwealth Games.

“I did a lot of interviews straight after the competition and following. One of my friends e-mailed me the next day after the final and said you are on basically every news channel.”

As she looks ahead to her junior season at Princeton and beyond, Ratcliffe plans to keep making news.

“I would really like to get the meet record at NCAAs, that would be quite cool,” said Ratcliffe, who has her sights on the World Championships and World University Games in 2015 and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“I want to keep the consistency up and keep moving forward rather than looking back and saying that was a great year. I can’t sit back and keep doing what I was doing so I am keeping hungry for more improvements.”

STEPPING UP: Princeton High field hockey player Lucy Herring heads upfield last Saturday against Peddie. Senior star Herring scored a goal in the game to help PHS prevail 2-1. The Little Tigers, now 2-1, play at Robbinsville on September 10 before hosting Lawrence on September 15.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STEPPING UP: Princeton High field hockey player Lucy Herring heads upfield last Saturday against Peddie. Senior star Herring scored a goal in the game to help PHS prevail 2-1. The Little Tigers, now 2-1, play at Robbinsville on September 10 before hosting Lawrence on September 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Lucy Herring and her teammates on the Princeton High field hockey team were determined to be proactive as they hit the field against Peddie last Saturday.

After falling 1-0 at Allentown a day earlier in a weather-shortened game to open the season, PHS brought an upbeat mentality into the contest.

“I think in general, there was a more positive attitude today; I think it started on the bus ride,” said senior star forward Herring.

“We realized that yesterday we didn’t get the result we wanted. We played to their game and responded to their game instead of playing what we know.”

PHS played its game from the start on Saturday, controlling possession and stifling Peddie in the midfield.

“In this game we were working hard, spacing and communication were definitely key,” said Herring.

That communication paid dividends as Herring banged home a feed from classmate Campbell McDonald to give the Little Tigers a 1-0 lead.

“It was kind of in slow motion, I saw the goalie move to one side and I just kind of hit at the back,” said Herring.

“Campbell and I have played with each other, whether it is field hockey or ice hockey, for something like seven years. We always have that on-field, on-ice connection.”

After the Falcons scored with 7:52 left in the second half to knot the game at 1-1, PHS hit back as senior Cara Straus scored off a penalty corner with 2:54 remaining in regulation to give the Little Tigers a 2-1 triumph.

“I think they were angry and we were angry; it was a really good match,” said Herring.

“We kind of knew that we could get a corner at the end; corners are definitely an advantage for us. Everyone knew that we had to get a goal no matter how we got it so I think everyone stepped it up. Cara was definitely in perfect position for that tip in so that was great.”

It was a great way for PHS to end a stiff opening weekend test. “Coach (Heather Serverson) put two of our hardest opponents first which was a challenge,” said Herring.

“I was glad that we got to face that first so we know what to work on and we know how to compete against the best, which is always a good lesson early on in the season.”

PHS head coach Serverson, for her part, was thrilled with the progress her team made in 24 hours.

“It was like night and day,” said a beaming Serverson. “Everything we didn’t do well yesterday, we fixed for today and that is all I ask of them. After our game yesterday, we talked about it. We wanted stick-to-stick passing, intensity, and the second wave.”

Serverson wasn’t surprised that the one-two punch of Herring and McDonald accounted for PHS’s first goal.

“They have mental telepathy on the field, they work well together,” said Serverson.

The Little Tigers displayed mental toughness when they broke the tie late in the contest.

“That is one of our goals as well, setting the tone and answering back,” said Serverson, whose team topped Hamilton 3-0 last Monday to improve to 2-1 and plays at Robbinsville on September 10 before hosting Lawrence on September 15.

“In the past, we would kind of sit back on our heels and be more reactive at that point. One of our goals this year is to be more proactive, to go after it right away, and not let anything get in our heads.”

Senior Cara Straus has been going after it in her final campaign, emerging as a valuable performer on the front line for the Little Tigers.

“Cara embodies hustle, she does what you tell her to do,” said Serverson. “You tell her to go pads, she is on pads; you tell her to go to the post, she is on the post. You tell her to hustle back and she hustles back. She has been a key on our offense.”

PHS got some good hustle on defense, spearheaded by senior star Julia DiTosto and junior Trish Reilly in the midfield, along with juniors Julia Snyder and Lucia Matteo on the back line.

“We have tightened that up positioning-wise,” said Serverson. “That is a key that we didn’t have yesterday. We were on our heels a lot yesterday and today they were more composed and in the right position in the defense and the midfield. That transitional marking was really good today.”

Reflecting on the opening weekend, Serverson believes her team has the right stuff when it comes to character.

“I think the big thing was that we were able to pick ourselves up from yesterday and we played in 90 plus weather back-to-back days” said Serverson.

“We had two tough games, that shows what they are made of. They have a lot of grit, that is going to take us really far this season.”

Herring and her classmates are committed to going as far as they can in their final campaign with the program.

“Since we have all been on the team since freshman year, we have that chemistry and I think we know what the team is about,” said Herring.

“We know how to play our game and we have tried our best to teach the team and the young ones. We have gotten better every year so this year, our senior year, we want to make it the best, so getting far in MCTs and states, those are definitely our goals.”

ROARING TIGER: Princeton High running back Rory Helstrom heads upfield in action last fall. PHS will be relying on Helstrom as its go-to rusher this fall as it looks to bounce back from a 0-10 season. The Little Tigers kick off their 2014 campaign by hosting Hamilton on September 13.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ROARING TIGER: Princeton High running back Rory Helstrom heads upfield in action last fall. PHS will be relying on Helstrom as its go-to rusher this fall as it looks to bounce back from a 0-10 season. The Little Tigers kick off their 2014 campaign by hosting Hamilton on September 13. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton High football team went through a rough 0-10 season last fall, Charlie Gallagher doesn’t want his players to totally erase 2013 from their memories.

“Last season was a big learning year and I hope it left a bad taste in their mouths,” said PHS second-year head coach Gallagher, whose squad was outscored by a 401-100 margin last fall.

“We have a good core of guys coming back, there is a sense of urgency. The schedule is different and they see opportunities for wins.”

Junior quarterback Dave Beamer’s passing skills give the Little Tigers an opportunity to score in a hurry.

“We are excited to have Dave back at quarterback,” said Gallagher, whose team opens its 2014 campaign by hosting Hamilton on September 13.

“He has a big arm, a live arm. He has a lot of velocity and a tight spiral. We will be looking for a lot of down the field plays from him.”

PHS boasts two playmakers at running back in junior tailback Rory Helstrom and senior fullback Colin Buckley.

“Rory is definitely going to be a go-to guy, he will get the bulk of the carries,” said Gallagher.

“He wants the ball in his hands. We have a solid fullback in Colin Buckley. He is 6’1, 200-pounds, and is not your typical guy at fullback, he hits hard. We are going to run some power formations and he is good at that kick out block. We will get him to run the ball. He has got some speed for a big guy.”

The Little Tigers have a jack-of-all trades in the backfield with senior Sam Smallzman, a starting linebacker and quarterback last year before getting sidelined by injury.

“Sam Smallzman is coming back, he doesn’t want to just be a defensive player,” said Gallagher.

“He is going to fill just about every offensive role, tight end, fullback, halfback, and he is our back-up QB. He can go anywhere we need him; he just wants to play some football.”

The group of junior Matt Ochoa, senior Ben Danis, senior Jack Cook, senior Joe Hawes, and senior Brian Tien gives PHS versatility at receiver.

“Matt Ochoa is back,” said Gallagher. “Ben Danis has come back. He was a starter as sophomore, had an ACL and took last year off. He will be a starter. Jack Cook is a senior but it his first year out. He is a big guy, 6’3, 185. Joe Hawes was backup soccer goalie and a good lacrosse player. The guys got him to come out; he’s a real nice player. Brian Tien is at tight end. He’s a strong guy, about 6’1, 185 pounds, and has done a lot of work in the weight room.”

Gallagher is relying on his battle-tested offensive line to give him some good work.

“Just about everybody is back,” said Gallagher. “We have Noah Ziegler at left tackle and Omar Moustafa at left guard. The right guard is up in the air. Brian Lemus-Camey is coming off an ACL. Joe Cunsolo has been playing there and is doing a good job. We have Tommy Moore at right tackle. He started last year at RG and then moved to tackle when Lemus-Camey got hurt. We have two or three guys at center. Matt Toplin is on the shelf and should be getting cleared soon. Ethan Guerra is a sophomore but is a real strong kid. Joe Cunsolo is also in the mix.”

Many of those linemen will be doing double duty as they will form the foundation of the front six in the PHS defense.

“We are playing a 4-2-5,” said Gallagher. “On the line will be Buckley, Moustafa, Ziegler, Tommy Moore, Guerra, Toplin, and Cunsolo. At linebacker, we have Tien, Smallzman, and Anthony Trainor.”

The backs and receivers will comprise most of the secondary. “At safety, we will have Rory and Danis,” added Gallagher. “Tad Moore is also helping us at safety. The corners are Ochoa, Cook, and Mike Chonka. At free safety, we have Joe Hawes.

While Gallagher knows it will be tough for the Little Tigers to break into the win column, he believes his players will compete to the final whistle.

“When you are coming off a 0-10 season, nothing comes easy,” said Gallagher, noting that PHS will be hosting Ewing under the lights on the evening of September 19 for homecoming.

“We just want to be competitive in the fourth quarter. The kids see the opportunities for wins but they know they have to work hard, there will be a lot of tight games. I am excited for the season.”

IN PLAY: Hun School soccer player Natalie Csapo takes a throw-in during action last season. Sophomore midfielder Csapo and the Raiders are looking to build on the last surge they made last fall when they rebounded from a 0-7 start and advanced to the state Prep A title game. Hun opens its 2014 campaign by hosting South Brunswick on September 13.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

IN PLAY: Hun School soccer player Natalie Csapo takes a throw-in during action last season. Sophomore midfielder Csapo and the Raiders are looking to build on the last surge they made last fall when they rebounded from a 0-7 start and advanced to the state Prep A title game. Hun opens its 2014 campaign by hosting South Brunswick on September 13. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It didn’t take long for the returning players on the Hun School girls’ soccer team to start looking forward to the 2014 season.

Advancing to the state Prep A finals last fall after starting the season at 0-7 left the team’s returners with a heavy dose of optimism.

“The mood is good, even from when the season ended last year knowing that we were losing only two players,” said Hun second-year head coach Joanna Hallac, who guided Hun to a 7-12-1 record in 2013. “They were feeling good about the direction of the program.”

Things have continued to move in the right direction as the Raiders have enjoyed a productive preseason.

“They are seeing good players coming in and the returning players making a lot of improvement,” said Hallac, noting that a strong group of freshmen have joined the program.

“It could be a special season. A big if is if we stay healthy; we have had difficulty doing that in the past. We have a little depth this year.”

That depth is evident at forward, where Hun will feature precocious freshman Kara Borden, junior Marleigh Nociti, senior Paige McGuire, and senior Becky Barus.

“We have a lot of forwards, it is a good problem to have,” said Hallac, whose team opens its 2014 campaign by hosting South Brunswick on September 13.

“Kara Borden has raised the level for the older girls. She has a real nose for the goal; she knows how to finish. Marleigh, Paige, Becky will all see action.”

The pair of Lehigh-bound senior Jess Sacco and promising freshman Nicole Apuzzi are showing a nose for the ball in the midfield.

“Jess will be center midfielder; she is such a calming influence,” said Hallac, who will also use junior Sophia Sauma, sophomore Natalie Csapo, sophomore Abby Gray, and freshman Kennedy Debow in the midfield.

“She is more defensive but she can go forward; she can help instigate things. Nicole Apuzzi is the attacking midfielder, she is a really strong player.”

One of Hun’s strongest players is Lehigh-bound senior defender Ashley Maziarz.

“Ashley is much like Olivia Braender-Carr,” said Hallac, referring to the team’s senior star last year who is currently playing at NYU. “She is very dependable. She is a great leader and a great defender. She can help offensively, she is good in the air on corner kicks. She can make those runs.”

Hun has some other good options on the back line. “Jess Johnson is the other center back; she is very graceful and very fluid,” added Hallac, noting that junior Amanda Douglas will also see time on defense.

“She is a very smart defender and she can be an offensive threat too. Kendall Dandridge is one of the outside backs and Julia Salerno is the other. Kendall can get up the field and makes some great crosses. She is also a great defender. Julia is just solid.”

At goalie, junior Courtney Arch has developed into a solid performer. “Courtney has been doing very well,” said Hallac, who has freshman Livia Kooker as the back-up goalie.

“I am really happy with her progress. She is communicating better; she is taking command in the box. Livia is pretty good, they will push each other.”

In order to build on last year’s progress, Hun will need to be more pushy around the goal and more intense on defense.

“We need to take advantage of our opportunities; we had a lot of chances last year but we didn’t finish well,” said Hallac.

“We lost some 1-0 games where we outplayed the other team, we really have to finish better. We need to be better on transition defense. If we lose the ball, we have to get it back. We have to maintain possession.”

In Hallac’s view, the optimism around the program is justified. “We have a lot of potential, we have a lot of talent,” maintained Hallac.

“The expectations are higher than last year. The MAPL (Mid-Atlantic Prep League) championship ought to be within our reach and we hope to get to another Prep A final. We want to advance farther in the MCT (Mercer County Tournament). We are setting the bar higher. The girls are putting in the work; they are competing hard in the preseason.”

ON THE BALL: Hun School boys’ soccer player Alex Semler, right, goes after the ball in a game last fall. Junior defender Semler has emerged as the rock of the Hun backline and helped the Raiders make an unlikely run to the 2013 Mercer County Tournament semifinals as an 11th seed. Hun kicks off regular season play by hosting Episcopal Academy (Pa.) on September 12.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ON THE BALL: Hun School boys’ soccer player Alex Semler, right, goes after the ball in a game last fall. Junior defender Semler has emerged as the rock of the Hun backline and helped the Raiders make an unlikely run to the 2013 Mercer County Tournament semifinals as an 11th seed. Hun kicks off regular season play by hosting Episcopal Academy (Pa.) on September 12. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Youth will be served this fall for the Hun School boys’ soccer team.

Losing eight seniors from a 2013 squad that made an unlikely run to the Mercer County Tournament semifinals as an 11th seed, Hun will have sophomores and even some freshmen in key spots this season.

“It really is a youth movement,” said Hun head coach Pat Quirk, who led the Raiders to a 7-12 record last fall. “We have some big shoes to fill.”

In Quirk’s view, the inspirational MCT performance last fall could have a carry-over effect into 2014.

“We had a good run in the MCT last year and the returners have gained confidence from that; we have talked about it,” said Quirk, whose team opens regular season play by hosting Episcopal Academy (Pa.) on September 12.

“Once the guys play with each other a little more, we will get better. I get that feeling, like I had last year before the MCT. It is a fun group to be around and you see they like to kick it around and play the game.”

At forward, the Raiders will be depending on senior Tucker Stevenson and two young guns, sophomore Andrew Kaye and freshman Jake Keller, to show some game.

“Tucker is going to help us a lot,” said Quirk of Stevenson, who scored four goals in 2013. Andrew Kaye and Jake Keller are also going to be at forward.”

Two sophomores, Pat Nally and Connor Hufer, should get things moving forward from the midfield.

“Pat and Conor are shooting from the midfield,” said Quirk. “They are young, they have a good vision of the game and they have good feet. They can control the ball.”

Hun boasts good depth in the midfield with the return of  junior Devin Ducharme, sophomore Gunnar Schellscheidt, and senior Esham MacAuley

“Devin Ducharme is looking good, Gunnar Schellscheidt has stepped up,” said Quirk.

“Esham MacAuley has moved to the outside. He is a senior; he works hard and knows what to do. He is excited to get out there. He didn’t play much last year; he is seeing the field now and he wants to step up.”

Junior Alex Semler has stepped into a leading role for the Hun back line. “Alex is a rock back there on defense for us,” asserted Quirk. “He brings a lot of enthusiasm. He has that mentality that nobody is getting by us. He is always looking to push forward.”

The trio of sophomore James Nicholas, junior M.J. Cobb, and junior Chris Andrews will help Semler hold the fort.

“Nicholas is on the outside,” added Quirk. “M.J. Cobb has been playing for three years. Chris Andrews is also back there.”

Sophomore Logan Leppo will serve as Hun’s last line of defense as he fills the shoes of graduated star Chris Meinert at goalie.

“Logan Leppo came up through our middle school and was the starting JV goalie last year,” said Quirk.

“He has got skills, he has great reactions, quick hands, makes kick saves, the guys are getting confident in him. We want him to be more aggressive vocally but he is a sophomore and that takes a little time. It is good that we have Semler back there.”

While it may take some time for the Raiders to get into synch, Quirk believes the team can be formidable if it takes care of the basics.

“We have to work on keeping the ball moving.” said Quirk. “We have been talking to them about three keys — playing fast, having good communication, and keeping good possession of the ball.”

SHINING STAR: Hun School field hockey goalie Reina Kern surveys the action in a game last season. Hun is relying on senior star and Penn-bound Kern to have a big year as it looks to improve on the 6-14 record it posted in 2013. The Raiders open regular season play by hosting Academy of New Church on September 11.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SHINING STAR: Hun School field hockey goalie Reina Kern surveys the action in a game last season. Hun is relying on senior star and Penn-bound Kern to have a big year as it looks to improve on the 6-14 record it posted in 2013. The Raiders open regular season play by hosting Academy of New Church on September 11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The Hun School field hockey team boasts strength in numbers as it looks to rebound from a 6-14 campaign last fall.

“We have 45 kids out, two of them are hurt right now,” said longtime Hun head coach Kathy Quirk.

“I have 40 field players and three goalies. The kids are working hard, we have been in preseason since August 22.”

A key to Hun’s success this fall will be getting some good work from its one-two punch of senior Vicky Leach and sophomore Julie Fassl at forward.

“I am looking for big things from Leach and Fassl,” said Quirk, who will also be using freshman Julia Revock on the front line. “

“Vicki is very determined, she is a great kid, very coachable. I am looking for senior leadership from her. Fassl gave up fall ball softball; she has committed herself to being a better field hockey player. She works hard every day in practice. She is great on carrying the ball upfield and making crosses into the circle.”

Quirk will be relying on senior Julia Blake and junior Maura Kelly to carry the team in the midfield.

“We had Blake at center but we are going to go with two midfielders so she will be on the right,” said Quirk, whose team opens regular season play by hosting Academy of New Church on September 11.

“We are hoping that she steps up and scores some goals. Maura Kelly has only played for two years. She has got a lot of speed, she is still learning the game but she is a good learner.”

The trio of senior Shannon Graham, sophomore Sophia Albanese, and senior Taylor Nehlig gives Hun some experience on defense.

“Shannon Graham will anchor the center,” said Quirk. “She left soccer after tearing her ACL. She is still learning the game but she is picking it up; I think playing defense in soccer really helped her. Sophia Albanese will be on one side. Taylor Nehlig on the other side; she is another senior who I hope will step up with her leadership.”

Penn-bound senior goalie Reina Kern figures to be a leading light this fall for the Raiders.

“We are hoping that Reina will have her best year ever,” said Quirk. “She knows the game and is good at directing her teammates. She communicates and keeps them in the right place. I am hoping that she is the strong anchor of the defense.”

Quirk is hoping her team will get better and better as the fall unfolds. “We are very inexperienced at the varsity level; it may take a couple of games for us to get going,” said Quirk.

“We will make progress every game. We may take our lumps before we make that big jump. We need to be goal hungry. Defensively, we need to remember who to mark and then mark them. We have to stay strong and communicate.”

FORWARD PROGRESS: Stuart Country Day School field hockey player Tori Hannah controls the ball in a game last season. Junior star Hannah should be a catalyst of the Stuart attack this fall. On Monday, Hannah scored a goal in a losing cause as the Tartans fell 3-2 to Princeton Day School in their season opener. In upcoming action, Stuart plays at the George School (Pa.) on September 11 before hosting Pennington on September 13 and WW/P-S on September 16.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FORWARD PROGRESS: Stuart Country Day School field hockey player Tori Hannah controls the ball in a game last season. Junior star Hannah should be a catalyst of the Stuart attack this fall. On Monday, Hannah scored a goal in a losing cause as the Tartans fell 3-2 to Princeton Day School in their season opener. In upcoming action, Stuart plays at the George School (Pa.) on September 11 before hosting Pennington on September 13 and WW/P-S on September 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The Stuart Country Day School field hockey team is clearly trending upward. After going 3-14-1 in 2012, Stuart improved to 7-14-1 last fall.

As the Tartans get their 2014 campaign underway, head coach Missy Bruvik senses that her players are primed to keep things headed in the right direction.

“In the back of their minds, they would like to be over .500 for the season,” said Bruvik, whose team dropped a 3-2 nailbiter to Princeton Day School last Monday in its season opener.

“We want to be ready for the state and county tournaments, no matter what the record is. We have a strong schedule and that helps us get ready for that.”

Stuart boasts a trio of strong juniors in Tori Hannah, Sam Servis, and Julia Maser.

“The three of them will be vital to midfield, attack, transition, and corners,” said Bruvik. “Julia is such a hustler, she helps on both offense and defense.”

Bruvik will be looking to junior Cate Donahue, junior Rose Tetnowski, and freshman Ali Hannah to help with the scoring.

“Cate Donahue looks good on offense, she has really improved her stick skills,” added Bruvik, who has senior Nneka Onukwugha on the front line.

“Rose has the chance to play all over the field. She is versatile, she is an up and coming athlete. Ali Hannah, Tori’s younger sister, has a strong presence on the field. We are throwing her in there.”

Sophomore Izzy Engel provides Stuart with a strong presence all over the field.

“Izzy Engel can play pretty much anywhere,” said Bruvik. “She is helping us in the backfield on transition, she has great field sense, she can give us four or five interceptions in a game and get the offense going that way.”

On defense, Stuart will be featuring a blend of veterans and new faces in junior Kate Walsh and senior Fayette Plambeck, along with a trio of sophomores, Emily Rounds, Mary O’Boyle, and Madeline McLaughlin.

“Kate Walsh is very versatile,” said Bruvik.

“Emily Rounds will be seeing time on defense. Mary O’Boyle will help us back there. Madeline McLaughlin is new to the team, she has the intangibles, speed, aggression, and nose for the ball.”

Senior Harlyn Bell is showing a lot of intangibles as she replaces graduated star goalie Margaret LaNasa.

“Bell has stepped into the goalie role,” said Bruvik. “She went to a couple of camps this summer and did a great job in goal in our scrimmage against Princeton High.”

On the whole, Bruvik has been impressed with the great work she has been getting from her players so far this season.

“Nneka and Fayette are returning seniors and they are providing great leadership along with the juniors,” said Bruvik, whose team plays at the George School (Pa.) on September 11 before hosting Pennington on September 13 and WW/P-S on September 16.

“There is a lot of heart and hustle, they are very coachable. Communication is key, we need to be on the same page. Everybody needs to know where they have to be on the field. They need to be better at knowing when to get back and when to get forward.”

For the Princeton Day School field hockey team, its season opener against Montgomery High last Friday was the first stage of a season-long growing process.

“I think the whole year is going to be a learning experience for this team, we have so many new faces,” said PDS head coach Tracey Arndt.

“The seniors are learning to step up; we had some vocal seniors last year and now these seniors have to take charge. The juniors know that they have to take on some of the leadership role. We have sophomores who have never played varsity before and we have a bunch of freshmen.”

In the clash against powerful Montgomery, the Panthers fell behind 1-0 but evened the game at 1-1 as one of those freshmen, Elizabeth Brennan tallied her first career goal with an assist by senior tri-captain Dana Poltorak. The Cougars then responded with a goal at the buzzer to take a 2-1 lead into halftime.

“I was proud of how we played in the first half,” said Arndt. “We got scored on and we didn’t let that get to us. We kept playing and going after it.”

After a weather delay of more than an hour due to thunderstorms in the area, the game resumed and Montgomery struck with a goal to make it 3-1, which ended up being the final score.

“When we came back, Montgomery pounced on the opportunities,” lamented Arndt.

“We kept fighting, there was no give up, there was no quit. They realized something like this delay could happen again and they will grow from this first game.”

Arndt was excited to see Brennan come through in the first game of her high school career.

“We were so psyched that she got a goal in her first game, that should be a good memory for her,” said Arndt. “She’s doing great, we expect a lot from her. She is really hungry for the ball, she is passionate about field hockey.”

On defense, junior Kate Laughlin came up big as she moved to the backline in the absence of senior tri-captain Niki van Manen. “We missed Niki but Kate really stepped up, we trust her all over the field,” said Arndt.

“She played in the center in a scrimmage and I know it isn’t her favorite spot. We may find a spot for her in the midfield. She is consistent and strong, she is cool as a cucumber.”

Two of PDS’s new faces, sophomore transfer Kiely French and freshman Kyra Hall, also produced strong defensive efforts. “Kiely French really stepped up, she hadn’t played left back before,” added Arndt. “Kyra Hall played right back, that is a tough position and she stepped up too.”

Senior goalie and tri-captain Katie Alden [this reporter’s daughter] showed some toughness as she stymied a number of Montgomery scoring opportunities.

“Katie Alden made some nice saves,” said Arndt of Alden, who was credited with seven stops. “They had more shots than we did and things could have gotten really shaky if she hadn’t made some of those saves.”

On Monday, the Panthers produced a very nice effort as they edged Stuart Country Day School 3-2 as Lauren Finley, Madison Mundenar, and Rowan Schomburg each scored goals and Alden made eight saves.

In moving to 1-1, the Panthers followed the blueprint Arndt formulated after the Montgomery game.

“We need to build on what we did in the first half; the forwards need to be coming back and tackling hard,” said Arndt, whose squad hosts Peddie on September 10.

“We have a lot of speed and we need to be pressuring the ball and making interceptions. We need Lauren Finley to come up big at forward and Rowan Schomburg to do big things in the midfield.”

September 3, 2014
POWERBALL: Princeton University field hockey star Teresa Benvenuti powers the ball down the field in a game last season. Junior midfielder Benvenuti, a two-time first-team All-Ivy League performer, provides good punch in the midfield for the Tigers. No. 7 Princeton opens its 2014 campaign by playing at fourth-ranked Duke on September 5.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

POWERBALL: Princeton University field hockey star Teresa Benvenuti powers the ball down the field in a game last season. Junior midfielder Benvenuti, a two-time first-team All-Ivy League performer, provides good punch in the midfield for the Tigers. No. 7 Princeton opens its 2014 campaign by playing at fourth-ranked Duke on September 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton University field hockey team, its daily theme comes down to one word — work.

The Tigers are working on playing faster, being better off the ball all over the field, playing more directly on offense, touching every ball on defense, and being more physical, among other things.

To monitor the players’ work rate, Princeton is employing state-of-the art Firstbeat technology, a software tool providing an advanced analysis of beat-by-beat heart rate data and oxygen capacity for each player as she goes through practice.

Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn likes the way her players have embraced the heavy workload.

“I am most pleased with how unified the team is,” said Holmes-Winn, who guided the Tigers to a 14-5 record in 2013 with an appearance in the NCAA quarterfinals and the program’s 19th Ivy league title in the last 20 years.

“I give so much credit to the seniors, they worked this spring to see what kind of leaders they were going to be. They are walking the walk, not just talking the talk. You see the energy in a strong way. They are setting the tone and it has transferred to the rest of the team and the freshmen are blending in. We are seeing a level of work.”

Even though Princeton is ranked No. 7 in the Monto/NFHCA preseason poll, the focus is squarely on daily improvement rather than where the Tigers stand nationally.

“I think for us it is not to prove something but to play our best hockey and maximize the group’s potential,” said Holmes-Winn.

“We focus on daily goals in a powerful way, looking to achieve our phase one goals right now. It is all about action.”

The Tigers should get plenty of goals from its group of strikers which includes senior and All-Ivy performer Allison Evans (11 goals and 6 assists in 2013), sophomore Cat Caro (9 goals, 4 assists) and junior Maddie Copeland (5 goals, 1 assist).

“Evans is so feisty, she plays with a chip on her shoulder even though she doesn’t really have one,” said Holmes-Winn.

“She has such energy. She’s utterly effective inside the attacking third. She has quick hands and makes great decisions in there. Cat Caro is so strong and physical but she plays with a beautiful touch on the ball. We are looking for Maddie to provide leadership on the front line.”

Two freshmen, Lexi Quirk and Rachel Park, could provide a spark up front.

“Lexi Quirk is so fit, she can literally run all day,” said Holmes-Winn. “She can chase and run and is a great finisher. Rachel Park has a good physiology and great touch on the ball.”

Junior star Teresa Benvenuti (8 goals, 8 assists), a two-time first-team All-Ivy performer, provides good punch in the midfield.

“Teresa is so, so powerful and her decision-making has improved every year,” said Holmes-Winn.

“We want her to overlap in the front third. She is also a phenomenal defender. She can intercept and tackle. She sets a tone; she has that aggressive mentality.”

Holmes-Winn is looking for senior Sydney Kirby (2 goals, 4 assists) to display a special work ethic in the middle of the field.

“Kirby has such an engine, she ran 2.4 miles in a 15-minute block in practice the other day and the next closest player was at 1.3 miles,” said Holmes-Winn of Kirby, an honorable mention All-Ivy choice last year.

“Her work rate is in the ball park of Katie Reinprecht ’13, she is off the charts. It has been a challenge to keep Sydney healthy. If she is, she will do some serious damage. I am excited to see her evolve this fall.”

The Tigers have several other players who will get work in the midfield. “We also have Ryan McCarthy, Cassidy Arner (2 goals), Ellen Dobrijevic, and Debi-Michelle Jantzen in the midfield,” said Holmes-Winn.

“We have a nice complement of players in the midfield, they can come in and provide support. We are going to need a lot of legs this year.”

Buoyed by the support of star defender and Olympian Julia Reinprecht ’14, Annabeth Donovan (1 goal, 4 assists) enjoyed a superb debut campaign last year, earning first-team All-Ivy honors and being named the league’s Co-Rookie of the Year.

“Donovan is even better than last year, she has refined her ball skills and has much more control,” asserted Holmes-Winn, who will also be using junior Kate Ferrara, senior Colleen Boyce, junior Saskia deQuant, and freshman Sarah Brennan, a former Princeton Day School standout, on defense.

“She has a great level of understanding of that we want to do. Having AB being able to learn from Jules was so crucial. She can come in and play center half, she has big shoes to fill. When Jules got hurt against Penn State in the NCAA tournament, she had to step in and play center half and did a great job; that is part of Julia’s legacy. AB has confidence and brings leadership, she is really a commander out there.”

Holmes-Winn is seeing some commanding efforts from her two goalies, junior Anya Gersoff (a 1.81 goals against average in 13 starts last year) and senior Julia Boyle (4.33 goals against average in two appearances).

“We are lucky to have two of the best goalies in the country, both of them have looked pretty exceptional in preseason,” said Holmes-Winn.

“Our goalie coach, David Williamson, has been working with them. They have really benefitted from him. Anya has been exceptional, she played a lot this summer and it shows. We will look at each week and see who we are playing.”

As usual, Princeton faces a challenging first week of the season, playing at No. 4 Duke on September 5, at No. 6 Virginia on September 7, and at No. 8 Penn State on September 12.

“The beginning of the season is a crap shoot, you play a deep rotation and get players some time to see what you have,” said Holmes-Winn, who guided the Tigers to the 2012 NCAA crown.

“There are a lot of internal questions and we are trying to glean answers. It is a great way to find out who you are. We want to play teams with a level of talent and pace who will be standing at the end. You get used to playing against your own players in practice, it is good to go against other players. All three opponents have different styles and philosophies, different strengths and weaknesses.”

Princeton’s philosophy centers on being strong with the ball and working hard all over the field.

“For us, it is focusing on being more comfortable on the ball,” said Holmes-Winn.

“We want confidence, poise, and more directness in the attacking third. On defense, we want to show poise and physicality and try to get a touch on every single ball.”

KICK-START: Princeton University men’s soccer player Brian Costa prepares to boot the ball upfield in a game last season. Sophomore Costa, an honorable mention, All-Ivy League choice in 2013, should provide energy and production in the midfield for the Tigers this fall. Princeton kicks off its 2014 campaign by playing at Fairleigh Dickinson University (0-2) on September 5.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

KICK-START: Princeton University men’s soccer player Brian Costa prepares to boot the ball upfield in a game last season. Sophomore Costa, an honorable mention, All-Ivy League choice in 2013, should provide energy and production in the midfield for the Tigers this fall. Princeton kicks off its 2014 campaign by playing at Fairleigh Dickinson University (0-2) on September 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In each of the last two seasons, the Princeton University men’s soccer team came agonizingly close to winning the Ivy League.

In 2012, Princeton posted a 4-1-2 league record but Cornell had a 6-1 mark to earn the crown. Last fall, the Tigers went 4-2-1 in the Ivies only to see Penn go 5-1-1 and wrest the title away from them.

Led by a group of nine seniors, Princeton is determined to get over the hump this fall.

“There is a hunger, they are into it,” said longtime Princeton head coach Jim Barlow, assessing the mood around the team in preseason.

“We are seeing energy, spirit, and chemistry. I think we have a nice balance in the senior class positionally. We have vocal leaders and guys who lead by example spread over the field.”

The senior leadership has translated into better communication on the field. “We saw in our scrimmage with Columbia how much more chatter there is,” said Barlow.

“They have a good way of pushing themselves and problem solving without waiting to hear from the coaches. The guys have been through a lot of hard, tough games.”

At forward, the Tigers should make things tough on their foes with a pair of All-Ivy performers in senior Cameron Porter (9 goals and 3 assists in 2013) and junior Thomas Sanner (7 goals, 1 assist) along with senior Julian Griggs (1 assist) and junior Nico Hurtado (2 goals, 2 assists).

“We feel we should be a little more explosive in our attack,” said Barlow.

“We are returning two first-team All-Ivy forwards and if Griggs had been healthy last year, he would have been in contention. Hurtado is creative and clever with the ball. We have some depth and some explosiveness, we are hungry to get them the ball. We are trying to figure the best positions and who should be paired with whom. We may mix and match and have different looks for different games.”

There figures to be a lot of mixing and matching in the midfield as Princeton boasts a number of options there, including junior Brendan McSherry (2 goals, 4 assists), sophomore Brian Costa (1 assist), senior Joe Saitta (1 assist), junior Jack Hilger, and sophomore Bryan Windsor (1 goal).

“We have a lot of depth in the midfield and there is not a lot separating them,” said Barlow.

“McSherry and Costa started the scrimmage, they will see a lot of playing time. There are a lot of guys who are really close. We have to figure out our top group. Some guys are trying to get fit and win a spot so some days they have heavy legs and it is tough to judge.”

Another returning All-Ivy standout, senior Myles McGinley, looks to fill the spot as a link between the defense and the midfield.

“In the spring, we played Myles wide on the right,” noted Barlow. “With Chris Benedict leaving a hole in that spot, we need someone who can defend and attack. We may have Myles at midfield/defender as a guy who gets forward a lot.”

Princeton has a lot of talent on defense, featuring first-team All-Ivy performer senior Josh Miller along with senior Andrew Mills (3 assists), sophomore Patrick Barba, sophomore Mark Romanowski, and sophomore Greg Seifert.

“Miller gives us athleticism and leadership; he keeps the back line committed,” said Barlow of Miller, the only Tiger to start all 17 games last fall.

“He is so tuned in, he reads plays and he helps others get in position. Mills came on at the end last year and he has done well. Barba has been excellent. Romanowski and Seifert are strong athletic defenders. I think we are going to be OK in the back.”

The Tigers look OK in goal with the emergence of 6’6 junior Ben Hummel. “Hummel had an excellent spring, he’s huge and athletic,” said Barlow of Hummel who made two starts last fall and had a goals against average of 1.00.

“He’s athletic for a guy that size, he played a lot of basketball in high school. He has quick movement and is good at changing direction. We are comfortable with the way he plays balls in the box. With his height, he is able to pick off balls that other keepers can’t get to.”

Barlow is hoping his squad gets things going in the right direction when they open regular season play with a game at Fairleigh Dickinson University (0-2) on September 5.

“We remember last year when things were going well in preseason and we went up there for opener and got pummeled 3-0,” said Barlow. “We never could get into a rhythm. The guys are excited for the game. FDU has done well year in, year out. I saw they lost their first game so they will be hungry.”

After going 3-7 in non-conference games last fall, Princeton is hungry to do better in that part of its schedule.

“We have a lot of guys who have been on the field a lot in the last two years,” said Barlow, noting that the team’s freshman class boasts several players who could see playing time as the season unfolds, noting that newcomers Matt Mangini, Daniel Bowkett, Michael Chang, James Reimer, Nicholas Badalamenti, and Chase Bishov all have a good pedigree.

“We want to play stronger in our non-conference games. We all struggled in the league last year except Dartmouth and then they couldn’t win in the conference. For us to get more than one team from the league in the NCAA tournament, we need to have a better RPI (Rating Percentage Index).”

Barlow, for his part, believes his team just has to be a little bit better around the goal at both ends of the field to produce a strong campaign.

“I think we can create chances with our athleticism, experience, and talent up the field,” said Barlow.

“We had chances last year but we didn’t put them away at a high percentage. The last part was not sharp enough. We can’t be panicking when we get behind defense; we need to be composed at the finish. We need to be better on re-starts, attacking, and defending on corner kicks and on throw-ins. Being rock solid defensively is the starting point.”

ON THE LOOSE: Tyler Lussi goes after the ball last fall in her freshman season season with the Princeton University women’s soccer team. Lussi made an immediate impact for the Tigers, scoring a team-high 10 goals. She will be looking to keep up her scoring as Princeton opens up its 2014 campaign by hosting Rutgers (3-0) on September 5.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ON THE LOOSE: Tyler Lussi goes after the ball last fall in her freshman season season with the Princeton University women’s soccer team. Lussi made an immediate impact for the Tigers, scoring a team-high 10 goals. She will be looking to keep up her scoring as Princeton opens up its 2014 campaign by hosting Rutgers (3-0) on September 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Julie Shackford feels like a college senior again as she looks ahead to coaching the Princeton University women’s soccer team this fall.

In August, Shackford announced that her 20th campaign at the helm of the program would be her swan song, something that has linked her with the team’s Class of 2015.

“I wanted to tell them before the season so they could experience it with me,” said Shackford, who is getting remarried and relocating to Virginia.

“I told the team and the seniors are calling me one of them. They have all been supportive and really phenomenal about it.”

In making her decision to retire, Shackford is entering the last lap of a phenomenal run.

“It has been 20 years at Princeton and 25 years in coaching,” said Shackford, who has a 196-109-26 record at Princeton with an appearance in the 2004 College Cup Final 4 and six Ivy League titles and posted a 42-21-4 in five years at Carnegie Mellon before taking over the Tigers.

“I have given almost half my life to a great institution. I wanted to go out now, it feels right.”

Shackford believes the team’s group of nine seniors can help get the Tigers back on the right track as the program looks to rebound from going 7-6-4 overall last year and 1-5-1 in Ivy play.

“We have a big senior class and historically those have been the teams that have done well in the Ivy League,” said Shackford. “The senior class is pretty intent; they have guided the group.”

The Tigers appear to have a pretty good attack group, paced by sophomore Tyler Lussi, who had a team-high 10 goals along with four assists in her debut campaign. She will be joined by senior Melissa Downey (3 goals and 1 assist in 2013), senior Gabrielle Ragazzo (1 goal, 2 assists), senior Liana
Cornacchio, and freshman Beth Stella.

“Lussi is looking good,” said Shackford, noting that she plans to go with a 4-2-3-1 formation this season.

“I think Melissa is ready to do her thing, she was coming off a knee injury last year. I moved Ragazzo up top from the back. We are going to play a target, I have Liana and freshman Beth Stella in that spot.”

In the midfield, the Tigers will have a distinctive Canadian flavor as sophomore Nicole Loncar (1 assist), freshman Vanessa Gregoire, and freshman Alessia Azermadhi all hail from north of the border.

“We will have some holding midfielders,” said Shackford. “Nicole had a compartment injury last year and she is really doing well. Vanessa played for the Canada U-20 team. She is a good player, she is already leading that group. Alessia will be in that spot. We will have players rotating through that middle spot, including Jessica Haley (3 goals, 2 assists).”

Shackford has rotated two key players, sophomore Jess McDonough (1 goal, 1 assist) and senior Lauren Lazo (5 goals, 7 assists), to the back of the field in order to shore up the defense.

“McDonough is going to be playing in the middle of the back line so she needs to make a big jump,” said Shackford, who will also use junior Emily Sura (1 assist) and freshman Natalie Larkin on the back line.

“I have moved Lazo to the back. She is so quick and can still get points from that position. She played there all spring and looked really good.”

At goalie, senior Darcy Hargadon (1.42 goals against average in 12 starts last year) has been looking good as she heads into her final campaign.

“Darcy has done well in the preseason, I think she is ready to really step up,” said Shackford, whose reserve keepers are sophomore Hannah Winner and senior MicKenzie Roberts-Lahti.

The Tigers will need to step up from the start as they open the 2014 campaign by hosting Rutgers on September 5.

“That is a tough opening game, they have already won two games and they are good up top,” said Shackford of the Scarlet Knights, who topped Seton Hall 1-0 last Friday to improve to 3-0. “We have never backed away from a challenge.”

While Shackford knows it will be a challenge for Princeton to return to the top of the Ivies, she thinks the squad has the ability to make her farewell tour memorable.

“We will be a talented team,” said Shackford, who guided the Tigers to the 2012 Ivy title as they went 7-0 in league play for the second time in Shackford’s tenure.

“I think we will be good on attack but we will need the younger kids in the back to mature and stay in position. If the defense and goaltending is good, I think we will be a contender.”

BEARING DOWN: Princeton High field hockey player Julia ­DiTosto controls the ball in action last fall. Senior star and Stanford-bound DiTosto figures to spark PHS at both ends of the field as it looks to improve on the 13-4-2 record it posted in 2103. The Little Tigers start regular season play with a game at Allentown on September 5.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BEARING DOWN: Princeton High field hockey player Julia ­DiTosto controls the ball in action last fall. Senior star and Stanford-bound DiTosto figures to spark PHS at both ends of the field as it looks to improve on the 13-4-2 record it posted in 2103. The Little Tigers start regular season play with a game at Allentown on September 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Heather Serverson doesn’t have to wait for the season to begin to know that her Princeton High field hockey team is on the same page.

PHS features a battle-tested core of veterans who played key roles last year as the Little Tigers advanced to the Mercer County Tournament semis and the sectional quarterfinals.

“The seniors have been providing a spark, they are the glue that holds the team together,” said PHS head coach Serverson, who guided the Little Tigers to a 13-4-2 record in 2013.

“This group has experienced some key games with the MCT against HoVal and the states against Warren Hills. They are a close group, that is one thing I always focus on and I don’t have to put a lot of work into that with this team. They blend well together on and off the field and that is something that can’t be forced.”

The one-two punch of seniors Lucy Herring and Campbell McDonald should be a force on the front line this fall.

“They are looking really good, their experience is paying off,” said Serverson of Herring and McDonald, who will be joined by senior Elisa Kostenbader, sophomore Avery Peterson, and senior Cara Straus on the front line.

“They play year round together with their club. I am noticing composure and calm in them around the cage.”

Senior Julia DiTosto provides composure all over the field as a top defender who can trigger the offense through the midfield.

“If I had to sum it up, she has great game knowledge and she is a great ball distributor,” said Serverson of the Stanford-bound DiTosto.

“She can score and she can shut down the other team from scoring, you can’t ask for much more than that from a player.”

The Little Tigers boast a blend of veteran players and new faces in the midfield with the return of junior Trish Reilly, sophomore Jordyn Cane and junior Lucia Matteo and the addition of junior Natalie Campisi and sophomore Anna Cincotta.

“Trish complements Julia well,” said Serverson. “I have her on the right side but I am also putting her at center mid once in a while for the future. Cane and Matteo are back. We have two newcomers, Natalie Campisi and Anna Cincotta, and they are looking good.”

Along the back line, junior Julia Snyder and sophomore Georgia McLean are looking good.

“Julia Snyder is solid; she has really improved from last year,” asserted Serverson, who also has junior Allison Spann on defense.

“Her confidence level has increased from last year, it is catching up with her skills. I see McLean getting a lot of time back there. She will help us out. She moved from midfield to defense on her club team and she is really feisty back there.”

At goalie, junior Maggie Welch and freshman Kate Rogers will be vying for playing time.

“Right now we are looking at a rotation,” said Serverson. “They have different strengths and weaknesses, it will be a game-by-game situation.”

In Serverson’s view, PHS’s ability to win a lot of games this fall will be enhanced by its special team chemistry.

“I think they have the potential like last year’s team; the real strength is that a lot of them have been playing together for two or three years,” said Serverson, whose team opens the season by playing at Allentown on September 5.

“The experience they have gotten from those games is so valuable. The MCT game may have been more valuable, it showed what we are capable of. The skill, experience, and tightness as a group are the things that will pull us through.”

GETTING THEIR KICKS: Members of the Princeton High boys’ soccer team go through a drill during a practice last week at the Valley Road fields. PHS, which posted a 10-6-2 record last fall, starts its 2014 campaign by playing at Trenton High on September 5.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GETTING THEIR KICKS: Members of the Princeton High boys’ soccer team go through a drill during a practice last week at the Valley Road fields. PHS, which posted a 10-6-2 record last fall, starts its 2014 campaign by playing at Trenton High on September 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In 2013, the Princeton High boys’ soccer team displayed flashes of superb play but the proud squad fell short of its usual standard of postseason success.

Used to contending for county and state titles, PHS was knocked out of the Mercer County Tournament in the first round and exited in the sectional semis at the state level as it finished the fall with a 10-6-2 record.

As longtime Little Tiger head coach Wayne Sutcliffe looks ahead to the upcoming season, he believes his squad has the mentality to again be a postseason force.

“The goal of this group is to achieve something,” said Sutcliffe, whose team opens its 2014 campaign by playing at Trenton High on September 5.

“They are aware that if you take it one training session at a time and one game at a time, big things can happen.”

PHS is expecting big things from versatile senior star Chase Ealy, who has excelled at midfield and defense but will be handling the striker role this season.

“Chase is our guy who has the most experience,” said Sutcliffe, who guided the Little Tigers to a state title in 2009 and state co-championship in 2012.

“He is a senior level player. He helps us on the training ground, in games, and especially big games. He has been doing a great job so far at striker. It looks like we will be playing one striker.”

Sutcliffe believes his midfield could emerge as a potent strike force, featuring junior Cole Snyder, sophomore Andrew Goldsmith, sophomore Sam Serxner, junior Nick Halliday, and sophomore Alex Ratzen.

“Cole Snyder has had a good start this summer,” said Sutcliffe. “Goldsmith is doing well. Sam Serxner is a great addition. Nick has been great. Alex Ratzen came up as a freshman last year and changed games for us.”

A trio of juniors, Edgar Morales, Chris Harla, and Dwight Donis, could be game-changers on defense.

“Edgar, Chris, and Dwight have a lot of experience,” said Sutcliffe.

“Dwight and Chris are the two center backs. Edgar is just getting cleared. We are not sure where we will slot him in, he could be a defender, could be a forward.”

Senior goalie and three-year starter Laurenz Reimitz is battle-tested and skilled. “Laurenz has been great,” said Sutcliffe, noting that Reimitz sparkled in a recent preseason scrimmage against Scotch Plains.

“It is his third year, he has a lot of experience in games and big games. His presence is felt by more people; his command of the box is better. I am happy with his current form.”

Sutcliffe likes the form his team has displayed collectively as it girds for the season.

“There is great spirit in this group, I am very happy with their response so far,” said Sutcliffe.

“We definitely feel good about things, the goals are hard work and the expectation to play good soccer. We are happy with our depth and balance. We are looking to get things going on a good note.”

NEW VISION: Val Rodriguez (wearing sunglasses) surveys the action during a recent training session for the Princeton High girls’ soccer team. Rodriguez, a former PHS standout and assistant coach for the last six years, has taken the helm of the program in the wake of the retirement of longtime head coach Greg Hand. PHS, which went 14-4 last year, opens the 2014 campaign by hosting Trenton High on September 5.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

NEW VISION: Val Rodriguez (wearing sunglasses) surveys the action during a recent training session for the Princeton High girls’ soccer team. Rodriguez, a former PHS standout and assistant coach for the last six years, has taken the helm of the program in the wake of the retirement of longtime head coach Greg Hand. PHS, which went 14-4 last year, opens the 2014 campaign by hosting Trenton High on September 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Val Rodriguez (nee Davison) played an integral part in the success of the Princeton High girls’ soccer team from 2000-03.

Starring as a tough and skilled sweeper, Rodriguez helped the program earn Colonial Valley Conference titles and reach the finals of the both the Central Jersey Group III sectional and the Mercer County Tournament.

After producing an all-conference career at Richard Stockton College, Rodriguez returned to her high school alma mater, assisting longtime head coach Greg Hand.

Now, Rodriguez is primed to assume a critical role in maintaining the winning tradition of the program, taking over as head coach in the wake of Hand’s retirement.

“I have been looking forward to this day for a while,” said Rodriguez, reflecting on ascending to the top job after six seasons as an assistant.

“I enjoyed working with coach Hand and I learned a lot from him. My goal was to be the next head coach and start a new era in PHS girls’ soccer.”

With Rodriguez’s PHS background and experience with the current players, the Little Tigers have picked up where they left off last year when they posted a 14-4 record.

“I think compared to coach Hand, I won’t do things much differently,” said Rodriguez, whose team opens regular season play by hosting Trenton High on September 5.

“It will be business as usual. We have some great young female assistant coaches and we are all very competitive-minded. It has been a smooth transition. The respect is there; the team work is there.”

The scoring punch is there for PHS with the return of senior striker Shannon Pawlak, who tallied 28 goals last season.

“Shannon is our go-to target player,” said Rodriguez, noting that junior Serena DiBianco and junior Gabrielle Deitch may also see time at forward.

“We are looking for her to dish balls and to do scoring. She is fit, focused, and did a lot over the offseason.”

In the midfield, the Little Tigers boast a lot of talent in junior Hayley Bodden, junior Taylor Lis, sophomore Zoe Tesone, Deitch, and junior Sasha Ryder.

“Hayley, Taylor, and Zoe are big girls and good distributors,” said Rodriguez. “Gabby and Sasha will be on the outside.”

Rodriguez is looking for Bodden, in particular, to have a very good season. “I have never seen Hayley more focused,” said Rodriguez.

“She is fit; she is looking heavily at the college level and that is showing through in her play. I am expecting her to win the 50/50 balls like she did last year, to dish, and score some goals.”

Another Pawlak sister, senior Emily, should spearhead the PHS defense. “Emily is looking good; she and Shannon worked hard in the offseason,” said Rodriguez, who will also use junior Maya Sarafin on the back line. “She is good at organizing things in the back. She has a good voice and is a good decision-maker.”

Junior goalie Rachel Eberhart has emerged as a solid last line of defense for the Little Tigers.

“Rachel is very good technically,” said Rodriguez. “We are working on her decision-making, communication, and knowing when to come out.”

In Rodriguez’s view, PHS knows what it takes to do well this fall. “This team can maintain and build on recent success,” asserted Rodriguez.

“There is no wasted time, we are here for business. It is a focused group. Looking at this team, it feels like we have played together for years. There is already a tight bond.”

SOLE CONTROL: Princeton Day School girls’ soccer player Stef Soltesz controls the ball in a recent training session. Senior star defender Soltesz figures to be a key performer as PDS looks to defend its Mercer County Tournament title. The Panthers start regular season play with a game at New Hope-Solebury (Pa.) on September 5.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SOLE CONTROL: Princeton Day School girls’ soccer player Stef Soltesz controls the ball in a recent training session. Senior star defender Soltesz figures to be a key performer as PDS looks to defend its Mercer County Tournament title. The Panthers start regular season play with a game at New Hope-Solebury (Pa.) on September 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming off a frustrating 4-9-4 season in 2012, the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team didn’t appear to be a championship contender last fall.

But producing a dramatic reversal of fortune, PDS went 17-2-1, winning the Mercer County Tournament for the first time and taking second in the state Prep B tourney.

Entering the 2014 campaign, PDS knows it is the hunted team after last year’s heroics.

“There is a big target on their backs; this is the first time the team has been in this position,” said head coach Pat Trombetta, whose team opens regular season play with a game at New Hope-Solebury (Pa.) on September 5.

“We have a good core of players here, they are excited to defend their county title.”

The Panthers boast a solid core of battle-tested seniors in Erin Hogan, Kirsten Kuzmicz, Erin Murray, Alexa Soltesz, Stef Soltesz, Jamie Thomas, and Kelly Tarcza along with a group of improving sophomores that features Abby Atkeson, Hannah Bunce, Alexis Davis, Allison Klei, Emily Simons, and Katie Simons.

“Kirsten and Erin are our captains, there is good leadership there,” said Trombetta.

“They are both passionate players and respected by their teammates. The twins give us a big boost with Alexa on offense and Stef on defense. The sophomores are one of the most improved groups I have seen in a while. I think a big part of it was being on a championship team and they saw what it takes.”

Alexa Soltesz appears to be in championship form already at forward. “Alexa is looking great, she has improved every year,” asserted Trombetta. “She has one of the best turns I have seen with her back to goal, she has a really quick move.”

Freshman striker Ann Xu has proved to be a quick study. “Ann Xu is a skilled player who plays outside of school,” added Trombetta, who will also use Murray at forward. “She is a passionate player. She is going to be a starter.”

The midfield features a number of skilled players, including Kuzmicz, Klei, freshman Madison Coyne, Atkeson, and Bunce.

“Kirsten is playing well,” said Trombetta. “We are expecting her to win a lot of 50/50 battles; she gives us a real presence. Allison Klei is playing well, she came back in great shape. Madison Coyne is a talented player, she is another freshman who is going to start. Abby Atkeson and Hannah Bunch will be on the outside.”

On defense, the trio of Stef Soltesz, Hogan, and Davis should win a lot of battles along the back line.

“It is great having Stef back there, any time we make a mistake on defense, she is there to sweep it up,” said Trombetta, who will also be using junior Isabel Meyercord and Tarcza on defense.

“She is a goalie’s best friend. Erin had a great second half last year. We are looking for her to build on that. Alexis Davis was on offense last year but we are moving her to defense, we think she gives us depth there.”

In goal, freshman Grace Barbara gives PDS an exciting new face. “Grace Barbara is starting in goal, she is a dynamite keeper,” said Trombetta.

“She is very talented. She can play balls with her feet and gives us a lot of options. She is playing beyond her years, she is yelling out there and is in control.”

Trombetta, for his part, believes his team can build on last year’s success. “The major goals are to defend the county title and win the state Prep title,” said Trombetta.

“People ask what can you do for an encore; we didn’t win both last year. We have to take it one game at a time. The No. 1 key to success is to stay healthy and the No. 2 is to find someone to step up on free kicks.”