Standing at 5’8 and weighing 140 pounds, Blake Brown doesn’t immediately catch the eye as the Hun School boys’ hockey team takes the ice.
But when the puck is around the net, sophomore forward Brown looms large as his speed, scrappiness, and finishing skill make him a threat to score at any time.
Hun head coach Ian McNally appreciates Brown’s nose for the goal.
“Blake can move the puck with Jon (Bendorf) and Evan (Barratt) but he can also wait until they find their shot and bang in the rebound,” said McNally.
“He is the workhorse. He is the dog that goes into the corner to get it and then goes to the front of the net and it eventually comes back to him.”
With Barratt sidelined most of the season with a knee injury, Brown lifted his game, becoming Hun’s top scorer as it rolled to one of the best seasons in program history. Combining with classmate Bendorf, the Raiders showed early on that they were going to be a force.
In a critical test in December against perennial nemesis Princeton Day School, Brown tallied two goals and an assist while Bendorf scored a dazzling end-to-end first period goal that gave Hun a 1-0 lead, jumpstarting the Raiders to a 6-1 triumph as they improved to 6-0-1.
“Coach read us alumni messages about this game and how we were never able to beat these guys in past years,” said Brown. “It is sweet to be finally able to do it.”
Hun ended 2014 on a high note as it won the Purple Puck tournament, topping host Gonzaga in a shootout in the title game after the teams battled to a 4-4 stalemate through regulation time. Brown chipped in a goal and an assist in the title game.
Brown produced some of his best work this winter in the state Prep tournament, tallying four goals to help top-seeded Hun defeat fourth-seeded Montclair Kimberley 7-3 in the semifinals and then adding two goals as the Raiders edged No. 2 Morristown-Beard 5-3 in the title game, earning the program’s first Prep crown since 1996.
“Blake had six goals in two games and they were all within two feet,” said McNally, noting that Brown’s final tally against Mo-Beard marked the 100th point of his Hun career. “He was in the right spot.”
Brown helped Hun take a second straight MCT title, tallying three goals and five assists in three games as Hun outscored its foes 21-0 in breezing to the championship.
“This brings the school together; we don’t get a lot of championships at Hun,” said Brown, reflecting on the team’s postseason success. “Hopefully we will bring a new chapter to Hun and start winning a lot of championships.”
Brown ended up as Hun’s top scorer with 52 points on 22 goals and 30 assists as the Raiders posted a final record of 22-3-3.
“Blake works hard for all of his points, he is not flashy and you might not realize how many points he scored,” said McNally.
For stepping up and emerging as Hun’s top scorer in a championship campaign, Brown is the choice as the Town Topics’ top male performer of the high school winter sports season.
Top Female Performer
It didn’t take long for Abbey Berloco to start turning heads in her freshman campaign with the Princeton High girls’ swimming team.
Making her high school debut against Hopewell Valley in early December, precocious freshman Berloco set a program record in the 50 freestyle with a time of 24.58, bettering the previous mark by 0.11.
For Berloco, getting records was secondary to simply getting better in her first season at the high school level. “I am just hoping for some more personal bests and having a really good season,” said Berloco, who puts in five or six two-hour training sessions a week with her Hamilton Aquatics club team. “My goals are I just want to improve and I want to keep enjoying the sport.”
Berloco ended up having a very, very good season. After helping PHS go undefeated in regular season competition, she won both the 50 and 100 freestyle races at the Mercer County Swimming Championships in early February as the Little Tigers won their third straight county crown. Berloco set a meet record in both races and was named the meet’s Most Valuable Swimmer (MVS) on the girls’ side.
Getting the MVS wasn’t a goal for Berloco as she wasn’t even aware the award existed until she won it.
“I didn’t even know that there was a MVS, everyone said we have to go up for awards,” recalled Berloco. “I was like OK. I was really shocked when I heard my name called.”
While Berloco was thrilled to earn the individual award, she was more excited about the team’s superb performance.
“Everyone did such an amazing job,” said Berloco. “It is great to be part of that; it was really fun to win counties.”
With Berloco dominating the sprint events, PHS kept winning, as it took the Public B Central Jersey sectional title and then topped Ocean City in state semis to advance to the Public B state final, where it fell 100-70 to Scotch Plains-Fanwood to suffer its only loss in a 15-1 season.
Berloco ended the winter in style, combining with sophomore Melinda Tang, junior Madeleine Deardorff, and junior Brianna Romaine to take first in the 400 free relay at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions. Individually, Berloco placed fifth in the 50 free.
In reflecting on Berloco’s exploits, PHS head coach Carly Misiewicz pointed to the freshman’s love of competition.
“She is a stellar athlete without a doubt,” said Misiewicz. “She gets in there and swims her heart out no matter what. If she is a body length ahead or a lap ahead of everybody, she puts her heart and soul into it. That is all you can ask for and that is what makes her the kind of swimmer that she is. She puts in 200 percent effort all of the time.”
Berloco’s excellence from the first race of her freshman season to the last makes her the pick as the top female performer this winter.
Entering the winter, Princeton High boys’ basketball head coach Mark Shelley believed that sophomore Zahrion Blue would make an impact in his first varsity season.
“Blue is going to be really good; he can play the wing, he can play inside,” said Shelley. “He has grown, he is about 6’2. He is versatile.”
The athletic Blue grew into a star for the Little Tigers, providing some punch in the paint along with sharpshooting on the perimeter. He ended up averaging 10 points and three rebounds a game as PHS produced a late surge to end up with a 10-12 record after a 4-10 start.
Blue, for his part, felt at home in his move up to varsity. “I have to play hard,” said Blue. “I think I should be on varsity; it is my level.”
For proving that he could thrive at a higher level, Blue gets the nod as the top male newcomer of the winter season.
Malia Leveson was asked to do a lot for the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team this winter.
Although a natural forward, she was moved back to defense to bolster the team’s blue line unit.
“I think it has been good for me,” said Leveson, reflecting on the move. “I play forward for my club team. It was good playing defense at the beginning of the year, it helps me see the ice better and understand all the positions.”
Later in the season, Leveson was shifted back to offense and she responded by tying junior Ashley Cavuto for the team lead with 21 points, scoring a team-high 11 goals with 10 assists as the Panthers posted a 9-12-2 record and advanced to the semis of the ‘A’ bracket at the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) tournament.
Leveson earned All-WIHLMA honorable mention for her heroics, enjoying having the responsibility of being the team’s go-to scorer, letting her production speak for itself.
“I definitely like that a lot,” said Leveson of her role as a top scorer. “I am more of a leader on the ice rather than in the locker room.”
For making an impact at both ends of the ice in her debut season, Leveson is the choice as the top female newcomer.
Before the season even started for the Hun School boys’ hockey team, head coach Ian McNally faced a major challenge.
The team’s offensive catalyst, gifted sophomore forward Evan Barratt, broke his knee in the fall and was sidelined indefinitely.
“We are missing Barratt and that is a big roadblock for us so we had to rise to it,” said McNally.
Responding to McNally’s leadership, the Raiders rose to the occasion, getting off to a 10-1-1 start in 2014 and closing the year by winning its first title at the Purple Puck Tournament in the Washington, D.C. area.
“We have the skill but we also have chemistry and work ethic and you don’t always get that with the skill,” said McNally. “If you have those three things, you can do well in any league.”
The Raiders kept doing well as the winter unfolded, winning the state Prep title for the first time since 1996 and then rolling to its second straight Mercer County Tournament championship.
In reflecting in Hun’s dream season, McNally noted that it was a total team effort.
“The story of us is depth, regardless of who is here we still play the exact same way,” said McNally, whose team ended the season with a 22-3-3 record.
“Sometimes when you don’t have guys, you have to change the strategy and things like that. Going into every big game, we had to change the lines and whoever it was got it done. Sometimes it was the defense, sometimes it was the big guns and sometimes it was the third line.”
For holding things together as Hun produced one of the best campaigns in program history, McNally is pick as the top coach of a male team this winter.
When Greg Hand retired from teaching and coaching at PHS last June, he left quite a legacy when it came to the school’s swimming program.
Guiding the PHS boys’ and girls’ swimming teams since 1996-97, Hand molded the Little Tigers into a powerhouse. In his tenure, the boys’ squad has gone 202-46-3 with seven county crowns, 12 sectional titles, five appearances in the state finals, and a New Jersey Public B championship in 2012. During that stretch, the Little Tiger girls’ team has posted a record of 152-63-2 with two county crowns, seven sectional titles, and four appearances in the Public B championship meet.
Hand’s replacement, Carly Misiewicz, was in elementary school when he started coaching and had big shoes to fill.
The 2013 Rider University alum and former swim star for the Broncs, who had assisted Hand in his final season at the helm, drew on his experience as she took over.
“He has been great, if I have any questions, he helps me,” said Misiewicz, referring to Hand’s influence.
“He has given me practices that he has done before, saying here is a schedule, do what you want to do but here is this as well if you want it. He gave me all of his resources and he is still such a great mentor. I look up to him so much and I can only hope to be the coach that he is some day.”
With her recent experience of competing at the Division I level, Misiewicz incorporated some new wrinkles into the PHS training regimen.
“We have changed our dryland a little bit, stepping it up a notch,” said Misiewicz, who started swimming at age 4 and was competing year-round by age 8.
“We are doing medicine balls, we are using the combat ropes, the big, thick ropes. We do abs, weighted lunges, weighted squats for just a half-hour or 45 minutes, before or after practice.”
Junior star Brianna Romaine credited Misiewicz with injecting a fresh approach.
“Now with Coach Miz taking a head coach role, it changed the dynamic in a good way,” said Romaine. “It is all positive. Our team is really behind each other and I think overall that is what made us so good.”
Under Misiewicz’s spirited leadership, PHS went on to produce a dynamic campaign, winning its third county title in a row and a second straight Public B Central Jersey sectional title. Advancing one step further than it did in 2014, PHS topped Ocean City in the Public B state semis to set up a championship showdown against Scotch Plains-Fanwood.
While the Little Tigers fell 100-70 to the Raiders, Misiewicz was all smiles as she reflected on the final effort in her team’s superb campaign.
“Why I love being a part of this team so much is that every person is so classy,” said Misiewicz, whose team posted a final record of 15-1.
“They are not going to bad mouth the other team because we lost, no one is a sore loser. Every person on the team knows that we did everything that we could, they swam faster. You can’t swim faster than you are capable of swimming.”
Displaying class and enthusiasm as she guided the Little Tigers to a winter to remember, Misiewicz is the choice as the top coach of a female team.