SHARP AND QUICK: Hun School senior running back Chris Sharp sprints up the field in a game this fall. The University of Virginia bound Sharp rushed for 1,085 yards and totaled 23 touchdowns, sparking Hun to a 7-1 record and the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
Christina Rosca wasn’t sure if she had enough time to play for the Princeton High girls’ tennis team this fall.
Rising up to the mid-20s in the national 18-and-under rankings, Rosca was spending her weekends playing in tournaments all over the country. In the classroom, she was shouldering a heavy load with five AP courses.
But enjoying a special bond with her PHS teammates, Rosca made time to compete for the Little Tigers.
“They are all really good players and they are all really good people,” said junior star Rosca.
“I really enjoy being with them. It is really enjoyable to be in a team environment compared to playing as an individual all the time.”
Rosca’s teammates enjoyed having her around to head up the lineup. Playing at first singles, Rosca won the individual crown in her flight at the Mercer County tournament for the second straight year, topping Brianna Shvets of Hopewell Valley 6-2, 6-1 in the final as she cruised to the title without losing a set. Her brilliance helped PHS win the county team title for the first time since 1984.
“I was really pleased with the way Chris stepped up and took control early and was able to put the pressure on Brianna,” said PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert, reflecting on Rosca’s county triumph. “From there she was able to stay tough and close it out.”
While Rosca was happy to successfully defend her first singles crown, she was thrilled to see the Little Tigers prevail as team champion as they edged runner-up and perennial power WW/P-S with WW/P-N taking third.
“It means a lot,” said Rosca. “We have been really close the last two years and some unfortunate things have happened, some injuries and stuff like that.”
Good things kept happening for PHS as they won the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional crown and then edged Northern Highlands 3-2 in the Group 3 state semifinals before falling to powerful Millburn in the finals.
“This is a really great group of girls, they have won the sectional title four years in a row and made it to the group final the last three so that was really exciting,” said Hibbert.
“To add the county tournament title this year as well was icing on the cake, especially for our three seniors.”
For Rosca, whose only loss for PHS this fall came against Millburn, her court savvy helped her remain a force on the court.
“No matter who I play, I always try to be really aggressive and come into the net as much as possible but off of the right balls, not just any ball,” said Rosca, who was too busy to defend the NJSIAA girls’ singles championship she won in 2013.
In the view of PHS doubles star, Zhenia Dementyeva, Rosca was not just any teammate.
“That one, Chris Rosca, is the most humble person, she is really talented and she is amazing at school at the same time,” said Dementyeva.
“She doesn’t let it get to her head, she is extremely grounded and everybody loves Chris.”
For sticking with the PHS squad and making more history in the process, Rosca is the pick as the Town Topics’ top female performer this fall.
Top Male Performer
When Todd Smith took the reins of the Hun School football team this fall, he knew he had to deploy senior star Chris Sharp by land and air.
“Sharp is our workhorse,” said Smith. “He is playing at wide receiver as much as running back.”
With Hun coming off a 2-6 season in 2013, the University of Virginia-bound Sharp set the tone early, rushing for 149 yards and two touchdowns and catching a 43-yard touchdown pass as Hun routed Wyoming Seminary 56-14 in its season opener.
That was just the beginning for the 6’2, 205-pound Sharp, an unstoppable combination of power and speed.
He ended up rushing for 1,085 yards on 81 attempts for an eye-popping average of 13.4 yards a carry and 19 touchdowns. Sharp made nine receptions for 281 yards and four more touchdowns.
Sharp ended his career on a high note, rushing for 212 yards as Hun routed Mercersburg Academy 64-16 in its season finale to earn the outright Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title, finishing the fall at 7-1 overall and 5-0 in league play. Sharp’s final run in a Hun uniform, a 96-yard scoring gallop down the sideline to start the third quarter, put him over the 1,000-yard rushing mark this fall.
Even before the season started, Sharp had the sense that it was going to be a big fall for the Raiders.
“We saw that we had something special in August and we just wanted to finish,” said Sharp.
“We wanted to go undefeated in the MAPL and that’s what we did. With the kids that came in, we knew it was going to be a different feel. It was just like fresh and new things were brewing up with the Hun football team. It is exciting to see the fruition and what grew out of it.”
The humble Sharp spread the credit around as he reflected on hitting the 1,000-yard plateau.
“It was a very special moment to share with my teammates and family, especially on senior day,” said Sharp.
“The first thing I did was to thank all of the linemen, the fullback, and the quarterback. I can’t do it all by myself.”
Even Sharp himself was taken aback by his glittering statistics. “I love running the ball and being able to catch the ball out of the receiver position is a blessing as well,” said Sharp, who also starred at linebacker for the Raiders. “It is just amazing to see the growth that I have gone through.”
Smith, for his part, enjoyed taking part in that growth process. “Chris is just a fantastic kid, it is a shame we only had seven games with him,” said Smith, whose team had one win on a forfeit by Peddie.
“He got 1,000 yards and a boatload of touchdowns to go with it. He has gotten so much better as the year went on. I am just really excited about his future, I think he is going to be a great football player at the next level.”
Sharp’s greatness this fall and the impact it had on Hun’s championship season makes him the pick as the top male performer this fall.
It didn’t take long for Grace Barbara to make an impression in her freshman season as goalie on the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team.
“Grace Barbara is starting in goal, she is a dynamite keeper,” said PDS head coach Pat Trombetta, when assessing his squad prior to the start of the season.
“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’s analysis proved to be spot on as Barbara emerged as one of the top keepers in the area, anchoring a stingy PDS defense.
Even in a 2-0 defeat to perennial power and eventual county champion Pennington, Barbara demonstrated her brilliance, making 10 saves as she stymied the Red Raiders for most of the contest.
“They are a skilled team so I can learn a lot, especially from the goals,” said Barbara.
“I can work on sets and high balls coming from long and the short balls pegged down in the corners. I can definitely work on that in practice. There are some very strong players on some of these opponents. Since I am a freshman it has been a little bit difficult with these very skilled players.”
Barbara kept working hard and her skill helped PDS end the season on a high note as the Panthers edged Morristown-Beard 1-0 in the state Prep B championship game.
“Grace played out of her mind,” said Trombetta of Barbara, who made 12 saves in earning the shutout. “She made some elite saves, three times she leaped and punched balls out over the bar.”
Due to her brilliance and grace under fire, Barbara is the choice as the top female newcomer this fall.
After spending three years as a back-up for the Princeton High boys’ soccer team, Joe Hawes saw that he was destined to be riding the pine this fall for the squad.
Looking for some action, Hawes decided to make the move to football. “I hadn’t tried football; my parents never really wanted me to,” said Hawes.
“This year, they were like you can’t do anything else why don’t you try football. I wasn’t getting playing time in soccer so I was why not.”
Starring at lacrosse helped Hawes pick up his new sport. “The footwork and the physical play of lacrosse was a help,” said Hawes. “Knowing that you have a set play and doing what you have to do.”
Hawes got the sense early that he could make a mark on the football field.
“I think it was the Ewing game, our homecoming,” added Hawes, who made an 80-yard TD reception in the PHS’s opening day win over Hamilton. “I was just super confident. I knew in my mind what I had to do and I got it done.”
PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher appreciated the way Hawes got things done this fall.
“Joe is doing well, we would like to call his number more often,” said Gallagher.
“What is great about the squad right now is that we have a lot of playmakers, whether it be Rory Helstrom or Sam Smallzman or Joe Hawes or Colin Buckley or Dave Beamer or the special teams.”
Emerging as the team’s deep threat, Hawes put up some good numbers, making 20 catches for 434 yards and eight touchdowns in regular season action, helping PHS enjoy a remarkable reversal of fortune as it went from 0-10 in 2013 to an 8-2 record this fall.
Reflecting on his move to football, Hawes knew that he made the right choice.
“This has been the best; I think the thing is that we just all want it,” said Hawes, who also starred at defensive back and handled the punting duties. We are making history here, bringing football back into Princeton. We are all working for the same goal and we want it in our hearts.”
For taking up football and proving to be such a key performer in a renaissance season for PHS, Hawes is the top male newcomer of the fall season.
In the fall of 2013, Joanna Hallac’s tenure as the head coach of the Hun School girls’ soccer team got off to a rough start.
Hampered by injury and with the players getting used to their new leader, Hun lost its first seven games.
But as the fall went on and the team got healthier, it produced a late-season surge which saw Hun advance to the state Prep A championship game where it lost 2-0 to perennial power Pennington.
Coming into this fall, Hallac believed the team’s strong finish could have a carry-over effect.
“The mood is good, even from when the season ended last year knowing that we were losing only two players,” said Hallac, who guided Hun to a 7-12-1 record in 2013. “They were feeling good about the direction of the program.”
The upward direction continued this fall as Hun posted a number of impressive victories, topping Princeton Day School, East Brunswick, Peddie, Robbinsville, and Hill along the way.
But it was the 2-0 win over Pennington on September 30 that signaled how far Hun had come.
“They went out there and played their hearts out,” said Hallac, assessing the triumph.
“I was really proud of the way they performed. It finally convinced them of what they could do. I think they were starting to believe it last year but they walked into that game believing that they could truly play with anyone and they proved it.”
Bouncing back from a disappointing loss to Allentown in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals, Hun proved its quality in historic fashion, topping Pennington 2-0 in the state Prep A final, thrilling a home throng of around 1,000 and ending Pennington’s 11-year title streak.
In reflecting on the triumph, Hallac said it was a group effort. “It was huge, the girls deserve all of the credit, they show up and they work hard every day,” said Hallac, whose team ended the fall with a 14-4-1 record.
“Even when we have setbacks, they learn from it and we move forward. It means so much to the school. The whole school came out here and the whole day was scheduled around this. I have never seen anything like it, I think it meant a lot to the community and that is what we are about here. I think it is really great for Hun.”
Providing a blend of steadiness and competitiveness to help Hun reach such heights, Hallac is the choice as one of the top coaches of a female team this fall.
With the graduation of stars Jenna Cody and Elyssa Gensib in 2012, the Princeton High girls’ cross country team entered a transition phase that fall.
As a result, PHS head coach Jim Smirk had to groom some new talent and rework his immediate goals.
“When Elyssa and Jenna graduated, we lost two top-end runners and there was a void in the program,” said Smirk.
“We had to re-imagine ourselves. Julie Bond and Mary Sutton were sophomores and Paige Metzheiser was a JV runner. “
Without an infusion of top talent, Smirk adopted a pack mentality approach with his runners.
“I think that has been a hallmark of our team for a long time,” said Smirk. “We talk about the ability to hold each other’s hands across the line, which we know would actually be a disqualification but that is our goal. We want to look like one finishing.”
The team gradually worked itself up the ladder as its sum was greater than its parts. “We were a decent team, we would make states. Every season we got better, not just in cross country.”
This fall, however, the Little Tigers emerged as a team to be reckoned with, placing third of seven teams in the Girls’ Adidas Invitational race at the Shore Coaches Invitational and then taking second at the Mercer County championship meet.
PHS followed that up by placing first in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional meet and taking second in the state Group 3 meet. The team’s second-place finish at the Group meet booked PHS a trip to the Meet of Champions (MOC), the program’s first appearance at the prestigious event since 2010.
In Smirk’s view, making the MOC was the fruition of the program’s pack mentality.
“This is what the program is built on, they had to be ready to do the work to make the MOC,” said Smirk, whose team took 10th at the MOC. “It was not going to happen overnight. The pack raised the level of each runner.”
For raising PHS back to elite status in the state cross country circles, Smirk is the co-coach of the fall among female programs.
On paper, it appeared that the Princeton High football team could be headed for another rough campaign.
Coming off a 0-10 campaign in 2013, the Little Tigers were looking to replace some key seniors and had a roster of just over 30 players.
But second year head coach Charlie Gallagher was optimistic as he looked ahead to the fall.
“We have a good core of guys coming back, there is a sense of urgency,” said Gallagher. “The schedule is different and they see opportunities for wins.”
Opening the season by beating Hamilton 28-7 for the program’s first victory since 2012, the wins started piling up.
Turning heads with a potent offense led by running back Rory Helstrom and quarterback Dave Beamer together with a punishing defense spearheaded by Sam Smallzman and Colin Buckley, PHS produced a 5-0 start, knocking off Ewing, Hightstown, Lawrence, and Steinert.
In the wake of the 28-14 win over Steinert, Gallagher described the special feeling around the team.
“They have jelled from the very beginning,” asserted Gallagher. “It is great team chemistry and we are just happy to be coaching them up.”
After stubbing its toe in a loss at Winslow, PHS resumed its winning ways by routing WW/P-S, Robbinsville and WW/P-N by a combined score of 140-21. The 47-21 victory over North gave PHS an 8-1 regular season record and clinched the West Jersey Football League’s Valley Division title for the Little Tigers.
While PHS fell 48-12 to Brick Township in its first playoff appearance since 2009, the loss couldn’t dim what they team accomplished in its remarkable turnaround.
“We talked about how proud we were of the team,” said Gallagher, recalling his postgame message after the Brick defeat.
“The seniors had a great run, they put so much into it. Going 8-2 was a remarkable turnaround. Most guys picked us at the bottom of the division in the beginning of the season. We had no number of wins in mind, we just wanted to compete. We competed at a high level and got eight wins, the guys should be very proud.”
For getting the Little Tigers to compete at such a high level that they went from last to first in their division earns Gallagher the nod as one of the top coaches of a male program this fall.
Although the 10-6-2 record it posted in 2013 would be satisfying for a lot of teams, it was a downer for the proud Princeton High boys’ soccer program.
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.
Looking ahead to the 2014 season, longtime PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe had the sense that his team possessed the mentality to again be a postseason force.
“The goal of this group is to achieve something,” said Sutcliffe. “They are aware that if you take it one training session at a time and one game at a time, big things can happen.”
With senior striker Chase Ealy and senior goalie Laurenz Reimitz stepping up along with a battle-tested group of juniors, PHS did some big things as it regained its championship form.
The Little Tigers won penalty kick shootout thrillers over Steinert in the MCT semis and Allentown in the final to earn the county title.
“It has been rare that I have had a team that was as close as this team,” said Sutcliffe, reflecting on the MCT crown.
“There is a great spirit. We have had some great teams. This team, on the field and off the field, is a closer knit group and that has transcended to our quality and our spirit and our vitality. All of which helped us tonight and in the semi. And helped us close out the Colonial Division of the CVC.”
Seemingly improving game to game, PHS rolled through the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional, topping Red Bank Regional 4-1 in the title game.
After edging Ocean City 1-0 in the Group 3 semis, PHS advanced to its third state title game in six seasons, having won crowns in 2009 and 2012.
While the Little Tigers came up short in the championship game, falling 4-3 to South Plainfield, Sutcliffe was thrilled with what his squad accomplished.
“They are just fantastic; we are a such a young team,” said Sutcliffe, who guided the Little Tigers to a final record of 18-3-2.
“I am so proud of the senior class that fought through a lot of adversity for four years. Three championships is fantastic. The success of the team was beyond some people’s expectations.”
Sutcliffe’s role in restoring PHS to its championship form makes him the pick as the co-coach of the fall among male programs.