March 25, 2015
HERE COMES MR. BROWN: Hun School boys’ hockey player Blake Brown controls the puck in a game this winter. Sophomore forward Brown emerged as Hun’s top scorer with 52 points on 22 goals and 30 assists, helping the Raiders to post a record of 22-3-3 and win the state Prep title and a second straight Mercer County Tournament crown.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Female Performer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Newcomers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Coaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 18, 2015
PERFECT STORM: Members of the Princeton University women’s basketball team react last Monday evening after learning their assignment in the upcoming NCAA tournament during a Selection Show viewing party held at the Shea Rowing Center on campus. The 30-0 Tigers were sent to College Park, Md., where they are seeded eighth and slated to play ninth-seeded Wisconsin- Green Bay (28-4) on March 21 in an opening round contest.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PERFECT STORM: Members of the Princeton University women’s basketball team react last Monday evening after learning their assignment in the upcoming NCAA tournament during a Selection Show viewing party held at the Shea Rowing Center on campus. The 30-0 Tigers were sent to College Park, Md., where they are seeded eighth and slated to play ninth-seeded Wisconsin- Green Bay (28-4) on March 21 in an opening round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In late November, the Princeton University women’s basketball team practiced at the University of Maryland’s XFINITY Center as it prepared for a game at American University.

Now after completing a 30-0 season with a 55-42 win at Penn last week, Princeton is headed back to College Park for the opening round of the NCAA tournament where the eighth-seeded Tigers are slated to play ninth-seeded Wisconsin-Green Bay (28-4) on March 21.

The winner of the game will face the victor of the contest between top-seeded and host Maryland (30-2) and 16th-seeded New Mexico State (22-7) in the second round on March 23 for a Sweet 16 spot in the Spokane Regional.

While Princeton, which has risen to No. 13 nationally in the AP poll, had hoped for a higher seed and to host opening weekend NCAA games, it is now focused on beating the Phoenix.

“I think we were a little surprised but that is OK,” said Princeton senior guard and captain Blake Dietrick, speaking at the Selection Show viewing party held at the Shea Rowing Center on campus.

“It is true that we haven’t beaten a top 25 team so that is certainly something that works against us. I think we are just really excited to play Green Bay and hopefully give them a really good game and get our first tournament win. This season is not about the seed we got, it is about us. It is about getting this win for us, for our program, for our coaches, and for our our fans. I wouldn’t say that is a major concern, it is us winning a game for Princeton.”

In Dietrick’s view, the Tigers have proven their mettle by prevailing in a handful of close calls.

“The Penn game, the Hampton game, the American game, the first Yale game, those were all tests for us,” said Dietrick, the Ivy League Player of the Year who led the Tigers this year in scoring (14.9) and assists (5.0).

“They are tests of our team, tests that we can play in a competitive game. They show we don’t have to get out to a quick early lead to be comfortable to get shots. I think we are definitely ready.”

Junior forward Annie Tarakchian and her teammates are going into the tournament with a chip on their shoulder as they look for the program’s first NCAA win after losses in the four previous trips to the Big Dance.

“We definitely have something to prove, regardless of what our seed is,” said Tarakchian, a first-team All-Ivy performer who averaged 10.1 points and 9.2 rebounds a game this season.

“We haven’t had a tournament win yet and that is our goal. Now we know our opponent and our goal is the same, to get a win. I think we have to stay focused, work hard, and play hard. I think we all have to stay grounded and stick together. We are a five-on-five team. We can’t go one-on-one or how a lot of tournament teams play.”

While Princeton may not have faced the most rigorous non-conference slate, playing only one other tournament team, Pitt, Tarakchian believes the Tigers are sufficiently battle-tested.

“We have faced so many different opponents; I think we are ready to adjust to whatever they throw at us,” said Tarakchian.

“We practice against a variety of styles so the coaches do a good job of getting us ready for whatever is at hand.”

Tarakchian will be sporting a different look in the tourney, having bleached her hair blonde, making good on an early season promise to Dietrick.

“Back when we were 2-0, we were just talking and Blake said if we go undefeated, Annie will you bleach your hair and I said no doubt,” recalled Tarakchian.

“Lo and behold we are 30-0 and I have bleached hair. It is awesome. I am a woman of my word. I was thinking as this was happening, this could be way, way worse. This could actually help me. We are going to have a lot of fun dancing in the tournament.”

For Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart, it is always fun to be involved in the tournament.

“First of all any time you can get to the NCAA tournament, and it is not a cliche, it is amazing,” said Banghart, a former star player and assistant coach at Dartmouth who made four trips to the NCAA in her Big Green years and has now guided the Tigers to five appearances in March Madness.

“Seeing all of those teams pop up, name after name, they are good, they are good, so on. I have always said this, any time I can see my name on that board, I am happy because it is so hard to do.”

Banghart knows that Princeton is facing a very good team in Wisconsin-Green Bay.

“Green Bay is a good team,” said Banghart.  “They have won 28 games, they have a really balanced offensive attack, they are tough defensively, they have been to the tournament multiple years. They share the ball well, I think everybody on their team has made at least five 3s on the year. They play about 10 kids, who average double figure minutes. I like the matchup because there is not an athletic advantage right away. Often on the bigger stage, there is more size to deal with. We will have the athletic and size advantage so that is a first for us. In that sense it is how well we play, not how well do they play.”

While Princeton had hoped to stage games on the opening weekend of the tournament, Banghart isn’t going to dwell on the disappointment over what many believe to be an unfairly low seeding in light of its 30-0 campaign and national ranking.

“There are a lot of coaches who are going to think that we are not seeded properly,” said Banghart.

“The only people having control over that is the bracketology people. We have control of how well we play. We have to play well to win; that is all we are going to worry about. Rutgers and Seton Hall might not have been in the 8-9 game if they would play us. The thing that has been really hard is that you can only play the teams that are going to play you. We played Pitt, they are in the tournament. We played Michigan, they had a bad year. We can only play the teams that will play us.”

Former Princeton Director of Athletics Gary Walters weighed in afterward, expressing his dismay at the seeding determination in no uncertain terms.

“It is incomprehensible to me as a former player, coach, member of the NCAA men’s basketball selection committee, and a chairman of that committee,” said Walters.

“I have no understanding of how they can possibly place Princeton as an eighth seed when it is seventh in the Sagarin rating, 11th in the RPI, and 13th in the coaches poll.”

In Banghart’s view, the Tigers can now take matters into their own hands.

“I think these guys are coming in with a sense of accomplishment and a chance to show the rest of the world that we get to play you now because someone else took care of the scheduling for us,” said Banghart.

Having beaten VCU in the opening round of last year’s WNIT, Princeton has shown that it can win in the postseason.

“Without a doubt it helps because it is a team we had never seen, it is a team where you trust your coaching staff and the scouting report,” said Banghart. “It is a one and done mentality, we don’t have that in our league. I think it is unbelievably helpful.”

Dietrick, for her part, doesn’t want to see her final campaign end any time soon.

“It is awesome, it has been great,” said Dietrick. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything else, I wouldn’t want to do it with any other group of girls. I love everybody on this team and I am just hoping that we can keep it going.”

Tarakchian believes Princeton has what it takes to make an NCAA breakthrough.

“We just have to break that first round thing,” said Tarakchian. “I think this is the year, this team is truly special. I think from top to bottom, we have proved it this year.”

Coming into his freshman year at Princeton University in 2012, Abram Ayala had enjoyed a swift rise in the wrestling world.

First competing in the sport as a sophomore at Archbishop McCarthy High in Fort Lauderdale, Ayala was an all-state performer by his junior year. He then came to New Jersey, transferring to wrestling powerhouse Blair Academy. He ended up eighth in the 2011 National Prep Championships at 135 points and fifth at the 2012 NWCA (National Wrestling Coaches Association) Nationals at 149 pounds.

But Ayala hit a roadblock in his freshman campaign with the Tigers. Weakened from cutting too much weight and hampered by a knee injury, he got into the doghouse with the Princeton coaches.

“The coaches decided that it would be best for me to take some time off and get things in order, academically and otherwise,” said Ayala. “It was a reset.”

The hiatus from the team turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Ayala. “It was perfect for me,” asserted Ayala. “I took some time off, I healed my knee. I rediscovered my passion for wrestling. I started training hard and being more disciplined.”

A refocused Ayala emerged as a force in his sophomore season, moving up to 197 pounds and going 27-12, taking fifth in the EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) Championships and earning a spot in the NCAA Championships.

Building on that success, he has posted a 32-5 record this season and is heading back to the NCAA meet this weekend in St. Louis, Mo., where he is seeded seventh at 197.

While Ayala’s rise to prominence is unlikely, he is not surprised by his success.

“Every year I have improved, I have always been a bit behind,” said Ayala. “I was not fully formed as a high school wrestler. Now in college I have seen how some guys don’t get better from high school. Every year, I expect to get better.”

Ayala’s initially got into wrestling in high school to stay out of trouble more than anything. “I didn’t have much to do, I was just hanging out with my friends and being a nuisance,” recalled Ayala. “The faculty thought wrestling would be good for me. I liked it immediately.”

After going undefeated on the JV level as a sophomore, Ayala took sixth in the states as a junior. With an eye on someday wrestling for Princeton, Ayala came to New Jersey to join Blair’s nationally-known program.

“It was huge, initially it was a shock because everyone was so good,” said Ayala, reflecting on the start of his Blair career. “In the northeast, people start wrestling earlier. Some kids came to Blair with more experience than I had as a junior. It was tough to get used to that at first.”

Showing his toughness early on, Ayala proved he could compete with his heralded teammates.

“I lost four of my first five matches in preseason, three were by pins and my one win was by one point,” said Ayala.

“I wasn’t used to losing, let alone getting pinned. The season began at a prestigious tournament, Germantown Invitational. My coach said I had been putting in the work and I could win it. I made it to finals and beat a kid who went on to win prep nationals. It was a great atmosphere with a packed house. It gave me confidence, it set me rolling.”

Ayala kept rolling, placing eighth in the 2011 National Prep Championships at 135 points and taking fifth at the 2012 NWCA Nationals at 149 pounds.

Achieving his goal of going to Princeton, where both his parents are alums, Ayala struggled with the demands of college wrestling.

“The first one was the weight issue, in high school because of competition, you could get away with cutting weight and intimidating others with your strength,” said Ayala.

“In college, all the wrestlers are tough and if you don’t have the energy to go hard for seven minutes, you aren’t going to do well. College academics and college wrestling are so mentally draining, if your lifestyle is not right, your aren’t going to do well. I lost too much weight. I started at 112, and wrestled at 135 and 149 at Blair. I was growing through high school. In the summer before freshman year, I was up to 199 at my heaviest and I cut down to 165.”

After winning the first three matches of his career, Ayala hit a wall, not cracking the Tiger lineup in a move up to 174 and then tearing the meniscus in his left knee and undergoing surgery. Looking to regain a spot on the team, Ayala made the most of the summer break.

“I came back that summer and stayed at school,” said Ayala. “I did SAT counseling for underprivileged kids and I helped run a science camp. I also worked with the coaches and trained. I became as strong as possible. I lifted a lot of weights. I was up to 205 pounds. I knew I couldn’t cut weight any more.”

Coming back that fall, Ayala made the lineup at 197 and started turning heads. He won 14 of his last 16 regular season matches and placed fifth in EIWA tournament. He won a consolation match at the NCAAs with both of his losses there coming to wrestlers seeded in the top 6.

“I pretty much maintained the speed and dexterity that I had as a smaller wrestler, the bigger guys are not used to that precision,” said Ayala, reflecting on his success as a sophomore. “I realized I could compete in that weight class. I got a feel for the weight class as the year went on.”

This season, Ayala picked up where he left off in his sophomore year, using the losses at the NCAAs as additional motivation.

“My conditioning is better, I am stronger and faster,” asserted Ayala, who earned first-team All-Ivy League honors this season. “I am just a better athlete, I expect to win.”

While Ayala was disappointed to take third at the EIWAs this year, he believes that experience will help him at the NCAA competition.

“I took the Easterns as a matter of course,” said Ayala, who fell to Penn’s Canaan Bethea in the semis. “I didn’t attack it the way I could have. It is really good what happened, it helped me realize what I need to do to be at the top of the podium at nationals.”

Ayala is confident that he can rise to the top of the podium this weekend in St. Louis.

“I know what is coming, I have positive visualization,” said Ayala. “I have the skills and physical talent to beat every single person in my bracket. It comes down to being right mentally and having the right attitude.”

Being joined by teammates, junior Chris Perez (149), sophomore Jordan Laster (141), sophomore Brett Harner (184), and freshman Jonathan Schleifer (165), at the NCAA competition is a big positive for Ayala.

“It keeps the spirits up and gives me other people to wrestle with,” said Ayala. “It will pay dividends next year, all those wrestlers are back and they have competed at that national level. It is a new level of excellence for Princeton wrestling. It just shows coach (Chris) Ayres is a genius at putting together a program.”

SHARPSHOOTER: Princeton University men’s lacrosse star Kip Orban looks for an opening in recent action. Last Saturday, senior midfielder and team captain Orban enjoyed a huge game, scoring a career-high seven goals on seven shots as Princeton pulled away to a 17-11 win at Penn. The Tigers, now 4-1 overall and 1-0 Ivy League, are currently 13th nationally and were slated to play at Rutgers on March 17 before hosting No. 9 Yale (5-1 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 21.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SHARPSHOOTER: Princeton University men’s lacrosse star Kip Orban looks for an opening in recent action. Last Saturday, senior midfielder and team captain Orban enjoyed a huge game, scoring a career-high seven goals on seven shots as Princeton pulled away to a 17-11 win at Penn. The Tigers, now 4-1 overall and 1-0 Ivy League, are currently 13th nationally and were slated to play at Rutgers on March 17 before hosting No. 9 Yale (5-1 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Kip Orban had scored a goal in 29 straight games for the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team until he was held scoreless two weeks ago in an 11-4 loss at Maryland.

As senior midfielder and team captain Orban hit the field last Saturday at Penn in Princeton’s first game since the Maryland defeat, he didn’t waste any time getting on the board.

Taking the first shot of the game, Orban rifled the ball into the back of the net 54 seconds into the contest to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.

“We got off well on the first possession,” said Princeton head coach Chris Bates. “The captain bangs a shot from deep, that brings everyone to their feet.”

Orban kept bringing people to their feet all afternoon, scoring a career-high seven goals on seven shots and adding two assists as Princeton pulled away to a 17-11 win in the Ivy League opener for both teams. He was later named the Ivy League Co-Player of the Week along with Brown defenseman Larken Kemp.

“I am not sure I have ever seen a midfielder be that lethal,” asserted Bates, who also got five goals and three assists from junior Ryan Ambler with senior Mike MacDonald chipping in three goals and six assists.

“There was nothing inside 12 yards. He had a holster on and was just letting it go. It was also nice to see him have a couple of assists. He was the star of the game. Mike and Ryan were finding him and they were finding each other. The big three had an obscene amount of points.”

Princeton found the back of the net early and often, jumping out to a 7-2 lead by the first minute of the second quarter.

“They had a bunch of penalties and we got into a rhythm,” said Bates. “The kids were able to get their hands free and we got it to 7-2.”

The Quakers got going in the second period, narrowing the margin to 10-8 at halftime.

“We made some questionable shots; we had a couple of breakdowns,” said Bates.

“We were facing off well, not only with Sam (Bonafede) but the wings. It didn’t look like they were going to be able to go on long runs, we were getting the ball. If we were smart with the ball, we thought we would be OK.”

Things turned out OK in the second half for Princeton as it reeled off five straight goals over a 25-minute stretch to build a 15-9 lead on the way to the victory, which improved the Tigers to 4-1 overall.

“At half we said Penn is not going anywhere, they play with too much emotion and energy,” said Bates.

“It was back and forth a little bit but once we got it to five goals, we were able to execute. They had some long two-minute possessions and we were able to make a stop and get the offense the ball and they made better shots. I think we are growing up a little bit with that.”

The Tigers executed on the face-off X with freshman Bonafede going 17-for-28 and getting named as the Ivy Rookie of the Week.

“Sam is such a gritty competitor, even when he makes his initial move or counter and doesn’t get the ball, he stays low to the ground and is scrappy on ground balls and gets the ball loose,” said Bates. “Sam Gravitte and Zach Currier are playing well on the wings; we have a nice trio there.”

It was a nice win for Princeton as the players were preoccupied by mid-terms while they were preparing for Penn.

“It was a grind, there is no let up so it was nice to get through midterms and get a ‘W,’ said Bates, whose team is now ranked 13th nationally and was slated to play at Rutgers on March 17 before hosting No. 9 Yale on March 21.

“The guys were zombies at practice but they regrouped for Saturday. I think there was a sense of purpose. They were coming off the high of Hopkins (a 16-15 overtime win) and then the low of Maryland. It was the first Ivy game and we have a healthy respect for Penn.”

With Princeton on spring break this week, Bates is hoping his players can recharge as they head into the thick of their Ivy schedule.

“The extra time will give us a little break and the chance to add a few wrinkles,” said Bates. “We can get some sleep and have some injuries heal up. Yale is the second Ivy game and it is a team that has had our number a little bit here in recent years. The guys will be excited for that, no doubt.”

HALE AND HEARTY: Princeton University softball player Haley ­Hineman races down the line in a game last spring. Sophomore infielder Hineman is batting .333 this spring, helping Princeton to a 3-7 start. In upcoming action, the Tigers play in the Liberty Tournament from March 19-21 at Lynchburg, Va.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HALE AND HEARTY: Princeton University softball player Haley ­Hineman races down the line in a game last spring. Sophomore infielder Hineman is batting .333 this spring, helping Princeton to a 3-7 start. In upcoming action, the Tigers play in the Liberty Tournament from March 19-21 at Lynchburg, Va. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton University softball started its season by losing four of five games at the Florida Atlantic tournament last month, the players displayed a spirit that could carry them to big things this spring.

“The girls came in and floored me with the culture and chemistry they have shown from the beginning,” said Princeton head coach Lisa (nee Sweeney) Van Ackeren.

“It started on the first weekend. Sometimes it takes a few weeks to develop but they were clearly excited to play and play for each other. We saw progress in each game; we analyzed what worked and what we needed to do differently and they did a good job with that.”

In its second weekend of play, Princeton did an even better job, going 2-2 at the University of Central Florida tournament with junior Skye Jerpbak and sophomore Haley Hineman triggering the offense as the Tigers posted a 9-1 win over Florida A&M and a 10-2 victory over Iowa while losing 3-2 to UCF and 5-4 to Long Island.

Jerpbak was named the Ivy League Player of the Week after hitting .636 on the tournament, going 7-for-11 with six RBIs, two doubles, a home run, and a walk. Hineman, for her part, went 5-for-8 with two runs and an RBI.

“Skye and Haley had outstanding weekends at UCF,” said Van Ackeren. “We did our offseason training on offense a little differently. We had a lot more live at-bats to get them into the right mindset at the plate. It was good to see it pay off. They had been cold the first weekend.”

Battle-tested seniors Rachel Rendina and Cara Worden had some good at-bats in the UCF with Rendina going 4- or-14 with 2 RBIs and Worden hitting 4-for-13 with four runs, three RBIs, and a homer.

“If runners are on base and it is a clutch situation, you want them up,” said Van Ackeren.

“Rendina is one of the grittiest and toughest hitters and Cara is the same way. You can just look in Cara’s eyes and see that she is going to come through.”

Freshman Kylee Pierce has come through in a table-setter role at the top of the Princeton lineup.

“Kylee has gone unnoticed in the two-hole,” said Van Ackeren, whose team fell 6-5 to Maryland last Monday to drop to 3-7 on the season.

“She is incredible in her ability to execute the situational game. She will hit that grounder to move up the runners. She might not have a hit in the box score but that is very important.”

As for pitching, freshman Ashley LaGuardia has been an important addition to the Tigers. LaGuardia shared Ivy Rookie of the Week and Pitcher of the Week honors for her work in the UCF tourney where she threw 13 2/3 innings, appearing in all four games while picking up a win over Florida A&M and posting a 2.05 ERA.

“Ashley is a tiny thing, 5’3 or 5’4, but she throws hard; she is a Jersey kid so she comes with that toughness,” said Van Ackeren of the Wayne, N.J native who has thrown 37 of the team’s 65 innings this spring.

“She was nervous about her first weekend as any freshman is but once she realized it is the same game, she settled down. We told her we needed her to pitch a lot of innings with some of the injuries we have had and she was happy to do it. She is the kind of pitcher who get better the more she throws.”

Van Ackeren is hoping the Tigers will get better and better as they wrap up a busy spring break week by competing in the Liberty Tournament from March 19-21 at Lynchburg, Va.

“We have so many games coming up over the break; I anticipate that all five pitchers will throw some innings,” said Van Ackeren, whose mound corps also includes junior Shanna Christian, senior Meredith Brown, sophomore Claire Klausner, and sophomore Erica Nori.

“They all bring something different to the table, which is great. I want the pitchers to be a little bit tougher on the mound; when it is bases loaded with two outs, to get that final out. We want good offensive production; I am looking for us to be batting even better.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 11, 2015
SENIOR MOMENT: Princeton University men’s basketball player Clay Wilson looks for an opening last Saturday night as the Tigers hosted Columbia in their final regular season home game. Coming up big on his Senior Night, Wilson hit a key three-pointer down the stretch to help Princeton rally to an 85-83 win over the Lions. Princeton, which improved to 15-14 overall and 8-5 Ivy League with the victory, was slated to end regular season play with a game at Penn on March 10.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SENIOR MOMENT: Princeton University men’s basketball player Clay Wilson looks for an opening last Saturday night as the Tigers hosted Columbia in their final regular season home game. Coming up big on his Senior Night, Wilson hit a key three-pointer down the stretch to help Princeton rally to an 85-83 win over the Lions. Princeton, which improved to 15-14 overall and 8-5 Ivy League with the victory, was slated to end regular season play with a game at Penn on March 10. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Clay Wilson has distinguished himself as a deadeye outside shooter over his four seasons with the Princeton University men’s basketball team.

Coming into the regular season home finale against Columbia last Saturday evening, senior guard Wilson had hit 39 percent (39-of-100) of his three-pointers this winter.

So it was fitting that when Princeton needed a big basket as it fought back from a nine-point deficit with less than two minutes to go in regulation, Wilson delivered by draining a long three from the corner to narrow the gap to 83-82. The Tigers went on to close the deal, pulling out an 85-83 win over the Lions as a crowd of 2,363 at Jadwin Gym roared its approval.

“Ben (Hazel) actually had the ball in front and I was calling for it early,” said Wilson, recalling his big bucket.

“Nobody was really with me so I told him three seconds before he threw it to throw me the ball. I ran to the corner and the guy bit on the pump fake and I put the shot in. It is a big win for our team and I was happy that we could send all of our seniors out the right way.”

Hitting the Jadwin Gym court for the final time in game action, Wilson was pumped up.

“For me, it was very emotional, being senior night and all,” said Wilson, a 6’3, 170-pound native of Tulsa, Okla. “I have had a long four years. We didn’t accomplish our goal of winning the title in my four years but the friendships we made, the people we connected with, and the relationships we made with the people at Princeton will be something I remember forever. It was pretty emotional.”

Fellow senior Hazel, for his part, is leaving with special memories of the Jadwin finale.

“It is a bittersweet moment for us, you don’t spend too much time being in the spotlight here as an individual,” said Hazel, who scored all nine of his points on the evening in the second half rally.

“Even as a team, we go as a committee so one person might be in the spotlight tonight and then somebody else will be in the spotlight tomorrow. This is our moment, which was pretty cool; especially starting the game with all of the seniors out there. Just being able to go up and down one more time on the court was a good time and getting the win in the fashion that we did was something to remember.”

With 2:00 remaining in the game, it didn’t look like the Tigers were headed to a win as they trailed 83-74. But putting together a 11-0 run, they were able rally for the win and improve to 15-14 overall and 8-5 Ivy League.

Junior forward Han Brase played a key role in the comeback, scoring a team-high 23 points and pulling down a team-high six rebounds.

“We have been practicing that scenario a while, there were a lot of games where we have been down and we have just been working on it,” said Brase. “We were just trying to stay cool, calm, and collected, get a stop, get an easy bucket and then just continue to get stops and easy shots. It just clicked for us tonight.”

The 6’8, 231-pound Brase got the game-winning bucket as he bulled in for a lay-up with 15 seconds remaining in regulation to make it 84-83.

“All week, the coaches were harping on me to be more aggressive in the paint,” said Brase.

“I felt like they weren’t really helping much on defense tonight so it was a one-on-one game and I was able to get a couple of edges and finish around the rim. When they cut me off, I was able to kick it out to teammates. They helped me out because every tine I kicked it out, they made 3s. The other team knows they can’t help on me and they go back to one-on-one.”

The Tigers were almost shot down by Columbia junior star Maodo Lo, who scored a career-high 37 points, hitting on 12-of-18 shots, including 11-of-15 from the three-point range.

Princeton head coach Henderson acknowledged that Lo was a major thorn in the side for the Tigers.

“First of all, that was an incredible performance by Maodo Lo,” said Henderson of Lo, whose 11 three-pointers were an Ivy League single-game record. “There are regular shots and there is like his beautiful artistic three-point shot which I felt was like a layup tonight. When he made his 11th  three on us in the corner, I remember thinking to myself, sometimes it is just not your night.”

Lo almost won the game as he fired up a three-pointer that just bounced off the rim at the buzzer.

“It felt like CYO Rec League basketball there at one point, it was let’s try this one,” said Henderson.

“There was nothing we could do, that was the best performance I think I have ever seen by a college basketball player. Fortunately the last shot he took, there was a little Jadwin prayer made it bounce out. It was just lucky that he missed.”

Henderson was proud of his team’s performance down the stretch. “We just kept talking about going to the rim and being aggressive,” said Henderson. “I think you had to get some stops eventually. It was just such a high scoring game, it was incredible.”

For Henderson, seeing the team’s four seniors, Bobby Garbade, Daniel Edwards, Hazel, and Wilson end on a high note in their final Jadwin appearance was special.

“I am really proud of the seniors; I thought Bobby and Dan starting the game gave us a good lift,” said Henderson.

“Clay made a huge three in the corner. I don’t know if anyone could say that they were stopping Lo but Ben did a good enough job there to change a little bit of the flow that he had. Ben was really poised. I thought he made a couple of big layups once we got down eight. He understands how to do it and that’s what you need from seniors. It hasn’t been a group that has seen a lot of playing time … but they are down here every single day. Nobody sees that. It is a really great group to be around.”

It was great for Brase to come up big down low when the Tigers needed him. “This season when Hans has struggled from the three-point line, which he did tonight, we have struggled,” said Henderson.

“But he found a way, that is the sign of a good player. He is changing right in front of our eyes. He is going to the rim, which we need him to do.”

With Princeton having won three straight games with the victory over Columbia, Henderson likes how his players have been keeping their noses to the grindstone.

“Practices have been really good,” said Henderson, whose team was slated to wrap up the regular season with a game at Penn on March 10.

“We had a really tough loss at Yale, we had a really tough loss at Harvard. Those are the top two teams in our league and I thought we were right there with both of them. We just couldn’t finish the game so this is a nice win for us. We have a really tough test on Tuesday.”

Wilson, for his part, is savoring Princeton’s nice finish. “I feel like we had some stretches where we let a couple games go,” said Wilson, who ended the Columbia game with six points and now has 387 in his Princeton career.

“I think for the most part this year, we have played a solid 70 out of 80 minutes for each weekend but we had a spurt for 10 minutes where we just let things slip. I feel like this past weekend, we put the 80 minutes together. I feel like our team is really jelling right now. We are a team where the spotlight doesn’t stay on one person too often. Everyone is able and capable to step up and make big shots and help our team out. It was good for the team to get the ‘w’.”

GRAVITTE EFFECT: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Sam Gravitte unloads the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore longstick midfielder Gravitte tallied his first career goal along with two caused turnovers and three ground balls but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 11-4 at Maryland. The Tigers, now 3-1, start Ivy League play with a game at Penn on March 14.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GRAVITTE EFFECT: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Sam Gravitte unloads the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore longstick midfielder Gravitte tallied his first career goal along with two caused turnovers and three ground balls but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 11-4 at Maryland. The Tigers, now 3-1, start Ivy League play with a game at Penn on March 14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It was a classic case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object when the 10th-ranked Princeton University men’s lacrosse team played at No. 9 Maryland last Saturday.

Coming into the day, high-powered Princeton was averaging 14.7 goals a game and leading the nation with 10 assists per contest.

The Terps, for their part, were surrendering just 5.25 goals per game, the top goals against average in the country. The Maryland goalie, Kyle Bernlohr, led the nation in goals against average and save percentage.

As the game unfolded, it became clear that stingy defense was destined to rule the day. Maryland led 3-2 at half and then outscored the Tigers 6-1 in the third quarter to break the game open on the way to an 11-4 win.

In reflecting on the setback, Princeton head coach Chris Bates acknowledged that his team misfired.

“Honestly we didn’t feel like we executed well on the offensive end,” said Bates, whose team dropped to 3-1 with the loss.

“Credit Maryland, they are really good defensively. We needed six guys to be moving the ball. Ultimately we never got in rhythm. We had problems with shot selection and sharing the ball. The goalie played really well; they were even better on defense in person than they were on film.”

Bates won’t enjoy watching the film of the third quarter, which saw Maryland win seven of nine face-offs and end the period by scoring five unanswered goals.

“The wheels fell off in the third,” said Bates. “We didn’t touch the ball, they dominated on face-offs. I think we had the ball three times in the quarter. That is when they pulled away.”

Falling flat at Maryland could be a blessing in disguise for Princeton as it girds for the challenges ahead.

“It is a good lesson; leadership has to take charge on the field,” said Bates, whose team didn’t have an assist on the day. “We need to do a better job as coaches but there is only so much we can do. We challenged the leadership to make sure the team is executing. That is why we schedule teams like Hopkins and Maryland.”

The return of junior midfielder Jake Froccaro from injury and the continued progress of sophomore longstick midfielder Sam Gravitte were bright spots on a dark day for the Tigers.

“Froccaro did a good job, he gave us a spark,” said Bates of Froccaro who scored one goal on the day along with Gavin McBride, Bear Altemus, and Gravitte. “He logged a lot of minutes on defense with Austin Sims out. We will need him to help us on face-offs. Sam is taking the next step. He is a better team defender. He is showing on-ball energy, he is making progress.”

In Bates’ view, his team won’t let the loss on Saturday impede the progress it has been making this spring.

“The group was sufficiently humbled; we had a really good practice today,” said Bates.

“I like this group a lot, they are not afraid to work. There was no finger pointing. We told them to look at themselves individually and then hold each other accountable. I think this group is on a good path. I think they will learn from that experience.”

Princeton, now ranked 12th nationally, will start on what it hopes is the path to an Ivy League title when it plays at Penn on March 14 in the league opener for both teams.

“Penn rides well, they are good between the lines,” said Bates. “They create offense from their transition game. They have a lot of 2-way guys. We need to work on getting up and down the field. Everyone is 0-0 now and it doesn’t matter what your record is. It is easy to get the guys excited for this.”

CLOSING STATEMENT: Princeton University men’s hockey player Matt Nelson heads up the ice in a game this winter. Last Friday, freshman defenseman Nelson tallied his first career goal but it wasn’t enough as 12th-seeded Princeton lost 3-2 to No. 5 Dartmouth in the first game of a best-of-three ECAC Hockey opening round playoff series. A night later, Princeton fell 2-0 to the Big Green to get swept and end the season with an overall record of 4-23-3.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CLOSING STATEMENT: Princeton University men’s hockey player Matt Nelson heads up the ice in a game this winter. Last Friday, freshman defenseman Nelson tallied his first career goal but it wasn’t enough as 12th-seeded Princeton lost 3-2 to No. 5 Dartmouth in the first game of a best-of-three ECAC Hockey opening round playoff series. A night later, Princeton fell 2-0 to the Big Green to get swept and end the season with an overall record of 4-23-3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Ron Fogarty, a major goal in his debut campaign at the helm of the Princeton University men’s hockey team was to have the Tigers playing their best hockey come playoff time.

Although 12th-seeded Princeton was swept 2-0 by fifth-seeded Dartmouth in a best-of-three ECAC Hockey opening round series last weekend, Fogarty believes his team displayed its progress.

In the opener on Friday, the Tigers jumped out to a 1-0 lead six minutes into the contest on the first career goal by freshman defenseman Matt Nelson. After Dartmouth scored two unanswered goals in the second period, Princeton knotted the game at 2-2 midway through the third on a tally by Garrett Skrbich. The Big Green, however, scored with 1:27 left in regulation to pull out the victory.

A night later, the foes were locked in a scoreless stalemate until Dartmouth scored early in the second period. Princeton pressed hard for the tying goal but couldn’t find the back of the net and the Big Green tacked on an empty net goal in the last five seconds to win the game and wrap up a series sweep.

“We looked and played differently from that first weekend in Newark,”
asserted Fogarty in reflecting on his team’s performance this weekend.

“We played well on Friday, they scored on a delayed penalty. We were resilient and tied it at 2-2. We had lots of good scoring chances. They got that late goal. We played very well and followed it up with another good game. We played intense. We stuck to the game plan and played our systems. Our inability to score was a theme of the season and that hurt us again this weekend.”

While Princeton did have trouble finding the back of the net as it averaged just 1.30 goals per game, Fogarty believes the team raised the level of its play across the board.

“The commitment and work ethic to play more with the puck,” said Fogarty, when asked to assess the biggest areas of progress. “We had a lot more time in the offensive zone at the end of the season and we cleaned up things in the defensive zone. Our entire game improved from day one to last Saturday evening.”

Fogarty credited the team’s senior class of Aaron Ave, Ryan Benitez, Tucker Brockett, Aaron Kesselman, Tom Kroshus, and Tyler Maugeri with easing the transition to the new coaching staff.

“They competed and stuck with the game plan from day one, they paved the way for the years to come,” said Fogarty.

With Princeton returning its top three scorers, junior Jonathan Liau (4 goals and 10 assists this season), sophomore Ben Foster (4 goals, 6 assists) and junior Kyle Rankin (3 goals, 7 assists) along with sophomore star goalie Colton Phinney (3.08 goals against average and .910 save percentage in 29 appearances this season), Fogarty believes things are headed in the right direction.

“The core is solid, it will be easier for the freshmen to come in next year,” said Fogarty. “They are familiar with our systems and can help accelerate things for the freshmen.”

Fogarty found it easy to connect with his new players. “It was very enjoyable,” said Fogarty. “I was proud to be behind the bench and coach these guys. I enjoyed every day.”

In Fogarty’s view, good days are ahead for the program. “We are not going to change many things,” said Fogarty.

“We are going to keep being positive and enhance the systems we have in place. There were no knee jerk reactions or decisions this year, we stayed even-keeled. The returning players know what the expectations are on and off the ice. The foundation is set.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 4, 2015
A-ROD: Princeton University women’s basketball player Alex Rodgers heads to the hoop. Last Saturday against visiting Brown, senior guard Rodgers was honored along with classmates Jess Shivers, Mariah Smith, and Blake Dietrick on the program’s annual Senior Night. Rodgers helped the 14th-ranked Tigers defeat the Bears 79-67 in improving to 27-0 overall and 11-0 Ivy League. Princeton will look to keep rolling when it plays Cornell on March 6 and at Columbia on March 7.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

A-ROD: Princeton University women’s basketball player Alex Rodgers heads to the hoop. Last Saturday against visiting Brown, senior guard Rodgers was honored along with classmates Jess Shivers, Mariah Smith, and Blake Dietrick on the program’s annual Senior Night. Rodgers helped the 14th-ranked Tigers defeat the Bears 79-67 in improving to 27-0 overall and 11-0 Ivy League. Princeton will look to keep rolling when it plays Cornell on March 6 and at Columbia on March 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While celebrating Senior Night is a once-in-lifetime experience for most college basketball players, Alex Rodgers has felt those emotions twice in her career with the Princeton University women’s basketball team.

Entering Princeton with the Class of 2014, Rogers took a leave of absence from school in 2012-13 due to a back injury. She returned last winter and was on hand when her original classmates, Nicole Hung and Kristen Helmstetter, were feted on their Senior Night. Last Saturday, senior guard Rodgers was honored along with seniors Jess Shivers, Mariah Smith, and Blake Dietrick as the Class of 2015 was recognized.

For Rodgers, straddling two classes has been a joy. “I felt I was able to celebrate with Kristen and Hung together,” said Rodgers. “I feel selfish because I have had two. Because of this, I have had more teammates than everybody else and that just means I have had more love around me.”

On Saturday, before the Tigers faced Brown, Rodgers was formally honored and was glad to be sharing the moment with Shivers, Smith, and Dietrick.

“I felt pretty good about it being my time,” said Rodgers, a  5’9 native of Mouth of Wilson, Va.

“It feels like the right time and to share it with these girls, who have been working hard all season. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Dealing with injuries over her career hasn’t dimmed Rodgers’ desire to keep working hard.

“I absolutely savor coming back,” said Rodgers. “Every summer, it didn’t matter how the year before went for me. I attacked it the same as I have been doing my whole life in basketball, working out with my dad. I had the highest hopes for every season coming in. Health always kind of plagued me but my love for the game never stopped so it was pretty easy to keep going.”

Back-up guard Rodgers enjoyed her weekend in the limelight, scoring six points on 3-for-3 shooting in a 67-49 win over Yale on Friday. A day later, an action photo of her from the game ran in the New York Times and then she got her first start in a Tiger uniform.

“It is a huge weekend, I feel like it is a bit of a reward for all of the hard work I have put in,” said Rodgers, who didn’t score in the 79-67 win over Brown and now has 140 points in 67 career appearances for the Tigers .

“It hasn’t always been easy but it has always been fun. This is the most fun weekend so far.”

The Princeton players have had a lot of fun collectively this winter, as they have gone 27-0 overall and 11-0 Ivy league, rising to No. 14 nationally in the AP Poll. Well before the season started, Rodgers had an inkling that the Tigers could do some big things this winter.

“The first week on campus, it felt a little different than the other weeks because all we were thinking about was the Penn loss,” said Rodgers, referring to the team’s 80-64 defeat to Penn in last year’s regular season finale which denied it a fifth straight Ivy crown.

“So when you have something like that behind, you start the first day of practice and you realize there is no time to waste. That is kind of how we have approached the whole season. There is no time to waste in practice, there is no time to waste in the games.”

Rodgers is determined to make the most of her fleeting time in a Tiger uniform.

“My role on the team is the same as everyone else’s,” said Rodgers. “In practice every day, it is everybody’s job to go as hard as possible. On game days it is my job to remind our team of how hard we have worked all week and that we get what we deserve out of these games. I try to provide a little comedic relief all the time.”

In reflecting on her Princeton career, Rodgers said she has gotten a lot out of the experience, on and off the court.

“It has meant everything, it has been a huge blessing as far as academics and the opportunities it has brought that way for me,” said Rodgers.

“I have always wanted to compete in basketball my whole life and this place has given me the opportunity to be competitive every day whether it is in practice or on the bench and that has meant the most to me.”

Princeton head coach Banghart enjoyed seeing the team’s seniors get their opportunity to be in the spotlight.

“Senior night is always a bittersweet night, you look at those seniors and they go undefeated at home in their senior year,” said Banghart.

“They actually didn’t even want to start the game because they thought this whole year hasn’t been about us. They have been in a supportive role and they like that role. I said let everybody else celebrate you because it is four years of an incredibly successful campaign and everybody is a part of it. You always hope that they get what they wanted and I hope tonight is a night they will remember for all of the right reasons.”

A feisty Brown squad made things tough on Princeton, trailing by 35-30 at halftime and pulling to within 73-65 with 1:23 remaining in regulation.

“They had a couple of players we had a tough time getting a handle on,” said Banghart.

“(Jordin) Alexander had 25, a lot of that was off dribble penetration. They try to make it a 1-v-1 game; we got into that but we are better when it is 5-v-5. We were flat early, the defense going up a little too much. Brown is a good team and they played like it tonight. I think being ranked is giving us better preparation for whatever might come in March because the others have an opportunity to beat a top 15 team for the first time in program history every time we come out. This is not the numbers that Brown typically gets. We get people’s best, they shoot a little bit looser because they have nothing to lose and that has been good for us. We have to play tighter possessions.”

The Tigers tightened things up in the second half. “I thought offensively we were really flat in the first half,” said Banghart.

“How we defend is how we play offense. If we defend together with cohesion and energy we usually play that way on the offensive end too. Against their zone, we reminded them of where our spots are and we reminded them that we have an advantage in the interior. We were able to slow down so that the screens and cuts were working more together.”

In moving to 27-0, Princeton set a program record for most wins in a season, eclipsing the mark of 26 posted by the 2009-10 team.

“Every milestone we get matters because it is really hard to get them in this business,” said Banghart.

“To win 20 games in a season is considered a great season so to get 27 is something, especially since that team was 26-3; it was a really good team then too. So this team will always share that they have set the program win record and hopefully they keep it going.”

Banghart, for her part, set a personal record as well, passing Joan Kowalik’s program-best of 163 wins with the victory over Yale on Friday.

“I am proud that I have been able to represent Princeton with success,” said Banghart, who is now 165-66 in her eight seasons at the helm.

“I think I have brought the right people here and they have been better for the experience and that’s my job.”

With Princeton playing at Cornell on March 6 and at Columbia on March 7, Banghart will keep the Tigers’ attention on the job at hand as they can clinch the Ivy title outright with a 2-0 weekend.

“We have already broken down yesterday’s film and tomorrow I will break down today’s and see what are the takeaways,” said Banghart.

“Last weekend it was that we needed to focus on owning the tempo better and taking care of the ball. I am sure this weekend, it will be a little more taking care of the ball as well but it will probably be making adjustments throughout the game on the floor and not having to wait to the media timeouts. That is what March is about, possession to possession, not media timeout to media timeout.”

In Rodgers’s view, the team isn’t about to lose its focus. “We have had so many highs this season, every week is a record being broken or something,” said Rodgers.

“We absolutely enjoy it; we will enjoy it downstairs in the locker room but we have already talked about Monday and taking care of the things we didn’t do so well tonight. We have three games in five days so you have to be focused right away.”

PLAYING HARDBALL: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Adam Hardej heads to goal in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore Hardej chipped in a goal to help Princeton edge Johns Hopkins 16-15 in overtime. The 10th-ranked Tigers, now 3-0, play at No. 9 Maryland (3-1) on March 7.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PLAYING HARDBALL: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Adam Hardej heads to goal in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore Hardej chipped in a goal to help Princeton edge Johns Hopkins 16-15 in overtime. The 10th-ranked Tigers, now 3-0, play at No. 9 Maryland (3-1) on March 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Chris Bates has sensed a blue collar mentality around his Princeton University men’s lacrosse team this season.

“They have been taking a workmanlike approach, bringing their lunch pail every day,” said Princeton head coach Bates.

Last Saturday, the Tigers displayed some offensive flair and character to go with their work ethic as they outlasted Johns Hopkins in a 16-15 overtime thriller before 1,217 at Homewood Field in Baltimore, Md.

“We have talked about learning how to overcome things, like losing a lead, dealing with weather, referees, and injuries,” said Bates, whose team improved to 3-0 with the victory.

“It keeps guys focused on the job at hand. Anybody who watched that game, and I got a lot of texts and e-mails, could see the mental toughness and grittiness in our players.”

The Tigers made things tough on Hopkins from the opening face-off, jumping out to a 7-0 lead just 10 minutes into the contest.

“We did show poise,” said Bates. “It was good to share the ball like that; everyone was in the flow.”

Bates, though, realized that the Blue Jays would get in a flow of their own. “We knew the run had to end; we told the guys that there were 50 minutes left,” said Bates. “They have a really good offensive group; they came all the way back.”

Hopkins reeled off six straight goals to pull within 7-6 but Princeton went on a 3-1 run to build a 10-7 halftime advantage.

“We rebounded from their initial charge and got the goal at the end of the half,” recalled Bates, who got a goal from senior star and captain Kip Orban with 38 seconds left in the half. “We went into the locker room feeling good; we thought we had stemmed the tide.”

In the second half, the tide turned Hopkins’ way as it tied the game at 10-10 early in the fourth quarter and took leads of 14-12 and 15-14 late in regulation.

“We stayed even-keeled as coaches, for the most part,” said Bates. “We kept reminding them to do what we do and trust the system.”

Sticking to its offensive system, Princeton knotted the game at 15-15 on a Ryan Ambler goal with seven seconds left in the fourth to force overtime.

“With 32 seconds left, we had a couple of things drawn up,” said Bates. “We went through the progressions and Ryan made a nice finish.”

The Tigers finished the game in style as sophomore Gavin McBride converted a feed from freshman Riley Thompson with 1:07 left in the first overtime for the game-winning goal.

“You realize it is out of your hands to an extent and you just watch,” said Bates, reflecting on the overtime.

“We hit a pipe, their goalie makes a big save but then we get a turnover. Riley made a nice feed; he was under control. Guys moved and shared the ball. It was a good win. Hopkins is going to be a good team this year and we are rooting for them.”

Princeton has shown that it is a very good offensive team with a diverse attack. On Saturday, the Tigers got at least five points from five different players with Orban tallying four goals and two assists, classmate Mike MacDonald chipping in three goals and two assists, and junior Ambler also getting three goals and two assists. A pair of emerging sophomore stars, Zach Currier and Gavin McBride, also notched five points with the former getting two goals and three assists and the latter contributing three goals and two assists.

“I think it is equanimity,” said Bates. “The ball moves, the guys are unselfish, there is balance and poise. They are showing patience and ability to manage the game and give the young defense a rest.”

Bates acknowledged that the Tiger defense needs to show a little more poise.

“There were seven man-down goals by Hopkins, that makes it a totally different ball game,” said Bates, whose defensive unit is missing starters Will Reynolds and Mark Strabo due to injury.

“They have a really good man-up unit. We have had too many penalties; that is something we have to work on. They grew up a little and played OK. There are some puppies out there. There are things we have to improve on, like discipline and playing as a unit.”

Princeton, now ranked No. 10 nationally in the Inside Lacrosse Media Poll, will look to keep improving as it heads back to the Baltimore area this Saturday for a game at No. 9 Maryland (3-1).

“We haven’t played them in a while; we are excited to prepare for them,” said Bates.

“They are a storied program, we understand how good they are. It is bringing a lunch pail, starting on Monday. We will focus on ourselves and work on basics and playing our game.”

LIVING IT UP: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Olivia Hompe heads to goal in a game earlier this season. Sophomore Hompe has caught fire in recent play, scoring four goals in an 8-4 win over Drexel last Wednesday and then chipping in a career-high five goals and an assist to help Princeton beat Georgetown 11-7 last Saturday. The 9th-ranked Tigers, now 3-0, open Ivy League play with a game at Dartmouth (0-1) on March 7.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LIVING IT UP: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Olivia Hompe heads to goal in a game earlier this season. Sophomore Hompe has caught fire in recent play, scoring four goals in an 8-4 win over Drexel last Wednesday and then chipping in a career-high five goals and an assist to help Princeton beat Georgetown 11-7 last Saturday. The 9th-ranked Tigers, now 3-0, open Ivy League play with a game at Dartmouth (0-1) on March 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After not scoring a goal for the Princeton University women’s lacrosse in its season-opening 10-8 win over Loyola on February 21, Olivia Hompe didn’t waste any time finding her shooting range when the Tigers hosted Drexel last Wednesday.

The sophomore attacker scored two goals in the first half as Princeton built a 5-0 halftime lead over the Dragons.

While Hompe was relieved to break the ice personally, she was more pleased about how the offense clicked collectively.

“I think it is always nice getting your first goal of the season and getting it out of the way,” said Hompe.

“I think we really played a great game on Saturday so coming off that energy was exciting today. We got a couple of different kids scoring than we did on Saturday, which was great. I think it just shows that our offense is really diverse.”

While Drexel made the game a little more exciting in the second half than the Tigers wanted, pulling to within three goals at one point, Princeton took care of business down the stretch in posting an 8-4 win.

“A lot of the game didn’t go the way we expected it to, we came out and we had a tough second half,” said Hompe.

“We had a couple of mistakes, unforced errors on our part. I think it is just getting back out there and getting under that game pressure again. We got a lot of
experience powering through, especially when they started pressuring us down low on attack, just making sure we could move the ball. It was not the prettiest win but we gutted it out.”

The one-two combination of Hompe and senior Erin McMunn has been providing Princeton some pretty play in the crease.

“I love playing behind her; she makes it incredibly easy,” said Hompe, who scored 46 points in 2014 on 22 goals and 24 assists. “We make a really nice pair. I am definitely going to miss her next year.”

With a season of college lax under her belt, Hompe is primed for a big year in her sophomore campaign.

“I think really I just have a lot more confidence going into the game,” said Hompe, who displayed her increased confidence last Saturday when she tallied a career-high five goals and an assist to help Princeton beat Georgetown 11-7 and improve to 3-0.

“We have really well structured offense and all fall we were working on getting good flow, getting lots of different angles. Building from the fall is really the way we get looks from up top, from the sides and from low and from inside. I think that is going to make us a really potent attack.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer liked the work she got from sophomore goalie Ellie DeGarmo and the Tiger defense in the first half against Drexel.

“I thought we did play a nice defensive first half,” said Sailer of DeGarmo, who was later named the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week along with Brown goalie Kellie Roddy.

“I think you have to give so much credit in that game to Ellie DeGarmo. We made that decision to give her the start. She played well all fall and has played well in preseason. She played well Saturday and she really went with it so it was good to see. Those saves made a huge difference for us, the game could have felt very different for us.”

Hompe made a difference at the offensive end of the field. “She did have four goals, the goals definitely did help,” said Sailer.

“Liv is a great player, incredibly talented, really smart. She knows how to work defenses. Those four goals today were huge; she was our only kid with multiple goals.”

Sailer knows that the one-two punch provided by Hompe and McMunn is a huge part of the Tiger attack.

“They look for each other,” said Sailer. “Since Liv first got here they had had a special connection. They are quite the duo back there.”

In the win over Drexel, Princeton didn’t look as sharp as Sailer would have liked.

“It was probably our worst shooting day in I can’t remember how long,” said Sailer, whose team is now ranked No. 9 nationally in the Inside Lacrosse Media Poll and is slated to open Ivy League play with a game at Dartmouth (0-1) on March 7.

“We usually shoot around 50 percent and we shot 33 percent today. We were just a little bit off in a lot of stuff that we did. Our turnovers were high, we were casual and rushing a few things. We weren’t as settled in ourselves as we needed to be.”

Hompe, for her part, has high hopes for the Tigers this spring.

“We had a really tough first game and I think that helped us jolt right into the season,” said Hompe.

“We have a couple of big non-conference games that we would like to win. I think that is what I learned the most last season, that the beginning ones are the most important so we are going to try to get some good wins before we head into Ivy play.”

HEMMED IN: Princeton University women’s hockey player Emily Achterkirch, center, gets bottled up as she goes after the puck in recent action. Last weekend, freshman defenseman Achterkirch and the sixth-seeded Tigers had trouble getting untracked as they got swept at third-seeded Quinnipiac in a best-of-three ECAC Hockey quarterfinal series, falling 7-0 on Friday and 2-0 a day later. The defeats left Princeton with a final record of 15-14-2.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HEMMED IN: Princeton University women’s hockey player Emily Achterkirch, center, gets bottled up as she goes after the puck in recent action. Last weekend, freshman defenseman Achterkirch and the sixth-seeded Tigers had trouble getting untracked as they got swept at third-seeded Quinnipiac in a best-of-three ECAC Hockey quarterfinal series, falling 7-0 on Friday and 2-0 a day later. The defeats left Princeton with a final record of 15-14-2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It didn’t take long this season for Jeff Kampersal to realize that his Princeton University women’s hockey team possessed a reservoir of character.

“We do battle, this is a resilient group, an early sign was the RIT game in November where we were down 3-0 and won 4-3 in overtime,” said Kampersal.

“We had two or three wins in OT early and then we had a tough part of the schedule and played hard. I knew then that this group would battle.”

The Tigers proved that they battle the nation’s top teams on even terms, falling 2-1 to No. 2 Minnesota, losing 3-2 to No. 5 and defending national champion Clarkson, and falling 4-2 to top-ranked Boston College. Along the way they picked up some impressive scalps, edging No. 4 Harvard 1-0 and posting a pair of victories over a top-10 Cornell squad.

Kampersal was expecting more of the same last weekend when sixth-seeded Princeton played at third-seeded and No. 6 Quinnipiac in a best-of-three ECAC Hockey quarterfinal series.

But coming out flat, Princeton suffered its most lopsided defeat of the year, giving up four first period goals on the way to a 7-0 setback.

“We prepared the same way, the kids were fired up,” said Kampersal. “I thought we played well in the first five minutes but the first goal deflated us. The defense wasn’t coming out hard enough, it was unfortunate and then the flood gates opened up. It seemed like every shot they were taking was going in. Kim (Newell) battled in goal but we didn’t give her much help.”

A day later, Princeton produced its usual hard effort but it wasn’t enough as Quinnipiac prevailed 2-0, scoring on a power play goal in the second and an empty net goal in the waning moments of regulation.

“The message after Friday’s game was to come back the next day and play with pride,” said Kampersal, whose team ended the winter with an overall record of 15-14-2.

“We did bounce back, we were more aggressive in the d-zone. They scored on a power play so we were even in 5-on-5.

Kampersal acknowledged that Quinnipiac provides a lot of problems for the
Tigers.

“The matchup with Quinnipiac is not good for us,” said Kampersal. “We don’t get a lot of shots and they are good at limiting shots. They suffocate us offensively, that happened during the regular season. The system they play is really solid and structured. You have to play simple, throw pucks off the boards. You have to be really patient. Everything has to be be perfect for us to beat Quinnipiac and that is hard to ask.”

In the finale, junior goalie Newell was nearly perfect, stopping 34 of the 35 shots she faced.

“Newell has had a great year; she wants to win every day,” said Kampersal. “In the big games that we won this year, she was our best player.”

While the final weekend stung, Kampersal was proud of how his team came up big throughout the winter, highlighted by a late surge in the Ivy League title race that saw Princeton go 7-2-1 to finish just behind Harvard (8-2) in the Ivy standings.

“I am happy with the season overall,” said Kampersal. “If you had told me before the season that we would have had a chance to win the Ivy title in the last weekend, I would have taken that. To beat Cornell twice was great, we haven’t done that in a while and to beat Harvard at home was great. If we had made some little plays in the Dartmouth game we could have won and it would not have come down to the last weekend. Yale caught fire down the stretch. We played hard against them and gave everything we had. It was a great run no question to get us in position for a chance at a title.”

The team’s four seniors, Brianna Leahy, Brianne Mahoney, Ali Pankowski, and Ashley Holt, had a great run.

“I haven’t said goodbye to them at this point,” said Kampersal. “It was a good group, they gave us a lot, and I will miss them.”

Princeton has a lot of talent coming back so the future looks good. The Tigers return its top five scorers, sophomore Molly Contini (16 goals and 12 assists in 2014-15), sophomore Kelsey Koelzer (8 goals, 18 assists), junior Jaimie McDonell (11 goals, 14 assists), sophomore Hilary Lloyd (6 goals, 15 assists), and freshman Kiersten Falck (2 goals, 13 assists) along with star goalie Newell (2.36 goals against average, .925 save percentage). “Hopefully they keep working hard and have a great summer,” said Kampersal.

“The top line (Contini, Lloyd, and McDonell) played well and we have a good supporting cast. We like the freshmen who we have coming in. It will be good competition within the group.”

With some focused offseason work, the Tigers should be even more competitive than they were this winter.

“Individually, they all need to get better,” added Kampersal. “Some need to get in better shape, some need to work on hockey skills, some need to work on hockey smarts, which is tough to do in the summer. We need to break it down and analyze each player and figure out one or two things they can work on to be better. If they do that, it will help the whole team.”