January 6, 2021

FAST COMPANY: Members of The Wilberforce School cross country team enjoy the moment after they competed in the NJSIAA (New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association) Non-Public South Sectional at Oak Ridge Park in Clark in mid-November to end the 2020 season. Pictured, from left, are Colin Mejias, Josh Lai, Caleb Brox, Jeremy Sallade, Andrew Madigan, Laura Prothero, Sophia Park, Annie Whitman, Joel Seidle, David Dorini, Lydia Sallade, head coach Lois Szeliga, and Brooke Mersereau. The boys’ team placed second at the meet while the girls’ squad, who had only two members in 2017, placed fourth. (Photo provided by Lois Szeliga)

By Bill Alden

Lois Szeliga took the helm of The Wilberforce School cross country program in 2017 as a stopgap.

With previous coach Rebeka Stowe, an aspiring Olympic steeplechaser and pro runner with the NJNY Track Club, stepping down in August that year to pursue other opportunities, Szeliga, a stay-at-home mother of six children, didn’t seem like a likely replacement.

But with a background in running that included starring at Watchung Hills High and then going on to walk on at Rutgers University where she ended up as a captain of the cross country team, the Wilberforce community reached out to Szeliga to step in and lead the program.

“My kids go to Wilberforce and someone told them I had run and just threw out my name; I think it was about a week or two before the season,” said Szeliga.

“I wasn’t planning on it. My high school running days were so important to me and I would be heartbroken if these kids didn’t have a season. They were talking about what do we do, could the captains lead, so I said yes and it has been so rewarding.” more

December 30, 2020

MOMENT OF TRIUMPH: Princeton University wrestler Travis Stefanik celebrates after he topped Cornell’s Jonathan Loew 10-4 at 184 pounds to clinch victory in a 19-13 triumph by Princeton over the Big Red on February 9 at Jadwin Gym. The victory snapped Princeton’s 32-match losing streak to the Big Red and clinched the Tiger program’s first Ivy League title since 1986. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

As 2020 headed into March, local sports teams were enjoying a memorable winter campaign.

Over at Princeton University, the wrestling team produced an historic breakthrough, edging Cornell 19-13 to snap a 32-match losing streak to the Big Red and earn the program’s first Ivy League title since 1986. The Tigers women’s hockey team made some history of its own, winning the program’s first-ever ECAC Hockey championship and posting a 26-6-1 record. At Jadwin Gym, Carla Berube made a stunning debut as the head coach of the Tiger women’s basketball program, guiding Princeton to a 26-1 overall record and a 14-0 Ivy campaign with the squad rising to No. 17 in national polls.

On the high school scene, the Princeton High boys’ hockey team produced a comeback for the ages in the Mercer County Tournament final. Trailing six-time defending champion Hun 5-0 in the second period, PHS rallied to pull out a dramatic 7-5 win and earn the program’s first county crown since 2011. The Stuart Country Day School hoops team emerged as one of the best squads in New Jersey, winning its third straight state Prep B title and advancing to the MCT final for the first time in program history on the way to posting a 21-7 record. Featuring a gritty group of battle-tested veterans, the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team went on the road and defeated Doane Academy 64-50 in the state Prep B final.

But then storm clouds rolled in on the horizon as the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading worldwide, putting the health of millions in jeopardy. The Ivy League sensed the danger before others, canceling its men’s and women’s basketball postseason tournaments on March 10. A day later, after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz of the NBA tested positive for the coronavirus, the sports world came to a halt across the globe. Within days, the NCAA canceled the winter and spring seasons with students across the country being sent home to shelter in place. The pro hockey and basketball leagues put their seasons on hold while Major League Baseball postponed opening day indefinitely. The New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) canceled the rest of the winter season right away and later pulled the plug on spring sports as well.

Stuck at home, college and high school athletes kept in contact with their teammates and coaches on their computers via the Zoom calls that became a way of life. Players devised creative ways of working out and maintaining team bonds as they waited to get back into action.

With masking up, social distancing, and frequent hand washing becoming daily staples, sports gingerly started to stick its toe back in the water observing those safety protocols. In New Jersey, a “Last Dance” high school baseball tournament was held in July to give the players, particularly graduating seniors, a final taste of diamond action.

On the pro level, leagues gradually returned to action with the NBA, NHL, and WNBA operating in so-called “bubbles” with athletes located at one site, getting frequently tested for COVID-19 and living under strict protocols. Big league baseball played a sharply limited schedule which went from late July to October with 60 games as opposed to the usual 162. Once the fall rolled around, the NFL and major college football did resume action on the gridiron. But with the pandemic still raging, there were a number of pauses, postponements, and cancellations, particularly at the college level.

Once again, the Ivy League, ever mindful of athletes’ safety, canceled its fall competition. In November, the league pulled the plug on its winter sports as well. more

December 23, 2020

WILL TO LEAD: Will Venable shows his focus during his career for the Princeton University baseball team. Venable, a 2005 Princeton alum who starred at both baseball and basketball during his college days, went on to enjoy a nine-year career in Major League Baseball. Staying in the game, Venable served as coach for the Chicago Cubs the last three seasons and was recently named as the bench coach for the Boston Red Sox. (Photo provided courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Justin Feil

Will Venable interviewed for the Boston Red Sox manager job in late October barely one week before he celebrated his 38th birthday.

The 2005 Princeton University graduate was one of the nine top candidates for the spot that the Red Sox gave to Alex Cora on November 6. Cora added Venable as Boston bench coach on November 20 after three seasons coaching with the Chicago Cubs.

“It’s just an awesome opportunity,” said Venable. “I’m really excited. To be able to go from the Chicago Cubs with the history of that organization and the people I got to work with and learn from and the relationships I’ve built, to then go move to another amazing city with a franchise with an unbelievable history and another group of great people that I can learn from, I’m really excited. And the change in role and having more responsibility and another way to impact a club is all very exciting.”

Venable, who played basketball and baseball at Princeton, has been surprised by how quickly he has risen in the coaching ranks. After finishing his nine-year major league playing career – most of it with the San Diego Padres and then stints with the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Dodgers – he jumped into the other side of the game as special assistant to the Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. He moved to first base coach the following year and last season moved over to third base coach for the Cubs, for whom he also interviewed for the managerial job.

“This whole thing, to be honest, is insane to me,” said Venable. “I grew up with my dad (former Major Leaguer Max Venable) playing and he coached right away after his playing career. I watched him coach for 20-plus years in the minor leagues and never get an opportunity and less than a year removed from my playing career I had a big-league job.” more

JUNIOR ACHIEVEMENT: Hun School boys’ cross country runner Harry Carter heads to the finish line at the 2019 Mercer County championship meet. While there was no championship competition this fall due to COVID-19 concerns, junior Carter still enjoyed a big season, winning the Boys’ Varsity White race at the XC 7-on-7 Invitational at Thompson Park in late October. He also recorded a personal-best 16:23 for fourth place in the Central Jersey XC Shootout. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Despite operating in a less than ideal setting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hun School cross country program was able to meet its expectations this fall.

While the pandemic cut into the program’s expected roster numbers increase and took away a preseason camp that would have served as a launching point, the Raiders found plenty to celebrate by the end of their shortened 2020 season.

“We had a core of about 15 boys and three girls that worked incredibly hard and incredibly consistently day in and day out,” said Hun second-year head coach Kurt Wayton.

 more

ANSWERING THE BELL: Princeton High boys’ soccer goalie Jared Bell corrals the ball against Hunterdon Central in the Central West B Group 4 sectional final. Senior standout Bell made eight saves in the game in a losing cause as PHS fell 1-0. Bell’s brilliance in goal played a key role in the Tigers going 9-3-1 and getting to the final. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Jared Bell was primed to make some noise this fall for the Princeton High boys’ soccer team.

Coming off a superb campaign in 2019, senior goalie Bell was determined to speak up on the field in his final high school season.

“From my sophomore year to now, I have definitely developed as a communicator on this team,” said Bell, who posted 12 shutouts as a junior.

“It is really necessary for our back four and myself to give instructions to the middle third and the front third.”

With Bell calling the shots and producing some brilliant play in net, the PHS defensive unit didn’t waste any time this fall showing how stingy it was going to be, posting shutouts in the first two games with a 4-0 win over Hamilton West and a 3-0 triumph against Steinert. After a loss and a tie, the Tigers got back on track, winning five straight games with clean sheets in four of those wins.

In reflecting on his progress, Bell acknowledged that it took a while for him to get into a rhythm this fall.

“It is gradual, it is a process,” said Bell. “With COVID, it was a little tough to find training and games to play. I try to play as much as I can.”

Getting to play with a back four of fellow seniors James Novak, Ethan Parker, Dylan Parker, and Simon Sheppard, helped Bell feel a comfort level on the pitch. more

December 16, 2020

SHINING KNIGHT: Sean Gleeson fields questions at the Princeton University football media day in 2018 in his role as the offensive coordinator for the Tigers. Gleeson, who went on to serve as the offensive coordinator for Oklahoma State in 2019, has returned to New Jersey this fall to run the offense for the Rutgers University football team. With Gleeson employing his fast-paced attack, Rutgers is enjoying a revival. Coming off a 2019 season that saw the Scarlet Knights to 2-10 overall and 0-9 in Big Ten play, Rutgers is turning heads this fall with its potent offense. Playing only Big 10 games in 2020, the Scarlet Knights are 3-5 and averaging 27.4 points a game. Gleeson, for his part, has been nominated for the Broyles Award, given annually to the top assistant coach in college football. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

When Bob Surace sought to become the head coach of the Princeton University football team a decade ago, he aspired to do more than just get the Tigers back on the winning track.

Surace, a 1990 Princeton alum and former star offensive lineman in his college days, looked to follow the example of legendary Tiger men’s basketball coach Pete Carril.

“I admire Pete Carril as much as anybody in my time at Princeton as a student, as an alum, as a coach,” said Surace, who took over the Tiger program starting with the 2010 season.

“You look at Pete Carril’s tree and how many branches it has as other people have had success and done well. When you think of Pete Carril you think of the sweater and the cigar but you also think of the Princeton offense. I remember in my interview I was asked about scheme and I talked about offense. I wanted to do something with a creative staff that was going to be known as the Princeton offense, doing it at a high speed with a beautiful system and all of those things.”

Installing an innovative no-huddle, hurry-up offense, Surace has guided the Princeton program to Ivy League titles in 2013, 2016, and 2018, setting a slew of program and league offensive records in the process, including an Ivy best of 470 points in going 10-0 in 2018. more

UP HER ALLEY: Princeton Day School field hockey player Ally Antonacci, left, goes after the ball in a game this fall. Junior star Antonacci helped spark the PDS offense as the Panthers ended the season on a four-game winning streak to post a final record of 5-4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

When the Princeton Day School field hockey team lost four of its first five games this fall, its players could have gotten discouraged.

Instead, PDS caught fire and got on a roll, reeling off four straight victories to end the season with a winning record of 5-4.

In assessing her squad’s late surge, Panther head coach Heather Farlow saw it as a product of some rigorous self-assessment on the part of her players.

“Our season was so condensed, we started one week and then we would get better the next week,” said Farlow.

“By playing competitive hockey against another team and not just scrimmaging among ourselves, it gave them the opportunity to see what they did well and what we need to work on. It gave them the perspective that they needed even though the coaches had said some things. It was learn by doing. If you don’t get the result that you expect, then you can make the change and improve. You are creating opportunities for yourself.” more

ON POINT: Marcus Schroeder makes a point during a game earlier his month is his role as the associate head coach of the Saint Mary’s men’s basketball program. Schroeder, a 2010 Princeton University alum and former star point guard for the Tigers, is in his 10th season at Saint Mary’s, having climbed up the ranks from graduate assistant to director of basketball operations, to assistant coach to his current position. (Photo by Tod Fierner, Saint Mary’s Athletics)

By Justin Feil

Marcus Schroeder was a high school senior committed to playing for the Princeton University men’s basketball team when he got asked what he’d be doing in 15 years.

“Coaching college basketball,” answered Schroeder.

That was during the 2005-06 school year, and now 15 years later Schroeder has become one of the most highly respected young college coaches in the country. After a year away from the game following his 2010 graduation from Princeton, he returned close to home to join Saint Mary’s College, where this year he was elevated to associate head coach.

“In my head, I had it going a little bit in high school,” said Schroeder.  more

KEEPING UP WITH JONES: Hun School field hockey player Ashley Jones controls the ball in a game this fall. Junior standout Jones stepped up on offense this fall as Hun went 1-6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

It was a classic 2020 scenario for Tracey Arndt and her Hun School field hockey team.

With the team’s season finale at Moorestown Friends slated for November 6, Hun head coach Arndt got a phone call the day before the game advising her that it was being canceled.

Displaying the flexibility that has become habit this year, Arndt reached out to find another opponent for the game and found a partner in the Princeton Day School squad.

“I have a ton of respect for Heather (PDS head coach Heather Farlow), her team, and her program so I threw an SOS out there and asked if there is any chance if you would be willing to host us,” said Arndt. “They were so gracious in letting us come over.”

With the teams having split their previous two meetings, the rubber match proved to be a thriller as PDS prevailed 2-1 in overtime. more

December 9, 2020

MAKING HIS MARK: Richmond Aririguzoh, right, battles in the paint against a Columbia defender last March during his senior season for the Princeton University men’s basketball team. Two-time All-Ivy League center Aririguzoh recently started his pro hoops career, playing for Horsens IC in Denmark’s top league. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Richmond Aririguzoh was happy to give up working as a COVID-19 contact tracer to begin his professional basketball career in Denmark.

“You have people that don’t want to talk,” said Aririguzoh, a former men’s hoops standout for Princeton University who graduated in June.

“They don’t want to let people know that they’re positive, they want to keep doing what they’re doing and go to work. A lot of it was getting to me. I have a lot of respect for people doing contact tracing. I’m glad I did it that long, but I think it was time for me to make my exit.”

Aririguzoh hadn’t played a game since his collegiate career and the Tiger men’s season abruptly ended in mid-March before the start of the Ivy League tournament.

After finishing the brunt of his ecology and evolutionary biology major work, Aririguzoh began taking the steps to further his playing career. He worked out, he hired an agent – the agent of another Princeton graduate Judson Wallace ’05 – and he relied on his new agent to contact prospective teams. After flirting with several opportunities, he settled on Horsens IC in Denmark’s top league.

“I was growing restless,” said Aririguzoh, who averaged 12.0 points and 7.4 rebounds a game in his senior season, helping the Tigers go 14-13 overall and 9-5, earning a spot in the league postseason tourney. more

By Bill Alden

For the three seniors on the Princeton Day School girls’ tennis team, Hayden Masia, Hannah Van Dusen, and Gabrielle Namouni, this fall could have been a lost season.

With the state Prep B tourney and the Mercer County Tournament getting canceled due to COVID-19 issues, it would have been understandable if the trio lost some motivation with no titles to shoot for.

Instead, they helped make the 2020 season unforgettable, setting the tone as the Panthers went 11-0.   

“For Hayden, Hannah, and Gabby as seniors, it is very much an exclamation point at the end of their playing careers,” said PDS head coach Chris Rosensteel of his veteran performers, who all played doubles with Masia and Van Dusen pairing up at first doubles and Namouni playing with junior Eshaa Doshi at second doubles.

“I don’t know if they will pursue college tennis at some level. As far as a team sport, that was huge for them. They are the reason the team was close-knit. They developed a really good team atmosphere where everybody was supporting each other. I know we did well in matches, but we also did really well in practice. I felt like every practice was productive and a big part of that was those girls setting the standard in practices. As a result, we had productive practices and then the girls felt like they could go into the matches with a little bit more confidence and more relaxed.” more

IN TOUCH: Hun School boys’ soccer player Levin Sanchez Willems, left, controls the ball in a game this fall despite the efforts of two Princeton Day School defenders. Senior Sanchez Willems helped the Raiders go 1-5 this fall in a season limited by COVID-19 issues. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

The Hun School boys’ soccer team would have liked a few more games to develop its new possession-oriented style and find the best lineup combinations.

The Raiders made significant changes for this season but didn’t have a lot of games to test how they would all work. COVID-19 pandemic concerns shortened preseason camp to one week in August, and two weeks after tryouts in mid-September they were playing their first game to start October.

“Everything went really quickly,” said Hun head coach Pat Quirk, whose team posted a 1-5 record this fall.

“It was tough to sort everything out. I always thought that we’d be playing, but we knew in the back of our heads this could just be taken away from us. We tried to treat every day like we were glad to be out here. We were the only MAPL (Mid-Atlantic Prep League) school that had any kind of games. We knew any game we got would be a plus. We tried to play every game like it would be our last and the next day it could end.” more

HIGH CHARACTER: Hun School girls’ soccer player Anna Hyson goes after the ball in a 2019 game. Senior co-captain Hyson showed her leadership this fall as she moved from the midfield to goalie due to injury and stabilized the Hun defense in her new role. The Raiders posted a 0-4-1 record in a 2020 season abbreviated by COVID-19 issues. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

While the Hun School girls’ soccer team didn’t win a game this fall, its players made 2020 a special campaign.

“We had a shared joy that we experienced during the struggle,” said Hun head coach Jenn Barrett, whose team posted a 0-4-1 record in a season limited by COVID-19 concerns.

“We had those bonding moments as we went through this. We played Pennington twice but we scored five goals against them. We stepped up. It was going into battle together and making those shared memories.”

After suffering a pair of losses to both Pennington and Princeton Day School, Hun ended the 2020 campaign with a 2-2 tie against Conwell Egan (Pa.).

“Conwell Egan was a school we had never played before so that was exciting,” said Barrett, who got goals in the draw from junior Olivia D’Aulerio and freshman Zoey Palmer.

“It was definitely a game we could have won so that was slightly frustrating, but we will take a tie.” more

December 2, 2020

TAKING OFF: Claire Donovan gets ready to hit the ball in a 2019 game during her sophomore season for the Princeton University field hockey team. Deciding to take the year off from school and defer her junior year at Princeton, Donovan has served as an assistant coach for the Princeton Day School field hockey team and taken on a side gig as a delivery driver for DoorDash. (Photo provided by Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Bill Alden

This fall, Claire Donovan got an early taste of life outside the Princeton University bubble and the family feeling surrounding the Tiger field hockey program.

Deciding to take the year off from school and defer her junior year at Princeton, Donovan, a back/midfielder for the Tigers, has served as an assistant coach for the Princeton Day School field hockey team and taken on a side gig as a delivery driver for DoorDash.

“In the beginning it was difficult, I was not ready to be thrown into the real world,” said Donovan, one of six Tiger field hockey players who decided to not enroll in school for the 2020-21 session.

“I am definitely learning a lot of lessons, it is a good little tease into the real world.”

Donavan’s decision to delay her junior year at Princeton came down to academics as much as athletics.

“Towards the end of the summer, we started realizing that field hockey wasn’t looking too good,” said Donovan.

“The spring online classes were not great, I was not a fan of them. Once I realized that we might be having Zoom classes again in the fall, my family thought that it might not be worth it to pay tuition to do online classes. That played a large part in my decision.” more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 25, 2020

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

By Justin Feil

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

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

November 18, 2020

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Justin Feil

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serverson acknowledged that Hillsborough played aggressively throughout the contest.

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

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

By Bill Alden

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

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

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

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

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