As the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team played at WW/P-S last Saturday, the PHS players periodically chanted “run, Rory, run” from the sidelines.
The squad’s junior star midfielder, Rory Helstrom, responded to his teammates’ pleas, tallying two goals and two assists to help the Little Tigers pull away to a 9-4 victory.
With PHS trailing 2-0 midway through the first quarter, Helstrom used his fast feet and stick skills to draw the Little Tigers level at 2-2, assisting on one goal and scoring another in a 24-second span.
“I think just getting us some motivation really helped get us back on track,” said Helstrom, reflecting on the two-goal spurt.
“We knew coming into this game that they were better than their scores. We knew we couldn’t play down to them.”
The PHS coaches gave the players some extra motivation with their halftime message.
“At halftime, they talked to us and said you guys have to play to your ability and talked about this stuff that we weren’t doing,” recalled Helstrom. “We just sucked it up.”
The Little Tigers did a lot of good things at both ends of the field in the second half as they outscored WW/P-S 5-0.
“We started off slow but we picked it up towards the end,” said Helstrom, who had a goal and an assist in the second half.
With PHS losing some key offensive performers from last year’s squad to graduation, Helstrom knew that he had to pick it up this spring.
“I have got to make more plays myself,” said Helstrom, who is a star running back for the PHS football team. “I think this year it is more me controlling things than last year. I have got to start getting the offense going and making things happen for myself and the other players.”
With PHS having struggled through a five-game losing streak earlier this month as it lost to such powers as Lawrenceville, Summit, and North Hunterdon, Helstrom believes the team is on the right track.
“I think North Hunterdon was the lowest point of our season,” said Helstrom, who was slowed by a groin injury earlier this spring but is back at full speed. “We couldn’t go down since then, we could only go up.”
PHS head coach Peter Stanton likes the way his players have picked things up as the win over WW/P-S came two days after the Little Tigers had beaten Robbinsville 7-3 to snap the losing streak.
“The thing about learning is that people don’t get it until they have figured it out themselves,” said Stanton.
“You can tell somebody something five times but when they finally get it and it clicks in, it is so satisfying and so rewarding.”
Things were clicking for PHS all over the field against WW/P-S as the team showed good offensive balance.
“I think the fact that we were deeper than them showed,” said Stanton, who got two goals apiece from Nick Halliday and Johnny Lopez-Ona in addition to Helstrom with Chris Diver, Eamonn McDonald, and Stephen Clark chipping in one apiece.
“We had some really key contributions from some guys who don’t necessarily show up in the box score. Justin Marciano made an incredible play at the end of the game. Oliver Hamit was scrapping it out at the face-off X. Nick Halliday has had two games in a row where he has been really good.”
Helstrom was really good as he triggered the PHS offense with his athleticism and determination.
“He is an X factor,” added Stanton. “He is such a good athlete, he can do things on just will.”
Reflecting on the team’s recent skid, Stanton believes that playing such high powered foes as Lawrenceville and Summit will help sharpen his players’ will to compete.
“What those games teach you is grit, they teach you that you can go out and battle your hardest even being overmatched but if you have given your all and you have learned, you can be proud of that,” said Stanton.
“We didn’t do that for four quarters in either of those games but in each of those games we had our moments where it is like here is what we are capable of if we can do these things against some of the best players in the state. Our schedule is a bit more difficult this year and we are younger than usual. It is easy when things aren’t going your way to give up and when things are going really well, everybody wants to work hard. So the fact that we can continue to work hard when things weren’t going well showed by getting these last two wins. It is something we can be proud of.”
Stanton believes the Little Tigers can get some more big wins over the next few weeks.
“We are happy that we are improving, we never know what anyone’s limits or potential are,” said Stanton, whose team fell 6-5 to Rumson-Fair Haven last Monday to move to 4-7 and hosts WW/P-N on April 30.
“We always push our kids to go beyond what maybe they think they are capable of. So absolutely we are happy that we have a team that is willing to work hard, improve, and has a chance to win.”
Helstrom, for his part, is confident that PHS will keep pushing to improve.
“We started off the season really slow, losing to some in-conference teams,” said Helstrom. “I think in the second half of the season we can really turn it on.”