December 12, 2012

COLE FIRED: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey player Zeeza Cole heads up the ice last Saturday as PDS faced Summit in the opening round of its Harry Rulon-Miller ’51 Invitational. Senior forward Cole scored two goals as PDS topped Summit 4-0. A day later, the Panthers couldn’t get their offense going as they fell 5-1 to Rye Country Day School (N.Y.) in the tournament’s championship game. PDS, now 2-1, heads to Maryland this weekend for two games against Holton Arms (Md.) and one against Shady Side Academy (Pa.) (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After a season-opening win over Pingry earlier in the week and then blanking Summit 4-0 on Saturday in the opening round of its Harry Rulon-Miller ’51 Invitational, the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team was primed for its clash against Rye Country Day in the tourney’s title game.

The Panthers jumped off to an early 1-0 lead on a goal by junior star defenseman Robin Linzmayer on Sunday morning at McGraw Rink.

But then the Panthers suffered their first lapse of the season, yielding two straight goals over the rest of the first period and three more unanswered tallies in the second to fall behind 5-1.

While PDS head coach Lorna Gifis Cook was happy to see her team get on the board first, she acknowledged that the Panthers didn’t build on the early salvo.

“That was definitely a positive, jumping out and getting the early lead,” said Cook.

“It is just we ended up giving up a goal very soon after that and that is deflating. That is why you always tell them, try not to ride your emotions too much. You want to stay pretty even keeled. I think Rye just did a better job of moving the puck around and cycling it in the corners and getting people in front. We just weren’t picking up.

Although PDS ended up losing by that 5-1 margin, Cook saw some positives in the third period.

“I was definitely happy with the third; we just talked to them about being more responsible defensively and making sure that we are picking up in front of the net,” said Cook.

“We had more shots in the third, we pretty much doubled our shot total for the game in the third period.”

Cook likes the way senior tri-captain and star forward Zeeza Cole has been shooting in the early going.

“Zeeza is stepping up; she is shooting to score a lot,” said Cook of Cole, who scored two goals in each of PDS’s first two games.

“She is sparking the offense. She is doing a really good job playing with Emma Stillwaggon and getting her involved. You are going to see continued improvement from that line with Lexie [Fairman] as Zeeza gets them more involved in the production too.”

PDS needs defenseman Linzmayer to keep up her production at both ends of the ice. “Robin has been solid for us on defense,” said Cook.

“The biggest thing is going to keep her producing for us because we need her offense as well. We have forwards who know how she is and are ready to stay back when they need to and cover for her. They need to be able to recognize when is a good time to go and be more of a threat.”

In Cook’s view, the team needs to improve on recognizing key situations as they develop.

“I think they work hard but they just need to have more confidence in where they need to be and be able to make plays,” asserted Cook.

“Everybody on the team has to be able to step up and win battles, be aggressive, pass with purpose, all these little things. They just need to be smarter.  We have a lot of work to do as far as teaching more responsibility when they are out there.”

With PDS heading to Maryland this weekend for two games against Holton Arms (Md.) and one against Shady Side Academy (Pa.), Cook believes the Panthers will have ample opportunity to sharpen up.

“We are getting there and I am looking forward to this week,” said Cook. “I am very happy to have that trip in the beginning of the season this year, especially with a lot of new players getting them more comfortable with each other on and off the ice.  It will be good.”

ON POINT: Princeton Day School girls’ basketball star ­Lauren Johnson heads to the hoop in a game last season. Last Wednesday, senior point guard Johnson displayed her versatility, scoring 11 points with five assists and eight steals as PDS topped Stuart Country Day School 40-12 in its season opener. Two days later, Johnson scored 15 points to help the Panthers top the George School (Pa.) 36-25. In upcoming action, PDS hosts the Solebury School (Pa.) on December 13, plays at Morrisville High (Pa.) on December 14, and then hosts Rutgers Prep on December 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski

Lauren Johnson is looking to show her versatility as she takes over as the point guard for the Princeton Day School girls’ basketball team.

“I don’t want to be that point guard who just scores; I want to be able to do a little bit of everything,” said senior guard Johnson, who has been mainly a shooting guard for PDS over the last three seasons.

“Last year, I had one or two games that were good games like that. This season I want to have a good game every night so I am really going to try to work on my weaknesses.”

Last Wednesday as PDS hosted Stuart Country Day in its season opener, Johnson displayed her all-around game, scoring 11 points and chipping in five assists and eight steals as the Panthers rolled to a 40-12 victory.

In reflecting on the win, Johnson liked the way the Panthers got into an offensive rhythm.

“I was happy with the way we played,” said Johnson. “At times, we let an opponent dictate how fast we go and I think we were able to figure out our own pace and what worked for us.”

PDS showed some good inside-out work as Johnson got freshman forwards Olivia Okorodudu and Morgan Van Liew involved in the offense.

“It is great knowing that I have more than one person who is 5’10,” said Johnson. “It is reassuring that we don’t have to rely on the outside shot as much.”

The team’s height also helped defensively. “I was very impressed with the way we played defense,” said Johnson.

“The post players knew where to go. In practice, we try to make sure that everyone knows how to play certain positions and I think this game showed that all the new players and the returning players are really good at picking up new things.”

PDS head coach Mika Ryan liked the way her team defended in the opener.

“What I was really happy about is that you saw the fruits of our preseason labor because we were resolute in not glossing over defensive fundamentals,” said Ryan.

“We messed up a few times but for the most part I thought we were really solid. The best part is that we stayed out of foul trouble. I thought our positioning was good. I thought we could have fouled at times but we took that extra half step.”

Ryan liked the extra effort she got from Johnson. “Defensively and rebounding, she is tops,” asserted Ryan. “I would not play against her, she is just really a bother.”

Senior guard Levy also showed some top form. “Hannah had a very nice game; we are trying to get her to become more of an offensive threat,” added Ryan of Levy, who chipped in eight points in the victory over Stuart.

“I was happy to see her step up and shoot a little more. She has never been asked to do that much scoring for us but she needs to this year. She is just such a great kid to coach; she will do anything. I had her play in the post for a little bit in the second half, I said can you do that, I want to look at something and she said of course.”

Ryan got some good work in the post from the freshmen tandem of Van Liew and Okorodudu.

“We do have some size this year and our two freshmen, Van Liew and Okorodudu played well,” said Ryan.

“It is just nice to be able to go back to an inside-out kind of game. Last year, we were an outside all the time kind of team. We basically just had guards. I have always believed that the game is won in the post and the play in the pivot and we have players now who can help us inside.”

For Ryan, the performance against Stuart was encouraging on several levels.

“It was a good start; I am pleasantly pleased,” said Ryan, whose team built on its good opener by beating the George School (Pa.) 36-25 on Friday with Johnson scoring a game-high 15 points.

“I had no idea what to expect, they competed, they played hard. We didn’t stop playing hard, I told them not to look at the scoreboard. I don’t care what the score is, win or lose, we are trying to get better and I thought they competed the whole four quarters.”

Johnson, for her part, knows that the Panthers can play much better. “I think it was a good first game, we can definitely improve,” said Johnson, who will look to keep the Panthers on the winning track as they host the Solebury School (Pa.) on December 13, play at Morrisville High (Pa.) on December 14, and then host Rutgers Prep on December 17.

“I’d say rebounding and boxing out is our big thing. As a team, we have to work on our pace. We do get worked up. We play the boys and we are getting better at calming ourselves down but we still get worked up at times.”

December 5, 2012

KNIGHT MOVE: Princeton University women’s basketball player Lauren Polansky wards off a Rutgers defender last Thursday. Senior point guard Polansky contributed game-highs in rebounds (9), assists (7), and steals (3) to help Princeton win 71-55 and snap a 14-game losing streak to the Scarlet Knights. The Tigers, now 5-2, host Hofstra on December 5 before playing at Delaware on December 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Lauren Polansky knew what she was getting into as the Princeton University women’s basketball team prepared to play Rutgers while Kristen Helmstetter had no idea that she was destined to emerge as a star of the contest.

For senior point guard Polansky, facing Rutgers meant dealing with its trademark stifling, in-your-face defense.

“Rutgers has a great press; that is how they get going in their offense; getting things going fast with tons of turnovers,” said Polansky.

“That’s what ignites them; we knew that going in. We have been working on playing five versus six in practice so I think that really helped us. Personally, I knew that I would have the ball in my hands and as a point guard, I would be taking the brunt of that pressure.”

Helmstetter, a junior forward who had zero career starts coming into the clash last Thursday night, was thrust into the limelight in the wake of an injury to classmate Nicole Hung.

“I found out late last night that I was getting the start,” said Helmstetter. “It was unfortunate that Nicole got hurt but we got together as a team and really wanted to get this win for her and the whole team in general.”

Princeton made it clear from the opening tip-off at Jadwin Gym that it was intent on winning and breaking its 14-game losing streak in the battle of local rivals. The Tigers raced out to a 30-11 lead, putting the proud Scarlet Knights on their heels.

The 6’0 Helmstetter played a key role in the early surge, scoring six points and grabbing two rebounds in the first half.

“Today was my day,” said Helmstetter, reflecting on an evening which saw the Tigers unveil the banner for winning the Ivy League crown last year, the third straight for the program.

“Everyone has their on days and their off days and we just have to work as a team and capitalize on who is on that day.”

In the second half, the Scarlet Knights turned up the pressure, cutting a 25-point lead to 12 but it wasn’t enough as Princeton posted a 71-55 triumph before a crowd of 1,036.

Polansky acknowledged that the Tigers had to weather a storm in the second half.

“Good teams are going to go on runs, they are not going to lay down and die,” said Polansky, who scored only one point but ended the evening with game-highs in rebounds (9), assists (7), and steals (3).

“After the first half, we knew they were going to make adjustments and we had to adjust to that. When they went on their run, luckily we were able to stop them and go on a run of our own.”

It was sweet for the Tigers to break their losing streak in the series. “It is a long-standing rivalry for us,” said the 5’8 Polansky, a native of Mill Valley, Calif. who is the two-time Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year.

“Having them in our home gym with a good crowd with our seniors from last year coming back for the banner unveiling. It was really special for us. I think just all around, it was a great environment for us to play in.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart applauded the great effort she got from her players.

“I thought all night we had more energy than them,” asserted Banghart, who got 17 points from precocious freshman Alex Wheatley in the win with senior star Niveen Rasheed chipping in 15 points and seven rebounds.

“I thought we attacked their pressure versus breaking it before we had the clock on our side and that was huge.”

It was huge for Banghart and Princeton to have Polansky on their side. “LP came out and took care of the ball and set the tone with our offense,” said Banghart.

“She is just as tough as they come. She rebounded for her position. She stuck to the game plan, she held her teammates accountable. If there was a game ball, I would give it to LP.”

Banghart wasn’t surprised that Helmstetter proved that she has game. “Kristen can take care of the ball,” said Banghart.

“She has to play angles well and read the game well and she did both of the things masterfully tonight.”

Although Princeton hasn’t beaten Rutgers since 1976, the Tiger players didn’t get overly emotional in their post-game celebration.

“This is a business as usual group,” said Banghart, who earned the 100th win of her six-season Princeton tenure last Sunday as the Tigers routed UMBC 93-46 to improve to 5-2.

“They know that until January we have to figure out who we are. I hope they enjoy this one. The have a day off tomorrow so maybe they are more excited about that.”

Helmstetter, a former star at Bridgewater-Raritan High, certainly enjoyed playing a key role in beating Rutgers.

“It feels good; I am 10 minutes away from Rutgers so they are a team I have grown up watching,” said Helmstetter.

“It is just great to get that win against them. I know a lot of people on their team as does Kate Miller and Amanda Berntsen (both New Jersey natives). We have grown up with those players and then played against them in high school. It is good to see them and play against them.”

Polansky believes the win is a sign of good things to come for the Tigers, who came into the evening still smarting from a 65-52 loss at No. 19 UCLA on November 25.

“This is a really great win for us, especially after last week,” said Polansky, who will look to keep the Tigers on the winning track as they host Hofstra on December 5 before playing at Delaware on December 9.

“We have a tough preseason schedule which I think is wonderful. It gets us ready for our league and post-season play, if we are lucky. I think that is just a great step forward, proving that we are getting better everyday. It shows that all of our hard work in practice is paying off.”

MUCH BETTER: Princeton University women’s hockey player Olivia Mucha glides up the ice in recent action. On the mend from shoulder surgery that sidelined her much of last season, Mucha broke out last Friday with two goals in a 3-0 win over Union. The Tigers, now 5-7-2 overall and 2-6-2 ECACH, have a two-game set with Quinnipiac (!0-7-2 overall, 6-3-1 ECACH) this weekend, hosting the Bobcats on December 7 before playing them at the TD Bank Sports Center in Hamden, Conn. on December 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After leading the Princeton University women’s hockey team in scoring as a freshman in the 2010-11 season, Olivia Mucha’s second college season didn’t go as well.

The 5’5 forward played only 12 games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury that required surgery.

Mucha didn’t get back on the ice until this August as she skated at the Ice Line rink in her hometown of West Chester, Pa.

“I got to train with a lot of college age and junior boys at home so the physicality wasn’t much of a problem and being comfortable with my shoulder from my surgery,” said Mucha.

But Mucha suffered a setback once she arrived at Princeton for her junior year.

“I had a strep throat starting from the first day I got back and I had to get my tonsil and adenoids taken out,” said Mucha.

Coming into last Friday night’s game against visiting Union, Mucha was struggling to find her form, having scored two goals as she played in seven of Princeton’s first 12 games.

Over a 15-minute span in the second and third periods, Mucha started clicking, scoring two goals as Princeton skated to a 3-0 win.

With the Tigers knotted in a scoreless tie entering the second period, Mucha could feel the team pick things up.

“I think we honestly fed off each other’s energy, whether it is the line or the other teammates,” said Mucha, recalling a period which saw the Tigers score two goals to seize control of the contest.

“The defensemen were stepping up and getting the puck up. That is exciting for the forwards because we get to do our job, opening up things and it all started from there.”

It was exciting for Mucha to notch her first goal, a power play tally which gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead with 5:38 left in the period.

“I just remember that we were able to establish our power play,” said Mucha.

“We saw if we shot the puck and moved it quick, they were off angle. Gaby [Figueroa] was looking to the left and seeing it closed and then shooting it to get an opportunity, I just tried to screen the goalie.”

On her second goal, which came 8:49 into the final period, Mucha used her trademark grit.

“It was just Gaby getting a strong, hard shot on net,” said Mucha. “I don’t remember too much, I just remember it hitting my stick. Mostly, it was a scramble.”

For Mucha, her performance and the team’s solid win were heartening. “It was definitely a good step,” asserted Mucha.

“I think it has been tough for our team to establish what type of team we are from our graduation loss and mixing around players with some injuries. It has been an amazing feeling that our team, even so small, can be so dynamic.”

Having missed so much time due to injury, Mucha has dedicated herself to do whatever she can for the team whenever she is on the ice.

“No matter how great shape you are in, you are going to get tired, you are going to get frustrated,” said Mucha.

“I think everyone on the team hits that stage. Having these injuries, I know how much I get jealous when I watch. Even if I can’t get a goal, I am going to go out there and try to get the puck deep, do something smart.”

As Mucha gets up to full speed, she knows the Tigers have her back. “I am close to 100 percent; it’s all relative because it has been a struggle since I have been here,” said Mucha.

“I feel confident. I need to remember that if I am not 100 percent I have a team that will play with me. It doesn’t matter how one individual is.”

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal acknowledged that his team struggled in the early going on Friday.

“We were definitely sluggish, we still battled but we weren’t really executing well,” said Kampersal.

“We were just a little bit sloppy in catching passes. Then in between the periods, those are the things that we talked about. This is almost like a de facto playoff weekend and we need all the points we can get now because we have more games than a lot of people so we need to accumulate them because people will catch up with us when we are in exams in January.”

Kampersal was glad to see Mucha accumulate some points in the win over Union.

“Mucha is still banged up,” said Kampersal. “She is just a heart and soul kid. Her freshman year, she was one of our top scorers and her sophomore year she was our top scorer for most of our season after only playing 12 games. She can provide the offense for us.”

The team’s three seniors, Kelly Cooke, Corey Stearns, and Alex Kinney, have been providing a spark for the Tigers.

“They stepped up, the seniors have been doing a good job all year, no question,” said Kampersal, who got three goals from Cooke and three assists from Stearns on Saturday in a losing cause as Princeton fell 4-3 to Rensselaer to move to 5-7-2 overall and 2-6-2 in ECAC Hockey play. “Cookie gets the first goal tonight; she has had a phenomenal year.”

Princeton got one of its best defensive efforts of the year in the win over Union as freshman goalie Kimberly Newell earned her first college shutout with 19 saves and defenseman Figueroa and Alleva each got two assists in addition to their strong play along the blue line.

“It was awesome; I thought Bri Mahoney was unreal, just in control,” said Kampersal.

“All of them were really good. Once again, if those four or five kids control it, we are in good shape.”

Although Princeton stubbed its toe against Renssalear, Kampersal believes his team is in a good place.

“I thought starting with the Clarkson game, it feels right on the bench, it feels right on the shift changes and it’s a good brand of hockey,” said Kampersal, whose team has a two-game set with Quinnipiac this weekend, hosting the Bobcats on December 7 before playing them at the TD Bank Sports Center in Hamden, Conn. on December 8.

“Now we are just trying to be a little more disciplined in terms of getting the puck and doing what we have to, controlling the blue lines and controlling the neutral zones.”

Mucha, for her part, realizes that the Tigers need a little more discipline. “We are able to communicate amongst each other and between the coaches and the players about what our weaknesses are,” said Mucha.

“It seems that we recognize that not all of us are going to be perfect but we have to realize that we have our weaknesses and work on those and just listen to what the coaches are saying instead of being stubborn.”

PASSING THIS WAY AGAIN: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Aidan Passannante greets student fans last Saturday after PHS tied Ramapo 1-1 in the Group III state championship game at The College of New Jersey to earn a share of the title. Senior midfielder Passannante and classmate Zach Halliday came full circle in their PHS soccer experience as they bookended their careers with state titles, having been part of the Little Tigers’ 2009 championship team. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Aidan Passannante and his teammates were crushed when they walked off the field at Toms River North High last fall after losing to Timber Creek in the state Group III semifinals.

When PHS returned to the same pitch last Wednesday night to face Moorestown in this year’s Group III semis, the Little Tigers were determined to leave Toms River with a win.

PHS didn’t waste any time showing their intentions as Kevin Halliday scored 3:27 into the contest and senior midfielder Passannante followed suit 21 seconds later with a goal of his own.

“It was huge; we started off that way in the Allentown game and it helped us get the result in that game,” said Passannante.

“I think we got the goals early and we were keeping possession really well, moving off the ball.”

Passannante acknowledged that classmate Colin Lamb played a huge role in his goal.

“It was a great play by Colin, a great find by him,” recalled Passannante. “I was inside the six so I just poked it in.”

PHS ended up topping Moorestown by that 2-0 margin, warming up the chilly night as they enjoyed a raucous post-game celebration.

Passannante acknowledged that PHS’s quick start made the difference. “It was back and forth after we got the two quick goals,” said Passannante. “They had their fair share of possession throughout the game so I think it was huge.”

The stingy Little Tiger defense, which kept its shape as Moorestown desperately tried to get on the board, was also a huge factor in the win.

“The organization in the back was great,” asserted Passannante. “Pablo [Arroyo] was doing a great job of organizing back there.”

As a result, the PHS had a great feeling as they left Toms River and headed to the state final, the second trip to the final for Passannante, who helped PHS win the 2009 state title as a freshman.

“It feels really good because it was pretty disappointing last year walking off this field,” said Passannante. “I know how they feel so it feels great to be back.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe credited Passannante with producing a great effort.

“I thought Aidan had one of his best games ever tonight,” said Sutcliffe. “Aidan had a great game and if we are going to be successful in these games at this level, he has to have a game like he had tonight.”

On Saturday, Passannante played well as PHS tied defending champion Ramapo 1-1 to end the season as Group III co-champions.

For Passannante, applying what he learned from his first title run helped PHS coming into last Saturday

“We are doing it the same way we prepared in 2009,” said Passannante. “We are just bringing experience, knowing what it is like, warming up each time before a game, being in the locker room before the game, walking out onto the field, being in a pretty big crowd situation so I think that is what we bring.”

Passannante and classmate Zach Halliday came full circle in their PHS soccer experience on Saturday as they bookended their careers with state titles.

“We have been playing together probably since third of fourth grade,” said Passannante.

“We have been playing together for a long time, great friends on and off the field. It is great that we are doing this together.”

STATE OF GRACE: Princeton High girls’ soccer player Kate Kerr goes after the ball in state tournament action. Senior midfielder Kerr helped PHS advance to the state Group III semifinals last Wednesday where the Little Tigers fell 2-0 to Moorestown. The defeat left PHS with a final record of 16-3-1 as it earned the first sectional title in program history. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Kate Kerr acknowledged that the Princeton High girls’ soccer team may have experienced a little stage fright last Wednesday as it faced Moorestown in the state Group III semis.

“I think we were all just a bit nervous, never having been here before” said PHS senior midfielder Kerr.

“We didn’t know what to expect. We never played or heard about Moorestown. I guess we were kind of on our heels in the first half but we did everything we could.”

With Moorestown coming  out of the gate at full speed, PHS found itself trailing 2-0 heading into halftime.

The Little Tigers used the break for some soul-searching. “We just knew that we had to pick it up in the second half because we weren’t playing our game in the first half,” said Kerr.

PHS did pick up the tempo in the second half, producing some spirited play at its offensive end of the field. Over the last 10 minutes of the game, Kerr, Ally Rogers, and Shannon Pawlak each generated scoring chances. But the Little Tigers were unable to find the back of the net and ended up losing by the 2-0 margin.

In reflecting on the loss which left PHS with a final record of 16-3-1, Kerr felt that the Little Tigers just ran out of time. “If we had 10 more minutes, maybe we could have been able to finish because we were making some really great runs,” said Kerr.

Still, it was a great run for Kerr and her classmates, Meghan Brennan, Vanessa Guzman, Madison Luther, and Lauren Ullmann.

“I think the seniors on the team took it all very seriously and we all took it to heart,” asserted Kerr.

“We all realized how important and how much it affected us and we were all in this together. We were all supporting each other because we knew that we are all on the same page on this.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand was on the same page as Kerr in assessing his team’s valiant effort in defeat.

“We played an excellent team tonight; I think we had to work our way into that game and it took us at least 40 minutes to get there,” lamented Hand.

“By the time we came out in the second half and having agreed pretty much that the ingredient that was missing is exactly that ingredient we brought in the second half which is a commitment to win the play. We played them even, we had as good as they did throughout the second half.”

In Hand’s view, the team’s progress throughout the contest served as a microcosm of a season that saw PHS get off to a pedestrian 2-2 start before gathering steam and winning the first sectional title in program history.

“There has been an enormous learning curve, we have gotten better and better” said Hand, who is in his 22nd season at the helm of the program.

“Tonight’s second half is the best we have played all year, no doubt. The Notre Dame game [a 5-1 win on October 16] was perhaps our best one in the regular season. The Pennington game [0-0 stalemate in the Mercer County Tournament semis won by the Red Raiders on penalty kicks] was terrific. To get here, we had to get through a challenging tournament schedule. Our second half tonight was the best soccer we have played. And the fact that this team was very new, essentially reconstituted from last year’s team, and could learn so much about how to play the game on all levels, from individual through the whole team is a real exciting thing and a great accomplishment.”

The team’s corps of seniors played a major role in that process. “It is just a terrific group,” asserted Hand.

“Count everybody from the two seniors who stuck with us after being sidelined by ACLs [Ciara Celestin and Ellee de Baun] all the way through the kids like Madison Luther in the back who played 80 minutes in virtually all of our tournament games this year who last year was hardly getting any minutes at all and to those real money players who had terrific senior seasons, Kate, Meghan, and Lauren. It is just terrific leadership and real inspiration from them in terms of their passion for the game and their caring about the team.”

With such younger players as Haley Bodden, Kaitlyn Carduner, Gabby Deitch, Taylor Lis, Emily Pawlak, Shannon Pawlak, Jordan Provorny, Eva Reyes, and Ally Rogers slated to return, the future looks bright for the Little Tigers.

“One of the messages tonight was you can’t talk about how we are going to be next year unless you earn the right to talk about it,” said Hand.

“If you look at tonight’s game as a whole with two halves, one where we had problems that we weren’t solving really well to the second half where we came out and really did something significant, they earned the right to talk about what they might be able to do next year.”

Kerr, for her part, enjoyed being the talk of the school over the last few weeks.

“We are very proud of ourselves; everyone has been so supportive at school,” said Kerr, who plans to continue her soccer career at Franklin and Marshall.

“Everyone in the hallways is telling us congratulations. We are all proud of ourselves, no one expected us to get this far.”

FINAL APPROACH: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball star Davon Reed races up the court in action last winter. The star senior guard, who averaged 24.3 points a game last year as he passed the 1,000-point mark in his career, is primed for a big final campaign. The Panthers were slated to start their season at Germantown Academy (Pa.) on December 4 before playing at Pennington on December 11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team was disappointed when it fell to Rutgers Prep in the state Prep B title game this past February, that defeat could be a blessing in disguise as the squad heads into this winter.

“The Prep B is wide open and we are better from having been to the final last year,” said PDS co-head coach Paris McLean, who is in his sixth year guiding the program. “We learned a lot from that.”

As PDS started its season with a game at Germantown Academy (Pa.) on December 4 before playing at Pennington on December 11, the postseason is not on the team’s radar.

“I think it is going to be business as usual,” said McLean, who coached the Panthers to a 16-11 record in 2011-12.

“We are going to focus on one practice at a time and one game at a time. We can’t be looking at the big picture. If we do the right things and take it step by step, we could make it back to the Prep B title game.”

Senior guard Davon Reed has been doing the right things over his four-year career, gaining national attention on the way to committing to the University of Miami men’s hoops program.

“Every year has been a breakout year for him; he has improved from year to year and I expect no different this year,” said McLean of Reed, who averaged 24.3 points a game last year as he passed the 1,000-point mark in his career.

“He has some milestones on the horizon but he is still the same team player. He is much heavier, he is 6’6, 205. His defense is absolutely fantastic now, he has become a lock-down defender. He will be required to play in the post some of the time and he is finishing closer to the basket.”

Reed’s increased inside presence exemplifies the metamorphosis of his game.

“You have seen him go from skinny slasher as a freshman to shooter to scorer and now he is the complete package,” said McLean.

“He can play all five positions. He is a guard. The way basketball is now so up and down, you can have 6’10 guys on the wing.”

The Panthers feature two other top guards in juniors Deante Cole and Langston Glaude.

“Deante and Langston complement each other; they are familiar with each other and they are older, more seasoned players now,” said McLean, noting that 6’5 junior newcomer Chris Okorodudu should add perimeter scoring and that Tom Martino, Dan Jugo, Zack Banks and Josiah Meekins will provide further backcourt depth. “They were young pups before. They are taking leadership roles on the court and with the program.”

PDS will be depending on seniors B.J. Dudeck and Tavante Brittingham to take a lead role in the post.

“I am leaning on B.J. and Tavante to hold down the fort inside, they are both selfless players which is great,” said McLean, who should also get some good work in the paint from junior transfer Dan Lee.

McLean is not hesitating to lean on his coaching staff which includes longtime assistant and former Princeton High standout Darius Young and PDS Director of Athletics Tim Williams, who has taken on a role as the co-head coach.

“Darius did a fantastic job working with the boys on their conditioning in the summer and the fall, physically this team looks different,” said McLean.

“We look the part and we play the part. Coach Williams knows the game and it is good to have another coach on the bench to bounce things off. We run a similar offense and have similar defensive principles. We have wedded ideas, we get along well, and the kids see that.”

PDS will need to execute those principles and ideas as it faces a gauntlet this winter with games against such formidable foes as Hun, Life Center, Robert Faux (Pa.), and Rutgers Prep, in addition to competing in the Hill School Tournament and the Big Apple Classic.

“I think this team can be as good as it wants to be,” maintained McLean. “If they are willing to put in the time and effort and focus on detail, the sky is the limit. We play 26 games. It is a challenging schedule but the boys are up for it.”

In McLean’s view, his boys possess a special chemistry that will help them deal with the challenges ahead.

“The kids really enjoy being with each other,” added McLean. “It is a nice culture. We like to say that PDS basketball is a lifestyle. It is about being good people on and off the court and having some fun. If some wins come along the way, that is great.”

CREASE CONTROL: Princeton Day School star goalie Daisy Mase guards the crease in action last winter. PDS is looking for senior star and three-year starter Mase to build on her excellent season last winter which saw her record a goals against average of 2.3 and a save percentage of .916. The Panthers were slated to open the season with a game at Pingry on December 4 before hosting their annual tournament, now known as the Harry Rulon-Miller Invitational ’51 at PDS, with a game against Summit on December 8 and the event wrapping up the next day.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Over the last four seasons, Megan Ofner served as the go-to player for the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team.

The skilled forward scored 124 points over her stellar career, including 32 points last season on 19 goals and 13 assists as she helped PDS go 10-7 and win the Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic (WIHLMA) ‘B’ title.

With Ofner now at Sacred Heart and playing for its Division I women’s hockey program, the Panthers are left figuring out how to pick up the slack offensively without their star.

In the view of second-year PDS head coach Lorna Gifis Cook, it will take more than one player to replace Ofner’s output and she is relying on production from senior tri-captain Zeeza Cole (17 points on 11 goals and six assists last season) and juniors Mimi Matthews (13 points on five goals and eight assists) and Mary Travers, who was sidelined due to injury last year.

“I am looking for a collective effort,” said Cook, whose team was slated to open the season with a game at Pingry on December 4 before hosting its annual tournament, now known as the Harry Rulon-Miller ’51 Invitational at PDS, with a game against Summit on December 8 and the event wrapping up the next day.

“I have been happy with Zeeza, Mary, and Mimi. They are picking up where they left off last year. They are getting shots on the net with intention and they are hitting corners in practice. They just need to work on delivering in games.”

The Panthers boast some depth at forward with junior Lexie Fairman, sophomores Sophie Ward and Sophie Jensen, and freshman Emma  Stillwaggon.

“Lexie improved a lot last year; she seems comfortable and excited about this year,” said Cook.

“She needs to build up her confidence early. Sophie Ward and Sophie Jensen bring energy and enthusiasm. They enjoy being part of the team and work as hard as they can. We need to give them specific roles and have them deliver. Emma as a freshman goes as hard as she can, I am trying to work with her on conserving energy but I love the enthusiasm.”

Cook loves watching junior defenseman Robin Linzmayer (16 points in 2012-13) in action around the blue line.

“Robin stands out every time she is on the ice; she takes control of the game,” asserted Cook of Linzmayer, an All-WIHLMA honorable mention choice last winter.

“She needs to be confident in her decision-making and provide offense when it makes sense. She has to help us with our production.”

PDS will need production for its two other veteran defensemen, junior Colby Triolo and senior tri-captain Louise Hutter.

“Colby works harder than anybody, on and off the ice,” said Cook. “She is fun to coach and I was really happy with the way she improved last year. Louise is getting more confident with the puck. She will take her chances but she is smart. I have been really happy with her leadership. She is more vocal and has been eager to take charge.”

Senior star goalie and tri-captain Daisy Mase has taken charge since she arrived at PDS as a sophomore, starting from day one.

“Daisy gives us the confidence we need going into every game,” said Cook of the star netminder who had a goals against average of 2.3 and a save percentage of .916 in earning All-WIHLMA second-team honors.

“She is going to steal some games for us and there will be other games hopefully that we won’t need to steal. There will be close games and she will keep us close. She is one of the top goalies in the state. She is really competitive which is a great quality for a goalie because it means she never gives up.”

Sophomore back-up goalie Katie Alden [this reporter’s daughter] is giving the team value.

“A lot of the girls have commented on how much better Katie has gotten since last year,” said Cook.

“She is very knowledgeable about what she has to do. She has grown three inches and being bigger and taller has helped her.”

Cook is confident that the Panthers can make big strides this winter. “I am really excited about how much they are going to improve,” said Cook.

“In terms of fundamentals, I have seen a big improvement already from where we were on the first day of practice. I think the fact that we have more skaters is good. We have more depth and the girls have to work hard to get playing time.

A major key to success for PDS this winter will center on generating offense.

“We need to be patient with the puck to see what is open on the ice and we need to work on getting the puck deep,” said Cook.

“We need to work away from the puck. It starts with effort and the right kind of effort.”

In Cook’s view, her players are ready to make that kind of effort. “The girls are smart and driven,” said Cook, noting that new assistant coach Brie Zdunkiewicz has added passion and defensive expertise to the program. “They are a very coachable group. It is a matter of building confidence.”

MOORE TO COME: Hun School boys’ basketball senior guard Hashim Moore drives up the court last Sunday in Hun’s 68-52 win over Friends Central (Pa.). The Princeton-bound Moore scored a team-high 13 points in the win which improved the Raiders to 2-0. Hun plays at Blair on December 5 before competing in the Peddie Tournament from December 7-9.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Jon Stone had a good feeling about his Hun School boys’ basketball team as it went through its preseason paces.

“I am excited about working with these guys, it’s a good group,” said Hun head coach Jon Stone. “I have felt that way all along.”

Stone’s feelings proved justified as the Raiders opened the season in style last weekend as they hosted the MAPL-Friends Challenge.

On Saturday, Hun topped the Shipley School (Pa.) 89-62 and then posted a 68-52 win over Friends Central (Pa.) on Sunday afternoon.

“I think I learned what I thought which was that our chemistry is good and we are willing to go out there and compete,” said Stone in assessing the two wins.

“I think their ability to work together on the court as well as off the court is what showed this weekend and that is always great.”

In the win over Friends Central, Hun produced a great start, leading 15-8 after the first quarter and 33-19 at halftime.

“I think we got some confidence last night; we are playing together well early on and sharing the ball.

“We have a variety of offensive weapons as well as defensive weapons. I think it helped us get off to a good start today.

The Raiders finished strong as well, holding off a late Friends Central run which saw the visitors narrow the gap to 47-37 entering the fourth period.

“It is always good to be in games like that,” said Stone, who got 13 points in the win from Hashim Moore with Grant MacKay scoring 12 and Fergus Duke chipping in 11.

“Friends Central is a very dangerous team, they can shoot the ball and any time you play a team like that, they are never out of it. They can always come back and get back into it. From that end I was proud. I thought some of our execution was very good in the fourth quarter and I thought some of us needed work. That is part of where we are in the season.”

Stone liked the work he got over the weekend from his star senior guards Duke and Princeton-bound Moore.

“They are both great players and give us so much in so many different ways,” said Stone.

Hun is blessed with depth in the backcourt as Jason Geter and Michael Bourke also played well in the team’s first two outings.

“We have so many other guys who can do different things,” said Stone.

“Geter is steady as they go. Bourke is only going to get a lot better.”

In Stone’s view, his frontcourt figures to get better and better as well. “You didn’t see Josh McGilvray’s best today; he is going to be pretty good,” said Stone.

“Jake Newman didn’t show all he can do today but he certainly did yesterday. Grant MacKay is very steady as well. David Li has been giving us that spark off the bench too. They just do a lot of good things.”

Hun has the ability to do a lot of different things on the court. “We can go big, we can go small,” asserted Stone.

“We can shoot, we have guys that can drive and we have guys that can post. We really have some nice pieces; I am excited about this team.”

Stone is excited about the challenges Hun will face over the next part of the season.

“We are going to have a really tough week; we have Blair at Blair (on December 5) and then we have three straight games in the Peddie event (from December 7-9),” said Stone.

“We are guaranteed to play St. Benedict’s, then Princeton Day Academy (Md.), and then Westtown (Pa.), which are all going to be tough games. We don’t have any breaks in our schedule. I think the key for us is being focused and continuing to get better. It is early so we have a lot of room for improvement.”

NEW LOOK: Stuart Country Day School basketball player Nneka Onukwugha looks for a shot in action last winter. With new coach Dana Leary taking the helm, sophomore forward Onukwugha and the Tartans are excited for a fresh start after going 0-15 last winter. Stuart is slated to open regular season action by playing at Kings Christian School on December 4 and at the Princeton Day School on December 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Playing her high school basketball for Immaculata in Somerville and then going on to a superb career at Caldwell College, Dana Leary wasn’t familiar with the Stuart Country Day School.

But it didn’t take long for Leary to feel comfortable with Stuart after interviewing last spring for its vacant head basketball coaching position.

“I had never heard of Stuart when I learned they were looking for a coach,” said Leary, who served as an assistant coach at her alma mater for three years and has been coaching AAU hoops for the last seven years.

“I went in and met with Kim [Stuart athletic director Kim Ciarrocca]. I felt a connection with her and I loved the school. She was very enthusiastic about turning the athletic program around and I felt she was someone I would like to work for as a coach.”

Getting the nod to replace Tony Bowman, Leary faces a turnaround project as she takes the helm of a program that suffered through a 0-15 campaign last winter.

Leary, a 2008 Caldwell grad who scored 1,049 points and was a three-time member of the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) All-Academic team during her college career, promises to be a breath of fresh air for the Tartans.

“I made it clear to the girls that this is a brand new year,” said Leary, whose team is slated to open regular season action by playing at Kings Christian School on December 4 and at the Princeton Day School on December 5.

“Last year is over, we have to rebuild and create a positive environment and experience for the girls.”

In creating that atmosphere, Leary is focusing on basics. “I want this to be a season of growth for the girls; I want them to really learn the game,” said Leary.

“Each day is a chance to get better and each day is an opportunity to grow as a team. I want them striving for their personal best and work to the best of their abilities because that will help the team.”

In Leary’s view, she has some players with ability in the frontcourt in senior Summer Ramsay-Burrough, sophomore Nneka Onukwugha, and the Walsh sisters, junior Maggie and freshman Kate.

“Summer has a good sense of the game that comes with playing experience,” said Leary.

“She understands the game. She is a leader and will be a captain. Nneka is only a sophomore and is doing a great job becoming stronger and being more aggressive around the basket. Maggie Walsh and Kate Walsh will also see time in the frontcourt. They are both big, strong post players. Maggie played well around the basket in our first scrimmage. Kate is only a freshman and we are working on her footwork. We want her to be more aggressive offensively.”

The Tartans have some offensive threats around the perimeter in freshman Pam McGowen, senior Simrit Gill, and sophomore Harlyn Bell.

“Right now, we have a freshman, Pam McGowen, running the point; she played in the middle school and is very eager to develop as a point guard,” said Leary.

“She has leadership skills and the confidence to handle the ball. She understands her role. Simrit Gill is looking good, she understands the game. She has a nice outside shot but she is not afraid to go to the basket. Harlyn Bell will be in the other guard position. She has a nice outside shot but will also look to go to the basket.”

As the Tartans gird for their first taste of regular season action, Leary isn’t worried about wins and losses.

“Our main goal right now is to get them to develop the fundamentals and understand the game of basketball,” said Leary, who is being assisted by Danielle Fraider.

“We are focusing on defense. Playing defense doesn’t require a lot of talent, just hard work and desire and that is what we are trying to get out of the girls.”

Leary likes the work ethic she has already seen from her team. “This group works so hard,” asserted Leary.

“They are so coachable and eager to learn. They ask the right questions. As a coach, it is so rewarding to see that.”

November 28, 2012

ALEX THE GREAT: Princeton University women’s hockey player Alex Kinney glides up the ice last weekend against Ohio State. On Saturday, senior forward Kinney scored on a long-range slap shot to help spark a Princeton rally as the Tigers pulled out a 2-1 win over the eighth-ranked Buckeyes. Princeton, now 4-6-2 overall, hosts Union on November 30 and Rensselaer on December 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Alex Kinney likes to hone her long range shooting on a daily basis, sometimes to the amusement of her teammates on the Princeton University women’s hockey team.

“I do that in practice a lot and everyone makes fun of me,” said Princeton senior forward Kinney. “I take a lot of slappers.”

Last Saturday against visiting Ohio State, Kinney’s teammates were smiling and cheering after she blasted a one-timer into the top of the net from the point to pull Princeton into a 1-1 tie early in the third period.

“I was just trying to get the puck to the net,” said Kinney, reflecting on her moment of brilliance.

“It was definitely good to get it in, right at the beginning of the period. It kind of gave us momentum for the rest of the period. I felt like we kind of hemmed them in after that.”

Building on the momentum from Kinney’s tally, Princeton pulled out a 2-1 win over the eighth-ranked Buckeyes as a late goal from sophomore Brianna Leahy proved to be the margin of victory.

Kinney was not surprised that sophomore Leahy found the back of the net.

“Leahy does a really good job of crashing the net always so that was definitely a good effort on her part,” said Kinney, reflecting on the win that improved Princeton to 4-6-2. “She did that yesterday too.”

Kinney and classmates Kelly Cooke and Corey Stearns are putting in big efforts as they go through their final campaign with the Tigers.

“It is definitely a different perspective being here for four years,” said the 5’9 Kinney, a native of Lake Forest, Ill. who now has 28 points in her Princeton career on 10 goals and 18 assists.

“You realize this is the last of the last of everything. I think as seniors, that sentiment is shared between all three of us so everybody is trying to make that go from the top to the bottom through the team. I think we had a team meeting the other day and we are starting to get it. It is good.”

The Princeton team has worked through some rough patches this season. “I think the beginning of the season is tough, not everyone knows the systems,” said Kinney, who had an assist on Friday as Princeton took a 2-0 lead into the third period against the Buckeyes only to fall 4-2 in the opener of the two-game set.

“You have to get used to the game format and showing up every period and every shift. Every single shift counts, definitely the freshmen are getting used to the pace of college hockey versus high school hockey, which is a lot different. I think everyone is getting on the same page, so hopefully that continues.”

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal believes his team is getting on the same page.

“It has been a tough season so far but the kids have worked hard,” said Kampersal.

“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves by any stretch but we have had some tough luck definitely. I thought the Clarkson game [a 2-1 loss in overtime on November 17] was the first game we put together a really solid, smart tough hockey game. Maybe that was the turning point of our season.”

In the loss Friday, Princeton produced two power play goals to take take a 2-0 lead but then got overwhelmed in the third period as Ohio State outshot the Tigers 20-8 on the way to four unanswered goals.

“Last night, we played well but in the second period they took it to us pretty good and Kim [freshman goalie Kim Newell] bailed us out,” said Kampersal.

“You knew the dam was leaking and hopefully it wouldn’t break. Once they got that first goal, they had total momentum and we took some bad penalties.”

In preparing for the final game of the set, the Tigers focused on staying out of the box.

“We talked about that today,” said Kampersal. “We played smart all weekend, they played hard. We weren’t as disciplined last night as they we were today and that was the difference.”

In Kampersal’s view, Kinney’s tally made a big difference for Princeton “That was great, seconds into the period,” said Kampersal. “That was huge, that was an emotional lift. The seniors in general have had a good run so far.”

Kampersal noted that senior assistant captain Cooke has been giving the Tigers a lift all season long.

“Cookie had a great shorthanded goal against Robert Morris and had a penalty shot goal against Clarkson and then another breakaway here,” said Kampersal, whose team is 1-5-2 in ECAC Hockey action, good for seventh place in the league standings.

“Cookie has been playing phenomenal. She played great this week. She was unreal last week against St Lawrence/Clarkson. She has been doing a good job for sure.”

Freshman goalie Newell has been doing a good job for the Tigers, posting a 3.41 goals against average and a save percentage of .906 in starting all 12 games this season.

“She has been a little up and down, having more games and being young,” said Kampersal.

“She was a brick wall for two days this weekend. The goaltending position is an incredibly hard one and all I ever ask from the goalies is to give the team a chance to win and she battled. At big, key times, she made big, key saves.”

Kampersal is hoping that the team’s solid play against Ohio State last weekend can be a big boost going forward.

“Last year we had two ties with Ohio State that felt like wins and that seemed to get us rolling,” said Kampersal, whose team hosts Union (3-6-2 overall, 0-2-2 ECACH) on November 30 and Rensselaer (2-10-2, 0-4 ECACH) on December 1. “I am hoping that can happen again.”

Kinney, for her part, believes that Princeton can build on its play this weekend and get on a roll.

“I think we are on the right track, this weekend should be a turnaround,” said Kinney. “We are pumped up, we kind of forgot what it was like to win.”

STANDING TALL: Princeton University women’s basketball player Megan Bowen surveys the court in a game last season. Senior center Bowen has moved into the starting lineup for the Tigers this year and is averaging 7.8 points and 3.0 rebounds a game. Princeton, now 3-2, hosts Rutgers on November 29 and UMBC on December 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After falling to Marist on November 17 to suffer their first defeat of the season, Megan Bowen and her teammates on the Princeton University women’s basketball team were determined to bounce back as they hit the Jadwin Gym floor three days later to host Rider.

“I think what we learned from Marist is that we are not where we want to be yet but each day we are getting better,” said senior center Bowen.

“So as coach [Courtney Banghart] said, yesterday we got better in practice from Saturday. Then today, we got better in this game than we were yesterday. Each day is a day to build and work together and become the team we want to be when it comes to the point in the season when we want to be strong with all 15.”

The Tigers were certainly better against the Broncs, jumping out to a 41-23 halftime lead on the way to a 88-42 rout before a crowd of 616 in their home opener.

In pulling away to the win, Princeton displayed its depth as 12 out of the 13 players who got in the game scored and each Tiger got at least one rebound.

“We have depth in all five positions; all five of us are looking to score and all five of us are looking to rebound,” said Bowen.

“I think coach said that in the box score tonight every single person had a rebound. That just shows you that we are a deep team so the more time the girls get in the game, the more it is going to prepare them for when we need all 15. Right now, we have 13 healthy. I think we are getting better each game.”

The 6’3 Bowen, a native of Bath, Pa., has certainly gotten better over her career, going from a little-used reserve as a freshman to the starting five this winter.

“It was definitely exciting; I have been working hard for three years to get to this point,” said Bowen, who is averaging 7.8 points and 3.0 rebounds a game this season.

“I wouldn’t say it was too much of an adjustment. You start out those first minutes in the game where Devona [Allgood] used to be. At no point was it anything that I had to be nervous about. Look at the four girls I am surrounded by, if I mess up, I have four very good players who have my back.”

Bowen acknowledges that she has big shoes to fill in following Allgood, who ended her Princeton career with 1,177 points and 802 rebounds.

“There is definitely pressure there but it is not a negative pressure by any means,” said Bowen, who scored 12 points in the win over Rider.

“I just have got to step up, take my time, make my moves, and work hard on defense. At the same time, I know I have Alex Wheatley, most often, coming for me, or even Mariah [Smith] or Kristin [Helmstetter]. I have full trust in all three of them so at no point do I feel like if I am having a terrible night that I don’t have anyone that can come in for me. That’s what I tried to provide for Devona last year. It is nice to have those people behind you.”

In order to help make up for the loss of Allgood’s offensive production, Bowen has spent a lot of time honing her shooting stroke.

“I definitely have worked a lot on my outside shot; I feel comfortable taking the shot within the three-point line although tonight my outside shot was not exactly falling,” said Bowen.

“I am not going to try and hog the post the whole time when we have these other girls. Niveen [Rasheed] is often stronger and taller than the girl she is guarding so she can get in there and post up. It is nice if my girl doubles, then I have an outside shot.”

Princeton head coach Banghart thought Princeton showed some nice progress on the offensive end in the win over Rider.

“We found out a lot of things in that [Marist] game which is why you schedule a game like that,” said Banghart.

“I thought that the steps that we made were important. For example, making the extra pass, 23 assists, tonight, which we did not do against Marist was important. Also, I thought being way more physical on the low block was important and we did those things. The things we asked them to do they did, definitely.”

Banghart likes the play she is getting from Bowen down low. “That kid has embraced her role and that is to now be a starter and a low post threat,” said Banghart.

“She’ll have some ups and downs but she is giving us exactly what I was hoping for. I am really proud of her because she is a great kid.”

While Banghart knows her team is going to go through some ups and downs as it works new players into its rotation, she is relishing the challenges ahead.

“That is the beauty of coaching, every year is different. With this particular team, we are not bringing back one kid who averaged double figures at Princeton in her life except Niveen,” said Banghart.

“We have great depth but it doesn’t matter because you only play 5-on-5 so we need to have the five that are in giving us something different than the next five that are in. So it is a fun team to coach because they all have their own strengths but the problem is they all have their own weaknesses too so we have to figure out how to limit those. It is a totally different team.”

One thing, though, that hasn’t changed is the team’s intensity. “I guess people take for granted how hard we play; I keep hearing in the handshakes before the game that you guys play so hard,” said Banghart.

“It is awesome, year after year, our kids play so hard. I think  we need a little more growth on the offensive end, like tonight with 23 assists. We need a little more growth and understanding how and taking pride in setting up your teammate and moving the ball better. That comes with a brand new offense and a lot of kids. It is just going to take time. We are going to try to play hard enough to stay in games until we can sharpen up the offense again.”

Last weekend, the Tigers headed to Southern California where they topped UC Riverside 72-68 on Friday before falling 65-52 at UCLA on Sunday to move to 3-2. For Banghart, the value of the trip wasn’t dependent on wins or losses.

“I think traveling with such a new group; you learn a lot about each other and I think that is an important part of it too,” added Banghart, whose team hosts Rutgers on November 29 and UMBC on December 2.

“This is the time in the season to get your California kids home and help your recruiting base a little bit. We do a lot of recruiting out there. With this team, it is about more than competing. This team competes. They are going to compete against Riverside and they are going to compete against UCLA; we have to be able to execute.”

Bowen, for her part, looked forward to the California swing as good preparation for a journey that the Tigers hope will land them in the NCAA tournament for a fourth straight season.

“It is trip where we want to have fun, it is a holiday,” said Bowen. “We want to go out there and have a good time, winning definitely does a lot more than losing in that respect. We will prepare for them, there are adjustments you have to make along the way so we are going to have time difference, we are traveling and we are flying six hours but no excuses. You never know where you are going to end up if you make it to the tournament.”

CAREER NIGHT: Princeton University men’s hockey player ­Andrew Ammon heads up the ice in recent action. Last Friday at Sacred Heart, Ammon had a career night as he scored all four Tiger goals in a 4-3 victory for Princeton. The Tigers fell 3-1 to UMass-Lowell the next day to move to 3-4-1 overall. In upcoming action, Princeton heads to New York to play at Rensselaer on November 30 and at No. 8 Union on December 1.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton University men’s hockey team has only played eight games this season, the Tigers have proven they can fight back from a deficit.

In a win over No. 4 Cornell on November 9, the Tigers were down 3-2 in the third period but then reeled off three unanswered goals to post a 5-3 win. A week later, Princeton trailed 2-1 at No. 16 St. Lawrence but fought back to earn a 3-3 tie.

Last Friday at Sacred Heart, the Tigers forged another comeback, rallying from a 3-1 deficit to pull out a 4-3 victory.

While Princeton head coach Bob Prier admires his team’s pluck, he would prefer to see it start playing from ahead.

“We have done OK with uphill battles but we need to start playing better early in each game,” said Prier.

“We have to get off to better starts. We need to be ready to tear the door down and be ready to play every night.”

In assessing the win over Sacred Heart, Prier acknowledged that his team didn’t play all that well.

“A win is something we needed to get back on track as a team,” said Prier, whose team had lost 7-2 at Clarkson in its last outing before Friday.

“We didn’t play particularly well. They threw everything at us. It was good to see us battle back and get the win.”

It was good for Princeton to see junior forward Andrew Ammon break out with a career night in the victory over the Pioneers as he notched all four goals for the Tigers.

“Andrew was rewarded for a good week of practice,” said Prier of Ammon who came into the game with one goal on the season.

“His play away from the puck was great. He played physically and was the best player on the ice for us.”

The trio of Ammon, Tyler Maugeri, and Andrew Calof has provided the best production so far for the Tigers.

“That line has been great; they are one of the best lines in the league,” said Prier of the line who rank 1-2-3 in scoring on the Tigers with Maugeri leading the way at 11 points, Calof at 10, and Ammon having notched nine.

“It is a good line but we can’t go far with just one good line. Right now it is that line and Eric Meland doing the scoring. Eight games into this, I would have thought that we would be showing more scoring depth.”

Princeton’s lack of scoring balance and some sloppy play doomed it a day later as it fell 3-1 at UMass-Lowell in moving to 3-4-1 overall.

“I thought it was one of our best games of the year as far as playing systems and controlling the puck and the play,” said Prier of the game which was deadlocked at 0-0 until UMass-Lowell scored three goals in the last two minutes of the second period. “We had a bad turnover late in the second period that changed the momentum.”

The Tigers, true to form, didn’t fold after falling behind but could only manage one goal over the last 20 minutes of the contest.

“We recovered and had a great third period; Kesselman got a good goal, Willie MacDonald made a great pass,” said Prier.

“Against a team of that caliber in their building, you have to eliminate things like turnovers and playing with one hand on the stick. These are things that we have harped on and they are costing us.”

Prier knows that his team needs to play sharper if it is going to come up with wins this weekend when it heads to New York to play at Rensselaer (3-5-2 overall, 0-4 ECAC Hockey) on November 30 and at No. 8 Union (8-2-1 overall, 3-1 ECACH) on December 1.

“RPI is coming off two wins this weekend and they are a pretty good team in their building,” said Prier, whose club is 2-1-1 in ECACH action, good for a tie for fifth in the league standings.

“They have lost twice to Union and once to Harvard so their record is not indicative. Union is a great team that plays a solid team game. They rarely make a mistake. They are committed to doing the right things and doing them properly.”

In Prier’s view, his team needs to be committed to bringing it from the opening face-off.

“We need to take the initiative, and not be reactive,” asserted Prier. “It’s going to be a nice challenge. We can’t be making the same mistakes; we have to get off to a good start.”

BY A NECK: Princeton High girls’ soccer player Madison Luther goes after the ball in recent action. Senior defender Luther’s play along the back line helped PHS hold the fort as it edged Colts Neck 1-0 in the Central Jersey Group III sectional championship game last week. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton High girls’ soccer team led Colts Neck 1-0 last week in the Central Jersey Group III sectional championship game, PHS certainly wasn’t in control of the contest.

Underdog Colts Neck, the eighth-seed in the sectional, put the No. 2 Little Tigers under fire through much of the second half, using its speed to generate a number of scoring opportunities.

PHS senior defender Madison Luther acknowledged that things got a little dicey along the Little Tiger back line.

“It was definitely a storm, that is the right word,” said Luther, reflecting on the second half of the game.

“They kept at it, they are very fast. We have to make sure that we position ourselves all the time to get ready for them. Katie Carduner is our quarterback and we have Dana Smith back there, sliding for us left and right. Sticking with them works, that’s what gets us there.”

The PHS defense held the fort, keeping Colts Neck from breaking through as it earned a 1-0 victory and the first sectional title in the 21-year tenure of head coach Greg Hand.

The win improved PHS to 16-2-1 and earned it a date with South Jersey champion Moorestown in the state Group III semis on November 28 at Toms River North with the winner advancing to the championship game on December 2 at The College of New Jersey.

For Luther and her teammates, surviving the roller-coaster ride to pull out the title left some special memories.

“It is the first time for all of us,” said Luther. “All game, it was back and forth, even with the goal it didn’t feel like we were up. You never know with the Shore Conference; they are unexpected. We were really excited; we were a good kind of nervous.”

Luther’s athletic versatility has helped her become a very good defender for the Little Tigers.

“I play basketball and lacrosse so I know defense well,” said Luther. “Since I am not the fastest, I can shadow and watch them. I am better at that.”

It certainly helps PHS to have star senior goalie Lauren Ullmann as its last line of defense.

“Lauren is a lifesaver,” asserted Luther of the netminder who made eight saves in the win over Colts Neck.

“She is always there, she is always talking, constantly directing everyone. It is very nice to have that. Having her back there is a very safe cushion, you have someone respectable and an extra barrier to protect.”

In Luther’s view, the Little Tigers gained extra motivation from two setbacks, an early season loss to Robbinville and getting eliminated in the semifinals of the Mercer County Tournament by Pennington on penalty kicks after playing the Red Raiders to a 0-0 draw through 100 minutes.

“After our second loss to Robbinsville, ‘we were like OK, this can’t happen,’” recalled Luther.

“The Pennington game didn’t even feel like losing, they are such a great team. We lost 4-0 to them last year. A lot of the new kids heard that and said let’s not lose. Keeping up with them made it so much better.”

PHS head coach Hand, for his part, is proud of the way his squad has taken care of business after its 2-2 start.

“It just seems that we managed to do enough of the things that we need to do throughout the 80-minutes to hold the opponents down a little and create opportunities,” said Hand.

“There is no magic to it, it is just the fact that we have a really hardworking group who take themselves pretty seriously when they have to and put their all into every single day.”

In the victory over Colts Neck, PHS followed that blueprint. “I thought we possessed really well in the first 20 minutes of the game, the second 20 after we scored, I think we actually came a little bit unglued, not taking care of the ball as well,” recalled Hand.

“We continued to work hard through the whole game and that carried into the second half. At the end, you could see the fight that was in us; we weren’t going to let anything get by.”

Hand acknowledges that he didn’t see such an ending for his team when it first convened for training this summer.

“If you asked me on August 16th, I wouldn’t have suggested that this was going to be where we were,” said Hand.

“But to take guidance from somebody like John Wooden — he says he never went into a game, even if he was a big underdog, thinking he was going to lose. But he never went in, thinking he was going to win.”

In Luther’s view, the team’s success is a product of making the most of everyday and not worrying about the big picture.

“We didn’t set any goals for ourselves,” said Luther. “At the beginning of the year, we didn’t even know if we were going to have a winning record at all, now we are 16-2-1. No one expected us to do things like this and get this far. I think the fact that we didn’t have these goals, we had nothing to lose and that just pushed us more.”

BIG MAC: Princeton High boys’ hockey star Patrick McCormick goes after a puck in action last winter. PHS is counting on junior defenseman McCormick to shoulder much of the load along the blue line this winter. PHS, which went 15-7-2 last winter in advancing to its third straight Mercer County Tournament championship game, opens its 2012-13 campaign by facing Hightstown on November 30 at Mercer County Park.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Over the last three years, the Princeton High boys’ hockey team has become a fixture in the Mercer County Tournament championship game, winning the title in 2011 and coming in second in 2010 and last winter.

PHS head coach Tim Campbell is proud of his team’s consistent excellence in the MCT and what it says about the program.

“I think, without a doubt, we have been the best public high school program in the area over the last few years,” said Campbell, whose team fell to Notre Dame in last year’s county title game on the way to a 15-7-2 record.

“We are ready to do that again. By the time we get to the playoffs in February, I think we will be good again.”

As PHS works its way over the next few months to the postseason, it will need to answer some key question marks, starting at goalie where junior Robert Quinn is replacing four-year starter Josh Berger.

“Robert did camps over the summer and played in a summer league; he has been on the ice a lot,” said Campbell, noting that Joseph Dawes and Mike Dunlap will serve as back-ups.

“Robert is a good athlete; he is a soccer goalie and a baseball catcher so he is defensive-minded. We are lucky to have someone like him who we have confidence in to come in after Josh.”

Quinn will need to be good, as the PHS defense is not blessed with depth. “We are very thin on defense; we are going to have a short bench,” said Campbell.

The Little Tigers do have some good talent along the blue line in juniors Patrick McCormick and Harrison Naylor.

“Patrick McCormick and Harrison Naylor will anchor the blue line for us,” said Campbell, whose team starts the season by facing Hightstown on November 30 at Mercer County Park.

“They’ll be on the ice most of the time. Patrick is a phenomenal skater. He is one of the most naturally gifted, fundamentally sound skaters that I have seen. He is a smart player and has a good shot. Harrison is one of the most improved players I have seen; he is a tough, smart player.”

At forward, PHS boasts enough depth to make things tough on its foes. “Matt DiTosto has had some key playing time for us since he has joined the team” said Campbell.

“He is definitely a go-to guy for us. Spencer Reynolds and Gabe MacGregor are in the mix. Jack Andres is really tough, Connor McCormick and John Reid are smart hockey players.”

While Campbell believes his offense can be productive, he knows that he needs to shore up the defense if PHS is going to be a title contender.

“We will focus on defense,” said Campbell, whose team also advanced to the second round of the state Public B tournament last winter.

“You build successful teams around defense and  we will do whatever we can to keep the puck out of the net. We will put whomever we need on defense to help us do that.”

The Little Tigers also have to focus on playing clean hockey to experience success this winter.

“We have to play smart hockey with as few penalties as possible,” asserted Campbell.

“We need to play smart, defense-minded hockey. We need to hold shot totals down and play good neutral zone defense.”

SUPER SAVER: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey goalie Connor Walker thwarts a Lawrenceville player in action last season. Senior netminder Walker will be a pivotal performer for PDS this winter as it faces a daunting schedule that includes several boarding schools and such high-level events as the Barber Tournament in Massachusetts, the Hill School tournament, and the Empire Cup. The Panthers open their 2012-13 campaign when they host Malvern Prep (Pa.) on November 29. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last winter, the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team prospered as it battled through a daunting schedule that included the likes of Lawrenceville, Moses Brown (R.I.), St. Augustine, and the Pingry School, among others.

After going 18-5-1 against such competition, PDS is pushing the envelope this season as it seeks to further raise its profile in New Jersey hockey circles.

“We are going to be playing a tough schedule, a third of the teams we are playing are either boarding schools or have PGs,” said PDS head coach Scott Bertoli, noting that his team will be taking part in such high-level events as the Barber Tournament in Massachusetts, the Hill School tournament, and the Empire Cup.

“The kids want to compete against the best. We are not going to surprise anybody this year.”

Bertoli is cautiously optimistic that his team can hold its own against the challenges it will face.

“The guys know that the greater community is excited about the team,” said Bertoli, whose team hosts Malvern Prep (Pa.) on November 29 in its season opener.

“We are returning our four top scorers, four good defensemen, and we have a starting goalie back. I am excited but a little apprehensive. There are heavy expectations surrounding this team, many of them self-imposed.”

The return of stellar senior goalie Connor Walker gives PDS the foundation to meet its expectations.

“Connor is one of the top kids in the state record-wise,” noted Bertoli. “I think he went 11-1 as a sophomore and was something like 14-3 last year. He is about 25-4 the last two years. He is a senior and he is confident. He is bigger and stronger. He is a competitor and wants to be in there every night. He will start every game unless he tells me otherwise or he gets hurt.”

Walker will have to be sharp as the Panther defense is a work in progress with the loss of Tyler Olsson to graduation and the absence of Bump Lisk, who is playing junior hockey this winter.

“I think the defense was our strongest point last year; the kids got involved in the offense and did a lot of good things for us,” said Bertoli.

“The biggest concern is losing Tyler, he was a big, strong kid and was the first one out for our penalty kill. C.J. [Young] can play well and I think Eddie [Meyercord] can too. We need the guys to have puck possession and play well in the neutral zone.

In Bertoli’s view, the battle-tested trio of Taran Auslander, Grahame Davis, and Meyercord must play well this winter for PDS to hold the fort.

“Taran, Eddie, and Grahame are seniors and they need to be leaders,” asserted Bertoli.

“They need to play on the power play and the kill and to play extra shifts when we are going with four. We are going to be playing some bigger and older teams and they need to withstand whatever
the teams bring against us. I am trying to instill confidence in them so they will play like we did last year.”

Bertoli is confident that his group of forwards will be productive this winter. “I think we are going to be outstanding up front; I think that is going to be our strength,” maintained Bertoli.

“I don’t think there is a group of centers better in the state than Conrad [Denise], Ross [Colton], and Cody [Triolo]. The biggest challenge to is to juggle the wingers with them and figure out who will contribute the most.  We will have three lines who can score independent of each others.”

Luckily, Bertoli has some good pieces to work with in formulating his lines. “Rob Colton was our leading scorer last year,” said Bertoli.

“Sean Timmons had a shoulder injury last year and I am expecting him to have a breakout year. He has a physical edge to his game that we have been waiting to see. Lewis Blackburn, John Egner, and Connor Bitterman are kids that I expect to step in and contribute. They are juniors and seniors and they know what is going on.”

In order to have another big year, the Panthers are going to have to go hard
every game.

“We need to show up with the right attitude and work ethic,” maintained Bertoli.

“As long as we are ready to compete, we will get our share of wins. The effort is the key.”

So far, Bertoli is getting the right effort on a daily basis. “I am seeing it every day; we have some experienced success and the kids want to feed off of that,” said Bertoli.

“They want to recapture that. We have eight or nine seniors and they want to step up. We have 14 or 15 players back with the same system and most kids in the same roles. They want to play against the best and build on what we did last year.”

HARD DRIVE: Princeton Day School girls’ basketball player Lauren Johnson drives to the hoop in a game last season. Senior star guard Johnson will be a key player for the Panthers this winter as they look to improve on the 9-13 mark posted in 2011-12. PDS tips off the upcoming season by hosting Stuart Country Day on December 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Mika Ryan, coaching the Princeton Day School girls’ basketball team last winter was about getting the most out of limited resources.

With a lineup whittled down to six players for much of the season due to a series of injuries that affectionately became known as the “dirty half-dozen,” Ryan applied the coaching acumen built up over her long career to guide the Panthers to a 9-13 record and an unlikely run to the Mercer County Tournament semifinals.

This season, Ryan has more resources at her disposal and is looking forward to figuring out the best way to deploy the talent on her roster.

“We have nine varsity and seven JV players this year; we are much healthier this year in terms of players,” said Ryan, whose coaching journey has included stints as an assistant at Virginia and Rider together with a 10-year run as the head coach of The College of New Jersey women’s program.

“Freddy Young and I are also going to coach the JV. We have been practicing the two teams together. I want them to learn our system and get used to what we do.”

In fact, the program’s strength in numbers has some of last year’s iron women concerned that they aren’t getting pushed enough.

“The captains came to me and said they think we aren’t working hard enough in practice,” said Ryan, whose team tips off the 2012-13 season by hosting hosting Stuart Country Day on December 5.

“I told them it is because we have more numbers and I want them to feel good in February. They have been great at sharing how we do things.”

Ryan feels good about a backcourt which features three battle-tested veterans in senior tri-captains Lauren Johnson and Hannah Levy together with versatile junior Emily Goldman.

“L.J. plays as hard as she can all the time, she only knows one way to play,” maintained Ryan.

“She has worked on her left hand and is working to make her shot more consistent. I think the most improved player since I got to PDS is Hannah Levy. She is a worker, you never have to motivate her. She thinks well and is mentally quick. She is not hesitant to share what the thinks. She will say this isn’t working, maybe we should try this. Goldman has so much versatility. She joined us late because of field hockey but she has brought a winner’s attitude from the success she had this fall. She is so versatile, I will ask her to play another position and she is always willing. I can play her at guard or forward.”

Exemplifying the team’s depth heading into the season, PDS boasts three reserves in junior Tess Zahn, sophomore Erin Murray, and freshman Devika Kumar, who will also see playing time at guard.

“Tess Zahn hit some big shots for us last year and is shooting well,” added Ryan.

“We are happy to have Erin Murray back after she spent a year at Peddie, she is a good ball handler. Devika has a lot of potential. She could be a good swing player. She is active and athletic and can defend a guard but she also has enough size to play inside.”

The Panthers have two good athletes in the frontcourt with promising freshmen Olivia Okorodudu and Morgan Van Liew.

“Okorodudu is fundamentally sound and very coachable; her dad played at Bucknell and her brother plays at WW/P-N,” said Ryan.

“Her footwork is excellent and she is a big, strong young lady.  She has the ability to shoot the 10-12 foot jump shot and we are working in some plays to take advantage of that. Van Liew is 6 feet tall and I think she has gotten taller since coming to PDS. She has played only one year of organized basketball. She has enormous potential and is so coachable.  She wants to learn and is a sponge on the things we coach her. She is ambidextrous and can shoot with either hand within three or four feet.  She is mobile.”

Senior tri-captain Daniela Levitan should provide the leadership to help the freshmen come along.

“Levitan is looking good; she came to us late because she was in the school play but she is working herself into shape,” said Ryan.

“She has dedicated herself to the program after not playing much as a freshman or sophomore. I am impressed by the interest she has taken in the program.”

As a result of PDS’s inside strength, Ryan is making some tactical adjustments.

“We will be going back to a style I like, going inside out,” said Ryan, who noted that the team may run a zone press at times to speed up tempo and take advantage of the height at the back end of the defense. “We have three quality post players this year so we can play that style.”

While Ryan is confident in her team’s strategic approach, she knows that rekindling the spirit that drove the team last winter won’t be easy.

“The thing I am concerned about the most is that we maintain the chemistry we had last year,” said Ryan.

“The thing that I most enjoyed was our team’s character through the ups and downs. They stayed the same people and didn’t get down on themselves. I am telling them this is your team, not my team. I am here to help you get better.”

Ryan is confident her team will get better and better as the winter unfolds. “I think we are a team that might take some lumps early because we are relying on some freshmen in key positions,” said Ryan. “I think we could become a good team as the season goes on.”

SPEED SKATER: Hun School boys’ hockey star Alex Vukasin races up the ice in a game last season. Senior forward Vukasin’s speed and finishing skill make him a top offensive weapon for the Raiders, who will get their 2012-13 season underway by hosting Central Bucks (Pa.) on November 28 at the IceLand Skating Center in Hamilton. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Ian McNally brought some high expectations when he took the helm of the Hun School boys’ hockey team last winter.

“The reason I wanted to take this team is that I wanted us to be a top program, I didn’t want an average team,” said McNally, a 2007 Princeton University alum who played for the Tiger men’s hockey program.

“The school has been supportive, we have new treats in terms of equipment; I think we will respond on the ice.”

The Raiders responded well to McNally in his debut campaign, going 10-9-1 and making it to the finals of the Independent Hockey League (IHL) championship game where it fell 2-1 to Pennington in overtime.

In McNally’s view, the title game defeat and some infusion of new talent should help Hun raise the level of its play this winter.

“I think losing the title game last year has given the team extra motivation,” said McNally, whose team opens the 2012-13 season by hosting Central Bucks (Pa.) on November 28.

“We have 12 new guys so there is a lot of new blood. There are guys who don’t know better so there is a lot more competition for positions and more accountability that way.”

Junior goalie Devin Cheifetz has shown accountability from day one of his Hun career.

“We are lucky to have him; he is one of our more valuable players,” said McNally of Cheifetz, a starter since his freshman season.

“He has decent size, good technical skills, and plays the puck well. He is collected on the ice. He is one part of the team that I don’t have to worry about. He helped to organize some of the fall workout stuff, he reaches out to the players through social network stuff. He has the respect of everybody; he has a collected demeanor on the ice.”

Star defensemen Brad Stern, a junior, and senior Eric Szeker have earned the respect of Hun’s foes.

“We have Brad Stern and Eric Szeker back on defense, they were our big two last year,” said McNally.

“Stern is the more offensive guy, the guy on the point. Eric is bigger and reliable down low. Last year, we had to lean heavily on those guys and they probably played too many minutes.”

Hun will be able to lean on some others along the blue line this winter. “We have Dan Seelagy and Andrew Zhou back; we also have J.C. Moritz, a PG from Pennsylvania who is our biggest kid,” said McNally.

“We also have Jonathan Pensler, a freshman and a local kid who should step in. We have a legitimate d-man rotation, that is by far the biggest difference from last year’s team. We just didn’t have the horses on defense last year.”

The Raiders do have some horses at forward in senior Alex Vukasin, junior Alex Karanikolas, junior Alex Bidwell, and senior Peter Nawn.

“Alex Vukasin looks as good as ever; he is very fast, he sprints on the ice,” said McNally, whose group of forwards will also include seniors Jordan Wang, Anton Salienko and Matt Waxman together with juniors Spy Avgoustiniatos and Nick Guns and sophomores Chris Rossi and Ray Demoine.

“He can go as fast with the puck as without it. Karanikolas is a power forward, he is a big bull who works the puck down low and wears you out. Alex Bidwell scored goals for us last year and should have even more this year. Peter Nawn was hurt for about a third of the year but if he is healthy he should get points. We have a rotation of three full lines returning so that is nice.”

McNally believes his team is poised to have a nice season. “We have accountability based on the numbers,” said McNally.

“I expect us to do even better in the league, which means winning it. I want us to do better in non-league play, we have scheduled some better teams. We have added to the number of games as well.”

In order to be one of the better teams in the area, Hun will need to develop some good chemistry.

“With this team, it will be about how the players come together,” asserted McNally.

“It is not strategy or individual skill, it is how close we can get in a short period of time. You are going to work harder and learn your role better if the team matters. If you are playing with your best friends, you try harder than if it is just a group of guys going to the same school.”

CARRY OUT: Hun School girls’ basketball star Carey Million heads to the hoop in action last winter. Hun will be relying on senior forward Million’s tenacity and athleticism as it looks to improve on the 15-12 record it posted last season. The Raiders start 2012-13 regular season action by playing at Pennington on November 30 and then hosting Friends Central on December 4.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Bill Holup doesn’t have a group of seniors to lead the way as his Hun School girls’ basketball team heads into the 2012-13 season but that doesn’t mean that the squad isn’t battle-tested.

“We only have one senior but the junior group is very experienced, they have been with us for three years,” said head coach Holup, who guided the Raiders to a 15-12 record last winter and a spot in the state Prep A title game.

“This is our first team in a few years with some depth. The past few years we have struggled being in shape and going 32 minutes against the good teams.”

The team’s depth is most evident in the backcourt where the Raiders feature two key returners in junior Anajha Burnett and sophomore Erica Dwyer together with a pair of promising newcomers in sophomore Janelle Mullen, the younger sister of graduated star Jackie Mullen, and junior Erica Brown.

“Anajha is a junior who is in her third year with the program,” said Holup, whose team opens regular season play with a game at Pennington on November 30 and then hosts Friends Central on December 4.

“She has grown as a player and has developed; she has gotten stronger. Erica came on strong last year. She had five 3s against Peddie in the MAPL tournament. She is a more well-rounded player. She is distributing more; instead of being a one-dimensional player. Janelle has big shoes to fill with Jackie. She is a raw talent; she has more basketball potential at this point than Jackie. She is a sophomore and will be with us for three years. Erica Brown can play either guard or forward. She has good court vision and ball handling skills. She has a knack for getting the ball inside and can distribute.”

The team’s lone senior, Carey Million, brings versatility to the frontcourt. “Carey is a three-sport athlete and just signed a letter of intent to play softball at Elon,” said Holup, who posted his 250th career win with Hun’s victory over Lawrenceville in the Prep A semis last February.

“That will allow her to not have pressure; hopefully she can use basketball as a stress release.”

Holup will be counting on junior forward Johnnah Johnson to put pressure on Hun’s foes in the paint.

“Johnnah’s leadership skills are developing; she has taken charge out there, getting the girls started with their stretches,” said Holup.

“She needed to grow up a little. Basketball-wise, she is a pure talent. She still needs to understand the game more to really use her talents. She is a legit D-1 basketball player as long as she keeps her focus on the court and in the classroom. She has big shoulders and we will need her to carry the team as the younger players get used to things.”

If the Raiders can develop team unity, the squad could do some big things this winter.

“As long as the girls play as a team and learn and develop during the season, we should be good,” asserted Holup.

“We have a good mixture of youth and experience. The older girls need to trust the younger girls and the younger girls need to get to know the older girls. The talent is there; it is just a matter of meshing.”

November 21, 2012

TITLE CELEBRATION: Members of the Princeton University field hockey team celebrate after they rallied to beat North Carolina 3-2 in the NCAA Championship game. The Tigers finished the fall at 21-1 as they earned the program’s first-ever national crown.
(Photo by Rick Voight, Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Katie Reinprecht felt awful last Sunday morning just hours before the Princeton University field hockey team was slated to face the University of North Carolina in the NCAA Championship game.

“I woke up around 4 a.m. and at first I thought it was nerves; I was having stomach issues, going back and forth to the bathroom,” said Tiger senior midfielder and tri-captain Reinprecht.

“I met with one of the trainers right before breakfast and they thought it was food poisoning. They gave me medication and I was trying to get liquids. I knew I was going to play but I thought I might be running to a trash can during the game.”

As game time approached, Reinprecht was ready to take the field in Norfolk, Va. “The medication settled my stomach and I had two bottles of Gatorade right before the game,” said Reinprecht. “I had so much adrenaline, I had plenty of energy.”

By Sunday afternoon, Reinprecht was experiencing something she had never felt before as she helped second-seeded Princeton rally to a 3-2 win over the top-seeded Tar Heels and earn the program’s first-ever national championship.

“I was still thinking about hitting the ball but I saw Jules [younger sister and Tiger star defender Julia Reinprecht] collapse behind me so I knew it was over,” said Reinprecht, reflecting on the moment when the clock hit 0:00.

“It was an incredible feeling. It was such a team accomplishment. I knew this end was possible if we gave 100 percent.”

For much of the contest, it didn’t look like Princeton was heading to a happy ending.

The Tar Heels had the better of the play in the early going and jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a Charlotte Craddock goal at the 11:26 mark.

“In the first 10 minutes, we were being outplayed,” said Reinprecht.  “The goal went in and we looked at each other and there was no sense of fear. We stepped it up from there and showed how badly we wanted it.”

Less than six minutes later, Reinprecht stepped up as she fed classmate and fellow captain Kat Sharkey on a penalty corner and the latter slammed in the tying goal.

The teams went into the locker room knotted at 1-1 at intermission and then 11 minutes into the second half Princeton found itself trailing again as Katie Plyler found the back of the cage for the Tar Heels.

Princeton, though, was unfazed. “No one likes to go down in a game like that but we had been in those situations before,” said Reinprecht. “I thought we had the momentum and I didn’t doubt that we could score.”

Reinprecht’s faith proved justified as Allison Evans notched the tying goal at 56:44 and then Amanda Bird tallied three minutes later on a penalty stroke to give Princeton its first lead of the contest.

The Bird tally set up a stomach-turning finale as Princeton held off a dangerous and desperate North Carolina team.

“It was the longest eight minutes; a timeout helped,” said Reinprecht. “We had a defensive priority, even Kat Sharkey was in the defensive circle. We didn’t want to let this slip away, we said we can’t let them tie this up. We had confidence and trust.”

That trust was critical as Princeton lost freshman star Teresa Benvenuti to a hamstring injury in warmup and then senior stalwart Molly Goodman went down with a knee injury 10 minutes into the contest.

“That was one of the most powerful things about the title game, everyone contributed in that game,” asserted Reinprecht. “People had to step up who weren’t used to that role and they rose to the occasion.”

As Reinprecht returned to Princeton this past August after spending a year away from school training with the U.S. national field hockey program and playing in the London Olympics, she was determined to step into a positive leadership role.

“When I came back from the national team, I knew what it was like to play with a talented team but that winning doesn’t correlate unless you put it all out there,” said Reinprecht, who was joined in her year with the national program by her sister along with teammates Michelle Cesan and Sharkey.

“I didn’t want the four of us to be unapproachable; we needed to fit in with the family. Everyone on the team had to be equal.”

Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn points to team unity as the key factor in Princeton’s title run.

“Of course we have talent but it is much more important to have chemistry; I have been around talented teams that didn’t do as well as they should,” said Holmes-Winn, whose squad went 21-1 this fall, setting a program record for most wins in a season.

“I told them before the Duke game [the season opener on August 31] that you will become a family and you will love each other. It is not how talented you are but how hard you are willing to fight for each other. They looked each other in the eyes before the Maryland game [a 3-2 win in the NCAA semis on Friday] and they were ready to play for each other.”

The Tigers were ready for a stiff challenge as they prepared for the clash with the 23-1 Tar Heels, whose roster included former Stuart Country Day standout Jackie Gaudioso-Radvany.

“They are strong at every position,” said Holmes-Winn, noting that Tar Heel forward Craddock and midfielder Kelsey Kolojejchick caused Princeton particular concern.

“We needed to lock down their game changers. We had to limit Craddock’s touches so we put a center mid to overlap in her zone. We told the midfield to run with Kolojejchick but don’t tackle her. We needed to stay in the play. I am proud that we showed the discipline to do that for all the game.”

That task was made harder by the injuries to Benvenuti and Goodman. “To beat North Carolina full‐strength is a huge challenge, but to do it accessing the depth on the bench the way we did is a product of our team’s hard work and preparation,” said Holmes-Winn.

For Holmes-Winn, seeing her players produce a national title evoked a deep sense of pride.

“To win at a place like Princeton is a colossal achievement; we don’t give scholarships,” said Holmes-Winn.

“They are students first and foremost. To be able to do everything they do in the classroom and also be the best in a sport is special. They are so inspiring to be around. As coaches, we can look in the mirror and feel so good about how we do it. They have a wonderful experience as students and athletes.”

As Princeton headed to the University of Virginia for the opening rounds of the tournament two weekends ago, Holmes-Winn had the sense that something wonderful was going to happen.

“I will remember how we went into turbo tournament mode,” said Holmes-Winn.

“We won the league and that was great. We dominated the play-in game [a 6-0 win at Lafayette] and you could feel the energy going into the tournament. Getting on the bus to Charlottesville, I was so excited. I knew we were going on a special journey and I could feel the belief and talent.”

Reinprecht, for her part, won’t soon forget the road she travelled to the national title.

“I am a very, very lucky girl to end my career like this,” said Reinprecht, who was named the 2012 Longstreth/NFHCA Division I Mid-Atlantic Region Player of the Year and totaled 156 points and 50 assists in her four seasons, good for fourth and second in program history, respectively, in those categories.

“It has been an incredible year and an incredible journey. It is fantastic to share it with this group of girls and coaches, they are such high quality people.”

OUT OF REACH: Princeton University defensive lineman Caraun Reid tries to corral Dartmouth quarterback Dalyn Williams last Saturday. Reid and the Tigers faltered down the stretch, squandering an early 14-0 lead in falling 35-21 to the Big Green. The loss combined with Penn’s 35-28 win over Cornell knocked Princeton out of contention for a share of the Ivy League title. Still, the Tigers finished at 5-5 overall and 4-3 Ivy, a marked improvement for a program that had suffered through successive 1-9 campaigns. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

At about 2 last Saturday afternoon, things were falling into place for the Princeton University football team.

The Tigers had jumped out to a 14-0 lead over visiting Dartmouth and Penn was trailing Cornell 13-7.

A Princeton victory combined with a Penn defeat would secure a share of the Ivy League title for the Tigers and the final chapter in their heartening worst-to-first campaign.

But by 3:30, things had fallen apart as Dartmouth had jumped out to a 35-14 lead and Penn had pulled out a dramatic 35-28 win to clinch outright the Ivy crown.

The afternoon ended with Princeton dropping a 35-21 decision to Dartmouth as a crowd of 8,327 left a Princeton Stadium covered in shadows with night approaching.

While Princeton head coach Bob Surace was disappointed with how things turned out, he was able to see the silver lining in a season that saw Princeton end up 5-5 overall and 4-3 in Ivy play, a marked improvement after two successive 1-9 campaigns.

“I told the guys in the locker room how proud I am of them and what they accomplished and getting us to play a meaningful game at the end of the year,” said Surace.

“We had distractions and  things we had to overcome from what happened in January with Chuck [Dibilio] to Khamal [Brown] to all the different things that go on this week. They just remained focused and practiced hard. We just ran out of gas. You lose your right-handed quarterback [Connor Michelson] in the game before and he is not able to throw. Your lefty [Quinn Epperly] gets hurt the third play of the game and we just couldn’t overcome some of the things.”

With Princeton’s lead down to 14-7 at halftime, Surace sensed trouble on the horizon.

“We needed to have a bigger lead going into halftime,” said Surace. “We have had our foot on the pedal all year and we just couldn’t continue to get anything momentum-wise and give credit to them and their quarterback [Dalyn Williams]. I don’t know how many times that we had him in our grasp and had a shot at him. He found a way out of it and made plays and executed so it was a really good job by him.”

The game got away from Princeton in a four minute stretch of the third quarter which saw Dartmouth reel off 21 unanswered points.

Princeton senior co-captain and star linebacker Andrew Starks believed that the Tigers could weather the storm.

“Obviously when things happen like that, that’s us making mistakes,” said Starks, who had a team-high 16 tackles on the day.

“Not taking anything away from Dartmouth, they played a tremendous game and made a lot of great plays. When you are playing a team that has some athletes like they do, you can’t make mistakes like that. With that being said, I wouldn’t say we were unraveling. We made mistakes but I think at that point we still thought we were going to win the game. The offense would get going and the defense would stiffen up. We would make some plays and eventually turn things around. Unfortunately it just didn’t happen that way today.”

In the view of senior co-captain and defensive line standout Mike Catapano, the way Princeton turned things around this fall was reflected by its fighting spirit to the end on Saturday.

“We made some dramatic improvements and I am really proud of the guys,” said Catapano.

“We had some setbacks and some injuries with Khamal and things of that nature. This team never quit. Everybody thought we were going to be last in the league and this team really rallied together as a family and as a brotherhood. We fought every play of every game and that is what I am most proud of. We are going out that way too.”

In the early going on Saturday, it was Princeton that was making the big plays. After a scoreless first quarter, the Tigers got on the board first as they scored on a four-yard touchdown run by Epperly to take a 7-0 lead.

Minutes later, Princeton doubled its lead on a big play by special teams as John Hill scooped up a punt blocked by Seth DeValve and raced 23 yards for a touchdown as the Tigers went up 14-0.

Williams, though, struck for the first of his three touchdown passes of the afternoon, hitting Justin Foley for a seven-yard scoring strike to make it a 14-7 game.

Princeton responded by marching 73 yards to the Dartmouth two-yard-line. The drive stalled and the Tigers attempted a field goal but the snap sailed high and Princeton came up with nothing as its lead remained at 14-7 at halftime.

The third quarter quickly turned into a nightmare for the Tigers. The Big Green took the opening kickoff and tied the game at 14-14 on a 54-yard option pass from receiver Ryan McManus to Bo Patterson.

Princeton’s first possession of the half ended with a lost fumble and Dartmouth quickly capitalized. Williams hit McManus for a 37-yard pass and then found Mitch Aprahamian in the end zone for a four-yard touchdown pass as Dartmouth forged ahead 21-14.

The Tigers took the ensuing kickoff and fumbled the ball away. Once again, the Big Green cashed in as Williams scored on a two-yard touchdown run, extending the Dartmouth lead to 28-14. All told, the Big Green scored 21 points in a span of 4:03 as it broke the contest open.

Dartmouth added some insurance early in the fourth quarter as Williams hit Michael Reilly with a 37-yard scoring pass to go up 35-14. The freshman quarterback ended the day hitting on 20-of-35 passes for 284 yards.

Princeton did score the final points of the afternoon as freshman quarterback Kedric Bostic, seeing action with Michelson and Epperly ailing, scampered for a nine-yard touchdown run to make the final margin 35-21.

While losing the finale was disappointing, Catapano was proud of the excitement the Tigers generated around campus this fall as they made their unlikely bid for a league title.

“That was the goal of the seniors, that was the goal of our whole team — to bring pride back to this university and this football program” asserted Catapano.

“These guys work so hard 365. It is not just a fall sport, we go so hard in the summer time, so hard in the spring. A lot of people don’t see that but I think they got a much greater appreciation for what we did this year and trying to lay a foundation for something even better to come. That is what I am most proud of; that is what the seniors are most proud of.”

As a result, the Tiger seniors were determined to put on a brave face later that evening as they celebrated the bonfire they earned with wins over Harvard and Yale.

“To mope through an event that is so difficult to acquire would just be wrong and wouldn’t be the way to finish out the four years the senior class has had,” said Starks, who gave an impassioned speech at the
bonfire celebration on Cannon Green.

“Obviously this loss hurts right now. You never want to lose, especially when it is your last one. I think you have to have a quick bounce back period and go out there and have a good time with guys one last time.”

Surace, for his part, had a good time working with his Class of 2013.

“When they were building some of the buildings over there, I used to take pictures of the guys with hard hats and lunch pails going to work,” said Surace.

“I thought it was really neat; here you are at Princeton and when we go to work out at 6:30 in the morning, you have got these guys that are going to work with their hard hats and lunch pails. That’s what the group was. Whether we made mistakes, we played hard. Even today, I thought we played extremely hard.”

That tenacity helped spark this fall’s turnaround and should pay dividends as the Princeton program looks to keep progressing.

“We move forward; the reality is when I dismiss the seniors from our 3:15 meeting and it is just underclassmen, we have got to get going again,” said Surace.

“The reason we got to this point is guys like Cat, Andrew, and the other seniors just took the approach the correct way. I am confident we have built something where guys will continue to do that.”

WILL POWER: Princeton University men’s basketball player Will Barrett drives to the basket last Friday against visiting Rutgers. Junior forward Barrett scored a team-high 13 points but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 58-52 to the Scarlet Knights. The Tigers, now 1-2, play at No. 6 Syracuse on November 21 and at Lafayette on November 24. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

For the Princeton University men’s basketball team, its non-conference schedule is designed to be a minefield, providing an array of challenges to sharpen the squad for Ivy League play.

Last week, the Tigers saw things blow up on them twice at Jadwin Gym as they worked out some early-season kinks.

On November 13, Princeton blew an 18-point lead on the way to a 67-66 loss to Northeastern. Three days later against Rutgers, the Tigers jumped out to an early 12-3 advantage only to end up falling 58-52 to their local rivals.

“Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel for us,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, invoking the Batman catchphrase in expressing his disappointment after the Rutgers game.

“Once again, I feel like Rutgers deserves a lot of credit and we have to be able to execute a little better on the offensive end. I thought our defense was improved from the last time we went out. We made some mistakes that I think are correctable.”

Trailing Rutgers 33-27 as the second half started, Princeton displayed some better intensity as it went on a 9-4 run to narrow the gap to 37-36. The Tigers got it to 43-40 and 50-46 but could never get over the hump against the Scarlet Knights.

“We just couldn’t buy a hoop; we got it to 50-46 with four minutes left and we missed a couple of easy shots that would have really helped,” said Henderson whose team shot 7-of-22 from the field in the second half as it fell to 1-2.

“Our backcourt is struggling a little bit. T.J. [Bray] was a 40 percent shooter from 3 last year and I have confidence that we’ll turn this thing around.”

Henderson was dismayed by how his team struggled on the boards, getting outrebounded 42-24 by an aggressive Rutgers squad.

“It is concerning, especially since I think that is what we want to hang our hat on this year,” said Henderson.

“They had six offensive in the first half; it was just like patty cake up against the glass. I thought that was a major point and I thought transition hoops in the first half made a difference.”

Tiger senior star Ian Hummer acknowledged that the Tigers were outfought on the glass.

“It was an overall team effort by Rutgers, they really destroyed us, they really pushed us around,” said Hummer, who ended the evening with 10 points and four rebounds.

“I think we have to push back. We can definitely hit the boards as well, if not better, than they can. It just didn’t happen today and we just have to learn from it. We have got to go hard in practice and we’ll board up next time.”

Like Henderson, Hummer was disappointed by Princeton’s failure to execute when it was on the verge of regaining the lead.

“Rutgers is a very good team, but to be perfectly honest we didn’t play very well when we were only two or three points down,” said Hummer, who had played a major role in helping Princeton win the last two games in the series.

“To know that was the case and not being able to cross that threshold was kind of frustrating. Every time we cut it to two or three, they ended up getting a board and putting it back. It definitely takes the wind out of your sails. It just builds character. We are going to be in tough games throughout the season. I think we can really learn from this and we can play a lot better.”

Henderson, for his part, knows the Tigers will have to be tougher as they play at No. 6 Syracuse on November 21 and at Lafayette on November 24.

“We have hit some droughts but I think that we need to have the ability to adjust in those different changing defensive segments,” said Henderson.

“That’s why we like playing these games. They really help us and it shows us what we need to work on.”

FINISHING TOUCH: Princeton High boys’ soccer star Kevin Halliday controls the ball last Thursday as third-seeded PHS battled No. 7 Middletown South in the Central Jersey Group III semifinals. Junior forward Halliday scored the game-winning goal in overtime as PHS prevailed 2-1. Last Monday, Halliday scored two goals as PHS upended top-seeded Allentown 4-3 in the sectional title game. The Little Tigers, now 17-3, earned a spot in the state Group III semifinals on November 27 at Toms River North against the winner of Kingsway-Moorestown South Jersey sectional final. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It was a case of déjà vu for Kevin Halliday and the Princeton High boys’ soccer team as they headed into overtime tied 1-1 with Middletown South last Thursday in the Central Jersey Group III semifinals.

Three days earlier, third-seeded PHS had gone into overtime against No. 6 Wall in the sectional quarterfinals and prevailed on a goal by Chase Ealy.

In the view of junior forward Halliday, PHS was able to draw on that experience as they headed into extra time against seventh-seeded Middletown South.

“I think with us being in the same position as the last game, we knew we had to keep our heads straight,” said Halliday.

“Even when things got chippy, we knew we had to finish our chances when they came.”

Midway through the second overtime, Halliday did just that, banging home the winning goal to trigger a raucous celebration and book a spot in the sectional finals for a second straight year.

“I went up for a header and tried to shoot it and it came back to me,” recalled Halliday. “It ended up on my foot and I just had to finish the chance.”

Having nearly scored in the first overtime, Halliday felt he was due for a goal.

“I thought it was coming; I had that shot and he made the save,” said Halliday.

“We came off for halftime and my friend Andrew Braverman gave me his lucky band. I put it back on and we scored it.”

On Monday, Halliday kept scoring, tallying two goals as PHS edged top-seeded Allentown in a 4-3 thriller in the sectional final to improve to 17-3 and earn a spot in the state Group III semifinals on November 27 at Toms River North against the winner of Kingsway-Moorestown South Jersey sectional final.

In Halliday’s view, who now has a team-high 22 goals, his scoring prowess has been the result of several factors.

“I think just being in the right place at the right time,” said Halliday. “To be honest, I wouldn’t say that any of my goals have been beating five guys and ripping it up. It is just knowing where the pass is going, knowing where the ball is going to end, and finishing it. I think it is a matter of that little bit of luck and a little bit of experience and hard work.”

Halliday enjoys working with his brother, Zach, a star senior midfielder for the Little Tigers.

“I have always loved playing with my brother; I have done it for a while,” said Halliday. “I think we work well together.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe loves seeing how his junior striker has developed into a deadly finisher.

“Kevin has been a special player since his early days when we had him as a freshman,” said Sutcliffe.

“First of all, he has got great technique. His tactical awareness complements that. He is a terrific athlete and he is a great competitor. He just gets in and combines with Zach, Aidan [Passannante], Colin [Lamb] and Jeremy [Goldsmith]. He has this great ability to read the game. I think he separates himself a little bit because of his desire and his athleticism.”

Having won the state Group III title in 2009 and the sectional crown last fall, PHS has once again separated itself from the competition in the postseason.

“It has been a priority to be at our best when the pressure is the greatest and to have thick skins,” said Sutcliffe.

“I think this is our third overtime game of the season, two in this week. Our mentality has led us to be very strong and very focused in these tight spots. All credit to my guys.”

In Sutcliffe’s view, this year’s squad has displayed a special focus this fall. “It has been a challenging season,” said Sutcliffe.

“We had some key injuries to key players early on in the first half and then we found our form. But then we sort of lost it a little bit. The storm, for everyone, was a challenge. We were without a game for two weeks and I am proud of the team for having the maturity and the strength to get through that and get better in that two weeks because we got better even though we didn’t play a game. We were out here everyday training.”

Halliday, for his part, believes that PHS has been stronger in the wake of a 4-0 defeat to Pennington in the county tournament.

“We came back from a hard loss to Pennington in the MCTs so we had a big break, especially with Sandy so we just kept on working on it, working on it, and it paid off for us,” said Halliday.

“Before Pennington, we had been on a run and it kind of knocked us off. The biggest thing that we took from that is that when we go down a goal we have to stay composed. That’s what we did the last two games.”

STILL KICKING: Princeton High girls’ soccer star Meghan ­Brennan kicks the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, senior forward Brennan scored PHS’s first goal in a 2-0 win over Hopewell Valley in the Central Jersey Group III sectional semifinals. The victory improved PHS to 15-2-1 as the Little Tigers earned their first trip to the sectional championship game since 2004. PHS is slated to face No. 8 Colts Neck on November 20 in the sectional title game with the victor to advance to the state Group III semifinals on November 27.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The Princeton High girls’ soccer team had some agonizing near misses against Hopewell Valley in the Central Jersey Group III sectional semifinals as the team were knotted in a scoreless tie heading into the waning moments of regulation.

With second-seeded PHS dominating possession, Meghan Brennan was confident the Little Tigers could break the ice against the No. 3 Bulldogs, who had posted a 1-0 win in the regular season meeting between the teams.

“Every time we got a free kick, I was hoping it was here,” said senior forward Brennan.

Then with seven minutes left, freshmen defender Haley Bodden lofted a free kick towards the box and Brennan rose above the HoVal defense to head it into the back of the net.

In reflecting on her tally, Brennan credited Bodden’s service. “We all had our different runs and everybody was working really hard and Haley played the perfect ball,” recalled Brennan. “She couldn’t have placed it more perfectly.”

Minutes later, Kate Kerr fired a shot over the HoVal goalie to put the finishing touches on a 2-0 win over the Bulldogs.

The victory improved PHS to 15-2-1 as the Little Tigers earned their first trip to the sectional championship game since 2004. PHS is slated to face No. 8 Colts Neck on November 20 in the sectional title game with the victor to advance to the state Group III semifinals on November 27.

For Brennan, seeing PHS advance to the sectional title game has come as a pleasant surprise.

“At the beginning of the season, it was really hard to know what to expect,” said Brennan.

“We had 11 new players so you never really know how that’s going to go. From day one, we decided that we were going to take it day by day and work as hard as we could in practice and not set any lofty goals. I think we have done a great job sticking together, Staying behind each other and playing as a team and just putting all we have into it.”

In Brennan’s view, PHS gathered steam as the season progressed. “I think it was more of a gradual process; there wasn’t one particular turning point,” said Brennan.

“We had two losses early in the season so I think that kind of helped us get momentum. We got inspiration from those losses to come back and rebound and work hard.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand liked the work he was getting from his team as it knocked on the door against HoVal late in the second half.

“I thought for the last 20-25 minutes we had momentum,” said Hand. “We were creating really well; almost scored on several occasions. It always seems to be the case, the harder you play the more your technique and tactics really show themselves. The kids seemed to be really aware and connected in the last 20 minutes of the game.”

Hand was not surprised that the combination of Bodden and Brennan connected on the game winner. “Haley has been on the money all year long with restarts,” said Hand. “Meghan is just a big player who really stepped up.”

Kerr’s insurance goal was a prime example of how the PHS players have stepped up in big moments this fall.

“It was beautiful; it is the time you want somebody to be taking the initiative on her own and finding a way to finish,” said Hand. “I thought it was an excellent play from the first touch to the finish.”

The team’s excellent play in the second half stood as a microcosm of PHS’s title run.

“It is nice to know what we are capable of which is what we did in the second half,” said Hand. “It came out; the kids certainly worked hard enough to earn that.”

Brennan, for her part, is thrilled to see PHS come on so strong in her senior season.

“It is so amazing; everyone wants their senior year to be successful,” said Brennan.

“I am so glad we have made it this far. It is farther than I have ever made it. I love this team so much. It makes it so much more special to be with all of them during this.”

IN GOOD HANDS: Princeton High girls’ soccer goalie Lauren Ullmann takes a break during action earlier this fall. Senior star Ullmann posted 14 saves in a 3-1 win over Somerville in the Group III Central Jersey quarterfinals last week and then scored a shutout as PHS blanked Hopewell Valley 2-0 in the sectional semis last Friday. The second-seeded Little Tigers were slated to host No. 8 Colts Neck on November 20 in the sectional title game with the victor advancing to the state Group III semifinals on November 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Senior goalie Lauren Ullmann knows what it is like to hold the fort for the Princeton High girls’ soccer team.

“We went 100 minutes against Pennington and nothing went in,” said Ullmann, referring to PHS’s loss to Pennington on penalty kicks in the Mercer County Tournament semis after the teams played to a scoreless tie through regulation and 20 minutes of overtime.

“We have done it against other teams in the CVC with strong attacks.” Last week, Ullmann and the second-seeded Little Tigers were under attack as they hosted seventh-seeded Somerville in the Group III Central Jersey quarterfinals. The upstart Pioneers peppered PHS in the early going, building a 7-1 edge in shots and a 1-0 lead.

The cool-headed and battle-tested Ullmann wasn’t fazed. “I just think it was a matter of when we would find our rhythm and figure the game enough to play the way we play the best,” said Ullmann, who made some big saves during that early stretch of the contest.

“The only concern I would have had is that I don’t want my season to end today. I had complete faith in us that we would be able to come back. It wasn’t a problem, just come back and take it to them. I had confidence that as long we could keep getting the job done in the back, we could get the job done as a whole.”

PHS broke through on a goal by freshman Taylor Lis with 10:58 remaining in the first half.

“I think we realized that the game was in our control; we had the power to make it happen,” said Ullmann.

“We don’t want the season to end today. It is us, we can make it happen and keep the season going.”

The Little Tigers went on to win 3-1 with Ullmann making 14 saves in the win.

“We knew what we had to do,” said Ullmann. “There was no reason that we should not have been able to get those goals pretty quickly. I thought we stayed sharp and we were focused the whole game.”

PHS assistant coach Val Rodriguez liked the focus that Ullmann displayed in goal as she helped the Little Tigers survive Somerville’s early barrage.

“She made some great saves,” said Rodriguez. “Lauren is a dependable keeper and a great leader on the field. We can always count on her.”

Three days later, Ullmann had another great performance as she helped PHS blank third-seeded Hopewell Valley 2-0 in the sectional semifinals and improve to 15-3.

For Ullmann, PHS’s postseason run is all the more special since the Little Tigers came out of nowhere.

“I think we love each other and we love being together,” said Ullmann, who was looking to keep up her hot play as PHS hosted No. 8 Colts Neck on November 20 in the sectional finals.

“I think this season has been totally unexpected with 10 or 11 newcomers and six of them are freshmen. I just think no one really expected that much from us. I think we have worked hard to prove ourselves, day in and day out. We don’t stop when we push ourselves at practice.

Ullmann is hoping the Little Tigers can keep pushing a little longer. “We want to be there again and again,” added Ullmann.

“This season is extending to who knows when with Hurricane Sandy and everything. We want to be here, we want to play together. That’s what allows us to get it done.”

And with Ullmann consistently getting it done in the net, PHS has produced one of the best seasons in program history.