October 22, 2014
ON THE SAME PAGE: The Princeton High girls’ tennis first doubles team of Zhenia Dementyeva, left, and Nikhita Salgame consults with PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert, right, during a match earlier this season. Last Friday, Dementyeva and Nikhita Salgame fought valiantly in defeat as PHS lost 4-1 to to Millburn in the state Group 3 teams finals.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ON THE SAME PAGE: The Princeton High girls’ tennis first doubles team of Zhenia Dementyeva, left, and Nikhita Salgame consults with PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert, right, during a match earlier this season. Last Friday, Dementyeva and Nikhita Salgame fought valiantly in defeat as PHS lost 4-1 to to Millburn in the state Group 3 teams finals. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It would have been understandable if Zhenia Dementyeva was down in the dumps last Friday moments after the Princeton High girls’ tennis team fell 4-1 to Millburn in the state Group 3 teams finals.

PHS senior star Dementyeva and junior Nikhita Salgame fell 7-6, 6-2 at first doubles to Millburn’s pair of Anya Zakusilo and Sydney Zirlin, a defeat that clinched the title for Millburn.

But Dementyeva was all smiles as she reflected on the closely fought match that featured a number of marathon deuce games.

“It was probably the most fun match we have ever had because it was so neck and neck,” said Dementyeva.

“In the first set we were down 1-4 and we came back to a tie break, for us, that is remarkable. At the same time, we weren’t nervous. We were just having the time of our lives.”

While Dementyeva and Salgame understood that PHS was on the verge of falling to Millburn, they kept their minds on the task at hand.

“We weren’t thinking about that but we had that in the back of our minds,” said Dementyeva. “We were so wrapped up in the present that we didn’t think about the other scores.”

The pair has developed a positive mindset that has helped set them apart from other teams.

“Nikhita and I fit like two puzzle pieces,” said Dementyeva. “We have our own jokes; we whisper things to each other to crack each other up. I think what makes us successful as a team is the way we understand each other. We are able to criticize each other during a match. If we think we are doing something wrong, we tell each other, we correct it, and then we play better.”

Dementyeva and senior teammates, Katelyn Hojeibane and Rory Lewis, have reached a deep understanding over the last four years.

“The whole tennis team is like a great big family, the three of us are especially close,” said Dementyeva.

“I have known Rory since 6th grade, we walk home together. Katelyn and I  take tennis lessons together. I think one thing that people wouldn’t expect about a girls tennis team is that we are drama free. There is no gossip, we mesh in such a perfect way that it makes us really comfortable with each other.”

PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert liked the way her team created some drama in the match against Millburn, fighting back from straight-set losses in second and third singles from Hojeibane and Lewis, respectively, to turn the three remaining matches into nailbiters.

In addition to the hard-fought defeat at first doubles, PHS first singles star Christina Rosca fell in three sets to Stephanie Schrage while the second doubles team of Elise Gerdes and Gillian Samios pulled out a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win over Ingrid Waung and Rebecca Blevins.

“We had no delusions of anything less than a real battle,” said Hibbert. “I was really pleased with the way the doubles fought through, both of them were down 1-4 in the first set and they came back. Second doubles won the first set and first doubles forced a tie break. They proved that they could compete with the best doubles teams in the state and beat them, in this case, the second doubles.”

Rosca showed her competitive fire as she rebounded from losing the first set to turn her match into a tense battle that saw Schrage prevail 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

“Chris fought incredibly hard, Stephanie is a quality opponent as well,” added Hibbert.

“That could have gone either way, it came down to a point here or there and a bad bounce off the net, one missed shot, They had a great match. We fought and we at least scared them a little bit.”

The Little Tigers were determined to put a scare into undefeated and nine-time state champion Millburn.

“The one thing we said is that if it doesn’t start well, we are not going to give up and roll over, we are going to fight back,” said Hibbert.

“That’s one of the biggest things I was proud of, they fought back. Even though we didn’t start well, we gave them a fight and we worked hard. I think against most of the other teams here, we would have been able to pull out a victory. Unfortunately we ran into the No. 1 team in the state.”

This bunch of PHS players has established themselves as a top team in the annals of the program’s proud history.

“This is a really great group of girls, they have won the sectional title four years in a row and made it to the group final the last three so that was really exciting,” said Hibbert.

“To add the county tournament title this year as well was icing on the cake, especially for our three seniors. It is a nice way for them to go out. It would have been nicer if we had been able to win it, but we take little victories from making it through. We had a close semi match (a 3-2 win over Northern Highlands), they were a strong team too. You don’t get there if you are not a good team.”

In Hibbert’s view, her three seniors are leaving quite a legacy. “We’ll obviously miss them tremendously next year as players, as captains, as leaders, as people,” said Hibbert, whose team moved to 15-3 with a 3-2 loss to Group 4 champion WW/P-S last Monday in a regular season match.

“They are all really nice people and hard workers. They set a good tone. You can really see that they are all waiting and ready to congratulate each other. They really like being on the team together. We will miss them a lot next year.”

Dementyeva, for her part, will long remember what it was like being on the court Friday and playing her heart out to the end.

“It is so special to finish on a match like this,” said Dementyeva. “Of course I wish we won but I don’t think I would want it any other way. I am just elated. I was thinking like wow, I am never going to be able to play with these amazing girls ever again. I was just enjoying it, every moment of it.”

FINAL APPROACH: Princeton High girls’ tennis star Rory Lewis follows through on a forehand in recent action. Last Friday, senior Lewis prevailed at third singles against Northern Highlands to clinch a 3-2 win for PHS and book the squad a spot in the NJSIAA Group 3 team state finals. The Little Tigers ended up falling to Millburn 4-1 in the championship match.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FINAL APPROACH: Princeton High girls’ tennis star Rory Lewis follows through on a forehand in recent action. Last Friday, senior Lewis prevailed at third singles against Northern Highlands to clinch a 3-2 win for PHS and book the squad a spot in the NJSIAA Group 3 team state finals. The Little Tigers ended up falling to Millburn 4-1 in the championship match. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As Princeton High girls’ tennis star Rory Lewis headed into the latter stages of the second set against Charlotte Hagan of Northern Highlands last Friday in the NJSIAA Group 3 team semifinals, a crowd gathered around court 13 at Mercer County Park to witness the showdown.

The teams were knotted at 2-2 and a spot in the state finals depended on the outcome of the third singles match.

While senior Lewis sensed what was drawing the onlookers, she didn’t dwell on the situation.

“I had an inkling, I suppose; I thought that’s what was happening,” said Lewis. “I didn’t want to psyche myself out so I pushed it out of my mind.”

Instead, she proceeded to push Hagan around on the court, posting a 6-3, 6-1 win to book PHS’s spot in the finals and earn the hugs of her teammates.

In defeating Hagan, Lewis kept the focus on her strokes and tactics. “My backhand has gotten a lot better, I worked on it a lot yesterday,” said Lewis.

“She was a very tough opponent. I had to stay in my head and not let up because she was fighting me. I think experience also helped a lot.”

It also helped Lewis to have her teammates cheering her on. “It is really nice, you feel the support,” said Lewis. “It is great, they are cheering you on no matter what, that is really nice. It is a good feeling.”

There is a great feeling around the PHS squad. “We are a small team so we know each other really well and we all support each other,” said Lewis. “We don’t push against each other; we all want to get better together.”

Although PHS ended up falling 4-1 to Millburn later Friday in the state final, making it that far was special for Lewis.

“It is very, very nice; we have done it all three years since I have been on varsity,” said Lewis.

“It means a lot, you want to go out with a bang. We have had a good season so far so I am getting my wish.”

FEELING LOW: Princeton High football player Ben Danis carries the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, senior Danis had five catches for 67 yards and a touchdown in a losing cause as PHS fell 48-29 at Winslow, suffering its first defeat of the season. The Little Tigers, now 5-1, will look to get back on the winning track when they host WW/P-S on October 25.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FEELING LOW: Princeton High football player Ben Danis carries the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, senior Danis had five catches for 67 yards and a touchdown in a losing cause as PHS fell 48-29 at Winslow, suffering its first defeat of the season. The Little Tigers, now 5-1, will look to get back on the winning track when they host WW/P-S on October 25. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton High football team brought a 5-0 record into its clash at 1-3 Winslow last Friday evening, PHS was geared up for a dogfight.

“Despite the record, we knew they were a good program,” said PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher. “They had talented kids on both sides of the ball.”

That talent showed early on as Winslow took a 12-7 lead into intermission.

Having battled through plenty of adversity in its magical run this fall, PHS wasn’t fazed by the deficit. “The message at half was that we had put a lot of points on the board in the second half this year,” recalled Gallagher.

While the Little Tigers ended up putting up 21 points in the second half, it wasn’t enough as Winslow pulled away to a 48-29 win.

“We moved the ball up and down the field,” said Gallagher. “We had some turnovers that hurt us. We were right there, we had back-to-back touchdowns to make it 36-29. For the most part, it was a pretty even game. It got a little out of hand, they tacked on two TDs at the end.”

Junior tailback Rory Helstrom gave the Little Tigers some touchdowns and a large dose of character.

“Rory had a really good game, he showed his leadership at the end of the game,” said Gallagher of Helstrom, who rushed for 113 yards and made two touchdown receptions in the loss.

“We look to him as a playmaker. When the going got tough at the end, he stepped up and kept the guys going.”

The combination of junior quarterback Dave Beamer and senior running back Ben Danis helped keep the PHS offense going as Beamer passed for 208 yards and three touchdowns while Danis made a number of key catches.

“Dave made a lot of good plays but we need to help him manage the game better and make better choices,” said Gallagher.

“He has 11 TD passes and 11 interceptions so far, that is not where he wants to be. We really like him; he is still young. He has only had 11 or 12 starts. Ben Danis had a big game, he made five catches for 67 yards and a TD. He made a couple of big catches. On a 4th and 5 late, he had a 6-yard catch. It was good to get him involved.”

On defense, the Little Tigers got a number of good efforts. “Defensively, Sam Smallzman did a nice job and Tommy Moore had a good game,” said Gallagher.

“Jack Cook was back from a broken finger and did a good job at corner, shutting things down. He is 6’3, he is a tough guy to get around.”

While tasting defeat for the first time this fall was tough for PHS, Gallagher put things in perspective for his players afterward.

“The first thing I said afterward is the bottom line is that to be 5-0, after where we were last year (0-10), was a great accomplishment and no one can take that away from us. We were looking to go 6-0. People were saying if Princeton got two or three wins the whole season, that would be great.”

The Little Tigers are determined to get that sixth win this Saturday when they host local rival WW/P-S.

“They are from just across the tracks, so to speak, and there is a lot of familiarity,” said Gallagher.

“It is our Senior Day and we want to get back on track. We will be amped up. I hope it’s a good game, we will work hard this week to be ready.”

Stepping into the starting goalie spot for the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team from day one this fall as a freshman, Grace Barbara has been under the gun.

“There are some very strong players on some of these opponents’ teams,” said Barbara. “Since I am a freshman it has been a little bit difficult with these very skilled players.”

Last week, Barbara faced one of the toughest opponents around as PDS played at Pennington, the perennial state Prep A champion.

“Pennington is a great team, I have a lot of friends from my club team, YMS, on that team so it is definitely a rivalry,” said Barbara.

“We knew going into the game that it was going to be a tough one,  Pennington is ranked second in the nation. They had lost to Hun 2-0 and we were strong with Hun so we felt going into the game that if we played our best and played to the level of the opponents, we would pull through with a win or a tie.”

The squads were level through the first half, locked in a 0-0 stalemate with Barbara making several good saves to thwart the Red Raiders.

“I felt pretty good in the first half, attacking two corners,” said Barbara. “Winning those definitely boosted my confidence and the team’s. Everyone played their hearts out.”

In the second half, however, Pennington’s attack broke through with two goals as PDS fell 2-0 in the October 14 contest.

While Barbara was disappointed with the loss, she gained some valuable experience from the setback.

“They are a skilled team so I can learn a lot, especially from the goals,” said Barbara, who ended up with 10 saves in the setback.

“I can work on sets and high balls coming from long and the short balls pegged down in the corners. I can definitely work on that in practice.”

Barbara has developed a good working relationship with the PDS defensive unit. “I feel like my defense back here with Erin Hogan, Alexis Davis, and Stef Soltesz has been working great with me,” said Barbara.

“Abby Atkeson was stepping back on defense today. I feel quite protected back here, even though we are only playing with three in the back a lot of the time.

Playing goalie since grade school, Barbara is relishing her debut campaign for the Panthers.

“I was always interested in the position and I started in U-8 so I have been playing for quite a while,” said Barbara, who made two saves to earn the shutout as PDS topped New Brunswick 7-0 last Monday in improving to 9-3-3.

“My club team, the YMS Pride, really got me ready for the high school season and this is just a great opportunity because I am just playing with high skilled players on my team and the other teams. It is really building me up.”

PDS head coach Pat Trombetta saw the matchup with Pennington as a great opportunity with postseason play around the corner.

“We usually play them late in the season and it gives us a measurement of where we stand,” said Trombetta, whose team is the defending Mercer County Tournament champion and is seeded sixth in this year’s MCT where it will host No. 11 Notre Dame on a first round contest on October 25.

Trombetta liked the way his defense stood tall all night long against Pennington.

“We put Abby [Atkeson] and Kirsten [Kuzmicz] in the back, that’s something that we haven’t done all year,” said Trombetta.

“I think it worked, it kept us in the game. Grace made some good saves, she was in control. Abby and Kirsten had good games today. Stef did a great job in the back again; she was solid.”

The Panthers didn’t do as good a job at the offensive end of the field as they generated chances but couldn’t find the back of the net.

“We couldn’t connect,” lamented Trombetta. “We had a couple of opportunities here in the second half that we probably could have done better with.”

While Trombetta hoped for a better result against Pennington, he had no qualms about his team’s competitiveness.

“I was proud of the effort, we played aggressive, we played physical, and we stayed with them,” said Trombetta, whose team is also competing on the state Prep B tourney where it is seeded first and has a bye into the semis.

“We played toe-to-toe with them and that’s all you can ask as a coach when you are playing one of the top teams around.”

Barbara, for her part, believes the Panthers can emerge as a top team in postseason play.

“I feel like even though we did lose, we played a great game,” said Barbara. “This was a great segue way for the tournaments. We will be playing some skilled teams in the postseason just like Pennington and it got our heads in check.”

ON THE DEFENSIVE: Princeton High girls’ soccer player Emily Pawlak tracks the ball during a game earlier this season. Senior defender Pawlak has been trying to hold the fort as the Little Tigers have been hit by the injury bug. PHS, which fell 6-0 to Allentown last Thursday to drop to 7-5-1, starts play in the Mercer County Tournament this week. The Little Tigers are seeded 9th in the MCT and are slated to play at No. 8 Ewing on October 25 in a first round contest.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ON THE DEFENSIVE: Princeton High girls’ soccer player Emily Pawlak tracks the ball during a game earlier this season. Senior defender Pawlak has been trying to hold the fort as the Little Tigers have been hit by the injury bug. PHS, which fell 6-0 to Allentown last Thursday to drop to 7-5-1, starts play in the Mercer County Tournament this week. The Little Tigers are seeded 9th in the MCT and are slated to play at No. 8 Ewing on October 25 in a first round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Despite being shorthanded due to a number of injuries, the Princeton High girls’ soccer team battled Notre Dame on even terms in the early going when the rivals met last week.

Displaying some scrappy play, PHS thwarted a number of Irish runs and the teams went into halftime locked in a 0-0 stalemate.

“The 11 that I chose to put out on the field to begin did a great job of defending and then trying to build when we won the ball,” said PHS head coach Val Rodriguez.

“We had a little bit of fire when we put some subs into the game. They generated a few things in the first half.”

In the second half, though, Notre Dame generated the offense as it scored three unanswered goals to pull away to a 3-0 win over the Little Tigers.

“We got a little bit flat and we had a couple of defensive breakdowns,” said Rodriguez, in assessing the second half.

“We didn’t keep our shape to build anything and then it is injury after injury. I was down to one sub by the end of today’s game from a 20-girl roster.”

For PHS, having senior striker and top offensive threat Shannon Pawlak sidelined for the rest of the season due to a leg injury has proven to be a huge problem.

“We have to find a way to have a target up top to somewhat replace Shannon,” said Rodriguez, whose team struggled again last Thursday as it fell 6-0 at Allentown in dropping to 7-5-1.

“We never found a rhythm today, we had to keep shifting people from one spot to another. Shannon could go forward and have high pressure on her back, get the ball and keep it for a couple of seconds and be able to dish it off or turn and shoot. She did it very, very well.”

With the Mercer County Tournament starting this week, Rodriguez is hoping that PHS can find a rhythm down the stretch.

“Getting healthy is a big piece of it,” said Rodriguez, whose squad is seeded 9th in the MCT and is slated to play at No. 8 Ewing on October 25 in a first round contest. “We have some positive stuff, they are doing their best.”

SHARP EXECUTION: Hun School running back Chris Sharp races upfield in recent action. Last Saturday, senior star and University of Virginia-bound Sharp totaled four touchdowns, two rushing and two receiving, to help Hun rout the Hill School (Pa.) 49-6. The Raiders, now 4-1 overall and 2-0 in Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) action, host Lawrenceville (2-3 overall, 2-0 MAPL) on October 25.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SHARP EXECUTION: Hun School running back Chris Sharp races upfield in recent action. Last Saturday, senior star and University of Virginia-bound Sharp totaled four touchdowns, two rushing and two receiving, to help Hun rout the Hill School (Pa.) 49-6. The Raiders, now 4-1 overall and 2-0 in Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) action, host Lawrenceville (2-3 overall, 2-0 MAPL) on October 25. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though his Hun School football team was coming off two successive routs, Todd Smith was looking for sharper execution as the Raiders played at the  Hill School (Pa.) last Saturday.

“We were really concentrating on the offensive side of the ball and limiting mistakes,” said Hun head coach Smith, whose team had topped Blair 46-16 on October 11 and Germantown Academy 42-21 on October 2 in its previous two outings. “We hadn’t played that perfect game yet.”

Against Hill, the Raiders got the lead before the offense touched the ball as Donavon Harris returned the opening kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown, giving Hun a 7-0 lead.

“That is one way to take care of things, it was a good way to start,” said Smith, whose team led 28-0 after the first quarter on Saturday. “It is always good to get a special teams touchdown.”

The Raiders proceeded to score six more touchdowns on the day as they romped to a 49-6 victory, improving to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) action.

Senior star and University of Virginia-bound Chris Sharp led the way with four touchdowns, two rushing and two receiving. Jacob Gallahdari chipped in a 16-yard scoring jaunt while Dan Seelagy broke away for an 81-yard TD gallop.

While the talented Sharp turned heads with his
brilliance, it was a group effort.

“We actually spread the ball around; we didn’t want to overwhelm Chris with touches,” said Smith.

“He made the most of his opportunities. Both his catches were touchdowns; he had 80 yards receiving and ran the ball well (131 yards on 12 carries). Jacob had more than 45 yards on five carries. Danny Seelagy went over 100 yards (126 yards on five carries) rushing.

Ever the perfectionist, Smith sees room for improvement. “We still have to fine tune some things,” said Smith. “I am really happy with the intensity; we are coming off the ball hard.”

The Raiders displayed some very good intensity on the defensive side of the ball against Hill.

“I thought we did a great job of stopping the run and did well when we were backed into the red zone,” said Smith.

“We also forced the most turnovers we have had in a game this year. We had three interceptions on the day and a fumble recovery. We really swarmed to the ball.”

Hosting arch-rival Lawrenceville (2-3 overall, 2-0 MAPL) on October 25, Hun will look to click on all cylinders.

“We are excited; they are probably the most complete team we will see the rest of the year,” said Smith.

“We have to play smart and be comfortable with the game plan. I couldn’t be happier with where we are, the kids are really jelling and competing hard.”

HITTING HER STRIDE: Stuart Country Day School field hockey player Tori Hannah dribbles the ball upfield in recent action. Last Wednesday, junior star Hannah scored both goals as Stuart pulled out a 2-1 last-second win over South Hunterdon. On Monday, she added a goal and an assist as the Tartans topped Nottingham 4-0 in a Mercer County Tournament consolation contest to improve to 5-12. In upcoming action, Stuart will start play in the state Prep B tourney where it is seeded sixth and plays at No. 3 Pennington on October 22 in a first round contest.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HITTING HER STRIDE: Stuart Country Day School field hockey player Tori Hannah dribbles the ball upfield in recent action. Last Wednesday, junior star Hannah scored both goals as Stuart pulled out a 2-1 last-second win over South Hunterdon. On Monday, she added a goal and an assist as the Tartans topped Nottingham 4-0 in a Mercer County Tournament consolation contest to improve to 5-12. In upcoming action, Stuart will start play in the state Prep B tourney where it is seeded sixth and plays at No. 3 Pennington on October 22 in a first round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Tori Hannah has been talking more on the field this fall in her junior season with the Stuart Country Day School field hockey team.

“I think I am communicating more with the team and am helping them with stopping the ball and boosting their spirits,” said Hannah.

Last Wednesday, Hannah boosted her team’s spirits with her stickwork, scoring goals on penalty corners right before halftime and at the end of regulation as Stuart pulled out a thrilling 2-1 won over South Hunterdon.

“I have been working on my hits and my stick and ball skills and it’s come a long way,” said Hannah. “It has been great.”

In Hannah’s view, Stuart’s 5-0 win over Nottingham in a Mercer County Tournament (MCT) play-in game a day earlier gave the Tartans a big boost coming into the South Hunterdon contest.

“I think the win from yesterday really helped us in this game today,” said Hannah. “I think we were really pumped. We were ready to win and we really brought it.”

Even though Stuart fell behind 1-0 in the early going against South Hunterdon, Hannah and her teammates weren’t fazed.

“I think we were concerned but we didn’t let it take over our game,” said Hannah. “We still played a hard game; we tried to get back and we did.”

The Tartans showed some game with its penalty corner execution in the waning moments.

“It looks complicated but we pulled it off and it was such a great feeling,” said Hannah. “I was ecstatic, it was amazing.”

Having struggled in the early going this fall, the victory over South Hunterdon was sweet for the Tartans.

“It means the world, we have practiced so hard this year,” said Hannah.

“To come out against a really hard team and beat them was great. I think we have been more intense and we have wanted it a lot more than the other teams. We have just come out strong and stayed strong throughout the whole game.”

Stuart head coach Missy Bruvik liked the strength of character her team displayed in pulling out the win, battling rain showers along with a tough foe.

“I thought we did a great job keeping the ball inside of our attacking zone,” said Bruvik.

“It was very important to get that goal in the first half. We talked about that, we said we have to call that timeout before the end of the half and not wait until halftime. They play better with urgency. You give them the small goals and they accomplish them. We were trying to build off of that.”

In Bruvik’s view, the Tartans showed a good build up offensively against South Hunterdon. “I thought the midfield did a great job of supporting the offensive line this time,” said Bruvik.

“I am seeing the attack push up and really make more of an effort to get in the circle and finish. That had been a struggle for us the first half of the season.”

Hannah is providing Stuart with some good production on attack. “Tori had a huge game today,” said Bruvik. “She has better decision-making, she is staying poised. She is a good communicator on the field, she talks a lot. I am seeing improvement.”

Junior Sam Servis has improved as the season has gone along. “Sam had a big game yesterday,” said Bruvik. “She is starting to take it to the goal. She is understanding that with that talent, we need her in the circle. Her assets and skills are important to us.”

Another important factor in the win over South Hunterdon was Stuart’s work at the defensive end.

“We gave up an early goal but we hung tough; I thought the defense did a better job stepping up to the ball,” said Bruvik.

“I think South Hunterdon’s attack gave us a really good challenge. They are a big hitting team.”

While Stuart ended up falling to Princeton High in the opening round of MCT last Saturday, Bruvik feels her team can do some damage in the state Prep B tourney.

“The kids don’t dwell on the record, they are taking it game by game,” said Bruvik, whose team is seeded sixth in the Prep B tournament and plays at No. 3 Pennington on October 22 in a first round contest.

“I feel like we are definitely stepping up. I think the kids are realizing that the season is coming to an end.”

Hannah and her teammates are looking to get the most out of the season.

“We are going to have to play our hearts out in every single game,” said Hannah, who had a goal and an assist as Stuart topped Nottingham 4-0 last Monday in an MCT consolation contest to improve to 5-12.

“We have to practice with intensity. I think we just need to be ready and have our heads in the game all the time.”

October 16, 2014
sports1

GOAL RUSH: Princeton University women’s soccer player Tyler Lussi chases after the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, sophomore forward Lussi notched her first college hat trick, helping Princeton beat Brown 5-0 as the Tigers improved to 4-3-3 overall and 2-0-1 Ivy League. Lussi, who has eight goals in her last four games, was later named the Ivy Player of the Week. Princeton, that is tied with Harvard (7-3-2 Ivy, 2-0-1 Ivy) atop the Ivies, will look to keep on the winning track when it plays at Columbia (5-2-5 overall, 1-1-1 Ivy) on October 18. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After leading the Princeton University women’s soccer team with 10 goals in 2013 as a freshman, Tyler Lussi found herself in a scoring drought this fall.

Lussi scored only one goal in Princeton’s first six games as the Tigers got off to a shaky 1-3-2 start.

In the seventh game, Lussi scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win at Yale in the Ivy League opener and something clicked for her.

“I think that Yale was a nice, simple goal and if I keep myself doing simple things, it works out easier,” said Lussi. “I think that definitely started me off and kept me hungry for goals.”

Satisfying that hunger, Lussi scored two goals in each of Princeton’s next two games, a 2-2 tie with Dartmouth on October 4 and a 4-1 win over Lehigh last Wednesday.

Last Saturday against visiting Brown, Lussi was simply great, scoring three goals in a 5-0 win, recording the first hat trick of her college career.

“It is an amazing feeling,” said Lussi, whose heroics helped Princeton improve to 4-3-3 overall and 2-0-1 Ivy, tied for first in the league with Harvard (7-3-2 overall, 2-0-1 Ivy).

“I think I have had a couple of two-goal games but I think getting the third one was definitely good and I was really excited.”

The Tigers came into the evening excited by their outburst in the win over Lehigh.

“Coming off that really motivated us and in the first 25 minutes, we were coming in very strong and hard,” said Lussi.

After sophomore Haley Chow scored twice in the first 15 minutes to give Princeton a 2-0 lead, Lussi found the back of the net on a feed from senior star Lauren Lazo.

“It was an amazing pass from Lauren,” said Lussi, who scored with 26:29 remaining in the first half. “I just had to ‘nice and easy’ put it in the corner and it worked out.”

In the second half, Lussi scored on a rebound at the 56:48 mark and then blasted a volley off the post five minutes later for her third tally of the evening.

“I think we were moving the ball and I think just getting the little touches and it worked well,” said Lussi, a native of Lutherville, Md., who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week.

“We were all moving off the ball and moving for each other, it was very good.”

With a season of college soccer under her belt, Lussi is moving more smartly on the field.

“I think as a sophomore I know where each of my teammates is, how they play, where they play, and what type of balls they want,” said Lussi, who now has a team-high and league-high nine goals.

“I know where I need to be on the field and what type of runs I need to make. I am more confident, so going forward it is definitely good.”

Tiger head coach Julie Shackford enjoyed a milestone herself in the win over Brown as the triumph marked the 200th win in her 20-year tenure at Princeton.

“It means I have been here for a long time,” said a smiling Shackford, reflecting on her achievement which comes in her final season at Princeton as she announced this summer that she will be stepping down at the end of the fall. “It’s cool to do it at home for an Ivy League game in a game we played so well.”

Shackford credited Chow with breaking the game open for the Tigers. “She was a big-time catalyst; she is definitely coming into her own,” said Shackford.

“She is starting to defend better and because of her size, she is always going to be good in the air.”

In Shackford’s view, Lussi’s big-time scoring prowess comes down to desire.

“I just thinks she wants it so much, she has a phenomenal work rate,” said Shackford.

“She has gotten a little better tactically. Last year in the league, she had a hard time shaking defenders and I think that she is starting to figure out how to get herself into spots and good goal scoring positions. I think most importantly it is just her will to score, she just has it. She was holding the steering wheel too tight earlier.”

Shackford liked the way her defense tightened things up in the shutout of the Bears.

“Jesse McDonough had a great game for us today, she stepped into the plays and read things better,” asserted Shackford.

“I thought our shape in the back was better overall. Lauren Lazo was phenomenal, she did a lot of dirty work, she does so much dirty work. Darcy Hargadon played well in goal tonight, everything was clean, everything with her feet was good.”

With Princeton having dealt with a rash of injuries, everything seems headed in the right direction for the Tigers.

“I think just getting people relatively healthy has been a big piece of it,” said Shackford, whose team is 3-0-1 in its last four games after the 1-3-2 start and plays at Columbia (5-2-5 overall, 1-1-1 Ivy) on October 18.

“I would say also getting to this point that a lot of people have stepped up to do things and have done them really well. Kids played in different spots and I think they did well adjusting to people being out. It is a fighting team, they have a really good spirit about them. They are really fun to coach.”

Lussi, for her part, believes the Tigers have developed a special spirit from facing adversity.

“I think with all the injuries we have just come even closer as a team and worked even harder for each other,” said Lussi.

“I think it has showed and we are improving every game. We are hitting it right on the head and we are moving forward and getting stronger.”

 

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STOPPED AT THE GATE: Princeton University linebacker Mike ­Zeuli heads up the field in recent action. Last Saturday, senior co-captain Zeuli made 10 tackles in a losing cause as Princeton fell 31-30 at Colgate. The Tigers, now 2-2 overall and 1-0 Ivy League, will look to get back on the winning track when they host Brown (2-2 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on October 18. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Showing a distressing penchant for falling behind early in games last season even as it went 8-2, a major point of emphasis for the Princeton University football team in 2014 has been getting off to faster starts.

Playing at Colgate last Saturday, Princeton achieved that goal. With junior speedster Dre Nelson returning the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to get things rolling, the Tigers roared out to a 16-0 lead.

“It was the second time in three weeks that we returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown,” said Princeton head coach Bob Surace.

“It was really good execution and really good blocking. We forced some three-and-outs and got the ball in good field position. We ran the ball well.”

Things didn’t go as well in the second quarter as Princeton was outscored 21-7 to find itself clinging to a 23-21 lead at halftime.

“They are a good football team, they will probably finish first or second in the Patriot League,” said Surace. “They hadn’t thrown the ball quite as much as they did on Saturday.”

Although Princeton’s lead had been cut to just two points at intermission, Surace wasn’t pushing the panic button.

“At halftime, it was play the next play,” said Surace. “Focus on the next play and on not anything that happened at the end of the half. We were our worst enemy with the turnover and then their QB throws a TD pass. We were still ahead. We came out in the second half and played well.”

Princeton scored a touchdown on its first possession in the third quarter to increase its lead to 30-21 but it never scored again, succumbing to a Colgate rally in losing 31-30 before a crowd of 4,402 at Andy Kerr Stadium.

“Ten of our 12 drives went to the 50 or beyond,” said Surace, whose team dropped to 2-2 overall with the setback. “We didn’t finish drives as well as we need to. It was a penalty here or a thing there.”

Things were looking very good for Princeton in the early going. In its second possession after Nelson’s jaunt to paydirt, the Tigers put together a 90-yard scoring march that culminated with a one-yard touchdown run by quarterback Quinn Epperly.

Princeton forced a three-and-out and was on the move again. Sparked by a 38-yard pass from Epperly to Matt Costello, the Tigers got deep in Colgate territory. Although the drive stalled, the Tigers cashed in with a 38-yard field goal by Nolan Bieck to go up by 16-0.

The Raiders, though, started to get going in the second quarter as quarterback Jake Melville started finding the range with his passing game. Midway through the quarter, Colgate got on the board as a 3-yard TD run by Demetrius Russell capped a 64-yard march and narrowed the gap to 16-7.

Princeton answered back as Connor Michelsen hit Costello with a 28-yard TD pass to make it 23-7.

But that lead was short-lived as Melville hit some big passes, including a 24-yard scoring strike to Alex Greenawalt to draw Colgate to within 23-14.

Then, in a pivotal sequence, Epperly threw an interception which Colgate later converted to a touchdown on the last play of the half as Melville found John Quazza in the end zone for a 13-yard TD to make it 23-21 going into halftime.

Seemingly stemming the Raider tide, Princeton started the third quarter by forcing a three-and-out and then going on a scoring march. Driving 64 yards, the Tigers took a 30-21 lead as Will Powers scored on a 12-yard run.

Colgate responded with a big drive of its own, going 76 yards and scoring on a 24-yard pass from Melville to Risley Lesko to narrow the gap to 30-28.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Raiders forged ahead for the first time as Jonah Bowman hit a 23-yard field goal.

Princeton advanced to the Colgate 29 and 35 on its next two possessions but both drives ended with incomplete passes. In the waning moments of the contest, the Tigers forced a fumble and got the ball at their own 28 with 1:15 left in regulation. After picking up one first down, Princeton’s bid for a last minute victory ended with incomplete passes on the third and fourth downs.

In reflecting on the defeat, Surace rued his team’s failure to come through on a day when it outrushed the Raiders 201 yards to 111.

“The effort and physicality were there, they are one of the more physical teams we will see in four or five years,” said Surace, who got 131 yards on the ground from DiAndre Atwater with Powers gaining 43.

“We needed to execute a little better with all the good things we did in the running game.”

One of the things that has hurt Princeton is coming up short in the turnover battle.

“We were +10 in turnovers last year and this year we are -3,” said Surace. “We are not taking care of the ball as well. We have to keep attacking the ball in defense. We are playing with physicality but we are not doing a good job of getting the ball away from the other teams.”

With Brown (2-2 overall, 0-1 Ivy League) coming to Princeton Stadium on October 18 for a key Ivy clash, Princeton is poised for another physical battle.

“Coach [Phil] Estes and his group year in, year out does a good job,” said Surace, whose team is 1-0 in Ivy action. “They always play physical and have a really solid defense. I think the Colgate game prepared us well for them.”

In Surace’s view, Princeton is prepared to play a complete game. “We were close on Saturday; we are playing good teams and that is what it looks like when two good teams play each other,” said Surace.

“We have got to be better on a few plays. If we are playing 200 plays, I can’t be talking about seven where we were a little off. We need to take better care of details.”

 

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HEADLINER: Princeton University men’s soccer player Thomas Sanner, left heads the ball in recent action. Junior forward ­Sanner tallied three goals and an assist in a 5-2 win over Rutgers on October 7. Last Saturday, Sanner and his teammates rallied from a 1-0 deficit to pull out a 2-1 win over Brown in improving to 5-3-2 overall and 1-1 Ivy League. Sanner was later named the co-Ivy League Player of the Week along with Dartmouth senior forward Alex Adelabu for the week ending October 12. The Tigers resume league action with a game at Columbia (4-5 overall, 1-1 Ivy) on October 18. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After suffering a heartbreaking 2-1 overtime loss to Dartmouth in its Ivy League opener on October 4, the Princeton University men’s soccer team could have felt sorry for itself.

Instead, the Tigers displayed an upbeat mentality under the circumstances. “This team has shown some resilience and good leadership,” said Princeton head coach Jim Barlow.

“We have had good training sessions and the spirit is high. They were not discouraged after the Dartmouth loss, they still believed they could do some good things.”

In its next game against Rutgers three days later, Princeton did a lot of good things as it pulled away to a 5-2 over its local rivals.

“We came out and went down by one goal but we responded well, it was our best 90 minutes of the season,” said Barlow, who got three goals and an assist from Thomas Sanner in the win over the Scarlet Knights with Cameron Porter adding two goals and an assist.

“We were sharp with the ball. It was not just that we got five goals but four of them were really good goals. We were on the same page in the buildup. It was a lot more of an open game than some of the others.”

Heading into a critical Ivy contest against visiting Brown last Saturday, Barlow sensed that the game wasn’t going to be as open.

“They had four shutouts in a row so we knew it was going to be tough,” said Barlow.

“If we had lost the first two games at home in the league, it would have greatly diminished our chances of winning the title.”

Despite finding themselves trailing the Bears 1-0 at half, the Tigers still liked their chances.

“When we got to the half, the theme was that we had the ability to get goals, we just had to pass sharper to open up their defense a bit,” recalled Barlow

Senior star Porter got things going, drawing a penalty kick and then burying it as the Tigers knotted the game at 1-1 at the 68:46 mark.

“Cameron is a big, strong guy and there are a lot of big, strong, defenders and they get tangled up a lot,” said Barlow. “It is tough on the referees. He was in a good spot and Brendan McSherry did a really good job getting a cross into him.”

About 15 minutes later, Princeton took the lead as senior midfielder Joe Saitta scored his first career goal, a tally that proved to be the difference as Princeton prevailed 2-1.

Nico Hurtado started the winning play in the midfield, finding Vikram Pothuri, who crossed the ball to Saitta.

“Vikram is a good passer; we haven’t used him a lot but we started him in the second half and he had a really good game and helped set up the winning goal,” said Barlow, whose team improved to 5-3-2 overall and 1-1 Ivy with the victory.

“Saitta has had a lot of games recently where he has been strong. He didn’t have his best game against Dartmouth but he had a great game earlier against St. John’s and he was really solid against Rutgers. He did a great job against Brown, not only scoring the winning goal but passing really well.”

Barlow knows that the Tigers have to keep playing well to stay on the winning track in a league known for its parity.

“It is still going to be the same thing every week,” said Barlow. “There are four teams that are 1-1 in the league (Princeton, Penn, Brown, and Columbia), two are 2-0 (Dartmouth and Harvard) and two are 0-2 (Cornell and Yale). From week to week, you could be really happy or very disappointed.”

After hosting Loyola in a non-league contest on October 14, the Tigers head to New York City on Saturday for what shapes up to be another hotly-contested Ivy battle.

“We have a tough game at Columbia (4-5 overall), they lost their first league game, and then they came from behind to beat Penn on Saturday,” said Barlow.

“It is a tough place to play, we have benefitted from having four home games. Now we have to see if we can win on the road.”

 

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NO ORDINARY JOE: Princeton High football star Joe Hawes grabs some water during a game earlier this season. Hawes has made an immediate impact for PHS, taking up football this fall after spending last year as the backup goalie for the Little Tiger boys’ soccer team. The senior has emerged as a go-to receiver and ball-hawking defensive back for undefeated PHS. Last Saturday, he made four receptions for 55 yards and a game-sealing touchdown as PHS topped Steinert 28-14 to improve to 5-0. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Joe Hawes didn’t want to spend the fall of his senior year sitting on the bench for the Princeton High boys’ soccer team.

Realizing that he had hit a dead end as a little used back-up goalie for the PHS squad, Hawes decided he would get more action on the gridiron.

“I hadn’t tried football; my parents never really wanted me to,” said Hawes.

“This year, they were like you can’t do anything else why don’t you try football. I wasn’t getting playing time in soccer so I was — why not.”

Having never played organized football, Hawes underwent a crash course in the game over the offseason.

“I went to some summer league stuff,” said Hawes. “Defense wasn’t necessarily a problem but the offense was tough, learning routes, learning where you are on the field.”

Starring at lacrosse helped Hawes pick up his new sport. “The footwork and the physical play of lacrosse was a help,” said Hawes. “Knowing that you have a set play and doing what you have to do.”

The lanky Hawes has been doing well this fall for the Little Tigers, emerging as a go-to receiver and ball-hawking defensive back for the undefeated squad.

Last Saturday, he made four receptions for 55 yards and a game-sealing touchdown as PHS topped Steinert 28-14 to improve to 5-0.

On the TD, Hawes showed how quickly he has picked things up, changing his route to be an option for PHS quarterback Dave Beamer.

“I was just supposed to run down the field and I saw Beamer scrambling,” said Hawes. “We are taught to run across where he is and he just hit me.”

Against Steinert, the Little Tigers ran out to a 21-0 lead in the first half only to see the Spartans narrow the gap to 21-14 as the game headed into the fourth quarter.

“Personally I was concerned, it was 21-14 and one more score and then you are tied up and it is a whole new game,” said Hawes. “We just couldn’t let that happen.”

Executing on both sides of the ball, PHS held off the Spartans. “It was our offensive line blocking and our defense communicating and marking up correctly,” said Hawes. “Our O-line really won the game.”

Hawes got the sense early that he could make a mark on the football field.

“I think it was the Ewing game, our homecoming,” added Hawes, who made an 80-yard TD reception in the PHS’s opening day win over Hamilton. “I was just super confident. I knew in my mind what I had to do and I got it done.”

With just five games under his belt, Hawes acknowledges that he hasn’t mastered the fine points of the game.

“I am still working on it, there are still some things I need to do better,” said Hawes.

PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher was proud of the way his team got things done in the victory over Steinert.

“A lot of credit goes to coach [Dan] Caruso and the Steinert ball squad because they grinded it out, they took it one touchdown at a time to cut it to 21-14,” said Gallagher.

“But you know that when you look at the four games we have played so far, we are talking about Hamilton being up by a point in the first game. We are talking about being in a stalemate in the Ewing game at halftime. We are talking about a slugfest, a heavyweight fight against Hightstown and then we are down a point in the fourth quarter against Lawrence. It is a resilient team, we are just battling through.”

Along with that resilience, PHS boasts a number of weapons to help it win battles. In addition to getting a big game from Hawes in the win over Steinert, PHS got 102 yards rushing and a 57-yard punt return for a TD from junior star Rory Helstrom with junior quarterback Dave Beamer passing for 155 yards. Sam Smallzman returned a fumble 55 yards for a touchdown and Colin Buckley added a one-yard touchdown run.

“Joe is doing well, we would like to call his number more often,” said Gallagher.

“What is great about the squad right now is that we have a lot of playmakers, whether it be Rory Helstrom or Sam Smallzman or Joe Hawes or Colin Buckley or Dave Beamer or the special teams. Tad Moore made a great play today on that punt, he seals Steinert’s fate. He just wanted that ball and it pops out. Special teams is a third of the game, just as important as offense or defense. The offense or defense might be out there longer but special teams can win the game. We had a punt return for a TD. We are scoring in a variety of ways, which is great.”

There is a great feeling around the program as it has made a stunning turnaround from a 0-10 campaign last fall to its undefeated start this season.

“They have jelled from the very beginning,” asserted Gallagher. “It is great team chemistry and we are just happy to be coaching them up.”

Hawes, for his part, is very happy to have made the switch to football. “I couldn’t get this excited about a soccer game any time of the year except maybe a state championship,” said Hawes.

“This has been the best. I think the thing is that we just all want it. We are making history here, bringing football back into Princeton. We are all working for the same goal and we want it in our hearts.”

 

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CHASING VICTORY: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Chase Ealy controls the ball in recent action. Senior striker Ealy scored three goals in PHS’s 4-0 win over WW/P-N on October 7. Ealy and the Little Tigers edged Nottingham 2-1 last Thursday to improve to 10-1. In upcoming action, PHS hosts Allentown on October 16 before playing at Hightstown on October 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Chase Ealy covered a lot of territory for the Princeton High boys’ soccer team last Thursday as it hosted Nottingham.

The senior striker raced up and down the field, making dashes toward goal and serving crosses into his teammates.

Ealy’s industry didn’t result in any goals or assists by his name on the scoresheet but he was all smiles as PHS pulled out a 2-1 win over Nottingham.

“I was running all over the place and we were really building plays and that is what I am looking for,” said Ealy. “I did get some shots off but at the end of the day if the team gets goals, it doesn’t matter to me if I don’t get any.”

It did matter a lot to Ealy that PHS outlasted Nottingham via a Jake Caddeau goal late in regulation which decided the tight contest that saw the Little Tigers jump out to a 1-0 first half lead only to see the Northstars knot the game at 1-1 with 10:53 remaining in the second half.

“That is something we are going to have to get used to in the playoffs,” said Ealy. “The fact that we came back and got that goal showed a lot of character. I was proud of the guys for keeping their heads up. The guys that were coming off the bench came in with the right attitude. We decided we were going to win this one.”

As a battle-tested senior and team co-captain, Ealy looks to instill the right mentality.

“I think my role on the field is to be a leader foremost,” said Ealy. “I want to help the guys along, I want to make sure that the attitude is where it is. I have played under great captains, like Kevin Halliday and Zach Halliday. I want to do everything I can to really be those guys on the field for these guys for this team.”

Ealy knows that he also has to produce offensively. “I want to be the best striker I can be,” said Ealy, who scored three goals in PHS’s 4-0 win over WW-P-N on October 7. “My job is to put balls away, but at the same time, if it helps to pass it to other people and create opportunities, then that is what I will do.”

With PHS improving to 10-1 with the win over Nottingham, Ealy believes the team is headed in the right direction.

“We are getting everybody back and we are starting to get back in the groove,” said Ealy.

“We are starting to pass the ball around like we were doing early in the season. We are building up, getting ready for the counties. We are very excited.”

PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe was excited to see his team come through late in the victory over the Northstars.

“They tie the game and you are thinking how can we adjust and what can we do,” said Sutcliffe.

“One of our goals is to be at our best when the pressure is greatest,  maybe this is indicative of a little of that. Going into the tournaments, there will be that little added pressure where you are level 1-1 late in a game. It is about finding a way.”

Junior defender Caddeau found a way to get the win with his clutch tally. “Jake is doing great,” said Sutcliffe.

“He is a wide outside back and he’s having a great season. I can’t say enough about his work rate. His decision-making is great, he can win balls out of the air, his distribution is good. He has a good mentality which he showed there, scoring the game winner.”

Ealy has also been providing some good work for PHS. “Chase gives us another dimension to our attack; he has been fantastic,” asserted Sutcliffe.

“He’s got to keep getting better, just like the rest of them. He had a good day the other day against North, it was good to see him get on the scoresheet.”

Some of the team’s younger players have been getting better and better as the season goes on.

“The three sophomores, Andrew Goldsmith, Sam Serxner, and Alex Ratsen have been fantastic,” added Sutcliffe. “Alex scored the opening goal today.”

The Little Tigers have some big challenges looming before they start play in the  county tournament as they finish the regular season by playing at Notre Dame on October 14, hosting Allentown on October 16, and then playing at Hightstown on October 21.

“We are just looking forward to the next week, it is the most important week of the regular season,” said Sutcliffe.

Ealy, for his part, believes that PHS is ready for a big week. “I would definitely say that we have been improving as the season goes on,” said Ealy.

“We are already a great squad and I think we are going to continue to get better. We have three very tough teams coming up. Allentown is a great team, Notre Dame is a great team, and Hightstown is there, too, so we just have to be ready.”

 

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IN STRIDE: Princeton High boys’ cross country runner James Cao heads to the finish line in a recent race. Last Saturday, senior Cao placed 34th individually in the Boys Varsity A race in the Fall Classic at Thompson Park, helping PHS to finish fifth of 17 schools in the team standings. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Mark Shelley, getting the best out of his Princeton High boys’ cross country team this fall is about marshaling his resources.

“We have been battling some injuries over the last few weeks,” said PHS head coach Shelley, whose squad took fifth of 17 teams in the Boys Varsity A race last Saturday in the Fall Classic at Thompson Park as senior Jacob Rist placed 28th individually followed by junior Aidan Donahue in 31st and senior James Cao in 34th.

“We have not run our top guys in the middle-of-the-week meets in the last few weeks. We can’t do seven races in three and a half weeks and be good in November.”

In order to be very good, PHS will need senior star Rist to be at full speed. “Jacob has been dealing with some leg tightness; he  had some achilles tendinitis problems and he hasn’t done all of our workouts,” said Shelley, noting that sophomore star Alex Roth has been sidelined the last few weeks.

“Rist is a great senior leader, he knows running and he understands his body. He is still one of our two or three best runners but he isn’t running where he can. He ran 17:15 at Thompson Park and he can be in the 16:00s.”

One of Rist’s classmates, Karl Bjorkman, has been running well for the Little Tigers.

“Karl came into the school last year as a rising junior, he has really taken off this season in terms of his times,” said Shelley.

“He is a great leader, he is coachable, and second to none in terms of work ethic.”

Shelley is getting good work from his sophomores, led by Jonathan Petrozzini and Patrick O’Connell.

“We have a real strong and deep sophomore class,” asserted Shelley. “When someone on the team runs under 19:00 they are invited to run intervals. We have 22 kids running intervals now and I would say almost half are sophomores.”

The Little Tigers also boast some freshmen who are making an impact. “Two of the freshmen are doing well,” said Shelley.

“Nick Delaney has been in our top 5 and Alex Ackerman has been in the low 17:40s, he was our fifth runner on Saturday. Jackson Donahue is another 9th grader and he is going to be solid. It is really exciting to see freshman breaking into the lineup and doing well in big races.”

The older Donahue, junior Aidan, has been doing well this fall. “I have been very pleased with Aidan, last year he got down on himself at times,” said Shelley.

“This year he is running the way he should. He is outleaning people at the line and that is a good thing to see from a runner. He keeps impressing us and moving up the ladder.”

It is good for PHS to have Cao back in action. “James is a fifth-year senior and was cleared by the NJSIAA to run last Monday,” said Shelley. “It is only his third year of running. He was third overall for us at Thompson Park. He is a great kid and the kids love him.”

Shelley is hoping that his team can produce a great finish this fall. “Our focus is ultimately the divisional, county, sectional, and group meets,” noted Shelley.

“Part of doing well is getting better on a weekly basis, another part of it is getting healthy. The key is to have Jacob getting his times down to where they have been and getting Alex Roth back so we have a big three of those two and James Cao. Then guys who have been running second and third can be fourth and fifth. That gives us the depth to do well.”

 

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CAMP FIRE: Princeton High field hockey player ­Campbell ­McDonald heads upfield in recent action. Senior star ­McDonald started this month on fire, producing two straight hat tricks as PHS topped Lawrence 5-0 on October 1 and Princeton Day School 6-1 on October 7. Last Monday, McDonald chipped in two goals as PHS beat Steinert 5-1 to improve to 13-2. The Little Tigers are seeded second in the upcoming Mercer County Tournament (MCT). (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Hampered by a lingering hamstring injury, Campbell McDonald got off to a slow start this fall for the Princeton High field hockey team.

But getting up to speed with her leg feeling better, senior striker McDonald has caught fire as the calendar has turned to October.

On October 1, McDonald scored three goals to help PHS defeat Lawrence 5-0. Six days later, McDonald registered another hat trick as the Little Tigers topped Princeton Day School 6-1.

In reflecting on her hot streak, McDonald said it is a joint effort. “I do feel like I am in a good groove,” said McDonald.

“I think it is just knowing that is my last season and it is so close to ending. I want to get it while it is hot. I cannot take all of the credit for that, my team is always behind me. I just try to be where they need me.”

The PHS team was clicking on all cylinders in the win over PDS, jumping out to a 3-0 first half lead.

“We have been working really hard in practice,” said McDonald. “At this point, everything is just looking toward MCTs and states. We are just trying to raise our game to the highest level we can play so that we are ready for what is coming.”

Falling 3-1 to Lawrenceville in late September helped PHS get better ready for the stretch drive.

“I think we went into Lawrenceville knowing that it was going to be a tough game and it definitely challenged us more than we anticipated,” said McDonald.

“We are going to hopefully see them again in MCTs so we have had to step up all over so that we are ready for that. We work really hard in practice and it is showing. I could not be happier with the girls I am out there with. They all work so hard and I couldn’t ask for a better team.”

McDonald loves being out on the field with her classmates on the squad, who include Lucy Herring, Julia DiTosto, Elisa Kostenbader, and Cara Straus.

“We have been together since middle school so we have always had this strong bond,” said McDonald, who scored two more goals last Monday as PHS topped Steinert to improve to 13-2.

“I think it just grows and grows as we come towards our end. It is bittersweet so we are just trying to use all the time we have together and make the most of it.”

PHS head coach Heather Serverson believes her team is getting stronger and stronger on the offensive end.

“We have been working a lot on finishing in practices, especially that midfield transition into the circle,” said Serverson.

“It is really starting to pay off, both in that press to goal and our offensive corners.”

Serverson likes the way McDonald has been going to goal over the last few weeks.

“Campbell has really stepped up her game; she wasn’t playing as well in the beginning of the season,” said Serverson. “Somewhere in the middle she found the old Campbell and she is back.”

In Serverson’s view, senior star and Stanford-bound DiTosto has emerged as a force in the middle of the field for the Little Tigers.

“I think Julia has done a great job controlling the middle of the field, more offensively than defensively, so we are working on that defensive part of it,” said Serverson of DiTosto, who had two goals on the win over Steinert on Monday.

“She is a good offensive playmaker and we are starting to really feed off of that. It starts in that midfield transition and, in particular, if Julia is the one that starts it, things are just clean, perfect, and in all the right spots.”

For PHS, its losses to Lawrenceville and Allentown have helped the team focus on bringing the right mentality to each game.

“The biggest lesson that we took from Lawrenceville, and actually from Allentown too (a 1-0 defeat on September 5), is that we need to set the tone,” asserted Serverson, whose team is seeded second in the upcoming MCT and will play the winner of the Stuart Country Day-Nottingham play-in game in the first round of the tourney. “We need to go after every team with the same intensity right from the start.”

PHS is poised for a big finish. “I think we are just trying to stay healthy, we are trying to stay well rested,” said Serverson.

“We have been taking some days off so that the girls can fully recover. Luckily our schedule right now isn’t as challenging so we are able to utilize the depth of our bench and get everyone in the games and actually see what they are capable of. Some of them are really stepping up their games as well. I think we are going to peak at just the right time.”

McDonald, for her part, believes that last year’s heartbreaking overtime loss to Hopewell Valley in the MCT semis will help fuel this year’s postseason run.

“That gives us a lot of motivation,” said McDonald. “We are just so determined to get where we were last year and hopefully go farther.”

 

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HOLDING THE FORT: Princeton Day School field hockey goalie Katie Alden makes a stop in recent action. Senior Alden and classmates Dana Poltorak, and Niki van Manen have provided positive leadership this fall as PDS has battled through a tough season. The Panthers, now 2-10, will be competing in the Mercer County Tournament this week where they are seeded 13th and will be playing at No. 4 Lawrenceville in a first round contest. PDS is also slated to play at the Hill School (Pa.) on October 15 and host Hopewell Valley on October 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Borrowing a page from the U.S. Marines playbook, “the few, the proud” motto applied as the Princeton Day School field hockey team celebrated its Senior Day last week.

Through attrition and injury, the program’s Class of 2015 was whittled down to three with Katie Alden [this reporter’s daughter], Dana Poltorak, and Niki van Manen as the only seniors remaining on the team.

Of those three, only two are still in action with van Manen having been sidelined indefinitely as she recovers from mono.

For Alden, the ceremony, which occurred before the team’s game against cross-town rival Princeton High on October 7, triggered mixed emotions.

“It was obviously a bittersweet moment, it was really sad that we couldn’t play with Niki since she is out,” said Alden.

“She is one of our best players and we really depend on her in the backfield. We want her to be healthy; we don’t want anything bad to happen to her so we know it was right of her to not play as much as she wanted to.”

On the other hand, Alden appreciated the support she felt from the team’s younger players.

“Every year since my freshman year, on senior day I always want to play harder for my seniors,” said Alden.

“I looked up to them. This year, they were playing for me and that flipped the table as to what it usually is for me. They got us gifts, it was sweet. They were like play great Katie, this is for you, and that really pumped us up before the game.”

While the game didn’t turn out great for PDS as PHS posted a 6-1 win, Alden played hard to the final whistle, piling up 17 saves.

“I just want to stay in it, no matter what the score is,” said Alden. “It is easy to get your head out of the game but you really have to stay focused and keep the score as low as you can. You know that it has to go through everyone to get to you and that they are leaning on you to stay in this game.”

With a roster that includes eight freshmen and six sophomores, Alden knows that she has to call the shots along the backline.

“I try to communicate as often as I can because as the goalie, I can see everything,” said Alden.

“This is my seventh year playing field hockey so I can anticipate plays and put people in better positions than I could as a freshman. I am not scared to direct players. I know that they will understand if I scream at them, they will mark up, and get their sticks down. I know that with my direct communication, it’s going to be the best field hockey we play. We really need to have that structurally sound and technical game, that basic game.”

Although PDS has struggled to a 2-10 record, Alden and her teammates aren’t hanging their heads.

“We try to make everything fun; even though we are losing, I still walk off the field happy,” said Alden

“We are a lot more cohesive than we have been in the past couple of years, especially because there is no JV team. Everyone is on the same team which I think made a big difference. We have a locker room to ourselves, which is fun. We give them little inspirational notes before every game. I think we really try and support them because we want the program to stay together and keep building. The only way for that to happen is if we have a fun year. We may not have the best record but is has always been fun and I think that’s key.”

PDS head coach Tracey Arndt credits her trio of senior tri-captains with holding things together through a challenging fall.

“They have been great,” said Arndt. “They have been on the varsity for four years and with me for three years. They had good leaders in the classes before them and they have emulated them. They understand how I want things done.”

Arndt notes that the team’s younger players have been positively influenced by the seniors.

“We have a brand new team and the freshmen didn’t know stuff, like this is what happens on game day and this is what we need to do when we play on the road,” said Arndt.

“The younger girls have been looking to them. I am not at school during the day and they make the transition smooth.”

The Panthers have looked to Alden to hold the fort in the goal. “What I enjoy seeing is that when things are under pressure and getting tougher, Katie is stepping up,” said Arndt.

“She has played her best in some of the harder games. She had older players in front of her on defense in the past and now there are a lot of young players in front of her. She has taken on the role of communicating. It is tough when you are also making the saves. She has been adaptable and flexible.”

Poltorak has provided a maternal approach along with some aggressive play. “Every team has a mom; Dana is always caring for everyone, making sure that everyone is OK,” said Arndt.

“In terms of hockey, she has played with fluidity. Even as she is in the last weeks of her senior season, her confidence is increasing. She is coming into her own. She has worked hard to get her hit perfected. That comes to light when we play on grass fields where it is harder. She is the one we depend on to get the ball up the field.”

While van Manen hasn’t been on the field as much as she would have wanted, she has gained from the experience. “She is a player, she is hoping to go on and play at the next level and I am sure she will,” said Arndt.

“We have put her in a lot of positions, we moved her to defense from midfield and she did a great job even though it is riskier there if you lose the ball. Being out, she is seeing it from a different perspective this year and gaining a greater understanding of how the game is played. It will help her when she goes to college.”

With the Mercer County Tournament starting this week, Arndt is hoping to have more games with the seniors.

“The three of them have been class acts,” said Arndt, whose team is seeded 13th in the MCT and will play at fourth-seeded Lawrenceville in the first round.

“It has been great to have had them the last three years. I wish I had them for a couple of more years. We are trying to extend the season so we have as much time with them as possible.”

Alden has enjoyed spending time this fall with her teammates. “I think this year has made me more patient,” said Alden.

“You play as a team to be together. It is about who you are with and not how you are doing as a team. We don’t see who we are playing next, it is kind of a nameless, faceless team when you walk into the game. We focus on playing our best hockey.”

PDS is bringing that focus on the present into the postseason. “I think the goal is to go as far as we can and be the little team that could,” added Alden.

“Even though we have a lot of injuries and a young team, I think that if we play our best hockey, we could shock teams. They are going to be very confident going into games with us. I think we can take advantage of that and really capitalize on those moments.”

 

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RETURN ENGAGEMENT: Hun School girls’ soccer player Becky ­Barus goes after the ball in recent action. After taking last season off, senior Barus returned to the squad this fall and has become a key contributor. Last Saturday, Barus scored two goals to help Hun beat the Blair Academy 5-0 and improve to 6-2-1. The Raiders play at the Life Center on October 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After being plagued by injury in the first two years of her career with the Hun School girls’ soccer team, Becky Barus decided to take a break from the game last fall.

While the respite gave her a chance to heal, Barus realized there was a void in her life.

“I just missed it so much so I said I want to be with my team and play and have fun,” said Barus. “It is my senior year and my last year.”

Barus has been having a lot of fun this fall, emerging as a key contributor for Hun, bringing energy and spirit to the squad.

Last Saturday, she brought some offensive punch as well, scoring two second half goals as the Raiders rolled to a 5-0 victory over visiting Blair on a waterlogged field.

“We practice slotting and finishing the ball,” said Barus. “It was so muddy over there and I saw the balls bouncing around and I decided to go for it.”

Coming into the game with Blair, Hun was primed to go for it collectively.

“We have a goal list and one of our goals was to win the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) and it started here with our first MAPL game,” noted Barus. “We pumped ourselves up and did what we wanted to do.”

A 2-0 victory over perennial state Prep champion Pennington on September 30 pumped up the Raiders.

“That was another one of the goals on our goal list, to beat Pennington,” said Barus. “We hadn’t beaten them in so long and our mindset was that we thought we have a lot of potential this year and we came in focused. It was a huge win.”

In addition to their potential and skill on the field, the Raiders boast a special team unity.

“We have really good team chemistry,” said Barus. “It is important to us to be able to get along and play well together and we have fun doing it.”

Hun head coach Joanna Hallac had a lot of fun watching her team’s display against Blair.

“We just played some really beautiful soccer in the first half with the way we were knocking the ball around,” said Hallac.

“We were doing the same in the second half and finishing even better. That’s what really impressed me the most, the way we played despite the conditions and the circumstances. They really did take care of business. They were doing everything right on both sides on the ball. They were working hard but they were working smart.”

Hallac likes the hard work she has been getting from Barus upon her return to the squad.

“I talked to her in the spring and she decided to play and I am really glad that she did,” said Hallac.

“She’s been working her tail off. She takes advantage of the minutes that she gets. She just works like an animal out there for us. The girls love her and she loves them. She brings a lot of positive energy to the team.”

The pair of senior stars, defender Ashley Maziarz and midfielder Jess Sacco, is another big positive for Hun.

“Ashley and Jess are the tandem in the back there,” added Hallac. “It is hard to separate them, they are both so solid. I really never get too worried about our defense.”

Sophomore Abby Gray is emerging as another solid performer for the Raiders.

“Abby is very composed, she is maturing very nicely as a player,” said Hallac. “She is really starting to take off.”

In Hallac’s view, the win over Pennington has helped her team take off in recent weeks.

“They went out there and played their hearts out,” said Hallac. “I was really proud of the way they performed. It finally convinced them of what they could do. I think they were starting to believe it last year but they walked into that game believing that they could truly play with anyone and they proved it.”

With the county and state Prep A tournaments around the corner, Hallac believes her squad can be a title contender.

“I think with the group we have got and the way we are playing, the sky is the limit,” asserted Hallac, who guided the Raiders to the state Prep A title game last fall.

“I think we have seen a recommitment to the goals we set and to each other, knowing that you are going to make mistakes on the field but we have got to be  able to settle down and overcome those challenges. You don’t try to do everything yourself, you play within yourself, trust your teammates, and work together.”

Barus, for her part, is confident that things will come together for Hun in postseason play.

“We just have to stay focused and play every game like it’s a game against a big team,” said Barus.

“We have the potential to win every game; we are a solid team. I think the win against Pennington gave us a lot of confidence. Our practices have been really focused. We like to have fun. We play best when we are having fun together and enjoying the game that we love to play. Every practice I think we are all getting better, individually and as a team.”

 

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FINISHING KICK: Hun School field hockey star Vicki Leach sprints after the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Wednesday, senior star Leach scored two goals to help Hun beat Lawrence 3-1. The Raiders, who improved to 6-3 with the victory, are slated to play at the Hill School (Pa.) on October 18. Hun will also start action in the Mercer County Tournament where it is seeded fifth and will host No. 12 Steinert in a first round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Vicki Leach felt things were a little out of synch in the early going as the Hun School field hockey hosted Lawrence last Wednesday.

“We were just playing a little messy, the energy wasn’t what it has been the last three games,” said senior striker Leach reflecting on the contest which saw Hun trailing 1-0 at halftime despite dominating possession. “I think we all felt the disconnect.”

In the second half, Leach made some key connections in the circle, scoring two goals as the Raiders rallied to post a 3-1 victory over the Cardinals.

“We talk a lot about finding the drive, finding the drive in yourself, and the desire to win,” said Leach in assessing Hun’s strong second half.

“At the halftime meeting, we worked it out. We talked about what it was like to win those past games, what it was like to play Stuart, Steinert, and Hamilton West.”

Leach kept things simple in getting Hun on the board within the first five minutes of the second half.

“The only thought is just get my stick on it,” said Leach, who added her second goal with 5:18 left in regulation to make it 3-1 and seal the victory for the Raiders as they improved to 6-3.

“On all of those if you just touch them and redirect them it gets them somewhere. I was thinking I really hope that Julie [Fassl] gets this hit up.”

The win over Lawrence was the fourth straight for Hun since a 4-0 loss to Princeton Day School on September 23.

“I think the PDS game woke us up, you hate to lose,” said Leach. “We played a really bad game. We were playing pretty strong before that so we lost it for that day. We came back to practice and practiced hard and it has worked out well.”

Leach is determined to work as hard as possible as she comes down the stretch of her Hun career.

“Every season I come out of it regretting, thinking oh, I wish I had played harder in that game, and I wish I had done that in this game,” said Leach.

“My goal this year was to never have that feeling at the end of games. So far I have done pretty well. I haven’t been perfect but I am getting there.

As a team captain, Leach looks to be there for her teammates as a scorer and a leader.

“On the field, I try to hang out up here near the circle because a lot of times what happens is the girls will get the ball on the other side and cross it so I want to catch all of those crosses and keep it in the field,” said Leach.

“As much as the desire thing is important on the field, it starts off the field. It starts during the day, it starts at practice, and it starts before the game.”

Hun head coach Kathy Quirk was looking for her team to show more desire against Lawrence after the shaky first half.

“I wanted them to hustle to the ball and be more aggressive in the circle,” said Quirk, recalling her halftime message.

Quirk was not surprised that Leach came through in the circle. “I think with her scoring and us tying it, it just gave us some momentum,” said Quirk.

“She is just a phenomenal kid. I am so proud of her, on and off the field. She is a true leader and she is a scholar athlete.”

Leach’s classmate and fellow captain, Julia Blake, showed leadership in the midfield.

“I thought Julia Blake played a nice game today,” said Quirk. “I think she and Julie Fassl are working well together. She also worked well together today with Delia Lawver, they had some good give-and-goes.”

The Raiders also showed some good stuff on the defensive end as they stifled Lawrence in the second half. “I am very pleased with the way our defense is playing,” said Quirk.

“We have struggled with defense. We have done a lot of talking and working on getting our sticks low and getting the ball out and not in the middle. They seem to take from practice to the games which makes me happy.”

All in all, Quirk is very happy with how her team has been playing over the last few weeks.

“They are a great bunch of kids that works together,” said Quirk. “They work hard in practice, I like their work ethic. I like the way they support each other, no one is screaming and yelling at each other.”

With the county and prep tournaments around the corner, Quirk is confident that her squad can do some great things.

“When we are on, I think we are on,” said Quirk, whose team is seeded fifth in the Mercer County Tournament and will host No. 12 Steinert in the first round.

“When we can score first, I think it really changes our momentum. That’s what we try to do.”

Leach believes that the Raiders are bringing a lot of momentum into the postseason. “We are definitely a very skilled team,” said Leach.

“It’s all about who shows up in the tournaments. If we show up and play the way we have been playing these past few games and in the second half of this game, we will definitely be a contender.”

 

October 8, 2014
LION TAMER: Princeton University linebacker Rohan Hylton is fired up during a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, sophomore standout Hylton contributed five tackles to help Princeton top Columbia 38-6 in the Ivy League opener for both teams. The Tigers outscored the Lions 28-0 in the second half to turn the contest into a rout. Princeton, now 2-1 overall and 1-0 Ivy, plays at Colgate (3-2 overall, 2-0 Patriot League) on October 11.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LION TAMER: Princeton University linebacker Rohan Hylton is fired up during a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, sophomore standout Hylton contributed five tackles to help Princeton top Columbia 38-6 in the Ivy League opener for both teams. The Tigers outscored the Lions 28-0 in the second half to turn the contest into a rout. Princeton, now 2-1 overall and 1-0 Ivy, plays at Colgate (3-2 overall, 2-0 Patriot League) on October 11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Anticipating a rainy day for its trip to Columbia last Saturday, the Princeton University football team prepared accordingly.

“Since we started practice on August 24, I think we had a drizzle once,” said Princeton head coach Bob Surace. “We got tubs of water out last week because we knew the weather forecast so we were throwing with a wet ball.”

In the early going on Saturday in the Ivy League opener for both squads, the Tigers looked all wet as they repeatedly mishandled the ball in a downpour. On their first possession, there was a dropped pass by senior receiver Matt Costello. Senior quarterback Quinn Epperly fumbled on Princeton’s next drive but was able to recover the ball. The Tigers lost 10 yards on the play, though, and had to settle for a field goal.

Minutes later, junior back Kedric Bostic lost a fumble which led to a Columbia field goal as the Lions knotted the contest at 3-3. Early in the second quarter, sophomore running back Joe Rhattigan fumbled the ball away to Columbia and the hosts converted that into a field goal to take a 6-3 lead.

“It was terrible weather for both teams,” said Surace, reflecting on his team’s shaky start. “We didn’t handle the elements well, we were sloppy with the ball.”

But in the waning minutes of the half, the Tigers got a handle on things, marching 98 yards in 14 plays. The drive culminated with a one-yard quarterback plunge by Epperly as Princeton took a 10-6 lead into halftime.

“I gave the same speech at halftime as before the game, I told them to play fast and physical on offense and be relentless on defense,” said Surace, recalling his message at intermission.

Taking Surace’s message to heart, the Tigers never looked back as they routed Columbia 38-6 before a crowd of 3,321 at Wien Stadium, improving to 2-1 overall and 1-0 Ivy.

“Once we stopped putting the ball on the ground, I thought we executed really well,” said Surace.

After intermission, the Tigers didn’t waste any time jumping on the Lions as junior Di Andre Atwater raced for a 51-yard TD run in the first minute of the third quarter to put Princeton up 17-6.

Later an Anthony Gaffney interception and accompanying 25-yard return gave the Tigers the ball at the Columbia 46-yard line. Three plays later, Princeton found paydirt as Epperly scored on another 1-yard touchdown run to make it a 24-6 game.

The Tigers ended the quarter with a 14-yard TD pass from Epperly to senior Connor Kelley as they increased their cushion to 31-6.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Princeton produced another scoring march. Going 80 yards on 10 plays in 5:09, the Tigers got the final points of the afternoon on a 19-yard touchdown run by senior Will Powers.

“Those last five drives we were finishing our runs, finishing our blocks, and putting defensive pressure on them,” said Surace, whose team outgained Columbia 472 yards to 231 with Epperly passing for 170 yard and Atwater rushing for 107 and Kelley making four receptions for 66 yards.

“It was play after play with good execution. From the last two minutes of the first half to the end of the game. That was as encouraging as we have played all year.”

Surace was encouraged by the defensive effort against Columbia as the Tigers held the Lions to 1.0 yards a rush (27 yards on 28 carries) and got two interceptions from junior star Gaffney.

“Defensively we have to do a little better on screens and shovel  passes,” said Surace.

“I thought Columbia ran efficiently against two top-25 teams earlier this season, they had efficient runs half the time. I think they had one or two efficient runs on us. We struggled on pass defense against San Diego. We had tighter coverage against Davidson but their quarterback got the ball in tight windows. On Saturday, we were much better on the ball.”

The Tigers will have to play even better this Saturday if they are to win at perennially tough Colgate (3-2 overall, 2-0 Patriot League)

“They are kind of a mirror image of us,” said Surace of the Raiders, who are bringing a three-game winning streak into the October 11 contest.

“They have an athletic quarterback who makes plays. They run the ball extremely well. Their defense is a big and strong group. They are playing well on special teams. They lost a close one to Ball State, an FCS team. They were ahead of Delaware 25-14 and then lost 28-25.”

While Surace was pleased with how Princeton righted the ship in the second half against Columbia, he cautions that the team can’t rest on its laurels and has to ratchet things up this week in its preparation for Colgate.

“We have had some guys turn it on in practice lately and it is translating into games,” said Surace.

“Momentum is how we go through our meetings and how we practice, starting on Tuesday.”

NATTY LOOK: Princeton University women’s soccer player Natalie Larkin kicks the ball in a recent game. Last Saturday, freshman defender Larkin contributed an assist as Princeton pulled out a 2-2 tie against visiting Dartmouth. Princeton, now 2-3-3 overall and 1-0-1 Ivy, plays at Lehigh on October 8 before hosting Brown on October 11.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

NATTY LOOK: Princeton University women’s soccer player Natalie Larkin kicks the ball in a recent game. Last Saturday, freshman defender Larkin contributed an assist as Princeton pulled out a 2-2 tie against visiting Dartmouth. Princeton, now 2-3-3 overall and 1-0-1 Ivy, plays at Lehigh on October 8 before hosting Brown on October 11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Natalie Larkin acknowledges that moving up to college soccer has been intimidating at times.

“I think the physicality is something you don’t really see at the club level,” said Larkin, a freshman defender for the Princeton University women’s soccer team.

“That is something you have to adjust to pretty quickly or you are going to get manhandled. Going into Ivies is something I have heard a lot about; the battling mentality in those games.”

Last Saturday evening, Larkin displayed her battling mentality as Princeton hosted Dartmouth in a game that turned out to be a classic Ivy nailbiter. Larkin made a number of clears and runs up the flank from her spot on the backline, helping a gritty Princeton team battle back from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1. Showing her attacking skills, she made a nice feed to set up Tyler Lussi’s game-tying goal in the second half as the teams ended regulation in a 2-2 stalemate.

When Princeton went a player down early in the overtime due to a red card, Larkin helped shore up the Tiger defense and held Dartmouth at bay as the game ended in a 2-2 draw, a result that moved Princeton to 2-3-3 overall and 1-0-1 Ivy.

In Larkin’s view, the tie reflected Princeton’s strength of character. “Our mantra is heart and we are committed to that; we have a young team and we have been waiting to rise to the occasion,” said Larkin.

“We all knew what was at stake today with Dartmouth; they tied their last game so they were going to be hungry. It was just that everybody stepped up together and we knew what we had to do. We got it done so it was good.”

Larkin got it done offensively in making the assist on Lussi’s goal which forced overtime after Dartmouth had grabbed a 2-1 lead 10 minutes into the second half.

“We kept going at them, it was going to come and it did,” said Larkin, reflecting on her first college point.

“Tyler is always getting in positions to be in front of the goal and ready to score so it is getting a line and whipping it in. Usually you can count on her to get something on it. I did my best.”

When Princeton was reduced to 10 players early in overtime, the back line had to step up.

“We definitely had the momentum but it is obviously a hardship when you lose a player,” said Larkin.

“We are still playing to win but we knew that we had to be a lot more conservative in the back so that changed the game a little bit. I don’t think it changed the momentum at all. It was just a matter of everyone stepping up a little more. We were ready to do it.”

The team’s group of freshmen, which includes Vanessa Gregoire, Mikaela Symanovich, Alessia Azermahdi, Beth Stella, and Katie Pratt-Thompson in addition to Larkin, has proven that it is ready to make an immediate impact.

“We have a great class, off the field we are really close which helps us a lot,” said Larkin, a native of Washington, D.C.

“We are really, really supportive of each other; that helps on and off the field. At the beginning of the season when we had a lot of injuries, we knew that there were going to be chances for us to come in. We had to do our best to be contributors to the team all around.”

Princeton head coach Julie Shackford marveled at her team’s resilience. “We have been hurt all year, we have just battled all year,” said Shackford, noting that senior star Lauren Lazo was sidelined on Saturday, the latest in a number of key veterans to suffer the injury bug. “I always felt like we were in control of it tonight.”

In Shackford’s view, Larkin has been in control along the backline since day one.

“Natalie works so hard, her work rate is incredible,” said Shackford. “She is  more of an attacker than anything. We would love to play her in the midfield but because we are so low on backs this year, we had to play her in the back. She is something else, she is such a positive person. She is good with the ball. She combines, she can score, and she can assist.”

Sophomore Lussi showed her scoring prowess against the Big Green, tallying on a penalty kick in the first half before finding the back of the net with less than 30 minutes left in regulation.

“Tyler scored the game winner against Yale (in a 1-0 win on September 27) so I think she is starting to come into her own,” said Shackford. “I think she has relaxed. She got the equalizer and I liked the way she stepped up on the PK.”

The Tigers stepped up in the overtime, holding the fort playing shorthanded.

“We just played Mikaela Symanovich back and I thought we did well,” said Shackford. “Sometimes when you play with 10 you are ultra organized there just because you have to be.”

While the Tigers were disappointed to not get a win, achieving the draw kept them tied for first in the Ivies along with Harvard and Columbia.

“Everyone else ties and Penn lost so we don’t lose any ground,” said Shackford, whose team plays at Lehigh on October 8 before hosting Brown on October 11. “We are still in the lead with Harvard and Columbia so I think it is all positive.”

In Larkin’s view, the Tigers have the ability and mentality to do some positive things this fall.

“We had all underclassmen on the field except for our senior goalkeeper [Darcy Hargadon],” said Larkin.

“We know we have a team that is deep enough so no matter who is on the field, everyone is going to step up. I think it is important that we battled through that tonight. We are going to have a lot of momentum going into the next game.”

BALL CONTROL: Princeton University field hockey player Maddie Copeland controls the ball in recent action. Junior striker Copeland, a former standout at Stuart Country Day School and Peddie, scored two goals against No. 13 Syracuse but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 4-3 in double overtime. The Tigers, now 3-7 overall and 2-1 Ivy League, host Delaware on October 10.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BALL CONTROL: Princeton University field hockey player Maddie Copeland controls the ball in recent action. Junior striker Copeland, a former standout at Stuart Country Day School and Peddie, scored two goals against No. 13 Syracuse but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 4-3 in double overtime. The Tigers, now 3-7 overall and 2-1 Ivy League, host Delaware on October 10. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The weekend started off on a shocking note for the Princeton University field hockey team.

Heading north to upper Manhattan on Friday evening, the Tigers fell 3-2 at Columbia, their first-ever loss to the Lions and their first setback in Ivy League play since 2011, snapping a 22-game winning streak in conference play.

As Maddie Copeland and her Tiger teammates hosted No. 13 Syracuse two days later, they were hungry to show that they could still play at an elite level.

“Syracuse is always a huge game for us and we knew that we had a lot to prove in this game,” said junior striker Copeland, a former standout at Stuart Country Day School and Peddie.

Showing fight as it battled back from a 2-0 deficit, the Tigers ended up losing 4-3 in double overtime.

While Princeton fell short of pulling off a shocker in dropping to 3-7 overall, it proved something to itself.

“We have a lot to be proud of from that game,” said Copeland. “It stinks that we didn’t get the win but we worked really hard. I think it just shows that we can keep up with anybody.”

Although falling behind the high-powered Orange was tough, the Tigers kept plugging away. “It is hard being down at first,” said Copeland.

“We had a really, really great warm-up. We were scoring a ton in warm-up and all of us knew we could get the ball in the goal. We were keeping up with them even though we were down 2-0. We just had to finish and we did.”

The Tigers ended the first half with a goal as Cassidy Arner tallied on a penalty corner that was played out after the clock hit zero.

“It was really, really important,” said Copeland, reflecting on Arner’s tally. “Every goal is important. It changed everything for the team. It showed that we can finish and get the ball in the goal.”

Copeland then displayed her finishing touch, scoring two goals in the first 4:40 of the second half as Princeton forged ahead 3-2.

“It was a great passing pattern, it started off right outside the circle,” said Copeland, reflecting on her first tally.

“We have been working so hard on getting to spots and being in the right spot in the circle. I was right there to put the ball in. They gave me a great pass so it is a tap-in goal. It was kind of the same thing on the second goal, another spot on the far post. Ryan [McCarthy] gave me a nice ball and I put it in.”

For Copeland, her scoring prowess comes from being in the right place at the right time.

“I am always looking for tips and touches right in front of the goal,” said Copeland, who is tied with senior Sydney for the team-high in goals with five.

“Luckily we have a lot of great players who can get you the ball there and you just have to finish.”

Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn liked the way her team moved the ball against Syracuse.

“At Albany we had a similar type of effort in terms of mindset, level of intensity and focus across the entire game but what I liked here was the connection between the our mids and the strikers,” said Holmes-Winn.

“They were connected. They were dangerous and were really threatening. That was a positive and something we can take away for sure.”

Copeland’s finishing has been a positive for the Tigers. “Maddie just has a nose for the goal; she gets in really good spots,” said Holmes-Winn. “She receives some phenomenal passes; she got set up which was great.”

Princeton got a great effort from junior goalie Anya Gersoff, who stood on her head for the most of the afternoon, making 12 saves with six coming in overtime.

“We know she is one of the very best goalkeepers in the country and that’s from the national team to all levels,” said Holmes-Winn. “I think she is absolutely sensational and that was on display today.”

The Tigers’ depth was also on display against Syracuse. “Honestly the entire team and the bench did well, every single player,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team hosts Delaware on October 10.

“They went in and just played hard. I was happy with everyone. I wish we could have found a way to finish; we had some really good looks.”

Copeland, for her part, believes the performance against Syracuse portends some good things to come for Princeton. “It just shows that we can keep up with pretty much anyone,” said Copeland.

“We just have to finish beating Ivy League teams. That is the most important thing right now for us, to win the Ivy League and hopefully make it to the NCAA tournament.”

COSTLY DEFEAT: Princeton University men’s soccer player Brian Costa chases down the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore Costa provided the Tigers with a lot of energy in the midfield but it wasn’t enough as Princeton dropped a 2-1 overtime heartbreaker to Dartmouth in the Ivy League opener for both squads. The Tigers, who fell to 3-3-2 overall and 0-1 Ivy with the defeat, host Brown (3-3-3 overall, 1-0 Ivy) on October 11.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

COSTLY DEFEAT: Princeton University men’s soccer player Brian Costa chases down the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore Costa provided the Tigers with a lot of energy in the midfield but it wasn’t enough as Princeton dropped a 2-1 overtime heartbreaker to Dartmouth in the Ivy League opener for both squads. The Tigers, who fell to 3-3-2 overall and 0-1 Ivy with the defeat, host Brown (3-3-3 overall, 1-0 Ivy) on October 11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

At around 6:15 on Saturday evening at Roberts Stadium, the players on the Princeton University men’s soccer team stood around glumly with heads bowed in unison as they listed to head coach Jim Barlow.

Across the way, the Dartmouth squad was all smiles as it went through its post-game stretch, with some of the players high-fiving and others chanting the ole, ole, ole soccer anthem.

The scene reflected the contrasting emotions after Princeton dropped a 2-1 heartbreaker to the Big Green in overtime in the Ivy League opener for both teams.

A subdued Barlow acknowledged that the loss was a critical setback for his side. “It is a killer,” said Barlow, whose team fell to 3-3-2 overall and 0-1 Ivy with the defeat.

“It is the first Ivy game, a game that everyone was pumped up for. It was at home and we didn’t get the result.”

The Tigers dug an early hole, falling behind 1-0 as the Big Green scored 12:26 into the contest.

“I think we started off really poorly tonight and we let Dartmouth dictate how the game was going to go in the first half,” said Barlow.

“They sat back, we weren’t sharp with our passing. They won it in the midfield and just kept looking to get behind us and it was pretty effective. We never got on top of things in the first half.”

After halftime, Princeton started playing more effectively, tying the game 1-1 on a Cameron Porter penalty kick with 25:45 remaining in regulation to force overtime. The extra session didn’t last long, however, as Dartmouth’s Matt Danilack found the back of the net on a header 2:45 into the first overtime.

“In the beginning of the second half, we started to get it going a little bit and I thought it was better,” said Barlow.

“At the end of the day, you can’t turn it on and off and have a bad 45 minutes and expect to win against a good team. We got back into the game and by overtime, it could have gone either way, a call here or there, a break here or there.”

Junior midfielder Brendan McSherry, a former Peddie School standout, nearly got the game to go Princeton’s way as he made some dazzling counters in the waning moments of the second half.

“He found a way to get through the midfield on a couple of plays,” said Barlow.

“He got on the end of one ball near the end of regulation and just hit it wide. He had a good game.”

Barlow liked the way his midfield rebounded collectively from a shaky first half.

“Brian Costa was our best player by a lot,” asserted Barlow of the sophomore star from nearby Warren, N.J.

“I think we really struggled in the midfield in the first half and then when we had Costa, Matt Mangini, and Andrew Mills in there, I thought we got it back.”

Princeton will have to show some strength of character in order to get back on the right track in the Ivy race.

“Now we will see what we are made of and whether we can bounce back from this and try to get it going,” said Barlow, whose team was slated to host Rutgers on October 7 and Brown (3-3-3 overall, 1-0 Ivy) on October 11.

“It is tough when you let one slip away. We will first think about Rutgers, they are coming in here Tuesday night, and then get ready for Brown.”

FIRST CLASS: Princeton High girls’ tennis star Christina Rosca goes after the ball last week at the Mercer County Tournament. Junior Rosca won her second straight MCT first singles title, helping PHS to the team championship. It was the program’s first MCT team crown since 1984.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FIRST CLASS: Princeton High girls’ tennis star Christina Rosca goes after the ball last week at the Mercer County Tournament. Junior Rosca won her second straight MCT first singles title, helping PHS to the team championship. It was the program’s first MCT team crown since 1984. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Tennis star Christina Rosca has a lot on her plate this fall in her junior year at Princeton High.

The defending New Jersey state high school singles champion, who has risen to the mid-20s in the 18-and-under national rankings, is playing in USTA events around the country on the weekends. During the week, she is keeping busy by
taking five Advanced Placement courses.

But Rosca was determined to carve out time from her hectic schedule to keep competing for the PHS girls’ tennis squad.

“They are all really good players and they are all really good people,” said Rosca.

“I really enjoy being with them. It is really enjoyable to be in a team environment compared to playing as an individual all the time.”

Last Wednesday, Rosca and her PHS teammates enjoyed a special day as the squad won the team title at the Mercer County Tournament (MCT), taking the crown for the first time since 1984 and earning its first championship under the event’s current five-flight format which was adopted in the late 1980s.

As usual, Rosca led the way at the top of the lineup, taking the first singles title without losing a set in her four matches, beating Brianna Shvets of Hopewell Valley 6-2, 6-1 in the championship match.

While Rosca was happy to defend her first singles crown, she was thrilled to see the Little Tigers prevail as they edged runner-up and perennial power WW/P-S with WW/P-N taking third.

“It means a lot,” said Rosca. “We have been really close the last two years and some unfortunate things have happened, some injuries and stuff like that.”

In reflecting on closing out Shvets in the title match, Rosca saw her match experience as a critical factor.

“No matter who I play, I always try to be really aggressive and come into the net as much as possible but off of the right balls, not just any ball,” said Rosca.

“I think today, I did that pretty well. I think overall shot selection made the difference. I think I have played more matches than she has. I know what shots to hit in what moments and to prevent hitting some silly shots in important moments in the match.”

For PHS senior Rory Lewis, taking the crown at third singles with 6-3, 6-2 win over Amanda Binder of WW/P-N was a moment to savor.

“It is a great experience,” said Lewis, who won the MCT first doubles crown with Maddie Cahill-Sanidas as a sophomore but had never taken a singles title at the county competition. “It is great for the team; it is a good way to go out as a senior.”

Lewis’ game has come a long way over the last four years. “I think mentally I am steadier on the court,” said Lewis.

“Last year if I had played this match I might not have won. It was my first year at singles and I had to step it up. It was a new experience for me. I didn’t have someone on the court the way you do with doubles, cheering you on and pumping you up. It is all on you. This year the mental game is better for me. My serve has gotten better, I can place it in the corners and it goes in with pace. I think my groundstrokes have gotten stronger.”

As one of the three senior tri-captains on the squad along with Zhenia Dementyeva and Katelyn Hojelbane, the experience of winning the team title had Lewis pumped up.

“It means a lot because every year it seems like we have been one step closer,” said Lewis.

“I remember sophomore year, we were third. Last year, we were second. To go out as a senior and get the Mercer County title as a team is just great. It has been a goal for the team for a long time and it is great to finally see that come to fruition. There are three seniors and we are really close. We have all played together for a while on varsity and we all know each other well.”

PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert wanted to see
Lewis and her classmates go out on top.

“The girls worked really, really hard this year,” said a smiling Hibbert, who got good work throughout her lineup as Hojelbane took fourth at second singles while the first doubles pair of Dementyeva and Nikhita Salgame placed second as did the second doubles team of Elise Gerdes and Gillian Samios.

“Having three seniors in our lineup who have been part of the lineup for a long time, we were really hoping that this would be the year we could do it for them. We have been really close the last couple of years but we have always had an injury or a lineup switch or a sickness or something that threw us right before the tournament. We just haven’t been quite able to get it done.”

In Hibbert’s view, the team’s combination of depth and chemistry proved to be the winning formula.

“Allison [Hubert] was the only one who graduated from last year’s team so it is a really solid core coming back,” noted Hibbert.

“They have been on the team together for a long time now. They have good chemistry. They enjoy doing team bonding and just spending time together. I think the thought was definitely there that we could do it but no one wanted to get too overconfident and look too far ahead because we know the competition is very tough. There are a lot of good schools here. We got new uniforms this year and we joked that these are going to be lucky uniforms and carry us to the county tournament title.”

There was no luck involved with the singles titles earned by Rosca and Lewis.

“I was really pleased with the way Chris stepped up and took control early and was able to put the pressure on Brianna,” said Hibbert, whose team will be going after another title as it is seeded first in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional which gets underway this week with the final slated for October 14.

“From there she was able to stay tough and close it out. Rory is such a hard worker. She will be the first one on the court, she will serve 100 buckets of balls until her shoulder is ready to fall off. She will continue working and working until she achieves what she wants. Especially as a senior, she has had a great run for us and it is really nice for her to win a county title.”

Lewis, for her part, believes that the team’s closeness on and off the court helps set it apart.

“We all get along so well, we all really support each other and cheer each other on, no matter what,” said Lewis. “It is not just that we all play tennis, it is more than that. We are friends, it is great.”

BLOCK PARTY: Princeton High senior fullback Colin ­Buckley makes a block last Thursday in helping the PHS football team roll to a 40-20 win over previously undefeated Lawrence. Buckley also rushed for 38 yards and two touchdowns in the victory, which improved the Little Tigers to 4-0. PHS will look to keep on the winning track when it hosts Steinert on October 11.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BLOCK PARTY: Princeton High senior fullback Colin ­Buckley makes a block last Thursday in helping the PHS football team roll to a 40-20 win over previously undefeated Lawrence. Buckley also rushed for 38 yards and two touchdowns in the victory, which improved the Little Tigers to 4-0. PHS will look to keep on the winning track when it hosts Steinert on October 11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As the fullback for the Princeton High football team, Colin Buckley knows that his main job is to open holes for star tailback Rory Helstrom.

“I do a lot of the kick out blocks for Rory,” said Buckley. “You know if you lay the block, he is going to break it. If the block is there, he is gone.”

Last Thursday against visiting Lawrence, the rugged 6’1, 200-pound Buckley performed that role with aplomb, blasting through the Cardinal defense as Helstrom rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown and PHS pulled away to a 40-20 victory in improving to 4-0.

But as PHS overpowered previously undefeated Lawrence, Buckley got to take advantage of some good blocking himself, rushing for 38 yards and two TDs.

“I just got big holes, I got the ball and fell on the goal line,” said Buckley. “Our offensive line took these guys out. Our O-line was much better, they played hard.”

Buckley pointed to the offensive line, which features junior Noah Ziegler, junior Matt Toplin, sophomore Ethan Guerra, senior Brian Lemus-Camey, senior Tommy Moore, and senior Omar Moustafa, as the unsung heroes of PHS’s remarkable reversal of fortune which has seen the Little Tigers go from 0-10 in 2013 to their undefeated start this fall.

“They were all together last year,” said Buckley. “As younger guys, we all kind of got beat up as a team but they came back and they are beasts now.”

Although PHS found itself trailing Lawrence 20-19 early in the fourth quarter, Buckley had no doubt that the Little Tigers would come back.

“I knew we were going to win,” said Buckley. “We have been down before in other games and we knew that we just had to do what we are trained to do and we were going to win. We have good coaches and we have 100 percent faith.”

PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher never lost faith in his players even as the team dealt with a 5-day turnaround from its draining 36-29 win over Hightstown  on September 27 and then found itself trailing Lawrence early in the fourth quarter.

“We were really banged up and I knew the guys were going to persevere and give it everything they have got because that is what they have been doing all year,” said Gallagher.

“You could see in the beginning of the game that there were no ill effects, they were ready to play the game. Then to go down, you say to yourself, maybe we hit a wall. But on our next drive, Rory Helstrom comes to work and makes a great play. The O-line is doing a great job, they are opening holes. Danny Rodriguez, our line coach, had mentioned that this game is going to be won in the trenches. I think we won the game in the trenches, no doubt.”

Buckley’s work on the trenches was a big positive for the Little Tigers. “Colin is doing everything that we ask him to do,” said Gallagher.

“He wants to do it. He’s battling out there, he’s doing a great job for us. I was glad that he could get into the end zone. It is great stuff.”

In pulling away from Lawrence, PHS showed some great balance as Sam Smallzman rushed for 66 yards while Joe Hawes and Brian Tien each caught TD passes and quarterback David Beamer passed for 159 yards.

“The way the offense is set up it is to spread the ball around,” said Gallagher.

“We don’t have any one big threat. We have a lot of guys. We have a lot of talented football players on this team so we are excited.”

In Gallagher’s view, his team’s reversal of fortune is the product of learning lessons from the lumps the program endured last fall.

“It is great to be 4-0,” said Gallagher. “I think it is the experience of the guys. I may call something from last year. They will say we haven’t run that but I know that it will click with those guys. We don’t have to put so much legwork into everything. These guys are
picking it up fast.”

With PHS hosting Steinert on October 11, Gallagher knows that his players have to keep working hard to keep on the winning track.

“Steinert is still a good football team, they are a good ball squad,” said Gallagher.

“You look at 2009, we were 4-0 at the time and we played Steinert and we lost. There is deja vu so we need to bring it next Saturday.”

In Buckley’s view, the Little Tigers aren’t about to stop bringing it. “We just worked hard in the offseason,” said Buckley. “We got the whole team back. We knew how bad it feels to lose every game so we certainly don’t like that. We can’t get too cocky.”

Diego Garcia has faced some major challenges this fall in his freshman campaign with the Princeton Day School boys’ soccer team.

“It is a pretty hard level, facing kids way bigger and older than me,” said Garcia. “I am really just glad to be having some time on the field.”

Last week, Garcia made the most of his time on the field as the Panthers went across town to play at Hun. Garcia chipped in a first half goal as PDS pulled out a 2-1 win over the Raiders in the September 30 contest.

While Garcia acknowledged his goal wasn’t a thing of beauty, he conceded that sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.

“It was a cross and it got deflected by the defense and went in,” said Garcia with a sheepish grin, reflecting on his second tally of the fall.

In the win over Hun, things got a little dicey for PDS as the Raiders tied the game at 1-1 early in the second half before Panther senior star Marco Pinheiro blasted a volley into the back of the net to provide the margin of victory.

“We had most of the control in the first half,” said Garcia. “It was in the beginning of the second half when we gave up control for a few minutes. After that, we played pretty well.”

It felt pretty good for Garcia and his teammates to post a win over Hun.

“They are known as an athletic school,” said Garcia. “It is a pretty good thing knowing that you can beat the close rival.”

Getting off to a 6-3-1 start, the Panthers have displayed some pretty good soccer.

“As coach [Malcolm Murphy] says, we are the best soccer playing team in most games,” said Garcia of the squad, which topped Foundation Academy 6-0 last Monday and hosts the Hill School (Pa.) on October 8 and Hamilton on October 10.

“I think we have to concentrate on finishing because if we get that down, we are going to be a much better team than we already are.”

Learning from his older teammates, Garcia feels he is getting better and better as the season goes on.

“They are really supportive; if I am not doing something right, they all come up to me and say what I am doing wrong as a player,” said Garcia.

“I am just trying to do my best. As the season goes on, I am getting more comfortable and eventually I am getting better.”

SECOND ACT: Princeton Day School girls’ tennis player Maria Martinovic follows through on a shot last week at the Mercer County Tournament. Senior star Martinovic won the second singles title at the MCT, helping PDS take fourth of 18 schools in the team standings.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SECOND ACT: Princeton Day School girls’ tennis player Maria Martinovic follows through on a shot last week at the Mercer County Tournament. Senior star Martinovic won the second singles title at the MCT, helping PDS take fourth of 18 schools in the team standings. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Advancing to the second singles final at the Mercer County Tournament last week gave Princeton Day School girls’ tennis star Maria Martinovic the chance for redemption on several levels.

Last fall, Martinovic made it to the second singles title match at the MCT, only to leave the court in tears after losing 6-4, 6-0 to Haley Rich of WW/P-S.

A few weeks ago, Martinovic dropped a match to her 2014 finals foe, Audrey Chen of WW/P-N, in a preseason scrimmage.

Exorcising those demons, Martinovic rolled to a 6-2, 6-2 win over Chen, helping PDS take fourth of 18 schools in the team standings.

Grinning broadly in the wake of the triumph, Martinovic said staying cool helped pave the way to the title.

“Last time I played her I got easily frustrated,” said Martinovic. “This time, I kept my composure.”

The savvy senior also made some tactical changes from the preseason match. “I remembered that she is a very steady player and she likes a lot of pace,” said Martinovic.

“She hits both forehand and backhand great so I was thinking that this time I should probably mix it up and give her some different looks. I would hit a higher ball and then a shorter ball and hit some angles. I think that definitely helped.”

For Martinovic, winning the crown was a definite highlight. “I think it is great, I know that my teammates were all very supportive,” said Martinovic.

“This is a big tournament and we wanted to do well. Each one of us had different goals that we set from last year and mine was since I went to the finals, I wanted to actually win it.”

In order to achieve her goal, Martinovic has worked hard on improving her game.

“I think my serve has improved a lot,” said Martinovic. “In this match especially, I had a very good wide serve. A lot of times, I would get her off the court and then I would finish the point. It really set me up on a lot of points. Also I think my footwork is a lot better. I have been trying to move my feet more during the point and not just stand around.”

PDS head coach Ed Tseng is happy with the improvement he sees in Martinovic.

“Maria has always been consistent so she is still consistent but at the same time, she knows when to pull the trigger and finish her opponents off,” said Tseng. “She had lost to Audrey in scrimmage so going into today she wanted revenge and was looking forward to the opportunity.”

The PDS team took the opportunity to show that it is still among the elite programs in the county, with Renee Karchere-Sun taking third at first singles and the first doubles team of Devika Kumar and Touria Salvati also placing third to help propel the Panthers to their fourth-place finish.

“I am very proud of the way everybody played,” said Tseng. “Renee had a great win over Sneha [Rangu of Hightstown]. The doubles had a great win as well. On Monday we had a couple of tough losses against South (WW/P-S). If we had won those two, it could have been a different story.”

Karchere-Sun is showing toughness in the first singles spot. “Renee is a great No. 1 and she has had a great season for us so far, playing  really well,” said Tseng.

“She is another player, who I am very proud of, not just for her efforts in  training and competing but also as a leader on the team.”

The team of Kumar and Salvati is competing at a high level. “They played a great match just now and it is great to see them get some pretty good success,” said Tseng.

“They are playing nice together. They both have good desire, they are both competitors. Sure you get nervous, but that last one was a nice match.”

In Tseng’s view, playing well at the MCT will help the team as the fall unfolds.

“I am big into playing as many matches as possible against good teams and quality opponents,” said Tseng.

“That will just help us prepare for Prep B, which we are looking forward to. We won the last two years so we are looking to three-peat. Anything can happen but I think if we play like we did here, we have a great chance.”

Martinovic, for her part, likes the team’s chances to end the season on a high note.

“It is a good experience for us all,” said Martinovic. “I think we all played really tough matches today and although not all of us did as well as we wanted to, we all learned a lot of things.”