TRUE GRIT: Princeton Day School senior boys’ lacrosse star Garret Jensen heads to goal in action this spring. Playing through knee and ankle injuries, Jensen scored a team-high 44 points to help the Panthers advance to the state Prep B semifinals and the Mercer County Tournament championship game. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
Garret Jensen and his teammates on the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team sensed they could do some big things this spring.
“Going into the season we knew we had a young team but we thought we were really talented,” said senior attacker Jensen. “We wanted to make the Mercer County and Prep B finals.”
Some three games into the season, it looked like Jensen might not be around for any postseason play.
“I got hurt in the Pennington game,” recalled Jensen. “I tore the IT band in my leg. It really stunk. I missed three games and worked really hard with our trainer.”
Throwing away his crutches, Jensen returned to action in late April and played like a man on a mission.
“Every time I was on the field, I knew I couldn’t give 75 percent, I had to give 110 percent,” said Jensen, who also dealt with a sprained ankle later in the season. “Our whole team felt like that.”
Once playoff time rolled around, the Panthers showed that kind of intensity. In the Prep B tourney, they rallied from a 6-3 halftime deficit to top Morristown-Beard 12-10 in the quarterfinals before dropping a tough 8-5 decision to Montclair Kimberley in the semifinals.
“In the Mo-Beard game, we battled back; we were down at halftime but the second half was all ours,” said Jensen, who made a key steal and goal early in the third quarter to spark the Panthers’ rally.
“Even though we didn’t win the semis, we showed we were capable of playing with them. MKA had a great team last year and we knew they were going to be really good. We had five or six chances at the beginning that didn’t go in and we made it a close game.”
Coming into the county tournament, the seventh-seeded Panthers thought they were capable of being a title contender.
“We had a little chip on our shoulder; we knew we should have been seeded in the top three or four,” said Jensen.
After cruising past Hightstown 15-7 in the opening round, the Panthers faced defending champion and second-seeded Notre Dame.
“We wanted redemption against Notre Dame,” said Jensen. “We had lost to them in the last 30 seconds the year before in the county tournament.
Producing one of the greatest clutch performances of his career, Jensen helped PDS get that redemption. The gritty attacker scored a goal in the waning moments of regulation to make it a 7-7 contest as the Panthers forced overtime. In the extra session, Jensen snaked through the Irish defense to score the game-winner in an 8-7 triumph.
“Getting that overtime win was great, especially as a senior,” said Jensen. “It gave us a lot of momentum going into the Princeton High game.”
The Panthers produced another stunning rally in the matchup at third-seeded PHS in the semis, coming back from a 6-4 halftime deficit to pull out an 8-7 victory in overtime.
“I have a lot of buddies on PHS,” said Jensen. “We really wanted to beat them; we hadn’t won against them in six years. It was great to win on their home field in a tournament game.”
In the title game against top-seeded Hopewell Valley, Jensen ran into injury problems at an inopportune moment, sustaining a concussion as he scored a third period goal to cut the HoVal lead to 3-2.
“I jumped up for a shot and got it over the defender, fortunately it went in but I was off balance and I landed on my head,” said Jensen.
“I tried to go back in but I realized that I couldn’t play. It was tough to not play the last quarter of my high school career.”
While PDS ended up falling 6-2 to HoVal, that didn’t take away from a superb spring that marked a high point in Jensen’s high school career, which also saw him star for the Panther boys’ hockey program.
“I think we are really happy with what we did,” said the Trinity College-bound Jensen, who scored a team-high 44 points on 22 goals and 22 assists this spring and tallied 119 points in his PDS career on 49 goals and 70 assists.
“We really bonded and became a family. I have been on a lot of good teams at PDS but this may have been the greatest experience with the kids, coaches, and what we accomplished.”
PDS head coach Rob Tuckman pointed to Jensen’s performance and guts as an inspiration for the Panthers.
“Garret is banged up, so for him it is a herculean effort every time he steps on the field,” said Tuckman, whose team finished the spring with a 10-7 record. “He is our senior captain; he has really been an incredible leader. His gutting it out through the pain is really a reflection of the leadership he provides.”
For providing both production and courage to help trigger PDS’s post-season run, Jensen is the choice as the Town Topics’ top male performer of the spring high school season.
Top Female Performer
ver the early stages of her career with the Princeton High girls’ track team, Bryell Wheeler established herself as one of the top sprinters in the area.
But as senior star Wheeler went through the indoor season this winter, she realized she had more to give to the Little Tigers.
“I started doing the triple jump in winter track and on my first jump I did 31’6,” said Wheeler.
“Ever since then, I keep setting personal records. In the Mercer Relays I did 38’1 and we set a record with 72’2. My best event is now the triple, it used to be the 100.”
Although Wheeler dealt with a balky hamstring this spring, she felt like she was gaining strength as the season went on. “I am lifting more,” said Wheeler. “I am getting stronger.”
In the Mercer County Championships in early May, Wheeler produced one of the strongest performances in school history, placing first in the 100 (12.32), long jump (17‘2.50), and triple jump (38‘1.25) and taking fourth in the 200 (26.35).
Wheeler’s heroics helped the Little Tigers win its first team title in the 34-year history of the outdoor meet. (The program did win the indoor county title in 1989.) It was a photo finish as the Little Tigers accumulated 87 points, edging runner-up WW/P-S, who totaled 86.5 points.
PHS head coach Jim Smirk appreciated the way Wheeler rose to the occasion.
“Bryell has had nagging hamstring issues this spring,” said Smirk. “Coach [Ben] Samara and I sat down with her last week and said ‘here’s the deal, you recognize your talent but in the big meets you struggle. We think you are ready to do well but you have to believe it.’ She went out and competed.”
Two weeks later at the sectional meet, Wheeler took first in the 100 (12.61) and the triple jump (a meet record of 38’6.50) with a third in the long jump (16’8-75) to help the program win its first-ever Group 3 title and its first sectional crown since PHS took the Central Jersey Group 2 title in 1989.
“Bryell has gained a lot of confidence in her jumps,” said Smirk of Wheeler who produced a county-record leap of 39‘2.50 to take second in the Group 3 state meet and qualify for the Meet of Champions.
“She has more confidence in her jumps than sprints which is amazing with her sprinting background.”
Wheeler’s amazing performance this season which saw her fight through injury and add record-breaking performances in the triple jump to her sprinting prowess makes her the choice as the Town Topics top female performer this spring.
ames “JP” Radvany didn’t waste any time showing that he could be a big contributor this spring in his freshman season for the Princeton Day School baseball team.
“JP Radvany was probably our best hitter in Florida,” said PDS head coach Ray O’Brien, referring to the team’s preseason trip to the Sunshine State.
O’Brien moved Radvany into the clean-up spot in game three and the first baseman made his coach look like a genius.
Radvany ended up leading the Panthers in batting average (.484), hits (30), RBIs (32), and slugging percentage (.806)
The offensive punch provided by Radvany helped PDS go 12-9 and post a sweep of Prep A foes Blair, Hun, Lawrenceville and Peddie.
In reflecting on the spring, O’Brien credited Radvany for playing a key role in the Panthers’ success as the program bounced back from a 4-14 season in 2011.
“Radvany had a really good season, especially for a freshman,” said O’Brien. “He was really consistent all season. He is a big kid with power.”
For making a powerful impact in his freshman campaign, Radvany gets the nod as the top male newcomer of the spring.
As Kathy Quirk assessed her 2012 Hun School softball team, she recognized that it was likely to work through some growing pains.
“We are young and lacking some varsity experience,” said Hun head coach Quirk. “I think we can hold our own. We need to be confident in ourselves.”
Quirk showed a lot of confidence in one of her youngest players, inserting freshman Julia Blake at the key position of shortstop.
Blake justified Quirk’s faith in her, providing sparkling defense from the start and getting into a groove offensively as the season unfolded.
With Blake emerging as a constant in the middle of the diamond and at the top of the batting order, Hun overcame a sluggish start and produced a 9-7 record and advanced to the state Prep A semifinals.
Blake ended her debut season with a batting average of .431, together with 18 runs, 12 RBI’s two doubles, and a triple.
“Julia Blake, for a freshman, was phenomenal at shortstop, both hitting and defensively,” said Quirk.
Blake’s emergence as a star in a vital spot for Hun makes her the choice as the top female newcomer of the spring.
ver the past few years, the Princeton High girls’ track team has been solid but unspectacular when it comes to the big meets.
In 2011, the Little Tigers placed fifth in both the Mercer County Championships and the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional meet. A year earlier, PHS took eighth in the county meet and ninth in the sectional competition.
Coming into this year’s county meet, head coach Jim Smirk thought his squad could be ready for a breakthrough.
“We knew we had a pretty good team,” said Smirk. “We thought of ourselves as a top three team. Last year, we felt we didn’t have our team quite together. We have been talking about redefining what our team could be.”
Displaying its depth and competitive fire, the Little Tigers ended being the top team at the meet. It was a photo finish as PHS accumulated 87 points, edging runner-up WW/P-S by 0.5 points.
While Smirk had the sense that his team was special, the county title still came as a surprise.
“It is huge; when I started years ago as head coach, I wrote down goals and I said is a county title even possible with Trenton, WW/P-S, WW/P-N, and Hopewell, which was a dynasty then.” said Smirk, reflecting on the crown which was the program’s first in the 34-year history of the outdoor meet.
“It was great that we got it with a group of girls who have gone through a lot. The seniors lost a teammate when Helene [Cody] passed away. They are more battle-tested. Doing what they did over time is a testament to how much they have been able to grow.”
The Little Tigers showed that growth two weeks later as they took the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional title, piling up a winning total of 88 points with Neptune second at 82 and Jackson Liberty third at 67.5.
The win marked the program’s first-ever Group 3 title and was its first sectional crown since PHS took the Central Jersey Group 2 title in 1989.
“A lot of people say the county title is a fluke but we are showing that we are a consistently good team,” said Smirk.
“We are the team making the least amount of mistakes. I am so impressed by what they have gone through and how they approach everything, on and off the track, with a fervor for being great.”
For guiding PHS to one of the greatest runs in program history, Smirk is the pick as the top coach of a female team this spring.
Rob Tuckman has talked about putting his Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team on the map.
While the Panthers had shown gradual improvement over the last few seasons, they had not enjoyed much success in tournament play.
“We are setting our goals pretty high; there are a lot of solid programs in the area and I know they are doing the same thing,” said PDS head coach Tuckman as he looked ahead to the 2012 campaign.
“It just depends on who steps up on the day of important games. I think we can exceed our record last year, we are looking to make a mark.”
Playing a competitive schedule, the Panthers were ready to make a mark when tournament time rolled around.
In the state Prep B quarterfinals, PDS overcame a 6-3 halftime deficit against Morristown-Beard to pull out a 12-10 win over the Crimson. Although the Panthers fell 8-5 to Montclair Kimberley on the Prep B semis, there was more playoff drama to come.
Disappointed by getting the seventh seed in the Mercer County Tournament, PDS proved that it could step up in important games. After cruising past Hightstown 15-7 in the opening round, the Panthers staged two improbable rallies to reach the title game.
In the quarterfinals against second-seeded and defending champion Notre Dame, PDS trailed 5-3 at halftime only to pull out an 8-7 overtime thriller. Two days later in the semis, it was a case of deja vu as PDS overcame a 6-4 halftime deficit to top third-seeded Princeton High 8-7 in overtime.
Facing top-seeded Hopewell Valley in the county championship game, the Panthers trailed just 3-2 heading into the fourth quarter but ran out of magic as the Bulldogs pulled away to a 6-2 triumph.
Although the Panthers didn’t win a title, they certainly made a mark this spring.
“Nobody expects a seventh seed to be playing the final; it is all icing on the cake,” asserted Tuckman, whose team finished with a 10-7 record. “Overall it was a great season, I am really proud of the team.”
Tuckman’s vision and ability to get his team to rise to the occasion makes him the choice as the top coach of a male program this spring.