January 22, 2014
MAKING A SPLASH: Princeton High girls’ swimmer Taylor Chiang heads to victory in the 200 individual medley last week in a 123-47 win over Hightstown on January 14. Senior star Chiang also won the 100 breaststroke as PHS improved to 8-0. The Little Tigers are slated to swim at Nottingham on January 23 before competing in the Mercer County Championships from January 30 - February 1.                                (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MAKING A SPLASH: Princeton High girls’ swimmer Taylor Chiang heads to victory in the 200 individual medley last week in a 123-47 win over Hightstown on January 14. Senior star Chiang also won the 100 breaststroke as PHS improved to 8-0. The Little Tigers are slated to swim at Nottingham on January 23 before competing in the Mercer County Championships from January 30 – February 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Greg Hand has been doing some mixing and matching this winter with his Princeton High girls’ swim squad.

“It is a team where we have done a lot of experimenting,” said longtime PHS head coach Hand.

“We are well aware that we never compete in a single gender format in our league so we are not used to what state meets are going to bring to us. We want to prepare for the challenges of that format but we also want to make sure that we have fought through the spacing because what we can do now we may not be able to do very effectively when there isn’t an intervening boys’ meet.”

So far, Hand has found the right formula as PHS has gotten off to an 8-0 start.

“We have balance across the middle lane but we also have substantial amount of support from the ‘B’ lane and often the ‘C’ lane in a number of events,” said Hand.

“We are getting good second relays this year. The sense of purpose is evident, the focus on the postseason and what we are trying to do is growing.”

In a 123-47 win over Hightstown on January 14, the Little Tigers showed good focus as their supporting cast got to shine.

“Tonight’s meet was really fun because we got to see all the kids who are normally training here and having them handle the meet themselves,” said Hand.

“We wanted our club kids, those kids who would have an opportunity to be training tonight because there are so many dual meets that training gets fouled up.”

It has been fun for Hand to see how some of his experienced swimmers have progressed.

“We have seen a lot of great stuff recently from all of the kids who are veteran PHS swimmers, kids like Crystal An, Hannah Ash, Jessica Bai,” said Hand.

“Taylor Chiang is swimming club and she is swimming a lot of high school this year as well. She has done a great job and has made a steady contribution here on deck. Lindsey Lim is having a terrific year, shedding time and really has a racing  mentality this year. Cara Persico had a personal record at Notre Dame and had good swims tonight. Charlotte Singer is coming on really well in the breaststroke and she swam the 500 today.”

The team’s big four of sophomore Madeleine Deardorff, sophomore Brianna Romaine, freshman Jamie Liu and senior Belinda Liu, have all been having terrific seasons.

“Among the four kids who are the fastest group on our team, which is Madeleine, Brianna, Jamie and Belinda, it is an interesting challenge to think about what is best for them and for the team,” said Hand.

“One of the fun exercises is to look at the eight individual events in the county and the dual meet events and just look at the different ways to divide the kids.”

For Hand, dealing with the challenge of dividing up his swimmers makes him realize his good fortune in having so much talent at his disposal.

“We are just lucky that we are that the kids are so heavily into all of this,” added Hand.

“We are very fortunate to have had, for as many years as we have, the quality of swimmers we have had.”

PHS will be striving to produce even higher quality swims as it competes in the county championships from January 30 – February 1, looking for a second straight team title.

“It has been a terrific phase, the girls have power pointed a little

bit higher than last year already,” said Hand, whose team also has a regular season meet at Nottingham on January 23.

“We are building and having some new kids and having to search for the ways to make up for the really fine swimmers who graduated.  The girls are doing well, they are up a notch from where they have been.”

FOUR SCORE: Princeton High girls’ hockey star Lucy Herring heads up the ice in action last season. Last Wednesday, junior forward Herring scored all four goals as PHS topped Academy of New Church (Pa.) 4-1 to earn its first win of the season. The Little Tigers, now 1-7, play at the Hill School (Pa.) on January 22 before hosting a rematch with ANC on January 24 at Baker Rink.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FOUR SCORE: Princeton High girls’ hockey star Lucy Herring heads up the ice in action last season. Last Wednesday, junior forward Herring scored all four goals as PHS topped Academy of New Church (Pa.) 4-1 to earn its first win of the season. The Little Tigers, now 1-7, play at the Hill School (Pa.) on January 22 before hosting a rematch with ANC on January 24 at Baker Rink. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Christian Herzog had the sense that his Princeton High girls’ hockey team was ready to take care of business as it played at Academy of New Church (Pa.) last Wednesday.

“I heard some chatter on the back of the bus with some of the players saying ‘girls we need to be serious with this,’” said Herzog, whose team entered the game with a 0-6 record.

“We had a close game with them last year, we pulled the goalie and they got a late goal.”

ANC, though, got an early goal to take a 1-0 lead on Wednesday, leaving Herzog with a bad feeling.

“When we fell behind, I was a little concerned,” said Herzog. “I was thinking are we going to let another one slip away.”

Instead, the sister act of Lucy and Maggie Herring triggered the offense as PHS seized the momentum and pulled away to a 4-1 victory. Junior star Lucy scored all four Little Tiger goals while freshman standout Maggie assisted on three of the tallies.

“The Herrings are really good about looking for each other,” said Herzog. “Lucy played incredibly; she has the skill set. I have been telling her to break more towards the center of the ice and she did that against ANC.”

The Herrings helped execute Herzog’s offensive strategy. “We were keeping it deep in their zone,” said Herzog, who got two assists from junior forward Isabelle Sohn in the victory with junior defenseman Julia DiTosto adding another helper as PHS outshot ANC 48-8.

“Once the Herrings realized one could go behind the net and they could play keep away, we really clicked.”

Herzog noted that sophomore forward Sophia Corrodi has been helping the PHS offense click.

“Corrodi is a figure skater and she is playing for Nassau,” said Herzog “She is getting the game, all credit to her. She is playing every other shift. While other girls are sucking wind, she is ready to go.”

Sophomore goalie Callie Urisko was ready for the challenge last Wednesday.

“Urisko played well, she has been coming out and playing the puck more,” said Herzog.

With PHS having not won a game against a varsity foe since December, 2011, the Little Tigers let loose with an outpouring of emotion when it was all over.

“After the game, the girls celebrated like they won the Stanley Cup,” said Herzog. “The gloves and sticks were flying.”

While PHS fell 9-1 to Summit on Friday, Herzog feels the breakthrough win will be a confidence builder for the Little Tigers.

“That’s the hope,” said Herzog. “The girls were so excited. We had a little bit of a letdown against Summit.”

Herzog believes his team will be up for another big effort when the Little Tigers host a rematch with ANC on January 24 at Baker Rink on the campus of Princeton University.

“We have senior night on Friday,” said Herzog, whose team also has a road game at the Hill School (Pa.) on January 22. “The girls are hoping for our biggest crowd in years.”

TOUGH GOING: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Callahan O’Meara looks to pass the ball in recent action. Last Friday, senior co-captain O’Meara scored a team-high 12 points in a losing cause as PHS fell 62-47 at WW/P-N. The Little Tigers, who dropped to 2-7 with the defeat, play at Nottingham on January 23 and at Notre Dame on January 25 before hosting Hopewell Valley on January 28.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TOUGH GOING: Princeton High boys’ basketball player Callahan O’Meara looks to pass the ball in recent action. Last Friday, senior co-captain O’Meara scored a team-high 12 points in a losing cause as PHS fell 62-47 at WW/P-N. The Little Tigers, who dropped to 2-7 with the defeat, play at Nottingham on January 23 and at Notre Dame on January 25 before hosting Hopewell Valley on January 28. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It looked all too familiar for Princeton High boys’ basketball head coach Mark Shelley as the clock ticked toward zero last Friday night at WW/P-N.

Playing its sixth game in nine days, his squad kept it close for the first 20 minutes but wilted down the stretch in a 62-47 loss to the Knights.

Once again, it was the mental errors and lack of execution that kept the Little Tigers from earning a victory, according to Shelley.

“We didn’t follow our scouting report well enough,” said Shelley, now in his second year at the helm of the program.

“Their kid who scored 24 points (Juwan Harrison), we talked about how he always goes right and we weren’t funneling him to his left so you know those little things that we call mental errors, we’re not good enough to beat people if we make too many mistakes like that.”

Harrison penetrated into the teeth of the Little Tigers defense all evening, converting on nine field goals with every bucket coming in the paint.

“One person not being in the right defensive alignment breaks down everything and we’re not talented enough to do that so we must have a cohesive five player effort,” added Shelley, whose team dropped to 2-7 with the loss.

With starting point guard Paul Murray nursing a separated shoulder and backup Max Tarter still fighting sickness, junior point guard J.C. Silva was inserted into the starting lineup for a second straight game and continued to play well in an expanded role. Silva gave the Little Tigers an early boost, knocking down two three-pointers in the opening quarter and bringing defensive pressure as PHS battled to a two-point halftime deficit, trailing 25-23 at the break.

“He’s grown up a lot,” said Shelley of Silva who scored a season-high 11 points in a 69-55 win at Leap Academy last Wednesday. “He’s scoring better; we had not been getting many points from the point guard position so that was good, we need that.”

Harrison’s breakaway dunk midway through the third quarter had the WW/P-N student crowd in an uproar but the Little Tigers stayed under control and a Peter Mahotiere layup cut North’s lead to 33-31. But the Little Tigers seemed to run out of gas late in the period, particularly on the defensive end, as the Knights closed the quarter on a 10-2 run to extend their lead to 43-33 heading into the final stanza.

WW-PN carried the momentum into the fourth quarter and pulled away for the victory.

“We cooled off (offensively). I don’t think we ball-faked real well,” Shelley said. “We were trying to go short corner, mid-post and overload a side but a lot of times we weren’t patient enough and rushed a shot before we let the cutters come through. When we did reverse the ball, we got good looks.”

Senior forward Callahan O’Meara led PHS in scoring for the second straight contest, notching 12 points and hitting the defensive glass for the Little Tigers. Two days earlier, he led five PHS players in double figures with 17 points in the victory at Leap Academy, which snapped a six-game losing skid for the Little Tigers.

“I feel like we get in certain funks and stretches during the game where we’re not playing well and the other team is taking advantage of it,” said co-captain O’Meara. “It’s a lot of little things we aren’t doing right which all adds up in the end.”

O’Meara can often be seen vigorously communicating with his teammates on the court and his intensity was on display in the loss to the Knights.

“I took it upon myself to be someone who’s not afraid to lay into other kids on the team,” said O’Meara, who scored five points as PHS opened the week with a hard fought 54-47 home loss to WW/P-S on January 14. “I’m just trying to get everyone to work their hardest and give 100 percent every second they’re on the floor.”

Despite the 2-7 record, O’Meara believes PHS can still turn it around if it comes together and plays as a team at all times.

“We need to work on chemistry as a team on offense,” asserted O’Meara. “Most of the games have turned into one-on-one stuff and there’s no moving off the ball and there’s no setting screens off the ball so I think that’s what we need to emphasize the most on. I think we can make a push and definitely make a run; hopefully we’ll be able to qualify for the state playoffs.”

The Little Tigers must turn it around quickly with seven more games on the horizon over the next two weeks.

“My biggest job as a coach right now is one, fundamentals, correcting what we can correct, improving both individually and collectively, and the second issue is the mental approach,” said Shelley, whose team plays at Nottingham on January 23 and at Notre Dame on January 25 before hosting Hopewell Valley on January 28.

“After a while you lose a couple close games, games you feel like  you should have won and then their heads get down so our job is to work on the attitude and momentum, keeping their heads up.”

RED LETTER DAY: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player Sean Timmons moves the puck in recent action. Last Wednesday, Timmons chipped in a goal and two assists as PDS defeated Lawrenceville 6-3. It was the Panthers’ first win over the Big Red since the 2000-01 season. PDS, now 7-3-1, hosts LaSalle Prep (Pa.) on January 22 and Chatham High on January 24 before playing at the Portledge School (N.Y.) on January 27.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

RED LETTER DAY: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player Sean Timmons moves the puck in recent action. Last Wednesday, Timmons chipped in a goal and two assists as PDS defeated Lawrenceville 6-3. It was the Panthers’ first win over the Big Red since the 2000-01 season. PDS, now 7-3-1, hosts LaSalle Prep (Pa.) on January 22 and Chatham High on January 24 before playing at the Portledge School (N.Y.) on January 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Sean Timmons is the top sniper for the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team but he has been misfiring since the calendar turned to January.

“It has been a while since I have scored,” said senior forward and team captain Timmons.

“Bert [PDS head coach Scott Bertoli] puts a lot of pressure on our top six forwards to put the puck into the net.”

With PDS mired in a two-game losing streak and hosting Lawrenceville last Wednesday, the Panthers knew that they had to put a lot of pucks in the net if they were going to get their first win over the Big Red since the 2000-01 season.

Timmons helped PDS put the pressure on Lawrenceville as he assisted on a Gabe Castagna goal that gave the Panthers an early 1-0 lead and got the packed house at McGraw Rink roaring.

Early in the second period, Timmons helped set up a Kyle Weller goal as PDS extended its lead to 3-1. Minutes later, Timmons took matters into his own hands, flying down the ice and blasting a one-timer into the top corner of the net.

“I couldn’t have asked for better timing and a better chance,” said Timmons reflecting on his tally.

“I had the whole top of the net. My teammates have been giving me grief the past three weeks, saying I can’t hit the net. If I had missed the net, I would have skated off the ice.”

Instead, Timmons skated over to the jammed PDS student section and pounded the glass in celebration.

“We don’t play for ourselves, we play for the crest on our jersey,” said Timmons.

“They are our biggest supporters so we have to make it fun for them because we are playing for our school.”

Timmons’ tally turned out to be the game-winner as PDS pulled away to a sweet 6-3 triumph over the Big Red, improving to 7-3-1 on the season.

For Timmons and his teammates, it was critical to get that early lead over the Big Red.

“Before the game, Bert said that in the past two years, they had scored in the first five minutes of the game so we took that to heart and we knew that the first goal definitely had to be ours,” said Timmons, noting that PDS had tied Lawrenceville two seasons ago before losing by one goal last year on a tally in the waning seconds of the contest. “Once that first one went in for us, we weren’t letting up.”

Timmons acknowledged that last year’s loss to the Big Red provided further motivation for the Panthers.

“We are a totally different team from last year and we have got to play 100 percent different from what we did last year,” said Timmons.

“Everyone who was in the locker room that was on the team last year still had that in them. All the new guys were at the game or they saw it on YouTube. Everyone knew what had to be done and we had to play 100 percent to beat them.”

PDS helped ensure a different outcome as they blitzed Lawrenceville in the second period, outscoring the Big Red 4-1.

“We came out great but there was a little doubt, there were jitters going everywhere,” said Timmons.

“Going into the second period up 2-1, we said in the locker room that we know how to beat this team. We have to just keep going and everyone rallied for each other.”

For Timmons and his fellow veterans, there was the sense that PDS’s winless streak against Lawrenceville was finally going to end.

“We were talking yesterday and I said to Bert, the guys that have been here have played them twice already and we have tied them and lost to them so we better win this time,” said Timmons.

“It is destiny, you just knew it had to happen and Bert said ‘exactly right, it is your time.’ When the schedule comes out, everyone circles this game on the calendar. It is the biggest game of the year and it means so much to both schools. We are so honored to finally have the ‘W’ on our side.”

In the the view of PDS head coach Bertoli, the big win came down to his players staying in the moment.

“I think our approach was a little different this year,” said Bertoli. “We talked about not worrying about the result at the end of the game and not getting so caught up in the environment and the atmosphere. We are not supposed to win this game. The pressure isn’t on us, we are a small little day school that happens to have a pretty good hockey program. We were the better team last year and we didn’t win the game and I think it was because we got out of synch and we kept watching the scoreboard and we were down. I think it was huge for us to get the first goal and play in front.”

While the Panthers’ opportunistic finishing drew the applause on Wednesday, Bertoli credited some tough defensive work with paving the way to victory.

“Their top line is very, very good, the best line we are going to play against all year,” said Bertoli.

“I am proud of the way that Connor Fletcher, John Egner,  Lewie Blackburn, C.J. Young,  and Andrew Clayton played. Those five guys were given the tall order of shutting those guys down and they were great in the 5-on-5.”

Bertoli enjoyed his team’s great second period effort, which ended with the PDS students gleefully chanting “domination, domination.”

“I think part of that is having them getting frustrated,” said Bertoli, who got goals from Egner, Blackburn, and Fletcher in addition to the tallies by Timmons, Castagna and Weller with Clayton chipping in four assists.

“We made it hard on them and not everyone is willing to battle through and fight through adversity and we made it a point to make it hard on their top line. They unraveled a little bit and took penalties and our power play cashed in.”

Over the last 18 minutes of the contest, the Panthers weathered a storm in holding off a desperate Big Red squad.

“Third periods have kind of been our achilles heels of late,” said Bertoli, who got 30 saves from freshman goalie Logan Kramsky. “We knew they were going to come out and score a goal and make a push and we responded. I thought we did a good job of matching that.”

After surviving the third period, the Panthers players mobbed each other on the ice as the student fans roared their approval.

“You can tell how excited those guys are, it was fun,” said Bertoli. “For these guys, it was about enjoying the moment and playing the game the right way and being responsible defensively and we did that.”

In Bertoli’s view, the breakthrough against Lawrenceville should give the Panthers some extra momentum as they head down the home stretch of their schedule.

“We are a good hockey team when we have everyone in the lineup,” asserted Bertoli, whose team hosts LaSalle Prep (Pa.) on January 22 and Chatham High on January 24 before playing at the Portledge School (N.Y.) on January 27.

“We have been  missing some key pieces for a while now. It is the first time we have had everyone back for six weeks. If we play like this, we are going to have a successful year.”

Timmons, for his part, echoed Bertoli’s analysis. “Going forward, Bert said this is the best team we are going to play,” said Timmons. “If we play like that every game, the sky is the limit honestly.”

KILLER BEES: Hun School boys’ hockey player Evan Barratt controls the puck in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, freshman forward Barratt contributed three assists as Hun pulled out a 4-3 win over St. Joe’s (Pa.). Barratt’s linemates and fellow freshmen, Jon Bendorf and Blake Brown, each scored two goals in the win with Brown getting the game-winner in the last minute of the contest. Hun, now 11-5, plays at Germantown Academy (Pa.) on January 22 and at St. Augustine Prep on January 24 before facing Pennington on January 27.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

KILLER BEES: Hun School boys’ hockey player Evan Barratt controls the puck in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, freshman forward Barratt contributed three assists as Hun pulled out a 4-3 win over St. Joe’s (Pa.). Barratt’s linemates and fellow freshmen, Jon Bendorf and Blake Brown, each scored two goals in the win with Brown getting the game-winner in the last minute of the contest. Hun, now 11-5, plays at Germantown Academy (Pa.) on January 22 and at St. Augustine Prep on January 24 before facing Pennington on January 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It didn’t take long for freshmen Jon Bendorf and Evan Barratt to feel at home as they joined the Hun School boys’ hockey team this winter.

“They welcomed us right away,” said Bendorf, referring to the squad’s veteran players.

“I knew a couple of kids before coming in and they introduced me and Evan to everyone else on the team and we just bonded right away.”

On the ice, Bendorf, Barratt, and fellow freshman Blake Brown have bonded as they were put together on the same line in the preseason.

“It has been a lot of fun going to the Hun School and playing with Jon and Blake,” said Barratt,

“We were clicking right away; it was awesome. We have definitely brought the scoring.”

Last Friday, the trio of freshmen certainly brought the scoring as Hun pulled out a 4-3 win over St. Joe’s (Pa.).

Brown scored Hun’s first goal as the Raiders tied the game at 1-1 early in the second period. In the waning moments of the period, Bendorf tallied two shorthanded goals, the second assisted by Barratt, as Hun took a 3-1 lead into the final period.

In the third, St. Joe’s rallied to knot the game at 3-3 but with less than a minute left in regulation, Bendorf found Brown in the crease and the latter banged home the feed with 50 seconds left to give the Raiders a dramatic victory.

In Barratt’s view, Brown’s second period tally changed the tone of the contest.

“That was a huge goal for us, we weren’t getting very much in the first period,” said Barratt. “He puts it in and all the momentum goes toward us.”

Bendorf helped Hun build on that momentum as he turned a late penalty kill into his personal showcase. He scored with 2:34 left in the period when he stole the puck from the St. Joe’s goalie and calmly maneuvered his way into the crease and dumped the puck into the empty net.

“I was trying to cut off the angle for the goalie to pass the puck and he ended up putting it right on my tape and I got it in the net,” recalled Bendorf.

On the second shorthanded goal 30 seconds later, Bendorf deftly buried a feed from Barratt.

“I just saw Jon going hard to the net and I was trying to make the d-men make a move first and just slide it over and he put it in,” said Barratt.

On the game-winning goal, Bendorf became the playmaker, setting up Brown in the crease.

“It was a great pass by Evan to find me over there and then I just saw Blake coming around the net,” said Bendorf.

“I tried to get it over there and I knew he was going to finish right when I got it over to him.”

In Bendorf’s view, the dramatic finish could be a turning point for the Raiders.

“We have had some tough times with the tougher opponents that we have played against so that was a big win,” said Bendorf. “Hopefully it sparks something and we can roll a couple of wins here.”

Hun head coach Ian McNally knew his team was in for a tough test against St. Joe’s as the squads had met over the holiday season in the semifinals of the Purple Puck tournament in Washington D.C. with the Raiders prevailing in a shootout.

“We are pretty evenly matched I think, both games were very physical and a little mean-spirited,” said McNally, whose team improved to 11-5 with the victory in the rematch.

“Both teams were referencing the last game throughout this game so there was a carryover. We expected that. We were missing a couple of kids at the Purple Puck and I think they were too so this was a better, faster hockey game.”

The Raiders produced one of their better stretches of the season when Bendorf scored the two shorthanded goals within a 30-second span.

“We were kind of frustrated because that was our third penalty in a row and just to have a momentum blitz like that was great,” said McNally. “That penalty kill obviously changed the whole game.”

Adding the trio of Bendorf, Barratt, and Brown has changed things for the Raiders.

“In week two we put those three together and we have tinkered here or there with other ones but those three are here for good,” said McNally.

“They just move the puck very well and they knew each other and have played together before. They all just went to an all-star game together for their bantam league.”

While the freshmen may have been the offensive stars of the win, McNally tipped his hat to senior goalie Devin Cheifetz and senior defenseman Brad Stern.

“I think Devin played really well today; I think his best two games so far have been these guys in the tournament and then here today,” asserted McNally.

“It was good for him to show up in a big way. We have all of this dynamic offensive talent; it is going to come in spurts so what we need is for him to be able to hold the fort for 10 minutes. When he does that people feed off of it and we get going a little bit. I thought Brad Stern played really solid back there. He was a little more physical than he usually is. He helped save a couple of goals in the d-zone so that was good.”

In McNally’s view, the victory was a good preview for next month when the Raiders will be competing in three tournaments, the Independence Hockey League playoffs, the Mercer County Tournament, and the state Prep tourney.

“We talked about the difference today between learning how to lose and learning how to win,” said McNally, whose team plays at Germantown Academy (Pa.) on January 22 and at St. Augustine Prep on January 24 before facing Pennington on January 27.

“Any time we have been challenged, we have lost by a goal and that starts to become your mentality after a while so today was exactly what we were talking about. If we get in that situation and inevitably we did and we were able to actually learn how to win. Any time we are in a situation like this, we are practicing for February. We were in trouble and we were able to go through adversity.”

Bendorf, for his part, believes the Raiders could cause their foes a lot of trouble come tourney time.

“It is definitely going to be challenging,” said Bendorf. “I feel like we are getting better and by the time we get to the playoffs, we are going to be a really tough team to beat.”

January 15, 2014
OPENING STATEMENT: Princeton University women’s basketball player Kristen Helmstetter flies to the basket in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior star Helmstetter scored a game-high 17 points to help Princeton rout Penn 84-53 in the Ivy League opener as the Tigers began their drive for a fifth league crown in style. The Tigers, now 10-5 overall and 1-0 Ivy, are on exam break and will return to action when they host Harvard on January 31 and Dartmouth on February 1.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

OPENING STATEMENT: Princeton University women’s basketball player Kristen Helmstetter flies to the basket in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior star Helmstetter scored a game-high 17 points to help Princeton rout Penn 84-53 in the Ivy League opener as the Tigers began their drive for a fifth league crown in style. The Tigers, now 10-5 overall and 1-0 Ivy, are on exam break and will return to action when they host Harvard on January 31 and Dartmouth on February 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For senior star Kristen Helmstetter, there was high emotion as she hit the floor last Saturday for the Princeton University women’s basketball team when it played at Penn in the Ivy League opener.

“It is exciting; it is the last time around and it means a little bit more,” said Helemstetter, reflecting on starting her final Ivy campaign.

“You can appreciate what it meant to seniors before that. I am just happy that we have the team that we have that will fight for me and Hung [fellow senior Nicole Hung] and fight every game one at a time.”

Facing a sizzling Penn team that brought an eight-game winning streak into the contest, Princeton knew it was in for a battle.

Delivering a knockout blow to the Quakers with a 16-0 run midway through the first half, Princeton cruised to an 84-53 rout of Penn and began its drive for a fifth straight Ivy crown in style.

Tiger junior guard Blake Dietrick saw Princeton’s grit as the key to the victory.

“I thought we played great, I thought we came out really strong,” said Dietrick, who scored 16 points and had 10 rebounds, earning her first double-double in an Ivy game and later getting named as the league’s Player of the Week.

“We knew coming in that Penn was a team that doesn’t give up and we were ready to fight for 40 minutes. I think we really wore them down with our toughness and that’s what we have been focusing on the entire year.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart sensed that her team was focused on the task at hand.

“We have been waiting almost a calendar year for our Ivy opener,” said Banghart, whose team improved to 10-5 overall and 1-0 in Ivy play with the victory.

“We prepared all year long for the chance to go to the NCAA tournament and this is the first test of the 14-game tournament. Our kids are getting ready for exams. They are obviously pretty inexperienced with only two of their most experienced players playing. We just don’t make excuses. It is an opportunity to play. It is an opportunity to compete. I thought it was a convincing win from start to finish. I thought we played with great toughness.”

Princeton certainly displayed its competitive fire as it reeled off 16 unanswered points to wipe out an early 7-5 deficit and crush Penn’s spirit.

When asked what sparked the 16-0 run Banghart said “I thought it was the ways in which our kids defended.”

“We asked them to defend early, disciplined, and active. Penn is a tough team to guard. They are big, they are versatile and they cut hard. It is a tough team to guard and our kids bought into the defensive end tremendously and that led to easier offensive looks. Our kids made plays on the offensive end but we played tough on the defensive end and I think that was the key.”

In Banghart’s view, getting her team battle-tested through a tough non-conference schedule was another key to the performance on Saturday.

“This was not the biggest game on our schedule and I think that is really important for the Ivy League season,” asserted Banghart.

“Our kids have been in a lot of challenging environments, we have been on the other side of those runs. We have learned how to start runs, we have learned how to stop runs. This is a game that was won because of how we practice and how we played in the non-conference. It wasn’t just won today.”

The contest was also won through a balanced attack that saw 11 players score with Helmstetter chipping in 17 points and Alex Wheatley adding 11 to lead the way along with Dietrick and her 16-point effort.

“You look at Blake and Kristen, their lines are ridiculous and the way that they practice is even more ridiculous but we got contributions from the group today,” said Banghart.

“We got key minutes from key people, including the other senior, Nicole Hung (six points, three rebounds, a steal, and an assist in 10 minutes). You can look at the stat sheet and say it wasn’t like these guys’ game but it is what we needed. This felt like a win where we were going to need everybody and it bodes well if these freshmen are getting better and these sophomores are getting better. It was a Princeton team win for sure, which I am proud of.”

With the team going on exam break, Banghart is going to let her players catch their breath before they resume action by hosting Harvard on January 31 and Dartmouth on February 1.

“We are on tomorrow and then off for the next few days and then they get through exams and then we’ll get to working on getting better,” said Banghart.

“We are not going to make them think about everybody else. We are going to let them think about their exams and enjoy this win.”

Dietrick, for her part, believes the Tigers can get even better during the break.

“We have three weeks off and then Harvard,” said Dietrick. “It is great because the amount we have gotten better as a team in practice is exponential. By the time those three weeks are over we are going to be so much better than we are today and that’s our goal, just to get better everyday in practice.”

Helmstetter is confident that Princeton won’t waver in pursuit of its championship goal.

“I think one of things we were talking about the most is that every game up until now is just the journey and now it is just one game at a time for the Ivy League title,” said Helmstetter.

“We take it one game at a time and we came out tonight ready to play Penn and not thinking about anything else and we did what we intended to do.”

In the wake of the dominating performance on Saturday, the Tigers have made their intentions clear.

THROWN OFF: Princeton University men’s basketball player Hans Brase throws a pass in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday at Penn, sophomore forward Brase had 14 points and seven rebounds but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 77-74 to the Quakers in the Ivy League opener for both teams. The Tigers, now 11-3 overall and 0-1 Ivy, are currently on exam break and will return to action when they host Division III foe Kean University on January 26.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

THROWN OFF: Princeton University men’s basketball player Hans Brase throws a pass in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday at Penn, sophomore forward Brase had 14 points and seven rebounds but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 77-74 to the Quakers in the Ivy League opener for both teams. The Tigers, now 11-3 overall and 0-1 Ivy, are currently on exam break and will return to action when they host Division III foe Kean University on January 26. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In its last trip to the state of Pennsylvania, the Princeton University men’s basketball team pulled off one of the great comebacks in program history.

Trailing by 20 points at Penn State with 8:29 remaining in regulation on December 14, the Tigers rode the sizzling shooting of senior Will Barrett, who drained five three-pointers to come away with an 81-79 overtime victory.

Last Saturday, Princeton was back in the Keystone State and found themselves in a similar predicament as they played at Penn in the Ivy League opener for both teams.

With 16 minutes left in the second half, Princeton trailed by 51-40, sending a crowd of 6,322 at the storied Palestra into an uproar.

Once again, Barrett caught fire, scoring eight points as Princeton forged ahead 61-60 with 7:43 remaining in regulation.

But this time, the Tigers couldn’t close the deal. Trailing by two in the waning seconds, a T.J. Bray pass to Barrett was knocked away and the Quakers tacked on a free throw to earn a 77-74 victory.

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson tipped his hat to Penn for coming through in the 229th meeting between the archrivals.

“They took it right to us; all the credit goes to Penn,” said Henderson, whose team dropped to 11-3 overall and 0-1 Ivy with the defeat.

“We obviously had some opportunities to win the game but I thought they were the better team tonight. It is a credit to the way they prepared themselves tonight.”

In Henderson’s view, Penn’s play in the paint was a critical factor in the contest.

“The ability to come up with good stuff around the basket,” said Henderson, when asked what made the difference for Penn down the stretch.

“I think we put ourselves in a nice hole and they had something to do with that. The 25 points between [Darien] Nelson-Henry and [Fran] Dougherty in the first half, that was a killer.”

The Quakers’ dominance inside was reflected by the rebounding margin that saw Penn build a 42-25 edge on the boards.

“We have been very good on the boards this year so that crushed us,” said Henderson.

“I think they were more aggressive. This is a game where the more aggressive team generally wins and I thought they were a little more aggressive.”

While Princeton executed well offensively, shooting 43.1 percent from the field and committing only eight turnovers, the Tigers need to be more aggressive at the other end of the court.

“We have got to defend, we got to be able to stop guys because I think we are scoring enough points to be successful,” said Henderson, who got 19 points from Bray with Barrett adding 15, Hans Brase scoring 14, and Denton Koon and Spencer Weisz chipping in 10 apiece.

Bray, for his part, acknowledged that Penn took the initiative from the opening tip-off. “We have got to come out ready to go every night,” said Bray. “We didn’t really do that tonight and Penn punched us in the mouth early in the game and early in the second half. We were kind of playing from behind all night and that is just something that can’t happen.”

The Tigers thought they could make something good happen on the last play to Barrett.

“We had run a few times in practice and had gotten it but the guy made a great play, he got his hand in there just enough,” said Bray.

Although losing the Ivy opener puts Princeton behind the eight-ball in the so-called 14-game tournament for the league’s NCAA tournament bid, the Tigers still hold their title chances in their hands.

“There is very little margin for error but I don’t think we can focus on that,” said Henderson.

“We just have to concentrate on us. We have a good team. We just have to zero in on what we are doing. We really have a lot of work to do.”

With Princeton going on an exam hiatus, the Tigers will have to take care of classwork before they can turn to the stretch drive.

“It is like two different seasons,” said Henderson, whose team will host Division III foe Kean University on January 26 before heading to New England where the Tigers will play at Ivy frontrunner Harvard on January 31 and at Dartmouth on February 1.

“Coming up, we have two weeks worth of exams and papers. These guys know what to do, they can get to the gym and get some work in and get ready to go to Cambridge in three weeks.”

HOME COOKING: Princeton University men’s hockey player Mike Ambrosia heads up the ice during the 2012-13 season. Last Friday, sophomore forward Ambrosia notched the game-winning goal as Princeton edged visiting Rensselaer 2-1 in the Tigers’ first home game since November 22. Princeton, which lost 3-0 to No. 4 Union a day later in dropping to 4-15 overall and 3-9 in ECAC Hockey play, is currently on exam break and will next be in action when it plays at Harvard on January 31 and at Dartmouth on February 1.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HOME COOKING: Princeton University men’s hockey player Mike Ambrosia heads up the ice during the 2012-13 season. Last Friday, sophomore forward Ambrosia notched the game-winning goal as Princeton edged visiting Rensselaer 2-1 in the Tigers’ first home game since November 22. Princeton, which lost 3-0 to No. 4 Union a day later in dropping to 4-15 overall and 3-9 in ECAC Hockey play, is currently on exam break and will next be in action when it plays at Harvard on January 31 and at Dartmouth on February 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Since it last played at home on November 22, the Princeton University men’s hockey team has been on quite an odyssey.

The Tigers traveled to Connecticut where they played Quinnipiac before heading to the midwest where they faced Michigan State, then to New York where they took on Rensselaer and Union, then to Florida for a two-game holiday tournament, and finally to western Canada for a showcase in British Columbia.

Thus it was no wonder that Tiger sophomore forward Mike Ambrosia and his teammates were thrilled to be back home in the friendly confines of Baker Rink last Friday to host Rensselaer.

“We have been on some long road trips,” said Ambrosia. “We didn’t come out with the greatest results on the road trips but we learned a lot. We took the process seriously and every step was important.”

Applying those lessons, Princeton took a big step forward on Friday, rallying from an early 1-0 deficit to pull out a 2-1 victory over the Engineers before a crowd of 2,069.

“It was a big team effort,” said Ambrosia, reflecting on the triumph. “Every single guy contributed.”

New Jersey native Ambrosia made a major contribution in the homecoming, notching the game-winning goal early in the third period.

“It was a great play by Ryan [Siiro]; he is a big, strong kid,” recalled the 5’10, 180-pound Ambrosia, who hails from Chatham.

“I think he threw two guys off him and was able to make a really nice pass so fortunately it went in.”

The line of Ambrosia, Siiro, and senior star Andrew Calof was clicking on Friday.

“I love playing with these guys,” said Ambrosia, who now has six points this season on three goals and three assists.

“I think we all bring a little different element to the game and we just try to create a lot of offense every single game. That is our job but we have to play well defensively because that is where it starts. We want to create as many offensive chances as we can.”

Ambrosia, who has missed seven games this season due to injury, is happy to be back on the ice.

“There are a ton of guys coming back from injury and we all want to help,” said Ambrosia of the Tigers’ injury list which has included Calof, Ben Foster, Tyler Maugeri, Alec Rush, and Tommy Davis.

“We all want to help and contribute to the wins. It is a process but we are definitely happy to have some guys healthy and we just want to keep going.”

Princeton head coach Bob Prier was happy with the effort he got from his team on Friday.

“There were some ebbs and flows but in the 5-on-5 in general I thought we won the majority of the battles and we were the more physical team,” said Prier.

“We got rewarded for that. We threw a lot of body punches early and Ambro went in the third and that was the knockout punch. You knew it was going to be a game that was going to be tough to score.”

Prier likes the way the Ambrosia line is giving Princeton scoring punch. “They are playing great; they just seem to find that open man,” said Prier.

“You look at a kid like Calof, I think he may have had one shot on net tonight but you think a player that elite should have four or five. He made the right plays when he was supposed to make those plays. He is someone that can make them. It is contagious, guys like Ambrosia and Calof start making those plays and then other guys can feed off of that and they start making some too.”

The Tigers made some big plays at the defensive end, with defensemen throwing their bodies at pucks all night and freshman netminder Colton Phinney making 33 saves in earning the victory.

“Down the stretch here, it is playoff mindset and guys are really tough in front of their own net,” said Prier, whose team showed toughness a night later, battling hard in falling 3-0 to No. 4 Union, leaving the Tigers at 4-15 overall and 3-9 in ECAC Hockey play.

“I thought we did a real good job of eliminating the second and third chances with our d-corps in front and also with Colton hanging onto pucks. They were applying pressure late there. They were getting a lot through. They had good movement and he did a really good job of either putting the rebounds in the corner or holding onto them. It deadened the momentum which was great.”

In Prier’s view, the way Princeton took care of business in the win over Rensselaer could help the Tigers build some momentum as they head into the stretch drive.

“If we play the way we did tonight, we’ll have a good chance of winning against anyone,” asserted Prier, whose team is currently on hiatus for exams and will next be in action when it plays at Harvard on January 31 and at Dartmouth on February 1. “That’s the way the league is.”

Ambrosia, for his part, believes that Princeton can be a factor in league play as it looks to move up the ECACH standings.

“It is always nice to win, especially in a team effort like that,” said Ambrosia.

“It wasn’t like we snuck a game out or stole two points. I think we really deserved that one. It was a total team effort, starting with Colton Phinney in net. From him out, from the defense up we had a good, tight game. Winning a 2-1 game just breeds a lot of confidence in the guys.”

PASSING LANE: Princeton High girls’ basketball player Mary ­Sutton looks to pass the ball last Saturday in PHS’s 58-23 loss to visiting Ewing. The Little Tigers, now 0-6, host WW/P-N on January 17 before playing at Lawrence on January 21.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PASSING LANE: Princeton High girls’ basketball player Mary ­Sutton looks to pass the ball last Saturday in PHS’s 58-23 loss to visiting Ewing. The Little Tigers, now 0-6, host WW/P-N on January 17 before playing at Lawrence on January 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Although the Princeton High girls’ basketball team suffered a lopsided defeat to Ewing last Saturday to remain winless on the season, Dan Van Hise believes his squad is headed in the right direction.

“I don’t think the girls realize how far they have come in the last few weeks,” said first-year PHS head coach Van Hise, whose team lost 41-35 to Hamilton on January 7 and fell 49-32 to Steinert on Thursday before its 58-23 defeat to the Blue Devils on Saturday.

“We haven’t taken the hardest step. The chemistry is great and the effort is great. They are really buying in but they have to do the little things.”

In Van Hise’s view, PHS has to step up things on the boards and on the defensive end.

“We need to rebound better; we could have beaten Hamilton but they killed us on the boards,” said Van Hise, whose team fell to 0-6 with its loss to Ewing.

“We can practice boxing out all the time but it is a want thing. We need to have better defensive communication. When we go back on defense we need to know who is guarding who. It is deflating when you get it down to six or eight and the other team comes down and scores because you didn’t know who you were guarding.”

A bright spot for the Little Tigers has been the play of the squad’s starting guards, sophomore Julia Ryan and junior Mary Sutton.

“Julia was feeling a lot of pressure in the first few games; she knows she has to be one of two or three main players and that is hard as a sophomore,” said Van Hise.

“She had a good game against Robbinsville, scoring 12 points and that led into the Hamilton game where she had 16. She and Mary feel most comfortable staying outside on the perimeter. We are getting zones thrown at us so they have to start going to the basket. We are pushing them to do that. The guards are the strength of our team.”

Van Hise is looking for stronger play from his frontcourt, starting with senior Liz Jacobs and junior Bryanna Blue.

“Liz is coming on a little bit; she is starting to be calm in the post and is learning the game,” said Van Hise of Jacobs, who had a team-high seven points in the loss to Ewing.

“We need her to rebound better. She is aggressive on the offensive end when she has the ball but she doesn’t look to do that when she doesn’t have the ball or she is on the defensive end. Bryanna Blue is one of the other girls off the bench. We are going to start playing her and Liz more together. We are going to try some high post/low post stuff. Bryanna has a world of potential. She has a nice soft touch, she just needs to catch the ball better.”

In Van Hise’s view, getting a victory will help PHS get more out of its potential.

“They are starting to play good enough basketball to win against most of the teams that we play,” said Van Hise, whose team is slated to host WW/P-N
on January 17 before playing at Lawrence on January 21.

“They are holding their heads up. They don’t know how to win or how it feels. It will happen and I think it will make a big difference.”

PRESSURE POINT: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball player Ford Schneider, right, puts on the defensive pressure. Last Friday, senior star Schneider scored 12 points in a losing cause as PDS fell 49-45 to Timothy Christian. The Panthers, now 1-7, play at Rutgers Prep on January 16 before hosting Steinert on January 18.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PRESSURE POINT: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball player Ford Schneider, right, puts on the defensive pressure. Last Friday, senior star Schneider scored 12 points in a losing cause as PDS fell 49-45 to Timothy Christian. The Panthers, now 1-7, play at Rutgers Prep on January 16 before hosting Steinert on January 18. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Ford Schneider is looking to bring more to the table this winter in his senior season with the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team.

“I worked a lot in the off season on just getting stronger and finishing at the rim,” said 6’3 senior forward Schneider.

“My shot has always been a strength of mine so I knew that was going to be there. It was just about rounding out my game as a whole. It is our last year and for some of us it is our last year playing ball so it seems like it is the time for me to step up and show what I can do.”

With PDS trailing Timothy Christian 45-36 early in the fourth quarter last Friday, Schneider stepped up, hitting a three-pointer to start a rally that saw the Panthers whittle the lead down to 46-45 with 37.5 seconds remaining in regulation. PDS, though, didn’t score again falling 49-45 as it dropped to 1-7.

Schneider acknowledged that it took awhile for the Panthers to find their rhythm in the contest.

“I think we came out almost a little too hyped,” said Schneider, reflecting on a night which saw PDS fall behind 20-14 by the end of the first quarter. “We were all excited to get out there and play and we were just out of sorts on both sides of the floor.”

In the second quarter, PDS got in a groove as it outscored Timothy Christian 15-7 to take a 29-27 lead into halftime. Schneider scored seven points in the quarter, including a three-pointer in the waning seconds which put the Panthers up going into intermission.

“That’s just about getting into the flow of the game and we just settled down a little bit,” said Schneider, who ended up with 12 points on the night.

“Our shots started to fall and we started to get some steals. I missed a few in the first quarter. My teammates and my coaches always tell me to keep shooting; it started to fall for me.”

In Schneider’s view, PDS lost the game on the offensive end. “We had one of the worst shooting nights,” said Schneider.

“Our defense really wasn’t that bad. Obviously we have to finish at the rim a lot better. If we hit our layups we win tonight by 15 or 20 points because we missed at least 10.”

Despite misfiring, the Panthers battled to the final whistle. “We are not a team that ever gives up, we have been in bigger holes than that and we keep battling,” said Schneider. “The one thing I know about our team is that we are always going to battle.”

The team will need to utilize that spirit as it looks to get on the winning track.

“Frustration always sets in if you are 1-7; I think that we are all fed up with losing,” said Schneider. “I think that is more motivation.”

PDS head coach Paris McLean was frustrated to see his team come up short as it looked to build on its 62-25 win over Moorestown Friends earlier in the week.

“It has got to come down to consistency and balance, we just talked about that,” said McLean.

They scored 20 points on us in the first and the next three quarters, it was 7,13,7. We played great defensively for three quarters. We didn’t shoot well tonight. We got to the basket a lot but just missed layups. We made some silly fouls down the stretch. We didn’t show composure under pressure.”

PDS, though, hasn’t shied away from the pressure despite having such key players as senior guards Langston Glaude and Deante Cole sidelined at various points of the season due to injury.

“This team has battled night in, night out, every single game,” asserted McLean.

“If you don’t think we are coming to play and coming to battle, you are wrong. We just keep fighting and scrapping. It is just tough to string together some victories right now.”

In McLean’s view, the team has what it takes to start coming up with some victories.

“We won the game Monday, there were a lot of bright spots today,” said McLean.

“Individual defense looked good, team defense looked good. We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well. We had some individual highlights. I thought Chris [Okorodudu] played well tonight. Ford has consistently been playing well. There has been plenty of individual highlights.”

Despite the disappointing record, the Panthers haven’t been hanging their heads.

“Spirits are high, guys are working hard,” said McLean, whose team plays at Rutgers Prep on January 16 before hosting Steinert on January 18.

“Guys are showing up to practice and that’s what you get from having nine or 10 seniors. They have been around so there is that commitment from them and all the guys on the team.”

Schneider, for his part, believes the Panthers have shown a deeper commitment as the season has gone on.

“I think the biggest thing that I see is the energy,” said Schneider. “We are playing with a renewed sense of determination.”

TALL ORDER: Princeton Day School girls’ basketball player ­Isabel Meyercord dribbles upcourt last Friday against Stuart Country Day. Sophomore center Meyercord chipped in seven points as PDS lost 33-28 to the Tartans. The Panthers, now 0-5, play at Villa Victoria Academy on January 17.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TALL ORDER: Princeton Day School girls’ basketball player ­Isabel Meyercord dribbles upcourt last Friday against Stuart Country Day. Sophomore center Meyercord chipped in seven points as PDS lost 33-28 to the Tartans. The Panthers, now 0-5, play at Villa Victoria Academy on January 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In mid-December, the Princeton Day School girls’ basketball team opened its season by losing 48-21 at Stuart Country Day School.

Last Friday, the local rivals met in a rematch and round two turned out to be much different as PDS showed how much it has improved in a matter of a few weeks.

Trailing by just 19-15 at halftime, the Panthers narrowed the margin to one point twice in the waning moments of the contest before succumbing 33-28.

Although his team remained winless with the setback, first-year PDS head coach Kamau Bailey grinned broadly as assessed his players’ performance.

“I am just really impressed and really proud of my girls today,” said Bailey. “Every game we are getting better. We have been playing a lot in practice and doing player development stuff. All the girls are getting better and I think today was a testament to the work they have been putting in.”

In narrowing the gap with the Tartans, Bailey had his players speed things up.

“I wanted to push the tempo,” said Bailey. “The last time we played, we let them control the tempo. This time out, I wanted to control the tempo and I think we did that. They weren’t allowed to set up and get into their stuff very well.”

PDS utilized pressure defense to disrupt Stuart. “I implemented this press that I used to run in high school and it caused them problems,” explained Bailey.

“In the first game that we played we tried to run the press but everyone was in the wrong place and everyone was trying to figure out where to be so it wasn’t effective. We did it everyday in practice and it’s starting to work now. We are going to continue to use that and get better at it.”

As a result, PDS nearly pulled out the game, drawing to within 27-26 and 29-28 in the last four minutes of regulation.

“We just couldn’t get over the hump, we missed some easy baskets that we probably should have made,” said Bailey, reflecting on his team’s play down the stretch.

“I think they were a little fatigued at the end and that is probably why we missed some of those buckets. They fight hard, we had a shot to win it.”

Sophomore center Isabel Meyercord fought hard in the paint for the Panthers.

“She is tall, she gets in everyone’s face and puts up her hands a lot,” said Bailey of the 6’1 Meyercord, who had seven points and was a disruptive force inside.

“She is really athletic and agile. She can get up and down the court pretty fast which is helpful to us and she causes a lot of problems for big girls.”

Meyercord’s classmate, guard/forward Hope Anhut caused problems for Stuart with her scrappy play, chipping in six points.

“Hope is someone who didn’t play a lot in the first game because she was just coming off an injury,” said Bailey, whose tam fell 56-18 to Pennington last Monday to drop to 0-5.

“She has stepped up a lot in the last week. She made some clutch plays, a lot of steals, she was aggressive on the ball.”

Freshman guard Shayla Stevenson has been stepping up for the Panthers.

“She is getting over some nerves,” said Bailey of Stevenson, who tallied seven points in the loss to the Tartans. “I had to tell her that the weight of the team was not on her shoulders. She is a freshman and I just want to bring her along the right way.”

In Bailey’s view, time is on the side of his youthful squad. “The thing is we are not as good as I want us to be but we are young,” said Bailey, whose team is at Villa Victoria Academy on January 17.

“The girls are all freshmen and sophomores by next year and the next couple years coming, I like our chances. I am happy, this is good stuff that is happening here at this school.”

FORWARD MOVEMENT: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey player Mimi Matthews controls the puck in a game last winter. Senior star Matthews has been a key contributor for the Panthers this winter as she has moved back to forward after playing at defenseman as a junior. PDS, now 7-3-1, hosts the Hill School (Pa.) on January 15 and Rye Country Day (N.Y.) on January 17 before playing at Upland Country Day (Pa.) on January 21.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FORWARD MOVEMENT: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey player Mimi Matthews controls the puck in a game last winter. Senior star Matthews has been a key contributor for the Panthers this winter as she has moved back to forward after playing at defenseman as a junior. PDS, now 7-3-1, hosts the Hill School (Pa.) on January 15 and Rye Country Day (N.Y.) on January 17 before playing at Upland Country Day (Pa.) on January 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last winter, Mimi Matthews made the best of the situation as she was moved to defense from her natural forward position in her junior season with the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team.

“I think when I was on defense it was definitely a learning experience and it was really good for me,” said Matthews.

“I know how to skate backwards really well and I think that is one of my stronger suits because I used to figure skate and that is where that came from.”

This year, Matthews has come back to forward as a senior and is feeling at home.

“I feel a lot more comfortable knowing where I am and just in general playing the game,” said Matthews.

Last Wednesday against visiting Morristown-Beard, Matthews showed her comfort level at forward, tallying a third period goal on a top-shelf blast to bring PDS within 2-1.

“I have really been working hard in practice on just seeing the net and not so much shooting at the goalie because that is something that I have struggled with,” said Matthews.

“As a freshman and a sophomore, I would give the puck away and pass it to someone for a shot. Now I am learning that I can take the shot. I can probably score because I do have a pretty good shot.”

While PDS couldn’t close the deal against the Crimson as it fell 3-1, Matthews saw the game as a step in the right direction for the Panthers.

“Our team was really fired up; obviously we didn’t come out as strong as we could have in the first period,” said Matthews.

“I think by the middle of the second period, we definitely got something going. It’s always a hard game against Mo-Beard. This is the closest we have been so I am really proud of them.”

In Matthews’ view, the PDS players have developed a closeness that is a major asset for the team.

“Everybody at the beginning of the year was so fired up to work with each other,” said Matthews.

“Right after the first few practices, everyone was really psyched up to just be on the team and be with each other. I am really, really excited to be playing with every one of these girls.”

PDS head coach Lorna Gifis Cook is excited by the effort she is getting from Matthews and linemates Abby Sharer and Emma Stillwaggon.

“Mimi’s whole line battles really hard,” said Cook. “I think it starts with the wingers, Emma and Abby, who are smaller players but are really aggressive. Mimi just feeds off of that and she is the one who is going to have more of a knack of taking it to the net and putting pucks in the net. It is funny, I talked to her at practice yesterday because she has been doing really well all week putting pucks in corners and I told her I am expecting one out of you tomorrow and there you go, she is one that scored.”

Freshman goalie Annika Asplundh did really well to keep PDS in the Mo-Beard game as the Panther were outshot 48-6 on the evening.

“She was always in position for their shots,” said Cook. “Some of their shots weren’t great but she was still right there and to control those rebounds was another huge thing. It is putting them in the corners and making sure that they don’t get extra chances. She certainly kept us in the game, no question. We knew going in that she would have to do that a little bit for us. I was hoping it was not going to be so much.”

In Cook’s view, the defeat to Mo-Beard showed that PDS has to generate more scoring chances.

“I am disappointed that we didn’t win but I think I am more disappointed that we only got six shots,” said Cook.

“It is one of those where we are still moving forward. It is a stepping stone for sure. We are going to look at it as a chance to get better.”

Over the weekend, PDS did play better, going 1-1-1 in three games at the Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh, Pa. The Panthers had a 3-3 tie and a 4-0 loss in games with the hosts on Saturday before winning 6-3 on Sunday against Holton Arms (Md.) to move to 7-3-1.

Matthews, for her part, is looking forward to the rest of the season. “I just want to enjoy it while I can; I am definitely going to be sad when I am not at PDS next year,” said Matthews, who is heading to Middlebury College in the fall.

“I am just trying to make the most out of this year and this season because we have a good chance at a lot of different big games. I think this team can go places. It has just really been fun, hockey practice is the highlight of my day, just being on the ice.”

MASTER CLASS: Hun School girls’ basketball player Erica Brown, left, looks to get around a foe in a recent game. Last Thursday, senior guard Brown scored 12 points to help Hun top Mastery Charter (Pa.) 56-39. The Raiders, now 4-5, host Blair Academy on January 15 before playing at Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) on January 18 and at Life Center Academy on January 21.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MASTER CLASS: Hun School girls’ basketball player Erica Brown, left, looks to get around a foe in a recent game. Last Thursday, senior guard Brown scored 12 points to help Hun top Mastery Charter (Pa.) 56-39. The Raiders, now 4-5, host Blair Academy on January 15 before playing at Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) on January 18 and at Life Center Academy on January 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Erica Brown and her teammates on the Hun School girls’ basketball team, their lopsided loss to Lawrenceville last Wednesday prompted some soul-searching as they prepared to host Mastery Charter (Pa.) a day later.

“We had a tough loss last night,” said senior forward Brown reflecting on the 54-29 defeat to the Big Red.

“Even in school, off the court, we were in ourselves. We just wanted to go out there and play hard and play the best that we can. Our main goal was to go out there and play hard and be ourselves. We weren’t hitting many shots yesterday. We really wanted to put the ball in the basket today.”

With Brown setting the tone with her aggressive play, Hun put up a lot of baskets against Mastery, jumping out to a 31-17 halftime lead on the way to a 56-39 victory.

“We were moving the ball well today,” said Brown, who scored 12 points to lead Hun along with freshman center Clare Maloney.

“Yesterday we weren’t hitting shots so we couldn’t rely on one person. Today we all went out there and we all had to play hard and do it for the team. We couldn’t play for ourselves.”

Hun has been forced to come together even more as a team in the wake of a knee injury to star center Johnnah Johnson, who is sidelined indefinitely.

“Once Johnnah got hurt, we really had to buckle down and our inside game had to be strong,” said Brown.

“Clare really had to be strong and she is doing well, filling some big shoes. She has to play hard and be strong inside.”

Brown, for her part, is looking to buckle down at both ends of the floor. “I really have to help get the rebounds on defense and make sure that we can push the ball,” said Brown.

“We have to play hard on the defensive end. Offensively we have to see the court. I like pushing the ball; the fast break is one of my strong suits, I like getting the ball up the court but I can settle down and run a play if we need to. Usually I just tell the girls to run and I will get the ball out to you. I grab the rebound and I will push it; that is our transition game.”

In Brown’s view, closing the deal against Mastery bodes well for the Raiders.

“We had some really close losses and our main thing was we have been up a lot at halftime and we want to make sure that we didn’t lose that lead,” said Brown.

“Sometimes we get a little lackadaisical when we are up by a lot and today at halftime, it was we are up and we need to stay up. There is nothing guaranteeing our win.”

Hun head coach Bill Holup sees the win over Mastery as a step forward for his squad.

“It is definitely important and with Johnnah out we don’t have overall depth so the other girls have to step up,” said Holup.

“Like today, for example,  Maura Kelly did a terrific job, she grabbed some rebounds and was active defensively. Everybody is going to be called upon at some point and they have to always be ready and focused.”

Holup liked the focus that Brown displayed in the win over Mastery Charter.

“Erica has ability,” said Holup. “She is a physical player, she can rebound, and she can also handle the ball. Yesterday, in our halftime talk she may have taken that to heart. She really stepped up her game from halftime yesterday throughout this entire game.”

Junior guard Erica Dwyer also stepped up, chipping in five points and calmly running the Hun offense.

“I think Erica Dwyer did the same thing; yesterday she didn’t play all that well and she knew it,” said Holup.

“Today she played much better and was more patient and let the game come to her instead of forcing it. Ultimately as a team, that was what we did today.”

The Raiders also got good games from junior Janelle Mullen and senior Anajha Burnett.

“Mullen has been a little bit off with her shot in the last couple of games,” said Holup, whose team topped Hill 57-30 on Saturday before falling 61-38 to Marianapolis Prep (Conn.) in the New Year’s Resolution Showcase at Peterson to move to 4-5.

“I think that has been bothering her a little bit, it can be psychological at times, you are thinking too much. She came alive today late in the game but we will need her right from the start. Anajha had a nice game, she asserted herself instead of just settling for outside shots.

Even without Johnson, Holup believes his club can produce a nice season.

“There is enough talent on this team that we should be able to compete with most of the teams on our schedule,” said Holup, whose team hosts Blair Academy on January 15 before playing at Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) on January 18 and at Life Center Academy on January 21. “We just have to be ready to play every time.”

Brown, for her part, is ready to go out with a bang. “We need to make sure that we are a family on and off the court so that is our main thing,” said Brown, who is planning to play at the college level.

“In senior year, you want to leave it on the court. I am trying to enjoy the rest of the season and see where it takes me.”

TURNING THE CORNER: Stuart Country Day School basketball star Harley Guzman dribbles around a foe in recent action. Last Friday, sophomore guard Guzman scored eight points to help Stuart edge Princeton Day School 33-28. The Tartans, who improved to 5-2 with the win, host Bound Brook on January 17 before playing at Solebury School (Pa.) on January 21.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TURNING THE CORNER: Stuart Country Day School basketball star Harley Guzman dribbles around a foe in recent action. Last Friday, sophomore guard Guzman scored eight points to help Stuart edge Princeton Day School 33-28. The Tartans, who improved to 5-2 with the win, host Bound Brook on January 17 before playing at Solebury School (Pa.) on January 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In starting the season with a 4-2 record, the Stuart Country Day School basketball team cruised in each of its wins, posting an average margin of victory of 26.2 points in those four triumphs.

When Stuart played at Princeton Day School last Friday, the Tartans found themselves in a tight contest despite having beaten PDS 48-21 in December.

Stuart led 19-15 at halftime and took a 25-21 advantage into the fourth quarter.

Second-year Tartan head coach Dana Leary, for her part, wasn’t surprised that the rematch had a different feel than the initial meeting between the local foes.

“I expected a different game from the first time and the girls knew that as well,” said Leary.

“We were going to their place and they were going to be a much improved team.”

One factor that made the second encounter closer was Stuart’s failure to calmly handle PDS’s defensive pressure.

“We were panicking the entire game; the press was hurting us,” said Leary. “As much as we have been working on it, it was like they were seeing it for the first time. I kept stressing that you have to work hard defensively and on the offensive end you have to get it out. When you catch it, you have to be poised.”

The Tartans, though, showed poise down the stretch, outscoring the Panthers 4-0 in the last minute to pull out a 33-28 win.

“They pulled it together when it counted,” said Leary. “They calmed down by the end; it took the whole game. I am very proud of them for working hard and playing right to the end. That is all you can ask for.”

Some fine work inside by sophomore Kate Walsh and Nneka Onukwugha helped Stuart prevail as Walsh scored a game-high nine points while Onukwugha added eight.

“Kate has been having a great year so far; tonight she came through for us at the end with two big putbacks,” said Leary.

“Nneka has been showing up every single game, going and doing exactly what is expected of her. Tonight I saw she was hungry for it. She was going after the ball. She was out there to work; she didn’t want to get outworked tonight. You could definitely see that in her game.”

In Leary’s view, winning a game like last Friday’s contest should help the Tartans down the road.

“They haven’t been in a close one yet so now they have that experience and they can be confident in themselves at the end of the game,” said Leary, whose team hosts Bound Brook on January 17 before playing at Solebury School (Pa.) on January 21.

“They know they are capable of having the lead, holding onto it, and then coming out with the win.”

January 8, 2014
SPECIAL K: Princeton University women’s hockey player Kelsey Koelzer, right, celebrates with a teammate after a Tiger goal earlier in the season. Last Thursday, freshman forward Koelzer enjoyed a breakout game, tallying two goals and an assist as Princeton topped Connecticut 4-1. Koelzer entered the night with a total of one goal and an assist in her 15 previous appearances. The Tigers, who edged UConn 1-0 in overtime on Friday to sweep the two-game set and improve to 9-6-2 overall, play at Union on January 10 and at Rensselaer on January 11.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SPECIAL K: Princeton University women’s hockey player Kelsey Koelzer, right, celebrates with a teammate after a Tiger goal earlier in the season. Last Thursday, freshman forward Koelzer enjoyed a breakout game, tallying two goals and an assist as Princeton topped Connecticut 4-1. Koelzer entered the night with a total of one goal and an assist in her 15 previous appearances. The Tigers, who edged UConn 1-0 in overtime on Friday to sweep the two-game set and improve to 9-6-2 overall, play at Union on January 10 and at Rensselaer on January 11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Kelsey Koelzer, figuring out the best way to utilize her talent has been a major challenge as she goes through her freshman season with the Princeton University women’s hockey team.

“I would have to say learning new systems and learning my role because it changes when you go from playing in your leagues back home to playing in Division I hockey,” said Koelzer, reflecting on adjusting to college hockey.

“Learning where I fit in, what I have to do every game, and what I have to bring to the team.”

Last Thursday, forward Koelzer brought a lot to the table for the Tigers, tallying two goals and an assist as Princeton topped Connecticut 4-1.

For Koelzer, who had had a goal and an assist in her 15 appearances during the 2013 portion of this season’s schedule, the breakthrough performance was heartening.

“It was definitely a confidence builder,” said Koelzer, a 5’9 native of Horsham, Pa. who played club hockey for the New Jersey Rockets.

“It was good getting my legs back under me and just proving to myself that this is what you have got to do every game. I want to pick it up even more and just continue with the momentum.”

Koelzer helped Princeton seize momentum against UConn as her blast from the point set up a Sally Butler goal that tied the game at 1-1 midway through the second period.

“They were definitely leaving the lanes open in terms of the point shots,” said Koelzer.

“It was important that we were moving it up top between me and Gabie [Figueroa]. I saw a small lane so my main goal was to get it low because I know Sally is going to be in front to tip it.”

Midway through the third period, Koelzer put the Tigers ahead as another one-timer found the back of the net.

“It felt good,” said Koelzer, recalling the tally. “They didn’t come out to challenge me so I took the opportunity.”

The Tigers cashed in on their opportunities as they scored a total of three goals in a 3:34 span of the third period with Koelzer adding Princeton’s fourth and final goal of the game.

“We work really hard in practice, we are a good bunch,” said Koelzer, who put in some more good work on Friday, helping Princeton pull out a 1-0 overtime win over UConn to sweep the two-game set and improve to 9-6-2 overall.

“That’s where it is coming down into the third periods and especially the second game of weekends.”

With Princeton having won four straight, Koelzer believes the team is coming on strong.

“Really, we are clicking on every aspect,” said Koelzer. “We are a great conditioned team, we have got a lot of speed. We definitely have some good momentum going.”

The addition of Koelzer and classmates Molly Strabley, Cassidy Tucker, Audrey Potts, Morgan Sly, Hilary Lloyd, and Fiona McKenna, has helped build that positive momentum.

“It is great team chemistry,” said Koelzer. “The upperclassmen are great to us. From day one, we really felt like this was home. It definitely helped us getting into games. It has made it a lot easier for us to learn our roles on the team.”

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal has been looking to get Koelzer into a scoring role for the Tigers.

“Kelsey has a really good shot and we are trying to find the best ways to utilize it,” said Kampersal.

“So we finally got her in a position where she can have a couple of open looks.”

Kampersal liked how his team looked collectively on Thursday as it rebounded from a 1-0 deficit after the first period and skated to victory in its first action since a 4-1 win over Union on December 7.

“It wasn’t our best effort in the first period, that is to be expected,” said Kampersal.

“Falling behind and getting a little slap in the face, I think that’s what we needed. We have been a third period team all year; that was nice to see. We had three power play goals tonight and that was really nice to see.”

With the Tigers missing such key players Olivia Mucha, Rose Alleva, and Jaimie McDonnell on Friday due to injury, Princeton showed resilience in overcoming the Huskies.

“I thought people stepping up in different roles was big,” said Kampersal, whose team’s lone goal in the overtime win on Friday came from junior forward Brianna Leahy.

“At game time we had to make decisions where kids were seeing the doctor so other kids had to play wing or center, doing different things like that. We had different kids on the penalty kill who didn’t necessarily practice that all week.”

Kampersal is hoping his club can keep coming up big as the Tigers play at Union on January 10 and at Rensselaer on January 11 before going on a 17-day hiatus for exams.

“They have a lot of heart, they have a lot of soul,” said Kampersal. “They are committed to it. They know that when it’s going bad, what they need to do to fix it. It is a good group to coach.”

Local product Koelzer, for her part, is thrilled to be part of the group. “I have been coming to see Princeton games for about four years now,” said Koelzer.

“Last season, I was probably at every single home game just because I was out with an ACL injury. This has definitely been a dream come true.”

CLOSE COMBAT: Princeton University men’s basketball player Will Barrett, middle, applies defensive pressure in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior forward Barrett scored eight points to help Princeton defeat Liberty University 80-74. The Tigers, now 11-2, open Ivy League action with a game at Penn (2-10) on January 11.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CLOSE COMBAT: Princeton University men’s basketball player Will Barrett, middle, applies defensive pressure in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior forward Barrett scored eight points to help Princeton defeat Liberty University 80-74. The Tigers, now 11-2, open Ivy League action with a game at Penn (2-10) on January 11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton University men’s basketball team squandered a 15-point lead against Kent State last week and found itself trailing 66-65 with less than a minute left, Will Barrett wasn’t rattled.

“At the end of the game when we were down by one, I just felt like a sense of calmness,” said Princeton senior forward Barrett.

“In a couple of close games that we have had, we have just been calm under pressure. I don’t know if that comes from all of the experience that we have had. We have got five guys that have played a lot together and we have senior leadership.”

Barrett exuded coolness as he scored 11 points in the second half, hitting two clutch three-pointers down the stretch to help Princeton pull out a 73-68 win in the December 31 contest before 2,440 at Jadwin Gym.

While Barrett was happy with his offensive contribution in the win over the Golden Flashes, hitting on 6-of-12 shots as he totaled a game-high 19 points, he acknowledged that he needs to produce a more well-rounded game.

“My shot is feeling good right now; it is definitely part of my game that I take pride in,” said Barrett, a 6’11 197-pound native of Hartsville, Pa.

“There are so many other areas that I have to and need to improve on if our team is going to continue to succeed. My defense is a huge part of that. If I can clean that up, then I am in the game a lot more, and that helps our team even more so I have got to just keep improving on that.”

In Barrett’s view, the Tigers were hungry to show their pride against Kent State in the wake of a disappointing 93-79 loss to Portland in the South Point Holiday Hoops Classic in Las Vegas before Christmas.

“In Vegas there were a bunch of our former teammates, Dan Mavraides, Kareem Maddox, they were all there and I was really angry after the game and they said this might be a blessing in disguise,” recalled Barrett.

“We don’t like to lose games here. It was good for us for that to sink in over break. I think it has a little bit and it just teaches us that in any game you can come out and lose to anybody in college basketball so we have to keep that in mind.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson was heartened to see his squad prevail on a day when it didn’t play its sharpest.

“It wasn’t pretty on our end; it is the second game in a row where we haven’t played on offense and on defense for a long stretch of time the way we would like to play,” said Henderson.

“I was in the Big 10 for a long time so it felt like a Big 10 game. It is one punch and the next punch and everybody is delivering these big blows. I was really proud of our guys for making free throws down the stretch. I think that is a really good Kent State team, a really good program. They have had 14 or 15 straight 20-win seasons, which is just unbelievable to me so I am just really proud of our guys.”

Last Saturday, the Tigers came up big down the stretch at Liberty University, overcoming a late 67-66 deficit to earn an 80-74 win in improving to 11-2.

“I attribute it to a few different things,” said Henderson in reflecting on his team’s penchant for coming through in tight contests this winter.

“We have T.J. Bray, who our guys have confidence in down the stretch. We made free throws. We have made some really big shots. I think it is just making shots. I have to attribute that to T.J., his ability to get to the basket and make these guys better. I think it just makes us tough.”

Henderson likes the way Barrett is making big shots although he believes the forward has the ability to make more of an impact at both ends of the court.

“I thought he was just terrific; I was saying to Will in the locker room that I had to take him out of the game a couple of times because I thought defensively he could have made a couple of adjustments that would have helped us,” said Henderson, who got 8 points and two assists from Barrett in the win over Liberty with the backcourt duo of Bray and Ben Hazel leading the way, tallying 24 and 18 points, respectively.

“I think he could be a lock-down defender as well as what he did offensively but his line is fantastic, 4-for-8 from 3, 19 points and 7 rebounds in 25 minutes, that is good.”

With Princeton opening Ivy League action by playing at Penn (2-10) on January 11, Henderson believes his team is in good shape to make a title run.

“I like where we are because I am sort of a glass half full kind of guy,” said Henderson.

“Man we have so much we can work on. I just think the room for improvement is enormous but they really like each other.”

Barrett, for his part, likes the Tigers’ chances. “I feel good, I think we all feel good,” said Barrett, who is averaging 11.3 points a game and leads the Tigers in three-pointers with 30.

“We are pretty much by ourselves on campus right now so we have a ton of time to be down in the gym and then take care of work that we have to do.”

DRIVE FOR FIVE: Princeton University women’s basketball player Michelle Miller drives to the basket in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore guard Miller scored a career-high 23 points to help Princeton top Drexel 66-59. Miller was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week, along with Penn’s Katy Allen, for her effort. The Tigers, now 9-5, start their drive for a fifth straight league crown when they play at Penn on Saturday in the Ivy opener for both teams.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

DRIVE FOR FIVE: Princeton University women’s basketball player Michelle Miller drives to the basket in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore guard Miller scored a career-high 23 points to help Princeton top Drexel 66-59. Miller was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week, along with Penn’s Katy Allen, for her effort. The Tigers, now 9-5, start their drive for a fifth straight league crown when they play at Penn on Saturday in the Ivy opener for both teams. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Courtney Banghart, the point of the non-conference schedule is more about exposing her Princeton University women’s basketball team to a wide range of competitive situations than piling up wins.

But as Princeton girds for its Ivy League opener on January 11 at Penn, the Tigers have gained both victories and experience as they bring a 9-5 record into their clash with the Quakers and start their drive for a fifth straight league crown.

“This team is making its own mark,” said Princeton head coach Banghart. “The difference between rebuilding and reloading depends on the approach of the players and I like the way this team is responding.”

Playing in the Cavalier Classic in late December, Princeton certainly made an impression as it topped Alabama 79-59 to earn its first-ever win over a Southeastern Conference foe and then battled valiantly before falling to 69-57 to host Virginia in the title game.

“Alabama played man-to-man so we had to be more physical,” said Banghart.

“That was a good experience for a young team. We knew that UVa would zone us. The zone required us to move the ball and make shots. It was good for us, it showed us what we need to work on.”

Last Saturday at Drexel in its final tune-up before Ivy play, the Tigers worked on dealing with a zone. Trailing 25-23 at half to the reigning WNIT champs, Princeton outscored the Dragons 43-34 over the final 20 minutes to earn a 66-59 victory.

“We worked on a new zone continuity last week,” said Banghart. “We knew it wasn’t going to work right away. We got it figured out and scored 43 points in the second half.”

A lot of that offense came from Michelle Miller, who poured in a career-high 23 points and was later named the Ivy Player of the Week for the second time this year, sharing the honor with Penn’s Katy Allen.

“She is a sophomore but it doesn’t matter how old you are, it comes down to can you contribute,” said Banghart of Miller, who went 5-of-7 from three-point range in the win.

“She didn’t shoot like she can at Virginia. Against Drexel, she was shot ready and played really well.”

Junior guard Blake Dietrick has been playing really well lately, scoring 18 points last Saturday and having recently been named the Ann Meyers Drysdale Women’s National Player of the Week by the USBWA (U.S. Basketball Writers Association), becoming the first Tiger to ever collect the national accolade.

“Blake is settled,” said Banghart of Dietrick, who is averaging a team-high 15.4 points a game.

“She is so competitive, that can get in the way sometimes. She doesn’t like being bad at anything. She has settled in; she is a good lead guard and she is trusting her teammates.”

Banghart knows her team faces a competitive challenge in Penn, who is currently 7-2, having won seven straight games, including a victory over Miami, the program’s first-ever win against an Atlantic Coast Conference foe.

“They have the most experienced returning team in the league,” said Banghart of the Quakers.

“They are playing at home and our kids have inherited the target on their backs. The other teams are going to throw everything at us, they know that beating us can make a season even if they don’t win the title.”

The Quakers boast the talent to make things difficult for Princeton in senior guard and two-time Ivy scoring champion Alyssa Baron, freshman center Sydney Stipanovich, senior guard Meghan McCullough, and sophomore guard Keira Ray.

“Baron is one of the best players in the league and she has been since day one,” said Banghart.

“She has more pieces around her now so she doesn’t have to do everything. Stipanovich has a lot of size, she is 6’3 and long. They have a very experienced point guard Meghan McCullough, who is back from an injury. Keiera Ray is a good player. They have played together forever.”

The Tigers will be working overtime to get ready for the Quakers. “We have the rest of the week to prepare for them,” said Banghart.

“The Ivy season requires consistency, either the consistency of a few top players or the group. We are more of a team. It is a league for seniors so we need Kristen [Helmstetter] and Nicole [Hung] to make contributions. We are going to see a variety of things, zone, man and junk. We have to get enough from our pieces and be able to adjust.”

In Banghart’s view, her young squad has the mindset to roll with the punches it will receive in Ivy play.

“This team has a great personality,” asserted Banghart. “They are humble and there are no expectations. They just expect to battle everyday. Their job is to play hard and listen and our job is to coach them.”

RECORD KEEPER: Lauren Ullmann takes a breather during her career with the Princeton High girls’ soccer team. This past fall, star goalkeeper Ullmann enjoyed a superb freshman season with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology women’s soccer team. She allowed just six goals in 21 appearances, tying an MIT record for fewest goals allowed in a season. Ullmann’s goals against average ended up at 0.38 and she posted a .933 save percentage. She currently stands first in the MIT record book in save percentage and second in goals against.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

RECORD KEEPER: Lauren Ullmann takes a breather during her career with the Princeton High girls’ soccer team. This past fall, star goalkeeper Ullmann enjoyed a superb freshman season with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology women’s soccer team. She allowed just six goals in 21 appearances, tying an MIT record for fewest goals allowed in a season. Ullmann’s goals against average ended up at 0.38 and she posted a .933 save percentage. She currently stands first in the MIT record book in save percentage and second in goals against. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Lauren Ullmann gave up a score in the first 21 minutes of her career with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology women’s soccer team but the former Princeton High standout goalkeeper wasn’t fazed.

“We were playing Brandeis, they were ranked 8th in preseason,” said Ullmann.

“It was very exciting. That was a fantastic goal. I had made a couple of good saves right before and I made a couple right after so I didn’t have time to dwell on it. It was a very intense game, they put a lot of pressure on us.”

As MIT’s season unfolded, Ullmann thrived under the pressure that comes with starting as a freshman. She allowed just six goals in 21 starts, tying an MIT record for fewest goals allowed in a season. Ullmann’s goals against average ended up at 0.38 and she posted a .933 save percentage. She currently stands first in the MIT record book in save percentage and second in goals against.

Upon arriving at MIT for preseason training last August, Ullmann had to battle to earn the starting job, a process that helped pave the way for her outstanding campaign.

“That definitely pushed me to be at my best; I would not have had the season I ended up having if I hadn’t been pushed like that,” said Ullmann.

“I felt like I was at the right level. One of the things that drew me to MIT was that I had a good chance to get playing time right away.”

In taking advantage of the chance to play, Ullmann faced challenges both internally and externally.

“The two captains were two of the four defenders,” said Ullmann.

“I am very vocal on the field. It was hard to be commanding with such experienced players and not being established but I realized it was part of playing the game. I was going against players who could all hit the ball very well and make some very tough shots.”

Ullmann displayed her toughness when she didn’t let an injury to her right wrist keep her from starring in postseason play. She hurt her wrist in the final regular season game and originally thought it was sprained only to have x-rays later reveal a fracture.

“We taped it up and I rested it early in the week,” said Ullmann, who helped the Engineers blank Babson and Springfield in 0-0 games decided on penalty kicks to win the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) tournament.

“I wanted to be out there for the tournament games. Being in the games, the adrenaline took over. It is instinct on saves. I am going to react the same way. I wasn’t able to throw the ball and I wasn’t able to roll the ball. I had to kick it at times, it was a little unusual.”

While MIT’s season ended with a 0-0 loss on penalty kicks to the Rochester Institute of Technology in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament, Ullmann is excited about what the squad achieved in its 13-2-6 campaign.

“We fought hard the whole way, I was proud of how we played good soccer, it speaks well for the future,” said Ullmann.

“I think we did better than expected because of the number  of seniors from 2013 that we lost. We made it back to the NCAA tournament for a third time and we hosted the conference tournament. We beat Tufts, it was the first win for an MIT women’s team against a NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference) team.”

Ullmann’s play exceeded her expectations. “Every step of the way helped me realize that I could accomplish the kind of things that I did in high school,” said Ullmann.

“I was very happy by how the season went. It was exciting to give up so few goals as a freshman. It makes me want to push myself to do even better over the next three years.”

Not resting on her laurels, Ullmann plans to keep showing the kind of work ethic that has helped her excel at every step of her career.

“I want to keep working hard; I want to keep putting in the effort to get better individually and to help the team go further and further,” said Ullmann.

“I am working on building my body strength. I want to have better decision-making and improve the way I read the game.”

ACTION JACKSON: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Jackson Andres controls the puck in recent action. Last Sunday, junior forward Andres picked up an assist on the game-tying goal as PHS rallied from a 5-1 deficit to tie Wall High 5-5. The Little Tigers, now 6-1-2, play Paul VI at the Skate Zone at Voorhees on January 10 before facing powerful Notre Dame on January 13 at Mercer County Park.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ACTION JACKSON: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Jackson Andres controls the puck in recent action. Last Sunday, junior forward Andres picked up an assist on the game-tying goal as PHS rallied from a 5-1 deficit to tie Wall High 5-5. The Little Tigers, now 6-1-2, play Paul VI at the Skate Zone at Voorhees on January 10 before facing powerful Notre Dame on January 13 at Mercer County Park. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Terence Miller was disappointed on several levels when the Princeton High boys’ hockey team had to postpone its game against Steinert last Friday due to the snowstorm that hit the area.

First, the Little Tigers missed the chance to play at historic Baker Rink on the Princeton University campus, a treat for PHS and its guests alike.

More importantly, PHS head coach Miller wanted to see his team make a fresh start in the new year after ending the 2013 portion of its schedule with a lackluster 4-2 win over Pennington on December 19 and a 4-1 defeat to Cranford a day later.

“I am really eager to get going again,” said Miller, noting that his team had only two practices over the holiday break.

“We didn’t have our foot on the throttle against Pennington but we still managed to get the win. It was the same thing the next night and we laid an egg; it left a bad taste in our mouths before the holiday.

Miller tipped his hat to Cranford for taking advantage of its opportunities. “It was our first loss, we outshot them but they played a good road game,” said Miller.

“They scored on an early power play and then we had a bad turnover in the back and they scored again. We dug ourselves a hole and then we did get it back to to 2-1. Going into the third period, we were down 3-1. I feel that the guys were tired in the third; their goalie made some big saves.”

In reflecting on his squad’s overall play so far this season, Miller believes the pluses outweigh the minuses.

“I am happy with the effort,” said Miller, whose team put in quite an effort at Wall High last Sunday evening, rallying from a 5-1 third period deficit to pull out a 5-5 tie and move to 6-1-2.

“I like how our goalies are playing. We have a senior (Robert Quinn) and freshman (Sawyer Peck) and they are rotating well. We can’t dwell on ourselves and get ahead of ourselves. Things are going to get tougher in January.

Miller is looking for his team to be tougher mentally and physically as it gets into a more challenging part of its schedule.

“We need more consistency of effort from top to bottom,” said Miller, whose team plays Paul VI at the Skate Zone at Voorhees on January 10 before facing powerful Notre Dame on January 13 at Mercer County Park.

“The biggest thing is to stay consistent. They can’t take their foot off the throttle. So far, so good. I am happy but not satisfied.”

MARKING PERIOD: Princeton High boys’ basketball coach Mark Shelley makes a point in a game last season. Last Saturday, Shelley was frustrated as PHS fell 67-41 at Robbinsville to drop to 1-2. The Little Tigers will look to get on the winning track as they host Steinert on January 9, play at Ewing on January 11, and then host WW/P-S on January 14.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MARKING PERIOD: Princeton High boys’ basketball coach Mark Shelley makes a point in a game last season. Last Saturday, Shelley was frustrated as PHS fell 67-41 at Robbinsville to drop to 1-2. The Little Tigers will look to get on the winning track as they host Steinert on January 9, play at Ewing on January 11, and then host WW/P-S on January 14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Mark Shelley experienced an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu as his Princeton High boys’ basketball team played at Robbinsville last Saturday.

After ending 2013 with a 65-41 defeat at Morristown, PHS started the New Year by losing 67-41 to the Ravens.

“I thought the Morristown game would be a wakeup call defensively,” said second-year PHS head coach Shelley.

“Every game we play is winnable but it is also losable. This is an example of not playing our best and another team plays well and we get it handed to us.”

The Little Tigers started slowly, trailing 18-8 after the first quarter and finding themselves down 37-21 at halftime.

“It was frustrating,” said Shelley. “I thought they executed well, they shot the ball extremely well. We had a lot of shots we normally make that didn’t go in. We were just sluggish, that is the word we talked about.”

At halftime, Shelley focused on getting his players to pick up intensity. “The message was that we were going to come out and try to pressure,” said Shelley.

“We talked about when you are down that much, all you can think about is winning the third quarter and that was the goal. We played a lot of people, trying to find a defensive spark.”

In the second half, PHS showed some spark as it outscored the Ravens 7-6 in one stretch.

“I thought we found a group late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter and we had a nice little run,” said Shelley, who got 13 points from junior guard Kevin Kane in the loss with senior forward Peter Mahiotiere chipping 12 points and nine rebounds. “We were trapping and rotating.”

Going forward, the Little Tigers are going to work on running a better defense.

“I think the biggest thing we talked a lot about at halftime and after the game was trusting your teammates,” said Shelley, whose team dropped to 1-2 with the setback.

“If I am not willing to go out and guard the ball with a lot of pressure that means I am not trusting that my teammates behind me are going to help. A lot of Monday’s focus is going to be on basic defensive principles, like ball pressure and helping. It was an execution and intensity thing on the defensive end today.”

With a busy stretch of the season coming up, Shelley believes his team will sharpen its execution.

“We have got four three-game weeks in a row so there are a lot of opportunities to put together some good performances but at the same time, our practice time is going to be limited,” said Shelley, whose team hosts Steinert on January 9, plays at Ewing on January 11, and then hosts WW/P-S on January 14. “We just couldn’t generate any energy today; we’ll tighten up some stuff.”

WINNING BID: Hun School boys’ hockey player Alex Bidwell, right, races up the ice in recent action. Last week, senior forward Bidwell starred as Hun took second at the Purple Puck Tournament in Washington, D.C. The Raiders, now 7-4, start the 2014 portion of their schedule by hosting Academy of New Church (Pa.) on January 8, Haverford School (Pa.) on January 10, and Chestnut Hill (Pa.) on January 14.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

WINNING BID: Hun School boys’ hockey player Alex Bidwell, right, races up the ice in recent action. Last week, senior forward Bidwell starred as Hun took second at the Purple Puck Tournament in Washington, D.C. The Raiders, now 7-4, start the 2014 portion of their schedule by hosting Academy of New Church (Pa.) on January 8, Haverford School (Pa.) on January 10, and Chestnut Hill (Pa.) on January 14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Hun School boys’ hockey team, its trip last week to the Purple Puck Tournament in Washington, D.C. could put it on the road to big things later this winter.

Hun ended up taking second in the tourney that was hosted by Gonzaga College High (D.C) and included several skilled private school teams.

“It was a great event, they do it up,” said Hun head coach Ian McNally, reflecting on his team’s first visit to the event.

“You weren’t playing games between public skates like in other tournaments. This was done very well; they had a great announcer, music playing, and good crowds. Getting on the road together is great. We went to Pittsburgh last year and that was a notable bonding trip for the team.”

Coming into the Purple Puck tourney, McNally was apprehensive about his team’s prospects.

“Nobody knew what to expect,” said McNally. “We had a few players who couldn’t come because of their club tournaments so we were playing with two lines and some spare parts. We played really well, kids stepped up.”

Showing resilience, Hun exceeded expectations, topping Bullis (Md.) 10-2 and DeMatha (Md.) 4-1 while losing 5-3 to Gonzaga in round-robin play. The Raiders then edged St. Joseph’s (Pa.) 3-2 in the semifinal before falling to host Gonzaga 6-0 in the championship game.

In advancing to the finals, Hun was sparked by the one-two scoring punch of freshman Jon Bendorf and senior Alex Bidwell.

“It was Bendorf’s show all of a sudden,” said McNally, noting that freshman standout Evan Barratt and junior Bobby Wurster weren’t available to the team due to club team commitments.

“He scored nine goals in five games; he was very much the catalyst for us. He went to another level I hadn’t seen from him so that was great. Bidwell was on the all-tournament team last year even though we didn’t make it out of the round robin. He is a tournament player. He put up a ton of points. The power play was clicking very well.”

Senior goalie Devin Cheifetz made a ton of big stops for the Raiders, highlighted by a 44-save performance in the semifinal win that was decided by a shootout after the teams played to a 2-2 tie through regulation.

“The semis was the best Devin has played all year,” asserted McNally. “The game was two 25-minute halves. We were up 2-0; we were playing pretty strong. They were desperate and in the last 10 minutes tied it at 2-2. They were 0-for-4 in the shootout and we scored two with Bendorf and Blake Brown each getting one.”

Hun also got good play from freshman Tanner Preston and classmate Brown over the weekend.

“Preston jumped out, he hadn’t scored all year, he had some hard luck,” said McNally.

“He scored in back-to-back games. On the first one, he was pumped; he had that relieved feeling. In the next game, he scored on a power play. He was very strong. Blake was in on a lot of the Bendorf and Bidwell goals. We needed a spark in the first game. We got off the bus and we started slowly. He got the team started with his energy and everybody carried on from there.”

In the title game, the Raiders ran out of energy. “It was our fifth game and we were playing with a short bench,” noted McNally.

“It was 2-0 early and it was a pretty good game. When they scored to go ahead 3-0, that took the wind out of our sails. We ran out of gas at that point.”

In McNally’s view, the main point of the weekend, however, was to sharpen Hun for the challenges to come.

“We got what we came for, we had wins over DeMatha and St Joe’s; they are good teams, as good as we are,” said McNally, whose team is now 7-4 and hosts Academy of New Church (Pa.) on January 8, Haverford School (Pa.) on January 10, and Chestnut Hill (Pa.) on January 14.

“We were able to win regardless of who was playing. Even though we lost 6-0 in final, the guys were feeling pretty good about themselves. Getting on the road and doing that will carry us into February when we are in IHL (Independence Hockey League), prep, and county tournaments.”

January 2, 2014
HALE AND HEARTY: David Hale fires a pitch during his career with the Princeton University baseball team. Hale, who starred for the Tigers from 2007-09, made his major league debut with the Atlanta Braves this past September. Hale struck out nine in his first outing, setting a franchise record for most strikeouts in a debut. Hale went 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings during the regular season and also made an appearance in the National League Division Series. He is looking to spend all of 2014 in the majors.(Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

HALE AND HEARTY: David Hale fires a pitch during his career with the Princeton University baseball team. Hale, who starred for the Tigers from 2007-09, made his major league debut with the Atlanta Braves this past September. Hale struck out nine in his first outing, setting a franchise record for most strikeouts in a debut. Hale went 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings during the regular season and also made an appearance in the National League Division Series. He is looking to spend all of 2014 in the majors. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Heading into 2013, David Hale was just hoping to get a chance to pitch for the Atlanta Braves.

“I wanted to put myself in a position for a September call-up since I was on the 40-man roster,” said Hale, a former Princeton University baseball standout who started the season at Gwinnett, the Braves Triple-A affiliate. “I improved on my command and developed a sinker.”

After going 6-9 with a 3.22 ERA at Gwinnett, Hale got the call and made his first major league outing for the Braves on September 13, pitching five innings and recording nine strikeouts, breaking the franchise record for strikeouts in a debut.

Hale made another regular season appearance and also pitched for the Braves in the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Now as Hale enters 2014, he is determined to spend the whole season with the Braves.

“I am looking to keep up everything I do,” said Hale, a 2011 Princeton alum who recently returned to his alma mater along with fellow Tiger major leaguers Ross Ohlendorf ’05, Will Venable ’05, and Chris Young ’02 for the Jake McCandless ’51 Princeton Varsity Club Speaker Series.

“I want to stay in shape and keep my pitches sharp. I need to keep the sinker sharp, it is a new pitch to me. I am happy to see that my stuff can work at the major league level.”

As he wrapped up his season at Gwinnett, Hale wasn’t sure that he was going to get the chance for a shot at the next level.

“The season ended and they told me I wasn’t going to get called up,” said Hale, 26,  a 6’2, 205-pound native of Marietta, Ga. who was taken in the third round of the 2009 MLB draft by the Braves.

“Then 24 hours later, they told me I was getting called up. I ran the whole gamut of emotions. I couldn’t wait to call my dad and mom.”

As he made his debut against the visiting San Diego Padres on September 13, hometown hero Hale had some extra support on hand.

“Being from Atlanta and being lucky enough to put on the Braves uniform, there were so many people there to watch me,” said Hale.

“There were teachers from high school, people I hadn’t talked to for years. I think there were 200-300 people there. It added to my nerves. I told myself to not look in the stands but of course I did immediately. As I got on the mound, those feelings went away.”

Overcoming those nerves, Hale proceeded to strike out nine in five innings of work to set the team record for most Ks in a first outing. He also added a footnote to Princeton baseball history as he faced fellow Tiger and Padres star Venable.

“He is the only Princeton hitter in the major leagues at the moment, it was unbelievable to be going against him,” said Hale. “I didn’t even realize that I had set a record, I was just relieved to get that one under my belt.”

After earning his first big league win as he struck out five in six innings in a 7-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on September 26, Hale thought his work for the season was done as the Braves girded for the playoffs. But like earlier in the month, he got a pleasant surprise.

“I was pretty positive that I was not going to be on the playoff roster,” said Hale, who went 1-0 overall with 14 strikeouts and a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings of work in the regular season.

“I thought they were kidding when they told me. They needed a long reliever and I was able to fill that role. I was really happy but I had to be reserved because there were some good players and older guys who didn’t make the roster.”

As the Braves lost the NLDS 3-1 to the Dodgers, Hale did see action in Game 3, facing a batter in the eighth inning and getting a groundout in a 13-6 loss.

“That was pretty cool; it was great to pitch in such a historic place,” said Hale. “I ended the year well; I am bringing confidence into the offseason.”

For Hale, it was cool to come back to Princeton in December. “It is nice to be here on campus and not have any school work,” said Hale. “I can see guys who don’t have problem sets to do. The place is fantastic.”

Playing baseball at Princeton was a key step in Hale’s path to the majors. “From a baseball standpoint, coach [Scott] Bradley was a professional coach,” said Hale, who played three seasons at Princeton from 2007-09, going 7-9 on the mound with a 4.74 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 127.1 innings pitched and batted .291 with 7 homers and 46 RBIs.

“He stayed out of your business and knew you would do your work. I was pretty much a baby pitcher at the time; I was learning the role of pitcher. I was also a hitter/infielder.”

During his time at Princeton, Hale developed on and off the field. “There is no better way to test your limits than to be playing a sport and doing the academics at a school like Princeton,” said Hale.

In 2014, Hale will be applying those lessons as he looks to succeed at the highest level of his sport.

 

MANPOWER: Princeton University men’s hockey player Aaron Kesselman heads up the ice in recent action. Last Sunday, junior forward Kesselman scored a goal in a losing cause as Princeton fell 3-2 to New Hampshire in a consolation contest at the Florida College Classic in Estero, Fla. The Tigers, who dropped to 3-14 with the defeat, are heading west to Vancouver to take part in the Great Northwest Showcase where they will play non-NCAA games against Canadian schools, Simon Fraser and the University of British Columbia, on January 2 and 3.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MANPOWER: Princeton University men’s hockey player Aaron Kesselman heads up the ice in recent action. Last Sunday, junior forward Kesselman scored a goal in a losing cause as Princeton fell 3-2 to New Hampshire in a consolation contest at the Florida College Classic in Estero, Fla. The Tigers, who dropped to 3-14 with the defeat, are heading west to Vancouver to take part in the Great Northwest Showcase where they will play non-NCAA games against Canadian schools, Simon Fraser and the University of British Columbia, on January 2 and 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Heading to the Sunshine State as it returned to action after the holiday break, the Princeton University men’s hockey team competed last weekend in the Florida College Classic in Estero, Fla.

But while the clouds remained over Princeton as the Tigers lost twice at the competition in falling to 3-14 overall, there were rays of hope coming out of the weekend.

“I thought we played pretty well,” said Princeton head coach Bob Prier, reflecting on his team’s effort.

“We played with more pace. We generated a lot of chances. We ran into a hot goalie on Saturday and had penalty problems on Sunday. As the weekend progressed, we competed better. We did a better job of staying above checks. We had a lot of offensive plays on the rush; the defense did a good job on the breakout.”

In its opening round contest against Maine on Saturday, Princeton lost 4-0 to the Black Bears, even though it was only outshot 36-33.

A day later against New Hampshire in a consolation contest, Princeton jumped out to leads of 1-0 and 2-1 on goals by Mike Ambrosia and Aaron Kesselman, respectively, only to lose 3-2. In battling the Wildcats, the Tigers were sparked by a superb performance from senior goalie Sean Bonar, who made a career-high 43 saves.

The return of senior star Andrew Calof from injury helped the Tigers as he assisted on Ambrosia’s goal and was a threat all weekend long.

“I think the line of Calof, Ambrosia, and [Ryan] Siiro generated half of our chances, they definitely made an impact,” said Prier.

The play of goalie Bonar gave Princeton the chance to stay in the New Hampshire game. “Sean played very well, 15 or 16 shots were on the power play and he did a good job of fighting through traffic to make some of those saves,” said Prier. “He did a good job on rebound control.”

In upcoming action, Princeton heads west to Vancouver to take part in the Great Northwest Showcase where it will play non-NCAA games against Canadian schools, Simon Fraser and the University of British Columbia, on January 2 and 3.

In Prier’s view, the trip should help the Tigers come together as they look to do some damage in their ECAC Hockey stretch drive.

“We have four guys with roots out there,” said Prier. “We are playing two good teams. I think the guys feel better about the way we are playing as we go into the second half.”

CALL OF DUTY: Princeton High boys’ basketball player ­Callahan O’Meara dribbles around a foe in action last season. Senior forward O’Meara has helped PHS get off to a 1-1 start this winter. The Little Tigers return from the holiday break by hosting Trenton Central on January 2 and then playing at Robbinsville on January 4.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CALL OF DUTY: Princeton High boys’ basketball player ­Callahan O’Meara dribbles around a foe in action last season. Senior forward O’Meara has helped PHS get off to a 1-1 start this winter. The Little Tigers return from the holiday break by hosting Trenton Central on January 2 and then playing at Robbinsville on January 4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last winter, the Princeton High boys’ basketball team opened the season by dropping an overtime nailbiter at Hopewell Valley.

As PHS tipped off its 2013-14 campaign at Allentown, it found itself facing a similar scenario, trailing the Redbirds 21-16 at halftime.

“We weren’t playing with energy and confidence,” said second-year PHS head coach Mark Shelley, reflecting on his team’s first half performance in the opener on December 20.

“Their length was bothering us, they are very tall. We were standing around a little bit and not challenging them on defense at times.”

This year, the Little Tigers were up to the opening night challenge as they rallied for a 44-38 victory.

“We scored the first six or seven points of the second half to take the lead and then they came back to take the lead,” said Shelley, who got 20 points from junior guard Kevin Kane in the win with senior Peter Mahotiere adding nine points and senior Callahan O’Meara chipping in seven.

“We came right back and got six points in a row; I like how we responded. It was a good showing for us on the road in an opener. Last year, we opened at HoVal and we got a late lead but we missed our free throws and made some turnovers. This year we got a three-point lead and extended it.”

Unfortunately, PHS couldn’t build on that performance as they fell 65-41 at Morristown High three days later. The team dug a 48-16 hole at halftime, prompting the normally affable Shelley to read his players the riot act.

“That was about as frustrated as I have been in 10 years of coaching,” recalled Shelley.

“It is a total credit to Morristown, they are a very good basketball team. To score 16 points in a half is bad and to give up 48 points in a half is bad but to do both in the same half is really bad.” In the second half, the Little Tigers settled down as they outscored Morristown 25-17.

“We were just trying to win the third and fourth quarters, that is all you can do at that point,” said Shelley, who got 13 points from Kane in the defeat with Mahotiere adding 11.

“We played our zones and traps and did a better job. We drove to the basket instead of just settling for jumpers. We stopped them better in transition. We learned that we have to play all four quarters. We can compete with anyone but we are not good enough to just show up and win.”

Junior guard Kane has shown major improvement this winter. “We put Kevin on the varsity as a sophomore, knowing that he was not going to play very much; it is paying off now,” asserted Shelley.

“He got to practice against Ellis [Bloom] and Scotty [Bechler] all year and I think that is really helping him this year. He has always had the ability to shoot; he may be the purest shooter I have ever coached. He is playing defense much better; he knows what he is doing out there. He is also not forcing shots. He is putting the ball on the floor and he is going to the line and getting points that way. Teams will have to respect that.”

Shelley believes his front line players are going to be earning the respect of PHS’s foes this season.

“I am happy with our starting five, they are starting to separate themselves,” said Shelley, who has been going with Kane, Mahotiere, and O’Meara, along with sophomore Matt Hart and senior Paul Murray.

“Cal has shown that he is versatile. He hasn’t been scoring but he has played point guard and he can rebound. Matt does so many things that don’t show up in the box score. I have real confidence in the starting five.”

With PHS starting 2014 action by hosting Trenton Central on January 2 and then playing at Robbinsville on January 4, Shelley knows that his team needs to tighten things up to be successful.

“We need to work on improving collectively and individually,” said Shelley. “Most of our systems are in and we have to work on our fundamentals to get ready for Trenton and Robbinsville. We have plenty of room for improvement. It is a resilient group.”

SHARP LOOK: Princeton High wrestling head coach Rashone Johnson surveys the action in a match last season. Johnson has seen a good fighting spirit in his wrestlers as they took ninth in their season-opening Garden State Classic on December 21 and then placed fifth of ten teams in the Patriot Tournament at Secaucus High last Friday. PHS starts 2014 action on January 4 when it heads to Voorhees High to face Hopewell Valley,  Lawrence, and the host Vikings.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SHARP LOOK: Princeton High wrestling head coach Rashone Johnson surveys the action in a match last season. Johnson has seen a good fighting spirit in his wrestlers as they took ninth in their season-opening Garden State Classic on December 21 and then placed fifth of ten teams in the Patriot Tournament at Secaucus High last Friday. PHS starts 2014 action on January 4 when it heads to Voorhees High to face Hopewell Valley, Lawrence, and the host Vikings. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As the sole captain of the Princeton High wrestling team, James Gates is looking to set a good example for his younger teammates.

“Wrestling is just all about putting in more work and being tougher than the other guys,” said senior star Gates. “I just have got to work hard and then hopefully they (his teammates) work hard.”

Gates displayed his toughness by taking third at 170 pounds as PHS started its season by hosting its annual Garden State Classic in late December.

“We had some good wrestling,” said Gates, reflecting on the 10-team tournament.

“Our varsity guys went and wrestled well. It was a really tough competition this year. There are a lot of good teams, all the teams here were pretty good. This is probably some of the hardest wrestling we’re going to see for a while.”

As he heads down the homestretch of his high school career, Gates is determined to produce a very big season.

“I want to win all my matches,” asserted Gates. “My big goal would be to place in districts, make it to regions, and hopefully make it to states. I want to just have a strong season and represent the school well.”

In representing PHS, Gates draws inspiration from Little Tiger head coach Rashone Johnson.

“Our coaching staff is great,” said Gates. “Coach Johnson is crazy. His pre-match speeches get you really pumped and ready to wrestle. You go out there like an animal after you hear Johnson.”

Johnson, for his part, is expecting Gates to provide stability this winter for the Little Tigers.

“I want him to just be consistent,” said Johnson, when asked about Gates. “He took third today so that’s definitely an improvement from last year.”

In addition to Gates taking third, Johnson got several other good efforts from his wrestlers at the Garden State Classic. Junior Patrick Sockler took third at 126, while classmate Tommy Miers garnered two wins at 132, helping the Little Tigers hold their own at the top of the lineup.

While Johnson had hoped to see his team do better overall at the season-opening event than the ninth place finish it earned, he saw some intangibles from his wrestlers that bode well for the rest of the season.

“One thing that you can’t coach is toughness and I saw all the guys fight today, which I thought was really good,” said Johnson, who is in his 14th season at the helm of the PHS program and has added former PHS wrestler Marc Santiago ’09 and John Darling, a former Division III All-American wrestler at The College of New Jersey, to his staff.

“If you don’t have fight, I can’t really give that to you, but if your technique is messed up I can fix that. I saw a lot of stuff that I can fix today.”

In fixing things, Johnson is focused on instilling confidence into his team and getting his wrestlers to take an aggressive approach during their bouts.

“Getting the guys more confidence during their matches and to score,” said Johnson, reflecting on his coaching goals this season.

“Be more sure of yourself when you go out there. Guys were doing that today but got some tough draws out there and we didn’t quite push through. The guys actually didn’t wrestle badly today, we just didn’t wrestle good enough to win in some of those matches.”

Looking forward, Johnson sees his team steadily improving with more match experience as the season unfolds.

“We still have young guys; we only had two seniors in that lineup today,” said Johnson. “The future is looking promising and these guys are going to get a lot better as the season goes on.”

Aside from Gates, Johnson is hoping for big things from a trio of juniors.

“You got Victor Bell in there, you got Thomas Miers, and Patrick Sockler,” noted Johnson, whose squad took fifth of 10 teams in the Patriot Tournament at Secaucus High last Friday with James Verbyst taking first at 113 pounds, Sockler at 126, and Miers at 132.

“Those guys all have experience from last year coming back on varsity and they did some work over the summer. I’m looking for those guys to show me something.”

Johnson is excited to see which of his younger wrestlers will seize the opportunity to make a name for themselves as the season progresses.

“I’m looking for everybody to step up, that’s the beauty about wrestling and a team sport that’s also an individual sport,” added Johnson, whose younger wrestlers include freshmen Verbyst and Dylan Demerest together with sophomores Alex Freda, Dave Beamer, and Noah Ziegler.

“Every time a senior graduates, it’s always fun to see the next year what opportunity is going to come through. Don’t look at it as an obstacle, look at it as an opportunity to wrestle varsity and get my name on the wall, put my team on the wall, and get on a banner. How are you going to be remembered?”

Gates, for his part, knows the team has to keep its nose to the grindstone to make some special memories.

“We got a lot to work on, a lot of running to do,” said Gates, who looks to get off to a good start in 2014 action on January 4 when PHS heads to Voorhees High to face Hopewell Valley, Lawrence, and the host Vikings. “It’s going to take a lot of work.”