May 9, 2012

FLIGHT TIME: Princeton High girls’ track star Bryell Wheeler flies high last Wednesday as PHS topped Nottingham 91-40. Senior standout Wheeler, a top sprinter and long jumper, has added the triple jump to her portfolio and has emerged as a star in that event. Wheeler and the Little Tigers will next be in action when they compete in the Mercer County Championships on May 12 at Steinert. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Bryell Wheeler has established herself as a dynamic sprinter and Elyssa Gensib is a gifted distance runner but they are both diversifying in their senior campaign to help the Princeton High girls’ track team.

For Wheeler, doing more for the squad comes down to increasing her focus on the jumping events.

“I started doing the triple jump in winter track and on my first jump I did 31’6,” said Wheeler.

“Ever since then, I keep setting personal records. In the Mercer Relays I did 38’1 and we set a record with 72’2. My best event is now the triple, it used to the 100.”

Last Wednesday in a 91-40 win over Nottingham, Wheeler showed she could still flash plenty of speed, overcoming injury to win the 100.

“I pulled my hamstring last week but it is recovered now,” said Wheeler.

“I was a little scared to come out with that. My time was 12.7. In the first meet of the season running against Trenton and North (WW/P-N), I ran a 12.2. But it was a really sunny day so I guess the weather has something to do with it.”

Wheeler did draw confidence due to putting in extra conditioning work. “I am lifting more,” said Wheeler. “I am getting stronger.”

The willowy Gensib, for her part, has displayed her strength through competing in shorter races.

“I am really happy because, except for one meet where I ran only one event, I have been running at least two or three events every meet,” said Gensib.

“I feel like it just makes me stronger even though I am tired. I can go and do something I didn’t think I would have been able to do before.”

Against Nottingham, Gensib flashed her speed in the 800 as she posted a solid victory.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from the other team; I was just trying to go for 2:20,” said Gensib, reflecting on her win in the 800.

“When we were about 200 meters in, I was like OK this is going to be a Princeton thing with all the PHS girls up front. I was just trying to focus on what I am supposed to accomplish in the middle of the race which is to push when it is a little uncomfortable. I ran a 2:23. I was a little surprised because I thought I was slower.”

Gensib also pushed hard in the 4×400, helping PHS to a win in that event as well.

“I like running the 4×400 because it is fun when you have other girls with you,” said Gensib. “It is not a solo effort so everybody works together. It is nice.”

The team’s corps of distance runners which includes Jenna Cody, Amelia Whaley, and Belinda Liu in addition to Gensib works together well.

“It is good to have some girls that you know what they run like and you can help each other out,” said Gensib.

“We know what it is supposed to feel like; it is good because we have the support of one another so when we go to big meets, it is not like oh I am by myself. It is nice that other people are going through the same thing.”

With the county meet slated for May 12 at Steinert High, Gensib plans to feed on that support.

“It is going to be a really tough race, especially the 1,600 because there is a good girl from South (WW/P-S) and a girl from North (WW/P-N),” said Gensib, who came up big last Saturday at the Mercer Twilight Invitational at Robbinsville, winning the 1,600 in 5:04.57 and the 3,200 in 10:52.90.

“It is not going to be an easy race so I am really excited to see what I can do when I get pushed like that.”

Wheeler is looking to push herself over the rest of the spring. “I want to place in nationals in triple jump, I have already qualified,” said Wheeler, who plans to compete in college and is considering Virginia State and Rider.

“I want to make it to the New Jersey Meet of Champions in the long jump, triple and 100, maybe the 200.”

Gensib likewise is aiming to produce some championship performances in her swan song with the Little Tigers before she heads off to the University of Pennsylvania and joins its track program.

“It is sad because I am going to really miss my coach [Jim Smirk] and teammates,” said Gensib.

“My coach has brought me so far because I just started running seriously last year. I would have never thought I would be running like this. I just want to make him proud and see what I can get out of this year before I go to college.”

MAKING STRIDES: Princeton High distance runner Kevin Ivanov heads to the finish line in a cross country race last fall. This spring, senior star Ivanov has been excelling in the mile as he looks to end his PHS career with a bang. Last Saturday, Ivanov did well at the Mercer Twilight Invitational at Robbinsville, taking fifth in the 1,600 with a time of 4:33.19. Ivanov and the Little Tigers are next in action on May 12 when they compete in the Mercer County Championships at Steinert. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While many athletes are influenced to get into sports by a parent, sibling, or friend, Princeton High senior track star Kevin Ivanov took a different path.

“When I was six years old, I used to run my dog around the block,” recalled Ivanov.

“I wouldn’t walk her, she would walk me and always pull me along. From that, I just loved running.”

Ivanov unleashed his running talents in middle school. “I actually started running competitively in eighth grade,” said Ivanov.

“I ran a 5:12 mile. I bought a set of spikes then and I have the same spikes five years later.”

Last Wednesday, he put those spikes to good use as PHS hosted Nottingham. He won the 2-mile in 10:07 and then helped the PHS 4×400 to a victory.

“It was my first 2-mile in over a year,” said Ivanov. “I was trying to get a sub-10 but I ran a 5:07 in the first mile and then a 4:59 something in the second mile.”

For Ivanov, the mile remains his favorite event. “It is the perfect combo,” said Ivanov, who did well last saturday in the Mercer Twilight Invitational at Robbinsville, taking fifth in the 1,600 with a time of  4:33.19.

“In the beginning, it is just testing out whether you have the willpower to go through all four laps. In the last lap and a half, you have to give everything you have got. I generally kick with around 250-300 meters to go and go all out at the 200 meter mark.”

PHS head coach John Woodside appreciated the will his squad showed against Nottingham even as it lost the meet.

“We had some of our distance runners going in alternate events and they did a nice job,” said Woodside, noting that his team was shorthanded as a number of athletes were sidelined due to breaking team rules.

“Ian McIsaac got second in the 400 against some really good runners. Bruce Robertson was right there; he was just out of the running. It was nice to see those guys competing.”

Woodside likes the way Ivanov is competing. “Kevin was great today,” said Woodside.

“He ran all by himself in the two-mile; that was a tremendous race. He looked really good on the relay. He is ready to go.”

PHS has gotten good work from his distance crew which includes Conor Donahue in addition to Robertson, Ivanov, and McIsaac.

“Bruce is excellent,” said Woodside. “In the meet last week against Hightstown, Kevin won the mile but Ian was right there with him. Conor did well in the 800 today. These guys have stepped up, the distance guys have been doing it all season. It is not just the top kids, it is all of them.”

PHS is seeing some young kids step up in the sprints. “The sprinters are young; that’s mostly what I am looking at,” added Woodside.

“Dave Flatscher is a sophomore and Brandon Yao is a freshman; those are guys who are running well. I think that is what we are banking on; we don’t have a lot of veterans. One of the seniors, Tim Miranda, is doing a nice job. He has really come along, especially in the 200.”

With the county meet slated for May 12 at Steinert and the sectional coming up later in the month, Woodside is hoping his athletes can come along quickly.

“We are looking at developing the guys and do the best with what we have got,” said Woodside.

Ivanov, for his part, will be giving his best effort as he wraps up his PHS career.

“I have just a few weeks left, I am trying to go out with a bang like a lot of our seniors,” said Ivanov. “Most of us are still competing hard and going for the gold.”

CO-STAR: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse player Cody Triolo looks for an opening in recent action. Last Friday, junior midfield star Triolo scored three goals as PDS rallied for a 12-10 win over Morristown-Beard in the opening round of the state Prep B tournament. The fourth-seeded Panthers got knocked out of the Prep B tourney last Monday when they lost 8-5 at No. 1 Montclair Kimberley. PDS will look to make another postseason run when they compete in the Mercer County Tournament where the seventh-seeded Panthers host No. 10 Hightstown on May 12 in an opening round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team trailed Morristown-Beard 6-3 at halftime last Friday in a state Prep B tournament contest, Cody Triolo wasn’t overly concerned.

“Lacrosse is pretty much a game of runs,” said PDS star midfielder Triolo.

“At that point, we just talked about having our body language ready to play. We wanted to just keep playing. Even if we don’t win the game, if we put forth our best effort, that is what we are looking for and that is what the coaches are looking for.”

Triolo and the fourth-seeded Panthers produced a superb effort over the last 24 minutes of the contest, outscoring the fifth-seeded Crimson 5-1 in the third period to seize momentum on the way to a hard-earned 12-10 victory.

While junior standout Triolo chipped in two goals to help spark the second half rally, he wasn’t a one-man show.

“We kept our composure and we just kept working hard throughout,” said Triolo, who ended up with three goals and an assist in the victory. “It was really a team effort; a bunch of guys stepped up today.”

In Triolo’s view, team chemistry and character helped PDS overtake Mo-Beard.

“When we are scoring, the guys on the sideline are going crazy,” said Triolo. “It is just the environment that kept us going and we thrived off of that. I think it shows as a team, we can face adversity.”

Triolo draws inspiration from the unity on the Panthers. “I was just thriving off of everybody else’s energy,” said Triolo.

“I knew that they were going to play for me so I was going to play for them. I put my best effort out there. I like to just work hard and see what comes from it.”

Having already committed to Lehigh University and its lacrosse program, Triolo is working harder on a daily basis.

“That commitment makes me more serious,” said Triolo, noting that Lehigh is heading to the upcoming NCAA tournaments and has been ranked in the top 10 nationally for much of the season.

“It makes me want to get better everyday because at that next level you really have to be on top of your game everyday.”

PDS head coach Rob Tuckman believes that Triolo’s efforts help raise the level of everyone around him.

“Cody is an outstanding player and what he does is two things,” said Tuckman.

“Number one, he starts the offense which then creates opportunities for other guys. He also sets tempo. Cody plays at 150 percent so when he goes at that speed and that intensity, it picks up everybody else.”

In the victory over Mo-Beard, several different Panthers took advantage of opportunities as Taran Auslander and Tyler Olsson scored three goals apiece with Garret Jensen chipping in two.

“That is the kind of stuff we have been looking for,” said Tuckman. “Instead of leaning on just one guy we are now balancing and really getting it from all over which is great. We are getting it from both the attack and middies which is something teams are going to have to contend with.”

In addition to the offensive prowess, the Panthers have made progress defensively.

“Defense wins championships; that has been our motto,” said Tuckman, whose team fell short of the Prep B title as it lost 8-5 to top-seeded Montclair-Kimberley last Monday in a semifinal contest.

“When our defense tightens up and plays strong, our offense gets that energy that it needs. We really started setting up some transition goals and really creating opportunities.”

Sophomore midfielder Connor Bitterman played a key role in the PDS transition game in the win over Mo-Beard, excelling on face-offs and making some superb runs up the field.

“Connor was terrific; face-offs have been our Achilles heel,” said Tuckman, whose team dropped to 7-5 with the loss to Montclair-Kimberley.

“I don’t think we won a face-off in the first half so you start every possession on defense and you have to build out from there. Connor created opportunities so we didn’t have to just start on defense. Instead, we are dogfighting in the center of the field. He makes great decisions. He has such wheels; he is so fast.”

Senior star Jensen showed his usual fighting spirit, making a key steal and goal early in the third quarter to help trigger a 5-1 PDS run.

“Garret has been solid,” said Tuckman. “He is banged up, so for him it is a herculean effort every time he steps on the field. He is our senior captain; he has really been an incredible leader. His gutting it out through the pain is really a reflection of the leadership he provides.”

Building on its run to the Prep B semis, Tuckman believes his team can do some damage in the upcoming Mercer County Tournament.

“I think we are a good team,” asserted Tuckman, whose club is seeded seventh in the MCT and will host No. 10 Hightstown on May 12 in an opening round contest.

“I think we are playing our best right now. I think in the county, it is wide open. We are excited to be a part of that. If we can get a couple of wins under our belt early and get the momentum going, I think we can be a really effective team.”

In Triolo’s view, the Panthers have been building up momentum in training that can pay off.

“The environment in practice has been great, we have been working really hard,” said Triolo. “Our focus is there, I think, even though it is definitely a grind.”

SOLID BIRCH: Hun School baseball star Devan Birch takes a cut in a game earlier this season. Junior Birch has been a catalyst for the Raiders with his play at shortstop and offensive contributions as a leadoff hitter. Last Monday, Birch chipped in three RBIs as 10th-seeded Hun topped No. 7 WW/P-S 10-2 in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament. The Raiders, now 7-10, will face second-seeded Notre Dame in the NCT quarterfinals on May 9 at Mercer County Park. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It looked like the season might be falling apart for Devan Birch and the Hun School baseball team as they hosted Mercersburg Academy for a doubleheader two weeks ago.

Hun fell 6-4 in the opener to drop to 2-8 on the spring and trailed by six runs in the nightcap. The Raiders, though, rallied to pull out an 11-8 win in extra innings.

In the view of junior star Birch, that comeback has proven to be a turning point for the Raiders.

“We played our butts off and played a really good game in the opener,” said Birch.

“They are a really good team. Getting down 6-0 and coming back to win that game in extra innings was huge, absolutely huge.”

Hun ultimately pushed its winning streak to four as it got back on the right track. After dropping tough games to local powers Notre Dame and Steinert last week, the 10th-seeded Raiders continued its rebound by topping No. 7 WW/P- 10-2 last Monday in the first round of the Mercer County
Tournament.

Hun, now 7-10, will face second-seeded Notre Dame in the NCT quarterfinals on May 9 at Mercer County Park.

Birch notes that the Raiders have adopted a more serious mentality. “I think there is just a big change in attitude,” said Birch, who chipped in three RBIs in the county win over WW/P-S.

“Coming out of the gate, I feel like we thought we would just walk out there and win because of the way we ended last year. We had a big time wakeup call. I feel that once we changed the attitude around and got everything together we realized that when we go out and play our game we can beat anyone in the county. It showed in the past couple games.”

The recent move of Birch to shortstop from leftfield also helped Hun’s game.

“To me, it doesn’t matter, I’ll play whatever is best for the team,” said Birch, known affectionately as “Devo” by his teammates.

“Last year, I played left field all year. This year, I started off there and moved to short. I think I have done fairly well; I am definitely comfortable there. I am comfortable wherever as long as I am on the field.”

Birch is comfortable handling the leadoff role in the Hun batting order where he tries to use his speed to be a catalyst for the Raiders.

“I am not trying to do too much, I just try to get on,” said Birch. “I am very confident that our top hitters can hit the ball. So if I can get on, they will move me around and we will score some runs.”

Hun head coach Bill McQuade believes that shifting Birch to shortstop has been a confidence builder for the team.

“Moving Devo to shortstop changed the complexion of our infield,” said McQuade.

“Immediately we fielded the ball better. He is one of the best shortstops we have ever had. He has incredible quickness. You saw the pop ups he goes and catches. He fields the slow roller as well as any shortstop I have ever had.”

Having Birch stay put at the top of the Hun order has helped the Raiders get rolling. “He is on base, he steals,” said McQuade.

“You want your leadoff hitter to be that engine that makes you take off. When he is having a great game, it picks everybody up. He gets on and steals a base and all of a sudden we have that energy and enthusiasm.”

McQuade has seen a renewed energy around his team in the wake of the Mercersburg doubleheader.

“After you have lost a few it is tough, it is hard to get that out of the back of your mind that you lost,” said McQuade.

“They were pumped these past two weeks. The practices have been more enthusiastic; the kids are into it.”

A lot of kids have been stepping up for Hun. “Dave Dudeck has had a good season; he is big and strong and he attacks the ball,” said McQuade, noting that the return of catcher Gavin Stupienski and ace pitcher Austin Goeke from injury has given the Raiders a big lift.

“Brandon Smith has really been solid at the infield at second. Stevie Wells is starting to hit the ball.”

McQuade is hoping his team can hit its stride at tournament time, similar to last year when the program rode a late surge to a state Prep A title.

“I am hoping we can; we talk to them all the time about it,” said McQuade.

“We have got the players who can do it if we get the pitching and we come together. We need to get off to a good start. If we fall behind, I am not so sure. When we get a lead and then shut them down, we do better.”

Birch, for his part, believes the Raiders can end on a high note. “If we take it one game at a time, we have a good shot to take it pretty deep in any tournament,” said Birch.

“The majority of the same kids coming back from last year, we lost two or three starters, our catcher [Chris Leach] and shortstop [Mark Rende] were just huge. But after battling over that, with the same core group I feel we can do the same thing we did last year.”

RUNNING THE SHOW: Hun School girls’ lacrosse star and team captain Emily Decicco races up the field in a game earlier this season. Senior defender Decicco has spearheaded the Hun backline this spring with her intensity and leadership. Last Saturday, the Hun program held its annual Senior Day ceremony but things didn’t end well for the Raiders as they fell 16-13 to Notre Dame in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament and dropping to 5-6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Emily Decicco felt a rush of emotion as the Hun School girls’ lacrosse team got ready to take the field against visiting Notre Dame last Saturday in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament.

The Hun program celebrated its Class of 2012 and senior defender Dicicco was the last of her classmates honored in the pregame ceremony.

“I have been on this turf for seven years now so it was definitely a big game for us,” said Decicco, reflecting on the Senior Day festivities.

For over a half, it looked like it was going to be a big day for the eighth-seeded Raiders as they took an 8-7 lead over No. 9 Notre Dame at halftime and clung to a 9-8 advantage some six minutes into the second half.

But Notre Dame went on a 3-0 run to take an 11-9 advantage and Hun could never regain the lead. The Raiders drew to within one at 11-10 and 12-11 but that was as close as they got on the way to a 16-13 loss.

While Decicco was disappointed by the defeat, she had no qualms with how Hun battled Notre Dame.

“Although this isn’t the outcome I wanted to see in my final game here, I am proud of us,” said Decicco, reflecting on the loss which dropped Hun to 5-6. “We fought hard right to the end.”

The fiery Decicco tries hard to lead the Raiders from the backline. “I keep us going from behind; I oversee the field,” said Decicco. “I definitely keep the morale.”

Decicco also picks her spots to get the offense going, using her speed to make end-to-end forays.

“Nothing feels better than running it down the field and passing to  Francesca [Bello] or Kate [Weeks] and seeing them put it in the back of the net,” said Decicco.

With Hun’s season winding down with MCT consolation contests, Decicco is looking for the Raiders to put forth a big effort.

“We are definitely going to bring everything we have to our last few games,” said Decicco, who is heading to Cornell where she plans to walk on to the women’s lacrosse team.

Hun head coach Beth Loffredo thought her team may have brought too much emotion into the game with Notre Dame.

“They were too pumped; they were having trouble controlling themselves,” said Loffredo.

“They were too fidgety; everything was too fast. We needed to slow it down. It was our Senior Day and Kate Weeks has a sick cousin who we were playing for today.”

Even though Hun held the lead for much of the first 30 minutes of the contest, Loffredo had an uneasy feeling.

“I felt like we were playing catchup the whole time; I thought we should have been further ahead,” said Loffredo, who got six goals from junior star Kate Weeks in the loss to Notre Dame with Francesca Bello chipping in three.

“I never felt comfortable. I was waiting for a run but they just didn’t do it and the other team poured it on.”

Loffredo credited her seniors for having a nice run over their years at Hun. “It is great having those kind of people around us everyday; athletically they are great and as far as people, they are even better,” said Loffredo, whose group of seniors includes Lucia Perasso, Peyton Lutz, and Lily MacGregor, in addition to Decicco.

“It is definitely sad that they are going to be leaving us but they are going on to big things. Emily is going to Cornell and Lucia is going to Princeton. Peyton is heading to Hobart/William Smith; she is going to play there.”

With Hun having fallen 22-14 to Lawrenceville earlier in the week to get eliminated from the state Prep A tourney, Loffredo wants her players to take some lessons from the setbacks.

“I am hoping they remember the feeling so when we go into it next year, they take it as seriously as I want them to,” said Loffredo. “I want us to just play our best and end on a good note.”

In Decicco’s view, things look bright for a Raider program that has already made good progress.

“I think I will remember just seeing us grow from what we were when I first started playing here to now,” said Decicco, in reflecting on her career.

“It just makes me really happy. I am really excited to see where this program will go because we have a lot of young talent.”

May 2, 2012

ALEX THE GREAT: Princeton University men’s lacrosse star Alex Capretta heads to goal in recent action. Last Saturday against visiting Cornell, senior midfielder Capretta scored a career-high five goals to help the Tigers post a 14-9 win over the Big Red. Princeton will now host the Ivy League tournament that will determine the conference’s automatic qualifier for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. The first-seeded Tigers (10-3 overall, 6-0 Ivy) will play No. 4 Brown (7-7 overall, 3-3 Ivy) while second-seeded Cornell (9-3 overall, 4-2 Ivy) will take on No. 3 Yale (9-4 overall, 4-2 Ivy) in the semifinals on Friday night with the victors to meet on Sunday at noon in the title game. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The hooting and hollering continued at Class of 1952 Stadium long after the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team whipped Cornell 14-9 last Saturday night to complete an undefeated Ivy League regular season.

But in the Princeton locker room, Alex Capretta stood quietly in a corner, smiling broadly and clutching the silver trophy the Tigers earned for their victory.

After serving as an understudy in his first three years with the program, senior midfielder Capretta took a starring role in Princeton’s win over the Big Red, scoring a career-high five goals to trigger the Tiger offense before a standing-room only crowd of 4,133.

“The way it works, one shot goes in and another shot goes and eventually it feels seamless,” said Capretta, reflecting on his big night.

“You get into a really smooth rhythm and it feels great. I think the motivation was a little higher than normal today.”

The motivation will be even higher this weekend as Princeton will host the four-team Ivy League tournament that will determine the conference’s automatic qualifier for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

The first-seeded Tigers (10-3 overall, 6-0 Ivy) will play No. 4 Brown (7-7 overall, 3-3 Ivy) while second-seeded Cornell (9-3 overall, 4-2 Ivy) will take on No. 3 Yale (9-4 overall, 4-2 Ivy) in the semifinals on Friday night with the victors to meet on Sunday at noon in the title game.

“I never know if the next game is going to be my last; we have only one more game guaranteed,” said Capretta.

“We really want to make sure that there is a second game after that and hopefully a third and a fourth after that. We want to keep going.”

Coming into the season, there was no guarantee that Capretta would even be a starter for the Tigers. The 6’2, 205-pound native of Mill Valley had scored a grand total of 10 points on eight goals and two assists in his first three seasons. He has been a revelation this spring, however, tallying 19 goals and eight assists, including the overtime game-winner against Yale and four goals in a victory over Rutgers.

“I think a lot of it has to do with experience and being really familiar with coach [Chris] Bates’s offense and his sets,” said Capretta, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for his performance against Cornell.

“In addition, I think we just have fantastic chemistry on offense. I know what everybody is going to do and everybody knows what I am going to do and we are all really comfortable together. My success is a product of their success. They are due just as much credit as I am.”

Princeton head coach Bates wasn’t surprised that Capretta produced a successful performance against the Big Red.

“I thought all week that Alex would play well; one of his best friends from high school is Roy Lang on the other team,” said Bates.

“I just knew that Alex was so committed and really has taken so many positive steps. I had a really good feeling that he was going to have a good game so I couldn’t be more happy for him and I am proud of him.”

Bates was happy to see the Tigers jump out to a 3-0 lead against the Big Red on the way to a 8-4 advantage at halftime.

“The last reminder I had for them was ‘fellas enjoy the moment,’” recalled Bates.

“We play well when we are loose; we play better when we are not tight. I thought we came out well; when the lights go on and that opening face-off takes place, we are ready to go. This team has continued to impress me with how they come prepared. It gets you loose; to put three quick ones on the board is clearly the way you want to start the game.”

The Princeton offense continued its freewheeling ways throughout the contest.

“We scored on early offense like we do; we are living and dying on it a little  bit but we create opportunities for ourselves and we are giving guys latitude,” said Bates, who got three goals apiece from Jeff Froccaro and Forest Sonnenfeldt in the win with Mike MacDonald adding two and Tucker Shanley chipping in one. “At the end of the day, we shot the ball very well and we found the open man.”

On the defensive end, the Tigers kept Cornell from getting open space. “Cornell is good, they are tough and they move the ball well,” said Bates. “We bent at times but we didn’t break. Tyler [Fiorito] stood tall in goal. We played with good energy. You could see our athleticism. Jonathan Meyers, Chad Wiedmaier, Rob Castelo, and John Cunningham all played well. It is a good solid group that I thought played physically and with good emotion. They really gave us a good 60-minute effort.”

Bates enjoyed an emotional moment as the team gathered en masse at the middle of the field to hoist the trophy.

“I am happiest for the seniors; these guys have really worked to shape a culture here and take the next step,” said Bates, reflecting on the group which has spearheaded the turnaround from last season’s 4-8 mark.

“This hasn’t happened here since 2001, to go 6-0 and be the sole Ivy champs. You can just see that there is a sense of accomplishment. This was a big goal for us. We didn’t want to share it so this is a nice accomplishment for this group.”

Star goalie and team tri-captain Fiorito attributes Princeton’s success this spring, in large part, to a special group dynamic.

“I think with what happened to coach; we have all bonded together,” said Fiorito, reflecting on the death of Bates’s wife, Ann, this past November after a lengthy battle with brain cancer.

“I think we have a great group of guys; there is big talk of family here. I think this year is special; we have really come together through our senior class and through coach Bates. I think we know there are great things ahead of us.”

Fiorito enjoyed a special moment with the trophy in the raucous post-game celebration.

“Going up there and holding it up with John [Cunningham] and Chad [Wiedmaier] and seeing our team running towards us is a special moment,” said Fiorito, who had 11 saves in the victory.

“As a senior, those are the moments you will remember. You may not remember how the game went or all the moments in the game but you will remember holding the trophy up and seeing your teammates running towards you.”

Fiorito is hoping Princeton can continue a run that has seen the Tigers win four straight games and eight of its last nine and jump to No. 10 nationally in this week’s Nike/Inside Lacrosse Media Poll.

“We are going to bring it every single time that we can because it could be the last time we suit up together,” said Fiorito, who had 16 saves when Princeton beat Brown 13-2 in the team’s March 31 regular season meeting.

“I am trying to enjoy every moment with this team; we really enjoy playing with each other. I think we have been building momentum over the last few weeks and that’s what we are trying to do, peak at the right time.”

In Capretta’s view, things are coming together at the right time.

“In the beginning of the season, we weren’t coming out as strong,” said Capretta “One of our emphases in the second half of the season was to come out strong; to step on the gas pedal and just never let up and it’s paid off.”

If Capretta and the Tigers can keep their feet on the gas, there could be some other trophy celebrations to come this spring.

HOOK SHOT: Princeton University women’s water polo player Camille Hooks fires the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, freshman star Hooks scored three goals, including the game-winner, as Princeton edged host Brown 7-6 in overtime in the semifinals of the Eastern Championships in Providence, R.I. A day later, Hooks and the Tigers nipped Maryland 6-5 to win the title. The 13th-ranked Tigers, now 28-4, earned the No. 6 seed in the 2012 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship and will face third-seeded USC in the quarterfinals on May 11 at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It didn’t take long for Luis Nicolao to realize that his 2012 Princeton University women’s water polo team might be something special.

“From day one, it has been a fun group to coach,” said Princeton head coach Nicolao. “All year, this group has been confident. We have won a lot of close games.”

Last weekend, Tigers knew they were in for some tight contests as they competed in the Eastern Championships in Providence, R.I. at Brown University’s pool.

“I tell the girls that when you get to Easterns, every game is a challenge,” said Nicolao, who is in his 14th season overseeing both the men’s and women’s water polo programs at Princeton. “Everyone is playing for their lives.”

The Tigers proved to be up for the challenge, topping Harvard 9-6 in the quarterfinals and edging host Brown 7-6 in overtime in the semis to earn a shot at Maryland in the title game. Exuding its trademark confidence, Princeton avenged a regular season defeat to the Terps, winning 6-5 to earn the program’s first trip to the NCAAs.

The 13th-ranked Tigers, now 28-4, earned the No. 6 seed in the 2012 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship and will face third-seeded USC in the quarterfinals on May 11 at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex.

In the game against Harvard, it looked like Princeton might have to wait another year to make it to the NCAAs, as it fought hard but was deadlocked 3-3 at halftime.

“I told them to keep playing their game,” recalled Nicolao. “It has been our M.O. this year. We come out slowly and then we rally. I think that is a testament to our depth. We are able to wear teams down.”

Princeton sophomore star Katie Rigler got her shots to fall, scoring four goals to lead the way for the Tigers in the win over the Crimson.

“Rigler always has the top attention of the other teams,” said Nicolao of the native of  Fullerton, Calif., who was later named the  MVP of the CWPA Eastern Championship and to the all-tournament first team. “She always gets the top defender. She is always going at it and battling.”

In the semifinal contest against host Brown, the Tigers found themselves in an uphill battle.

“Our shots were not falling and their crowd was going wild,” said Nicolao. “Midway through the third quarter we were down 5-2 and I made wholesale changes. I put in five fresh bodies and they got it back to 5-5.”

Freshman star Camille Hooks came up big to help Princeton survive the bears, scoring with eight seconds left in regulation to knot the game at 6-6 and force overtime and then scoring the game-winner with 2:07 remaining in the first extra period.

“Hooks had the game of her life,” asserted Nicolao of the Beverly Hills, Calif. native who had three goals in the contest. “She is a steady, smart player. She never gets rattled and she made some huge shots.”

The Tigers faced a huge challenge in the championship game as they looked to turn the tables on a 14th-ranked Maryland squad that beat Princeton 7-6 in the regular season game between the teams.

“We talked about coming out better than we did before against them,” said Nicolao, noting that the Tigers trailed the Terps 7-1 in that March 31 contest. “Maryland comes out fast; they had Michigan down 3-0 the night before in the semis.”

With Princeton tied 3-3 at half with the Terps, Nicolao sensed that his squad was primed to pull out another close victory.

“The girls believed in themselves; we had the better play in the first half but the shots weren’t falling,” said Nicolao. “At half, there was a feeling that we are going to get this.”

The teams were locked in a 4-4 stalemate heading into the fourth quarter and Princeton seized the momentum as Taylor Dunstan and Brittany Zwirner found the back of the net to give the Tigers a lead they never relinquished.

“We got two goals on counter attacks early in the fourth quarter and then it was hold-your-breath time,” said Nicolao, who also got two goals from Rigler in the win with senior goalie Kristen Ward making 13 saves. “We kept playing great defense.”

While the win was a great moment for Nicolao and his program, he experienced some mixed emotions in the wake of the triumph.

“It was so exciting but it was also bittersweet,” said Nicolao. “I am lifelong friends with the Maryland coaches [Carl Sayler and Serela Kay] and I saw the look on their faces. I have been on that side and I know what it’s like. I am so thrilled to win it; I am so happy for the girls. We can’t stop smiling today.”

Having endured some tough defeats in the Easterns helped Nicolao motivate his players.

“It has been a tough road; it has been a long haul,” said Nicolao, who last guided the Tiger women to the Eastern title in 2000 and an appearance in the Collegiate National Championships, the predecessor to the NCAAs.

“We have lost some tough games in the semis. We won two of three games this weekend by one goal. It is hard to get to this point, I told them to go out and make the most of the moment.”

Nicolao is looking for his players to make the most of their opportunity as they compete in the NCAAs.

“We have to play great defense; we are going to be seeing great opponents,” said Nicolao. “We have to be relaxed but not just happy to be there.”

But no matter what happens in San Diego, Nicolao will have many happy memories of the 2012 campaign.

MULLING IT OVER: Princeton University baseball star Sam ­Mulroy is at bat in a game earlier this spring. Last weekend, Mulroy and his teammates fell just short of winning the Ivy League’s Gehrig Division title, going 3-1 against Cornell when they needed to sweep the doubleheaders to pass the Big Red in the division standings. Senior Mulroy ended his career on a high note this season, leading the Tigers in batting average (.351), homers (eight) and RBIs (32) as Princeton finished the spring at 20-19 overall and 13-7 Ivy. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Sam Mulroy’s eyes were red and his uniform was streaked with dirt, signs of the valiant but ultimately unsuccessful fight waged by the Princeton University baseball team last weekend as it looked to earn a spot in the Ivy League Championship Series (ILCS).

Coming into Friday’s action, Princeton had a 10-6 league record and needed to sweep two doubleheaders from Cornell, 13-3 in league play, to pass the Big Red and win the Ivy’s Gehrig Division title.

In the opener of a twinbill at Ithaca on Friday, senior star Mulroy slammed a homer and had two hits and two RBIs to help Princeton win 13-3. Sparked by a magnificent 14-strikeout effort from junior pitcher Zak Hermans, the Tigers eked out a 1-0 win in Game 2 to stay alive.

In Game 1 on Sunday at the friendly confines of Clarke Field, the Tigers rode the shutout pitching of Matt Bowman and some clutch hitting from Steve Harrington and Blake Thomsen to prevail 6-0 and set up a winner-take-all showdown in the nightcap.

In the pivotal game, Princeton jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a first inning homer by John Mishu. After Cornell answered with a run in the top of the fifth, the Tigers forged ahead 2-1 an inning later on a Mike Ford RBI single. The Big Red took a 3-2 lead in the seventh on a Matt Hall homer.

With its season on the line heading into the bottom of the ninth, Princeton scratched out a run on a bunt single and a throwing error to tie the contest at 3-3 and force extra innings. Ben Swindford struck the decisive blow, smacking a solo homer in the top of the 12th that proved to be the game winner for Cornell as it held on for a 4-3 victory and the division title, advancing to a matchup against Dartmouth in the ILCS.

Despite the disappointment, Mulroy was still proud of the character displayed by the Tigers as they fought to the final out.

“We came to play all four games,” said Mulroy. “We battled, we scrapped. I think the last game is indicative of the whole series. We had to come back a couple of times and we just came up short which is really too bad.”

While it was a bad ending for the Tigers, Mulroy was able to put his stellar career in perspective.

“It is weird; I am proud of what we accomplished over my career but at the same time, you hate to see it end, especially like this,” said Mulroy, who led the Tigers this spring in batting average (.351), homers (eight) and RBIs (32).

“I have mixed emotions. For right now, I wished we could have won. As coach [Scott] Bradley said afterward in the huddle, there are a lot of years where 13-7 is good enough. It just happened that this year Cornell got off to a hot start and won enough games to hold us off; 13-7 is the second best we have done in my four years and is nothing to hang your heads about.”

Playing at catcher, center field and third base, Mulroy did his best to help the Tigers in any way possible.

“It has been a lot of fun,” said Mulroy. “This year with Tyler coming in, he deserved to catch as much as he did. I am happy to be in the lineup wherever. I am fine being behind the plate because I like to be in on every play, I like being in center field and running around a little bit.”

Mulroy is hoping to stay in the game a little bit as he has his eye on a career in professional ball after graduation from Princeton.

“At this point, it is a bit of a waiting game because the [Major League Baseball] draft isn’t for another month,” said Mulroy, a 5’11, 205-pound native of Bethesda, Md. “It is something I have always wanted to do and I am going to try to make it work.”

Princeton head coach Scott Bradley like the way his club worked its way into the decisive contest.

“It was great to be able to play out these games that mean this much instead of playing out a string when one loss would have put us in the situation,” said Bradley. “I am proud of them.”

The Tigers, though, just couldn’t string together enough clutch hits to pull off the sweep.

“It is hard to beat a good team four times in a weekend,” said Bradley, whose club finished with a 20-19 overall record. “Our pitching was just unbelievable. We struggled with our bats; we couldn’t score runs when we needed to.”

It will be hard for Bradley to deal with the loss of Mulroy and his classmates, Andrew Whitener, Tom Boggiano, Stephen Elmore, and Ryan Makis.

“It is a great group and they play hard,” asserted Bradley, who held a Senior Day ceremony at home plate after the game.

“They play hard and they care. They have a passion for baseball at Princeton. We are going to miss them desperately; that is for sure.”

Mulroy, for his part, is certainly going to miss playing for the Tigers.

“It has been awesome,” said Mulroy, who ends his Princeton career with 25 homers, the second most in program history.

“It is an honor to have played four years with these guys on this field and for these coaches. I couldn’t be happier with the way the four years went.”

MIDDLE MAN: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse star Zach ­Halliday races up the field in a scrimmage this spring. Last Saturday, junior midfielder Halliday chipped in a goal and three assists in a losing cause as PHS fell 11-7 at Notre Dame. The Little Tigers, who dropped to 5-6 with the loss to the Fighting Irish, play at WW/P-S on May 3 before hosting Northern Burlington on May 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

From the beginning of his freshman year at Princeton High, Zach Halliday distinguished himself as a savvy midfielder on the soccer field.

Utilizing anticipation, hustle, and ball skills, Halliday quickly became a mainstay for the Little Tigers and has developed into one of the top players in the area.

Transferring those qualities to the lacrosse field, junior Halliday is emerging as a go-to player this spring for PHS.

“I am used to seeing the whole field in soccer so I am able to see the field in lacrosse,” explained Halliday, who also plays midfield in lacrosse. “I am able to distribute and get my teammates involved.”

Last Saturday at Notre Dame, Halliday was involved all over the field, tallying a goal and three assists along with picking up several steals and ground balls.

Halliday’s all-around effort wasn’t enough, though, as PHS fell 11-7 to the Fighting Irish.

While Halliday is proud to be taking a bigger role for the Little Tigers, individual stats are not his primary focus.

“I have been able to contribute more on both offense and the defensive end but really it is all about what the team does and if we win or lose,” said Halliday. “So today overall was a disappointment for me.”

With Halliday picking up an assist and a goal in a one-minute span to help PHS rally to a 5-5 tie with the Fighting Irish midway through the third quarter, he was hoping for a win.

“I was thinking that the team had a chance to come back and make some plays,” recalled Halliday.

“We got a goal and then a man-up opportunity but unfortunately we weren’t able to capitalize and make the plays that they did today.”

In Halliday’s view, PHS can take a valuable lesson from the Notre Dame loss in terms of maintaining intensity.

“I think we have to learn to always play hard because if you have a three-minute letdown, your team is going to be put in a hole that you may not be able to recover from,” said Halliday.

PHS has shown the ability to recover collectively, bouncing back from a 0-4 start to win four straight games coming into the contest against the Fighting Irish.

“The coaches really changed things at practice; they really started drilling us and the whole team started buying in,” said Halliday.

“We are taking things one play at a time. I think going step-by-step and keeping things simple helped us get to where we are.”

PHS head coach Peter Stanton likes the way his squad has stepped up over the past few weeks.

“I feel like we have gotten a lot better,” asserted Stanton, whose team dropped to 5-6 with the defeat to the Fighting Irish.

“The guys have learned to use their teammates and trust their teammates. We move the ball a lot better and we get assisted goals. We have just gotten a lot more cohesive offensively.”

Stanton credits Halliday and senior midfielder Alex Rifkin with helping to jump start the PHS offense.

“Zach is somebody who can play defense; he can get ground balls and he can start transitions,” said Stanton, who got two goals from Rifkin in the loss to Notre Dame with Matt Olentine, Coleman Preziosi, Matt Purdy, and Kevin Halliday chipping in one apiece.

“He understands the game very well; he plays all over the field. Alex has been unbelievable; he has been outstanding.”

In Stanton’s view, the loss to Notre Dame showed that the Little Tigers need to further sharpen their game.

“We have to learn how critical mistakes are,” said Stanton. “We feel that we outplayed them for long stretches at a time. Many of their goals came after we made a bad pass or dropped the ball. They are a very opportunistic team who made us pay for those mistakes.”

With tournament time around the corner, PHS still has the opportunity do some special things this spring.

“We have to know that we are capable of playing better; sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don’t,” said Stanton, whose team plays at WW/P-S on May 3 before hosting Northern Burlington on May 8. “Today was a day when things didn’t go our way.”

Halliday, for his part, believes things can go the right way for PHS if the team maintains its work ethic.

“To get back on the winning track I think the team is just going to have to take it hard at practice and put this in the back of our heads,” said Halliday. “We need to remember it but try to learn from it and really try to move on.”

MATCHING UP: Princeton High softball player Angela Matchum throws the ball in recent action. The play of senior outfielder Matchum has helped tighten up the PHS defense as the Little Tigers have gotten off to an 8-8 start. PHS, which fell 9-8 to Hightstown last Monday, hosts Nottingham on May 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the Princeton High softball team produced an encouraging 6-5 start, the squad has yet to prove that it can beat the elite teams in the area.

After falling to such powers as Robbinsville, Allentown, and Steinert, PHS was looking for a breakthrough when it hosted WW/P-S last Wednesday.

Through five innings, the Little Tigers were right there with the twice-beaten Pirates, trailing just 3-0.

But in the top of the sixth, PHS gave up four runs on the way to a 9-0 defeat.

PHS head coach Dave Boehm was frustrated by his team’s sloppiness in the setback.

“We had too many walks today and too many errors,” said Boehm. “It is a tough loss, they are a good team but we weren’t really a threat to them today. That girl is a good pitcher; she throws hard, she throws inside and outside.”

Although PHS has been on the outside looking in against the top teams, it has shown it can be a threat on most days.

“We have played some real good games and then we have a game like today where we had five good innings and then the wheels came off,” said Boehm, noting that freshman Sarah Eisenach and junior Charlotte Gray have developed into an effective one-two pitching tandem.

“We have to knock off one of those big teams. We have got to beat a big boy on the block but we are not going to do it when we make that many mistakes.”

In Boehm’s view, the Little Tigers need to be more aggressive to get over the hump.

“They have to have more confidence; they have to get their bats off of their shoulders,” said Boehm.

“The one inning today where we put the bat on the ball, they made good contact.”

The play of junior star outfielder Marisa Gonzalez has given PHS plenty of confidence as she was hitting at a .595 clip through the team’s first 12 games.

“Marisa is making plays for us,” asserted Boehm of Gonzalez, who passed the 100-hit mark in her career last Saturday as the Little Tigers beat Ridgefield 8-4 and Teaneck 15-3 to win the Teaneck  Highwaywoman Tournament.

“She can make things happen. If we are going to push a run across, we have to get her on base or she has to drive it in.”

All in all, good things are happening for a PHS program that is on the rise.

“For the most part, I am happy with the way the team has played,” said Boehm, whose team hosts Nottingham on May 2.

“They have just got to get it through their heads that they can make the plays and hang with these teams. I think sometimes in the past teams would come off the bus and we knew we were beat. That hasn’t happened this year; it’s a good team.”

DANI GIRL: Hun School softball pitcher Dani Beal fires the ball in recent action. Junior Beal’s progress this spring has helped Hun go 8-4 after a shaky 1-2 start. In upcoming action, the Raiders host Steinert on May 2 and Northern Burlington on May 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Hun School softball team lost two of its first three games this spring, Kathy Quirk liked the work ethic she was seeing from her players on a daily basis.

“We practice hitting everyday; we have stations and we hit basketballs, footballs, and soccer balls,” said longtime Hun head coach Quirk.

“We play little games, the girls have been working really hard. When we separate into teams for practice games, it is intense. Neither team wants to lose.”

In the wake of losing 7-3 to Blair in early April to fall to 1-2, that intensity started to pay dividends as the Hun bats came alive. The Raiders hit double figures in wins over Princeton Day School (11-1) and Lawrenceville (11-6) and have proceeded to go on a roll that has seen them win seven of their last nine games.

“We had a tough loss against Blair; we have been playing well since that game,” said Quirk. “We got rolling with the win over Lawrenceville; we have been improving everyday.”

The team’s improvement was graphically demonstrated last week when the Raiders hosted Peddie. After having fallen 13-2 to the Falcons in the season opener on March 28, Hun topped Peddie 5-3 in the rematch.

“We had the game of our life against Peddie,” said Quirk, whose team jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning. “Dani [Beal] putting them down in the top of the first gave her confidence.”

The progress of junior pitcher Beal has been a key factor in Hun’s hot streak.

“She stepped up on the pitching mound; she has confidence in her teammates,” said Quirk of Beal who pitched well in a losing cause last Saturday as Hun fell 3-2 at Blair to move to 8-4.

“She knows she is not going to strike out everybody and that her teammates will make the plays behind her.”

Junior catcher Carey Million has been making plenty of big plays for the Raiders. “Million has done a nice job behind the plate and at bat,” said Quirk.

“She has home runs in back-to-back games. They were not inside the park; they were line drives over the fence. It is nice to see.”

Hun has been getting some nice work in the infield from Julia Blake and Joey Crivelli.

“Julia Blake, for a freshman, is playing great at shortstop,” said Quirk. “She had 10 assists and four putouts in the win over Peddie. She is playing with confidence; she has also been hitting well. Crivelli doing a solid job at third base, she is coming through with big plays.”

Sophomore outfielder Kristen Manochio has emerged as another big plus for Quirk’s squad.

“Manochio is doing a nice job; she’s making contact and moving people around the bases,” said Quirk. “She is solid for us in the outfield.”

Quirk is confident her team can keep up its solid play when it competes in the state Prep A playoffs later this month.

“No matter where we play, we have to have the same intensity,” said Quirk, whose team hosts Steinert on May 2 and Northern Burlington on May 8. “I am very happy with how we are playing, I am hoping we can keep on track.”

GOING TO THE MATT: Princeton Day School baseball star Matt Cook delivers the ball in a game earlier this spring. Senior pitcher Cook came up big last week, getting the win in a 3-2 victory over Peddie. The Panthers, now 10-6, plays at South Hunterdon on May 2 before starting action in the Mercer County Tournament where sixth-seeded PDS will host No. 11 Ewing on May 5 in a first round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton Day School baseball team, routing Rutgers Prep 18-3 last Friday was a measure of how far the squad has come since last spring.

“Last season we played them three times and they beat us up pretty good; that was a sweet win,” said PDS head coach Ray O’Brien, whose team improved to 10-6 with the victory, already more than doubling its win total from 2011 when it went 4-14.

The sweet swing of freshman JP Radvany helped trigger the rout for the Panthers as he smacked a three-run homer and piled up six RBIs in the contest.

“JP has been great; we knew coming in that he was pretty good,” said O’Brien.

“But he is only a freshman and he still had to come in and hit ball at the varsity level. I was really impressed with him in our first game back from Florida; we were playing a really good St. Augustine team and he was seeing the ball and taking pitches. He was recognizing pitches while some of our other guys were getting fooled. He is playing well above his years. He has really been good in the four-hole for us; he is hitting .529 with 27 RBIs.”

PDS has playing well collectively over the last few weeks. “We have won five out of six; we made a few changes to our lineup and the guys have settled in,” said O’Brien.

“We moved guys around. We have Rob Colton at catcher and moved Bradley Freid to his spot in the outfield. We moved Sean McCoy to first and we have JP at designated hitter. We moved one of our freshmen, Jake Alu, to third. We have kept the batting order; we have kept it the same the last seven or eight games. We can play small ball if necessary and the guys are comfortable banging away.”

O’Brien is growing increasingly comfortable with his pitching rotation. “Greg Auerbach, a junior, has given us the most innings; Matt Cook and Jacob Eisenberg are two seniors,” said O’Brien,

“Eisenberg has thrown some real good ballgames. Cook is 3-0 and pitched well against Peddie (a 3-2 win) last week. Cole [McManimon] has had a couple of victories. The pitchers have settled in and are throwing strikes and we are playing good defense behind them.”

The Panthers’ play has benefitted from blending battle-tested veterans with some precocious newcomers.

“It is a good mix,” said O’Brien. “Cook, Eisenberg, McCoy, and Beau Horan are giving us good senior leadership. Beau is playing good defense and hitting .407; things are coming together for him. We also have an influx of some good young players. Rob Colton has come in and is hitting at .500. He is a tough kid; we can’t have enough of those.”

In O’Brien’s view, the team has shown a toughness stemming from a  9-6 loss in extra innings to Pennington on April 14.

“In that first Pennington game; we were down 5-0 and then we came back,” said O’Brien. “We thought we let it slip away. We came out the next day and pounded Lawrenceville and we have been playing well ever since.”

With postseason action on the horizon, O’Brien is hoping that the Panthers can keep up its hot play.

“Right now we are playing consistently,” said O’Brien, whose team plays at South Hunterdon on May 2 before starting action in the Mercer County Tournament where sixth-seeded PDS will host No. 11 Ewing on May 5 in a first round contest.

“Hopefully we are peaking at the right time. If we play well, we can beat anyone.”

WELL DONE: Stuart Country Day senior lacrosse star Ani ­Hallowell heads up the field in recent action. Last Thursday, midfielder Hallowell scored five goals in a losing cause as Stuart fell 18-8 to the Lawrenceville School. The Tartans, who lost 13-7 to Rutgers Prep last Monday in the state Prep B tournament to drop to 1-8, play at Hamilton on May 2. Later in the week, Stuart starts action in the Mercer County Tournament where the 15th-seeded Tartans play at No. 2 Princeton High on May 4 in an opening round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Ani Hallowell didn’t waste any time displaying her offensive skills last Thursday as the Stuart Country Day School lacrosse team hosted Lawrenceville.

The Stuart senior star midfielder snatched the first two draws and snaked through the Lawrenceville defense to score two goals in the first 1:38 of the contest.

In reflecting on her hot start, Hallowell acknowledged that she had a little extra jump in her step against the Big Red.

“I guess I had a lot of energy today; my head was definitely in the game today,” said Hallowell. “I try to do that every game and I try to keep focused and in the game.”

With Hallowell triggering the attack, the underdog Tartans led Lawrenceville 6-5 with 10 minutes left in the half.

“We have a lot of new players and we know they have been trying to step up and today, we all stepped up and came together,” said Hallowell. “It really looked great in the first few minutes; we had a lot of confidence.”

Things didn’t go so great for the Tartans after that as the deeper Big Red gradually wore down Stuart. Lawrenceville reeled off a 6-0 run to take an 11-6 lead at halftime.

The gritty Tartans kept battling but couldn’t find a rhythm in the second half as they ultimately fell 18-8.

“We don’t tend to get discouraged when we get down; we try to answer back and fight back with as many goals as we can,” said Hallowell, who ended up with five goals on the day.

“There was just a little bit of miscalculation on passes and things like that but we definitely fought hard. I am proud of my team for that because there are a lot of new players on our team and we have definitely stepped it up a lot.”

As Stuart’s most battle-tested performer, Hallowell goes out of her way to encourage the team’s new players.

“I definitely try to be more of a leader of the team as a captain and as a senior,” asserted Hallowell.

“It is my fourth year on varsity so I know what it takes to play. I try to help the younger and the less experienced players more, so that our team can get better.”

Stuart first year head coach Caitlin Grant believes that Hallowell carries more than her share of the load for the Tartans.

“Ani is just an awesome player all around; she goes through everyone,” said Grant.

“I think the team relies on her too much sometimes. They watch her; they need to realize they can all contribute in a great way.”

Grant had fun watching her team push Lawrenceville in the first 15 minutes of the contest.

“We started out great; our passes were connecting,” said Grant who got a goal from Isabel Soto and two from Hallowell’s younger sister, sophomore Amy Hallowell. “Our girls played great together; we were winning the draws.”

The Tartans eventually ran out of gas against the Big Red. “We don’t have any subs; sometimes we have just one extra player,” said Grant, whose team fell 13-7 to Rutgers Prep last Monday in the first round of the state Prep B tournament to drop to 1-8.

“It’s hard because these midfielders run the whole game. They don’t get any breaks. These girls give it their all and they don’t give up.”

Freshman goalie Harlyn Bell has been giving her all as she has quickly picked up the game and her position.

“It is her first year playing lacrosse; she has only been playing for the past two months,” said Grant.

“I think she is great; she is aggressive. She clears the ball. Now, she is loud on defense. She really stepped it up this year.”

The future looks bright for Stuart as several young players have been stepping up this spring.

“Meghan Shannon as a defender has really stepped it up and on low defense,” added Grant.

“Isabel Soto is going to be one of the stars of the team next year; I am just waiting for her to burst out. I think we have some great girls on this team, a lot of them are young. Amy is a sophomore, Meghan is a sophomore. Harlyn is a freshman. So that makes me really happy.”

Grant is happy with the progress she has been seeing in her debut season at the helm of the program.

“I think we make small improvements every game and I wish that the season was longer,” said Grant, whose team plays at Hamilton on May 2 and then starts action in the Mercer County Tournament when the 15th-seeded Tartans play at No. 2 Princeton High on May 4 in an opening round contest.

I believe that in our Prep conference, us included, it is any team’s game on any day. It is whoever comes out wanting to win it.”

Hallowell, for her part, believes the Tartans can do some big things down the stretch.

“Going forward, we just need to keep our heads up and know that we can win games,” said Hallowell.

“We just have to keep our heads in the game and be on our game everyday.”

NEXT STEP: Paul Johnson, right, and Chad Bridges are all smiles in a recent shot. Johnson, a former Hun School and University of Virginia soccer star, has teamed up with Bridges to run the Next Level Soccer Academy (NLSA). With NLSA thriving, now including seven teams and approximately 150 players, the organization is looking to take the next step and build a year-round facility to serve as its headquarters and a training center for local athletes.

Paul Johnson knows the value of combining soccer with academics.

In the late 1990s, Johnson put together a legendary high school soccer career for the Hun School, earning All-American and All-State honors and playing with the U.S. U-17 and U-19 programs.

Utilizing his soccer prowess and Hun education, Johnson went on to the University of Virginia where he became a starter and a key performer for the school’s 2003 ACC championship squad.

Returning to the Princeton area after graduation, Johnson formed FC Trenton United club in 2007 to instill values of soccer, education, and community service.

Two years later, Johnson teamed up with longtime friend Chad Bridges, merging his operation into Bridges’ Next Level Soccer Academy (NLSA).

For Johnson, becoming involved with Bridges and NLSA was a natural step.

“Chad wholeheartedly goes after it and he wants the best for the kids,” said Johnson, who coaches the Pennington School boys’ soccer team with Bridges, the school’s Dean of Students.

“He tends to be an extension of me, sharing my values and my goals. I kind of shut down what we were doing and pulled it over to him. He does a lot of community outreach and we decided to join forces.”

With NLSA thriving, now including seven teams and approximately 150 players, the organization is looking to take the next step and build a year-round facility to serve as its headquarters and a training center for local athletes.

“From the beginning I knew there was a need for a facility in the Mercer County area,” said Johnson, who is the NLSA Director of Training and Player Development while Bridges serves as the executive director of the organization.

“We saw the need, whether it was for under privileged kids or those that were privileged. They clearly have nowhere to train year round so stuff was being lost.”

As a high school star, Johnson saw how a year-round facility can aid development.

“I had the good fortune to go to IMG, now the Bollettieri Sports Academy, when I was with the national team during my high school career,” said Johnson, referring to the famed training facility for athletic, academic, and personal development in Bradenton, Fla.

“I kind of wanted to replicate that up here. It gives the kids an opportunity to stay off the streets and gives them an outlet to further their careers. We know the percentage of high school athletes that get to go and play in college and get scholarships is less than 4 percent. It is really minimal so every minute and every training session means something.”

Noting that the proposed structure will be modeled after the Philadelphia Eagles Nova Care training center featuring a bubble covered by steel and fabric, Johnson said it will be a multi-purpose facility.

“It will be 350,000 square feet with soccer fields, basketball courts, and pyramid seating so you’ll be able to sit on both sides and watch,” said Johnson.

“It is going to have a full gym and a training room where you will be able to do rehab. It will also have a classroom for tutoring, homework, and SAT preparation. We are not saying that we are only soccer. There will be soccer lines on the fields but we are also open to lacrosse, field hockey, and flag football. We are open to the community for rentals as well.”

In order to jump start fundraising for the project, NLSA is holding its Banquet/Gala on May 19 at Dave and Busters near the Franklin Mills Mall.

“It is called ‘Goals to Gold,’ the ‘goals’ is an acronym for giving objectives to achieve leadership skills,” said Johnson, referring to the function which is open to the public with tickets costing $125 for adults and guests 18 and over and further information available on the organization’s website at www.nextlevelsoccer.net.

The NLSA is also launching another fundraising initiative, “10 Million People Who Care,” in which it is seeking donations of $1 or more from millions of donors.

“We realized at the end of the day that so many people say they care and want to help,” explained Johnson, noting that the club is looking to get the word out through social and mainstream media.

“We decided we could raise money from all of those people. We are looking for 10 million people to donate a dollar essentially. The actual funding is a little more. We figure once we get there; we can bridge it with a bank.”

Johnson sees the NLSA as a bridge between sports and the community.

“At the end of the day you have to sell a product that is going to help the kids and have the kids in mind,” said Johnson, noting that NLSA has been giving back to the community through working at soup kitchens, donating balls to Haiti, doing food and clothing drives and holding a Trenton World Cup day where the organization provided soccer instruction and T-shirts.

“We see a need in the area; we are hoping that people will buy into it and want to donate to us. The kids need to have good facilities.”

Making that vision a reality can help kids achieve their dreams. “We want to grow the game as well as grow the kids in the area; our goal is to do it the right way,” added Johnson, who pointed out that the NLSA will be hosting camps this summer and will be running the Turning Wheels College Showcase Camp from July 8-11 at the Golden Goal Soccer Complex near Lake George in New York.

“We want to help as many kids in the future that we can; hopefully the sooner the better. We have been told it is going to be hard and how are we going to raise this money. There have got to be people in this world that care; we trust the human heart.”

April 25, 2012

STAYING ALIVE: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Cassie Pyle races up the field in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior midfielder Pyle scored four goals to help Princeton top Dartmouth 12-9 as the Tigers stayed alive for a berth in the four-team Ivy League tournament. No. 19 Princeton faces another must-win situation this Wednesday evening when it hosts 15th-ranked Penn (7-5 overall, 5-1 Ivy). A loss by the Tigers would drop them to fifth place and out of the Ivy tourney. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While Cassie Pyle and her teammates on the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team knew they faced a must-win situation when they hosted Dartmouth last Saturday, they didn’t dwell on the big picture.

“We knew we had to win this game; it was a huge game to get into the tournament and just for our team in general,” said senior midfielder Pyle, reflecting on the contest against the No. 7 Big Green which Princeton needed to win to stay alive for a berth in the four-team Ivy League tournament.

“We are better than we have been playing so we really wanted to prove that to ourselves. But the one thing that we didn’t want to do was come in thinking that we had to win and all the negative aspects of that. We just wanted to focus on how big of an opportunity this was for us.”

In the early going, Dartmouth seized opportunity, jumping to a 3-1 lead before the game was six minutes old.

“You are a little bit worried but you stick with your game plan,” said Pyle, reflecting on the early deficit.

“We knew that if we stuck to it we would be good and we didn’t get on each other. We didn’t yell at each other; it was a good feeling all the way around.”

Pyle got the Tigers feeling really good, scoring three goals over the next 10 minutes as Princeton went on a 4-1 run to forge ahead 5-4.

“It was the roll we got on; it really pumped us up and got us excited,” said Pyle.

“I  think better than ever, we really got excited about the little things that people did. We just fed off that.”

The Tigers took a 7-5 lead into halftime and then took care of things after that, posting a 12-9 win in improving to 7-6 overall and 4-2 Ivy.

No. 19 Princeton faces another must-win situation this Wednesday evening when it hosts 15th-ranked Penn (7-5 overall, 5-1 Ivy). A loss by the Tigers would drop them to fifth place and out of the Ivy tourney.

Pyle liked how Princeton responded Saturday down the stretch as it built on the momentum it seized in the first half.

“Our halftime was getting excited about what we did but really focusing on the fact that they could easily come back,” said Pyle, a 5’4 native of Alexandria, Va. who ended up with a team-high four goals on the day.

“They are a great team, they had such an impressive attack and defense and everything. We didn’t want to let them come back. They did get a few goals in the beginning but we wanted to keep pushing and never let up or get timid.”

With only a handful of games left in her career, Pyle is looking to push hard to the end.

“It is definitely sad; I want to have as many games as I can,” said Pyle, who now has a team-high 36 goals this season and a total of 106 in her superb career.

“You definitely want to end the season stronger than when you started it and I definitely think we have a strong possibility of doing that at the end of the day. If we finish the season strong, I will be so happy.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer was happy with the strong performance her team produced in the win over Dartmouth.

“I think it really shows our resilience; we knew our backs were, and will continue to be against the wall,” said Sailer.

“It is clear that we want to get to postseason so you really saw that fight today. In a competitive game, we haven’t really put together goalkeeping, offense, and defense. Today we did that; every single kid stepped up and that is what we needed to beat a very talented Dartmouth team.”

In Sailer’s view, Pyle stepped up in a big way for the Tigers. “Cassie is a competitor too; she did so well,” added Sailer. “She is so quick; she is so hard to defend. She had an awesome day.”

Freshman goalie Annie Woehling had some awesome moments in the win, making nine saves, including several point-blank stops.

“When she is making saves like that, it gives you so much momentum and the team so much confidence,” said Sailer, referring to Woehling, who was later named the Ivy Defensive Player of the Week. “We have got to work on the clears a little bit but I felt she had a great day.”

A pair of freshmen came through on the offensive end as Erin McMunn tallied three goals and two assists while classmate Erin Slifer chipped in two goals and two assists.

“They raised their games, no question,” asserted Sailer, who also got two goals from junior midfielder Charlotte Davis with junior attacker Sam Ellis chipping in one.

“McMunn has always been a feeder but today she comes through with three goals and two assists. She and Slifer played on the same club team so they definitely have that connection. They had some gorgeous goals out there today.”

The Tigers will have to keep making connections in order to beat Penn.

“Penn is an experienced team; they have been in these type of situations a lot of times,” said Sailer.

“They have a great goalie [Emily Leitner]; she is a big kid who takes up a lot of the cage and is really talented. They have got Erin Brennan, who is now a senior. They have players that are able to do some damage, both off the challenge and off the feed. They are always known for their defense.”

In the wake of Princeton’s performance against Dartmouth, Sailer believes her team is up for that challenge.

“If we can play like we played today, I like our chances there,” said Sailer. whose team beat Penn twice last year, prevailing in the regular season and in the Ivy semifinals. “We just gained a ton of confidence and really played smart lacrosse and executed well.”

Pyle, for her part, is confident that the Tigers can execute in a second straight grudge match.

“We are really happy to have these two games at the end because they are such big rivalries; it is so exciting,” said Pyle.

“We are going to try to do the same thing that we did today, not focus on the negative aspects but focus on the opportunities. We need to really ride the momentum from this game and just keep pushing and getting better.”

TOM TERRIFIC: Princeton University men’s lacrosse star Tom Schreiber flings the ball upfield in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore midfielder Schreiber tallied four goals and an assist as Princeton topped Harvard 12-5. The 12th-ranked Tigers, now 9-3 overall and 5-0 in Ivy League play, host No. 7 Cornell, 9-2 overall and 4-1 Ivy, on Saturday night in a pivotal clash. The winner will host the upcoming Ivy tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Chris Bates vowed that he was not going to let his Princeton University men’s lacrosse team look past
Harvard.

But with a showdown against Cornell looming on the horizon, the Princeton head coach wasn’t sure if his players were getting the message as they prepared last week to face the Crimson on Saturday.

“We were not happy with how they practiced; I think they were tight,” said Bates. “Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were average practices. They were a little sloppy; they didn’t execute well.”

But showing that practice performance isn’t necessarily a harbinger of things to come, the Tigers roared out of the gate in Cambridge last Saturday, jumping out to a 5-1 lead after the first quarter and bringing a 7-2 advantage into halftime.

Princeton sophomore star Tom Schreiber scored two goals in the first nine minutes of the contest with freshman Kip Orban adding two more and classmate Mike MacDonald chipping in one as the Tigers seized the momentum in the first quarter.

“I was surprised at how they came out like gangbusters,” said Bates. “We learned that we have to trust these guys to perform when the lights go on. Schreiber got the first two. They came off a couple of broken plays; he sensed the magnitude of the game. Orban got the next two. We scored on six of our first nine possessions.”

Getting the early edge got Princeton into a flow that continued until the final whistle.

“That gives you breathing room; it loosens you up,” said Bates, who got four goals from Schreiber on the day with Orban scoring two and MacDonald, Jeff Froccaro, Forest Sonnenfeldt, Tucker Shanley, Chris White, and Derick Raabe chipping in one apiece. “If we hadn’t gotten off to a start like that, we may have gotten tight like we were in practice.”

With its defense tightening the screws after intermission, the Tigers never looked back, pulling away to a 12-5 win over the Crimson before a crowd of 1,809 at Harvard Stadium.

The victory improved 12th-ranked Princeton to 9-3 overall and 5-0 in Ivy League play, setting up the long-awaited clash against rival Cornell this Saturday night at Class of 1952 Stadium. The No. 7 Big Red, who fell to Brown 10-9 last Saturday, bring a 9-2 overall record and 4-1 Ivy mark into the contest that will be nationally televised on ESPNU. The winner of the showdown will host the upcoming Ivy tournament.

In stifling Harvard, Princeton got a winning effort from senior defender and tri-captain Chad Wiedmaier, who produced a monster game with three caused turnovers, seven ground balls, and one assist.

“Wiedmaier didn’t play particularly well against Harvard last year,” said Bates. “He was playing like a man possessed last Saturday. He was sliding well; he caused turnovers, got ground balls and even got an assist. The defense played well as a whole; it was one of our better games of the year.”

One of the better-kept secrets on Princeton this season has been the play of senior defender Jonathan Meyers.

“Meyers has been in Chad’s shadow; he has had a really solid year and an on-ball defense,” said Bates, of a defense that was anchored superbly again by senior goalie and tri-captain Tyler Fiorito as he recorded 15 saves.

“He is key on the man-down unit; he is a big reason why we are doing well there. He is leading the team in ground balls.”

Sounding a cautionary note, Bates pointed out that Princeton didn’t do well on face-offs in the win over Harvard.

“One area of concern was that we didn’t face off well,” said Bates. “Their guy did a good job. If you had told me that we would be 5-of-21 on face-offs and win by seven, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

As Bates looks ahead to Cornell, he is concerned about the impact of the Big Red’s stunning loss to Brown (6-7 overall, 2-3 Ivy) last weekend.

“Cornell is very good; they got caught against Brown,” noted Bates, whose team clinched a share of the Ivy crown through the combination of its win over Harvard and Cornell’s loss to Brown.

“That could serve to motivate them even more since everything is still on the line for them. We have a share of the title but if we lose to Cornell, it won’t feel too good.”

Princeton would feel very good to be at home for the Ivy tourney which will be held on May 4 and 6.

“Heading into the tournament having beaten Cornell, and being in friendly confines, and having people come to us would be a lift emotionally and psychologically,” said Bates.

Bates acknowledges that Cornell has plenty of people who can pose problems for his squad. The Big Red are averaging 12.45 goals a game and have six players with at least 14 goals.

“Cornell gets scoring from a lot of different players; we expect that [Rob] Pannell may be back,” said Bates, referring to the Big Red senior star who has been sidelined since early March due to a broken foot.

“They have two good offensive midfield lines and an attack that produces. It is easier to prepare for a team that has one or two main scoring threats. They are solid defensively, they play good team defense, some of the best we have seen in a while. It is just a good all-around team.”

The Tigers will need a good all-around effort to overcome Cornell. “We need to face off well; Tyler has to play a Tyler game,” said Bates.

“We need to minimize turnovers and have good decision-making on offense. The defense has been solid; we have been consistent in that area. We know what we are going to get.”

DOUBLE CLICK: Princeton High boys’ tennis first doubles players Kevin Qiu, left, and Adib Zaidi chat between points last week at the Mercer County Tournament. The duo of Qiu and Zaidi took third place in their flight, helping PHS tie Peddie for fifth in the team standings of the 18-school event which took place at Mercer County Park. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Kevin Qiu knew he had to assume the role of mentor in his partnership with freshman Adib Zaidi at first doubles for the Princeton High boys’ tennis team.

Having played two years at doubles for the Little Tigers, Qiu has helped neophyte Zaidi learn the ropes on working in tandem.

“It is tougher because Adib is a singles player so he always feels like he needs to cover everything,” said Qiu.

“When you play doubles, you have got to remember it is not about believing in yourself but believing in each other. You have to trust each other to carry the work and to just play to the best of your abilities.”

Last week at the Mercer County Tournament, the duo showed a lot of ability in the opening rounds, posting two straight-set wins on the way to the semifinals.

Qiu and Zaidi thought they had a good chance to top John Hu and Peter Ku of WW/P-S in the semis.

“Coming in, we really expected to win,” said Qiu. “We practiced new things to try to counter how they play. I had played them last year so we knew to really work on our poaches and volleys. We kept on telling ourselves point by point.”

Unfortunately for Qiu and Zaidi, they didn’t get enough points as they fell 6-3, 6-3 to the WW/P-S pair, who went on to win the title.

Showing their growing trust, Qiu and Zaidi overcame the disappointment from the semis loss to beat Brandon Kumar and Rohan Gupta of Peddie 6-1, 6-4 to take third place.

“We were pretty sad from our South match so we just went in there and told each other to work hard,” recalled Qiu.

“We can get a medal and get points for our team; that was pretty much the mindset going in.”

PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert was happy to see her first doubles tandem fight for that third place medal.

“They have the potential to be a great team; they both have really strong shots and good doubles knowledge,” said Hibbert, whose team ended up in tie for fifth with Peddie in the team standings of the 18-school competition that was won by WW/P-S.

“The key for them is just playing well at the same time; I think these last couple of matches have really helped. They were right there in the semis; it was a real close match. They had some chances that they were unfortunately unable to capitalize on. I was proud of the way they were able to turn it around and still come back and get third today.”

The PHS second doubles pair of freshmen Tyler Hack and Rishab Tanga battled valiantly for third place but came up short as they fell 6-3, 6-2 to Dan Wang and Sanandh Ravu of WW/P-N.

“They fought hard; there were some really long points and some exceptionally long games and they were right there,” said Hibbert.

“They are both freshmen and this is a first experience for them. I am really proud of the way they got through their first round against Peddie; it was a real tough team. They were playing more experienced teams. I think another few matches here the rest of the season and next year they have the potential of doing great things.”

The PHS singles players experienced some frustration as they were knocked out on the first day. Eddie Percarpio fell in the opening round at first singles while Robert Zhao and Julian Edgren were eliminated in the second round at second and third singles, respectively.

“We had some tough matches; we had some tough draws, “ added Hibbert, reflecting on the performance of her singles players.

“The guys all lost to either a No. 1 or 2 seed so there is no shame in that. They put up good fights; sometimes that is all you can ask for.”

In Hibbert’s view, the experience gained at the MCT should toughen PHS for the fights ahead.

“I hope these matches will help us moving forward,” said Hibbert, whose team has a match at Allentown on April 26, hosts Steinert on April 27, and then plays at Ewing on April 30.

“Our doubles will be a little more experienced and our singles will have good competition as well. We start the meat of the season next now; four matches a week and states. It all happens quick.”

Qiu, for his part, believes that he and Zaidi will be even more competitive going forward.

“I think after this tournament, we improved dramatically,” said Qiu. “All that stuff is going to translate well.”

BLACK MAGIC: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse player ­Louie Blackburn heads up the field in recent action. Last week, sophomore midfielder Blackburn scored two fourth quarter goals as PDS edged Hun 9-8. The Panthers, now 4-3, are next in action when they host the Ranney School on April 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team falling behind Hun 8-7 early in the fourth quarter last week, Louie Blackburn decided to take matters into his hands.

Even though the sophomore midfielder had been held scoreless for the first three quarters, Blackburn thought he could make a difference.

“I just told myself that someone had to step up,” recalled Blackburn. “We needed to put a few in the back of the net; we hadn’t been shooting a lot earlier in the game. Our coach [Rob Tuckman] said just ‘get it on net boys and it will go in.’”

Blackburn took those words to heart, scoring with 6:47 left in regulation and then finding the back of the net nearly ninety seconds later in what turned out to be the game winner as PDS pulled out a 9-8 nailbiter.

In reflecting on the rally, Blackburn acknowledged that the Panthers needed to wake up down the stretch.

“I was laying back a little bit; I wasn’t happy with how non-aggressive we were playing as a whole team,” said Blackburn.

“I thought we were letting up a little bit but our coach always tells us to never stop, never let off the gas pedal. We just kept going there and finished strong in the fourth quarter.”

With a season of high school lacrosse under his belt, Blackburn feels he is a stronger player.

“I think I have grown a bit into my own body,” said Blackburn, who also stars for the PDS boys’ hockey team.

“I have been getting mentally stronger which is the most important thing on the field. I have gotten a lot of help from the older guys on the team in stepping up.”

Blackburn has gotten some help from his older brother, Peter, a 2011 PDS grad, who starred in lacrosse and hockey.

“My brother always says the confidence will come as you get older,” said Blackburn.

“Hopefully that is what I have been seeing here in the past couple of games and hopefully it will continue throughout.”

PDS head coach Rob Tuckman liked the confidence his players displayed as they staged their late rally.

“I thought possession was the difference,” said Tuckman. “When we had the ball on our stick and we were on the offensive end, we played well and we played confident. We put it in the back of the net.”

In Tuckman’s view, Blackburn will continue to put more in the net if he keeps getting mentally stronger.

“For Louie, it is all about confidence,” said Tuckman. “If we can get him feeling good, he plays well.”

Having junior star Cody Triolo patrolling the midfield gives Tuckman an additional dose of confidence.

“Cody is solid all the way around; even when they were sliding quick on him, he still managed to be a force on the field,” said Tuckman, whose team ran into a force last Friday as it fell 13-3 to undefeated Somerville to move to 4-3. “He is great to have.”

PDS freshman goalie Griffin Thompson is proving that he has the potential to become something special.

“Griffin had a good second half today; he is coming off injury and he has to get his sea legs,” said Tuckman, who credited senior captain Zac Higgins and junior Derek Bell with spearheading the Panther defense in front of Thompson.

“He is getting there; he is a freshman so the hooting and hollering can get to him at times.”

The Panthers have been getting better as they go through the season.

“I think as we are moving forward, we are playing well,” said Tuckman, whose team hosts Ranney School on April 27.

“We have some adjustments that we have to continue to make but I think, all in all, I feel pretty good about it.”

Blackburn, for his part, feels that PDS can do some good things if it makes those adjustments.

“I always think there is room for improvement; never stop and never accept a loss,” said Blackburn.

“I think if we continue to improve as much as we should, we’ll finish up with a really strong season and record.”

HARD LESSON: Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse head coach Jill Thomas makes a point during her team’s 19-5 loss at Lawrenceville last Thursday. Learning some lessons from that defeat, PDS rebounded to beat George School (Pa.) 13-5 last Saturday and Stuart Country Day 14-5 on Monday. The Panthers, now 7-6, play at Princeton High on April 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After not making much of an impact last spring in her debut season on the Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse team, Lucy Linville decided to do something about it.

“I didn’t play very much freshman year,” said Linville. “I worked really hard in the summer. I went to a lot of clinics and worked on it.”

She supplemented that work by training sessions with older sister and former PDS star, Cammie, now a junior standout for the Lafayette College women’s team.

“Over breaks and when she comes home, we go out and play lacrosse,” said Linville.

Last Saturday, Linville did a pretty good imitation of her older sister, tallying four goals and an assist to help PDS top George School (Pa.) 13-5.

The offensive outburst was critical for Linville and the Panthers as they were looking to bounce back from a deflating 19-5 loss at Lawrenceville two days earlier.

“We had a lot of confidence and the Lawrenceville game really shot us down,” said Linville.

“We have been working so hard in practice, especially yesterday after that loss. We needed to get back.”

In Linville’s view, the Panthers got back in the flow offensively in the win over George.

“It definitely gave me confidence,” said Linville. “I think it gave the whole team confidence because many of our goals did not come from our top scorers and there were a lot of assists.”

PDS head coach Jill Thomas came into the game with a basic message. “I told them today that our goal was one word, ‘rebound,’ and they did,” said Thomas.

The Panthers didn’t waste any time bouncing back, jumping out to a 9-1 halftime lead.

“I  think we were good in transition,” said Thomas, whose team was good again last Monday as it topped Stuart Country Day 14-5 to improve to 7-6.

“There was a lot of communication; a lot of young kids stepped up today. We got out of the gate well. We didn’t even show up on Thursday but we got over it.”

Thomas likes the way Linville has been stepping up. “Lucy is figuring out how to not have those ups and downs and move forward,” added Thomas, who also  got a big day in the win over George from another sophomore as Emma Quigley contributed a goal and two assists.

“She has been more consistent day-to-day-to-day. She made some nice connections on the field today. That’s good because the more people who can put the ball in the net or pass the ball or catch it down low, it only adds to our play on offense.”

The PDS defense was spearhead by the combination of freshman Kirsten Kuzmicz and junior Louise Hutter.

“Kirsten just leads by example; we have her almost playing a center field position,” said Thomas.

“With her getting those interceptions and knocking those balls down, everyone gets a little more confidence watching her. Hutter just reads it; she sees it coming and is there when the ball gets there and is there when the ground ball gets there. We count on her to be the captain of the defense. She stepped up and got more people communicating.”

Thomas is counting on her team to get better and better as it heads down the homestretch.

“We still have a lot of people who are injured and a lot of people who aren’t in game shape yet from injuries,” said Thomas, whose team plays at Princeton High on April 27.

“They are getting the idea of what it means. So if they can keep doing all the little things, I think they’ll be alright.”

In Linville’s view, things will go well for PDS if it can maintain the scoring balance it displayed in the victory over George.

“I think building more confidence and getting everybody in the offense is key,” said Linville.

“I think definitely having people who don’t normally score get in there will help us, the defense doesn’t know who to cover.”

CONSOLATION PRIZE: Hun School boys’ tennis star Chris Seitz hits a forehand last week at the Mercer County Tournament. After absorbing a painful 7-6, 7-6 loss to eventual champion Robbinsville’s Ramy Bekhiet in the first singles semifinal, Seitz bounced back to take third place. The Villanova-bound senior star topped Pennington’s Jerry Jiang 6-2, 6-3 in the third place match held last Wednesday at Mercer County Park. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Chris Seitz ended his final appearance at the Mercer County Tournament with a victory.

But for the Hun School boys’ tennis senior star, the triumph wasn’t the one he wanted as it came in the third-place match at first singles rather than in a championship showdown.

After taking second at first singles in his first three appearances at the MCT, Seitz was primed to end his county run in a blaze of glory with a crown.

Seeded No. 2, Seitz cruised through the opening rounds of the competition on April 16 with two straight-set victories.

In the semifinal last Wednesday, Seitz came up on the short end of a straight-set decision, falling 7-6, 7-6 to Robbinsville’s Ramy Bekhiet, who went on to win the title.

Seitz acknowledged that he had to overcome disappointment as he took the court for the subsequent third-place match against Pennington’s Jerry Jiang.

“It is definitely hard to go out an hour later after that match,” said Seitz. “It was really tough.”

Displaying his mental toughness, Seitz gutted out a 6-2, 6-3 win over Jiang.

“I definitely had to fight through things in the opening set but it was a good match,” said Seitz.

“I think the ball Jerry was giving me was just a lot more friendly than the semis match. I could take it higher and control the points more.”

While Seitz would have liked a higher finish in his county finale, he leaves with some indelible memories of the competition.

“It is still good to do so well at this tournament,” said Seitz, reflecting on his third-place finish.

“I will always remember freshman year, just coming in and taking second. It was so good; the four years were amazing.”

Seitz’s game has shown good improvement over the last four years. “I have definitely gotten a lot stronger,” said Seitz. “I am able to control the points and play defense if I have to.”

Next year, Seitz will test his strength at the college level as he heads to Villanova University where he will compete for the school’s men’s tennis program.

“I really like their business program and the fact that I could play Division I tennis too,” said Seitz, in reflecting on his college decision.

Hun head coach Todd Loffredo liked the way that his senior star took care of business in the third place match.

“I think he was upset because he thinks he let the team down,” said Loffredo, referring to Seitz’s semifinal loss.

“We were happy to see him come out here and play against Jerry, who had a really good match against Kenny Zheng [in the quarterfinals] and then played a really close first set against Michael Song. Chris was ready to play here; he wanted third place.”

Over his Hun career, Seitz showed he could play with the best in the county.

“I remember his first year when he almost beat out [Neil] Karandikar [of Princeton Day School],” said Loffredo.

“I am proud of him. We are both a little disappointed but he did his best and that’s all you can ask.”

In Loffredo’s view, he got all he could ask from his players collectively as the Raiders tied for seventh place in the team standings at the 18-school competition.

“I feel like at the MCT we always hit our stride,” said Loffredo. “The kids have played with each other enough where they are finally used to playing with each other. It is a lot of tennis and they come together as a team and I really like how they support each other. All of them played really well.”

With Hun having produced a 4-2 start in dual match play, Loffredo sees some good tennis ahead for the squad.

“We are going to do our best; we are just looking forward to finishing the season strong,” added Loffredo, whose team has home matches against Rutgers Prep on April 26 and Lawrenceville School on May 1. “Hopefully we can keep a winning record going and keep spirits high.”

Seitz, for his part, believes Hun can produce a spirited finish. “We are doing really well right now,” asserted Seitz.

“We have a lot of confidence going into dual matches and we just have to stay positive. The Prep A will be a good opportunity to finish the season strong.”

CELEBRATION TIME: Hun School girls’ lacrosse star Kate Weeks, right, and Bri Barrett celebrate after a goal in a recent contest. Last Saturday, junior star Weeks scored seven goals to help Hun top Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) 16-4. The Raiders, now 4-3, host the Hill School (Pa.) on April 25 before getting into postseason play. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Kate Weeks is not one to rest on her laurels.

After scoring 61 goals last spring in her sophomore season with the Hun School girls’ lacrosse team and recently committing to Boston College and its women’s lacrosse team, Weeks hasn’t gone on cruise control.

“I just work on every aspect of my game,” said junior midfielder Weeks, who plays for the Ultimate Lacrosse club program and New Jersey’s U19 national tournament team. “I practice, practice, and practice.”

The fruits of Weeks’ labor were on display last Thursday even as Hun lost 21-12 to visiting Peddie. The junior standout scored eight goals, showing some elusive moves and powerful shots from a variety of angles as she tormented the Peddie defense.

Despite being the clear go-to player for the Raiders, Weeks isn’t dwelling on her stats.

“Whatever it takes to win, just do it,” said Weeks, who scored seven goals last Saturday as Hun topped Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) 16-4 in improving to 4-3.

“Whoever gets the goal is whoever gets it. I just want to do what it takes to win the game.”

In the early going against Peddie, it looked like Hun was going to stay in the game against the powerful Falcons.

The Raiders trailed 7-6 with 5:45 left in the first half with Weeks having tallied five to that point.

“I think we started really strong,” said Weeks. “Peddie is a great team. I think we came out and did very well against a hard team.”

The Falcons, though, scored the final two goals of the half and then went on a 9-2 run after halftime. Hun didn’t stop fighting, outscoring Peddie 5-3 over the last eight minutes of the contest.

“I think we played really, really strong, especially over the last three minutes,” said Weeks.

“Our true athletic ability comes out with our double teams and everything. We fought until the end; there was no laziness.”

For Weeks, ending her college search with the decision to attend Boston College isn’t going to make her lazy.

“I just picked the school that I fell in love with but also had a top team,” said Weeks.

“I went with my gut. I got an athletic scholarship and that helped a lot. I basically got down to five from my top 10 and chose from there. Now I am working 10 times harder since I committed.”

Hun head coach Beth Loffredo admires Weeks’ commitment to the game.

“Kate is just so driven and focused,” said Loffredo. “She puts in the work that is required to be as good as she is and she makes people around her better. She makes coaches better.”

Loffredo was hoping that Hun would give Peddie a better game. “I thought we would come out a little bit stronger but I always set my expectations really high, especially for this group,” said Loffredo. “We didn’t adjust well enough or quickly enough. It really hurt us.”

While Hun may not have initially adjusted to the Peddie onslaught, Loffredo was proud of how her team kept battling.

“Even though we were still behind by nine goals, once we get our momentum and we know what works for us, we are hard to stop,” added Loffredo. “A couple more minutes and it could have been a different score.”

Loffredo credits senior defensive star Emily Decicco with making a big difference for the Raiders.

“Emily is one of those people where you get her going and she can can get everybody else going and get that momentum,” said Loffredo.

“It is not easy to be a 17 or an 18 year old kid and trying to be a captain and hold everyone accountable. She is doing a great job. She really makes it clear to them, ‘I am staying positive, we are still in this.’ She does a great job with transition. She is smart; she works hard.”

Hun has the chance to do some great things down the stretch if it can smarter all over the field.

“Going forward, we need to be playing solid through our lowest attacker to our goalie,” said Loffredo, whose team hosts the Hill School (Pa.) on April 25 before getting into postseason play.

“There are just little pieces where we are falling apart. I think when we do come together, we will be a force. I am just waiting for it all to click.”

In Weeks’ view, the Hun players are clicking on and off the field. “We are strongly bonded; we are like a family,” said Weeks.

“You win together, you lose together. We are 10 times better than last year. You have to work hard everyday and that’s what we are going to do.”

ON THE MARK: Hun School boys’ lacrosse player Mark Burke fires the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, senior midfielder and team captain Burke tallied three goals to help Hun top Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) 12-3. The Raiders, now 5-4, play at Peddie on April 26, at South Brunswick on April 28, and at Somerville on May 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Showing some inexperience, the Hun School boys’ lacrosse team found itself trailing Princeton Day School 7-4 in the third quarter last week in the annual meeting between the local rivals.

But with the game seemingly slipping away, the Raiders summoned some youthful energy to make a spirited rally, scoring the last three goals of the period to even the game at 7-7.

Hun forged ahead 8-7 in the first minute of the fourth as Iain Alexandridis found the back of the net. The Raiders, though, never scored again as they dropped a 9-8 nailbiter to PDS.

In assessing the setback, first-year Hun head coach Don Green saw the game as a valuable learning experience.

“We showed tremendous composure; we haven’t been behind and able to come back yet,” said Green, who is using a number of freshmen and sophomores in key roles this spring.

“So the fact that we were able to do that and be competitive in a tight game was great to see. It is building and that is our goal for this year. We want to build for the future, having the seniors help the young guys and start a tradition.”

Green pointed to senior midfielder Mark Burke as a veteran who is really helping the Raiders.

“I have really been impressed with Mark Burke; he has really stepped up as a senior captain and a leader,” asserted Green of Burke, who tallied three goals last Saturday as Hun topped Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) 12-3 to improve to 5-4.

“He is playing as hard as anyone I have ever seen and his leadership is showing through.”

Burly junior midfielder Zach Bicho has been giving Hun some hard work in the critical face-off area.

“Bicho has been dominating the face-offs and making very intelligent decisions with the ball after the face-off,” said Green of Bicho, who contributed four goals in the win over Mercersburg to go with his outstanding face-off work.

“That is keeping us in games and keeping us competitive so what he is doing is invaluable.”

Freshman attacker Brendan Black exemplifies the wave of young stars that are coming up through the ranks for Green’s squad. Black tallied a team-high four goals in the loss to PDS and added a goal and an assist in the victory over Mercersburg.

“Brendan Black is an extremely intelligent lacrosse player; he plays a lot and that is the thing,” added Green, who is getting major contributions from sophomores Matthew Bruno, Cameron Dudeck, and Devin Cheifetz together with freshmen Matteo Favalaro, Jameson DeMarco, and Tucker Stevenson.

“He looks like a freshman because he is tiny. If it weren’t for that, you would think that he is a senior from the way he plays. His field IQ and lacrosse IQ are tremendous. When he is a junior and senior, he is going to be a big-time impact player.”

In Green’s view, the Raiders have the potential to develop into a big-time team.

“We see tremendous progress, leaps and bounds,” said Green, whose team plays at Peddie on April 26, at South Brunswick on April 28, and at Somerville on May 1.

“Right now we are talking about getting over the hump. Some of it is experience in a game like today; it was two teams that were going back and forth. The bottom line is that if we just get a little better in every aspect, we are going to jump over that hump.”

April 18, 2012

ARMOUR PLATED: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Luke Armour fires the ball up the field in a game last season. Junior attacker Armour was on target last Saturday, tallying three goals and an assist to help Princeton top Dartmouth 21-6. No. 13 Princeton, now 8-3 overall and 4-0 Ivy League, plays at Harvard (6-6 overall, 2-2 Ivy) on April 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As a kid, Luke Armour became a fan of the New Jersey Pride of Major League Lacrosse, developing a greater appreciation for the fine points of the game.

“Growing up, I was watching the greats,” said Montclair native Armour.

“I was watching Jesse Hubbard, Jon Hess, and Chris Massey when they played on the Pride.”

Looking to follow in the footsteps of that trio of Princeton lax legends, Armour came to the nearby Lawrenceville School and emerged as a star.

In 2009, he joined the Tiger men’s lax program and was assigned No. 16, the number worn by Hubbard.

For Armour, just donning a Princeton uniform is a dream come true.

“It is extremely special; it is really an honor to be out there,” said Armour. “To wear No. 16 is a total honor.”

Last Saturday, junior attacker Armour brought honor to the Tigers and that No. 16, tallying three goals and an assist as Princeton dismantled Dartmouth 21-6 before a sun-splashed crowd of 1,618 at Class of 1952 Stadium.

While Armour was proud to make a solid contribution as Princeton improved to 8-3 overall and 4-0 Ivy League, he credited his teammates with putting him in a position to succeed.

“To be honest, I think on the goals that I scored, the credit should really go to the guys who set it up,” said the 5’11, 190-pound Armour, who now has six points this year on three goals and three assists and is up to 21 points in his Tiger career with 13 goals and eight assists.

“We had great movement off ball and great ball movement. My goals were the easy part.”

It was great for Armour to be in action as he been hampered by injury this spring.

“I tore my plantar fascia in my right foot,” said Armour, who was sidelined after Princeton’s loss to North Carolina on March 10 and returned to action on April 10 in the Tigers’ 13-4 win over Rutgers.

“I have just been working to get my shape back and get back in the swing of things. I feel really great out there and I think that if I can give us a little boost and some energy on the offensive side that would be great.”

For Armour, that month on the sideline was spent working hard to get back up to speed.

“I took four weeks off,” recalled Armour, noting that his stint Saturday was his first substantial action of the season.

“I was in a boot and I took all the pressure off my foot. Then I started running around and strengthening and doing rehab. Our training staff has been great; now I feel pretty much back to normal. I started practicing a week and a half ago. It has been great to be back with my friends. It was really hard watching from the sidelines, particularly on days like today when it is pristine. It is great to be be back.”

Princeton head coach Chris Bates liked having Armour back. “We have played relatively well offensively and when you are out, it is tough to break a lineup,” said Bates.

“Luke is always ready. He will always let us know he is ready and we appreciate that he wants to play. It was nice for him to come out and put a couple of goals in the back of the net and just get back into the flow.”

After falling behind 1-0 on a goal by former Princeton High standout and Dartmouth sophomore Mike Olentine, the 13th-ranked Tigers got into the offensive flow, outscoring the Big Green 10-1 over the rest of the half.

“It was a pretty slow first quarter in some regards but we possessed the ball well,” said Bates, whose team clinched a spot in the upcoming Ivy League tournament with the win and can host the tourney if it prevails in its April 28 clash against No. 3 Cornell (9-1 overall, 4-0 Ivy).

“On the offensive end, we stayed balanced and poised and didn’t try to do too much too early. We systematically broke down their defense which is what we  wanted to do.”

Against Dartmouth, the Tigers excelled on both fast breaks and extended possessions.

“It is kind of who we want to be,” said Bates, who got three goals and two assists from sophomore star Tim Schreiber with Jeff Froccaro and Mike MacDonald also registering hat tricks.

“We want to take advantage of early offense because that has been very good to us but also be smart and understand the time and tempo. We need to understand how much defense we have played and what risk we are taking with our pass. That was our main thrust of the week and I thought we did a good job of it.”

As it won its second straight game since a 10-9 loss to Syracuse on April 7, Princeton appears to be in good shape to put together an inspired stretch drive which will see it play at Harvard (6-6 overall, 2-2 Ivy) on April 21 before the showdown a week later against Cornell at Class of 1952 Stadium.

“We are still smarting or hurting, I don’t know what the word is, from Syracuse a little bit but the hope is that it can serve as a motivation going forward,” said Bates.

“That is one that we really wanted back but at the end of the day, we control our destiny. We have Harvard. We need to do what we need to do there and then it’s Cornell. We are where we need to be. Our belief is that our best lacrosse is ahead of us so hopefully today was a good step in that direction.”

Armour, for his part, believes the Tigers are heading in the right direction.

“We are really excited for Harvard,” said Armour. “I think the coaches do a great job preparing us each week for the different matchups. Everyday, the focus is on doing what we do and running our system. We think we are in a really great spot right now and we are very confident. We are really looking forward to not only these next two weeks but also the Ivy tournament.”

GREAT BRITTANY: Princeton University women’s water polo player Brittany Zwirner prepares to fire the ball in a recent game. Last Sunday, junior star Zwirner scored the game-winning goal with 2.4 seconds left as Princeton edged Brown 9-8 in the CWPA Southern Division Championship game. The Tigers, now 25-4, will be competing in the Eastern Championships at Brown from April 27-29. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last spring, the Princeton University women’s water polo team developed a penchant for losing the close games.

The Tigers lost four contests by one goal and six by two goals in 2011 on the way to an 18-11 record.

In the first weekend of the 2012 season, the Tigers pulled out a 6-5 win over Colorado State, setting a different tone in the view of longtime head coach Luis Nicolao.

“We got off to a good start,” said Nicolao. “We had a 1-goal win over Colorado State and won some games easily after that; that was a good sign.”

Indeed, the Tigers reeled off 14 wins before a loss to No. 12 San Jose State. Heading into last weekend’s CWPA Southern Division Championships at Bucknell, Princeton stood at 22-4 and ranked 14th nationally.

“We were excited to get to the end of the year,” said Nicolao, reflecting on his team’s mood as it looked ahead to the Southerns and the Eastern Championships to follow. “We are not taking anyone lightly but we are confident.”

Last Saturday, Princeton showed its confidence was justified as it beat George Washington 11-8 and host Bucknell 14-6 in opening day action.

“We came out slow against George Washington but we had a nice second quarter,” said Nicolao.

“Playing Bucknell in their pool was a challenge. We had a lot of girls scoring and the defense played well. We held them to two goals in the second half, you don’t see that too often.”

In the finals, Princeton faced a Brown team it had beaten 18-8 in regular season play. The rematch, though, turned into a nailbiter and Princeton continued its habit of winning the close games this year, edging the Bears 9-8 to win the title.

“Brown is no doubt a quality team; our first game was not a true measure of their team,” said Nicolao. “They play a zone defense and all of our shots were falling that game. On Sunday, the shots weren’t going in.”

Junior star Brittany Zwirner hit the biggest shot for Princeton in the win over Brown, scoring the game-winning goal with 2.4 seconds left. Zwirner finished the game with four goals while sophomore Katie Rigler chipped in three.

“Brittany was out with an injury before; it is important to have her back,” said Nicolao.

“Rigler can dominate; she is a great player. As a sophomore, she has gained more confidence and she realizes she can dominate.”

Longtime coach Nicolao has been taken aback by the dominance his team has shown this spring.

“No doubt, I am surprised,” said Nicolao, who is in his 14th year at the helm of the program.

“I didn’t expect to have only lost four games to this point. We have a lot of depth and lot of balance. We have eight girls who have scored around 30 goals. All year, we have had a nice balance of scoring. If two girls are off, two others will step up.”

That balance paved the way to Princeton’s first Southern crown since 2008 and its seventh overall.

“Any time you get a title, it is great,” said Nicolao, reflecting on the championship. “Our ultimate goal is to win the Easterns and go to the NCAAs.”

In order to achieve that goal in that competition, which is being held at Brown from April 27-29, Princeton will need to tighten things up.

“We have to play really good defense,” said Nicolao. “We are going to see some tough opposition. We can’t rely on offense. If we string together three good defensive games, we have a chance. There are three or four teams that can win.”

GRAND PRIZE: Princeton University baseball player Blake Thomsen takes a cut in recent action. Last Sunday, freshman third baseman Thomsen hit a grand slam homer to help propel Princeton to a 13-7 win over Penn in the finale of a four-game set between the teams. The Tigers, who went 3-1 over the weekend, are now 16-13 overall and 9-3 in Ivy League play. Princeton has a game at St. John’s on April 18 before heading to Columbia for doubleheaders on April 21 and 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After falling in extra innings to visiting Penn in the opening game of a doubleheader last Sunday, Blake Thomsen and his teammates on the Princeton University baseball team were looking to get off to a good start in the nightcap.

“We definitely needed to bounce back strongly and get ourselves going in this tough division,” said freshman third baseman Thomsen.

“Everyone is playing well. Cornell is playing really well; we knew to keep pace with them we had to get back in it.”

With one swing of the bat in the bottom of the first inning, Thomsen helped set a torrid pace for the Tigers, smashing a grand slam over the wall in left center field to give Princeton an 8-1 lead.

The Tigers cruised to a 13-7 win as they improved to 16-13 overall and 9-3 in Ivy League play. In the wake of going 3-1 in the four-game set with Penn, Princeton stands second in the Ivy’s Gehrig Division, trailing Cornell (24-8-1 overall, 10-2 Ivy).

For Thomsen, his grand slam was a matter of anticipation paying off.

“I was just thinking it was a new pitcher and I thought he would try to get ahead with a first pitch fastball,” said Thomsen, a 5’11, 180-pound native of Newport Beach, Calif., recalling the blast. “He did and I was ready for it.”

After getting off to a relatively slow start in his college career, Thomsen was ready for a break-out moment.

“I was in a bit of a slump; I feel like I have my comfort level back at the plate,” said Thomsen, who went 5-for-11 with five RBIs and three runs scored in the four-game set with Penn to raise his batting average to .267.

“I am seeing the ball a little better, I am having some better at-bats. I’d say this weekend is when I really started to feel kind of similar mentally to back when I played high school ball.”

For Thomsen, making the transition from high school ball to college has involved some growing pains.

“The biggest adjustment is that every guy has got something at just a little higher level than high school,” said Thomsen, who now has two homers and 12 RBIs on the season.

“So whether they locate their pitches better or they throw harder, everyone  is tougher. The balls are hit a little harder defensively; there is definitely a pretty sizable jump.”

The Tiger veteran players have helped Thomsen as he makes that jump.

“They have helped me a lot; these guys have been through everything I am going through, whether it be a freshman slump, making a couple of errors, or dealing with a big Ivy weekend,” said Thomsen.

“They have been there, they have done it and they have been really helpful explaining what is going on and all of that.”

Princeton head coach Scott Bradley liked the way his team came back to win the fourth game of the Penn weekend which saw the Tigers sweep the Quakers 7-3 and 4-3 in Saturday’s action.

“We probably got what we deserved this weekend,” said Bradley. “We got some breaks yesterday and then caught some breaks in the first game today and got ourselves back into it. We then caught a couple of bad breaks with the ball that Sammy Mulroy hit in the bottom of the seventh. It was huge for us to come back and win this.”

In Bradley’s view, Thomsen’s grand slam should be a huge confidence builder in his development. “Blake had a good day, he was good in the first game too,” said Bradley.

“We sort of have a spot at third base where we run a few different guys out there. It was big for Blake. We think he is capable of swinging the bat and helping us out offensively and we need that. We have struggled with the bats a little bit.”

Junior Steve Harrington helped the Princeton batting attack over the weekend, going 7-for-16 with six RBIs.

“Stevie, we know, is a very good hitter; he does a lot for us,” asserted Bradley.

“He has a great feel for hitting. He is a squash player so it takes him a little bit longer to get going out of squash. We did the same thing last year; we got him at-bats and got him into it. We played him mostly against righties and then as we got going he started playing more against lefties. He is a very, very good solid college hitter.”

Princeton has to keep playing solid ball if it is to keep pace with Cornell before the teams clash in doubleheaders on April 27 and 29.

“Every weekend is huge,” said Bradley, whose team has doubleheaders at Columbia (14-19 overall 6-6 Ivy) on April 21 and 22.

“Cornell just keeps winning; they are terrific right now so all we can do is go out and just try and win the games that we can. Hopefully, when we go face-to-face with them, we are still in a position where we can control our own destiny.”

Thomsen, for his part, believes that Princeton has to keep in control mentally to be in a position to succeed.

“For the team we just have to come to play every game,” said Thomsen. “We can’t afford mental lapses. Everyone is going to make physical mistakes but we have got to be at our best mentally every game. We can’t take a game off. For me it is the same thing, just keeping concentrated and keeping my approach.”