November 30, 2011
Hun School Football

MAJOR DUDE: Hun School senior football star David Dudeck heads up the field in a game this fall. Dudeck’s heroics at receiver and defensive back helped Hun go 7-1 and win the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title.

When David Dudeck learned last summer that the Hun School football team was bringing in post-graduate star John Loughery to play quarterback, he had every reason to be upset.

After all, Dudeck had been the starting quarterback in 2010 when Hun fell one win short of the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title.

But Dudeck, a stalwart for the Raider program since his freshman season, moved to receiver and went out of his way to get in synch with the strong-armed Loughery.

“When John reached out to us, David said ‘if it would make us better, I will move to wide receiver,’” said Hun head coach Dave Dudeck, recalling his son’s reaction to the situation.

“He and John were working out in the summer; they just connected. They both have a strong work ethic.”

The younger Dudeck provided good work at receiver all fall long, stretching defenses with his speed and route-running and then changing games with his good hands and propensity for coming through in the clutch.

In the Raiders’ showdown with local rival Lawrenceville in early October, the 6’0, 190-pound Dudeck showed how much he meant to the Raiders.

In the first half, Dudeck made touchdown receptions of 20 and 60 yards as Hun built a 21-12 halftime lead. But when Loughery was sidelined for the second half due to a jarring hit late in the second quarter, Dudeck took over at quarterback.

Showing poise and guts, Dudeck triggered the Hun offense with aplomb in the second half, running for two touchdowns and ending up with 117 yards rushing as the Raiders pulled away to a 34-18 triumph.

“John goes down and I get the call; I am ready and I am fully confident that I can lead this team to a win,” said Dudeck, reflecting on his surprise turn at quarterback.

“I think the biggest thing is playing each and every play with confidence. If you do that, it will be a lot better for you.”

In a pivotal 24-17 win over Blair the next week, Dudeck caught a 21-yard TD reception to open the scoring and then made a catch for a critical fourth down conversion to set up the game-winning touchdown.

Dudeck ended the fall in style, making three catches for 106 yards and a touchdown as Hun beat Hill 38-19 to finish with a 7-1 mark and clinch the MAPL crown.

Head coach Dudeck was justifiably proud of what his son gave Hun in his final campaign.

“Honestly, David was a difference maker and go-to guy,” said Dudeck, whose son also starred at defensive back for the Raiders.

“As he went, the team went. He is a special player and special kid. For the last four years, everything was about the program for him.”

For the younger Dudeck, the bonds with the program ran deep this fall. “We have been getting closer and closer each and every day; we are growing as a family which is awesome to see,” said Dudeck, who is considering several Division I programs including Princeton, Navy, and Boston College. “We come out here and work hard.”

For being unselfish as he helped carry the Hun program to a title, David Dudeck is the pick as the Town Topics top male performer of the fall high school season.

Top Female Performer

Coming into the Mercer County Tournament in late September, Princeton Day School girls’ tennis star Samantha Asch had a lot on her shoulders.

The slender junior was the defending champion at first singles and was seeded No. 1 for the 2011 competition at Mercer County Park. In addition, PDS needed Asch to come through if it was to have any chance at the team title in what figured to be a wide-open competition.

“I wasn’t worried about it but it is obviously there,” said Asch, reflecting on the bull’s eye on her back. “I just focused on what I had to do.”

Displaying her unerring groundstrokes and unflappable competitive mentality, Asch breezed through the competition, not dropping a set in winning her second straight first single crown.

“I didn’t really come in with a specific strategy,” said Asch, in assessing her a 6-0, 6-1 win over Sneha Rangu of Hightstown in the title contest.

“I just focused on getting prepared early and moving her around and the rest fell into place.”

For Asch, the icing on the cake came when PDS eked out the MCT team title, edging rival Princeton High by one point, 17.5-16.5.

“We came in the season having lost a bunch of valuable seniors so we didn’t really come in expecting much,” said Asch, who went on to win the state Prep B title at first singles in November.

“We have practiced really hard and everyone is coming in with their game face on and playing well.”

For first-year PDS head coach Ed Tseng, it was a pleasure to watch Asch put on her game face this fall.

“She enjoys it and that is the first thing,” said Tseng of Asch, who has been ranked in the top 15 in the nation among high school juniors

“She enjoys it so she works harder. She works harder so she gets better results. She doesn’t like to miss one day of practice and she practices after practice. With an elite athlete like Samantha, the medals and trophies are the tip of the iceberg.”

Asch, for her part, concurs, attributing her success to that unyielding work ethic.

“It reflects all the hard work I have put in,” added Asch, who estimates that she trains four hours a day in the summer when not playing in tournaments.

“After I come off a hard loss, I always try to bounce right back and come back even harder. I want to come back and practice even harder. I have gotten bigger so my serve has gotten better. I have just tried to clean everything up and cut down on unforced errors.”

Asch’s sensational work on the court this fall makes her the choice as the Town Topics top female performer.

Top Newcomers

With the graduation of star Zaid Smart, the Princeton High boys’ cross country team had a big gap at the top of its lineup entering this fall.

In the early going, PHS head coach John Woodside relied on a tight pack and senior Kevin Ivanov as the Little Tigers showed promise, winning the Group III race at the Passaic County Coaches Invitational.

But in the Shore Coaches Invitational, sophomore newcomer Conor Donahue showed that he could be a frontrunner, taking seventh with a time of 17:10 over the 5k course as PHS won the Varsity C title.

Weeks later at the Mercer County Championships, Donahue set the pace again for PHS, taking 14th individually as the Little Tigers placed fifth in the team standings.

“Donahue battled really hard; he is a guy who put himself out there and really went for it,” said Woodside, reflecting on the county meet.

In early November, Donahue really hit his stride, placing sixth individually in 16:59 over the 3.1 mile course as PHS won the team title at the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional meet at Thompson Park in Jamesburg. It was the program’s first sectional crown since 1986.

Woodside was proud of the progress Donahue made this fall. “Conor is new to cross country; he ran track last spring,” said Woodside. “He is just figuring things out; he is just starting to come into his own. He can be a star.”

For emerging as a star and playing a key role as PHS won its first sectional crown in 25 years, Donahue is the pick as the top male newcomer of the fall.

It didn’t take long for freshman Stefany Soltesz to catch the eye of Pat Trombetta during preseason training for the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team.

“Stefany Soltesz has really impressed me,” said PDS head coach Trombetta, who started four other freshmen this fall, including Kirsten Kuzmicz, Erin Hogan, Kylie Kieffer, and Soltesz’s twin sister, Alexa.

“We are going to have her at starting sweeper as a freshman. That is a lot of responsibility but she hasn’t left the field since we started. She is aggressive.

Once the games started, Soltesz showed a resourcefulness to go with her aggressive mentality.

With Soltesz sparking a stingy defense, the Panthers got off to an 8-2 start, beating the likes of Lawrenceville and Rutgers Prep along the way.

While injuries, including a concussion suffered by Soltesz, derailed the Panthers down the stretch, PDS looks to be a force to be reckoned with in coming seasons.

Trombetta will be depending on Soltesz to patrol the back line as the Panthers look to get back into contention for a state Prep B title.

“Stefany does a great job in the back,” said Trombetta, who guided the program to Prep B crowns in 2008 and 2010.

“She has got a great game sense. She knows when to come up and make a tackle and she knows when to hold back and be a support defender. She plays bigger and older than she is.”

For making an immediate impact in a key position, Soltesz gets the nod as the top female newcomer of the fall season.

Top Coaches

Lacking a go-to scorer, the Princeton High boys’ soccer team struggled to score goals in the early going this fall.

But that didn’t stop PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe’s well-drilled unit from producing a third straight undefeated regular season.

While Sutcliffe wanted better finishing, he brought plenty of confidence into tournament play.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with where we are at,” said Sutcliffe, as the team looked forward to the postseason “We have great spirit in the group. We are in a good place.”

In the the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals against Notre Dame, the Little Tigers displayed that spirit as they fought back from a 1-0 second half deficit to pull out a dramatic 2-1 win on a last-minute goal by Colin Lamb.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys and the poise they showed,” said Sutcliffe, whose team went on to win the MCT crown by edging Pennington 1-0 in the title contest.

“They really had to scramble and put something together to get that tying goal. They believed; we could tell that they believed.”

The team’s belief increased as it produced a glorious run through the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional, outscoring its foes 10-3 on the way to the program’s fourth sectional crown in the last eight year.

PHS’s superb run ended with a 2-0 loss to Timber Creek in the state Group 3 semis and afterward Sutcliffe lauded the contribution of his seniors,

“They gave us all they had and they met the demands of every single game including this one,” said Sutcliffe, whose club ended the fall with a 20-1-2 record and won the CVC Valley Division title to go with its county and sectional titles. “I am so proud of Ben [Davis] and Kyle [Ehrenworth], George [Kusserow], Bruce [Robertson], Ajami [Gikandi], and Kellen [Kenny]. Even though this was the first game we lost all season and we were on the wrong end of it, how much more could you do to meet the demands of the game. They had a great run, just fantastic.”

For getting the most out of his players and guiding PHS to three titles in another fantastic season, Sutcliffe is the choice as the top coach of a male team.

PHS girls’ tennis head coach Sarah Hibbert was cautiously optimistic as she looked ahead to the 2011 campaign.

“I would like to have a better year than last year but there are a lot of strong teams,” said Hibbert, whose lineup featured six seniors and one junior.

“WW/P-N and WW/P-S have reloaded and brought in some good freshmen so we can’t take anything for granted in the county. The seniors all know this is their last year and that we have a great chance to be a very successful team. They need to stay focused and work on keeping in the moment in the matches.”

Bringing an undefeated record in the Mercer County Tournament, PHS suffered bitter disappointment as it missed out on the team title by one point, falling to champion Princeton Day School 17.5-16.5.

As a subdued Hibbert reflected on the setback, she vowed that her team would be a force in the upcoming state tournament.

“I think we definitely played well today, we have the potential to do very well in states,” said Hibbert.

“We just have to keep everyone healthy and playing well. Hopefully we will do good things.”

The Little Tigers ended up doing some very good things in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional, breezing into the finals where they edged Manasquan 3-2.

“It is really nice,” said Hibbert in assessing the program’s first sectional title since 1999.

“It is almost a relief; being so close and never being able to win sectionals. We ran into some strong teams over the years like Moorestown and Holmdel. With Holmdel getting moved out of sectional this year; we thought we had a chance.”

After PHS’s run ended with a 3-2 loss to Montville in the Group 3 state semis, Hibbert tipped her hat to the team’s strong group of seniors which included Sarah Cen, Vinita Su, Helena Ord, Lena Sun, Keely Herring, and Alyssa Taylor.

“Many of this group made varsity as freshmen and they have been staples in the lineup for so long,” said Hibbert, whose team posted a 16-2 record this fall. “It will be hard to lose them. They are leaders, friends, and good people. It is a great group and I will definitely miss them.”

Hibbert’s steadfast leadership in guiding those seniors to the program’s first sectional title in 12 years makes her the pick as the top coach of a female team this fall.

Princeton University Women's Basketball

RESERVE STRENGTH: Princeton University women’s basketball player Megan Bowen drives to the hoop in a game last winter. Junior reserve center Bowen has provided the Tigers with a big spark off the bench, averaging 8.5 points a game and 3.0 rebounds a game. The Tigers, now 6-0, host No. 24 Delaware on December 1 before playing at Maryland-Baltimore County on December 3.

Megan Bowen admits to being a project when she joined the Princeton University women’s basketball team in 2009.

“I came in freshman year and I wasn’t ready for the collegiate level,” said the 6’3 Bowen, a native of Bath, Pa.

“It was a learning process for me. I defend Devona Allgood in practice everyday; that’s naturally going to make you a better player. You can only take Devona’s hook shot in your face so many times until you learn to defend it.”

Bowen rarely left the bench that winter, playing 88 minutes in 20 appearances and scoring 33 points. As a sophomore, Bowen proved she could succeed at the college level, getting into 25 games and tallying 136 points.

“I take pride that I have gotten better to help Devona everyday,” said Bowen. reflecting on her progress. “We need people who are going to challenge our starters. I take pride in coming off the bench and having that energy.”

Last Friday in a 53-44 win over visiting Davidson, Bowen provided a spark in 13 minutes off the bench, scoring six points with two rebounds and an assist.

“I am in my junior year so I know what coach wants; she wants you to bring in energy,” said Bowen.

“I think everyone was trying; it was a great team effort. We pulled out the win so that is what is important. We have to just keep growing from it.”

Bowen and her teammates have put in extra effort to help their growth. “I think it is putting the extra time in with coach [Melanie] Moore,” said Bowen, who is averaging 8.5 points a game.

“You do a lot in practice but coach only really has 2½ hours. Getting the extra time is great, I think our whole team has been doing that. Niveen [Rasheed] has been working on 3-point shots. It wasn’t something that was huge in her game when she came here but she puts in the extra time on the shot.”

Missing some time due to a concussion had Bowen fired up to get back in action against Davidson.

“I had a concussion; I took an elbow to the head in practice,” said Bowen, who was sidelined two games as a result of the injury. “I passed the concussion test this morning and got clearance. The doctor looked at it and I was good to go this afternoon.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart was happy to have Bowen back.

“It was great; she is a competitive kid,” said Banghart of Bowen, who had another strong game Sunday, scoring 10 points with four rebounds and three assists as Princeton topped Rider 75-55 to improve to 6-0.

“She takes a lot of pride in her position and being a spark off the bench. I think her rhythm was a little bit off because she has been out for a week. She has been a big bright spot for our team, for sure.”

Another bright spot for the Tigers has been the return of junior star Niveen Rasheed from a knee injury in last year’s Davidson game that sidelined her for most of last season.

“I think the greatest part about Niveen is that she always plays at that level with that speed, that pace, that desire, that competitive fire,” asserted Banghart of Rasheed who is averaging a team-high 17.7 points per game.

“Whether at practice or a game, it doesn’t matter. She has always been able to change the game on her own very quickly. When you take that away from her, i.e., put her on the bench, she has had to learn the game. She still has that ability to create and change the game instantly but now she understands the game a little bit better so I think she will just continue to get better.”

Utilizing a high pressure approach, the Tigers have gotten better on the defensive end.

“We are way better defensively because we are way better athletically,” maintained Banghart, whose team is giving up just 50.0 points a game and has held foes to 35.2 percent shooting from the floor.

“We are very versatile; we can switch all over the floor, we can trap. These guys have really bought in to being disruptive, both over 94 feet and the quarter court. We challenge every shot, so defensively, we are just giving people fits. If we can buy into that same poise on the offensive end, we’ll be really good.”

With two-time defending Ivy League champion Princeton now getting votes in the ESPN coaches’ poll and Associated Press media poll, the rest of the country is getting the idea that these Tigers are really good.

“I think the neat thing about that is that it shows that other people are taking notice,” said Banghart, whose team has a chance to turn more heads when it hosts No. 24 Delaware on December 1.

“I told them after the Marist game [a 68-51 win] that we are writing our own story with this group. The people in the room are what matters. It would be great for the Ivy League to have a team in the Top 25. It would be great for this team to to be recognized nationally for their efforts.”

Bowen, for her part, believes the Tigers can make an impact on the national scene.

“Coach gave us a hard schedule but we prepared for a hard schedule,” said Bowen.

“It gives you confidence going into Stanford, DePaul, Delaware, and those bigger games. I think a few years ago, this program would have looked at playing Stanford as a nice way to get another game in where you will have a lot of media and a big crowd. Now we are looking at Stanford saying they are a great team but we want to have a chance.”

Princeton University Men's Water Polo

YOUNG BUCH: Princeton University men’s water polo star Kurt Buchbinder fires the ball in a game earlier this season. Sophomore Buchbinder has scored 17 goals this season to help No. 14 Princeton advance to the NCAA Final Four this weekend at Berkeley, Calif.

Even though the Princeton University men’s water polo team dropped five of six games on its annual California swing earlier this season, Luis Nicolao saw signs that his squad could play with the best in the college game.

“We had some competitive games; it helped us a lot,” said head coach Nicolao, whose team beat Long Beach State 8-4 and suffered a pair of two-goal losses to Loyola Marymount and a tight 11-7 defeat to UC Davis. “With the youthfulness of the team, we tried some things.”

Upon its return to New Jersey in early October, the Tigers did plenty of good things as it took second in the Southern Championships and then won the Eastern Championships.

By virtue of taking the Eastern crown, Princeton earned a return engagement to California where it will play in the NCAA Final Four this weekend at Berkeley.

The 14th-ranked Tigers, now 21-9, will play top-seeded and three-time defending national champion USC (22-3) on December 3 in one semifinal with UC San Diego meeting UCLA in the other semifinal.

The winners of the semis will play for the title on Sunday while the losers will face each other in the third-place game.

In order to make it back west, Princeton had to overcome a tough Navy team that beat the Tigers 10-5 in the Southern Championships.

While that result was disappointing, Nicolao wasn’t discouraged. “After watching the video of that game, we saw things we could fix,” said Nicolao.

“One guy scored six goals and we had some mental breakdowns. Coming off that loss, we felt if we were fortunate enough to play Navy in the Easterns, we could do some things to win.”

Nicolao acknowledges that his team was fortunate to edge No. 16 St Francis 13-11 in overtime in the Eastern semis.

“That was a gift; we had no business winning that game,” said Nicolao. “We were down three with three minutes left. Things fell our way. Drew [Hoffenberg] played great; Ben [Dearborn] had a big game in goal. We got some breaks.”

That victory set up the rematch with No. 15 Navy in the Eastern title game. “I always tell the guys that the toughest game is the semis on Saturday night,” said Nicolao.

“The season is on the line. Once you get into finals, anything can happen and you can play your game.”

Princeton was able to play its game as it pulled away to a 10-7 win over the Midshipmen.

“We made sure we had the right matchups,” explained Nicolao, who got three goals in the title game from Hoffenberg with Dearborn making 14 saves.

“We knew the two or three guys that we didn’t want to beat us and we shadowed that side of the pool. We shot the ball well. We got up 2-0, 3-1, and then they tied it at 3-3. We ran off five straight goals. Once you get a three-goal lead, so much changes. You are able to take some chances.”

Seizing the chance to win a second Eastern title in the last three years was special for Nicolao, who is in his 14th season guiding the Tigers.

“It was a great feeling; it is a great group of guys,” said Nicolao. “We had it under control, we were able to enjoy it.”

Nicolao has enjoyed this fall, blending a superb group of precocious freshmen with a core of battle-tested veterans.

Freshmen Hoffenberg (43 goals), Matt Weber (44 goals), Kayj Shannon (35 goals) and Thomas Nelson (28 goals) have made an immediate impact while such veterans as junior Tim Wenzlau (38 goals), senior Mike Helou (28 goals), senior Chris Cottrell (16 goals), junior Tommy Donahue (18 goals) and sophomore Kurt Buchbinder (17 goals) have provided stability.

“The young guys added a little swagger and we have great balance,” said Nicolao.

“We have six guys with around 30 goals. We don’t have to rely on a couple of guys.”

With the Tigers having hosted the NCAAs in 2009 and edging Loyola Marymount 6-5 in the third-place game, Princeton does have some national tournament experience upon which to rely.

“We talked about that,” said Nicolao, referring to the 2009 tourney. “The juniors and seniors have played in this; they know what this is like. We have nothing to lose; we want to show our stuff.”

As the Tigers look to thrive on their second trip to California, Nicolao is planning to use the blueprint that former Princeton men’s basketball coach Pete Carril perfected to bedevil foes on the national stage.

“We need to take care of the ball,” said Nicolao. “We can’t make turnovers or let them get on fastbreaks. We have to keep it 6-on-6. We can’t get into a shootout. We have to control the tempo and slow the game down.”