February 29, 2012

UPLIFTING START: Princeton University men’s lacrosse players Mike MacDonald (No. 26) and Tom Schreiber, second from left, lead the celebration after a goal last Saturday in Princeton’s season-opening 12-6 win over Hofstra. Freshman attacker MacDonald scored three goals in his college debut while sophomore star Schreiber tallied a career-high seven points on three goals and four assists. MacDonald was later named the Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Week along with Brown’s Nick Piroli while Schreiber was chosen as the Ivy Player of the Week. In upcoming action, No. 11 Princeton hosts second-ranked Johns Hopkins on March 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last spring, Tom Schreiber became the first freshman to lead the Princeton University men’ lacrosse team in both goals and assists.

But while Schreiber earned Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors for his production as he scored 29 points on 16 goals and 13 assists, he didn’t get a lot of help as the Tigers stumbled to a 4-8 record.

Last Saturday in the 2012 season opener against visiting Hofstra, Schreiber again triggered the Tiger offense, scoring a career-high seven points on three goals and four assists.

But this time, the 6’0, 190-pound sophomore got plenty of help as the Tigers pulled away to a 12-6 victory over the Pride as Princeton christened its new Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium before a crowd of 1,222.

Schreiber certainly noticed a difference from last year. “We flowed a lot better; everybody was in the right spots,” said Schreiber, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for his performance.

“Guys were breaking off ground balls. We were getting transition goals. It was a team effort and things went our way finally. We had a lot of assisted goals today. Everyone was moving out there and everyone is moving the ball. It doesn’t matter who is putting it in the net; we are  just happy to put 12 goals on the board.”

Schreiber helped get things flowing for the Tigers as he saw time at attack and in the midfield.

“Like any other player, you love being out there, “ said Schreiber, reflecting on his dual role.

“I did that a little bit in high school; I didn‘t come off the field much. If I can keep in good enough shape, hopefully I can continue to do it and get a lot of looks.”

Over the offseason, Schreiber worked hard to refine the game he showed during his freshman campaign.

“Shooting is one thing I worked on a lot; I struggled with that a little bit today,” said Schreiber. “And just like anybody else, I worked on getting stronger and faster.”

Freshman attacker Mike MacDonald credited Schreiber with being a catalyst of Princeton’s strong effort in the opener.

“Tom Schreiber stepped up and put some in the net,” said MacDonald, who scored three goals in his college debut and was named the Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Week along with Brown’s Nick Piroli. “He kept us calm and kept us going.”

In MacDonald’s view, the offensive effort Saturday is a harbinger of things to come.

“It is still early but I think our offense is going to click,” said MacDonald, a native of Georgetown, Ontario, who starred at Trinity Pawling.

“We have a new system under coach Bates [Princeton head coach Chris Bates] here. We are all working hard everyday with it in practice and I think it is going to go really well.”

MacDonald admitted that it took a while for him to get his game going in his first taste of college action.

“I was a little bit nervous going in there; I threw a couple of balls away at the start,” said MacDonald.

“There were a couple of guys who helped me through it and calmed me down. Coach Bates trusted me and left me out there even when I threw balls away. I think when the nerves calmed down a little bit, it went my way.”

Princeton head coach Bates trusted his offense to fire away. “We talk a lot about generating shots,” said Bates, whose team outshot the Pride 39-20 on the day.

“At halftime we have 17 or 19 shots. We are like OK because that is how an offense gets a rhythm. We backed up the cage and shot it relatively well.”

With Princeton coming off a rough season and having played unevenly in preseason scrimmages this year, Bates was looking to see some fire in his players.

“I saw the emotion; it started with face-offs and ground ball stats,” said Bates, whose squad won 13-of-22 face-offs and had a 28-19 edge in ground balls.

“If we are going to shoot the ball 39 times and out-face-off and out- ground ball teams, we are going to be very good. Defensively I thought we were OK, that will be a work in progress. I think we learned that when the lights go on, we have got some guys who can play.”

There is no question that Schreiber has emerged as a prime-time player for the Tigers.

“Tom is going to make plays but he is going to make other people around him better,” said Bates.

“He is a kid who wants the ball on his stick. At attack, when Michael Grossman had played down there with Jeff Froccaro and Mike MacDonald, you don’t have a real quarterback. With Tom back there a little bit, he is going to get the ball in transition and settle everybody down.”

In Bates’s view, the win should have a settling effect on a program that had its confidence shaken in 2011.

“It is huge; it is relief in some ways,” said Bates, whose team is ranked No. 11 in this week’s Inside Lacrosse media poll and will face No. 2 Johns Hopkins on March 2.

“It is the first one so you just don’t know. You watch us play last week and you think we are OK. You just aren’t sure what you are going to get when the curtain comes up. I thought the energy was really good. We played through mistakes. It was a good way for us to start; it gives them  some validation for hard work. It has been  a lot in the off season and for them to just come and get off on the right foot is a nice relief.”

Schreiber, for his part, believes Princeton is headed in the right direction.

“The coaches just keep pushing us; we did a lot of shooting,” said Schreiber. “We finally got the offense going, we got our confidence up. Once we start scoring early, we got a little momentum.”

PIVOTAL POINT: Princeton University men’s squash player ­Kelly Shannon goes after the ball in recent action. Senior star Shannon battled through injury to help Princeton edge Trinity 5-4 two weeks ago in the College Squash Association (CSA) national team championship, ending Trinity’s 13-year run as national champion. Shannon, playing at No. 4, won his match to break a 4-all tie and clinch the crown for Princeton. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

After dealing with a series of injuries over the first three years of his career with the Princeton University men’s squash teams, Kelly Shannon reached the breaking point last winter.

“I was very close to quitting,” said Shannon, who had hurt his back as a freshman and then dealt with a nagging hip problem the next two seasons.

“I went into coach’s office and told him I was not having fun doing this. I was not part of the team, I couldn’t go back to dinner with the other players because I was always rehabbing and icing.”

Shannon decided to stick it out and that turned out to be a fortuitous decision for the Tiger program and squash history.

After returning for his senior campaign this winter and battling through more injuries, Shannon recorded the victory that took down a dynasty, winning the final match as Princeton edged perennial champion Trinity 5-4 in the College Squash Association (CSA) national team championship, ending the Bantams’ 13-year title run.

As Shannon and his teammates gathered before the final at Jadwin Gym on February 19, there was a sense of confidence among the Tigers.

“It was a pretty electric atmosphere; we were all ready, playing music in the locker room and making jokes,” said Shannon, a native of Calgary, Alberta who plays at No. 4 for the Tigers.

“In the past we felt we had the talent to win; we thought we had five wins in us if everything fell into place but we didn’t get ourselves in position to do it. Our win at Harvard in the regular season was huge. We built from there; we were on fire at the end. The biggest difference is that we felt like we earned it, not just waiting for it to happen.”

Even though Princeton was down 4-2 when Shannon took the court for his match against Trinity’s Reinhold Hergeth, he had a feeling that things would turn out OK.

“I actually thought it might go that way,” said Shannon, who was joined in the final shift by teammates Todd Harrity at No. 1 and Dylan Ward at No. 7.

“The biggest mismatches for us were in the final shift, matches that I thought would go our way the majority of the time. I was still nervous but confident.”

Shannon had to work through some nerves in pulling out the first game of his match.

“I came out, the crowd was crazy and the new ball was flying,” recalled Shannon, who fell behind early before rallying to a 13-11 win in game one.

“It was tough to settle in right away. I relied on my match experience. I got into my zone; I was playing my game.

After taking the second game 11-8, Shannon hit a rough patch in the next game.

“I go up 5-0 and then he fights back to 5-5,” said Shannon. “I was getting a little nervous; he made me work hard. He was starting to hit the wall, I didn’t have to do anything special, just tighten up my game.”

As Shannon pulled ahead, he didn’t want to get tighter and tried to take his mind off the gravity of the situation.

“I had in the back of my mind that it was the last match but I wanted to block that out,” said Shannon.

“I blocked it out intentionally but when I saw people come over from Todd’s match, I kind of knew what was going on.”

When Shannon prevailed 11-9 to win the match and the elusive title, he didn’t know quite how to react.

“It was so surreal, I thought I would celebrate more,” said Shannon, who had won his match in the epic 2009 CSA final which saw Princeton drop a 5-4 heartbreaker to Trinity.

“I felt like a weight was lifted. We had talked about this for years. It was hanging over the squash world for 13 years. Now I can breathe again, I wanted it so bad.”

For Shannon, the win made his struggles worthwhile. “I have had a tough college career; I have had hip injuries the previous two years,” said Shannon, who will end his college career this weekend by competing in the CSA individual championships at Amherst College.

“I then had a shoulder injury in the fall and twisted my ankle when I got back from that. I found a routine to keep the hip injury calm. What is key for me is feeling comfortable, getting my timing back, and playing my game.”

Longtime Princeton head coach Bob Callahan was comfortable having the title match resting on Shannon’s shoulders.

“I couldn’t think of another guy I would want out there other than Shannon when it was 4-all,” asserted Callahan, who is in his 30th season at the helm of the Princeton program and last led the Tigers to the national crown in 1993.

“This year, he was all about the team. He cared so deeply; he called me everyday and said what could I do to help the team.”

The win over Trinity touched past and present Princeton team members.

“I got 500 e-mails the next day,” said Callahan. “The former players were so happy, they had been saddled with the losses to Trinity. Mauricio Sanchez (former Tiger star and 2009 Princeton alum) sent me an e-mail, saying it was the happiest day of his life. I think it is wonderful for the program and wonderful for the kids. We had nine competitors, everyone won at least two matches in the tournament.

Like Shannon, Callahan wasn’t sure how to celebrate after the win. “I wouldn’t allow myself to breathe until the last point,” said Callahan. “It was not elation, it was a relief. I could exhale after all these years. Paul [Trinity coach Paul Assaiante] was the first guy to come and give me a hug.”

Callahan has gained a lot of affection for his championship squad. “They showed guts all season and a belief that they could make it happen,” said Callahan, who credited Shannon and classmates Chris Callis, Clay Blackiston, and David Pena with providing inspired senior leadership.

“On one Sunday in 2012, things came together for a bunch of good kids who had been working hard for a long time. They brightened the lives of former Princeton players and supporters.”

The championship campaign has left Shannon with memories that will last for a long time.

“I will never forget this year’s team, not because we won but because we went through so much together,” said Shannon.

“Chris Callis and I were the senior captains and we were going to whip the team into shape but once you get down to it we couldn’t do everything because of schedules and people missing practices. We did do as much as we could. We had mandatory runs for the first time; we did lots of track work and did some tough fitness stuff. We got through the whole thing as a team. Different people stepped up at different times. We came together as a team. The chemistry was there and that is what made the difference.”

SLINGSHOT: Princeton University women’s hockey player Denna Laing heads up the ice in recent action. After spending much of last week in a sling due to a collarbone injury, sophomore forward Laing came up big as the seventh-seeded Tigers faced second-seeded Harvard in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals over the weekend, tallying two goals and an assist in the series. Laing’s heroics, though, weren’t enough as the Tigers fell 5-3 on Friday and 4-3 in overtime the next day to finish the season at 12-15-4 overall. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Denna Laing personified the grit that is a hallmark of the Princeton University women’s hockey team when the Tigers played at Harvard last weekend in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals.

Playing through several injuries, Laing tallied two goals and an assist in the matchup between seventh-seeded Princeton and the No. 2 Crimson.

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal admired Laing’s courageous effort. “I give Denna a lot of credit; she was banged up with a couple of bad ribs and then she hurt her collarbone in practice,” said Kampersal.

“She was in a sling most of the week and then comes out and plays like that. She is a pretty tough kid.”

While Princeton showed its toughness in the series, it wasn’t enough as the Tigers dropped two nailbiters to get knocked out of the playoffs and end the season at 12-15-4 overall.

In the opener on Friday, the Tigers battled back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 to tie the game at 3-3 early in the third period only to lose 5-3. A day later, Princeton scored a goal with 1:04 left in regulation to knot the game at 3-3 and force overtime. But the Crimson found the back of the net 17:59 onto the extra session to win the game and the series.

Kampersal was proud of his team’s pluck. “We didn’t start off well and that was a bummer,” said Kampersal, noting that the Tigers found themselves trailing 2-0 after the first period of the opener.

“We played five strong periods after that and stormed back in both games. The kids did a really good job; I think we put a scare into them.”

The Tigers, though, couldn’t close the deal when they had the Crimson on the ropes.

“On one hand, I think we deserved better,” said Kampersal. “But when we had chances to put them away, we didn’t hammer the nail into the coffin. In the overtime, we had three golden opportunities and didn’t score. They had two and they scored on their second.”

For Kampersal, the finality of the loss was heartbreaking. “It is tough this year with the quality of the kids in the locker room,” said Kampersal. “You don’t want it to end. You feel a void the next day and then you have to start to pick up the pieces.”

Over the course of the winter, Princeton pieced together things under trying circumstances.

“I am proud of the way we played this season,” asserted Kampersal. “We were shorthanded the whole year. We played 13 skaters in some games and 14 in others. The kids were resilient. They were flexible with changing positions; everyone contributed.”

The team’s group of seniors certainly made a major contribution this season and over their careers. “The seniors brought a lot of heart and soul; they leave a big void for leadership and as players they really helped us out,” said Kampersal of his Class of 2012 which includes Ann-Marie Elvin, Julie Johnson, Heather Landry, co-captain Charissa Stadnyk, co-captain Paula Romanchuk, Danielle DiCesare, and Rachel Weber.

Going forward, the Tigers
will have a different look without those seniors. “I didn’t have to do a ton of coaching; they were an experienced group,” said Kampersal, who was recently named to serve as the head coach of the U.S. Under-18 women’s national team.

“We will have a younger group next year; we will spend more time on the basics.”

In Kampersal’s view, those younger players have the potential to give Princeton’s foes a hard time.

“If the sophomores have a good summer and stay healthy, they can be a dominant group,” asserted Kampersal.

“We need to get stronger physically; we knocked off the puck at times. We really need to make a commitment to the off-ice training.”

While the result last weekend was disappointing, the Tigers achieved one of their main goals coming into the campaign.

“We said at the beginning of the year that we were not going to worry about results as much this season and worry more about effort and giving your best everyday,” said Kampersal. “If you do that, you can leave the room with your head held high.”

As the Princeton players left Cambridge last weekend, they had every reason to hold their heads high.

ONE-TWO PUNCH: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Matt Kuhlik, right, enjoys a break with classmate Derek Colaizzo last Sunday as PHS topped Scotch Plains-Fanwood 109-61 in the state Public B championship meet. Kuhlik and Colaizzo dominated the sprint events at the meet. In the 50 freestyle, Colaizzo was first while Kuhlik took second. Kuhlik then placed first in the 100 free with Colaizzo coming in third. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The celebration started early for the Princeton High boys’ swimming team as it faced Scotch Plains-Fanwood last Sunday afternoon in the state Public B championship meet.

After PHS senior stars Victor Honore and Addison Hebert finished 1-2 in the 100-yard butterfly, the two classmates chest-bumped on the deck of The College of New Jersey Aquatics Center and let out shouts of joy.

Above them in the jam-packed balcony, the Little Tiger supporters started rhythmically chanting “P-H-S, P-H-S, P-H-S.”

Although there were still six events left in the meet, PHS already led 47-31 and the rout was on.

The Little Tigers went on to produce a performance for the ages that won’t soon be forgotten, rolling to a 109-61 victory to earn the program’s first state title and cap a 17-0 season.

In the process, PHS swimmers won nine of 11 events and set eight school records.

The new bests came in the 200 medley relay (1:35.89, produced by Will Stange, Colburn Yu, Victor Honore, and Derek Colaizzo), 200 individual medley (Addison Hebert, 1:56.53), 50 freestyle (Colaizzo, 21.12), 100 butterfly (Honore, 49.79), 100 free (Matt Kuhlik, 46.93), 500 free (Peter Kalibat, 4:38.83), 200 free relay (Colaizzo, Hebert, Harun Filipovic, and Kuhlik, 1:28.85), and the 100 breaststroke (Yu, 1:00.16).

Senior standout Kuhlik was taken aback by the team’s dominance. “I was really surprised, that is the only way to put it,” said Kuhlik, noting that PHS had lost 90-80 to Scotch Plains in last year’s B final.

“We were coming in here thinking that it was going to be a really close meet. They swam well but we just basically had the best swims we could possibly have. I thought we went fast Tuesday (beating Summit 104-66 in the Public B semis) but this was a whole other level.”

Sprint specialist Kuhlik produced two of the more blazing efforts, taking second in the 50 freestyle just behind classmate Derek Colaizzo and then winning the 100 free.

“My 50 free really got me excited because I had my best time there,” said Kuhlik, who clocked a 21.47 time in the 50 before coming up with a 46.93 effort in his victory in the 100.

“I was going into the 100 free trying to beat Joe Dunn, knowing how fast he is. I felt amazing during my swim and had my best swim there too.”

In Kuhlik’s view, this year was PHS’s time to finally be the best. “Going into the year, the expectations were really high obviously,” said Kuhlik.

“I think we definitely wanted to make it back. Obviously this is the seniors’ last chance to win and we really wanted to win it. This is probably one of the best teams that we are going to have for a while because we will be graduating a lot of seniors. We have other good swimmers but we are going to be a pretty young team next year. I think they will do well but this was our year to win it here.”

Kuhlik and his classmates have developed bonds as they pursued their goal of a state title.

“We are all really good friends; we push each other to go faster,” said Kuhlik, whose fellow seniors include Jacques Bazile and Harun Filipovic in addition to Colaizzo, Hebert, and Honore.

“I can remember being freshmen and we were all really excited because we did well and won sectionals or whatever. We have really grown as a group together. It is going to be pretty sad losing all these guys next year.”

One of the team’s good young swimmers, sophomore star Will Stange, said the seniors have helped the team grow into something special.

“It is a good competition between the seniors and the rest of the team because they push us and we push them,” said Stange, who posted a victory in the 100 backstroke and took third in the 200 free. “It just works out well, it is constructive. We just get each other faster.”

PHS head coach Greg Hand, for his part, was stunned by the speed displayed by his swimmers on Sunday.

“I think everybody was surprised by each other’s performance today,” said Hand.

“Certainly they did give their best when it was needed. I guess if you boil it down, that is the most important thing. The most surprising thing was just how fast they were today and so I am always going to remember that. Coaches are extremely lucky to get a team that came together like this over the last two years. There was a huge amount of good fortune just having a constellation of guys like this together at the same time.”

Hand had the sense that his squad was building toward an explosive effort.

“They really did pull together as a unit over the last few weeks,” said Hand.

“You could see it everyday, just the way the seniors were getting more involved with taking care of the younger guys. People were taking the idea seriously that if you were going to have a chance for the championship, we would all have to be on the same page.”

The fact that the seniors wrote such a historic final chapter was especially heartening for Hand.

“I couldn’t be more happy for them,” said Hand. “I thought a couple of times recently that they would know later on in their lives, even if they had lost today, that they had earned two state finals and performed really well and they had something to be proud of right there. Everybody knows just how great it feels to be the champion; I am so glad that they could have it.”

Coming into the rematch with Scotch Plains, Hand had the feeling that it was going to be a close meet.

“There didn’t seem to be any reason to switch up much from the Summit meet, the matchups seemed fine,” said Hand.

“We certainly got more points than we thought we would but that was because, as a lot of kids said during the meet, they were swimming out of their mind. It is an overused phrase, I am sure, but I haven’t seen many things like it.”

Kuhlik, for his part, was thrilled to see his PHS career end on such a high note.

“It is a great way to end it because every year, I think we have gotten  better,” said Kuhlik, who will be swimming next year at Emory University.

“Last year, it was special just to be in the state final because we weren’t expected to be that good and this year we came in with really high expectations so this was just a great way to end it. I couldn’t think of a better way to end my senior year than winning the state championship.”

SAVING TIME: Princeton High boys’ hockey goalie Josh Berger gloves a save in a recent game. Last Monday, senior netminder Berger made 24 saves to help 16th seeded PHS top No. 17 Rumson-Fair Haven 4-2 in the first round of the state Public B tournament. The win advanced the Little Tigers, now 15-6-2, to a second round contest at top-seeded Kinnelon (17-7) on March 1 at the Skylands Ice World in Stockholm. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Senior goalie Josh Berger didn’t want his time with the Princeton High boys’ hockey team to end last Monday when the Little Tigers hosted Rumson-Fair Haven in the first round of the state Public B tournament.

“This high school career has been really good to me,” said Berger. “Personally, this team means a lot; it is a really special experience. As a senior, you want it to keep going; you don’t want to go home.”

Instead, Berger helped make sure that Rumson went home, recording 24 saves as 16th-seeded PHS won 4-2 over the No. 17 Bulldogs at the Mercer County Park rink.

The win advanced the Little Tigers, now 15-6-2, to a second round contest at top-seeded Kinnelon (17-7) on March 1 at the Skylands Ice World in Stockholm.

Berger knew that it wasn’t going to be easy to subdue Rumson. “The shore teams are always gritty,” said Berger. “They are aggressive and fast. We were relieved to stick right with them, play smart hockey, and get the win.”

Some big first period saves by Berger helped set the tone of the contest. “I got off to a good start and made some lucky saves,” said Berger. “I got into a groove and just focused on the next shot after the next and just keeping them out and doing my job.”

The savvy Berger seems to do his job best when the post-season rolls around.

“I think February so far has presented itself with some ups and downs but I always look forward to the postseason,” said Berger.

“It is very exciting for me as a goaltender. I am really just anxious to prove myself a little more before I take my leave.”

In the view of PHS head coach Tim Campbell, Berger has proven himself to be a clutch performer.

“Josh is a postseason goalie, he really is,” asserted Campbell. “There is no question that he is a little inconsistent during the regular season but he finds his game in the postseason. He was a difference maker today. Late in that second period, if they would have tied it up, I think that would have taken a lot of momentum out of our game.”

The Little Tigers had to employ a physical game to hold off the Bulldogs. “We know now after this that we can be physical and that is all it takes, just one experience,” said Campbell, who got two goals and two assists from sophomore Mike Wasson as PHS overcame an early 1-0 deficit to post the win.

“I told them at intermission that these are the fun games. It is a physical, big boy game. We are not necessarily used to that but now we know that we are capable of bringing that part of the game. It is a lot of fun. If you are a teenage kids there is nothing more fun than going out and banging each other on an ice rink. It is good experience.”

It has been a rewarding experience for Campbell to guide his trio of seniors, Berger and forwards Will Greenberg and Kirby Peck.

“There are only three of them and they are so tight and such a close knit group,” said Campbell, who got a goal and two assists from Greenberg in the win over Rumson with Peck contributing an assist. “They want to play just a little more hockey and I want to coach just a little more hockey.”

PHS will have to play its best hockey of the season if it is to overcome the
challenge posed by powerful Kinnelon.

“What do you say, it is Kinnelon, it is the No. 1 seeded team in the state,” said Campbell.

“Honestly, and I mean this sincerely, I am looking forward to it and playing the best team in Public B. If you are going to go out, what better way to go out, not that I am expecting to go out. But if we do if we get bounced by the No. 1 team, I won’t lose any sleep over that. It is one of those no-pressure situations and I don’t mind them one bit.”

Berger, for his part, is primed for that situation. “I love playing as the underdog and really putting all the pressure on them,” said Berger.

“We can match ourselves up against them; they are a really top team in New Jersey. We will just play with heart.”

WARDING OFF: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey goalie Walker Ward makes a save last week in PDS’s season-ending 3-1 win over Malvern Prep (Pa.). Senior Ward came up big in his finale, making 24 saves as the Panthers ended the winter with an 18-5-1 record. (Photo by Rob Klein)

As goalie Walker Ward enjoyed being one of the three players honored at the Senior Ceremony last week for the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team, he got in a reflective mood.

“It was sort of surreal; my whole high school career flashed in front of my eyes,” said goalie Ward, who was feted along with classmates Garrett Jensen and Tyler Olsson.

“I was remembering back to freshman year when I was a forward and coming up to now being in goal. It has been such a journey; I have grown so much from it. Hockey has really made me a better person. Not always getting the start and being injured, this has taught me that you have to stay mentally strong and always stick with it.”

Having been sidelined for seven weeks due to injury, Ward got to demonstrate that mental strength, getting the start in the team’s finale against Malvern Prep (Pa.) on February 21.

“Coming off the injury I was so excited,” said Ward. “I was so ready to get back in the net because I haven’t played since January 3. The guys were so supportive and they made it that much easier on me.”

Ward, in turn, certainly provided some good support for the Panthers between the pipes, making 24 saves as PDS skated to a 3-1 victory over the Friars.

Looking sharp from the start of the game, Ward had a good rhythm throughout the contest.

“Making the early saves got me some confidence,” said Ward. “The third period I started getting really energetic. I was skating back and forth to the board. With us putting the puck in the net a couple of more times, I just got more confident. I knew that I could keep us in the game if we had a two-goal lead so I wasn’t worried.”

The win gave the Panthers a final record of 18-5-1, as they ended the season by winning three straight games after suffering a disappointing 4-3 loss to Pingry in the state Prep semifinals.

In Ward’s view, PDS’s strong finish speaks volumes about the team’s character.

“I think the fact that we lost that game and came back and won the last three games of the season shows who we are as a team,” asserted Ward.

“We could have given up and said the season is done, these are three random games. But we stuck with it and did it for each other. We ended up with a great record and we are really happy with how it came out.”

PDS head coach Scott Bertoli was happy to see Ward come up big in his finale.

“Unfortunately Walker didn’t get in as many games this year because he has been hurt since the second week of January,” said Bertoli.

“But the kid competes and he wants to be out there. We talked about it yesterday. I wondered about him not playing for several weeks and was that going to be something that was going to hold him back but he felt confident, he knew he could do the job. It was great for him to go out with that type of experience and feel good about himself.”

For Bertoli, coaching his trio of seniors has been an uplifting experience. “I could have gone on and on about those three; in my mind, they epitomize what we are trying to do here,” said Bertoli.

“They are first rate student athletes, they have all matriculated from the PDS middle school so PDS hockey has been in their blood for a long time. I am sure if you asked each of them; this is what they wanted to do. They have aspired to play varsity hockey at PDS and they have been fortunate enough to do it for four years here and they have really watched the transformation of this program over the course of the four years.”

Bertoli credits Jensen with being a catalyst of that transformation. “It starts with Garrett, I could have told you after watching him skate two or three times his freshman year that that kid was going to be a captain senior year,” said Bertoli.

“He is everything you want in a team player and especially in a captain. The kid leaves it on the ice every single game. You never have to worry about what kind of effort that kid is going to bring. He is fearless.”

In assessing Olsson, Bertoli noted that he struck fear into PDS’s foes.

“Tyler has really been the rock of that defensive corps this year; he is a physical presence out there,” added Bertoli.

“I think what I am most proud of with him is that he was able to mold his game to his strengths. We wanted to play up-tempo and that is not one of his strengths but it didn’t hold him back. He was able to do things and he was able to transition in the neutral zone. I think he really figured out how to play both his game and the game that we wanted to play as a team.”

The win over Malvern Prep was icing on the cake for the Panthers. “I told the team yesterday at practice that you have already defined the season in my mind,” said Bertoli.

“It has been a great year, you have done things that no one has done in a long time and this is just how you are going to end your season. Are you going to end it on a high note and go out and have a good feeling or are you going to have a little sense of disappointment. Had we not won this game, we would have gotten over it. It wasn’t going to define who we were.”

In Bertoli’s view, consistency defined this year’s team. “Last year was a good team; we won a lot of big games but we lost a lot of bad games,” noted Bertoli.

“This team was steady and gave a good effort from start to finish. It was one bad period against Pingry which took away a near perfect season. We were consistent with strong effort, day after day, game after game.”

Ward, for his part, relished the daily interaction with his teammates.

“The environment in the locker room, that is the one thing I will always remember,” said Ward, who is heading to Hobart where he plans to walk on to the men’s hockey team.

“A win is a win and whoever loses, loses. But in there is where the family really is; we are all in there together, talking about everything.”

PARIS SHOW: Princeton Day School boys’ basketball head coach Paris McLean energetically instructs his players last Wednesday evening as they played Rutgers Prep in the state Prep B title game. Although fourth-seeded PDS fell 72-30 to the second-seeded Argonauts, McLean was proud of the 16-11 season produced by his team as it advanced to the Prep B championship game for the first time since 2004. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After absorbing a 72-30 drubbing at Rutgers Prep last Wednesday evening in the state Prep B title game, the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team didn’t hurry off the court.

Instead, the PDS players stood as one and watched as the Argonauts received the championship trophy and enjoyed a raucous celebration with their fans.

For Panther head coach Paris McLean, making his players stick around was designed to serve as motivation for the future.

“We can come back here,” said McLean, whose team finished the winter with a 16-11 record as it made its first appearance in the Prep B championship game since 2004.

“We have to work hard and do the things we need to do in the off-season and stay together as a team. That is why we watched Rutgers Prep celebrate. That is a very, very good basketball team.”

The loss in the championship game to the second-seeded Argonauts didn’t take away from the fact that it has been a very good season for the No. 4 Panthers.

“I told our boys to be proud of what they did,” said McLean, whose team upset top-seeded Morristown-Beard 48-42 in the Prep B semis.

“You look at our program over the past three years; we go from 11 wins to 15 wins to 16 wins and the title game. If that is not progress, I don’t know what is.”

McLean acknowledged that his team was in over its head against a defending champion Rutgers Prep, who had beaten the Panthers 73-46 in the regular season meeting between the rivals.

“Any time you play against five guys who are going on to the next level, it is tough,” said McLean. “It was men against boys, it was their seniors against our sophomores.”

The young Panthers did push Rutgers Prep in the second quarter, putting together a 10-7 run to narrow the gap to 27-16.

“We made a run, I think we cut it to 11,” said Mclean. “It was a stop and a bucket, a stop and a bucket. But they shot the lights out. They can shoot, they can rebound, they are big and they are athletic.”

PDS junior star Davon Reed showed some big game and athleticism, scoring 23 points in a losing cause.

“He had three bodies on him,” said McLean of Reed, who is averaging 24.3 points a game this season and has received more than 15 offers to join Division I college programs.

“If that is not one of the best players in the country, I don’t who is. I am not just talking about Xs and Os, to be that talented but to not start barking at your teammates or belittling them and to just to pick them all up consistently, that is character above anything.”

In McLean’s view, the Panthers have the talent in place to pick up a lot of wins next season.

“Obviously you have the centerpiece in Davon,” said McLean “You have Deante [Cole], you have Langston [Glaude]. We brought some kids off the bench tonight that never saw the varsity floor. We are young but we are good. We have kids who love the game and want to work hard and get better.”

After watching Rutgers Prep enjoy the spoils of victory, the tears flowed in the PDS locker room.

“If you walked in there, you wouldn’t see a dry eye,” said McLean. “It is not just because they are upset about the loss but they understand our time together this season is over. We spend a lot of time together; it is a tight team. We will start up again real soon, there is no rest for us.”

February 22, 2012

SURPRISE ATTACK: Princeton Day School girls’ basketball star Molly Rubin dribbles upcourt last Wednesday in PDS’s 42-39 win over Ewing in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals. Senior point guard Rubin scored 12 points to help the 12th-seeded Panthers upset No. 4 Ewing. Two days later, ­Rubin scored 18 points but it wasn’t enough as PDS fell 54-28 to top-seeded Hopewell Valley in the MCT semis. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Molly Rubin’s shooting hand was taped but that didn’t stop her from firing away for the Princeton Day School girls’ basketball team as it played at Ewing last Wednesday in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals.

The senior point guard, who has been playing through a sprained right hand, came up big as 12th-seeded PDS stunned No. 4 Ewing 42-39.

Rubin coolly dribbled through Ewing’s high-pressure defense and scored 11 points to help spark the upset.

“I think we worked pretty well today and played our hardest,” said Rubin. “We really wanted to win.”

The Panthers brought plenty of confidence into its uphill battle against powerful Ewing, having upended fifth-seeded WW/P-S 47-45 in the first round of the county tourney two days earlier.

“We had some good momentum coming into this game,” said Rubin.

“A 12th-seed has never gotten to the county semis so we have proved something.”

PDS rode that momentum to a solid start against Ewing, jumping out to a 13-8 lead after the first quarter. The Blue Devils, though, outscored the Panthers 13-9 in the second quarter to narrow the Panther lead to 22-21 at the half.

Down the stretch, the game turned into a nailbiter as the teams traded the lead several times. PDS hit six-of-eight free throws in the last 30 seconds and got a spectacular blocked shot from Emily Goldman right before the buzzer to pull out the unlikely win.

Rubin wasn’t surprised that PDS came through in the clutch at the charity stripe.

“We all made our free throws,” said Rubin, who hit two key foul shots with 20.9 seconds left. “We have been shooting free throws a lot in practice.”

The win was even sweeter considering that PDS has gone through an injury-riddled campaign which saw its roster sliced to just six players for much of the winter.

“Everyone has stepped up and played all different positions,” said Rubin.

“I have never played post before; I think it has been a team effort with people stepping up where there has been a void.”

PDS head coach Mika Ryan had the sense that her players were ready to step up in the Ewing contest.

“I think people fail to appreciate the difficulty of our schedule,” said Ryan, whose team’s Cinderella run ended last Friday when it fell 54-28 to top-seeded Hopewell Valley in the MCT semis to end the season at 9-12.

“We have played a really tough schedule; we might look like skinny suburban girls but we are pretty tough.”

The Panthers didn’t waste any time showing their toughness against Ewing as they seized the early momentum.

“I thought we had a pretty good start,” said Ryan. “The key to our start is that we didn’t let them score in transition. We knew if we started that, it would be a long night for us because that really ignites them and gets them going. I thought we did a terrific job of getting back.”

In the final moments of the contest, the Panthers executed well at both ends of the court.

“The free throw shooting was key and we didn’t turn the ball over,” added Ryan.

“We did a good job of containing No. 4 [Candice Scott-Mason] and we didn’t give up anything easy in transition.”

Another key to the victory was the play of the battle-tested Rubin and classmate Sarah Godwin, who led all scorers with 19 points.

“I knew that as long as they were playing hard, our two seniors weren’t coming out,” said Ryan.

“I have sat them out at times this year because they haven’t always performed but they were magnificent tonight.”

In Ryan’s view, Rubin’s performance exemplified the grit PDS has displayed this season.

“I thought Molly played a very good floor game; she made good decisions,” said Ryan.

“She handled the ball well and was good handling the press. She took shots when she had them. She didn’t force anything. That was an issue five or six games ago when she was just trying to do too much. We have asked her to do too much this year. She has to be the point guard, the center, and guard the other team’s best player.”

The Valparaiso-bound Godwin, who returned to the lineup in January after being sidelined by a knee injury since last season, gave the Panthers a major spark when she hit a three-pointer and a second long jumper in the first quarter.

“That was key because she is kind of a streaky shooter,” said Ryan.

“For her to get off to such a good start was key for us; it got her confidence going. It was nice to see.”

It has been nice for Ryan to guide a group with so much character. “It is hard for me to even talk about it; we have hung together all year through so many ups and downs,” said Ryan.

“I just love being around them. They never give in, they never stop playing. We might play crappy sometimes but we play awfully hard. They have to be one of my all-time favorite teams. I go to practice and I leave feeling good. They are everything that is right about PDS. I mean that, they are so resilient.”

Rubin, for her part, has enjoyed her PDS hoops experience. “I love the PDS program,” said Rubin.

“Mika has been great and the team has been great. It is definitely exciting to do this with people like my teammates. It is really fun. It is a good way to end the season and go out strong.”

HONOR BOUND: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Victor Honore gets ready to swim the backstroke in recent action. Last Thursday, senior star Honore posted a victory in the 200 individual medley to help PHS top Lawrence High 111-59 in the Public B Central Jersey sectional championship meet. The Little Tigers were slated to face Summit on February 21 in the Public B state semifinals with the winner advancing to the state title meet on February 26 at The College of New Jersey. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While senior star Victor Honore was happy to help the Princeton high boys’ swimming team cruise to the Public B Central Jersey sectional title last Thursday, that isn’t the championship that he covets.

“It is my last sectional so it is pretty satisfying to win,” said Honore, reflecting on PHS’s 111-59 win over Lawrence High last Thursday at the Neptune Aquatics Center.

“But the sectional is just another step in trying to win more. It is my last year with these guys and it feels good having this togetherness.”

Honore and his fellow seniors have their sights set on going out in the ultimate blaze of glory — winning a state championship.

Last winter, the Little Tigers made it all the way to the state Public B title meet where they fell 90-80 to Scotch Plains-Fanwood in suffering their only defeat of the season.

This week, 15-0 PHS will look to take the next step as it is slated to face Summit High in the semis on February 21 with the winner advancing to the title meet on February 26 at The College of New Jersey pool.

Despite PHS’s dominance this season, which saw it crush the competition in winning a second straight county meet, Honore knows the Little Tigers face a tough road in reaching their goal.

“The teams that we might face next week are really good,” said Honore. “They have some real talent; we are looking forward to going against them.”

In the win over Lawrence, Honore showed his talent as he churned out a win in the 200 individual medley.

“I was just trying to get first; I wasn’t focused on a time,” said Honore, who clocked a time of 2:07.52 in earning the victory. “It was just get the points.”

After suffering from the flu and pneumonia last winter, Honore has fought through another dose of illness this season.

“I have been sick quite a bit but nothing like last year,” said Honore, who lost 14 pounds last winter due to sickness. “I am feeling much better.”

Honore feels very comfortable with his stellar group of classmates, who have formed the foundation for the PHS juggernaut.

“Some of my best friends are on the team,” whose fellow seniors include Addison Hebert, Matt Kuhlik, Derek Colaizzo, Harun Filipovic, and Jacques Bazile.

“We all know each other in the hallway; we hang out together at meets. I hang out with some of the guys on weekends. I think one of our greatest traits is just team spirit.”

That stellar group of seniors played a major role in PHS’s win over Lawrence as the Little Tigers won all eight individual events and two of the three relays. Colaizzo won the 50 and 500 freestyle races while Kuhlik placed first in the 100 backstroke and Filipovic won the 100 free.

PHS head coach Greg Hand knows that his seniors are primed for the final push.

“They have been excited about the rest of this tournament since long before the tournament started,” said Hand, who has guided PHS to four straight sectional titles and six of the last eight.

“Everybody is just fired up for the opportunity; nobody is predicting anything. They are just thinking about doing the things that are necessary to swim fast on the day and that is everything from mental to physical.”

In Hand’s view, his battle-tested swimmers know the preparation necessary to be at their fastest when it matters most.

“The guys need to be smart,” said Hand. “They are guys who have so many demands on their time and they have to do a good job of holding it together. That’s part of what education is about. I think that is why we support athletics as taxpayers; we are really asking the kids to do the best they can at balancing their lives and making good choices along the way.”

While the PHS swimmers were understated as they celebrated their victory last Thursday, Hand senses an excitement among his swimmers as they close in on another shot at a state title.

“Last year it seemed really innocent in the sense Pat Riley [former NBA coach] talks about, the innocent climb the first time around,” said Hand.

“I have that same sense as we go through it. We know we have a veteran squad already but here we are in something where they are still nervous in a good way.”

Honore and his teammates are primed for the climb to the state swimming summit.

“We are definitely ready; it is the last go for the seniors,” asserted Honore. “There is not an extra sense of urgency; it is more for our own benefit. We know that we have a great team and that we could do it.”

RETURN TRIP: Princeton High boys’ hockey player Mike Wasson controls the puck last Friday against Robbinsville in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals. Sophomore forward Wasson scored the winning goal in the game as third-seeded PHS edged No. 2 Robbinsville 3-2 to earn its third straight trip to the title game. On Monday, Wasson added a goal and an assist but it wasn’t enough as PHS fell 6-3 to top-seeded Notre Dame in the county championship game. The Little Tigers, now 14-6-2, will next be in action when they compete in the upcoming state Public B tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For a nearly 35-minute segment of the Mercer County Tournament championship game last Monday night, the Princeton High boys’ hockey team outscored Notre Dame 2-1.

Third-seeded PHS battled the No. 1 Fighting Irish to a scoreless stalemate for the first 17 minutes of the contest and outscored Notre Dame 2-1 over the last 17:46 of the game.

But there was a 10-minute stretch in the middle of the second period where the Fighting Irish went on a 5-1 run and that proved decisive as they earned a 6-3 win and the county crown before a standing room only crowd at the Mercer County Park rink.

PHS head coach Tim Campbell liked the way his team started and finished the contest as it fell to 14-6-2.

“We were in really good shape in the first period at 0-0; a tie at the end of the first period against this team as far as I am concerned is getting up on them,” said Campbell, pointing out that his team generated several shots on goal in the first five minutes of the game.

“At intermission, I just said let’s not back down, let’s go out and win the period and we did. We battled in the third period; we didn’t let down. We won it 2-1.”

But Campbell acknowledged that things went awry in the middle portion of the game.

“We gave up a lot of goals right on top of each other in the second period which took some wind out of our sails,” said Campbell, noting the PHS suffered similar lapses in its two regular season losses to the Fighting Irish.

“We had one bad period. If you had a magic wand and could remove a couple of chunks of time we skated right with them.”

But one can’t take away anything from PHS and its fighting spirit. “They have a lot of pride,” said Campbell, who got goals from Mike Wasson, Will Greenberg, and Kirby Peck in the loss with goalie Josh Berger making 37 saves on a night in which the Little Tigers were outshot 43-16.

“If they are going to go down, they are going to go down swinging, figuratively and literally.”

It is a matter of pride for the PHS program to have made three straight county title games.

“For the third straight year, we are the best public school in the county,” said Campbell, whose team topped Notre Dame in last year’s championship game after losing to Princeton Day School in the 2010 final.

“There is a lot to be said for consistency; I am happy with that aspect. We walk out of here with our chins held high. We battled for the majority of the game. We are just dog-tired and exhausted. It has been a physically and emotionally taxing week. It is difficult to repeat and that is why you rarely see even professionals repeat two years in a row.”

Campbell is confident that PHS will put up a good battle in the upcoming state Public B tournament.

“We should  have a decent seed for the states and hopefully have at least one home game,” said Campbell, whose squad made it to the second round of the 2011 state competition.

“We do have momentum, even coming away with a loss. I look forward to it.”

STEPPING OUT: Princeton University women’s lacrosse star Cassie Pyle strides up the field last year. Senior midfielder Pyle, who had 38 goals and 19 assists in 2011, figures to be a catalyst this spring for the Tigers. Princeton opens its 2012 campaign on February 25 when it plays at Villanova (1-0). (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Chris Sailer didn’t have to wait until this spring to start feeling good about her Princeton University women’s lacrosse team.

“Going back to the fall, we were further ahead at that point than we have been in years,” said longtime Princeton head coach Sailer, a Hall of Famer who has 314 career wins as she enters her 26th year at the helm of the program.

“I feel like we picked up last fall where we left off in the spring. The team has a really good energy about it. There is a positive approach and good intensity in every practice.”

Last spring, the Tigers ended the season on a positive surge that saw them win six of their last eight games, prevailing in the Ivy League tournament and advancing to the NCAA quarterfinals as they finished with a 12-7 record.

As Princeton looks forward to opening its 2012 season with a game at Villanova (1-0) on February 25, Sailer is welcoming back plenty of firepower on attack.

Leading the way will be junior Jaci Gassaway (33 goals and 13 assists in 2011) along with senior Barb Previ (17 goals, eight assists) and junior Sam Ellis (16 goals, 11 assists).

“Jaci has been doing a great job; she will be the leader of the attack group” asserted Sailer, who also plans to use sophomores Mary Kate Sivilli and Grace Bowen in her attack unit.

“We are expecting a big season from her, she continues to get better and better. Previ is a sparkplug; she makes things happen in transition. Her value comes in doing the little things, getting ground balls and helping with the connection game. She sets up her teammates and does things that don’t show up in the box score. Ellis has had some injuries but she is starting to turn it on.”

Promising freshman Erin McMunn figures to turn some heads this spring at attack.

“McMunn is doing great,” asserted Sailer of the native of Westminster, Md. who helped the U.S. win the U-19 World Championship last summer.

“She has incredible hands, she has a sure stick right or left. She has good vision; she is going to make an impact.”

The Tigers boast some impact players in the midfield with senior Cassie Pyle (38 goals, 19 assists), junior Charlotte Davis (27 goals, nine assists), and sophomore Sarah Lloyd (15 goals, 12 assists).

“She is hard to contain one versus one and on defense, her quick feet are a big help,” said Sailer of the second-team All-Ivy performer from  Alexandria, Va.

“Charlotte Davis brings such energy to the team. She is a really competitive player. She has speed and she can score. Lloyd is just getting back from mono. She is looking awesome; she is really fit and confident with the ball. Erin Slifer has been fantastic. She played on the same club team as McMunn, they were quite the pair. She is tall and strong.”

On defense, Princeton features some strong leaders in senior All-American Lindsey deButts together with senior co-captain Cathy Bachur and junior co-captain Caroline Rehfuss.

“Lindsey is the backbone of the defense; she has experience and vision,” said Sailer, noting that deButts is on the mend from a hip injury.

“We need to get her back as soon as possible. Bachur is really solid. We moved Rehfuss to defense from midfield; she can make big plays.”

Sailer notes that sophomores Liz Cutting, Colleen Smith, and Erin Williams are “chomping at the bit” to see more action.

The biggest question mark for Princeton coming into 2012 is at goaltender, where the Tigers are replacing graduated star Erin Tochihara and Sailer is deciding between freshman Annie Woehling and sophomore Caroline Franke as the new starter.

“It is hard to replace Toch, we can’t ask either of them to be Toch,” said Sailer of Tochihara, who ended her stellar career by posting a 10.18 goals against average last spring.

“Annie has the edge right now. She is pretty solid and consistent. She is good out of the cage on ground balls and interceptions. Caroline is good on positioning. She is a lefty which can be a problem for shooters. She is a big, solid kid and plays the angles well. I think they will both see action.”

In Sailer’s view, the team’s success will depend in large part how it plays around its goalie.

“I think this team has good potential,” said Sailer. “The defense has to play well because there is going to be a new goalie no matter what. We have to deny high percentage shots. We also have to put some points on the board; we have an offense that is capable of doing that.”

As the Tigers prepare for their season-opening clash at Villanova, who beat Wagner 16-7 last Saturday in its first action, they are concentrating on themselves more than their foe.

“I feel like in the first game the focus is on you and what you are doing and not the other team,” said Sailer, whose team is ranked seventh in this week’s Inside Lacrosse national media poll.

“Our theme this year is having a mindset where we don’t focus on the outcome or the score but on one play at a time.”

LAST CALL: Princeton University women’s hockey player ­Paula Romanchuk sets up in the crease in recent action. Senior forward Romanchuk and her classmates will be looking to end their careers on a high note as they compete in the ECAC Hockey playoffs. The seventh-seeded Tigers (12-13-4 overall, 10-10-2 in ECACH) will start postseason play when they head up to No. 2 Harvard (20-8-1 overall, 17-4-1 ECACH) this weekend for a best-of-three ECACH quarterfinal series starting on February 24. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Julie Johnson and her classmates on the Princeton University women’s hockey team didn’t get their senior weekend off to a good start.

Hosting Rensselaer last Friday evening, the Tigers fell behind 1-0 23 seconds into the contest.

“That first goal on the first shift puts you back on your heels and kills momentum,” said senior forward Johnson.

The Tigers did answer back as sophomore Denna Laing found the back of the net midway through the first period. With the game knotted at 1-1 after one, the Tigers did some soul searching during the first intermission.

“We rallied between periods,” recalled Johnson. “We knew that we just had to work hard and focus on winning our one-on-one battles.”

Early in the second period, Johnson won a key battle, gaining possession of the puck along the boards and setting up a Sally Butler goal that turned out to be the game winner in a 2-1 Princeton victory.

“I came off the bench and I just tried to play high and read what their defense was doing coming out of their zone,” said Johnson.

“I saw that the puck was coming loose near the boards and I tried to hop on it with speed. I knew Sally was in the slot so I just turned and gave her a little backhanded pass and thankfully she found the back of the net. It was pretty nice.”

While Johnson was happy to get on the score sheet, that was not her main goal in her last weekend of action at Baker Rink.

“This year I have been struggling to get points; it hasn’t been my focus,” said Johnson.

“I am trying to enjoy it; that is the big thing with senior weekend. You come in and try to enjoy it with your team and everyone rallies around each other. It doesn’t matter who gets the points as long as we win.”

The Tigers went on to win a day later, beating Union 3-0 to finish the regular season at 12-13-4 overall and 10-10-2 in ECAC Hockey action. The seventh-seeded Tigers will head up to No. 2 Harvard (20-8-1 overall, 17-4-1 ECACH) this weekend for a best-of-three ECACH quarterfinal series starting on February 24.

In Johnson’s view, Princeton will come ready to play well when they arrive at Cambridge.

“We have some work to do and we owe it to ourselves to play well there next weekend,” said Johnson.

“We have to tighten up a little bit in the d-zone and get the power play going. We need to focus on winning those blue lines. We are so close, it is just doing a couple of little things and we’ll be good.”

Over the course of her career, Johnson has done a lot of things for the Tigers, moving from her natural forward position to defenseman when Princeton has been shorthanded in that area.

“I have been ready to do whatever the team needs me to do,” said the 5’7 Johnson, a native of Calgary, Alberta who has three assists this season and 37 points in her Tiger career of 13 goals and 24 assists.

“This season I feel like I have played that role pretty well. Sometimes I feel lost on defense and I just try to keep things simple back there and work hard to get the puck. On offense, it is just grinding in the corners and the walls and trying to get my teammates the puck.”

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal liked the way Johnson grinded in the win over Rensselaer.

“For sure, JJ worked really hard, she was strong on the boards today,” said Kampersal.

“She did a good job for us on that goal, that was a nice shot by Sally over the shoulder.”

While Kampersal was happy to see Princeton get the win, he knows the team has to raise the level of its play of it is going to prevail in the playoff series at Harvard.

“It was definitely nice to get the win today; we played well for two periods but not three,” said Kampersal, whose team split with the Crimson in regular season play, blanking Harvard 3-0 at Baker Rink on January 6 but losing 10-1 in Cambridge on February 4.

“We need to fix coverage in front of the net and we need to fix our power play which is still mediocre at best.”

Kampersal is expecting a powerful effort in the playoffs from his group of seniors which includes Ann-Marie Elvin, Heather Landry, co-captain Charissa Stadnyk, co-captain Paula Romanchuk, Danielle DiCesare, and Rachel Weber in addition to Johnson.

“I would consider them a hockey group in the way they care about the sport,” asserted Kampersal.

“They show up, they play hard. Most of them have been in the lineup most games so very few times have we missed them. They bring a lot of heart and soul.”

Johnson, for her part, has put her heart into the program and has developed some deep bonds with her classmates in the process.

“We were extremely close our freshman and sophomore years and we still are that close,” said Johnson.

“Princeton hockey is a family and these are the girls that you spend every day with. You battle through the ups and downs; it is a special thing to be a part of and it is going to be sad to leave.”

STICKING IT OUT: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player John Cunningham heads up the field in action last spring. Senior longstick midfielder Cunningham brings intensity to a Princeton program that is looking to rebound from a rough 4-8 campaign last spring. The Tigers open their 2012 season when they host Hofstra on February 25. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

This Saturday, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team will christen brand-new Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium when it hosts Hofstra in its season opener.

For the Tigers, playing on the sparkling FieldTurf surface emblazoned with a striking Princeton logo in the middle of the field symbolizes the fresh start sorely needed by a program that endured a nightmarish campaign last spring.

Coming off an inspiring 2010 season that saw the Tigers win the inaugural Ivy League tournament and go 11-5, Princeton stumbled to a 4-8 mark last year with 16 players sidelined by injury at some point in the season.

Princeton head coach Chris Bates believes his players are excited to get rolling in their new digs.

“They are fired up and ready to go,” said Bates, who is starting a new chapter in his personal life, dealing with personal tragedy as his wife, Ann, died last November at age 43 after three valiant fights against cancer.

“It is nice to be out there on the new field; we never practiced on the old one so that shows you what we thought of it. The new one is soft and it will give us a rise. It is nice.”

There is nothing soft about a Princeton defense that features three senior All-Ivy performers and co-captains in goalie Tyler Fiorito, defenseman Chad Wiedmaier, and longstick midfielder John Cunningham.

The rock of the Princeton defense is goalie Fiorito, who has been a starter since his first game as a freshman.

“It is a luxury to have a senior goalie like that,” said Bates of Fiorito, who posted a 7.53 goals against average in 2011 and ended the season with a sensational 20-save effort in a loss to Cornell.

“He gives everybody a sense of confidence. It can be a double-edged sword, he bails you out when you are not playing good defense. There is no secret as to how good he is. We want him orchestrating the defense and being more vocal on the field. We need him to be more of a presence and get out of his comfort zone in the crease.”

Senior defender Wiedmaier is known for closing down foes when he zones in on them.

“As captain, people look to him not just for his skill set but for his preparation,” added Bates, whose team is ranked 14th in this week’s Inside Lacrosse media poll.

“People feed off of that; he is a high energy guy. You can leave him on an island and that allows the defense to slide to other players. He can take the best attacker and neutralize him.”

Cunningham brings a high level of intensity to the mix. “On and off the field, his motor is always running and by that I mean he is always dialed in,” said Bates.

“He elicits the best effort from teammates; he not afraid to bark at them. He is very intense. He has good stick skills and is really good on the ground. On face-offs, he gets the ball for us. He can handle the ball and shoot the ball. He has logged substantial minutes; he gives you good experience.”

The Tigers boast some good experience along the back line in sophomore Rob Castelo and a trio of seniors, Jonathan Meyers, Bill Coughlin, and Mike Flanagan.

“Rob is fiery and a very strong communicator,” added Bates of Castelo  who got off to a promising start last season before suffering knee injury in the second game.

“He understands the game well. He has made great progress with his knee. He looks healthy, you can’t tell that he is coming off an injury. Meyers is very athletic; he has a big presence. He has become a good close defender; he anticipates plays well. Coughlin and Flanagan are two seniors who are seasoned. They are solid with the Xs and Os; they have a good understanding of our team defense.”

Princeton also figures to get some good work in the defensive midfield from sophomores Jack Strabo and Nick Fernandez.

“Jack is so smart; he’s got that energy like the Energizer Bunny,” said Bates, who will also be using Bobby Lucas, Chris White and Peter Smyth in the defensive midfield.

“We have high expectations for Nick. On a team of athletes he stands out; he is so fast. We want to tilt the field. We need to be more creative in transition and create more shooting opportunities. We need to use those athletes.”

One of the team’s stand-out athletes is sophomore midfielder Tom Schreiber, who led Princeton in scoring last year with 29 points on 16 goals and 13 assists, getting named as the Ivy League Rookie of the year and earning third-team All-American honors.

“We are trying to help him take the next step; he lived up to expectations last season,” said Bates.

“He comes into this year ranked as the No. 5  playmaker and is on the Tewaaraton Trophy watch list. That is a lot of stuff for a kid to shoulder; he needs to make other people better. There are times when he is unstoppable, we are trying to get him to relax. The challenge is to surround him with complementary parts. I think we can be good there if we play as a unit.”

Princeton has some good complementary parts in the midfield with Jeff Froccaro (13 goals, 3 assists in 2011), Tucker Shanley (5 goals), Mike Grossman (4 goals, 1 assist), Alex Capretta (3 goals, 2 assists) and Forest Sonnenfeldt (10 goals).

“We have Froccaro going between midfield and attack, he is so savvy around the cage,” said Bates.

“Tucker can be unstoppable at times; he shoots the ball well and has good vision. We are trying to get him to make simple plays instead of trying to make great plays. Mike takes good shots. Alex is a very good finisher. He has a shooter’s mentality and has had a phenomenal spring. We have Forest and him at midfield; he needs to get his hands free to shoot. He is not a ball carrier; he is a shooter.”

In order to generate more shots, Princeton needs to improve in the face-off area as it won 40 percent of its draws last season compared to 50 percent in 2010.

“Bobby [Lucas] and Peter [Smyth] will take the most, they are technically sound face-off guys with different styles,” said Bates.

“Jeff [Froccaro] can give us a look. If he has your number, he can dominate. Freshman Justin Murphy is out for another month; he is a face-off specialist. He may surprise us. He is so focused; he was a wrestler in high school.”

Bates is hoping Princeton’s attack unit will provide some pleasant surprises. “Luke Armour (9 goals, 5 assists) is looking real solid there,” said Bates, noting that senior playmaker Cliff Larkin (3 goals, 6 assists) is currently sidelined.

“Hunter deButts (1 assist) gives us a different look; he is so fast. He has spun around Chad in practice at times. You don’t get wowed by freshman Mike MacDonald but he has a really good lacrosse IQ. He can do the right things on the perimeter. Canadian players are typically good inside and he can put the ball in the back of the net. He has good vision and can carry the ball. ”

Princeton will get a good test on Saturday against No. 13 Hofstra, which opened its season last weekend by beating Sacred Heart 11-9

“It is going to be exciting; they have some knowns and unknowns,” said Bates.

“They lost three senior attackers so they might have a different look. They  have been predictable on offense in the past but very good at it. Seth [head coach Seth Tierney] does a great job, it is a good program.”

Bates is confident that the Tigers can rebound from last year’s struggles to have a great spring.

“We think we can be as good as anybody but we don’t focus on the that,” said Bates, who is in his third season at the helm of the Tiger program.

“The focus is on today and getting each unit to be better. We need to play together at both ends of the field.”

February 15, 2012

SENIOR TOUR: Stuart Country Day School basketball player Angela Gallagher heads up the court in recent action. Last Friday, senior guard Gallagher scored four points in her home finale as Stuart fell 44-22 to the Country Day School of the Sacred Heart (Pa.), On Sunday, seventh-seeded Stuart lost 58-23 to No. 2 Wardlaw Hartridge in the first round of the state Prep B tournament to drop to 0-15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It was Senior Day for the Stuart Country Day basketball team and Angela Gallagher was determined to fight to the last minute of her home finale.

Even though Stuart trailed Country Day School of the Sacred Heart (Pa.) by 25 points in the waning moments of the contest last Friday, there was Gallagher sticking her nose into a scramble for a loose ball.

The senior guard had to leave the game as the trainer checked her head to make sure that she was OK. Moments later, Gallagher was back in the fray, firing up a shot in the last minute as Stuart went on to a 44-22 loss.

Afterward, Gallagher, together with classmates Parris Branker and Jen Dias, posed for photos in front of posters made especially for the Senior Day festivities.

“I thought it so nice; the team was really great,” said Gallagher, who scored four points on the day as Stuart dropped to 0-14.

“Even though we have a really small team, we have become really close. They made us these really nice posters and they made us T-shirts. They were really nice. Of course Senior Day is bittersweet as everyone says.”

In the early going on Friday, the Tartans made it a close game as they went on a 6-0 run to battle back from an early 7-0 deficit.

“That was pretty exciting; in a lot of games we haven’t been very close,” said Gallagher. “That was a time where we were pretty close. It was fun, we had a lot of fans here cheering for us.”

Stuart, though, misfired on offense the rest of the way, as has been the case so often this season.

“We have a lot of trouble running the offense and making shots,” acknowledged Gallagher.

“We have a pretty young team, we are still learning and I am still learning a lot. I have never played guard before.”

The Tartans have had no trouble showing fight, customarily playing hard to the final whistle.

“We always fight throughout the whole time,” maintained Gallagher. “Even at Lawrenceville, where we literally got pummeled but everybody was fighting to the last second and still scoring until the last second.”

Despite the steady diet of losing, the Stuart players haven’t gotten down on themselves.

“I think our team has really good character because a lot of people would get really upset,” said Gallagher.

“I think our team has been really good about that. We have a lot of fun. If we didn’t have fun, we would be depressed the whole time.”

Stuart head coach Tony Bowman has had fun seeing the development of his trio of seniors.

“I think the seniors played hard today; the three girls have contributed a lot over the last three years,” said Bowman.

“There aren’t as many accolades as in the past. But they are leading the girls that we have now, which is good. The freshmen and the sophomores are learning from them right now. They have a work ethic on and off the court.”

Bowman points to Gallagher as one of the team’s most diligent workers.

“Angela is always playing hard; she gives us 100 percent,” said Bowman.

“She works hard; the only thing we want her to do more is score. She had a couple of nice shots today; she played well for us.”

The Tartans have had a hard time making their shots this winter. “Offensively as a team, we just haven’t been able to put the ball in the basket,” said Bowman, noting that his team has been held below 30 points in many games this season.

“The plays work and we just can’t put it in. The kids try hard. We are working on everything in practice. We just haven’t been able to implement it in games yet.”

Bowman hopes his players have learned some lessons in perseverance as they battled through a difficult season.

“You have always got to play to win, even when things look dim,” said Bowman, whose team ended the season by falling to Wardlaw Hartridge 58-23 last Sunday in the first round of the state Prep B tournament.

“You have to look at every game you are in as one you can win. I think sometimes we don’t always believe in ourselves or buy into the system. When you buy into the system, you can put yourself in a competitive position.”

Gallagher, for her part, has gained some self-belief from being in a leadership position.

“Since there are fewer people in basketball than in other sports, you have to take responsibility for your actions more and take responsibility for what everyone else is doing on the court,” said Gallagher.

“So as a senior, you tell the freshmen what to do. We have to guide them as the seniors before us did. It has been a really good learning experience for them and us.”

READY POSITION: Hun School boys’ basketball player Fergus Duke gets ready to launch a jumper in recent action. Last Sunday, junior guard Duke scored a team-high 20 points as third-seeded Hun fell 73-59 to No. 1 Blair in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) championship game. Hun, now 14-11, will meet Blair one last time as the foes play this Saturday in the state Prep A semis in Blairstown. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After falling twice to Blair Academy in regular season play, the Hun School boys’ basketball team came out firing when the rivals met last Sunday in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) championship game.

With a standing room only crowd packing Hun’s Shipley Pavilion, the third-seeded Raiders gave the home fans plenty to cheer about as they jumped out to an early 24-18 lead over the top-seeded Buccaneers.

Hun junior guard Fergus Duke said the Raiders brought plenty of confidence into the contest.

“After last night’s game, we were feeling really good,” said Duke. “We won a close game against Hill and it was the first time we have beaten Hill in a while. We came in fired up today and it showed in the first quarter when were just jacking everything and it was going in. The crowd was going nuts, getting us pumped up.”

But powerful Blair regrouped, reeling off 15 unanswered points to take a 33-24 lead and gain momentum. Hun trailed 40-38 entering the second half but went on a 13-9 run to nose ahead 51-49. Blair scored the final five points of the third quarter and never looked back as it pulled away to a 73-59 win.

Duke acknowledged that the Raiders ran out of gas down the stretch as they fell to 14-11.

“We had a good game up until the beginning of the fourth quarter and we started playing their style of game with more run and gun and that’s what killed us,” said Duke, who tallied a team-high 20 points with backcourt mate Bo McKinley chipping in 19.

“They have got a lot of big bodies and their big men did a good job of contesting our shots. They did a very good job of altering our shots as well. They are a deep team and they did a great job of using their depth. They weren’t worn out at the end and we were.”

With Hun have beaten Mercersburg 50-29 and Hill 41-37 to reach the title game, it was a positive weekend overall for the Raiders.

“We played really well; I am very proud of my team, everyone contributed,” said Duke.

“When we played Mercersburg, when we played Hill and when we played Blair, everyone contributed. No one would have expected us to make it this far, especially throughout the season when we haven’t been winning those close games. Last night against Hill, we showed that we have learned. Blair just outmanned us tonight.”

Hun head coach Jon Stone liked the way everyone on his squad battled in the loss to Blair.

“I think our intensity was great; the kids played really hard,” said Stone. “We got off to a great start. Unfortunately we let them back in it. I think we started the second half really well; we had some great energy. We have some kids who are really good players. We ran out of gas a little bit but it wasn’t for lack of effort.”

Stone credited Blair with having some really good players who made the difference down the stretch.

“Number 10 (Virginia-bound Mike Tobey) was good today; Will Kelly getting his third foul today was a really big deal to us because I thought he did a great job on him in the first half,” said Stone, who noted that his team sorely missed Grant MacKay, out with a season-ending knee injury.

“He was getting him to miss a lot of shots; you take a great shot blocker like Will out of the game and it affected us. But credit to Tobey, he is good. Number 24 (Jermaine Myers) is also good; those are the two best players in the league.”

In Stone’s view, his team played its basketball of the year in advancing to the MAPL title game.

“At the end of the season, we have been getting better and peaking at the right time,” asserted Stone.

“That first quarter was as fun to watch as we have had all year. Both teams were clicking, that’s what you hope for at the end of the year. I just hoped they had scored a few less times.”

While that first quarter was entertaining, Stone acknowledged that getting sucked into a run-and-gun battle with the Bucs wasn’t great strategy.

“I think we let them dictate the tempo a little too much and that’s my fault because we ran out of gas at the end,” said Stone.

With the foes meeting one last time on February 18 at Blair in the state Prep A semifinals, Stone is hoping the fourth time will be the charm for his team.

“I think we need to be more patient,” added Stone. “I thought our toughness was pretty good today. We need to be a little smarter and dictate the tempo a little more. I am proud of our guys and the way we competed. We obviously came up short; they were the better team today.”

Duke, for his part, is ready to keep competing against Blair. “I am excited but tired of playing these guys,” said Duke.

“We are getting very comfortable playing them, it will be another good game.”

OFF THE CHARTS: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey star Megan Ofner fires the puck in a game earlier this season. Senior forward Ofner ended her PDS career with a bang last weekend, tallying a total of three goals and three assists as PDS topped host Shady Side Academy (Pa.) 4-3 and Portledge School (N.Y.) 4-2 on the way to winning the ‘B’ bracket of the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic). The Panthers, who ended the season with a 10-7 record, also got three goals from Mackenzie Howe and one apiece from Robin Linzmayer and Mimi Matthews over the weekend. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Ashley Egner could barely skate when she joined the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team as a freshman in 2008 while Lucy Marquez hadn’t played one minute at goalie when she took over as the squad’s netminder a year later.

Last Wednesday, the two showed how much they have improved over their careers, starring in their final home appearance on the program’s annual Senior Night.

Forward Egner tallied three goals and her first career hat trick while backup goalie Marquez looked sharp in making 19 saves as the Panthers topped Summit 8-1.

The PDS senior group, which also includes top scorer and two-time captain Megan Ofner, went on to finish the season with a bang, winning the ‘B’ bracket of the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) tournament last weekend.

The Panthers topped host Shady Side Academy (Pa.) 4-3 in the semis before defeating the Portledge School (N.Y.) 4-2 in the title game. Forward Ofner, who is headed to the Sacred Heart women’s hockey program led the way, notching two goals and two assists in the semis before tallying a goal and two assists in the title game as the Panthers ended the winter with a 10-7 record.

For Egner, the home finale triggered some deep emotions. “I was really excited but also sad,” said Egner, who served as a tri-captain of the team along with her two classmates.

“There are only three seniors on our team and our team is so small; we get really close through the season and it has gone by so quickly. It means so much; everyone is so excited by the games. It is nice knowing that the whole team is there for you.”

Egner showed some quickness when she scored a superb breakaway goal in the second period that gave PDS a 3-1 lead.

“I wasn’t expecting that at all; I just saw an opening,” said Egner, who is headed to Union where she may play club hockey.

“Lorna [PDS head coach Lorna Gifis Cook] always tends to go wide and cut in and take a shot. I just kind of did it and it just happened to go in. I thought she was going to save it but it hit off her glove. It was a hard shot; if it was softer it probably wouldn’t have gone in. That was awesome.”

Marquez, for her part, wasn’t expecting to make any saves on Wednesday, having spent the last two seasons as a back-up for star goalie Daisy Mase.

“I found out right when we were about to start; I was so excited,” said Marquez, reflecting on getting the starting assignment.

“I was so happy, normally Daisy starts; it was just a thrill. I was nervous because Lorna had told me that if we were down by a lot, she would have to put Daisy in.”

Marquez quickly overcame her nerves, making two saves in the first minutes of the contest.

“Normally the first couple of shots is what really wakes you up and gets you going so those really got me going,” said Marquez.

“That was probably the most focused game I have ever played as well. I was like oh my god, this is my last game, I can’t slip up. This is it.”

For Marquez, her last game turned out to be one of her best. “The game was terrific; everyone played so well together,” asserted Marquez.

“I have never seen the team this year play so well together. This game was the best chemistry game ever. I couldn’t ask for a better senior day.”

In a sense, it is amazing that Marquez had a Senior Day in hockey, considering her late start in the game.

“I did ballet, I did figure skating, I did choir and piano so I was the ultimate sissy girl,” said Marquez, who is headed to Cornell.

“I was a field hockey goalie for my first year here and as a sophomore, Harry comes up to me one day and goes ‘so how do you feel about doing ice hockey. I said ‘alright, throw me in.’ It was amazing, it was one of the best experiences I had through high school.”

Coach Cook, for her part, credited the trio of seniors with enhancing her experience as she took the role of interim head coach this winter with Kat Smithson recovering from a concussion.

“It was hardest on them not having Kat on the bench,” said Cook. “They have played for her the longest. At the same time, I am asking them to step and be leaders and be my go-to people just to know what is going on with the team. They really did a great job of helping Alannah [assistant coach Alannah McCready] and I get comfortable and for the team to be comfortable with us. It was group of three leading us all season long.”

For Egner, developing a comfort level with the game and teammates has made her PDS hockey career unforgettable.

“Hockey is my favorite season; I look forward to it every year,” said Egner.

“Freshman year was the first season that I started; I had never played before. Just the whole thing means so much to me, Megan and me have been best friends since freshman year. Lucy and I have gotten so much closer this year. It has been great becoming friends with everyone on the team; it is such a diverse group of girls.”

ON TARGET: Princeton High boys’ basketball star Davon Black puts up a shot in a game earlier this season. Last Monday, Black scored a game-high 17 points to help eighth-seeded PHS defeat No. 9 Nottingham 52-43 in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament. The Little Tigers, now 10-10, play at top-seeded Notre Dame on February 15 in the MCT quarterfinals. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After going through a dry spell in January, Davon Black and the Princeton High boys’ basketball team finally got back to the .500 mark last week.

Producing a superior defensive effort, PHS topped crosstown rival Princeton Day School 57-48 on February 6 to post its third straight win and improve to 9-9.

A day later, though, the Little Tigers experienced a letdown as they fell 54-35 to Hightstown.

In assessing the loss, senior guard Black acknowledged that PHS came out flat for the clash against the Rams.

“We let it get too high yesterday; we didn’t come out ready to play,” said Black, who scored 11 points in the loss.

“Hightstown is a good team and they jumped right on us at the start of the game. They stayed poised and controlled for the entire game.”

The Little Tigers showed some game in the third quarter when they started the half by outscoring PDS 8-4.

“We had a nice little run but it wasn’t enough,” said Black. “It showed some good signs. Coach [head coach Jason Carter] told me to be a lot more aggressive on the offensive end so I tried to get it going.”

In Black’s view, PHS needs to demonstrate their aggressiveness on a more constant basis to be successful.

“We have to come into every game prepared; we can’t let a team jump on us that fast,” said Black. “We just have to play every game like it is our last.”

The team’s three-game winning streak, which included hard-fought victories over WW/P-N and Lawrence, reflected a jump in PHS’s intensity at both ends of the court.

“I think we are finding our stride now,” said Black. “This game was a letdown but we had three big wins coming in so we were hitting it. We have been playing good defense. Defense starts it all. When you are playing good defense, the offense flows.”

The battle-tested Black, a team captain along with classmate Matt Hoffman, has looked to jump start the Little Tigers.

“As a senior, I just try to be a leader,” said Black, who showed leadership Monday, contributing a game-high 17 points to help eighth-seeded PHS beat No. 9 Nottingham 52-43 in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament.

“I have been on the floor for three years now. I have seen a lot so my role is getting it going for everyone else. I want to dictate on the offensive end and be that defensive stopper. Whatever coach needs, that is what I am going to do.”

With PHS, now 10-10, playing in the MCT quarterfinals at top-seeded Notre Dame on February 15 and the state tournament coming up in a few weeks, Black is hoping to keep things going for as long as possible in his final weeks with the Little Tiger program.

“The focus is to have fun every single day,” said Black. “It has been so much fun here. It is hard knowing that it is coming to an end but my focus is just on the next game.”

CALLIS TREATMENT: Princeton University men’s squash player Chris Callis battles a Yale foe in recent action. Senior star ­Callis, who plays at No. 2 for the Tigers, will look to come up big this weekend as Ivy League champion Princeton hosts the College Squash Association (CSA) men’s national team championships. Second-seeded Princeton, 12-1 overall, will be looking to end top-seeded Trinity’s 13-year championship run.

The last time Princeton University hosted the College Squash Association (CSA) men’s national team championships, the Tigers came within an eyelash of derailing the Trinity College dynasty.

In the titanic 2009 title match that lasted more than six hours, Princeton came within two points of taking the crown before falling 5-4 to the Bantams.

This weekend, Princeton is again hosting the CSA competition and longtime Tiger head coach Bob Callahan believes his team could have what it takes to end Trinity’s 13-year championship run.

Noting the high level of parity in the sport and the fact that Yale snapped Trinity’s 252-match winning streak in January, Callahan sees the 2012 CSA as more wide open than it has been in years.

“Everyone feels excited that it is not preordained; any one of six teams feels that they could win,” said Callahan, whose team is seeded No. 2 behind the Bantams after going 12-1 overall and 7-0 in Ivy League action in winning the program’s 17th league title.

Since Trinity lost to Yale, they haven’t been in that position before coming into this. On the basis of that alone, teams think they have a chance.”

Coming into the season, Callahan wasn’t sure that his team had a chance to be a title contender.

“The biggest question marks were would Chris Callis and Kelly Shannon be healthy,” said Callahan, referring to his senior standouts who have struggled with injuries during their Princeton careers.

“Chris came in ready to go right off the bat, his back was better. Over the fall, he regained confidence and conditioning. Shannon came in healthy but injured his shoulder on our fall trip. When he was coming back from that, he twisted his ankle. He is just getting back in the lineup. We had some good freshmen coming in but you are not sure how good they will be compared to the players they will see in college.”

Callahan acknowledged that he had an ace in the hole with defending national champion Todd Harrity firmly ensconced at No. 1.

“Todd has such a spectacular season last year,” said Callahan of the junior who didn’t lose a single game during the individual championship tournament as he become the first American-born player to win the title in 21 years.

“In just about every match, you can figure that he will win and you only need to win four of the remaining matches.”

After cruising to a 7-0 start this season, Princeton pulled off a spectacular win at Harvard in mid-January.

“That was a huge win for us,” asserted Callahan, pointing out that Harvard had won the preseason Ivy scrimmage and received an added boost from the debut of international star Ali Farag in the January match.

“With all the parity, it has become the year of the home court advantage. The top 6 teams have all been winning their home matches. We went up to Harvard who had Ali Farag and pulled out a win on the road. It was one of the most rewarding wins I have had at Princeton.”

Two weeks later, Princeton suffered its only loss of the season as it fell 7-2 at juggernaut Trinity, who brings a 16-1 record into the CSA competition. Despite the lopsided final score, Callahan drew positives from the match.

“Three of the matches were close, going to five games with 11-9, 13-11, and 11-8 scores in those games” said Callahan, who is in his 31st season at the helm of the program and guided the Tigers to the 1993 CSA Potter Cup national team title.

“If six points go the other way, it could be a 5-4 match. They are a very good team, as always. They have responded very well to the Yale loss with 7-2 wins over us, Harvard, and Rochester.”

Princeton responded well to the Trinity setback, rolling past Yale three days later.

“We played Yale here and won 8-1; we were helped quite a lot by the home advantage,” said Callahan.

“That was a big win; there was a lot of talk about Yale after they beat Trinity.”

That triumph set the table for Princeton to gain the outright Ivy title which they clinched last Sunday with 8-1 victory over Columbia.

“That is my No. 1 goal every year,” said Callahan, reflecting on winning the Ivy crown.

“We got it without sharing, that is a great tribute to our kids. It was great to see the kids rise to the occasion in those matches. We came really close the last two years, it is nice to have something go your way. It was good for seniors to bookend their careers; they won the Ivies as freshman but lost the famous match to Trinity at the CSA.”

Callahan is hoping his players can rise to the occasion this weekend in the friendly confines of Jadwin.

“It is absolutely huge; we hope to be able to take advantage,” said Callahan, referring to the home court advantage.

“It does dissipate as the tournament goes on with three straight matches. Every time you play on the court, you get more comfortable.”

In Callahan’s view, there are four basic keys to success in the eight-team draw at the CSA.

“We need to be ruthlessly efficient in the first round and make every match a 3-game match,” said Callahan.

“You need to get off the court and preserve energy. So efficiency is No. 1 Second is to stay healthy and get as much rest as possible. The third is to have confidence and be optimistic, and the fourth thing is to have a little luck.”

The Tigers have established a blueprint for success which gives Callahan additional cause for optimism coming into the weekend.

“We do matches in three shifts, starting with Nos. 3, 6, and 9,” explained Callahan.

“We have done extremely well in the first shift; we had a 2-1 lead in all of our big matches except for Trinity. They have set the tone; hopefully they can keep doing that this weekend.”

If so, Princeton could use this weekend at Jadwin to make squash history.

HUMMING ALONG: Princeton University men’s basketball star Ian Hummer heads to the basket last Saturday in Princeton’s 70-62 win over No. 21/25 Harvard. Junior forward Hummer sparked the Tigers to victory, scoring 20 points with nine rebounds and six assists. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Ian Hummer, the cold front this weekend arrived early when he couldn’t buy a basket Friday night as the Princeton University men’s hoops team hosted Dartmouth.

The junior star went 0-for-11 from the floor with four points on free throws as the Tigers sleepwalked past the Big Green 59-47.

In the wake of his cold shooting, Hummer consulted two former Princeton hoops stars for some tips in order to get back on track.

“I talked to my dad and I talked to my uncle; they just gave me some advice,” said Hummer, whose father Ed was a three-year letterwinner from 1965-67 and ranks 10th all-time in Princeton history with 550 career rebounds while Uncle John was a two-time first-team All-Ivy Leaguer and scored more than 1,000 points in his Tiger career from 1968-70.

“Basically I was rushing all of my shots, not really looking at the basket when I was shooting. They said keep your head up and just take what comes to you.”

A night later, Hummer took it to No. 21/25 Harvard, scoring 20 points with nine rebounds and six assists as the Tigers topped the Crimson 70-62 before a delighted Jadwin Gym throng of 5,266.

“To get that first one to go down was quite a bit different from yesterday, said Hummer, who hit a 3-pointer from the corner 3:20 into the game to break his shooting drought.

“I was a little frustrated yesterday; I just knew that shots were going to come my way.”

Things weren’t quite going Princeton’s way in the early going as it trailed 27-22 at halftime. But with the Tigers down 42-38 with 11:04 left in regulation, they caught fire, reeling off a 21-7 run that broke open the game.

The win lifted Princeton 13-10 overall and 4-3 in Ivy League play while league frontrunner Harvard fell to 21-3 overall and 7-1 Ivy.

In addition, the triumph marked Princeton’s 24th straight win over Harvard at Jadwin Gym since 1989 and was the Tigers’ first home win against a nationally-ranked team since a victory over No. 2 Notre Dame in 1977.

For Hummer and his teammates, those streaks paled in significance to simply beating an arch rival.

“We don’t pay attention to the ranking overall,” maintained Hummer, who starred last year when Princeton edged Harvard in an Ivy title playoff game to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.

“Harvard has always been a big opponent of ours and we just wanted to come out and play them as hard as we can every time. It is just a great rivalry. We are just happy to come out with the win against a very good Harvard team.”

The Tigers were also happy with the raucous support they got from their fans, who stormed the court to mob the players when the buzzer sounded.

“It really lifts you, it gives you motivation to play well,” said the 6’7, 230-pound Hummer, who recently passed the 1,000-point milestone and is leading the Tigers with 16.7 points and 7.7 rebounds a game.

“We take energy from the crowd both on defense and offense. For them to come down to see us and have another great game with Harvard is special. We love when people come to our games and cheer for us. I think it was a great game for them to come to. Every time we have a packed house, we seem to play really well.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson loved the performance he got from his players as they tightened up the Ivy title race.

“First of all, we are very happy with the win, this is a really good Harvard team,” said Henderson, who got 12 points and four assists from T.J. Bray in the win with Brendan Connolly scoring 11 points and Denton Koon and Mack Darrow chipping in 10 points apiece.

“We knew they have games where it is almost like a fight and they have been defending so well. Up until 12 minutes left in the game it was the same thing for us and then we hit a spurt. I thought it was really spurred by Ian’s play and T.J.”

Henderson acknowledged that his team had to pick things up after its lackluster effort a night earlier against Dartmouth.

“I just didn’t feel like there was much life on the team,” said Henderson, noting that the Tigers trailed the Big Green 11-1 at one point.

“I felt like the team that showed up in the last 12 minutes of this game is a group that is pretty tough to beat. We have played like that at times all year. Ian had six assists and one turnover, that is Princeton basketball. We just keep talking about sharing the ball and making each other better. When we are committed to that, we can be pretty good.”

Sharing the ball led to a balanced attack which saw five Princeton players score in double figures.

“We weren’t going to get much if we didn’t get balanced scoring,” said Henderson.

“We had a really nice contribution from everybody; it was hugely important because when you are playing a good team like that you have to have balance.”

In Henderson’s view, the 6’11, 255-pound junior center Connolly made a big contribution, getting the start instead of Mack Darrow.

“We got some quality minutes from Brendan Connolly; I thought Brendan established a little bit of a swagger for us early which we needed,” added Henderson of Connolly, who also contributed six rebounds.

“I think because Mack and Brendan support each other so much off the floor and on the floor, it is an easy thing to do. I thought it presented a nice matchup for us with Keith Wright.”

While the win Saturday was sweet, Henderson knows that it isn’t going to be easy for the fifth-place Tigers to catch the league-leading Crimson in the Ivy race.

“We have got to go up to their place in a little while; we are pretty focused on what we have got at hand and ahead of us,” said Henderson, whose team hosts Columbia (14-10 overall, 3-5 Ivy) on February 17 and Cornell (10-12 overall, 5-3 Ivy) a day later.

“They are doing a great job and I know they are going to finish the year strong. In terms of league play we have work to do and we need help. I want to build on what happened tonight and take it into next weekend.”

In Hummer’s view, the Tigers are working their way back into contention.

“We dug ourselves a hole in the beginning of Ivy League play,” said Hummer.

“We knew we had to come out as hard as we could tonight. We had a disappointing game against Dartmouth. Even though we won, we didn’t play as well as we should have. We are still in a hole a little bit but it is a little shallower now. We just hope other teams play as well and we can just keep on trucking.”

February 8, 2012

STATEMENTS OF INTENT: Hun School star senior athletes are all smiles last week after signing letters of intent to join college sports programs. Pictured, from left, are John Loughery (Elon University - football), David Dudeck (Boston College - football), Holly Hargreaves (Rice University - women’s soccer), Wyatt Vinci (University of Connecticut - football), and Wendy Laurent (Penn State- football). (Photo Courtesy of the Hun School)

David Dudeck traveled to Boston during the last weekend of January and had such a good time that he decided to spend a lot more time in the area.

The Hun School senior star athlete committed to the Boston College football program, choosing the school over Yale and Navy, his other top two choices.

“I took my official visit there last weekend,” said Dudeck, who verbally committed to the Eagles on site and then signed his official letter of intent last Wednesday.

“I loved everything about it. I want to play big time football and they are in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). It is a great institution academically. Everything felt right.”

Adding to Dudeck’s comfort level was the reaction of his parents, mother Amy and father Dave, the Hun football head coach.

“I talked about it with my parents on the visit,” said Dudeck. “They were really behind me. I am blessed to have a family that is so supportive.”

Dudeck was also anxious to have the blessing of older brother, Brendan, a former Hun teammate and current back-up quarterback at Navy.

“Brendan supported me 100 percent,” added Dudeck, noting that he ended the recruiting process with great respect for Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo and Yale head coach Tony Reno.

“Of course it would have been wonderful to play with him but he wanted what was best for me. He was pleased that I was happy.”

Getting the chance to play big-time college football is a dream come true for the 6‘0, 200-pound Dudeck.

“I have set goals in my life and this is one of them,” said Dudeck. “I am really lucky and blessed to have this opportunity to play ACC football. I have worked hard for years for this. There is a lot of hard work to come at another level.”

At the outset, that work is going to come in the secondary for Dudeck, a two-way performer for Hun who had 50 catches for 1,003 yards and 10 touchdowns as a wide receiver this past fall for a Raider team that went 7-1 and won the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title.

“They recruited me as an athlete,” said Dudeck, who is also a college prospect in baseball and may consider trying to walk on to the BC team.

“They said they plan to use me on the defensive side of the ball at safety.”

Dudeck has used the academic and athletic opportunities he found at Hun to his best advantage.

“Hun really helped me get organized with my schoolwork and how to best use my time,” said Dudeck, who had gone to public school in Hamilton before entering Hun in ninth grade.

“I took AP and honors courses; doing that will really help for college. Athletically, it was an awesome journey. It was great to play for and with family. I had great opportunities as an athlete. My dad did so much for me and for other kids to help them get into schools.”

Dudeck wasn’t the only Hun athlete to commit to a Division I program last week. Football teammates Wendy Laurent, Wyatt Vinci, and John Loughery each signed a letter of intent with Laurent heading to Penn State, Vinci to Connecticut, and Loughery to Elon.

Raider girls’ soccer star Holly Hargreaves signed to continue her soccer career at Rice University.  Previously, soccer stars Lexi Golestani and Nicole Campellone had committed to the Providence College and Tufts University programs, respectively.

Several PDS athletes got into the act as well with Sarah Godwin signing on to continue her basketball career at Valparaiso University with Beau Horan headed to the Williams College baseball team and girls’ hockey star Megan Ofner on her way to Sacred Heart.

Over at Princeton High, wrestling star Ian Snyder is headed to the Duke University program while Jeff Barsamian has committed to play for the Penn sprint football team. Earlier, PHS lacrosse stars Mia Haughton and Katie Reilly opted to join the Amherst College women’s lax program.

Two Princeton residents, Philip Pecora and James Bunn, who have been star athletes at the Pennington School, also made college decisions last week. Pecora is headed to Bucknell University to play football while Bunn will be joining the baseball program at Virginia Commonwealth University.

GOLD RUSH: Princeton Day School girls’ basketball player ­Emily Goldman rushes up the court in a recent game. Sophomore guard Goldman has provided athleticism and endurance for an injury-riddled PDS squad that has shrunk to six players for much of the season. PDS, now 7-11, hosts Peddie School on February 8 before starting play in both the state Prep B tourney and Mercer County Tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Trying to hold together a team that has shrunk to six players for much of the season has weighed on Princeton Day School girls’ basketball head coach Mika Ryan.

“I think we are one step away from putting a quality game together but it has been Murphy’s Law; something goes wrong or someone gets hurt,” said Ryan.

“The kids’ resilience has been amazing. I leave practices and I feel 1,000 percent better about things.”

Ryan feels good about the return of senior guard Sarah Godwin, who recently got back into action after being sidelined by an ACL injury since last season.

It has been a real lift,” said Ryan, referring to having the services of Valparaiso University-bound Godwin.

“Since I have coached her, she has always been upbeat and encouraging in practice. She doesn’t have game fitness yet but she is going up and down the court well.”

Last Thursday, Godwin displayed her offensive skills, scoring 17 points as PDS lost 58-50 to Burlington Township High.

“They were a very good team and we started out slowly,” said Ryan, whose also seen the return from an ankle injury of promising freshman Kirsten Kuzmicz. “We were down 16 points at half and we cut it to eight. We made a great effort in the third and fourth quarters. We were overmatched.”

Making Herculean efforts as they have battled through a winter of mismatches has drained the Panthers.

“The problem is that the rest of us are beat up,” said Ryan, whose team lost 28-23 to Notre Dame last Monday to fall to 7-11.

“Molly Rubin is tired. She has put us on her back. We have been asking her to do everything, from playing point guard to center. She has been defending the other team’s best player. She was up and down this week.”

Ryan is hoping her team will step up as it enters postseason action later this month by playing at Rutgers Prep on February 12 in the opening round of the state Prep B tourney and then starting action in the Mercer County Tournament.

“I am excited about our prospects going in the Mercer County Tournament,” said Ryan, whose team hosts Peddie School on February 8 before the 12th-seeded Panthers play at No. 5 WW/P-S on February 13 in the first round of the MCT.

“We have beaten two of the three CVC teams we played, defeating Hamilton and Nottingham. When we played Rutgers Prep before, we were the dirty half-dozen.”

In Ryan’s view, the Panthers need to clean up things on offense if they are to make a good postseason run.

“I think we have to eliminate turnovers,” said Ryan, who guided the Panthers to the Prep B title game and the MCT semis last winter.

“We beat ourselves on offense. We don’t value the ball, I have been telling them to just complete the next pass. We defend well but you can’t defend and then not score, particularly against better competition.”

NOT STANDING PAT: Princeton High boys’ hockey star Patrick McCormick fires the puck in a game earlier this season. Last Wednesday, sophomore defenseman McCormick tallied an assist as he set up a Will Greenberg goal in PHS’s 1-0 win over Hamilton. The Little Tigers, now 11-4-2, face Notre Dame on February 8 at Mercer County Park before battling Hun on February 10 at the Ice Land Skating Center. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Patrick McCormick faced a major transition last winter in his freshman season with the Princeton High boys’ hockey team.

In addition to getting his first taste of varsity action, McCormick was shifted to defenseman from his customary position of forward.

As he adjusted to his new spot on the ice, McCormick had a safety net in senior star defenders Dean DiTosto and Griffin Peck.

“Last year, I had Dean and Griffin to rely on if I was having a bad game,” said McCormick. “They could always play over me.”

With DiTosto and Peck having graduated, McCormick has emerged as the iron man along the Little Tiger blue line.

“It is different; the team relies on me a lot more,” said McCormick. “I have to be on my best game every night. It is nice getting all this ice time. Although it is tiring, it is worth it. You feel a lot better when you get that win because you feel like you were more a part of it. I have been constantly improving; I like it a lot more.”

Last Wednesday against Hamilton, McCormick utilized his offensive background in the third period, assisting on the game’s lone goal as the Little Tigers edged the Hornets 1-0 to improve to 11-4-2.

“Before the faceoff, I said to Will [Greenberg] break up the ice and I am just going to throw it up to you,” recalled McCormick.

“So then Will just broke up the ice; I saw him break and I just tried to flick it up out of the zone. He beat the guy in the corner. The guy tried to intercept it and he just went hard to the net. It was a relief.”

McCormick acknowledged that the Little Tigers didn’t bring the right intensity into the Hamilton game, due to having beat the Hornets 7-2 in December.

“When you beat a team badly the first time, you can only go down from there,” said McCormick.

“I guess we went in thinking we had the win. It is not that we played poorly, we just couldn’t finish.”

PHS head coach Tim Campbell was disappointed with the way his team played in the win over Hamilton.

“We were just flat,” said Campbell. “We were just asleep; we came off a big win on Friday [a 3-2 win over Cranford]. I think we just thought we would coast through these guys which, as a coach, is the scariest mentality to see.”

Campbell did like the way his team performed along the blue line. “We were fine defensively,” said Campbell, whose team outshot the Hornets 38-8.

“We just didn’t create any scoring opportunities. Usually it is the other way around, our defense is a little porous. But tonight, they were a brick wall; we only gave up eight shots. It is scary when we don’t score because we can give up one and that is it.”

In Campbell’s view, McCormick is becoming a one-man brick wall for the Little Tigers.

“Patrick is a phenomenal skater,” said Campbell. “Skill-wise, there is not a better defenseman in the league. He is a good skater; he is smart. I kept thinking to myself he is a really smart defenseman. He gets opportunities to rush the puck and he takes advantage of those.”

With the Mercer County Tournament and the state public tourney both around the corner, Campbell is hoping that his club can maintain its recent penchant for peaking at the right time.

“In the past two or three years, we have been a February team, this is where we hit our stride,” said Campbell, whose squad faces Notre Dame on February 8 at Mercer County Park looking to avenge an earlier last-second 4-3 loss to the Fighting Irish and then battles Hun on February 10 at the Ice Land Skating Center.

“I am fine with that as long as we take care of business which we didn’t tonight. We have two big games in front of us. We owe Notre Dame so we will come out ready for that game without a doubt. We look forward to that game and hopefully we have learned lessons from tonight.”

McCormick, for his part, believes the Little Tigers are ready for a big stretch drive.

“I feel like we kind of overlooked this game because we were looking towards Notre Dame,” said McCormick.

“We feel like we are going to be ready for that game; it was heartbreaking. We have got to try and come back and prove something to them. We have a pretty good chance to make a run. We are strongest in the postseason. We usually have lulls midway through the year and we like to pick it up at the end.”

MAD LIB: Princeton High girls’ basketball player Maddie ­Cahill-Sanidas looks to create some offense in recent action. Last Friday, junior forward Cahill-Sanidas scored seven points as PHS lost 56-26 to Lawrence High to fall to 0-13. The Little Tigers will be starting action in the Mercer County Tournament on February 13 when 16th-seeded PHS plays at No. 1 Hopewell Valley in a first round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Maddie Cahill-Sanidas started slowly as the Princeton High girls’ basketball team hosted WW/P-N last week.

The junior forward went scoreless in the first quarter as PHS fell behind 16-6.

In the second quarter, though, Cahill-Sanidas came alive, scoring five points as the Little Tigers played the Northern Knights to a 13-13 standoff.

For Cahill-Sanidas, taking a little time to get rolling has become her modus operandi.

“It always take me a couple of minutes to analyze the situation but I got it,” said Cahill-Sanidas. “I was feeling a lot better in the second quarter.”

PHS was feeling good in the third quarter when it cut the WW/P-N lead to eight points at 36-28. The Northern Knights, though, reeled off 13 unanswered points on the way to a 52-37 victory.

While the loss was disappointing, Cahill-Sanidas thought the Little Tigers had some positive stretches.

“I think in the second half, we really stepped it up,” said Cahill-Sanidas.

“We are capable of playing with that intensity; we just have to learn how to do that for four quarters.”

As one of the more battle-tested players on a young squad that features several freshmen and sophomores, Cahill-Sanidas is stepping up on many levels.

“I see myself as someone who needs to shoot,” said Cahill-Sanidas, a versatile athlete who also stars for the PHS girls’ tennis and softball teams.

“I think I also need to
facilitate and find other people with passes. I think that is important. Jocabed [Muflam], Emma [Wingreen], and I are captains this year, it is a new leadership role for us. We have filled those shoes as the season has progressed.”

The Little Tigers are focusing on making progress offensively. “We need to work on movement on offense,” said Cahill-Sanidas, who scored seven points last Friday as PHS lost 56-26 to Lawrence High to drop to 0-13 .

“We have been trying to work on cutting and getting to the basket. We are trying to utilize our post a little more because we have been doing a lot of outside rather than inside-outside play. We need to work on ball movement in general.”

While the team’s uneven play has been frustrating, Cahill-Sanidas is confident the work will pay off.

“It is not a question of trying hard; in practice we are really conditioning,” said Cahill-Sanidas, who will be trying hard this week as PHS competes in the Mercer County Tournament with the 16th-seeded Little Tigers playing at No. 1 Hopewell Valley on February 13 in a first round contest.

“We have done more running than I have ever done in basketball. It’s not translating on the court and that’s what we are working on. Against WW/P-S, we scored 46 points. Once we get in a rhythm, it works great.”

In Cahill-Sanidas’ view, the team is laying the foundation for developing a rhythm.

“This team has gotten a lot closer; I think the team dynamic is great,” said Cahill-Sanidas,

“We are going to do a lot of work this summer, trying to get used to each other as a team. We haven’t been playing with these girls for that long. We are going to do camps and leagues; we are going to do a lot

VALUABLE ASSET: Princeton High boys’ swimming star Derek Colaizzo displays his freestyle form last Saturday at the Mercer County Swimming Championships. Senior star Colaizzo won the 50 and 100 freestyle races and helped the Little Tigers to victories in the 200 medley and 400 free relays as PHS won its second straight county crown. Colaizzo was named the meet’s Most Valuable Swimmer on the boys’ side. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Greg Hand scrawled “EGAD” on his copy of the program in the section for the boys’ 200-meter medley relay last Saturday at the Mercer County Swimming Championships.

Hand’s exclamation of surprise was prompted by his Princeton High boys’ medley quartet as it opened the meet with a record-setting performance, clocking a time of 1:48.05 to shave more than four seconds off the previous meet record.

That effort was the first of many superb swims as the Little Tigers won six of eight individual events and all three relays in cruising to their second straight county crown with 356 points, nearly doubling the 190 points accumulated by runner-up Notre Dame in the meet held at Lawrence High.

Individual winners for PHS included Derek Colaizzo in the 50 and 100 freestyle races, Matt Kuhlik in the 200 free, Victor Honore in the 100 butterfly, and Will Stange in the 400 free and 100 backstroke.

“I was impressed; everyone dug deep today,” said PHS head coach Hand. “I had the sense that they really wanted to put together a strong meet overall and everybody wanted to contribute to that. Regardless of where guys were placing, I thought they raced with a lot of determination.”

Senior star Colaizzo, who was named the meet’s Most Valuable Swimmer on the boys’ side, saw the effort in the day’s final event, the 400 free relay, as emblematic of PHS’s determination.

Despite having long before clinched the team title, the quartet of Colaizzo, Honore, Addison Hebert, and Kuhlik, produced a sizzling effort, posting a time of 3:33.75, smashing the previous meet record of 3:39.89.

“That was absolutely amazing; we broke our school record and the meet record by six seconds,” said Colaizzo.

“Even though we were ahead by so much we were just thinking we have got to keep going after it. We really wanted that record. We really wanted to have some great swims so we decided to go after it.”

Colaizzo and classmates Honore, Hebert, Kuhlik, Harun Filipovic, and Jacques Bazile came into the meet looking to make a statement.

“Not to sound cocky or anything, but we knew we were pretty strong compared to the rest of the county,” said Colaizzo.

“There is a core of six seniors and we just wanted to go after it and have this last meet to be our best. We looked at some of those records and we thought maybe we had a chance of being able to break some of those so we went after it that way too.”

For Colaizzo, being named as the MVS was something he was going after.

“I was kind of shooting for it; I was trying to win all my events and see what would happen,” said Colaizzo, who posted a time of 24.11 in winning the 50 free and then came back with a 53.26 effort in the 100 free to edge Kuhlik by 0.20.

“It means so much. I think it was based on winning individual events and I was so close last year. I just got touched out in the butterfly and I won the 50. It really means a lot that I pulled through and I was able to come out on top in both events this year.”

After falling just short of the state Public B state title last year, suffering its only loss of the season in the championship meet as it fell 90-80 to Scotch Plains Fanwood, Colaizzo is hoping undefeated PHS call pull through in the states.

“I think we have a very good chance but it is going to be tough,” said Colaizzo, reflecting on the state tournament which starts next week.

“There are a lot of good teams out there. The teams we run into in the state semis and finals are really good. We got beaten so badly my freshman and sophomore years. Last year we just beat Haddonfield in the semis and just lost to Scotch Plains Fanwood.”

Hand, for his part, believes the team’s dominant performance in the county meet was a step forward as the Little Tigers look to peak at the right time.

“I am sure the guys feel a little surprised by some of their performances,” said Hand.

“Nobody has seriously tapered for this meet as is true all over the state. It is nice to know that we could swim fast and get good swims under these conditions. It does help build some confidence. No doubt, we can go faster.”

Colaizzo has no doubt that the team’s group of seniors will bring a special sense of urgency to their final state tourney.

“We want to go after it. It is one of our only chances in a long time and who knows when this opportunity is going to come again,” said Colaizzo, who is headed to Princeton University next year and plans to walk on to the Tiger men’s swimming program.

“We just got lucky with all of these great seniors. A lot of us have different interests but when we come together, we have a tight bond.”

FAMILY TRADITION: Princeton University men’s hockey player Marc Hagel prepares to send the puck up the ice in recent action. Senior captain Hagel is following in the footsteps of his brother, Kyle, a former Princeton hockey star and assistant captain. Last Friday against visiting Dartmouth, Hagel provided leadership in the form of a third period goal as the teams skated to a 3-3 tie. Princeton, now 7-10-6 overall and 5-8-3 in ECAC Hockey action, plays at Clarkson (13-12-5 overall, 7-6-3 ECACH) on February 10 and at St Lawrence (10-15-3 overall, 6-9-1 ECACH) the next day. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Kyle Hagel distinguished himself as a leader during his career with the Princeton University men’s hockey team from 2004-2008.

The rugged Hagel, a native of Hamilton, Ontario, served as an assistant captain of the Tigers and helped Princeton win the ECAC Hockey championship in his senior campaign.

Now another member of the Hagel clan, has stepped into a leadership role for the Tigers as younger brother, Marc, is serving as Princeton’s captain this winter.

The younger Hagel is relishing the chance to follow in his brother’s footsteps as a team captain.

“It is an honor and a great privilege,” said senior forward Hagel, reflecting on his post. “I get to lead a great group of guys.”

In handling that responsibility, Hagel has consulted his brother. “Kyle is a special guy; he was actually down last weekend,” said Hagel. “We were able to hang out and have coffee and had some good talks. He saw us play UConn; it was good to see him.”

Hagel knows that it is a stroke of good fortune for the brothers to share their Princeton hockey experience.

“Coming to an institution like Princeton is the best opportunity I have had in my entire life,” asserted Hagel. “For two of us to come here, we are really grateful.”

Last Friday against visiting Dartmouth, Hagel took advantage of a scoring opportunity as he scored early in the third period to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead.

“I saw Jeremy Goodwin winding up from the point and and two guys crashed the net from my right side,” recalled the 6’0, 200-pound Hagel, reflecting on his sixth goal of the season and the 16th of his Princeton career.

“He shot far left and it popped right to me. I knew the goalie was going to jump across so I just laid her on the ice.”

The Big Green tied the game at 3-3 a minute later and then the game took a strange turn as a Dartmouth shot shattered a pane of glass with 12:36 left in the period, causing a delay of more than an hour as the panel was replaced.

The hiatus prompted some creative leadership by Hagel. “We got unchanged and played a little one-touch soccer in a circle in the room,” said Hagel.

“Then with about 15 minutes left in the break, we put our stuff back on and went around the room and had a good little talk. Everyone put in their input.”

Once play resumed, Princeton put in a good effort. “We had a face-off in our own end,” said Hagel. “I took the face-off and we won it clean. We got it out of our end and went right to work.”

The game ended in a 3-3 tie as neither team could break through in the remaining 12:36 plus five minutes of overtime before a sellout crowd of 2,292 at Baker Rink. The tie left Princeton at 7-10-6 overall and 5-8-3 in ECAC Hockey action.

While Hagel would have preferred to see Princeton end the night with a win, he saw the effort as progress.

“We are definitely moving in the right direction,” asserted Hagel, who has helped the Tigers go 3-1-4 in their last eight contests.

“We have a young team and it is hard to tell the guys what it takes to win. It has to happen and it needs to build. We have been doing a good job; we have been playing some good teams. Ties are not what we want but it is a step in the right direction.”

Princeton head coach Bob Prier saw the performance as a step forward. “I thought our guys did a really good job, we have a lot of guys banged up,” said Prier.

“With the absence of guys like Brodie Zuk and Will MacDonald, who have both been incredible for us, a lot of guys stepped up. I thought Will Ford had a great game; he had a couple of great opportunities. I thought Andrew Ammon played his heart out tonight; he is so explosive. He looked like the type of player who is on the verge of being a dominant college player. There were a lot of good things.”

Prier saw some good things in the way the Tigers responded after the unusual delay.

“I thought we had great jump coming out for those last 12 minutes; our guys played extremely hard,” added Prier, whose team outshot Dartmouth 39-32.

“I look at that game and 45 minutes of it and if you break it down, we deserved a better fate. But with a team like Dartmouth that is that skilled offensively; they just need a few openings and they are going to capitalize. We gave them too many opportunities and they certainly capitalized on a few of them.”

Although Princeton failed to secure the win and accompanying two points in the league standings, the tie could come in handy.

“This could be a crucial point moving forward when we are fighting for a bye and the league is still up for grabs,” said Prier, whose team heads to New York this weekend to play at Clarkson (13-12-5 overall, 7-6-3 ECACH) on February 10 and at St Lawrence (10-15-3 overall, 6-9-1 ECACH) the next day.

“We have 12 points available to us. A game over .500 in the league could get you a bye, .500 could get you a bye. It is going to be competitive, it is going to be down to the wire.”

In Prier’s view, Hagel’s leadership will be a crucial factor for Princeton down the stretch.

“Marc gives you so much; his leadership, his intangibles are incredible,” said Prier.

“He wants this thing so darn bad and it is evident everyday in practice and no matter what we are doing. From day one, he understands his charge and the  guys understand what it is. He has got a very young team to lead so the job that he is doing is just outstanding along with the help from Brodie, Michael Sdao, and Derrick Pallis.”

Hagel, for his part, is determined to get the most out of everyday as he wraps up his college career.

“I am an in-the-moment type of guy,” said Hagel. “I am living every single day and every single game. I don’t worry about the future because I know we are going to do great things here.”