August 29, 2012

CAPITAL GAIN: Princeton University men’s hockey star Andrew Ammon displays his skating form as he chases down a puck. The rising junior forward took part in the Washington Capitals prospect camp earlier this summer and is hoping it will help him enjoy a big winter for the Tigers.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Andrew Ammon was excited to get invited to the Washington Capitals prospect camp last summer.

But the Princeton University men’s hockey star never got the chance to go.

An injury sidelined the Tiger forward and kept him from participating in his first National Hockey League pro prospect camp.

When Ammon was offered another opportunity to attend the Capitals camp this summer, the Aldie, Va. native jumped at the chance.

“I definitely went in there with something to prove,” said Ammon. “Missing last year’s camp was a big bummer with the injury. I just wanted to come into camp strong this year especially after finishing the season strong. I wanted to show them what I had.”

The 6‘0, 185-pound rising junior made the most of his second chance with the Capitals prospects. He scored a goal on his first day of workouts at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va. and believes he left a strong impression on the club’s staff.

For Ammon, skating with the Capitals also meant skating with his hometown team since he moved to the Washington, D.C. area in 2001 and has been an avid Caps fan most of his life.

“I grew up in the area,” said Ammon. “I’ve been there since I was eleven years old. To go to their practice locker room and actually sit there was a pretty cool feeling.”

Like most prospects, the first outing at a professional camp can be intimidating. However, it did not take long for Ammon to settle in and develop a comfort zone on the ice.

“I really didn’t know what to expect with my first camp going in there,” said Ammon.

“Walking in there was really a feeling of the unknown. But once you start talking to the other guys at camp, you start to feel more comfortable. A lot of the guys are pretty much in the same situation you’re in, but the competition is still there.”

The competition was strong throughout the camp but Ammon feels that he more than held his own against the rest of the
Capitals’ prospects and his hard work will result in visits to Princeton’s Baker Rink by members of the Capitals’ scouting staff.

“They said they would be watching and would definitely make it up to a couple of Princeton games,” said Ammon. “Hopefully, I’m on their radar.”

Ammon is hoping to continue with the recent trend of Princeton players and the professional ranks. Former Tigers George Parros and Kevin Westgarth each were part of a Stanley Cup champion in recent years, while several other Tigers have also played on the professional level.

“Everyone that comes in here wants to move onto the next level,” said Ammon. “Now, it’s becoming more of a reality. The work you need to get there is still there, but the guys definitely believe more now that they can make it.”

Ammon came on strong for the Tigers last season, finishing with four goals and three assists in 24 games as his strong all-around game improved throughout the season. The Tigers also progressed in the second half of the 2011-12 campaign, going 4-5-4 in their last 14 regular season games before falling to Yale in the first round of the ECAC Hockey playoffs to end the winter with an overall record of 9-16-7.

“Everyone’s ready to get back and everyone is looking forward to the season,” maintained Ammon.

“We feel like we finished really strong and we were playing our best hockey at the end of the season.  We’re looking forward to a great year.”

Injuries and the adjustment to a new coaching staff resulted in a slow start for Ammon and the Tigers last season. However, Ammon is excited to work with Tigers head coach Bob Prier for a second straight season as he enters his junior year.

“We did run into quite a few injuries at the beginning of the season,” noted

“Everyone is coming back and we’re on the same page. We’re looking forward to something big this year.”

Ammon believes he can make an even greater impact at Princeton this winter in the wake of his experience this summer.

“I definitely got to see top competition out there,” said Ammon. “It definitely helps my confidence. We had some other guys on our team go to camps, so it should help us.”

As Ammon continues to root for the Capitals this season, he will have a different perspective the next time he checks out his favorite team on television.

“It will be interesting to watch,” said Ammon. “I would definitely like to see myself out there someday.”

SPANISH INQUISITION: Princeton University men’s basketball player T.J. Bray passes the ball in action this past winter. Over the next 10 days, Bray and the Tigers will be passing through Spain as they make stops in Barcelona, Valencia, and Madrid. Princeton has four games scheduled against Spanish pro teams on the trip and will sample the local culture through such activities as attending a FC Barcelona soccer game, enjoying a night of flamenco dancing, and hitting museums and cathedrals. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In addition to spending countless hours on the basketball court honing his skills, Princeton University men’s hoops star T.J. Bray has been studying Spanish for years.

“I took Spanish in high school and three semesters here,” said Bray, a rising junior guard from New Berlin, Wis. “We have to take a foreign language here so I took Spanish.”

Over the next 10 days, Bray will get the chance to apply his linguistic knowledge firsthand as the Tigers take a trip to Spain.

The squad will depart on August 29 and make stops in Barcelona, Valencia, and Madrid during its jaunt. Princeton has four games scheduled against Spanish pro teams and will sample the local culture through such activities as attending an FC Barcelona soccer game, enjoying a night of flamenco dancing, and hitting museums and cathedrals.

Bray has been looking forward to the journey for months, noting that the Tiger players got confirmation in January that the trip was taking place.

“I can’t wait for it,” said a smiling Bray, after finishing a pre-trip practice last Monday at Jadwin Gym.

“This group of guys is so much fun; we have a blast together. It is going to be as much fun off the court as it will be on the court.”

Bray, who is coming off a breakthrough season last winter when he averaged 7.2 points a game and had a team-high 119 assists as the Tigers went 20-12, believes the Princeton players can get a lot out of the trip on the court.

“A lot of the teams are probably going to be more talented than us because they are all pro players,” said the 6’5, 205-pound Bray.

“Just working hard and playing together will be huge things for us. There were a couple of games last year where we started slowly and that is where we got ourselves in trouble. We have to work on being consistent in our intensity from start to finish.”

Getting the chance to see FC Barcelona’s ultra-talented soccer star Lionel Messi in person figures to be a huge highlight of the trip for Bray.

“I am most excited to tell my kids that I saw Lionel Messi play live,” said Bray.

“When that day comes, being able to say that to my kids will be pretty cool. Messi is unbelievable; everything about him is great. He is quick with the ball and makes everything happen.”

For second-year Princeton head coach and former Tiger star Mitch Henderson, the excursion to Spain reminds him of a trip he took during his college career.

“I went on a trip like this the summer before my senior year; it was a very important trip for that team,” said Henderson, reflecting on a trip to Italy which was a prelude to the memorable 27-2 season produced by the 1997-98 Tiger squad.

“It is like traveling with 12 of your best friends. I remember the bus rides; I remember the hotels. I remember the things that we did off the floor. I remember our record over there. We were very good and I think we went 4-5. We played some really good teams, some Italian first division teams. That group of guys still talks about that trip. It is a once in a lifetime type of trip to go with your friends on something like that.”

In Henderson’s view, his current team should likewise benefit from the international journey which the NCAA allows programs to take once every four years. The Friends of Princeton Basketball group is helping to foot the bill for the excursion.

“I think this is a good older group; it is an opportunity for us to work on some things,” said Henderson, noting that the players got into the swing of things with the five pre-trip practices they went through over the last week.

“We felt like that was the right kind of place for this team to go. It makes sense with this group, we have a good group of juniors and seniors. There are good pro teams there, it will be good competition. We are very lucky to be going.”

While Henderson is not planning to do a lot of on-court experimentation in terms of offensive or defensive tactics, he will be mixing and matching players.

“I want to see who is going to step up,” said Henderson. “We have some guys in place but we are losing a lot of scoring and a lot of shooting. Do we replace that with guy ‘A’ and guy ‘B’ or are we going to be a little different. I want to watch and see what we become and who makes it hard for me to take you off the floor. What I love about playing over there is that you can’t judge a book by its cover. You are going to see a guard or a forward and you don’t know anything about that guy, that he drills 3’s or that he is a really good guard. That will be great for our guys.”

Maybe the greatest thing about the trip for the Tigers will be the chance to enhance the camaraderie that already exists between the players.

“I think our ability to be good is going to depend on how close we are, similar to the team two years ago,” maintained Henderson.

“We need a lot of team chemistry because we have some pieces that are significant and then we have some pieces that need a lot of room to grow. We all get to experience something new together as a team and as a staff.”

Bray, for his part, is confident that the experience in Spain will help the Tigers grow even closer.

“The Princeton offense is five guys moving as one, chemistry is so big in the offense,” said Bray.

“It comes pretty easy for us with everyone liking each other and enjoying being around each other. This trip will make it that much better.”

TEACHING MOMENT: New Princeton Day School field hockey head coach Tracey Arndt makes a point during a practice session last week. Arndt, a former Penn State field hockey All-American and a five-year member of the U.S. National team, is replacing MC Heller at the helm of the program. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As a three-sport star at Pennsbury High in the mid-1990s, Tracey Arndt, nee Larson, figured that soccer would ultimately be her path to college athletics.

“As I went through high school, I thought I was going to play soccer in college if I had a chance,” said Arndt. “That was where there was a little more feedback.”

But after getting some positive feedback from legendary Penn State field hockey head coach Char Morett, Arndt changed her focus.

“I was fortunate to go to a camp that Char Morett was coaching,” said Arndt, who ran track at Pennsbury in addition to playing field hockey and soccer.

“My high school team went to the camp for three years so she got to see some development in me. My skill level was raw but I did have fitness and I had some game sense.”

Arndt ended up getting recruited to the Penn State field hockey program and never looked back. She played in three Big 10 title games for the Nittany Lions and earned a slew of honors including All-American, Academic All-American, Big 10 Freshman of the Year (1996), and Big 10 Player of the Year (1999). She went on to play five years for the U.S. National Team, earning a silver medal at the 2003 Pan American Games.

After her career with the U.S. national program, Arndt got into coaching, working as an assistant at Columbia University and Moorestown High before serving as head coach at Pennsbury from 2006-2009.

Taking a hiatus from high school coaching as she gave birth to son Jack (3) and daughter Camryn (1), Arndt is getting back into the fray, taking over as the new head coach of the Princeton Day School field hockey team.

Upon meeting with the PDS players this past spring, it didn’t take Arndt long to feel a bond with the squad.

“They seemed like they had focused goals,” said Arndt, 34, who teaches middle school in the Pennsbury system and has juggled athletic, academic, and family responsibilities with her husband Jeff, a former football head coach and current middle school teacher.

“The older group and the younger group knew what they wanted to do. They wanted to have a successful year, whatever that meant. They were taking the right steps, going to camps, doing the leagues, and doing what they needed to do. They were ready for someone to come in and get them going.”

For Arndt, going around the world with the U.S. team gave her a broader perspective on team and the game.

“Some of my best friends are my teammates from the national team,” said Arndt.

“I got to travel the world for free. I don’t know what my life would have been like without doing that. It has really taken me to a world I would not have known otherwise. The games were amazing but the experience, the traveling, the friendships we have made; I think that is one of the best things about the sport.”

Going to Penn State turned out to be one of the best moves Arndt has made in her life.

“I really have to credit Char and the other coaches at Penn Sate for turning me into a hockey player,” said Arndt, noting that Morett and assistant Jill Reeve had played for the national team.

“It was basically we have one more spot, you won’t get a lot of money but you can be on the team basically and then I just took it as OK, here is my opportunity to play for a really great school and a really great program. If I don’t get to play my freshman year at least I will have learned a lot. In the  meantime, one of the top recruited players, a freshman got really hurt and another senior got very hurt and down the line here I am playing in the first game against the national champions North Carolina and I was very freaked out. Opportunities came my way; I knew I wasn’t going to be the best player on the team but if I could be the hardest worker I could go as far as I could.”

Arndt’s first coaching opportunity resulted from her Penn State ties as she joined the Columbia staff in 2004, working under college teammate Katie Beach.

“I have an education background, that is where my degree was,” said Arndt, noting that both of her parents are teachers and coaches.

“I always wanted to give back in some way, whether it was at the youth level or at the high school level. Honestly at the time I was going though college I didn’t think that college coaching was going to be what I wanted to do. I got an opportunity after the 2004 Olympics to coach at Columbia with one of my great friends and teammates. That was a really great experience. I have the utmost respect for college coaches; it is a huge time commitment but it is super worth it. I loved every second of it.”

After a year at Columbia, Arndt moved to the high school ranks, taking a job as an assistant at Moorestown High. She then took the helm at her alma mater, leading Pennsbury to a state tournament berth in her first season in 2006 and a league title in 2009.

With her husband Jeff also involved in coaching and teaching, Arndt took a back seat from the high school game, focusing on her young children. She kept in field hockey by coaching the Mystx club program in Feasterville, Pa.

When Arndt learned that PDS was looking for a new head coach to replace MC Heller, she was ready to take on the challenge.

“We heard about this opportunity and Jeff said let’s go for it,” said Arndt. “It is definitely a team effort when you have a family. I am very thankful that this opportunity came up where I can get back into coaching and I am very thankful that we were able to compromise and work this out.”

When it comes to her coaching approach, Arndt isn’t one to compromise. “I have high expectations for them as people first,” asserted Arndt.

“I also try to be as positive as I can, meaning I will give them energy through positive feedback. We will certainly focus on things we need to work on. We try to pull out the best and fix what we need to fix.”

Arndt brings a clear focus to each practice. “I need to be high energy and I think it needs to be efficient,” added Arndt.

“If we are only here for two and a half hours, you are bringing your water bottles with you. I need to be very prepared; I need to have a Plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan C. I think if they see that I am prepared and I am always thinking about what the next thing is, then they will see that I am doing whatever I can to get this team better. Hopefully they will jump in and do whatever they can to get themselves better.”

A week into preseason, Arndt likes the way the PDS players have jumped into things.

“I have been impressed from what I have seen,” said Arndt. “They have been great; I haven’t heard one complaint or even a begrudging voice. I ask them to jump, they ask how high so that has been really exciting to see. They are diving right into the things that I am asking them to do; I am really thrilled about that.”

August 22, 2012

HOME GROWN: Maddie Copeland displays her form in action at a USA field hockey camp. Copeland, a former Stuart Country Day and Peddie School standout, is currently undergoing preseason training with the Princeton University field hockey program as she starts her college career.

In early August, Princeton University field hockey players, Julia and Katie Reinprecht, achieved their goal of making the Olympics as they played for the U.S. team in the London Summer Games.

This week, former Stuart Country Day and Peddie School standout Maddie Copeland is accomplishing a long-term goal, hitting the field for the Princeton field hockey program.

The Cranbury resident is currently taking part in the team’s preseason camp as the Tigers prepare for their season opener at Duke on August 31.

Having grown up around the Princeton program, Copeland is thrilled to be donning the orange and black.

“Princeton was my dream; it is something I wanted for a long time,” said Copeland, recalling her emotions when her acceptance to the school was confirmed.

“I have known Kristen [Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn] for a long time; she has been very supportive. I have been to Princeton camps since my freshman year in high school. I went to games in the fall with my parents over the years; it is a really good team to watch.”

Copeland produced a really good high school career, starring at Stuart before transferring to Peddie as a junior.

Although Copeland played just two years for Peddie, she accomplished a lot. The skilled forward scored 33 goals as a junior in 2010, helping the Falcons win both the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) and state Prep A titles.

A year later, she tallied 41 goals as Peddie repeated as both MAPL and Prep A champions. Copeland was named 2011 New Jersey All-Prep Player of the Year for her role in triggering the title repeat.

“The switch over to Peddie was a really good move for me,” said Copeland, who helped Stuart make the Prep A semifinals and the Mercer County Tournament title game in the fall of 2008 in her freshman season of high school field hockey.

“It was really challenging as a junior; luckily I already knew some of the girls. They chose me as captain the next year; I was really honored by that.”

In reflecting on her success at Peddie, Copeland gives a lot of credit to the girls on the squad.

“My job was to score goals,” said Copeland. “The goals came easily; I played with some really good girls who set me up. I reached 100 goals over my high school career which is something I really wanted to do.”

As she reached her college decision, Copeland came down to two top choices. “I narrowed it down to Duke and Princeton; I also looked at Yale,” said Copeland.

“I had an unofficial visit to Princeton as a junior and then had an official visit after I committed.”

Since the end of her Peddie season, Copeland remained committed to honing her skills.

“I have been playing with my club team; I went to tournaments over Thanksgiving in Arizona and then to the Disneyland event,” said Copeland, who has played club hockey for the Jersey Intensity the last five years. “In late June, I played in the Futures Elite championship event.”

Over the years, Copeland has proven that she can compete on a championship level, succeeding on the national level. She won a Field Hockey National Festival Gold Medal from 2008-11 with the Intensity. She also helped the Intensity take gold at the Disney tournament in 2011 and 2012. Copeland was chosen for the U.S. Field Hockey Junior National Under-17 Squad in 2010 and was a Futures Elite selection in 2010 and 2011.

This summer, Copeland has applied some extra intensity in preparing for her college debut.

“I have spent a lot of time on the conditioning program,” said Copeland. “It is six days a week. It’s about strength and speed. There are sprint workouts, long runs, and weightlifting. I have been doing stick drills with my dad. I have been trying to do as much as I can.”

As she looked forward to the start of preseason practice with the Tigers, Copeland had mixed emotions.

“I am nervous but also so excited,” said Copeland. “I have been waiting for this for so long. I know a lot of girls who are sophomores on the team; I stayed with them during my visit. They have been telling me what to expect.”

Copeland can hardly wait to get on the field with the Reinprecht sisters and Princeton’s other senior national team players, Michelle Cesan and Kat Sharkey. “It is exciting to be playing with them,” said Copeland. “Princeton has the most Olympians returning of any college; it is a great opportunity for me.”

For Copeland, making the most of that opportunity will come down to basics.

“I just want to work really hard and earn a spot on the team,” asserted Copeland, who said she should be getting a look on the forward line but is willing to play wherever the team needs her. “It is going to be difficult with the older girls.”

Heading into last August, James Mooney believed he was on track to have a big senior season for the Amherst College men’s soccer team.

But in a flash, Mooney’s prospects for a stirring finale got derailed. “I was playing in a men’s league game and two guys came in on the same ankle and it got badly twisted,” said star midfielder Mooney, a Princeton resident and former Lawrenceville School standout. “At that point, they thought it was a badly sprained ankle but it kept popping.”

It turned out that Mooney had a tendon subluxation of his left ankle that ultimately required surgery to secure the tendon and keep it from slipping out of place. As a result, Mooney didn’t take the field in 2011 and took the spring semester off so he could get a second chance at a final college campaign this fall.

Now, the surgically repaired Mooney is rounding into form, chomping at the bit to get back in action for the Lord Jeffs.

“I am getting there,” said Mooney, who heads to preseason camp this week. “I am trying to get as strong as possible. My conditioning is better, I want to get in as good shape as possible.”

For Mooney, opting to put his senior season on hold was a trying situation. “It was a really, really tough decision,” said Mooney, who had helped Amherst make the NCAA Division III Final Four as a sophomore in 2009 and was named as a co-captain for the 2011 squad.

“I was really good friends with the guys in my class. I talked with my family; I talked to Justin [Amherst head coach Justin Serpone]. I realized that an extra semester off would be good for me in other ways. The spring was going to be really busy if I was going to classes, taking the MCATs, and doing medical school applications.”

Despite being unable to play, Mooney remained a presence around the Lord Jeffs last fall as they went 16-2-2, winning the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) title and making it to the NCAA Sectional Semifinals.

“It was really tough; I was a captain so I tried to go to everything I could,” recalled Mooney.

“I tried to show my face and talk to guys everyday. Being on the sidelines with the guys that don’t play a lot: I saw how you can support the team that way.”

In early November, Mooney went to Boston and had the surgery which involved the insertion of tissue to hold the tendon in place.

It took some time for Mooney to be up and running after the procedure. “I was on crutches for five weeks and in a boot for five weeks,” said Mooney, who lived in an apartment near campus during the spring semester and worked for a professor in a neuroscience lab, giving Mooney the   chance to spend time with his graduating classmates.

“I did exercises to strengthen my ankle. I did anything I could to get in shape. I did the rowing machine. I rode the exercise bike with a boot on. I started running in February, three months after surgery. The location of the injury made it tough to jump right into soccer things. I mainly worked on running and strengthening.”

This summer, Mooney has been able to get on the pitch, playing with some fellow NESCAC competitors in the area.

“I have been playing pick-up games at PDS with some guys going to Tufts, Maxime Hoppenot and Rui Pinheiro, and Asante Brooks, who played at Wesleyan,” said Mooney.

“We have had some good competition, playing small-side games. I have also gone to some Princeton High captains’ practices.

Mooney is looking forward to the Amherst practices, which start on August 22.

“I can’t wait for preseason to start,” asserted the 5’11, 163-pound Mooney, a second-team All-NESCAC and second team Division III All-New England pick at midfield in 2010.

“I am ready to do anything for the team. We have a ton of attacking players so I could play anywhere. If I am a step slow, I can help the team in other ways.”

After what Mooney has gone through over the last year, he is determined to savor every moment of his final college soccer season.

“I have learned to appreciate things and just being on the field,” said Mooney.

“I did a lot behind the scenes last year and I was able to see the team from a different perspective. Being with the guys is about a lot more than what goes on out on the field.”

In Mooney’s view, the Lord Jeffs could do some special things on the field this fall.

“A lot of us have stayed in touch; we are excited about the season,” said Mooney, who hopes to be in action on September 8 when Amherst opens its 2012 campaign with a game at Colby-Sawyer.

“We have won two NESCAC titles and have been to a Final 4 in my first three years. Our coach’s goal is to make it to the national championship game.”

For Mooney, just getting back in action this fall will make him feel like a champion.

MAKING CONNECTIONS: Members of the Konekte traveling party take a break during their trip last month to Haiti. Konekte (which means “to connect” in Haitian Creole) is a Princeton-based organization formed to develop educational initiatives in Haiti. The group sent 22 people to rural Haiti in mid-July to further Konekte’s goals and strengthen the organization’s ties to the people there. The traveling party included several local soccer coaches and the group used the game as a means of promoting goodwill. Pictured, from left, are Vesco Marinov (Princeton Football Club coach), Stoyan Pumpalov (PFC), Anne Hoppenot, Esmeralda Negron (Princeton University women’s soccer assistant coach), Brian Ruddy (PFC), Hristofor Tsochev (PFC), and Pastor Michel Valentin.

Dr. Paul Farmer has gained worldwide acclaim for the development of his Partners in Health project that has provided free treatment and medicine to the impoverished in Central Haiti.

For Stuart Country Day School French teacher Anne Hoppenot and her colleague, Madelaine Shellaby, hearing Dr. Farmer speak encouraged them to make their own impact in Haiti.

“I went to a Sacred Heart conference two years ago and met Paul Farmer,” said Hoppenot. “I was inspired by his work. I wanted to do something for Haiti, the country has been very poor for a long time.”

Hoppenot and Shellaby decided to start their own organization, “Konekte” (which means “to connect” in Haitian Creole) to develop, fund, and implement educational initiatives in Haiti in partnership with local communities from a base in Princeton.

“The main goal is connecting through education; we are both educators,” said Hoppenot,  noting that the Konekte website, http: konekteprincetonhaiti.wee provides more detail about the organization.

“We are helping with schools, raising money to pay teachers. We are helping build a vocational school and start that program. We also want to help small businesses in the area.”

Last month, Hoppenot led a group of 22 people from the Princeton area, ages 15 to 52, to rural Haiti, east of Port au Prince, to further Konekte’s educational goals and strengthen the organization’s ties to the people there. The main purpose of the trip was to help with the construction of the vocational school near Fonds Parisien. In addition, the traveling party organized craft activities, passed out hygiene kits, and participated in religious services.

In addition to the service activities, Konekte used soccer as a critical means of forging ties with the Haitian people.

The Konekte party included four coaches from the Princeton Football Club (PFC), Stoyan Pumpalov, Vesco Marinov, Brian Ruddy, and Hristofor Tsochev, together with Princeton University women’s soccer assistant coach Esmeralda Negron.

“Haitians and soccer are one; we played everywhere we went,” said Hoppenot, a PFC parent whose three sons, Pierre, Antoine, and Maxime, have all gone on to play college soccer.

“We went to the villages and played soccer. Sometimes we took kids and did training. Sometimes we did scrimmages. We organized the first Konekte soccer tournaments with four teams competing.”

In Hoppenot’s view, the soccer coaches made a huge difference, on and off the pitch.

“The PFC guys were great; they were such good role models,” said Hoppenot. “They were great with the kids, they had a good sense of humor. They were such great sports. They participated in everything. They worked hard but had fun at the same time. Es (Esmerelda Negron) took the girls. They don’t get to play much and they related so well to her.”

For Negron, the journey to Haiti was unlike anything she had ever done before. “I know that Anne Hoppenot sent an e-mail to our program detailing the trip and what it was about,” recalled Negron, a 2005 Princeton alum and former soccer star who joined the Tiger women’s coaching staff last year.

“I got in contact with her and said is there room for me? I have never been on a trip like that; it is definitely something I wanted to do. I wanted to see a third world country and share my passion for soccer.”

Negron enjoyed tapping into the passion for soccer displayed by the Haitian children.

“I worked with the young girls,” said Negron. “I look forward to any time I get an opportunity to work with young girls. It is good for them to see a role model and have goals to aspire to. I began with ball drills but the language barrier made that tough. I started to just jump in and play a 5-on-5 pick-up game. The girls really loved it.”

Negron loved the chemistry that developed among the Konekte traveling party.

“It was a phenomenal experience; it was a very eclectic group,” said Negron, noting that the Konekte people stayed at the Peace and Love Hotel in Fonds Parisien which had no air conditioning or hot water.

“There were some high schoolers with their mothers; there were four other soccer coaches and myself. There were college kids. It was a strange mix but everyone got along really well.”

Being on the same page came in handy when the group put in some hard labor, helping the Haitians construct the vocational school.

“I never participated in a lot of construction or heavy duty yard work,” said Negron, noting that one day of the trip involved 12 hours of transporting buckets of cement to help complete the roof on the vocational school.

“It was rewarding to see what we accomplished as a team. Before we left, we finished the roof. I felt like we made a difference. Everybody was inspired to help in any way possible.”

Negron, for her part, was inspired by the power of soccer to bring joy to people beset by poverty and still reeling from the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country.

“In the village of Canes, people were living in mud huts with no running water,” said Negron.

“They had to walk 45 minutes to get a bucket of fresh water. They had no food on hand. We played a pickup game there and all the people were excited. They got lost in the game; I saw the passion for soccer despite their situation.”

Pumpalov, a former Bulgarian soccer pro and the PFC head trainer and director of programs, was not surprised at how the sport fostered good will.

“In the game of soccer the language is the same,” said Pumpalov, who had the PFC donate cleats, jerseys, t-shirts, and balls as part of the effort.

“The kids were good at following directions; there was some talent there. Every time we went back, they were looking forward to seeing us again. We left a lot of stuff with them after the sessions, they really needed it.”

The American kids on the trip impressed Pumpalov with how they pitched in.

“Those kids will take it for rest of [their] life, they got life lessons,” said Pumpalov. “There is no way you can teach that in a classroom. I was extremely happy with how the kids responded on the work site. The most difficult lesson to teach in coaching is getting players to stay committed and not give up. They learned that from the work site.”

While Pumpalov has seen a lot in a soccer, having competed for Bulgaria’s U16, U18, and U21 National Teams before embarking on a pro career and playing 450 games in Bulgaria and Malta, he was taken aback by what he witnessed in Haiti.

“It was a completely different experience for me,” added Pumpalov. “I have been in a lot of places in the world but this is something I never experienced before. We went to places where it was just a shame to see how they live. I want to go back and help those people.”

Hoppenot, for her part, came away from the trip feeling a deeper bond with the Haitian people.

“The Haitians were so welcoming and appreciative,” said Hoppenot. “When you want to help someone, it is great to feel a connection. It was very touching and very moving.”

DELIVERING THE GOODS: Jackson Rho delivers a pitch for the Princeton Little League (PLL) 10-year-old All-Star team in the Monroe Invitational Tournament Championship Game. Princeton took second in the tourney, adding a chapter to a successful summer for PLL in tournament play which saw the league’s teams bring home one championship, two second place finishes, and several strong performances in 19 events.

As the dog days of summer wind down, the Princeton Little League (PLL) baseball program has reached a crossroads.

On one hand, the PLL has established itself as a force to be reckoned with among the 18 programs in the District 12, methodically executing a plan to increase the league’s competitiveness and visibility.

“I feel like Phase I of the effort to rebuild and re-imagine the PLL has been completed and it has been very successful,” said league Co-President Jon Durbin.

“We wanted to improve the quality of play on our recreation program and make a jump in the summer all star program. I think we have probably gone from being a team at the top of the third tier in District 12 to now where I can safely say we are in the top third. We have made a big jump. The PLL board feels that after a concerted four-year effort, Phase I of our long-term plan to improve the quality and branding of the league has been successfully achieved. Moreover, our registrations are at an all-time high, as is the enthusiasm for the league around town.”

That jump in quality was reflected earlier this summer as the PLL enjoyed some superb results in tournament play. The 12U Team, coached by Terry Smith, Jeff Vanderkam, and Brad Brock finished second in the South Brunswick Viking Classic Tournament. The 11’s, guided by Bill Venizelos, Kris Ramsay, and Archie Reid, made a strong showing in the District 12 tournament, beating a powerful Nottingham team, while almost beating Robbinsville, the ultimate champion.

The 10’s, led by Durbin, Al Rho, and Chris Trenholm finished 12-4 and made the “Top Six” in the District 12 tourney, finished second in the Monroe Invitational Tournament, and won the championship in the Basking Ridge Summer Blast Tournament. The 9‘s, coached by Mike Petrone and Ryan Lilienthal, finished 10-5 and made the quarterfinals and semis, respectively, in the Early and Late District All-Star Tournaments.

The 8 Black team, guided by Jason Petrone, played well in all three tournaments with a strong showing in the Late Districts Tournament. The 8 Orange team, coached by Jeff Bergman, Gary Zuckerman, and Adam Seiden, did well in both the Amwell and Hopewell Tournaments while the 7U Coach Pitch Team, coached by Ken Harlan, excelled in the Early District All-Star Tournament.

But while proud of that success, Durbin and the PLL are not about to rest on their laurels.

“Now we enter into Phase II of our long-term plan,” said Durbin. “Phase II will focus on successfully playing a more exciting ‘brand’ of baseball in the form of 50/70 and playing championship caliber district ball year in and year out across the age groups.”

In Durbin’s view, the PLL’s recent decision to switch its Majors Division from the standard Little League field size (46-foot pitching distance and 60-foot base paths) to a 50-foot pitching distance and 70-foot base paths as per an International Little League pilot program will be the centerpiece of Phase II.

“Players will be able to lead-off and steal during the pitcher’s delivery compared to our current format where they are not be able to lead off and have to wait until the ball crosses home plate to run,” explained Durbin.

“It means that infielders will be able to make tougher plays, including double plays, due to the larger field. It means that pitchers will be able to throw a wider variety of pitches, including more breaking balls, and that batters will have more time to react to pitches, so the amount of hits should increase each game.”

In order to thrive in the new 50/70 world, the PLL plans to beef up its focus on skill development.

“We will be continuing our relentless effort to improve the quality of our hitting and now to also focus on pitching development,” maintained Durbin.

“Starting this winter, we are planning to launch a pitching program where up to a dozen players will be identified in each age group based on coaching recommendations between the ages of 8-12 and offered the chance to work out with pro coaches and senior PLL coaches once a week to help develop their accuracy and arm strength. Our ultimate goal is to increase the number of pitchers both for the recreation and summer all-star programs, and therefore increase the quality of play.”

A tangible example of the league’s determination to help the players improve was the installation of soft toss and tee batting stations built on to the existing batting cages at Grover Park.

“It made a huge difference with the kids because not only did it create a safe environment but the kids now saw a structured place for them to practice that kind of hitting,” said Durbin, noting that PLL Co-President Kevin Lambert designed the batting stations.

“Not only would they get help from the coaches, we saw the kids taking what they had been taught by their volunteer and pro coaches and actually doing it on their own in these new hitting stations.”

The PLL will be encouraging younger players to take more initiative in improving their game.

“I think we are going to make a commitment to having all star teams at the youngest age possible, meaning starting at the six and seven-year-old level,” said Durbin.

“Right now we have teams at seven and eight but mostly eight-year-olds. I think the other thing is that we are going to start encouraging younger players at that level to start play spring travel baseball.”

The advent of the 50/70 program could lead PLL to help older players hone their skills as well.

“The PLL Board will be voting next month on whether to make 13-year-olds eligible to play in the new 50/70 Majors Division,” said Durbin.

“This would be an important development for those kids who quite often stop playing the game at age 13. Historically, the 13-year-olds were forced to make the jump to the major league size field, and most of them were not physically ready to do so, and so they would drop out of baseball. Now they will have another year to develop and grow on the intermediate size field before making a jump to the bigger 60/90 field, which we hope will enable more kids to play the game longer.”

In Durbin’s view, the PLL is poised to make some history as it embarks on its Phase II.

“These are all thrilling developments for PLL, and they are happening due to the substantial efforts put forward by our Board of Trustees, our all-volunteer coaching staff, and the commitment of our families,” said Durbin.

“We are confident that the quality of play in the league will continue to get stronger and stronger as a result, and we hope that the kids will have a great experience fostering their love for the game for many years to come.”

August 17, 2012

BRONZE STAR: Diana Matheson controls the ball during her brilliant career with the Princeton University women’s soccer team which saw her help the Tigers advance to the 2004 College Cup national semifinals. Last Thursday, Matheson, a 2008 Princeton alum who holds the program career record for assists (26), scored the lone goal as Canada edged France 1-0 to take the Bronze Medal in women’s soccer at the London Olympics. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Diana Matheson helped lead the Princeton University women’s soccer team reach unprecedented heights when it advanced to the 2004 College Cup national semifinals.

Last Thursday, the 2008 Tiger alum’s brilliance sparked the Canadian women’s soccer team to a first as her late goal gave Canada a 1-0 win over France in the Bronze Medal game at the London Olympics.

It was Canada’s first-ever medal in women’s soccer and only the second medal between men’s or women’s soccer, the other coming when the Canadian men won gold in St. Louis in 1904.

Matheson’s first career Olympic goal, in her second Olympics, came in the 92nd minute and was Canada’s only shot on goal for the entire afternoon.

Indeed, the only Canadian shot that fell within the goal frame was midfielder Matheson’s rebound off a French defender, touching off a celebration that became official only seconds later when the second-half added time had run out.

France outshot Canada 25-4 overall and 4-1 on net. Among the 25 were several near misses, posts and crossbars that made it seem the French were only moments from scoring a goal and taking the bronze.

Later, Matheson, Princeton’s career assists leaders with 26, beamed during the medal ceremony and cradled the medal in her hands for moments after it was presented.

The Reinprecht sisters, Katie ’13 and Julia ’14, wrapped up play for the U.S. field hockey last Saturday as the U.S. fell 2-1 to Belgium to finish in 12th place in the tournament.

The U.S. jumped out to a 1-0 lead but Belgium scored two unanswered goals to pull out the win. As they had done all tournament, both Reinprecht sisters played a majority of the game with Julia getting credit for a pair of shots in the contest.

Princeton athletes ended the London Olympics with seven medals, piling up a gold (Caroline Lind ’06 — U.S. women’s 8), two silvers (Adreanne Morin ’06 and Lauren Wilkinson ’11 — Canada women’s 8), and a bronze (Glenn Ochal ’08 — men’s four) in rowing, two bronzes in fencing (Maya Lawrence ’02 and Susie Scanlan ’14 — U.S. team epee), and Matheson’s bronze in women’s soccer.

On Sunday, a Princeton men’s basketball alum, David Blatt ’81, earned a medal in a coaching capacity as he guided Russia to an 81-77 victory over Argentina in the bronze medal game last Sunday. It was the highest Olympic finish in men’s basketball for Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union prior to the 1992 Games.

Blatt became the head coach of the Russian national basketball team in 2006 and guided the team to the 2007 Eurobasket title and a third-place finish in the 2011 Eurobasket tournament.

August 15, 2012

PHILADELPHIA FLYER: Antoine Hoppenot flies up the field in recent action for the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer (MLS). Hoppenot, a former Princeton Day School and Princeton University soccer standout, has gone from being a fan of the Union to an up-and-coming star for the squad in his rookie campaign. The speedy forward had a goal and eight shots in his first 11 MLS appearances. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

Last year, Antoine Hoppenot enjoyed heading down the road from Princeton to PPL Park in Chester, Pa. to root for the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer (MLS).

So when the former Princeton Day School and Princeton University soccer standout was drafted by the Union this past February, he was thrilled.

“I have been to a lot of Union games as a fan,” said Hoppenot, who signed with the club on February 21. “It was perfect for me. I was close to home and my parents could see me play.”

This summer, Hoppenot is drawing the cheers of the Union supporters, utilizing his elusiveness and ball skills to emerge as an up-and-coming star for the squad.

Hoppenot rode the bench for nine of the team’s first 10 games, getting just one minute of time against Columbus on April 14.

On May 26, Hoppenot saw 25 minutes of action in a 1-0 loss to Toronto. Less than a month later, Hoppenot scored his first career goal as the Union defeated Sporting Kansas City 4-0.

Over the last several weeks, the 5’9, 155-pound forward Hoppenot has become a fan favorite, energizing the Union with his trademark runs to the goal.

When Hoppenot started practicing with the team, he initially wasn’t sure if he could get up to speed to contribute this season.

“Everything is much faster, the ball is zipping around,” said Hoppenot, who tallied 26 goals and 15 assists in his stellar Princeton career which saw him earn All-Ivy League recognition in each of his four years, including being honored as the Ivy Player of the Year on 2010 as a junior when he helped the Tigers take the league title.

“At first, I was just trying to keep up. For a rookie, it is always a little rough at first. It took me three or four weeks to feel comfortable.”

Hoppenot’s comfort level grew on a preseason trip to Costa Rica in late February which saw him score a goal in a 3-0 win over the Costa Rica U-20 Team.

“The Costa Rica trip was great, it was good to get to know the team,” said Hoppenot, who put his final semester at Princeton on hold in order to play with the Union this spring. “The players started getting confidence in me and my ability to play.”

Despite that promising start, Hoppenot realized that breaking into the Union’s rotation was not going to be an easy task.

“I knew it was going to be difficult to get playing time on such a good team that went to the playoffs last year,” added Hoppenot.

“I just went to practice and worked as hard as I could. You have to hope for one opportunity and make the best of it.”

For Hoppenot, taking advantage of a scoring chance and finding the back of the net against Sporting KC on June 23 made for a memorable night.

“That was the greatest feeling,” asserted Hoppenot. “It is one of the best moments I have ever had in soccer. There were 18,000 fans cheering. It was a big game for us and we had a big 4-0 win.”

A coaching change in June which saw Peter Nowak step down as Union head coach to be replaced by assistant coach John Hackworth has led to Hoppenot getting more minutes on the pitch.

“Coach Hack has a lot of confidence in me; he is willing to put me in spots where he thinks I can help the team,” said Hoppenot.

“It is great to come out to practice every week and know that at the end of the week, you may get rewarded with playing time in a game. It is what you dream of.”

Another dream came true for Hoppenot when he made his first MLS start on July 29 as the Union hosted the New England Revolution and posted a 2-1 victory.

“That was incredible; it was great to be in the first-team picture that they take before the game,” said Hoppenot. “My teammates were kidding me that I finally get to have one of those pictures. It was a big crowd; I was pretty excited.”

Off the field, Hoppenot has developed a tight bond with his teammates.

“It has been exciting; we have a lot of young guys who can relate to each other,” said Hoppenot, who shares an apartment with two of his teammates. “We are in the same time of our lives; we like to joke around a lot.”

As he looks ahead to the rest of his rookie campaign, Hoppenot hopes to keep providing excitement for the Union, who were 7-11-2 in their first 20 games to stand eighth of 10 teams in the MLS’s Eastern Conference.

“I am ready to do a little bit of everything,” said Hoppenot, who had a goal and eight shots in his first 11 MLS regular season games.

“I like coming off the bench and bringing energy to the team. If they need someone to start and play 90 minutes, I am ready to do that. It depends on what we need; that changes from week to week. I would like to score a few more goals this season but I don’t have any number in mind. The really important thing is for us to make the playoffs. We need to get as many wins as possible. If we win and I get some goals, that would be great.”

While Hoppenot, who was born in Paris, France, could end up playing in Europe someday, he doesn’t see himself leaving the Union anytime soon.

“I think I will be in the MLS for the near future; I am very young and I have a lot to learn,” said Hoppenot, 21, who is dealing with a fractured nose after getting head-butted by Montreal’s Nelson Rivas on August 4 in a 2-0 loss.

“I am trying to figure out what being a pro means; it is tough going from a four-month season in college to a 9 and a half months in the pros. I am learning more about stretching, nutrition, and rest. I have a lot to improve on before I am ready to think about playing in Europe.”

In addition, Hoppenot is enjoying the cheers he has been getting from the Union faithful.

“The fans have been fantastic,” said Hoppenot. “They have shown me support every step of the way.”

That is no surprise considering that Hoppenot has gone from being one of them to stepping up on the pitch in a big way for the Union.

NATIONAL LEADER: Princeton University women’s hockey head coach Jeff Kampersal makes a point during action last winter. Kampersal, who has guided the Tigers to a 233-184-41 record in his 15-year tenure, was named earlier this year as the head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 team. This week, Kampersal will be behind the bench for the first time in game action for the U-18 squad as it faces Team Canada in Blaine, Minn. for a three-game series.
(Photo by Beverly Schaefer, Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Figuring that he was pretty much out of the loop when it came to the U.S. women’s hockey program, Jeff Kampersal wasn’t expecting to be pressed into service any time soon on the national level.

“I had done a lot of U.S. hockey work over the years but I had been out of it since 2006,” said Kampersal, the longtime head coach of the Princeton University women’s hockey team. “Last year I was in a camp with some of the older players.”

But as he was focused on getting the most out of his Tiger women’s team during the 2011-12 campaign, Kampersal got an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“The U.S. people called me in the winter and asked me to head the Under-18 women’s national team,” recalled Kampersal.

“I was surprised. It is an exciting opportunity; getting the chance to work with coaches like Courtney Kennedy (a Boston College women’s hockey assistant coach) and Steve Guider (head coach of the Blaine High (Minn.) girls’ hockey team) and some amazing hockey players.”

This week, Kampersal will be behind the bench for the first time in game action for the U-18 squad as it faces Team Canada in Blaine, Minn. for a three-game series.

“We will have the nucleus of the team for that series,” said Kampersal, who has spent much of the summer scouting tournaments and holding camps to narrow his player pool as the team prepares to take part in the 2013 International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World U-18 Championships from December 29, 2012 to January 5, 2013 in Finland.

“If we do well, we won’t make many changes. If we don’t do well, we can look at other players over the fall.”

In putting together the best team possible, Kampersal is drawing on the experience he has gained from heading the Tiger women’s program over the last 15 years and guiding it to a 233-184-41 record.

“About 75 percent of the job of a college coach is recruiting; I believe I can evaluate players,” said Kampersal, a 1992 Princeton graduate who was a star defenseman for the Tiger men’s hockey program.

“At this level, we have a depth of strong players. We don’t have an exceptional player but we have a lot of good players. If I took the first 20 and you took the second 20, we could have a good seven-game series. We may not want to take the 12 best forwards, we may want to take three who grind and three with speed.”

In Kampersal’s view, the experience of leading the U-18 team should make him a stronger coach.

“I think running bigger practices will help me,” said Kampersal, noting that cutting players has been the toughest aspect of the job.

“It is good working with the other coaches and sharing ideas on things like power plays. We need to keep it as simple as possible. We can’t overcoach. There is not enough time to do that but we can emphasize basic principles.”

Getting to apply those principles on a world stage will be exciting for Kampersal.

“I have been involved in a U-22 series against Canada but I never represented the U.S. in a world championship as either a player or coach; it is really special,” said Kampersal. “It has been a lot of fun so far; the people are amazing.”

GONE CAMPING: Dave Dudeck eludes a foe in action last fall in his senior season with the Hun School football team. Dudeck, who made 50 catches for 1,003 yards and 10 touchdowns to help Hun go 7-1 in 2011, started preseason camp last week with the Boston College football program. The 6’0, 195-pound Dudeck will be looking to get playing time at strong safety this fall in his freshman campaign for the Eagles. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For many high school athletes, putting in two hours of hard work at practice on a daily basis and giving 100 percent in games satisfies their desire to succeed.

But for David Dudeck, that kind of effort marked a bare minimum. The recent Hun School graduate typically arrived at school each morning around 6 a.m. to do speed and explosiveness drills with Hun trainers. He also fit in weight training sessions and worked on pass patterns during free periods in the fall.

Dudeck’s combination of athleticism and work ethic helped him produce one of the more impressive two-sport careers in recent Hun history.

On the baseball diamond, Dudeck was an All-Prep A centerfielder who led the Raiders to Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) and Prep A titles. In football, the 6’0, 195-pound Dudeck starred at quarterback as a junior in 2010. As a senior this past fall, he moved to receiver and used his 4.47 speed in the 40-yard dash to make 50 catches for 1,003 yards and 10 touchdowns as he earned New Jersey Prep Player of the Year honors and helped Hun go 7-1.

Dudeck’s two-sport prowess caught the eye of a slew of college baseball and football programs. With his heart set on experiencing big-time college football, Dudeck decided to accept a scholarship from Boston College (BC) and join its football program.

Last week, Dudeck started preseason camp with BC, playing at strong safety as he looks to make an immediate impact for the Eagles.

It was Dudeck’s performance at BC’s one-day camp in June, 2011 that got him on the radar of the Eagle coaches. The camp started at 7:30 a.m. on a Monday and the night before, Dudeck was at a summer baseball tournament that didn’t end until 11:45 p.m. After the tournament, Dudeck drove straight to Boston arriving at 5 a.m. in the morning. He had just enough time to take a two-hour nap before the camp started.

Overcoming fatigue, Dudeck produced an outstanding camp and was able to impress the BC coaches enough to prompt communication throughout the 2011 football season.

“Boston College has always been a dream school for me, so I knew that If I ever wanted a chance I had to go there and perform for them live,” said Dudeck, reflecting on the one-day camp.

“I was like, this is a chance of a lifetime and I’m not going to let anything get in my way.”

Last February that dream came true for Dudeck as he signed a letter of intent with BC, choosing the school over Yale and Navy, his other top choices.

Once the recruiting process ended, the coaching staff’s main concern turns to getting their incoming freshmen prepared for the upcoming season. “Now you’re a BC Eagle, and they want you in the best possible shape for when you come in to camp,” said Dudeck.

As part of that effort, Dudeck moved on to campus June 24 with 15 other members from the class of 2016. As soon as the freshmen arrived, the rookies hit the ground running with workouts and classes.

“Now that you are here, they (coaches) are checking up on you everyday to make sure you are going to class, getting your homework done, and getting your workouts in,” said Dudeck.

Mirroring his Hun routine, Dudeck had a jam-packed schedule in the build-up to preseason camp. He woke up at 5:15 a.m. for morning workouts followed by classes from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.  He would then grab a quick lunch before heading to 7-on-7 practices from 12:45 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Then it was back to the books for tutoring and study hall from 4 to 6 p.m. The day ended with a night class from 6:15 p.m. to 9:15 p.m.

Despite being on the go all day, Dudeck has been able to develop bonds with his freshmen teammates.

“One thing I was happy about was how fast we all became so close,” said Dudeck. “Now we all do everything together.”

In Dudeck’s view, getting to campus in June had a variety of benefits. “Coming here early, getting to be a part of the team, knowing the guys, learning the system, getting adjusted to classes, and just adjusting to life away from family is huge,” said Dudeck. “I definitely miss my family but I talk to everyone at least once a day.”

As he accomplishes his goal of joining a big-time college football program, Dudeck plans to continue his habit of making the most of everyday.

“My mindset going in is that Boston College is an incredible football program so everything that God has blessed me with I want to take there,” asserted Dudeck.

“I want to be a leader there. I want to motivate and push my teammates so that we can bring home a national championship. Those are my goals.”

SOAKING IT UP: Princeton native Flynn Walker guards the net in recent water polo action. Walker, 16, competed in the Junior Olympics this summer for Tiger Aquatics and has participated in the Olympic Development Program (ODP), where he has played for the Northeast zone for the past four years and recently attended a selection camp for the national team. Walker, 16, a rising junior the Lawrenceville School, also stars for the Big Red water polo program.

Flynn Walker began playing water polo at the age of eight years old and it was love at first sight.

“I don’t think there is any sport as fun, intense, and competitive as water polo,” said Walker, a Princeton native.

“I love being in the water, I love the people I get to play with, and I wanted to keep going.”

Walker initially got into water sports through competitive swimming along with his older brother but neither developed a passion for it.

“Both of us didn’t like swimming very much,” recalled Walker. “My brother really got into [water polo], and so the next year, when I was old enough to start, I got into it as well.”

Walker, who started with the Stingrays program in Lawrenceville and then had stints with Navy and Pittsburgh in order to compete in the Junior Olympics, quickly started tasting success in water polo.

Making his first appearance at the Junior Olympics with the Navy club at the 12U level, he helped the squad take seventh overall in the platinum bracket, believed to be the highest finish for an east coast team in that national competition.

A year later, Walker competed for a Pittsburgh 14U team that ended up taking eighth overall in the Junior Olympics.

In helping the Navy and Pittsburgh teams thrive, Walker found his natural role in the sport as he became a goalie.

He had a feel for the pressure-cooker position from having previously played goalie in soccer and games of street hockey so when the Navy club coach needed a goalie for the Junior Olympics, Walker jumped at the chance.

“They saw me play in a tournament and asked if I would play goalie for them, and I gladly accepted,” said Walker.

Walker believes that he was made for the position. Standing 6’4  with a 6’7  wingspan, he has the physical attributes to succeed in the goal. More importantly, he relishes the responsibility that comes with the job.

“I enjoy the feeling of being that last line of defense and stopping people from scoring, and I think that mentality is key to have,” asserted Walker, who is now competing for the Tiger Aquatics water polo program and starred for the Lawrenceville School team last fall as a sophomore.

Walker’s initial success at the Junior Olympics inspired him to continue to play the game at the highest level.

“Those teams were extremely unusual, because east coast teams rarely do that well, so it was a pretty big deal for us,” added Walker, who has now played in seven Junior Olympic tourneys. “It was really fun to play for them and I really enjoyed the experiences.”

In addition to competing in Junior Olympics, Walker, 16, has gotten the opportunity to participate in the Olympic Development Program (ODP), where he has played for the Northeast zone for the past four years and recently attended a selection camp for the national team.

Along with the national camp, Walker has spent most of his time this summer traveling around the country to participate in tournaments on the west coast and camps at various schools as his ambition is to someday play for a top college water polo program.

“I definitely want to play at a higher level, wherever I go, and put everything I have into it. I can’t imagine stopping at this point,” said Walker.

August 8, 2012

SENATORIAL BID: Michael Sdao, left, heads up the ice in action for the Princeton University men’s hockey team. Rising senior defenseman Sdao recently completed his third summer prospects camp with the Ottawa Senators of the National Hockey League. Sdao, a first-team All-Ivy League and second-team All-ECACH pick last season, was drafted by the club in the seventh round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After getting drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the seventh round of the 2009 National Hockey League Entry Draft, Michael Sdao continues to get acquainted with the club.

The rising Princeton University men’s hockey senior defenseman recently completed a week at the team’s summer prospects camp, marking his third straight appearance at the annual session.

Taking part in the camp gave Sdao a chance to see how he measured up against many of the players he will compete with for a chance to fulfill his dream of playing in the National Hockey League. For Sdao, skating with the Senators provided an opportunity to not only show off his skills with the puck, but to also prove he could hold his own when the physicality increased.

“There was a little bit of that,” said the 6’4, 230-pound Sdao, referring to the rough stuff that comes with the NHL game.

“It is a development camp. It’s all about player development and trying to improve your skills. The physical play is part of the game, so sometimes that does come up.”

Sdao is developing a comfort level with the organization as he got to skate again with his fellow prospects at the Bell Sensplex, the Senators’ training facility.

“It was great,” asserted Sdao, a native of Niwot, Colo.

“It was good to go back there and see some of my friends and roommates from past years. It was my third time in camp, so I have a really good relationship with a lot of the guys. It’s such a great city and great place to be.”

The players were tested throughout the camp with a series of intense workouts that were designed to help prepare the prospects for what they will face in the future.

“You definitely get a taste of what it’s like to be a pro,” said Sdao. “It’s intended to make you hungry and get to the next level, and that’s definitely what it’s done for me.”

Sdao’s play at Princeton as well as his performance at the development camps has opened plenty of eyes in the Senators’ front office.

“They’ve talked to me about my career after Princeton,” added Sdao, a starter from day one of his college career who has 39 points on 18 goals and 21 assists in 87 appearance for the Tigers.

“They expect me to be a big part of the organization down the line. They’re very engaged in their prospects. Every year, they’ve been able to make it to some of my games and I’m thankful for that.”

Sdao’s improvement can be credited, in large part, to the ice time he has earned at Princeton. After scoring nine points as a freshman and 10 the next year, Sdao emerged as the Tigers’ top blue-liner last season. He appeared in 30 games, scoring 10 goals and adding ten assists. Sdao also logged more minutes than any other Princeton defenseman and had more goals than any defender in ECAC Hockey.

“I got to play more minutes and develop my skills,” said Sdao, who was named as a first-team All-Ivy League and second-team All-ECACH pick last season.

“I also got some power play time and a lot of penalty-kill time.  Just to play as much as I was able to play made it a great year.”

Last year didn’t end well for Sdao and the Tigers as they were eliminated by Yale in the first round of the ECACH Playoffs and ended the winter with an overall record of 9-16-7.

Sdao’s time in Ottawa coupled with his desire for a longer postseason run has increased his excitement for the upcoming season at Princeton which will start with scrimmages against the University of Guelph (Ontario) on October 19 and 20 at Hobey Baker Rink with regular season play commencing the next weekend with the Ivy League Shootout at Brown University.

“Everyone is ready to go,” said Sdao, who will be serving as assistant captain of the squad for a second straight season.

“You get through July and everyone is itching to get back to school. The way last season ended definitely left a bad taste in our mouths.”

While this will be Sdao’s last season at the college level, he hopes there is a lot of hockey ahead of him as he is determined to pursue a pro career. Over the past few years several Tiger players have found success in the NHL ranks, with George Parros and Kevin Westgarth having both gone from Princeton to the top of the hockey world as members of Stanley Cup champions.

Those two former Tigers needed to become handy with their fists to reach the NHL and gain a foothold. Sdao is hoping his skills will be his ticket, but understands there may be a time when he has to fight.

“That’s definitely part of the game,” said Sdao. “It’s something that happens and there’s a time and a place for it. You just have to know when it is. But I don’t want to be known as a one-dimensional player. There’s so much more to the game.”

Although Sdao’s focus is squarely on giving as much as he can to Princeton this winter, he acknowledges that the dream of becoming a professional is never far from his thoughts.

“That’s in the back of your mind all the time,” said Sdao. “You just want to watch and learn from what those guys are doing. Watching Hockey Night in Canada makes you wish that someday, that will be you.”

BREAKING THROUGH: Chris Edwards of Winberie’s/Miller Lite looks to get past an Ivy Inn defender last week in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League championship series. Last Friday, Edwards scored 14 points to help Winberie’s edge Ivy Inn 45-41 in the decisive third game of the best-of-three series. It was a sweet win for Edwards and his teammates as they had fallen in the title series the last two years. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It was looking like the Winberie’s/Miller Lite squad might be assuming the unwanted role of bridesmaid as the decisive third game of the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League championship series headed to halftime last Friday night.

After having fallen in the title series the last two summers, second-seeded Winberie’s found itself trailing No. 5 Ivy Inn 23-18 at intermission before an overflow crowd at the Community Park courts.

But Winberie’s forward Chris Edwards and his teammates weren’t about to settle for another runner-up finish.

“The morale was a bit low but we were just trying to keep it up,” said Edwards, recalling the team’s halftime meeting.

“We just said that if we do what we had to do, we are going to win the game. We said, hey this is our third year in the finals, we can’t come out here and be the Buffalo Bills [losers of four straight Super Bowls] of the summer league. We have to play with more heart and take it to them.”

Winberie’s team manager Mark Rosenthal had a heart-to-heart chat with Edwards during the break in an effort to provide further inspiration to the forward who had scored just two points in the first half of the contest.

“I talked to Chris at halftime and I said ‘you need to be aggressive,’” said Rosenthal.

“We are a better team when he is more aggressive. He knows that he needs to be more aggressive and he knows he can play against anybody. He was in a bit of foul trouble; I told him to forget about the foul situation and just go out there and play all out and this will work out.”

Edwards responded to the pep talk with aplomb, tallying 12 points in the second half as Winberie’s rallied for a 45-41 victory.

“The second half was a little more aggressive,” said Edwards, who punctuated the win with a thunderous dunk in the waning seconds of the game.

“We were getting out on transition and getting out on the break, Chris Hatchell and I were talking about it; we had to keep running and keep pushing the ball. Once I started to do that, I started getting easy buckets.”

In pulling out the victory, Winberie’s also stepped up the defensive intensity. “We said at the half that 23 points was a little too much for them in the first half,” said Edwards.

“They got a lot of shots. We were double teaming them and rotating better on the defensive end in the second half so that turned the game around.”

In Rosenthal’s view, the play of sharpshooting guard Hatchell helped turn the tide in the favor of Winberie’s.

“Chris Hatchell gave me the guarantee before the game,” said Rosenthal of the former College of New Jersey standout who scored a team-high 16 points in the finale and was voted to receive the Foreal Wooten Award as playoff MVP.

“He told me ‘coach just put the ball in my hands and I promise I will bring you that first championship.’ He is clutch.”

In the moments after Winberie’s clinched that elusive title, Rosenthal celebrated by leaping into the arms of Kurt Simmons.

“Kurt is one of the original members of this team,” said Rosenthal. “He was there through the thin years when we only had two or three wins a season. We have been talking how we wanted to get to this point for a long time. He came through; he was the first guy I looked for when we came off. I had to give him a big hug; this has been a long time in the making.”

A beaming Edwards basked in the glow of finally coming through with the title.

“It means a lot,” said Edwards. “It was now or never; there was no turning back. Our core guys are older players. We are experienced in the league; we have played in the playoffs. We figured that’s what got us over the top.”

OUTSIDE THREAT: Kyle Burke of Ivy Inn dribbles on the perimeter last week in the championship series of the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League. Burke scored a team-high 13 points, including 4 three-pointers, to help Ivy Inn top Winberie’s/Miller Lite 41-32 last Wednesday and knot the best-of-three series at 1-1. Ivy Inn, though, went on to lose the finale 45-41 last Friday at the Community Park courts.
(Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

Kyle Burke acknowledges that he has misfired a bit this season for the Ivy Inn squad in the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League.

“I haven’t shot the ball too well pretty much the whole summer,” said Burke, a guard known for his long-range shooting.

In Game 1 of the league’s best-of-three championship series on July 30, Burke tallied just three points as fifth-seeded Ivy Inn fell 48-41 to No. 2 Winberie’s/Miller Lite.

But in Game 2 last Wednesday night at the Princeton High gym, Burke heated up on the perimeter as Ivy Inn looked to stay alive and force a decisive third game in the series.

The former College of New Jersey standout nailed a three-pointer in the waning seconds of the first half to give Ivy Inn a 24-15 lead at intermission. He hit two more key threes in the second half as Ivy Inn pulled away to a 41-32 win.

“That changed the momentum,” said Burke, referring to his three-pointer right before the half. “Anything I can give us is a bonus.”

In reflecting on the win, Burke said each of the Ivy Inn players on hand gave their all.

“We just had a good all-around effort,” said Burke, who scored a total of 13 points, including 4 three-pointers, on the night with Mark Aziz adding 10 points and recently graduated PHS standout Davon Black chipping in six.

“We played a lot harder than Monday night and the results definitely showed that. We usually get off to good starts but we don’t finish. Tonight, we were able to finish.”

While Ivy Inn didn’t finish with the result it wanted as it fell 45-41 to Winberie’s on Friday in Game 3 of the series, the squad showed class to the end.

“When we get down or the other teams make a run, we know to stay composed,” asserted Burke of the team that won four of six summer league titles from 2005 to 2010.

“We don’t yell at each other, we don’t fight. We have been here before so we are mature about it.”

NINE LIVES: Members of the Princeton Basketball Club (PBC) 9th grade AAU boys’ basketball team pose before their recent appearance at the AAU Nationals East 9th Grade Division III tourney at Hampton, Va. The team ended up going 1-1 in pool play to advance to the Round of 32 in the competition. Pictured in the front row, from left, are Luke Apuzzi, JC Silva, John Morelli, Chris Diver, and Max Tarter. In the back row, from left, are Matt Hart, Alex Levine, Kevin Kane, and Nick Mazzone.

Clarence White gave some tough love to Princeton Basketball Club (PBC) 9th grade AAU boys’ basketball team this season.

“The effort last year didn’t satisfy me,” said head coach White. “In the 6th and 7th grade, they didn’t appreciate going to the [AAU] nationals. They didn’t go to the nationals last year; they didn’t play as well as they should. I issued a challenge to them to finish .500 or better this season.”

The players answered White’s challenge, going 25-22 in regular season play and earning a trip to the AAU Nationals East 9th Grade Division III tourney at Hampton, Va.

“They went out and competed this year and got an at-large bid,” said White.

“We won a couple of tournaments, one in Danbury, Ct and another in Massachusetts.”

As the squad looked ahead to its third trip to the nationals, White wanted his players to aim high.

“In the 6th and 7th grades, the team got blown out of the water,” recalled White.

“I think it was due to the bright lights and the atmosphere. I wanted to finish in the top 30 this time.”

In its opener in Pool 9Q last week, PBC showed it was ready to shine on the national stage, edging the Va. Beach Explosion in a 42-41 thriller.

“We came up big on the winning basket; it came off a very well executed play,” said White.

“They celebrated quite a bit afterward, maybe too hard. When I saw their jubilation and excitement, I said this is what you want to remember from this.”

White will remember the courage the team displayed as it overcame a key injury in pulling out the victory.

“We lost Nick Mazzone with an injury; he sprained his ankle in the first game,” said White.

“That was tough because he and Alex Levine are the heart and soul of our defense. Max Tarter had a really good game; Luke Apuzzi also played well. Andrew Hart, a rising 9th grader, hit the winning shot.”

PBC lost its final pool game but did advance to the final 32 where it fell to the Lehigh Valley Timberwolves 58-47 and ended the tournament with a 53-39 loss to Va. Team 757 in a consolation contest.

“We got down by 15 to Lehigh Valley and cut it to five,” said White. “We ran out of gas. Kevin Kane had a good game. In the final game, we started with seven players and were down to six by the end. They had 12 players and used them all. It was a really tough, really physical game. We gave a good effort.”

In White’s view, the memory of the team’s effort in the opener should serve as a confidence builder for the players.

“The main thing I want them to take out of this is the first game,” said White.

“We had a chance to talk about it and think about it. I want them to remember that snapshot. I told them you want to have other celebrations like that in the future; like maybe after a high school state tournament game.”

White believes the team can positively impact the Princeton High program, both in the short term and in the long term.

“If they continue to work hard, it should pay off for them and the high school,” said White, noting that the players figure to take an important role this winter for the PHS junior varsity team.

“What these guys have done is set the bar. We have a group of rising seventh graders who want to go to nationals next year.”

ENDING WITH A BANG: Clint O’Brien takes a swing in action this spring in his senior season with the Gettysburg College baseball team. The former Princeton Day School star athlete saved his best for last in his college career as he hit .382 in 2012 with 50-hits in 131 at-bats and one homer and 23 RBIs. Over his first three years with the program, O’Brien had posted a .250 batting average with a total of 38 hits in 152 at-bats. Ending his career in style, O’Brien banged a homer in his final college at-bat.
(Photo by David Sinclair, Courtesy of Gettysburg College’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Some 52 years ago, Ted Williams ended his Hall of Fame career with the Boston Red Sox in style, clubbing a homer in his last major league at-bat.

This spring, former Princeton Day School star athlete Clint O’Brien took a page out of Williams’s book, culminating his Gettysburg College baseball career with a home run in his final plate appearance.

For O’Brien, that finale will be a moment he’ll never forget. “That felt great; that is how I wanted to end it,” said O’Brien, reflecting on the blast which came on May 1 in a loss to York (Pa.) College.

“That was incredible; I couldn’t believe it. Ask any of my teammates, I was trying to do that. Outside of winning a championship, that was the best way to end things.”

O’Brien’s career-ending heroics were made even sweeter considering that things didn’t always go well for him during his time at Gettysburg.

After starring in football, ice hockey, and baseball at PDS, O’Brien struggled in freshman year. He was a back-up receiver in football and went hitless in one plate appearance for the baseball team. A year later, he played his final season of football and did progress in baseball, hitting .283 with 13 hits in 46 at-bats.

In reflecting on his first two seasons at Gettysburg, O’Brien acknowledged that it was tough juggling football and baseball.

“I was still playing football as a freshman and didn’t have fall ball for baseball,” recalled O’Brien.

“In the football preseason, I went from quarterback to wide receiver and I went without throwing for a long time. After winter ball, I developed tendinitis in my shoulder and elbow and that shut me down for most of my freshman baseball season. Sophomore year was my last season of football. In baseball, I was the utility guy that year. I played left field, right field, center field, third base, and first base. I got back into the swing of things. My arm was healthy and I could throw.”

Focusing solely on baseball by his junior year, O’Brien was able to contribute more as he hit .229, going 24-for-105 with a homer and 16 RBIs.

“I had fall ball that year,” said O’Brien. “As a team, we were not as successful as I would have hoped. We had three juniors and five seniors on that team so it was a really young team. By the end of my junior year, we showed a lot of progress.”

As O’Brien looked ahead to this spring, he was primed to take a key role in building on that progress as a team captain and the lone senior starter.

“It felt good to be captain, that alone made me more ready to step into a leadership position,” said O’Brien.

“Every game, I was the only senior on the field, so I had to be the guy who set the example. I had that experience in the past so it was nothing new for me. My goal was to hit around .400 the whole year.”

O’Brien’s senior year nearly turned into a frustrating experience as he suffered a hand injury early in the season. The 6’3, 205-pound O’Brien, though, didn’t let the pain keep him from producing a banner season as he hit .382, going 50-for-131 with one homer and 23 RBIs.

“In our second-to-last day in Florida, I put a tag on a runner and hurt my left thumb,” said O’Brien, who was the team’s starting first baseman.

“I missed only one game and was the designated hitter in a few games. My swing was OK; it affected my power. Squeezing the glove was the toughest thing.”

The Bullets got into the swing of things this spring as they went 25-13 to post the fourth-highest win total in program history, a marked improvement on the 2011 season which saw them go 12-23.

“It was a great way to go out,” asserted O’Brien, reflecting on the season.

“We had really good guys and a great team chemistry. It was easy for me to rediscover my passion for the game.”

Igniting that passion helped O’Brien regain his status as a star performer. “Not being able to show up and contribute was something that was completely foreign to me,” said O’Brien, who is currently working in media sales for an internet start-up in New York City. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could still do it.”

PAIN CONTROL: Carly O’Brien heads up the field this past spring in her freshman season with the Dickinson College women’s lacrosse team. O’Brien, a former three-sport standout at Princeton Day School, fought through nagging hamstring problems to tally 25 points on 13 goals and 12 assists for the Red Devils in 2012 and rank third on the squad in scoring.
(Photo by James Rasp, Courtesy of Dickinson Sports Information)

As Carly O’Brien went through middle school, she was on track to be a softball star.

The athletic O’Brien starred in the District 12 softball all-star tournament and played travel ball.

But O’Brien’s sports destiny changed in the span of one afternoon. “A friend brought me to her lacrosse practice, “ said O’Brien.

“I really liked it and after the spring of eight grade, I stopped playing travel softball and got into lacrosse.”

It didn’t take long for O’Brien to establish herself as a star in her newfound passion. She made the girls’ varsity lax team at Princeton Day School in 2008 as a ninth grader and emerged as a go-to scoring threat by her sophomore season.

As a junior, she tallied 63 goals and 13 assists to help the Panthers go 14-4 and win the program’s first-ever Mercer County Tournament title. O’Brien kept firing away as a senior, earning first-team All-Prep A honors and ending her PDS career with more than 150 goals.

Having progressed so rapidly in lacrosse, O’Brien was fired up to keep playing the game after high school.

“I realized that lacrosse was my favorite sport; I couldn’t see myself not playing sports in college,” said O’Brien, who also starred in soccer and ice hockey for the Panthers.

Initially, O’Brien saw herself playing at the highest level of the college game.

“At first, I wanted to go to a Division I program,” said O’Brien. “I went to camps, the intensity level was a lot higher. I was looking at Lafayette.”

But O’Brien ended up falling in love with Division III Dickinson College and didn’t need to look any further.

“It was not until the end of junior year that Dickinson got into the picture,” said O’Brien, whose older brothers, Dan and Clint, were star athletes at PDS and played college sports at the D-III level.

“The coach sent me a letter and I met her in the summer before my senior year. I loved her coaching style. I did an overnight visit. I loved the team; I felt really comfortable. I liked that it was a small school; it reminded me of PDS.”

Similar to her PDS career, O’Brien made an impact right away for the Red Devils this spring, tallying 25 points on 13 goals and 12 assists to rank third on the squad in scoring.

O’Brien’s numbers are even more impressive considering that she was battling through injury throughout her freshman year.

“In my second-to-last game in high school, I hurt my hamstring,” said O’Brien, a 5’8 attacker.

“I couldn’t play all fall because I was rehabbing my hamstring. Sitting on the sidelines was frustrating but I got to know my teammates and see how things are done.”

Once the spring rolled around, O’Brien was able to get some things done on the field as she returned to action.

“After we came back from winter break, I was able to play again,” said O’Brien.

“The first game was quite nerve-wracking. It is a lot higher level than high school, the game is a lot faster in college.”

The injury bug, though, ended up slowing O’Brien throughout the spring.

“I originally hurt my right hamstring but then I irritated the left one through favoring the right,” said O’Brien.

“I did physical therapy before and after practice. I did exercises to build up my leg around the hamstring. It was very frustrating. I had to take a couple of games off. I played about half the time; I worked out an arrangement with the coach for when I would come out.”

All things considered, O’Brien feels she got off to a good start in her Dickinson career.

“I tried to contribute as much as I could,” said O’Brien, reflecting on a season which saw the Red Devils go 7-8 overall and 4-4 in Centennial Conference play. “We have a young team. The freshman class were the stars.”

Currently focusing on getting up to full speed, O’Brien is looking to assume a starring role in her sophomore year.

“I am doing physical therapy all summer,” said O’Brien. “I expect to be 100 percent by the fall. The future looks exciting. We didn’t make the playoffs this year and we want to make it next year.”

August 1, 2012

BIG FOUR: Glenn Ochal displays his sculling form in action for the U.S. Rowing program. Ochal, a 2008 Princeton University alum and former star rower for the Tiger men’s heavyweight program, switched from sculling to sweep last fall and made the U.S. men’s four for the London Olympics. Ochal’s boat got off to a good start in London on Monday as it won its opening heat to earn a spot in the semifinal this Thursday at Eton Dorney with the final slated for August 4. (Photo Courtesy of USRowing)

Glen Ochal helped the U.S. to a good showing in the quadruple sculls last year in the World Rowing Championships but ultimately concluded that wasn’t his best route to the 2012 Olympics.

Ochal’s quad took eighth at the worlds in Bled, Slovenia but he faced a major decision upon his return to the U.S.

“After the men’s 8 didn’t qualify for the Olympics, the high performance director presented to us the idea of moving to the sweep,” recalled Ochal, a 2008 Princeton University alum and former star rower for the Tiger men’s heavyweight program.

“We had some of the best ERG scores and that was the way to harness power. We needed to qualify the 8 but they also wanted the 4 to be a priority boat. Will Miller and I decided to go to sweep. I thought maybe this was a good idea; maybe I can do better.”

Ochal ended up getting selected for the 4 and helped the U.S. get off to a good start at the London Summer Games last Monday as the boat won its opening heat to earn a spot in the semifinal this Thursday at Eton Dorney with the final set for August 4.

The boat clocked a time of 5:54.88 over the 2,000-meter course in the opening heat to cruise past runner-up Netherlands (5:55.99) and third-place finisher Greece (5:57.71). In order to advance to the final, Ochal and his boatmates will have to finish in the top three in their semi.

For Ochal, 26, the move from sculling, where the rowers employ two oars, back to sweep, where rowers use just one oar, required some adjustment.

“Because I was sculling, I wasn’t sure where I fit,” said Ochal, who excelled in sweep at Princeton as he helped the Tiger men’s heavyweights win the 2006 Eastern Sprints and the Ladies’ Challenge Plate at the 2006 Royal Henley Regatta.

“I wasn’t the best guy on the first day but I wasn’t the worst. It took a little time, I got used to it. We started with a large group, by January we were down to eight, and by March it was down to four.”

Once the lineup was set, the boat had hoped to race in Europe as part of the Olympic buildup but had to scuttle those plans due to injury. The lack of racing experience, though, didn’t overly concern Ochal.

“We have been flying solo,” said Ochal, a native of Philadelphia, who is joined on the four by Scott Gault (Piedmont, Calif.), Charlie Cole (New Canaan, Conn.), and Henrik Rummel (Pittsford, N.Y.).

“We were going to go overseas for some races but a couple of guys got injured so we decided to stay here. Some people might find it a concern but a race is a race and I have been in a lot of them.”

As the spring has turned into summer, Ochal feels that the quartet had been making good progress.

“We have been working together for a while,” said Ochal. “We want to go over and perform our best, just being there isn’t the goal. The men’s 4 got fourth in Bled and we have made it quicker. We have good speed; everyone is on task and ready to go.”

In Ochal’s view, the key to Olympic success comes down to focusing on basics.

“When you start thinking the Olympics is more than a race, you might try too hard or go out too fast,” said Ochal.

“You have to approach it as another race that just comes every four years. You need to stick to everything in practice, there is nothing magical. You need to get into the race right at the start and work hard through the middle and give it your all at the end. You don’t have to be in the lead but in contact; you have to have faith in your teammates.”

Ochal has faith in his own ability to provide some magic to the boat. “These races comes down to inches; there are 200 strokes in a race,” said the 6’5, 200-pound Ochal.

“I focus on what I am going to do to make it go a little faster. I am feeling pretty comfortable about it. I have adjusted. I have gotten better each month, each week, each day.”

While Ochal is thrilled to be competing in London, he is viewing the Olympics as a step in the process of his growth as an athlete, noting that he would like to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games.

“I will take a break but I am looking to be involved in the next quadrennial,” said Ochal.

“I probably won’t start with the 2013 worlds; there is still a ways to go. Power and endurance aren’t holding me back. I can still improve as a rower with stroke technique. I have improved a lot over the last year but have room to improve even more.”

COURTING SUCCESS: Sean McCourt surveys the scene on the dock at the Caspersen Rowing Center on Mercer Lake. McCourt, who has been the head coach of the Mercer Junior Rowing Club (MJRC) since its inception in 2002, is leaving the program to teach and coach crew at the McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tenn. During his decade at the helm of the MJRC, he built the program into a power as the club has earned a slew of medals, including four at the U.S. Rowing Youth Nationals, and has grown from around 40 rowers to 150 strong. (Photo by Lauri Bookholdt)

As 2002 approached, Sean McCourt was ready to move on from rowing after starring at Boston University and then coaching high school crew for three years upon graduation.

McCourt was all set to start a job with a financial services company in the Philadelphia area but then he had a conversation that changed everything.

“Two or three day before I was going to start I got a call from a guy named Nick McQuaid,” recalled McCourt.

“Nick and I had rowed together for one summer at Penn AC and he was the director of operations for the Princeton International Regatta Association (PIRA) at the time. He said we really want you to come and start this rowing program. It is going to be a little token program and we have this event coming up and we want you to work more on this event.”

Intrigued, McCourt decided to put his financial career on hold and devote his energy to the fledging youth rowing program that became known as the Mercer Junior Rowing Club (MJRC).

“I thought I will try this out and see how it goes,” said McCourt, who came to Mercer Lake in 2002 as the head coach of the club, responsible for oversight and training of all crews as well as organizing and overseeing the Princeton National Rowing Association’s (PNRA) summer camps and regattas.

“The guys at the financial firm were super nice about it, they were like try it and if it doesn’t work out, you can come back here. I thought OK, I have a safety net so let me give it a try.”

Once he made his mind up to take on the challenge, McCourt was all in. “When Nick told me it was going to be a ‘token program,” I was like no way,” said McCourt, who had coached for a year at the McCallie School (Tenn.) and two years at his high school alma mater, St. Joseph’s Prep before making the move to MJRC.

“If we are going to do this, we are going to do it right. It is going to be competitive. We built it off the St. Joe’s model. They were a powerhouse team with a lot of success so we tried to incorporate some of the things they did in terms of practices, training plans, and structure.”

Achieving his vision, McCourt succeeded in building MJRC into a power as the club has earned a slew of medals, including four at the U.S. Rowing Youth Nationals, and has grown from around 40 rowers to 150 strong.

After a decade leading the program, McCourt, 34, has decided to pursue a new challenge as he is heading back to McCallie in Chattanooga where he will guide the school’s rowing program and teach history.

In reflecting on his history with MJRC, McCourt chuckles when he recalls the program’s humble beginnings.

“We started in an office trailer in the back; that was our headquarters,” said a grinning McCourt, sitting in a conference room in the program’s headquarters at the Caspersen Rowing Center on Mercer Lake.

“Finn Casperson gave us a $10,000 gift to start the program. The only things we owned at the beginning were the launches, engines, and cox boxes. Basically I got on the phone and called everyone I knew and said can you loan us boats. It was really beg, borrow, and steal the first year. The first couple of years were crazy. There were days that if parts broke, I was making them because we didn’t have enough money to buy new ones.”

It didn’t take long for the new club to make a breakthrough as its girls’ novice 8 came through in that first spring.

“That year we had an international regatta where we had teams from New Zealand, Great Britain, and Croatia,” said McCourt.

“We had some high school races and our novice 8 girls won. That was the big run up the flagpole success moment for the year.”

The program experienced more and more success as its numbers increased and it gained a foothold in the youth rowing scene.

“In 2004, we had a boys’ boat get fourth at the nationals and that started a really good run for us in the mid-2000s between the boys and the girls,” said McCourt.

“We had a really fast girls boat in 2006 that won the regional and lost in the final of the Henley Women’s Regatta. All in all, Mercer has won four medals at the nationals. The girls have won three and the boys have won one.”

Rachel LaBella, a star on that 2006 girls’ 8 that took second at Henley, credits McCourt with having a knack for getting rowers up to speed.

“As a freshman, I thought Sean was tough but fair,” said LaBella, a WW/P-S grad who went on to row at UCLA where she was named the team’s Most Valuable Oarswoman and served as team captain.

“He is good at bringing the best out of his rowers. He always pushed us even when we didn’t think we could go that amount. He helped us push through barriers.”

LaBella noted that McCourt was a big help in her college recruitment process.

“I didn’t realize I could go to a big school like UCLA and row,” said LaBella. “Sean got me talking to coaches. He knows everyone and has a lot of connections.”

For McCourt, seeing novice rowers develop into college athletes has been one of the joys of his job.

“It is definitely a neat experience; I would say Mercer is a program built on spare parts,” said McCourt, noting that the MJRC has sent scores of rowers to college programs over the years.

“We don’t always  get the best athlete coming out of the chute but we get people who work really hard. There are kids who come in and you say I can’t believe that this kid can tie their shoes and the next thing you know they are leaving and they are getting a scholarship. It is really cool to see that transformation.”

While McCourt may have provided the framework for such transformations, he credits the rowers for making it happen.

“I don’t think I am proud of anything I did per se; I am proud of what the kids have done,” asserted McCourt.

“It is their program, whether or not I am here or not here. They are going to get out of it what they put into it so I don’t claim anything as my accomplishment. It’s something they actually did the work for.”

Now McCourt is looking forward to working at McCallie, noting that he will be able to spend more time with his wife, Megan, a former U.S. national team rower and Olympic silver medalist in 2004, and their twins, Caitlin and Connor, who are turning two at the end of August.

He acknowledges, however, that it is tough to be ending his MJRC tenure. “I am definitely sad to leave because you have blood in the program; it is something you kind of created from nothing,” said McCourt.

“It is kind of like your baby in a way and you got it and raised it up a little bit and now you got it to the next level. I always tell the kids at some point you would have left me anyway.”

LaBella, for her part, believes that the MJRC kids will sorely miss McCourt.

“He is leaving really big shoes to fill; he did so much for the program,” said LaBella, who coached with the MJRC and the Mercer Masters this year and credited McCourt with easing her transition to that side of the sport.

“He did administrative work. He was a handy guy fixing boats. He did all that coaching. He was always there for the kids, whatever the situation.”

In McCourt’s view, bringing in new blood isn’t the worst situation. “Change is good as long as they bring in the right person,” said McCourt.

“Someone who is not about themselves but who still wants to win. You have got to bring the competitiveness. At the same time, it really is not about you, it is about the kids having fun.”

And McCourt certainly helped a lot of kids have fun at MJRC over the last decade.

ESCAPE HATCH: Chris Hatchell of Winberie’s/Miller Lite, left, looks to elude Tommy Soulias of Ivy Inn last Monday in Game 1 of the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League championship series. Hatchell scored 13 points to help spark Winberie’s to a 48-41 win over Ivy Inn. Winberie’s can wrap up the best-of-three title series on Wednesday night when the teams play Game 2 at the Community Park courts. If necessary, Game 3 will take place on Friday night. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though Winberie’s/Miller Lite brought an undefeated record into last year’s championship series of the Princeton Recreation Department Summer Men’s Basketball League, the team was not at 100 percent.

“I hurt my knee against Team TB in the semis before we even got to play [University] Radiology and then Kurt [Simmons] went out in the same game and broke his wrist,” said Chris Hatchell, a star guard for Winberie’s. “We were banged up last year.”

Winberie’s put up a valiant fight in the 2011 series but ended up falling 2-1 to University Radiology, dropping a 36-34 nailbiter in the finale.

When Hatchell and second-seeded Winberie’s hit the Community Park courts last Monday for the 2012 best-of-three championship series against No. 5 Ivy Inn, they believed that experience would hold them in good stead.

“Other than Ivy, we are the most veteran team,” said Hatchell. “We know that if we take care of the ball and don’t turn the ball over, we should be able to beat anybody.”

The series opener against Ivy Inn predictably turned into a nip-and-tuck contest with Winberie’s up 20-19 at halftime and the teams knotted at 36-36 with seven minutes remaining in regulation.

Down the stretch, Winberie’s displayed its savvy and chemistry as it outscored Ivy Inn 12-5 to pull out a 48-41 win and put itself on the verge of a title.

In Hatchell’s view, Winberie’s triumph came down to taking care of basics. “I think rebounding and holding to one shot and not letting them get three-point shots off was key,” said Hatchell, reflecting on the win that improved Winberie’s to 10-2 this summer.

Another key to the triumph was Hatchell’s clutch free throw shooting as he drained four straight in the last minute of the game.

“Before this game, I was playing at Mercer County Park in the Trenton 6’2-and-under league and I actually missed four free throws out there tonight,” said Hatchell, who scored 13 points in the victory with Evan Johnson chipping in 14 and Cliff Pollard adding 11 while Ivy Inn’s Mark Aziz led all scorers with 17.

“I thought I have got to make these now; I hardly ever miss free throws. Instead of going to the line and thinking about it, I was just going up there and shooting. I was thinking too much.”

For Hatchell, the championship series matchup is a bit uncomfortable as he had started this summer with Ivy Inn and played a game with the team in June before returning to Winberie’s.

“We had a good team last year but I didn’t know if all of the guys were coming back,” explained Hatchell, noting that he played with such Ivy Inn denizens as Bobby Davison and Shahid Abdul-Karim during his college years.

“But when I found out that Evan Johnson and a couple of other guys were coming back, I felt bad about leaving that team and I talked to Mark [team manager Mark Rosenthal] and said ‘my fault.’ It makes more sense for me to come back with these guys.”

Hatchell is hoping that Winberie’s can come back on the court on Wednesday and close out the series with a win and avoid having to play a decisive Game 3 on Friday.

“They are a good team but we are a veteran team and we just need to control the ball,” asserted Hatchell.

“We are good inside and outside. I like this team. We play together; we are a good mesh. It is a good group of older guys. As long as we don’t turn the ball over, we should be alright.”

COMMUNITY ACTION: Community Park Bluefish swimmer Charles Elliott powers through the water in a recent meet. Last week at the Princeton Area Swimming and Diving Association (PASDA) championships, Elliott, 14, took fourth in the boys’ 14-and-under 50-meter butterfly and eighth in the 50 freestyle. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After months of construction, the new Community Park Pool opened over Memorial Day weekend to much acclaim.

The Myrtha stainless steel pool boasts new walls and a new floor for the lap pool, an upgraded diving pool with a water slide, a zero-depth entry pool, a wading pool, and a new filtration system.

While the complex made an immediate splash with residents, it has served as a special source of inspiration to a particular group of users — the CP Bluefish swim team.

“Myrtha Pools are designed for very high level swimming and it certainly did not fail to prove that,” said Bluefish head coach Andy Sichet.

“We have broken several old standing records in swim meets and kids just love training in it.”

The Bluefish produced a superb regular season, going 4-1 in dual-meet competition to place second in the Princeton Area Swimming and Diving Association (PASDA) Division I standings.

“With the brand new facility in place, I think we all had high expectations of this years’ swim and dive team,” said Sichet.

“Neither team has disappointed the Princeton community. I am very happy finishing the 2012 summer with a 4-1 record. We certainly made big progress in our speed. Just about every swimmer improved on their original start time by the end of our short season.”

That progress was reflected in how the Bluefish ended the summer as the squad performed well last week in the PASDA championship meet at the Flemington-Raritan Community pool.

“As a team we have improved in overall team scoring points as well as placed better then we have in the prior PASDA championships,” said Sichet, whose team placed fourth of six teams in the competition won by Flemington-Raritan. “I am happy to see any improvement in our swimmers.”

The team’s group of younger girls’ swimmers certainly made Sichet happy as they came up big at the PASDA meet.

Ella Jones, 6, won the girls’ 6-and-under 25-meter freestyle and was second in the 25 backstroke while Madison Csontos, 8, was third in both the 8-and-under 25 free and butterfly. Natalie Hansford, 9, placed first in the 10-and-under 25 backstroke and Grace Hoedemaker, 9, finished second in the 10-and-under 25 butterfly. Eva Petrone, 10, took third in the 10-and-under 25 breaststroke. The combination of Hansford, Petrone, Hoedemaker, and Ria Sharma, 9, won the 10-and-under medley relay.

“Madison Csontos gave us incredible work effort in the summer and Natalie Hansford was one of the best swimmers,” said Sichet.

“Eva Petrone was dedicated  and provided great team support. We can always count on Grace Hoedemaker for points in almost any event.”

The team’s corps of older girls swimmers piled up plenty of points in the PASDA meet.

Madeline Hoedemaker, 11, won the girls’ 12-and-under fly and placed second in both the 100 individual medley and 50 free while Kate McLaughlin, 12, placed third in the 100 IM, 50 fly, and 50 back. Nicole Kratzer, 17, finished fourth in both the 18-and-under 50 breast and 50 butterfly while Charlotte Singer, 14, took third in the 14-and-under breast.

“Kate McLaughlin improved dramatically over the summer and Charlotte Singer has been at every meet and we see improvement every day,” added Sichet. “Nicole Kratzer was a coach and swimmer this year.

Sichet saw some dramatic results from his younger boy swimmers. Jaxon Petrone, 8, won the boys’ 8-and-under 100 IM and the 25 free and placed second in the 25 back while Alosha Darenkov, 8, took second in both the 8-and-under 100 IM and 25 breast and fourth in the 25 free. Gefen Bar-Cohen, 9, won the boys’ 10-and-under 25 free and took second in the 25 breast while Daniel King, 5, took second in the 6-and-under 25 back.

Oliver Hunsbedt, 12, won both the boys’ 12-and-under 100 IM and 50 breast while Eric Li, 12, took second in the 12-and-under 25 back and Noah Chen, 14, took fourth in both the boys’ 14-and-under 100 IM and 50 free.

“Bar-Cohen came in late but you can depend on him to score points,” added Sichet. “Petrone had stepped up; he has become a key racer for us. Hunsbedt is one of our liveliest kids; he is a great character and he gets everyone excited about racing.”

Not to be outdone, CP’s older male swimmers made a major impact at the PASDA competition.

Princeton High boys’ swim star Will Stange, 15, won the boys’ 18-and-under back and took second in the 100 IM and 50 free. Matthew Shanahan, 15, placed fourth in the both 18-and-under 100 IM and 50 back while Jake Valente, 18, took second in the 18-and-under 50 breast, third in the 50 free, and fourth in the 50 back.

“Will is Will; he is an incredible year round swimmer,” said Sichet of rising junior Stange, who helped the PHS boys’ swimming team go undefeated last winter on the way to the program’s first state title.

“It is a privilege to have him on the team. He is one of our biggest assets. Jake Valente has been with us all the way through high school. We are very happy that he continued his tradition of success with the Bluefish.”

As Sichet reflects on the summer, he is as proud of the attitude displayed by his swimmers around the deck as their success in the pool.

“With the combination of a brand new top of the line facility, warm weather, wonderful age-group coaches, larger-than-ever team, the spirit on the Bluefish team was the best I have ever seen,” asserted Sichet.

BELL CURVE: Isabelle Monaghan displays her backstroke form in action for the Nassau Swim Club Lemmings. Last week at the PASDA championship meet, Monaghan, 10, placed second in both the 10-and-under 100-meter individual medley and the 25 butterfly. She also helped Nassau to wins in both the 100 medley relay and 100 freestyle relay. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the Nassau Swim Club Lemmings didn’t have as much depth as in past summers, the team lived up to the program’s winning tradition.

The Lemmings went 4-1 in Princeton Area Swimming and Diving Association (PASDA) Division II dual meets, earning a first place tie in the regular season standings.

“We had a great summer; it was very successful considering the numbers,” said Lemmings coach Beth Nagle.

“We were low, particularly in the 12-and-under and the 10-and-under boys. In some meets, we had just three swimmers in those age groups. We ended up in a three-way tie for first. We beat Ben Franklin and then Ben Franklin beat Trenton and Trenton beat us so it was very competitive.”

Nagle saw individual improvement across the board. “Most of our swimmers dropped their times,” said Nagle. “We made a point of working on stroke technique and starts this summer.”

That work paid off last week in the PASDA championship meet at the Flemington Raritan club as the Lemmings produced a number of outstanding swims.

“Looking at the numbers, we had a successful meet,” said Nagle, whose team placed second of six teams at the meet, scoring 2,447 points to trail only Ben Franklin’s total of 3,006. “Every swimmer placed and we had a couple of great relay races.”

One of the club’s top relays came from the younger girls. “The 10-and-under medley relay is one of my all-time favorite relays,” said Nagle, referring to the quartet of Isabelle Monaghan, Serena Bolitho, Ella Caddeau, and Veronique Diblasio.

“They came within a second of the meet record; they are really good. You throw Samantha Campisi in there on the free relay and they don’t lose anything.”

The core of young swimmers has plenty of experience despite being tender in years.

“We have had them since they were young,” said Nagle. “Isabelle Monaghan has her sister Sophia to look up to. We got Ella Caddeau back this year, that was a good addition.”

Nagle got some good work this summer from her older girls as well. “We are so lucky to have the older girls, they are our faithfuls,” asserted Nagle.

“Brigid Diblasio (age 13) and Becca Adlai-Gail (13) are big point scorers for us. We have a really solid under-18 group with Carla Tuan, Sophia Monaghan, and Susanna Tuan.”

Diblasio won both the girls’ 14-and-under 50 backstroke and 50 freestyle at the PASDA meet while Adlai-Gail placed first in the 14-and-under 50 butterfly. Carla Tuan won the girls’ 18-and-under 10 individual medley while Monaghan won the 18-and-under 50 back and took second in the 18-and-under free.

The Lemmings have a big star in the making on the boys’ side in 6-year-old Daniel Baytin, the winner of the 25-meter freestyle and backstroke at the PASDA meet.

“Daniel Baytin set freestyle and backstroke records at the PASDA meet,” said Nagle.

“At the mini-meet, he won all of his 6-and-under events and then went up to the 8-and-under and took second in the medley. Ben has helped us a lot; he juggles baseball with swimming He is a good athlete. Simon Sheppard is another good younger swimmer.”

Nassau got a lot of help through welcoming Matt Kuhlik, a star for the undefeated state champion Princeton High boys’ team who will be swimming for Emory this fall.

“Matt Kuhlik was a wonderful addition,” said Nagle of Kuhlik, who placed first in the boys’ 18-and-under 50 free and second in the 50 back at the PASDA  meet.

“He was looking for a job this summer and applied to be a lifeguard. He is a fantastic kid. He coached the 12-and-under boys and they looked up to him. He enjoyed being a role model for them.”

Kuhlik’s PHS teammate, Harun Filipovic, has assumed a big role in the Nassau program for years.

“Harun has grown up around the team; he has been swimming with us since he was four,” said Nagle of the Bucknell-bound star who won both the boys’ 18-and-under 50 back and 50 fly at the PASDA championships. “He set a team record in the 50 butterfly for us.”

Nagle liked the attitude she has seen around the team this summer. “As usual, I think Nassau has the best spirit around,” maintained Nagle.

“The lifeguards grew up around the team and now they are coaches. I heard it a million times this summer, kids saying ‘I want to be a lifeguard and a coach.’ The younger swimmers look up to the coaches and the lifeguards.”

The Nassau swimmers develop some deep bonds through spending a lot of time with each other.

“It is our own world,” said Nagle. “Practice ends at 10 in the morning and a lot of kids stay here until 3. It is like a camp.”

In order to keep that spirit going and increase numbers, Nassau is welcoming non-members to join the Lemmings as they will continue working through the summer in a new program called ‘Swimming Spree in August.’

“We are the only PASDA team that practices through August,” said Nagle.

“This year, it is open to anyone who is interested. We have one-hour practices in the morning and evening. We will have the coaching staff on hand and we will participate in the Bruce Nystrom intrasquad meet at the end.”

July 25, 2012

ROLLING STONE: Gevvie Stone displays her form in the single sculls. Stone, a 2007 Princeton alum, will be rowing the U.S. in the women’s single sculls at the London Olympics. The heats in the event start on July 28 with the final scheduled for August 4. (Photo Courtesy of USRowing)

Gevvie Stone had the chance to qualify for the Olympics last year in the women’s single sculls but came up agonizingly short.

With the top 9 at the 2011 World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia earning automatic spots for their countries at the upcoming London Games, former Princeton University rowing star Stone took 11th.

“Immediately after the worlds, I was really disappointed,” said Stone, 2007 Princeton alum who helped the Tiger women’s open crew win the Eastern Sprints and NCAA grand final in 2006 on the way to an undefeated season.

Stone, though, wasn’t about to let that setback derail her Olympic dreams.

“Every disappointment gives you the motivation to train harder; it makes you change your training,” said Stone, 27, a native of Newton, Mass.

“When I didn’t make the national team in 2010, I changed the way I was lifting weights.”

Stone, who is based in Boston and is on a leave of absence from Tufts University School of Medicine, does not work with any of the other U.S. rowers or coaches. Instead, she is trained by her father, Gregg Stone, a former national class rower who has coached at Harvard and Belmont Hill School.

In the wake of the worlds, Stone and her dad fine-tuned her weekly regimen.

“My dad and I looked at my training and added more workouts on the water,” said Stone, of her father, who just missed making the 1976 Olympics and made the 1980 U.S. team only to be denied a shot at the Moscow Games due to the U.S. boycott.

“My dad was at Bled and he was impressed with how much New Zealand worked. I went to four hard workouts a week on the water from two or three. I was also doing two rows everyday. Before, I was mostly once a day with cross training.”

Stone’s training is spiced up by a contingent of male masters rowers who often join her in sessions on the Charles River.

“It is definitely helpful; it helps you to be more competitive, knowing someone is next to you pushing hard,” said Stone, noting that the group ranges from two to eight. “You want to win; it is fun.”

Bouncing back from the disappointment of Bled, Stone had plenty of fun at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland in May, taking third to book her spot to London.

Stone, who plans to resume her medical studies in late August, knew she had to make the most out of her time this year.

“I look at this as my first and best chance to qualify,” said Stone. “Taking that time off from school and training gave me a real chance to qualify.”

In order to get another crack at the Olympic qualification, Stone had to go through U.S. trials to get the spot in the Lucerne event.

Once at the Lucerne regatta, Stone was confident that she could achieve the top-four finish needed to clinch a spot in the Olympics.

“My training had gone well, I knew I was in a good place,” said Stone. “In finishing 11th at the worlds I had beaten some of the girls who were going to be there.”

After making it through her heat, Stone came up big in the final, going from fifth after the first 500 meters to move past Estonia and Ireland to take third and book her trip to London.

“In the final, the Estonian got off the line well but I was very close to her,” recalled Stone.

“I was closer to her than I usually am so for me it was a great start. There was a light headwind which is my favorite. It makes for a longer race which is good for me. I had a solid middle 1,000 and held my spot.”

After earning her spot, Stone felt fatigue and relief. “My first emotion was that I was tired, I was exhausted,” said Stone. “But winning, or in this case, qualifying was the magic pain reliever.”

It did take a while for the reality of making the Olympics to soak in for Stone.

“It is still a little surreal,” said Stone. “I was watching gymnastics on NBC and they had Shawn Johnson on talking about walking into the Opening Ceremony with USA on your back and getting chills. I realized that is going to be me.”

Stone realizes that riding the emotions of the moment doesn’t ensure Olympics success.

“So much of how you do in London depends on what you have done the last four years,” said Stone, whose mother, Lisa, rowed for the U.S. at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and took seventh in the women’s coxed quadruple sculls.

“Mentally, a key is to stay healthy. I got strep throat last year. I will have a week to train on the course. My event is the longest in the rowing program; it starts on July 28 and ends August 4.”

In assessing her prospects, Stone knows that she faces some long odds.

“My friends at med school say ‘oh you are going to the Olympics, bring back the gold,’” said Stone, who is now on track to graduate from Tufts in 2014 and may end up practicing sports medicine.

“It would be fantastic if I were able to do that. Making the ‘A’ final would be pretty spectacular; that is better than I have done in the past. It is going to be very hard. I need to work on my start and be in the groove.”

No matter where Stone finishes in the competition, she is prepared to soak up the atmosphere around the Eton Dorney course, some 25 miles west of London.

“It is really exciting; England is a country that loves rowing and understands the sport,” added Stone.

“The Boat Race (the annual rowing race between the Oxford University Boat Club and the Cambridge University Boat Club held on the Thames River in London) and Henley regatta are big parts of its sports calendar. I feel really lucky to be rowing there.”

GETTING HER SHOT: Sara Hendershot, center, strokes the women’s open eight during her Princeton University rowing career. Hendershot, a 2010 Princeton alum, will be rowing on the U.S. women’s pair in the London Olympics along with Sarah Zalenka. The heats in the event start on July 28 with the final scheduled for August 1. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

After helping the U.S. women’s four take gold last year at the 2011 World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia, Sara Hendershot seemed to be on course for a shot at the Olympics.

“I had so much fun in Bled; I could not have asked for a better first worlds,” said Hendershot, a 2010 Princeton alum and former star rower and captain for the Tiger women’s open program.

“We raced well and won a gold. I came back on a high. It motivated me through the fall and the speed orders.”

But later that fall, Hendershot was knocked off track in her drive for the 2012 Olympics.

“I broke my rib after the speed order (a USRowing time trial event) around Thanksgiving,” said Hendershot.

“I spent a lot of the winter trying to recover from that. We went to San Diego in the winter; I was trying to get up to speed and feel strong again. We were there in January, February, and March. It took me most of January to feel 100 percent.”

Once Hendershot got up to full speed, she decided to take a different route to the Olympics, switching to the women’s pair, teaming up with Sarah Zalenka and earning a trip to London as the two won the U.S. trial in mid-June.

“We came together six weeks before the trial; I was rowing with a different partner and she went to quad camp,” recalled Hendershot, who had rowed with Zalenka on the gold medal four at the worlds.

“I approached Sarah and asked her if she wanted to go from quad camp to a pair. She agreed; it was a leap of faith on her part.”

The two knew they had to make a leap to earn their spot for London. “Going into the trials, we were very aware of the fact that we were not expected to win; we had been left behind for the world cup racing,” said Hendershot.

“We did three weeks of training on our own in Princeton. We really fine-tuned things. We could have been frustrated but we didn’t let that happen.”

Hendershot and Zalenka completed their underdog tale in style as they made it through the U.S. Trial this June at Mercer Lake, edging Amanda Polk and Jamie Redman in the finals to earn their trip to London.

“Our race plan was to go as hard as we could,” said Hendershot. “We were down halfway through. We thought this is our last shot, let’s go for it. We had a lot of desire. We started to come together and we smoothed it out.”

After the race, it took a while for things to soak in for Hendershot. “I felt this huge wave of relief; this was the first step that we had to take,” said Hendershot, whose boat clocked a time of 7:27.54 over the 2,000-meter course with Polk and Redman coming in at 7:30.98.

“It took a long time for it to set in. I had visualized winning so many times so when it actually happened I was thinking — is this for real?”

Making the Olympics fulfills a vision Hendershot has harbored since childhood.

“It is something I have always thought about,” said Hendershot, 24, a native of West Simsbury, Conn.

“I have always looked up to Olympic athletes, thinking it is incredible to take their sport so far. At points, it didn’t seem possible for me but once I found rowing and started performing well in college, I started to think this could happen.”

In the wake of the win at the trials, Hendershot and Zalenka have been looking to take things to the next level.

“We have to put in a lot of work, we are focusing on coming together and getting more fit,” added Hendershot.

“Once we are in London, we will do more race-specific stuff. We have big room for upswing. We have only been together for six weeks this spring even though we have been rowing on and off together for the last two years.”

As she reflects on the London competition, Hendershot acknowledges that the pair will be in the underdog role once again.

“We won’t be listed as one of the favorites,” said Hendershot, who will get into action on the Eton Dorney course near London on July 28 for heats with the final set for August 1.

“The goal has always been an Olympic medal and when we looked at the other world cup races and the times, we are right there. We need to keep putting in the work. It is a different level than we have ever rowed but we have to remain confident.”