February 26, 2014
RARE BERGER: Princeton University men’s hockey player Jack Berger battles for position in the crease. Last Friday, star forward and two-time team captain Berger scored the lone goal in a 6-1 loss to Colgate. The Tigers fell 4-1 to Cornell a night later in the regular season finale at Baker Rink. Princeton, now 5-22 overall and 4-16 ECAC Hockey, will wrap up regular season play with games at Clarkson on February 28 and at St. Lawrence on March 1.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

RARE BERGER: Princeton University men’s hockey player Jack Berger battles for position in the crease. Last Friday, star forward and two-time team captain Berger scored the lone goal in a 6-1 loss to Colgate. The Tigers fell 4-1 to Cornell a night later in the regular season finale at Baker Rink. Princeton, now 5-22 overall and 4-16 ECAC Hockey, will wrap up regular season play with games at Clarkson on February 28 and at St. Lawrence on March 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Jack Berger got his final weekend of action at Baker Rink for the Princeton University men’s hockey team off to a good start.

The senior star forward and team captain scored a second period goal last Friday as the Tigers drew to within 2-1 of visiting Colgate.

“Mike Ambrosia made a real good play getting it into the zone and then Alec Rush did a great job getting it down low and moving his feet,” said Berger, reflecting on his tally.

“I was able to get open our front and Rush made a great pass and I tried to bang it in five-hole and it went in for me.”

But things went south from there for Princeton as the Tigers fell 6-1 to the 19th-ranked Raiders.

“I think we felt pretty good through the first two periods, I thought we could have brought it a little more than we did but we were happy with it,” said Berger.

“We wanted to come out and have a good third but it didn’t turn out the way we wanted but we will be ready to go tomorrow and have another good effort.”

Princeton made a valiant effort on Saturday on the program’s annual Senior Day but fell short, losing 4-1 to No. 13 Cornell in the home finale, dropping to 5-22 overall and 4-16 ECAC Hockey.

While the senior weekend didn’t go as planned, Berger has enjoyed his Princeton experience.

“I have been really lucky to have so many great opportunities here and I have loved every minute,” said Berger, whose classmates on the squad include Andrew Ammon, Sean Bonar, Andrew Calof, Eric Carlson, Will Ford, Jeremy Goodwin, Kevin Ross, and Rush.

“I am very thankful for the opportunity to have been able to wear that jersey so many times.”

Berger is also thankful to have had the rare chance to serve as a two-time team captain.

“It has been great, it has been really humbling and I have learned a lot about myself,” said Berger, a 6’3, 210-pound native of St. Louis, Mo., who has 53 points on 20 goals and 33 assists in 122 games for the Tigers.

“It has been a great experience, I have been really thankful to have had that opportunity and be able to work with such a great group of guys.”

With Princeton playing at Clarkson on February 28 and at St. Lawrence on March 1 before hitting the road for a first-round ECACH series, Berger is determined to keep working hard to the end.

“Obviously you want to be really thankful to get to play every game but at the same time I don’t want to be too nostalgic,” said Berger.

“I want to come out and treat it like any other game and give it everything I got and try to get a ‘W.’ At the end of the day, we want to be ready for the playoffs and playing our best hockey then.”

February 19, 2014
TOMMY GUN: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Tom Schreiber races upfield in 2013 action. Two-time first-team All-American midfielder and senior captain Schreiber is looking to go out with a bang this spring. Schreiber already has 149 career points, the most ever by a Princeton middie, and has a chance to become the second four-time first-team All-Ivy League player in program history and the first Princeton player to reach at least 90 goals and 90 assists in a career. The 9th-ranked Tigers start their 2014 campaign by hosting Hofstra on February 22.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TOMMY GUN: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Tom Schreiber races upfield in 2013 action. Two-time first-team All-American midfielder and senior captain Schreiber is looking to go out with a bang this spring. Schreiber already has 149 career points, the most ever by a Princeton middie, and has a chance to become the second four-time first-team All-Ivy League player in program history and the first Princeton player to reach at least 90 goals and 90 assists in a career. The 9th-ranked Tigers start their 2014 campaign by hosting Hofstra on February 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Over the last two years, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team has been on the verge of adding to the program’s storied tradition of postseason success.

The Tigers have advanced to a pair of Ivy League championship games and have played in the the opening round of the NCAA tournament but came up short in all three contests.

As the 2014 season gets underway on February 22 when 9th-ranked Princeton hosts Hofstra, the squad’s group of 15 seniors is looking to go out with a bang.

“It is a senior laden group, they came in with high expectations and some goals have remained unmet,” said Princeton head coach Chris Bates, whose team went 9-6 overall last season, ending the spring with a 12-8 loss to Yale in the Ivy title game.

“It is their last go-around so there is a sense of urgency. We have gone through the rigors together; they have a good perspective. They know things are not going to happen overnight, it is a long season.”

The Tigers have a midfield unit that can make things happen, led by two-time first-team All-American and senior captain Tom Schreiber, the team’s leading scorer in 2013 with 60 points on 28 goals and 32 assists.

“We are actually trying to dial him back, he can dominate practices,” said Bates.

“He has such a skill set and he is playing with so much confidence. He has an edge to his game and that has a ripple effect on the rest of the team. He makes everyone else better. But we know people are going to try to take him out of the game and the others will have to be better and take the next step.”

Bates is confident that junior Kip Orban (27 goals, 7 assists in 2013) and sophomore Jake Froccaro (24 goals, 10 assists) can make defenses pay if they focus too much on Schreiber.

“Orban’s confidence has grown; he is adding layers to his game,” said Bates.

“He is working on his off-ball game. He has put in a lot of goals for us and I would be surprised if he doesn’t replicate that. Jake has a broken finger and we hope to have him for Hofstra. He gives us a different dynamic, he makes us a tough matchup there. He will need some time to get his wind and get his legs under him.”

The return of seniors Tucker Shanley (20 goals, 8 assists in 2012) and Forest Sonnefeldt (17 goals, 6 assists in 2012) from injury should make the midfield even tougher to contain.

“Shanley is back, it is nice to have depth,” said Bates. “We need to merge him into the first group. He needs to make better shot decisions and make good plays, it can’t be feast or famine. Forest Sonnenfeldt is back from injury, he is a big body and can set picks and he can really shoot it.”

On attack, junior Mike MacDonald has emerged as a top shooter, scoring a team-high 43 goals in 2013.

“Mike is a tough kid and he does more than finishing,” said Bates of MacDonald, who added 16 assists last spring.

“He is pretty athletic and pretty fast but he likes to lay low. He can dodge and he has a really good understanding of what we want to do on offense. He is finishing my sentences.”

Bates is hoping that sophomore Ryan Ambler (11 goals, 17 assists) and junior Will Rotatori (2 goals, 3 assists) can show a good understanding of the offense as they join MacDonald on the top attack line.

“Ambler is bigger, stronger, and is more confident,” said Bates. “He is finishing the ball really well. I think he is going to take a nice jump this year, he knows his role as a sophomore. Rotatori will be the third guy on attack. He is quick, tough, and fearless. He distributes the ball well. He is used to carrying the ball and we don’t need him to do that as much. He needs to find the right spot off the ball. He needs to figure out how to complement the others.”

At the key face-off spot, Princeton will be looking for junior Justin Murphy to have a big year.

“Murph is the guy we are going to live or die with,” said Bates of Murphy who went 111-of-218 on face-offs in 2013.

“Jack O’Brien is a freshman who did some nice things in the fall. He is another option. We have two other athletes, Sam Gravitte, a longstick, and Zach Currier, who we could use.”

Princeton features some blue-chip athletes as shortstick defensive midfield in a trio of seniors, Jack Strabo, Nick Fernandez, and Hunter deButts.

“We have Jack Strabo and Nick Fernandez at short-stick middie, they are basically 4-year starters,” said Bates.

“They have grown as leaders and they are hard-working, athletic guys. They can really run the field. Hunter deButts has energy and athleticism.”

Senior Derick Raabe provides energy and skill at longstick midfield, leading the Tigers by picking up 73 ground ball in 2013.

“Derick is a natural there; he is great on ground balls,” said Bates, who also plans to use senior Brendan Bronvino and freshman Gravitte at LSM.

Youth will be served on defense as the Tigers will be relying on sophomore Mark Strabo along with a pair of freshmen, Will Reynolds and Bear Goldstein.

“Mark Strabo is back and healthier; he is a good solid cover guy and he is beginning to understand how to play defense at the college level,” said Bates, who will also be using 6’7 junior Alex Beatty on defense.

“Will Reynolds is pretty heralded and he is all of that. He is a big presence; he is calm and tough. He is a foundation player already; he gives us a sense of calm even though he is a freshman. He has an athletic IQ; he may get beaten once but not again. Bear Goldstein has good feet and can cover the ball well. He is fearless, he is a Texas football kid and will put his helmet in there. He has good stick control and we think he has a lot of upside.”

Bates isn’t quite sure what is up at goalie as senior Brian Kavanagh (8.50 goals against average in 2 games in 2013), junior Eric Sanschagrin (11.86 goals against average in 5 games), and sophomore Matt O’Connor (9.38 goals against average in 12 games) are all vying for the spot.

“That is the big question mark; it is a three-man race,” said Bates. “Brian Kavanagh has notched himself into it; he has looked good in scrimmages. Eric and Matt run hot and cold. Matt was a length ahead in the fall but not so much now. We want to have one step up so we can settle this. Brian is a mature kid and the other two have more game experience. We are going to end up with a good goalie.”

The Tigers will need to step up in order to top Hofstra (0-1) in the opener this Saturday.

“Hofstra is always ready for us, it is good test,” said Bates. “We have some guys playing their first game so it is interesting to see what happens when the lights go on. We need to be smart and manage the nerves.”

Paying attention to game management will be a key if the Tigers are to reach their goals this spring.

“The defense will need to grow up,” said Bates. “We need to be smart and manage the game on the offensive end. We can be pedal to the metal but we can’t just fire low angle or low percentage shots.”

ATTACK MODE: Princeton University women’s lacrosse star Erin McMunn heads to the goal last season. Junior attacker ­McMunn, Princeton’s top scorer in 2013 with 69 points last spring on 40 goals and 29 assists, should trigger the Tiger offense this spring. No. 16 Princeton opens its 2014 campaign by playing at eighth-ranked Loyola (1-0) on February 22.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ATTACK MODE: Princeton University women’s lacrosse star Erin McMunn heads to the goal last season. Junior attacker ­McMunn, Princeton’s top scorer in 2013 with 69 points last spring on 40 goals and 29 assists, should trigger the Tiger offense this spring. No. 16 Princeton opens its 2014 campaign by playing at eighth-ranked Loyola (1-0) on February 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

If the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team can stay in the present, it could have a bright future.

“The kids are really focused on everyday; they are playing well and learning the system,” said Princeton head coach Chris Sailer whose team went 10-7 overall in 2013 and advanced to the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

“They are working on elevating their game. We have fallen victim to letting the game situation dictate everything. Whether we get off to a good start or a bad start, we need to have confidence in who we are and in our systems. We need to keep fighting and playing our system. The theme this season is the power of now.”

As the 16th-ranked Tigers open their season at No. 8 Loyola on February 22, they boast a lot of firepower on attack.

“Our attack is shaping up very nicely,” asserted Sailer, a Hall of Fame coach,  who is in her 28th season at Princeton and has led the Tigers to three NCAA titles and 332 wins.

“We have great players who are playing well together. We have good depth, it is good to see. We have a really well-rounded offense; we should be balanced in our scoring. I think it is going to be a strength for us.”

Junior Erin McMunn figures to trigger the Tiger offense, having scored 69 points last spring on 40 goals and 29 assists. Senior Mary-Kate Sivilli (19 goals and 7 assists in 2013) and sophomore Alexandra Bruno (26 goals and 4 assists) should also be key weapons for Princeton.

“We are going to look for a lot out of Erin, she has a sure stick and can finish,” said Sailer.

“Sivilli is having a great year; she had a good fall. She is becoming a leader of the unit. She helps McMunn organize the attack. She sees the field really well; I think this is going to be her best season. Bruno has been hampered by her back but she coming on strong. She is a great shooter. She is an intelligent player and sees the game well.”

The Tigers have several others who have some game on attack. “We have a number of kids who are doing well, Erika Grabbi is a junior who is coming into her own,” added Sailer.

“She is fast and explosive and is one of our most talented 1 v 1 players. We have freshman Olivia Hompe, who is playing around the crease with McMunn, they are developing a good connection. She is a talented kid. Grace Bowen is coming off a stress fracture and she is playing herself into a role. Steph Paloscio (2 goals, 2 assists) has done well. She is little but quick and speedy. Anna Menke is a big, strong kid. We don’t have anyone who isn’t ready play, they can helps us in different situations.”

At midfield, Princeton boasts a strong one-two punch in senior Sarah Lloyd (19 goals, 14 assists) and junior Erin Slifer (19 goals, 20 assists).

“Lloyd and Slifer have been mainstays for us,” said Sailer. “Sarah had been dealing with an injury but she is back. We had a scrimmage at the end of practice the other day and she was all over the field. She is great on the draw, she is great on ground balls and is great in transition and dodging. Slifer is a big, strong player. She came into her own at the end of last season. She became a go-to kid for us. She is a large presence at both ends of the field.”

Sailer is hoping that freshman Anna Doherty and sophomore Anya Gersoff will emerge as go-to players in the midfield,

“Doherty has been doing very well; she is incredibly quick and explosive,” said Sailer. “She can be really good for us. Anya Gersoff (14 goals, 4 assists) has been really impressive. We are expecting a lot from her. She plays field hockey and missed our fall season as a freshman and I think she was behind last year. She expected more from herself because lacrosse is her love. I give her credit, she trained on her own. She worked hard on her footwork. She can do things with the stick and the ball that are really impressive.”

On defense, Princeton will rely on the battle-tested trio of sophomore Liz Bannantine, senior Liz Cutting, and senior Colleen Smith.

“Bannantine, Cutting, and Smith give us three veterans which is good,” said Sailer.

“We have been playing our middies with our attack to get the sets down. That is one thing we have to work on with the defense, we need to get them reps with the first midfield. Cutting and Smith have the experience and Bannantine is really smart on the field.”

The Tigers have some good reinforcements to back up its veteran leaders. “Maddie Rodriguez is a recruited walk-on from Minnesota and she has really surprised us,” said Sailer.

“She is fitting in well; she just goes out there and does her business. Erin Williams is a senior and will get some minutes. Erin Curley, a junior, is doing better. Freshman Amanda Leavell is fast and athletic. She has to learn the system; she will be good.”

Sailer is still trying to figure who is going to get the most minutes at goalie as she is looking at senior Caroline Franke (10.01 goals against average in 15 games in 2013), junior Annie Woehling (9.40 goals against average in five games), and promising freshman Ellie DeGarmo.

“Franke had the experience and performed well in game situations; Annie has been having some good practices,” said Sailer.

“Ellie was All-Met in a tough league in Maryland and she is pushing the two returners. We are hoping that one will emerge. It is a good thing to have options. Against some teams, we may want someone quicker and against other teams, we may want someone who is bigger and holds the angles better. Franke has the early edge coming off of last season; we still haven’t made a firm decision.”

Princeton knows it is facing a big-time team in Loyola (1-0), which is coming off a 16-12 win over perennial power Virginia.

“Loyola is a daunting challenge, we played them in the fall season at Penn,” said Sailer.

“Loyola is fast, fast, fast. They have great attackers, great dodgers. They are good at looking for each other and they have one of the best goalies in the country. We hung in there with them, we played well in spurts. Our defense wasn’t as far along as it is now and we gave up too many goals. We need to compete better on 50/50 balls and in transition. I think it gives us an edge to have been on the field with them rather than just see them on film.”

In Sailer’s view, the Tigers could go far this spring. “This group has great potential, you never know until the ball goes up,” said Sailer.

“We have good talent, we are going to be challenged by a tough early schedule. I think we have the ability to compete against every team we play. We need to grow throughout the season.”

HOT HAND: Princeton University women’s basketball player Blake Dietrick dribbles upcourt in recent action. Junior guard Dietrick came up huge last weekend as Princeton topped visiting Brown 81-70 on Friday and then defeated Yale 96-75 a night later. Dietrick scored a career-high 27 points in the victory over Brown and then bettered that with 28 points a night later in the rout of Yale. She was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week. The Tigers, now 15-6 overall and 6-1 Ivy League, head to New England this weekend to play at Dartmouth (3-19 overall, 0-8 Ivy) on February 21 and at Harvard (17-5 overall, 7-1 Ivy) the next day.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HOT HAND: Princeton University women’s basketball player Blake Dietrick dribbles upcourt in recent action. Junior guard Dietrick came up huge last weekend as Princeton topped visiting Brown 81-70 on Friday and then defeated Yale 96-75 a night later. Dietrick scored a career-high 27 points in the victory over Brown and then bettered that with 28 points a night later in the rout of Yale. She was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week. The Tigers, now 15-6 overall and 6-1 Ivy League, head to New England this weekend to play at Dartmouth (3-19 overall, 0-8 Ivy) on February 21 and at Harvard (17-5 overall, 7-1 Ivy) the next day. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Blake Dietrick misfired when the Princeton University women’s basketball team lost to Harvard last month.

The junior guard hit just 3-of-15 shots as the Tigers fell 78-68 to the Crimson, suffering their only Ivy League loss of the season and just their third league loss since the end of the 2008-09 season.

After the setback, Dietrick made a promise to herself. “I was extremely frustrated after the Harvard game with my own performance and the team’s performance,” said the 5’10 Dietrick, a native of Wellesley, Mass.

“That kind of flipped the switch for me; I am not going to let this team down. I am going to push everybody in practice. I think we have brought a fire and intensity we didn’t have that day.”

Last weekend, Dietrick displayed her fire and intensity, scoring a career-high 27 points in an 81-70 win over visiting Brown on Friday and then bettering that with 28 points a night later as Princeton routed Yale 96-75, improving to 15-6 overall and 6-1 Ivy.

While everybody in Jadwin Gym could see that Dietrick was lighting up the scoreboard, the stat line wasn’t her focus.

“I don’t think about it that way, I am just trying to get better every day,” said Dietrick, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for her big weekend.

“I don’t like to know how many points I have during a game. I don’t want to think about it. There were a lot of things that I did wrong in those two games and a lot of things I can still improve so I am focused more on that than the good stuff.”

When Dietrick gets the hot hand, she sees it as an opportunity to set up her teammates.

“I am a point guard and I like to pass the ball as well,” said Dietrick, who had 25 points in the first half against Yale and is now averaging 16.0 points a game, third-best in the league.

“So if I have a lot of points in the first half, obviously they are going to be concerned about me which is going to create opportunities for my teammates so that was what I was looking for in the second half. I was trying to get other people involved and keep playing our game. I wasn’t trying to take over or anything like that.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart was more impressed with Dietrick’s overall floor game than her gaudy scoring stats.

“I looked at the stats after the game last night and I was like wow she had 25 points and then at halftime today I was like oh my god she has 25,” said Banghart.

“I think that says a lot about Blake, I don’t even notice when she is scoring. I notice how she is managing our game, how she is really taking leadership on the court and being the lead guard we need her to be. Scoring is great and she is great at it but it doesn’t paint the whole picture for her. She has emerged into our floor leader. We need her to score so I can’t have her thinking she is just a point guard because then she starts to distribute. She is a scoring lead guard.”

Banghart has seen her team emerge from the Harvard loss with a new identity.

“The Harvard game was such that we were totally out of rhythm and I think they doubted themselves during the game and that is just not us,” said Banghart.

“The team is becoming theirs, they know they can be beaten and it is don’t be afraid of it, whatever. It is us doing our thing.”

With Princeton playing at Dartmouth (3-19 overall, 0-8 Ivy) on February 21 and at Harvard (17-5 overall, 7-1 Ivy) a day later, Banghart has little doubt that the Tigers are primed for a big weekend.

“Michelle Miller and Alex Wheatley, the sophomores who were like deer in the headlights, are starting to take on some ownership of the game plan and ownership of the personnel,” said Banghart.

“Our seniors (Kristen Helmstetter and Nicole Hung) have buoyed the ship, they have asked their younger teammates to step up. It is February now, you are not young any more.”

Dietrick, for her part, is ready to step up in the rematch with Harvard. “Being mad about that Harvard loss just makes me want to fight harder everyday,” said Dietrick.

“We are back in the swing of it. Every day at practice, we look better and better so I think we are ready to go. I think from here on out, we are going to be really tough to beat.”

KEY FIGURE: Princeton University women’s hockey player Gabie Figueroa controls the puck in recent action. Last Saturday, senior defenseman and team co-captain Figueroa contributed an assist but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 5-3 to visiting Yale. The Tigers, now 13-10-4 overall and 9-8-3 ECAC Hockey, play at Colgate on February 21 and at Cornell the next day in the last weekend of regular season before starting play in the league quarterfinals.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

KEY FIGURE: Princeton University women’s hockey player Gabie Figueroa controls the puck in recent action. Last Saturday, senior defenseman and team co-captain Figueroa contributed an assist but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 5-3 to visiting Yale. The Tigers, now 13-10-4 overall and 9-8-3 ECAC Hockey, play at Colgate on February 21 and at Cornell the next day in the last weekend of regular season before starting play in the league quarterfinals. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton University women’s hockey team, its annual Senior Day regular season home finale got off to a good start as the Tigers hosted Yale last Saturday.

After the team’s six seniors were introduced one by one, the Tigers proceeded to jump out to a 2-0 lead as freshmen Hilary Lloyd and Fiona McKenna both found the back of the net.

Responding to a Yale goal late in the opening period, Princeton got its lead back up to two as McKenna scored again to put the Tigers ahead 3-1 with 12:37 left in the second period.

But things went downhill from there as Yale scored four unanswered goals to win 5-3 and rain on the seniors’ parade.

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal made no effort to hide his disappointment as he assessed his team’s performance.

“It is frustrating all the way around, we had two 2-goal leads and then we crapped out,” said Kampersal, whose team dropped to 13-10-4 overall and 9-8-3 ECAC Hockey.

“We let them score 10 seconds after each time we scored which is absolutely ridiculous. We outshoot them 25-5 in the first period but we probably should have gotten a couple of more. We had a wide open net that we missed and then after that it was a weird game. I thought it was one of the worst losses I have been involved with in a long time.”

The defeat was especially stinging since it came on the send-off for the team’s seniors, Denna Laing, Sally Butler, Gabie Figueroa, Rose Alleva, Olivia Mucha, and Katie Jones.

“They are a great group, no question,” said Kampersal. “They have set the standard for us this year. I just wish today went better for them.”

Kampersal is hoping things go better next weekend when Princeton ends regular season action by playing at Colgate on February 21 and at Cornell the next day.

“We just have to forget it and compete next weekend,” said Kampersal, whose club stands sixth in the EACH standings and has clinched a spot in the league quarterfinals which will see the top four teams getting home ice in best-of-three series during the weekend of February 28-March 2.

“Now it is time to get ready for the playoffs and try to improve our seeding and play our best hockey the week after.”

February 12, 2014
MONUMENTAL CHALLENGE: After being named as the new head coach of the Princeton University sprint football team, Sean Morey poses last week next to the bronze statue, by Daniel Chester French, honoring the Princeton student-athlete in the Jadwin Gym lobby. Morey, a former Brown football star and 1997 Ivy League Player of the Year who went on to play nine seasons in the NFL, faces a daunting challenge in his first coaching job as the Tigers haven’t won a game in Collegiate Sprint Football League (CSFL) action in more than a decade. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

MONUMENTAL CHALLENGE: After being named as the new head coach of the Princeton University sprint football team, Sean Morey poses last week next to the bronze statue, by Daniel Chester French, honoring the Princeton student-athlete in the Jadwin Gym lobby. Morey, a former Brown football star and 1997 Ivy League Player of the Year who went on to play nine seasons in the NFL, faces a daunting challenge in his first coaching job as the Tigers haven’t won a game in Collegiate Sprint Football League (CSFL) action in more than a decade.
(Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Sean Morey spent a few hours last Saturday evening cleaning the carpet in the Princeton University sprint football office in the B level at Jadwin Gym.

As the former Brown football star receiver and 1997 Ivy League Player of the Year, who went on to play nine seasons in the NFL, takes over as the new head coach of the moribund Princeton sprint program, he is starting from the ground up, literally and figuratively.

The Tigers haven’t won a game in Collegiate Sprint Football League (CSFL) action in more than a decade as their losing streak has passed the 80 mark and Morey brings exactly zero coaching experience to the job.

But he does possess a deep understanding of what it means to succeed as an underdog in the world of NFL football since the undersized 5’11, 193-pound Morey molded himself into a Pro Bowl special teams performer and earned a Super Bowl ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006.

The upbeat Morey is primed to apply some of those NFL lessons to his new football challenge as he replaces Steve Everette, the former Princeton High coach who guided the Tiger sprint program from 2011-13.

“I am excited for the opportunity to impart the understanding of the game and some of the wisdom that is garnered from the daily grind and the remnants of experiences, whether they be good or bad,” said Morey, 37, sitting in his office surrounded by boxes, desks, and chairs pushed together, game films, and a flat screen on one wall, and two whiteboards.

“There are ways you can approach situations in life with an open mind, a good attitude, with a strong work ethic, with constructive criticism, and being honest about yourself. I have developed this mentality that there is nothing too big that you can’t figure out. Yet you have to take a step back and assess the situation, be honest, be self critical, correct your mistakes, and move forward.”

One of the big problems that Morey has to address in getting Princeton on the right track is attracting more players to a program that has had two forfeits in the last three seasons due to inadequate manpower stemming from injury problems and that does not get any admissions slots for its athletes.

“I am going to have to be creative and look at the intramural sports that are played through campus recreation and identify the kids that might have played some high school football and have an interest in coming out,” said Morey, who can’t use players weighing more than 172 pounds under CSFL rules.

“On-campus recruiting is important and I anticipate reaching out to all of the high schools in the area and building rapport with the coaches so that if kids can get into Princeton that have that aspiration of being a scholar athlete but they are not big enough for it, or as heavily recruited and they will fall within the weight restrictions, to give them an opportunity to compete. We can’t recruit or bring them on campus because there is really not a budget for that. I will probably look more into that and try to identify more creative ways to expose potential candidates to the program. I think the viability of any program is directly related to the ability to practice competitively and to prepare adequately and the only way to do that is that you must have enough players on the field.”

Having worked at Princeton the last two years on a fellowship in general athletic administration should aid Morey in the effort to draw more players.

“It helps because I felt like the first year I spent a lot of time building relationships with people and getting to know people,” said Morey, whose wife, Cara, is an assistant coach for the Princeton women’s hockey team.

“I would take a little extra time to talk and get to know people. I feel like I know who is Princeton athletics.”

Once Morey gets those players, he is going to focus on getting them to know dedication.

“They are going to get out of this what they want to put into it,” said Morey, who acknowledged that he may have put too much of himself into his football career, suffering more than 20 concussions during his NFL years and acknowledging that he takes such drugs as Ritalin and Propranolol to deal with the after-effects of the concussions and function better on a daily basis.

“I do know what it takes to commit to something greater than yourself and to be respectful, to be kind, to be honest, to be dedicated to something. I believe that  with the right mindset, you can overcome challenges.”

In Morey’s view, the team’s returning players have displayed an admirable mindset as they have endured a steady diet of losing, including a 2013 campaign that saw the Tigers go 0-7 and get outscored 330-88 in the six games they did play.

“I think part of the reason I took the job is that I already have relationships; I was covering the games as an event manager,” said Morey, noting that the alumni support has been the backbone of the program through its lean times.

“I never saw anybody quit, I saw some bad body language at times. I felt like that, by and large, the kids played hard, and they finished every play. They are good kids. I think their GPA is the highest of any sport so they are smart kids. I feel like they are well rounded and they have a lot of different things going on. I appreciate that. When they come to our lifts, our runs, or our practices, and certainly the games, they are going to have to find a way to compartmentalize and focus on the task at hand.”

Morey is also working on the task of getting a better feel for the eight-team CSFL, which has been dominated by Army in recent years.

“I still have to learn more, I don’t know enough as it stands,” said Morey, who is interviewing for assistant coaches to fill out his staff and sees himself as playing more of a role in devising defensive schemes.

“I do think that surprisingly, it is a very physical league. Army and Navy have deep squads and they have the type of player who is very aggressive and plays hard.”

In Morey’s view, he can help his players get up to speed by passing on the knowledge he gained during his NFL career.

“I can help with technique, leverage, understanding concepts on how to win the one-on-one battles, and how to prepare to play the game, how to watch film, and practice tempo,” said Morey, who will be holding five practices this spring under CSFL rules and will have the team participate in a strength and conditioning program as well.

“We will be making sure that people are using the techniques that we coach and teach them. We will hold them accountable to being on time, to having a good attitude, and working hard which is fairly necessary if you want to be competitive at anything.”

The Princeton players will have a good role model when it comes to work ethic and competitiveness in their new head coach. “I was always the first in there and the last one to leave, literally,” said Morey, who had a two-page to-do list at his side.

“It almost became obsessive, especially for me to extend my career because I knew I could lose my job any day. To have garnered the kind of respect to be a captain on every team and go to the Pro Bowl, I felt that I had to live up to that. If I slacked off, it would be a sign of disrespect.”

The respect that Morey has for his coaches will influence his approach. “You can learn something from everyone,” said Morey, who played for such prominent NFL coaches as John Harbaugh, Andy Reid, Bill Belichick, and Bill Cowher.

“I don’t think I will ever be a coach that will manifest some false sense of Machiavellian power rants to motivate. I want to teach, I want to teach the game, I want players to develop as people and as competitive athletes. My expectation is that they have a very positive experience, that they learn, that they get better, that they have fun, and they compete.”

While the rebuilding process will be arduous, coming in on the ground floor with Morey should be a positive experience for the Princeton players.

FRESH APPROACH: Princeton University men’s basketball  player Spencer Weisz heads to the hoop in recent action. Last Saturday, freshman star Weisz and classmate Steven Cook came up big as Princeton topped Cornell 69-48 to earn its first Ivy League victory of the season. Each player produced a career high in points as Weisz tallied a game-high 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor while Cook chipped in 13 points as he hit 5-of-7 shots from the field. The Tigers, now 13-6 overall and 1-4 Ivy, play at Brown on February 14 and at Yale on February 15.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FRESH APPROACH: Princeton University men’s basketball player Spencer Weisz heads to the hoop in recent action. Last Saturday, freshman star Weisz and classmate Steven Cook came up big as Princeton topped Cornell 69-48 to earn its first Ivy League victory of the season. Each player produced a career high in points as Weisz tallied a game-high 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor while Cook chipped in 13 points as he hit 5-of-7 shots from the field. The Tigers, now 13-6 overall and 1-4 Ivy, play at Brown on February 14 and at Yale on February 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

On Friday evening, the Princeton University men’s basketball team squandered a 13-point first half lead in losing 53-52 to Columbia, seeing its prospects for an Ivy League title take a potentially fatal hit as the Tigers fell to 0-4 in league play.

A night later, Princeton topped Cornell 69-48 for its first Ivy triumph and, more importantly, saw reason to hope for future title runs as freshmen Spencer Weisz and Steven Cook each produced career-highs in points.

Weisz tallied a game-high 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor while Cook chipped in 13 points as he hit 5-of-7 shots from the field, delighting a crowd of 2,964 on hand at Jadwin Gym.

In reflecting on the win which improved Princeton to 13-6 overall and 1-4 Ivy, Weisz said the Tigers focused on relaxing to break their slide.

“Before the game and the pregame talk, coach really emphasized to just have fun,” said Weisz, who has been averaging 8.9 points a game with a previous career best of 17 points.

“We were playing with too much tension all around and we needed to loosen up.”

For Cook, his breakthrough effort came down to feeling more at ease on the court.

“I definitely felt a lot more comfortable,” said Cook, a 6’5, 185-pound native of Winnetka, Ill. whose career high coming into the night was five points. “We had a great week of practice and I had gotten a lot of encouragement from the guys after not getting a ton of opportunities in the beginning of the season.”

It was Cook’s third start of the season and he acknowledges getting the opportunity has brought some pressure.

“It has been tough, there are a lot of adjustments that you have to make, especially as a freshman,” said Cook. “I tried to stay ready and play hard.”

Developing a bond with his classmate Weisz has helped Cook in the adjustment process.

“It has been great, Spencer has so much that he brings to the court and so much that he brings to the team,” said Cook.

“He is a great passer, he is a great shooter, he knocked down three 3’s tonight. He is very versatile and he is always looking to make people around him better, he reminds me a lot of T.J. [senior point guard and team captain T.J. Bray] actually. T.J. does a lot of similar things and really makes us better.”

Weisz, for his part, is looking for Cook more and more on the court. “We have a few more years together but I feel like we are creating a solid base together now,” said Weisz.

“In practice, things are starting to click a lot more and I am looking forward to the rest of the season and the years to come after.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson is hoping that the win over Cornell is a harbinger of good things to come over the rest of the season.

“I thought we did a nice job of having a short-term memory; I don’t think anybody in this program got much sleep last night,” said Henderson, who got 17 points, six assists, and five rebounds from senior star Bray in the victory over the Big Red.

“It is amazing what a couple of shots falling does for a team’s soul. I felt like we got our groove back a little bit and we have got to keep it going.”

In Henderson’s view, the Tigers benefited by loosening up a little bit. “I think just the way the ball was moving and the mental approach to the game,” said Henderson, when asked to discuss the biggest positives of the team’s performance.

“I don’t think we do very well with tension so I thought they were loose, they were ready to go, there was energy and that’s the way you play the game.”

Inserting Cook into the starting lineup has given the Tigers a jolt of energy.

“Steven can really make shots and he is a good rebounder,” said Henderson.

“It was really the week leading up to our Division III game (an 84-54 win over Kean on January 26) that things started clicking, with the way he was moving. When you start losing games, everything has to change a little bit. I am fortunate that we have Steve here and he was patient and he has given us some boost that we needed.”

The Tigers got a boost on Saturday from the presence of numerous alums of the program who were on hand at Jadwin for a post-game function in honor of former coach and Hall of Famer Pete Carril.

“We did talk about it. I certainly felt this way when I came here,” said Henderson, a former Princeton star whose team plays at Brown on February 14 and at Yale on February 15.

“The reason we are here is for a lot of the guys that are here tonight. I think they are here to say thanks to coach. We are lucky, we get the opportunity to do that with him everyday. I think there are only a handful of programs in the country that have a consistency with the players wanting to come back and most important, the way that we think. We try to play smart and play tough. From Geoff Petrie to Armond Hill to Craig Robinson and too many players to name who are here tonight. Nobody is feeling sorry for us, those guys want us to fight and that is what I think these guys did tonight and I am happy for them.”

Weisz, for his part, made it clear that he and his teammates are inspired by their predecessors.

“Also I think the perspective of having the alumni in the stands for the Carril event really helped,” said Weisz.

“We had John Thompson III [Princeton hoops alum and current Georgetown head coach] talk to us earlier in the year and he was talking about how the older guys pay attention to what we are doing here in the season. We are playing for more than just ourselves, we are playing for the program’s history and the guys that came before us.”

SIIRO HOUR: Princeton University men’s hockey player Ryan Siiro skates up the ice in recent action. Last Saturday, freshman forward Siiro contributed an assist in a losing cause as Princeton fell 4-3 to No. 14 Clarkson. The Tigers, now 4-19 overall and 3-13 ECAC Hockey, play at Brown on February 14 and at Yale a day later.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SIIRO HOUR: Princeton University men’s hockey player Ryan Siiro skates up the ice in recent action. Last Saturday, freshman forward Siiro contributed an assist in a losing cause as Princeton fell 4-3 to No. 14 Clarkson. The Tigers, now 4-19 overall and 3-13 ECAC Hockey, play at Brown on February 14 and at Yale a day later. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While it has been a rough winter for the Princeton University men’s hockey team as it has sunk to the cellar of the ECAC Hockey standings, the Tigers may have hit rock bottom last Friday when they hosted St. Lawrence.

Getting outshot 50-25 by the Saints, Princeton lost 7-1, giving up five unanswered goals after it had narrowed the gap to 2-1 in the second period.

Afterward, Princeton head coach Bob Prier didn’t mince any words as he assessed his team’s performance.

“That’s as bad a loss as we have had all year,” said Prier. “They outworked us, outplayed us. They probably won 90 percent of the stick battles and 90 percent of the face-offs, which means that they wanted it way more than we did in our own rink.”

In the loss to St. Lawrence, the Tigers were plagued by their tendency this winter of starting slowly.

“I thought we came out a little flat; we looked a little tired,” said Prier. “We obviously weren’t as prepared as they were. I take full responsibility for that. We felt like we were ready to go but we have to figure a way to come out of the gate a little bit stronger. We will do everything we can to do it and bounce back and come back and get some of these tough points here.”

When the Tigers narrowed the gap to 2-1 midway through the second period on a goal by freshman Ryan Siiro, Prier thought his team might be able to right the ship.

“I think it was turning; we just weren’t real responsible with the puck shortly thereafter,” lamented Prier. “I think we maybe tried to do a little bit too much and we had lot of turnovers.”

A night later, the Tigers did produce a much stronger effort as they fell 4-3 to No. 14 Clarkson with senior Andrew Ammon scoring two goals and freshman Hayden Anderson chipping in his first career goal. Princeton outshot the Golden Knights 37-32 on the evening before a standing room only crowd of 2,245 at Baker Rink.

The play of unheralded defenseman Anderson has been a bright spot for the Tigers who dropped to 4-19 overall and 3-13 ECAC Hockey with the loss to the Golden Knights.

“We have Hayden Anderson on the left defense, give him credit, he plays his butt off and does everything you ask him,” said Prier of the 6’0, 200-pound native of Edina, Minn.  “He is a walk on right out of high school.”

Prier also credited sophomore Kyle Rankin with giving the Tigers a lift as he has been switched to defenseman from forward.

“Rankin has done a good job,” said Prier. “He is a good skater and he can get us out of the zone so we will see how it evolves. He may not be back there permanently but until we can get some depth and some guys back there, it is a good spot for him.”

In order for Princeton to get out of its slide which has seen it lose five straight games, the players have to show more unity and intensity on the ice.

“We need more passion, pride, and commitment to each other,” maintained Prier, whose team heads to New England this weekend to play at Brown on February 14 and at Yale a day later.

“We have to work on figuring out how to come out with a lot more fire and the desire to win battles and be more responsible with pucks.”

February 6, 2014
LENDING ASSISTANCE: Princeton University women’s hockey player Sally Butler races up the ice in recent action. Last Saturday, senior forward Butler had an assist on the game-winning goal by Denna Laing as Princeton edged Dartmouth 3-2. Butler leads the Tigers in assists this season with 13.  Princeton, now 11-9-3 overall and 7-7-2 ECAC Hockey, plays at St. Lawrence on February 7 and at Clarkson on February 8.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LENDING ASSISTANCE: Princeton University women’s hockey player Sally Butler races up the ice in recent action. Last Saturday, senior forward Butler had an assist on the game-winning goal by Denna Laing as Princeton edged Dartmouth 3-2. Butler leads the Tigers in assists this season with 13. Princeton, now 11-9-3 overall and 7-7-2 ECAC Hockey, plays at St. Lawrence on February 7 and at Clarkson on February 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Sally Butler, her next-to-last regular season weekend at Baker Rink started on a down note as the Princeton University women’s hockey team dropped a 3-2 heartbreaker to Harvard last Friday evening.

Coming into Saturday’s game against Dartmouth, Butler and her teammates were determined to hold their heads high in the wake of the loss to the Crimson.

“We were going for the Ivy League championship; we had a chance,” said senior forward Butler, referring to the Harvard loss.

“We had to put it behind us right after the game. Coach [Jeff] Kampersal told us to let it go and just focus on today because Dartmouth is always a tough team to play against.”

The Tigers proceeded to show their mental toughness as they edged Dartmouth 3-2.

While Princeton got off to a slow start against the Big Green, it rose to the occasion in the latter stages of the contest. “I think we picked it up as the play went on,” said Butler, a 5’9 native of Etobicoke, Ontario.

Princeton seized momentum when it scored two goals in the first five minutes of the third period to take a 3-1 lead.

“That was huge,” said Butler reflecting on that key sequence. “It is always good to get two quick like that and step on a team and get the momentum and get them second-guessing themselves but they did fight back and at the end there it got scary.”

It was good for Butler to set up classmate Denna Laing for Princeton’s third goal, a tally that turned out to be the game-winner.

“Laing was just in front with her stick on the ice so I was lucky to get it through to her and she just put it away,” said Butler, recalling her assist which was her team-high 13th on the season. “She has been having a great season putting the puck in the net so you just get it to her and it goes in.”

With Princeton going 2-1 since returning from its exam break to improve to 11-9-3 overall and 7-7-2 ECAC Hockey, Butler believes the Tigers are going in the right direction.

“It is not a bad start, obviously it would have been nice to beat Harvard yesterday,” said Butler.

“It is always big for us, not just because of the standings but because of the rivalry so that would have been nice. We just have to look forward.”

The Tigers have been benefiting from a nice chemistry this winter. “We definitely have a better dynamic this year, the team as a whole gets along better,” said Butler.

“We have a very good bunch in the freshmen and they are going to be great for the team down the road.

Princeton head coach Kampersal is proud that his team didn’t let down in the wake of the disappointing loss to Harvard.

“I think we had so much passion, energy, and heart last night,” said Kampersal.

“It is always tough to bounce back the next day, particularly against a really good team like Dartmouth that is in the same boat as us, fighting for points. So that was a good, gutsy win.”

Kampersal liked the guts his team showed over the last 20 minutes of the contest.

“In the third period, we are usually stronger than most of the teams that we play,” asserted Kampersal.

“I think we are in really good shape. The Tuesday night game [a 6-1 win over Penn State on January 28] was good to get us going after exams; sometimes that hurts us for this weekend. They did a good job.”

Kampersal credited Butler with doing a good job of hanging in on her feed to Laing for the decisive goal.

“They didn’t play together this week but they played together that one shift and that was nice,” said Kampersal.

“Sally was actually out there a little bit longer that she should have been but she made a nice little play to her.”

Sophomore forward Jaimie McDonnell had a nice game as she contributed a goal and an assist in the third period.

“Jaimie had a big goal for sure and then she played tough and blocked a couple of shots at the end,” said Kampersal.

“I like her toughness on the boards. She is a hockey player so she has good instincts.”

The Tigers also got some tough play along the blue line. “I thought the defense did a good job,” added Kampersal.

“I thought Ali Pankowski clicked all weekend. She put a lot of shots on net and played good, solid D. I thought Gabie Figueroa and Brianne Mahoney stepped up and did a good job.”

If the Tigers are going to stay in the top eight in the ECACH standings and make the playoffs, they are going to have to keep stepping up.

“We are fighting for our playoff lives again,” said Kampersal, whose team is currently in sixth place and just missed qualifying for the postseason last winter.

“We have six to go and they are all against tough opponents so I told them that every game is going to be like the Harvard, Dartmouth games, an absolute battle.”

In Kampersal’s view, his players are prepared to fight to the end. “All year, their approach has been really good,” said Kampersal, who will be looking for Princeton to keep on the winning track as it plays at St. Lawrence on February 7 and at Clarkson on February 8.

“Sometimes we start out a little slow but their weekly approach in terms of how they sleep, how they eat, how they train has been focused. Yesterday they played their hearts out against Harvard so there was not much to say, you can’t ask for any more than that.”

Butler, for her part, is determined to play her heart out to the final whistle of her career.

“It is bittersweet, all good things come to an end,” said Butler, who has tallied 77 points on 36 goals and 41 assists in 112 appearances for Princeton.

“I think the goal is to just keep the season alive as long as possible and, beyond that, you just have to give your best effort everyday. You need enjoy it while it is still here and make it last as long as it can, that is what we are going to be aiming to do.”

 

SEEING RED: Princeton University women’s basketball player Kristen Helmstetter, center, fights through two Harvard players in Princeton’s 78-68 loss last Friday to the visiting Crimson. The defeat marked Princeton’s first home Ivy League loss since 2009. Helmstetter and the Tigers got back on track a night later, topping Dartmouth 76-53 to to improve to 11-6 overall and 2-1 Ivy.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SEEING RED: Princeton University women’s basketball player Kristen Helmstetter, center, fights through two Harvard players in Princeton’s 78-68 loss last Friday to the visiting Crimson. The defeat marked Princeton’s first home Ivy League loss since 2009. Helmstetter and the Tigers got back on track a night later, topping Dartmouth 76-53 to to improve to 11-6 overall and 2-1 Ivy. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When the Princeton University women’s basketball team found itself trailing Harvard 44-30 at halftime last Friday, senior co-captain Kristen Helmstetter decided it was time for some words of wisdom.

“I think it was important as a senior that both me and Hung [senior co-captain Nicole Hung] needed to tell our team, it is fine we are good, settle down, and play like Princeton plays,” said Helmstetter.

“We play hard and we play with heart. As long as we do that, we’ll get back into the game and we did that.”

With Helmstetter scoring seven points in the second half, the Tigers cut the Harvard lead to one point on three different occasions in the second half. Princeton, though, couldn’t get over the hump as the Crimson pulled away to a 78-68 win in the early season Ivy League showdown.

Helmstetter acknowledged that four-time Ivy champion Princeton didn’t play hard enough in the first half as it trailed by as much as 31-13 at one point.

“I think where we struggled in the beginning was on the defensive end, we lacked accountability there,” said Helmstetter.

“They are a good offensive team and unfortunately we weren’t on point today on defense and that hurt us.”

The Tigers showed some accountability as they outscored Harvard 38-34 over the last 20 minutes of the contest.

“We came out and won the second half,” said Helmstetter. “We did think the tide was turning. It is a game of runs and unfortunately that came to an end.”

A night later, the tide turned for Princeton as it topped Dartmouth 76-53 while Harvard lost 67-38 at Penn leaving the Tigers at 11-6 overall and 2-1 Ivy while the Crimson moved to 13-5 overall and 3-1 Ivy. Harvard is currently in a three-way tie with Cornell and Yale atop the league while Princeton and Penn are both a half-game behind in fourth.

“Everyone has back-to-back games and some teams deal with it differently,” said Helmstetter, a 6’0 native of nearby Bridgewater who earned second-team All-Ivy honors last winter.

“Each team is going to continue to play Friday, Saturday and we’ll see who comes out on top.”

While Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart wasn’t banking on her team going undefeated in the league, she was surprised to see the Tigers suffer their first Ivy loss at home since February 13, 2009 when they fell 56-54 to Yale at Jadwin.

“I have been in the league a long time; I think it has happened twice in the round robin before the Princeton team so it almost never happens,” said Banghart, noting that the team was rusty, seeing its first game action after a 19-day hiatus for exams.

“I said I hate to burst your bubble but I wasn’t expecting an undefeated run. I was hoping it wouldn’t be at home but I certainly wasn’t expecting to be undefeated and neither will Harvard.”

Banghart did see progress in the second half. “It is always better to be early on defense and late on offense,” said Banghart, who got 16 points from sophomore Michelle Miller in the win over Dartmouth with sophomore Alex Wheatley chipping in 11 points.

“We had it completely reversed; we were late on defense and early on offense. Rebounding is a product of how you defend so I thought in the second half we were much more aggressive.”

With 11 games left in the Ivy campaign, that aggressiveness could pay dividends as the Tigers go for their fifth straight league crown.

“The Ivy League title is won with seniors and on the defensive end so if we are good defensively, we have enough weapons and enough looks to win this thing,” said Banghart, whose team plays at Columbia on February 7 and at Cornell on February 8.

“We just have to shore up our defense. I like our body of work over a 14-game season.”

Helmstetter still likes Princeton’s title chances, noting that there is a lot of basketball to be played.

“All I can do is tell my underclassmen to keep their heads up; it is only one game and one game means nothing,” said Helmstetter.

“People lose games when you play back to back and I think that is a good message for them to know that each night is a new night and to come out with a new mentality and win that next game.”

 

ANCHOR WOMAN: Princeton University women’s water polo goalie Ashleigh Johnson makes a save in action last season. Sophomore Johnson, a third-team All-American in her debut campaign who went on to lead the U.S. to the gold medal at the 2013 FINA Junior World Championships last summer, figures to anchor the Princeton defense this season. The seventh-ranked Tigers will get the 2014 campaign underway by hosting their annual Princeton Invitational from February 8-9.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ANCHOR WOMAN: Princeton University women’s water polo goalie Ashleigh Johnson makes a save in action last season. Sophomore Johnson, a third-team All-American in her debut campaign who went on to lead the U.S. to the gold medal at the 2013 FINA Junior World Championships last summer, figures to anchor the Princeton defense this season. The seventh-ranked Tigers will get the 2014 campaign underway by hosting their annual Princeton Invitational from February 8-9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Luis Nicolao is facing a problem in guiding his Princeton University women’s water polo team that would be the envy of most coaches.

With Princeton coming off a 28-6 season and CWPA eastern title, Tiger head coach Nicolao’s cupboard may be too full as he welcomes back most of the stars from that squad.

“Our practices have been great; we have 12 or 13 great players and the scrimmages have been very good and very competitive,” said Nicolao, whose team earned a fifth-place finish at the 2013 NCAA Championships.

“We can’t start more than six players but 11 think they should start and they are right. I tell them the key is depth. We need to play the whole team and get the bench to where the players are interchangeable.”

Princeton has turned heads in the water polo world, rising to seventh in the latest national poll before it has even played a game this season.

“It’s nice to have the ranking but the girls know that it means nothing,” said Nicolao.

“It puts a bigger target on our backs. The only ranking that matters is being No. 1 in the east at the end of April.”

The Tigers will get their 2014 season underway this weekend by hosting their annual Princeton Invitational and the players are primed to show how good they are.

“They are excited to get started,” said Nicolao. “There is a level of confidence but they know last year doesn’t matter. There are a lot of teams gunning for us, it is going to be very tough.”

With sophomore star goalie Ashleigh Johnson returning after earning third-team All-American honors in her debut campaign, the Tigers will be tough to score on.

“Ashleigh had a really great summer playing internationally,” said Nicolao of Johnson, who helped the U.S. win the gold medal at the 2013 FINA Junior World Championships last summer and was named the tournament’s top goalie.

“She is a special athlete. She is so good she gives the chance to win any game. We are fortunate to have her.”

The Tigers are fortunate to have some other good defenders around Johnson.

“We are a very strong defensive team,” asserted Nicolao. “We have gotten even stronger with the addition of freshmen Morgan Hallock, she is 6’2 and plays with the junior national team, and another freshman, Sydney Saxe. We have only gotten deeper.”

Princeton is also deep on offense, led by senior co-captain Katie Rigler, who tallied 66 goals and 15 assists last season.

“Rigler is doing great; she is a senior and should have a big year,” said Nicolao.

“But the key is balance, we have seven or eight girls who can score 30 goals so we can’t key on Katie,” said Nicolao, citing such stars as sophomore Diana Murphy and a quartet of talented juniors in Jessie Holecheck, Taylor Dunstan, Ashley Hatcher, and Camille Hooks. “We have a lot of firepower, it is a matter of playing well.”

In Nicolao’s view, the Tigers have a chance to do very well this season.

“I think our potential is unlimited,” said Nicolao. “We can’t let emotion get the best of us and we can’t think we have won games before even playing them. We have to play the game and execute.”

As Princeton welcomes Wagner, Iona, and the NYAC this weekend for its Invitational, it is looking to execute well.

“It will be nice to get some games and see some different opponents,” said Nicolao.

“We have a good first month; we play Michigan, UC San Diego, and Hartwick. We have some early challenges but we have to keep our perspective because nothing is won in February.”

 

January 29, 2014
RAISING KEAN: Princeton University men’s basketball player Spencer Weisz drives to the hoop last Sunday in Princeton’s 84-54 victory over Kean University. Freshman star Weisz scored 15 points with four rebounds and an assist in the win and was later named as the Ivy League Rookie of the Week, the third time he has earned that honor this season. Princeton, now 12-3 overall and 0-1 Ivy League, resumes league action this weekend by playing at defending Ivy champion Harvard (14-2 overall, 1-0 Ivy) on January 31 and at Dartmouth (7-7 overall, 0-1 Ivy) the next day.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

RAISING KEAN: Princeton University men’s basketball player Spencer Weisz drives to the hoop last Sunday in Princeton’s 84-54 victory over Kean University. Freshman star Weisz scored 15 points with four rebounds and an assist in the win and was later named as the Ivy League Rookie of the Week, the third time he has earned that honor this season. Princeton, now 12-3 overall and 0-1 Ivy League, resumes league action this weekend by playing at defending Ivy champion Harvard (14-2 overall, 1-0 Ivy) on January 31 and at Dartmouth (7-7 overall, 0-1 Ivy) the next day. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Having come through his first exam period of his college career, Princeton University men’s basketball freshman star Spencer Weisz was anxious to get back on the court.

Even though Princeton cruised to an 84-54 win over Division III Kean University at Jadwin Gym last Sunday in its first action since January 11, Weisz believed that the Tigers gained a lot from the win.

“This is my first time through this schedule of not playing for a few weeks,” said Weisz, a 6’4, 180-pound native of nearby Florham Park.

“We started off really well defensively.  In the first few minutes, we held them to 1-of-17 from the field, I believe coach said. Then defensively, we let up a little bit. It is good that we have this game to show us that we have a lot of work ahead of us, especially coming into the important part of the season ahead.”

Weisz produced some good work in the win, scoring 15 points with four rebounds and an assist, later getting named as the Ivy League Rookie of the Week, the third time he has earned that honor this season.

While Weisz acknowledged that it took the Tigers a while to get in synch offensively, he certainly got into a groove.

“I believe there was some rust but then again, it was great to be on the court with the guys,” said Weisz, who hit on 6-of-9 shots from the floor, including 3-of-5 from three-point range.

“Whether we play a D-1 team or a D-III team, I think there is natural rust but I think it is really how quickly you can get that off, that says a lot about your team. Last Sunday was my last exam so I have been able to get down to the gym and get some shots up. I felt like it paid off tonight.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson felt good to see his team in action as it looks to move on from its 77-74 loss at Penn in its Ivy League opener and last appearance before the exam break.

“There were some things today that we could improve on but I saw enough good things,” said Henderson, whose squad led 37-23 at half and never looked back as it improved to 12-3 overall.

“We were just happy to put the uniform on and take the floor. I was talking to coach [Pete] Carril yesterday and he was reiterating to me and the staff how important this game is for us. We are entering into a huge week and I think we are ready to meet that challenge.”

Henderson is challenging his team to step up on the defensive end of the floor.

“Defense is what we have got to concentrate on; we want to be a good defensive team,” asserted Henderson.

“I think we can be; we have been at moments. I have been saying this for a while, basketball has been going on for 50 or 75 years and you have to keep your body in front of your man so that is what we are trying to concentrate on.”

The Tigers got some good work from their reserves in the win over Kean as Henderson went to the bench as the Tigers pulled away.

“I thought they were good; you have to remember that Jimmy Sherburne, Ben Hazel, Chris Clement, and T.J. Bray, didn’t play much as freshmen,” said Henderson.

“I like our freshmen group quite a bit. You got a chance to see some of the things that we see in practice. We get a really good look from our scout team. Steve Cook is a good rebounder. Henry Caruso has a knack; he played six or seven minutes and he is on the free throw line four times. Bobby Garbade is a very good passer and we know that Clay Wilson can really shoot. What I think is really important to me is that those guys are in there and we look the same, it is us. It is what we are supposed to look like.”

Princeton is facing an important weekend as it resumes Ivy action by playing at defending league champion Harvard (14-2 overall, 1-0 Ivy) on January 31 and at Dartmouth (7-7 overall, 0-1 Ivy) the next day.

“We feel good for about an hour and then it is over,” said Henderson. “Harvard and Dartmouth are playing right now so we will go back and watch the game. We are ready; we know what the drill is with two games on a weekend. You prepare for both games and Friday is obviously a key test. For us, I think it is going to come down to four or five plays. We have been talking about that a lot. We are going to have to make shots. Both teams are playing well.”

Still smarting from the loss to Penn, the Tigers are ready for a shot at Harvard and the chance to get into the thick of the title race.

“You have to play them at some point,” said Henderson of Harvard. “I think there are plenty of teams in the league that are playing well. I think we put ourselves in a tough position with our first game. You just have to play.”

Weisz, for his part, believes that Princeton is primed to play well. “Obviously this is something I have been looking forward to for a while,” said Weisz.

“We didn’t get the result we wanted a few weeks ago at Penn but then again we have a lot of opportunities to make up for that. Come this weekend, we can get right back on track. I think this week of practices is very important for us. We are looking to get after it in practice, especially defensively and that is going to contribute a lot to this weekend coming up and the weekends after that.”

January 22, 2014
OUT OF AFRICA: Zimbabwe native Sean Wilkinson smiles for his first team photo as head coach of the Princeton University men’s squash team. Wilkinson, who starred at Bates College and had previous coaching stints at Brown University and Drexel University, succeeded legendary Hall of Famer Bob Callahan last May. He has guided the Tigers to a 3-3 overall record so far in his debut campaign.(Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

OUT OF AFRICA: Zimbabwe native Sean Wilkinson smiles for his first team photo as head coach of the Princeton University men’s squash team. Wilkinson, who starred at Bates College and had previous coaching stints at Brown University and Drexel University, succeeded legendary Hall of Famer Bob Callahan last May. He has guided the Tigers to a 3-3 overall record so far in his debut campaign. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Sean Wilkinson is not one to shy away from a challenge.

Growing up in Zimbabwe and establishing himself as one of the top junior squash players in the country, Wilkinson left Africa for the United States as a teenager to attend the St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire.

After struggling to adjust, Wilkinson enjoyed a fine high school career and headed to Bates College where he starred for the men’s squash team. As a senior, he served as a de facto coach when the program was undergoing a leadership transition.

Deciding to go into coaching upon graduation, he took a job as a teaching pro at a squash club in Milan, Italy, despite not knowing anyone in the country or one word of Italian.

He then returned to the U. S. to serve as an assistant coach at Brown and then headed to Drexel to help that school start an intercollegiate squash program.

Last spring, Wilkinson took on his greatest challenge yet as he was named to succeed legendary Hall of Famer Bob Callahan as the head coach of the Princeton University men’s squash team.

“I applied at the end of April, I was hoping to get an interview,” said Wilkinson.

“When I got the interview, it went well. I was talking about something I love and have a passion for. I was offered the job five days after my interview. It was an exciting time.”

Wilkinson, 28, is excited to have the support of his predecessor Callahan, a former Princeton squash star who was the head coach at his alma mater for 32 years and guided the Tigers to 314 victories, 11 Ivy League titles, and three national championships (1982, 1993, 2012).

“Bob is a legend, he is such a wonderful person,” said Wilkinson. “There is always going to be pressure in a job with a team that has been so successful over the years. Bob believes in what I am trying to do. This is going to take time, I am rebuilding in my own style.”

When Wilkinson first came to the U.S., he did have a bit of a rough time. “I got the opportunity to come to St Paul’s School and I took the opportunity with both hands,” said Wilkinson.

“I think it was hard for a number of reasons. I was only 14 when I came over. The education system is very different here and I struggled. There was turmoil at home and that didn’t help.”

Eventually, Wilkinson started to feel at home in New England. “I settled down and made some good friends,” said Wilkinson.

“I had a good support network. I didn’t play squash as much. I had to put a lot of time into my education. We did finish fourth or fifth in New England.”

Once at Bates, Wilkinson was able to put more into his squash. “I dove all in again; I was lucky because we had a good team and my best friends were on the team,” said Wilkinson.

“In my senior year, we were No. 6 in the country at one point. We had a strong team. We won our division at nationals; it was the highest finish for Bates. We were athletic and competitive. We were the underdogs but everything came together.”

Wilkinson had a special role in that success as he became a de facto coach of the program.

“My senior year was my third year as captain and the coach that season was in charge of travel, hotels and finances but he wasn’t a squash guy,” said Wilkinson, who was a first-team New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) selection and earned the Bates College Sportsmanship Award.

“I took the lead; I helped coach both teams. I would organize the practice plan on a day-to-day basis. The other players knew me and trusted me; they allowed me to get on with it.”

It didn’t take long for Wilkinson to realize that he found his calling in coaching. “It was a very easy transition,” said Wilkinson.

“I got into it by accident. Everyone knew who I was and they trusted me. I really enjoyed it and I decided I wanted to coach full time.”

Getting to know Peter Nicol, a world No. 1 squash player, helped send Wilkinson off  to an adventure to Europe.

“We met at a squash camp where I was a junior coach,” said Wilkinson, referring to Nicol, a Scot who won one World Open title, two British Open crowns, and four Commonwealth Games Gold Medals and is widely considered to be one of the most outstanding international squash players of his time.

“We got on really well. He asked me my plans and I said coaching. He set me up in a coaching gig in Milan, Italy. It was completely out of left field. I had no desire to leave the States. I had been here seven years but when someone like that gives you that kind of opportunity, you have to take it. I didn’t speak a word of Italian. I hadn’t even spoken to my boss at the club.”

True to character, Wilkinson made the most of the opportunity. “I arrived in August and fell in love with it; I was thrown in the deep end which I needed,” said Wilkinson.

“It was tough coaching someone in a different language. I was mainly giving lessons; usually 50 lessons a week for 30-minute sessions. It was a really good opportunity for me to develop my coaching. I learned what I wanted to do with the players technically.”

After two years in Italy, Wilkinson returned to the U.S. to get his start in college coaching.

“I came to Brown in 2010; Stuart leGassick was wonderful to me,” said Wilkinson.

“I knew I wanted to get back into college coaching. I put myself in enough positions to get a job like I have now. He really understood that. He let me do a lot of stuff and treated me as an equal.”

Getting to do a lot at Brown proved invaluable to Wilkinson for his next stop in the world of college squash.

“I got a call from John White; he as a former No 1 player in the world,” said Wilkinson.

“He asked me if I wanted to be involved in something special. Drexel was starting a squash program and he was the head coach and he wanted me to be his assistant. It was a unique opportunity to develop something new and learn from someone like John.”

Starting at square one with the Drexel program helped Wilkinson further hone his coaching skills.

“I started with the women’s team; on the first day of practice we had five people show up,” said Wilkinson.

“We were recruiting people to play off the street if we saw someone who looked athletic. I had to teach them the basics, how to hold the racket, the rules, and the shots. We were 1-14 in first year. After a year of recruiting, we were much better. The school really supported us; they knew the program could bring the school attention. The women’s team is up to the top 16 and the men’s team is also in the top 16.”

Now that Wilkinson has turned his attention to Princeton, he believes his approach can make the Tigers better.

“Bob and Neil [longtime assistant coach Neil Pomphrey] have a winning formula, the results show that,” said Wilkinson.

“My coaching style is different, I am more hands on with the guys. I get on the court with them. We have intense practices on specific things that I think are important. The big structure remains, like the time of practice and the amount of practice. I am changing little things.”

Wilkinson likes the response he has gotten from his new charges. “So far, so good; they are excited to have me here,” said Wilkinson.

“They have bought into what Neil and I are trying to get them to do. This is the toughest year in the league; anyone from 1 to 9,10, or 11 has a shot to win if they play well. We are going to be the underdogs.”

While Princeton opened the season with a tough 7-2 loss at Franklin and Marshall, the Tigers appear to be on the right track with wins in three of their next five matches before the exam hiatus.

“I think they have progressed from an overall standpoint,” asserted Wilkinson, whose team is next in action when it plays at Penn on January 27.

“The guys are improving, they are fitter and more agile. They struggled against F&M. We need to improve from a competitive standpoint, we can’t be afraid of the task at hand.”

With his history of taking chances, Wilkinson is not afraid of the challenge he faces at Princeton.

“It is incredible; it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be 28 years old and sitting where I am,” said Wilkinson.

“I am very fortunate and lucky. I have a lot of energy. I am ready to work hard to get us where we want to be.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 27, 2013
MIGHTY QUINN: Princeton University quarterback Quinn Epperly looks to throw the ball in a game this fall. Epperly passed for 25 touchdowns and rushed for 18 to help the Tigers go 8-2 overall and 6-1 Ivy League, tying Harvard for the Ivy championship.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MIGHTY QUINN: Princeton University quarterback Quinn Epperly looks to throw the ball in a game this fall. Epperly passed for 25 touchdowns and rushed for 18 to help the Tigers go 8-2 overall and 6-1 Ivy League, tying Harvard for the Ivy championship. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Princeton University athletics, the beat went on in 2013 as the Tigers won a slew of Ivy League championships and added to their impressive haul of NCAA titles. On the local high school scene, the year saw a number of championship firsts.

As for Princeton, the winter brought two NCAA titles as the fencing team won the joint men’s/women’s national crown while the men’s distance medley relay placed first in the indoor national meet. Women’s basketball won its fourth straight Ivy championship while men’s and women’s swimming along with men’s and women’s squash earned league crowns.

In the spring, Princeton excelled on the track as the men’s team won the Ivy Heptagonal Outdoor Championships. On the water, the women’s open crew took its second straight Ivy title at the league regatta and the varsity 8 ended up placing second in the NCAA grand final. Junior Greg Jarmas won his first Ivy men’s golf individual title and helped Princeton earn its first team crown since 2006. Junior star Kelly Shon won the Ivy women’s golf crown and advanced to the NCAA championships. The women’s water polo team won the Eastern Championships and placed fifth at the NCAAs.

The Princeton football team turned heads in the fall, going 8-2 overall and 6-1 Ivy, to tie with Harvard for the title and give the Tigers their first championship since 2006. Defending its 2012 NCAA title in style, the Tiger field hockey team won its ninth straight Ivy title on the way to the national quarterfinals.

As for local high schoolers, the Princeton High swimming program enjoyed an historic season as the girls’ team won its first ever Mercer County Championship meet while the boys’ squad took its third straight county crown and fifth consecutive Public B Central Jersey sectional title. Hun School teams produced a championship winter as the boys’ hockey team won its first-ever Independence Hockey League (IHL) championship and the boys’ basketball team won the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) tournament. Led by a stellar group of seniors, the PDS boys’ hockey team shared the state Prep title on the way to a 21-3-1 campaign.

In the spring, longtime head coach Peter Stanton guided the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team to a pair of milestones as he won his 200th game at the helm of the program and the Little Tigers earned the first Mercer County Tournament crown in program history. The PDS boys’ tennis team also had a championship season as it shared the state Prep B title with two other schools.

History was made on the tennis court in the fall as PHS sophomore Christina Rosca won the program’s first NJSIAA state singles title. Rosca also helped the Little Tigers make their second straight trip to the state Group III team finals. The PDS girls’ tennis team won its second straight state Prep B title while the Panther girls’ soccer team produced one of the more heartening reversals of fortune as they went from 4-9-4 in 2012 to 17-2-1 this fall on the way to winning the program’s first MCT title.

Winter Wins

Led by a quartet of stellar seniors, Niveen Rasheed, Lauren Polansky, Kate Miller, and Meg Bowen, the Princeton University women’s basketball team won its fourth straight Ivy League title. Head coach Courtney Banghart’s Tigers went 22-7 overall and 13-1 Ivy. During the regular season, Princeton established an Ivy record as it extended its league winning streak to 33 before falling to Harvard in March. The Tigers were seeded ninth in the Oklahoma City regional at the NCAA tournament where they fell 60-44 to eighth-seeded Florida State.

While the season ended on a down note, that was a mere blip in one of the greatest four-year runs in league annals as the seniors went 54-2 in Ivy play, tying them as winningest class in Ivy men’s or women’s history with Penn’s men’s basketball Class of 1996 (1992-93 to 1995-96).

Rasheed was named Ivy Player of the Year for a second time and earned AP All-America Honorable Mention, the first player to do so in program history. The league’s scoring leader at 16.9 points a game, Rasheed was also named a unanimous First-Team All-Ivy selection, her third first-team honor. She finished with 1,617 career points for fourth-best in program history. She also is all-time No. 5 in scoring average (16.7), No. 5 in field goals made (604), No. 3 in rebounds (860) and No. 6 in rebounds average (8.7). Polansky was named Ivy Defensive Player of the Year for a third time while Miller and Bowen were key starters in their final campaign. The latter was a second-team All-Ivy pick along with junior teammate Kristen Helmstetter.

The men’s hoops team nearly matched their female counterparts as they stood first in the Ivy standings heading into the final weekend of the season. Coach Mitch Henderson’s club, though, stumbled on the road, losing at Yale and Brown as Harvard passed the Tigers to win the title.

Senior star Ian Hummer put together one of the greatest seasons in program history for Princeton, which went 17-11 overall and 10-4 Ivy. The 6’6 forward Hummer was named Ivy Player of the Year and led Princeton in scoring, rebounding, blocks, and assists, the first Tiger since Kit Mueller ’91 in 1990-91 to top the team in all of those categories. Hummer made first-team All-Ivy with junior guard T.J Bray getting second-team honors and sophomore Denton Koon being named as an honorable mention selection.

The Princeton fencing program made history as the Tigers won their first-ever joint men’s/women’s NCAA fencing championship under the format that began in 1990.

Coach Zoltan Dudas’ team edged Notre Dame by seven bout victories, 182-175, for the team title.

Four of the six Tiger men earned All-America honors, and senior epeeists Jonathan Yergler and Edward Kelley made it to the medal round and faced each other in the semifinals. Yergler won, coming in second in the nation.

All six Tiger women earned All-America honors and three qualified for the medal round, including the Stone sisters and saberists Gracie, a freshman, and Eliza, a senior, and junior epeeist Susannah Scanlan.

Junior forward Andrew Calof lit up Baker Rink and picked up a slew of honors for the men’s hockey team. Calof finished third in the ECAC Hockey in scoring with 13 goals and 23 assists for 26 points and earned All-ECACH and All-Ivy honors. Despite Calof’s heroics, coach Bob Prier’s team went 10-16-5 overall and was swept by Cornell in a best-of-three ECACH opening round playoff series.

Struggling down the stretch, the women’s hockey team failed to make the ECACH tournament, ending an 11-year streak of having qualified for postseason play. Coach Jeff Kampersal’s club posted an overall record of 11-16-2. Seniors Corey Stearns and Kelly Cooke ended their careers on a high note as Stearns led the team in scoring with 31 points on 5 goals and 26 assists while Cooke tallied 27 points on a team-high 15 goals and 12 assists.

Over at DeNunzio Pool, the men’s swimming and diving team continued its domination of the Ivy League, winning its fifth straight league title. Coach Rob Orr’s squad was led by senior diver Stevie Vines along with such star swimmers as junior Daniel Hasler, junior Michael Strand, sophomore Harrison Wagner, freshman Byron Sanborn, and freshman Teo D’Allessandro.

Junior star Lisa Boyce produced a dominant performance to help the women’s swimming and diving team win the Ivy championship meet. It was the 11th title in the last 14 seasons for the Tigers and the 16th overall for coach Susan Teeter.

Boyce won three individual Ivy titles and was part of one relay winner along with two relay runners-up. She went on to earn All-America honorable mention in the 100 free at the NCAA Championships as she placed 15th.

It was the end of an era for the men’s squash team as legendary Hall of Fame coach Bob Callahan stepped down after 32 years at the helm. Callahan guided the Tigers to a tie for the Ivy title with Harvard and third in the College Squash Association (CSA) national team championships. Senior Todd Harrity finished second in the CSA individual championship.

Callahan, a 1977 Princeton alum and former Tiger squash star, led the program to 314 victories, 11 Ivy League titles and three national championships (1982, 1993, 2012) in his 32-year tenure. Sean Wilkinson, a former Bates College squash star and assistant coach at Drexel, was named to succeed Callahan.

Under its legendary coach, Gail Ramsay, the women’s squash team won the Ivy title and placed fourth in the Howe Cup team championships. Senior Julie Cerullo and junior Libby Eyre earned All-Ivy honors for Ramsay’s squad.

The men’s track and field team came within a whisker of winning the Ivy Heptagonal indoor title, finishing second to Cornell by a single point. The runner-up finish ended a streak of three straight indoor titles for coach Fred Samara’s squad. Senior Peter Callahan was named co-Most Outstanding Track Performer and junior Damon McLean was named co-Most Outstanding Field Performer at the 2013 Ivy League Indoor Heptagonal Championships.

A few weeks later, Callahan ended the indoor season in a blaze of glory as he ran the anchor leg for the men’s distance medley relay team that won the NCAA title. He was joined in the victorious quartet by Michael Williams, Austin Hollimon, and Russell Dinkins.

Senior Tory Worthen won her seventh consecutive Ivy League Heptagonal pole vault title to provide a highlight for women’s track. Coach Peter Farrell’s team took fourth in the Indoor Heps meet with its other victory being produced by the 4×800 relay team of senior Greta Feldman, senior Alexis Mikaelian, junior Molly Higgins, and junior Kristin Smoot.

The wrestling team made progress under coach Chris Ayres. Princeton placed three wrestlers in the top 8 at the EIWA Championships with junior Ryan Callahan taking sixth at 174 pounds, freshman Scott Gibbons taking seventh at 184 and senior Zach Bintliff placing eight at 149.

Spring Steps

Fueled by the combination of freshman goalie Ashleigh Johnson and junior star Katie Rigler, the Princeton women’s water polo team won the Eastern title.

Coach Luis Nicole’s squad ended up taking fifth at the NCAA tournament, the highest finish program. Johnson and Rigler were both named All-Americans to climax a season that saw Princeton finish with a final record of 28-6.

Over at Weaver Stadium, the men’s track team enjoyed a championship season of their own. Coach Fred Samara’s team won the Ivy League Outdoor Heptagonal Championship. It marked the third consecutive Outdoor Heps title for the Tigers and 15th overall.

The Tigers were paced at the Heps by Peter Callahan, the winner of the 1,500, and Michael Franklin, who won the 5,000 and the 10,000. Austin Hollimon won the 400 and helped the 4×400 relay to victory while Tom Hopkins joined him in the relay and also win the long jump. Russell Dinkins won the 800 and also competed on the 4×400 relay. Franklin went on to take fifth in the 10,000 at the NCAA championship meet.

Senior standout Feldman starred as the women’s track team took fourth in the Outdoor Heps. Feldman won the 800, placed second in the 1,500 and was part of the winning 4×800 relay for Peter Farrell’s team.

Other winners at the Heps meet included Imani Oliver in the triple jump, Julia Ratcliffe in the hammer throw, and Tory Worthen in the pole vault. Worthen made Ivy League history as the victory marked her eighth career Heps pole vault title.

Led by sophomore Erin McMunn and senior Caroline Rehfuss, the women’s lacrosse team returned to the NCAA tournament for the 21st time in program history. Coach Chris Sailer’s team fell to Duke 10-9 in double overtime in the NCAA opener to finish the spring at 10-7.

Junior midfielder Tom Schreiber added another chapter to his storied career for the men’s lax team, posting his second straight 60-point season and making first-team All-America for a second time. Despite Schreiber’s heroics, the Tigers fell just short of making the NCAA tournament as coach Chris Bates’ team fell 12-8 to Yale in the Ivy title game and finished the spring at 9-6.

Coach Lori Dauphiny guided her women’s open crew program to another successful season. The Tigers won their second straight Ivy team title and then took third at the NCAA regatta as the first varsity eight placed second in the grand final. The top boat was led by a quartet of seniors, Gabby Cole, Molly Hamrick, Liz Hartwig, and Heidi Robbins.

Sparked by senior star Alex Morss, the Tiger women’s lightweight crew enjoyed a solid campaign. Coach Paul Rassam’s top eight took second at the Eastern Sprints and fifth at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship grand final.

Seniors Michael Evans, Brian Wettach, and coxswain Keanan Clark helped the Princeton men’s heavyweight crew finish on an encouraging note. The trio helped the varsity eight take fourth in the Eastern Sprints and sixth in the IRA national championships. With a number of solid rowers returning, coach Greg Hughes is optimistic that the program can build on that performance in 2014.

Led by a group of freshmen and sophomores, the men’s lightweight crew gained some valuable experience. Coach Marty Crotty’s top eight placed fifth in the Eastern Sprints and sixth at the IRA national championship regatta.

Mike Ford produced a season to remember for the Princeton baseball team as he became the first player in Ivy history to be named both the league’s Player of the Year and its Pitcher of the Year. The Belle Mead, N.J. native and former Hun School standout hit .320 for second-best on the team. He ranked in the top-10 in the Ivy League in 10 categories, including No. 1 in walks (31), No. 2 in home runs (6), No. 3 in RBIs (38) and No. 4 in on-base percentage (.443). On the mound, he went 6-0 with a league-leading 0.98 ERA, third-best in a season in program history. In nine starts, he tallied five complete games, all in Ivy play, and a shutout victory. Ford ranked first in earned runs allowed (7), opposing batting average (.191) and home runs allowed (0) to place in the top-10 in 10 statistical categories in the league. He signed with the New York Yankees over the summer and player for their Staten Island Single A affiliate.

Despite Ford’s heroics, it was a disappointing year for coach Scott Bradley’s team as the Tigers went 14-28 overall and 11-9 Ivy as they tied for second in the Gehrig Division. Junior Alec Keller joined Ford as a first-team All-Ivy selection.

New head coach Lisa Sweeney injected a burst of energy into the softball program, guiding the Tigers to a 27-19 record, its most wins since 2006. Princeton finished second in the Ivy South division with a 12-8 league mark. Alex Peyton, Maddie Cousens, Alyssa Schmidt, and Nikki Chu were second-team All Ivy picks.

Led by junior Greg Jarmas, the men’s golf team won its first Ivy league title since 2006. Jarmas fired a 3-under 216 to win the individual title and help coach Will Green’s squad win the team title by five shots over Yale.

Kelly Shon matched Jarmas’ feat by winning her first Ivy women’s golf crown. Shon edged Christine Lin of Harvard in a playoff to take the title. Shon’s performance wasn’t enough for coach Nicki Cutler’s squad to win the team title as Harvard edged the Tigers by one stroke. Shon went on to place second at the NCAA East Regional to qualify for the NCAA championships, where she finished tied for 37th.

Senior Matija Pecotic made an impact on the national scene for the men’s tennis team. The three-time Ivy Player of the Year advanced to the Round of 32 at the NCAA singles championship. He helped first-year head coach Billy Pate’s tie Columbia for second in the Ivy standings.

Former pro star Laura Granville took the helm of the women’s tennis program and led the Tigers to a fourth place finish in the Ivy league race. Sophomore Lindsay Graff earned first-team All-Ivy honors in singles, while junior Katherine Flanigan was a second-team All-Ivy honoree in singles.

Sparked by first-team Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (EIVA) performers, sophomore Cody Kessel and junior Pat Schwagler, the men’s volleyball team made the EIVA semis. Coach Sam Shweisky’s team went 13-10 as they ended the year by falling to perennial power Penn State in the EIVA tourney

Fall Feats:

Coming off an encouraging 2012 season that saw it win five games after going 1-9 in the previous two seasons, the Princeton football team was still seen as being a year away from contending for an Ivy title. But with junior quarterback Quinn Epperly putting together a season for the ages, the Tigers moved up the timetable.

Coach Bob Surace’s squad went 8-2 overall and 6-1 in league play, tying Harvard for the Ivy crown, giving Princeton its first title since 2006.

Epperly, for his part, rewrote portions of the Princeton record book en route to one of the greatest seasons in program history. He matched the single-season passing touchdown record of Doug Butler ’86 (25, 1983), and he came within one of matching the single-season rushing touchdown record of Keith Elias ’94 (19, 1994). He missed the single-season completion percentage record by the slimmest of margins; his 68.0 percent finished second to Jason Garrett ’89 (68.2 percent, 1988).

He set an NCAA record with 29 straight completions in Princeton’s 53-20 victory over Cornell; that followed Princeton’s 51-48 triple-overtime win at Harvard, when Epperly set Princeton single-game records for both completions (37) and passing touchdowns (six). He set an Ivy League record by earning the Offensive Player of the Week honor six times, including five in a row; all six of his honors followed Princeton’s six Ivy League victories.

He made first-team Ivy League along with receiver Roman Wilson, defensive back Anthony Gaffney, center Joe Goss, offensive tackle Spenser Huston, and defensive lineman Caraun Reid.

To add icing to the cake, Princeton got to celebrate a second straight bonfire, emblematic of beating Harvard and Yale in the same season.

Despite dealing with some heavy graduation losses and a rash of injuries, the Tiger field hockey team made a spirited defense of its 2012 NCAA title. Coach Kristen Holmes-Winn’s squad won its ninth straight Ivy title and advanced to the NCAA quarters where it dropped a 3-2 heartbreaker to Maryland.

Princeton ended the fall at 14-5 and senior Michelle Cesan was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year while classmate Julia Reinprecht was chosen as the Defensive Player of the Year. Freshman Annabeth Donovan was picked as the co-Rookie of the Year. The Tiger trio earned first-team All-Ivy honors along with sophomore Teresa Benvenuti.

The men’s soccer team fell just short of an Ivy crown, finishing third with a 4-2-1 league mark, one win behind champion Penn, which posted a 5-1-1 record. Coach Jim Barlow’s squad went 7-9-1 overall and had four players, junior forward Cameron Porter, sophomore forward Thomas Sanner, junior midfielder Myles McGinley, and sophomore defender Josh Miller, earn first-team All-Ivy honors.

Unable to recapture the magic of a 2012 campaign that saw it go undefeated in Ivy play and reach the second round of the NCAA tournament, the women’s soccer team had a down year. Coach Julie Shackford’s squad went 7-6-4 overall and 1-5-1 Ivy.

Senior midfielder Gabriella Guzman made first-team All Ivy while Tyler Lussi, an honorable mention All Ivy performer, became the first Tiger freshman to reach 10 goals since Linda DeBoer ‘86 in 1982.

Spending most of the season in the top 20, the men’s water polo team narrowly missed making the NCAA tournament as it lost 11-9 to St. Francis in the CWPA Championship finals. Coach Luis Nicolao’s squad went 22-6 overall with junior Drew Hoffenberg getting named as a first-team All-CWPA Southern Division performer and freshman Jovan Jeremic being picked as the Southern Rookie of the Year.

A one-two punch of senior stars Tyler Udland and Chris Bendtsen helped the men’s cross country team take second at the Ivy League Heptagonal cross country championships. Udland and Bendtsen finished sixth and seventh, respectively in the race as coach Jason Vigilante’s squad was edged by Columbia. Princeton went on to finish 22nd in the NCAA championship meet.

Freshman Megan Curham enjoyed an impressive debut season for the women’s cross country team, emerging as a frontrunner for the Tigers. She placed fourth at the Ivy League Heps to help Peter Farrell’s squad take fourth in the team standings. The Tigers ended the season by coming in 30th at the NCAA championship meet with Curham earning All-American honors with her 34th place finish.

Rebounding from some early season struggles, the women’s volleyball team played well down the stretch as it won four of its last six matches to finish the season at 10-14 overall and 6-8 Ivy. Freshman Cara Mattaliano, who led the league in both kills and points in league matches, earned first-team All-Ivy League honors for coach Sabrina King’s squad.

Hun

It was a winter of championship breakthroughs at the Hun School. Sparked by senior star defenseman Eric Szeker and rock-solid junior goalie Devin Cheifetz, the Hun boys’ hockey team won its first-ever Independence Hockey League (IHL) championship. Coach Ian McNally’s squad topped Haverford School (Pa.) 5-3 in the IHL championship game and ended the winter with final record of 16-5-4. Stellar seniors Fergus Duke, Hashim Moore, Jake Newman, and Grant Mackay helped the Hun boys’ hoops team followed suit as it won the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) tournament. Coach Jon Stone’s team had to rally from a late deficit of 10 points in the MAPL opener to top Hill (Pa.)and then gathered steam, rolling past Lawrenceville 46-31 in the title game. The Raiders later advanced to the state prep A title game and ended the winter with a gaudy 20-6 record.

Coach Bill Holup guided the girls’ team to another solid campaign as the Raiders went 14-11, advancing to both the MAPL and Prep A semis. Hun was sparked by the play of junior center Johnnah Johnson who provided a dominating inside presence.

In the spring, the Hun boys’ lax team caught fire under new coach M.V. Whitlow and advanced to the state Prep A title game where it fell to perennial champion Lawrenceville. The Raiders were led by seniors Zach Bicho,  Greg Flood and Zach Winterstein as they posted an 11-6 record.

Prolific senior standout and Boston College-bound Kate Weeks passed the 300-goal mark in her career with Hun girls’ lax team, helping the Raiders go 6-9 under new head coach Haley Sanborn.

Senior star catcher Carey Million saved her best for last, hitting over .500 as she helped Hun softball advance to the Prep A title game where it fell 5-3 to archrival Peddie. Coach Kathy Quirk’s team went 11-7 and has plenty of hope for the future as freshman ace Alexis Goeke established herself as one of the top pitchers in the area.

Guided by legendary head coach Bill McQuade, the Hun baseball team fell short of a Prep A title by an eyelash, falling 2-1 to Blair in the championship series. The Raiders were led by seniors Stevie Wells, Shane Adams, Devan Birch, and Austin Goeke as they posted a record of 16-7 in McQuade’s 43rd spring guiding the program.

Under coach Todd Loffredo, the boy’s tennis team went through a rebuilding season as several young players gained valuable experience in a 3-12 campaign.

It looked like it was going to be a long season when the Hun girls’ soccer team got off to a 0-7 start under new head coach Joanna Hallac. But with a corps of freshmen coming of age and some key veterans returning from injury, the Raiders got on a roll down the stretch.

Led by senior Olivia Braender-Carr, junior Ashley Maziarz, and sophomore Jess Johnson, Hun pulled two upsets on the way to the state Prep A championship game against perennial power Pennington. Hun fell 2-0 to the Pennington and ended the season at 7-12-1. While the title game defeat stung, the future looks bright as most of the squad will be back in 2014.

The boys’ soccer team also stumbled out of the gate as it started 1-4. But under the steady hand of coach Pat Quirk, the Raiders righted the ship and made a stirring run in the Mercer County Tournament. Hun was seeded 11th in the MCT and topped No. 6 Princeton High, last year’s state Group III co-champion and third-seeded Allentown, the eventual 2013 Group III co-champion on the way to the semis. Battling valiantly, the Raiders fell 2-0 to second-seeded Hightstown. The run, which helped Hun finish with a record of 7-12, was triggered by a core of senior stars, Felix Dalstein, Bailey Hammer, Chris Meinert, and Andres Gonzalez.

With John Law taking the helm of the football program just weeks before the season started, Hun took a while to get in synch. Bouncing back from a 0-4 start, Hun won two of its last four games and has plenty of hope for the future with the return of quarterback Donavon Harris and running back Chris Sharp.

Led by a pair of seniors, Francesca Bello and Alex Kane, the field hockey team had a competitive fall. Under coach Kathy Quirk, the Raiders posted a 6-14 mark.

Featuring a young squad without one senior on the roster, the girls’ tennis team made good progress. Under longtime coach Joan Nuse, the Raiders went 6-7 and placed fourth in the MAPL tournament.

PDS

Davon Reed capped his brilliant career with the Princeton Day School boys’ hoops team by eclipsing the 2,000-point mark, ending up with a program record total of 2,102. The senior guard led the way as coach Paris McLean’s team went 19-8 and reached the Mercer County Tournament semis and the state Prep B title game where they lost a 47-45 heartbreaker to Pennington. Reed went on to University of Miami where he averaged 9.0 points a game through the first 10 games of his college career.

Led by a stellar group of seniors, the PDS boys’ hockey team produced one of the best seasons in program history. Coach Scott Bertoli’s team went 21-3-1 and tied Morristown-Beard 2-2 in the state Prep championship game to share the title.

The team’s Class of 2013 included Cody Triolo, Rob Colton, Conrad Denise, Connor Walker, Eddie Meyercord, C.J. Young, Taran Auslander, Tucker Triolo (Cody’s cousin), and Grahame Davis.

Sparked by senior goalie Daisy Maze and junior defenseman Robin Linzmayer, the girls’ hockey team continued to make progress. Coach Lorna Gifis Cook led her squad to a 10-8 mark.

Hurt by a thin roster, the girls’ basketball team fought an uphill battle. Coach Mika Ryan led her squad to an 8-14 season. After the season, Ryan headed to WW/P-S to guide its girls’ program and was replaced by Kamau Bailey.

It was another big spring for the PDS boy’s lacrosse team as it advanced to the Prep B title game and the MCT semis. Coach Rob Tuckman’s team posted a final record of 11-6 and was paced by Lehigh-bound senior standout Cody Triolo with classmates Taran Auslander, Eddie Meyercord, Derek Bell, Brendan Shannon, Andrew Phipps, Bump Lisk, and Tucker Triolo also making valuable contributions.

Senior star and MIT-bound Hannah Levy triggered the offense for the girls’ lacrosse team as she passed the 150-goal mark in her career. Levy’s prowess helped coach Jill Thomas’ squad go 6-7.

A core of talented young players helped the baseball team produce a promising spring. Sophomores Cole McManimon, Jake Alu, and J.P. Radvany starred as coach Ray O’Brien’s team went 9-12. Senior star and VMI-bound B.J Dudeck ended his career on a high note, hitting a team-high .406 with 18 RBIs.

Junior Neeraj Devulapalli and a pair of freshmen, David Zhang and Scott Altmeyer, came up big at singles as the boys’ tennis team shared the state Prep B team title along with Pennington and Montclair Kimberley. Coach Will Asch’s team went 10-3 on the season and placed second in the Mercer County Tournament.

The softball team hung together despite a lack of depth, going 0-6 under coach Paul Lano.

Coming off a disappointing 4-9-4 season in 2012, the PDS girls’ soccer team was hungry to regain its winning ways this fall. Cultivating a positive team chemistry to get the best out of its talent, the Panthers enjoyed one of the best seasons in program history, Coach Pat Trombetta’s squad lost just once in regular season play and then topped Hamilton, Robbinsville, Princeton High on the way to the MCT title game against Hopewell Valley. With the teams knotted in a scoreless tie late in the second half of the championship contest, PDS broke through with goals by Eloise Stanton and Kirsten Kuzmicz to earn a 2-0 victory and the team’s first-ever MCT title. The Panthers also advanced to the state Prep B title game where they fell to Morristown-Beard 2-0.

PDS posted a final record of 17-2-1 and Trombetta credited senior co-captains Brit Murray and Lily Razzaghi with providing positive leadership that got the team on the same page. With such returning stalwarts as Kuzmicz, Erin Hogan, and the Soltesz twins, Stef and Alexa, the Panthers seemed poised to be title contenders again in 2014.

Sparked by singles stars Renee Karchere-Sun, Maria Martinovic, and Emily Dyckman, the girls’ tennis team won its second straight state Prep B team title. Junior Martinovic won the Prep B second singles crown with classmate Dyckman following suit at third singles. Sophomore Karchere-Sun took second at first singles. Coach Ed Tseng’s squad also took third in the team standings at the MCT.

A quartet of senior stars, Mary Travers, Sarah Brennan, Emma Quigley, and Emily Goldman, helped the field hockey team stay on track as it went through some ups and downs. Playing its best hockey in the final weeks of the campaign, coach Tracey Arndt’s squad went 9-10 and advanced to the state Prep B semifinals.

Skilled junior Marco Pinheiro stood out at midfield as the boys’ soccer team struggled through a rough fall, Coach Malcolm Murphy’s team posted a final record of 3-11-3.

Led by a pair of talented freshmen, Ian Moini and Sam Noden, the boys’ cross country team made strides. Coach Merrill Noden’s team finished fourth in the Prep B championship meet with Moini placing sixth individually and Noden taking 11th.

Another freshman standout, Morgan Mills, made an immediate impact for girls’ cross country. Mills was the team’s top runner from day one and set the pace as coach Noden’s Panthers took ninth in the team standings at the county meet and ended the season by placing third in the Prep B championship meet.

PHS

It was another big winter in the pool for the Princeton High swimming program. The PHS boys’ team won its third straight county crown and fifth straight Public B Central Jersey sectional championship. Coach Greg Hand’s team was led by a stellar group of juniors, Will Stange, Peter Kalibat, Colburn Yu, Matt Purdy, and Scott MacKenzie, as it went 15-1.

Coach Hand guided his girls’ squad to a breakthrough season as the Little Tigers won their first-ever county title. Led by the senior duo of Serena Deardorff and Marisa Giglio along with a pair of precocious freshmen in Madeleine Deardorff and Brianna Romaine, PHS advanced to the sectional final and posted a final record of 13-1.

Under new head coach Mark Shelley, the boys’ basketball team enjoyed a promising campaign. Sparked by seniors Lior Levy and Scott Bechler, the Little Tigers went 12-11 and advanced to the second round of the Central Jersey Group III sectional.

Led by the trio of junior Liz Jacobs, sophomore Mary Sutton, and freshman Julia Ryan, the girls’ basketball team fought an uphill battle. The Little Tigers posted a 4-14 record and coach Steffanie Shoop stepped down after the season. Dan Van Hise, the PHS JV boys’ hoops coach, was named to replace Shoop.

Sparked by senior Matt DiTosto along with juniors Patrick McCormick, Spencer Reynolds, with sophomores Jackson Andres, John Reid and Connor McCormick, the boys’ hockey team maintained its winning tradition. The Little Tigers posted a 10-9-1 record under coach Tim Campbell. After the season, Campbell stepped down and was replaced by longtime assistant and former PHS standout, Terence Miller.

Sophomore Lucy Herring was a standout for the girls’ hockey team, providing the main highlights as the team went winless under coach Christian Herzog.

The winter track team produced some fine individual efforts for coach Ben Samara. Senior Tim Brennan took third in the shot put at the state Group III meet while classmate Ian McIsaac placed third in the 1,600. On the girls’ side, junior Michelle Bazile finished third in the shot put at the state Group III meet at Toms River.

Senior star David Klinges proved to be a standout for the PHS wrestling team. Klinges took third at 160 pounds District 17 tournament to lead the way as coach Rashone Johnson’s squad placed eighth of nine schools in the team standings.

It was a breakthrough spring for the PHS lacrosse programs. Coach Peter Stanton passed the 200-win mark at the helm of the boys’ program and led the Little Tigers to their first-ever county crown. Led by such veteran stars as Adam Ainslie, Matt Corrado, Matt Purdy, Matt DiTosto, Jack Persico and the Halliday brothers, Zach and Kevin, the Little Tigers routed Allentown 10-4 in the MCT championship game. PHS also produced a good run in the state tournament, advancing to the South Jersey Group III sectional semifinals where it fell to powerful Shawnee 5-4. The Little Tigers ended the spring with a final record of 16-4.

With the one-two punch of juniors Emilia Lopez-Ona and Liz Jacobs triggering the offense, the girls’ lax team made some history of its own. Coach Kelsey O’Gorman’s squad went 18-4 and made it to the sectional final for the first time this century.

Riding the pitching of sophomore ace Sara Eisenach and the hitting production of senior star and Wisconsin-bound Marisa Gonzalez, the PHS softball team reached new heights. Coach Dave Boehm’s club hit double figures in wins for the first time in program history, going 11-12 on the spring.

Senior infielder Ellis Bloom and senior pitcher Rohit Chawla had big years as the baseball team rebounded from a tough start to finish in a high note. After losing 10 of their first 11 games, the Little Tigers ended the season at 9-15 for head coach Dave Roberts.

The boys’ tennis team enjoyed another superb spring, finishing fourth in the MCT and advancing to the Central Jersey Group III finals. Coach Sarah Hibbert’s squad posted a final record of 16-2 and was sparked by the doubles duo of Tyler Hack and Zach Kleiman together with singles stars Rishab Tanga and Brock DeHaven.

Senior star thrower and Dartmouth-bound Tim Brennan starred for boys’ track, winning the discus at the Central Jersey Group III sectional meet. Brennan, along with running standouts Anders Berg, Matt Wong, Conor Donahue, and Jacob Rist, helped coach Rashone Johnson’s team place fifth at the sectional meet.

Another throwing star, junior Michelle Bazile, stood out for the girls’ track team. Bazile won both the shot put and discus at the Central Jersey Group III sectional meet to help coach Jim Smirk’s squad place ninth at the meet. The quartet of Paige Metzheiser, Lou Mialhe, Julie Bond, and Amelia Whaley also performed well at the sectional, placing fifth in the 4×800 relay.

Girls’ tennis star Christina Rosca produced one of the highlights of the fall season as she rallied to pull out a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Fair Lawn’s Valerie Shklover in the NJSIAA state girls’ singles final. It was the first-ever state singles crown for a PHS player. Rosca helped the Little Tigers reach the Group III team championship match where they fell 4-1 to Montville. Coach Sarah Hibbert’s club, which placed second in the MCT with Rosca winning the first singles crown, posted a final record of 16-1.

Led by senior Emilia Lopez Ona and a pair of juniors, Julia DiTosto and Lucy Herring, the field hockey team continued it recent run of success. Coach Heather Serverson’s squad went 13-4-2, reaching the county semis and advancing to the North 2, Group III sectional quarterfinals.

Junior striker Shannon Pawlak provided the offense while Dana Smith and Haley Bodden controlled the midfield as girls’ soccer produced another outstanding campaign. Coach Greg Hand’s squad advanced to the county semis and the Central Jersey Group III sectional quarterfinals and finished the fall at 14-4.

Seniors Kevin Halliday and John Blair along with junior Chase Ealy stood out as the boys’ soccer team experienced a bumpy ride this fall. After starting 7-1-1, the Little Tigers slumped over the last few weeks of the regular season and lost to Hun in the opening round of the MCT. Coach Wayne Sutcliffe’s team showed its quality in the state tourney as it advanced to the Group III Central Jersey sectional semis where it fell 1-0 to eventual state Group III co-champion Allentown. PHS ended the fall with a 10-6-3 record.

Paced by Jacob Rist and Conor Donahue, the boys’ cross country team continued to make strides. Under new coach Mark Shelley, PHS placed fourth in the county meet and second in the Central Jersey Group III sectional.

Sophomore Lou Mialhe raced to the head of the pack for girls’ cross country and helped the Little Tigers enjoy another superb campaign. Coach Jim Smirk’s took second at the county meet and third at the Central Jersey Group III sectional.

Senior Liam Helstrom did it all for the PHS football team, grabbing 50 receptions for 853 yards and seven touchdowns at receiver and making 110 tackles with four forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery at linebacker. Despite Helstrom’s heroics, it was a long year for the Little Tigers as they went 0-10 under new coach Charlie Gallagher.

Stuart

The arrival of new head coach Dana Leary gave the Stuart Country Day School basketball team a fresh start. Although the Tartans went 2-13, such young players as freshman Harley Guzman, freshman Kate Walsh, sophomore Nneka Onukwugha, and sophomore Harlyn Bell showed progress.

Lacey-Ann Wisdom led the way as Stuart track finished third of eight teams at the state Prep B championship meet at Gill St. Bernard. Wisdom won the long jump and the triple jump for coach Len Klepack’s squad. Olivia Vande Woude placed fourth in the 400-meter hurdles while Paul-Anne Robb was fifth in the 100 hurdles and fifth in the triple jump. Queen Johnson took sixth in both the 100 hurdles and the 100 dash. Kate Walsh took fourth in the discus and fifth in the high jump. The quartet of Annaliza Carey, Robb, Vande Woude and Wisdom placed second in the 4×100 relay.

A trio of freshmen, Julia Maser, Sam Servis, and Tori Hannah, provided a slew of highlights in the spring for the Stuart lacrosse team. Maser had a team-high 45 points on 36 goals and 9 assists with Hannah chipping in 20 goals and 14 assists, and Servis tallying 24 goals and 7 assists as coach Caitlin Grant’s squad went 4-10.

Julia Rourke starred at second singles as the tennis team went 3-6 in dual match play. Coach Katherine Stoltenberg’s squad placed 12th in the MCT.

The trio of Maser, Servis, and Hannah along with seniors Amy Hallowell and Margaret LaNasa starred as field hockey was much improved. Coach Missy Bruvik guided the Tartans to the state Prep B semis and a 7-14 record, more than doubling the program’s win total from 2012 when it went 3-14-1.

TAYLOR MADE: Princeton University women’s basketball player Taylor Williams heads to the basket in recent action. Last Wednesday, sophomore center Williams contributed eight points, three rebounds, and two assists to help Princeton top Illinois State 65-39. Princeton, now 7-4, is next in action when it plays in the Cavalier Classic at the University of Virginia from December 28-29.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TAYLOR MADE: Princeton University women’s basketball player Taylor Williams heads to the basket in recent action. Last Wednesday, sophomore center Williams contributed eight points, three rebounds, and two assists to help Princeton top Illinois State 65-39. Princeton, now 7-4, is next in action when it plays in the Cavalier Classic at the University of Virginia from December 28-29. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Princeton University women’s basketball team trailing Illinois State 9-3 in the early going last Wednesday, Taylor Williams made her presence felt in helping to turn the tide for the Tigers.

The 6’3 sophomore center scored six points to trigger a 15-0 run which broke the game open for Princeton as it cruised to a 65-39 rout of the Redbirds.

For Williams, who played just 84 minutes for the Tigers last winter, the lowest total on the team, just being present on the court is a joy.

“It is a lot of fun being out there,” said Williams, a native of Warren, Ohio.

“We have a fun group of girls this year. The chemistry on and off the court is unreal. Getting to play with these girls and fulfilling whatever role I am placed in on this team, especially with the Ivies coming up, is really important.”

Williams is carving out a role as a key reserve down low, averaging 7.6 points and 3.2 rebounds in 18.9 minutes per game this winter for Princeton, which improved to 7-4 with the victory over Illinois State.

The center’s progress is the product of some rigorous offseason training. “Last year, I knew what to do but I wasn’t as confident with it,” said Williams.

“I put in a lot of work over the summer with individual coaches and playing pickup. I worked on post moves and a lot of one-vs-one against other players. My main focus was being dominant on the low block and now it feels good to be somewhat of a presence down low against the other team’s defender.”

Williams’ diligent approach is emblematic of Princeton’s collective mindset.

“This is a group that definitely wants to get better and consistently comes to practice with a mindset that we want to get better,” said Williams of the Tigers who are taking a four-game winning streak into the holiday break.

“Losing last year’s seniors, we knew this year wasn’t going to be easy and everybody has stepped up to their role. Everyone is prepared to work hard for the success we want in the Ivies coming up.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart is pleasantly surprised by how quickly Williams has stepped up.

“Taylor Williams is critical to our team and I would never imagine saying that so quickly in her career,” said Banghart.

“She is playing with confidence and has a post presence. She really wants to be helpful and she doesn’t care how.”

The Tigers got help from rapidly improving freshman guard Taylor Brown in the win over Illinois State as she contributed nine points and eight rebounds.

“Taylor Brown is gaining her collegiate sea legs and you guys are now seeing the type of lead guard that I recruited,” said Banghart. “She has adjusted to our pace, we have been pretty hard on her.”

While Banghart wasn’t thrilled with the type of performance Princeton produced against Illinois State as it committed 28 turnovers, she is happy with the bottom line.

“I think they were a little bit bored tonight, which worries me because in the league I think there are times where you have to fight that,” said Banghart.

“We knew we wanted to play a lot of kids so I think that got us out of rhythm too. We could make a lot of excuses or just say we are 7-4 with a very, very tough schedule and just four home games.”

Upon returning from the holiday break, the Tigers will be thrown right back in the fire as they compete in the Cavalier Classic at the University of Virginia from December 28-29 where they face Alabama in the opening round and either Coppin State or Virginia in their next game.

“This doesn’t get any easier,” said Banghart, whose team will stay on the road with games at Drexel on January 4 and its Ivy League opener at Penn on January 11.

“I think we do need this mental break from each other because I have really been pushing them hard and I think you are seeing why, they are getting a lot better. I have been pushing them harder than I have pushed any other team. I think they need a few days away from my voice and I think I need a few days away from critiquing them.”

Williams, for her part, is ready to keep pushing when the Tigers head to Virginia.

“We are really excited for that, Alabama is a really good team and the other opponents in the tournament are awesome,” said Williams.

“Away trips are really good experiences for all of the players. It is a good feeling for preparation going into the Ivies; we know we worked harder than anyone else.”

December 18, 2013
FEELING THE BURN: Princeton University women’s basketball player Amanda Berntsen races up the court last Sunday as the Tigers hosted Delaware. Sophomore guard Berntsen played a key role as Princeton pulled out an 84-80 win in overtime, contributing eight points, six rebounds, and two assists. The Tigers, now 6-4, host Illinois State on December 18.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FEELING THE BURN: Princeton University women’s basketball player Amanda Berntsen races up the court last Sunday as the Tigers hosted Delaware. Sophomore guard Berntsen played a key role as Princeton pulled out an 84-80 win in overtime, contributing eight points, six rebounds, and two assists. The Tigers, now 6-4, host Illinois State on December 18. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Amanda Berntsen was an afterthought for the Princeton University women’s basketball team last winter in her freshman campaign, playing a total of 152 minutes in 23 appearances.

Determined to be a bigger contributor for the Tigers as a sophomore, Berntsen put her nose to the grindstone during the offseason.

“Last year I got some minutes but not too much,” said Bentsen, a 5’8 native of Chatham, N.J.

“I worked hard over the summer. I just took tons of shots. I have just been able to develop poise and confidence being the point guard and I think that has carried me a long way. Now I am able to do things that I just didn’t have the confidence to do on the court last year. Defensively, I just learned how to play college defense.”

Last Sunday, Berntsen did some big things down the stretch to help Princeton rally for an 84-80 win in overtime against visiting Delaware. With 2:29 left in regulation, Berntsen hit a three-pointer to knot the contest at 70-70.

In overtime, Berntsen made a bucket on a beautiful left-handed layup through traffic and then delivered a deft touch pass that led to a three-pointer by Blake Dietrick. The sophomore canned a free throw with seconds left to help seal the victory.

Noting that Princeton had lost 59-58 at Delaware last season, Berntsen saw the dramatic win over the Blue Hens as a big step forward for the 6-4 Tigers.

“It was a great test and that is what our coaches want us to do with this schedule they have given us,” asserted Berntsen, who ended the game with eight points, six rebounds, and two assists.

“We definitely showed today that our team is coming together and playing together. We showed enormous toughness and enormous heart to come together.”

Berntsen showed some courage in nailing the crucial three-pointer, her first basket beyond the arc all season.

“I saw I was wide open and I needed to catch and shoot and that’s what I did,” recalled Berntsen, who is now averaging 5.5 points and 3.5 rebounds a game.

“It was a good time for it to come. It felt really good. Blake [Dietrick] did a great job of drawing two people to get the open shot so credit to her. I was getting a little frustrated, I wasn’t hitting that much from the outside. I lost a little bit of my confidence but coach [Courtney Banghart] and I talked last week and she said they are going to fall, you just need to get confidence now.”

On her layup in overtime, Berntsen did what comes naturally to her. “Driving to the basket is my favorite thing to do, I have been doing that my whole life,” said Bentsen.

“If I can get into the paint and people don’t converge, I am going to take it myself. If not, I am going to look to kick it out for my teammates. Coach has challenged me to do that to open up for my teammates and that’s what I have been working on.”

Growing up about an hour away from Princeton, Berntsen is drawing a cheering section at Jadwin Gym.

“My high school coach was here and I also have teammates that are a couple of years younger than me,” said Berntsen.

“I didn’t get a chance to play with them but they all came out. My parents come. It really helps having that home support group come out. We have a lot of people on the team from the west coast and it is just nice to get fans here for them. It is also really encouraging.”

Princeton head coach Banghart was encouraged by her team’s performance against Delaware.

“That is a game we would not have won two weeks ago,” asserted Banghart.

“We talked about process with a young team the whole time. You have seen how much this team has grown. There is a little bit of a makeover for both teams but they are two championship cultures so we knew it was going to come down to a combination of tactical play and toughness.”

Princeton needed a combination of good inside-out play to pull out the victory which saw the Tigers trailing 74-70 with 1:30 left in regulation.

“I thought the key was that we had pieces of everybody,” said Banghart, who got a game-high 22 points from Dietrick with Kristen Helmstetter chipping in 18 points and 11 rebounds and Alex Wheatley contributing 13 points, three rebounds, and three assists.

“Wheatley had a big steal late and made two big free throws. Amanda made a big 3, I think it was her first of the year and a nice finish. Kristen and Blake were so consistent throughout the game. I thought they were what we needed when we needed it.”

In Banghart’s view, the consistent work ethic displayed by Berntsen has led to her improvement.

“She is a kid who didn’t waste one second of her freshman year and the same thing with Taylor Williams,” said Banghart. “Those are kids you didn’t see a lot last year but they gave us everything they had for every practice, all 112 practices last year. The way we practice is why our kids get better.”

Having won five of its last six games, the Tigers are getting better and better,

“In order to challenge ourselves to get better, you have to play really good teams,” said Banghart, whose team hosts Illinois State on December 18.

“I went in there and said I don’t have a lot to say because I want to hear what you have to say. One of the kids who didn’t even play said it was 1 through 14, it was a team win. That’s how we practice and that’s how we play.”

Berntsen, for her part, liked the way the team played as one in the win over Delaware.

“In the past few games, we played really well together too and we have had moments but I think this was just a game where we won it off of playing together,” said Berntsen. “It just feels awesome. It is a great home win.”

And with Berntsen feeling more and more at home on the court, she should be experiencing plenty more great moments this winter.

HONEST ABE: Princeton University sophomore wrestler Abe Ayala, right, battles Rutgers for Hayden Hrymack at 197 pounds last Saturday. Sophomore star Ayala earned a 6-4 win in the bout to provide a highlight for Princeton as it fell 27-9 to the Scarlet Knights.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HONEST ABE: Princeton University sophomore wrestler Abe Ayala, right, battles Rutgers for Hayden Hrymack at 197 pounds last Saturday. Sophomore star Ayala earned a 6-4 win in the bout to provide a highlight for Princeton as it fell 27-9 to the Scarlet Knights. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The snowstorm that hit the area last Saturday may have kept the crowd down at the “Celebration of New Jersey Wrestling” held at Jadwin Gym in conjunction with the Princeton University-Rutgers match but it didn’t dampen the spirit of those who did brave the inclement weather.

“It was an awesome environment to compete in,” said Princeton wrestling head coach Chris Ayres, who estimated that a crowd of around 700 turned out for festivities which included a youth wrestling match, a clinic conducted by a Princeton and Rutgers assistant coaches, and a parade of former New Jersey state high school champions during halftime of the college match.

“The upper deck was closed so all the fans were in the big bleachers down by the floor. The best thing was recognizing the state champions; that piece was due to coach [Joe] Dubuque and he has gotten so many e-mails thanking him for that.”

Unfortunately, the Tigers, who came into the day with a 3-0 record in dual matches, didn’t compete as well as they had hoped, falling 27-9 to their local rivals.

“We didn’t perform very well,” said Ayres. “I have to credit Rutgers, they wrestled harder. In five matches we scored first but we weren’t finishing strong. It is a young team and we are still figuring some things out.”

Princeton’s two wins against the Scarlet Knights came from junior Adam Krop at 141 pounds and from sophomore Abe Ayala at 197. Krop pinned Tyson Dippery while Ayala outpointed Hayden Hrymack 6-4.

“Krop has been on and off; he has been injured a bit,” said Ayres. “In the Rutgers match, he was on. He is fun to watch. He saw an opening and he got that pin which is what good wrestlers do. Ayala keeps getting better; he lost to the kid from Rutgers in the Binghamton tournament and came back and really controlled the match. It is exciting to see.”

The Tigers have produced some exciting results in the first month of the season.

“We have competed really well,” asserted Ayres, who is in his seventh year at the helm of the program.

“We were third in the Navy Invitational ahead of such schools as Bucknell, Kent State, and Ohio. At Madison Square Garden, we went 2-0 and beat Army for the first time in 40 years, we think. We are still checking on that. We then beat Binghamton for the first time.”

With a lineup featuring a number of freshmen and sophomores, Princeton has room for plenty of growth.

“Everyone has been doing their duty,” said Ayres, who had three freshmen (Jordan Laster, Matt Gancayco, and Brett Harner) and four sophomores (Kevin Moylan, Scott Gibbons, Cole Lampman, and Ayala) wrestling in the Rutgers match

“Matthew Gancayco beat a guy in Army who had been 3rd in EIWA. Brett Harner is having a great season. Chris Perez (a sophomore) won the Drexel match for us with a big pin. Guys have stepped up at different times.”

Although Princeton didn’t step up against Rutgers, Ayres believes the loss will prove to be a good learning experience for his young team.

“That was the hard thing about Rutgers,” lamented Ayres, whose team will compete in the Wilkes Open in Wilkes, Pa. on December 28 before heading to the Midlands Championships in Evanston, Ill. from December 29-30.

“We felt like we could win the match or be in a position to win the match. I think we will make another big jump. We have Midlands coming up and two years ago we got a third there.”

No matter what happens as the team wraps up the 2013 portion of its schedule, Ayers believes the program has already made a big jump.

“I think the commitment level and the competition in the room are the biggest areas of progress,” said Ayres.

“In the past if we had a starter out, there was no one to really step in. We have talent and depth. If we have to sit someone, we feel the next guy can come in and do a good job. Last year, we knew our starting lineup by now. This year we still have three or four weights up in the air.”