December 24, 2014
BENCHMARK: Princeton University men’s basketball player Clay Wilson dribbles the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, senior guard Wilson tallied a career-high 19 points off the bench to help Princeton top Lipscomb 77-55. On Monday, he hit a three-pointer as the Tigers topped Liberty 65-47 to improve to 5-8 and won back-to-back games for the first time this season. Princeton is next in action when it plays at Wake Forest on December 31.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BENCHMARK: Princeton University men’s basketball player Clay Wilson dribbles the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, senior guard Wilson tallied a career-high 19 points off the bench to help Princeton top Lipscomb 77-55. On Monday, he hit a three-pointer as the Tigers topped Liberty 65-47 to improve to 5-8 and won back-to-back games for the first time this season. Princeton is next in action when it plays at Wake Forest on December 31. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Having squandered a 10-point lead in a loss to California earlier this month, the Princeton University men’s basketball team wasn’t taking anything for granted when it jumped out to a 44-27 halftime advantage over visiting Lipscomb last Friday.

“We were up at halftime against Cal too,” said Princeton senior guard Clay Wilson. “We really talked about coming out strong in the second half, that it was a 0-0 game and trying to get 20 more minutes and putting it together.”

With Wilson putting on a career-best display of sharpshooting, Princeton pulled away to 77-55 win over Lipscomb.

“It was huge; that was probably the first game where we put a full 40 minutes together,” said Wilson, who scored a career-high 19 points, making 5-of-6 three-pointers along the way in 26 minutes of action off the bench. “That is something we have been really focusing on as a team and it was good to come away with the win.”

Coming off the bench five minutes into the game with Princeton trailing 8-4, Wilson was looking to give the Tigers a spark. “Tonight I felt there wasn’t much energy at the beginning,” said Wilson. “It is Christmas break, there wasn’t too many people there. We were kind of sluggish to start so I felt like I needed to bring the energy tonight. I took a charge at the beginning.”

Wilson put a charge into the crowd with his shooting. “I am pretty confident in my shot and whenever I get the chance coach tells me to shoot it,” said Wilson, who is now 23-of-50 from three-point range this season. “The team believes in me; they were putting me in the right situations tonight.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson was happy with the way Wilson came through in some key situations in the win over Lipscomb.

“I thought Clay was really good today,” said Henderson. “His first three really made a big difference for us. Then he made a huge one to make it maybe 17 (at 67-50 with 5:02 remaining in regulation), it was a big three for us down the stretch.”

The 6’3, 170-pound Wilson, a native of Tulsa, Okla., figures to keep getting big minutes in his reserve role for the Tigers.

“It is so nice to bring someone off the bench who knows what they are doing and makes shots,” said Henderson.

“I have talked to Clay; I want him to continue to work on his defense because he is in there. He is going to be in there. He has to keep concentrating on it because he just does so many things for us. It is the calmness which makes a difference with this group.”

In Henderson’s view, the win over Lipscomb was a good step forward for his group.

“I am really happy for this one; we have been on the road and it has been a rough schedule for us,” said Henderson, whose team made it two wins in a row for the first time this season with a 65-47 win over Liberty last Monday in improving to 5-8 before the holiday break.

“We finally defended and held a team to less than 40 percent (36.2%) from the field. That is something we have really been talking about and trying to concentrate on.”

Sophomore Spencer Weisz showed concentration at both ends of the court against Lipscomb, scoring 13 points and contributing four rebounds, two assists, and two steals.

“I don’t think that Spencer has a particularly pretty game in general,” said Henderson. “He ripped the ball right out of 52’s (Malcolm Smith) hands under the basket. He had that and 1 (to make it 30-19) when we really needed something, he made that big a pass to Hans (Brase) for a 3 (as Princeton went up 60-42). I see all of those things everyday and I think our guys do too.”

Henderson wants his guys to communicate
better on the court. “The main thing is that these guys have to continue to talk to each other in the right way,” said Henderson.

“Clay is a big part of that; Spencer is a big part of that. As long as we understand that we have just got to be about work, we are going to be fine.”

Freshman guard Amir Bell gave Princeton some good work in the win over Lipscomb, scoring 11 points with six rebounds and five assists.

“I thought Amir was really good tonight,” said Henderson. “We really need that. I thought he was aggressive at the right times. He tied up two people there at the end defensively. He had six rebounds. I certainly think this is a reflection of what he is going to be like as a Princeton basketball player because he was very good tonight.”

With Princeton’s Ivy League opener against Penn on January 10 looming on the horizon, Henderson believes the Tigers are on the right track.

“In literally every practice something good happens and it is like another step forward for this group,” said Henderson, whose team is next in action when it plays at Wake Forest on December 31.

“I am not counting down the days, we will get there when we get there. I have seen all of the good signs that I need to see and now it is learning how to put it together. The nice thing is that we get a chance to be at home here a little bit for a stretch of a month.”

Wilson, for his part, is looking to keep up his good work off the bench.

“I am just trying to do what the team needs,” said Wilson. “We need some scoring coming off the bench and that is what coach put my role as. I do whatever I can to help the team. Winning is the best part and we need to try to keep that going.”

DOUBLE TAKE: Princeton University women’s basketball player Annie Tarakchian dribbles upcourt in recent action. Junior forward Tarakchian posted two double-doubles over the weekend, scored 16 points with 11 rebounds in a 104-33 win over Portland State on Friday and then contributing 12 points and a career-high 14 rebounds last Sunday in an 84-53 victory at Monmouth. She was later named the Ivy League Co-Player of the Week along with Cornell’s Nia Marshall. The Tigers, now 13-0, are next in action when they take part in the Fordham Holiday Classic on December 29-30.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

DOUBLE TAKE: Princeton University women’s basketball player Annie Tarakchian dribbles upcourt in recent action. Junior forward Tarakchian posted two double-doubles over the weekend, scored 16 points with 11 rebounds in a 104-33 win over Portland State on Friday and then contributing 12 points and a career-high 14 rebounds last Sunday in an 84-53 victory at Monmouth. She was later named the Ivy League Co-Player of the Week along with Cornell’s Nia Marshall. The Tigers, now 13-0, are next in action when they take part in the Fordham Holiday Classic on December 29-30. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Although the Princeton University women’s basketball team was never challenged as it routed Portland State 104-33 last Friday night, Annie Tarakchian still got a lot out of the contest.

“Everyone is out there, trying to get better each and every day and playing for each other,” said Princeton junior forward Tarakchian, who scored 16 points and had 11 rebounds in the victory.

“That is what we really pride ourselves on, we play hard for our teammates  and our coaches. Obviously, we always look to get the W. In games like this I think we focus on what we need to progress on, looking further down the line when we play league and postseason games.”

The Tigers did achieve a milestone in the lopsided win as they hit the 100-point mark for the first time in program history.

“I think our freshman year we got to 99,” said Tarakchian, a 6’0 native of West Hills, Calif. “It is always fun to see triple digits up there.”

Tarakchian is having a lot of fun this winter, having nearly doubling her scoring and rebounding averages from last year, getting 11.0 points and 9.1 rebounds a game this season after averaging 6.1 points and 4.7 rebounds as a sophomore.

“I can’t really put a finger on it, I am playing the game that I love to play,” said Tarakchian, who scored 12 points and a career-high 14 rebounds last Sunday in an 84-53 win at Monmouth as the Tigers improved to 13-0. “Whether I score three points a game or 15, it doesn’t really matter to me as long as we get the W.”

Tarakchian’s increased scoring production this winter is the product of some hard work over the offseason.

“I did train a lot this summer working on my shot, diversifying my shot because I play both post and guard,” said Tarakchian, who was later named the Ivy League Co-Player of the Week along with Cornell’s Nia Marshall. “I am just glad to see the ball go in and I hope it continues.”

In reflecting on her rebounding prowess, Tarakchian does what comes naturally.

“I just crash the boards every time and try to see where the ball goes,” said Tarakchian. “I get after it and a lot of times it comes to me, I don’t know why.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart knows that she is getting some major production from Tarakchian.

“Annie is playing with a lot of confidence on the offensive end, she is having a lot of fun out there,” said Banghart.

“I still want more from her defensively. I don’t think she played her best game defensively today and we need her on both sides of the ball as we go into our run here. She is doing what we recruited her to do and that is to play fearlessly on offense, to rebound the ball, and to grow defensively. She is actually doing all of those three things really well.”

Banghart liked the way her team handled things as it surpassed the 100-point mark.

“I was pleased; it was pretty much a landslide most of the game and I thought our kids stayed pretty engaged,” said Banghart.

“It is not easy to do when you are up by 60. We were engaged, we had good energy on the defensive end. That is the sign of a good team.”

The win over Portland also marked a personal landmark for Banghart as it was the 150th win of her Princeton tenure.

“I was just saying I had no idea, I would have dressed up a little nicer,” said a grinning Banghart, whose record improved to 151-66 with the win over Monmouth.

“I didn’t know but as I think about it, it means that I am getting old. I probably remember the losses more.”

When asked whether her team was trying to make a statement to national pollsters with the margin of victory over Portland State, Banghart said that wasn’t part of her thinking.

“These are college kids, what they are supposed to be doing is playing for each other and the program and getting better,” said Banghart, whose squad is unranked nationally but is receiving votes in the AP poll.

“All I care about is did we get better every game. Delaware (an 87-59 win on December 16) was a challenging environment and without (Alex) Wheatley, we had to get deeper so we are getting better. When we play against a team in Portland that doesn’t give us any energy back, we have to dictate the tempo. We showed that we could tonight so I just like the growth that this young team is having.”

Tarakchian, for her part, feels that Princeton could grow into something very special this winter.

“The team goes out to fight every night,” said Tarakchian. “We are looking to grow offensively and defensively, individually and collectively. We have a really good group and it is a lot of fun to play with them and I am excited to see what comes.”

December 17, 2014
FULL SPEED AHEAD: Princeton University women’s basketball player Mariah Smith heads to the hoop in a game earlier in her career. Getting back up to speed after being sidelined for much of last season with a stress fracture in her leg, senior Smith tallied a career-high 11 points last Saturday as Princeton rolled to a 96-58 win over visiting Binghamton. The Tigers, who improved to 10-0 with the victory, giving them the best start in the history of Princeton basketball, men’s or women’s, were slated to play at Delaware on December 16 before hosting Portland State on December 19.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FULL SPEED AHEAD: Princeton University women’s basketball player Mariah Smith heads to the hoop in a game earlier in her career. Getting back up to speed after being sidelined for much of last season with a stress fracture in her leg, senior Smith tallied a career-high 11 points last Saturday as Princeton rolled to a 96-58 win over visiting Binghamton. The Tigers, who improved to 10-0 with the victory, giving them the best start in the history of Princeton basketball, men’s or women’s, were slated to play at Delaware on December 16 before hosting Portland State on December 19. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After missing most of her junior season on the Princeton University women’s basketball team with a stress fracture in her right leg, Mariah Smith is just getting up to speed this winter,

“I am just now really healing up in my leg,” said Smith, a 6’0 native of Peoria Ill. who played in just seven games last winter. “Now it is maintaining and making sure the muscles are relaxed in my legs.”

Last Saturday against visiting Binghamton, senior forward Smith looked relaxed with the ball in her hands, scoring a career-high 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting with four rebounds and two assists as the Tigers cruised to a 96-58 win and improved to 10-0.

“I was posting up hard, we focused on that a lot this week and just feeling good,” said Smith. “I was getting in the groove with everything and playing with energy and playing with the flow of the game and what our game plan was.”

The Tigers certainly got into the offensive flow last Saturday as they produced a 29-4 run in the first half to break the game open.

“At the beginning of the year, we focused a lot on defense,” said Smith, who is averaging 2.6 points and 1.6 rebounds a game this season.

“After last year, it was redemption time. We have been focusing so much on that, so we had to start focusing on offense. We have so many offensive weapons so after we adjusted we can get into our offense and start having some real fun, playing to everybody’s strengths.”

As one of the four seniors on the squad, along with Blake Dietrick, Jess Shivers, and Alex Rodgers, Smith is looking to provide some strong leadership in her final college campaign.

“It is fun being a leader on this team, seeing how we helped recruit everyone on this team and with coach (Courtney Banghart) forming this team,” said Smith.

“Our leadership really shows in the team’s attitude so I am really happy with the way all of us seniors have been leading. I think our personalities are really coming through on the court and off the court as well.”

The Tigers showed a one-for-all, all-for-one attitude in the win over Binghamton as all 13 Princeton players who played in the game scored, with the reserves getting cheers from the bench when they came through.

“It is a great opportunity for us to celebrate each other and you see our bench  goes wild on every play,” said Smith.

“That is us thinking of each other as a family. That is a character of how we are off the court and you see that coming through on the court in those circumstances.”

With Princeton producing the best start in the history of Ivy League women’s hoops and in school history, men’s or women’s hoops, Smith likes the way the team has been coming through.

“We looked at the schedule and we saw the big games,” said Smith.

“Wake was our first real big game and we came out and hammered them and that was a sign to ourselves that we have got something really good here. We went to Michigan on the last week of classes for all of us. We were focusing and thinking we might as well leave on a Monday and play on the Tuesday in the middle of school and hammer them if we were going to give up that school time and go.”

Princeton head coach Banghart liked the focus her squad displayed in routing Binghamton.

“It is about energy; when we play with solid energy, I think it translates to all parts of the game,” said Banghart, who got 19 points apiece from Dietrick and junior star Michelle Miller on Saturday.

“This team can score and they have also showed that they can defend. We decided that offensively now it is time to be playing more fearlessly. We had 23 assists and nine turnovers, that is just good. These guys are doing a good job.”

Banghart is happy to see Smith doing a good job in her final season.

“She is healthyish, she is certainly not at full health,” said Banghart. “I think being a senior on this team she realizes that her role is an important one. She is experienced, she is physical, she is tough, and she is versatile. I think she is playing like you would hope your seniors would play.”

In the victory on Saturday, the Tigers showed their versatility collectively as each player who got in made a contribution.

“We mix them up in practice all the time and we always tell them that you practice against good players every single day so just because they are wearing a different uniform doesn’t mean that they are better,” said Banghart.

“I hope we are continuing to bring along our younger kids because as you can see they are good players as well.”

Reflecting on her team’s 10-0 start, Banghart acknowledged that she is savoring the team’s progress.

“I am enjoying this one through the journey a little bit because back when Niveen (Rasheed) was here we had a star and we really could defend,” said Banghart.

“This year’s team is defending and playing offense. I realize how special it is to have an offensive team that has really bought into the defensive teamwork. I think they are getting the results that they want.”

Smith, for her part, believes the Tigers are in position to get some special results this winter.

“Every day we are getting better and we are seeing that, so it is pretty exciting,” said Smith.

“What we are focusing on is us and getting better every day because when we go into Ivy play it is going to be a little different. We have to find our own level and play to our level.”

SUPER SAVER: Princeton University men’s hockey goalie Colton Phinney gloves a save in recent action. Sophomore goalie Phinney has been a bright spot for the Tigers this season, posting a 3.48 goals against average and making 422 saves in 12 appearances. The Tigers, who moved to 2-10-1with a 5-0 loss at No. 3 Minnesota State last Friday, are on holiday break and return to action when they play at No. 14 Quinnipiac on December 27.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SUPER SAVER: Princeton University men’s hockey goalie Colton Phinney gloves a save in recent action. Sophomore goalie Phinney has been a bright spot for the Tigers this season, posting a 3.48 goals against average and making 422 saves in 12 appearances. The Tigers, who moved to 2-10-1with a 5-0 loss at No. 3 Minnesota State last Friday, are on holiday break and return to action when they play at No. 14 Quinnipiac on December 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Playing at third-ranked Minnesota State last Friday night in Mankato, the Princeton University men’s hockey team came out flying.

“The first period against Mankato was everything we have asked them to do,” said Princeton head coach Ron Fogarty.

“We were controlling the puck, we were up 8-1 in shots. I don’t think we have had that all year. That was by far our best period. We executed well with the puck.”

“There is a psychological point; you play so well and you are still down 2-0, that is deflating,” said Fogarty, whose team dropped to 2-10-1 overall with the defeat.

“We had three power plays in the second period and we didn’t cash them in, if we could have gotten to within a goal, that would have helped.”

The Tigers didn’t get a second chance at the Mavericks in the two-game set as the hosts were laid low by flu spreading through the team and Saturday’s game was cancelled.

“I have never been involved in anything like that, it was frustrating,” said Fogarty.

“They told us what was going on, that they had a whole bunch of guys with the flu. The well being of the student athlete is the most important thing. I didn’t want any of our guys to get it and have it spread through our team.”

Although Fogarty would have liked to see the Tigers bring a better record into the holiday break, he believes the team is making progress in his debut season at the helm.

“We have made some great strides from the beginning of the season to now,” said Fogarty.

“The big thing going forward is consistency. We can’t have just one good period. We have to get better on execution of plays and getting to spots quicker.”

In order to start getting more wins, the Tigers need to execute better when they are a man up.

“The biggest thing is the power play,” said Fogarty, whose team is 7-for-56 in power play situations for an anemic .125 percentage and has been outscored 48-18 overall through 13 games. “When you are not scoring a lot and you get those odd-man situations, you have to cash them in.”

Sophomore goalie Colton Phinney has excelled for the Tigers in just about every situation this season.

“Colton has been great, he has been working hard every period,” said Fogarty of the 6’1, 175-pound native of Chatham, N.J. who has posted a 3.48 goals against average and made 422 saves in 12 appearances.

“He has been carrying a heavy load. We need to take better care of the puck in front of him and not make turnovers.”

A trio of freshmen, defenseman Joe Grabowski and forwards David Hallisey and Eric Robinson, have given Princeton some good work.

“Grabowski and Hallisey have done a good job of transitioning from juniors to D-1, Eric Robinson has done some good things, we need him to be more consistent.”

Junior Kyle Rankin has been a consistently good player for the Tigers this season, tallying a goal and four assists in nine games.

“Rankin has done a great job, he played a lot of defense last year and he is back on offense,” added Fogarty.

“He had an injury that knocked him out for four games but he is a leading scorer.”

Looking ahead to the second half of the campaign, Fogarty is confident that the Tigers will do a better job at both ends of the ice.

“Over the first part of the season, it has been making sure they know the systems and what is expected of the entire team,” said Fogarty, whose team is next in action when it plays at 14th-ranked Quinnipiac on December 27.

“We have tweaked the systems a bit and now we can focus more on where the individual skills fit in. We need to have better control of home ice. We need to be getting as many points as possible at home and splitting on the road.”

December 10, 2014
INSIDE PRESENCE: Princeton University women’s basketball player Alex Wheatley, center, fights for inside position in a recent game. Last Saturday, junior forward Wheatley scored 17 points and had eight rebounds and three assists to help Princeton top Georgetown 83-54. The Tigers improved to 8-0 with the victory, the best start in the history of Ivy League women‘s basketball. In upcoming action, Princeton was slated to play at Michigan on December 9 before hosting Binghamton on December 13.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

INSIDE PRESENCE: Princeton University women’s basketball player Alex Wheatley, center, fights for inside position in a recent game. Last Saturday, junior forward Wheatley scored 17 points and had eight rebounds and three assists to help Princeton top Georgetown 83-54. The Tigers improved to 8-0 with the victory, the best start in the history of Ivy League women‘s basketball. In upcoming action, Princeton was slated to play at Michigan on December 9 before hosting Binghamton on December 13. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Alex Wheatley and her teammates on the Princeton University women’s basketball squad brought a little extra fire into their game against visiting Georgetown last Saturday.

“I think it was losing to Georgetown last year at the buzzer that fueled it today,” said junior forward Alex Wheatley, referring to Princeton’s 66-64 loss to the Hoyas a year ago.

On Saturday, Wheatley fueled Princeton in the first half, matching her season-high of 15 points by intermission, hitting 7-of-8 shots in the first 20 minutes of the contest.

“I think we came out with a lot of energy,” said Wheatley, a 6’2 native of Upper Holland, Pa. “The guards did a great job of looking into the post so I was able to get some easy finishes at the start of the game which I really think set a good tone.”

Leading by only 40-35 at halftime, the Tigers looked to change the tone defensively over the last 20 minutes of the contest.

“The message was defense, we really had to step up our defense,” said Wheatley.

“That was literally all we talked about at halftime and we came out in the second half and our defense was so much better and it made a big difference.”

Outscoring the Hoyas 18-9 over the first eight minutes of the second half, Princeton pulled away to an 83-54 win.

“I think we got more into our rhythm, we set the pace,” said Wheatley, who ended the game with 17 points, eight rebounds, and three assists.

“We wanted to get stops into scores and get back into transition points. I think once we were able to dictate the pace a little bit and get stops, the game came a little easier.”

The Tigers have been in rhythm all season long as they improved to 8-0 with the victory over Georgetown, the best start in the history of Ivy League women‘s basketball.

“I think we took it one game at a time; we weren’t really looking to see where we would be at this point but 8-0 is a good start,” said Wheatley.

“I hear it was the best ever in Ivy so it is a great start. We are looking to keep going one game at a time and try to win.”

In Wheatley’s view, a focus on defense has keyed Princeton’s sizzling start.

“Our defense is vastly improved from last year and that is really what we are hanging our hats on this year,” said Wheatley. “As our opponents get tougher and tougher and as the season goes on, we really need to keep our defensive intensity.”

Coming into her junior campaign, Wheatley set her sights on improving her offensive and leadership skills.

“I have worked on being more confident with the ball in the post and trying to step up my leadership on and off the floor,” said Wheatley, who is averaging 11.1 points and 5.3 rebounds a game this season.

“I think as a class, the juniors, having a little bit more experience and being more comfortable has helped the team dynamic.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart liked Wheatley’s dynamic play in the early stages of the contest against Georgetown.

“In the first half, she was huge,” said Banghart. “Wheatley is a gentle kid we are asking to be physical. She is a work in progress. As she continues to get more and more physical, we will continue to get better.”

In the wake of last year’s disappointing buzzer-beater defeat to Georgetown, Princeton was determined to give a better effort in the rematch between the foes.

“It is a loss that still hurts to this day because  we just got out-toughed, that doesn’t happen a lot to Princeton teams,” said Banghart. “It was that game where we really shifted to you have to hate losing more than you like winning. You have to play with that edge and we are doing that.”

Senior point guard and co-captain Blake Dietrick played with an edge against the Hoyas, leading the Tigers with 26 points and six assists.

“Blake cares about winning, that’s it,” said Banghart of Dietrick, who was later named the Ivy League Co-Player of the Week along with Dartmouth’s Fanni Szabo.

“She cares about winning every drill, every practice, every possession, and she is bringing along the team as a result.”

While Banghart is happy with her team’s winning ways in its historic 8-0 start, she is more focused on process than result.

“We don’t schedule to win, we schedule to compete,” said Banghart, whose team was slated to play at Michigan on December 9 before hosting Binghamton on December 13.

“We have gotten better defensively this year. We have played a variety of opponents and have done it well. I look at it like we have won eight times. It is hard to win so I am proud of them.”

In Wheatley’s view, the Tigers have what it takes to produce a lot of wins this winter.

“I think we are finding each other’s talents,” said Wheatley. “If we keep finding that out as the season goes on, we could do something special.”

TOMMY GUN: Princeton University men’s hockey player Tommy Davis controls the puck in recent action. Last Friday, sophomore defenseman Davis notched the first goal of his college career but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 4-3 to No. 9 Harvard. The Tigers, who went on to lose 4-2 to Dartmouth a day later to move to 2-9-1 overall and 1-7 ECAC Hockey, play a two-game set at No. 3 Minnesota State (12-4) on December 12 and 13.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TOMMY GUN: Princeton University men’s hockey player Tommy Davis controls the puck in recent action. Last Friday, sophomore defenseman Davis notched the first goal of his college career but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 4-3 to No. 9 Harvard. The Tigers, who went on to lose 4-2 to Dartmouth a day later to move to 2-9-1 overall and 1-7 ECAC Hockey, play a two-game set at No. 3 Minnesota State (12-4) on December 12 and 13. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Tommy Davis, his freshman season on the Princeton University men’s hockey team last winter turned into a lost year.

Hampered by a concussion, the highly-touted defenseman only played in seven games, tallying two assists.

Back at full speed this winter, Davis is making up for lost time. “It is kind of like my repeat freshman year so I am still getting used to playing all of the teams,” said Davis, a 6’2, 185-pound native of Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J. “I think now in my 17th game, I am fully adapted. I feel comfortable.”

Last Friday, Davis showed his increased comfort level, notching his first career goal as the Tigers hosted No. 9 Harvard.

“I was playing the right point on the power play and Aaron Ave made a great play where he just froze everybody,” said Davis, recalling his tally.

“It sucked everybody, including the goalie, to his side and it moved over to me and I knew just to put it on the low blocker right away.

While Davis was thrilled to finally find the back of the net, he was disappointed that it didn’t lead to victory as the Tigers fought back from deficits of 2-0 and 4-2 only to lose 4-3.

“I think it is special but at the same time, a win is more important, especially as the game went on,” said Davis. “When we tied the game at 2-2, I thought it was ours. It was kind of disappointing to have a slow start in the third like that.”

Davis was not disappointed by the Tigers’ pluck as his goal and freshman Joe Grabowski’s first career tally made it a 2-2 game going into the third period. After Harvard scored two goals in the first 6:39 of the third period, the Tigers battled back with an Aaron Kesselman goal but couldn’t get the equalizer.

“We are a very resilient team,” said Davis.” I think we just need to focus for 60 minutes. It is just little lulls and that can’t happen in college hockey, especially against a team that is as good as Harvard. They are so offensively gifted, you just can’t have those mental lapses.”

In Davis’s view, working harder in practice will help Princeton be stronger mentally in crucial situations.

“We are young and we are going to grind it out,” said Davis, who has two assists this season to go with his goal.

“I think we have just got to work on it in practice. If our practices are 100 percent all the time and focused, I think the games will follow suit. You practice how you play. We had a bad practice on Tuesday but Wednesday and Thursday were great and that was kind of how our game was, a couple of bad shifts but for the most part pretty good. But the margin of error is too slight in the NCAA so we have to shore that up.”

Princeton head coach Ron Fogarty concurs, asserting that the Tigers have to pay more attention to detail.

“That is a very good hockey team and quick so we just have to keep doing the little things well,” said Fogarty.

“We can’t complicate our small lapses or some of the mistakes that compound and result in goals against or penalties. We have to make sure that if we do make a mistake that we minimize.”

Fogarty, though, liked the way his team fought to the final horn. “The resiliency, you are down by two and you come back and tie it up and then down by two again and we had a chance to win,” said Fogarty. “That’s the team. The team dictates that effort to come back after being down by two. I applauded the leadership in the dressing room.”

The play of sophomore goalie Colton Phinney has drawn a lot of applause this winter.

“He is a very good goaltender and regardless of what team he is on, he would be the most valuable player,” said Fogarty of Phinney, who made a career-high 51 saves in the loss to Harvard.

“He is doing a great job. We are asking a lot of him and he is delivering. We have to rely on him a bit too much, he gives us an opportunity to counter. They had had a few more quality scoring chances, more than our previous four games. We have to make sure that we do a better job. They had a lot of team speed and they are a very good hockey team, they are 9th in the country for a reason.”

Fogarty was happy to see Davis capitalize on his scoring chance in the second period. “He’s very offensive minded and he is starting to realize how to pick his spots,” said Fogarty, whose team fell 4-2 to Dartmouth on Saturday to move to 2-9-1 overall and 1-7 ECAC Hockey.

“In the first couple of games, he was a little rambunctious and trying to  force plays. Now he is sitting back and letting those plays occur and not trying to manufacture things that aren’t there. He’s an asset to our team and it is good to see him get his first goal by not trying to be overzealous.”

Although Fogarty is not happy with his team’s record so far in his debut season at the helm of the program, he is confident that good things are around the corner.

“It is a step forward but again you want the results to come quicker than they sometimes occur,” said Fogarty of his squad, which plays a two-game set at No. 3 Minnesota State (12-4) on December 12 and 13.

“As a coach, you have to remain focused and keep doing the better things. Our mission was around Christmas time to see what our team brings to the table and I am already excited about what they are doing ahead of schedule.”

Davis, for his part, is excited to be playing college hockey in his home state.

“I didn’t really realize that I would have an opportunity to play college hockey until about high school and then Princeton was definitely at the top of my list,” said Davis, a star for the powerful Delbarton School program who went on to play junior hockey for Youngstown in the USHL.

“I am fortunate enough to have a train station right in my town, all of my friends and family get to come down here. It is really nice. I usually have around 8-10 people in the stands for every home game. It is pretty awesome. I don’t think a lot of college kids get to do that.”

December 3, 2014
PULLING RANK: Princeton University men’s hockey player Kyle Rankin goes after the puck in recent action. Last weekend, junior forward Rankin came up big in a two-game set against visiting Michigan State. On Friday, he had an assist in Princeton’s 3-1 win over the Spartans. A day later, he contributed a goal as the Tigers fought back from a 3-0 deficit before falling 4-2. Princeton, now 2-7-1 overall, hosts Harvard on December 5 and Dartmouth on December 6.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PULLING RANK: Princeton University men’s hockey player Kyle Rankin goes after the puck in recent action. Last weekend, junior forward Rankin came up big in a two-game set against visiting Michigan State. On Friday, he had an assist in Princeton’s 3-1 win over the Spartans. A day later, he contributed a goal as the Tigers fought back from a 3-0 deficit before falling 4-2. Princeton, now 2-7-1 overall, hosts Harvard on December 5 and Dartmouth on December 6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After being sidelined over the previous two weekends, Kyle Rankin returned  to the ice with a bang for the Princeton University men’s hockey team as it hosted Michigan State last Friday in the opener of a two-game set.

The junior forward assisted on a second period goal by Jonathan Liau, getting the Tigers rolling as they pulled away to 3-1 win over the Spartans. David Hallisey and Ben Foster also tallied as Princeton snapped a five-game losing streak.

A day later in the finale of the set with the Spartans, Rankin tallied a third period goal as the Tigers fought back from a 3-0 deficit to make it a 3-2 contest before falling 4-2 and dropping to 2-7-1 overall.

With Princeton having been outscored 16-2 in the two previous weekends, including being held without a goal by both St. Lawrence and Clarkson coming into the games against Michigan State, Rankin viewed the performance against the Spartans as major progress.

“Looking at the product we put out this weekend, for at least five periods of hockey, I am really excited,” said Rankin, a 6’1, 200-pound native of Kanata, Ontario.

“It is definitely a step in the right direction. I think we are in a good position going back into ECAC play because we are a completely different team than we were last weekend.”

Finding the back of the net made a huge difference for Princeton. “The big thing is scoring goals, we are working on that and a lot of guys are putting in time at practice, working on finishing off plays,” said Rankin

“We are seeing it coming. We had five goals this weekend and we had two in about eight minutes here in the third. It is starting to come. Once you get one, it starts to roll a little. I think that is big because Colton Phinney between the pipes gives us a chance to win every single night. It is up to us to capitalize on our opportunities and get our power play going when we get chances. That will be big going forward.”

While Rankin was happy with Princeton’s improved play, he acknowledged that the Tigers should not have dug the 3-0 hole against Michigan State.

“We strayed away from the things that we need to do to be successful,” added Rankin.

“We were going outside our system and looking for a couple of Hail Mary passes, that it is not the way we play. We are a puck support team and we work as a unit and I think a couple of times we strayed from that. That being said, we responded really nicely in the third and started playing the hockey that is going to be our identity going forward.”

Rankin got things going in the third as he tallied just over a minute into the period.

“That was my linemates; Jonathan Liau just flew down the wing there and fought off two guys down low and Mike Ambrosia did a great job supporting him,” said Rankin, who now has three points this season on a goal and two assists.

“Mike made an unbelievable pass on the stick to me and I was just in the right place in the right time and I was able to tap it in.”

Playing on the same line with classmate Ambrosia has sparked Rankin.

“I love playing with Mike, we were playing a lot together at preseason and unfortunately he had his injury,” said Rankin.

“It is great to have him back. It has been fun playing with Mike this weekend. We created a lot of offense and, at the same time, it is just the beginning.”

Princeton head coach Ron Fogarty had fun watching the Tigers show some punch over the weekend.

“We are getting a little depth back and we are scoring more,” said Fogarty, who also got a goal from Ryan Siiro in the loss on Saturday.

“We put up five goals in two games. When we stay with the program and move away from bad habits, we are going to give ourselves opportunities to win game in, game out.”

While Princeton didn’t win on Saturday, Fogarty was heartened by the team’s third period rally.

“We wanted to make a story, we just fell a chapter short,” said Fogarty. “We stayed with it in the third period, we stayed with how we can play hockey. We wanted to get one goal by the 10-minute mark so we are ahead of schedule at that point. You want to throw pucks at the net and crash the net and that occurred with both of our goals.”

Fogarty acknowledged that his team can’t afford lapses. “It is very valuable experience but we dug ourselves a hole in the second period for straying from what is going to make us successful,” said Fogarty.

“We said don’t try to create shortcuts, stay strong on our sticks and stay strong with what is getting us better. You start to stray from that and then our whole foundation is going to deteriorate. We stuck with it, especially in the third period. We gave ourselves a chance to tie the game up.”

In Fogarty’s view, Princeton has the chance to do some good things going forward.

“It is not fun losing, I am not happy with it but I thoroughly enjoy coaching these 28 guys,” said Fogarty, who will look for more progress this weekend when Princeton hosts Harvard on December 5 and Dartmouth on December 6.

“I see positive results here into December and throughout the rest of the season.”

Rankin, for his part, believes that the players are buying into Fogarty’s approach and see it as a recipe for success.

“It certainly takes time with a new coaching staff but, that being said, they have been, from a player’s standpoint, everything we could want them to be,” said Rankin.

“They have been very, very successful in conveying their message to us. They are patient with the players. They know we have a lot of freshmen and that we have had some injuries. They haven’t strayed from the process. We are lucky to have them as a staff and I look forward to what we can do under Ron, Dex [Ron Dexter] and Stavs [Stavros Paskaris].”

CREASE CONTROL: Princeton University women’s goalie ­Kimberly Newell guards the crease in a game earlier this season. Last weekend in a two-game set against No. 2 Minnesota at Baker Rink, junior Newell starred in a losing cause, making 42 saves on Saturday in a 2-1 loss to the Golden Gophers and then recording 47 stops in a 5-2 defeat the next day. The Tigers, now 6-6-1 overall, play at Harvard on December 5 and at Dartmouth in December 6.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CREASE CONTROL: Princeton University women’s goalie ­Kimberly Newell guards the crease in a game earlier this season. Last weekend in a two-game set against No. 2 Minnesota at Baker Rink, junior Newell starred in a losing cause, making 42 saves on Saturday in a 2-1 loss to the Golden Gophers and then recording 47 stops in a 5-2 defeat the next day. The Tigers, now 6-6-1 overall, play at Harvard on December 5 and at Dartmouth in December 6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Kimberly Newell takes a business-like approach to playing goalie for the Princeton University women’s hockey team.

“My goalie coach [John Zdunkiewicz] calls it going to work,” said Newell. “We talk a lot about what I need to work on and we make sure that the drills we do are tailored specifically to what I need to work on for the next game.”

Last Saturday in the first game of a two- game set against No. 2 Minnesota, Newell had a very good day at the office, making 42 saves in a losing cause as the Tigers fought the powerful Golden Gophers tooth-and-nail before falling 2-1.

Hitting the ice, Newell and her teammates were fired up to face Minnesota.

“I just came into the game thinking I am going to do the best that I can,” said Newell, a 5’9 native of Vancouver, British Columbia.

“I think our team was ready, we practiced hard this week. We came off a couple of losses that were close. We were in the game and I think we are feeling pretty confident.”

Newell displayed plenty of confidence in the first period as she turned away all 19 shots fired by Minnesota.

“All you are thinking about is the next shot, you are not thinking about, oh my gosh, they are getting so many shots,” said Newell.

“You are focused on doing your best, making sure that you are in position, that you are seeing the puck and that you are making the stops that you need to make.”

Newell made 13 saves in the second period as the teams were deadlocked in a scoreless stalemate heading in the third. Minnesota broke through with two goals early in the third period as the Tigers made a costly turnover and Newell was handcuffed when a teammate’s stick got caught in her pads.

Princeton, though, kept fighting and got on the board with a Brianna Leahy goal with 4:42 left in regulation.

“I am proud of the team that they didn’t give up,” said Newell. “Even though we were down two goals, we came back. We put one in and I think we battled hard right to the end.”

Although the Tigers are battling through a tough stretch, Newell believes the team is gaining some valuable experience.

“I think our team has come out hard in each one of them,” said Newell, who made 47 saves on Sunday as Princeton fell 5-2 to Minnesota in dropping to 6-6-1 overall on the season and losing its fifth straight contest.

“The fact we have only been losing by one or two goals is giving our team confidence, knowing that we can play with anyone in the nation, not just our league.”

Newell has worked hard to play better between the pipes. “It is a continuous process to get better, just focusing on off-ice strength, working on doing some juggling, working on some balls and working on tracking the puck,” said Newell, who has also been helped by competing in Team Canada camps.

“I work a lot with my goalie coach, he helps me out a lot. We have a lot of dialog, a lot of one-on-one conversation. We take some video and we call it goalie world.”

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal credited Newell with making a strong effort against Minnesota.

“She was outstanding, she gave us a chance to win,” said Kampersal of Newell, who currently has a goals against average of 2.50 and a save percentage of .920. “That is what we need out of her every single day. When we break down, she needs to be our best player.”

Kampersal acknowledged that some breakdowns doomed the Tigers against Minnesota, negating the team’s good work.

“They competed hard, it was a solid effort but it wasn’t solid enough,” said Kampersal.

“Minnesota is obviously awesome, they are really talented and they come at you with different flurries. But as it was, we gave them both of their goals with a bad pass on the first one and then we had a player dive into our goalie. We have to let our goalies make saves and the players need to defend.”

With Princeton having come up just short throughout the losing streak, Kampersal is looking for his players to show more of a killer instinct.

“I love our kids because they fight until the buzzer blows and the refs tell them they can’t play any more,” said Kampersal.

“I really appreciate that about them and I respect them for that. Sometimes we play not to lose instead of playing to win. At times in the third period, we played to win and that’s how we have to do it.”

Playing top teams tight will benefit the Tigers down the road, according to Kampersal.

“I think it creates a resolve, it is a bummer because of the result,” said Kampersal, whose team plays at Harvard on December 5 and at Dartmouth in December 6. “We have one more weekend and then we have breaks; I wish it could stay continuous.”

Newell, for her part, believes the Tigers have made a continuous effort so far this season.

“I think our team is really coming together this year; I think we have good leadership,” said Newell.

“Our team is really buying into the systems. We are really putting in 100 percent effort. We are just raring to go for each game; knowing that we can come out and take it to the other team every single time.”

SHARP AND QUICK: Hun School senior running back Chris Sharp sprints up the field in a game this fall. The University of Virginia bound Sharp rushed for 1,085 yards and totaled 23 touchdowns, sparking Hun to a 7-1 record and the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SHARP AND QUICK: Hun School senior running back Chris Sharp sprints up the field in a game this fall. The University of Virginia bound Sharp rushed for 1,085 yards and totaled 23 touchdowns, sparking Hun to a 7-1 record and the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Christina Rosca wasn’t sure if she had enough time to play for the Princeton High girls’ tennis team this fall.

Rising up to the mid-20s in the national 18-and-under rankings, Rosca was spending her weekends playing in tournaments all over the country. In the classroom, she was shouldering a heavy load with five AP courses.

But enjoying a special bond with her PHS teammates, Rosca made time to compete for the Little Tigers.

“They are all really good players and they are all really good people,” said junior star Rosca.

“I really enjoy being with them. It is really enjoyable to be in a team environment compared to playing as an individual all the time.”

Rosca’s teammates enjoyed having her around to head up the lineup. Playing at first singles, Rosca won the individual crown in her flight at the Mercer County tournament for the second straight year, topping Brianna Shvets of Hopewell Valley 6-2, 6-1 in the final as she cruised to the title without losing a set. Her brilliance helped PHS win the county team title for the first time since 1984.

“I was really pleased with the way Chris stepped up and took control early and was able to put the pressure on Brianna,” said PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert, reflecting on Rosca’s county triumph. “From there she was able to stay tough and close it out.”

While Rosca was happy to successfully defend her first singles crown, she was thrilled to see the Little Tigers prevail as team champion as they edged runner-up and perennial power WW/P-S with WW/P-N taking third.

“It means a lot,” said Rosca. “We have been really close the last two years and some unfortunate things have happened, some injuries and stuff like that.”

Good things kept happening for PHS as they won the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional crown and then edged Northern Highlands 3-2 in the Group 3 state semifinals before falling to powerful Millburn in the finals.

“This is a really great group of girls, they have won the sectional title four years in a row and made it to the group final the last three so that was really exciting,” said Hibbert.

“To add the county tournament title this year as well was icing on the cake, especially for our three seniors.”

For Rosca, whose only loss for PHS this fall came against Millburn, her court savvy helped her remain a force on the court.

“No matter who I play, I always try to be really aggressive and come into the net as much as possible but off of the right balls, not just any ball,” said Rosca, who was too busy to defend the NJSIAA girls’ singles championship she won in 2013.

In the view of PHS doubles star, Zhenia Dementyeva, Rosca was not just any teammate.

“That one, Chris Rosca, is the most humble person, she is really talented and she is amazing at school at the same time,” said Dementyeva.

“She doesn’t let it get to her head, she is extremely grounded and everybody loves Chris.”

For sticking with the PHS squad and making more history in the process, Rosca is the pick as the Town Topics’ top female performer this fall.

Top Male Performer

When Todd Smith took the reins of the Hun School football team this fall, he knew he had to deploy senior star Chris Sharp by land and air.

“Sharp is our workhorse,” said Smith. “He is playing at wide receiver as much as running back.”

With Hun coming off a 2-6 season in 2013, the University of Virginia-bound Sharp set the tone early, rushing for 149 yards and two touchdowns and catching a 43-yard touchdown pass as Hun routed Wyoming Seminary 56-14 in its season opener.

That was just the beginning for the 6’2, 205-pound Sharp, an unstoppable combination of power and speed.

He ended up rushing for 1,085 yards on 81 attempts for an eye-popping average of 13.4 yards a carry and 19 touchdowns. Sharp made nine receptions for 281 yards and four more touchdowns.

Sharp ended his career on a high note, rushing for 212 yards as Hun routed Mercersburg Academy 64-16 in its season finale to earn the outright Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title, finishing the fall at 7-1 overall and 5-0 in league play. Sharp’s final run in a Hun uniform, a 96-yard scoring gallop down the sideline to start the third quarter, put him over the 1,000-yard rushing mark this fall.

Even before the season started, Sharp had the sense that it was going to be a big fall for the Raiders.

“We saw that we had something special in August and we just wanted to finish,” said Sharp.

“We wanted to go undefeated in the MAPL and that’s what we did. With the kids that came in, we knew it was going to be a different feel. It was just like fresh and new things were brewing up with the Hun football team. It is exciting to see the fruition and what grew out of it.”

The humble Sharp spread the credit around as he reflected on hitting the 1,000-yard plateau.

“It was a very special moment to share with my teammates and family, especially on senior day,” said Sharp.

“The first thing I did was to thank all of the linemen, the fullback, and the quarterback. I can’t do it all by myself.”

Even Sharp himself was taken aback by his glittering statistics. “I love running the ball and being able to catch the ball out of the receiver position is a blessing as well,” said Sharp, who also starred at linebacker for the Raiders. “It is just amazing to see the growth that I have gone through.”

Smith, for his part, enjoyed taking part in that growth process. “Chris is just a fantastic kid, it is a shame we only had seven games with him,” said Smith, whose team had one win on a forfeit by Peddie.

“He got 1,000 yards and a boatload of touchdowns to go with it. He has gotten so much better as the year went on. I am just really excited about his future, I think he is going to be a great football player at the next level.”

Sharp’s greatness this fall and the impact it had on Hun’s championship season makes him the pick as the top male performer this fall.

Top Newcomers

It didn’t take long for Grace Barbara to make an impression in her freshman season as goalie on the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team.

“Grace Barbara is starting in goal, she is a dynamite keeper,” said PDS head coach Pat Trombetta, when assessing his squad prior to the start of the season.

“She is very talented. She can play balls with her feet and gives us a lot of options. She is playing beyond her years, she is yelling out there and is in control.”

Trombetta’s analysis proved to be spot on as Barbara emerged as one of the top keepers in the area, anchoring a stingy PDS defense.

Even in a 2-0 defeat to perennial power and eventual county champion Pennington, Barbara demonstrated her brilliance, making 10 saves as she stymied the Red Raiders for most of the contest.

“They are a skilled team so I can learn a lot, especially from the goals,” said Barbara.

“I can work on sets and high balls coming from long and the short balls pegged down in the corners. I can definitely work on that in practice. There are some very strong players on some of these opponents. Since I am a freshman it has been a little bit difficult with these very skilled players.”

Barbara kept working hard and her skill helped PDS end the season on a high note as the Panthers edged Morristown-Beard 1-0 in the state Prep B championship game.

“Grace played out of her mind,” said Trombetta of Barbara, who made 12 saves in earning the shutout. “She made some elite saves, three times she leaped and punched balls out over the bar.”

Due to her brilliance and grace under fire, Barbara is the choice as the top female newcomer this fall.

After spending three years as a back-up for the Princeton High boys’ soccer team, Joe Hawes saw that he was destined to be riding the pine this fall for the squad.

Looking for some action, Hawes decided to make the move to football. “I hadn’t tried football; my parents never really wanted me to,” said Hawes.

“This year, they were like you can’t do anything else why don’t you try football. I wasn’t getting playing time in soccer so I was why not.”

Starring at lacrosse helped Hawes pick up his new sport. “The footwork and the physical play of lacrosse was a help,” said Hawes. “Knowing that you have a set play and doing what you have to do.”

Hawes got the sense early that he could make a mark on the football field.

“I think it was the Ewing game, our homecoming,” added Hawes, who made an 80-yard TD reception in the PHS’s opening day win over Hamilton. “I was just super confident. I knew in my mind what I had to do and I got it done.”

PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher appreciated the way Hawes got things done this fall.

“Joe is doing well, we would like to call his number more often,” said Gallagher.

“What is great about the squad right now is that we have a lot of playmakers, whether it be Rory Helstrom or Sam Smallzman or Joe Hawes or Colin Buckley or Dave Beamer or the special teams.”

Emerging as the team’s deep threat, Hawes put up some good numbers, making 20 catches for 434 yards and eight touchdowns in regular season action, helping PHS enjoy a remarkable reversal of fortune as it went from 0-10 in 2013 to an 8-2 record this fall.

Reflecting on his move to football, Hawes knew that he made the right choice.

“This has been the best; I think the thing is that we just all want it,” said Hawes, who also starred at defensive back and handled the punting duties. We are making history here, bringing football back into Princeton. We are all working for the same goal and we want it in our hearts.”

For taking up football and proving to be such a key performer in a renaissance season for PHS, Hawes is the top male newcomer of the fall season.

Top Coaches

In the fall of 2013, Joanna Hallac’s tenure as the head coach of the Hun School girls’ soccer team got off to a rough start.

Hampered by injury and with the players getting used to their new leader, Hun lost its first seven games.

But as the fall went on and the team got healthier, it produced a late-season surge which saw Hun advance to the state Prep A championship game where it lost 2-0 to perennial power Pennington.

Coming into this fall, Hallac believed the team’s strong finish could have a carry-over effect.

“The mood is good, even from when the season ended last year knowing that we were losing only two players,” said Hallac, who guided Hun to a 7-12-1 record in 2013. “They were feeling good about the direction of the program.”

The upward direction continued this fall as Hun posted a number of impressive victories, topping Princeton Day School, East Brunswick, Peddie, Robbinsville, and Hill along the way.

But it was the 2-0 win over Pennington on September 30 that signaled how far Hun had come.

“They went out there and played their hearts out,” said Hallac, assessing the triumph.

“I was really proud of the way they performed. It finally convinced them of what they could do. I think they were starting to believe it last year but they walked into that game believing that they could truly play with anyone and they proved it.”

Bouncing back from a disappointing loss to Allentown in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals, Hun proved its quality in historic fashion, topping Pennington 2-0 in the state Prep A final, thrilling a home throng of around 1,000 and ending Pennington’s 11-year title streak.

In reflecting on the triumph, Hallac said it was a group effort. “It was huge, the girls deserve all of the credit, they show up and they work hard every day,” said Hallac, whose team ended the fall with a 14-4-1 record.

“Even when we have setbacks, they learn from it and we move forward. It means so much to the school. The whole school came out here and the whole day was scheduled around this. I have never seen anything like it, I think it meant a lot to the community and that is what we are about here. I think it is really great for Hun.”

Providing a blend of steadiness and competitiveness to help Hun reach such heights, Hallac is the choice as one of the top coaches of a female team this fall.

With the graduation of stars Jenna Cody and Elyssa Gensib in 2012, the Princeton High girls’ cross country team entered a transition phase that fall.

As a result, PHS head coach Jim Smirk had to groom some new talent and rework his immediate goals.

“When Elyssa and Jenna graduated, we lost two top-end runners and there was a void in the program,” said Smirk.

“We had to re-imagine ourselves. Julie Bond and Mary Sutton were sophomores and Paige Metzheiser was a JV runner. “

Without an infusion of top talent, Smirk adopted a pack mentality approach with his runners.

“I think that has been a hallmark of our team for a long time,” said Smirk. “We talk about the ability to hold each other’s hands across the line, which we know would actually be a disqualification but that is our goal. We want to look like one finishing.”

The team gradually worked itself up the ladder as its sum was greater than its parts. “We were a decent team, we would make states. Every season we got better, not just in cross country.”

This fall, however, the Little Tigers emerged as a team to be reckoned with, placing third of seven teams in the Girls’ Adidas Invitational race at the Shore Coaches Invitational and then taking second at the Mercer County championship meet.

PHS followed that up by placing first in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional meet and taking second in the state Group 3 meet. The team’s second-place finish at the Group meet booked PHS a trip to the Meet of Champions (MOC), the program’s first appearance at the prestigious event since 2010.

In Smirk’s view, making the MOC was the fruition of the program’s pack mentality.

“This is what the program is built on, they had to be ready to do the work to make the MOC,” said Smirk, whose team took 10th at the MOC. “It was not going to happen overnight. The pack raised the level of each runner.”

For raising PHS back to elite status in the state cross country circles, Smirk is the co-coach of the fall among female programs.

On paper, it appeared that the Princeton High football team could be headed for another rough campaign.

Coming off a 0-10 campaign in 2013, the Little Tigers were looking to replace some key seniors and had a roster of just over 30 players.

But second year head coach Charlie Gallagher was optimistic as he looked ahead to the fall.

“We have a good core of guys coming back, there is a sense of urgency,” said Gallagher. “The schedule is different and they see opportunities for wins.”

Opening the season by beating Hamilton 28-7 for the program’s first victory since 2012, the wins started piling up.

Turning heads with a potent offense led by running back Rory Helstrom and quarterback Dave Beamer together with a punishing defense spearheaded by Sam Smallzman and Colin Buckley, PHS produced a 5-0 start, knocking off Ewing, Hightstown, Lawrence, and Steinert.

In the wake of the 28-14 win over Steinert, Gallagher described the special feeling around the team.

“They have jelled from the very beginning,” asserted Gallagher. “It is great team chemistry and we are just happy to be coaching them up.”

After stubbing its toe in a loss at Winslow, PHS resumed its winning ways by routing WW/P-S, Robbinsville and WW/P-N by a combined score of 140-21. The 47-21 victory over North gave PHS an 8-1 regular season record and clinched the West Jersey Football League’s Valley Division title for the Little Tigers.

While PHS fell 48-12 to Brick Township in its first playoff appearance since 2009, the loss couldn’t dim what they team accomplished in its remarkable turnaround.

“We talked about how proud we were of the team,” said Gallagher, recalling his postgame message after the Brick defeat.

“The seniors had a great run, they put so much into it. Going 8-2 was a remarkable turnaround. Most guys picked us at the bottom of the division in the beginning of the season. We had no number of wins in mind, we just wanted to compete. We competed at a high level and got eight wins, the guys should be very proud.”

For getting the Little Tigers to compete at such a high level that they went from last to first in their division earns Gallagher the nod as one of the top coaches of a male program this fall.

Although the 10-6-2 record it posted in 2013 would be satisfying for a lot of teams, it was a downer for the proud Princeton High boys’ soccer program.

Used to contending for county and state titles, PHS was knocked out of the Mercer County Tournament in the first round and exited in the sectional semis at the state level.

Looking ahead to the 2014 season, longtime PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe had the sense that his team possessed the mentality to again be a postseason force.

“The goal of this group is to achieve something,” said Sutcliffe. “They are aware that if you take it one training session at a time and one game at a time, big things can happen.”

With senior striker Chase Ealy and senior goalie Laurenz Reimitz stepping up along with a battle-tested group of juniors, PHS did some big things as it regained its championship form.

The Little Tigers won penalty kick shootout thrillers over Steinert in the MCT semis and Allentown in the final to earn the county title.

“It has been rare that I have had a team that was as close as this team,” said Sutcliffe, reflecting on the MCT crown.

“There is a great spirit. We have had some great teams. This team, on the field and off the field, is a closer knit group and that has transcended to our quality and our spirit and our vitality. All of which helped us tonight and in the semi. And helped us close out the Colonial Division of the CVC.”

Seemingly improving game to game, PHS rolled through the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional, topping Red Bank Regional 4-1 in the title game.

After edging Ocean City 1-0 in the Group 3 semis, PHS advanced to its third state title game in six seasons, having won crowns in 2009 and 2012.

While the Little Tigers came up short in the championship game, falling 4-3 to South Plainfield, Sutcliffe was thrilled with what his squad accomplished.

“They are just fantastic; we are a such a young team,” said Sutcliffe, who guided the Little Tigers to a final record of 18-3-2.

“I am so proud of the senior class that fought through a lot of adversity for four years. Three championships is fantastic. The success of the team was beyond some people’s expectations.”

Sutcliffe’s role in restoring PHS to its championship form makes him the pick as the co-coach of the fall among male programs.

November 26, 2014
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: Princeton University women’s basketball players, Annie Tarakchian (No. 15) and Taylor Williams (No. 22) turn up the defensive pressure on a Drexel player last Wednesday at Jadwin Gym. The Tigers topped Drexel 59-43 in their home opener. Last Sunday, junior forward Tarakchian came up big for the Tigers, posting the team’s first double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds in a 63-56 win at American University. Princeton, now 4-0, will head to Mexico this week to compete in the 2014 Cancun Challenge.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: Princeton University women’s basketball players, Annie Tarakchian (No. 15) and Taylor Williams (No. 22) turn up the defensive pressure on a Drexel player last Wednesday at Jadwin Gym. The Tigers topped Drexel 59-43 in their home opener. Last Sunday, junior forward Tarakchian came up big for the Tigers, posting the team’s first double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds in a 63-56 win at American University. Princeton, now 4-0, will head to Mexico this week to compete in the 2014 Cancun Challenge. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Looking at the Princeton University women’s basketball schedule, its game at American University last Sunday didn’t appear to be anything special.

While American, a member of the Patriot League, went 22-10 last winter on the way to the WNIT, the matchup didn’t generate the buzz of taking on a Top-25 foe.

Yet, courtesy of Tiger freshman forward Leslie Robinson, the niece of first lady and Princeton alumna Michelle Obama (nee Robinson) ’85, the trip to Washington D.C. turned into a weekend to remember.

With Robinson’s special family ties, the Tigers got red carpet treatment. “We headed down on Saturday; we had a private tour of the White House,” said Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart. “We got to go on the White House court and played a pick up game.”

Mrs. Obama and daughters, Malia and Sasha, were on hand Sunday evening as the Tigers took on the Eagles.

“It was a great college environment, around 2,000 were there with the presence of the Obamas,” said Banghart.

With Princeton up 36-26 at halftime, the Tigers got a special message at intermission.

“Michelle came in at halftime, telling us how much she was enjoying the team and how she and her daughters were having a good time,” said Banghart, whose team posed for photos with the Obamas in the locker room.

Banghart enjoyed seeing her team come out in the second half and pull out a 63-56 win over American. “They were attentive to the game plan,” said Banghart, who got 19 points from senior guard Blake Dietrick with Michelle Miller chipping in 15.

“When a team is down by 10 in the second half like American, they play with reckless abandon and take chances. You can’t prepare for that. We weathered that OK. We didn’t make all the free throws but we got some big offensive rebounds.”

The Tigers are off to a big start this season as the victory improved their record to 4-0.

“I am happy that they are committed to the right things defensively, talk is just talk but they are showing it in their play,” said Banghart, whose team was at its stifling best when it topped Drexel 59-43 last Wednesday in its home opener and is only giving up 51.0 points a game and holding foes to a .345 field goal percentage.

“We haven’t hit our stride offensively. We have played teams from four different conferences with three of the games on the road.”

Star point guard Dietrick has hit her stride in the early going, averaging 13.3 points and 5.0 assists per game.

“Blake has started off the year strongly; she is the lead guard and has done a good job of handling the ball and getting everyone involved,” said Banghart of Dietrick, who was named the Ivy League Co-Player of the Week along with Penn’s Sydney Stipanovich. “She knows how important her role is and that she also needs to make shots.”

Two juniors, Annie Tarakchian and Amanda Berntsen, have been making important contributions this season. Tarakchian posted the team’s first double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds in the win over American while Berntsen had a career-high five steals in the win over Drexel.

“Annie is a great rebounder and is committed to that part of the game; she is a work in progress on defense and the offensive end, she is improving in those areas,” said Banghart.

“Amanda gives us a ton of energy, extreme focus, and is a relentless competitor. Her role is usually to shut down the other team’s best player.”

Banghart is looking to see other players step up. “We need to continue to build depth; we have a solid eight,” added Banghart, whose squad is averaging 65.0 points a game with seven players averaging 5.0 or more points led by Miller at 14.0 points per contest.

“Robinson has been a positive addition, bringing energy at both ends of the court. Vanessa Smith is attacking better than she did last year.”

The Tigers will be hoping to enjoy another positive experience on the road as they head to Mexico this week to take part in the 2014 Cancun Challenge. Princeton is slated to play Wake Forest on Thursday, Montana on Friday, and UNC-Charlotte on Saturday.

“Wake is tough, I think I would rather play them at their own gym than in this situation,” said Banghart.

“Charlotte and Montana are two very solid teams. They will be three tough games in a row. It will be more adversity. We are finding solutions in discomfort. Our goal is to make them uncomfortable in the preseason.”

GREEN WAVE: Princeton University running back Joe Rhattigan fends off a tackler in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore Rhattigan scored a touchdown but it wasn’t nearly enough as Princeton fell 41-10 to Dartmouth in the season finale. The Big Green has now won five straight games in the rivalry. The defeat left Princeton with a final record of 5-5 overall and 4-3 Ivy League.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GREEN WAVE: Princeton University running back Joe Rhattigan fends off a tackler in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore Rhattigan scored a touchdown but it wasn’t nearly enough as Princeton fell 41-10 to Dartmouth in the season finale. The Big Green has now won five straight games in the rivalry. The defeat left Princeton with a final record of 5-5 overall and 4-3 Ivy League. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming into its season finale last Saturday against visiting Dartmouth, the Princeton University football team was looking to play the spoiler role.

Entering the final weekend, Dartmouth was in second place in the Ivy League standings behind undefeated Harvard and needed to beat Princeton and have Yale upend the Crimson to get a share of the league title.

Instead, Dartmouth spoiled Princeton’s Senior Day, rolling to a 41-10 win over the Tigers before a crowd of 6,663 at Princeton Stadium.

Dartmouth, though, didn’t get a piece of the title as Harvard pulled out a 31-24 win over Yale to cap a perfect campaign.

In the view of Princeton head coach Bob Surace, Dartmouth did produce a championship-caliber performance.

“The bottom line is that we lost at the line of scrimmage today, that is very disappointing and disheartening,” lamented Surace, whose team finished the year at 5-5 overall and 4-3 Ivy while Dartmouth ended up at 8-2 overall, 6-1 Ivy. “I knew they were really good coming in to it and thought they were the equal of Harvard.”

The loss stung as the Class of 2015 went out on a down note, one year after they had helped Princeton earn a share of the Ivy crown with Harvard.

“It is emotional because of guys like Mike Zeuli, Quinn Epperly, Connor Michelsen, Connor Kelley, Will Powers, you can go on and on,” said Surace, whose Class of 2015 included 27 players and posted wins over every Ivy foe except Dartmouth in their careers.

“They have just given their all to the program, the disappointment mostly is for them. I just didn’t do a good enough job of getting the rest of the guys to be as exact as we needed to be. I thought we played two teams that were super this year in Dartmouth and Harvard and another really, really good team in Yale.”

Princeton faced a super player Saturday in Dartmouth junior quarterback Dalyn Williams, who hit 30-of-35 passes for 305 yards and four touchdowns against the Tigers.

“He is such a good athlete; when we first played him a couple of years ago, he had that improvisational skill,” said Surace.

“I told Buddy (Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens) before the game that he has done a really good job with him, learning to pick his moments and spots. It is one of those darned if you do, darned if you don’t things; you want to stop him from running and he has become such an accurate passer, he beats you that way.”

Williams struck early on Saturday, hitting Bo Patterson for a 58-yard touchdown pass on the fourth play from scrimmage as the Big Green jumped out to a 7-0 lead.

The Tigers answered back with an 11-play, 44-yard march that culminated with a Nolan Bieck field goal as they narrowed the gap to 7-3.

“We kicked a field goal and the score was relatively within reach for a long time in the first half,” said Surace. “I didn’t think we were winning the line of scrimmage which was disappointing; that’s a hard thing to flip.”

Dartmouth’s strength in the trenches started to take a toll as it marched 80 yards midway through the second quarter and went ahead 14-3 on a 4-yard TD pass from Williams to Ryan McManus. The Big Green tacked on a field goal with six seconds left in the quarter to take a 17-3 halftime lead.

In the second half, Dartmouth dominated, reeling off 24 unanswered points before the Tigers scored on a 1-yard touchdown run by Joe Rhattigan with 9:34 left in the fourth quarter to make it 41-10 and end the scoring for the day.

Sophomore Rhattigan acknowledged that the Tigers were stifled all day by the Big Green.

“The Dartmouth defense played well; you can see it in the stats, you could see it on the field,” said Rhattigan, reflecting on a day that saw Princeton get outgained 518 yards to 228.

“There are things on our side of the ball that we could definitely have improved on. I think they played well. From what I saw, they were very gap conscious. They were filling gaps, they were shedding blocks well. They were just giving us a hard time up front.”

The Tigers hit the field Saturday looking to play well and break a four-game losing streak in the series with Dartmouth.

“Every game is the same, you play the game to win,” said Rhattigan. “Ivy League title or not, you want to win the game so we definitely had a lot to play for. There was 20-something seniors playing their last game. We owed it to them to give it our best.”

Surace, though, conceded that Princeton’s best wasn’t good enough this season.

“Last week, when we were eliminated, I was reminded of a story,” said Surace.

“We had a mediocre year when I was a player here and Pete Carril (Hall of Fame Princeton men’s basketball coach) said to us first place or no place, there is nothing in between and that’s the bottom line. One team celebrates and the other seven of us didn’t get done what we needed to accomplish. We are a 5-5 team and that’s what we are. We are a fourth place team in a really good league and we  have to improve on a number of things.”

Rhattigan, for his part, believes the returning players can take some lessons from the departing seniors in the quest to return to the top of the Ivies.

“They teach you the way of Princeton football and how you have to be to win,” said Rhattigan.

“They were part of that championship team last year. They were part of this team this year. You learn from them, they obviously have the experience.”

NET VALUE: Princeton University men’s water polo goalie Vojislav Mitrovic guards the net in a game earlier this season. Last Sunday, freshman star Mitrovic made 15 saves in a losing cause as Princeton fell 7-6 to Brown in the CWPA championship game. The defeat left the Tigers with a final record of 23-4.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

NET VALUE: Princeton University men’s water polo goalie Vojislav Mitrovic guards the net in a game earlier this season. Last Sunday, freshman star Mitrovic made 15 saves in a losing cause as Princeton fell 7-6 to Brown in the CWPA championship game. The defeat left the Tigers with a final record of 23-4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After suffering an 11-9 loss to St. Francis in the 2013 CWPA (Collegiate Water Polo Association) championship game, the Princeton University men’s water polo team seemed poised to take the next step this fall.

Coming into this year’s CWPA tourney last weekend at Navy, Princeton was 21-3, ranked No. 8 in the country, and riding a ten-game winning streak.

“I thought we had momentum,” said Princeton head coach Luis Nicolao. “It was the first weekend all year where we were all healthy and had a full squad. We were confident but we knew it was going to be tough.”

Princeton played with confidence and showed toughness as it topped Johns Hopkins 18-5 in the quarterfinals.

“It was a great start, we played well in all facets of the game,” said Nicolao, who got four goals from junior Thomas Nelson in the win with freshman Jordan Colina adding three. “We got the attack going and we had a great defensive effort. We showed we were ready and prepared.”

The Tigers produced another great effort as they edged host Navy 6-3 in the semis.

“It was the typical Princeton-Navy game; it was really intense and very physical,” said Nicolao, a Navy water polo star in his college days.

“We got up early and we were able to hold on with some good defense. It was a great game, it was a great environment.”

In the championship game against Brown, the Tigers fell down early and couldn’t get over the hump as they dropped a 7-6 nailbiter to fall just short of earning a bid to the NCAA tournament.

“We knew they were really good; they had a great game plan and they played really well,” said Nicolao.

“We didn’t play well, we didn’t execute. We made mistakes and fell behind 3-0. We had to grind it the whole game. We got it to 5-5 but we never got the lead. We just weren’t able to capitalize on opportunities. Things didn’t click, balls weren’t falling for us. We still had a chance to win but we didn’t find the back of the net. Brown played a great game, I was impressed by them.”

While the season-ending loss stung, Nicolao was impressed by what his players achieved this fall as they went 23-4.

“We really had a great year; we lost only four games and we were ranked in the top 10 most of the year,” said Nicolao.

“In our sport, it comes down to one game and we didn’t win. It is hard to think about it right now but in time, the players will realize we had a great season.”

The team’s group of seniors made a great impact on the program. “They are going to be missed,” said Nicolao, whose Class of 2015 includes Drew Hoffenberg, Sam Butler, Kayj Shannon, and Kevin Zhang.

“We went to three CWPA championship games in their four years. I will take that from every class. They fought hard, they gave us their all, and they made us relevant.”

In Nicolao’s view, the Tigers will continue to be relevant on the national scene.

“We have a great returning group, we have a lot of good pieces,” said Nicolao, who will welcome back such stars as junior Jamie Kuprenas, sophomore Jovan Jeremic, freshman Connor McGoldrick, freshman Vojislav Mitrovic, in addition to Nelson and Colina.

“I hope we have a chip on our shoulder. We are the first Princeton team to lose two CWPA championship games back-to-back. I hope that gives them a little extra motivation. It is a matter of us doing what we have to do, working hard in the offseason and coming back in great shape. The goal is always to get to the CWPA finals and see what happens. It takes some luck and we didn’t have that yesterday.”

PRESSURE COOKER: Princeton University men’s basketball player Steven Cook fights through two University of Incarnate Word defenders last Saturday at Jadwin Gym. Sophomore Cook scored 14 points in 33 minutes off the bench but it wasn’t enough as Princeton lost 79-68 to the Cardinals. The Tigers, now 1-3, head to California this week where they will compete in the Wooden Legacy, an eight-team event Thursday through Sunday in Fullerton and Anaheim. Princeton starts play in the competition by facing UTEP on November 27.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PRESSURE COOKER: Princeton University men’s basketball player Steven Cook fights through two University of Incarnate Word defenders last Saturday at Jadwin Gym. Sophomore Cook scored 14 points in 33 minutes off the bench but it wasn’t enough as Princeton lost 79-68 to the Cardinals. The Tigers, now 1-3, head to California this week where they will compete in the Wooden Legacy, an eight-team event Thursday through Sunday in Fullerton and Anaheim. Princeton starts play in the competition by facing UTEP on November 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Princeton University men’s basketball team hosting the little-known University of Incarnate Word last Saturday morning at 11 a.m., things were a little quiet at Jadwin Gym.

With the crowd of 1,554 on hand growing listless, Princeton sleepwalked through the first 12 minutes of the contest, finding themselves down 29-12 to the school from San Antonio, Texas, which is in its second year of Division I play.

Waking up a little bit, the Tigers went on a 15-2 run to narrow the gap to 31-27 at halftime.

Princeton forged ahead 43-40 in the early stages of the second half before the Cardinals responded with a 16-8 run of their own.

Then Princeton sophomore forward Steven Cook put a charge into the crowd, flying in for a thunderous dunk from the baseline. Adding a free throw on the play to make the UIW lead to 56-54, it seemed like the Tigers had seized the momentum.

Instead, Princeton squandered that advantage as the Cardinals fought back and regained control of the contest.

“I really thought the play that stood out was when Steve had a nice baseline drive with the and one finish and they come right back and come down with 6 minutes left and get their own and one, which was a huge swing play,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson. “Then we come down the floor and miss a layup; we are just not understanding what it is going to take.

The Tigers never got closer than three the rest of the game as they went on to lose 79-68 and drop to 1-3.

Afterward, Henderson didn’t mince words in assessing the setback. “It was a disappointing loss for us,” said Henderson, who got a career-high 22 points from sophomore Spencer Weisz in the defeat.

“I don’t want to make light of us at all because I think we have got a long way to go but we seem to manage to allow teams to do what they do really well. We are a work in progress with more work than I would like us to be needing, especially going into a really difficult weekend ahead.”

Cook, for his part, shared Henderson’s frustration. “I thought a lot of improvements could be made across the board as a team,” said Cook, who scored 14 points and had seven rebounds and three assists in 33 minutes of work off the bench in the loss.

“Defensively I don’t think we did a great job. Individually, I think about improvements I could be making. We are always about work. It is a long season and we are just four games in.”

Henderson is seeing improved play from Cook. “He is terrific, I don’t think he is going to come off the bench any more,” said Henderson. “We have got to get him in there because he has been very good. I think Steve has done what we have asked him to do. He is aggressive going to the rim.”

Cook acknowledged that he has benefitted from having a year of college ball under his belt.

“I am personally feeling more comfortable,” said Cook, a 6’5, 185-pound native of Winnetka, Ill.

“We are a young team in general but that is no excuse. We need to step up, we have a lot of experience, even among the young guys, and we need to play that way. We need to play with poise.”

In Henderson’s view, the Tigers also need to do some soul searching. “I hope they learn that it has got to sting and it has got to hurt,” said Henderson, whose team heads to California this week where it will compete in the Wooden Legacy, an eight-team event Thursday through Sunday in Fullerton and Anaheim.

“They have to look themselves in the mirror a little bit and say OK what are you afraid of here? Are you afraid to be great, are you afraid to work really hard in practice, are you giving it everything you have got at all times?”

Cook, for his part, believes the Tigers are ready to give their all. “We don’t let ourselves be disappointed for too long; this program has always been about work,” asserted Cook.

“We have to stay focused on what we need to do, individually and as a team. We are going to have a big practice on Monday and we are going to work from there.”

LATE SPARK: Princeton University field hockey player Teresa ­Benvenuti makes a hit in action this fall. Junior star Benvenuti, who was sidelined for six games due to injury this season, returned to the lineup down the stretch and helped the Tigers win the Ivy League title and top Monmouth 4-3 in an NCAA play-in game. Princeton fell to Maryland 5-1 in the first round of the NCAA tournament to end with a final record of 8-11.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LATE SPARK: Princeton University field hockey player Teresa ­Benvenuti makes a hit in action this fall. Junior star Benvenuti, who was sidelined for six games due to injury this season, returned to the lineup down the stretch and helped the Tigers win the Ivy League title and top Monmouth 4-3 in an NCAA play-in game. Princeton fell to Maryland 5-1 in the first round of the NCAA tournament to end with a final record of 8-11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Having gone 35-6 overall and 14-0 Ivy League with an NCAA title in its previous two seasons coming into 2014, the Princeton University field hockey team found itself in an unfamiliar position by mid-October.

After losing 8-1 to Maryland on October 15, Princeton stood at 3-9 overall and 2-1 Ivy.

Having won nine straight Ivy crowns, the Tigers had reason to believe it wasn’t their year.

Instead, Princeton maintained its customary intensity. “They could have thrown in the towel; it is not easy to lose but they stuck together and kept working hard,” said Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn.

“I give them a lot of credit, that is not easy to do. It was validating in that we were able to keep players interested and focused. The kids were coming out before practices after losses and wins.”

Catching fire down the stretch, Princeton won four straight Ivy games to earn its 10th straight league title and a date at Monmouth for an NCAA play-in game.

The Tigers edged Monmouth 4-3 in that contest to earn another shot at Maryland in the first round of the national tourney.

“It was a random game, no team had control of the game at any point,” said Holmes-Winn. “Monmouth fought hard and so did we. I was proud of the girls who stuck through that, it wasn’t pretty.”

Holmes-Winn got some beautiful play in the victory from senior Allison Evans, who scored two goals in the win to pass the 100-point plateau in her Princeton career.

“I am really happy that it happened,” said Holmes-Winn. “It was really nice for her to have that achievement. She has come up so big for us on many occasions. She has been a constant presence for us on the front line over the last four years.”

Junior star Teresa Benvenuti tallied two goals and an assist in the victory, continuing a late surge after being sidelined in the middle of the season with a nose injury.

“Typically Teresa is a back/midfielder, but with her coming back from injury it just made sense for us to put her in the front,” said Holmes-Winn. “We needed some firepower and energy and she gave us both.”

In the rematch with Maryland, Princeton showed plenty of energy but it wasn’t enough as the Terps prevailed 5-1.

“Maryland is difficult to control because they have power and control over the ball,” explained Holmes-Winn, whose team ended the fall with an 8-11 record.

“We were trying to keep the numbers even all over the field. They have a ton of pace and can pick you apart. When someone is eliminated from the play, they are able to come at you with numbers.”

While the numbers weren’t as sparkling overall for Princeton as in past years, Holmes-Winn was proud of the character displayed by her players in the face of adversity.

“I am proud that we performed as well as we did in the back end of the season,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team dropped 4-3 regular season decisions to national champion Connecticut and national runner-up Syracuse.

“Being a winner is not only about getting the ‘W,’ it is how you live your life, how you treat others, what kind of teammate you are and how you approach schoolwork, and they are winners.”

Holmes-Winn credited her group of seniors with setting a winning tone.

“They are an inclusive group,” said Holmes-Winn, whose Class of 2015 includes Cassidy Arner, Colleen Boyce, Julia Boyle, Sydney Kirby, and Stephanie Goldberg in addition to Evans. “They really helped out with the transition for the freshmen, on and off the field. The team dynamic was really good.”

In looking ahead to 2015, Holmes-Winn believes her returning players must focus on being in really good condition.

“They need to do more in terms of fitness in the offseason,” said Holmes-Winn.

“You have to be super fit coming into the season. We are two games behind our opponents in the first month. We just have to hit the ground running. We play tough teams in the beginning by design. I think our lack of fitness hurt us in some of those early games. We can’t have fitness as a barrier.”

Princeton also needs to hone its mental toughness in order to remain among the elite of college field hockey.

“We have to have athletes who care about being great players and doing the work necessary,” said Holmes-Winn.

“We have had great American athletes who want to play for the national team. If not they will just be scraping by in the Ivy League and they won’t be playing for national championships.”

CAPTAIN’S CORNER: Princeton University women’s hockey player Brianna Leahy goes after the puck in action last weekend. Senior captain Leahy scored two goals on the weekend but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 7-3 to St. Lawrence on Friday and then lost 3-2 to defending national champion Clarkson on Saturday. Princeton, now 6-3-1 overall and 4-2 ECAC Hockey, hosts No. 2 Minnesota, 12-1-2 overall, for a two-game set on November 29 and 30.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CAPTAIN’S CORNER: Princeton University women’s hockey player Brianna Leahy goes after the puck in action last weekend. Senior captain Leahy scored two goals on the weekend but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 7-3 to St. Lawrence on Friday and then lost 3-2 to defending national champion Clarkson on Saturday. Princeton, now 6-3-1 overall and 4-2 ECAC Hockey, hosts No. 2 Minnesota, 12-1-2 overall, for a two-game set on November 29 and 30. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Looking at the final score, it would appear that the Princeton University women’s hockey team was overmatched when it hosted St. Lawrence last Friday.

Although the Tigers dropped a 7-3 decision to the Saints, Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal saw no reason for his players to hang their heads.

“I thought we played decently overall, the score doesn’t necessarily indicate  how close a game it was,” said Kampersal, noting that the contest was tied at 3-3 heading into the third period.

“We played fairly well, both teams made mistakes but they capitalized on the big mistakes we made and that was pretty much the difference.

Trailing 1-0 after getting outshot 11-2 in the first period, Princeton came alive in the next 20 minutes, outscoring St. Lawrence 3-2.

“We didn’t funnel the puck to the net in the first period so we had more hunger to get the puck and crash the net,” said Kampersal, who got goals from Hilary Lloyd, Brianna Leahy, and Molly Contini in the period. “All of our goals were rebound goals. We had guts, we played hard.”

Sophomore forward Contini has shown guts, coming back from missing last year due to hip surgery to lead the Tigers in goals with six.

“Molly is very smart, she has incredible hands and she can set up a goalie,” said Kampersal. “She knows what she wants to do with the puck. She has improved a lot in her skating over the summer.”

The Tigers showed improvement the next day as they battled the defending national champion Clarkson tooth and nail, before losing 3-2.

Princeton fell behind 1-0 in the first period but evened things up on a goal by sophomore defenseman Kelsey Koelzer. After the Golden Knights took a 2-1 lead in the second, the Tigers answered back with a tally by senior captain Leahy. Clarkson scored the decisive goal early in the third period as Princeton dropped to 6-3-1 overall and 4-2 ECAC Hockey.

“We just need more fight,” said Kampersal, whose team hosts perennial power and second ranked Minnesota, 12-1-2 overall, for a two-game set on November 29 and 30. “No matter who we play in our league, everyone is going to be real tough.”

And despite going 0-2 last weekend, Princeton showed plenty of toughness.

November 19, 2014
OPENING STATEMENT: Princeton University men’s basketball player Spencer Weisz prepares to put up a shot in a recent practice session. Last Friday, sophomore forward Weisz contributed a game-high 18 points as Princeton topped Rider 64-58 in the season opener for both teams. The Tigers, who fell 63-60 at George Mason on Sunday to drop to 1-1, play at Lafayette on November 19 before hosting Incarnate Word on November 22.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

OPENING STATEMENT: Princeton University men’s basketball player Spencer Weisz prepares to put up a shot in a recent practice session. Last Friday, sophomore forward Weisz contributed a game-high 18 points as Princeton topped Rider 64-58 in the season opener for both teams. The Tigers, who fell 63-60 at George Mason on Sunday to drop to 1-1, play at Lafayette on November 19 before hosting Incarnate Word on November 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Spencer Weisz gained some valuable lessons last winter in his freshman campaign with the Princeton University men’s basketball team.

Helping Princeton win eight of its last 10 Ivy League games after a 0-4 start in league play, Weisz averaged 8.7 points and 4.8 rebounds a game on the way to being named the Ivy Rookie of the Year.

Last Friday, when Princeton fell behind visiting Rider 39-30 in the season opener for both teams, Weisz applied some of that knowledge.

“We got down nine and I just felt with the experience that I had last year, it was time to step up and make some plays,” said Weisz.

Princeton proceeded to put together a 28-12 run with Weisz chipping in eight points during that stretch, seizing control of the contest on the way to a 64-58 victory before a crowd of 1,939 at Jadwin Gym.

In Weisz’s view, the comeback served as a valuable blueprint for the Tigers. “There was a long way to play and we needed to just settle in offensively and defensively,” said Weisz, who ended up with a game-high 18 points for the night along with six rebounds and two assists.

“Throughout the season there are going to be times when we are playing well but our shots aren’t falling. It is going to be scrapping and clawing for tough wins and fortunately we were able to come out with the win tonight.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson liked the mental toughness displayed by his squad on opening night.

“The biggest thing that I would talk about and would take away from the game is the poise,” said Henderson.

“I thought that they didn’t get rattled when they got down by nine. It is a fairly young group but they have the ability to stay with things. We said at the 16 minute timeout that we can’t play much worse so have some poise and let’s see where this thing goes and I thought they stayed with it. I thought Hans [Brase] made a couple of huge 3s to close the gap for us. We got to the line a couple of times. We were really good at getting to the line tonight, we took 20 free throws, which I was happy about. I thought the guys didn’t lose their cool.”

Princeton’s defensive effort also made Henderson happy. “It is the first game of the season, you don’t have a lot of information and we did some things we had only worked on a little bit,” said Henderson.

“I thought we came up with some really big plays, that is a tough Rider team so we are happy to get it. You have to count on your defense to get you back into the game. We were able to score but if we weren’t stopping them in that stretch, it would not have mattered.”

With senior star Denton Koon currently sidelined with a knee injury, Henderson is counting on his team’s depth and character to show through.

“Denton went down with a knee injury and I thought the group really responded well,” said Henderson, whose team went down last Sunday, falling 63-60 at George Mason to move to 1-1.

“Whenever you lose a senior, it is tough. Denton has been, in particular, very helpful in encouraging his teammates.”

Henderson is also encouraged by his squad’s diligence. “I just really like this team, I like the way that they are thinking about things,” said Henderson.

“They are concentrating on getting better. We really have so much to work on. I like the young guys, I like the old guys. I like the way that they are all going about their business.”

In assessing areas for improvement, Henderson focused on sharper offensive execution.

“There were a lot of turnovers (15),” said Henderson, whose team plays at Lafayette on November 19 before hosting Incarnate Word on November 22.

“We have potential to be good with the ball, we are trying to eliminate the dumb ones. There were a lot of walks called, which we will have to look at because we have been teaching that move for a long time around here. We have to look at that because I thought those were some really nice moves in the post. Overall, it is just valuing the ball and executing. Amir [Bell] is going to be on the floor for us and has to get us into something that everybody recognizes.”

Freshman guard Bell, for his part, produced a nice debut, contributing seven points, four rebounds, and three assists in 30 minutes of action.

“At the start, you just want to get into the flow,” said Bell. “As a team we  played really well. I was trying to help us in the best way possible and contribute to the game and, with my teammates, get a great win.”

Weisz sees a lot more wins on the horizon for Princeton as long as it plays sharper at both ends of the court.

“We have to execute better defensively and I think that starts with our veterans,” said Weisz. “From there we will be able to have better offense and be better as a team as a whole.”

FINAL PUSH: Princeton University senior quarterback Quinn Epperly gets ready to fire the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, Epperly rushed for three touchdowns in a losing cause as Princeton fell 44-30 at Yale. The defeat dropped the Tigers to 5-4 overall and 4-2 Ivy League, thereby extinguishing their hopes for a second straight Ivy title with Harvard leading the pack at 9-0 overall, 6-0 Ivy followed by Yale (8-1 overall, 5-1 Ivy) and Dartmouth (7-2 overall, 5-1 Ivy) as the teams head into the last week of the season. Princeton hosts Dartmouth on November 22 in its season finale.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FINAL PUSH: Princeton University senior quarterback Quinn Epperly gets ready to fire the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, Epperly rushed for three touchdowns in a losing cause as Princeton fell 44-30 at Yale. The defeat dropped the Tigers to 5-4 overall and 4-2 Ivy League, thereby extinguishing their hopes for a second straight Ivy title with Harvard leading the pack at 9-0 overall, 6-0 Ivy followed by Yale (8-1 overall, 5-1 Ivy) and Dartmouth (7-2 overall, 5-1 Ivy) as the teams head into the last week of the season. Princeton hosts Dartmouth on November 22 in its season finale. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Playing at the Yale Bowl last Saturday as the 100th anniversary of the venerable stadium was celebrated, the Princeton University football rolled up 29 first downs, 386 yards of total offense, and scored 30 points.

While that production would be sufficient to win a lot of games, it wasn’t enough against the highest-scoring Yale squad in a century as the Bulldogs pulled away to a 44-30 triumph before a crowd of 23,260.

The defeat dropped Princeton to 5-4 overall and 4-2 Ivy League, thereby extinguishing its hopes for a second straight Ivy title with Harvard leading the pack at 9-0 overall, 6-0 Ivy followed by Yale (8-1 overall, 5-1 Ivy), and Dartmouth (7-2 overall, 5-1 Ivy) as the teams head into the last week of the season.

Princeton head coach Bob Surace lamented his team’s lack of execution in key moments against Yale.

“It is just frustrating, we put so much time and effort into preparation and the effort was outstanding but we made fundamental mistakes,” said Surace.

“Against a team as good as Yale, you have to be more detailed and more exact. They had eight or nine explosive plays and we had one.”

Two critical mistakes in special teams play turned the tide against Princeton as Yale blocked a punt to score a touchdown to take a 17-14 lead early in the second quarter and then added a field goal after a botched snap led to a short punt and gave the Bulldogs good field position.

“Those 10 points against a team as good as Yale makes it tough,” said Surace. “They have been scoring, getting 54, 51, 49 points in games this season.”

In the early stages of the contest, it looked like Princeton may be headed to a 50-point afternoon.

“Offensively we got off to a good start, we went right down the field and scored,” said Surace, whose team took a 7-0 lead on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Conner Michelsen to James Frusciante.

Yale responded with a seven-yard scoring strike from Morgan Roberts to Robert Clemons to make it a 7-7 game. Two possessions later, Princeton’s defense came up big as Matt Arends intercepted a Roberts pass to give the Tigers the ball at the Yale 29. Princeton cashed in as Quinn Epperly scored on a 7-yard run to give Princeton a 14-7 advantage midway through the first quarter.

After getting 10 points due to Princeton’s punting miscues to go up 20-14, the Bulldogs kept rolling as star running Tyler Varga rushed 30 yards for a TD to make it 27-14.

Princeton answered with an 11-play, 63-yard march that culminated with a one-yard touchdown run by Epperly.

But blunting the Tigers’ momentum, Yale added a field goal with no time remaining to take a 30-21 lead into intermission.

In the third quarter, Princeton seemed to be poised for a comeback. “In the second half we stopped them and we got the ball inside their five,” said Surace. “But we dropped a snap and then had to go for a field goal and the kick hit the upright. It is not our day when the kick hits the upright. We continued to battle back.”

But it turned out to be a losing battle as Varga scored on a 13-yard pass to make it 37-21. After Epperly ran for his third TD of the day to narrow the gap to 37-27, Varga struck again with a six-yard run as Yale took its biggest lead of the day at 44-27. Bieck kicked a field goal for the Tigers midway through the fourth quarter to end the scoring.

Surace tipped his hat to the Yale offense, which totaled 568 yards and is now averaging 43.0 points a game.

“Varga is having an unbelievable year, you have got to be at your best to stop him,” said Surace of the senior tailback who rushed for 137 yards on 26 carries in the win over Princeton.

“He had a 30-yard run when a safety got tripped by an umpire. We did as good a job as anyone on him. Their quarterback was outstanding all game. When we had a rusher on him, he found the right guy. When he had time, he was almost automatic. They have some really good receivers.”

Despite the frustrating setback, Surace is confident that Princeton can end the fall on a high note as it hosts Dartmouth on November 22 in the season finale and assumes the spoiler role with the Big Green still alive in the Ivy title race.

“You only get 10 games and each one is important and enjoyable,” said Surace. “They present different challenges. You have peaks and valleys in a season and we have responded well to the low points this season.”

Dartmouth presents some major challenges for Princeton, who will be looking to end the season on a high note and avenge a 2013 loss to the Big Green that kept it from winning an outright Ivy crown.

“Their quarterback [Dalyn Williams] is one of the best players in the league and he is having his best year,” said Surace.

“They run the ball well and they are strong up front. They have a really good group of receivers, starting with [Ryan] McManus. They always play well on defense, they are well coached and they run to the ball. We have to be focused on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Emotions will be running high but all those things can be a distraction. We have to play our best game in order to have a chance to beat them.”

Surace turned emotional when he reflected on how senior stars Epperly and linebacker Mike Zeuli competed in the Yale loss.

“Seeing Quinn Epperly on Saturday was inspiring,” said Surace. “He has been in pain and has been been injured but he was fighting so hard. Mike Zeuli plays as hard as any player I have ever coached. They are not the only two guys doing that but they are the captains and they are out front. The guys follow that.”

SHANNY TOWN: Princeton University women’s hockey player Cristin Shanahan glides up the ice. Last Saturday, junior forward Shanahan scored the winning goal as Princeton edged Rensselaer 2-1 in overtime. The Tigers, now 6-1-1 overall and 4-0 ECAC Hockey, host St. Lawrence on November 21 and Clarkson on November 22.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SHANNY TOWN: Princeton University women’s hockey player Cristin Shanahan glides up the ice. Last Saturday, junior forward Shanahan scored the winning goal as Princeton edged Rensselaer 2-1 in overtime. The Tigers, now 6-1-1 overall and 4-0 ECAC Hockey, host St. Lawrence on November 21 and Clarkson on November 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Cristin Shanahan saw no need for finesse when she got the chance to give the Princeton University women’s hockey team an overtime win against visiting Rensselaer last Saturday.

With just over two minutes gone in the extra session, Shanahan received the puck on the doorstep of the goal on a nice pass from Kiersten Falck and she closed the deal with aplomb.

“I wasn’t really the playmaker there, my teammates did a good job,” said Shanahan, whose tally gave Princeton a 2-1 win as it improved to 6-1-1 overall and 4-0 ECAC Hockey.

“I don’t know how Falck manages to thread the puck through every single time. She got it to me, it was a perfect puck laying right there for me and I had the open net so I slammed it home.”

The triumph marked the third overtime win for the Tigers in their last four games as they had edged Union 3-2 in OT on Friday and had topped RIT 4-3 in overtime on November 7.

In Shanahan’s view, Princeton’s clutch play exemplifies the team’s special spirit.

“I have never played on a team that loves hockey so much,” said Shanahan. “We just love coming to the rink, we love being here. It just means a lot playing with kids who love it; coming through in those moments shows how much heart we have.”

Shanahan acknowledges that the Tigers need to play better so they don’t have to keep going to overtime to get wins.

“I think our team just has to work on being consistent through the whole game,” said Shanahan.

“We are a very strong team. I think we have a ton of potential and that we can absolutely kill this season. One thing we have to do is play 60 minutes.”

With two seasons of college hockey under her belt, Shanahan feels she is getting more out of her potential this winter.

“I think I am way more confident, I have noticed that and the coaches have told me that,” said Shanahan, a 5’6 native of Ottawa, Ontario who is second in goals scored for the Tigers this season with four, trailing only Molly Contini’s total of five.

“I am doing my own thing and not worrying about how other people are playing. I am just focusing on my game and doing my thing; it is finally working out for me.”

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal is looking for his team to do better at maintaining its focus.

“We have come up at big moments and have made big plays,” said Kampersal, whose team took a 1-0 lead in the first period on a goal by sophomore Morgan Sly.

“We have spurts of really hard-working play where we are really getting to work and we are strong on the puck and getting shots on goal and then other times when it is not very pretty and we are throwing pucks away, playing a little ping pong with the puck. We have done a good job defensively of keeping teams to the outside for the most part so we don’t let up a ton of shots, which is good.”

In the win over Rensselaer, the Tigers did a good job when it mattered most.

“We didn’t generate enough shots on offense tonight but again we killed off the big penalty at the end of regulation, which was huge, and then to get the goal right after was even bigger,” said Kampersal, who got 20 saves from junior goalie Kimberly Newell. “We got all the points, they are not drawing pictures on the scoresheet, luckily.”

Shanahan’s game-winning shot brought a smile to Kampersal’s face. “Shanny is solid, she slammed that home, which was great,” added Kampersal. “The pass by Falck was a big league pass. It was a really nice play all around. Leahy sent them in with a nice entry. That group played fairly well all day.”

While Kampersal is happy that Tigers are undefeated so far in ECACH play, he knows that won’t last long if the team doesn’t get more consistent.

“They are finding ways to win games,” noted Kampersal, whose team hosts St. Lawrence on November 21 and Clarkson on November 22.

“There has been adversity where we might have folded in years past, like getting down 3-0 to RIT last week or having Union score on us with 30 seconds to go last night and losing the lead late here. They kept with it and they kept resiliency. We will take where we are at, no question, but we definitely need to play a lot better and work on being consistent for 60 minutes.”

Shanahan, for her part, believes the Tigers can get better and better as the season unfolds.

“We are all pumped, I was just talking to some of my teammates and we think we are going to play home ice in the playoffs,” said Shanahan. “We are hoping to be Ivy champs. We think we have something special going here.”

November 12, 2014
SENIOR MOMENT: Princeton University field hockey star Sydney Kirby (No. 6) celebrates after a Tiger goal earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior midfielder Kirby starred in her final home game for the Tigers, chipping in two assists as Princeton edged Penn 4-3. The win give the Tigers the outright Ivy League title. In upcoming action, Princeton, now 7-10 overall, 6-1 Ivy, will head across the state to play at Monmouth (13-7 overall, 4-1 MAAC) on November 12 in an NCAA tournament play-in game with the winner advancing to face second-seeded Maryland in the Round of 16.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SENIOR MOMENT: Princeton University field hockey star Sydney Kirby (No. 6) celebrates after a Tiger goal earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior midfielder Kirby starred in her final home game for the Tigers, chipping in two assists as Princeton edged Penn 4-3. The win give the Tigers the outright Ivy League title. In upcoming action, Princeton, now 7-10 overall, 6-1 Ivy, will head across the state to play at Monmouth (13-7 overall, 4-1 MAAC) on November 12 in an NCAA tournament play-in game with the winner advancing to face second-seeded Maryland in the Round of 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Sydney Kirby was determined to do something special on her Senior Day for the Princeton University field hockey team as it hosted Penn last Saturday.

“Senior Day is always exciting and it is always a little bittersweet because you never know if it is going to be the seniors’ last game,” said star midfielder Kirby, reflecting on her thoughts before the Tigers took the field to host Penn in their home finale.

“I know the seniors wanted to play their best games for everyone. We spent four years here and we owe it to the program to play our best. We love playing for everyone, the team was so excited.”

Although Princeton came into the day tied with Columbia for first place in the Ivy League standings at 5-1, it could have been the last game for the Tigers. If the Lions prevailed in their game against Harvard going on simultaneously, they would get the league’s bid to the NCAA tournament by virtue of beating Princeton 3-2 in late September.

Kirby helped Princeton get off to an exciting start against Penn, assisting on a goal by Hailey Reeves off of a penalty corner to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.

After the Quakers took a 2-1 lead, Kirby figured in another goal, setting up a Teresa Benvenuti tally with seven seconds remaining in the first half.

“It definitely helped our momentum, going into halftime losing would not have been awesome,” said Kirby.

“We came out in the second half and it is like the score was 0-0 so it’s anybody’s game. We would have come back no matter what, we had never lost hope.”

Building on the momentum from the goal just before intermission, Princeton ended up outscoring Penn 2-1 in the second half to pull out a 4-3 win. At the same time, Columbia lost to Harvard 4-1, thereby making the Tigers the outright Ivy champs.

Princeton, 7-10 overall, will now head across the state to play at Monmouth (13-7 overall, 4-1 MAAC) on November 12 in an NCAA tournament play-in game with the winner advancing to face second-seeded Maryland in the Round of 16.

Although the Tigers have suffered through a rough fall which saw them go 1-9 in non-conference games, winning the title makes up for a lot of the disappointment.

“This means everything,” said a beaming Kirby, reflecting on the program’s 20th Ivy title in the last 21 years.

“We have had ups and down for sure and we have never lost sight of what is important and winning the Ivy League title is what we all come here to do. Everything else is icing on the cake.”

With Princeton having gone 45-14 overall and 20-1 Ivy in Kirby’s first three years, highlighted by winning the 2012 NCAA title, dealing with 10 losses this fall has been tough.

“It has been a different season, people aren’t used to it and that is a fact,” said Kirby, a native of Cleveland Heights, Ohio and the team’s leading scorer this fall with 18 points on six goals and six assists. “We have learned to deal with the adversity and it has made us stronger now.”

Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn lauded her team’s strong character in coming through to win another Ivy crown.

“It has been so hard, it has been such a tough season but they persevered,” said Holmes-Winn.

“I am just so happy for them. I don’t think our record necessarily reflects the team that we have. Honestly we have been training well.”

Princeton had to navigate its way through a nerve-wracking second half to get the win over Penn.

“We would win the ball and turn it over, it was a lot of back and forth,” said Holmes-Winn.

“When you have a team that is chasing the game, they can take more risks which they were. Penn was trying to smash the ball into the middle of the field and hope for a mistake. I think we managed that chaos pretty well but this was not an easy game. I am so proud of the girls for sticking to it.”

The team’s core of seniors helped the Tigers stick with it through the topsy-turvy fall.

“They are just really sweet kids,” said Holmes-Winn of the program’s Class of 2015, which includes Cassidy Arner, Colleen Boyce, Julia Boyle, Allison Evans, and Stephanie Goldberg in addition to Kirby.

“One of the big things when the freshmen come in is helping integrate them into the fabric of the team. This year has been the best integration and it is largely due to the seniors and how they have chosen to include them and make them feel like a part of the family very quickly. I think that has been really good for the team. They have been great players and they have worked hard. They are great kids.”

Junior Maddie Copeland made great a play on the winning goal as she backhanded a blast past the Penn goalie with 8:56 left in regulation.

“It is execution, we have had breakaways like that,” said Holmes-Winn. “It was just really good to see the finish come through and it was just a sensational shot from Maddie. That’s the beauty of the game right there. She will go backhand 100 percent of the time; don’t even bother defending her forehand because she isn’t going to shoot there. She is really good at it.”

Holmes-Winn credited Kirby and sophomore Annabeth Donovan with providing good work all over the field.

“Sydney’s work rate is great, both she and A.B. work so hard in the middle of the field,” asserted Holmes-Winn. “They plug a lot of holes; they really keep our structure intact.”

Senior striker Evans also came up big, tallying Princeton’s third goal early in the second half.

“That’s been Allie, ever since she has been a freshman she has been coming up with huge goals for this team,” said Holmes-Winn of Evans, who now has 40 goals in her Tiger career. “I am not surprised.”

With Princeton having won four of its last five games heading into the clash at Monmouth, Holmes-Winn believes her team could pull some surprises in the NCAAs.

“I think our best games have been against the likes of UConn and Syracuse, I really rate those teams. We play better when there is a little more structure in the game. This is a game that had very little structure and we don’t necessarily thrive with that.”

Kirby, for her part, believes the Tigers can thrive in postseason play. “I 100 percent do,” said Kirby, when asked if the Tigers could make an NCAA run.

“No one is expecting it, everyone is underrating us. We have gotten better every day this week and we are only going to get better from here.”

GOOD HANS: Princeton University men’s basketball player Hans Brase (with ball) looks to make a move in a recent practice session. Junior forward Brase, Princeton’s leading returning scorer after averaging 11.2 points per game in 2013-14, figures to be pivotal player for the Tigers this winter. Princeton opens up its 2014-15 campaign by hosting Rider on November 14.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GOOD HANS: Princeton University men’s basketball player Hans Brase (with ball) looks to make a move in a recent practice session. Junior forward Brase, Princeton’s leading returning scorer after averaging 11.2 points per game in 2013-14, figures to be pivotal player for the Tigers this winter. Princeton opens up its 2014-15 campaign by hosting Rider on November 14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The concept of “next man up” has become a catchphrase in the pro football world as the injury rate that naturally results from the collision sport necessitates that reserves will be called on to get their opportunity to shine.

That principle is serving as a theme for the Princeton University men’s basketball team as it opens up its 2014-15 campaign by hosting Rider on November 14. Princeton is looking to make up for the void left by the graduation of T.J. Bray, who led the Tigers in points, assists, and steals last winter on the way to earning first-team All-Ivy League honors.

“It is who is stepping up, I can’t answer that question right now,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, speaking at the program’s annual media day.

“Of the teams I have had since I have been here, this is the most balanced team that we have had. I think this team’s strength is whose turn is it to score.”

Henderson does acknowledge that junior Hans Brase, the team’s leading returning scorer with 11.2 points per game last winter when the Tigers went 21-9 overall and 8-6 Ivy on the way to the second round of the CBI (College Basketball Invitational), will be expected to shoulder a greater share of the scoring load.

“Hans is pivotal for us,” said Henderson, who welcomes back a number of experienced upperclassmen including seniors Ben Hazel (6.1 points in 2013-14), Denton Koon (7.7 points), and Clay Wilson (4.5 points). “He has got to stay out of foul trouble, he is going to have the ball in his hands a lot. Can he understand time and place, and that there is a time for that, and not a time for that.”

Brase, for his part, is ready for his time in the spotlight. “The way we work, a lot of people say how are we going to replace T.J. but we never  really replace people,” said the 6’8, 231-pound Brase, who played with the German second national team last summer.

“Our program is built on the next people are up so now it is my turn. As juniors and seniors it is our turn. I don’t feel like I have a bigger load, it is just my turn next.”

Sophomore guard Spencer Weisz, the Ivy Rookie of the Year last winter when he averaged 8.7 points and 4.8 rebounds a game, is also prepared to take a star turn.

“I feel like I am going to have to make some plays more without T.J.  here but then again everyone on the team brings a little bit of diversity to the table,” said Weisz.

“People can put the ball on the floor and shoot pretty well. Maybe I will get some more post touches for myself. I need to play within the offense and take more of a leadership role than I did last year.”

Henderson is looking for a more balanced offensive approach from his club, which relied heavily on the three-pointer last year as it made a team-record 278 baskets from beyond the arc.

“There are a lot of stats out there that show if you make a lot of 3s, you are going to win a lot of games,” said Henderson, whose team will be without the services of Koon for a while as he is sidelined with a knee injury.

“I hope we don’t rely on it the way we did. We have the emphasis on going to the rim.”

Princeton will also be looking to stop foes from getting to the rim. “Defensively, I think we hit a skid in league play and we have got to have a little more fire in the eyes so to speak,” said Henderson, whose team started 0-4 in Ivy play last season before winning eight of its last 10 league contests.

“We have been zeroing in on that. We faltered defensively and then we got back on track, which I was proud of. We became the best defensive team in the league but it was a little too late.”

Henderson knows that his team can’t falter again early in league play if it wants to be a title contender.

“It is a tough league, I think the talent level is really good,” said Henderson, whose team was picked fourth in the Ivy preseason poll behind defending champion Harvard, Yale, and Columbia.

“We are the 11th highest rated league in the country. I do think that it is the most underrated league. Every team is well coached, everybody is making the extra pass and doing a little more to make sure you win. I was in the Big 10 for a long time and I thought there was some good coaching here. This is equally as tough.”

In Henderson’s view, some of the team’s new faces could do good things this winter.

“I like the freshmen a lot, the thing I like the most is a complete buy-in into what we do,” said Henderson, whose crop of newcomers includes Amir Bell, Alec Brennan, Jackson Forbes, Mike LeBlanc, and Aaron Young. “I am happy about the freshmen.”

The team’s group of sophomores, which includes Pete Miller (2.5 points), Steven Cook (4.5 points), Henry Caruso, and Hun School alum Hashim Moore in addition to Weisz, is also making Henderson happy.

“That said, the sophomore class has made a huge leap forward which is what you want,” added Henderson. “It is a very solid sophomore class, right now they are all showing signs.”

As the Tigers host Rider this Friday, they will be looking to show that are ready to make a leap forward this winter.

“We know the Rider guys pretty well, I like local games,” said Henderson. “Our non-conference is designed to help us trend up, that is what we want.”

ON THE REBOUND: Princeton University women’s basketball head coach Courtney Banghart answers a question at the program’s recently-held media day. The Tigers will be looking to regain the Ivy League crown they lost to Penn last winter after winning four straight league titles. Princeton tips off its 2014-15 season this weekend with games at Pittsburgh on November 14 and at Duquesne on November 16.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ON THE REBOUND: Princeton University women’s basketball head coach Courtney Banghart answers a question at the program’s recently-held media day. The Tigers will be looking to regain the Ivy League crown they lost to Penn last winter after winning four straight league titles. Princeton tips off its 2014-15 season this weekend with games at Pittsburgh on November 14 and at Duquesne on November 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton University women’s basketball team, winning four straight Ivy League titles from the 2009-10 season through 2012-13 may have lulled the program into a false sense of security.

“You get numb to winning, it becomes — that’s what we do here,” said Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart, at the program’s annual media day.

While Princeton won plenty of games last winter as it posted its fifth straight 20-victory season, the Tigers fell to Penn in the regular season finale to finish second to the Quakers in the Ivy standings.

Banghart is relishing being in the role of the hunter this winter. “It is a  different mentality in terms of chasing a title versus protecting a title,” said Banghart, who guided Princeton to a 21-9 record last winter as the program won its first postseason game by advancing to the second round of the WNIT.

“It is something the program hasn’t had in a few years. We have proven it’s not what we do here, it is what we earn here and we didn’t earn it last year.”

As Banghart looks ahead to the the 2014-15 season, which starts this weekend with games at Pittsburgh on November 14 and at Duquesne on November 16, the eight-year head coach believes that tightening up things defensively is the key to earning another league crown.

“We went to four NCAA tournaments and in every one of those years we were the best defensive team, whether we played one-on-one, two-on-two, or three-on-three,” said Banghart.

“I always say you want to go into a competition and if the ref said by the way it is two-on-two today, you would still win it. Last year no way, we were not the best defensive team. So come hell or high water, we are going to be the best defensive team in the league this year if we are going to be champions.”

Princeton welcomes back a lot of experience in its quest to regain the league crown as the roster includes 12 letter winners from last year.

“We pretty much know what we are made of because we bring so much back,” said Banghart, noting that Princeton had four sophomores and a junior in its starting lineup for the WNIT win over Virginia Commonwealth University.

“I was able to focus a lot on the films from last year this summer to figure out where the holes were. We are certainly ahead of where we were. I don’t know if we will be where we need to be but we are certainly ahead of where we were in a lot of facets.”

One of those key returners, junior shooting guard Michelle Miller, said the Princeton players have come back with a more hungry attitude in the wake of last year’s second-place finish.

“I think we are all really driven this year,” said Miller, who averaged 11.7 points a game last winter.

“We are all really hungry to get the league title back and I think that has really changed our mentality. We hadn’t lost before so it became something like winning is what we do but you realize it is not, by any means, something that is given to you. You have to go out and earn it every single game and that starts with the way you practice.”

Senior point guard, Blake Dietrick, a first-team All-Ivy selection last year when she averaged a team-high 14.3 points a contest, is ready to earn it on the defensive end.

“From top to bottom, we have totally renewed our defensive commitment and desire,” said Dietrick.

“That is just being accountable on every play. If someone misses a help rotation we are not going to say it’s OK, get it the next time. We are going to say that is unacceptable.”

Banghart likes the commitment she has seen so far from the team in the preseason.

“I like the energy of this group,” said Banghart. “I like the enthusiasm, I like the youth, I like the experience.”

The trio of freshmen Kenya Holland, Tia Weledji, and Leslie Robinson should provide Princeton with a burst of energy.

“We are making it an obligation of our upperclassmen to ensure that our freshmen help us,” said Banghart, whose top returning veterans include juniors Alex Wheatley (10.2 points per game in 2013-14), Taylor Williams (6.7 points and 4.1 rebounds), Annie Tarakchian (6.1 points and 4.7 rebounds), and Amanda Berntsen (5.7 points) along with senior Mariah Smith (3.0 points) and sophomore Vanessa Smith (5.1 points).

“We tried last year to play without freshmen and it didn’t go so well. If we want to be as good as we can be, those freshmen have to help us. The seniors and juniors have been doing a really good job of bringing them along.”

Banghart believes that the 6’0 Robinson, the daughter of former Princeton men’s hoops standout Craig Robinson and the niece of President Obama, is poised to have a really good debut season.

“Leslie Robinson is a really special talent,” said Banghart. “Leslie’s dad played here, he was a two-time player of the year, and she obviously has some pretty famous family history. She comes at the game honestly. She brings toughness and she brings coachability.”

The Tigers face some tough tests on opening weekend. “Those are two really good challenges on the road,” said Banghart. “I haven’t even worried about what Pitt and Duquesne do yet, except that I know they are programs that carry with them a tradition as do we. I want our kids to be thrown into the fire early.”

As Princeton looks to add to its recent tradition of winning Ivy titles, competing well in non-conference games will lay the foundation for success.

“Yesterday’s thought of the day at practice was that what gets evaluated is performance, not potential,” said Banghart.

“We haven’t had any performance yet so we will see. I think it is a better league than it was four years ago. It means that the top teams have to be legitimately good and we have a role in that. We are obligated to do well nationally and represent our league well.”

SPECIAL EFFORT: Princeton University kicker Nolan Bieck boots the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, junior Bieck hit three field goals, including a career-long 46-yarder, to help Princeton top Penn 22-17. Bieck was named the Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance as the Tigers improved to 5-3 overall and 4-1 Ivy.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SPECIAL EFFORT: Princeton University kicker Nolan Bieck boots the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, junior Bieck hit three field goals, including a career-long 46-yarder, to help Princeton top Penn 22-17. Bieck was named the Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance as the Tigers improved to 5-3 overall and 4-1 Ivy. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As the calendar headed into the second week of November, it was Survival Saturday around the world of college football.

On the national scene, there were four top-20 clashes that had directly impacted the race to make the final four in the inaugural season of the College Football Playoff.

Closer to home, the Princeton University football team was playing to stay alive in the Ivy League when it hosted Penn as the Tigers were locked in a three-way tie for second in the league standings with Dartmouth and Yale, one game behind undefeated frontrunner Harvard.

While it wasn’t a thing of beauty, Princeton kept pace atop the Ivies as it pounded out a 22-17 win over the Quakers before a crowd of 9,486 at Princeton Stadium.

The win left Princeton at 5-3 overall and 4-1 Ivy as the Tigers remained tied with Yale and Dartmouth for second with Harvard still one game in front.

Princeton head coach Bob Surace, for his part, saw beauty in winning ugly. “We played with such great heart and how we finished that game with a stop on defense and running out the clock is how we had to play today,” said Surace.

“I just loved how physical we played, we finished things terrifically on both sides of the ball. We came up with some huge stops on defense as they got inside the 50 a number of times throughout the day. Offensively, we just continue to finish runs.”

Senior quarterback and co-captain Quinn Epperly, who ran for one touchdown and passed for another, liked the grit displayed by the Tigers.

“We want to score more than we did tonight,” said Epperly. “I think the games that you grind out, that are tough, physical games, almost taste a little better to you. You are proud that everyone manned up and at the end of the day, got done what we needed to do. That was a good win.”

It was good for Epperly to get back in action after having been sidelined due to injury for two of Princeton’s last three games.

“I try to come out and practice every day I can, regardless of what is going on with my body,” said Epperly.

“It is extremely important to me and especially to the seniors. We have put so much work into it. The only thing we are striving for right now is to come out next week and get another win.”

Junior DiAndre Atwater made a nice return from a three-game hiatus due to injury, rushing for a game-high 98 yards.

“It was a great feeling, I miss being out there with the guys,” said Atwater. “Just going out there everyday, I saw how hard they were working. I knew I wanted to get back out there with them and I wanted to contribute today.”

On the other side of the ball, sophomore defensive back Dorian Williams made a big contribution, returning a recovered fumble for 85 yards, getting an interception, and making a career-high 13 tackles.

“My job on the play is to stay outside contain; I saw the fumble so I bit on it,” said Williams, recalling his fumble return which gave Princeton the ball at the Penn 9 and set up a field goal.

“I am not sure who made the tackle but coach [Jim Salgado] stresses scoop and score so I just got it. I had blockers in front of me so I just ran with it.”

In the first half, Princeton ran out to an early 6-0 lead, courtesy of two field goals by junior kicker Nolan Bieck. He hit a career-long 46-yarder to put the Tigers up 3-0 with 10:40 left in the first quarter. He added a 21-yard boot two minutes later.

Epperly doubled the Princeton advantage to 12-0 as he scored on a one-yard plunge with 5:33 left in the quarter. Penn responded with a five-yard TD pass from Alek Torgersen to Connor Scott to make it a 12-7 game.

Princeton regained its 12-point cushion when Epperly found Connor Kelley on a one-yard TD pass as the Tigers went up 19-7. Penn added a field goal in the waning seconds of the quarter to narrow the gap to 19-10 at halftime.

The only scoring in the third quarter came on a  22-yard scoring strike from Torgersen to Justin Watson as the Quakers pulled to within 19-17.

Early in the fourth quarter, Bieck, who was later named the Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week, hit a 20-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 22-17 lead.

The Quakers responded by marching to the Princeton 27 where they were stopped on downs. The Tigers took over with 5:23 remaining and were able to run out the clock. The big play on the possession came when senior running back Will Powers bulled eight yards for a first down on a third and four at the Penn 47.

Powers, for his part, gave his all to gut out the first down. “The line got a good push and there was one guy in the hole and I knew we needed four or five yards,” said Powers.

“I just did what I had to do to get the first. I broke off the guy to get a few more yards.”

In Surace’s view, Powers’ effort exemplified the team’s battling spirit. “I think our team is a little more of an ugly team right now, we have to win that way where we are fighting each play,” said Surace.

“We want to score every drive. There is no doubt in my mind when we start a drive, that is the emphasis on offense. But the way we are doing it, we are struggling to get the explosive plays. We need to get those ugly first downs and keep the drives going. I thought we played the game the way we needed to.”

While Epperly likes the way Princeton has bounced back in winning two straight games since its 49-7 loss to Harvard on October 25, he believes the team’s ultimate legacy will be determined by how it does in its last two games as it plays at Yale on November 15 before hosting Dartmouth on November 22.

“We’ll see how we come out and finish the season and I think that will show how well we recovered,” said Epperly.

“When you go back and look at this year, these next two games are going to be a lot of how this season goes down in the books.”

MYLES TO GO: Princeton University men’s soccer player Myles McGinley, left, goes after a ball in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior midfielder/defender and tri-captain McGinley contributed an assist as Princeton edged Penn 3-2 to stay alive in the Ivy League title race. The Tigers moved to 10-3-3 overall and 4-1-1 Ivy with the win, remaining tied for first with Dartmouth (10-4-2 overall, 4-1-1 Ivy). Princeton wraps up regular season play with a game at Yale on November 15.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MYLES TO GO: Princeton University men’s soccer player Myles McGinley, left, goes after a ball in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior midfielder/defender and tri-captain McGinley contributed an assist as Princeton edged Penn 3-2 to stay alive in the Ivy League title race. The Tigers moved to 10-3-3 overall and 4-1-1 Ivy with the win, remaining tied for first with Dartmouth (10-4-2 overall, 4-1-1 Ivy). Princeton wraps up regular season play with a game at Yale on November 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Myles McGinley relishes being a jack-of-all-trades for the Princeton University men’s soccer team.

“It is wherever the team needs me and I have prided myself on being a bit of a utility player,” senior midfielder/defender and tri-captain McGinley.

“I have done that my whole career. Since youth, I have played a lot of positions so it is nothing new for me. I am just happy to be on the field.”

McGinley’s final regular season game on the field at Robert Stadium last Saturday had a happy ending as Princeton edged Penn 3-2 to stay alive in the Ivy League title race as the Tigers moved to 10-3-3 overall and 4-1-1 Ivy, tied for first with Dartmouth (10-4-2 overall, 4-1-1 Ivy).

“There was a lot of nostalgia, I am pretty sad to see my last home game,” said McGinley, a 5’8, 160-pound native of Oakton, Va.

“We won, which is awesome. We really won for the two guys who are injured tonight, Andrew Mills and Joe Saitta. Mills is another captain and Saitta has been a guy in the back all season. We missed both of them but we are really happy to get the win.”

McGinley was involved in the first goal of the evening, picking up an assist on a tally by classmate Cameron Porter.

“I nicked it off of a guy who was under pressure and passed it to McSherry, who did a brilliant one-touch to Cam, who beat the keeper from a pretty tight angle,” said McGinley, who now has a team-high five assists on the season. “We were off to the races from there.”

Although Princeton raced out to a 3-1 lead, the Quakers got a late first half goal to turn the contest into a nail-biter.

“They play with three guys up top and their dangerous plays came from a forward dropping back into the midfield which we were having trouble picking up,” said McGinley.

“In the second half I dropped back a little more and paid attention to their forward dropping into the midfield and we neutralized it from there.”

With the win extending Princeton’s unbeaten streak to 7-0-1, McGinley feels that the squad has been displaying a sense of urgency.

“I think it is just a mentality among the guys,” said McGinley. “Since the loss to Dartmouth, we have had the mentality that the next game could be our last real one. We have had some really good leadership, not just from the seniors but throughout all of the classes. We have really been able to keep that mentality going, it is awesome. I think that is really the key to our success so far.”

Princeton head coach Jim Barlow credits the team’s seniors with setting a winning tone.

“It is a big class,” said Barlow, whose Class of 2015 includes Julian Griggs, Alex Wettermann, Samuel Suskind, Cole McCracken, and A.J. Swoboda in addition to Mills, Saitta, Porter, and McGinley.

“We have got guys who have dealt with injuries over the years, we have walk-ons in that class. They have found a way to all provide very good leadership. Whether on the field, on the reserve team, or injured, the whole group has found a way to keep the team together. We got off to a rocky start and we had a bunch of injuries early but the senior class did a good job of keeping things together.”

The Tigers held things together as they thwarted a dangerous Penn squad over the last 45 minutes of the contest. “At halftime, you got the feeling that the game was going to be 9-8 or something like that. I thought we did a pretty good job of getting it settled down in the second half,” said Barlow.

“We don’t play many teams whose attacking guys are as dangerous and crafty as Penn’s. All three of the attacking guys, Alec Neumann, Duke Lacroix, and Forrest Clancy, are very clever, good players and can make things happen. I thought our guys did a good job of dealing with their major threats in the second half.”

Barlow thought McGinley did a good job of dealing with a last-minute position switch.

“Myles was scheduled to be the right back today until Mills went down in warmup and then we had to throw him in the midfield, which is something he wasn’t even expecting,” said Barlow. “I thought he did a very good job.”

McGinley’s mentality reflects the qualities that have helped Princeton produce its late surge.

“We think this team has the mentality and attitude to deal with adversity and stick together and have the belief that we are going to find a way,” said Barlow.

“It helps when you have guys who can make goals out of nothing. Cam is one of those guys and Thomas Sanner can score. Nico Hurtado had a great goal today. In that way, it is a special group and we are hoping that we can keep it going a while longer.”

With the Tigers wrapping up regular season play at Yale (1-12-3 overall, 0-5-1 Ivy) on November 15, Barlow hopes that won’t be Princeton’s last game.

“We feel at this point that we control our own destiny,” said Barlow. “If we win, we are co-champs at worst with Dartmouth. I would hope we would be in good shape for an at-large bid. You just don’t know what the committee is going to do. If you had asked at the start of the year, I would have said that 10 wins would have been enough.”

McGinley, for his part, isn’t ready for his senior season to end. “I think it is every senior’s dream to win it going out and we have, in my opinion, quite a talented class,” said McGinley.

“To not get any sort of silverware or not get any tangible results in our four years would be a shame so we are hoping to beat Yale and take a share of the Ivy League, if not win it outright. Hopefully the other two teams in contention will drop points next week. It is in our hands and hopefully we will get a bid to the tournament.”

RALLYING POINT: Princeton University women’s hockey player Ali Pankowski thwarts a foe’s shot in a game last season. Last Friday, senior defenseman and co-captain Pankowski scored the game-tying goal in the third period as Princeton rallied from a 3-0 deficit to edge Rochester Institute of Technology 4-3 in overtime. The Tigers, now 4-1-1 overall, host Union on November 14 and Rensselaer on November 15.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

RALLYING POINT: Princeton University women’s hockey player Ali Pankowski thwarts a foe’s shot in a game last season. Last Friday, senior defenseman and co-captain Pankowski scored the game-tying goal in the third period as Princeton rallied from a 3-0 deficit to edge Rochester Institute of Technology 4-3 in overtime. The Tigers, now 4-1-1 overall, host Union on November 14 and Rensselaer on November 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Princeton University women’s hockey team trailing Rochester Institute of Technology 3-0 after the first period last Friday, Ali Pankowski decided to speak up in the Tiger dressing room at the first intermission.

“There was a lot of negativity, everyone came in the locker room upset,” said senior defenseman and co-captain Pankowski.

“It is my job as a captain to stifle it so we turned it around in the locker room and the tone totally changed.”

The Tigers scored two unanswered goals in the second period to get back into the game and then Pankowski added a tally early in the third period on a power play goal to make it 3-3.

“We have been working on that power play,” said Pankowski, reflecting on her goal. “In the second intermission, I told Molly [Contini] that pass back to me is open for the one timer and it came through.”

After the game went into overtime with the teams knotted in a 3-3 deadlock through regulation, Princeton came through as sophomore Morgan Sly notched her first career goal to give the Tigers a 4-3 victory.

In Pankowski’s view, the comeback win reflects Princeton’s work ethic. “We work hard, and we want it really bad,” said Pankowski. “We might not be a team of big names, we don’t have a bunch of national team players. We are a bunch of hard workers, we play our systems and we come out and try and play every period as hard as we can.”

A renewed commitment to conditioning has helped Princeton play hard to the final buzzer.

“We have a lot of buy-in this year, coach says this is what we are going to do and that’s what we do,” said Pankowski.

“We go to the weight room twice a week. A lot of us hit the weight room really hard this summer to come back as strong as we could. We have done more cardio and long distance running this year, just trying to cross train and be the best athletes we can be.”

In looking to be the best defenseman she can be, Pankowski has focused on the fine points of her position.

“I have been working on my footwork and getting quick in the corners,” said Pankowski, a 5’10 native of Laguna Hills, Calif., who has two goals and an assist so far this season.

“My shot has always been my strength. I am working on staying out of the box. I think I have the least amount of penalties that I have had so far in a season. It is just being smart and knowing what to do when the play moves forward.”

As a co-captain, along with classmate Brianna Leahy, Pankowski is looking to be a strong leader for the Tigers.

“It is a lot of responsibility,” said Pankowski. “I really have to lead by example and come out every day ready to play. If I am not ready to play, it probably means that the rest of the team is not ready to play so it is trying to set the tone early.”

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal didn’t like the way his team came out to play on Friday.

“It was a really lousy start, a focus for us is to be consistent for 60 minutes,” said Kampersal. “If we are focused and intense and make mistakes, they are livable but to be lazy and get walked around, that is not acceptable.”

Kampersal was heartened by the focus he saw from his players over the rest of the contest.

“We turned it around in the next 45 minutes and I thought we played great,” said Kampersal.

“We had a bunch of chances to score. RIT is a solid team, they are well- coached. Their power play is like tic-tac-toe. They scored in five seconds on that first power play in the first period. We defended a little bit better as we went.”

Kampersal credits Pankowski and fellow senior Brianne Mahoney with leading the team’s defensive unit.

“She and Mahoney have been great in the back, they have logged in a lot of minutes,” said Kampersal, whose defense stood tall on Saturday as the Tigers and RIT skated to a scoreless tie as Princeton moved to 4-1-1 overall.

“It is tough. We have to monitor their minutes but they are also really necessary to be on the ice so it is a hard balance. They have both been great.”

In Kampersal’s view, the mental toughness the team showed in topping RIT will make it hard to beat.

“It is huge to be down three and not give up,” said Kampersal, whose team hosts Union on November 14 and Rensselaer on November 15.

“In years past we could easily pack it in. Last year, we had a game where we  were down 5-0 to Cornell after the first and scored four goals in the next period. That was the first start of our fightback ability, that we are not going to just fold, and showing we can be tough.”

Pankowski, for her part, likes Princeton’s blend of talent and character. “We have a lot more depth than we have had in the past, we have four lines that we can put out there and seven defensemen,” said Pankowski.

“Really having depth has helped a lot. Also, having the knowledge that if you come out in that first period and don’t do so well, you can come back to the locker room, reset, and come back out there and play as hard as you can. It is a really resilient team.”

November 5, 2014
POWERFUL RESPONSE: Princeton University running back Will Powers heads upfield in recent action. Last Saturday, senior standout Powers rushed for a team-high 83 yards as Princeton topped Cornell 38-27. Princeton, now 4-3 overall and 3-1 Ivy League, hosts Penn (1-6 overall, 1-3 Ivy) on November 8.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

POWERFUL RESPONSE: Princeton University running back Will Powers heads upfield in recent action. Last Saturday, senior standout Powers rushed for a team-high 83 yards as Princeton topped Cornell 38-27. Princeton, now 4-3 overall and 3-1 Ivy League, hosts Penn (1-6 overall, 1-3 Ivy) on November 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Bob Surace sensed that his Princeton University football team was in the right frame of mind when the players complained vociferously about some unfavorable officiating calls at Cornell last Saturday.

“The big word this week was passion,” said Princeton head coach Surace, whose team was coming off a deflating 49-7 loss to Harvard on October 25.

“We didn’t want to ignore the technical things but it was let’s see guys flying around the field and enjoying themselves. The guys were hooting and hollering when Dre Nelson’s 50-yard kickoff return was called back on a penalty and we didn’t get an interception because they said the Cornell quarterback’s knee was on the ground.”

Channelling that passion into some good execution, Princeton posted a 38-27 win over the Big Red before 5,313 at Schoellkopf Field, improving to 4-3 overall and 3-1 Ivy League.

While the Tigers sputtered in the early going, things clicked as the game went on.

“We got rolling from the the mid-first quarter to the fourth quarter,” said Surace. “We executed well in all three sides of the game.”

Senior quarterback Connor Michelsen executed superbly, hitting 23-of-33 passes for 281 yards and a career-high four touchdowns.

“He has a strong arm, we got the ball downfield to Trevor Osborne, Connor Kelley, and Scott Carpenter,” said Surace of Michelsen.

“As good as that was, I liked the way he handled things play to play. He scrambled when reads broke down and he hit his checkdowns. He showed a general maturation as a quarterback. You want a QB to be an extension of the coach and execute the plays well.”

Senior receiver Kelley played the game of his career, making a personal-best 13 catches for 147 yards and two touchdowns.

“We have had a few injuries at the wide receiver position; we wanted to do some things and get him the ball in different ways,” said Surace.

“When [Matt] Costello went down, that added to his plate. He was exceptional, he ran the ball hard and finished plays. It seemed like every catch gave us a first down.”

Princeton drew first blood as it took a 3-0 lead on a 36-yard field goal by Nolan Bieck late in the first quarter.

After Cornell forged ahead 7-3 early in the second quarter on a halfback option touchdown pass from Luke Hagy to Ben Rogers, Michelsen started clicking. He found Dre Nelson on a three-yard touchdown pass to put Princeton up 10-7. Minutes later, he connected with Carpenter for a 16-yard scoring strike as the Tigers increased their advantage to 17-7.

The Big Red narrowed the gap to 17-14 at halftime as quarterback Robert Somborn hit Lucas Shapiro on a five-yard TD pass.

The third quarter turned into the Connor Kelley show. In the first minute of the quarter, he hauled in a 21-yard touchdown pass from Michelsen as Princeton took a 24-14 lead. With just seconds left in the quarter, he made a 28-yard scoring reception to give the Tigers a 31-14 cushion heading into the last 15 minutes of regulation.

Cornell made it a 31-21 game when Somborn found Shapiro for a 10-yard TD play. The Tigers responded with an 11-play, 78-yard march that culminated with a two-yard touchdown run by Kedric Bostic. The Big Red added a late TD on a 6-yard run by Hagy and got the ball back on an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff.  Princeton held the Big Red on downs and was able to run out the clock.

Although the defense yielded 447 yards, Surace liked what he saw on that side of the ball.

“We forced some turnover opportunities early,” said Surace, noting that the Tigers had one interception called back and had a sack/fumble where it didn’t get the ball along with an Anthony Gaffney interception.

“We still have to tighten up some things. We need to be tighter in coverage. We didn’t generate a pass rush in the fourth quarter after doing that well in the first three. Overall, we did a number of good things.”

It was a good thing for Princeton to pull away from Cornell in Ithaca, where it had lost seven times in its last nine games.

“The objective is to score more than the other team,” said Surace. “It was good to see us come out and play as hard as we did and finish it off the way we did. We have struggled up there, I think I read that the last nine games there were within a TD so it was good to come out and win like we did.”

Princeton will be looking for another win to keep pace with Ivy leader Harvard (7-0 overall, 4-0 Ivy) as it hosts Penn (1-6 overall, 1-3 Ivy) on November 8.

“It is not the record you expect from a Penn team, they play a brutal non-conference schedule with teams like Villanova and Fordham,” said Surace.

“They have had some heartbreakers. You watch them and they are the tough, physical Penn team you are used to. They throw the ball more. They get the ball down the field, they are the most explosive Penn team we have seen. We have to come ready to go. When the guys come out on Tuesday, they won’t be thinking this is a one-win Penn team, they will be thinking it is a tough, physical team that played Brown to the last play and had a tough, physical loss to Dartmouth.”