PHS Attacker Ryan, PDS Boys’ Lax Star Fletcher Earn Nod as Town Topics’ Top Spring Performers
PARTING SHOT: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse senior star Connor Fletcher prepares to fire the ball in a game this spring. Cornell-bound Fletcher tallied 46 points this season on 20 goals and 26 assists to help the Panthers win both the Mercer County Tournament and state Prep B tourney. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
With the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team lacking some offensive firepower coming into the spring due to graduation, attrition, and transfer, Julia Ryan was asked to take on a new role in her senior campaign.
After establishing herself as a star midfielder and committing to Temple to join its women’s lacrosse program, Ryan was moved to attack.
PHS head coach David Schlesinger sensed that Ryan had the potential to be a difference maker up front.
“The change of position I think is going to be fantastic for her, she is just a natural attacker,” asserted Schlesinger.
“She has great speed and elusive moves. She has great stick skills. She has a good head on her shoulders so she makes good decisions. She knows plays not to make. It really helps our offense click to have a player like that. We have enough talented players so when they try to take her out of the play with pressure, we have other girls who can really step up.”
After having starred at point guard over the last four season for the PHS girls’ hoops team, Ryan was comfortable running the show on the lacrosse field.
“I am playing behind the goal so I make the feeds go out and make sure everyone is set in the offense,” said Ryan. “I like to say that I can control the offense a little bit, which is great.”
In the season opener at Hun, Ryan took control of the PHS attack, tallying a goal and eight assists as the Little Tigers pulled away to a 19-8 triumph.
“They were sending some doubles onto the feeder, when the people in the stack would realize that the double was coming, they would cut at the exact right time,” explained Ryan.“The timing of cuts and good feeds were really what allowed us to pull away.”
Ryan went on to have a very good spring, tallying 97 points with 44 goals and 53 assists as the Little Tigers went 10-8, advancing to the quarterfinals of the Mercer County Tournament and the South Group 4 sectional.
She developed a potent partnership with classmate and Cornell-bound Taylor Lis, who tallied 74 goals and 13 assists this spring.
“I hit Taylor a bunch of times, we have been playing together since 8th grade so I think that is a connection,” added Ryan, whose playmaking also helped freshman Mariana Lopez-Ona enjoy a big debut season with 43 goals and 14 assists.
“We have been working a lot in practice on feeding and proper timing of cuts so I think that all came together really well today.”
In the view of Schlesinger, Ryan’s play on attack helped the PHS attack come together.
“It really helps our offense click to have a player like that,” said Schlesinger. “We have enough talented players so when they try to take her out of the play with pressure, we have other girls who can really step up.”
For assuming a new role and emerging as an offensive catalyst, Ryan is the choice as the Town Topics’ top female performer of the spring season.
Top Male Performer
Connor Fletcher has experienced some playoff heartbreak over the last few years at Princeton Day School.
In 2015, the star midfielder and Cornell-bound Fletcher helped lead the PDS boys’ lax team to an outstanding season only to see the Panthers lose in the Prep B semifinal and the Mercer County Tournament championship game.
This past winter, Fletcher sparked the Panther boys’ hockey team to a reversal of fortune as it went from three wins in 2014-15 to a 15-6-3 season but once again PDS came up short in the state prep title game, falling to Morristown-Beard.
Coming into his last campaign at PDS this spring, Fletcher was determined to end things on a high note.
“What has happened in the past is in the past,” said Fletcher. “We are trying to play our best lacrosse at the end of May and hopefully hang up two banners at the end of the season.”
In order to maximize the potential of the Panthers’ attack, Fletcher moved up the field at times from his customary midfield role.
“I like to be a facilitator; now I am playing attack a little bit,” said Fletcher.
“I am running it from behind the net and Jonah (Tuckman) is running from the top. We are just working together, the chemistry is great this year. We have been playing together for four or five years now and we are trying to be multidimensional in the way we play.”
PDS head coach Rich D’Andrea had the sense that Fletcher’s talent and versatility could pay dividends.
“He is one of those guys that just commands so much respect out there, he just has a presence,” said D’Andrea.
“We have been dodging him from the wing and from behind the net. He just has great vision and he is one of the best athletes to come through PDS.”
With Fletcher leading the way, PDS went on to enjoy one of the best seasons in school history. The Panthers posted a regular season record of 15-1 and were seeded first in both the MCT and state Prep B tourneys.
In the MCT, Fletcher scored the game-winning goal in a 4-3 win over Hopewell Valley in the semis and then tallied seven points on three goals and four assists points as PDS rolled past Robbinsville 17-8 in the title game.
Fletcher also starred in the Prep B tourney, tallying one goal and three assists as the Panthers cruised past Morristown-Beard 15-3 in the semis and then chipping in an assist as PDS pulled out a 6-5 win over Montclair Kimberley in the title game.
On the season, Fletcher ended up with 20 goals and 26 assists as the Panthers posted a final record of 15-1.
While PDS boasted a balanced attack, it was Fletcher’s skill and presence that made the difference.
“Connor is the guy we have run at mid and you look at the frame of that guy, 6’4, 200 and whatever pounds, he is a force,” said D’Andrea.
For Fletcher, the journey to the two banners was as meaningful as the final result.
“It is crazy; you hang out with those guys on the weekend, you go to class with all of them, we are all over the place together,” said Fletcher.
“There is no one I would rather be playing out there with. We are best friends. It is really special and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
Fletcher’s skill, persistence, and unselfishness earn him the nod as the top male performer of the spring.
As Kathy Quirk assessed her Hun School softball team coming into 2016, she thought its success would hinge on developing self-belief.
“We just have to believe; it is going to be confidence,” said Quirk. “We have to believe that we are as good as anybody else that we are playing and just rise to the occasion each day.”
Freshman first baseman Megan Donahue didn’t waste any time rising to the occasion, going 3-for-4 with three runs and two RBIs in a 12-5 win over Lawrenceville in the second game of the season and then going 3-for-4 with three runs, three RBIs, a double and a homer in the next game, a 12-6 victory over Blair.
“She can crush the ball,” said Quirk of Donahue. “She had a home run against Blair. She fields well, she stretches, she knows her infielders and where she has to move.”
Donahue kept crushing the ball all spring, helping Hun go 13-3 as it won the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title and advanced to the state Prep A semis. The precocious Donahue ended up hitting .569 with two homers, 24 runs scored, and 21 RBIs.
“Donahue had a good season and she is still so young,” said Quirk in reflecting on the first baseman’s superb debut campaign.
For giving Hun a booming bat in the middle of the lineup and steady play in the field, Donahue is the choice as the top female newcomer this spring.
In 2013, Tim Brennan put the finishing touches on a brilliant career as a throwing star at Princeton High, pushing his school record in the discus to 180’9 as he took third at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions.
This spring, Brennan’s younger brother, freshman Paul Brennan, emerged as a throwing standout for the Little Tigers.
Brennan won the discuss at the Mercer County Championships with a mark of 148’ 8. He went on to take third at the Central Jersey Group 4 with a personal record of 161’ 4.
“Every time he throws, he gets better and better,” said PHS track associate head coach Ben Samara. “He is a technician. He really works on his technique. He is tireless, he has got that energy and the drive to be successful just like his brother.”
The younger Brennan showed his drive as he produced another personal best in throwing 163’3 to place fifth in the discus at Group 4 state championship meet.
“His composure is really, really impressive,” said Samara, noting that Brennan is the sixth ranked freshman nationally in the discus.
“He comes out on his first throw, it is his first group championship and he throws a 125 and it was kind of flat. He went over and got himself together. He came back on the second throw, composed himself and unleashed it for 163’3. From there, he went for it. I think once he puts it together, 170 is not out of the question.”
Brennan’s progression into one of the top discus throwers in the state makes him the pick as the top male newcomer this spring.
With her Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse team coming off a Prep B title campaign last year and welcoming back most of its stars this season, Jill Thomas was looking forward to the 2016 campaign.
“They are just fun to work with,” added Thomas. “They can play, they are unselfish, and they complement each other well. It is just fun because they are creative.”
But the veteran coach knew a title repeat wasn’t a given. “We have to stay healthy; we don’t have a big roster but we are solid,” said Thomas.
“We have to keep trying new things and taking risks and not settle for just average. I think if they continue to just work hard, the game is going to come to them and they are going to take their game to another level.”
The Panthers took a risk by starting the season with games against two DC-area powers on its spring trip to Florida, falling 23-16 to Paul VI (Va.) and 16-7 to St. John’s College High (D.C.).
“I am happy that we went to Florida, we had a great week and we played really tough teams and we held our own,” said Thomas.
“We came back and we put what we worked on in Florida to test up here. It is one step at a time, that is the thing, don’t get ahead of ourselves. It is keep working, keep getting a little better every time we play.”
The Panthers kept getting better all spring, posting wins over Princeton High, the Hun School, the Hill School (Pa.), Blair Academy, and Peddie School, among others, to bring an 8-4 record into postseason play.
After a disappointing loss to Lawrenceville in the MCT quarters, PDS rebounded by earning its second straight Prep B crown, edging Morristown-Beard 13-12 in the semis and then pulling away to an 18-11 win over Pennington to earn the championship in a rematch of the 2015 title game.
“We knew it would be harder to repeat; I am really, really proud of the girls,” said Thomas, whose team finished the season at 13-5 and was led by Hannah Bunce, Morgan Mills, Madison Mundenar, Kyra Hall, Kate Bennett, and Bridget Kane at the offensive end with senior co-captains Tess Gecha and Rowan Schomburg spearheading the defense.
“They are one year older, they are more experienced. They could have let it go. They could have gotten sloppy and cocky but they just kept getting better.”
For keeping the Panthers on the track to a second straight Prep B title, Thomas is the choice as the top coach of a female team this spring.
Rich D’Andrea liked the hunger and attitude he saw from his Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team before the season even began.
“These guys are one of the hardest working teams that I have been around,” asserted D’Andrea.
“They push each other, they have built something special here and they understand that. I think staying humble, staying grounded, and understanding the task at hand, those are all going to be the keys to this thing. We are approaching this thing one game at a time here. Our job is to go learn, adjust, and peak at the right time down the stretch.”
In D’Andrea’s view, the team’s senior class set the tone. “I remember seeing these guys when they were in 8th grade with coach Peter Higgins at practice,” said D’Andrea of the team’s Class of 2016 which included co-captains Connor Fletcher and Jonah Tuckman along with Joey Levine, Noam Yakoby, Aiden Jones, James Fragale, and Amir Melvin.
“It was one of the most talented 8th grade classes. It was my first year here and I remember being really excited for when these guys would be seniors. They lived up to the hype. I think what most impresses me is through the years here the classes continue to push each other and with this group, they really, really set the bar high, not even in terms of wins but just in terms of being a good teammate and what they have done for each other. It is something that makes me love coming to work every day.”
The Panthers got off to an impressive start in 2016, posting victories over such formidable foes as the Germantown Academy (Pa.), Hun, Shipley School (Pa.), Princeton High and the Hill School (Pa.) in the first two weeks of the season and never looked back.
PDS was seeded first in both the Mercer County Tournament and state Prep B tourney and lived up to that billing. In the MCT, the Panthers rolled to a 17-8 win over Robbinsville on May 12 in the championship game to earn the program’s first county crown.
Six days later, PDS showed its grit and skill as it edged Montclair Kimberly 6-5 in the Prep B title game.
For D’Andrea, earning the title double was the culmination of a process that began with some aggressive scheduling.
“I am a one at a time guy; for us, the target has been the Mercer County Tournament and the Prep Bs,” said D’Andrea.
“We play a really competitive schedule. We play all the Prep A teams; we play a lot of the competitive independent schools. So for us it has been about getting here and luckily we were able to get one today.”
In the final analysis, though, the team’s success came down to togetherness not luck.
“I don’t know if I have ever coached a group of kids that has each other’s backs better than these guys have,” said D’Andrea.
“They really treat each other like brothers and I think for any successful program that is what you need everyone to go to bat for one another.”
D’Andrea’s role in creating the positive environment that resulted in a season for the ages this spring earns him the nod as the top coach of a male team this spring.