December 7, 2016

PHS Star Runner Roth, PDS Soccer Goalie Barbara Earn Nods as Town Topics’ Leading Fall Performers

CHAMPIONSHIP RUN: Princeton High boys’ cross country runner Alex Roth heads to the finish line in a 2015 race. This fall, senior star Roth set the pace as PHS produced a season for the ages, winning the Mercer County Championship, the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional meet, the state Group 4 meet, and the Meet of Champions (MOC). It was the first-ever MOC team title for the Little Tigers and just the second ever for a Mercer County school (WW/P-N boys in 2008). Roth, for his part, placed first individually at the county meet, fourth at the Sectionals, second at the Group meet, and third at the MOC. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming into this fall, Alex Roth wasn’t satisfied with his career for the Princeton High boys’ cross country team.

Although Roth had emerged as the team’s top runner, taking third at the Mercer County Championships in 2015 as a junior, he sensed that he hadn’t reached his potential.

“My past cross country seasons have not been the greatest,” said senior Roth.

“Last year was pretty good and the year before that I was injured. The year before, I was just a freshman.”

This fall, Roth set the pace as PHS enjoyed the greatest season in program history.

In October, PHS served notice that it was a powerhouse when it took third in the team standings at the Shore Coaches Invitational and then placed second at the Eastern States in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, N.Y. Roth placed second individually in the Shore race before taking 14th in New York City.

“Those were definitely races that we needed to run in order to prepare for the championship season,” said Roth.

“In the past, we usually didn’t run well in those meets but definitely running well helped us to race well at the end of the season.”

PHS proceeded to make an amazing run in the championship season. At the Mercer County Championships on October 28, Roth placed first individually, leading a 1-2-3 finish for the Little Tigers as he was followed by teammates junior Will Hare and sophomore Acasio Pinheiro. The Little Tigers cruised to the team title, winning their first county crown since 1992.

“Winning the team title was really, really special because it was something PHS hadn’t done in a really long time,” said Roth.

“There were a lot of things riding on that and it was really cool. This group of guys has been working together for so many years and brought it all together to do something.”

At the Central Jersey Group 4 sectionals a week later, PHS flew away from the field for another first place finish, breaking the meet record for a five-runner average with their mark of 16:05.3.

“We were all really happy with the team performance,” said Roth, who placed fourth individually at the sectional meet.

“We won the team title big, that was a really dominant win that we needed going into groups.”

In the state Group 4 meet, PHS was dominant again, pulling away to victory, scoring 69 points with Cherokee second at 135 and Montgomery third with 139 as the program won its first state title since 1986.

“We were all elated, it was kind of like when we qualified for MOC (Meet of Champions) last year,” said Roth, the second place finisher individually in the Group competition.

“It was magnified a little bit, it was like whoa, we are legit. We won this title, it is something we have never done in Group 4. It is hard to describe our feelings, we were all just very, very happy and really excited.”

A week later, the Little Tigers reached a new level of excitement as they prevailed at the MOC, the first-ever team title for PHS at the prestigious meet and just the second ever for a Mercer County school (WW/P-N boys in 2008).

“It is just something else, we have worked so hard for this since July, we have put in so much time and effort,” said Roth, who took third individually at the MOC. “It is so unreal that all of these years have finally come

PHS head coach Jim Smirk appreciates the hard work Roth has put in order to get the most out of his potential.

“I think early in Alex’s career when he would not end up on the right side of the race or the time, he would get really frustrated with that,” said Smirk of Roth who took fourth at the Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) Northeast Regional in late November to help PHS take seventh in the team standings.

“There was this constant conversation between the two of us, you are learning your lessons, you’ve got to bring this to practice, you have got to learn now to do this. He stuck with it, he gained a mindset that I am going to become a better athlete; when you do that the way he did with that kind of full commitment, it is really an impressive thing to see.”

Roth is impressive to watch in competition. “He is super smooth, he almost floats over the terrain,” explained Smirk of Roth, who ended his season last Saturday by taking 114th in the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore.

“It is rough and bumpy and everybody is wobbling around, he is just silky like he is reading the terrain ahead and already making the adjustments. He runs with a lot of passion, he has an internal drive.”

Going through some bumps in the road helped Roth savor his final high school cross country campaign.

“It has been really awesome to be able to go out with a bang,” said Roth, who is heading to the University of Pennsylvania where he will be running for the school’s track and cross country programs.

“It is kind of cool to have this success both on an individual level and on a team level because it is the best it has really been in a while.

For producing a senior season for the ages, Roth is the choice as the Town Topics top male performer of the fall high school season.

Top Female Performer

This summer, Grace Barbara starred at goalie to help the Players Development Academy (PDA) Gunners win the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) U16 national championship.

The experience left Barbara memories that will last for a lifetime. “It was totally crazy, an emotional roller coaster for sure,” said Barbara. “We were still bawling our eyes out in the awards ceremony.”

Looking ahead to her junior season with the Princeton Day School girls’ soccer, Barbara was hoping for another championship campaign.

“I am very excited for this upcoming season, it is going to be a good season,” said Barbara. “We are getting a lot of freshmen in and I am pretty excited to see what the team produces.”

PDS head coach Pat Trombetta saw Barbara’s partnership with classmate Madison Coyne on the backline as the key to the team’s title chances.

“Defensively, that is our backbone, Grace is one of the most gifted keepers in the area and Madison Coyne is one of the strongest defenders around,” said Trombetta.

“To me it is like having extra coaches on the field. They are communicative, they are positive, they keep the team organized. Having them in the back is going to keep us in most games.”

With Barbara at her imperious best in goal, PDS produced an undefeated regular season, going 13-0-1 with 12 shutouts.

“Since freshman year I have always had to come up big and that is the expectation,” said Barbara. “The team believes in me and I believe in the team. When it comes down to that, I have to make the saves and they try to minimize them.”

In the MCT, PDS topped Hun and Princeton High to get a shot at perennial power Pennington in the semifinal. The game went to a penalty kick shootout when the teams were knotted at 1-1 through regulation and 20 minutes of overtime. Barbara came up big, making two saves in the shootout.

Although PDS lost to powerful Hopewell Valley 2-1 in the title game on a rainy night, the Panthers didn’t let that setback hold them back in the state Prep B

The Panthers edged Newark Academy 1-0 in the Prep B semis and then played to a 0-0 stalemate with Montclair Kimberly Academy in a final shortened by a thunderstorms that rumbled through the area, leaving the foes as co-champions with PDS earning its third straight Prep B title in the process.

Barbara was proud to be part of another championship squad. “I have been with this team for three years now,” said the Princeton University-bound Barbara, reflecting on the team’s 17-1-3 campaign.

“Working with this team has helped my experience and that has helped me make some better saves and come up big in some situations. I know that this team relies on me and I rely on them so it is a symbiotic relationship.”

Trombetta, for his part, credited Barbara for coming up big in the Prep B title game.

“Grace kept us in the game today, she had a couple of unbelievable saves,” said Trombetta.

“She came up huge for us today on a couple of breakaways. We could be looking at something else right now if it wasn’t for her.”

Barbara’s spectacular play and commanding presence in the goal in another title run gets her the nod as the top female performer of the fall season.

Top Newcomers

Acasio Pinheiro turned a lot of heads in the 2015 cross country season, competing as a freshman for the Wilberforce School.

Pinheiro placed 56th in the boys’ race at the Meet of Champions (MOC), the top 9th grade finisher in the race. He qualified for the MOC by taking second in the state Non-Public B Division at the Group Championships.

This fall, Pinheiro transferred to Princeton High and made an immediate impact for the boys’ cross country team, helping a very good squad become a powerhouse.

“He has made a huge difference,” said PHS senior star Alex Roth, reflecting on the addition of Pinheiro.

“Going into the season, over the summer, we didn’t know that we were going to have him. Our goals didn’t really change too much when we added him. It was kind of like a super nice thing to have. It definitely makes things a lot easier to have that extra man up there.”

The wiry Pinheiro took 27th at the Eastern States in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, N.Y, in mid-October to put everyone on notice that he was going to be a key factor for PHS.

At the Mercer County Championships, he flew to a third place finish as PHS won its first team title since 1992.

PHS head coach Jim Smirk saw the addition of Pinheiro as key to the county title.

“Acasio coming over and starting to integrate with our program and work hard, those are things that help our program get better,” said Smirk.

In the sectional meet, Pinheiro took seventh as PHS won the title, helping the Little Tigers break the meet record for five-runner average with their mark of 16:05.3.

At the Group 4 meet, Pinheiro produced a gutsy performance to take 10th and help PHS to its first state crown since 1986.

“With about a mile left, he had a really nice opportunity to go break into the top 10,” recalled Smirk. “We let him know that and he took absolute advantage of it. He had a great race.”

Pinheiro excelled again at the MOC, taking 24th as the Little Tigers earned its first-ever team title at the meet.

For being the missing piece that helped PHS produce its historic campaign, Pinheiro is the top male newcomer of the fall.

It didn’t take long for Spencer Watts to make a positive impression when she joined the Princeton High girls’ tennis team this fall as a freshman singles player.

“She has good sportsmanship, many coaches have already said that she is the nicest girl they have ever met,” said PHS head coach Christian Herzog of Watts.

Watts’ foes, though, had a different take as her all-around game made her tough to beat.

“Spencer is a rock at No 3, she has got the whole game,” said Herzog, who had another freshman, Samantha Singer, at first singles with senior Elise Gerdes at second singles.

“She is aggressive. She approaches the net, she is not one of those players who sits back on the baseline for a half hour. She wants to take it to the net and put it away with a nice volley.”

Watts emerged as a constant in the PHS lineup, piling up win after win in her third singles spot.

At the Mercer County Tournament, she took second at third singles, helping PHS tie WW/P-S for second in the team standings behind champion Hightstown.

“It was so much fun; all of the girls are so sweet,” said Watts, reflecting on her run to the finals. “I know most of the girls from outside USTA tournaments so it is really fun just to have everyone here. I think it is just a great environment.”

Watts kept having fun the rest of the fall. “I am improving 100 percent; it is awesome,” said Watts. “Being at the net more, that helps a lot. Playing at this level every day is so much fun. It is a great learning experience for future matches and tournaments.”

That improvement helped Watts post a key win as PHS edged perennial power WW/P-S 3-2 in the Group 4 Central Jersey sectional finals.

While PHS fell 4-1 to Ridge in the state Group 4 semifinals, Herzog saw the infusion of freshman talent as the key factor in the team’s 17-3 campaign.

“I knew that we were going to get some talent in but I had no idea that we were going to get as strong a group of freshmen as we did,” said Herzog. “Spencer Watts has been giving us points at No. 3 all season.”

For making a positive impact in her debut season with her game and character, Watts is the pick as the top female newcomer.

Top Coaches

Bringing a 14-game winning streak into the fall, the Hun School football team had trouble scheduling local foes.

As a result, the Raiders started their season a week earlier than usual to host Royal Imperial Collegiate of Canada.

“It felt a little rushed this year,” said Hun head coach Todd Smith. “We don’t usually open up as early as that week but we had a real tough time finding games this year so we had to take them where we could get them. Everything got jam packed a little bit. I thought it was a pretty good camp for the amount of time we spent.”

After prevailing 38-13 in the opener, Hun hit the road, defeating Capital Magnet Prep School (Conn.) 55-13 on September 24 and Friendship Christian Academy (D.C.) 20-14 on October 1.

As the Raiders returned home in early October to start Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) play with a game against the Blair Academy, sophomore running back Joshua Henderson felt the team benefitted from the challenges it faced in the first three weeks of the season.

“It is good to be at Hun with all of our fans and our home crowd,” said Henderson after Hun posted a 35-0 win over the Buccaneers.

“We all made a family out of each other on the trips, those type of games are the ones that you want to win the most. You go into other people’s places that you are not usually going to and come out with a win both times. It is really a special feeling.”

The special run continued as Hun dominated its MAPL foes, rolling to a 41-12 win over the Hill School (Pa.) and a 46-13 victory over Lawrenceville before facing its stiffest test of the season with a clash at once-beaten Peddie.

As that contest unfolded, Hun was failing that test as it trailed 14-0 midway through the third quarter. With Smith firing up his charges, the Raiders rallied to score 23 unanswered points and pull out a 23-14 victory.

“The kids made plays, we capitalized off of some mistakes they made,” said Smith.

“At the end of the day, our kids just kept making plays. We can’t ask for more than that. They never gave up on each other, we just kept playing.”

Showing his coaching savvy and confidence, Smith called a memorable gadget play for the go-ahead score as 304-pound lineman Fred Hansard got a lateral on a fourth down play and rumbled 15 yards into the end zone as Hun went ahead 15-14.

“It is something we put in this week for him, we were so happy it worked,” said Smith, reflecting on the play.

“Running it on fourth down was gutsy, we were excited about it. We practiced it a lot this week and it worked. It was the perfect time to call the play.”

A week later, Hun rolled to a 48-7 win over Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) to put the finishing touches on a second straight 8-0 campaign and extend its state-best winning streak to 22.

In reflecting on his 2016 squad, Smith credited his players for their never-say-die attitude.

“I think we are a system; each team I have had here in my three years at Hun has been much different,” added Smith.

“This team is not like the team I had two years ago or the team I had last year. They just grind, we found a way. We were down 14-0 to Friendship Collegiate in Washington D.C. We were down 14-0 at Peddie and the kids just kept responding.”

Smith’s role as an inspirational leader and the architect of that system makes him the choice as the top coach of a male team this fall.

Things got off to a rocky start for Heather Farlow as she took the helm of the Princeton Day School field hockey program in 2015.

With a roster stocked with young players, PDS went 1-11 in its first 12 games under Farlow. Over the last month of the season, however, the Panthers showed major progress, going 5-2-1 and advancing to the state Prep B semifinals.

Coming into this fall, Farlow believed that the Panthers could build on their late surge.

“I think last year it was, we could do this, we might be able to pull this out,” said Farlow.

“This year the expectations are higher, not in a pressurized way, but with a feeling that we can totally compete with teams.”

As the 2016 season unfolded, PDS proved it could not only compete with — but beat most of its foes. It posted an 11-3 record in the regular season, getting seeded second in the Mercer County Tournament and first in the Prep B tourney,

In the MCT, PDS rolled through the first two rounds and then stunned third-seeded and defending champion Allentown 3-2 in overtime in the semis.

Although PDS fell 3-0 to Lawrenceville in the MCT title game, it rebounded to edge Pennington 2-1 in Prep B semis and then top Stuart Country Day in the title game.

In the wake of the title game, Farlow said that her team’s will to win was a key factor in its championship campaign.

“I told the girls last year that they had a ton of potential and we were winners and they had to get out of that mindset where you try not to lose,” said Farlow. “You play to win, that was the difference from the start this year.”

For helping instill that winning mindset, Farlow is the choice as the top coach of a girls’ team.