November 28, 2018

Hun Runner Bednar, PDS Boys’ Soccer Star Leggett Get Nod as Town Topics’ Leading Fall Performers

GETTING A LEG UP: Princeton Day School boys’ soccer player Wesley Leggett flies up to boot the ball in game this fall. Senior striker and UConn-bound Leggett led the area with 22 goals, helping PDS advance to the state Prep B final as it went 8-7-3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski).

Charlotte Bednar was an unknown quantity as she toed the starting line for the Hun School cross country team at the Mercer County girls’ varsity meet in mid-October.

The petite blonde freshman had won some races in smaller prep meets for Hun but hadn’t competed against the runners from the county’s public school programs.

It didn’t take long for the runners from the bigger schools to notice Bednar as she shot to the front of the pack in the first half mile of the race at Washington Crossing Park.

With only Princeton High senior star Siena Moran in sight, Bednar kept surging, pulling away to victory.

Coming into the race, Bednar wasn’t sure where she stood against the competition.

“I didn’t have a plan or anything, I just wanted to run; I had never run this course before,” said Bednar, who clocked a time of 18:20 over the 5,000-meter course, 40 seconds better than runner-up Moran.

Consequently, Bednar decided to take the lead early on. “I felt like I had to get in front right away so I tried to stay with her (Moran) and I kept going as hard as I could,” said Bednar. “In the middle of the woods, I had some more energy. I knew I could keep a pace that was a little faster so I sped up a little bit and just kept that pace.”

Moran, for her part, tipped her hat to Bednar’s effort. “The last race I was at here, I was leading; I expected to do the same thing and then Charlotte was running ahead of me the entire time,” said Moran. “After a while I realized that, it wasn’t my pacing being off but this girl is really fast.”

Hun head coach Stacy Collingham points to Bednar’s competitive mentality and talent as key factors in her success.

“She is just goes out and attacks every race; she continues to break course records,” said Collingham. “She is consistent in her drive. She starts off strong and she just keeps going, she doesn’t let up.”

Training with the Hun boys’ cross country runners on a daily basis has helped speed up Bednar’s progress.

“She has been running with our boys,” said Collingham. “We have no girls on our team that are even close; our boys are what is helping her to improve and get better.”

Bednar kept getting better as the fall unfolded. A week after the county meet, she took first in the state Prep A championship meet at the Blair Academy, covering the 5,000-meter course in a time of 17:53, 35 seconds ahead of runner-up Nicole Vanasse of Pingry. She culminated her season by finishing first at the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) championship meet at Mercersburg Academy (Pa.). The precocious freshman clocked a winning time of 18:09.00 over the 5,000-meter course as she ended the fall undefeated.

In reflecting on her racing approach, Bednar keeps things simple. “I want to win and get the best time that I can,” said Bednar, who started running in seventh grade and also plays basketball and lacrosse.

For winning race after race and accomplishing a rare triple crown of county, Prep A, and MAPL titles in the process, Bednar is the choice as the Town Topics’ top female performer of the fall season.

Top Male Performer

Wesley Leggett entered this fall as a marked man for the Princeton Day School boys’ soccer team.

The talented senior striker was the squad’s leading returning scorer and had committed to attend the University of Connecticut and play for its Division I men’s soccer program.

PDS head coach Ollie Hilliker knew that Leggett would be getting extra attention this fall.

“The kid is phenomenal; I know that he is here and he is good, but he has got to progress for college,” said Hilliker of Leggett.

“The challenge he has in high school soccer is that everyone knows who is he is so he has two or three guys sit tight on him and make it difficult.”

Leggett proved he was up to the challenge right away, scoring the lone goal as PDS edged Germantown Academy (Pa.) 1-0 in its season opener.

The dynamic striker kept rolling, scoring three goals in a win over New Hope-Solebury (Pa.) in late September, and adding another hat trick one game later in a 5-3 win over Blair Academy. In early October, he exploded for three goals and two assists in an 8-2 win over local rival Hun.

“I was looking to have a big senior year; one thing I want to do with any team is to help it win,” said Leggett in reflecting on his hot start. “Whether that is scoring or assisting the ball or just being an overall threat for the whole team.”

Helping his team to a big run in the state Prep B tournament, Leggett scored two goals as second-seeded PDS defeated seventh-seeded Morristown Beard in the Prep B quarterfinals, added one goal in a 3-1 win over third-seeded Rutgers Prep in the semis, and then tallied one goal and one assist as the Panthers fell 4-3 at top-seeded Montclair Kimberley in the title game, finishing with a final record of 8-7-3.

Leggett, who ended the fall leading the area with 22 goals, saw his big season as the product of hard work across the board.

“As an overall player, I am a lot better than last year,” said Leggett. “I am a lot faster, stronger, my finishing got better, my athleticism and my overall game are better.”

Leggett’s dynamic play and production as he dealt with intense defensive pressure makes him the selection as the top male performer.

Top Newcomers

In recent years, the Lis family had made a major contribution to the Princeton High girls’ soccer program.

Taylor Lis ’16 was a standout forward for PHS who went on to join the Cornell women’s lacrosse program while Devon Lis ’18 starred in the midfield for the Little Tigers and is now playing for the Georgetown University women’s soccer team that has advanced to the NCAA Final Four.

This fall, a third member of the family, Sophia Lis, took the field for PHS and looked to follow in the footsteps of her older sisters.

“They teach me a lot, they are 100 percent my No. 1 role models and they are both so nice,” said freshman forward Lis of her sisters.

Showing that she learned those lessons well, Lis scored three goals for PHS in a 3-2 win over Hightstown on October 3.

“I will remember how hard we worked for all of those goals and how hard the team kept pushing on even through the other team kept scoring back on us,” said Lis, reflecting on her performance against the Rams.

Lis kept pushing, scoring the lone goal as PHS defeated Lawrence 1-0 in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament and then adding two goals as the Little Tigers rolled to a 6-1 win over North Brunswick in the first round of Central Jersey Group 4 sectional.

While PHS fell in the quarterfinals of both tournaments to post a final record of 9-7-2, the production of Lis, who led the team with 13 goals and seven assists, portends a bright future for the Little Tigers.

“Sophia is a true team player; she knows where to be to support her teammates and she knows where her teammates are supposed to be in supporting her,” said PHS head coach Val Rodriguez.

“She distributes, she feeds, and she is composed when she scores goals. She is a workhorse and is selfless. She has a lot of potential as a person and as a player.”

Maintaining a family tradition of excellence for PHS girl’s soccer with a stellar freshman campaign, Lis gets the nod as the top female newcomer.

Coming into the 2018 season, the PHS boys’ cross country team boasted a trio of seniors, Tucker Zullo, Jackson McCarthy, and Acasio Pinheiro, at the front of its pack but the rest of its lineup was unsettled.

Junior Tyler Fu moved up to the varsity and established himself as the team’s No. 4 man.

“I see myself progressively getting better in terms of my times and my place,” said Fu, in assessing his ascension to the varsity lineup.

“I have been bouncing ideas off my teammates and it is just about getting a lot of feedback and passing it around and learning how to fine-tune myself into the best runner I can be.”

Fu emerged as a solid runner for PHS, taking 36th in the county meet, 30th in the Group 4 Central Jersey sectional meet, 49th in the state Group 4 meet and 78th at the Meet of Champions.

In the view of PHS head coach Jim Smirk, Fu is on track to be a frontrunner for the program.

“As a staff and as a team, we are thrilled with the emergence of Tyler Fu,” added Smirk, crediting Fu with playing a major role in help ing PHS take second in the team standings at the sectional meet.

“He has been strong, aggressive, and fast. He is doing all of the right things and we are glad that he is making that step forward.”

Stepping up to play a main role this fall to help the PHS boys’ cross country enjoy another strong campaign, Fu is the top male newcomer of the fall.

Top Coaches

Pat Trombetta acknowledged that his Princeton Day School girls’ soccer team faced some potential roadblocks this fall as it went for a fifth straight state Prep B title.

The team lost its pair of star defenders Madi Coyne and Rebecca Kuzmicz to graduation and faced a gauntlet of formidable foes.

“We are still trying to figure out how we are going to fill that void,” said Trombetta, referring to the exit of Coyne and Kuzmicz.

“We might have some new faces in the back that have not been tested. I see this as probably the most challenging schedule we have had in my 12 years.”

In order to pass those tests, Trombetta had to be flexible. “It is a matter of playing a little differently this year because we don’t have the size from last year,” said Trombetta. “We are excited; it is an energetic, talented team.”

After a solid regular season, the Panthers ended up playing very well come playoff time. In the Mercer County Tournament, the sixth-seeded Panthers edged 11th-seeded Hightstown 2-1 in the opening round and edged third-seeded Notre Dame 1-0 in overtime in the quarters before losing 2-0 to second-seeded and eventual champion Pennington in the semis.

In the Prep B tourney, top-seeded PDS topped fifth-seeded Morristown-Beard 3-1 in the semis before facing second-seeded Montclair Kimberley Academy in the final for the fourth straight year. The previous three meetings had all been nail-biters, with PDS winning 1-0 in overtime in 2015 before the foes played to scoreless ties the next two years to share the title.

In round four, PDS jumped to a 2-0 halftime lead over visiting MKA and extended its advantage to 4-0 midway through the second half on the way to a 4-2 triumph and the fifth straight title as it ended the fall at 14-4-1.

“You are winning as co-champs and you’re are standing here and you don’t know how to react,” said Trombetta, reflecting on earning the crown outright. “But today, we can celebrate. It is a great feeling and I am really proud of the girls.”

For Trombetta, the program’s consistent excellence was something to be proud about.

“It means a lot,” said Trombetta, who also guided the Panthers to the Mercer County Tournament title in 2013. “I have been blessed to have the talented players that believe in our system and come here to play and play hard.”

Trombetta’s role in establishing that system and getting the most out of his players in another championship run makes him the choice as the top coach of a female team.

While the Hun School football team welcomes a number of newcomers each season, this fall was different.

“I don’t think we have ever had this many new faces, so as coaches we have to learn when to dial it back and just concentrate on what we need,” said Hun head coach Todd Smith.

“We might not be able to get everything we want in a game, so we need to make sure that we are really good at what we need to do.”

Taking some lumps as it got on the same page, Hun went 1-1 in its first two games, rallying from a 14-0 deficit to edge Cheshire Academy (Conn.) 16-14 in the opener and then traveling to the midwest, where it lost 27-14 to Steubenville High (Ohio).

“The first two weeks were a lot more physical than what we are used to,” said Smith, who was his fifth season guiding the Raiders. “Since I have been here, those are the two most physical games we have had. We got baptized by fire there early this season.”

Hun was on fire the rest of the way, reeling off seven straight wins to end the fall at 8-1, winning the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title outright with a 5-0 league mark.

Edging Peddie 21-16 on October 27 was the key win in Hun’s title run. “That was a testament to our kids not giving up,” said Smith, reflecting on the nail-biter as the Raiders avenged a 61-7 loss to the Falcons in 2017. “We were down early. We had to battle through some adversity from a lot of different levels but all in all it was great.”

It was great for Smith to see his team stand alone atop the MAPL. “It is our fourth outright championship in five years; that is the goal we have here at the Hun School, to win the MAPL so mission accomplished,” said Smith, whose team shared the MAPL title last fall.

In the aftermath of defeating Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) 48-20 in the season finale to culminate the undefeated MAPL  campaign, Smith already had his sights set on another title.

“We lose a lot of great kids and we bring back a lot of great kids,” said Smith.“It is on us, as coaches, to develop the kids that we have to make sure that they are ready.”

For developing Hun into a powerhouse and winning another MAPL title in convincing fashion, Smith is the pick as the top coach of a boys’ team.