May 1, 2019

With Senior Star Birch Saving Her Best for Last, PDS Girls’ Lacrosse Primed for Postseason Run

BIRCH BARK: Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse player Maddy Birch carries the ball upfield in a game earlier this spring. Last Monday, senior star Birch tallied three goals and three assists as second-seeded PDS defeated seventh-seeded Pennington 15-5 in the state Prep B quarterfinals in improving to 7-5. The Panthers will host a Prep B semi on May 6. In addition, PDS will be starting play in the Mercer County Tournament this week where it is seeded fifth and will host a second-round contest on May 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Maddy Birch wasn’t about to take a defeat in her Senior Day for the Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse team.

With PDS knotted in an 8-8 tie against visiting Somerville at halftime last Saturday in its regular season home finale, senior attacker Birch took over the intermission pep talk from head coach Jill Thomas.

“Maddy sat them down at halftime and she said, ‘we are better than this, we are playing down,’” recalled Thomas.

“She said we needed to step it up and get it together. She walks the walk, she is the glue man for the team like we said at the Senior Day ceremony.”

Birch, for her part, knew that the Panthers could do much better in the second half.

“We came out strong, we knew that we better than this team and we could take them,” said Birch.

“We were playing down to their level and I think after halftime we regrouped and went back to playing our game.”

The Panthers raised their game over the last 25 minutes of the contest, pulling away to a 20-13 victory.

“We realized that we should go out there and play our game,” said Birch, who ended up with three goals and an assist on the day.

“I especially didn’t want to lose this game. No one else did either and we just came out strong.”

Reflecting on the Senior Day ceremony, Birch experienced some strong emotions.

“We have had a great season and it is a great group of seniors,” said Birch. “We have been through four years together. Everyone was excited not only to do it for Senior Day but for the whole spring weekend. Everyone is here.”

Building on that excitement, PDS rolled to a win in the state Prep B quarterfinals on Monday as the second-seeded Panthers defeated seventh-seeded Pennington 15-5 and improved to 7-5.

“It is definitely good to end the regular season on a big win and now we are going back Monday and we are facing Pennington,” said Birch. “We already played then which I think is also helping. We know we can beat them. I think everybody is just excited.”

Developing a special team unity this spring has been a key factor fueling the Panthers’ strong play.

“I think the team chemistry this year is unbelievable; we all love each other so much,” said Birch.

“The sisterhood on this team is like no other year I have had at PDS so far. I think that makes a huge difference. We all show up to practice ready and wanting to get better and be around each other. That helps so much.”

PDS head coach Jill Thomas credits Birch and her classmates with setting a positive tone.

“They have taken a very young group and said you know what, we are going to be a formidable opponent for anybody we play and they just did it,” said Thomas, whose senior group includes Zoe Cook, Laurel Peters, Gwen Allen, and Val Radvany in addition to Birch.

“They have really brought everybody together. They learned that teamwork and team chemistry are so important and they can go so far in giving the effort.”

Thomas was thrilled with the effort she got from Birch down the stretch against Somerville as she took matters into her own hands to trigger the PDS surge.

“How about that shot in the corner, did you check that net and see if there is a hole,” said Thomas with a chuckle referring to one of Birch’s goals. “She came out and did it.”

Pulling away to the win over Somerville was a good way for the Panthers to go into postseason play.

“It is a confidence builder, it doesn’t hurt,” said Thomas, whose team hosts a Prep B semi on May 6 and will be starting play in the Mercer County Tournament this week where it is seeded fifth and will host a second-round contest on May 2.

“We take them one at a time and they have to keep on working. The defense has to gel more and keep outworking them. They know what they have to do. We have to take care of little things and take care of the ball better. It is tournament time, you play or you go home.”

Birch, for her part, doesn’t want to go home any time soon. “It is sad that it is coming to an end, I don’t think it has hit me yet,” said Birch, who is heading to Franklin & Marshall this fall, where she will be playing for its women’s lacrosse program.

“I want to finish the season strong and I think we are going to have a great end to the season.”