December 8, 2021

Boasting a Core of Talented Young Players, PDS Girls’ Hockey Expecting a Big Winter

CHASING SUCCESS: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey player Lauren Chase, right, goes after the puck in a game last season. Junior defenseman Chase will be spearheading things along the blue line for the Panthers this winter. Chase picked up an assist as PDS defeated Randolph 4-2 in its season opener last Wednesday. The Panthers host Westfield on December 8 before playing at Oak Knoll on December 14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

While the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team doesn’t boast a big group of veteran performers, it is still bringing plenty of optimism into the 2021-22 season.

“Our numbers are really strong this year, there continues to be a positive vibe around the team to join the program,” said PDS head coach John Ritchie, who guided PDS to a 5-0-1 record last winter in a season abbreviated by COVID-19 concerns.

“We are definitely a younger team but they definitely all have high expectations for themselves.”

Ritchie has high hopes for junior goalie Abigail Ashman, who is assuming the starting role after the graduation of star net minder Jillian Wexler.

“Abby is going to take over for Jillian,” said Ritchie, noting that freshman Grace Ulrich will serve as a backup.

“Not having Jillian is a huge loss for us but Abby is up to the task. Abby is probably going play 70-80 percent of the games this year. Grace is interesting because she is a good goalie but she is a very good player too. She is going to be doing a little bit of double duty for us.”

Along the blue line, defensemen junior Lauren Chase, sophomore Isabel Cook, and senior Natalie Celso will lead the way.

“Lauren will be on our top pair defensively; she will be on the top power play, she will play in all situations for us,” said Ritchie.

“Her role will continue to be the same whereas the others will have to take on a little bit more with playing time and responsibility. Izzy has looked pretty strong this year in the first few weeks so hopefully we will see her continue to get better. Nat has been a leader, she has stepped up in terms of being a little more vocal. Last year, she didn’t play club and this year, she is. I think that has made a big difference. She is playing with confidence. She is solid, she is sturdy. We can count on her.”

PDS will be counting on senior Ally Antonacci, sophomore Logan Harrison, sophomore Emily McCann, freshman Eibhleann Knox, and junior Claire Meehan to provide some offensive production.

“I think Ally is going to take a step forward; Logan will take on quite a large role in terms of our offensive production,” said Ritchie, whose team defeated Randolph 4-2 in its season opener last Wednesday with McCann, Meehan, Nora Appleby, and Lily Ryan each scoring one goal.

“Because of her cross country, Emily has only skated twice. I have had contact with her, she is playing travel and they have a pretty good team over there. Eibhleann will probably be one of our best players. She is smaller but has a really, really good shot. She will play a lot of minutes, she will play the top power play. Claire is a strong two-way center that is going to give us some depth. She is a very hard worker.”

With PDS having joined the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) this year, the program will be looking forward to competing in the Non-Public tournament.

“That is what we talked about in our first practice,” said Ritchie, whose squad will look to keep on the winning track as it hosts Westfield on December 8 and plays at Oak Knoll on December 14.

“Our goal this first year is to go as deep in the state playoffs as we can.”

Having a good run this winter will come down to how quickly the squad’s younger players come of age.

“For us is it going to be about some of our players embracing a larger role,” said Ritchie.

“They need to be able to shoulder some of that pressure to be the ones that are scoring every game, to play a bigger role in some of these games where maybe in the past, they really haven’t had to. That is going to be a big thing for us.”