PDS Girls’ Lacrosse Wins Non-Public B State Crown, Applying “We Before Me” Approach to Earn Title Double
DOUBLING THEIR FUN: Members of the Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse team celebrate after the top-seeded Panthers defeated third-seeded Holy Spirit 17-11 in the NJSIAA Non-Public B state final last Saturday at Hunterdon Central. It also marked the second title this season for the Panthers as they had previously edged Montclair Kimberley Academy 13-12 in the Prep B state final. The triumph gave head coach Jill Thomas a special going away present as the New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Famer previously announced that she is retiring at the end of the season after 34 years at the school. PDS, who improved to 14-8 with the victory, was slated to face Oak Knoll in the quarterfinal of the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions on June 7. (Photo by Bill Alden)
By Bill Alden
“We before me” has been the mantra all spring for the Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse team and Elle Anhut exemplified that philosophy as PDS battled Holy Spirit last Saturday in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Non-Public B state final.
With top-seeded PDS leading third-seeded Holy Spirit 12-7 early in the second half at Hunterdon Central, Panther senior star Anhut went down with a cramp in her calf and limped off the field.
Knowing that her team needed her, Anhut furiously worked on her leg to get back into the contest.
“It was at the beginning of the second half so I was thinking there was no shot that I cannot be in this because we weren’t up that much,” said Anhut.
“I just chugged some Pedialyte and I Theragunned a little bit and I was ready to go back in because I knew I was not going to spend my last time on the side of the field.”
Returning to the game with 12:50 left, Anhut made the most of her time on the field as PDS pulled away to a 17-11 victory to win the title in its debut appearance in the competition and the final season for departing head coach Jill Thomas, a New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Famer who previously announced that she is retiring at the end of the season after 34 years at the school.
It also marked the second title this season for the Panthers as they had previously edged Montclair Kimberley Academy 13-12 in the Prep B state final. PDS, who improved to 14-8 with the victory, was slated to face Oak Knoll in the quarterfinal of the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions on June 7.
For Anhut, achieving the title double was surreal. “I just got goosebumps; it is crazy, first time in this tournament,” said Anhut, reflecting on the triumph.
“I have not really processed it. In the last practice, coach said, ‘if you win you get a new banner.’ We were like ‘oh, OK, all right.’”
Helping PDS earn those banners is particularly meaningful to Anhut and her fellow seniors.
“I am not a very emotional person but it is very, very exciting to see everything come together that we have been working for,” said Anhut, a team tri-captain along with fellow seniors Ali Surace and Maggie Zarish-Yasunas.
“I know the past few years, things haven’t come together so for us to connect today and connect to the max today was really good. In the past games we were playing well but not at our best. Today it was necessary.”
In the clash with Holy Spirit, PDS didn’t get off to the best start as it fell behind 2-1. The Panthers, though, reeled off a 5-0 run to seize momentum and the Spartans never got closer than three goals after that.
“For the other games, we haven’t come out super strong in the first half so we were really trying to emphasize that today,” said Anhut.
“We didn’t come out with the first punch and it was time to wake up. In our semifinal game (a 15-14 win over Bishop Eustace) we woke up in the second half. For this game we knew that if we woke up on the second half it would be too late.”
Anhut’s work on the draw circle helped PDS wake up. “Being on the circle, that has been my favorite part of the game,” said Anhut, who ended up with a game-high eight draw controls in the win and also added one goal and two assists.
“It is pretty different than how you would play attack. You try to crash to the ball in the circle which you don’t necessarily do on other parts of the field. It has always been my favorite sort of thing. It is just like if the draws aren’t working for the other girls, I know to step up and I can trust my players.”
Anhut showed her trust in attacker Paige Gardner as both of her assists in the title game went to the junior star, who fired in seven goals in the win.
“I trust everyone, to have gotten this far we can’t not trust anybody,” said Anhut. “As a freshman, I got better at assisting. I am pretty good at seeing open people when I am under pressure. I know Paige has a quick release and can handle it through pressure.”
PDS junior goalie Arden Bogle saw that trust at the defensive end of the field.
“We have just grown a lot as a team this season,” said Bogle, who had seven saves in the victory. “We have a pretty young defense so I was glad that in the last couple of games we have worked together so much better than before. We have grown so much as a team and especially the defensive unit.”
Bogle was confident that the Panthers could stymie Holy Spirit’s high-powered attack that was averaging 14.4 goals a game coming into the championship contest.
“We had to recognize that they had those players but so did we,” said Bogle. “We know how to shut those players down, we do it in practice every day. I think we just had to go in with confidence in ourselves, knowing that we know how to do that.”
In her first campaign as a starter for the Panthers, Bogle had gained more and more confidence as the spring has gone on.
“It is my first year playing with the varsity team because I was behind two other goalies,” said Bogle, who has committed to George Washington University and will be playing for its women’s lacrosse program after concluding her PDS career.
“It has been really exciting to grow with the team and blend in.”
Thomas, for her part, attributed the win over Holy Spirit to a total team effort
“It was great defense, great goaltending, and great transition,” said Thomas, who got four goals and an assist from Sophie Jaffe in the title game with Caputo chipping in two goals and three assists, Zarish-Yasunas adding a goal and three assists, and Kelly Christie contributing one goal and one assist.
“We took care of the ball when we had to. We were smart, smart, smart.”
In the view of Thomas, the team’s run to the Prep B title which saw it beat Morristown-Beard 14-10 in the semis and then rally to top Montclair Kimberley Academy 13-12 in the final was turning point for the squad.
“That was a big step on the road, you go up north two times, the semis and the finals,” said Thomas. “Those were all nail-biter games and then you are sitting at that No. 1 up there in the Non Public B. Everyone is coming for you and they came for us today.”
Coming away with a second title in her final campaign was sweet for Thomas.
“Who gets to do that?” said Thomas with a laugh. “I couldn’t imagine it. It is the we before the me and everybody bought in. When everybody bought in, then we were the best. Getting the Prep B, maybe it was the semi of that tournament where they started to really believe it would take all of us every day. I think we have been moving forward. The icing on the cake is this thing we are going to do Tuesday. The Tournament of Champions is fine but this is it. This is what we wanted.”
Anhut was thrilled to help Thomas go out with the championship.
“It is amazing, we wanted to win not just for everyone but for coach Thomas,” said Anhut, who is headed to Cal-Berkeley where she will be playing for its women’s lacrosse program.
“It would send everybody out in the best way possible. We knew we wanted to make history for coach Thomas because she is making history herself. We were like let’s bring it home for her.”