June 15, 2022

Handling Adversity and Battling Throughout the Spring, PHS Girls’ Lax Produced Another Winning Campaign

GRACE UNDER PRESSURE: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Grace Rebak, left, runs past two foes in action this spring. Senior star Rebak’s all-around play was a spark for PHS as it went 12-6. Rebak led the Tigers in assists (38), ground balls (63), and draw controls (69). (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Although the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team ended the spring on a down note with an 11-4 loss to Scotch Plains-Fanwood in the first round of the North Jersey Group 3 sectional, there were plenty of highlights along the way as the program produced another superb campaign.

Katie Federico, who guided the team in 2022 with head coach Meg Dunleavy out on maternity leave, credited her players with battling to the end.

“I told the girls, success is what you make of it,” said Federico, a veteran assistant coach for the program who led the Tigers to a 12-6 record and the Mercer County Tournament semifinals.

“To me, success is not the wins or losses, it is did you play your best, did you give 110 percent on the field and they did. To me, it was a successful season.”

In Federico’s view, one of the squad’s most intense efforts came in a 10-9 loss to powerhouse Lawrenceville on April 6.

“The fire that they had in them for Lawrenceville was like nothing I had ever seen before,” said Federico.

“The pride that the girls felt when they came off the field that day only losing by one was amazing.”

Sparked by that competitive fire, PHS posted a number of impressive wins.

“We had a lot of real good positives during the season,” said Federico. “There was the regular season win over Allentown (rallying from a 9-5 deficit to win 10-9 in overtime on April 27). We did a great job against Notre Dame (a 9-6 win on April 13) which is always a tough team. We beat PDS twice (14-13 on April 29, 13-7 on May 9 in the MCT quarterfinals). We went 8-0 in the CVC, we won our division in the CVC. We had a lot of successes.”

That success was even more impressive, considering the spate of injuries that hit the Tigers.

“They stuck with it given the adversity of the injuries we had throughout the season,” said Federico, who lost sophomore Sarah Henderson before the season even started due to a leg injury.

“Sylvie LeBouef went down with a knee injury. Avery Gallagher was out with dislocated knee. Grace Rebak played with a severely sprained ankle for a good portion of the season. Kate Becker had a strained muscle. Each girl stepped
up and found a way to
make it work.”

The squad’s senior group held things together through that adversity.

“They are such a special group of girls; you rarely see a group that has played together for as long as they have — since elementary school, which is really just so wonderful,” said Federico of the squad’s Class of 2022 which included Jane Biggs, Sarah Glenn, Cartee O’Brien, Gigi Peloso, and Sarah White in addition to Becker and Rebak.

“Yet they still grew so much in the four years, especially given that they lost a whole season because of COVID. They came in as young freshmen and all of a sudden last year, they are all grown up as juniors and ready to bring it on the field. They were tremendous leaders and role models for the rest of the girls on the team, constantly helping them, cheering them on, picking them up what they needed to be picked up. They are just a very mature, great group of girls who I will most definitely miss next year.”

Star attacker Becker, who is heading to Amherst College and will play for its women’s lax program, led the team in points (94) and goals (74) and brought a special lax acumen to the field.

“I have never met somebody who has such a vision on the field; her lax IQ is incredible,” said Federico. “I joked at our banquet because I said I waited every night for that 8:30 text. She would analyze how the practice or the game went and reflect on it and say this is where I think we should go next. Her teammates appreciate that about her and she does it for her teammates. She is great.”

Rebak, who will be playing both field hockey and lacrosse at Williams College, sparked PHS with her relentless play.

“She plays with such poise and never gets rattled, I remember that from field hockey,” said Federico of Rebak who led PHS in assists (38), ground balls (63), and draw controls (69). “She is so tough. The bruises she had on her arms, it was crazy. She is a very selfless player with all of the assists that she got. She moved from defense to midfield. She was huge for us. She never wanted to stop even when she could barely walk.”

Star goalie Peloso, a Colby College commit, spearheaded her Tiger defense.

“Gigi is fiery in goal and yet the quietest, calmest person off the field,” said Federico of Peloso, who made 116 saves this season. “Her teammates listen to her and she just came up with those saves when you needed them. I am going to miss her banging the shaft of the stick on the cage and jumping up and down.”

Federico will also miss the versatility and leadership of Glenn (7 goals, 15 ground balls this season), who will be playing at the University of Chicago next year.

“Sarah plays with a tenacity and energy that is there the entire time wherever she is on the field,” said Federico. “She plays beautiful defense and shuts the attack down when they are coming. To have that leadership on the defense was huge this year. She had that big voice and was also showing some of the underclassmen who didn’t have as much experience how to do certain things. That will make the impact next year.”

The trio of O’Brien (9 goals, 8 assists), White, and Biggs also made key contributions.

“You could not have written it more beautifully when Cartee came in to take that 8 meter against Allentown; she couldn’t even walk because of an injury and she scored the goal to put
it into overtime,” recalled Federico.

“Sarah White and Jane stepped up when Sarah Glenn was out. They led the defense when she couldn’t play games. They are those quiet girls but absolutely critical parts of the defense.”

PHS boasts some returning players who figure to play critical roles next season in sophomore Riley Devlin (54 goals, 13 assists this season), sophomore Henderson, sophomore Phoebe Steiger (14 goals, 4 assists), sophomore LeBouef (3 goals, 4 assists), sophomore Joci Lee, junior Reece Gallagher (5 goals), and junior Annie Terry (4 goals, 2 assists).

“Riley is not typically a mid but with Sarah Henderson being out this year, she was able to step up,” said Federico. “Having Sarah will help, she is a lefty with speed. It will be nice to have her back. Phoebe really stepped up this year. She had injuries and still had some really nice games and was seeing the ball nicely. Sylvie is great on the assists when she is well. Sylvie and Phoebe have been playing together since elementary school. Joci really stepped up on defense.”

While Federico will be happy to return to her assistant coaching role when Dunleavy returns to the sideline next year, she enjoyed her season at the helm of the program.

“It was fun because they are just such a great group of girls,” said Federico. “It helped that I had a relationship with them as an assistant. Meg and I are very much a team when we coach together. It wasn’t that hard of a transition for the girls. I learned more about the game as a head coach so it will definitely help me going into next season.”