May 3, 2023

With Ewanchyna Sparking Stifling Defensive Effort, PDS Boys’ Lax Tops Gill St. Bernard’s in Prep B Final

CREASE CONTROL: Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse goalie Jake Harrison and the PDS defense stifle a foe in recent action. Last Monday, the Panther backline stood tall as second-seeded PDS defeated fourth-seeded Gill St. Bernard’s 9-6 in the Prep B state final. It marked the first Prep B crown for PDS since 2017. The Panthers, now 8-4, play at Hun on May 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

After edging Gill St. Bernard’s 8-7 in a regular season contest on April 11, the Princeton Day School boys’ lacrosse team found itself trailing the Knights 4-2 at halftime last Monday when the foes met for a rematch in the Prep B state final.

PHS senior defender Ace Ewanchyna, though, was not concerned about fourth-seeded Gill turning the tables on the second-seeded Panthers.

“It was the first half, the coaches were saying there was a long way to go, a whole new game,” said Ewanchyna. “We were doing some preventable things, like letting guys cut backside, stuff like that. On offense we were just a little bit slow; we made some errors like dropping passes, stuff like that. We just had to clean some things up and play our game.”

In the second half, PDS cleaned up, outscoring the visiting Knights 3-1 in the third quarter to seize momentum and never looked back on the way to a 9-6 triumph and the program’s first Prep B crown since 2017.

With Ewanchyna gobbling up ground balls all over the field, the Panther defense put the clamps on the Knights as it held them to two goals in the second half.

In the aftermath of a raucous celebration which included group hugs and numerous photo ops, Ewanchyna downplayed his role on the PDS backline.

“I just have to mesh in and be part of the unit, like the rest of them,” said Ewanchyna. “Things go our way and I am part of something bigger.”

Ewanchyna enjoys being part of the unit which includes classmates Milan Patel, Nico Cucchi, and Will Brown.

“All of us are seniors, we have good bonds on and off the field,” said Ewanchyna. “We are really tight — they are some of my best buddies. In our free time, I see them all of the time. That is a good part, it comes naturally on the field.”

At the offensive end of the field, junior attacker Sebastian Rzeczycki made the difference for the
Panthers, scoring four goals in the second half to power the squad’s second half surge.

“He is always showing up consistently putting up a lot of numbers,” said Ewanchyna of Rzeczycki. “If I get the ball on the defensive end or one of the other guys does, we look to him. We can trust him to score.”

Winning the title was particularly meaningful for the Panthers after they went 6-11 in 2022, getting knocked out in the first round of the Prep B tourney and losing in the Mercer County Tournament quarters and the semis of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Non-Public Group B tourney.

“It is one of three and now we are looking ahead to the next one,” said Ewanchyna. “It feels great. Last year was a little disappointing, we worked hard and it didn’t really pay off. It shows what we are capable of and it shows what we can do.”

In reflecting on the progress from last season as PDS improved to 8-4 with the win over Gill, Ewanchyna views it as product of experience and toughness.

“We matured a little bit, it is finding some confidence,” said Ewanchyna. “Everybody has been working together more as a unit. Last year, we were a little shy, a little scared, but we are not backing down this year. We are working hard.”

PDS head coach Joe Moore, for his part, was confident that his squad wouldn’t back down against Gill despite the shaky start.

“Knowing how much talent we have with this group, I am never really concerned,” said Moore. “It is more of finding a way to pull it out of these guys. At halftime, it was more playing with confidence and knowing that we were the better team and we just have to prove it. The third quarter was going to be the decision-maker for us and we told them that. We are going to show up in the third quarter and we are going to get out of here with a win or we are going to keep playing like we did in the first half and it is going to be a rough day.”

Getting a big day from sophomore Asher Lewis proved crucial for the Panthers.

“Asher did a great job to give us 50/50 chances on the X,” said Moore of Lewis, who won 12-of-18 face-offs on the day. “Ace and Nick Somogyi did a great job picking up the balls up and possessing the ball from there.”

Moore credited Rzeczycki with doing a great job triggering the PDS attack.

“He was unbelievable, he finds the back of the net when he really needs to,” said Moore, who also got one goal apiece in the win from Ollie Hall, Harry Bernardi, Hart Nowakoski, Matt Whittaker, and Andrew Ahrens. “I was proud of what he did today, being a downhill dodger.”

The Panther defense held the fort as the offense started clicking.

“I love those guys, they continue to evolve,” said Moore. “They had a really rough day on Saturday against Princeton (a 10-9 loss), so they were itching to get back on the field. We don’t win a championship today without our defense playing the way that they play.”

The play of Ewanchyna has sparked that unit. “Ace is amazing, he is the heart of our team,” said Moore. “Today, you saw it on the ground balls. He doesn’t just pick them up, he goes down and makes the right play as well which is really not easy. Ace is a great leader.”

In Moore’s view, winning the Prep B crown should be a great impetus as the Panthers go after MCT and Non-Public titles over the next month.

“It is amazing; ultimately we are going to use this to give us confidence,” said Moore. “We know we can win a championship now. We just have to continue to prove it and get better every day in our own way. I know we really wanted to get this one. It is nice to have a championship at this stage of the season where you can use it to build momentum.”

Ewanchyna concurs, believing that coming through Monday sets up PDS for a memorable postseason run.

“We have got one and we have a couple more to go,” said Ewanchyna. “This is the spark for the rest of it.”