May 17, 2023

Senior Star Gardner Fights to the Final Second As PDS Girls’ Lacrosse Falls in Prep B Final

FRONT PAIGE: Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse player Paige Gardner races upfield in recent action. Last Friday, senior star Gardner tallied a goal and three assists as top-seeded PDS got edged 10-9 by second-seeded Montclair Kimberley Academy in the Prep B state final. On Monday, Gardner tallied eight goals and four assists to help the Panthers defeat Hopewell Valley 17-6 and improve to 10-6. In upcoming action, PDS plays at Princeton High on May 18 and at Haddonfield at May 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

It was the final sequence of the fourth playoff game in five days for the Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse team but Paige Gardner was still pressing forward.

With PDS trailing Montclair Kimberley Academy 10-9 in the Prep B state final last Friday afternoon, Gardner took a draw control with 7.7 seconds left and raced toward goal but couldn’t get a shot off before the horn sounded.

“We have all been working so hard this week,” said Gardner, who tallied one goal and three assists in the loss. “I feel like each game, we have slowly started to run out of gas. It is so tough on everyone on the team. They have had a busy schedule too, I think it was a good game.”

Having rallied to edge MKA 13-12 in the Prep B final last year, the Panthers put up a good fight as they looked to thwart the Cougars for a second straight year.

“We were pushing the transition towards the end,” said Gardner. “We were starting to let the score get to us. I think it was a lot of pressure especially since winning last year. We wanted it so bad.”

In Gardner’s view, the grueling week will benefit the Panthers as it competes in the upcoming New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Non-Public tournament.

“I think it is a chip on our shoulder, we will have a lot of recovery time this weekend,” said Gardner, who helped PDS win the Non-Public Group B title last spring. “I think it will give us a chance to take care of some of our bruises and all of that stuff. Once we recover, we will re-set and then we will come out strong in states.”

As a team captain along with fellow seniors — goalie Arden Bogle, defender Leigh Hillmanno, and attacker Sophie Jaffe — Gardner believes the quartet of veterans will set the right tone for the states run.

“They all work so hard, they are such good leaders,” said Gardner, who tallied eight goals and four assists as PDS defeated Hopewell Valley 17-6 last Monday in a regular season contest and improved to 10-6. “They are all so talented. It is awesome being able to have three other captains who are all really, really excited about the season and serious about the game.”

Gardner has put up some serious numbers this spring, tallying 52 goals and 34 assists as she now has 221 points in her PDS career on 159 goals and 62 assists.

“Last year I played strictly attack and I didn’t take the draw, this year I play strictly midfield,” said Gardner, who is headed to Fairfield University to play for its women’s lax program and will be joined there by PDS junior star Tessa Caputo.

“I like playing midfield but is tough on these days when it is hot. I technically am playing attack in college but I do enjoy playing midfield. It is any way to help out the team.”

PDS head coach Tracy Young acknowledged that playing so many games this week got to her squad.

“We were just exhausted, we were just tired out,” said Young, whose team topped Peddie 20-10 in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals on May 8, defeated Pennington 18-12 in the Prep B semis on May 9, and then fell 17-4 to Allentown in the MCT semis last Thursday. “I think the shot selection wasn’t there. We knew the shot selection was going to have to be there — a lot of them know the goalie (Orly Sedransk). Bodies are worn — it has been a long week.”

In the clash with MKA, the Panthers jumped out to a 2-0 lead and then had to rally to knot the game at 6-6 by halftime.

Gardner scored a goal early in the second half to give PDS a 7-6 lead but the Cougars responded with a 4-1 run to go up 10-8.

“We had to chase them at the end,” said Young. “We knew they were going to hold on to it. We just ran out of gas.”

While Young had no qualms about the effort she got from her players, she was disappointed to see them fall just short of winning a second straight Prep B title.

“It is all bittersweet, you make it and then you don’t walk away with the title,” said Young, who got three goals from Jaffe in the loss to MKA with Caputo and Kelly Christie each contributing two goals and two assists. “I felt pretty good that this team would be able to repeat. Right now it just feels very frustrating.”

With the Non-Public tournament on the horizon, Young wanted her team to catch its breath before the final push.

“It is one more tournament and we are going down to part three of the season,” said Young, whose team plays at Princeton High on May 18 and at Haddonfield at May 22. “I think we need some rest and go back to some regular season games next week. To catch a little breather, I am giving them off this weekend to catch up and regroup and go at part three and see where it brings us.”

It will be all hands on deck as the Panthers regroup. “I need everybody, that is really the biggest thing,” said Young. “I don’t just need my key players, I need everybody — my defenders, my midfielders, my goalie, and my attack.”

Young is confident that her squad will be all in as it goes for a Non-Public repeat.

“I think they can rebound,” said Young. “If anything I hope it gives them a little fire in their belly.

We will see where that brings us. I am hopeful that we can come out on top in the end of that.”

Gardner, for her part, believes that PDS will keep fighting to the end.

“It is crazy how fast it has been going,” said Gardner. “I hope that we finish out as strong as we possibly can. I know we all want to work for it.”