June 19, 2024

PHS Girls’ Lacrosse Got Back on Winning Track, Posting 12-9 Record, Making Sectional Quarters

STEPPING UP: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse player Joci Lee races upfield in action this spring. Senior defender Lee helped PHS show marked improvement this season as it went 12-9 after going 7-12 in 2023. The Tigers edged Montgomery 9-8 in overtime in the first round of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) North Jersey Group 3 tournament to post their first win in the state tourney since 2021. PHS ended its season by falling 11-5 at Northern Highlands in the quarterfinal round of the state tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Although the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team ended its 2024 campaign with a tough 11-5 loss at Northern Highlands in the quarterfinal round of the state tournament, that defeat can’t diminish what the program accomplished as it regained its winning ways.

After struggling through a frustrating 7-12 season in 2023, the Tigers posted a 12-9 record this spring.

“Last year was a hard year for all of the girls, but it was a growing year,” said PHS head coach Katie Federico. “It really allowed a lot of them to mature. The seniors really took on that leadership role this year. It was the confidence and trust in each other — they played so well as a unit. That year of rebuilding really did help, as hard as it was.”

One of the biggest highlights for PHS was a 9-8 overtime win against Montgomery in the first round of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) North Jersey Group 3 tournament as the 11th-seeded Tigers avenged a 15-9 regular season loss to the sixth-seeded Cougars.

“That was huge. We had talked about it at the practice before that we hadn’t been through the first round since 2021, so that was one of our goals for this year,” said Federico, who team fell behind 6-0 at third-seeded Northern Highlands in the first quarter of the quarterfinal contest and couldn’t dig out of that hole in the season-ending setback.

“It was fun too because it was against Montgomery and we were able to have the rematch there and we played significantly better. I told the girls that all of those hard games we played set us up to be successful on the postseason and it worked.”

The squad’s senior group which included Riley Devlin, Sarah Henderson, Sylvie LeBouef, Phoebe Steiger, Ava Caruso, Joci Lee, Avery Gallagher, Julia Engelhart, Theona Hsu, and Allegra Brennan helped set the tone for that success.

“They are such a great group of girls, many of them have played together since their PGLax days,” said Federico. “It was great to see them grow and develop and then lead the underclassmen and show them how to face some adversity and to adjust. It was so nice for all of them to end with a successful season and a winning season. They just had a fun, enjoyable season and that is what you hope for them as seniors. They come out with all of that positivity. They have good memories to look back on We will really miss them.”

Devlin led the way on offense, tallying 66 goals and 20 assists.

“We gave Riley the heart of the team award at our banquet — it just shows everything that she is as a player,” said Federico of Devlin, who ended her PHS career with 204 goals and 53 assists. “She loves the game of lacrosse. Each year she focused on a different area to grow. Then in her senior year, she really took on that leadership role and was helping everywhere, whether it was on the field or off the field. She was giving underclassmen suggestions on how to drive and do dodges. She just has such a strong lax IQ. She sees things so nicely.”

The trio of Henderson, LeBouef, and Steiger each had a strong final campaign. Henderson tallied 11 goals and 35 assists this year as she reached the 100-point mark in her career, while LeBouef had nine goals and 14 assists and Steiger totaled 22 goals and 8 assists.

“Sarah and Sylvie overcame such adversity and while it was more of a challenge with speed-type things; they still worked at it and came back and really made a difference on the field,” said Federico. “Sarah did great, she worked so hard. Sylvie is just so calm, cool, and collected and has such a good head on her shoulders and up to the last game she was asking, ‘What can I do differently’ in this situation or that situation. They are just such learners of the game. Phoebe really had a great season. She does a great job overall with the mentality of the team on the field. She is a leader in that sense, she is so positive.”

On defense, the quartet of Lee, Gallagher, Engelhart, and Hsu held the fort.

“Joci is going on to play at RIT,” said Federico. “I always said she is one of the quietest girls in her freshman year and I kept saying you just need to get louder — and now to see her blossom into that loud, strong defender was great. it was the same thing with Avery and Julia. Theona was a beast out there. She worked on her speed and her agility. They just played as a unit.”

Goalie Brennan made 136 saves this spring to give the Tigers some good work on the cage.

“We weren’t even supposed to have her this year. She was supposed to be abroad in Italy this year, but there was a last minute thing and she came back,” said Federico. “We were so happy that she played. She is one of the funniest kids I have ever met. She did a great job. She, too, wanted to just keep learning.”

Federico is happy about her group of returners, which features sophomore Gracie DePrince (16 goals, 2 assists), junior Aniya Zahid (19 goals, 4 assists), sophomore Quinn Gallagher (49 goals, 22 assists), and sophomore Leah Bornstein (56 goals, 22 assists) to provide offensive firepower, with sophomore defender Zoie Reynolds and freshman goalie Paige Menapace back to spearhead the back line.

“On attack we still have Gracie, who got a lot of experience,” said Federico. “Aniya who had a beautiful, breakout season. We have Quinn and Leah in the midfield. On defense, Zoie is going to really have to step up as a leader because four of our girls there were seniors. I think Zoie’s leadership will be able to adjust. We have Paige coming in as the goalie, which is nice.”

In Federico’s view, the returning group has the character to follow in the footsteps of the program’s Class of ’24.

“They also faced adversity as freshmen so that is going to be to our benefit,” said Federico. “A lot of them play club together, so they are going to be playing with each other throughout the summer and the fall. I think that is going to be very beneficial as well.”