May 5, 2021

HAMMER TIME: Princeton University men’s track performer Paul Brennan displays his hammer throwing form in recent action. Sophomore Brennan, a former Princeton High standout, made his college debut this spring after the 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic. He threw 189’4 in the Princeton Invitational on April 25 in his first collegiate competition. (Photo provided courtesy of PU’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Justin Feil

Paul Brennan did not have to travel far to get to Princeton University, but he did have to wait a long time to begin his outdoor track and field career.

Brennan, a 2019 graduate of Princeton High, was thrilled when the Tiger men’s track and field team was able to take advantage of reaching Phase 4 of the University’s COVID-19 protocols to return to play. Phase 4 allowed full competition, and Brennan and the PU men were able to compete in the Princeton Invitational on April 25 and at the Fast Times Before Finals at Rowan University on May 1.

“It’s definitely exciting for all of our guys,” said Brennan. “At least for my class, we haven’t had any outdoor competitions. Our first collegiate outdoor competition was last weekend. We’re almost like freshmen coming in. We’ve been training for over a year and a half trying to prepare for a season.”

The preparation paid off. At Rowan, sophomore Ibrahim Ayorinde ran 20.88 seconds to win the 200 meters in the second-fastest time in program history. Freshman Daniel Duncan was second in 21.06, the third-fastest time in school history. Duncan also recorded the third fastest time in program history in winning the 100 meters in 10.47 seconds after running a blazing 10.42 in the trials. Junior Taraje Whitfield won the 110 hurdles in 14.60 seconds and freshman William Doyle took the 400 in 48.05 seconds. Sophomore Ethan Reese set a new personal best of 1:51.69 for the 800 meters. Senior Kelton Chastulik won the shot put at 54’ 8½.

“It’s a real testimony to the desire our guys have,” said Princeton men’s head coach Fred Samara. “I think it’s what sets apart our team from other teams we compete against. These guys are so close to one another and the team spirit they have. They don’t care where they are, they’re going to train hard and compete and light it up, which they’re doing.”

Despite the topsy-turvy training over the last year, limited interaction on campus, and no outside competition ahead of time, the Tigers showed in a wave of performances just why the program is so excited to have its full team intact next year. Eighteen men took the year off from school and several others are training on their own while they take classes remotely. Those on campus like Brennan have gotten back into the swing of things after students were able to return to campus for the second semester and went through the phases of return to play. more

April 21, 2021

GOING TO THE MAT: Princeton High senior wrestling star Chloe Ayres enjoys the moment after she won the 114-pound New Jersey state girls’ wrestling title on April 10 at Phillipsburg High, joined by New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) representatives Howie O’Neal and Colleen Maguire near the mat. It was the third straight state crown for Ayres, who is headed to Princeton University this fall where she is looking to get a women’s club wrestling program off the ground. (Photo provided by Chloe Ayres)

By Justin Feil

Chloe Ayres was thrilled to win a third state wrestling title, but was even happier with the news that came a few days before it.

The Princeton High School senior was accepted to Princeton University, where she plans to continue wrestling.

“I would say probably getting into Princeton was bigger,” said Ayres.

“That’s been a goal of mine since fourth grade so it’s been a long time coming. The state title was definitely up there too.”

Ayres has a bigger platform in mind as she looks to the higher levels of wrestling. She will continue to develop her own wrestling, but also is fully invested in working toward opening Division I wrestling up for women to inspire young girls to take up the sport about which she’s so passionate. Opening up more opportunities for women to wrestle would be a bigger win than any on the mat.

“It’s definitely a process to develop women’s wrestling at that level,” said Ayres.

“It’s similar to how it was a process in New Jersey, maybe on a larger scale. But I think it’s undeniable that it’s going to happen at some point. It’s just a matter of time. With the growth you’ve seen in the state, you can be sure if we develop programs at the collegiate level, parents will be more likely to put their kids into this sport at a younger age and it’ll just grow high school wrestling as well and it’ll continue to build on each other. I have no doubt it’ll be happening. It’s just a matter of when.” more

April 14, 2021

TRIAL BY FIRE: Princeton University wrestler Lenny Merkin gets pumped up with Sebby the Sloth, a mascot that he created, in the Utah Salt Flats. Earlier this month, Merkin competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Fort Worth, Texas, in the 67-kilogram Greco-Roman event. Senior Merkin fell 9-0 to Benjamin Peak in the first round and then lost 12-4 to Calvin Germinaro in a consolation match in his debut appearance at the event. (Photo provided courtesy of provided by Lenny Merkin)

By Justin Feil

Lenny Merkin culminated a rocky year by making his debut at the United States Olympic Trials in Greco Roman style wrestling.

The Princeton University senior was disappointed with an early exit after two matches at the Trials on April 2 held in Fort Worth, Texas, but is using it to fuel his desire to go for a spot in the next Olympics.

“Now that I got my foot in the door, I’m really optimistic about 2024,” said Merkin.

“I’ve seen the stage. I’ve competed with the best guys in the weight class. The guy who’s on the Olympic team, I had a really close match with the last time I wrestled him. He’s beaten me every time, but I think I’m finally starting to understand how to wrestle Greco on the senior level. Now is the perfect time for me to start working on the things that I’m missing. I think not qualifying is going to be my driving force for the following Olympics.”

Merkin is the only Tiger wrestler to qualify for this year’s Trials. Princeton University assistant coach Nate Jackson also qualified and competed at the Trials in Fort Worth, Texas, without winning an Olympic berth.

“It’s an important step in our process,” said Princeton University wrestling head coach Chris Ayres.

“It affirmed to me more than ever we need to get an Olympic gold medal to Princeton. That’s my goal. To have this step where we had two guys at the Trials, it made me more motivated to say we can do this thing.” more

March 31, 2021

SPOILS OF VICTORY: Former Princeton University men’s golf standout Evan Harmeling displays the trophy he earned for winning the Savannah Golf Championship on the Korn Ferry Tour last October. Harmeling ’12 is currently ranked 41st on the Korn Ferry money list with earnings of $146,374 as he looks to crack the top 25 and earn a spot on the PGA Tour next year. (Photo provided courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Bill Alden

While many of his Princeton University classmates went into business, law, or medicine, Evan Harmeling was driven to pursue a different career path.

After an up-and-down career with the Princeton University men’s golf program, Harmeling ’12 decided to take a shot at the pro game.

“The interesting thing about golf is that it is all about what you shoot,” said Harmeling.

“There is no draft, there is no you have a lot of potential so we are going to take a shot on you and give you a chance. Everyone, except for the very few guys at the top of the college game who are getting some match sponsor exemptions, is starting from scratch. From that standpoint, college careers are not as important in terms of establishing your professional career.”

Over the last eight years, Harmeling, now 32, has scratched and clawed his way up to the Korn Ferry Tour, the development circuit that is one step below the PGA Tour.

Having won the Savannah Golf Championship last October, Harmeling is looking to work his way into the top 25 of the Korn Ferry money list and thereby earn PGA Tour status for next season. He currently ranks 41st on the Korn Ferry money list with earnings of $146,374.

Harmeling’s journey to the pro ranks began nearly 30 years ago, getting into the game at age 2 when his dad cut down some clubs for him.

As a grade schooler, Harmeling made his debut into competitive golf and enjoyed it right away.

“I played my first tournament when I was 10 or 11,” recalled Harmeling.

“It was on a par 3 course, Firefly, in Rhode Island. I remember that day, that first tournament, it is exciting. It is a different animal when you get a scorecard and you have got to post a score next to your name.”

Going to Phillips Academy for high school, Harmeling, a native of North Reading, Mass., started taking the game more seriously. He was named the Massachusetts Golf Association Junior Golfer of the Year in 2005 and was part of a twosome that won the Massachusetts Four-Ball Championship in 2007. After graduating from Phillips, where he also played squash, Harmeling qualified for the 2007 U.S. Amateur Championship. more

March 24, 2021

ALOHA HAWAII: Jerome Desrosiers dribbles upcourt during his career with the Princeton University men’s basketball team. Senior forward Desrosiers is heading west to finish his college hoops career, having committed to play in the 2021-22 season as a grad student for the University of Hawaii. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Jerome Desrosiers was struck by Eran Ganot’s goal to see his men’s basketball players happy at the University of Hawaii.

“That’s kind of how I lead my life,” said Desrosiers, a senior forward for the Princeton University men’s hoops squad, referring to the Hawaii head coach’s approach. “It related to me that way.”

When Desrosiers entered the transfer portal last semester, it was with an idea of finding a school where he could be happy playing one final season of college basketball after the Ivy League did not allow competition in his final year at Princeton. Desrosiers has finalized his commitment to Hawaii, where he will study either finance or marketing in his graduate season.

“The obvious reason is, it’s Hawaii,” said Desrosiers. “It’s not a bad place to go for an extra year.”

It’s more than the climate and scenery as Desrosiers believes he can help Hawaii, who ended the 2020-21 season with an 11-10 record (9-9 Big West). Desrosiers has been watching some of their games as he prepares to join the new team next winter. He’s also excited about how he can fit in their style.

“That’s one of the reasons why I decided to go there,” said Desrosiers, a 6’7, 230-pound native of Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec.

“Their four man (power forward) touches the ball a lot. He makes a lot of decisions. The ball moves a lot, just like the offense at Princeton. They’re not afraid to shoot it. They’re aggressive on defense and offense. I consider myself versatile with my position. I play the four or five (center), sometimes the three (small forward) rarely. Their four man is someone that can do a lot of things. I feel the same way about my game. They felt the same way. That’s how I’m going to fit in the offense and defense. It was perfect really.” more

March 17, 2021

LAX BROS: Phillip Robertson, right, stands at attention alongside his younger brother, Joe, before the start of Duke University men’s lacrosse game earlier this season. Former Princeton star Robertson is currently playing for Duke lax as a grad student on a fifth year of eligibility resulting from the cancellation of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Attackman Robertson has tallied five goals and two assists to help No. 2 Duke get off to an 8-0 start. (Photo provided by Duke’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Bill Alden

Phillip Robertson was part of something special last year with the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team.

Starring as a senior attackman, Robertson helped the Tigers get off to a 5-0 start and rise to No. 3 in the national rankings.

“We had a great senior class, we were extremely close,” said Robertson.

“As summer went on and going into the start of last year, we really tried as a group to buy in. We wanted to change things around. We had an extremely close-knit team our freshman year and we wanted to get that same kind of feel back.”

Just as Princeton was feeling like it could do some really special things in 2020, the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I remember going into the locker room, it was just really sad,” said Robertson, who tallied 13 goals in 2020 and ended his Princeton career with 67 goals and three assists.

“As the senior class, we knew that was probably it. We sent out the message that if the worst thing that ever happened in our lives was that our season got canceled, we have lived pretty blessed lives.”

This spring, Robertson is feeling blessed as he is taking care of some unfinished business, joining the Duke University men’s lacrosse team for a fifth year of eligibility resulting from the cancellation of the 2020 season due to the pandemic, getting to play with younger brother, Joe, a senior standout for the Blue Devils, and former Tiger teammate Michael Sowers. more

March 10, 2021

GOODBYE HUG: Members of the Princeton University field hockey team celebrate after scoring a goal in a 2-1 win over Virginia in the opening round of the 2018 NCAA tournament. Players in the Class of 2021 who competed for the squad along with all other Ivy League senior student-athletes were recently granted a one-time waiver by the league to compete as grad students for the same college where they received their undergraduate degree. The excitement over the change in policy is tempered at Princeton, which has no known students who will take advantage of the provision. The Tiger field hockey team, for example, has seven seniors on its roster and six of them will play as graduate students next year at other schools while the other has a job lined up. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Displaying a flexibility prompted by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ivy League announced in mid-February that senior student-athletes would be eligible to compete in 2021-22 as graduate students at the same university from which they receive their undergraduate degree.

Any excitement over the drastic reversal in the longstanding Ivy policy that prevented graduate students from competing is tempered at Princeton University, which has no known students who will take advantage of the provision.

“We had a group text letting them know that this announcement was coming,” said Princeton field hockey head coach Carla Tagliente.

“I had some private conversations with some of them on the side about the possibility and what it meant. Most are committed to play their grad year somewhere else.”

The announcement came via email to senior students. The Ivy League Council of Presidents will allow the one-time waiver just for next year. Their message noted “this change is a direct result of the pandemic and will not be available in future years.”

The announcement came more than a month after Princeton admission to graduate programs closed. The latest graduate school admissions date was January 4 for the German and Architecture programs. Princeton student-athletes would already have had to apply – and be accepted – in order to be able to take advantage of the athletic policy change. Other Ivy institutions may have later graduate school deadlines.

“I think for one year if it helps a few students, I don’t know how many will do it, but great,” said Princeton football head coach Bob Surace. “I don’t think we’re in a time to nitpick about imbalances. If a student can do it and they can come back for a year, let’s do it.” more

February 24, 2021

CAT FIGHT: Princeton University women’s hockey player Maggie Connors, right, gets pushed into the boards by a Quinnipiac defender last February during a best-of-three ECAC Hockey quarterfinal series. The Tigers survived a grueling weekend against the Bobcats, cruising in game one, losing game two in overtime, and then prevailing in the decisive final game in a double overtime thriller. Buoyed by that hard-earned triumph, Princeton went on to defeat Clarkson 5-1 in the league semis and then rally for a 3-2 overtime win at top-ranked Cornell in the final to earn the program’s first-ever ECACH crown. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

A year ago, the final weekend of February turned out to be both a marathon and a springboard to history for the Princeton University women’s hockey team.

Rising to No. 6 in the national polls, Princeton was hosting Quinnipiac for a best-of-three ECAC Hockey quarterfinal series starting on February 28 at venerable Hobey Baker Rink.

The Tigers were rolling, having gone 11-1-1 in their last 13 regal season games and they had swept Quinnipiac in two previous meetings in the 2019-20 campaign.

Opening the series, Princeton continued to sizzle, jumping out to a 4-1 lead in the first period on the way to a lopsided 5-1 victory in game one.

A day later, the Tigers went up 1-0 in the first period and seemed to be on track for a sweep of the underdog Bobcats.

But things turned dicey after that as Quinnipiac responded with two unanswered goals in the second period. The Tigers knotted the game at 2-2 late in the third period on a goal by senior star Carly Bullock. On the verge of being eliminated, the Bobcats pulled out a 3-2 win with a goal at 1:45 of the first overtime to force a decisive third game.

In the finale, Princeton scored twice to build a 2-0 advantage but Tiger sophomore star Sarah Filler sensed that the series was far from over.

“We knew we were going to get their best game, they are ranked 10 in the country,” said Fillier.

“I think arguably we play in the best league in the nation so we knew it was going to be a battle and we were excited to play this one.”

Sure enough, Quinnipiac refused to die, scoring two goals to force a second straight OT game.

In the first overtime, Princeton looked to finish off Quinnipiac, outshooting the Bobcats 16-6 but to no avail as the teams remained stalemated at 2-2.

In the break after the first extra period, Princeton team managers raided the refrigerator in the rink kitchen to microwave snacks to refuel the exhausted Tigers. more

February 10, 2021

CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT: Members of the Princeton University football team celebrate with the Ivy League championship trophy after beating Penn 42-14 in the 2018 season finale to cap a perfect 10-0 season. While the Ivy League football season this past fall was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of former Ivy products enjoyed a banner season in the NFL. A quartet of Princeton alums, Stephen Carlson ’19, John Lovett ’19, Seth DeValve ’16, and Caraun Reid ’14, saw action this fall for NFL teams. On Sunday, Harvard alum Cameron Brate and former Penn standout Justin Watson helped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 in Super Bowl LV.  (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Last Sunday evening, tight end Cameron Brate made three receptions for 26 yards to help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prevail in Super Bowl LV.

While Brate’s output will stand as a mere footnote in Tampa Bay’s 31-9 rout of the Kansas City Chiefs and the hoopla surrounding legendary quarterback Tom Brady earning his seventh Super Bowl title, the Harvard alum’s performance culminated a banner season for a number of Ivy League products competing and coaching in the NFL.

Although COVID-19 concerns resulted in the cancellation of the 2020 Ivy sports season, players and coaches with ties to the league gave its fans plenty of highlights to savor.

Stephen Carlson ’19 led the Princeton NFL contingent, seeing action in 18 games at tight end and on special teams for the Cleveland Browns as they made the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2002. Carlson made two key clutch plays down the stretch, recovering an onside kick in the waning moments of a 24-22 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers which clinched the playoff berth and then gathering in an onside kick to end a Pittsburgh rally when the teams met a week later in an AFC Wild Card contest. Over the course of the season, Carlson made one reception for 11 yards and had seven tackles on special teams. more

February 3, 2021

FEELING AT HOME: Princeton University baseball assistant coach Mike Russo, right, surveys the action alongside head coach Scott Bradley in a 2019 game. Russo, a former Hun School standout pitcher, was recently promoted to top assistant and recruiting coordinator for the Tiger baseball program. (Photo by Beverly Schaefer, provided courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Justin Feil

Mike Russo has never had to move far in his baseball coaching career, but he’s happy to be moving up.

The Hun School graduate was promoted this month by Princeton University head coach Scott Bradley from the second assistant to the top assistant and recruiting coordinator for the Tiger baseball team that he started out with as volunteer coach six years ago.

“I had no plan exactly where the coaching thing was going to go,” said Russo.

“I did know I loved it and I wanted to move up and wanted more responsibility each and every year. That’s where I started. Once I got recruiting and got my hands on my first recruit, I just thought it’d be really awesome to take over that role and hopefully at some point I aspire to be a head coach. I’m in no rush to do that right now. I want to stay the course and keep getting more and more experience.”

Russo enjoyed a positive college career, pitching at North Carolina State for two years and then starring at Kean University. In his junior season at Kean, lanky right-hander Russo posted a 10-2 record with a 1.93 ERA, getting named as the 2011 NJAC Pitcher of the Year and garnering second-team ABCA/Rawlings and Division III All-America honors. Going 7-1 during his final collegiate season, he helped pitch the Cougars to a second consecutive D-III College World Series. more

January 27, 2021

STICKING WITH THE PROGRAM: Tommy Davis, right, battles for the puck in a 2017 game during his senior season for the Princeton University men’s hockey team. Over the last two years, Davis has been teaching and coaching at Princeton Day School and also serving as the director of operations and then volunteer assistant coach for the Tiger men’s hockey team. In late December, Davis was promoted to the role of full-time assistant coach for the Tigers. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Tommy Davis helped the Princeton University men’s hockey team turn the corner during his senior season with the Tigers in 2016-17.

After Princeton went a combined 9-46-6 in the previous two years, defenseman Davis starred as the Tigers improved to 15-16-3 and won a first-round ECAC Hockey playoff series in his final campaign.

“I am proud about a lot of things and a lot of teams that I played with but I think what always stands out to me is my senior year and how we sort of finally found our rhythm,” said Davis, a 6’2, 185-pound defenseman from Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J., who ended up with six goals and 15 assists in 96 appearances for Princeton.

“It was a really tough first year with Ron (head coach Ron Fogarty), Dex (assistant coach Brad Dexter), and Stavs (assistant coach Stavros Paskaris). The second year, we were a lot better but it didn’t really get reflected in the win column. Then that last year we were a respectable team. We were .500 or thereabouts, we won a playoff series, and we came really close to winning another one. I felt like we set the stage for the next year.”

The next winter, Princeton went on to win the ECACH tournament while Davis headed north and starred at Providence College in his remaining year of college eligibility, tallying a goal and 10 assists as the Friars advanced to the finals of both the Hockey East tourney and NCAA East Regional. more

January 20, 2021

JORDAN RULES: Jordan Fogarty heads up the ice during his career for the Princeton University men’s hockey team. After graduating from Princeton last June, Fogarty headed to Europe to play pro hockey, joining Virserums SGF in Sweden’s Third Division. Through his first 10 games with the club, forward Fogarty tallied 11 goals and eight assists. (Photo provided courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Bill Alden

When the Princeton University men’s hockey team saw its season halted last March by the pandemic after it had swept Dartmouth in an ECAC Hockey opening round playoff series, Jordan Fogarty was planning to move on from the sport.

“I was pretty well prepared to have that Dartmouth game be my final time lacing up the skates,” said forward Fogarty, who graduated from Princeton last June.

“I was applying to work in finance because I worked an internship over last summer.”

But after hitting the interview circuit, Fogarty decided that he wanted to get back on the ice and committed to play a post-graduate season at Long Island University while studying for an MBA.

With the specter of COVID-19 hanging over the college season, Fogarty checked out options to play pro hockey abroad and eventually signed with Virserums SGF in Sweden’s Third Division.

“I got a really interesting offer in the summer to work as an internship with a Princeton hockey alum (Steve Shireffs ’99) at a credit management fund (Granite State Capital Management),” said Fogarty, an economics major who made the ECAC All-Academic Team three times. more

January 13, 2021

YOUNG LEADER: Chris Young fires a pitch in a 2005 game for the Texas Rangers. Young, a 2002 Princeton University alum who starred at basketball and baseball during his college career, was recently named as the executive vice president and general manager of the Rangers. After a 13-year playing career in the big leagues, Young had been working in the Major League Baseball front office for the last three years, most recently as senior vice president of on-field operations. (Photo provided by Texas Rangers)

By Justin Feil

One-tenth of the 30 Major League Baseball (MLB) general managers are Princeton University graduates after Chris Young was named the executive vice president and general manager of the Texas Rangers in early December.

The former Ivy League Rookie of the Year in baseball as well as basketball joined the ranks of Princeton alums turned general managers along with Mike Hazen (Arizona Diamondbacks) and Mike Chernoff (Cleveland Indians).

“I think it’s a tribute to one, the University, and two, Scott Bradley,” said Young, 41, a 2002 Princeton alum, referring to the longtime Tiger baseball head coach.

“What he has done over the years with his program, the influence that his players and thereby him have had on Major League Baseball is pretty significant. It really is a tribute to what a special person he is and I certainly would not be here without him.”

Young took a different path to his post than did Hazen and Chernoff, who headed into administration quickly after graduating from Princeton. The 6’10 right-hander Young spent 13 years in MLB before jumping right into the league’s front office for the last three years, most recently as senior vice president of on-field operations.  more

January 6, 2021

ACTION JACKSON: Jackson Cressey controls the puck in a game during his sophomore season with the Princeton University men’s hockey team. After completing his career by helping Princeton defeat Dartmouth in a first-round ECAC Hockey series last March before the rest of the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Cressey is looking to join the pro ranks. He signed with the Reading Royals of the ECHL but that deal fell through when its season was canceled due to COVID concerns. He is currently training in the Princeton area and looking to catch on with another pro organization. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Jackson Cressey gained some valuable lessons in perseverance last winter during his senior season with the Princeton University men’s hockey team.

After Princeton started the campaign with a win and a tie at St. Cloud State, the Tigers went 1-11-3 in their next 15 games.

“It is tough to stay positive in a season like that, but we knew that we had a lot of talent on our team and it was just a matter of time,” said star forward Cressey, a 6’0, 180-pound native of West Vancouver, British Columbia.

Serving as an assistant captain for the squad, Cressey felt an extra responsibility to keep things positive.

“It was a huge honor to be an assistant captain at a prestigious school like Princeton,” said Cressey.

“Being a senior captain, I just tried to lead by example and hold everyone accountable. We had a lot of young guys with a lot of talent and we just wanted to make sure that everyone was on the same page as much as possible.” more

December 30, 2020

MOMENT OF TRIUMPH: Princeton University wrestler Travis Stefanik celebrates after he topped Cornell’s Jonathan Loew 10-4 at 184 pounds to clinch victory in a 19-13 triumph by Princeton over the Big Red on February 9 at Jadwin Gym. The victory snapped Princeton’s 32-match losing streak to the Big Red and clinched the Tiger program’s first Ivy League title since 1986. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

As 2020 headed into March, local sports teams were enjoying a memorable winter campaign.

Over at Princeton University, the wrestling team produced an historic breakthrough, edging Cornell 19-13 to snap a 32-match losing streak to the Big Red and earn the program’s first Ivy League title since 1986. The Tigers women’s hockey team made some history of its own, winning the program’s first-ever ECAC Hockey championship and posting a 26-6-1 record. At Jadwin Gym, Carla Berube made a stunning debut as the head coach of the Tiger women’s basketball program, guiding Princeton to a 26-1 overall record and a 14-0 Ivy campaign with the squad rising to No. 17 in national polls.

On the high school scene, the Princeton High boys’ hockey team produced a comeback for the ages in the Mercer County Tournament final. Trailing six-time defending champion Hun 5-0 in the second period, PHS rallied to pull out a dramatic 7-5 win and earn the program’s first county crown since 2011. The Stuart Country Day School hoops team emerged as one of the best squads in New Jersey, winning its third straight state Prep B title and advancing to the MCT final for the first time in program history on the way to posting a 21-7 record. Featuring a gritty group of battle-tested veterans, the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball team went on the road and defeated Doane Academy 64-50 in the state Prep B final.

But then storm clouds rolled in on the horizon as the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading worldwide, putting the health of millions in jeopardy. The Ivy League sensed the danger before others, canceling its men’s and women’s basketball postseason tournaments on March 10. A day later, after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz of the NBA tested positive for the coronavirus, the sports world came to a halt across the globe. Within days, the NCAA canceled the winter and spring seasons with students across the country being sent home to shelter in place. The pro hockey and basketball leagues put their seasons on hold while Major League Baseball postponed opening day indefinitely. The New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) canceled the rest of the winter season right away and later pulled the plug on spring sports as well.

Stuck at home, college and high school athletes kept in contact with their teammates and coaches on their computers via the Zoom calls that became a way of life. Players devised creative ways of working out and maintaining team bonds as they waited to get back into action.

With masking up, social distancing, and frequent hand washing becoming daily staples, sports gingerly started to stick its toe back in the water observing those safety protocols. In New Jersey, a “Last Dance” high school baseball tournament was held in July to give the players, particularly graduating seniors, a final taste of diamond action.

On the pro level, leagues gradually returned to action with the NBA, NHL, and WNBA operating in so-called “bubbles” with athletes located at one site, getting frequently tested for COVID-19 and living under strict protocols. Big league baseball played a sharply limited schedule which went from late July to October with 60 games as opposed to the usual 162. Once the fall rolled around, the NFL and major college football did resume action on the gridiron. But with the pandemic still raging, there were a number of pauses, postponements, and cancellations, particularly at the college level.

Once again, the Ivy League, ever mindful of athletes’ safety, canceled its fall competition. In November, the league pulled the plug on its winter sports as well. more

December 23, 2020

WILL TO LEAD: Will Venable shows his focus during his career for the Princeton University baseball team. Venable, a 2005 Princeton alum who starred at both baseball and basketball during his college days, went on to enjoy a nine-year career in Major League Baseball. Staying in the game, Venable served as coach for the Chicago Cubs the last three seasons and was recently named as the bench coach for the Boston Red Sox. (Photo provided courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Justin Feil

Will Venable interviewed for the Boston Red Sox manager job in late October barely one week before he celebrated his 38th birthday.

The 2005 Princeton University graduate was one of the nine top candidates for the spot that the Red Sox gave to Alex Cora on November 6. Cora added Venable as Boston bench coach on November 20 after three seasons coaching with the Chicago Cubs.

“It’s just an awesome opportunity,” said Venable. “I’m really excited. To be able to go from the Chicago Cubs with the history of that organization and the people I got to work with and learn from and the relationships I’ve built, to then go move to another amazing city with a franchise with an unbelievable history and another group of great people that I can learn from, I’m really excited. And the change in role and having more responsibility and another way to impact a club is all very exciting.”

Venable, who played basketball and baseball at Princeton, has been surprised by how quickly he has risen in the coaching ranks. After finishing his nine-year major league playing career – most of it with the San Diego Padres and then stints with the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Dodgers – he jumped into the other side of the game as special assistant to the Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. He moved to first base coach the following year and last season moved over to third base coach for the Cubs, for whom he also interviewed for the managerial job.

“This whole thing, to be honest, is insane to me,” said Venable. “I grew up with my dad (former Major Leaguer Max Venable) playing and he coached right away after his playing career. I watched him coach for 20-plus years in the minor leagues and never get an opportunity and less than a year removed from my playing career I had a big-league job.” more

December 16, 2020

SHINING KNIGHT: Sean Gleeson fields questions at the Princeton University football media day in 2018 in his role as the offensive coordinator for the Tigers. Gleeson, who went on to serve as the offensive coordinator for Oklahoma State in 2019, has returned to New Jersey this fall to run the offense for the Rutgers University football team. With Gleeson employing his fast-paced attack, Rutgers is enjoying a revival. Coming off a 2019 season that saw the Scarlet Knights to 2-10 overall and 0-9 in Big Ten play, Rutgers is turning heads this fall with its potent offense. Playing only Big 10 games in 2020, the Scarlet Knights are 3-5 and averaging 27.4 points a game. Gleeson, for his part, has been nominated for the Broyles Award, given annually to the top assistant coach in college football. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

When Bob Surace sought to become the head coach of the Princeton University football team a decade ago, he aspired to do more than just get the Tigers back on the winning track.

Surace, a 1990 Princeton alum and former star offensive lineman in his college days, looked to follow the example of legendary Tiger men’s basketball coach Pete Carril.

“I admire Pete Carril as much as anybody in my time at Princeton as a student, as an alum, as a coach,” said Surace, who took over the Tiger program starting with the 2010 season.

“You look at Pete Carril’s tree and how many branches it has as other people have had success and done well. When you think of Pete Carril you think of the sweater and the cigar but you also think of the Princeton offense. I remember in my interview I was asked about scheme and I talked about offense. I wanted to do something with a creative staff that was going to be known as the Princeton offense, doing it at a high speed with a beautiful system and all of those things.”

Installing an innovative no-huddle, hurry-up offense, Surace has guided the Princeton program to Ivy League titles in 2013, 2016, and 2018, setting a slew of program and league offensive records in the process, including an Ivy best of 470 points in going 10-0 in 2018. more

ON POINT: Marcus Schroeder makes a point during a game earlier his month is his role as the associate head coach of the Saint Mary’s men’s basketball program. Schroeder, a 2010 Princeton University alum and former star point guard for the Tigers, is in his 10th season at Saint Mary’s, having climbed up the ranks from graduate assistant to director of basketball operations, to assistant coach to his current position. (Photo by Tod Fierner, Saint Mary’s Athletics)

By Justin Feil

Marcus Schroeder was a high school senior committed to playing for the Princeton University men’s basketball team when he got asked what he’d be doing in 15 years.

“Coaching college basketball,” answered Schroeder.

That was during the 2005-06 school year, and now 15 years later Schroeder has become one of the most highly respected young college coaches in the country. After a year away from the game following his 2010 graduation from Princeton, he returned close to home to join Saint Mary’s College, where this year he was elevated to associate head coach.

“In my head, I had it going a little bit in high school,” said Schroeder.  more

December 9, 2020

MAKING HIS MARK: Richmond Aririguzoh, right, battles in the paint against a Columbia defender last March during his senior season for the Princeton University men’s basketball team. Two-time All-Ivy League center Aririguzoh recently started his pro hoops career, playing for Horsens IC in Denmark’s top league. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Richmond Aririguzoh was happy to give up working as a COVID-19 contact tracer to begin his professional basketball career in Denmark.

“You have people that don’t want to talk,” said Aririguzoh, a former men’s hoops standout for Princeton University who graduated in June.

“They don’t want to let people know that they’re positive, they want to keep doing what they’re doing and go to work. A lot of it was getting to me. I have a lot of respect for people doing contact tracing. I’m glad I did it that long, but I think it was time for me to make my exit.”

Aririguzoh hadn’t played a game since his collegiate career and the Tiger men’s season abruptly ended in mid-March before the start of the Ivy League tournament.

After finishing the brunt of his ecology and evolutionary biology major work, Aririguzoh began taking the steps to further his playing career. He worked out, he hired an agent – the agent of another Princeton graduate Judson Wallace ’05 – and he relied on his new agent to contact prospective teams. After flirting with several opportunities, he settled on Horsens IC in Denmark’s top league.

“I was growing restless,” said Aririguzoh, who averaged 12.0 points and 7.4 rebounds a game in his senior season, helping the Tigers go 14-13 overall and 9-5, earning a spot in the league postseason tourney. more

December 2, 2020

TAKING OFF: Claire Donovan gets ready to hit the ball in a 2019 game during her sophomore season for the Princeton University field hockey team. Deciding to take the year off from school and defer her junior year at Princeton, Donovan has served as an assistant coach for the Princeton Day School field hockey team and taken on a side gig as a delivery driver for DoorDash. (Photo provided by Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Bill Alden

This fall, Claire Donovan got an early taste of life outside the Princeton University bubble and the family feeling surrounding the Tiger field hockey program.

Deciding to take the year off from school and defer her junior year at Princeton, Donovan, a back/midfielder for the Tigers, has served as an assistant coach for the Princeton Day School field hockey team and taken on a side gig as a delivery driver for DoorDash.

“In the beginning it was difficult, I was not ready to be thrown into the real world,” said Donovan, one of six Tiger field hockey players who decided to not enroll in school for the 2020-21 session.

“I am definitely learning a lot of lessons, it is a good little tease into the real world.”

Donavan’s decision to delay her junior year at Princeton came down to academics as much as athletics.

“Towards the end of the summer, we started realizing that field hockey wasn’t looking too good,” said Donovan.

“The spring online classes were not great, I was not a fan of them. Once I realized that we might be having Zoom classes again in the fall, my family thought that it might not be worth it to pay tuition to do online classes. That played a large part in my decision.” more

RAISING ARIZONA: Princeton University men’s basketball player Richmond Aririguzoh, right, battles in the paint against Lafayette in a 72-65 loss to the Leopards on November 13, 2019. Two weeks later, Aririguzoh grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds as the Tigers fell 67-65 to Arizona State. While the defeat left the Tigers at 0-5, they built on their performance that night to go 10-4 in their next 14 games on the way to a 14-13 campaign and a spot in the Ivy League postseason tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Remy Martin is a fine French cognac, known worldwide for its smoothness.

But two nights before last Thanksgiving, another Remy Martin, the star guard for the Arizona State University men’s basketball team, produced a vintage performance at Jadwin Gym as the Sun Devils battled Princeton.

The 6’0, 175-pound Martin put on a dazzling display in the November 26 contest, electrifying a Jadwin throng of 2,727 that included Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley Sr., the father of Bobby Hurley, the ASU head coach.

Slashing to the basket, draining pull-up jumpers, and hitting from long distance, Martin poured in 33 points, including a 23-point outburst in the second half.

Despite Martin’s heroics, Princeton, which brought a 0-4 record into the evening, was undeterred. With senior center Richmond Aririguzoh dominating in the paint with 16 points and a career-high 18 rebounds, the Tigers overcame a 46-39 second half deficit to lead 60-54 with 6:19 remaining in regulation. more

November 25, 2020

LENDING A HAND: Princeton University wrestler Lenny Merkin greets Sebby the Sloth, a mascot that he created, in the Utah Salt Flats. Bringing Sebby along for the ride, senior Merkin placed third at the U.S. Senior Nationals in the 67 kilogram (148-pounds) Greco-Roman competition in October. Earlier this month, he made the semifinals in the 67 kg Greco-Roman class at the UWW(United World Wrestling) U23 and Junior Nationals. (Photo provided by Lenny Merkin)

By Justin Feil

When Lenny Merkin headed to Coralville, Iowa, for the wrestling U.S. Senior Nationals last month, he took with him Sebby the Sloth, a mascot that the Princeton University senior created.

“It’s this stuffed animal I carry around to training and tournaments and it ended up taking off internationally,” said Merkin, who maintains Instagram and Twitter accounts for Sebby.

“It blew up and now it’s turning into a side project where I’m trying to use it to grow wrestling and spread the word. I’ve been able to lean on that since I do most of my travels solo. I’ve been able to have this stuffed animal to lean on if I don’t have anyone else.”

Merkin is the rare Princeton wrestler who favors the Greco-Roman style over the college format of folkstyle. In Greco-Roman, one can only do takedowns by attacking an opponent’s upper body with leg attacks being prohibited. In both folkstyle and freestyle, a wrestler can do takedowns by either shooting or throwing.

“Since I got into Princeton, I told the coaches that my goal is to be an asset to the team, but when I have the chance to compete in Greco-Roman, I want to do so and I want to be able to have an opportunity to have an Olympic team, something you can’t do with folkstyle unfortunately,” said Merkin, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., who was a four-time New York prep states champion at Poly Prep. more

November 18, 2020

LOST WINTER: Princeton University men’s basketball player Richmond Aririguzoh goes up for a lay-up in a 2019 game against Penn before a throng at Jadwin Gym. There won’t be any crowds at Jadwin this season as the Ivy League Council of Presidents said last Thursday that they have canceled winter sports for league schools during the 2020-21 season. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Normally by mid-November, fans would have already been flocking to Jadwin Gym and Hobey Baker Rink to take in Princeton University basketball and hockey games.

As of last November 17th, there had been three hoops games played at Jadwin and five hockey games at Baker in the early stages of the 2019-20 campaign.

But these aren’t normal times, and last Thursday the Ivy League Council of Presidents canceled winter sports for league schools during the 2020-21 campaign, thereby leaving Jadwin and Baker empty this season along with Dillon Gym, DeNunzio Pool, the Stan Sieja Fencing Room, and the Jadwin Squash Courts, among other venues.

In addition, the presidents announced that the league will not conduct competition for fall sports during the upcoming spring semester. Lastly, competition for spring sports is postponed through at least the end of February 2021.

In reaching the decision, which was unanimous, the presidents said that “regrettably, the current trends regarding transmission of the COVID-19 virus and subsequent protocols that must be put in place are impeding our strong desire to return to intercollegiate athletics
competition in a safe manner.”

While Princeton University men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson was disappointed when he learned of the decision, it didn’t come as a surprise. more

November 11, 2020

EYEING THE OLYMPICS: Princeton University wrestling star Matt Kolodzik sizes up a Rutgers foe during a 2016 bout. Kolodzik, who completed his Princeton career this past winter by helping the Tigers win their first Ivy League title since 1986, was later named as a co-recipient, along with lacrosse superstar Michael Sowers, of the Roper Award, given to the top senior male athlete at the school. Kolodzik is turning his focus to making the U.S. team for the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Last month, Kolodzik finished sixth in the 65-kilogram (143-pound) freestyle competition at the U.S. Senior Nationals in Iowa. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

As 2020 approached, Matt Kolodzik was focusing on making the U.S. wrestling squad for the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

The Princeton University star had deferred his senior season with the Tigers to train with the NJRTC, a shared Regional Training Center between Rutgers and Princeton wrestling with the end goal to produce Olympians.

But with Princeton 149-pounder Matt D’Angelo getting injured and winning an NCAA individual title as another path to the Olympic Trials, Kolodzik returned to the mat for the Tigers and helped the program make history.

After winning by a technical fall over Andrew Garr of Columbia in his 2020 debut on February 8, Kolodzik came back the next day to defeat Hunter Richard 4-2 as Princeton edged Cornell 19-13 to end a 32-match losing streak to the Big Red and clinch the program’s first Ivy League title since 1986.

“Being on the bench with the team, there is nothing like it,” said Kolodzik, reflecting on the triumph over Cornell. more

November 4, 2020

LIGHTNING STRIKE: Jeff Halpern holds the Stanley Cup after helping to coach the Tampa Bay Lightning to the title last month as the team topped the Dallas Stars in the finals. Former Princeton University men’s hockey star Halpern ’99 started coaching in the Tampa Bay organization after a 14-year playing career in the NHL. He was promoted to the Lightning as an assistant coach for the 2018-19 season. (Photo provided by Jeff Halpern)

By Bill Alden

During his career with the Princeton University men’s hockey team in the late 1990s, Jeff Halpern got to lift a championship trophy.

High-scoring forward Halpern ’99 helped Princeton win the ECAC Hockey Championship in 1998 as the Tigers posted a 5-4 win over Clarkson in double overtime in the final at Lake Placid, N.Y.

After concluding his Tiger career a year later, Halpern went on to enjoy a 14-year run in the NHL but never experienced a championship campaign.

Turning to coaching, Halpern joined the Tampa Bay organization and was promoted to the Lightning as an assistant coach for the 2018-19 season.

Last month, Halpern got to grasp the ultimate trophy in hockey, the Stanley Cup, after helping to guide Tampa Bay to the title as the Lightning defeated the Stars in the finals in six games in a series held in the NHL bubble in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

For Halpern, getting to experience that moment is something he will never forget.

“I had a chance to lift it up,” said Halpern. “I have told people you have watched a movie your whole life like The Godfather and, all of a sudden, you are in the movie with the actors and with the scenery. It is a very surreal feeling to think of yourself in that moment.”

Halpern’s time at Princeton was a key stop on his path to that Hollywood ending.

“The biggest thing is the friendships I made with teammates; we spent a lot of time at the rink at practice and games,” said Halpern, a 6’0, 200-pound native of Potomac, Md. who tallied 142 points on 60 goals and 82 assists in his Tiger career and is the fifth-leading scorer in program history.

“One of the biggest things for my development was that we graduated eight or nine seniors after my freshman year, so going into my sophomore year I had the chance to play in almost every situation and play a lot of minutes. That was a really good chance to not just play at a high level in college but to get a big role.” more