The Princeton High boys' lacrosse team found itself in the uncharacteristic position of sporting a 1-5 record just two weeks into the season.
But with the senior leadership the Little Tigers have this year they’ve managed to put the slow start behind them and on Tuesday won for the third time in their last four games, defeating Hightstown, 8-7.
“The program has been dominant for a long time and I think the last two years people look at us and think maybe Princeton is on the low,” senior co-captain Carson Giles said after the win over the Rams. “But I think this squad of guys right here just shows how much fight and how much energy we really have. And when it comes right down to it that comes from the huge amount of respect we have for the coaches.”
Princeton lost four of those five games by eight or more goals and could have seen its season spiral out of control. Instead Princeton bounced back with a 7-3 victory over Robbinsville and a 12-6 victory over South Brunswick. There was a 12-9 loss to West Windsor-Plainsboro North before bouncing back with the decision over Hightstown.
“I think the North game was a little bit of a fluke for us,” said Giles, a starting defender in his third season with the varsity team. “I felt like we could have come out and won that game. I feel like we have been marred by injuries early in the season but we’re going to come together late. We have a great group of guys so I think we can overcome a bad record to start the season.”
The win over Hightstown was a microcosm of the season as a whole. Princeton fell behind early and then took the lead with a strong third quarter before holding off a late flurry by the Rams
“I think our defense is really talented and athletic,” Giles said. “We’re starting two sophomores pretty often. Simon Shepard has been a huge piece of our defense coming along. Ben Quinones is in my opinion one of the best defenders around; definitely the best (long stick midfielder) around. And I think we have two phenomenal goalies who help us, a junior and a senior with Sam Brandt and Joe O’Donnell. It all just comes together. My job is to be the senior leader and just bring those guys along and bring some energy and passion.”
Over the course of his career, Giles has evolved into one of the best leaders Princeton has had and that is not lost on the coaching staff.
“We haven’t had one like that in a long time,” Princeton coach Chip Casto said. “We have talked about leadership. We have read stuff together with the captains and they have really bought into it and done a tremendous job. Coach (Peter Stanton) and I talked. He’s been here for over 20 years and these guys have taken control and set a tone where we have stepped away which is great for us. I think it is starting to pay off for us.
“The captains (Giles along with Alex Park and Dylan Westerman) inspire people because there is a lot of trust there and people know they put that effort in.”
Giles joined the varsity as a sophomore and played where h was needed.
“I came into high school as a defender and my sophomore year when I had a chance to be on the varsity the defense was loaded with a bunch of juniors and seniors and D1 commits,” he recalled. “Coach Casto told me I had to play D middie and I just took the mentality of doing what it took to help the team. I think in the end playing D middie helped me because I have gotten a lot faster and my feet have gotten a lot better. (His career) has flown bye, but I have enjoyed every second of it.”
Westerman had three goals and an assist in the win over Hightstown. Patrick McDonald scored twice, while Jay Jackson added a goal and three assists. The Little Tigers were down at times in the game but never out of it.
“When you are 4-6, you’re pretty used to getting down early in games,” Giles said. “I think that showed a lot of character from our team. We were down and we were 3-6and it’s easy to quit late in the season. But that’s not what our guys do. They fight through the injuries and the losses and have fought through the adversity all season.”
Casto has been thrilled with the leadership of his captains and with the way his team has battled through injuries all season long.
“They are really solid guys who are showing up every day,” said the Princeton coach, whose team is scheduled to play at Allentown on Friday and will be host to a perennial state power, Summit, on Monday. “The sad part is we lost two seniors, Ben Drezner and Evan Filion, for the whole season and I feel really bad for them, especially today with Senior Day.
“We have had some little nicks and people are starting to come back from that. Charles Hamit, a sophomore, has scored a lot of goals for us and he’s out another week or so. If we can get all the people back we’ll try to have a traditional run. They are scrappy and they’re working hard.”