IMPOSING HIS WILL: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse star Will Doran heads to goal in a game this spring. Senior star Doran produced one of the best seasons in program history, tallying 128 points on 55 goals and 73 assists to lead the state in scoring. PHS finished the season with a 9-7 record, advancing to the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals along the way. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Coming into the spring, the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team had aspirations of winning the Mercer County Tournament title and making a deep run in the state tournament.
But hit by some untimely injuries and illness, PHS ended up falling to Allentown 18-15 in the MCT quarterfinals and losing 14-9 to Mt. Olive in the first round of the North Jersey, Group 3 sectional.
While Tiger head coach Chip Casto acknowledged that his squad didn’t achieve what it had hoped, he saw important progress in the program nevertheless.
“We fell short of our achievement goals — but surpassed our process and culture goals,” said Casto, whose team posted a final record of 9-7.
“These seniors were tremendous this year and for the three previous. Will Doran and Will Erickson exemplified what we are about. Be a solid student in the classroom and then commit to helping make our team the best that it can be. They really helped the freshman and like 10-11 new sophomores to understand who we are, how we do things, how we talk and treat each other. It was a tremendous team to be around every day.”
Star attacker Doran produced a tremendous senior campaign, tallying 128 points on 55 goals and 73 assists to lead the state in total points.
“When is the last time a CVC kid led the state in scoring?” said Casto of Doran, who ended his career with 119 goals and 119 assists in just three seasons as the 2020 campaign was canceled due to the pandemic. “It was one of the greatest seasons in program history. In fact, it was the second highest behind Mike Olentine ’10 (140 points on 67 goals and 73 assists).”
The Williams College-bound Doran had big games even in defeat, contributing two goals and seven assists in the loss to Allentown in the MCT and two goals and six assists in the defeat to Mt. Olive in the state opener.
“What a crazy game; we went down big, like 8-1; got it back to 9-12,” said Casto, reflecting on the defeat to Allentown in the MCT. “We figured some things out in the second and third quarters but did not have enough steam to catch them late. We felt we were basically evenly matched with Mt. Olive but they had improved — as did we — but the big change was that they were now playing a zone and at times had three players going to Will Doran. Then we figure the zone out a little and make a run to maybe 8-11 and then again run out of steam. They are well coached and play very hard.”
PHS played hard this spring from beginning to end. “We were really in every game — most losses were by four or less,” said Casto. “Will Erickson did everything for us on defense and played like a guy who wants to win and improve. John O’Donnell was having a tremendous year before his knee. He was a key senior that kept relaying the message of process and work throughout the season even as he showed up with crutches and joined the staff.”
Casto credited the squad’s senior group with conveying the right message on a daily basis.
“They have really helped to establish the program as one that really helps the student-athlete understand what that term means and to begin to understand that process is so much more important and valuable than achievement,” said Casto. “The seniors talked about working towards winning the MCT but when we failed they showed up the next day ready to move the process towards the next goal of winning games for the best state seeding. It was non-stop. They talked to the team everyday with the same strong message.”
The team’s young guns figure to give the Tigers some strong play in the future as sophomore Patrick Kenah tallied 53 goals and 38 assists this season with freshman Brendan Beatty chipping in 23 goals and 25 assists and freshman Braden Barlag contributing 19 goals and two assists.
“Patrick Kenah will run the show and he will also realize how good Will Doran was and how Will made life for Patrick kind of easy at times,” said Casto. “He will have a young crew to work with but he and Braden Barlag will do well together. Brendan Beatty will just keep getting better and be our downhill dodger. Brendan and Braden stepped up as freshmen, we got a lot of time and production out of them. We look at them as building blocks going forward.”
Another building block for the Tigers is goalie Rory Dobson, who mades 105 saves this spring in his sophomore campaign.
“Rory overachieved in our book,” said Casto. “He is really dedicating himself to stopping the ball; he needs to improve in the clearing game. But it is nice to know that the next two years are solid in the cage.”
Sophomore Archer Ayers improved in his role as the team’s face-off specialist, winning 156-of-259 face-offs.
“He is a huge piece next year as we will not be nearly as efficient on offense,” said Casto. “Archer can control a game if he starts controlling the face-off X a little more.”
Looking ahead to next year, Casto believes bolstering the team’s positive culture this spring will yield dividends in the future.
“We have a big crew of rising sophomores and juniors (like 21) that are ready to come back next year and carry on the traditions and win some games,” said Casto.
“We know these kids at PHS have so many interests and talents we help them to find opportunities to play lacrosse or just to keep a stick in their hands.”