With Gardner through when the heat was on, PDS Girls’ lax Bishop Eustace in a non-public semi-private
GOAL-ORIENTED: Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse player Paige Gardner heads for goal during the non-public New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Tournament B. Last week, junior star Gardner had five goals and three assists, including the winner, as top-seeded PDS edged fourth-seeded Bishop Eustace 15-14 in the non-public Semi-Final B. On Saturday, Gardner scored seven goals to help PDS defeat third-seeded Holy Spirit in the non-public B-final. The Panthers, who improved to 14-8 with the win, were scheduled to face Oak Knoll in the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions on June 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
The heat was on as the Princeton Day School women’s lacrosse team hosted Bishop Eustace in the non-public New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Semifinals B last week and Paige Gardner was determined to keep shooting.
As temperatures soared into the 90s in the May 31 contest, top-seeded PDS trailed fourth-seeded Bishop Eustace 10-9 with 18:17 left in the second half .
Junior forward Gardner took charge, scoring two goals and assisting another as the Panthers took a 14-10 lead.
“I think we were worried and the yellow cards weren’t on our side, it was something we were really struggling with,” Gardner said. “There was a moment when you have to go, you have to continue. Once we get a goal we can’t take a break, we just have to keep going and know your break is coming after the game.
Bishop Eustace, however, responded with a 4-0 run to tie the game at 14-14. Gardner came back, finding the back of the net with 2 minutes left in the game on a pass from Tessa Caputo in what proved to be the decisive count in a 15-14 victory for the Panthers.
“I just looked at the clock and we were tied so we had to go,” recalled Gardner, who had five goals and three assists in the victory. “Tesa [Caputo] trapped me, I didn’t really think about it. If someone scored, that’s what we needed.
The triumph sent PDS to the non-public B final in their first appearance in the competition. The Panthers then beat third-seeded Holy Spirit 17-11 in Saturday’s non-public B final, improving to 14-8.
Looking into the finals, Gardner noted that winning the Prep B championship earlier this season gave PDS a big boost of confidence heading into the non-public competition.
“It’s so exciting, especially after winning Prep B,” Gardner said, referring to the Panthers’ 13-12 win over Montclair Kimberley Academy in the Prep B final on May 20.
“It was awesome, we haven’t even reached the Prep B championship for PDS lacrosse since 2017. It was huge for us. Once we get to that point, we’re going to keep pushing until we can’t take it anymore.
Gardner acknowledged the Panthers were pushed hard by Bishop Eustace, prompting a fiery halftime message from PDS head coach Jill Thomas with the teams tied 7-7.
“We started to get a little nervous, but we had a chat at halftime,” Gardner recalled.
“It was really about tenacity and trusting each other. It was so hot. I’m proud that we worked so hard, I think we really deserved it.
Working well with sophomore star Caputo helped Gardner ramp up in the clutch.
“We’ve been playing together for a while, we’re on the same club team as well,” Gardner said. “She is a year younger than me. She’s crazy, so we work well with each other.
In the win over Bishop Eustace, PDS displayed their attacking poise as Caputo registered three goals and two assists, Sophie Jaffe contributing four goals, Elle Anhut scoring two goals and two assists and Ali Surace getting one goal and two assists decisive.
“I feel like we have a lot of offensive firepower,” Gardner said. “We just worked on our chemistry so much…and it really pays off. Everyone was setting everyone up so well. We trust each other so much,”
Having now scored 75 goals, a team high this season, Gardner has worked hard to earn the trust of her teammates.
“I feel like off-season training has really helped, I would do anything to help the team,” Gardner said. “The footwork is the thing I’ve worked on the most. It’s also about working together as a team during our off-season training and our trip to Florida.
PDS head coach Thomas admitted she started a fire under her players during her half-time speech.
“I don’t yell at them often, I said we weren’t tough, you give them this game, you let them go,” Thomas said, noting the Panthers lost a player due to a yellow card starting with eight. minutes remaining in regulation and were two players down for the final three minutes of the contest.
“Then we settled in and whatever and they kept coming back and we kept responding every time and we lost a player. Every time we lost a player, we responded. The match is played with 12 players, we have just won it and we are going to the final with 10.
Although Thomas was not surprised that Gardner got the winning count, she noted that any of the many PDS players could have passed.
“Paige has been great, but we’ve been an ‘us’ this year,” Thomas said. “Our half-time message, early game messages and yesterday’s message was us before me. If Paige was going to get it, Paige had to get it but someone was going to get it.
The Panther defensive unit made big saves when it mattered.
“We played great defense,” said Thomas, who was inducted into the New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2018 and previously announced she would retire at the end of the season after 34 years at the helm. school. “We’re young, it’s a freshman defense there. Arden [Bogle] was huge in goal, she got the chain today (given to the team’s player of the game) and well deserved.
For Thomas, it was an emotional moment to lead his side to a thrilling victory in their final game on Smoyer Field as the competition for the title was played out at Hunterdon Central.
“Like all of them, they’re all great memories, they’re all special,” Thomas said, when asked to reflect on his memories of the home pitch. “I don’t know how many wins, championships and losses too. Players who have played on this court; there are many great ones, you know that.
Thomas was looking forward to creating another great memory as the Panthers played for a second championship in his swan song.
“We’re going to prom, that’s what I tell the girls,” Thomas said. “They got the ticket and we’ll see you there.”
Gardner and her teammates were determined to cash in on that ticket for themselves and their outgoing leader.
“It’s for the team and also for Coach Thomas and everything he’s given us and this program,” Gardner said. “Everyone wants it so badly.”