Carroll leads Tiger girls to CJ B title

By: Bob Nuse
   NORTH BRUNSWICK — The Princeton High girls’ swim team likes to have a good time.
   Whether it’s pre-race cheers, painting their faces to support the boys’ team, or just the fun that comes with being a team, the Little Tigers genuinely enjoy each other’s company.
   But the Little Tigers also want to win, which they have done with regularity of late.
   On Tuesday, Princeton topped Rumson-Fair Haven, 111-59, for its third straight Central Jersey B championship. With the win, the Little Tigers advanced to face Haddonfield in the state B semifinals. The meet, which was originally scheduled for Thursday, was postponed and rescheduled for today at 3:45 p.m. at West Windsor-Plainsboro High North. The state final is scheduled for Saturday at 3:45 p.m. at The College of New Jersey.
   "It’s a pretty unique atmosphere around this team," said Princeton coach Greg Hand, whose squad improved to 11-1 with the win. "In one sense it’s just another team that works hard and gets along well together. But in another sense I think they have found a way to take it to another level, which a lot of kids will look back at and not be able to say they have experienced something like that.
   "What they have done is just fed off the energy level and all the positive things that the older kids bring. And the older kids have been re-enforced by the kind of response they got when they tried to be leaders, which made it special. The great thing is that the feel-good part of the team has always followed the work-hard part. I think that’s the only way everybody works."
   Princeton dominated what was supposed to be a close meet right from the start on Tuesday. The Little Tigers took first and third in the opening medley relay, then picked up wins from Kathleen Morrison (200 free), Nina Rossi (200 individual medley) and Carson Johnson in the next three events to build a 44-18 lead by the break.
   Princeton kept the momentum going when Cranbury’s Maddy Carroll added a win in the butterfly coming out of the break. Before it was over, Rossi added a win in the 100 free and Morrison won the 500 free.
   "I didn’t think it would be this easy," said Carroll, one of Princeton’s captains. "We knew that they were a really good team and we were expecting it to be a lot closer, maybe in the 80s. The meet started off well with the first event when we took first and third in the relay. Then we did really well in the 200 free and from there on. If we were going to win, we were expecting 85-85 and win on power points.
   "A lot of people just dug in and got their best times of the season. There were a lot of first places that we just weren’t really expecting. This was by far our best meet of the season."
   Not only did Princeton win early, but it picked up two of the next three places in all three events prior to the break. The punctuation mark was placed in the 500 free, where the Little Tigers went 1-2-3 behind Morrison, Elizabeth Cava and Hannah Gursky to open up a 78-32 lead.
   "We had no expectations this season at all," said Carroll, who has been part of the last three championship teams. "We knew we had a great group of seniors last year. Every meet last year was so close and we ended up winning until Montgomery at the end. All the other teams this season have been so good. We knew Rumson was good and we’ve been thinking about them the whole season. We’re taking nothing for granted at all and we’re taking it one meet at a time like we did last year.
   "This is my fourth year and my fourth year against Rumson. I think after four years of building a team we finally know what it is like to build a winning team. There is so much camaraderie on the team and everybody is out there for each other. We’re always supporting each other."
   And it’s a team that has certainly bonded to the point where Princeton enjoys itself in the pool and out of the pool. And it’s a team that has overcome some tough graduation losses, but keeps on winning.
   "We lost some good swimmers, but we gained a lot of depth," said Carroll, who also finished second in the 100 backstroke and was on two winning relay teams. "And we have people who used to be just average swimmers who are now coming out with really great times, like Carson Johnson. She’s done really well this year and she won the 50 today. (Cranbury’s) Caroline Sholl got second in the 50. There are a lot of good swimmers that have taken it up a notch and made a huge difference.
   "People are practicing harder and there is a lot more dedication this year. "
   And that dedication led to a win that was a lot easier than anyone could have expected.
   "It was a close meet, we just did awesome and we all swam our best times of the year," said Rossi, who was also part of two winning relays. "It just keeps growing, that’s the biggest difference. We still have the same spirit. But more and more swimmers are coming into the program."
   CRANBURY SAUCE: Other Cranbury swimmers to contribute included Melissa Carduner, who was part of the winning 200 medley relay with Carroll, and Ali Mercuro, who was part of the first-place 200 free relay team.