WEST WINDSOR: Neiffer, defense eyeing challenge

Pirates lacrosse aims for finals

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   Andrew Neiffer is looking forward to the West Windsor-Plainsboro South boys lacrosse team’s tournament games.
   The Pirates, who play Princeton High School in the Mercer County Tournament on Saturday, should face a bigger challenge at the defensive end than of late. In its recent six-game winning streak, WW-P South has outscored opponents, 88-22.
   ”We prefer the harder games a lot more,” said Neiffer, a senior defender. “We have a lot of experience, especially with (goalie Evan) Burke being there for four years. He keeps us calm. Dave Twamley is really vocal, especially in big games, and Matt Bright likes to help encourage us also.”
   Neiffer expects a tough game against PHS despite the fact that the top-seeded Pirates just dominated them, 16-6, last Thursday in the regular season. The Little Tigers are the MCT fourth seed for the rematch.
   ”It definitely helps that we already played them,” Neiffer said. “We know what they’re going to try to do. It also helps them. They have a great coach and he’ll try to game plan for us and look at their mistakes and try to correct them.
   ”I think we played pretty well as a unit. We used man-to-man and zone. We’ll probably keep pushing back and forth on Saturday and see what works best.”
   Everything seems to be working at the defensive end for the Pirates. They are on pace to snap the program’s all-time record for goals allowed per game. Neiffer credits the defensive prowess to their experience playing together.
   ”We started off preseason pretty quickly,” he said. “We all had a pretty good grasp from last year. We realized we could be a good defense when we beat A.L. Johnson and held them to seven goals.”
   Only one team has scored more against WW-P South this season, Montgomery High in a narrow 8-7 win over the Pirates. It is the only loss for the Pirates, who were 14-1 heading into Thursday’s scheduled game against Hightstown.
   ”The defense this year is one of the differences between last year and this year,” said Pirates head coach Matt Foret. “Last year had a pretty potent offense. But we would give up a couple goals early and play from behind.
   ”The defense has been good this year. They’re playing as a solid unit on the back. We have everyone playing together. It gives our offense confidence that they don’t have to be perfect all the time. The offense knows if they turn the ball over, it’s not going to turn into a goal. That helps them play more relaxed.”
   Neiffer has been at the defensive end since he took up the sport in ninth grade at the urging of then-assistant coach, now girls varsity girls head coach Bryan Fisher and one of Neiffer’s closest friends, Twamley.
   ”I decided to go out,” Neiffer said, “and I loved it.”
   It took a little time, but Neiffer adjusted to what the Pirates were looking for from him. After one year of freshman lacrosse, Neiffer moved up to varsity as a sophomore — along with Foret.
   ”It was probably easiest for me,” Neiffer said of the promotion. “Coach Foret was my freshman coach. Our old coach left, and he got promoted to varsity coach. It was all the same terminology and calls. It wasn’t completely easy, but I had an advantage over most of the other guys.”
   He also had a big disadvantage with his late start.
   ”He had some growing pains,” Foret said. “At times, he made some mistakes. He didn’t understand what players were trying to do to set him up. He didn’t start last year, but he played a lot. He’s back in the starting lineup.
   ”He’s come such a long way from someone who was an athlete trying to play lacrosse to a lacrosse player. He’s been a great leader for us.”
   Neiffer also plays football for WW-P South. It was his first love, but he has found a place on the lacrosse field as well. Each year, he has become a bigger part of the defense.
   ”My stick skills have improved a long way from earlier in my career,” Neiffer said. “That’s where I see the most improvement.”
   As Neiffer has improved, so have the Pirates. They are looking to add the MCT crown to their Colonial Valley Conference championship that they wrapped up with the regular-season win over PHS last week. A win over the Little Tigers this time moves them into Monday’s county final against the winner of WW-P North and Notre Dame.
   ”That’d be amazing,” Neiffer said. “South won the CVC. That was great to be the first team in history to win the conference.”
   Neiffer is thrilled to be a prominent part of the Pirates history. His improvements over four years are one reason that the defense has put together a record-setting 2009, and are on the brink of a bit more history.
   ”It’s really been huge to see his development as a player,” Foret said. “It’s been tremendous what he’s brought to the team solidifying our defense back there.”