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PRINCETON: Panthers reaching new heights

By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
The Princeton Day School girls basketball team has set modest goals for the season.
First and foremost, the Panthers want to improve. They continued to take steps in that direction on Monday with a 42-25 win at Princeton High. With the win, the Panthers improved to 5-4 on the season, equaling their win total for all of last year.
“My first year was kind of a slow start,” said junior Shayla Stevenson, who is in her third year as a starter for the Panthers. “My sophomore year we did a little better and this year we got a lot more people in from the middle school and who were new to the school. This year I feel like we are a lot stronger. We have a lot of people who can do different things and that is the best part about our team.”
The Panthers showed off their balance on the offensive end of the court in the win over the Little Tigers. Isabel Meyercord led the way with 14 points, while Stevenson had 11 and Ryan Robinson chipped in with eight. The Panthers came off a holiday vacation break and responded with a solid effort against Princeton.
“We lost a hard game against Stuart earlier,” Stevenson said. “I thought we came back strong in this game. We fought our hardest and looked our best plays wise. We tried to get everybody a shot and not just play off of one player.”
The added depth has made a difference for the Panthers this season. Stevenson was thrown into a tough role as a freshman but now has others on the court who can chip in and make a difference.
“Her freshman year she was the best player on the team so our opponents would key in on her right away,” said PDS coach Kamau Bailey, whose team was scheduled to face Hun on Thursday. “Now we have help for her in the backcourt with Bridget Kane, Brooke Smukler and Ryan Robinson, so she is free a little bit more. So she has been able to get some shots up and she is a good shooter.”
Stevenson connected on three shots from three-point range in the win over Princeton. Her shooting has helped open things up inside for Meyercord.
“I just try to get open and my teammates find me all the time,” Stevenson said. “I’ve been working on improving my shot and looking to score a little more this year. Our whole team has improved. Last year we only won five games and this is our fifth win already this year. We’re trying to win more games and get more confidence in ourselves.”
Now in his third year as the Panthers’ coach, Bailey has seen the team take a step forward each season. This year he has seen his team take the biggest step yet.
“We’ve been working a lot on execution in practice,” the Panther coach said. “I was a little nervous about what the break might have done to us. I was proud of the way the girls came out with a lot of energy and executed really well without having had too many practices during the break. And our chemistry continues to improve on the court.
“I am fortunate this year to have quite a few girls that have experience and have a basketball IQ to make things happen out there. Isabelle has been working really hard in practice on finishing around the basket and that has really started to show.”
The fifth win came in a rivalry game against Princeton, with another local team, Hun, up next. Bailey was happy his team finally had a chance to play the Little Tigers.
“I’m new to the area but what I am coming to find out there is a little rivalry here,” he said. “This is the first time since I have been the head coach that we have been able to play them. So I was happy we were able to come out on top.”
Julia Ryan led Princeton with nine points. Princeton was coming off winning the championship in a holiday tournament with a 32-31 win over Lacey. Ryan had 16 points to lead the Little Tigers, who has opened the tournament with a 47-12 win over Perth Amboy in the opening round. Ryan had 12 points, Zoe Tesone 11 and Jamaica Ponder added 10 in the win. 

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