Dedication Yielded New Confidence As PHS Girls' Hoops Tripled Win Total
By Bill Alden
When the Princeton High girls' basketball team won its first three games this season, the Little Tigers matched their win total for all of the 2003-04 season.
While PHS struggled a little bit after that auspicious start, the club righted itself and finished the season at 9-15, thereby tripling its win total from a year earlier.
In assessing her team's campaign, PHS head coach Nikki Inzano was proud of how far the Little Tigers progressed. "It was a breakthrough season," asserted Inzano, noting that the program hadn't won nine games in a season since the late 1990s. "That good start gave us confidence. They stepped it up when they needed to, whether in games or in practice."
Before the season even started, Inzano had a feeling it wouldn't be business as usual for a program that had struggled mightily in recent seasons.
"It was a lot of hard work in the summer," said Inzano, a former basketball star at Temple who has now completed two years at the helm of the PHS girls' squad.
"They were committed to playing basketball; the young kids were really dedicated. They were also more familiar with me. In my first year, they didn't know what I wanted."
The Little Tigers' increased self-confidence caused their foes to start looking at them in a different light. "When we would walk into an opponent's gym, they would have to think twice about us," declared Inzano. "They knew it was not going to be a walkthrough like in the past."
Inzano, for her part, pointed to a pair of home losses to powerful Notre Dame and Trenton as evidence of her team's improvement.
"We played Notre Dame and Trenton at home and played them to within 16 points," recalled Inzano. "Most teams couldn't stay within 20 of those teams. I think that showed the girls that they could really compete."
One of PHS' best competitors this winter was Erin Cook, who averaged 16 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game for the Little Tigers.
"Erin was always asking me what can I do to get better," said Inzano of the sharp-shooting junior who poured in a career-high 29 points in a loss to South Hunterdon in late January. "She got into a rut a couple of times and I told her to shoot, a shooter has to shoot."
Another key component in the PHS renaissance was athletic sophomore Kelly Curtis. "Kelly is so fast," said Inzano referring to Curtis, who is a versatile performer for the PHS track team. "She just needs to play a little more under control and work on making her power lay-ups."
Inzano also got a powerful contribution from her quartet of seniors Kamillah Parker, Zoe Sarnak, Tiffany Schuler, and Sarah La Voie.
"The seniors had a great attitude and they really pushed each other," added Inzano, noting that PHS might have won even more games this winter if floor leader Sarnak hadn't been slowed by a gimpy ankle for most of the season. "They made an impact; they really knew what they wanted."
PHS' seniors ended their careers on a high note as they helped the Little Tigers finish the season by topping Lawrence 38-34 in a Mercer County Tournament consolation game.
"I think they were just happy that they could end with a win," said Inzano. "It was big step forward. There was a sense of closure. We started the season with a win over Lawrence and we ended the season with a win over Lawrence."
If the Little Tigers build on what they accomplished this winter, next year's seniors may be finishing their careers with an appearance in the state tournament.