After playing two years on the Princeton Day School junior varsity girls’ basketball team, Daniella Levitan considered giving up the sport last winter.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to play last year and coach [Mika Ryan] called me up,” recalled Levitan.
“I was at a friend’s house and she said please play. One of my best friends is on the team so I decided to do it. It is the best thing I ever chose to do.”
Levitan went on to play a key role for the Panthers last season, providing a steadying presence for a team that went with six players for much of the year due to a series of injuries.
This winter, Levitan has assumed a leadership position for the team, serving as one of its captains.
“I am one of the captains which has been a really wonderful experience,” said Levitan.
“Basketball season is the best time of the year and I enjoy being able to help others improve like they helped me last year. I want to give back and want to see them play next year when I visit.”
Last Friday against visiting Bound Brook, Levitan helped the Panthers in a big way, scoring a game-high and career-high 12 points as PDS cruised to a 38-12 victory.
Having lost three straight games coming into the contest, Levitan and her teammates were determined to get back on the right track.
“We knew we have really been struggling; I think we wanted to prove to ourselves and show the team that we were capable of pushing through,” said Levitan, reflecting on the victory which improved PDS to 7-9.
“We had a really tough season last year and we pushed through everything. I think we wanted to relive that.”
The Panthers led 7-4 early in the second quarter but produced an 11-2 run to seize control of the game and cruised from there.
“Sometimes we start out slow but once we are able to get into the groove the game completely changes,” said Levitan.
“It was the most confident we have played in a long time. I think that is what really pushed us.”
Levitan pushed the pace in the fourth quarter, culminating two fast breaks with diving layups and drawing cheers from the stands and the PDS bench.
“That was called a surprise,” said Levitan in assessing her fourth quarter heroics. “Part of it was confidence and me thinking that I am not always going to have a chance to go up for that so do it now.”
PDS head coach Mika Ryan enjoyed seeing Levitan’s show of confidence. “I was so happy for Daniella,” said Ryan, in assessing Levitan’s career night.
“She was instrumental in the great season that we had last year. She came back this year and she had dedicated herself to our team over the summer. I asked her to be a captain and she said yes. It is good to see the way she played today. The best part of that was that she was in the right position defensively. She deflected with the correct hand, just doing the fundamental things that we work on.”
In order to get some better work out of her team, Ryan has shuffled the starting lineup.
“The thinking was to try to get more competition; that particular group started against Abington Friends and even though we lost, they were very competitive,” said Ryan, who got 10 points from junior Emily Goldman in the win over Bound Brook with senior Lauren Johnson and freshman Olivia Okorodudu adding five points apiece.
“It has been my beef all season that we don’t compete hard enough; maybe a change in our lineup got some people thinking and playing a little bit harder. It is not always an easy thing to do but you have to do what you have to do. We don’t talk about wins and losses; we talk about competing and being the best that you can be and the best teammate you can be.”
Ryan acknowledged that she hasn’t been at her best as the Panthers have struggled of late.
“I haven’t been a good coach, I haven’t been a good leader,” said Ryan. “I just need to do a better job myself. I am glad that they played hard and came away with the win. Hopefully I did a better job because I have been down, I have been frustrated. I can’t be that way.”
In Ryan’s view, the win over Bound Brook shows what PDS can do when it has all hands on deck.
“We need everybody to play well; we are hoping to make a little noise down the stretch here,” said Ryan. “We need all 10 players to contribute.”
Levitan, for her part, is confident that PDS can produce a solid stretch run.
“This is exactly what we needed at the right time,” said Levitan. “We only have a few more games left and this will make for a good end to the season.”