While the Stuart Country Day School basketball team fell 41-26 to Pennington in the state Prep B quarterfinals, Dana Leary saw her squad’s effort as emblematic of its progress this winter.
“I think one game that really stood out was the Pennington game in the Prep B playoffs,” said second-year Stuart head coach Leary.
“In the first game we played them in the regular season, we were down 22-2 in the first quarter. In the playoffs, we were down by one point in the third quarter and the girls were really fired up. They were intense. Even though we lost, it felt like a win. They left it all on the court and that’s all you can ask.”
The Stuart players gave their all in the season finale as they beat King’s Christian 56-15.
“The girls came out and did a really good job,” said Leary, reflecting on the triumph which gave the Tartans a final record of 8-8.
“We had three girls in double figures, We played hard and executed very well on offense. It was a good performance.”
It was a fitting finish for senior Maggie Walsh. “Maggie Walsh was our one and only senior,” noted Leary.
“She was an important part of the team. She was a good leader and role model for the girls.”
Sophomore forward Kate Walsh, followed her older sister’s lead. “I think Kate really improved since last season,” said Leary of Walsh, who averaged 5.2 points and 10 rebounds a game.
“Towards the end of the season, she started working on a jump shot. She wants to improve and get better. I am excited to watch her develop and grow.”
Another player who grew a lot this winter was junior forward Nneka Onukwugha as she averaged 7 points and 11 rebounds a contest.
“Nneka did a great job rebounding,” said Leary. “She had a bunch of double-doubles for us. We have her coming off the bench, she really brings a spark when she comes in.”
The team’s backcourt pair of sophomore Harley Guzman and junior Harlyn Bell also gave Stuart a spark this winter with Guzman averaging 5.3 points a game and Bell contributing 7 points and 8 rebounds per contest.
“We got much better handling the ball,” asserted Leary. “Harley Guzman did a great job; she became confident with the ball. Harlyn Bell stepped up and handled pressure well. In the beginning of the season, we were looking to attack from the inside with Maggie, Kate, and Nneka. As the season went on, the guards started to look for their shots and attack the basket and that opened things up.”
In Leary’s view, things are looking up for the Tartans. “I am really excited with the direction in which the program is heading,” said Leary, whose team’s eight wins quadrupled its win total from 2012-13 when Stuart posted a 2-13 record.
“The girls really improved. They had a lot more confidence. I am looking forward to next year.”
In order to keep things going in the right direction, Leary has some ambitious offseason plans for her players.
“I had a meeting with the girls after the season,” added Leary. “I am going to encourage them to attend camps. We may compete in a summer league. I am also going to have an open gym once a week. I plan to have it open for two hours. We will work on individual skills and team drills. We will also work on strength and conditioning.”
If the Tartans put in the work, they should be even stronger next season. “I have emphasized the importance of the offseason,” said Leary.
“I told the girls this is where you start preparing for the season. They can’t come in November having not touched the ball and expect to get better. I told them to pick one area of their games and if they put in time, it will add up.”