December 6, 2017

Stepping Up Against Tougher Competition, Stuart Hoops Goes 1-1 at Peddie Tournament

IN SYNCH: Stuart Country Day School basketball player Jalynn Spaulding dribbles upcourt in a game last season. Last weekend, senior guard Spaulding helped Stuart reach the final of the Peddie School Girls Tip-Off tournament as it started the 2018-19 campaign. On Friday, she scored 10 points to help the Tartans edge host Peddie 44-43 in an opening round contest. A day later, she tallied six points in a losing cause as Stuart fell 50-26 to Pennington in the title game. The Tartans are next in action when they compete in the Mercersburg (Pa.) showcase where they face St. Ann Bayfield on December 8 and Stone Ridge (Md.) on December 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Justin Leith is looking to up the ante for his Stuart Country Day basketball team this winter.

“We are trying to step up the schedule and take the program to the next level,” said Stuart head coach Justin Leith.

“We had won the George School (Pa.) tournament at least two years in a row, it wasn’t as competitive. We were invited to the Peddie tournament and we decided to enter.”

Displaying competitive fire, Stuart pulled out a thrilling 44-43 win over host Peddie in an opening round contest on Friday.

“It was definitely a challenge player by player, we may not necessarily match up in height and size but the kids played really well together as a team,” said Leith.

“We just never gave up. I am happy that we got the win but I am most encouraged by the way we responded to adversity. Every time they hit a big shot, we came back and hit another one. It was a back and forth game.”

A day later, Stuart ran into some adversity as it fell 50-26 to Pennington in the title game.

“The team that I saw on Friday was different than the team I saw on Saturday,” said Leith.

“We have eight freshmen on the roster. Maybe they were gassed from the night before, that is growing pains. We are much more talented than we have been in the past but it is a team dynamic, everyone has to learn to play together.”

Leith is depending on four veteran co-captains, a trio of seniors Maddie Michaels, Jalynn Spaulding, and Marisa Lewis along with junior Bay-Shana Clark, to help the younger players adjust.

“They all bring different qualities to the table as far as leadership,” said Leith. “We are looking for them to help the transition.”

The one-two punch of Spaulding and Clark brings a lot of quality to the Stuart offense.

“They have both matured; Jalynn is going to the basket every single time down with no hesitation, which I haven’t seen in the past,” said Leith.

“She is shooting the ball a little bit better and I think she is a little bit taller. She is a senior and she has come into her own. Bay has really moved herself to a small forward. She can guard anybody on the floor. She can handle the ball as well as any of our guards. She really has more of an all-around game and she demonstrated that last weekend.”

Freshman standout  Nia Melvin has added a superb all-around game to the mix for the Tartans.

“Nia is starting right away and deservedly so,” said Leith.

“There will be plenty of games where she leads us in scoring. She is certainly a talent. She is strong and has a wonderful skill set. She can put the ball on the floor, she can shoot the ball, and she can get to the basket.”

The rest of the team’s contingent of freshmen gives Stuart some strong depth.

“Aleah James is small but she has incredible ballhandling skills and court awareness,” said Leith, noting that Jasmine Lewis is currently sidelined with an injury but should be back soon.

“Brooke Morales was able to do really well against Pennington. She was making a difference, she was fearless. We have four freshman that were at Stuart last year so they know our program already in Molly Lagay, Catherine Martin, Emily Dunn, and Janiah Adams. They will certainly contribute.”

With the Tartans taking on a number of formidable foes this winter, the team will need contributions across the board.

“We have a really tough schedule,” said Leith, whose team is next in action when it competes in the Mercersburg (Pa.) showcase where it faces St. Ann Bayfield on December 8 and Stone Ridge (Md.) on December 9.

“I expect that for our young kids that this will be the standard for them. We are playing a lot of tough teams. I saw some really great things in the Peddie game. Every game is not going to be the result that we want, but overall it was a big step forward.”