PHS Girls’ Hoops Races Out to 3-1 Start, Employing Depth, High-Pressure Defense
MIGHTY CASEY: Princeton High girls’ basketball player Casey Serxner drives past a Hopewell Valley player last week. Freshman guard Serxner has helped spark PHS to a promising 3-1 start. In upcoming action, the Tigers are slated to play at Steinert on February 17 and at Trenton Central on February 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Coming off a disappointing 5-20 campaign in 2019-20, the Princeton High girls’ basketball team didn’t waste any time serving notice that things are going to be different this winter.
In its season opener against Hamilton West on January 29, PHS rolled to a 43-19 win over the Hornets. Six days later, the Tigers routed Nottingham 58-17.
“We are much better this year, it is just a totally different vibe,” said PHS head coach Dave Kosa.
“Actually it is a totally different philosophy; we are uptempo this year, we are pressing.”
Freshman point guard Casey Serxner has emerged as a catalyst for the squad, speeding things up on both ends of the court for the Tigers.
“Casey has been doing a great job as far as leading us on the break,” said Kosa of Serxner, who also stars at soccer for PHS.
“She also pressures the other team’s point guard so it really spearheads our offense and defense. She never tires, she is always on the go. That is the type of person she is, always working no matter what sport she is playing. She has a lot on her plate. We are asking her to run the offense, we are asking her be the half court girl at our press. She is looking to be the anticipator and get some steals which she has done.”
Last week, Serxner helped PHS pass a big early season test, tallying 11 points with three assists and two rebounds as the Tigers edged Hopewell Valley 40-37 on February 9.
“They were undefeated and they have one of the better point guards in the league in Franki Gomez,” said Kosa.
“Even though she got 16 points, she had to work for them. She eventually fouled out at the end. Casey hounded her up and down the floor. I think the first quarter for us was important. They pressed us and we pressed them and we were up 16-15.”
The contest was tight throughout and PHS utilized its team unity to pull out the victory.
“It was probably our togetherness and trusting one another because the lead didn’t get up above five or seven points the entire way,” said Kosa.
“I think the largest lead was 40-33 and then we made a couple of turnovers and they cut it to three at the end.”
PHS got a large contribution in the win from junior forwards Nora Devine and Sofia Aguayo.
“Nora had a real big game, she is giving us an inside post presence,” said Kosa of Devine who had 10 points and five rebounds against HoVal.
“We are pressing a lot and we have her on the back end on the press and subbing her with Sofia. They don’t let any layups go by, they really do a good job back there. They just have another year of experience. They are wiser, they are smarter. Nora had a couple of big blocks against Hopewell, she positions her body well.”
Another veteran, senior guard Brynne Hennessy, has benefited from the experience she gained last year.
“Brynne gives us an outside presence, a perimeter presence,” added Kosa.
“When Casey is driving the ball, she can dish it out to Brynne. Being a year older is helping her because last year was really her first year on varsity.”
In addition to Serxner, PHS is getting a good contribution from three other freshmen — Gabby Bannett, Riley Devlin, and Leah Rose-Seiden.
“They are giving us a lot of exuberance and enthusiasm,” said Kosa.
“They are providing that depth. They just allow us to run. When we are tired we can go to them and we don’t fall off that much.”
Junior forward Molly Brown is giving the Tigers a lot all over the court.
“I call her our glue girl, she doesn’t score a lot but she gets a couple of boards, a couple of assists and a couple of steals,” said Kosa.
“She plays a couple of different positions for us. She knows all of the positions, you can put her in at the three (small forward), the four (power forward), or the five (center) so that is really helpful when we are running the press. She can be on the point of the press or she can be back. She is mobile, she is tough.”
Employing the press has helped the Tigers become more potent offensively.
“We are doing a full court press pretty much the whole time,” said Kosa.
“We might take it off when we have a big lead or some foul trouble. We are getting a lot of stuff off of our press. Even if we don’t get it off the press, we are forcing quick shots and we are pushing our way back down at them.”
Having an infusion of talent and players that don’t back down at practice is another key factor in PHS’ hot start.
“I am happy about the competitiveness and the fact that we go ten-deep,” said Kosa, whose team fell 54-48 in double overtime at Lawrence High last Monday to move to 3-1 and plays at Steinert on February 17 and at Trenton Central on February 23.
“Even our 11 and 12 girls are solid, they are better than what we have had in years past. In practice, we push each other so the fact that they are competing against one another, they are getting each other better. There are no hard feelings, there is no feeling of don’t make me work too hard. We are going after each other and then at the end of the day, we know we are all doing this for a
common goal. Everybody has bought into that concept.”
While the program’s reversal of fortune this winter is promising, Kosa sees even bigger things on the horizon for the program.
“The future is so exciting for us right now, it is coming at a great time after last year,” said Kosa.
“It was a down year; we lost nine players — six seniors, three juniors, and one freshman — who didn’t play. The girls last year were pretty much first year varsity players, we only had six really. Now we have a good 12 and out of those 12, there are six freshmen and only one senior.”