April 7, 2021

Buoyed by Composed Seniors, Intense Younger Players, PDS Girls’ Basketball Displayed Resilience to the End

FRESH APPROACH: Princeton Day School girls’ basketball player Adriana Salzano heads up the court in a game this winter. Freshman point guard Salzano enjoyed a superb debut campaign for PDS, which posted a 1-7 record in 2021. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Trailing Princeton High 21-13 heading into the second half of its season finale, the Princeton Day School girls’ basketball team could have thrown in the towel.

Instead, PDS outscored their crosstown rivals 13-7 in the third quarter to turn the game into a nail-biter. While the Panthers ended up falling 39-29 in the March 4 contest, PDS head coach Seraphine Hamilton liked the way her squad battled to the final buzzer.

“I was really proud of our push to come back in the third quarter,” said Hamilton, whose squad had edged PHS 30-29 a day earlier to break into the win column.

“The team is resilient, if nothing else. We rebound really well and that is what kept us going. Adriana Salzano got hot, she hit two threes pretty close together. She was a good spark for us.”

The squad’s closeness helped it make the most of a 2021 season limited by  COVID-19 concerns.

“We continued to emphasize this that we have to take what we can get, we have to be grateful,” said Hamilton, who guided the Panthers to a 1-7 record in her first year at the helm of the program.

“They really are a good group. Our seniors are really composed and our underclassmen go really hard; they are intense. It was a nice balance for the two, the seniors reminded them to have fun and the underclassmen kept us focused and disciplined. It was really great in that way.”

The senior group of Anna Ellwood, Ava Sarnow, Jules Romano, Caroline Topping, and Anna-Marie Zhang set a positive tone.

“They were great; with a different group it could have been a very different season,” said Hamilton.

“They were out there to have fun, they were out there to spend time with people. Not every student on the team was in class in person. For everyone, it was just this time for them to have some form of normalcy as much as possible. I think the seniors really led the way with that. They were inclusive for everyone. They were doing a lot of stuff for psychs and stuff like that on campus. It had a really good vibe to it.”

Hamilton is psyched about the foundation in place going forward.

“We have some really strong athletes, we need to make sure that we are not coming back having not picked up a ball since March,” said Hamilton.

“It is the key for us because every other piece is there. They are incredibly coachable, they are incredibly athletic. We have the ability. Now that everyone has had me as a coach for a season, they know what to expect. I think they are going to come back and really make a big difference in the way we can run the floor. The pace we can play is going to be different. They are competitive, they don’t want to have a 1-7 season next year. I think they realize that is one thing that is within their control and they can take advantage of that.”

The team’s core of returning strong athletes includes junior Madeline Nowack, freshman Salzano, freshman Mia Hartman, sophomore Kirsten Ruf, junior Ali Surace, junior Elle Anhut, junior Meghan Zarish, freshman Kaitlyn Zarish, and freshman Tocci Owunna.

“We have two point guards coming back in Nowack and Salzano and we have Hartman and Ruf under the basket,” said Hamilton.

“We have great athleticism with Ali Surace. The Zarish sisters are really athletic. I think they are going to be able to run the floor and fill in a lot of gaps and the same with Elle. Tocci can run the floor as well. Eight games would be a third of the season and that is when freshmen start to turn the corner. Mia, Adriana, and Tocci all started to make that shift as we ended up. Tocci was rebounding like a machine and playing hard, hard defense. Mia was starting to figure out how to score near the basket as a forward. Adriana started to hit her shots. The three of them really turned the corner, I am really grateful that they got at least to that point.”

All in all, Hamilton was thankful that she got the chance to guide the squad.

“It was just a lot of fun to be out there again and have those opportunities,” said Hamilton.

“I was really grateful that we got the opportunity to play PHS at the end. It was fun to be back in a close game, to be able to have that adrenaline myself. It is one of my favorite parts of my job and it always had been, especially also as a teacher and seeing them on campus and having some of them in the classroom and some of them as advisees. My life at PDS was much more fulfilling, having that role.”