January 6, 2016

After Taking Holiday Tournament in Dramatic Style, PHS Girls’ Hoops Feeling Good About Its Prospects


ON TARGET: Princeton High girls’ basketball player Julia Ryan prepares to launch an outside shot. Last Wednesday, senior star Ryan scored a game-high 16 points as PHS edged Lacey 32-31 in the championship game of the Zebra Classic in New Brunswick. The Little Tigers, who moved to 2-3 with a 42-25 loss to Princeton Day School last Monday, host Steinert on January 8 and WW/P-N on January 11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton High girls’ basketball team, competing in the Zebra Classic in New Brunswick last week was an opportunity to build some confidence after a tough start to the season.

Having suffered lopsided defeats to WW/P-S and Ewing in its first two games, PHS didn’t waste any time turning the page as it jumped out to a 19-1 first quarter lead over Perth Amboy in the opening round of the New Brunswick tournament. The Little Tigers never looked back on the way to a 47-12 victory as they broke into the win column.

“It was exactly what we needed at the time,” said PHS head coach Dan Van Hise, reflecting on the win which saw senior guard Julia Ryan score 12 points with junior forward Zoe Tesone chipping in 11 and junior guard Jamaica Ponder adding 10.

“We talked about getting a few girls to step up into new roles that they hadn’t been in before and believing in themselves. Everybody kind of loosened up and relaxed and we had other girls build their confidence.”

As PHS faced Lacey in the championship game last Wednesday, the players were a little tight.

“We were nervous; in the first quarter, I kept saying to my assistants, we look so nervous,” recalled Van Hise.

“If you are nervous it is because of one of two things — one, you are playing against someone like a Ewing, who makes you nervous, or two, there is some kind of stakes. There are not too many games we play where the stakes are high like that.”

PHS overcame those nerves in style, pulling out a 32-31 win as senior forward Adria Backus hit the game-winning layup with one second left in regulation.

“To the girls’ credit, they really embraced that we were in a championship game,” said Van Hise.

“They were a little tentative but our defense kept us in it. Lacey was a little off in the first half so we were able to build a little bit of a lead thankfully because Lacey got a little hot in the second half.”

After Lacey took a 31-30 lead with 10 seconds left in regulation, the Little Tigers embraced the moment as they came through with the winning bucket.

“We didn’t execute a lot out of the press break but that one time we executed it great,” said Van Hise.

“It was in bounds to Julia and she got it to Zoe in the middle and Zoe attacked the middle and they all collapsed on her and Adria was open. She passed it up to Adria and, God bless her, she went right to the basket on a 2-on-1 and laid it in.”

Senior guard Ryan made some big shots in the title game as she ended up with a game-high 16 points.

“She is that confident now and that aggressive,” said Van Hise of the Temple-bound lacrosse star. “We expect her to be right around 15 or 20 a game.”

In Van Hise’s view, winning the title should help PHS on a number of levels.

“They were really excited, Lacey was a team just like us; in another game if they were shooting better they might win, if we were shooting better, we might win,” said Van Hise, whose team didn’t shoot well last Monday as it fell 42-25 to Princeton Day School to move to 2-3.

“To get the win against somebody that we could feel really good about in a championship game, we are going to try to build off of that. I think the girls are feeling good right now. It was good for our chemistry too to see that we could do it and win a tournament like that. It bonded us a little bit closer so that will be good too.”

Looking ahead, Van Hise is focusing on getting his team to execute better at the offensive end.

“Defensively, I think we have been fine,” said Van Hise, whose team hosts Steinert on January 8 and WW/P-N on January 11.

“I think it is more of a focus offensively with player movement and ball movement. Again it is continued growth of the girls that haven’t been relied on in the past and getting them to step up.”