December 21, 2016

Fueled by Michaels’ Leadership, Production, Stuart Hoops Gets Off to Sizzling 7-0 Start

LEADING THE WAY: Stuart Country Day School basketball player Maddie Michaels drives to the hoop in recent action. Last Thursday against Princeton Day School, junior forward and team captain Michaels scored eight points to help Stuart prevail 62-32. The Tartans, who improved to 7-0 with a 52-33 win over Manville last Monday, are next in action when they host their Stuart Invitational on December 27, 28, and 30. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Hosting its Great Road rival Princeton Day School last Thursday, the Stuart Country Day basketball team had plenty of reason to be fired up.

In addition to familiarity and proximity breeding contempt, PDS had knocked a higher seeded Stuart team out of the state Prep B tournament last season.

But as Tartan junior captain and forward Maddie Michaels and her Stuart teammates took the court, they were intent on taking an even-keeled approach to the game.

“We really wanted to come in with the mindset that it was just another game,” said Michaels.

“We wanted to get rid of the rivalry and focus on our team and what our goals were and how to progress into the season.”

The Tartans displayed their focus right away, jumping out to a 14-4 lead by the end of the first quarter.

“We were really coming together, seeing the open player keeping eyes up,” said Michaels, reflecting on Stuart’s hot start which saw it jump out to a 32-11 advantage at halftime. “It was like a new team, it was like nothing I have ever seen before. It was really great, there was energy on the court.”

Keeping the energy up in the second half, Stuart rolled to a 62-32 victory over the Panthers.

“Today was definitely a step forward for our team,” said Michaels, who contributed eight points in the win. “We hope to move forward from this.”

The one-two punch of sophomore Bey-Shana Clark and junior Jalynn Spaulding gave the Stuart team a big edge against PDS with Clark scoring 21 points and Spaulding chipping in 18.

“It is really great; they are great pair,” said Michaels of Clark and Spaulding.

“They know the game and they know how to work together. They know how to get you open and how to find that open player. It is a really great dynamic for the team to have those two.”

As a team captain, Michaels is looking to foster a positive dynamic around the Tartans this winter.

“My one goal is to keep the team together; I don’t want to see us stray away from the community and culture we are building this season,” asserted Michaels.

“I really want us to keep that going throughout the whole season. Coach (Justin Leith) has this idea that we want to peak at the right time and I want us to get to that as a team and not lose each other on the way. When we peak, we peak together.”

Michaels has worked hard to build confidence on the offensive end.

“I was feeling good during that game; definitely knocking down shots was good and my mindset was on to the next play,” said Michaels.

“Throughout my years in high school, I have never been the biggest shooter. My mindset is usually defense. Being able to knock down this shots helps us move forward.”

Stuart head coach Justin Leith was pleased with the way his team used defense to take control of the game against PDS.

“It was good, we played tough defense and smart defense the way we have to because we are not very deep,” said Leith, whose roster has only nine players.

Seeing the Tartans pull away in the second half was another good sign.

“That was really the goal; at halftime, it was look they have some good athletes, they are very well coached,” said Leith.

“Look at the end of the game, when it was a 20-30 point lead for us and they are still picking up full court. They are still trying to get something out of it also, which helps us too. I would certainly never underestimate them at all. It is really about us trying to get better as a team and not worrying about the other team. It is just put a blank jersey on them and let’s really work.”

Leith certainly likes the work he is getting from Clark and Spaulding. “They are great; they are fun to watch and it is fun to watch them grow their relationship,” said Leith.

“Last year, they were both new to the school and to each other. We went down to D.C. for a scrimmage this year and I think there were a couple of times where it was a screen and roll and they realized that they can work together really well and play off of each other’s strengths. It is still progressing, it is not 100 percent there yet. They are both reality solid, good players. They are sharing the ball with everyone else, they are moving the ball.”

Michaels is providing a strong voice in her role as captain. “Maddie is our leader, she exemplifies leadership,” said Leith.

“Even in the third quarter when we talked about trying to sustain a lead or pull away, she was the one, without me saying anything, coming out of the timeout saying to the girls let’s keep the pressure up, we have to work. That is what you expect but it is fun to watch her take on that role and then some.”

The play of freshman point guard Jasmine Hansford has also been fun for Leith to watch.

“Jasmine sees the floor tremendously well and finishes strong,” said Leith. “She is small but she is always making shots with contact against taller players. She is a good shooter.”

In Leith’s view, Stuart is making strides with each outing. “I am happy with our progression; I think in our first game we played one really good quarter,” noted Leith, whose team improved to 7-0 after a 52-33 win over Manville last Monday and is next in action when it hosts the Stuart Invitational on December 27, 28, and 30.

“We had one and a half good quarters in the second half against George on their home court in their tournament. The next game against Germantown Friends, it was 14-14 at halftime and then we pulled away in the second half. They scored four points in the second half so we put together two full quarters there. Today I thought we played three really solid quarters.”

Michaels, for her part, believes that the Tartans can put together a special season.

“We definitely need to keep up this sense of teamwork, this community, and communication,” said Michaels.

“It is also keeping our mind on the right thing. We don’t want to go into January overestimating ourselves. We want to go in knowing that we have done the work. We want to know that we are undefeated because of our hard work.”