March 15, 2017

Stuart Basketball Fell Short of Lofty Goals But Foundation in Place for Bright Future 

UP AND COMING: Stuart Country Day School basketball player Marissa Lewis dribbles up the court in game this season. Junior guard Lewis helped the Tartans post a 18-10 record this winter. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming into the winter, the Stuart Country Day School basketball team looked to save its best for last, setting its sights on a state Prep B title and a deep run in the Mercer County Tournament.

So losing to eventual champion Pennington in the Prep B finals and getting eliminated in the first round of the MCT on a buzzer beater in overtime wasn’t exactly the ending the team envisioned.

Yet in reflecting on a season which saw the Tartans finish with an 18-10 record, Stuart head coach Justin Leith believes the positives far outweigh the negatives.

“Two weeks out, it is, look, Stuart has a basketball program now,” said Leith.

“We have a couple of eighth graders who are coming up next year that I have coached in the fall in AAU and they are really going to help us. We are returning everyone except for one senior. It is an exciting time. The season didn’t go perfect, meaning that we didn’t win the Prep B or get to the semifinals of the MCT but at the end of the day but we still had a strong season. You always want better and you want to win it all.”

Even though Stuart came out on the short end of an exciting game in its MCT opener as it fell to Nottingham 46-45 in overtime, Leith had no qualms with the effort he got from his players.

“They ran a play and they scored and they won,” recalled Leith. “There was a hand in the face, the girl hit a tough shot. We didn’t make any mistakes in that moment. The girl hit a big shot and good for her. There was no disappointment there, the team fought hard the whole game. We were up and we were down. It was a good game. There was no frustration.”

The Tartans boast a tough 1-2 punch in junior guard Jalynn Spaulding and sophomore forward Bey-Shana Clark.

“Jalynn is certainly a threat from the outside; she is really athletic and can shoot the ball well,” said Leith.

“Bey Shana has gotten better and she is going to have to. I know she wants to play on the next level and with her size, she is going to have to be able to face the basket and shoot the basketball, dribble the ball up the floor. She can do all of those things. Both of them averaged around 15 points. You can’t say that about a lot of teams. Sometimes teams just have one player that can score and there are a bunch of players near five points. We we have two kids that at any point, you can give you 20 plus points in any game. They are great to have.”

Freshman point guard Jasmine Hansford showed great progress this winter for the Tartans.

“Jasmine got better and better, she was frustrated at times because she was only a freshman and had those growing pains,” said Leith.

“I am really excited to have her back next year. I am sure she will grow in leaps and bounds. She is going to play spring, and summer and in the fall again. She will definitely  be a huge contributor next year.”

Stuart also got key contributions from junior captain Madeleine Michaels and junior transfer Marissa Lewis.

“Maddie was an exemplary captain and has been a defensive leader the last two years,” said Leith.

“Marissa was on fire defensively and she helped us in so many ways. I didn’t expect it coming into the season, she was a pleasant surprise. She is a tough kid and great kid.”

Going forward, Leith is expecting the program to experience more and more success.

“I think the focus in the offseason is to get better,” said Leith. “We will play in the summer league together; we will go to a team camp. We will make sure that everyone is on the same page. Luckily, we are returning so many people so we don’t have to rebuild. Instead, we are going to build on the strong foundation that we already have.”