February 21, 2018

Dominating at Both Ends of the Court, Stuart Hoops Wins First Prep B Crown

TARTAN PRIDE: Members of the Stuart Country Day School basketball team celebrate after they defeated Academy of St. Elizabeth 62-22 in the state Prep B title game last Wednesday. It marked the first-ever Prep B title for the program. The Tartans went on to compete in the Mercer County Tournament, where they were seeded seventh and fell 51-40 to second-seeded Allentown in a quarterfinal contest last Saturday. Stuart finished the winter with a 17-8 record. (Photo Courtesy of Stuart Country Day School)

By Bill Alden

Bey-Shana Clark scored the first four points as the Stuart Country Day School basketball team hosted Academy of St. Elizabeth in the state Prep B title game last Wednesday.

The two buckets by junior star Clark set the tone as the Tartans raced out to a 35-7 halftime lead.

“We were just sharing the ball; it was hard work and hard moves,” said Clark in assessing the team’s first half performance.

The second-seeded Tartans kept working hard to the buzzer as they rolled to a 62-22 win over the fourth-seeded Panthers.

Clark, who ended up with a game-high 22 points, was looking to be aggressive to the final buzzer.

“I went to the basket more than I usually do,” said a smiling Clark. “I usually pass it off but I took it more often this time.”

The Tartans were thrilled to take the title, the program’s first-ever Prep B championship and its first state Prep crown since 1979.

“We had this pinned on the calendar since the beginning of the season,” said Clark.

“Coach [Justin Leith] talked about it all the time. It is that mountain that we have to climb and we have to get to the top.”

Reaching the summit with senior star Jalynn Spaulding, who has formed a one-two punch with Clark the last three seasons, gave the championship extra meaning.

“It is good to get it, especially when Jalynn is in her last year,” said Clark of Spaulding, who tallied 15 points in the title contest. “We have been here from the beginning and that hard work paid off.”

Working tirelessly on her game has helped Clark become a more versatile performer.

“The biggest area of progress for me is seeing the floor,” said Clark. “I am starting to get more assists and stuff. Before, I was always just a post player and now I am working on my outside game.”

Stuart head coach Leith credited Clark and Spaulding with spearheading the Tartans against Academy of St. Elizabeth.

“They are upperclassmen, Bey and Jalynn, and they led the way,” said Leith.

“They were relentless and that is what we talked about, to be relentless and just focus on the work.”

Being relentless collectively paved the way for Stuart’s championship run.

“It is our first Prep B basketball title in school history,” said Leith. “We were so happy to have it here, to have the girls experience it, and to have our community experience it. It means a lot, it means that we headed in the right direction. We set a goal in the beginning of the season and we obtained it.”

The Stuart community was certainly excited as the gym was packed last Wednesday and supporters flooded the floor to mob the players in the postgame celebration.

“I have been here for four years, the girls have been getting into it in every sport,” said Leith.

“We went to over to PDS a couple of years ago for the  field hockey title game and we had more people there than they did. The school is anxious for this and it is so great that we are starting to perform now.”

Leith acknowledged that the team’s fast start was critical to its dominant performance.

“In a game like this, especially when you haven’t been here before, it is key to get a couple of baskets out of the way and then it is back to playing regular basketball,” said Leith.

In reflecting on what has made the Tartans special this winter, Leith believes a love of playing together is the defining characteristic.

“They just all like each other. On some teams you coach, there is squabbling. There is none of that here,” said Leith, whose team also competed in the Mercer County Tournament where  where it was seeded seventh and fell 51-40 to second-seeded Allentown in a quarterfinal contest last Saturday to end the winter at 17-8.

“They are all just great kids who love each other, and it comes out on the court. I never have to talk about sharing the basketball, it is wonderful. They play and when someone is doing well, they encourage it. They don’t feel bad for themselves, it is awesome.”

In Clark’s view, the blend of competitiveness and camaraderie has been the formula for success.

“It is just the confidence that we have; our intensity and hard work on defense,” said Clark.

“There is no time that we are not cheering someone. We always pat each other on the back, even if it is a bad call or something like that. We always stay positive on the court.”