December 22, 2021

Sophomore Owunna Displays Her Growth As PDS Girls’ Hoops Defeats WW/P-North

FINISHING TOUCH: Princeton Day School girls’ basketballTochi Owunna heads upcourt last Saturday against West Windsor/Plainsboro-North. Sophomore forward Owunna scored eight points to help PDS defeat the Northern Knights 30-23 and improve to 1-1. In upcoming action, the Panthers will be taking part in a holiday tournament at South Hunterdon High from December 28-29. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Undeterred by losing 63-22 to George School (Pa.) in its season opener last Friday, the Princeton Day School girls’ basketball team brought confidence into its matchup against visiting West Windsor/Plainsboro-North on Saturday morning.

“We wanted to win because we had played them in a scrimmage,” said PDS sophomore forward Tochi Owunna. “This was a winnable game.”

Trailing the Northern Knights 7-4 after the first quarter, the Panthers got things going in the second, building a 15-10 lead by halftime.

“I think we got a lot of energy,” said Owunna, reflecting on the second quarter surge which saw her contribute four points.

“We were passing the ball on offense well and we were playing really good defense.”

The Panthers held off WW/P-N down the stretch to earn a 30-23 win with Owunna ending up with eight points.

“This gave me confidence,” said Owunna of her performance. “It was also just the morale of the whole team, there was just really good energy the whole game.”

The Panthers did run low on energy in the latter stages of the contest as they tired playing in their second game in less than 24 hours.

“In the fourth quarter we started to get a little tired so went to the 2-3 but we still held our own on defense,” said Owunna. “This was our first home game so it was a really good job.”

Owunna, who also stars for the PDS girls’ soccer team, has put in time to sharpen her game.

“I really worked on my ball skills because now I can dribble the ball up really well,” said Owunna. “I am not really an outside shooter.”

Juggling soccer with basketball has kept Owunna busy. “It is kind of hard because sometimes I have to go straight from basketball,” said Owunna, who also plays for the FC Copa Academy club team.

“I usually have something seven days a week. I have basketball five days a week and then I have soccer three or four times a week. It is a really hard schedule to juggle but I can still do it. I am really fit during this time because I am doing both sports at the same time.”

PDS head coach Seraphine Hamilton is impressed by the growth she is seeing in Owunna.

“Tochi has made tremendous progress, she has matured significantly as an athlete,” said Hamilton, who works with Owunna in the fall as an assistant soccer coach for PDS.

“Having her in soccer also, she has a really great balance between having focus and intensity without being frantic. She is a very composed, poised individual and yet she is not going to get beat. She is really competitive. She is a great leader by example in that people follow her energy. She is just very centered and very grounded.”

Hamilton liked the way her team kept its composure as the Northern Knights drew to with 27-23 late in the game.

“We could see the fatigue big time in the fourth quarter especially; it started to wear in the third quarter so we had to switch to the zone,” said Hamilton.

“We just had to bring a lot more energy from the people who are sitting down to just help get them going and keep them invested. There were a couple of calls that we thought could have gone our way and it was getting them fired up. We talked about showing how to do it on the court and let’s get it done and don’t make it a questionable thing. It really made a difference for them. I didn’t tell them to hold the ball in that last minutes. I was really proud of their patience because it showed a lot more maturity than I have seen out of them.”

Like Owunna, Hamilton saw the 11-3 run in the second quarter as a pivotal sequence for the Panthers.

“We started to move the ball a lot better, we also started to talk a lot more defensively,” said Hamilton.

“We were lucky in that we weren’t outsized. They ran flex really well but we started to switch every screen because we could physically manage that. It was a good physical matchup that really helped and made them tough on defense. Talking on defense and moving the ball are two things that we have really focused on in the beginning.”

Sophomore guard Jen Lightman gave PDS a lift with some good outside shooting.

“Jen does give us a nice perimeter game, it is something, we haven’t had and it is nice to have that option,” said Hamilton of Lightman, who scored eight points in the win.

“She is also a lefty so it takes a while for people to figure it out. She has a lot of really exciting energy in the way that Tochi is really composed, Jen is all over the place. She is a little more frantic but in all the positive ways; they balance each other out really well. When we need a spark, she is going to bring it out.”

PDS got positive contributions from senior guard Maddie Nowack and freshman forward Shelby Ruf as Nowack chipped in six points while Ruf had four points and provided some yeoman’s work in the paint.

“Maddie had some great shots and she was able to bring some confidence with the ball-handling,” said Hamilton.

“Shelby played the entire game. She showed up yesterday and played excellent defense against a 6’2 nationally ranked player and came out today and showed great determination. Shelby is grit defined.”

With the Panthers taking part in a holiday tournament at South Hunterdon High from December 28-29, Hamilton is hoping her team can build on the win over WW/P-N.

“This was a big one; yesterday their expectations at George were can we keep it in this quarter,” said Hamilton.

“We had scrimmaged West Windsor and we talked about not showing all of our cards at the scrimmage. They felt prepared because they knew them. They felt like OK, we can hang with this team and they wanted that W. We did close the deal which is something we have not always been able to do.”

Owunna, for her part, believes that closing the deal against the Northern Knights resulted from sticking to basics.

“We are really big on crashing the boards and boxing out, that is something we work on,” said Owunna.

“It is also talking on defense and offense and not getting too clumped up in the middle when we are running our offense.”