January 4, 2023

Sparked by Senior Star Luo’s Production, Leadership, PHS Girls’ Hoops Tops PDS to Get on Winning Track

INNER DRIVE: Princeton High girls’ basketball player Rachel Luo drives to the hoop in recent action. Last Wednesday, senior guard and captain Luo scored 18 points to help PHS defeat Princeton Day School 57-36 in a consolation game at the Over the River Classic at South Hunterdon High. The Tigers, now 2-4, play at WW/P-North on January 6, at Highland Park on January 7, and at Hamilton West on January 10. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Dropping a 39-36 nail-biter to Springfield in the opener of the Over the River Classic at South Hunterdon High last week proved to be a wake-up call for the Princeton High girls’ basketball team.

“After the loss yesterday we decided that we were going to turn it on and play with a lot of energy, both on the court and on the bench,” said PHS senior guard and captain Rachel Luo, referring to the December 27 contest.

Facing Princeton Day School in a consolation game a day later, PHS jumped out to a 22-9 first quarter as Luo tallied eight points, taking the ball to the hoop several times as she dribbled past the PDS defense.

“We weren’t really used to the rims and it was hard,” said Luo. “So I tried to drive which definitely worked, especially in the beginning and that helped us get going.”

After a shaky second quarter which saw PDS outscore the Tigers 14-10, PHS regained momentum by turning up its defensive intensity in the third quarter with a 16-6 outburst as it seized control of the game on the way to a 57-36 triumph.

“During halftime we were talking that we needed to get the ball back defensively,” said Luo, who tallied 18 points in the win with four rebounds, three assists, and two steals to help PHS improve to 2-4. “We did get on a lot of fast breaks and that definitely helped us.”

As a battle-tested senior, Luo is looking to help out her younger teammates.

“This year we do have a lot of freshmen so we are all trying to learn,” said Luo. “I am hoping to take more of a leadership role, to just to help everybody and support each other because we have a lot of learn.”

PHS head coach Dave Kosa wanted his team to learn from the loss to Springfield.

“We didn’t play well yesterday, so we really wanted to change that,” said Kosa. “We are a young team and we are learning on the fly. I really challenged them today to come out and play as a team. We weren’t doing the things yesterday that we knew we could.”

The Tigers hit a lull after junior star Gabby Bannett went down with a leg injury midway through the first quarter.

“In the second quarter with Gabby not being there we were off a little bit,” said Kosa. “Losing Gabby was tough — she is like the glue of our team. We said to them, ‘Just take a deep breath and settle down.’ We tried to keep it simple for them. I think that is one thing to do with a young team, not to give them too much because then they are thinking about all of these other things so we did that. We simplified things, we just went 2-3 zone. We were able to get out and run and we got that lead.”

One of those young players, freshman forward Anna Winters, did some big things for the Tigers in the win, scoring 18 points with eight rebounds, three assists, and three steals, earning All-Tournament honors in the process.

“Anna is just fearless defensively and she is hard-nosed offensively,” said Kosa. “She is tough, she is strong. She can take the ball to the hole and has really worked on her outside shot. She really helped us today. Having her play well today and Rachel taking the ball to the basket was big.”

Junior guard Riley Devlin also helped the Tigers, producing a superb floor game with seven points, eight assists, four steals, and three rebounds.

“Riley did a great job with her overall game, leading us as far as distributing the ball,” said Kosa.

“That is something that she is learning. Today was a great game for her.”

Luo has been doing a great job with her leadership. “Rachel is a silent leader, she leads by example,” said Kosa. “She has worked so hard and she is smart. When she is not hitting from the outside, she looks to take it in. She looks to score in different ways.”

With PHS playing at WW/P-North on January 6, at Highland Park on January 7, and at Hamilton West on January 10, Kosa is hoping the win over PDS will get the Tigers on the right track.

“That is what the coaching staff was talking about, we didn’t play well yesterday, let’s feel good about ourselves today,” said Kosa. “Our motto is day by day, getting better. We are so young. We just want to have the young girls grow and learn as much as they can. We are getting some good leadership from Rachel, Gabby, and Riley.”

Luo, for her part, is confident that the Tigers can grow into something special.

“Going into the new year, it is helpful that we got a win like this,” said Luo. “I think we need to play with more energy and keep our streak going and still support each other and learn.”