March 15, 2023

Young PHS Girls’ Hoops Squad Showed Its Potential With Stirring Run to Mercer County Invitational Title

WINTER STORM: Princeton High girls’ basketball player Anna Winters drives to the basket in a game this winter. Freshman forward Winters emerged as star for PHS in her debut campaign, leading the Tigers in scoring with 296 points. PHS posted a final record of 13-12, winning the Mercer County Invitational along the way. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For the Princeton High girls’ basketball team, winning the Mercer County Invitational in the last week of the season was a major confidence builder for the young squad.

“It was very exciting; we were prepping for that and we definitely got on a little bit of a run,” said PHS head coach Dave Kosa, whose team topped Princeton Day School 48-32 in the MCI quarterfinals on February 11 before edging Hopewell Valley 33-30 in the semis three days later and edging Steinert 41-39 on February 17 in the final in the tourney which was ‘B’ bracket of the Mercer County Tournament.

“I think the one thing with each of those games was that we held teams under 40 points,” said Kosa. “In the entire season, out of the 25 games, I counted 16 times where we held the opponent under 40. We are really proud of the way we play defense. It is something we really emphasized in the prior years. With this young bunch, they really bought into it.”

In the win over Steinert, who had topped PHS 53-42 in a regular season contest on January 13, PHS made a dramatic late rally to pull out the victory.

“It was just us being able to handle their pressure. I think in the first game, we turned the ball over 20 some times,” said Kosa, who got 14 points from junior star Riley Devlin in the win. “We hung in there, we battled. It was kind of improbable. We were down six with a minute and a half left. Scoring the last eight points, it just goes to show you our resilience. It was very encouraging and that was great for the girls. It is the first ever, it is something they can’t take away from you.”

The Tigers battled in the first round of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional but it wasn’t enough as 12th-seeded PHS fell 71-34 to fifth-seeded Jackson Memorial to finish the season with a 13-12 record.

“I knew they were very strong, they were defending champs last year,” said Kosa of Jackson Memorial, which went on to win the sectional. “I knew it was going to be tough. It was just to use it as a learning experience as far as how hard we have to work. We have to get bigger, faster, stronger.”

Over the last four years, PHS has gotten a big contribution from Rachel Luo, who scored 197 points with 63 rebounds and 52 assists this winter in her final campaign with the program.

“Even though we only had one senior in Rachel, we are going to lose a lot from her graduation,” said Kosa. “She can handle the ball, she is able to pass it and to shoot it. She defends really well. It showed in the games she wasn’t there because I think we were 1-3. She had a great career for us and we wish her the best and just showing what a great student-athlete — she is going West Point.”

The Tigers have a great foundation in place with a pair of junior stars in Riley Devlin, who was second on the team in points (249) and first in assists (68), and Gabby Bannett, who scored 136 points and grabbed 133 rebounds.

“We had seven freshmen on the varsity, three or four played a lot and two juniors, Gabby and Riley, coming back next year,” said Kosa. “Riley did a great job as a point guard. Gabby did a great job as far as doing a little bit of everything for us.”

Freshman Anna Winters emerged as a star in her debut campaign, scoring a team-high 296 points with 133 rebounds.

“Anna just took off, it was great to see,” said Kosa. “She is still learning. She can score inside, she can score outside. Her moves inside are really hard to stop and the thing is, she is so physically tough. I am hoping that the other girls feed off of that. She really improved her shot this year a lot and is developing a three-point shot. She really got a lot more consistent as the season went on. Anna, Riley, and Gabby — that is three really experienced girls going into next year.”

In addition, other young players such as freshman forward Katie Sharkey (86 points, 73 rebounds, and sophomore forward Luna Bar-Cohen (81 points, a team-high 140 rebounds) showed improvement.

“There is definitely potential there, hopefully playing against the tough competition and against Jackson, they are going to really put their nose to the grindstone this summer,” said Kosa. “That is what we have to do, we have to get better during the summer.”

Looking ahead, Kosa believes the Tigers can get better and better.

“I am really excited about the future; it is not just the varsity team, the JV team went 12-10,” said Kosa. “A lot of the freshmen who didn’t get to play varsity played JV so they got a lot of good experience. It gives us depth which is something we haven’t had in a while. Hopefully we can some good eighth graders coming and really establish the program from a number of standpoints.”