Curtis, PHS get much needed win

Leader helps Little Tigers rebound

By: Justin Feil
   When Kelly Curtis made her first appearances for the Princeton High girls’ basketball team, they came as a defensive replacement as one of the lone freshmen to see court time.
   "I was just nervous if I’d make any type of mistake," recalled Curtis. "I’m sure that’s how the freshmen feel now."
   Curtis is now a junior and one of the Little Tigers’ leaders, and she’s trying to assert herself more at both ends of the court as well as in the locker room.
   "I called for a team meeting a couple weeks ago," Curtis said. "I never had a team meeting so I didn’t know how to do it. But I wanted to see where everyone was coming from. And I wanted to let the freshmen know I was in their spot once. I never would have done that if I wasn’t a captain."
   The Little Tigers have shown a resolve to turn things around in recent weeks. PHS was on the verge of an upset of host South Brunswick in the Viking Invitational when Curtis got into foul trouble and Stephanie Grubb was injured. Last week, the Little Tigers were neck and neck with Allentown before falling in the fourth quarter. Friday, it was Nottingham they were pressing before losing late, 48-39. Only 15 hours later, PHS snapped a six-game losing streak with a 60-36 win over Stuart Country Day on Saturday.
   "The past couple games, we played a couple minutes well in each quarter," said Curtis, who had five points in the win over Stuart. "It’s nice to have it all come together in one game. We kind of took our frustrations out on Stuart.
   "I’m happy the way the girls got right back in it Saturday morning. They didn’t let Friday faze them much. It let us go off our weekend in a good way and get back Monday and get ready for (West Windsor-Plainsboro) North (tonight)."
   Curtis and the Little Tigers are growing together. And growing pains is the best way to describe the early going for PHS. There were little lessons in each loss.
   "We lost to Allentown by four and lost a close game on Friday," said PHS head coach Nikki Inzano, whose team is 2-7. "We just need to keep putting all four quarters together. That’s the biggest thing for them to do. I just think it gives us more confidence now, which we needed."
   Curtis has helped. The versatile guard has picked up her play at both ends while trying to help bring along the younger players at the same time.
   "It’s a whole different role for me being a captain and having a leadership role," Curtis said. "I’m starting to get comfortable having the other girls look up to me.
   "I definitely need to step up on my offensive contributions to the team," she added. "I’m just trying to help out in every way that I can. Last year, I started having a jump shot here and there. Over the summer, I worked on it. Now it clicks every now and again. I’m looking for my shot and drive more."
   Curtis is currently second on the Little Tigers in scoring, behind one of the area’s leading scorers, Erin Cook. Cook scored 26 points in the win over Stuart, nine in the first quarter as PHS staked itself to a 15-8 lead against the Tartans, who were missing three regulars. PHS was coming off a tough loss the night before.
   "It was a short turnaround," Inzano said. "I know they were tired. They knew they had to keep going. That was a tough game for them now."
   In the win, Inzano found a number of areas that the Little Tigers can build on as they take on WW-P North today. And there still are areas in which PHS can improve.
   "We’re picking it up stronger on defense," said the third-year coach. "It’s helping our offense get some layups. For us, it comes down to foul shots. We have to make them. We were 11-for-31 one game and that makes it hard to win. It’s that and making the easy layups. Sometimes they get so excited they have a layup that they blow it. We need to focus and concentrate on that."
   Plenty of shots were falling for the Little Tigers on Saturday. Rebecca Shaffer and Rachel Basie scored eight points apiece and Grubb gave PHS a strong presence inside. PHS needs all its parts to be at its best, and without Curtis in stretches they’ve had problems.
   "Kelly has been scoring in double figures here and there," Inzano said. "She gets in foul trouble because she’s so aggressive on defense. She played really well (Saturday)."
   PHS needs her leadership. Curtis is working to eliminate what she calls the stupid things that have put her in foul trouble. She knows the Little Tigers are better off with a three-year varsity player on the court.
   "It’s really frustrating," she said. "I can’t lead the team when I’m on the bench. When I do stay out of foul trouble, I do think we play better. And I’m more comfortable."
   The Little Tigers believe that Saturday’s win can be a start. Curtis found plenty of positives in the cross-town victory.
   "Our intensity level was probably the highest it’s been this season," she noted. "We ran our offense as well as we could. And other people other than Erin showed they can score. Even though she had an amazing game, it’s nice to know that there are other people that she can fall back on."
   Curtis is showing that she can be a help to Cook, both as a team leader on the court and off it. The Little Tigers put it all together for a big win Saturday.
   "My main goal was to make states," Curtis said. "I’m not sure it’s possible now. Coming in freshman year, I wanted to get more respect. Princeton doesn’t get a lot of respect when it comes to any girls’ sport. Even if we get a little recognition for what we do, I’m happy with that."
   Playing better in recent weeks has helped. And getting a win Saturday helped show opponents and the Little Tigers that they can be a solid squad. Now they want to keep it going.
   "It was a relief of our frustration," Curtis said. "I’m really excited to play on Tuesday and get back into it. I know it’ll be a tough game. North is good. I hope we’re up for the challenge and can make it interesting."