PRINCETON: Hun’s Ellis provides spark off bench

Raider girls remain unbeaten after latest big win

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   Sporting one red sock and one white sock, Jah-Leah Ellis checked in for the Hun School girls’ basketball team in its Mid-Atlantic Prep League opener against Lawrenceville on Tuesday.
   In an instant, the senior forward’s socks were a whir of pink. Ellis brought her trademark energy to the Raiders to help them open a 19-12 first-quarter lead on the way to a 75-27 win.
   ”She’s been a tremendous spark plug off the bench for us,” said 10-year Hun coach Bill Holup, whose team improved to 5-0 before hosting Edison Academy today. “She gives us ferocious, aggressive inside play. She’s been playing extremely unselfishly. She’s been working extremely hard.
   ”She is a spark plug off the bench. She gives us something I don’t think I’ve ever had as a coach in terms of coming off the bench with that energy and aggressiveness.”
   Ellis finished with 13 points, one of four Raiders in double figures. She factored in the second-quarter flurry in which Hun pulled away from the Big Red with a 24-7 advantage.
   ”When we went to the bench,” Holup said, “our bench gave us a little bit of a spark and we were able to get going again.”
   Added Ellis: “Last year we mainly relied on two or three people, but now anyone who comes off the bench has the ability to score. Most of us that were on the team last year, we’re a lot more comfortable and there are a lot less nerves. We’re more comfortable with each other.”
   Megan Rigous led the way for Hun as she scored 14 of her 17 in the first half. Cyndra Couch scored 9 of her 11 points in the first quarter. Post-graduate Arielle Collins finished with 12 points. All 12 Hun players who appeared in the game scored.
   ”Without a doubt, this is the deepest team I’ve had,” Holup said. “We have basically eight players I have a lot of confidence in at any point in the game to have out there. I think that’s a rarity. Usually, it’s one or two players off the bench and you don’t always have the most confidence during significant quality minutes in close games. Right now, that’s something that’s been huge for us. Anyone can play at any time.”
   Ellis did not play much last year for the Raiders as she transitioned from a less structured offense at her old New York City school to Hun. This year, she is a lot more comfortable with the Raiders, who can play more up-tempo than ever.
   ”We have a lot faster, a lot more athletic team,” said Ellis, a thin 6-footer. “I fit more into our style of play, and overall my grades are better too.”
   She is hoping to prove this year that she can help some college team next year. First, however, she wants to be a part of a special Hun team.
   ”We have a lot of seniors graduating,” Ellis said. “We want to leave something behind. Last year, we did very well, but every year our goal is not just to have a good record, but to finish it off in MAPLs and states and show we can do it. Everyone expects once we get there, us not to succeed. We just want to get over that hump.”
   The Raiders have beaten each of their first five opponents by no less than 29 points. They are gearing up for tougher challenges ahead, including the Blue Chip Tournament they will compete in Dec. 29 and 30.
   ”We’ve won by large margins, but our first two teams especially were tough competition,” Ellis said. “We played a ranked team. We’re running a lot more this year. We’re outhustling teams and our defense has gotten so much better. And we’re using everybody that we have this year.”
   There is a little more pressure in starting, and Ellis doesn’t mind coming in off the bench. She’s proven to be effective at it.
   ”I think it’s all about who finishes,” she said. “As long as I can contribute something, like defense is what I love and passing, as long as I get that in and one good fast-break layup, I’ll be happy.”
   Ellis is far from satisfied by the quick start. She is hoping to help Hun improve its rebounding and defense as it prepares for tougher teams.
   ”There are little plays against teams that maybe aren’t as explosive as we are, once we get to those better teams or teams that are right up in margin with us, those little things are going to make a big difference,” Ellis said.
   Jah-Leah Ellis is also a difference maker for the Raiders this year. It’s something she doesn’t want to change, just like her mismatched Hun spirit socks.
   ”It’s worked so far,” Ellis said. “I might as well keep it up while we’re on a streak.”