PRINCETON: Cougars impress at Stuart hoop tourney

By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
The Stuart Invitational Basketball Tournament worked out as well for all three Packet-area teams in the field.
Montgomery High, which was opening its season, won three straight games to claim the tournament title. Princeton Day School won two of the three games it played in the event and had a chance to see its younger players gain more experience against some different competition. Meanwhile, host Stuart Country Day also won two of three games and came away feeling like the overall event was a success.
Stuart head coach Justin Leith, who is also the school’s athletic director, put together the three-day, 10-team event hoping each school would get something out of it. The event was split into pool play, with the Montgomery going 3-0 and emerging as the overall team champ. Kent Place finished second.
“I think the best team won,” Leith said. “Montgomery beat some tough opponents and they have a really good team. Sometimes in pool play it works out that a weaker team can win because of how they are set up. I didn’t get to see all the teams beforehand but I thought it worked out really well.
“Being able to play different teams and see different competition was a big part of the tournament. We had teams that had never played each other before and we had teams from New York and Connecticut.”
Montgomery opened with a 70-34 win over Doane Academy before topping PDS, 49-20, on Saturday. They closed out the event with a 51-19 win over Germantown Friends on Monday.
Cameryn Benz, who was named to the All-Tournament team, scored 34 points in the opening win and followed up that performance with 31 points against PDS and 29 in the win over Germantown Friends.
“We really came out strong in this tournament and it gave us a lot of confidence as a team,” said Montgomery coach Megan Pisani, whose team was scheduled to open its Skyland Conference schedule on Wednesday against Hillsborough. “We have a whole new dynamic this year with so much leadership. The girls are into it and excited and happy to be here. It was some great basketball. It was good to play some teams you won’t see in the regular season.
“I thought it would be a really good experience for us. It’s a chance to play a lot of games before our regular league season. I thought it was good for our confidence. We’re at a good spot and hopefully it can continue moving forward.”
As happy was Pisani was with her team averaging over 56 points a game on offense, she was just as happy seeing her defense allow just 24 points a game.
“The biggest thing is this year they are finally playing under my style,” said Pisani, who is in her third year as the team’s head coach. “They are intense and aggressive and our defense is tremendous right now.”
PDS opened with a win over Germantown Friends before falling to Montgomery and finishing with a 57-38 win over Doane Academy. Shayla Stevenson had 15 and Bridget Kane added 13 in the win over Doane.
“We had a tough matchup against Montgomery,” PDS coach Kamau Bailey said. “Their big girl (Benz) is very good and they pressed us all over the floor. The whole goal is for these girls to play and continue to play. I am missing a few girls. But I thought the girls who were here stepped up and played a great game.”
The 2-1 weekend left the Panthers at 4-4 heading into the holiday break.
“We have four wins right now and I think we had four or five wins for the whole season last year,” said Bailey, whose team will face Princeton High on Jan. 4. “So right now we are right on track. We’re in great shape going into the holiday break. We’re 4-4 and we beat two teams that beat us the last couple years. We beat Germantown and we also beat Hill in their tournament earlier this year.
“So we are making a lot of progress and looking really good. Our chemistry is great. The girls are having fun with this and enjoying the game.”
Stuart came into the tournament at 7-0 and won its first two games before falling to Pingry on Monday. For Leith, the chance to play a quality team like Pingry was a welcome challenge for his young team, which is now 9-1.
“Pingry filled in because Riverdale had too many injuries and couldn’t play (Monday),” Leith said. “We moved our Wednesday game against them to today. Pingry is a good team. I know the point differential was what it was, but we’re capable of competing with a team like that this year. We just have to see more of that level. We beat PDS by one and I thought that was a good game. Solebury was a decent team that we beat.”
The Tartans will continue to look to improve as they play in the Wardlaw-Hartridge tournament Dec. 29-30. They will face JP Stevens in the opening round.
“As a team we have not been pushed as far yet,” Leith said. “So I was so happy that Pingry agreed to fill in. I kind of wish we were seeing them again later in the season so we could see how much we have improved and grown. We’re looking to compete in the Prep Bs and it is definitely attainable. We just have to work hard.”
In its opener on Friday, Stuart topped Capital Prep, 66-23, as Jalynn Spaulding led the way with 33 points. Bey-Shana Clark had 21 and Spaulding added 20 in a 69-25 win over Villa Victoria on Saturday. In the 64-30 loss to Pingry, Spaulding led the way with 14 points.
Overall the tournament was a huge success and Leith has high hopes of seeing the event continue to grow and expand.
“A lot of people were here on Saturday,” Leith said. “I hope next year we can make it a 16-team tournament and have PDS, Montgomery, ourselves, Princeton High all here as local teams and then get some outside teams as well.” 