South Jersey girls' basketball notes

Posted: January 24, 2013

Holy Spirit girls' basketball coach Dennis Smith refers to them as "measuring-stick" games.

They're the kind your team isn't supposed to win. A reach. A test. A way to measure how much mettle your team really has.

They're the kind of games Smith loves to schedule for his team.

And, so, they are the kind of games the Spartans will play, almost exclusively, between now and the postseason.

"To be the best, you have to play the best," said Smith, the school's third-year head coach. "Our goal is to win a state title. It's a challenge we relish right now. And I built our schedule to help us do that."

Holy Spirit has certainly been playing as if it wants a state title. The veteran team is off to a 9-2 start. The only losses have been to out-of-area powers Phillipsburg and Rumson-Fair Haven.

And the measuring sticks will be out again on Saturday when the Spartans face Point Pleasant Beach, yet another state power, in the Prime Events Girls Shootout, an annual event that Holy Spirit is hosting.

Holy Spirit will follow the Shootout with the South Jersey Invitational Basketball Tournament, in which a win over Eastern likely will pit them against Rancocas Valley, The Inquirer's No. 1 team in South Jersey.

The SJIBT leads into the Cape-Atlantic League tournament, in which the Spartans will vie for a league title with several CAL titans: No. 3 Ocean City, No. 7 Cedar Creek, and No. 10 Sacred Heart.

"By the time the playoffs start, we'll be battle-tested," Smith said. "There's no question about that."

Thus far, the Spartans look up to any challenge. The team is one of the most well-balanced in the area, both on the court and on the stat sheet.

They feature three leading scorers in 6-foot forwards Gina Lewis and Annie Wenz and 5-8 guard Summer Crilley. Each is averaging double figures and is capable of scoring 20 on a given night.

And more than the talent, Smith points to the closeness of his team. This season's team is the first in his three years, Smith said, truly considered to be his group.

"This group has really bonded," he said. "The coaching staff has bonded with the players. And the players have bonded with the coaching staff.

"It will be sad to see this senior class graduate. I know it's a cliché, but that's part of the reason we want this season to last as long as we can."

Rest of the field. The 18th annual Prime Events Shootout is this weekend. As usual, the showcase will be at Holy Spirit.

In a field that annually seems to get stronger and stronger, the Shootout will feature two days of marquee matchups, with teams from both inside and outside of South Jersey.

The top South Jersey matchups include No. 1 Rancocas Valley vs. No. 3 Ocean City (5:15 p.m.) and No. 7 Cedar Creek vs. No. 8 Lenape (7 p.m.), both on Saturday.

In total, nine games will be played, and each should be competitive.


Contact Chris Melchiorre at rallysports@phillynews.com.

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