An era ended on March 4, but not before the West Windsor-Plainsboro High North girls’ basketball team enjoyed its finest season in program history.
The Knights battled through injuries to key starters, but went 23-6 and won the first Mercer County Tournament basketball title in the history of the school district before falling in the state sectional semifinals.
Boyce said he considered stepping down last year, but decided to stay one more year to continue coachign this team. “I think they might be one of the best teams ever in our district’s history,” said Knights head coach Bob Boyce, who has decided to step down. “They’re certainly the best basketball team in North history, boys or girls.”
It was quite a ride in his final season. Led by a quartet of seniors who have been leaders throughout their careers, the Knights reached a new height. Chrissy DiCindio, Natalie Everett, Cianhi Hunt and Jasmin Watson finally found a way past two of their toughest hurdles to claim the county crown. They stopped Ewing, 47-44, on Feb. 24 two days after they disposed of Notre Dame, 53-44.
“As good as my senior class is, they’ve never beaten Notre Dame, Ewing or Allentown,” Boyce said, adding that several players had to overcome injury to play. “Natalie was still limping around, and Watson is still limping around. For them to go into Sun Bank Arena and beat Notre Dame and two days later beat Ewing, that was really something.
“Our district has never won a district tournament in basketball,” he added. “That was the first time a basketball team from WW-P, boys or girls, ever won a county title. That was a major accomplishment and certainly a confidence booster heading into the state tournament.”
The Knights felt they had a chance at a state title too, but came up just short in a rematch against Ewing. Their final game together came in a 43-38 loss to top-seeded Ewing in the Central Jersey Group III state semifinals on Mar. 4.
DiCindio, who is headed to play at the University of Pennsylvania, was a force in the middle all year. Everett provided sharp shooting from the outside. Hunt was a reliable contributor who worked well with Watson at guard. Watson, who will play at Northeastern University next year, is considered the best point guard in school history. They did not leave with the rest of their class to go on the senior trip to Walt Disney World; instead, they stayed to play in the state tournament.
That same drive is why Everett and Watson couldn’t be kept out of the lineup despite serious injuries. Everett was felled by a broken tibia, but returned in time for the county tournament.
“Jasmin was fighting through an ankle injury,” Everett said. “She was limping all through practice. I couldn’t imagine how she felt in games. It was the same with Chrissy. She was always banged up. It’s really heartwarming to know that everybody is not backing down from what they’re feeling. You feel the love from your teammates, knowing that they’ll do anything for you.”
Everett tore her meniscus three days before Watson’s injury. She, too, returned to the lineup after postponing surgery until after the season – meaning that she will miss the softball season.
“If I weren’t a senior,” Everett said, “I’d probably get the surgery right away and look to come back healthy and have a better season the next year.”
But without a next year, she forged ahead. With Everett and Watson hobbled, a new star shined brighter. Jordan Brown stepped up her play. She showed a greater comfort level this season, and she bloomed into a go-to player when she was forced into a bigger role.
“I definitely had to control the ball more,” the Knights sophomore guard said. “I had to help the team become organized more. I definitely had to attack the basket more. I could go to the foul line and shoot some free throws and make them, attack the basket and take more shots since two of our main players were out.”
When Everett and Watson returned, it was clear that they weren’t 100 percent. Everett would force herself to run in practice and learned to tolerate the pain. Watson ran with a noticeable limp, but still gave them a presence that no one could replace.
They helped the Knights hang in against Ewing in the county final. With the score tied, Watson fed DiCindio for a short jumper that went in with 2.4 seconds left for the game-winner.
The Knights felt they could do it again in the state tournament. They breezed through Matawan and Red Bank Regional to set up another matchup with Ewing. Turnovers doomed them despite a huge game from Brown, who set herself up as the Knights’ star of the future with a sparkling line of 11 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and four steals.
“She’s a special player,” Boyce said. “She’s the best athlete I have. She’s had to play inside a little bit, especially with our injuries, but she’s really a guard. She’s the best athlete I’ve ever coached.”
“I have to take more initiative,” said Brown looking ahead to next year. “I have to be more like the captain. I’ll see what I have to deal with and I have to show them what we need to do to win each game, motivate them so they know what we’re going up against.”
As a new leader, Brown will be leaning on the memories that she built this year, a season that made history and set a new standard for Knight girls’ basketball.
“The great group of seniors that we had,” Brown said. “The struggles that we worked through, their injuries, how well we got along with each other and how we always picked each other up in game situations when it felt like we were doing bad or messing everything up. Our bond was great.”