Coming off one of its best seasons in many years, the John Jay girls basketball opens the season next week looking to continue its momentum.
Matching last year’s 14-6 record, however, might be a challenge. The Indians lost their star player, and one of the top players in Section 1, Raegan Knox, to graduation, along with another four-year player in starting point guard Lauren Murray.
And they face a daunting schedule, with eight Class AA schools on their 18-game regular-season schedule.
“It’s probably the toughest schedule we’ve had at John Jay in years,” said head coach Greg Blake, whose team hosts Lourdes on Wednesday at 6 in the season opener. “It’s a challenge, but it’s good for us. If we can hang in there, by the time sectionals come we’ll be ready.”
A year ago, John Jay made it to the quarterfinals of the Class A playoffs, after beating defending state champ Peekskill in the first round.
Eight players return from that squad, including three starters and several key subs.
“We’ve got a lot of kids back from last year. We have the experience,” Blake said. “We don’t have Raegan, but now the other kids will have to pick it up.”
Knox, the all-time scoring leading, male or female, in John Jay history, ended her four-year career with 1,545 points. She led the Indians in scoring last year, averaging 24 points per game, and also averaged five rebounds, five assists and five steals per game on her way to All-Section and League MVP honors.
It will require a team effort to replace Knox, Blake said.
“Everybody’s going to have to score. Everybody’s going to have to rebound,” he said. “They’re going to have to pick up their games because we won’t have that one player to carry it.”
The Indians still have plenty of weapons.
Senior small forward Sydney Glenn emerged as a legitimate scoring threat last season, averaging 14 points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals per game. Her ability to knock down three-pointers (she had 24 last season) will be key to keeping opponents from packing in their defense.
“I think Sydney’s going to have a really great season. She’s stepped up. Her shooting has improved,” said Blake. “It’s her turn.”
Blake expects other teams to pay extra attention to Glenn, so he will also need his other two shooters — seniors Delaney Spencer and Courtney Knox — to knock down outside shots.
Spencer, the starting shooting guard, has been impressive with her shooting thus far, said Blake, who looks for her to shoot the ball more than she did last season.
“I think she’ll have a break-out season. If she can get us 10 to 12 points a game, that will make it easier for the other kids,” said Blake.
Spencer averaged six points, three assists and three steals per game a year ago.
Courtney Knox was a tough defender and shooting threat off the bench last year, averaging 4.2 points per game. She showed her ability to knock down outside shots last season when she hit four three-pointers in one game.
Taking over the point-guard spot is senior Sasha Puglisi, another player who saw significant minutes off the bench a year ago.
“She’s been waiting for her turn. She’s going to be a really, really good point guard,” said Blake.
Inside, the Indians return starting center Sarah Lang, a senior who has a lethal combination of height (5’10”), size and athleticism. Blake said her potential is tremendous, and can see her averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Last year, Lang averaged seven points and nine rebounds per game, and did many of the little things to help the team in its offensive sets and underneath the boards.
“I think she’s going to be the key,” said Blake. “We’ll go as far as she can take us.”
Returning senior Molly Newcomb will start at the other forward spot, after seeing significant playing time off the bench last year. At 5’11”, she provides size and strong rebounding, and is a good shooter, Blake said.
“She’s really coming on,” said Blake. “With Sarah and Molly, there’s pretty good size and good inside play.”
The front line also returns senior Sarah Secret, with the key addition being 6’0” sophomore Eilish Newcomb.
The other newcomers are junior Jordan Johnson, sophomore Marielle Christie, and freshmen Haley and Tierney Spencer.
Defense will be a key part of the team’s success this season — more so than last year.
“We’re going to be more aggressive on defense, with more traps and presses. If we’re only going to score 45, 50 or 55 points per game, we have to play pretty good defense. We have to score a lot more off our defense.”
If they do that, and can hit their outside shots, the Indians will surprise teams that expect John Jay to struggle without Knox.
“I think a lot of people don’t think we’ll do as well,” said Blake. “I think they’ll be up to the challenge. They’re really looking forward to it.”