Lady Spartans on the rise

The Lady Spartans put themselves in the driver’s seat by winning their first five Conference ABC-V games prior to the new year. They’ll look to stay on track Saturday when Friends Academy visits at 10:30 a.m.
“Last season we focused a lot on the little things and learned how to win,” said Gray, who guided the team to a 9-5 record in conference play. “We came in with higher expectations this time and I’m happy with what’s going on.”
The most impressive victory for the Lady Spartans (6-5 overall) so far came Dec. 22 against Lawrence, which had beaten them two weeks prior in the consolation game of the Hewlett Tournament. The rematch saw freshman Madeline Nelson score 16 points, junior Jacqueline Canny get 12 and senior Rakiyah Marshall and junior Elizabeth Miller nine apiece in a satisfying 52-44 decision in their lone home game to date. The Golden Tornadoes held North to 32 points in the first meeting. “We had no legs left in the fourth quarter of the first Lawrence game,” Gray said. “We got away from the full-court press and went with a three-quarters press to keep the girls fresh. We also had a better shooting game.”
Other conference wins have come against West Hempstead, Friends Academy, Bethpage and Glen Cove. Canny (12), Marshall (11) and Nelson (11) scored in double figures against West Hempstead, and Nelson (18) and Marshall (12) did the same against Friends Academy. “We played a tough non-conference schedule that provided a good experience and got us ready for the conference,” Gray said. “One of the nicest things is we’ve been able to protect the lead for an entire game.”
Nelson’s steady flow of offense hasn’t come as a shock to Gray, who noted the young guard had a few breakout performances last season. While splitting time at the point with Miller, Nelson averaged a team-high 12.5 points through the first 11 games and hit for 18 on three occasions. “I expected Madeline to take a more active role, and she’s playing very well,” Gray said.
Canny, the team’s leading scorer in 2007-08, is averaging 10 points per game and Marshall continues to be a presence in the paint, averaging about 11 rebounds to go along with 8.3 points per game. “Rakiyah always gets after the ball,” Gray said. The aggressive style of sophomore Michelle Nevarez and eighth-grader Dana Morgante has bolstered the frontcourt, and sophomore guard Jillian Sarro is providing quality minutes off the bench.
The Lady Spartans play four of their last six at home. After Friends Academy, West Hempstead will visit on Tuesday at 8 p.m. “We’re looking forward to the home games,” Gray said.
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