Flying high: Young Pilots jelling, exceeding expectations

Jane Morris’ preseason expectations for her young team and the sophomore guard leading it have already been well surpassed.

The longtime Cardinal Spellman coach’s squad came into the year without an established star or a senior who has seen significant playing time. Instead the group, which is a mix of veterans and junior varsity callups, bonded quickly and closely. Point guard Diamond Christian has played like an upperclassman.

“I thought she would make more mistakes,” Morris said. “I thought she’d have more turnovers and I was ready for that with a sophomore guard. It’s not happening. She is doing a really excellent job for us.”

Christian and her quick first step to the hoop did exactly that in a convincing 61-45 win over Medgar Evers at the Rose Classic Super Jam on Jan. 18 in front of a Nazareth gym filled with college coaches. She scored at game-high 18 points, got her teammates involved and was a force on the defensive end.

“Being that she is a sophomore doesn’t really matter because she plays up to your level,” senior guard Leah Pinili said. “Other sophomores they say they need experience, but she is up to [our] experience and plays well with us just like she is a senior.”

Christian isn’t new to big games. She led the Pilots junior varsity squad to the Archdiocesan title last season That experience helped prepare her and her teammates for the move up to the varsity.

”It gave us a lot of confidence because we have a great bond together,” Christian said.

Her ability to lead a balanced attack has Spellman off to a 10-2 start overall. Sophomore forward Devyn Elliot is a physical force in the paint and juniors Nicole Hill and Kerri Deans have made consistent contributions

“We just work well together,” Christian said.

Spellman’s best win of the season came in a 50-46 victory on the road against division rival Moore Catholic. The Mavericks tied the score on a Rileigh Wheeler three-pointer with 7.8 seconds left. Morris called time out and ran an inbounds play especially for forward Nicole Hill, the team’s leading rebounder. She hit a 15-foot jumper to put her team ahead for good.

“[She] doesn’t score a whole lot of points, but scores when you need her to type of player,” Morris said.

The victory over Moore is an example of Spellman proving it doesn’t need stars like Onia Webb, Maria Backman, Niajah Morgan and Jade Vega to win. This group plans on making a run at a third straight Archdiocesan title.

“People thing that because all our seniors left there is not really much to us,” Pinili said. “It’s up to us to show them how good we are and that is what we plan to do.”

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