With each passing game the Collingswood High School girls' basketball team provides additional evidence that it isn’t just a team that has gotten off to a hot start.
The Panthers success is very real, even if caught many people—including the Collingswood players and coaches—by surprise.
“We have been doing a lot better than we even thought we would, and it’s a big confidence-booster,” senior Ellie O’Neill said. “I think everyone is working even harder now because we have so much potential and everyone realizes that.”
The Panthers made another statement Tuesday night with a 41-34 win over Sterling in Colonial Conference action. With the win the Panthers improved to 8-1 and 5-0 in the conference. Considering the Panthers finished just a game above .500 last season, the red-hot start has been a surprising sight to just about everyone.
“I thought that we would be able to defend, but I didn’t know we would be able to score like this,” Collingswood coach Nancy O’Neill said. “They have bought into defense. They really believe that they can play it and that they can stop anybody. When our shots fall, we can. We can play with most.”
The shots were falling Tuesday night, especially ones from Ellie O’Neill, who had a game-high 22 points. O’Neill was on fire from beyond the arc, connecting on all three of her 3-point attempts.
A senior captain, O’Neill has been instrumental in the team’s early-season success. She believes that every player on the team is feeding off each other's energy.
“It’s a confidence thing,” said Ellie. “We are more confident taking our shots and have been taking our time and taking the right shots.”
The Panthers, who lost to Sterling by double digits twice last season, had a one-point lead at the half, but won the third quarter 10-5 to expand the advantage. Collingswood was then able to ice the game late thanks to some clutch free throw shooting.
Nancy O’Neill credited her core of seniors, which includes her daughter Ellie, as well as Morgan Worthington and Courtney Carsillo, for sticking with the program during some tough times a couple of years ago.
“These seniors, I couldn’t be prouder of them,” O’Neill said. “They were in such a tough spot as sophomores when they were forced to play and weren’t ready to play. We had three kids go down that season and they got thrust in there, but they are reaping the benefits now.”
Collingswood takes on a struggling Lindenwold team tomorrow before facing a challenging set of games against Haddonfield, Haddon Heights and Timber Creek.
Nancy O’Neill was quick to point out that her team still has plenty of areas in its game to clean up and continue its winning ways, but also expressed confidence that the Panthers will do so.
Ellie said the players will be happy to put in the work so that they can continue on this winning path.
“I think that we need to keep going and work even harder now to show that this isn’t just a fluke,” Ellie said. “Now we have to beat the rest of the good teams.”