Right as the huge winter snowstorm raced up the East Coast, the Cicero-North Syracuse girls basketball team spent the weekend of Dec. 18-20 in New Jersey, competing against elite foes in the Festival of the Phoenix Tournament at University High School.
The point was twofold -- to give the Northstars' highly-touted sophomore center, Breanna Stewart, another big showcase, and to also give CNS a pair of big tests, to prepare them for the meat of its schedule.
Both games would prove to be close, including the Dec. 18 opening-round battle against St. Francis where a late rally fell just short in a 56-54 loss.
A wild first quarter saw St. Francis outscore the Northstars 21-16. Yet even though CNS held the opponent to six points in the second quarter, it could not catch up, still behind 27-23 at the break.
They remained on even terms the rest of the night, CNS sneaking within striking distance at the end, but unable to tie it or prevail.
Stewart was impressive again, registering 27 points, exactly half her team's output. Brittany Paul had nine points, while Kelsey Mattice produced eight points.
Following a day of rest and recreation (and watching the snow pile up in New Jersey), CNS played again on Dec. 20 and lost to Columbia (N.J.) in a 50-44 decision.
Here, the Northstars led, 10-7, after one period, only to get in a long slump in the game's middle stages as Columbia outscored them 34-17 in the middle two periods.
All game long, Columbia packed the middle, leaving Stewart (who finished with 11 points) little room to operate. CNS could not overcome this with perimeter shots, even though Jamilla Maxim set a career mark with 13 points (including a pair of 3-pointers) and Paul added 11 points.
A bit closer to home, CNS went to Utica Proctor last Wednesday, facing a Raider side still tough despite the loss of star guard Brianna Kiesel for most of the season with a broken wrist.