Kiyla Peterson, right, played on the Ewing girls’ team in the Moody Park Summer League. (Photo by John Blaine.)

The Ewing High School girls’ basketball team finished with a 5-4 record in the Moody Park Summer League, but that was secondary to the fact that the Blue Devils actually had a team in the league.

For the past several years, due to so many conflicting schedules with AAU ball, Ewing was unable to field a team in its own backyard league. And while AAU obviously offers strong competition, there is something to be said for a high school team playing together over the summer.

That was especially true this year as the Devils are coming off their strongest season in years, finishing 22-4, reaching the Mercer County Tournament finals and the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III finals. They return a strong nucleus from that team along with some transfers who will be infused into the lineup, so some cohesiveness needed to be formed over the summer.

“It helps way more chemistry wise,” said rising sophomore Jaycee Lowe. “There’s a distance between when you play. Sometimes you have open gyms, but summer is a chance for us to get together, get the new kids in. You get the kids coming up from Fisher and even some of the transfers. This is just to get us into a nice rotation to understand during the year what we have to achieve.”

Mike Reynolds, the Colonial Valley Conference’s Coach of the Year last season, also stressed the value of getting to know each other.

“I think it’s important,” the Devils coach said. “They don’t all play on the same AAU team, so two nights a week they can put everything back together and at least stay a little bit connected and it just helps them bridge the gap.”

“You come out of the winter, and the spring is kind of shutdown time; where they gear up for AAU,” he said. “We kind of get back into it in the summer, which springs you into open gym time when school starts; and that rolls into the season. So, it’s just good to have them all in the same place a couple nights a week so they don’t totally lose touch with each other.”

Ewing did not have its complete winter roster in the Moody League, as Chibuzo Amonu was away for most of the summer and Cayla Sexton chose to only play AAU due to an ongoing hamstring injury.

But returnees Mya Grimes, Kiyla Peterson and Lowe were joined by newcomers Jeda Derry-Corrales, Asianna Merrill, Z’Mya Whittington and Kiyann Peterson, along with transfers Myasia Jackson and Denia Campbell, who are both returning to the program.

“Pretty much everybody we needed to be back is involved,” Reynolds said. “And we had a couple younger girls who will factor in JV-wise or maybe on the varsity bench who played off the side to give people little breaks. Having Myasia and Denia back in the program gives us two quality varsity players, which will make us deeper when winter rolls around. So it was good to have them here this summer. ”

The coach knows what kind of offensive firepower he has, saying on any given night one of his players can score 20 points. This summer he stressed good ball movement and scoring balance on offense, along with better defense.

“We don’t want to be a team where you can take one player, try and shut them down and the rest falls apart,” Reynolds said. “We want to move it to the next kid and have just as much success. If we can do the same thing on the defensive end we can be really good. We are quick and fast and long. When we can get the game under control going up and down, we’re pretty tough.”

One of the keys to the season will be rising junior Kiyla Peterson, who has honed her game while participating in summer morning workouts with Shelly Dearden’s boys’ team since seventh grade.

“I coached her mother when I was girls’ coach and I ran into her and her mother in a parking lot and she asked if Kiyla could come to the boys’ workouts,” Dearden said, while watching Peterson and the Devils play against Hunterdon Central on July 14. “She said, ‘Shelly she is much better than I was back in the day.’ I said, ‘Just have her come’

“So she comes the first day, we’re picking teams at the scrimmage and the first pick of the day was her. I told her she’s only going to get better playing against the boys and she’s there every day with us.”

Peterson agreed with Dearden, saying, “It’s helped me get stronger. I wasn’t really scared to do it. I just wanted to get better and advance my game.”

As a point guard/shooting guard, Peterson has been working on her ball handling and jump shot this summer in order to be able to handle both roles.

“Kiyla was at every workout for us and the boys in the mornings, she’s a gym rat,” Reynolds said. “Jaycee the same thing, she’s another gym rat. You can see them continue to grow up this summer. You can see they’re maturing and working toward something. They definitely have a goal in mind and they’re willing to put the time in for it.”

The anticipation of a potential big season is helping to fuel those goals.

“It’s a little more exciting this year,” Peterson said. “We have more girls coming back. We’re gonna be a stronger unit together and we’re gonna be able to beat more teams together. We got a better feel for each other playing this summer.”

Lowe, who has worked on her ball handling and shooting this summer, added that, “I am so excited for this year. My cousin (Campbell) transferred back in and I feel like this year we’ll have such a bomb squad. I feel like we should just go farther this year.”

Just the fact they were able to play as a team this summer has already helped put them ahead of schedule.