Kiyla Peterson shoots a free throw during a 2017 game against Princeton. (File photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

Dec. 19, 2014 feels like forever ago to Kiyla Peterson. It was then that the Ewing High School senior point guard made her first start for the girls basketball team. It’s 108 starts later and Peterson is preparing for her final state tournament run.

The Blue Devils have been trusting Peterson with the ball since that day four years ago, and it has paid off with historic success. Ewing won their first sectional championship since 2000 last year, and Peterson has been better each year. She celebrated her 1,000th career point on Feb. 9 during a 26-point performance against West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South.

“She’s been the point guard for four years,” said Ewing head coach Mike Reynolds. “She is the kid that’s going to get us organized. I think she makes pretty good adjustments in the game, sometimes on the fly, sometimes she’ll see something and go for it even if it’s outside of what we were expecting to get into, and we’ve had some success with it.

Peterson goes all the way back to those first games as a starter when she explains how she has developed into a standout who hopes to play in college next year.

“It did help,” Peterson said. “Those players when I was younger, they always tried to help me get better. They helped me try to improve so I had more experience. They always told me to have heart. That’s what it is—heart to play, heart to do anything.”

Peterson has the ability to score or set up opponents, and her experience helps her make the right decisions on the court. Making better decisions is where her growth shows the most.

“I think it’s recognizing what’s going on,” Peterson said. “The other night in a game against West Windsor North, they had double-teamed Mya (Grimes) in the post and Jaycee (Lowe) was wide open in the corner. I skip-passed it to Jaycee. As a younger player I probably would have tried to force it in.”

Peterson is part of an inside-outside duo that is the most experienced in the Colonial Valley Conference. Grimes, who hit the 1,000-point mark in the first game of the season, is every bit as big of a leader in the paint. When Peterson steps back, she can see how they have developed.

“As a younger player, for me it’s the way I matured over time,” she said. “I don’t think I was ready to be as good a leader as I am now. The combination of me and Mya is a powerful thing. She’s a leader of the post, and I’m a leader of the top of the offense. If I see something, I would tell her, and if she sees something, she would tell me.”

They lead Ewing back into the state tournament where they hope to make another long run. The Blue Devils, who lost in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals after reaching the final last year, are the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group 3 and have four players back who played significantly in last year’s run.

“The experience was a big thing,” Reynolds said. “They learned from going through the process how tough you have to be, and how this time of year is as much about being mentally strong as physically strong. You have a new opponent every night, and you have to prepare a little differently for each one and then you have to play when you get out there in a game.

‘I think I look at it as it’s our senior year, so every game that we play, it has to be a memorable moment.’

Peterson and Grimes are two of four seniors along with Tyquazya Davis, who moved back to Ewing this year from Nottingham, and Chantel Gillette, who has grown into a bigger role this year. MyAsia Jackson and Lowe return with starting experience alongside the veteran starters Peterson and Grimes.

“Two of them started their entire careers,” Reynolds said, “and then two experienced seniors coming off the bench is a nice thing to have too. Jentle is the new fifth starter. She played quite a bit of varsity early in the season until we had our two transfers become eligible, then she split time and played some JV and some time with us.”

Ewing graduated Denia Campbell, Cayla Sexton and Chibuzo Amonu, and they left a hole. But the Blue Devils have responded to go 22-5 with a defense that can play man or zone, with an offense that likes to run but has gotten better in the halfcourt, and with a quiet confidence from finding success so far.

“We take all the negative things that people have to say, we take and become powerful because of it,” Peterson said. “A lot of people have doubted us because of the combination of Denia, and Cayla and Chibuzo was a power. It was a power. They doubted we could have that power too.”

Ewing believes that it can still win another sectional title. Their confidence has grown thanks to the leadership of their seniors.

“The formation of the team around us made it more comfortable to not put all the pressure on ourselves,” Peterson said. “If we’re a team, we don’t have pressure at all. That’s what I feel like with this team. I don’t feel like I have pressure on myself.”

Ewing needs a full team effort to overcome its opponents. The Blue Devils are the hunted this year as the defending champions.

“We won it last year and we’ve had a really nice stretch of years where we’ve been one of the top teams,” Reynolds said. “You’re going to take everyone’s best shot because it could make their name and their season by beating it at the right time. That’s the reality of it. There’s the opportunity to do it again, but we have to show up to every game.”

The Blue Devils actually are embracing an underdog mentality. They would be thrilled to add a few more starts and keep alive the high school careers of Peterson and her senior class.

“I think I look at it as it’s our senior year, so every game that we play, it has to be a memorable moment,” Peterson said. “Nothing is a long wait for us. We’re embracing everything since it’s the last time we’re doing it.”