Maya Grimes, pictured playing in a 2017 game, helped lead the Blue Devils to the Group II state championship game, which they lost to Old Tappan by a 46-45 score on March 11.

Mya Grimes helped the Ewing High School girls basketball team enjoy quite an encore to last year’s sectional championship.

The 6-foot senior forward was a towering force inside all year and helped Ewing go 26-6 and repeat as Central Jersey Group III state champions and advance one step further this year to the Group III state final.

“I liked that we had a lot of accomplishments basketball-wise,” Grimes said. “And this year, me and the team got closer and bonded more and connected more.”

Ewing graduated some key parts of last year’s sectional title team, but with leadership from Grimes and fellow senior Kiyla Peterson and the right pieces to fill in the gaps left by graduation, the Blue Devils actually went farther in the postseason.

Grimes’ part has been that of a reliable post player. She is a player that every opponent designs a way to stop, though doing so hasn’t been very successful.

“I thought she gave us a dominant defensive presence in the paint,” said Ewing head coach Mike Reynolds. “That’s certainly an intimidating thing to ask any player to go in and finish up or around her.”

Ewing needed strong contributions across the board to get through a daunting lineup in the sectional. After bowing out of the Mercer County Tournament, the Blue Devils shifted their attention to a bracket with dangerous teams hungry to end the defending champions’ run.

“It was a little more different because every other school was out for our school,” Grimes said. “In our conference, we were probably the best so everyone was trying to beat us. It was like, we cannot have a loss, we have to play hard every game.”

They marched through Jackson Liberty, then climbed over Wall to get to Hopewell Valley in the sectional semifinal. Grimes posted an 18-point, 18-rebound performance in the 31-point win. Again, Grimes came up huge with 14 points and 16 rebounds as Ewing rallied to take the sectional championship, 67-57, over Allentown.

“It felt great, especially to me because we did it two times in a row while I was still here so I could be a part of that,” Grimes said.

Maya Grimes

Peterson and MyAsia Jackson had 16 points apiece and Jaycee Lowe had 15 points. The experience of Ewing’s veterans was critical to earning the win. Ewing was outscored, 25-11, in the third quarter but never panicked and came back with an 18-6 edge in the fourth quarter to defend their crown.

The win set them up for a revenge game of their own. They had lost narrowly in the Group III state semifinal to Ocean City last year, but it wasn’t close this year. After a tight first quarter, Ewing pulled away to crush Ocean City, 62-37.

“That was the craziest game. I think it was our best game of the year,” said Grimes. “Everyone played so well. We were just connecting that game. We wanted it so bad, that’s what I think it was.”

From that triumph came a heartbreaking defeat against Old Tappan in the Group III final. Ewing fell, 46-45, despite several chances to pull out its first state title since 1999.

“We had a number of chances to hit shots that would have helped,” Reynolds said. “We had a three that went in and out that would have put us up five with three minutes to go and that could have changed the entire complexion at the end. Even down the end, we got a great look out of the corner and it was dead center, just a little short.”

Ewing had rallied to overtake Old Tappan after trailing 23-14 at halftime. Grimes said she will remember the effort that Ewing played with over the final 16 minutes to claw back and eventually take the lead before falling in the final minute.

“We gave it our all,” Grimes said. “It didn’t feel good because we were one point away from a ring, but at least we knew we were capable of getting there and we could have won that game if we played better in the first half. We could have done it.”

Reaching the state final was something that Grimes and her classmates Peterson, Tyquazya Davis and Jentle Sheridan could only dream about four years ago. Their final year was the most memorable because of how they grew together to lead a big state run.

“It felt like it meant a lot more to me because it’s my last year and I’ve been playing with these girls my whole high school career,” Grimes said. “It meant a lot more to me this year.”

Kiyla Peterson

Having been to the state final now provides a strong drive for those Ewing players returning, led by Jackson and Lowe, to go to states again next year.

“We really like that the younger kids got to experience it, even if they didn’t get to play a single second,” Reynolds said. “They were at the state tournament and to go through those last couple of weeks and see how exciting that final game is, I hope that’s a motivator for them to want to get out there in the summer league and work hard and try to do it again.

They will be doing so without Grimes, who is headed to play basketball at High Point. She is looking forward to the chance to play at the college level.

“Mentally your mindset has to change,” she said. “You have to want it because if you don’t want it, college is going to be tough for you. That’s all I hear—if you don’t want basketball, then college and basketball is going to be tough for you. All I know is I do want it, and I do want to play basketball and put in all the hard work.”

Grimes is interested in studying nursing, and she certainly gave Ewing a healthy dose of success. She capped off a career in which she scored 1,000 points and very well must have had 1,000 rebounds by taking the team the farthest it has been in almost 20 years.

“Mya has worked at her game, whether it was with us or over the summer with her AAU program,” Reynolds said. “She certainly would have been a good player anyway given her natural talent. But she didn’t just rest on her talent. She added moves. She learned how to be a leader over the course of four years. She learned how to compete against different types of teams and different types of players. I think it’s going to serve her well when she goes away next year.”