Jentle Sheridan on the court during a 53-6 win at Nottingham on Jan. 21, 2020. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

Spending her summers in school has not been fun for Jentle Sheridan, but she understands the value of it.

Sheridan is one of five Ewing High School seniors in the Princeton University Preparatory Program, a program that gives highly motivated, low-income students extra opportunities to get ahead in academia. They study math, literature and science, focus on test prep, and take cultural excursions as well during a six-week session at Princeton every summer while in high school.

“It’s everything on a college level to get us prepared for when we go to college so we’re used to the work already,” Sheridan said. “My main goal is knowing this is going to help me in the future. I probably don’t like it now but it’s going to help me in the long run.”

Sheridan also puts in quite an effort on the basketball court. She is in an increased leadership role as the most experienced returning player for the Blue Devils girls, whose fourth straight win Jan. 14 over Hamilton West gave them a 6-3 record after almost a month of play. (The team was 7-4 as of Jan 23)

“I’m very comfortable,” Sheridan said. “I feel as though I’m a natural leader. If I need to take on a role, I have no problem doing it. Some challenges are just adjusting to being in that leadership role and knowing when to say something to the team and get everybody back on track and keep myself on track too.”

Sheridan has stuffed the stat sheet in the early going. She’s scored in double figures in four straight games and already has a 15-rebound game to go with it. She’s also posted four assists twice in games this year.

“Pick your poison,” said Ewing head coach Dan Montferrat. “If I need a rebound, if I need a shot, if I need somebody to ball handle, if I need somebody to be a voice out there as far as switching up defenses or talking on defense, she does it all. She’s kind of the Swiss army knife. She really does it all for me. That’s something that a lot of the younger girls can look up to. She’s a great academic student.”

Sheridan says she enjoys the responsibilities that come with higher expectations. She takes AP courses, favors math and is leaning toward pre-med in college.

“I like to be the smart kid,” she said. “People know I’m a smart kid so they look up to me and ask me stuff, and I don’t mind.”

Ewing High School’s Madison Scott dribbles the ball during a 53-6 win at Nottingham on Jan. 21, 2020. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

It’s the same on the court. She likes to be a leader for a Ewing team that is building a core around its seniors and juniors. Sheridan’s class includes Jayda Britton, Aaliyah Lewis and Machaya Williams-Traylor. Juniors are Geneece Boone, a transfer from Trenton Catholic, Madison Scott, Iana Wade, Tamia Warner and Jayla Williams.

“Aaliyah Lewis is averaging double digit rebounds every game and Jentle has 10-12 rebounds every game too,” Montferrat said. “They’re doing a great job underneath. I have Machaya Williams and Jayda Britton buzzing around up top. I don’t think there’s any twosome that opposing guards coming down the court want to see less. They’re long and fast. They’re track athletes. They run the 4×1. They’re working that to be an advantage and Jentle out there is just a leader. She’s directing traffic on defense. Tamia is the only junior in the starting lineup. Everybody is melding together.”

Sheridan knew things would be different this year after the Blue Devils graduated most of their top scorers, and Montferrat came over from being a boys assistant coach to replace the departed Mike Reynolds.

“Monty has always been around,” Sheridan said. “He hasn’t been the head coach for the girls, but I’ve known him as a teacher in school and I know that he worked with the boys. He knew all of us on the team, he just wasn’t our coach before. It was a pretty easy adjustment. He’s easy to work with, he talks to us, I feel like it wasn’t a big adjustment.”

Ewing started out slow with three losses and one win in the WOBM Classic in Toms River. Those games, however, served them well in the long run.

“Playing that tougher schedule early on, it gives you a bit of a gut check,” Montferrat said. “It tells you what you need to work on and where you need to improve on individually and as a team. More so as a team recently, we’ve really come together and we’re flying around. I’m getting seven to eight girls in every night. I was able to get the JVs in late in the fourth quarter against West Windsor South. I have Tamia Warner, who scored 34 (against WW), and that makes life easy for everybody else. Jentle had been carrying the load.”

The Blue Devils see improvements every week as the players find their roles. It’s taken the first few weeks to sort all of that out, but Ewing has found that it can be any player’s turn to shine on any given night.

“I definitely feel like we know each other a little more on the court,” Sheridan said. “We know what each other can do, who’s going to get the rebounds, who’s going to be the best defender. We kind of know how to work with each other a little bit more now. We can play up tempo how Ewing basketball is recognized for. That’s what’s kept us going. Learning each other and how we play as a team.”

Sheridan has been through it all before through her high school career, which has been a big security blanket. Her experience made her the easy pick to lead the team and she has embraced the challenges of that role.

“It’s helped me a lot,” Sheridan said. “I’ve been in a lot of pressure situations being a part of a program that went to the Group III championships. I know how to keep calm, how to come back from adversity and how to keep playing if you’re down or keep playing if you’re winning. You have to just keep going and encourage others.”

Sheridan is trying to be a calming influence on the court as well as a confident leader. The demands on her have increased, but she’s been ready for it.

“It is very exciting,” she said. “I’m just trying to do what’s best for the team. I like scoring, but also if I see a teammate open and can score I don’t mind giving it to them either.”

Being a settling presence has been important through the team’s early growth. Ewing managed to pull out wins in the fourth quarter against Steinert, Point Pleasant Boro, Princeton and Hopewell.

“That’s the ‘steady as she goes’ mentality that we’re trying to come together about,” Montferrat said. “We’re going to continue to do what we do best – that’s play defense and get easy offense off that defense. Everybody has been buying into that.”

Ewing recognizes it has built a reputation as a contender in the Colonial Valley Conference, Mercer County Tournament and Group III sectional and state tournaments. The Blue Devils are fighting looking that far into the future.

“This year is basically taking it game by game, learning our opponents before we get there,” Sheridan said. “We’re working with what we have in the present. We know that the future holds the state championship and MCTs. We want to win the Group III championship and go to the state championships. We don’t have the talent that we had before.”

Beyond basketball, Sheridan has her new sport—softball. She took a huge step last year to become a bigger contributor for a sport that she didn’t take up until eighth grade. As with her other pursuits, she puts a full effort into it.

“I started very late,” Sheridan said. Basketball was more my thing. As I started playing softball more, I started to like it more, and I’m good at it. If I can be successful in both, why not?”

Sheridan will consider walking on in college in either sport. It depends where she ends up. She has most of her college applications in so her focus remains on her schoolwork and helping her teams get as far as possible in her final year of high school.

“I think as long as we put our mind to it and work together, we can do it,” Sheridan said. “It’s definitely going to be harder but I think we can do it.”