The old saying claims that for good luck, one should knock on wood. But for Kristin Jacobs the cliché needs to be altered to “count on Wood.”
That philosophy certainly has helped her fortunes over the years.
This season marks the end of an era for the Steinert girls’ basketball coach, as she is in the final season coaching one of three Wood sisters. First there was Carly, who was a senior on Jacobs’ first Spartan team in 2012-13. Then came Cassidy, who graduated in 2017. Now there is Crysten; a senior and the Spartans’ leading scorer as of Jan. 16 with a 10-point average.
For those who lost count, that makes 11 straight years of Wood support for the program.
“I have been coaching Crysten since she’s been in fifth grade,” Jacobs said. “I taught her in eighth grade, she was my point guard on my AAU team for a long time. I’ve known their parents for a lifetime. I’ve coached all three Woods. It’s gonna be weird when Crysten graduates, not having a Wood around.”
That being said, who better to compare and contrast the three sisters but Jacobs.
“They’re all completely different,” she said. “Carly was a post player, a bruiser. She’d leave other people and herself looking like they ran through a wall. Cassidy was athletic, Crysten brings a little bit of everything. She brings toughness and grit and a genuine knowledge of the game of basketball.”
The knowledge is what Wood gained through years of playing the game herself and observing her sisters play.
“I think going to their games and watching helped me get comfortable with it before I was here, so as a freshman I knew what I was doing when I came on,” she said. “I used to get so excited watching them. When I was in middle school I just wanted to get into high school just to play.”
The grit, of course, came from battling her sisters in the driveway.
“We had a net and used to play against each other,” Wood said. “Even Carly. She was a forward. She would help me work against bigger players because I knew I was gonna be one of the smaller ones on the court.”
Not surprisingly, there were some intense outings.
“Yes,” Wood said with a laugh. “They were rough. They didn’t take it easy on me. But it made me stronger.”
Wood played sparse minutes in just 13 games as a freshman, but appeared in 17 as a sophomore and on a veteran team was sixth in steals with 39 and fifth in assists with 30. And while she did not play much in ninth grade, she learned how to adjust with a little help from big sister.
“I had one year with Cassidy as a freshman (the only year any of the three overlapped),” Wood said. “Coming in I was definitely scared. Over four years I grew confident on the court, but having Cassidy was nice, it made me less nervous coming into it.”
As a junior, Wood was surrounded by quality scorers like Jayda Bing and Natalie Mehl, but she made her biggest impact yet by scoring 5.2 points per game and finishing third on the team in both assists (45) and steals (52). She also showed a decent shooting touch with 15 3-pointers.
Wood, who played soccer in the fall, also honed her game by playing in Hamilton PAL and with the AAU Mid-Jersey Mavericks. What she lacked in size she made up for in other ways, and this year Wood led the team in steals with 38 through 10 games, and led in 3-pointers with 22. She was among the rebounding leaders with Alex Haley, Hope Mauro and Nicole Pappas.
“I just move my feet on defense,” she said of her ability to pilfer balls. “I’ve been practicing that because I know I’m not big, so I use that as my advantage. Most of my points come from outside shots and breakaways off steals.”
Jacobs is happy to see Wood finally embrace the fact that good things come in smaller packages.
“We used to joke a lot about her size and she’d say, ‘But I’m taller than so and so!’” Jacobs said. “I think that really helped her as a young defender, being so low and being smaller. She had to learn to get in front of the ball, get her hands up. She has such a knack. She’s so sneaky, she’s sneaky good. She’ll grab the ball and immediately look for someone else down the floor.”
While defense has always been a Wood forte, she and Haley understood they had to pick up their point production after all the scorers graduated last year. But she didn’t ignore the other aspects of her game.
“I worked on my shooting and the steals and basically better defending,” she said. “I knew we were a defensive team and we were gonna get most of our scoring and points off of steals and forcing them into turnovers.”
Jacobs feels part of Wood’s escalated game has to do with her mindset.
“It’s all about confidence with her,” the coach said. “She has the ability to do it, whether it’s driving to the basket or shooting the outside jumper. She’s finally gotten to the point where she’s not her own worst enemy. They’re all critics of themselves and if she just has fun, lets loose and plays she can be one of the best players in the CVC.”
One aspect of Wood’s game that has remained consistent since Jacobs first started coaching her is her grittiness.
“The things she did in fifth grade continue to be magnified at a bigger level,” Jacobs said. “She never backed down from competition, whether she was the biggest, the smallest, the fastest or slower. She’s competing every time she gets a chance.”
When she’s not trying to beat someone, Wood is trying to help them. She is looking into attending either Rowan or The College of New Jersey and while she will enroll as an undeclared major, she plans on applying to a nursing program the following year to see if that satisfies an urge.
“I grew up around hospitals, I used to go to visit people there,” she said. “I would visit family members and the other nurses would interact with them and I was interested in that. I like people, I like helping people.”
And for one final time, Jacobs is happy to have a Wood helping her.