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Ches-Mont Champs: Bella Smuda, Downingtown East revel in that championship feeling

West Goshen >> After scoring 29 points in Downingtown East’s 55-39 win against West Chester Rustin Wednesday evening for the Ches-Mont League tournament title, 6-foot-5 junior Bella Smuda reflected on that championship feeling.

“Since I was a freshman, I’ve wanted to do this, and it’s special to do it with this group of girls,” said Smuda, in between hugs from friends, family and fans on the floor of the Jack “Shug” Byrne Gymnasium at West Chester East.

“We’ve been working so hard as a team this season; I’ve never been on a team that wanted this [championship] more than anything. It’s been our goal since the beginning of the season.”


D-East head coach Tom Schurtz said, “I love the trust her teammates have in Bella, to give her the ball in the situations where she can be successful. Everybody likes to talk about her size, and that helps, but [more importantly] she has competitive fire, she’s willing to battle as she did tonight when she got in a little foul trouble, and she’s got great soft hands.”

Downingtown East’s Bella Smuda (31) puts in a layup in the second quarter. (Michael Reeves – For MediaNews Group)

The Cougars, trailing 23-21 at halftime, went on a 34-12 tear in the second half to put the game away with three minutes left. Smuda, who has verbally committed to Liberty University, scored 19 points in the second half, and freshman Lauren Kent tallied 10 fourth quarter points.

“When the game ended, my first thought was, ‘I love my team, and I’m so happy to be here,’” said a smiling Kent. “Winning this is such a great feeling, we came from a not-so-good start [trailing 7-0 early in the first quarter], but we kept working, kept giving it a great team effort. We had to regain our composure and keep it all together.”

D-East senior co-captain Ally Meakim said, “When we were trailing 7-0, I honestly don’t think we were too nervous; I think we knew that we had it inside of us. So we came toegther, we played defense, and we brought it all together.”

“We did a great job tonight of playing with poise and control, and getting into situations where we could get a good look at the basket,” said Schurtz. “Lauren did a nice job going to the rim tonight, she’s really starting to come into her own, [Caroline] Brennan’s defensive effort on [Dakiya] Daniels was outstanding, but collectively, you can’t win a title on your own; this was a team win. Bella’s a great player, but her teammates have to get her the ball for her to be successful.”

Downingtown East celebrates its Ches-Mont championship. (Michael Reeves – For MediaNews Group)

Smuda also blocked 12 shots and pulled down numerous key rebounds, often helping the Cougars to limit Rustin to one shot per trip upcourt.

A smiling Meakim said, “Bella’s amazing, she’s keeps us going, but it was a whole team effort tonight. In the second half, our defense led our run, we got defense from every player. The whole bench was hyped, everyone was cheering, everyone was into it, and the defense definitely started our second-half run.”

Kent, “During halftime, we realized that we wanted this [championship] so bad, and we just put our whole heart into it in the second half.”

Schurtz said, “At halftime, we talked about what we wanted to do – we wanted to get the ball inside, either with the dribble, off the bounce, or with passing to the post. I think we did a better job in the second half isolating the driving lanes, getting the ball inside, and defensively, we tried to limit Rustin’s great three-point shooters to just one shot, and I thought we did a great job of that in the third quarter, we did a nice job of rebounding. Rustin plays particularly well on the inside-out pass, so when we give up extra shots, that’s when they bury you.”

But no one buried Downingtown East Wednesday evening, thanks to the Cougars’ hard-working defense.

“We’ve been working for this [championship] for four years, ever since I’ve been here,” said Meakim. “This team has worked so hard, particularly this pre-season, this season.”

NOTES>> Next up for the newly-minted Ches-Mont tournament champions is the PIAA District 1 6A tourney. The Cougars (19-5) are seeded eighth, and will open Feb. 20 against the winner of No. 9 seed Methacton vs. 24th seed Unionville (to be played Feb. 16). Incidentally, the Cougars’ victory Wednesday evening was a milestone win in more ways than one. It marked the 200th win of the Downingtown East girls’ basketball program.

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