Freshman sparks Wildcats over Bears for Ray-Pec crown

By Michael Smith
Special to The Examiner

PECULIAR – Blue Springs sophomore Jada Williams typically garners the most attention from the media, scouts and opposing defenses.

It’s well deserved, as she is one of the best girls basketball players in the nation and already has multiple Division I teams wanting to sign her.

But there is another Wildcats player that is a rising star, and she showed why Wednesday in the championship of the Raymore-Peculiar Sonic Classic. Freshman Jayla Cornelius had a breakout performance against William Chrisman, scoring a game-high 25 points in a 61-30 blowout of William Chrisman.

“She’s going to be a star,” said Blue Springs coach Mark Spigarelli, who was initially in disbelief Cornelius scored 25. “She’s a freshman and she’s still trying to figure out defense and run our plays.

“We know she’s going to be a really good player; it’s just a matter of getting her caught up on what we are running offensively and some of our defensive stuff we do. She is making strides.”

Cornelius did just about everything but fill the water cups for the Wildcats (6-2). She rebounded well, played solid defense and scored from everywhere on the court. Midway through the third period, she stripped Gia Moore of the basketball at halfcourt and made a fast-break layup to make it 31-13. In the fourth, she hit four of her five 3-pointers. It didn’t matter whether it was a catch-and-shoot or pull-up attempt, she couldn’t miss.

“It was just flowing really good,” Cornelius said of her shot.

Every time the freshman sank a shot, the bench would erupt in cheers. One teammate even shouted, ‘Who is this girl?’

“There aren’t many freshmen dropping 25 points,” Williams said. “I am glad to have her at Blue Springs High School.”

Added sophomore Nikole Schnell: “She has improved a lot.”

Schnell also provided a big spark for Blue Springs, especially in the fourth quarter. She scored nine of her 11 points in the period.

“Her confidence hasn’t been there, so this game helped her get her confidence,” Williams said of Schnell. “When she’s shooting it like that, I will pass it all day, every day.”

Added Spigarelli: (Schnell) was one of our better shooters last year as a freshman. She played like we’d hope she’d be playing. She played well on defense, too. She got a lot of deflections.”

Williams played more of a facilitator role than a scorer against the Bears. She got her teammates involved on sharp passes from the perimeter and drive-and-dish passes. In this one, she scored 14 points, with eight coming in the second quarter.

Not only was her playmaking on point, she was able to get open looks at the basket thanks to her improved off-ball movement. Williams’ defense was also stellar.

“Defense and off-ball movement has been a big high school thing for me,” Williams said. “In AAU I am on the ball a lot. I am going to have to get better off ball in college because I will be on the ball and off.”

Blue Springs led 8-5 after the first quarter and pushed the advantage to 23-13 at halftime. Between the late second quarter and the early third, the Wildcats held Chrisman without a point for more than eight minutes. After Cornelius’ fast-break bucket opened up an 18-point lead, Moore broke the scoring drought for the Bears with a pair of free throws with 3:17 left in the period.

“I thought it was our most complete game defensively for sure,” Spigarelli said.

The Bears cut Blue Springs lead to 34-24 late in the third thanks to nine combined points between forwards Jacque David and Mele Taula, but a pair of free throws from Schnell gave Blue Springs a 36-24 lead heading into the final period.

The fourth is when Schnell and Corneilus caught fire, helping Blue Springs outscore Chrisman 25-6.

David led Chrisman (5-3) with 13 points, and Taula added 11.