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Prepping for Preps '21-22: Archbishop Carroll (Girls)

10/18/2021, 11:15am EDT
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
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(Ed. Note: This story is the latest in CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2021-22 season preview coverage. As we publish more, the complete list of schools previewed will be found here.)

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Senior Grace O'Neill was a starter on Archbishop Carroll's 2019 Philadelphia Catholic League championship team and wants to end her high school career with another PCL title. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

The last few years have seen plenty of success, and a few close calls for Archbishop Carroll. This year’s seniors are determined to push them over the top once again.

Carroll’s girls captured the 2019 Philadelphia Catholic League championship, its first in seven years, and then came within one win of a state title with current Drexel Dragon Erin Sweeney leading the way. 

The following year brought a loss to O’Hara in the PCL quarterfinals, and a third matchup with Archbishop Wood looming in the state quarterfinals when COVID shut everything down. It was that same Wood group that beat Carroll in the final seconds of the 2021 Catholic League semifinals on a pair of Ryanne Allen foul shots, before Nazareth upended Carroll in the first round/quarterfinals of an abbreviated state tournament.

So when Grace O’Neill, Maggie Grant and the rest of the Patriots say they want to win a championship, they know all too well what falling short feels like, and it’s not a feeling they’d like to experience again.

“I think the PCL first is our first concern, but [the] state tournament is definitely one of our goals, to achieve that championship,” Grant said. “We saw three PCL teams do it last year, so that’s definitely one of our goals, to achieve in this last year.”

Grant, a 6-foot-1 Villanova commit, and O’Neill, a 5-6 Drexel commit, are two big reasons the Patriots have high hopes for a pair of titles this winter. 

The two have been teammates almost year-round since Grant transferred from Bishop Shanahan to Carroll after her freshman year, both playing for Comets Basketball during the summer since their middle school years. 

“Grace is one of my best friends, we’ve been playing together since sixth grade,” Grant said. “It’s a dream come true just to be with her, staying close to each other in college. She’s one of my best friends, I love playing with her, I can’t wait to play one more year with her.”

Archbishop Carroll coach Renie Shields, far right, is entering her sixth year as the Patriots' head coach and has been with the program since the 2007-08 season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

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At Drexel and Villanova, Grant and O’Neill will play for two programs populated with local talent, and deeper connections; second-year Villanova head coach Denise Dillon was previously at Drexel, where her former second-in-common Amy Mallon now runs the show. 

O’Neill was a starter on Carroll’s last PCL championship squad, scoring 13 points as the Patriots beat Wood 48-42 in OT. 

“Grace leads by example and by doing,” Carroll coach Renie Shields said. “She’s the ultimate competitor, she competes every day, and that to me is the sign of someone who’s a good leader. Because of that, she makes everyone around here better.”

Grant is a versatile wing forward who can score from close to the basket and also step away and knock down 3-point shots. Next year, she’ll be playing for Dillon, her aunt, who won more than 60% of her games in 17 years at Drexel and went 17-7 in her first year at Villanova.

“She knows the game, she studies the game,” Shields said, “and she can really shoot the ball, she knows where her shots are coming from, and she’ll position herself to shoot each time.”

Also returning to the starting lineup from last year’s 9-7 (6-5 PCL) squad are 5-11 junior wing Taylor Wilson and left-handed junior guard Meg Sheridan.


Sophomore guard Brooke Wilson is a Division I prospect and competing for the fifth starting spot on Archbishop Carroll. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

The only starter gone from last year is 5-8 do-everything wing Karli Dougherty, now playing lacrosse at Drexel. Brooke Wilson, a 5-9 sophomore guard and Division I prospect, and junior guard Courtland Schumacher, another returner from last year, are both in the mix for that fifth starting role. 

“Right now we’re a very athletic team so athleticism’s something that we do really well,” O’Neill said. “We need to work on...getting out all the kinks, and we don’t have any plays or anything in yet, so just that transition with the younger girls.”

Shields doesn’t anticipate her roster going incredibly deep this year, but she knows there’s talent at the top. Keeping up with the likes of O’Hara, Wood, West Catholic and the rest of PCL means there has to be constant improvement.

“I like the fact that we have girls that come to practice and get after it, and they want to be good,” said Shields, now in her sixth year as the Patriots’ head coach. “We’ve had a core group of players that really come in [to open gyms] and work to get better, and we continue to challenge them in ways that they didn’t feel they could be good, we push them towards that.”

Shields, an administrator in the Saint Joseph’s athletics department, has been on the Carroll bench since starting as an assistant in the 2007-08 season. She’s been part of two state title teams, in 2009 and 2012, and four PCL championships.

The former Hawk hoops standout now counts her daughter and former Carroll and Saint Joseph’s standout Erin Shields as an assistant, as well as former Marist ballplayer LeAnne Ockenden; Carroll alum Nora McGeever, who played lacrosse at St. Joe’s; and former Bonner sharpshooter Michael Peretta, currently a junior at Villanova.

“All of us as coaches, we go in with the goal of helping the girls become better people and better players,” she said. “That will never change — and if it does, I’m out, I’m not doing it.”

The Patriots are playing in several events this fall, including an early-October shootout at University of the Sciences, which Grant and O’Neill sat out due to minor injuries. They were happy to see their teammates get in on the action and gain some much-needed experience, a crucial element towards a step forward this fall.

Nothing else would be acceptable.

“I think just continuing to grow on what we started last year will be key in our success,” O’Neill said. “That will lead us to winning a lot of games this year.”


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