Ryan Coyle (@RyanCoyle35)
(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.)
When Matt Carroll took over the Upper Moreland girls basketball program in 2016, he knew he had a steep hill to climb to get the program competing for conference and district titles. That hill became a little steeper after the 2016-17 season saw them go 0-22.
After five years of building this program from the ground up, with playoff appearances and first round exits in the 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2019-20 seasons, Carroll and company reached the top of the conference, going 13-5 and winning a share of the 2021 SOL Freedom Division alongside New Hope-Solebury for their first conference title since 1999.
“Last year was a crazy year because of COVID, but our best year yet,” Carroll said. “We had the first home playoff game in a long time, won in the first round against Bishop Shanahan, and lost in the semifinals against Springfield (Delco.), who were the eventual district champions.”
Upper Moreland's girls celebrate the program's first conference title in over 20 years. (Photo courtesy Upper Moreland athletics).
Last year’s conference title and playoff win was a few years in the making and a testament to the work the entire program has been putting since Carroll took over the helm back in 2016. After the 0-22 season, the program has seen gradual growth each year since then.
“We went 10-12 the second year, but didn’t play the toughest competition,” Carroll said. “But I thought it was big to get some wins under our belt and show that their hard work was starting to pay off. We made the playoffs that year as a 16-seed and lost in the first round to West Chester Henderson. That was a great experience, though, to play in a big game.”
“The year after that, we made the playoffs again at 14-9, was the 10-seed and lost to Harriton. So two years in a row we made the playoffs — but obviously, the goal isn’t just to make the playoffs, but to win games once you get there. We didn’t want to be the team that just schedules easy, gets wins, and then gets smoked in the playoffs.”
The following season in 2019-20, the Golden Bears went 12-11, losing in the first round in the playoffs again, this time to Pottsgrove, making it three straight years going one-and-done in the district playoffs.
“We just didn’t have the offensive skills yet to be a playoff force,” Carroll said.
During the 2019-20 season though, the Willow Grove-based school found one of the cornerstones of their program in 5-7 guard EmmyFaith Wood, who was a freshman during that season. Wood was second on the team in scoring and established herself as one of the top guards in the Suburban One for years to come.
“EmmyFaith, I have been coaching since sixth grade in AAU, and she is the hardest-working player I’ve ever coached,” Carroll said. “As far as on-your-own, work on your skills and really improve yourself, she has been the best.”
During last year's historic season for the program, they added another big piece to the program in freshman forward Holly Gohl, who led the team in scoring at a little north of 12 ppg and garnered first team all-Freedom Division alongside Wood.
“I really am excited to play with Holly again and build off of what we did last year,” Wood said. “With her being a post player and me being a guard, it is a good dynamic between the two of us.”
“I have talked to coach and he said he is going to give us a lot of freedom this year,” Wood added. “It is going to be a big task, but it is great to know that he trusts us and knows that we can break down the dribble handoffs, the pick and roll, the two man game, things like that. I think we see each other well on the court and are able to work off each other well.”
Although the two leading scorers for Upper Moreland with Gohl and Wood return, the Golden Bears will be without three key contributors from last years’ team with Kaiya Herb, Katie Opferman, and Kat Morrow moving on due to graduation.
“Herb was a four year starter for us,” Carroll said. “She was our point guard, probably the best player that I had in terms of basketball IQ.Morrow was a gritty defender, in your face type of player. Then we had Katie Opferman who was one of our better shooters and was a spark plug for us as a scorer.”
With Gohl and Wood back in the fold, with another year of experience under their belt, their scoring numbers figure to increase, but players like senior guard Kiera Coyle, senior forward Emma Hurley, senior guard Kylie Gaul, and junior guard Alyssa Wiley figure to be key contributors as well.
“Once you start keeping score she goes from ‘we are friends’ to ‘I don't care who you are, I’m going to hunt you down and do every little thing that it takes to win’,” Carroll said about Coyle, who will be a second year starter. “If she wasn’t on our team last year, regardless of how well everyone else played, we wouldn’t have had that same success.”
After being crowned league champions last season for the first time in over twenty years, it would be easy to be content with where the program currently sits.
“We want to continue to produce good basketball,” Carroll said. “We want to be in the same realm as Upper Dublin, Souderton, North Penn, schools like that. We aren’t interested in being good enough to just beat the teams in the league, we want to be at the top.”
“We have circled dates on the calendar in our team group chat, games we are looking forward to, teams we want to get revenge on. Coaches always say ‘every game is the same’ but everyone knows certain games mean more than others.”
The Golden Bears, who compete with Cheltenham, New Hope-Solebury, Lower Moreland, Springfield (Montco), and William Tennent in the SOL Freedom Division, figure to be in the mix to compete for the conference crown again. Bringing back their two best players, a PIAA 5A district crown and a berth in the state playoffs is certainly in the mix as well.
“As a team our goal this year is a district championship,” Wood said. “Last year we won the league and then in districts, we lost to Springfield (Delco.) in the semifinals. That has been on my mind and I know as a team we have made a goal of winning that district championship this year.”
After a lack of success since the 21st century hit, Upper Moreland looks to be headed steadily in the right direction, but the team is trying to just knock down one goal at a time.
“After winning the league, it was a wakeup call for all of our competitors,” Coyle said. “Upper Moreland girls basketball wasn’t taken seriously for a long time... Now, we are onto the next season and ready to achieve our goals again for 2021-2022.”