Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)
A good alternate title for Cardinal O'Hara's holiday tournament might be "A who's who of who's good in Delaware County."
The Lions, the defending PIAA 5A champions, are hosting a two-day girls' basketball event Dec. 28 and 29 that is bringing several winning programs and a lot of firepower to Sproul Road. Aside from the hosts, there's another state champion, a District 1 champion, a couple Inter-Ac contenders and an AACA power all coming in to split a pair of games across the two days.
With three PCL teams, three Inter-Ac squads and two others who might meet late in the District 1 5A playoffs making up the participants, there's plenty of good competition on the slate as a between-holiday warmup for the January push.
Unfortunately, the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has already started to have effects on the area basketball schedule, so there's always a chance there may be changes before Tuesday. As of now, here's the lineup of games.
(Dec. 27, 8:00 PM: Villa Maria, Springfield, Penn Charter are out of the event. We'll have an updated schedule when it becomes available.)
Cardinal O'Hara vs. Episcopal Academy (4:30 PM)
Archbishop Carroll vs. West Chester Rustin (6:00 PM)
Cardinal O'Hara vs. West Chester Rustin (4:30 PM)
Archbishop Carroll vs. Episcopal Academy (6:00 PM)
A look at the original participating varsity teams:
Grace O'Neill (above) and Archbishop Carroll are one of the best teams in Delco yet again. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The Patriots - who finished fourth in the PCL last season and advanced to the PIAA 6A quarterfinals in the abbreviated postseason - again have the makeup to contend for their league's title. Carroll's already run into Notre Dame, slipping away with a win in overtime on Dec. 15, so they'll match up with Penn Charter and Villa Maria this week instead.
Carroll's dynamic senior duo of Drexel recruit Grace O'Neill and Villanova commit Maggie Grant is quickly becoming a terrific trio with junior Taylor Wilson off to a great start to the season including a 29-point, 10-rebound game for the 6-foot guard. O'Neill, a 5-foot-69 point guard, has been a rock since her freshman year as a polished scorer, distributor and defender while Grant, a 6-foot-1 guard, is a lethal outside shooter
Sophomore Brooke Wilson and junior Meg Sheridan were both key rotation players for coach Renie Shields, who led the Patriots to the 2019 PCL title.
As stated, the Lions are defending PIAA 5A champions but are still gnawing over a loss to Archbishop Wood in last year's PCL title game. With the Catholic League slate beginning the first week of January, O'Hara will get a nice warm-up against Inter-Ac foes Epsicopal Academy and Penn Charter.
What O'Hara does starts - and usually - finishes with 6-foot-2 forward Maggie Doogan, a Richmond recruit, first team all-state selection and daughter of Lions coach Chrissie Doogan. She is as comfortable scoring down low as she is blocking a shot, pushing the ball up the floor and sinking a perimeter jumper. Senior Sydni Scott, off to Marshall next year, is the Lions' four-year starting combo guard and a total-package scorer while 6-foot Annie Welde gladly fills any role needed of her.
It's their gym and their event but the Lions are using every opportunity in front of them this winter as prep for the PCL gauntlet and what they hope culminates in a trip to the Palestra for a Catholic League title before trying to get back to Hershey.
EA, which posted a 4-5 record in the 2020-21 compressed schedule, did close strong and has plenty of experience back.
Longtime coach Chuck Simmons has a senior-laden backcourt led by Reilly Cassidy, Amanda Purcell and Bella Piselli while junior Gaeli Keffer-Scharpf anchors the forward position. The Churchwomen are hoping their strong finish, which included wins in four of their last five, can vault them into the Inter-Ac title conversation as the league gets going full-steam once the calendar flips to January.
The 2020-21 season was an odd one for the Inter-Ac, which only played games for the duration of February, did not have all its teams competing, and only featured contests between league foes. Through all that, the Irish went 8-1 to tie for the best record in the league with Penn Charter.
Of course, it helps to have someone like Maeve McErlane on the roster and with a regular schedule back, the DePaul signee and her teammates want to extend last year's success into an Inter-Ac title. A dynamite offensive player for fourth-year coach Lauren Power, McErlane averaged 21.4 ppg in last winter's shortened season.
Junior Julia Dever runs the point for the Irish while 5-foot-11 sophomore Katie Halligan is the team's main presence in the frontcourt.
Aleah Snead (above) and Penn Charter are aiming for their first league title in more than two decades. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The Inter-Ac title had been a Germantown Academy monopoly prior to 2020-21 and their archrivals would love nothing more than to take the crown this winter.
Penn Charter, which recently celebrated seventh-year coach Joe Maguire's 100th win at the helm of the program, has rocketed out of the gates to start the season although it's not a surprise given how much the Quakers brought back. Juniors Aleah Snead and Bella Toomey, contributors from their first game as freshmen, have only continued to get better with the 6-foot Toomey a fluent scorer from the post and wing on top of being a fierce rebounder while 5-foot-11 Snead slashes, posts-up and drops jumpers with a pretty complete game of her own
While the Quakers are awaiting the return of Kelsey Bess from a knee injury, freshman Kaylinn Bethea has jumped right in as a combo guard happy to set up a teammate or go to the rim and added another dimension to PC's offense.
All the Cougars have done under eighth-year head coach Ky McNichol is win. Last year, that winning included a Central League title and the District 1 5A championship as part of 22 straight wins before falling to O'Hara in the PIAA semifinals.
Good teams lose good players, it's the nature of high school sports. Good programs replace them and that's what Springfield is hoping to do with a talented junior class headlined by Lexi Aaron and Mia Valerio in the backcourt and Anabel Kreydt at forward after all three were key cogs of last year's rotation.
Kaitlin Kearney, Taylor Hunyet and Sophia Ward, also all members of the Class of 2023, also figure to play important roles in Springfield's plans.
Navigating the 5A field is always a test with plenty of Central League foes and a number of AACA opponents making up the bulk of the classification but any success the Cougars have this year will also set up well for the future with all juniors in key roles this season.
Villa Maria Academy
The Hurricanes are looking for a bounce-back after a 2020-21 season that was, by their high standards, a bit of a letdown. VMA missed the AACA playoffs last winter but have not shied away from tough competition outside the league as they attempt to get back into the final four.
Coach Kathy McCartney's teams have been at their best in recent seasons by blending strong guard play with versatile, athletic forwards. That's just the mix the Hurricanes, who often have a few lacrosse standouts in the lineup, have this year. Ella Iacone, Clare Conley and Marah McHugh, all juniors, range around 5-foot-10 to 5-foot-11 and bring the positional versatility to play on the wing or in the lane.
Mary Gary Murphy, a senior, junior Elaina Guerzon and sophomore Carly Catania are the cogs in the guard rotation that provide smart ball movement and lead the team's trademark tenacious defense.
Villa Maria and Springfield (Delco.) have been frequent foes in District 1's 5A playoff bracket and with host O'Hara also in 5A, that's three pretty potent squads in the classification sharing a gym this week.
The other state champion in the field, the Burrs may still be finding their way with a new-look lineup for first year coach Messiah Reames but will try to springboard from their games with Notre Dame and Villa Maria into PCL play.
Senior Layla Reid and her sister Amina, a junior, have taken the reins of the team while senior Amina Fowler and junior Khadijah Thomas bring a good mix of size and athleticism. Right now, West Catholic's goals are to lay a new foundation after last year's success and one of the best ways for a team with so many new pieces to improve is to play good competition.