Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)
FLOURTOWN -- When she's on a soccer field, Central Bucks East senior Elise Duffy can seemingly score when she wants.
The past few years with the Patriots girls' basketball program, Duffy didn't need to fill the same role she occupied in the fall and instead found a niche as East's defensive stopper. That all changed this winter, with East reconstructing after graduating some terrific offensive players and needing to find some new sources of points.
Elise Duffy (above) has brought her high-scoring mentality on the soccer pitch over to basketball. (Photo: Andrew Robinson/CoBL)
Duffy hasn't suddenly morphed into a volume shooter, but she is kindling some of her soccer scorer's mindset on the hardwood for a young Patriots squad still finding its way.
"I knew as a team we didn't have much experience and while I had the experience from mostly playing defense, I was usually just more there on offense," Duffy said. "If I had to make a layup, I would but I mostly looked to Mia Salvati or Emily Chmiel to make the plays. This year, I knew I would have to step into more of that role but I also knew I had Anna Barry and the rest of my team to help me."
The Patriots — led by seniors Chmiel, Salvati, Devon Burns and Emily Barry plus Duffy in the starting five — went 10-0 in the SOL Colonial last season to win the conference title and made the final four of the District 1 6A playoffs. Duffy was able to fill her role well, taking whatever assignment the team needed from defending guards, locking up wings or tangling with taller post players and could chip in a bucket or two as a plus.
She's still taking the top defensive assignment but the senior is also playing with a more aggressive mindset on the offensive end. East coach Liz Potash asked more of Duffy before the season but didn't want her to try and take on too much either and get away from what Duffy does best.
A first-team All-SOL selection this fall, where she helped the Patriots claim a share of their first conference title and trip to the state tournament since 2015, Duffy brought some of her scoring mentality inside when the soccer season ended.
"She told me 'I don't need you to score 20-plus per game, but we need six or eight here and there that will start to add up,'" Duffy said. "I like to think having a soccer mind helps on the basketball court and having a basketball mind helps me on a soccer field. I'm trying to use my quickness and just get that extra step on the defense."
Unlike basketball, where she and Emily Curran are the only seniors, Duffy was one of more than a dozen seniors on the soccer team who made it a mission to put the Patriots back on the map. The senior, who played as East's target forward at the top of their formation, had an outstanding season with 17 goals and 16 assists.
Sharing the Colonial title with defending state champion Pennridge, then battling back through the district playbacks to capture the fifth and final PIAA 4A bid from District 1 is an accomplishment Duffy takes a great deal of pride in. It was something her class wanted to do when Jake Nesteruk, an East grad himself, took over the girls' soccer team three seasons ago.
"We took it and ran with it," Duffy said. "We were really focused on rebuilding the program after it had been a little down the last four years. Jake stepped into the role and has done a great job and we've been with him every step so it was great to have that core starting group keep coming back, getting better every year, rebuilding the program and getting that mentality of winning and going as far as we can every year back."
In Monday's 46-45 loss to Mount Saint Joseph Academy, Duffy drew the assignment of guarding Mount junior Lauren Hoffman. In her four years with the Patriots program, Duffy has guarded all manner of players and is entrenched in a long line of excellent SOL soccer players who have carved out roles as strong defenders for their school's basketball teams.
Duffy called Pennsbury's Ava Sciolla the toughest player she's had to defend and enjoys the different challenges each of her match-ups provide from a game-to-game basis.
Playing forward in soccer is all about timing runs and making split-decisions and Duffy showed some skill navigating the Mount's screens to stick with her mark. There was a sequence in Monday's game where Duffy came up with three steals in about 45 seconds, getting a layup off the second and making the third while tight-roping the baseline in a deft display of athleticism.
"It's taught me to keep my feet moving and I can keep my eyes moving between multiple things at once," Duffy said. "I can keep with my girl but also watch the ball. The key is to keep moving and tire out the offensive player instead of them tiring you out. I think I'm in better shape coming right off soccer season so that helps me to wear out the player I'm guarding."
Monday, the Patriots battled all game and down three with eight seconds left, got a chance to tie. Unfortunately for them, Erin Leray left just enough of her foot on the line to make the tying three into a two-pointer with 1.6 left before the Magic ran out the clock. After the game, Duffy was encouraging Leray and said her role as the experienced senior on the team is to be positive with her younger teammates.
Anna Barry had a great game for East, scoring 21 points and connecting on four 3-pointers. The sophomore guard has emerged as an offensive catalyst with her long-range shooting for the Patriots.
East is currently 3-4, but they own a couple impressive early wins over Souderton and CB West in their last four outings. Duffy said the most important thing right now is to focus on the good the Patriots have done while also learning from their tough losses as they navigate SOL crossover play and the second time through their conference.
Duffy has committed to play soccer at Drexel next year, choosing the CAA program over interest from NJIT and West Chester and Pitt and Clemson, where she was looking in a strictly academic sense. Until then, she's going to keep giving her team whatever it needs, from good defense to a couple more scores than she's been used to.
"I've been playing since I was in kindergarten, so we'll see what my life looks like without basketball in the winter," Duffy said. "I don't like to focus on one sport, I think of myself as a soccer player and a basketball player but I'm still always proud of myself when I can go out, execute the defensive plan and help my team out."
Pickett leads charge for Mount
The last two years, the Magic would usually look to Grace Niekelski in a tight game.
That was for good reason and part of why Niekelski, a two-time all-state selection and 1,000-point scorer with Mount Saint Joseph, has started a few games as a freshman at Dartmouth. Now, it's up to the Mount's core group of juniors to bring it home just as they did on Monday.
With East refusing to go away and knocking down some big time shots, it was forward Georgia Pickett who had a hand in most of Mount Saint Joseph's winning plays in the fourth quarter.
"Grace was a big part of our team last year, she could always go score 20 points, but we're working on having more spread out games where each of us score," Pickett said. "We don't have to just rely on that one person, each of us has plays and anybody can score."
Pickett, a 5-foot-11 junior, posted a 14-point, 14-rebound double-double that included the eventual game-winning free throws while adding an assist on Lauren Hoffman's 3-pointer that put the Mount in front for good. The forward had five points and six rebounds in the final quarter but it was her pass to her classmate that really turned the tide of the game.
"We have a chemistry on the court," Pickett said. "Lauren and I, we always find a way to find each other and I trust that she's going to knock down that type of three in crunch time."
Hoffman had seven of her 10 in the fourth while Kiersten Pumilia added four of her seven in the final frame.
Monday's win improved the Magic to 3-2 on the season. They play Upper Dublin on Thursday before returning to AACA play in early January.
"I think we're starting to get our groove back," Pickett said. "We had lost two games in a row, we definitely could have won the Villa game, we still have things we can get better at but I think we're going to figure it out as we move along. This win will certainly boost us and we can keep working off that."