Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)
EAST ROCKHILL — For a team that had a lot of continuity coming back, Neshaminy has had plenty of change as well.
Losing just one senior to graduation off a district playoff team, the SOL program seemed like it would be in good standing coming into a more normalized 2021-22 season. Sometimes, things change and between some new faces in the program and a new coaching staff taking over, there was a lot of new to adjust to in Langhorne.
Reese Zemitis (40, left) and Taylor Gurysh have helped Neshaminy to an 8-1 start. (Photo: Andrew Robinson/CoBL)
So far, Neshaminy has blended new and holdover pretty well and continued its current winning run with a 47-45 win over Pennridge on Friday night in a tight game that came down to the last inbound play.
"I think we're just working really well together," Neshaminy junior guard Taylor Gurysh said. "We're able to run our offense, we're getting good looks for each other and getting good shots in general because of it."
Last season, Neshaminy leaned heavily on a crew of underclassmen with just one senior on its roster. This year, it's not all that different and even though there are now two seniors on the team, it's the underclassmen still leading the way.
John Gallagher has taken the helm of the program after spending the last six seasons as an assistant at now-closed St. Basil Academy. At St. Basil, he helped the program win five straight AACA titles and brought a defensive-minded approach to Neshaminy.
Gurysh and sophomore Reese Zemitis, a second-year starter, both play for the Mid-Atlantic Magic AAU program where Gallagher is also a coach, so they knew what to expect.
"He is very motivating, he pushes us to be our best," Zemitis said. "He is very hard on us but that's what we need to be the best we can be.
"It helps a lot because we feel more comfortable in what we're doing on the court and it helps calm everyone down and come together."
Defense has been the team's biggest point of emphasis this season but in nine games, they have yet to allow an opponent to surpass 45 points.
"It's something we've really worked on in practice and I think it's starting to pay off now," Gurysh said. "Coach Gal says it to us every day, it's an effort thing. You can't teach effort, it has to be us that goes out there and does it every day."
Skylar Lall and Maya Lewis, the two seniors this year, both got plenty of minutes last year. Lewis didn't score Friday, but she played excellent defense on Pennridge's talented junior Katie Yoder while Lall has taken on a reserve role.
Mimi Smith has stepped up in a starting role along with Gurysh and Zemitis to round out the top returners from last season.
While last year's team didn't have much experience, it did have a good floor leader in Kacie Sienko. A terrific athlete, Sienko is now a member of Kutztown's track and field program. The team captain and All-SOL selection helped Neshaminy navigate the challenges of the 2020-21 season and earn its spot in the postseason.
On top of the new coaches, Neshaminy got a boost to its lineup with the arrival of sophomore Lola Ibarrondo, a 5-foot-7 sophomore guard who spent her freshman year at Conwell-Egan. Ibarrondo played a big part in Friday's win with seven points and four steals, including the game-clincher off a deflected inbound pass by Pennridge with 3.8 seconds left on the clock.
"We're trying to get everyone involved more and everyone is playing their part well," Zemitis said. "The players off the bench are filling their roles great and we've started to come together as a team more and more."
After two wins at the She Got Game Classic to open the season, Neshaminy dropped its SOL opener to archrival Pennsbury. Since then, the team hasn't lost and actually moved into a tie for the SOL Patriot lead with the Falcons on Friday night.
That one setback provided a pretty important lesson that has fueled this current six-game win streak.
"We learned really quickly that once we're down, we have to bounce right back," Gurysh, a team captain, said. "When our energy gets up, that's when we start going on runs and it's really fun to be a part of."
Neshaminy has been a contender not only in the SOL but in District 1 at-large over the past decade and was a PIAA 6A semi-finalist just four years ago. Gurysh arrived after that team, led by current Villanova guard Brooke Mullin, made its run to the district final and state final four but knew the responsibility of putting on the blue, red and white uniform.
A three-year varsity player, Gurysh has in a way bridged the gap from that successful group to this up-and-coming group that's still finding its way. She credited former coach Joe Lally and his staff for building that winning mentality
"It was really important to our previous coach and it's something as players we're carrying on with this team," Gurysh said.
"We know our expectations and standards," Zemitis added. "We're not only trying to meet them, but push and extend them even farther."
There's still a lot of season left, including dates with CB West, CB South and Souderton during this SOL crossover stretch and a test on Saturday against Lansdale Catholic, but Gurysh said the team needs that kind of competition. Last year, she wasn't able to play in the district playoffs but the junior co-captain sees big things ahead for this group.
"Our chemistry has grown really strong," Zemitis said. "New coach, new girls coming in, new offense, I think we've all managed and done really well with it."
NESHAMINY 47, PENNRIDGE 45
For 16 minutes on Friday, the teams traded score after score and took a 23-23 tie to halftime.
For the next 16 minutes, they kept trading runs. First, it was the Rams taking a brief lead before Neshaminy out-scored the hosts 12-2 late in the third and then opened the fourth on a 6-0 spurt for a double-digit lead.
Yoder, who had been quieted for most of the second half, wasn't going down quiet and sparked her team on a run with eight of her 15 points coming in the fourth.
Ultimately, it was Ibarrondo who provided the final difference, first on her basket assisted by Zemitis with 38 seconds left then on her steal of Pennridge's last inbound pass right after Yoder had buried a three to cut the lead to two with 5.3 on the clock.
Neshaminy: 13 | 10 | 14 | 10 || 47
Pennridge: 12 | 11 | 10 | 12 || 45
N: Taylor Gurysh 16, Reese Zemitis 13, Mimi Smith 11, Lola Ibarrondo 7
P: Katie Yoder 15, Anna Croyle 8, Emma Pyne 8, Ella Brown 7, Ryan Hodder 4, Ava Fantaskey 3