Sean McBryan (@SeanMcBryan)
Saturday’s District 1 Class 5A girls basketball championship at Temple University’s Liacouras Center will feature two programs with drastically different district playoff histories and a head coach that connects it all.
Fourth-seeded Bishop Shanahan (16-9) enters the district championship for the first and only time since 1994, according to PIAA District 1’s website, a 57-38 loss to Unionville.
Villa Maria, the No. 7 seed, heads back to the title game for the first time since the Hurricanes (13-11) acquired district gold in a 61-37 win over Mount St. Joseph in 2019. The Hurricanes have won 10 additional district titles between 1992 and 2013 and they’ve been in the final 18 times since 1988.
They want to continue a tradition while the Eagles want to make history for its own program.
Villa Maria coach Kathy McCartney (above) is going up against the program she starred for in Bishop Shanahan. (Photo courtesy Kathy McCartney)
“It’s pretty close to a norm for [Villa Maria] to be here,” Bishop Shanahan third-year head coach Jim Powers said. “For us, it’s something we are trying to establish as a program, to be someone who is in the mix every year and to be a player at that level.”
That’s not the only storyline: Shanahan beat Villa Maria 72-50 in the West Chester Henderson Tournament back on December 11 and Villa Maria head coach Kathy McCartney played and became the first girls player in school history to score 1,000 points at, you guessed it, Bishop Shanahan.
Both Powers and McCartney downplayed the early matchup, as both teams were dealing with injuries and it was the second game of the season, although McCartney still feels her team is the underdog heading into the championship tilt.
“We’re really the underdog on Saturday,” she said. “We’re the seventh seed going in. I think Shanahan definitely has the upperhand as far as that’s concerned.”
The Hurricanes were dealing with injuries to starters Carly Catania and Marah McHugh, who weren’t able to play until after Christmas in the early season game; the Eagles were dealing with nagging injuries to most of the team.
Now they’re both firing on all cylinders, with the Eagles down only one player in Faith Ambrose. They’ll also get back contributor Kaitlyn Griffin, who is returning from injury, to support a starting lineup consisting of “bulldogs” in Caydence Oswald and Sammy Blumenthal, as well as Abbey Wolfe, Alex Bojko and Alyssa Brown.
Both 5-7 sophomore guard Catania and 5-10 junior forward McHugh are fully back for the Hurricanes, joining a starting lineup with 5-6 senior guard Mary Grace Murphy, 5-10 junior wing Ella Iacone and 5-11 junior forward Clare Conley.
Abigail Wolfe (L) and Caydence Oswald help lead a multifaceted Shanahan lineup. (Photo: Joseph Santoliquito/CoBL)
Neither team has a de facto “star,” yet the team-oriented and balanced play is what got them here and gives both a balanced attack with multiple lineup options.
“Somebody different does their job better on a particular day,” McCartney said about her Hurricanes. “When one’s not having a great day, somebody is there to pick her up and pick the team up. We’ve learned to adapt with what’s happening during the games.”
“It’s the way they play and the way they don’t care who the best player on the floor is that night for us,” Powers said about his Eagles. “It could be any kid at any time. It changes for us. No matter who it is, they’re happy for that kid. It’s an unselfish group and a hardworking group.”
Both teams head to the PIAA tournament following the game with the winner facing the District 3 seventh-place finisher West York and the loser facing District 12’s third-place finisher.
So how did each team get here?
Shanahan had a first-round bye and then beat No. 5 Harriton 42-39 and No. 1 Springfield-Delco 34-29; Villa Maria defeated No. 10 Upper Perkiomen 54-24, No. 2 Marple Newtown 35-33 and No. 6 Radnor 47-40.
“We’re playing our best basketball now, which is what we want,” McCartney said.
“We’ve had some ups and downs during the season but we’re playing pretty consistent right now,” Powers noted.
Powers coached at West Chester Rustin before taking the job at Shanahan, and coached at Penn Charter before that. The furthest he has personally gotten in district play is the semis with Rustin in 2018, where he lost to McCartney’s Villa.
“Kathy’s teams are always here,” he said. “She does a great job. She’s a Shanahan grad. She’s always in the mix.”
McCartney went on to play at Manhattan College and La Salle after her stellar career at Shanahan. Now she’ll try to beat the school she usually finds herself rooting for.
“This truly is the only time I won’t root for Shanahan,” she said. “I’m a big Shanahan fan. I bleed green and white. But on Saturday, I’m 100% behind Villa.
“It’s weird to play them. I had success at Shanahan and they set me up for a nice career in college, academically and beyond. I had a great experience at Shanahan. I’m happy to be in the district championship, I’d rather not be playing my alma mater, but you gotta do what you gotta do.”
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