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PIAA Class 5A Girls Championship Preview: Cardinal O'Hara vs. Chartiers Valley

03/23/2022, 2:30pm EDT
By Joseph Santoliquito

Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)

Yes, the line looks more than a little skewed on the PIAA Class 5A playoff bracket: 12-3 Cardinal O’Hara 1-24. That’s what a paperwork snafu can do to a defending state champion, forced to forfeit the bulk of its Philadelphia Catholic League games and knocked from the top Class 5A seed in District 12 to the No. 3 seed because of its use of an ineligible player.

What hasn’t changed is what the O’Hara girls’ basketball team has actually done on the court. The Lions are actually 25-5 overall, and could actually be triple crown winners, if they beat Chartiers Valley in a rematch of the PIAA Class 5A championship on Friday at 5 p.m. at Hershey’s Giant Center.

O’Hara won the Catholic League championship, was awarded the Class 5A District 12 title (before the paperwork issue was discovered) and now for the first time in school history could finish with a triple crown of PCL, District 12 and state championship.

Maggie Doogan (above) and Cardinal O'Hara are one win from defending their 2021 state crown. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Standing in the way is Chartiers Valley (28-2). O’Hara thoroughly beat the Colts last year, 51-27, in the 5A state title last year and the two teams essentially return everyone again this season. O’Hara has its senior triple threats Richmond-bound Maggie Doogan, Marshall-bound Sydni Scott and Annie Welde, along with emerging freshman Molly Rullo

The Colts will counter with their senior-laden group of 5-10 forward Aislin Malcolm, who is heading to Pitt, 6-foot forward Perri Page (Columbia), 5-7 point guard Marian Turnbull (Northeastern) and 5-8 twin sister guards Helene and Hallie Cowan (Seton Hill).

Colts’ coach Tim McConnell feels his team returns with more experience, but the problem he faces is an O’Hara that is not only better than last year, but a little deeper with the input of Rullo.

“What’s different is (O’Hara) was really good last year, but they have some good players that came in to help them, so they’re not only as good if not better than last year,” McConnell said. “Marian Turnbull is back this year, and we like to play a high-tempo game. O’Hara is a very good, well-coached, and it will be a tough battle. We know we’re going to have to play a really, really good game to beat them. We know we’re going to have to shoot it well, rebound the ball and play better defense. They’re bigger than us, too.”

Scott had 19 points in last year’s championship game, with Doogan adding 13 as the pair combined for six 3-pointers in the win. 

“We’re aware of what they did to us last year,” McConnell continued. “We know the score, 51-27, and I hope it’s not 51-27 again *laughs*. I think we learned from last year that we have to be a little more physical, because they obviously schooled us in every aspect of the game last year. They took it to us. This will be a tough battle, and we will need to be as physical as them.”

Chartiers Valley got to Hershey with wins over Harbor Creek (65-16), Hollidaysburg (70-47), Gettysburg (39-35) and McKeesport (59-50). Malcolm scored 22 in their semifinal win, with the Cowan sisters combining for 25 and Page adding 10.

Freshman guard Molly Rullo (above) has been the Lions' leading scorer this postseason. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Chrissie Doogan, O’Hara’s coach and Maggie’s mom, likes the way her team is playing right now. The Lions haven’t been challenged in their run to Hershey. They beat District 1 runner-up Bishop Shanahan 52-32 in the opener, then beat Greencastle-Antrim (57-29), Springfield (Delco.) (38-22) and most recently Mechanicsburg (50-18) in the semifinals, getting 17 points from Rullo, 11 from Doogan and seven from Scott.

Add in O’Hara’s dominant 55-30 victory over a very good Archbishop Carroll team in the Catholic League championship and the Lions have outscored their last five opponents by an average of 22.2 points a game.

Offensively, the Lions have averaged 50.4 points a game over their last five games, and 49.25 a game during the state playoffs, while Chartiers Valley has hit the 65-point and 70-point mark during its state playoff journey, possibly against lesser opposition than what O’Hara has faced to reach the finals.

“I love the way we’re playing right now at the most important time of the year,” Chrissie Doogan said. “We’re playing completely unselfish[ly]. Our freshman (Rullo) is leading us in scoring through the state playoffs and none of the three seniors could care less. Everyone is enjoying the ride.

“There is a lot of confidence between teammates right now,” Doogan said. “I know Chartiers Valley is very good. They return their whole team, and last year, they averaged 70 points a game. They have decent size, and they have Division I players. The first half will be big for us to set the tone, because we don’t want to play from behind. Nothing is easy and this won’t be easy saying goodbye to this group of seniors.

“Defensively, I like how we’re switching on defense, and helping out when mismatches occur, and that’s from communicating on defense. What we’ve been stressing is defense all along. Syd has been great for us there. We’ve put Syd on the best shooter, and she’s shut them down, while bringing some energy. I would say this past month has been really fun to watch, and this group is having a lot of fun with each other during the ride. They don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I want them to go out and enjoy their moment, which will be their last game together.”


Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.

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