By Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2022-23 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed thus far can be found here.)
The Spring-Ford girls basketball team saw where it was projected last season. The Rams heard the outside noise that a down year was in store for the program.
They didn’t like it.
“People were holding us to a lower standard,” junior Anna Azzara said. “I think collectively as a group we didn’t want to be held to those standards.”
“I think it kind of set a fire in us though,” she added. “It kind of helped in the end.”
After losing state Player of the Year Lucy Olsen (Villanova) and two other starters from their 2019-20 PIAA runner-up team, a five-peat in the Pioneer Athletic Conference seemed unlikely and deep runs in the district and state even moreso.
Instead a sophomore-laden Spring-Ford team with just one senior caught fire late in the season. Led by 2024s Azzara and Mac Pettinelli, the Rams claimed a fifth straight PAC title, advanced to the District 1 title game and reached the PIAA Class 6A quarterfinals.
“We kind of understood where everyone was coming from,” Pettninelli said. “Everyone thought that our seniors (in 2020-21), they carried the team, but I think we had a lot of us step up last year.”
Spring-Ford junior Anna Azzara is in her third season starting for the Rams. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Things are quite different this preseason. The Rams will have to find an alternative motive as no one is doubting them this season.
Spring-Ford returns five starters in Azzara (14.1 ppg, 29 threes), Pettinelli (7.7 ppg, 36 threes), junior guard Katie Tiffan (7.2 ppg, 30 threes), junior guard Siena Miller (5.5 ppg, 40 threes) and senior forward Meg Robbins, an Elizabethtown commit who displayed signs of a huge leap this preseason.
“I think last year, we were kind of like an underdog per say,” Pettinelli said. “It was a big test. This year I think we gotta expect ourselves to be at a higher level and be held to a higher level now that we’ve proved that we can get there.”
“We hope to pick back up where we left off and keep up the same intensity that we had at the end of the season,” Robbins said.
Kamryn Pufko was the lone graduate, but the Rams will also miss sparkplug junior guard Aaliyah Solliday (6.0 ppg, 34 threes), who went down with an ACL injury in the preseason.
The Rams should get a boost from some of their youngsters as well. Sophomore guard Lilly Brescia and sophomore forward Kareena Preuss are two players who saw action at the varsity level last season who the upperclassmen spoke highly of.
Spring-Ford coach Mickey McDaniel expects several others, including from the freshman and sophomore classes, to push for minutes this season as well.
“One thing coming out of last year, we realized we had to develop more depth,” McDaniel said. “We’ve been developing it, but now it even makes it more urgent. … The depth’s gonna come from whoever steps up.”
“I don’t think they know what’s coming as far as I think they’ll help us a lot,” Robbins said. “I don’t think they fully understand how much of a help they can be to us this year.”
Spring-Ford finished 7-3 in the Liberty Division and 10-3 in the PAC last season during a 25-7 campaign. The Rams finished third in a division that eventually sent three teams to the state playoffs, dropping both of their regular-season matchups with Methacton and splitting with Perkiomen Valley.
Spring-Ford junior Mac Pettinelli is one of five returning starters for Spring-Ford. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
After entering the league postseason as the No. 5 seed, the Rams took down both squads on their way to another PAC title. They then made a run as an 11-seed in the District 1-6A tournament, that included a semifinal win over No. 2 Souderton by double digits, before falling in the title game to eventual undefeated state champ Plymouth Whitemarsh.
Spring-Ford picked up a pair of state playoff wins to reach the quarterfinals for the second consecutive season before the run concluded at the hands of District 3 champion Central Dauphin.
“The playoff Methacton game, when we beat them by double digits, I feel like that was a really big turning point because we lost to them twice in the PAC season,” Pettinelli said. “I don’t think anyone really expected us to win, but we weren't going to lose a third time. That was a really big changing point going into this year too.”
McDaniel loaded up the schedule this season for the Rams in order to prepare for another deep playoff run.
They will play in the She Got Game Classic in Washington D.C., Nike Tournament of Champions in Mesa, Ariz. and the Viking Invitational in Delaware all before New Year’s and also have a match-up with Sanford School (Del.) at the Blue Star Showcase at Jefferson University in early January.
“This could be one of the toughest schedules we’ve ever experienced,” McDaniel said.
“It really lets you know where you are and it prepares you,” he added. “You want it to prepare you for your league play and as you move on, hopefully in the postseason. You take on the challenges and you hope it makes you better.”
The first goal for Spring-Ford is to maintain its spot atop the Pioneer Athletic Conference. Perkiomen Valley appears to be the biggest threat with a strong 2025 class that helped take the Rams to the brink in the 2022 title game.
After that it’s the District 1 tournament where Spring-Ford has reached five straight semifinals. And the hope is there is an even deeper run in states in store.
“I think we all work so well together and we’ve all been playing basketball with each other forever, so it makes it a lot easier for us with our connections,” Azzara said.
“I think just progressing this year, getting better than last year because we were a young team, so everyone kind of expects us to be on our game this year,” she added on what it will take the Rams to achieve those lofty goals.
“We're very excited at the opportunity that we have,” McDaniel said. “As we know, nothing is guaranteed. But we’re really excited with the returning team and the opportunity that’s in front of us. Now, we just gotta go each day and get better.”