Sean McBryan (@SeanMcBryan)
(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.)
Kathy McCartney’s Villa Maria girls basketball team entered the District 1 Class 5A tournament as the seventh seed with a 10-11 record last season.
Two weeks later, the Hurricanes hoisted their 12th district title trophy with a 52-38 victory over Bishop Shanahan at Temple’s Liacouras Center.
“We had a rough patch in the middle of our season last year where we lost six straight games,” McCartney said. “To the credit of the kids, if you walked into the gym for practice you would’ve never known that was going on. They just kept working and plugging along. In the end, we ended up winning the district championship.”
The six-game losing streak dropped Villa Maria to 8-10 before it finished the season on a 6-2 spurt. McCartney and the Hurricanes aim to build off that hot streak and get the bad taste out of their mouths from a disappointing state-playoff loss to West York in the opening round.
“Very, very disappointing loss for us,” McCartney said of the loss to the Bulldogs, who were the seventh-place finisher out of District 3. “We weren’t happy at all about that. That was a game we really felt we let go. West York played very well but we were ill-prepared for that game and I take responsibility for that. That experience and bad taste in your mouth stayed with us in the offseason and we’re ready to be committed to a longer run this year.”
Villa Maria senior Elaina Guerzon is set to join the starting lineup this season. (Photo: Dan Hilferty/CoBL)
As last season progressed, McCartney saw her team start to win the close games it was losing early on. Team chemistry and “competitive toughness” grew. The up-and-down season provided a lesson in resilience and McCartney hopes that will be a springboard for success this year.
The Hurricanes return a lot.
Four starters return in 5-7 junior guard Carly Catania, 5-10 senior forward Marah McHugh, 5-10 senior wing Ella Iacone, and 5-11 senior forward Clare Conley.
McHugh led the team with 16 points in the district championship game and Catania, Conley, and Iacone each scored seven.
Mary Grace Murphy, the fifth starter, has graduated, but senior Elaina Guerzon is ready to fill that spot. Guerzon had 10 in the district final and hit two 3s.
“She played off the bench behind [Murphy] last year and kind of took the year to learn and get acclimated to varsity basketball,” McCartney said of Guerzon. “She’s ready to take the reins this year.”
Senior guards Ava Irvine and Olivia Broadhurst will be key pieces off the bench and a few incoming transfers could see some playing time as well.
The Hurricanes don’t have a star that shoulders the majority of any specific area; each player fills their role well which doesn’t allow the defense to focus on stopping one player’s offensive production, just how McCartney likes it. She wants the defense to create turnovers and get the offense out in transition.
Villa Maria senior guard Ava Irvine is one of the Hurricanes' returners from last season's District 1 championship game. (Photo: Dan Hilferty/CoBL)
“I would expect the seniors are going to step their game up,” McCartney said. “Statistically, I’m expecting them to grow, but there’s no one that’s going to be our standout player. I kind of like it that way. My best teams have been where we’ve shared the responsibility a bit and it makes us harder to defend.
“I would love for us to be able to be a lockdown defensive team, create a lot of havoc on defense so that we can turn teams over and run in transition. That’s really what we try to do. Time will tell whether we’re successful at it or not.”
Villa Maria and McCartney, who is entering her 34th season at the helm, are juggernauts in the District 1 playoff field. In the past 10 seasons, they have won last year, in 2019, and in 2013. The Hurricanes have appeared in the final in 2014, 2016, and 2018.
A lot of that success comes from playing a tough regular season schedule, which remains the case this season. The Hurricanes face its normal Athletic Association of Catholic Academies (AACA) opponents - Gwynedd Mercy, Villa Joseph Marie, Mt. St. Joseph, Merion Mercy, Nazareth Academy - and have loaded up on non-conference opponents.
Villa Maria faces Bishop Shanahan on December 3, Archbishop Carroll on December 28, and Episcopal Academy on December 29 to name a few.
The end goal remains to get further in states; the Hurricanes last made the state final in 2007 and lost by one-point to District 7’s Hopewell.
“I expect us to be pretty solid,” McCartney said. We have a big crew of seniors and I think the leadership’s there. They’ve had a taste of playoff basketball so I think that they will be better prepared this year.”