skip navigation

AACA: Unselfish Catania helps Villa Maria past Nazareth, into championship

02/11/2023, 9:45pm EST
By Jared Leveson

Jared Leveson (@jared_leveson)

WYNDMOOR — Villa Maria Academy’s squad has been highlighted by its all-senior starting five this season, but junior Carly Catania’s play off the bench is crucial for the Hurricanes’ success. 

The 5-foot-8 guard very well could’ve made the starting five, had she not missed preseason and the team’s first five games after suffering a knee injury during soccer season. Catania was naturally frustrated at first, but her unselfish nature took over. She has taken her role in stride and has supported the team all year.

Villa Maria junior Carly Catania helped the Hurricanes to a semifinal win on Saturday. (Photo: Jared Leveson/CoBL)

“I think in the beginning,” head coach Kathy McCartney said. “She was a little bit frustrated because she’s definitely good enough to start for us.” 

“I think she’s settled into a role. We get good production (from her). We have all year (and) it's been really good.”

Villa Maria’s gone 15-3 since Catania’s return and earned the AACA tournament’s No. 1 seed, which set up a meeting with No. 4 seed Nazareth Academy in the four-team playoff.

Catania continued doing a little bit of everything off the bench in Saturday’s semifinal, finishing with 10 points, five rebounds (three offensive), one assist and one block in Villa Maria’s 55-43 win over Nazareth at La Salle College High School. The Hurricanes advanced to the AACA finals, and can win their first title league since 2012 with a win over Gwynedd Mercy this coming Tuesday.

In a rotation under McCartney that went eight deep Saturday but has gone 10+ during the season, the Hurricanes don’t need to count on double-digit scoring outings from Catania, whose focus is more on the other end of the court.

“Defense and rebounding,” Catania said. “It’s (about) effort. It doesn't matter about the points, just rebound the ball and get possessions.”  

“I just try my best to push myself (and) push everybody else, but it's a team effort.” 

The dual-sport athlete’s offseason injury frustrated her because she couldn't play her number one sport, basketball. Catania also had a real opportunity to make the starting lineup this season despite Villa Maria’s large and talented senior class. 

Catania rehabbed with physical therapist Chelse McTigue, one of McCartney’s former players at Villa Maria who graduated back in 2009. She worked her way into practice and saw her first game action against Mt. St. Joseph’s on December 20 where she had seven points in a 57-45 victory. 

The Hurricanes were 5-0 at that point and the 32-year head coach didn’t want to change the team’s “mojo.” Catania got relegated to a bench-role, but there was never a conversation between McCartney and Catania about her getting a chance to start. 

Catania, who’s always doing what’s best for her team, was satisfied with the new role because of her team’s success. 

“She accepted her role coming off the bench,” McCartney said. “It kind of happened organically. I think she realized that it would be stupid to make a change at that point. She’s a very unselfish kid and she wants what's best for the team. We never had (that) conversation.” 

“It went either way,” Catania added about her chances to start this year. “But I'm glad I'm on the bench. I like coming off the bench.” 

“Our starters are great.”

Each of Villa Maria’s starters found themselves in the scoring column and contributed in the win over Nazareth. The taste of last year’s semi-final loss to Mt. St. Joseph’s was still fresh in their mouths and the Hurricanes were determined to rid themselves of that lingering and unpleasant memory.

“It was ugly,” McCartney recalled. “It's the same group of kids but they are just more mature this year. They are just better, they don't let things bother them as much, playing time doesn't get under their skin, fans hollering, they are a little calmer.”  

“We didn't want the same feeling we had last year,” Catania added. “We used that as motivation.” 

Marah McHugh totaled 12 points, three rebounds (two offensive), and three assists. Ella Iacone and Clare Cronley finished with 10 points each; Ava Irvine commanded Villa Maria’s offense and racked up four assists. 

Catania was on the receiving end of one of Irvine’s assists when she streaked up the floor after a steal, finishing in transition. 

Junior Alice Nash contributed valuable minutes off the bench too, playing lockdown defensively and scrapping for loose balls and rebounds. Catania, Nash, and Olivia Broadhurst combined for 10 bench points in the first half, helping Villa Maria to a 29-15 lead.

That 14-point lead proved critical as Villa’s defense held firm the remainder of the contest, never losing the lead and keeping Nazareth’s offense at bay despite strong games by Reese Power (16 points), Abby Rock (10 points), and Gracie Sullivan (seven offensive rebounds).  

“(Nazareth is) a good team,” Catania said. “They never (gave) up. We pushed hard in the first half (and) we had a lead.” 

Catania helped put the game away and pushed Villa Maria into the AACA finals. She scored three points in the fourth quarter, pulled down two rebounds (one offensive), and recorded a block that repelled any hope that the Panda’s had for a comeback. 

“(It’s) awesome,” Catania said about advancing. “We worked hard all season.” 

Villa Maria will face Gwynedd Mercy (19-4, 8-3) in the AACA final. The Hurricanes swept their rivals this year and most recently defeated Gwynedd 30-27 thanks to a McHugh overtime buzzer-beater on February 2. 

“We were a little lucky,” McCartney admitted. “We tossed one in (during) overtime to win it. It was a chuck, a 30-footer. It was nuts.” 

“If you want to beat a good team you gotta play well. Gwynedd is going to be a challenge. They are young, but they are smart. Tom Lonergan does a good job with them. It will be a tough game Tuesday.” 

“They are a good all around team,” Catania added. “(From the) starting lineup to their bench, they are a tough, well-rounded team.” 

McCartney remains confident in her team’s chances because of the experience her team possesses and the chemistry they’ve built throughout the season. 

But, it’s Catania’s emerging play that really has McCartney pumped. 

“She’s probably one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever coached,” McCartney said. “She wants to be successful and I think, to be honest with you, we’ve just scratched the surface of what she’s capable of doing. I think you’re gonna see very big things from her through the playoffs and into next year.”

“She takes a lot of pride in her game and the success of her team. That's why I love the kid.” 

By Quarter
Nazareth:      7 | 8 | 10 | 18 || 43
Villa Maria: 17 | 12 | 10 | 16 || 55


Nazareth: Power 16, Rock 10, Donohoe 7, D’Alfonso 5, Sullivan 5

Villa Maria: McHugh 12, Cronley 10, Iacone 10, Irvine 5, Broadhurst 2, Guerzan 2, Nash 2

D-I Coverage:

Small-College News:

Recruiting News:

Tag(s): Home  Contributors  High School  Girls HS  AACA  Villa Maria  Nazareth Academy  Jared Leveson