By Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
SWARTHMORE — Bobbi Morgan has been around a lot of teams.
An assistant for a season at Widener, head coach for a few at Academy of Notre Dame, then 15 years at Haverford High, four at Cabrini and 14 on the sidelines for Haverford College.
She took over at Ursinus College three seasons ago and in her third year there’s a feeling she hasn’t had before in three and a half decades of coaching.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Morgan said. “The work ethic, the attitude. Everything is so much fun. Not that I didn’t have fun everywhere else I’ve been, but this has been different.”
The Ursinus senior group has been through the ringer with Morgan.
Morgan took over in October before their sophomore seasons after they had their freshman seasons canceled due to COVID.
Alison Lisanti is one of five seniors for Ursinus. (Photo: David Morgan/Stylish Images)
The Bears went 5-20. Then came a 9-16 campaign last season where there were signs of improvement.
Two years removed from the five-win campaign Ursinus started 5-0 this season, which is possibly the best start in program history. A 74-53 win at Swarthmore on Wednesday improved the Bears to 6-2 in 3-2 in Centennial Conference play.
The program hasn’t finished with a winning mark since 2018-19 when the Bears went 17-10 overall and 13-7 in the Centennial.
“Our senior year we want to make playoffs, we want to make NCAAs, everything we’ve worked so hard for from sophomore year to now,” said senior Alison Lisanti, who finished with 21 points in Wednesday’s win over Swarthmore. “All credit to everyone who stepped up this year because we came into this season so different, and we’ve worked on our defense which has been our propeller throughout all of our games so far.”
Morgan could see the commitment and closeness of this group this summer. Fifteen players competed together in the summer league at Cabrini this summer, some driving two hours or more weekly to play.
While the results showed a four-win improvement last season, Lisanti said something else changed.
“Our confidence overall improved 100 percent, and we found ourselves staying in games way more than the year before, which was a goal of ours because five wins, that can’t be a thing,” Lisanti said. “Even though we only had nine wins, it was the staying in games that really showed our growth from the year before.”
Junior forward Chinwe Irondi, a two-time first team All-Centennial selection who led the league in scoring in 2022-23, is the star of this Ursinus group once again, averaging 18.3 ppg and 9.0 rpg. She had 25 points and nine rebounds to take down Swarthmore.
Senior Natalie Mehl has given the program a boost since transferring from McDaniel two seasons ago, averaging a career-high 15.3 ppg this season. Sophomore Ava Possenti, a Garnet Valley product, arrived this season from Cabrini and has been possibly the best defensive player Morgan has ever coached.
It’s no coincidence Ursinus dropped its first two games with them injured. Possenti will be back to lead the defense once again very soon after missing two games. Mehl has been out the last four but hopes to return some time in mid-January. Her scoring will be something the group will try to collectively replace for the next month and a half.
“Each game so far, there’s been a person who has stepped up in different ways,” Lisanti said. “While yeah, that’s a 20-point loss for scoring, I think Bobbi has mentioned before if we get people with six, eight, nine, 10, if we get people with those numbers coming up from different people, I think we’ll be OK. Our defense has kind of been our propeller for our offense and credit to Chinwe and Madison (Smith) for being strong in the post and scoring down there too.”
Sophomore Madison Smith, a Friends’ Central product, is third on the team in scoring with 11.8 ppg and 6.9 rpg. Senior guard Kelly Grant, a St. Basil product, scored five points and had a season-high seven assists Wednesday.
“I think they’ve all worked really hard,” Morgan said. “Obviously Chinwe’s been a stud since she got here, but Madison Smith has gotten so much better, Kelly’s little and feisty. They play well together. If we put it together, I feel like we can play with anybody.”
Germantown Academy grad Sarah DiLello, another senior, had a season-high eight points Wednesday. Maria D'Aulerio (Nazareth Academy) rounds out the five-member senior class.
“We want the best and we want to leave our program the best we can for the underclassmen,” Lisanti said.
Lisanti, a Westfield, N.J. native has a year of eligibility after this season. She said she doesn’t plan on using it as she hopes to become a teacher and get right into coaching. She will be a student teacher at Spring-Ford in the spring.
She also formed a band with some other students from Ursinus called Loose Change that performs locally. Morgan said she could have a future there as well.
The goal before she heads off is to play postseason basketball for the first time. The top six teams in the 11-team Centennial play in the conference tournament.
“Just enjoying every moment because it goes by fast and it’s almost winter break already,” Lisanti said. “Just enjoying every moment with not only the other seniors but everyone on the team because we have such a close group.”