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Central League Playoffs: Championship Previews (Feb. 13, 2024)

02/12/2024, 12:30pm EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

The Central League comes down to the favorites.

Both of the top seeds on both the boys and girls’ sides of the Central League made it to the league championship games, which take place Tuesday night at Marple Newtown (6:00 PM/7:45 PM).

Here’s a look at both games, including areas to watch for and thoughts from an anonymous coach who’s familiar with both programs:

Girls: 1) Haverford High (20-3) vs. 2) Conestoga (21-2)
Previous Meeting(s)
Conestoga 47, Haverford 38 (Dec. 7 @ Conestoga)
Haverford 38, Conestoga 27 (Jan. 25 @ Haverford)

Projected Starters
Haverford: PG Megan Kelly, SG Aniya Eberhart, SF Rian Dotsey, F Natalie Wright, F Ashley Wright

Conestoga: PG Marisa Francione, SG Ryann Jennings, G Katrina Valencia, SF Isabella Valencia, F Janie Preston

Haverford's Rian Dotsey (L) defends Conestoga's Janie Preston during a December matchup. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Biggest strength
Having a great point guard is a luxury at the high school level, and Conestoga’s A.J. Thompson has one in Francione. The Scranton-bound senior is a four-year starter for the Pioneers, who were the front-runners in the league all year long before a couple late losses put them in the No. 2 seed. Francione doesn’t get rattled with the ball in her hands and while she’s got the ability to put the ball in the hoop, would prefer to set her teammates up for buckets; she also defends at a high level. 

Haverford’s strength is in its size up front, with Natalie Wright, a junior, and Ashley Wright, a senior, both close to six feet tall, and Dotsey an inch or so over it. Dotsey, a junior with a Division I offer under her belt, is their most versatile player, but the Wrights — who are not related — both give them good effort on the glass, and the ability to score around the bucket. 

Keep an eye on
The rebounding battle is going to be massive. Preston, Conestoga’s 6-1 junior center, has her work cut out for her, while the 6-0 Jennings and 5-8 Valencia are going to have to put in work in that area as well. If Haverford can dominate the glass, that’ll be a huge leg up for the Fords, who are a tough defensive squad and can make it difficult for teams to go on runs. Conestoga’s success will come if it’s getting shot-making from the Valencia twins and Preston, as well as reserve guards Maggie Neary and Ruth Lanouette

An anonymous coaches’ viewpoint
I think Haverford’s been really good this year considering what they lost, but at the same time I think Conestoga’s due, and they just have a little too much firepower. Haverford and Conestoga are both really well-coached, and both sides have talented groups. I think if AJ Thompson lets his kids get out and play without calling a set each possession, I think they’ll come out on top.


Boys: 1) Lower Merion (22-1) vs. 2) Radnor (19-3)
Previous Meeting(s)
Lower Merion 61, Radnor 48 (Jan. 18 @ Radnor)

Projected Starters
Lower Merion: G Owen McCabe, G John Mobley, G Carson Kasmer, G Adam Herrenkohl, F Jayden Robinson

Radnor: G Kessy Cox, G Michael Savadove, SF Elijah Sellers, G Alex McFadden, F Henry Pierce

Michael Savadove (above) and Radnor are surprisingly back in the Central League championship game. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Biggest strength
Lower Merion’s offense has been something to watch this season under longtime head coach Gregg Downer, who’s got perhaps his most unselfish team ever. There’s no star on that roster, with Herrenkohl, McCabe, Mobley and Robinson — all seniors — taking turns leading them in scoring, with plenty of games where they’re all at a dozen points or more. That’s thanks in part to Downer’s willingness to turn them loose and let them run-and-gun, and it’s been a fun group to watch all year because of it. 

What Radnor has going for it most is the underdog factor. The Raptors were never expected to be this good after graduating 80% of its starting lineup from last year’s district champs, and start a lineup that’s got more lacrosse standouts than it does basketball-first players. But those lacrosse kids — who’ve won three straight state championships on the field — give them good size and athleticism, led by the 6-3 Savadove, who along with Sellers are the most important players on Tim Smallwood’s roster.

Keep an eye on
The 3-point arc is going to play a huge role in this one. Both teams love to create open looks from beyond the arc, and both teams play five-out who can all knock down shots at pretty much all times. Lower Merion has been one of the area’s highest-scoring teams for a reason, routinely knocking down double-digit 3-pointers as they regularly got to 70 points or more. But Radnor’s no slouch from the outside; the Raptors might not play with the same pace, but they’re good at knocking down open ones. An off night for either team could spell disaster. 

An anonymous coaches’ viewpoint
“I think Lower Merion’s depth of talent is more than Radnor can handle. I give Radnor all the credit in the world for getting where they got, because I, like most people, didn’t see it coming. But they played good basketball. Two solid basketball teams, one with considerably more talent, which I think in the end will win out. I think if they play 10 times, Lower Merion would win all 10. Though, I thought Radnor would lose to Conestoga, I thought they would lose to a lot of teams. But they beat us, too.

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Tag(s): Home  Central League  High School  Women's  Boys HS  Central League (B)  Lower Merion  Radnor  Girls HS  Central League (G)  Conestoga  Haverford High