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District 1 5A: Bishop Shanahan tops Villa Maria for first-ever district title

02/28/2024, 11:00pm EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

WEST CHESTER — Less than a minute after Bishop Shanahan girls basketball had secured the District 1 Class 5A championship, the first district title in program history, Eagles coach Jim Powers motioned to Faith Ambrose, Sam Blumenthal and Abbey Wolfe.

While their team was still jumping around in celebration all around them, Powers hugged the three seniors, holding them close in a huddle, sharing a special moment together. And he wanted to make sure they knew the one emotion flooding through him — something basic, but meaningful.

Bishop Shanahan coach Jim Powers (R) shares a hug with (L to R) seniors Sam Blumenthal, Faith Ambrose and Abbey Wolfe. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

“He was saying it’s easy to be proud of us and see all that we’ve done,” Blumenthal said, “but in (that) moment, he was just so happy for us.”

“I can be proud of them all day, every day, because of what they are and how they carry themselves, how much they work since they’ve (gotten to Shanahan), that’s easy,” Powers said. “But I was just so happy for them to get this.

“They had a shot two years ago, didn’t work,” the fifth-year coach added. “Got bounced in the semis last year, didn’t work. So for them to get another opportunity and not let it get through their hands, I was really happy. And because they’re good kids and work so hard, they deserve that. And I’m so happy that they got it.”

The final score was 53-43 over Villa Maria, Shanahan getting a measure of revenge on the program that beat it in the 2022 District 1-5A championship and in last year’s semifinals, and doing it at the perfect time. 

Shanahan’s on-court celebration seemed to never stop, the girls first celebrating with each other, then with the sizable Eagles student section that turned out to support them, then with their parents. Then back with the students, then with each other, the coaches, their siblings …

“It’s just an awesome moment,” Wolfe said. “It's so special, it’s our ‘revenge tour,’ we said. We’ve been building all season to this moment, and it paid off.”

Bishop Shanahan celebrates after beating Villa Maria in the District 1 Class 5A championship game Wednesday night at West Chester High School. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

It was especially special for the three seniors, who’ve been teammates since eighth grade with the Delco Goats, playing hoops together year-round for five years. 

“It means so much to us,” Wolfe said. “As soon as we got to Shanahan, we were all talking about it and were like, ‘This is what we want.’”

The title was the culmination of a late-season turnaround for Shanahan (14-11), which had lost its last four regular-season games entering the postseason and didn’t even qualify for the Ches-Mont playoffs. 

Despite being the No. 9 seed in the District 1-5A field, the Eagles went on the road and knocked off No. 8-seed Upper Moreland, top-seeded Gwynedd Mercy and last year’s champ West Chester Rustin before taking down No. 6 Villa and head coach Kathy McCartney, a Shanahan alumna who just passed the 700-win mark. 

Every member of Shanahan’s starting five provided a major contribution: 

  • Ambrose had nine points, including back-to-back layups with four minutes left that turned a five-point game into a 43-34 advantage. The 5-foot-4 point guard also added two rebounds, two assists and two steals.
  • Wolfe, a 5-9 wing, finished with 14 points and four rebounds, playing aggressively on both ends, including a couple of mid-range jumpers off offensive rebounds. 
  • Blumenthal scored 11 points and added eight rebounds (three offensive), with two steals and a block.
  • Sophomore wing Lauren Foster led the Eagles in scoring with a game-high 18 points, hitting a pair of first-quarter 3s and going 4-of-4 from the foul line in the fourth.
  • Sophomore guard Carmel Ambrose, Faith’s younger sister, only scored one point but chipped in four rebounds, two assists and two steals, as well as some tough defense.

Bishop Shanahan's Sam Blumenthal (L), Faith Ambrose and Abbey Wolfe (R) pose with the 2024 District 1 5A trophy. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

“Our best games are played when everybody’s scoring, one through five,” said Blumenthal, the 5-10 forward and Catholic University (D.C.) commit who’s the only one of the seniors set to play college hoops. “When our shooters are making their shots, it opens it up for drives [...] when I’m able to get to the basket or draw fouls, it opens up for the shooters outside. We have a very versatile team, so we work well together.”

They were clicking so well, Powers never once went to his bench. It was a game that flowed from the beginning, the first quarter going by in a blink without a foul or a turnover, and he wasn’t going to change the way his Eagles were flying.

“I thought of subbing, but just, it was just, they weren’t tired [...] nobody was in foul trouble, they had a groove going, and if it’s not broke, sometimes, I’m not going to mess with it,” he said. “They had it, they weren’t going to let it go, and I wasn’t going to do something to get in their way.”

While Shanahan won comfortably at the end, it was a closely contested game all the way through. Villa led 13-12 after one quarter as sophomore Sophia Tray (11 points, six rebounds) hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, but Shanahan went 5-of-8 from the floor in the second quarter while holding Villa to four points to take a 23-17 halftime lead. 

The third and fourth quarters saw the Eagles hold the lead; the Hurricanes never let it get into double digits but couldn’t get closer than a couple buckets. New Hampshire commit Carly Catania scored seven of her 15 points in the third quarter for Villa (17-9), but Wolfe answered with a 3-pointer and Blumenthal a couple inside buckets to help Shanahan lead 38-32 after three.

Ambrose’s back-to-back layups — the first off a steal of her own and the second off a Blumenthal steal and hit-ahead assist — were the biggest shots of the night, putting the Eagles in the driver’s seat down the stretch.

When Villa got a technical foul with 2:30 remaining and Shanahan combined to go 3 of 4 from the line, making it a 48-38 lead, the Eagles could taste it. When Foster added a pair on the ensuing possession to push the advantage to 12 with 2:15 left, the outcome came even more into focus. When Powers called timeout with 79 seconds left and an 11-point lead, it was clear enough that the smiles on the Shanahan reserves as they came out to greet those on the court were well-deserved.

“The last minute was when I finally felt it,” Faith Ambrose said. “Jumping on the court was the best feeling.”

Both teams will play in the PIAA Class 5A state tournament. Villa will play Dallas, the No. 3 seed out of District 2. Shanahan will host the No. 7 seed out of District 3, which will be either Red Land or Mechanicsburg, who play Friday. The Eagles made it to the state quarterfinals last year before losing to Archbishop Wood; as district champs, they wouldn’t have to face the Catholic League champs until the state semifinals this time around.

No matter what, they’ve got at least until March 11 to enjoy one final run together.

“We are looking to make a good state run, but obviously I am so happy we got this,” Faith Ambrose said. “No matter what happens, we ended with a bang.”


By Quarter

Bishop Shanahan:  12  |  11  |  15  |  15  ||  53

Villa Maria: 13  |   4   |  15  |  11  ||  43


Bishop Shanahan: 18-34 FG (3-13 3PT), 14-23 FT

Villa Maria: 16-38 FG (5-15 3PT), 6-8 FT


Bishop Shanahan: Lauren Foster 18, Abbey Wolfe 14, Sam Blumenthal 11, Faith Ambrose 9, Carmel Ambrose 1

Villa Maria: Carly Catania 15, Sophia Tray 11, Emma O’Hare 8, Briella Romeo 5, Liz Sharp 2, Abby Ferry 2

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