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2024 Jersey Girls' Live Coverage Notebook (June 14-15)

06/17/2024, 9:30am EDT
By Josh Verlin + Caleb Shapiro

By Josh Verlin (@jmverlin) +
Caleb Shapiro

SKILLMAN, N.J. — Montgomery High School played host to Jersey Girls Live this past Friday and Saturday, with a mix of teams from Pennsylvania and New Jersey taking the court in front of several dozen Division I and small-college coaches.

Here’s a notebook of some high school coverage for the weekend; CLICK HERE for standouts:


Neumann-Goretti aiming high for 2024-25

Of all the squads in the Catholic League, Neumann-Goretti has a clear advantage in one major factor: experience. 

Reginna Baker (above) and Neumann-Goretti have all five starters coming back in 2024-25. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Andrea Peterson has two four-year starters back in guards Carryn Easley and Amya Scott, the pair leading a group of five returning starters from a Saints squad that finished in fourth place in the Catholic League (8-3) this past season. State champions in the 3A class as freshmen, they’ve yet to hoist another trophy in their years in South Broad, and have their eyes focused on winning the program’s first PCL championship since 2015.

“Carryn and Amya are seniors, they’re eager to get one,” Peterson said after Neumann-Goretti downed Pope John XXIII (N.J.) to close out the event on Saturday. “Even the two days at practice that we had, you could tell that their mindset’s different than years past. They’re coming after it.”

Neumann-Goretti enjoyed a strong day at Jersey Live, beating two quality opponents in Immaculate Conception and Pope John. Despite the running-clock games, the Saints put up 50 points in each, getting major contributions from Easley and Scott and the rest of Peteron’s returning starters: rising juniors Zion Coston and Kamora Berry plus rising sophomore Reginna Baker.

It wasn’t quite the same Neumann-Goretti squad that will take the court this winter. Peterson, who didn’t bring any of her incoming freshmen to Jersey Live, only went one or two deep into her bench on Saturday, but said they’ll be deeper during the season. They’re still undersized — nobody that Peterson started was taller than 5-foot-8 — but tenacious on both ends.

“We’ve got to be able to defend, we’ve got to be able to stay disciplined this year, learning to play with hands off and just being disciplined on both ends of the ball,” Peterson said. “I think our biggest challenge this year is controlling the pace of the game, so when we get up [...] how do we respond, learn to control the pace of the game at the end of the game with no shot clock.”

In the win over Pope John, it was Baker who shined. The bouncy 5-8 wing, playing in the middle of Pope John’s defense, was unstoppable around the hoop as she racked up a 22-point, 15-rebound double-double, grabbing nearly half of her boards on the offensive end as she got a solid chunk of her scoring on put-backs and second-chance opportunities. 

“She was our leading scorer last year, so I can’t say [she needs to] score more, but being able to score from different angles for us,” Peterson said. “I put her at the post today, she’s versatile where she can play inside and out and hit that mid-range [...] , that’s going to help with some of our height and put her in some positions that a guard normally wouldn’t be, which is going to throw people off when we put her in different positions.”


Gwynedd Mercy in action despite coaching change

If not for an uncertain coaching situation, the Gwynedd Mercy Monarchs would likely be early league title favorites.

Bailey Balkir (above) and Gwynedd Mercy played this weekend in the midst of a coaching change. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Gwynedd Mercy, an Ambler-based private school, competes in the Athletic Association of the Catholic Academies League (AACA). This past season the Monarchs ran the table en route to a league title over Villa Maria, winning 48-25.

After the unexpected departure of head coach Tom Lonergan, GMA will have some real home remodeling to take care of. Friday was the first showing of a squad which featured most of Gwynedd's non-graduated cast on the floor.

Rising juniors and third-year starters Emilia Coleman and Bailey Balkir were present in action on Friday; the duo landed all-AACA first team nods in 2023-24 as Coleman took the MVP honor home as well.

"It feels great," Balkir said following a pair of afternoon scrimmages. “It's a little hard to know what this upcoming season's gonna look like, but we have a great athletic director [Becky Hansel] and so it's good.”

Hansel — who served as one of the team’s two coaches on Friday along with Coleman’s father Bill Coleman, the new boys’ coach at Hatboro-Horsham — has a background in basketball, having played Division I at Holy Cross. She understands building off the team’s mentality following a title, yet knows her boundaries as an interim and the position she’s in as the person who will ultimately replace Lonergan, who was let go with 796 wins on his resume. 

“Whenever the new coach comes in, that's going to be their tone to set, and how they wanna set it. So really looking forward to that process, and so we can continue on with that goal in mind," Hansel explained. "But I want his or her words, his or her actions in establishing those expectations."

Lonergan’s absence leaves a vacancy for Gwynedd to fill in the coming months. His exit comes alongside the graduation of senior captains Dylan Burke and Lauren Drakeley.

The flipside of these changes is the opportunity for Gwynedd’s stars, such as Balkir, to be vocal leaders as the squad transitions from a title run with new roster dynamics.

"I feel like I gotta step up this year and talk more and take a leadership role," the junior guard said.

Balkir has learned from some of Gwynedd’s best; she cites former Monarch and now Holy Cross guard Hannah Griffin as someone she learned from.

“I came in, thinking I was gonna take her spot as point guard," Balkir recalled. "So she definitely helped me a lot and I could look up to her as a player and I still do." 

The chance for vocality has already presented itself in the few offseason practices Gwynedd’s had. Hansel is using her upperclassmen’s voices to guide this early offseason.

“I'll lean on them and say, what haven't I done that you wanna work on?” Hansel said. "What is a drill that you think would best fit these 3, 4, 5 girls that are here, I have no problem, you know, deferring to them and what they want.”

Her approach is a preview of the inevitable norm for players like Balkir and Coleman who aim to retain the culture and play that brought Gwynedd success in 2024.

“I definitely think we have, like, a target on our back because last year, we did really good and we obviously won the championship," Balkir said. "So I think it's maintaining that and staying consistent and winning again this year." — Caleb Shapiro


Cardinal O’Hara’s rebuilding offseason begins

There’s no doubt that Cardinal O’Hara’s going to have a lot of work to do if it wants to repeat its PIAA 6A state championship from March.

Rising sophomore Leah Hudak (above) and Cardinal O'Hara have to replace four starters. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Chrissie Doogan’s Lions are down four starters from last season: Joanie Quinn (La Salle), Carly Coleman (Immaculata) and Greta Miller all graduated, while rising junior Megan Rullo suffered a torn ACL this spring, putting her 2024-25 season in jeopardy.

That leaves rising senior and Drexel commit Molly Rullo as the only starter back, with a lot of youth and inexperience around her. So Doogan wasn’t bothered by the fact that the Lions took a couple losses Saturday, knowing that it’s going to take a long few months of work ahead to be ready for a repeat in 2024-25.

“I talked to these guys, too, it’s going to take a long time to get together and trust [each other],” Doogan said. “We have a lot of time between now and December [...] it doesn’t have to be a structured practice setting with coaches, they have to go play 4-on-4, 3-on-3, just move without the ball and trust each other, that’s really going to be a big thing for these guys.”

After Molly Rullo, sophomore shooting guard Brigidanne Donohue brings the second-most varsity experience, having stepped into the starting lineup for a stretch last season when Quinn went down with a broken hand. Rising senior point guard Brigid MacGillivray and rising juniors Natalie DiBlasi (5-9) and Michelle Eburuoh (6-1) have all seen some deeper rotational minutes. 

Doogan will be counting on her 2027 class to take a step forward. Donohue will likely be the team’s secondary scoring option, but Lacie Haddock, Leah Hudak, Carly Wakefield and Brezhae Davis are all talented underclassmen wings/guards. Only one incoming freshman saw the court on Saturday: Catie Doogan, the coach’s daughter, whose older sister Maggie Doogan graduated from O’Hara in 2022 and is now one of the top players in the Atlantic 10 at Richmond.

Everybody in that group could break into the rotation if not the lineup, but there isn’t room for all of them. Playing hard will be a requisite for getting there; aside from that, Doogan’s looking for a better showing from beyond the arc than a year ago.

“I think we won the state championship and shot 28% from 3 this year as a team,” she said. “And Leah can shoot, Catie can shoot, Lacey can shoot, Brigid MacGillivray can shoot, but can they do it consistently? That’s what we have to get, a consistency with this group. Molly’s going to draw double-teams, Brigidanne’s going to draw when she drives, and if we can get kids that knock down open shots, I think we’ll be okay.”


Quick Hits
— Archbishop Carroll doesn’t quite have the same amount of turnover as O’Hara, but there’s definitely a new look to the Patriots. Not only have Brooke Wilson (West Point), Felicity McFillin (Air Force Academy) graduated, but McFillin’s sister, rising senior Maddie McFillin, tore her ACL this spring. Sophie Alexis Eberz and the youngest McFillin sister, rising sophomore Abbie, both come back from last year’s starting lineup, as does senior guard Olivia Nardi; senior wing/forwards Brooke Olender and Bridget Archbold also have a solid bit of varsity experience, but they should see increased roles this year. 

Making their Carroll debuts on Friday were Alexis’ younger sisters, Kayla and Kelsey Eberz, both of whom got a lot of time in their game against Rutgers Prep. Kayla, a 5-11 forward, finished with nine points and three rebounds; Kelsey, a 5-8 guard, added five points, four rebounds and four assists. Also playing more than in the past was rising junior Bridget Grant, a 5-10 wing/forward whose older sister Maggie Grant (Villanova) graduated from Carroll in 2022.

— Downingtown East took its two losses by a total of six points on Saturday, the Cougars suffering from an off afternoon from the 3-point arc. Darren Domsohn’s group was without some of its depth and had to lean heavily on its top five. Senior point guard Jordyn Walker continues to make progress in her return to the court after a knee injury, looking more fluid and comfortable than she did in the latter half of the season; also looking more comfortable on the court was rising sophomore Kendall Chiavelli, the 5-9 guard attacking the bucket and making plays with the ball in her hands. And rising junior point guard Chloe Hunold was running the offense more than she did as a sophomore, making some plays driving baseline and getting to the foul line at a good clip.

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