by Tom Utescher
Even though Mount St. Joseph Academy and Springside Chestnut Hill are located just a few minutes from one another, last Tuesday’s basketball scrimmage between the schools was a rare occurrence.
There are several reasons for this. The Mount and its Athletic Association of Catholic Academies peers belong to the Pa. Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) which also encompasses public high schools of all sizes across the state. SCH and fellow members of the Girls Inter-Ac League do not belong to the PIAA and are not bound by its eligibility requirements or restrictions on the number of games played during a given season.
There’s also a great difference in the enrollments of the two schools. Mount St. Joe’s basketball program competes against the largest public school teams in Class AAAA of the PIAA, and going by those same guidelines, Springside Chestnut Hill would belong in the single-A division.
The Inter-Ac schools recruit student athletes more actively than the AACA members, but in turn, the Catholic Academies also have a leg up on their public school counterparts, since they are not limited to accepting students from a single school district.
Despite the different organizational affiliations, many of the individuals on the two teams know one another, and at the scrimmage last Tuesday there was plenty of social interaction outside of the court boundaries. Many of the girls from the two schools played together either on grade school or club teams, and a number of the parents are friends, as well.
Both schools had strong squads last winter, but on the basis of graduation losses and the talent returning for this season, last week’s workout at the Mount had the potential to turn into a lopsided affair favoring the hosts.
However, the visiting Lions acquitted themselves well, on the whole. After each of the four 10-minute periods involving the varsity units the scoreboard was reset to zero, but overall the Magic put up 49 points to the visitors’ 37. The Lions (1-1) had already played two actual games the previous weekend, while the Magic would officially launch their season on Friday at a tournament in central Pennsylvania.
The SCH program got hammered back on Graduation Day 2012, losing four starters. Three of the former Lions are playing hoops in college, 5’11” guard Sydni Epps (Hofstra), 6’1” power forward Michelle Boggs (East Stroudsburg), and 5’11” forward Elana Roadcloud (Ursinus). The fourth player who has moved on, guard Alexis Giovinazzo, is primarily a softball player who’ll be out on the diamond at Muhlenberg College, but SCH will still miss her as a mentally-tough athlete with a high sports IQ.
Due partly to the returning athletes at the Mount, the Magic’s losses from last year were not as damaging, although they weren’t insignificant. Gritty point guard Bridget Higgins has tried out as a walk-on at the University of Pittsburgh and made herself stick, while forward Cailin Schmeer and guard Maddie Kohler are playing basketball at Union College and St. Mary’s College, respectively.
Current senior Kelsey Jones, a point guard who has signed with Philadelphia University, is almost ready to return to action coming off of a knee injury late last season, but she did not play last Tuesday. The other two seniors on the roster, guard Adrienne Cellucci and forward Meg Geatens, have not yet made their college choices. Both were starters in last Tuesday’s scrimmage, along with guards Gen Hagedorn and Alex Louin, and forward Carly Monzo, who are all juniors.
Louin is a 5’11” guard who is being heavily recruited at a high level (even at last week’s informal gathering, one Philly-area Division I coach turned up). She started last year alongside the three seniors, and the remaining forward spot was initially filled by Monzo and later by Geatens after Monzo went out with an injury.
Hagedorn saw a fair amount of action as a reserve last year, and the fourth 11th grader on this year’s roster is forward Colleen Steinmetz. There are three sophomores, guards Mary Kate Ulasewicz and Katie Maransky, and forward Emily Carpenter, and in an unusual move, 7th-year MSJ coach John Miller has included three freshmen on his varsity roster right from the get-go.
Caitlyn Cunningham and Libby Tacka are both tall guards, and Sarah Wills is a forward. Tacka’s older sister, Natalie, is a 2011 Mount grad who is playing field hockey for Lehigh University. There is also a familial hockey connection for Wills, whose cousins, Liz and Anna, were standouts in that sport at Penn Charter.
Last winter, the MSJ hoop squad was runner-up in the AACA and placed fifth in the PIAA’s District 1. After reaching the second round of the state tournament, the Magic wound up with an overall record of 25-6.
The two seniors on the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy roster, both guards, are still in the process of making their decisions regarding college. Gianna Pownall is the only returning starter for the Lions this season, and the other 12th-grader is Norwood Fontbonne Academy graduate Maddi Hinchey.
Another NFA alum, Madi Sehn, is one of three juniors, along with fellow forward Katie Shields and point guard Julia Schumacher. Sophomores Olivia Byron (forward) and Caroline Henry (guard) saw playing time with both the varsity and junior varsity squads last winter.
The largest class is the ninth-grade group, which is a good sign for the future but makes the Lions a very young team this year. The five freshman round out a total of 12 players making up the entire upper school hoops program at SCH, both varsity and JV. Day-to-day personnel decisions with these limited numbers will require a deft juggling act by second-year skipper Steve Purcell, and even minor injuries could have a major impact.
Gianna Pownall’s younger sister, Marissa, came up through the Lions’ middle school system, as did fellow ninth-grade guards Singley Risico and Drew Kevitch. Forwards Lindsay Hiner and Essence Walden are new students at SCH.
Last season, Gianna Pownall missed most of the first round of Inter-Ac games due to injury and a 2-4 performance during that stretch buried the Lions in the standings. When she returned and the team became more focused overall, SCH took league champion Germantown Academy to overtime before succumbing, and won all of its other rematches to finish 7-5, tied for fourth place with Penn Charter. The Lions got to the second round of the Pa. Independent Schools Tournament, losing by a single point to the eventual champ, Shipley, and coming away with a 14-14 mark for the year.