by Tom Utescher
For Mount St. Joseph Academy everything was falling into place – quite literally. With three minutes left in last Friday’s first-round game in the PIAA Class AAAA state tournament, junior guard Mary Kate Ulasewicz drove past a Cardinal O’Hara defender and lofted an improbable lay-up. The ball took a wicked spin on the front of the rim, then augered into the cylinder, and the Magic now led the Lions by more than 30 points, 57-26. The starters began to pulled out of the game soon after that, and they were all on the bench with 90 seconds to go, but the Mounties still increased their lead, winning 68-32.
The contest between the two number three seeds (the Mount out of District 1 and O’Hara from District 12) took place at Cheltenham High School, where a year earlier, the Mount lost its state tournament opener by a single point to eventual Pa. runner-up Cumberland Valley.
This time, the Magic punched their ticket to the Round-of-16 in a decisive manner, raising their overall record to 27-3. The Catholic Academies champions received 18 points and 10 rebounds from senior guard Alex Louin and – just as important – the team’s other two chief offensive weapons were on-target, too.
One of the statewide tournament prognosticators billed the game as a duel between teams that each had a Division I signee, Louin (Villanova), and Cardinal O’Hara guard Mia Farmer (George Washington). Actually, the Mount has another D1 athlete in Loyola-bound forward Carly Monzo, and her performance on Friday assured that she wouldn’t be overlooked again. She poured in a game-high 23 points while collecting seven rebounds, and sophomore guard Libby Tacka scored inside and out, netting 11 total points and giving the Lions a third threat to consider.
O’Hara, a Philadelphia Catholic League semifinalist, ended its season at 17-9 overall.
The previous week, the Magic had lost by a single point on Wednesday in a District 1 semifinal against defending state champ Spring-Ford High School, and then had won the district’s third-place playoff over Bayard Rustin on Saturday.
Coach John Miller let the girls have Sunday and Monday off, then the Mounties were back at it.
“When we got back together on Tuesday,” Miller said, “we told the girls that every opponent from now on is going to be a formidable opponent, and that we would need to shoot better than we did against Spring-Ford, and be more focused than we were against Rustin.”
Even after the two-day break, it was not a normal week of classes and practice. The seniors had been scheduled to attend an overnight religious retreat, and their parents ended up shuttling them back and forth late at night and early in the morning so they could at least sleep in their own beds prior to the state tournament opener.
Nevertheless, the Magic looked very well prepared when they took the court on Friday evening. Tacka spent much of the night latched onto O’Hara’s Farmer, and on the rare occasions when the Lions’ star slipped by the Mount 10th-grader, the other defenders immediately slid in to help, while also accounting for the off-the-ball cutters.
“The girls executed our game plan perfectly,” Miller attested. “Everybody was exactly on the same page.”
Farmer would only register two of her team-high nine points before halftime, and by then the Magic were already up by 13.
Monzo initiated the scoring for the night with a short jumper from the lane. Louin connected on a drive and added two free throws, but with a regular jumper and a “three,” O’Hara only trailed 6-5 five minutes into the contest. Converting off an offensive rebound, Monzo began an 8-4 MSJ run that closed out the opening period, with Louin contributing a field goal and Tacka scoring on a drive down the lane and sticking a 15-footer.
The five-point advantage (14-9) dwindled over the first two minutes of the second stanza, as a pair of buckets by the Lions’ Rachel Guy bracketed a lone free throw by Monzo, closing the score up to 15-13. Here’s where the Magic made a clean break, with Monzo scoring consecutive field goals, first with a nifty inside move, and then in transition off of a pass from Louin.
The Lions recouped one point from the foul line, but then Louin drilled a trey from the right side and followed that with a lay-up that spread the gap to 10 points. The half ended with a triple launched from the top of the key by Tacka, which set the score at 27-14.
Louin, Monzo, and Tacka had registered 11, nine, and seven points respectively, and afterwards Miller underscored the importance of this scoring balance.
“It makes everybody feel good when we’re all contributing and we’re not just putting everything on Alex’s shoulders,” he said. “In the state tournament, just about every team is going to have at least one outstanding player, so if you’re going to win you need more than one person to step up.”
Over the first four minutes of the third quarter, the Lions managed to trim their deficit to 11 points (33-22) but then their offense stalled out. Joined by Ulasewicz, the Mount’s Monzo, Louin, and Tacka spurred their team on to a 42-22 lead by the three-quarter mark. As if O’Hara hadn’t seen Monzo do enough damage with her shots from the paint, she put a final exclamation point on the third round by popping in a three-pointer from the left wing.
Senior forward Colleen Steinmetz, who made her usual contributions to the Magic’s tenacious defensive effort, got into the scorebook early in the fourth quarter with an and-one as the Mounties continued to roll. This enabled Coach Miller to make far more than his usual number of substitutions, and he was happy to have his reserves see time (and score) in a state playoff game.
Starters Ulasewicz and Steinmetz finished with four and three points, respectively, and Mount St. Joe marked down three points for sophomore guard M.K. Maloney and two points apiece for junior forward Emily Carpenter, sophomore guard Caitlyn Cunningham, and sophomore forward Sarah Wills.
“It was one of those games where everything comes together for a team,” Miller summed up. “It’s one thing to execute, and it’s another thing to execute and also make the baskets, and we were making them tonight.”
Next up for the Magic is District 3 runner-up Dover High School (25-3), located just west of York. The Eagles won their state opener, 48-30, over District 1 seventh seed Bishop Shanahan, a ballclub that lost to Mount St. Joe in the District 1 quarterfinals, 61-26. The Mounties will need to keep tabs on speedy, high-scoring guard Alayah Hall, a Dover senior who has not yet made a college commitment. She laid 23 points on Shanahan, and averaged 21 points a game in the District 3 semifinals and finals.