Transferring the ball between hands, Danielle Gehring of Chestnut Hill College tries to drive past Philadelphia University’s Kelsey Jones, a Lafayette Hill native who played high school hoops for Mount St. Joseph Academy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Transferring the ball between hands, Danielle Gehring of Chestnut Hill College tries to drive past Philadelphia University’s Kelsey Jones, a Lafayette Hill native who played high school hoops for Mount St. Joseph Academy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Chestnut Hill College had never beaten Philadelphia University in women’s basketball, and last Saturday afternoon was a particularly bad time to try. Out sick for the CHC Griffins were their two most experienced backcourt players, shooting guard Olivia Gorczynski and point guard Shayla Felder. On a team that has been starting three freshmen, senior veterans Gorczynski and Felder had been the leading scorers, averaging 17.6 and 9.5 points per game, respectively.

At full strength, visiting CHC would’ve had its hands full with the Philly U. women, who came into last weekend’s contest with a 6-1 overall record. Within the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference, the Lady Rams were 2-1, having lost by two points to Holy Family University, the traditional power in the conference’s southern division.

Attacking ferociously in their offensive transition, the hosts went up 17-2 before the guest Griffins acquired their second field goal of the day. Philly U. was up 45-17 at the half, and although Chestnut Hill (1-2 CACC, 2-6 overall) played better at both ends of the floor in the second period, at the final horn there was still a wide gap on the scoreboard, which read 80-49.

“Our guard play is quick, and I think we get up and down the floor pretty well,” remarked Lady Rams head coach Tom Shirley, who is now in his 26th season at the intersection of Henry Avenue and School House Lane. “Chestnut Hill wasn’t at full strength, but they battled pretty well and they stymied us a little bit when we had to set up against their zone. The two players they were missing are integral parts of their offense and make them much harder to defend.”

One of Shirley’s starters at guard is Monica Schacker, a senior out of Germantown Academy. She booked eight points, three rebounds, and three assists in Saturday’s victory.

“She’s a great kid and she plays an important role in our program,” the Philly U. skipper said. “She’s getting some good looks and she knocked down three big three-pointers the other night against Lincoln [in a 90-77 victory last Tuesday].”

Coming off the bench as a ballhandler is Lafayette Hill resident Kelsey Jones, who saw dozen minutes of action against CHC. Jones graduated from Mount St. Joseph Academy in 2013, then redshirted at Philly U. last winter as she recuperated from knee surgery.

“It’s nice to see her back on the court,” commented Shirley. “We’re trying to use her as a back-up for [junior starter] Bria Young this year, then we’ll have two other guards graduating and we’ll see what happens.”

The third guard in the Lady Rams’ starting line-up is the team’s offensive engine. Najah Jacobs, a senior who starred at Central High School, dropped a game-high 23 points on Chestnut Hill last Saturday, and she’s averaging over 20 points per game.

The other starters are two junior forwards out of Archbishop Wood High School, Tori Arnao (10 points, four rebounds against CHC) and Alex Heck (six points, two rebounds).

Coach Shirley, who has also been Philadelphia University’s athletic director for many years, knew about CHC’s personnel problems beforehand, but he didn’t want anyone in his program approaching the game lightly.

“It’s a conference game, which are all important, and for the most part Chestnut Hill always plays us tough,” he pointed out. “Psychologically, we needed to send them a message that we’re pretty good. If we just squeak by here, it’s not so good when we have to play at their place when they’re back at full strength.”

CHC started three young forwards, sophomore Lauren Milligan and freshmen Brianne Morgera and Nicole Parriski. With Felder and Gorczynski out, Griffins head coach Laura Pruitt was fortunate to have a third senior guard to fill a starting role, Tenisha Townsend-Mobley. Also in the backcourt, freshman and Abington Friends graduate Bianca Adams got her first start in a college game.

Fellow freshman Nina Mazzarelli, a starter at guard in a number of other contests this season, came off the bench on Saturday to become the lone double-digit scorer for the visitors, netting 13 points. Townsend-Mobley and Adams each posted seven points. Leading the bigs was Morgera, with six points, nine rebounds, and two blocked shots.

Morgera’s rebounding total tied her for the game high with the Lady Rams’ Mary Newell (five points), a junior forward out of Villa Joseph Marie in the Catholic Academies League.

Chestnut Hill never recovered following the quick start by the home team. With a little under five minutes left in the first half, the tally was 32-13, then in a new burst of offense that extended one minute into the second period, the Lady Rams outscored the Griffins 18-4 to lead 50-17. CHC only got its deficit down under 30 points once, and the gap grew as large as 38 points several times.

The Griffins could discuss a number of things they could’ve done differently to keep the game from getting quite so out-of-hand, but it’s likely that the most effective remedy for the team’s current problems will be to have its ailing seniors get healthy and get back on the court.