by Tom Utescher
Last winter, the Germantown Academy girls won the Inter-Ac League basketball title, and Gwynedd Mercy was the Class AAA District 1 champion in the PIAA. Both teams will return almost all of their top talent for the 2015-16 campaign, so last week’s summer league meeting between the Patriots and the Monarchs promised to be a very competitive contest.
However, having all of your top personnel on hand is not always easy for teams in summer sports competition, and the more fully-staffed GA squad won last Wednesday’s engagement comfortably, 44-32.
The Patriots were missing starting forward Lilly Bolen, a rising junior, but they were able to plug in talented six-foot sophomore Alexa Naessens and hardly miss a beat. It was not as easy for Gwynedd to replace its two missing starters, sophomore point guard Maura Conroy and the team’s most effective player in the paint, senior forward Erica DeCandido.
GA senior forward Lauren Oeth sandwiched two lay-ups around a transition field goal by junior guard Abby Starzecky to stake the Patriots to a 6-0 lead. Still, Gwynedd managed to stay within striking distance after getting on the board with a three-pointer by senior shooting guard Bridget Coleman.
That trey was matched by Patriots senior guard Kendall Grasela, then Oeth and the Monarchs’ Mary Claire Casey traded shorter field goals. Later, sophomore guard Cat Polisano came off the GA bench to hit a lay-up and two free throws in succession, giving her team a 14-7 advantage around the midpoint of the first half. The scoring pace slowed after that, due partly to fouls and missed free throws resulting from them. A baseline jumper and a lay-up by Naessens helped GA to a 19-11 halftime lead.
Senior guard Erin Lindahl, who had not scored for GA in the first half, erupted at the start of the second period with a driving lay-up, a three-pointer, and a pair of free throws. An inside strike by Oeth was thrown into the mix for a 9-0 opening run for Germantown.
The Monarchs managed a couple of free throws, but Grasela responded with a “three,” and Gwynedd did not register a field goal until Coleman bagged a midrange jumper about five minutes in. Around the 10-minute mark (20-minute halves are played in the league), a 15-footer by Monarchs senior Maggie Cameron had lead at 14 points, 36-22.
Soon after that, Polisano popped in a three-pointer from the right baseline and followed up with a shorter jumper, putting the Pats ahead 41-22. Gwynedd continued to battle and trimmed down its deficit, but GA was still up by a dozen at the final horn.
Polisano and Gwynedd’s Coleman were the high scorers with nine points apiece, and adding eight points each were Oeth for the Patriots and Casey for the Monarchs. Grasela and Naessens emerged with six points apiece for the winners, who received a three-pointer from senior Leena Kardacz, regular field goals from Starzeck and freshman Rachel Balzer, and a free throw from sophomore Maddie Cooper.
The Patriots headed into the July 4 hiatus with a 5-0 record in the Gwynedd Mercy Summer League.
COLLEGE COMMITMENT: Two days after this game, GA’s Grasela made a verbal commitment to play for the University of Pennsylvania. A member of the storied Philadelphia Belles AAU program, the 5’10” guard attracted interest from a number of Ivy League schools and other Division I programs.
Last winter she was named to the All-Inter-Ac League first team, and she helped the Patriots claim the league championship by scoring the game-winning free throw in an overtime battle against defending champ Episcopal Academy. Grasela also plays lacrosse at GA, and her academic accomplishments include a mastery of written and spoken Chinese. Her love of basketball and her interest in the field of medicine made Penn a fitting choice.