by Tom Utescher
The NCAA women’s basketball summer league made the transition into its playoff phase last week, with the final regular season contests occurring on Tuesday and the quarterfinal round of the league tournament taking place on Thursday evening.
Three of the five teams with area players on the roster made the transition. There were a number of squads that finished the 11-game regular season with identical records, and the standings were determined by tiebreakers based on the results of head-to-head competition.
In fifth place overall was Team Electric Green, which includes Germantown Academy grad Jaryn Garner, who is now at St. Joseph’s University, and Penn Charter alum Hannah Fox, a rising sophomore at NCAA Division III national champion Amherst College.
Just behind in sixth place, and with an identical 7-4 record, was Team Black. The cast of characters here are all members of the program at Thomas Jefferson University (the former Philadelphia University), and it includes two former Mount St. Joseph Academy guards, senior Kelsey Jones and sophomore Caitlyn Cunningham.
Seventh place was secured by Team Sky Blue and its three Germantown Academy graduates, Wesleyan University junior Olivia Gorman, Emory University sophomore Erin Lindahl, and University of Pennsylvania sophomore Kendall Grasela.
Sky shared a 5-6 record with two other teams but had beaten both of them during the regular season. Team Orange, with a number of Division II Holy Family University athletes, edged into the postseason in eighth place, and missing the cut by one spot was Team Sun, which includes two of Grasela’s Penn teammates.
Spotty attendance was partly responsible for the 10th-place finish of Team Red (2-9) and its six Chestnut Hill College players. In their final game last Tuesday, Red fell to Team Black (Jefferson U.), 61-41.
CHC, Jefferson, Holy Family, and University of the Sciences are all members of the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference, and in its summer guise as Team Maroon, the USciences bunch placed first in the regular season with a 9-2 record, winning a tiebreaker over Team Forest Green (almost entirely from Division II West Chester University).
Winning one game by forfeit and losing 10 contests on the court, Team Purple and 2016 Mount St. Joe grad Sarah Wills came in last in the league this summer. Consisting largely of Wills and her teammates at Division III Delaware Valley University, Purple was simply overmatched in most of these contests but battled gamely in a number of them.
In its swansong last Tuesday, Purple actually led third-place Team White at halftime, 32-31, but was trailing 56-47 by the three-quarter mark and them wound up losing, 75-54.
Earlier on the same court, Team Red found itself slowly but steadily falling farther behind in its summer finale, until Team Black led by double figures at halftime, 33-22. The Black bunch really opened things up in a 15-4 third quarter and then cruised to a 20-point win.
Cunningham scored 10 points for the victors, Jones added a three-pointer and a free throw, and the team high of 14 points belonged to 2015 Plymouth Whitemarsh grad Alynna Williams. For Red, Chestnut Hill College senior Vicky Tumasz finished with eight points, and Bianca Picardo, a transfer from NYU, scored seven.
Playing in one of the early games on Tuesday, Team Sky Blue was in ninth place at the start of the evening. If they could win their game and the two teams ahead of them lost their contests, Sky could leapfrog both of them due to head-to-head victories and thus make it into the playoffs.
The only one of the GA grads on hand was Lindahl, but she held up the Patriots’ end with the best scoring performance of the night for any team, using three three-pointers to help amass 25 points. Building a 29-16 lead by halftime, Sky Blue kept pulling away to top Team Pink, 71-41.
Pink, with many players from Division III Penn State Abington, bowed out in 11th place with its 1-10 regular-season mark, having defeated the other 1-10 squad, Purple, earlier in the summer campaign.
Next up on the same court, halftime arrived with Fox, Garner, and Team Electric Green enjoying a modest 40-35 advantage over Holy Family-fueled Team Orange. The Electric ensemble separated from Orange in the third period, when Garner penetrated the paint for eight points and the lead was levered out to 17 points, 60-43.
The Green group kept pulling away, winning 78-57 as Garner ended the evening with a team-high 17 points and Fox finished with 13.
Electric Green would be the only ballclub with area ties to make it through the quarterfinal round two nights later.
In one of the early games, sixth-seeded Team Black would meet number three Team White, which features a number of current and former NCAA Division I players who formed the core of last year’s summer league champion team.
In the early minutes, the Team Black players from Jefferson U. got out to an 8-3 lead, but White reeled them in. Black received a three-pointer from Mount grad Cunningham late in the period, but trailed 15-19 at the close of the first quarter.
As round two unfolded, Cunningham banked in a medium-range shot and hit a pair of free throws to help her squad draw even at 21-21. Later, the opposition pulled away once more to enjoy a 36-31 advantage at halftime. Team White came back out to post the first seven points of the third round and would go on to make a clean break from Black, winning the quarter 23-11 and going on to a 76-56 victory.
Team Black bowed out of the playoffs, led in its final outing by Williams, with 18 points, and Cunningham, with 13. Victorious Team White received a combined 32 points from St. Joseph’s players Mary Sheehan and Amanda Fioravanti, and a dozen points were added by former Friends Schools League star Nia Holland (Shipley School/Lafayette College ’19).
As on Tuesday, Lindahl was the only one of Team Sky Blue’s three GA grads to play on Thursday evening. They were seeded seventh and were taking on the second seed, West Chester-fueled Forest Green.
Late in the first period the score was knotted up at 15-15, but Forest was able to add a field goal and a free throw near the end. At the buzzer Lindahl had a chance to tie it, but on her shot from well outside the three-point loop, the ball hit the backboard and the rim but wouldn’t go in.
After a 7-0 run by Forest Green to start the second quarter, Sky Blue rallied back to within one point by the middle of the period (26-27) but then dropped farther behind again. The West Chester women owned a 41-28 advantage at the intermission.
In a scenario that was repeated throughout the second half, Forest Green would stretch the gap well up into the teens (almost to 20 points at one stage) and Sky would rally to reduce the gap to 10 points. The Blue bunch could never get the margin back down into single digits, though.
After Lindahl hit a jumper to make it 64-54 with six minutes remaining, Forest tacked a few more points onto its lead to win 76-63. Lindahl finished with 13 points for Sky Blue, which was led by 19 points from Whisper Fisher, a 6’2″ forward who has transferred into St. Joseph’s from Chicago’s Loyola University. Forest Green was paced by 16 points from the only player on the roster who is not a West Chester student, Jenny Horvatnovic (U. of Tampa).
In the other late game in Thursday’s quarterfinal round, a fifth-seeded Royal Blue Team primarily powered by Kutztown University players faced fourth-ranked Electric Green. A buzzer-beating three-pointer at the end of the opening quarter had Royal Blue up 16-15.
GA grad Garner, who divided her 20 points for the night almost evenly between the two halves, helped her Green group gain a 22-21 edge a few minutes into the second quarter. For the rest of the period, though, the momentum was with the Kutztown cadre, which was in front again by halftime, 35-31.
Royal Blue would log a lot of ball possession and would remain in contention until the final minutes, and a lot of this was due to the fact that, to a large extent, their forwards controlled the boards on both ends of the floor for much of the evening.
Electric’s Fox, who’d been limited to one three-pointer in the first half, came on strong after the interlude to net the rest of her game-high 22 points. Her baseline jumper with two minutes left in the third quarter created a double-digit lead at 51-41, then Royal reduced its deficit to six for the start of the fourth quarter, 53-47.
Electric Green earned a few more 10-point leads over the first four minutes of the final frame, but with just over 90 seconds remaining it was a five-point contest, 66-61. Green held the ball to drain the clock, and Royal Blue committed back-to-back fouls that got Green in the bonus put Fox on the free throw line.
She made both shots, but it quickly became a four-point affair thanks to a three-pointer from the top of the key by Royal Blue’s Gabby Heinsinger, a former Catholic Academies star for Merion Mercy who now plays at NYU. Fouled again, Fox bagged both free throws with 49 seconds left to set the score at 70-64.
With half-a-minute to go, it was Garner who hammered the last nail in the Royal Blue coffin as she stole the ball and scored a breakaway lay-up. Royal’s final shot fell short, and Garner corralled the rebound as the clock ran out.
At 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Electric Green plays in the semifinals against top-seeded Maroon (USciences), which accepted a quarterfinal forfeit by Team Orange last Thursday. At 8:15 there will be a two/three semifinal bout between Team Forest Green and Team White. The championship game will be played at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday.