by Tom Utescher

In recent years, girls’ basketball match-ups between the Patriots of Germantown Academy and the Churchwomen of Episcopal Academy played an important part in determining the Inter-Ac League champion. This winter, few could argue that GA has the strongest and deepest line-up in the league, and the Pats had all of their talented athletes working in sync last Tuesday at Episcopal.

Midway through the opening quarter EA held a 7-5 advantage, but by the end of the period the visitors were out in front by a score of 14-9.

Germantown really stepped up in the second round for a 39-20 halftime lead, then cruised to a 61-35 victory.

The winners improved to 7-0 in the league and 19-4 overall, receiving a game-high 16 points from sophomore guard/forward Elle Stauffer and 15 (on five three-pointers) from junior shooting guard Rachel Balzer. The winners received eight points apiece from senior guard Cat Polisano and freshman post player Becca Booth and got seven from sophomore guard Jaye Haynes.

Episcopal emerged at 9-8, 5-3 after marking down 15 points for senior guard Seanna McNamara, eight for sophomore guard Cara Harty and seven for senior forward Luca Mamula.

After Tuesday’s round of Inter-Ac games, the team closest to GA in the league standings was 6-2 Academy of Notre Dame, which lost its first head-to-head meeting with the Patriots, 57-35, one week before the recent GA-EA contest.

“When we rebound, we can get out and run, and we were able to do that against Episcopal,” explained GA head coach Sherri Retif after Tuesday’s tilt in Newtown Square.

With January’s multi-team showcase events now behind them, Retif said, “We have no more of those weekend games, and our complete focus right now is on winning the Inter-Ac.”

Episcopal saw a six-game win streak end when Germantown came to call.

Head coach Chuck Simmonds said of the Patriots, “They’re deep, and they have a true inside/outside game. You need four or five strong defenders out there against them, so it’s a tough match-up for a lot of teams.

“We just have to move on,” he continued. “We have Notre Dame coming up and we want to get that game because they beat us the first time. The situation in the league is that GA has created some separation, so to be honest, there’s now a nice battle for second place. Mathematically, that’s what it is.”

From the left corner, Balzer bagged her first “three” of the game to start the scoreboard moving. Over the next few minutes, EA’s McNamara deposited the first of her three treys and also converted off of an offensive rebound to help the Churchwomen go up 7-5.

With a little over three minutes to go, Polisano tabbed a triple form the right wing to nudge GA ahead, and then she nailed a pair of free throws. GA sophomore guard Maddie Vizza and Episcopal’s Mamula each scored in transition, and at the buzzer a put-back by Stauffer sent the Patriots into the second frame with a 14-9 advantage.

“They got second opportunities on offensive rebounds – Stauffer was aggressive in there,” said EA’s Simmonds. “They also knocked down some open shots out of their offense. We went to a little zone [defense] but they moved the ball well and got some open looks.”

With her talented bench, the Patriots’ Retif was already employing some of her reserves during the first eight minutes.

Then, the coach noted, “When we came out with our starters at the beginning of the second quarter, they were fresh and ready to push the ball.”

Initially, the Churchwomen got back within four points when junior guard Olivia Dirks hooped one of two shots from the foul line. However, half-a-minute into the new period Polisano put in a three-pointer that proved to be the start of a 21-5 run for the visitors.

Stauffer, Haynes and Balzer would also score during this surge, and with 3:08 remaining in the first half a pair of free throws by Stauffer boosted the visitors’ lead to 20 points, 35-15. Near the end of the second quarter the Patriots led by 22 points before Episcopal’s McNamara ended the half with a “three” from the right corner.

She and GA’s Stauffer each had 11 points at the half, when the count was 39-20.

During a 19-10 third quarter, the Patriots’ lead peaked at 31 points. Their young post player, Booth, scored three lay-ups in a little over a minute-and-a-half late in the period, prompting an EA time-out.

“Becca’s a hard worker,” Coach Retif remarked, “She stays 30 minutes after every practice, and she’ll say, ‘Coach, can we work on post moves?’ or ‘Can you help me get stronger with the ball?’ She’s a pleasure to have on the team.”

The Churchwomen outscored their guests 5-3 during an anticlimactic snoozer of a fourth quarter. Harty provided Episcopal with its last eight points, with a three-pointer at the end of the third period, and another trey and a lay-up in the fourth. GA sophomore Lindsay Putnam tacked on the Patriots’ final points with a triple from the left corner.

Even with so many talented athletes sharing an allotment of 32 minutes per contest, chemistry is very good on the team, according to the coach.

“They’re very selfless,” she said, noting that an example was set in this regard by her two senior Division I signees, Polisano and forward Alexa Naessens (who scored two points in the Episcopal game).

“Alexa helps get the ball out in transition, works to get it to Elle going up the court,” Retif related. “She works to set screens for our shooters, like Rachel. She does a lot of great things for the team.”

Polisano is now hitting her stride after returning from an ACL injury just before her junior season.

“It’s so great to have her back at full strength,” GA’s skipper said. “She has taken the reins of the team; she’s the leader we already knew she could be before she got hurt last year.”

Vizza is on her way back to her regular form after suffering an ankle injury in early January. A starter when Polisano was sidelined, she’s one of the players Retif can send in from the bench with no drop-off in the level of play. Among the others are Caitlyn Priore and fellow sophomore Maddie Burns, a Norwood Fontbonne Academy graduate.

“Maddie Burns just does everything right out there,” Retif remarked. “She always knows where to be; she’s such a smart defensive player.

“There are a lot of little things that are important,” the coach continued, “and when everybody up and down the bench can do them correctly, it really benefits the team.”

UPDATE – The GA girls finished last week at 9-0 in the league after mastering the two teams at the back of the Inter-Ac pack. On Thursday, the Patriots (21-4 overall) jumped out on visiting Baldwin School in a 16-2 opening quarter, setting the stage for a 69-10 romp. Two freshmen topped the scoresheet; Booth booked 12 points and six rebounds, and leading the winners in both categories was forward Jessica Moore with a 14/10 double-double. In all, a dozen Patriots scored.

On Saturday, GA motored past Agnes Irwin, 80-19, after taking a 16-2 lead over the first four minutes of the contest. Everybody up and down the roster got plenty of playing time, as Polisano paced the offense with 12 points and Booth added 11. For the host Patriots, this was a Think Pink fundraiser in memory of basketball parent Lauren Bolen, who passed away shortly after her daughter Lilly graduated last spring. Lilly is now playing at Tufts University.

In another Saturday contest, Notre Dame completed a home/away sweep of Episcopal, winning 46-43 to remain alone in second place in the Inter-Ac with an 8-2 record. Episcopal, with three league games remaining, slipped to 5-4. With three Inter-Ac games left on its schedule, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy owned a record of 5-4, while Penn Charter, with two games remaining, was 4-6. After them came Baldwin (2-7) and Agnes Irwin (0-10).

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