Appearing to adapt football’s Heisman Trophy pose to a different sport, 2012 Mount St. Joseph grad Bridget Higgins (L) brings the ball upcourt against former Spring-Ford High standout Ashley Wood in an NCAA Summer League semifinal game. Higgins is currently playing for the University of Pittsburgh, and Wood, who played against the Mount a number of times in high school, just graduated from Kutztown University this spring. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In contrast to recent seasons, there was a healthy degree of parity within the Philadelphia/Suburban Women’s NCAA Summer Basketball League this year, but when it came to playoff time, there were no upsets. The two teams that looked to be the strongest coming out of the player draft at the end of May made it through the semifinals last Tuesday and squared off in the championship game two nights later.

In the role of player/coach, former Girls Inter-Ac League star Katie Kuester (Academy of Notre Dame) led her Team Hunter Green to the 2013 title, thanks to a 58-50 victory over Team White in Thursday’s final.

A St. Joseph’s University graduate, Kuester is now Director of Basketball Operations at Lehigh University, where the incoming freshman class includes 2013 Germantown Academy grad Kiernan McCloskey. McCloskey played in the NCAA League this summer, as did fellow GA alumni Monica Schacker (Philadelphia University ’15) and Fran Sweeney (Emory University ’17).

Mount St. Joseph grads Elle Hagedorn (’09), Bridget Higgins (’12) and Maddie Kohler (’12) made it to the league semifinals as part of Team Gold, which was coached by Elle’s father, Ted Hagedorn. His last three summer squads, which included Kuester on the roster, won the 2010-2012 league titles.

With only his daughter Elle back on the roster for the 2013 campaign, Coach Hagedorn picked up some good players in the draft, but overall the squad was not as strong as his previous outfits, which included a number of ladies who had played AAU basketball together for years. Third in regular-season play with a record of 9-3, Team Gold advanced through the quarterfinal round of the playoffs on August 1. They saw a halftime lead disappear in last Tuesday’s semifinals as second-seeded Team White rebounded to seize a 70-64 victory.

White came into the playoffs with an 11-1 record just like Hunter Green, but Hunter earned the top seed by claiming a six-point victory when the two teams met in regular-season competition. Hunter’s sole loss came to Team Gold, which suffered setbacks against the White, Red, and Navy Blue ensembles over the course of the summer.

Emerging as the best of the Division II summer squads (DII and DIII athletes are allowed to play with their college teammates, which NCAA rules prohibit for the Division I women), Team Maroon landed the fourth seed with an 8-4 mark and advanced out of the quarterfinals in the playoffs. In the other semifinal on Tuesday, they battled Hunter right down to the wire, but fell, 60-54.

Maroon is largely composed of students from The University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, and there were other summer squads largely made up of players from Philly U. (Team Black; ninth at 4-8), Holy Family University (Team Kelly Green; eighth at 5-7), and West Chester University (Team Sky Blue; seventh at 6-6). USciences, Philly U., and Holy Family all compete in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference along with Chestnut Hill College, which had no players in the league this summer.

Last Tuesday, the semifinal game that was expected to produce the largest margin of victory was the one matching up the number one and number four seeds, and during the middle minutes it seemed like the conventional wisdom would be borne out on the court. Team Maroon kept it close until a little over eight minutes in, trailing just 13-9, but then Hunter Green scored 16 straight points.

Dana Wieller (who just graduated from Bloomsburg University), while not as well known as some of Hunter’s other three-point shooters, had the target locked in during much of the first half. She bagged four of the long-range buckets in the first dozen minutes, and ultimately teammates Erin Shields (Archbishop /St. Joseph U. ‘14) and Kuester would accumulate four treys, as well.

The top seeds still had a comfortable lead at 33-15 with five minutes left in the first period, but outside shooting from Nazareth Academy alum Jessica Sylvester and penetration to the hoop by Brianne Traub (both USciences guards) fueled an 11-3 Maroon run to close the first half with a 10-point gap, 36-26.

Hunter’s Shannon Shields (Erin’s younger sister and currently a rower at the University of San Diego) hit two early three’s in the second half while the team’s lone six-foot-plus player, Lauren Crisler (a 2013 North Penn grad headed for American U.) did some damage inside. A little past the midpoint of the period the league leaders had the gap back up to 18 points at 52-34.

Maroon, with a few more players available on the bench than their rivals, pushed the pace and made a dramatic late run. Hunter was still ahead by nine points (53-44) with two-and-a-half minutes remaining. A lay-up and three free throws by Traub contributed to a 7-1 spurt by Maroon to make it 54-51, now in the final minute.

Hunter’s Erin Shields hit two free throws, but Traub found the hoop from the left corner for a 56-54 count with 24 seconds to go. Maroon had to keep fouling to keep Hunter from running out the clock, and two more trips to the foul line by the steady Shields capped off a six-point victory for the top seeds.

She came away with 22 points for the winners, followed by 13 apiece for Kuester and Wieller. Traub deposited 14 points in Maroon’s losing cause.

In the other semifinal, all of Gold’s first 17 points came from St. Joseph’s players Sarah Fairbanks (11) and Natasha Cloud (six), while White kept close with better-balanced scoring.

The point spread never reached double digits, but Gold enjoyed an eight-point advantage late in the half, 36-28. White’s Catherine Carr, a former Holy Family luminary, tightened the score to 36-33 at the break with a transition lay-up followed by a three-pointer with 10 seconds to go.

This definitely provided some fodder for the halftime talk by Team White coach Keith Wood, whose daughter Ashley (Spring-Ford High School) is a member of the team and is a newly-minted graduate of Kutztown University.

White’s late spurt in the first period proved to be the beginning of a 14-0 spree that spanned the two halves. Carr kept going and Ashley Wood and former Upper Dublin standout Shira Newman joined in on the scoring. White was also defending well, allowing just three points by Team Gold (from Fairbanks) over the first nine minutes of the second half.

Later on, down 59-47 with under five minutes to play, Gold began its final rally with a lay-up and made free throw by Hagedorn. A jumper and a lay-up off a steal by Cloud, followed by Hagedorn’s coast-to-coast romp, rounded out a 9-2 charge that made it 61-56 with a minute to play.

White was already in the one-and-one bonus, though, and while its foulshooting in the final minute was not flawless, the nine-for-12 effort at the line was good enough to hold off the Gold. The lead was back up to nine points, 70-61, before Cloud canned a three-pointer at the buzzer.

She had 19 points for the night, which positioned her between Fairbanks (22) and Hagedorn (10) for Team Gold. After that came Mackenzie Rule (an incoming St. Joe’s freshman) with five points and Higgins with four, while Jessica Jowdy (Swarthmore) and Michelle McCaughern (La Salle) added two points apiece. Carr cranked out 20 points for the White, which also received nine points from her old Holy Family teammate Meg Gibson and 11 from Jasmine Elum (Bethune Cookman).

To shorten the league season at a time when players want to enjoy a little R & R before school resumes, the league went to a single-game final this year, instead of the traditional best-of-three series.

Team White was making its second straight appearance in the league’s last round, having lost in the 2012 series to Coach Hagedorn’s Lime Green ballclub (Game One: 85-54, Game Two: 66-56).

White center Emily Leer (Abington High/Villanova ’15), who missed the semifinals, provided inside scoring as Thursday’s 2013 final got underway, and the guards took turns filling in around her. Hunter called a time-out with 11:54 left in the first half, trailing 16-8. When play resumed a jumper by White’s Nya Daley (formerly of Holy Family) widened the gap to a full 10 points before Hunter Green recovered.

Three-point missiles from Shannon Shields bookended a 16-0 run that moved Hunter into the lead (24-18) over the course of six minutes. White regrouped and put an end to the rampage, eventually working back to a 25-all halftime tie thanks to a follow-in by Kira Ogden (Cheltenham High/Manor College ’14) at the buzzer.

The eldest of Hunter’s three Shields sisters from Archbishops Carroll, Kerri, had been one of the game’s leading rebounders in the first 20 minutes (at 5’9”, this was down to her anticipation and hustle), but she’d contributed a modest three points on the scoreboard.

Her second trey of the night opened the scoring after the interval, and she would go on to give an all-round MVP performance, netting a game-high 20 points that included six three’s. The 2013 Boston College grad certainly made the most of what would be her final stateside game of hoops for some time; she’s won a scholarship from the Sports Changes Life Foundation, and will study, play ball, and mentor at-risk youth at the University of Ulster.

Carr and Leer led White back to a 31-28 advantage two minutes into the new half, then Hunter went ahead for good on back-to-back triples by Kerri Shields and sister Erin. Kerri Shields would hit all five of her second-half three-pointers over the initial nine minutes, and a little later even the 6’2” Crisler chimed in from the perimeter, as her trey from the top of the key made it 51-37 with 9:51 remaining in the game.

More than halfway through the final minute of the affair, Hunter was ahead 58-44, but in the final 16 seconds Team White brought its deficit back down into single figures with three-pointers by Gibson and 2012 West Chester grad Allison Hostetter.

Complementing Kerri Shields’ game-high output were her sisters Erin (10 points) and Shannon (six), and Crisler notched seven points. White was powered by double-digit scoring from Leer (15) and Carr (12).