Springside Chestnut Hill’s Marissa Pownall (right) tries to drive past a fellow sophomore, Libby Tacka of Mount St. Joseph Academy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Springside Chestnut Hill’s Marissa Pownall (right) tries to drive past a fellow sophomore, Libby Tacka of Mount St. Joseph Academy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Having had a full day to digest their Thanksgiving dinners, basketball players from Mount St. Joseph popped over to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy last Saturday morning for an early pre-season scrimmage. Given the relative strength and experience of the two local hoop squads, the outcome was not surprising, with the Magic outscoring the host Blue Devils, 59-37, over the course of four 10-minute periods.

“We were mainly looking to play hard, and I think we did that,” said first-year SCH head coach Joe Maguire. “We have a new offense, and we have a lot of new girls who have come straight from playing either on JV or in grade school. So we’re still trying to figure who we are, and we’ll be better in a month than we are today.”

The Blue Devils had scrimmaged Council Rock South High School four days earlier, and Maguire said, “We definitely ran our offensive sets better today than against Council Rock once we got into them, but we had way too many turnovers. Our half court defense was pretty good, but in transition [the Mount] got a lot of easy baskets on us.”

Mount St. Joe mentor John Miller, heading into his eighth season, is guiding an experienced group of players.

“We have the three starters back, and I really like the way some of our other girls have been playing in practice, and what they did today,” he remarked after the SCH skirmish. “Even a number of our younger girls were part of the varsity last year, so we’ve just begun by putting in the plays that they’re already familiar with. Everybody executed the plays very well today.”

To begin Saturday’s session, defending the Catholic Academies champions sent out their three returning starters, seniors Alex Louin and Carly Monzo and sophomore Libby Tacka, along with the underclassmen who appeared most frequently off the bench last season, senior forward Colleen Steinmetz and junior guard Mary Kate Ulasewicz.

SCH, which finished fourth in the seven-team (for girls) Inter-Ac League last winter, also had three starters back; seniors Julia Schumacher and Madi Sehn, and sophomore Lindsay Hiner. Joining them at the outset were sophomore guard Marissa Pownall and freshman forward Chloe Burns.

Saturday’s scrimmage opened with Hiner hitting a three-pointer from the right corner, and with Schumacher making one of two free throws to give SCH a 4-0 edge. For the rest of the opening segment, though, it was all Mount St. Joe as Monzo netted a midrange jumper, a lay-up, and a free throw to get the Magic going. Tacka and reserve guard Caitlin Cunningham each added four points later in the period to make it 13-4 at the end.

Cunningham stayed on the floor for the start of the second quarter and was joined by four other players off the MSJ bench. Burns scored three times from the paint, and a lay-up by Schumacher, a trey by Hiner and a free throw by sophomore Essence Walden moved the Blue Devils ahead, 12-5.

The Magic returned their starters to the court for the last three minutes and the score soon evened out, with Louin putting in a lay-up at the buzzer to give the visitors a 14-12 edge for the period.

“It’s always good to have that perspective of seeing the girls start playing against another team instead of just against each other,” MSJ’s Miller observed. “Right now we’re looking to get our starting unit set, and also identify who will be able to give us that spark coming in off the bench.”

Maguire revealed, “One thing we’ve made our returning players aware of is that they’ll be expected to contribute more with our scoring. We lost two senior starters from last year, and one of them, Gianna Pownall [Marissa Pownall’s older sister], gave us 18 points a game.”

In a high-scoring third period, the Magic ran the floor effectively to emerge with a 24-12 advantage in the 10-minute piece, and with the reserves playing in a slower-paced fourth frame, the visitors came away with an 8-5 edge.

With a lot of Inter-Ac teams having graduated strong players from last year’s line-ups, the Mount is almost certainly a more challenging opponent than any Springside Chestnut Hill will face in league competition this winter.

The Blue Devils were outplayed, but they didn’t appear to be intimidated.

“I thought Jules [Schumacher] did a good job handling the ball and getting everyone in position, and Gabby [Dunning, Schumacher’s freshman understudy at point guard] was good defensively. Madi Sehn and Lindsay Hiner played well inside, and Olivia [Byron, a junior forward], checked out and rebounded well.”

Turning to the 6’1” ninth-grader, Burns, the SCH skipper said, “I was pleased that she held her own against the older girls today. At Council Rock she took one shot the whole time, but she looked more confident out there today.”

Although Miller isn’t breaking in a lot of new players at the Mount, he feels a need to get the most out of every practice and scrimmage.

As he pointed out, “With the way the PIAA schedule is this year, they essentially took away three practice days in that short stretch before the actual games begin. We haven’t even gotten to work on our zone offense, and we’re going to need that because I think a lot of teams will feel they don’t match up well with us man-to-man. So as a coach, you wonder how you’re going to be able to go over everything with the girls before we start to play.”

Both squads officially open the season at tip-off tournaments this Friday, the Mount taking on Soudertown High in an event at Methacton High School, and Springside Chestnut Hill facing New Foundations Charter School in Archbishop Ryan’s tourney in northeast Philly.

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