Mount St. Joe sophomore Libby Tacka (right) protects the ball from Gwynedd Mercy junior Emily Sullivan while exploring her passing options. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Mount St. Joe sophomore Libby Tacka (right) protects the ball from Gwynedd Mercy junior Emily Sullivan while exploring her passing options. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

With the holiday tournaments behind them, local basketball teams began to return to league competition, including the Magic of Mount St. Joseph Academy. Building most of their winning margin during a 15-9 first quarter at Gwynedd Mercy Academy last Saturday afternoon, the Mounties tacked a few more points onto their lead in the final period to take a 35-26 decision.

The Magic’s record climbed to 9-1 overall and 4-1 within the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies, with their lone setback this season occurring at Villa Maria in a mid-December league game that the host Hurricanes won, 35-25. Gwynedd, which had fallen to Villa two days later by a closer score (40-36), slipped to 1-3 in the AACA and 4-6 overall with last Saturday’s outcome.

“Every league game is important, and since we have one loss in our pocket already, they’re even more important,” pointed out MSJ head coach John Miller. “As we’ve told the girls, the fact that we went undefeated through the league last year means that we can expect to see every team really up to play us.”

With some of the toughest opponents on the schedule waiting just ahead, the Magic’s mentor wasn’t satisfied with the team’s effort and execution at Gwynedd.

“I don’t think we painted a masterpiece,” he said. “With the way the holidays fell and the way our Christmas tournament fell, we had a lot of days off and we weren’t able to get in many practices. Looking at our statistics [against Gwynedd], we have to play more aggressively. We only took four free throws the entire game, and most of them were right at the end when Gwynedd Mercy had to foul us. The other thing that stood out was that we only had four offensive rebounds, and Gwynedd certainly had more than that.”

A week earlier, Mount St. Joe’s customary championship performance at the George W. Snear Tournament in Conshohocken went pretty much according to routine, but Gwynedd’s tourney trip to Maryland was more eventful.

At the event in Churchville (located halfway between Wilmington, Del. and Baltimore), the Monarchs lost by a single point in their first outing and romped by 28 points the second time out. However, the big news was an injury suffered by guard Brigit Coleman in the first game, an ACL tear that has put the sophomore out of action for the rest of the season.

Last Saturday, MSJ senior star Alex Louin and fellow guard Mary Kate Ulasewicz (a junior) paced the visitors on offense in the first half with eight and six points, respectively. Senior forward Colleen Steinmetz chipped in with four points as the visitors arrived at the intermission with a modest 24-18 advantage.

In the first two periods, junior guard Emily Sullivan (five points) topped a list of half-a-dozen players who scored for the host school. After incurring a six-point deficit in the opening frame, the Monarchs had matched the Mount in the second quarter, 9-9.

Gwynedd also equaled the Magic’s output during a low-scoring 5-5 third quarter, but the Monarchs, in a position of playing catch-up, needed to do better. This was where Coleman’s scoring was particularly missed; GMA netted a total of just eight points in the second half, and seven of them came from a single player, Sullivan.

Louin bagged a three-pointer for the Mount and Ulasewicz converted a steal into a lay-up during the third stanza, and Louin opened the fourth with a drive to the hoop. After a lone free throw for Monarchs sophomore Erica DeCandido, Steinmetz scored from the paint to raise the visitors’ lead to nine points, 33-24.

A successful drive by Sullivan got Gwynedd back within seven with 3:37 remaining in the game, but that would be the last field goal of the afternoon for either team. Gwynedd handled the Mount’s defensive pressure in transition relatively well, and worked the ball into position for short jumpers and a number of lay-ups. Some of these shots were altered by MSJ defenders, but on others the ball simply seemed to refuse to enter the cylinder, much to the frustration of the home fans.

With fruitless possessions for both teams and three closely-spaced time-outs (two by the Magic), the clock ticked down to a minute-and-a-half to go with the score still 33-26.

The cause of one of the MSJ time-outs, according to Miller, was “Gwynedd was double-teaming us in the backcourt and our girls weren’t going to help the player who was being double-teamed. I always preach that you have to be the first one in the gym to know that your man has just left you to double-team one of your teammates.”

In the final minute-and-a-half, Mount St. Joe inadvertently helped keep Gwynedd relatively close, losing the ball out of bounds, turning it over again on a walk, and whiffing on the first shot of a one-and-one with 50 seconds left to play.

In their last meaningful possession, the Monarchs missed a three-point attempt and also a shot off of the rebound. The second rebound went to MSJ’s Ulasewicz, who was fouled and put the final score on the board with a pair of free throws with 13.2 seconds showing.

Louin led all scorers with 13 points in the game and Ulasewicz also reached double digits, with 10, while Steinmetz finished with six. Rounding it out for the winners were senior Carly Monzo and sophomores Libby Tacka and Sarah Wills, each with two points.

Sullivan furnished almost half of Gwynedd’s total, netting a dozen points, with DeCandido adding five points and sophomore Maggi Cameron contributing three. The Monarchs recorded two points apiece for seniors Jessica Campbell and Dia Veneziano, and for freshman Megan Dougherty.

“I thought Gwynedd played very well, especially considering they just lost their starting point guard,” Miller said, referring to the injury to Coleman. “Our team was not playing with the same intelligence that we normally play with.”

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