Penn Charter rising freshman Janae Stewart (left) guards Georgia Cattie of Gwynedd Mercy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

The first of the summer basketball leagues for area girls’ teams got underway last week with the start of the 2017 Gwynedd Mercy Academy League. Penn Charter, entering its second year in the GMA warm weather program, was in action on opening night last Tuesday, and the following night there was the initial appearance for Germantown Academy, a member of the league since its inception.

For the PC Quakers, it was the first taste of competition without the departing members of the class of 2017, including full-time starters Mireyah Davis, a forward who’ll play for NYU, and point guard Lexi Hnatkowski, who will join the program at Ursinus College. Forward Julie Webb started many times at forward, and the other two seniors from last season were reserves Abby Cohen and Mary Jane McGlinchey.

Their departure makes Penn Charter a very young program, with guard Grace Stansfield the only rising senior, and guard Emma Maley and forward Abby Manion as the only representatives from the 2017-18 junior class. Both travel team softball players, Stansfield and Manion weren’t available for the first game of PC’s summer hoops campaign last week, leaving Maley as the only player for Charter from the two upper grades.

However, rising sophomores Kait Carter, Lizzie McLaughlin, and Carmen Williams – all guards – saw a lot of varsity action with the Quakers last winter, with Carter becoming the first to start for the team. Their classmate Haley Hunt, best known as a lacrosse goalie, appeared frequently at forward for the hoop squad. Troi Rutherford and Sophie Stevens were also on the varsity roster last season as ninth graders, and another rising sophomore, India Barnes, is now out for basketball, as well.

The rising freshmen playing summer ball are Kaylee Dyer, Laila Hamiter, Kaitlynn Haughey, Kaitlyn Hnatkowsky (sister of Lexi), Molly McMahon, Peyton Parker, and Janae Stewart. Kelsey Bess, who’ll still be in middle school come September, will also be with the upper school team.

Last Tuesday, the Quakers launched their summer campaign against league host Gwynedd Mercy. The Monarchs only graduated two players from last winter’s roster, but both were starters.

With early offense coming from McLaughlin, Williams, and Carter, PC kept pace with Gwynedd up to 7-7, but late in the first half the Quakers only added a pair of free throws while several buckets from rising sophomore guard Olivia Irons helped the Monarchs pull away to a 15-9 halftime lead.

Although one of the freshmen, Stewart, got onto the scoresheet for Penn Charter early in the second half, the Monarchs continued to widen the gap until they were up 29-13 as the middle of the period neared. The Quakers would not be able to come all the way back, but they reduced their deficit significantly in the remaining minutes.

A jumper from near the foul line by Carter and a three-pointer by Williams started the PC resurgence, and later the youngest member of the cast, Bess, put in a pair of field goals. Gwynedd still took a 37-26 lead into the final minute, but two free throws and a three-pointer from the left wing by Maley made it a six-point game at the end, 37-31.

Maley, Bess, and Williams each posted five points for the Quakers, and Carter led the cause with seven. Rising junior Georgia Cattie put up a game-high 12 points for the Monarchs, who received six points from Irons and five from senior Maura Conroy.

GA senior forward Alexa Naessens (right) looks for a passing option while shielding the ball from a North Penn opponent. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

The next night, the Patriots took the court without three familiar players who would lay their hands on a Germantown Academy diploma before the week was out. Starters Lilly Bolen and guard Abby Starzecky were both starters for the 2016-17 team, and Jess Sheridan filled a reserve role. Bolen, a forward, will be playing for Tufts University going forward.

Rising senior point guard and Fordham recruit Cat Polisano was not on hand for last Wednesday’s summer league debut, but the Pats did have their only other senior. That’s 6’1″ forward Alexa Naessens, who will be playing college hoops at Colgate. Highly-recruited guard Rachel Balzer is one of the rising juniors, along with guard Shannon Topley and forwards Taylor Putnam and Emily Morrissey. Another member of their class, Gabby Hearn, will be participating in the summer league this year.

GA point guard Maddie Vizza, a rising sophomore, was already a regular starter last year, and when Bolen dropped out of the line-up with an ACL tear, Jaye Haynes answered the call for GA. Late in the season there were a number of times when Balzer, a sophomore, was on the court at the same time as Vizza, Haynes and two of their freshman classmates, guard Maddie Burns and forward Elle Stauffer. Unfortunately, a wrist injury has Stauffer sidelined at present.

More members of last year’s ninth-grade class, Sarah DiLello, Molly Oeth, Caitlyn Priori, and Lindsay Putnam (sister of Taylor) were primarily JV players who saw some varsity minutes late in the season.

This summer four freshmen-to-be will join the Patriots in the Gwynedd League, and one of them, 6’2″ forward Becca Booth, is moving up from GA’s own middle school. The other three are new arrivals, including forward Jessica Moore, who already played non-league games with the Germantown Friends School varsity last winter as an eighth-grader.

The other two new students come out of the Girls Catholic Academies League. Sarah DiLello’s sister, Charlotte, hails from St. Philip Neri School in Lafayette Hill, and Angela Seravalli played for Ancillae Assumpta Academy in Wyncote.

GA’s first summer league opponent, North Penn High School, fielded a team with good depth and good size, as usual. GA had even more players on hand, though, at it took a while for everyone to get on the same page once some of the younger reserves began to filter into the game to spell the five starters, Balzer, Haynes, Naessens, Taylor Putnam, and Vizza. The Patriots, remember, were missing veteran guard Polisano.

With several early buckets from Putnam, GA went up 9-6 over the first five minutes or so, but North Penn began to effectively mix midrange jumpers and lay-ups to move ahead. For the remainder of the first half, the Maidens would outscore Germantown 13-3 (GA’s Haynes hit a three-pointer) to lead 19-12 at the intermission.

North Penn completed a three-point play at the foul line to acquire a double-digit lead at the start of the second period (22-12), but then GA’s Naessens asserted herself on the inside, making a variety of moves in the paint to score five field goals.

GA got the gap down to a single point several times before finally tying the contest. With 1:50 remaining, Haynes hit a “three” from the right wing to level the scoreboard at 33-all. North Penn turned the ball over with a walk, but then stole it back and scored in transition. Fouled with 47 seconds to go, Vizza made two free throws to send the game into overtime at 35-35.

Toward the end of the first minute of the two-minute OT, Burns bagged a pair of free throws when the Maidens committed their ninth-team foul. With 43 seconds left North Penn fouled again to put GA in the double bonus, and Vizza made the first of her two shots for a 38-35 Patriot lead. North Penn was then trapped near the sideline and turned the ball over out of bounds, and GA ran down the clock to win by three points.