After stealing the ball in the paint, Patriot sophomore Elle Stauffer moves up the floor. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Despite the departure of two starters and a third senior from the 2016-17 girls’ basketball roster, Germantown Academy had a lot of talented players coming back. Almost too many, in fact, making for a situation that would have a number of athletes who would start for many other schools serving in reserve roles.

In a sense, things sorted themselves out for the Patriots, as a handful of varsity and JV players from last season decided to pursue different activities. This still leaves GA with a strong, deep squad.

Alexa Naessens, a 6’1″ senior forward, will be playing at Colgate University next year, and guard Cat Polisano is also going the Division I route. Back in action after an ACL injury sidelined her last season, Polisano has picked Fordham University.

The aforementioned attrition from the team almost left sharpshooting guard Rachel Balzer (verbally committed to George Mason) as the lone junior on the roster, but classmate Julia Johnson has now joined her on the varsity squad.

Germantown has back last year’s formidable freshman class. When injuries hit the Patriots early and then late in the 2016-17 season, there were times when four ninth graders were on the court together for extended periods.

As serious competition began last weekend, point guard Maddie Vizza and forwards Jaye Haynes and Elle Stauffer were all in starting roles. Fellow sophomores Maddie Burns (a Norwood Fontbonne Academy grad), Caitlyn Priore and Lindsay Putnam are all veterans from last year, as well. Sarah DiLello, a JV standout as a freshman last season, has moved up to join them.

DiLello’s sister Charlotte, fresh out of St. Philip Neri School, is one of three ninth-graders on the squad. A 6’2″ forward, Becca Booth, was already at GA, while Jessica Moore came over from Germantown Friends School after playing for the Tigers in non-league contests last winter. Moore’s brother Julian graduated from GA and is now entering his final season playing for Penn State.

In last Friday’s season opener at the Friends Schools/Inter-Ac Challenge event at Shipley School, the Patriots got more of a challenge than they bargained for in a match-up with Abington Friends School. The Friends Schools League, like the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association, has begun to allow eighth-graders to play on varsity teams, and Abington is benefitting from the addition of some talented middle school athletes.

GA could not produce a field goal for the first four-and-a-half minutes, and the startled Patriots fell behind by as many as a dozen points (5-17) before the first quarter ended with the Kangaroos still leading, 18-7.

GA sophomore Maddie Burns (right) snuffs a shot by Minjae Hayes of Abington Friends. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Jumpshooting by Vizza, Balzer and Haynes propelled the Pats to an 18-18 tie a few minutes into the second quarter, then GA took its first lead when Polisano fed Haynes for a breakaway bucket.

Abington did not fold in the face of the rally, though, and despite four three-pointers in the period by Vizza and a buzzer-beating lay-up by Stauffer at the end, the ‘Roos were up a point at the break, 29-28.

Haynes scored eight points in the third quarter, the last two coming on a lay-up off a steal that had her team ahead 43-35, but Abington made a run in the last two minutes to close within one point, 43-42, for the start of the fourth round.

With under four minutes left in regulation, the Patriots moved up out of a 50-50 tie with a three-pointer by Balzer. Stauffer, who was in constant, aggressive motion on defense and on the boards, stole the ball and went coast-to-coast for a lay-up and a five-point GA lead, but Abington came right back to tie the tally at 55-55.

Stauffer, Naessens and Polisano each made one of two free throws to put the Pats up 58-55, but in the final seconds of the fourth quarter GA was not able to prevent AFS eighth-grader Minjae Hayes from sticking an extra-long “three” and sending the game into overtime.

In the four minute OT, Balzer came through with a three-pointer, a running lay-up, and a free throw, helping the Pats outpoint the Kangaroos 11-4. Abington led one last time at 60-59, then Germantown scored the next 10 points.

Stauffer signed off with 18 points and 14 rebounds and Haynes had 16 points and 12 boards, while all of Vizza’s 15 points came on three-point shots. Balzer bagged a dozen points, with Polisano adding five and Naessens scoring three.

Hayes had 20 points and sophomore Paige Mott scored 22 to lead AFS.

UPDATE: On Saturday, GA improved to 2-0 on the season with an 81-43 victory over Friends Central as Balzer rang up 21 points.