by Tom Utescher
For spectators watching the Germantown Academy girls at the school’s Make-A-Wish Basketball Tournament last weekend, it was a case of Déjà vu. As in 2016, the Patriots opened up on Friday with a win over a prep school that accepts day and boarding students, and then lost on Saturday evening to Archbishop Ryan of the Philadelphia Catholic League.
Receiving 16 points from sophomore point guard Maddie Vizza and 14 from senior forward Alexa Naessens, GA ground out a 57-52 victory over the Red Raiders of Pennington School, which arrived from South Jersey with a 4-1 record and featured a big front-court combo and an outside sharpshooter.
The 6’1″ Naessens left the game with an injury in the middle of the third quarter. She was unable to play the following night, and with 6’2″ freshman Becca Booth already out of action with an ankle sprain, this took away the size advantage that the Patriots would’ve enjoyed over Archbishop Ryan.
It also helped give more of an edge in experience to a Ryan ballclub whose scorers were all junior and seniors. The Ragdolls are used to being the smaller squad on the court anyway; their trademarks are their aggressiveness, athleticism, and disciplined team play. After Saturday’s contest was tied for the last time at 62-all, Ryan scored the last three points of the night to win 65-62 and improve to 5-0 on the season. GA, which had lost to the Ragdolls by 10 points in 2016, came away with a mark of 7-1.
“A lot of the time we had four sophomores on the court.” GA head coach Sherri Retif pointed out, “I’m proud of the way they played without their senior center, especially because some of them were in positions they’re not used to. Alexa’s been playing really well for us, so we really missed her.”
Vizza once again led the Patriots in scoring, with 13 points, while two other guards, junior Rachel Balzer and sophomore Jaye Haynes, put up 12 points apiece. Juniors Monee Moore and Shayne Glenn recorded 19 and 18 points, respectively, for the winners. Glenn is the sister of Shannon Glenn, a sophomore starter at Chestnut Hill College, and current Ryan senior Caela Russell (whose scored 13 points on Saturday) will head to CHC next year.
Now in its 21st year, Germantown Academy’s Make-A-Wish tournament benefits the well-known Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants ‘wishes’ to children with life-threatening medical conditions. Instead of there being a tournament bracket, the games are all pre-arranged. Perpetual MAW participants GA and Penn Charter want to avoid facing one another, since as members of the Inter-Ac League they always play a home/away series as part of their league schedule.
Against Pennington on Friday night, GA’s Vizza raced down for a lay-up right off the opening tip. She and Naessens hit three-pointers for the Patriots, but Pennington kept pace up to 9-9.
Vizza’s second trey of the game was followed with one by Balzer and then a lay-up by Haynes helped give GA more separation, now at 17-9. The Raiders would receive two three-point buckets from senior Carly Rice during the opening period, but Naessens scored twice from the paint and with four seconds left GA senior guard Cat Polisano popped in a “three” to make it 24-14 at the close of the quarter.
Just past the middle of the second period the tally was 29-19, and there was a 10-point spread once more at halftime, 36-26.
Naessens hit a triple for GA early in the third period, but over the first four-and-a-half minutes the rest of the points were Pennington’s as the Raiders rallied back within two points of the leaders, at 39-37. In a rebound battle under the Pennington basket, Naessens mixed it up with the Raiders’ powerful 6’2″ Leah Johnson. The GA senior, although no pipsqueak herself, was flung to the floor like a rag doll and was done for the night.
The resulting intentional foul produced two made free throws by GA sophomore guard Lindsay Putnam with 3:03 left in round three. Vizza followed up with a “three,” and after a free throw by the visitors the fourth quarter began with Germantown leading 44-38.
In transition, Balzer fed Haynes for a lay-up, then the two reversed roles to give the Patriots a 10-point edge. The hosts were soon in the foul bonus, and with Vizza going four-for-four at the line over the next few minutes, GA was still up by nine (52-43) with less than two minutes remaining.
Almost incessant tweets by the officials disrupted the flow of the game and had several players on both teams in foul trouble. Pennington began its final rally with two free throws by Rice and a lay-up and accompanying foul shot by Johnson, making it 52-48 with 45 seconds on the clock.
GA sophomore forward Elle Stauffer came back into the game after sitting out with four fouls, and she went to the line to make one of two free throws as GA got into the double bonus. Johnson got that one point back for the Raiders as Stauffer fouled out with less than half-a-minute remaining.
On a GA inbounds play from the defensive baseline, the visitors’ Rice stole the ball and hit a lay-up to make it a two-point affair (53-51), but then she fouled out and the Patriots Haynes put in a pair from the stripe with 20 ticks left, making it 55-51.
Seven seconds later, Johnson hit the first of two foul shots for the Raiders, but when she missed the second one Polisano rebounded the ball for the home team. She passed the ball, got it back, and then was fouled, sinking both of her free throws for a 57-52 tally with six-and-a-half seconds remaining. That’s how the game ended after Pennington missed a final lay-up attempt.
Complementing GA’s two double-digit scorers were Haynes and Polisano, each with nine points, Balzer, with five, and Stauffer and Putnam, with two points apiece. Rice and Johnson provided Pennington with 16 and 14 points, respectively.
The next night, Ryan started out with two lay-ups in the first 40 seconds from small, quick junior point guard Taliyah Rahman, who wears a number three jersey like her GA counterpart, Vizza. Balzer bagged a three-pointer from the left flank to get the home team going, and the score seesawed up to 9-9 at the middle of the opening period.
Ryan got up by three points in the final minute, then Patriot sophomore Caitlyn Priore hit her second lay-up of the night to trim the gap to one point at the quarter, 18-17.
The second quarter began with Germantown’s Polisano picking up her third personal foul. Soon after that Ryan’s Shayne Glenn started to score. She netted two three-pointers and a driving lay-up, and GA answered with treys from Balzer (two) and Vizza. Next, Vizza made two free throws with 1:13 left in the period to nudge the Pats ahead, 32-30.
The Ragdolls would lead at halftime, though, thanks to a “three” by Glenn and a free throw by CHC recruit Russell that made it 34-32. Glenn led all scorers at the break, with 11 points.
With Balzer, Haynes, Polisano, Stauffer, and Vizza all contributing on offense in the first six minutes of the third round, the Patriots were up 43-41. They enjoyed a significant advantage in the foul column, as well. Ryan’s point guard, Rahman, had picked up her fourth personal at the four-minute mark, and with two minutes left in the period, the Ragdolls had already had seven team fouls against them, as opposed to the Patriots’ one.
Over the next four minutes and 20 seconds of game time, though, Germantown committed nine team fouls. With 5:40 remaining in the fourth quarter, both teams were now in the double bonus for the duration. Coping with her personal predicament in the foul column, Ryan’s Rahman gave way a little on defense, but managed to finish out the game.
“I thought a lot of the calls could’ve gone either way,” GA’s Retif commented, “and that’s something you just have to deal with.”
When Russell netted two free throws from GA’s 10th foul, the Ragdolls pulled even at 56-all, and when they went ahead on Glenn’s fourth three-point field goal, GA called time-out with 4:48 on the clock, trailing 59-56. Half-a-minute later, the Pats led by one point thanks to a drive by Vizza and two free throws by Polisano. Later, the hosts led 62-59 as sophomore guard Maddie Burns converted off an offensive rebound with 3:10 on the clock.
Germantown Academy would not score again, though, and Ryan drew even at 62-all on a trey by Moore. Both teams tried to take some time off the clock, but first Ryan and then GA turned the ball over. The Ragdolls’ foul-plagued Rahman was now fouled herself, and she moved her team ahead for good by sinking two shots from the stripe with 46.5 seconds showing.
An errant GA pass sent the ball out of bounds, and Ryan called time-out with 31 seconds to go. The Ragdolls missed their next shot, but Glenn tied the ball up on the rebound and the possession arrow pointed Ryan’s way. Moore was fouled and she made one of two free throws to stick the 65-62 final tally on the board with a dozen seconds left.
GA came down the court, and a time-out was called an instant before a lay-up by Stauffer dropped into the basket. Play resumed with 2.5 ticks to go, and on a three-point toss by Vizza from the left wing the ball bounced away off the rim.
Stauffer contributed nine points for GA, which received six apiece from Polisano and Priore and four from Burns. Following the three double-digit scorers on Ryan’s side were Rahman and senior Danielle McCurdy, each with six points, and senior Annie Cashman, with three.
“They’re a very good team and tonight things fell their way,” Coach Retif said. “We’ll take some lessons out of it; we’re growing and we’re getting better.”