Penn sophomore Kendall Grasela (left), a Germantown Academy alum, handles the ball while guarded by Villanova’s Adrianna Hahn. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

A Philadelphia women’s Big Five barnburner at Villanova University last Wednesday night involved several former stars from Mount St. Joseph Academy and Germantown Academy.

Mount grad Alex Louin (’14), a six-foot senior guard and a third-year starter for Villanova, canned a three-point field goal with five seconds remaining to level the score at 77-77 against visiting University of Pennsylvania. Calling a time-out, the Quakers drew up a play that yielded the game-winning lay-up with one second to go.

Participating in Penn’s 79-77 victory was 2016 Germantown Academy grad Kendall Grasela, a 5’10” guard who has played in all of the Quakers’ games this season in a reserve role. Another GA alum, Hall-of-Famer Laura Kurz (’04), is now in her third season as an assistant coach for Villanova.

Louin logged seven rebounds and tied for team-high scoring honors with 19 points for Villanova, which still came away with a 14-4 overall record and a final 3-1 mark in Philly’s Big Five. The Lady Wildcats remained 4-3 within the Big East Conference, with conference contests against DePaul and Marquette coming up over the following four days.

Penn improved to 9-5 overall and 2-1 in the Big Five while remaining 2-1 in the Ivy League behind first-place Princeton.

Mount alum Louin had an immediate impact when she arrived at Villanova, and ended her first season as a member of the Big East All-Rookie Team. Now that she’s nearing the end of her college career, she was asked what advice she would give to recruits just starting out in an intercollegiate program.

In general terms, she said, “I would just say work as hard as you can and make the best of it. It goes by quickly.”

She would tell first-year players joining a college program to be both diligent and patient.

“Don’t come in with a lot of expectations,” she said. “When you’re a freshman there’s probably a bunch of upperclassmen on your team who’ve earned playing time throughout their years. Just be ready to help your team, even if it’s from the bench, and contribute whenever you get the opportunity.”

A double major in Economics and Finance, the MSJ grad said she won’t begin to make specific decisions about her future until her playing days with the Wildcats are over. She noted that playing professional basketball in Europe is an option she might consider, but she may also directly embark upon a corporate career.

Mount St. Joseph graduate Alex Louin, a Villanova senior, drives through a Penn double-team. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

For a long time, Louin has also thought about entering the coaching profession, and she says if that comes to pass, her experience as a Villanova player will have served her well.

“With the type of system that we run here, you definitely gain a lot of basketball knowledge,” she pointed out. “You’re always making decisions on the court, with different cuts, different reads, different offenses. It would not be that difficult a transition.”

In last Wednesday’s Big Five encounter, Louin’s team would spend much of the evening chasing Penn. The Wildcats’ largest lead came very early in the contest, when Louin earned an assist on a lay-up by former Episcopal Academy standout Megan Quinn that put ‘Nova up 7-4.

The Quakers quickly went ahead again, and they would be in the lead at the end of every quarter. Villanova would come back to tie on a number of occasions, then the visitors would forge ahead once more. Penn’s post players, 6’3″ senior Michelle Nwokedi and 6’4 freshman Eleah Parker, provided major match-up problems for the Wildcats, and would combine for 42 points overall.

Still, Villanova only trailed 54-51 at the three-quarter mark, and it was a one-point affair (75-74 for Penn) with half-a-minute remaining in the game. Earlier in the fourth quarter, Louin had helped the hosts stay in it by drawing three fouls and shooting seven-for-seven at the free throw line.

GA grad Grasela had played several minutes for Penn late in the third period and early in the fourth.

In the closing moments of the game, a lay-up by guard Lauren Whitlatch had Penn leading by three points with just 18 seconds to go, and ‘Nova was on the spot. The Wildcats set up on offense and when the ball came back up to Louin at the top of the key, she launched a three-pointer, tying things up at 77-77.

“When I was a freshman, I probably wouldn’t have taken that shot,” the senior revealed. “Having played in a lot of close games at this level, I had the confidence to shoot that.”

Following a Penn time-out with five seconds left, the Quakers ran a variation of a clear-out play for senior guard Anna Ross, who penetrated from the right side and hit her winning lay-up with just a second to go.

For a Villanova team heading into a tough stretch of conference competition, this game was a wake-up call, according to Louin.

“With the games we have coming up, we’ve got to pick it up,” she said. “We’ve got to get better at defense, especially post defense. We were kind of asleep in the first half, and we need to come out and be focused right away.”