Mount St. Joseph grad Caitlyn Cunningham and her Jefferson University teammates on Team Black advanced to the championship game in the NCAA Summer League. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

As the NCAA women’s summer basketball league moved through the playoff quarterfinal and semifinal rounds last week, the seeding of the top teams held up as number one Team Black and number two Team Maroon advanced into this week’s championship game.

These two teams are each entirely staffed by players from two rival college teams in the Division II Central Atlantic College Conference; Black is the summer alias of Jefferson University, and Maroon’s roster is made up of athletes from the University of the Sciences. Chestnut Hill College is also a member of the CACC.

Team Black, which includes rising sophomore guard Caitlyn Cunningham (a Mount St. Joseph Academy alum), dispatched 10th-seeded Lime Green, 78-47, in one of Tuesday evening’s quarterfinal contests, then won a closer semifinal bout on Thursday over number five Team Golden Sun, 73-61.

In its quarterfinal game, Maroon rolled over eighth-ranked Team Sky Blue, 76-33, thus ending the summer season for a group of Division III Arcadia University teammates that features 2018 Springside Chestnut Hill Academy graduate Joelle Bridges. Maroon then reached the finals with a 51-39 win against the three seed, Team Red.

Back in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round, Red had beaten number six Team Purple, 60-50, and Golden Sun had topped Team Royal Blue, the fourth seed, 71-56. Thus the season concluded for Royal’s Hannah Fox, who was Penn Charter’s all-time leading scorer and who is midway through her career at two-time defending Division III national champion Amherst College.

In the NCAA League’s regular season, Black finished 9-0 and Maroon went 8-1, suffering its lone loss at the hands of the Jefferson franchise, 77-72. That victory was something of a morale booster for Black, which had lost to USciences three times by single-digit margins during the 2017-18 collegiate campaign (twice in the regular season, and the third time in the CACC championship game).

Last Tuesday’s first pair of quarterfinal games followed different scenarios on adjacent courts. Team Black burst out to a 28-7 lead in the first quarter and cruised to a 78-47 victory over Lime Green, which had been seeded 10th (last) for the playoffs but pulled off an upset in the tournament play-in round.

The Jefferson U. crew was led by forward Beverly Kum with 14 points and erstwhile Mountie Cunningham chipped in with 11, hitting three three-point field goals.

There was a closer contest next door between third-seeded Team Red and number six Team Purple, but in the end Red validated its seeding by prevailing 60-50. Each team was led by a Division I forward; former St. Basilian Natalie Kucowski (Lafayette College) posted 20 points for the victors, while the game high of 21 belonged to incoming St. Joseph’s freshman Katie Mayock, who played in the Inter-Ac League for one season with the Academy of Notre Dame and then graduated from Conestoga High School.

Ignoring distractions, former Penn Charter standout Hannah Fox focuses on her shot in a summer league quarterfinal. Despite her 21-point effort, Team Royal Blue saw its season come to an end. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

In one of the two late games on Tuesday, Sky Blue surprised its Division II Maroon rivals by scoring the first four points of the contest and hanging tough for the rest of the first quarter.

The Marooners looked more like themselves from there on out, enjoying a double-digit lead by halftime and going on to win, 77-33. The game high of 15 points was marked down for Shipley School product Colleen Walsh, who actually graduated from USciences this spring.

Players who’ve completed their college playing days are still eligible to compete in the summer league, and one of Team Golden Sun’s player/coaches, Shira Newman, can still run with the kids although she graduated from Millersburg University in 2013. She’s also an assistant varsity coach at her scholastic alma mater, Upper Dublin High School, the reigning state champion in the PIAA’s large school division.

Fifth-seeded Golden Sun’s roster lists a couple of current NCAA Division I players, and in the end they were a little too much to handle for Team Royal Blue, the fourth seed.

During the regular season, Sun had been forced to forfeit to Royal Blue and PC alum Fox due to a lack of players. In their recent quarterfinal clash a late three-pointer by Fox had her team ahead at halftime, 31-28.

The offensive output dried up for Royal in the early minutes of the third quarter, though. In all, Sun outscored its rival 16-5 during the third round, and then the lead rose into double digits down the stretch. Fox finished with five treys and a team-high 21 points. Sun’s Myonie Williamson (Radnor H.S./Cabrini) put up the game high of 23.

In the semifinal between Black and Golden Sun, the Jefferson players’ familiarity with one another and their common system was countered by the quickness and athleticism of Sun, which forced a lot of turnovers out of Team Black in the first half.

The teams were tied 14-14 after the opening quarter, and were locked up at 31-all in the final minute of the first half. With six seconds left, Sun secured the advantage for halftime on a drive by Nia Holland, a Shipley School grad who will be a senior at Lafayette.

After Black began the second half with a 7-2 spurt, Sun called time-out and then drew even at 41-41. Three pointers by forward Erin Maher and guard Alynna Williams (a Plymouth Whitemarsh grad), along with a 15-footer by Cunningham, helped Black go up 49-41, but Golden Sun soon was back within one point, 49-48, with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Now, taking better care of the basketball than earlier in the game, Team Black finally created some separation and made it hold up. Two trips to the foul line that yielded three points for guard Jess Kaminski were sandwiched around a three-point field goal from the left corner by Cunningham. With 10 ticks left, Kum converted off the rebound of her own shot, and when she also made good on a free throw awarded on the play, Black went into the fourth round with a 58-48 advantage.

Sun scored first on a lay-up, but eight straight points by the Jefferson group spread the score to 66-50, and Sun never got within single digits of the leaders the rest of the way. Maher, who stuck five three’s, recorded the game high of 17 points. Williams scored 13 points, Kaminski had 12, and Cunningham finished with five.

In the second semifinal, Maroon raced away to a 19-2 lead, and it was 19-6 at the quarter. Raining three-pointers down on Team Red, the Marooners were up 33-15 at halftime and 46-28 at the three-quarter mark.

Red was making one final push as the clock dipped under three minutes remaining in the fourth frame. They got within 11 points at 48-37, then Jordan Vitelli steadied Team Maroon with a three ball. After that Red managed only a lone field goal by St. Basil grad Karen Lapkiewicz (Kutztown U.), falling 51-39.

For the winners, Jess Huber and Gwynedd Mercy alumna Brigit Coleman each made three three-pointers, coming away with totals of 11 and nine points, respectively.

In their off-season roles as Team Black and Team Maroon, the CACC hoopsters from Jefferson and USciences would be meeting one last time in the summer season.