Returning to the GA lineup following knee surgery, rising senior Caitlyn Priore goes up for a jump shot over Archbishop Wood defenders. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

The Germantown Academy girls had played basketball in the Gwynedd Mercy Academy summer league since its inception, but with the demise of that league this year, the Patriots looked elsewhere for warm weather competition in 2019.

They landed in another high school league based at the Warminster Sportsplex across the street from Archbishop Wood High School, and in their first games last Wednesday evening, they defeated Wood, 56-55, and Council Rock North, 73-26.

In the first contest, Archbishop Wood was missing several top players due to AAU team conflicts, while GA played without four guards and two forwards who are returning members of last winter’s varsity team.

The Patriots lost only one athlete through graduation; shooting guard Rachel Balzer will play for George Mason University.

Among the rising senior class, guard/forward Elle Stauffer made a verbal commitment to Harvard University during the scholastic season. Since then, two of her classmates have made up their minds. Guard Jaye Haynes will stay local at La Salle University, while point guard Maddie Vizza will head to Boston and Northeastern University.

There was one new face for the Patriots as the team made its summer debut last week. Kendall Bennett is a 6’3″ post player from Wyncote’s Cedarbrook Middle School who is entering the freshman class at GA.

In the summer of 2017, Mount St. Joseph Academy participated in the summer league in Warminster, but since then the Sportsplex was acquired by new owners, who have spiffed up the facility and installed new lighting. For the high school league, on most nights there are four games scheduled on each of three adjacent courts.

Undergoing another change at the head coaching position, Mount St. Joe was not able to sign up for a summer session this year. Both Penn Charter and Springside Chestnut Hill made appearances in the Gwynedd Mercy Academy leaguein the past, but neither team has joined a formal league this summer.

In GA’s first Sportsplex contest last week, Archbishop Wood immediately displayed its affinity for shooting the three-ball by popping in a pair for a 6-0 lead. That was about as far apart as the teams would get during the game, and most of the way they were closer than that. GA got right back in it as Stauffer put in a layup and then banked in a “three” of her own from the top of the key.

GA senior Jaye Haynes (left) and sophomore Bri O’Hara (right) double-team a Wood guard. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Wood opened up a gap once more, then offense from Haynes, Vizza and junior post player Becca Booth moved the Patriots ahead. With an assist from Vizza, Haynes scored in transition to give GA a 20-15 advantage near the middle of the first half (20 minutes, running clock).

After Wood went ahead by six points again, GA got back within one and then edged ahead 29-28 when Stauffer scored off a steal. With five seconds left, the Vikings bagged another three-pointer to lead 31-29 at the break.

Neither team could make a clean break in the second half, and with five-and-a-half minutes remaining, they were tied at 47-all. Patriots senior forward Caitlyn Priore, who was back in good form following a season off due to knee surgery, sandwiched two free throws and a short jumper around a trey by Wood, giving Germantown a 51-50 lead.

Another Wood triple was followed by a layup by Haynes, knotting the score at 53-53. With 39 seconds left, two free throws moved Wood in front, and the Vikings called timeout. On offense, GA worked the ball around the outside until Vizza saw enough daylight on the right wing to get off a successful three-point shot, putting the Pats back up by one with 24 seconds left.

The clock was a fraction under 12 ticks when Wood called another timeout, but in the final seconds a short three-point shot brushed the front of the net as it fell short of the rim. The Patriots prevailed, 56-55.

In contrast to this contest, GA took command of its game against Council Rock North very quickly. A three-pointer by Vizza was matched by a layup and free throw for the Indians, but after that a reverse layup by Priore moved the Patriots ahead for good and touched off a 9-0 Germantown run.

Midway through the half GA called a timeout with a 21-8 lead, then returned to the floor for another 9-0 surge, its third of the game up to that point.

By halftime, Vizza had three three-point buckets, and one trey was included in Stauffer’s 12-point performance. GA was up 39-11 at the interlude and continued to pull away in the second period.

Vizza would can two more three’s and would finish with 19 points, while Stauffer scored 16. Booth went four-for-four at the foul line as part of her 10-point effort, and Haynes deposited eight points.

The young Bennett, still playing for just the second time against high school opponents, settled in well, collecting rebounds and scoring six points, as did Priore. Sophomores Lilly Funk and Bri O’Hara contributed five and three points, respectively.