Patriots junior Becca Booth (right) shields the ball from Olivia Joseph of the Shipley Gators. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Although Christmas was less than a week away, the girls of Germantown Academy were experiencing a different kind of “no Elle.”

For GA’s annual Make-A-Wish basketball tournament last weekend, the Patriots had to make do without one of their best players, dynamic senior forward Elle Stauffer. Officially accepted at Harvard University earlier in the month, Stauffer also began to be troubled by tendinitis in her Achille’s tendon. She would sit out both the She Got Game showcase in Suburban Washington D.C. in mid-December and the Make-A-Wish gathering, resting up for a return to action when GA plays at the Naples Shootout in Florida on December 28-30.

Lacking Stauffer for the Make-A-Wish tourney, GA relied on its formidable team depth and upon the leadership of Stauffer’s classmates and fellow team captains, guard Jaye Haynes and point guard Maddie Vizza.

Haynes, who will go on to play for La Salle University, chalked up a game-high 22 points on Friday as the Patriots dispatched Shipley School, 70-38. The following evening it was Vizza’s turn. The future Northeastern University floor marshal led all scorers with 21 points in a 60-41 victory over Archbishop Ryan High School.

GA head coach Sherri Retif stated, “Jaye Haynes and Maddie Vizza provided pure leadership. They’re so steady, they’re so smart and so focused out on the court.”

Maddie Vizza (left), GA’s senior point guard, keeps an eye on Shipley’s Sanaa Redmond. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

The two wins raised Germantown Academy’s record to 8-1 on the season. The lone loss came on December 15 at the She Got Game gathering. In one of their first games sans Stauffer, the Patriots were defeated by Florida’s St. Thomas Aquinas High School, 53-46.

For the first Make-A-Wish game last Friday, the regular GA starters (Haynes, Vizza, senior forward Caitlyn Priore and junior center Becca Booth) were joined by senior forward Maddie Burns, a Norwood Fontbonne Academy graduate who will play lacrosse for the University of Michigan. The DiLello sisters, senior Sarah and junior Charlotte (from St. Philip Neri School) saw a lot of action at guard coming off the bench, and on Saturday night, GA’s fifth starter was junior guard/forward Jessica Moore, who began her career at Germantown Friends School.

Coach Retif observed, “Burns always gives us great minutes, and the two DiLellos are very athletic and they bring a lot of energy when they come in. Jess Moore has solid skills and can hit the three-point shot. She played very well for us down in D.C.”

On Friday Haynes was the pivotal player in the GA offense with 11 points in each half. She got the scoreboard going with a transition lay-up off a feed from Vizza, and added a three-pointer and a midrange jumper soon after that. Five minutes in, the Patriots had a modest 11-6 edge, but they closed the first quarter with a 7-1 burst that included lay-ups by Priore and sophomore Lilly Funk and a trey by Vizza.

Two more triples by Vizza and a pair of shorter field goals by Haynes fueled the GA effort in the second round, but six points apiece from Lauryn Redcross and Sanaa Redmond helped Shipley keep pace. The gap remained at 11 points for halftime, with the tally now 31-20.

The Patriots truly broke free during a 25-7 third frame. Haynes scored inside and out, Vizza and Sarah DiLello struck from the three-point loop, Booth worked the paint for two field goals and a pair of free throws. A lay-up at the end by Burns sent Germantown into the final period with a 56-27 lead.

Sarah Dilello hit a lay-up and a three-pointer and her sister Charlotte put in a trey as the Patriots spread the score to 64-27 in the early minutes of the fourth quarter. From there, it was simply a matter of coasting home for GA.

Haynes’ output was backed up by 11 points apiece from Vizza and Booth, and Sarah DiLello finished with eight. The Gators were led by Redcross and Redmond, each with a dozen points.

Shipley and Archbishop Ryan have participated in GA’s Make-A-Wish tourney many times, but this season neither team is quite as strong as in the recent past.

“They both happened to have lost some very good players from last year,” GA’s Retif noted, “but their kids are always very competitive and they’re well-coached.”

The Patriots’ 6’2″ freshman post player, Kendall Bennett, was out sick on Friday, and saw limited action against Ryan on Saturday.

She had earned good evaluations down at She Got Game, but as Retif noted,

“She wasn’t herself this weekend. She’s a smart player and she’s been progressing very well.”

As the game against the Ragdolls got underway, Vizza hit shots from inside and outside the three-point line. The first four points belonged to Booth on a lay-up and two free throws, and later in the opening period the junior demonstrated her increasing versatility by bagging a 15-foot jumper.

The Patriots led 14-5 at the end of the first quarter, but then Ryan bagged some three-balls early in the second round and narrowed the gap to four points (17-13) with less than 90 seconds elapsed. After a time-out, it was GA’s captains who helped recapture the momentum, Haynes scoring in transition and Vizza sticking a jumper from near the foul line.

Later on, Sarah DiLello netted a “three” from the top of the key and Burns deposited two free throws to help the hosts close out the half with a 31-18 lead.

As was the case with Haynes the night before, Vizza steadily turned out points for the GA offense, recording 11 in the first half and 10 in the second. Moore kicked off the third quarter by scoring on a follow at the rim, and at the end Funk hit a buzzer-beater from just below the top of the key to make it 46-29.

Charlotte DiLello, Moore, and Vizza each nailed three-pointers in the fourth quarter, and with a little under three minutes remaining Booth scored from the paint as the Germantown lead peaked at 25 points (58-33). The Ragdolls shaved off a few points in the final minutes for a 19-point GA margin at the buzzer.

Booth backed up Vizza’s game-high output with 11 points, and the rest of the points came from seven other players with single-digit totals. Archbishop Ryan (2-5) was led by Mia Stock and Tori Nigro, with nine and eight points, respectively.

Taking control of each of last weekend’s contests early in the second half, GA was able to give playing time to younger team members such as Funk and fellow sophomore guards Alex Goodridge and Bri O’Hara.

“They’re some of the most athletic kids we have on the team,” Retif said. “Basketball may not be their first sport, but they have a lot of enthusiasm and they make practice exciting.”

Just after Christmas the Patriots will head south to the long-running tournament in Naples, an event GA has participated in a number of times over the years. Trips to out-of-town tournaments to face challenging opponents are an integral part of the Germantown Academy program.

“It’s a lot of fun, and a lot of bonding happens,” Retif remarked. “The team we have now is the most close-knit group I’ve ever coached. They had a great season last year, and they’ve set high standards for themselves again this season. They’re definitely self-motivated.”