by Tom Utescher

Last week, Germantown Academy made significant strides toward retaining the Inter-Ac League title in girls’ basketball. In a series of road games in a five-day span, the league-leading Patriots completed home/away sweeps of the three teams closest to them in the Inter-Ac standings.

On Tuesday they overcame number three Academy of Notre Dame in Villanova, 35-30. On Thursday there was a much-anticipated rematch between GA and a Penn Charter team that’s been having an excellent season. Somewhat surprisingly, the Patriots were able to build a lead of as many as 29 points in the second half before the final score was locked in at 68-50.

On Saturday, it was back out to the Main Line to check off a 51-22 victory over fourth-ranked Episcopal Academy. The Patriots had shared the league championship with EA in 2017, then they turned in 12-0 records in Inter-Ac competition the next two seasons.

This winter, the Patriots have had to play many of their toughest games (including both Penn Charter contests) without senior Elle Stauffer. Although there a number of taller players on the roster, the high-soaring Stauffer would customarily take center jumps for the Pats. Her dynamic presence and passion for the game have always made her a pleasure to watch.

Cascading injuries that started with tendinitis and recently led to knee surgery have sidelined the future Harvard University athlete, and for the GA players on active duty, affection for their injured teammate serves as just one more motivating factor.

To limit GA’s possessions during Tuesday’s contest in Villanova, Notre Dame literally held the ball. It was a strategy that worked well, holding down the score and keeping the Irish in the game until the final minutes. The Patriots only led 29-27 at the three-quarter mark before spreading the score a little more for a five-point victory.

Senior Jaye Haynes (bound for La Salle) had 13 points and six rebounds and classmate Maddie Vizza (Northeastern) scored nine points. Leading the victors on the boards with seven rebounds apiece were senior Caitlyn Priore (Gettysburg) and junior Becca Booth, who scored four and two points, respectively.

“We have a long rivalry with Notre Dame,” longtime GA head coach Sherri Retif remarked, “and anytime we play in their gym, we don’t get out of there easily.”

On the same afternoon, Penn Charter was playing a league contest at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. It was essentially “game over” after a 30-2 first quarter favoring the Quakers. The 65-18 final score included input from 12 different PC scorers, led by senior Carmen Williams, with 12 points, freshman Aleah Snead, with 11, and senior Kait Carter, with 10. SCH received six points apiece from sophomore Caroline Chiliberti and freshman Ava Chavez.

Just before embarking upon last week’s five-day Inter-Ac League trifecta, Germantown Academy faced a formidable Philadelphia Catholic League opponent in Neumann Goretti High School. In the January 26 Sunday showcase named for former GA star Maggie Lucas, Neumann Goretti edged GA, 66-64, but for the individual game high, GA’s Haynes nudged out the Saints’ Rutgers-bound guard, Diamond Johnson. Johnson rang up 37 points, but Haynes had 39.

The GA senior recounted, “There was a lot of energy coming into that game. Diamond’s a great player and everyone wanted to see her perform, so I thought that I might as well just leave everything out on the court.”

Returning to league play, the Patriots got past third-ranked Notre Dame on Tuesday, then focused on Thursday’s meeting with their top challenger, Penn Charter.

At the end of GA’s practice on Wednesday, Retif related, “The seniors talked to the younger players and told them what it meant. To be undefeated Inter-Ac champions for three straight years is very impressive.”

Even with Stauffer out of action and 5’11” senior forward Molly Oeth unavailable, the Patriots still had a height advantage over PC, with two 6’2″ post players and three others in the 5’11” to six-foot range.

“We knew we wanted to use our height, box out, and push the ball up the court,” Retif said.
Haynes added, “We wanted to start out strong like in the last game. Come out hot and get quick baskets, and play really hard defense.”

Penn Charter, of course, wanted the rematch to begin very differently than the initial encounter on January 7. In some ways, it did, but at the end of the first half the scores were almost identical; 36-17 in early January, and 36-18 last week.

Haynes had indeed begun with a hot hand in the first game, scoring nine points at GA stepped out to an 18-8 lead over the first eight minutes. Last Thursday there was also a 10-point gap at the quarter (23-13), but the higher overall point total came from seven different scorers on the GA side, while Charter received seven from Snead, the talented freshman.

The teams were tied 4-4 after two minutes, then the Patriots began to put up more than two points at a time. Haynes hit a short jumper and Booth deposited two free throws. Williams responded for Penn Charter with a put-back, then GA’s Moore scored in the same manner and next time down Vizza hit a lay-up following an offensive rebound by senior Maddie Burns.

Burns, who has signed to play lacrosse at the University of Michigan, scored three points of her own on four free throws, and in a relatively quiet, efficient manner, the visitors had taken a 15-6 lead over the course of five minutes.

All of Snead’s seven points in the period came after this, and she helped stabilize PC’s position so the gap did not widen.

With Germantown entering the second frame with a 10-point advantage, the scoring pace slowed for both sides. The Patriots scored 13 more points before halftime, while Charter managed just five.

At one end the Quakers missed lay-ups and GA often collected the rebounds, and at the other end of the court the Patriots also did well on the boards and afforded themselves second chances. Moore, Haynes, and freshman center Kendall Bennett combined for four baskets on rebounds and put-backs.

From the outside, Vizza popped in a pair of three-point baskets, and at halftime she led all scorers with 10 points. Bennett had already notched six of her eight total points, and like PC’s Snead, was playing with composure in an important game.

“Kendall’s got great hands and she can get those put-backs for us,” Retif said. “With Elle out, Jess Moore has definitely stepped up for us. She’s very deliberate with the ball and very seldom throws it away.”

The count was 36-18 at the intermission, but PC was still one point better off than in GA Game 1.0.

After halftime in that earlier clash, a reenergized Penn Charter press flummoxed the Patriots, and the Quakers had cut the lead down to 10 points with three minutes still remaining in the third quarter. The third period would follow a different scenario this time around.

GA’s starting post player, Booth, would score eight of her 10 points in the second half. To start it off, she sandwiched a short turn-around shot and a routine lay-up around a three-pointer lobbed by Moore from near the top of the key. Charter’s Carter drove to register the Quakers’ first points of the third quarter, but then Booth banked in another turn-around to make it 45-20. Still less than three minutes into round three, Vizza picked up her second personal foul. She wouldn’t acquire another, though.

While Williams netted a pair of midrange jumpers for Penn Charter and Quakers freshman Kelsey Bess scored from the paint and the three-point line, GA answered with offense from Vizza, Priore, and senior Sarah DiLello (who will play softball at Ursinus). When Haynes scored the final field goal of the third frame on an inbounds play, the tally was 55-29. Instead of cutting into the GA lead as in the January 7 game, PC had fallen farther behind.

Just over 90 seconds into found four, the Germantown lead reached its zenith at 59-30 when Bennett put in a lay-up off of a pass from DiLello.

Starting with a three-pointer from the left flank by Bess, Penn Charter would outscore its guest 20-9 the rest of the way. At last, home fans were seeing the real Penn Charter, the team that had lost to only one other opponent all season and which, less than two weeks earlier, had taken down an Archbishop Wood squad that had beaten GA and every other Pennsylvania opponent it had faced.

Also, at this late stage, the Quakers’ defensive pressure was having an effect. For most of the game, though, GA had handled pressure on its transition pretty well.

“Penn Charter switched up their press – they went from a two-two-one to a diamond,” Retif noted. “We put in a new press breaker just for today, and we didn’t really have enough time to work all the kinks out. It got a little sloppy at one point, but it worked well enough for us to win.”

In addition to the always surehanded Vizza and other true guards, the Pats were getting some help in this area from two 5’11” players.

“Maddie Burns was a guard in grade school, and she and Caitlyn Priore have both improved their ballhandling,” Retif noted. “Caitlyn could really be a back-up “one” for us; her court vision is outstanding.”

Over the last six minutes, GA and Charter both continued to play with intensity, giving an impression of the game’s being closer than it was. In actuality, the Patriots’ lead never slipped below 18 points.

A list of eight Germantown Academy scorers was led by Vizza (15 points), Haynes (14), and Booth (10), while Bennett scored eight points and Moore and Priore had seven apiece. Four from DiLello and three from Burns rounded it out. Reaching double figures for Penn Charter were Bess, with 15 points, Carter and Snead with 11 points each, and Williams, with 10. Freshman Bella Toomey furnished the other three points for PC.

Out in Newtown Square on Saturday, GA and Episcopal tipped off at high noon. Neither team scored for two minutes, then Vizza led off for GA with a three-pointer from the top of the key. Booth, who has refined her back-to-the-basket spin moves, popped in a shot from the paint and added a free throw. A lay-up by Haynes made it 8-0 before EA sophomore Amanda Purcell drove in to hit a lay-up to get her team on the board.

The home team didn’t score again in the opening quarter, which ended at 12-2, and the second round began with a pair of transition lay-ups and a free throw by Haynes. EA called time-out with 5:42 remaining in the first half and the score now 17-2. The tally rose to 19-4, then junior Caroline McCreary came in off the EA bench to score three successive lay-ups and also put in a free throw, closing up the score to 19-11.

GA had started to fling up three-point shots that weren’t hitting the mark. Acting head coach Andre Strothers pointed out to his players that they had been penetrating to the basket very successfully before this, and they didn’t need to fire from the outside early on in a possession.

A longtime assistant coach, Strothers has taken the reins of the team a number of times this season, since Retif, the longtime head coach, still takes occasional days off after suffering a concussion in December.

After Episcopal approached within eight points, Booth scored from the paint for the Patriots, and Haynes hit a “three” in the final seconds of the half for a 24-11 lead at the break.

In the second half it soon became a matter of simply watching the clock wind down as GA outscored the Churchwomen 27-11 over the last two quarters. In addition to a game-high 21 points from Haynes and 13 from Vizza, the winners received eight from Moore (all second half), five from Booth, and four from Bennett. Purcell and McCreary each finished with seven points for Episcopal.