By: John Knebels
Photos/Videos: Zamani Feelings, John Knebels & Patty Morgan
VILLANOVA, PA – If measured on a traditional letter scale, they received a D on free throws. As for any other element of basketball such as shooting, rebounding, passing, hustling and defense, they earned significantly higher grades.
Dominant from the opening tap, Notre Dame Academy overwhelmed visiting Germantown Academy, 67-35, in an Inter-Academic League basketball contest Thursday afternoon. Kindled by a tenacious defense, the Irish led by double digits for most of the contest and never trailed.
“We got a jump in the first quarter,” said Notre Dame coach Lauren Power. “It really did give us the confidence to kind of continue on and close out the game the way we wanted to.
“We preach defense. We spend a lot of time on it. We try to make adjustments when they’re exploiting some of our weaknesses. It’s our bread and butter. Our defense kind of turns into our offense.”
The trio of junior Maeve McErlane, junior Julia Dever, and senior Izzy Casale each created her own highlight reel.
En route to a career-high 32 points in addition to a handful of nifty assists, McErlane showed why a growing number of Division I programs maintain significant interest in the 5 foot, 10-inch, first-team all-league guard. She swished five three-pointers, drove the lane with grace, hit five of her six free throws, and created defensive annoyance whether playing man or zone.
Two days earlier, McErlane’s 17 points and sophomore Katie Halligan’s 16 paced Notre Dame’s hard-fought 54-48 victory over Penn Charter despite 14 points by Quaker sophomore Bella Toomey.
“Where do I start?” said Power. “Coming off the game before this, she played incredible defense against (Penn Charter’s) best player (sophomore Aleah Snead). Now fast forward to this game. She’s got a tough assignment again. She’s ready for it. She just was ‘on.’
“It’s a credit to her work ethic. She came an hour and a half before the game. There’s stuff that you can’t teach. She’s a gifted player. She makes everybody better around her. And she was just dynamite tonight.”
McErlane shared the glory.
“I was definitely in a zone, but my teammates created a lot of those shots for me,” said McErlane, who scored 11 of her points in the first quarter, three in the second, and a sizzling 18 more in the decisive second half. “Also, with the pick and roll, the picks were being set really well. A lot of those shots were because my teammates were cutting and moving and doing what they have to do.”
The Inter-Ac’s only unbeaten team at 3-0, the Irish forged a 20-9 edge after the first quarter and led by 28-21 at halftime. If not for the aforementioned poor foul shooting – an unseemly 8 for 18 – the Irish would have been in total command by intermission.
“We pretended it was zero to zero,” said Dever. “We kept the energy up.”
Dever set the tone in the opening minutes, turning a pair of steals into three points (one basket and one free throw) and a 5-0 lead. She finished the quarter with five points and three steals; she added five more points and one steal in the second stanza, and later hit a three to finish with 13 points and five thefts.
Whenever the Patriots (1-2) gained even the slightest momentum behind senior Jess Moore (15 points, eight rebounds) and sophomore Kendall Bennett (six points, nine rebounds), Dever did something to squash GA’s enthusiasm.
“I’ve always been a defensive threat, and I’ve been trying to work on my offensive side,” said Dever. “My defense definitely creates my offense. I get energy off of my steals.”
Indeed, Dever and teammate Casale appeared to be auditioning for an Energizer Bunny commercial. Constant harassment of GA’s backcourt led to numerous fast-break opportunities.
Emulating a previous effort against Penn Charter, Casale stopped a sure basket by racing the length of the floor to swat away a would-be shot at the last second. Her hustle represented Notre Dame’s effort from start to finish.
“I always try to do the little things,” said Casale. “Like diving for the ball and getting deflections and things, cause it creates steals for my teammates.”
Dever and Casale’s relentlessness usually ignites the rest of the squad.
“I love the way they play,” said Power. “They’re fun to coach because they come and bring that energy. I don’t have to coach energy. I’m coaching the game and they’re just sponges. They eat it up.
“They’re students of the game. They’re like our little spark plugs, and they just work their tails off.”
While enjoying their terrific start, the Irish realize that they still have to again face toughies Penn Charter, Germantown Academy, and Episcopal before the season concludes at the end of February.
For now, Notre Dame will savor the moment.
“We knew this week would be tough,” said Casale. “Beating GA was a really big goal of ours and we’re really excited. We have Senior Day on Saturday (against Springside Chestnut Hill). It’s just a really big and fun week.”
In the rest of the Inter-Ac . . .
Before stopping Springside Chestnut Hill, 63-26, Penn Charter was still stinging from the 54-48 loss to Notre Dame.
“I need to do a better job preparing my team for our opponents really getting up to play us,” said Penn Charter coach Joe Maguire. “I need to better prepare the girls for their new roles this season and going forward. With that, we need to treat every possession with an importance and level of intensity throughout the game.”
Fresh off a close 36-30 defeat to Episcopal Academy, Baldwin School upended Springside Chestnut Hill, 51-32.
“We started off slow, but towards the end of the third quarter and the entire fourth quarter, we turned it around and were able to pull away and extend our lead,” said Baldwin coach John Bernhardt. “(Senior) Anajah Brown (27 points) was dynamite in the paint, and (junior) Gabi Pritzker really stepped up with a big 10 points while also shooting four for four from the free throw line in the fourth quarter.”
Brown said the Bears focused on basics.
“I think what we did well was just play Baldwin basketball,” said Brown. “We used our size to our advantage and dominated inside and it allowed us to hit some shots on the perimeter. We just came out ready to play.”
Similar to all coaches in every sport, Bernhardt continues to learn how to navigate a season like no other.
“I definitely notice having to make more adjustments on the fly,” he said. “Also, with this being a shortened season and only playing each team once except for Episcopal, there’s no room for error or the thought that, ‘Okay. We still have another chance to play them again and make some scouting report adjustments and changes on offense and defense.’”
With a record of 1-2, Episcopal Academy isn’t far from being 3-0. Along with a 36-30 win over Baldwin, the Churchwomen dropped a 53-50 decision to Notre Dame and lost 53-47 to Germantown Academy.
For Episcopal, junior Riley Cassidy scored 13 points and senior Allie Sillo’s 12 came via four three pointers. Sophomore Gaeli Keffer-Scharpf amassed five points, seven rebounds and four steals; junior Amanda Purcell added six points.
“GA made the plays at the end of fourth quarter that can make the difference in a tight game – free throws and offensive rebounds,” said Episcopal coach Chuck Simmonds. “I was proud of the way our team battled, coming back from an early deficit. We had good production from the bench, which is definitely making a difference this season.”
Germantown Academy coach Sherri Retif was encouraged by the Patriots’ 53-47 win versus stubborn Episcopal, which trailed by only two points entering the fourth quarter.
Senior Jess Moore (17 points), sophomore Kendall Bennett (12 points, nine rebounds), and freshman Sam Wade (11 points, five boards) paced the Pats.
"Midway through the third, (sophomore) Josie Munson (five rebounds) and (freshman) Jenna Aponik provided explosive energy to the defense and transition game,” said Retif. “We picked up the tempo, grabbed some steals, and got some stops and transition buckets which helped open the lead to four.”
Dealing with foul trouble, Moore re-entered and hit some big shots down the stretch.
“Kendall Bennett dominated the inside, took the bumps, and held on to some big rebounds,” said Retif. “The ice was Kendall's full court outlet to Moore for a three-point conversion."
Before losing to Penn Charter and Baldwin, Springside Chestnut Hill notched a win in its season opener, 41-29 over Agnes Irwin, which has only played once thus far.
“It was a tremendous win,” said SCH coach Florence Hagains. “We came out sluggish but warmed up in second half.”
Sophomore Ava Chavez’s19 points and sophomore Tatyana Hall’s11 carried the Blue Devils. Freshman Zakkiyyah Frazier controlled the board on both ends.
“Having just seven players, it was a collective contribution,” said Hagains. “Against Penn Charter, we didn’t show up to play. Because we’re a young team, intimidation was a factor. We’re young, but very determined."
Standings (Through February 12)
3-0 Notre Dame Academy
2-1 Penn Charter
1-1 Baldwin School
1-2 Germantown Academy
1-2 Episcopal Academy
1-2 Springside Chestnut Hill
0-1 Agnes Irwin
Penn Charter at Agnes Irwin
Germantown Academy at Baldwin
Springside Chestnut Hill at Notre Dame
(Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)