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Unselfish Germantown Academy shoots way past Pennington in season opener

WHITEMARSH >> Lilly Bolen stood at the top of the arc, ball hoisted above her head.

The Germantown Academy senior faked pass then, using her right hand started to drive the lane, only to kick the ball to Laruen Balzer in the corner. Wide open, Balzer canned the triple as the Patriots continued to build on their second quarter lead.

It was a play that summed up GA’s 60-23 win over visiting Pennington School in their season opener on Thursday. As an independent school, GA was able to start its season a week before the PIAA begins competition on Dec. 9 and did so with a quality showing while shorthanded.

“This team has some of the best teamwork that I’ve had on a team,” guard Lauren Balzer said. “They share the ball, move the ball and pass the ball. They are the most unselfish team I’ve been on, it’s unbelievable how much we trust each other.”

The Patriots were already trying to replace in last year’s senior leaders Kendall Grasela, Erin Lindahl and Lauren Oeth, all playing college hoops. To make the task harder, junior Cat Polisano suffered a serious knee injury that will keep the Fordham commit out all season.

Thursday, GA also had center Alexa Naessens sideline with an illness, but luckily for them, she’ll be back soon. In that void, this year’s upperclassmen in Abby Starzecky and Lilly Bolen had stepped in to take the reins.

Gene Walsh — Digital First Media Germantown Academy’s Lilly Bolen drives to the net as Pennington’s Leah Johnson defends December 1, 2016, 2016.

Germantown Academy’s Lilly Bolen drives to the net as Pennington’s Leah Johnson defends during their game on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)

While sophomore Balzer was the catalyst, scoring a team-high 17 points and sinking five 3-pointers, she also chipped in three rebounds, six assists and four steals. Bole likewiase stuffed the stat sheet with nine points, six rebounds anne assists.

Stazecky dropped in four points, three boards and two dimes but showed her leadership by playing all over the floor on both ends.

“The leadership by Starzecky and Bolen was exceptional,” GA coach Sherri Retif said. “Starzecky came down on offense and played the 1 (point guard) then went back on defense to play the 5 (center.) Our starting center is out today sick, out starting point guard is out with a knee injury and we graduated three. We’re very young and it takes time chemistry.”

GA led 10-5 after one, then blew the game open in the second quarter, outscoring the Red Raiders 22-5 in the stanza. Bolen assisted four buckets in the team’s 14-3 run to open the second quarter and she and Balzer really connected well on two 3-pointers and a foul line jumper.

The Patriots are pretty young too. Balzer as noted, is a sophomore, freshmen Maddie Vizza and Elle Stauffer both played very well, combining for 15 points. Sophomore Shannon Topley also poured in eight points with that quarter sharing the team’s 10 made 3-pointers.

“Especially having (Assistant coach) Maggie (Lucas), before every practice we do dribbling and shooting with her,” Balzer said. “She’s a great help, a great teacher and coach, so it really helps.”

Having a GA legend around certainly does help, but none of the currently players have been bold enough to challenge Lucas, who now plays for the Indiana Fever, to a shoot-off.

“Oh, no. No, no, no,” Balzer said with a laugh. “She’d just destroy us.”

While she had the hot had, Balzer didn’t try to force any shots and she said there’s a belief amongst all the players that lets them give up a decent look for a wide-open, great look. The Patriots will again play a tough schedule both in the Inter-Ac and outside, meeting SOL teams, state power Neumann-Goretti and just this weekend will travel to a high-level showcase in Fairfax, Virginia.

When Polisano got hurt, Retif saw her three seniors, which includes reserve Jess Sheridan, take the rest of the team under their wing and start guiding them. They wanted their younger teammates to know it was going to work out, and to do that, they just had to believe in each other.

“They trust each other,” Retif said. “And it’s so early in the season, we just have to keep building on it because we have a long way to go.”

After returning from Virginia, the Patriots will play in Souderton’s season opening tournament on Dec. 9-10, which they won the girls’ title in last season.

“As the season goes on, our chemistry will continue to build and we’lll start passing the ball even better,” Balzer said. “I can trust them, I know they’ll have my back and if I pass to them, they’ll make it. As time goes on, we’ll only get more comfortable with them,”

PENNINGTON 5 5 6 7 – 23
GERMANTOWN ACADEMY 10 22 18 10 – 60
Pennnington: – Brunner 2 4-6 8, Johnson 2 2-9 6, Lucchesi 1 0-0 3, Johnson 3 1-2 4. Totals: 6 7-16 23
Germantown Academy: Elle Stauffer 4 0-1 9, Shanon Topley 3 0-0 8, Abby Starzecky 2 0-0 4, Rachel Balzer 6 0-0 17, Lilly Bolen 3 3-6 9, Maddie Vizza 2 0-0 6, Maddie Burns 1 1-2 3, Jaye Haynes 2 0-0 4. Nonscoring: Jess Sheridan, Emily Morrissey, Caitlyn Priari. Totals: 21 4-9 60
3-pointers: P – Lucchessi; GA – Balzer 5, Vizza 2, Topley 2, Stauffer

Top Photo: Pennington’’s Mary Griswold (left) and Germantown Academy’’s Abby Starzecky scramble for loose ball during their game on Thursday, December 1, 2016, 2016. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)

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