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Morano lifts Villa Joseph Marie girls basketball to win over Springside Chestnut Hill (PHOTO GALLERY)

Villa Jo Marie point guard Marisa Morano (10) is fouled by Nya Searight (35) in Upper Dublin girls basketball consolation matchup.           (John Gleeson – 21st-Century Media)

FORT WASHINGTON – Holiday basketball tournaments can offer a preview of a team’s potential in the newly-started season. Based on their performance in the recent Upper Dublin tourney, the hoopsters at Villa Joeph Marie are prepped for a strong showing in the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies (AACA) League.

Coach Maria Morano knew that the Jems entered the 2016-17 campaign with a relatively untested squad. Having lost two seniors to graduation and sophomore starter Emily Keehfuss to an ACL injury, coach Morano faced a building year.

“I think we’re pretty good but not great. We’re going to have to fight for every game. They’re solid and getting better each and every game,” the coach said. “I don’t have a ton of kids with varsity minutes but we’re coming together nicely. The thing that defines this team is that they never give up.”

One player the coach knew she could count on was her daughter and point guard, Marisa. A four-year varsity starter, the Ursinus-bound senior fell in love with basketball when she was four years old and played intramural ball at Saint Bedes.

“I loved the high intensity of the game, getting into a gym where there is a big crowd and everyone is into the game,” said Marisa. “I love the speed of the game and the intensity that comes with trying to play up to everyone’s expectations.”

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE PHOTO GALLERY AT MEDIA.BUCKSLOCALNEWS.COM

Marisa certainly met every Villa fan’s expectations in the Upper Dublin tourney. The Jems faced a tough Abington High School squad in the opening game. For two quarters, Villa held its own, entering halftime down by only six points. In the second half, the youthful Jems became somewhat unnerved and lost 66-36.

A true leader, Marisa recognized she needed to help boost her teammate’s sagging spirits. “As a senior, I have to lead on and off the court. Yesterday against Abington, everyone was down on themselves as was I. I realized I had to pick up everyone’s spirit and pick the positives out of the game and learn from the mistakes.”

As point guard on the team, Marisa finds herself to be the chief motivator on the court as well. “I’m the point guard so I’m responsible for calling out every play on offense and defense. My main job is getting the ball to the girl who’s in the best position to score. I have to stay positive and keep pushing every second of the game.”

Marisa provided just such a spark in Villa’s consolation game against Springside Chestnut Hill. Her hustle on both ends of the court and her deadly foul shooting in the hectic fourth quarter helped the Jems capture a 65-54 victory.

Villa started a bit slowly, falling behind by as many as six points in the first quarter. A selfless player, Marisa credited teammate Chikodi Ebo with proving the necessary spark.

“The coaches called a timeout and they put one of our players in, Chikodi Ebo, and she really turned the game around. She came in with high energy and scored six points right off the bat. Her coming in with all that energy showed us what we needed to do.”

Ebo’s effort, aided by Kristen Hobbib’s uncanny three-point shooting, allowed the Jems to take a 28-17 lead into halftime. They maintained that margin, closing out the third quarter ahead by a 41-30 score.

Playing catch-up in the final period, Springfield was forced to foul. Unfortunately, their target was Villa’s hustling point guard. Marisa went to the charity stripe 12 times in the closing minutes and calmly hit on every opportunity.

“I go to the line and try not to think about the situation. I usually go back to my mom and I practicing foul shots in the gym by ourselves. I just think about going into the gym when no one is there. I just concentrate on the shots and not overthinking it.”

Marisa’s accuracy at the line defeated Springfield’s strategy and assured the Jems a well-earned 65-54 victory. “After the game, we were ecstatic. As a team, this was a huge win for us. We had lost a couple of our last games. This shows us we can hang with really good teams and it gives us a confidence boost. To come back today and play how we did, really showed who we are and what we want for this school and this program.”

Marisa feels the win might give Villa the momentum to reach their season goals. “This is a hardworking and dedicated group of girls. One of our goals is to finish in the top four of our league and then to go into states. One of our major goals is to beat teams we haven’t in the past. Last year, we had two upsets and we want to continue to build upon that.”

Equally important for Marisa is maintaining the spirit so much a part of Villa Jo sports. “What we have going the best for our team is the chemistry. That starts within the school. Our school is based upon the idea that everyone is your sister. Everyone is so close. Playing for Villa basketball is an honor. Being part of this team is so rewarding.”

Already off to a 2-0 record in the AACA, this band of sisters appears prepped for a really strong 2016-17 season.

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