Malvern >> The Episcopal Academy boys’ and girls’ basketball programs capped off a historical 2016-17 season with a trip to Malvern Prep – the host site of the PAISAA (Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association) final four.
The championship weekend Feb. 24-25 saw the EA boys’ team advance to the championship game, where they gave top seeded Westtown all they could handle before faltering late; while the girls’ squad advanced to the semi-finals before dropping a heartbreaker in double overtime to Germantown Academy.
Despite the unfavorable outcome in the PAISAA playoffs, school history was still made. For the first time in school history, the boys and girls programs were able to win the Inter-Ac championship in the same season. Both squads shared the crown with Germantown Academy.
“It shows the amount of effort both coaching staffs have put into this,” said EA boys’ coach Craig Conlin. “How it’s been quite a process to get our programs up that hill of success and then eventually stay there. It speaks to the efforts of Chuck Simmonds and myself along with our coaching staffs have put together and then it’s just a matter of the hard work we are putting in day in and day out and the hard work the kids are putting in during our training sessions day in and day out to help themselves become better players. All of the success we have had each year is due to our assistant coaches and the players. It’s all their hard work.”
EA senior Nick Alikakos, who will be heading to Navy, echoed Conlin’s sentiments: “It’s really special for both programs to win a share of the Inter-Ac. They are right there working hard with us on the other side of the gym. Our Head of School Dr. Locke has been really involved and it’s been a great year for EA basketball.”
“It’s enjoyable because the kids on the teams really support each other and are good friends,” said EA girls’ coach Chuck Simmonds. “We share the gym each day for practice so we always get to hear the intensity on the other side of the curtain.”
EA senior Elodie Furey, who will be heading to Cornell, added, “It’s incredibly special to see both boys and girls win the inter-ac in the same year for the first time. I know how much time and dedication our teams put into their seasons and it’s exciting to see that pay off. The inter-ac title is always our main goal and it feels great to see it become a reality. Both teams went through ups and downs this season and battled through every game and it’s rewarding to see this outcome. It means a lot to all the seniors knowing that this year will go up on the banners.”
Following a scintillating double overtime win against Hill School that featured a standout performance from senior Conner Delaney, the EA boys were playing in the PAISAA final for the first time.
Knowing the tall task (literally) in front of them, Episcopal rallied from a slow start to trail 18-10 after one as freshman Jack Fitzpatrick hit a three just before the buzzer.
Trailing 28-22 at the break, the Churchmen started the third quarter on a 10-2 run with Fitzpatrick hitting two three pointers off perfect feeds from Delaney who then capped off the run to give his team a 32-30 lead (their only one of the night) hitting a lay-up after receiving a feed from Alikakos.
From there, Westtown took over eventually pulling away for the win. As the players emerged from the locker room, there were smiles and memories from what this team had accomplished.
“I think we did really well tonight,” said Alikakos. “We won two of the four quarters against a talented team and fought hard to the very end. I am very proud of this team.”
Delaney, who is heading to Johns Hopkins, added, “It means everything. We advanced to the PAISAA final for the first time in school history and I feel very proud of what this team accomplished. To finish second in PAISAA and win a share of the Inter-Ac validates the hard work everyone put in this season.”
On the EA girls’ side, the Churchwomen did everything they could to advance to the final but unfortunately fell just short. Against Germantown Academy, EA fought back from a six-point halftime deficit to take a three-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Trailing by two with eight seconds left, senior Elodie Furey hit two free throws to send the game into overtime. After that, the Patriots had two buzzer beaters of their own with the first one forcing double overtime and the second one winning the game.
Although the season ended on a down note, there were plenty of positives that was highlighted with gaining a share of the Inter-Ac title, thanks in large part to the senior leadership of Furey and Riley Wright.
“This year has been special,” said junior Luca Mamula. “Elodie and Riley have been great. They are always there for us and have done a great job taking control of the game.”
Simmonds added, “I was truly fortunate to have captains that knew the game, and could also earn the respect of their teammates. This team really came together after the New Year, because we had some struggles over the holidays. The captains (Reilly and Elodie) met with me and were very concrete in addressing some initial steps toward improvement… most of which focused on the defensive side. The team bought in and we because a much more cohesive defensive group. Our other two seniors, Sydney Donaldson and Shannon Gillespie were instrumental in bringing a consistent and competitive edge to practice each day, and were also highly respected by the players and coaches.”
As the EA girls’ program bids farewell to their seniors, the EA boys’ program does the same for their senior class.
“When I look at the four-year window and their four-year career they’ve (Alikakos and Delaney) along with our other seniors have meant everything to our program,” said Conlin. “They’ve represented the school with nothing but class and a great work ethic. They are students of the game and I am pleased to have them represent our school.”
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