LOWER MERION >> In some ways, it’s been a tale of two seasons for Springfield senior guard and co-captain, Maggie O’Connell.
Through the first month of the season, O’Connell ranked among the top-15 in Delaware County in points per game. Her soft touch from beyond the 3-point arc put her among the best in Delco in that particular category.
In January, O’Connell suffered an injury which forced her to miss three games. She had been averaging 11.3 points per contest.
O’Connell returned to action Jan. 31 against Conestoga.
“I remember that game. It was tough,” O’Connell said. “It was a little different, a little hard to get my shot back.”
So much of O’Connell’s game is predicated on her ability to make long-distance buckets. She has made 42 3-point baskets this season.
“Having the (ankle) brace on feels a little different, but I’m feeling myself getting better,” O’Connell said. “I’ll be ready for Saturday.”
O’Connell leads No. 1 Springfield (22-4) into the District 1 Class 5A championship game against seventh-seeded Mount St. Joseph (13-12). Tip-off is scheduled for Noon at Villanova University’s Pavilion.
O’Connell has looked more like her old self in the playoffs. In a first-round win over Pope John Paul, she drilled three 3-pointers and scored 18 points. In the Cougars’ semifinal round rout of West Chester Rustin, O’Connell ignited the team with a pair of 3-pointers early in the first quarter. She finished with 13 points.
Already playing on one hobbled ankle, O’Connell hurt the other after she came back from her initial injury.
“I rolled my right ankle pretty bad in practice. We ended up getting X-rays and it was a really bad sprain. Then I sprained my left one a couple games back,” O’Connell said. “The left one is taped and the right one is in a brace.”
O’Connell continues to power through the pain.
Thanks in part to the leadership and play of O’Connell, the Cougars have become a force in Delaware County again, and are one win away from the program’s first district title.
“My sophomore year, we were 0-11,” O’Connell said. “To see that we’ve come this far, it’s really amazing.”
In addition to O’Connell, the Cougars have received steady production from sophomore forwards Jordan D’Ambrosio and Belle Mastropietro. Freshman guard Alyssa Long and senior forward Amanda Hopkins have also thrived.
The Cougars will be tasked with playing a Mount Saint Joseph program that is accustomed to the big stage. In the last decade, the Magic have won three District 1 titles, including two in the old Class 3A division.
The Mount, which defeated No. 5 Bishop Shanahan in the semifinals, is led by first-year coach Claire Perry, a former 1,000-point scorer at the school. Dynamic senior forward Ashley Smith, a 1,000-point scorer, poured in 17 points in the win over Shanahan. Senior Julia Hoover runs the offense at point guard.
Under third-year coach Kylynn McNichol, the Cougars believe it’s their time to shine. Win or lose, they’re going to the state tournament, but they hope to put the finishing touches on what has been an impressive showing in districts.
“One thing that’s special about this team is a different kid steps up every night for us,” McNichol said. “They don’t care who scores the points, they just want to win as a team. Our motto is ‘together’ and we’ve gotten this far by playing together. We have great senior leadership and great young talent. They play their hearts out, game in and game out. I couldn’t be more proud of them and more honored to be their coach right now.
“These kids deserve a chance to play for a district championship at Villanova, and we couldn’t be more excited for Saturday.”
Author’s Note: Springfield lost to Mount Saint Joseph in the 2009 District 1 3A final. An earlier version of this story noted that Springfield is playing in jts first District 1final.