Merion >> To classify the 2016-2017 Merion Mercy basketball team as road warriors would be a mild understatement.
Forced to relocate during the construction of the new multi-purpose facility that would be called home, the Golden Bears called Jefferson University (formerly Philadelphia University) home for games but used six different facilities for practice.
On Dec. 16, Merion was finally able to play their first home game in a little over a year in a building that Sister Barbara Buckley, the Head of School described as a labor of love that was 10 years in the making.
In front of a spirited crowd, Merion gave Athletic Association of Catholic Academies foe Gwynedd Mercy Academy all they could handle for 2 ½ quarters before faltering in the end as the Monarchs pulled away for the 42-29 victory.
“It has been really special,” said senior co-captain Nora Pergolini, who finished four points (including the first basket in the new gym) and two rebounds. “Although we did not win today I am glad we have a sense of home.”
Junior forward Annie Butler, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds added, “It feels like home and I feel the team spirit is high. It’s great to play where we practice.”
Following a short ceremony that included Buckley taking the first ceremonial shot (that did go in after a friendly roll off the front rim) and then the conclusion of warm-ups the teams were ready for action.
Following the opening tip, nerves were apparent as neither team was able to crack the scoring column. With 5:05 remaining in the first quarter Pergolini recorded the first basket in the new gym by hitting a running bank shot to give her team the 2-0 lead.
“It’s very cool,” said Pergolini. “One our assistants congratulated me when I sat down and I did not realize what he was talking about. He then told me I scored the first basket.”
“I joked with him that it should have been the breakaway lay-up that I missed earlier,” joked Pegolini. “It’s really special to score the first points and it’s something I will remember the rest of my life.”
Despite getting off to a slow start this season, optimism still runs high within the team led by five seniors that things will improve.
“Since my freshman year I have had amazing seniors to look up to,” said Butler. “This year is no different. Our seniors are super supportive and I have learned so much from them.”
To accompany the opening of the new building, the Golden Bears also welcomed the return of alumnae Ayeshia Smith ’97, a sophomore on the 1995 PIAA state championship team.
“I am grateful just to have the opportunity to come back,” said Smith, the head JV coach. “To have a facility like this brings extra motivation to play hard and represent Merion. When I first walked in I was overwhelmed with emotion. To come back and coach has provided me with a sense of pride.”
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