UPPER DUBLIN >> The honeymoon phase is over.
As the Upper Dublin girls basketball team exited the high school’s gym through a tunnel of students and staff Friday afternoon, it was a ceremonial sending-off and a symbolic end of the celebration phase. With a game against Central Bucks South for the PIAA 6A title waiting next week, it was time to get back to work.
The Cardinals had celebrated their first trip to Hershey, now they had to get ready to try and win it.
“I think from here on out the team that’s going to win the state championship on Tuesday night is the team that can stay focused,” Cardinals coach Morgan Funsten said. “You have a lot of distractions with the state championship and now you have a long break after a four-and-a-half month season. Whoever can stay more focused and more prepared is going to win.”
Upper Dubin held a pep rally on Friday to celebrate the Cardinals’ first ever state title game appearance. Had the schedule not been altered by the most recent weather system, they would have then hopped on a bus and driven to Hershey. While the game was postponed to Tuesday night at 6 p.m. in the Giant Center, UD is on break next week so Friday was the last chance to have the entire student body together before the game.
Although the players will have to report to school next week for practice, they can do so while turning all their attention on preparing for the Titans. Both squads fell short of their goals to win league and district titles, but now have the chance to play for the final trophy of the season.
In a fitting twist, CB South and Upper Dublin played in the first game of the season back in December. South won, but it sets a good framework of just how far UD has come since then.
“We’ve grown so much as a team, I think this team has improved more than any other around here,” senior co-captain Nicole Kaiser said. “If you look at where we were at the beginning of the season to where we are now, both individually as players and how as we work as team, so much has changed.”
For both Kaiser and senior co-captain Maggie Weglos, this run through states has been an unexpected but welcomed end to their last seasons. Neither is playing college basketball and the magnitude of getting to end their careers in the last game of the season is something both have been trying to wrap their heads around.
“It really sunk in for me having this pep rally, just to see our supporters recognizing we made history for our school was really awesome,” Weglos said. “We’re so excited. Everyone here is so passionate about their school doing well in sports and we really started to see those crowds at the start of the playoff season.
South is celebrating its first appearance in the state final as well and for the first time this season, won’t have Souderton standing in the way of a championship. The Titans saw Souderton claim SOL Continental, SOL tournament and District 1 titles over them, then navigated their way through the western bracket to reach Hershey.
Aside from playing in the opener, Tuesday’s game will be a serious reunion for Weglos. The UD point guard played AAU for Fencor and her coaches were South assistants Joe Kosman and Gary Christian. On top of that, Titans seniors Maddie McShane, Natalie DiSandro and Lindsay Scott were all teammates.
“I’m excited and I know they’re excited, we’re still very supportive of each other,” Weglos said. “I’m still very close with my teammates and coaches, I’m actually coaching with them for Fencor now and it’s so nice we can experience this together and especially with it being my senior year, it makes everything so much better.”
After edging Souderton on Monday, the Cardinals were expecting to play Friday night until the snow changed everything. Kaiser said she and a few other players were annoyed at first, but recognized they were going to get a few extra days to prepare.
With the seemingly non-stop nature of the playoffs broken up by a now week-long delay, the Cardinals recognize the need to get back to work.
“This can’t mess with our mojo,” Weglos said. “We have to keep focusing, keep grinding at practice and everyone’s done a great job with that.”
The night of the season-opener, Funsten said he wanted another chance to play South later in the season and noted the irony of it finally working out in the season finale. Kaiser missed the first meeting with an injury and it was the first high school game for UD’s three key freshmen.
Funsten said the fact neither team has won anything yet this season will make them both hungry to reverse that on Tuesday. There’s no doubt both teams have had tremendous seasons, but only one gets to end it as state champion.
That said, any game with South requires plenty of preparation and focus. The Titans, led by senior Haley Meinel, the program’s all-time leading scorer, and junior point guard Alexa Brodie didn’t get to Hershey by accident.
“I have a ton of respect for them as a program and I think Alexa Brodie is the best player in the state,” Funsten said. “She controls the game, she’s the real deal. Anytime you have somebody like that, it’s going to take all five players to defend them.”
Dating back to preseason practice, the Cardinals have been together nearly every day of the last five months. It’s why Weglos and Kaiser addressed the team during districts and told the rest of the players they weren’t ready to end things yet.
Kasier said teachers and students have been stopping her to talk about the games and that some classmates have even offered suggestions or scouting reports on upcoming opponents. It’s not something she imagined she’d be experiencing this year, but it’s certainly made the most of her final few games.
“I think it’ll hit me Tuesday night when we walk into the Giant Center,” Kaiser said. “I could not have asked for a better senior year and this team has made it so special. Everything about it, the group of girls, where we are, is amazing.”
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