SPRINGFIELD — Alyssa Long is happy to be playing sports again.
The junior guard of the reigning Central League champion Springfield Cougars was itching to get back to doing what she does best. Whether it’s lacrosse or basketball, Long’s intensity and dedication to whichever sport is in-season sets her apart from so many other athletes her age.
In October, Long was medically cleared from a devastating knee injury that cost her virtually her entire sophomore lacrosse season. And now she’s ready to be the frontcourt leader Springfield’s basketball team.
“I missed my high school and summer lacrosse seasons, I was able to come back and play a couple of fall lacrosse games. Just having the chance to play a couple minutes on attack was so much fun, to be able to get out and run around again,” said Long, a North Carolina lacrosse recruit. “Everything is going perfectly well. I know at first, I was a little careful. Do I sprint there or should I make that move? I knew I have to be cautious and conserve myself for the entire season.”
Long is among a quartet of returning starters. Four-year starting forwards Jordan D’Ambrosio and Belle Mastropietro have been two of the best players in the county since they were freshmen. As a rookie, sophomore guard Alexa Abbonizio tied for the county lead with 65 3-pointers and, along with D’Ambrosio, averaged a team-high 12.0 points per game.
“We’re excited, especially because we’re the same team,” D’Ambrosio said. “We have that connection and we don’t have to get to know new people. That’s a good thing.”
Carli Johnston and Rachel Conrad will see their roles increase. Both players can slot in at guard or forward, shoot from long range and play solid defense.
“Rachel has been shooting a lot more and she is making her shots, and Carli Johnston has been getting a lot of offensive rebounds for us and is boxing out and guarding the big girls for us,” Mastropietro said. “That’s important for us, especially since we are such a small team.”
Lack of height shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Fifth-year coach Ky McNichol emphasizes versatility from every
player on the roster.
Anyone who earns playing time can look to the returning four starters for inspiration. Their ability to do a bit of everything on the floor has made Springfield one of the county’s top programs in recent years. Last season the Cougars advanced to the PIAA Class 5A tournament and finished 21-6. Two years ago, when Long was a freshman and D’Ambrosio and Mastropietro were sophomores, the Cougars captured the team’s first District 1 title.
There’s no question the Cougars have the potential to make 2018-19 their best season yet.
“We pick each other up and we play as one,” Long said. “How we start our season is how we want to continue it. Never stop playing together.”
Elsewhere in the Central League:
Garnet Valley, Haverford and the Cougars are the presumed favorites.
The Jaguars saw their reign of four straight titles end last winter. But with 6-0 forwards Brianne Borcky and All-Delco Emily McAteer back in the fold, the Jags will be tough to beat as always. Both four-year starters, McAteer is a 1,000-point scorer and Loyola (Md.) commit, while Borcky will play collegiate ball at Drexel.
Head coach Joe Woods, back for his 16th season, also returns senior guards Morgan Falcone and Jill Nagy, senior forward/center Madi McKee, junior guard/forward Abbey Anderson and junior forward Liesl Dentinger. GV advanced to the PIAA Class 6A playoffs and grabbed third place in the District 1 tourney last season.
Haverford welcomes back virtually its entire starting lineup from last season’s 16-10 team, which includes leading scorer and senior guard Erin Doherty, and twin towers Sara Walsh (6-1) and Lindsey Lane (5-11), both senior forwards. Seniors Erin Kelly and Annalena O’Reilly give the Fords solid defense and balance on the frontcourt.
“We’ll look to use last year’s development and experience to grow on both ends of the floor,” coach Lauren Pellicane said.
Radnor starts another journey with Mark Jordan, who is entering his 24th year of coaching high school basketball.
The Raiders are loaded with experience as they look to return to the state playoffs after seeing their season end in the district playback round last winter. Junior forward Ellie Mueller averaged 15.6 points per game as a sophomore. Brienne Williams had a solid freshman campaign at shooting guard. Other returning starters include senior forward Holly Holtsberg, senior guard Audrey Rosenblum and junior guard Julia Rigolizzo.
“Mueller, a Princeton lacrosse commit, and Williams will look forward to leading the team at both ends of the floor again,” Jordan said. “Holtsberg will provide a lane presence and will increase her scoring around the basket. Rosenblum has started since freshman year, and Rigolizzo and Massimino have experience. (Sophomore forward Cierra) Hopson will be counted on to provide rebounding relief. We will look to play fast and use our team speed.”
Penncrest starts anew with first-year head coach Tim Brown, who was an assistant for former boss Bob Higgins the last few seasons. The Lions are looking to build upon a successful 15-10 season, including a win in the District 1 Class 5A playoffs. Key returners include four-year varsity players Kylie Chelo, Megan Arndt, and Annalee Doyle.
Ridley intends to contend after a 4-18 season. Coach Bryant McCombs has seven varsity returners including versatile sophomore guards Lindsay Boyd and Shannen Hinchey, junior center Morgan Chapman, senior guards Paige Gabrielle and Emma Layden, and senior forward Breanna Harrison.
Following three-win campaigns, Strath Haven and Upper Darby received a boost in the form of transfer athletes.
Junior guard Jasmine Forrester comes to Upper Darby after averaging 9.4 points per game at Lower Merion last season. As for coach Tony Zambino’s returning players, junior guard Gabby Liberio is a steady hand with scoring instincts, and twin sisters Natalie and Angelina Koskinas give the Royals plenty of height and power inside the paint.
Strath Haven has added senior guard Alisha Lewis, a highly touted senior guard from Delaware. Lewis is scouted as the 34th-ranked guard point in the nation, according to ESPN.com. and will play at Georgia Tech next season. Senior guard Rosey Iannello, junior guard Cayden Frazier and sophomore forward Faith Raymond are the Panthers’ top returners.
Marple Newtown’s leading scorers from last year, Devon Adams, Halle Robinson and Olivia Young. graduated in the spring. Senior guards Kaely Cristello and Lindsay Kane are among the few players with significant varsity minutes.
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