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Henderson, Villa Maria tangle in districts for third straight year

A Chester County girls’ basketball team is going to be playing in the District 1 5A Title Game next weekend. And on Tuesday we will find out if it’s going to be second seeded Villa Maria, or No. 3 West Chester Henderson.

“We know Henderson is a very solid squad,” said longtime Hurricanes’ head coach Kathy McCartney. “We are a little nervous but excited to play them.

“At this time of year, it’s not always the best team but the team that performs the best. I’m hoping it’s us.”

The two will collide at 6 p.m. at Harriton High School, and it’s an intriguing matchup for a number of reasons. Both rely heavily on defense, each are long up front, and the two have developed a postseason history, meeting in each of the previous two tournaments.

“Anytime you have a public school against a private school I think there is some sort of extra motivation,” said Warriors’ head coach Greta Neff. “Our kids are just excited to be in this game again and I think the pressure is off of us a little bit.”

A year ago, Henderson topped Villa Maria 41-32 at the Liacouras Center in the District Final. In 2017, the Warriors topped the Hurricanes in the first round of the playbacks. This time, however, is a bit different because McCartney has the more experienced squad. A year ago, Henderson was unbeaten and the clear favorite.

“For us, it’s a chance to, maybe, undo a loss,” McCartney said.

“Villa has everybody back from their team last year,” Neff added. “We graduated six quality kids. (Seniors) Erin (Thompson) and Grace (Ferguson) can certainly anchor us, but for the rest this is a new experience.”

In her 30th season at the helm, McCartney’s team is 22-4 overall, and three of the setbacks came against St. Basil’s, including a loss in the AACA Final. And the other was a three-point nail-biter to 5A top-seed Springfield (Delco) in December.       

“Physically, these two teams are similar,” McCartney said. “I think it’s going to be a matter of whose guards play better that night.”

Ferguson is a 6-foot center that can dominate a game on defense for the Warriors (19-6 overall). Villa Maria will counter with a front line of 6-1 Paige Lauder, 6-foot Abby Walheim and 5-11 Maddy Ryan.

“We’re happy that this is a better matchup for us than some of the other teams in the district,” Neff explained. “But whether our kids can defend them remains to be seen. (Villa) has some really nice ball players. We’ve got our work cut out for us – they have so many weapons.”

If it ultimately comes down to the backcourts, both coaches are confident. The Hurricanes will go with veterans Julia Samar at the point and Myla Warley on the wing. Henderson is bolstered by the return of Thompson, who missed much of the season with an injury.

“If it comes down to what Erin Thompson and Molly Manion can do versus (Julia) Samar and (Myla) Warley, I feel good about that matchup,” Neff said. “What we have to do is make sure (Abby) Walheim and (Paige) Lauder don’t go off.”

One statistic to keep an eye on is turnovers — specifically how many Villa Maria’s pressure defense is able to force.

“We have to turn (Henderson) over. Our defense is key to the game for us,” McCartney said.

“If we get to the (free throw) line, get some easy points there, and win the war on the boards, I like our chances a little better,” Neff added. “But (Villa Maria is) a very aggressive defensive team so we will have to take care of the ball.”

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