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Welde siblings share special experience at the Palestra

PHILADELPHIA >> Erin and James Welde were supposed to spend a couple of years together at Bonner & Prendergast.

Erin threw a wrench into those plans.

“We kind of went for the same reasons athletically,” said Erin, a junior guard on Cardinal O’Hara. “All of the Catholic League schools offer so much of the same academically, so when it came down to it, I knew that O’Hara had really strong athletics for girls and Bonner had the same for boys. So we decided we would split. It’s been good.”

So that explains why Erin and James Welde, a freshman small forward at Bonner & Prendie, ended up at rival schools in Delaware County.

Monday night, they ended up at the same historic arena, the Palestra, playing for Catholic League titles. The Welde siblings are both key reserve players for their respective teams. Erin made two free throws in the first quarter and helped O’Hara win its second straight Catholic League title with a 54-39 decision over Neumann-Goretti. Little brother James wasn’t so lucky, as the Friars suffered a heartbreaking, 51-49 defeat to Roman Catholic.

The Friars were vying for their first PCL title in 30 years.

While she would’ve enjoyed trips to school every morning with James, Erin has no regrets about her decision. She has now been part of two Catholic League girls basketball titles at O’Hara, and this year’s was a little sweet than last season.

But it wasn’t always so cut-and-dry. Erin agonized over where she wanted to attend high school. Her parents eventually gave her an ultimatum.

“I was always going to Prendie and at the last minute … it changed,” she said. “Everyone that I know, all of my friends, they all go to Prendie pretty much. So I was sitting there with my parents and they said to me, ‘If you don’t decide by tomorrow, there will be a decision on the table for you.’ So I came down the next morning and decided to go to O’Hara.”

Erin realizes had she chosen Bonner & Prendie, her basketball career could be a little different. She has a specific role for O’Hara, one that limits her playing time.

That doesn’t seem to bother Welde, who is simply happy to be part of a great team with a legendary coach in Linus McGinty. She’s also helped the field hockey team to Catholic League crowns.

Unlike senior guards Kenzie Gardler, Maura Hendrixson and Molly Paolino, who are all bound for college basketball programs, Welde didn’t have the pedigree or reputation. She had to earn her minutes on varsity.

All Welde wanted was a chance to be a member of a winning team. Over the last three seasons, she has developed into a fine utility player off the bench. Anywhere else in Delco, including Bonner & Prendie, she would be a starter. But playing time has never seemed to bother Welde. Next season, when Gardler, Hendrixson and Paolino are gone, she will have an opportunity to help lead the next great O’Hara team.

“I didn’t know anyone on the team at first,” she said. “It was really scary at first. They all have known each other for so long and they all play (AAU) Comets together. And they’re so good. When I came in, I was like, ‘Oh boy.’ But Kenzie and I have become best friends. We’re all really close and they made it so easy for me. It’s been really fun.”

The Welde family was out in full force at the Palestra.

“My whole family is here. My uncle is still involved with Bonner, so he got the real nice seats on the other side. He brought the whole family with him,” Welde said. “They were so excited all week. I got texts from aunts and cousins. We were in group chats with cousins. It’s been great. Knowing that we are both playing here, it has been so much fun. I think I’m more excited for this game, for my brother’s, than I was for our game.”

Although watching her brother’s team lose put a damper on the excitement, Erin will cherish her time at the Palestra. Last year she didn’t see a second of action, but Monday night she was on the floor and contributing in the first quarter.

“It really is awesome, this whole experience,” Welde said. “Last year I had a lot of fun, and everyone made it feel like it was just as much my win as it was theirs. But being a part of it this year, especially being on the floor when the final buzzer sounded, it was special.”

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