MARPLE >> Maura Hendrixson was in the second grade when she tried out for the AAU Comets fourth-grade team.
“I was trying out for a team with a bunch of older kids because the Comets didn’t have a second-grade team,” Hendrixson said. “ In second grade I got cut, but I didn’t even really know what was going on.”
Eventually, Hendrixson proved that she was good enough to play with the older kids. That’s where she became teammates with Hannah Nihill and Kenzie Gardler.
“I couldn’t believe I made that team,” Hendrixson said.
Hendrixson would become teammates with Nihill and Gardler at Cardinal O’Hara. She was with Nihill for three years and started alongside Gardler and Molly Paolino all four with the Lions. Hendrixson also played CYO ball against Nihill, who won Colonial Athletic Association rookie of the year honors at Drexel this season.
“We were rivals because we always had to play against each other when we were young,” Hendrixson said. “Hannah was always so good and I wanted to be as good as her one day. I was happy to have the opportunity to finally play with her.”
Hendrixson followed in Nihill’s path. The two friends will join each other at Drexel next winter. Hendrixson succeeded Nihill as O’Hara’s starting point guard this season.
The fact they were both selected Daily Times Player of the Year gives them something else in common. After leading the Lions to their second straight Catholic League title, Hendrixson received the county’s highest honor. For the fourth time in five years, O’Hara is home to the Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
Joining Hendrixson on the All-Delco team, which is selected in consultation with local girls basketball coaches, are Gardler, Academy Park’s Mahya Woodton, Archbishop Carroll’s Molly Masciantonio, Garnet Valley’s Emily McAteer and Notre Dame’s Mandy McGurk.
Hendrixson lives in the Garnet Valley School District. In eighth grade, she attended open gyms at GV. Surely the Jaguars would have loved to have the two-time All-Delco, but the senior guard had other ideas.
“I went to public school my whole life. I played with Molly (Paolino) for AAU, so she knew I was thinking about going somewhere else. I think Kenzie was thinking about going to Notre Dame. But then we all kind of decided that we would be together at O’Hara,” Hendrixson said. “In eighth grade I went to the open gyms and stuff, but my mom was always pushing O’Hara. The basketball legacy there was so much better than most places. I wanted to play for Mr. (Linus) McGinty, too.
“It was sort of tough. But I kind of wanted the change and my mom wanted me to play for a really good coach. I know a lot of people that wanted to play for (McGinty).”
Hendrixson took comfort in knowing that Gardler and Paolino would join her in the O’Hara starting lineup her freshman season. They would go on to start more than 100 games together.
As a freshman, Hendrixson made her presence felt and gained a reputation as a shooting ace. As the years transpired, her overall game developed.
By junior year, she had started to run the point and grew into a well-rounded player.
Hendrixson took off in her senior campaign, becoming the top all-around player in Delco. Not only could she shoot from 3-point range, she could drive the lane, pass and play lockdown defense. Those qualities helped O’Hara to a 21-win season and a second consecutive Catholic League title.
“I think definitely junior year was a big year. I played a bigger role on the court,” Hendrixson said. “In being older I started to know what to do. Junior year was a big year for me, stepping up and being a leader on the court. This year, too, because I knew this would our final year together.”
Yes, losing Nihill and Mary Sheehan to graduation presented Hendrixson, Gardler and Paolino with new challenges. As a result of saying goodbye to two of the best players in Delco this decade, expectations for Cardinal O’Hara girls basketball were lowered.
“It was easier said than done, but before the season I think we all thought that we were going to be fine. We have three seniors back and we’ll be good again,” Hendrixson said. “Eventually we realized, we couldn’t take anything for granted. We couldn’t just walk onto the court and think we can beat anyone.
“In the beginning, it was definitely bumpy and hard after losing to Archbishop Wood and Neumann-Goretti (in the regular season). We didn’t know what was going to happen in the playoffs. But I think, after the Carroll game, that was a wake-up call. We played really well together that game and we knew we had to keep the focus up in practice.”
Hendrixson averaged 13.8 points per game, second to Gardler’s 14.2 output, and led Delco with 65 3-pointers. The Lions caught fire in January and never looked back, winning 13 consecutive games. The game that Hendrixson will always be known for is the Catholic League final against Neumann-Goretti.
“Winning once was awesome,” she said.
Twice was just as nice.
“I’ll always remember both of those games at the Palestra,” she said.
Hendrixson spurred the Lions’ fourth-quarter comeback. She went 11 of 12 at the foul line and scored 15 of her game-high 26 points in the final quarter.
It would have been a fitting finale to a remarkable career for Hendrixson, but a few days later, in the District 12 championship game, Hendrixson hit nine 3-pointers and scored 33 points. Both were career highs.
O’Hara would get upset in the first round of the PIAA Class 6A tournament by eventual state champ Upper Dublin. Hendrixson noted that the Lions had a strange feeling about the game, even before it started.
“I knew from beginning. The first play of the game, my legs felt weird,” she said. “I think, nine out of 10 games (against Upper Dublin), we would have won. It just wasn’t our night.”
That final game does not overshadow the truth about Hendrixson. She had a memorable season, and she walked away with no regrets.
“I don’t know how I am going to go off to college without (Gardler and Paolino). It’s going to be so different,” Hendrixson said. “We had so much fun together and it was a great four years at O’Hara. I’ll always remember everything we did together.”