The thing about postseason games is they often thrust someone unexpected into a position of prominence.
Such was the case for Jess Polin during the PIAA 6A girls’ basketball tournament. The Upper Dublin freshman put her stamp on each of the Cardinal’s five victories as they won the first state title in school history. A clutch three against Cardinal O’Hara, free throws against Abington and Souderton and the last four points in the title game against South all moments she authored.
UD coach Morgan Funsten wasn’t too surprised though, that the Maple Glen resident kept coming up on the right end of those scenarios.
“Name the shot she hit that wasn’t huge,” Funsten said Tuesday outside the team’s locker room in the Giant Center. “Game-winning free throws, every 3-pointer she hit was when we were down and every one she hit was huge. If we’re losing, I expect her to make the shot, that’s the type of player she is.”
Polin scored 17 to lead UD and show there’s a bright future in Fort Washington. Dayna Balasa hit a trio of threes herself while sophomore center Jackie Vargas flashed more of the growing skill set that could make her a dominant force in the coming years.
“I promised I wouldn’t say the ‘F’ word all year, this is the first time I’ve said ‘freshmen,’ because we’re not treating them like freshmen and they sure didn’t play like freshmen,” Funsten said. “Jess Polin is a natural leader, there’s nobody else you’d rather have on the line at that moment because of how clutch she’s been. Dayna Balasa to knock down some big threes early as well showed a lot.”
Vargas, who played for Puerto Rico this past summer in a FIBA U16 tournament, scored eight points, rebounded seven misses and blocked five shots. At 6-foot-3, she showed an ability to handle the ball like a guard and played more sure and confident of herself.
“She can go anywhere, she’s special,” Funsten said. “She’s getting a lot of interest and she deserves it. She’s got a lot of talent and the sky is really the limit for her.”
On top of that trio, sophomore Kara Grebe and freshman Sarah Eskew were consistent contributors off the bench for the Cardinals next season.
Where this season was the surprise run, the Cardinals will have to play under the burden of expectation next year. They didn’t win the SOL American and that they lost in the second round of districts and had to play their way into states, but a state title will loom over all of that.
Funsten alluded to it too, that games next year may not be as fun. The Cardinals will need someone to step into the leadership roles Maggie Weglos and Nicole Kaiser are vacating but both seniors seemed very, very confident they were leaving the team in good hands.
“I’m so excited for the future of this program, it’s really on the up and up,” Kaiser said. “We won a state championship this year and so many girls are returning. With how they’re playing, I can’t even describe where they can go. We’ve seen it in practice, they play great defense, they make good decisions and they make big shots. I was confident giving any of them the ball and wanted the ball in their hands. I was so proud of them.”
TIES THAT BIND
Pick any player from Upper Dublin, Jenkintown or Archbishop Wood’s roster and it wouldn’t be that hard to find a connection to the other two teams.
Kind of like the way all the panel lines on a basketball eventually converge in one spot, there were plenty of ties between the three area squads that played for state titles this past week. Whether it was AAU, family friendships or even player-coach, the Cardinals, Drakes and Vikings had a lot of rooting interest in each other.
UD freshmen Jess Polin and Dayna Balasa are AAU teammates with Wood freshman Kaitlyn Orihel. UD senior Nicole Kaiser and her family are friends with Drakes seniors Jen and Ashley Kremp in their family while the Kremps in turn, have been friends with Wood senior Katie May’s family for a long time.
During the regular season, it was common to see them at each other’s games and it even extended into the postseason, so long as their respective teams weren’t playing the same days.
Cardinals senior Maggie Weglos had plenty of ties to CB South as well, having played AAU with Titans Maddie McShane, Natalie DiSandro and Lindsay Scott for South assistants Gary Christian and Joe Kosman. Weglos and McShane are now working with Christian at Fencor to coach a 9th grade team and among their players is Jenkintown freshman Cady Westkaemper.
DRAKES EARN THEIR KEEP
Jenkintown senior Jen Kremp knew it was going to be a tough game, but even she was surprised how tough her team’s overtime win against Juniata Valley was.
“Every loose ball, there was never a chance that it was definitely ours and every time we caught the ball, there was a five-second count, they never gave us any breathing room,” Kremp said. “It was exciting but it was tough.”
As a Class A school playing the Bicentennial Athletic League, the Drakes are used to smaller gyms during games, so the trip to Hershey was an experience for all of them. They’ve been in plenty of big games the last three years, a team doesn’t win 31 games but not having that experience but there’s something different about the Giant Center.
It was something Jenkintown had to get used to, and they started slowly, but it was an experience Kremp said she won’t forget.
“The whole vibe the arena gives you, it’s a really cool feeling,” Jen Kremp said. “Once you get on the court, it’s kind of like ‘wow, this is happening’ and you have to get used to it.”
The Drakes don’t empty the cupboard either, with Mia and Natalie Kolb and Caroline Arena coming back. But this year’s team was one three years in the making and it showed. Jen Kremp and her twin Ashley are actually related, but Jen said they basically consider the rest of the team their extended family of sisters.
For the seniors – the Kremps, Amelia Mulvaney and Courtney Todaro – it was a chance to make history and get a royal welcome home complete with lights and sirens escort back to the school. For them, it was more than a title, it was a family accomplishment.
“We have a mutual respect for each other,” Romano said. “That comes from having seniors who have been in the program and understand.
“That’s how they are. They’re cool, they understand and this is just how the group is.”
Upper Dublin seniors Nicole Kaiser and Lindsey Schreiber didn’t stay in state very long.
After winning the state title Tuesday night, both got on planes Wednesday. Kaiser hopped the pond to the United Kingdom as part of an exchange program, postponing her departure to play in the state title game.
Schreiber on the other hand, went west and landed in Texas to join the girls’ lacrosse team for the last two games of its spring break trip. The senior, one of the Cards’ top attackers, has committed to play lacrosse for Butler next year and wasted little time in getting up to speed.
In her season debut Wednesday, the senior posted four goals and an assist then added three more goals and a helper in Thursday’s game, both wins. A bench player for the basketball team most of the season, Schreiber didn’t see minutes in the team’s last three state games but chose to postpone her own trip to be in Hershey.
TRETTER TRENDING UP
Wood sophomore Lindsay Tretter came up big more than a few times for the Vikings during their state playoff run.
She hit a three with about a minute left in the state final to tie the game, part of a six-point effort in Wood’s 36-33 loss. Against West Chester Henderson, Tretter posted 12 points and some clutch shots as the Vikings held off a Warriors team determined to get some payback.
The guard became one of Wood’s top reserves by the end of the season and if she can build on it over the offseason and in AAU over the summer, should factor heavily for the team next year.
“We look to find kids who are giving us the right energy and the right attitude and she was putting the ball in the basket for us,” Wood coach Mike McDonald said. “She’s doing all the right things. Chemistry-wise, she’s fitting in perfectly. I’m not really surprised she stepped up.”
SOL ALL-STAR GAME SET
In an effort led by Abington girls’ basketball coach Dan Marsh, the Suburban One League will have a senior all-star girls basketball game this year.
The contest, which is set for Wednesday, April 25 at 7 p.m. at Abington, will feature 32 seniors selected to the all-SOL teams divided up on two squads. Marsh and retiring North Penn coach Maggie deMarteleire will coach one side while Souderton’s Lynn Carroll and CB East’s Liz Potash will coach the other.
Teams were selected by the coaches in a draft.