Kilcullen gets Episcopal going in victory

NEWTOWN SQUARE — Episcopal Academy’s Maria Kilcullen has only started to scratch the surface of her potential.

The 5-11 junior guard/forward can do a little bit of everything on the hardwood, but she’s still getting accustomed to her expanded role on this year’s team.

“In the first few games, it was a tough transition for me. I wasn’t used to it,’ Kilcullen said. “Now I have to realize that I need to be scoring instead of just being a defender and being a role player this year. I know I have to step up, and I’m transitioning into that type of player.’

Kilcullen was excellent Tuesday afternoon. She scored 12 points, dished out six assists and recorded six steals in a 59-33 romp over Inter-Ac League rival Baldwin.

Kilcullen was all over the floor and fueled a dominant defensive effort by the Churchwomen, who caused 33 Baldwin turnovers. But it’s not just Kilcullen who is being relied upon to do most of the damage. There’s a good balance of other go-to players, including senior captain Sarah Abbonizio and first-year starter and sophomore Dylan Higgins.

“We’re going to have our high points and our low points this year. It’s going to take some work,’ said Abbonizio, who will play basketball at University of the Sciences next winter. “In the second quarter, I think we lost that unity we’ve been striving for. We decided at halftime that it wasn’t acceptable and we had to pick it up in the third quarter, which is what we did.’

Episcopal operated flawlessly when it flocked to the ball and scored points off its defense. The Churchwomen started the game on a 14-2 run and reeled off 22 third-quarter points to put the game out of reach. Outside of a sluggish second period, the Churchwomen (4-2, 2-0) made things look fairly easy against the Bears.

“The big thing that we keep saying to them is, hopefully the defense keys everything and keys the easy shots,’ Episcopal coach Chuck Simmonds said. “We’re a better team if we can move things up and down the court rather than continually trying to run sets for ourselves. Our defense can help us do that, and that’s the biggest thing for us right now. Athletically, there’s some ability where they can try some different things and force the other team into mistakes and get some easy shots off of that. Hopefully that’s what we’re doing.’

Higgins, who scored a game-high 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting, is a fluid mover and possesses the athleticism to become a special talent in the coming years. Kilcullen, Abbonizio (12 points, four assists, four steals) and guard Meghan Pickell (eight points, three steals, two assists) give EA three athletic guards who can defend and hit the long-distance basket.

The Churchwomen are in the midst of finding a new identity with the departure of two-time Daily Times Player of the Year Megan Quinn and All-Inter-Ac League guard Kristen Hinckley. As they showed against Baldwin, they expect to be successful if they’re executing their brand of up-tempo basketball.

“Last year, we had a lot of set plays. We had Kristen and Megan, and that was obviously such a difference with our half-court game,’ Kilcullen said. “This year we realized we’re good in transition. Like in the first quarter, get up to the line, get steals and push the ball in transition. We have size, but we also have speed. We can get those 2-on-1s and 3-on-2s and score points that way, so it’s going to be important for us to keep that going.’

Simmonds is starting to see some of his role players from last year’s Inter-Ac League and PAISSA championship-winning team get more comfortable with their added responsibilities. Kilcullen is one.

“Early on, she was a little hesitant and she had looks (to shoot) that she passed up. This year, she has to step up in areas where, before, she didn’t always have to,’ he said. “She has the ability to do that. With her, it’s about confidence. Having some success scoring today will hopefully trigger some more success because I think this could be a really good team if she’s producing.’

The expectations are high for Kilcullen and the entire team. This was never supposed to be a rebuilding year, and Episcopal intends to be back where it finished last season.

That’s still far off into the distance, though.

“We knew this year we have to work a lot harder to get to that point, but we know that it’s possible. If we’re all 100 percent into it, we can do it,’ Abbonizio said. “That’s our mindset for the season.’

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