Upper Merion ups the tempo in win over Upper Perk

UPPER MERION >> Virtually everything about Upper Merion High’s girls basketball team is new, from the overwhelming majority of its players, to its head coach, Leah Kim, to its style of play.

And while not all of the components were in perfect alignment Friday night as the Vikings opened their season in the 13th annual Upper Merion Tipoff Tournament, the end result was pretty satisfying.

The Vikings drubbed Upper Perkiomen, 49-15, to earn a berth in Saturday afternoon’s final (1 p.m.), where they’ll face returning tourney champ Merion Mercy, a 41-19 winner over Marple-Newtown. Upper Perkiomen and Marple-Newtown will open Day Two with an 11:30 a.m. tilt.

One of the team’s few seniors, Tatiana Pleasant, led the way for UM, totaling 14 points, 10 rebounds and four steals as the Vikings found a way to bring a half-smile to Kim’s face.

“I don’t know that anything quite worked out the way we wanted it to,” Kim said. “We were in a lot of foul trouble, but the girls played hard and they’re only going to get better the more they play.

“It was a first game, and the only thing that’s going to help this team is experience.”

The Vikings opened in a full-court press, as Kim chose to up the tempo immediately.

“We wanted to speed the game up a little bit,” the coach said.

The strategy worked, as the Vikings forced a bundle of early turnovers and managed to grab a 7-4 lead after one quarter and an 18-9 lead at the break.

The Tribe had difficulty getting anything fluid going offensively, and went into halftime with Gabi Marinelli having scored all nine of the team’s points – all from the free-throw line.

“I thought we played hard,” said Upper Perk head coach Greg Swavely. “I couldn’t fault us for a lack of effort.

“But we beat ourselves. We just couldn’t get anything going because we kept turning the ball over.”

In the second half the Vikings cranked it up, as Haley Kozuchowski scored six third-quarter points, Pleasant added four and the Vikings stretched their lead to 20 points (35-15) after three quarters.

“I know we didn’t play our best, but we played pretty well,” Pleasant said. “And we got better as the game went along.

“We wanted to play our game, play hard and get a win.”

That’s what the Vikings did, and they now face a tough test in a very good Merion Mercy team that overwhelmed Marple-Newtown.

“Overall, for a team full of sophomores and freshmen playing for a new coach, we did OK,” Kim said. “But it’s coming along slowly.”

“It’s been difficult,” Pleasant said, “but I like (Kim’s) coaching style, and I like that she pushes us.”

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