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GIRLS BASKETBALL NOTEBOOK: Upper Dublin turns corner with win over Ryan

PHILADELPHIA >> Morgan Funsten felt like his team was ready to put everything together.

Sunday night, the Upper Dublin girls basketball team took a big step toward doing it. In what could be described as a vintage Cardinal performance, UD put the clamps down defensively and ran its offense to pinpoint execution.

The outcome was a 45-30 win over previously undefeated Archbishop Ryan at the Play-By-Play Classic at Philadelphia University.

“I felt coming into the game this team was ready to turn the corner,” Funsten said. “I said that to them before the game, not to sound cocky, but from what I’ve seen from our team, it was time to get a big win and time to turn the corner, because I was really proud of how the girls executed.”

Prior to Sunday, Ryan had been averaging 65 points per game and had two 3-point shooters on a tear, with Annie Cashman hitting at a 52 percent clip. The Cardinals held the Ragdolls to a combined 2-of-11 showing from behind the arc.

Funsten said it was a game resembling the teams of the last two seasons, which played low-scoring defensive battles. It was that type of game because of Upper Dublin’s front line. Freshman center Jackie Vargas, who stands 6-foot-3, played arguably her best game of the season, scoring six points but grabbing nine rebounds and blocking eight Ryan shots.

Forward Demi Balasa, a 6-foot-0 senior and the team’s most unheralded player, didn’t score but she had eight rebounds and three blocks of her own while forward Nicole Kaiser, also 6-foot-0, chipped in a block and five boards. Vargas has battled foul trouble during the season, not uncommon for a freshman at any position, but Funsten said the center is starting to do a much better job moving her feet on defense and not reaching.

Kaiser, who has been the team’s leading scorer most of the season, had 18 points as she continued to showcase a growing offensive game. The junior also hit a 3-pointer to beat the third quarter horn, a shot that got the whole bench up celebrating.

“We knew they had really good shooters, so our closeouts were going to be important,” Kaiser said. “We emphasized help defense and closing out in practice.”

It was a solid showing by UD’s guards as well. Senior Josie Barrett scored 11 points and stayed disruptive on defense with three steals. Junior Maggie Weglos, who has taken over the point guard spot from graduated Allison Chernow, also played her best game of the season on Sunday.

Weglos, a junior who was the team’s best perimeter defender last year, had eight points, five rebounds and a steal but also played with a steady hand on offense for a team that had just five turnovers in the first three quarters.

“We have a ton of confidence in Maggie, she’s really hard on herself so a part of it is us needing to be positive and point out the things she does well,” Funsten said. “She’s a perfectionist and when you’re a perfectionist, sometimes you zone in on all the bad things you do. When you’re a point guard, you can’t feel sorry for yourself at any point and she’s starting to understand you have to take the next play like something good just happened.”

Funsten loads his nonconference schedule with as many tough opponents as he can, in order to prepare the Cardinals for the postseason, should they make it. UD beat Central Bucks East in the season opener, but then lost games to Central Bucks South, Plymouth Whitemarsh, Abington and North Penn.

Still, Funsten felt like his team competed in all those losses and in each game, just lacked in one or two areas that could have given UD a chance to win them.

Barrett, Weglos and Balasa started last year while Kaiser was a key reserve. Outside of those four, the rest of the team is young or inexperienced, so for them, Sunday’s game is worth a lot more than just another tally in the win column.

“We wanted to prove to ourselves that we could compete with a team like that, so it’s going to give us a lot of confidence,” Kaiser said. “It helps the younger girls on the team realize we need to finish a game and helps the whole team see how to play well together.”

SICK BAY

North Penn was playing at far from full strength this week.

Most of the team is sick, as the chorus of coughing from the players indicated while they met after their 62-49 win over Episcopal Academy on Sunday. Seniors Jess Huber and Sam Carangi missed practice during the week, but gutted it out to play all three contests this week.

“They had their Winter Ball last night, Sam didn’t go but some of the other girls did,” North Penn coach Maggie deMarteleire said. “It was kind of a gut-check, dig down and play as tough as you can kind of game. On the sidelines, I was just telling the girls who were in to just try and fake it.”

North Penn’s Jess Huber tries to get past Central Bucks East’s Megan Browne during their game on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

North Penn didn’t have a ton of trouble with the Churchwomen, though Episcopal did cut the lead down enough to keep it interesting in each half.

“It was a weird game, we were up by 15 then it was only eight,” deMarteleire said. “Later we were up 20, then they cut it to 11. Overall, I’m very pleased, offensively it’s a nice amount of points to score and it wasn’t our greatest performance defensively but (EA) can knock down shots.”

The Knights have a big game on Tuesday at Central Bucks West with the Bucks currently atop the Suburban One League Continental Conference and the Knights a game behind.

BUCKS ON THE RUN

CB West is young team, but it doesn’t play like one.

Sunday’s starting lineup had a senior, a junior, two sophomores and a freshman. Another sophomore plays a big role off the bench but they don’t look like underclassmen when they’re out there. They didn’t let a slow start faze them as they upped the energy and defeated Neshaminy 53-41.

“We picked up the intensity and were pushing a little harder,” Bucks coach Terry Rakowsky said. “That’s what we do, and everybody knows that. Today, it worked.”

Rakowsky said some of the start came from the format of the showcase, as West had 10 minutes to warm up and really, just took a bunch of shots. He just wanted his kids to stay afloat for the first quarter and then take it from there, which they did.

Maddie Burke, the freshman, provided the game’s best highlight when she hit a deep 3-pointer at the third quarter horn.

“That was fun, I got it and just shot it up there, kind of hoped for the best,” Burke said. “I heard the countdown, ‘Four, three, two,’ so I just knew to shoot it.”

Burke was named the game’s MVP after her 12-point performance. Sophomore Izzy Treon scored 12 as well, while sophomore Tori Abelson had 10. Senior Maggie Rakowsky and sophomore Diane Nicholson, who transferred to West from Spring-Ford, each had seven.

Neshaminy sophomore Brooke Mullin, niece of Hall of Famer Chris Mullin, scored a game-high 17 and pulled down 10 rebounds. Mullin and Burke guarded each other plenty, pitting two of the area’s best young talents against each other.

“It’s fun going up against somebody like that,” Burke said. “You’re against them on defense and offense, you’re working to get your points and then you’re D-ing up and trying not to let them do the same thing to you.”

West has two huge games on its slate this week, hosting North Penn on Tuesday and then hosting CB South on Thursday. West won at North Penn, then lost at South on a half-court buzzer beater by guard Alexa Brodie.

ROAD WARRIORS

Two weeks back, a part of the wall in Archbishop Wood’s boys gym collapsed and it is sending both the boys and girls team out on the road the rest of the season.

While the girls have their own gym, the school is renovating both gyms, so the Vikings will be playing away from home for the near future. It’s not a huge deal for Wood, which plays games out of state every year and in plenty of showcases like Sunday, where it fell to Delaware powerhouse Ursuline Academy 42-38.

Wood was supposed to play at home on Thursday against Cardinal O’Hara, but the game was moved to Arcadia on Friday night at 7 p.m., with the boys taking on La Salle right after in a doubleheader. The Vikings’ Jan. 24 game with Bonner and Prendergast will now be played at La Salle High School, as will their Jan. 31 game with Lansdale Catholic.

Friday’s matchup will be a good one, as O’Hara looked very good in topping St. Elizabeth (DE) on Sunday. Wood was led by junior forward Katie May and got some good minutes out of forwards Erin Morgan and Bridget Arcidiacono.

SHOWCASE SHOWOFFS

Upper Dublin wasn’t the only team to knock off an undefeated team Sunday as Gwynedd Mercy Academy handed Garnet Valley a 46-37 loss in the morning. It was a resounding bounce-back for the Monarchs after a tough loss to AACA rival Mount Saint Joseph on Saturday.

Abington Friends was a 43-37 winner over Merion Mercy while Archbishop Carroll topped Mount 44-33.

St Basil went to 15-0 with a resounding 43-26 win over Mt. Lebanon out of the Pittsburgh area. Panthers senior Natalie Kucowski, who scored her 1,000th point late last week, was the best player on the court and led her team to an impressive win over a solid 6A program.

St. Basil’s Natalie Kucowski shoots over a host of Gwynedd Mercy Academy defenders during their game on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)

Basil travels to Mount on Thursday, having already swept GMA this season and topping the Magic in their first meeting. Kucowski, who is committed to Lafayette, is the key, but her supporting cast has been really good all season as well.

Germantown Academy and Perkiomen Valley had a good game, with Perk Valley taking it 53-45 behind a double-double from forward Megan Jonassen. With GA’s starting forwards in foul trouble, Elle Stauffer stepped up big off the bench, scoring just two points but also turning in five rebounds and three blocks against a good frontline.

“Stauffer, against bigger and more experience post players, she played a lot bigger,” GA coach Sherri Retif said. “And in the full court, she caused havoc for those big girls. She has that quickness, that energy. (Jaye) Haynes has been playing well for us and Maddie (Vizza), who started at point, they just keep getting better. I can’t say enough about our leadership and the kids that are complementing them.”

SECOND HALF SURGE?

Souderton enters the second half of the conference season with as much momentum as anybody. The Indians went 4-0 last week, including a huge win over CB South that got them back on the right track after a rough patch the week before.

Sophomore Megan Walbrandt has been playing really good basketball lately, sparking the team in the second half of Saturday’s win over Council Rock South in the SOL Challenge. Saturday’s win wasn’t as big as Friday’s in terms of standings, but it was a gut-check performance for Big Red as it fought through fatigue and a slow start.

Souderton has three games this week, starting with a Tuesday trip to CB East. East is playing much better than when the teams first met, so it’ll be a good test for Souderton to keep its momentum going. After that, the Indians host a good Jenkintown team on Friday, and finally take on Harriton on Saturday.

Top Photo: North Penn’s Irisa Ye and Upper Dublin’s Jackie Vargas battle for a rebound during their game on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

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