DLN AREA GIRLS’ BASKETBALL: Defense never rests at division-leading Rustin

West Chester Rustin, on top of the Ches-Mont American Division with a 7-1 mark, has won four of its last five games, and the biggest key to the recent improvement of the Golden Knights (10-7 overall) has been their defense, according to second-year head coach Jim Powers.
“Our defensive play has picked up since the holiday tournaments,” said Powers. “We’re not that big, and [we coaches] have been emphasizing boxing out and rebounding, playing team defense and team rebounding. We have a lot of rotation on defense, and [aim for] having five players on the glass.”
On Jan. 19, Rustin’s defense sparkled in a 41-19 win against a solid Kennett squad (5-3 in the American Division).
The Golden Knights had been expected to challenge for the American Division title, based on a solid trio of returning starters – junior forwards Maggie O’Hare and Erin Gallagher, and senior guard Lexi Zavitsky. All three have been Rustin’s key contributors so far this season.
O’Hare, a second team All-Ches-Mont selection last winter, is averaging 16.5 points per game, and has connected on 30 treys; Gallagher is averaging 11 points per contest; and Zavitsky, a second team All-Ches-Mont selection last winter, is averaging 11 points per game (with 24 treys).
Sophomore Dikaya Daniels (6.5 ppg), a transfer from Illinois, has developed into another weapon for Rustin.
Powers said, “We play more of an up-tempo, attacking style than I think Dikaya was used to [at her Illinois school], but she’s adjusted, and her emergence has given us a teammate that can create space, find the open player off the dribble and score the ball.”
Playing key supporting roles this season have been senior forward Symone Costin, senior forward Morgan Polidore and sophomore guard Becca Magrone.
Powers added, “We believe the tough non-league schedule in the early part of the season taught us a lot about ourselves and taught the girls what it takes to succeed. There are a lot of games left against very good teams, we are happy to be in the position we are in this late in the season, we will just continue to work at it and see what happens.”
Downingtown East, ranked fourth among the Daily Local News 7 Best, and leading the Ches-Mont National Division with a 7-1 record, is coming into its Thursday clash against American Division foe Unionville (9-6, 5-3) with a couple of players who are coming off a strong week — junior forward Erin Phelan and junior Olivia Williams.
During the last two games, Phelan (who is shooting 58 percent from the field for the season) has scored 39 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished out eight assists; while Williams has scored 22 points (incuding five treys) and dished out 10 assists.
“Unionville is a balanced team that presents match-up difficulties at the guard position,” said Downingtown East head coach Tom Schurtz. “They have size, speed and shoot the ball well from the field. Our challenge will be how we match-up at the wing position. The Indians play in a tough conference and have played a number of physical and aggressive teams out of conference. We will need to be clean with the ball and execute our sets if we hope to find success [Thursday] night.”
Oxford head coach Brian Urig, whose squad defeated West Chester Henderson 36-32 Jan. 21, was pleased with the Hornets’ defense and rebounding against the Warriors. Senior center Grace Hennessey pulled down eight defensive rebounds, 12 boards in all, for Oxford (6-1 in the Ches-Mont American Division).
The Hornets (10-5 overall), ranked 19th in the PIAA District One Class 5A power rankings Monday, will be facing Kennett (9-7, ranked 26th) Thursday.
“Kennett’s two guards [junior Caroline Hertz and sophomore Andrea Prestianne] are tough,” noted Urig. “Kennett is a very hard-working team. They push you on both ends of the floor. Vinny [head coach Vince Cattano] does a great job with them. They have good movement on offense and lots of pressure on defense.”
After a 51-40 loss to Bishop Shanahan Jan. 19, and a 36-32 defeat to Oxford two days later, West Chester Henderson rebounded Tuesday with a 47-38 win against Downingtown West, with Emma Bertrando and Abbey Shea combining for 27 points. Despite the two recent losses, the Warriors remain only one game back of Downingtown East in the Ches-Mont National Division, with a 6-2 division record, and were ranked second in the PIAA Class 5A District 1 power rankings Monday.
“We worked real hard [last] weekend on upping the tempo of the game and letting our defense create some offense for us,” said Henderson head coach Greta Neff. “We made good on some layups early [Tuesday], which set the tone. I think [junior guard] Maddie DePrisco has really been stepping up as a leader on the court vocally as well as attacking the basket, while [senior forward] Viki Kneis has been working real hard on the boards.
“The biggest key for us [down the stretch] is staying positive and enjoying the ride. I am lucky to have a great group of girls and if we stay grounded and focus on the basics, good things are bound to happen.”
In Monday’s PIAA District 1 Class 6A power rankings, Chesco teams were well-represented among the middle tier of 6A teams. While only two of the top 15 6A teams are from Chesco (Conestoga is ranked second and Coatesville 12th), there are five Chesco squads ranked between 16th and 30th (24 teams in 6A advance to Districts) – Downingtown East (17th), Oxford (19th), Unionville (21st), Kennett (26th) and Downingtown West (29th).
Chesco teams fared better in the Class 5A power rankings, with four squads in the top seven – West Chester Henderson (second), Villa Maria (third), West Chester Rustin (fifth) and Bishop Shanahan (seventh). And the following day after these rankings were published, Shanahan defeated Coatesville.
Bishop Shanahan (9-7, 5-3), ranked two spots behind West Chester Rustin in the PIAA District One 5A power rankings Monday, should move up after its 56-48 upset win against Coatesville Tuesday — and got strong consideration for this week’s Daily Local News 7 Best. After a rough first half of the season, the Eagles appear to be rounding into winning form.
“We kind of flipped the script, changed our style of play, about three weeks ago,” said Shanahan head coach Fran Burbridge. “Early this season, we were working on a fast-paced style of play, which wasn’t allowing us to get set defensively. Now, we’re doing it a little bit differently, with more deliberate shot selection – not shooting after the first pass, but moving the ball around a little, getting a rhythym going. The kids are getting a better understanding of their roles under [our newer] system, and we’re moving forward a little bit.”
Shanahan senior forward Courtney Warley has averaged close to 20 points per game the past few weeks; and the Eagles got particularly good shooting from the perimeter Tuesday from Sammi McCarter, Kelly Basile and Jen Sendi, each of whom connected on a trio of treys.

Daily Local News Girls’ Basketball Super 7

1. Conestoga
2. Coatesville
3. West Chester Henderson
4. Downingtown East
5. Villa Maria Academy
6. Oxford
7. West Chester Rustin
Bruce Adams covers girls basketball for Digital First Media and PaPrepLive.com. You can reach him at badams@21st-centurymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLineSports.

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