Having freshmen play key roles for the Upper Dublin girls basketball program is a fairly common occurrence.
Current seniors Jess Polin, Dayna Balasa and Sarah Eskew were a huge part of the Cardinals’ 2017-18 PIAA 6A championship team, with Polin and Balasa as starters. Junior Bliss Brenner started out as a reserve her freshman year but found a niche as a defensive ace and the examples go on.
This season, the Cardinals have a successor to their lineage of freshmen impact players thanks to guard Amy Ngo who has played an important role in the team’s 8-0 start.
“I’m just trying to make an impact on our team,” Ngo said after Saturday’s win at Central Bucks West. “The seniors and Bliss (Brenner), all the upperclassmen have been helping me a lot.”
Ngo has played mostly as a reserve, but did step in as a starter when Balasa missed a couple games and didn’t miss a beat. She scored a game-high 18 points in one of those starts when the Cardinals topped Pennsbury on January 23.
Saturday, the freshman was back to her super-sub role but still managed to lead all scorers with 13 points as UD defeated CB West 37-31 in the Bucks’ gym. Ngo hit back-to-back 3-pointers late in the first quarter, giving the Cardinals a lead they would hold the rest of the game.
“She hasn’t been around the program too long but what she does is so simple and so effective, sometimes you take it for granted,” UD coach Morgan Funsten said. “There have been times where if you asked me right after the game how many points Amy had, I’d say five or six then look at the boxscore to see she had 15.
“It’s the sign of a true scorer and a great player that they don’t have to wow you with anything because they just do their job and are so efficient. That’s exactly what she’s given us so far.”
While Ngo’s quick rise may seem surprising, it’s not really a shock to anyone who knows her background.
Jen Zenszer Ngo, Amy’s mother, was a two-time PCL North Division MVP at Bishop McDevitt where she played under current Gwynedd Mercy Academy coach Tom Lonergan before moving on to a star career at La Salle. A 2006 inductee to the Big 5 Hall of Fame, Zenszer Ngo was a three-time Second Team All-Atlantic 10 with the Explorers.
Polin, who has some experience as a freshman coming up clutch in pivotal moments for the Cardinals, is just happy Ngo is part of the team. To them, the guard is just another good player who fits into what UD is trying to do and just so happens to be a freshman.
“I think the girls played with the world on their shoulders the last two years and not that our expectations are lowered for ourselves, but they’re not hearing it from some other people that it’s ‘state championship or bust,’” Funsten said. “It relaxes the girls and makes them more confident in what they’re doing. It’s exciting to come in every day and see them just really enjoy themselves.”
DIGGINS DOES IT ALL
Archbishop Wood’s boys basketball team did little to temper high expectations thanks to its big win over Conwell-Egan on Friday as the PCL finally got underway.
Point guard Rahsool Diggins, a UConn recruit, showed why he was one of the most sought-after recruits in the Class of 2021 with a 16-point game that also included six rebounds, four steals and three blocks. Diggins was named the Catholic League’s MVP last year, joining Collin Gillespie (2017) as the only Vikings to earn that honor. Should he be able to repeat as MVP, Diggins would join a select list that most recently includes Bonner-Prendergast’s Isaiah Wong and St Joe’s Prep’s Steve Vastura.
Diggins, who has also surpassed 1,000 points, is one of four Division I basketball recruits in Wood’s starting lineup along with fellow seniors Daeshon Shepherd (La Salle), Jaylen Stinson (JMU) and Marcus Randolph (Richmond).
Wood’s game against defending PCL champion Neumann-Goretti on Monday was postponed due to the weather and the Vikings are next scheduled to visit La Salle on Feb. 4.
The Inter-Ac’s boys and girls basketball seasons are scheduled to begin this week, although the weather may have some say as to when they actually do get underway.
On the boys side, Episcopal Academy, Malvern Prep, Penn Charter, Springside Chestnut Hill, the Haverford School and Germantown Academy are playing a double round-robin, facing each league opponent home and away.
Malvern Prep is the defending Inter-Ac champion.
GA will look to improve on last year’s 5-5 third place finish in the Inter-Ac behind senior guard Jordan Longino. The PA Class 4A Player of the Year and a Villanova recruit, Longino has more than 1,500 career points to his name but has yet to win a league title with the Patriots.
Juniors Casey Traina and Jake Hsu and senior Jerry Griffen-Batchler also return as key contributors for GA.
On the girls side, Germantown Academy is the defending champion after an undefeated 2019-20 Inter-Ac season but the Patriots will have a very new look this year.
GA, Penn Charter, Notre Dame, Springside Chestnut Hill, Agnes Irwn, Episcopal Academy and the Baldwin School will compete in a home-and-away round robin schedule for the 2021 season.
Last year’s senior class, which included Inter-Ac MVP Jaye Haynes, Maddie Vizza and Elle Stauffer, sent seven players to college but seniors Jessica Moore, Charlotte DiLello and Becca Booth return to lead a young and talented group.
Sophomore Kendall Bennett is back while classmate Josie Munson is a new arrival from Colorado and GA will get plenty from its freshmen class including Sam Wade, Isabella Casey and twins Jenna and Jessica Aponik.