Ardmore >> In front of a packed house at the Bryant Gymnasium, the Lower Merion High School boys and girls basketball teams participated in the 17th annual Maroon Madness Dec. 3.
The festive occasion, celebrating the Aces’ 2021-22 basketball season, included various musical performances, player introductions and a tribute to the late Lower Merion High School principal Sean Hughes, who was an avid supporter of LM basketball.
“Maroon Madness is one of Lower Merion’s most unique traditions and showcases what Aces Nation is all about,” said Lower Merion boys’ basketball assistant coach Doug Young. “It will never be the same without Sean, but we’d like to think he was smiling down and enjoying the celebration of school spirit, camaraderie and community he was so instrumental in creating.”
The event also included a tribute to the 2020-21 Lower Merion boys’ basketball team, which captured its first District 1 title since the Kobe Bryant era; a Maroon/White basketball game refereed by LM boys basketball coaches Gregg Downer and Kevin Grugan; and a post-game performance by DJ Jase.
“It’s great to be back in the Lower Merion gym — the girls are excited and have been working so hard,” said Lower Merion girls’ basketball head coach Erin Laney. “Last year was a huge hurdle for us as we were barred from practicing or competing for 11 months due to the COVID pandemic. It feels right to be starting our season in December and the team’s energy is buzzing with anticipation after the Maroon Madness festivities.”
A large framed photo of last winter’s Lower Merion boys’ basketball team was displayed to the packed crowd of LM students, along with a video of last season’s highlights. Last winter, the Aces won their first PIAA District 1 title since 1996 and came within an eyelash of defeating Archbishop Wood, the ninth-ranked boys’ basketball team in the United States, in the PIAA 6A state semifinals.
It was the first time the Aces won three straight road games in the District 1 playoffs, and Lower Merion maintained its hold on Pennsylvania’s longest current consecutive state playoff streak (11 years), dating back to 2011.
The Lower Merion boys’ basketball team will kick off its 2021-22 season Dec. 10 against Pocono Mountain West at Albright University.
While the Lower Merion boys lost point guard Sam Davison (called “the engine of our team” last winter by head coach Gregg Downer) and forward Zack Wong to graduation last spring, the Aces return a prominent star in 6-foot-9 senior all-state center Demetrius Lilley, who recently committed to Penn State.
Last winter, Lilley became the first player to average more than 20 points (22.2) and 10 rebounds (12.2) since Kobe Bryant in 1996. He is also the first Ace to average a double-double in consecutive seasons since Bryant. Lilley is the only Ace to ever score more than 30 points and collect more than 30 rebounds in a single game, a feat he has accomplished twice. He also received first team All-Main Line honors last winter.
Other key returnees include junior guard Sam Brown and senior guard Jaylen Shippen, both of whom received All-Main Line recognition last season.
“Our team will rely on Demetrius, who is one of the better big men in the state to anchor the interior, and experienced guards like Jaylen and Sam Brown to help space the floor and provide leadership,” said Young. “We will need to replace the leadership and grit of Sam and Zack, who were key to the district championship run. We return several additional players with game experience, including seniors Peter Gribbin and Henry Bard as well as juniors Sam Wright, Justin Poles and Andrew Coyne. The rest of the roster is almost entirely made up of ninth- and 10th-graders. It’s a relatively young group. Our team goals remain the same — be in position to compete for league and District titles, and qualify for the state playoffs.”
The Lower Merion girls’ basketball team is looking to make progress during the 2021-22 season.
“Our team’s main strength is its emotional connectedness,” said Laney. “They commiserated and played through a pandemic together and they all want to make the most of this season. “Our new focus has been to exercise our player’s minds by enhancing IQ and teaching them how to analyze and evaluate the game, rather than spending two hours a night on pure skill development. It’s a steep learning curve at first, but the payoff should be there.
“We want to be known for our hard-nosed man-to-man defense. We want to be a no-second-chances team, which we unfortunately have not been in the past.”
One of the key returning Aces is senior Emma Cloud, a three-year starter.
“While playing as an undersized center, Emma’s footwork is textbook-quality and her refined finishing skills around the rim give her the ability to quietly put 12 or 14 points on the board every night,” said Laney. Other Aces to watch include junior Laila Stevens, noted for her talented ballhandling; senior leader Isabel Bowser; junior McKenna Reardon; 5-9 senior guard Amanda Rossello; and junior guard Eva Taberski.
“McKenna is the voice of the current Lower Merion girls’ basketball program,” said Laney. “The first to make a joke or perform a TikTok dance, she simultaneously demonstrates supreme leadership on the court. Amanda is our lockdown defender and has so much passion for the game. Eva will be a fierce presence on the court this season as a tall, incredibly strong, slashing guard.”
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