The 2021 Inter-Ac high school basketball season certainly will be a campaign unlike any other before it.
The season is slated to begin the week of Feb. 1, with an abbreviated league-only schedule, and (as of Jan. 26) the Inter-Ac winter sports season will conclude by Feb. 28.
Inter-Ac high school basketball coaches and players have expressed gratitude that they will be able to play at all this winter.
“Our new shortened schedule [for 2021] is tough, but honestly I am happy, and grateful that the girls even get to have a season at all,” said Agnes Irwin basketball head coach Andrea Carter.
“Though this season presents a unique scenario [due to COVID-19], we hope to capitalize on the opportunity that is presented,” said Episcopal Academy girls basketball head coach Chuck Simmonds.
Here’s a brief beginning-of-season look at the Main Line’s Inter-Ac basketball squads:
Academy of Notre Dame
The Irish had a fine 2019-20 season, posting a 19-8 overall record, finishing third in the Inter-Ac (8-4) and advancing to the PAISAA state semifinals, and they return several standout players for the 2021 season.
The leading returnee is 5-10 junior guard Maeve McErlane, an all-around talent who averaged 14.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.6 apg and 2.0 spg last year, while converting 74 percent of her free throws and receiving first team All-Main Line, All-Inter-Ac and All-Delco honors.
Other key returnees are 5-11 sophomore forward Katie Halligan, who averaged 7.4 ppg and 7.7 rpg as a freshman and received second team All-Main Line honors; senior guard Izzy Casale; and junior guard Julia Dever.
Top Irish newcomers are 5-10 freshman guard/forward Lizzie Halligan and 5-7 sophomore guard Ava Bleckley.
Last spring, the Irish lost guard and captain Allie Lynch, who averaged 10 ppg in the 2019-20 season, to graduation.
Despite the loss of Lynch, Academy of Notre Dame’s third-year head coach Lauren Power sees her team’s biggest strength in 2021 as its guard play.
“We are deeper this year than we were last year, and our younger players have much more experience,” added Power. “We will feature and up-tempo, fast-paced game. Our biggest strengths are quickness, athleticism, transition game, and tenacity on defense.
“The past two years, we graduated exceptional players – three are playing in college – along with great leadership. Our biggest key to success this winter is to fill the leadership and scoring void of Allie Lynch. We have several exciting freshmen to add to a squad that was young last year but gained a tremendous amount of experience, advancing to the PAISAA semifinals. Our biggest challenge will be our players adapting to new or increased roles. Once again, we are small but mighty.
“I don’t know if there is a heavy favorite [in the Inter-Ac] this year with Germantown Academy and Penn Charter graduating phenomenal seniors, but that being said, those two programs are always in championship contention, are well coached, and they will once again be the teams to beat.”
The Owls, under fourth-year head coach Andrea Carter, return a trio of key juniors in 5-8 guard Belle Fusco, 5-11 center/forward Paige Crowther (a University of Oregon lacrosse commit) and 5-8 forward/guard Caroline Vauclain. Another key returning player is 5-3 sophomore guard Blake Stefan.
Others Agnes Irwin players to watch are freshman guards Janna Parker and Jackie Graham.
Carter said, “We play in a very strong league, but I am happy we are able to play Springside Chestnut Hill twice [Feb. 2 and Feb. 27]. Both times we played [them last year], they were very good games.”
The Owls lost point guard Katie Anderson, a 1,000-point scorer, to graduation last spring.
“We are hoping to have some underclassman step up, which we believe they can, and hopefully fill our voids,” said Carter. “If a couple of the underclassman guards can fill that point guard role, and contribute to scoring the basketball, we can succeed.
“We must win the small battles to have a chance – boxing out, rebounding, sprinting back on defense. If we can do those things, as well as take care of the basketball, we can be fine.
“We also have great leadership from Paige Crowther. If she can be the leader on and off the court that we know she can be, our team will have much success. We also need senior leaders Caroline Vauclain, Kelly Cooper, and junior Belle Fusco, to help lead our team as well.”
The Polar Bears improved markedly during the end of the 2019-20 season and earned 11 wins last winter, and are looking to move up in the Inter-Ac this season.
“We return about 98 percent of our scoring from the past two seasons,” said Baldwin School head coach John Bernhardt. “We have a ton of senior leadership, as well as juniors who have all played in big games and have helped transform the Baldwin basketball program.”
The Polar Bears will be led by senior center Anajah Brown, a Siena College commit who last winter averaged 19.4 ppg, 4.3 bpg and 10.8 rpg while receiving first team All-Main Line and All-Inter-Ac honors.
Other key returnees are junior guard Kaya Weiser; senior forward Taylor Levinson; senior forward/guard Rani Bleznak; junior forward/guard Gabi Pritzker, who missed the entire 2019-2020 season with a knee injury; freshman power forward Allie Weiser; and sophomore guards Grace Brunetto and Megan Adelman.
Episcopal Academy (boys)
The Churchmen lost six of its top eight players from last year to graduation. Episcopal Academy will look to senior captain Will Delaney for leadership this season, while fellow seniors Adam Archambault, Nick Marshall and Alex Zhou should provide support.
Episcopal’s junior class returns starting point guard Sam Malloy and wings Matt McCarthy and Jack Jascsz. A couple of young players who could have breakout seasons this winter are 6-4 sophomore Will Lange and 6-2 freshman guard Kevin McCarthy.
EA head coach Brian Shanahan said, “I’m really excited about how hard the team is working during a very challenging time. I love getting to coach this group, and am looking forward to an awesome month of competition.”
Episcopal Academy (girls)
The Churchwomen, who posted a .500 record both overall and in the In-ter-Ac last year, return several starters – junior guards Riley Cassidy, Bella Piselli and Amanda Purcell, and sophomore forward Gaeli Keffer-Scharpf. Senior captains Allie Bush, Caroline McCreary and Allie Sillo also return to lead the team.
“We’re hoping to be consistent offensively with shared scoring, but will be looking to the returning veterans to lead the way and provide a constant threat in the Inter-Ac’s new shot clock reality,” said Simmonds. “Defensively, we will look to be aggressive while using solid team defense to put the opposition in tough possessions with the aid of the shot clock.
“The girls have been working hard at practice, supporting each other and building a good pace that will hopefully translate quickly into the abbreviated schedule.”
The Fords return a solid quartet of guards this winter, in seniors Zach Genther, Christian Clover and Bernie Rogers and junior Jamee Brown. Clover received second team All-Main Line basketball honors last year, and both Rogers and Genther received All-Main Line honorable mention.
Haverford School head coach Bernie Rogers said, “Our coaches and players are excited to be back on the court playing and spending time together. We are having fun and look to maximize each opportunity we get to have on the court in a short season.”
The Friars, who compiled a 28-5 record and finished second in the PAISAA state tournament last winter, return a couple of potent seniors in All-Inter-Ac hoopsters Rahdir Hicks and post player Fran Oschell. Both are fourth-year starters, and Hicks averaged 12 ppg, 5 apg and 3 spg last season.
Brock Dudek and Aidan Phillips are two other seniors that add athleticism and experience to the Friars. Malvern also is looking for juniors Tyler Lauder and SJ Hutchinson to have productive seasons.
“Our strength is our depth and experience, we will play 10 guys this year,” said Malvern Prep head coach John Harmatuk.