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Close matchups highlight first round of Reporter/Times Herald/Montgomery girls team of decade bracket

North Penn's (from left) Sam Carangi (23), Vicky Tumasz (22), Erin Maher (2), Mikaela Giuliani (13) and the team celebrate after defeating Northhampton 73-45 in their playoff contest at Souderton Area High School on Tuesday, March 11, 2014. (Mark C Psoras/MediaNews Group)

Introductions are done, so it’s time to start narrowing the field in the Reporter/Times Herald/Montgomery Media girls’ basketball team of the decade bracket.

In a tournament setting, anything can happen in a given round. Every team in this field of 16 won at least 20 games, eight were PIAA champions and one a PAISAA champion plus numerous district and conference titles, so are no easy outs.

Given some entrants are from early in the decade, the following previews are meant to recall some of the standout players and accomplishments for each squad to help determine the eight quarterfinalists. Polls for each first round game can be found on Twitter at @ReporterSports. Voting ends Saturday.

(1) Archbishop Wood 2015-16 vs (16) Upper Dublin 2017-18 >> The top-seeded Vikings tangle with a No. 16 Upper Dublin squad well-versed in an underdog role.

The Vikings (25-6) started the season 4-6 against a difficult schedule, but put it all together in January and closed the campaign on a 21-game winning run. They would snap Neumann-Goretti’s 53-game PCL winning streak in the Catholic League title game at the Palestra, winning the program its first title since 2011, then won the first state title since the 2011-12 season. State player of the year Bailey Greenberg (Drexel)led a formidable front line that included sophomores Kate Connolly (Drexel) and Katie May (Northeastern) backed up by a solid backcourt of Claire Bassetti (DeSales soccer) and Cassie Sebold (Chestnut Hill) with a deep bench.

Upper Dublin (26-5) put a lot on a relatively young roster which included sophomore Jackie Vargas (Lehigh) and freshmen Jess Polin and Dayna Balasa in the starting lineup. While UD entered the District 1 6A tournament as the No. 9 seed, a narrow loss to Council Rock North put them in the playback bracket and prompted senior captains Maggie Weglos and Nicole Kaiser to hold a players-only meeting. The Cardinals rallied, winning three straight district playback games then five in a row to capture the program’s first state tournament title.

(8) Archbishop Carroll 2011-12 vs (9) Archbishop Wood 2009-10 >> Carroll’s PCL and PIAA title winning squad tangles with a Wood squad that started a three-peat of state titles to open the decade.

The Patriots, who had no shortage of battles with the Vikings over the early part of the decade, were led by a stellar group of seniors in Meghan Creighton, Bridget McNulty, Shannon Shields, Keri Hunt and Rachel Pearson. Carroll compiled a 29-2 record during the season and finished the year with 20 straight victories. An eight-point win over Central Dauphin was their closest state playoff contest, with the other four games all decided by at least 19 points.

Every run has to start somewhere and Wood’s first team of the past decade set a pretty high bar. With just one senior on the roster in point guard Samantha Greenfield (Drexel soccer), the Vikings went 26-5 with a group heavy on juniors and sophomores who would win two more state titles. Wood lost to rival Carroll in the regular season and PCL title game, but a 35-31 win over the Patriots in the state quarterfinals became a floodgate-opening win for the program.

(5) Souderton 2017-18 vs (12) Abington 2016-17 >> A senior-stocked Souderton squad clashes with a Ghosts team that thrived on postseason dramatics in a very close first-round matchup.

Souderton entered the season with high expectations after a state semifinal run the year prior and pretty much lived up to all of them. A season-long rivalry with CB South felt like a series of boss battles for Souderton, which had to defeat the Titans for SOL Continental, SOL tournament and District 1 6A titles after South won their first regular season meeting. Led by its seniors in first team all-state pick Kate Connolly (Drexel), Alana Cardona (IUP), Tori Dowd (Muhlenberg) and Sami Falencki (Arcadia), the Indians were supplemented by juniors Megan Walbrandt, Meg O’Donnell and Megan Bealer (DeSales) to form a robust defensive team that played a highly efficient and unselfish offensive style.

Abington’s been no stranger to success the past decade, one of just two teams (Spring-Ford) to win multiple District 1 titles, but their second came with plenty of theatrics. The No. 9 seed in the 6A bracket, the Ghosts had to win to beat the No. 8, No. 1, No. 5 and No. 2 seeds to win the district title. With just one senior on the roster in Lizzie Oleary (Delaware), the Ghosts had to regroup after a three-loss week in late December and found success with a high-energy defensive style. Sophomore Kassondra Brown (Rhode Island) joined Oleary as a threat inside while sharpshooting juniors Sam Brusha (Millersville) and Britney James (Delaware State) and sophomore defensive ace Cam Lexow (Virginia soccer) rounded out the starting five.

(4) Germantown Academy 2018-19 vs (13) Gwynedd Mercy Academy 2015-16 >> A well-rounded GA team that lost just once during its season faces an extremely talented Monarchs group in another razor-close contest.

GA teams always enter seasons with high hopes but this group in particular was extra-determined to get over the hump and bring home the program’s first PAISAA title since 2011. With a bulk of the team back from the season prior, the Patriots didn’t need long to show what they could do. A starting lineup of future college players was backed up by a solid bench of players who all bought into their roles as GA put together a 30-1 season that included an unbeaten Inter-Ac and the coveted PAISAA title. Junior Elle Stauffer (Harvard) was named Inter-Ac MVP while classmate Jaye Haynes (La Salle) was a first team all-state pick with point guard Maddie Vizza (Northeastern), senior sniper Rachel Balzer (George Mason) and sophomore center Becca Booth forming a dynamic starting five that was tough to guard.

A special group of seniors made their payoff season one to remember by leading the Monarchs to AACA and District 1 3A titles before giving eventual state champion Wood all it could handle in the elite eight. Under the leadership of Eric DeCandido (Tufts), Brigit Coleman (USciences), Maggie Cameron and Mary Claire Casey (Lehigh soccer), GMA improved each year before asserting its claim as one of the top teams in the state during the 15-16 season. An extremely tough defensive team, the Monarchs allowed 40 or more points just eight times in 30 games. Gwynedd Mercy went 25-5 before falling to Wood 42-33 as one of just two teams to keep within single digits of the Vikings on their 21-game streak.

(3) Archbishop Wood 2010-11 vs (14) St. Basil Academy 2016-17 >> Wood’s first PCL title team, also a state champion, meets with a St. Basil squad that kicked off a recent run of league and district dominance.

With all but one player returning after a state title, the Vikings went after another one while also putting eyes on the elusive PCL title. Again, rival Archbishop Carroll stood in the way but a two-point win at the Palestra avenged a regular-season loss and finally delivered the hubcap to Warminster. Anchored by seniors Christine Verrelle (Molloy), Tori Arnao (Jefferson), Steph Keyes (PSU Abington) and Caitlin McCartney (Delaware lacrosse), the Vikings won their final 12 games and topped Mercyhurst Prep for their second straight PIAA championship. Wood’s 28-4 record would be its best of any of its five state championship squads.

St. Basil had been a consistent presence in the district and state postseason for most of the decade, but the 2016-17 team started off strong and didn’t slow down. The Panthers won 29 games in a row to start the season, their first loss ultimately ending their season in the state quarterfinals but it started a run of AACA and District 1 3A titles that continued this year. Senior center Natalie Kucowski (Lafayette) staked her claim as one of the state’s top post players and a versatile supporting cast including juniors Jules Gura (USciences) and Cheryl Remolde along with sophomore Casey Remolde (Kutztown) made St. Basil a difficult team to score against.

(6) North Penn 2013-14 vs (11) Archbishop Wood 2016-17 >> North Penn’s first district champion clashes with Archbishop Wood’s most recent state champ in a first round matchup with a close margin of votes.

Two years removed from a loss in the district final, the (then-called) Maidens got a rematch with a powerful Spring-Ford program at Villanova. This time, North Penn’s seniors came out on the winning end and carried it to a state quarterfinal appearance. North Penn’s 26-4 season was one driven by seniors Erin Maher (Jefferson), Vicky Tumasz (Chestnut Hill) and Brianna Cullen (Widener), who got a spark from sophomore Mikaela Giuliani and a freshman class including Sam Carangi, Jess Huber and Irisa Ye that would go on to author its own run of success a few years later.

Having returned to the summit of the PCL and PIAA mountains the year prior, the Vikings had to try and defend those titles with three starters having departed. With Katie May (Northeastern) and Cassie Sebold (Chestnut Hill) back, Wood filled out its starting five with seniors Shannon May (USciences) and Meg Neher and junior Bridget Arcidiacono (Jefferson) and again had a strong bench including Karly Brown and Erin Morgan while putting together a 24-7 record. While they would lose the PCL title to Cardinal O’Hara, the Vikings’ defense was on lock in states and allowed just 31 points per game.

(7) Mount Saint Joseph 2010-2011 vs (10) Archbishop Wood 2011-12 >> One of Mount’s best rosters faces off with the Wood side that capped the three-peat of state titles at the decade’s onset.

The Magic were one of the top programs in District 1 early in the decade and their 2010-11 roster stacked up with the best of them, going 28-4 with a 4A district title and state semifinal run. Seniors Mary Jo Horgan (Lehigh) and Steph Smith (Loyola) along with junior Bridget Higgins (Pittsburgh) served as the catalysts for a strong offensive team that worked the ball inside and scored 50 or more points 13 times. Junior point guard Maddie Kohler (St. Mary’s College) ran the show while underclassmen like sophomores Alex Louin (Villanova) and Kelsey Jones (Jefferson) and freshman Carly Monzo (Loyola (Md.)) got their first turns in the lineup before taking the helm in following seasons.

Key players the past two seasons, Wood’s 2012 senior class took charge and made sure they went out with three state titles on their register. While the Vikings had to replace some important cogs from the prior two teams, seniors Taylor Kaminski (Bloomsburg), Lauren Nealon (Bloomsburg) and Alex Heck (Jefferson) guided their team to a 21-10 record and state title. Juniors Colleen Young and Jackie Pierson, sophomores Jess Kaminski, Rachel Day and Laura Trisch and freshman Aubree Brown helped fill out the rotation. Wood went west for much of the state tournament, with two games against District 3 and two against WPIAL foes before topping Lancaster Catholic for the state crown.

(2) Central Bucks West 2014-15 vs (15) Jenkintown 2017-18 >> West’s dominant district champion and state finalist goes up against Jenkintown’s historic first state title squad.

The Bucks weren’t afraid to say their goal was a state title in 2015 and with a roster including senior starters Nicole Munger (Michigan), Mackenzie Carroll (Colgate), Corrinne Godshall (Binghamton) and Payton Traina, they had the firepower to do it. Junior Makenzie Mason (Scranton) and sophomore Maggie Rakowsky split the fifth starting spot for a team that was heavy on hustle and heart that never stopped coming on defense and offense. West went 32-2 during the year, including SOL and District 1 4A tournament titles before falling to Cumberland Valley in the PIAA final

Jenkintown, despite being one of the smallest schools in the state, has a strong basketball history but hadn’t been able to capture a state title to go with it. With a core of players that had been together for three seasons, the Drakes were finally able to nab that final prize at the end of a 31-1 season where they also won BAL and District 1 A titles. Seniors Amelia Mulvaney, Jen (Dickinson) and Ashley Kremp paired with juniors Mia (Dickinson) and Natalie Kolb and Caroline Arena with some help from sophomores Molly Walsh and Carly Mulvaney on a state run where they knocked off defending champ Lebanon Catholic before outlasting Juniata in overtime with a clutch shot from Jen Kremp part of the highlights.

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