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Defense leads Gwynedd Mercy Academy to 8th straight District 1 final

LOWER GWYNEDD >> Gwynedd Mercy Academy coach Tom Lonergan knows he’s had some good teams in recent years, but the 2022 Monarchs are his first Athletic Association of Catholic Academies champions since 2016.

That 2016 team was defined by a defense that ranked as one of the top units in the state. This season he challenged his team to be better than that team was and, so far, they have been.

The Monarchs flexed their defensive muscles in the District 1-4A semifinals Tuesday night, holding New Hope-Solebury scoreless for nearly 12 minutes in a 56-28 win at Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School. 

After falling behind 7-2 less than three minutes into the game, Lonergan called a timeout. Top-seeded GMA responded like the four-time defending district champions they are with a 30-0 run over 11:54 of game time.

“Our defense is what gets us going,” Lonergan said. “It’s been a long time since I had to call a timeout that early in the game. To have to call it down 7-2 just to get them re-energized and re-focused – most coaches would be worried about their offense, but I was worried about my defense. Sure enough, our defense clamped them down and we chipped, chipped, chipped. It was just the defense.

“Offense comes and goes like anybody’s offense comes and goes. Our offense has certainly been improving as the season went on, but it’s the defense that’s been a constant for us.”

Lonergan credited senior Maddie Newell and junior Bianca Coleman for the jobs they did on New Hope’s Madi Fasti and Reagan Chrencik, respectively. Chrencik opened the game with a long three-pointer and Fasti made a layup to give the fourth-seeded Lions an early 5-0 lead and Fasti added two free throws to make it 7-2. After that, they combined for nine points through the end of the third quarter, when Newell and Coleman exited the game with a 56-19 lead.

“We just stayed in front of our girls,” Coleman said. “We played team defense for that (30-0) stretch of 12 minutes.”

“I give them a lot of credit out there,” Lonergan said. “They did a great job of working as one unit on the defensive end of the floor.”

The 30-0 run saw GMA turn a 7-2 deficit into a 32-7 lead. Newell and Sofia Coleman each hit two three-pointers during the game-changing stretch while Bianca Coleman knocked down one shot from beyond the arc. The Monarchs took a 34-10 lead into halftime.

Newell hit two more threes in the third quarter while each of the Colemans netted one. The Monarchs dominated the glass through three quarters, holding a 32-6 rebound advantage, while building a 56-19 lead before pulling starters.

“We knew coming in that we had the size advantage and we thought that they were going to try to pack it in,” Lonergan said. “I thought we shot the ball well. When we missed, we were in position to get second shots. Very proud.”

“We got a bunch of rebounds,” Coleman added. “We wanted to emphasize the offensive glass this game and it definitely showed. I think (our advantage) was effort, honestly. They have some big girls, we’re about the same size as them, but I think we just out-hustled them this game.”

“Our goal was to limit them to one shot but it just didn’t happen,” New Hope coach Steve Polinsky said. “They were just too strong for us. Give them credit, they were fearless on the glass. We didn’t. I have a lot of young kids that I think the moment was a little too big for them. That’s life – that’s growing pains. It’s a good growing process for us.”

Bianca Coleman led the Monarchs with 16 points and eight rebounds while Sofia Coleman added 15 points and six rebounds and Newell had 14 points and seven rebounds. 

Gwynedd Mercy Academy’s Bianca Coleman

Fasti hit a pair of treys in the fourth quarter to lead the Lions with 13 points. Chrencik joined her in double figures with 11.

Gwynedd clinches a state playoff berth and will compete for a District 1 championship for an eighth straight year Saturday when they face No. 2 Villa Joseph Marie, an AACA rival that they’ve beaten three times this season, at a site and time to be determined. The Monarchs are 6-1 in district championship games under Lonergan with four straight wins.

“The program can only be successful if you have the kids willing to work hard to make it successful,” he said. “I’m very fortunate here. We have a group of young ladies that are the type of players that work hard. They’re goal driven and they’re great kids. For me, it makes my job easy and it makes it enjoyable for me to be here and be around them and see them work hard. Any coach will tell you as a coach, there is nothing more satisfying than to see where your team starts and where they finish and see how they grow in between. This team is just a great group of kids that has really seen themselves get better and better from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.”

New Hope-Solebury’s season ends with the loss. The young squad finishes the year with an 11-11 record.

“I only have two seniors, one junior and all freshman,” Polinsky said. “I’m really excited about it. We came in, we play in the SOL – our goal was to survive the SOL because we have to play PW and all these other schools – which we did. I thought we did a great job. We had a good week of practice. I thought we were ready to play a good zone against them 1-2-2, but the issue was they got so many secondary, third and fourth shots. Other than that I’m proud of them. We had a great year. I really look forward to next year.”

Gwynedd Mercy Academy 56, New Hope-Solebury 28

New Hope-Solebury 7 3 9 9 – 28

Gwynedd Mercy Academy 18 16 22 0 – 56

NHS: Meixler 0 0-0 0, Fasti 5 0-0 13, Mukherjee 0 0-0 0, Chrencik 3 4-4 11, Elizondo 0 0-0 0, Ives 1 1-2 4, Dudick 0 0-0 0, Fitgerald 0 0-0 0, McAndrew 0 0-0 0, Wilson 0 0-0 0. Total 9 5-6 28.

GMA: Mo Newell 0 0-0 0, Lapp 0 0-0 0, Ma Newell 5 0-0 14, Stork 0 0-0 0, McDonnell 0 0-0 0, Kelly 0 0-0 0, Griffin 2 1-1 5, B Coleman 6 2-2 16, S Coleman 6 0-0 15, Lowry 0 0-0 0, Burke 3 0-0 6, Mangan 0 0-0 0. Total 22 3-3 56.

3-point goals: NHS: Chrencik, Ives, Fasti 3. GMA: Newell 4, S Coleman 3, B Coleman 2.

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