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Great Valley’s defense sparkles in District 1 5A opener

East Whiteland >> Roaring out of the starting gates with a 16-4 run, host Great Valley used a tough defense to defeat No. 14 seed Pope John Paul II, 56-32, in its PIAA District 1 5A tournament opener Tuesday.

“It’s been a week since our last game, and our girls were excited to get out on the court – they had a ton of friends and family in the stands tonight, and this team feeds off that energy,” said Great Valley head coach Alex Venarchik. “And they showed it in the first quarter – we needed that run, it set the tone for the rest of the game.”

The No. 3 seed Patriots (21-4) allowed only two field goals in the first quarter, and usually limited Pope John Paul II to one shot per trip with some strong defensive rebounding. According to Venarchik, Great Valley focused on its rebounding and defensive play in the week leading up to Tuesday’s district opener.

“At the end of the regular season, we kind of started to get a little bit lax with our defense,” said Venarchik. “So this past week, we concentrated on rebounding, using our feet and boxing out, moving on defense and communicating, and tonight we kind of got back to what had helped us be successful during the regular season. With the energy and the focus they played with tonight, it was good to see the girls out there playing well and having fun.”

Great Valley junior guard Emily DuPont, who scored 17 points (13 in the second half), said, “We talked and talked about what we needed to do to win this game, and one of the things was lockdown defense. We worked on our defense the whole week leading up to this game, and we were ready for defense tonight, that was our main focus.”

During the 16-4 run, Tessa Liberatoscioli, the team’s lone senior, scored 11 points for Great Valley, continually penetrating inside and scoring twice on coast-to-coast drives. She finished the contest with 15 points and nine rebounds.

“Tessa wasn’t feeling well before the game, and sometimes when you’re not feeling well, you focus a little more, and she played at a nice pace tonight,” said Venarchik. “She wasn’t overstepping or overdribbling or going too fast. She was able to find gaps in their defense, and get out in transition. As a senior, we look to her to set that leadership example.”

Great Valley outscored Pope John Paul II in each of the four quarters, and in the second half, DuPont broke free underneath for a bundle of baskets. DuPont also pulled down four rebounds, and had plenty of help in the rebounding department from Emma DeRobertis (four boards), Ashley Sullivan (five), Gia Sioutis (four) and Gracen Curley (five).

Before the game, Pope John Paul II head coach TJ Lonergan said, “With Great Valley’s size, they’ll be looking to speed the game up, while we’ll be trying to slow it down.”

Tuesday’s victory was a measure of revenge for Great Valley, as last year in the PIAA District 1 5A opener, Pope John Paul II (as an 11th seed) defeated the sixth-seeded Patriots, 45-28, ending their season.

Venarchik said, “Certainly that played as motivation for these girls, for Tess and Ashley [Sullivan]. They talked about it, and not in a way that distracted them from being prepared and focused, but that was a little extra incentive, they wanted to beat [Pope John Paul II] because of the early exit last year.”

In the second half, Great Valley’s defense continued to force turnovers, and, led by DuPont, kept up the pace with quick scoring runs. The Patriots shot 23-of-37 from two-point range, and many of these field goals were from underneath the basket.

“I don’t have those [high-scoring] games very often,” said DuPont with a laugh. “I couldn’t have done it without our team, our tough defense was forcing turnovers, and getting rebounds, and we just went with it.”

Venarchik said, “Emily played fantastic tonight, and I thought [junior] Leah Valyo’s defensive effort on No. 11 [sophomore Amelia Kennedy, who is averaging more than 10 points per game] was a game-changer – shutting her down and not allowing her any easy looks. She played fantastic tonight.”

No. 3 seed Great Valley now will host No. 6 seed West Chester East, whom they beat, 58-53, in the Ches-Mont American League tournament finals Feb. 8.

“West Chester East shot well and did a good job of slowing down our transition,” said Venarchik. “It’s going to be a good, solid game – they shoot the ball well, we’ve got to protect the 3-point line. Offensively, we’ve got to attack them. It’s not going to be an easy game.”

Lonergan was impressed with the Patriots’ energy Tuesday night.

“Their energy is going to be scary for a lot of teams [in the post-season],” said Lonergan. “If they come out with the same energy and intensity that they did tonight, their [opponents] are going to be in for a surprise. Alex [Venarchik] does a fantastic job, and he had his kids ready to go tonight. I’m sure they’re going to be excited for their playoff run [smiles].”

For Pope John Paul II (11-13), Tuesday’s loss ended the Golden Panthers’ 2019-2020 season. It was a season of adjustments for the Golden Panthers, who had to overcome key graduations losses last spring and injuries this winter. One of the injuries was a season-ending meniscus tear to 5-foot-10 junior Kallen Bustynowicz, who averaged 13 ppg as a sophomore.

On Feb. 3, a resilient Pope John Paul II squad rallied from seven points behind in the fourth quarter against Phoenixville to extend its season.

“We’re pretty young, we graduate two senior starters, and after the game tonight I told the team we have to learn from this [loss], but I’m incredibly proud of them,” said Longeran. “We were hit with a lot of adversity this season, and we were hit with the injury bug, and but they kept playing, they kept pushing. We qualified for the PAC playoffs and for Districts, and the chances for that didn’t look too good a couple of weeks ago. Our players did a really good job of playing every game leading up to the PAC playoffs and district tournament as though it was a playoff game, being focused, and it got us into the playoffs.”

Lonergan mentioned his two seniors, Mary Kate Shannon and Kayla Viney, who combined for 13 points Tuesday.

“Our seniors really did a great job making sure everybody was there to play, through all [the adversity] that we’ve been through this season,” said Lonergan. “Last year they were both off-the-bench role players, and they had to step up into starting roles, and I can’t say enough [good] about them.”


Great Valley 56, Pope John Paul II 32

Pope John Paul II      6       9       7       10     –        32

Great Valley              19     10     12     15     –        56

Pope John Paul II (32): Crossan 3 2-4 8, Shannon 1 0-0 3, Viney 5 0-2 10, Kennedy 3 0-0 7, Bell 0 0-0 0, Ciuba 1 2-4 4, Jackson 0 0-0 0, Totals 13 4-10 32.

Great Valley (56): Liberatoscioli 7 1-1 15, Dill 0 1-2 1, DeRobertis 0 0-0 0, Sullivan 3 0-0 7, DuPont 8 1-2 17, Sioutis 2 0-0 4, Valyo 0 0-0 0, Mansfield 0 0-0 0, Lum 2 0-0 4, Curley 3 0-0 7, Eisenhardt 0 0-0 0, Pyc 0 1-2 1, Totals 25 4-7 56.

3-point field goals: PJP – Shannon, Kennedy. GV – Sullivan, Curley.

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