UPPER DUBLIN >> Kara Grebe and Anajae Smith had very different ways of doing it, but Upper Dublin took the results either way Friday night.
With centerpiece Jackie Vargas hampered by foul trouble, the No. 8 Cardinals needed someone to match No. 10 North Penn’s physicality and strength on the glass. Grebe, a grinder and Smith, a jumper, were up for the task, giving the home side a surge of second half energy.
Thanks to the duo’s work on the glass, Upper Dublin was able to open and sustain a lead, topping the Knights 48-26 in the District I 6A fifth-place seeding game.
“Something we struggled with in the first half was rebounds so I felt I had to come out and help with that,” Smith said. “Kara was there alongside me, she set the tone in the second half and watching her go after them, it helped me get energized to go after them too.”
“They were pressuring us when we got rebounds so I thought ‘Naj and I did a good job of getting rim to rim,” Grebe said. “We wanted to spread out there defense more but also flashing middle, we’ve started to communicate that better.”
UD, the fifth seed for a second straight year, will face District 3 third seed Cumberland Valley in Friday’s opening round of states while North Penn, back in the final tournament for the first time since 2017, will face District 11 runner-up Freedom.
Grebe either scored or assisted UD’s first seven points of the game and the Gettysburg College recruit finished with nine points and 10 rebounds. She brought plenty of toughness to the floor, often having to wrangle the ball away from North Penn’s aggressive rebounders.
Smith’s only hoop in the first half came via an and-one late in the second but she was a force in the third quarter. The Millersville recruit scored six points with six boards alone in the third on her way to eight points and nine rebounds for the game.
“We talked at halftime that we needed to get 50-50 balls and we needed to be tougher,” UD coach Morgan Funsten said. “Kara Grebe gave us that, she gave us the rebounds that were really 50-50 balls Anajae, she got the balls that were out of everybody else’s reach. She’s best at finding the ball, going and attacking it, she beat everybody to the rebound while Grebe battled two or three people for hers.”
A string of three hoops assisted by Jess Polin, who was also pretty solid on the glass, helped UD open an 11-5 lead before a halfcourt buzzer-beater by Alli Lindsay pulled the Knights within one at the end of the first. Despite the momentum boosting shot, North Penn coach Jen Carangi felt her team lacked some energy at the start.
It also didn’t help that Valerie McGriff, the team’s tough and physical senior forward, got in early foul trouble and took away some of the inside game the Knights had hoped to establish.
“We got ourselves down and instead of responding like we had in our previous games, we let that third quarter determine how the game was going to be,” Carangi said. “Offensively, we just couldn’t make a shot but you can’t afford to have nights like that. If the outside shots aren’t falling, we have to figure something else out but we were just too reliant on that.”
Back-to-back treys by Dayna Balasa coupled with a three from Polin later in the quarter helped Upper Dublin open up a 10-point lead and Smith’s bucket off a feed from Polin sent the Cardinals to the half up 24-14. Despite the lead, the host team felt it wasn’t playing up to par.
Vargas picked up her third foul early in the second half, bringing in Smith. Behind her points and boards, UD out-scored North Penn 14-9 in the frame and extended its lead to 15 by the end of the quarter.
“It always feels great, even if I have no points, playing with this team and feeling that energy we bring feels great,” Smith said. “Our assistant coach, Shira (Newman), she kept telling me to be aggressive so I took her advice and just drove hard to the basket.”
Smith’s lone assist went to Grebe. Grebe, a captain, felt her team showed a lot more heart in the second half and everyone was more aggressive fighting for the ball.
“Jackie is a huge part of our team so when she gets in foul trouble, it’s hard for just one of us to step up,” Grebe said. “I thought ‘Naj and I were able to step up offensively and defensively as the forwards and we did a really good job rim-to-rim and got that spark going.”
After losing to Plymouth Whitemarsh in the district quarterfinals off a dreadful offensive showing, the Cardinals have started to get back on track with wins over Methacton and North Penn. Smith felt the last two games were two of the team’s best offensively all year but wherever UD goes in states will depend on its defense.
Upper Dublin allowed just one field goal and three total points in the fourth quarter. Funsten felt that more than anything offensively was the most important takeaway.
“That felt like old times again and there have been times this year where I felt we’ve made an offensive run and whatever hard work we put in offensively we gave up defensively,” Funsten said. “Tonight was a great job of getting separation and keeping separation. Even if you miss a few shots, you have to get it back defensively.”
While Friday was far from the Knight’s best, Carangi noted it came at a time where they could afford it. This time next week, it would spell the end of North Penn’s season but with a week between games, the second-year NP coach wanted her team to take a little break before preparing for states.
“We were competing the way we have been, we weren’t talking but I’m happy we have that week to practice and think about it,” Carangi said. “This time of year, it’s game, game, game, there’s no time to step away from it. You almost need to go away, not think about it for a few days and come back next week.”
UPPER DUBLIN 48, NORTH PENN 26
UPPER DUBLIN 11 13 14 10 – 48
NORTH PENN 10 4 9 3 – 26
Upper Dublin: Jess Polin 1 3-4 6, Kara Grebe 4 0-0 9, Sarah Eskew 1 0-0 3, Dayna Balasa 2 3-4 9, Jackie Vargas 3 3-4 9, Bliss Brenner 1 2-2 4, Anajae Smith 4 0-3 8. Totals: 16 11-17 48.
North Penn: Alli Lindsay 3 2-2 11, Alaina Mullaly 0 1-2 1, Kate Early 0 1-4 1, Valerie McGriff 3 0-0 6, Abby Plaugher 1 0-0 3, Imani Plaza 1 2-2 4, Carley Adams 0 0-2 0, Laynie Doran 0 0-2 0. Totals: 8 6-14 26.
3-pointers: UD – Balasa 2, Polin, Grebe, Eskew; NP – Lindsay 3, Plaugher.