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Main Line basketball squads looking strong again this winter

Main Line high school basketball squads look strong again for the 2021-22, and some of them are coming off particularly memorable campaigns last winter.

The Lower Merion boys captured their first PIAA District 1 title since the days of Kobe Bryant and came within an eyelash of defeating Archbishop Wood, the ninth-ranked boys’ basketball team in the United States, in the PIAA 6A state semifinals. Lower Merion maintained its hold on Pennsylvania’s longest current consecutive state playoff streak (11 years), dating back to 2011.

The Archbishop Carroll boys won the PIAA District 12 4A championship, while Sacred Heart Academy captured its fifth consecutive District 1 title, and Harriton’s girls reached the PIAA District 1 5A championship finals for the first time.

Here’s a preview of the Main Line basketball teams as they tip off the 2021-22 season:

 

Academy of Notre Dame

The Irish, which posted an 8-1 record in the Inter-Ac last winter (tied for first place), return a solid core this season, including 5-10 senior guard Maeve McErlane, a DePaul commit who received second team all-state honors last winter and averaged 21.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 4.1 apg and 2.4 spg. Senior guard Julia Dever and 5-11 junior  forward Katie Halligan also received All-Main Line honors last winter. Top newcomers to watch include 6-0 freshman forward Scarlett Henry, freshman guard Chloe Knox and freshman guard Catie Kelly. Team’s strengths: Guard play, transition.

“We’re deeper this year than last year, with a great mix of veterans and newcomers that can play an up-tempo, fast-paced game,” said Notre Dame head coach Lauren Power. “Our biggest strengths are our guard play, our transition game and tenacity on defense. The biggest key to success this season is to fill the void of X-factor Izzy Casale, who was our spark plug and energizer bunny, especially on defense.”

 

Agnes Irwin

The Owls have a new head coach this winter, Shanette Lee. Top returnees for the Owls include senior post player Andy Oates, sophomore guard Janna Parker and senior guard Katherine Ernst. Other Owls to watch are senior guard/post Isabella Carlino and senior guard Jacqueline Heinerichs.

“Our team is ready for a full season this year, and has shown determination and the desire to get better each day,” said Lee. “We have some great leaders that will lead the team to success this season.”

 

Archbishop Carroll (boys)

The Patriots feature a deep lineup of returning players, including 6-6 senior forward Harold Ivery, 6-4 senior forward Sal Monastero, 6-1 senior guard Justin Cannon, 6-4 junior guard Dean Coleman-Newsome, 6-5 junior forward Blake Deegan, 5-7 junior guard Khair Dixon, 6-2 junior guard Seamus Rogers, 6-4 sophomore guard Moses Hipps, 6-4 sophomore guard Su-Meer Alleyne and 6-4 sophomore forward Steven Finley. Other Patriots to watch include 6-3 senior guard Shawnn Smith, 5-10 freshman guard Jake West and 6-7 junior forward Jaden Williams.

Patriot head coach Francis Bowe sees team’s biggest strength as its guard play and its biggest challenge as size and rebounding.

“Our success will be based on constantly building on our good chemistry, sharing the basketball and playing team-first basketball,” said Bowe.

Baldwin School

The Polar Bears have a new head coach in Devin Walker. Key returnees include senior point guard and co-captain Kaya Weiser, senior shooting guard and co-captain Gabi Pritzker and sophomore forward Allie Weiser. Kaya Weiser in noted for her ability to penetrate off the dribble and hit the outside shot from behind the three point line, her gritty defense and good court vision and awareness. Pritzker is considered a fundamentally sound player who understands the game well and makes smart decisions. Allie Weiser will be relied upon to get rebounds on both ends of the floor and is considered a strong interior presence. 

A newcomer, freshman guard Sami Neff, will be counted on to assist Kaya Weiser with bringing the ball up the court and leading the offense. Neff is noted for her court awareness and vision, and her ability to dribble out of pressure and find open teammates with a pass.

Other Polar Bears to watch include versatile junior guard/forward Grace Brunetto, junior guard Megan Adelman and freshman guard Bela Ahn.

Barrack Hebrew (boys)

Key returnees for the Cougars include senior guard Danny Cohen, senior guard Daniel Wachs, senior guard Hunter Kimmel, senior forward Yonatan Hassidim, senior guard/forward Max Hirsh. Other players to watch are senior guard Yonatan Webner, sophomore guard Benny Scheinmann, junior forward Andrew Meltzer and junior guard Benjamin Gelwarg.
Barrack head coach Ryan Ansel said, “We have great senior leadership and our guys are going to compete on every possession, as we play to a standard, not the score. We are looking to compete for the PJAA championship. Our only focus is to get better every day and that will allow us to be successful and achieve our goals for the season.”

Barrack Hebrew (girls)

After missing last season due to COVID, the Cougars still return the young core of a league championship team in 2020.  Senior Dayna Felger, senior Jessie Singer and junior Eden Singer were the starting backcourt in the 2020 championship game and will be relied on to both score and create points this season under new head coach Sean Rochester.  Complimenting the backcourt is senior guard Arielle Zabusky and junior forward Jenna Ufberg, who will see increased roles. Other players who could contribute are junior Talia Erlbaum, junior Becca Miller, sophomore Haley Zabusky and 8th grader Mikayla Trajtenberg.

Conestoga (boys)

The Pioneers, who posted a 7-3 record last winter, have a number of key returnees, inclusing senior center Michael Walz, senior guard Ryan Mackey, senior guard Colin Todd, senior guard Aidan Carew and senior forward Matt Malarkey. Other players to watch are sophomore guard Brendan Styer, junior guard Brian Schubert, senior forward Chris Erickson, junior guard Peter Costigan and sophomore center Sean Mackey.

“Our biggest strengths are our experience and our size,” said Conestoga head coach Mike Troy.  “In addition our backcourt has a great blend of experience and youth in it.  Lastly our ability to mix several different defenses on the court during the game will prove effective.

“We are a senior-laden team and counting on that experience and leadership to lead us to the league, district, and state playoffs.  In the off-season we flew under the radar relative to others and we are looking forward to continue to build as the season progresses and work towards achieving our goals both on and off the court.”

Conestoga (girls)

The Pioneers, who posted a 5-7 record last winter, return junior guard Kate Galica (2nd team All-Central League last winter), sophomore guard Marisa Francione (honorable mention All-Central League), senior guard Katie Faith, senior guard Marisa Wells, sophomore guard Katrina Valencia, sophomore forward Isabella Valencia and sophomore guard Arielle LePage. Another player to watch is freshman forward Janie Preston.

“Last season was a challenging one, starting three freshmen, a sophomore, and a junior with freshmen and sophomores coming off the bench, and it was great for our young team to get their feet wet,” said Conestoga head coach AJ Thompson. “Our strengths are our ability to execute on the offensive end and our ability to push the ball up the floor quickly. We need to really emphasize defense with our group because the teams in the Central League are very effective on the offensive end and will punish you if you don’t come to the game ready to challenge them on defense.”

 

Devon Prep

The Tide, which finished third in the Catholic League last winter, return a bunch of guards this season, including seniors IV Pettit, Allen Cieslak and Jake Kenney; juniors Lucas Orchard and Jacen Holloway and sophomore Ty Mishock. Other Tide players to watch are junior Tyler Scarpulla and freshmen Zane Conlon and Shane Doyle.

 

Episcopal Academy (boys)

Key returnees for the Churchmen include senior guard Sam Malloy, senior guard Jake Jaszcz, sophomore guard Kevin McCarthy and senior forward Matt McCarthy. Other Churchmen to watch include junior forward TJ Lamb.

“We have a very competitive-minded and strong-willed team looking to gain experience as the season develops in an attempt to win the Inter-Ac League,” said EA head coach Brian Shanahan.

 

Episcopal Academy (girls)

The Churchwomen, who compiled a 4-5 record last winter, return four starters, with the key returnees being senior guards Riley Cassidy, Bella Piselli and Amanda Purcell, and junior forward Gaeli Keffer-Scharpf. Other EA players to watch include sophomore guard Natalie Magnotta, senior forward Nyah Legette and senior guard Alice Nash.

EA head coach Chuck Simmonds said, “We bring some more depth to this season with four returning starters and a deeper bench. They are hoping to lean on that experience through a tough Inter-Ac schedule, as well as some quality non-league opponents. We will look to create easy opportunities early stemmed by good defense and strong rebounding.”

 

Friends’ Central (boys)

Phoenix returnees include senior forward Kahmai Clark, sophomore forward/center Isaac Moore, junior forward/center Liam Foley and junior guard/forward Joe Green. Other Phoenix players to watch include sophomore guard Reid Belcher, sophomore guard Fazl Oshodi, junior guard/forward Collin Bowman and freshman guard Gabe Moore.

Head coach Mike Cook said, “We’re establishing a culture of defense and physicality. We will continue to gel as a team and get better each day. We have the team to fight for a Friends’ Schools League championship.” 

 

Friends’ Central (girls)

The Phoenix, coached by Phil Annas (now in his 23rd year as head coach), return all five starters from last year’s team, which played only five games due to COVID. Leading the way is 5-7 senior guard/forward Madison Smith, who is close to scoring 1,000 career points for Friends’ Central and was selected first team All-Main Line each of the last three years. Other key returnees include 5-6 senior guard Aminah Alwyn, 5-5 junior guard Sanaa Garrett, 6-1 junior forward Amani Savage, 5-7 senior forward Jai Smith and 5-7 senior guard Erin Beck.

Other players to watch include 6-2 freshman guard/forward Logyn Greer, 5-3 freshman guard Sydney Williams and 5-8 freshman forward Jordyn Adderly.

Annas believes this squad will be able to use an aggressive and quicker line-up to create offensive opportunities from the defensive side of the ball. Annas hopes this experienced core along with a mix of young and talented players will help Friends’ Central make a run at the Friends Schools League playoffs.

 

Harriton (girls)

The Rams reached the PIAA District 1 5A championship finals for the first time last winter, and return some of the players from that squad, including senior guard Annie Aspesi, who was a first team All-Central League and All-Main Line selection last winter; senior guard Maretta Smith; and 6-2 senior Kira MacDonald, who should add some size to the lineup.  Complementing the seniors are juniors Sophie Kasmer and Nora Dionne. Mady Calhoun, who received second team All-Main Line honors as a junior last winter, has moved to Rhode Island.

Ram head coach Christina Wielgus sees much enthusiasm and talent in the up-and-coming underclassmen.

“Slashers and sisters sophomore Felicity and freshmen Maddie McFillin are aggressive, skilled and strong competitors,” said Wielgus. “Sophomore Alexis Kanzinger is a quick guard who can handle and score.  Two new inside players,  freshman Anna Chimento and  sophomore Kate Russell will be called on to shore up our inside game.  First-year students Julia Cognetti ,Tilly May Olivia Gastner and Shannon  Gabor will add speed and depth in the guard position.

“Defense will continue to be the strength of the team.  We have experience and depth in the guard position, and we will have good scoring balance.   Our inside game is young and will need to adapt to the size and strength of the Central League.”

 

Harriton (boys)

The Rams have several key returnees, including 6-4 senior center Dan Katz, senior guard Jack Stevens, and senior guard Sam Alnabulsi.  Other Rams to watch include 6-3 junior forward Jack Chadowski, junior guard Aidan Abrams and sophomore guard Jadyn Gaskins.
Ram head coach Jesse Rappaport said, “Our leading strengths are our work ethic, unselfishness and conditioning. Our primary goals are to start to rebuild this program, and get the most out of our ability.”

 

Haverford High (girls)

The Fords have some good size, with key returnees including 6-1 junior forward Mollie Carpenter, 6-1 junior forward Caroline Dotsey, 5-5 senior guard Maddie Williams, 5-8 senior guard Emma Rowland and 5-9 sophomore guard Aniya Eberhart from last winter’s Ford squad which compiled a 10-6 record. Other players to watch include 6-0 freshman Rian Dotsey, 5-5 junior guard Sky Newman and 5-10 senior forward McKenna Walsh.

“Our biggest strength should be our size and ability to rebound the ball at both ends of the floor,” said Haverford head coach Lauren Pellicane. “We are well-rounded in every position. We will go as far as our defense takes us. Offensively, improving from the outside and at the foul line will contribute to how successful we ultimately will be.”

 

Haverford High (boys)

The Fords, who posted an 8-5 record last winter, return senior guard/forward Nick Colucci, senior guard JR Newman, junior guard Googie Seidman and senior guard Colin Reynolds. Other Fords to watch include junior guard Brian Weiner, junior guard Kevin Gannon and junior forward Tom Wright.

“We have a lot of speed and quickness,” said Haverford head coach Keith Heinerichs. “The team moves the ball well and plays together.  We need to be able to defend the bigger teams in the league and figure out ways to use our speed as an advantage.”

 

Lower Merion (boys)

The Aces open their 2021-22 season Dec. 10 against Pocono Mountain West at Albright University.
While the Lower Merion boys lost point guard Sam Davison (called “the engine of our team” last winter by head coach Gregg Downer) and forward Zack Wong to graduation last spring, the Aces return a prominent star in 6-foot-9 senior all-state center Demetrius Lilley, who recently committed to Penn State.
Last winter, Lilley became the first player to average more than 20 points (22.2) and 10 rebounds (12.2) since Kobe Bryant in 1996. He is also the first Ace to average a double-double in consecutive seasons since Bryant. Lilley is the only Ace to ever score more than 30 points and collect more than 30 rebounds in a single game, a feat he has accomplished twice. He also received first team All-Main Line honors last winter.
Other key returnees include junior guard Sam Brown and senior guard Jaylen Shippen, both of whom received All-Main Line recognition last season.
“Our team will rely on Demetrius, who is one of the better big men in the state to anchor the interior, and experienced guards like Jaylen and Sam Brown to help space the floor and provide leadership,” said Young. “We will need to replace the leadership and grit of Sam and Zack, who were key to the district championship run. We return several additional players with game experience, including seniors Peter Gribbin and Henry Bard as well as juniors Sam Wright, Justin Poles and Andrew Coyne. The rest of the roster is almost entirely made up of ninth- and 10th-graders. It’s a relatively young group. Our team goals remain the same — be in position to compete for league and District titles, and qualify for the state playoffs.”

 

Lower Merion (girls)

“Our team’s main strength is its emotional connectedness,” said LM girls basketball head coach Erin Laney. “They commiserated and played through a pandemic together and they all want to make the most of this season. “Our new focus has been to exercise our player’s minds by enhancing IQ and teaching them how to analyze and evaluate the game, rather than spending two hours a night on pure skill development. It’s a steep learning curve at first, but the payoff should be there.
“We want to be known for our hard-nosed man-to-man defense. We want to be a no-second-chances team, which we unfortunately have not been in the past.”
One of the key returning Aces is senior Emma Cloud, a three-year starter.
“While playing as an undersized center, Emma’s footwork is textbook-quality and her refined finishing skills around the rim give her the ability to quietly put 12 or 14 points on the board every night,” said Laney. Other Aces to watch include junior Laila Stevens, noted for her talented ballhandling; senior leader Isabel Bowser; junior McKenna Reardon; 5-9 senior guard Amanda Rossello; and junior guard Eva Taberski.
“McKenna is the voice of the current Lower Merion girls’ basketball program,” said Laney. “The first to make a joke or perform a TikTok dance, she simultaneously demonstrates supreme leadership on the court. Amanda is our lockdown defender and has so much passion for the game. Eva will be a fierce presence on the court this season as a tall, incredibly strong, slashing guard.”

Malvern Prep

The Friars, who posted a 6-2 record last winter, have a new coach in Paul Roamnczuk, formerly the mentor of the perennially powerful Archbishop Carroll boys basketball squad.

“We have a great group of young guys who are very coachable and willing to work,” said Romanczuk. “They are buying in on the defensive end and improving daily.  Our biggest strength is our perimeter shooting.  We look to be very competitive once the Inter-Ac league rolls around after a difficult non-league schedule.”

Key returnees for the Friars are senior forward Tyler Lauder, junior forward Andrew Phillips, senior guard Joey Vandergeest and senior guard Chase Reardon.

Other Malvern players to watch include sophomore guard Ryan Williams, junior guard/forward Hayden Pegg and junior forward Charlie Oschell.

Merion Mercy Academy

Top returnees for the Golden Bears include senior forward Lucy Curry (averaged 10 ppg and 10 rpg last winter), junior forward Mary Kate Gray (averaged 10 ppg and 8 rpg last winter), senior guard Francesca Scarpone (a starter last winter), junior guard Julia Richardson (a starter last winter), versatile senior guard Erin Devlin, senior guard Monica Marenda (noted as a team leader) and junior forward Olivia DeLucca.

Other Golden Bears to watch are junior guard Annie Conway, senior center Maeve McMahon, sophomore forward Elle Kilgannon and junior guard Maggie Iannone.

“We’ve been building the program the last 2-3 years and the coaches and players are really excited for the upcoming season as we return five starting players and eight of our top 10 players from last year,” said Merion Mercy head coach John Richardson. “We play in a really tough league in the AACA but we’re ready to compete every night. Our returning forwards Mary Kate Gray and Lucy Curry will pose match-up problems for other teams and we have really good versatility with wing players such as Monica Marenda, Erin Devlin, and Julia Richardson. Our guard play with Francesca Scarpone, Annie Conway, and Maggie Iannone has looked really good in the pre-season and we have great depth with Liv DeLucca, Maeve McMahon, and Elle Kilgannon coming off the bench. If we play with pace and poise on offense and toughness on defense, we think we have a really good season and will keep moving in the right direction.”

Radnor (girls)

The Raptors have a new head coach, Rob Baxter, who coached the Merion Mercy Academy basketball team from 2008-2018.

Top returnees for the Raptors are 5-7 senior guard/forward Ava Grummel, 5-8 junior forward Paige Yurchak and 5-7 senior guard Maddie Bader. Top newcomers are 6-1 senior forward Ellie Davis, 5-7 junior guard Mary Sereen and 5-5 sophomore guard Caroline Monahan.

“Our success will depend on how well we can stay out of foul trouble,” said Baxter. “We have a nice mix of experienced players with some younger girls. There will be a little learning curve with a new coach but we hope to put ourselves in position to compete for a playoff spot.” 

 

Radnor (boys)

Raptor returnees include senior guard Pierce Justice, junior wing Charlie Thornton, junior guard Danny Rosenblum and junior guard Jackson Hicke. Other Raptors to watch include junior guard Cooper Mueller and senior forward Cliff Smith.

“We have great team chemistry, this group really supports each other,” said Radnor head coach Jamie Chadwin. “They embrace the notion of getting better each day.”

 

Sacred Heart Academy

The Lions, who captured their fifth consecutive PIAA District 1 2A title last winter, has a solid core of returnees from last year’s squad, including 5-9 senior guard/forward Ainsley Davis, 5-7 senior guard Kathryn Gallagher, 5-4 senior guard Kyra Santora, 5-6 senior guard Bella O’Toole, 5-7 sophomore forward Avery Schultz, 5-7 sophomore forward Annie Corcoran and 5-7 sophomore guard Makenzie Fisher. The Lions have a couple of promising freshmen in guard MJ Donohue and forward Keara McCaffrey.

“We’re looking to compete for another district championship,” said Sacred Heart head coach Zach Shuler, in his 16th year at the helm of the Lions. “We have great senior leadership mixed with some really good young talent – our team chemistry should be a strength.”

Shipley (girls)

The Gators’ key returnees include seniors forward Amira Trueblood and senior wing/forward Lauryn Redcross. Other Shipley players to watch are freshmen Julianna Proper and Anna Paschale, and eighth graders Taylor Lasky, Rikai Williford, and Sanai Johnson.

The Gators have posted a 2-3 record (as of Dec. 13).

Shipley’s new head coach Kyle Adams said, “Every day, we are striving to learn how to play connected and complementary basketball.” 

Villa Maria

The Hurricanes, who were 7-9 last winter, return senior guard Mary Grace Murphy, junior forward Clare Cronly, junior guard Ella Iacone and sophomore guard Carly Catania. Other players to watch include junior guard Elaina Guerzon, junior guard Ava Irvine, senior forward Natalie Bacallao, senior guard Julianna Bailer and junior guard Marah McHugh.

“Our strength will be our overall athleticism,” said Villa Maria head coach Kathy McCartney. “We can run the floor well and I think once we get everyone healthy and are at full strength we hope to challenge for the AACA championship.”

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