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Main Line girls’ basketball teams looking to contend in Central League

The 2021 Central League girls’ basketball season should be an interesting one, as local squads and schools deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As of Jan. 19, the Central League teams are scheduled to play 11 games against league opponents.
Here is a beginning-of-the-season look at the Central League girls’ basketball squads on the Main Line:
The Pioneers, who posted a 7-15 record last winter (4-12 Central League), will have a youthful look in 2021.
“We are going to be a very young team with a lot of new faces that do not have much varsity experience if any at all,” said Conestoga head coach AJ Thompson. “With all of the questions going into the season, the teams with a lot of experience will certainly have an advantage over those that do not.
“That being said, the last two seasons we have taken steps forward to compete each and every night in the Central League and I think this team will continue that trend and might even surprise a few people along the way.”
Conestoga features a couple of solid returning players in sophomore forward Kate Galica (8 ppg, 7 rpg, 3 apg last year) and junior guard Katie Faith (6 ppg, 3 rpg, 38 percent from three-point range).
Top newcomers for the Pioneers are sophomore Gabby Ridder and freshmen Marisa Francione, Isabella Valencia. Arielle LePage and Katrina Valencia.
“Even though we have a young team we have a tight-knit group that really enjoys each other and wants to compete for each other; so I think that will help us as this season unfolds,” said Thompson. “I’m really excited to finally get in the gym with this group and see where the season takes us. The Central League, as usual, is looking very strong and with such a compact schedule it’s going to be a race to the finish that will be fun to be a part of.”
The Rams return six key upperclassmen, with leadership provided by a trio of seniors – guard Lexy Calhoun, Alexia Louca and Sydney Kasmer.
“Lexy is the steady glue that keeps all the parts together,” said Harriton head coach Chris Wielgus of Calhoun, who received All-Main Line honorable mention last winter. “She can score to 3; defend the post and perimeter and has a knack for rebounding.
“Alexia is a force. She is a fierce competitor and strong athlete. Alexia only knows one speed and that is hard. She plays hard and works hard. Alexia doesn’t back down; she can get to the rim and she owns the boards.
“Sydney provides a spark off the bench. She can score to 3 and can re-bound the ball.”
The Rams have a talented junior class, led by guard Annie Aspesi, who was a first team All-Central League and All-Main Line selection last winter, averaging 10.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.0 apg and 2.5 deflections per con-test, and converting 80 percent of her free throws.
Junior guard Maretta Smith was a second team All-Main Line selection in 2020, and junior forward Mady Calhoun received All-Main Line honorable mention.
“Annie, Mady and Maretta are committed and skilled players,” said Wielgus. “All three have a knack for scoring and a very good understanding of the game and our system of play.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as of Jan. 19 Harriton (and the rest of the Central League) will play a limited regular-season schedule.
“This has been a year of uncertainty and I have no idea how the season will evolve,” said Wielgus. “But I do know we will be ready to compete when the ball goes up for the center jump. I am excited about watching this team play.”
Haverford High
The Fords, who enjoyed a strong 2020 campaign (16-11 record, advanced to Central League Tournament semifinals, advanced to the second round of Districts), lost only one player to graduation last spring and features a deep lineup for the 2021 season.
Leading the way for the Fords are 6-1 sophomore forward Caroline Dotsey and 5-7 senior guard Chiara McGillivray, who were first team All-Main Line selections last winter.
Dotsey was a potent force underneath, averaging 8.8 rpg, 7.5 rpg and 1.2 bpg, while MacGillivray displayed a wide range of skills, averaging 9.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg and 1.8 apg while converting 39 treys.
Other key returnees for the Fords include 5-9 senior guard/forward Addison Brodnik, 5-8 junior guard Emma Rowland, 6-0 sophomore forward Mollie Carpenter and 5-5 junior guard Maddie Williams.
“Our biggest key this season is stay healthy,” said Haverford head coach Lauren Pellicane. “Experience gained with a young core from last season will play a large role in this year’s success. Our biggest strength is our depth – we are deeper and more balanced at every position.”
Lower Merion
The Aces return a number of starters from last year, notably senior guard/forward Bridget McCann and senior guard Sophia Dowdall, both of whom received All-Main Line honorable mention last winter; and senior point guard Phoebe Mennis (42 assists last season).
Lower Merion head coach Erin Laney said, “Bridget has a strong outside shot, can score off of the dribble, and is a natural leader on and off the court. Sophia is our best outside shooter – she hit 48 threes and was our leading scorer last year. Phoebe had to take over as starting point guard last season when Ellie O’Keefe had a season-ending injury and will start again this season.”
Senior guard Lindsey Rivkind returns from an ACL tear that sidelined her last year, and junior forward Emma Cloud (6.0 ppg last year) also returns.
“Lindsey has a strong outside shot and a solid dribble drive,” said Laney. “Emma was our most consistent post player last year. She’s undersized, but has a strong 15-foot jumper.”
Laney said the Aces’ biggest key this season is focusing on the funda-mentals.
“We’ve focused this preseason on re-teaching basic offensive and defensive skills to achieve our team goal of simply being better than we were last year,” said Laney. “The girls are absorbing each lesson that we’ve thrown at them and are just excited to be playing basketball again after an 11-month hiatus.
“We know there are tough games on our schedule, but our hope is that we can hold our own and perhaps surprise some teams over the next month of competition.”
Radnor, which posted a 16-10 record last winter and advanced to the PIAA state tournament for the fifth time in seven years, feature a couple of returning starters in senior forward Cierra Hopson and senior guard Sally Austen.
Other players to watch for Radnor include senior forward Ellie Rinehart; senior guards Margaret Mooney, Katie DeShan and MK Colleran; junior guards Ava Gummel and Maddie Bader; and sophomore forward Paige Yurchak.
“Rinehart and Yurchak are athletic players who can play both ends of the floor,” said Radnor head coach Mark Jordan. “Gummel and Mooney will be counted on to score for the team.”
Radnor also lost the school’s all-time leading scorer, Ellie Mueller (Princeton University), to graduation.
“Two of our starters opted out this season, so our team lacks varsity experience,” noted Jordan. “We are obviously happy to have a season – especially for our seniors. We will continue to improve into late February and the girls will look to play up-tempo throughout the campaign. Our seniors do get along very well with each other – so that’s a plus. We will enjoy every minute that we have the chance to be together in this truncated season.”

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