Mercury All-Area: Grace Galbavy quickly finds her fit, pushes Perkiomen Valley in PAC & District 1 championship season

The Perkiomen Valley girls basketball team was loving its present when it received news that could have unsettled its future.

Last March, the 2021-22 Vikings were relishing an unexpected run into the PIAA tournament when, on a bus ride after a state playoff win, they learned that Grace Galbavy, then an Upper Perkiomen freshman revelation, would be moving into the Perkiomen Valley School District.

“We were all together. Rumors were going around but this was the first time we got the message that she was coming to our team next year,” sophomore Lena Stein recalled. “We were freshmen and we had all been playing together forever and we finally felt settled in. It was kind of controversial. We have this good thing going and some people felt a little threatened. … We were all thinking pretty selfishly looking back on it.”

Without any personal connections to their future teammate, the Vikings were understandably uncertain. Its freshmen class featuring Stein, Quinn Boettinger, Bella Bacani, Julia Smith and Grace Miley were significant pieces of a team that reached the PIAA quarterfinals a year ago.

The introduction of Galbavy, who was Mercury All-Area first team as a rookie scoring a PAC second-best 18.9 points per game while almost single-handedly elevating Upper Perk into PAC and district playoff qualifiers, could have unsettled a promising program.

Yet all anxiety quickly dissipated from the moment the team came together after Galbavy enrolled at Perk Valley for the final weeks of the 2021-22 school year.

The Perkiomen Valley girls basketball team celebrates after defeating Haverford to win the District 1-6A championship on March 4 at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

“From the first day, they were all very welcoming. I felt like I knew them,” Galbavy said. “I’ve never met people I felt were so much like me.”

The feeling was mutual.

“Literally when I first met her, I felt like I’ve known her my whole life. She instantly became one of my best friends, which is insane,” Stein said. “Basketball wise, she was the missing puzzle piece. She was like a miracle sent to our team.”

The ‘miracle’ was Galbavy’s malleability as a person, teammate and player, a 6-footer with the ability to be a ball-handler, elite passer, scorer, leading rebounder and inside-outside defensive presence with her 6-3 wingspan.

Galbavy’s ability to meld into everything the Vikings needed — especially after starter Grace Miley suffered a long-term knee injury in the fall — raised the roof for a Perk Valley team that went 28-2 and became Pioneer Athletic Conference and District 1 champions for the first time in seven years and reached the second round of the PIAA 6A tournament.

Galbavy’s season was worthy of Mercury All-Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year after leading the Vikings in most statistical categories. She led PV in rebounding (8.3 per game), assists (3.4) and steals (2.0). She finished second to fellow two-time All-Area first teamer Boettinger while scoring 13.3 per game, recognizing that being a facilitator and all-around contributor would carry more weight than her scoring average.

“She absolutely made us a better passing team. She came in with the game that is capable of making incredible passes and she decided that was more important to her than scoring the basketball,” Perkiomen Valley coach John Russo said. “When you look around the landscape of girls basketball, the people that get noticed are the ones that shoot the ball 20 times and score baskets.

“She decided, ‘That’s not important to me. The most important thing is winning.’ She recognized she had a talented group around her and wanted to get them the ball in places they can score.”

Perkiomen Valley’s Grace Galbavy (35) drives along the baseline against Spring-Ford during a game Thursday, Feb. 2. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Galbavy led in unique ways, notably as the driving force behind the creation of the ‘6 a.m. Shooting Club,’ a practice session before school that she requested and got approval for by PV administration and Russo. It became a fixture for much of the PV roster.

“I am the CEO of the 6 a.m. shooting club,” Galbavy joked. “I think that was a big team bonding moment. I knew that they really wanted to win as much as I do. The first day we had like 10 people here. It showed me everybody wanted to get better and I really loved that.”

Galbavy came to basketball almost by mistake — she first tried basketball after her parents missed sign-ups for another season of youth soccer — but she was hooked from the tipoff.

“Basketball interested me so much and I could understand it immediately,” Galbavy said. “Once I started playing basketball and coaches were teaching me things, back door cuts, Euro-steps, I could pick it up immediately. If you put me in another sport, I’m probably athletic enough to play it, but I wouldn’t understand the little things like I do basketball.

“I got matched up with the perfect sport for me. I’m so glad my mom missed the fall soccer sign-ups.”

Perkiomen Valley’s Grace Galbavy tries to drive along the baseline against Spring-Ford’s Katie TIffan. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Galbavy was a big fish in a small basketball pond at Upper Perkiomen. She was playing for the sixth-grade team in third grade and was given opportunities through coaching connections to play against college players as a middle schooler. That exposure and high-level AAU play — she currently plays on the Philly Rise 16U team — makes a talent that defies her age, as does her authentic, earnest personality.

A player’s status elevating while scoring six fewer points per game may seem counterintuitive, but Galbavy joined the Vikings and immediately prioritized winning and team success over any individual statistical glory. Galbavy likely would have challenged for the PAC career scoring record with four years at Upper Perkiomen. But her sole dream coming to Perk Valley was to play in the biggest games, a wish that came true.

“A lot of people will never understand what it’s like to play in a really big game,” Galbavy said. “It’s a surreal feeling, all those people there to watch you. It’s so much more fun to play when there’s a lot of people there to watch you. It’s that extra motivation and adrenaline.

“You only get one high school experience and it’s such a great experience I’ve had this year. The community support, the student section, you don’t really see that for girls basketball around here. I’m so glad to be here.”

Perkiomen Valley’s rivalry with Spring-Ford was the defining matchup of the girls basketball season. The highly-rated programs both returned a ton of talent and faced off four times, twice in the regular season, the PAC championship and the District 1 semifinals.

The first meeting in front of a packed crowd on youth night at Spring-Ford, the Rams defeated the Vikings 56-44, a gut punch to PV but a result that became a rallying point.

“It was hard on our team. It was tough going to school the next day. The rest of the team had felt that from last year’s PAC championship, but I hadn’t felt that before,” Galbavy said. “I knew I hadn’t given my best effort and we lost because of it. It woke me up with how I needed to be if we wanted to win big games. I needed to take more shots and trust what my coaches and teammates were telling me.”

The loss helped the Vikings better find their roles and a 16-game winning streak followed, including a defining 44-37 win over Spring-Ford on Feb. 2 where Galbavy netted a game-high 18 points.

“This season was about respect. We knew the first time we beat Spring-Ford, we proved ourselves. It was a psychological breakthrough,” Galbavy said. “Once we got to play them in the PAC game at home, that was our game to show everyone that we are a good team, we practice a lot and we’re not a bust. We were ready for that moment.”

That set the table for Perkiomen Valley’s rout of Spring-Ford in the PAC championship, 51-26, and run as No. 1 seed through the District 1 tournament. The Vikings stunned the Rams in the semifinals after closing the game on a 17-0 run for a 53-42 win, then backed it up by outlasting senior-stacked No. 2 seed Haverford, 48-44, in the title game at Temple.

“The goal going into the season for a lot of people was just to win the PAC championship, especially because of how they felt last year,” Galbavy said. “I always want to set high goals because I want to achieve a lot, as a team we want to achieve a lot.”

The Perkiomen Valley girls basketball team celebrates after defeating Haverford to win the District 1-6A championship on March 4 at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia. (Evan Wheaton- MediaNews Group)

Perk Valley’s 41-38 overtime loss to eventual PIAA 6A champion Archbishop Carroll in the state second round leaves room for growth, which is precisely Galbavy’s plan.

“Every time we lose I learn a lot. A lot of the time it’s me not performing,” Galbavy said. “I need to elevate my game to be a three-level scorer and not rely on taking someone in the paint when Quinn’s in there and forcing too much. A lot of the Carroll game was probably my fault.

“I need to be ready next season. I can’t take anything lightly.”

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