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North Penn keeps moving closer to PIAA title

ROYERSFORD >> Jess Huber gave the North Penn girls basketball team its biggest lead Tuesday night, as the junior’s jumper off a spinning drive put the Knights up 31-23 in the third quarter of their PIAA Class AAAA semifinal with Cardinal O’Hara.

From there, however, collecting points became a struggle for North Penn. And a 15-2 Lions run turned NP’s eight-point advantage into a five-point deficit after a Mary Sheehan three made it 38-33 O’Hara.

Bri Hewlett’s basket cut the margin to three, but that was as close as the Knights could get as Cardinal O’Hara headed to Hershey and a state final matchup with Cumberland Valley with a 48-41 victory.

“There was a stretch of a few minutes where we were doing absolutely nothing on offense,” North Penn senior Mikaela Giuliani said. “We were stuck on 33 for a while. They were converting, they’re good shooters, we can’t just let them have their open shots and we were doing that. We weren’t playing great defense and we weren’t getting any points on offense.”

Their chance at a state title ended at Spring-Ford High School, but for Giuliani and the rest of the Knights, the memories of another fantastic season will never go away.

“Obviously I’m not going to lose any of my friendships cause I truly believe these are life-long friendships that I’ve made with these girls,” Giuliani said. “But just like being together all the time, going to practices, team sleepovers, all the little stuff like that. And great games when we pull out a great ending like Perk Valley we’ll definitely be a game that we’ll watch together as a team and enjoy.”

Giuliani, North Penn’s lone senior, was a part of 100 victories in her high school career with North Penn winning at least 21 games the last four seasons, the most the 29 the Knights earned this year. The span also includes a District 1 title, three Suburban One League Continental Conference titles – two outright, one shared – and an SOL Tournament championship.

“It means so much to me. My sophomore year when Bri (Cullen), Vicky (Tumasz) and Erin (Maher) left, I knew that I had to step up as a leader and that’s what I did,” Giuliani said. “And I’m really confident in leaving Jess, Ris (Ye) and Sam (Carangi) to be the ones to pull the team next year. I have a lot of faith in them.”

Huber finished Tuesday night with a team-high 17 points, nine coming in the third. It was the third straight PIAA game the junior paced the Knights in scoring despite playing on an injured right foot the past few weeks. Huber also reached double-figures in all five of NP’s district playoff contests.

“Her foot has been injured before Feb. 26. I’m not quite sure what it is, but it’s really swollen and she’s been playing on it for like two or three weeks, whatever time that is” North Penn coach Maggie deMarteleire. “Her will to win and her competitive nature is one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

Not that deMarteleire needed to see Huber perform at a high level on a bad wheel to know her desire to win.
“I always joke around, she was like in eighth grade in one of the camps we run at the high school, she like blocked this one little fourth grader’s shot in a game,” deMarteleire said. “All the kids were mad at her, but to be very honest, I kind of liked it, cause she’s pretty competitive. So, I liked it.

“But she really had a great postseason for us on a bad foot.”

Huber, Carangi — a Villanova commit — and Irisa Ye are all back next season, as are Jess McKenzie and Mia Melchior, who both saw time in the starting five, for a North Penn program that is solidly among the elite in District 1.

“I feel like the program itself has just each kid that’s come in has wanted to elevate it to the next level,” deMarteleire said. “And I feel we’ve done that. So, hopefully for next year, we’ll get one more step of the way.”

And while the state semifinal appearance was the first ever for the Knights, long postseason runs are becoming the norm, the team having reached the PIAA quarters three of the past four years.

“I feel like the bar has definitely been raised for our program,” deMarteleire said. “With our eighth grade class that’s coming in and with the returning kids we have, our juniors and sophomores, and even our freshmen coming back next year, hopefully it’s going to get higher.”

The future certainly looks bright. But having their state title dreams slip away in the second half Tuesday night was a tough way for the present to come to end for North Penn.

“I think we’re a great team. We’re like a family, so we’re still going to hang out every day and do everything together. But I think it’s really disappointing,” Huber said. “We wanted that state championship. It just stinks that we couldn’t get there.”

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