ROYERSFORD >> In the many twists and turns of Tuesday night’s PIAA Class AAAA girls basketball semifinal, the contributions of Cardinal O’Hara’s Kristen Denoncour could easily get overshadowed.
It isn’t necessarily a new feeling for the junior forward. And while even the boxscore of O’Hara’s 48-41 win over North Penn barely affords Denoncour a passing glance, she remains a sizeable if understated cog in the Lions’ run to the Friday’s state final in Hershey.
Blink and you might have missed Denoncour’s statistical input Wednesday night — two rebounds, one block, no shot attempts. She played sparingly, a few minutes in the second quarter with Hannah Nihill nursing two fouls, then spot duty in the second half to bolster O’Hara’s defense down low.
But Denoncour is one of the foundational elements that helps the talented guards flourish. And when O’Hara runs up against defending state champion Cumberland Valley Friday night (Giant Center, 6 p.m.), she could occupy a big role, literally and figuratively.
Denoncour flies under the radar with all of O’Hara’s scoring threats and Division I talents. But she does a lot of the dirty work that gives those attack-minded perimeter players freedine to operate.
“She’s the biggest hustler on team,” said guard Kenzie Gardler, who scored a team-high 18 points Tuesday, a direct beneficiary of Denoncour’s off-the-ball motion in the halfcourt. “She’ll come to practice and she’ll literally deck you for the ball. She’s definitely someone we love having on our team.”
With so many high-powered guards flitting around her, Denoncour’s role is simple: She’s there to set screens on offense, clog up the lane on defense and gobble up rebounds that come near her.
“I know that I’m not really playing that much,” Denoncour said. “I know my role is defense. I come in, try to get as many rebounds as I can. We don’t have much height on the team, so that’s my part: Come in, get some rebounds and give it to my guards.”
North Penn’s height advantage Tuesday was pronounced — on paper and in how monumentally the Maidens squandered the chance to put it into action. O’Hara essentially runs five guards for long stretches, requiring Mary Sheehan — who at 5-foot-11 has the sensibilities of a guard with the length to compete in the paint — to shoulder a heavier defensive burden in the low post. North Penn held the edge on the boards early, extending possessions and limiting jump-shot-happy O’Hara to one-and-done trips.
The 5-foot-11 Denoncour’s influence and fiery play stemmed that tide at a crucial juncture, allowing O’Hara to get back into the game before halftime.
“I know when we play teams with some height, I know it’s really my turn to step up, get in there and box out,” she said. “We don’t have much height, so I get in there, box out and get some rebounds.”
Even when Denoncour left the game, North Penn seemed skittish on offense, reticent to penetrate the lane in the fourth quarter despite needing baskets to get back in the game. For the game, North Penn puzzlingly failed to capitalize on that height edge.
O’Hara will hope Denoncour can duplicate that level of opponent frustration against Cumberland Valley (29-3). The defending PIAA champion Eagles are fueled by senior guard Kelly Jekot, who stands 6-foot-1, and Denoncour figures to have a role stymying her drives to the basket. Forwards Morgan Baughman and Addison Kirkpatrick are also dangerous options in the Eagles’ arsenal.
For a team without a senior, Denoncour also represents one of the seasoned veterans. Along with Gardler and Molly Paolino, she helped St. Anastasia to the Pennsylvania CYO title three years ago. That may pale in comparison with the bright lights of Hershey Friday.
But in Denoncour, O’Hara has a player acutely aware that she doesn’t need to be a star. She gladly accepts her role and willingly defers to the bevy of playmakers around her, the type of player that every championship team needs to have.
“Sometimes it works with the game,” Denoncour said of her objective. “If I get some rebounds and kick it out on offense, or get some rebounds on defense, the game flows.”