Ryan Ragdolls lead the Catholic school pack

Back at it again: Arch­bish­op Ry­an girls bas­ket­ball coach Jack­ie Hartzell (right) brings back eight play­ers with sig­ni­fic­ant varsity ex­per­i­ence for the 2012-13 sea­son. TIMES FILE PHOTO

At the start of the sea­son, ex­pect­a­tions are run­ning high in the girls’ pa­ro­chi­al bas­ket­ball leagues in North­east Philly.

Arch­bish­op Ry­an brings back the most ex­per­i­enced squad, and St. Hubert and Little Flower are hop­ing to be in the mix for Cath­ol­ic League play­off spots by the sea­son’s end.

Mean­while, in the Cath­ol­ic Academies League, Naz­areth is cop­ing with los­ing three of its seni­or lead­ers and hop­ing to trans­late youth in­to a suc­cess­ful show­ing in league play.

A busy, hec­tic time in or­gan­iz­ing rosters and lineup ro­ta­tions has led to im­mense ex­cite­ment for the 2012-13 sea­son. Here’s a closer look at the four girls’ Cath­ol­ic teams com­pet­ing in the area:

Cath­ol­ic League

Arch­bish­op Ry­an

Last sea­son: 13-11 over­all

The Rag­dolls are cer­tainly blessed with an im­press­ive crop of re­turn­ing play­ers, one coach Jack­ie Hartzell hopes will carry the team fur­ther in­to the Cath­ol­ic League play­offs.

Hav­ing lost just one starter in point guard Megan Wolf, Hartzell brings back seni­ors Kalene Cof­fey, Court­ney Helm, Melissa Rizzo, Kel­sey Dale and Aman­da Wein­dorfer. Cof­fey will be looked upon for scor­ing, Rizzo will be the primary ball-hand­ler and Helm, Dale and Wein­dorfer provide en­ergy, re­bound­ing and de­fense. The Rag­dolls boast strong depth, with ju­ni­ors Taylor Adair and Al­is­on Szyszko and sopho­more Dani­elle Skedzielewski com­ing off the bench. Hartzell calls her team of small, ver­sat­ile play­ers “in­ter­change­able.” After a strong fall sea­son for ath­let­ics at the school, the St. Hubert grad hopes to keep the pos­it­ive move­ment flow­ing on the bas­ket­ball court.

“We bring back some great kids, kids that really work hard and are good lead­ers,” Hartzell said. “We re­turn eight kids who got varsity minutes, and there’s a level of ex­cite­ment com­ing from the girls. Our goal is to get bet­ter every game and play our best ball at the end of the sea­son. If we make the play­offs play­ing our best bas­ket­ball at the time, maybe we can sur­prise one of the top teams (Car­din­al O’Hara, Arch­bish­op Car­roll, Arch­bish­op Wood). We’re right in the mix.”

Little Flower

Last sea­son: 5-16 over­all

En­ter­ing his 19th sea­son as Little Flower coach, Adam Buchter still cares much more about the school’s rich his­tory and tra­di­tion than he does about wins and losses.

This isn’t to say Buchter — also the school’s ath­let­ic dir­ect­or — doesn’t want to win, but the pro­gram he has built has come to mean so much more. While the Sen­tinels may rank near the bot­tom of the league in terms of play­off wins, league titles and Di­vi­sion-I col­lege play­ers, the stu­dent-ath­letes make up for it in school spir­it and en­thu­si­asm. 

Buchter singled out for­ward Mor­gan Power as the team’s biggest in­side-out­side threat, while Meghan Pet­roski brings ex­per­i­ence to the point guard po­s­i­tion on this ju­ni­or-laden team. And while Little Flower may not re­cruit top-notch ath­letes, Buchter said the pro­cess of watch­ing play­ers ma­ture as young wo­men makes the job won­der­ful.

“Our big thing is to get bet­ter each week and im­prove what we have,” he said. “Kids choose Little Flower for aca­dem­ics, so es­sen­tially kids just come in and try out for sports. It’s a fam­ily-ori­ented place, and most of them have re­l­at­ives who have played sports here. We want every kid to have a chance to play, and we don’t want to change that. We’re out to win games, don’t get me wrong, but it’s about more than that. That said, this should be one of my bet­ter teams, both this year and next. People may not know who they are at Little Flower, but they’ll make a name for them­selves in the real world be­cause they’ve worked for it.”

St. Hubert

Last sea­son: 11-12 over­all

If this sea­son brings any­thing for the Bam­bies, sev­enth-year head coach Bri­an Kuzmick hopes it comes quietly.

Last year, St. Hubert was in the midst of its sea­son while the Arch­diocese was de­cid­ing the school’s fate. With its doors still open, the Bam­bies hope to get back to nor­mal this time around.

Led by seni­or for­wards Char­lotte Ku­cowski and Claire Al­minde, as well as tal­en­ted ju­ni­or guards Biff Jones, Car­oline Price, Gina Cocci and Kelly Ri­ley, the Bam­bies are look­ing for­ward to just play­ing bas­ket­ball. 

“Oh, ab­so­lutely,” Kuzmick said when asked if the hoopla sur­round­ing the school was a dis­trac­tion. “It’s easi­er to pre­pare and work when you don’t have to deal with any of that talk. We’re a ten­a­cious, re­si­li­ent team. We can go deep and hang in for four quar­ters. I think a lot of people ex­pect us to have a down year and take a step back, which we present to the kids as mo­tiv­a­tion. We want to com­pete with the top three, and I think we can sur­prise some people.”

Cath­ol­ic Academies League

Naz­areth Academy

Last sea­son: 17-10 over­all 

The most suc­cess­ful girls Cath­ol­ic school from a year ago will be deal­ing with some heavy losses.

Gone are standout play­ers Dani­elle Gasperi, Brid­get So­bon and Raya Stern, leav­ing second-year head coach John Turn­er without a lot of ex­per­i­ence on the court. However, Turn­er ex­pressed ex­cite­ment for the com­ing sea­son, es­pe­cially giv­en the fact that Nicole Dom­browski is re­turn­ing for her seni­or sea­son. Dom­browski, whom Turn­er called “our rock and our fran­chise,” presents match-up night­mares for most teams be­cause of her abil­ity to score down low and from the peri­met­er. She’s also re­lent­less in at­tack­ing the glass and chas­ing down loose balls. Sopho­more Melissa Sylvester, who played sig­ni­fic­ant minutes as a fresh­man, as well as a hand­ful of fresh-faced sopho­mores and ju­ni­ors, will aid Dom­browski on a team that hopes to get past the early grow­ing pains.

“We have some big shoes to fill,” Turn­er said. “I know there will be a learn­ing curve and some mis­takes in the early go­ing, but I want to keep them pos­it­ive and make sure they’re learn­ing from these mis­takes. We’ll take some lumps, but we ex­pect to be for­mid­able in the long term. We’re young, but we have tal­ent, and the girls are hungry. 

“I’ll be hon­est, even after a year where we made the state tour­na­ment for the first time in sev­en years … I’m more ex­cited about this sea­son. I’m psyched about this group of kids. They’re sponges right now. As long as they keep work­ing hard, we’ll be in a good place when we need to be.” ••

Sports Ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­rone@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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