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:
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.”
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.”
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org