Northeast Times

All hands on deck

A swarm­ing Arch­bish­op Ry­an de­fense held Naz­areth Academy to just 29 points in the Rag­dolls’ first win of the sea­son. KEV­IN COOK / FOR THE TIMES

— Ry­an rides a deep roster of ex­per­i­enced play­ers to a big vic­tory over Naz­areth Academy in the an­nu­al Coaches vs. Can­cer Tour­na­ment.

Fa­cing a neigh­bor­hood rival after a two-week lay­off, the Arch­bish­op Ry­an girls bas­ket­ball team was rusty. But with strong vet­er­an lead­er­ship, the Rag­dolls found a way to win.

It had been ex­actly two weeks since Ry­an had dropped a pair of games in a sea­son-open­ing tour­na­ment in Bal­timore. But one of the best lux­ur­ies of hav­ing such an ex­per­i­enced group is know­ing how to win games when the team is not play­ing its best bas­ket­ball.

“When you haven’t played in as long as that, you’re go­ing to make mis­takes,” Ry­an head coach Jack­ie Hartzell said after Sat­urday’s game. “But our ef­fort was great from the start.”

The scene was the first an­nu­al Coaches vs. Can­cer Tour­na­ment, held Sat­urday at Holy Ghost Prep in Ben­s­alem. Matched up with fa­mil­i­ar neigh­bor­hood foe Naz­areth Academy, the Rag­dolls led throughout and ul­ti­mately pos­ted a 51-29 vic­tory, the team’s first of the sea­son. 

However, Ry­an was at times plagued by pro­longed sco­re­less stretches, and the team turned the ball over more than Hartzell would have liked. The Rag­dolls led just 18-9 at half­time, al­low­ing a very young Pan­das team to hang around, even though Naz­areth’s first field goal did not come un­til the lat­ter stages of the second quarter.

Enter the Ry­an Eight.

Hartzell has called her tre­mend­ously deep roster of play­ers “in­ter­change­able” in the sense that there is not ne­ces­sar­ily one or two stars play­ers who stand out above the rest. In­stead, Ry­an boasts eight play­ers in its ro­ta­tion who all pos­sess sim­il­ar skill sets on both sides of the ball. This group in­cludes five seni­ors (Kalene Cof­fey, Kel­sey Dale, Melissa Rizzo, Aman­da Wein­dorfer and Court­ney Helm) and two ju­ni­ors (Taylor Adair and Al­is­on Szyszko) with varsity ex­per­i­ence, as well as sopho­more Dani­elle Skedzielewski. Of that group, all but Wein­dorfer scored in the game against Naz­areth.

Cof­fey led the way with 17 points for the Rag­dolls, but play­ers like Wein­dorfer and Helm (two points) made huge con­tri­bu­tions to the vic­tory. The 5-foot-11 Wein­dorfer helped neut­ral­ize Naz­areth’s best play­er, seni­or for­ward Nicole Dom­browski, who was frus­trated with foul trouble and fin­ished with only five points. When Naz­areth made a run late in the second quarter, Helm drew a key charge against Dom­browski and that in­jec­ted some life back in­to Ry­an.

Point is, Ry­an can beat you in a lot of ways, and that bal­ance and self­less­ness will be key to the team’s suc­cess when its Cath­ol­ic League sched­ule kicks off on Jan. 4 against Lans­dale Cath­ol­ic.

“We struggle at times to score the ball, so we really like to con­cen­trate on do­ing the little things right,” Hartzell said. “Today, Cof­fey had a big game, and next game it can be someone else. Hav­ing such in­ter­change­able kids makes us deep­er than we have been in the past.”

With the first win of the sea­son fi­nally out of the way, the Rag­dolls will con­tin­ue to work on do­ing those little things right. The team’s fi­nal tun­eup be­fore league play will come in the Lady Pan­ther Hol­i­day Clas­sic, a three-game, post-Christ­mas tour­na­ment in Pick­er­ing­ton, Ohio. The Rag­dolls will play three games in three days from Dec. 27-29, and the eight-hour bus ride each way will al­low the team to con­tin­ue strength­en­ing its off-the-court bond.

“We’re tak­ing all 23 kids in our pro­gram, varsity and JV, and it’s something we’re really ex­cited for,” Hartzell said. “Not only will we get to play three games to give us a bet­ter idea (of) where we’re at as a team, but it also al­lows us to spend more time to­geth­er. We spend so much time to­geth­er work­ing on the court, so to go on an overnight trip as a team is something we’ll all really en­joy.

“I’m just very for­tu­nate to have these five seni­ors lead­ing this team. They play hard every time they go out there, which is all you can ask for. You want to give your­self a chance to win. As long as the ef­fort stays there, then the things we need to work on will be cor­rect­able.”

The Rag­dolls’ play pro­duced an ad­mirer on the oth­er side­line, Naz­areth head coach John Turn­er. Last year, in his first sea­son as head coach, Turn­er guided an ex­per­i­enced, seni­or-laden group to an 18-win sea­son; now, with many of his top play­ers gradu­ated (namely Dani­elle Gasperi, Brid­get So­bon and Raya Ste­arn), he is start­ing anew with a bunch of new faces. The changeover has con­trib­uted to the team’s 2-5 start.

A fierce com­pet­it­or, Turn­er hates to lose any game, and that is es­pe­cially true when it per­tains to loc­al rivals. However, if he was find­ing any sil­ver lin­ing in the 22-point loss, it was that it came at the hands of a team that Turn­er hopes re­sembles where his cur­rent group will be in a sea­son or two.

“We knew go­ing in that Ry­an was a good team,” he said. “They ap­ply pres­sure, they’re good in the half court de­fense, which is something we’re go­ing to see every night in our league games. They’ve all been to­geth­er for three or four years to the point where they know each oth­er’s tend­en­cies and what to ex­pect. We aren’t there yet, but we’ll keep push­ing to be­come a team like that in a year or so. Those kids have been to­geth­er awhile, and it shows. In time, we’ll re­semble them in a lot of ways.

“That said, we’re frus­trated with the loss. We aren’t a team that will hang our hats on any kind of mor­al vic­tory.”

For her part, Hartzell hopes her team’s best days are ahead. The en­tire group is fo­cused, but none more so than the seni­ors, who know they have one last chance to try to ruffle the feath­ers of the league’s an­nu­al elite (Arch­bish­op Wood, Arch­bish­op Car­roll and Car­din­al O’Hara) and try to win a title be­fore their time at the school is over.

“I think that for the most part, the girls don’t un­der­stand how fast it goes un­til seni­or year gets here,” said the former bas­ket­ball play­er at St. Hubert. “Now, sud­denly there’s an ‘Oh my gosh, it’s al­most over’ feel­ing. We’re ex­cited for the Cath­ol­ic League sched­ule, but I don’t want to wish it away be­cause we want to make sure they en­joy every minute of this. One day, they’ll look back and miss it, so we want them to make the best of the time they have left here.” ••

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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