Ride ends for Ragdoll seniors in Catholic semis

Hold­ing the mighty Arch­bish­op Wood girls bas­ket­ball team to just 34 points is usu­ally a cause worth cel­eb­rat­ing. 

But after do­ing so in last Thursday’s Cath­ol­ic League semi­finals match-up at Phil­adelphia Uni­versity, all Arch­bish­op Ry­an got was a lonely “what if” bus ride home. While Wood punched its tick­et to Monday night’s cham­pi­on­ship game at the Palestra against Car­din­al O’Hara, Ry­an went home with a gut-punch­ing 34-23 loss, end­ing an oth­er­wise strong sea­son.

De­fens­ively, the Rag­dolls were fant­ast­ic, con­stantly frus­trat­ing a vaunted Wood squad that had dropped 61 points on St. Hubert in the quarterfi­nals. However, Wood was even stingi­er at the oth­er end, lim­it­ing Ry­an to just three first half field goals, and eight for the en­tire game. An early 27-14 fourth quarter de­fi­cit for Ry­an shrunk to 27-21 with un­der a minute to play, but Wood closed it out at the free throw line. 

For Ry­an, it was game over and sea­son over, leav­ing the five Rag­doll seni­ors to an off­season full of what-could-have-been. 

“Our de­fense was as good as it could have pos­sibly been,” said Ry­an head coach Jack­ie Hartzell. “They just took us out of everything we wanted to do of­fens­ively. You can watch film to see what they do, but you can’t sim­u­late that kind of de­fens­ive pres­sure in prac­tice.”

There’s no shame in los­ing to Wood, which has won three con­sec­ut­ive state cham­pi­on­ships. Their play­ers are tall, ath­let­ic and re­lent­less. The Rag­dolls man­aged just 18 points when the two teams met in the reg­u­lar sea­son fi­nale, and al­though they didn’t score much more this time around, Hartzell said the per­form­ances were as dif­fer­ent as night and day. 

In the buzz­saw that is the Cath­ol­ic League, just get­ting to the semi­finals is an achieve­ment in and of it­self, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that Wood, O’Hara, Car­roll and Bon­ner-Pren­die are usu­ally the top dogs. But sixth-seeded Ry­an scored a road win at Bon­ner-Pren­die in the quarterfi­nals, a win Hartzell called “huge” for the Rag­dolls pro­gram.

But where to go from here? Ry­an will lose five seni­ors, a group that Hartzell has raved about all year. Gone will be starters Kalene Cof­fey (the team’s lead­ing scorer), Melissa Rizzo and Court­ney Helm as well as key re­serves Kel­sey Dale and Aman­da Wein­dorfer. They won’t be easy to re­place, not after win­ning 12 games each of the last two sea­sons. 

“There were more tears than words af­ter­ward,” Hartzell said. “I thanked them for all they’ve giv­en us, and re­minded them of what an ac­com­plish­ment it was to be play­ing in that game. We wer­en’t up­set that we lost, just that this ride was over. They were all great play­ers, but the char­ac­ter and lead­er­ship is where we’re really go­ing to miss them.”

Des­pite the five gradu­at­ing seni­ors, Hartzell points to re­turn­ing starters (and seni­ors-to-be) Taylor Adair and Al­is­on Szyszko, as well as re­serve Dani­elle Skedzielewski, who was the team’s second-lead­ing scorer as a sopho­more. Ry­an’s JV team also went un­defeated in league play, mean­ing tal­en­ted fresh­men and sopho­mores are com­ing through the pipeline.

“Our work eth­ic has nev­er been an is­sue, so really it’s on them to make sure they come back as bet­ter play­ers,” Hartzell said. “That starts in the off­season, what every play­er is will­ing to do to make them­selves bet­ter in­di­vidu­ally. We’ll get there, and get­ting a taste of the semi­finals was huge for us.”

Hartzell wants to keep it up, be­cause she knows how ex­cit­ing a time it is to be an Arch­bish­op Ry­an stu­dent-ath­lete. Since the fall sea­son began, the girls soc­cer team won a Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship, while boys soc­cer (semi­finals), boys bas­ket­ball (quarterfi­nals) and foot­ball (a huge turn­around sea­son) all had vary­ing levels of suc­cess. The form­a­tion of “The Tribe,” Ry­an’s stu­dent body sup­port sec­tion, has been felt at all sport­ing events; a siz­able throng of vo­cal Tribe mem­bers made the trip to Phil­adelphia Uni­versity for Thursday’s game.

“I couldn’t ask for much more in terms of over­all sup­port,” Hartzell said. “It was awe­some to see the school spir­it pick up, and hope­fully that keeps go­ing.”

And not even a week in­to the off­season, Hartzell is already look­ing ahead. Like any smart coach, she stashes the losses in her mind, but doesn’t dwell on them. The most com­fort­ing part of the end of any sea­son is the etern­al prom­ise that the next one will bring.

“We ex­ten­ded the game as long as pos­sible and nev­er gave up our fight,” Hartzell said. “That’s what makes it hard­est, know­ing they gave it everything they had.

“I’d much rather be ex­cited for next sea­son than dis­ap­poin­ted about this one. Would we all liked to have gone fur­ther? Yes, but I can’t say I’m not happy with how things went. They’re great kids who worked hard for everything they got, and that’s al­ways en­joy­able.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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