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.” ••