Local schools preparing for girls basketball

Score a look at your favorite hometown teams in the Northeast Times’ basketball preview.

Ireland Smith is back to lead George Washington. TIMES FILE PHOTO

Last year was good.

This year could be even better.

Last year, the girls basketball teams in Northeast Philadelphia were very inexperienced, and with that came some growing pains, but still the teams enjoyed success. This year, the local schools are much more seasoned, and have higher expectations.

Here is a look at the prospects of local teams in girls basketball.

Catholic Academies League

Nazareth Academy

The Pandas struggled a season ago, winning just five games, but new coach Jimmy Dillon is happy with what he’s seen thus far.

The leader will be senior forward Melissa Clark, the only senior on the roster. Other players who will contribute to the Pandas’ cause will be Emily Keehfuss, a junior guard, Maggie Dykan, a junior forward, and Belle Spinelli, a junior forward.

It could be tough to see progress because of Nazareth’s tough schedule, but Dillon is optimistic.

“The team and players have the ability to buy into new system, by playing hard, playing smart and playing together,” Dillon said. “The kids love to learn and be in the gym.

“We are not focusing too much on wins and losses, but turning the program in the right direction. We have established a goal to make sure that we get better each and every day we get in the gym.”

Catholic League

Archbishop Ryan

The Ragdolls came into last year an inexperienced team and ended it as one of the top teams in the Catholic League, finishing the season with 17 victories. This year’s squad won’t be able to sneak up on people, but they should have the talent to carry them a long way.

The leaders of the squad include Annie Cashman, Danielle McCurdy, Caela Russell, Maddie Taylor, Jackie Schaeffer, Monee Moore, Taliyah Rahman, Jazzmin Pena, Shayne Glenn, Gabi Deluisi, Cait Geiger and Luca Verello.

As always, getting through the Catholic League will be a tough task, but coach Mike McCusker is optimistic his troops have what it takes.

“We are quick and can score the ball, offensively,” McCusker said. “We hope to compete in a very strong league and get a chance to get in the final four and take our chances.”

Little Flower

If you’re looking for a solid senior class, you’ll find it at Little Flower. The Sentinels have a group of seniors who gained valuable experience last year and will be ready to compete in the tough Catholic League.

The team will be led by point guard Nicolette Conway, who will work with Ashley Zimmerman in the backcourt. Celeste O’Neill and Carley Huggard will provide toughness up top. Nicole Lemongelli, also a senior, will miss the season with an injury, but she’ll be around to provide leadership and advice when needed.

Last year, Little Flower finished with four wins in Catholic League play. This year, the goal is to make the postseason.

“Our goal is to improve upon last year’s record and make it to the playoffs in our league,” said Little Flower coach Jenna Beck. “We finished in second place at Hatboro-Horsham’s tip-off tournament and recently took home the championship trophy at the Franklin Towne Winter Classic tournament.”

St. Hubert

The Bambies struggled a season ago, but coach Katie Linder hopes this year will be a better one. It helps when you have five seniors filling out a lineup.

The team will be led by point guard Megan O’Connell, shooting guards Emma Keal and Amber Linder, forward Emily Holmes and center Celine Tobin. Those five will be the key to the team’s success.

“Our strength lies with our five seniors, four of whom start,” Linder said. “With the fifth senior being a strong sixth man. These five girls all bring leadership and experience to the team. What we lack in size this season we make up for in quickness.

“(We are) determined and ready to work hard.”

Public League

George Washington

The Eagles enjoyed a solid campaign a season ago, winning 16 games with a young squad. This year, the Eagles have some returnees who will expect success. Leading the way will be guard Ireland Smith, a sophomore, who started a season ago. She’ll work with Isabella Vazquez, who was another top player a season ago. Also contributing this year will be Kayla Wexler, a junior forward.

Coach Chris Reid has high hopes, but knows size could be an issue.

“”We are returning two All-Public players who can score and should keep us in most games,” Reid said. “(We are) missing girls who can rebound consistently and who are physical. We are a very young team. Lost three starters from last year’s division champion team. The girls should compete in the National Division and our goal is to make the playoffs again for second straight year.”

Franklin Towne Charter

The Warriors are always better at the end of the year than they are at the start, and this year that narrative should continue because Franklin Towne is full of youngsters.

Leading the way will be Skyler Tomson, a guard. She’ll work with point guard Eve Martinez, guards Rian Coleman and Amanda Stapf and center Laila Hawkins.

A season ago, Franklin Towne won 12 games. Repeating that will be difficult, but there is hope for the future.

“We are young, so our focus is on the basics,” said Franklin Towne coach Brianna O’Donnell. “The girls have been taught to play hard right from the tip-off to the final buzzer. We have a sophomore center that leads in rebounds and our senior leadership is at the guard position.

“We hope to compete with the teams in our division even though we start four underclassmen.”

Northeast

The Vikings lost five seniors to graduation, but they are hoping to continue their success after posting an 8–5 record.

This year’s squad will be led by senior Cyanie Hull-Smith, who will be counted on to do a little bit of everything as the younger players gain experience. She’ll look to earn her fourth All-Public nomination this year.

The good news is Northeast has plenty of girls who could contribute, and it could be a new hero every game.

“Our depth and versatility is a strength we have leaned on a lot so far this season,” said Northeast coach Phil Monastra. ”We should be a more well-rounded team by end of season as we develop. We have a lot of young players on the team.” ••