Great Valley defense sparkles; Conestoga wins tourney opener
EAST WHITELAND >> Great Valley’s defense sparkled in its season opener, a 43-17 win in the nightcap of the Great Valley Girls Tip Off Tournament Friday evening.
From the beginning of the second quarter to the middle of the fourth period – a span of 20 minutes – the host Patriots held Avon Grove to three points. Part of the reason was Great Valley’s defensive rebounding.
“Our girls boxed out great tonight,” said Great Valley head coach Alex Venarchik. “They were in position around the basket, they got girls on their backs, and they attacked the glass.”
Great Valley senior forward Mia DeRobertis grabbed a dozen rebounds, and junior forward Tessa Liberatoscioli got 10 rebounds boards.
“Our girls knew we’ve been stressing defense in pre-season, because some nights you’re not going to be able to shoot the ball well, but defense will keep you in the game,” said Venarchik.
In the first quarter, Avon Grove played some tough defense of its own and stayed even with the host Patriots. The score was tied 6-6 at the end of the first quarter.
Great Valley held Avon Grove scoreless in the second quarter, getting out to a 14-6 halftime lead. In the third quarter, the Patriots’ offense heated up, and by the middle of the fourth quarter the hosts had a 37-9 lead – a 33-4 run by Great Valley from the beginning of the second quarter.
Venarchik said, “When we weren’t scoring early, the defense kept us in the game, and then we were able to get out and transition a little bit, get a couple of buckets; then you start getting confidence, and the girls started to relax.”
Great Valley had four players who shared the scoring load - Liberatoscioli (12 points), senior guard Amanda Heins (11), senior guard Katie Peduto (nine) and sophomore guard Leah Valyo (eight).
“They [the Patriots] all played well tonight,” said Venarchik. “I don’t know if our opponents can key on one particular girl and say, ‘We’ve got to shut her down.’ Because if you shut down one girl, four other girls are more than capable of stepping up. That’s what we’re looking to get, that consistency throughout the season.”
One of the Patriots, senior guard Annalise Porecca, like Liberatoscioli a returning starter, was sidelined Friday with a strained Achilles tendon. Venarchik hopes to have her back by the Christmas holidays.
Saturday, the Patriots will face Downingtown West in the final day of the Great Valley Girls Tip Off Tournament.
“That should be a good game – Downingtown West is wellcoached, disciplined and a big team; so we’ve got to box out again,” said Venarchik.
Avon Grove first-year head coach Bart O’Connor saw promise in his young squad in its season opener.
“I thought we played well tonight, we just didn’t shoot well,” said O’Connor. “We played good defense, made a few dumb fouls here and there, but we’re a young team, still learning. Give Great Valley credit – they shot well tonight.”
Conestoga defeats D-West in tournament opener
In the Great Valley Girls Tip Off Tournament opener Friday, Conestoga Avon Grove’s Kaelin Salley (22) defends against Great Valley’s Tessa Liberatoscioli (2) in the second quarter Friday evening. prevailed against Downingtown West, 42-35, in its season opener under Pioneer firstyear head coach AJ Thompson.
The Pioneers, who lost three starters to graduation last spring, including Central League Player of the Year, Katie Mayock, got off to a quick first-quarter lead and slowly built their advantage to 12 points (31-19) near the end of the third period.
Downingtown West got some sharpshooting from the outside in the fourth period to cut Conestoga’s lead to three points, but Pioneer junior guard Emily Lortz (15 points) and freshman guard Katie Faith (10 points) each made both ends of a 1-and-1 in the final minute to ice the victory.
“We have a lot of young players, so it’s nice to have a calming influence like Emily, who has some experience,” said Thompson. “The times that we needed her, she stepped up. She was big tonight.”
Lortz, who has committed to University of Florida for lacrosse, said, “It was fun to get back out there – I knew this season would be a lot different than last winter, being the only returning starter. I thought the key for us tonight was when we focused on the next pass, the next shot, rather than on the game as a whole.”
When Downingtown West cut the Pioneers’ lead to 33-27 midway through the fourth quarter, Lortz caused a turnover and drove nearly the entire length of the court for a basket.
Then after Downingtown West junior guard Julia Marrone nailed a three-pointer to cut Conestoga’s lead to 35-32, Lortz made a behind the back dribble and drove to the basket for a five–point lead.
Conestoga lead 38-32 with 43.5 seconds left when Faith went to the free throw line to make both ends of a 1-and-1.
Downingtown West wouldn’t quit, as senior guard Grace Wenner converted a trey to cut the Pioneers’ lead to 40-35.
With 10.3 seconds left, Lortz stepped to the charity stripe and made both ends of her 1-and-1 to finally ice the win.
“For the most part, I was pleased with our defense,” said Thompson. “We like to play a little bit of a 3-2, and some man-toman, and for the most part, we were in the right spots. We’ve got to clean up a couple of things – it’s a new season with a new coach and new players, it takes some time. I told the girls beforehand that we’re going to make some mistakes; it’s just a matter of not making the same mistakes next game.”
Thompson noted that the Pioneers became less selective in their shooting after building a 31-19 lead.
“After we built that 12 point lead we kind of got out of our game offensively, where we just started taking shots that aren’t necessarily shots we want to take, we took quick shots, long rebounds,” said Thompson. “We want to control the pace, run our offense, be as patient as possible, take the best shot, not just a good shot. I think we settled in the third quarter for some open long shots which aren’t necessarily our strong suit, so we kind of wanted to make sure we moved the basketball more and have the opportunity to move the defense, make them work a little bit more, that’s more of our game plan for this season.”
Thompson also praised Conestoga junior forward Anne Nikolic, who scored seven points.
“I thought Anne Nikolic played a great game for us overall, she played well offensively and defensively and helped us out in spots,” said Thompson.
Downingtown West scoring was led by Marrone (nine points), while a trio of Whippets each scored six points.
“We didn’t come out at the beginning with enough intensity,” said Downingtown West head coach Dave Johnson. “To our credit, our girls did battle back in the fourth quarter. We did some good things defensively, we were flying around a bit on our press. We’re an inexperienced team – we have some teaching to do.”
Great Valley’s Ashley Sullivan (5) and Avon Grove’s Kaelin Salley (22) chase down a ball in the first quarter at Great Valley Friday evening.
Great Valley’s Katie Peduto steals a ball against Avon Grove in the second quarter Friday evening.
Avon Grove’s Bria Nartey (3) puts up a shot against Great Valley in the first quarter Friday evening.