by Tom Utescher

Iona College recruit Aleesha Powell helped Penn Charter to its best finish in the Inter-Ac since the 1997-’98 season. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

In Girls Inter-Ac League basketball this winter Germantown Academy seized its 13th consecutive championship (12th outright), but while the title holder remained the same, there were historic developments in other areas.

The Springside School team was beset by a spate of medical afflictions that reached epic proportions. In began with a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament tear that took out the Lions’ senior point guard, and while nothing that serious followed, seven other players were sidelined by injuries at one point or another. None of Springside’s original starting five escaped the scourge.

Nevertheless, in their second game of 2011 the Lions were able to end years of frustration by beating the Academy of Notre Dame. On January 7, junior Michelle Boggs scored a game-high 12 points and the Lions upended the Irish, 34-33. Another 11th-grader, Sydni Epps, had been held to a single free throw throughout the afternoon, but in the last 30 seconds she stuck a three-point field goal that won the game for Springside.

The local franchise had not defeated Notre Dame since February 16, 1984, when a 16-point performance by forward Joy Braxton powered Springside to a 35-25 decision. Soon after the Lions’ victory over the Irish at the start of this year, they lost more players to injury, and they fell to Notre Dame in both a regular-season rematch and in the state independent school tournament.

This was not enough to keep the Irish from settling into a tie with Episcopal Academy for third place in the Inter-Ac. It was the first time in years that Notre Dame had not finished either first or second in the league, having shared the runner-up spot with Penn Charter in 2009-2010. PC captured second place outright this winter, losing only to Germantown Academy as it turned in its best Inter-Ac performance since its championship season of 1997-’98. With some of the most talented athletes ever to play for the Quakers now juniors and seniors, an unprecedented number of Division I college coaches turned up in the PC gym, including recruiters from Penn State, Louisville, and Ohio State.

While the GA Patriots expanded their collection of consecutive league championships to 13, they lost an Inter-Ac game for the first time since the 1998-’99 campaign.

Back then, as today, the championship went to the team with the best win/loss record in regular-season league contests, but Shipley School was still a member of the Inter-Ac and the schools only played a single round of seven games instead of the current double round of 12 bouts.

GA had captured the 1996-97 crown with one of its best teams ever. Among the standouts were current Penn Charter coach Diana Caramanico, who went on to become the all-time leading scorer in the Ivy League while playing at the University of Pennsylvania. Other players on that ballclub went to Auburn in the SEC, and to Old Dominion, an NCAA Final Four team in that era.

The following winter, upstart Penn Charter made an undefeated 7-0 march through the Inter-Ac to claim its first – and still its only league championship.

Germantown had a chance to take the title outright in the 1998-99 campaign, entering its last league game at 6-0. However, host Notre Dame was also unbeaten in league play, and the Irish expanded a 29-24 halftime edge into a convincing 59-43 victory. The Patriots’ Chelsea Kaden and Notre Dame’s Colleen Fitzpatrick led their respective teams, each scoring 20 points in the fray.

The Irish were not home free, though. They still had to make up a postponed league game, and they were upset by Shipley, whose lone league loss had come against GA. That would’ve been unthinkable just a few years before, but Shipley had undergone a transformation. For the 1997-98 season Kevin Tinneny, a highly-successful coach at Mount St. Joseph Academy, crossed the Schuylkill and took the helm of the Gators’ program. With him came three Mount players, Jen Forester, Eileen Powers, and Chestnut Hill native Bridget Gallagher.

Tinneny left after that one season, but the former Mounties stayed. The Gators lost to GA the next year, 46-42, but in their final game, on February 18, they knocked off Notre Dame to create a tie for the championship between three 6-1 squads. The high scorer in Shipley’s 55-47 overtime victory was Erica Ervin, daughter of storied basketball coach (and current Chestnut Hill resident) Dave “Lefty” Ervin.

Early in the first decade of the new millennium, there were several seasons when the Inter-Ac held postseason tournaments in most team sports, but the official championship was still determined by the regular-season results. After the 2004-05 school year, Shipley left the Inter-Ac for the Friends Schools League, and the Girls Inter-Ac basketball teams went to the double-round format that endures to this day. The league tournament was never revived, but a PA Independent Schools Girls Basketball Championship was inaugurated in 2006-’07.