SCHA girls basketball captains (from left) Alexis Giovinazzo, Elana Roadcloud, Michelle Boggs, and Sydni Epps, with new head coach Steve Purcell. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Right after Thanksgiving the girls’ basketball squad at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy got down to business, going on the road for scrimmages against Cardinal O’Hara and Archbishop Carroll (which has already had two players sign with Drexel University).

Last Tuesday, the SCHA Lions performed at home in the Vare Field House in their final tune-up, hosting Villa Joseph Marie Academy. The varsity alternated with the JV team from each school, but by the end of the day the first string had played the standard four eight-minute periods. Foul shooting was limited to one-and-one’s and the score was wiped out after each quarter, but after a rocky start the hosts out-pointed the Jems overall, 51-39.

The Lions are beginning their first campaign under new head coach Steve Purcell, a former assistant at Father Judge High School who most recently had been assistant coach for the girls’ team at Archbishop Ryan.

The SCHA team captains are the four seniors, most of whom have made their college choices. Sydni Epps, a six-foot guard, signed with Hofstra University last month, and 6’1” power forward Michelle Boggs has made a verbal commitment to East Stroudsburg University. Guard Alexis Giovinazzo will play softball at Muhlenberg College.

Elana Roadcloud, a 5’11” forward, is considering a number of schools from different NCAA divisions. If she goes to a Division III school (Haverford is one she’s looked at), she may play both basketball and volleyball. Roadcloud and Boggs transferred to SCHA last year after their former school, Cardinal Dougherty, closed in June 2010.

Lions junior point guard Gianna Pownall has been a varsity player since her freshman year, and classmate Maddi Hinchey, a product of Chestnut Hill’s Norwood Fontbonne Academy, saw considerable varsity playing time last winter. Guard Meredith Spann is another junior on the squad, and the sophomores are forwards Madi Sehn (another Norwood alum) and Katie Shields, and guard Julia Schumacher.

Freshman Olivia Byron is a homegrown “Lion,” while the other two ninth-graders are new to the school. Caroline Henry is a guard, and Kyra Jackson is a guard/forward who comes from Cedarbrook Elementary School, a traditional feeder for the strong PIAA program at Cheltenham High.

Like Coach Purcell, his assistants have been involved with the basketball franchise at Father Judge. Joe Maguire was the head freshman coach for the Crusaders and Mike Roken was his assistant there. Maguire was also an assistant coach for the JV and varsity teams.

Purcell said that one thing his players should be learning from the early scrimmages is that “we need to be more disciplined in our passing and in some other areas. In practice you can do a lot of things that you’re not going to get away with against another team in a varsity game.”

That point was underscored in last Tuesday’s opening period against Villa Joseph Marie, a middle-of-the-road team in the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies. Epps hit a three-pointer and scored off a rebound, but after that the offense dried up and the Jems, led by fiery guard Melissa Poderis, tore up the Lions in the transition game, earning a 15-6 advantage by the end of the quarter.

It was actually some of the SCHA reserves, including former Norwooders Hinchey and Sehn and St. Philip Neri grad Schumacher, who got the hosts rolling again in the second stanza. Boggs, Pownall, and Epps also scored as the Lions won the round, 14-6. The trend continued in an 18-6 third quarter, then in the fourth session the Lions went up 13-4 and slacked off at the end, letting Villa Joe register the final eight points of the workout.

Epps has been trying to improve her consistency on her outside shots, and she enjoyed considerable success against the Jems, netting five three-point field goals and a total of 25 points for the afternoon.