by Tom Utescher 

It might be an exaggeration to say that Mount St. Joseph is limping to the end of the Catholic Academies regular season, but the Magic aren’t exactly roaring across the finish line, either.

After charging out to a 9-0 league record that included two wins over second-place Villa Maria Academy, the Mount (18-3 overall) lost at St. Basil on January 26, and last Tuesday the Magic dropped another AACA road game, coming up short at Villa Joseph Marie, 49-43. They won two nights later at Sacred Heart, 75-27, to attain a league record of 11-2 with only a rematch with Nazareth left on the agenda.

Recent setbacks have amounted to a wake-up call, not a crisis. Even if the Mounties were to lose at Nazareth, they would still garner the top draw for the Academies tournament, which starts this Saturday at Philadelphia University. Second-place Villa Maria already has three losses, and if the Magic dropped a third league game they’d still have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Hurricanes.

Still, the sobering reality now is that clinching the number one spot would probably result in a semi-final match-up against a team that has already beaten the Magic once, St. Basil or Villa Joe.

Inconsistencies have cropped up for just about every team, though. After beating the Mount, St. Basil lost not only to Villa Maria, but also to last-place Merion Mercy in a game that standout guard Erin Fenningham missed due to a cold. Villa Joe’s upset of the Mount moved the Jems ahead of St. Basil, with respective records of 8-5 and 7-6. Nazareth Academy was still in the playoff hunt, bringing a 7-6 mark in the AACA into the regular-season finale with the Magic.

At St. Basil in late January, the host Panthers needed a buzzer-beater to force the game into overtime before they prevailed over the Mount, but the nature of last week’s loss to the Jems was more disturbing.

“I thought we got outplayed in every phase of the game,” admitted MSJ coach John Miller. “I give them credit; they’re fighting for a playoff spot so it was a big game for them, and they treated it that way.”

The Jems broke free from a 24-all halftime tie for a 16-6 third quarter. The Magic made up some ground late in the game but still came up six points short at the horn. Sophomores Alex Louin and Carly Monzo chalked up 15 and 10 points, respectively, and senior Bridget Higgins had five.

Mount St. Joe had given up almost 50 points to a team that lost twice to Villa Maria, which the Magic had held to a total of 61 points in two meetings.

“I think everybody on our team – the players and the coaches – were disappointed in our defense,” Coach Miller related. “If there’s anything that’s carried us, that’s been our trademark this year, it’s been our defense. With Villa Joe, we made a lot of mental mistakes, and at practice we talked about getting back to the fundamentals, making sure that we get back on defense, that we communicate on defense.”

Two nights later in Bryn Mawr a television cameraman turned up for the Mount’s game with Sacred Heart, not because the contest was expected to be one for the ages, but because the Lions’ Jayni Webster needed 20 points to reach the 1000-point level for her career. The Sacred Heart senior accumulated six points in the first six minutes, then in a scramble for a loose-ball rebound she fell to the floor with a howl. Unfortunately, the injury had all the earmarks of an ACL tear.

Without their high scorer, the hosts hit two jumpers to end the first quarter with only an 18-14 deficit, but after that the visitors rolled, embarking on a 28-4 tear that extended into the third quarter. Even though the Mount gave its reserve players abundant playing time, the gap increased until it approached nearly 50 points.

Half of Louin’s game-high 18 points came in the first quarter, and the Magic also got double-digit totals from junior Meg Geatens (12 points, seven rebounds), senior Cailin Schmeer (11 points, six rebounds, five steals), and Higgins (10 points, four steals). There were six points apiece from senior Maddie Kohler, junior Kelsey Jones, and sophomore Colleen Steinmetz, and two each from junior Adrienne Cellucci and sophomores Regan Gallagher and Gen Hagedorn.

Monzo sat out the game with a orthopedic boot on her right leg due to a stress fracture, and she may be out for the rest of the season. Gallagher left the floor with a head cut, but will be ready for duty. Geatens, who already saw significant action at forward last year, started at Sacred Heart in place of Monzo.

“We certainly hope Carly can come back, but we have to be ready in case she’s not able to,” Miller said. “Meg has been playing a lot off the bench this year, and Regan is coming on strong.”