Penn State’s Maggie Lucas, shown back during her days at Germantown Academy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

While the La Salle University men earned a spot among the NCAA Sweet 16 last weekend, the Division I women’s basketball tournament, which started two days later, featured three players with area ties who all enjoyed opening-round victories.

On Saturday, Springside School graduate Katie Rutan (’09) and her University of Maryland squad topped Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University, 72-52. Two Germantown Academy alums were in action the following day; senior Caroline Doty (’08) and the University of Connecticut erased the University of Idaho, 105-37, on UConn’s home court, while out west junior Maggie Lucas (’10) led Penn State over California Polytechnic University, 85-55. All three play in the backcourt for their respective schools.

Rutan started her collegiate career at Xavier University, where she played for two years. Upon transferring to Maryland, she had to sit out the 2011-2012 season, but this year the shooting guard from Springside worked her way into a starting role for the Terrapins.

For the NCAA tournament, Maryland (25-7) drew a fourth-seed in the Bridgeport (Conn.) Region (one of four). Like Rutan, Maryland’s star and the ACC Player of the Year is a junior from Pennsylvania – Alyssa Thomas of Harrisburg and Central Dauphin High School.

Maryland opened up against a local favorite, number 13 Quinnipiac, and the Terps actually trailed by as many as nine points in the first half.

As expected, they came back to win by double digits, with Thomas putting in 29 points and Rutan contributing eight points, four assists, and three steals.

UConn, the number one seed in the same region, flattened number 16 Idaho as all of the Huskies received plenty of playing time. Doty, who has a long history of serious knee injuries, has been a model of courage in the face of adversity. She missed one full season at GA and one at Connecticut due to those difficulties, and spent shorter spells on the DL, as well.

Coach Geno Auriemma, a Norristown native, started Doty in the NCAA opener on Sunday, and she recorded three points, five rebounds, and four assists as Connecticut (30-4) cruised into the second round.

Fellow GA grad Lucas was named Big Ten Conference Player of the Year this winter after leading the Lady Lions to the regular-season championship. PSU fell to Michigan State in the conference semifinals, and Purdue emerged as the champion.

Long in the shadow of better known women’s hoops conferences such as the Big East, SEC and ACC, the Big Ten has grown into a good, deep league in recent years. In addition to the three teams mentioned, conference members, Iowa, Michigan, and Nebraska received NCAA tournament bids, and all six won their first-round games.

Seeded third in the Spokane Region, Penn State (26-5) flew cross-country to play its NCAA opener at Stanford University, while number 14 Cal Poly was able to ride a bus to the game. The Lady Lions quickly became acclimatized to the Left Coast, going up 38-28 in the first half and tacking 20 more points onto their lead after intermission.

Lucas was named Player of the Game after logging 19 points, four assists, and four steals.

The top athletes may make it look simple, but it’s actually not that easy for Pennsylvania players to make some noise in the NCAA tourney. The starting field of 64 always includes some suspect teams who receive automatic bids by winning relatively weak conferences (witness Western Athletic Conference champ Idaho), but most of those disappear in the first round of play.

Of the 411 players on the 32 teams that won their openers last weekend, a total of 15 hail from Pennsylvania, and that figure is not atypical. Two of the 15 were redshirted this winter, and of the 13 active players, only four come from Southeastern Pa.; Doty, Lucas, Rutan, and Lucas’ Penn State teammate Talia East, a junior out of Friends Central.

With former Cardinal O’Hara star Stephanie Holzer (red-shirt junior/Vanderbilt) still out with a knee injury suffered in a pre-season exhibition game, there are no representatives at all in the Round of 32 from District 1 or District 12 (the two Philadelphia-area groupings) of the Pa. Interscholastic Athletic Association.