By John Knebels
Special to The CS&T
FLOURTOWN – After Mount St. Joseph Academy’s basketball team celebrated last year’s PIAA Class AAA state championship, the talk among the so-called experts was that the Magic would probably struggle through a rebuilding process since five of their top seven players, including three spanision I standouts, were about to graduate.
Through 14 games so far this season, the Mount doesn’t seem to be rebuilding.
Reloading is more like it.
With four impressive Catholic Academy League victories in seven days since the start of the new year, the Magic are a perfect 14-0 overall. In only two of those games did the Magic come close to losing.
“We’re happy with where we are,” said Harvard University-bound Elle Hagedorn, a 5-11 forward who never seems to take a play off. It’s not the least bit surprising that she always seems to have great post-game statistics. “We have a long road ahead of us, but we definitely have come together and are excited about the future.”
In its first two games of the season, as one of four teams to comprise the sixth-annual Upper Merion Tip-Off Tournament, the Mount showed a tiny bit of rust in the first quarter against Conestoga before outscoring the Pioneers 26-9 over the final three quarters.
Against host Upper Merion in the final, what appeared to be a potential solid test for the Magic was instead a complete blowout. After gaining a 31-7 halftime lead, the Magic coasted to a 53-18 win.
A dozen contests later, Mount St. Joe’s continues to remain unscathed. However, the Magic encountered a scare on Dec. 11 at rival St. Basil’s Academy. The team that last year handed the Mount one of its three losses is 10-3 this year, heading into another battle with the Mount this afternoon.
A see-saw affair led to a 44-44 tie after regulation, but a 7-2 spurt by the Magic pulled out a narrow victory. Hagedorn scored 18 points, while senior point guard Jen Sabia contributed 13 and senior guard Mary Jo Horgan added 9 to offset a 16-point output from Basil’s Devin Shea.
Following lopsided triumphs over several non-league opponents, the Mount ran into another tough hurdle last Tuesday at Nazareth Academy, yet another rugged foe in the ultra-competitive CAL. This challenge seemed too difficult to overcome as the Pandas erupted for a 15-5 lead in the first quarter. But the Magic chipped away by outscoring Nazareth 22-14 over the middle stanzas. With a long winning streak in jeopardy of being severed, the Magic outscored the Pandas 12-7 in the fourth quarter and survived thanks, in large part, to a last-second shot by Sabia.
The aforementioned trio of Hagedorn, Horgan and Sabia again led the way, combining for all but seven of the Mount’s points. Jess Sylvester’s 15 points and Carleigh Brown’s 12 paced upset-minded Nazareth.
“Every time we play someone from our conference, it’s definitely going to be a really good game,” said affable third-year Mount coach John Miller, now in his 38th year of coaching but showing zero signs of slowing down. “You could throw a blanket over the top four teams of this league (Mount, St. Basil, Nazareth and Villa Maria Academy). That’s what makes it so much fun to play these games. The competition is excellent, and it really prepares you as you move forward.”
The Mount players are careful not to dwell on defending their state crown. While that is obviously the ultimate goal, too much can happen during the course of the second half of the season.
It was only last year that Hagedorn was out with an ankle injury late in the campaign before bouncing back without skipping a beat, leading Miller to label her “the most athletic player I’ve ever coached.”
Miller has not been asked if this year’s team is the best team he has ever coached.
A couple of months from now, Miler may be fielding that precise question.