By John Knebels
Special to The CS&T
They won the regional championship, the Philadelphia archdiocesan championship and the state championship.
However, according to assistant coach Caitlin Pearson, the girls who comprised the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball team at West Chester’s St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish accomplished a lot more than just winning medals the past few weeks.
“Years from now, they’ll still remember so many things,” said Pearson. “They’ll have so much to talk about.”
Pearson, who along with former professional Lou DeRogatis assists her father Mike Pearson coaching St. Maximilian Kolbe’s girls team, knows this first hand. A standout guard at SS. Simon and Jude School, Archbishop Carroll High School (Class of 2003) and Mount St. Mary’s College, Pearson was a mainstay on the Simon and Jude team that captured the 1999 CYO state title.
After losing touch with most of the players from that storybook run, Pearson said she recently saw some former teammates and within minutes they were reminiscing as though they had just finished celebrating a few days earlier.
For instance, Pearson recalled how SS. Simon and Jude had lost five times to St. Cornelius before beating them in the archdiocesan final on an overtime buzzer- beater by Siobhan O’Connor, who would go on to play at Villa Maria Academy and Villanova University. Getting into the extra frame necessitated similar heroics by Erin Deegan, who also played at Villa.
So when the girls from St. Maximilian Kolbe were jumping around after defeating St. Gabriel from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, 38-36, in the state final, Pearson could only smile.
“They don’t really realize the extent of what they have done,” said Pearson. “The first thing they said was, ‘What’s next?'”
Mike Pearson, who completed his eighth season as head coach at St. Maximilian Kolbe, jokingly told his players that they would be playing in a national tournament in Florida.
It’s unfortunate that Pearson had to kid about such matters because if such an opportunity existed, the seventh- and eighth-grade standouts, whose final record of 36-3 included a perfect 11-0 run in the post-season, would most likely represent Pennsylvania quite well.
“They’re probably the most complete team I’ve ever had,” said Pearson, who graduated from Cardinal O’Hara High School in 1975 after growing up in St. Pius X Parish in Broomall. “It’s just a great group of kids.
“Their attitude is tremendous. They love to compete. As the season progressed, they kept getting better and better.”
So too did the crowds. In fact, at the state final, the crowd at Immaculata University was standing room only.
Despite their young age, the huge throngs did not seem to intimidate St. Maximilian Kolbe. Mike Pearson explained that well-attended regular-season tournaments helped prepare his team for venues small and large.
“We didn’t look down the road,” said Pearson. “We took things one step at a time. In that regard, winning the state title was a bonus.”
In a season filled with highlights, some stood out more than others, particularly in the state tournament. In a tight 28-25 overtime win over St. Mary of Mount Carmel (Scranton) in the quarterfinal, Lisa Mirarchi scored all of St. Max’s four points in the extra stanza.
En route to a state tournament-best 31 points in three games, the Villa Maria Academy-bound Mirarchi led all scorers with 12 points in the state championship victory. An enormous 3-point shot by Amanda Crowley with 2:09 remaining in overtime proved to be the difference.
St. Max’s overall balanced scoring attack left five other players in double figures in states, including 21 from Crowley, 19 from Olivia DeRogatis (Country Day School of the Sacred Heart) 16 from rebounding machine Nicole Lott (Bishop Shanahan), 11 from point guard Meghan Hubley and 10 from Jessica Walsh.
Each of those girls, along with Kirsten Andersson, will be graduating this year. That leaves the program in the hands of seventh graders Christine Czyzewski, Shae Murphy, Jackie Carlin, Molly Namiotka and Devon Tirney.
“We spent so much time together that it says a lot for the girls that they all hung in there and got along with each other so well,” said Mike Pearson. “The players, the parents, the entire parish … We had a great pep rally and you could feel the excitement. In a lot of ways this was a magical season.”
A season, says Caitlin Pearson, the St. Max girls will never forget.
“No matter how far they go with basketball,” said Pearson, “this is something that they will talk about for the rest of their lives.”
Tough to beat that.
John Knebels can be reached at email@example.com.