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Tense games could be in future for BG girls

The Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic girls basketball team hasn’t played in a lot of close games this season, but if the Lady Marauders want to reach the goals they are aiming for, those tense moments are almost certainly in their future.

BG is the defending District 6 Class 2A champion and made it to the PIAA quarterfinals before the state tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Lady Marauders had knocked off two-time defending PIAA champion Bellwood-Antis and their star, current Notre Dame freshman Alli Campbell, along the way in districts, so it’s fair to believe they may have been headed for a state championship.

Bishop Guilfoyle lost a few key players like Jamison Consiglio and Blaise Kilmartin from last year’s team but returned four starters who have steadily improved throughout their high school careers.

“After what happened last year, beating Bellwood, winning District 6 and making it so far in the state tournament only to have it cut off because of corona, this year our focus is playing together, playing well and finishing what we started,” Bishop Guilfoyle senior Teresa Haigh said. “It’s been our goal the whole time. We’re taking it one game at a time, but we’re hoping to get there.”

Of course, “there” is the state championship game. The Lady Marauders have dropped down to Class 1A this season, which means they would play in that final on Friday, March 26 at noon in Hershey’s Giant Center. The state playoff road to get there this season would only require two wins — first against the District 9 champion and then against either the WPIAL, District 10 or District 5 champion in the semifinals.

But just one team from a loaded District 6 will move on, as it’s a champions-only tournament.

“Realistically, I think every high school kid’s dream is to win a state championship,” Bishop Guilfoyle coach Kristi Kaack said. “That’s the ultimate goal, but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and focus on what happened last year and think that’s going to happen again this year. We know we have to put in a lot of hard work to get to where we want to be at the end of the year.”

Kaack, who helped lead Altoona to back-to-back appearances in the PIAA Class 4A semifinals in 2004 and 2005 as a player, knows a little bit about how much the intensity increases when everything is on the line.

“It takes so much to get there, and it’s such a grind during the season,” Kaack said. “At Altoona, we only had to win, usually, one game to get to the state playoffs. Last year (coaching BG), it was grueling to even just get there. I talk to them about how it felt easier at times for me to get there, but once you’re there, you just spend hours as a player and a coach getting ready for one game. You hope to win, and then you have to flip the page and do it again two days later.”

Kaack had several star teammates on her 2005 team, like all-time Altoona girls scoring leader Samantha Reimer and Rachel Gehret, that defeated Harrisburg in overtime to make the PIAA semifinals. Kaack, the all-time steals leader among Altoona girls, stole a pass and made a layup to tie the game before Reimer’s free throws won it.

“We went with the best look, because we had a lot of talent on that team,” Kaack said. “From Sam to Rachel Gehret, and honestly it was always just who had the open look.”

The same can be said for this year’s Bishop Guilfoyle team. Junior Leah Homan is one of the top scorers in the area, Sophia Warner has been making big shots since her freshman year playing under legendary BG coach Mark Moschella, Aurielle Brunner may be the best defender in the region, Dani Scipioni has improved her offensive production this season and Haigh has already shown she can make the big shot.

Trailing by two at Penn Cambria on Feb. 11, Haigh drilled a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to lift the Lady Marauders to a 47-46 win. BG was also on the wrong end of a close game just this past Friday when it lost to Richland, 47-44, in overtime.

“We have gotten to a point where we have played in a lot of close games over the past couple years together,” Haigh said. “We really trust each other on the floor. Sophia had the ball and made an extra pass to Leah, who made it to me. We work on seeing each other and getting the ball to open players, and if we keep having the confidence in each other and ourselves, we’re going to keep having those shots and those games where we pull through as a team.”

Having a plethora of options to go to in clutch situations is something Kaack values.

“We go into every game talking about running plays and running sets for the kid that has the hot hand that night,” Kaack said. “It’s never like we break down game situations where we know who would take it. We kind of just go game by game, because some nights it’s Leah, Teresa, Sophia or honestly our entire starting five could be the person to take it. It just depends on who was having the best night that game.”

Kaack isn’t the only coach on the staff with experience playing deep into a state tournament.

Assistant coach Christine Conrad is already in the Lady Marauders’ record books for her contributions to a state title in 2007, and she kept BG alive a year later in the second round of the PIAA tournament with a shot that sent Lebanon Catholic home minutes after missing another go-ahead shot.

Her experience led to a lesson she’s tried to pass along to the current Lady Marauders.

“I had stolen the ball 50 seconds before hitting the game-winner,” Conrad said. “I had a breakaway layup. It was contested, but I still should have made it. But I missed it. I was down on myself. I really was. I had a couple coaches talk me through, and I had to pull myself together and focus. I had to keep myself calm, focused and confident to be able to make the shot I did later, and I remember it felt like hot potato passing around for that final shot. That’s when, because the encouragement I got, I decided I wanted to take the shot. It left my fingers, and thankfully it went in. It shows that no matter what, you have to keep yourself composed, focused and confident that you can hit the shot at the end of the game.”

Haigh, whose father was the Saint Francis women’s basketball coach and is currently an assistant at Siena, said tales like Conrad’s have inspired this year’s team.

“The coaches are really humble, so they don’t talk a lot about their experiences, but they do share some stories about their work ethics and their careers,” Haigh said. “They have so much knowledge about the game, and it really helps us. They push us every single day in practice to compete at the level we know we’re going to have to compete at in the state tournament.”

And don’t be surprised if Haigh decides to pass with the game on the line if someone else has the better shot. It’s something else she’s learned from her game-tested coaches.

“Confidence in yourself is important, but you also have to have confidence in your teammates as well,” Conrad said. “I was confident that my teammates could hit the shot, and I’m confident that anyone of our girls that sees the floor can make a shot like that. We have a bunch of girls that I think can step up in that situation.”

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