Home away from home Loyola: Greyhounds women's basketball gets a major boost with an infusion of talent from Philadelphia high schools.

January 27, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

This is no Philadelphia connection.

It's an outright Philadelphia invasion and takeover of the Loyola College women's basketball team.

The top two players on the squad, juniors Mary Anne Kirsch and Jina Mosley, were high school teammates at Archbishop Carroll in Philadelphia.

A third starter, junior Theresa Cooney, and the first player off the bench, Jennifer Bongard, also played their high school basketball in the tough Philadelphia-area Catholic League.

Bongard, a redshirt sophomore, was a celebrated freshman starter at Loyola two years ago before leg problems forced her to miss most of last season and eventually undergo an operation last summer that has limited her practice and playing time.

Cooney replaced Bongard in the starting lineup last season and has been there ever since.

The coach, Patty Coyle, and her three assistants, Cindy Anderson, Joe Logan and Audrey Codner, are all from Philadelphia and were outstanding players in the same Catholic League that produced Kirsch, Mosley, Cooney and Bongard.

While many people have trouble explaining what makes these Philadelphia Catholic League players so strong, Bongard didn't hesitate.

"We don't take any crap but give a lot," she said.

But no one around Loyola is complaining about the Philadelphia domination.

Together, these four players and four coaches have taken the Greyhounds (12-5, 7-2 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) places this season they could only dream about in the summer.

Loyola has beaten highly regarded Maryland and Richmond on the road, is a legitimate threat to win the MAAC title after being picked to finish sixth in the preseason polls, has a good chance to break the school record of 20 victories in a season and has the potential to win the school's first NCAA tournament game.

"If you're in this business long enough, you can only hope to be fortunate enough to get a group of players like this," Coyle said. "I got lucky enough to have these players at the fairly young age of 37. There's not a thing these girls wouldn't do for each other, not a thing we [coaches] wouldn't do for them and nothing they wouldn't do for us."

Well-rounded squad

On the court, Coyle said the 1997-98 Loyola team "has it all, depth, size, height, quickness, experience and youth."

The two non-Philadelphia starters are junior point guard Corey Hewitt and freshman forward Erica Rath.

Hewitt is from Good Counsel High in Wheaton and Rath is a Hazlet, N.J., product.

"Don't forget Corey," Coyle said. "She came here with the four girls from Philadelphia and joins them as the nucleus of our team. She wound up living in the same room with them as a freshman and they have all been close friends ever since."

When asked if she expected to have four of her top six players from the same high school league, Coyle said, "Yes. You go [looking for players] where you're most comfortable. There's a certain toughness about players from the Philadelphia Catholic League."

Mosley and Bongard chose Loyola first, then Cooney decided to attend as a walk-on who went on to win a scholarship after her freshman season, and Kirsch was a last-minute addition when Coyle lost a recruit to Seton Hall.

All four Philadelphia players have meshed with Hewitt.

"We dribble basketballs all the time in our room and the people below hate us," said Bongard, a 6-foot shooting guard who averages 6.1 points and 3.1 rebounds. "We send out for pizza, are always talking basketball and watch a lot of games on television."

Bongard said she and Kirsch especially replay every game far into the night.

"We don't get much sleep after a loss," said Bongard. "We're very technical, and even if we win, we're tough critics on ourselves and want to do better."

Team chemistry

In spite of all the pressure the Philadelphians put on themselves to win, they admit to having a lot of fun.

Kirsch, a 6-1 center who leads the team with 14.3 points and 8.2 rebounds a game, likes to talk about how she and Mosley always find a way to "bump into each other on the court."

"I don't know what it is," said Kirsch, who has played on the same teams with Mosley since grade school. "But Jina and I are always banging into each other, even in the middle of the court. When I get a rebound, it seems like I bump into her a lot and when I'm going for a loose ball, I run into her. Maybe it's because we're both aggressive and thinking the same thing a lot since we've played together forever."

And Mosley, a 6-foot swing player who averages 11.8 points and 7.1 rebounds, can't forget the reaction from Bongard every time either one of them scores.

"Jen just starts smiling when either she or I score," said Mosley.

For Cooney, a 5-6 shooting guard who scores 4.0 points a game with 1.1 rebounds, it has been a long battle to reach her current status alongside Kirsch, Mosley and Bongard.

"They were always on scholarships and their high schools beat mine," Cooney said. "But I know what I can do. My job is to get the ball to the post [Kirsch] and play good defense. I play the better guards. "

Playing in pain

Bongard still plays in pain every day even though the operation for what was thought to be compartment syndrome (exercise-induced inflammation) last Aug. 27 has helped "a little."

"The doctors tell me I'll be fine once I stop playing, but I'll have a lot of problems with arthritis in my legs when I get older."

Coyle said, "They still really don't know what exactly is wrong with Jen. She's had blood tests, bone scans and MRIs. Several other players around the country have the same thing, but no one knows what it is for sure."

To rest her legs, Bongard only takes part in game-related drills in practice and averages 18 minutes a game.

Pub Date: 1/27/98

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