By: James Williamson
RADNOR, PA-- From the moment Archbishop Carroll freshman, Grace O’Neill, took the court Friday night against visiting Archbishop Wood, it was clear she was in complete control.
At first glance, one might not assume much of the freshman. She’s the shortest in the starting lineup. She doesn’t wear sweatbands, shooter sleeves, or any other kind of flashy accessory. What can’t be seen however is the mind of a floor general and the passion of a competitor. O’Neill’s game-high 24 points were pivotal in the Patriot’s 43-33 victory over rival Archbishop Wood; their first victory over Wood since 2012.
“This was a great game for Grace,” said Archbishop Carroll head coach, Renie Shields. “She was very aggressive with the basketball and she took the opportunity to score when she had to score, and we know that she’s capable of doing that. I think she showed herself today that she’s capable of doing that too.”
Coming into this season, Carroll had a massive hole in their starting lineup. Former Patriot, Molly Masciantonio, who graduated last year and is now playing for Holy Family University, left her school in need of a new offensive leader. Thankfully for Masciantonio's alma mater, they had someone fall right into their laps.
“We are very, very blessed to have (O’Neill),” said Archbishop Carroll’s Harlem Jennings. “Having Molly leave – we were definitely worried about it, but with Grace coming in, from the first open gym in the summer, we knew she was going to step up and fill her role perfectly.”
O’Neill was exactly what the Patriots needed against the Vikings. She orchestrated the offense to perfection setting up plays and telling teammates where to go, she handled the ball well and consistently fought her way into the paint finding good looks at the rim and drawing fouls – O’Neill took 12 fourth quarter free throws - while also finding open shots for herself beyond the arc. To put things mildly, she was in her bag.
“It’s a great feeling (playing with O’Neill),” said Jennings. “Having her handle, the ball, she can set it up, she’ll call the offense and all we have to do is run it and get open to help her out a little bit.”
There is a certain calmness to O’Neill that is rare to find in a freshman. This partially stems from her basketball upbringing. O’Neill comes from a family of basketball players. Her cousins played, her dad was her first coach, and her uncle is former Archbishop Carroll head coach, Chuck Creighton; the last head coach to beat Archbishop Wood.
Of course, O’Neill attributed her on-court calmness and demeanor to her teammates and coaches.
“My teammates don’t treat us like we’re freshmen, we’re a team,” said O’Neill. “The coaches really emphasize that too. So, when we go out and practice, if I don’t know an offense, they’re going to help me. If I’m out there, they’re going to help me.”
This win, coupled with their victory over Archbishop Ryan last week, moves Carroll to 3-1 in PCL play and gives them a big edge in terms of state tournament standing, but Carroll head coach Renie Shields isn’t ready to start looking that far down the line yet.
“As far as PCL goes, we just take it one game at a time. I honestly couldn’t tell you who’s winning where, I really just look at it one game at a time. 'Did we play well? Did we not play well? Did we compete?' These are the things I look at. Ultimately, I’ll start looking at the standings, but right now I just want to take it one game at a time,” said Shields.
Shields plans to take a similar, modest approach with her blossoming star in their next game against Shipley. The last thing Shields wants is for O’Neill to do too much and begin to stray away from her game.
“Do what you do well, don’t do more, don’t do less. Just do what you do well and that’ll be the same message for Grace going into the next game,” said Shields.
PCL play continues this Friday for Carroll as they face Neumann-Goretti at home. Game-time is at 6 p.m. Archbishop Wood will return to the floor tonight at home against Bonner-Prendie at 7 p.m.