Steve Polinsky certainly knows his way around the youth girls basketball circuit, having made previous stops at Villa Joseph Marie, Saint Basil and Archbishop Wood before arriving as head coach at New Hope-Solebury.
While he knew what he was getting into before taking the position, nothing could compare to his first season with the Lions. With New Hope joining the Suburban One League (SOL) next season, athletic administrators had already scheduled a slate of SOL opponents for the Lions to face even before Polinsky’s arrival.
The new coach came through, guiding New Hope through his first season on Bridge Street with flying colors. The Lions went 4-3 against SOL foes, 12-1 in the Bicentennial Athletic League (BAL) to win the Independence Conference crown and made their way to the District One Class 3A finals for the second year in a row.
While the purpose of playing against Suburban One teams this year was to prepare the team for joining the SOL American Conference next year, it had the added benefit of building the girls’ confidence going into the postseason campaign.
Coming late in the season, the Lions posted their most dramatic win of the season facing an SOL rival and it came on the road against a much-improved Bensalem team guided by the legendary Sheldon Per Sr.
“The whole game was back and forth but we pulled it out at the end,” explained Polinsky. “Especially winning there. Bensalem is a very good team and they’re very well-coached.
“It really got us prepared to play some tough teams in the playoffs.”
The game’s hero was Sabrina Vlahovic, a 5-9 senior forward who came through with 17 points in a nip-and-tuck 41-40 triumph over the Owls. Adding to the suspense was the fact that Vlahovic, who is looking to play the sport at the college level, hit the winning basket – a 3-pointer – with just seven ticks left on the clock.
New Hope also outpaced SOL rivals Hatboro-Horsham (56-51), Council Rock South (47-39) and William Tennent (47-41). All the games were close.
“It was a really good gauge to see what the talent level was in the SOL this year,” stated Polinsky. “Just to get ready for those games, see what they play and see how they play, quite frankly.”
The Lions fell short however in its third game of the season against Upper Moreland and in a pair of battles with Pennsbury, falling by 10 in the second game of the season at the Hatters Tip-off Classic and much more than that on the Falcons’ home court.
“Pennsbury is a whole different animal,” explained Polinsky. “We competed and played hard but they just have too many weapons. And they also have Ava Sciolla, who is phenomenal.”
New Hope has some pretty special players of its own, starting with Vlahovic, the only senior on the team.
“She’s really the emotional leader of the team,” said Polinsky. “She’s very versatile, she can handle the ball, plays great defense, rebounding – just a really tough player.”
Next is Rachel Saxton, a 5-5 junior who switched to the point guard position this year for the first time on varsity.
“In years past, she was a scorer,” explained Polinsky. “I asked her to change her role. We still wanted her to score but I asked her to handle the ball, run our plays and she did a good job with that.”
Saxton was good for 300 points this season and is on pace to surpass 1,000 in her final campaign for the Lions next season.
In a 64-22 district semifinal victory over Calvary Christian, Saxton New Hope with 23 points and tallied 12 in the team’s championship loss to Saint Basil.
Polinsky wasn’t the only newcomer stepping up for the Lions this year.
The team also had Reagan Chrencik, a 5-11 freshman who chipped in with 13 in the District One semifinal and tapped in 11 in the final. For the season, Chrencik contributed over 350 points to the campaign, one that saw the Lions finish 21-6. Chrencik averaged over 20 points in at least half of New Hope’s battles against SOL opponents.
“She can really shoot the ball and she made some big shots for us this year,” stated Polinsky. “She’s pretty impressive.”
Leading the team in rebounding was Kate Dougherty, a 5-7 junior who will play lacrosse at Penn State. Dougherty was always assigned to cover the opponent’s best player, said Polinsky.
“She does all our dirty work for us,” said Polinsky. “She doesn’t get much with regard to scoring but she really knows her role.
“She’s pretty tough.”
Then comes Juliana Covino, a 5-5 junior guard.
“I call her the glue girl,” said Polinsky. “She does everything on the floor, doesn’t care about points. She rebounds, goes after loose balls, whatever the team needs.”
The first player off the bench is sophomore Emily Primavera.
“Next year I’m really excited to have her start,” said Polinsky. “She did so many great things off the bench, came into some games when we weren’t shooting well and made some key shots.”
Primavera came through with 10 points in the district semifinal win.
Sophomores Kayci Lane, Ella Brennan and Emma Ives also came through for the Lions this season.
In the BAL tournament, New Hope outpaced MaST Charter (58-22) and Faith Christian Academy (45-26) before falling to Jenkintown by 10 in the league final. While the Lions took the Drakes to double overtime earlier in the season, they got off to a slow start in BALs, dropping the contest by a 47-37 score.
In the district semifinal win over Calvary, the Lions got off to a 13-3 commanding lead by the end of the first quarter and were on top 23-13 at the half. New Hope pulled away by outpacing Calvary 11-2 in the third period for a 45-26 eventual triumph.
By now, it’s known that Saint Basil captured the District One 3A crown – and the accompanying state tournament berth – for the second straight season with a 20-point win over the Lions.
Still, Polinsky loved every minute of his time on the court at New Hope.
“I love it. It’s a really tight-knit community. I’ve had a really good year with the girls on my team; I’ve enjoyed working with them very much – how hard that they play and how smart they are.”
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