Vince Weldon ’09 is one of a number of Aces players emerging at the varsity level
The challenges faced by the Aces during this young season have been many. Injuries to key personnel, illness, an off-site gym; there’s been turmoil at just about every turn. So, it almost seemed fitting that on Monday night as the Aces were taking the floor for their inaugural home opener against Conestoga at Bala Cynwyd, a bizarre scoreboard malfunction put the game on ice. Without a functioning clock and visible scoring display, the coaches of both teams determined that the contest would have to be played at another time. Players, coaches and fans exited the gym with a vague notion that game might be played Tuesday at a different site – if the threat of winter weather didn’t force an additional postponement.
Short on time and schedule flexibility, both programs agreed to play Tuesday’s game across town at Harriton High School no matter the winter conditions. The stage was set for a fascinating game that matched a further depleted Aces squad (the team lost another key player overnight to illness) with one of the area’s hottest teams, led by 6’10 Davidson-bound center Jake Cohen.
Perhaps it would have been logical for the Aces to succumb to the elements; and after all, the critics argued that Lower Merion, even at full strength would have a tough time matching up with the Pioneers. But a funny thing happened on Tuesday night. The 2008-09 Aces started to look like, well, a team.
Employing a stall strategy and displaying the trademark discipline and defense that has come to define the Gregg Downer era, the Aces scratched and clawed through four quarters and remained within striking distance of Conestoga. Down 18-7 early in the 3rd quarter, the Aces made a run to pull within three after consecutive three-pointers from junior Oliver Cohen and senior Nick Bibbs and an athletic offensive rebound and putback by junior Aaron Staley.
In the fourth, the teams engaged in a defensive gem. With the Aces down six, senior Harley Williamson converted a three-point play at the one minute mark. A brilliant defensive effort by Bibbs in full court pressure forced a turnover and the Aces had the ball with 33 seconds in a one possession game. Unfortunately, LM could not convert. Conestoga hit a free-throw in the closing seconds to seal the final margin – 33-29.
Despite the loss, the Maroon & White displayed grit and character that – if it becomes a trend – should serve them well as the season progresses. And if and when the Aces have all their pieces back on the court at the same time, there could be a silver lining to this early season adversity. New players are emerging and contributing and the team appears willing to execute a game plan. If this season’s Aces develop a winning identity, it might be possible to look back at Tuesday night as a turning point.
The Aces return to action on Thursday night against Central League rival Ridley. Gametime is 7:30 PM at Bala Cynwyd Middle School.