When Maggie Grant went to the 2019 Philadelphia Catholic League girls’ basketball championship game, it was nothing new.
Grant had grown up on PCL basketball, with both of her parents having played in the league. Her father, Greg, was a first team All-Catholic player at the now-defunct Bishop Kenrick, and her mother, Megan, played at Cardinal O’Hara. As such, going to championship games at the Palestra was almost an annual tradition for the Downingtown native.
But there was something different about that year’s PCL championship. That year, Grant was there to support her close friend and Comets AAU teammate, Grace O’Neill, who was playing in the game with Archbishop Carroll.
Unlike her parents, Grant did not start her high school basketball career in the Catholic League. Instead, she played her freshman season at Bishop Shanahan. But after attending that championship game and seeing O’Neill playing on that stage, something changed.
“Being able to watch someone I knew with Grace, one of my good friends, playing in it, and being where I was, I knew that that’s somewhere that I wanted to be,” Grant said. “In that atmosphere down in the Palestra … I think that after [that game] was when I started to think about the transfer.”
With the idea of transferring into the Catholic League slowly shaping into reality, Grant visited Archbishop Carroll and went to some open gyms with the team. The program’s tight-knit culture was apparent early on to the 6-foot-1 guard, and it didn’t take long for her to make the decision to join O’Neill on the Patriots.
When Grant first arrived at Archbishop Carroll, she was reserved and didn’t have the level of confidence she normally had on the court. Fortunately for Grant, the same friend who had inadvertently inspired her to transfer was the same one who could relate to those feelings.
Basketball had been a passion for O’Neill from the start, with the point guard first joining the Comets program in third grade. By the time she reached seventh and eighth grade, O’Neill had doubled down on the sport, increasing the amount of time she spent practicing on her own and training. People started to take notice of O’Neill’s talent, and, more importantly, her energy on the floor.
“I think the one thing you say about Grace is her engine,” Archbishop Carroll coach Renie Shields said. “Grace had an engine from Day 1.”
That on-court motor helped O’Neill earn the Patriots’ starting point guard spot as a freshman. While it was a big step in the young guard’s career, it also was a challenge for a player still trying to get acclimated to high school.
“As a freshman, you’re not a leader on the team, but as a point guard, you kind of have to be,” O’Neill said.
Fortunately for O’Neill, the culture Shields had built at Carroll helped smooth the transition.
“I think that the people around me made me feel comfortable having to take a sort of leadership role that young,” O’Neill said. “We also were just a team that was really great friends, so I think it helped us translate on the court and made that leadership role a lot easier [of a] transition.”
That camaraderie within Carroll’s team kicked in during Grant’s transition as well. With the help of O’Neill and the rest of her new Patriots teammates, Grant adjusted to the basketball culture that had attracted her to Carroll in the first place. Ahead of her sophomore year, she earned a starting spot in the backcourt alongside O’Neill.
From there, Grant’s confidence started to grow, and she developed into a well-rounded offensive threat. Grant always had been a talented shooter, but by the time she left Carroll, she was impacting the game in all areas.
“She knew when to be a good teammate, she knew when to be a good scorer, she knew when we needed rebounds,” Shields said. “So I think Maggie really had the confidence this year to step into whatever role we asked her to do.”
A major factor in Grant’s versatility on the court: her deep understanding of the technical parts of the game and the way she studies film.
“She watches the game very differently in the sense that she was always one to know every position of plays and kind of the rationale behind the play,” Greg Grant said. “So the reason they’re running it, defensive formations — things of that nature.”
Grant’s steady improvement paralleled O’Neill’s as the point guard blossomed into a three-time All-Catholic honoree and a 1,000-point scorer. The backcourt duo’s development helped drive Carroll to an undefeated regular season in Catholic League play this year.
It also helped each player become a bona fide Division I prospect, and both began to attract recruiting attention. When it came time to decide on their basketball futures, much like their time at Carroll, Grant’s and O’Neill’s paths were aligned.
Grant signed with Villanova, where her aunt, Denise Dillon, is the coach. Grant grew up attending games at Drexel, where Dillon served as the Dragons’ head coach for 17 seasons. Because of that, the 6-foot-1 guard was familiar with Dillon’s motion offense and the way it rewards talented off-ball players.
O’Neill also followed a familiar connection in her signing with Drexel. A former teammate, Dragons junior guard Erin Sweeney was one of the upperclassmen who embraced O’Neill as a freshman. O’Neill also figures to fill the hole left by Hannah Nihill, the Dragons’ five-year starter at point guard, and player whose style matches that of O’Neill.
“She’s very gritty, and I love that style of play,” O’Neill said. “I think she was a phenomenal player, and I would love to replicate some of the things she did on the court.”
Grant and O’Neill will have one final chance to share the court as high school teammates, with both set to play in the Philadelphia All-American Game on Friday at Neumann University. It will be a full-circle moment for a pair of athletes who have come to embrace the way their basketball paths have been mirrored.
“I think that us growing together on the court and growing together off the court helped in both of those situations,” O’Neill said. “The better friends we became, the easier it was to play with each other.”