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Pope John Paul II girls set standard for program

Jenna Widdicombe overhears the younger girls talking at CYO basketball games. They talk about a future playing for Pope John Paul II.

Jenna Widdicombe overhears the younger girls talking at CYO basketball games.

They talk about a future playing for Pope John Paul II.

For other players and teams, this may be what has always happened. But for Widdicombe and the Golden Panthers, it's a far cry from where the program was just a few years ago.

The Panthers used to be an afterthought in the Pioneer Athletic Conference.

PJP's season ended on Saturday in a 63-57 loss to Berks Catholic in the PIAA Class AAA tournament, but the legacy the 19-8 team will leave is going to last longer than it did for this group to build it.

"It's refreshing," said Widdicombe, a senior forward. "The program has gotten a lot stronger. It's rewarding to hear that the program is going forward, advancing, and not going backward."

In the seniors' tenure, the Panthers have reached the state tournament twice, the first such appearances. They've also been tops in the Liberty Division of their conference and reached the District 1 Class AAA title game for the first time. Earlier in the season the Golden Panthers beat rival Spring-Ford, something the team had never done before.

"We've had more of a student section this year. Teachers talk about it at school," senior Susan Bossler said. "People are starting to recognize us as a competitive, well developed basketball team and they want to watch us play."

How did the Golden Panthers get here? There are at least five reasons.

The first is Bossler, a pure shooter who is the only 1,000-point scorer in program history. Then there is the speedy Lauren Dao, who delegates as the vocal leader, and Widdicombe, who wreaks havoc down low. Dahlia Wilson "works her butt off," according to Dao. That leaves the lone junior in the starting five, Gabby Troisi, the small forward whom Widdicombe's father, Don, refers to as "Magic."

The strong cohesive unit that PJP became wasn't always that way. Bossler and Wilson transferred in after their sophomore seasons at other schools. Widdicombe, Troisi, and Dao have been with the program since their freshman seasons, all playing in that first state tournament appearance against Archbishop Wood in 2013. Since then, the Golden Panthers have evolved, becoming a versatile team with a tendency to play scrappy.

It's a style of play and identity that has stuck. Players now come into the program knowing what's expected of them.

"The freshmen we have now, I'm thinking about their senior year - they are going to be good," Troisi said. "Each year I think we will be growing and growing."

The onus to continue that growth is now on Troisi, the only returning starter next season, as she takes what she learned from the seniors and passes it on.

"Leadership," Troisi said. "I learned leadership and to be a team player from them.

"They've always had my back and I want to carry that with me," she added. "I just want to continue that leadership to the next girls in line and the upcoming group."

Sometime soon it will be the girls from CYO doing the exact same thing.