New Penn Charter head coach Jim Powers directs traffic while assistant Laura Kurz encourages the Quakers. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

New Penn Charter head coach Jim Powers directs traffic while assistant Laura Kurz encourages the Quakers. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In terms of the personnel on the court, the girls’ basketball team at Penn Charter will look very similar to last year’s ballclub. With almost the entire 2013-14 team returning, the Quakers are hoping that another year of experience will allow them to improve on a solid showing last winter, when they went 19-8 overall, finished third in the Inter-Ac League with a 7-5 record, and lost in the semifinals of the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Tournament to eventual champion Shipley School.

The Quakers are under new but familiar leadership this winter. David Bass, a PC alum who had been the team’s head coach for the past three years, is sitting out this season to complete a graduate degree while remaining a member of the Penn Charter faculty.

Filling in for the 2014-15 campaign is Jim Powers, who has been an assistant coach with the squad since the year before Bass arrived. When he was a high school athlete in Delaware County, an injury forced Powers to forego landlubber sports, and instead he became a member of the highly-successful crew program at the old Monsignor Bonner High School.

Now a Chester County resident, Powers has coached AAU girls basketball teams for a decade, mentoring his own athletic daughters along the way.

For assistant coach Jen Fabbi, joining the staff at PC was a homecoming. A multi-sport athlete at Penn Charter, Fabbi (’04) overcame chronic problems with a collapsed lung in her senior year and went on to play Division I college basketball at Rider University. She will help out with the varsity and will work with the JV team along with Sean Ahern, a new teacher in the foreign language department at the school.

To fill the role of primary varsity assistant, PC made a fabulous find within its own Development Office. Laura Kurz, a new hire, happens to be one of the best basketball players ever to emerge from the Inter-Ac League. A Parade Magazine All-American and 2000-point scorer at Germantown Academy, Kurz signed with Duke University and spent the first part of her college career there.

She then transferred to Villanova University, where she scored over 1000 points in two seasons and was named First Team All-Big East Conference and Philadelphia Big Five Player of the Year as a senior. She played professionally in Europe and spent the past two basketball seasons as an assistant coach for Lehigh University.

On this year’s team at Penn Charter, the two players with the longest varsity tenure are still only juniors; guards Hannah Fox and Ayanna Matthews became starters for the Quakers when they were just eighth-graders. The third junior on the current roster, Taylor Zahairagunn, arrived at PC as a freshman.

Out of last year’s varsity line-up, the Quakers lost only guard Kristina Kubach to graduation, and there are three seniors on the squad this season. Nicolette Napoleon, who transferred in from Cardinal O’Hara two years ago as a sophomore, has been a varsity mainstay at power forward.

Guards Caroline Jones and Jessica Soens were both varsity reserves last season.

Camryn Gold, a member of last year’s freshman class who was a frequent starter at guard, has transferred to another school, but her former classmate, forward Mireyah Davis, is back after playing an equally-important role for the Quakers last winter. Fellow sophomore Alexis Hnatkowski, a guard, saw a lot of minutes last season, and looks ready to assume a starting role this time around.

A third 10th-grader, power forward Julie Webb, was originally listed only as a JV player at the start of last season, but before long her size and strength began to earn her varsity minutes.

Last Tuesday, in the Quakers’ first scrimmage, one freshman appeared with the varsity team. This was guard Grace Stansfield, a new student at Penn Charter.

For their trial run against visiting Lansdale Catholic, Charter started Napoleon, Matthews, Fox, Davis and Hnatkowski. The Quakers and the Crusaders played with a running clock for four 10-minute periods. In the first segment, Matthews hit a pair of lay-ups and a free throw and Davis connected on a baseline jumper, giving PC seven points to LC’s eight.

Rebounding was not a strong point for the hosts throughout the scrimmage, and they paid the greatest price for this in the second quarter. Fox scored on a breakaway at the outset, but that was it for the Quakers, who would lost round two, 10-2. In the two middle periods, PC did a lot of substituting, and did not have its original five players on the floor together.

Matthews and Fox raised Charter’s offensive output in the third period, but the Crusaders still came out ahead. With the predicted starters reunited for the beginning of round four, a 12-footer by Matthews, a converted rebound by Davis, and a free throw and a baseline field goal by Fox got PC off to a 7-0 start.

A little later, the Quakers were up 11-1 thanks to a midrange jumper by Matthews and a fast break bucket by Davis. A free throw by Stansfield provided the final Penn Charter point, as LC rallied late to make it 12-8 at the end of the final session.

As usual, the Quakers will appear in Germantown Academy’s Make-A-Wish Tournament the weekend before Christmas, and just after the holiday they’ll play in the annual eight-team tourney staged at West Chester University. A number of multi-team scholastic showcase events are on the schedule, as well.