Penn Charter sophomore Julie Webb (left) goes up for a shot over Katie Mayock of Conestoga High School. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Penn Charter sophomore Julie Webb (left) goes up for a shot over Katie Mayock of Conestoga High School. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

The girls of Penn Charter did not travel to any out-of-state basketball events over the holidays like some area teams, but the Quakers did cross several county lines in order to participate in a long-running three-day tournament in West Chester.

On December 27, PC opened play at the West Chester University Christmas Classic with a last-second 39-37 loss to Allentown Central Catholic High School. Charter came back the following day to knock off Notre Dame Academy (N.Y.), 47-33, and last Monday the Quakers won by a similar score against Berwyn’s Conestoga High, 47-34.

The 2-1 result in the tourney sent PC into the new year with a winning record overall, at 7-5. While the bulk of the Quakers’ Inter-Ac League schedule lies ahead, they did get in two league games before Christmas. Charter started out on the road with a win at Baldwin School, then dropped their home league opener to Germantown Academy on December 17.

Allentown Central Catholic has a storied tradition in the Lehigh Valley, but in recent years has been overshadowed by some of the franchises in neighboring Bethlehem. PC gained an early edge over the Vikings in a 12-9 opening quarter, then led by one point halftime and at the end of the third quarter, when the count was 28-27.

This left the door open for Allentown to tie the game late in the final period and then win on a last-second shot by senior guard Alyssa Mack. The Penn Charter offense was paced by junior guards Ayanna Matthews and Hannah Fox, with 14 and 11 points, respectively.

The Quakers had also lost one of their last games before Christmas in the final seconds, going down 49-52 thanks to a late three-pointer by Archbishop Ryan.

“Our offense can score points, but there are little things on defense we need to do better,” said Matthews. “One things we’ve had a problem with in some games is rebounding. When you don’t rebound well, you allow the other team more ball possession – you’re basically giving them more chances to score against you.”

The following day, while Allentown went on to lose to PC’s Inter-Ac colleague Episcopal Academy by four points, the Quakers built a 30-18 halftime lead over Notre Dame and coasted to a 12-point victory. Once more Matthews (18 points) and Fox (17) led the locals, with sophomore forward Mireyah Davis adding nine points.

Notre Dame is a small private school for girls in Staten Island, and the Gators were a little out of their depth in this company. They had been routed by Episcopal in the opening day of the Christmas Classic. The tournament schedule itself had to be modified up after only seven teams turned up to play.

Oddly, the one that dropped out was Bayard Rustin High School, which is located right in West Chester. It was suggested that the Golden Knights may have made a scheduling error, and would have exceeded the mandated PIAA regular-season game limit if they’d played in the tourney.

In their third outing in the Chester County seat, the Penn Charter Quakers came up against the Conestoga Pioneers, who had gone 1-1 in their previous games at the Classic and brought in an overall record of 4-3.

Off the opening tip, PC seized a lead it never lost when Fox went right down the floor for a lay-up. Over the next two minutes, the advantage grew to 8-0 as sophomore guard Alexis Hnatakowsky sandwiched a pair of medium-range jumpers around a lay-up by her classmate, Davis. Just over three minutes in, the Pioneers got on the board thanks to a drive by Jill Mascioli.

Following a lone made free throw by PC senior forward Nicolette Napoleon in the middle of the first quarter, Fox spun in for a reverse lay-up. Just before the buzzer, Napoleon grabbed a defensive rebound and heaved the ball downcourt to Fox, who popped in a short jumper from the lane. The junior guard hit another reverse shot at the beginning of the second period, pushing PC’s lead into double figures at 15-5.

Conestoga was able to keep the game from getting out of hand during the remainder of the second quarter. The Pioneers got two field goals from Jess Monastero coming off the bench, and also benefitted from eight Penn Charter team fouls, going five-for-five from the line during the second stanza.

Coming off a 25-18 halftime lead, Charter reasserted itself by putting up the first seven points of the second half. Conestoga had actually netted one more point than PC during the second period, but here in the third the Quakers outpointed the Pioneers, 14-5.

Four more Penn Charter points at the beginning of round four brought the lead up to 20, at 43-23. Conestoga could do little more than trim back its deficit slightly in the late minutes, when both teams had a number of reserve players on the court.

“We definitely showed a lot today,” Matthews remarked. “Our first game here, we didn’t rebound that well. We came back our second game and rebounded better, and we learned what a difference that made.”

Fox led all scorers with 17 points while handing out four assists, with Matthews adding 10 points and Davis producing nine points and 11 rebounds. Napoleon and Hnatkowsky pitched in with five and four points, respectively, and the other two for the Quakers came from junior Taylor Zahairagunn. Conestoga’s Monastero, with nine points, and Katie Mayock, with eight, were the only Pioneer players with more than five points in the game.

Along with trying to ramp up their rebounding game, Matthews said that the Quakers have made some adjustments in their defense over the first month of the season.

“We started out this year wanting to primarily play man defense, but it didn’t work out as well as we wanted it to,” she explained. “We were able to play a solid zone when we needed it, and we’re working on getting better in the man.”

Although Napoleon is the only senior starter this year, the team graduated just one senior from last season’s squad, so most members of the current group are used to playing together.

“We all know each other pretty well now, and how we interact on the court,” Matthews said.