New Penn Charter girls basketball coach David Bass counsels senior Danielle Sienko during last Saturday’s scrimmage. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Back on Labor Day, four starters from Penn Charter’s 2010-2011 girls basketball team were expected back at school for their senior season, but when the Quakers took the court for their first pre-season scrimmage last Saturday, point guard Mary Kate O’Brien and swing player Danielle Sienko were the only upperclassmen out on the floor.

One of the absences was only temporary; 6’1” post player Dianna Thomas-Palmer had suffered an ACL injury back in her freshman season, and some recent swelling in her knee caused new Penn Charter head coach David Bass to rest her during the practice session last weekend.

The fourth veteran would’ve been six-foot guard Brianna Butler, who has been ranked among the top 20 high school seniors in the country by several recruiting services. Butler, who will play college ball for Syracuse University, actually turned up for the first day of classes at Penn Charter in September, then disappeared. She surfaced at Nazareth Regional High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., where her AAU coach has taken over as the school team’s mentor, bringing a number of his club players in with him.

“It is what it is,” said PC’s Bass, “and we need to move forward. I’m concerned with coaching the players in front of me. I have a great group of kids who want to work hard and want to get better. We’ve had a lot of kids come out for the program this year, and I’m encouraged by the enthusiasm I’m seeing.”

Two of the three current seniors have already signed college letters of intent, Thomas-Palmer to play basketball at Hofstra, and Sienko (PC’s shortstop) to play softball at Kutztown University.

Three other members of the team all saw varsity playing time last winter; junior forward Katie O’Malley (a Norwood Fontbonne Academy grad), and a pair of guards, junior Allison Rogers and sophomore Kristina Kubach.

Nicole Weitz is the third junior in the mix, and the other two sophomores are Carmella Dow and Marissa Samuels.

No freshmen appear on the initial varsity roster, but there are a pair of eighth-grade guards, Hannah Fox and Ayanna Matthews. Fox has been at Penn Charter, while Matthews, a member of the Triple Threat AAU team coached by Bass, has transferred from Friends Select in center city Philadelphia.

“We thought it was important to give them the opportunity to play at this level, because that’s where their ability falls,” Bass explained.

A 1988 graduate of Penn Charter, Bass has returned as a teacher and coach after a long tenure in those same roles at Abington Friends School. His new assistant, Jim Powers, was with the PC program last year and provides some continuity for the Quakers. Bass had lined up a female assistant coach, but she acquired a head coaching position before the start of the season.

“We’re actively looking for a female assistant,” Bass noted, “because we think it’s important to have a woman on the staff for a girls team.”

During last Saturday’s scrimmage with visiting Conwell-Egan Catholic High School, Bass said, “I was trying to look at personnel, trying to look at different player combinations.”

The session consisted of five eight-minute periods, with an intermission after the third round. Clicking on the offensive transition, the Quakers won the first two stints handily, 16-6 and 23-9. After that the Eagles held their own, outscoring their hosts in the third and fourth periods, 11-7, 10-7. A late basket allowed PC to prevail in the final frame, 9-8.

“I was really proud about how we started the scrimmage,” Bass said. “The young kids stepped up and played even better than we anticipated.

“At the beginning,” he continued, “we got our secondary break going really well, but those baskets came a little harder later on. I think our legs started getting tired and we couldn’t keep up the momentum, so that’s a concern we need to look at.”

Expecting Butler to be back in a PC uniform, Charter drew up an ambitious schedule this season, with the Quakers slated to appear in four high-profile showcase events, as well as making a trip to the talent-rich holiday tournament held annually in Naples, Fla. These undertakings will now present more of a challenge, but the Quakers will carry on as planned.

On his return to his alma mater this fall, Bass discovered “One of the things that’s still the same around here is the desire to win, and I want that to be an expectation for our team. We have a lot of tough games and whether we win or lose, we’ll move on, but I want the kids going out there every time believing in themselves and believing they can win.”

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