Penn Charter’s Mason Williams cuts to the basket against Abington Friends last Tuesday. Williams leads the Quakers in scoring through five games, with an average of 21 points per game. (Photo by Jonathan Vander Lugt)

by Jonathan Vander Lugt

After a rough 2016-17 season plagued with roster tinkering, inconsistent play and a 2-8 record in the Inter-Ac, Penn Charter head coach Jim Phillips is trying to take a different tack.

“In years past, [us coaches] would try to micromanage every possession,” Phillips said. “We’d really try to run our set plays.”

It led to a team that lacked much of a coherent identity. Penn Charter had a deep rotation of quality players, but often it didn’t know what it wanted to do or be on offense or defense.

Searching for an answer, Phillips ran out all different combinations of kids only to see that lead to production in fits and spurts. This year, the Quakers have a similar layout of talent.

They’re about nine-deep, and the temptation to tinker is there. Now, Phillips refuses.

“We’re trying to let them have some freedom and looseness to how they play,” Philllips said. “They’re a likeable group, and one that’s having some fun. It’s fun that we have so many guys. We don’t have much size, but we do have a lot of interchangeable parts. We have a lot of guys that can be in different places. We can flow a little more and give them a little more freedom.”

So far, it’s working. Penn Charter has started the season 4-1, including a 60-46 win last Tuesday over Abington Friends.

There, Penn Charter had to overcome a 10-0 deficit to open the game.

“We’ve been struggling to start games,” Phillips said. “I don’t know what that is. It’s probably my infinite wisdom that I try to impart upon the children in the pregame, which probably cripples their ability to perform.”

After a timeout following the Kangaroos’ 10th point, Junior guard Dylan Topaz came in with the second unit and provided the team with a spark. He only scored three points in the half, but his flowing, fast-paced style on offense helped Mason Williams and Ryan Maloney find their way to seven and six points in the second quarter, respectively.

By the half, the Quakers were up 27-19.

“We needed someone in our second group with a scoring mentality and to be a little bit more loose or creative, and Dylan has been that,” Phillips said. “Not only has he done that, but we’ve brought members of our starting five back in with him.”

In spite of the advantage, Phillips’ aforementioned wisdom must have afflicted his team following halftime as well, as the Quakers coughed the lead back up and went into the fourth tied at 33 with the Roos.

By now, Phillips knew to leave Topaz in, regardless of who was playing around him. He led as Quakers went on a 20-2 run to start the quarter, and by the frame’s halfway mark, the game had been decided.

“Dylan probably has our biggest plus-minus on the season,” Phillips said. “There’s no doubt about his energy.”

Topaz finished with 12 on the night. Williams, a lanky senior forward, led PC with 18, while sophomore Ryan Holmes chipped in with eight.

Despite the final tally, Tuesday’s game did leave room for growth. Ten-nothing deficits to open games are often more difficult to overcome, and going into the fourth quarter tied after an eight-point halftime lead isn’t ideal either.

That said, it’s still early. After two weeks, the Quakers have played just five games and have a 4-1 record. If there’s any time to work out the kinks, it’s now.

“We went with a solid nine today, and there are varying skill sets within that,” Phillips said. “I was confident from the jump that we had some depth. We’ve got a few guys that can make an open shot, and we’ve got a few who are playmakers, and a few who can shoot enough keep guys honest. We have a little bit more of a sense of togetherness.”

The book was mixed for teams elsewhere in the Local’s web of coverage.

Germantown Friends (1-4) lost to Princeton Day School 65-55 before winning its first game over Bodine High School this Saturday by a score of 48-30, while La Salle (1-1) beat St. Paul’s (Maryland) 48-38 before losing to the Haverford School 56-50 over the weekend.

Springside Chestnut Hill (1-2) dropped one to Shipley, 62-53, though sophomore guard Ke’Shawn Williams continues to impress with an 18.3 points per game scoring average. As GA head coach Jim Fenerty continues to find out what he has with his young Patriots team, Germantown Academy (2-2) lost to the Perkiomen School and Lansdale Catholic (68-32 and 58-41, respectively), and beat Quakertown 51-46.