by Jonathan Vander Lugt
After Germantown Friends School upset Shipley at home last week, coach Shawn Werdt’s Tiger team had the closest thing to a fairytale ending it could hope for. GFS beat the then-first-place Gators 58-53, and figured that it was probably the last time they’d play on their home court.
The team knew, as the fifth seed in the Friends Schools League playoff, that any remaining FSL game would be on the road. They assumed the same for any subsequent Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament games.
So, the Tigers poured everything they had into the win over Shipley. Senior Peter Gard played perhaps his best game all season, scoring 24 and almost matching Gator dynamo Sam Sessoms (who scored 28 and is committed to Division-I Binghamton) shot-for-shot. Fellow twelfth-graders Pietro Berghella and Isaac Myran chipped in for a combined 16 more.
When the Tigs found out that they’d have another play-in game – this year, the PAISAA tournament adopted an 18-team format, with the 15 through 18 seeds playing each other in single elimination – they realized that they realized that as the 16th seed, they’d host the George School to get a shot at the proper year-end tournament.
The mood, from the start, was off.
“Neither team came out with a lot of energy to start this one,” said Werdt. “I don’t know what you can attribute that to.”
One can attribute it to any number of things – fatigue, the fact Tuesday games rarely draw in the first place, or that the PAISAA tournament, only about a decade old, doesn’t quite have the same cache as the year-end PIAA (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, filled with public and archdiocesan schools around the state) tournament.
Germantown Friends lost, 55-46, putting an unceremonious end to another long season.
“It really came down to their guys making a couple more plays when it counted, which ultimately led to them winning,” Werdt said. “The last time we played them, it was very similar, but we were the ones that ended up making the good plays.”
“It just wasn’t our day,” Myran said. “It was a little weird – we didn’t expect to have a play-in game to make it into the state tournament.”
The loss leaves GFS with a 13-12 record. In all likelihood, it’ll fade into the record book as a good-but-not-great team, led by a handful of experienced seniors. It’s a story that you’ll hear all around the high school sporting landscape, but Werdt and his team found ways to make this year special.
“It’s sad. We really got a lot out of those seniors – they were a fun group to coach. They’ve been in the gym quite a bit over the past four years,” Werdt said. “All in all, they’re really great program kids that you don’t want to see graduate.”
The story, without a doubt, begins and ends with that group. It’s the largest group of departing players Werdt has had since 2014-15, and the three have worked their way through the program in different ways.
Gard started as a relatively short and not-terribly-athletic wing player – that is to say, one whose talents weren’t in high demand. Foisted into a significant role due to injuries his sophomore year, Gard honed his three-point shot for two seasons before his body caught up. He came into this year at a lean 6-foot-2 (that’s not hard to understand, one can suppose, considering the fact that Gard’s father Kevin is the head of Drexel’s physical therapy department), and truly blossomed. He averaged just over 15 points per game, and has caught the eye of nearby Division III schools.
“Peter’s three-point game has gone through the roof,” Myran said, “He’s become a more vocal member of the team. He deserves it all – he’s really performed this year.”
Berghella’s potential, on the other hand, was immediately apparent from the moment he stepped on the court. The six-foot-four freshman eventually grew to six-foot-eight, and his game on each end of the floor evolved with every inch. He averaged a shade under 14 points and 8.5 rebounds per game this year.
“Pietro got better – it took him a little while early in the season – but he certainly got better down low,” Myran added.
While his true love lies with the soccer pitch, Myran himself is no slouch with the ball in his hands rather than around his feet. His main talent is hustle, and he’s chipped away at different skills – shooting, passing and off-ball positioning – while overcoming problems with the injury bug to finish the year mostly in one piece, a small wonder considering his style of play.
“Basketball’s not really my main sport, but coach has put me in the right positions and I like to think I have a pretty good basketball I.Q.,” Myran said. “It’s fun to play with each other, because we each know what we can and can’t do. It’s been a fun ride, especially with coach Werdt the whole way.”
This is the first multi-student group of seniors that Werdt has graduated whose careers fell entirely under his tutelage. Without them, it’ll be an adjustment.
“Pietro was the big guy, Peter was the shooter and Isaac was the hustle guy,” Werdt said. “They all brought something to make a good team. They always ask us to pick an MVP, and I wouldn’t do it because if any one of those guys was absent, we wouldn’t win a game. We’d have no chance.”
You can see the makings of the next GFS core – sophomores Dean Wang, Nolan Grady and Tyson Maddox are all archetypal in one way or another. Wang is an offensive slasher, Grady plays a judicious point guard and Maddox sprints everywhere and plays good defense – not unlike a sophomore-year Myran.
“That’s the name of the game,” Werdt said. “Everyone graduates seniors, and you’ve got to get the next group ready to play. It’s a big-time offseason for GFS basketball. They have to take the lead.”
For now the focus is still on his senior starting trio, as well as fellow seniors Max Seldin and Graham Arms. The two saw limited game action, but made a difference behind the scenes.
“I’m proud of this group. They’ve won a lot of games and have made the playoffs each year. They’ve really given a lot to the program, and they’re leaving it better than the way they found it. I’m grateful for that,” Werdt said. “The old cliché is that ‘tradition never graduates,’ and their footprint has certainly been left on the program. It’s a good group to look to.”
Around the area:
The only area school to make it out of the first round of the PAISAA tournament was Penn Charter, which beat Friends Central 63-55 before falling to the Haverford School, 66-46, in the tournament quarterfinals. PC senior Mason Williams wrapped an excellent career in the Quaker blue and gold, finishing with 1,204 points – good for sixth in school history. Williams will graduate alongside fellow seniors Will Samuel, Jake Nicastro, Ryan Dickson and Christopher Thomas. PC finished at 17-11 overall, and 4-6 in the Inter-Ac.
Springside Chestnut Hill dropped its tournament opener against Malvern Prep, 73-43, to finish the season at 7-15 and 3-7 in the Inter-Ac. The ugly record belies a team on the upswing – SCH managed its first conference win in three seasons, played its most challenging schedule in a half-decade and returns all but one varsity contributor (C.J. Sweitzer).
Germantown Academy wrapped its season – the worst since very early in long-time head coach Jim Fenerty’s tenure – with a 74-55 PAISAA loss to the Hill School to finish with a 9-17 overall (and 2-8 in the Inter-Ac) record. Like the nearby Blue Devils, the losses mask a talented, young team (the Pats also graduate just one senior, Jordan Keys) that laid the groundwork for marked improvement this December.
Information from TedSilary.com was used in this article.