Senior forward Hayley Hunt handles the ball for the Quakers. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

During recent basketball seasons, the girls of Penn Charter have gotten a tough challenge in their two games at Germantown Academy’s annual Make-A-Wish Tournament.

While the Quakers encountered familiar tournament opponents in Archbishop Ryan High School and Shipley School, last weekend’s 2019 edition of the event resulted in a pair of comfortable victories. The Ryan Ragdolls and Shipley Gators are in a bit of a downcycle this season, while Charter is talented and deep.

Against Ryan on Friday, the Quakers broke open a game that was relatively close at halftime (32-24), going up by as many as 31 points in the third quarter before the final score settled in at 56-37. PC gained a commanding lead more quickly on Saturday afternoon, shutting out Shipley entirely in the second quarter to take a 26-7 advantage into halftime.

In the first minute of the fourth quarter the score was 48-16, and as PC emptied its bench the Gators gnawed 10 points off of that lead for a 53-31 final.

Earlier in the week Penn Charter had cruised to victory in its Inter-Ac League opener at Agnes Irwin (62-23), and last weekend’s results at GA lifted the Quakers’ overall record to 8-1. The only loss had come against a hot-shooting Abington Friends School squad in the season opener.

Penn Charter freshman Aleah Snead (left) keeps pace with an Archbishop Ryan guard. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

At the beginning of last week, head coach Joe Maguire related, “We set some goals for these three games, things like shooting percentages and turnovers. We also wanted to hold the other teams under 100 points combined.”

PC limited its rivals to a total of 91 points, and when asked about what else the team was focusing on, Maguire responded, “Paying attention to detail. We’re working to be able to really run our offense seamlessly, and we want to take care of the little things, setting the screens we want to set, choosing shots, taking care of the basketball.”

While the talent level on the Archbishop Ryan roster can vary, the Ragdolls are always a disciplined, well-drilled team that can make opponents pay for carelessness. This allowed them to remain relatively close to the Quakers during the first half on Friday as PC, at times, did not seem to be totally focused.

Three-pointers by freshman Kelsey Bess and senior Kait Carter, and field goals from closer in by senior Carmen Williams and freshman Aleah Snead powered Penn Charter to a 10-point lead over the first six minutes (16-6), but Ryan drew a little closer by the end of the quarter, at 18-11.

After going up by a dozen early in the second round, the Quakers faltered as the Ragdolls hit a few three-pointers and scored lay-ups in transition. Giving up an 11-3 run, Charter called time-out with 3:24 left in the second quarter and the teams now just four points apart at 26-22.

The Quakers drew away again to enjoy an eight-point cushion at halftime (32-24), but there was still the sense that PC’s engine wasn’t firing on all cylinders.

“Ryan has a very good point guard who was second team All-Catholic [League] last year,” Maguire noted. “We wanted to take her out of the game, but we may have focused on that a little too much and left some other things open. After halftime I think we settled down and just pressed the way we normally do.”

Maguire related that he didn’t have to say very much in the halftime huddle.

He explained, “We’re too good of a team to give up a run like we did in the second quarter, and the girls knew that. Kait Carter was saying how we how we needed to clean things up, and they sort of adjusted on their own. We set a goal of where we wanted the score to be at the end of the third quarter.”

Things changed right at the start of the second half, as the Quakers tightened up their overall game and turned the screws on defense, in particular.

Charter’s press choked off Ryan’s transition game, creating turnovers which led to PC points almost every time. Bess bagged a couple of treys and the other starters went to the basket as the Quakers rang up 23 points in a row. Ryan was held without a field goal for the entire quarter, netting only a pair of free throws right at the end.

Cruising into the final period with a 55-26 lead, Penn Charter used its reserve players for much of the last eight minutes, and Ryan followed suit. Bess (15 points), Snead (14), and Williams (12) led the offense, with Carter finishing with seven points. Ryan’s high scorer, Gianna Grassifulli, scored six.

Saturday’s contest began with a short jumper popped in by Shipley guard Sanaa Redmond, then Charter’s Carter scored from the paint and also from the three-point arc to move the Quakers ahead for good. Snead contributed four points to PC’s 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter, then she ran the floor to add nine more in the second period. Bess, who’d bagged a baseline shot in the opening frame, tacked on a “three” in the second round to round out the Quakers’ 19-point lead at the intermission.

The second half, like the first, got underway with a bucket by Shipley’s Redmond, then Williams drilled a trey from the top of the key to touch off a 9-0 burst for Penn Charter. Snead and Bess kept producing, and junior Kaitlyn Hnatkowsky sank two three-pointers.

It was 46-16 at the three-quarter mark, then the PC lead peaked when sophomore Imani Rivers scored a lay-up off of an inbounds play early in round four. Shipley, which had a very short bench, had a number of its starters finish out the game, playing against the Charter reserves.

The two ninth-graders, Snead and Bess, finished with 17 and 10 points, respectively, with Carter contributing seven and Williams and Hnatkowsky adding six points apiece.

Redmond powered the Gators with 18 points. While Shipley slipped to 5-8 with this setback and may struggle a little this season, the entire team will return next year.

The 2019-20 Penn Charter squad features seasoned seniors in Carter, Hunt, Williams, and forward India Barnes, and at the other end of the age spectrum are the ninth-graders. Bess had gone through middle school at PC and actually started for the upper school varsity last year. Her new classmates, Snead and forward Bella Toomey, both entered Penn Charter this fall.

“Kelsey’s been practicing with the upper school since she was in sixth grade, so it almost seems like she’s a junior by now,” Maguire said. “Aleah and Bella have been to our basketball camp, so they already knew some of the older girls. They want to fit in, and they already have a high IQ about how to play in our offense.

“Aleah scored 27 points in one game,” he continued, “and that actually surprised me when I looked in the book. She didn’t do it in a flashy way; she was just doing what she was supposed to do and getting to where she was supposed to be.”

A few days after Christmas the Quakers will head up the Jersey Turnpike to a holiday tournament in Brooklyn, where they’re scheduled to play University High School from Newark, N.J. and Gulliver Prep School from Miami, Fla. They’ll resume Inter-Ac League play on January 3, when they’ll host Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.