Penn Charter grad Hannah Fox, now an Amherst College senior, drives past Widener’s Madison Ireland during last week’s contest in Chester, Pa. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

The all-time leading scorer in girls’ basketball for Penn Charter, Hannah Fox (’16), made a rare Philadelphia area appearance last Saturday afternoon in her final collegiate season. Hosting the contest in Chester, Pa., the Widener University Pride went into the game undefeated at 11-0, but Fox’s Amherst College squad arrived ranked sixth in the nation in NCAA Division III, and the Mammoths trampled the Pride, 87-48.

Performing in front of a large gathering of family members, friends, and well-wishers, Fox put on a game-high performance in both total points (25) and rebounds (12). She also tied for the team lead in assists and steals.

Amherst, which improved to 9-1 on the season, had been ranked first in the country before being upset by Boston’s Emmanuel College in early December. Under highly successful head coach G.P. Gromacki, a former assistant to Dawn Staley at Temple University, Amherst won its first NCAA Division III championship in 2011. The team claimed the national title again in 2017 with Fox in a reserve role as a freshman, then repeated in 2018 with Fox as the starting point guard.

While Amherst College has been a perfect fit for Fox in just about every way, the team was hardly ever scheduled to perform close to her hometown fans. When she was a Penn Charter senior, the Mammoths played in Reading against Albright College, but when those two teams met again in 2018, it was in Massachusetts.

Hannah Fox gets off a jumper for the Amherst Mammoths. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Fox related that, when she was still in process of committing to Amherst, “Coach Gromacki told me he would try to get me a “home” game. I know he contacted a lot of different schools and coaches, and he was able to make this happen. I’m very appreciative and excited to be here.”

After facing Widener, the team would play the following day in Hoboken, N.J., facing Stevens Institute of Technology on its way back north (Amherst won, 80-39). The Mammoths will begin play in the New England Small Colleges Athletic Conference (NESCAC) on Friday, where schools such as Bowdoin and Tufts are expected to be fellow title contenders.

Fox said that after Amherst exited the 2019 NCAA tournament in the Round of 16, “Our team went into this season with the mentality that we want to win it all. We travel, we play tough teams outside our conference, so we feel we’ll be prepared for anything.”

Fox readied herself for the college level by playing five years of varsity basketball at Penn Charter, already earning a starting spot as an eighth-grader. She would finish her career with the Quakers with a record 1813 points.

Always an assiduous worker, Fox said that she would tell any aspiring high school players that “Putting in that extra effort to raise your game really makes a big difference.”

She noted that as she’s gone through college, “I think my overall skill set has improved. There’s a big emphasis with our team on defense, so I’ve worked on that, and on getting to the basket, as well. There’s a faster pace in college, so you need to make quick decisions, and the right decisions.”

Immediately prior to Fox’s appearance in Chester last Saturday, Amherst went 3-0 in a journey out West, winning two games in California and recording another “W” at the D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas, where Fox was named MVP for the women’s teams at the event.

The PC alum surged past the 1000-point mark in college career scoring at the start of the 2019-2020 campaign, and last winter she set a new single-game scoring record at Amherst, recording 43 points as she shot 19-for-25 from the field in a win over Westfield (Mass.) State.

As the encounter at Widener got underway, Fox missed her first shot but soon scored on a drive. A few minutes later, she bagged a short jumper from the lane to give the visitors an 18-4 lead, forcing the Pride to call a time-out with 3:44 remaining in the opening quarter. The Mammoths were ahead 26-10 by the end of the period and continued rolling to a 48-26 halftime lead.

There was nothing flashy about Amherst’s game, just a sort of ruthless efficiency. Most onlookers wouldn’t realize how much the gap between the teams was growing until they looked at the scoreboard. At the three-quarter mark the tally was 73-38, and the Mammoths’ lead peaked at 41 points in the fourth quarter as Fox registered her final field goal.

Her effort was complemented by her classmate Madeline Eck, a guard from Rye, N.Y. who came away with 19 points and 12 boards. Widener was led by Fox’s opposite number; senior point guard Madison Ireland posted 11 points and six rebounds, both team highs.

Fox, however, has never been one to dwell on individual statistics. She focuses simply on the thrill of competition and the comradery found in a team setting.

She stated, “You never want to get away from your love of the game, and how rewarding it is to win – and even win championships – with your teammates.”

Players aspiring to follow her path to college competition obviously need to put in the work to continually improve their game, but beyond that, Fox feels, it’s also a question of mindset.

“You’ve played a lot of minutes, a lot of games throughout the years,” she said. “You’ve learned the game, and how to see the court. You’ve got to be confident, go with your instincts, and execute well, and it will work out.”

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