PC girls come back to beat GA

by Tom Utescher
Posted 2/10/21

Inter-Ac League girls' basketball competition finally got underway last Wednesday, when two league powers clashed in the Dooney Fieldhouse on Penn Charter's campus.

Ahead by a dozen points going …

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PC girls come back to beat GA


Inter-Ac League girls' basketball competition finally got underway last Wednesday, when two league powers clashed in the Dooney Fieldhouse on Penn Charter's campus.

Ahead by a dozen points going into the fourth quarter, defending league champion Germantown Academy appeared to be bound for victory. However, the host PC Quakers dialed up their defense in the final frame, scoring off of turnovers and overcoming the Patriots, 64-60.

Penn Charter started three sophomores, but all were already seasoned varsity players. Agile, swift guard Aleah Snead turned in a game-high 26 points while leading her team in rebounds (11) and steals (seven). Down in the paint, Bella Toomey registered 11 points, nine rebounds, and five blocked shots. The third 10th grader, Kelsey Bess, scored six points over the first nine minutes before retiring for the duration after suffering a suspected concussion.

The lone senior starter, guard Kaitlyn Hnatkowsky, rang up nine points and 10 rebounds, and junior guard Maddie Shoup had eight points and three assists. Senior Ava Coyle (a Louisville recruit for lacrosse) and classmate Jamie Kubach rounded out PC's scoring with two points apiece.

Germantown Academy had graduated a very strong class of seven seniors, although the Patriots were hobbled by injuries at the end of last season.

At opposite ends of the age spectrum, current senior Jessica Moore and freshman Jess Aponik, both tall guards, paced the Pats last Wednesday with 15 points apiece. Moore, who also dealt five assists, is a team co-captain along with guard Charlotte DiLello, who will join her older sister Sarah (GA '20) at Ursinus College.

GA's 6'2" sophomore center, Kendall Bennett, turned in a double-double (10 points, 13 rebounds) despite running into some foul trouble that curtailed her time on the court. Another 6'2" post, Becca Booth, spent three years on the Patriots roster but has decided to forego her senior season due to COVID-19 concerns.

The fifth starter for the Patriots in the PC game was junior guard Lilly Funk, who has come up through the program along with classmates Alex Goodridge and Bri O'Hara.

In addition to Aponik and her twin sister, Jenna (who come from a powerful Northeast Philadelphia CYO team), other new arrivals bode well for the future of the GA program. A freshman guard out of Gwynedd Mercy Elementary School, Sam Wade, displayed an impressive basketball IQ as she hit from inside and out to collect 12 points last Wednesday. Helping out on the inside was 5'11" sophomore transfer Josie Munson, who pulled down nine rebounds while contributing four points.

Another freshman who's a new GA student is guard Isabella Casey. She's a product of the Rosemont Holy Child franchise that has furnished a lot of talent for the Academy of Notre Dame over the years.

Last Wednesday Penn Charter was adhering to all of the strict City of Philadelphia COVID-19 requirements for indoor competition. Populated by a small fraction of its full capacity, the Dooney fieldhouse allowed room for the team "benches" to consist of folding chairs set six feet apart.

As is the case everywhere in the state, the competitors had their faces swaddled in masks.

"To be honest, I don't know how they're playing with these masks," remarked Charter head coach Joe Maguire. "I have no idea what that feels like, but I have to take that into account, since we're a team that likes to run and press."

Another new wrinkle was the 30-second shot clock that the Inter-Ac has just adopted. It didn't have much impact on these two hustling teams.

"Surprisingly, it never went off on us," said GA mentor Sherri Retif. "We like to run, so I think it's not going to affect us very much.

"It was great to just get out there and play," the veteran coach continued. "It was a nice win for PC; Joe does a great job with those girls. I think everyone's timing is off for all the teams - we're just starting the season in February, when we're normally winding down."

Before last Wednesday, the Penn Charter girls had not beaten GA since January 14, 2014, when the Quakers pulled out a 51-47 victory.

Current seniors Hnatkowski and Kubach each have older sisters who were on that PC team. Kristina Kubach, then a senior, and Lexi Hnatkowski, a freshman, each scored six points, while the Quakers were led by sophomore Ayanna Matthews, with a game-high 14 points.

Sticking a jumper from right around the foul line, freshman Jess Aponik furnished the first field goal of the season for her GA squad last Wednesday. Near the end of the opening minute, Bennett scored from beneath the basket to give the Patriots a 4-0 edge, but Charter quickly leveled the scoreboard thanks to buckets by Shoup and Bess.

Moore would bag a pair of three pointers for Germantown, but Snead and Toomey got going for the Quakers, and at the end of the quarter Hnatkowsky's first field goal had the hosts leading 15-12.

In the recent past, Penn Charter teams had the talent to compete with GA, but the Quakers still seemed in awe of the Patriots at times, and faltered as close games got out of hand for them. That old, overanxious attitude was not evident last Wednesday.

"It's a fairly new group of girls, and they think that they can play with anybody in the area," Coach Maguire said. "They know how much work they've put in, and they were up to the challenge. The main thing is just being confident."

Moore nailed a three-pointer for the Patriots at the start of the second quarter, and another trey came from Aponik. However, the Pats were also fouling a lot, and their eighth team foul put PC's Snead on the line to collect two points.

Bess, already in her third season for the Penn Charter varsity as a 10th grader, had lobbed in a "three" from the left wing just after Snead hit her foul shots. Just a little later, she went down hard, and with 6:25 still to go in the first half, she left the game for good.

Aponik drove the lane to score, tying the bout at 20-20, then the Quakers' Hnatkowsky plunked in a baseline jumper and a three-point bucket back-to-back. GA rallied back as it received its first points from Munson and Wade.

Munson is a transfer from Boulder, Co. Her school back home, Fairview High, did not make arrangements for a 2020-21 basketball season, but Munson wanted to play. She applied to and was accepted at GA, knowing that she'd be able to live with her grandparents, who reside in nearby Spring House.

Moore and Bennett continued to score for the Pats, and GA was up 38-33 at the break.

"The leadership we've gotten from Jessica is very impressive, and I'm grateful for that," Coach Retif stated. "She's a poised, deliberate player, but she's stepped up her aggressiveness, which is nice to see."

Moore and PC's Snead each had a dozen points in the book by halftime, and Jess Aponik had garnered 10 for the visitors.

Each team was getting some valuable minutes from athletes better known for their prowess in other sports.

Guard Kait Haughey has been a member of Penn Charter's varsity soccer team since she arrived at the school as an eighth-grader. She'll continue on to play soccer at West Chester University. Six-foot forward Elise Smigiel is a lacrosse standout at GA, and she has signed with Marquette University. Prior to coming out for the Patriots' team this year, she had not played basketball since she attended Norwood Fontbonne Academy.

For more than three minutes early in the third quarter, Penn Charter was limited to three free throws by Snead. As the period progressed, the Patriots would receive a dozen points from two freshmen, Wade (seven) and Jess Aponik (five). Moore also struck from beyond the arc, and Aponik's last field goal of the quarter. a triple from the right flank, sent Germantown into the final frame with a 55-43 lead.

Maguire observed "There were times where we'd defend well for the first part of their possession, but we'd let down, miss a checkout, and they'd capitalize. I told the girls we've got to finish the possessions."

One cloud on the Patriots' horizon was the fact that Bennett had picked up her third and fourth personal fouls during the third period, and had to spend some time on the bench.

"The fouls were unfortunate, but she still had a great game for us," noted Retif. "She had a double-double while playing only 20 minutes."

The Quakers' fourth-quarter comeback began in the second minute with a transition basket by Toomey, who also scored the next time down the floor on a lay-up and a free throw added on by the refs.

"Bella can be pretty hard on herself and can get wound up pretty tight," Maguire related. "I tell her, calm down, just be you, it'll be alright."

Snead, the dynamic guard, has a quality more commonly seen in basketball players above the scholastic level. She rarely interrupts her workflow, relentlessly moving to the next task she can accomplish on the floor whereas others might pause for a moment to appreciate a play they had just made. When she's motoring along at full throttle, she's very tough to defend.

"She just kept attacking and attacking," Maguire said. "She just fought through them on the inside."

Toomey's free throw early in the fourth frame had come on GA's seventh team foul, and it was followed by a fruitful one-and-one for Kubach.

Toomey scored off of a move in the paint, and when Shoup hit a transition lay-up, GA called a time-out. With 3:38 remaining in the game, The Patriots' lead had dwindled down to a single point, 55-54.

"We were doing well, then they picked up the pressure and I think we panicked a little," said GA's Retif. "We had some turnovers that they converted to lay-ups or free throws, and the momentum went their way."

After the time-out, the Patriots turned the ball over on one of their several intercepted lob passes, but at the far end the shot clock ran out on PC. The visitors were still unable to score, then they put Penn Charter into the double bonus and Snead made one of two tosses to tie the game. When she was fouled on a successful lay-up in transition and netted her free throw, Charter moved ahead.

Maguire felt that his players had refocused mentally for the fourth quarter, saying, "They seemed to stop worrying about the score, and they knew Kelsey wasn't coming back in so they had to get it done themselves."

The contest was tied one last time, 58-58, when Jess Aponik put in a 'three' from the left wing, giving GA its first points of the period with less than two minutes left in the game.

The Quakers forged ahead for good as Snead scored on a drive and then deposited a 15-foot jumper. The Patriots turned the ball over and fouled Shoup, who made one free throw for a 63-58 score with 38 ticks to go.

At the other end, a GA lay-up was blocked, but the ball was then tied up and the Patriots got possession. On the inbounds pass, Bennett scored with 24 seconds left for her team's final points of the afternoon. After a GA time-out, Penn Charter was able to inbound the ball to Shoup on the right side of the court, and when she was fouled, she put in one free throw to tack the final score on the board with 19.5 seconds showing.

As Germantown tried to work the ball back up the floor, Shoup poked it loose and Toomey grabbed it. A PC victory was soon in the books.


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