Standing her ground, Germantown Friends’ Katherine Walden (left) forces Westtown’s Melissa McCloskey to pass the ball instead of shoot, to the apparent delight of fellow GFS senior Sophie Mercuris (right). (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Last Friday evening, the Germantown Friends School girls were able to celebrate both before and after last their last home basketball game of the regular season.

Before the Tigers took on visiting Westtown School, the festivities centered around the three departing GFS seniors, guards Eden Beschen and Sophie Mercuris, and forward Katherine Walden. The home team was still smiling after the contest was over, since a 42-19 triumph over the Westtown Quakers allowed the Tigers to finish third in the Friends Schools League with a record of 6-2.

The dramatic improvement over last year’s 3-5 mark in the FSL was gratifying for the players, and for first-year head coach Ashley Webster.

“Their basketball instincts have gotten so much better from the beginning of the year,” remarked Webster, a former Tigers hoopster herself. “Our point guard, Lizzie Becker [a freshman] has become very independent out on the court. She can tell what play to run without looking over at me.

“Defense was never an issue for us,” the coach continued, “but at the beginning we were having problems scoring because the girls were almost too unselfish and we were a little hesitant to shoot. Now, our confidence has improved and everyone’s looking to attack the basket a lot more.”

Last Friday night Westtown’s shooters were not reluctant, but for much of the game they weren’t particularly accurate. In the first 25 minutes of action, the Quakers managed to make just two field goals, and strangely enough, they were both three-pointers.

After Germantown opened the scoring with a transition lay-up by Becker, the visitors’ initial trey, by Katira Dobbins, briefly put them in the lead. GFS was not burning up the scoreboard, either, but a basket from the paint by junior forward Caroline Myran and a fast break by Walden had the hosts back in front by the end of the opening period, 6-3.

The score grew at a leisurely pace until it reached 12-4 three minutes into the second quarter, then the Tigers really hit their stride offensively, moving the ball briskly and making a 10-0 charge in the space of 90 seconds.

This prompted a Westtown time-out with 3:17 to go in the first half and the tally now 22-4, but the sideline lecture had little effect as Germantown continued on to a 29-5 halftime advantage. Becker already had nine points in the book and Walden and Myran were credited with six apiece; they would finish with 11, eight, and seven points, respectively.

Mercuris and sophomore guard Imani Ross ended up with two and six points for the home team, which led 36-8 early in the fourth quarter and made liberal use of its reserve players the rest of the way.

Even with a squad that is relatively young and inexperienced overall, Webster has not been afraid to make frequent substitutions this season.

She explained, “The bench players understand that there’s a certain expectation – that we don’t want to see a drop-off when we put them in. If they want to see time, they need to keep up the level of play when they’re on the court.”

Sophomore forward Julia Mankoff scored her four points on lay-ups in the second and third quarters. In the fourth period, the Tigers had junior Rachel Allison and Schuyler Alig (both forwards) each deposit a jumper.

Alig displayed some of the Tigers’ newfound tenacity when she became involved in several hard collisions but got right up to rejoin the fray.

Westtown high scorer Jordan Weir notched all of her eight points in the second half, starting out after the Tigers had already taken a 32-5 lead.

The third seed for the four-team Friends Schools League tournament, GFS will play a semifinal contest against Abington Friends School, a ballclub that beat the Tigers 50-36 back on January 8. Germantown responded to that setback by winning its next seven games in a row, including the one against Westtown.

Webster related, “We were actually ahead of Abington at halftime and then in the second half, especially the fourth quarter, we kind of lost our focus, myself included. We’re excited to be able to play them, again.”