PC basketball broke through to win Inter-Ac title

by Tom Utescher
Posted 3/17/22

The girls of Penn Charter look back on a remarkable basketball season, finishing with an overall record of 20-5. Their 11-1 record within the Inter-Ac League allowed them to claim the 2022 title.

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PC basketball broke through to win Inter-Ac title


Although their season ended with a one-point loss in the championship game of the Pa. Independent Schools tournament, the girls of Penn Charter could still look back on a remarkable basketball season.

They finished with an overall record of 20-5, and their 11-1 record within the Inter-Ac League allowed them to claim the 2022 title.

In the shortened 2021 season, no official league champion was named. PC and the Academy of Notre Dame finished in a tie atop the Inter-Ac standings, each winning at home against the other squad while defeating all of the rest of the league teams on the schedule.

Like Penn Charter, Notre Dame returned a formidable team for 2021-22, so a major factor in the Quakers' success in the league this winter was a home/away sweep of the Irish, 59-45 and 49-39. It was a few days after one of these key clashes that PC suffered its lone league loss, succumbing 60-54 to 2020 Inter-Ac champ Germantown Academy.

Two juniors in the Penn Charter line-up, guard Aleah Snead and forward Bella Toomey, were already impact players for the varsity as freshmen. There were also two sisters among the starting five this year, both guards. Senior Maddie Shoup has signed to play lacrosse at the University of Colorado, and her junior sister Gracie has verbally committed to play the same sport at Ohio State.

There were some uncertainties, though. Gracie Shoup hadn't seen that much varsity playing time as a sophomore, and junior Kelsey Bess, who began playing on the varsity team as an eighth-grader, would miss the entire season after having knee surgery.

Then there was the eventual fifth starter, talented freshman guard Kaylinn Bethea, who was a new student at Penn Charter. She lives in South Jersey, but was familiar with Penn Charter because her AAU Triple Threat team had practiced there.

"There's always a question about how a freshman is going to adjust to the rigors of a varsity season," said seventh-year PC head coach Joe Maguire, "but she went beyond my expectations."

He noted that Bethea became involved in the Penn Charter athletic scene before basketball season started. In the fall she went out for field hockey, and despite having no previous experience she eventually earned a spot on the varsity roster.

On the basketball court, it was not just the Penn Charter starters that would have to prove themselves.

As Maguire noted, "We've always played a certain style where we rely upon having eight people to play."

Senior Kayla Bradby, whose main sport is soccer, would be the first guard off the bench, a new role for her. Senior power forward Amani Rivers had played as a freshman, but had dealt with injury problems as a sophomore and a junior. Guard Liv Vieira was also under consideration as an everyday reserve player, but she was only an eighth-grader.

It all came together for the Quakers, while Bess rooted on her teammates from the bench and learned new lessons as an observer. Maguire's supporting staff consisted of Lauren Gold, PC faculty member Chris Burnett, and former Penn Charter and Syracuse University standout Brianna Butler.

Aleah Snead would finish up as Penn Charter's scoring leader, averaging 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Toomey and Bethea each averaged 12.4 points per game; Toomey posted a team-high 7.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game, while Bethea led in assists (2.7) and steals (3.5). Maddie Shoup contributed 8.3 points per game, and had an average of 3.1 in each of three categories, rebounds, assists, and steals.

The last time the Independent School tournament had been held, in 2020, Penn Charter lost in the championship game to Abington Friends School. This season, the Quakers would face AFS on December 1 in PC's newly-opened Graham Athletics Center. Penn Charter won 55-22 as Bethea marked her debut by scoring a game-high 19 points. 

"That was great because it was our first game in the new gym," said Maguire. "It also happened to be my 100th win at Penn Charter, though that got delayed a bit due to COVID."

The Quakers then traveled down to Suburban Washington, D.C. to take on nationally-ranked Paul VI Catholic High School of Chantilly, Va. PC lost, 61-29, but got an impressive 12-point performance from Bethea.

Returning home to defeat respected teams from the Friends Schools League (Friends Central) and Philadelphia Public Leagues (Mastery Charter), Penn Charter then hosted Germantown Academy, still technically the defending league champions from back in the last full season in 2020. The Quakers got over this initial Inter-Ac hurdle, 58-48, receiving 17 points from Bethea and 14 from Snead.

At the end of the holiday break, a few Inter-Ac games were postponed in the first week of January, so PC began the new year with some non-league outings. At a tournament in New Jersey the Quakers topped Neumann-Goretti High School, 53-44, and in another showcase event they got to play at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center, thumping West Catholic, 60-30.

During the brief, unofficial 2021 Inter-Ac season, Penn Charter and Notre Dame had each won at home against the other squad, tying for first place. Meeting Notre Dame for the first time this winter in mid-January, host PC powered to a 59-45 victory, getting 16 points apiece from Snead and Toomey and 14 from Maddie Shoup.

A few days later, the Quakers relinquished their advantage in the league standings by losing in the second meeting with GA, 60-54. This funk endured for a few more days, as Charter lost to Catholic League power Archbishop Wood, 56-38.

"I think they were still feeling sorry for ourselves," Maguire said. "We had some team meetings and player meetings, and they got back to mentally focusing on what lay ahead of us and how we were going to finish the season. We still had control of our situation."

Looming large on the schedule was the second Notre Dame game at the start of February. With a 19-8 opening quarter, visiting PC set the stage for a 49-39 victory that featured 16 points from Toomey and 12 points and 11 rebounds from Bethea. The Quakers officially wrapped up their 11-1 championship season in the Inter-Ac with a 63-32 home-court win over Episcopal Academy on February 15.

Seeded second for the Pa. Independent Schools playoffs, Charter topped Germantown Friends in the quarterfinals, 40-21, then beat a stubborn Episcopal side in the semifinals, 52-45.

In the finals on March 5 the Quakers faced Westtown School, a team with an interstate and international cast of characters that had not lost to any teams based in Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, Penn Charter was in this game right up until the end, losing by one point on a Westtown lay-up scored with half-a-minute left to play.

"The girls weren't afraid of them," Maguire explained. "Sometimes a team plays somebody with a big reputation, and you can see they're defeated before the game even starts. Our team has welcomed tough competition all season."

It would take awhile for the Quakers to get over this close defeat, especially when they recalled that they'd had an opportunity to score 10 points at the foul line in the last two-and-a-half minutes and came away with none. PC made nine of 25 free throws overall.

"If we shoot badly from the foul line, we win by six points," Maguire related. "But we shot terribly from the foul line."

Still, the Penn Charter girls had gotten to the last game on the entire postseason schedule.

Asked how he would describe that nature of his team to a knowledgeable basketball fan who hadn't seen them play, the Quakers' coach said, "They're good friends, who like being around each other and who support one another. Most of all, they always play hard and they love to compete. People who came to watch us play mainly because they know me always told me they liked how hard we play, and that makes me proud."