Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(Ed. Note: This story is the latest in CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2021-22 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed can be found here.)
Emily Spratt’s used to being the youngest. The CB West senior is the last of four siblings to come through the school, the last of three to put on a Bucks’ basketball uniform.
So it’s quite the change of status that this year, she’s the oldest member of the CB West girls’ basketball squad: the only senior, a four-year starter, the clear leader.
Emily Spratt (above) is the only senior on the CB West girls' basketball roster. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“It’s like, so weird,” she said. “But the juniors, I love them, I’m so close with them — there’s a lot of them, too. They do a great job of taking that senior role, too, because there’s only one of me.”
“It’s definitely different because growing up I always had my older siblings telling me what to do and I’d just follow along,” she added. “But because my siblings and I are so close and I was always with them, I feel like it’s an easier transition for me. Having them to look up to my whole life and seeing how my older siblings had those leading roles and watching them play their sports, I sat back and took it all in.”
The oldest Spratt sibling, Thomas, gave up basketball after middle school to focus on baseball, which he played at D-II Chestnut Hill. Abbey, second of the group, was a standout at West who followed her brother to CHC, where she’ll be a senior on the Griffins’ hoops roster this winter. Teddy, who just graduated from West last season, is about to start his college hoops career at Kutztown.
A 5-foot-10 wing guard, Emily Spratt will follow all of her siblings to the D-II level, where she’ll play at Jefferson. But first, she’s got a big year ahead of her, and a lot on her shoulders.
West is one of the traditionally strong programs in all of District 1, winning the District 1 6A tournament two years ago and advancing to the PIAA 6A state championship game in 2015, with a number of other 20-win seasons in recent memory as well. Even if there isn’t someone like 2020 grad Maddie Burke (Penn State) on the roster, the Bucks still have their eyes set on division, league and district titles, as well as advancement in the state tournament.
Gone from last year are seniors Megan McCusker, Anna Blue and Paige Gilbert, who’s playing lacrosse at William & Mary. Spratt, and all of her experience, has to lead the way.
“She’s a natural leader, so I think she doesn’t mind it,” CB West head coach Zach Sibel said. “Emily’s been a focal point and she’s proved her worth, time and time again, so her words hold weight, which is a big thing for us. It’s good to have her kind of take that leadership role, naturally, and go from there.”
Of course, being the senior member of the squad — literally and figuratively — has some drawbacks. Most notably, Spratt has at times found it difficult to get criticism from her youngest teammates, who don’t want to nitpick their leader.
“They’re like, ‘you’re so good,’ and I’m like ‘no, tell me what I’m doing wrong,’” she said. “If I miss a cut, tell me. It’s okay, no one’s perfect, trust me.”
Zach Sibel (above) is in his third year as head coach of the Bucks' girls squad. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Sibel, who played at Pennsbury (‘11) and Del Val (‘15), is in his third year as the Bucks’ head coach, taking over from the successful Terry Rakowsky. He’s already seen success, guiding that group led by Burke to a 25-win season his first year around, including an unbeaten mark in league play.
The Bucks went 12-6 last year, including a 7-3 mark in SOL-Colonial Division play, finishing behind CB East (17-2, 10-0) and losing to P-W in the quarterfinals of the district tournament, a finish that in any normal year would have been enough to qualify for the state tournament.
“It’s definitely an exciting thing to be part of, black and gold runs deep, especially in that community,” Sibel said. “Rakowsky did a great job with the program prior to [my arrival], and it’s been nice to pick up and keep things moving and look to really build this program.”
He’s also familiar with his oldest player, having coached Spratt in middle school, when she played on the 8th grade team as a 7th grader.
“He’s a great coach, I’ve looked up to him for a while now,” Spratt said. “He’s helped me find out who I am as a person and a basketball player, he’s given me so much confidence. Without him, I wouldn’t be the same player as I am right now.”
While Spratt is the engine at the core of the Bucks, she’s got plenty of support from a young-but-learning group that’s quickly maturing under Sibel’s guidance. Katie Finnan, a 5-8 point guard and two-year starter, is the most experienced of a junior class that also includes guards Tai Henkels, Nia Perry and Jenna Christie and forward/center Ava Longo.
Point guard Gabi Senior (above, right) looks ready to take on a big role for the Bucks. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The sophomores include point guard Gabi Senior, who looks ready to step into a more prominent varsity role, as well as guard Gabby Reichner and forward Alexis Castro.
“Katie Finnan always plays hard, attacks every rep as hard as she can, and that’s really raised the level of everything; we always say ‘high tide raises all boats,’ so when everyone’s working hard, it forces everyone to get better,” Sibel said. “Gabi Senior’s really stepped up this year and Tai Hinkle’s been part of this varsity program for three years now, so she’s really finding her own and getting comfortable on the court.”
Defense has been a hallmark for West under Sibel as well. Last year, the Bucks allowed just 36.3 ppg while scoring 44.8 ppg, which is something that appeals to Spratt, who has been the team’s defensive ace since her freshman year.
West will have to replace an underrated aspect of its defense with Gilbert’s departure as the guard was a relentless rebounder and holds the program’s record for charges taken. Spratt will still draw the top assignment each night, meaning she gets at least two more chances to match up with her Comets AAU teammate and one of her closest friends in CB South senior Taylor Hinkle.
On top of their home-and-away sets with SOL Colonial opponents CB East, CB South, North Penn, Pennridge and Souderton, the Bucks will crossover with the SOL Patriot conference this winter. The inter-conference games will count toward the Colonial standings and add a few more intriguing tests with games against Neshaminy, Pennsbury, Council Rock North, Council Rock South, Bensalem and Harry S Truman.
“I think we need to talk more, help the younger girls, because they’re underclassmen, so they’re a little shy,” Spratt said. “They need to talk more, talk on defense, be themselves, be more confident. Once they get more comfortable, we’ll be a team by the time the season starts.”