Missy Dougherty (@missyingyou)
(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. As we publish more, the complete list of schools previewed will be found here.)
Players around the region have been looking forward to the chance to get back on the hardwood as the new basketball season approaches. There is added excitement in the air on Schoolhouse Lane as William Penn Charter gets set to unveil its new home court to the public.
Penn Charter added a new chapter in its rich athletic history when the Graham Athletics and Wellness Center opened its doors in September. The new building is not the only thing garnering early-season rave reviews at Penn Charter, however, as the girls’ basketball team gets set to embark on what they hope will be a season to remember.
Head coach Joe Maguire, in his seventh season, has been building something special during his tenure, reflected by a combined 32-5 record over the last two years.
Aleah Snead (above) and Penn Charter are aiming for their first league title in more than two decades. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Relegated to playing a shortened league schedule last season due to Covid, Maguire’s squad once again impressed. Showing great resiliency, the Quakers registered a 7-1 record on the way to finishing as unofficial co-champions of the league with Academy of Notre Dame, as the Inter-Ac did not crown a champion.
A sense of unfinished business lingers about what could have happened in 2020-21 if it had been a normal year, and Maguire and his team are committed to seizing the moment this season, knowing an Inter-Ac championship banner would be a nice addition to those shiny, new walls. The Quakers last captured the league championship in 1998 and this bunch is ready to end that drought.
“We want to win the league,” Maguire said. “We also expect to get better as a group throughout the season and compete at a high level on a daily basis. We continue to work on becoming better teammates, and we want to make a difference off the floor through community work.”
Maguire doesn’t have to look very far for difference makers on the floor, as three starters remain from last year’s squad. The program has had quite a few college coaches in attendance to fall open gyms due to its returning talent with 5-foot-11 junior Aleah Snead drawing the most attention.
Currently holding close to 10 offers to compete at the next level, Snead can pretty much do it all at both ends of the court. Snead regularly fills the stat sheet with her standout all-around play evidenced by her averages last season in points (14.8), rebounds (6.5), assists (3.3), and steals (4.5).
“Aleah has really grown as a leader and has embraced her role as it has changed over the years,” Maguire said. “She impacts the game on both sides of the court. Her ability on defense is going to help her as she continues to grow as a player. I believe Aleah has just scratched the surface of what she can do.”
Another player that has grown into a leadership role in Maguire’s view is 6-0 junior Bella Toomey, who holds two Division I offers. Much like Snead, Toomey provides an all-around game as she averaged 13.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 3.1 blocks, and 3.1 steals last season.
“I think Bella must be a pain in the neck to play against,” Maguire said. “She plays 100 percent all the time and thinks every loose ball, rebound, and blocked shot is hers.”
Senior Maddie Shoup, a 5-6 guard, provides veteran leadership and athleticism. Maguire praised Shoup’s leadership, defensive instincts, and high IQ on the court.
“Maddie knows where people are supposed to be,” Maguire said. “The younger kids look up to her. People are going to follow Maddie her whole life because of who she is.”
A multi-sport athlete, Shoup has committed to the University of Colorado for lacrosse.
Freshman Kaylinn Bethea (above) is one of the top newcomers in the region. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
In terms of a supporting cast, Maguire expects big things from newcomer Kaylinn Bethea. Identified by the coach as one of the top freshmen in the area, Bethea is a 5-9 combo guard who, according to Maguire, brings “a little bit of everything.”
The Quakers also return three upperclassmen reserves in seniors Amani Rivers and Kayla Bradby, and junior Gracie Shoup. Providing leadership and toughness and a high basketball IQ, Rivers will be making a return to the court this season after tearing her ACL midway through her sophomore year. River’s classmate Bradby brings added athleticism to the team. A good defender, who has a nice outside shot, Brady has a good understanding of her role, according to Maguire.
Rounding out the returning reserves is Gracie Shoup, younger sister of Maddie. Another notable all-around athlete, Gracie just committed to Ohio State for lacrosse. Maguire commended Gracie’s understanding of the game and believes she will help when it comes to looking for people to fill roles.
Filling roles will be key as the team lost seven seniors to graduation: Ava Coyle, Laila Hamiter, Kate Haughey, Kate Hnatkowsky, Jamie Kubach, Molly McMahon, and Janae Stewart. It was a group that was high on athleticism as five are either playing soccer or lacrosse in college.
Another big piece that will be missing is 5-10 junior Kelsey Bess, who is out for the year with injury. A starter since eighth grade, Bess has been a significant contributor to the program’s rise as the team has gone 55-12 since she joined the lineup.
Offsetting the losses will be a challenge for this year’s squad.
“We need people to step into roles for people who have left,” Maguire said. “There will be some new rotation players that have to adjust to having bigger roles. We return scoring and defense. The question becomes who is willing to do the little stuff like screening, taking charges, etc. that helps win games.”
Maguire added that staying healthy will be key as the team’s depth will be on the younger side.
Joe Maguire (above) has put together a difficult non-league schedule to prepare his Quakers. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Take a look at the Quaker’s non-league schedule and it is evident that Maguire believes in the potential of his talented team despite any challenges it faces. Penn Charter’s non-conference slate is overflowing with showcase events beginning with the Art Turner Classic in Virginia on Dec. 4 that will see the Quakers matchup against Paul VI (Va.), which enters the season ranked No. 16 in the country. They will also take on St. Rose (N.J.) in a Super Games event in North Jersey in mid-December, as well as a contest against St. Laurent (Canada) a month later at the Rose Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Closer to home, the Quakers will square off against Philadelphia Catholic League heavyweights Archbishop Carroll (O’Hara tourney), Cardinal O’Hara (O’Hara tourney), and Wood (Hoops for Hope Classic).
“I scheduled a tough non-league schedule on purpose,” Maguire said. “I want us battle-tested for league play. The Inter-Ac will be tough as always with Notre Dame, Germantown Academy, and Episcopal once again looking strong.”
Maguire’s returning starters echo the coach’s high expectations. All three speak of hoping to win the Inter-Ac. Maddie Shoup added that she has her eyes set not just on the Inter-Ac, but the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISSA) title as well.
“I definitely think we are capable of winning the Inter-Ac and states,” said the senior guard. “We have an amazing group that is very tight and knows how to work together. We are not a team that gives up without a fight, and we do not stop until the final buzzer.”
Bella Toomey (above) is another Division I prospect on the Quakers' roster. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Toomey can’t wait to get going. “I’m excited for our schedule,” said the junior. “It’s really tough so I’m excited to see how we do. We have a good mix on our team this year with the returning upperclassmen, but also some really good freshmen, and sophomores, who will be a big help to our team.”
Questioned about what it means to be a part of the Penn Charter team, the returning starters spout off words like grit, heart, dedication, toughness, positive attitude, confident, hard-working, and family. The established culture of the program permeates through the players’ unified responses.
Maguire, who enters the season with a career record at Penn Charter of 99-51, agrees that the aforementioned “mix” is ready to accomplish great things this season. “We do a good job of playing together,” he said. “Everyone handles which helps when it comes to pushing the ball. These girls all work hard which leads to us being a good defensive team. And best of all they are great teammates to each other–everyone wants to see everyone succeed.”
Speaking of everyone wanting to see everyone succeed, Snead is thrilled about the view that the Graham Athletics and Wellness Center offers of the new court. “My favorite thing about the new gym is how it’s wide open,” Snead said. “It’s on the lower level and has no door so everyone walking by can see.”
This new view seems to come along at the perfect time, because if all things proceed according to plan, the Penn Charter faithful will most definitely not want to miss anything this girls’ basketball season.
The first date of must-see action is Dec. 1 as the Quakers lift the curtain on the new gym with a 4 p.m. non-league contest against Abington Friends.