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Penn Charter's Bella Toomey makes sport switch pay off with D-I commitment to Fairleigh Dickinson

07/05/2022, 11:30am EDT
By Meghann Morhardt

Meghann Morhardt (@Meghannmo14)

Growing up idolizing players like Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, Bella Toomey had her heart set on playing collegiate soccer. But along the way, the rising senior fell in love with basketball and is now committed to Fairleigh Dickinson, leaving her soccer dreams behind. 

The Fox Chase native attended Saint Cecilia for elementary and middle school, where she played multiple sports with her group of friends. Through some peer influence and a connection to the basketball team, of which her friend’s dad was the coach, Toomey decided to give basketball a try in fourth grade. 

Penn Charter rising senior Bella Toomey (above) committed to FDU last month. (Photo courtesy Toomey family)

“I wasn’t too good at first,” Toomey said. “I was pretty bad, but then the second season came around so I started playing again and then every season after that I just got really into basketball and realized how much I loved it. I kept playing and I got pretty good pretty quick.”

Some natural athletic ability and height, coupled with Toomey’s work ethic and love for the game was the perfect recipe for success. She started going to camps and playing AAU, first for the Northeast Rockers before moving onto the Lady Runnin Rebels and now the Comets, to get her name out there so people like Penn Charter head coach Joe Maguire could start taking notice.

“I used to go to the Comets tournament that they had and I saw Bella playing for the Northeast Rockers,” Maguire said. “I was impressed so I got her coach’s information to talk to him and invited her to the Penn Charter camp.” 

Toomey spent the next two summers before high school at the camp, getting to know Maguire and the program before deciding to attend Penn Charter for high school. 

Leading up to her freshman season, as the amount of outside attention on her game began to increase, the idea of pursuing basketball at the next level started to become more and more appealing for Toomey.  She still loved soccer, and played lacrosse, but once she joined Penn Charter, her priorities shifted and basketball was her main focus. 

Toomey loved playing basketball, but because of her soccer background, her knowledge of the sport at the collegiate and professional level was very limited. 

“I went to my first-ever college basketball game freshman year,” Toomey said. “It was Temple vs UConn, and after that I really started getting into it and following it all.” 

She took this inspiration and turned it into motivation which led to more success. For Toomey, coming off the bench as a freshman role player on a talented Quakers team that went 25-4 was enough to acquire some interest from college coaches. 

“My freshman year, my first recruiting call was St. Joe’s with then-Hawk assistant coach John Hampton and he was amazing,” Toomey said. “He knew it was my first call and he just gave me all of these pointers like keeping a notebook of what schools I talk to and what I do and don’t like about the schools. I think it was a great first call because he really laid it all out for me. I had no clue about any of it.” 

Toomey (above) will be one of the senior leaders for Penn Charter this fall. (Photo courtesy Zamani Feelings/Penn Charter)

But this was just the beginning. After a shortened sophomore season due to COVID-19 where the team went 7-1 with Toomey leading the charge, some offers started coming in. She received her first two official offers from Drexel and La Salle, but was also hearing from some other schools like Columbia and Penn. 

The interest remained through the offseason, but once COVID settled down and the team was able to get back on track, Toomey’s recruiting picked up even more following the Quakers’ successful season. Toomey led Penn Charter to a 20-5 record, winning the Inter-Academic League for the first time in 24 years and advancing to the PAISAA finals, losing by one to Westtown. 

Once the season was finished, Toomey began to make some visits to schools in the New Jersey/New York/Pennsylvania area, but one stood out: Fairleigh Dickinson. 

“​​When I first got there, I really didn't really know much because I had just recently started talking to them,” Toomey explained. “I met the coaching staff and my mom was with me and that's when I just knew. Coach Ang (Angelika Szumilo) just felt like a second mother and my mom felt the same way. I just felt the family atmosphere and how much she cares for her players.” 

Toomey visited in early May, two weeks before the coaching staff made the trip to Atlantic City to watch her compete in a weekend tournament. After the games finished, Szumilo didn't waste much time, calling Toomey and offering her a scholarship the following day. 

“After I visited, I kind of knew that I could really see myself there and if they were to offer me, I was most likely gonna take it,” Toomey said. “I think I gave it like a week just talking it over with my family and coach Joe (Maguire) and my Comets coach, Coach McFadden, but I knew this is what I wanted.” 

Not only did she love the campus and the coaching staff, but the 6-foot swing’s style of play fits perfectly with the Knights’ philosophies. 

“Coach (Szumilo) was telling me how her team is very competitive, very driven and I think that's me,” Toomey explained. “She said in practice they're super competitive with each other and. I totally have competitiveness in me when it comes to that stuff so I think that is one of the biggest things. And they're also super, super hard working on their defense and I pride myself on my defense.”  

Toomey (above) helped Penn Charter cut down the nets after winning the 2022 Inter-Ac championship. (Photo courtesy Joe Maguire/Penn Charter)

After watching her since she was in sixth grade and seeing her development, Maguire knows Toomey’s game as well as anyone. He echoed her confidence in the fit and knows that she will find success at the next level. 

“She can handle the ball, she can dribble, shoot, pass [...] the way she plays defense, she can really guard ‘1’ through ‘5’ on the court,” Maguire said. “She could fit into any type of system and I think they see that. They can use her in a lot of different ways.” 

While it is hard to not dream about the future and her time at Fairleigh Dickinson, Toomey is excited to have one last ride with her teammates at Penn Charter this winter now that the pressure of recruiting is no more.

“I think that this year was very stressful,” Toomey explained. “The recruiting process, I enjoyed it, but it does get super stressful. And I had a lot of that weight leaning on me this year, so I think next year I can really just focus on, you know, what's in front of me and not have to worry about anything else, knowing that I’m settled somewhere I’m going to love.” 

With this relaxed mentality, Toomey has her sights set on even more success for her senior season. The Quakers welcome back senior guard Kesley Bess, lost to a torn ACL last year, and add super-talented 2027 Ryan Carter, who enters eighth grade with a quartet of Division I offers. 

They’re all aiming high.

“Along with the Inter-Ac, we want to win the PAISAA this year,” Toomey said. “We wanna go out with a bang.”

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