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George School's Johnson has game on the rise; EA's Keffer-Scharpf has career come full circle

12/03/2022, 9:15pm EST
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
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BRYN MAWR — George School coach La’Keisha Sutton put Gianna Johnson through ‘boot camp’ this summer.

Through 6 a.m. runs, 9 a.m. lifts, workouts at noon, Sutton wanted to see what Johnson had in her.

“I basically just put her through my college workouts,” Sutton said. “I told her this summer, ‘You proved to me for a week, you’re not lazy, you’re not slow, you’re not soft. You just never had a coach that let’s you play through your mistakes.’ I’ve seen it this summer.”


George School 2024 forward Gianna Johnson is adjusting well after transferring from Conwell-Egan. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)

Johnson is one of the area’s most intriguing college prospects. The 6-5 forward who spent last season at Conwell-Egan and this summer with the Comets 16U squad, stands out immediately when she walks onto the court.

She holds offers from Morgan State, Lafayette and Cincinnati. She also averaged less than four points per game last season as a sophomore in the Catholic League

Sutton, who trained Johnson for two years before becoming her head coach, saw a growth this summer. The hope for her and Johnson is that the upward trajectory continues this season at George.

“They push you more here,” Johnson said. “They really teach you how to play and how to be your better self and how to play better.”

“I’m running the floor a lot better,” she added. “This team is a really hard running team, and my offense has got better, moving around and post moves.”

As she works on her game, Johnson is trying to integrate herself with her new team as well. Personality wise that’s no issue, but the Cougars have two other forwards — Priyanka Ponnam Carissa Frederick — and all three are sometimes on the floor at the same time.

“We have to communicate,” Johnson said. “That’s a big thing when you have a lot of bigs on your team. When you’re all on the floor at once, it’s hard to know where everybody is. I think that’s a big part.”

Johnson averaged 3.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg and 1.4 bpg as a sophomore at Conwell-Egan last season. The goal heading into this season at George School is a double-double every night. That might not happen, but it’s more about the mindset Sutton wants Johnson to play with.

Sutton’s message to Johnson before the season was that she needs to dominate the paint and protect the rim. After that she’ll be allowed to show some of the other layers of the game she’s been working on with Sutton, like driving to the basket and an outside shot.

The relationship between coach and player during the season is different from trainer and player in the summer. In practices, Johnson still gets post and guard work instructions from Sutton and the rest of the Cougars’ staff. 

Come gametime, however, there’s a whole roster of players for Sutton to focus on and games to try and win.

“As her coach, I don’t have as much time to give her a second chance, another chance, another chance because it’s about our team and we’re trying to win,” Sutton said. “I like to let them play through their mistakes, five times, I gotta pull them out so they can see themselves, but I thought she responded well in the fourth quarter.”

Johnson finished with eight points in George School’s 43-37 win over Episcopal Academy on Saturday in the Inter-AC/Friends School League Challenge at Shipley. It wasn’t a dominant overall outing (no double-double), but there were dominant stretches.

When sophomore guard Sofia Martinez (14 points) fouled out, Johnson was the one her team looked for inside. She scored six of her points after half, including four in the fourth quarter. Her presence down low wore down the Churchwomen defense.

The biggest hurdle for Johnson will be elongating those stretches of really good basketball for more of the game.

“She’ll already be ready for whatever college she goes to,” Sutton said. “I truly believe she can go wherever she wants, it’s just based on her consistency. That’s all it is, it’s her consistency. Credit to George School because they give us all these resources, the tournaments, the preseason, the gym is open 24/7. It’s like college. She’ll be ready.”

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EA's Keffer-Scharpf has career come full circle


Episcopal Academy senior Gaeli Keffer-Scharpf came back to Shipley on Saturday, where her career began as a freshman. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)

When Episcopal Academy senior Gaeli Keffer-Scharpf walked into the gym at Shipley School on Saturday something felt familiar.

Then she looked at her duffle bag. It was the same one she walked out with from Shipley four years ago, then a nervous freshman who had just made her varsity debut and first varsity start.

“It’s crazy. It feels full circle,” said Keffer-Scharpf, a 6-foot-1 forward with plenty of starts since . “I completely forgot until we got here and I was having flashbacks. I was like. ‘Oh wow.’ I remember this. This is exactly the same.”

Keffer-Scharpf grew up in Drexel Hill thinking she’d spend her high school days at nearby Upper Darby High School.

Then EA coach Chuck Simmonds recruited her older sister Raeleen. Three years later Gaeli joined her, despite having to switch from her middle school number ‘24’ to ‘12’ because it was already taken by her sister.

“I just wanted to follow in her footsteps I guess,” Keffer-Scharpf said. “As much as it’s not the best getting compared to her, siblings don’t love that, she helped a lot my freshman year. She made me feel comfortable at the school and on the team, so it was nice kind of following her.”

Raeleen was a second team All-Inter Ac player as a senior and Keffer-Scharpf earned the same honor as a junior last season, also leading the team in rebounding.

There will be even more needed from her during her senior campaign with the likes of All-Inter-AC players Riley Cassidy (Muhlenberg) and Amanda Purcell gone from a team that went 18-8, finished fourth in the Inter-Ac and advanced to the PAISAA semifinals.

She’s one of just two seniors on the team along with Riley Thibodeau. There are a handful of others back from last season, including junior Bella Notaro and sophomore Ali Dennis but injuries and other commitments have left the Churchwomen shorthanded.

Keffer-Scharpf is doing her best to shoulder the load, putting together a 28-point outing in a loss to Shipley on Friday and 15 more in a loss to George School on Saturday.

Her coaches have also challenged her to help out in other ways.

“I’m usually just a post but they’ve been like. ‘Try the 3 for a little’ and it feels weird,” Keffer-Scharpf said. “ I’m not used to dribbling, which I don’t do a whole lot, but I think they’re trying to get me to be a little more versatile and see what I can do. We have a lot of people out. We have three injuries on our team, three guards are out, so I think they’re trying to get some people to handle the ball.”

Keffer-Scharpf showed up to her first game four seasons ago not sure of what to expect. When she walked into the gym at Shipley, Simmonds told the tall, lanky, little freshman, ‘Go cover the big girls’ and she’s been trying to do that and more for the Churchwomen ever since.

She doesn’t believe a college hoops career lies in her future. Her sister spent some time playing at Franklin & Marshall and through that Keffer-Scharpf gathered that she likes basketball a lot, but doesn’t have the ‘love’ necessary to make the immense commitment to play a sport at the next level. She’s not ruling out playing club basketball at whatever school she attends.

Keffer-Scharpf said there aren’t any milestones or records she is chasing, but there are few things on her to-do list before season’s end. Another win against Inter-Ac rival Notre Dame would be nice. Keffer-Scharpf was 0-6 in her career against the Leprechauns before an upset win in last season’s PAISAA tournament.

Last season’s 7-5 mark in the Inter-Ac and 18-8 overall record also marked the first winning campaigns of Keffer-Scharpf’s career. That’s something else she would like to repeat. She hopes this group can have some fun along the way. 

The goal is to make that once-nervous freshman proud of how she finishes her career.

“It almost puts a little more pressure on I think,” Keffer-Scharpf said. “It’s like, ‘Oh wow. These could be some of my final games.’ It might be my last time playing in this gym, who knows? But every second counts, so I’m just trying to leave it all on the court.”

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By Quarter
Episcopal Academy:    10   |  9  |  8  |  10  ||  37
George School: 15  |  11  |  6  |  9  ||  43

Scoring
Episcopal Academy: Gaeli Keffer-Scharpf 15, Ali Dennis 7, Riley Thibodeau 4, Anna Maloney 4, Bella Notaro 4, Brynn Kehl 3

George School: Sophia Martinez 14, Gianna Johnson 8, Priyanka Ponnam 6, Sylvie Harrington 6, Basha Harrington 4, Ellie Remus 3, Carissa Frederick 2.

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