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Westtown's depth shows as Moose girls become FSL's last unbeaten

01/21/2023, 12:00am EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

Joniyah Bland-Fitzpatrick had one year to make a difference. 

The Connecticut native came to the Westtown School for her senior year of high school, having one year to accomplish as much as possible before heading off to Seton Hall. All she had to do was step into an immediate leadership role on a team that was the defending Friends’ Schools League and PAISAA state champion yet only had a few returners and a whole lot of new faces under third-year head coach Fran Burbidge

Joniyah Bland-Fitzpatrick (above) has jumped right into a major role with Westtown. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Eh, no biggie. At least, not according to Bland-Fitzpatrick.

“It’s not that hard, especially for me, because I’m a natural leader, that’s what I’ve been told,” she said. “So I took on that role, and took some people under my wing, and it helps me out a lot, to prepare me for college.”

It’s a mutually beneficial relationship: Westtown, a high-academic boarding and day school in West Chester, provided an opportunity for Bland-Fitzpatrick to reunite with some of her summer ball teammates and get some high-level hoops in before she heads off to the Big East, not to mention some stability; Burbidge got a 5-foot-10 lead guard who fits right into his uptempo style.

On Friday, as Westtown hosted Friends’ Central in a battle of the two unbeaten squads left in the Friends’ Schools League, Bland-Fitzpatrick showed exactly what kind of difference she can make. After sitting most of the first half with a couple quick fouls, she was the difference-maker during the key third quarter, when the Moose turned a narrow advantage into a big lead in a 55-37 win.

Westtown (13-3, 5-0) began the third quarter with a 31-23 lead on Friends’ Central, which had hung around all first half despite the Moose shooting 62% (13-of-21) over the opening 16 minutes.

But when Bland-Fitzpatrick re-took the court, she wasted no time making an impact. On the Moose’s first possession, she found freshman guard Atlee Vanesko for a 3-pointer; the next time down, a dime to Savannah Curry for a layup, forcing a FCS timeout 50 seconds into the half. 

By the end of the third, Fitzpatrick had already collected an and-one on a fast break, Westtown winning the period 19-6 and taking a 50-29 lead into the fourth on Friends’ Central (19-4, 4-1), the outcome never in doubt from that point onwards. She finished with nine points, two rebounds and two assists, far from the biggest statline on the team, but plays like a dive in the corner to save a loose ball showed her presence on the floor means more than stats alone.

“Those are the things that don’t show up in the stats, and they’re the things that J brings to the team,” Burbidge said. “But I think sometimes kids don’t value how important that is, and how much that means to not only winning games but winning championships. 

Savannah Curry (above, left) challenges Friends' Central's Logyn Greer. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

“She’s going to be really good at Seton Hall,” added the longtime girls’ high school coach, who’s coached and worked with dozens of future high-major ballplayers, including WNBA talent. “She’s improving her shot, she’s improving the handle and all that [...] with her effort and ability to guard a myriad of positions and all that, she’s going to have a good career.”

On a night without Delaware-bound senior guard Grace Sundback (ankle) and junior forward Michelle Olak (illness), and with Fitzpatrick in early foul trouble, the Moose’s depth was able to shine. Junior guard Zahra King, a high-major recruit who plays with Sundback and Bland-Fitzpatrick for New Heights (N.Y.) on the Under Armour circuit in the offseason, had 13 points, six assists, and three steals; junior wing Savannah Curry, a Baltimore native who has 10 Division I offers of her own, added 12 points and six rebounds.

Playing perhaps the most all-around game of all was Jordyn Palmer, the 6-1 wing finishing with 12 points, six rebounds, four steals, three assists and two blocks, making plays on both ends of the court. Perhaps her most impressive highlight was the block she swatted and then picked up, going the length of the floor with ease, a Eurostep between two defenders for a layup at the end of it. 

All of it as an eighth grader. 

Jordyn Palmer (above) is making waves for Westtown as an eighth grader. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

“She has brought a lot, especially toughness, but I feel like she’s one of the most poised on our team, she plays with this flow and poetry type of game that she has and it’s very special,” Bland-Fitzpatrick said. “I don’t think everybody knows that, but it’s very special.”

Also stepping up for the Moose was sophomore forward Aidan Langley, who popped off the bench for five rebounds, with a block, assist and steal, making an impact without entering the scoring column. Langley was hurt earlier in the season with an ankle injury suffered in the fall, but gives them another post presence to play alongside Palmer.

“I don’t think I did a really good enough job early on with our team, as far as [...] playing a lot of kids enough minutes [early on],” Burbidge said. “But they’re starting to get their minutes and our depth is really starting to show itself, and I’ve got to do a better job of getting these guys with the rotation.”

The fact that it’s January and Burbidge is still figuring out his rotation is mostly because it’s almost an entirely new group. Bland-Fitzpatrick came to Westtown after a year at St. Benedict’s (N.J.), having played her first two seasons at Trenton Catholic (N.J.); Curry came from Roland Park (Md.), Langley from Coatesville. Palmer, Moses and Vanesko are playing their first year of varsity hoops, new to Westtown as well, though they were all previously at middle schools.

Logyn Greer led Friends’ Central (19-4, 4-1) with 18 points, the talented sophomore forward hitting three 3-pointers and a number of pull-up jumpers, but the overall size of Westtown bothered a mostly-undersized Phoenix group that had trouble finding good looks with consistency. 

It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if this isn’t the only matchup this season between the two teams. Barring an upset, they should finish 1-2 in the Friends’ Schools League standings, Friends’ Central holding head-to-head wins over Shipley and George School, and there’s a good chance they’ll meet again in the FSL championship game next month.

“I think it builds us to understand the way they play and [...] prepares us for the next game when we do play against them, to help us fix our mistakes,” Bland-Fitzpatrick said. “We could have done 10 times better, this wasn’t our ‘A’ game.”

By Quarter
Westtown School:  18  |  13  |  19  |   5   ||  55
Friends’ Central:    12  |  11  |   6   |   8   ||  37

Westtown School: 22-38 FG (6-15 3PT), 5-6 FT
Friends’ Central: 12-48 FG (5-17 3PT), 8-14 FT

Westtown School: Zahra King 13, Savannah Curry 12, Jordyn Palmer 12, Joniyah Bland-Fitzpatrick 9, Atlee Vanesko 6, Jesse Moses 3

Friends’ Central: Logyn Greer 18, Sana’a Garrett 6, Kaiya Rain Tucker 4, Nal’la Bennett, Sydney Ramseur-Williams 3, Amani Savage 2, Jordyn Adderly 1

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Tag(s): Home  Girls HS  Friends' Schools (G)  Westtown  Friends' Central