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Friends' Schools League: Semifinal Previews (Feb. 7, 2023)

02/06/2023, 1:00am EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

The Friends’ Schools League semifinals are set for Tuesday afternoon, four games played at four different FSL schools, with top seeds hosting on both the boys’ and girls’ side. The FSL championships will take place Friday, Feb. 10 at La Salle University, with the girls tipping off at 6:30 PM and the boys to follow.

Here’s a look at all four semifinal games, which all tip off at 5:30 p.m.:


Boys: 1) George School vs. 4) Westtown School
This is the game most people expected to see in the championship game, but George won’t complain at all about getting the eight-time defending champs at home in the semifinals, instead of having to face them on a neutral court a round later. The Moose have been the league’s powerhouse for basically a decade straight but finally showed some vulnerability this year, losing to both ANC and Friends’ Select to drop to the No. 4 seed, though they do have a 59-51 win over the Cougars on Jan. 6 as proof they can still play with anybody. George School’s the top seed, but until they get past Westtown, it’s still the Moose’s league.

As usual, Seth Berger has a roster stocked with future high-major talent, though it’s mostly underclassmen; senior point guard Sey’phon Triplett (Stonehill) is one of two committed players, though Matt Mayock (American) is out with a broken bone in his arm; junior forward Matt Gilhool, sophomore point guard Jayden Kelsey and sophomore wing Jayden Forsythe are more high-level prospects and names to know. 

Christian Bliss (above) and George School are the top seed, but lost to Westtown in the regular season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Ben Luber counters with his own terrific squad, the former Penn State point guard turning the Cougars into a real powerhouse over the last few seasons. Xavier commit Kachi Nzeh — a muscular, bouncy, 6-9 forward with a much-improved face-up game — pairs with 6-11 sophomore Luke Bevilacqua to form one of the more imposing and talented frontcourts around. Equally good are the pair of point guards: senior Dante Weise, who recently committed to D-II Saint Rose (N.Y.), and junior Christian Bliss, who’s gotten all sorts of high-major offers this season, Villanova included. 


Boys: 2) Academy New Church vs. 3) Friends Select

Friends’ Select has been no doubt the surprise story of the Friends’ League this year, pulling off a major upset over Westtown, and then following that up by knocking off Shipley and Friends’ Central to secure the third seed in the league, their highest finish in quite some time, though they lost to ANC 68-55 in the regular season. The main man making it happen is 6-8 senior forward Christian Kirkland, a super-versatile weapon who’s playing the best hoops of his career, but he’s got help: senior guards Temir Davis and Che Ewell plus sophomore guard Isaiah Marshall have all been in double figures lately.

On the other hand, Academy New Church has been the closest thing to a thorn in Westtown’s side the last few years, Kevin Givens’ program throwing some real scares into the Moose in a few different FSL championship squads, their brand of full-court press and chip-on-your-shoulder talent more than holding its own on multiple occasions. So this is a program that knows how to play at this time of the year, even if its current roster hasn’t been in too many of these games yet.

The Lions are led by senior guard Deywilk Tavarez, who’s missed much of the last 18 months with injuries, but is playing his best ball this season, with his first Division I offer (from Hampton) coming in recently. He’s not the only D-I recruit on the squad; 6-5 junior guard Bahsil Laster has offers of his own, and a few of the underclassmen could be in that territory before long. Senior wing Jarell Keel, sophomore Nolan Waldon and freshman Dior Carter round out the starting lineup, a five without much in terms of elite size but with good length, skill and athleticism across the board.


Girls: 1) Westtown School vs. 4) Shipley School
The Moose girls are storming into the league’s playoffs as the unbeaten top seed, and Fran Burbidge has a roster every bit the contender for not only an FSL title defense but also to make a run deep into the Pennsylvania Independent School (PASIAA) tournament as well. 

Zahra King (above) and Westtown are the defending PAISAA and FSL champs. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

They’re led by a pair of Division I committed senior guards in Joniyah Bland-Fitzpatrick (Seton Hall) and Grace Sundback (Delaware), while junior wing guards Savannah Curry and Zahra King both have a handful of Division I offers. On top of all that, Burbidge has some terrific underclassmen, including freshman wing Atlee Vanesko and 6-1 eighth grader Jordyn Palmer, who might just be the best prospect in the entire area. 

Shipley’s trying to get back to the level it was when it won multiple PAISAA titles in the 2010s, and though first-year head coach Ellen Bair has some talented freshmen and sophomores of her own to work with, they’re going to have a tough time dealing with the overall size, experience and talent of Westtown, which won the regular-season matchup by 52 points in late January. Freshman point guard Sanai Johnson, a second-year starter, just put up a career-high 27 points in the first-round playoff win over Academy New Church, while sophomores Anna Pascale and Mallory Farr give the Gators some additional scoring punch.


Girls: 2) Friends’ Central vs. 3) George School
Friends’ Central and George School are two programs on the rise, playing under young coaches with great hoops backgrounds: FCS’ Vinny Simpson was a standout at Hampton and played professionally, as did George’s LaKeisha Sutton, who played for Dawn Staley at South Carolina and then both in Europe and with the Harlem Globetrotters. Now they’re both in their second years with their respective programs, both with the future looking bright. 

Friends’ Central got the better end of the regular-season matchup, beating George 58-33 on Jan. 10, though it was an 11-point game going into the fourth quarter. The Phoenix are driven by senior guard Sana’a Garrett, a tough two-way guard who had seven steals in that game, en route to a game-high 19 points. College offers are streaming in for 6-4 sophomore wing Logyn Greer, who plays the ‘3’ offensively and ‘5’ defensively, a high-level rim protector who can step out and knock down shots. Sophomore guard Nal’la Bennett, a 5-7 sharpshooter, has been heating up as the season goes, and wing/forwards Kaiya Rain Tucker and Amani Savage both give them a nice inside-out presence. 

George School’s young and is still learning to win games at this level, but Sutton definitely has some pieces to work with to build her program around. Point guard Sophia Martinez, a 5-6 junior, is their best on-ball defender and ball-handler, and one of their go-to scorers. Sophomore forward Priyanka Ponnam, an all-league selection as a freshman, is an intriguing inside-out talent at 6-3, and 6-5 junior Gianna Johnson combines with Ponnam to create a frontline with size that few around can match; throw in 6-1 sophomore Carissa Frederick and 6-0 freshman Sylvie Harrington and you can get an idea of how big George is.

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