Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
The Pennsylvania Independent School Athletic Association (PAISAA) is down to its final four teams on the boys’ and girls’ side, the state semifinals coming up on Friday for the non-PIAA school postseason.
Each bracket saw the top four seeds hold serve through the first two rounds, setting up a couple high-level semifinals in each bracket, with Division I prospects taking the court in every game. Here’s a look at all four of Friday’s games, which will be played at higher seeds, with my picks for all four:
1) Westtown School vs. 4) Germantown Academy (6:30 PM)
Zahra King (above) and Westtown are the top seed in the girls' PAISAA bracket. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
This one’s a rematch of last year’s semifinal, which Westtown won 65-48 en route to its one-point triumph over Penn Charter in the state title. Though many faces have changed for the Moose since then, they’re still a force to be reckoned with: Westtown’s girls have gathered steam as the season’s gone on, rolling to an impressive 75-35 win over Friends’ Central in the Friends’ Schools League title, and kept that going with a 55-point stomping of No. 8 Shipley School in the quarterfinals.
Fran Burbidge and Doug West have themselves a really well-rounded squad, for a whole variety of reasons. There’s variety in class, with seniors down through 8th graders playing a part; in position, with good guards, wings and forwards; in production, from inside and out. Senior guards Joniyah Bland-Fitzpatrick (Seton Hall) and Grace Sundback (Delaware) are both Division I bound, junior wings Savannah Curry and Zahra King both have more than a handful of high-major offers, and then there’s the youth: eighth grader Jordyn Palmer is a 6-1 wing forward with a plethora of skills and the effort to match, freshman guard Atlee Vanesko is a strong outside shooter and eighth grader Jessie Moses gets time at point guard and has already proven herself a strong defender, and sophomore forward Aidan Langley gives them a post presence off the bench.
Germantown Academy, which has its whole rotation back from a year ago, counters with a veteran group that finished in second place in the Inter-Ac, led by 6-3 senior forward and Binghamton commit Kendall Bennett. Also featured in Sherri Retif’s top guard are a host of juniors, including point guard Sam Wade, wing Izzy Casey, twin guards Jess and Jenna Aponik, plus sophomore shooting guard Gabby Bowes. It’s a good group for sure, with size across the board and the ability to score from all five positions — but they’re going up against a juggernaut. The Patriots will put up a good fight, but it’ll take just about perfection to pull the upset.
Prediction: Westtown School 65, Germantown Academy 52
Penn Charter sophomore Kaylinn Bethea (above) has offers from Penn and Harvard, among others. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
2) Penn Charter vs. 3) Friends’ Central (5:30 PM)
The two-time defending Inter-Ac champs host the Friends’ Schools League runner-ups in this one, just a few miles down City Ave (and across the Schuylkill, up Gypsy Lane and over on School House…but it’s mostly a straight line if you look at a map). These two met in a game back on Dec. 6 at Penn Charter, the hosts winning it 55-52 on a 3-pointer by eighth grader Ryan Carter in the final 10 seconds, handing Friends’ Central its first loss of the season at the time. Penn Charter’s in the semifinals after beating No. 7 George School 62-39 in the quarterfinals; Friends’ Central got here courtesy of a 57-25 win over No. 6 Perkiomen School.
The Quakers, who lost to Westtown 51-50 in last year’s PAISAA championship game, have their eyes on the program’s first state championship and nothing else, led by a senior class of St. Joe’s commit Aleah Snead, Fairleigh Dickinson commit Bella Toomey and Ohio State lacrosse commit Gracie Shoup. Toomey, a 6-0 forward, does most of her damage around the hoop, while the 5-10 Snead can score inside and out and the 5-5 Shoup is a defensive specialist who can knock down open shots and handle the ball. Head coach Joe Maguire also has some impressive youth to work with, including the 5-10 Carter, who’s already got all sorts of high-major offers for her size and length as a combo guard, plus 5-9 sophomore Kaylinn Bethea, who’s also a handful of D-I offers, including several Ivy League schools.
Friends’ Central counters with the tallest player in Friday’s game, 6-3 forward Logyn Greer, the standout sophomore a quality 3-point shooter who’s becoming more dangerous off the bounce, while also serving as a terrific rim protector and rebounder on the other end. The Phoenix’s engine, though, comes in the form of 5-6 senior guard Sana’a Garrett, a ball-handling and defensive whiz who can really get to the bucket and score; sophomore guard Nal’la Bennett adds a 3-point shooting presence, while senior forward Amani Savage and sophomore wing Kaiya Rain Tucker, both around 5-11, give them additional rebounding, post scoring, and defense. FCS’ biggest issue is its depth, head coach Vinny Simpson only having seven girls available for the FSL title game, and that could be an issue if anybody gets in foul trouble.
Prediction: Penn Charter 60, Friends’ Central 52
Hill School wing Justin Molen (left) goes up for a shot against Phelps wing Onyx Nnani in a November matchup. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
1) Perkiomen School vs. 4) Hill School (5:00 PM)
This is the first and only meeting this season between two of the area’s most established prep/boarding programs, both of whom have a plethora of Division I talent, and who are located only about 20 minutes apart in northern Montgomery County. Perkiomen coach Tom Baudinet has assembled a roster that has competed against some of the other top teams in the country, including Brewster Academy (N.H.), Northfield Mt. Hermon (Mass.), South Kent (Conn.) and more, and are 24-4 rolling into their semifinal game. Hill comes in 19-8, having played a similarly high-level slate, beating the likes of Blair Academy (N.J.), West Nottingham (Md.), Westtown and more.
Hill’s most notable feature is its frontcourt, featuring 6-9 Penn commit Augie Gerhart, 6-8 senior Josh Cameron and 6-6 post-grad Justin Molen, who’s really more of a do-it-all wing; off the bench comes 6-10 sophomore Quadri ‘Bash’ Bashiru, a rim-protecting and floor-running type. It’s a group that all rebounds well, and gives them a serious paint presence, with all three of them going for 20+ points at different times this season. At point guard is sophomore Jacob Meachim, only about 5-7 but strong and sturdy, a true floor general who gets his team into sets, can get to the rim and hit open shots; junior Trey O’Neil starts at the ‘2’, while senior Matt Field (Ursinus), junior Liam Barney and sophomore Anderson Brindjar give them perimeter depth off the bench.
Perkiomen School, which lost to Westtown in the state championship game a year ago, returns from that group 6-9 senior forward and Florida commit Thomas Haugh, a bouncy ‘4’ man who’s expanded his range to the 3-point arc to complement his rebounding and finishing abilities, though his athleticism and motor are still his best traits. He’s joined up front by 6-7 senior Priest Ryan, while 6-6 senior wing Bobby Rosenberger Jr. (St. Francis Pa.) has missed time due to injury, though he’s one of their leaders when he’s on the court. On the wings, a pair of 6-8 juniors, Macon Emory and Brant Byers, give them a ton of length and shooting ability, while junior guard Demajh Salisbury, sophomore guard Gabe Tanner and post-grad point guard Trey Micah Leib run the backcourt.
These two played in this same game last year, with Perkiomen advancing to its first-ever PAISAA final with a dominant 76-39 win over Hill. I don’t think it’ll be a blowout this year, but Perkiomen has the better resume, high-quality depth and size to compete with Hill, and I think they get it done again on Friday night.
Prediction: Perkiomen School 85, Hill School 75
George School senior Kachi Nzeh shoots a 3-pointer during the Cougars' FSL championship. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
2) George School vs. 3) Phelps School (TBD)
The best team in George School history finds itself deeper in the postseason than any that came before it, while Phelps’ players are generally in unfamiliar territory after getting bounced in the quarterfinals a year ago. The Cougars, off the first Friends’ Schools League title in program history, made it to its first PAISAA semifinal after beating No. 15 The Haverford School (63-60) in the opening round and then No. 7 Malvern Prep (73-63); Phelps wrecked No. 14 Shipley (101-47) in the opening round and handled No. 6 Academy New Church 86-67 in the second, as the Lions are back in the semifinals for the first time since 2020, having won it all in 2015 a couple head coaches ago.
The Lions, under the direction of second-year head coach John Harmatuk, love to get up and down the floor and take a ton of 3s, with an intriguing mix of youth and experience on the roster. Senior wing guard Malcolm Wrisby-Jefferson, a 6-4 Brown commit, sets the tone with his rebounding, defense and distributing, while sophomore guards Will Riley (6-5) and Gavin Doty (6-3) get buckets; that’s without mentioning senior guard Saleem Payne and post-grad IV Pettit, who are both talented ball-handlers and scorers, Payne in the starting lineup and Pettit coming off the bench. The fifth starter is 6-11 sophomore Justin Houser, who’s playing the most confident and aggressive hoops of his life, while 6-8 sophomore guard Onyx Nnani and 6-3 senior Charlie Bell give them additional scoring off the bench.
As for Ben Luber’s Panthers, they rely heavily on the production of senior forward Kachi Nzeh, a muscular 6-9 Xavier commit, and 6-4 junior guard Christian Bliss, who’s been on an absolute tear in the postseason; the two of them each had 25 points in George’s quarterfinal win, and Bliss had 39 points in their FSL championship victory. Also in the starting lineup are 6-0 senior Dante Weise, a terrific point guard and St. Rose (N.Y.) commit, plus promising 6-11 sophomore Luke Bevilacqua and 6-3 senior Carson Mastin, who gives them athleticism on the wing. Luber doesn’t go too deep, but he’ll utilize sophomore guard Luke Melniczak and junior wing Ivan Ryabov in spots.
George School might be the higher seed, but Phelps has the advantage of several fifth-years and some additional quality depth, and I think the latter will ultimately be the difference-maker.
Prediction: Phelps School 78, George School 72