Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2023-24 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed thus far can be found here.)
The Perkiomen Valley girls basketball team sat in a room two years ago, writing down its list of season goals on a whiteboard.
They put a few down before the team’s main goal: Win a Pioneer Athletic Conference championship. That was the ultimate prize the Vikings were chasing in 2021-22 before a then-freshman Lena Stein piped up.
“We said beat this team, beat this team, PAC chip and I said district chip and everyone was laughing,” Stein remembered earlier this fall. “We did not think that was possible. … Dream big I guess.”
While the notion may have seemed a bit far-fetched several years ago, Stein and her classmates have raised expectations immensely going into their junior seasons. The Vikings ambitions have now surpassed district gold.
Perkiomen Valley junior Lena Stein, above, is one of five returning starters. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)
After a run to the Pioneer Athletic Conference title game in 2021-22 (the program’s first championship game appearance in four years) and trip to the District 1-6A quarters, the Vikings grabbed their first PAC championship since 2016 and the second District 1 title in program history (also in 2016) during a 28-2 campaign as sophomores in 2022-23. They think even more is within reach this upcoming season.
“I probably was one of the people that chuckled at her,” Perk Valley coach John Russo said. “Not because I didn’t think we could get there, but until you beat Spring-Ford, you can’t have another goal. … To go from what we talked about as a team (two years ago) to winning districts (last year) was amazingly fast I thought. I didn’t think it would happen as quickly as we did, and now our job is to compete everyday so we can defend both titles.”
Perk Valley returns five starters this season in forward Quinn Boettinger (16.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg), wing Grace Galbavy (13.3 ppg, 3.4 apg, 8.3 rpg), point guard Bella Bacani (10.4 ppg, 40 threes), guard Julia Smith (4.4 ppg, 31 threes) and Stein (5.6 ppg, 3.1 apg, 4.4 rpg). Boettinger (6-3) and Galbavy (6-0), both All-CoBL second teamers a season ago, are D1 targets and a tremendous mismatch with pretty much every high school team around, both averaging about two blocks per game on the defensive end. Bacani, Smith and Stein are all three-year varsity players as well.
The Vikings graduated Stein’s older sister Ella, a valuable sixth starter last season, but they will get a few boosts this season. Middle sister Anna Stein, who played in 24 games last season, returns to full strength and junior wing/forward Grace Miley, who averaged 7.4 ppg as a starter on the 2021-22 team but injured her knee prior to the start of last season, returned to the court in August.
“I’m very excited,” Miley said. “Last year, I didn’t get to play, so I’m ready to get my chip and ready for revenge (from 2022).”
“It’s been hardest mentally, just getting back into being able to drive again, go up for shots, getting my confidence back, but my knee feels pretty strong it’s just getting confident in myself.”
With the return of Anna Stein and Miley and the emergence of junior Amiya Fowler and others and an influx of young talent into the program, Russo will have his hands full trying to figure out which five should be out on the floor.
Perkiomen Vallye's Grace Miley watches her team during the District 1 championship last season. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)
“My job got tougher, figuring out how to use them all to help us stay where we are,” Russo said.
“Seven of them have really never not started for me. … We really have seven starters and it’s an ongoing conversation.”
Despite all the Vikings accomplished last season, the second loss of the season continues to sit with the team. They led by as many as nine points in the third quarter before Archbishop Carroll, the eventual state champions, pulled back and won a crazy game in overtime in the second round of states.
The loss actually ended PV’s season a round before the Vikings reached in 2021-22, when they lost to eventual state champion Plymouth Whitemarsh in the state quarters.
“It keeps us up most nights still, but it’s something to work towards,” Lena Stein said. “We’re not satisfied. That gives us something to work towards and we needed that.”
Even during offseason games and workouts, Russo said the competitive level of his group is unmatched. They want to be great and put in the work to do so.
“Everyone just pushes each other,” Lena Stein said. “(During workouts) you would have thought we were enemies. … It stays on the floor, always, but it’s war.”
“We go at it,” Miliey added.
Pioneer Athletic Conference championship and District 1 championship will still be goals on the Vikings’ whiteboard should they write them down again this season. League rival Spring-Ford will likely have a say in whether PV can accomplish those things this season.
The Rams and Vikings played four times last season, including the PAC championship and District 1 semis, in which the Rams held control of most of the game. PV went 3-1 in the series, though the Vikings’ lone loss came at Spring-Ford, where the title game will be held this season.
The Vikings won’t overlook the Rams or other tough contenders but there’s reason to dream big after what the group accomplished last season and what it brings back.
“Freshman year, we made a list of our goals and PAC chip was iffy for us,” Miley said. “This time of year, wer’re like state chip is what we want.”
And nobody is laughing this time.