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PAISAA: Boys + Girls Semifinals Previews (Feb. 23, 2024)

02/22/2024, 3:45pm EST
By Owen McCue + Josh Verlin

By Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue) +
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

The Pennsylvania Independent School Athletic Association (PAISAA) state semifinals take place this Friday, with two boys games and two girls games that all feature local matchups, with many of the state’s heavy hitters going head-to-head. 

Here’s a look at both games, which take place at the higher seeds at the times indicated; the championships will be Sunday, March 3 at Saint Joseph’s University’s Hagan Arena. 


Boys Semifinals

Phelps School's Onyx Nnani, right, blocks a shot Tuesday against Hill School. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

1) Phelps School vs. 4) Academy New Church (4:00 PM)
Despite three semifinal appearances in the eight years (seven seasons) since its PAISAA championship, Phelps School hasn’t been back to the tournament title game since its 2015 championship winning season. This is Academy New Church’s first semifinal trip since 2012. ANC broke a 15-year Friends Schools League title drought earlier this season and is looking to do the same in the PAISAA tournament as it hasn’t been back to the championship game since winning it all in 2009.

Phelps School is oozing with talent led by high-major junior wings Will Riley (6-8) and Onyx Nnani (6-9), both Canadians who have been ranked nationally in the Class of 2025 since arriving at Phelps. Junior Justin Houser is a 7-footer who brings even more size to the table. Postgrad Jacob Hudson is an athletic 6-3 point guard who has improved his shot since arriving this year. Postgrad wing Jordan Rogers (6-5) adds some size and strength on the perimeter. Junior guard Tommy Vaughn Jr. (6-1) was a standout at Sanford School (Del.) last season before adding to the Phelps backcourt this year.

ANC is led by senior 6-5 point guard Bahsil Laster who plays the lead guard spot with the length of a wing. He has offers from schools like La Salle and Rhode Island and has been on a tear down the closing stretch of the season. Senior guard Nolan Waldon (6-0) adds some experience and another strong point guard in the backcourt. Sophomore guard Tobe Nwobu (6-2) is a perimeter threat who can heat up, and sophomore 6-5 guard/forward Dior Carter is a ridiculous athlete who can step outside but battles down low as well. Sophomore forward Ryan Warren (6-6) and Cameron Smith (6-7) will be key against Phelps’ size along with junior forward Caleb Alston-Nelson (6-6) who missed time recently with a concussion. Senior Ogonna Obayi can hit shots off the bench.

2) Perkiomen School vs. 11) Westtown School (5:00 PM)
This has been a marquee matchup for several years now. Westtown denied Perk in the PAISAA semifinals in 2020. While Perk took down the Moose twice during 2021 season when there was no tournament, Westtown bested the Panthers in the title game in 2022, denying them their first championship. Perk broke through for its first PAISAA title last season during a rare down year for Westtown. Now, the last two tournament champions meet deep in the postseason once again Friday evening

After a dominant frontcourt led the way to the program’s first title last season, Perkiomen School has been led by its backcourt this year. Junior guard Gabe Tanner has become a major piece in his second year, and classmate KJ Cochran has complemented him well after two standout years at West Chester East. Senior forwards Macon Emory (6-8), a Delaware commit, and Alfredo Addesa (6-10) are two more pieces back from last year’s championship run — both adding some shooting and versatility up front. Senior 6-2 guard Alex Zakheim is a postgrad from New Jersey who’s been a big boost in the backcourt with Tanner and Cochran. Junior 6-5 guard Hayden Johnson, from Canada, adds even more scoring off the bench. 

Westtown was knocked off in the first round last season. The Moose have been uneven again this season but a talented lineup seems to have figured things out with upset wins over Springside Chestnut Hill and Inter-Ac champion Penn Charter in the first two rounds. Senior forward Malik Rasul (6-7), a Lafayette commit, is the only true front court player. The junior class is stacked with Cameron Wallace (6-5), Jayden Forsythe (6-5) Jayden Kelsey (6-7) and Daveyon Lydner (6-3) all shooting guards with Division I talent and Jahmare Memphis a 6-foot point guard who has emerged this year. The Moose played Goliath in the PAISA tournament for several years. It would be interesting twist to see them make an underdog run.


Girls’ Semifinals

Notre Dame and Chloe Knox, above, have a tall task in taking down Westtown. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL FIle

1) Westtown School vs. 5) Academy of Notre Dame (5:30 PM)
Two of the three Inter-Ac tri-champs are still in the mix, as Notre Dame took out the third (Penn Charter) in the quarterfinals after the two split their regular-season meetings. First-year head coach Terry Mancini inherited a quality group and has done a great job with them, led by senior guard Lizzie Halligan (Scranton) and the freshman duo of 6-3 center Grace Nasr and 5-10 guard Riley Davis, both of whom are well on their way to bright futures in the sport; junior guards Catie Kelly and Chloe Knox round out the starting five. Junior guard Sophia Hall, a Delaware soccer commit, has been a great presence off the bench as a scorer, rebounder and facilitator as well. 

Unfortunately for the Irish, they’re going up against a singular powerhouse in the Moose. Westtown’s one of the top handful of girls’ basketball teams in the country, coming off a GEICO national semifinal appearance in the spring and getting even stronger this year. Head coach Fran Burbidge has assembled an impressive collection of talent in all four classes, though it’s the freshmen who draw the most buzz as both Jordyn Palmer and Jessie Moses are already high-major recruits. But sophomore Atlee Vanesko, juniors Aidan Langley and Olivia Jones and others all have plenty of mid-to-high-major Division I offers, and senior Savannah Curry is a Temple commit. They’ve got length, talent, athleticism, play hard and together, and are the overwhelming favorites to repeat as state champs after winning last year’s title in a game it was up 36-12 at halftime and cruised to a 20-point win.

2) Friends’ Central vs. Germantown Academy (4:30 PM)
This one’s a rematch of a game all the way back on Dec. 5, a 54-51 Friends’ Central win at Germantown Academy. The Phoenix got a 15-point, 13-rebound, five-block outing from Kaiya Rain Tucker, the 6-0 junior forward scoring from inside and out, while junior sharpshooter Nal’la Bennett hit a couple 3s as part of a 16-point outing. That pair are two-thirds of head coach Vinny SImpson’s trio of D-I recruits, along with 6-3 junior wing forward Logyn Greer, who’s got all sorts of high-major offers. Another pair of juniors, guards Saniyah Washington and Jordyn Addley, give this rotation one more big year to build around, while 8th grader Londyn Mayo is a promising youngster who’s gotten a ton of varsity experience this season.

Germantown Academy’s got a rotation full of upperclassmen, who’ve all been adapting to first-year head coach Lauren Power, who came over from Notre Dame last offseason. Senior wing guard Isabella ‘Izzy’ Casey is perhaps their most consistent leading scorer and rebounder, but senior wing Jess Aponik (Kutztown), junior guard Jess Kolecki, junior wing Gabby Bowes and others have all had their games where they lead the way, while senior guards Sam Wade and Jenn Aponik play supporting roles; freshman forward Jo Owens has a good upside as well but doesn’t tend to get a ton of minutes. The Patriots had a tough time inside against the Phoenix in their first meeting; this one will come down to the rebounding battle and how many open looks GA can generate around the bucket. 

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