Congratulations to Westtown School, who defeated Friends' Central 75-35 to win the 2023 Friends Schools League Girls Basketball Title - PSD Photo by Donna Eckert
Photos/Videos: Josh Abrams & Donna Eckert
Story by: Josh Abrams (@jabrams1998)
PHILADELPHIA – Friday night saw the Tom Gola Arena at TruMark Financial Center of La Salle University host the Friends Schools League girls and boys basketball championships.
It was a tale of two completely different games, as the Westtown Lady Moose swiftly defeated Friends' Central School, 75-35. The boys took the floor afterwards and provided their fans with an entertaining finish to the night, and it was George School who emerged victorious over Academy of the New Church (ANC) by a score of 64-61.
Westtown being in this position at this stage of the season is nothing new; they were looking to defend their FSL title from the previous three seasons dating back to 2019 (no 2021 tournament due to COVID). But what some may not realize about this Westtown program is that this may turn into the new normal for the time being.
The Lady Moose were led on both ends of the floor by stud eighth-grader Jordyn Palmer, who filled the stat sheet with 19 points, seven rebounds, five steals and two blocks. She is one of three players on Westtown’s roster who has yet to step foot in high school.
Palmer, fellow eighth-grader Jessie Moses (11 points) , freshman guard Atlee Vanesko (3), and sophomores Aidan Langley and Vianna Kanyamiheto-Watson were among all 10 players for Westtown who took the floor and found the scoring column.
The juniors and seniors rounded out a more-than dominant performance; Grace Sundback and Zahra King led that group with 14 and 10 points, respectively.
“We played together really well (tonight),” said Palmer. “We had to work together (in order to win) and we work better when we work off each other as a team.”
Three league championships in four seasons is something any athlete would dream of achieving at any point during his or her career. After Friday night Sundback gets to actually live it out.
“To win another FSL championship is really amazing,” the Delaware-bound senior expressed. “I think the group we have this year is super, super special, and I’m so glad to be a part of this and be a role model for them before I graduate and move on to college.”
Westtown led 13-7 after one quarter before they went on a tear Friends' Central could not recover from. The second quarter saw the Lady Moose outscore the Phoenix 31-7 and take a 44-14 lead into the locker room.
Sana’a Garrett kept FCS in it early and scored 10 of her 19 points in the first half. Logyn Greer and Nal’la Bennett finished with seven and six points, respectively, for the Lady Phoenix.
When the two teams met back on January 20th, Westtown won by a score of 55-37. Even so, it remained crucial for the Lady Moose to not let the past interfere with the current task at hand.
“We keep our heads down, and we play basketball the way we want to play,” said Sundback. “We don’t worry about who’s in front of us. We play the same way every time we step on the floor and we have a lot of confidence in ourselves.”
Westtown moves to 18-4 on the season and awaits their next opponent in the PAISAA state tournament, feeling as confident as ever now and for the future for very good reason.
Congratulations to the George School, who defeated Academy of the New Church 64-61, to win the 2023 FSL championship - PSD Photo by Donna Eckert
The boys title game featured an absolute classic and thriller between ANC and George School with George School coming away with a 64-61 win. Their first title win in 52 years!
Only four players scored for the Cougars, and two of them accounted for 89 percent of their team’s 64 points.
Junior guard Christian Bliss stole the show and poured in 39 points, while senior forward Kachi Nzeh was a force on the glass as he finished with 18 points and 18 rebounds, including six on the offensive end.
The 6’3” Bliss was spectacular, to say the least; hitting tough shot after tough shot and showing his fantastic ability to control his body while gliding through the air. Not to mention his smooth-looking stepback and side-step three point shots; not many shots he took were wide open.
ANC countered with a strong offensive trio of senior guards Deywilk Tavarez (22 points, 11 rebounds) & Jarell Keel (17 points, three steals) and junior guard Bahsil Laster (15 points, three steals). Any time George School looked to extend their lead past five points, one of those three would find a way to prevent that from happening.
Said Bliss of ANC, who his team defeated 75-52 when the two teams met on January 24th: “They’re a tough team. They make up for (lack of) size with toughness, and they’re just never out of a game, they play so hard… but from the start we just said we had to stay together as a team and we’ll get the job done.”
While both Bliss and Nzeh clearly were the co-MVPs of the game for the Cougars, they feel they could not have gotten the job done without the guidance of their head coach, Ben Luber.
“I give a lot of credit to Coach Ben,” said Bliss. “He turned this program around and changed our lives, on and off the court.”
“Mentally, Coach did a lot for us,” Nzeh said. “Whether it was us coming down here (to La Salle) earlier to visualize the court, or preparing us by watching film of the other team. We knew ANC had beaten us in the past and they’re a very hard team to play against, and we wanted to be prepared for that.”
ANC got out to an early 8-1 lead after a Tavarez three went down, forcing Luber to call a timeout and regather his team. From there his team finished the quarter on a 14-8 run to cut the deficit to one point, trailing 16-15.
The Cougars took a 34-28 lead into halftime but the Lions came roaring back to knot things up at 46 apiece through three quarters. After an Nzeh driving bucket and Bliss triple extended George’s lead to eight at 55-47, Tavarez went on a personal 4-0 run to cut the deficit in half.
The same sort of sequence happened after the two-minute mark in the fourth quarter, with another Nzeh bucket followed by a Tavarez three to make it a 59-55 ballgame with 1:12 showing in the game.
“We know ANC is the type of team where they don’t beat themselves,” said the athletic 6’9” Nzeh. “We have to beat them, and coming into this game that was kind of the mindset. We didn’t want to get too high or too low because we know in a championship game anything can happen.”
The Lions, led by head coach Kevin Givens, trailed by six with 16 seconds remaining and continued to provide the valiant effort they had given all game. Laster converted two foul shots and a layup after Nzeh missed the front end of a one-and-one with eight seconds left. They gave themselves a chance to send the game to overtime with a three from Laster but fell just short.
It was a dog fight from start to finish, and Bliss, amongst the rest of the Cougar faithful, was just glad to end up on the right side of it.
“We worked so hard for this,” the junior guard said. “We put in so many hours last year, thought we were going to do this and we didn’t. To come out and execute our plan and goal for the season, it means everything.”
Carson Mastin (5 points) and Luke Bevilacqua (2) were the only other players who found the scoring column for George School, who improves to 19-5 on the season and awaits their next test which will come in the PAISAA tournament.