Congratulations to Westtown School, who defeated Penn Charter 74-54, to win its second consecutive Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association championship - PSD Photo by Kathy Leister
Photos/Videos: Kathy Leister & John Knebels
By: John Knebels
PHILADELPHIA – Game over, celebration finished, and pressroom interviews completed, Savannah Curry was hanging out with family, friends, and teammates when she heard coach Fran Burbidge call out her name.
Minutes earlier on Sunday afternoon at St. Joseph’s University, Westtown School had just defeated Penn Charter, 74-54, for its second consecutive Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association championship.
Curry appeared surprised when asked to assess her team’s impressive victory. When it comes to basketball, the junior guard just goes about her business with little to no fanfare. And she doesn’t miss the spotlight one bit.
“I try to come out and contribute well on defense so we can get ahead,” said Curry. “I try to pressure the ball. I do the best I can on defense and that translates over to offense, and it helps the team overall.”
Against Inter-Academic League champion Penn Charter, Curry finished with six points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals, and a blocked shot. Curry served as a main cog for a Westtown squad that employed textbook defense and ball movement to forge a 21-4 lead after one quarter and a commanding 36-12 advantage at halftime.
Along the way, the Moose held the Quakers to one basket – a three-pointer by sophomore Kaylinn Bethea (team-high 18 points and four steals thanks to a brilliant second half) with 1:50 remaining in the second quarter. Just like she had done in a convincing 69-33 win over Germantown Academy in the PAISAA semifinal, Curry made life difficult for whomever she guarded.
“Savannah has been invaluable for us,” said Burbidge. “She does so many things for us that don’t show up in the scorebook. We talked about the defensive halves that we played Friday and then today. She was the key to both of them. She’s the one we put on who we believe starts the car and runs the engine for (the opposition).
“We put Savannah on them and she sets the tone, which goes unnoticed other than to basketball people and to us as coaches. Both games, she was just terrific in getting us going and getting us off to the great start. And it becomes a little more comfortable for everyone else to play, and she’s at the forefront if it.”
Regardless of her final numbers, Curry thoroughly embraces her role. She has one major goal in mind, and as the motto says, there’s no “I” in the word “team.”
“We communicate well,” said Curry. “We talk with each other and we do this every day. We have a lot of chemistry and we trust each other. Eighth grade, ninth grade . . . they’re all amazing. I love playing with them. They push themselves every day. They push me to make me better.”
Dealing with foul trouble that ultimately necessitated key minutes from nine players – all of whom scored at least two points – Burbidge needed to orchestrate constant substitutions, particularly during a second half that saw Penn Charter outscore the Moose by 42-38 to turn a beckoning blowout into a more manageable result.
While the quintet of junior Zahra King (21 points, six rebounds), eighth grader Jordyn Palmer (13 points), senior Joniyah Bland-Fitzpatrick (eight points), senior Grace Sundback (six points, four assists, three rebounds), and Curry paced most of the initial 16 minutes, substitutes such as eighth grader Jessie Moses (10 points, two rebounds), junior Aiden Langley (four points, six rebounds), junior Michelle Olak (two points, three rebounds), and freshman Atlee Vanesko (four points, two rebounds) kept the Quakers at bay.
“As time has gone on, they have gotten good minutes,” said Burbidge, referring to Westtown’s bench. “The biggest thing is that we practice hard pretty much every day. They get after each other in practice, and that’s kind of something that we hang our hat on.
“A lot of these girls are going to play at the next level, and it’s important to understand how to compete against your teammates, and then when you step off the floor, to remain as good teammates. They have done a tremendous job job with that.”
Coming into the season, tepid concern involved Westtown’s youth. Even though the Moose were the defending PAISAA champs and prohibitive favorites to repeat as Friends School League champions, would the program’s lofty goals ultimately prove too overwhelming?
The Moose answered that emphatically, blitzing the FSL undefeated for a second straight season and finishing with an overall record of 21-4.
“I’m just so proud of the kids, of the community, and the support that they have given to us throughout the year,” said Burbidge. “There was a lot of pressure on them, not so much pressure, but expectations. It was not something we ever talked about at all, and to see them address each hurdle that was placed in front of them not only as well as they did, but together the way they did . . .
Curry understood her coach’s point.
“After winning last year, we had a lot of pressure to keep that streak going,” she said. “As soon as we get ourselves going, there’s no stopping after that.”
(Contact John Knebels at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @johnknebels.)