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GIRLS BASKETBALL: Friends League Powers to Meet in PAISAA State Championship

By Marc Narducci (Photos/ Lennie Malmgren & Dylan Precious), 02/29/24, 6:45PM EST


Westtown to Face Friends' Central in Final At Saint Joseph's University

(Photos & Video by Lennie Malmgren & Dylan Precious)



Friends’ Central girls’ head basketball coach Vinny Simpson is undeterred.

Simpson has been providing his team with confidence all week as the Phoenix face the most difficult of challenges – attempting to unseat Westtown as the defending Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) champion.

The two Friends League titans will meet in Sunday’s 5 p.m. PAISAA state championship game at Saint Joseph’s University’s Hagan Arena. In the nightcap, Phelps School will face Perkiomen School in the 7 p.m. PAISAA boys’ state championship game.

Friends' Central (26-7) and Westtown (25-2) meeting in a championship setting is becoming rather commonplace.

Last year, Westtown beat Friends' Central, 75-35 in the Friends League championship game.

This year the score was much closer, but Westtown defeated Friends’ Central, 64-33, in the Friends League title game.

Now comes another championship game and Simpson’s confidence hasn’t wavered.

“We’ve got to win one of these right?,” stated Simpson. “The only way to start a rivalry is if we win and you can’t have a rivalry if only one team wins.”

Make no mistake, Simpson realizes the difficult task his team faces in trying to upend Westtown.

PAISAA Semifinal Game Friends' Central vs. Germantown Academy (Highlights by Lennie Malmgren for PSD)

Friends' Central coach Vinny Simpson lauds Greer's 1000th point and talks about his team's performance and road to Championship. (video/ John Knebels)

“Westtown seizes the opportunity and has different types of basketball players,” Simpson said. “They are extremely talented.”

Friends' Central also has its share of talent with an all-junior starting five.

Leading the way is 6-3 Logyn Greer, who scored her 1,000th career point in Friends' Central’s 54-49 PAISAA semifinal win over Germantown Academy. In the win over GA, 5-8 Nal’la Bennett led the way with 15 points, while Greer added 14 and 6-foot Kaiya Rain Tucker scored 9. Friends' Central earned the comeback win with a 15-5 fourth quarter.

The key to Friends' Central is point guard Saniyah Washington. How she handles the relentless defensive pressure of Westtown will be a major storyline.

“I beat it in her head that we will go as far as she takes us,” Simpson said. “Every big game this year that we won, she has played well.”

Friends’ Central understands it can’t get in a transition game with the ultra-quick Moose.

“We have to control the game and make the game ugly,” said Simpson, whose other starter is 5-9 Jordyn Adderly. “For us to win we have to keep the score in between 50-60 and limit our turnovers.

Westtown thrives on forcing turnovers.

“Once they turn you over, they fast break and are tough to beat,” Simpson said.

Westtown, which beat Penn Charter in last year’s PAISAA championship, has won 22 games in a row.

The Moose start just one senior, 5-10 Temple commit Savannah Curry, who has provided valuable leadership for this young team.

Curry recently scored her 1,000th career point on Feb. 20th in the PAISAA quarterfinal game against Perkiomen School.

What makes Westtown so dangerous is its balance and depth.

During a 66-41 semifinal win over the Academy of Notre Dame, 5-10 sophomore Atlee Vanesko led the way with 17 points. Jordyn Palmer, among the top freshmen not only in the area, but the country, had 16 points. The 6-1 Palmer is leading Westtown in scoring, averaging 18 points per game.

The other starters are 5-9 freshman Jessie Moses and 5-10 junior Olivia Jones.

Vanesko has been coming on, evident by her performance in the PAISAA semifinal.

“She has had a really good year and is one of many players we have who sacrifice individual stats as far as scoring points, for the betterment of the team,” veteran Westtown coach Fran Burbidge said.

Vanesko and Curry especially are defensive stalwarts, who put plenty of pressure on opposing ballhandlers.

A major reason for Westtown’s success is its singular focus. The Moose won’t be overlooking a Friends' Central team they have beaten twice this year.

“We don’t get ahead of ourselves,” said Burbidge, who will be the coach of the East squad in the McDonalds All-American game in Houston on April 2. “We take each practice and each game at a time.”

Translated, that means the Moose will be taking Friends' Central extremely seriously, even though Westtown has produced such impressive recent results against the Phoenix.

Westtown vs. Academy of Notre Dame PAISAA Semifinal. (Video/ Dylan Precious)

As Simpson alluded too, Westtown has some special players, including the freshman duo of Moses and Palmer.

During Westtown’s Friends league title game victory over Friends' Central on Feb. 9, Moses exploded for 26 points and Palmer added 21 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots.

Opponents can’t just focus on stopping one player because Westtown has so many other options on offense.

The defense is smothering.

Simpson understands that upsetting Westtown is an immense challenge.

“The last time, they took 13 more shots than we did and that can’t happen,” he said.

So, Simpson isn’t simply going in to make a strong showing. He has his team believing in itself.

“I told my girls, in order to get over the hump, we have to win,” he said. “I am excited, especially this year. It is hard to beat a team three times.”

Yet Westtown has proven, that it’s also hard to beat the Moose just once.