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GIRLS' BASKETBALL: One Last Salute to a Championship-Rich Inter-Ac Season

By John Knebels, 04/05/24, 1:00PM EDT


Photos/Videos: Zack Beavers, Zamani Feelings, Zach Gephart, Rick Martin, Patty Morgan & Ryan Nix

By: John Knebels

PHILADELPHIA – Spending time watching and following the scores of 192 girls’ basketball teams in the PIAA tournament from early to late March, culminated in six championships at an often-packed Giant Center in Hershey, PA, one might have surmised how the top teams in the Inter-Academic League would have fared against some of Pennsylvania’s finest competition.

Because their season ended in mid-February, and the league’s representation in the postseason PAISAA tourney concluded on February 23, numerous Inter-Ac standout hoopsters bid teammates and coaches farewell while many of their basketball peers continued competing all the way into late March.

After a riveting regular season in which Notre Dame, Germantown Academy, and Penn Charter each finished with a 10-2 record after twice defeating all of the other competition while splitting their two games against each other, the trio’s “reward” was a three-way tie for first place.

Talk about anticlimactic.

If ever an outcome begged the Inter-Ac to strongly consider nixing the current system of determining the league champion by regular-season records, this was it. If the Inter-Ac imitated the Philadelphia Catholic League’s always-anticipated playoff quarterfinal/semifinal/championship format, it would have set the stage for a dynamite Inter-Ac final.

While not complaining about the current arrangement, the three Inter-Ac championship coaches and the league’s Most Valuable Player expressed consent to some changes.

“Watching teams make runs in the PIAA that you beat easily is hard to swallow,” said Academy of Notre Dame coach Terry Mancini. “I know at Notre Dame, we would welcome an invite to the PIAA.” 

Even though his program has benefitted from no playoffs during its three-year championship run, Penn Charter coach Joe Maguire agrees.

“There are times that it is tough to have teams that are still playing, but there's also times that feels like it's a long time for them to still be playing, too,” said Maguire. “I would love if we had Inter-Ac playoffs.”  

Germantown Academy coach Lauren Power is also open to a new format.

“Of course we would love to still be playing and compete against the best in the state,” said Power. “But it’s not about the length of the season as much as it’s about the quality of the student-athlete experience. If the league considers adopting a playoff, it enhances the experience for all student-athletes. There is nothing like playoff atmosphere.”

Germantown Academy head coach Lauren Power - PSD Photo by Ryan Nix

GA senior and Inter-Ac Most Valuable Player Izzy Casey would have embraced a playoff but comprehends the pros and cons of pushing basketball competition past February.

“I would say there are definitely both negatives and positives of the Inter-Ac,” said Casey, who next year will play at Bucknell University. “I think the great thing about the Inter-Ac is how it encourages multi-sport athletes. Most people on the basketball team play multiple sports, and with the season ending so early, all the girls are able to start their spring seasons on time. I think we play the same amount of games as the PIAA schools, but in a much more compact time period.

“I enjoy the PAISAA tournament, but definitely sometimes wish we could play different teams. It’s pretty much the Inter-Ac and the Friends League. It’s become really hard for Inter-Ac schools on the boys’ and girls’ side to win states because some schools recruit from all over the country. So having an Inter-Ac playoff would give us more of a chance to play in a big game.”

In honor of the most exciting Inter-Ac regular season since Notre Dame, Germantown Academy, and Shipley School forged a three-way championship deadlock back in 1999 – one of only three three-way ties in Inter-Ac history – one final review of Inter-Ac girls’ basketball seems warranted.

After a previous 23-year drought, Penn Charter raised its championship streak to three. The first two – in 2022 and 2023 – were seized outright with a combined record of 23-1. In the past five seasons, the Quakers have amassed a sterling 50-6 league mark.

Led by junior Kaylinn Bethea (17.3 points per game, 5.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 3.7 steals) and freshman Ryan Carter (17.1, 5.7, 3.7, 3.1), Penn Charter came within one point of capturing a third straight outright crown. But a 63-62 loss to Germantown Academy in the penultimate season finale got in the way. The Quakers ultimately defeated the champions of the Philadelphia Catholic League (Archbishop Wood), Public League (Audenreid Charter), and Inter-Ac.

“I said to the team that if they look at the banners in our gym, do they know which years were outright champions and which were co-champions?” said Penn Charter coach Joe Maguire. “These are the rules that were set up for us and by these rules we’re champions, so it’s a great accomplishment.”

Penn Charter’s lone senior, Ashlie Johnson, served as a consistently dependable player and a respected leader for the underclassmen.

“This was a rebuild year and we had to prove ourselves again as we lost major pieces to our puzzle,” said Johnson. “But I do think we handled the pressure well and still were a threat the entire season.”

Johnson was named second-team, all-league.

“This was statement year for me,” said Johnson. “I had to showcase all that I am capable of and make known that I am a significant role player, and I think I executed that.”

Bethea recognized the Quakers’ steady improvement. 

“This season was a progressive year and a laughable three-way tie for the ‘chip,” said Bethea. “As a captain for my first year, I was able to learn how to deal with adversity and bringing different personalities together. It was a tough start in the beginning of the season, but as we kept playing, we were able to create a better bond on the court.”

Penn Charter Junior Kaylinn Bethea was proud of her team for winning a share of the title and celebrating with her scoring her 1000th point in game vs. Agnes Irwin - PSD Video by Zamani Feelings

Penn Charter junior Kaylinn Bethea scored her 1000th point in game vs. Agnes Irwin - PSD Photo by Zamani Feelings

Penn Charter senior Ashlie Johnson #23 - PSD Photo by Zamani Feelings

Penn Charter vs. Germantown Academy - PSD Highlights by Zach Gephart

With a wire-to-wire display of spirited basketball in their 60-39, regular-season finale win over visiting Germantown Academy, Academy of Notre Dame clinched its first title since sharing the 1999 crown. Five days later, the Irish upended Penn Charter, 45-40, in the quarterfinals of the PAISAA tournament before losing to the Philadelphia 76ers – rather, PAISAA champ Westtown Friends – in the semifinals.

“Well, we looked at it like this,” said first-year Notre Dame coach Terry Mancini. “Penn Charter had the opportunity to win it outright at home and lost to GA . . . GA had the opportunity to win the league outright and lost to us by 21 . . . so of the three, we actually earned it by beating GA to make it happen. It’s been a fun ride for us.”

Notre Dame senior Lizzie Halligan joined freshman teammate Riley Davis as a first-team, all-league choice, with freshman Grace Nasr being named second-team.
“This season was a step in the right direction for our program,” said Halligan. “We made major strides to put our name on the map and prove we are one of the best programs in the area. 

(L-R) Senior Lizzie Halligan and freshman Riley Davis starred on both ends of the court to help Notre Dame Academy defeat Germantown Academy and share an Inter-Ac championship. (video/ John Knebels for PSD)

Our record was the best we’ve had in 15-plus years, and the goal is to keep improving from here. With discipline and trust in our coaches, there’s no stopping us in these upcoming years – especially at home; we were undefeated at home this year.”

Asked to assess the more meaningful victory – the must win over Germantown Academy or the one over Penn Charter in the PAISAA quarters – Halligan said they were both equal. 

“The great thing about beating GA was that they had the opportunity to win the league outright at our gym, but we took that away from them and beat them by 21,” said Halligan. “Ending Penn Charter’s season was great as well, and showed that if we had playoffs for an outright champ in the Inter-Ac, our odds of winning it would’ve been very high.”

Freshman Grace Nasr played more like a veteran in Notre Dame Win over Germantown Academy. (Video/ John Knebels)

Notre Dame head coach Terry Mancini appreciated his players' hard work in win over GA. (video/ John Knebels)

Junior Sophia Hall can’t wait for next season.

“It was a learning experience for us all, the wins and losses shaping the team we strived to be,” said Hall. “We left our fears on the sideline and embraced the game. This was the end of one chapter and the start of another.

“The wins over GA and Penn Charter sure were nights to remember. Beating GA was what we wanted to do when we started this season. We gained the confidence to step on that court and say, ‘This is our game, and we are winning.’ Before playing Penn Charter, we already put the image in our head of playing Westtown. We wanted to play them so bad. We put everything we had into beating Penn Charter."

Buoyed by three all-league selections (senior Izzy Casey, Most Valuable Player; senior Jess Aponik, first team; and junior Jess Kolecki, second team), Germantown Academy let an outright title slip from its grasp. After stunning Penn Charter on its own court, 63-62, the Patriots needed to defeat Notre Dame in the regular-season finale three days later, but it didn’t happen.

To her credit, Germantown Academy first-year coach and previous Notre Dame mentor Lauren Power offered no excuses when asked if her team might have been emotionally and physically wiped out after the must-win success at Penn Charter 72 hours earlier.

Then she assessed GA’s first title since 2020.

We earned the championship title in a gutsy one-point win, on the road, against our biggest rival,” said Power. “It doesn’t get much sweeter than that. We will remember that game and those moments celebrating in the locker room for the rest of our lives. At the end of the day, we are champions.

“Honestly, these girls live like champions . . . prepare like champions . . . work like champions. They were humble and hungry all season, and our body of work proved it. It was a championship journey and it was a joy to live it every day with them. I will cherish this season and this group of girls forever.”

In particular, Germantown Academy senior Izzy Casey will recall her senior season as the epitome of success.

Along with helping guide the Patriots to a share of the Inter-Ac title, Casey scored her 1,000th career point in a 54-43 win over Hill School. A few weeks later, she garnered the Inter-Academic League’s Most Valuable Player award.

“It’s been a privilege to be coached by two incredible coaches,” said Casey, referring to legendary previous coach Sherri Retif, who retired last year. “I was kind of nervous when Coach Retif retired, but it was such a smooth transition with Coach Power. Honestly, they are pretty similar coaches. I’ve learned so much from both of them.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better senior year with GA basketball. I thought the overall adjustment to a new coach went super smooth and we all bought into her system right away. I thought the year was filled with some hard-fought wins that helped lead us to a championship. Definitely a season none of us will forget.”

Power waxed effusive when describing Casey as “one of the most special kids I have ever coached.”

GA senior, Isabella Casey scored her 1000th point in a Feb. 1st game vs. Hill School - PSD Photo by Rick Martin

“It’s hard to find the words to sum up just how great she really is – on and off the court,” said Power. “I don’t know where to start. When you have someone who is as selfless and humble as they come - with a blue-collar work ethic, next-level toughness, and who puts her teammates before herself – all you want to do is root for Izzy Casey.

“This is someone who played JV as a freshman, and she had to work and claw and fight for every bucket she ever got. And she did it the right way.

“Izzy is now etched in the history books, a 1000-point scorer, and one of the greatest to ever wear a Patriot jersey.” 

Opining that it is “definitely annoying that the Inter-Ac doesn’t have a championship,” senior Sam Wade only regrets that the Patriots “didn’t play GA basketball when we played Notre Dame.”

Still . . .

“It was my most exciting year in GA basketball and was the most memorable,” said Wade, who will play a fifth year of high school at Perkiomen School. “Everything came together when we performed at the Penn Charter game, which proved how hard we worked all season to win the championship.”

Under coach Chuck Simmons, Episcopal Academy placed fourth at 6-6. Senior co-captain Natalie Magnotta (second-team all-league) led in scoring with 11.7 points per game, including a 25-point burst in a win over Agnes Irwin. Freshman Kate Boerner (7.8 ppg) and senior co-captain Bella Notaro (7.0 ppg) were the team's next leading scorers.

Juniors Brynn Kehl and Ali Dennis added contributions as the team's top two rebounders. EA had a big non-league win in the Scholastic Play-Play event over Public School runner-up Imhotep Charter.

“We definitely grew and learned throughout the season because we were able to work through ups and downs,” said Notaro. “The team bonded each day and became closer through our hard work at practices and a few tough games and a few solid ones. It was a great, tight-knit group of girls to play with for my senior year.” 

Arguably the league’s most improved team, Agnes Irwin finished in fifth place at 4-8 and earned its second postseason Commonwealth Cup. Highlights included first-team, all-league freshman Simone Harvey (15-point average in Inter-Ac) scoring a career-high 36 points against Springside-Chestnut Hill, eighth-grader Milan Harvey thieving a career-best 12 steals against Baldwin, and junior GG Seibert netting 21 points against Baldwin.

“I’m excited about the progress of my team throughout this season,” said AI coach Shanette Lee. “I am very excited with our young team getting better every day.”

With second-team, all-league senior Zahkiyyah Frazier averaging 14.3 points and 13.8 rebounds, Springside-Chestnut Hill Academy finished 1-11.

“With a younger team and new elements, cultivating the chemistry we want for the program has been a major focus,” said SCH coach Bart Jeannoute. “We saw marked improvement from the start of the season. Some of our ninth graders earned varsity experience and supported the team in crucial stretches.”

Baldwin School salvaged the season with a win over Springside-Chestnut Hill Academy.  

“Our hard work paid off,” said Baldwin senior Allie Weiser. “We showed our grit and determination. I was so impressed with our improvement. More than half of our team were freshmen who had never played with or even met the upperclassmen.

“We learned to work together and play to each other's strengths throughout the season. I'm so proud of our team. We finished strong and worked together to have a fun season.”

All Inter-Academic League

First Team

MVP: Izzy Casey, GA

Jess Aponik, GA

Ryan Carter, PC

Kaylinn Bethea, PC

Riley Davis, ND

Lizzie Halligan, ND

Simone Harvey, AIS

Second Team

Zahkiyyah Frazier, SCH

Ashlie Johnson, PC

Jess Kolecki, GA

Natalie Magnotta, EA

Grace Nasr, ND

(Contact John Knebels at or on Twitter @johnknebels.)