ABINGTON >> The high school basketball season is a grind and most teams finish different then they start.
In the case of the Abington Friends School girls basketball team, the changes over the course of the season figure to be pretty drastic. A roster with no seniors and a lot of players making their first appearances in a varsity game, the Kangaroos only have room to grow and improve by February.
While AFS head coach Jeff Bond is excited about the potential in this group, he’s also focused on their present. On Tuesday, that meant getting into the win column which the ‘Roos did with a 44-31 win over visiting Penn Charter.
“We’re trying to figure out who our leaders will be, who can get us settled when things get chaotic,” Bond said. “It’s all a learning process for us and these early games are great for us. We’re 1-3 but we played four good teams and we’re learning a lot about ourselves. We played better today than we did over the weekend.”
Abington Friends was a young team last year too, but it had a really good trio of seniors to lean on in close games or when things got frantic on the court. Losing Jade Young (Hartford), Khadijah Dickson (Nyack College) and Alyssa DeNofa (Mansfield) to college basketball not only took a lot of points, rebounds, assists and so on, it also left AFS looking for new leaders on the floor.
This group is made up some very good basketball players, they just lack the experience and seasoning to identify certain game situations or when it’s time to control their tempo. There were flashes of it Tuesday, but also plenty of signs of just how raw the roster is with a flurry of second half turnovers that let Penn Charter start to chop into the lead.
“We won every quarter, but it wasn’t always pretty and it’s not going to be pretty and sometimes it may get ugly but if we can be strong and try to win games like this, it’ll be good for us in the long run,” Bond said. “We defended pretty well and held them to 31 points. You hold anyone to 31, you have a pretty good chance of winning.”
AFS started slowly, but relied on their defense to find their way back into the game. Once point guard Mihjae Hayes buried a 3-pointer late in the first quarter for an 11-9 lead, the Kangaroos never trailed again.
Sophomore forward Paige Mott paced Abington Friends with 10 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals but had just one point at halftime. It was two of the Kangaroos’ newest players who led the charge offensively. Hayes scored 14 to go with four steals and three assists while freshman Zaniyyah Ross-Barnes scored 12 with seven rebounds, two blocks and three steals. Both Hayes and Ross-Barnes are first-year varsity players.
In a game where a lot of their shots weren’t falling, the Kangaroos kept plugging away on defense and combined for 16 steals. AFS has a lot of team speed and a couple times, a rebound by Mott under the hoop led to an outlet layup for the lightning-quick Hayes.
“We believe we’re at our best when we get into gaps, get some steals and get up the floor,” Bond said. “We put a bunch of different pressure defenses on them, got a number of steals and while we didn’t make as many layups as we would have liked off of them, those will come.”
AFS led 21-15 at the half and extended their lead to 32-25 after three quarters. The fourth quarter showed a bit of where the Kangaroos may struggle early in the season. Instead of building their lead, they watched Penn Charter twice cut the lead to five.
For the guards, it was a matter of things they can improve with more game experience. There were a couple forced passes, or trying for a play that wasn’t there. Last year, Dickson or Young would’ve had the ball late in the game, so for most of these players, it’s learning on the job.
“We’re accepting the challenge of playing, it’s not all 32 minutes of every game but we have flashes where we see them ready to take the best the other team has,” Bond said. “We were down eight in the third quarter against Germantown Academy, they said let’s accept this challenge and they did, taking the game to overtime. If we can combine that with a little more growth, a little more maturity and a little more understanding how to play with each other, we’ll be where we want to be at the end of the season.”
Bond said Ross-Barnes, Aby Camarou, Hayes and Meliah Van Otoo have played very well for first-year varsity contributors and he cited Mott and Rosie Rabin as two players stepping up into leadership roles. Mott has become the voice of the defense and was a starter all last season, so at least compared to her teammates, she’s one of the veterans along with guard Kendall Hodges.
“I’m excited to see where we are in February,” Bond said. “There’s a lot of growth to be made, positive growth, because we’re so young. We just have to make sure we keep growing throughout the season.”
ABINGTON FRIENDS SCHOOL 44, PENN CHARTER 31
PENN CHARTER 9 6 10 6 – 31
ABINGTON FRIENDS SCHOOL 11 10 11 12 – 44
Abington Friends School: Mihjae Hayes 5 2-2 14, Kendall Hodges 1 1-2 3, Jordan Smith 1 1-2 3, Paige Mott 4 2-2 10, Zaniyyah Ross-Barnes 6 0-0 12, Aby Camarou 1 0-0 2. Nonscoring: Meliah Van Otoo, Rosie Rabin. Totals: 18 6-10 44.
Penn Charter: Carter 2 3-8 5, Maley 1 3-4 5, Williams 4 0-1, Hamitek 0 1-2 1, Hunt 2 1-2 5, Hnatkowsky 1 0-1 3, Barnes 1 0-1 2. Totals: 11 8-19 31.
3-pointers: AFS – Hayes 2, PC – Hnatkowsky.