WEST CHESTER >> The 2017-18 girls basketball campaign was a season of firsts for West Chester Henderson.
First-ever Ches-Mont League championship. First-ever District 1 5A title. First-ever trip to the PIAA Class 5A quarterfinals.
The Warriors won their first 30 games of the season, and their only loss of the year came in that state quarterfinal, a five-point loss to to two-time defending state champ Archbishop Wood.
And in the middle of the Warriors’ unforgettable 30-1 season were their twin towers, 6-2 junior forward Grace Ferguson and 5-11 senior Abbey Shea, the Daily Local News Girls Basketball Co-Players of the Year.
Henderson head coach Greta Neff — the Daily Local News Girls Basketball Coach of the Year — appreciated the key role that Ferguson (who averaged 12 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Shea (11 points, 7 rebounds) played in the Warriors’ championship season.
“Our method of attack this year was to pound the ball inside, get high percentage shots, and allow our bigs to open up the floor for our guards to penetrate and hit the outside shot,” said Neff. “On the defensive end, our high pressure defense is dependent on having length and size … both of which Abbey and Grace provided. They covered so much ground, particularly under the basket, which was key in altering the opponent’s shots and forcing them into difficult ones. One of our greatest assets this year was the fact that we had two very good bigs to protect the basket on the defensive end, and attack the basket on the offensive end. Abbey and Grace played so well with each other … it was fun to watch their relationship grow on the court.”
Both Ferguson and Shea credit the Warriors’ close-knit teamwork for their memorable 2017-18 season.
“We rarely played selfishly, and if we did Coach Neff didn’t hesitate to remind us that our teamwork is what got us where we are,” said Ferguson. “Our team didn’t have one superstar. We were disciplined players who trusted each other and believed in our coach.
“The players on the bench were as much a part of our success. They pushed us every day at practice to be the best team we could be. Whenever one of us missed a foul shot, fouled, or missed a layup, we could always count on them to make us laugh and encourage us to continue fighting.”
Shea said, “We have confidence in each other skills and work well to complement each other. We know when to make the extra pass, we are confident in the shots we take, and have confidence in the people taking them.
“Everyone on the team, 1 through 19, worked to make everyone else better. Our toughest competition was the people we played against every day in practice – and that was a key to all 30 of our wins.”
Shea grew up with the game, having played organized basketball since first grade (starting with the YMCA). Her mother Anne-Marie, who played basketball for Connecticut College in 1989-1990, was her first coach.
“When my mother was young, my grandfather taught her the importance of defense,” said Shea. “She has brought that legacy down to me.”
Neff appreciated Shea’s defense, giving the Henderson senior the assignment of guarding the other team’s best player. The Warrior head coach lauded Shea’s variety of talents.
“Abbey’s timely jump shots, passing ability, and offensive rebounding always provided a huge boost for the team,” said Neff. “She is a true gamer, always trying to outsmart the other team and being efficient with her movements. Her stat line may not be the most impressive, but Abbey did so many things for our team that are not represented by statistics.”
While Shea got an early start in basketball, Ferguson was more of a late bloomer, having dreamed of becoming an Olympic swimmer as a youngster.
“For most of my childhood, I was a swimmer who played basketball,” said Ferguson. “In 6th and 7th grade, I played for the Chester County Wizards, and it wasn’t until 8th grade, when I joined Bill McDonough’s AAU Lady Runnin’ Rebels, that I realized that I wanted to be a basketball player.
“My whole coaching family at Rebels, Bill McDonough, Trish Green, Rob Drysdal, Krystal Lazos, and Matt Smick, have taught me how to use my height at my advantage. They showed me how to rebound better, how to work in the post, and how to run the floor.”
Ferguson has also worked with former Henderson player Shante Eavns, who helped Grace with the development of her post moves and finishing around the basket.
“Grace has developed into a force on the low block,” said Neff. “Her ability to find a shot and rebound provided us with a good source of offense and we leaned on that down the stretch. Her ability to time her jump and block the ball was huge, as it allowed us to gamble a little more defensively away from the basket.”
Ferguson said, “Coach Neff has taught me to believe in myself, my teammates, and my coaches, and most importantly, she has taught me to never give up. Whenever we were losing, she always pushed us to find a way to win.”
The Henderson junior calls her father Jim, who played basketball for Downingtown High School from 1983 to 1986, “my most important mentor.”
“My dad was the first person to introduce me to basketball, and helped me fall in love with the sport,” said Ferguson. “He has driven me to many games, many practices, and every single training session over the years. I can always rely on him to put a smile on my face whether it be during a rough game or just a bad day.”
Shea’s game before coming to Henderson was honed with the Malvern Basketball League and the AAU Chester County Wizards.
“When I played in the Malvern league, our team was not the most talented bunch, but our coach, Mr. [Larry] Persick, taught us fundamentals that made us good competitors and ball players. Mr. Persick has been the best fan this season. He has attended almost every game, he knows so much about the game of basketball and has taught me to play tough all the time.
“My Chester County Wizards coaches, Mr. [Mike] Lynch, Mr. [Pat] Lyons, Mr. [Craig] Cody, Mr. [Joe] Mayo, Mr. [Dave] Hinkley, and Mrs. [Kim] Greenhut, have all believed in me and shaped me to be the hardworking player and person I am today.”
While Ferguson and Shea developed on the basketball court the past couple of years, the Warriors matched their growth, finishing fifth in the District 1 5A tournament last winter, and qualifying for States.
Then came the historic 2017-18 season, starting with the Warriors’ first-ever Ches-Mont League championship. Henderson defeated their neighborhood rivals, West Chester Rustin, 63-58, in the championship final Feb. 13.
“I remember we had just shook hands with Rustin and we ran into our locker room, forgetting that they had to give us our trophy,” said Ferguson. “We started chanted ‘Jump Ball,’ which is ritual we do after every game, before we were told we are supposed to be in the gym. After sprinting back towards the gym, we were given our trophy. I can’t even describe the feeling I got from receiving the trophy in front of our community.”
Eighteen days later, Henderson defeated Villa Maria, 41-32, at the Liacouras Center for its first-ever PIAA District 1 5A title – this from a program that had never made it to the district semifinals before 2018.
“I remember looking up at the scoreboard as I walked to the free throw line in the last seconds of the [final],” said Shea. “I saw we were up by eight points and realized we were going to win, I just smiled along with the rest of my teammates. It was incredible.
“When the buzzer sounded everything was surreal. The support from our school, families, and community was overwhelming. Everyone on the team was genuinely happy, and had an important role in the game; knowing this made the victory and celebration all the more special.”
Ferguson said, “There were so many emotions flying around within the huddle after we won – pride, happiness, relief. I vividly remember hugging [teammate] Adrienne [Smith], then looking around at our fans and feeling this immense feeling of pride that caused me to start tearing up. This game not only was important to me, but it was important to our coaches, our families, our fans, our school, and our community.”
In the PIAA 5A state tournament, the Warriors defeated Spring Grove 52-30, then beat Susquehannock 57-47 before falling to Archbishop Wood 40-35. It was the closest margin of victory for Wood in their state tournament run to the title.
While the loss to Wood was Shea’s final basketball game (she is not playing in college), the Henderson senior has a full agenda for the upcoming year. She plans to study nursing at either the University of Pittsburgh or West Chester University. Meanwhile, she is president of Henderson’s SADD club (Students Against Destructive Decisions).
“We work hard to raise awareness for suicide prevention, mental health, and drug/alcohol abuse,” said Shea. “I joined this club because I am passionate about helping other people and it is important to talk about these issues because they are very real and affect everyone; the more knowledgeable people are about these issues the more comfortable people can be addressing them.”
Ferguson, who will be a counselor for a week-long camp in May for the Pierce Middle School 7th graders at Cape Henlopen State Park, eventually would like to attend college on the East Coast (“close to a major city”) and study political science and then continue on to law school.
“My end goal is to become a FBI agent,” said Ferguson.
Fun facts – Grace Ferguson
Favorite book: The Hunger Games.
Favorite Author: J.K Rowling.
Favorite basketball venue: Spooky Nook (in Manheim).
Favorite TV show: Friends and Criminal Minds.
Favorite movie: The Greatest Showman, or any romantic comedy.
Favorite athlete: Michael Phelps.
Favorite pre-game pump up song: “Any Taylor Swift song.”
Favorite team: Villanova.
Favorite place to visit: My family’s cabin in Maine.
Favorite pre- game meal: An apple or a banana.
Person I most admire: “I can’t pick just one person, but if I were to choose it would be my whole family. My mom (Marlena) is the hardest worker I have ever met and I hope that as I grow up, people will say the same about me. My dad (Jim) has showed me that being myself is what helps you grow and my sister (Hannah) has shown me how to laugh at anything that comes my way.”
Fun facts – Abbey Shea
Favorite book: Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
Favorite basketball venue: Spooky Nook.
Favorite TV show: Grey’s Anatomy.
Favorite movie: Zootopia.
Favorite athlete: Steph Curry.
Favorite pre-game pump-up song: How Far I’ll Go, by Moana.
Favorite team: Flyers (after HGB).
Favorite place to visit: Maine.
Favorite pre-game meal: Clementines and pretzels.
Person I most admire: “My Mom and Dad because they support me in everything I do.”
Family members: parents Matt and Anne-Marie, sisters Ellie (freshman on the Henderson team) and Jackie.