Abington Friends finally reaches top, wins Friends Schools League title

HAVERFORD >> As the last shot of the night for Shipley School hit off the rim, Abington Friends School senior Alyssa DeNofa started jumping up and down.

As the ball hit the floor, DeNofa practically floated off of it, first meeting Jade Young just past the 3-point line, then flew into the onrushing arms of the Kangaroos bench players. Behind her, Young and Khadijah Hickson followed.

Having so close so many times, there was nothing that would stop this celebration. Abington Friends was the Friends School League champion.

“Jade and I have been here since seventh grade and since then, the team has been to the ‘chip four times and lost every single one until today,” DeNofa said. “It was a great way to round out our senior year. The last couple seconds, we were up six and we knew they couldn’t score a six-point play so I just started jumping up in the air. I knew we had won and it was one of the best feelings ever.”

It wasn’t a pretty game, but the beaming faces of the Abington Friends players showed they didn’t really care. All that mattered was the final score, 47-41 AFS, and the champion medals they all wore around their necks.

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” Hickson said. “It feels great, I just can’t find a way to explain the feeling. To know all our hard work finally paid off this season is special. But we’re still fighting, we just found out we’re the top seed in states.”

Hickson hasn’t been at AFS as long as DeNofa or Young, but she’s been friends with Young as long as either can remember. They were all key players on last year’s squad that lost in the FSL final, the first time any of them were really a part of one of those setbacks. That set the goal for this season, and their laser-like focus on winning the Friends School League defined the entire season.

“We’ve been chipping at it,” Young said. “We lost to Shipley by like 40 when I was in seventh and eighth grade. We’ve continued to chip away at it and this is just a really good feeling.”

It was the first FSL title for Abington Friends since the 2006-07 season.

Friday’s final, which was played at Haverford College, started slow and saw the Roos lead by just two, 20-18, at the halftime break. It was a better start than the regular-season meeting, where AFS trailed by 12 before rallying back, but neither team was in much of a rhythm on Friday.

AFS at least had Young and Hickson, who ended up combining for 35 of the team’s 47 points, able to find a few baskets in the first half. The Roos led 27-20 after three quarters, with DeNofa hitting her lone shot of the night, a 3-pointer, for the margin. In the fourth quarter, the teams would nearly match their first half output in what became a tense free-throw shootout broken up by a couple of key plays by each team.

Hickson and Young took 18 foul shots in the fourth while freshman Kendall Hodges took two. For the most part, AFS has played lopsided games this season and the Roos haven’t been in many contests where good foul shooting would decide the outcome. On top of that, they’re a little inconsistent at the line.

Other than the shooter, DeNofa was the only AFS player inside the arc for every foul shot in the fourth and after every first attempt, she went up to whoever was shooting for a quick pep talk.

“Our coaches are a big part of that, before every game and especially this game, they’ll tell us to breathe and relax,” DeNofa said. “Yeah, we do get a little hyped up more than we should, but it’s just because we’re in high school and that’s what you do. Our coaches are awesome at handling that and controlling our nerves and our fears.”

Shipley guard Yndia Bobo tried to will her team back in the fourth, getting to the line almost at will and pouring in 12 points before she fouled out with 1:37 left. AFS didn’t get a chance to breathe since Lauren Ross stepped right into that role, hitting a jumper with 29.3 seconds left to cut the score to 43-41.

Many of the AFS players wear a dark blue headband adorned with the school logo in their games. Just to the left of the logo is a small message, #HRT. It’s read like heart and is the first letter of the three words printed on the back of their warm-up shirts, Hard Work, Respect, Togetherness. The Roos needed all three on Friday.

Hodges scored seven key points while freshman Paige Mott contributed the last two AFS points in the game. While Hickson and Young provided most of the scoring, the other four players who got minutes provided numerous invaluable plays.

Hickson played a long stretch of the game with a bloody nose plugged up. It was the really the only option for her, she wasn’t about to come out of the game she had worked all season to be in.

“It just shows that we never give up,” Hickson said. “I could have came out of the game, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to be there for my team. If it wasn’t and injury that would stop me and I could keep playing, I was going to keep playing hard.”

After Ross’ score, Young sank a pair of foul shots only to see Ross drive into the lane again on the following possession. Two possessions earlier, she drove and drew a foul on AFS freshman Jordan Smith. This time, Smith got into position first and drew the offensive charge, fouling Ross out and giving the ball back to the Kangaroos.

The three seniors agreed it was the play of the game.

“That was one of the most clutch plays in AFS history,” DeNofa said. “She fouled her a couple plays before on the same move and she knew next time, I’m going to step in and take a charge. When she took the charge, we knew it was our game and that we were winning.”

It almost felt lost in everything else, but Young also scored her 1,000th point in the first half of Friday’s win. The senior, who has committed to Hartford, knew it was an accomplishment, but hopes its just one of several she picks up this postseason.

“It’s a great milestone to get, but we still have work to do,” Young said. “It just says that I have to keep attacking and getting my points and continue to help others.”

Hickson, who stands about 5-foot-3, turned in a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds while Young had 17 points and 10 rebounds with each guard chipping in two steals. Mott had six blocks and five boards while DeNofa, known for her shooting, didn’t let an off night take her out of the game. The senior pulled down nine rebounds, dished three assists, came up with four steals, had a block and forced two crucial jump balls with Shipley’s 6-foot-2 center Anna Camden.

“When my shots don’t fall, I play even harder on defense because I want to make up for not making my shots,” DeNofa said. “That’s something I can do, especially with the jump balls and the rebounds. I usually don’t get a lot of rebounds, I’m 5-(foot)-4 and that’s usually not what happens but I think I was at the right place at the right time and my determination to do other things than just shoot and score was a lot stronger today.”

AFS’ season is not over. The Kangaroos are the No. 1 seed in the PAISAA tournament that begins next week, facing either Springside Chestnut Hill or Friends Central on Friday. With their primary goal of a FSL title met, the Roos are going all-in to try and put a double-banner up in their gym with a state title to go with it.

“That’s how we played this game, with a lot of heart, a lot of hard work, respect and togetherness,” Hickson said. “All the shots, yeah they went in and we played good defense but at the end, that was really what mattered. It was a relief, honestly. I was nervous all day, I was nervous at halftime, I was nervous when we were up four.

“I didn’t breathe until that clock hit :00 and we all realized we had won.”

Abington Friends School 47, Shipley School 41
Shipley School 7 11 2 21 – 41
Abington Friends School 7 13 7 20 – 47
Shipley Shipley (41): Yndia Bobo 4 9-13 17, Anna Camden 3 0-0 6, Lauren Ross 4 3-4 12, Casey Winter 1 1-4 3, Elizabeth Talluto 1 1-1 3. Nonscoring: Scutt, Joseph. Totals: 13 14-22 41.
Abington Friends School (47): Khadijah Hickson 5 6-8 18, Jade Young 4 8-12 17, Kendall Hodges 3 1-2 7, Paige Mott 1 0-2 2, Alyssa DeNofa 1 0-0 3. Nonscoring: Jordan Smith. Totals: 14 15-24 47.
3-pointers: S- Ross; AFS – Hickson 2, Young, DeNofa

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