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SportsZone for Sept. 14

SportsZone for Sept. 14

The time for another exciting Penn Charter fall season is upon us. Practices and scrimmages got underway in late August, and a couple of teams have even seen some actual game action in these very early stages of the season. 

This year, SportsZone will again be the destination for all things Penn Charter athletics, featuring a weekly column of game recaps and interviews with coaches and student-athletes. 

To get us started, let’s take a closer look at each fall team and how things are shaping up for a new season on West School House Lane. 


FOOTBALL
View 2023 team photos

Boys Varsity Football photo

With the graduation of several key members on offense and defense, the Penn Charter football program enters the 2023 season with a young roster and opportunities aplenty for its players. Both of PC’s quarterbacks from a season ago, Colin Schumm and Seamus McCain, have moved on to college, as has Isaiah Grimes, the team’s leading receiver in 2022. There will be jobs up for grabs on the offensive and defensive lines with the departure of Cliff Harling and Christian Austin. Liam Rowan, a dynamic, do-it-all two-way player who had eight receiving touchdowns, 48 tackles, three and a half sacks and two interceptions last year, is now an OPC, as are key defensive contributors Davin Barnett, David Comitale and Chase Sahingur. 

“It’s a very young group,” head coach Tom Coyle said. “They don’t have much in-game experience, and it’s too early to gauge how guys will respond on the field when things get fast and physical. Practice has been going well, and I’m eager to see them out there.”

The biggest area of strength is PC’s running game, headlined by senior Zack Curtin, who led the team with 674 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns while also making 30 tackles on defense last year. Senior Ohifame Ijeboi was limited to just one game a season ago, but he did rush for 622 yards in 2021 as a sophomore. Junior Eian Kilpatrick could also see an uptick in usage in the backfield. 

“Those are three very good running backs,” Coyle said. “We have to become better up front due to inexperience at quarterback and develop the offensive line quickly to give these running backs the opportunity to find a seam and make plays.”

Some other familiar faces returning to the program are seniors Gavin Michener, Jimmy Melnick and Thomas Cordaro, and junior Hugh Maley. The Quakers finished last season 5-5 overall and 1-4 in the Inter-Ac, after coming out of the gate with a hot 4-0 non-league start.

“Our kids understand the challenges and adversity facing them,” Coyle said. “We have to stay healthy and figure out a way to compete. We’ll take it one day at a time as we discover our identity. The kids and coaching staff are all on board.”
View this season’s football schedule.


FIELD HOCKEY
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Girls Varsity Field Hockey

A familiar face will be leading the field hockey program this fall, as Rachel Dyer is stepping in as the team’s interim head coach. Dyer graduated from Penn Charter in 1992, played field hockey at the school, and has served as an assistant coach. She is also currently the school’s database manager and registrar.

The Quakers had a very successful non-league portion of their schedule, finishing 6-2 in 2022. However, the team was unable to win a game in an extremely talented and deep Inter-Ac, something Dyer thinks will change sometime soon. 

“This group has been phenomenal so far,” Dyer said. “I’ve been involved with this program for a long time and I’m proud of how we’ve really grown participation, with more than 40 girls making up the varsity and JV rosters this year. These girls support each other and are really looking forward to the season, and I think we will win some league games.”

The program graduated 14 seniors from last year’s roster, but Dyer is encouraged by what she still has at her disposal. Senior Zady Hasse is a “rock solid center defender” who will play field hockey at Kenyon College next year. Hasse manages the field well, works hardin practice, and was praised by Dyer as a strong leader. Senior Colleen McLafferty and sophomores Harbor Campbell, Molly Dougherty and Ana Buckley are all capable of scoring goals. More returning players from last year’s group include seniors Keira Thorell and Grace Walter and junior Fiona Brady, while junior Kenighan Mattice is a new transfer from Episcopal Academy.

“The Inter-Ac is incredibly strong, but I feel good about getting a win or two or three,” Dyer said. “We’d like to end with a winning record while continuing to improve our game. We have the competitiveness, athleticism and desire to be successful.”
View this season’s field hockey schedule.


BOYS SOCCER
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Boys Varsity Soccer

The boys soccer team is coming off a promising season that finished 13-8-1 overall and 5-4-1 in league play, good for a second-place tie in the standings. The 13 wins were an 11-game improvement from the 2021 season, and optimism remains high heading into the new campaign. 

The Quakers kicked their season off with a 2-1 victory over Saint Joseph’s Prep on Aug. 30, and the team returns several key contributors this fall. Will Adair and Willem Van Beelen, two of PC’s top goal scorers in 2022, will anchor the front line as sophomores. Seniors Jimmy Melnick, Joey DiBenedetto and Britton Armbrister all return to a defensive backfield that allowed the fewest goals in the league a season ago. While goalie Shawn Flynn graduated, the Quakers brought back Pete Punchello, who split time in net with Flynn in 2022. Senior Nick Kraemer and junior Ryder Stearn are two additional returners whom head coach Bob DiBenedetto is excited to see develop. 

“A lot of returners is always a good thing,” Bob DiBenedetto said. “Will and Willem scored a lot of our goals last year and are fully healthy, which is a big deal for us. I think we can score goals and I am confident in our defense, with some good players back in the midfield as well. We should be able to put a strong product on the field.”

In addition to Flynn, the Quakers will need to withstand the losses of starters Owen Black, Quinn Coyle, Chet Kempinski and Julian Stevenson, all of whom graduated. Even so, there is plenty of reason for optimism for another strong season on the pitch.

“Last year we built some momentum,” DiBenedetto said. “I think we’re good enough to take the next step. Every game feels like a championship game in our league, because you need those standings points to win the Inter-Ac. We just want an opportunity at the end of the year to be part of the conversation.”.”
View this season’s boys soccer schedule. 


GIRLS SOCCER
View 2023 team photos

Girls Varsity Soccer

The girls soccer program officially kicked off the fall season with an impressive 4-3 win at Archbishop Ryan on Aug. 25. Senior Olivia Linus, one of the team’s most skilled players on offense a year ago, scored the game-winner on a free kick in double overtime. Freshman Ally Bradby tallied a pair of goals, while sophomore Lauren Bucksar also found the back of the net.

The Quakers are coming off an 8-10-1 overall season, with a 4-8 mark in league play. The team dealt with a multitude of injuries which contributed to an up-and-down season, but on the plus side it allowed head coach Ashley Maher to play several younger players who accrued valuable experience on the field.

“We have a great outlook this season if we can stay healthier,” Maher said. “The freshmen class has looked promising, as have our sophomores led by Lauren and Lucy Sokoloff. We’re still figuring out where everyone will be on the field, but everyone has stepped up so far.”

PC graduated five seniors but brings back enough returning talent that Maher is hopeful the team can enjoy a winning season this time around. She’s excited about the defensive unit, led by senior Haley Lewinski and sophomores Cassidy McCusker and Carly Lewinski. In addition to Bradby, Bucksar and Linus, Maher expects big things on offense from players such as juniors Tristan Raymond and Jules Toomey and senior Gia McCusker. Senior Maia Kafer is back to serve as PC’s starting goalie.

“We didn’t always get the results we wanted last year, but we threw our younger players  into the fire and they learned so much,” Maher said. “They have been in high-pressure situations as freshmen and sophomores, so I know they can handle themselves. Last season set us up for a promising year in 2023.We want a winning season and to be a top competitor in the Inter-Ac.”
View this season’s girls soccer schedule. 


BOYS WATER POLO
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Boys Varsity Water Polo

The boys water polo program will be led by first-year head coach Andre Nyce, who was previously an assistant at La Salle University. Nyce also began coaching at the Wissahickon Aquatic Club in 2021, where he got acquainted with some of the players who will be on his first PC team.

The Quakers finished 12-15 overall and 3-5 in league play a season ago. PC graduated three of its top players from that squad in Cormac Stevens, Scott Sweeney and Juan Tovar, but also brings back some experience along with a few talented newcomers. At the head of the pack is senior captain Vikram Verma, along with classmates PJ Duffy, Christian Clauss, Elliot Dziedzic and Mac Haines, as well as juniors Taggart Kohles, Greyson Catlow-Sidler and starting goalie James Walters.

“I give all the credit to our seniors who have been leaders in practice while showing their skills in the water,” Nyce said. “I feel lucky to have five seniors and four juniors, three of whom will be starting. Practices have been going well.. I am excited to coach this team.”

Nyce said Duffy has stood out early on with his size and athletic ability, while Walters leads the defense from a very important position. 

“I expect we will face some adversity early in the season, but our goal is to finish first or second in the standings,” Nyce said. “The hope is that the team in the water in August and September will be improved, stronger and smarter in November. This is a great opportunity for me to coach here at Penn Charter, and I know that I am in a special place. Everything has been very positive, and our student-athletes have been remarkable.”
View this season’s boys water polo schedule. 


GIRLS WATER POLO
Photos for the girls water polo team will be available on Sept. 22.

Girls Water Polo action shot

The Quakers are coming off a highly successful 14-4 season in 2022 and are bringing back a majority of the players from that unit. That being said, the team’s two graduated seniors of Lindsay and Merrill Gadsden did account for 45 percent of PC’s goals, so there will certainly be challenges ahead.

“We have to reinvent ourselves from an offensive perspective,” head coach Brian Hecker said. “The girls have worked hard, and we have seen some really awesome improvements in our early scrimmages. Our defense has been strong from the start.”

Nine of the 14 players on Hecker’s roster have three or more years of high school experience, which is a big plus. Ellie Choate will be a senior starter, and other seniors Hecker expects to get important minutes include Grace Agosto, Claire Lewis, Macie Bergmann and Kala Zingle. Eliza Black, Zoe Page, Ryan Hatty, Grace Magee and Ava Gonnella comprise a strong junior class, while sophomores Caroline Sumner and Lili DeMartinis are poised to make big jumps as sophomores. Hecker called freshman goalie Chelsea Gadsden, who played varsity as an eighth-grader, “already one of the best goalies in the league.”

Hecker said he will rely on Black, Page, Hatty, Sumner and DeMartinis to fill up the stat sheet in several categories to offset the loss of Lindsay and Merrill Gadsden on offense. 

“The biggest thing we will need to do to have success this year is find an offensive identity as a team,” Hecker said. “The coaches feel confident about our defense, but the offense will need to work together and find a way to hit the back of the net.

“The goals of the team are simple and remain the same from the past few years. First, we want to make sure we are competitive in every single game, no matter who we are matched up against. Secondly, we hope to win on PC/GA Day. And lastly, we would like to win our third Eastern Prep Championship tournament in a row.”
View this season’s girls water polo schedule. 


BOYS CROSS COUNTRY
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Boys Cross Country

Coming off a second-place finish in the Inter-Ac and third place at PAISAAs, head coach Tim Zwall is excited to see how the Quakers respond to losing three of their top five runners from a season ago in Wes Trautwein, Jack Frank and James Glomb. Luckily for Zwall, two other top-five runners, Nate Johnson and T.J. Zwall, are back and still only juniors. 

Additionally, Peyton Burnett, Alex Coupas and Liam Stewart got valuable experience as freshmen in 2022, and senior Elijah Leckerman provides leadership in his fourth year with the program.

“I’m very happy with our progress so far,” Tim Zwall said. “We’re looking for younger guys to step up since we only have one senior, and most of the 15 guys on the team are freshmen and sophomores. A lot of them trained really hard over the summer and are in great shape.”

T.J. Zwall and Johnson are two of the best distance runners in the Inter-Ac, and the Quakers should remain competitive so long as those two remain healthy throughout the season. Both were named captains for the 2023 squad, along with Leckerman. 

“We’d like to have more seniors, but I’ve had several conversations with T.J. and Nate, who are ready to step up as leaders,” Tim Zwall said. “The boys all get along, and it’s a really tight-knit group. I’m looking forward to it.”

Coach Zwall said in addition to T.J. Zwall and Johnson, he expects Burnett, sophomore Ben Berger and freshman Matthew Dunn to round out the top-five. As of this moment, the second group headlined by Leckerman, Stewart and Coupas are about a minute behind the top runners. 

“Peyton took six minutes off his time as a freshman, so it’s all about developing these guys,” Tim Zwall said. “Episcopal is one of the best teams in the state and was ranked nationally last year, but we’d like to hold on to second place and also try to close that gap since they also lost three of their top runners. Our guys will surprise some people if we can avoid injury.”
View this season’s boys cross country schedule. 


GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY
View 2023 team photos

Girls Cross Country

It was a very successful season in 2022 for girls cross country, who finished second at both leagues and states while taking first place in both the Paul Short and Six Flags invitationals. Head Coach Candice Lee considers herself lucky to bring back most of last year’s team, with the only seniors who graduated being Veronica Lentz and Isabella Brightbill. 

Lee’s top three runners will more than likely be junior Alli DeLisi, sophomore Michaela Poland and senior Grace Neuwirth, all of whom are some of the top competitors in the Inter-Ac. 

“We are still a very young team, but the group has looked good so far,” Lee said. “We realistically think we can hold on to second place, as these athletes like to win and are hungry for more. They’ve all been pushing themselves hard in practice.”

Lee said she is excited about seeing the improvements junior Louella Whitaker and sophomore Natalia Modzelewski will make this season, while sophomores Audrey Abernethy and Nora Prasad have also impressed in these very early stages.

“Our goals are to see their times come down for each meet, as well as to stay healthy and just enjoy the season in general,” Lee said. “Alli, Michaela and Grace have developed into great runners and leaders, and that work ethic and accountability have helped the younger runners . They are building the foundation to pass down to the next batch of kids.”
View this season’s girls cross country schedule. 


GOLF
View 2023 team photos

Boys Golf

The golf team graduated only three seniors from last year’s team that finished fourth  in the Inter-Ac, so there is a good deal of returning talent ready to hit the links in 2023. In addition to the familiar faces, the program features a new one at the forefront in first-year head coach Ari Flaisher. Flaisher coached JV girls' golf at Episcopal Academy last year and has also worked at Haverford High School and Rosemont College. His son transferred from Haverford High to PC for the upcoming school year, and Flaisher decided to apply for the job when he saw the  opening..

“The culture I’m inheriting here is amazing,” Flaisher said. “They’ve looked fantastic so far, just a great group of guys who genuinely like each other. Many of these kids play club golf and are ready to go, and I just want them to step to that first tee with a little more belief. It’s a very competitive league, but they are capable of finishing in the top three.”

Some of the key returners include seniors Sam Davey and Holden Hummel; juniors Teddy Davey, Dean Kaiser, Will Kaiser and Emmitt Armbrister; and freshman Jasper Dittus, who got varsity experience last season as an eighth-grader. 

“I’m still getting a handle on who they are as golfers,” Flaisher said. “They look comfortable in their own skin while still learning and dissecting their games. I want to help them get a better idea of where the ball is going when they hit it. We also want to take advantage of the strength and conditioning program, which is a huge reason why Penn Charter has been successful in other sports. To me, strong bodies equals strong minds. 

“The team bonding and chemistry already exists at a high level. They are authentic and genuine, and they enjoy being around each other. Golf is an individual game, but at the same time we want the eight guys who are playing on a given day to look each other in the eye and treat it as a team game, too. If we come together as one, that can propel us throughout the season.”
View this season’s golf schedule. 


GIRLS TENNIS
View 2023 team photos

Girls Tennis

The Quakers are coming off a very strong season in which they finished 13-4 overall and 8-4 in the league, which was good for a third-place finish in the Inter-Ac. The team did graduate top singles player Lexi Bari, as well as her classmates Grace Jordan-Weinstein and Ella Parke; however, PC brings back a lot of talent from that team, including senior Savannah Abernethy, juniors Mariah Mays, Leila Feldman, Karya Karabucak and Bridgette Gold, and sophomore Jordan Simon. 

One new face of note is Rob Isaacs, who will be taking over as the program’s head coach in 2023. Isaacs is the co-owner and co-CEO of the High Performance Tennis Academy in Bala Cynwyd and has plenty of experience that he brings to the table.

“It’s been a real pleasure working with some of the players so far,” Isaacs said. “I’ve been really impressed with all of them. I’ve enjoyed meeting them and helping them make improvements to their tennis games. We’re looking forward to a great season.”

Like in every other sport, the Inter-Ac is loaded with talent, so the Quakers will certainly face some challenges as Isaacs continues to get to know his players. Almost 40 girls came out to initial practices, a good number that gives Isaacs a lot to work with.

“I’m all about improvement, which doesn’t necessarily mean we need to win 14 matches instead of 13,” Isaacs said. “It means we must improve every player on the roster throughout the season. We want them to be stronger than where they are right now so that we can achieve the best possible results. We can’t control who is on the other side of the net against us, but we can control our side and are putting our focus on that.”
View this season’s girls tennis schedule. 

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