The 2023-24 fall athletics season is in full swing. Let’s take our first in-depth look at how the Quaker squads are faring through these first few weeks.
Note: This SportsZone report covers Penn Charter athletic events between Aug. 25-Sept. 14.
Visit the Penn Charter Athletics webpage for the most up-to-date game schedules and scores.
It’s been a flawless start thus far for the Quakers, who have won all five of their games – three over Philadelphia Catholic League teams (St. Hubert, Archbishop Ryan and Archbishop Wood) and two over Garnet Valley and Maryland-based St. Mary’s Ryken.
After a 1-0 road win over Archbishop Wood on Sept. 12, head coach Ashley Maher said she felt like the Quakers were really starting to click as they continue to build chemistry. The two squads played to a competitive scoreless tie until about 16 minutes remaining when junior Tristan Raymond played a perfect cross into the box that junior Jules Toomey directed into the net.
“It was a really good game against great competition, one that got us ready for our league season coming up,” Maher said. “We had two games canceled due to the heat the previous week, and the girls played really well in spite of that. They played with pride, intensity and a lot of heart.”
The preceding win over St. Mary’s Ryken on Sept. 10 was a great bonding exercise, as the team joined the boys program for a weekend trip. While there, the team went to a D.C. United soccer game before coming out the next day and defeating St. Mary’s 2-0.
“The girls wanted to go away for a team bonding trip, which we had not done before,” Maher said. “We were able to score two goals after a week of not being able to be on the field, and that trip helped us get more used to each other as a team. Everything is starting to click.”
Maher complimented a back line, headlined by sophomores Cassidy McCusker and Carly Lewinski, that has allowed just two goals in the last four games. In the midfield, seniors Haley Lewinski and Olivia Linus and sophomore Lucy Sokoloff have distributed the ball well while controlling tempo. Maher said the front line of Raymond, Toomey and sophomore Lauren Bucksar is “a great little group that is still working on finishing its scoring chances. It’s almost there, they just need a little more time playing together.”
The Inter-Ac season kicked off with a 1-0 loss against Episcopal Academy (Sept. 19, 4 p.m.). The season continues on Sept. 22 at 4 p.m. at Notre Dame. EA and the Irish were two of the top three teams in the league last year, so Maher knows her girls are being tested immediately.
“EA, along with SCH Academy, represents the top of a super-competitive league,” Maher said. “From here on out, there are no easy games, so the girls have to keep playing hard. ‘Pride’ has been our theme, and every time they step on the field they play and practice with pride. They all know what’s at stake.”
BOYS WATER POLO
First-year head coach Andre Nyce began his tenure with a trio of wins in the Philmore Cup, a two-day competition between high school water polo teams from Philadelphia and Baltimore that was held at both Episcopal Academy and Haverford School Sept. 1 and 2.
The Quakers started with a high-scoring 21-18 win over Loyola Blakefield (MD) on Sept. 1 highlighted by a nine-goal, five-steal effort from senior PJ Duffy. The next day, PC picked up two more wins — a 14-11 decision over league rival Episcopal, followed by a 10-9 thriller over Mount Saint Joseph (MD). Senior Elliot Dziedzic had six goals and four steals against the Churchmen, while senior captain Vikram Verma chipped in four assists. Against Mount Saint Joseph, Nyce praised the efforts of junior goalie James Walters, who posted four saves and four steals while anchoring the PC defensive unit. Junior Greyson Catlow-Sidler had two assists and a steal while playing “stifling defense at the two-meter position,” and Duffy tallied four steals while leading the offense with four goals.
“It was a confidence boost because we displayed a winning team culture,” Nyce said. “We jumped out to early first-half leads and no matter what combination of players I put in the water, we did enough to pull out the wins. We finished with strong fourth quarters in all three.”
Nyce complimented the team synergy that already existed prior to his arrival while also pointing out the hard work in practice to learn the new system he and his staff have implemented.
“Changing to a new coach’s strategy can be a struggle, so it helps a lot for the players to see the fruits of their labor from completely buying into our system,” Nyce said. “They are settling into their roles.”
The Quakers fell 21-9 to Hill School on Sept. 13 to push their record to 3-1 early on, with the team’s next tests being a Sept. 16 battle at Perkiomen Valley before the Beast of the East Tournament, a two-day event on Sept. 22 and 23 at Upper Dublin High School.
“We’ve worked mostly on conditioning and fundamental movements and body positioning, as well as having the correct shooting and defensive techniques,” Nyce said. “These are the basic foundations that we will build on and reap the benefits of late in October and early November.”
Penn Charter’s season-opener was originally slated for Sept. 1 against Neumann-Goretti, but a late cancellation with the Saints pushed PC’s first game back to a Sept. 8 showdown against Peddie School. The Quakers battled through heat and a pair of weather delays before ultimately picking up a 24-6 victory over the Falcons.
In his first varsity start, sophomore quarterback Tom McGlinchey completed seven of nine passes for 81 yards and a touchdown and also opened the scoring with a one-yard TD just over a minute into the game. Peddie scored a minute later to cut the PC lead to 7-6, but the Quakers responded with a 12-play, 67-yard scoring drive that ended with a seven-yard rushing touchdown from senior running back Zack Curtin with 3:30 left in the first quarter.
After the defense forced a punt following a three-and-out from Peddie, the Quakers punched it into the end zone again, this time on a 13-yard pass from McGlinchey to junior Eian Kilpatrick to make it 21-6 heading into the second quarter.
“We moved the ball offensively and executed in the first half,” head coach Tom Coyle said. “We saw a lot of things we have to improve on and we played a lot of younger kids making their first varsity starts, but I’m optimistic because we sustained some drives and only punted once.”
It was an eye-opening debut for McGlinchey, who Coyle said barely played any football as a freshman after fracturing his collarbone late last summer. The 6-foot-6 sophomore played with confidence and poise, completing seven passes to five different receivers.
“We weren’t sure how Tom would respond with a lot going on out on the field, but he handled himself well,” Coyle said. “He allowed himself to be coached, and he was able to finish on a few early drives.”
Junior Ryder Stearn booted a 25-yard field goal — the first of his varsity career — on the final play of the first half to complete the scoring and send the Quakers into halftime feeling confident with a 24-6 lead. The PC defense was stout after the early Peddie score, with the highlight being senior Gavin Michener’s end-zone interception in the second quarter that he returned 72 yards to thwart a Falcons scoring chance. Early in the second half, senior Ohifame Ijeboi forced a fumble that Curtin scooped up and returned for a touchdown that would have made the score 31-6, but the play was negated by a penalty.
Ijeboi and Curtin also made plenty of plays out of the offensive backfield, combining for 16 rushes, 110 yards and a score. Ijeboi, healthy again after being limited to just one game in 2022, ripped off a 59-yard run down to the Peddie one-yard-line on the second play from scrimmage that set up McGlinchey’s early TD sneak.
“He treasures the opportunity to play football again,” Coyle said of Ijeboi. “He’s fast, talented and physical. Just a talented kid who is a leader on our team, and I’m happy to see him back on the field.”
Following a bye week, the Quakers’ next game will be Sept. 22 at home against Wyoming Seminary (4 p.m.). Despite another two-week layoff, Coyle said the team is excited just to get back on the practice field more consistently.
“We need to get guys conditioned to play football and focus on fundamentals,” he said. “We’re content to get out to practice and challenge one another. We have a lot of developmental stuff to work on so that we can be prepared for a good Wyoming Seminary football team.”
First-year head coach Rob Isaacs had to wait a bit longer than expected for his first PC tennis match as the Quakers had three matches between Sept. 5-8 postponed due to severe weather. As a result, the first two matches of the season happened to be league showdowns, with PC falling 7-0 to Episcopal on Sept. 13 before rebounding the next day to knock off Notre Dame 6-1.
“It was tough, but the weather was out of our control, and we lost our ability to practice when it was the way it was,” Isaacs said. “We did the best we could to prepare ourselves for Episcopal, our toughest opponent of the season. Our girls got out there and were ready to compete, and it was nice to bounce back the next day against Notre Dame.”
Despite the loss to EA, Isaacs said there were a lot of positives to take out of playing a team so talented. He said several PC players pushed their counterparts harder than maybe EA expected, and Isaacs is excited to see how his team responds during a rematch on Oct. 2.
Against the Irish, Mays and Karabucak handled business at the top of the ladder, while freshman Layla Joshi impressed as part of the No. 1 doubles team. Seniors Frances Guenther and Savannah Abernethy brought experience to No. 2 doubles, while the third team of junior Sarah Gross and sophomore Jordan Simon also played well. Isaacs also shouted out the fourth doubles duo of sophomores Avery Goodheart and Payton Small, who kept things close during their match against EA.
“Everyone is making things happen while competing well,” Isaacs said. “We have three completely new doubles teams who are getting the chemistry right as they work more effectively together. Getting Leila back into the lineup will help a lot. Having more time on the court will be impactful for everybody.”
Following a much-improved 13-win season a year ago, the boys soccer program has picked up where it left off by posting a 5-2-1 record out of the chute in 2023. Head coach Bob DiBenedetto has challenged the players with a difficult non-league schedule, and the boys have responded with victories over three Philadelphia Catholic League teams (Archbishop Ryan, Saint Joseph’s Prep and Roman Catholic), as well as a 6-0 win over a squad from Washington, D.C., and another win over a school from Ohio.
Both losses came against schools from Maryland, while the Quakers played to a 2-2 tie with another D.C.-based squad, Gonzaga College High School. All in all, DiBenedetto has been pleased with the early progress, with a few weeks of non-league contests still remaining before another difficult Inter-Ac season begins on Oct. 3 against Haverford School.
“I think we’ve looked pretty good,” DiBenedetto said. “Great job of handling the competition, especially with some early injuries, including to (senior defensive back) Jimmy Melnick, who I think is the best player in our league.”
Without Melnick (who is expected back in time for the league season and will play collegiate soccer at Lafayette next year) on the back line, the Quakers have still allowed one goal or less in five of their eight games. Senior defenders Joey DiBenedetto and Britton Armbrister have held down the back line without Melnick, and sophomore Tiernan Perkins has also stepped up in a bigger role. Senior goalie Pete Punchello has answered the call in his first year as the full-time starter.
The midfield, headlined by senior Nick Kraemer and sophomore Jak Kraemer, has remained stout, while junior Noah Amankulor and sophomores Will Adair and Willem Van Beelen have handled the lion’s share of the scoring up top.
“We have to get some guys healthy and get more fit over the next few weeks,” DiBenedetto said. “We look good now and are playing well, but the Inter-Ac is a different animal. You can be a world beater on Tuesday and lose to the sixth-place team Friday, so we want to make sure we’re in the best shape and have all our guys on the field for the league games. When it’s time to play, it’ll be up to the boys. All six teams will be in the mix, but we feel like we can compete to win it.”
GIRLS WATER POLO
The Quakers kicked off their season with a 16-12 loss at Upper Dublin on Sept. 5, showing “a ton of grit throughout the game,” according to head coach Brian Hecker.
“The most outstanding part was the flexibility our team defense showed,” Hecker added. “Although we lost, we look forward to playing them again as part of the Beast of the East Tournament.”
Before that two-day tournament that will be held at Upper Dublin on Sept. 22 and 23, PC players had the opportunity to play three games in a compressed time period when the team participated in a tripleheader at Perkiomen Valley on Sept. 16. The Quakers swept the day with an 8 a.m. W against the host school before squaring off against Reading High and Central York High at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., respectively.
“Playing multiple games in a day prepared us for Beast of the East, a demanding two-day tournament,” Hecker said. “We need to be sure our conditioning is where it needs to be to sustain our legs.”
The Quakers also won their 4 p.m. home game against Hill School on Sept. 20 before heading off to Beast of the East over the weekend. With the graduation of Merrill and Lindsay Gadsden, the team’s top two goal-scorers in 2022, Hecker knows the team is still working on figuring out its offensive identity. While that comes along, the defense must be strong if PC hopes to replicate its 14-win season from a year ago.
“We are working with a defense-first mindset while hoping to open up the pool with a ton of counterattacks,” Hecker said. “We are a fast and smart team that still needs to work on finding our flow. I know that will come together as we continue to work this season.”
BOYS CROSS COUNTRY
Boys cross country has enjoyed a strong start to its season, as the Quakers captured second place in the Abington Invitational on Sept. 9. Junior T.J. Zwall finished in second place overall, running the race in 16:26.95. He was joined by four of his teammates in the top 20: junior Nate Johnson placed 10th in 17:18.82, while freshman Matthew Dunn was one slot behind at 17:22.98. Meanwhile, sophomores Peyton Burnett (17:42.73) and Ben Berger (18:02.33) finished in 15th and 18th, respectively.
On Sept. 12, the Quakers faced their first league competition of the season during a meet at Malvern Prep against the Friars and Haverford School. PC picked up a 17-38 win over Malvern and defeated the Ford 20-35. Dunn, Johnson and Zwall all ran in 17:40 to tie for first place, while Berger (sixth place, 18:36) and Burnett (10th, 19:18) enjoyed good races too.
“The boys have run well,” head coach Tim Zwall said. “We took the top three against Malvern and Haverford, and whenever you can do that in a dual meet, you win. We told the guys that before the race, and that was their game plan.”
It was an encouraging start to the league races for Penn Charter
“We have to develop guys quickly, which means freshmen and sophomores have to be running varsity right away,” Zwall said. “We don’t have the luxury of bringing them along slowly, so most of these kids have had to jump right in.”T.J. Zwall and Johnson opted to participate in the Adidas Cross Country Challenge in Cary, N.C., on Sept. 16, with the rest of the team looking toward an Inter-Ac Invitational on Sept. 19 at Belmont Plateau in Fairmount Park. The next invitational after that will be the George School Invitational on Sept. 23.
The Quakers kicked off their season with a 5-0 win over Peddie School on Aug. 31, followed by a week of no games thanks to a scheduled contest against Lawrenceville getting postponed due to excessive heat. PC then played three games in a seven-day span — a 10-2 loss to Gwynedd Mercy Academy on Sept. 8, a 3-2 win over Shipley on Sept. 12, and a league-opening 10-0 defeat at the hands of Notre Dame on Sept. 14.
All in all, interim head coach Rachel Dyer has been encouraged by the team’s play during its early stretch of games. She said that the Peddie win was a total team effort from start to finish, and also that the 10-2 loss to GMA did not reflect the team’s overall play.
“We had a weather delay and lost our starting goalie to an injury early, yet we competed and were definitely in it,” Dyer said. “We surprised them in the first quarter and were only down 2-0 to a very good team.”
The Quakers were rewarded in their next game against Shipley in which junior Kenighan Mattice scored the game-winning goal in overtime. Molly Dougherty also scored against Shipley. Dyer said the sophomore has “already been a powerhouse with her speed and scoring on the forward line.” Mattice and sophomore Harbor Campbell have played well in the midfield, with senior Zady Hasse serving as an early force on defense. Dyer also praised junior Eva Walter and sophomore Ana Buckley for their solid play early on.
“We have improved a lot since last season but still need to get better at knowing our spacing on the field and anticipating where their teammates will be,” Dyer said. “We’ve already seen improvement as people better understand their positions. We’ll get there. The girls feel good about what they have accomplished so far.”
The Quakers had to wait until Sept. 12 to get their season started, as severe weather postponed the first two matches against Abington and Holy Ghost Prep on Sept. 5 and Sept. 7. PC was able to reschedule the Abington match for a week later, losing a tight one 204-207 to the Ghosts at Huntingdon Valley Country Club.
“Considering we lost an entire week to the heat, I don’t even consider it a loss,” first-year head coach Ari Flaisher said. “The score shows a loss, but it was a win just being able to play. Huntingdon Valley is a stiff challenge.. What these guys did out there was a huge success. They have talent, experience and potential, and as the season goes on that 207 number will come down a bit.”
Senior Max Gross and juniors Teddy Davey and Dean Kaiser all led the way by shooting 41s, while freshman Jasper Dittus and junior Casey Felter posted 42s. Juniors Wills Kaiser and Emmitt Armbrister each shot 43.
Two days later, the Quakers were back at Huntingdon Valley to take on the rest of their Inter-Ac foes for the first time. Haverford won the day with a team score of 184, followed by Malvern (187), Episcopal (194), Germantown Academy (211), PC (212) and SCH Academy (216).
“We’re playing fine so far,” Flaisher said. “I’ve been impressed with their class, maturity and ability to take some lumps from hole to hole and keep the scores well under 50.”
GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY
Penn Charter began its 2023 season with a sixth-place finish in the Abington Invitational on Sept. 9, highlighted by junior Alli DeLisi placing first overall with a time of 19:04.17. Senior Grace Neuwirth also had a strong debut, placing 17th at 22:02.77. With Neuwirth being the only senior on the roster, head coach Candice Lee said she was impressed with how her young group ran out of the gate.
“I was impressed with how the girls competed,” Lee said. “We need to improve on ensuring the first part of the race sets us up for a stronger finish, which means being more aggressive in the first mile to get the needed points that will allow us to place higher.”
Lee said she liked how sophomore Nora Prasad ran in her first varsity race. With DeLisi and Neuwirth leading the pack, the Quakers will need to continue developing less experienced runners on the roster as the season progresses.
“Nora is our newest athlete and she looked very promising,” Lee said. “She will definitely be an asset for us once we are able to get her more miles. Meanwhile, Alli is looking stronger and faster than she ever has, and the younger athletes are already looking up to her and following her lead.”
Lee said Neuwirth had a strong summer and has really embraced her role as a senior on a roster full of underclassmen. Sophomore Michaela Poland, who had a brilliant outdoor track season as a freshman, is also expected to be a key contributor throughout the season.
The Quakers claimed a 20-40 victory over Springside Chestnut Hill Academy at Belmont Plateau on Sept. 12. Lee said the girls “ran great” in their first taste of Inter-Ac competition. Along with T.J. Zwall and Nate Johnson on the boys cross country squad, DeLisi opted to compete in the Adidas Cross Country Challenge in Cary, N.C., on Sept. 16, with the next dual meet scheduled for Sept. 19 against Notre Dame. The next invitational after that will be the George School Invitational on Sept. 23.