PC/GA Day is always an outstanding day for Penn Charter; beating GA and retaining the Competition Cup only makes things sweeter. The 137th iteration of the event is in the books, with the Quakers emerging victorious in six of the 10 athletic contests — capped off by a demonstrative 21-point triumph in the football game to conclude the festivities.
PC/GA Day also commemorates the official end of the fall season, so, before we jump into a winter of basketball, swimming and diving, indoor track, squash and wrestling, let’s take one final look at how our 10 Upper School fall varsity teams finished things off:
Zach Curtin didn’t let a lost fumble on his first offensive touch get him down; if anything, it only fueled the senior running and defensive back as the intense rivalry game progressed.
Curtin rushed for a season-high 176 yards on 20 carries, scoring a pair of rushing touchdowns to go with his first career passing score, a 7-yard strike to junior Eian Kilpatrick that put the Quakers up 28-7 late in the third quarter. PC ultimately won 35-14 and kept the Competition Cup for another year in large part thanks to Curtin’s electric performance. He was awarded the Geis Trophy as the game’s Most Outstanding Player (MOP), helping PC snap a five-game losing streak and finish the season on an uplifting note.
“It’s a mix of emotions for me,” Curtin said after the game. “Super excited to finish our last game together with a win, but obviously now there’s no more time left for this team. Knowing it was our last game together, we played for each other and knew we had to grind to get a win.”
After rushing for a team-leading 674 yards as a junior, Curtin shifted back into a more complementary offensive role in 2023 with the return of a fully healthy Ohifame Ijeboi to the backfield. Curtin also missed a couple of games this season due to injury, so for he and fellow senior Ijeboi (20 carries, 132 yards, two TDs) to dominate together in their final Penn Charter game was extra special. Ijeboi is bound for the University of Minnesota on a football scholarship, while Curtin will continue his career on the gridiron at Amherst College.
“We’re brothers, and we developed together as players,” Curtin said of Ijeboi. "We challenged each other in practice and became a duo that other teams had to worry about. It’s going to be weird not having him with me next year.”
After GA took a 7-0 lead two plays following Curtin’s first quarter fumble, Ijeboi scored on two of the next three PC possessions to give the Quakers a 14-7 lead they would not relinquish. A 2-yard rushing score from Curtin increased the lead to 21-7 late in the first half, and he added another TD on the ground with 1:39 remaining in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the biggest smiles and cheers from the PC sideline came when Curtin, who lined up under center in the Wildcat formation a bunch of times throughout the game, found Kilpatrick for an unlikely passing score with 53 seconds left in the third quarter.
“Three days ago in practice was the first time I ever got to throw the ball as a quarterback,” Curtin said with a grin. “It was a designed play where I was supposed to read the defensive end; when I saw him crash, I knew it was my chance. The coaches told me that if I had a wide-open lane in the game, I should throw it.”
After winning their first three games of the season, the Quakers (4-5, 1-4) suffered five straight defeats. But, just like Curtin after his early fumble, the team opted to refocus on the only thing left that mattered — beating GA.
“Something we talk about a lot is having a short-term memory,” Curtin said. “Don’t let bad plays stick in your mind. Just move on. Don’t dwell on the past, and that mindset is something that helped us be successful. My football career here has been one of the most important things in my life. To cap it off by winning the Geis Trophy means everything to me.”
While the Quakers came up just short of their first Inter-Ac title since 2016, they still were able to punctuate their season with the most thrilling victory of the day.
After 79-plus minutes of scoreless soccer, sophomore Willem van Beelen buried a penalty kick with 31 seconds remaining after he was fouled in the box. Penn Charter closed out a 1-0 win in large part due to the play of senior goalie Pete Punchello, who made several phenomenal saves to keep the Patriots off the board. Punchello received the James Rumpp OPC '55 Trophy in his final high school soccer game.
“We have 14 seniors on this team with eight of them starters, so we knew going in that this was the last game ever for a lot of us,” Punchello said. “We emptied the tank and did it for our brothers. Just a great day with a dramatic finish. It was a lot of fun and meant the world to me.”
The Quakers (15-5-4, 7-1-2) entered the game needing a win and either an Episcopal win or tie against Haverford to earn a league title. Unfortunately, the latter did not come to fruition, but PC still lost only one league game all season and had lost just one game at all since Oct. 6. The team has won 28 games the past two seasons, and even with the graduation of so many important seniors, the expectation will be to compete for a league title again in 2024, especially with players like van Beelen and fellow explosive sophomore Will Adair returning.
“The program is in safe hands,” Punchello said. “We have four or five finishers up top, and I knew someone would finish one of their chances, which Willem did. The whole place went nuts when he got fouled, and once I saw him step up I knew it was going in the back of the net and we were going to win PC/GA Day.”
A league title would have been “the cherry on top” according to Punchello, but helping Penn Charter retain the Competition Cup was a pretty sweet consolation prize.
“We did all we could do,” he said. “We made a lot of memories on and off the field. A band of brothers, as we like to say. We all love this school and live and die for each other, so it means everything to us to get this result. Just an awesome group of guys, and a really special senior class.”
For Gia McCusker and the PC girls soccer team, a season that started off on shaky ground was all about perseverance.
The Quakers persevered to win six of their final eight Inter-Ac games after starting 0-4 in league play, just like McCusker persevered when her initial first-half shot was saved by GA’s keeper. The Patriots goalie got some of her body on the ball but was unable to corral the deflection, allowing McCusker to bury the rebound in the back of the net to give PC a 3-1 lead. The senior’s goal ended up being the difference-maker in a thrilling 3-2 victory before offense gave way to defense after halftime. The Quaker back line, along with senior goalie Maia Kafer, held the Patriots scoreless the rest of the way to clinch the win.
“I definitely thought the play was over when she saved it,” McCusker said. “But that’s a big part of who I am as a soccer player: I keep going even when I’m down and things aren’t going my way.”
McCusker, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the game, has battled injuries during her high school career, making a win in her final game at Penn Charter even more meaningful. The team never got down on one another during the rocky Inter-Ac start and finished the season playing the type of winning soccer they all knew was attainable.
“With that rough start, we had nothing left to lose,” she said. “It’s all in the heart, and how we finished is what is most important. This was my last soccer game ever, so it makes it more special to come away with a win, especially at home.”
The Quakers (15-7, 6-6) also got goals from junior Jul Toomey and sophomore Lucy Sokoloff in an action-packed first half. Then the defense, which has been stout all season, finished off the season with 40 final minutes of physical domination.
“We started out with three in the back but shifted to four in the second half to get an extra defender back there,” McCusker said. “It helped us a lot and carried us through until the end. Our defenders are amazing. They left it all out there, and I’m so glad I was able to end my soccer career by getting a win with this team. In the end, it brought us all even closer together.”
GIRLS WATER POLO
The Quakers capped off a brilliant season with their seventh consecutive PC/GA Day victory, upending the Patriots 14-6 in front of a raucous crowd.
Junior Zoe Page was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player, picking right up from where she left off in PC’s previous game, also a win over GA. Between those two contests, Page posted 10 goals and seven assists after assistant coach Charlie Brown had the idea to adjust her defensive positioning.
“We moved Zoe up top on our defense in order to take advantage of her speed,” head coach Brian Hecker said. “She proved the coaching staff correct by capitalizing on numerous counterattacks.”
The Quakers trailed 3-2 late in the second quarter, with Hecker attributing the slow start to nerves and a bigger-than-usual crowd of spectators packing the stands. Penn Charter then ripped off seven unanswered goals over the next four-plus minutes to turn a tight game into a rout.
“The stands were packed, which we aren’t always used to,” Hecker said. “The girls kept telling each other to stick to the game plan and that we would wear down GA, which is exactly what we did. It was a great atmosphere, and we were able to finish the game with all of our seniors in the water. Our girls took full advantage.”
Zoe Page finished the season with 40 goals, third on the team behind sophomore Lili DeMartinis (59) and junior Eliza Black (55). Black led the squad with 44 assists, while freshman goalie Chelsea Gadsden was second with 31 of her own.
The Quakers finished the season 17-4 and have posted a 48-12 mark over the past three years. In addition to the seven consecutive PC/GA Day wins, PC has claimed three straight Eastern Prep titles and made three trips in a row to the Flight 1 championship in the prestigious Beast of the East Tournament. Even after losing their top two goal scorers from a season ago, the team continued to find ways to win, often convincingly. And with only one of the program’s five seniors a starter, Hecker expects the team to pick up right where it left off in 2024.
“We have built confidence, skills and a winning attitude,” Hecker said. “We’ve been able to find success due to the foundation we have built. This group had one of the best vibes of any I’ve ever coached. They were skilled, smart, fast and tough. PC/GA Day is unlike any other game we play, and it’s always special to bring home a valuable win.”
BOYS CROSS COUNTRY
Following second-place finishes at both the Inter-Ac and PAISAA Championships in late October, the Quakers dug deep for one final race and defeated GA 19-37.
Juniors T.J. Zwall and Nate Johnson finished first and second, respectively, and PC had six of the top 10 runners in the race. Zwall was named MOP, concluding a season in which he was often the team’s top finisher.
“It’s been nice watching him grow up here,” said head coach Tim Zwall, T.J.’s dad. “He’s improved every year, and hopefully he does the same thing next year. He and Nate took over the race right from the beginning and worked together throughout.”
Coach Zwall had reason to be excited both for the present and the future, as the cross country program will graduate senior Elijah Leckerman. The entire core will return in 2024, which also includes talented sophomores Peyton Burnett, Ben Berger and Andrew Marrone, as well as freshman Matthew Dunn. Tim Zwall relied on his underclassmen to be immediate contributors, and they delivered among high expectations.
“A lot of PR’s [personal records] today for the young guys,” he said after the race. “It’s really exciting that we have almost everyone coming back next year.”
The team has yet one more race in 2023, the Nike Cross Country Nationals in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., on Nov. 25, giving them two more weeks to train and bond together. No matter how that event goes, the boys can hang their hats on the fact they came through in the most important race of the season.
“This is one of my favorite days of the year,” Tim Zwall said. “It’s just so much fun seeing everyone here, especially when it’s at Penn Charter. My kids are getting older. My two girls have moved on and T.J. is my last one here, so it just really makes me enjoy the day.”
The Quakers capped off a strong season with a dominant 7-0 victory over GA, the team’s second shutout win over the Patriots in 2023. In the week leading up to the match, head coach Rob Isaacs did not shy away from his desire to secure another clean sweep of the Patriots on his first PC/GA Day.
The players did not shy away from their coach’s lofty expectations; instead, they embraced them.
“Part of me didn’t want to put that pressure on the team, but the last time we played them we won all seven courts,” Isaacs said. “We wanted to do it again, especially on PC/GA Day. There was a ton of anticipation, and I’ve been hearing about it since my first week on the court.”
Isaacs said that five of the seven courts featured decisive victories, including from the team’s only two seniors. Senior captains Savannah Abernethy and Frances Guenther finished a fantastic season in which they barely lost from the first or second doubles slots by being named MOP of the match, a fitting conclusion for a pair that meant so much to the program.
“They were always a court we could depend on,” Isaacs said. “They gave us consistent results on the court and were very strong leaders off of it. I can’t say enough good things about the way they carried themselves this year. We’re really going to miss them.”
Penn Charter finished 10-6 overall and 8-4 in the Inter-Ac, good for a third-place finish. After going 4-12 in 2021, the program won double-digit matches for the second consecutive season. Even so, the Quakers went a combined 0-5 against Episcopal and Baldwin, finishing behind both in the standings. There is still much work to be done for a continuously improving program to reach another level, something Isaacs certainly believes is possible with more time, preparation and dedication.
“As a staff, we need to create an environment where these girls come in and expect to excel,” he said. “We also need to provide as many opportunities as possible for them to play continuously between now and next August. That’s where the greatest gains happen. I think in some ways, we exceeded expectations of how well we did this year; at the same time, we want to beat Baldwin and EA and we’ll come into next season with the expectation to perform better against those teams than we did this year.”
BOYS WATER POLO
Even in a loss, Andre Nyce’s first PC/GA Day as Penn Charter’s head coach delivered the goods. It brought Nyce back to his own time as a high school water polo player, where he actually graduated from GA in 1998.
“As a player, the excitement of the crowd and atmosphere was always a lot of fun,” he said. “As a coach, I was actually more nervous because I felt a bigger sense of responsibility for our performance.”
For three quarters, the Quakers had an upset on their minds, leading GA 9-6 heading into the final frame. The Patriots then woke up when they needed to most, scoring the game’s final six goals to claim a 12-9 win, GA’s third over PC this season.
“We played great for three quarters,” Nyce said. “The game itself was a close battle and the crowd was amazing throughout. The athletes responded to the intensity by playing their hearts out.”
Nyce shouted out the performance of sophomore Avi Mondgock, who scored two big goals for the Quakers (15-13, 4-4). The program will graduate five key seniors, so younger players like Mondgock (six goals in 2023) will need to step up in 2024 and beyond. Nyce expressed excitement over the program’s 10 sophomores, all of whom made strides this season while ensuring there is talent in the pipeline to replace talented seniors such as PJ Duffy (a team-leading 141 goals - second on PC's all-time list for a single season), Elliot Dziedzic (107 goals) and captain Vikram Verma (12 goals, 50 steals). The team also returns outstanding junior goalie James Walters, as well as classmates Greyson Catlow-Sidler (17 goals, 37 assists) and Taggart Kohles (25 goals, 36 assists).
“We have more than enough talent moving up, and it looks like those players are poised to show what they can do as leaders of the team next season,” Nyce said. “I expect to have a very deep, balanced attack with a large group of subs anxious to get in the water and thrive. This season was a testament to the entire team’s competitive spirit and inward drive to succeed.”
GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY
A tight 24-31 loss to GA did not diminish the accomplishments of the Penn Charter girls cross country squad, which was coming off a first-place finish at the PAISAA Championship on Oct. 28. Alli DeLisi finished first overall on PC/GA Day and was named MOP, and she still has one more race to prepare for before concluding her magical junior season — the Nike Cross Country Nationals in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., on Nov. 25.
“She never ceases to amaze me,” head coach Candice Lee said. “I’m thrilled she has had a successful season and has consistently been able to push herself even when there was no one else to compete with in most of the races.”
According to Lee, the difference between the two teams on PC/GA Day was the Patriots’ ability to run a strong first mile, an essential task that never allowed the Quakers to close the gap. Even so, Lee expressed confidence in the development of a plethora of underclassmen such as sophomores Nora Prasad and Natalia Modzelewski and freshmen Chloe Greenwalt and Jackie Plastaras.
“The girls have definitely impressed me,” Lee said. “I am excited to see what can come with a little more maturity and dedication. Many of them are still learning the sport and how to effectively run each mile within the race. I have seen the little moments where they ‘get it.’”
Aside from senior Grace Neuwirth, the team’s entire core returns next season and will look to dethrone three-time defending league champion Notre Dame.
“The future is bright because everyone has continued to improve,” Lee said. “We established our team culture and future expectations. The returning athletes know exactly what to expect and how to train in the years to come. All of the girls have developed a tight bond.”
The Quakers dropped a 2-1 heartbreaker in overtime to GA, but that result did not dampen how strong they finished their season, winning three of their final four games.
Despite the disappointing defeat, sophomore goalie Aliyah Leonard was named MOP, coming up with several huge saves that kept PC in the game. The two rivals competed fiercely throughout in a back-and-forth contest, with goals at a premium and the stakes never feeling higher.
“It was a battle for sure, a very even game,” interim head coach Rachel Dyer said. “You could see the desire in both teams, and it was a well-fought match. Aliyah stepped up in some big moments, and her play kept the team going. Everyone was completely invested and played their hearts out. It was definitely heartbreaking to end the season that way, but I’m more focused on how far we came.”
The Quakers ended up winning seven games this season, their highest total since 2019. Two of those victories came on Nov. 7 and Nov. 9 in the Commonwealth Cup, a four-team offshoot of the PAISAA Tournament that PC won convincingly. In those two games, the Quakers outscored Friends Central and Germantown Friends School by a combined 13-0 margin, allowing the girls to celebrate as champions at the end of a season that certainly had its trying moments. Even when things sometimes looked bad on the scoreboard, the team’s bond and genuine love for one another never wavered.
“They never needed a reminder to bring their best selves every day,” Dyer said. “They loved being there and wanted to do it for each other. They went out and always had a blast and did whatever they were asked to do with a smile. We chose to celebrate every moment together, no matter how big or small.”
Dyer played field hockey at PC and is a 1992 graduate of the school. She stepped up from assistant to interim head coach when the team had a sudden vacancy shortly before the season; while the ascension was initially more out of necessity than desire, Dyer is now beyond grateful the circumstances unfolded the way they did.
“I’m a true believer that everything happens for a reason,” she said. “I got as much out of it as everyone else did. I’m so glad that I got to coach this group. They made it so much fun to be in a positive environment every day. No matter what the day looked like, this group was happy to be on the field together, and that’s what I’ll miss the most about them.”
The Quakers kicked off PC/GA Day early, with the golf match played three days in advance on Nov. 8 at Huntingdon Valley Country Club. The Patriots won the match, 6.5-1.5, to take an early 1-0 PC/GA Day lead; the event featured a match play format, meaning each school’s top eight golfers were pitted individually against one another for nine holes.
The result was an incremental improvement over the prior year, which the Patriots won 7-1. In 2023, senior Sammy Davey finished his high school golf career with a win, while freshman Jack Sheward concluded a strong inaugural varsity season by tying his head-to-head matchup to give the Quakers an additional half-point.
“Losing stings, but the experience was all very good,” head coach Ari Flaisher said. “Getting an extra half-point was nice and allowed us to grow and get a little closer to competitiveness with GA. The competition was friendly and brought the two schools together as we continue to grow this rivalry.”
GA ended the season with the upper hand, as the two teams often jockeyed for fourth place in the Inter-Ac. PC finished ahead of GA in just one of six league invitationals, but were not far behind in a couple of others. It was an eye-opening season for freshmen Sheward and Jasper Dittus; as the team’s top two golfers for much of the season, the consistency of such young golfers gave Flaisher a lot to be excited about in years to come.
“This year, GA was better than us, and I’m a big believer in little things adding up to become big things,” Flaisher said. “Our future is bright competing in the deepest and strongest league in the state. I don’t think they like finishing in fifth; I know I don’t. The ultimate goal is to increase the percentage chance of success. It’s a very unique sport, and I love it for the reason that it’s all on the individual.”
Written by: Ed Morrone OPC '04