Before buzzer-beating finish, Quaker Valley girls basketball season filled with highlights

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Sunday, April 2, 2023 | 11:01 AM


A last-second buzzer beater.

That’s how the Quaker Valley girls basketball team’s 2022-23 season came to a crashing end.

Quaker Valley lost a 40-37 decision to Harbor Creek in the first round of the PIAA Class 4A tournament as Georgia Weber hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the Huskies, who improved to 20-6 with the win.

QV ended up 17-9, including a 2-2 showing in four playoff games. The Quakers defeated Knoch, 52-39, in their WPIAL opener, lost to Blackhawk, 51-40, in the semifinal round, then beat Highlands, 44-28, in the third-place game.

“I’m very proud of how the team grew throughout the season and was playing at the end,” coach Ken Johns said. “You want to be playing at or near your best as the season closes and you get into the playoffs, and I thought we were.

“The end was abrupt, losing on a buzzer beater, but we showed a lot of determination and toughness in that game. To be down 13 points and come back and take the lead late was a testament to how the team stayed and played together.

“I think everyone was hoping to get to the WPIAL finals or win another game or two in the PIAA playoffs, but when I step back and look at the season in total, I am happy with how we came together and how we played. To finish third in the WPIAL and play the teams we played shows we took another step forward this year.”

Defense was QV’s forte in 2022-23 as the Quakers allowed just 39.3 points per game while scoring almost 45. The QV girls held 14 opponents to less than 40 points, including seven section teams.

Quaker Valley ended up second in Section 2-4A after finishing fourth a year ago. Blackhawk repeated as section champion with a 10-0 record, followed by QV (8-2), Beaver (6-4) and Hopewell (4-6).

QV received a first-round bye as the No. 4 seed in the WPIAL tournament behind top seeds Blackhawk, North Catholic and Elizabeth Forward.

“The best team we played this year was WPIAL and PIAA runner-up Blackhawk,” Johns said. “We played them very tough in the (WPIAL) semifinals, and I thought that was one of our better complete games.

“As far as the best individual player we faced, that’s a tough one. Quinn Borroni of Blackhawk is a very good all-around player. We scrimmaged North Allegheny and I thought Jasmine Timmerson was really good. We played a number of good players this year, but I guess those two stood out.”

The Quakers will lose four talented seniors to graduation in 5-foot-9 point guard Nora Johns, 5-6 guard Maria Helkowski, 5-9 forward Shannon Von Kaenel and 5-7 forward Silvia Carrasco-Almanzar.

Johns was QV’s team leader in assists (3.7 apg), 3-point field goal percentage (40%) and free-throw percentage (74%) and ranked second in steals and blocks.

“I think we did great and really gave it our all,” she said. “We may not have achieved every single goal we had, but we came pretty darn close, and I couldn’t have asked for a better team. I think this season was a great beginning to what the Quaker Valley girls basketball program has in store for the future.

“And playing for my dad is something I will never forget. He has been my coach basically since fourth grade and has taught me everything I know. He pushed me to work harder and made me the player I am today.”

There were only 11 girls on QV’s team roster in 2022-23, meaning the QV coaches will have seven returning players to work with for next season.

The Quakers will be built around this year’s 6-4 freshman sensation, Oumou “Mimi” Thiero, who led the team in scoring (12.8 ppg), field-goal percentage (47%), rebounding (10.4 rpg), blocks (3.5 bpg) and steals (2.3 spg).

“I think we had a great season,” Thiero said. “It was a tough way to end, and I know we could’ve made it further, but whatever happened is (now) in the past.

“My early expectation for next year is for the incoming players to flow in with the rest of the team like the freshmen did this year. I want them to be able to build chemistry with the girls on the team.”

Listed as a guard/forward, the willowy Thiero is the younger sister of Kentucky freshman guard Adou Thiero. She has a three-prong project for her offseason.

“I plan to work on my self-control and not having any off days,” she said. “I also plan to build up my stamina so I can play at 150% capacity the entire game.”

Another top freshman player at QV is 5-6 guard Zora Washington, who along with Thiero was a member of the team’s starting lineup.

Two additional freshmen are 5-4 guard Olivia Hoose and 5-9 forward Lily Millet.

It appears QV will field a young team in 2023-24 as this year’s varsity roster included only two juniors, 5-4 guard Madison Chapman and 5-7 guard Mary Anna Blaine, and one sophomore, 5-8 forward Lily Tarkin.

“My expectations don’t change. I expect us to continue to get better every day,” coach Johns said. “This summer will be important for a few players who will have expanded roles next year. My hope is that we continue to build on what we’ve started this year.

“We have a number of players returning that started or played big minutes for us. I’m excited to see how the team comes together again next year, but we have a lot of work to do to replace the seniors. It’s an opportunity for some of our returning players to step in and step up into leadership roles.”

A regular-season highlight for the Quakers was a seven-game winning streak from Dec. 17 to Jan. 9. The QV girls also won six of eight contests down the season’s home stretch to take a 15-7 record into the playoffs.

“After a little down time and a chance to reflect, I think it was a really good year,” said Johns, QV’s first-year floor boss. “Each year and each team are different, and it was great to see how this team really came together on and off the floor. It will be tough to not have the seniors around anymore, but I’m excited for next year and what it will bring. It will be a new and different challenge but one that we’re looking forward to.”

Yes, the four QV seniors will graduate this spring, including four-year starter and three-sport standout Nora Johns.

“From a personal, maybe dad perspective, coaching Nora has been one of the great joys of my life,” the elder Johns said. “Getting to spend that much time with her on something that we share a passion for has been special. I know it wasn’t always easy for her, but she was great and I will miss her a lot. I know it will be different when we get back in the gym and she’s not there, so I’ll miss her as a dad and, for sure, as a coach.

“When I put my coaching hat on, she’s going to be tough to replace. We relied on her to do a lot on both ends of the floor – at times asking her to sacrifice personal things for the sake of the team and she never blinked or said a word. She made the players around her better and if you have a few of those players it really makes a difference.

“Basketball’s a great game and you can learn so much from it if you let it happen. To share that with your daughter every day for an entire season is a blessing.”

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