Quaker Valley girls basketball team coming together in season’s home stretch

Sunday, February 6, 2022 | 11:01 AM

The Quaker Valley girls basketball team is resilient if nothing else.

After a 4-4 start, the Quakers lost three straight section games but rebounded by winning their last six contests in January.

Entering this month, the QV girls were 7-5 in Section 2-4A and 10-7 overall.

“The team has shown a good amount of resilience through a few things and has come together through all of it,” coach Ken Johns said. “The injury bug shows up on occasion, just like with all other teams, and that combined with a few kids getting sick forced us to shuffle a few things around.”

The Johns family also experienced a personal loss in December.

“My father passed away in December, and the team and the entire Quaker Valley family rallied around my family,” Johns said. “My father was a teacher and coach at QV for more than 30 years, and personally being connected to the QV family in a different way this year and being in the gym that he taught and coached in every day has been both difficult at times and a blessing.

“I feel connected to him and the school in a different way, something that was unexpected on many fronts when I took the job.”

Johns is a 1987 Quaker Valley graduate who played three sports in high school and went on to run track at Ohio. He was inducted into the QV Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.

Heading down the season’s home stretch, Quaker Valley’s girls team was battling Montour for the third spot in the section. The top five finishers in Section 2-4A qualify for the WPIAL playoffs.

“We really don’t talk about winning or playoffs,” Johns said. “I’m not sure we’ve even used the word winning or mentioned the playoffs at all since our first team meeting in November. I’m sure the girls are all thinking about it and know where we stand, but we try to stay focused on the goal of getting better every day and taking it one practice and one game at a time.

“That being said, we’ve had a pretty good stretch lately, and that has put us into position to have a chance to make the playoffs if we finish strong. I believe that would make four years in a row and that is something that’s part of building a successful program.”


The Quakers have advanced to the postseason three years in a row and last season qualified for the WPIAL finals for the first time.

The starting five are senior captains Amelia Herrmann, a 5-foot-10 forward, Lauren Blackmer, a 5-11 forward, and Allie Ponzo, a 5-6 guard, along with juniors Nora Johns, a 5-7 guard, and Maria Helkowski, a 5-6 guard.

“The three seniors, Amelia, Lauren and Allie, serve as this year’s captains and are doing a good job,” said Johns, Nora’s father and QV’s first-year coach. “They each approach it in their own way, and it provides a good balance.

“Amelia is the energy person, always talking and encouraging, supporting the other players. Allie is the vocal leader off the floor, and Lauren leads by example on the floor. She’s really played well the last two weeks with her scoring and rebounding.”

Ken Johns’ daughter Nora paces the squad in scoring, assists and steals.

Junior forwards Shannon Von Kaenel and Siliva Almanzar, sophomore guard Madison Chapman and sophomore forward Annica Kagle are QV’s top reserves.

“We have a pretty deep bench,” Herrmann said. “Coach Johns does a great job of getting everyone experience in stressful situations, so we have confidence in close games.”

The QV coaching staff believes it is essential also to serve as teachers.

“We talk about using each day in the gym — whether it’s a practice or a game — as a chance to get better and they’ve really embraced that,” said Johns, who was hired in July to take over for Tom Demko. “We’ve asked them to learn a lot, some of it on the fly, and that combined with pretty much everyone having a new role this year has taken us a little while to click.

“I’ve been really happy with how the team has come together. It’s a great group of girls who care a lot about the team and each other, and that really shows when you’re around them every day.”

Herrmann is one of the team’s three senior leaders who along with Blackmer provides a noticeable presence with her height in the QV frontcourt. Blackmer and Herrmann lead the Quakers in rebounding.

“We are really coming together as a team. Coach Johns has created clear goals for us to work toward together,” Herrmann said. “It has been a fun year. We’ve really grown together as a team. We have a lot of girls new to varsity, and they’ve really gained a lot of confidence. We have won five straight games and have a really good chance of qualifying for the playoffs.

“Our main strength is our commitment to one another. This is not only shown on the court with communication and sharing the ball but also off the court with the way we encourage each other and put the team first. We expect to continue to grow and compete together, qualify for the playoffs and hopefully make some noise when we get there.”

Herrmann started playing basketball at QV in the fifth grade. She also competes in AAU hoops; she has played for SLAAM in the last three AAU seasons. This spring, Hermann plans to compete in the throwing events with the girls track and field team.

The QV senior is captain of the mock trial team and co-president of the French Club. She is a five-year participant of the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science and belongs to the Cultural Alliance. In her spare time, she runs an Etsy store where she sells fun earrings.

“I am really excited to be on a team with such a great group of girls,” Herrmann said. “My senior year has been a lot of fun. We have competed in every game, and our team is really close. I think we have the loudest bench in the WPIAL. It is really important to support one another.

“I’m especially looking forward to ending my QV basketball career with Allie Ponzo and Lauren Blackmer, who I’ve loved playing with since the beginning. They’re the best.”

Herrmann is a straight-A student with a 4.8 GPA. She plans to study chemical engineering in college and possibly continue her basketball career.

“I plan to attend a college with a fantastic chemical engineering program,” she said. “I have applied early action to a few colleges and am waiting to hear. One of them (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology) is recruiting me to play basketball.”

The talented QV student-athlete was asked to name her favorite subject.

“It is too hard to pick just one favorite subject,” Hermann said. “I am extremely fortunate to have such amazing teachers. My favorite class today was probably AP Calculus BC when we went over anti-derivatives, but it really does shift moment to moment.”

And, that last time Herrmann received a “B” in one of her classes?

“It has been a while,” she said with a smile.

At the end last month, Quaker Valley defeated the likes of Ambridge, New Castle, Westinghouse, Central Valley, Hopewell and Montour in succession.

“Players are getting used to what we’re asking them to do and they are settling into their roles,” coach Johns said. “We’re getting used to the intensity of section play and the speed and skill of some very good teams and individual players in our section.

“It’s still a work in progress, and we’ve got some tough games ahead of us, but the team’s attitude and approach of working every day is starting to show in the games.”


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