Quaker Valley girls look forward to playoff test against Knoch

Thursday, February 23, 2023 | 2:53 PM

There’s no knocking Quaker Valley’s quarterfinal-round playoff opponent.

QV’s girls basketball team, which received the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye, will clash with No. 5 Knoch at home Feb. 24 in the WPIAL Class 4A tournament.

The Knights (15-8) scooted past No. 12 Hopewell, 53-21, Feb. 21 in a first-round matchup.

That’s the same Hopewell team that QV (15-7) defeated twice, 50-24 and 42-37, in section play this season.

“We know Hopewell fairly well having played them twice all ready. They improved as the season progressed,” QV coach Ken Johns said. “They play hard the entire game. (Coach) Jeff Homziak has done a good job with them and they do a lot of things well, defense being one of them.

“We haven’t played Knoch, but I’ve had a chance to watch them in person and on film. They are a good team with some very nice complementary pieces. They have more than a few players who can score and they have a very good point guard that really runs the team well.”

The Knights finished as the WPIAL 4A runner-up to Blackhawk in 2021-22.

“They made it to the championship game last year, so they know how to win,” Johns said. “They are used to it and expect it. There’s a lot to be said for that.”

The QV girls know how to win as well, posting a 13-3 record in their final 16 regular-season games. The Quakers won four of five and six of eight down the season’s home stretch.

A seven-game winning streak that ran from Dec. 17 to Jan. 9 erased the memories of QV’s early 2-4 record. The Quakers won 11 of 13 games to end the month of January.

“We’re excited that we’ve qualified for the playoffs. That was one of the goals coming into the season and I’m happy for the team that we were able to qualify,” Johns said. “There are a lot of clichés about playoffs being a new season and anything can happen, but there is some truth to that. We’re going to have to be ready to play our best no matter who we face. All the teams that are playing at this point in the season are doing so because they’ve earned it.

“We came into the season with a few goals, getting into the playoffs was one of them. I’ve been happy with how the team has played overall this season. The season always has its ups and downs, but the players have kept things in perspective and kept working when things have been going well and rebounded quickly when they didn’t. It’s a pretty resilient group. They have really come together on and off the court. It’s a fun group to be around and I hope we can keep it going for a while.”

Oumou Thiero, a 6-foot-4 freshman, is QV’s team leader in scoring (13.2 ppg), rebounding (9.8 rpg) and blocks (3.7 bpg).

Thiero, listed as a guard/forward, is the younger sister of Kentucky freshman guard Adou Thiero

She is helped out on in the frontcourt by Shannon Von Kaenel, a 5-10 senior forward who averages 6.8 rebounds per game.

The Quakers’ backcourt is led by senior guard Nora Johns, a fourth-year starter who averages 11.5 ppg and leads the team in points, assists, steals, free-throw percentage and 3-point field goal percentage.

Johns is complemented by Maria Helkowski, a senior guard who sports an 11.2 ppg average, and junior guard Madi Chapman.

“We have a nice balance of seniors with experience and some underclassmen who can play,” said coach Johns, QV’s second-year coach. “It’s been fun to watch them evolve and learn how to play together.

“The group of seniors, the three starters plus (guard) Silvia Almanzar, has been playing together for a long time. It’s been fun to watch them grow as individuals and as a team. It’s the kind of thing we are looking for (in order) to build a successful and sustainable program.”

Knoch won six games in a row and seven of eight at midseason, and went on a 12-2 tear before losing its final two regular-season games to North Catholic and Laurel (19-2), the No. 2 seed in 3A.

The Knights, who are coached by Chris Andreassi, tied for second place with Highlands in Section 1, won by North Catholic.

Team leaders for Knoch include the likes of senior guard Nina Shaw, a Cal (Pa.) commit, senior guard Hattie McGraw, junior guard Naturelle Ewing and senior guard/forward Megan Vasas.

McGraw was lauded as an A-K Valley athlete of the week in January.

“Making it back to the WPIAL championship would definitely be a big goal of ours,” McGraw said in a Trib HSSN interview. “It’s going to take a lot of focus mentally to lock in. Everyone has to buy into what we’re doing, even the players who might not have as much playing time. Everyone has to buy and in and value the ball every possession.

“We always play hard with a lot of energy; our defense is always there.”

The top four seeds in Class 4A — Blackhawk (19-3), North Catholic (19-3), Elizabeth Forward (17-4) and QV — landed first-round byes in the WPIAL tournament.

Blackhawk and Quaker Valley finished first and second in Section 2 this season.

“I think our seeding is a testament to both how we’ve played and the section we play in,” coach Johns said. “The seeding is a nice recognition for a good season, but it doesn’t mean much once the games start.

“Everyone will be ready to play.”


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