Returning contributors have Quaker Valley girls in position to make noise

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Sunday, November 27, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Last season was a learning experience for the coaches and players on the Quaker Valley girls basketball team.

The Quakers advanced to both the WPIAL and PIAA Class 4A playoffs in Ken Johns’ first year as floor boss.

This season, QV is looking to make more noise in the section, followed by a hopefully deeper run in the playoffs.

“I’m excited at what I saw in the offseason and so far in our practices,” Johns said. “We have a number of players coming back that got good minutes and contributed last year. That’s something that always helps. The core group of seniors has been playing together for a long time, so I’m hoping they will continue to grow and help the team come together.

“We’re excited to get the season started and see what we can do. The players have been working extremely hard and are starting to come together as a team in a way that is really good at this early point in the season. It will be fun to see how the upperclassmen and the younger players complement each other on the floor.”

Quaker Valley posted an 8-6 record in Section 2-4A in 2021-22 and ended up 12-12 overall. The Quakers advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals and PIAA first round.

WPIAL champion Blackhawk won the section crown with a 14-0 record, followed by Beaver (11-3), Montour (10-4) and QV. Central Valley (6-8), Hopewell (5-9), New Castle (2-12) and Ambridge (0-14) rounded out the standings.

“We’re trying to get better every day we’re in the gym,” Johns said. “Whether that’s a practice or a game, we look at it as an opportunity to get better. We play in a tough section, and we know that most nights it will be very competitive. I think every team’s goal is to win as many games as possible, get into the playoffs and push as far as they can. We’re no different.

“But back to my earlier point, our focus is on improving every time we get in the gym. As for long-range goals, we’re just trying to continue to build the program.”

The Quakers are led by two returning starters in Nora Johns, a senior point guard, and Maria Helkowski, a senior guard.

“Nora really worked hard on her game all summer,” said her coach and father. “Between individual workouts and playing on an AAU team with some very talented players and a schedule that saw lots of very good competition across the country, she played and improved in many areas of her game. Those practices as well as games gave her a lot of experience.

“She will be one of the leaders of the team on and off the court. She brings three years of varsity experience into her senior year, so we’re going to count on that for sure. She started a few games her freshmen year, I believe, and got a lot of experience that year as well playing a lot of minutes in WPIAL and PIAA playoff games.”

Helkowski is a second-year starter in the backcourt for the Quakers.

“Maria really took advantage of getting more playing time last year,” coach Johns said. “She had some really good games and made some big shots in several games last year. She too will be counted on for experience having started every game last year.

“Her confidence has grown alongside her experience and it shows in how she’s practicing and playing. I expect her to step into an increasing leadership role this year as well.”

Nora Johns is a three-sport standout at QV, competing in basketball, soccer and track. She is a fourth-year starter in basketball.

“My expectations are for us to come into this season physically and mentally prepared to face our tough section,” she said. “I think if we set a good foundation now, we will see a lot of success later on in the season.

“I have a very good feeling about the team we have this year. The energy and work ethic we have shown already this early gives me high hopes for this season.”

Johns expects the Quakers to play at a fast pace this winter.

“I would say our strength will be playing tough defense and then pushing the ball up the floor,” she said. “We want to get easy buckets.”

QV’s role players of a year ago are being counted on to make more significant contributions this time around.

“We had a few players who got minutes and played well for us, especially late last year,” said Johns, QV’s coach, mentioning senior forwards Shannon Von Kaenel and Silvia Almanzar, along with junior guard Madi Chapman and forward Annica Kagle.

“Madi and Annica are being looked to to do more this year,” he said. “Madi provides another ball handler, a good defender and can make shots.

“Annica is a solid defender that can cover multiple positions, runs the floor extremely well and is a good rebounder.”

Two top freshmen on the team are Oumou Thiero, a guard/forward, and Zora Washington, at the guard position.

“The core of this team has been playing together basically since they picked up a basketball,” said Johns, who is assisted by Derek Liebert and Sydney Kaercher. “They are very competitive and tough-minded. The underclassmen and the freshmen have added to that core and complement it quite well.

“It’s a competitive group that has been together for a while. That’s a good combination.”

The Quakers will play five games in December in preparation for their section schedule starting in January.

QV tips off the season Dec. 5 at home against Rochester followed by an away game Dec. 8 at Moon.

Section foes this year are Ambridge, Beaver, Blackhawk, Central Valley and Hopewell. Montour and New Castle are in 5A.

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