Girls basketball teams happy to be back

Bendu “Bebe” Border, a three-time All-Public selection, returns to lead Frankford.

Typically basketball teams build off the season prior.

This year, that will be pretty tough to do for a lot of of schools.

Last year was a difficult season for high school basketball teams. because the pandemic forced some teams to sit it out, some teams to play greatly reduced schedules, while other teams were able to have close-to-normal seasons while worrying about protocols and staying healthy.

This year, it looks like we’re back to normal, with fans being able to attend games and full nonleague and league schedules.

It’s a good thing, too, because most of the teams in Northeast Philadelphia are on the upswing.

In the Public League, this should be a fun one with most of the teams being in contention for the postseason.

In the Catholic League, our guys should once again post some memorable moments.

And in the Catholic Academies League, Nazareth Academy is very young, so it will be fun to watch rookies blossom into stars.

Here is a look at local teams’ prospects.

CATHOLIC ACADEMIES LEAGUE

Nazareth Academy

The Pandas had a very short season last year, failing to win a game, but coach Mary Kate Magagna is optimistic that her team is headed in the right direction.

Senior Morgan Cheeseman returns to the mix to lead a talented backcourt that also includes junior guard Jenna Garzone and freshman Reese Power.

Garzone is one of many promising youngsters who could have the Pandas celebrating good times before they graduate.

“We are extremely young with 17 underclassmen out of 22 girls in our JV and varsity programs,” Magagna said. “The group of girls that we have are all extremely coachable and hardworking. With this year’s numbers, we are able to get a lot more reps and constantly compete and make each other better.

“With having such a young team, we are focusing on the little things, as we always do. Working together as a team, communicating and learning each day will help us improve over the season. The environment is so positive and enjoyable to be around. As a coaching staff, we are all extremely excited to have a normal season and be in the gym with a great group of girls.”

CATHOLIC LEAGUE

Archbishop Ryan

It was a tough year to be a first-year head coach, but Chris Zambito did a fine job helping his young team improve. The Ragdolls won six games and are poised to do even better this year.

The team will be led by senior captain Mackenzie Reed, a returning All-Catholic who was also one of the top players in the fall in field hockey. Reed will play both forward and guard this year. When she’s in the backcourt, she’ll work with sharpshooter Delaney Finn. When she’s at forward, she’ll play next to returning starter Haley Davis.

The Ragdolls are young, but having a leader like Reed will make a huge difference.

“We’re a very young, tight-knit group,” Zambito said. “We have a high ceiling of growth potential.

“It’s a very young team with one senior, one junior, eight sophomores and two freshmen. We’ll get better as the season progresses. We must play strong defense to be competitive.”

St. Hubert

In a normal season, the Bambies would have been the talk of the Catholic League, winning 10 of 12 games during the regular season, but last year only one team from the Catholic League Blue Division made the playoffs. That was the Bambies, but the run didn’t last long.

This year, they’ll be looking for a strong encore and they have the players to make it happen, led by seniors, guard Gianna Grassifulli, and forward Charlotte Pugh. The Bambies also have a strong junior class with guards MacKenzie McLaughlin and Mia Tobin, and forward Kate Patterson. Sophomore forward Alexa Price will also contribute this year.

The Bambies aren’t the biggest team out there, but coach Dave Schafer believes the athleticism and experience will pay dividends.

“(Our) lack of size could present a problem, we will rely on quickness and athletic ability to stay competitive,” Schafer said. “(It’s a )very coachable group that has a lot of heart and desire. The goal is to be competitive in probably the best overall league in the state.”

Little Flower

Still awaiting information.

PUBLIC LEAGUE

Abraham Lincoln

The Railsplitters struggled during the regular season last year, but went on to win a playoff game, giving them some experience in postseason play. This year’s squad is young, but they do have a good leader who can bring the new players up to speed quickly.

Edrina Fields enters her fourth year as a starting guard. With a young team around her, Fields will be counted on for points, as well as teaching the other girls how to play like a Railsplitter.

Coach Adam Zummo is optimistic about the season, with a good mix of experienced players and young, talented players who could be budding stars.

“The outlook is promising, yet I feel next year will be our breakout year,” Zummo said. “This year is just adjusting back to school and everything that comes with how COVID changed our lives in general. Once we have this season and a strong summer, I feel we will be extremely good and ready to take on some of the best this great city has to offer.”

Frankford

The Pioneers won three of five games last year and advanced to the playoffs. They got much better as the season went on, and they return a lot of the people who made last year a success.

Coach Jonathan Michaels has high hopes for this year, led by Bendu “Bebe” Border, a three-time All-Public selection. The combo guard is just as good in the classroom as she is on the court.

Frankford also returns point guard Leyshka Ruperto as its point guard and Kaysia Norris-Higgins, who also plays guard and was All-Public two years ago. Other guards include Saniyah Brown and Amya Miller.

The Pioneers also have some size with centers Tatiana Dubose and Diamond Broadnax, and forwards Njah Ball, Tamiesha Rhem and Alicia Turner

The Pioneers showed plenty of promise last year. That raises expectations for this year.

“We will start two returning All-Publics in Bendu Borbor and Kaysia Norris-Higgins along with Leyshka Ruperto who may be the best of the three long term,” Michaels said. “We also return a ton of experience in Nijah Ball and 4-year varsity player Tamiesha Rhem. For the first time in my tenure at Frankford, we should have experienced depth along with some size. We will have size in the form of Tatiana Dubose, Diamond Broadnax and Alicia Turner — but they will be greatly inexperienced.

“We have high hopes for the season after a year where we played a playoff game for the first time since 2016 and we return plenty of experience. We would expect to contend for our division and once again be in position to play playoff games.”

Delaney Maier, who started since her freshman year, returns to lead Franklin Towne Charter. PHOTO: MATT CELLA / FRANKLIN TOWNE CHARTER

Franklin Towne Charter

The Warriors didn’t participate last year due to the pandemic, but in 2020, enjoyed a great season that produced 14 victories. Despite the layoff, there’s a good chance they’ll be among the better teams again this year.

The leader of the team is power forward Delaney Maier. The senior captain has been a starter since she arrived as a freshman. She’ll share leadership duties with Necely Tejeda, the other captain, who will play point guard.

While the Warriors have great veterans, they also have some great young talent. Sophia Blaisdell, a freshman, will play shooting guard, and Kaiya Tucker, another freshman, will play center.

The layoff has the Warriors a bit behind, but coach Brianna O’Donnell likes what she sees so far.

“Our team is led by two seniors who have stepped up during the preseason as leaders,” O’Donnell said. “Towne will focus on hard work and playing together as a team.

“Our team is going to work hard at practice every day and look to improve at each game by pounding the ball inside the paint.”

George Washington

Eagles fans probably won’t recognize most of the players this year. Washington has only one returning player after sitting out last year due to the pandemic.

But senior guard Inasia Ellison is more than capable of helping her younger teammates get up to speed. And what her teammates lack in experience, they make up for in talent.

The guard will share a backcourt with freshman Celyne Vah.

The Eagles are also talented underneath with forwards, freshman Ikera Ellison and junior Aniya Collins, and center Rebecca Varhula.

Coach Chris Reid has had some success in recent years, and after a year off, he’s eager to see what this group can do

“We have only one player who has ever played for Washington basketball back to play this year,” Reid said. “The team will rely heavily on the experience of Inasia Ellison, who will hopefully lead the young players who need to learn the game very quickly.

“My hope is that our team can play together and improve as the season goes on in a very tough, second division. We are having fun as a group, enjoying playing and learning everyday at practice. It’s nice to be back on the basketball court after two years.”

Northeast

The young Vikings didn’t know what to expect when they started last year, but the young squad figured it out pretty quickly under first-year coach Ken Artur, and won seven games, qualifying for the postseason.

This year, Northeast returns four of five starters and that experience will come in handy.

The team will still be young, with juniors Lyric Ramsden, Raquelle Dandy and Aleena Bose as the elder statesmen on the team, with sophomores Taslim Sabil, Tasnim Sabil and Skylynn Rivera returning to the mix.

“We have no seniors on the team,” Artur said. “We’re young and better than last year. Expectations are high.”

Samuel Fels

The Panthers were young last year and will be again this year, but the hope is to improve from the 0-5 record in the shortened campaign.

It’s possible that’ll happen, too, because while young, coach Malvin Carrion has some talent to work with.

Glerysbeth Maldonado-Serrano and Guerla Saint-Vrestill return to the team. Despite their youth, both are sophomores, they’ll be counted on for strong play as well as leadership. They’ll have help, too, from Laysha Aragones and Natalie Ramos, who will play forward. Carrion likes the defense and rebounding those two bring.

It might take some time for the Panthers to get up to speed due to their youth, but it should be a fun year of growth.

“We are a young team with no seniors and will lean heavily on returning sophomore guards Glerysbeth Maldonado-Serrano and Guerla Saint-Vrestill to anchor the offense,” Carrion said. “The Lady Panthers will continue the tradition of playing aggressive and strong team defense to improve from a COVID-shortened 2020-2021 season.”

Tacony Academy

The Lions opted out last year, but made the Public League and state playoffs in 2020. Coach Paul Rieser hopes to enjoy the same type of season this year, and they have some stars who can make that happen.

Aleemat Remi-Ayofe, a shooting guard, is in her third year as a starter. Other players who contributed to the run two years ago were juniors, forward Sierra McClure and guard Maniyh Monroe.

There is a lot to like in the Tacony lineup, and Rieser is ready to see how the ingredients mix together.

“We have quickness, perimeter shooting and defensive pressure,” Reiser said. “We will be competitive, work hard and hopefully that will translate into some wins.”