The Prep Charter Lady Huskies came into the season not knowing what to expect from Public League basketball competition.
The team played only a limited junior-varsity schedule last year. Even though all new Public League girls’ basketball teams start off in the Bronze Division — the lowest of the three divisions — the players still have to adjust to the competition.
So far, the Lady Huskies are getting results with a 3-0 start, tying them for first in the division with Northeast and Bok heading into yesterday’s games, which started after press time.
"I think the girls are doing a really good job of picking up on what they did last year," said coach Lisa Benvenuto after Friday’s 64-58 win over Furness.
Winning required more of a team effort than normal after starting guard Shana Jordan was called in the first half for a double technical, which comes with an instant ejection.
"There were a bunch of bad calls and it was really frustrating," the junior said. "I shouldn’t let them take me to that point."
Sophomore guard Ashley Pearsall made watching from the bench a little easier for her teammates as she exploded for a game-high 29 points, 18 of which came in the second half.
"Nobody is ready for her in the Public League," said Jordan. "People better watch out for her."
Pearsall did everything from hitting open three-pointers to going for the big steal. She was involved in almost every play of the second half. The young player shows no fear against the taller and more experienced varsity players.
"It’s been real hard playing against girls that are better than me," she said. "It’s a great challenge, but it makes me step my game up."
Fellow sophomore Jakiyyah Workman, who finished the game with 11 points, was the only other Prep Charter player to reach double figures. Furness, on the other hand, got balanced scoring with 19 points from sophomore Alisha Joyner, 14 points from freshman Latasha Cook, 12 points from junior Jasmine Bembery and 10 points from junior Cheron Wise.
With the Preparatory Charter School of Mathematics, Science, Technology and Careers in only its fifth year of existence, the athletes aren’t dealing with the pressure of being Public League championship contenders like, say, University City, Central or Franklin Learning Center. The local school’s boys’ basketball program made history last season when it became the first charter to join the Public League.
The boys did manage to pick up a win over Bodine, but have struggled since. Coach Jonathan Groom and his players entered the week still looking for the first win of the season. Like the girls’ team, the boys are young, but have only one senior in their starting lineup.
The girls, on the other hand, have two seniors and two juniors, with the rest being underclassmen. Benvenuto said Groom has advised her on what it takes to compete in the Public League.
Even though her team is off to a great start, this season is still a learning experience for the Lady Huskies.
"In order to pick up wins, you have to find the other team’s inconsistencies and use them to your advantage," she said. "It’s a smarter game. They just can’t play basketball, they have to think."
Win or lose, the players take every aspect of the game seriously, including the pre-game warm-ups and stretches. Benvenuto will even work with some of the girls prior to games to make sure they are properly stretched out. The bottom line is discipline.
"How you practice is how you are going to play," the coach said. "If you are not sweating by the end of warm-ups, then you don’t belong on our team."
And while some coaches might tolerate players yelling back at them, at Prep Charter it’ll earn you laps around the gym.
The Public League rookies aren’t letting their 3-0 start go to their heads, as the Lady Huskies still have six league games on their schedule. Pearsall, who hopes her play eventually earns her a college scholarship, is positive.
"If everybody improves, I think we can do a lot," the sophomore said. "If we play like a team, we can win some games."
Because Pearsall is expected to be around for two more seasons, the future is looking bright for the Public League’s youngest team.
"I can’t say anything bad about her game," Benvenuto said. "She dictates how our team does. She is going to turn a lot of heads in the Public League."
When the season started, Benvenuto was hesitant about predicting the number of wins. Now that the team is off to a strong start, she is optimistic about the Lady Huskies’ chances of contending for one of the two Bronze Division playoff spots.
"I think if they play the game the way they know how to, I think they can come out very high in the rankings," the coach said. "I would like to see us in the Silver Division next season."
Bronze Division Standings
(as of Tuesday)
Prep Charter 3-0
West Philadelphia 1-2