By ANDY EDWARDS
EAST WHITELAND -- Adashia Franklyn had been waiting three years for this moment. New head coach Leah Kim hardly had to wait at all. No matter how long the delay, Tuesday night was pure gratification for the West Chester Rustin girls basketball team.
Franklyn poured in a game-high 22 points to go along with 10 rebounds and four blocks, star guard Noelle Powell coupled 14 points with 10 rebounds, and the Golden Knights (10-1, 16-6) led wire to wire in clinching the school’s first Ches-Mont American Division title with a convincing 69-49 victory at Great Valley. Katie O’Hare added 14 points and Anna Steinmetz and Casey Warley chipped in nine points apiece for Rustin, which scored the game’s first 16 points, weathered a Patriots rally, and then pulled away down the stretch to grab a piece of history.
"I’ve been wanting a banner since I got here," Franklyn said afterwards. "My team has helped me so far and I am so thankful for them. I couldn’t do anything without the other players on the court."
Kim Hooven scored a team-high 20 points and Maddie Buettner added 12 for the Patriots (8-3, 13-7), who watched any hope of an upset go out the window when the Golden Knights jumped out to a 16-0 advantage, making eight of their first nine shots and running circles around the Great Valley defense with precision passing and knock-down shooting from the outside. The Patriots got as close as four in the second half, pulling to within 39-35 late in the third quarter on a free throw by Danielle DiSanto (nine points). But the early hole proved too deep to dig out of, the Golden Knights ending the period on an 11-4 run. Great Valley never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.
"It’s hard to win when you spot a team 16-0," Great Valley head coach Alex Venarchik said. "I was proud of the girls for fighting back in it. Most teams would have folded it in...The girls left everything out on the court."
Since joining the American Division in 2007, Rustin had won titles in several sports, but the girls basketball squad had yet to reach the pinnacle. Enter Kim, who took over for Colette Dugan and wasted no time in leading the Golden Knights over the hump in her first season as head coach.
"I don’t have many words," Kim said Tuesday. "I knew we had a lot of talent coming into this year, but with myself being new and with such a young squad, there’s no guarantees. There’s never any guarantees...Talent only gets you so far. They had a lot of expectations on their shoulders, but they got over that hype.
"These kids really buy into that team concept. We don’t care who has the points. It’s really not about that for us. At the end, we want to raise the banner, which we did."
A golden start certainly didn’t hurt Rustin’s chances. Steinmetz buried a three-pointer on the game’s first possession, staking the Golden Knights to a 3-0 lead. That was only the beginning. O’Hare knocked down a baseline jumper after a free throw by Franklyn, forcing Venarchik to burn a timeout before the game was two minutes old. Two minutes later, he had to use another.
Franklyn sandwiched a pair of layups around a jumper by Steinmetz, making it 12-0 midway through the opening quarter and taking all the air out of a charged-up Patriots gym. Venarchik gathered his troops again, but the message took a while to sink in. O’Hare sunk another jumper and Warley scored on a put-back to make it 16-0. By the time Hooven got the Patriots on the board, only a minute remained on the first-quarter clock and Rustin was well on its way to its first league championship.
The opening spurt was even more impressive considering it came without the assistance, at least on the scoreboard, of Powell, the team’s star guard leading scorer. The sophomore struggled with her shot for much of the game, but made her presence felt on the defensive end and with her passing. Powell finished with seven assists, sniffing a triple-double in a strong all-around performance.
"I knew that my shots weren’t falling, so I knew that I had to make up for it on defense and make sure I got my teammates passes in the right spots," Powell said.
"We came out pumped and ready to go. We’ve been waiting for this game for a while. We’ve been wanting a banner since the beginning of the season and to get it up there is really amazing."
While Great Valley was missing nine of its first 10 shots, the Golden Knights got whatever they wanted on offense. Whether it was Franklyn inside, O’Hare and Steinmetz on the wings or Powell at the point, Rustin proved too dynamic for the Patriots to contain.
"You try to help out on the inside on Franklyn, but then they kick it out to the wings and knock down shots," Venarchik said. It’s pick your poison, and unfortunately we got a dose of it tonight.
"The stars were aligned for them."
Despite Tuesday’s setback, everything is still aligned for the Patriots to earn a berth in Saturday’s Ches-Mont Final Four. With a win over Octorara, which is 0-11 in league play, on Thursday, Great Valley will clinch a spot by virtue of a season sweep of Sun Valley (9-3 league).
Thanks to their most complete performance of the season, the Golden Knights can finish out the regular season worry-free and look forward to Saturday’s showdown with likely National Division runner-up Downingtown East, with tip set for 1 p.m. at Coatesville. Although Tuesday was a high that no one associated with the school had experienced before, Rustin still has bigger goals in mind.
"If we keep playing strong as a team, we can do anything," Franklyn said. "Anything is possible."
W.C. Rustin 69, Great Valley 49
W.C. RUSTIN: Warley 3 3-6 9, Steinmetz 3 2-2 9, Powell 6 2-3 14, O’Hare 7 0-0 14. Franklyn 9 4-10 22, Hoy 0 1-2 1, Walls 0 0-0 0. Totals 28 12-23 69.
GREAT VALLEY: Hooven 8 0-0 20, Edwards 0 0-0 0, Walsh 1 0-0 3, DiSanto 2 3-4 8, Buettner 4 2-2 12, Strang 3 0-2 6, Muehleisen 0 0-0 0, Patton 0 0-0 0. 18 5-8 49.
W.C. Rustin 18 16 16 19 -- 69
Great Valley 6 20 13 10 -- 49
3-point goals: Steinmetz, Hooven 4, Walsh, DiSanto, Buettner 2.