|Staff photo by Brad Spahr/Downingtown West's Kayla Feairheller drives to the basket during Saturday's|
By BRAD SPAHR
CALN - They say it’s more difficult to win it all the second time around, because everybody is always gunning for you after you do it the first time.
Well, the Downingtown West High School girls basketball team has overcome all challengers to its throne so far this season and now they find themselves just one more victory away from capturing back-to-back Ches-Mont League titles.
The Whippets put themselves in that position on Saturday afternoon as they defeated Great Valley, 43-29, in their semifinal round game in the Ches-Mont Final Four Tournament at Coatesville High School.
Senior forward Kayla Feairheller, just two days removed from surpassing the 1,000 career point milestone, turned in yet another big effort with a game-high 20 points, and the Whippets overcame a sluggish start to advance to the title game for the second year in a row.
Downingtown West (16-7 overall), the National Division champs, will face American Division winner West Chester Rustin in the league championship game on Tuesday night at 5:30 p.m. at Unionville High School. Downingtown West lost to the Golden Knights, 55-47, back on Jan. 5 in a nonleague tilt.
"We’re so excited to have a chance to defend our title," said Feairheller. "I think it’s funny that we’re almost like an underdog. A lot of people probably didn’t think we would get back here again this season since we lost [Brittany] Sicinski. I doubt many people were expecting us to get this far. We like proving people wrong."
Sophomore guard Maddie Dew scored nine points, including a couple of key 3-pointers in a first-half in which the Whippets fell behind by a sizeable margin early. Senior forward Lindsay Galczynski added nine points and 13 rebounds, and sophomore Holly Schanck pulled down 10 boards to go along with her five points.
Great Valley (14-9) got 10 points apiece from senior guard Kim Hooven and junior guard Danielle DiSanto. The Patriots came out on fire right off the bat, sprinting out to a 9-0 lead to start the game.
However, the wheels fell off in a hurry from there as Great Valley then went nearly 10 minutes before scoring another point.
That allowed Downingtown West, who didn’t get on the scoreboard until Feairheller hit a 3-pointer with 1:49 to go in the first quarter, to eventually seize a 19-16 halftime lead.
"We had trouble getting in a groove early," said Downingtown West coach Dave Johnson, "but the girls settled in. We’ve been down before this year and we always keep fighting.
"We did a good job of taking care of the basketball after starting out slow, and we were able to finish our shots when we got around the basket."
Downingtown West also had a huge advantage on the glass, out rebounding the Patriots 36-20.
Great Valley appeared to be on the verge of getting right back into the contest late in the third quarter when Hooven made a steal and then dribbled down to the other end for a layup to cut the deficit to 28-24.
West, though, responded with a quick 5-0 spurt. Schanck came up with a huge old-fashioned 3-point play, scoring inside and then hitting the free throw after getting fouled. Then moments later, Feairheller drained a jumped and just like that the lead had ballooned to 33-24.
The Whippets were terrific defensively. They held Great Valley to only three points in the fourth quarter, and none until 3:25 left, and by that time had upped their advantage to double-digits, 37-26.
"This is not a tournament that is given to you," said Johnson. "There are only two spots open in each division and you really have to earn your way here. Now that we are here we are going to try and keep taking advantage of our opportunity."
Last year Downingtown West had the best season in the 10-year history of its school, capping it by winning their first Ches-Mont League title. Their best player on that team, Sicinski, has since graduated and now plays for West Chester.
The Whippets have found their way back to the title game once again, however, and they are hoping to avenge their earlier loss to West Chester Rustin.
"We’ll have plenty of motivation since they already beat us," said Johnson. "We’re happy to be in a position to defend our title. You never want to see two other teams playing for it while you’re sitting on the sideline. We aren’t going to give this thing up easily -- they are going to have to earn it."
Downingtown West 43, Great Valley 29
GREAT VALLEY: Hooven 4 2-3 10, Walsh 1 2-2 4, DiSanto 4 1-2 10, Buettner 1 0-0 2, Strang 1 1-2 3. Totals: 11 6-9 29.
DOWNINGTOWN WEST: Dew 2 3-5 9, Camden 0 0-0 0, E. Kuhlman 0 0-0 0, Galczynski 3 3-8 9, Feairheller 9 2-2 20, Schanck 2 1-1 5. Totals: 16 9-16 43.
Great Valley 9 7 10 3 -- 29
Downingtown West 6 13 14 10 -- 43
3-point goals: DiSanto, Dew 2, Feairheller 2.