Locust Grove’s Strong Rock Christian School has a star scholar-athlete in junior Penny Naftel.

Her grade point average is six points above the 4.0 of straight As.

The 16-year-old plans a career in science – perhaps helping fellow sports players – and is mad for mathematics.

“I love how consistent math is,” Naftel said. “It is like a puzzle and I love solving problems.”

Numbers favor the No. 15 player as she provides solutions on the Lady Patriot basketball court.

According to varsity coach Andrew McCullers, Naftel is an expert in dunking shots inside and outside the paint.

The forward averages more than 17 points per game and more than 10 rebounds per game.

Naftel made more than 43 percent of her three-pointer shots, over 41 percent of her field goals and more than 71 percent of her free throws.

“Her ability to shoot and score in all ways – three-point, two-point jumpers, drivers and free throws – made her our leading scorer last and this year as well,” McCullers said.

Naftel said she deploys her shooting skills whether at the free-throw line or in a full court press.

“I am the team’s main shooter,” she said. “I have a consistent top-of-the-key shot and a strong drive.”

The way Naftel races down the court to the basket can break through the other team’s defense, McCullers said.

“She can handle the ball and dribble drive, so this help a lot in running our offense,” he said.

McCullers said she is also the team’s leading rebounder, assisted by her 5-10 height and her technique against the opposing team’s shooters.

“Her jumping ability, box-out skills and desire to go get the ball leads to many rebounds,” he said.

Naftel said she adjusts her strategy on the fly, depending on the pressure exerted by her opposite numbers.

“When my opponents are playing defense, I wait to see how they are playing me, closer or sagging back, and I react to that,” she said.

Naturally, Naftel is a starter this year, as she was her sophomore year, and “played a lot as a freshman,” the coach said.

McCullers said the team is “very young” – there are no seniors on the roster – but is “doing OK” with a 6-12 record as of Jan. 9, with Jan. 16 and 19 games cancelled due to winter weather.

He said the record belies some narrow point spreads.

“We have lost four games by 3 or less points,” McCullers said about contests like the Dec. 5 game against the Cavaliers of Macon’s Mount de Sales Academy and a tilt against the Tattnall Square Academy Trojans in a tournament game Dec. 27.

Wins have put some distance between the final scores, like a 50-29 Dec. 23 victory against the Ola Lady Mustangs and the 44-17 conclusion to Jan. 9 game against Elite Scholars Academy of Morrow, who will seek revenge Feb. 2.

The MVP of the eight-team Strong Rock Christmas tournament is also a team player.

“I love playing with my best friends and I’ve loved watching us grow and succeed as a team,” Naftel said.

In turn, her teammates look to her for leadership and motivation.

“I try to encourage my team on and off the court, whether in practice or in a game, to facilitate every opportunity to get better,” Naftel said. “I try to lead my team through hard work and hustle.”

The McDonough resident spends her free time practicing the game, when she is not in church or socializing with friends.

“I work out five times a week lifting weights,” Naftel said.

The only child of J.W. and Kate Naftel also gets help from her dad, who coaches her in ball handling, one-on-one and shooting.

Her coach said he can see the future biology major and occupational therapist succeed as a college student and in college basketball.

“Penelope has a great desire to play the game and be good at what she does,” McCullers said. “Her qualities of desire and natural talent, mixed with her solid fundamentals, work ethic and want to be good, makes for a good player.”

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