There was a nagging suspicion and there turned out to be good reason.

Back we plowed through coaches' All-Inter-Ac teams and, yes, this is quite the unusual winter.

Check this out: For the first time since the 1978-79 season, no league player can claim he earned first-team honors in the previous campaign.

Hmm. So what could that mean? Perhaps a mad scramble.

Because it returns three starters (Joe Hill, Jeff Holton and Dean Melchionni) and as many key subs (Cameron Ayers, Eric Yuschak and Tim McCarty) from a championship team, Germantown Academy is being eyed by most as at least a slight favorite.

But as coach Jim Fenerty noted, his squad so far is missing floor leader Kyle Griffin (now at La Salle University) and banger D.J. Johnston (Catholic University).

"We should be able to find some consistency with more practice time," he added.

The rub: Practice has been a scramble. GA has 10 teams (four girls, six boys) playing basketball and four more competing in volleyball, so gym space has been at a premium. In fact, the squad has sometimes been trekking to Conshohocken and using the Fellowship House.

That sound you're hearing is something else, because it's not the Patriots' rivals saying, "Aw, what a shame."

Elsewhere, Penn Charter and Malvern might have the best chance of pushing hard for league laurels. Each returns four rotation members.

The only new coach is Bill Dooley, of Chestnut Hill Academy. Yes, he's the same Bill Dooley who formerly was the head coach at the University of Richmond.

Per usual, league play begins in January - the 5th, at Arcadia University - with a tripleheader highlighted by a Game 3 tussle between GA and Malvern.

Inter-Ac thumbnails

RETURNING ALL-INTER-ACS, selected by coaches

SECOND TEAM: Travis Robinson, PC, F; Gary Lawrence, CHA, F.

HONORABLE MENTION: Joe Hill, GA, G; Chris Cowell, Malvern, F; Jeff Holton, GA, C; Matt Wunderlich, HS, G.

CHESTNUT HILL ACADEMY

Coach: Bill Dooley, 1st year (also Germantown Friends, 2006-07); Education: Rumson-Fair Haven (N.J.), Richmond. Career: 22-23.

Last Year: 2-8, 10-16.

Savvy seven: Mike Rhoads, 6-foot, G; Pat Connaghan, 6-3, G; Mike Mattei, 6-2, F; Todd Cramer, 6-3, F; Gary Lawrence, 6-6, F-C; Mike Lonergan, 6-2, F; Matt Whitworth, 6-3, G-F.

Dooley's comment: "How we'll be remains to be seen. So far, the kids have been responding well."

EPISCOPAL ACADEMY

Coach: Dan Dougherty, 8th year (also St. Pius X, 1959-61; Malvern, 1962-66; Penncrest, 1976; Episcopal, 1977-97). Education: St. Joseph's Prep, Saint Joseph's. Career: 643-281; 511-213 at Episcopal.

Last Year: 1-9, 4-21.

Savvy seven: Jack O'Neill 6-4, G-F-C; Matt Byrne, 5-11, G; Dan Hilferty, 6-foot, G; Omari Grier, 6-1, G; Cory Goodman, 6-foot, G-F; Ryan Oakes, 6-foot, G; Allen Heggs, 6-4, F-C.

Dougherty's comment: "We're young and hope to get better. Teams with size are giving us problems."

GERMANTOWN ACADEMY

Coach: Jim Fenerty, 19th year (also Egan, 1982-89). Education: Dougherty, La Salle. Career: 408-277; 347-139 at GA.

Last Year: 8-2, 17-11.

Savvy seven: Cameron Ayers, 6-4, G; Joe Hill, 6-2, G; Eric Yuschak, 6-5, F; Dean Melchionni, 6-5, F; Jeff Holton, 6-7, C; Jack McDonnell, 6-4, F; Tim McCarty, 6-3, G-F.

Fenerty's comment: "We approached this season with a lot of enthusiasm. Even though we have struggled out of the gate, I am very optimistic about this team."

HAVERFORD SCHOOL

Coach: Steve Cloran, 5th year (also Marple-Newtown, 2001-03). Education: O'Hara, St. Francis (Pa.). Career: 63-114; 46-58 at Haverford School.

Last Year: 7-3, 20-8.

Savvy seven: Matt Wunderlich, 5-11, G; Sam Kurtzman, 5-11, G; Ryan Kearney, 5-11, G; Andrew Hubley, 6-3, G-F; Jon Saft, 6-7, F; AJ Jones, 6-2, G-F; Louis Karapanagiotides, 6-foot, G.

Cloran's comment: "My staff and I are blessed with a group of high-character, selfless and committed scholar-athletes."

MALVERN PREP

Coach: Jim Rullo, 2nd year. Education: Malvern, Drexel. Career: 17-9.

Last Year: 7-3, 17-9.

Savvy seven: Chris Cowell, 6-4, G-F-C; Ryan Nassib, 6-3, F; Matt McManus, 6-foot, G; Kevin Corbett, 6-4, G-F; Brendan McNulty, 5-11, G; Will Lee, 6-2, G; Lamon Church, 6-3, G-F.

Rullo's comment: "Still in search of an identity. Our major challenge is to play for 32 minutes and get better every day in practice."

PENN CHARTER

Coach: Jim "Flipper" Phillips, 8th year. Education: Penn Charter, La Salle. Career: 112-81.

Last Year: 5-5, 12-18.

Savvy seven: Mark Rhine, 6-1, G; Chris Kurz, 6-7, F-C; Justin Renfrow, 6-6, C; Travis Robinson, 6-4, G-F; Dylan Moody, 5-7, G; Will McMunigal, 6-2, F; Don Rauchut, 6-5, F.

Phillips' comment: "We are a young team that is getting better at playing together every day. We should be ready for league competition."