So close.

Last season Eastern came so close to a sectional title before losing to Absegami, 47-44, in the South Jersey Group 4 final. This year Eastern hopes to make a return trip to the final, going one step further.

"We were close last year and that experience should help us," said Eastern senior guard Barrie Cohen. "We know people will be out for us this year and we have to be ready."

While junior center Genevieve Okoro justifiably receives much of the attention for Eastern, the play of Cohen will be a key for the Vikings.

Last season she averaged 12 points 3.2 assists and 2.2 steals. She has been a varsity starter since late in her freshman year and brings a veteran mind-set to a team that is ranked No. 2 in South Jersey by The Inquirer.

"There is not pressure by being ranked highly," she said. "It gets us in a better mind-set and makes us work harder to try to raise our level."

Camden making the grade.

Camden looks to improve on an 11-12 record, and one thing is for sure: Few teams will outsmart the Panthers.

Camden coach Tyshema Lane says that eight of her players sport grade point averages of 3.0 or better.

Three of them are returning starters, juniors Annie Payton and Brianna Peters and senior Kiyuana Faulk.

"We're very excited about this year because the girls are working hard on the court and in the classroom," Lane said.

Needing time.

It may take a little while for Timber Creek to jell. Angela Miller, a 6-foot senior, has returned to Timber Creek, but she must sit out the first month of the season after transferring from Living Faith Christian Academy, says Chargers coach Donna Clark.

Miller's younger sister, 5-7 sophomore Deanna Miller, also transferred from the same school but is eligible right away because she didn't earn a varsity letter.

The Chargers have just one returning starter, 5-8 sophomore Jasmine Martin, but also will have two other transfers from Living Faith, junior guards Jasmine Washington and Lauren Alwan, who will be eligible immediately.

Getting to the point.

While Seneca has one of the top inside tandems in 6-2 junior Chelsea Grover and 6-1 West Chester recruit Carly Strickland, a key will be the play of 5-1 sophomore point guard Melissa Giunta.

The ability of Giunta and 5-4 senior Katie Drayton to break the press and get the ball to the frontcourt, which also includes 5-10 Kelli Kowalewski, will be a key for the Golden Eagles.

Wert back in form.

Washington Township senior guard Dana Wert, who broke her collarbone while playing soccer in September, is back to 100 percent, coach Jennifer Natale reports.

"You wouldn't know anything happened," Natale said. "She has been as aggressive as ever."

Wert averaged 9.5 points, five assists and five steals, and shot 80 percent from the foul line last season.

Consensus picks.

There is really no consensus pick among the coaches as to the preseason pick in the Olympic American. The coaches informally polled suggest that defending champion Cherokee, Washington Township, Eastern or Lenape could win what is the most competitive division in South Jersey.

Camden Catholic is favored to defend its Olympic National title, with Bishop Eustace considered a top challenger and Camden a potential outside contender.

Defending Patriot Division champion Seneca is again favored, with Timber Creek and Shawnee expected to be the main challengers.

Young Lions.

Cherry Hill West will have one of the youngest teams in South Jersey, starting three sophomores and two juniors.

Shelby Brown, one of the team captains, is the only senior in the program.

"We got a lot of experience last year, but we're still young," West coach Bridget Garrity-Bantle said.

- Marc Narducci