The West Chester University men's basketball team is building off a historic season with a handful of luxuries. The Golden Rams return four of five starters from last season's 23-6 team that won its first NCAA Tournament game, and they welcome back dynamic scorer Malik Jackson.
Expectations for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference favorites are high, but coach Damien Blair said the team now knows what it takes to win.
"We went deep in the playoffs last year," Blair said. "The experience helps a lot because it's not easy getting there."
"Last year was kind of uncharted waters for us," senior guard Matt Penecale added. "Now that we've been there, I think we know that we can get back there and go even further."
Penecale, an Abington graduate, is joined by guard Frank Rokins, forward Jackson Hyland, and center Tim Toro as returning starters.
Jackson, who went to Penn Wood High School, is back with the team after missing last season with academic issues. Jackson averaged 19.2 points, 3.1 assists, and 3 rebounds in his sophomore campaign. He's averaged 34 percent from three-point range on his career and is expected to replace the scoring production and defensive intensity the team lost with the graduation of Tyrell Long, a former Bishop McDevitt star.
"He's an underrated defender," Penecale said of Jackson. "He's really quick. He has a high IQ, so it's really good having him back."
West Chester opens the season Friday at 5 p.m. against West Virginia Wesleyan in West Liberty, W. Va., for the MEC/PSAC Challenge.
On the women's side, the circumstances are different, but the expectations are the same.
After finishing 22-7 last season, coach Kiera Wooden returns just one starter, but she has lofty goals for her young core.
"If my freshmen and sophomores can grow up in a hurry, I think we'll be OK," Wooden said. "I don't think our expectations ever change. We're always expected to compete in the East. We're always trying to win a PSAC championship. … The traditions that we set year in and out don't change. The bodies and the uniforms do."
Junior guard/forward Katie Fisher, who started all 29 games last season, averaged 8.4 points and 4.5 rebounds.
"She's a great leader, a vocal leader and one of those types of kids that does anything you ask her to do," Wooden said. "She defends multiple positions and scores in a variety of ways."
Making up for the loss in production from last season's team is redshirt senior forward Madison Torresin. She started all but one game two seasons ago. She averaged 12.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game before missing all of last season with an ACL injury.
The Golden Rams start the season in the Carol Eckman Memorial Tournament against the University of Virginia at Wise on Saturday at 4 p.m.
Here are some other men's teams to watch:
Cabrini starts its first year in the newly formed Atlantic East Conference. It is coming off a season in which it finished 25-4, won the Colonial States Athletic Conference title and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It will open the season at home against Eastern on Tuesday at 8 p.m.
Herb Magee's 52nd season comes on the heels of the program's first Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference title, and his team returns sophomore Alexander Gorton. He averaged 16.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.8 steals and 39.1 minutes per game as a true freshman. The Rams are the favorite in the CACC South division and will be trying to earn another NCAA Tournament berth and build off last season's first-round loss to Le Moyne.
Jefferson's season will start against American International College on Saturday at noon at North Andover, Mass. And, if Magee has some spare time, maybe he can head over to Camden to give Ben Simmons some pointers:
Widener was picked second in the Middle Atlantic Conference and is coming off an 18-10 season. Coach Chris Carideo enters his 12th season, after guiding his team to the Eastern College Athletic Conference Tournament title last season. The Pride will open things up on Thursday against Penn State Brandywine at 6 p.m. as a part of the Lascala's Fire Tournament in Glassboro, N.J.
Junior guard Ryan McTamney, a former La Salle High School star, averaged 13.4 points per game last season and started all but one game to help the Bears to a 17-10 season that ended in the Centennial Conference semifinals. Coach Kevin Smalls' team is picked to finish fourth in the CC preseason poll. The Bears' season starts Friday at 6 p.m. at Roanoke.
Rowan is led by an experienced group led by backcourt brothers Nick and Rob DePersia, both Haddonfield High grads. Nick averaged 12.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game, while Rob tallied 7.5 points, 4.2 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. Rowan opens the season on Thursday at 8 p.m. against Rosemont College, following Widener vs. Penn State Brandywine in the Lascala's Fire Tournament.
The Scarlet Raptors went 3-21 last season, including a 10-game losing streak to finish the season. The team returns spot starter Juan Perez-Jones and Camden Catholic High grad Terrance Harris, who averaged 4.4 points last season off the bench. Rutgers-Camden starts off by hosting Haverford College on Saturday at 1 p.m.
The Griffins are coming off a 5-21 season but return starting forward Tony Toplyn Jr. and Libal Awl as well as key reserve Cartier Talford. They'll start the season Saturday at Pace.
Holy Family went 4-23 last season, but former Lower Merion High star Terrell Jones returns as the Tigers' main offensive weapon after he averaged 14.7 points and 5.7 rebounds as a true freshman guard/forward. Holy Family's season is set to start on Saturday at 2 p.m. against host Merrimack College.