The Great Valley girls' basketball team finished 26-5 last season, best in the school's history, and made it to the second round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs before losing to Wilson of West Lawn.

Coach Paul Girone said the team's success is one of the first fruits of a community feeder program organized by two fathers about six years ago.

"They are two guys who live basketball and wanted to help make the [high school] program better," said Girone, referring to Tom Curran and Keith Walsh.

Curran's daughter, K.C. Curran, was a key part of the last two Patriots teams that won 49 of 58 games and the school's first AAAA state playoff game. Casey is playing for Salisbury State now.

Walsh, whose daughter, Dana Walsh, is a senior on the Patriots, has served as Girone's freshman coach.

"It's amazing what they've done with their program," Girone said. "It's expanded each year, and we're reaping the benefits. They've gotten girls more interested in basketball."

According to Tom Curran, the program started with about 60 girls. Today, it has about 800 boys and girls from pre-kindergarten to high school age. The players in the pre-kindergarten group, or junior hoopsters as they're called, work on fundamentals.

"We both had young daughters interested in basketball, but there was nothing in our community for them," Curran said. "We put notices in elementary schools and soon found ourselves coaching six teams. We started renting school facilities, but we soon ran out of gym space."

At the time, the high school program had been struggling, winning 10 percent of its games over a five-year period.

"We felt sorry for the girls," Keith Walsh said.

When the community program ran out of gym space, the organization began to lease warehouse space in East Whiteland Township, one of the three municipalities in the Great Valley district. With the help of parents and through fund-raising, they built two courts in the warehouse.

"We have about 10,000 square feet of space for the Great Valley Community Organization. It's a nonprofit, 501C program. We even have senior citizens bingo and tai chi in the building," Walsh said with a chuckle. "It's all volunteer. Coaches coach one game then officiate the next."

Both men said the long-term goal is to have a permanent community center not only for basketball but other activities as well.

Girone, in his fifth season at Great Valley, said he didn't know what to make of it when he was first approached by Curran and Walsh.

"I didn't know them, but I soon realized they had no hidden agenda. Schools can be a little leery about that sort of thing. They were interested in the community," Girone said. "Now our programs are coordinated so that makes my job easier."

Although several key players graduated - including K.C. Curran - Girone expects the Patriots to be very much in the Ches-Mont League's American Division race.

"We have some big shoes to fill, but the well isn't dry," Girone said.

The 5-foot-91/2 Dana Walsh and 5-8 Colleen O'Malley, another senior, provide two experienced hands. A pair of 5-9 juniors Emily Hagar and Sarah Bienes add more height. Girone sees junior Amanda Germer helping the team's outside shooting one.

Girone also points out that the junior varsity was 19-2 last season.