In the thick of it.

Sun Valley joins the Ches-Mont League's American Division this year, and all indications are that the Vanguards will be in the thick of the race with Great Valley and Oxford, with Bayard Rustin as a dark horse.

In the National Division, Downingtown East is the odds-on favorite to win another crown. The Cougars won the National Division title last season after the league expanded to 13 teams in two divisions. They wrapped up their 10th District 1 Class AAAA championship and finished with a 28-2 record. The only losses were to St. Mark's (Del.) and Central Dauphin.

Coach Bob Schnure, who is in his 29th year as a coach at Downingtown, has a number of experienced returnees, including seniors Meg Kerrigan, Kristen Blye. Amber Yacenda, Biz Matta and Kelly Joran.

Summer success.

A successful summer program following a 20-4 record last season has Sun Valley coach Frank Ridpath optimistic. The Vanguards finished first in summer leagues in the Strath Haven and Ridley areas, going unbeaten in the latter.

"We're familiar with many of the Ches-Mont teams, so it should be interesting," Ridpath said.

Second team all-DelVal selection Sam Wilson, a 5-foot-10 junior, is one of the players Ridpath is counting on, along with 5-10 senior Ashley Montenacchio and sophomore guard Jen Crowley.

A new look.

The Oxford Hornets (16-9) made it to the state Class AAA playoffs in which they lost to Allentown Central Catholic.

Mary Pat Tait, Erica Marvel, Michaela Rucci and Becca Ruggier are among the Hornets' returnees.

"We'll have a different look this year," said Oxford coach Brian Uhrig. "We'll have a lot of speed. I'm excited."

Second spot.

In the National Division, it looks like Downingtown West and possibly Bishop Shanahan and West Chester Henderson will battle for a spot behind Downingtown East.

West, which made it to the final eight in the PIAA playoffs last year, returns one of the league's top players in Isabel Scott, a 5-10 senior. To go with her, coach Dave Johnson has Amanda Donia, Jess Beswick and Brittany Sicinski.

The Warriors feature Shante Evans, a 6-1 senior who averaged 22 points last season. She had played for the Warriors as a freshman before going to Rustin for a season. Senior Katie Armstrong and junior Jackie Panich should also contrbute.

Third-year coach Mary Ann Keenan has high hopes at Shanahan despite losing six to graduation. Senior point guard Jackie Burg heads the list of returnees.

"Our goal is to make the district playoffs, which we missed last year," said Keenan of the Eagles who were 11-13.

Around the league.

Other National Division members West Chester East, Avon Grove and Coatesville also finished under .500 last season.

East won six out of its last 10 games to finish 10-14 last season. If the Vikings are to get above .500, they'll have to do it without height, according to coach Dan Rudluff.

In the American Division, Unionville is hoping to improve on a 13-9 record. Kennett was 3-21 a year ago. Octorara, under new coach Luke Gibson, has a standout in Kacie Hershey.

- Don Beideman