Having talent-rich basketball teams is nothing new for Linus McGinty. The veteran coach, entering his 15th season as the boss at perennial power Cardinal O'Hara, has had at least a handful of especially dominant squads.
In 1998-99, with a lineup that included five Division I-bound seniors, the Lions went 24-4 and beat Archbishop Carroll for their fourth Catholic League championship in five years. That group was led by Trish Juhline (Villanova) and also included Bridget Scanlan (Drexel), Karyn Connors (Drexel, later Holy Family), Amy Dessart Mager (Loyola, Md.) and Kara Cassidy (Quinnipiac).
In 2005-06, four standouts were part of a team that posted a 25-3 record and earned the program's 10th league title in 16 seasons: Heather Scanlon (Villanova), Kim Benton (Massachusetts), Meghan Gardler (Connecticut), and Amy Gillespie (St. Joseph's). Gillespie was sidelined with a knee injury early that season.
And who could forget phenom Kristen Clement's last two years at O'Hara, when the Lions went a combined 54-2? Tricia Halpin (George Mason) made key contributions in the 27-1 season of 1995-96, and Brandi Batch (West Virginia) was the righthand girl for Clement, a 2,256-point career scorer, in the drive to a 27-1 mark in 1996-97.
While McGinty is not saying it, this year's squad has a chance to be one of his all-time best.
The Lions, who went 25-2 and finished as The Inquirer's No. 1-ranked team in Southeastern Pennsylvania last season, return four seniors that have made Division I commitments and a junior who is receiving major interest at that level.
The seniors are 6-foot-4 center Stephanie Holzer (Vanderbilt) and guards Alysha Womack (Monmouth), Danielle Callahan (La Salle), and Alicia Manning (Lafayette).
Junior Natasha Cloud, a quick-footed and strong-rebounding guard, is hearing from the likes of Maryland, Ohio State, St. Joseph's, Villanova and Miami.
The imposing lineup has gained the school national recognition. In ESPN Rise's Fab 50 rankings, the Lions were No. 11 in the country and No. 3 in the East, behind only No. 2 Christ the King (N.Y.) and No. 1 St. Michael Academy (N.Y.).
In USA Today's preseason rankings, O'Hara, which claimed its third Catholic League crown in four seasons last season, was listed at No. 6 in the country.
Can McGinty and his players handle the pressure?
"We really have no choice," the coach said with a laugh. "But I think it will serve as motivation for the players. I see it as a good thing."
Holzer, an aggressive rebounder and shot-blocker, averaged 16.9 points and 11.7 rebounds per game last year. She was an Inquirer first-team all-area selection.
"She's a really, really good offensive player," McGinty said. "She runs the floor well, has a good jump hook. And she works extremely hard every day to get better."
Callahan, a top-notch defender, takes over for Melissa Downey, now at Lafayette, at point guard. Manning (10.4 points per game), Womack (10.2 ppg.) and Cloud (6.5 ppg.) are double-digit scoring threats.
With the Catholic League now a full-fledged member of the PIAA, O'Hara gets the much-awaited chance to vie for top honors in the state at the Class AAAA level.
"I think the kids are real psyched about that," McGinty said. "It should make things interesting, come playoff time."