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When history leads to glory

For motivation, coaches often depend on tales of titles won.

Bob Schnure, the girls' coach at Downingtown East, shares stories of overachievers such as Brandi Keates who came up big in big games.
Bob Schnure, the girls' coach at Downingtown East, shares stories of overachievers such as Brandi Keates who came up big in big games.Read moreBOB WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

When it comes to motivating his girls' basketball team, Downingtown East's Bob Schnure occasionally will pull out the state-championship card.

When he does, it's usually to point out one of the overachieving players from one of five teams that the 29-year varsity coach has guided to PIAA Class AAAA state titles.

For example, when Downingtown beat Penn Hills for top honors in the 1990-91 season, 6-foot senior center Brandi Keates, once a relative unknown in the program, was a key member of the supporting cast behind stars Tina Nicholson and Tora Suber.

"When Brandi was in 10th grade, she was the last person off the bench for the [junior varsity] team," Schnure said. "She made herself into a very good player through hard work."

In the state final at HerseheyPark Arena, Keates converted a memorable foul-line hook shot to help the scary-quick Whippets knock off Penn Hills, 69-53, and cap a 31-1 season. A year earlier, the Indians, of District 7, had trounced J.P McCaskey, 86-39, to earn the crown.

Before Downingtown split into East and West, Schnure, who owns a 644-195 career record, guided the old school to state championships in 1987, '91, '92, '97 and '98. Last year's District 1 title with Downingtown, gained by a 41-39 victory over Methacton, was his 10th overall.

To some degree, success breeds success at a top-level program with a quality coach, one committed to the discipline and fundamentals. The players want to repeat, or better, the previous team's accomplishments

After claiming back-to-back state championships in 1996-97 and 1997-98, an inexperienced 1998-99 Downingtown team used that momentum to post a 24-8 record, place second in District 1, behind Cheltenham, and advance to the state quarterfinals.

A corps of seniors, headed by Jen Wedo, and sophomore sharpshooter Megan Wilkinson spurred the Whippets to a much-better-than-anticipated showing. In the district semifinals, they snapped Council Rock's 26-game winning streak. They barely missed out on defending their district championship, losing to Cheltenham, 59-58.

Like Schnure, veteran Cheltenham coach Bob Schaefer knows about trying to continue the winning ways after bagging a state title.

Schaefer and the Panthers twice experienced statewide glory at the Class AAAA level, in 1999-2000 and 2006-07. They were runners-up in 1998-99 and 2004-05.

"I wear the [2006-07] championship ring to practice every once in a while, just to let the kids see it and remind them of what we've been able to do here," said Schaefer, who has compiled a 652-148 record in 27 seasons.

Cheltenham's 1999-2000 squad was on a mission long before Schaefer took out the balls and rolled them onto the hardwood for the first practice. Many of the same players had fallen just short of a state title, losing to District 7's Schenley by 62-56 in the previous year's final, and vividly recalled what the long drive home from Hershey had felt like.

"That year, we knew we had to take it one game at a time and make it happen, but we knew that we belonged there again with the best in the state," Schaefer said. "It was just a matter of wanting it bad enough."

Helped by Schaefer's hard-driving practice style and his sideline rants at foolish mistakes, the Panthers became the area's first girls' champion since Norristown won at the Class AAA level in 1977.

The Panthers topped a taller Oakland Catholic squad, 54-52, for the championship and finished with a 31-2 mark. They won without their starting center, Ivy Laws, who underwent knee surgery two weeks before the title game.

"That team had a little bit of everything," Schaefer said. "It didn't have much height, but the girls were intelligent, athletic, and good ball handlers."