As strong as the league is, the national spotlight is on the Inter-Academic League this season for one reason - that sharpshooting, still-perfect Germantown Academy team.

A 31-0 record last season, capped by the team's first Independent School Women's Basketball Championship has earned the Patriots a spot in USA Today's Girls' Hoops Super 25 national rankings.

It also earned them the unquestioned title of the most feared girls' basketball team in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

"There's definitely a red X on our back this year," said guard Maggie Lucas, who enters her senior year as's No. 34 college recruit in the country.

"But I think everyone on the team is pretty good with handling it, and we're pretty humble. So going into the season, it's like a clean slate to us. We're not focusing on what we did last year. We're just focusing on what we have to do this year."

Germantown Academy coach Sheri Retif guided the Patriots to the Inter-Ac title in each of her 11 seasons at the school. She's been dealing with high expectations her whole career, and for Retif, the formula for reaching those expectations is simple.

"You just have to have fun and take it day-by-day," said Retif, whose team is 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the Inter-Ac so far this season. "We've just been really focused on trying to build team chemistry. We really haven't looked too far back into what we accomplished last season, and we really haven't looked too far ahead at long-term goals. We just stay focused on the little goals that we have everyday and let the big goals take care of themselves."

Four seniors graduated from the undefeated 2008-09 team, but one thing that stood out to both Retif and Lucas this preseason is the performance of the team's younger players.

"All of the underclassmen have really, really worked on their game in the off-season," Lucas said. "Jaryn Garner is a great guard. Monica Shacker, she's a great shooter, a great ball handler, and Alexa Gallagher, she's an unbelievable player. She pushes me everyday at practice. So everyone is just working really great together right now."

The Patriots know that every bit of that hard work will have to pay off in order to repeat last season's success in a league they know is tough.

"Notre Dame is always strong, and they're so well coached that it will always be a competitive game," Retif said. "Penn Charter this year has a strong junior class, and I think they'll be flying under the radar for some games. And Springside has an excellent coach, so it should be an interesting season."

The Patriots are scheduled to visit Springside Tuesday at 5 p.m.

Though Retif is counting on younger players to get them through a tough league and nonleague schedule, she's expecting the seniors to be the glue holding together one of the strongest teams in the country.

"Our senior leadership is tremendous," Retif said. "Maggie Lucas and Tori Thierolf are our captains this year and although their games are different they bring so much to the floor as far as leadership. Tori's forte is more defensive, and Maggie's is more offensive, but they really complement each other really well on the court."

In her final year before heading off to college at Penn State, Lucas knows the expectations are high. But she wouldn't have it any other way.

"The preparation for this season has been pretty crazy actually," Lucas said. "I think we're as ready as we're ever going to be. So, yes, the expectation being so high, I think we're in the best possible place to meet those expectations."