The Abington girls' basketball team experienced both ends of the emotional spectrum last season.
The high point came when it beat neighboring Cheltenham for the program's first PIAA District 1 championship since 1975. The low came two weeks later, when a "blind hook shot" with 2.6 seconds remaining ousted the Ghosts from the state tournament.
"It was a heartbreaking loss," Abington coach Dan Marsh said of the 44-42 overtime defeat against District 3's Red Lion in the state quarterfinals.
Determined to atone for that last-second elimination, Marsh and the Ghosts are aiming even higher this season.
"It was an incredibly hard loss," the coach said, "but it motivated the girls. They want to prove that last year was no fluke."
Abington went 25-5, finished tied for second in the Suburban One League National Conference, and, as the No. 6 seed, upended No. 3 Central Bucks East, No. 2 Council Rock North, and No. 1 Cheltenham en route to the Class AAAA district crown.
In the district final at Villanova, the Ghosts downed the favored Panthers, 54-44. Cheltenham boss Bob Schaefer, about to enter his 30th season, has compiled a 707-154 record (.821 winning percentage) and won two state championships.
"To go against Bob Schaefer, who is a legend in girls' basketball, and come out on top, that was pretty amazing," said Marsh, 41.
Thanks in large part to Marsh, Abington has joined Cheltenham, Council Rock North, Central Bucks East, and Downingtown East among District 1's elite teams. About to enter his sixth year, Marsh has a 98-39 record, with four consecutive 20-win seasons.
Before taking over the Ghosts, Marsh, a health and physical education teacher at Abington Junior High, went 100-41 in five years with the girls at Akiba Hebrew Academy, in Bryn Mawr. With a 198-80 career mark, he is on the doorstep of another milestone.
His defensive-minded coaching style was partly the result of spending 31/2 years as a student manager for the Temple men's basketball squad, under John Chaney. "It was a great experience," he said. And the 5 a.m. practice sessions? "They were torture."
Abington, in trying to repeat as district champ, must replace 1,000-point career scorer Emily Leer. Leer, now at Villanova, averaged 17.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks while earning Inquirer first-team all-Southeastern Pennsylvania honors.
"She cleaned up a lot of our defensive mistakes," Marsh said. "Now, we don't have her there to bail us out."
Leer is the program's third Division I player in the last five years. The others are American's Liz Leer, Emily's sister, and Rhode Island's Ajanae Boone, who spent one year at Abington after transferring from Cardinal Dougherty.
The Ghosts do return four starters: junior guard Aiyannah Peal, and three seniors: forward Jamie Shectman, guard Chynna West, and 5-foot-11 center Jessica Schmidt. Peal was a second-team all-conference selection, and West was a third-team pick.
"We're not the fastest team in the world," Marsh said, "but we should be able to play good defense, get out in the open court, and pound the ball inside."