Giant steps. Not every highly touted big man in the Friends Schools League plays for Academy of the New Church.

Daniel Ochefu, Westtown's 6-foot-9 junior center, is one of the most sought-after college recruits in the country. He is also the leader of a team that fell one win short of a league title last season.

"This is a really important year for Daniel," Westtown coach Seth Berger said. "I think he's a really special kid. He'll certainly shoulder the load for us. But at the same time, I think he's surrounded by a bunch of really good players."

Westtown graduated seven seniors after last season but returns a veteran team, including three starters. Along with Ochefu, brothers Longji and Nanribet Yiljep return to start for Westtown. Sixth man Berk Atuk is also back.

But in a league that seems to get tougher every year, Berger is taking nothing for granted.

"Our league is absolutely brutal," he said. "Our goal of making the playoffs for the third year in a row would be a really nice accomplishment for the team this year."

Senior leadership. Defending league girls' champion Friends' Central lost five seniors from last season's team. But with starting point guard Monaye Merritt back for her senior season, the Phoenix expect to be in the mix to repeat in the Friends League.

"With a competitor like Monaye on the floor, we expect to be competitive in every game that we play," coach Phillip Annas said. "I think one of Monaye's strongest attributes is her ability to make those around her better. And that's the mark of a very good point guard."

Merritt, a two-time all-league player who recently committed to Temple, has led Friends' Central to appearances in the last two Friends League championship games. The Phoenix beat Shipley for the league title last season.

"Having Monaye on the court is like having another coach," Annas said. "She's a student of the game, she knows the game very well, and she works very hard at it."

Faster pace. With the graduation of two first-team, all-league players - 6-foot-8 Dominic Morris and 6-5 Travis Robinson - the defending league-champion Friends' Central boys will feature a much more up-tempo style of play.

"We have a completely different team than we've had over the last two years," coach Jason Polykoff said. "We don't have the size that we've had, but we're a lot quicker and a lot faster than we've been."

Morris and Robinson are the only two starters gone from a 2009-10 team that beat Westtown, 58-45, in the league championship game.

Senior guards Malique Killing and Devin Coleman and junior forward Amile Jefferson return to start for Friends' Central.

Jefferson, who averaged 15.1 points in league play, and Coleman, who averaged 14.5 points in the league, were also first-team all-league players in 2009-10.

"They were our two leading scorers last year, and they both just have that ability to put the ball in the net," Polykoff said. "And they bring a quiet leadership.

"I think the other guys kind of watch and emulate the way that they play. It's kind of a trickle-down effect. They play hard, and they want to win."

   - Chris Melchiorre