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Around the Public League

Champs are here. After winning two of the last three Public League girls' championships, the Central Lancers will look for consecutive titles behind senior point guard Najah Jacobs.

Champs are here. After winning two of the last three Public League girls' championships, the Central Lancers will look for consecutive titles behind senior point guard Najah Jacobs.

Jacobs, who in November committed to Division II Philadelphia University, was the Public League's title-game MVP a season ago, when the Lancers beat Prep Charter.

Central went 12-0 in the league and 18-7 overall. The Lancers fell to Archbishop Ryan in the District 12 Class AAAA title game and to Central Bucks East in the first round of the state tournament.

But it's difficult to deny the success Central has had in the Public League, and with the 5-foot-4 Jacobs at the helm, the Lancers likely will make another strong run at a league crown.

Drained roster. Strawberry Mansion was two points away from a Class AA state boys' title last season, when the Knights dropped the title game to South Fayette. Mansion sported a perfect 16-0 record in the Public League, went 28-2 overall, and overcame a powerful Imhotep team in the state semifinals.

But the Knights lost a lot this off-season.

They graduated 10 seniors, including D.J. Newbill, who is playing at Southern Mississippi, and lost Khyree Wooten, who transferred to Imhotep.

With all the departures, Mansion is left with just two returning players from last season, Khalil Whitehead and Eric Jefferson. First-year coach Matthew Johnson knows the program must rebuild.

"It's like a new era. It's new blood," Johnson said. "We need to make our own mark."

The Knights also welcome two transfers from winning programs in Tyrone Madison (Neumann-Goretti) and James Cole (Prep Charter), who should help the upstart Knights.

Said Johnson: "I'm looking at those two guys for leadership, as well as my two guys who are returning."

Freire's speed bump. The last two years, the Freire Charter girls have owned the District 12 Class AA crown.

Last season, at 21-6 overall and with an 11-1 record in the Public League, the Dragons reached their second consecutive league semifinal.

But that's where they ran into a familiar foe: Prep Charter, which eliminated Freire the last two years in the final four.

This season, Freire jumps up to AAA.

Coach Terron Younger concedes that reaching the state playoffs will be more difficult because of the transition. But he sees the AAA jump in the Public to be an asset, allowing for the Dragons to face teams such as Prep Charter earlier in the year, giving his staff an opportunity to scout the bigger, better schools that the team will face in the league playoffs.

"Now we're in AAA with Prep Charter, so we don't have to wait until the semis to play them," Younger said. "We get a piece of them in the regular season."

Freire welcomes back four players from last season's roster, including junior point guard Taryn Zinson and sophomore shooting guard Chantal Thomas.

Frankford fallout. Similar to Strawberry Mansion's situation, the Frankford boys' team returns just one varsity player from a team that was 22-5 and 14-0 in the Public league. The Pioneers advanced to the second round of the Class AAAA state tournament, before losing to eventual champion Plymouth Whitemarsh.

Taylor Bessick, at 6-foot-9, is the squad's one returning player, but he played sparingly as a junior - so infrequently that coach Dave Huzzard said Bessick logged no more than five minutes all season.

This season, Frankford will have a roster filled with players who have just junior-varsity experience.

"The thing is, you can't even call it rebuilding," Huzzard said. "It's amazing how little experience at the varsity level they have."

   - Evan Burgos