After a season in which Chester went undefeated in girls' basketball in the Del-Val League, the perception is that the Clippers again will be the favorite. After all, they have had a strong presence in the league for the last 10 years.
But in the eyes of Marvin Dukes, Chester's coach, that just isn't the case. For Dukes, this season is about retooling.
"Teams may consider us to be a favorite in our league, but I don't," said Dukes, who enters his fourth season at the Chester helm. "Looking at what I lost from last year, it's more of a rebuilding year."
Dukes primarily refers to the departed Malika Staples and Karen Flagg, who averaged a combined 33.5 points per game and were Chester's leading scorers a season ago. That one-two scoring punch fueled a fiery Chester offense, which averaged 67 points, dropped at least 80 points five times, and broke 90 once.
With Staples and Flagg gone, senior Georria Clark, a shooting guard, steps into the leadership role. Clark, who is 5-foot-4, averaged 13.1 points as a junior.
Laqueena Ferguson, who at times last season provided a valuable scoring punch, will get more minutes at small forward in place of Flagg.
Transfer Mya Nelson, who is nearly 6-foot, is versatile enough, Dukes said, to play anywhere from small forward to center. The hope is that Nelson's size down low will allow Chester's speedy guards, such as junior point guard and two-year starter Janera Handy, to get open on the perimeter.
Clark assumes greater responsibility on a team of mostly juniors.
"We still have the help that we had last year," Clark said, referring to players such as herself and Ferguson, who she believes will step up with added playing time.
"We have a post player, and actually last year we didn't. . . . It's going to better because we have a post this year."
Such factors have Clark very confident in the Clippers' roster. She's so confident, she can't help but look beyond league play.
"I see us definitely Del-Val champs again, but it won't be that important," Clark said of the Clippers, who were 13-5 overall and 8-0 in the league last season. "We should win the Del-Val every year, so we're not going to worry about the Del-Val. We're going to try and go far in the playoffs."
The Clippers fell to Upper Dublin in the first round of the District 1 Class AAAA playoffs last season, despite being the higher seed. Chester might have had the more athletic squad in that game, but Dukes said his team just wasn't focused, that his girls "weren't as motivated as I thought they were to be out there on the floor."
Now, the coach is faced with a younger roster and lost stars. He expects Academy Park to make a strong move in the conference behind a young squad that he saw developing into a formidable team last season.
And that is what Dukes is attempting now. The coach's voice rings with hesitance when speaking of this roster's readiness. He sees the season as a "work in progress" but hopes that during the season the Clippers' play will elevate.
Dukes said he won't use youth as an excuse, but the coach is quite cognizant of what his young roster entails: a "legit rebuilding year."