When March rolls around, it has been almost a given over the last nine years that room would be made in the trophy case at Holy Ghost Prep for another piece of hardware.

Since 2002, the Firebirds have had a virtual stranglehold on the top spot in Bicentennial League boys' basketball, winning seven league championships, including the last three.

While not characterizing this season as a rebuilding year, Holy Ghost Prep coach Tony Chapman recognizes that for a fourth consecutive title, his team will have a lot of growing to do.

"We lost eight seniors and four starters from last year's club," Chapman said. "It's too early to tell how we'll do.

"We have a lot of new faces who aren't used to playing with each other, so I think we're going to be a work in progress for a while."

Graduates from last season's 24-4 team include point guard Mike Byrne, who is starting for Case Western University, and forward Colin McCarthy, who is starting for Arcadia.

Chapman will rely on the lone returning starter, senior guard Tyler Juchno, and two reserves who saw considerable playing time last season: 5-foot-11 guard Mike DeStefano and 6-6 forward Ryan Lantzy.

Juchno was a second-team all-Bicentennial League selection last season, and Lantzy earned honorable mention.

"We're looking for Tyler to be the team leader," Chapman said. "Ryan worked his way to being the first guy off the bench last year, and he got some reasonable minutes. But there's a big difference between starting and coming off the bench."

The Firebirds are heavy with upperclassmen - five seniors and six juniors. But Chapman, who is entering his 33d season as the Holy Ghost coach, realizes the overall lack of varsity experience will be a challenge to overcome.

"We have the potential to do well, but it depends upon how quickly our guys grow up and play good varsity basketball," Chapman said. "We have kids that can play, but they're very inexperienced compared to last year's team.

"They're working very hard in practice. They know what the deal is; they understand the basketball tradition at Holy Ghost Prep. They can become a pretty good basketball team by the end of the year. It's my job to get the kids to play through their mistakes and play as a unit."

Contact Bob Cabnet