As with many teams in the Inter-Ac League over the last 12 seasons, there has been only one hurdle between the Penn Charter girls' team and the team's ultimate goals.

The hurdle is Germantown Academy. The goals are league and Independent School state championships.

As the Inter-Ac grew stronger in the last decade, Germantown Academy held fast to its grip on the league's top spot, winning 12 consecutive championships.

But if their three meetings with GA last season revealed anything to the Quakers, it's that, unlike so many teams that have tried before them, the Quakers have a real chance this season.

In a 62-53 loss to Germantown Academy last season in the Independent School state tournament, Penn Charter played its best game in years against the league juggernaut, according to Quakers coach Diana Caramanico.

"I think that last game was really important for us, because even though we lost by nine, we came out and we had them down by a significant amount," Caramanico said.

"We were beating them by about 10 points, which is more than anyone has been up on GA in a long time. And even though we didn't win the game, that was an important step in the development of our team."

For three seasons, the only thing seemingly holding Penn Charter back was experience. The Quakers clearly had potential - they finished last season 19-7 overall and in second place in the Inter-Ac with an 8-3 record.

But with five returning starters, the Quakers enter 2010-11 as a seasoned, talented group hungry for a league title.

"The last couple of years, we were really young," said senior Aleesha Powell, who has started at point guard for Penn Charter since her freshman year. "But this year, we know what to expect and we know what to focus on.

"So the most exciting part is just getting this season started, because even in the first couple of scrimmages, you can see that we're a different team."

Powell and fellow senior Kendell Stokes, a forward, are counted on as leaders of the Quakers this year.

Penn Charter enters the season as No. 42 in ESPN's top-50 national rankings.

The only other area team to make the list is Germantown Academy, ranked No. 28.

"We're flattered to be ranked," Stokes said. "But we're not getting cocky over that. We know that even though we are ranked, there are still things that we need to improve on. But if we play as a team and we play the way we know we can, I think we can go pretty far this year."

Of course, with Germantown Academy also returning a talented team, Penn Charter is well aware that taking the next step likely means getting past GA.

The team is quick to point out how difficult the task will be. But with one of its most talented rosters in years, Penn Charter is looking forward to the challenge.

"I think they know what we can be capable of, and right now we're just trying to work and get to the point where they can deliver it," Caramanico said. "We're just looking to move forward and progress and do the best we can."

Contact Chris Melchiorre