Steph Smith, believed to be the tallest basketball player in the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies, knows she will have her work cut out this season.

Mount St. Joseph is now a Class AAAA school starting with this season. While it will be the only PIAA Class AAAA school in the league - most league schools are Class AAA - it will face some much bigger schools come playoff time.

And that probably will mean some extra work for Smith, who tops the Mount height charts at an even 6 feet.

The Magic make the Class AAAA classification cutoff by six students. The all-girls school has 433 enrolled in grades nine through 11, and will remain in that classification for at least another season after this one.

Two perennial area powers in that classification, Cheltenham and Council Rock North, have female enrollments of 540 and 787 in ninth through 11th grades, respectively.

"It will be more challenging, but I'm excited to start the first season as a Class AAAA school," said Smith, a 15-points-a-game scorer last season when the Magic went 23-5. She has committed to Loyola of Maryland. The Magic were ousted in the first round of the PIAA playoffs by West York last season.

Anticipating the move-up, Magic coach John Miller added some Class AAAA schools to the team's schedule. His team will open the season in a tournament at Cedar Crest near Allentown. In the tourney field are Cumberland Valley, a District 3 power, and Gov. Mifflin, also from District 3.

"We scheduled the games on purpose," Miller said. "We have games in the Spring-Ford Shootout. Engineering & Science, with Brittany Hrynko, and Delaware County Christian, with Emily Homan, will be there." Hrynko, one of the Public League's high scorers, is headed to DePaul. Homan has committed to Lafayette.

"It will be very challenging," Miller said, "but we don't think along those lines. We just want to play some good basketball."

Miller points out that the Catholic Academies can be very challenging without even looking at the Magic's nonleague schedule. Even if the Mount returns just about everyone.

Defending champion St. Basil is expected to be just one of the contenders for the crown.

When Smith was a freshman, the Mount won a state championship. She'd like to see a repeat of that in her final high school season, but knows that's a tall order.

"We just have to put our minds to it," she said after the Mount scrimmaged Archbishop Wood, the defending state Class AAA champion. According to Smith, the Mount split four quarters with the Vikings in the scrimmage.

"I know I'm expected to be a major scorer," Smith said. "I've been working hard on my shot, and it's gotten better."

She shoots around in the backyard with her brother Stephen, a 6-7 sophomore on the La Salle High varsity.

Smith will be joined on the floor by Mary Jo Horgan, a 5-10 senior; juniors Bridget Higgins and Maddie Kohler; and sophomore Kelsey Jones. Sophomore Megan Geatons and junior Cailin Schmeer, a 5-10 transfer from Hatboro-Horsham, should provide solid backup.

Horgan, who just came off a strong field hockey season in which the Magic reached the state semifinals, is ready to move up.

"I'm ready for it. It's a matter of knowing our jobs," Horgan said. "We'll just have to adjust to it."

Contact staff writer Don Beideman at 267-815-0733