There is an old saying in the Inter-Academic League that Malvern Prep coach Jim Rullo remembers hearing first from Episcopal Academy coach Dan Dougherty.
"The championship of this league is won on Tuesday afternoons," Rullo recalls Dougherty saying.
That adage likely will hold true for Malvern Prep again this season.
Since Inter-Ac teams are not members of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, they do not compete in a sanctioned postseason district or state tournament. So the league championship is decided by 10 regular-season league games, after which the team with the best record is crowned champion.
Last season, a young Friars team, led by first-team all-Inter-Ac guard Lamon Church and second-team all-league forward DeQuann Walker, finished 22-9 overall and 7-3 in the Inter-Ac. Malvern Prep tied for second place in the six-team league with Chestnut Hill Academy behind champion Germantown Academy (9-1).
"We were pleasantly surprised," Rullo said of last season's success, "and that's what we're trying to do - compete and, hopefully, play for the Inter-Ac championship."
This winter, once Inter-Ac play begins, a more experienced Malvern Prep will face Chestnut Hill (Jan. 12), GA (Jan. 26), Penn Charter (Feb. 2) and Haverford School (Feb. 9) all in Tuesday battles that will factor largely into the Friars' chances for the elusive league title.
"What makes our league great is you have to come every day in those 10 league games and bring it, because every game's a playoff game," said Rullo, who enters his fourth season as the Friars coach with a 60-29 career record.
Though Malvern Prep is more experienced, the Friars' six top players include one senior, four juniors, and a sophomore.
Captain Ryan Creighton, a 5-foot-11 point guard who averaged six points and five assists last season, is a North Carolina lacrosse recruit. Juniors Church (13 points, seven rebounds) and Walker (12 points, 11 boards) return as last season's top two scorers. Center Tracy Peal, a 6-5, 220-pound junior, and 6-4 sophomore Brendan Kilpatrick each carry averages of seven points per game.
"We had a pretty good summer coming into last season, and I think the kids are talented," Rullo said. "But at the same time, we play a pretty tough schedule, so you really don't know what you have until you've got to go through some of the battles."
The first hint of what Rullo has came Dec. 2 in the Friars' first game of the season, a 64-41 road win over Shipley. An imposing Walker (6-3, 190 pounds) led all scorers with 15 points, and the active Church (6-4, 180) filled the stat sheet with 13 points, six blocks, and five steals.