From the fall of 2001 until winter 2007, the Central girls' basketball team won 101 consecutive games against Public League opponents, capturing six Class AAAA league championships in six seasons.
Then, in 2008, the Lancers fell twice - to Northeast in the final game of the regular season and to Engineering and Science in the title game. The second loss dethroned Central, but it also taught the rest of the Public League an important lesson - don't anger the beast.
Central roared back last season, finishing 19-9 overall, 13-0 in the Public League, and winning the White Division over University City (8-1) and Bartram (7-2) before taking down Prep Charter, 53-42, on Feb. 20 for its seventh Public League championship in the last eight seasons.
The Lancers lost to Cardinal O'Hara in the District 12 championship game and to West Chester Henderson in the first round of the PIAA state playoffs, but Central had reclaimed the city crown.
"Our goal at the beginning of every year is to play in the Public League championship game," said 10th-year coach Frank Greco. "As important as the state playoffs are, and they're certainly becoming more important, the Public League title carries a special meaning for the kids. There's a great tradition in the city."
This season, the starters carrying on Central's winning tradition will be 5-foot-8 seniors Alina Gaffney (small forward) and Jasmine Hall (shooting guard), junior point guard Najah Jacobs (5-6), junior power forward Bella Ross (5-10), and a three-player rotation at center - senior Jasmine Rodgers (5-11), junior Melissa Livingston (5-11), and sophomore Ranaja McClenek (5-9).
Sophomore Brittany Wilson, a 5-foot-4 super-sub who can play point guard, shooting guard, and small forward, also could see significant time, said Greco, who is comfortable going eight or nine players deep into his bench.
Relying on a large and balanced lineup, as opposed to one or two star scorers, is how Central has been so strong for so long, Greco said.
"We've never had a kid in the top 20 in scoring in the city," the coach said. "But we've had five kids average 15. So our goal is that if we have five 15-point scorers, if you're the other coach, which 15 do you want?"
Greco recalled a championship-game victory over Strawberry Mansion in which Central held a Mansion player who scored 47 points in the Public League semifinals to nine in the title game; the Lancers won by 30.
Central was only able to establish such teamwork and confidence over time, and it all started after a loss to Franklin Learning Center in the 2000-01 Public League finals, Greco said.
Ashley Morris - a speedy, tough-as-nails guard who would later play at Temple - established an "attitude, a style of play," according to Greco, that put the team first at Central. The coach remembers the program's turning point this way:
"At the beginning of the next year, we get the team together and Ashley Morris says, 'Look, I'm here to win. I really don't care if I got to score 30, score zero, or get 10 assists, stop the other girl - we're here to win. That's what we're all about here.' That set the tone; from that point on there was a certain level of unselfishness."
The Lancers won their first of six straight titles in 2001-02, during Morris' senior season.
"Once we put all of this together, and Ashley along with those kids established a level of success, it just carried on," Greco said.
Though the Lancers are still 88 consecutive wins away from equaling the program's astounding 101-game win streak this decade, Central again has a nice balance of veterans, underclassmen and scorers this season that Greco believes will keep the Lancers relevant.