Downingtown East's Bob Schnure will mark the beginning of his 30th season as a girls' basketball coach in the district tomorrow night when the Cougars host Council Rock North, considered by some observers to be the PIAA Class AAAA team to beat in District 1. The Indians are No. 1 in The Inquirer's preseason top 10.
Like so many of those seasons, there are high expectation for the Cougars, too. They are ranked No. 9. The Cougars, in their sixth year since the school district split into two high schools, are coming off a season in which they went 28-2 and reached the state playoffs eastern final before losing to District 12 champion Cardinal O'Hara, 47-38.
East lost eight players from that team to graduation, but tradition says it will be among the top teams in District 1 by season's end.
"I thing we're coming along. We're jumping into things right away," said Schnure, referring to the opener with North. Schnure could never be accused of being overenthusiastic about his teams.
Since he started after moving up from junior varsity coach, his teams at East and Downingtown have won 16 Ches-Mont League championships, 11 district titles, and five state crowns. They have won five straight league titles and seven out of the last nine.
The veteran coach returns one starter, Ro Gentry, from last season's team. The 5-foot-11 senior averaged 11 points and seven rebounds a game last season.
Gentry and MyNeshia McKenzie of Springfield (Delco) will be freshman teammates at Rider next season. This season, Gentry will be joined primarily by players up from the junior varsity.
"We're inexperienced at the varsity level," Schnure said.
He expects junior guard Nelissa Hummell, 5-10 senior Kelly Devlin, junior guard Kaitlyn Dougherty, and sophomore guard Noelle Alicea to join Gentry in the starting lineup.
Alicea "loves to play basketball," Schnure said.
Dougherty was injured in an auto accident and just rejoined the team a week ago. Devlin, sister of former East quarterback standout Pat Devlin, who's now at Delaware, is planning to play lacrosse at North Carolina after graduation.
"We're definitely a young team," said Gentry, who transferred to East from Ches-Mont rival West Chester Henderson. "We have some guards who can handle the ball. There's definitely pressure on us to live up to Downingtown East's reputation, but Mr. Schnure's a great coach, and if we do the best we can, I'm sure he will respect that."
"Our first two games with Council Rock North and Villa Maria should provide us with a good idea of what we can do," said Hummell, the point guard, of two teams expected to contend for the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies championship. "They will be good tests. If we work hard. I'm confident we can do well."