The Catholic League showed last season why it's such a respected league for girls' basketball.
Archbishop Wood won the PIAA Class AAA championship for the second straight year, and Archbishop Carroll got to the Class AAAA championship game before losing to Mount Lebanon.
With the returning players the two teams have, it looks as if the Vikings and Patriots will be right in the middle of the state races again. But first there's the matter of the Catholic League crown.
Carroll (23-7 overall, 12-0 league) won that title last season, handing Wood (27-4, 11-1) its lone league loss. Right behind at 22-6, 10-2 was Cardinal O'Hara.
Carroll returns seven experienced players, including Meghan Creighton, Rachel Pearson, and Sarah Curran.
"We should be very good," said coach Chuck Creighton, who is in his fifth season at Carroll.
Just how good, Creighton should find out very quickly. The Patriots don't play their first game in Pennsylvania until Dec. 30. They will open the season Saturday at perennially powerful Christ the King of New York.
"Yes, we have a brutal schedule," Creighton conceded.
At Wood, coach Jim Ricci returns four key players: Lauren Nealon, Taylor Kaminski, Alex Heck, and Jackie Pierson. Nealon, a senior guard, and Heck, a senior forward/center, check in at 5-foot-10.
As they did last season, the Vikings are expected to share the ball when it comes to shooting.
"We'll have to see how we perform," Ricci said.
Wood will open the season Sunday in the Beast of the East Tournament in Baltimore.
O'Hara coach Linus McGinty is looking for "a little better challenge" from his team when it comes to the league race. The Lions will have some height and depth to do it, too.
Among their returnees is 6-2 senior Maureen Leahy, who recently committed to play for Bryant. Shanice Johnson (6-0), Alex Stam (5-10), Libby Lannon (5-10), and Lisa Mintser (6-3) give the Lions added height. Guard McKenzie Rule is 5-7.
Neumann-Goretti is expected to improve its finish in the league with Nigerian-born Omowumi Rafiu, a Georgetown signee. In her first season playing for the Saints since coming to this country, Rafiu averaged 11 points last season.
- Don Beideman
A lot of eyes will be on Kahleah Copper, one of the top girls' basketball players in the area, as she tries to lead Prep Charter to another overall Public League championship. Fans also will be watching new coaches at two of the league's division champions.
The 6-foot-2 Copper, who has committed to Rutgers, led Prep Charter to a 25-3 overall record, the league's Class AAA division crown, and a spot in the PIAA playoffs.
With Copper joining other starters - Erick Sowell (6-0), Indiah Cauley (5-8), and Ciera Nimmions (5-9) - back from last year, the Huskies are a heavy favorite to win the Class AAA championship and the overall crown again.
Freire Charter (16-9) will look to 5-10 Chelsea Woods to make a run at the Huskies.
Ashley Morris, a 2004 graduate of Central, returns to her alma mater to take over coaching for Vince Parziale and Frank Greco, who had shared the duties. After playing for the Lancers under Greco, she went on to play for Dawn Staley at Temple, then helped at Central. This is her first head-coaching job.
She will count on 5-11 Melissa Livingston and Asia Mosee to lead the Lancers in their bid to retain the league's Class AAAA title. Central bowed to Prep Charter in the Public League championship game last season.
Frankford and Northeast are expected to challenge Central in AAAA.
Ray Pace, who helped with the boys' junior varsity last season, replaces Dave Hargrove as girls' coach at Engineering & Science. The Engineers are the Public League's reigning Class AA champs.
Pace will rely on 5-9 Monique Whaley-Briggs, 5-9 Yolanna Snypse, and 5-9 Aaliyah Worley.
Look for Imhotep Charter, under second-year coach Sabrina Allen, to challenge E&S in AA. Among her key players are point guard Deja Reynolds, 6-2 sophomore Ashley Murray, and Destiny Russell.
- Don Beideman
Germantown Academy has won the last 13 Inter-Ac girls' basketball championships. Some observers say that string could be in jeopardy this season, with as many as five teams having a shot at the title.
In addition to the Patriots, they are Episcopal Academy, Notre Dame, Springside, and Penn Charter.
GA coach Sherri Retif, who has directed all those league-championship squads, will look to the Patriots' depth to keep the streak going. Among her key returnees are senior guard Jaryn Garner, junior forwards Kiernan McCloskey and Olivia Gorman, junior point guard Dempsey Cooper, and junior guards Fran Sweeney and Natalie Toner.
Garner, signed to play for Virginia, averaged 10 points as the Patriots (23-5) won the Pennsylvania Independent Schools tournament and the Inter-Ac last season. McCloskey, the team leader in rebounding, is weighing scholarship offers from several colleges.
The team will miss post player Angela Upright for several weeks of the season while she recovers from anterior cruciate ligament surgery, but is expected to have Cooper for the start of the season. She also was injured.
Notre Dame and Episcopal might provide Germantown Academy its biggest battle for the top spot.
Episcopal, which handed GA its only league loss last season, will look to 6-2 junior Megan Quinn and junior guard Meghan Hubley to lead its bid. Sophomore Sarah Abbonizio will give Episcopal a boost when she returns from ACL surgery. The Churchmen's record last season, 16-10, was their best in several years, said coach Chuck Simmonds, who is in his eighth season.
Coach Marybeth McNichol will count on perennially strong guard play to lead Notre Dame. Juniors Megan McGurk (point guard) and Kathleen Fitzpatrick fill that bill deftly. Both are drawing Division I interest. Fitzpatrick is an excellent three-point shooter.
Springside, which finished 14-12, has a new coach in Steve Purcell.
Penn Charter also has a new coach, Dave Bass. He succeeded Diana Caramanico in June. A 1988 graduate of Penn Charter, he won three league titles in 10 years as coach at Abington Friends. He lost one of the Quakers' top players when Brianna Butler transferred to a school in Brooklyn.
- Don Beideman
Suburban One League
While Council Rock North and Cheltenham have received the spotlight as the dominant teams in their respective conferences of the Suburban One League, Central Bucks East has quietly gone about being the annual team to beat in the Continental Conference. Some people might say the Patriots have been overlooked.
Coach Tom Lonergan's team has won the conference five years in a row. The Patriots went unbeaten in 14 conference games last season and were 21-7 overall.
Three starters from that team - seniors Lindsey Kelly (6-0) and Shannon Devlin and sophomore Karoline White - return.
"We lost our top scorers, but we should be competitive," said Lonergan, who has earned more than 400 victories in his 28-year career. "It may be a little more difficult this season, but there's tradition involved."
He said he expects his team to face improved Souderton and Central Bucks West squads.
"They have just about everybody back, as does North Penn. It will be challenging," Lonergan said.
The Maidens feature Steph Knauer, who was named conference player of the year, averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds.
The National Conference race could prove to be the most interesting, with Council Rock South (19-8) trying to wrest the title from C.R. North (26-3). All-state selection Alex Wheatley, a 6-3 senior forward, and point guard Alexis Hofstaedter will lead the Golden Hawks' title bid. Wheatley, who averaged 20 points and 15 rebounds last season, is headed to Princeton. Hofstaedter has committed to William and Mary.
North will be without coach Lou Palkovics, who is on leave. Liz Potash, who served as an assistant for seven seasons until 2009, takes over.
The Indians also will be without premiere guard Devin Gold, who graduated. The District 1 Class AAAA champs will have three veterans - Emily Grundman, Halene Gemmell, and Alysa Dumont - returning.
Abington and Neshaminy could have a say in the race, too. The Ghosts return Aiyannah Peal, a four-year starter; Sarah Listenbee; 6-2 sophomore transfer Michael Harris; and freshman Deja Rawls.
"I expect Deja to have instant impact," coach Dan Marsh said.
Cheltenham (24-5) will seek its 23d American Conference crown in 25 years under coach Bob Schaefer. The Panthers are paced by Ciara Andrews, a St. Joseph's recruit.
Upper Dublin (23-6) appears to be Cheltenham's biggest challenger. Seniors Taylor Bryant and Jen Myers are among the Cardinals' leaders.
- Don Beideman
Friends Schools League
On the way to winning the Friends championship last season, Shipley coach Sean Costello put a lineup on the floor that included two freshmen, 6-2 Aja Ellison and Sox Alexander.
Ellison is the daughter of former NBA player Pervis Ellison and knows a little basketball. The speedy Alexander made the Gators go.
The two have a mutual friend, sophomore Asia Baker, who transferred to Shipley and should make the Gators even stronger than last season. Baker is 6-4 and plays for the New York Gauchos AAU team. She is from West Philadelphia.
The Gators, who also have sophomore guard Colleen Walsh and senior guard Jordan Turner, appear to be prohibitive favorites to win their fourth FSL crown in five years.
"Shipley is simply loaded," said Friends' Central coach Phil Annas, whose Phoenix will try to derail the Gators. They pushed Shipley in the league championship game last season, 44-34, but couldn't overcome Ellison's big, 20-point night. Ellison and Alexander each averaged nearly 14 points last season.
Annas lost standout Monae Merritt to graduation but does return key players in Meghan Cartafalsa, a 5-10 guard/forward; Maria Conyer-Jordan, and Sydney Frank.
"We'll try to play an up-tempo game," Annas said of his team's bid to offset Shipley's height.
Look for Abington Friends to be improved in the league this year.
- Don Beideman
The Central League has voted to hold postseason basketball playoffs no matter how the regular season finishes, a change from previous policy that appears to have made coaches happy.
Under the former policy, if a team went undefeated during the regular league season, it was declared champion and no postseason playoffs were held. If there was no undefeated team, playoffs were held for the four teams with the best records.
The undefeated policy was unpopular because teams finishing second, third, and fourth could be shut out of postseason play.
Under the new policy, if there is an undefeated team, it would get a bye in the first round of the playoffs and face the winner of a game between the second- and third-place teams for the postseason crown. If there is no undefeated team, the four teams with the best records in the 12-team, two-division league would engage in a playoff.
"I know I'm glad they changed it," said Garnet Valley coach Joe Woods, whose fourth-place team (15-8, 11-5) was shut out of a playoff opportunity last season because Lower Merion finished unbeaten (16-0) in the regular season.
After the Aces, the next five teams, Radnor (11-5), Springfield (13-3), Garnet Valley, Haverford (10-6), and Upper Darby (11-5) were separated by three games.
This season, Woods is hoping that seasoned players Mary Koscinski, Coley Ricci, and Allyson Heavens can help the Jaguars make the playoffs.
Springfield coach Kim Smith thinks her team has a good shot at the playoffs, too, with virtually everyone back from last season. Her top returnees are point guard Olivia Kane, Tori Gross (5-11), Alex Toplawski (6-0) and Meghan Dickinson.
"We should be in the mix," said Smith, who is in her 18th season.
Although Lower Merion lost a number of players to graduation, the Aces are always in the mix. Coach Lauren Pellicane has a knack for making them competitive.
Haverford and Conestoga could be factors, too. The Pioneers were young last season.
- Don Beideman
Downingtown East won the Ches-Mont League National Division last season, finishing ahead of Avon Grove. That has been the picture pretty much since 2004, the last time the Cougars did not win the crown.
With just two returning starters, can East repeat? Is up-and-coming Avon Grove ready to step in? Or will East's intra-district rival, Downingtown West, be capable of finally overtaking the Cougars?
"It looks like it's going to be a very competitive league," said East coach Bob Schnure, who is in his 32d year. East finished 25-6 overall last season and reached the second round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs before losing to eventual state runner-up Archbishop Carroll.
Seniors Noelle Alicea and Michelle Kolonauski are the two returning starters for Schnure. Kolonauski is his tallest player, at 6-0. He's also counting on juniors Nikki Thompson and Abby McKinley.
Avon Grove expected to get a transfer player from Delaware, but it didn't work out.
"She opted to go back to Wilmington Christian," said coach Colleen Carney, now in her second season at Avon Grove. The Red Devils went 19-7 overall last season and handed the Cougars their only league loss.
Carney will lean heavily on seniors Maya Turner (6-0) and Sam Caligiuri, a point guard, to get the team off to a solid start. The Red Devils will open Saturday in the Oxford Tipoff Tournament, then go to Florida for the KSA Tournament.
Dave Johnson begins his ninth season as Downingtown West coach. Among the returning players for the Whippets (19-10) are seniors Brittany Sicinsk and Allison Shaw, both 5-9.
The Ches-Mont plays a once-around schedule, so National Division schools play American Division teams, too. Defending champion Sun Valley, Unionville, and West Chester Rustin are expected to be the top teams in the National.
- Don Beideman
Expect much of the same in the Del-Val as the rising program at Academy Park will continue to battle stalwart Chester for the stop spot.
Head coach Amy Straup led Academy Park to its first league title, as the Knights shared the crown with Chester last season.
After finishing 7-1 in the five-team league last season, the Knights lost their team leader, Mercedes Vaughn, to graduation. The 6-foot-1 center is now playing volleyball at the University of Tennessee.
Straup said she plans to rely on the guard combination of senior captain Brianna Macauley and junior Jordan Matthews.
"With the loss of most of our experienced height, we will have to rely on our speed this season," said Straup, who also teaches at the Sharon Hill school.
The 5-8 Macauley averaged 15 points a game in Academy Park's last four league games last season.
Aiding Macauley and Matthews will be senior point guard Megan Donegan and sophomore forward Darriel Bennett.
Chester will rely on the scoring ability of senior guard Janera Handy to mask the absence of 1,000-point scorer Maya Nelson, who graduated.
Handy averaged 13.2 points in the Clippers' last five league games.
She rang up a season-high 27 points in the regular-season finale to top Academy Park and force a tie atop the league standings.
The three remaining teams combined for five wins and none had a winning record.
Interboro will look to bounce back from a 2-6 record behind senior guard Lauren Munro and junior guard Olivia Encarnacion.
- Matt Breen
Each of the two teams had just one loss in Pioneer Athletic Conference play last season, and it was to the other. The rivalry will only heat up even more this season as both Boyertown, the defending league champ, and Spring-Ford return key starters from last year's squads.
Boyertown coach Jason Beiber said his team returns a "solid nucleus," led by juniors Kaitlyn Eisenhard and Brooke Mullen. Eisenhard was named first-team all-conference, and Mullen was named to the second team.
The Bears backcourt will be led by sophomore point guard Dee Terry, who started last season.
Krista Schauder, a key cog in the team's run to repeat as league champion last season, will miss the season after suffering an ACL injury playing travel softball in the fall. Beiber said the senior forward will be missed, because she "did the little things, hustle plays, rebounds."
"We have a lot of good, young players who are coming up to fill in that role for her," Beiber said.
Boyertown graduated two players from last season's team, and the Rams graduated just one.
Beiber said Spring-Ford features quick, athletic guards who can pose problems for defenders. One of those is sophomore guard Sammy Stipa, the only freshman named to the all-conference second team last season.
The Rams will look to senior forward Mariah Traywick to fill the void left by Meagan Yates' graduation. Traywick was named second-team all-conference and averaged 10 points last season.
"It's definitely games we look forward to playing," Beiber said. "We had some exciting games last season for sure, and we hope we can have more games like that this year."
In addition to Boyertown and Spring-Ford, Owen J. Roberts could vie for the league crown. The Wildcats will be led by 6-3 senior center Anna Janisch. Last season, Janisch averaged more than 15 points while leading her team to a fourth-place finish.
- Matt Breen
Coach John Miller said he expects the same "cast of characters" to vie for the league title, which means his Mount St. Joseph squad again could battle St. Basil and Villa Maria for the top spot.
If the Magic are to repeat as league champs, they'll have to do so without their two leading scorers from last season. Steph Smith and Mary Jo Horgan have graduated, leaving the Mount with a rotation headed by senior guard Bridget Higgins.
"Certainly, those two very fine players are going to be missed," said Miller, whose team also captured the District 1 Class AAAA title. ". . . We just need to compensate. Every high school team graduates players. It's part of the deal."
Villa Maria will be led by junior guard Lisa Mirarchi, who averaged 14 points and four assists in the team's run to the District 1 Class AAA title. The 5-foot-6 Mirarchi will fill the void left by the graduation of point guard Brooke Angelos.
"I think she's terrific," Miller said. "She really came on like a gangbuster, and as the season progressed, I think she got even better. And she's only a junior."
St. Basil lost six seniors to graduation, including guard Jacqui Thompson and forward Jill Lynch. But the team is expecting the return of senior point guard Erin Fennigham, who is coming off three ACL injuries.
She hasn't played since her sophomore season, and coach Terry Mancini said she has been cleared to scrimmage with the team and should be ready to play by the first week of the season.
Mancini said, along with being physically healthy, Fennigham will need to conquer the mental aspect of recovering from the series of injuries.
"She looks incredible right now," Mancini said. "Great story, real good kid. She's courageous and has passion for the game. . . . She's stronger and quicker than she was."
- Matt Breen
Last season, Delco Christian ran the table in league play before being upset by Springfield (Montco) in the second round of the Bicentennial Athletic League playoffs. The Knights rebounded and rallied to reach the state Class A semifinals.
With the graduation of all-time leading scorer Emily Homan, Delco Christian will rely on sophomore guard Stacey MacArthur, who is looking to follow up on a breakthrough season. She'll be joined by junior Jocelyn Chavous in a young Knights lineup.
"You never fully make up for losing four seniors, but certainly Stacy and Jocelyn are a big part of coming back," coach Mark Weaver said. "I'm really looking forward to coaching them, but basketball is a game of five. You need other people to step up, and that's what I'm hoping for this year."
Defending champion Lower Moreland will be led by leading scorer Ali Morganstein. The senior guard averaged 14 points during the Lions' playoff run. League runner-up Springfield lost its top-three scorers to graduation and will look toward the senior combo of guard Taylor DelMonte and forward Maureen Leis.
Mercy Vocational breezed through both the Penn-Jersey and Tri-County Leagues last season to capture the school's first girls' basketball titles.
They're in great shape to repeat, as they return their top three scorers: senior guards Michaiah Young and Teharah Worrell and junior small forward Linette Young. Coach John Hillman said the most important factor about the three is their lack of selfishness and willingness to help the team's younger players.
Beyond Mercy Vocational, Barrack Hebrew sports the tandem of forward Jenna Glassman and point guard Tamara Moskowitz. West-Mont Christian lost forward Nicole Davis, who graduated, but returns senior guard Maria Picard and sophomore forward Kylie Stinson.
Coach Ron Heffelfinger said Stinson spent time at center last season and is a "solid rebounder with a pretty good inside game." Although Picard plays the point, Heffelfinger said she's the team's best perimeter shooter.