The path to the Catholic Academies basketball championship runs through Mount St. Joseph. Asked which team would be the favorite this year, coaches unanimously picked the Mount.
"It's going to be the Mount until someone beats them," Sacred Heart coach Zach Shuler said.
The Magic will be looking to avenge last season's heartbreaking, one-point loss to Cumberland Valley in the first round of the state Class AAAA tournament.
The Mount won the Catholic Academies title last season, going undefeated in league play.
Senior guard Alex Louin returns after leading the team with a 15.8 average last season and committing to Villanova in June. Coach John Miller will rely on Louin to help lead the team.
Teams such as Villa Maria and St. Basil will be the favorites to make a run at the Mount for the top spot.
"Mount St. Joseph is probably everyone's pick to win the league, but I would always pick my team to win," Villa Maria coach Kathy McCartney said.
The Hurricanes return eight upperclassmen from last season's team that went 26-5, won the District 1 Class AAA title, and went all the way to the state semifinals.
McCartney, in her 27th season at Villa Maria, said the team's biggest asset will be the experience of the returning starters. The biggest challenges will be developing the bench in time for the demanding schedule that lies ahead.
St. Basil finished third in the league last season and went 20-8. The Panthers return all but three players from the team that reached the final four of the state Class AA tournament.
Coach Terrance Mancini has a roster with eight seniors, and his backcourt duo of Kalee Fuegel and Molly Greenberg might be one of the best in the area.
Senior all-league selection Tina DiGiacomo is expected to help Merion Mercy build on last season's success. The Golden Bears finished 17-10 and lost in the first round of states. Their defense should be a strong point, but rebounding against bigger teams could be a challenge.
Villa Joseph Marie is coming off a 12-12 season in which it struggled to find consistency. First-year coach Steve Polinski will have at least six seniors in the rotation. Freshmen Marissa Morano and Shannon Coleman are two players to keep an eye on.
Gwynedd Mercy finished 11-13 last season and lost to Villa Maria in the playoffs. The Monarchs will face a tough stretch early in the season with eight of their first 10 games being on the road.
Sacred Heart went 7-15 overall, 1-13 in the Catholic Academies, last season and lost 80 percent of its scoring, but Shuler is excited about his seniors' leadership and the development of sophomore point guard Jess McTaggart.
Nazareth Academy might have its hands full trying to replace leading scorer Nicole Dombrowski and bouncing back from a 5-18 season.
- Brandon Stoneburg