It took the West Chester Rustin girls' basketball team six years to win its first Ches-Mont League title and earn a berth in the PIAA Class AAAA state tournament. But the Golden Knights saw their 2012-13 campaign come to a screeching halt over just 40 seconds.
Rustin (22-6 overall, 12-1 league) squandered a four-point lead with less than a minute to play against Dover in the first round of the state tournament, sending first-year coach Leah Kim's squad home with a gut-wrenching loss.
Returning every player from last season, including St. Joseph's-bound senior center Adashia Franklyn, the Golden Knights are clear preseason favorites to win a second consecutive league championship.
Along with Franklyn, Rustin will be led by junior guards Noelle Powell and Casey Warley. The team also will benefit from the return of junior Annie Pitts, who missed all of last season because of an ACL injury.
Chasing the Golden Knights for the American Division title likely will be Great Valley (12-11, 9-3), Unionville (11-11, 7-6), and Sun Valley (14-5, 9-5).
Great Valley coach Alex Venarchik, who lost guards Kelsey Walsh and Kim Hooven to graduation, said he will use a point-guard-by-committee approach to stabilize the backcourt.
Sun Valley will need to replace 1,000-point scorer Gia D'Angelo, and new Unionville coach Deb Robledo hopes to take a young team built around juniors Micayla Flores and Taylor Thames and contend for the division title.
Oxford (10-12, 5-7), Kennett (5-15, 3-10), and Octorara (1-16, 0-12) might fight uphill battles to compete in the American.
With Downingtown West (18-7, 12-1 league) in rebuilding mode trying to replace forward Kayla Feairheller, Bishop Shanahan, Coatesville, and Downingtown East are the favorites to contend for the National Division crown.
Coatesville (5-15, 3-10) returns a plethora of talent from last season's team and adds Prep Charter transfer Hannah Timmons at guard.
At Bishop Shanahan (14-8, 9-3), first-year coach Fran Burbidge said he hopes senior captains Kelly Drieling and Kristin Habbel can help his squad improve on last season's second-place finish and earn a berth in the state tournament.
On paper, Downingtown East (14-10, 9-3) lacks the talent it has had in past seasons. But there's not a coach in the Ches-Mont who doubts longtime coach Bob Schnure's ability to field a competitive team.