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