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