Despite only one team reaching the PIAA tournament in 2014-2015, the Ches-Mont League had one of its better seasons with Bishop Shanahan and Downingtown East meeting three times, including in one of the most thrilling league title games in recent memory.
While East and Shanahan remain on top of the Ches-Mont pyramid, the league will have plenty of parity for the first time in years. An exciting regular season is on tap for the Ches-Mont. Here are five things to watch as the season tips-off tonight:
1. What is the ceiling for Bishop Shanahan?
The sky seems to be the limit for the Eagles with three All Ches-Mont first team starters returning in Ciara Forde, Grace Phillips and Devon Adams along with the addition of Courtney Warley and Kelly Basile in the starting lineup.
Shanahan has set school records for wins in each of Fran Burbidge’s first two seasons and have the talent to extend that mark for a third consecutive year.
While the Eagles starting lineup is one of the best in District 1 Class AAAA, questions arise about how they will gel early in the season and which players will fill key bench roles, a staple in the last two seasons under Burbidge.
Anything short of a Ches-Mont title or state playoff appearance could be a disappointment for Shanahan, showing how much the program has grown in Burbidge’s tenure.
2. Who’s going to win the Ches-Mont American?
The odds may be better if picked out of a hat. The Ches-Mont American is the deepest its been in years, creating excellent parity for the division.
West Chester Rustin has dominated the division for the last four seasons, but is expected to be down after graduating six seniors. That leaves an opportunity for Great Valley, Kennett, Sun Valley, Unionville and Oxford to climb the ladder.
The Patriots return four starters, including Ashlyn Smith (13.5 points a game), and are one of the favorites to win the division. Right with them is Kennett, which brings back a healthy Jess Hussey (8.7 points) and Miranda Hill (12.9 points) to form one of the league’s top scoring duos.
Sun Valley is led by Kate Lannan, who averaged 17.7 points per game last season for the Vanguards, while Maddie Shanahan (10.1 points) returns for Unionville.
Rustin has plenty of young talent on its roster that will be earning varsity minutes for the first time. The Golden Knights return to the playoffs will depend on how quickly their young roster will gel under new head coach Jim Powers.
Oxford will be a dark horse for a playoff spot as the Hornets return all five starters including Hannah Bahls (11.8 points).
“Anyone has a shot,” said Kennett head coach Vinny Cattano. “There are six teams in this division that legitimately have a chance to win on any given night. You can win or lose this thing in December.”
The race for two playoff spots will make this division exciting to watch all season long. League play begins December 15.
3. How will Tom Schurtz fare at Downingtown East?
Schurtz has a tall task ahead of him in replacing Bob Schnure, who retired from Downingtown East with a record of 791-244 in 1,035 games coached with 20 league or division titles, 11 District 1 championships and five PIAA championships.
However, Schnure didn’t leave the well dry for Schurtz. The Cougars have four starters returning on a team that reached the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs last season, including Paige Warfel, the 2014-15 Daily Local News All-Area Player of the Year.
Expectations remain high in Uwchlan with all the talent on East’s roster, but the Cougars will experience an adjustment period with Schurtz, who is switching from Schnure’s half-court offense to an up-tempo attack.
The talent on East’s roster will help Schurtz run his new offense.
“Any time you have players at that caliber makes a transition easier,” Schurtz said. We have plenty of girls that are battle-tested and nothing phases them. They’re basketball players and teach the underclassmen how to prepare for games.
“We’re going to take things one game at a time, starting with our first game vs. Oxford.”
4. Is another Downingtown East-Bishop Shanahan title game inevitable?
Ches-Mont girls basketball fans were in for a treat when East and Shanahan met for the third time last season in the Ches-Mont championship game. With each regular season game coming down to the final possession, the championship game did not disappoint as Shanahan won with under a minute to play on a Kelly Basile lay-up for its first outright league title since 1971.
This season, East and Shanahan are heavy favorites to return to the Ches-Mont championship game as both teams have the two most talented rosters in the league.
Coatesville, Kennett and Great Valley are the three teams that have the best shot at crashing the East-Shanahan party.
The Cougars and Eagles both have the target on their backs. They’re the two teams to beat this season.
5. How will the new classifications affect the Ches-Mont?
In October, the PIAA voted on expanding from four to six classes in girls basketball which will shake up the dynamic of the district playoffs for teams in the area.
Coatesville, Avon Grove, Oxford, Downingtown East, Downingtown West, Unionville, Kennett, West Chester East and Great Valley will be in Class AAAAAA while West Chester Henderson, Bishop Shanahan and West Chester Rustin head to Class AAAAA.
Octorara is the lone school in Class AAAA.
The unknown is the dominant factor at this point in the expansion process as many schools are unaware how many teams will qualify for the postseason in each class nor know if District 1 will replace its current power ratings formula, which has been in effect since 2014.
“That’s the interesting part,” said Downingtown East head coach Tom Schurtz on the power ratings. “You can be a small school and be very good, which could hurt our league since it’s a mix of big and small schools. I hoping the power ratings don’t change. The current structure is more fair to all teams.”
“It won’t affect the Ches-Mont in terms of league structure,” said Downingtown West head coach Dave Johnson. “It’s frustrating to coaches when you don’t now what you’re in for with the new playoff format and how it affects you out of league scheduling. Once we get that info on the playoff structure, we’ll be ok.”
From the naked eye, the schools in Class AAAAA will benefit with playing schools closer to their enrollment. The results will play out once the expanded postseason starts in February 2017.
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