DOWNINGTOWN >> As Ciara Forde and Grace Phillips dribble around the Bishop Shanahan court, both see a significant change over their past three years roaming the home gym.
The rest of their Bishop Shanahan teammates notice the change as well, despite it not being easy to see for the common eye.
In the far left corner of the gym, a space has been made for the Eagles next to the boys basketball championship banners. That space is reserved for Shanahan girls basketball, celebrating the school’s first Ches-Mont championship (and first outright title since 1971), which occurred last season.
Forde and Phillips, the only two seniors on this year’s version of the Eagles, were leaders on that unexpected title team. That banner is a remainder to both on how much the duo turned the Shanahan program around over the past two seasons.
“People are starting to know we are a legitimate program,” Forde said. “We’re no longer scheduled for other team’s senior nights. We’re here to play and to bring our best game every night.”
“We have been going by the same principles over the last two years: practice hard, play hard and be a good teammate,” Phillips said. “We’re going to play just as hard and continue to do so in order to be successful. We want to go as far as we can.”
Going as far as Shanahan can is not only a perception, but a reality. The 2015-16 version of Bishop Shanahan girls basketball may be the most talented roster the Eagles ever had. The starting five of Forde, Phillips, Devon Adams, Courtney Warley and Kelly Basile is arguably one of the most talented lineups in the Ches-Mont this decade.
Forde, in her third year at shooting guard and an All Ches-Mont first team selection last season, is heading to Bloomsburg next fall. Phillips, also an All Ches-Mont first team selection and three-star recruit by ESPNU HoopGirlz, is back starting at forward for the second straight year.
Adams, the 6’3” freshman that was the difference-maker in the paint during the Ches-Mont title run, is back at center for her sophomore year. She already has multiple Division I offers, most notably from Georgia Tech.
Warley, transferring from West Chester Rustin, turned Shanahan’s “Big Three” into the “Big Four.” The 6’2” Warley, a three-star recruit by ESPNU HoopGirlz, will line up next to Adams at power forward.
Basile, graduating from being the Ches-Mont’s top bench player to starter, will bring the ball up the court as the point guard for Shanahan. Basile was also the one who hit the winning lay-up in the final minute to give the Eagles their first Ches-Mont title. Together, the unit makes for a lethal offensive attack.
“It’s definitely a big role for all of us,” Adams said. “We all are going to need each other if we’re going to succeed. It’s going to be a group effort. It’s going to be hard for teams to guard us, especially the bigs. We have a lot of size and we can pass the ball out to our guards to help us out.”
“We all have similar styles, which plays to our benefit,” Warley said. “I learned a lot from playing with talented players at Rustin and making that state playoff run two years ago. We did really big things there and I hope to carry that over to this group.”
Together, the talented Shanahan starting lineup combines for 42 points a game; tops in the Ches-Mont. The Eagles will be tested early with three games in three days to start the season. Two of those games are against Interboro and Exeter in the Great Valley Tip-Off Tournament on Dec. 4 and 5 before facing Lansdale Catholic in the Blue Chip Tip-Off Classic at Spring-Ford on Dec. 6.
Shanahan will have plenty of opportunities to showcase its lineup in high-profile events such as the Marple Newtown Christmas Tournament (Dec. 28 and 29), Blue Star Showcase at Philadelphia University (Jan. 10), Blue Star Tournament at Cabrini College (Jan. 17) and Blue Chip Showcase at Spring-Ford (Jan. 30).
The Eagles will also be tested against Ches-Mont National Division rivals Downingtown East on Dec. 17 (home) and Jan. 21 (away). The Eagles went 3-0 against East last season, but the margin of victory was by a combined eight points, including a 27-25 final in the Ches-Mont title game.
Shanahan will be challenged by its tough schedule, which hopes to prepare the Eagles for their ultimate goals: repeating as Ches-Mont champs and a District 1 Class AAAA title.
They believe the talent is there to make it happen.
“We’re going to try even harder to repeat in Ches-Mont and compete for the district title,” Basile said. “It’s going to be a fun season. We all have played together for a couple years now so the flow of the team will be nice and work well for what we’re trying to do.”
“The goal is to go as far as we can,” Forde said. “It’ll take some time to get used to playing with each other, but we’ll be ready by the first game. We’ll be set to go.”
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