Once again, the Main Line should feature some strong high school basketball teams this winter.
On the boys’ side, defending Central League champion Lower Merion, which last winter advanced to the PIAA state tournament for the seventh consecutive year (the longest current streak in District One), should contend again. Other teams coming off strong seasons include Archbishop Carroll, Episcopal Academy, Friends’ Central, Haverford School and Shipley.
On the girls’ side, defending PAISAA champion returns some talented players. Other teams coming off strong 2016-17 campaigns include Academy of Notre Dame, Conestoga, Friends’ Central, Radnor and Villa Maria Academy.
Here’s a pre-season look at 18 Main Line high school basketball teams as they prepare to tip off the 2017-18 campaign (several Main Line squads did not send us their preview information):
Academy of Notre Dame
Head coach: Mary Beth McNichol, 27th year (career record 492-247).
Last year’s record: 14-12 overall, third place Inter-Ac.
Key returnees: 5-7 junior point guard Mandy McGurk (was second team All Inter-Ac last winter; has multiple D1 offers); 5-5 sophomore guard Allie Lynch; 5-8 junior guard Caitlyn Mullen; 5-9 junior forward Emma Kichula.
Others to watch: 5-6 junior guard Maggie Pina (transfer from Archbishop Carroll, was second team All-Catholic last winter); 5-7 sophomore guard Kelly McCullough.
Lost to graduation: guard Casey Walsh (first team All-Inter-Ac)
Strengths: “We have speed and athleticism,” said McNichol. “Our key to success is our guard play.”
Biggest challenge: McNichol said, “Our biggest challenge is lack of size.”
Outlook: “We hope to contend for the Inter-Ac championship with the return of several good players and the addition of some good players,” said McNichol.
Archbishop Carroll (boys)
Head coach: Paul Romanczuk, 15th year.
Last year’s record: 20-9 overall, 7-6 Catholic League.
Key returnees: 6-2 senior guard Justin Anderson, 6-4 senior forward Keyon Butler, 6-5 senior forward Devon Ferrero, 6-4 junior guard Luke House, 6-0 junior guard Shawn Johnson, 6-2 sophomore guard AJ Hoggard.
Others to watch: 6-6 junior forward Derrell Jones Jr., 6-0 junior guard Kiyl Mack, 6-5 sophomore forward Tairi Ketner.
Lost to graduation: guard Colin Daly (playing for West Chester), guard Khari Williams (playing for Clarion University), center Jesse McPherson (playing at Lock Haven University).
Strengths: Perimeter play and shooting.
Biggest challenge: Romanczuk said, “I believe our biggest challenges will be how our leadership develops and how much our young big guys can improve and help this year.”
Outlook: “I think our biggest key to success this season is how well we defend and rebound,” said Romanczuk.
Head coach: Danny Furey, fourth year.
Last year’s record: 4-17 overall, 1-11 Inter-Ac.
Key returnees: 5-7 freshman guard Amaris Baker, 6-0 freshman forward Taylor Levinson, 6-0 freshman forward Anajah Brown, 5-3 sophomore guard Alex Loomis.
Others to watch: 5-11 junior forward Simi Bleznak, 6-0 freshman forward Rani Blexnak, 5-5 junior guard Olivia Tornetta.
Strengths: Furey listed energy, depth, athleticism.
Biggest challenge: “We are still a very young team,” said Furey.
Lost to graduation: Morgan Montoute, Gillian Chestnut.
Outlook: “We are a youthful group that gained valuable experience last season,” said Furey. “We are looking to improve upon the end of last year’s successes and build our program.. We are looking to challenge teams in the Inter-Ac.”
Barrack Hebrew Academy (girls)
Head coach: Chris Jeffries, fourth year.
Last year’s record: 20-6 overall, 13-3 Central League.
Key returnees: 6-5 senior forward Katie Mayock (SJU signee); 6-1 senior forward Cat Esbenshade; 5-6 senior guard Julia Weiss.
Others to watch: 5-5 junior guard Nia Scott; 5-7 sophomore guard Emily Lortz.
Lost to graduation: Liz Scott (currently playing lacrosse at Loyola), Sarah Mascioli, Emma Powell (currently playing basketball at Elizabethtown), Lindsay Erickson (currently playing lacrosse at Tufts).
Strengths: “Defense has been our calling card,” said Jeffries. “We held opponents to 32 ppg last year. With two returning post players we will look inside to Mayock and Esbenshade.”
Outlook: “With a good group of returning upperclassmen, we will look to be competitive in the Central League, but we are all chasing Garnet Valley again,” said Jeffries.
Head coach: Jason Fisher, fourth year.
Last year’s record: 8-15.
Key returnees: The Tide returns only two players with varsity experience – senior Chris Perullo and sophomore Nick Crowe.
Others to watch: Fisher said, “We have a lot of new faces on the varsity team this year. There will be a lot of opportunities for players to compete for minutes and to have an impact.”
Outlook: Fisher said, “The team has a good mix of seniors and underclassman. They have been working really hard and getting better each day. If the team continues to improve each day like they have been for the first two weeks we are going to surprise a lot of people this year.”
Episcopal Academy (boys)
Head coach: Craig Conlin, eighth year.
Last year’s record: 18-11 overall, 8-2 Inter-Ac (first place), advanced to PAISAA championship final.
Key returnees: 6-2 senior forward Justin Hershey, 6-5 junior guard Matt Dade, 6-0 sophomore guard Jack Fitzpatrick.
Others to watch: 6-4 sophomore guard Alex Capitano, 6-0 sophomore guard Colin Chambers, 6-5 junior forward Jack Purcell, 6-4 junior forward Jack O’Reilly.
Lost to graduation: Connor Delaney (playing basketball for Johns Hopkins), Nick Alikakos (playing basketball for Hill School), Jermaine Rhoden (participating in track for Lafayette College), Jack O’Connell (playing basketball for Catholic University), Kyle Virbitsky (playing baseball for Penn State).
Strengths: “Depth, flexibility, unity,” said Conlin.
Biggest challenge: “Replacing five seniors who all contributed in major ways to our success for the past four years,” said Conlin. “We must play hard, play smart, play together.”
Friends’ Central (boys)
Head coach: Ryan Tozer, sixth year.
Last year’s record: 13-14 overall, 6-2 Friends’ Schools League.
Key returnees: 6-1 junior guard Bryce Spriggs, 6-1 sophomore guard Omar Nichols, 6-6 senior forward Toure Mosley-Banks, 6-4 junior forward Myles Robinson, 5-11 sophomore guard BK Kothari.
Others to watch: 5-11 sophomore guard Mason Mosley, 6-5 senior forward Josh Friday, 6-3 freshman forward Edward Holland, 6-1 junior guard Ethan Stokes, 5-9 sophomore guard Brandon Banadda, 6-5 senior forward Jordan Friday.
Lost to graduation: point guard Antone Walker (Wesleyan University), Justin Steers (prep school).
Outlook: Tozer said, “We return our entire team except for point guard Antone Walker and Justin Steers – we return starters Omar Nichols, Bryce Spriggs, Toure Mosley-Banks and welcome the return of Myles Robinson who missed last season due to injury. We also return sophomore BK Kothari, who was our first guard off the bench last season. [Josh] Friday gives us some length at forward and Mosley gives us four solid guards. Edward Holland should be in the mix for wing minutes as the season progresses.
“Our strength this year will be our depth. We can go 9 or 10 deep. We have four guards and four forwards who will contribute this season. Bryce Spriggs is a tough physical guard who should cause matchup problems for opponents. Omar Nichols should benefit from playing starter’s minutes as a freshman and will move to the point this year. Mosley and Kothari are both streaky shooters who should help keep us in games. A healthy Myles Robinson gives us a physical presence inside and can step out and hit a jumper. Mosley-Banks and Friday have also shown flashes [of promise].
“We are still a young group but our young guys gained valuable experience last season. I like our team and truly expect us to be a much better team in January and February as we look to be a playoff team. We have a tough early season schedule which should ready us for league play.”
Friends’ Central (girls)
Head coach: Phil Annas, 19th year.
Last year’s record: 14-11 overall, 5-3 Friends Schools League.
Key returnees: 6-0 junior guard Nia Jordan, 6-2 junior forward Raanee Smith.
Others to watch: 5-4 senior guard Aja Adson, 5-11 senior forward Briana Cypress.
Lost to graduation: Sophie Berger (Trinity College, Ct.); Zoe Ginsberg (University of Southern California).
Outlook: With the graduation of seniors Sophie Berger and Zoe Ginsberg, the team’s captains and leaders on the floor last season, the Phoenix will need help filling the vacant leadership roles from everyone, especially the more experienced players. Annas said this year’s Phoenix squad will need to take care of the ball and maximize opportunities on every possession. The Phoenix return three starters from last season’s FSL play-off team, Briana Cypress, Nia Jordan and Raanee Smith. Annas hopes this experienced and talented group, along with a mix of new players, will help Friends’ Central make a run at the FSL play-offs in February.
Head coach: Kyle Sample, first year (previously head coach at George Washington High School in Philadelphia).
Last year’s record: 10-11.
Key returnees: 5-9 senior point guard Griffin Berkowitz, 6-1 senior guard Nick Bugbee, 5-11 senior shooting guard Charlie Vessel, 6-3 sophomore wing Lance Chestnut.
Others to watch: 5-10 junior point guard Michael Stewart, 6-3 junior wing Zachary Shulman, 6-2 sophomore guard Markus Lowry, 6-0 senior guard Andrew Levin.
Lost to graduation: guard Will Esposto, guard Idris Ransom.
Strengths: Sample listed depth, shooting ability, unselfishness and versatility.
Biggest challenge: “Our team’s biggest challenge this year will definitely be our ability to overcome adversity,” said Sample. “You find out who you are as a team throughout the year when things aren’t going the way you want them to go.”
Outlook: “Our team’s biggest key to success will be the ability to defend and rebound,” said Sample. “We won’t always have an advantage in size but will rely on technique to make sure we come out on top in these categories.
“Teams like Penncrest, Lower Merion and Conestoga will always be strong in our league but I honestly think that we will need to focus on not beating ourselves this year more than focusing on our opponents beating us. We know what we have to do to have success and our goal is to take things one day, practice and possession at a time.”
Head coach: Kacy McNichol, second year.
Last year’s record: 9-13.
Key returnees: 5-6 senior guard Meg Wilcox, 5-10 junior guard Christina Brown, 5-10 junior guard Riley Short.
Others to watch: 5-7 freshman guard Lexi Calhoun.
Strengths: “Our team’s strengths are our guards and our speed,” said McNichol. “We are looking to run a lot of transition sets this year and take advantage or our athleticism. Meg Wilcox provides an outside shooting threat for our team, as she was one of our highest percentage three point shooters last year. Christina Brown will continue to be a our team’s leading offensive threat. Riley Short adds great athleticism to our team. Lexi Calhoun is expected to make an immediate impact to our team with her versatility and great shooting ability.”
Outlook: “Our team’s key to success this season is staying healthy, as we have a very small team this year, in addition to playing an up-tempo style of play,” said McNichol. “This year we feel every team in the Central League has an opportunity to win and compete with last year’s powerhouses.”
Haverford High (boys)
Head coach: Keith Heinerichs, seventh year.
Last year’s record: 1-21.
Key returnees: The Fords lost only one player from a very young and inexperienced team. Returning seniors are 6-5 center Matt Young, 6-3 forward JT Smyth and 6-0 guard Matt Gillen.
Others to watch: 5-10 junior point guard Kevin Deprince, 5-10 junior guard Dan Roe, 6-2 junior forward Jake Ruane, 6-0 junior guard Luke Verzella, 5-11 sophomore guard Trey Blair.
Strengths: Heinerichs said, “Our team gained a lot of playing experience last year, and will look to build off that experience. There is a lot of depth at every position, which lead to very competitive practices, which will help prepare the players for games.
Biggest challenge: Heinerichs said, “I think it will be figuring out how to win games down the stretch.”
Outlook: “The key for us this season will be getting off to a strong start after the tough season last year,” said Heinerichs.
Haverford High (girls)
Head coach: Lauren Pellicane, first year.
Last year’s record: 6-16 overall, 4-12 Central League.
Key returnees: 5-10 junior guard/forward Lindsey Lane, 5-8 junior guard Erin Doherty; 5-6 junior guard Annalena O’Reilly.
Others to watch: 5-6 junior guard Erin Kelly; 6-0 junior forward Sara Walsh; 5-7 junior guard Arden Guilfoil; 5-9 senior guard/forward Elli Keown; 5-10 senior forward Hope Coacher, 5-8 junior guard Christina O’Halloran; 5-5 junior guard Carly Gannon.
Lost to graduation: Three starting players – Brianna Blair (Cabrini University), Kelly Lyons, Anna Jones.
Strengths: Pellicane listed depth, height, athleticism.
Outlook: Pellicane said, “We have a core group of upperclassmen return who received their first varsity experience a year ago. We have great depth, are versatile and will look to compete at a high level every time we step on the court.”
Head coach: Bernie Rogers, third year.
Last year’s record: 19-7 overall, 7-3 Inter-Ac.
Key returnees: Five returning starters – 6-5 junior center Asim Richards, 5-10 junior guard Gavin Burke, 6-0 junior guard Jameer Nelson, 5-11 senior guard Kharon Randolph, 6-6 junior guard Christian Ray.
Outlook: Rogers said, “We have a very demanding non-league schedule to prepare us for Inter-Ac play. We’re hoping to build off our experience from last season in which we started five underclassmen.”
Lower Merion (boys)
Head coach: Gregg Downer, 28th year.
Last year’s record: 21-8 overall, 13-3 Central League (champions).
Key returnees: 6-4 junior wing Jack Forrest, 6-0 junior guard Steve Payne, 6-0 junior guard Darryl Taylor, 6-0 junior guard Theo Henry, 6-5 junior center Josh Martin.
Lost to graduation: Noah Fennell, Terrell Jones.
Strengths: “We have very strong perimeter shooting and depth – we could go 10 deep at times this year,” said Downer. “Forrest and Payne are two of the best players in region. How players 3 through 10 support the top two will be key.”
Biggest challenge: “Our team needs to be more invested on defense and rebounding – both of these areas are works in progress,” said Downer.
Outlook: The Aces are a perennial contender, and Downer sees a spirited fight for the Central League title: “Penncrest, Conestoga, Garnet Valley and Springfield all bring back strong squads, and the league has great coaches – we never get never a night off in the Central League.”
Lower Merion (girls)
Head coach: Monique Boykins, second year.
Last year’s record: 12-9.
Key returnees: 5-8 senior shooting guard Sarah FitzPatrick , 5-10 senior forward Bethany Aldridge, 5-8 senior point guard Ashley Roberts, 5-7 sophomore Jasmine Forrester.
Others to watch: 5-6 sophomore point guard Zoe Schubb, 5-9 freshman Bridget McCann.
Strengths: Boykins said, “This team has chemistry and a high basketball IQ.”
Outlook: Boykins said, “Our team’s biggest key for success is communication . As long as we communicate we can execute anything that is put in front of us.”
Merion Mercy Academy
Head coach: Scott Piffath, first year.
Last year’s record: 10-13, lost in first round of district playoffs
Key returnees: senior guard Nora Pergolini, senior guard Brooke Loonstyn, senior guard Lauren Andruszko, senior guard Annie Dombrowski
Others to watch: junior center Anne Butler, junior guard Amy Ratigan, senior center Megan Talke
Lost to graduation: Jada Smith (playing basketball at Holy Family), Shannon Carroll (playing basketball at Gwynedd Mercy), Hannah Crilley.
Strengths: Size, speed and depth.
Outlook: Piffath said, “We are going to have some bumps in the road early, as this group learns to play differently trying to replace 1,000-point scorer (Smith). Our league schedule is always difficult and that is no different this year. Hopefully with our league games, and some tough nonleague games, it will have us prepared for the postseason. There is also some excitement with the team as they get to play in the new gym this year.”
Head coach: Jamie Chadwin, second year (also coached at Immaculata University and Sacred Heart).
Last year’s record: 8-14.
Key returnees: 6-0 senior guard Zahir Lee, 6-3 junior wing Vern Harper, 6-1 junior wing Doug Campbell, 6-3 senior forward Fahad Monzor.
Others to watch: 5-10 freshman point guard Lewis Robinson, 6-0 sophomore wing Jackson Birtwistle, 6-3 junior forward Bennett Mueller.
Lost to graduation: Mason Ressler, Sami Ghazi, Tommy Webb, Jack Thompson, Phil Regan, Pat Farren.
Strengths: Chadwin listed “Youth, athleticism, desire to compete.”
Outlook: “We have an excited group of young athletes who are getting better with each opportunity,” said Chadwin. “We look forward to competing each night in one of the best leagues around. It’s a pleasure to coach young men who possess a common bond and love the idea of going somewhere ‘Together.’”
Head coach: Mark Jordan, 12th year (also coached at Sacred Heart for 11 years).
Last year’s record: 18-9 overall, 11-5 Central League.
Key returnees: 5-11 senior forward Sydney D’Entremont, 5-11 junior forward Holly Holtsberg, 5-4 junior guard Audrey Rosenblum, 5-9 sophomore forward Ellie Mueller.
Others to watch: 5-8 senior forward Libby Tewksbury, 5-6 senior forward Cate Remphrey, 5-6 sophomore guard Julia Rigilizzo, 5-5 sophomore guard Missy Massimino, 5-4 sophomore Jacqueline Slinkard, 5-4 freshman Brienne Williams, 5-3 junior Cara Camposano.
Lost to graduation: Nicole Massimino (playing lacrosse for Notre Dame University), Allison Lanzone (playing lacrosse for Brown University), Maura Holst (playing soccer for Fordham), Alexa Solomon (playing lacrosse for George Washington University).
Outlook: Jordan said, “We have been to three of the past four [PIAA] state tournaments, but we have to replace two four-year starters (Nicole Massimino and Allison Lanzone). Rosenblum and Mueller are returning starters. We will look to improve by the second half of the season, and return to the district tourney, after the young players gain varsity experience.”
Head coach: Zach Shuler, 12th year.
Last year’s record: 16-10, won PIAA Class AA District 1 championship.
Key returnees: 5-4 senior guard Eileen Piombino, 5-11 junior center Kyra Quigley, 5-6 sophomore guard Kayleigh Doyle, 5-5 junior guard Caitlin Hughes, 5-10 junior forward Sami Smith, 5-8 junior guard Liz Franz, 5-7 senior guard Agnes Freind.
Others to watch: 5-9 senior forward Juliana Michniak.
Strengths: “Experience – all five of our starters are back with some key reserves who played last year,” said Shuler. “We have a balanced attack of guards and forwards. We are hoping for another deep run in AA Districts and to be able to compete in the Catholic Academies League. With four new coaches in the [AACA] league it looks like it could be up for grabs. Every team looks to be very competitive.”
Head coach: Phil D’Ambrosio, sixth year.
Last year’s record: 20-7 overall, 7-1 league (1-1 in FSL playoffs)
Key returnees: 5-11 senior point guard/shooting guard Sam Sessoms, 6-2 senior guard/forward Eli Gorrell, 6-3 senior forward Ronan Higgins, 6-3 senior forward Tom Sobelman, 6-5 senior forward/center Owen Verzella, 6-10 junior center Ray Somerville, 5-10 sophomore guard Khai Champion, 6-1 sophomore guard/forward Randall Brown.
Others to watch: 6-5 junior guard/forward Chaz Owens, 6-1 junior guard Grant Jacoby, 5-7 sophomore point guard Amyr Henry, 5-10 sophomore guard Joey Gruzinski.
Lost to graduation: guard Kiyon Hardy (now playing at Kutztown University).
Strengths: “We have good guard play combined with a decent big man in the middle,” said D’Ambrosio. “Having two solid playmakers with some shooters and athletes at their side, we should be a fun team to watch.”
Outlook: “We have more depth this year then we’ve had in years past,” said D’Ambrosio. “We want to use that to our advantage and try speeding the game up on both the offensive and defensive sides of the floor. How well we share the basketball and play for and through our teammates will determine the outcome of our season. Having introduced three new members to the team, chemistry will be important for us, sacrificing the me for WE mentality. Westtown remains the team to beat with good competition expected from Academy of the New Church, Abington Friends, Friends’ Central and Germantown Friends.”
Head coach: Sean Costello, eighth year.
Last year’s record: 22-5 overall, 7-2 Friends’ Schools League, PAISAA state tournament champions.
Key returnees: 6-2 junior forward Anna Camden, 5-7 junior guard Lauren Ross, 5-9 junior guard Kate Scutt, 5-5 junior guard Elizabeth Talluto.
Others to watch: 5-11 freshman forward Breionna Dodson, 5-5 freshman guard Sanaa Redmond.
Lost to graduation: Yndiah Bobo (playing at Clarion University).
Strengths: Costello said, “We have several players that can score the ball very well. We return a strong nucleus of big-game, experienced players and are adding some extremely talented freshmen.”
Outlook: “We are looking to build off of our success of last year,” said Costello. “Although returning a lot of players we are a very young team that will continue to improve as the year goes on. We hope to be in similar positions as last year to compete for league and state titles.”
Villa Maria Academy
Head coach: Kathy McCartney, 30th year.
Last year’s record: 16-11.
Key returnees: 5-4 junior guard Julia Samar, 5-10 junior guard Abby Walheim, 6-1 sophomore forward Paige Lauder, 5-8 sophomore guard Morgan Warley.
Others to watch: 5-11 sophomore forward Maddy Ryan, 5-9 senior guard Kiera Broadhurst, 5-7 sophomore guard Myla Warley, 5-3 senior guard Shannon Smith, 5-7 senior guard Nicole Czyzewski, 5-9 senior forward Lizzie Walheim, 5-4 senior guard Haley Croft.
Strengths: “We have a nice balance of youth and experience,” said McCartney. “We will count heavily on our older kids to help bring the young kids along. Overall team speed and athleticism are our strength. What we lack is some game experience and that will probably show early in the year.”
Outlook: “Our league [AACA] as always should be very competitive,” said McCartney. “The best part of our league is that any team is capable of winning on any given day. Last year we made it to the championship game, so we are hoping to again challenge for the title.”