WEST GOSHEN >> The smile on her face and the grip on the trophy said it all for West Chester Henderson coach Greta Neff Tuesday night.
The journey from Ches-Mont League also-rans to being queens of the conference was cemented after a thrilling 63-58 win over West Chester Rustin in the Ches-Mont Girls Basketball Championship at West Chester East.
“This program has come so far in the past four years and the girls who have played tonight, last year and the year before, they all had a hand in building this program back up,” said Neff. “I couldn’t be more proud of a group of girls. They find a way to win, and that’s amazing.”
Four years ago, when athletic director Ken McCormick was looking for a new girls basketball coach, he didn’t know she was on the staff, just in a different sport. Neff was already successful as the volleyball coach. She convinced McCormick she could handle both, and off she went.
“It’s been a long time coming and it couldn’t happen to a better group of young ladies and coaches and we’re so proud of them” said McCormick. “She (Neff) has brought a passion for the sport and she cares for the girls. She has all the qualities we want in a great coach and she’s been exceptional across the board with all our girls. And she brought in a great staff and she’s done a great job.”
“No,” Neff said when asked if she thought she would be here four years ago. “Honestly, I was just trying to get through my first couple of practices. We took our lumps and bruises along the way. We knew we will have to learn how to win as a group.”
They were knocking on the door last year with a senior class headed by Emma Bertrando and Viki Knies. They fell just short of a Final Four berth, and then lost to eventual finalist Mount St. Joseph in the second round of districts.
This year, they broke through that ceiling it like it was made of tissue paper.
Henderson raced through the regular season, racking up win after win. The Warriors recorded a perfect Ches-Mont season and won every nonleague game. Now, with the win Tuesday, the Warriors sit at 24-0 and will be the top seed in the District 1 Class 5A tournament, where they’ll host No. 16 Upper Moreland Tuesday night.
“She’s really an awesome coach,” said senior Abby Shea. “She stresses the fundamentals and that’s what’s gotten us this far. As freshmen, she got us to move our feet on defense, work on layups, do everything right and now it’s built up and we won a Ches-Mont championship.”
Defense has been one of Neff’s calling cards, and it was stifling at the start. Henderson jumped out to a 12-1 lead, and ballooned it to 21-10 after one.
But, the Golden Knights fought back, scoring 20 points in the third quarter to tie the score at 39-39, and setting up a thrilling fourth quarter.
The Warriors regrouped and held Rustin scoreless for the first five minutes of the fourth. The Knights missed their first nine shots of the quarter, before Maggie O’Hare made a 3-pointer with 3:27 left. Rustin still fought down the stretch, but the Warriors got some clutch free throw shooting and a couple of key stops to being home the title.
“We did enough,” Neff said. “We talk about how we haven’t had a complete game. Our defense is very good, our offense works off it. I have to give it to Rustin. They are a heck of a ball team. Those kids can shoot the lights out.”
Neff learned about defense as a spunky point guard for West Chester University. Now, she has stamped herself as one of the better coaches in the area. They will get to relax and enjoy the championship for a couple of days before starting district play Tuesday at home.
The seniors, who have been with Neff from day one, appreciate the road it took to get to celebrating a league title.
“It’s insane,” said guard Maddie DePrisco. “Freshman year, that was the goal and to finally reach it, just brings everyone to tears.”
And DePrisco expressed the admiration for the coach who led the Warriors to the pinnacle.
“We all love her,” she said of Neff. “She’s intense and she’s the best coach I ever had. She never gives up on us. Every time we don’t believe in ourselves, she believes in us, and that’s how we win these tough games.”
You can reach Bryan Davis at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @btdavis25.