Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)
(Ed. Note: This story is the latest in CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2021-22 season preview coverage. As we publish more, the complete list of schools previewed will be found here.)
Greta Neff excelled as a multi-sport athlete during her time at West Chester University.
She played volleyball and basketball for four seasons with the Golden Rams. She helped the West Chester volleyball team win a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) East Division title and still sits third in program history with 3,360 assists. On the basketball court, she walked on during the 2001-02 season and later became a starter, helping West Chester win two PSAC East titles and advance to the NCAA D-II East Regional Semifinals as a junior.
For Neff, who recorded 259 points, 172 rebounds, 153 assists and 58 steals in her career, she continued the theme of multi-sport by moving into coaching two different programs at West Chester Henderson. She has overseen the volleyball team for 18 years and is set to begin her eighth at the helm of the basketball program. Prior to coming to Henderson, she was an assistant basketball coach at Downingtown West for 10 seasons.
While she has taken the athletic savvy passed down from her family (her father, Sam played quarterback at the University of Delaware), she is seeing the multi-sport athlete trend dwindle during her coaching tenure.
“Some athletes are shying away from multiple sports to only one at a lot earlier in their careers,” Neff said. “With the expansion of club sports, especially lacrosse and volleyball, I see a lot of my kids playing multiple sports year round then choosing to stick with one. It’s tough to manage at this point.”
Before Neff took over, the Warriors were putting together one losing season after the next but she came in, changed the culture and set the program on a new path. West Chester Henderson has made the district playoffs in six of the last seven seasons while advancing to the state tournament in three of the last five. Prior to 2018, West Chester Henderson had never advanced past the district semifinals but everything changed when Neff took over.
The Warriors had their best season in school history in 2018 by winning the Ches-Mont League and District 1-5A title then advancing to the state quarterfinals, the first appearance in program history. They finished with a 30-1 record and their first-ever league and district crown. That team consisted of Erin Thompson (Catholic University), Grace Ferguson, Abbey Shea, Maddie DePrisco and Molly Manion (Merrimack College).
The 2020-21 season was one the Warriors have not been accustomed to in recent years as they finished 11-7 overall with a first round loss to Central Bucks South in the District 1-6A Tournament. Manion, who had been a starter since her freshman season and averaged 12 points and five rebounds as a senior, and Whitney Evans, an electric scorer who transferred to Scotland Prep, have moved on. “Molly was so versatile and at any moment she could turn things on and take over a game. To have that ability is something that was respected throughout the league,” according to Neff.
Manion was part of a large contingent of seniors along with Elle Shea, Jane Halladay, Emma Kleckner, Brittany Forcine, Hannah Meredith and Molly Nanni who have since graduated.
With a relatively young and experienced team, Neff is going back to basics in the hope of developing this group into one that might mirror the 2018 team.
“It’s definitely one of the younger teams that I’ve had but it also reminds me of the group we had five years ago,” Neff said. “We started from the basics and they grew up to produce some really good basketball at the end of their careers.”
Senior guard, Grace DePrisco (above), will bring leadership to a young West Chester Henderson group (Photo: courtesy of Greta Neff)
Grace DePrisco, the 5-foot-1 senior guard and Old Dominion lacrosse commit, is hoping to lead the renaissance, similar to how her older sister did several years ago. “She’s been around the program for my entire tenure,” Neff said. “Grace brings a lot of knowledge of the game and how to lead. She makes everyone want to be there and get better.”
Two seniors - Emma Adams, a 6-foot forward, and Rosie Parry, a 5-11 forward - are returning to the program after sitting out last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The tandem, “will certainly help us out and we’re excited to have their size and athleticism back,” Neff stressed.
The Warriors will have four underclassmen who should play major roles this season, including Lilly Bertrando, a 5-5 freshman guard whose sister, Emma, played for Neff and currently plays field hockey at Gettysburg. Jackie Shea, a 5-11 sophomore forward also has a family connection to the program - her sisters, Abbey and Elle, played for Neff at Henderson, too.
“She’s an overall, really good player. I’m excited to see her step in and fill in those shoes,” Neff said.
And then there’s Gabrielle Nanni, a 5-10 sophomore forward who is “quick and super athletic” and “brings a ton of energy onto the floor,” according to Neff, as well as Eva Stromberg, a 5-8 sophomore guard, finishing out the rotation.
The Warriors open the season on Dec. 10 against Villa Maria Academy in the West Chester Henderson Tip-Off Tournament. Their first Ches-Mont League game is Dec. 21 versus West Chester East.
The league has fared well in the postseason in recent years and Neff sees the National Division being up for grabs.
“The Ches-Mont League has been hit with some really good graduating classes in the last few years,” Neff said. “There are a lot of young players coming up who will be sitting in the same boat that we are and it will be who can grow up quicker. As far as I’m concerned, the Ches-Mont, especially in the National Division, is pretty wide open. It will be fun to see who can come out on top.”
In her eight seasons, Neff has created a formula of success where she shows players how to do the right things early in their careers and those things become second nature by the time they hit their junior and senior seasons.
“That’s what we’re hoping to do with this group: start out simple,” Neff said. “As they grow, we’ll build upon that and hopefully we can add district titles to that like we did with the previous group.”