By Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of 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 2023-24 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed thus far can be found here.)
When Jordyn Daniel went down with an ACL injury last preseason, Downingtown East was left without a point guard.
Cougars’ head coach Darren Domsohn turned to 6-foot freshman Charlotte Aldridge.
Aldridge was one of six freshmen who saw varsity time last season, including three who cracked the starting lineup.
There were ups. There were downs. Ultimately, there was a lot of growth.
“It helped me mature massively,” said Aldridge, who is now entering her sophomore campaign.
Charlotte Aldridge was forced into a starting point guard role last season as a freshman for Downingtown East. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The Cougars hope the maturation of Aldridge and the rest of her young teammates can return the program to its winning ways.
A season after reaching the Ches-Mont League championship, Downingtown East went 8-14 (3-9 Ches-Mont National) and missed out on the district playoffs in 2022-23. The end of the season was littered with close losses, including a 23-22 defeat to league runner-up Bishop Shanahan. It was the team’s first losing season in at least 16 years.
Domsohn, who is entering his third year as the Cougars’ head coach and fifth overall with the program, was encouraged by what he saw and what he has back.
“There were definitely times of turbulence last year, but I think what I was proud of is that all of them from top to bottom just continued to work day in and day out,” Domsohn said. “And you saw them take steps forward throughout the season, which I think makes us excited for this season with that experience.”
Aldridge and fellow sophomores Grace Hodges and Mya Johnson are back after starting last season. Classmate Chloe Hunold (5-6) was an All-Delco honorable mention at Strath Haven a season ago. Daniel, who started as a freshman two years ago, is a junior back from injury to be the team’s floor general once again.
Seniors Lauren Bell (5-8), Callie Ardoline (5-7) and Mackenzie Comegys (5-6) are back as well to give the team a veteran presence. Freshman Kendall Chiavelli (5-8) played well in the preseason.
“This year we have a lot more varsity players who had their first year of varsity under their belt,” Aldridge said. “I think we have a couple freshmen who will play this year. I think we’ll be better this year and more experienced, and we just know what’s coming.”
The Cougars will miss the presence of last year’s seniors like Ariana Smuda and Eileen Hewitt. Smuda is now at NAIA Southeastern. The 6-3 forward leaves a hole inside on the floor both on the offensive and defensive end.
Aldridge said Smuda and the rest of last season’s senior class passed down plenty of lessons this group can carry on, however.
“Just learning from the upperclassmen and playing the Downingtown East way,” Aldridge said. “I think it will be better this year. We have freshmen coming up, and we can teach them. They’ll be able to play up to our standard.”
Aldridge, who is capable of playing positions “1” through “5,” will have to help fill Smuda’s presence inside. Her versatility highlights the style of play the Cougars are looking to transition to this season without a true post player.
“Our group, we want to get up the floor a little bit more,” Domhsohn said. “Last year, we were kind of a set team, trying to get into our offense. This year, we’d like to maybe push the ball a little bit more in transition and play tough on defense, and that’s what we try to build our foundation around is our defense. There’s a defensive mentality that we try to create, which will ultimately lead to that style of play that we’re trying to create.”
Aldridge, Johnson and Hodges all played together for the Chester County Storm this offseason. That sophomore class has a lot of time to continue growing together. There’s certainly a lot of potential for Downingtown East over the next three years.
The Cougars also think they can be pretty good this season. They are hoping their blend of youth, talent, experience and chemistry can get them back in the Ches-Mont and District 1 postseason picture.
“They’re young, they’ve been working hard,” Domsohn said. “They’re excited about where they could go, but as I tell them, it all comes down to the work they’re putting in. Things aren’t going to be given to them. At least for now, they’ve bought into putting their heads down and going to work.”