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Prepping for Preps '23-24: Downingtown West (Girls)

12/06/2023, 11:30am EST
By Sean McBryan

By Sean McBryan (@SeanMcBryan)

(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.)


Downingtown West girls basketball snuck into the 24-team District 1 tournament field last season with a victory over Downingtown East in the regular season finale.

The Whippets were the 24th and final seed yet still gave No. 9 seed Unionville a scare in a 50-44 loss. The strong play to end the rollercoaster season gave West some positives to build off coming into the new season with three key graduates to replace.

“We were a low seed,” head coach Mike Young said. “But we played really close and tough against Unionville. It was a good game and something to build on.”

Downingtown West junior Caitlin Grant is one of the players back from last season. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

The Whippets started last season 5-1, lost four straight, then won two in a row to sit at a respectable 7-5 in mid-January. They stumbled in seven of their next eight games before the win over East clinched that last district playoff spot.

West finished fifth in the Ches-Mont National with a 4-8 record behind Bishop Shanahan, Coatesville, West Chester Henderson, and West Chester East. The Whippets went 9-13 overall.

“We’re definitely trying to improve in Ches-Monts,” Young said. “The goal is to make the Ches-Mont playoffs. Obviously to do that we’re going to have to have a better record than 4-8. Every team in our section has a chance to make the playoffs. Each team is really good so it’s going to be a fight every game.”

Lizzie Grant (9 ppg, 4 bpg), Kiersten Arrowsmith (7 ppg, 31 three-pointers), and Widener commit Kaitlin Meenan (8 ppg, 31 three-pointers) — all three-year starters — graduated but the Whippets believe they’ll have enough talent to reach those goals with the returning upperclassmen and influx of youth.

“Biggest challenge will be leadership,” Young said. “Those three seniors were great leaders. They kept us together through good and bad times. Finding some vocal leadership is going to be really important this year.”

Another challenge will be replacing junior guard Sami Schurtz, who missed last season with a torn ACL and unfortunately tore it again in the offseason.

Junior 5-7 guard Olivia Young returns as the Whippets’ leading scorer after averaging 4 points per game last season. She had nine points in the district loss to Unionville.

Junior forwards in 5-10 Rachel Schuda and 5-11 Caitlin Grant and senior 5-8 guard Bridget Rymer also received minutes in the district loss and will have increased roles.

Seniors in 5-4 guard Kenadie Haymond, 5-8 wing Lena Gibson, 5-10 forward Colleen Fromhartz, and Morgan McFeely make up the rest of the senior class.

“We have a lot of seniors,” Young said. “A nice class of juniors, a lot of who played last year and are going to be playing a lot again this year. We’re going to be missing Sami. … We have a few promising freshmen who will get some minutes. I think we’ll be a well-balanced team.”

Hayden Blair is a freshman to keep an eye or Downingtown West. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

That freshmen class has a few players to watch led by 5-5 guard Hayden Blair, the younger sister of West boys great Dylan Blair (Army West Point) and daughter of Damien and Carolyn, both former West Chester players and the former the current Golden Rams men’s head coach.

“We’re very excited to have her,” Young said. “Very good player, played high-level AAU. Obviously she has a great support system.”

Addelyn Lefever, a 6-0 forward who plays on Lady Runnin’ Rebels National Team, is also a freshman to watch.

Sophomore 5-10 shooting guard Ellie Dexter and 5-9 forward Kelsey Meenan have reportedly shown vast improvements throughout the offseason and were in the gym frequently throughout the spring and summer.

Young feels the personnel of this team is suited for an uptempo style of offense and plans to keep switching up the defensive scheme to keep the opposing offense guessing.

It has worked so far as the Whippets are off to a 2-0 start with a 45-28 victory over Freire Charter and a 43-41 victory over Strath Haven to win Downingtown East’s tip-off tournament.

“Our goal every year is to make the Ches-Mont playoffs and qualify for districts,” Young said. “We have not won a district game in a long time. That’s another goal: We don’t just want to get in districts, we want to win a game.”

Downingtown West tips off the Ches-Mont season at Henderson Dec. 12. The Whippets then travel to Coatesville Dec. 14 and host Avon Grove Dec. 19 before taking their first crack at defending Ches-Mont National champ Bishop Shanahan, which went to the Ches-Mont League final, district semis, and state quarterfinals last year.

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