Unlike last year, Camden will be highly regarded from the beginning of the season. The Panthers, who finished at No. 4 in the final Inquirer South Jersey ratings, now have a reputation to uphold, one that didn't exist until last season's state tournament. Coach Greg English scoffs at suggestions that Camden may have caught a few teams off guard during the playoffs.
"We didn't sneak up on anybody," said English, whose career record is 37-20. "The girls had to develop confidence in themselves and become more consistent."
It won't be difficult to accomplish both consistency and confidence if 5- foot, 8-inch senior guard Tracy Wilkins continues her rapid development.
Last season she was selected first-team all-conference, which is no small feat in the talent-laden American Division. Wilkins averaged 16.3 points and four assists a game.
"I look for her to do most of the scoring, although she will get help from the others," said English. "She is one of the better ones in the league or South Jersey. She is unselfish, can shoot the jumper or go inside. She has gotten a number of letters from colleges."
Wilkins probably will be teamed in the backcourt with 5-5 junior Ruth Golden, who averaged four points and two assists a game off the bench last year. Carmen Aquedo, a 5-6 junior, also will see duty in the Camden backcourt.
The frontcourt is experienced with returning starters TaWanda Preston and Kameelah Waheed along with part-time starter Vanessa Moody.
Preston, a 6-0 senior, averaged nine points and 15 rebounds last season and is expected to become one of the league's better inside scoring threats.
"I think she will be a dominating force," said English. "She is one of the few experienced big players returning in the league and we expect a lot
The 5-9 Waheed provided all the intangibles last season while averaging 6 points and seven rebounds.
"She really gives the team versatility," the Camden coach said. "She can go at guard or forward. She has great leaping ability and a good outside shot."
Moody is projected to be the other starting forward, while 5-9 Gina Morgan and 5-11 Regina Bennett add depth to the frontcourt.
English says that last year's successful trip to the playoffs will have a profound effect on his players.
"It is very important that we have been there," he said. "Hopefully winning last year will make them want to do the same again."
The Camden coach says the key to the season is for his players not to become too caught up in their press clippings accumulated from last year's tournament.
"We can't take teams too lightly," he said. "We just can't walk out on the court and think we are going to win without our best effort."
While Paul VI remains the consensus league favorite, English says the Eagles may receive more competition than last year when they finished unbeaten in the confernce and No. 1 in the final Inquirer ratings.
"I believe it will be Paul VI, Cherry Hill East and ourselves," English said. "I don't believe Paul VI has as wide a gap this year."
The coach could prove prophetic if Camden duplicates its playoff showing of last season during this regular season.