EAST WHITELAND - The race for the Ches-Mont League American Division girls basketball title has already turned into the West Chester Rustin Invitational.
That's not a knock on the six other squads in the division, but more of a testament to the fact that the Golden Knights are simply playing some phenomenal basketball so far this winter.
On Thursday night, West Chester Rustin faced arguably its toughest test in the American Division when it squared off with the only other team in the division without a league loss. The Golden Knights quickly turned it into a lopsided affair, however, flexing their muscles en route to an extremely impressive 71-41 road victory over Great Valley.
West Chester Rustin (5-0 American, 9-3 overall) took over sole possession of first place in the division with the victory. Great Valley (3-1, 4-6), who suffered its first Ches-Mont League loss, now is alone in second place. The top-two teams from each division following the regular season qualify for the Ches-Mont Final Four Tournament.
How terrific has Rustin been in the league up to this point?
Well, their five Ches-Mont victories have come by an average of 35 points per game, with their closest so far being a 16-point victory over Sun Valley in their league opener.
"We're not stopping until we win the division. That's our first goal,' said West Chester Rustin's standout junior guard Noelle Powell, who netted 17 points in the win. "We knew [Great Valley] was undefeated in the league coming into this game, so we knew how important this one was.
"We were really excited for this game. We really played great as a team.'
West Chester Rustin, the reigning American Division and overall Ches-Mont champions, also got a big game from St. Joseph's commit Adashia Franklyn. The senior center dropped in a game-high 18 points, and also added nine rebounds.
Freshman Courtney Warley (11 points), junior Emily Walls (eight points) and junior Casey Warley (eight points) all had strong games as well.
The Golden Knights set the tone right away, building a 27-10 lead after the opening quarter, to take control from the start. Rustin's full-court pressure forced the host Patriots into committing 10 turnovers in the first period.
Powell and Franklyn both scored eight points in the first quarter. Casey Worley added six in the frame.
"We've been working a lot on our defense,' Casey Worley said. "The first quarter we came out and played really well, and that kind of determines how things are going to go the rest of the game. We wanted to try and jump on them early.
"We're starting to really come together as a team. We're not at our peek yet, but we're starting to show our potential.'
Great Valley was led by junior Emilee Kirk's 11 points. Senior Danielle DiSanto added nine points, and senior Brittany Edwards chipped in with eight.
Although it wasn't a great start to the game for the Patriots, they settled in and played much better from that point forward. Great Valley outscored Rustin, 16-12, in the second quarter to cut the deficit to 39-26 at halftime.
But Rustin simply had too much firepower, and pulled back away in the second half.
"They are a really good team — very athletic,' said Great Valley coach Alex Venarchik. "You have to guard all five of their girls at all times.
"We settled down a little and kind of got into a better rhythm after that first quarter, but their pressure is constant and it really hurt us at times.'
Last year Rustin won the Ches-Mont League Final Four Tournament, beating Downingtown West in the title game to win the league championship. The Golden Knights went on to make it all the way to the semifinals of the District 1 Class AAAA playoffs. Additionally, they were the only area team to qualify for the 4A state playoffs, where they lost to Dover in the first round.
With most of that team back, the Golden Knights are hoping for big things again this winter. Nearing the midway point of the regular season, they are starting to gel.
"At this point in the season I'm glad to see the kids playing together as a unit the way they are,' said West Chester Rustin coach Leah Kim. "We have a lot of potential and I think they are starting to really show that.'
W.C. Rustin 71, Great Valley 41
W.C. RUSTIN: Powell 8 1-2 17, Ca. Warley 4 0-2 8, Franklyn 8 2-6 18, Nelson 0 0-1 0, O'Hare 2 0-0 5, Walls 3 1-2 8, Pitts 0 0-0 0, Co. Warley 5 1-1 11, Zavitsky 1 2-2 4. Totals: 31 7-16 71.
GREAT VALLEY: Edwards 3 1-2 8, Buettner 1 1-1 3, Campetti 0 0-0 0, Smith 2 0-0 4, DiSanto 3 2-4 9, Kirk 3 5-8 11, Liberatoscioli 0 1-3 1, Aker 0 0-1 0, Viguers 2 0-0 5. Totals: 14 10-19 41.
W.C. Rustin 27 12 17 15 — 71
Great Valley 10 16 6 9 — 41
3-point goals: O'Hare, Walls, Edwards, DiSanto, Viguers.