Last season, as they floated under the radar early in the regular season, there was always the chance a team would take the Vincentian Royals lightly.
There was a chance Vincentian could get a win without playing its best game.
The Royals started a freshman, their best player was a sophomore and they had graduated four seniors from the previous season.
Flying under the radar is not an option for Vincentian this season, nor is having an off day and expecting to be able to muster a win.
The Royals are the two-time defending WPIAL Class A champions. They return four starters from last season including 6-foot junior guard/forward Brenna Wise, one of the top players in the WPIAL.
"Coming in, everybody wants to beat you," coach Ron Moncrief said. "You do have a target on your back, we cannot afford to play our 'B' game or 'C' game."
Luckily for Moncrief, his team has brought its "A" game nearly every single night.
Vincentian, the top-ranked team in Class A, was 15-2 and 9-0 in Class A Section 2 after routing Trinity Christian, 76-13, on Monday before a big non-section test at Class AAA Central Valley on Wednesday.
"Last year's team had a lot of unknowns, we were very young," Moncrief said. "A lot of people didn't think we would make it as far as we did. This year, people know who we are.
"We are still young, but people know about us. We are going to get everybody's best game. There is no more sneaking up on teams, which is fine, that is what you want to happen as a coach and players."
Vincentian opened the season by winning the Serra Catholic tipoff tournament, defeating the host team and Allderdice. Vincentian has some of the most impressive non-section wins, regardless of the classification, in the entire WPIAL.
It also won at Class AAA Hampton, against Class AAAA Pine-Richland and against Bishop Canevin, the defending WPIAL and PIAA Class AA champion.
In the Pittsburgh Classic at Ambridge on Jan. 18, Vincentian also defeated Class AAAA Chartiers Valley.
Within the section, the Royals have been just as impressive, winning their first eight games, including a 63-52 triumph against arch-rival Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic in a section showdown.
"We play one game at a time, that is our philosophy," Moncrief said. "We practice hard, work hard and when we get in the game, we are going to do the same thing. If you look at the schedule as a whole, it can be overwhelming, so we take it one game at a time."
Along with Wise, Vincentian's other returning starters are 5-8 sophomore guard Torrieonna Cash, 5-6 senior guard Kayla Key and 5-11 senior guard/forward Ally Bartoszewicz. Maia Joiner, a 5-6 sophomore guard, is the lone new starter in the lineup.
Through 14 games, Wise was averaging 20.3 points per game. She scored 17 points and grabbed 16 rebounds against Chartiers Valley, she had 25 points and 16 rebounds vs. Bishop Canevin and she had 20 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks against Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic.
Cash, Joiner and Key can all handle the point guard position. Kiersten Elliott, a 5-10 sophomore, and 5-8 sophomore Julia Galbraith are two of the first players off the bench. Both are capable of playing guard or forward.
Vincentian won 29 games last season and reached the PIAA final where it lost to Tri-Valley out of District 11.
"Our goal is to compete for a section title, compete for a WPIAL title and try to get back to the state finals," Moncrief said.
Vincentian's only losses this season came in back-to-back games. The Royals lost to Butler Area, a Class AAAA program, in the championship game of the Butler Christmas tournament and it lost at Class AA power Seton-LaSalle, six days later.
"We like playing a tough non-section schedule, just to see how good we really are," Moncrief said. "They showed me they can compete with a lot of teams. When we play our style of basketball, we are tough to beat."