Technically, South Kortright got the last laugh of the 2007-08 Delaware League girls basketball season.

It was Davenport, however, that was all smiles last March.

"You just never know," said 30th-year Wildcats coach Ray Preston, whose team won the 2008 Section Four Class D championship a couple of weeks after falling, 47-41, to the Rams in the Delaware League championship game.

Neither team lost much to graduation, so both can be considered favorites to repeat as division champions. Davenport won the Upper Division last winter with a 14-0 DL record that included a 46-43 regular-season victory over the Rams, who finished 14-1 against league opponents to win the Mountain Division.

When the two met in the crossover final Feb. 15 at SUNY Delhi, then-sophomore Renee Craft scored a game-high 16 points to lead South Kortright to its second Delaware League crown in three seasons.

Craft averaged about 12 points and 12 rebounds under first-year SK coach Josh Burroughs en route to a Daily Star Second Team All-Star honor last winter, which marked the eighth consecutive season that the DL crossover featured at least one of the 2008 finalists.

The two teams have met three times in the crossover during that span, with SK winning in 2008 and 2006, the latter a 58-31 victory that preceded its run to the school's first state championship of any kind. In June, the Rams graduated their last two holdovers from that state-champion team _ Ally Gardner and Jordan Nichols.

Davenport won back-to-back league titles in 2003 and 2004, the first courtesy a 43-28 drubbing of the Rams.

"Certainly there are no givens here," Preston said. "As I look around, there are still teams out there that are very competitive teams. Kortright's size is good and they've got some good players inside."

That could pose a matchup problem for Davenport come Jan. 5, when the Wildcats host the Rams in their only regular-season meeting.

"I think Kortright can give Davenport a game," said Hunter-Tannersville coach Jeff Friedman, whose team will chase Davenport for the Upper Division title, along with Margaretville, Stamford and Windham. "Davenport's the class of the section, to be honest, but I think Josh has just enough horses there to compete. Craft is a hell of a player."

Forwards Craft and Cassie McMullen key the Rams' inside game. They combined for 30 points and 25 rebounds in a key 41-40 victory over Jefferson on Dec. 10 as SK improved to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the DL. More importantly, the Rams gained an early lead in the race for the Mountain Division title. The J-Hawks appear to be SK's closest competition in the division, which includes Andes, Downsville, Gilboa and Roxbury.

"I'm not sure yet what Downsville has or doesn't have," Friedman said. "But the wild-card on that side is Jefferson. Chelsea Martin (15 ppg, 10 rpg in 07-08) is a nice player and they're big. ... To me, they're the team that, if all the parts come together, can be competitive over there."

Although Davenport graduated one player from its starting five, that one player was Miranda Zimmerman, a 5-foot-11 center who averaged roughly 7.5 points and 10 rebounds last season.

"She certainly is a big loss for us _ someone I don't know we can really replace," Preston said. "I don't have another big body like that around."

Zimmerman's graduation leaves Davenport a bit short as its main inside presence is 5-9 junior forward Samantha Meyerhoff, a returning Daily Star First Team All-Star who averaged 18.2 points and 12.5 rebounds last winter. Meyerhoff entered the 2008-09 season with 1,002 varsity points, a milestone she reached during a 55-39 loss to

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Section Three's Sackets Harbor in a Class D state quarterfinal at Cicero-North Syracuse.

The funny thing is that Davenport, which went 21-3 last season, didn't have to go through the Rams to win its first sectional title since 1992. The teams entered sectionals seeded first and second, respectively, but only Davenport reached the final. SK finished 19-3, bowing out of the tournament with a 36-31 semifinal loss to Tri-Valley League champion Cherry Valley-Springfield, which went on to suffer a 47-25 championship loss to the Wildcats.

Davenport's other returning starters are senior point guard Chelsea Haight (7.5 ppg last season), senior guard Amanda Toombs (11.6 ppg) and junior guard Jackie Gilley (4.4 ppg). All four returning starters helped Davenport to an undefeated girls soccer season that ended with a scoreless tie in the sectional final against eventual co-Class D state champion Edmeston this past fall.

Preston said speed-demon Haight has had no relapses in her never-ending battle with Crohn's disease, an ailment that sidelined her for the soccer season-opener and is now controlled with the help of daily medication and a strict diet. Should Haight remain healthy throughout the basketball season, she could be the difference in every game.

"Haight's a great floor general who always puts in eight-to-10 points a night," said Friedman, whose daughter Devin is his top scorer. "She's good for eight assists, too, and she's very fast. With her on the floor, honestly, to me, she's the key. Meyerhoff will get her points, but Chelsea's the one who triggers everything. She's the one I fear out there because she can shred a defense."

Six Delaware League representatives _ Davenport, SK, Downsville, H-T, Jefferson and Gilboa _ entered the 13-team Section Four Class D Tournament last season. Three made it to the semifinals, with SK falling to CV-S and Davenport downing the Eagles, 42-36.

Downsville took a big hit with the graduation of Stephanie Shellman, the 2007 Daily Star Player of the Year who averaged 21.4 points and more than three assists, steals and rebounds last season. Shellman and Meyerhoff were the only DL selections on the 11-player Daily Star First Team All-Stars in 2008.

Likewise, Gilboa also lost its top player as Casey Aplin graduated after leading the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding for three straight seasons. Jessica Caputo looks to be the new points leader in Gilboa with two double-digit scoring efforts so far this season.

In addition to Friedman's daughter, H-T has another scoring threat in Colleen Brower, who scored a varsity-high 21 points earlier this season. Annie Butler and Alex Natale add depth to the Wildcats' attack.

Vanessa Speenburgh may emerge as a consistent scoring option for Jefferson. The J-Hawks' starting goalie this past soccer season, Speenburgh had 10 points in the loss to SK.

Roxbury should be on the radar, if only because of its new coach. Tom Sherwood returns to coaching four years after ending an 18-season run at Stamford. A four-time Daily Star Coach of the Year at Stamford, Sherwood inherits a senior-laden Roxbury squad that is likely to be led by guard Jessica Utsler and swing player Karly Bolger.

Sherwood's replacement at Stamford, Lonnie Nickerson, is back after guiding the Indians to a 7-12 record last season. Stamford, which graduated seven seniors, looks to rely on juniors Sommers Gaddis, a forward, and guard Marlana Hinkley.

Margaretville seems to have balance with Casey Hubbell, Brandi Balcom, Michelle O'Reilly and Erica Faulkner, who have contributed to the Blue Devils' 2-1 start.

Mariah Ruff figures to pace Andes this season. She scored 14 points in a 43-31 loss Dec. 10 to Downsville, which got a game-high 17 points from Chelsea Taylor and 10 more from Allison Townsend.

Forward/center Crystyn Begley is one of four key senior returners for Windham, which finished 1-19 a season ago.

Although most of the league appears to be in a rebuilding mode, Preston said Davenport isn't taking anything for granted.

"I think we're pretty focused, but I do temper it," said Preston, whose team routed Gilboa in its season opener but had to rally from a six-point halftime deficit to beat non-league foe Milford, 49-38, on Dec. 8. "We're a target and you can make someone's season by not showing up some night."

Burroughs said his Rams aren't looking past anybody, but they realize the significance of Jan. 5.

"Every game for us is important," he said. "But we know when we do play Davenport, it's a huge game. We have to come and play our A' game."

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Dean Russin can be reached at drussin@thedailystar.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 215.

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