In her four years at Haverford High, guard Jaclyn Gantz has seen the difference between a losing environment and a winning one.
During the lows of her freshman and sophomore seasons, Gantz saw finger-pointing and unfriendly competition among teammates. The result was a combined eight wins from 2008-11.
Now, as the 11th-seeded Fords prepare for Wednesday's second-round PIAA District 1 Class AAAA playoff game against sixth-seeded Upper Dublin, coaches are upbeat and players are singularly focused on winning. The team is sitting pretty at 20-5.
"You always enjoy going to practice when you're on a winning team," Gantz said. "You like being around the people that you're with every day for four months."
This season, the Fords have enjoyed a level of success they hadn't experienced since 2004, when longtime coach Bobbi Morgan left for Cabrini College.
But don't mistake Haverford for a happy-to-be-there underdog, even against a Cardinals team trying to atone for a second-round playoff loss last year.
"We're all ready," said Gantz, who committed to Scranton earlier this month. "We all know this is our year to make big things happen."
A core of seniors, who were freshmen when coach John Berardoni took over the helm, have made big things possible. The Fords' top four scorers are seniors, led by Gantz at 15.4 points per game, 12th in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Berardoni credited their commitment and "never-say-die" attitude for the turnaround, which started with a 10-6 finish in the Central League last year. The Fords beat Upper Darby for the league title on Feb. 12 in a game Gantz said prepared them for the high-stakes district tournament.
Upper Dublin will present a major step up from Unionville, which Haverford topped by 16 in the first round Friday. Cardinals guard Taylor Bryant is the region's ninth-leading scorer at 16.4 points per game.
No matter which opponents stand in their way, though, the Fords know they already have cleared their biggest hurdles.
"They've experienced the hard times," Berardoni said, "and they don't want to go back there again."
Downingtown West has not lost since December. The Whippets boast a 23-2 record and are the No. 4 seed in the Class AAAA playoffs.
But they are approaching Wednesday's game against No. 13 Abington with an underdog mentality.
"We've exceeded our expectations," coach Dave Johnson said. "Right now, we're just having fun. It's just icing on the cake."
The overachieving Whippets meet the underachieving Ghosts in what may be the most intriguing second-round matchup.
Two years removed from a district title, Abington finished second in the Suburban One National League for the fifth time in sixth years.
With 11 wins in their last 13 games, including Friday's 50-46 first-round victory over West Chester Rustin, the Ghosts are dangerous for a No. 13 seed.
Abington (17-6) will have the size advantage over West, and guard Aiyannah Peal "can take over the game any time she wants to," Johnson said.
But Johnson has a star guard of his own in senior Brittany Sicinski, the region's 10th-leading scorer at 16.2 ppg.
"She makes us go," Johnson said. "She goes 100 percent, 100 miles an hour in practice. I think her work ethic permeates throughout the team."
During Johnson's first eight seasons as coach, he found himself delivering the same message each fall: "The Ches-Mont goes through East." This year, Sicinski vaulted the Whippets to their first-ever Ches-Mont League title, ending Downingtown East's seven-year reign with three wins over the Cougars.
The success hasn't removed the chip from her shoulder.
"A lot of people are doubting us and saying that we're overrated," Sicinski said. "I think we're going to prove a lot of people wrong."
Contact staff writer Brian Kotloff at firstname.lastname@example.org.