When both groups of Panthers dropped their league openers, however, the rest of the league took note. Maybe it was time for a new champion.
While there is still a long way to go before that's decided, one thing if for sure — the WBAL Foothill Division is more wide open than ever before.
Four teams are within a game of first place and even Pinewood, at a very uncharacteristic 0-3 (before Thursday's game with Mercy-San Francisco), can't be ruled out. The surprising leader, perhaps, is Mercy at 3-0 (and 17-0 overall) while Sacred Heart Prep, Eastside Prep and Menlo School are all 2-1.
Bottom line, there are not a lot of easy games this season for anyone.
Menlo, for example, upended defending co-champ Pinewood last weekend and had a great opportunity to take a 3-0 mark into three crucial games. That, however, disappeared in a 49-45 loss to host Sacred Heart Prep on Tuesday night.
The Knights, perhaps in their best position to make a run at the title this season, now have to find a way to bounce back when they play host to Eastside Prep on Friday at 5:30 p.m.
"Eastside will be tough," said Menlo coach John Paye. "The key for us is to start the game strong so the other team does not get their confidence going.
"As for our team, we need to all be aggressive and attack the basket so that everybody is a threat. This will force the defense to account for everyone."
Menlo (2-1, 11-5) is facing the make-or-break portion of its schedule. After facing Eastside, the Knights will host Mercy-SF on Tuesday before visiting Eastside Prep on Friday, Jan. 27 in a strange bit of scheduling.
Paye knows his team needs to play better than how it did against the Gators.
"I felt we played too tentative last night," he said.
Menlo had the height in 6-foot-4 Drew Edelman, but host Sacred Heart Prep had the game plan to limit the high-scoring Edelman and it worked for the Gators (2-1, 12-5) as they pulled into a three-way tie for second-place by double-teaming Edelman with 5-7 Melissa Holland and 5-5 Kelsey Hemm, among others. Sometimes, Edelman was surrounded by three SHP defenders and finished with just 16 points and 13 rebounds.
The Gators did a good job whenever Edelman put the ball on the floor as she had the ball stripped from her hands numerous times, resulting in fast break layins for SHP, which held a 28-22 halftime lead thanks to five 3-pointers.
The key play of the game came with 19 seconds to play and the Gators holding a 46-45 lead. Menlo freshman Elisa Merten missed a 12-footer from the baseline that just rimmed out. SHP grabbed the rebound and closed out the game with free throws.
Helen Gannon led the Gators with 15 points and Holland added 14. More importantly, Sacred Heart kept Menlo off the free-throw line with its zone defense. The Knights attempted only two and made none while the Gators made 11 of 16.
Eastside Prep (2-1, 9-9) suddenly is back in the picture —starting the season in bleak fashion after losing standout seniors Ahjalee Harvey, Takara Burse, Leanne Martin and Ausjerae Holland to graduation.
What remained for head coach Donovan Blythe was one starter, Hashima Carothers, and a lineup of returning players that included only one senior — reserve Cinthia Cunningham.
This youthful group showed its inexperience early on this season by dropping its first two games, then three in a row in December and, finally, its WBAL opener to fall to a very uncharacteristic 6-9.
Since then, however, the Panthers have won three straight — including Monday's 53-47 shocker over host Terra Nova in the Martin Luther King Jr. Shootout in Pacifica.
The host Tigers, who feature three Division I prospects, came into the game ranked No. 181 in the nation by MaxPreps and No. 34 in the state. The Panthers were No. 1,769 in the nation and No. 165 in the state.
Those rankings looked to be playing out when Terra Nova grabbed a 19-5 first-quarter lead. Eastside Prep, however, answered with a 17-3 advantage in the second quarter for a 22-22 halftime deadlock. A 20-14 bulge in the third quarter made all the difference for the Panthers.
Carothers, a 6-foot junior and the team's most experienced player, led the way with 14 points and 20 rebounds. She missed six straight games due to undisclosed reasons over the holidays, during which the Panthers went 2-4. Since returning, Eastside has steadily improved.
Destiny Graham, a 6-3 freshman, continued to improve with 13 points and six rebounds while sophomore Kimberly Leu had arguably her best game of the season with nine points and 10 boards.
Sophomore point guard Charmaine Bradford directed the offense with six points, five assists, four rebounds and four steals while sophomore Anisah Smith added seven points, four rebounds and four assists.
In the WBAL Skyline Division, Castilleja snapped its five-game league road losing streak with a convincing 52-10 victory over host Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA) in San Francisco on Tuesday. The Gators broke the game open early thanks to senior Riya Modi, who tallied a school record-tying 15 of her game-high 20 points in the opening frame. Castilleja outscored ICA, 24-0, from late in the first to early in the third to help build their 40-point cushion.
One night later, Castilleja saw its perfect league record end as host Harker scored off an inbounds play with three seconds to play in overtime to escape with a 49-48 victory on Wednesday. The Gators (2-1, 7-8) got an outstanding individual effort of 20 points, 13 rebounds and 12 blocks from senior Lauren Rantz.
In the PAL Bay Division, Tennyson Jellins tossed in 12 points to help host Menlo-Atherton eventually pull away from Burlingame for a 37-23 victory. The Bears (2-1, 8-9) held only a two-point halftime lead and the game was still close after the teams combined for just five points in the third period.
Alex Flowers and Sierra Sheeper, however, both scored each of their six points in the fourth quarter as the Bears used a 16-5 bulge to record the victory. Sheeper added 10 rebounds.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, Gunn got 16 points and five steals from sophomore Zoe Zwerling in a 54-30 victory over host Milpitas. The Titans (2-2, 8-5) took control of the game early with a 20-4 first quarter.
Cat Perez scored nine points and pulled down eight rebounds with freshman Meghan Mahoney having another solid game with 12 points, three steals and two blocks. The Titans came up with 21 steals and forced 29 turnovers.
Sacred Heart Prep moved back among the leaders in the WBAL race by snapping a rare three-game losing streak with a 71-63 victory over visiting Menlo School on Tuesday night.
The Gators improved to 3-2 (10-5) while the Knights dropped to 3-2 (10-5).
The Gators opened up a 30-21 halftime lead and that proved to be enough as the Knights scored 42 second-half points to make it close.
Ricky Galliani made four 3-pointers and finished with a career-high 25 points for the Gators. Cole McConnell made four of his team's nine 3-pointers and finished with 20 points to more than offset the combined 35 points by Menlo's Will Miller and Richard Harris.
In Hillsborough, Gabor Somogyi scored 19 points to pace Priory to a 65-53 victory over host Crystal Springs in WBAL action. The Panthers (2-1, 6-2) also got 16 points from Andy Dolezalek and 10 from Andy Isokephi as they outscored the Gryphons (0-5, 3-10) in the second quarter, 22-10, while building a comfortable lead.
In the PAL Ocean Division, Miles Weiss and Ian Proulx combined to make 12 of 12 free throws to spark Menlo-Atherton to a 32-25 victory over visiting Carlmont on Wednesday night. The Bears (2-1, 9-7) wound up making 16 of 19 from the line on an otherwise cold shooting night.
M-A made all eight of its attempts late in the game while the Scots (1-2, 6-10) were committing seven of their 20 turnovers. Weiss (11) and Proulx (10) nearly outscored Carlmont together with Proulx adding six rebounds and a pair of assists.
The Bears missed 6-7 senior Dominic Tully, who has been a force inside in recent games. He was sidelined by an ankle injury.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, Gunn's offensive problems continued as the Titans dropped a 41-35 decision to host Milpitas. Gunn (0-4, 6-10) managed just 13 points in the first half while losing its seventh straight. Max Girod tallied 10 points for the Titans.
In the Private Schools Athletic League (North Division), Mid-Peninsula remained atop the standings at 7-0 (8-0 overall) with a 48-38 victory over host Kehillah Jewish on Wednesday. The last time the teams met, Mid-Peninsula held on for a 33-32 win.