Take a high school basketball program with decades upon decades of success, deep community pride and a track record of district titles and state championships.

Now imagine what happens when that program misses out on the state tournament for the first time in 23 years.

They’re not too happy down in Chester, to put it lightly.

“It was pretty much a bad taste left in their mouths,” Clippers coach Larry Yarbray said. “First time in a long time we didn’t make it to the state playoffs.”

The final loss, to Coatesville in the play-back round of the District 1 AAAA playoffs, left Chester watching the PIAA playoffs for the first time since 1992. Since then, the Clippers had won six state championships and lost in the finals three other times, as well as taken home 13 District 1 titles.

Now, the team that has by and large dominated the Philadelphia suburban hoops landscape over the last two decades is playing with a chip on its shoulder.

And it showed on Saturday on the courts at West Chester, starting with a dominant 46-22 win over an Episcopal squad that was, admittedly, missing two starting guards.

Chester’s frontcourt, including senior Marquis Collins and juniors Jordan Camper and Jamar Sudan, looks much physically stronger than it did last season. Collins, a 6-foot-7 lefty, was especially aggressive in wins over Episcopal and West Chester Rustin, and the work he’s put in this offseason looks to be paying off.

“I feel like I had to change a lot, and as a team we had to change a lot,” Collins said. “I told everybody to look into the mirror, and personally, myself I felt like i was settling too much and I hurt the team. So I got in the weight room, gained 10 pounds of muscle and basically changed my game to an attacker now.”

Even the backcourt is strong, with rising senior wings Deshawn Hinson and Dymon Colbert both bringing a lot of physicality to the court, as does rising junior guard Arod Carter. If nothing else, Chester should be able to physically dominate most opponents this season, and they’ve got quite a bit else.

The blip of last season can somewhat be explained by youth and inexperience, combined with the loss of starting point guard Khaleeq Campbell to an ACL tear in December. Campbell is expected to be back by the start of the regular season, but the hope at Chester is that he’s not the beginning of the revival but joining in the middle of it.

“Unfortunately things didn’t go our way but hopefully this is a wake-up call,” Yarbray said. “Our season starts now, everybody’s hungry. We’re sending a message early.”

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