Matt Hilleary is no longer treating high school opponents' shots like picnic flies, and Cathy Spicer is now serving up three-course meals instead of three-point shots.

Yet, even with the loss of star power, the Conquistadors' basketball standing in the Delaney Athletic Conference is luminous as usual. Both Seton teams, now on break for exams, are unbeaten in the league despite losing their most recent program cornerstones.

All-Extra selection Hilleary, who averaged 22 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks, is playing at Catholic University. Spicer, after a brief stint at West Point, is attending Northern Virginia Community College and waitressing while pondering her basketball future.

Both teams have compensated for their glaring losses with balance and depth. Maintaining such lofty standards comes as no great surprise to the girls, who have lost just three DAC games in 13 years. But Coach Dick Pennefather would have been happy to have Spicer in uniform again this season.

"I think Cathy is probably the finest all-around player, in terms of somebody who's coachable and a team player, we've ever had at Seton," said Pennefather, who has coached sisters Jean and Therese during his 13-year tenure.

"My sisters were great players, but because of the brother-sister thing, the coachability [was a factor]. Cathy was a dream. To lose that, it's hard for everything to be hunky-dory."

And it has not been, except in the Delaney. Seton (9-6, 7-0) has dropped nonconference games to Sherando, Paul VI, O'Connell, Ireton and St. John's-Prospect Hall and at times leading scorers Mary Spicer (10.5 points a game), a sophomore, and Katy Hadro (13.2), a junior, have struggled with their shots, a problem they are trying to rectify with early morning shooting sessions in the school's drafty gym. In addition, the team is shooting about 50 percent from the foul line.

"I told them that the players who are shooting the ball the most need to be in the gym the most," Pennefather said. "They kind of took that to heart, and they've been there."

The inside play has been encouraging, with senior Eryka Bukowski becoming more of a force, and with senior Melanie Jones, junior Liz Planchek and freshman Elena Jones each posting double-figure scoring games in recent outings.

"We're a little bit more well-rounded this year," said Pennefather, whose team has won 12 of the past 13 league titles. "I don't know that we're necessarily stronger, because it sure was nice to have Cathy banging home so many threes every night, but I think there is a little bit more of a widespread attack now."

"Since Cathy's leadership was so good, it kind of prepared us for this season," said Mary Spicer, her sister. "This year everyone has to realize what their role is."

Cathy Spicer has attended several games this winter, and Hilleary turns out when he can. The Seton boys (13-6, 11-0) returned the favor by rooting on their former teammate in his collegiate debut against American University.

"It was good for our guys to see somebody from our program go on to play at that level," Coach Dan VanderWoude said. "It showed them that you can be a star in high school and when you step into a college you have to work your way up the ranks. Sometimes at Seton they don't realize the talent pool out there."

Fact is, with Hilleary gone, the Conquistadors thought they might need the occasional flotation device to stay atop the Delaney pool. But so far they are unbeaten in conference play, with a key regular season game looming Friday at Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy (10-5, 8-1).

Junior point guard Pat VanderWoude, mostly a passer last season, has driven and shot his way to a team-leading 14.6 scoring average. Senior wing Josh Daniel runs the offense and shoots threes, and he and senior Brian Lalli mark the opponents' top offensive players.

Lalli, who played at Seton last year before transferring to Bishop Ireton and transferring back, recorded nine steals against Fredericksburg Christian and followed that with a seven-steal game.

"Last year the plan was to get the ball to Matt," said Daniel, who is averaging 12.8 points. "This year everybody's helping out everybody."

Perhaps the key to the season has been Hilleary's successor, 6-foot-5 senior Peter Hickson, who is averaging 9.2 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. The first-year Conquistador knows Seton inside and out--he played against them while attending Wakefield Country Day in Warren County his first three years of high school, and he played on Seton's summer league team for two offseasons.

Last year Hickson had to try to stop Hilleary. This season he is trying to mimic him the best he can.

"We're different players," said Hickson, who came to Seton when his mother, Sharon, left Wakefield Country Day to teach English at the Manassas school. "If I could do some of the things he did at Seton, I'd love that. I remember trying to guard him and trying to go up against him. He was always the biggest challenge of the year."

The challenge for Seton this season has been consistency. Nonconference losses to Potomac School, O'Connell and St. Stephen's/St. Agnes dotted the early schedule, and three consecutive blowout losses in the Kiwanis Holiday Classic was no confidence booster.

"It made us step back and ask ourselves what we could do to keep our success up or keep playing people tough," Pat VanderWoude said.

The Conquistadors now have won seven games in a row and have knocked off each Delaney team by at least 21 points. The girls have been similarly dominant. So even with Spicer and Hilleary as part-time spectators instead of full-time starters, the Conquistadors still think they can repeat as Delaney champions.

"In the long run," Pennefather said, "those kinds of [starless] teams sometimes can accomplish more because they're harder to play against."

CAPTION: Katy Hadro's 13.2 points per game leads the Conquistadors, who are 7-0 without their graduated star, three-point specialist Cathy Spicer.

CAPTION: Junior Pat VanderWoude (32) has Seton eyeing the DAC title with an 11-0 conference record--without Matt Hilleary, who is playing basketball at Catholic University.