STATE CHAMPS!

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It’s not uncommon for me to congratulate an individual wrestler and/or a Lehigh Valley wrestling team for winning a state gold medal here on this blog this time of year.

However, it’s been 35 years since anyone from the Lehigh Valley could congratulate a boys basketball team for accomplishing the same honor during the winter sports season.

Allentown Central Catholic became the first Valley boys basketball team since…Central Catholic did it back in 1986.  We’ve had a few girls basketball teams bring home titles over the last several decades but many skeptics around the area thought we might never see another boys title from this area again. Fortunately, the Vikings proved them wrong and defeated Hickory High School, 41-40, last Thursday evening.

Like most teams this winter, Central Catholic had to overcome some adversity. 

Their team was shut down three times because of COVID–either via state mandates or because of reported cases within their own program.  Among their constatent scheduling issues…three times they scheduled and had to postpone their non-conference game vs. Notre Dame-Green Pond in what would have been a match of two of the Valley’s best teams (an additional storyline:  Central’s assistant athletic director is related to Notre Dame’s head coach and best player).

Two other times we were scheduled to broadcast a Central game–one time the game was cancelled 47 hours before tipoff, the other time, 3-½ hours before it was slated to start.

They also had personnel issues.  Their biggest concern among the players was the loss of their starting center, Christian Spudnardi, for two-thirds of their season with an ankle injury.  He recovered two weeks before the playoffs started and gave the Vikings their first 100% healthy starting lineup roughly ten days before the postseason got underway.

We’ll hear more on the Vikings’ historic season from Central Catholic Head Coach Dennis Csensits and members of his team on an upcoming edition of “RCN SportsTalk” (a number of their players also play spring sports, so we’ll have to find a date that works for as many of their student-athletes as possible).

This winter also gave some vindication to the Nazareth and Bethlehem Catholic girls basketball teams–both were alive in the state playoffs when the coronavirus took a hold of everything going on in the sports world last year and made for a premature ending on their quest for a championship.

Although both teams lost before getting a chance to play in the Pennsylvania state final, at least they had a season and had the opportunity to compete for the championship without having the games pulled out from under them–as was the case a year ago.

As far as wrestling, Lehigh Valley teams did well in states…although not their usual dominance that local squads normally have at Hershey.

There were a few individuals who won gold medals but for the first time in several years, no school walked away with the PIAA trophy.

The reasons are both most probably tied to the pandemic.  

Lehigh Valley teams have an advantage competing in one of the most prominent wrestling communities in the country.  Because of the limited scheduling of meets, many wrestlings did not get to compete against some of the other best wrestling teams like they normally do in any other season.  A number of schools use the motto “iron sharpens iron,” and facing that tough level of wrestling on a weekly basis can’t help but make wrestlers better prepared for states.

Furthermore, some schools gain skills by competing at outside tournaments featuring some of the best wrestlers in the country–utilizing those skills learned and applying them in state competitions.  Because many of the nation’s top tourneys were cancelled, the top wrestlers didn’t have those experiences as well.

Still, just to get through this winter season while staying healthy was an accomplishment.  For the Central Catholic’s boys basketball team, who persevered through all its hurdles (and had a number of nail-biting victories over the last two weeks), they captured the ultimate prize for a high school sports program.

Congratulations Vikings!

Chris Michael About Chris Michael

Chris handles play-by-play for RCN sports events, including baseball, football & basketball games and produces/hosts the station’s 60-minute live call-in show. Among Chris’s other responsibilities include reporting on local news & sports stories, conducting “Take 5” interviews with community and political leaders, producing commercials, voiceovers and promos; and generating blog entries and videos on the internet. Click here to listen to the weekly Sports Talk podcast.

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