The SportsTalk Shop: High School Football “Anti-Poll” #2

 

High School Football “Anti-Poll” #2

Before we take a look at the smaller schools in our RCN viewing area, I wanted to congratulate a few of the bigger schools, in particular Emmaus, Dieruff and Bethlehem Catholic, for their efforts this past weekend. After my pre-season prediction that the Hornets would make the district playoffs, they needed a win over a very tough Central Catholic team on Saturday to get their first win and keep their post-season hopes alive. If they can build on the confidence they earned on their last minute drive and victory over the Vikings, I think they have a legitimate shot at being 2-2 and getting back into the playoff chase.

I’ve remarked for years how mentally tough those Dieruff Huskies are — continuing to battle despite losing talented players to follow other opportunities. Their hard work paid off Saturday with their first victory over a team (other than rival Allen) since 2008.

Although Becahi lost on Saturday night against Easton, I am truly impressed by Head Coach Joe Henrich and his troops for a close loss to Easton — a team I believe is the most talented squad in District XI right now. With a 2-1 start and a realistic chance to beat a few more teams in the coming weeks, look for the Golden Hawks to make a run at districts. This would be a tremendous accomplishment to a team many people thought might only get a win or two this season. It’s also a testament to Henrich and his belief in his program.

Now for the AA and A “Anti-Poll”  for teams in the RCN viewing area:

CATASAUQUA – I don’t know if there’s a team that will be able to slow down this group of Rough Riders until the state playoffs get underway. Any team that wants to win a PIAA title most probably will have to face powerhouse Imhotep. Catty really has too many outstanding players — pretty much everywhere — to start naming them in a single blog post. The opposing coaches I’ve spoken with so far this year say you pretty much have to play a perfect game while hoping that Catty has an off-night just to have a chance at staying with them. Yet even when Catty makes a mistake, they have so much speed that they can usually make up for momentary errors and prevent other teams from big plays. For more on this year’s Catasauqua football team, we’ll have Athletic Director Tom Moll on RCN Sports Talk  this Thursday at 6 PM.

NOTE: Moll will be among the athletic directors, league and district officials that will be on this week’s show. If you have a question or issue about high school sports, this Thursday is the time to tune in and gets your questions answered.

SOUTHERN LEHIGH – I know the Spartans are a 3-A school, but I didn’t get to mention them in last week’s Anti-Poll as I concentrated mostly on the LVC. In RCN SportsTalk’s High School Football Premiere show which aired September 5, I said that I thought Southern Lehigh has a legitimate shot at winning a title this year. The fact that they lost to Catty in Week Two makes it much more difficult to go after the league title. However, Central Catholic is not a shoe-in to make districts this season. If Becahi doesn’t qualify (they still have Parkland, Whitehall, Liberty, Nazareth among the teams yet to play), I think the Spartans enter the AAA postseason as the favorite among the Lehigh Valley squads, although Saucon Valley could have something to say about that.

PEN ARGYL – I would not be surprised if the Green Knights make the playoffs as the #2 team among the Lehigh Valley AA teams. Players like Ryan Lobb, Nick Oyer, Michael DePaolo and Brady Mutton are smart, talented kids who can adapt to coaches’ adjustments with the best of them. Not many coaching staffs in the Colonial League have put together better schemes than the Pen Argyl coaches over the last few years. It may not happen when they play Catty during the regular season, but I would expect a fierce battle once again if Roughies and Knights face each other in the playoffs this November.

NOTRE DAME – Notre Dame is one of several “feel-good” stories in the Colonial League this year, along with fellow 2-1 teams PALISADES, SAUCON VALLEY (a 3A team this fall), PALMERTON and NORTHWESTERN. The Crusaders have a brand new attitude amongst its players – which is sometimes the most important aspect of turning a program around. Head Coach Chuck Mueller has his kids playing inspired football. They’re coming off a tough loss to Pen Argyl, but I think they can certainly make a run at a post-season berth, which would be a major step forward for this team. The booster club has offered me the red carpet treatment if I stop by their practice (although I’m not really a red carpet-type of guy). I’m hoping my schedule allows for an opportunity very soon to talk Notre Dame football. It should make for a very interesting next few weeks with many of these one-loss teams yet to play each other.

PIUS – The Royals lost a one-touchdown game to a tough Steel-High team last weekend. Pius has a solid line anchored by senior Kyle Kokawski, and most of last year’s team is back. But the Royals might have another challenge on their hands as they face Dieruff, who has to feel good following their first win of the season. It’ll be a big lift for whichever team wins that matchup on Friday night.

We’ll check back with our local high school football teams in a few weeks for our mid-regular season “Anti-Poll”. Which teams would you like me to discuss for our next poll? As always, we welcome your comments on the above teams. Feel free to email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us LIVE, Thursdays at 6 PM on RCN TV as we talk high school football this fall.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Anti-Poll #1: The “Bigger Schools” (AAAA & AAA)

 

Anti-Poll #1: The “Bigger Schools” (AAAA & AAA)

It’s the debut of the RCN Sports Talk Anti-Poll! This poll is RCN TV’s response for satisfying your desire to rank high school football teams without all the stress and anxiety created by a rigid numerical ranking list.

This week, we will look at the bigger schools in the RCN viewing area (the AAAA- and AAA-classed schools) and provide insights on the teams I’ve been able to gather information on. As always, your feedback, opinions and criticisms are most welcome.

Here are the first week’s listings, in quasi-order:

HEAD OF THE CLASS

EASTON – I was not surprised that EASTON defeated Parkland in the Lehigh Valley Conference opener, but I was absolutely shocked at the score! I had attended both teams’ practices and noted a ton of similarities, including depth at the skilled positions, lots of size, athletic linemen, upbeat yet intense practice sessions, etc. The one thing that appeared to distinguish the teams was that the Rover players I spoke with clearly identified their specific weaknesses from last year that they needed to improve upon. They were also focused on working on those areas for this season. I would have predicted an Easton 10-7 or 14-13 score with the defense playing a huge role; however, I never envisioned a 17-0 start and a 24-0 whitewash. I’ve asked quite a few people to point out to me the weaknesses with this year’s Easton team and very little has been uncovered. Quarterback Brad Wilkins seems very poised with outstanding abilities to lead his team to greater heights. Guys like senior linebacker Justin Best are underrated and quietly do an outstanding job—qualities shared by many Rovers this season. If they can keep any off-the-field issues at bay, I think it’s clear that the Rovers are the favorites to contend for league and district title honors.

WHITEHALL – WHITEHALL also surprised me in that they seemed to have a number of weapons but didn’t employ many of them against Liberty … but when you have Saquon Barkley running for touchdowns of 33, 41, 47 and 50 years, I guess there was no reason to.  I think they’ll be quite a bit of different Zephyr heroes this fall.  Whitehall’s offensive and defensive lines, presumably a weakness at the season’s outset because of their youth, look to be in mid-season form.  I think any battle between Whitehall against Easton or Parkland could have major playoff implications this season.  Don’t be surprised if things don’t stay vanilla and we see some “wildcat” formations, lots of fake punts and the like.

PARKLAND – I would also keep PARKLAND in this category. For the second straight year, they started off the LVC season facing the pre-season favorites of the RCN Sports Talk team. They quite possibly could go on another run culminating with a district championship and state playoff appearance. One could argue that this year’s Trojans are actually better than last year’s team, with a tandem quarterback combination and an extra year of experience for their returning players. Eli Redmond and Kareem Williams have returned in the backfield, with Najee Redmond replacing Jarel Elder’s spot. Many of the standout defensive stalwarts like Nezar & Omar Haddad, and David Barber and company are back. I believe in Legend Boyesen’s confidence and think he will be a major playmaker by the end of this season. The only thing the Trojans might need now is that extra fire I saw last season (or, if you’re a fan of the “Rocky” movies—the “Eye of the Tiger”). I saw a crazy swagger among last year’s team. It wasn’t cockiness, but confidence. Players like Xavier Roden, Paul Tajiri, and Shawn Heist walked around that field on defense like they owned it. Zach Gurinowich would pose for the RCN camera after every sack, and things like that. As a unit, they delighted in taking people’s heads off. However, they always kept their emotions from getting out-of-control and focused on the field. Once that returns, look for a more even contest should they face Easton in the postseason.

Before we continue, here are more insights and other views on our top teams:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOs6qgbD8cs&feature=youtu.be

A WIN THIS WEEK WOULD HELP…

LIBERTY – This team looked solid at times against a very good Whitehall team. However, they had three MAJOR issues last week: 1) special teams, 2) penalties and, 3) they couldn’t stop the run. While they don’t have to face Barkley again, they do have Jordan Grey and Shabbar Bokhari to deal with this Friday. First year Head Coach John Truby has to work quickly to create a scheme to at least slow down the Blue Eagles’ running attack. Against State College, the ‘Canes tried to bunch the middle, but couldn’t duplicate that against the Zephs. Even with all of Liberty’s speed, the spread offense of Nazareth creates matchup issues. This could result in even more havoc for them as they try to avoid dropping to 0-2 in the league. Not sure why issues #1 and #2 kept reoccurring last Friday. I actually thought the younger players looked more hesitant with KJ Williams returning than they did in their season opener. While I believe Doug Erney did a nice job balancing the football between all of Liberty’s speedy wideouts, I expect them to try to get Williams (5 catches for 44 yards, with several catches nullified by penalties) in more one-on-one situations to make plays and utilize his athleticism.

NAZARETH – I stopped by Nazareth’s practice this week in anticipation of their game against Liberty this Friday (airing on RCN TV at 10:00 PM).  The rumor I heard was that this year’s Nazareth team has the best offensive line under Coach Rob Melosky’s entire tenure – perhaps one of the school’s top lines of all time. I asked him directly about the truth to this rumor while I was at the practice. After hiding a big smile and stating that he doesn’t like to compare one team to another, he did admit that he is VERY happy with his offensive line and the way they have performed thus far. He has two great running backs and an underrated (if not skilled) quarterback in Spencer King. Nazareth SHOULD score a lot of points. The obstacles this week will be in trying to catch Liberty’s speedy wideouts and controlling the tempo to limit the Hurricanes’ possessions. However, the fact that the Eagles like to spread things out (unlike Liberty in their defeat against State College) could give them the advantage.

FREEDOM – The Patriots have had some ups-and-downs recently and are looking to develop consistency. Unfortunately for Freedom they have a very tough opponent in Whitehall this Friday night (airing on RCN TV, live at 7:00 PM).  Last week, their defense saved the day against the Vikings when senior safety Jared O’Donnell’s interception returned for a touchdown was the game-winner. Unlike the rest of the league that seems to be utilizing their speed to kick start a dynamic offense, the Patriots are using their size and experience on defense to make a postseason push. Those same senior defensive players tell me they have some very young playmakers that have outstanding potential. If the underclassmen continue to develop (or in the case of sophomore Roberto Diez, gets healthy) in a hurry, they could have a bright future sooner rather than later. While everyone’s attention, and rightly so, is on Whitehall’s Barkley, Ryan Bonshak, and Nick Nejad, Head Coach Jason Roeder liked what he saw from Quarterback Jeff Charles against Liberty last week and think they have to keep an eye on him as well to have success Friday.

*Note: Both Nazareth and Freedom’s coaches and players will be interviewed on this Thursday’s RCN Sports Talk show.

DESPARATELY SEEKING A WIN

RIDLEY – I think I might have snake-bit Ridley by targeting them for my first-ever Shout-Out feature on last week’s RCN Sports Talk show. After an impressive season opener, they lost to Conestoga by one point for the second straight season. They have a game with a very tough Garnet Valley coming up this week. A win would put them right back in the running for a league title. According to their fan Twitter account, @PhilMarionField, they are 41-14 in games following a league-opening loss. However, the Green Raiders have never beaten the GV Jags in consecutive seasons. They need to pull off a win to avoid a much more difficult trek to a district playoff spot.

CENTRAL CATHOLIC – The post-McDermott era is on and the team is still trying to find its offensive stride. The Vikings extremely underrated defense from a year ago is back and should keep them in contention for qualifying for a AAA playoff berth. With Bethlehem Catholic off to a 2-0 start, Central Catholic will have to start putting up some W’s very soon if they want to continue their “just get-in & win” pattern. In the last few years, they’ve had to fight just to make the district playoffs and then dominated once they qualified.

EMMAUS – I was very impressed with new Head Coach Randy Cuthbert when we had him in our studio a few weeks ago. I am also VERY surprised that this team is currently 0-2. With all the speed and athletes they had returning and a ‘not-the-toughest opponents’ schedule to start the season, I really thought they would be AT LEAST 2-1 after this week. I will be seeing the Hornets this Saturday to learn more about them (airing on RCN TV at 9:30 PM), but with Easton, Parkland, Liberty, Nazareth and Whitehall still to come, this could be a very long season if they don’t post a win this weekend.

That’s all the space I have for this week’s edition. I hope to focus on more teams coming up. Again, your feedback, comments, or complaints are welcome to be posted below. Feel free to email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us live, Thursdays at 6:00 PM on RCN TV as we talk high school football this fall.

Next week: “Smaller Schools” in the RCN “Anti-Poll.”

 

The SportsTalk Shop: A Game of Community Spirit

The SportsTalk Shop: “A Game of Community Spirit”

One of the responsibilities in my role as an on-air presence in the media is that I am privileged to be asked to speak at banquets and in classrooms, to emcee programs and to be asked to participate in special events. One of my favorite activities I continue to be asked to participate in is the Sacred Heart Celebrity Basketball game, played each year at the famed Rockne Hall in Allentown.
 
It’s not the biggest event of the year, nor does it warrant a healthy admission fee. However, it is a very special occurrence that the students, faculty and staff of the Archdiocese look forward to every year. It is the climax of a special week of activities in the school district. The basketball game is the brainchild of Morning Call writer and Sacred Heart Middle School Principal Jim Krupka … truly one of the very special school leaders in the community. Jim not only works tirelessly with the students in his building, but you frequently see him out in the community at Central Catholic events. He’s always there to support his kids in their endeavors, whether it be football, basketball, a school play or just about any activity a Viking student is involved in.
 
After a busy week of many diverse activities, the “celebrity” game features a team of politicians, community leaders, past and/or present standout Central Catholic players and others (that’s me) who take on the Sacred Heart students, faculty and staff members on the other squad.

The statistics from the game are of no importance (I went 5-7 from the floor, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 TO and an embarrassingly badly missed wide-open layup). Truth be told, our objective each year is to have a lead late in the game to try to make us feel good about ourselves and our ..uh, ahem … athletic ability. We only “let” the other team win so that the kids also feel good about themselves (some years it’s MUCH easier to lose than others), which is a much more important goal.

The real gem of this activity is the bonding and school-spirit that is evident each year among the student body. In an age where you don’t go too many days without seeing a negative report on the news regarding schools and an adverse student-faculty relationship (there have been 3 ominous news events to this effect in the Lehigh Valley in just the last month), it is refreshing to see the bond the people at Sacred Heart have with each other. This event includes administration, teachers, students, parents, family and friends all coming together and cheering one another on. There’s no razzing, taunting, nor ever a negative comment said during this event. Each year I take a moment and absorb the good-feelings exchange exhibited by the teachers and students at this event. I’m truly impressed and admire the respect that these two groups show for each other at this time.

I remember one student vs. faculty game when I was in high school (before buses were invented, of course). There was shouting and heckling of the teachers and non-playing teachers were getting on students. The students who weren’t skipping school at that point could really care less what was happening on the court and were just thrilled to get out of their final classes for the week. It wasn’t necessarily a “bad” event, but it never really was a “fun”, school-spirited event. We certainly didn’t feel “unified” at this one-time game.

That’s not the case at this annual event. Several of the school leaders say a few words before the game, usually invoking a feeling of thankfulness of what we do have, and compassion for people who may not have the good fortune or the ability to participate in everyday duties we sometimes take for granted. With all the talk of anti-private schools in the community (see some of our other blog posts), this event helps the students rally around a feeling of pride for their school community. For this event, there are no thoughts of school politics, nor even a care about the final score.

A big thrill for me is to have played on the same court over the years with some of the all-time great Vikings and Vikettes basketball players — a few of them have gone on to be major starts on the collegiate level. This year I was honored to call Central Catholic current standout athletes Mike Kammerer and Jim Vaughn my teammates. It was interesting after having announced their games for RCN over the last several years and seeing them develop into wonderfully gifted adults. The players I face on the Sacred Heart team each spring include athletes that I’ll see a couple years from now playing for the varsity teams. Hopefully, they might even be writing their names in the Central Catholic history books! A recent player I played “against” in this game was current Viking star Jean-Lee Baez, who you could tell in 8th grade was going to be a great talent on the Lehigh Valley basketball scene.

Overall, it’s a fun day for everyone involved and I’m truly honored to have been able to play in most of the 18 games that have been held each spring. If only other school districts could come together and celebrate people’s unique talents, while at the same time bonding together for a common goal — even if it’s just to pummel a bunch of (mostly) out-of-shape and past their prime “celebrities” (that’s me again) in a game of hoops.

The SportsTalk Shop: The Latest on the “Super Conference”

The Latest on the “Super Conference”

First of all, thanks to all for the comments about our “Former Athletic Directors/Lehigh Valley Super Conference” edition of “SportsTalk” on May 2nd. We certainly had a ton of responses about the program. I’m glad to see the feedback highlights that we tried to balance the conversation and look at opposing points of view, addressing different sides of the issues, and also the potential impact for many of the schools in our coverage area. Clearly, the credit lies with our great panelists on the program.

Here’s a video clip with just a few opinions from our show—the entire program is available on RCN’s Video on Demand. I also have a few observations and comments that were made off-air that might be of interest to you.

Watch Sports Talk on YouTube

Watch Sports Talk on YouTube

Watch on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEn_GV2249k

 Here are a few items addressed during our commercial breaks and some “general consensus” points that were achieved by our panel.

Sports Talk panelists debate.

I was glad the panelists universally agreed that no team should be left out of whatever the new league may or may not be. There are clearly differing opinions on how the private schools should be grouped with the public schools. They range from having schools like Becahi and Central Catholic move to 4A classification to having a separate division of private schools—naming a private-school division winner and then having them play the public school division winner(s) for an overall league champion.

The topic of “super conference” is discussed.

An idea raised about a “super conference” involving “weighting teams” into separate divisions according to their abilities seems utopian, yet very problematic. The suggestion is that every two years, schools are basically placed into three categories based on past success: the best teams in one division, the “middle-of-the-road” teams in a second, and the struggling teams in a third. While that would be great for schools like Allen, Dieruff and Pocono Mountain-West for many of their sports, I see nothing but arguing over “which teams belong where,” and complaints about the success of teams in the “weaker division” while schools who play tougher competition suffer more losses. In addition, when you factor in the stipulation that teams must have a .500-or-better record to make the playoffs, the possibilities of griping and protesting of final outcomes could be endless.

The pros and cons of the“weighted points system”.

I do, however, personally like the “weighted points system” that District XI has come up with for its playoffs. If something like that could be tailored to a new league (maybe including ALL teams from the MVC, LVC, Colonial League and Pius X?), I think that has a better chance of success. Do we really need a league champion and/or would “division titles” be sufficient? In some cases (usually for bigger schools), a loss early in the district playoffs obliterates the success of winning a league championship. I’ve gotten the sense from some people in recent years that winning a league honor is not nearly as important in the Valley as it once was. The area has been so competitive recently that it almost seems that winning a league championship is the kiss-of-death for that team having long-term post-season success. For some sports, like basketball, the league champ almost never seems to win the district title—which also means a primo spot entering the all important state playoffs.

A wide range of topics are discussed by the panelists.

I thought it was interesting to hear the wide ranging opinions among just the people on our show, and can only imagine how tough it will be to try to make “everyone” happy in the region. Our panelists’ thoughts on the latest league news ranged from “it’s nothing new” and “nothing will come of this” to truly strong regret that this idea has been raised and heartfelt sadness that some schools might very possibly be forced to look outside the Valley to find teams to play for next year’s school calendar.

Don’t forget … the MVC asked for a decision by the LVC teams by the end of May. At the very least, there will be heated discussions around the Valley for the next several weeks. I do have confidence, however, that things will be resolved with the student-athletes’ best interests in mind.

One other note NOT related to the super-conference. My thanks to Northampton softball head coach Sally Whittaker-Kahan and her Konkrete Kids for being so gracious and classy when we stopped by with our “SportsTalk” camera to do a feature on the team for this week’s show.

After winning its first 17-straight games, the K-Kids lost its first ever game right before we stopped by to interview the squad about their great success this year. As is often the case and is the nature of “our world,” we had tried on several occasions to either stop by their practice or take in one of their games earlier this year to do a feature on their success, and had to reschedule our interviews multiple times because of scheduling conflicts, weather postponements and the like. When we finally stopped by to talk with them, they were coming off a tough loss to a really good Whitehall squad; yet the K-Kids paid the Zephyrs their proper respect and still answered our questions very eagerly and intelligently, not sulking or hanging their heads about the defeat.

I know coaches hate when I say this, but a loss this time of year is not necessarily the worst thing to happen this time of a sports-year. Sometimes, it can re-focus a team and make them remember how unpleasant it is to lose a game. Northampton certainly had nothing to be down about in its effort against Whitehall. A sloppy and/or one-sided loss this time of year is a different story, but a hard fought 1-0 defeat might only be a bump in the road. I won’t be surprised if it’s a few more weeks before we see another “L.” FYI: I’ll be out with our “SportsTalk” camera quite a bit in the next week, taking in tennis, volleyball and baseball games for features on our upcoming programs.

Your comments on the league realignment possibilities are most welcome, and any schools who have made notable achievements this year, like both the Northampton and Whitehall softball teams, would be appreciated posts to make her on our site. Be sure to check out our May 9th “SportsTalk” program (live at 6pm) featuring great sports radio voices from the area: Alan Rabler, Dick Hammer & Tim Cain, who all have promised some great local sports stories to reveal. (A shout-out to Glen Remaly for the use of his digital camera work for this post.)

The SportsTalk Shop – February 19th

BOYS & GIRLS DISTRICT PREVIEWS

Last week we talked about the teams that made or just missed qualifying for the LVC and Colonial League HS Boys’ Basketball Playoffs (see our February 11th entry). Today we look at some of the Boys’ and Girls’ District XI pairing match-ups, and also “update” some of the team’s information based on last week’s events.

Class 4-A Boys

Whitehall is riding a momentum upswing after a last-second come-from-behind win over Allen and has really come together as a team at the perfect time.  I had talked earlier about how the Zephyrs had some very good individual athletes on the team, headlined by Tony Belluccci, but the team has strung together some impressive wins.  Stroudsburg is a challenging opponent and I expect this to be one of the best opening round games of the tournament.  Both of these teams are capable of beating their next round opponent Pocono Mountain West, who has experienced some tough losses to Lehigh Valley teams in the second half of the year, but still is the top ranked 4A team in the district.

The Easton/Allen matchup is the game RCN has selected to broadcast Wednesday, and is also an intriguing match-up.  Allen has the height advantage inside and every time you count them out, they’ve surprised us this year (including winning 4 of its last 6 in beating some of the top teams in the area to make the play-offs).  Easton has excellent guards in DeVante Queen, Xavier Jenkins & Company.  The Allen guards will have their work cut out for them trying to slow them down, but if they can control the tempo and deny the Canaries’ ‘bigs,’ they look to have the advantage.

Parkland looks to bounce back from their LVC Championship loss and would love to cruise past East Stroudsburg-South and Bangor to get some revenge against league champion Liberty.   The Hurricanes looked like the dominant team we were expecting during the league play-offs, with 6 or 7 of their players capable of starting on most other team’s squads.  DeShawn Oyeniyi might have the dubious distinction of being the most pivotal player in the success of any state-bound team, yet not be a member of his all-league team (and there were justified mitigating circumstances).  Freedom was one of our panelist’s “dark horse” teams to watch on last week’s “RCN SportsTalk” show, and will play the winner of the Rovers/Canaries in the second round.  Congratulations again to the Slaters for their first league title in 25 years.  However, it’s going to be hard again for them to win a district play-off game as they will most probably open against the Trojans.

Class 3-A Boys

Gary Laubach made my day by reminding me that there will be three 3-A teams that qualify for the state playoffs this year.  This is great news for Wilson fans, who lost a tough game to Bangor in the Colonial League championship and may have a tough time beating Central Catholic in the semifinal round, as the Vikings looked to re-bound from their league semi-final loss to Liberty.  The Warriors, who have lost just two games this year, had opportunities late against the Slaters, but Jeremy Ringland hit a dramatic shot at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime for Bangor to win.  Salisbury, I think, has a very tough match-up in facing Wilson, who has beaten the Falcons three times in a row.  Matchup-wise, Salisbury needs to run to have success and would have an easier time being bracketed with a team like Tamaqua, Northern Lehigh or Lehighton.
The team to watch could be Bethlehem Catholic, who’s making its first appearance in districts in some time, after having to defeat Easton to qualify.  Matt Husek is a hidden talent and I think they are fully capable of winning their opening round contest versus Blue Mountain.  Plus, the Hawks have an interesting bracket path could lead to state qualification or even the championship game—a HUGE accomplishment for a nice guy in Mike Frew, who took over the program this year.

I haven’t seen Southern Lehigh this year, expect for watching their league-opening win over Wilson on RCN’s video-on-demand, but it’s Bob Shaffer and Kurt Zellner’s last run together.  Knowing those Spartans’ basketball players of the past, I wouldn’t be surprised and hope that they can put a run together for their coaches so we can see Bob & Kurt coach another game on RCN-TV.

Class 2-A & A Boys

I “think” things have worked out well for both Catty & Notre Dame so that they should make it to the championship game and subsequently earn a trip to States.  I have no idea about Williams Valley and North Schuylkill (no yet, anyway), but I talked in an earlier blog about the positives of both the Rough Riders and the Crusaders.  I’d love to see them advance and try to win a PIAA game.  We also talked quite a bit about Pius on the Feb. 14th edition of “SportsTalk” (check it out on VOD) and about their strengths and chances to advance in the postseason.
Class 4-A Girls

Nazareth looked impressive in defeating Parkland for a second time in three tries (they came within a point of sending the game they lost into overtime).  However, they have to get past a gritty Liberty, who is very well-coached.  Speaking of, how about the job Jeff Jacksits is doing once again at Northampton, who started the year off dreadfully, only to come back and make districts?  Don’t know how they’ll fare against Stroudsburg or Pocono Mountain West, but what a huge accomplishment it would be for the K-Kids to get to a semifinal game against defending district champ Bangor, one of a quartet of impressive Colonial League teams again this year.

Class 3-A
I was very impressed with Southern Lehigh again this year!  Madelene McDonald, Mady Campbell and their whole team are fundamentally sound, and I was awed by their basketball smarts and ability to drive and score/draw fouls … and then convert at the line.  Melann Amory is a very underrated player and Brianna Prince has very quick hands and is an excellent “undersized” post presence.
The Spartans will probably have to battle Northwestern for a third time in the 2nd round. The cliché mentions how tough it is to be a quality team three times, and the third battle will be an all-out war.  League MVP Sara Jones and her back court mates were not-too-happy about watching the final minutes of the championship from the sidelines, and they will be looking for revenge big-time.
On the other side of the bracket, you will see (once Bethlehem Catholic trumps Palmerton) another rematch between the Hawks and Central Catholic.  Both were upset in the league semi-finals and there’s still no indication that Janelle Robinson can make a remarkable recovery; however, Bethlehem Catholic still has LVC League MVP Kalista Walters and a very talented group of players that were the top girls team in the Valley during the regular season.  I keep hearing people saying Central is “down” this year (how good is their program in which 4 losses is considered “down” by some), but I think the inevitable meeting between these two teams in districts could be another barn-burner.

Class 2-A

One of my favorite teams from outside the area to cover is Pine Grove — not only do they always have an outstanding team (either the boys or the girls seemed to win a title every year), but they send me NCAA Division One-like information about their program.   Notre Dame Head Coach Josh Kopp is also one of the most prepared coaches in the Valley and his team that just fell sort of a Colonial League championship appearance this year.  This should make for an interesting District XI title game with Pine Grove.

Well … that’s my take on the District XI play-off picture.  Tell me where I made mistakes and where I’m completely off-base via email to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com as we’ll be talking about the district basketball play-offs for the next couple weeks (the show airs live on Thursdays at 6pm on RCN-TV).  You can also post your comments here on our blog!  Best of luck to all the teams!

 

The SportsTalk Shop – February 11th

SportsTalk Shop: Basketball Playoff

High school basketball playoff time is here!

After a very long, cold and dreary winter weather season (it wasn’t really that bad this year, was it?), it’s time to turn our attention to the 2013 winter sports playoff season. With the boys’ basketball players getting underway, here’s a look at some of the top teams in both the Colonial League and Lehigh Valley League who either clinched a spot in their respective conference playoffs, or teams that came close and could still be very formidable come district postseason time. In no particular order:

Central Catholic – Probably the best team in the area right now, and why not? A dynamic player in Muhammad Ali-Abdul Rahkman who can score from anywhere on the court, along with several other talented guards up front, an inside force in Jean Lee Baez, and underrated players in David Stevens and Jimmy Vaughn. The Vikings seem to be the most balanced and deepest all-around team in the LVC, and could do some major damage in states—assuming they don’t get tripped up en route to the 3A title game.

Wilson – Maybe the biggest surprise of the “elite” teams this year. It’s no wonder they’re good, but I don’t know how many people outside of Wilson thought this team might just end up as the greatest Warriors team ever. After a league opening loss to Southern Lehigh, Wilson has basically had a ‘take-no-prisoners’ approach in nearly every game played, including a win over rival Easton, winning most of their games by double digits. With exciting players like Gerald Terry and Daye-Shawn Bailey slicing & dicing to the hoop, the soon-to-be-top center in the Colonial League Phil Pierfy in the middle, and great depth throughout, this might be the year in which Wilson tops CCHS for the 3A crown.

Parkland – Might have the best overall backcourt in the league (I’m still hoping Jimmy Hahn gets into broadcasting some day). They have a very versatile combination of guards who can do a ton of things well, and are an unselfish group with different players capable of stepping up on any given night. Very tough to defend. However, for the LVC playoffs, I think Central Catholic is a tough matchup for the Trojans, and the team I think you have to get through to win the league championship.

Freedom – Maybe the most talented single player in the league is Nyreef Jackson (he nearly scored 16 points in a row a few weeks back at Sewards Gym), and some very good Patriot players right behind them. (Maceo Connor is VERY underrated in my book). They don’t seem to have as much “fire” or at least the “gusto” as last year’s team, which might account for some of their inconsistencies this year. On any given day they could beat anyone, but will it be on a playoff championship night?

Easton – They’ve had an adventure trying to find their third-scorer, normally a necessity for a team to have post season success. I only saw DeVante Queen once this year, but he REALLY impressed me with his ability to score, his court vision, and his unselfishness in giving up the ball to a hot teammate (see Ezra Gaines in the Allen game). Also, Xavier Jenkins, who just announced he’ll be headed to Central Connecticut State, is a very steady player at both ends of the floor. They have some tough matches against LVC opponents, but if they play their usual top-notch defense and develop some consistency offensively as they did last season in the playoffs…? Remember, the Red Rovers were the last Lehigh Valley team standing last year.

Liberty – A team so good, I haven’t been able to see them (Gary Laubach always gives himself the top team each year =), but a team nearly as inconsistent as any in the LVC. Great guards, great post presence, poised players with experience in big games (and the fortitude to win some close games this year), this SHOULD be the team to beat. They have also had some issues that have really kept them from getting in a solid, sustained rhythm without everyone in the lineup. I’m looking forward to seeing them in the playoffs, especially if they play the way they did against Easton on Tuesday.

Emmaus – Another “enigma” team that looks fabulous one minute, then loses a game you would think they would win. Three solid players in Derek Tannous, Nate Feiretag and Joe Nicolini, as well as a nice supporting cast make the Hornets a team to watch. However, they may still be a year away from being contenders for a championship. Their JV and Freshmen teams, at last check, were raking in the wins. They could be laying the groundwork for a potential mini-dynasty if they can win some tough games this postseason.

Bangor – Includes my vote (as of now) for league MVP in Alex Colton, based largely on what he did without four key players in guiding his team in a close loss to Wilson—probably the grittiest game I’ve seen all year. They have the depth to win the Colonial League, but as Bron Holland correctly stated on a recent “SportsTalk” show, until they win the big one, they’ll be questions about them.

Notre Dame – Vincent Eze had some ups-and-downs early this year, but seems to be back and gives the Crusaders another well-rounded team. Behind Whitehall’s win over the Canaries, Notre Dame had the comeback win of the year over Salisbury in their first meeting, and is deep enough to be able to run and gun with the other teams in the Colonial League. Don’t know if they have enough firepower to beat Wilson, but counting out Notre Dame is always a very dangerous thing to do, especially come playoff time.

Salisbury – Their win over Northern Lehigh was the single most dominating performance that I saw in-person all year long. Perhaps the most underrated head coach in the valley (Jason Weaver keeps his own team’s stats), his team has some outstanding guards that love to push the tempo, and are eager to avenge a district-opening loss that ended their season a year ago. Don’t know how well they will fare in the 3A level this year, but if their “bigs” can stay out of foul trouble, they could very well contend for the league crown.

Catty – I always thought they would be in the mix for the Colonial League playoffs and they’re making a great run at just the right time of year. I think the winning atmosphere from the football season is carrying over, mixed with one of the top coaches in the area in Eric Snyder and some very good athletes. This makes the Roughies a fun team to watch this post-season. Hope they don’t suffer from the long layoff for the 2A district playoffs.

What do you think of my assessments of the top teams this year? Which teams are underrated? Which teams will win titles? Post your opinions here and/or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read and respond to your comments on our upcoming shows on Thursdays at 6pm, in which we’ll be recapping & previewing the next wave of playoff matchups.

Because of space, I’m hoping to be able to talk about more teams in a future blog post (including Whitehall, Bethlehem Catholic and Northern Lehigh) … so keep winning guys! I hope to have the chance to watch (and type) more about you in the coming weeks!

The SportsTalk Shop – January 15th

First of all, I hope everyone had a wonderful and safe holiday season.  There were certainly lots of things—sports related or not—going on in the Eastern Pennsylvania area over the holidays.  Among the surprises were some very impressive high school boys & girls basketball wins—and upsets—between Christmas & New Year’s Day.

 With the new calendar year, it’s customary to make “New Year’s” resolution. I usually try to make—and stick to—a few of them each year.  Among them, related to “RCN SportsTalk” are the following goals I have set for myself as the producer of the program:

1.    To be a little more diverse in the planning/scheduling of each “SportsTalk” show as we get deeper into the winter sports season. 

In the past, we would do shows during the winter sports season that were completely Basketball or Wrestling or even Super Bowl related.  I have had people come up to me at a basketball playoff game and ask “who’s going to be on the show this Thursday?”  When I answer with names not normally associated with basketball, the viewer might say something like, “well, maybe I’ll catch the show next week” or “well, I’ll give your trivia giveaway game a look, but I’m not really into listening about wrestling.”  I’m sure there’s grappling fans that feel the same way about HS hoops.  Therefore, as I plan some of the later shows for the winter season (closer to playoff time) I’m going to try to include guests that have backgrounds in several different areas. We can go in several different directions on some of our shows over the next few weeks—especially when it gets to post-season time. This makes the show much more difficult for the host to prepare and to moderate, but no one cares about that guy, right?

2.    To consistently have a trivia contest winner

In December, we had a record number of people guessing for our prize giveaways—yet didn’t have a winner during a few of our December shows.  It certainly makes for a more entertaining program when lots of people make educated guesses and we allwait the whole show to see what the correct answer is. However, I have to try to mix things up a bit more so that we don’t have too many people out in the cold (figuratively speaking, of course) when it comes to giving away an RCN On Demand certificate to watch the latest movie releases.

3.    Discuss some different sports here in the month of January

Before we get to the winter sports post-season I’m looking to change things up a bit.  Among our theme shows & things to watch for this month include:

+   Central Catholic Football Team (the last team standing in the Lehigh Valley)

+   HS Wrestling Head Coaches

+   Basketball Coaches/Teams

+   Local Media/Winter Sports Updates

+   More Giveaways & Local/National sports conversations

As always, I’m always looking for your suggestions & opinions on what we should do on our “RCN SportsTalk” show every Thursday live at 6pm so feel free to email me at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com with your thoughts and ideas for shows during the winter sports season.

Finally, I want to take a moment to thank all the ‘well-wishers’ for the Christmas cards and nice comments to Joe Craig & me about the program.  We are very glad we have made the show entertaining & informative for you.  My favorite was the card with Joe’s & my images digitally edited to wear “Santa” hats. We had it on display during on our Year-In-Review episode – feel free to check that episode out on RCN On Demand!

The SportsTalk Shop – December 18th

With the holidays approaching, it’s only natural to take a look back at the past twelve months and do some reflecting, and for the 3rd straight year we’re going to be doing just that on December 20th’s “RCN SportsTalk” with our ‘year-in-review’ program.

The show is live and you’re welcome to participate with your memories of the 2012 sports calender year.  Our panelist on the program will reveal their top moments, players, teams, games and quite a few other topics and favorite moments from the year gone by.  Even though the Lehigh Valley had slightly less success in terms of state team metals, there was still plenty of great memories from the team, players and coaches in the area.  A few of mine include: 

 – Easton’s boys basketball amazing come-from-behind win over Emmaus to clinch the last playoff berth, and then to put a state playoff run together and be the ‘last team standing’ from the Lehigh Valley

 – Another amazingly competitive baseball & softball season and some very highly attended games.  The spring sports teams don’t even get close to the attention the fall and winter sports receive, but the games I saw had great turnouts (my favorite scene with Pen Argyl’s athletic director directing traffic because of so many people driving up ‘the hill’ to see the Salisbury/Pen Argyl baseball game

 – The championship season of the Blue Mountain League’s Hellertown Royals under the direction of long-time Skipper Bob Zerfass.  The team didn’t seem as dominating as in their previous championship seasons but always found a way to win, including an incredibly exciting championship series come-from-behind win after being down 2 games to none in a best of five series

 – The Central Catholic football team (who we’ll honor on “SportsTalk” on January 3rd) once again being the last football team standing this fall.  No one had them in their ‘top 5’ in the preseason predictions, but one of the smallest schools in the LVC once again dominated in districts and in the first two rounds of the PIAA and turned in a remarkable season by 5’11 running back Colin McDermott and assisted by an amazing effort by the blockers in front of him.

We’ll be recapping even more great moments on our December 20th show.  You’re welcome to give your opinions and thoughts on the 2012 sports-year by emailing us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com & we’ll try to read your comment on the air.  Happy Holidays!