The Sports Talk Shop: Summer Hoops: Final Report

We hope you enjoyed our coverage here at the “SportsTalk Shop” and on our TV show over the last several weeks of summer basketball action in the Eastern Pennsylvania and Washington, DC regions.

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Here are some of my final thoughts along with observations and predictions involving the teams and athletes in our coverage area, along with pictures of local competitions.

  • The Catty basketball team was one of the smallest schools—in terms of both school enrollment and height—last season. But this summer the returning players are all getting bigger and stronger. Isaiah Graves is among the players who has an increased wing span and looked solid on the court the last few weeks. The word is the Bangor will once again be the team to beat in the Colonial League, but the Rough Riders, who just missed the league playoffs a year ago, look like they will definitely be in post-season contention for the upcoming scholastic year

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  • I was very encouraged by what I saw and heard from the Dieruff players. They seem very mature regarding what they need to do, and are very enthusiastic about making a name for themselves, and putting the Huskies back in the competitive field. Fortunately, a number of their players (as of now) are back in the fold and seem genuinely excited to prove people wrong during the scholastic season. I believe they certainly can hang with some of the top teams in the area and I’m excited to see if the Huskies can achieve some of the lofty goals that they have set for themselves.

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  • It was great to see some former high school standouts return for the summer league action—among them Matt and David Kachelries (from Emmaus) and Northampton’s Aja Blount. Those players got quite a bit of publicity (and rightly so) during their high school playing days and to see them back and supporting their former schools, along with local Lehigh Valley sports, speaks volumes about how many quality people we had the pleasure to experience the last few years.

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Don’t forget to catch the final game of the Catasauqua “Tournament of Champions” event to be seen on RCN-TV. This year’s “TOC” finale will be played at the Catty Playground near the Catasauqua Middle School next Thursday. Check back to the RCN-TV website for more details on air dates and times.

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Basketball Recap (Part 2)

As promised in last week’s blog, I did want to share a few of my reflections on the high school basketball season before we jump full force into our Lehigh Valley spring sports coverage.

Let’s start with the “good” things:

  • The District Semifinal contest at the PPL Center may have been a once in a lifetime experience for many associated with the event. Perhaps the biggest crowd we’ll ever see at a Lehigh Valley basketball playoff game was enhanced by two great games and many of the participating schools’ best players of all time converging at the same time. You could argue that the teams featured the four largest fan bases of any team in the region, which certainly make for a truly special night for many fans, athletes, parents and administrators.
  • The 6A boys and girls brackets were very competitive. Both Easton and Nazareth (in my opinion) were two of the best large school teams in the state entering the PIAAs, and both were eliminated in the first round.  The boys’ matchups were almost always entertaining as well in the league, district and state levels.  While there were a few blowouts and quite a few ‘lower seeds’ advancing deeper into the state playoffs than normal, these teams were usually quite talented and the contests were very competitive.
  • The nice-sized crowds at many of the larger schools featuring girls’ games as well as for both boys and girls teams at some of the smaller schools were encouraging. While not getting the media attention the EPC does, the Colonial League has some great crowds at most of their playoff games.   Bangor is an area that always supports its sports programs that followed its team well. Notre Dame fans were out in full force for both their boys and girls playoff runs.

Also, the Becahi girls had a nice turnout for many of their playoff games—most of them very one-sided with their Hawks dominating the opposition, and we already talked about the four schools (Allen, Emmaus, Parkland, Pocono Mountain West) who showed up in droves at the PPL Center.

  • Last and certainly not least, congratulations to the Nazareth wrestling squad and the Bethlehem Catholic girls basketball team for their dominating seasons, culminating with raising the state championship trophy. The Blue Eagles and Golden Hawks are two of a handful of teams from the Lehigh Valley that have state titles so far this school year.  We’ll be honoring Nazareth’s program on this week’s “SportsTalk” show (live, Thursday at 7pm) and we will be featuring more of this year’s PIAA champions (and hopefully we’ll add a few more title winners this spring) to upcoming editions of our Thursday night program—so keep checking back to the RCN-TV website for the dates and more details on when we’ll feature more championship teams.

And now…a few areas of concern:

  • As I predicted several weeks ago, the level of competition in many of the classifications below 6A was not nearly as strong as in years past. While I applaud the idea to get more schools involved and to try to create a “winning atmosphere” for as many kids as possible, it certainly diluted the overall quality of playoff games.  There were some very close—and very competitive–games overall, but there were also more blowout games in which the outcome of the game was never in question.  In 20 years of watching high school games as a media member and as a fan, I had only seen one “mercy rule” game in my life (many fans didn’t even know this rule existed for basketball until this year).  This year I sat through three games (including one state game) in which the contest’s clock just continued to run in order to let the losing team ‘off the hook.’  The combined margin of victory in the last four playoff games I broadcast was 108. Looking over the statewide brackets, there were many more games that were either “mercy games” or came close to invoking this dubious “rule” in league, district and state rounds.  To combat this, there is talk that the PIAA is putting together a “competitive committee” to balance the playing field for some schools.  Considering the state’s governing body just revamped their entire system and it resulted in more lopsided victories than ever before, I am very skeptical that things will change any time soon.
  • The attendance at a number of the mid-sized and smaller schools was not good (and, for some games, I’m being kind with that term) for premiere playoff games. I can understand smaller turnouts for mid-week games played in the afternoon and/or schools that have a far distance to travel.  But when the fans from Jim Thorpe outnumber three other Lehigh Valley schools for a district semifinal game, followed by a similar scene for the title game—and both were at sites in the heart of the Lehigh Valley—it did not represent the area very well.  One of the mid-sized classification’s championship games featured–at best–half-capacity and was not played at a gym that has a huge bleacher sections.

Granted, the overwhelming support at the bigger school games I’m sure made up for the games featuring lower turnouts.  Also, by having many more playoff games and inviting more teams in, I don’t think there’ll be any question that the final numbers of total playoff tickets will (and should) be higher than in years past.

I think overall it was a very good season for high school basketball.  With the graduation of many talented people this June, the summer basketball leagues will be even more intriguing as coaches look for people to step up and fill in some gaping holes.  Check back to the “SportsTalk Shop” in the coming weeks and months as we feature interviews and video of your local teams participating in spring and summer events.

Behind the Mic: Winter Bye-Bye

The season of 2016-17 officially came to an end this past weekend with the VIA All-Star basketball games being played.  Outstanding seniors donned their school’s uniforms for the last time and Lehigh Valley basketball was officially over.  There is no better time to reminisce…  Here are my top ten memories of this past season.

  1. The RCN TV team – I have spent more than 40+ years with this group and they never cease to amaze me with their work ethic, their dedication and their skills. Imagine over 100 winter productions laying wire, setting up cameras at the top of arenas, preparing the announcers’ booth, working the game and reversing the whole process when the game ends.  Now imagine doing that over and over and over again.
  1. East Stroudsburg North – This team had to put together a winning streak down the stretch just to get into the EPC playoffs and districts. They lost to Bethlehem Catholic in the EPC semis on a last second shot but came back to beat Whitehall, Central Catholic, and Pottsville to win their first District championship in school history.  The icing on the cake was their first-round state win (also, the first in school history) before finally falling.  It was a memorable season to say the least.
  1. Lafayette women win at home – On February 25, the Lafayette women were playing Colgate in the final home game of the year. They had not won a game at home all season.  In as entertaining game as you could see, the Leopards prevailed by a 90-85 score.  I’ll never forget how happy the women were along with their staff that they got this win on Senior Day.  Then, despite winning only two league games all year, they went on to win the first round game in the Patriot League Tournament.  More smiles.
  1. Lafayette hires new head football coach – Despite the winter sports season being about basketball and wrestling, the news that Lafayette hired a new head football coach makes my top ten. I loved working with former head coach Frank Tavani and, obviously, was saddened by his departure.  John Garrett was named the new head coach on December 21.  He enters Lafayette with a tremendous resume with both college and NFL experience.   Having attended some spring practices, there is a renewed energy in the staff and the players.  I’ll take that same energy into next season.  Go Leopards!
  1. Tom and John – All the respect and praise I feel for the RCN staff carries over to my color analysts for high school and college basketball, Tom Stoudt and John Leone. Obviously, the three of us spend a great deal of time together and it is full of conversation, joking, ribbing, and good times.  The winter goes very quickly when you are around these guys!
  1. Allen’s fan base – Many of us in the media have been lamenting the absence of good crowds for the high school basketball games in the past few years. Interest just seemed to lag.  Not this year.  Gyms were filled, for the most part, and the Allen fan base wins the award for the greatest support.  I think interest was up throughout the Valley, but no team had more support, both adult and student-based than the Allen Canaries.  There is nothing better than a high school gym filled with two good teams and an enthusiastic crowd.  There were plenty of both this season.
  1. Emmaus’ run in the PIAA state playoffs – This team went in as the #4 seed from District XI – a seed we had never had before the increase in classifications. In other words, before this year, they would not have even gotten into the playoffs.  They sure made the opportunity pay off.  No boys’ team from the Lehigh Valley went further into the playoffs.  They beat Cheltenham and Harrisburg before losing in double overtime to Carlisle in the most exciting game of the year.  Talk about seizing the moment.
  1. The individual talent – I have never experienced a year with so much talent on so many teams, both boys and girls. It did not seem to matter which gym you would walk into. You knew that there would be two or three or sometimes eight great players.  One night a doubleheader featured eight 1,000 point scorers (unheard of).  Martin, Williams, Iorio, Kachelries, Kachelries, Johnson, Singh, etc. on the boys’ side, and Blount, Brugler, Cyr, Luma, Zamolyi, Medina, Bloshuk, etc. on the girls’ side.  Most graduate but, hopefully, the next group is ready to make history as well.
  1. The Bethlehem Catholic state championship – This team won a school-record thirty games, breezed through the PIAA state playoffs and won their first state title in history. They were led by Jose Medina, who has won 75 games in three years as their head coach.  His team won the five state games by an average of 21.2 points (oh, my!!).  I just loved the way they played and the demeanor of the entire staff.  You can feel good about rooting for this team.
  1. I think #1 on every fans’ list this season was the amazing crowd (8,000 +) at the PPL Center for the EPC semifinals.  It featured four great teams – Allen, Parkland, Emmaus, and Pocono Mountain West.  The games did not disappoint, the venue was spectacular, and the crowd was awesome.  When I think back to my playing days (no snickering here, please), we had to travel to the State Farm Show Arena in Harrisburg to handle the crowd for a Lehigh Valley District semifinals and finals. Going to the PPL Center may have been one of the best nights ever for Lehigh Valley basketball.  It’s my #1!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. How about Mississippi State stopping the Connecticut women’s basketball winning streak at 111 games. Last year, UCONN beat Mississippi State 98-38.  The tables were turned in overtime this year 66-64.  UCONN was going for their fifth straight NCAA title.  They started their streak on December 23, 2014.  Look at the recap:

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  1. Sunday marked the 31st anniversary of the three-point shot (19’ 9”) in college basketball. It is perhaps the most dramatic change in modern basketball.
  2. The Flyers will not make the NHL playoffs. They were finally eliminated after losing on Sunday.
  3. The Dodgers and the Indians are the favorites to win the National and American League pennants with the Cubs and the Red Sox close behind.
  4. The Phillies won 71 games last year. Manager Pete MacKanin said he hopes to win ten more this season or one-half of the 162 games they play.  Based on last year, 81 wins would have put them in third place in the NL East behind the Mets and the Nationals.  A fan can only hope.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: State Basketball Preview

The PIAA basketball playoffs are almost upon us and RCN-TV is gearing up for outstanding coverage of your local teams!

To get you ready for the state playoffs, here are some storylines to follow as the schools in the RCN coverage area embark on facing teams from across Pennsylvania over the next several weeks.

“And the Winner Is…”
No “La La Land/Moonlight” moments here, there was no doubt who the Cinderella team was in this year’s EPC & District XI playoffs—the East Stroudsburg North boys basketball team.

While many fans in the Valley incorrectly assumed a game against ESN would be a cakewalk, a few local coaches warned me before the regular season ended that opponents should not take ESN lightly.

The Timberwolves are a scrappy team that’s fun to watch in each of their playoff games, which included wins over Emmaus (EPC’s #1 seed), Whitehall (a higher seeded district team) and a Central Catholic team that also was playing really well entering the post-season.  ESN defeated a very good Pottsville team in the district final, and I’m looking forward to seeing what this team can do in the state playoffs.

Expanded Playoffs = (Some) Weaker Competition
It isn’t enough that 2017 has been widely regarded as a “down year” for a number of the District 12 power house boys’ schools, but by allowing more teams into the PIAA playoffs, it will almost certainly guarantee a weaker-than-normal first (and possibly second) round of states.

With the exception of the 6A boys and girls classifications, there have been quite of bit of complaints by local fans (and less than tremendous turnouts) as many of the district playoff games were less than spectacular, with several blowouts (especially in the 4A boys classification) and frequent sloppy play.  That trend probably won’t change much in the opening round of the PIAAs, with many of Pennsylvania’s top programs squaring off against sub-500 squads and teams that barely qualified for states—even with more spots available—especially outside of the biggest school categories.

Watch the Women’s Teams
While they may not get the attention the boys teams do (but still outnumbered a couple of the routing sections than at the boys’ games), there are a plethora of tremendous girls high school teams in Pennsylvania and several of them are from the Lehigh Valley

Archbishop Carroll is one of the “super teams” across Pennsylvania and are certainly heavy favorites to win a state trophy and, unless your team is playing them, are definitely an entertaining squad to watch.

I predicted on last winter’s “SportsTalk” that the 2016-2017 Lehigh Valley girls basketball teams will combine for are one of the best overall years in terms of the number of talent and competitive teams.  The play of the girls’ games over the last few weeks has only strengthened that contention.  Entering the state playoffs, Bethlehem Catholic, Southern Lehigh, Easton and Nazareth all have strong chances at going deep in the PIAAs and I wouldn’t count out Northampton, Central Catholic, Parkland or Notre Dame-Green Pond from pulling an upset in the opening round.

With the possible exception of the Allen and/or the Becahi boys teams, I think the Lehigh Valley’s best chances of seeing state gold lies with one of the areas girls programs.

Keep An Eye On Allen
Speaking of the Canaries of William Allen high school, Doug Snyder’s team had been ranked number one in the state since early January and, until this week, had not fallen from the top spot, even after their one and only regular season loss to Bethlehem Catholic (also ranked statewide).

Allen was certainly disappointed by its District XI semifinal loss to Parkland (more on them below) last Wednesday, but I still believe that—on paper—the Canaries are one of the best and most complete team in Pennsylvania.

Perhaps the lost to the Trojans will refocus the team as it gears up for the state playoffs and enter what is probably the most competitive of the six boys classifications in this year’s PIAAs.

Notable By Their Absence…”
I feel it appropriate to borrow an often-used term by RCN Basketball Announcer and Former Head College Basketball Coach John Leone to talk about a few teams that will NOT be in the state tournament.

When the new classifications were released and Whitehall was placed in a category away from tradition rivals like Allen, Parkland, Emmaus and others, many basketball fans in the Lehigh Valley practically guaranteed a spot in the PIAAs for the Zephyrs.

A number of fans within the township thought this year’s team was one of the best Whitehall teams they had ever seen—a statement that I never agreed with.  They definitely had many talented players on the roster and owned one of the best records of any team in the Valley through the first two months of the season.  However, their up-tempo style of offense overshadowed a suspect defense, and the team struggled anytime an opponent forced them to play a half court style of play—a fact that haunted them as they couldn’t protect a lead in their final game again East Stroudsburg North in the first round of Districts.

The Zephyrs ended the year by losing 5 of its last 6 games, leaving many fans in the Whitehall community stunned and disappointed.

Bangor was a more underrated team all year long, despite the fact that I was touting them before the season even started.  They graduate four of their five starters, who captured three consecutive Colonial League titles. I was surprised to see the Slaters fall to Pottsville in the district semifinals.  With only two state playoff spots available in the 5A classification, I knew it would be interesting to see which of a number of talented teams (including Whitehall, Allentown Central Catholic, East Stroudsburg North, Southern Lehigh, Pottsville and Blue Mountain) would qualify.  But I have to admit I though Bangor would definitely be one of those two teams, and am disappointed I won’t get to see Dylan Benton and company play one more time.

Both Whitehall and Bangor can be very proud of their season’s overall, but it will be strange to open the state playoff race without a Lehigh Valley representative in one of Pennsylvania’s largest playoff classifications.

A Record Setting Appearance
Lastly, the Parkland boys’ basketball team (who’ll open their state playoff run against Archbishop RyanSaturday, 6pm LIVE on RCN-TV) capped off a phenomenal and historic night for high school basketball in the Valley.   In the first of what will probably be many future games at Allentown’s PPL Center Arena, the Trojans win over the state’s previously number-one ranked team Allen (in front of a record setting crowd of over 7,600 attendees) will be something people will be talking about for months, if not years to come.

We’ll talk more about the state playoffs and get in-depth with our previews, insights and predictions involving teams within the RCN-TV viewing area on Thursday’s “SportsTalk” program!  Email your sports opinions and questions to us at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com and we’ll read and respond on this week’s show.

The SportsTalk Shop: “FINAL” 2017 Basketball Poll

I have to keep it real here—it was not the most exciting regular season in terms of monitoring our scholastic ranking system this winter.

While we’ve seen some well-played games (last Friday’s Freedom/Liberty game by far the best contest I’ve called this winter) and I’m anticipating a very entertaining post-season, there wasn’t a whole lot of movement among our “SportsTalk” poll results over the course of the regular season.

Before we get to our last rankings of the year, here’s a quick recap if you are not familiar with our program.

Our pollsters are comprised of a combination of local media members (Morning Call’s Keith Groller, RCN Sports Director Gary Laubach and RCN basketball Announcers Tom Stoudt and Dennis Laub and Lehigh Valley Basketball Rankings’s Toomey Anderson).  We also have three distinguished head basketball coaches giving their insights on the top teams in the Lehigh Valley area.

All District XI schools were eligible for the poll and were divided into either our “big schools” (5A & 6A classifications) or “small schools” (4A & below) rankings.

The “small schools” consist of Wilson, Saucon Valley, Bethlehem Catholic, Northwestern, Palisades, Palmerton, Salisbury, Notre Dame-GP, Moravian Academy, Lincoln Leadership, Pen Argyl, Northern Lehigh and Catasauqua.

The “big schools” are Bangor, Central Catholic, Southern Lehigh, Whitehall, Allen, Dieruff, Easton, Emmaus, Freedom, Liberty, Nazareth, E. Stroudsburg North & South, Pocono Mountain East, Pocono Mountain West, Stroudsburg, Northampton, Parkland, and Pleasant Valley.

As far as our “final” results…which looked very similar to what our pre-season poll looked like:

Big School Basketball Poll—Class 5A & up (8 pollsters)

  • Allen – 40 points (8 first place votes)
  • Emmaus – 26 points
  • Parkland – 22 points
  • Pocono Mountain West – 14 points
  • Bangor – 13 points

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Small School Basketball Poll—Class 4A & Below (7 pollsters)

  • Becahi – 35 points (7 first place votes)
  • Salisbury – 24 points
  • Notre Dame-GP – 23 points
  • Saucon Valley – 15 points
  • Wilson – 5 points

Just to recap, Allen maintained its standings as the area’s (and the state’s) top “big school” team all winter by running the table (through this past weekend), and was only really challenged in a handful of games all year.

Among the “smaller schools,” Bethlehem Catholic lost just three league games to date—all by three points are less, and all of them to bigger-sized schools.

The only other teams that had any significant in-season movement in our polls were Parkland and Wilson.  The Trojans  got off to a slow start and fell off our poll completely before  bouncing back and, now, looking about as good as any team in the region (except perhaps Allen, who they played Monday night on RCN-TV).  The Warriors, under a new coach and armed with a very young squad, have made a late-season push and end the season as our “number five” team.

One other note, while Pocono Mountain West slid down from its “number two” position in our preseason poll, I had one local head coach whose opinion I really trust tell me last weekend that he is seriously concerned about “West” and does not want to face them in the post-season.  The Panthers dropped a few regular season games that, on paper, they probably shouldn’t have lost—but with all the talent on that squad and the match-up problems they could create–they very likely could play deep into the league and/or district tournaments.

To help break down these results in further detail and to talk about the Colonial League and Eastern Pennsylvania Conference playoffs, RCN Sports Director Gary Laubach will join us on this week’s “SportsTalk.”

We’ll also talk about high school basketball in the DC region on this Thursday’s show as DMV Elite’s Marcus Helton will join us via Skype to talk about the area’s regular season, identify the top players and teams and look ahead to a busy final week of the regular season.  Marcus will also give us some upcoming “match-ups to watch” along with his take on which teams will have the most success in the region’s post-season tournaments.

So tune in to the show this Thursday at 7pm or catch the podcast at rcn.com/rcntv/sports-talk and let us know your basketball opinions and questions. If there’s a team, athlete or playoff match-up you’d like us to address on that show, be sure to email us at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com and tune-in for our panelists’ responses!

The SportsTalk Shop: Four Teams to Watch: EPC

The high school football season is nearly upon us! Before it kicks into high gear (our first two RCN broadcasts will be this Friday and Saturday nights), I wanted to take a look at four East Penn Conference teams that have some interesting storylines for the upcoming season. Please note, these are NOT the teams that I think will necessarily be the top four teams in the league but rather schools that may not be on your radar and/or squads that have some unique issues. We’ll also take a look at key Colonial League teams to keep an eye on in the very near future.

EASTON
Local football fans may not have noticed (and critics probably don’t want to), but Easton football has changed over the last several seasons, with Head Coach Steve Shiffert opening up the playbook and including more passing plays than previous years. They look to continue that more open style in 2014, but will have some incredibly tough graduated pieces to fill, especially on the offensive line—a strength from a season ago. They will, however, feature arguably the best offensive weapon in the area in Shane Simpson and have a number of strong defenders returning. They are one of the few schools in the area that have two quality quarterback candidates (E.J. Roeder and Trey Durrah). The Rovers will again incorporate a number of two-way players, something that may work against them playing a team like Parkland. Seeing the “new guys” adjusting to their role and keeping an eye on the Rovers’ depth will be two more things to watch as the season unfolds, and could tell how much success the team will have in the playoffs.

WHITEHALL
I have not seen them during the double sessions this month (I try to get to as many different schools as I can at this time of year, but since I’ve seen them the last two “Augusts” and in trying to be fair to other schools…).

I did, however, see a couple of their football players at this summer’s basketball league games, and also several of their linemen…and they are MUCH bigger than they were a year ago. Mind you, their offensive and defensive lines were fantastic last season. In fact, quite a number of coaches and football experts all marveled at how fundamentally-sound the Zephyrs’ linemen were. If the Zephyrs bring that same mentality with the added size, they have the offensive capabilities led once again by running back Sa’quon (don’t call me “Say Say”) Barkley and this year at quarterback by Gianni Sinatore—a very talented multi-sport athlete. That combined with several solid defenders returning will allow Whitehall to challenge Parkland and Easton through a district playoff run.

EMMAUS
The Hornets are a team I may have “snake-bit” a year ago, in anointing them as my “surprise” team of 2013. Emmaus got off to a slow start, which precluded them from making a run at the top teams in the district. However, I was extremely impressed with Randy Cuthbert, who was hired very late in the offseason a year ago, and his team when I saw them later in the season, and they have a number of quality players returning (among them QB Logan Kober, RB Wyl Miller, LB Kyle Boney and DL Eric Miller). They’ll need to make some adjustments defensively (former defensive coordinator Sam Senneca joined his son coaching at Wilson), but I think they have a favorable early season schedule—save the week two matchup against Easton—which should keep them near the top of the standings. Their other tougher matchups (Parkland, Whitehall) close out their regular season schedule, but if the team can continue to improve the way it did in 2013, those two games against the Trojans and the Zephyrs should be great battles to watch and very meaningful games in terms of the postseason positioning.

DIERUFF
There is no question in my mind that Bethlehem Catholic is the best of the “Mountain” football teams in the new EPC. In fact, a silver lining for the Golden Hawks getting “bumped” to the other division is that they will have no problem whatsoever in making the district playoffs, and should easily qualify for the number-one seed and home-field advantage in districts—something they did not have a year ago. But one of the key teams to watch among the “northern” teams are the Huskies, who are coming off a resurgent 2013 campaign. After some outsiders thought the program should be disbanded, Head Coach Kyle Beller and his squad have done a remarkable job of rebuilding the program. Not only did they win five games one year ago, but had legitimate chances to win at least two more games and qualify for the post-season—a thought no one outside of East Allentown would have thought possible last August. Because of the new league, they will face some much tougher competition (Parkland this Friday, Becahi on 9/26, Freedom on 10/3), and even if they equal the win total this year, one could argue the team is still moving in the right direction. But with two of the most talented (and definitely two of the most underrated) skill-position players in the league in Shakur Lester and Chris Marks, it is entirely possible the Huskies once again exceed fans’ expectations this fall. (FYI: for Husky fans, Dieruff Athletic Director Melvin Riddick will be one of our guests on our Sept. 11th “SportsTalk” show).

For the record, I do believe that Parkland is the best EPC team on paper, and have heavy odds on winning another District XI title this year. Last August, a very knowledgeable football guru told me that if QB DeVante Cross would develop his passing abilities, that the Trojans offense would be deadly. Cross has not only has improved ALL facets of his game, but the team added a quality football mind in Jim Terwilliger as a quarterbacks coach, to its already super-qualified staff. Even their kicking game is far above average, probably closer to the “superior” category, with perhaps the best leg in the area in Jake Bissell. I’m hard pressed to find anyone who can point out glaring weaknesses on this team, and see only two or three Lehigh Valley squads on their regular season schedule that will be able to challenge Parkland this fall. How far can they go this season? Keep watching “RCN SportsTalk” and our local football coverage to find out!

How do you feel about the new East Penn Conference? Which EPC teams do you feel will be the most interesting teams to watch this season, or give us your first impressions ahead of our “Colonial League” blog entry. Send us an email at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com, and join us for our “High School Football Preview Show” broadcasting this Thursday from 6-7pm from the Great Allentown Fair.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: State Playoff Recaps

It was another exciting high school playoff season on RCN-TV, filled with outstanding teams and athletes, and a few surprises along the way. Before we transition to the spring sports season, I wanted to highlight some of the top moments during this year’s PIAA state basketball playoffs. Keep in mind, these observations are based on the teams I had a chance to see and didn’t include the teams from the western part of Pennsylvania.

BEST TEAM I SAW—BOYS
Neumann-Goretti was not just an athletic and talented team, they were QUICK! Quick when passing, playing defense, leaping ability…even on the break. Central Catholic played a great game and is loaded with fast players themselves, but I really don’t know if there’s another team in the state that could play with Neumann-Goretti in an up-tempo style game.

Central Catholic also had a great playoff run, and I can shamelessly mention that my early January prediction that the Vikings would make it to the state quarterfinals proved correct. (RCN basketball experts Tom Stoudt and Joe Craig said I was crazy for saying that, but you can see for yourself by checking out “RCN SportsTalk” for free On-Demand). Central posted two solid wins in states before seeing their season come to an end and have a lot of to be proud of what they accomplished in 2014.

BEST TEAM I SAW—GIRLS
North Penn not only had the best overall defensive team I saw all year, but they had multiple players who could score. Against Northampton, they were the only team I saw—boys or girls—that had FOUR players score 11 or more points in a game. They also brought in players off the bench that could play with most teams in the state. They have an excellent Head Coach in Mary DeMarteleire and have a ton of talent coming back next year, so I would expect their dominance in the state playoffs to continue for at least the next several years.

BIGGEST SURPRISE—GIRLS
Bethlehem Catholic’s loss to Scranton Prep in the PIAA’s 2nd round. There’s no question that the “upper bracket” of the 3A girls state playoff tournament had some incredibly good teams playing each other before you even got to the state semifinals. Becahi, Scranton Prep, Villa Maria, Archbishop Wood, Abington Heights, West Perry and Holy Redeemer all had legitimate chances go to deep, if not win, the championship—and all of those teams faced off against each other in the first three rounds. The fact that Scranton Prep completely held one of the top players in the state, Kalista Walters, in check for three-and-a-half quarters before fouling out while holding the high-powered Hawks offense (who came in averaging 59 ppg) to 21 points was a major, if not shocking, accomplishment.

Becahi returns nearly everyone for 2015 and should be one of the top teams again in the state a year from now and had an impressive showing in an earlier round game against Bonner-Predergast.

BIGGEST SURPRISE—BOYS
Delaware Valley Charter is also one of the top teams in the state, but I was impressed by how Notre Dame stayed with this team for almost a full half. The Crusaders had some tough shots bounce out that would have kept it closer, but Del Val is just loaded with talent and kept Notre Dame at arms’ length the entire second half. Dashon Giddings, Shahid Adams and CJ Wolfe are all great ball players who look to continue playing at the next level and they were a fun team to watch.

TEAMS TO WATCH FOR 2015
Two teams on the rise this year that will continue to get better next year are Emmaus and Abington. Both teams battled each other in the opening round and have a number of returning underclassmen, and should be back in states a year from now.

THE “TROJAN TAKEOVER”
Both the Parkland boys’ and girls’ basketball teams won the 4A District XI final and entered the state playoffs as #1 seeds (they’re one of only six schools to accomplish this in the same season since 1985). Both the boys’ and girls’ teams will be guests on this Thursday’s “RCN SportsTalk” show live at 6pm to talk about their successes in the state playoffs. To tease the appetites of the “Trojan Takeover” fans in the meantime, here’s some of Parkland’s highlights in the PIAAs.

Which teams do you think were the best in the state this season? Which players stuck out in your mind and which teams will be back for the 2015 state tourney? Post your comments below or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us this Thursday as we read and respond to your questions and comments on our final “winter sports” show of 2014.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: State Basketball Preview 2014

The Pennsylvania state basketball playoffs will be commencing this weekend. It’s an exciting time of year—no more safety nets, as it’s a single-elimination tournament and the most talented players in the state might have their season, if not their scholastic careers, come to an end on a given night. We’re going to be broadcasting a number of exciting PIAA playoff games over the next few weeks and it’s going to be fun seeing the top players and teams across the state on RCN-TV.

We’re coming off of a thrilling District XI playoffs season in our RCN viewing area. In preparation for the state games, here are notes and video highlights of some of the teams we’ve had the pleasure of seeing over the last few weeks in postseason action.

PARKLAND (girls and boys teams)
Both teams are playing their best brand of basketball of the season as they head into the PIAAs. The boys team is incredibly deep and have been getting solid performances from all their starters, but what makes them even more dangerous are the players coming off the bench contributing without missing a beat. They pretty much dismantled all their opponents in the district playoffs and made this year’s district championship look easy.

Parkland has momentum and really has not shown any glaring weaknesses, save a slow first-half stretch to Stroudsburg in the semifinal game (the Mountaineers also got a gritty performance from Jacob Battle in the consolation game, which hopefully will propel them to a few wins in states).

The Parkland girls team also has a multitude of talent among both their starters and role players. Olivia Brown led her team in the girls district championship with a great all-around game and a clutch basket down the stretch run.

Erin Bross, Erica Bross, Aubrey Beidelman, Sarash Stagaard and Kristen McCarty are all solid ball handlers who can shoot, and the Trojans have a strong inside presence anchored by Brynne Brouse, Nadine Ewald and Brooke Robertson. They have a very formidable opponent in Central Bucks East, a team known this year for a stifling defense (allowing just 33 ppg) and an offense led by a double-double threat, Courtney Webster.

CENTRAL CATHOLIC (boys and girls)
The Vikettes battled state championship contender Bethlehem Catholic, but lost for a third time to the Hawks in the District XI Final. However, I was very impressed by the efforts of Olivia Roseman, Ashley Bross, Alyssa Mack and Emma Redding in their last two meetings with the Hawks, and they all made big plays again keeping the district title game close. They draw a tough opening round opponent in Abington Heights, a squad RCN SportsTalk guest Dave Troxell labeled a tremendous team on last week’s show. However, they have played—and defeated—a number of teams still alive in the state playoffs. They have solid balance and show great ball handling ability, and I see no reason why they can’t advance at least a couple rounds in states.

The boys team continues to dominate. Everyone knew they were going to be a great team this year, but to have the focus, night-in and night-out and be as solid a team throughout an entire season (they still haven’t lost a game all year) is truly a remarkable accomplishment. In addition to being outstanding athletes, the tandem of Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Jean Lee Baez has guided a steady ship with no noticeable blemishes, on or off the court, this season. We debated on SportsTalk last month (the show is available on RCN On-Demand) about their state title chances, and I’ll stick with my prediction that, at worst, they reach the state quarterfinals.

EMMAUS (Boys)
I finally got a chance to see Emmaus in person last week, and I was tremendously impressed with their win over Liberty. I knew Nate Feirertag was a great all-around player who plays with as much heart as anyone in our coverage area. Fellow senior forward Joe Nicolini stepped up big time with 19 points (17 in the 2nd half) for the Hornets to advance to the district championship.

This team has lots of talent on the way up and should be vying for state playoff spots for the next several seasons. I know Emmaus fans were disappointed by their loss to Parkland in the district final, and face a tough matchup in District I power Abington, a team loaded with size, speed and several players looking to play at the quality college programs. But Emmaus has bounced back from a tough loss on more than one occasion this year and I would expect a hard fought game this weekend.

NORTHAMPTON (Girls)
The K-Kids shook off a tough loss to Parkland in the semifinals to beat a quality Pleasant Valley team and earn a state playoff bid.

Leandra Sterner is quietly having one of the top all-around performances of the entire high school sports year. Coming off an historic performance on the soccer field this fall, she currently leads the team in points per game, assists and steals. Ali Reppert has a smooth-looking jump shot and Aja Blount might become the best center in the area in the very near future. I think they have a favorable matchup facing Wallenpaupack this weekend and see no reason why the Kids can’t advance into the next round.

NOTRE DAME (Boys)
If you like “shoot-out” games, you would have loved the performances of Tannor Reed, Vicent Eze and the Notre Dame boys team in their District XI 2A Boys Championship.

I think the Crusaders will be the first to admit that their defense needs to play better to defeat Delaware Valley Charter this weekend, but their game might be the most entertaining of all the contests on RCN Saturday night. The Crusaders play extremely well as a team, have a balanced attack and come in with plenty of momentum (they’ve won 13 consecutive games). Tuning in just to see Reed shoot should be worth your time and Eze has improved all facets of his game (he’s averaging 14 points, 17 rebounds and 5 blocks per game), including his ability to score when given the ball outside the paint.

BETHLEHEM CATHOLIC (Girls)
The reigning LVC and District XI 3A Champs will be our guests on RCN SportsTalk this Thursday (live at 6pm), so you can tune in for in-depth conversations with their coaches and players. We’ll also showcase some of their awesome highlights so far this season, and get their expectations on the state playoffs. You can also email us comments and questions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read and respond to your opinions live on the air!

Be sure to check back for more highlights and notes on the teams playing in this year’s state playoffs. Also, feel free to email us or post your feelings about the schools competing for titles this winter.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: District Basketball Playoff Thoughts

 

The District XI boys basketball playoffs are heading up…and RCN-TV will have you covered!

This week, we’ll have a full breakdown of all this weekend’s boys and girls high school championship games on our live “RCN SportsTalk” this Thursday at 6pm. Local coaches will be on our show dissecting all the playoff games and giving their insights, keys to victory and strategies for all of the big matchups this weekend. We’ll also have several title games broadcast Friday and Saturday on RCN (keep checking our website for our broadcast schedule).

In the meantime, here are several thoughts and video highlights of some of the teams in our coverage area still alive in the playoffs!

PARKLAND
With the return of Nick Rindock, the Parkland basketball team looks like it is playing its best basketball of the year at just the right time. It has an outstanding point guard in Jimmy Hahn, an exciting freshman who does a ton of things well in Sam Iorio, and looked solid defensively in its last two games (which included a tight ball game with undefeated Central Catholic).

The Trojans are playing like the best team in this classification right now, and, should it continue, could play several rounds into the state tournament.

EMMAUS
The Hornets got a scare Saturday as they had to fight off a scrappy Bangor ball club. However, this year’s group of players has had success at all younger levels and is ready for prime time. They have a ton of talent who have had big games throughout this season, including David Kachelries, Joe Nicolini, Nate Feiertag and Joe Polczynski. I think they might have been looking past the Slaters a bit, but that won’t happen this week and I expect Emmaus to give Liberty a solid game this Wednesday (LIVE on RCN-4 this Wednesday at 6pm).

LIBERTY
Both RCN Basketball analyst Tom Stoudt and I said back on “SportsTalk” in January that if Liberty got into the playoffs, they could be the most dangerous 4A team. Even with some roster subtractions, it looks like our prediction is coming true. They manhandled Whitehall in the first round and upset the number-one seed Pocono Mountain West. They have four players, DeShawn Oyeniyi, Ludwin Gonzalez, Jaevan Dobbins and Trenton Coleman-Bishop, all playing at a high level right now. With the exception of the third quarter versus the Zephyrs, everyone has been playing solid defense. I don’t know how he does it every year, but Head Coach Chad Landis always has his team playing well at just the right time and probably deserves to be the LVC Coach-of-the-Year for what he’s done this season. Even if Liberty loses Wednesday, they could still reach the state playoffs with a win in the consolation round on Saturday, which would be a major accomplishment given all this team has been through this winter.

STROUDSBURG
It’s becoming a tradition for the Mountaineers to play in the final rounds of the district playoffs, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Stroudsburg during the regular season once they merge with the LVC for the next school year. Shawn Thornton is one of the top coaches in the district, and the team has tons of talent once again this season, led by three players (Danny Cuevas, Edwin Lopez, Jacob Battle) all averaging in double figures. They have a tough matchup in Parkland this Wednesday, but if they can pound the ball inside and open up their great perimeter shooters, we should be in for a great contest (LIVE on RCN-4 this Wednesday at 7:30 pm).

CENTRAL CATHOLIC & BETHLEHEM CATHOLIC
We’ve talked quite a bit about both of these teams in an earlier blog post as well as on “SportsTalk” and neither team has done anything recently to derail their outstanding seasons. While the first meeting between these two 3A powers went decisively to the Vikings (highlights below), I would not be surprised if the Hawks challenge them a bit more here in round two (LIVE on RCN-4 this Tuesday at 7:30 pm). Remember, three teams can reach the PIAA playoffs in this classification, so the loser of the semifinal game will still have a chance to play on.

NOTRE DAME
No boys’ basketball team in the Lehigh Valley, with the exception of Central Catholic, comes into the postseason with more consecutive wins. I was promoting Tannor Reed for a Colonial League MVP award when we did their game against Salisbury in January, and he has truly carried this team through their ups-and-downs this year. With the 6’8” Vincent Eze back and doing so many things well at both ends of the floor, this team looks nearly unbeatable against most teams in Eastern Pennsylvania. They also have the momentum following their thrilling buzzer-beating win in the Colonial League championship.

CATASAUQUA
Despite the loss to the Crusaders, Catty has a lot to be proud of with reasons for optimism. They did not play well in the first half of their league championship game, yet went down to the wire and did not let a very talented Notre Dame team run away with the game. The Rough Riders are used to having players battling through tough injuries and this week will not be an exception. However, Catty has already defeated other, larger playoff-bound teams in Bangor (a 4A team) and Salisbury (3A) and could make for another thrilling title game if they dispatch North Schuylkill in the semifinals.

Which teams do you think will win championships this weekend? Which players will step up big and help their squads to victory? Email your opinions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read your thoughts live on this Thursday’s show at 6pm.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: The Shop’s New Wrinkle

 

The Shop’s New Wrinkle

One of the major driving forces behind the RCN SportsTalk show and this blog is highlighting the tremendous accomplishments of athletes, coaches and administrators in the RCN viewing area. Each season we try to spotlight different teams, schools and sports. We’re always looking for ideas and suggestions to better honor the special people who work so hard at their given talents. So with that said, we’d like to unveil a new dimension to our SportsTalk Shop blog.

Periodically, we’re going to post highlights of our sports productions seen on RCN-TV. By doing this, we hope to reach a new audience in showcasing young men and women’s outstanding efforts in the sports community. Some of these highlights are also shown on our live Thursday show, in which we discuss these teams in more detail.

To launch this new addition, we’re presenting highlights from a few of the “rivalry contests” RCN covered the last couple of weeks. We’ll start with highlights from the Parkland/Emmaus game:

Here’s some of the highlights from the “Christmas City” battle between Liberty and Freedom:

Finally, highlights from the big Easton/Whitehall game—a contest featuring two teams who were tied for first place in the Lehigh Valley Conference when they faced each other at Cottingham Stadium.

What do you think of this newest addition to our blog? Which RCN-TV broadcast playoff games would you like us to focus on for our next set of highlights? Post your votes here and check back soon for more blog entries and highlights!