The SportsTalk Shop: 2016 HS Winter Sports Wrap II

Before we turn our attention to the spring sports season, we continue our final look back at the high school winter sports season in the Lehigh Valley region with video and recognition of some amazing performances.

“Dynasty-Making”
I’ve seen some great District XI Class 3A girls basketball teams over the years and, quite frankly, have watched  some rather boring district playoff games (due to one team being SO good).  However, the Southern Lehigh girls’ basketball team turned in one of the most dominant performances ever this winter.  In addition to a phenomenal regular season (they lost just their season opening game to Dunbar), the Spartans won every other game the rest of the way until they lost to Berks Catholic (with a chance to win at the buzzer) in the second round of the state playoffs.

The Spartans lost two very key seniors.  However, the team’s core–four of their five starters—is back next year.  Solehi should have no trouble building on this winter’s legacy with dominant playoff runs in the league, district and state playoffs for years to come.  Their players are a multi-dimensionally talented team AND fundamentally sound (a GREAT combination), and should have no trouble putting together successful campaigns in 2017 and beyond.

We talked quite a bit about the overall competitiveness and great amount of depth in girls’ basketball a few weeks back here at “The Shop.” Like many of the other programs we’ve seen or talked about this winter, there was a ton of talent on display, with many teams returning most of their key players. As I stated on last week’s “SportsTalk” show and podcast, I’m looking at Easton (who returns virtually everyone) to be the team-to-beat on the Eastern Pennsylvania Girls Conference side.  With many other underclassmen back in 2017, expect Nazareth, Northampton and many of other teams involved in this winter’s playoffs to be right back in the post-season again next year.

“A Return to Glory”
In addition to a tremendous season (and another state championship) for the Bethlehem Catholic wrestling team this season, there were many individual stars here in the Valley.  As usual (but following a minor dip last year), District XI was well-represented in the state tournament in Hershey, with eight gold medalists and 20 overall metal winners.  Special props go to Liberty’s Andrew Gunning who captured the school’s first PIAA individual wrestling title in over 30 years.

We invite you to go back to hear many of the teams and individual wrestlers discussed on our “SportsTalk” podcasts  from this winter.

Here’s a look at highlights from RCN-TV’s wrestling coverage during the second half of the wrestling season.

There were also outstanding accomplishments this winter by local swimmers, with their season culminating last week with the PIAA meets.  Congrats to Salisbury’s Mahlon Reihman for being named swimmer of the state meet, who beat out fellow District XI competitor Gabe Castano (Allentown Central Catholic) for the Class AA gold in the 100-meter freestyle.  Like wrestling, there were numerous Lehigh Valley athletes in the water who also posted solid performances at last weekend’s final events.

Let us know what were your top moments, teams and athletes from this past winter.  Email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in Thursdays, 7-8 pm, to hear us talk about your local teams on our “RCN SportsTalk” program.  This Thursday will be our final “winter show” and your last opportunity to talk about this recently completed scholastic season in the RCN viewing area.

The SportsTalk Shop: District Wrestling Preview

One of the biggest Lehigh Valley local sports winter events is happening this Saturday—the District XI AAA Team Wrestling Final & Ultimate Qualifier (live, 4:30pm on RCN-TV).  Local wrestling gurus Gene Waas and Jack Logic were on our “SportsTalk” show to discuss that event, as well as give their opinions on many local wrestling issues.  Among the topics discussed–they gave their takes on the “EPC Challenge” and on the first year of the “revamped” alignments for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.  Here’s a brief sample of our discussion of the “new look EPC” for wrestling–the entire program along with thoughts on the District XI tournament structure is available here on our podcast.

We’ve also had some great wrestling action on RCN-TV this past winter.  We covered a number of Colonial League teams on our “RCN SportsTalk” show—the interviews and videos are available on-demand for RCN customers.

To get you set for this weekend’s tournament action, here’s a look back at the highlights of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference wrestling matches featured on RCN-TV this season.

In addition to this Saturday’s team district wrestling coverage, we have more wrestling coverage coming up in the next few weeks.  On the Thursday, February 25th edition of “SportsTalk” from 7-8 pm, we’ll have preview of that weekend’s District XI AA and AAA individual wrestling tournament.  On Saturday, February 27th at 9:30 RCN-TV will have the AAA Wrestling Final and the following week RCN will be broadcasting the PIAA Northeast Wrestling Final at 9pm.

Keep checking the RCN-TV schedule page here on the website for the latest news and/or changes for our local sports coverage.  Also, don’t forget to email you opinions and feelings the local sports action to rcnsportstalk@rcn.com .

The SportsTalk Shop: Three Wrestling Season Surprises

While many things unfolded the way most Lehigh Valley HS wrestling experts thought the season would, there were still several big surprises during this year’s District XI team wrestling season.  Here are a few of the highlights:

Becahi’s Level of Dominance
The fact that the Golden Hawks ran through its 3A district competitors in this, its first year moving up from being a “Class 2-A”  team, is not really a surprise.  They have been scoring victories over many local wrestlers from larger schools for some time during their competition in the now-defunct Lehigh Valley Conference.  What was shocking was by HOW MUCH Becahi beat up on other Lehigh Valley powers Easton, Parkland, Nazareth & company.  Here’s a look at three of their biggest wins over conference opponents—all by healthy margins – this winter.

Expect the Hawks’ success to continue in the state tournament this weekend and once the “individual” playoffs get underway in a few weeks.

Freedom’s Amazing Season
Last year we had Patriots’ Head Coach Brandon Hall on our “RCN SportsTalk” show and he told us some great stories about what he, his coaches and players have had to overcome in trying to build up the program —a task especially difficult with the high level of competition in the Lehigh Valley.  His team took the next step in a big way—entering the playoffs with an amazing 24-0 record and an impressive win in the “American” Division of the highly competitive Virginia Duals tournament.  Freedom’s next step will be to continue this high level of success for the next few years against the powerhouse teams in the Eastern Pennsylvania region.  However, you have to give a huge congratulations to Coach Hall and his team for all of their success this year—and putting together a season that no one outside of the northern half of Bethlehem saw coming.

Aside from any match involving Becahi, Freedom and most of the other teams in the newly formed Eastern Pennsylvania Conference made for entertaining team competition this winter.  Here are a few of the best matches, including this past weekend’s “Ultimate Qualifier”:

Northern Lehigh’s 2A Championship
Becahi no longer competing in the 2A bracket left a wide-open district tournament for some team to come up and win this year’s crown—a title the Hawks have dominated over the last few seasons.  Saucon Valley headed a field of impressive smaller schools that had multiple talented wrestlers this season.  Head Coach Chad Spirk has done an amazing job over his career of building his program—which sometimes in the past was overshadowed by other teams’ performances from the LVC.  However, it was Northern Lehigh’s Steve Hluschak and his Bulldogs that pulled off the win over the Colonial League Champion Panthers to advance into this weekend’s PIAA tourney as the #1 2A representative from District XI.  Northern Lehigh was one of several teams that made for a great season, along with Northwestern, Notre Dame and Bangor.  Most of these head coaches were on “SportsTalk” recently—you can hear more about their teams and their thoughts on local wrestling by watching the show for free through RCN On-Demand.

Speaking of “SportsTalk,” this Thursday (Feb. 5th) at 6pm, we’ll have our “Ultimate” wrestling panel with local legends Gene Waas and Sam Burgio joining Jack Logic, Joe Craig and myself as we preview this weekend’s State Finals, the upcoming District XI Individual Wrestling Tournament and give our thoughts on some controversial decisions that were made in terms of forming the new playoff system.  We’ll also have wrestling experts Brad Wilson and Scott Barr on our February 19th live show to preview RCN’s coverage of that weekend’s “Individuals Championships” and also give their takes on local wrestling issues.

We’d love to hear your comments & questions about Lehigh Valley HS wrestling!  Who stood out in your mind as the top individual wrestlers…and which other team’s exceeded expectations?  Email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read and respond to your emails on our upcoming live shows!

 

The SportsTalk Shop: District Wrestling Individuals Preview

 

The biggest weekend for high school wrestling fans is nearly upon us and RCN will look to feed its rabid fans’ appetites over the next several days. A full preview of all of the weekend’s weight classes will be on our “RCN SportsTalk” show this Thursday live at 6pm (we’ll also talk a little Penn State football as well). Also, RCN-TV will broadcast the District 3A Championships on February 22. In the meantime, here are a few notes on several of the schools that should do very well in the tournament, along with video highlights of the area’s top wrestlers and teams.

BECAHI
Clearly, the best team in this tournament. The Golden Hawks cruised to their fourth straight 2A district championship and are coming off their fourth straight team state title, beating their four opponents by a whopping 235-18 (they also owned 27 of the first 28 takedowns registered in their dual meets). The program is so much on a roll that Becahi hasn’t lost a dual meet since February 16, 2011 (to Easton). Luke Karam (currently 28-2) and Zeke Moisey (32-0) lead an uber-talented squad that figures to dominate eight or nine of the 14 weight classes. Anything less than seven gold medals this weekend would be a major shock.

LIBERTY
The Hurricanes had a banner season under Jody Karam this year. His team beat Easton for the first time since 1991, they won the competitive Virginia Duals American Division, they finished second at the Penn Manor Tournament and battled Parkland before losing by a close margin in the first ever “Ultimate Qualifier” dual meet. Jake Gunning and Orlando Miller, who never wrestled prior to high school, both own 27 wins a piece heading into the tourney. Noah Klingborg and Andrew Gunning both had exceptional years, and K.J. Fenstermacher proved to be one of the most exciting freshman wrestlers in the area. For more on the Hurricanes, check out their recent appearance on “RCN SportsTalk” on free RCN On Demand (the show entitled “Bethlehem Wrestling”).

NAZARETH
If not for Becahi, Nazareth would be getting a lot more attention. Sage Karam (if he’s not racing in Daytona) is one of the key wrestlers to watch at 145 lbs. Tyrone Klump (who pinned in a big state semifinal bout at 120 lbs.), Brandon Lane (285 lbs.), Travis Smith (113 lbs.), Josh Golden (220 lbs.) and Tyson Klump (106 lbs.) are just a few of the wrestlers with chances to medal this weekend. The Blue Eagles, fresh off their 3A District XI team title and a bronze finish in the PIAAs, are the tournament’s favorites to capture the most gold medals in individuals if all goes right.

EASTON
First of all, congratulations to Head Coach Steve Powell for earning his 500th coaching victory during the team district tournament this year. Don’t know of a classier wrestling coach in the area, nor do I know of anyone in the state that would ever say a bad word about him.

This wasn’t quite the typical Easton year. Although they had a very good squad, they lacked the one or two dominant standout wrestlers, like a Jordan Oliver-type, that you could almost guarantee a gold medal coming out of the district tournament. Nevertheless, they have several solid wrestlers in the middle-to-heavier weight classes who could contend, and two or three gold medals for the Rovers would not be out of the question.

PARKLAND
After beating Easton early in the season, it looked like the Trojans could be the team to beat in 3A. They battled Nazareth in an exciting District Championship Battle Royale before dropping the meet, but came back strong and had an impressive run in the PIAAs. Their list of candidates to contest for gold this weekend is quite long, including Jacob and Ethan Lizak, Josh Ortman, Marques Sturdivant and Omar and Nezar Haddad. There will be some exciting bouts all throughout the tournament, but it would not surprise me if Parkland comes away with the most medals.

Who else do you feel has a chance to medal at this year’s District XI Individual Wrestling Tournament? What do you think of the dominant run of Bethlehem Catholic, the possibility of them jumping up to 3A and all the other issues surrounding their program? Send an email to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com with your opinions and thoughts and tune in to RCN-TV this Thursday at 6pm to hear your comments read on-air, plus a full preview of this year’s tourney.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Winter Sports ’14 Highlights

 

I know high school wrestling and boys basketball get the lion’s share of fans’ attention in the Lehigh Valley area, but there are tremendous accomplishments being made by a number of scholastic sports programs currently in session.

Here’s a video sample of some of our features on different local sports programs produced recently for our “RCN SportsTalk” show (to see more of these features, they are available for free on RCN On-Demand for the next several weeks), and then we have some additional highlights and accomplishments by local teams and athletes deserving mentions this winter.

Some other local sports highlights include:

 • Bethlehem Catholic girls basketball team. Chosen by many to make it to the PIAA championship game again this year, the Golden Hawks have lost just two games so far this season—both to formidable opponents. Kalista Walters could very well repeat as the Lehigh Valley Conference’s MVP again this season, but among several other talented players on the roster include Janelle Robinson. Robinson is a guard by trade, but I continue to be impressed by what a great all-around contribution she makes to the team (she recently led the team in one game with nine rebounds).

 • Becahi is not the only local girls programs that have a shot at going to the PIAAs. In fact, this might be one of the most competitive LVC and Colonial Leagues playoff races in some time. Nazareth, a team that lost four starters to graduation, is back with a group of tall and athletic young ladies that have been drawing impressive results. Central Catholic is back to being one of the top teams in the state—their only loss thus far was their epic 74-72 double-overtime defeat to Becahi. Parkland is also looking very solid and is coming off a terrific summer basketball season. In the Colonial League, Southern Lehigh, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Salisbury and others all have legitimate shots to qualify for the playoffs. With very few exceptions, these teams playing each during the regular season have resulted other so far in down-to-the-wire finishes.

• Parkland has a long line of dominance in the sport of swimming and diving—for both the girls and boys teams. This year, there’s an abundance of outstanding athletes from many different schools, including Emmaus, Easton, Liberty and Freedom. Their district championships are usually held on two of the busiest Saturdays—local-sports-wise–in the Lehigh Valley, when district and state wrestling and boys and girls basketball games are scheduled, but if you have a chance to check out the local diving and swimming title events, you should have a number of great races to watch on February 22nd and March 1st.

• Pius X has very quietly had an impressive wrestling season. They do not belong to either the LVC or the Colonial League, nor do they have enough wrestlers to compete for team title. They DO have several impressive young athletes led by state candidates Dante Albanese, Michael Comunale and Vinny Vonelli. The Royals, under first year Head Coach Peter Stoelzl, jumped out to two impressive wins over Palisades and Central Catholic to start the season. Despite injuries, they’re still racking up wins and will look to make an impact in the District XI Wrestling Individuals Tournament, which will be broadcast on RCN-TV on Saturday, February 22.

Which other local sports athletes deserve more attention? Which teams, besides boys basketball and wrestling, do you think can bring home league, district, or even state championships this winter? Post your comments below or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in Thursdays at 6pm as we continue to spotlight local teams and athletes on our show.