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.

IMG_20170624_131250  IMG_20170624_131932 IMG_20170624_134436IMG_20170624_131250

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

IMG_20170624_140401 IMG_20170624_141549 IMG_20170624_141728 IMG_20170624_141859 IMG_20170624_143907

  • 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.

IMG_20170624_150427 IMG_20170624_154503 IMG_20170624_154949 IMG_20170624_155814 IMG_20170624_155956 IMG_20170624_160012

  • 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.

IMG_20170624_161331 IMG_20170624_162922 IMG_20170624_165338 IMG_20170624_163128

 

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: 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: District XI Basketball Playoff Preview

Last week, we discussed a number of teams in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference or Colonial League post-season races—nearly all of them will look to be major players in the District XI tournament, which starts this week.  Today here at “The Shop,” we take a look at a few more teams that begin their district championship quests over the next few days.

“Give Me Liberty…”
Don’t let a first-round loss in the EPC playoffs fool you.  Chad Landis always seems to find a way to get his team playing deep into the district playoffs—and usually well enough to get at least one of the top-3 district seeds, which would give the Hurricanes a trip to states.

Liberty lost to a very talented Allen team last week.  On paper, however, I think Liberty could play with almost anyone in their bracket.  They have a tremendous talent on the inside in Cam Hoffman and exciting guard play with added depth now that Chance Neilly has returned and gotten some game action under his belt. They’ll open up the tournament by facing Nazareth on Wednesday (live, RCN4 at 7pm).

“…or Fly Like An Eagle”
Nazareth Head Coach Joe Arndt has to be on a short list of underrated basketball coaches in the region.  Following his great run in the post-season last year (more on that later), he has done a great job grooming young talents Jahan Dotson and Kevin Wagner to become one of the strongest 1-2 underclassmen punches among EPC teams.  Nick Youngkin has added scoring punch from different spots on the floor and probably deserves more attention that he’s received this season.  The key will be containing the likes of Hoffman, Andrew Hudak and Caleb Martinez on the inside and for Nazareth to get its share of rebounds.  More inside scoring could go along way for Blue Eagles—the loser of this ball game sees their season come to an end.

The 3A Race Should be Fun To Watch
Central Catholic has an incredibly talented team, filled with underclassmen and amazing potential.  But when you have a younger group of players, there’s always an element–however slight—of ambiguity in reading how they will play together in the post-season.  They lost to a very solid Pocono Mountain West team in the first round of the league playoffs and, unlike previous years, I don’t think the Vikings are your ‘stone-cold locks’ to win the district title.  Salisbury, Notre Dame and Saucon Valley are all good, well-balanced teams who can play with Central Catholic.

Bethlehem Catholic also showed a tremendous amount of poise in hanging with the area’s best team, Parkland, in their EPC first-round match-up and have scored some impressive wins during the regular season.  Ray Barbosa has done a great job in his first year with the Golden Hawks and I don’t think a lengthy run in districts should be seen as a shocker.

Also, waiting “in the wings” is a Pottsville team that just completed a perfect 22-0 regular season.  The Tide will face the winner of Tuesday’s match-up between Saucon Valley/Lehighton (live, RCN4 at 7pm).  There will be very few “easy” games in the District XI 3A Classification this time around, and I doubt very many people could clearly predict just how this bracket will shake out this winter.

This Year’s Cinderella?
Last year it was Nazareth’s boys team that surprised people with a lengthy and exciting run through the District XI tournament—winning a few more games than many expected.

Who will be this year’s dark horse squad to last the longest? Stroudsburg is always an underrated team that seems to find a way to advance deep in the playoffs—despite the fact local experts rarely predict a successful post-season run for the Mountaineers.  If they can get by Freedom on Wednesday, they have as good a shot against Pocono Mountain West, then would face the winner of the Bangor vs. Solehi/Whitehall matchup, so another post-season run by the Mounties certainly looks like it has potential.

Also, there’s a number of talented girls basketball individuals and teams to keep an eye on that don’t get the hype they deserve.  Easton is coming off an impressive performance in its EPC Championship victory and are led by standout stars like Gabby Bloshuk, Leanna Deegan, Olivia George and Shelby Stocker.

However, this might be one of the most competitive District XI girls playoff fields we’ve seen in some time.  Parkland features Emily Piston, Rachel Medlar, Nadine Ewald and Sarah Stagaard.  Among the other top EPC talents include Nazareth’s Tessa Brugler, Northampton’s Aja Blount and Victoria Keenan.  Colonial League players to watch include Southern Lehigh’s Amanda Mobley, Olivia Snyder and Ellie Cassel (all underclassmen, by the way), Palisades’ Karlee Krchnavi, Northwestern’s Erika Thomas and Bangor’s Marissa Fernandez-Tierney.  We talked about a number of these teams and players in last week’s “SportsTalk” podcast (listen here: rcn.com/rcntv/sports-talk).

Don’t forget, we’ll be discussing many more teams, previewing match-ups and making District XI playoff predictions on Thursday’s “RCN SportsTalk” show, live from 7-8pm on RCN-TV with the show’s podcast available on Friday.  Guests include RCN Basketball Analyst Tom Stoudt along with Toomey Anderson and Andre Williams from LVBasketballRankings.com.  Email your high schools opinions and questions to rcnsportstalk@rcn.com and our panel will read and respond to your comments live on the air!

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: Mike & Brian Schneider

Keith Groller is one of my heroes.

Seriously.

Let me explain…

I was covering Philadelphia pro sports teams in the early 90s and would frequently chat with him at the old Spectrum when he had the 76ers beat for the Morning Call. As many sports fans know, the Sixers’ squads during this time period were some of the worst teams in modern day Philly sports. I was still thrilled to be covering pro sports teams for local radio stations, and thought I had a healthy jump on the “normal path to success” as a sportscaster by covering a pro team in a major market—even if the team was pathetic and the players were less-than-exhilarated to be interviewed each night on the new ways that they had discovered to LOSE games. Quite frankly, many players I interviewed showed little desire to play basketball—let alone deal with the same media members night in and night out.

Long story short. Keith did the unthinkable and committed what I thought at that time was career suicide by giving up his pro sports beat and instead, focused his work on high school sports. Once I got married and started to raise a family, I realized that Keith might actually be onto something, and that there were actually rewards to NOT covering pro sports. One of those advantages was the chance to deal with people who actually ASK a writer or broadcaster coming to their events. Subsequently, I found out that covering local sports gives you an opportunity to get to know and understand athletes on a much better level than the abrasive “stick-a-microphone-in-their-face” style of interviewing that is conducted with most major leaguers.

Enter the Schneiders.

Mike was…is…and may forever be one of the most helpful people on the planet. In numerous ways over the years, he’s helped myself, as well as other media members, in ways too many to mention in one blog post. One of his many gifts was that of a coach and an educator, and one of his greatest “products” was his nephew, Brian, who this January retired from Major League baseball after an 18-year professional baseball career that included stops in New York, Washington, and even for his hometown Phillies. Ironically, he was also one of the first high school stars I had the good fortune to cover in my role as a ‘non-pro sports’ media guy, only to have him become one of the greatest MLB players who grew up here in Northampton County.

Through his experiences, which included playing for Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, being the catcher for Barry Bonds’ record-breaking home run, playing in the World Baseball Classic, catching the greatest Phillies pitching rotation of all time, et al, he has continued to remain classy and speaks of great pride when he discusses his hometown of Northampton. He has continued to reach out to the community, donate his time to local charities and, as I learned from speaking with him, finds great rewards in trying to help young catchers and potential major league players by sharing his baseball wisdom. In a way, I felt like I had come full circle by having the pleasure of him being on our show to discuss his career, both on-and-off the field. Here’s a clip of our “SportsTalk” show in which he discusses what it was like to catch the first ball thrown out by then-President George Bush at the first-ever Washington Nationals home baseball game:

Brian Schneider and President Bush

Brian also has developed a close relationship with one of the greatest players in Phillies history, Chase Utley. Ironically, Brian was in the locker room (as a visitor) and talked with Utley about his recent injury, just a few hours before Brian appeared on our show. We asked Brian about Chase’s injured oblique, the truth about his sometimes “distant” persona with the media and whether Utley—a free agent after this season—would return to Philadelphia next year:

Brian Schneider Discusses Chase Utley

Thanks (AGAIN!) to Mike for helping us in setting up the interview (the entire show is available on RCN’s video-on-demand for free for several weeks). Because of people like Mike and Brian Schneider and the professional way they conduct themselves as individuals, it can rejuvenate ‘local’ sports fans, in more ways than they can probably imagine.

Feel free to post comments about your memories of Brian as a amateur athlete from the Valley, and as a Major League ballplayer, and let us know if there’s other “home grown” athletes you’d like to mention that “made it big.”

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: Back To Basics

After tackling the hot and sometimes laborious issues of local league realignments, super conference invitations, and sports politics the last several weeks (and something we’ll have to address again very soon with a May 31st deadline on the horizon for the proposed MVC/LVC merger), I’d like to focus on one of the more refreshing aspects of this current high school sports spring season by discussing something that has become passé with many of today’s athletes: fundamentals.

What’s that? Some may say . . . especially those great athletes that play above the rim or score multiple touchdowns every week without much effort. It’s something that older coaches will frequently preach, and even older, now retired sports veterans will say is severely lacking among today’s sports stars. However, I think it’s refreshing to see as I make my way around different schools and sports over the last several weeks, that I have not only seen younger coaches and managers stressing fundamentals to their kids, but the athletes themselves seem very proud of themselves for their repetitive work on basic skills. It’s no surprise then that the teams that have worked hard on that aspect of their respective sport, find themselves among their league standings with just a few days remaining in the regular season.

Take Whitehall, for example.

The Zephyrs, under third-year Manager Shaun O’Boyle, have bounced back from an average season a year ago to becoming one of the top teams in the area (if not the state) at this point. The first thing they worked on was getting a good lead off of first base. The second, taking the proper route on rounding third base. After another base running drill, they worked on their defense . . . and then they worked on their defense some more. Through most of their practice on this day, they did not have batting practice, but instead, worked on the mundane things that championship teams need to have. Upon speaking with the players, they all seemed to understand the importance of those skills and the need to continue to work on them to keep their season – one of the best in Whitehall history — going.

One of their top pitchers, Elliot Mortimer, threw just 53 pitches in 7-innings, which is impressive enough. Then you hear the mind-blowing stat that all but 8 pitches were STRIKES! He said he let his defense do their job, and it resulted in the team’s 14th victory in 15 tries (against one of the better teams in the region) by a 14-1 score. Simple strategy, but effective.

The Zephs are not the only team spending more time on fundamentals, and they’re not the only squad turning their fortunes around. The Wilson softball team (under Head Coach Sara Ulrich) reached their second playoffs—ever—in school history last year, and are looking to do the same again this spring. Teams such as the Warriors, Emmaus, Parkland, and Liberty baseball, Northampton softball, Parkland lacrosse and other organizations are being led by great young coaches who know the importance of fundamentals. Nearly every team I’ve seen while doing our “RCN SportsTalk: Time Out” features on local athletes and teams have been talking about the basics for their sport, and one of the first things they work on in their practices? Defensive drills.

What are your thoughts on this current spring sports season? Do you like the way teams are playing? And do you like the “defense wins championships” mantra that I’ve heard quite frequently mentioned by coaches and players alike this spring? Post a comment below and tune in for more features on our local teams and athletes on our “SportsTalk” show, every Thursday at 6pm (and available for free on RCN’s video-on-demand).

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!