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

____________________________________________________________

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: 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: District XI Previews – Week 2

First, a quick pat-on-the back for all the people who participated in last week’s “SportsTalk” show poll (a.k.a. “Who will win the Easton/Freedom football game?”).  Extra congratulations are in order for all the people who predicted (and/or rooted) for an Easton victory.  The win sets up one of several great contests this weekend and we’ll be previewing all of the match-ups involving District XI teams on this Thursday’s “RCN SportsTalk” show (live, 7-8pm on RCN-TV).

Secondly, in addition to breaking down and making predictions about this upcoming weekend’s contests, I’d like to give the Easton and Saucon Valley fans a chance to give some payback to our adversarial co-host, Joe Craig, who predicted double-possession losses for both the Rovers and the Panthers.  After all, turnabout is fair play. We’d be happy to read your emails (RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com) and take your phone calls about those predictions as well as your thoughts on how your teams will do again this weekend.

Now, as we promised in last week’s blog, a closer look at the teams vying for a Class 2A and 3A title this weekend…

Class 3A Championship
Both of these teams got to the title game with solid defense…underrated defenses at that!

Saucon Valley has been in the spotlight because of the running ability of Evan Culver, quarterback Zach Thatcher’s effectiveness in running the offense and the spectacular and timely catches of sophomore Alstan Wolfe.  However, it has been the defensive efforts of those three—and many others—that has fueled the Panthers’ success over the last few seasons.  Culver, who joined his teammates as guests on “RCN SportsTalk” (see it again On-Demand or on our podcasts here on the website), said that he actually prefers to play defense.  That’s a pretty interesting statement considering he’s third among active District XI players in rushing yards and his 64 touchdowns and 4,129 ground-yardage blew away the school records quite some time ago.

Head Coach Matt Evancho, who ran the underappreciated defenses for those great Wilson teams in the 2000s, has been one of the top defensive minds in the Valley for some time.  Seniors Mike Kane, Christian Carvis, Nate Harka and Mike Paolini have been defensive stalwarts for several years and have made for one of the stingiest defenses—Colonial League or EPC–in the area.

Lehighton also allowed just one score in their semifinal game against Blue Mountain. The undefeated Indians forced four turnovers in the first half (six for the game) and scored a defensive touchdown. Their stout defense allowed QB Tyler Cann enough time to warm up the offense and post several second-half scores to put the game away.

Lehighton is similar to Saucon Valley in that they have a core of seniors who have been building to do some special things this fall.  The Indians have a very good secondary and it will not be easy when (if?) the Panthers look to pass the ball.

Class 2A Championship
Speaking of being underrated, I don’t think there’s been a less-mentioned player who’s deserved more accolades than Northwestern’s Harry Hall, who, oh, by the way leads ALL active District XI players in rushing yards.  Hall came into last weekend’s semifinal with 4,860 yards on the ground and 51 TDs (both school records).

I think the Lehigh Valley fan base looked at all the talent that the Tigers lost to graduation from a year ago, and assumed it would be a rebuilding year up in New Tripoli (although they were the #5 team in the “SportsTalk” preseason poll—just sayin’).  However, Northwestern has gotten solid performances on both sides of the ball and played well—even in their losses this season.

One of their losses was to the team they will face in the championship, Notre Dame-Green Pond.  The Crusaders are led by Tre Jordan, who’s passed for over 7,000 yards during his high school career, and he’s just as lethal running the ball.  Mitch Daniel, an outstanding point guard for the basketball team, has made a name for himself as a tailback.  Destyn Woody, Austin Kaulius, Nick Basenese, Jalen Simpson and Aaron Weller all have outstanding abilities receiving the football.  Christian Candelaria, Julian Wismer, Taino Gonzalez and EJ Medina have all had impressive seasons on the defensive side.

The Crusaders have a ton of weapons, a ton of speed and some outstanding defenders.  One would think Notre Dame just has too many horses for Northwestern to handle, but people have discounted the Tigers a few times now, so I’m expecting a very close game on Friday night.

Don’t forget, we’ll be talking about all the 2A/3A/4A playoff teams in our viewing area in action this weekend on this Thursday’s “SportsTalk” show (if you miss the program, the podcast will be available Friday afternoon here or catch the program On-Demand).  Also, make sure you check out the Easton/Parkland game Friday and Saucon Valley/Lehighton game Saturday on RCN-TV.

The SportsTalk Shop: Three H.S. Football Surprises…”

Actually, I had another, perhaps more fitting title, but I felt it was a little too long. Something along the lines of:

“Three Phrases I’ve Heard Repeated By Fans And Media Members This Football Season Expressing A Revelation or Shocking Fact That We Probably Should Not Have Been Surprised About in the First Place”

(Probably best we went with the former headline).

I know I always dread making predictions when it comes to high school sports. It sometimes put unnecessary pressure on kids and quite often creates hard feelings. However, because of the success and popularity of scholastic sports programs in this area, we in the media are constantly questioned to make “educated” guesses about teams, players and possible results. Local fans are also very opinionated and most often very knowledgeable about the local sports landscape. Predictions encourage debate among the fandom—and publicity for our local athletes and communities. While becoming a foregone conclusion for everyone to make pre-season predictions, it sometimes leads to rash or incongruent opinions evolving on certain teams and players. Here are three phrases echoed by local residents claiming shock, when really, we all should have taken a closer look.

Myth #1: “Where Did All This Central Catholic Offense Come From?”
Central Catholic scored 41 points in each of its first two games this season, and was able to move the ball against arguably the best defense in the area this past weekend (several ill-timed penalties killed drives—two were deep in enemy territory).

Many people looked at the Vikings’ 2013 record (2-8) and saw many of the same offensive players returning with few additions and assumed that they would once again struggle to score points this fall. However, if you looked back to last season, you’ll notice that moving the chains was not an issue at all. ACCHS ranked right in the middle of the pack in a number of offensive categories. Failure to execute in the red zone and penalty-killing drives (as was the case vs. Parkland) were the big culprits in several of the team’s losses. Central battled in nearly all of their ball games that ended in defeat.

Look deeper and you’ll find that returning QB Mason Kholi has continued to post very impressive numbers (501 yards passing, a 4 to 1 touchdown/interception ratio and over 200 yards rushing—despite being sacked at least six times). The Vikings also have several talented, skilled guys (among them Dallas Kassis, Deionte Wilson, Pat McKellick and others) and have a solid line anchored by Max Ebert and Marc-Antony Ocascio (both 6-3, 245 lbs).

Furthermore, Head Coach John Cupples has shown the innate ability to come up with impressive game plans against the top teams in the LVC—now EPC—during his tenure. Despite being heavy underdogs and incredibly outnumbered in terms of depth, his team has put together very strong performances over the last year against Parkland, Easton and Whitehall…until those teams eventually wore down the Vikings, as those bigger schools frequently do to everyone. Our panel on ‘RCN SportsTalk’ a few weeks back thought it would be an extreme reach for Central Catholic to make the post-season this year, and that may be the case. But to be shocked if the Vikings do pick up five wins and reach the playoffs, and continue to score a ton of points in the process, would not be an educated assumption.

Myth #2: “For A 4-A School, Bangor Should Be Winning More Games By Now”
Now, the facts.

First, Bangor is NOT a 4-A school. According to the District XI classifications, they are a 3-A school with similar male enrollments of Central Catholic, Jim Thorpe, Lehighton, Pottsville, East Stroudsburg-North, Bethlehem Catholic, Saucon Valley, Southern Lehigh and Blue Mountain. Bangor is like many schools across the country now that have fewer athletes participating in sports and coaches have had to share students in order to avoid program cuts.

Also, in case people haven’t noticed, there is an incredible amount of parity in the Colonial League again this season (see last week’s blog). Southern Lehigh, a team many thought could go undefeated, already has picked up an “L.” Notre Dame and Pen Argyl, two teams predicted to be no worse than sixth, are both winless. Wilson, despite being 0-3, has played well this fall and might have fared better if not for a rash of turnovers.

Look even closer at Bangor’s competition. The Slaters have played two undefeated teams that have outscored their opponents 214 to 44. Bangor won its third contest easily, 31-19, against a Catasauqua team that easily handled the Crusaders—the consensus #3 preseason team. Second-year Head Coach Donnie Hawk had tremendous success as an assistant at Pen Argyl and needs to be given an opportunity. If Bangor beats Salisbury Friday, they could jump as high as 4th place in both the Colonial League and District XI standings. It is FAR too early to make assumptions or outlandish statements about the Slaters’ program.

Myth #3: “Boy, Where Did This Saucon Valley Team Come From?”
The smart-guy commentator might answer this by saying “Hellertown,” but in reality we should have seen the Panthers’ undefeated start to the season coming—at least to some extent.

First, Head Coach Matt Evancho is an defensive whiz and has created a number of schemes over the years to slow down even the stoutest of offenses. His win over the Spartans last Friday was legitimate and his defense did a tremendous job in frustrating some of the most talented offensive players in the league (this game is available to watch on RCN On-Demand right now).

Secondly, Saucon came into this season with a ton of momentum, winning its last four games last fall and being one of the few teams in the region to win its final playoff game (an Eastern Conference Division-3 title) last November.

If there was any surprise to this team, it’s the rapid overall development of its younger players. An accomplished running quarterback one year ago (and another 225 rushing yards so far this season), junior Zach Thatcher has become an equally lethal throwing option, passing for 370 yards with a ridiculously good eight touchdowns to just one pick. The dearth of underclass talent doesn’t stop there, with Mike Kane, Evan Culver, Devin Fontanez and Mike Paolini among a number of skilled-position players. Many fans (and media members) assumed the Northwestern/Southern Lehigh matchup in October would be the only game needed to decide who’s winning this year’s Colonial League title. But the Panthers have forced high school football fans to pay more attention to them this fall, and their upcoming games against the Bombers, Tigers and Pirates will be factors in determining this year’s champion.

What are some of the other surprising facts about this current fall sports season? What other teams and players do you feel are flying under the radar? Email you comments to us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us each Thursday live from 6-7 pm to talk about local issues.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Four Teams to Watch: Colonial League

Recently we discussed four East Penn Conference squads with interesting storylines to follow this fall. Today we look at some of the Colonial League teams to follow this football season.

NORTHWESTERN
A friend of mine who covers the Tigers told me in the summer of 2013 that the Northwestern football team had some really good talent, but that they were probably a year away from “making some noise” (aka. being considered one of the league’s top teams). He called me back last October and said he underestimated those kids and proclaimed them ready for prime time. Two weeks later they became the only Colonial League team in two years to beat Catasauqua in a regular season match-up.

Most of those same players who pulled off that monumental win against the Rough Riders have returned, and very few people who have seen them so far this year have been anywhere close to disappointed by their performance in this young season.

Individually, they have some amazingly talented players littering the roster. Among them are Cam Richardson (2 TDs against Bangor), Frank D’Angello (3-6 passing for 52 yards and a touchdown), Dylan Snyder (interception returned for a touchdown) and Harry Hall (also scored two touchdowns vs. Slaters).

The biggest general comment about the entire squad is the overall team speed. It’s going to be hard for any team to play a ‘shoot-out’ game with them, but former sports writer Bruce Buratti made a great observation on last week’s “RCN SportsTalk” show. Bruce pointed out that the weather conditions on a grass surface might be the only thing to stand in their way of winning a 2A District Championship. If the Tigers have to play a quality opponent in a rain-soaked game on a muddy surface, it might be their greatest weakness. But even then you’re talking about a number of “what ifs” that would have to happen, and it seems pretty clear after two impressive showings so far this year, that the Tigers are in great shape to win one—if not two—titles this fall.

SOUTHERN LEHIGH
Excuse me for 10 seconds while I play a few notes on my own horn. A few years ago and despite naysayers, I predicted Southern Lehigh would bounce back from an 0-3 start to win at least seven more games and reach the playoffs—they responded by winning eight games and a playoff contest. Last year on “SportsTalk’s” high school football preview show, I said the Spartans would win at least one championship. I was unanimously told by the experts on that show’s panel that I was wrong—only to see Southern Lehigh get within a half-a-yard of winning TWO titles. This year, I think they have the ability to go one step further. I think Southern Lehigh fans should believe they have a reasonable chance of winning the 3A District Championship.

(“What was that?” shouts the Becahi contingent. “What about the Golden Hawks?”)

Yes, I am aware the Spartans are in the same classification as Bethlehem Catholic—a team I recently predicted would go undefeated during their EPC schedule. And I am fully aware that, because of the new league alignments, the Hawks will probably hold the number-one seed and have home field advantage through districts. I also realized that the Spartans are without their star defensive player, and one of the area’s top middle linebackers from a year ago. But I was very impressed by quarterback Travis Edmond’s ability to run the offense and to pass the ball last season. They also return key players on the D-line and in the secondary, and I think the new players will be able to improve and gain experience as the year goes on (a huge test will be October 10th when they face Northwestern). I was also impressed by the way Solehi hung with the Hawks last year, after falling behind 14-0 (nearly 21-0) early in the title game and persevered to push the game into overtime. They’ve been scrimmaging against larger schools and their kids have an idea of what it takes to be successful on bigger stages and with higher stakes. On paper Becahi is still the best team in the division, but I see no reason why Spartans’ faithful should expect anything less than a district championship in the near future.

SAUCON VALLEY
Some football fans may forget, but Saucon Valley is also coming off a championship season, in which they captured the Eastern Conference Division-3 title. They won their final four games in a 9-3 season last fall, but have to fill the shoes of last year’s Express-Times player of the year — Nick Savant, who rushed for a school record 2-thousand plus yards and 28 touchdowns. There was also some pre-season concern how the teachers’ contract-situation might affect the athletes, which the players have appeared to put behind them. While the Panthers have a number of juniors and seniors on the varsity roster, they didn’t come into the season with a wealth of playing experience—especially on offense. However, first year starting quarterback Zach Thatcher is coming off an ultra-impressive game over Northern Lehigh (8-9 passing for 132 yards and 4 touchdowns, plus 63 yards rushing) and the Panther flat-out dominated the Bulldogs in every aspect last Friday. While the rivalry is not as publicized as an Easton/P’burg or Liberty/Freedom battle, there is no love-loss between Saucon and Southern Lehigh. Only one of these two 2-0 teams will remain in first place as they square off against each other Friday (10pm, RCN-TV).

As for the fourth team to watch…?

Wow. This is a tough one. Coming into this past weekend, I was expecting both Pen Argyl and Notre Dame to bounce back with a “W” and keep themselves right in the middle of the huge conglomerate of solid teams. However, not only did both the Knights and the Crusaders lose a second game last Friday (the season is still young), but a few teams really pushed themselves into the spotlight and have caught people’s attention. Everyone was counting out Catasauqua after they graduated nearly every starting player from a season ago, but the Rough Riders posted an impressive win Friday. Palmerton was a team no one was talking about in August, and now they’re undefeated through two weeks. Both Bangor and Palisades scored an impressive win each, and don’t forget about Northern Lehigh looking very strong in their week one victory. Even some of the teams that are 0-2 have had some good moments. So who is the next best team in the Colonial League this fall? I may have to leave that to you, the reader, and of course, the teams themselves, to figure that out.

What Colonial League teams do you think will step-up and remain in the upper half of the standings after this weekend? Who are some of the league’s top athletes and who are some younger players to watch? Send your opinions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com or post a comment below and tune in to “RCN SportsTalk” every Thursday night at 6pm on RCN-TV.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: A Non-Football Sports Event This Weekend

While high school football is now in full swing and the Philadelphia Eagles—and the NFL—will be kicking off its season, there’s a rather important non-football event taking place within the RCN viewing area. The 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship will be held at the Saucon Valley Country Club in Hellertown.

Here are some golf experts’ thoughts on the course, SVCG’s history of big-time events and thoughts on this year’s tournament.

Just for the record, these guys know their golf. Gene Marrate is the General Manager and Director of Golf Operations at Saucon Valley Country Club. Robin McCool is not only SVCG’s Greens Committee Chairman, but a 15-time USGA Champion Qualifier, 7-time U.S. Mid-Amateur participant and a 10-time champ at SVCG. Both are in the Lehigh Valley Golf Hall of Fame. Barry Treadwell is the Mid-Am Chairperson and has accepted a massive undertaking in handling the challenging role of operations at the national Mid-Amateur Championship which is spread out over two courses. When they say this event is going to be unlike most golf tournaments many have ever seen, you can believe it to be true.

But this is not the first time that Saucon Valley has gained national attention. Here are some of the country club’s highlighted events, which include bringing in huge names in the world of golf like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Paula Cramer to name a few:

1951 US Amateur Championship
1983 US Jr. Amateur Championship
1987 US Sr. Amateur Championship
1992 US Sr. Open Championship
2000 US Sr. Open Championship
2009 US Women’s Open Championship
2014 US Mid-Amateur Championship

As for this year’s amateur event, there’s one big enticement for people who want to see some high-quality golf action…and to be right up-close-and-personal with some of the country’s best golfers:

This year’s event is absolutely free.

There is no charge for any of this year’s action, which gives you a golden opportunity to walk around one of the most majestic golf courses and country clubs, and for free, experience a world-class event within a short drive for many Lehigh Valley residents. The Championship actually starts September 4-5 when you can watch the golfers participate in practice rounds. Then the action kicks into high gear on September 6 with the first round. Here is the championship’s schedule and which courses will be used:

Sept. 6 & 7 – Stroke Play Rounds (The “Old Course” & Weyhill)
Sept. 8, 9 & 10 – Match Play Rounds (Old Course)
Sept. 11 – 36-hole Final (Old Course)

High school football will be in full swing again this weekend, but if you want to take a quick break from the pigskin action and check out something unique to this area, check out this major sports event happening at Saucon Valley.

What events will you be watching this weekend? Have you experienced one of the major golf tournaments at a course in the Eastern Pennsylvania region? Post your golfing thoughts on our site or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com.

 

 

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: Anti-Poll Halftime Standings

 

“Anti-Poll Halftime Standings”

Hard to believe, but we’ve already reached the midway point in the high school football regular season. It’s time for our mid-term grades for the RCN Football “Anti-Poll.”

Before I give you my observations, we’ll first take a look back at some of the teams we’ve featured this fall on RCN Sports Talk, and let the coaches and players give you their insights on their respective teams.

Now, here’s my take on the teams in the RCN Eastern Pennsylvania coverage area I’ve had the pleasure of viewing in person, plus some views uncovered from my contacts throughout the region.

Grade: A
Imhotep, Garnet Valley, Penncrest, and Catasauqua
Footballstories Editor/Publisher Al Thompson pointed out on last week’s RCN Sports Talk that, at that time, no AAAA team in our viewing area was in the “Top 100” national polls this year. However, that doesn’t mean we haven’t had our share of dominant football teams. Expect to see all of these teams in the PIAA playoffs. Imhotep fans might be inclined to go ahead and buy tickets to the state title game. In the Lehigh Valley, the Rough Riders continue to roll. Their offense seems to be able to score on anyone, at any time, and in a variety of ways. The word is that their defense must improve if they want to advance to the state finals, which would mean they’d have to find a way to stop the powerful Imhotep offense. I’ll find out for myself when I get my first look at the Rough Riders when I announce their game against Pen Argyl next Friday night, October 11, on RCN TV.

Grade: B+
Bethlehem Catholic, Easton, Emmaus, LaSalle, Parkland, Ridley, Whitehall, and Upper Darby
Emmaus and Parkland have a ton of momentum right now. They are both coming off wins against the Rovers and Zephyrs, respectively. One could argue that the Hornets had the best chance of any of these teams to be undefeated at this point. Both of their losses came late in the game due to strange plays. Parkland’s Kareem Williams might just be the most dynamic running back in the Lehigh Valley, which is saying something because I’m a big Shane Simpson fan. I was impressed how Whitehall was able to run the ball against the Trojans. The passing game looked good late, although by that point, Parkland was mostly in a “prevent” defense. They must have some other offensive weapons develop consistency to make a deep run in the postseason.

Bethlehem Catholic’s only loss was an impressive showing against the Rovers a few weeks ago. They can make a major statement with a win this Friday against Whitehall (watch this game live on RCN TV at 7:00 PM). LaSalle, Upper Darby and Ridley all suffered tough losses to very good teams early. However, they have bounced back and remain very much in the hunt for a district playoff spot.

And Easton? You can find out for yourself how they are doing by watching RCN Sports Talk this Thursday, October 3, live at 6:00 PM on RCN TV. Head Coach Steve Shiffert and his players will be my guests on the show. Feel free to email your comments and questions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com now and we’ll read and respond to your messages live on the air!

Grade: B
Southern Lehigh, Saucon Valley, Pen Argyl, Notre Dame, Northwestern, and Palisades
These teams have all played well and will most likely continue to do so. It will be difficult for any of these teams to vie for the Colonial League crown if Catty doesn’t get tripped up at some point. However, any of these teams could do damage in the district playoffs, as Pen Argyl proved last year. We’ll be focusing more on these teams on RCN Sports Talk on our October 10 and October 17 shows.

Grade: C
Nazareth, Liberty, Central Catholic, Palmerton, and Pius
Liberty and Nazareth have some major questions that they have to answer in a hurry to make the district playoffs. Don’t forget, at least two teams from up north must qualify for the District 2/4/11 Sub-Regional Playoffs. With both of these teams already having at least two losses, they can’t afford another “L” with half of their schedule yet to play.

Central Catholic is coming off a victory against Northampton. They have some major challenges coming up on their schedule, and are not locks to make Districts this year. Remember that Central refused a bid to play in the Eastern Conference playoffs several years ago. It will be interesting to see if the Vikings play ANY post-season games this year after several seasons of reaching the PIAA semifinals or better.

Palmerton played well but lost an offensive struggle to Palisades last weekend. A good effort against the Tigers this weekend can push them back into the top half of the Colonial League standings. Pius is coming off a solid win over Towanda, and can move back to .500 with a win against Wyalusing Valley Friday.

Special Award
Dieruff
I said after their first win that the Huskies are already the feel-good story of this fall season. Going five years without beating anyone other than their ASD rival, Allen, had not been fun. The entire Lehigh Valley football community was genuinely happy for those kids to get that first “W” after Week Two. The fact that their success on the field has continued has proven that they have exceeded everyone’s expectations — except, perhaps, themselves. Based on what they’ve overcome, I have to give them a weighted ‘A+.’ I’m looking for even more positive news coming out of Dieruff High School going forward.

What are your thoughts and observations on the first half of the high school football season? Which teams will have the best “Second Half?” Post your comments here and tune in to talk high school sports every Thursday at 6:00 PM on RCN SportsTalk, live on RCN TV.