Welcome Back to the 2018-2019 Edition of the Northeast Beat.
As I started highlighting this weekend’s opening match-ups and news around District 2 boys’ and girls’ basketball, my attention got re-directed to this evening’s ESPN coverage of the Jimmy V. Foundation for cancer research. Not sure how many times I’ve seen that oh-so-powerful speech. For me, it never gets old or cliché. “Laugh, Think, and Cry every day”. “Don’t Give Up, Don’t Ever Give Up.” Wise words for sure. And when that dreaded disease strikes a member of your own family, well, it immediately lifts those inspirational words to an entirely new level of meaning and action. While there have been many amazing medical advances, so much more research needs to be funded. The fight goes on.
In the weeks leading up to every hoops season, one thing I could always count on – besides a few missing hoops schedules – was an email from Jerry Shenk to say hello and get my thoughts on which District 2 teams could make a splash on the statewide stage. I always replied with a smile on my face because I knew the reality – that it was rare for any local teams to make it into his highly respected, weekly PA statewide hoops rankings. Jerry rated all teams, all classes (public and private) into one amazing Top 20. There was always some debate here and there, but his credibility, dubbed as the “guru of PA high school basketball” was firmly-established. Jerry was old-school and had hoops coverage roots back to his days publishing the Middle Atlantic Sports News. Debates with Jerry were spirited on sports forums like Pennsylvania SportsBoard (PSB), not Twitter. And in what must have been one his proudest hoops memories, he got to see his beloved Reading Red Knights win hoops gold two years ago. Sadly, Jerry passed away at the end of July. His passion and historical knowledge of the game will be missed.
The District 2 exhibition season gets underway Friday night with 23 boys’ and girls’ tilts to be played across the area. There are also 14 Tip-Off tourneys taking place throughout the state involving another 27 hoops teams (including Williamsport, a District 4 squad which competes through the 6A District 2/4 sub-regional). As we see each year, there is a ton of motivation and optimism at all 42 Wyoming Valley Conference and Lackawanna League member schools. Last season was one of the most amazing (and unusual) campaigns seen in many years. From the incredible Boys’ 5A state title championship run by Abington Heights, to the oh-so-close finishes by Hazleton Area, Holy Cross, and Dunmore girls’ squad – to the snow-delayed games and player transfer controversies, last season had it all. But now it’s time for players and coaches to focus on the 2018-2019 season. Many of the perennial top-rated teams are back, every bit as strong, while a few others are replacing critical pieces of their lineup and will be using the December exhibition games to prepare for league play and beyond. Speaking of league play, the Wyoming Valley Conference will now play a pair of December games in order to consolidate play just a bit to fit in the brand new WVC Championship Tourney. More details on that event as the season develops, but the four-team bracket will include the 3 division champs plus the next highest power rated team. And fans – don’t panic – losses at this point of the season, especially for those with challenging schedules, are learning opportunities that deliver results come March.
Abington Heights, a team that survived the proverbial “kisses of death” last year on the Bethlehem Freedom court and finally reached Hershey gold last season, returns a core nucleus of that lineup, led by George Tinsley, Jack Nealon, Corey Perkins, and Trey Koehler. This season, Comets’ will need time to develop their brand of on-court chemistry which often drives their tremendous success. But with 774-career winner head coach Ken Bianchi on the sidelines once again, it should be another fun season in the Summit. They tip-off at home against perennial District 11 contender Pocono Mountain West Friday night. A pair of teams which return virtually all of the firepower from last year include Nanticoke Area and Valley View. Really looking forward to seeing these teams battle in league play throughout the year. The Trojans host North Pocono Friday night and Old Forge Monday. Valley View heads to play an improved Lakeland squad Friday before visiting Mid Valley on Monday. Scranton Prep, a team which seems to reload every year, will once again be right in the mix and hungry for a title. The Cavaliers have one of the top district playmakers in Leo O’Boyle (6-8, senior, forward). Prep hosts always-tough Wilkes-Barre Meyers Friday night. Crestwood should once-again be in the WVC Division 1 race. The Comets visit Scranton Friday night before hosting a very highly-regarded Wyoming Seminary squad at home Monday night. That should be an entertaining match-up. In the Lackawanna League, hopes are sky-high at Holy Cross, Susquehanna Community, and Western Wayne. The full schedule of all games can be found on a separate NEP post.
There is also plenty of tourney action taking place this weekend. In Berwick, fans can get a good look at Wyoming Seminary as the Blue Knights join Selinsgrove, East Stroudsburg South, and the always-tough home Bulldogs at the Joseph Nespoli event. West Scranton and Honesdale will clash in a terrific semi-final tilt at the Carbondale Finan Tournament. Williamsport once again takes part in the York Tourney. The Millionaires take on Reading in the opening round. Wallenpaupack, one of those teams which appears headed for a successful season, tips off at the Lake Region Tip-Off Tourney against East Stroudsburg North. Blue Ridge and Susquehanna open up at the two-day Susquehanna-Bradford County Challenge. Hazleton Area, minus a quartet of scoring and height, does return the always-exciting Da’Mir Faison. The Cougars take part in the prestigious Erie McDowell Tourney playing the host Trojans before a match-up against with either Lower Merion or Allderdice. Northwest Area travels to Tri-Valley as the talented Rangers take on Mount Carmel Area Friday night.
On the girls’ side, Friday night features a trio of terrific games. Dunmore, one of the premier teams in the entire district, features plenty of talent returning, including seniors Lisa Tallo, Gianna Delfino, and 6-1 center Victoria Toomey. They host perennial state contender Mount Carmel. Holy Cross, minus standout Lexi Walsh, does return plenty of firepower. The Crusades host Scranton. The Lady Knights bring a tall inside game into the season once again. Susquehanna Community, featuring a mature, experienced, and talented lineup takes on Wyoming Area. The Lady Warriors have established a winning tradition but have some big shoes to fill after graduating 4-year starter Sarah Holweg. On Saturday, Nanticoke Area visits North Schuylkill. The Trojanettes must replace a sizable chunk of their scoring, but they look to find success once again. Also Saturday, Scranton Prep entertains Boyertown who is from uber-competitive District 1.
In Girls’ Tourney action, Hazleton Area hosts the Lady Cougar Tip Off event with Lake-Lehman, Williamsport and Bethlehem Liberty. Northwest Area takes on Muncy in the Muncy Rotary Tourney. Wallenpaupack hosts the Lake Region Tip-Off with Carbondale, Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg North. Abington Heights ventures to a participate in the challenging Souderton Tip-Off Tourney. The Lady Comets open up against perennial powerhouse Saint Basil Academy on Friday night. Wyoming Valley West again hosts a great tip-off event with Dallas, Honesdale, and West Scranton.
And finally, a word about rankings. As has been our policy (and to be as fair as possible to players and coaches), District 2 Top 10 Ratings, are not published until January 1. We’ll leave such pre-season stuff to the experts.
Enjoy the games, drive safely, and be sure to stop back throughout the weekend for more updates.
See you in the bleachers !