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The SportsTalk Shop: State Basketball Preview 2014

March 6, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

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.

http://youtu.be/g7ESdylhXQs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The SportsTalk Shop: District Basketball Playoff Thoughts

February 24, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTRE DAME
No boys’ basketball team in the Lehigh Valley, with the exception of Central Catholic, comes into the postseason with more consecutive wins. I was promoting Tannor Reed for a Colonial League MVP award when we did their game against Salisbury in January, and he has truly carried this team through their ups-and-downs this year. With the 6’8” Vincent Eze back and doing so many things well at both ends of the floor, this team looks nearly unbeatable against most teams in Eastern Pennsylvania. They also have the momentum following their thrilling buzzer-beating win in the Colonial League championship.
http://youtu.be/AjV6O-yqFS8

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

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

 

The SportsTalk Shop: District Wrestling Individuals Preview

February 17, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

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

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

http://youtu.be/fdFTxOYaWrs

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

http://youtu.be/pJZRz1WPRSY

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

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

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

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

http://youtu.be/y1-t662w04Y

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

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies Spring Training Preview

February 10, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

As I gaze out my window at the freshly fallen snow for the gazillionth time this winter (and the extra two feet of the white stuff the plow truck deposited in front of my driveway), I realized it’s time to get ready for the opening of Major League Baseball’s spring training this week.

For Phillies fans, it will be a busy, yet not-quite-fulfilling spring session, given the lack of big-name moves during the offseason. In fact, there are more questions than in any of the last seven pre-seasons, which were met with much more optimism when compared to this year. Nevertheless, several key issues stand out as items to focus on for this year’s Spring Training if the “Phightin’ Phils” are going to have any shot at challenging for a post-season berth. Here’s four things that you MUST pay attention to as camp gets rolling.

THE VETS MUST BRING IT–AND STAY HEALTHY.
There’s simply no two ways around this one. Ruben Amaro, Jr. has used this as his excuse, er, reasoning, behind all the moves they’ve made since last summer. Guys like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz and other “over-35” players must defy human nature and play better than they did the past two years, even given their advanced age (in baseball terms, of course). The mantra of “these guys we’re paying $20-million to play baseball have to produce for us” that Amaro and Co. have repeated this winter is the foundation of whatever the team hopes to achieve this year. Any sign of a major injury, continued decline or even just a status-quo performance by any of the established players could mean doom for the ball club before the season even starts.

WILL SANDBERG BE ABLE TO CONNECT TO THE VETERANS — LONG-TERM?
After watching Ryne Sandberg manage ball players for two full seasons at the Triple-A level, I can tell you that his style is completely different from Charlie Manuel. He loves to hit-and-run, have his players hit behind runners, bunt the winning run into scoring position, steal a base–at appropriate times–and really likes the game played the way it should be played. Trying to convince some of his dyed-in-the-wool veterans to do so will be a much more arduous task. Manuel thought he had explained the importance of hustling to Rollins, only to have to bench him on several occasions for simply forgetting to play at 100%. John Mayberry Jr., provided he gets on base, should utilize his God-given speed and try to pilfer a base once-a-season. It will be interesting to see if all the players buy in to his fundamentally sound brand of baseball…and what he’ll do when, inevitably, a player doesn’t follow through.

WHO IS THIS MIGUEL ALFREDO GONZALEZ GUY ANYWAY?
After the initial ESPN-reported signing offer of five years, $48-million fell through, the Phillies signed Gonzalez to a $12-million pact over three seasons. At that time, MAG was unofficially slated to be the number-three pitcher behind Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Amaro has slowly backed off his expectations so much that is sounds like Gonzalez is not even a guarantee to be in the team’s starting rotation. Sandberg has referred to him as the “mystery man” and almost everyone in the organization admits they have never seen him pitch nor have any idea what to expect from him. Here lies your hopes of a solid pitching staff. Through experience, you cannot expect Kyle Kendrick to be consistently relied on for anything more than a number-four starter. One must dream of a week without snow in Eastern Pennsylvania as a more realistic hope than thinking Roberto Hernandez, Jonathon Pettibone or even Chad Gaudin will be anything remotely close to what the Phillies had in previous year’s “Number-3” guy, Roy Halladay. I will probably be wrong, but I keep holding out hope the Phillies do make a run for A.J. Burnett, Ervin Santana or one of the few remaining quality starters available to try to add SOME consistency to this rotation. If they don’t, Gonzalez will be the single most-watched pitcher in camp, and anything short of a performance that solidifies him as a middle-of-the-rotation guy this spring will be a huge disaster for the Phillies.

WHEN WILL ‘PAP’ MELT DOWN?
Notice I did not say “if” Jonathon Papelbon melts down. It’s simply in his track record of sounding off and creating havoc in the clubhouse when things are not going well. If the Phillies gets off to a bad start in spring training, it could happen sooner rather than later. The Phillies themselves were so convinced of this distraction that they tried to give him away to any team with the need/payroll/ space/patience to acquire him…yet found no takers. Remember, with this young, inexperienced core of relievers joining him in the bullpen this year, it will be pivotal for “Pap” to provide some leadership for the young arms…something that will not happen if the Phillies closer is unhappy. Several of the beat writers have told me that he was a major distraction during 2013 (and his famous line “I didn’t come here for this” would only support their claims) and he will continue to be one in the likely event that all of the above things don’t go absolutely right for this team out of the gate.

Am I being too pessimistic about the 2014 Phillies? What are your thoughts on my “big four” items to watch for this spring training? What other players and issues should we be focused on for the next six weeks…and beyond? Post your comments here on our blog or email your comments and questions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and keep watching future editions of our Thursday “RCN SportsTalk” program, live each week at 6pm, as we start to focus in on the Phillies as the regular season draws near.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Winter Sports ’14 Highlights

February 3, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

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

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

Some other local sports highlights include:

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

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

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

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

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

 

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Hoops Mid-Term Report

January 27, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

After “thanking” Mother Nature for cancelling so many winter sports activities and wreaking havoc on everyone’s schedule, I want to give my take on the high school basketball teams that I have had a chance to observe so far this season. Despite an erratic schedule (many HS teams are now playing more games per week than the NBA), I have seen some standout performances on the boys side (a look at some of the girls teams coming next week). Here are a few of my comments on the teams that I have seen, along with highlights of teams featured on our RCN game broadcasts.

CENTRAL CATHOLIC
They clearly are the cream of the crop this year in the Lehigh Valley, and are predicted to be one of the top teams in the state. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman continues to improve despite some very intelligent head coaches continuing to try new defenses to slow him down with very little success. The addition of Brendan Wagner at center allows Jean Lee Baez to become as cumbersome a “4-player” as there is to defend, creating matchup problems for just about everyone in the league. Their role players are smart, play solid defense and are capable of stepping up in big moments. I see no reason (and a few of my colleagues outside of the Lehigh Valley agree) that this team can’t play deep in the state playoffs and perhaps win it all.

EASTON
At the midway point, the Rovers are right at the .500 mark this season, which I think is a nice accomplishment for this team. Easton lost several key people to graduation, they had a tremendous athlete in Shane Simpson trying to get back in the mix after a lost-2013 basketball season, and a brand new head coach. Given all the school closing days, which not only creates a backload of games but also cuts into a new team’s practice opportunities, I thought a 7-7 start was a solid opening six weeks for them. I am also very impressed with new Head Coach Ben Childs and believe he can have long-standing success with the Rovers over time. I saw Easton make a tremendous effort against Central Catholic (highlights below) and, if they’d converted a few more opportunities close to the bucket, would have made for a much tighter finish. Assuming Easton qualifies for the district playoffs, they could have scoring potential from both the inside and the perimeter and could advance in the district post-season.

BETHLEHEM CATHOLIC
I met Mike Frew several year ago when he took over the Pen Argyl job and was very impressed by his desire to base his team on defense and really stress its importance to his players. Now, after establishing that philosophy with Becahi, he’s ready to take the program to the next level. The Golden Hawks have some of the most athletic players in the area, headlined by Freddie Simmons Jr. and Jamal Aziz. Becahi, much like its football team, has some incredibly determined upperclassmen looking to make a statement this year. I think Central Catholic is a tough matchup for them, especially if they don’t have everyone healthy. But don’t forget, you don’t have to win the district to advance into the state playoffs, and I think the Hawks have a great chance at winning at least one PIAA game this season.

WHITEHALL
First of all, I have to give props to the Express-Times’ Bruce Buratti for picking the Zephyrs as one of the top ten teams in the area in his preseason poll. Most people—back in early December—what he ranked them too high. However, with talented returning players like Aaron Keglovits, Brett Radocha, Jacob Meyers, Matt Melosky, Chad Rex and Saquon Barkley on the roster, we should have seen Whitehall’s big victories coming this winter. They’ve also lost a couple games I thought they would have a chance to win. I think the Zephyrs’ experience will come up big in the post-season and could make them a team to watch in February.

LIBERTY
One of the great attributes of Liberty Head Coach Chad Landis is that he gets his team to play its best basketball as they enter the postseason. There is no magic formula for this, nor has any coach in my career been able to give me a certified formula to make this happen. The Hurricanes have won more LVC titles than any other team, and, when you add in the talent on this year’s squad, you have to consider them a dangerous playoff team. Last year I identified DeShawn Oyeniyi as my favorite post player in the LVC and he’s done nothing in 2014 to detract from that. I think Darius Jones anchors some solid guard play, and K. J. Williams continues to be one of the best athletes in the area. I don’t think they’ll be too many 4A teams that will WANT to play the Canes in the postseason.

BANGOR
I had a chance to talk with Bangor guard Shane Reider a few months back and was very impressed by him and the “team-first” attitude that permeates through their program. I’ve heard many good reports on how unselfish the players are, with multiple people telling me the Slater kids would probably run through a cement wall if Head Coach Bron Holland ask them to. They have great balance offensively and kids who play smart on defense. I don’t know if this team is as deep nor has the size of their Colonial League championship squad from a year ago. I certainly like the direction the program is going. The players no longer get rattled in key situations, and they seem to excel now when the pressure is on. They will be one of the league favorites come playoff time. It may not be this year, but sometime soon Bangor is going to take the next step—win a district playoff game—despite being one of the smallest 4A schools in the eastern Pennsylvania.

WILSON
Before we talk about the Warriors’ play this winter, a big tip-of-the-cap to Head Coach Bob Frankenfield, his players, the cheerleaders and then entire Wilson community for organizing a fund raiser recently to benefit the American Heart Association and raise over $2100 at an event. They’ll have another charity event coming up soon (please contact Wilson HS for more details). Coach Frankenfield is truly one of the class guys in the area and cares so much about his program and his community.

Now, on-the-court. The Warriors boast one of the top centers in the area in Phil Pierfy, who certainly commands a ton of attention from opposing team’s defenses. However, I think they have some nice players around him in Tyler King, Dakota Bogoly, Jeff Cooper, Jonathon Citron, Jahid Beamon and A.J. Raso. At least two of those players must step-up on any given night to help provide some offense, but I liked their tenacity on defense and seemed to have fun playing when I saw them against Bangor. I think they have to work on cutting down on turnovers and continue to be aggressive in taking the ball to the basket, but Wilson can most definitely be a player in the league playoffs.
http://youtu.be/dS5k8YBQ2LE

Remember, I haven’t seen Parkland, Emmaus, Southern Lehigh, Salisbury and a few other top teams in our viewing area as of yet (although I did give the Falcons a “shout-out” on last week’s “RCN SportsTalk” show for a very underrated first half). I would appreciate your feedback on the teams that you have seen. Who do you feel are the other top teams in the LVC, MVC and the Colonial League? Which teams have the best chance of winning league and district championships this winter?

Post your opinions below, email us (rcnsportstalk@rcn.com) and tune in to RCN-TV each Thursday from 6-7 pm as we continue to breakdown the local winter sports action and preview the Super Bowl on our show the next two weeks.

The SportsTalk Shop: Eagles Season Recap

January 13, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

One of my pet peeves in the sports broadcasting industry is commentators who make dozens of ridiculous predictions each sports season for the sole purpose of claiming “victory” once one of his/her inane insights happen to come true. These same people will quietly forget or ignore the other, incorrect guesses they made in an effort to make themselves look smarter than they may actually be.

We made our own predictions on an Eagles preview edition of RCN SportsTalk and, in the interest of full disclosure, I went back to see how we did. Here’s the good…and the bad…predictions we made about the Eagles 2013 season, keeping in mind these were made by our panelists and myself several weeks prior to the start of the season.

Preseason prediction #1: The Eagles will end the year with a .500 record or better.
When the team started the year 1-3 and their defense had more holes than Gruyére Swiss, this prediction wasn’t looking too solid. Even when the Eagles lost to the Giants—giving New York their first win of the season—not many people thought this team would break even record-wise, led alone win the division. Between fate (you couldn’t have ask for more opposing teams’ number-one players to go down with injuries), an improved defensive scheme, and an offense that learned to trust new starting quarterback Nick Foles, the team won seven of its last eight games. Despite a frustrating loss to the Saints in the first round of the playoffs, this year’s 10-7 season was a success and built a solid foundation for 2014.

Preseason prediction #2: Michael Vick will start 10-12 games this year.
WRONG! Not one of us on the panel thought that Vick had the slightest chance to go the entire season without missing at least a few games due to injury and/or ineffectiveness. However, Vick went down with debilitating injuries early and often and Nick Foles took full advantage of the increased playing time, turning in a performance for the record books. For a time, he had the highest quarterback passer rating in the HISTORY of the game. Despite a lackluster finish, he ended the year third on the all-time list sandwiched by future Hall of Famers Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Foles’ rapid ascension to the starting quarterback spot made Vick—even after recovering from injuries–an afterthought by season’s end.

Preseason prediction #3: Nick Foles will finish the year as the starting quarterback.
Correct—but….
Most of our panel believed that Foles would eventually win the job anyway, or he’s be the last QB standing by default. Matt Barkley never did anything to indicate that he would be a signal-caller to run this offense in training camp, and the limited times we saw him during the season suggests he’ll only return next year as a third-stringer at best. I know people don’t want to hear any possibility that Foles DOESN’T return as the starter next year, and I still highly doubt that the team will seriously look to move him. However, there’s a few well-respected Eagles’ journalists that I’ve spoken with that insist the team will at least venture into the possibility of “selling high” and getting a bundle in return for him—or at least, ASKING for a king’s ransom, and keeping Foles if no team bites.

Preseason prediction #4: Mychal Kendricks will emerge as a star.
This prediction came true very early in the season as the second-year, 23-year-old out of California established himself as the top-notch middle linebacker this team has sorely needed since the first departure of Jeremiah Trotter. But what we didn’t foresee back in early August was the way the players around Kendricks would step up their games. Connor Barwin also become a force on defense for the Eagles, disrupting passing lanes and rarely allowing a ball carrier to break free in his territory. By season’s end, Trent Cole looked extremely comfortable after adjusting to his “hybrid” position in the Eagles new 3-4 alignment. Really, there weren’t too many weaknesses in this defense overall—with the exception of depth, especially at outside linebacker and safety. Improving on the core with Kendricks at the center of it all will be the Eagles number one priority this offseason. Adding bigger, taller and stronger players into the fold was a focus of Chip Kelly’s post-season analysis and will be the main mission of the front office this offseason.

Preseason prediction #5: Jeremy Maclin will return next year.
At the time this prediction was made and contrary to many other players like him in the last year of a contract, Maclin had made the classy decision to NOT sit-out of training camp. Perceived as a critical piece of the puzzle in Kelly’s new offense, Maclin participated in preseason drills for the betterment of the team, only to tear his ACL, and lose all negotiating leverage he had when trying to extend his contract.

This will be a key issue for the team to address in the coming months. With the emergence of Riley Cooper as a solid number two receiver (despite that dropped pass over the middle in the Saints game), and another steady season by slot receiver Jason Avant, it appears that Maclin will not have a place on next year’s team. The Eagles have dropped the public relations ball on previous players who gave their heart-and-soul to the team (i.e., Reggie Brown, Brian Dawkins) only to be spurned a respectable offer to return. I know Maclin is not in that group’s class of all-time greats, but if the team is truly looking to embark on a new year, it should bite a small financial bullet and bring Jeremy back. It still remains to be seen if one of the top-skilled position players from a year ago will be back this fall.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the Eagles season and on what steps the team needs to take this offseason to further its playoff drive for next season. Post a comment below or email your sports opinions to us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in on Thursdays at 6pm for the latest local, regional and national sports conversations.

 

The Sports Talk Shop: 2013 Recap & 2014 Predictions

January 3, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

First of all, a big thank-you for all the comments, suggestions and feedback we received prior to, during and following our “Year-in-Review” edition of “RCN SportsTalk.”  It takes a good deal of time to go back through all the games, tapes, files, et al, trying to review all of the sports events covered over a twelve-month stretch.  It is extremely rewarding when our viewers call us asking in advance for the show and then let us know afterwards how much they enjoyed looking back at many memories, one last time, at the end of the calendar year.

Since it is a very busy program, we inevitably run out of time before we get through every item we hoped to address.  Here are a few of the year-end topics and my responses that didn’t make it to this year’s show, along with a few predictions for the new year. 

  •  “Most Underrated Coach in 2013.”  Northampton softball head coach Sally Whittaker-Kahan guided her team to winning its first 19 games of the season.  Led by an outstanding pitcher in Marly Laubach (no relation to RCN’s own Gary), they entered the league playoffs as the number-one team.  Despite a semifinal loss in leagues, the K-Kids bounced back to capture the District XI title.  After the season Whittaker-Kahan announced she would be stepping down due to a medical issue, ending a long run of success as a player at Parkland High School and Temple University, and finishing her coaching career on top.
  • “Biggest Challenge Overcome in 2013.”  The Allen girls and boys basketball teams each had major hurdles they had to overcome in 2013.  The girls team found themselves without a coach, and retired head coach Tom Gallagher came on board late in the offseason.  The Lady Canaries did not have high expectations nor returned many players from the previous year.   Gallagher gave the program a huge lift by agreeing to take over in a very tough situation.  Boys’ head coach Doug Snyder had to deal with several players leaving the team for various reasons throughout the 2013 season and still found a way to make the district playoffs.  They lost more players prior to the start of this current season – not all of their losses due to graduation.  But between Snyder’s coaching and the outstanding players that remain with the program, I am sure the Canaries will once again be a force in 2014.
  • “Top Underclassman for a Team We Saw on RCN.”  To be honest, I had a tie between Liberty’s Doug Erney and Nazareth’s Justin Albert.  I think both teams had some off-field issues that may or may not have affected the rest of their teams.  I feel both Erney and Albert grew into their roles as quarterbacks and showed solid decision-making ability combined with strong throwing arms.  I think both the Hurricanes and the Blue Eagles will have better records in 2014 and those two players will be a big reason why.
  • “Worst Decision Made by a Sports Personality.”  Basically every move Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. made during the last few months of the year.  He not only resigned nearly all of the aging core of players who have been underperforming over the last two seasons (with the exception of Roy Halladay, who retired), but also added older, inconsistent players (Marlon Byrd, Roberto Hernandez) via free agency.  The list of question marks for next year’s team has only grown since the season concluded, with a series of head-scratching moves and acquisitions.  Amaro needs nearly all those questions answered very positively in 2014 if the Phillies are going to have any chance at the playoffs — and to save his job.
  • “Best Sports Addition in 2013.”  Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.  I normally wish fans would give head coaches at least one year (at the professional level) to adjust to a new team and implement his/her system.   Birds fans were all over Kelly for his moves early in the season and his 1-3 start, and questions were raised if he was going to be a long-term answer to running the team.  2013 was a huge success for the Eagles and the team will be even better in 2014.  Our co-host Joe Craig’s “Stone-Cold Prediction” for 2014, if time had allowed on the show, was that the Eagles will go to the Super Bowl.
  • “Stone-Cold Lock for 2014.”  There will be much greater interest in the Dieruff football program in 2014.  While most local football experts thought a “good” season for the Huskies in 2013 would have been one or two wins, Dieruff exceeded everyone’s expectations this past year with five victories.  They almost won a sixth game, which would have qualified them for the playoffs.  The team looks to build on the success it developed in ’13 and, for the first time in quite a while, they will head into the this fall season as a team to watch.  I envision Dieruff winning more games in ‘14, thanks, in part, to the new LVC, which will grant a more lenient and stable schedule for the long-term.

We’d love to hear your responses to these topics, along with your sports predictions for 2014.  Please post your comments below and we’ll see if your predictions come true in the new year.

Don’t forget, you can see the entire show for free on RCN On-Demand by going to channel 1 or hitting the VOD button on your remote control, then click on RCN-TV, sports and then “RCN SportsTalk.”  Be sure to check out all of RCN’s local programming, along with the latest movies and special events that are offered on RCN On-Demand. 

Happy New Year everyone!

The SportsTalk Shop: 4 Observations From This HS Football Season

December 31, 2013 By Chris Michael 2 Replies

We recently wrapped up the high school football season by featuring the District XI Champion Parkland football team on “RCN SportsTalk” (the show is available for free on RCN On Demand). As we closed the books on the 2013 campaign, there were a few things that stuck out in my mind, along with an issue or two that might linger into the 2014 season.

1) This was NOT a “down year” for quarterbacks. The Lehigh Valley has been blessed with some awesome signal callers, especially in the last decade. Liberty, Whitehall, Wilson, Nazareth and a couple other schools have had multiple quarterbacks excel and move on to play at the collegiate level. With no clear “player of the year” coming into 2013, many fans thought the skill level of quarterbacks would suffer this fall. On the contrary, I saw a different type of QB quite often. Players like Doug Erney (Liberty), Jeff Charles (Whitehall), Travis Edmond (Southern Lehigh) and Justin Albert (Nazareth) were just some of the quarterbacks who grew into the area’s best in their positions. While they didn’t necessarily put up dominating rushing yards like a Brendan Nosovitch-type of player, the QBs mentioned above would often run to buy time for their receivers to get open. We also saw a slight decrease in the number of interceptions this fall, indicating smart decision-making by local passers this year. Perhaps no quarterback has more of an ‘up-side’ than Parkland’s DeVante Cross. Initially identified more as a rushing-type of back, he began to showcase a cannon of an arm and showed big-time play ability in the team’s district playoff wins over Whitehall and Easton. Most of these names return in 2014, and I’m looking forward to seeing them continue their ascension for the next season.

2) Score one for the “underdogs.” While we had a number of stars coming into this season, some of the players not expected to be in the spotlight are the players that I’ll remember the most. Becahi’s Will Ward, Whitehall’s Ryan Bonshak, Easton’s Cameron Casciole and just about everyone on Catasauqua’s line were some of my favorite players to watch this past season—not for posting gaudy offensive numbers, but for the things they did to set up the big plays. All of these players were forces on solid defensive teams and made key contributions on offense, defense and special teams. You need a key stop, a block or a turnover? These guys were the types of players who made their teams successful in 2013.

3) The Last of the One-Team Colonial League Domination. Over the last twelve seasons or so, we’ve seen one team dominate the Colonial League. First, Wilson was the clear team to beat for seven seasons. Then, Northern Lehigh, Pen Argyl and, most recently, Catasauqua took two-year turns as the clear-cut favorites. Catty was a fun team to watch, and the numbers they posted this season will stand in the record books for years. But with the Rough Riders graduating nearly their entire starting unit, I see a wide-open race for the League title next year. Teams like Palisades and Southern Lehigh took another major stride this year and found themselves in district championship games, with most players on those teams returning. Notre Dame and Northwestern, armed with up-and-coming talent, improved as the season unfolded and will look to increase their win total in ’14. Pen Argyl and Saucon Valley, each led by an outstanding group of coaches, will look to retool and be playoff contenders once again next fall. Northern Lehigh and maybe one other team that struggled this past season will look to shake things up and be much better a year from now.

4) The End of the LVC as we knew it. Regardless of whether or not the new “super-league” will keep the Lehigh Valley Conference name, there will be significant changes for 2014. There will no longer be non-conference games that coaches loved to use as a barometer to see how their team would stack up against squads from outside the area. This was the last season in which everyone in the conference will play each other. I know, in the near future, we’re going to have battles over the scheduling of games. Despite the league officers’ best efforts, it will be impossible to avoid conflicts over the crossover scheduling. For example, if Parkland ties Easton at season’s end, and one team had a more challenging schedule than the other, you know people from the “wronged” school will be unhappy. Teams that have to travel later in the year will feel slighted by other teams who made their long-distance travels during longer, warmer days earlier in the season. And good luck trying to figure out who will be the league champion with so many different variables at play. Eventually, things will work themselves out and the majority of teams will benefit thanks to the new conference. In the short term, it’s going to be an interesting 2014 school year, to say the least.

What are your memories from the past high school football season? Which players stuck out in your mind, and which teams will rise to glory next season? Post your comments on our blog and enjoy debating your points of view.

The SportsTalk Shop: Would Eagles Trade Nick Foles?

December 19, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

Would Eagles Trade Nick Foles?

I have a ton of respect for the Philadelphia Eagles beat writers. From the time I covered the team on a regular basis to the times where we are fortunate to have them on our “RCN SportsTalk” show, they always provide valuable insights on the team and on the NFL. They don’t buy in to starting wild or ridiculous rumors to try to sell their papers, nor do they start controversies just to put themselves in the news. They base their stories and opinions on solid facts and, whether you agree with their commentaries or not, they’re always thought-provoking, using logic and reliable gut instinct.

It is with this in mind that I mention comments raised by the Morning Call’s Eagles beat writer Nick Fierro on last week’s “SportsTalk” show…

At first, I was stunned at the thought of the Eagles trading arguably the most popular personality in Philadelphia right now (for the record, co-host Dennis Laub wholeheartedly agreed with him). When Nick offers his sage wisdom, I’ve learned to consider his observations and think long and hard before disagreeing with him. So let’s consider the upside to trading your starting quarterback:

• Foles’ stock will never be higher than it is right now, and he’s not likely to continue playing at this high a level going forward.

• Trading Foles now would get you two or three other quality pieces (with one being a draft pick that could be packaged in a deal to get you a new starting QB or a stud pick for another position).

• There are some quality signal callers available in the draft that might be closer to Chip Kelly’s “ideal” quarterback to run his spread offense. (Although Kelly has said publicly and repeatedly that Foles is his guy, there are indications that Foles is not the typical back to run this offense).

Would this be enough reasoning for the Eagles to trade Foles after the season? It would open the door for a possible return of Michael Vick, perhaps as a stop-gap starter and mentor to the quarterback you’d select in the draft. Even though most fans and critics have called the 2013 a success on many levels, the next few weeks might just determine what the front office decides to do with Foles and their plans going forward. One would think it’ll be harder from a PR standpoint to trade Foles if he leads the team to multiple playoff victories…or would it only enhance the value Philadelphia could get in return for him?

For the record, Nick did not say he would a proponent of trading Foles, nor did he say it was a done deal once the season concludes. But recent Eagles history indicates they’re not a team that stands pat very often, and if Kelly’s coaching style this year has taught us nothing else, it’s proven that he is not afraid to take risks.

What would you do if you were Eagles GM Howie Roseman? Would you ‘stick-with-Nick’ and make him your quarterback for the future? Or do you sell high and try to solve other issues with more proven players at other positions and take your chances on drafting a young QB? Send your comments to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com or post your views in our comments section. Have fun debating Foles’ fate in Philadelphia as the Birds look to continue Swinning games this winter.

 

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