Fast break: State runner- up Lourdes looks to continue boys’ basketball success
After run to state final, Schultz gives Lourdes reason for optimism
A two-decade-long drought came to an end in March.
Lourdes became t he first Schuylkill League boys’ basketball team to reach the PIAA state final since Schuylkill Haven in 1997.
It was a bittersweet way to end the historic title run as state powerhouse Kennedy Catholic defeated the Red Raiders 78- 36 in Hershey, and this year the Class A runner- up will miss two staples of that team in C. J. Reichard and Larry Czeponis.
Head coach James Sandri and the returning Red Raiders look to translate that state experience to success in the Schuylkill League.
“It was a great run,” Sandri said. “This past week we watched a few game films from the state tournament just to show what we did last year and what we think we might be able to do this year.”
Forward Thomas Schultz is back as the team’s anchor along with two other starters. The 6- foot- 3 senior led Lourdes in scoring last season, averaging 21.4 points per contest.
“It’s so early in the season, we just need to take it one game at a time,” Sandri said. “I don’t think anybody is going to be in front of anyone else by that much of a margin. I think it’s going to be a very tight group in division II and III.”
Lourdes may be viewed by other coaches as the team to beat in Division II, but the usual suspects stand in the way of an
overall league championship.
Blue Mountain may have the most complete team in Schuylkill County.
As is the case with every team, the Eagles lost some key pieces to graduation, including 6- foot- 7 center Jakob Biever. But, they return four seniors who look to lead Blue Mountain back to a league title.
Seniors Drew Grace, Gavin Conway and Nate Nabholz will be solid leaders, and they know how to score.
And scoring doesn’t seem to be a concern for most teams. It’s a common theme as 12 of the 18 Schuylkill League teams return their top point getters.
Pottsville is one of those teams, however, that doesn’t.
The Crimson Tide lost Ian Renninger ( 13.6) to graduation, just one example of how teams need to develop and replace key players across the league.
“We really pride ourselves on developing kids, and it always seems like we just have kids that will step up each year ,”
Pottsville head coach Dave Mullaney said. “We have eight guys who can score for us on any given night.”
Pottsville and Blue Mountain are once again the top two teams in Division I.
The Crimson Tide are no strangers to success in the top tier. They’ve reached the league championship eight years in a row, but Pottsville could be challenged this year.
Blue Mountain is regarded by several coaches as the league’s best team, but North Schuylkill, Pine Grove and Tamaqua could contend for the final league playoff berth.
“Blue Mountain is good, that’s always a good game regardless of who’s up and who’s down,” Mullaney said. “That’s our big rival. ... We think we can match up with them as well.”
One team to watch is Lehighton. The Indians return a ton of experience, including the 6- foot- 2 senior Addison Howland, who averaged 9.1 points last year.
The other side of the tale is Panther Valley and Jim Thorpe, which appear to be in rebuilding mode.
The Division I crown is not a lock, but the few mainstays at the top will most likely stay there.
The race in Division II may appear to be a runaway for Lourdes.
The Red Raiders are definitely the team to beat, but they could feel some serious heat from Tri- Valley.
Though the Bulldogs lack height, they return three of their top four scorers and core starters. The pieces are there, they just have to come together to be competitive.
“It’s going to depend on how quick we grow up,” TriValley head coach Mike Masser said. “I’m not too concerned about offense, but it’s defense and rebounding that are my concerns.”
Schuylkill Haven also returns several players with bench experience along with its leading scorer, Albe Evans ( 19.5). The Hurricanes should be competitive and give Lourdes a race for the division title.
Minersville and Williams Valley look to regroup at the tail of the division. Jason Kopinetz takes over as the Miners’ head coach, inheriting a talented freshman class that should be dangerous in the future.
This is Lourdes’ division to lose.
Head coach Mike Walborn’s Nativity squad is the lead dog in Division III. The Hilltoppers are among the teams to watch in Class A.
Senior Raphael Muldrow ( 13.6) leads three returnees who scored double- digit points per game, and Nativity boasts eight players listed at 6- foot- 2 or taller.
A division title is in its sights, and so is a state playoff run.
Chasing down Nativity won’t be easy, but the pool of teams behind the Hilltoppers will be competitive.
Mahanoy Area, Marian and Weatherly each have their strengths, weaknesses and spots to fill, so the second- best team in Division III is hard to say.
The Golden Bears are experienced, the Colts are aggressive shooters, and the Wreckers will be putting the pieces together as they go.
“We have a good core of guys returning with varsity experience,” Mahanoy Area head coach Ethan Eichhorst said. “We had a great summer competing in various leagues and camps.”
Shenandoah Valley will try to bounce back after an 0- 22 season.
Like Lourdes in Division II, this is Nativity’s division to lose.
Several teams in the Schuylkill League changed divisions.
Panther Valley, which won the Division III title after going 10- 3 in league play, jumped up to Division I. This will be a challenge after losing a few big men.
“Despite those obstacles, we are not going to lower our expectations,” Panthers head coach Patrick Crampsie said. “Our goals are to stay in the mix in the league race for the two Division I playoff berths.” Minersville makes the move from Division I to Division II, while Nativity slides from Division II to Division III.
Lourdes’ Thomas Schultz grabs a rebound during a game against Blue Mountain on Feb. 13. Schultz returns for his senior season for the Red Raiders, who were the PIAA Class A runner- up last season.
Pottsville’s Mason Barnes looks to pass over Blue Mountain’s Gavin Conway during the Schuylkill League championship game Feb. 16. Barnes netted 10.4 points per game for the Crimson Tide last season.
Blue Mountain’s Drew Grace drives to the basket during a game last season. Grace returns for his senior season after scoring 13.0 points per game a year ago.