Fast break: State run­ner- up Lour­des looks to con­tinue boys’ bas­ket­ball suc­cess

Af­ter run to state fi­nal, Schultz gives Lour­des rea­son for op­ti­mism

The Republican Herald - - FRONT PAGE - BY LUKE KROPP STAFF WRITER

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.”

Divi­sion I

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.

Divi­sion II

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.

Divi­sion III

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.

Shuf­fle board

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.

Andy MATSko / STAFF PHo­ToG­RA­PHER

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.

ANDY MATSKO / STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

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.

DAVID MCKE­OWN / STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

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.

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