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Colonial League boys basketball: Can anyone stop Southern Lehigh three-peat?

Allentown Morning Call logo Allentown Morning Call 1/13/2021 Keith Groller, The Morning Call
a man holding a basketball: Southern Lehigh is led by 6-6 senior Daryl Coleman, one of the premier players in the Lehigh Valley. © Rick Kintzel/The Morning Call/The Morning Call/TNS Southern Lehigh is led by 6-6 senior Daryl Coleman, one of the premier players in the Lehigh Valley.

In a nonleague game featuring the two teams that have combined for seven of the last eight Colonial League boys basketball championships, Bangor hostedSouthern Lehigh on Tuesday.

The two will meet again Jan. 23 and if there’s a league tournament in February, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Slaters and Spartans meet for the third straight year in the league final.

Southern Lehigh is going for its third straight league title and with one of its tallest teams in school history, it figures to tower above most of the other 12 Colonial League members.

Bangor, however, appears capable of being one of the teams able to derail Solehi plans for a three-peat.

Keith Groller’s predicted order of finish

1. Southern Lehigh; 2. Notre Dame; 3. Bangor; 4. Palmerton; 5. Salisbury; 6. Catasauqua; 7. Palisades; 8. Northwestern Lehigh; 9. Wilson; 10. Moravian Academy; 11. Northern Lehigh; 12. Pen Argyl; 13. Saucon Valley.

Here’s a look at the 13 teams in the league, which will play abbreviated 10-game league schedules due to COVID-19 concerns:

Bangor

Coach: Colin Kessler (second season),

2019-20: 14-12, 10-8 (fourth in Colonial East).

Postseason: Beat Palmerton 61-60, beat Moravian Academy 54-41 and lost to Southern Lehigh 70-51 in league tournament. Lost to Pottsville 58-41 in District 11 5A tournament.

Impact players: CJ Miles (6-1, Sr. G); Gabe Zieba (5-10, Sr. G); Josh Giaquinto (6-1 So. G); Jace Eldridge (5-8 Sr. G); Daniel Heald (6-6 Jr. F); Quin Karner (6-0 So. F); Ashton Kluska (6-0 So. G); James Merklinger (6-1 Jr. F); Justin Peterson (6-4, So. F); Caleb Ramthun (6-6 Sr. C); Jacob Stout (6-2 So. G); Skyler Hackenberg (5-8 So. G)

a group of people looking at each other: Southern Lehigh coach Ben Tannous is hoping his Spartans can repeat as league and district champs and enjoy some success in the PIAA tournament. © DONNA FISHER / THE MORNING CALL/The Morning Call/TNS Southern Lehigh coach Ben Tannous is hoping his Spartans can repeat as league and district champs and enjoy some success in the PIAA tournament.

Outlook: The Slaters remain one of the league’s and area’s premier programs and Miles is a top player. Kessler says he has a lot of nice pieces with this team and Miles, a three-year starter with Zieba, Peterson and Karner, among others, set to play significant roles. Miles is a more polished product and can finish strong at the rim and will be one of the area’s best defenders. The big question is whether or not the Slaters will have enough depth and scoring balance to compete with the league and District 11 5A’s best.

Catasauqua

Coach: Eric Snyder (29th season, 355-344).

a group of people posing for the camera: Palmerton senior Kody Kratzer, 3, entered the season just 89 points shy of 1,000 in his career. © April Gamiz/The Morning Call/The Morning Call/TNS Palmerton senior Kody Kratzer, 3, entered the season just 89 points shy of 1,000 in his career.

2019-20: 9-13 (8-9 , fourth in Colonial West).

Impact players: Derek Troxell (6-0 Sr. G/F); Cole Schiffer (5-8 Sr. G); Damien DiPaolo (5-9 Sr. G); Damien DiPaolo; Ty Reitz (6-4 Sr. F); Mason Hess (6-0 Sr. C); Donovan Walakovitz (6-2 Sr. F); Jake Velez (5-9 Sr. G); Adonys Paulino (5-10 Sr. F); Luke Colon (5-10 Sr. G); Jacob Scheirer (5-10 Jr. G); Jared Schneck (6-0 Jr. F); Donovan Keys (6-2 Sr. C).

Outlook: The Roughies have several experienced players returning and that should help in close games. Catty missed the district tournament by a game last season after going just 1-21 the previous year. Schiffer, DiPaolo and Troxell, who is 297 points shy of 1,000, will all play pivotal roles. Reitz, Walalkovitz and Hess will be needed to deliver on the boards and with the interior defense. It’s a program that really was looking foward to this season feels it has the potential for a breakthrough after some tough years.

Moravian Academy

Coach: Steve Gabryluk (seventh season, 66-55).

2019-20: 18-7, 13-5 (first Colonial East).

Postseason: Lost to Bangor 54-41 in league semis; lost to Mahanoy Area 57-50 in District 11 2A quartefinals.

Impact players: Adam Fatebene (6-2 Sr. F); Ben Borsuk (6-3 Sr. F); Zayd Kaleem (6-2 Sr. F); Henrique Zaharia-Battle (6-1 Sr. G); Vince Menichelli (5-10 Jr. G); Arsh Kandola (5-9 Jr. G); Abhishek Patel (6-2 Jr. G); Trenton Messman (6-0 Jr. G); Christopher Ray (5-10 So. G); Drew Mariano (5-9, So. G); Gabe Borsuk (6-0 So. G); Joe Smith (5-10 So. G).

a basketball player in front of a crowd: Catasauqua's Derek Troxell entered the season just 297 points shy of 1,000 in his career. © Amy Shortell/The Morning Call/The Morning Call/TNS Catasauqua's Derek Troxell entered the season just 297 points shy of 1,000 in his career.

Outlook: Gabryluk was looking forward to Abel Saft leading the offense this year, but Saft, who averaged 14 points per game last season, is likely out for the season after breaking his wrist in a workout. Without Saft, Moravian has no returning starters. Gabryluk said Ben Borsuk and newcomer Chris Ray are promising players. Gabryluk believes the program’s successful run in recent years will help breed more success, however the inexperience will be a big factor.

a group of people standing next to a football ball: Bangor’s CJ Miles, 5, is a three-year starter hoping to deliver another league title to the Slaters after losing to Southern Lehigh in the finals the past two years. \n\n © RICK KINTZEL / THE MORNING CALL/The Morning Call/TNS Bangor’s CJ Miles, 5, is a three-year starter hoping to deliver another league title to the Slaters after losing to Southern Lehigh in the finals the past two years. \n\n

Northwestern Lehigh

Coach: Jerry Lloyd (first season).

2019-20: 11-12, 8-9 (tied for fourth Colonial West).

Postseason: Lost to Bethlehem Catholic 56-39 in District 11 4A quarterfinals.

Impact players: Nick Henry (6-0 Sr. G); Andres Garrido (6-1 Sr. F); Jared Stitzel (6-2 Sr. F); Justin Holmes (6-3 Jr. F); Ethan Lazarus (6-2, Sr. C); Dylan Witkowski (6-0, Sr. G/F); Cayden Fitch (5-8 So. G); Cade Christopher (5-11 So. G).

Outlook: Lloyd, a former Whitehall High standout who played Division I basketball, comes over from Phillipsburg, N.J., to replace Billy Hallman who resigned after six seasons and a 63-75 record. The Tigers got off to a rough start with a 66-31 loss to Executive Education Academy Charter on Friday night, but better times are ahead. “It’s been a challenge getting these guys some experience playing together,” Lloyd said. “They couldn’t play together in the spring or summer and we had some open gyms in the fall, but most of our guys played football. We just need to play games and once we come together we have some good size. Guys like Henry and Holmes are strong and Witkowski, a transfer from Emmaus, is a good shooter. We don’t have a lot of experience, but I like the pieces we do have.”

Notre Dame

Coach: Pat Boyle (25th season, 429-214).

2019-20: 13-12, 12-6 (second, Colonial East).

Postseason: Beat Wilson 86-59, lost to Southern Lehigh 82-60 in Colonial tournament. Beat New Hope-Solebury 60-49, lost to Panther Valley 59-53 in District 11 3A tournament. Lost to Loyalsock Township 91-49 in state tournament.

Impact players: Brendan Boyle (5-10 Jr. G); Logan Rickert (5-11 Sr. G); Sean Howlett (6-0, Jr. G); Joe Galle (6-0 Sr. G); Lucas Altimire (6-2 Jr. F); Zach Rodgers (5-11 So. G); Na’Kai Carew (6-1 Sr. F); Rob Spirk (6-0 Sr. G); Nolan DiSora (5-11 Sr. G); Jasen Becker (6-0, Jr. G); Elijah Rivera (5-8 Sr. G); Chase Marcks (5-10 So. G).

Outlook: The Crusaders wasted no time getting started on Dec. 11, but lost to Executive Charter 84-75. However, Notre Dame bounced after the extended holiday break and beat Bethlehem Catholic with 15 3-pointers, 89-82. Boyle scored 31 points in each of the first two games. Rickert returned from an injury and scored 22 points against Becahi. Even though Notre Dame graduated five seniors, it features lots of experience. However, lack of size could be a concern on the boards.

Northern Lehigh

Coach: Patrick Wanamaker (first season).

2019-20: 4-18, 3-14 (sixth Colonial West).

Impact players: Ryan Hammond (5-9 Sr. G); DeSean Smith (6-0 Sr. G); Jaden Marlatt (6-2, Sr. F); 6-0 Sr. G Ardit Mujovic (6-0 Sr. G); Evan Zambo (6-2 Sr. F); Teague Herzog (6-2 Sr. F); Donovin Correro (6-2, Jr. F); Aiden Parvel (5-10 So. G) .

Outlook: Wanamaker, a former Bulldogs standout and 2007 graduate, takes over for Jeff Miller who resigned last spring after 10 seasons and an overall record of 106-124. Numbers are a big thing for a once-proud program that Wanamaker wants to restore. The Bulldogs won’t have a JV team this year but will have freshman and middle school teams. With the condensed schedule, Wanamaker said his team will take a “one night at a time” approach because tomorrow is not guaranteed. He said seniors will lead the lead the way after the Bulldogs lost eight games by 10 points or less last year.

Palisades

Coach: Phil Ham (second season).

2019-20: 10-11, 6-12 (fifth in Colonial East).

Postseason: Lost to Central Catholic 63-32 in District 11 4A quarterfinals.

Impact players: Liam Carey (5-11, Jr. G); Brandon Fox (6-3 Sr. G/F); Brandon Moan (6-2, Sr. G); Caleb Johnson (6-2 Jr. G/F); Maki Modlin (6-6 Jr. C); Zach Duke (6-0 Sr. G/F).

Outlook: The motto for the Pirates is to play hard, play together and play as one. That’s the formula Ham hopes to use to earn more wins in his second season. “We have a lot of chemistry with these guys and shouldn’t skip a beat,” he said. “We looked real good in our scrimmages and there are high hopes for the season. We have more games scheduled than some other teams, so the goal is to stay healthy, stay safe and go out and have fun playing basketball.”

Palmerton

Coach: Ken Termini (5th year at Palmerton, 41-53; 8th season overall, 68-94).

2019-20 season: 16-8, 12-5 second in CL West.

Postseason: Lost to Bangor 61-60 in CL quarterfinals. Lost to Panther Valley 66-59 in District 11 3A semifinals.

Impact players: Kody Kratzer (6-3, Sr., G); Owen Buck (6-2, Sr., F); Tyler Stuck (6-2, Sr., G); Alex Whitney (6-1, Sr., F); Austyn White (6-2, Sr., G); Hunter Connell (6-1, Sr., F); Dylan Frank (5-10, Sr., F); Chase Reph (5-11, So., F); Brayden Hosier (5-10, Fr., G); Kyle Sebelin (5-7, Jr., G); Kendall Robinson (5-6, So., G); Braden Bates (6-2, Sr., G).

Outlook: Kratzer figures to be one of the best players in the league and area after averaging 21.1 points, 5.8 rebounds. 3.0 assists and 2.3 steals per game last season. He was also a 70% foul shooter. He entered the season with 911 points. Termini said the Blue Bombers have moved from bad to average and from average to good. “Now the next step is to go from good to great. We want to build a championship, but in no way do we think we’re there yet.” To get there, Palmerton must avoid the late-game collapses that knocked the team out of the league and district tournaments a year ago.

Pen Argyl

Coach: Mike Morris (third season, 5-39).

2019-20: 2-20, 1-17 (seventh, Colonial East).

Players to watch: Collin Mckeague (5-11 Sr. G); Matt Ragozino (5-11 Sr. G); Lucas Maggipinto (6-0 Sr. F); Jillian Pysher (5-10 Jr. G); Zach Rudy (5-11 Jr. G); Lucas Betancourt (6-3, Sr. F); Cayden Shook (6-2, Sr. F); Marcus Vargo (6-0 Jr. G).

Outlook: Pen Argyl returns five seniors this year, all who have started games and have good experience, including Maggipinto, who is a three-year starter. The Green Knights look to take advantage of their depth and quickness at the guard position. However, the team lost 505 of its offensive production from last year and will need others to step up.

Salisbury

Coach: Jason Weaver (13th season, 186-114).

2019-20: 12-11, 9-8 (third Colonial West).

Postseason: Lost to Wilson Area 54-45 in District 11 4A quarterfinals.

Impact players: Quinn Warmkessel (6-2, Sr. F); Quinton Stephens (6-2 Sr. G); Danny Scialla (5-10 Sr. G); Kenyo Herrera (6-0 Sr. F); Baxter Reihman (6-5 Sr. C); Kyle Artis (6-0 Jr. G); Hunter Bleam (6-2, Jr. F); Tyson Utesch (6-0, Jr. F); Jackson Lopez (6-1 Jr. F); Chase Fenstermaker (5-9 Jr. G); Justin McKenzie (5-10 Jr. G); Hassan Bey (6-0, So. F).

Outlook: Warmkessel is a four-year starter and figures to be one of the league’s top players. Stephens is a three-year starter. Weaver said he is counting on those two players in particular to provide leadership and experience. Herrera, Scialla, Artis and Bleam all contributed off the bench last year and will again provide depth. “We should be active defensively and looking to push tempo,” Weaver said. The program has been rebuilding, going from five to eight to 12 wins each of the past three seasons. The goal is again to return to league and district tournaments.

Saucon Valley

Coach: Todd Lipp (second season).

2019-20: 5-17, 4-14 sixth Colonial East).

Impact players: James Townsend (5-10 Jr. F); Brian Miller (5-10 Jr. G); Colin Sager (6-2 Jr. F); Ryan Lebo (6-0 Sr. F).

Outlook: Like many other coaches, Lipp says the COVID-19 crisis has created a whole different vibe to the season and the Panthers just want to get in as many practices and games as possible and try to get better than they were last season. Look for Lebo, the lone senior on the roster, to lead the way offensively after scoring 61 points last season.

Southern Lehigh

Coach: Ben Tannous (eighth season at Solehi, 118-59; 152-94 including three seasons at Brandywine).

2019-20: 22-5, 16-1 (first in Colonial League West).

Postseason: Beat Notre Dame 86-59 and Bangor 70-51 to win Colonial League title. Beat Blue Mountain 67-55 and Pottsville 61-48 for District 11 5A crown. Lost to William Penn of York 69-59 in first round of state tournament.

Impact players: Dom Lisicky (5-11, Jr. G); Liam Lorio (5-11, Jr. G); James Ascolese (6-0, Jr. G); Michael Andrews (5-11, Jr. G); Ethan McDermott (6-0, Sr. G); Jackson McKee (6-2, Sr. F); Daryl Coleman (6-6, Sr. G); Jonah Shaw (6-1, So. G); Max Pristas (6-5, So. F); Matt Tankred (6-5, Jr. F); Noah Denton (6-6, Jr. F).

Outlook: Coleman is one of the area’s best players and is primed for a big year with a Spartans team capable of repeating as league and district champs and making a run in PIAA Class 5A. Like everyone, Solehi hasn’t had a chance to be together much because of COVID-19. It appears to be one of the few obstacles to an outstanding season. “You can kind of tell when the kids enter the gym that they know what to expect and they want to work hard and be a part of something special,” Tannous said. “I feel we have a higher ceiling with this team than we’ve had in the past, but as far as their togetherness, they’re not there yet. They need time to build that chemistry.”

Wilson

Coach: Mike Glovas (fifth season, 44-34).

2019-20: 17-10, 12-6 (tied for second Colonial East).

Postseason: Lost to Notre Dame 86-59 in Colonial quarterfinals. Beat Salisbury 54-45, lost to Central Catholic 88-50, lost to Tamaqua 57-52 in District 11 4A tournament. Lost to Bishop McDevitt 78-58 in state tournament.

Impact players: Dylan Betts (5-10 Sr. G)); Aidan Dufal (5-10 Sr. G); Shamel Gibson (6-0 So. G); Dylan Goldsworth (5-11 Sr. G); Nashawn Jones (6-3 Jr. C); Elio Sarkis (Sr.); Cayden Stem (6-3 Jr. F).

Outlook: The Warriors had eight seniors who played significant roles on last year’s team who are now gone. But Glovas said he has a bunch of players who have waited their turn and are ready to compete. “They had to wait behind a good team, but now it’s their turn, so go get them,” Glovas said. “Whatever we got dealt, we’re going to play. We’re going to have a team and we’re going to do our best.”

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