Over the next 24 hours, three TIMES NEWS area teams will play for District 11 basketball championships.
It's been almost a quarter of a century since the area has had at least three District champs. The last time that occurred was in 1986 when the Panther Valley boys and Marian girls won Class AA titles and the Weatherly boys and girls both won Class A crowns.
Since then, the area has had a pair of D-11 champs on three occasions - In 1998 (Pleasant Valley boys in 4A and Northwestern girls in 2A); in 1999 (Marian boys in A and Panther Valley girls in 2A); and in 2008 (Northern Lehigh boys in 2A and Marian girls in A).
Could this be another year when multiple local teams win District gold? Could it be the first time in 24 years more than two area teams win D-11 titles? It won't be long until we find out.
This year's three District finalist - the Northern Lehigh and Tamaqua girls and the Marian boys - have plenty of differences.
* Based on seeds, records and results, two teams are considered favorites and the other a prohibitive underdog.
* Two of the teams are from the Schuylkill League and one is from the Colonial League.
* One had a first-round bye in the District playoffs and had to win just one game to reach the final. The other two have had to win a pair of games to earn a title game berth.
* Two teams have been in the state tourney as recently as last year. The other one hasn't been there in 17 years.
* One team starts four seniors. The other two start four underclassmen.
Despite the differences, however, the teams share two common characteristics that often lead to the kind of postseason success they've enjoyed.
First, there was nothing surprising about their District playoff success. There were no shocking upsets to get them to this level. All three teams showed during the regular season that they were the real deal. Out of the 20 basketball teams in the area, the Lady Bulldogs (22-0) had the best regular season record, the Lady Raiders had the second best (20-2) and the Colts (18-4) had the third best.
Second, the teams all have veteran leaders calling the shots. The three head coaches each have 10+ years of experience on the bench. Joe Brezwick is in his 13th year at Tamaqua and is the program's all-time win leader with 210. Mick Stefanek is in his 11th year with the Colts and is also that program's career win leader with 163. Dave Oertner is now in his fourth year coaching the Bulldog girls after spending seven years as the Northern Lehigh boys head coach.
The combination of talent and coaching that the three teams posses has put them in the position they are in this weekend.
Let's take a quick look at each of the teams and what they have to do to become District champions:
Fast Facts - The Raiders are part of the powerful Schuylkill Girls League that has put at least one team in a state championship game in 22 of the last 23 years ... After receiving an opening round bye in Districts, the top-seeded Raiders beat Palmerton in the semifinals ... They enter tonight's District title game as strong favorite over a surprising Pen Argyl team that shocked Pine Grove in the semifinals ... A year ago, Tamaqua captured the D-11 Class AA title and advanced to the second round of States before falling to Delone Catholic.
Did you know? - Elissa Streisel, Tamaqua's lone senior starter, will be playing in her fourth straight District 11 title game. Streisel played for Marian in 2007 and 2008 before transferring to Tamaqua last year.
The Raiders win if – They play like they did in the Schuylkill League playoffs where they dominated Nativity and Tri-Valley, rolling to double figure victories. If Tamaqua's offense is clicking, the Green Knights won't be able to keep up. Pen Argyl's only hope is to keep the game in the 30s or low 40s. If the score gets higher than that it could be another Raider rout.
Fast Facts – The Colts lost in the Schuylkill League title game to Pottsville … A year ago, Marian reached the D-11 championship game but fell to Williams Valley. It was then eliminated by Millville in the opening round of States … Two earlier victories over Pius X and the fact that the Royals' best player is no longer on the team make Marian a solid favorite … The Colts rolled to double figure victories over Mahanoy Area and Notre Dame of East Stroudsburg to get to this point.
Did you know? – Chris Barletta, the only underclassman in the Colts' starting line-up, comes by his basketball skills very naturally. Barletta's mom, Theresa (Lorenzi) Barletta, is among the leading scorers in the history of both West Hazleton High School and Bloomsburg University.
The Colts win if – They avoid an offensive meltdown. Marian's defense has been sensational this season, allowing an area low XX.XX points per game. If the Colts have a weakness it's lack of consistent scoring. When Marian scores 50 or more points this season it is 14-0. When it scores less than 50 it is just 7-5.
Fast Facts – The Bulldogs went 18-0 during the Colonial League regular season, but lost in the semifinals of the league playoffs to Wilson … The Bulldogs avenged that loss in Wednesday's District 11 semifinals, beating the Warriors, 31-26. No. Lehigh also posted an impressive double digit win over North Schuylkill in the quarterfinals … The semifinal win over Wilson secured the Bulldogs a spot in the PIAA State Tournament. It is only the third state playoff berth in the program's history and the first since 1993 … No. Lehigh has the toughest task among area teams if it wants to bring home a championship. The Bulldogs must defeat 10-time defending District champion Allentown Central Catholic.
Did you know? – The last Northern Lehigh basketball team to have a perfect regular season prior to this year was the 1984-85 boys team. Current Bulldog coach Dave Oertner was an assistant coach on that squad. But that's not the only connection between the squads. Randy Howell was a member of that '84-85 Bulldog team and his daughter Rebecca is a sophomore reserve on this year's team. The Howells also share the same jersey number – 42.
The Bulldogs win if – They avoid being beaten by the uniform. With only one senior in the starting line-up, Northern Lehigh can't be intimidated by Central Catholic's rich tradition, something that won't be easy for a young team. The Bulldogs more than likely need to keep the score in the 30s and avoid foul trouble if they hope to end the Vikings Class AAA domination.