Last season, Tamaqua won the District 11 Girls Class AA Basketball title for the first time since 1978.
The Lady Raiders are hoping their return to the top won't take as long.
The Raiders knocked on the D-11 door twice before (in Class AAA in 2000 and 2004) during the tenure of Coach Joe Berezwick, who enters his 13th season in charge with 188 wins.
"Throughout my time here, and of course the program has had a long history of success before I got here, we've won big games, but we had never won 'the' big game," said Berezwick. "That brings confidence, because we had been challenging for it, but now we were finally able to achieve it."
Tamaqua graduated five seniors, including starters Kristin Kistler (7.2 points per game) and Corynn Wehr (1.7 ppg.) from a team that went 22-6 before falling to Delone Catholic 44-40 in the second round of the PIAA playoffs. Also gone are Lauren Hope, Caitlyn Ruch and Ashley Palsgrove.
Leading the returnees is 5-11 junior Amy Zehner, a Third Team All-State selection and TIMES NEWS Player of the Year, who averaged 16.2 points. Zehner, however, is recuperating from an emergency appendectomy on Dec. 1.
"Amy is an outstanding player, and if I know her, she won't be down too long, but we'll leave that in the hands of the doctors to give us the green light on her," said Berezwick.
Senior Elissa Streisel (8.9 ppg.), a First Team TN All-Star selection last year, took over at point guard when Allison Updike injured the anterior cruciate ligament of her knee and will continue to direct the offense.
Sophomore Kayla Hope (4.9 ppg.) returns at the other guard slot. Updike is back and healthy as a junior and gives the Raiders a versatile performer who can play any position.
Cassie Eroh, a 5-8 junior, is expected to start up front but is also a scoring threat from the perimeter.
The frontcourt also includes 5-8 senior Shelby Hankins, 5-3 senior forward Kali Chrush and 5-7 freshman Amanda Solt. Danielle Weinburger, a 6-1 junior center, is recovering from a knee injury.
Megan Berezwick, a 5-6 senior, saw time in the backcourt last season, and 5-7 senior Lauren Fedor and the freshman Streisels, 5-6 Christine and 5-4 Maria, will also be vying for action.
"We want to be a team that can handle any situation – run when we need to, slow it down when we have to," said Berezwick. "We want to play really good defense, because you need that on nights when the offense isn't going well."
"Our expectation is to be back defending the District title. We know it won't be an easy road, but if we play at the level we're capable of, we definitely have the kids who can do it."
Tamaqua kicks off its season at Northwestern Lehigh Saturday night.