Three TIMES NEWS area basketball teams reached the state playoffs this past season.
Not surprisingly, those three teams recently had two of their players named to the annual TN First Team All-Star squad.
The district champion Marian Colts placed Matt Yaich and Chris Barletta on the top boys team. Among the girls top squad, the district-winning Tamaqua Lady Radiers were represnted on the First Team by Amy Zehner and Elissa Streisel, while the Northern Lehigh Lady Bulldogs (district runner-ups) had Aimee Oertner and Sonya Josephson also receive TN honors.
Four of the players named above are returning First Teamers and seven in all are back among the 12 selections. Others gaining back-to-back First Team selections include Jim Thorpe's Rashid Epps, Weatherly's Keith Barna and Lehighton's Jordyn Homyak.
Of the dozen cage stars, just four are seniors with eight being underclassmen. The 12th graders are Yaich, Barna, Streisel and Panther Valley's Logan Stano.
Below are capsules on each player named to the First Team. Selections were made by the TIMES NEWS Sports Department.
All quotes on the players are from their respective head coach.
Matt Yaich, Marian
Resume: Named to the Class A Third Team all-state squad, Yaich led Marian in scoring with 320 points for an average of 14.55 points per game.
Colts' senior is an impressive shooter, hitting for a .526 percentage from the floor and a .761 percentage from the free throw line. He scored double figures in 19 of 22 games.
Yaich saved his best for last, averaging 16.57 ppg in his team's seven postseason games. Three of his four 20-point games during the playoffs including a season high 28 against Pius X in the clinching District 11 Class A title game.
A TIMES NEWS First-Team all-star a year ago, Yaich pulled down 155 rebounds for an average of 7.0 per game. He was named to the Panther Valley Tip-Off all-tournament team and was recently selected the TIMES NEWS Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
On Offense: "Matt became a major scoring threat. He was always a tough matchup in the paint but he also became a threat from the perimeter. He does such a good job of finishing. When Matt takes a shot, on the bench I feel like there's a good chance it's going to go in. He's also pretty good at getting offensive rebounds. He does a good job at crashing the boards and getting putbacks.
On Defense: "This year Matt was asked to play against the opposing team's top forward. Probably his best effort came against Notre Dame-East Stroudsburg when he guarded (Tim) Mullen. You could just see how frustrated (Mullen) was during the game. Before the season, Matt accepted the fact that he needed to improve on the defensive end and he did just that."
Rashid Epps, Jim Thorpe
Resume: Led Jim Thorpe in scoring with 410 points for an average of 16.40 points per game.
Olympian junior reached double figures in 23 of 25 games played, including a season-high 30 points against Lehighton on Jan. 11.
Last year, Epps was a TIMES NEWS First-Team all-star and the TN Newcomer of the Year. He was named the MVP of the Panther Valley Tip-Off tournament and was also named to the Slatington Rotary all-tournament team.
Besides scoring, Epps averaged double figures in rebounds and led the team in blocked shots.
On Offense: "On the offensive glass he was just a rebounding machine and a strong force. It didn't matter what side the ball was on, he was going to get it. Whenever we could get the ball down low to him, there was no one who was going to stop him. He would get double-teammed and sometimes even triple-teammed. He puts great effort into everything he does. At practice he worked every day to improve his offensive skills around the basket. He's a good role model for kids wanting to play the game because of his respect and his hard-working attitude."
On Defense: "Defensively he was just an imposing player. We put him in the middle and most teams were afraid to attack there. He basically put fear into other teams. He was our safety valve and would cover for teammates if they got beat. Many times he forced pull-up shots or their shots would just be swatted back at them. If he wasn't in foul trouble he would be a one-man wrecking crew on the boards. He's one of the best players I've ever coached."
Keith Barna, Weatherly
Resume: Led Weatherly and the TIMES NEWS area with 417 points and a 18.13 points per game average.
The Wrecker senior reached double figures in 20 of 23 games and had a season-high 31 points on Dec. 23 against Columbia-Montour Vo-Tech. He also had 20 or more points in 12 games, more than any other area boys player.
A TIMES NEWS First-Team all-star a year ago, Barna was the only area boys player to reach the coveted 1,000 point mark for his career. He hit the milestone on Jan. 8 versus Nativity and finished his Weatherly playing days with a total of 1,227 points.
Barna led the TN area in free throw attempts with 183 and also led his team in assists with 114. The senior collected 131 rebounds, an average of 5.7 rpg, and 90 steals, an average of 3.9 spg.
On Offense: "He developed into a good shooter and has always been aggressive to the basket. He worked on a few step-back moves and also worked on his left hand before the season. He's pretty much a big threat anywhere on the floor. His most impressive offensive skill, though, continues to be his tenacity going to the basket. It doesn't matter to him if he gets hit, in fact he expects to get hit. He gets to the line fact he expects to get hit. He gets to the line more than antbody else. We needed him to score this year. People also forget he played the two-guard the last two years and we had him go to the point. He had to learn the position plus get his teammates involved."
On Defense: "He's a good on-the-ball defender and is very quick. He's also a very good rebounder from his guard position. He picked up quite a few steals. He knows the game of basketball. When we were in man, he always watched the opposing team's toughest offensive player even if that player was in the post. In zone, we used his rebounding to our advantage. We often had him low on the weak side so he could rebound."
Jordan Waylen, Northern Lehigh
Resume: Led Northern Lehigh in scoring with 369 points an average of 14.76 points per game.
The Bulldog junior reached double figures in 22 of his 25 games played, including a season-high 24 which he accomplished in back-to-back games on Jan. 19 and Jan. 22.
Waylen received First Team All-Colonial League honors and helped the Bulldogs win a Colonial League championship.
Besides his scoring, Waylen led the team in steals with 45, added 47 assists and pulled down 95 rebounds.
On Offense: "He always posed a threat to opponents in that he could come down and hit a couple of threes. Teams had to worry about him from the perimeter, which helped our inside game. That was crucial for our success. We needed him to be our shooting guard, but he's good enough of a ballhandler that he could have run the point. He can get off his shot quickly no matter who's guarding him. Next year we may look for him to penetrate a little more."
On Defense: "He takes a lot of chances on defense and one reason for that is because of his quickness. He led the team in steals. Next year we need him to take on more of a leadership role. He also has enough leaping ability that he was a key rebounder for us on the weak side. He did a nice job rebuilding from his guard position."
Chris Barletta, Marian
Resume: Finished second on the team in scoring, ending the season with 290 points for an average of 10.36 ppg.
The Colts' junior scored double figures in 19 games and tallied a season-high 21 on Dec. 18 at MMI.
The team's point guard was an excellent ballhandler and ran the team's offense. He handed out a team-high 110 assists and also pulled down 90 rebounds. Defensively he led the team in steals with 58 and also blocked 12 shots.
Barletta was last year's TIMES NEWS runner-up for Newcomer of the Year and was selected to this season's Pather Valley Tip-Off Tournament all-tournament team.
On Offense: "Chris became a very important part of what we did on the floor. He was the mouthpiece between me and the team when we ran our offense. As a point guard, he did a good job of distributing the ball plus still getting us points. He was our sparkplug. He struggled early with assist to turnover ratio but he made it a point to improve on that and he did. He's a heady player. He also did a great job of getting to the line. Chris is one of the best, if not the best, ballhandler I've had here. His vision is great. He sees the court well."
On Defense: "He was a very good on-the-ball defender and also pressured the ball well. Whether it was full court, three-quarter or half, whatever assignment he was given and where to pick up the ball he did well. He also improved on his off-the-ball defense. He could leave a man and anticipate where the ball would be going and get steals. The improvemnets he made made him a very good defender."
Logan Stano, Panther Valley
Resume: Led Panther Valley in scoring with 311 points and a 12.96 points per game average.
The Panthers' senior also led the team in many other categories. Stano averaged 9.6 rebounds a game, 1.6 blocks a contest, shot 50 percent from the floor and 73 percent from the free throw line.
Stano scored double figures in 18 of 24 games, including a high of 19 on two different occassions. He also collected double-digit rebounds in 12 games.
Stano was named to the TIMES NEWS Second Team a year ago and was selected to the all-tournament team of the Panther Valley Tip-Off tourney.
On Offense: "In our offense, everything ran through Logan. His post presence opened up things for everybody else. Not oly did he hit 50 percent of his shots but when he was double-teammed he could find the open man. He's an unselfish player and he takes pride in opening things up for others. He's also versatile. He only worried about winning, and he's a big reason why we did win the past couple of seasons."
On Defense: "He's very athletic and did a good job rebounding from the strong side. He cuts off dribble penetration and makes it tough for teams to get off shots. He became more aggressive this year on defense. He evolved into a stronger player and hopefully his younger teammates took notice of the things he did this year."
Amy Zehner, Tamaqua
Resume: Led Tamaqua and the entire TIMES NEWS area in scoring with 588 points, an average of 21.0 ppg.
The Raider junior scored double figures in 27 of 28 games. She reached 20+ points 13 times and hit the 30-point mark three times including a high of 36 against Pine Grove on Feb. 8.
Zehner reached double figures in rebounding 18 times with a high of 16 against Panther Valley on Feb. 4. She had a .487 shooting percantage from the floor and a .752 percentage at the free throw line. Zehner also had 89 assists, 69 steals and 37 blocked shots.
The two-time TIMES NEWS Girls Basketball Player of the Year was named to the Class AA Second-Team All-State squad this season.
On Offense: "Amy was our go-to player. She's the player we look to to start our offense going but she's also able to find open teammates. She has great court awareness and is just a great athlete. She knew when to attack or when to pass the ball off. Her decision-making was outstanding. With her being a high-profile player other teams concentrated on her and she still shot about 50 percent from the floor. She ws amazingly consistent and that speaks volumes about her ability."
On Defense: "She led the team in blocked shots and rebounds which speaks volumes about Amy's play. Her overall athletic prowess allows her to also excel at the defensive end. We really don't have a true post player and more times than not she did well against the other team's post presence."
Aimee Oertner, Northern Lehigh
Resume: Led Northern Lehigh in scoring with 447 points for an average of 16.56 points per game, shooting 50.3 percent from the field.
Bulldog sophomore also finished the season with 274 rebounds, an average of 10.1 rpg, and a new school record of 134 blocks, 4.96 bpg. Oertner also had 78 assists and 58 steals and helped lead her team to an undefeated regular season.
Oertner was unanimously selected to the Colonial League First Team all-star squad and was the MVP of both the Fleetwood and Lehighton tournaments. She was also on the Stellar Construction all-area team.
A First Team TIMES NEWS area all-star a year ago as a freshman, Oertner is in the top 15 percent of her class. Despite her youth, she also has become one of the team's leaders.
On Offense: "Aimee can play any position on the floor. She can post-up or run the point. Other teams have trouble matching up with her. She became the focus of other teams so her production dropped off a little but she didn't mind because it opened things up for other players. She's most comfortable inside. She can take defenders off the dribble. Probably the only thing she lacks is a jump shot and she's working on that."
On Defense: "The blocked shots speak for themself. Even when we're in man, she's playing zone. Few teams can beat us inside. Defense is our strength and because our other players are strong defensively it allows her just to stay in the middle. We definitely take advantage of her shot-blocking ability. She's big and tall and fairly quick which allows her to rebound well. She had 35 percent of our team rebounds."
Sonya Josephson, Northern Lehigh
Resume: Tallied 411 points to finish second on the team with a 15.22 points per game average. Josephson hit a team-high 30 three-pointers, shooting 38 percent from three-point range and 50.8 from within the arc.
The Bulldog junior added 175 rebounds, including 68 at the offensive end, for a 6.48 rpg average. She also added 84 assists, 69 steals and 56 blocked shots.
Josephson was a Second Team TIMES NEWS all-star a year ago and was named to the Fleetwood and Lehighton all-tournament teams. She was a unanimous selection to the Colonial League First Team.
A good student, she ranks in the top 10-15 percent of her class and is one of her team's leaders.
On Offense: "Sonya has a lot of offensive skills. First of all, she's a very good shooter. She's our primary three-point shooter and we needed that this past season. She also shoots the ball well inside. Once again, that creates a tough matchup for other teams. When you have a six-foot player that can hit threes, other teams have to respect and try to defense against that."
On Defense: "She had her share of blocked shots and, along with Aimee, made it hard for other teams to get shots off inside. She also has the ability, though, to come out and guard people on the perimeter. In fact, she finished second on the team in steals."
Jordyn Homyak, Lehighton
Resume: Scored 332 points to easily finish as the team's top scorer with an average of 15.81 ppg. That average was also third highest among TIMES NEWS area players.
The Indian junior added 56 assists and 60 rebounds and was also near the top of the TN area in foul shooting with a percentage of .713 (62-of-87).
Homyak, who reached double figures in scoring in 18 of her 21 games played, had a season high 31 against Pleasant Valley on Jan. 12.
She was selected to the Mountain Valley Conference girls First Team all-star squad and made the Lehighton all-tournament team.
On Offense: "She's an amazing offensive player who has great work ethic. Teams know they have to key on her because of her scoring ability and she has to work 10 times harder because of that. On offense she never stops working. She's a go-getter and while she looks to score because we need her to, she's also looking to dish the ball to her teammates. She's worked hard on her jumper and is always a threat. She never gets down or tired either."
On Defense: "Her quickness is one of her best qualities on defense. She's often able to reach in and disrupt. We primarily play her as a safety in a sense which allows her to double on ballhandlers or swat the ball away. She can also jump out on players and get in front of passes. She's not afraid to go after loose balls. She always gives 100 percent. She shows up early and stays late. If there is something she needs to work on, you can guarantee she'll be in the gym working on it."
Kelsey Hay, Palmerton
Resume: Led Palmerton with 348 points and an average of 15.13 points per game.
The Bomber sophomore scored double figures in 21 of the 23 games she played in this season. She tallied 20+ points in five games with a season-high 24 against Northwestern (on Dec. 21) and Northern Lehigh (on Jan. 4).
A Second Team TIMES NEWS All-Star a year ago, Hay collected 293 rebounds for an average of 12.74 per game. She led the team in blocked shots with 69 and also contributed 47 assists and 31 steals.
Hay was unanimously selected to the Colonial League First Team all-star squad and was named a member of the Lady Indian Holiday Classic All-Tournament team.
On Offense: "Obviously she was our leading scorer. She didn't just lead us in points but our offense ran through her. She was near the top of our team in assists and started our fast breaks. While she occupied the low post she also has the unique ability to play point guard. She handles the ball exceptionally well. Against a team that presses we use her to help bring the ball up court. She also was good at kicking the ball out to our perimeter shooters. It's a toss-up if she's better at playing with her back to the basket or facing the basket. As a freshman she realized handling double teams was difficult and worked in the offseason to improve her strength."
On Defense: "Not only did she have the ability to block shots but she made other players change the direction of their shots. She was able to alter shots and make it difficult for those entering the paint. She was that final line of defense. She covered up for mistakes and made us much better because of that. We didn't have much heighth besides her so many times she was on her own against teams with more than one tall player."
Elissa Streisel, Tamaqua
Resume: Scored 258 points for an average of 9.21 to help lead Tamaqua to a second straight District 11 Class AA championship.
Versatile player led the team in assists (99) while also adding 60 steals, 65 rebounds and five blocked shots.
Streisel was team's main threat from the perimeter, leading the team with 49 three-pointers. That figure also ranked her first among all TIMES NEWS girls players.
The Raider senior was a First Team TIMES NEWS area All-Star a year ago.
On Offense: "Any team that has the kind of success we had this season needs a good point guard. Elissa was our catalyst. She's generated and ran our offense. She hit 49 three-pointers and many of them were so timely. They came when we were making a run or trying to break a game open. Her numbers are sometimes deceiving because when you see us play she really does stand out. As a point guard she shoulders so much more than trying to post fantastic numbers. She was a very experienced player who was a great passer and hit clucth shots."
On Defense: "Elissa brought the same type of intensity on defense and she did on offense. She complemented with Kayla Hope well. Kayla would force opponents into bad decisions and Elissa would anticipate that decision and capitalize on the mistake by coming up with a steal. In man defense she consistently stopped her player. She was just a well-rounded athlete.