The Tamaqua Lady Raiders have set the bar high for this season.
Topping Tamaqua's achievements from last year will be no easy task. The Raiders posted an outstanding 25-3 campaign, capturing their second straight District 11 Class AA championship and winning their first Schuylkill League title since 1977.
With four starters back, including All-State Second Team forward Amy Zehner, the expectations have not been diminished, even with Tamaqua moving up to Class AAA.
"That is part of the challenge," said Tamaqua Head Coach Joe Berezwick, who is 213-126 entering his 14th season in charge. "Championships are hard won and easily lost. We don't want to get complacent. We've always had a solid program. This year, the challenge is to take it a step further in AAA, so I think that motto fits us.
"Before, we were always fighting for respect. Now, how do we handle success? We feel fortunate to have won the Schuylkill League and District 11 championships. Those things don't happen every day. Now we want to win and know how to win, because we've had that experience."
The Raiders will miss point guard Elissa Streisel, who averaged 9.2 points per game and dished out a team-high 99 assists, as well as providing clutch perimeter shooting.
"You just don't replace someone like Elissa, with her championship experience; you move on," said Berezwick. "She ran things at point guard, and her three-point shooting was deadly."
The Raiders also graduated reserves Megan Berezwick, Lauren Fedor, Kali Chrush and Shelby Hankins.
Berezwick does have the luxury of two more Streisels, with sophomores Maria and Christine Streisel taking over for their sister. "What Elissa has done is split in two ways, with a ball handler (Maria, who will start) and shooter (Christine)," he noted.
Junior Kayla Hope (6.0 ppg.) returns as a starting guard. Her ball-hawking defense resulted in 67 steals.
Also back in the starting line-up are senior Cassie Eroh (10 ppg.), who has a soft shooting touch, and senior forward Allison Updike (6.9 ppg.), who pulled down 236 rebounds.
The 5-11 Zehner, a two-time TIMES NEWS Player of the Year selection, enters the season in fifth place on the Lady Raider all-time scoring list with 1,293 points. The Bucknell-bound Zehner averaged 21 points and 10.4 rebounds per game last year, also leading the squad in steals (69) and blocked shots (37).
"Amy's such a tremendous weapon, and her game is not just about scoring. She has a tremendous chemistry with her teammates," said Berezwick.
The bench is bolstered by the return of 6-0 senior Stacey Wallace to go inside with Danielle Weinburger, a 6-1 senior, and 5-6 sophomore Amanda Solt. Juniors Caitlin Trainer, Ashley Walker and Taylor Urban and sophomores Kori Kabilko and Alexandra Wagner round out the roster.
With an always tough Schuylkill League slate and perennial power Allentown Central Catholic looming in AAA, the Raiders are taking nothing for granted.
"There's no easy road, no gimmes," said Berezwick. "We will be put to the test on many nights."