The TIMES NEWS area definitely had its share of teams that went on to accomplish a lot in 2009-10. Some teams accomplished things that their program had never done before, while others continued to build upon the success they have experienced over the last few years.
With that, I would like to rank the area's five best teams from the past season. My rankings reflect the team relative to their sport and competition. It is impossible to compare a girls' team and their accomplishments to a guys' team, so it is only fair to judge them based on their peers.
First I would like to start with the Honorable Mention group.
The Marian boys' basketball team had a great season, as they finished 23-6 and won the District 11 A championship. It is hard to leave a team with a district title out of the top five, especially when they defeated their district opponents by 12, 23 and 17 points. The Colts probably should have been on the list, but I feel there are five other teams that are slightly better.
The Northwestern girls cross country team also won a District 11 title thanks to Lindsay Kerr and Katie Hallingstad. Although cross country is more of an individualistic sport, together they helped their team and won their respective title.
The Northern Lehigh girls basketball squad also had a great year and finished the season with a remarkable 24-3 record. Unfortunately, the Lady Bulldogs went 2-3 to end the season and lost in the Colonial League semis and the District 11 finals. Talk about bad luck. Still, keep your heads up ladies. There is much to be had next year.
No. 5 - Brian Polaha's Lehighton baseball team. The Indians set a single-season record for wins (18) and won the program's first ever District 11 title when they knocked off Saucon Valley in early June.
Lehighton has always been respectable, but no one really thought it could win a district title. Well, no one except itself. The Indians battled with every team they faced, including another team on this list, and never backed down from anybody.
Even when things didn't go their way early in the district championship game, the Indians never wavered. Down 5-2 heading into the bottom of the fifth, the MVC runners-up plated five runs in the inning to take a lead they would never relinquish. Congrats to Brian and the whole Lehighton team on a wonderful season.
No. 4 - Joe Berezwick's Tamaqua girls' basketball team. Berezwick may have been the head coach, but the team belonged to Amy Zehner. Yes, she had help from teammates Cassie Eroh, Elissa Streisel and Kayla Hope, but one can't ignore the numbers Zehner put up.
The junior averaged an area-best 21 ppg (most amongst boys and girls) and scored at least ten points in every game but one. She had 13 20-point games, including three 30-point games of 36, 34, and 33 - the three highest performances all year. Did I mention she grabbed 10+ rebounds 18 times, shot 49 percent from the field and 75 percent from the line?
But Zehner wasn't just a player who put up big numbers and lacked team success. She led the Lady Raiders to the Schuylkill League title, the District 11 title and the second round of states. Now that's a job well done.
No. 3 - Tom Gilligan's Palmerton golf team. Another individual sport, but there is no denying what Dan Costenbader, Mike Englert and Ben Andrews did as a team. Costenbader and Englert finished 1-2 in the Colonial League tourney and third and fifth in the District 11 championships with a 115 and 116 respectively. Andrews also did a good job, finishing with a 122.
Together the three led the Bombers to 16-1 record in 2009 - one win better than their 15-1 record in 2008. They also helped Palmerton win the league tournament after finishing second in the regular season.
I play golf regularly and know how mentally demanding the sport can be. On a good day I can fire an 85, but I got downright jealous when their scores got called in and they were 68, 69, 70, etc. I would seriously consider giving up my first born child if I could shoot a 69 for a week. Ok, maybe two.
No. 2 - Karl Rentzheimer's Pleasant Valley baseball team. Call me a homer, I don't care. But to me, this season was a long time coming.
The Bears set their own single-season record with 22 wins, won their first conference crown since 2006 and captured their first District 11 title since 1984. I was one-year-old the last time that happened.
I got to see arguably the program's greatest player in Pat Kregeloh. I have known Pat for the last few years through basketball and have heard how good he was at baseball - but I never really saw it until this year. I know how hard Rentz, his coaching staff and his kids have worked over the past few years, so I feel the baseball gods did the right thing by helping the Bears to one of their best seasons ever.
No. 1 - Shawn McFarland's Pleasant Valley 8th grade boys' basketball team. Are you surprised? You shouldn't be. We won 15 straight games to finish the year 18-3 and won the Greater Pocono title for the first time in 38 years. We were nice.
But ok, since we are talking about varsity sports I will share the wealth with another Shawn.
Tied No. 1 - Shawn Hindy's Lehighton field hockey team. All I have to say is 26-0; MVC championship; District 11 championship; PIAA state championship.
The Indians had a suffocating defense that recorded six straight shutouts to end the year and outscored its opponents 21-2 from the start of districts on. As they say, offense wins games. Defense wins championships.
Hindy wanted to take the program to the next level and that's exactly what he did. It was an honor covering the Lady Indians this year. I wish all of them the best of luck in the future.