Tamaqua continued its season-long win streak last night, posting a 64-50 victory against Schuylkill League Division II leader Minersville.
At 17-0, the Lady Raiders are the lone undefeated basketball team in District 11.
There were high expectations for this year's squad, which returned four starters from last season, when it captured the Schuylkill League championship and a second straight District 11 Class AA title.
So far, the Raiders have delivered. Fourteen of their wins have been by double digits, and they hold a two-game lead in the Schuylkill Division I race, heading into tonight's game at Pine Grove.
The Raiders have now won 42 of their last 45 games and are 64-9 over the past three seasons.
This has been one of the most successful stretches in the program's history. Tamaqua was 60-4 in the 1976-77 and 1977-78 seasons, the latter culminating in the PIAA Class AA state crown. The Raiders also registered a 45-10 mark for the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons.
This is an experienced unit, and it has displayed the poise and chemistry necessary to produce wins.
"We have a veteran team, and they've been there," said Tamaqua coach Joe Berezwick. "The way they have responded to what's been expected of them, I am proud of them. They have been confident and focused."
Senior Amy Zehner is enjoying her finest season. The 5-11 Bucknell recruit, a two-time All-State performer, is pouring in over 24 points per game. She currently has 1,676 career points, third on the all-time Lady Raider scoring list behind 2007 graduate Erika Barron (2,317), who is a senior at Susquehanna University, and 1980 grad Cindy Miller (2,155). Zehner is also 22 rebounds short of 1,000 caroms.
"Amy gets a lot of respect from other coaches, but she certainly doesn't get preferential treatment," noted Berezwick. "She gets a lot of defensive attention and has to earn everything she gets."
The Raiders are far from a one-player team, however. When Zehner sat out last week's game against Moravian Academy with a foot injury, senior forward Allison Updike and junior guard Kayla Hope registered double-doubles in points and rebounds and senior Cassie Eroh just missed by one rebound.
Eroh is averaging 13 points per game, with a high of 26 against Jim Thorpe. Updike, a state javelin champion who will continue her track and field career at the University of Georgia, rimmed 23 vs. Moravian Academy.
"Our three senior starters understand what has to be done out there, and that's their key," said Berezwick.
The speedy Hope is the Raiders' defensive catalyst. "She disrupts things for other teams in the backcourt," mentioned Berezwick. "We have kids in the trenches who do things like that, playing defense, setting screens and getting rebounds that we need to make the team successful."
Sophomore Maria Streisel has stepped in as the fifth starter, while her sister Christine and 6-0 senior Stacey Wallace have made contributions off the bench.
While the Raiders have been riding high at the moment, they also realize there are no guarantees, especially in the postseason. They learned the hard way in the past, falling to Nativity in the Schuylkill title game two years ago and suffering losses of four and one points to Delone Catholic in the state playoffs the past two seasons.
This year the Raiders have bumped up into Class AAA, and District-wise, that means perennial champion Allentown Central Catholic will be in the field, as well as quality contenders in Southern Lehigh, Blue Mountain, Palmerton and Jim Thorpe.
Once the postseason starts, there is no margin for error.
"This is a special team, but there is a lot of basketball to be played, and we take a one game at a time approach," stated Berezwick. "You are only as good as your last win, and we have been able to keep that in perspective."
RAIDER RAMBLINGS - Jay Daubert's Raider boys cagers are 4-12, but five of their losses have been by five points or less. Seniors Mike Streisel (14.4 points per game) and Spencer Bennett (10.13) lead the Raiders in scoring ... Jim McCabe's Tamaqua wrestlers are 9-6 and have home meets with Pottsville Monday and Jim Thorpe Tuesday. The Raiders are in contention for District Duals next weekend. Seniors Kolby Mashack and Garth Lakitsky are both 25-0; Mashack has 118 career wins and Lakitsky is at 112 ... Eric Lech's Lady Raider swim team leads the Schuylkill standings at 5-0 (10-1 overall) while the boys are 7-4 (3-2 league). Lech recently earned his 100th win as boys coach and is three wins short of 100 on the girls side. Senior Dane DeWire is also approaching the 1,000 point mark for his career as he seeks his third league diving crown.