It was supposed to be a dream come true for Stephen Romanchik last season after the Panthers defeated Tamaqua to qualify for the District 11 playoffs. Instead, it turned out to be quite a nightmare.

Romanchik has a condition known as pectus excavatum in which several ribs and the sternum grow abnormally. This produces a caved-in or sunken appearance of the chest and can impair cardiac and respiratory function.

During the game against Tamaqua, Romanchik was going to set a screen when he collided with another player. He continued to play the game thinking nothing of it until he got home and experienced immense pain in his chest along with experiencing heart spasms. He went to the hospital and the diagnoses was that because of his condition along with the trauma caused by the collision that enzymes were knocked out of his heart. The doctors told Romanchik that he would need surgery to keep his chest off the surface of his heart.

After some consideration and a few check-ups Romanchik and his family decided that surgery was the best option and steel bars were inserted into his chest area. The bars would assist in keeping his chest off his heart to keep from doing any further damage. After about two or three weeks in the hospital Romanchik went from about 152 pounds to 118 pounds.

After all that Romanchik's struggle was still not over. After he was released from the hospital he felt as if he was suffocating, so he once again had to go back to the hospital. His lungs started to fill up with fluid, so the doctors had to stick metal pipes into his back, draining about 2.5 liters of blood out his lungs. Romanchik was then stuck in the hospital for another four or five days before he was allowed to go back home.

"After all that I pretty much spent my whole summer recovering," said Romanchik. "I didn't even touch a ball until August and I wasn't cleared for physical contact until September. I just knew it was my senior season and I had to give it my all to get back on the court. Sometimes I didn't even want to get up or get out of bed, but the game of basketball means a lot to me."

Fast forward to now and Romanchik looks and feels like his old self again. The Panthers senior is having a solid season as well averaging 13.5 points per game along with leading his team in rebounds. Something even more amazing than that is last week against MMI he scored a career-high 31 points. A feat that when looking back on all that Romanchik has been through is a pretty unbelievable accomplishment.

"This season has been in my head since I got hurt and when you're laying down as much as I had to you can understand why," said Romanchik. "I just really want to make this season a good one and I'm extremely motivated to play well. That game against MMI is a big confidence booster and I'm just trying my best to get up and down the court. I'm also trying to help my team out on the boards as much as I can. I'm just going to play my heart out every game because I want to look back and be proud of what I accomplished."

Another person that is extremely proud of Romanchik is PV head coach Pat Crampsie. The Panthers family certainly missed Romanchik while he was out and are all happy that he's back and playing the sport that he loves once again.

"Steve is just a remarkable kid, who really showed what kind of determination he has," said Crampsie. "He could of thrown in the towel on multiple occasions, but he fought back and is playing so well for us right now. It's tough because as a coach he looks like the same old Stephen out there, but you have to realize that he needs some breaks during the course of a game. Plain and simple he's such a big part of our team and we're glad he's back with us. He really has a lot of heart and I expect nothing but great things from him not only in basketball this season but in his future endeavors."

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PANTHERS 30-SOMETHING ... Before this season began, the last time a Panther Valley boys basketball player had scored at least 30 points in a game was Jan. 24, 2006 when Greg Gauronsky exploded for 34 against Pottsville.

In the last two Panther games, two different players have reached the 30-point mark. Stephen Romanchik first turned the trick with a 31-point performance against MMI on Dec. 10. In PV's next contest, this past Monday against Jim Thorpe, Jake Szczecina hit seven three-pointers en route to a 30-point showing.

Szczecina's seven treys in that contest was one shy of the Panther Valley record for threes in a contest. The most by a PV player in one game is eight by Brad Yuricheck.

The Panthers did tie a team record for threes in one game. The 11 they had against the Olympians matched the same total from Dec. 18, 2007 against Pine Grove and Jan. 18, 1995 against Lourdes.

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INDIANS SNAP TWO STREAKS ... Lehighton ended two long streaks last Friday when they posted a 62-48 Mountain Valley Conference win over Pocono Mountain East.

The victory ended 11 straight seasons of the Indians losing their MVC opener. The last time Lehighton had opened conference play on the winning side was the 2000-01 campaign when it started 1-0 after defeating Pleasant Valley, 60-52.

The win also stopped a long slide against Pocono Mountain teams. The Indians had never defeated PM East or PM West since the district split into two high schools. Lehighton was 0-20 against both clubs heading into this season.

The last the Tribe knocked off Pocono Mountain before this past Friday was Dec. 18, 2002 when they registered a 76-65 win over PM.