Raiders face a perennial power ACC
RON GOWER/times news Amy Zehner (25) and Cassie Eroh lead Tamaqua in scoring.
Since 2000, Allentown Central Catholic has been the "gold standard" of District 11 girls basketball. The Vikettes legacy is unmatched, as they have been a permanent fixture atop the District 11 championship podium for the past decade.
Over the last 11 years, many teams have tried making the climb to the Class 3A championship - most have fallen, all have failed.
On Saturday, Tamaqua takes its undefeated record (26-0) into Parkland (2:30 p.m.) for a matchup that has seemingly been a year in the making … a matchup that can best be described as "the irresistible force vs. the immovable object" for the District 11, Class AAA Championship.
For the Lady Raiders, two-time defending Schuylkill League Champs and two-time defending District 11 Class AA Champions, it's a chance to make a statement.
For Allentown Central Catholic (23-3), four-time defending Lehigh Valley Conference Champs and 11-time District 11 Class AAA Champions, it's an opportunity to repeat history.
In the 2006 District semifinals, the Vikettes ended Tamaqua's season by a score of 66-49, and in 2004 they claimed a District Championship with a 62-39 victory over the Raiders.
Tamaqua will be looking to join the 1976-77 squad as the only team in school history to start the season at 27-0; however, it will be a daunting task against a Vikettes team that is making its 26th consecutive championship game appearance.
"When you talk about District 11 Class AAA basketball, it is Central Catholic," stated Tamaqua coach Joe Berezwick. "We know what we're up against and we need to go down there and play a near perfect game to come out with a win."
Central Catholic is led by head coach Mike Kopp (812-184), who is the winningest girls' basketball coach in Pennsylvania. The Vikettes are on a 12-game winning streak and their three losses this year have all been against State-ranked teams, including 3A Villa Maria Academy, 4A Northampton and 4A Red Lion.
However, if there was ever a year to beat Central Catholic, this might be it, as the Vikettes return just one starter from last year's team, as opposed to Tamaqua which returns four.
Leading Central Catholic is 6-0 junior forward Kerry Kinek, who leads the LVC in scoring with 19.5 points per game. Kinek has scored 43-percent of ACC's points this season while also leading the team in rebounds (7.9 per game), blocks and steals.
"It's no secret that they look to get the ball inside to Kinek," said Berezwick. "As important as Amy Zehner is to us, Kinek is just as important for them. She's a great post player and their offense revolves around her."
The Vikettes also get solid scoring from 6-0 junior forward Jenna Kocsis (9.2 ppg), as she leads the team in three-pointers (23).
No other Central Catholic player averages more than five points per game. The rest of the starting lineup is 5-9 junior forward Casey Hollawell (2.3 ppg), 5-5 senior guard Haley Smith (4.3) and 5-6 point guard Abbey Guman (2.7).
Tamaqua will counter with a more balanced lineup of Amy Zehner (22.6 ppg, 11.6 rebounds per game and 17 double-doubles), Cassie Eroh (12.6), Allison Updike (6.5), Maria Streisel (5.5) and Kayla Hope (4.5).
"I think you're going to see two teams with similar styles, as we both pride ourselves on playing great man defense," added Berezwick. "They like to be a little more patient on offense, whereas we like to get up and down the floor."
The winner of this game will play the third-place team from District 2 (Scranton Prep/Valley View winner), while the loser will meet the District 4 champion (Danville/Milton winner) on Saturday, March 12.