Ol' Man Winter puts freeze on hoops
The Pleasant Valley girls basketball team were among the hardest hit from the winter weather this season. So far, the Lady Bears have had eight games postponed.
The recent snowstorms and below zero temperatures have our local residents telling stories of how they have dealt with some of the worst weather conditions in recent history.
Area high school basketball coaches, with a multitude of scheduled games postponed because of the icy hammer dropped by the snow gods and Jack Frost (make that Jack Frigid), have also had to figure out ways to keep their teams prepared and motivated.
Here's a short list.
* Zumba dancing.
* Egg roulette.
* Players against coaches' games.
* Two for one practices.
These are just some of the creative ways coaches have tried to keep their teams ready to take on brutal January make-up schedules that will force many schools to play as many as 15 games in the last three weeks of January.
"We have to just go with the flow," says Palmerton girls' coach Rodney Strohl. "We had three practices to prepare for three different teams and we played none of those games due to the weather. We can only do so much, so we try to keep it simple with lots of fundamental drills."
Strohl also places an emphasis on fun so his team stays loose.
"The coaches played our girls in practice games," he said. "After just a few minutes, the coaches are pretty winded. But it's still fun and team building too."
As athletic directors scramble to reschedule all the postponements, coaches hold legitimate concerns about having to play several games in a short period of time. Strohl, who likes his Lady Bombers to play uptempo, believes that playing four games in five or six days will tire his team out and therefore reduce their effectiveness on the court.
"Ideally, it would be nice to not have to play back to back games because we need to recharge the batteries to play our best," he says.
Another girls' coach whose team has been shut down by this polar paralysis is Pleasant Valley's Natalie Gauronsky. Her circumstances are magnified by the fact that the Lady Bears did not participate in a holiday tournament this year.
"We have played only four games through the first two weeks of January," she says. "That's a problem for us, especially with conditioning and competitive experience."
Gauronsky jests that her team will play 15 games during the rest of January, as many as The Los Angeles Lakers will play for the entire month.
"Besides what will be an exhausting schedule, we have not been able to develop any rhythm or pace to our game offense. In addition, we are going from all practices into a period of all games so how will we prepare for an opponent on any given night?"
The Lady Bears are doing their best to build team unity through the down days of no school and early dismissals. Gauronsky brought in a zumba instructor for conditioning and for fun. Her team also plays "egg roulette," a game popularized on the Jimmy Fallon Show. After an intra-squad scrimmage, the girls smashed eggs on top of their heads, hoping of course, that the eggs are hard-boiled and not raw.
"Everyone is in the same boat," says Gauronsky. "We have six seniors on our team and we will be counting on them heavily to get us through this tough part of the schedule."
Panther Valley's boys' coach Pat Crampsie, whose team is enjoying a successful season thus far, says that his players have enough self-motivation to determine what they need to offset any consequences.
"With no games in a week, our kids watched film, and worked on conditioning, a lot of this on their own. We are fortunate to have a great bunch of kids who are real tight as a team so they make their own time to stay focused on basketball."
Jim Thorpe boys' coach Grant Whary actually found the long layoff to benefit his team.
"The bad weather gave us more opportunity to refresh our offensive sets and defensive style with our players. We needed the extra time to prepare and to also develop a positive team attitude which occurs during practices more than in the games."
Recently, the Olympians played back to back games against Blue Mountain and Tamaqua, which had presented a dilemma for Whary.
"All we can do in that case is prepare for two teams one day. We studied film on both opponents and then worked on our game strategies for both at one practice. It's obviously not ideal and you just hope that the kids will retain what we teach them about each opponent and apply it in the games."
One thing is for certain.
By the time this regular basketball season is finished, those area teams that make the playoffs will have "weathered the storm" and be game ready to lace up their sneakers for a run at a district title.
BO KNOWS In last Monday's game against Northern Lehigh, Tamaqua junior Bo Rottet buried seven three-pointers in a 55-47 loss to the visiting Bulldogs. Earlier in the season, Rottet also drained seven treys in a 69-43 victory over Hamburg. Rottet is now the seventh TIMES NEWS boys player all-time to have multiple games of seven or more three-pointers in the same season. The last player to accomplish the feat was Panther Valley's Jake Szczencina last season (7 and 9). The others include Weatherly's Donnie Hoffman (2004-2005), Marian's Eddie McLaughlin (2001-2002), Panther Valley's Brad Yuricheck (1999-2000), Marian's Mike Murphy (1998-1999) and Jim Thorpe's Brian Balliet (1994-1995).
LATE GAME HEROICS Last Wednesday night, two TIMES NEWS area teams came away victorious thanks to successful three-point shots in the closing seconds. In Pleasant Valley's 67-65 Mountain Valley Conference victory over Lehighton, Pleasant Valley's Jarius Hosier connected on his first three-pointer of the season from the top of the key as time expired to give the Bears the come-from-behind victory. Hosier's triple answered a Tyler Crum three-point shot with six seconds left that provided Lehighton with a temporary 65-54 lead. On the same night, Northern Lehigh's Tyler DiBilio's three-pointer with nine seconds left lifted the Bulldogs to a 57-55 victory over Saucon Valley. It was DiBilio's only three-pointer of the night.
AIR JORDAN Lehighton's Jordan Knappenberger had a career night in last Wednesday's 67-65 loss to Pleasant Valley. Knappenberger went off for 32 points, including a career-best nine three-pointers. Knappenberger's previous high for treys in a game was five (accomplished three times this season). Knappenberger also set a new school record for three-pointers in a game, besting the previous mark of seven treys accomplished by Travis Hunsicker on February 7, 1997 and by Nate Kresge on December 16, 2011. His nine long balls was one shy of reaching double digits, which has only been accomplished three times in TIMES NEWS history. The three players to achieve that milestone were: Jim Thorpe's Brian Balliet (12 on February 2, 1995), Weatherly's Jeff Furmanchin (11 on February 4, 2006) and Marian's Eddie McLaughlin (10 on December 14, 2000).
THREE-POINT HONOR ROLL Since our last basketball notebook ran on January 2, several sharpshooters have excelled beyond the three-point arc (some of which have already been mentioned in previous notes). Lehighton's Jordan Knappenberger led the way with nine treys, Tamaqua's Bo Rottet buried seven treys, Pleasant Valley's Eric Mukulski canned six three-pointers in last Thursday's 67-65 victory over Lehighton, Knappenberger added another five three-pointers in Saturday's 72-49 victory over Panther Valley, and Northern Lehigh's Tylyer DiBilio tacked on five triples in Saturday's 64-60 loss to Fleetwood.
KOSCIOLEK GROUNDED Tamaqua junior Brett Kosciolek has been missing from the Blue Raiders' lineup the past few games and the reigning TIMES NEWS Boys Basketball Player of the Year isn't expected to see action again until sometime next week at the earliest. In Tamaqua's game at Pine Grove on January 4, Kosciolek went up for an alley-oop in the first quarter and was undercut by a Pine Grove player. Kosciolek crashed down hard, hitting the base of his spine on the ground. The impact created a whiplash effect to his head. Having shown no immediate symptoms, Kosciolek continued playing the rest of that game and played sparingly in Tamaqua's next game against Northern Lehigh. Even though he never actually hit his head, Kosciolek was later diagnosed with a concussion on Thursday, January 9. The leading scorer in the TIMES NEWS coverage area with 18.64 points per game has already missed games against Jim Thopre and Panther Valley, and will definitely miss games later this week against North Schuylkill and Southern Lehigh. Kosciolek is currently being evaluated and his exact return is unknown; however, the hope is that he will be able to get back in the lineup sometime next week when Tamaqua travels to Blue Mountain (Monday), Pottsville (Thursday) and Palmerton (Saturday).
PANTHERS SNAP STREAK On Monday night, the Panther Valley girls basketball team snapped a 19-game losing streak against Tamaqua with a 50-42 victory over the winless Lady Raiders. Prior to Monday's victory, Panther Valley's last win against Tamaqua came on January 7, 2003, when the Panthers prevailed by a final score of 51-44.
WINNING WAYS Prior to Tuesday's game against Tamaqua, the Panther Valley boys basketball team had won 13 out of the last 14 games against Tamaqua, a stretch dating back to January 10, 2006. Since December 29, 2004, the Panthers had won 16 of their last 18 games against the Blue Raiders. However, on Tuesday night, Tamaqua rose to the occasion and reversed its fortunes with a dominating 61-38 victory over Panther Valley.
FREE THROW FUNK In Tuesday's 63-35 Colonial League loss to Wilson, the Northern Lehigh boys basketball team didn't attempt a single free throw. It marks the first time this season that a TIMES NEWS team hasn't had any free throw attempts in a game. Prior to Northern Lehigh being shutout from the charity stripe, the fewest free throw attempts from an area team was the Tamaqua girls, who had one free throw attempt (which was missed) in a 52-12 loss to Blue Mountain on December 18. In an ironic twist, the Northern Lehigh boys lead the TIMES NEWS area in free throw attempts this season with 263. In their first 13 games (including Tuesday's outlier), the Bulldogs average 20.2 free throws per game.
FIRST LOSSES Last Thursday was not kind to the two remaining undefeated teams in the TIMES NEWS area, as the Northwestern and Marian girls both suffered their first setbacks of the season. The Fillies lost to a one-loss Minersville team by a final score of 47-31, while Northwestern suffered a 42-41 heartbreaker to Salisbury. As of Wednesday night, there are now only three undefeated teams left in District 11: the Mahanoy Area boys (13-0), the Allentown Central Catholic boys (12-0) and the Bethlehem Catholic girls (11-0).
PLAYOFF BOUND The Northwestern girls basketball team became the first TIMES NEWS area team to officially punch their ticket to the postseason. With a 53-21 victory over Jim Thorpe on Saturday, the Lady Tigers have qualified for a loaded District 11 Class AAA Tournament field. Northwestern now owns a 12-1 record on the season.