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Wrecker memories: Russell ... Hoop shootout

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Rod Heckman has been a member of the Times News Sports Department since September 1988. During the last few weeks, he has been sharing some of his most memorable moments for each of our 10 area schools. Today’s edition features Weatherly).

By Rod Heckman


They may be the smallest school in our area, but they’ve created some of my biggest memories.

I don’t get to attend too many Weatherly events, but some of the ones I have will never be forgotten.

One of them was a soccer phenom who not only broke school and league records, but national ones as well.

While another one ended in a loss, it’s probably the most exciting high school basketball game I’ve watched in my time here.

October 17, 2002

Russell a one-man ‘Wrecking’ crew

I’m not a big fan of soccer.

In fact, in my years as a writer you can count on one hand the number of assignments I’ve had covering the sport.

But back in 2002, it was hard not to notice and be impressed with what David Russell was doing at Weatherly.

The senior was piling up goal after goal. In fact, he was posting hat trick after hat trick.

Through the first 12 games of the season, Russell tallied 52 goals and recorded 10 hat tricks, including a nine-goal game against Williams Valley.

As staggering as those numbers were, the Wrecker star had an even bigger effort the second time his team faced the Vikings. In that contest (on Oct. 5), he set a national high school record by scoring 13 goals during a 17-3 win.

His performance was grabbing attention throughout the area and beyond. It was also the reason I was sent to his final regular-season game.

In that contest against Mount Carmel, Russell found the net six times during an 8-3 victory. The six goals gave him 91 on the season, which broke the single-season high school record of 88. It also allowed him to reach 200 in his career.

The output against the Tornadoes was a typical one for him that season, but my memory of it was how effortless he made it seem. Every time the ball would land on his foot, it seemed he would score or create a good scoring chance. He was also rather humble. To that point, he had scored 72% of his team’s goals, but still deflected the focus off himself.

“My teammates have been great,” he said. “I make it a point to compliment them so much because they’re the ones that get it done. They get it up to me, they hustle, they work the whole field. I just put them away. My team is the source of everything.”

That team finished regular-season play with a 17-3 record, but dropped a 5-4 decision (losing 3-1 in penalty kicks) to Tri-Valley in the district playoffs.

Russell finished the season with 94 goals and his career with 203. He went on to play at Lock Haven University and helped the Bald Eagles capture a PSAC championship in 2004.

March 5, 1991

Weatherly falls to MA, Rhoades

It was one of the most talented boys basketball teams Weatherly has ever had.

Four players from Tony Antinozzi’s club would end as 1,000-point scorers, with a fifth coming pretty close.

They would end the season with 22 wins, scoring an average of 73 points per game.

What they didn’t have, though, was an answer for Mahanoy Area’s Mike Rhoades.

I didn’t cover Weatherly that often, and didn’t cover this game either. Steve Stallone got the nod, as he handled most of the Wreckers’ assignments. But I wanted to be at Northern Lehigh to see this highly-anticipated matchup. After all, Rhoades was the real deal and the stories about his range were endless.

While I don’t remember all the details, what I can recall was that it was a great game that went double overtime in front of a packed crowd. I also was able to verify that all the stories were true - Rhoades could hit from anywhere on the floor. More than once he would bring the ball up, pass midcourt, and fire up a shot - often hitting nothing but net.

The two teams played to a 20-20 tie after the first quarter, with the Wreckers - led by Jeff Pleban, Troy Gregory, Brian Sartori, Kevin Peiser, Dave Jemo and Bob Pugh - taking a narrow 42-41 advantage at halftime.

After the break, though, Rhoades took over. Held to just seven points in the first half, he would tally 36 the rest of the way to finish with 43 in leading the Golden Bears to an eventual 98-89 victory. Weatherly had five players in double figures, but it wasn’t enough. Rhoades ended 18-of-29 from the floor, including 6-of-15 from three-point range. He made all five of his free throws and added seven rebounds.

The Wreckers would reach the state playoffs, defeating Marian in the consolation round, while Mahanoy won the district title and two games in the state playoffs.

Rhoades went on to star at Lebanon Valley College, helping them win a national title in 1994 and being named the Division 3 Player of the Year in 1995. After head coaching positions at Randolph-Macon and Rice, he is now in charge at Virginia Commonwealth.

Despite his coaching success, anytime I see him on the sidelines my mind automatically goes back to his high school days and a night in Slatington when Weatherly and Mahanoy Area played in one of the most exciting scholastic games I’ve ever seen.