CB South alum T.J. Lonergan, a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, remains an avid follower of girls’ basketball in the SOL, and he offers his take on the upcoming district tournament. T.J. served as a CB East assistant coach/statistician from 2004-09. He also was a CBAA boys’ basketball coach in 2009.
2011 District 1 Girls' BB Preview
By T.J. Lonergan
As the PIAA District 1 playoffs are only a week away, here are my thoughts on the past season for some and the new season that is about to begin for others.
The Big 3
Ever year there are many certainties that will happen throughout the year. Christmas is always on the 25th of December, the President always makes his State of the Union address the 3rd Tuesday in January, Philadelphia is always hit with a massive snowstorm sometime during basketball season that completely throws schedules out of whack, and Council Rock North, Cheltenham, and Central Bucks East girls basketball teams are always playing in the District 1 playoffs.
These three teams have only missed the PIAA state playoffs a combined four times over the last 12 seasons (CB East and Cheltenham have missed it only once), and have never missed the District 1 playoffs over that span.
These three teams are the epitome of dominance in not only their leagues but also in the district. Each of these teams has been able to stay dominant in their conferences over this 12-year span, each winning 10 SOL championships. CB East won its fifth consecutive Suburban One League championship this past season, while Cheltenham and CR North won their third consecutive.
To go along with just being dominant in their leagues, the District 1 and PIAA state playoffs have been kind to these teams as well. Cheltenham has made The Pavilion at Villanova University its second home over the last 12 years, advancing to the District 1 finals eight times during this span (winning the whole thing three times in the past 12 years, four times in the past 14). CB East has made it to the finals once over this span, losing to Cheltenham back in 2002. And CR North has won three titles (one as Council Rock) since 1999, beating Cheltenham in each final.
Even though the past is the past, this years playoffs, in my opinion, are going to be the same as the past. Unfortunately for these three teams, only one will make it to the District 1 finals this year since they are all positioned in the same part of the bracket as each other (CRN at 1st, Cheltenham at 4th, and CBE at 8th).
Do not overlook the other teams from the SOL leagues this year. I will say it here first, Central Bucks South, Central Bucks West, Council Rock South, Abington, Upper Dublin, Neshaminy, William Tennent, North Penn, and Plymouth Whitemarsh are all the real deal. These teams have the ability to sneak up on teams and make a deep run into the District playoffs. Unfortunately for some, the bracket this year is not helping these teams that are seeking a run to The Pavilion. CR South and Upper Dublin are in a tough situation, since only one of them will be able to make it to the state playoffs with an automatic bid, meeting in the 2nd round if they were to win their first round games. CB West also has a tough test ahead of them having to play the top seed in this year’s playoffs, CR North, in the 1st round. PW also has to play William Tennent in the first round.
Don’t be surprised if you read on Sunday morning that CB South and Neshaminy have advanced to the second round of the playoffs. For as dominate Spring-Ford and Boyertown have been so far this season, Neshaminy and CB South, respectively, are solid teams who play in tough conferences; while Boyertown and Spring-Ford play in a very, very weak conference, the Pac-10.
As for Abington, William Tennent, and North Penn, they have a different situation entirely. William Tennent, in my eyes, has an excellent opportunity of making its first state playoff appearance either with a huge upset or playing for the 9th seed coming out of District 1. At 13th, William Tennent will have a tough first round game against PW and an even harder second round game against Cheltenham. I think that William Tennent will give Cheltenham a run for its money and one of the main reasons I believe this is the way this team has come together at the end of the season, ending strong with a big win over a talented Abington team.
North Penn and Abington will square off against each other in the first round, which is horrible for girls’ basketball fans because they are both very good teams, so seeing one of them go home in the first round is a sad sight. Aside from its losses to Cheltenham and CB East, North Penn has had another signature fantastic second half of the season. If Abington, the defending District 1 Champions, were to come out on top in this match-up, the Ghosts’ second round game against CR North would clearly be the game to see in the second round. In my opinion, the ninth PIAA state playoff seed from District 1 will be one of the three teams listed above, if they do not secure automatic bids.
You have to give credit where credit is due. The successful teams seem to always hog the attention, but there are other teams that need to get a nice pat on the back for the work that they accomplished this season. Pennridge has come off one of the worst years in recent memories. It was not too long ago that they won the SOL National championship, had a 20-win season, and made it to the PIAA state playoffs. And yes, their record does not reflect a very good season, but there are a lot of bright spots Coach Dave Martin can take away from this past season. I can attest to seeing them in person - they really came together as a team towards the end of the season and were definitely playing well. I don’t expect Coach Martin or the Lady Rams to have a repeat of this season next year.
Coach Becky Duffy from Plymouth Whitemarsh and Coach Terry Rakowsky from Central Bucks West also deserve a lot of credit this season. Coach Duffy has helped to turn around a program that has it hard times. Only a few years ago, PW was playing in the state playoffs, and last year hit a low with a five-win season. This year she has helped to make PW competitive again, coming in third in a conference dominated by Cheltenham and Upper Dublin.
Coach Rakowsky has helped to start the turnaround of a CB West program that was determined dead as a girls’ basketball school just two years ago. Coach Rakowsky came to this program after it came off a 0-22 season and has helped to guide his team to its first District 1 playoff appearance in a decade. I don’t see the success of the Lady Bucks to stop after this season, since almost the entire CB West girls basketball team will return next season.
Is it good or is it bad? In my opinion it is horrible. This system doesn’t take into account a lot of different things that would be looked at if the seedings were determined by a committee of coaches. One being that it doesn’t take into account tough losses to good teams. It doesn’t matter if you lose by 1 point or 40 points to a team; a loss is a loss under the point system. So for a team like CR South, for example, which plays in a tough conference and has had tough losses by five points or less, the Golden Hawks will be ranked lower then most people think they should be seeded.
This system also doesn’t take into account the conference champions. As one coach has told me, coaches focus on winning their conference, winning the district, then winning the state tournament. For almost every coach, they spend much more time and energy scouting and preparing for their conference and not for the non-league parts of their schedules. That is why I feel that there should be some kind of a point bonus for a team that wins their conference so that they can be placed a little higher than the rest (i.e. Upper Dublin being higher then CB East or Chester being as low as they are after winning their conference).
The point system also doesn’t take into account the quality of a team’s schedule. Yes, it has scheduling and bonus points to help, but that’s not enough. Some teams can go out and play teams out of state or in state that are in either bad conferences or are lower classifications who will boast really good records, but aren’t at the quality of other teams with weaker records. Also it helps teams that are in weaker conferences that play a difficult non-league schedule (i.e. Chester).
Now I am not saying that I have the answer to this problem, but I am saying that this is not the best way to seed teams for the playoffs. It could be used as a guide to help the coaches, but I don’t think it should be the full determining factor. It may work for the boys, but I don’t think it is the best way for the girls.
Coach of the Year
This was a hard decision for me at this point in the season, but if I had to make a decision one who to give this award to tomorrow there is no doubt in my mind it would go to Council Rock South coach Monica Stolic. She has taking a program that was dwarfed by the success of its sister school and made it a force to be reckon with not only in the SOL but also in District 1 and the state. What did it for me was the win over CR North earlier this month by 13 points, marking the Golden Hawks’ first win over their biggest rival in school history. From guiding her team from a three-win season a few years ago to a 20-win season and state appearance last year, Coach Stolic is doing an unbelievable job with this very, very young group of players. I would not be surprised if she finds herself making another first for the CR South girls basketball program, its first appearance in the District 1 finals in March. Or if not this year, they will easily be my pre-season pick to win it all next year.
Player of the Year
This was also a hard decision between Alex Wheatley and Ciara ‘CC’ Andrews, but in my opinion CC Andrews is the Player of the Year so far from the SOL. She has helped to lead a Cheltenham team surrounded by question marks coming into this year to dominance once again. She has been dominate in every game she has played in so far this season and has helped guide the Lady Panthers to another SOL American Championship – their 23rd conference crown in 25 years - and a fourth seed in this years District 1 playoffs, and I don’t see her wanting to stop there with the accolades and awards that she has collected so far with this Cheltenham team. I expect her to help lead Cheltenham deep into this years District 1 and PIAA state playoffs.
My Picks for the District One Playoffs
*Remember high school girls basketball is the epitome of volatility, and no pick that I choose is a lock, meaning that I would not be surprised with a number of early upsets (as I explained earlier in this article). But for now, I am calling it like I see it.
1st Round Winners:
CR-North (#1) over CB West (#32), Mt. St. Joe’s (#2) over Bishop Shanahan (#31), Downingtown-East (#3) over Academy Park (#30), Cheltenham (#4) over Souderton (#29), Lower Merion (#5) over Great Valley (#28), Boyertown (#6) over CB South (#27), Upper Dublin (#7) over Coatesville (#26), CB East (#8) over Chester (#25), Spring-Ford (#9) over Neshaminy (#24), CR South (#10) over Unionville (#23), Avon Grove (#11) over Garnet Valley (#22), Downingtown-West (#12) over Haverford (#21), William Tennent (#13) over Plymouth Whitemarsh (#20), Radnor (#19) over Sun Valley (#14), WC Rustin (#15) over Upper Darby (#18), North Penn (#16) over Abington (#17)
2nd Round Winners
CR North (#1) over North Penn (#16), CB East (#8) over Spring-Ford (#9), Cheltenham (#4) over William Tennent (#13), Downingtown-West (#12) over Lower Merion (#5), Mt. St. Joe’s (#2) over WC Rustin (#15), CR-South (#10) over Upper Dublin (#7), Downingtown-East (#3) over Radnor (#19), Boyertown (#6) over Avon Grove (#11)
CR North (#1) over CB East (#8), Cheltenham (#4) over Downingtown-West (#12), Mt. St. Joe’s (#2) over CR South (#10), Downingtown-East (#3) over Boyertown (#6)
CR North (#1) over Cheltenham (#4), Downingtown-East (#3) over Mt. St. Joe’s (#2)
Champions: CR North
1) Council Rock-North (1st Seed)
2) Cheltenham (4th seed)
3) Mount St. Joseph (2nd seed)
4) Downingtown-East (3rd seed)
5) Central Bucks East (8th seed)
6) Council Rock-South (10th seed)
7) Boyertown (6th seed)
8) Upper Dublin (7th seed)
9) Spring-Ford (9th seed)
10) Lower Merion (5th seed)