The Catasauqua girls basketball program produced some of its best seasons in Dave Troxell's first run as coach.
His second tenure has featured the same struggles his successors endured over the past four years, but that hasn't kept him from enjoying his return to the bench.
"It's been great," Troxell said earlier this week. "I really love being back. The girls are fun to work with. They want to learn."
Troxell retook the Catty job — he resigned in April 2009 after an 11-year run — knowing he would not be coaching for championships right away. The Rough Riders went 5-17 in his final season before he resigned. They went 4-84 in the four seasons he spent away from the program, never winning more than twice in any season.
These Rough Riders have lost 12 straight games since beating Mahanoy Area on the season's opening night. They need to win two of their nine remaining games to avoid a fifth straight 20-loss season.
With victories tough to come by, Troxell has taken a small-scale approach to coaching. When Catasauqua has a chance to win a quarter or a half, he pushes his players to chase that goal. When the Rough Riders have had an opportunity to practice, he has focused on fundamentals first.
One of his primary goals when he started his second stint as coach was rebuilding the numbers in the program. When he was leading the Rough Riders to three straight Colonial League titles in the early 2000s, he often had 18-20 players in the program.
This season, Catasauqua has just 13 girls playing basketball. The lack of numbers has left the Rough Riders playing a varsity-only schedule, but he hopes to have a JV program back up and running next season.
Troxell would also like to get Catasauqua back playing in summer events like the Stellar and SportsFest tournaments.
"I think for us it's just playing together, just getting together and playing pickup games and learning to play with each other," Troxell said. "I think that's a main goal, just to get together and play. We have a decent core of eighth-grade kids coming up. We have two juniors we will rely on heavily next year. We also start a sophomore in Quinn Bachman. So we've got some good returning people, and we'll go from there."
Before looking to the future, Troxell would like to get his remaining players, who have stuck through tough times, a few more wins this season. While the Rough Riders have been overmatched against some of the Colonial League's elite teams, they played Notre Dame-Green Pond tough into the fourth quarter last week. They also have suffered close losses to Northern Lehigh, Moravian Academy and Notre Dame-East Stroudsburg.
"Our girls haven't quit," he said. "They have a great positive attitude. They want to practice. They want to learn. They're kind of getting some things that we do in practice. "I think the light bulb has come on."
Turnaround time: Two of the three Morning Call-area teams that won District 11 titles last season started slowly this season after graduating multiple starters.
Nazareth and Notre Dame-Green Pond are now two of the hottest teams in the Lehigh Valley.
Nazareth, the defending District 11 4A champion, dropped its first two games but followed that with a nine-game winning streak. The Blue Eagles saw their streak end Tuesday against Bethlehem Catholic, but they led the unbeaten Golden Hawks by five points entering the fourth quarter.
The return of wing Kassie Behler from an early injury has allowed Lauren Kresge and Taylor Umar to shift to more comfortable spots. Chelsea Gary (11.6 points per game) has provided a consistent presence down low.
The Blue Eagles have also received solid play from several less-experienced varsity players, including freshmen Jessica Durnin and Tessa Brugler.
"The last nine games [before Bethlehem Catholic], we played pretty well, but unfortunately we didn't have any close games at the end," Nazareth coach Rich Bickert said. "This was a tester. I thought we responded OK.
"Overall, I'm really happy. They're playing as a team. Everybody's contributing. Everybody's doing what they're capable of doing now. I think that's what we lacked a little earlier in the season."
Notre Dame endured a tougher start than Nazareth, losing its first four games. Three of those losses came by a total of 10 points.
The Crusaders, who won the District 11 2A title last season, have since ripped off six straight wins to stay in contention for a Colonial League playoff berth. Sam Cabone and Julie Romich have combined to average 18.2 points per game during the winning streak, providing secondary options behind leading scorer Gabby Altmire.
Kings of the mountain: Pocono Mountain West has started 5-0 in the Mountain Valley Conference, continuing its recent ownership of the league.
The Panthers have won 19 straight games against MVC opponents dating to the start of last season. They went 12-0 in the regular season and won their two MVC tournament games a year ago.
Pleasant Valley was the last MVC team to beat Pocono Mountain West, scratching out a 44-42 win in the District 11 Class 4A quarterfinals Feb. 24, 2012. The Panthers' last regular-season loss in the MVC also came to Pleasant Valley, a 36-34 setback Feb. 3, 2012.
Pocono Mountain West's four losses this season have all come to Lehigh Valley Conference foes — Nazareth, Whitehall, Central Catholic and Parkland.
Free throws: Bethlehem Catholic will take on Archbishop Wood in a Sunday showcase event at Lower Merion High School. Bethlehem Catholic and Archbishop Wood are ranked 1-2 in the latest Harrisburg Patriot-News Class 3A girls basketball poll.
•Whitehall has won four of its last five games after starting the season 0-6. The Zephyrs beat Pocono Mountain West and East Stroudsburg South, the MVC's top two teams to date, during that stretch.
Girls Basketball Top 10
Rank, Team, Record, Last
1., Bethlehem Catholic, 11-0, 1
2., Central Catholic, 12-1, 2
3., Parkland, 9-3, 4
4., Nazareth, 9-3, 5
5., Northwestern, 12-1, 3
6., Southern Lehigh, 10-4, 6
7., Pocono Mountain West, 6-4, 8
8., Emmaus, 6-5, NR
9., East Stroudsburg South, 8-4, 10
10., Salisbury, 10-5, NR
Dropped: Northampton (5-6, No. 7); Liberty (6-6, No. 9).
Others to consider: Bangor (8-5), Notre Dame-Green Pond (6-4), Palisades (8-5), Palmerton (9-3). Records through Wednesday based on games reported to The Morning Call.
Lehigh Valley Conference
Team, League, Overall
Central Catholic, 5-1, 12-1
Emmaus, 4-2, 6-5
Dieruff, 1-4, 4-7
Allen, 0-6, 0-11
Parkland, 6-0, 9-3
Nazareth, 3-2, 9-3
Northampton, 2-4, 5-6
Whitehall, 1-4, 4-7
Beth. Catholic, 6-0, 11-0
Liberty, 3-3, 6-6
Easton, 2-3, 5-5
Freedom, 1-5, 4-6
Team, League, Overall
Northwestern, 7-1, 12-1
Bangor, 6-3, 8-5
Palmerton, 5-3, 9-3
Pen Argyl, 2-6, 4-7
No. Lehigh, 1-7, 1-11
Catasauqua, 0-8, 1-12
So. Lehigh, 8-1, 10-4
Salisbury, 6-3, 10-5
Notre Dame-GP, 5-3, 6-4
Palisades, 4-5, 8-5
Wilson, 3-4, 4-7
Saucon Valley, 3-6, 5-8
Mountain Valley Conference
Team, League, Overall
PM West, 5-0, 6-4
ES South, 4-1, 8-4
Pleasant Valley, 4-2, 5-4
PM East, 3-2, 5-6
Lehighton, 2-4, 5-7
Stroudsburg, 1-5, 2-10
ES North, 0-5, 0-12
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
The Salisbury girls basketball team has reached the District 11 playoffs each of the past two seasons.
The Falcons may be ready to challenge for a Colonial League playoff berth this season behind the play of Meagan Eripret.
The junior center started a huge week by scoring a game-high 18 points, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking four shots as Salisbury beat Northwestern 42-41, handing the Tigers their first loss of the season. She followed that with a 34-point, 16-rebound, three-block game against Notre Dame-East Stroudsburg, a game in which she went over 1,000 career points.
Eripret added 11 points in a win over Catasauqua and another 28 in a victory against Allen as Salisbury extended its winning streak to five games. The Falcons need one more victory to clinch another District 11 playoff spot and began Thursday tied in the race for one of the two Colonial League wild-card slots.
Central Catholic rolled over Nazareth and Bethlehem Catholic cruised past Parkland in the Yasso-Rothrock Christmas City Classic six weeks ago. Nazareth and Parkland get a chance to measure their progress in repeat matchups involving the four leading contenders for LVC playoff berths.
TOP 25 SCORING LEADERS
Player, School, Yr., Avg.
T-1., Angelica Bertola, Notre Dame-ES, Sr., 24.1
T-1., Kalista Walters, Becahi, Jr., 24.1
3., Jackie Benitez, PM West, Jr., 20.6
4., Meagan Eripret, Salisbury, Jr., 20.5
5., Karlee Krchnavi, Palisades, So., 18.8
6., Madelene McDonald, So. Lehigh, Sr., 18.0
7., Lisa Steakin, ES South, Sr., 17.4
8., Leandra Sterner, Northampton, Sr., 17.3
9., Alpreshia Parker, PM East, Jr., 15.3
10., Beth Wiseley, Emmaus, Sr., 14.5
11., Jade Farquhar, Palmerton, Jr., 14.3
T-12., Maddie Capuano, Liberty, So., 13.8
T-12., Alyssa Mack, Central, Jr., 13.8
14., Sara Cinelli, Pen Argyl, Sr., 13.1
15., Trista Cunningham, Northwestern, Sr., 11.9
T-16., Madison Mummey, Palmerton, Jr., 11.8
T-16., Madison Quinn, Wilson, Jr., 11.8
T-18., Gabby Altmire, Notre Dame-GP, Jr., 11.6
T-18., Chelsea Gary, Nazareth, Sr., 11.6
T-18., Kiyae White, Emmaus, Fr., 11.6
21., Mady Campbell, So. Lehigh, Jr., 11.1
22., Emma Redding, Central, Sr., 10.9
23., Elyssa Okken, Saucon Valley, Jr., 10.7
24., Brenna Dosedlo, Freedom, Sr., 10.6
25., Sabrina Mertz, Northwestern, Jr., 10.4
Scoring leaders through Wednesday based on games reported to The Morning Call.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun