Lehigh Valley Conference, Colonial League girls basketball races taking shape

Despite graduating all-time scoring leader Sara Jones, Northwestern coach Chris Deutsch liked the potential of his team heading into this season.

He never expected a second straight perfect December.

With the calendar turned to 2014, Northwestern is one of three remaining unbeaten girls basketball teams in The Morning Call coverage area. The Tigers, Bethlehem Catholic and Central Catholic all went 8-0 in the season's opening month.

"One of the keys for us so far has been our depth," Deutsch said Monday while scouting at Notre Dame-Green Pond. "We play like nine girls every game, so we're going to rotate girls in and out.

"Balanced scoring has also been a key up to this point. We have about four girls [Sabrina Mertz, Sarah Segan, Trista Cunningham and Erika Thomas] averaging 10 points or more, which makes us a tough team to guard."

Northwestern heads into the meat of its Colonial League schedule with plenty of optimism regarding its chances to win the league title it missed out on last year. Bethlehem Catholic and Central Catholic could be on a Lehigh Valley Conference title-game collision course.

Plenty of other teams are in contention for slots in the four-team tournaments that will decide the champions of the Colonial League, LVC and Mountain Valley Conference in February. Here's a look at where things stand in each league as we leave the holiday tournaments behind.

Colonial League: Preseason favorites Southern Lehigh and Northwestern both swept through their first five division games and already have two-game leads. They will meet Tuesday in perhaps the biggest game on the Colonial League regular-season schedule.

While North Division leader Northwestern (8-0 overall, 5-0 Colonial) has produced the better overall start, South Division leader Southern Lehigh (7-3, 5-0) may have more room for improvement. Brianna Prince, Southern Lehigh's best rebounder and interior player, has recently returned from a torn ACL. The Spartans also have a history of closing strong under coach Megan Dellegrotti, winning the league title each of the past three seasons.

The wild-card races are wide open at the moment. Catasauqua is the only member of the 12-team Colonial League with more than three league losses. Everyone except Northwestern and Southern Lehigh has dropped at least two league games.

Palmerton, Bangor, Salisbury, Pen Argyl, Wilson, Notre Dame-Green Pond and Palisades all appear capable of pushing for wild-card slots. The next 21/2 weeks, which will feature mostly crossover games, could bring clarity to the wild-card picture.

LVC: Bethlehem Catholic (8-0 overall, 3-0 LVC) and Central Catholic (8-0, 3-0) have played only three of their 14 league games, but both already look like LVC tournament locks.

Bethlehem Catholic, the East Division leader, has outscored its opponents by an average of 25.3 points per game. Central Catholic, the West leader, has outscored its opponents by 19.3 points per game. The teams meet Tuesday in the LVC game of the regular season.

If Bethlehem Catholic and Central Catholic win their divisions as expected, two other slots would be available for the LVC tournament. The North Division is the race with the greatest chance for drama.

Parkland (3-3, 2-0) has an early jump on Nazareth (6-2, 2-1) and Northampton (4-3, 1-1), but don't expect a division champ to emerge until the final week of the regular season. Nazareth has played the best basketball of the group over the last two weeks, winning six straight games since an 0-2 start.

The losers of the Parkland-Nazareth-Northampton battle in the North Division should compete with Liberty (4-4, 2-1) and perhaps Emmaus (3-4, 1-1) for the LVC's one wild-card berth. Liberty and Emmaus should be helped by playing in weaker divisions than the North.

MVC: Defending champion Pocono Mountain West (3-2 overall, 2-0 MVC), Pocono Mountain East (4-3, 2-0) and East Stroudsburg South (5-2, 1-0) have started at the top in the MVC. None has played well enough to rate as an overwhelming favorite, the way Pocono Mountain West was last season.

Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg North have combined to win only one game, so don't look for either of those teams to contend for a spot in the MVC tournament. It should be five teams — Pocono Mountain West, Pocono Mountain East, East Stroudsburg South, Pleasant Valley and Lehighton — competing for four spots.

Pleasant Valley may be the biggest mystery to date. The Bears, a perennial MVC contender, have only played four games and started 1-3.






Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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