FROM THE PRESS BOX: TROY TEAM TO BEAT IN LARGE SCHOOL BOYS TITLE CHASE ... MORE ON NTL HOOPS, WRESTLING
If I took anything out of the first full week of the NTL season, it’s that Troy is definitely the team to beat in the Large School Division boys title chase.
The Trojans opened their season Wednesday with a 70-53 home win over Athens, a clash between the preseason favorites to battle for the division crown.
The Wildcats employed a box-and-one to combat the scoring prowess of Ty Barrett, and to an extent it was effective, holding Barrett to 17 points — about seven points under his average from last year.
The problem for Athens was Ethan VanNoy, who stepped up with 20 points, and Jake Deitrick, who added 11. There were other Trojans — Devin Selleck, Morgan Madigan, and Mason Imbt — that made major contributions as well.
If the guys around Barrett, who went off for 30 points Friday in a lopsided win over Williamson, continue to contribute when the opposition throws gimmick defenses at him, Trojan fans should feel good about their title chances.
As for Athens, after the loss to Troy, things appeared to be headed from bad to worse. Their next time out, the Wildcats played three-plus quarters of pretty bad basketball, and trailed a young Wellsboro team (playing their first game of the season) by 16 points with 5 minutes remaining in the game.
Then, like a light switch, after a 3-pointer by junior Tucker Brown, the Wildcats turned it on, and outscored the Green Hornets 17-1 in less than three minutes to tie the game.
After Wellsboro took a three-point lead, junior Mason Lister knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the game’s final 47 seconds to secure the 54-53 win.
Less than 24 hours later, Athens put together a full 32 minutes and beat NEB, 65-56, in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicates. The Wildcats led by 18 midway through the fourth quarter.
Speaking of NEB, the Panthers are off to an 0-3 start, but that could be a mirage.
NEB is a young squad, but the addition of former North Rome Christian standout Nick Beers give the Panthers a legitimate scorer, and takes some pressure off the younger players.
I think this team will gain confidence, and be dangerous as the season progresses.
Canton is off to a 3-0 start, and that’s without 6-7 Ben Knapp, who is likely out the for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.
The Warriors are featuring balanced scoring with Isaiah Niemczyk and Cooper Kitchen leading four scorers averaging in double-figures.
Canton already owns wins over Sayre and NEB, and are in the early-season driver’s seat in the Small School Division.
Like NEB, Sayre is a team you might want to play now because they are going to be more dangerous as the season plays out.
The Redskins are an athletic bunch, and though it sounds cliche, they are searching for an identity right now. If they figure it out, they are going to be tough to deal with.
On the girls side, NEB’s Maisie Neuber has elevated her game, and is one of the best all-around players in the NTL. There is some talent around her, and the Lady Panthers play good, hard-nosed defense as well. They are definitely the team to beat in the Small School race.
The Large School Division is not quite as cut-and-dried.
Athens and Towanda are the clear front-runners, and Wyalusing could be a player in the title chase.
The Lady Wildcats won’t remind anyone of the “Showtime Lakers” of the 1980s, but they play great half-court man-to-man defense, and have two of the best players in the league in Kayleigh Miller and Caydence Macik.
Miller can really shoot, and Macik is a presence in the low-post. If the Athens role players step up, they will be in the title chase.
The Lady Black Knights are more athletic than Athens, and Paige Manchester is also among the best players in the NTL. The addition of longtime NTL coach Rob Gentile to the Towanda sidelines is also a big plus for them in 2021.
Wyalusing, which trailed by 22 early in a 58-44 loss to NEB Saturday, returns a nice core from last year. It will be interesting to see if the Lady Rams can build on last year’s strong finish, which included a win over Athens that gave Towanda the division title.
Last week, Athens topped NEB in overtime in one of the best basketball games I’ve seen in years. Both teams played great defense, and made clutch shots. Tonight, NEB hosts Towanda, and that should give us a little better indication of how this year’s Large School Division will break down.
The Canton wrestlers flexed their muscles with a season-opening dual win over Athens. The Warriors are clearly the cream of the crop on the NTL mats, and easily the deepest deep in the league.
Athens, Wyalusing, Towanda will likely battle it out for the rights to call themselves the “second best” team in the league.
While the aforementioned four teams, and Troy are filling nearly all their weight classes, numbers are an issue for a few NTL teams.
Sayre has had just three wrestlers in its line-up in the early going, but they are expected to add one or two more, possibly three in the near future. The junior high program is in even worse shape, with just one wrestler, but the youth ranks could provide as many as 14 grapplers to the junior high program next year.
Elsewhere, Northeast Bradford has just two in its varsity line-up, and North Penn-Liberty has six.
One bright spot, however, is Williamson, which has 23 on its roster, including eight sophomores and six freshmen. The Warriors are off to an 2-4 start, but are only forfeiting one weight class.
With Canton’s Timmy Ward out for the season, the only PIAA medalist returning is Athens junior Gavin Bradley, who finished seventh last year after a sixth-place finish as a freshman.
Canton’s Derek Atherton-Ely and Hayden Ward are the only other returning NTL wrestlers to make it to Hershey last year.
It doesn’t get much better in terms of postseason success. The only other returning NTL wrestler to reach the Northeast Regionals was Towanda senior Clay Watkins.
There a few other wrestlers to keep an eye on, including Canton’s Riley Parker and Hudson Ward, Athens’ Karter Rude, and Wyalusing’s Skyler Manahan.
With the changes in the postseason in 2021, the trimming of the bracket to eight at States, and the addition of a Super Regional to ensure the best eight reach Hershey, it may be even more difficult to win a state medal.
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