WILKES-BARRE – Dallas is expected to keep picking off teams one at a time in Division 1.
Tunkhannock may just jump all at once and flip the standings in Division 2.
If the perceptions expressed by Wyoming Valley Conference boys basketball coaches Dec. 3 during WVC Media Night at Patte’s Sports Bar are accurate, Dallas will have moved closer to the top while Tunkhannock will be fighting for a division title when teams head for the stretch run in February.
Hazleton Area, regarded as the best team in the WVC and perhaps all of District 2, is the clear favorite in Division 1, but Dallas has the potential to be the top challenger in the third season under coach Mark Belenski.
Tunkhannock improved its overall record, but still finished last in Division 2 in Spencer Lunger’s first year coaching his alma mater. The Tigers made a lasting impression with their performance, raising expectations.
Hazleton Area has four starters returning as it tries to defend its title.
Dallas also has four starters back.
The Mountaineers have improved from 4-19 to 8-15 in Belenski’s first season to 12-12 last year, the second under the former state championship coach at defunct Bishop O’Reilly.
Dallas went from last of eight teams in Division 1 before Belenski’s arrival to sixth of eight, then fourth of six, following realignment, last season.
Continuing that movement to second or third seems like the most likely result, according to opposing coaches.
“We have four of our starters back,” Dallas assistant coach Jonathan Saba said at Media Night, which Belenski did not attend. “Going into the season, it’s probably the best shape we’ve been in in a number of years.”
All four returning starters are seniors, including four-year starter Jay Bittner at point guard and leading scorer Joey Parsons. Alex Charlton and 6-foot-4 defensive leader Nick Kocher are the other returnees.
Matt Mathers, another senior, may join them in the starting lineup.
“He’s one of those guys who does all the little things,” Saba said.
Tunkhannock was 6-11 in the WVC and 10-13 overall last season when it closed the gap on many of its Division 1 and 2 opponents. The Tigers had been 2-12 and 6-17 the year before when they were a Division 1 member.
“I think Tunkhannock is the favorite, but Meyers is still the defending champion,” GAR coach Jerry Altavilla said.
Pat Toole, the coach of the defending champions, also praised the Tigers.
“My pick to win the division is Tunkhannock,” Toole said. “The trio of (Tyler) Faux, (Sean) Harder and (Evan) Turner, they are really good players.”
Wyoming Area coach Pete Moses also tabbed Tunkhannock as the division favorite while Berwick coach Jason Kingery referred to the Tigers as a “sneaky good team.”
Faux, Harder and Turner were the team’s top three scorers last season.
“Last year was a good year for us, being back in the program,” Lunger said. “We’re just looking to build. After being in last place in the division, we’re looking to move on up.”
Faux, one of the league’s top long-distance shooting threats, hit two 3-pointers per game last season while leading the team in scoring.
Harder is a four-year starter. He sets up his teammates while also providing scoring and rebounding.
The Tigers have one of the conference’s biggest teams.
Turner, a physical force on the inside at 6-4, suffered a turf toe injury in football season and could be slow getting back to full strength.
Matt Goodwin, another senior, is also back. Both Goodwin and Harder at 6-2.
Avery Billings, a 6-8 junior who gained some valuable playing time, will join them in the starting lineup.
If Turner is not ready to start early in the season, 6-5 freshman Jack Chilson could step into the lineup.
Ryan Harder, another freshman, senior Paul DeMarco and junior Erik Bennett provide backcourt depth.
More tough times seem to be ahead at Lake-Lehman, which had the WVC’s worst record last season when it went 1-15 in the division and 1-21 overall.
There could be times when coach Nathan Schlichter turns to three sophomores and two freshmen.
Schlichter said the Black Knights are likely to open the season with a lineup of senior Nathan Labar, juniors C.J. Cercone and Donald Thompson, sophomore David Magdalinski and freshman Max Paczewski.
“C.J. is the only kid on the entire JV and varsity roster that has played more than 15 minutes of varsity time,” Schlichter said. “So, we’re going to be very young, playing for the future and getting these guys some experience.
“The guys coming up from the freshman team had a great year last year.”
The WVC girls coaches held their Media Day earlier in the day at Norm’s Pizza in Wilkes-Barre.
Dallas, Lake-Lehman and Tunkhannock all have reason to believe they could improve from a year ago.
Sophomore 6-footer Lauren Charlton has developed both an inside and outside game after playing primarily as a center as a freshman starter at Dallas.
Senior guards Hanna Johnson and Kendra Johnson also return to the starting lineup from a team that was 6-10 in the WVC and 12-13 overall. The Mountaineers are the only Class 4A team competing in Division 1.
Olivia Johnson, a key reserve for much of the past two years, should fill another spot.
“We’re pretty pleased with the offseason,” coach Kelly Johnson said.
Lake-Lehman and Tunkhannock occupied the bottom two spots in Division 2, which played Division 1 teams on even terms, going 36-36 in crossover games last year.
Junior Madison Borum returns to the starting lineup along with all three guards – juniors Savannah Purdy, Corrina Scoblick and Sarah Salus.
“We return four starters and our inside game has improved,” Black Knights coach Charlie Lavan said. “How well we do depends on how well we execute the little things.”
The Black Knights were 6-10 and 7-16 last season.
Tunkhannock is trying to improve on a finish of 3-13 and 5-17.
“I like to think we’re making strides,” fifth-year coach Joe Reno said. “We finished up with only five wins, but we’re improving.”
The Lady Tigers return five of their top seven scorers, including last year’s leader, junior center Rebecca Avery.
Junior guard Abby Ritz, senior forwards Jess Ell and Samantha Generotti and senior guard Kelly Barber are also back.