Boys hoops returns everyone
If the Northwestern Lehigh football team had things go its way, the Tigers would be preparing to play for a state championship this weekend in Hershey. The football team’s run ended with a loss in the District 11 semifinal, which allowed a number of players to instantly hit the basketball court in time to get ready for the season.
Northwestern boys basketball head coach Billy Hallman knows that he could have been without key players, but he was also hoping for some of his players to have a shot at a state championship in football.
“I was rooting for them to go all the way,” said Hallman. “It would have made things tough for a while, but it would have been great for them and great for the school. As things played out, I’m happy that they’re all here and ready to play though.”
One of the reasons that the Tigers may have been able to withstand a late arrival by some players is that they’re already juggling too many players for a starting lineup. The team finished 12-11 last season and made it to districts but exited early with a first round loss to Lower Moreland, who went on to fall to Bethlehem Catholic in the District 11/1 Class 4A subregional championship.
The fact that the Northwestern didn’t lose any players to graduation is one thing, but having gotten a lot of playing time for young players when Luke Hallman went down with a knee injury last season has given the Tigers plenty of experience to draw from this winter.
“Experience is going to be huge for us,” said Billy Hallman. “Last year, we lost about five or six games by two or three possessions and this year, we’ve got more experience that can help us in those close games and maybe turn some of those games into wins. We’re going to be deep and they all want to play together, so it’s up to me to make it all mesh. That’s a good problem to have though.”
Last year’s team had four players – Sam Yadush (15 points per game), Deven Bollinger (12 ppg), Luke Hallman (11 ppg) and Devin Thomas (11 ppg) – all average double-digits in scoring.
After losing 6-foot-1, 240-pound Luke Hallman, their big man, the Tigers lost six of their last 10 games down the stretch. If there is any upside to the loss, it was that younger players got to step in and pick up playing time, which leaves them looking to get back on the court. Luke Hallman, now a junior, came through the injury in good shape and is ready to hit the court.
“The rehab was pretty easy,” he said. “It was just a matter of working on it and getting ready for the season. I’m definitely ready to play. The knee feels good.”
Last year’s team didn’t have any seniors, but this year’s edition features five seniors in Colten Hagadus, Derek Holmes, Sam Seyfried, Devin Thomas and Yadush. They all look to get playing time, in addition to sophomore Nick Henry, who has impressed during practices and figures to push for quality minutes on the court alongside the older players.
For Yadush, being a senior is a bittersweet experience, knowing that graduation will start to break up a group of players who have been growing together for a long time. That growth is exactly what he believes will be a key for the team.
“It feels a little weird,” said Yadush of being a senior. “It’s definitely exciting knowing we have a lot of the same people as last year and have a lot of experience. The chemistry is definitely there. We’ve all been playing together since we were about eight or nine years old and have been winning a lot since we were younger, so we look to keep that going.”
Billy Hallman pointed out that his team isn’t the only Colonial League team to not lose players to graduation. He noted that Notre Dame (18-9), Moravian Academy (21-7) and Southern Lehigh (12-14) also didn’t lose any key players. Hallman knows that perennial favorite Bangor will be tough again and looks to Palmerton and Northern Lehigh as two other teams that will make the Colonial League difficult, to say the least.
“It’s going to be really competitive this year,” said Hallman. “There aren’t going to be any nights off, which is good because it doesn’t allow us to let up at all.”