EPC girls basketball 2021: Top stories, players as season gets

The Bethlehem Catholic and Nazareth girls basketball teams have unfinished business this winter.

Both teams put together very successful campaigns last season before COVID-19 halted their runs in the state tournament.

The Golden Hawks went 29-0 last year and were set to play fellow undefeated Scranton Prep in the PIAA Class 4A quarterfinals before the tournament was canceled.

“It has been different, but we always stress ‘anticipate and adapt’ within our program so we are practicing what we preach,” Bethlehem Catholic coach Jose Medina said. “We begin with safety first in all that we do. We had some experience from the summer because we had our summer camps and this preparation in advance with safety and procedures really helped us moving forward (temperature checks, masks upon entry, transition to player gaiters, creating pods, spatial distance training and limiting the number of campers in each session). Our parents also do COVID-19 checks with the girls at home prior to practice. We are doing our best to cover our girls, staff and program with safety first in everything we do. Our preparation always remains the same, being the best version we can be to compete for championship gold during the season.”

The Blue Eagles finished last season with a 26-4 record and advanced to the PIAA Class 6A quarterfinals for the first time in program history.

“Got everyone back from most successful season in school history,” Nazareth coach Rich Bickert said. “We hope to continue where we left off last season when play was stopped in state tournament. This season will be much different than usual due to COVID. We did not get to play together all summer or fall as we did in past years. Hopefully, we will stay healthy all season and keep the tradition of being successful going another season.”

The Golden Hawks graduated six seniors, including lehighvalleylive Girls Basketball Player of the Year Taliyah Medina.

Cassidy Saylor was set to transfer to Bethlehem Catholic from Easton, but she has been denied eligibility for this season.

Junior guards Kourtney Wilson (12 points per game), Keyara Walters (8 ppg) and Cydney Stanton (7 ppg) will be key for Bethlehem Catholic.

“Our team strength will come from our junior guards in Kourtney Wilson, Keyara Walters and Cydney Stanton,” Medina said. “They have been in the gym this summer and look quicker, faster and stronger. They are setting the tempo for our younger players to follow. Our youth and team speed are assets that we will rely on this season. We plan on playing a full 94 feet this season being very disruptive and creating scoring opportunities. Our girls have been working on their conditioning since September so this will benefit our program early on.”

Nazareth’s Talya Brugler (13) steals the ball in game against Downingtown East on March 6, 2020.Hannah Buss | lehighvalleylive.com contributor

The Blue Eagles have everybody returning from last season’s very successful squad. Senior forward Talya Brugler averaged 19.5 points per game last season. Junior guard Kelly Leszcynski scored 12.8 points per game last winter.

“We expect like every year to be playing for championships at the end of the season, whatever that will be this season,” Bickert said. “I am sure everyone will be gunning for us since we have everyone back plus additions. Our biggest strength will be our depth.”

6 other stories to watch

1. It’s 1,008 career wins and counting for Allentown Central Catholic coach Mike Kopp

He enters his 45th season as a coach after winning No. 1,000 last January.

The Vikings lost only one starter from last season’s 15-11 team. Central Catholic will rely on senior guard Emily Vaughan, junior forward Julia Roth, junior forward Hanna Hoeing, senior guard Maria Saccani and sophomore forward Madalyn Szoke.

2. Parkland pointing toward senior leadership

Trojans coach Ed Ohlson is hoping for big things from seniors Lindsay Berger, Sonya Shivok and Ashly Young. The coach thinks his team can go 8-9 players deep and that the Trojans’ offense can catch up to the usual strong defense the squad has been boasting as of late.

3. Liberty relying on backcourt

Sophomores Layla Orth and Jessica Farrell, who averaged double digits in points last season, return this season.

Hurricanes coach Andy Wescoe thinks his team has five players on the floor who can dribble, pass and shoot.

4. Northampton hopes unselfish ways pay off

Konkrete Kids coach Jeff Jacksits thinks the team’s biggest strength is its unselfishness.

Two-year captain Morgan Sterner will be key for the Konkrete Kids as the senior guard enters the season 196 points away from 1,000 in her career. Junior center Devyn Demchak, junior guard/forward Kylie Gilliard and junior guard Taylor Kranzley will also be counted on for Northampton.

5. Whitehall has a new coach

William Robertson is the new leader of the Zephyrs after Joshua Madas stepped away as his daughter continues to recover from heart surgery.

The new Whitehall coach enjoys seeing the girls’ willingness to learn and get things right. Seniors Joey Shaul and Meghan Hutter will be key for the Zephyrs this season.

6. Dieruff making most of opportunity to play

Huskies coach Cathy Piston says her team looks forward to practice every day especially because school is virtual.

Junior Jaydalise Cartagena had 33 pointers for the Huskies last season. Senior Kalis Collazo averaged 8 points per game last winter.

Freedom’s Brenna Ortwein (3) dribble the ball against Pocono Mountain West’s Caroline Weirch (5). Freedom girls face Pocono Mountain West in the District 11 Class 6A girls basketball semifinals. Feb. 25, 2020 at Catasauqua High School, Allen Township, PA.Tim Wynkoop | lehighvalleylive.com contributor

10 players to watch

Sr. F Talya Brugler, Nazareth

The 6-foot-1 Brugler averaged 19.5 points per game last season. The Saint Joseph’s recruit had 258 rebounds as a junior and broke the program’s scoring record with 586 points last winter. Brugler became the first Nazareth junior to reach 1,000 career points in program history.

Jr. G Kelly Leszcynski, Nazareth

Leszcynski recorded 12.8 points per game as a sophomore. The MVP of last season’s Eastern Conference playoffs also had 100 rebounds, 82 assists and 63 steals in 2019-2020. The Blue Eagle made 74 3-pointers to set a program record last season.

Jr. G Kourtney Wilson, Bethlehem Catholic

Wilson, who has verbally committed to James Madison University, averaged 12 points per game last season. She was on the lehighvalleylive.com All-Area Girls Basketball second team as a sophomore. The guard scored 19, 14 and then 18 points in three wins over Freedom last year.

Sr. G Morgan Sterner, Northampton

The 5-foot-8 Sterner was a first-team EPC all-star last season. She enters the season needing 196 points to reach 1,000 for her career. The Chestnut Hill College recruit averaged 13 points per game last season.

Sr. G/F Brenna Ortwein, Freedom

She averaged 8.6 points per game last season. Ortwein made the lehighvalleylive.com All-Area Girls Basketball third team as a junior. The guard/forward tallied 6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game last winter.

Sr. G Emily Vaughan, Allentown Central Catholic

The 5-foot-7 Vaughan was a second-team EPC all-star last season. She made the lehighvalleylive.com All-Area Girls Basketball third team as a junior. Vaughan, who will be in her fourth year starting, averaged 7.8 points per game last winter.

Sr. F Lindsay Berger, Parkland

The Holy Cross commit averaged 13.1 points per game last season. Berger added 7 rebounds per game as a junior. She was a second-team EPC all-star and made the third team of the lehighvalleylive.com All-Area Girls Basketball Team last winter.

Jr. G Kailey Turpening, Freedom

Turpening scored 12.3 points per game last season. She was an EPC third-team all-star as a sophomore. The guard had at least 20 points in three games last winter.

Jr. G Keyara Walters, Bethlehem Catholic

Walters had 8 points per game as a sophomore. The 5-foot-7 Walters scored 10 points in the Golden Hawks’ 70-49 victory over Gwynedd Mercy in last year’s PIAA Class 4A second-round game.

Sr. F Emily Violante, Easton

The 5-foot-11 Violante scored 7 points per game last season. The senior scored in double figures six games last winter.

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Josh Folck may be reached at [email protected].

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