Friday, July 11, 2014

Holy Redeemer chasing Holy Grail

December 31. 2013 10:22PM

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Springing skyward as if the hardwood floor beneath her had transformed into a trampoline, Alexis Lewis elevated her 5-foot-10 above everyone on the floor.

With a fluid twist, she spun in the opposite direction, turning her rebound at one end of the court into a layup at the other in the blink of an eye.

She took two quick dribbles while switching direction around two opponents and was gone, effortlessly leaving everyone else chasing hopelessly.

Now you know why Holy Redeemer plans on leaving the rest of the Wyoming Valley Conference Division II girls basketball — and all the other Class 3A teams in District 2, for that matter — in the dust.

“I basically said to my girls, if we do not win a district title, the year is a failure for us,” Holy Redeemer coach Chris Parker said.

He is a supremely confident man who spent his college years as an unstoppable shooting guard for those dynamic Wilkes University teams that went to the NCAA Division III Tournament’s Elite Eight in back-to-back seasons during the mid-1990s.

But Parker isn’t shooting for the moon here.

After winning the league’s Division II title in a two-point playoff against Nanticoke last season, the Royals finished as the District 2’s third-place team. Then they won a state playoff game and held the lead over PIAA power Villa Maria before falling by four points to a late run that kep them out of the state quarterfinals.

They have every starter and nearly every major contributor back from that club.

Parker admitted that task to take the district became a little tougher after his club dropped a five-point decision at defending district champ Scranton Prep in the final minutes Monday.

“I’d say Prep’s the team to beat, I’d be foolish to say we’re a better basketball team than they were,” Parker said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

But that won’t stop the Royals from working toward another meeting with Prep in the title game.

“People say, ‘That’s not fair, you’re putting a lot of pressure on your kids.’ I believe there should be expectations that we set,” Parker said. “They expect to win a district championship this year.

“It’s a lot of fun and very easy as a coach when you have a group of kids who are this talented and love to play together.”

Most certainly, there’s plenty of talent walking around the rest of the WVC.

In Division I, Wyoming Valley West brings its whole team back — that means intimidating 6-2 center Olivia Hoffman is still around — from a thrilling 2012-13 season that ended in a two-point loss in the final seconds of the District 2 Class 4A championship.

Chasing the Spartans will be Berwick and rising sophomore scorer Taylor Montana, along with scrappy Hazleton Area and hustling Pittston Area.

Down in Division III, GAR sophomore center Marie Skrepenak — the daughter of former NFL lineman Greg Skrepenak — promises to be a force in the middle of the title race. The battle for first will include a deep and talented Hanover Area team led by Haylee Bobos and an upstart Wyoming Seminary squad that leans on Gabbie Volpetti for big points.

But much of the electricity promises to center around Division II, where Meyers and the talented Gross sisters — Quieterriua and Quinniea — along with Lake-Lehman and Cayle Spencer try to catch up with Redeemer.

Good luck playing follow-the-leader.

Especially when Lewis is leading the Royals.

The junior guard averaged over 20 points last season, can score at will as easily from 3-point range as she can from under the basket and already put up a 40-point game during the non-conference schedule last week.

She draws from supremely athletic genes, as her father, Rev. Eugene Lewis, was a second-round NBA draft pick of the Utah Jazz back when he was better known as Junie Lewis. And her brother, Eugene Lewis, caught two touchdown passes to fuel Penn State’s upset of Wisconsin in November to cap his strong redshirt freshman season as a wide receiver and kickoff returner for the Nittany Lions.

“Alexis is just a special athlete, a kid who doesn’t come around that often,” said Parker, a Scranton native. “It’s no secret here, this kid could probably be one of the best female athletes to ever come out of this area. She’s a prime-time Division I (college) — probably major Division I — athlete. She’s an elite player. I do think the kids excel from that.”

It’s not like her teammates just stand around and watch.

The Royals have talented twin towers inside with 6-1 Rebecca Prociak and 6-foot Alyssa Platko, one of the league’s best perimeter shooters in 5-11 guard Alana Wilson and a catalyst point guard in Lydia Lawson. They feature a punishing, pressing defense and an offense built to ravage pressing opponents.

“We’re not invincible,” Parker cautioned, noting his team already took that lesson from a one-point early-season loss to Wallenpaupack. “Night in and night out, you’re going to get your opponents’ best, simply because of who we are. If we come out and we’re lackadaisical, we can get beat. It was proven. You have to focus on that game at hand.

“I’m looking forward to having a lot of fun.”


Division I

Allie Barber, Pittston Area: A fearless player who brings the same hustle and heart she shows on the soccer field to the basketball court.

Olivia Hoffman, Valley West: The league’s tallest player and the go-to girl in the middle with the potential to carry the Spartans’ championship dreams.

Taylor Montana, Berwick: Promising sophomore can be a game-changer with her scoring and defense, and is quickly becoming a team leader.

Rebecca Rutkowski, Crestwood: Returning all-stater can click for big numbers on any night, and the Comets will turn to her to make their playoff plans go.

Alyssa Sitch, Hazleton Area: One of the division’s top shooters, her ballhandling skills give the Cougars a real shot at the top.

Division II

Salimah Biggs, Meyers: A leader by example, she’s one of the area’s top point guards with an ability to not only score big, but help the Gross sisters get big production.

Alexis Lewis, Holy Redeemer: A walking highlight reel each time she steps on the floor, her sheer skills promises to entertain Royals fans in what could be a magical season.

Alyssa Platko, Holy Redeemer: One of the league’s premier inside players, Platko’s not just a scoring threat, she brings her tremendous blocking ability from the volleyball floor.

Cayle Spencer, Lake-Lehman: A natural scorer, she could find ways to win games by herself, but mostly prefers to share in her teammates’ success.

Alana Wilson, Holy Redeemer: Her perimeter game has taken the Royals to new dimensions, to the point where she’s deadly from the arc when left alone for a second.

Division III

Haley Bobos, Hanover Area: When the Hawkeyes need points, Bobos is the one they turn to. An inside player with outside skills.

Asdone Hooper, Hanover Area: Try to take Bobos out of the Hawkeyes’ gameplan and Hooper will haunt you. Her dead-on shooting can be a disruptive force to defenses.

Brea Seabrook, GAR: When it’s time to decide the game, Seabrook steps up. A clutch player and difference maker on both ends of the floor.

Maria Skrepenak, GAR: Brings a nice shooting touch to her inside game, and her play underneath promises to make a big impact on how the standings shake out.

Gabbie Volpetti, Wyoming Sem: Fresh off a state championship field hockey season, the Blue Knights’ standout scorer could be key to leading school success in the gym.


Jan. 6, Meyers at Lake-Lehman: Some of Division II’s best talent will be on the Lehman floor for a battle to decide which team becomes the top challenger to Holy Redeemer in the division.

Jan. 10, Berwick at Wyoming Valley West: The Bulldogs are coming, but can they take a bite out of Valley West’s Division I title dreams? Find out when the two tangle in Plymouth.

Jan. 13, Hanover Area at GAR: One game separated these two teams from the Division III title last year, which wound up in GAR’s hands. This game promises to give the winner the upper hand again.

Jan. 13, Wyoming Valley West at Hazleton: This battle, tucked midway through the month, will give Valley West a pretty good guage of how strong it can be, and tell Hazleton Area how much of a shot it has at the division title.

Jan. 20, Meyers at Holy Redeemer: Wilkes-Barre girls basketball fans won’t have to go far to find out if Redeemer really is the Division II’s untouchable or if the Mohawks have enough to chop that idea down to size.


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