We’ve officially entered the third week of March, and wouldn’t you know it: there’s still snow covering lawns and car windshields throughout the Delaware Valley. While everybody is impatiently waiting for spring to arrive, the (hopeful) final snowstorm of the year is a perfect time to take a final look back on an action-packed basketball season in the Northeast.
With most of the area boys and girls squads qualifying for the postseason, choosing the annual winter seasonal award winners wasn’t easy. Then again, it never is. Winners will be formally recognized at the 29th annual Northeast Sports Awards Banquet in May (more specific information on the event is forthcoming):
Boys Basketball Coach of the Year
John Creighton, George Washington
If high school athletics was show business, the second-year G.W. hoops coach would be one of the hardest-working men out there. In addition to his hoops duties, Creighton assists Chris Reid’s successful boys soccer program in the fall and leads the lacrosse team in the spring.
Following a 14-win debut season (nine in Public League Division B), Creighton guided his team to a 15-7 overall mark in 2013-14, including nine more Division B victories and a playoff win over Olney. After losing his top two scorers from the previous year, Creighton molded a team without much varsity experience into a contender. Instead of relying on star players, the Eagles were as good as the sum of their total parts, which in this instance was a very deep squad that could beat you anywhere on the court. Creighton knows full well that winning in the Public League isn’t easy, so his 29 wins through two seasons make his coaching dossier even more impressive.
Boys Public League Basketball Player of the Year
Blair Bowes, Abraham Lincoln
Watching Blair Bowes play basketball is a revelation. He’s so quick and technically-skilled that you have to remind yourself that the Railsplitters’ explosive point guard is only a sophomore.
In one of the more successful basketball seasons at Lincoln in recent memory, Bowes, the Railsplitters’ engine and floor general, helped guide his team to a 12-8 overall record, including a 7-5 mark in a stacked Division C that included the likes of Northeast and Central. After a 3-4 start to division play, Bowes, perhaps sensing dreams of the playoffs slipping away, took matters into his own hands, leading Lincoln into the postseason with four straight wins in which he averaged nearly 26 points per game. He scored 19 in Lincoln’s opening-round playoff win over Kensington, and it’s no surprise why teammates, head coach Al Brown and opposing coaches around the league gush over his talent and maturity levels.
Boys Catholic League Player of the Year
Will Brazukas, Father Judge
In determining success on the basketball court, one must sometimes look beyond a player’s total point output. True, Judge’s junior point guard was just the team’s third-leading scorer in an expected transition year in which the Crusaders finished tied for 10th in the Catholic League; however, Brazukas’ value to his team went far beyond his 8.2 points-per-game average.
On a team full of sophomores, freshmen and transfers with little to no varsity experience, Brazukas was the most important player on head coach Sean Tait’s roster if for no other reason than he showed the newcomers how to approach the daunting Catholic League competition. As the season progressed, Brazukas helped guide players such as sophomores Quincy Reed and Justin Fleming and freshman Marc Rodriguez, all of whom became capable, more confident scorers. Although Judge fell in a pre-playoff tiebreaker game to Bishop McDevitt, the Crusaders will be much more seasoned in 2014-15, something Brazukas should be recognized for.
Girls Basketball Coach of the Year
Phil Monastra, Northeast
It’s not easy to accomplish a “first” for a school that’s been around as long as Northeast, but second-year head coach Phil Monastra found a way. In the rigorous Public League, Monastra guided a veteran group to the school’s first Class AAAA title over ancient rival Central, which had beaten the Vikings at home during the regular season. After Northeast thrashed the Lancers by 22 in the playoffs, the Vikings won another postseason game, advancing all the way to the league’s championship contest against Imhotep Charter.
Though Northeast lost a nail-biter to Imhotep, the difficulty of the journey the team took getting there cannot be overstated. The Vikings had talent, sure, but Monastra was the team’s architect who molded a group of individuals into one cohesive unit that had a singular goal in mind: win enough to become a Northeast girls basketball team that people won’t soon forget.
Girls Public League Basketball Player of the Year
Lauren Willis, Northeast
Of course, no coach can win the games by himself, and Monastra is no different. While there’s no ‘I’ in team, there are two of them in ‘Willis,’ Northeast’s most talented, experienced scorer. When Monastra stepped in for longtime head coach Rich Kirk two seasons ago, Willis remained his rock; when the Vikings fell short Willis’ junior year, she returned determined to carry her team to new heights. She did just that.
Her torrid 28-point performance in the Class AAAA win over Central helped her team advance, and 20-point outbursts from Willis had became routine. However, perhaps Willis’ most underrated contribution to the team was helping convince friend Ciera Nimmons to transfer from Prep Charter to Northeast for her senior year. It must have worked, as Nimmons became Northeast’s second-leading scorer, including matching her friend Willis for 28 in the win over Central.
Girls Catholic League Basketball Player of the Year
Meghan Matthews, St. Hubert
On a team with six battle-tested seniors, sophomore Meghan Matthews continued to make a name for herself. After emerging as an immediate contributor as a freshman, Matthews followed it up with another strong campaign, helping St. Hubert to a sixth-place finish in the Catholic League. She was named an All-Catholic Third Team selection.
Perhaps most promising about Matthews is her future. After carving out a niche on a team full of experienced leaders, head coach Brian Kuzmick singled Matthews out after the season, saying she could be the player who gets the Bambies to the postseason’s semifinals sometime in the next two years if she remains dedicated to her craft in the offseason. Saying Matthews “could be the best player to come through here in a long time” leaves only more excitement ahead for the St. Hubert forward. ••