With the weather starting to turn, Sunday School kicking off, and the leaves beginning to change, we know that one of the first pillars of the church youth calendar is only just around the corner.

When the opening tip of the 2018-2019 Del Val GOYA Basketball League occurs this Sunday, it will mark the 39th year of the league’s existence. Once a four-participant league amongst the original four participating churches of the Delaware Valley, the league has grown to encompass teams and players from every corner of the region, giving our youth and their families memories and experiences that will last a lifetime.

This year will feature the return of one parish (Elkins Park rejoins the boys’ division) and unfortunately one fewer team on the girls’ side (St. Luke’s Broomall will, I hope, be taking just one year off). In my second year as Mr. GOYA, I will be keeping the same format as last year as I do my season preview once again for Cosmos Philly.

Girls Division

1. The most improved team in 2018 will be… Holy Trinity Wilmington. For the girls from Delaware, last season saw huge strides made by the youngsters, who made their first playoff appearance since rejoining the league back in 2013. With most of their core coming back for this season, the sky is the limit for Holy Trinity, who will have their eyes set on making their first championship appearance since 1992.

2. The team that will take the greatest step back in 2018 will be… Holy Trinity Egg Harbor. Now, I had this exact same statement last year and look how it turned out for the now-two-time defending champions. This year, the girls from South Jersey will be without one of their two towers in Samantha Rhodes, leaving a lot on the plate of a young crop of girls who will look to complete the difficult task of achieving a three-peat in the girl’s division. They will get their first chance to make me eat my words this Sunday against the defending runners-up from St. Thomas in an all-Jersey kickoff weekend.

3. The coach of the year will be… Dean Pappas, St. Thomas Cherry Hill. Last year, taking up the position as the girl’s coach for St. Thomas, Dean led the girls to their first championship appearance in three years, and gave the undefeated Holy Trinity girls all they could handle in an exciting and highly competitive matchup. This year he will have his work cut out for him without star point guard Maria Kokolis at the helm, but with a returning core of girls to build off of, I think this is the year that St. Thomas makes a huge jump, led by their second-year coach.

4. The 2018-2019 MVP will be… Alexia Louca, St. Demetrios Upper Darby. We all saw in the late stages of the regular season, along with the all-star game last year what this young star from St. D’s is capable of. This year a lot will fall on her shoulders as she looks to bring a talented core of girls from Upper Darby to their first title appearance in a decade, but I think she is up for the task. I’m sure there are a few people from down the shore and in Delaware County that might disagree with me, but I think this is going to be a big year for St. D’s and their up and coming star.

5. The 2018-2019 champion will be… St. George, Media. I’ve gotta admit, this year seems more wide open than any year I can remember as far as the girl’s division goes. The top two seeds from last year lost key pieces, one team missing from last year’s equation, and the teams that finished near the bottom all gained a year of experience. When in doubt, go with the team that has been the most consistent over the past decade, and that is the girls from St. George. I know they too will be missing several of their own key pieces, including their former two-time MVP in Christina Bourantas, but in a year with so much uncertainty, I’ve got to go with the maroon and gold to take home their first title in six years.

Boy’s Division

1. The most improved team in 2018 will be… St. Thomas, Cherry Hill. For the boys from South Jersey, the 2017-2018 season was a step towards rebuilding, with a young core, and a solid junior varsity program. This year, Charlie Nicholaros will have his boys a year older, wiser, and hungrier to get back to championship form. In a year where a number of teams lost key players to graduation, this is the year where the boys from Cherry Hill can look to make a leap into the final four and beyond in the boy’s bracket.

2. The team that will take the greatest step back in 2018 will be… Evangelismos, Philadelphia. For the boys from the Boulevard, a senior-filled program loaded with star talent saw their season end a week sooner than most would have predicted last year. Now in 2018, with losing four of his starting five, coach Jim Contoudis will look to rebuild around star junior John Armentani and a core of young boys as he looks to get the Boulevard back into contention for their first league title in three years. They will have their work cut out for them, but in the boy’s division, never count out the black and gold.

3. The coach of the year will be… Steve Sosangelis, St. Luke Broomall. For the defending champs from Delaware County, last year saw an experienced and talented team take the final step to their first title in 15 years. Key to that run was the coaching staff led by first-year head coach Steve Sosangelis. In order to mount a title defense, without their star center Chris Palmieri, they will rely on an equally impressive sophomore campaign from the man in charge as they look to win back to back titles for the first time since the days of Pete Kathopoulis and Chris Vasiliou.

4. The 2018-2019 MVP will be… George Arsenis, Holy Trinity Egg Harbor. Last year we saw one of the greatest Cinderella runs in boy’s league history, as the 5th seeded boys from Egg Harbor, having only won two games all season, pulled off back to back comeback upsets on their way to yet another championship appearance. The key to that run was the guard play of George Arsenis, who will look to lead one final championship run in his senior season. I think there’s a certain someone in Broomall who will have something to say about this, but repeat MVP awards are hard to come by. Down in Egg Harbor, the engine that runs the car year-in and year-out will look to capture his first MVP award in his final season.

5. The 2018-2019 champion will be… St. George, Media. Holy Trinity was not the only underdog team to make a lot of noise last January, as St. George Media nearly knocked off the undefeated giants from St. Luke in the semifinals last season after pulling a quarterfinal upset of their own. With most of their core returning this season, I expect the boys from St. George, led by the Apostolopoulos brothers, to make a serious run at their first title since 1998. St. Luke’s Broomall should mount a serious title defense, Holy Trinity Egg Harbor should be back in the mix as they always seem to be, and let’s not count out St. Demetrios Upper Darby and their talented squad to make a run this year, but when the dust settles, Mr. GOYA is predicting an all-St. George championship celebration this season.

Once again I’d like to thank Cosmos Philly and those who I rely on to gather information for an opportunity to serve the community as Mr. GOYA once again. I look forward to providing you all with coverage from around the league all season long as the league celebrates its 39th anniversary. Let’s have a great year, and best of luck to everyone!