For the past forty years, GOYA children from across the Delaware Valley have gathered from across the region to participate in one of the great traditions of our community. As the Delaware Valley GOYA Basketball League tips off this weekend, Cosmos Philly will be, as always, providing extensive coverage on our local teams as they come together to make memories and do their churches and communities proud.

We will also be providing some exciting features on the league’s historical past, and the memories that have been made since the league was formed in the 1979-1980 season, which we hope will bring past alumni a sense of nostalgia as they recall their own childhood memories made within the league.

For the 40th annual DVGOBL season, Mr. GOYA, along with some contacts from around the league, is back to provide you with previews, predictions, and highlights throughout the season.

Going into this year we would be remised if we did not acknowledge one fewer team on the boy’s side this year, as the defending runners-up from Evangelismos will be taking the year off (which we hope is just a year off, as they have provided some of the most memorable highlights from the past decade or so).

As my third year as Mr. GOYA, we will kick this off the same as the last two, with our five top questions entering the season.

Girls Division

Last year’s Girl’s Division saw two top teams from St. Thomas and St. Demetrios battle all year, meeting ultimately in the title game where St. Thomas emerged victoriously. With those two powerhouse teams retaining a lot of their talent, and with the three teams below them a year older and more seasoned, what can we expect in the 2019-2020 season?

1. Will the Ruby Anniversary of the League bring a repeat to the Ruby Reds from St. Thomas?

Last year, Coach Dean Pappas and his St. Thomas Girls went wire-to-wire on their way to an undefeated regular season and a championship title; their first since 2015.

Led by an aggressive defense, the girls from Cherry Hill were met with little resistance, winning nearly all of their games by double-digits. The question for this year will be, can St. Thomas put together a copy of last year in their hopes to grab a back-to-back championship? They will have to wait a while for their first chance to defend their title, as their season will kick off after their festival and the Delaware Valley GOYA retreat on October 27th against their Jersey rivals from Egg Harbor.

2. Will the Girls across the river(s) have something to say about that?

The best games of the 2018-19 season featured the St. Thomas immovable object, against the nearly- unstoppable force of Alexia Louca and the St. D’s girls from Upper Darby.

On her way to an MVP season, the Junior do-it-all talent led the girls from St. D’s to within three points of an upset bid in the finals last year before the St. Thomas girls pulled away.

Now a year older and more experienced, Upper Darby seems poised and ready to take that final step to try to capture their first title since before the turn of the century. They will take their first step on opening weekend against the girls from Holy Trinity Egg Harbor.

Not to be forgotten either are the upstart girls from Holy Trinity Wilmington, who battled throughout the year on their way to a winning record and a semifinal appearance against St. Demetrios. Also filled with young talent, the girls from Delaware will have their eyes set on the top two teams from last year in the hopes that they can crash the party and make their first championship appearance since they rejoined the league nearly a decade ago, and first overall since, if the records are correct, they won it all back in 1992. They will take on their cross-state rivals from St. George Media at home this weekend.

3. Are the two former powerhouses ready to reclaim their spots?

For the past decade, St. George Media and Holy Trinity Egg Harbor have been sure bets to make it to the final game. In fact, last year was the first time that the girls’ final did not feature at least one of these two teams, since 2009, a span of ten seasons.

Last year saw two young teams grow and develop as the season wore on and actually brought a very entertaining quarterfinal matchup between the two, which St. George ultimately won.

Now a year older, the girls from Delco and the girls from the Shore are out to take another step forward as they look to try to get back to that annual winning tradition.

For St. George, their season begins this Sunday against Holy Trinity of Wilmington, while Holy Trinity will travel to St. Demetrios this weekend to face off against the defending runners-up from Upper Darby.

4. Who will take home the MVP?

I think a lot of debate always comes out over this topic, and I am going to try to quote one of the people in the league who I have spoken to about this before I make my prediction. Their statement, essentially, was that there are two ways to think about this award.

One of those is, simply, who is the most talented player in the league? The other is, who is the player that their team can least live without? Some years there is a debate on one versus the other.

For this year, based on what we witnessed last year, those two questions are both answered by Alexia Louca of Upper Darby. I do not know the numbers exactly but I do not think it is a stretch to say that her presence on the court is the most impactful for any team in the league, offensively and defensively.

In the championship game last year I believe she had at least half of her team’s points and was instrumental in every game she played in getting her team to that point. Now entering a new year, I see no reason for that to change, making her my preseason favorite to repeat as league MVP.

5. Who will win it all?

Again, full disclosure here. I do not know everything about every team coming into this season, nor does anyone, so my preseason prediction is more a factor on, looking at last year, figuring out who graduated, and going from there. Things change, people join, people leave, that impact the balance of everything in a way that we will not see until the ball tips on Sunday.

That being said, last year saw a clear-cut top two teams battle all year long, and given the young core of both, I see the possibility of a rematch as a very real thing. Looking at the three who did not make it to the finals, I like Wilmington as my sleeper pick to take a finals spot away from one of the top two, but I think when all is said and done, we will have a rematch, but not a repeat. I like the girls from St. D’s, led by veteran coach Amelia Economou, to come out victorious and take home their first title in the 2000s.

Boy’s Division

For the Boy’s Division, last year saw the emergence of a juggernaut from St. George Media, as they cruised through the regular season, and playoffs, earning their first title in over 20 years. Now, with their main competition out of the league, and with other top competitors losing some of their senior leaders, can anyone rise up and challenge the defending champs?

1. Will the powers from St. George repeat as Champs?

Last season we saw a team from St. George, led by first-year head coach George Apostolopoulos, emerge as one of the premier teams of the past decade in the DVGOBL.

Led by MVP Valantis Apostolopoulos (more on him later), St. George Media went virtually unchallenged last year (their one loss coming shorthanded at the hands of Evangelismos) on their way to a one-sided championship appearance and title victory.

In the games that I saw, their offensive firepower was something that had not been seen in the league since the Elkins Park dynasty that opened the decade. The question now is, with returning most of that firepower, can the boys from Media do it again, and take a step towards being talked about in the same discussion as that great team from Annunciation?

One thing is for sure, and that is that this is an exciting team to watch on any given Sunday. We will all get our first chance to see them defend their title this weekend against Holy Trinity Wilmington.

2. Who could stand in their way?

As we already said, the team St. George knocked off in the finals last year is not here to challenge them, leaving the question to be asked: Is there anyone who can? Well, we can start with the team who was a buzzer-beater away from facing them in the finals a year ago: the boys from St. Demetrios.

Led by one of the top young coaches in the league in Louie Karapanagiotidis, the boys from Upper Darby will need to rally around their young core, having lost top point guard Laz Louca to graduation.

Also looking to crash the party will be the boys from Holy Trinity Egg Harbor, who were my midseason pick to take on St. George before they were upset in the first round by St. Luke’s last year. They too, will be looking to rely on a young core as they lost three starters, including my last year MVP pick George Arsenis, to graduation. They also seem to be as safe a pick as any, since they have appeared in five of the last seven boy’s championships (we won’t mention their record in those games).

As luck would have it, we will get to see which of these two teams can take that first step towards challenging for the title this weekend, as they face off at St. Demetrios to kick off their season.

Let’s not forget about that upset-minded group from Delco, as the St. Luke’s boys may feature the most dynamic and solid defensive unit across the league. Will that defensive intensity be enough to counteract the St. George Media attack?

It came pretty close last year, as St. Luke’s came up short in a solid effort against the eventual champs in Round 2 last year (which wound up being a role-reversal of the previous year where it was St. George who almost knocked off the eventual champs in stunning fashion). Could that cycle continue and be the sign of things to come for Broomall? Their first chance to prove it comes this weekend as they take on St. Thomas in Wilmington to start their season.

3. Who can make the leap up?

Last year, we saw a team that finished the prior season as the sixth seed, make the jump up to winning the championship. The year before, we saw a team that finished as the fifth seed, make the jump up to winning the championship. The point to be made is, in the boy’s division, the gap between being young and inexperienced to emerging as a championship threat, is a lot smaller than some would think.

Last year that was evident from the two teams that finished towards the bottom of the standings. For the boys from St. Thomas, who finished outside of the playoff hunt, their one win came against a senior – filled and previously – unbeaten Holy Trinity Egg Harbor team (also, the last time St. Thomas won the championship back in 2015, they finished the previous season in sixth place, in keeping with the theme).

For Holy Trinity Wilmington, their season featured a win over St. Thomas, and a near upset in a thrilling double-overtime game against St. Demetrios of Upper Darby. Loaded with young talent, and with a year more of experience under their belts, these are two teams I can see making a huge jump this season, including over some of the teams I mentioned above.

For St. Thomas especially, who has a blend of size and speed across their roster, I would pick them a sleeper team to make a big jump this year, but can also see Holy Trinity Wilmington, with some great guard play, being a major player in January as well. Both will get their first chances this weekend, with St. Thomas taking on St. Luke’s, and Holy Trinity taking on St. George, all in Wilmington on Sunday.

4. Who will take home the MVP?

So, again, like with the girls, I look at the two criteria: who has the most talent, and who is the most instrumental to their team’s success. For the first part, the incredible talents of Vylandi Apostolopoulos are undeniable, as he led his team last year offensively and defensively, and if Mr. GOYA might say so, did so in an incredibly sportsmanlike manner.

The debate this year will be, given Media’s talent level from top to bottom, is there a singular player on another team that could challenge the reigning MVP for his title? My darkhorse pick for MVP is coming out of St. Demetrios, where Alex Nicolaides, when healthy, has emerged as one of the premier big men in the league.

With the loss of two key seniors, it will be his job to step up and fill the void and lead a young upstart St. D’s team if they hope to enter the title discussion. If they are able to make that leap into a top-two spot this season, it will be on his shoulders, making him a prime candidate for being both his team’s and the league’s most valuable player this year. If St. D’s struggles this year, then it is the reigning champ’s belt to lose, as you can see from last season, in the one game he missed, they lost. Either way, this should be a race that winds up being closer than most might think out of the gate.

5. Who will win it all?

In the past half-decade, the boy’s division of the DVGOBL has been all about parody. The last five seasons, have seen five different champions crowned from five different parishes (six, if you want to count the third and final year of the Elkins Park dynasty).

In a league where graduations and outside commitments and obligations have derailed repeat hopes, it is incredibly hard to repeat as champions. That being said, and again, assuming no surprises, St. George Media stands apart from the rest as the top contender in the boy’s division this season, in a way that says, the Golden State Warriors have stood apart from opposing teams in the past few years on paper.

My prediction is they win, and that prediction is pretty much etched in stone. That being said I think the more exciting topic is, who will face them? Last year’s 2nd versus 3rd place battle for a spot in the finals gave us our most exciting game of the year by far, and I can honestly say that, with all of the graduations from the higher-seeded teams, plus the growth of last year’s lower-seeded teams, there is virtually nothing separating 2nd through 6th place this year, making that week-in, week-out battle a must-watch.

Ultimately, based on how last year ended, I like an all Delco showdown in the finals, with St. Luke’s emerging as the top contender to St. George, riding their “defense gets you to championships” approach. In a battle of “best offense” versus “best defense,” I do like the boys from St. George to come away with a back-to-back title this season.

As always, thank you to Cosmos Philly, as well as some of the fans and coaches who I have relied upon to compile enough information to serve as Mr. GOYA again this year. As we said before, in celebration of the league’s 40th anniversary, look for some bonus coverage this year as Cosmos Philly dives into the league’s past, while also covering its future, as the DVGOBL begins another successful season with the youth of our proud community. Cheers to another year of fun and exciting action, and best of luck to all of our kids!