As we head into the autumn season, the sports world in the Delaware Valley is alive and well. The whole region has caught a heavy case of “Wentz Fever” as the Eagles have emerged as one of the great surprises of the young football season. The Sixers and Flyers, both ripe with young talent, are gearing up for the start of their seasons shortly, with nothing but excitement and potential on the horizon. And the Phillies? Well, in one more week the Phillies (and their fans) will get a long and much-deserved rest following this past season.

For those of us in the Greek Orthodox community, we have yet another reason to be excited. Entering its 38th season, the Delaware Valley Greek Orthodox Basketball League will kick off this Sunday in Wilmington, Delaware. As always, Cosmos Philly will be providing recaps, but before a single basket is made, we give you our third annual season preview, as we look forward to seeing the young men and women of our community in the Delaware Valley represent their parishes with pride and enthusiasm. Let’s take a look at the teams!

Teams are previewed in the order of the final standings from last year.

Girl’s Division

Evangelismos Philadelphia – What a ride the girls from the Boulevard took us on last winter, as coach Gus Bogiatzis and his girls finally took the final step and achieved the first girl’s championship in parish history. Led by league MVP Francesca Bogiatzis, the girls made their way to the finals, where they stunned the heavily-favored girls from Holy Trinity on their home court last February. The question going forward for these girls is, how will they handle their title defense with Bogiatzis graduating this past spring? A good start will be to lean heavily on their veteran leaders that remain, including Alexis Nakos and Mary Fay Dimitriadis. With them at the helm, and with a commitment to the same team basketball that led them to the top of the mountain last season, these girls can definitely contend as title defenders this season. The girls from Evangelismos will kick off their season later in October.

Holy Trinity Egg Harbor – For coach Lia Potiris and her girls, last season’s heartbreaker in the finals should not put a damper on what an amazing season the girls from South Jersey had last year. Rolling to an undefeated regular season for the second consecutive year, Holy Trinity fell just short of a pretty spectacular comeback in the finals last February. Like the defending champs, Holy Trinity must also move forward without their own MVP, as star guard Despina Lianidis has graduated, but leaves behind a core group that is primed to get right back into title contention. Senior guard, Aggie Potiris will lead the way for the girls in blue, as will the twin towers of Samantha Rhodes and Marianna Papazoglou this coming season. The Holy Trinity girls will get to work right away, as they will travel to Wilmington to face-off against their cross-state rivals from St. Thomas this weekend.

St. George Media – For the girls from Media, the past few years are proof that it is not always about how you start, but how you finish. For the second straight season coach Alex Terris’ girls overcame a slow start in the regular season, coming alive in January and February on their way to a third place finish. Led by returning-MVP Christina Bourantas, as well as Francesca Hourican, the girls from St. George are built like a team primed to contend for a title this year. The key will be avoiding the slow starts that have led to uphill climbs later on in the season, but this is an experienced team that no doubt has learned from their past few years and will work to get an early jump. They’ll get their chance to shake off the rust this Sunday against the girls from Holy Trinity Wilmington.

St. Thomas Cherry Hill – Each year there is a team that appears to be struck with bad luck, via injuries or absence. Last year coach John Pratsinakis’ girls were bitten by the injury bug, as they were forced to play a good part of the season without their top young guard Maria Kokolis. To their credit, the girls From St. Thomas, led by Margo Katsiotis and Stella Pratsinakis, rallied as all great teams do on their way to a third consecutive top-four finish. This year, with a healthy Kokolis and a great returning group of girls, there is no reason to suspect that the girls from St. Thomas will do anything but continue their run of success. With their festival on the horizon, the girls from Cherry Hill will kick off their season this weekend against Holy Trinity Egg Harbor.

St. Luke Broomall – For coach Chris Nikolos, the DVGOBL’s equivalent of coach K, the girls from St. Luke turned in a much improved season last year, before falling in a hard-fought game against their fellow Delco sisters from St. George last January. There is much to look forward to though if you are a fan of St. Luke’s, as this team returns the bulk of its core, including Maria Raptis and Zoe Nikolos, who will look to lead their team back into championship contention. With an experienced coach and an experienced group of young girls, don’t be surprised if this team turns some heads this season. The girls in red will start the season with an off week before they kick off against Holy Trinity Wilmington next weekend.

St. Demetrios Upper Darby – For the girls from St. Demetrios, led by Amelia Economou, last season also saw the injury bug bite hard, as Irene Evangelopoulos was sidelined with an injury for a good part, leaving a young group of girls to battle hard in order to earn the final playoff spot in January. That experience could prove to be a stepping stone, as this young crop grows and develops, in the hopes of getting back to their winning ways. It will be an uphill climb for these youngsters with all the talent and experience, but with another year under their belts, anything is possible. The girls from St. Demetrios will have a great first test as they start their season next weekend down the shore against the girls from Holy Trinity.

Holy Trinity Wilmington – For coach George Rassias and his girls, last year was a tough one, to say the least. Give these young girls credit though as they battled through both being an extremely young team as well as being short-handed on a number of occasions, and represented their church and community proudly all year. While the results on the scoreboard were not what they were hoping for, the year of experience for these young girls, like their sisters from St. Demetrios, could prove to be the first step in turning their fortunes on the court around this season. The girls from Delaware will kick off at home this weekend, as they host St. George Media in what will surely be a great first test.

Championship Prediction
With looking ahead towards where we may wind up in January, it is hard to call a favorite this year. Perennial powers Holy Trinity and Evangelismos both lost very key pieces, while younger teams below them look to improve. There appears to be very little separating the teams at the top especially, so the prediction has to answer one simple question: “who is most likely to play their best come January?” When you put it that way, there is one team that has consistently risen and saved their best for last. When the dust settles on what is sure to be a highly competitive and entertaining season, I look for the girls from St. George to be the last team standing, as they look to capture their first championship since 2012 Prediction: St. George Media

Boy’s Division

Evangelismos Philadelphia – For the boys from the Boulevard, it all starts at the top, as reigning coach of the year Jim Contoudis led a talent-filled group of boys last season on their way to their first championship since 2011. Led by star guard Jimmie Armentani, the boy’s in black and gold turned in a near-flawless performance in the finals against a very talented St. Luke’s team. Like their sisters, Evangelismos will need to learn how to replace the loss of Armentani, who graduated last year. A good place to start looking would be in the same house, as younger brother John Armentani turned in a great “passing of the torch”-like performance last February in the finals. Evangelismos also has several key returning players, including Joel Mattos and Dimitri Cuni, which will also help in their title defense. We will have to wait a bit to see them in action, but if the past is any indication, there is no reason to suspect these boys will not be right in the thick of it come January.

St. Luke Broomall – For coach Chris Nikolos and his boys, last year was less about coming up short in the finals, and more about taking a gigantic leap forward with their group of young and talented young stars. The boys from Broomall will need to overcome the loss of several key players this year, including team leaders Harry Polychromopoulos and Aris Tsingiropoulos, but when you return the reigning MVP in Gregg Vlassopoulos, the sky is the limit for the boys in red. Speaking of the sky, also returning is the league’s premiere forward in Chris Palmieri, who towers over everyone in the league. With that one-two combination, a great group of teammates around them, and another year of playoff experience under their belt, this is definitely a team to watch out for come playoff time. The boys from St. Luke will kick off their season next weekend against Holy Trinity of Wilmington.

St. George Media – Cosmos Philly may have to launch an investigation into what is being put into the vassilopita in January over at St. George, because like their sisters, the boys from Media came alive in January last year. Coach John Aivazoglou and his boys, overcame a 2-4 regular season and a fifth seed in the playoffs, to rally off not one, but two upset victories on their way to a third-place finish last season. Led by the elite guard tandem of AJ Aivazoglou and Chrisovalantis Apostolopoulos, the boys from St. George are poised to make that final step into championship contention this season. We will see if they can ride the wave of momentum from last year into their opener this Sunday against host Holy Trinity of Wilmington.

St. Demetrios Upper Darby – For the boys from St. Demetrios, led by young up-and-coming coach Louie Karapanagiotidis, a fourth-place finish is definitely not a reflection of the talent this team showcased all year. Led by MVP runner-up Chris Dawson, as well as one of the bright young stars in the league in Dimitri Stergiou, St. Demetrios rode a total team commitment to defense all the way to the semi-finals, where they lost a heartbreaker to St. Luke’s, on what most would have to call the game of the year last season. There is a reason to be optimistic this year, as the boys return nearly whole from last year, losing only their sharpshooting senior George Karidas to graduation. With that level of consistency, and another year of experience and great coaching, St. Demetrios has to be looked at as a serious contender to get back on top this coming season. The boys will make the trip down to Egg Harbor next weekend where they kick off their season against Holy Trinity.

St. Thomas Cherry Hill – For last year’s defending champs, coach Fawn Karolidis and her boys had an understandably tough time replacing the loss of several key players, but still turned in a solid season led by standout guard Andrew Karolidis and elite big man Kosta Dambalas. Andrew has graduated, but Kosta remains, along with a solid group of young players who will look to get St. Thomas back into the title hunt this season. With Dambalas and premiere guard George Riginos, there is a solid core in place to do just that. St. Thomas will kick off their season against the boys of Holy Trinity Egg Harbor this Sunday.

Holy Trinity Egg Harbor – For coach Anthony Panetta and his boys, last season saw the streak of consecutive championship appearances end at three, in what was certainly a season of highs and lows. On the one hand, Holy Trinity struggled out of the gate, and ultimately needed a win on the day of the quarterfinals against Holy Trinity Wilmington to secure a final playoff spot before falling to St. D’s later that day. On the other hand, this was also the only team to hand a loss to eventual league champions Evangelismos. The question will be: “which team shows up this year?” Star forward Yanni Dendrinos has graduated, but this team returns many of its core group, including the top guard tandem of George Arsenis and Alexi Paraskevas. Holy Trinity will get their first crack at a rebound season this Sunday against St. Thomas.

Holy Trinity Wilmington – Coach George Rassias and his boys battled similar circumstances as their sisters last season, as numbers and injuries were tough to overcome. That being said, the boys from Holy Trinity positioned themselves into a mini-playoff game against Holy Trinity Egg Harbor in the final game of the regular season last year. While they came up short, there is much to look forward to if you’re a fan of the boys from Delaware. Returning team leader and all-star Dino Matulas is as solid a player to build around as any in the league, and with a young group around him, these boys are primed to make some moves in the standings this season. Holy Trinity will get take their first steps this season on Sunday, as they play hosts to St. George Media.

Championship Prediction
Just like in the girl’s division, there is not much separating the teams at the top this year. You can never count a team like Evangelismos out, as they have finished in the final four in each of the last seven seasons. You also have to look at the wealth of young talent on teams like St. George and St. Demetrios. That being said, there is one team that appears to have a leg up on the competition going into the start of the season. With the talent, and now the experience both in hand, I look for the boys from St. Luke’s Broomall to take that final step this season, capturing their first championship since 2004.

As always, stay tuned to Cosmos Philly for all the league’s action. We wish all our children, the coaches, parents, and fans, an exciting and safe season of fun and fellowship, as we move forward with another year of one of the great traditions in our region’s community.