In one of the great annual traditions for the Greek community of the Greater Philadelphia region, the Delaware Valley Greek Orthodox Youth of America Basketball Championships will tip off this Saturday in the heart of the Greek basketball world at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Upper Darby. Cosmos Philly breaks down each game in anticipation of what should be another great championship night.

Girl’s Championship Preview

When the smoke cleared from this past weekend’s double-header of playoff action, two teams from the Garden State emerged as the finalists in the girl’s division. Two teams that many had as the league favorites from day one survived a tough weekend of competition, and will compete for the 2017-2018 DVGOBL Championship.

How did they get here?

For the girl’s from St. Thomas, the road to the championship started with the game of the day on Saturday afternoon in Wilmington, as they wrote yet another thrilling chapter in their historic rivalry with St. George Media, squeaking out a two-point victory in the quarterfinals. Having been battle-tested from the day before, the girls from Cherry Hill came in focused on taking care of business on Sunday, as they controlled the tempo and the flow of the game from start to finish on their way to a convincing ten-point win over the hosts and number two seeded St. Demetrios girls of Upper Darby.

For the top-seeded Holy Trinity, it was business as usual as they entered their semi-final game against a solid St. Luke’s team as heavy favorites, and did not disappoint, on their way to a thirty point victory over the hosts and number four seed. Holy Trinity has yet to lose this season, but their toughest opponent to date is the one they will see in the finals this weekend.

What will the key matchup be?

Holy Trinity’s Marianna Papazoglou versus St. Thomas’s Maria Kokolis, will be the matchup to watch this Saturday evening. Arguably the top two talents in the league, both have been instrumental in leading their teams to this point. Both will be anchoring their team’s in their third championship appearance as well, with St. Thomas having played in the finals in 2014 (a loss) and 2015 (a win), while Holy Trinity has been to the finals in each of the last two years in 2016 (a loss) and 2017 (a win).

For St. Thomas, the speed of Maria Kokolis is their catalyst, and they will need to rely on it heavily on Saturday if they look to slay the giants. For Holy Trinity, the size and speed combination of Marianna Papazoglou has been the difference maker all year, and they will hope the same can be said on Saturday.

St. Thomas will win if…?

It will be no easy test for St. Thomas to knock off the unbeaten girls from Egg Harbor, but the blueprint for doing so was laid two years ago in the finals. If they have any hope to pull off the upset, the key will be to attack the Holy Trinity zone and force the girls from Egg Harbor (Papazoglou especially) into foul trouble. If they can do that on the offensive end, while keeping the twin towers from the shore out of the paint, it will go a long way in helping them to capture their first championship in three years. The scrappy defense that St. Thomas played back when they nearly knocked off Holy Trinity during the regular season, will also be key this Saturday.

Will Holy Trinity win if…?

As the unbeaten top seed, it may sound simple but, if Holy Trinity just plays the way they have all year, dominating the interior on both sides, and getting key transition points throughout, they will be well on their way to repeating as league champions.

Containing the star power of Maria Kokolis will also be key, as she has the ability to score from outside, which can neutralize the Holy Trinity interior. With any top-seeded favorite, the pressure will be on them to come out strong and attack St. Thomas early. If they can avoid getting into a back-and-forth contest the way they did in their come-from-behind win against the girls from Cherry Hill earlier in the year, they should be in good shape.

And the winner will be…?

These teams have proven themselves to be two of the top teams all season long and
would both be worthy champions. Both are well coached, and, from my observation,
have also represented their communities very well this year. Both have worked very hard in getting to this point, and both have strengths that will challenge their opponent on Saturday.

In the beginning of the year, I probably would have called this one early and said that Holy Trinity would be too much for any team to overcome, but the way St. Thomas has been playing as of late? And the way they performed against St. George, especially on Saturday? I can see this one coming down to the wire. I think St. Thomas will give it all they’ve got and will make this a championship to remember, but I do think ultimately the skill level of Holy Trinity will be just enough to get them over the top on their way to their second consecutive championship. Final Score Prediction – Holy Trinity 31, St. Thomas 29.

Boy’s Championship Preview

The boy’s playoff weekend was a wild and crazy one, as it was a weekend of near-upsets and historic upsets leading us to a finals appearance that would have made you look like a genius if you predicted it back in October. Saturday’s boy’s championship will feature the league’s top power versus a familiar, but unlikely, underdog opponent.

How did they get here?

For the boys from St. Luke’s, an undefeated season and a top seed in the playoffs was almost wiped away by the Cinderella six seed from St. George, who had St. Luke’s down on the mat in the semifinals before the boys from Broomall rallied on their way to a ten point victory on their home court this past Sunday, sparked by an 18-5 run to end the third quarter. St. Luke’s has yet to lose this season, but they have been tested, having to come from behind in their final regular season game against St. Demetrios, and more memorable, their epic comeback this weekend in the semis, on their way to their second championship appearance in three years.

While St. George Media was busy almost-making history in Broomall, down the road in Upper Darby, the young boys from Egg Harbor were completing the task. After a 2-5 season and a number four seed in the playoffs, Holy Trinity rallied from a second-half deficit against the number five seeded St. Thomas Cherry Hill on Saturday, and followed it up with an upset for the ages on Sunday, as they took out the number two seeded and heavily favored Evangelismos team by 14, on their way to their fifth championship appearance in six years.

The win on Sunday makes Holy Trinity’s boys the first boys’ team in league history advance to the championship with a losing record (4-5), and also the lowest seed to ever advance to the boy’s championship (fourth).

What will the key matchup be?

St. Luke’s Greg Vlassopoulos vs. Holy Trinity’s George Arsenis, will be the matchup of the day on championship Saturday. In keying each of their teams’ comebacks during the semifinals, the top guards from St Luke and Holy Trinity kept their poise and filled up the stat sheets, with Greg scoring 36 points versus St. George, and George scoring 23 against Evangelismos.

I can imagine that we will be seeing a lot of these two matched up against each other on Saturday, as they will have the challenge of leading their teams both offensively and defensively. These two top talents from the Delaware Valley have shined on the stage since they were in middle school, so now to see them take on one another in their junior years is something that will be too good to miss.

Will Holy Trinity win if…?

For Holy Trinity to cap off a historic run, they will need to take the scrappy efforts they had this past weekend and carry them over into the championship game against a St. Luke’s team with a lot of talent. Team defense and their ability to frustrate the opposing team’s best player as they did this past weekend have been the keys to them getting to this point, but their toughest task to date will be trying to frustrate the leading candidate for league MVP on Saturday. Also defensively, it will be key for Holy Trinity to slow down that fast-paced St. Luke’s attack.

It would be easy to look at these two teams and their records this season and say that Holy Trinity’s chances are slim, but they have already proven logic wrong once and will need an equally incredible effort to prove logic wrong again if they want to capture their first championship in team history.

St. Luke will win if…?

For the top-seeded St. Luke’s team, it is all about speed. All year they have relied on their quickness and ability to score in transition, and Saturday will be no different. From what I have been told when these two teams met in the regular season, it was that ability to run, run, run, that blew open the game on their way to a comfortable victory over Holy Trinity, and, since it is their calling card, I can’t see anything different this Saturday.

Also, the boys from Broomall are an older team, so relying on that maturity will also be key Saturday night. With any match up like this, it will be key for St. Luke to learn from their past mistakes and not let Holy Trinity hang around early the way they allowed St. George last week. If they can take care of business early, they should be well on their way to their first title since 2004.

And the winner will be…?

I have to admit, I already had my St. Luke-Evangelismos prediction ready to go. The way the league went this year, I did not see anybody competing with the top two seeds, and had pretty much carved the championship matchup in stone. That being said, here we stand, with a young and scrappy Holy Trinity team crashing the party, standing right beside the unbeaten giants from St. Luke (Super Bowl comparisons, anyone?).

It truly is incredible to think about, but let’s not forget the boys from Egg Harbor are led by the same staff that took the Boardwalk Empire to the PGBL finals last year, so maybe we should have seen this coming. Both are well coached, both are team-oriented and have done their respective churches proud. Everything we have seen to date says two things: one, that St. Luke should win this game easily, and two, that all logic can be thrown out the window in January.

I expect to see a well-coached and game-ready Holy Trinity poised to pull off the upset, but I ultimately do think the talent level of St. Luke will be a bit too much. I like the top-seeded boys from St. Luke to take care of business and cap off their undefeated season with a league title. Final Score Prediction – St. Luke 57, Holy Trinity 45.

Regardless of the outcomes, Saturday night will be the place to be in the Delaware Valley, as four worthy teams take the court to represent their respective communities in one of the pillars of the youth calendar in our region. Stay tuned to Cosmos Philly for all of the Championship weekend action, and congratulations to all the teams on a great season.