On the boy’s end of the spectrum, the seven returning teams will have a lot to live up to, as last season proved to be one of the most incredibly even and wildly entertaining seasons in recent memory. Unlike the girl’s division, which will see many teams retaining their top players from last year, the boy’s division will have a lot of new faces on the horizon, as many teams, including those at the top, graduated several key players last May and June. Last year saw St. Thomas Cherry Hill skyrocket from a sixth place finish the previous year to the league championship, and I see no reason why a lot of the teams that formed the bottom half of the standings cannot make a similar run this year. Let’s take a look at the teams:
St. Thomas Cherry Hill
The defending champs, fresh off their first title since 1990, are looking to pick up right where they left off last season in the hopes of capturing their second straight league title. To do so Coach Pratzinakis will have to overcome the loss of two all-star forwards in John Nutaitis and Gio Karadonis, who formed one of the top frontcourt tandems in the league last year. While this team may have lost some height from last season they are certainly left with a lot of talent across the board, led by senior guard Andrew Karolidis, who had an MVP-like season last year, capped off with a monster performance in the championship game. In terms of interior presence it will be up to Kostas Dambalas to retain the defensive presence that was St. Thomas’s calling card last season, along with an up-and-coming crop of youngsters who displayed a tremendous amount of perimeter shooting skill throughout the season. The boys from Cherry Hill may have lost some size in the offseason, but they have more than enough talent and leadership to make a strong title defense in the months to come. Their title defense will kick off against one of their toughest opponents from last year in St. Luke’s Broomall at home on October 25th.
Holy Trinity Egg Harbor
You really can’t help but feel for the boys from the Shore, who this past winter fell in the championship game for the third consecutive year. However for a team that was believed to be in a rebuilding year, Coach Anthony Panetta’s boys sure did turn some heads; riding an aggressive full court press and a crop of senior leaders all the way to a championship appearance that many did not see coming. For the boys in blue this season will be about overcoming the loss of a large senior class, most notably team leader Alex Malaspina who anchored the Holy Trinity backcourt for the past few seasons. Last year saw the emergence of another top frontcourt tandem in Athanasios Mertis and Yanni Dendrinos, and the continued rise of youngster George Arsenis, who shined brightest in the postseason. Like their Jersey sisters Holy Trinity will need to rely on a supporting cast of youngsters to fill the gaps if they look to make a run at a fourth consecutive championship appearance. Their season will kick off this weekend as they take on Holy Trinity of Wilmington in Delaware this Sunday.
Question: What happens when you put the reigning MVP and the reigning Coach of the Year on the same team? I’m not sure but I bet fans in the Northeast are excited to find out. Coach Jim Contoudis will have a wealth of talent at his disposal this year, led by star guard Jimmie Armentani. A team previously known for their immense size advantage, the boys from the Boulevard will now rely on their speed and perimeter skill, as they must overcome the loss of all-star big man Antonio Nakos, as well as slashing hybrid guard Cameron Elliot and team leader Vasili Mantsos. For this year’s team, Armentani will be joined by returning slashing guard Dimitri Cuni and a much-improved Alex Koukaras in the hopes of making a run this season. In what should be an even league throughout this is one of my teams I like to contend for a title this season. The boys from Evangelismos will see their first action later in the season on November 15th against St. Luke’s Broomall.
St. Luke Broomall
Who can forget the amazing run made by the boys from Broomall last year? Veteran Coach Chris Nikolos and his boys went from being long-shot playoff hopefuls to within one slip of a championship berth in just two short months. It is no longer a secret as to what makes this team tick, as superstar guard Greg Vlassopoulos will look to build off his breakout year last year, with a supporting cast that will make the boys in red no longer a Cinderella story. Returning versatile forward Chris Palmieri, sharpshooter Harry Polychromopoulos, as well as the rumored addition of star big man Panos Tzinoudis, make St. Luke’s one of the most complete teams in the league, and will have fans from the west ready for a championship run. St. Luke’s will kick off their season this Sunday against St. Demetrios Upper Darby in Wilmington.
St. Demetrios Upper Darby
If anyone has any doubts about what this team was capable of doing if healthy last year they need only look at the Wilmington Tournament, where St. Demetrios ran through the competition on their way to a championship appearance in a tournament where all other league members stumbled on day one. A season filled with injuries derailed the boys from Upper Darby in league play, and they will look to rebound this year and overcome the loss of a star senior class led by Anastasios Gjejede. Make no mistake about it though this team has plenty of talent to compete, as Coach George Pagiotas returns star guard Chris Dawson and up and coming forward Dimitri Stergiou, as well as Elkins Park transferee George Karidas in the hopes of getting back into title contention. For one of the most historically consistent teams in league history, the up tempo guard heavy style will be the key for success at St. Demetrios this season as it has been for so many years in the past. The boys in light blue will start their season on opening weekend against St. Luke’s Broomall in what will be a matchup of two top teams in week one.
Holy Trinity Wilmington
For Coach George Rassias and his boys from Delaware, their first season back in the Delaware Valley was an up-and-down one at that, as the boys from Wilmington got off to an impressive start before suffering some untimely bad luck and injuries down the stretch, causing them to miss the playoffs. Make no mistake about it this team has talent and is certainly well coached, and will look to make their sophomore season in the league a successful one. Last year saw the emergence of one of the top talents in the league in Dino Matulas, who will lead a young crop of players in the hopes of reaching the playoffs this season. Let’s not forget this was a team that went down to South Jersey and brought home a victory against eventual-runner ups Egg Harbor, and almost won a stunningly odd game against St. Luke’s after they were forced to play 2-on-5. If Matulas can play at the MVP-level I think he is capable of, then I see no reason why this team cannot make a run similar to that of Annunciation Elkins Park last season. Their campaign will start this Sunday at home against sister-in-name church Holy Trinity Egg Harbor.
St. George Media
Like the boys from St. Demetrios, injuries and poor timing played a huge role in St. George’s difficult season last year, as the loss of Panos Skoutelas for most of the season was a tough pill to swallow. The coming year will not be any easier, as the graduation of top forward tandem Greg Daskalopoulos and Christos Mocharis will leave a gaping hole in the interior this season. What Coach John Aivazoglou will have this year is a lot of talent on the perimeter, as the return of Skoutelas, along with the emergence of sharpshooting young guard AJ Aivazoglou, will have the boys from Media looking to get back into the playoffs this season. This team will also look to get youngster and reigning JV MVP Chrysovalantis Apostolopoulos into the mix, in what I’m guessing will be a dangerous triple-threat combo at guard this season. St. George will start the season with a bye week before heading to Upper Darby to face the hosts from St. Demetrios.
Mr. GOYA’s Championship Prediction
Last year’s league was completely unpredictable, so going out on a limb to make a prediction this year is nearly impossible in the wake of what we saw last season. That being said there are a few teams that I think have what it takes. Teams like Holy Trinity Egg Harbor and Evangelismos Philadelphia have been the pictures of consistency over the past few years, and the defending champions may have lost a bit of size but they still have a tremendous amount of talent at their disposal. For me though, one team stands out as having lost the least while retaining the most in terms of top-level talent. The boys from St. Luke’s took the league by storm in January last year, and they will not sneak up on teams this time around. Despite that, I look at Greg Vlassopoulos, and I see a talent that has the potential to dominate the league the likes of which haven’t been seen since Nicko Balis and George Vlahos a few years back. Between him and a top crop of talent around him, I look at St. Luke’s as the team to beat this season. Championship Prediction: St. Luke’s Broomall.
As always, please stay tuned to Cosmos Philly for all the league’s action. I hope you are all as excited as I am to get this season started, and I want to wish all the kids, coaches, parents, and fans all the luck as we enter another exciting year of GOYA basketball in the Delaware Valley.