It seems hard to believe, but we have reached the decade's halfway point. Five seasons are in the book and later this year, Dr. Masse will unveil his half-decade awards. Before looking back at the last five seasons, however, it is time to focus on 2014.
Coach of the Year
Second runner-up-Jeff Manikowski, North Penn: Despite dealing with the imminent end of his team's program, Manikowski guided the Panthers to their best season since 2008. North Penn went 16-7 and made an impressive 13-win turnaround after going 3-19 the previous season. North Penn grew much better as the season progressed, beating NTL-II champion Mansfield and runner-up Sayre while ending the regular season on a nine-game winning streak and coming within one second of reaching the district semifinals.
First runner-up-John Vaji, Lewisburg: The Green Dragons went 23-4 and captured their first District 4 Class AA championship since 2000 as Vaji pushed all the right buttons a year after losing his two leading scorers. Lewisburg has become a model of consistency under Vaji and he had his team peaking at the right time as it upset two-time defending champion Loyalsock, 61-45 in the district final. Lewisburg won 22 games by double-digit margins and was one of the district's most disciplined and well-rounded teams.
And the winners are...Glenn Vaughan, Sullivan County and Paul Petcavage, St. John Neumann: Vaughan has turned Sullivan County into a district power and might have done the best coaching of his impressive career this season. The Griffins went 20-7, reached the district final and advanced to the second round of states for a third consecutive year, despite losing four strong starters from last year's team. Sullivan made huge strides as the season progressed and won 14 of its last 17 games.
It is hard to argue with perfection and for 30 games under Petcavage, Neumann was perfect. The Knights started 30-0 while capturing division, conference and district championships and reaching the Final 4 for the first time since 1972. Petcavage had a talented team but without a good coach, 30 wins is a longshot.
Honorable Mention: Rick Smith, Galeton; Kipper Burleigh, Mansfield; Gene Bruno, Milton; Todd Outman, Wellsboro; Matt Fisher, South Williamsport; Ron Insinger, Loyalsock; Jason Gresh, Muncy
Dakota Shadle, Galeton: The senior guard was the most valuable player on a vastly improved 20-win team that reached states for the first time since 2003. Shadle averaged 4.6 steals per game and gave opponents problems with his speed and length. The 1,000-point scorer had eight or more steals four times, including in a 54-33 district quarterfinal win over Millville.
Richard Allen, St. John Neumann: The best defender on a state semifinalist, Allen often defended the opponent's best guard and often stifled him. Allen played tenacious defense, was tough to shake and made a lot of steals to help ignite an explosive transition offense.
Isaiah Washington, Williamsport: While many focus on what the dangerous guard does on offense, Washington is just as impressive on defense. Washington can play lock-down defense and makes life difficult on opposing guards. The four-year starter had the speed and quick hands to stick to opponents like glue and often used his defense to create offense.
Jordan Beinlich, Sullivan County: One of the team's most underrated but most key players, Beinlich became a defensive stopper. He guarded explosive scorers and sometimes went against imposing post players but consistently delivered. Sullivan has built a winning tradition around tough defense and Beinlich kept it going all year. He was especially tough in the playoffs and helped the Griffins hold two straight district opponents to 67 combined points.
Defensive Player of the Year-Kyle Datres, Loyalsock: Datres takes top honors for a third consecutive season. The junior point guard covers quick point guards, dangerous shooting guards and strong big men. He does the job well, too, anchoring the unit while averaging 4.4 steals per game, the second consecutive season he has had at least four steals per game. Six times Datres made at least seven steals in a game and he had 10 in a 58-41 win over Class AAA state qualifier Central Columbia.
Richard Allen, St. John Neumann: Allen was an outstanding point guard who effectively ran Neumann's offense. The senior averaged 11 points per game and was second on the team in assists but his impact went beyond the numbers. He was a calming influence, especially in the state playoffs, handling the ball well against outstanding teams. Smart and savvy, Allen elevated his performance in big games and was outstanding in the HAC championship win over Loyalsock while adding 20 points in the district final against Sullivan County.
Sam Allen, Lewisburg: Allen burst onto the scene as a freshman last season and was the Most Valuable Player on a team that won the program's second district title. A 6-foot-7 versatile threat, Allen averaged 15.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game while helping Lewisburg win 23 games. Allen scored 28 points and hit 10 of 13 second-half shots in a regular-season game against Loyalsock and routinely recorded double-doubles. Hard-working and intelligent, Allen gives Lewisburg a strong foundation to build upon as it tries repeating next year.
Kyle Datres, Loyalsock: Combine his defense with his passing, ball-handling and efficiency and Datres can make a huge impact without even scoring. The point guard did average 9.2 points, but Datres did so much more. He averaged 7.2 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game while helping Loyalsock average 70 points per game. Datres sees the floor as well as any player in the district, was adept at finding teammates for open shots and is an outstanding leader. He had at least 10 assists six times, including 11 in a state playoff win over District 3 champion Trinity and 13 against District 4 Class AAA champion Shamokin.
Conner Wylie, Sullivan County: The senior will graduate as one of Sullivan's all-time greatest players. Wylie was the guiding force on a team that won 20 games and a state tournament game for a third consecutive year and is part of a senior class that won 84 games. One of the district's best post players, Wylie averaged 16.2 points and 10 rebounds per game. He also was a tenacious defender. Wylie was at his best in the playoffs and scored 21 points while grabbing eight rebounds in a 52-47 state playoff win over Mount Calvary. Wylie had 16 double-doubles and grabbed more than 600 rebounds during his career.
Omar Little, Loyalsock: The junior guard has made big strides each season and became an all-state candidate during an impressive junior year. Little averaged 16.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game while helping Loyalsock win 25 games for a second straight year. Little is an outstanding defender and is just 22 points from reaching 1,000. He can beat opponents off the dribble or by stepping outside. A hard worker, Little scored a career-high 35 points in a win over Shamokin and elevated his play in the postseason again, averaging 21.3 points in seven playoff games.
Isaiah Washington, Williamsport: In the rich history of Williamsport basketball that goes back more than 100 years, only two players have scored more points than Washington. The Penn State-bound guard graduates as one of the program's most decorated players after scoring 1,453 career points and finishing in the top 10 in several other categories. Despite constant double teams and gimmick defenses, Washington still averaged a career-best 21.5 points per game while also providing solid passing, rebounding and defense. Washington opened his season with a career-high 38-point performance against Reading and helped a Williamsport team ravaged by graduation reach its third straight District 2-4 Class AAAA championship.
Player of the Year-Alize Johnson, St. John Neumann: A lock for first team Class A all-state and a serious Player of the Year candidate, Johnson had one of the most dominant seasons by any district player in the 21st century. The senior was the driving force on a Neumann team that went 30-1, reached its first Final 4 in 42 years and recorded the district's longest winning streak in more than 15 years. Johnson averaged 24 points, more than 16 rebounds and five assists per game while also being a team leader in steals and blocks. Johnson did it all, beating opponents inside, in transition and from outside. Johnson recorded a double-double in all nine playoff games while recording a triple-double in the district semifinals against Mansfield. He willed Neumann to wins at times and had a 47 points, 13 rebounds and four steals in a January win over Muncy.
Second Team: Riley Hengler, South Williamsport (16 ppg, 7 rpg, 3.5 apg); Bo Burleigh, Mansfield (18.5 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 1.3 spg); Jesse Flannery, Lewisburg (8.8 ppg, 3.9 apg, 1 spg); Ben Sosa, Loyalsock (12.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3 spg); Dakota Shadle, Galeton (17.4 ppg, 5 rpg, 4.6 spg, 3 apg); Nick Ring, Muncy (14.1 ppg, 12.8 rpg)
Third Team: Ryan Eck, Jersey Shore (11.5 ppg, 10.8 ppg, 5.6 bpg); Ethan Baker, Milton (14.9 ppg); Joe Doganiero, Wellsboro (13.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.8 spg); Troy Adriance, Williamson (19.5 ppg); Chuck Probst, Bucktail (20.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, more than 1,100 points)
Honorable Mention: Chuck Probst, Bucktail; Trent Risley, Bucktail; Mason Moore, Canton; Josh Nudd, Cowanesque Valley; Tyler Melko, Cowanesque Valley; Bob Williams, Galeton; Tyler Mitcheltree, Hughesville; Zach Miller, Jersey Shore; Cody Confair, Jersey Shore; Will Sigl, Lewisburg; Cody Schmouder, Liberty; JJ Walker, Liberty; Mike Pastore, Loyalsock; Travis Krall, Milton; Serge Cole, Montgomery; Quinten Persun, Montoursville; Ted Clark, Muncy; Dayton Wood, North Penn; Keynan Arredondo, North Penn; Billy Rummings, South Williamsport; Adam Szklanka, Sullivan County; Zack Miller, Warrior Run; Kieron Smethers, Wellsboro; Maleak Benjamin, Williamsport
Breakthrough Underclassmen of the Year
(signifies an underclassmen who made great strides, not the top overall underclassmen)
Second runner-up-Maleak Benjamin, Williamsport: The junior made a nice impact in his first varsity season and was instrumental in helping Williamsport return to the district final. Benjamin averaged 10.4 points per game and has the ability to burn teams outside while also driving to the basket and scoring inside. With Washington graduating, Benjamin will need to make similar big strides to help Williamsport perform well next year.
First runner-up-Njoku Ibe-Amanze, St. John Neumann: He never played organized basketball before this season, but in only 20 games, Amanze started making a big impact. The 6-8 sophomore became a key part to Neumann's championship puzzle and delivered a huge performance in a 78-68 state quarterfinal win over New Hope Academy when he scored 20 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked five shots. If Amanze could come that far so fast, he could become quite the player the next two seasons as he will now have an entire offseason and preseason to prepare.
And the winner is...Nadir Boone, Lewisburg: The junior forward began his season as a starter at Williamsport and ended it as a district champion at Lewisburg. Boone might have been the x-factor that helped push Lewisburg over the top. In only 10 games, Boone came a long way and was outstanding in the postseason. He sparked the comeback against Loyalsock in the district final and a week later led a big comeback against Mid-Valley, scoring 10 points, grabbing eight rebounds and providing excellent defense off the bench. The postseason was likely a preview of things to come for a player who could be one of the area's best next season.
Other Underclassmen to Watch in 2015: Kevin Anderson, St. John Neumann; Bryant Painter, Cowanesque Valley; Tyler Melko, Cowanesque Valley; Jake Batterson, Galeton; Sean Poust, Hughesville; Jake Butzler, Jersey Shore; Matt Fedorajka, Lewisburg; Tommy Baggett, Loyalsock; Marcus Williams, Loyalsock; JP Shaw, Mansfield; Chandler Correll, Mansfield; Logan Feltman, Milton; Wade Heidel, Milton; Brycen Mussina, Montoursville; Noah Fagnano, Montoursville; Jeff Fry, Muncy; Konnor Manikowski, North Penn; Cody Nelson, South Williamsport; Brock Jones, South Williamsport; Adam Szklanka, Sullivan County; Dawson Prough, Wellsboro; Josh Bradbury, Williamson; Nyric Gosley, Williamsport
Game of the Year
Second runner-up-Mansfield 56, North Penn 55: The last game in a long and fierce rivalry might have been the best. Two teams separated by just a few miles went back and forth in this district quarterfinal and Brady Andrews made it a classic when he hit a buzzer-beating putback to lift Mansfield to the dramatic win.
First runner-up-Loyalsock 53, Lewisburg 52: It was one of the year's most anticipated games to that point last January and these rivals exceeded the hype surrounding it. An intense game that featured three lead changes in the last 15 seconds ended in dramatic fashion when Omar Little scored on a leaning buzzer-beating jumper. If anyone wants to know why this rivalry has become such a great one just watch the replay of this game.
And the winner is...St. John Neumann 64, Loyalsock 58: The Heartland Conference championship was as good as it gets with the game at Montoursville selling out an hour before tip-off. The players might as well have played in a backyard since the schools are so close to each other. Neumann used this game to let the state know how good it was, leading nearly from start to finish while holding off a furious fourth-quarter rally to capture the conference title. The fourth quarter was basketball at its best with both teams trading big plays and shots like boxers do upper cuts. Games like this one are what high school sports are all about.
Chris Masse covers high school basketball for the Sun-Gazette and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org