North Penn-Liberty Mounties basketball wasn’t afforded a very long offseason, and until even a few weeks ago it was unknown if they would even get a chance to take the floor.
Now with the greenlight, the reigning Northern Tier League Division 2 Champions eye their first matchup of the season as they head to Cowanesque Valley on Friday, Jan. 15, and the senior class is looking to finish what they started their junior year.
Senior NTL Sixth Man of the Year from the 2019-2020 season Colton Litzelman is just one of the plethora of players slated to make their return for Liberty.
After only being about 50% sure they would even get the opportunity to play, Litzeman has his eyes set on making history.
“We want to do two things that we’ve never done as a school before,” Litzelman said. “We want to win a District Title and go back-to-back (as NTL Division 2 Champions).”
Though the team hasn’t been in the gym as much as they would have liked this season, players such as Colton are continuing to strive to get better, and after a tough four-game skid to end their playoff-run last year, are looking to continue that improvement.
“I just don’t want to go through that, like ending the season on a four-game skid,” Colton said. “We want to possibly win an NTL Title, we came up just short last year and we now know that it’s going to take a District Title to get to States, so it just makes it a little tougher and makes us want to work harder.”
With Colton now cracking the starting lineup, he joins a completely intact lineup of senior players who were all integral cogs in the machine to the Liberty team that went 20-2 in the regular season this past year.
One of those players is resident sharpshooter Koleton Roupp, who knocked down 40 three-pointers in his junior year and is poised to do even more damage in 2021.
Three-point shooting is a skill that takes repetition to get a lot of shots up all the time, but a limited offseason can affect a shooter’s rhythm. Despite these issues, Roupp has been doing whatever he can to make sure he is prepared for Liberty’s possible title-rin.
“It’s just a lot of work,” Roupp said. “When I’m in the gym I’m just giving 110% the whole time or any time I have the ball in my hands.”
Roupp is another senior player who wasn’t sure whether or not they would have a season in 2020, but is determined to make the best of the opportunity presented to him and compete at the highest level possible.
“We all want it this year,” Roupp said. We all want to reach our goals, and do better than last year and end on a good note and we’re pushing to make that happen.”
The senior mainstay in the Liberty lineup said that even having the season was a huge relief and as a player who didn’t know he would ever touch a basketball in a Liberty gym again, he was just happy to get the chance to play basketball one more season.
Fellow senior and NTL assist-leader Noah Spencer also weighed in on the difficulties of having a limited offseason, with little to no time to build on-court chemistry can put a strain on a team early in the year.
But Spencer believes that they may have an advantage that other teams heading into the season don’t.
The senior class in Liberty has been playing basketball with each other for nearly their entire careers, which may give them a bit of an edge heading into the year.
“We just know how to play with each other,” Spencer said. “We have been doing this since sixth grade.”
The chemistry on the team was apparent in the prior year, with the team constantly putting each other in a position to succeed, but that chemistry will truly be tested in the early portion of the season with Liberty having much less gym time than many other NTL teams.
Spencer pointed to their defensive-minded group as being a huge advantage for them and many teams will most likely sputter out of the gates on offense, Liberty will look to lean on the other side of the ball.
“When we are using the press and getting easy steals, turning steals into points and playing good defense, it’s a major key to our game,” Spencer said.
Even with a team who is looking to try to compete for a District Title, the players, especially the seniors, are just happy to be getting the chance to play.
“It means a lot,” Spencer said. “We waited all this time and to finally make it here and not knowing if you’re going to have a season was really scary. We just wanted to play so bad, so getting the chance to is really the best thing.”
Looking forward to their first matchup with the Cowansque Valley Indians on Friday, Jan. 15 in Westfield, the consensus amongst players is that they feel as though they match up well against the Indians, and are expecting to start the season off with bang in 2021.