Sports Media Guru Michael Bradley Picks the Best Local Sports Stars

From high school jocks on the rise to the city's best pro teams, "El Hombre" names his all-star roster.



College Athlete ➙ Villanova University’s Kevin Cunningham 
This lacrosse ace was a unanimous first-team all-Big East selection for the second consecutive season and was named the conference’s Attack Player of the Year in 2012. The senior led Villanova with 20 goals—including three  game-winners—and 21 assists. In January, Major League Lacrosse’s Boston Cannons selected him with the 19th overall pick in the collegiate draft, making him the best Nova lax man ever.

College Coach ➙ Temple University’s Fran Dunphy 
You won’t find a guy with deeper local roots than Dunph, who grew up in Drexel Hill, and played high school basketball at Malvern Prep and college hoops for La Salle University. He was the head coach at Malvern, an assistant at his alma mater and eventually took over at Penn, where he ruled the Ivy League. Now the big man for Temple’s men’s basketball program, he has won the Atlantic 10 tournament three times and made four visits to the NCAA tourney. Now that Temple is joining the Big East, the Owls should get even better.

High School Coach ➙ Friends’ Central School’s Jason Polykoff 
With the success the Phoenix has enjoyed lately, one would expect Polykoff to be a smooth operator and recruiter who cuts an imposing figure on the court. Instead, this boys’ basketball coach is a mild-mannered middle-school math teacher and former FCS hoops standout who just happens to preside over one of the area’s best programs. Polykoff stays out of the recruitment game (he has help with that) and focuses on meshing top talents into a selfless team that has won two of the last three Friends League titles on its way to becoming a regional powerhouse.

High School Team ➙ Haverford School Lacrosse 
Some consider the Fords’ 2011-12 regular season something of a failure because they lost a single game. But what do you expect after last year’s 23-0 national-title performance? Twelve members of last year’s team received Division I scholarships. Coach John Nostrant has built a program that attracts the area’s top talent, then puts it up against the best competition he can find. The results have been remarkable.
 

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Local Sports Event ➙ Katie Samson Lacrosse Festival 
For one Saturday in April, Radnor High School is transformed into a menagerie of bouncing compressed-rubber balls. The 2012 Samson Festival featured 54 area teams (28 boys’, 26 girls’), with all proceeds going to research aimed at helping victims of spinal-cord injuries, including Samson, a former lax standout who was paralyzed while sledding. More than 10,000 people attended this year’s one-day festival, which features lacrosse, wheelchair rugby, kid zones and plenty of food.
Visit katiesamsonlaxfest.com.

Local Sports Surprise ➙ Villa Maria Academy Field Hockey 
How unexpected was the Hurricanes’ run to the PIAA class AA state title game? So surprising that star forward Caroline Troncelliti didn’t expect anything close when the season started. But Villa Maria got it done, reaching the championship game (where it lost 3-2 to Wyoming Seminary) for the first time since 1994. Troncelliti—who will attend Northwestern University next year—led the team with 40 goals and finished with 105 for her career. Young standouts like sophomore goalie Maddie Joyce ensure that VMA will be strong again in 2012.

Pro Coach ➙ Philadelphia Flyers’ Peter Laviolette 
Sure, the loss to New Jersey stung, especially after the rollicking good time we had as the Flyers dumped Pittsburgh. But credit Laviolette with taking a zany goaltender, a young corps of attacking forwards and a defense minus a leader (Chris Pronger), and turning them into contenders. Laviolette’s humor and sometimes profane intensity in HBO’s 24/7 series run-up to the Winter Classic helped make him one of the city’s most compelling sports characters in recent memory.

Pro Team ➙ Philadelphia Flyers 
It was only a first-round series, but that triumph over the Penguins electrified the city and its fans. The young Flyers showed they’re a team on the march, and though the Devils defeat was tough, the team gave fans plenty of reasons for optimism heading forward. If the defense gets a little tighter, and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov plays with more consistency, a much deeper run is quite possible next season.
 

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Reason to Stick Around After the Game ➙ Xfinity Live! 
Nobody likes to fight traffic after watching our pro teams get it done, especially with what’s going on with the Platt Bridge (arrggghh!). That’s why more and more fans are letting the crowds slug it out on the roads while they hoof it to Xfinity Live!, where you can ride the mechanical bull, sample one of the countless beers available, savor a steak and watch the action on a TV screen so big it looks like it’s been stolen from the Linc. Who needs traffic? Visit xfinitylive.com.

Reason to Tolerate the New York Giants ➙ Mark Herzlich
It doesn’t matter that linebacker Mark Herzlich wasn’t active in February for the Giants’ Super Bowl triumph over New England. The fact that he was on the New York roster at all was a triumph for the Conestoga High School graduate. Three years ago, Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Suddenly, he went from a projected top-15 NFL Draft pick to someone battling for his life. Though Herzlich missed the 2009 season, he beat cancer and was a starter for Boston College in 2010. Trouble was, the NFL no longer saw him as a hot prospect, and he wasn’t drafted last April. Undaunted, Herzlich signed a free-agent contract with the Giants. In November, he entered the starting lineup against—of all teams—the Eagles. A broken ankle sidelined him for the final few games of the regular season and the playoffs, but Herzlich will compete for a starting job at training camp this summer, keeping his remarkable comeback story alive.

Underappreciated Pro Player ➙ Philadelphia Eagles’ Todd Herremans 
When the honor roll of offensive weapons for the Birds is called, we hear about LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Michael Vick, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek. Before his injury, Pro Bowl tackle Jason Peters would’ve been included in that group. But what about Herremans, who’s been an invaluable—not to mention flexible—member of the O-line? He started here as a tackle, moved inside to guard and, before last season, slid outside to right tackle, where he protected Vick’s blind side. The Birds showed him love during the off-season with a three-year contract extension—and it’s time for fans to do the same.

Michael Bradley—aka El Hombre—is a sports writer and analyst for the NFL Network, Sporting News Radio, 97.5 The Fanatic/950 ESPN and other outlets. He lives in Broomall. Visit his blog at elhombreknowssports.blogspot.com.
 

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