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Best around! Northeast Times fall sports award winners

The footballs are tucked away, the soccer balls are collected and winter sports are in full swing.

It’s officially winter, which means it’s time to turn the page on the fall season.

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And it was a very good fall season.

We had some never-before-seen things like Nazareth Academy making the Catholic League championship in girls soccer. Abraham Lincoln won its first Public League football championship in many years. And some things stayed the same, like Northeast winning the Public League boys soccer title.

But before we completely turn the page, it’s time to hand out the awards for the winners. 

Winners will be honored in the spring at the annual Northeast Times sports banquet. The fall winners will join winners of the winter and spring awards, as well as the overall awards.

Here are the athletes who finished atop the rest during the fall season

FOOTBALL

Tyler Yerkov

Catholic League Player of the Year

Tyler Yerkov

Father Judge

The Crusaders played one of the toughest schedules in the state with games against St. Joe’s Prep, Roman Catholic and a pair of games against La Salle, both during the regular season and playoffs.

Still the tough quarterback hung tough and helped the Crusaders finish 5-7 despite that crazy tough schedule. They also faced off with Central Bucks South and Spring-Ford, and once again knocked off Lincoln, this year’s Public League champions, in the annual Thanksgiving Day game. 

Yerkov was a dual-threat star, using his legs and arm to help Judge. He also chipped in at defensive back at times.

Next year, he hopes to continue his career in college. Possible destinations: Widener, West Chester and Kutztown.

Gabriel Smalley accounted for five touchdowns in Lincoln’s semifinal win. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Public League Player of the Year

Gabriel Smalley

Abraham Lincoln

The Railsplitters have been improving steadily over the years. This year, they won their first Public League championship since 1979, and Smalley was calling the signals for that championship.

Another dual-threat QB, Smalley preferred to do damage with his arm, but was just as strong with his legs. Behind his play, the Railsplitters finished 7-5 against tough competition. They also knocked off defending champ Northeast in the championship game.

He also helped out in the kicking game, and in the Public League semifinals, blasted a pair of field goals, the first was Lincoln’s first since 2011. 

He hopes to continue his football career in college, ideally at quarterback.

Former coach Gene Kelly (center) celebrates Abraham Lincoln’s first Public League championship since 1979 with his former players, current assistant Joe DiGrazio (left) and head coach Hakeem Cooper. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Coach of the Year

Hakeem Cooper

Abraham Lincoln

It’s never easy to build a football program, but it’s particularly tough when you’re doing it at a school that’s not used to winning.

Lincoln always had a good program, but since 1979, it could never find a way to win the Public League championship.

Until this year.

Cooper, a Lincoln graduate, returned to coach the team a few years ago and was promoted to head man in 2018.

Thanks to Cooper, Lincoln was not only able to win the Public League crown, but the Railsplitters were able to hang with teams like Imhotep Charter in a Public League intradivisional game and St. Joe’s Prep in the city championship. The rest of the schedule was also tough with games against Downingtown West and Roman Catholic.

The Railsplitters lose some stars from this year’s squad, but should be in the mix for the championship again next year.

Abou Cherif was one of the top scorers in the Catholic League. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

BOYS SOCCER

Catholic League Player of the Year

Abou Cherif

Father Judge

Since he arrived at Judge, Cherif has become one of the best scorers in the Catholic League. But this year, he had his finest season, scoring 20 goals and adding an assist for the Crusaders, who mowed through the Catholic League during the regular season and entered the Catholic League championship game undefeated and outscored foes 44-7 during the regular campaign.

For his efforts, Cherif, who ended his career with 44 goals, was named the Catholic League Most Valuable Player.

Cherif will continue his soccer career in college, but the forward is unsure where he’ll end up. 

Public League Player of the Year

ED Leom Dos Santos

Northeast

The Vikings have been the best Public League boys soccer team for the better part of a decade, and every year they have a guy who can lead them. This year, that guy was ED Leom Dos Santos.

A great athlete, he could do a little bit of everything for Northeast, which once again won the Public League championship and played Catholic League champion La Salle to a tough game in the city championship.

The senior was also a First-Team All-Public selection and was named Public League Most Valuable Player.

He’s currently looking at options to continue his soccer career beyond high school.

Coach of the Year

Ryan Haney

Archbishop Ryan

Ryan won the championship a year ago, but came into this year with a lot of questions. The Raiders had some great defensive players who were more than capable leaders, but there were plenty of question marks, and it’s not easy to win in the Catholic League with unproven guys in key positions.

It didn’t matter.

Haney guided the Raiders to a third-place finish in league play and then advanced to the Catholic League semifinals, where Ryan fell to eventual champion La Salle.

The Raiders then went on to win the city championship, and advanced to the state playoffs.

Not only did the Raiders enjoy a good season, but many of those inexperienced players who played during the season return next year. 

Gianna Rivera returned after missing her junior season with an injury. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

GIRLS SOCCER

Catholic League Player of the Year

Gianna Rivera

A lot of top seniors come into the season riding the momentum of a great junior year. Rivera, who started as a freshman and sophomore, didn’t have that luxury due to an injury that sidelined her for her entire junior campaign.

Apparently it didn’t matter much because Rivera came back and took over right where she left off, as one of the top scorers in the Catholic League. She finished the season with 15 goals.

And because of her dazzling moves on the field, Ryan got back to its winning ways, finishing in second place in the Catholic League, just getting edged out by Archbishop Wood at the end of the season. 

She’ll continue her career next year at Kutztown University.

Public League Player of the Year

Jenna Beltle

Franklin Towne Charter

The Warriors are always one of the top teams in the Public League and this year was no different. Franklin Towne advanced to the Public League semifinals 

And whenever they needed something taken care of, the Warriors turned to Beltle, who played halfback and striker.

She scored 12 goals in 12 games this year, took 25 corner kicks and recorded 19 steals on the season.

But what made her best was her attitude, according to coach Rebecca Gilborges, who said she’d “never seen another player wanting to succeed more.” That, coupled with her leadership skills, made her the key to the Warriors.

Coach of the year

Dan Bradley

Nazareth Academy

Perhaps the coach knew what he was doing when he helped the Pandas join the Catholic League. The PCL is one of the best around for girls soccer, and this year Nazareth joined for the first time.

The Pandas finished fifth in a very competitive division during the regular season, but in the playoffs, they turned it on.

Nazareth needed double overtime to knock off Cardinal O’Hara in the first round, upset a very good Ryan team in the semifinals and after advancing to the championship game, it fell to Archbishop Wood in a competitive game.

The Pandas then went on to beat Masterman in the city championship game in the first year they were eligible to play in the game.

Bradley pushed all the right buttons in the playoffs and helped Nazareth make the biggest game in its first year. And while the Pandas graduate a lot of talent, they should be poised for another great season next year.

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