BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – Last season, the Lebanon girls’ basketball team wasn’t all the way there yet, it hadn’t completely arrived. And while that fact was manifested in a couple of different ways, there is a sense of urgency surrounding Cedar basketball this season.
It may not be Lebanon High’s last chance at this being “Its Year’, but it may be the Cedars’ best chance.
The Cedars lost zero players from last year’s squad. Everybody’s back. And what that means is this particular group has been together for quite some time, and that it knows itself very well.
“It’s going to come some time,” said Ben Brewer, who’s in his third season of heading Lebanon. “There was definitely a growth in maturity last year. My sophomores to juniors definitely matured, and this year my juniors to seniors have definitely matured.
“You can’t forget last year,” Brewer added. “We’ve got to remember our mistakes. But when the ball goes up for the first time, it’s time for a fresh beginning. You’ve got to learn from your mistakes.”
One of the mistakes the Cedars made on a consistent basis last season was getting off to slow starts – quarters, halves, games. They are mistakes that Brewer is hoping will be corrected by emotional and mental growth.
“What I remember is nine losses by one or two points, and our inability to come out of halftime and extend the lead,” said Brewer. “I think as a coach and a staff, we need to do a better job of making adjustments at halftime. From a players’ standpoint, we’ve got to start the second half with the intensity that we ended it with.
“Every day in practice, we have a ten-minute halftime,” added Brewer. “There’s always adjustments to be made. The main difference between this year and last year is going to be maturity. That extra year of varsity experience is going to invaluable.”
From a personnel standpoint, Lebanon is loaded. The Cedars have the right combination of speed and size. Their top six players can press, rebound, shoot and drive.
“They will never give up,” said Brewer. “They will never stop fighting. They will do what you ask, leave everything on the floor and and walk off it with tears in their eyes. They’ve been a ‘We’ since they were five or six playing biddy basketball. You can’t teach that.
“I think this is a team that has had intensity for most parts of a game,” continued Brewer. “We’ve tried to make them intense for whole practices, and if you do that, you’re ‘gamers’. Butterflies are good, but I’m confident.”
The Cedars’ strength originates from their backcourt, a place where all-Lancaster-Lebanon Section Two performers 5-3 senior guard Lauren Chambers, 5-4 senior guard Shaela Shellehamer and 5-4 junior point Brittany Ulrich call home. The fleet Chambers excels in creating defensive havoc, and in the open floor.
Shellehamer is a deadly shooter who has converted at least one three-point field goal in each and every Section Two contest she has played in over the last two seasons. And Ulrich is the consummate lead guard, running the show and getting everyone involved in the offense.
“It’s Lebanon basketball, and the goal is always to go to the playoffs,” said Brewer. “There’s three levels of the playoffs, leagues, districts and states. We have that kind of team. We can absolutely compete for the section championship.
“I think we can do some good things, but quad-A districts is tough,” Brewer continued. “It would be a disappointment if we didn’t qualify for districts and states. When you have every girl returning, you’ve got to set your goals high.”
Kiana Graves, a 5-8 senior forward, provides Lebanon with strength and toughness around the glass. Versatile Alicia Haitos, a 5-8 junior forward, may just becoming into her own athletically. But the Cedars’ most intriguing talent might be 6-2 junior center Madison Rakow.
“I’m looking for Maddy Rakow to step up and play into her body,” said Brewer. “She’s 6-2 and strong. She could be unstoppable if she could use her body. But I’ve got seven solid players.
“Rakow and Graves give us a post presence,” continued Brewer. “I think this is going to be Haitos’ coming out year. She’s an athlete, and now she’s becoming a basketball player. We have a lot of players you have to take out of the game, and you can’t take everyone away.”
The Cedars will have their mettle tested early against Pine Grove, in the highly competitive Northern Lebanon Tip-Off Tournament, on Friday, Dec, 6th in Fredericksburg.
“Our experience makes it easier to implement things in practice,” said Brewer. “I told one of my coaches, ‘We don’t have to focus on the individual fundamentals with a mature team like this.’ We can focus on playing and winning. We’re ready to win a basketball game.
“We need to get better at not turning the ball over,” continued Brewer. “We’re going to have turnovers because we press and run in transition. And we’ve got to become a better halfcourt offense team.”