BY JEFF FALK
SOUTH LEBANON – With five experienced players returning, the Cedar Crest girls’ basketball team was going to be good this season. With Madison Rakow in the fold, the Falcons are going to be better.
But the Falcons will be at their best when Rakow feels adjusted, comfortable and accepted. After all, a happy player is a productive player.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Cedar Crest this season will be assimilating their newest player into the program. While that prospect appears imminent, when may just come down to a matter of time.
Rakow became a Falcon this summer, when she and her family relocated to Cornwall-Lebanon from the Lebanon school district. The 6-3 post player possesses the type of talent to make any team better, even one which was as successful as Cedar Crest was last year.
“The hardest part has been coming into a new team and not knowing all the girls, like at Lebanon,” said Rakow. “That and adjusting to a new style of play. I think I’ll definitely fit in more as the season goes along.
“I fit in pretty well,” continued Rakow. “I continue to adjust. Someone said it’s going to be different playing in a two-post system (with sophomore Alyssa Austin). But all the girls are really nice.”
“She’s certainly fitting in,” said Cedar Crest head coach Jim Donmoyer. “On the court, there’s team camaraderie. She looks comfortable with the things we want her to do, and she looks comfortable doing it with her teammates. I have not seen any resentments with her coming aboard. We’ll see how things play out. All they have to do is get along on the court. But I think the seniors see the prize at the end of the rainbow.”
Changing schools is never easy, and that may be even more true for seniors in their last years of high school. But on top of that, Rakow is on this side of shy – emotionally reserved and guarded, and soft-spoken.
Yet in some ways, her involvement with basketball may have helped ease her transition.
“Yeah, it does help,” said Rakow. “I know a lot more people than if I didn’t play any sports. I’ve adjusted pretty well in school. The classes are a lot harder, but I’m getting used to them.
“I’ve known people (teammates) from AAU basketball and stuff, and playing against them over the years,” Rakow continued. “But I didn’t know their personalities. Before, I thought they were really into basketball. It didn’t look like they were having much fun. They looked like they kept to themselves. But yeah, that opinion has changed.”
“The bottom line is she’s played basketball pretty much all her life,” said Donmoyer. “She has basketball knowledge. She’s basketball savvy. We’re a veteran team and we’ve been running the same things for four years. But all the kids realized we needed to get Maddie up to speed. We assumed she knew nothing about our system.
“She’s picking it up. She’ll be fine,” continued Donmoyer. “She’s a smart player. She’s adjusting just fine. She went with us to team camp this summer, so things aren’t totally new to her. My kids have played against her and with her in the past. She’s quiet by nature. To me, she seems like she’s fitting in.”
Last season as a junior and a Cedar, Rakow really came into her own, gaining confidence in her game, developing a mid-range jump shot and becoming more active on defense. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, the Falcons were mirroring Rakow’s improvement. progressing from a nine-win club to a 19-win team.
‘It might be too early for that,” said Rakow of setting seasonal goals for the team. “I like the whole playing as a team part. I’ve thought about that, and I think with me on the team, we can do better than last year.
“As far as personal goals, it depends on the game,” added Rakow. “I set goals for myself before each game. I just want to play my best each game.
“She’s going to be a post presence,” said Donmoyer. “On defense, she’ll block shots, alter shots and rebound the ball. On the offensive end, she has a decent shot. From 15 to 18 feet, she’s not afraid to shoot it. And she brings size.
“We were going to be good without her, and that’s no disrespect to Maddie,” Donmoyer added. “Her being here is going to make us even better.”
It seems like only yesterday when the Falcons were playing the game without anyone anchoring the middle. This season, look for Cedar Crest to pair Rakow and Austin, a 6-2 athletic center, together in double-post sets, depending upon game situations and match-ups.
“They’re going to play,” said Donmoyer of Rakow and Austin. “6-2 and 6-3, they’re going to play together, working off each other inside. Our girls have the same mentality: dribble drive and kick to the post. I think our guards are still our strength, but it’s also going to balance out. Defensive rebounds shouldn’t be a problem, and neither will be offensive rebounds.
“We’re very flexible,” Donmoyer added. “Depth is not an issue. This has been a four-year process. It hasn’t happened over night. I’ll have ten kids suiting up varsity and I could play all ten.”
“I’m there for rebounds,” said Rakow, who’s being recruited to play Division Two or Division Three basketball on the next level. “For playing in the post, and also for getting easy shot as the trailer.
“I think we’ll do pretty well,” added Rakow. “I think we’ll go pretty far.”
With three times the personnel, Cedar Crest may be as talented in the back court and on the wings as it is upfront.
Senior guard Rachel Miller, a deadly shooter, was the team’s leading scorer a year ago. Senior twins Nichole and Emily Wagner are interchangeable, versatile performers. And senior Alex Rich brings athleticism to the number-three spot.
Also look for emerging sophomore point guard Ariel Jones to have a break-through campaign, while senior Makaley Ruhl and junior Skyanne Yancey are available where needed.
“We have five returning starters from a 19-7 team, and now we have a new kid (Rakow) who was a starter,” said Donmoyer. “Throw Ariel Jones into the mix and I have seven kids who could legitimately start. It’s good to have. Situations will determine a lot of that, and conditioning early on. We like to press and push the ball.”
In addition to going 19-7 last season, Cedar Crest finished second in Section One and second in the entire Lancaster-Lebanon League, both to Manheim Township. But the Falcons were a little disappointed that they weren’t able to advance past the opening round of the District Three Class AAAA playoffs.
“We’ll be better than we were last year,” said Donmoyer. “If that means more than 19 wins, then that’s what it means. We’ll be deeper. We’ll be bigger. On paper, we’re good. But that doesn’t mean squat.
“Every year I’ve been here we’ve improved,” continued Donmoyer. “It’s realistic to me to win the section. And if we win Section One, I wouldn’t see why we couldn’t win the league. Then let’s get to districts, and everything else will be super. But I’d like to at least advance in districts.”