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5 years ago
An Open Letter to the Northern Lebanon Girls’ Basketball Team, from an Alum

By Jerry Reigel
Northern Lebanon grad, class of 1970
 
      ALTOONA – Those Northern Lebanon girls – God Bless ’em. They gave everything they had this season to their coach, their school and their community.
     They gave until it hurt. Then they gave some more.
     When the season started five months ago with a scrimmage at Hershey, their main agenda was stopping by Turkey Hill on the way home for free slushies.
     When they beat Palmyra for the first time ever to win their tip off tournament, they knew they might have a chance for a good season. 
     Thirty-two games later, they grew up right before our eyes as the best team in school history. Three juniors and two sophomores, playing well beyond their years.
     Their season ended in the PIAA Class AAA girls’ basketball quarterfinals Saturday in Altoona against South Park, 33-30.

     And yet, they could have and probably should have won. All they had to do was make one or two more shots. They had good looks in the final minutes that would have won it.
     But their season-long benevolence was not rewarded a long way from home.
     Instead, the more seasoned Eagles from the WPIAL’s District 7 did just enough to pull it out, while throwing the young Vikes slightly off their game.
     SP employed a triangle and 2 defense with enough quickness to cause NL problems. It reminded me of the “Clockwork Orange” total soccer scheme devised by Holland’s Rinus Michels in the 1970s. Everybody defended and everybody attacked as one.
     busEach time a Viking dribbled around one player, another Eagle swooped in to strip the ball away.
     The result: too many NL turnovers, too many empty possessions. A two-point third quarter that led to an early 8-point fourth-quarter deficit was too much to overcome.
     The Eagles collapsed on Meg Brandt whenever she had the ball down low with three players, severely limiting her options. 
     “We knew that Brandt was the player we needed to stop inside,” said South Park coach Juliet Highberger. “She’s a very strong, feisty player down there. That’s why we played the triangle and 2, to pressure her and keep our other two open for (Zoe) Zerman and (Liz) Voight. We played good defense. We had some girls who were all over the court.”
     When asked to describe how frustrating it was, Brandt said, “It was pretty bad. It got to the point where I had nowhere to go.”
     The Vikes’ Zoe Zerman, their leading scorer, had a breakaway layup roll off the rim in the final minute that would have cut SP’s lead to one and Lizzie Voight had a 3-pointer that was long that would have tied the game.
      Still, they had one last shot to tie with 3.6 seconds left – after Zerman’s apparent 30-footer to tie the game went in a tick after coach Ken Battistelli was granted a final timeout.
     The last play went to Brandt to the right of the lane from 3-point distance, but the Eagles again were in position. They bumped her off stride before she could turn to the hoop and her shot from distance never got to the rim.
      “The play was designed for Megan to shoot the 3,” Battistelli said. “She can make that shot. We figured they’d be concentrating on Zoe and Lizzie.”
     And so it ended. Brandt was held to six points, while Voight finished with 10, Zerman had eight, Amber Kintzer scored four and Cassiah Ray had two.
     The Vikings went farther than any team in school history with basically the same five players. Jenna Wentling and RaeAnn Lessing also made contributions.
     Voight, despite leading the team in scoring, grew the most frustrated with SP’s complex defense.
     It wasn’t that way last Wednesday, when she scored 19 in NL’s epic win over Lancaster Catholic. The Vikes lost to just two teams this year while going 28-4, Lancaster Catholic (three times) and South Park.
     They were the greatest team in NL history.
     “I can’t remember another NL team getting to the state quarterfinals,” said assistant coach Daryl Hess, who also heads the NL baseball program. “We had wrestlers who won individual state championships (Jim Collins), but never as a team. The best we ever did in baseball was fourth in the district in 2006 when we had Eric Groff. They only took three teams to states that year.”
      The Vikes seemed slightly out of sorts against SP, following their mammoth effort three nights earlier in the Lancaster Catholic second-round win.
     “We started out OK, our energy was good,” Brandt said. “But it started getting frustrating. They had some good players. We just didn’t have the hatred for them that we had for Lancaster Catholic to sustain our intensity.”
      I could have told the girls before the game about the basketball team I played on in 1968 at NL that went 0-22. We didn’t win a single game.
     I know how hard it is to win basketball games. I covered James Harden when he was at Artesia High in Lakewood, Calif. and they didn’t win every game. They lost five or six games a year until finally going 30-1 and winning a Calif. state championship his junior year.
     Now Harden’s making $20 million a year and the Vikings still play better defense.
     I should have reminded them that Palmyra won in the state quarterfinals twice and made it to the PIAA semifinals, as recently as last year.
     I could have told them that probably nobody that went to NL or nobody in Lebanon County thought that what they did this season was even possible.
    But when they made it to the state quarterfinals, everybody was pulling for them.
    The best thing is they’re all back next year. The addition of Zerman’s little sister, Zera, promises to be a treat.
     Despite the heart-breaking final loss, as the bus turned off rt. 22 before pulling into the NL parking lot, the girls started singing the alma mater….”Built along a busy highway, is a school we all hold dear….”
     They sang both verses. I didn’t even remember there were two verses.
     Thank you, ladies. It was fun. 

2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Northern Lebanon Girls’ Basketball Team, from an Alum

  1. What a wonderful article. Thank you so much for the kind words. These girls were so fun to watch. They played with their hearts each and every game. They were the true meaning of the word “team”!

  2. Even though he’s resigning as school board president, some Northern Lebanon School District parents still are calling for David Hauck to step down entirely from the elected position.

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