(Editor’s Note: This visit to Annville-Cleona girls’ basketball practice and interview with head coach Lisa Shucker occurred before scholastic practices were paused for three weeks by Governor Tom Wolf’s efforts to mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus.)
ANNVILLE – A wise coach once broke down a high school basketball season into the two components of practices and games. He likened practices to school work in the class room, and games to tests.
Even before it lost three weeks of practice to COVID-19, the Annville-Cleona girls’ basketball team was facing a 2020-21 season in which its practices were going to far out number its games. That, of course, can be a double-edged sword.
But if the Little Dutchmen are able to manage that difficult scenario, learn at practice and hone their skills, it could prove to be a great boost to their developmental process overall. It’s really about making the best of it, perhaps the most important of all the lessons that the Coronavirus has taught us.
“I’m going to be happy about every game we get in,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Lisa Shucker. “At any point, it (the season) can all be done. It’s the weirdest year, but I’m just glad we’re having a year.
“All the coaches and I have talked about it,” continued Shucker. “We’re just going to try to keep it fresh for the girls. Just mix it up and keep doing different drills. It’s all about how you spin it to the kids.”
When the 2020-21 campaign does finally begin, hopefully in mid January, the Little Dutchmen will play a 13- or 14-game schedule. That’s a number that’s significantly less than the 21 Annville-Cleona competed in a year ago.
Now, there does exist the possibility that the Little Dutchmen could add games along the way or at the end of a season which has been extended. But the emphasis on getting better at practice still remains.
“This is our third practice and we’re behind a lot of teams,” said Shucker, who’s in her third season as the head coach. “We did have open gyms for three weeks, and we had a really good turnout. But we’re light years behind where we need to be.
“Team-wise, this is the best group we’ve had in three years,” Shucker continued. “I hope we have a season because we’re going to be pretty good. With COVID-19, we’re in the same boat as everybody. It’s just so different. It’s a unique year, so we’re going to have to be flexible.”
A year ago, Annville-Cleona went 3-18 overall and struggled at times to be competitive on the court. But there were enough positives that the Little Dutchmen hope will carry over to this season.
“It was not the record we were looking for,” said Shucker. “Our section (Five of the Lancaster-Lebanon League) was stacked and that killed us. There wasn’t a day last year that that didn’t kill us. But we started coming around toward the end, and I think that’s going to help us this year. We only lost two seniors from last year’s team, so we’re still very, very young.
“We’re super athletic,” added Shucker. “This is definitely the most athletic group we’ve had. Our man-to-man (defense) is stronger than it’s been the last two years. Our biggest question is: ‘Who’s going to be the girl who puts the ball in the basket, night in and night out?'”
That much-needed scoring will likely come from two talented sources, senior center Alyssa Ulrich on the inside and sophomore guard Josie Clay from the outside. Annville-Cleona isn’t concerned about where those points come from, just that it gets them.
“My biggest concern is definitely on offense,” said Shucker. “We have to find a reliable person on offense, and we need a number two as well. It’s been an issue in the past. The sophomore group we have is so good, and there’s eight or nine of them, so that class is deep.
“When we took over the program, we were the third set of coaches in three years,” Shucker added. “There was no consistency. There was no understanding that if you want to be good at basketball, you’ve got to put the work in outside of the season. Now we have girls who can viably take another girls’ spot. The girls in our youth program have really bought in. We’re trending in the right direction, with talent and commitment and the community.”
With athletic senior forward Brittany Nye, junior defensive stalwart Erin Schrader, sophomore guard Sarah Speraw, sophomore forward Claire Hoover and sophomore forward Sage Sherk, the Little Dutchmen have plenty of pieces to complete the puzzle. Annville-Cleona’s task is to figure out how those pieces fit.
“We want to have team goals,” said Shucker. “But they have to be attainable, and they have to be things you can celebrate. I want to win games. Every coach wants to win games. But above everything else, we want our girls to be good citizens.”