BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – It was three years ago, almost to the day, when this reporter was pulled aside by Ben Brewer, who pointed an identifying index finger in the direction of a frail-looking, meek, small glass of water. ‘Keep your eye that one. She has a chance to be something special,’ said the Lebanon girls’ basketball coach.
Fast forward to the present and Brittany Ulrich hasn’t really grown out all that much. But boy has she grown up.
If that was the beginning, then this is the beginning of the end for Ulrich and her very solid – sometimes spectacular – playing career for the Cedars. Ulrich is now a senior, and Lebanon High is asking her to re-invent herself again, causing observers to wonder exactly how much elevation could possibly be left in her game.
“I can remember her as an eighth grader and thinking to myself. ‘This girl is going to score a lot of points for us,'” said Brewer. “And what I learned about her is that she might be the smallest girl on the court, but there’s no one out there who has a bigger heart.f
“Here’s how much she’s improved as a player,” added Brewer. “She went from a girl who was always faster than everyone else and could beat everyone down the court and score with her right hand to now a player who can step back and hit a ‘three’ and defend girls 30 pounds heavier than her. That just shows how much she’s grown.”
“I was very young and inexperienced, but the players on the team helped me,” said Ulrich. “They made me a big part of the team. You’re nervous. You’re young. It’s a whole different level going from middle school to varsity.
“I have high expectations of myself,” Ulrich added. “The experience, overall, helps the team. My role is just keeping us positive.”
Ulrich’s role is also to lead, score when the Cedars need a bucket, handle the ball in the face of all sorts of pressure, make treys, distribute the ball and get everyone involved. All the stuff senior point guards are supposed to do.
“You never really think about it,” said Ulrich of her decision-making on the court. “You just play. You just know when to do the right thing. It’s part of the game. There’s always a next play.
“I’m sad it’s coming to an end,” continued Ulrich. “I was really excited about try-outs because it’s the last year. It’s your last season. I like the seasons we had when we were successful and I got close to the other girls. It’s been a long road.”
“You don’t want to mess with her,” said Brewer. ” You put her and (fellow senior) Alicia Haitos out there together, they’re tough and they don’t back down to anyone.Brittany comes from two very competitive parents, and she got the competitive bone from both of them. But some times in the past the competitiveness wasn’t channeled in the right direction.
“Brittany’s a great kid,” Brewer continued. “She’s very personable. She’s a person, who, if you need help doing something, she’s there. But that competitiveness and spark is always there. She’s always got that spark to her. She’s truly fun to have around. She’s one of those who always seen to have a little something to prove, and I like that in a person.”
A certain amount of growth is always expected, but last season Ulrich took her game to a place that few thought she could. The result was a Lancaster-Lebanon Section Two championship, and ultimately a trip to the Class AAAA playoffs.
Ulrich is recognized as Lebanon County’s top point guard and one of the locale’s finest overall.
“She won a bunch of games for us last year,” said Brewer. “She was a person on the court who made big plays when they needed to be made. Now she’s expected to step up more. I see her beine g more of a multi-dimensional player. She’s really worked on her game. She’s developed a little bit of a mid-range game.
“She had games last year when her confidence went,” added Brewer. “But I don’t expect that this year.”
“Last year we were very solid, and we had a lot of experience,” said Ulrich, “We played really well as a team. I have very high expectations for this season We might be young, but I think we have good chance to go far. I think the season will be very successful.
“My goal is just to be a leader for the younger girls,” Ulrich continued. “To help them because they’re younger. I don’t care how much I score, as long as we win. If we’re winning and advancing and being successful, that’s all that matters.”
Given the Cedars’ losses and their overall youthful make-up, duplicating last season’s success could be the biggest accomplishment of Ulrich’s career. Outside of herself and fellow 12th-grader Haitos, the rest of the Lebanon roster is unproven, but not void of talent.
“It’s not just the winning,” said Ulrich, who would like to play basketbal at a four-year college, while pursuing a nursing degree. “In my sophomore year a lot of people were like, ‘You guys should be good’. But it took a lot of improvement for us to get where we got to when I was a junior. It’s the good, and the bad, that comes out of the games.”
“I have two of the best leaders I’ve ever been around in athletics,” said Brewer of Haitos and Ulrich. “They’re leading a group of newbies. They kind of look at last year as the year the bar was set high. For the younger girls, they’re out there working their butts off because they see a lot of opportunities for playing and contributing.
“Sometimes you establish goals as the season goes on,” continued Brewer. “There’s no room on the old one, so my goal is to make them (the LHS administration) buy a new banner. A goal would be to win a section title. I think we’re capable. And if you focus on the section, the rest kind of fall into place.”
In the face of those significant losses, Brewer is currently working with three times more freshmen and sophomores than upperclassmen. Experience will be at a premium until the Cedars learn on the fly.
“We need to establish depth,” said Brewer. “We need to find a way to get more people to score. It’s a team sport, and one person can’t do it all by herself. We’re probably going to need to get points out of sophomores and freshmen. We’re going to focus on defense, but people are going to have to step up.
“I’m definitely pleased about the leadership,” added Brewer. “That sets the tone. I’m happy with their (his players’) focus and intensity.But for us to be a good team, we have to be great defensively.”