BY JEFF FALK
Don’t win a District Three girls’ basketball championship on Assumption Hill in a couple of years and the faitful get a little antsy.
Supposedly, the concern is that the program’s foundations are showing signs of fault. What that concern does not address is the cyclical nature of athletics at small Class A schools.
Yes, it’s been two seasons since the Beavers last won the District Three Class A title. No big deal for most programs.
But for one that has won 15 of them, it seems like an eternity. If one can remember back to the turn of the century, that’s when Lebanon Catholic wore six straight district titles, between 1998 and 2004.
“I kind of think that might be tied for the most,” said Lebanon Catholic head coach Patti Hower. “But yeah, that’s a lot of district championships. It’s nice to always be a part of the District Three discussion.
“It does kind of seem longer than two years,” Hower continued. “The other part was that we didn’t even make it to the district final the last two years. That was disappointing. But before we get to that point (this season) we have a good shot at a section championship, which we haven’t won in a while.”
So what is the overall health of Lebanon County’s most successful basketball program? The instruction and coaching are still there, but the number of competitors may not be.
While the rate of participation in sports at Lebanon Catholic is relatively high, the total number of students in grades nine through 12 who attend the school is only 95.
“This year, I think we’re going to be very strong,” said Hower, now in her 34th season of heading the Beavers. “After this year, our numbers aren’t going to be good. In the current seventh and eighth grades, I’ll have no players. I’m going to lose four seniors this year, so I’m going to have eight players next year. Next year we’ll be OK, but then we’re going to struggle. But beyond that, we have 11 sixth-graders who play basketball.
“We do have good participation,” Hower added. “But we’ve always had 12 to 15 girls playing varsity and JV basketball. Very rarely have we dropped below ten. This year we have 12, and we have a JV team.”
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, this edition of the Beavers should be extremely competitive, exciting and fun to follow. It may be that this particular Catholic group is destined to revisit the glorious past.
“Steel-High should definitely be the top team in Class A (in District Three),” said Hower. “Last year, we lost in the second round because we just bumped into Reading Central Catholic, which was the second-best team. Now Reading Central Catholic and Reading Holy Name have combined to become a triple-A. So now that eliminates one of those teams that was always there. Everybody else (besides Steel-High) we can be very, very competitive with.
“I just had a little talk with the team, and I have very high expectations,” continued Hower. “I don’t want them to expect anything less. Come the end of the year, I think we’ll be better than we were last year. I want them to play like that.”
Last season saw the Beavers go 13-11 overall and 9-7 in Section Four of the Lancaster-Lebanon League.
“We were a little better than our record indicates,” said Hower. “We had some injuries and we were in a lot of close games. And we were in some big games, and just weren’t able to get over the hump.”
Any discussion of current Beaver personnel must begin with senior point guard Stevie Fortna. Fortna, who is coming off a break-out junior campaign, can score as well as set up teammates. She is one of those rare players who has the ability to make everyone around her better.
Fortna’s running mate in the Catholic backcourt is the very capable Kate Pastal, a 5-5 senior guard. Fortna and Pastal will be joined in the starting lineup by 5-8 senior forward Erika Jackson, 5-5 senior guard Abby Schrum and 5-7 junior forward Abby Shay.
Providing emotional and physicl support will be 5-6 junior guard Holly Marinkov, 5-5 sophomore guard Helene Reist and 6-0 junior forward Catherine Gross.
“We’re going to have some balance, inside and out,” said Hower. “I think Erika and Abby Shay’s play on the inside will open up things for Stevie and Kate. Stevie’s experience and Kate’s experience are a strength. Stevie’s like a coach on the floor. And this group really works hard.
“I had them (her players) do a goal paper, and I think sometimes they put down what they think you want to hear,” Hower added. “But they said they want to compete for a section title, compete for a district title and get to states. In the last two years, we haven’t been to states.”
Lebanon Catholic will open its 2011-12 campaign on Monday, Dec. 12 at Lititz Christian.