The proud Beavers will start the 2013-14 season with six players on its combined varsity/JV roster. That’s right six. Five starters and one bench player. Very little margin for error.
Lebanon Catholic’s limited roster will impact its year in a couple of ways. The Beavers will not field a JV team. With limited substitutions and some players playing the full 32 minutes each game, a greater emphasis will be placed on conditioning. Catholic will be even more susceptible to things like injuries, personal fouls. illness and eligibility concerns.
From a strategic standpoint, don’t look for Lebanon Catholic to do too much full-court pressing or fast breaking. And zone defenses will come in handy when trying to conserve energy.
While they seem prepared to accept all of those things, the one thing the Beavers refuse to embrace is that their roster size could also affect their number of wins.
“If they ask it, I’ll answer it,” said Lebanon Catholic head coach Patti Hower about the ‘numbers’ questions that will surround her team all season. “It is what it is. It’s not going to change. It’s taken a lot of adjustment on our part. But on the positive side, they’re (her players) going to get some individual attention.
“One of the biggest negatives is you can’t go five-on-five in practice,” Hower continued. “Over the years, I’ve learned to work with limited numbers and limited facilities. It was a little rag-tag at first. But the biggest concern is injuries and sickness. We’ve actually gone over things in practice with four players on the court. You have to start a game with five players, but you only have to end it with four.”
The Lebanon Catholic girls have won more District Three championships – 17 – than any other program in Lebanon County, by far. In her 35 years as the the Beavers’ head lady, Hower has compiled an overall record of 644-319.
“This is going to be their legacy, getting us through this,” said Hower of her current charges. “Their clear goal is to get through the season. We never wanted to not have a team.
“Right now, we have 34 girls in the entire school, in grades nine to 12,” Hower added. “Twelve are seniors, we only have seven juniors and five are sophomores. It’s two back-to-back small classes. Down the road, our numbers are evenly spaced out.”
By its high standards, Lebanon Catholic had a bit of a disappointing campaign in 2012-13. The Beavers went 12-11 overall and dropped its opener in the District Three Class A tournament.
“Last year, we won the games we should’ve won,” said Hower. “We hoped to pull an upset here and there. We were certainly disappointed we lost in the first round of districts, but the kids played hard. We hoped to make it to the district final, but it didn’t happen. That’s probably who we were last year.
“Sometimes there’s carry-over from season to season, but last year was last year and this year is this year,” Hower continued. “It’s a lot different, in a lot of ways.”
The Beavers’ Super-terrific Six features four seniors – 5-4 guard Helene Reist, 5-4 guard Samantha Fortna, 5-6 guard Sarah Chobanoff and 5-3 guard Jessica Sforza.
Reist is Catholic’s only true known quantity. She will be asked to elevate her game from a supporting role to go-to girl, leader, scorer and controller of the tempo.
The same, to a lesser degree, can be said of Fortna. Chobanoff and Sforza will need to contribute heavily – without trying to do too much – after seeing limited action last season.
“An area of concern is our lack of experience,” said Hower. “We need to understand the game a little better. Sam and Helene, overall are the two who have game experience. They have to be a little more cerebral. And I’m worried about the conditioning, if practices are going to get us in shape.
“But I really like their attitude,” continued Hower. “I haven’t heard a negative comment. Nothing like, ‘Oh my gosh, we only have six players’. Helene has done a good job of keeping the girls together as a team. Just their positive attitude. We have to focus on the games we can win.”
Monica Pastal figures to join Reist, Fortna, Sforza and Chobanoff in the starting lineup, and at 5-4, might be asked to play inside. Her sister, Leah Pastal, a 5-1 freshman guard will be the first girl off Catholic’s short bench.
“I’ve never had to worry about numbers before,” said Hower. “Of all the years, this is the year we need some stability. It is different. But we’re still scouting our opponents. We’re going to give it 100 percent.
“I don’t want to put our goals on wins and losses,” Hower added. “I want to see them improve on their skill level and enjoy the year. We’re going to have to take certain things out of wins and losses and improve from start to finish.”
Perhaps the best thing about cycles is that they’re temporary. The Beavers currently boast a strong eighth grade class which will assure the health of the program well into the future.
“If we have 11 players next year, we’ll play a JV schedule,” said Hower. “I think it’s important to have a JV team. Player numbers eight, nine, ten and 11 aren’t going to play a lot in the varsity game, but they need to play.
“I’ve got to be creative as a coach this year,” Hower concluded. “I’ve got to keep them interested. If they can be somewhat successful, it would be satisfying for me.”