BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – From the outside looking in it may appear that somewhere along the way that the Northern Lebanon girls’ basketball team gained a leader. But from within the parameters and confines of the team, the truth is the Vikings have always had two good ones sharing those responsibilities.
So why, to the untrained observer, did it seem that Megan Brandt had somehow morphed into what Zoe Zerman had always been? Different personalities. Different positions. Different styles.
It is our simple math which reminds us that two heads – or in this case leaders – are better than one. Especially on a Northern Lebanon club which relies so heavily on chemistry. cohesion and character for its success.
So as they prepare for what promises to be a glorious encore of a season, the Vikings are well positioned at the top for the task at hand. Because it is from there that all things flow.
“It’s funny. Zoe leads in her way and Brandt leads in her way,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Ken Battistelli. “But they both get people to follow them. Zoe’s kind of like, ‘Watch me. I’m not afraid of anything’. Brandt is a leader with the cerebral part of it. She’s coaching on the floor. They both make such an impact in their own ways.
“Most people consider Zoe the leader because she has the ball, but I don’t think the team has felt like that in a long time,” Battistelli continued. “The team has known both leaders for a long time. Zoe wants to get Brandt the ball because she knows she’s going to score. And Brandt wants Zoe slashing through the lane because she knows she’s going to get her the ball. The point guard always gets the eyes. But the other kids know there’s equal weight being lifted. There’s two different roles, but neither is more important than the other.”
Zerman is a heady, steady, senior point guard who relies on instincts, quick decision making and experience. Brandt, a senior post player, is a fearless and tenacious competitor who seems to relish her roles on both ends of the floor.
Together, they help define who the Vikings are.
“Zoe was a leader as a freshman,” said Battistelli, who’s in his tenth season of guiding the Vikings. “We didn’t have a JV team. From the moment I gave Zoe the ball, she decided she wanted the ball. She decided she was going to fail the way I wanted her to.
“Megan has a very similar personality to her sister Emily,” continued Battistelli. “They are such great teammates. But Megan had to be convinced she had an indomitable spirit. We put so much of a burden on that 5-9 scrawny kid. She always kind of holds a little back, but she takes a backseat to no one as far as what she contributes to her team. She won huge games for us all year long.”
Zerman might be a little more talkative and a little more outgoing. Brandt may be a little more quiet and a little more serious. But the same things burn inside of them – and its the same things that burns inside of Battistelli.
Passion. Desire. Intensity.
“They started at different places, but they’re evolving to the same spot,” said Battistelli. “We don’t try to change people. We try to play to their strengths. Brandt slides under the radar. She doesn’t demand the ball, she just puts it in the hole. She does what’s best for the team. She fights and takes a beating, for the good of our team.
“When I get on one of the seniors, and they respond, the others are like, ‘Who am I?’,” added Battistelli. ” ‘I’ve got to get my crap together’. I kill my seniors for everything. But they will listen. They will learn. And everybody sees it.”
So it is Zerman and Brandt who set the tone, and every other Viking looks to them for examples. And the team that stays together, plays together.
“Let’s put it this way: Tonight after practice we’re all going out to get steak,” said Battistelli. “The girls really get excited about that. We don’t have to try to create reasons to be together, but we want to. When you give them a role, they want to do it. They just like each other. We have chemistry, and you can see it. We don’t have four girls diving for balls and one who doesn’t. They all do it because they think we should. Everybody has a rapport.
“When you talk about the course of a season, you’re always going to have games when you didn’t give it your best,” Battistelli added. “But for this team, that was rare and they hardly ever did it for a full game. This team has always had the ability to answer the bell. That’s pretty impressive for a bunch of high school kids.”.
With Zerman and Brandt leading the way, Northern Lebanon enjoyed an historic season in 2015-16. It won Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League for the first time in a very long time, and advanced to the state playoffs for the first time in almost forever.
The Vikings went 28-4 overall, and three of those losses came in the postseason.
“When I look back, I think of the consistent effort the kids displayed,” said Battistelli. “We’re not physically dominant. Zoe and Brandt are tough kids. But we’re not a big team. We’re not a strong team. We had to beat teams with fundamentals and toughness. Of course the climax was beating Lancaster Catholic in districts.
“The things we can build on, we’ve got to look at our failures,” continued Battistelli. “We didn’t win the league championship. We didn’t win the district championship. We didn’t win the state championship. That (last season) was wonderful, and when I get old, I want to remember it. But I don’t want to remember that right now.”
Because the bar is set so high, it may be difficult to fathom a scenario in which the Vikings will be better this season. But Northern Lebanon will be even more seasoned and might be a bit deeper.
Joining Brandt and Zerman in the starting five will be sharp-shooter Liz Voight, do-it-all guard Cassiah Ray and the under-rated Amber Kintzer.
“Amber doesn’t get talked about,” said Battistelli. “What Amber does for us is she gives us 150 percent effort. But it goes unnoticed. We don’t go as far as we went last year if she’s not fighting the giants and winning.
“It (that the Vikings only played five players regularly last season) honestly doesn’t matter,” Battistelli continued. “The only thing is we were absolutely blessed to have no serious injuries. From that standpoint, you’d like to have a Plan B. But these kids aren’t conditioned to want rest. These kids are conditioned to want to come out of games.”
So with an eye to the future, providing depth for Northern Lebanon this season will be Raeann Lessing, Jenna Wentling and freshman Zara Zerman.
“It’s their resiliency,” said Battistelli of his team’s strength. “We’ve observed what we need to do better, and it’s nice because it’s individual skills that need to improve. It’s just fine tuning. I’d be surprised if we came out and find, all of a sudden, that our defense doesn’t work. We have to be a little better on offense. Can we get more points from people besides Liz and Zoe and Megan? Can we create offense a little better in transition? Is that nit picky? Yeah. But that’s what we need to do.
“We have talked about goals,” added Battistelli. “We lost four games last year. That’s four games too many. Any time you have a loss it’s a good time to examine it. It’s easier when it’s not 15 games. We failed three times. We failed in leagues. We failed in districts. We failed in states. That’s got to be what drives us.”
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