BY JEFF FALK
In the scholastic basketball world, the Palmyra girls are an enigma, a mystery. In many ways, the Cougars defy logic and conventional hoops thinking.
Despite the lack of two key components, Palmyra is truly a force with which to be reckoned. Even though it doesn’t have a true point guard or a tough physical presence inside, the Cougars are very good.
Probably the best girls’ basketball team in Lebanon County in 2011-12.
So how is it that the Cougars are able to overcome the lack of a play maker and a reliable board-banger? They do it with athleticism, speed, hard-nosed defense and – as all good teams do – by committee.
“We don’t have a legitimate point guard,” said Palmyra head coach Ron Berman. “We don’t have a closer. And we don’t have a legitimate number-one player, a star player. We still have the same weaknesses, but you can overcome that. You do it by committee. Hopefully we have more depth (than last season). We have nobody over 5-10 and everybody’s thin.
“Overall, we’re very athletic,” continued Berman. “We’re not big, we’re not physical, but we like to run. We don’t have a true point guard, but we like to push the ball up the floor. We have speed and we play pretty good defense. And we’re pretty physical on defense.”
What the Cougars do have is balance, good overall height and young experience. Callie Good, a 5-8 junior guard, may be the Cougars’ top player, but may not be the finest in her own family.
Maddie, Callie’s 5-9 sophomore forward of a sister, isn’t far behind her skill-wise, and neither is the rest of the team. Chelsea Ebersole, a 5-5 guard, is the only senior. Carley Richardson, a 5-10 sophomore forward, has star potential. And Gabi Gundermann, a 5-9 junior forward, continues to make strides in the right direction.
Kait Carmo, a 5-9 junior forward/guard, is Palmyra’s top reserve and Allison Langley, a 5-8 junior forward, provides quality depth to the seven-player rotation.
“We always talk about playing hard, as the season goes on playing a little smarter, playing together and having fun,” said Berman, who’s in his 12th season of heading the Cougar girls. “If we compete, we’ll win more than we lose. And if we win more than we lose we’ll get to districts. I want to compete for the title (Keystone Division of the Mid-Penn Conference). We never lower our standards.”
With much of the same cast, Palmyra went 16-9 overall last season and shared the Keystone Division title. The Cougars lost in the quarterfinals of the District Three Class AAA tournament and had their season end in a state-qualifier contest.
“I was extremely happy about last year,” said Berman. “We were 5-4 in the second week of January and we didn’t have a senior on the roster. We won ten of the last 12 and all of a sudden we got a piece of the championship. And it was our third-worst record in eleven years. To get something like that, made it special.
“We got a better result, in terms of the league, because it was down,” Berman continued. “Our division was down, everyone was competitive, but the talent level was down, and everyone played hard. It was just a lot of young players learning. Every game we won, we got a little better. Did we arrive early? The schedule just fell into place. We were at the right place at the right time.”
While the Cougars will be good in 2011-12 and better than they were in 2010-12, it seems like equalling or surpassing last season’s overall record would be a good and realistic goal.
“This year is just the opposite,” said Berman. “The Mid-Penn Keystone Division is, top to bottom, the strongest it’s ever been. We may be better, but it may not show up in wins and losses. I don’t see any team being weaker than last year. Everybody has everybody back. We’re definitely more competitive. We’re better. But the whole league is better.
“The kids always have bigger goals than coaches,” continued Berman. “But just because it happened the year before doesn’t mean it’s automatically going to happen this year. It’s like just because you played as a sophomore doesn’t mean you’re going to play as a junior. Sometimes players have this sense of entitlement and it can get in the way.”
During the last ten seasons under Berman, the Cougars have posted ten straight winning campaigns. That truly is a remarkable display of consistency.
“In our division, I think it’s something to be very proud of,” said Berman. “I have a great coaching staff below me. We just teach, teach and teach. We run the same system from the seventh grade to high school. We emphasize the same things on all levels, and we get some athletes. We get new players from the ninth-grade team, and if they can’t contribute directly, they make us better by praticing against them.”
Palmyra will open its 2011-12 campaign on Friday, Dec. 9 at the Northern Lebanon tip-off tournament.