Good. Better. Best.
It seems that time and maturation have taken care of those first two items for the Lebanon girls’ basketball team. Now it’s up to the Cedars to fully explore the variables associated with reaching their full potential.
The 2012-13 version of Lebanon High will be founded on energy, determination and hustle, and that’s certainly a great place to start. But throughout the campaign, the Cedars’ will be charged with the task of identifying the intangibles which threaten to hold them back.
Last season wasn’t a shipwreck for Lebanon, but it certainly could’ve gone better. Dripping with inexperience and under the wing of new head coach Ben Brewer, the Cedars were a work in progress.
And while the Cedars continue to work hard, they should begin to see some of the fruits of their labor this year.
“If nothing else, (last season) we played hard and with passion,” said Brewer, who assisted Carlos Sanchez, before taking over for him last year. “We got some young girls a whole lot of experience. A lot of our key players were freshmen and sophomores.
“We’ve learned to lose, which I think is important for young kids to do,” Brewer continued. “But we never gave up and we always won the fourth quarter. And we were upset at the end of every game. Hopefully that will transfer into victories this season.”
Despite the graduations of Sadie Eisenhour and Josette Reich, Lebanon will be better than last year’s 5-17 overall record – the Cedars went 5-11 in Section Two of the Lancaster-Lebanon League – indicates. But just how much better is up to the Cedars, and how quickly they figure things out.
“I don’t think you ever want to forget losses, because they’re learning experiences,” said Brewer. “If you don’t learn from them it’s a waste. We tell the girls, ‘Remember how easy it was to give 110 percent in the fourth quarter’. One of our goals is to set the tempo from the first quarter.
“I think one of the areas of the game we need to improve, we need to score more points,” added Brewer, “and become a better half-court-offense team. We’re a good team when we’re able to press. But we’ve got to be able to hang with teams when we’re not getting transition points.”
The Cedars do not boast a senior on their roster, and they’re not particularly deep. One of Brewer’s chores throughout the season will be to develop, nurture and expand his bench.
What Lebanon is is fairly balanced, between its guards and ‘bigs’. And despite their grades, this season won’t be the Cedars’ first time around the block.
“We’re definitely not deep,” said Brewer of his six-player rotation. “I’m doing conditioning for a reason. My one through four players could play 32 minutes. Every one of my girls, except one, plays at least two sports. We’re in shape. But foul trouble could hurt, and injuries could hurt.
“Two of our girls started every single game last year, a third 70 percent of them and a fourth 50 percent,” continued Brewer. “That’s experience for not having a senior on the team. Let’s put it this way: I feel I have more experience this year than last year, and I had four seniors last year.”
Perhaps the Cedars’ strength personnel-wise is a trio of quick, fast guards in sophomore point Brittany Ulrich, versatile junior Lauren Chambers and junior sniper Shaela Shellenhamer. But Lebanon’s success may revolve around the evolution of inside players Alicia Haitos, a 5-9 sophomore, Kiana Graves, a 5-8 junior, and Madison Rakow, a 6-2 sophomore.
“I’ve got girls who can defend 92 feet, for 32 minutes, without getting tired,” said Brewer. “In the half-court they’re going to pressure and defend. And if we can create some turnovers, they know how to look ahead and finish.
“I do feel more comfortable this year,” Brewer added. “I’m trying to follow the rule that as the head coach, you can’t do everything. I have successful and talented coaches around me. I don’t feel as nervous going into Friday (season opener), but more anxious.”
“I told them, ‘Girls, there is no reason why, with the parity in our section, that we can’t be one of the two, three or four teams who can win it. There’s no reason we can’t get to the league playoffs,'” said Brewer. “If I’m saying that, I’m saying we want to go .500, get to districts and go play the big boys.”
Due to on-going renovations to the Lebanon High School gymnasium, the Cedars have yet to step foot on their home floor. That is expected to happen for the first time on December 27th, when Lebanon takes on Spring Grove in the first round of its annual Christmas Tournament.
From now till then, the Cedars will play their two scheduled home games at Lebanon Valley College’s gymnasium in Annville.
“Is it ideal? No,” said Brewer. “Logistically, just getting the girls down here (to the Lebanon Middle School), it’s not perfect. But we’re lucky to have facilities like this and the Lebanon YMCA in our community. If anything, it’s going to make us appreciate practicing and playing in our own gym. And what’s wrong with playing at LVC?”
The Cedars will face a tough assignment in their Friday, December 8th opener, taking on a talented Palmyra club in the opening round of the annual Northern Lebanon Tip-Off Tournament in Fredericksburg.
“If you would’ve asked me last Saturday at our scrimmage if we were ready to go, I would’ve said, ‘No way,'” Brewer said. “We have some kids who are leaders and just gamers. When they get into the gym and see an opponent, it’s like ‘Let’s play’. We’re going to make mistakes, but they’ll be ready to play.”
Brewer is not generally pleased with the fact that Class AAAA Lebanon High sports 36 girls’ basketball players from grades seven through eleven. But in many ways that Cedars’ program is better off than others.
“I would hope to think that other schools can say that too (there are girls walking the halls of LHS who could help the program),” concluded Brewer. “We have a very limited amount of girls who play sports. Yeah, there’s girls who could contribute. We got four girls to come out for the team because they’re athletes. It’s going to take all the coaches working with (athletic director, Sam) Mr. Elias to get the kids to come out.”