BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – Fledgling Viking? Norse girl? Vike tyke? So exactly what does one call an individual on the young Northern Lebanon girls’ basketball team?
Call them what you like. Just don’t call them late for practice.
Yeah, there will be some youthful exuberance, inexperience and unfettered energy in Vikingland this season. There will also be some growing pains and some tough lessons learned.
Northern Lebanon lost a large senior class from last season, and then had an equally-sized group of players decide to not come out for the team. The result was that the Vikings were left with ten participants, not enough to field a JV team – a fact that would’ve been unheard of at a Class AAA school just a few years ago.
What Northern Lebanon does have is seventh-year head coach Ken Battistelli.
“We sent most of our freshmen down,” said Battistelli of the NL’s ninth-grade team. “Our JVs weren’t ready to play JV basketball. That’s never happened here, not that I know of. But it bothers me. We had a total of eight kids who played last year and didn’t come out this year. That’s disappointing.
“But I think they’re not coming out for the right reasons,” Battistelli continued. “I think I know why, but I don’t want to speak for them. It is what it is. We wish we had more players.”
And the Vikings are coming off an emotinally trying 2012-13 season, one in which an injury to floor leader Emily Brandt seemed to set off a series of physical setbacks. But to its credit, Northern Lebanon persevered and ultimately qualified for the District Three playoffs with an overall mark of 14-9.
Still, it will be difficult to replace the likes of Brandt, Kristen Lessing, Maria LaBrandi, Taylor Smith and Morgan Hollis, at least for a couple of years.
“Last year the humongous disappointment was when Emily tore her ACL,” said Battistelli. “I was completely proud of how the team performed in the face of adversity, but we just kept getting hurt. We went through some hard-core lows and highs. But I was pretty happy with the way the team pulled together.
“I’ve never had to deal with a significant injury before,” added Battistelli. “We’ve had injuries, but we’ve never had debilitating injuries. When you have an influx of completely new faces, this year is this year. It matters that the kids who moved on where players to look up to.”
The Vikings’ top eight will be comprised of four juniors and four freshmen. A couple of ninth-graders, Megan Brandt, a 5-8 wing, and Zoe Zermin, a 5-8 point guard, could be Northern Lebanon’s best players and top scorers.
“They listen so well,” said Battistelli. “With our freshmen, you tell them and they get it, and they try as hard as they can to apply it right away. They’re so anxious to learn. Being so young, sometimes it’s one dumb thing after another. The two freshmen (Brandt and Zermin) are going to be a dynamic duo for years. They have talent and slick skills. What they don’t have is eleventh and twelfth grade muscles and brains. They’re going to be two tough kids for the next four years.
“Right now, there are no leaders,” continued Battistelli. “Morgan Phillips is our smartest player on the floor. But she’s not a forceful personality. We need a leader. That has to come. They’re going to have to find that on the floor.”
The Vikings feature a solid group of supporting players who will form the core of the team. Phillips, a 5-8 junior forward, heads a group that also includes Hannah Reese, a 5-6 junior forward, Ashley Lessing, a 5-5 junior guard, and Marissa Yingst, a 5-4 junior guard.
“It was kind of neat in one respect, because I knew we would be starting at Ground Zero,” said Battistelli. “We made a list of things we wanted to emphasize, all the things we wanted to do differently. It was kind of refreshing starting over.
“I want to see our role players embrace their roles,” Battistelli continued. “I want to see our talent use it. I want to see them fight, and then we’ll have fun. This group will lay it on the floor for you. I don’t think we’re going to be afraid. Our offense is far behind and that’s natural. When we get the balance, I think our offense will catch up. I think we can just keep getting better, because we’re starting from nothing.”
Two more freshmen, 5-6 forward Amber Kintzer, and Kali Rivera, a 5-5 forward, make the Vikings competitive in practice, and will keep them fresh in games.
“I want to try and win the section (Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League),” said Battistelli. “There have been flashes – even though they’ve been rare – where this team showed they can play. We can play some good defense and I think that will keep us in games. I’d like to say we have enough talent to compete in the section. I don’t know. We could be a year away or we could be a week away.
“I’m looking forward to spending some years with these guys,” continued Battistelli. “No one will be graduating. Our eighth grade is tough and we’ll have a JV team next year.”
Northern Lebanon will begin its season on Friday, December 6th, by hosting its annual tip-off tournament. The Vikings will be opposed by Palmyra in the opening round.
“We’re ready to play basketball,” said Battistelli. “Are we ready for Palmyra? Palmyra is one of the best teams in the state. We’re not there yet. But it doesn’t matter. They’re (his players) ready to play and I’m ready to watch them play. You see a lot of growth with a young team and that’s pretty neat.
“We need the type of leadership that’s going to help you take that deep breath and pull you together,” concluded Battistelli. “We can’t get the nerves. When the year is said and done, we’ll probably be able to look back on a couple of games and think we should’ve won them.”