ANNVILLE – Numbers can be both telling and misleading. One set said that 2011-12 was a success for the Annville-Cleona girls’ basketball team, another said it wasn’t.
But the good news for the Little Dutchmen is that both of those things are looking up. And there’s a new season starting anytime now.
The difficulties that Annville-Cleona experienced off the court last season were not reflected in its overall mark of 13-9. The Little Dutchmen struggled with defections, and finished the year with only seven players, and on a bit of a downer.
But with a new season there comes hope, and a resurgence brought on by reinforcements. With 13 enthusiastic players, the Little Dutchmen could surpass the 13-win plateau.
“Positive-wise, what I remember was the kids who stuck it out and who are still around,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Jamie Podjed-Walborn. “I’ve got five juniors and seniors returning, and they’ve held the team together, along with the two seniors who graduated. We ended the season with seven players. They played hard, but it was tough. But they did a nice job sticking together. We ran out of steam. They did a nice job under the circumstances.
“We have a lot of good leadership on the team,” Walborn continued. “Our freshmen group, there’s six of them and they’ve been playing together since they were in second grade. They’re eager to be here. That’s going to mean a lot. And the senior leadership is nice.”
The Little Dutchmen are charged with the task of replacing their best player – and perhaps the top performer in the County – in Victoria Siebecker. How Annville-Cleona figures to do that is by committee, through balance and improved defense.
“Things are going great,” said Walborn, who’s in her third year of guiding the Little Dutchmen. “The first week was good. I’m at the point where I don’t really have to slow practice down. We don’t have to break everything down. And our freshmen are picking things up. My first year here they were in seventh grade, so they’ve been doing the same drills for three years. Now we work more on strategy things than fundamentals.
“I’m happy with the fact we’re all supportive of each other right now,” continued Walborn. “There’s more talking in the gym. They’ve all played together. Everybody knows what the expectations are. I’m pleased that we’re all together.”
Annville-Cleona’s top three players – senior forward Elaina Wanamaker, junior guard Kayla Parks and junior guard Alex Siebecker – are all offensively skilled. Senior guard Barb Inman will contribute ball-handling and heady play, and junior forward Gabby Battle will be a forced with which to be reckoned inside.
Promising freshman Meredith Bachman is the Little Dutchmen’s sixth man.
“We’ve got four or five girls who are capable of scoring in double figures, on any given night,” said Walborn. “Losing a thousand-point scorer (Tori Siebecker) is tough, but Kayla, Elaina and Alex are all capable. I definitely see Elaina and Alex wanting to step into the role of leading the team out there. The way our offense works, we don’t have one girl we go to. It makes us tough to guard.
“I’m still concerned with our depth,” Siebecker added. “After our top five, it’s all freshmen. We want to keep everyone healthy, and foul trouble is a concern too. What we’re working on as a coaching staff is getting the younger kids ready. They all bring something different to the table. Ultimately they’re going to get varsity minutes.”
Winning the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Four championship doesn’t seem like a realistic goal for Annville-Cleona. But the competitive circuit does possesses the power to prepare the Little Dutchmen for an extended run in the District Three Class AA postseason.
“We haven’t talked about goals yet,” said Walborn, whose club fell to Camp Hill in the opening round of districts last season. “But the upper classmen definitely want to go farther than the first round of districts. I just want to be competitive in our section because we’re in a tough section. We want to knock off some tough teams.
“As far as being competitive, we’ve got to have balanced scoring,” Walborn added. “Defensively, we need to be physical and tough. We need to be fundamentally sound. We need everyone to chip in.”
If the Little Dutchmen’s program bottomed out with seven players last season, there’s no place for Annville-Cleona to go but up. But Walborn seems pleased with the direction her program is headed.
One obvious plus is that the Little Dutchmen will be able to play a junior varsity schedule this year.
“Besides the wins and losses, I’m pleased with the program,” said Walborn. “Last year was rough. We had low numbers and people were quitting. We have more kids in the junior high program than we’ve had since I’ve been here.
Annville-Cleona will open its 2012-13 campaign on Friday, December 7th, against Northern Lebanon in the Elizabethtown Tip-Off tournament.
“We have a tough first half of the season,” said Walborn. “We’re ready. With five juniors and seniors, it’s nice because they’ve been doing it for three years. Defensively, we’re ready. We know what we’re doing defensively.”