FREDERICKSBURG – It’s not about your stylish shooting form. It’s about your focused effort on the defensive end.
It’s not about how you talk up your game. It’s how you process constructive criticism.
It’s not about individual stats. It’s about your commitment to fundamentals and the team.
That’s what it means to be a Northern Lebanon girls’ basketball player. It’s both a mindset and a way of life.
On Friday night at Northern Lebanon High School, a fresh group of Viking players continued rounding into shape, during a 38-26 non-league triumph over Hamburg. After surrendering ten opening-quarter points, Northern Lebanon hiked up its defensive intensity and allowed just 14 more over the final 24 minutes of play.
The outcome pushed a still-learning Viking club to 4-3 on the season. The Hawks from Hamburg slid to 4-6 overall.
“But we’ve played some good teams, and we’ve been right there,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Ken Battistelli. “We’re probably halfway there right now. On offense, we’re doing a decent job of finding our roles. But defensively, we still have some work to do. On a scale of one-to-100, we’ve already improved 20 or 30 points this season.
“They’re (his players) starting to find their identity. It just takes time,” added Battistelli. “We’re probably going to get better faster than most teams. We’re just kind of scratching the surface. I’d like to be 7-0, but I’m really enjoying the process. There’s just so much teaching going on at a single practice. Teaching is the most fun part of coaching, and seeing kids reach their potential.”
Northern Lebanon got off to a somewhat sluggish start, at least on the defensive end.
After the Hawks had enjoyed modest early leads of 5-2 and 7-4, a driving lay-up by Emily Hauck and a pair of free throws by Ashlyn Messinger put Northern Lebanon up 8-7. The Vikings ended the opening stanza with an 11-10 edge, courtesy of Crystal Bomgardner’s lay-in.
“Each team is built a little differently,” said Battistelli. “The one thing I know about Hamburg, they can really shoot it if you let them. We wanted them to be as uncomfortable as possible. We’re not in mid-season form. But the thing is, we’re getting better all the time. We don’t want to give up easy baskets, and we want to find the shooters. Right now, we’re still giving up easy baskets.
“When you do that, you’ve got to rely on your offense,” Battistelli added. “You can get by with good days and bad days offensively, if you do the little things right. We looked like everybody else in the first quarter. In the second quarter, then we started to get it. I think after the first quarter, our defense improved. In the third quarter, our defense was there, and they (the Hawks) didn’t make a run.”
The uptick in the Vikings’ defensive pressure manifested itself in the form of a 4:38, second-period dry spell for Hamburg. Northern Lebanon notched ten straight points – four from Messinger, a Mikayla Harrison inside move, a Rachel Papson jumper and put back by Bomgardner – to establish a 21-12 advantage.
“This team’s different,” said Battistelli. “We have three kids who play a ton of minutes who really don’t know what makes us, us. We try to remind them that every time you win, you get more accustomed to winning. If you accept losing, even a little bit, it’s easy to be the kind of team that wins some and loses some.
“You can be satisfied with winning, but you’ve got to fear losing,” continued Battistelli. “It’s hard work. It’s not magic. It’s your willingness to take criticism and learn.”
Messinger’s 12 points showed the way for the Northern Lebanon offense. The Vikings outscored the Hawks 28-16 on field goals that originated from inside the arc.
“I thought we played very, very erratically,” said Battistelli. “We didn’t play with the type of consistency I want. We certainly aren’t talented enough to get by with less than the maximum effort.
“We won, and that’s huge,” Battistelli continued. “We need to win. Making districts would be a tremendous accomplishment for us. It’s going to be tough, but it’s what we really want to do. It’s usually when we’re peaking.”
Two foul shots by Messinger midway through the third stanza pushed the Vikings’ lead to 25-16. Then, Northern Lebanon finished strong, outscoring Hamburg 8-2 over the final five minutes of the contest, thanks to buckets by Messinger, Cala Martino, Papson and Hauck.