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BY JEFF FALK

FREDERICKSBURG – Tradition. Everybody wants one.

But they’re hard to attain. And they’re even harder to maintain.

Over the past decade, the Northern Lebanon girls’ basketball team has built a fine tradition of excellence. But as a COVID-19-shrouded 2020-21 campaign unfolds, that Vikings’ tradition is at a crossroads.

The Vikings need a new group of players to assume the torch of responsibility, some fresh faces to step up. It’s a difficult task, but that’s what makes traditions worth having.

“If you’re one of us, you’re one of the tough kids,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Ken Battistelli, at a recent practice. “You’re one of the best defenders in the country. These kids are proud of who they are. They’ve bought into the culture of playing defense and boxing out. Right now, they’re trying. The older kids know. What they have to learn is that they’ve got to try hard to be one of us.

“One thing is for sure, we’re a brand new team,” continued Battistelli. “We don’t even resemble last year’s squad. In some ways, that’s exciting and fresh. It presents new challenges. But you coach to what you have and try to make the system fit them.”

Some of what Northern Lebanon is currently working on are ways to replace departed, do-everything leader Zara Zerman. One possibility is some sort of collaborative leadership combination of Emily Hauck, Ashlyn Messinger and Rachel Papson, a trio that not-so-coincidentally is rich in experience.

“We have enough leadership,” said Battistelli. “We have leaders. Emily is just a take-charge kind of kid, and Ash is our most talented player. Leaders are someone who will put the team on their shoulders, and do it willingly.

“That’s (understanding players’ strengths and weaknesses) a big part of being a coach,” Battistelli continued. “You have to learn your kids, and then you have to make them the best versions of themselves. That goes to roles too. You find out who has certain talents and who has strengths, and you get them to blossom.”

That’s not to say that other roles on the team are less important, especially for the Vikings. But players like Mikalya Harrison, Cala Martino and Crystal Bomgardner must identify their roles before they can grow into them.

“We have massive inexperience,” said Battistelli. “We have three kids who have a lot of experience, and then the rest of the team has zero. Every one of our kids has a new role. There are some kids who have no varsity experience that we’re going to depend on.

“By normal standards, we’re not big,” Battistelli added. “But this is one of our bigger teams. Last year, we relied on speed and tenacity to get some things done. This year I think we can body some people up and be physical.”

The Coronavirus has affected every single Lebanon County athletic program in some way. But few have been affected more by it than the Northern Lebanon girls.

Last season, the Vikings went 24-4 and reached the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs, before having their campaign shut down by COVID-19. This year, Northern Lebanon is dealing with an uncertainty that could shut down its season at any moment.

“I remember the end,” said Battistelli, of a 2019-20 campaign that lacked closure. “We felt like we were in the best place, mentally and physically. You always want to peak at the right ime. It was like, ‘Let’s rock. Let’s play.’ When you have a team like that, you want them to play.

“For me, it (the uncertainty) affects you psychologically,” added Battistelli. “Last year (stank) because we just shut down. I feel like it could happen any time this year. Last year we created a story. That team was one of the last eight (Class AAAA) teams standing in the state. But kids are far more resilient than coaches.”

Northern Lebanon’s shortended 2020-21 season opens on Friday, December 18th with a home contest against Hamburg.

“The truth is I’m not doing well with this whole thing,” said Battistelli. “What I’m trying to do is tell myself that it doesn’t exist. They give us rules and we follow rules. But I’m so sick of thinking about what could happen. It’s (the COVID-19 crisis) far worse now than when they made us quit. That confusion makes it tough.

“Right now, we’re not even close to last year’s team. Like a hundred miles away,” Battistelli continued. “But our goal is to win every single game. I don’t know what they (his players) think. But I think our goal is to win that next game, and that game is the most important game ever. Our goal is to just win, and win them all.”

To purchase images in this article email jkfalk2005@yahoo.com.

2020 Northern Lebanon Girls’ Basketball Schedule

Date/Time OpponentLocationLeague 
Fri Dec 18
7:30 PM
Hamburg Area High SchoolNorthern Lebanon MS/HS
Gym (HS)
N
Mon Dec 21
7:30 PM
Lebanon High SchoolNorthern Lebanon MS/HS
Gym (HS)
N
Wed Dec 23
7:30 PM
East Pennsboro Area Senior High SchoolEast Pennsboro Area Senior High School
Gym
N
Fri Jan 8
7:30 PM
Donegal Senior High SchoolDonegal Senior High School
Gym
L
Wed Jan 13
7:30 PM
Lancaster Catholic High SchoolLancaster Catholic High School
Berger Gym
L
Sat Jan 16
2:30 PM
Pequea Valley High SchoolNorthern Lebanon MS/HS
Gym (MS)
N
Tue Jan 19
7:30 PM
Eastern Lebanon CountyNorthern Lebanon MS/HS
Gym (HS)
L
Wed Jan 20
7:30 PM
Tulpehocken Junior/Senior High SchoolNorthern Lebanon MS/HS
Gym (HS)
N
Mon Jan 25
7:30 PM
Lancaster Catholic High SchoolNorthern Lebanon MS/HS
Gym (HS)
L
Tue Feb 2
7:30 PM
Eastern Lebanon CountyEastern Lebanon Co Sr High School
Gym
L
Thu Feb 4
7:30 PM
Middletown Area High SchoolMiddletown Area High School
Gym
N
Sat Feb 6
6:30 PM
Schuylkill Valley High SchoolSCHUYLKILL VALLEY HIGH SCHOOL
Gym
L
Mon Feb 8
7:30 PM
Donegal Senior High SchoolNorthern Lebanon MS/HS
Gym (HS)
L
Wed Feb 10
7:30 PM
Manheim Central School DistrictNorthern Lebanon MS/HS
Gym (HS)
N
Fri Feb 12
7:30 PM
Lampeter-Strasburg High SchoolNorthern Lebanon MS/HS
Gym (HS)
L
Tue Feb 16
7:30 PM
Cocalico Senior High SchoolCocalico Senior High School
HS Main Gym
L
Thu Feb 18
7:30 PM
Garden Spot High SchoolNorthern Lebanon MS/HS
Gym (HS)
L
Sat Feb 20
1:30 PM
Solanco High SchoolSolanco High School
Gym
L

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