SOUTH LEBANON – For three weeks of training camp, members of the Cedar Crest girls’ basketball squad have been going at each other hard. With a lot of equal parts, the spirited practices have produced some good competition designed to improve individual skills.
But the Falcons’ key to success this season may hinge on how those individual talents mesh, and how they come together for the direction of the group.
The Falcons aren’t physically gifted. They’re not overly tall. They’re not oozing with experience. But they seem to realize that the good of the whole out weighs the good of the individual.
And sometimes that’s half the battle.
“We want to develop their individual skills,” said Jim Donmoyer, Cedar Crest’s second-year head coach. “We want to develop their team skills. We want them to understand the system. Really, we didn’t get it all in last year, but it made this year easier.
“We want to get better as a team,” Donmoyer continued. “As long as we play hard and we’re competitive, I’ll be happy. If we do that, the wins will come. Another goal is to get the girls experience. That’ll make next year easier.”
The Falcons figure to be better this year than last, on the court and off.
“I’ll tell you what, last year was a trying and difficult season,” said Donmoyer. “On-the-court stuff and the off-the-court stuff, they were tough to deal with. It seemed like there were a lot of things going on off the court. This year the team chemistry and unity seems better.
“There were distractions,” Donmoyer added. “We had a couple kids quit. We had games missed for academic reasons. The team I wanted to start with at the beginning of the season I never started. Going into my first year as head coach, I knew it would be difficult, but not that difficult. I learned a lot. But the basketball part was the easy part.”
To this point, the players who have been setting the tone for Cedar Crest in practice are senior captains Astin Toms and Gabbi Donmoyer. At 5-8 and 5-6 respectively, Toms and Donmoyer are going to be asked to provide an inside presence for the Falcons as well.
The Falcons’ other returning starter is athletic 5-8 sophomore forward Alex Rich.
“Our strength is that they’re hard workers,” said Donmoyer. “All of them have been playing as a group. They have basketball knowledge. I think our strength is going to be quickness and speed, and we can shoot. On any given day, any one of our top six could be our leading scorer. I think it’ll be more balanced than it was last year. It seems like they care if we win or lose.
“I don’t know who’s going to start yet,” continued Donmoyer. “I know four for sure. I’ve got six kids and any of them could start. It’s competitive. They work hard. There is opportunity there. It (scoring) could be a game-to-game thing. Somebody might hit a skid and hit a dry spell, and we can start someone in their place.”
Another variable for the Falcons this season might be the development of their sophomore class, or how quickly it matures. In addition to Rich, 5-3 guard Rachel Miller and twin sisters Nikki and Emi Wagner will eventually need to step up.
Seniors Chante Beard, a 5-8 forward, and Maria Battle, a 5-2 guard, will provide depth. And 5-6 junior guard Kayla Horn will support from a reserve role.
“The one thing I don’t like about this group is their lack of size and their lack of experience,” said Donmoyer. “We’ll get better in practice. We’ll get them in games, but we’re going to hit the ground running (in the season opener) Friday night. Those four sophomores, that’s our nucleus for years to come. They’ve got to play. We’re going to do good things, and not so-good things.
“We put everything in we needed to get in,” Donmoyer added. “I’ll be honest with you, today was our 13th practice, and we had one or two duds. They’re teachable kids. It’s kind of like business for them. We run through things and they take feedback. They’re only getting better. There’s going to be bumps, but I need to be patient. The future isn’t far away at all.”
The Falcons entertain no delusions of state, district or league championships. A good goal for Cedar Crest would be to finish above .500 and qualify for the District Three Class AAAA postseason.
“My goals?,” said Donmoyer. “I hate to put a number on wins. I have a number in my mind. We went 5-17 last year, and if we doubled that I’d say that’s progress. If we went 5-17 again, that would be a disappointment.”
Right now, the Cedar Crest is a far cry from the girls’ basketball program of a few years ago that annually contended for Section One, Lancaster-Lebanon League and District Three titles. It is Donmoyer’s goal to return the Falcons to that prominence.
“I’m very happy with where we’re going,” said Donmoyer. “The youth league here at Cedar Crest is second to none. The junior high program had more than 40 kids try out. It’s going to take time to get where we want to get it.
“It may seem like we’re not headed in the right direction, having two losing seasons in-a-row – which is kind of unheard of around here,” concluded Donmoyer. “But we’re doing the right things. I’d like to get Cedar Crest basketball where it was. The coaching staff returns, which gives us consistency. I’m pleased where it’s headed, but we’re not where I want to be. If you put good people in the right places, good things will happen.”