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BY JEFF FALK

Closure is extremely important.

More important than a loss. Not as important as a win.

But closure is extremely important.

Everyone deserves closure. If nothing else, the Northern Lebanon girls’ basketball team has earned that right.

Great wins. Consistent overachievement. Remarkable team work.

The Vikings’ incredible 2019-20 hoops campaign featured a little bit of everything that makes scholastic sports great – except closure.

“I have never seen anything remotely like this season,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Ken Battistelli. “I remember a season a few years back where we went 11-11. It wasn’t a great season, but we ended with a win. We ended the season on a high note. Almost every time you have a great season, it ends with a loss. But you have closure. We ended our season really up, but we didn’t get any closure.

“We never got time to decompress,” added Battistelli. “I didn’t get to give any of my ‘love you’ hugs. I didn’t get to give any of my exit speeches. My kids expect me to grab them with tears in both of our eyes and tell them ‘we did it together.'”

On Thursday, April 9th, Northern Lebanon was officially denied any type of closure for its season when the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association canceled the remainder of the winter sports season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier in the day, Governor Tom Wolf had closed schools across the state for the same safety concerns.

The Vikings had been the last Lebanon County basketball team still standing, after advancing to the quarterfinal round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs.

“When it comes to wins and losses, I think kids take it better than adults do,” said Battistelli. “They’re different kids. They take it differently. But they’re doing OK. They’re bored. For the first two-week period, they were really, really mad. They wanted to play, bad. They were upset they weren’t going to get a shot.

“To a degree, in this moment, it does take away from our season,” Battistelli added. “I think every team needs that (closure). We are going to get that. I don’t know how, but we’re going to get that. I’m going to find a way. I’m going to get a chance to see my kids again before they leave for good. That stuff needs to happen. Right now, it detracts from the season, because it didn’t happen yet.”

Historically speaking, Northern Lebanon became one of the only teams in the history of Lebanon County sports to end its postseason with a win and not garner a state championship. On Wednesday, March 11th, the Vikings performed extremely well in a decisive 48-37 victory over Danville, in the second round of the state playoffs.

The triumph had set up a coveted third meeting of the season with Lancaster Catholic, scheduled for the following Saturday. But before that, Wolf closed Pennsylvania schools for a two-week period, a different kind of closure that was ultimately extended to include the remainder of the school year.

“That game itself, I liked pretty much,” said Battistelli, of the triumph over Danville. “But what I remember most was where we were going after the game. After that game, when the girls knew they were going to play Lancaster Catholic, it felt right. Our kids were really ready to play another game soon.

“We played them (the Crusaders) really tough the first two times,” Battistelli continued. “We were in a good place, so ready to play that game. It was going to be just right. They were so enthused to play. I felt like we were in an awesome place to play basketball.”

During the regular season, the Vikings had lost to the Crusaders twice.

In the first one in Fredericksburg on January 3rd, Lancaster Catholic prevailed 50-47 in overtime. The second one, a 42-35 Crusader win in Lancaster on January 21st wasn’t quite as competitive.

“We had not yet held a practice and it wasn’t because I gave them a day off,” said Battistelli, of the time after the Danville victory. “I was watching film and started putting together a scouting report. I got a call and the kids came down to my room (at school). I told them we weren’t playing, and all the energy came out of them and they just sagged. They were devastated. We were in such a positive place.

“When we were first shut down, we were prepared to stay in shape and keep it together,” continued Battistelli. “When the two-week closing got extended, it was like ‘uggh’, but we still had hope. It was like living in denial at the beginning. It was another setback and another setback, but we had to stay ready. I didn’t do too much reflecting until PIAA said we were done. That day, when they said it, it was a rough 24-48 hours.”

For the record, the Vikings concluded the 2019-20 campaign with a sparkling 24-4 mark. Northern Lebanon competed in the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs and finished third in the District Three Class AAAA postseason.

On an individual note, Viking star Zara Zerman, a Division Two Kutztown University recruit, came within seven points of becoming Northern Lebanon’s all-time leading scorer – boys or girls.

“The PIAA needs to acknowledge the remaining eight teams (in Class AAAA), because if you don’t lose, you don’t lose,” said Battistelli. “We’re something. Nobody beat us in the state tournament. Not just every team is still alive. That has to mean something. We’re Elite Eightists. They need to recognize that they had a state tournament.”

Perhaps, this edition of the Northern Lebanon girls’ basketball team should be remember as doing everything it possibly could. The Vikings controlled everything in their power, but ultimately their season was ended by something outside of their control.

“Before the season started, we had an incredible camp at Messiah (College),” said Battistelli. “We left camp with a great vibe. One of the girls asked me, ‘Can we be really good?’ I told her, ‘We can be, but we have to be better than we were last year. If I get the best version of you all the time, we can be really good.’ The thing that’s so remarkable, and that makes me so proud, is that we got a pretty good version of just about everybody in most games. Most of the time, we brought at least our B-games. We were able to play super-high-up most of the time.

“If we would’ve won 16 games or 18 games, everyone who knows us would’ve said we had a great season,” added Battistelli. “To get to 24 wins is an amazing jump. I might remember this season more positiviely than any one I’ve ever coached.”

Northern Lebanon will graduate five seniors from its current roster. Most of those 12th-graders will never play organized basketball again.

“We don’t think about goals,” said Battistelli. “We’re so much about the process and effort and playing for each other. I can’t believe this group of kids came together the way they did. This team just blew me out of the water in terms of the way it worked hard and competed.”

Because the ending, no matter how ambigious, is always the hardest part.

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

2019-20 Northern Lebanon Girls’ Basketball Results

DateOpponentsOutcomes
12/06
6:45 pm
Ephrata
Northern Lebanon
at Northern Lebanon Tip-Off Tournament
43
48

Nonleague
12/07
7:00 pm
Palmyra
Northern Lebanon
at Northern Lebanon Tip-Off Tournament
29
41

Nonleague
12/10
7:30 pm
West Perry
at Northern Lebanon
19
35

Nonleague
12/13
7:30 pm
Northern Lebanon
at Lampeter-Strasburg
38
26

League
12/16
7:30 pm
Cocalico
at Northern Lebanon
31
37

League
12/18
7:30 pm
Northern Lebanon
at Garden Spot
48
17

League
12/20
7:30 pm
Solanco
at Northern Lebanon
19
35

League
12/27
6:00 pm
New Oxford
Northern Lebanon
at Lebanon Holiday Tournament
27
45

Nonleague
12/28
7:30 pm
Northern Lebanon
McCaskey
at Lebanon Holiday Tournament
44
41

Nonleague
1/03
7:30 pm
Lancaster Catholic
at Northern Lebanon
50
47

League
1/04
2:30 pm
East Pennsboro
Northern Lebanon
at Northern Lebanon Middle School
22
44

Nonleague
1/08
6:30 pm
Middletown
at Northern Lebanon
15
38

Nonleague
1/10
7:30 pm
Northern Lebanon
at Elco
53
45

League
1/14
7:30 pm
Northern Lebanon
at Octorara
54
17

League
1/17
7:30 pm
Donegal
at Northern Lebanon
39
65

League
1/18
2:30 pm
Northern Lebanon
at Tulpehocken
Postponed
Nonleague
1/21
7:30 pm
Northern Lebanon
at Lancaster Catholic
35
42

League
1/23
7:30 pm
Northern Lebanon
at Manheim Central
47
35

League
1/25
4:30 pm
Northern Lebanon
at Annville-Cleona
47
12

Nonleague
1/28
7:30 pm
Elco
at Northern Lebanon
35
37

League
1/31
7:30 pm
Octorara
at Northern Lebanon
30
59

League
2/04
7:30 pm
Northern Lebanon
at Donegal
60
46

League
2/06
7:30 pm
Northern Lebanon
Warwick
at Garden Spot
43
32

Playoff
2/08
7:00 pm
Northern Lebanon
at Solanco
32
41

Playoff
2/21
7:00 pm
Bishop McDevitt
at Northern Lebanon
45
60

Playoff
2/25
7:00 pm
Eastern York
at Northern Lebanon
51
28

Playoff
2/27
7:00 pm
Susquehanna Township
at Northern Lebanon
28
33

Playoff
3/07
1:00 pm
Northern Lebanon
Universal Audenried Charter
at Cardinal O’Hara
52
29

Playoff
3/11
6:00 pm
Northern Lebanon
Danville
at Shamokin High School
48
37

Playoff
3/14
TBD
Northern Lebanon
Lancaster Catholic
at TBD
Cancelled
Playoff

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