Deep Lebanon Catholic girls team has high ceiling
Usually, there's a limit - a ceiling, if you will - to what any team can accomplish in a given season.
Usually. And then are other times when it seems as if anything is possible, because it pretty much is.
The Lebanon Catholic girls basketball team appears to be on the verge of just such a season.
On the heels of their 18th District 3 1A title last season, the Beavers are strong contenders for more than one championship this time around - including one of the state variety - thanks to an already loaded and experienced roster that has added a pair of difference-making transfers from Lebanon High School.
Joining the talented trio of junior slasher Neesha Pierre, junior forward Celine Mars and junior perimeter threat Jayden Shellehamer are ex-Cedar juniors Alexis Hill, a 20-points-10-rebounds-every-night kind of talent, and guard Jasmine Turner, an emerging talent in her own right.
The Beavers did lose a key cog from last year in point guard Mariah Sholly, a junior who will not play this season for personal reasons, but will make up for it with more depth than usual in senior guard Leah Pastal, junior guard Hannah Callihan and junior forward Alaina Kline.
In other words: Yikes.
"I don't think there is," said Lebanon Catholic's veteran coach Patti Hower, when asked if there is a ceiling on what this year's group can accomplish. "We'll see how we gel - one of my concerns is staying out of foul trouble. (Hill) definitely puts us at another level. She's fast and wants the ball, and she and Neesha have really clicked. She has fit in really well, and so has Jasmine."
That's not to say the Beavers don't have some growing to do. Sholly's absence means Pierre must move over to point guard, and Hill and Turner have yet to play a varsity game with their new teammates, so an adjustment period is inevitable.
"It all kind of happened a week before school started, so we never even played together in the summer," Hower said of the transfers of Hill and Turner. "I'm kinda just figuring out, too, how to use different players in different spots. But it's worked out really well; the kids all get along. They really gelled on the court in the one scrimmage we had. I'm happy with how everybody has fit in together."
Though Catholic will have the capability to put up plenty of points, what will make it most difficult to deal with is its ability to full-court press a team into oblivion.
Once a staple of Hower's teams, the press semi-disappeared from the Beavers' repertoire in recent years due to lack of depth and, sometimes, athleticism. Neither is a concern this time around with the rangy 5-foot-10 Hill and 5-foot-9 Pierre fronting the press and the eight-player rotation.
"We'll be able to press more," Hower said. "We've got a lot of speed, a lot of long arms, so we can do that. It's exciting for fans to watch, but also I can see my team pick it up a notch when we do well in our press. We do a 1-2-1-1 with Alexis on the ball and Neesha up front, that's a tough trap to pass out of, and both of them move their feet really well."
As always, districts and states will be the prime goals for Catholic, but it also figures to be an intriguing contender in revamped Lancaster-Lebanon Section 3, along with Lancaster Catholic, Northern Lebanon and Elco.
"Section 3 will be tough," Hower said. "You've got Northern Lebanon, Lancaster Catholic - I think they're the two strongest ones. Northern Lebanon has everybody back - I'd actually probably pick them ahead of Lancaster Catholic at this point, with (injured guard Julia) Breit out."
But with the 'old' and new talent on board, the Beavers won't be conceding much this season.
"The ones that are back kinda know a little bit more of what we're doing," Hower said. "We're starting a little bit higher up. And both Turner and Hill have pretty good basketball IQs, so they're picking things up quickly. It's working out pretty good."
Lebanon Catholic girls
Coach: Patti Hower
Last year: 22-7
Key returners: Neesha Pierre (jr., G), Celine Mars (jr., F), Jayden Shellehamer (jr., G).
Other key players: Alexis Hill (jr., F), Jasmine Turner (jr., G), Hannah Callihan (jr., G).
Season opener: Friday, at home vs. Antietam, 7:30.