Northern Lebanon girls' challenge is to forget last year
The program's first section title in 30 years. A surprise berth in the Lancaster-Lebanon League championship game. A sparkling 28-4 record that included an epic state playoff win over nemesis Lancaster Catholic. The undying support and affection of the school and community whose imagination it captured.
A gritty, blue-collar, lovable Northern Lebanon girls basketball team accomplished things last season it doesn't ever want to forget, nor should it.
But for the time being, it must.
The Vikings have a new season and new goals and expectations to focus on, so its glorious recent past must stay there for a while, to be reveled in again at a later date.
"Everything about last year was like a storybook," said Northern Lebanon's fiery coach, Ken Battistelli. "It has changed things for me personally, and the kids, and the school. It's like a different world. But that needs to be tucked away and forgotten until we're old men and women, and we've been trying to make it go away."
That's easier said than done, given that the Vikings return all five starters and also figure to have more depth than a season ago. Senior catalysts Zoe Zerman and Megan Brandt, who have committed to Kutztown and Bloomsburg, respectively, are back to anchor the starting lineup along with fellow holdovers Amber Kintzer, Liz Voight and Cassiah Ray.
Zerman is NL's floor leader, Brandt its undersized but fierce post presence, Kintzer the third senior and unsung hero, and Voight and Ray junior guards with playmaking savvy and 3-point range.
They could be even more effective this time around thanks to a bench that includes Jenna Wentling, Raeann Lessing, Emma Kelliher and Zerman's freshman guard sister Zara.
But they've got a tough act to follow after what they created last year.
"It's a challenge because everybody is a human," Battistelli said. "But we have to remember what it took each and every one of us to get to that point. I told the kids, 'We have to remember all the suffering that took place so that all the happiness could come. We have to remember what it's like to suffer again.'"
In other words, the Vikings have to remember what got them there last year. It wasn't slick, flashy basketball, but rather blood-and-guts intensity. If you wanted to beat Northern Lebanon last year you had to be prepared for a slugfest for all 32 minutes - and more, if necessary.
"That's been a challenge," Battistelli admitted. "We were successful because we did all the (little) things really well and really consistently. To get yourself to do all the (little) things well is a mindset. You've gotta be prepared to just grind."
It would be a surprise, to say the least, if the Vikings have forgotten all that. Certainly Battistelli remembers what they showed everyone last year and is anxious to see more of it from the same cast of characters. Recapturing that same magic will be a tough task, though.
"The great part is that I get to spend another year with them, kids that I think so much of," he said. "But it's tough. Do you harp on the little things or do you move on? Do we add some things to our repertoire or do we try to get even better at the things we were good at? It's different, it's very, very different."
Adding to the challenge is Lancaster-Lebanon League realignment, which now has NL and Lancaster Catholic together in Section 3 along with tough customers Lebanon Catholic and Elco. But like everything else this season, it will be a different type of challenge.
"Last year in our section, it was all bigger schools than us," Battistelli said. "So you could never play badly, because physically you were never superior to anybody. You couldn't just show up and overwhelm them. This year, I think it's gonna be very top heavy. It's gonna be a challenge to maintain a high level of play."
All things considered, it's tough to predict what the Vikings will accomplish this season. Just as much as last season? More? A lot more? Less?
Who knows? But their head coach knows what he'll consider to be a successful season.
"I want to see our kids compete the way they did last year," Battistelli said. "If our kids have the passion and the competitiveness and the will that they had last year, then we're gonna do pretty well and nothing else matters."
Northern Lebanon girls
Coach: Ken Battistelli
Last year: 28-4
Top returners: Zoe Zerman (sr., G), Megan Brandt (sr., F), Amber Kintzer (sr., F), Liz Voight (jr., G), Cassiah Ray (jr., G).
Other key players: Jenna Wentling (jr., G), Raeann Lessing (jr., F), Emma Kelliher (so., G), Zara Zerman (fr., G).