Defense is 1st focus for Northern Lebanon's Zoe Zerman
FREDERICKSBURG — The first thing that Northern Lebanon senior Zoe Zerman did Friday night was to get up off the floor. Then she made her presence felt all over the court.
In a first quarter in which the Northern Lebanon girls basketball team raced out to a 14-1 lead over Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 3 rival Annville-Cleona, Zerman tallied three steals to go along with five of her 12 points, contributing to the Vikings’ balanced attack in their 56-24 victory over the previously unbeaten Little Dutchmen.
In all, Zerman finished with five steals - forcing even more turnovers - and a pair of rebounds, and matched senior teammates Megan Brandt and Amber Kintzer for the team lead with 12 points apiece as the Vikings improved to 5-0 and 1-0 in league play.
The tone of Friday’s game was set in the opening minute, once Annville’s Harper Sellers set a legal, but lethal screen that sent Zerman to the floor.
“I fall down a lot, so that was nothing,” Zerman joked, before turning attention to the team. “We fall down, we get right back up. Nothing really stops us; we’re trained to play defense and then move on to offense. I think when everybody works together it all comes to one piece … even when I fall down.”
The defense-first mindset comes from coach Ken Battistelli, and it’s something the players have readily bought in to.
“There’s a lot of things to like about Zoe. Probably my favorite part is how competitive she is,” Battistelli said. “She’s really athletic; maybe she looks it, I don’t know, but she is very strong. When you’ve got good size, good muscles, and a competitive fire in you, that’s a pretty good combination.”
“I always said even when I was little, ‘I love defense,’” Zerman said, having face-guarded Annville sniper Michaela Singer throughout the contest. “Even if I miss a shot, my person is not scoring. I really focus in on defense, then my offensive game comes from my defense. It goes hand in hand.”
It also says a lot about her defense, considering the Kutztown recruit was coming off back-to-back 19-point games earlier this week.
“I’ve been more confident in myself,” Zerman said. “The (previous) week I was missing a lot of layups. In practice, I’m like, ‘I gotta make my layups,’ so I really worked on that and harped on that and it came through. I just do my job; I’m not thinking just score, score, score. I’m looking for opportunities - who has the best option to score.”
Again, going back to the team-first mentality.
“Tonight, it didn’t seem like (Annville) was trying to take any one (specific player) away, so we were able to hit the open player,” Battistelli said. “The thing that’s nice about that is if you commit to taking one away, we have other kids that not only step up and score, but can actually hurt you.
“We have the unselfishness to let anyone who is hot or feeling it to score. We’re fortunate in that regard.”
Of course, there’s a sisterly aspect to the Vikings’ team chemistry, especially considering Zerman’s freshman sister Zara is playing significant minutes with a similar scoring punch already this season.
Zoe Zerman said, “I trust her, maybe a little more than Megan sometimes. I know where she is going to be. I know that she knows that we’re together no matter what. I know what she can do; she knows what I can do. It’s like we’re telepathic.”
As in Friday’s contest, where Zara twice set up her older sister for easy buckets in the paint, part of an 11-0 blitz to open the third quarter.
With their on-court chemistry as strong as it is, one can only assume the sisters are inseparable during practice, as well. Right?
“I notice in practice that they don’t like each other,” Battistelli said with a wry laugh. “When I want to yell at one, I just yell at the other one and tell her it’s her sister’s fault. They’ll say, ‘That’s not my sister.’ But you can see it on the floor that they do have a Zerman connection. It’s a cool dynamic, though, because they’re very different.”
Yet they’re similar to their Vikings’ players and teammates in the way the team came together Friday night, helping each other up along the way.