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Patti Hower's Lebanon Catholic girls' basketball teams have won 17 District Three Class A titles in her 37 distinguished years as head coach on Assumption Hill.

That hasn't happened by accident. Yes, it took talent and athleticism, but also plenty of hard work and attention to detail. In other words, the Beavers didn't ascend to the throne that many times by simply assuming such success would come their way.

So as Catholic prepares for yet another district title defense, you can pretty much guess what Hower is preaching.

"I told them, 'We're not gonna catch anybody by surprise this year,'" said Hower, who rode the efforts of three freshmen starters to a 17-10 record and district crown No. 17 last year. "Our goal is to get better and make some noise by the end of the season. But we have to get better."

Though it lost tremendous senior leaders in Hayley Witmer and Monica Pastal, the Beavers' task to get better is more than doable.

Last year's trio of freshman starters, dynamic point guard Mariah Sholly, athletic slasher Neesha Pierre and hardworking small forward Celine Mars, return to the fold older, wiser and with enhanced skills after more than making their mark a season ago.

And they're not alone, either, with transfers Allison Warren (Pottsville Nativity) and Jayden Shellehamer (Lebanon) adding talent and experience to the roster. Key contributions should also come from sophomore guard Hannah Callihan and junior backcourt returner Leah Pastal.

Warren, in particular, should add plenty of punch to the lineup as a 5-8 senior with both experience and inside/outside skills. She averaged 16 points per game as a junior at Nativity last season before transferring to Lebanon Catholic in the spring.

"It gives me a nice seven," Hower said of the rotation listed above. "My goal is to improve on last season's record of 17-10. We're not real big, so if someone has a real good post player we might struggle a little bit. But we're pretty good at each (aspect of the game). I think we'll be able to press more because of our rotation. I'm looking to do some things we haven't been able to do the last few years.

"I can't pick out one glaring weakness. We're pretty well-rounded. We're not great  at any one thing, but we're not horrible at any one thing."

And because their core players have been through the grind of a long season after the district title run, the Beavers can hit the ground running this time around. Yes, Sholly, Pierre and Mars will have to shoulder more of the burden, and transfers Warren and Shellehamer are still learning the finer points of Hower's system, but all things considered Catholic is way ahead of last year's pace. And we know how that turned out.

"I'm getting through my whole practice agenda, which didn't happen a lot (last year) because everybody was learning," Hower said. "It's nice that we're starting at a little bit higher level."

Because of that, Catholic also figures to have an excellent chance to qualify for the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs again after earning a surprise trip there last season. Other than prohibitive favorite Lancaster Catholic, the Beavers figure to be able handle anything the rest of Section Four throws their way, making that particular postseason goal very attainable.

But for the Beavers, this season, like most seasons in the past, will be about the pursuit of district gold. And not taking any of it for granted.

"What we're good at is when we get into districts and get in our own element," Hower said. "But we can't rest on last year's laurels, we have to continue to get better."

LEBANON CATHOLIC GIRLS AT A GLANCE

Coach: Patti Hower, 38th season, 665-345

Last year: 17-10, District Three Class A champions

Returning starters: Mariah Sholly (5-5, so., guard), Neesha Pierre (5-9, so., guard), Celine Mars (5-7, so., forward)

Other top players: Allison Warren (5-8, sr., guard), Hannah Callihan (5-6, so., guard), Leah Pastal (5-1, jr., guard), Jayden Shellehamer (5-4, so., guard) 

Season opener: Dec.5, home vs. Steel-High

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