Lebanon girls eye three-peat
The Lebanon High girls basketball team has won the last two Lancaster-Lebanon Section Two titles. Of course, the Cedars would love to make it a three-peat this time around.
But as they prepare for the 2015-16 season, the Cedars are eyeing even loftier goals than that.
Not that they're bored with winning the section, something they've done a good bit of under head coach Ben Brewer and predecessor Carlos Sanchez. But the Cedars also would like to spread their wings and flex their muscles in some other venues as they look to keep raising the program's profile.
"I think we have a little bit of a target on our backs, winning two sections in a row," Brewer said. "Everybody wants to come out and beat you. We're getting to the point now with the program where we've got to set our sights above a little bit and challenge for a league championship. I think we have the talent and players to do that within the next couple years, and there is no better time to start than the present."
Though it lost two irreplaceable leaders to graduation, heart-and-soul point guard Brittany Ulrich and unsung hero/ forward Alicia Haitos, Lebanon appears to have more than enough firepower to fulfill its ambitions.
Three starters are back, most notably sophomore sensation Alexis Hill, a gifted and wildly athletic 6-foot sophomore forward with tremendous upside. Hill made a major impression as a freshman and is already drawing the attention of Division I colleges.
She'll be joined by fellow returning starters Maddy Hartman, a 5-4 junior guard, and Jasmine Turner, a 5-8 sophomore guard/forward, forming a skilled and athletic trio that should inflict plenty of headaches on opponents.
"I think everyone saw the type of freshman she was last year," Brewer said of Hill. "Extreme athleticism, an endless battery, and just a great defensive presence up and down the court. She's worked very hard over the summer and developed even more of her game. I'm excited for her to be able to show that off this year. She's a special player who makes all her teammates better."
Luckily, her teammates are are already pretty good.
In addition to Hartman and Turner, the Cedars welcome back senior guard Morgan Truax, who sat out last year but was a key reserve as a sophomore. She'll be a big contributor, as will junior forward Alicia Houser, who has impressed in practice and could join with Hill to give Lebanon a formidable one-two punch inside.
Junior Ary'Anna Ortolaza will also provide some post presence for the Cedars, whose only noticeable weaknesses are a lack of consistent perimeter shooting and as yet unproven leadership.
"We need some leadership to step up," Brewer said, who believes that his key players will accept that challenge. "We need to develop that. But I think every year that I've coached at Lebanon, we've had kids that compete, kids that never give up. And this year I also have a group of kids that like each other. They get along, like each other and have been playing together for years. If we had a 3-point threat we'd really be tough."
Still, the Cedars figure to be plenty tough enough, with an enviable ability to attack opponents in a variety of ways.
"We can be diverse," Brewer said. "You might see a little mixed-up style of play. The last couple years, we've run-and-gunned, spread out the floor. We're gonna be able this year to slow it down a little and pound it inside. I'm excited to see what happens."
The rest of the section, probably not so much.
"The section was very young last year," said Brewer, whose squad edged Ephrata for the crown last season. "I think the section should be interesting, I think there should be some parity up and down it. I think it'll be a battle every night. But I'd like to hope we have a team that can compete every night and be one of the top-level teams."
LEBANON GIRLS AT A GLANCE
Coach: Ben Brewer, 5th season
Last year: 17-7, Lancaster-Lebanon Section Two champs
Returning starters: Alexis Hill (6-0, so., forward), Maddy Hartman, (5-4, jr., guard), Jasmine Turner (5-8, so., guard/forward)
Other top players: Morgan Truax (5-6, sr., guard), Alicia Houser (5-11, jr., forward), Ary'Anna Ortolaza (jr., forward)
Season opener: Dec. 4, at Muhlenberg