The best of a memorable girls hoops season
Two section champions. A league runner-up. One district champion and five postseason qualifiers. Oh, and three state tournament entrants, two of which advanced to the quarterfinals.
Yes, it was a pretty eventful girls basketball season in Lebanon County. So much so that it wouldn't be right to not take one last look back at some of the players, coaches and teams that made it so special.
We'll make it a party and hand out some awards, too. So without further delay, the envelopes, please...
Player of the Year: Could have gone a number of different directions here, but after much consideration the winner is Cedar Crest junior point guard Ariel Jones.
A blur in transition, Jones used her lightning quickness to average 17.1 points per game and lift the Falcons to the Section One title, the league and district semifinals and a berth in the state tournament.
I like my Player of the Year choices to be able to dominate, and Jones is capable of doing just that. Her speed makes her difficult to keep out of the lane and impossible to control in transition, and she can knock down 3-pointers if you back off and give her too much room.
Can't wait to see what she does next year as a senior, along with classmate and post force Alyssa Austin.
Coach of the Year: With all due respect to the fine jobs done by, among others, Cedar Crest's Jim Donmoyer and Lebanon Catholic's Patti Hower, this one was easy. Northern Lebanon's Ken Battistelli is the winner here, after guiding the Vikings to the best season in their history.
All Northern Lebanon did under Battistelli's fiery, but heartfelt, leadership was post a 28-4 record, win their first Section Three title in 30 years and earn a first-ever trip to the state playoffs.
The Vikings' grit and toughness was both a credit to their own competitiveness and a reflection of Battistelli's coaching style, which mixed prodding and demanding with a loving, family-like approach to guiding his team.
It worked splendidly, to say the least.
He also wins this because he's a great quote. Just kidding. Sort of.
Rookie of the Year: Soccer is, and probably always will be, her best sport, but Elco's Ryelle Shuey can ball. She proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt during a sparkling freshman campaign in which she averaged 10.4 points per game and helped the Raiders to 16 wins and a berth in the district playoffs.
A superb athlete and competitor, Shuey came up big in the big moments, too, as evidenced by her play down the stretch in a late season near-upset of Northern Lebanon.
Again, soccer is her thing, but she's got a tremendously bright future on the hardwood as well.
Game of the Year: The fourth time was the charm for Northern Lebanon after three frustrating defeats to perennial power Lancaster Catholic. After being vanquished by Catholic in the regular season, the league playoffs, and the district playoffs, Northern Lebanon finally turned the tables on the Crusaders in the second round of states, rallying for a 54-45 victory that stands as a high point in a season filled with them for the kids from Fredericksburg.
The bright smiles on the faces of NL starters Zoe Zerman, Megan Brandt, Cassiah Ray, LIz Voight and Amber Kintzer afterward pretty much said it all.
Play of the Year: The above thrills for Northern Lebanon would have never taken place if not for Brandt's length-of-the-floor driving layup as time expired in overtime in an opening-round district win over Milton Hershey.
Taking the inbounds pass with six seconds left in a tie game in OT, Brandt zigged and zagged her way through Milton Hershey defenders to drop in a game-winning basket they'll only remember forever at Northern Lebanon.
Just ask Northern Lebanon's Blue Crew student section, which engulfed Brandt and her teammates in a giant group hug seconds after the final buzzer.
Accomplishment of the Year: This column would be incomplete without a mention of Lebanon Catholic's remarkable run of district championships. The Beavers captured Class A crown No. 18 this season with a title game rout of Halifax at Giant Center, and in doing so served notice that they'll likely add to that haul in the next few years.
Guided by legendary coach Patti Hower and blessed with four sophomore starters this season, Catholic is back on top just two seasons after suiting up a mere six players and facing legitimate concerns about the future of the program.
No one is really worried about the program anymore.
Most Improved Player: Speaking of Lebanon Catholic, they get another honor here courtesy of sophomore guard Neesha Pierre.
As a freshman, Pierre was mostly just an athlete playing basketball. This season, she evolved into a mature, more polished performer, who averaged 12.6 points a game and was arguably the Beavers' most important player on a nightly basis.
If she continues to improve the way she did between her freshman and sophomore seasons, Lebanon Catholic opponents are in trouble.
Defensive Player of the Year: Anyone that played against Cedar Crest this season can probably make this pick themselves.
Congrats to Alyssa Austin, whose intimidating shot-blocking ways anchored a stout Falcon defense and made her the runaway pick for this award.
If Austin was anywhere close to a would-be scorer this season, chances are any shot that went up was either going to be altered or blocked. It's hard to score against Cedar Crest without eyes in the back of your head.
That's all, folks. We're out of trophies and space. Thanks to all who followed the girls hoops coverage this season. Enjoy the spring.