FREDERICKSBURG - The Northern Lebanon girls basketball team's ability to play defense at an extremely high level has been well-documented during its rise to elite status in the last season and a half.
But one would be hard-pressed to find a better example of the pride and passion the Vikings put into their defense than the performance they turned in for an appreciative home crowd on Friday night.
Northern Lebanon threw a respectable Elco team into a prison of clogged passing lanes and zero open looks at the basket, holding the Raiders to just four - yes, four - first half points on the way to a not-nearly-that-close 51-22 victory.
The smothering defense from starters Zoe Zerman, Megan Brandt, Amber Kintzer, Liz Voight, Cassiah Ray and top reserve Zara Zerman combined with 13 first half points from Voight helped stake NL (12-1, 6-1 Section 3) to an almost unfathomable 38-4 halftime lead that rendered the second half a mere formality.
"I thought our defense was as good as it's ever been," said Northern Lebanon coach Ken Battistelli. "You talk about the things you gotta do on defense to hold 'em, and it was like they went out and executed it almost perfectly. They didn't use their hands, their bodies were in position. We were just there. I couldn't be more pleased with the way they played defense."
Elco, of course, couldn't have enjoyed it less. But head coach Ashli Shay and her squad couldn't help but respect the Vikings' latest display of defensive greatness.
"Just the physicality that they play with," Shay said, when asked what makes Northern Lebanon so good at that end of the floor. "They're just so physical. You have a hard time stepping to the ball because they're always in the way. You have a hard time passing the ball because their help is so good. Just how physical they are and their mental toughness is really what puts them so far ahead of everybody else in my mind."
The Vikings aren't exactly below par on offense, either, as they demonstrated during the first half on Friday night. In addition to all 13 of Voight's points, NL got Zoe Zerman's 11 points in the first half, and ended up with eight different players in the scoring column.
"And the offense. They were running all kinds of weird defenses at us," Battistelli said, "but it was good tonight. Maybe it was that Elco-Northern Lebanon thing that got our blood boiling. That was as good as I've seen us play in a long time."
To be fair, the Vikings did so against an Elco team that has been derailed badly by injuries. Two projected starters - senior Alexis Thomas and sophomore standout Ryelle Shuey are both out for the year and starting sophomore guard Julia Nelson just returned to the lineup after missing more than a week with a concussion.
To their credit the Raiders (5-8, 2-5) competed well on Friday despite the lopsided score, led by Taylor Bossert's 8 points.
"We're putting a lot of kids in positions we just weren't anticipating," Shay said. "We're just trying to piece things together the best we can. We just gotta keep working to get better."
"They've just been killed by injuries," Battistelli said of Elco, which if healthy could have made Section 3 a four-team fight instead of the current three-team tussle between NL, Lebanon Catholic and Lancaster Catholic. "I think if those two kids are healthy, this is one of the greatest sections that ever was. It would be unconscious."
Northern Lebanon 51, Elco 22
Bossert 3 0-0 8, Nelson 0 0-2 0, Rosengrant 2 0-0 4, Bidelspach 0 0-0 0, Nolt 1 0-0 2, Sonnen 2 0-0 6. Shade 1 0-0 2 Totals: 9 0-2 22
Northern Lebanon (51)
Ray 1 1-2 3, Voight 4 2-3 13, Brandt 4 0-0 9, Kintzer 3 0-0 6, Zoe Zerman 3 5-5 11, Zara Zerman 3 0-0 6, Wentling 0 1-2 1 Douple 1 0-0 2. Totals: 19 9-12 51.
Elco 2 2 8 10 - 22
Northern Lebanon 15 23 10 3 - 51
3-pointers: Elco - Bossert 2, Sonnen 2, Northern Lebanon - Voight 3, Brandt