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Basketball preview: A to Z style

Let the games begin.

The high school basketball games in Lebanon County, that is.

Yes, it's that time again - time for the county's favorite high school sports season (and the annual reminder that we won't forget our wrestlers, swimmers and bowlers) as well as the annual A to Z preview story that helps kick it all off.

Hey, what can we say? We're creatures of habit, and we hope you enjoy that we can't seem to kick this particular one.

So without further delay, let's take another trip through the alphabet, Lebanon County high school hoops-style.

is for action, of which there is always plenty to be found during hoops season. Unless a team is just standing around holding the ball - something we don't particularly encourage - there is usually something exciting taking place on the court. We wouldn't have it any other way.

is for Blatt (Isaac), Palmyra's rangy 6-foot-5 senior forward and one of two returning All-County picks from a season ago, along with Elco's Mason Bossert, who also fits in nicely with this letter. More on him later, though.

Blatt, also a standout pitcher for the Palmyra baseball team, was the Cougars' second-leading scorer a season ago and figures to be the focal point for a Palmyra team looking to make a return trip to the District 3 playoffs.

is for classifications, of which there are now six, instead of four, for high school basketball-playing schools in Pennsylvania.

And just as the case was for high school football in the fall, the district playoffs will look a lot different this time around. Not necessarily better or worse - the jury is still out on that - just different.

is for - you guessed it - defense. Or DEFENSE, as the case may be in a few fired-up gyms this season when the home team needs a stop. It's not as fun as scoring, but it is absolutely essential to a team's success. Just ask your coach.

E is for execution, which is another key to success that coaches pound into their players' heads. And with good reason. All the talent in the world is rendered meaningless if you don't execute properly.

is for freshmen. Every year, it seems, a 9th-grader with skill and savvy beyond their years emerges to provide not only hope for future, but a shot in the arm to the present. Who will it be this year, if anyone? We'll just have to wait and see.

F is also for Falcons, the Cedar Crest Falcons. Both the boys and girls teams have either been winners or strong contenders for Section One and Lancaster-Lebanon League titles the past few seasons and should have something to say about who wears those crowns again this season.

is for guts, which it takes a lot of to compete at a high level in the world of high school hoops. Remember that when you're sitting in the stands criticizing and thinking you can do better.

is for Hill, as in Lebanon Catholic junior forward Alexis Hill. Yes, Lebanon Catholic. After spending her first two seasons flashing immense potential at Lebanon, Hill transferred to Lebanon Catholic for the 2016-17 season, making the already formidable reigning District 3 1A champs even more of a problem. Good luck to the rest of the field.

is for intangibles, those little, but important, things that don't show up in the boxscore but are absolutely essential to winning. Hustle, attitude, selflessness, intensity. Can't get it done without them.

J is for Jones, as in Ariel Jones, the lightning-quick senior point guard for the defending Section 1 champion Cedar Crest girls. The reigning Lebanon County Girls Basketball Player of the Year, Jones averaged 17.2 points per game last season and knocked down 30 3-pointers while leading the Falcons to the Section 1 title. Um, she's good. Heck of a soccer player and track and field athlete, too.

is for Ken, as in Northern Lebanon girls coach Ken Battistelli, whose intense but caring coaching style helped propel the Vikings to the most successful season in their history in 2015-16. That included their first Section 3 title in 30 years, a trip to the L-L title game and a memorable upset of Lancaster Catholic in the second round of the state playoffs.

Of course, as Battistelli himself would tell you, that hard-nosed starting five of Zoe Zerman, Megan Brandt, Amber Kintzer, Liz Voight and Cassiah Ray had quite a bit to do that with dream season, too. And they're all back. Wow.

is for Lebanon, both the city and the county, which loves its basketball as much any area in the state. There's a reason we put together this big preview section every year, and it's you, the Lebanon County basketball fan. So thank you for that.

is for Mason, as in Elco boys sharpshooter Mason Bossert, whose almost unlimited 3-point shooting range was a key part of the Raiders' memorable run to the state playoffs last season. A returning All-County pick, Bossert twice hit 8 3-pointers in a game last season, and we wouldn't be a bit surprised to see him do so again this winter. In short, if he gets hot, forget about it.

N is for new, as in new head coaches, of which there are two on the girls' side this season - Palmyra's Mary Manlove and Lebanon's Jaime Walborn. Manlove, the former Dallastown girls coach, takes over for the retired and highly successful Ron Berman with the Cougars. Former Annville-Cleona girls coach and ex-Lebanon Catholic standout Walborn returns to the coaching ranks after a brief hiatus to guide the Cedars after Ben Brewer stepped down following last season. Best of luck to both Manlove and Walborn in their new jobs.

O is for offense, which, let's face it, is what puts fans in the seats. You can't win without defense, but we all enjoy seeing the ball go through the hoop. No need to apologize, either. That's what makes the game fun.

P is for passing, in a related matter. Good offense involves a lot of passing and cutting, not an excessive amount of one-on-one play. So move the ball, don't hog it.

Q is for quit, something we hate to see anyone do, on or off the court, during basketball or any other season. So hang in there and don't quit. You'll probably regret it if you do.

is for rivalries, and they're great fun, aren't they? There are a lot of great rivalries in the county but, of course, none can compete with Lebanon-Cedar Crest.

Added bonus: You'll be treated to two Lebanon-Cedar Crest boys games this season since L-L realignment has put both teams in Section 1 this season. The first meeting is Jan. 13 at Cedar Crest, with the rematch set for Feb. 7 at Lebanon. Meanwhile, the Lebanon and Crest girls will battle just once - on Jan.9 at Cedar Crest.

S is for Shaq. No, not that Shaq; Lebanon senior forward Shaq Ortiz, who will be one of the keys for a Cedar boys team looking to make some noise in its first season in Section 1.

is for turnovers, which drive coaches, fans and reporters crazy. Especially the unforced kind. Take care of the ball!

is for unsung, as in unsung heroes. Sure, it's enjoyable to watch the star players do their thing, but it's also fun to see the role players, the kids who rarely find their name in the headlines, step up in a big game and lead the team to victory. Those are moments that remind us it takes contributions from everybody to have a winning team.

V is for volunteers, as in the volunteer assistants who help fill out many a coaching staff and provide invaluable support throughout a long season. Don't forget to thank the volunteers who help your team this season.

is for win. Yes, there is more to basketball, and life, than winning. But it sure is sweet to have the reward of a win for all that hard work.

is for X-rays, something we hope very few local players will have to experience this season. Chances are somebody will, though, so in that case we'll root hard for them to be negative.

is for Yikes, this is hard on the brain. Why does the alphabet have to be so long?

Z is for, you guessed it, Northern Lebanon's Zoe Zerman for the fourth year in a row. We can't thank the Zerman family enough for helping us fill out the letter 'Z' for another year. Good news, too, Zoe's younger sister, Zara Zerman, is a freshman for the Vikings this year, so we've got the end of the alphabet covered for another three years. Nice.

That's all, folks. Thanks for joining us for another A to Z preview of Lebanon County high school basketball. See you at the games.