BY JEFF FALK
With all due respect to the Lebanon boys, the 2020-21 scholastic basketball season was not a good year for Lebanon County overall. Between COVID-19, shortened schedules and postponed contests, many of the local squads experienced difficult times getting started and maintaining any kind of consistent rhythm.
But like any season, with a new one comes hope.
Overall, that’s really what this new season is all about for local squads, restoring some sense of order and a bit of consistency. Preparation and practice began November 19 and the season tips off this weekend with a full slate of games around central Pennsylvania.
Amid the excitement, please don’t lose sight of the fact that this winter season will be the third straight affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The universal hope is that that effect
What follows are capsule previews of the 2021-22 season for Lebanon County’s 12 scholastic teams.
Head coach: Jason Coletti, 4th season
Last year’s record: 0-14, 0-8 in Section Five of the Lancaster-Lebanon League
Key players lost: Yadiel Cruz (10 ppg, 19 3-pointers), Nicholas Malloy (6.2 ppg)
Key players returning: Senior Isaac Good (7.4 ppg), senior Simon Domencic (4.4 ppg), senior Jacob Mills (2.6 ppg), junior Gavin Keller (1.2 ppg)
Promising newcomers: Sr. DaModric Green; Sr. Cash Anspach; Jr. Ricardo Cruz; Fr. Elisha Slabach; Fr. Jon Shay
Season opener: Friday, Dec. 10 at Brandywine Heights
Outlook: “We are looking to be more competitive this season,” said Coletti. “We were very inexperienced last season, so the experience they received from last season should pay off. We need our seniors to play big! We have some good younger players that the seniors will have to lead in the early going, until the younger players become comfortable. Our expectations are to compete in the district playoff, as they are every year. We also have a couple of players, who did not play last season that are on the team this year. We are really liking our intensity and effort right now. We are playing with a sense of togetherness. ”
Head coach: Tom Smith, 12th season
Last year’s record: 3-11 overall, 2-6 in Section One of the Lancaster-Lebanon League
Key players lost: Matt Smith, Max Scipioni, Chris Danz
Key players returning: Sr. guard Jay Aviles; Sr. forward Nolan Groff; Sr. guard Jake Wolfe
Promising newcomers: So. forward Aiden Schomp
Season opener: Friday, Dec. 10 at Exeter Township
Outlook: Last season, the Falcons struggled through a very uncharacteristic Cedar Crest season. The 2020-21 campaign marked the first time in nine years that the Falcons did not qualify for the District Three Class AAAAAA postseason. Still-proud Cedar Crest took its share of lumps and those experiences will undoubtedly make it better this year, yet a return to the postseason seems like a lofty goal. To be competitive, the Falcons must absolutely play better defense, and perform together. Smith has certainly built his reputation around getting the most out of his players’ combined potential.
Head coach: Brad Conners, 12th season
Last year’s record: 12-8 overall, 4-4 in Section Four of the Lancaster-Lebanon League
Key players lost: Braden Bohannon, Dakota Smith
Key players returning: Sr. forward, Corey Attivo; Sr. forward Luke Williams; Sr. guard Cole Thomas; Sr. forward Rheece Shuey
Promising newcomers: So. guard Dallas George
Season opener: Friday, Dec. 10 versus Red Land at Lebanon Tip-off Tournament
Outlook: The Raiders are as tall as they’ve ever been. But they will need guards like Thomas and George to step up, spread the floor and hit threes. Replacing Bohannon, one of the top performers in Elco boys’ basketball history, will be difficult, but not impossible. Attivo is talented and should get the touches to show what he can do around the bucket. Williams is the heart and soul, and the glue guy who makes Elco go. But the real key to Elco’s success may be identifying a formula that combines those talents in a harmonious way. The postseason is a realistic goal for the Raiders, despite the presence of perennial Section Four road block Lancaster Catholic.
Head coach: Tim Speraw, 12th season
Last year’s record: 17-4 overall, 7-1 and co-champions of Section Two of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, Lancaster-Lebanon League champions, District Three Class AAAAAA playoff qualifier
Key players lost: Isaiah Rodriguez, Braden Allwein, Alex Rufe, Luke Collins
Key players returning: Sr., guard Marquis Ferreira; Sr. forward Kevin Smith; Jr. guard Demetrius Matthew
Promising newcomers: Sr. forward Kameron Uffner
Season opener: Friday, Dec. 10 at home versus Spring Grove
Outlook: The Cedars really came together and played their best basketball at the end of last year, on the way to their ninth Lancaster-Lebanon League championship overall. But Collins’ off-season knee injury hurts and could prove to be the most impactful injury in the L-L League this season. Lebanon also must replace departed seniors Rodriguez and Allwein, and will look to offset those losses by committee. The Cedars will need Smith and Uffner to step up inside. Ferreira is one of the best players in Section Two and the entire Lancaster-Lebanon League, but beyond him, Lebanon has no real proven scorer. Keep an eye on Matthew, who could realize his untapped potential.
Head coach: Chris George, 7th season
Last year’s record: 11-11 overall, 3-5 in Section Four of the Lancaster-Lebanon League
Key players lost: Nate Shirk, Owen Treadway, Josh Clemmer, Rasheed Beldor, Jacob Martino, Ian Herman
Key players returning: Simon Grimes, Peyton Wolfe
Promising newcomers: Tyler Wolfe, James Voight, Riley Clinger, Kade Erdman, Luke Schaeffer , Mitchell Hetrick , Collin Wall
Season opener: Saturday, Dec. 11 at Pine Grove
Outlook: “The goal is to compete every night, play as a unit, share the ball, play the right way, and be a team that our school and community can be proud of on and off the court,” said George. “We have some huge shoes to fill, but some key pieces returning as well. We’re going to lean heavily on Simon and Peyton, both stars in other sports as well, but James & Ty Wolfe saw some varsity action last year and had good summers as well. The key could be those young and new players and how quickly they can contribute on a night in, night out basis. ”
Head coach: Pete Conrad, 13th season
Last year’s record: 10-9 overall, District Three Class AAAAA playoffs
Key players lost: Roman Byler, Anthony Alviani
Key players returning: Daniel Baldo, Gavin Bean, Eli Becker (led team in rebounding), Chris Edwards (led team in scoring at 14 ppg.), Trey Hilbert, Quinton Townsend (led team in steals and assists).
Promising newcomers: Alex Dorta, Hank Roesch
Season opener: Friday, Dec. 10 versus Penn Manor at Donegal Tip-Off Tournament
Outlook: “We have an experienced group, said Conrad, “so we hope to embrace the processes of working hard every day, being great teammates and striving to excel in our best roles.”
Head coach: Wee Sanchez, 1st season
Last year’s record: 5-5 in Section Five of the Lancaster-Lebanon League
Key players lost: Brittany Nye, Alyssa Ulrich
Key players returning: Jr. Josie Clay; Sr. Erin Schrader; Jr. Claire Hoover; Jr. Sarah Speraw; Jr. Sage Sherk
Season Opener: Friday, Dec. 10 at Hamburg
Outlook: Former head coach Lisa Shucker stepping away was a huge blow to the Annville-Cleona program. Shucker had the Little Dutchmen pointed in the right, competitive direction, especially last season, when Annville-Cleona started 3-1. Sanchez, who coached the Lebanon Catholic boys during the Beavers’ final three seasons of existence, will be charged with stepping in and trying to continue that momentum. The Little Dutchmen have enjoyed success in other girls’ sports in other scholastic seasons recently, and those experiences should serve them well during this winter campaign. Annville-Cleona possesses a solid nucleus from which to build, but must develop a second and third scorer to complement Clay.
Head coach: Will Wenninger, 2nd season
Last year’s record: 10-7 overall, 6-2 in Section One of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, District Three Class AAAAAA playoffs
Key players lost: Reese Glover, Emily Hocker, Sarah Laney, Maria Pastal, Megan Sholley
Key players returning: Sr. Sarah Batra; Jr. Kaya Camasta; Sr. Mallory Deiderick; Sr. Mackenzie Kerkeslager; Jr. Brooke Shutter
Promising newcomers: So. Megan Donley; Sr. Kayla Harchuska; So. Lizzie Lowe; So. Sierra Margut; So. Allie Metzger
Season opener: Saturday, Dec. 11 at home versus Harrisburg
Outlook: The Falcons sport a long history of contending for the Lancaster-Lebanon Section One title, and this year should be no different. In the past, Cedar Crest has used that section success as a springboard for bigger and better things on the league level and the District Three postseason. Last season was a bit of a learning curve for the Falcons under Wenninger, but expect more results during Year Two. Cedar Crest does have some holes created by graduation, but it should be athletic enough to compete in Section One. Batra is a known quantity inside, but beyond that the Falcons have some scoring questions to answer. Of course, defense is always the greatest equalizer.
Head coach: Ashli Shay, 12th season
Last year’s record: 13-8 overall, District Three Class AAAA playoffs
Key players lost: Amanda Smith, Kaitlyn Rueppel, Cassie Johnson, Ashley Yoh
Key players returning: Kailey Eckhart, Abigail Sargent
Promising newcomers: Julie Bidelspach, Sam Nelson, Emily Miller
Season opener: Saturday, Dec. 11 at home versus Boiling Springs
Outlook: In Myerstown, Shay and the Raiders have managed to piece together a nice little tradition of winning, despite operating under the long shadow cast by Lancaster-Lebanon Section Four foe Lancaster Catholic. Elco’s done it by taking athletic success from other sports and molding it to fit the basketball floor. This go-round will certainly be no exception. The Raiders have the look of a league playoff and District Three postseason contender. But Elco does have some roles to fill. Eckhart can be counted on night-in and night-out for both points and rebounds. What ultimately may determine the Raiders’ plight is the development of the cast around her.
Head coach: Jaime Walborn, 6th season
Last year’s record: 2-17 overall, 1-7 in Section Two of the Lancaster-Lebanon League
Key players lost: Giahny Correa, Sophia Blouch, Zaelys De’Arce
Key players returning: Sr. Maddy Bishop; Jr. Aaliyah Ferrer; Jr. Rose Gonzalez; Jr. Makenna Robb; Jr. Liyanna Saadini; Sr. Olivia Uffner; Sr. Dorthie Zechman
Promising newcomers: Fr. Kailah Correa
Season opener: Friday, Dec. 10 versus William Allen at Fleetwood Tip-Off Tournament
Outlook: The Cedars have struggled to be competitive on the hardwood over the past few seasons, especially last year ahead of raised expectations. Some of those struggles have been associated with off-court issues like participation. This year, Lebanon wants to be more competitive on a consistent basis. If the Cedars can do that, the victories will follow. Bishop can handle and runs the show. Zechman can score in the paint. Fr. Correa is being billed as the second coming of Brittany Ulrich.
Head coach: Ken Battistelli, 13th season
Last year’s record: 9-8 overall
Key players lost: Emily Hauck, Rachel Papson
Key players returning: Sr. Ashlyn Messinger; Sr. Crystal Bomgardner
Promising newcomers: So. Brooke Beamesderfer
Season opener: Friday, Dec. 10 versus Palmyra
Outlook: For the first time in eight seasons, the Vikings did not qualify for the District Three Class AAAA playoff tournament last year, despite winning their last three games. So, in many ways, this year’s Northern Lebanon squad is seeking a return to tradition. But if the Vikings are going to pull it off, they’ll need to mesh early, without head coach Ken Battistelli, who will miss the first part of the season due to surgery. But don’t worry, because Battistelli has an experienced group of assistants to hold down the fort. Sr. Messinger is one of the top players in Lebanon County and a great foundation upon which to build success. Yet the fate of the Vikings may rest on their ability to return to their trademark in-your-face, man-to-man defensive style of play.
Head coach: John Polly, 2nd season
Last year’s record: 8-8, District Three Class AAAAA playoffs
Key players lost: Katelyn Becker, Alyssa Marrero, Genieva Martin
Key players returning: Sr. Zoe Smith; Sr. Mallory Margut; Jr. Madison Henry
Season opener: Friday, Dec. 10 at Northern Lebanon
Outlook: Last year, the Cougars enjoyed a very good, but not great season. In his first year at the helm, Polly showed himself to be both a student of the game and a coach who can get the most out of his players. A return to the District Three Class AAAAA tournament is not an unreasonable expectation, despite some significant losses, including the scoring of Becker. Smith is a four-year starter in the final season of a marvelous career. But if Polly and Palmyra are going to send her out on a high note, they will need to develop the athletic supporting cast surrounding her.