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Boys Basketball: Strong Culture of Growth Helps Vikings Weather Storm


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Historically speaking, you wouldn’t describe Northern Lebanon as a boys’ basketball powerhouse. The early days of MTV may have been the last time one could make a case that they were with a streak of three LL Section 3 Championships in 1987, 1989, and 1990. Yes, it’s true that this year, they are again not going to be making an appearance in the District 3 Playoffs. However, with the current crop of talent brewing, the next decade could tell a different story for these Vikings. Throw in some exciting young talent on top of a strong culture and foundation built by Coach George and his staff for the past nine years, and you have the makings of something big. Could there even be another Sam Light on the horizon as well?

Let’s start with these nuggets. At the high school level, the JV team that went 19-3 this season. In junior high, all three teams had successful seasons. At the youth level, both the 5th and 6th grade teams made the playoffs, with the 6th graders finishing as runners-up. All of this provides optimism for a varsity program that won one game last season and then six games this year.

Add to the equation the fact that the varsity squad will return its top three leading scorers next season: Riley Messinger, Brady Krall, and Andrew Via. Messinger will be a senior, while Krall and Via will be juniors. They are part of a core group that, with six others who saw significant varsity minutes, will return next year. Could this result in a breakout campaign that could rival the resurgence of a program like Penn Manor?


Riley Messinger

Brady Krall

Andrew Via


In speaking to Coach George, he sees schools like Penn Manor as a great example of where his program can get to in short order. “Larry (Bellew) is a great coach. I saw what he did and how he did things through the ups and downs. Coaching is easier when you’re loaded with top talent. But can you build a strong core discipline even in down years? Larry obviously did that, and the program is being rewarded.”

George is proud of his work helping in the resurgence of their youth programs. Along with Coach Battistelli (NL Girls), they run summer camps and tournaments and have had a large voice in youth, running and picking their travel teams over the past ten years. The focus of the varsity coaches has been to improve the depth of each class. As George remarked,” The best programs in our league right now are deep, like Crest and Warwick. It isn’t one or two guys every couple of years.”

Northern Lebanon has had its share of success under Coach George, who just completed his ninth season. The high-water mark was the 2015-2016 season, when the Vikings made Leagues, won two District games, and finished just one game shy of States. The seventeen wins were the most the program had achieved since 1992.

George was awarded Coach of the Year honors for leading the team that featured Section MVP Caleb Light (who went on to star at Messiah University), Alex Yeager, Michigan Daub, Cam Gensler, and Henry Hubbard said,” We had a great group of kids. We struggled as juniors, but those battles helped to pave the way for all of our senior success. That team was a total family. We knew each other so well and played off each other’s talents. We couldn’t have been prouder to be Vikings, and the hard work with our coaches paid off.” One of those coaches still around is Brad Kreiser, currently the JV coach, who will soon be entering his first year as the head coach of ELCO’s baseball team.

After losing nine seniors off that team, they quickly rebuilt under freshmen guards Peyton Wolfe and Simon Grimes. George noted that others, like Nate Shirk and Owen Treadway, were big contributors and leaders on the team that finished 11-11 during the 2020 Covid season. A modified schedule, where they played Lancaster Lebanon League Champ Lebanon, along with missing players, most likely cost them a district berth that season.

Peyton Wolfe

After losing Wolfe and Grimes two years ago, the rebuild has happened once again, but this time with the current crop of freshmen and sophomores, as well as juniors Brian Bicksler, Donovan Brandt, and others. After a rough 2022-2023 season, the group exhibited maturity during this most recent bounce-back season in which they showed tremendous growth, all while competing in a deep and deadly Section 3 of the Lancaster Lebanon League. Next year, they’ll move to Section 4, which should improve their chances, and a Section title might even be in sight.

Bicksler shoots a 3-ball

Coach George at work

Overall, Coach George is very optimistic. “The kids have really bought in. It’s been quite the journey these two years. I knew taking this job wasn’t going to be easy every year. I’ve had personal success, District titles at Pine Grove, coaching awards, etc. I wanted a challenge. Nothing tests your culture like losing games. Thankfully, everything we’ve built these past years has helped to guide us through tough times. Northern Lebanon has had great players, but we’ve had lulls here. Honestly, every coach before us has had down seasons. Heck, the legend Rick Freiler, a fantastic coach and the last to win a Section title struggled to get to three wins in some years. You can go through droughts, but how do you respond? Can you bounce back? That’s the key. I’m proud that we had that one tough year, and we’re now building back fast.”

One major key has been a couple of seniors in the past two seasons, like James Voight and Luke Shaffer. A couple of kids that might not call themselves basketball guys but starred in football. As George notes, “Without their leadership and example, times like this can be tough. You need dudes who are just great, selfless people to show the way. Basketball is the hardest sport to keep kids and parents happy. One ball, five spots, and only so many shots and all-star spots. It’s the nature of the game.”


James Voight

Luke Shaffer


One key area for George is focusing on growth on and off the court. “Regardless of winning, can you help these young men become better people? That’s the key. The wins will follow. And make no mistake, we’re not going to be perfect. Coaches, players. We’re all accountable. We win and lose together, as we say that all the time. As coaches, it’s not easy to find the right rotations, offenses, and defenses that fit your players every night. All the while trying to stay true to your core philosophies as a coach, such as defense and sharing the ball. If you told me I’d coach a one-win team, I would’ve said you’re crazy. But we were there, and I think it makes you a better coach. It affirms why you truly do this and makes you focus on what’s important.”


Coach George also noted, “You don’t go through times like this without some internal team struggles and your foundation being tested. Can you be resilient through negativity? Our players bought in and have truly grown. The mark of a great culture is having high standards and accountability. It’s not an indictment of your program that not everyone can meet that standard. It’s actually the way it should be. Stay coachable, be a great teammate, put we over me. I’m so proud of all the guys that did. They played their tails off every night. To end our season, we were right there at the half with a couple of 5A powerhouses, Cocalico and Lampeter. We just couldn’t finish the mission. Next year, we’re going to. I see kids in the weight room working already. We keep saying, we’ve been through this before, and we’ll be on top again. It’s not a perfect trajectory. The key is that little bumpy line just needs to keep trending up, both with attitudes and outcomes. It’s a shame we had to stop; a lot of kids texted us that they had a blast, and things were really starting to click by the end of the season.”

George is also proud of his staff, which includes several former college players and head coaches. Current assistant and former Bishop McDevitt Head Coach Mark Risser stated, “It’s been a lot of fun this year working for Coach. It’s been over a decade since I was at a public school, so there’s a lot Chris is helping me with. The JV & Varsity players are terrific. They’re all great kids from passionate, hard-working families. I come from a great basketball pedigree, learning under some of the best coaches in the state – Gaffey, Sherwood, Satelle, McCloskey, Mike Miller, etc. I can tell you that Coach George is doing everything the aforementioned did. We’re prepared and ready every night. Every public school goes through years where you have to hit reset. Progressing a program isn’t like getting on an elevator and you hit level 20 and skip floors 2-19. Ephrata went through a similar situation. 0 wins, 2, 6, and now they are getting 14+ wins under another great coach, Scott Gaffey. I’m ready for the offseason. We’ve got big plans, and I’m excited to bring my energy to that.”

Assistant Coach Mark Risser

George also spoke about how important the offseason is for his guys. They will need to get bigger, faster, and stronger while still working on their games. He’s currently working with other coaches in the school to help in that aspect, such as Jason Rice (NL Football) & Travis Thome (NL Baseball). He’s also excited to see his players perform on other fields.

As the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter, he’s hoping his Vikings will be up for the challenge!



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