Linden Hall vs Lancaster Catholic-Girls Basketball

Linden Hall's Anastasiya Astapenka (23) puts up a shot as Lancaster Catholic’s Zaniah Banks (33) defends during second-half action of a non-league girls basketball game at Linden Hall School for Girls in Lititz on Monday Feb. 3, 2020.

Linden Hall’s basketball season didn’t end with a loss last March.

It didn’t end with a win, either.

The Lions were one of three local teams left in limbo when the coronavirus reared its ugly head, and the PIAA ultimately pulled the plug on the season before the state quarterfinal round.

“It’s still hard to think about it,” Linden Hall second-year skipper Ellen Bair said. “We had nine seniors, and that’s a lot of seniors who had to leave without finishing their high school experience. We had a lot of goals and some big dreams, so I think about those seniors a lot. I’m sad that ended up being their experience.”

The Lions were cruising when the virus struck; Linden Hall was coming off its second District 3 Class 2A championship in a row, and Bair’s bunch played a grueling regular-season independent schedule, setting them up for a state-playoff run.

First, there was a 23-point victory over D4 runner-up South Williamsport, followed up with a hard-fought 60-48 triumph over D2 runner-up Holy Cross. That W put Linden Hall in the third round of states for the first time, setting up a rematch against D11 champ Mahanoy Area in the PIAA quarterfinals, originally set for March 13 — but, sadly, that game was never played.

Linden Hall had topped Mahanoy earlier in the season, so the Lions were gassed for that matchup. Alas, it didn’t happen.

“We were going to the third round of states,” said Linden Hall senior standout Mercy Ademusayo, a Northwestern University recruit. “That was really big for us, and we were so ready for that third (PIAA) game. And then it got canceled. We had a game plan ready to go and everything. Then coach says hey, the season has been canceled. It’s over. The senior players were so sad; I could see it on their faces.”

The same scene played out at Lancaster Catholic and Northern Lebanon; the Section 4 rivals were set to square off in a Class 4A state quarterfinal on March 14, but that game never happened.

“Ending on a loss would have been tough,” Bair said, “but we were really prepared for that game, and we were excited about being in that next round. We were ready for (Mahanoy Area) and we were ready to really break out. It was tough because all the hard work we put in leading up to that game was … kind of for nothing in the end. So that’s disappointing. But I’m excited about this year’s team. That’s my focus.”

As mentioned, graduation wasn’t exactly kind to the Lions; floor general and team captain Naomi Brabham, Manhattan recruit Favor Mbeledeogu, San Francisco recruit Jumoke Adaramoye, instant-offense spark-plug Marta Celebic, and glue kid Anna Smale all departed.

Adaramoye and Ademusayo were all-state selections.

Nonetheless, Bair has a nice nucleus to build around, starting with Ademusayo in the middle. At 6-5, she’ll be a matchup nightmare for pretty much anyone and everyone out there. Jackrabbit guard Jenadia Jordan — who really came on like gangbusters during last season’s playoff push — wing scorer Anastasiya Astapenka and gritty guard Luna Kirby are all due back, and Bair is excited about newcomer Nadja Velisavljev, who is from Serbia.

“I didn’t think we’d still be in this situation (with the pandemic),” Bair said. “Our season ended when we really didn’t have many cases in our area. Now we’re out here trying to play in masks, with cases rising. So it’s tough. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting about all of this, but at this point, I’m only trying to control what I can control.”

“Our goal for the season,” Bair continued, “is to minimize as much risk as possible. We won’t have a JV team, and I’ve tried to keep our games closer (to Lititz). We had games scheduled in Philadelphia and in Maryland, but they won’t be played. We were hoping to go to New Jersey, too, but that’s not happening. We’re not traveling very far, and we didn’t scrimmage. Nobody wants to be in this situation. It’s tough, and it’s impossible to control all of these variables. We want to be successful — but we also have to be safe.”

Two more seasons of independent play for Linden Hall, which will then join the L-L League in 2022. The Lions have several L-L League teams on their schedule this winter, including Lampeter-Strasburg, Elco, Octorara, Lancaster Catholic and Lancaster Mennonite. The L-S game, originally scheduled as the season tip-off game Dec. 12, is now listed as postponed, after Gov. Wolf put high school extracurricular activities on hold until at least Jan. 4.

Ademusayo, for one, can’t wait to get back on the court.

“This could all end tomorrow,” she said. “So we’re trying to keep up the good vibes at practice. Hopefully we can play all the games we have coming up. I know we’re all ready to start playing basketball again.”

After the way last season ended for Linden Hall — not with a win or a loss but with a dreaded cancellation — it’s hard to blame them.

TWITTER: @JeffReinhart77

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