Lancaster Catholic vs Lancaster Mennonite-LL Girls Semifinal

Lancaster Mennonite's Mariah Wilson (13) puts up a shot against Lancaster Catholic during first half action of a Lancaster-Lebanon League girls basketball tournament semifinal game at Conestoga Valley High School WednesdayFeb. 13, 2019.

Don’t look now, but another Lancaster-Lebanon League girls basketball season is right up around the bend, with opening-night nonleague games and tip-off tournaments set for Dec. 6, and league crossover matchups on tap for Dec. 13.

Practice — practice!? — starts today.

The last night of league play is Feb. 4, 2020, there is one three-game week budgeted into the league schedule, and teams were given the freedom to flex late-week games to Thursday or Friday. So make sure you keep your favorite team’s schedule handy before you head out to a gym near you to watch some hoops.

This will be the second season of the league’s five-section format, and the returns were mostly positive last winter, when Section 4 rivals Lancaster Catholic and Elco duked it out in the league finale.

Lancaster Catholic has owned the league — and District 3 — the last couple of years, but the Crusaders (who are an amazing 62-1 over the last two seasons) lost some key players off last season’s 30-1 squad; Kiki Jefferson, the league’s second all-time leading scorer and back-to-back state Class 4A Player of the Year, has taken her talents to James Madison University, and Lancaster Catholic also lost sniper Peyton Jaquis, who ripped 103 3-pointers last winter.

Ten L-L League first-team all-stars are due back — that’s a good chunk of talent right there — and that includes a pair of 1,000-point scorers: Donegal’s Kiera Baughman (1,256 points) and Northern Lebanon’s Zara Zerman (1,042 points).

Both of those players recently made their college commitments to PSAC outposts; Baughman is headed to Indiana (Pa.) University, while Zerman will join older sister — and Vikings’ 1,000-point scorer — Zoe Zerman at Kutztown University.

FYI: There is a third “Z” sister in the pipeline at Northern Lebanon, with Zeah Zerman working her way up the Vikings’ program ladder. Zara has a good shot at becoming the program’s all-time leading scorer this season; sister Zoe (1,419 points) and school leader Pam Ollar (1,480 points) are up ahead of her.

Ditto for Baughman, who is closing in fast on Donegal’s all-time leader, Nicky Hess, who had 1,425 points for the Indians.

So who will be the first player in the L-L League to hit 1,000 career points this season? Lancaster Country Day senior enforcer and returning first-team all-star Ashanti Duncan is sitting on 950 points for the Cougars, who also return double-digit scorers Annabelle Copeland and Kaela Stankiewicz, and fully expect to be in the Section 5 chase in their second season as full-time L-L League members.

Country Day’s all-time leading scorer is Sydney Fasula with 1,330 points, so Duncan could take a run at that mark this winter.

Stankiewicz, Country Day’s electric point guard, will be returning from a knee injury, which cost her the final 16 games last season. She’ll open her senior campaign with 672 career points. Copeland is also approaching a grand in the points column.

Other L-L League first-team all-stars set to return this winter are Manheim Township’s Katie Bushong (876 career points), Penn Manor’s Morgan Miller, McCaskey’s Malia Taylor, Ephrata’s Gabbie Gerola-Hill (640 points), Warwick’s Lauren Pyle, Pequea Valley’s Abbey Leslie and Lancaster Mennonite’s Mariah Wilson (760 points), who is poised to become the league’s next Division I recruit.

Cedar Crest, Elizabethtown, Solanco, Lancaster Catholic and Lancaster Mennonite will be out to defend their section championships, and when playoff time rolls around, locals Lancaster Catholic (4A), Linden Hall (2A) and Lancaster Country Day (1A) will angle for repeat District 3 championships.

Linden Hall, which competes in the Midstate Athletic Conference, will be sparked by Division I recruits Jumoke Adaramoye (University of San Francisco) and Favour Mbeledeogu (Manhattan).  

WAY TOO EARLY PREDICTIONS: A quick section-by-section forecast, firing from the hip …

Section 1 — Defending champ Cedar Crest and Manheim Township for sure, and keep an eye on Penn Manor to make some waves.

Section 2 — Wide open, after defending champ Elizabethtown lost some key pieces. Gut hunch is Ephrata and Warwick will be there.

Section 3 — Gotta believe defending champ Solanco will still be in the lead pack, along with Lampeter-Strasburg. Cocalico, too. Very intriguing section here.

Section 4 — Lancaster Catholic should still be quite formidable, even without Jefferson. Expect Elco to push yet again. That rivalry is definitely back, after the Crusaders and Raiders clashed four times last winter, including the L-L League championship tilt.

Section 5 — Perhaps the most difficult race to dissect, with defending champ Lancaster Mennonite, vet-laden Pequea Valley and district-champ Lancaster Country Day all right in there muscling for the top spot.

5 GAMES TO WATCH

Dec. 13: Elizabethtown at Cedar Crest — It’s the first night of crossover games for Section 1 vs. Section 2 and Section 3 vs. Section 4, and this clash is a showdown of defending section champs. The Bears won their first Section 2 crown since 2004, and the Falcons captured their third Section 1 title in the last five years. Someone is getting a 1-0 jump here.

Dec. 18: Pequea Valley at Lancaster Mennonite — The Braves and the Blazers duked it out for Section 5 supremacy last winter, with Mennonite earning the banner with a 10-0 league run. The winner here gets an early leg up in what should be another rugged section race.

Jan. 7: Solanco at Lampeter-Strasburg — The Golden Mules unseated the Pioneers atop the Section 3 chase last season. And while both teams lost some key cogs from those teams, Solanco and L-S both have big expectations in this race.

Jan. 7: Warwick at Ephrata — Section 2 should be there for the taking, and after making strides last season, the Warriors and the Mountaineers — a couple of backyard rivals — both fully expect to run with the lead pack all season. This first meeting should set the tone for the chase.

Jan. 16: Cedar Crest at Manheim Township — The Falcons and the Blue Streaks have been battling it out for top Section 1 honors for what feels like forever. This season will be no different, making their first meeting ultra important in the proceedings.

Jan. 17: Elco at Lancaster Catholic — These Section 4 rivals squared off for L-L League gold and in the District 3 Class 4A semifinals last season, and the Crusaders won both meetings, on the way to defending their league and district championships. No Jefferson this time around — it will be weird not seeing her in a Lancaster Catholic uniform — but this rivalry should be hotly contested once again.

NEW SKIPPERS: Two new head coaches in L-L League girls’ hoops circles this season, with Tyson Hayes stepping in at Manheim Central for Amanda Burns, and Bill Moore on board at Conestoga Valley, stepping in for Doug Helsel. … Hayes was a basketball and football standout at Annville-Cleona before playing college hoops at Lebanon Valley College; Moore is the former Solanco and Pequea Valley boys’ head coach.

COACHING VETS: The longest-tenured coaches in the L-L League are now Lebanon Catholic’s Patti Hower (42nd season), Northern Lebanon’s Ken Battistelli (13th season), Garden Spot’s Kevin Gensemer (13th season), McCaskey’s Brian McCloud (13th season) and Elco’s Ashli Shay (10th season).

COACHING MILESTONES: Manheim Township’s Sean Burkhart (9th season, 145-61) needs five victories for 150 in his career. … Cedar Crest’s Jim Donmoyer (9th season, 140-71) needs 10 victories for 150 in his career. … Gensemer (13th season, 94-164) needs six wins for 100 in his career. … Lancaster Catholic’s Charlie Detz (6th season, 137-16) needs 13 wins for 150 in his career. … Columbia’s Karl Kreiser (4th season in second stint as Crimson Tide’s coach, 195-111) needs five wins for 200 in his career. … Hower (42nd season, 747-382) needs three wins for 750 in her career, and she needs 18 wins to snap Lamar Kauffman’s L-L League record of 764 career coaching victories.

ADIOS: Four of the five section MVP picks from last season have graduated — Cedar Crest’s Raven Morgan in Section 1, Elizabethtown’s Marena Lonardi in Section 2, Solanco’s Jess Cabrera in Section 3 and Lancaster Catholic’s Jefferson in Section 4. The only returning MVP from last winter is Section 5 honoree Wilson at Lancaster Mennonite. ... Lonardi, Jefferson, Jaquis and Linden Hall's Hetta Saatman all earned all-state honors last season.

NEWS AND NOTES: Two teams will open the season looking to snap maddening losing skids; Octorara, set for its second season as a full-time L-L League member, went 0-22 last winter, and McCaskey also went 0-22 last season. The Red Tornado is currently on a 29-game slide; McCaskey’s last victory was 42-36 over Hempfield on Jan. 12, 2018. … Two much-anticipated debuts on tap for this season: Former Pequea Valley sniper Sommer Reeser, who transferred to Lancaster Catholic, but had to sit out all of last season per PIAA transfer rules, is set for her senior season with the Crusaders. Reeser had 816 points and 155 3-pointers in two seasons for PV. And here’s a name to remember: Ephrata freshman Jasmine Griffin should/could make an immediate impact for the Mountaineers, who are expecting to be players in the Section 2 race.

TWITTER: @JeffReinhart77