Previewing L-L League Section 4 girls basketball for the 2019-20 season; teams are listed alphabetically …
PIAA CLASSIFICATION: Class 5A.
COACH: Tom Baughman (3rd season; 23-23 overall).
LAST SEASON: 4-9 in Section 4, 10-12 overall.
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Morgan Creek (2.6 points per game), Alex Daly (3.8, 3 3-pointers), Cheyenne Livelsberger (11.9, Section 4 2nd-team all-star), Summer Steffy (11.0, 23 3’s, Section 4 2nd-team all-star).
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Kiera Baughman (21.3, 24 3’s, Section 4 1st-team all-star, IUP recruit, 1,256 career points), Lydia DeBruin (0.7), Maddie Gohn (3.9).
OUTLOOK: We have to start with the return of Baughman, who committed to IUP in the PSAC this offseason. She’s fantastic, and can handle, distribute, shoot, run the floor and score off the bounce with anyone in L-L League circles. She’s a treat, and is quickly approaching Donegal’s all-time program scoring mark. But there could be some growing pains in Mount Joy, especially with the losses of Livelsberger, a terrific enforcer and glass-crasher, and Steffy, a reliable spot-up shooter. They were both all-star performers last season, and will be missed. Gohn has some starting experience in the backcourt, and will flank Baughman. DeBruin chipped in off the pine last season, and is ticketed for more varsity minutes this time around. Pretty much everyone else is a newbie.
CRYSTAL BALL: Any time you can start with a 1,000-point scorer and college commit running the show, that’s certainly a good thing. And Baughman is worth the price of admission; she’s a whirling-dervish and an absolute scoring machine. How the Indians fill in around her is the big question here; there will be a lot of fresh faces in some mucho important places, especially the key, where Livelsberger did a ton of damage last season. Keep your fingers crossed, Donegal fans. But don’t miss Baughman. She’s sensational.
QUOTABLE: Tom Baughman — “I’m looking forward to seeing this team come together. We’re young, but there is already good chemistry within this group.”
PIAA CLASSIFICATION: Class 4A.
COACH: Ashli Shay (10th season; 109-104 overall).
LAST SEASON: 11-3 in Section 4, 22-8 overall (lost to Lancaster Catholic 66-42 in L-L League championship; lost to eventual champ Lancaster Catholic 45-24 in D3-4A semifinals; lost to Kennard-Dale 58-44 in D3-4A 3rd-place game; lost to Danville 51-41 in second round of PIAA-4A state playoffs).
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Kayla Gerber (2.3, 9 3’s), Julia Nelson (8.8, 24 3’s, Section 4 2nd-team all-star), Jordan Rosengrant (5.3, 15 3’s, Section 4 honorable mention all-star), Ryelle Shuey (10.8, Section 4 1st-team all-star), Maddie Weit (2.0).
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Kailey Eckhart (4.6), Cassie Johnson (1.0, 4 3’s), Katelyn Rueppel (3.0, 8 3’s), Amanda Smith (10.6, Section 4 2nd-team all-star).
OUTLOOK: Good news/bad news scenario in Myerstown, where the Raiders are looking to follow up on last season’s sensational 22-win journey, which took them to the L-L League title game, the D3-4A semifinals, and to the second round of the PIAA playoffs. First, the bad news: A trio of all-star players graduated. Hey, it happens. But Elco will surely miss Shuey and her 873 career points and rugged board-work; Nelson and her open-court, slasher capabilities; and Rosengrant, a defensive specialist and shooter. “We lost a great deal of leadership from last season, so right now we’re looking for some players to step into leadership roles,” Shay said. “Defense and rebounding will be the key to success for this team.” And this: Johnson suffered a major knee injury and she’s slated to miss the entire season. That’ll hurt. Now, the good news: Shay has a terrific nucleus to build around, including Rueppel, the cat-quick floor general; Smith, who firmly established herself as a legit wing and baseline scorer last winter; and Eckhart, last year’s sixth-man, who was instant offense off the bench. She should definitely see more minutes this time around, as the Raiders should once again duke it out with Lancaster Catholic for section — and perhaps D3-4A — honors in the coming months.
CRYSTAL BALL: Losing Johnson from the rotation will sting, but the Raiders have some players here, including Smith, who can really score the ball, and Eckhart, who is ticketed for a bright future. If Rueppel can direct traffic and be a pest in the open court defensively, Elco will be a major headache. And after raising the program’s bar last winter — that win over District 2 champ Scranton Prep in the first round of states got a lot of people’s attention — you get the feeling the Raiders are poised to keep that trend going.
QUOTABLE: Shay — “I love this group of girls. They’re fantastic kids. I’m very excited to see them work to improve throughout the season, as both individuals and as a team. We have a lot of talented athletes, and if we put forth the time and effort, we’ll make tremendous progress.”
LANCASTER CATHOLIC CRUSADERS
PIAA CLASSIFICATION: Class 4A.
COACH: Charlie Detz (6th season; 137-16 overall).
LAST SEASON: 13-0 in Section 4 (champions), 30-1 overall (beat Elco 66-42 in L-L League championship; beat Bishop McDevitt 54-39 in D3-4A championship; lost to Mifflinburg 72-70 in OT in PIAA-4A state quarterfinals).
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Ayanna Cannon (4.1, 2 3’s, Section 4 honorable mention all-star), Kiki Jefferson (20.5, 28 3’s, Section 4 MVP, Section 4 1st-team all-star, PA Class 4A Player of the Year), Peyton Jaquis (11.1, 103 3-pointers, Section 4 1st-team all-star), Kenzi Misel (4.5, Section 4 honorable mention all-star), Marlie Turner (2.1, 16 3’s).
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Zaniah Banks (3.2), Katie Haefner (3.7, 6 3’s), Bryanna Hicks (2.2, 4 3’s), Marlia Matters (3.1, Section 4 honorable mention all-star), Cassie Peris (7.5, Section 4 2nd-team all-star), Sophia Wentz (1.8), Naomi Zulueta (3.0), Liz Zwally (3.1).
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: Sommer Reeser.
OUTLOOK: We should probably start with Kiki Jefferson, right? She wrapped up her jaw-dropping prep career last season with 2,510 points, second-most in L-L League history. And she earned PA Player of the Year honors for the second year in a row, after helping the Crusaders go 62-1 in their last 63 games. Jefferson is now contributing right away as a freshman at James Madison University, and it will be weird not seeing her on the court in our little neck of the woods this season. Catholic was cruising right along at 30-0 last March, riding a state-record 62-game winning streak. And then, poof. Mifflinburg stunned the Crusaders 72-70 in OT in the state quarterfinals, and that was that. And then Jefferson, sniper Jaquis, defensive stopper Cannon, board-crasher Misel and bench spark-plug Turner all graduated. But the cupboard is hardly bare at Catholic; Detz is set to return a team flush with postseason experience, and fresh off back-to-back league and D3 championships. Key holdovers include point guard and defensive ringleader Matters; wing and baseline threat Peris; post matchup nightmare Banks; Haefner, a shooter and transition scorer; Wentz, who knows her way around the painted area; Zulueta, a real jumping-jack who supplied instant energy off the bench in her breakout ninth-grade season last winter; Hicks, yet another energy kick off the bench; and Zwally, who returns after missing the final 17 games last season with a knee injury. Oh yeah, did we mention that Reeser — who had to sit out last year per PIAA transfer regulations — is set to make her Crusaders’ debut, after scoring 816 points and draining 155 3-pointers in her first two seasons at Pequea Valley? Yeah, Catholic, with its full-court, unrelenting pressure cranked up, will be just fine, as it begins life after Jefferson.
CRYSTAL BALL: Section 4 favorite? Check. L-L League favorite? Check. District 3 Class 4A favorite? Check. Still tons to like here, despite those graduation hits. Catholic has a ton of experience, and the rotation got a lot more flexible with Reeser on board and Zwally coming back. Can Detz’s crew continue this unreal run and play deep into March yet again? Survey says ... yes. It just might look a little different at the outset, and as new go-to scorers emerge.
QUOTABLE: Detz — “Even with the loss of five key players from last year’s team, we’re returning a lot of players with varsity experience. And most of the returning players have been in the program for 3-4 years, and understand the level of effort and commitment it takes to be successful. There is an excitement in the air as the returning players look to continue the success of the past year, and leave their own mark on the program.”
NORTHERN LEBANON VIKINGS
PIAA CLASSIFICATION: Class 4A.
COACH: Ken Battistelli (13th season).
LAST SEASON: 7-6 in Section 4, 13-10 overall (lost to Bermudian Springs 58-52 in first round of D3-4A playoffs).
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Emma Kelliher (2.7), RaeAnn Lessing (3.6).
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Emily Hauck (1.6), Tabatha Hubbard (5.3, 21 3’s), Lindsay McFeaters (3.6), Ashlyn Messinger (6.7, 10 3’s, Section 4 honorable mention all-star), Rachel Papson (0.8), Zara Zerman (18.5, 34 3’s, Section 4 1st-team all-star, Kutztown recruit, 1,042 career points).
OUTLOOK: The more things change, the more they stay the same in Fredericksburg. Classes come and go, but Battistelli always has his troops ready for battle. This season’s battalion is led by Zerman, who already has a scholarship to Kutztown tucked neatly away in her back pocket. She’s the real deal; Zerman has been directing traffic, running the floor, making pull-up treys and being a major defensive pest since she was the Vikings’ sixth-man back in her freshman season, when NL won Section 3 and D3-4A championships. Do not miss Zerman this winter; she’s a joy. And she’ll have plenty of help, with holdover vets like Hauck, Hubbard, McFeaters, Messinger and Papson all back in the mix. Messinger is definitely one to watch; she became a reliable No. 2 scorer behind Zerman last season, and we’re expecting her numbers to go up this time around. Lancaster Catholic and Elco ran away and hid in the Section 4 race last winter. If the Vikings defend and win the backcourt battles, and can hold their own on the glass, they’ll be with the lead pack come early February.
CRYSTAL BALL: Not a ton of height here, as the Vikings are very guard-oriented. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but when the taller teams and tougher post matchups come around, NL might struggle there a tad. That puts even more pressure on all of those guards to defend like crazy, run the floor, score in transition, and make buckets. The Vikings will have one of the best in the business in Zerman to lead that charge. If everyone else does their part, NL should definitely be a playoff team.
QUOTABLE: Battistelli — “We’re fast and we should have good guard play. We’re pretty small, so we’re going to have to deal with bigger teams. I think we’re going to play good defense this year, and if we do, we should have some fun.”
PIAA CLASSIFICATION: Class 4A.
COACH: Scott Forman (4th season).
LAST SEASON: 0-13 in Section 4, 0-22 overall.
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Emily Dyer (4.1), Michaela Hampton (1.4).
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Jamera Brown (4.3), Rachel Gillenwater (1.4), Haley Justice (7.6), Jasyah James-Paskings (2.7, 6 3’s), Andrea Middleton (3.7, 9 3’s).
OUTLOOK: That’s one full season of L-L League basketball in the books for the Braves, and Octorara got its feet wet playing in a tough-as-nails section. The end result was zero victories, but Forman’s crew got acclimated to all the new bus rides and scouting reports and player matchups. Now the Braves can exhale and start making some steps in the right direction, meaning more competitive games and player rotations. Forman is hoping his returning nucleus has learned from last year’s league debut; Brown, Gillenwater, Justice, James-Paskings and Middleton know the ropes, although Brown and Justice missed big chunks of last season. James-Paskings and Middleton can score the ball, and if Brown and Justice can remain healthy and stay on the floor, those are two key options in Octorara’s attack. Baby steps, Atglen. The Braves are still kinda figuring this whole thing out. But there are some nice pieces here to start taking steps in the right direction.
CRYSTAL BALL: Having 22 L-L League games under their belts should help out in the confidence department for the Braves, who are itching for a victory. With some scoring punch back in the fold, we’re thinking Octorara will snap that skid in the coming weeks — while keeping everyone in Section 4 honest. Still a long way to go for this program to catch-up, but again, baby steps aren’t always a bad thing. Be patient.
QUOTABLE: Forman — “We just want to be able to compete, and I’m hoping my three starting guards can step up and keep us in games. We have a lot of sophomores that will get a lot of playing time.”