Lancaster Country Day vs NE Bradford-PIAA 2A Girls First Rd.

Lancaster Country Day's Genesis Meadows (10) takes off with the ball after a steal against Northeast Bradford during first-half action of a PIAA Class 1A girls basketball first-round state-playoff game at Warwick High School in Lititz on Saturday March 7, 2020.

There will be one addition and, sadly, one glaring subtraction in L-L League Section 5 girls basketball action this winter.

First, the subtraction: When Lebanon Catholic closed its doors forever last spring, that meant no more Beavers’ athletic programs. It goes without saying that L-L League, District 3 and PIAA girls basketball will look completely different without Lebanon Catholic, and the Beavers will be sorely missed.

The addition is Octorara, which asked the league if it could pretty-please slide down from Section 4 for a season while the Braves continue to get some firmer footing in their third season in the L-L. The league obliged, and Octorara will slip into Lebanon Catholic’s spot this winter.

Section 5 had a stellar 2019-20 season: Lancaster Country Day won the section title, on the way to a repeat crown in the D3-1A tournament and a PIAA playoff victory, and Pequea Valley reached the league finals, finished third in the D3-3A bracket, and went to the PIAA playoffs for the first time in program history. Lancaster Mennonite also went to districts, and boasted the league’s leading scorer.

Here’s how Section 5 will look this time around

ANNVILLE-CLEONA DUTCHMEN

PIAA CLASSIFICATION: 3A

COACH: Lisa Shucker (3rd season, 11-33).

LAST SEASON: 0-10 Section 5, 3-19 overall.

KEY PLAYERS LOST: Emily Brightbill (7.2 points per game, 3 3-pointers last season), Makenzie Drane (6.4).

KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Josie Clay (4.2, 2 3’s), Brittany Nye (7.2,), Erin Schrader (2.3, 5 3’s), Alyssa Ulrich (8.0).

OUTLOOK: Throw out last season’s 0-10 league run; Section 5 was absolutely loaded for bear last winter: Columbia just missed a playoff bid; Lancaster Country Day went to the league semifinals, won the D3-1A title for the second year in a row and won a state-playoff game; Lancaster Mennonite went to districts; Lebanon Catholic went to the D3-1A third-place game and to the PIAA playoffs; and Pequea Valley went to the league finals, finished third in the district, and went to the state playoffs for the first time in school history. So there were no easy nights for A-C. The good news: There’s a nice nucleus here, with vets Clay, Nye, Schrader and Ulrich all due back for Shucker, who has her fingerprints all over the program now. Schrader runs the point and makes the Dutchmen tick defensively, and Clay, Nye and Ulrich can all score the ball; Ulrich really came on in the post last season. And Shucker said Nye spent the summer outside launching 100-plus jumpers a day to keep sharp. The not-so-good news: Section 5 should be strong once again, so A-C — which won’t play its first game until Jan. 12 — needs to hit the court running.

CRYSTAL BALL: Have to believe A-C will be better and start trending upward, so we’re expecting more crooked numbers in the section and overall W column. The Dutchmen should turn teams over with their press and trap schemes, and if Ulrich can become a real force in the paint, look out. We’re also hearing that there is a lot of young-pup talent in the pipeline at A-C, so keep an eyeball on the Dutchmen moving forward, won’t you.

QUOTABLE: “I think that any team can win on any given night, with all the insanity that COVID brings to the table. One night a team might be missing multiple starters or even one key piece of their team. We want to stay healthy and make a real push for the playoffs this year. The reality is that we probably have to win out the section for that to happen, so we’re going to prepare like every game is our last chance to make it to the playoffs.” — Lisa Shucker

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COLUMBIA CRIMSON TIDE

PIAA CLASSIFICATION: 2A

COACH: Karl Kreiser (5th season in 2nd stint as Tide’s skipper, 201-127 overall).

LAST SEASON: 3-7 Section 5, 6-16 overall.

KEY PLAYERS LOST: Audreanna Frazier (10.9), Lesasia Hardy (6.5), Melina Mowrer (1.0).

KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Morgan Bigler (7.4), MacKenzie Burke (10.7, 33 3’s), Jada Dyson (3.3), Daizha Tucker (3.2, 7 3’s).

OUTLOOK: First, the good news: The Tide returns a solid nucleus, including Burke running the point and making jumpers; Bigler on the boards and scoring in the lane; and consistent scorers Dyson and Tucker are all due back. That’s a really good start. Now the great news: Say hello to ninth-grade twin sisters Brie and Brooke Droege, who should make an immediate impact in Columbia’s program. You might have heard of their mom: L-L League all-time leading scorer and Tide legend Marjie Rhoads. Her No. 33 jersey is hanging from the rafters in Columbia’s gym, and we’ve heard nothing but great things about her daughters coming up through the Tide’s system. We’re anxious to see their debut. Not sure if there’s any bad news here? Columbia, which drops down from Class 3A to 2A this winter, might struggle with numbers, which will impact depth. And there’s not a ton of size on Kreiser’s roster, so the Tide will be a guard-oriented kind of a team that will try and beat you in transition with its quicks. The weapons appear to be here to do just that.

CRYSTAL BALL: One coach in the preseason put the section-favorite tag on Columbia. Not sure if we’re ready to go there just yet, but it’s safe to say the Tide won’t be an easy out, especially if Bigler continues to mature at the rim and if Burke is making 3’s and directing traffic. And if the Droege twins do indeed make an immediate impact, look out. We think the Tide is poised to rise in the section standings this time around — and for years to come. That’s certainly music to Kreiser’s ears.  

QUOTABLE: “Our team needs to rebound and play better defensively if we’re to have a successful season. Our strength will be our quickness, but we don’t have much height. We hope to counter the lack of height with quickness, and we do have some players that can score. Lack of numbers does hurt us.” — Karl Kreiser

LANCASTER COUNTRY DAY COUGARS

PIAA CLASSIFICATION: 2A

COACH: Hilary Waltman (11th season in 2nd stint as Cougars’ coach).

LAST SEASON: 9-1 Section 5 (champs), 23-4 overall (Lost to eventual champ Lancaster Catholic in L-L League semifinals; beat Greenwood in D3-1A championship game; lost to Susquehanna Community in second round of PIAA-1A state playoffs).

KEY PLAYERS LOST: Annabelle Copeland (12.7, 17 3’s; 1,091 career points), Ashanti Duncan (15.3; program-record 1,364 career points), Julia Mocny (2.0), Anna Sotirescu (3.9), Kaela Stankiewicz (10.3, 26 3’s; 936 career points).

KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Madison Feddock (0.3), Genesis Meadows (9.9, 32 3’s), Alison Ngau (0.5, 2 3’s), Kiana Wakefield (2.7, 7 3’s).

OUTLOOK: That key-players-lost line is a stinger for Cougars’ fans. Duncan was an absolute terror at the glass and a matchup nightmare in the lane; Copeland was a silky smooth wing player who could score at the rim and shoot the 3-ball; and Stankiewicz was the consummate floor general and catalyst, keeping everyone on the same page. That trio combined for 3,391 career points for the back-to-back reigning D3-1A champs. OK, some good news: Meadows is back for her much-anticipated sophomore season after a breakout ninth-grade campaign last winter. She can run the point, score in transition, penetrate and dish and make jumpers. Meadows will be one of the top backcourt performers to watch around the league this winter. She’s really good. Wakefield is also set to return; she earned key minutes in crunch time last season, and the lefty shooter must be marked at the arc. Plus, Country Day, which bumps up from Class 1A to 2A this season, should benefit from the addition of wing player Piper Graham (1.8) from Solanco. After that, there will be a lot of new faces in important places in the Cougars’ rotation.

CRYSTAL BALL: Country Day has been on a heck of a joy ride here lately, with back-to-back district titles and last season’s Section 5 crown, plus a PIAA win last March. Can the Cougars do it again? It won’t be easy. Waltman definitely has some tweaking to do after losing so much firepower to graduation. We’re expecting a tough Section 5 grind, so Country Day’s young-pup brigade should get plenty of on-the-fly experience. It will look different, that’s for sure. But it’s not like the Cougars are going to fall completely off the map; there is a ton of pride in this program, which has now set the bar very high. This crew has to look up at those banners dangling in the gym on a daily basis. That’ll do wonders for your motivation.

QUOTABLE: “We have some promising youth that will need to play significant minutes this season. One thing I like about this year’s team is their quest to create their own identity. We have no superstars, and they’re all buying in.” — Hilary Waltman

LANCASTER MENNONITE BLAZERS

PIAA CLASSIFICATION: 3A

COACH: Trevor Orr (3rd season, 34-17).

LAST SEASON: 7-3 Section 5, 13-10 overall (Lost to Susquenita in D3-3A quarterfinals).

KEY PLAYERS LOST: Chantel Cannon (2.6; transferred to Lancaster Catholic), Kaeleigh King (2.7, 4 3’s), Arianna Newlin (7.0, 44 3’s), Yazmeen Norris (2.4; transferred to Conestoga Valley).

KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Tiana Delgado (3.0, 8 3’s), Sophia Delinger (0.7), Rebecca Lane (4.6), Jayla Rivera (5.6, 20 3’s), Mariah Wilson (26.0, 36 3’s; Towson University recruit has 1,358 career points).

OUTLOOK: There are some nice pieces in Blazer Country, first and foremost Ms. Wilson, who is back for her fourth season in Mennonite’s rotation. She led the league in scoring last winter, and Wilson is an absolute point-machine; the crafty lefty can beat you in transition, she can dribble-drive and score off the bounce, and knock down step-back jumpers in your face. Wilson is a D1 talent, and she’s poised for a big senior season. Don’t miss her in your travels this winter. Wilson will benefit from Delgado returning to run the point; she’s a pesky backcourt player who can defend like mad and get the Blazers where they need to be. Two more key cogs: Rivera had a breakout ninth-grade season with 20 3’s, and she’ll draw plenty of defensive attention at the arc. And Lane returns to crash the glass and defend in the paint. Orr is also excited about newbies Sheyenne King, Lily Lehman and Kailee Soto. And this: Orr's roster is just nine-deep, total; the Blazers will not play a JV schedule this winter.

CRYSTAL BALL: As mentioned, Section 5 should have plenty of twists and turns in the coming months. There is no clear-cut favorite going in, but Mennonite has to be on the short list of serious contenders. Wilson is going to will them to a lot of wins, and she has plenty of defensive-minded spark-plugs around her to make the Blazers mighty dangerous. If Mennonite’s defensive game is up to snuff, watch out.

QUOTABLE: “Our goal is the same as every season: Get better after every practice and every game. Each game you have to go in with the mindset to give it more than 100 percent because you don’t know what could change in the next 24 hours. We’re looking to compete — section, league, districts. Last year we were a bit younger, without the leadership we needed to get to the next level. This year we feel as though we’re more than equipped to compete. We have the tools to succeed. Now every player needs to embrace the perfect role for themselves.” — Trevor Orr

OCTORARA BRAVES

PIAA CLASSIFICATION: 4A

COACH: Alex Stam (1st season).

LAST SEASON: 1-12 Section 4, 2-19 overall.

KEY PLAYERS LOST: Jamera Brown (8.7, 10 3’s), Haley Justice (7.2, 4 3’s).

KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Maddy Cracknell (1.6, 3 3’s), Ja’syah James (6.7, 10 3’s), Andrea Middleton (4.1, 6 3’s).

OUTLOOK: It’s a fresh start across the board for the Braves, from a new leader at the top (hello, Alex Stam, the former Cardinal O’Hara standout and Millersville University player and assistant coach) to a new home in the league; Octorara shifts down to Section 5 this season, after a bumpy start in Section 4 in the Braves’ first two seasons as full-time L-L League members. With Lebanon Catholic (unfortunately) exiting the league, L-L officials gave Octorara the thumbs up to go down to Section 5 for a season. Stam has been preaching fundamentals with her group, as she starts dropping her knowledge and schemes. Stam has a nice piece to build around in James, a wing player and go-to scorer. Middleton can also shoot it from deep and will be a key cog in the Braves’ development and maturation moving forward under Stam, who was mentored by longtime MU coach Mary Fleig.

CRYSTAL BALL: Baby steps here with the Braves, who continue to try and find their way around the L-L League. They’ll get a change of scenery this season with new section foes to prep for. And we get the feeling that once Stam puts her stamp on the program, Octorara will definitely start trending up in the W department. For now, it’s not all about wins and losses; for the Braves, it’s about getting the program established, and getting more kids out to play — and playing the right way. That’s Stam’s goal. Be patient, Atglen.

QUOTABLE: “Our team has been incredibly resilient during the challenges we’re currently facing. Whether it’s playing in masks, the season being pushed back, or learning virtually, our girls have shown drive, desire and determination to continue to get better every day. As a unit, we want to make sure we’re taking the season day by day, and not looking ahead. It’s going to be fluid with a few bumps in the road, so it’s important that we’re flexible. Our girls know there will will be challenges, but no matter what, they’ll be thankful for any opportunity to play this year. We expect to get better every day and compete in an incredibly competitive league and section.” — Alex Stam

PEQUEA VALLEY BRAVES

PIAA CLASSIFICATION: 3A

COACH: Jason McDonald (9th season, 93-96).

LAST SEASON: 8-2 Section 5, 22-8 overall (Lost to Lancaster Catholic in L-L League championship game; lost to Trinity in D3-3A semifinals; beat Susquenita in D3-3A 3rd-place game; lost to Imhotep Charter in first round of PIAA-3A state playoffs).

KEY PLAYERS LOST: Bethany Bills (10.9, 22 3’s), Caroline Horst (16.4; 1,097 career points), Lauren Kovalick (1.1), Abbey Leslie (11.5, 54 3’s), Clara Neff (9.1, 29 3’s), Talee Patterson (0.3).

KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Sarah Arment (1.6), Rebecca Cox (5.6), Brooke Graham (0.3), Brooke Liney (5.5, 32 3’s).

OUTLOOK: Holy smokes, that key-players-lost column is a gut-punch for the Braves, as longtime, 4-year stalwarts Bills, Horst, Leslie and Neff have called it a career. And what a career, capped off in grand style last winter when PV went to the L-L League finals for the first time in program history, earned a third-place finish in the D3-3A playoffs, and went to the PIAA tournament for the first time in school history. It was quite a ride, and the Bills/Horst/Leslie/Neff 4-pack helped change the face of the Braves’ program. That group was outstanding, and will be missed — not to mention being really hard to replace. But the cupboard isn’t bare in Kinzers; McDonald — who is seven wins shy of the 100-victory plateau — has a nice nucleus of returning players who know their way around Section 5: Arment, Cox, Graham and Liney all played key minutes last winter; Cox is a returning starter, and she plays with a mean streak on the baseline and at the rim. And Liney, who was instant-offensive off the pine last winter, is ticketed for more minutes — and more points and more made jumpers — this time around. Arment and Graham also know the drill — defending like bananas in the Braves’ full-court pressing schemes — and McDonald is excited about newbies like Maddie Clark, Abby Stoltzfus, Deena Stoltzfus, Shania Stoltzfus, Shania Smoker and Peyton Henshaw. PV has definitely cornered the market on Stoltzfus’.

CRYSTAL BALL: No matter how you slice it or dice it, those graduation hits are going to sting. But the Braves win now. It’s what they do. They’re always contenders in the section race. They climbed the mountain and made the league finals last winter. And they’ve been a playoff team now the last several years. Despite a new-look kinda crew, we don’t expect that to stop cold. We do expect the Braves to defend and run the floor, to get plenty of boards and stick-backs from Cox, and a lot of big shots and dribble-drives from Liney. If everyone else can simply settle into their role — like the recently departed group did — PV should make plenty of noise once again.

QUOTABLE: “The graduation class left a mark on the program to live up to. They taught the younger girls that if you work hard, you can achieve your goals, and to encourage each other along the way. We have tremendous chemistry, which can help throughout the highs and lows of the season. The girls work extremely hard, and they want to get better every day. We’re expecting tremendous growth throughout the season. Section 5 is going to be tough again this year, and our girls will give everything they have to be competitive.” — Jason McDonald

TWITTER: @JeffReinhart77

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