John Myers readily admits that, five years into his tenure as head coach of the Elizabethtown Bears girls basketball team, he still gets excited for each new season.
“I’m passionate about it,” the coach said. “I’m passionate about the kids. And I love it. So that makes it easy.”
Myers’ excitement level — and that of his players — is certainly high after defeating the cross-town rival Donegal Indians by the score of 64-40 in their 2017-18 season-opener at Daubert Gymnasium on the evening of Friday, Dec. 8.
In the game, the Bears overcame an early 8-2 deficit and scored 36 second-half points to seal the win.
“Really happy with our effort,” Myers said. “We played hard for 32 minutes. Didn’t always play smart, but in the second half we played much smarter, and it showed in the result of the game.”
“We just played really good team ball, and we like to go fast tempo, so we did that really well,” senior point guard Amber Orban said.
Elizabethtown appeared unsettled at the game’s start, evidenced by defensive play that led to their fouling their Donegal counterparts too frequently, giving their opponent chances at free throw points early on. As a result, the Indians scored double-digit points from the foul line in the first half.
“We were fouling too much,” Myers said. “They (Donegal) had I think ten points from the foul line in the first half. We stopped doing that in the second half. We just focused on playing better defense, not fouling. That was a big difference.”
The Bears began to find their groove toward the end of the first quarter, putting together a 16-5 scoring run to take an 18-13 lead by the quarter’s end. The team utilized a potent strategy of feeding the ball to junior forward Sydney Pierson, freshman forward Macy Seaman, and junior guard Marena Lonardi, whose height and decisive passing skills enabled the three to penetrate Donegal’s interior defense and create opportunities to score points inside the paint. The Bears also created opportunities for second chance points off numerous offensive rebounds, including on two possessions when the team grabbed three consecutive rebounds to keep possessions alive and draw fouls.
“It’s great to have their height,” Myers said. “They work hard, and they’re going to get us a lot of blocked shots, a lot of good defense, get us a lot of rebounds. Rebounds and blocked shots don’t always get attention, but it’s necessary. It’s part of a team winning games.”
The Bears’ momentum slowed in the second quarter as the team struggled to find a groove with its shooting. Donegal nearly evened the score, cutting the Elizabethtown’s lead to 22-21, but the Bears ended the quarter on strong note with a resurgent offensive attack that gave the squad a 28-23 lead heading into halftime.
The Bears’ second-quarter effort was spurred on by Lonardi, who led the team with 21 points scored in the game. Lonardi used her speed up and down the court to challenge Donegal’s transition defense and drive to the basket in what was her first regular season game since tearing her ACL last season.
“It means absolutely everything to me,” Lonardi said of returning to the court. “Before the game, I almost wanted to cry that we were here. Being with my best friends out on the court made it even better.”
“We’re really athletic, and they’re good at it,” Myers said. “It’s fun. We practice fast. We let them get up and down the court. I think that’s going to be one of our best weapons this year.”
The Bears never looked back after halftime. The team continued their offensive success and exhausted the Donegal defense, scoring 15 points in the third quarter, then topping themselves by posting 21 points in the fourth.
Key to their dominance in the second half was the play of Orban, who took advantage of a Donegal defense that spread out in an attempt to counter the height of Elizabethtown’s interior offense, and broke out for 11 points in the second half.
“We have a really good point guard in Amber,” Myers said. “She makes a lot of good decisions. She penetrates the lane, but she is really a team first player. She will pass the ball before she shoots. So there are times that I have to convince Amber that, come on, you can score. I always like when she gets on the scoreboard.”
The victory over the Indians was not only the Bear’s first official win of the season. It also qualified the team to compete in the championship game of their season-opening Tip-Off Tournament.
In the championship contest, the Bears played the Susquehannock Warriors. They rebounded from an early 8-0 deficit to take a lead, but were bested by the Warriors by the score of 42-36, dropping their season record to 1-1.
“We’re going to have fun, work hard,” Myers said of the approach he is preaching to his team for the season ahead. “The players work hard. That’s all you can really ask. The results will be the results.”
“We’re really excited,” Orban said of her own read on her team’s state of mind as the season begins. “We have a little bit younger team, so hopefully we will get the freshmen up and better and we can get some wins.”