The Elizabethtown Area High School girls basketball team didn’t seem to be playing up to its potential during the initial games of the season. But the Lady Bears were missing one key factor: senior Marena Lonardi, last year’s Section One Player of the Year who was out with a foot injury.
But now? Lonardi’s back. And she looks to have returned to full health as well. Evidence? A two-game stretch against Penn Manor and McCaskey where she put up a combined 52 points to lead Elizabethtown to backto- back victories.
“We’re happy to have her healthy again, and we’re a better team when she’s out there,” head coach John Myers said. “Other people are doing a lot of good things, but we’re better with Marena. In the long run, it gives everyone else on the floor confidence. It just helps us as a whole. We have other pieces too, but when that piece is there, it makes easier for everyone.”
The Lady Bears fought through a grueling game against Penn Manor in Daubert Gym on Wednesday, Dec. 19, escaping with a 39-35 win. It went back and forth between the two teams in the first half, with Elizabethtown holding a slim 16-15 advantage, setting the stage for the second half.
The Comets came out strong in the third, scoring 14 points to take a 29-25 lead into the final period. However, the Lady Bears defense shut them down in the fourth, holding them to just six points and taking back the lead with just under three minutes left thanks to some free throws, plus a layup from Lonardi, who finished with 21 points.
Fellow senior Sydney Pierson contributed 9points as well for Elizabethtown, which saw six players get into the scoring column,
compared to just four for Penn Manor. Junior Ella Hart and freshman Morgan Miller shared the team lead in the points for the Comets at 11, with freshman Sydney Shepos (7 points) and senior Kate Levato (6 points) filling in the rest.
“That was just a grindhouse,” Myers said. “It could’ve gone either way, so I’m happy it went ours. They’re unorthodox. They play a 1-3-1 trap that you don’t see very often, and they’re long. They have some 5’11” kids that gave us fits.”
Things weren’t as close for Elizabethtown at McCaskey on Friday, Dec. 21, which was the second meeting of the year between the two teams following the season-opening tip-off tournament. The Lady Bears defense was once again brilliant, not allowing a field goal until less than two minutes to go in the opening period. Lonardi and Pierson teamed up to grab numerous offensive boards as well, giving the offense a chance to finish the first with a 14-7 lead.
An 8-0 run to start the second quarter made it even worse for the Red Tornado. By the time the first half was through, Elizabethtown led 29-13, totaling 22 rebounds as a team. Lonardi had 8 by herself while also scoring 17 points.
When the end of the third quarter came, Elizabethtown was comfortably up 43-19, prompting Myers and his coaching staff to mix in some of the reserves during the fourth. McCaskey finally came alive at this point, scoring 17 points in the final period, but a chance at victory was long gone. Thus, the Lady Bears walked away with a dominating 58-38 win.
Lonardi was astounding in nearly every facet of the game; she had a career-high 31 points, as well as 13 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. Pierson had a solid game too, finishing with 12 points, 6 rebounds and a game-high 5 steals.
As a unit, Elizabethtown had 40 rebounds and 19 steals, and eight different players had at least one point. For the Red Tornado, junior Malia Taylor led the way with 18 points, most of those coming in the fourth during garbage time. Fellow junior Ahni-yah Parker chipped in with 9.
The Lady Bears had three straight losses just a short time ago to drop to 1-3 on the year. However, those were all to talented teams (Donegal, Solanco and Cedar Crest), and since then, they’ve rebounded nicely, upsetting Manheim Township in addition to the close win over Penn Manor and their two victories against McCaskey. The rest of their schedule looks favorable as well; of the remaining 11 teams they’ll face, just four are over .500 (West Perry, Warwick and Cedar Cliff, plus a rematch against Donegal).
“We’re getting there,” Myers said. “There’s still a lot of room to improve for us. Some of those tougher teams like Solanco and Cedar Crest aren’t gonna lose much. Starting with that schedule and leading into a Section Two schedule is gonna really help. We weren’t healthy either, but we have Marena back, so we’re moving in the right direction.”
Still, Elizabethtown cannot allow complacency to set in. The Bobcat Holiday Tournament at Northeastern on Thursday, Dec. 27, and Friday, Dec. 28, should be a good test. The Lady Bears will play West Perry on Thursday, then either Northeastern or Columbia on Friday depending on Thursday’s results. If the Lady Bears can walk away as tournament champions, it could be an even bigger boost for them heading into 2019.
“West Perry’s always good,” Myers said. “They’re Mid Penn, so they always play good defense. We know that about them, so that’s gonna be a tough game. That might be a low-scoring game. Northeastern beat Manheim Township earlier this year, so they’re absolutely a good team, but they’ve come back a little. It’ll definitely be interesting.”