The first round of the PIAA Class 5A playoffs didn’t exactly go the way the Elizabethtown Area High School girls basketball team wanted it to. But at the very least, the Lady Bears were able to help arguably the best player to ever play for the program achieve history.
The team traveled to Spring-Ford High School on Saturday, March 9, for a first-round matchup in states against Villa Maria Academy, the District 1 champion. The Hurricanes had lost just three games to two teams entering the contest, and it showed. The Lady Bears struggled to put up much of a fight offensively, eventually losing 66-23.
Villa Maria set the tone by scoring nine straight points to open up the game. After Elizabethtown put up four of its own, the Hurricanes responded with a 15-0 run, eventually going up 25-6 after the first quarter. They ended up holding the Lady Bears to single digits in each quarter, leading 42-10 at halftime and 59-19 at the end of the third.
Senior Abby Walheim led all scorers with 19 points, while juniors Maddy Ryan and Paige Lauder each put up 12. Nine of the 13 Hurricanes who saw playing time entered the scoring column.
“They played at a different pace than what we’ve seen,” head coach John Myers said. “They’re really good, and I think they’re gonna keep playing for several more weeks. They’re a great team, but we had another good year.”
The bright spot on the day was Elizabethtown senior Marena Lonardi passing 1993 graduate Jen Williams’ program record of 1,352 career points. Lonardi, who entered the game at 1,342 points, tied Williams off a pass from junior Erin Barton early in the third and went ahead of her during the team’s next possession via a backdoor layup off an assist from fellow senior Sydney Pierson. It’s an impressive feat considering that she missed the majority of her sophomore season after tearing her ACL, and three more games this year due to a foot injury.
“It’s nice to look it at as more of a career accomplishment than just one game, so that definitely helped,” Lonardi said. “Jen Williams’ parents were here, and they gave me flowers. That’s really special for me. I really liked that Syd was able to get me the assist since we’ve been playing together all of our lives.”
“Marena and Sydney have had great four-year careers here,” Myers said. “We’re really gonna miss them. We’re just really proud of how far they’ve come from freshman year to now. But I’m happy for Marena. She deserved the record, especially missing most of her sophomore year. She’s missed about 20 games due to injury in her career. To do that in just about three years is an awesome achievement.”
Lonardi finished the game with a team-high 17 points, as well as 2 rebounds and 2 steals. The all-time scoring record is now at 1,359. Only two other players scored for Elizabethtown: Pierson (4 points, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks) and freshman Jade Love-Morris (2 points, 2 steals). Sophomores Elise Hassinger and Carly Sedun combined for 11 rebounds.
The duo of Lonardi and Pierson, who have been fixtures for the Lady Bears since entering high school, will be departing the team after graduation alongside fellow senior Ashleigh Matter. Lonardi is set to attend Lock Haven, while Pierson will go to Kutztown. Both will be on their school’s respective women’s basketball teams. They’ll square off against each other twice each season during play in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
“It’s definitely gonna be weird playing in different jerseys against each other,” Lonardi said. “But I just always wish her the best, and it’s been a great 12 years.”
This season has been one of the best in recent memory for Elizabethtown. A Section Two title was the first for the Lady Bears in 15 years. They also went to states for the second straight time, the first such occurrence in program history. However, they did falter in the postseason, losing five of their last six games.
“I think we had a really good season,” Myers said. “We didn’t pull out some of these close district games that we would’ve liked to. Lower Dauphin, Spring Grove … the games we were in. But that doesn’t change the fact that we won a section title and that we made it here tonight. We’re returning a lot of experience. This is invaluable for the younger players. Our program has never been to states two years in a row, so it’s something to be proud of.”
With Lonardi and Pierson leaving, the team will be in a strange position come next year. Three starters (Sedun, sophomore Emma Blyler and freshman Ainsley Raybold) and three regular rotation players (Hassinger, Love-Morris and sophomore Macy Seaman) are set to return, but the Lady Bears had just 11 players on the roster this season with no JV team. They’ll have to count on everyone taking a huge leap forward, along with contributions from the incoming freshmen class. But Lonardi and Myers are confident that progress will continue to be made.
“I think that they’ll just keep getting better,” Lonardi said. “I’m not sure about the upcoming freshmen class and what they have, but I just know that they’ll get more experience playing together as a team, so they’ll be all right.”
“We have a good nine or 10 months until next season,” Myers said. “A lot of the younger players who were role players now need to step up as spotlight players. I’m hoping we can collectively do that as a unit. They have all spring and summer to work on it. There will be a lot of conditioning and ball handling along the way.”