After winning a section title for the first time in 14 years and seeing two of the best players in program history graduate, where does the Elizabethtown Area High School girls basketball team go from here?
The Lady Bears finished atop the Section Two standings with a 16-6 record last season, going onto qualify for both the district and state playoff for the second straight year, falling to Villa Maria in the first round of the latter. Much of their success was on the backs on the now departed Marena Lonardi and Sydney Pierson.
Lonardi, currently a freshman at Lock Haven, was the player of the year in Section Two, finishing with a league-high 21.3 points per game. She crossed the 1,000-point mark midway through the year and went on to break the program’s all-time scoring record. Pierson, now at Kutztown, was a first-team All-Star as well, closing out her career with over 800 points and too many rebounds and blocks to count.
“We obviously lost two of the best players in team history,” junior Macy Seaman said. “Syd always went up strong with the ball no matter the situation. They taught us to be ourselves off the court.”
“They were always confident,” fellow junior Carly Sedun said. “We learned how to be kind and pick each other up from them. That kind of stuff is pretty big.”
“We’re losing leadership and passion,” head coach John Myers said. “Sydney and Marena are just great kids. Those two just have motors; they run up and down the floor like deer. And we’re losing about 30 points and 20 rebounds a game. We’re gonna miss them, but we’re happy for what they’re doing in college. Now it’s time for others to step up into the spotlight.”
Other teams in Section Two might have lost more seniors than Elizabethtown, but none of them compare to Lonardi and Pierson. That leaves the race for first pretty wide open, with Warwick and Ephrata being prime candidates to make a potential jump, and the Lady Bears could be under a lot of pressure to at least equal last year’s success.
In theory anyway. That’s not how Coach Myers sees things.
“I wouldn’t say there’s pressure,” he said. “I can see how that train of thought would make sense, but I think we’re good enough to win the section. We have a different team than last year. That’s high school sports. But there is expectation. We’ve been good for a couple of years now, and we want to keep that going.”
Aside from Lonardi and Pierson, just two players from last season will not be back, both of them reserves: the graduated Ashleigh Matter and senior Erin Barton. Otherwise, the 2018-19 roster is returning in full, including six who were in the regular rotation.
Three of them were starters. Sophomore Ainsley Raybold started a point guard from the get-go as a freshman, finishing third with 5.1 points per game and knocking down a team-high 30 3-pointers. She was a second-team All-Star. Carly Sedun was an honorable mention as well, doing her work mainly as a rebounder and interior post defender. Junior Emma Blyler rounded out the lineup next to Raybold at guard. She and Sedun each averaged just over 3 points per game.
Seaman was Pierson’s primary backup in the frontcourt. She plays an extremely similar style. Junior Elise Hassinger came off the bench as a jack-of-all-trades, and sophomore Jade Love-Morris was a feisty ball-handler and defender. Junior Zoe Myers (no relation to Coach Myers), mainly a reserve last year, will be looking to get more court time as well.
The best part is that all of those players got valuable postseason time during the Lady Bears run in districts and states. Raybold notably played a huge role in the team’s comeback victory against South Western in the first round of districts that clinched a state berth. For a group of girls that were all seeing extensive minutes for the first time in high school, that will bode well for them down the line.
“If we had lost five senior starters, it’d be a lot different,” Carly Sedun said. “Getting that varsity experience will help us. We know what it’s like out there.”
“It’ll help keep everything under control with losing Syd and Marena,” Seaman said. “People are gonna have to step up into leadership roles. Having that experience and knowing how things work will be helpful to the underclassmen.”
“Two years ago, the current kids were all substitutes in practice every day,” Coach Myers said. “They watched the older girls get minutes and got serious minutes themselves last year. The district and state playoff games are gonna come in handy during the middle of January. It’s only beneficial.”
Interestingly, the two seniors on this year’s squad were not with the Lady Bears last season, though one is familiar with the program. Alicia Underkoffler was on the team during her freshman and sophomore seasons. The other, Madison McNally, is brand new to the school district.
One downside to the 2018-19 team was its thin depth. That won’t be much of an issue this season since seven freshmen participated in tryouts. Five of them (Taryn Hummer, Cameron Pritts, Andrea Rodriguez, Abby Sedun and Lacey Wilkinson) made it through the cut, and they’ll all have opportunities to contribute right away, like Raybold and Love-Morris did last year.
“I think they all have great attitudes,” Seaman said. “It’s sad that we can’t keep all of them, but it’s good for the program since we didn’t have a JV team last year.”
“They’re all really positive,” Carly Sedun said. “You can tell that they want to be here. They all really hard workers.”
“They’re very coachable and willing to learn,” Coach Myers said. “They all play other sports, which is good. The freshmen are off to a good start.”
The biggest thing Elizabethtown will have to focus on is scoring. Lonardi and Pierson provided nearly 31 of the team’s 42 points per game; 11 points is not gonna enough to win the majority of games. On the other hand, the Lady Bears were great all-around on defense, and while Lonardi and Pierson played big roles in that, it was more of a balanced attack. They gave up just 37.18 points per game in the regular season, only allowing the opposition to score more than 40 points six times.
That will be the key to capturing a second straight section title. Others outside the program might view this season as a transitional one for Elizabethtown, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Sure, the best duo the team has ever seen is gone. But the Lady Bears won’t fade away that easily. They’re planning to use their past experiences to build toward the future.
“We definitely would like to repeat in the section,” Carly Sedun said. “We need to come together as a team and fill the spots that were left behind.”
“We have to know our strengths and come together as a team,” Seaman said. “I think we can repeat if we do both of those things.”
“There’s no reason to put limits on yourself,” Coach Myers said. “We don’t want to go in there and think ‘Oh, let’s just get to .500.’ We’re used to being good now, so we’re shooting to win. I just want us to get better in practice every day and enjoy being around each other. It’s just players filling bigger roles. They’re all gonna have something to contribute, and we have to help them find what those are. There’s a lot to be excited about.”