Dori Oldaker uses a basketball term to describe how Mt. Lebanon is approaching a season during the coronavirus crisis.
“It goes without saying we are trying to keep positive and we understand that we are living through a pandemic but we are making the best of it,” the Blue Devils girls basketball coach said.
“I find the word pivot interesting. We use it. We want to make sure we pivot on the correct foot,” she added of dealing both with basketball and COVID-19. “I don’t have a crystal ball, but obviously we are praying for the season to continue.”
After getting seven practices in, the Blue Devils took a hiatus from basketball when the school board voted to postpone extracurricular activities until at least Dec. 11. Lebo was scheduled to tip off its season Dec. 7 but was forced to pull out of the Oakland Catholic Tournament.
“We are keeping a positive attitude and we consider this a hurdle. A bump in the road,” Oldaker said. “We know that we can’t control everything and we don’t look at the glass as half full. Ours is overflowing because our kids have amazing attitudes. They are super positive. They practice with high energy and enthusiasm.”
The Blue Devils have every reason to be optimistic.
Lebo returns all but one starter from last year’s 18-7 team that lost to Mt. Aloysius 60-56 in the PIAA playoffs. Lebo also reached the WPIAL Class 6A semifinals and finished runner-up to Bethel Park in Section 2 with a 12-2 record.
Patrice Smith was the lone graduate. She currently is participating in track and field at Columbia University in New York.
Morgan Palmer is this year’s lone senior. An all-section performer, Palmer averaged 10.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game a year ago.
“Morgan’s a warrior. She battles. Gives 150%. Dives after balls,” said Oldaker. “She’s a leader by example and should continue in that role among our core group of girls.”
For two seasons, Ashleigh Connor has been Lebo’s nucleus. The Almanac Rookie of the Year as a freshman and Top Five performer as a sophomore, she averaged 20.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.9 steals in 2020.
Connor has Division I offers from Davidson, Princeton, Lafayette and Northern Kentucky.
“Ashley will battle offensively and defensively. She’s so unselfish and looks to get others involved. She’s similar in a good way among our kids in that she knows that we are not a one-dimensional team. We have a nice core of players.”
Reagan Murdoch and Brooke Collins play a primary role as starters.
A junior who earned honorable mention all-section status last season, Murdoch has committed to play lacrosse at American University in Washington, D.C.
“Reagan is like a blue-collar worker,” Oldaker said. “She understands her role. She defends team’s best post player. She’s also a scoring threat that doesn’t take bad shots. She’s a good decision maker.”
Oldaker describes Collins at the team’s most improved player from last season.
“She’s unassuming and very quiet,” the coach said, “stealth-like in her play. She grabs rebounds and she can score but she’s not vocal about what she does.”
Anna Streiff was one of Lebo’s first players to come off the bench last season. She is expected to be productive for the Blue Devils.
Oldaker said several players are “licking their chops” for playing time. Among them are Smith’s younger sisters, Gina, a sophomore, and Jenny, a freshman.
Additionally, sophomores Ava Dziubek, Macie Miller, Bella Bilec, Chloe Desnain and Tori Pettko have shown promise along with freshmen Sarah Hudak, Maddie Zerega, Olivia Maher, Gillian Mitchell, Clare Cramer, Nora Austin and Emerson Driscoll.
“This group of kids have set high goals and to compete in every game,” Oldaker said. “They have great chemistry and their camaraderie makes each of them better.”
Oldaker, now in her 18th season as a head coach, remains optimistic about the season. She knows her squad has been adhering to protocols such as wearing masks in practice, social distancing and making good choices outside of the gymnasium.
“I will continue to see the glass as overflowing. We just want to play and not have our season canceled,” she said. “It’s not just about playing. It has to do with mental health, too. You take sports away from some, then what do they have to care about? What does it matter?
“So, we chose to us the word hope, not optimism,” she added. “Because if you lose hope, then you lose everything.”