Mt. Lebanon girls focused on improvement as season heats up

Wednesday, December 19, 2018 | 8:12 PM

The Mt. Lebanon girls basketball team is riding an early-season winning streak and playing a brand of basketball that could lend itself to being a formidable contender in the WPIAL this season.

The Blue Devils opened the season with a pair of losses in the North Allegheny tournament, but have gone on a three-game winning streak since. Their most recent victory was a 60-43 win over Hempfield on Tuesday.

The No. 5-ranked Blue Devils got an 18-point performance from sophomore Patrice Smith, and junior Jamey Napoleon added 15 in the win over the Spartans.

Coach Dori Oldaker said when the schedule was announced, the team realized the level of competition would be difficult, but would also provide an opportunity to grow and find their way.

“We thought if we could just weather that storm and bond together that we could gain valuable experience and turn the ship around,” she said. “I think we learned a lot from those two first losses and learned a lot from the wins on the road.

“It’s a growing process for us, and we just have to trust that process and continue to improve each day.”

The Blue Devils have a unique lineup that can produce a different leading contributor on a given night. Napoleon leads the team, averaging 12 points, narrowly edging freshmen Ashleigh Conner (8.8 ppg) and Morgan Palmer (8.3 ppg).

Oldaker said the unselfish play of the team is evident each night. Notably Napoleon has been dominant in her role, but she’d like to see the junior use her size to find her own shot, rather than dish out to a teammate.

“Jamey has stepped up as a player that we needed this season,” Oldaker said. “She has always taken a back seat role, but the last two years she’s stepped up offensively and she’s so disciplined defensively blocking shots and really being disruptive.”

Oldaker said senior Nora Kogan and junior Smith, the team captains, have played a huge role in being the glue for the roster.

“Nora is an outstanding leader, so her being named a captain was a no brainer,” Oldaker said. “Patrice has had injuries in the past and hasn’t been on the floor, but she’s healthy this year and she’s really stepped up.”

Absent this season to date is senior Alyssa Kaper. The senior broke her wrist a week before the season started while competing in the Drill for Skill competition at South Fayette. Oldaker said while she’s still a month away from a return, her presence when the calendar turns to 2019 will be an added weapon.

“I would have said Alyssa was a potential starter for us, but a lot of kids have stepped up to replace her,” she said. “It’s devastating for her not playing, but she’s really hungry to get out there.”

Oldaker and Co. aren’t looking too far ahead or making any claims as to what they hope to accomplish as the season progresses. Rather, she is instilling the mindset of only worrying about the now and improving each time they touch the court.

“We are a day-by-day team,” she said. “We only look at the next opponent. … We need to keep our heads in and grind it out and look at the journey quarter-by-quarter.”

The Blue Devils resume section play Thursday against section-leader Bethel Park and return from the holiday break to face Baldwin on Jan. 3.

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.


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