The Mt. Lebanon High School girls basketball team is 4-0 and ranked No. 1 in the Post-Gazette WPIAL Class AAAA rankings.
Despite its lofty credentials, Blue Devils coach Dori Oldaker thinks there are a lot of things her team can do better.
"To be honest, we have a great deal of room for improvement," Oldaker said. "We are not as good as people think we are and maybe we are not as bad as I think we are."
That middle ground below the high ranking and above Oldaker's assessment is a place a lot of coaches would love to have their team at this point in the season.
The Blue Devils opened the season by winning the North Allegheny tip-off tournament title, knocking off Altoona, 59-49, and the No. 2-ranked Tigers, 60-58. They also notched a pair of section wins with victories against Canon-McMillan, 50-32, and Peters Township, 63-54.
"We are trying to teach our team to deal with adversity," Oldaker said.
The team has found itself in a few adverse situations already this season. The Blue Devils trailed against North Allegheny for a majority of the game and had to rally from a six-point deficit.
On the road against Peters Township, Mt. Lebanon let a large lead fritter away to two points but never allowed the Indians to tie it late in the game and prevailed by nine points.
"Peters Township gave us a great game at their place," Oldaker said. "They even had us on the ropes in the fourth quarter. A lot of teams may have folded without that experience from those senior players. We found a way, a will to win that game and I think that senior experience really paid dividends."
The majority of that senior experience comes from Mt. Lebanon's three returning starters, point guard Margie McCaffrey, forward Christine Ehland and guard/forward Madeleine Collins.
Those are the three players who stepped up against Peters Township. McCaffrey scored a team-high 22 and Ehland and Collins added 18 and 11, respectively. McCaffrey leads the team in scoring and Ehland is second.
"Margie has put us on her back and carried us through games," Oldaker said.
The other starters are senior guard Anna Miller and sophomore guard Maura Wallace. Oldaker plays 10 or 11 players each game with sophomore forward Angie Gyurina, senior guard Silvic Rudick and junior guard Megan McGrady the first players off the bench.
"We are trying to build to the point where we don't have a dropoff when we go to the bench," Oldaker said.
Mt. Lebanon has won six consecutive outright section titles. This may be the toughest section title defense yet. Class AAAA Section 4 features No. 3 Bethel Park, No. 4 Upper St. Clair and a strong Baldwin team. Mt. Lebanon is 75-3 over its past 78 section games. Three of their past six section titles came with an unbeaten section record.
"There is a lot of parity [in our section]," Oldaker said. "I don't know if anyone is going to make it through the section undefeated, including ourselves and that is not what it is all about. We believe in just trying to get better each day and each game."
Mt. Lebanon will participate in the Junior Orange Bowl Tournament in Miami, Fla, beginning today. The team is guaranteed three games. The last time the team went to the tournament in 2011, Mt. Lebanon went 3-0 against the competition.
"I truly believe [long-distance traveling] really helps with the team chemistry," Oldaker said. "The kids have a good time together, it gives us an opportunity to get away from distractions."
Mt. Lebanon will play Friday, Saturday and Monday. They return home on New Year's Eve and after the New Year Mt. Lebanon has its biggest challenge of the season so far, a home date against Bethel Park on Jan. 2.
"There is a gigantic target on our backs," Oldaker said. "Our section is brutal. You cannot take a night off and that is what we have been preaching to our players. If we can make it through our section and make it to the playoffs, we will be very prepared."