South Xtra: Mt. Lebanon's hopes for sixth straight section title stay alive
Mt. Lebanon's Christine Ehland tries to pass around Canon-McMillan's Danielle Parker and Olivia Lorusso.
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The fronts of the jerseys still say Mt. Lebanon.
They are still the five-time defending Class AAAA Section 4 champions. They have won three of the past four WPIAL titles and three of the past four PIAA titles.
Their records over the past five years were 28-4, 31-0, 29-2, 25-6 and 25-4. They have won 63 of their past 65 section contests.
But maybe, just maybe this year the target on the Blue Devils back is a little bit smaller. The attention is no longer just focused on coach Dori Oldaker's group and that has as much to do with the fact that she returned only two starters as it does with the fact that Section 4 is loaded with talent this season, more so than usual.
"I would say that there is still a target on our back," Oldaker said. "Obviously, there is a lot of parity in Class AAAA and especially in our section."
At 17-2 overall and 8-1 in the section, Mt. Lebanon still looks every bit a part as a title contender. But so do section rivals Bethel Park (16-2, 9-1) and Chartiers Valley (14-4, 8-2) and that is to say nothing of other strong teams in the section such as Upper St. Clair and Baldwin.
Mt. Lebanon won the North Allegheny tip-off tournament title this season defeating the host team and Altoona. It also won the California University Classic defeating Ringgold and Morgantown High School out of West Virginia.
It posted an impressive non-section win against perennial power Oakland Catholic, 49-23. Last season Mt. Lebanon defeated Oakland Catholic for the WPIAL title before falling to the Eagles in the PIAA quarterfinals.
Within the section the Blue Devils dropped a 60-54 decision at Bethel Park but they also found a way to win at Baldwin, 44-38. and to hold off Chartiers Valley, 48-45.
They have swept the regular-season series against Canon-McMillan already and also own section wins against Upper St. Clair and Peters Township.
They are doing this all with only two returning starters who brought back just a combined 15.1 points per game scoring average. The returning starters are senior forward Jordan Holmes and junior forward Christine Ehland, both are 6 feet 1.
After Holmes and Ehland, Oldaker is breaking in an entirely new backcourt with senior guard Alex Ventrone, junior point guard Margie McCaffrey and junior guard/forward Madeleine Collins.
Ventrone and Ehland lead Mt. Lebanon in scoring, averaging about 10 points per game each. Ventrone was a key reserve last season but she missed significant playing time with a concussion.
"Jordan is just playing fantastic basketball," Oldaker said. "She has really stepped up her game and with Ehland, she has all that experience. That really helps."
Ehland poured in 24 points in Mt. Lebanon's win against Upper St. Clair. McCaffrey is averaging 5.4 assists per game, Holmes is averaging more than 10 rebounds per game. She had 20 in a recent win against Altoona. Holmes also leads the team with 72 blocks this season.
Oldaker has not been going too deep with her bench but she can call on senior point guard Amana Frosztega when needed and Collins can alternate between guard and forward.
After defeating Bethel Park in its rematch Monday, Mt. Lebanon has an excellent chance to keep alive its streak of five consecutive section titles, even if the Blue Devils might have to share it.
There remain other tests as well, including a visit to Chartiers Valley tonight and a regular-season finale on Feb. 7 at Upper St. Clair.
"We don't try to put too much emphasis on individual games," Oldaker said. "We just try to keep them all the same -- one game at a time -- but we do know you have to take care of your section games."
First Published January 31, 2013 12:00 am