---- — They filed out of the visitor's locker room and fanned across the gym floor, more than a dozen Lewisburg girls in varying post-game sweats ensembles with one striking similarity: electric blue Crocs.
It's a team-bonding thing, senior guard Maria Kelleher confirmed, and that's good because after their season-opening win at Shamokin the Green Dragons certainly don't need bright footwear for people to notice them.
Lewisburg built an eight-point halftime lead Monday on the strength of Kelleher's otherworldly 16-point second quarter, then weathered an Indians' rally that trimmed a 10-point margin to three early in the fourth period.
"It's always great to start off with a win, but especially Shamokin," said Lewisburg coach Phil Stamm. "That's a really good team, and we knew we would have to really battle and play well to win."
The Dragons were not perfect by any stretch (29 percent shooting, 20 turnovers) but Kelleher carried them when senior post Lois Lesher sat with early foul trouble, and others stepped up in the second half as Kelleher commanded a defensive shadow.
Those at the Purple Palace definitely got an eyeful, particularly a small group from Mount Carmel seated front and center in the stands.
The Red Tornadoes likely made the trip to get a look at Lewisburg, which gave them a tussle in last year's district quarterfinals. In fact, Mount Carmel won by a single-digit margin in just six of 27 wins last season, and Lewisburg and South Williamsport were the only teams to do it twice.
In that district quarterfinal, the Dragons chopped a 17-point second-quarter deficit to five by halftime, and then played within a bucket of the Tornadoes in each of the last two periods. Lesher and Kelleher fouled out three minutes apart in the fourth, and Lewisburg lost 55-46.
"I really want to replay that game over again because we should have won that game," Kelleher said Monday.
The 2012-13 season began for Lewisburg that February afternoon in Milton. The Dragons realized (when they played with a team that went to the state quarters at 27-1) they had the makings of something special. They graduated two starters (Chelsea Boyer, Drew Kline) but a strong group of underclassmen would return to the court with varsity experience.
"That was a good jumping-off point for us, when you see how far Mount Carmel went and how strong they were, even statewide," said Stamm. "For us to go into that game, with that atmosphere, and compete the way we did, it gave us a lot of confidence.
"We do have a lot of people back from that team, but potential's a funny thing. You have to do it on the floor."
Monday's win was obviously a positive step, and the Dragons will know where they stand by year's end. They play two more HAC-I teams (Shikellamy and Selinsgrove) before facing fellow HAC-II contenders Warrior Run and Mount Carmel in a span of three days next week.
Lewisburg is much deeper, more experienced and a little more athletic than last year.
Sophomore sisters Emily and Kasey Conrad, and Haley Stanko, yet another sophomore, were in the starting lineup Monday. Junior Lenore Doyle, who started at times last season, played well off the bench, as did sophomore Kirsten Blakeslee.
"The younger kids have ability but they have to find their way a little bit. I think they'll get a lot better as the season goes on," said Stamm. "Right now it's really about getting the right blend of players on the floor for what we want to do, a mixture of players who can succeed."
Kelleher added, "We have very young players, but they can make things happen."
HAC-II is much stronger than last season with the addition of both Montoursville and Southern Columbia. The Red Tornadoes are even more formidable than expected with the transfer of Christina Perles from Lourdes Regional, and Warrior Run has two of the division's top 10 players in Steph Shamburg and Tay Parker.
However, lost in two-horse race between Mount Carmel and South Williamsport for the division title last season was the fact Lewisburg tied Central Columbia for third.
We liked them second this year, behind Mount Carmel, but Kelleher thinks it's low.
"We need to show people that we're more than No. 2 in (HAC-II)," she said. "We need to show them we're No. 1."
It won't be easy but it could happen. That's no croc(k).
n Scott Dudinskie covers high school girls basketball for The Daily Item. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.