Jen Gast capped her senior year in basketball at Catonsville High as a state champion after the Comets defeated Walt Whitman in the 2017 Class 4A title game.
Gast, who also played soccer and was named 2017 Catonsville Times female co-athlete of the year with Amber Lally got a message from Comet basketball coach Mike Mohler after she ended her prep basketball career.
“I just told her your best basketball days are ahead of you and I really believe that her best basketball days aren’t behind her,” Mohler said. “I think once she gets going and gets serious about working the weights and really gets a ton of individual attention, I think she’s headed for great things,”
She had already done great things as a senior, earning All-Baltimore County first team and All-Metro second team honors, averaging 11.8 points and 10.2 rebounds for the 26-2 Comets.
Her prep career may have included a storybook ending, but her collegiate chapter was just beginning at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
After enduring two tough years on the court at UMBC, she had a breakthrough junior year.
She averaged 18.1 minutes per game and played in 27 of 28 games, starting four.
Gast led the team in rebounds per game (7.3), total rebounds (198), offensive rebounds (67), defensive rebounds (131) and blocked shots (19).
As a freshman, she played 7.8 minutes a game and averaged 1.3 points and 1.5 rebounds a game.
Her sophomore season was shortened to nine games because she tore the meniscus in her knee and sprained her ankle, while averaging just 5.8 minutes a game.
Head coach Phil Stern resigned in February of that season and Johnetta Hayes was named head coach in late April and all new assistants were hired.
“I was actually excited for a coaching change,” said Gast, who became strictly a post player in her first two seasons after being the top three-point threat at Catonsville her senior year. “The past couple of years, I stopped focusing on my threes.”
In the first game of her junior year, Gast had 12 points and 13 rebounds in a 92-50 victory over Gettysburg.
Hayes and assistant Christie Rogers were both post players and Gast appreciated that.
“She just had the most growth and it clicked for her one day, she just started attacking everything differently, her mentality was different, her work ethic was different,” said Rogers, who previously coached post players at Radford University. “I’ve been doing this for 11 years and she probably had the biggest growth that I’ve seen in a player in my time coaching.”
That growth boiled over when Gast scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in a 74-58 loss to La Salle on Nov. 30 in the first game of the Navy Classic.
It was the most rebounds in a game by a UMBC player since Brittany Crowell in 2012 and helped earn Gast selection to the All-Tournament team.
“That was huge and La Salle was one of the biggest teams we played this year, but Jen battled that game, she was great,” Rogers said.
Gast didn’t even attempt a three-pointer all season.
“We felt like her greatest strengths were around the rim so for the first year for us we kept her down low,” Rogers said.
Even though she was only a junior and was enjoying her first season with extended playing time, it took a while for her personality to spread.
“When we first got there Jen was kind of the player that she wanted to just kind of hide in the background go under the radar, but as she started figuring things out and tasted a little bit of success for herself, her whole mentality changed,” Rogers said. “She definitely stepped up in that leadership role and became one of the biggest voices on the team, really always encouraging people and picking her teammates up and telling people what to do.”
“I kind of realized I had a coach who believed in me and I think it helped me grow and it gave me a lot of confidence and helped me become a leader,” Gast said.
Rogers and the rest of the team already saw that as they went 10-18 overall and 6-10 in the America East Conference where they lost as a sixth seed in the first round of the playoffs.
She got to finish her season, but when colleges closed she has been looking for other ways to work out away from the facility.
When she returns next season her leadership ability and connection with her teammates will surely be intact.
“She has been great, everybody loves Jen, everybody respects Jen, so she is a really, really good leader for us,” Rogers said.
As for her on-the-court goals, Gast wants to be even better.
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“I just want to work more on my ability to score and getting bigger and stronger,” she said.