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It’s only been five games, but Gerstell Academy girls’ basketball has already matched their win total from last year. The Falcons went 3-21 last season but are 3-2 this year after a 43-26 win over Friends (0-2).

“I think tonight we came out with an intensity that’s going to carry us through our entire season,” Gerstell head coach Shane Stem said. “The first month of us hanging out and working, it’s been special. This group gets along, they play hard, they play for each other.”

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Gerstell’s motto for this year is “invested,” which means the players are supposed to make the team better in any way they can. That includes not just hitting shots and playing good defense, but also cheering from the bench and making sure everyone stays positive.

“Night in and night out, this group brings it every day,” Stem said. “They play for each other, they get along, they spend time out of the gym…our girls live it and breathe it.”

The Falcons played as a team against the Quakers, with four players scoring more than six points. Freshman Marley Saunders scored a game high 13 points, and sophomore Kylie Redman added 11.

Gerstell’s multiple zone defenses flummoxed Friends, and it looked to take advantage of the height mismatch down low. Redman was freed on slip screens throughout the first half and scored a team-high nine points over the first 16 minutes.

“We went to our post players and said you girls are going to eat for us,” Stem said. “It was a consensus to get it to Kylie to get it to Zoe (Urban), we wanted to get things through them tonight.”

After Friends’s Maya Carnes followed a Wynter Gibbs miss with a layup to start the second quarter, Gerstell went on an 8-0 run to break the game open and led 21-11 at halftime.

The Falcons continued to mix up defensive looks in the second half, switching between a 1-2-2 and 2-3 zone. That continued to stymie Friends, and Gerstell started scoring from the perimeter to grow the lead.

Saunders hit a three and a jumper, and senior Rachel Manning added a triple for an 8-0 run that pushed the lead to 29-11.

Saunders took over in the second half, scoring 10 of her 13 points after halftime. Friends got as close as 12 in the fourth quarter, but the freshman guard made sure they wouldn’t get closer. She knocked down a three to push the lead to 39-24, then hit a jumper in the final minute to keep the Quakers at bay.

“At first I thought it was going to be a little bit harder,” Saunders said of her first year on varsity. “But my team has invested in me and encourages me to do better and they’re a really big help.”

Carnes scored 11 and Genique Gaither had 10 to lead a Quakers team that only had six players.

Gerstell hopes it’s just getting started, as IAAM B Conference play resumes next week. The Falcons lost to Glenelg Country 38-36 on Dec. 4, and play Maryvale on Dec. 11 and St. Mary’s on Dec. 13.

“We’re looking good,” Manning said. “I’m excited.”

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