Moving into the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association’s A Conference last season proved to be a big jump for Gerstell Academy’s boys basketball team, but the Falcons were in danger amid the COVID-19 pandemic of being unable to see if they had made any progress.
Until now, that is. The MIAA’s recent decision to allow for a condensed winter season gives Gerstell a chance to play some games, and coach Ben Thompson said his Falcons are raring to go.
“It’s definitely been one of those roller coasters,” said Thompson, who is entering his seventh year as Gerstell’s varsity coach. “Some weeks you feel like you get really excited, and then some weeks I think they feel like maybe there was a possibility that it wasn’t going to happen. But now with some resolution, something that’s official, I know they’re really excited and ready to get going.”
The MIAA earlier this week announced an abbreviated winter season for its 29 member schools, which is expected to run from Feb. 8 through March 15. The private-school league, which oversees boys sports at private schools throughout the Baltimore region, ruled that basketball, ice hockey, squash, wrestling and swimming will compete under “league-issued” schedules for each school that is able to play by the end of the week, according to a news release.
“Athletic administrators at member schools determined that providing the opportunity to play outweighed the need for postseason and championships during this condensed winter season,” the released states. “Maintaining appropriate health and safety protocols for all involved will remain as the top priority. The MIAA is hopeful that this opportunity will progress with little interruption from virus-related concerns.”
The Falcons won back-to-back MIAA B Conference championships in 2018 and 2019, and earned a promotion to the league’s highest level of play the following season. Gerstell finished 7-23 and didn’t win a conference game (0-19), but Thompson said he saw improvement as the season progressed.
This year’s squad is veteran-laden, the coach said, led by senior guards Dayyan Noble and Jeremiah Stanton. Gerstell returns its two leading scorers from a year ago in Noble and Stanton — Noble averaged 14.6 points and grabbed 4.9 rebounds, both tops on the team, en route to Times second-team all-county honors.
Stanton chipped in with 13.4 points and a team-best 2.5 assists.
“We’ve got a little bit of an older team this year,” Thompson said. “They were hopeful that we’d have a season, but now to see it actually realized is obviously very exciting for them.”
Thompson said Gerstell is set to begin practices Monday and hopes to have games start up the following week. Gerstell athletic director Phil Gilotte said via text message the A Conference is aiming to start games Feb. 17 and have them run through March 15 or March 17.
Gerstell’s wrestling team competes in the MIAA B Conference, and Gilotte said when he last checked only a few other conference opponents were willing to participate. Gilotte said the plan is for the Falcons to “get creative” and put something together, but a timeline is unclear right now.
Meanwhile, the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland approved last month an “open” season for basketball, squash, and swimming for its girls teams. That means Gerstell will be fielding boys and girls basketball this winter, to the delight of fourth-year coach Shane Stem and his players.
Stem said the Falcons have tried to rally around the word “fluid” when it comes to this season, because things can change and shift from day to day. The IAAM’s shortened winter season began this week and runs through March 13.
Gerstell opens its season Friday at home against St. Mary’s, which last year ousted the Falcons from the IAAM playoffs in double-overtime.
The Falcons were 3-21 two years ago and raised their record to 10-12 (5-6 IAAM B) last winter. This year’s B Conference is broken into two eight-team divisions, and Gerstell is in B2.
Stem returns three starters, and seven of the 10 players he carried last season. The Falcons are led by senior Haley Polk, a four-year starter, junior Kylie Redman, and sophomore Marley Saunders.
Saunders led the team in scoring last year at 11.6 points per game and earned second-team all-county status, and Redman averaged 8.5 points and 6.1 rebounds. Polk added 5.3 boards per game.
“We’ve been waiting for this opportunity since February last year,” Stem said. “Last season we hosted our first-ever playoff game ... with the group that we’ve got coming back, my phone blows up, my email blows up, ‘Coach, when can we start, when can we start?’”