ELDERSBURG — “If you protect your culture, your culture will get you wins.”
Gerstell girls basketball coach Shane Stem, in his third year at the helm of the Falcons’ program, said this in praise of his players at Liberty on Tuesday.
The Falcons joined the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland’s ‘B’ Conference last winter and faced difficulty against the likes of programs such as St. Paul’s, Maryvale Prep, Mount de Sales, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
They finished the season with three wins and 21 losses — the last of 12 schools in the ‘B’ Conference.
Things look a bit different for this year’s Falcons (7-9), however, and they have doubled their win total through 16 games.
“Not only was it an improvement in our skills, but it was also our mindset,” senior guard Rachel Manning said. “The members of our team were engaged and focused and we put effort into our warmups in practice to the last minute in the game and it’s definitely helped us get to where we are.
“We’re able to pick ourselves back up from a major loss and go into the next game focused and not being distracted by that loss.”
The Falcons earned their first conference victory of the season in a close battle with St. Mary’s on Dec. 13 by one point.
They improved their conference record over the next few weeks with wins against Annapolis Area Christian and Mount de Sales before suffering three straight losses going into Tuesday’s game at Liberty.
“These girls have really bought in to what we’re trying to do,” Stem said. “Our senior leadership with Rachel, Haley Gochnauer, and Emily Fenwick is phenomenal. They’re being selfless, the girls all get along … it’s seeing the first roots of the bumps we took the last two years.
“We play probably the toughest schedule the school’s played in five or six years last year. You’re playing St. Mary’s, Mount Carmel, schools like that night in and night out. It took growth for us to get there and they’re seeing the first root of it with the work and the effort they put in at practice.”
Manning said the team’s 47-31 victory over Mount de Sales on Jan. 4 was a good example of how different their execution on the court has changed from last year to the present. The Sailors defeated the Falcons 56-14 last winter, and Manning said the way they held their composure this time around was a big part of who the Falcons are becoming as a whole.
Sophomore forward Kylie Redman said she sensed early in the season that this year’s Falcons were going to be a completely different team.
“I think a big part of it is supporting each other,” Redman said. “Everyone, this year especially, we all support each other no matter what and that’s a big part of the success.”
The Falcons boast talent with seniors Manning, Gochnauer, and Fenwick. The addition of freshman Marley Saunders has also contributed to the team’s success. Saunders led the Falcons with 12 points Tuesday in their 55-41 loss against Liberty. Redman scored eight points and Manning had seven.
Saunders leads Gerstell on offense at 11.7 points per game, and Redman is second at 7.9. Redman adds 6.2 rebound and 2.5 steals per game.
“It makes coming back and it makes the gym the highlight of my day every day,” Stem said. “In coaching, there are a lot of my peers that have a negative experiences with the culture of youth and amateur sports. I don’t have that, I leave the gym with more energy than I come in with because of these girls and the work they put in and the joy and investment they make in each other.”