GLOUCESTER – Over the past couple of seasons the Gloucester Catholic High School girls basketball team has been one of the area’s most experienced and talented squads.
It was only two seasons ago that the Rams boasted a roster that featured four Division 1 players, but since then graduation has slowly taken its toll.
Now the Rams have one of South Jersey’s youngest teams, but don’t expect them to take a huge fall in either the conference standings or area rankings.
With junior Azana Baines leading the way and with complementary plays like sophomore Bella Steidle and freshman Jayda Williams, and Emily Leonhardt filling key roles, the Rams are off to a 6-1 start.
Realizing her team’s lack of experience, veteran coach Lisa Gedaka has spent the early part of the year stressing fundamentals.
“We’re so young,” she said. “We lost so much from last year. For us, it’s getting better each and every practice. Our practices are fundamentally based. We’re really trying to hone in on the little things. But we’re getting there – we’re progressing.
“There are mistakes, but we’re getting better.”
Gedaka has her group playing a team-oriented style of basketball that makes them very tough to handle with their ability to attack an opponent in so many different ways.
The Rams placed four players in double figures, led by Steidle with 20 to defeat over-matched Glassboro 87-30 Tuesday in a Tri-County Conference game.
However, the Rams are judging this early part of the season, not so much in the terms of wins and losses, but in evaluating how much they can improve for later when the games have more meaning.
“It’s something different from what we’ve had in the past five years, and it’s a challenge,” Gedaka said. “Right now, this team is nowhere near we need to be, but we’re going to get better and better.”
It’s a nice situation for a coach to have some building blocks to work with, especially when one – Baines – is looked on by many as one of the most athletic and complete players in South Jersey.
She lines up as a point guard, but she also rebounds, and shoots. She didn’t shoot well Tuesday, but she till managed 14 points, and she contributed in other ways.
“She is so athletic, so talented, so skilled,” Gedaka said. “But what I like is she really involves her teammates. She’s a very unselfish player. She knows everything needs to go through her. But for us to be really successful, she needs to distribute and the other players need to step up.”
For her part, Baines is expecting her team to be just fine.
“I feel like when we play our best games, and play as a team, that’s most important,” she said. “Everybody is trying to play their role and I think when we do that, we play really good.”
One of those who did fill her role on Tuesday was Steidle. She contributed to the varsity last season as a designated shooter, but she’s taking on a larger role this year.
She’s still a shooter, having chipped in with three 3-point goals against Glassboro, but she also now is one of the team’s most experienced varsity players.
Like the others, she likes what she sees so far.
“I see a team that’s capable of winning as long as we keep up the hard work in practice,” Steidle said. “If we play like a team we can get to the playoffs. So far we’re meshing really well together and everybody is coming together as a team.”
Perhaps the key newcomer to the team is Williams, who showed a nice shooting touch en route to scoring 18 points. She collected 10 of them by making five field goals in the second quarter.
“For a freshman she has a nice touch inside and she can shoot from the outside,” Gedaka said. “She has very few games this year where she’s shown she’s a freshman.”
Williams says she found it an easy adjustment to the varsity level.
“I’ve played with some of the girls and I played against them,” she said. “At first I was a little nervous but when I began to practice as a team it came together.”
She too is optimistic the team in in for a good year.
“We have so many different players – we have shooters, we have some good guards and we have some bigs,” Williams said. “If we practice some more I think this is definitely a playoff team.”
Glassboro 9 9 3 9 -30
Gloucester Catholic 24 24 18 21 -87
Glas: Deja Cook 18, Jade Wesley 2, Jayma Wallce 2, Genisis Vaughn 3, T. Gradson 4, E. Marshall 1.
Gloc. Cath.: Kaitlin Rocobaldo 2, Lindsey Egress 5, Jayda Williams 18, Azana Barnes 14, Bella Steidle 20, Mikela Nelio 2, Megan Gedaka 4, Emily Leonhardt 12, Dee Thomas 7, Kate Codery 3.