FORT WASHINGTON >> Germantown Academy girls’ basketball had a pretty good season last year, winning at least a share of the Inter-Ac title for the third straight year and advancing to the PAISAA final.
What made that more impressive was two things. Firstly, the Patriots relied on a lot of freshman to play major minutes and secondly, they did without ever having their roster at full strength. The definition of a team that couldn’t catch a break with injuries, GA still went 21-10 and 11-1 in the Inter-Ac.
This year, it appears the Patriots will open with all the pieces needed to put the puzzle together during the season.
“We have people coming back, but they were also freshmen last year so we are still a really young team,” senior co-captain Cat Polisano said. “One thing that’s been really good for us so far is we’re fast. We’re faster than we’ve been in the past and we have a lot of key shooters so we should be able to kick the ball pretty easily and expand the defense.”
Polisano was one of the missing pieces last season, losing the entire season to an ACL injury. The guard, a Fordham commit, is back in the mix this winter and is sharing captaincy with the squad’s only other senior, forward Alexa Naessens.
Naessens, a Colgate recruit, missed a handful of games early last season with injuries but rounded into form and played very well down the stretch after Lilly Bolen’s season-ending injury. The 6-foot-1 senior ended up as an all-state selection but credited the team’s ability to stay afloat to the underclassmen thrust into those expanded roles.
“You could tell by the way they came out at the end of the season, they all wanted to win just as much as any of us did,” Naessens said. “They played really tough.”
Current junior Rachel Balzer filled a lot of the scoring and shooting roles that Polisano’s injury created but plugging the other needs fell to last year’s freshmen like point guard Maddie Vizza, guard Jaye Haynes, guard/forward Elle Stauffer and guard Maddie Burns. Now a year older, the Patriots are counting on those players continue growing with the confidence they can play both in the Inter-Ac and against the team’s usually tough out of conference schedule.
“We were just talking about this a couple practices ago how nerve-wracking it was coming in freshman year and they were starting last year so it was hard for them,” Polisano said. “But it was pretty cool though, seeing them grow during the season.
“Sitting out was tough, the best thing for me to do last year was just mentor the younger kids. We had a bunch of freshmen so that’s where I found myself getting involved.”
Polisano is getting used to being on the court with those underclassmen, but has found it smooth sailing so far with her passing and shooting meshing well with the rest of GA’s perimeter players. Naessens, who should see plenty of room in the paint thanks to the spacing the guards provide, has been equally impressed so far.
With four or even five players on the floor capable of handling the ball, Naessens said the Patriots should thrive in transition and their seven sophomores are more than keeping up. They, along with this year’s group of freshmen, are very receptive to what the upperclassmen and coaches are telling them.
“The sophomores are just killing it right now,” Naessens said. “Jaye, Maddie Vizza and Elle, they know exactly what they’re doing on the floor, they’re running really hard and keeping all the energy up. Elle is a beast out there, she amazes me a little bit every day.”
The co-captains said chemistry was a huge part of last year’s success and kept the team together despite the injuries and changes in the lineup. To that end, they’re also very much looking forward to the team’s pre-Christmas trip to a tournament in Arizona.
GA usually goes to an out-of-state tournament each year and the two seniors said the experience always has a huge impact on the team’s chemistry and bonds.
“It kind of excludes us as a team away from other people, we only have each other and it almost makes it a vacation with a different family,” Polisano said. “It brings us closer.”
“We’re with each other together all the time, you’d think we’d get sick of each other but with this team it’s like having a big family,” Naessens said. “You get annoyed with one sibling and just go hang out with another one.”
While GA begins play this weekend as part of an Inter-Ac/Friends School League challenge at Shipley School, the two seniors know the team is still not a finished product. During a scrimmage last weekend, the co-captains were on the bench.
“We were sitting and watching with mostly sophomores and they looked a little confused, so we need a defensive leader out there,” Polisano said. “We have to communicate.”
“Energy is really important for us too,” Naessens said. “When we have high energy, we’re a better team.”
One trophy has eluded both Polisano and Naessens in their GA careers so far, that being a PAISAA state championship. They’ve played in title games, but haven’t been able to get over the hill and that’s fueling much of their motivation for their final seasons.
“We’re usually a team people are scared of when they see Germantown Academy, last year I thought we were more underdogs but made up for it with a lot of spirit and energy,” Polisano said. “Every year you want to get better. It’s never enough and we want that state title. As seniors especially, having played in that game and not have that outcome, we want it.”
“We can win it. We just have to come out with that confidence,” Naessens said.