Girls Basketball Hustling Until the Last Play
Six games into the season, the Greenhills Girls Basketball Team is still looking for its spark. The season was never going to be easy: the team graduated five seniors last season, all key players, and replacing that much talent is difficult, especially in basketball. It takes time and effort — a lot of it — to relearn entire systems and playbooks after losing the equivalent of a full starting lineup. It’s a difficult transformation to make.
But already, the team has proven that it has the most important thing: the hustle.
Georgie Branch goes up for a contested layup, gets her own rebound, and shoots again — then does the same thing three or four times, almost singlehandedly willing the points onto the board for the Gryphons. Claire Stephens dives to the floor for a loose ball, scraping herself up but maintaining possession for Greenhills. Lana Kouatli, brand new to basketball, takes the court and starts pulling down rebounds over taller, more experienced players. Rukmini Nallamothu sprints back on defense, disrupts an opponent’s breakaway, and throws down an emphatic block. Danielle Ewang runs all over the court, never allowing the opponent she’s defending to break free, sticking to her player like a magnet to a refrigerator.
With time, the results will come. After graduating five seniors, the new group is still learning how to play together, and what each player’s new roles will be. But here’s what the Gryphons have made clear: they already have the hard work and effort necessary to turn a group that just lost five key players into a new, excellent basketball team. Now it’s just a matter of time and practice.
“Our defensive intensity has definitely picked up,” said Head Coach Janelle Sterling after the team’s loss Friday to St. Catherine’s. “Rukmini got a block, Danielle was hustling back and getting in position on defense. We had a lot of good hustle plays once we settled in.”
The game against the Stars played out like the first act of a three-act sports movie. St. Catherine’s hoisted deep shots that found the net, or found open space to take clear jumpers. The Gryphons, meanwhile, grinded for every point. They drove toward the basket, found themselves surrounded by two or three opponents, and fought their way out again. They withstood ferocious defense, never giving up the ball without a fight. They grabbed loose balls and hung on for dear life. And they relied on their entire team, getting the entire roster into the game, including several players making returns from injuries.
The thing about sports movies, of course, is that the first act is only the beginning. In the second, the team regroups, assesses what it needs to do to change its attack plan, and gets to work. In the third, the underdogs get a chance at redemption. And as it happens, the Gryphons play St. Catherine’s again in a few weeks.
“We had a decent strategy coming in, but I don’t think we realized that they had as many shooters as they have on their squad,” Sterling said. “Knowing that now, we’ll have to switch up our defense just a little bit to counteract that. But I liked what our girls did once they figured out that people were going to be putting up shots on them.”
Sterling says the team will work on transition defense, preventing opponents from exploiting the confusion of a sudden change of possession to create open shots. The team will need to work on communicating its way around switches and screens, likewise denying opponents open space to run their offenses. Closing out on defense quickly but not too quickly with one hand up and one hand out, to deny open shots but also prevent opponents from driving right past defenders to the basket. Setting screens for teammates, to create the very same open space that St. Catherine’s utilized to their advantage.
The team’s senior leadership will help with that. The Gryphons are in a strange place, in that they are simultaneously young — five seniors graduated last year — and very old — this year’s team has eight seniors of its own. So while the team is certainly missing its graduated class of 2021, there’s no shortage of senior leadership to help the Gryphons learn the lessons they need in time for their next game.
And the most important thing — the hustle, the desire, the will to win — is already there. That much is clear.
“This team was good,” Sterling said. “We could have easily folded at halftime and just mailed it in. But we were hustling until the last play.”