BRISTOL - Earlier this season, in a game against Oxford, the St. Paul girls basketball team had to dress three freshman, pull out an extra set of uniforms and bring up junior varsity players just to be able to warm up for the game.
Still, the Falcons won. Dealing with and overcoming adversity has been the blueprint of this year’s team and it’ll be no different moving forward in the Class M tournament.
The Falcons have had an uncanny season in terms of injuries. Janessa Gonzalez (knee injury), Lindsey O’Bright (concussion), Taylor Crawford (concussion), Olivia Stump (hamstring), Molly Hooks (illness), Bri Giantonio (illness), McKenzie Gauthier (illness) and Emma Cretella (ankle) have all missed games for St. Paul this season.
“It’s the strangest year ever,” St. Paul head coach Joe Mone said. “I’ve had some of my best players get injured [in my coaching career], but it’s never been this bad. More importantly, they keep pushing on and winning. That’s the amazing thing. They just don’t want to give up.”
Aidrianna Lopez and Morgan Kolb are the only two Falcons players that haven’t been injured this season.
Lopez is the only starter that hasn’t been impacted by injury this year.
The Falcons being resilient and keeping their composure paid off in the opening round win over the Wolverines in the Class M state tournament.
With Gonzalez, Crawford and Cretella still out, the Falcons are missing their best scorer in Gonzalez, as well as the scoring ability of both Crawford and Cretella.
Gonzalez had stepped into an unfamiliar role as point guard this season, one at which she dedicated a lot of work in the offseason to improve.
Now, the Falcons have been trying to find a primary ball handler. It hasn’t been an easy transition.
St. Paul has averaged 46 points since Gonzalez went down, after 52 points with her in the lineup.
“Nobody has to tell them that one of the best players in our league and probably one of the best players in the state is out [in Gonzalez],” Mone said. “It hurts us with our inside-out game. We’ve lost every true point guard we have. I have kids trying to fill in at the point that haven’t been there before.”
Because of this, the recipe for success for St. Paul has been defensive efficiency.
If St. Paul can keep opponents to low point totals, the Falcons have a chance to keep winning.
“The biggest thing for us is definitely defense,” Kolb said. “Defense is the most important thing we need to do in the tournament.”
It’s no secret that St. Paul is being counted out in the tournament without both its best player and a full roster at its disposal.
“The message to them is that anything can happen,” Mone said. “Let’s be honest, everybody is counting us out. We’re a No. 3 seed that lost half our team. But these kids are still good basketball players. We’re still hanging in there and scrapping. There’s no quit.”
Whoever is going to beat St. Paul will need to put together a strong 32 minutes of basketball against a group that has proven to be gritty and not back down.
“We’re not horrible. People are making it sound like we’re not good,” Mone said. “We’re still a good team. There’s just less room for error. So the message is we’re not giving in to anybody. If we get knocked off, whoever knocks us off is going to have to earn it.”
“Whatever happens, I’m proud of them,” Mone added. “Any normal high school kids would have packed it in halfway through the season.”