GOOCHLAND – On the night that Saint Gertrude’s girls basketball program celebrated the efforts, achievements and contributions of its senior leaders, those same players and their teammates continued to showcase the strengths that have helped the Gators achieve a 13-2 record to date as they denied Hanover Havoc 66-52 at the McMurtrie-Reynolds Pavilion.
Monday’s Senior Recognition Game honored Saint Gertrude seniors Nan Kerner, Kaitlin Puccinelli, Katie Pilot and manager Emilia Ianani.
“This group of girls is so particularly special,” said Saint Gertrude head girls basketball coach Robyn D’Onofrio. “The pandemic aside, just knowing that we’re able to acknowledge them and give them the sendoff that they deserve – having never complained, sticking through it, being happy every day that we’re in here – they show such resilience and strong character, every one of them, so being able to do this tonight is just kind of the last hurrah for them, makes me happy as a coach, and I’m glad we could do it for their families and their parents.”
“We’re just thankful to have a season in the first place, and having my team by my side for Senior Night was really important to me and the coaches and my parents and family who got me here,” said Puccinelli, who contributed 7 points to her team’s win on Monday. “I’m a third-generation Puccinelli Gator at Saint Gertrude, and I’m just really thankful for everything.”
“I’m so grateful to have a season and to finish out my senior year here,” said Kerner, a four-year player on the team who led all players in Monday’s game with 17 points. “Being able to hear the nice things that my teammates have thought about me and how I’ve actually helped the team so much, it’s nice to hear and get recognized – and just celebrate the season together because it has been such a successful season for Saint Gertrude’s.”
The Gators opened their 2020-21 season with nine straight wins, and they’ve recently won four of their last five games.
“I think for a while we kept saying how we were just so lucky every day to even just be here, and we realized that, with the talent level that we have, and the athleticism that we have, we kind of had to raise that standard,” D’Onofrio said, “and say: ‘Being just here isn’t good enough,’ and wins matter to these girls. They’re athletes and they want to win. They always want to win, and they show that every day in practice when they come in, so coming out here not only with a season, but with such a successful one is really a great way for them to finish their basketball career.”
As a team, Kerner said they’ve really come together.
“This is probably the closest team that I’ve ever been on,” Kerner said, describing her teammates as her best friends. “We’re just a family…and every practice is so fun, so it’s just easy to come out and play and win.”
Puccinelli praised their teamwork and the bonds between each of the players.
“We do things outside of practice, outside of school,” she said. “We’re just a really close team, and our teamwork really comes together, and it’s really important and it helps our dynamic.”
After the Havoc on Monday tied the Gators 8-8 in the first quarter, Kerner hit a driving go-ahead layup, and her teammates Kayla Ford and Erin Woodson each added a bucket and a free throw to push the home team into a 16-10 lead. Saint Gertrude steadily pulled away and led the Havoc 55-30 going into the fourth quarter.
Behind Kerner, Erin Woodson poured in 16 points – all of them in the first three quarters – and Kate Samson chipped in 10. Behind Puccinelli's 7, Cherese Lampkins and Kayla Ford each netted 6.
Monday’s game, D’Onofrio said, was just a really great tribute to their senior leadership.
“Really their leadership on the floor is what has carried our team the entire season, and they really exemplified that when they were out there,” D’Onofrio said. “We had different groups out there with the younger kids, and they just really show their camaraderie and their commitment to each other – and to growing these girls for the years to come.”