by Jonathan Vander Lugt
After opening the season with four losses in a row, Germantown Friends head coach Shawn Werdt wasn’t optimistic about his team’s prospects.
The losses came by a combined 82 points, and the Tigers were turning the ball over left and right. Pietro Berghella, the team’s six-foot-nine centerpiece, was injured. A high ankle sprain sapped his mobility and all of the team’s offensive and defensive firepower with it.
Since then, the Tigers have rebounded to crawl back to the .500 mark at 6-6. Berghella has found his groove, averaging almost 15 points and 10 rebounds a game, while fellow seniors Peter Gard and Isaac Myrin are leaving their mark in different ways.
“Pietro still isn’t 100 percent healthy, although once we got going in mid-December he started chugging along pretty nicely,” Werdt said. “He missed three and a half weeks and decided to try and play on no practice. He just wasn’t ready, and our whole offensive philosophy really runs through him. We struggled to find an identity until he got himself back up to speed.”
A highlight for him came against King, a school from Connecticut, when he finished with 24 points and 21 boards in a GFS win. Around him, Gard has averaged nearly 16 points per contest, including a five-game stretch where he eclipsed the 20-point mark four times.
“I mentioned how proud I was of him and how much time he put into his game over the past four years,” Werdt said, of Gard. “He’s averaging about 16 points per game and is shooting over 40 percent from three. He’s really taken on most of the point guard duties and has really been rock-solid for us.”
Myrin’s name won’t show up in the stat sheet, but his contributions have been equally important nonetheless.
“He’s leading the team in assists – he’s got nearly four per game – and averages six rebounds while defending the other team’s best player,” Werdt said. “We’re much better with him on the floor. They’re carrying us, and doing what seniors should do – they’ve been around the block for a long time so it’s great to see.”
In all, the team seems to be what Werdt thought it would be despite the rough start. That’s not to say that there isn’t work to do, but the situation certainly doesn’t seem as dire as it did three or four games in.
“We’re still trying to figure some things out,” Werdt said. “We’ve won six of our last eight though and we’re feeling like we’re looking upward… When we execute offensively, don’t turn the ball over and we’re solid on the defensive end, we’re capable of competing with anybody.”
Elsewhere, the sophomore trio of Nolan Grady, Tyson Maddox and Dean Wang all give contributions in spurts. Wang offers high-variance scoring punch – he might turn the ball over five times in two minutes, but he might also get you 20 points in the next 10 – while Grady and Maddox have been solid glue guys.
“It’s a disciplined group that knows we really have to execute,” Werdt said. “We don’t quite have that killer offensive player that can reliably just go and get points, so pretty much all of our scoring is coming out of offensive sets. We really need to work to keep it close the entire game, because we aren’t going to be able to come back from a 20-point deficit. If we can keep games around five points throughout, we’ll give ourselves a pretty good chance of winning because we have smart kids.”
The Tigs’ most impressive win was perhaps its 65-43 victory over Abington Friends. Earlier in December, the Kangaroos pestered Penn Charter (which beat GFS 58-32) enough to go into the fourth quarter tied before eventually falling. To show Werdt that his team could wallop another one that was competitive against a squad that had so handily beaten the Tigers earlier was encouraging.
That said, it’s really hard to use the transitive property in sports – especially at a level as unreliable as high school hoops – but it shows that the Germantown Friends team that started 2017 likely isn’t the same one that it will feature in the new year.
“We have really good chemistry, and the kids are really intelligent,” Werdt said. “They have great basketball acumen and they are extremely disciplined on the offensive end. We’ve been able to grind out some wins by staying within the offense and their talent. They don’t try to do things they aren’t capable.”
Overall, Werdt said that he’d give the team a solid B, which is a serious accomplishment given where it started.
“After the first four games, I would have given us an F. The group’s ability to bounce back from adversity – going 0-4 to start the year and now getting back to .500 – shows a sense of improvement,” he said. “For that, I’d give us an A. I do think we’ve left a couple of wins on the table. In a perfect world, we’d have eight or nine wins right now. I do like where we’re at, though – we’re healthy and playing a good brand of basketball.”
Midseason Grade: B-/B