Germantown Friends School’s Peter Gard (23) drives past a teammate in practice. Gard is one of three seniors that head coach Shawn Werdt is counting on to help lead the team. (Photo by Jonathan Vander Lugt)

by Jonathan Vander Lugt

By now, Germantown Friends head basketball Shawn Werdt is used to the woes that often befall teams at small schools such as his.

At different times in his tenure, he has dealt with injuries, inexperience, a lack of depth and lineup uncertainty. Often, it’s some combination thereof.

For the 2017-18 season, he’s without Mike Buckmire – a recent walk-on to number-one-ranked Duke’s varsity team – who has served as the Tigers’ heart and soul for two seasons.

No matter.

“Guys step up,” Werdt said. Buckmire was that guy two years ago after a four-senior exodus that followed a 20-win 2014-15 season. “I’m not 100 percent sure where that’s going to come from, but someone will.”

He has several candidates this year: someone (or two, or three) from the senior trio of Isaac Myrin, Pietro Berghella and Peter Gard would be a good start. In addition, point guard Dean Wang – a mid-year transfer last year as a freshman – will certainly provide scoring punch.

Myrin, Berghella and Gard have received significant minutes since they were sophomores, and have each developed in their own way. Myrin, a three-sport athlete at GFS, doesn’t have much time to devote to just basketball, but is willing to “run through a brick wall” for the team.

Berghella uses his 6-foot-9-inch height to terrorize opposing players on defense, and is rounding into a more polished offensive game for this season. Gard, a player who according to Werdt didn’t start on his junior high team, has grown into a specialist who led the Friends Schools league in three pointers made last season.

“We have a really experienced and athletic senior class,” Werdt said. “They’ve been around the block and have played a lot of important games for us. One thing that Peter has done is invest in himself. He’s hit the weights like crazy, adding about 20 pounds of good weight. He’s probably the hardest working guy on the team, and I think he’ll see the results of that this season.”

Gard sunk 55 threes last season, and averaged 8.4 points per game. Berghella averaged 9.4 points per game, to go along with eight boards per contest.

“This year, we’re trying to play through him – he’s another kid who’s put a lot of time in,” Werdt said, of Berghella. “This is the first time we’re really going to ask him to score. He’s one of those program kids who’s gotten better every year.”

As for Myrin, “he’s super physical, super tough and always does the dirty work,” Werdt said. “We’re happy to have him because he’s really a blue collar player for us.”

“[That trio] is where our main strength is,” Werdt said, “but we do have a nice nucleus of younger talent. It’ll be a bit of a blend.”

As for the group of younger kids that figure to see significant minutes, Wang will lead the way. The sophomore averaged 9.6 points per game last season, and should see an increased scoring load with Buckmire gone.

Elsewhere, role guys like Nolan Grady, Tyson Maddox and Sam Webber will provide solid minutes. Though they’re relatively young, Werdt has been working especially hard to make sure that they and other bench players are up to speed.

“We’ve spent a lot more time with those kids, making sure that they know what we’re trying to do,” Werdt said. “In our last four years, there’s been such a drastic fall off from the fifth or sixth guy to the rest of the team, that if we had to go to the bench, we’d really struggle. I have more confidence with the median of this group.”

Berghella and Gard know their roles in that process as well.

“An important thing for me was always knowing my role,” Berghella said. “Sophomore year, I got a lot of minutes, but the offense wasn’t running through me. The more years you have, the more you understand different roles. That way you can say to the younger guys, ‘Listen, you’re not here to take it yourself, you’re here to keep the wheels on the bus.’”

“I think this year we’re a lot deeper than usual,” Gard said. “We always talk about having ‘the next guy up,’ so we try to make sure everyone’s ready.”

Players like Berghella and Gard know, because they’ve been in that role before. It gives them perspective, and a bit of relatability for the younger players on the team.

“Team chemistry is something that’s really strong this year,” Berghella said. “Usually juniors and seniors are all ‘buddy-buddy,’ but this year you see it all the way down.”

It’s one of the scant benefits of playing for a small school.

“All the grades, no matter what,” Berghella said, “we’re a pretty cohesive group.”