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Gaels will follow their guides

December 03, 1999|By DAN SPEARS

Andrea Benavides and Kristy Divelbliss refuse to call themselves the mothers of the St. Maria Goretti girls basketball team. After all, the team's senior co-captains are only two or three years older than most of their teammates.

Guidance counselors, on the other hand, may be the perfect description.

cont. from sports page

"They are our guides," first-year coach John Ridge said. "They know how to be successful, know the intensity level, know what it takes to win.

"They're the ones we can go to when we need the big basket."

That wasn't the case over the last few seasons, when the first woman of Goretti basketball, Jen Piccolomini, wore a Gaels uniform.

Now, Piccolomini, a two-time All-Area first-team selection, is gone. So are Brianne Hamilton, Melissa Pingley and Laura Seibert. So is coach Gary Carter. Gone, but not forgotten, is their 30-3 record last season, the best in school history.

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Left behind are Benavides, Divelbliss, two other returning players and a host of fresh faces.

"It's a new coach, new players, new practice ... it's all new," Divelbliss said. "It's almost as new for us as it is for them. We're just trying to follow Jen's example, and it's an adjustment. We're still working at it."

What isn't new is this: Despite all the changes, the Gaels expect to win.

"It's more of a team thing now," Benavides said. "I think we actually work better together now."

Junior Lauren Costello and Claire Martin are the other returners, while sophomores Heidi Siirtola and Brett Stone have stepped into major roles.

"I know where we are. It's sort of one of those starting over things," said Siirtola, a part of the Charles Town (W.Va.) Junior High's 19-0 record last season. "But someone had to step in, and I'm not shy, so I did."

Siirtola was the team's leading scorer heading into Friday's game at the James Buchanan Tipoff Tournament, while Ridge calls Stone one of the keys to the season.

"(But) they aren't expected to be our two saviors or anything," Ridge said. "They know their roles and are still learning on the job. They can't just turn the team around; that's difficult. But they've done everything they've been asked."

Now, it's a matter of execute or be executed. Last season, the Gaels won their 30 games in demolition fashion, blowing people out by 30 points per game. After going 1-17 in summer league play, this team may feel the wrath of several paybacks.

"I've already been called a traitor," said Siirtola, who would have played at Jefferson this year. "But I've made the right decision. We've just got to step up and work hard. Being a young team ... I think everyone will know what they have to do."

"It's definitely out there. There are certainly people that will be out shooting for this group," Ridge said. "But we've got nothing to lose. No one expects Goretti to come out and win big again this year."

That's the fight that Benavides and Divelbliss say can make the difference.

"A lot of people bring everyone back; we've lost three starters," Divelbliss said. "We're a whole new team. But this year, Lauren and Claire have a role, and they're playing it well right now.

"I think we're going to be a surprise to a lot of people. They won't be expecting what they see."

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