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Campus News

October 31st, 2023

Lady Lakers reloading – not rebuilding

Silver, Valentinetti, 5 freshmen and 2 transfers look to contend

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Garrett College returns just two players –guard/forward Aleeya Silver and shooting guard Gabby Valentinetti – from last year's 20-4 women's basketball squad. Even so, Lady Lakers head coach JT Lewis believes his program will be reloading rather than rebuilding this season.

"I'm excited about this year," said Lewis, who has guided GC to a 43-9 record over the last two seasons. "We have great chemistry within the team. We might start a little slow with people just getting to know each other, but I think overall we should have another good year."

Lewis will be expecting a lot from Silver (seven points per game, five rebounds per game, 41% field-goal percentage) and Valentinetti (six points, three rebounds per game, 37% 3-point field-goal percentage), who will be playing with five freshmen and a pair of transfers.

"The biggest difference with Aleeya is she's starting the season in shape," said Lewis, noting Silver was still recovering from a knee injury at the start of last season. "She's moving well and I think she's going to have a big season for us."

Valentinetti returns with a more consistent outside shot and the same hard-working attitude she displayed last season.

"Her work ethic is amazing," said Lewis. "She's in the gym early every morning, then in class, then working at Subway. And she's on time for everything – a leader by example."

Janiya Burton transferred to GC after Alliance University closed suddenly in August. Burton averaged 2.2 points and 2.1 rebounds per game while logging 15 minutes a game last season for NCAA Division II Alliance, which finished 5-19.

"I expect her to play a significant role on offense and defense," Lewis said of Burton. "She's a very talented, long, and fast player who can play multiple positions. She should have a big year."

GC's other transfer is point guard Hasana Akinloye, who played at Springfield (Mass.) Technical Community College in the 2021-22 season. She averaged 9.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game while being named to the All-Region 21 second team.

"She's very quick," Lewis said of Akinloye. "She can help us put pressure on the ball and push the tempo on the fast break. I think she can definitely help us out."

Two virtual locals – shooting guard Gianna Michaux of Uniontown and power forward Bailey Lambertson from Allegany County's Mountain Ridge High School – are among the freshman five.

"She's a very talented player with a good feel for the game," Lewis said of Michaux, who attended Albert Gallatin High. "What she brings to the team is the ability to get to the basket and draw fouls."

Lewis said Lambertson, at 6-foot-1, "is our true post player."

"She has size and plays big," added Lewis. "She's definitely someone we're counting on to be our inside presence."

Lewis called Renee Timbers (South Lakes High/VA) "a true point guard who handles the ball well and takes care of the ball."

"She has a very nice outside shoot," continued Lewis. "She's someone I can trust the team with – trust that she will take care of the ball. She also gets to the basket well."

Spanish small forward/point guard Manuela Perez DeCastro illustrates Lewis' new-found international approach to recruiting.

"I did a Face Time with her and she liked the campus. Things just fell together perfectly," said Lewis, who credited Director of Admissions Melissa Wass with helping to facilitate DeCastro's successful recruitment. "She's a very smooth player – fast, long, athletic, runs the court well, and finishes at the rim very well. She's also very crafty with the ball."

Lewis called 5-foot-9 Cigi Pancake (Ironton, OH) – who was a key player on this year's Lady Lakers soccer team – "kind of my wild card."

"She recovering from a concussion sustained in soccer season," said Lewis. "When she's recovered, she looks like she can play and help us out this year."

Lewis said reigning NJCAA Division II national champion CCBC-Essex "is definitely the team to beat" in Region 20. Montgomery College – which defeated GC twice last season, including in a Region 20 semifinal – should also be a top regional contender in an improving region.

"I think overall most teams are getting a little better, kind of recovering from the COVID years," said Lewis, who has guided the Lady Lakers to three straight trips to the Region 20 semifinals.

The Lady Lakers open the season against Harcum College – currently ranked sixth in NJCAA Division II and the only team to beat CCBC-Essex last season – November 3rd at 5 p.m. in the Jim Walton Classic at Potomac State College of West Virginia University. GC then plays Mountain Gateway (VA) Community College Saturday at 1 p.m. at PSC.

"I was very pleased with our effort at IUP [scrimmage versus Indiana University of Pennsylvania)," said Lewis. "This team looks like it has a lot of heart and a lot of outside shooting. We'll get to the basket a lot more this year. Most of our offense was either mid-range shots or three-pointers last year."