The greatest of athletes are all identified with a trait that is uniquely their own.
It is how they are remembered for all of time.
It might be the ability to lead, take over a game at crunch time or even just the ability to get back up after being knocked to the canvas.
When Geena Gabriel is remembered at Pymatuning Valley, the first thing mentioned about her isn’t going to be her ability to pass, shoot or score – all things the senior point guard does and does well. Yes, she loves to make a pass through the lane that seems to zig-zag its way through around defenders. Of course she can knock down a jumper. And she surely has the ability to put the rock in the hole at almost any moment. Those abilities don’t begin to define her, however.
What defines Gabriel is a competitiveness that borders on almost maniacal, and, like most great qualities, it is based from a very real place.
“It’s her competitive spirit,” PV coach Jeff Compan said. “It’s something we always talk about. We want to win every play, every drill. Everything in life is about winning and losing so why not win. If we have a down and back sprint, she’ll win because nobody (in her mind, anyway) should beat her.
“(Great players) have to have that ‘hate to lose’ attitude. They hate to think someone is better than they are.
“I think (Geena’s) got that fear that somebody will be better than she is. It’s something you’ve got to have a little bit of. There’s no way she’s going to let you beat her. It’s easy to be ordinary. It takes that little more, that ‘extra’ to be extraordinary.”
That drive to be the best has put Gabriel in rare company as a Laker.
“We added it up the other day,” Compan said. “We think she’s something like 84-9 in her career. She’s going to graduate averaging 21 wins a season, or hopefully more. There are a lot of teams that don’t 21 wins and she’s going to average that.
“She appreciates the dime as much as anything else. She’s hopefully going to have close to 600 assists and 500-some steals. Those are as gaudy numbers as anybody has had. Hopefully, she’ll have 86 or 87 wins in her career. That might not be matched.”
And the resume has just improved a bit. With a driving layup with 4:27 to play in the fourth quarter, Gabriel joined the most exclusive club in Lakers girls basketball history. She is the third member of the PV 1,000-point Club joining Melody (Holt) Nowakowski and teammate Kelsea Brown. Brown just surpassed the plateau a few weeks ago.
She is the 26th girls player in Ashtabula County history to accomplish the feat.
With her 15 points in the Lakers’ 42-32 victory over Hawken today in the Division III district championship at Ravenna, Gabriel now has 1,007 points in her career.
“It feels good to reach it,” Gabriel said. “I don’t have a set amount of points I want to score. I just want to score to help my team win so we can keep going.”
It’s ironic both Gabriel and Brown, who are cousins, reached 1,000 points in the same season. The girls grew up playing together.
Brown was aided in reaching the mark by Gabriel, who has an uncanny sense of where her teammate is on the floor and exactly when she will be in a window to get the bucket. Some might say Gabriel reached the plateau twice. Once when Brown got there as the duo is as unbeatable combo as there is, and again when she got there on her own.
“Since Kelsea and I always played together since we were younger, we have a connection other people don’t have,” Gabriel said. “It does feel like I’ve scored 2,000 points, but I know I’ve only got 1,000. It’s great I could help Kelsea reach it and to make it here, too, feels awesome.”
When Brown reached the mark, it only fueled Gabriel’s pursuit, considering the dynamic duo spent a lot of time trying to best one another in their backyards.
“Seeing her make it pushed me,” Gabriel said. “I realized I could do it, too. I was glad Kelsea did it. She deserves it as much as anybody else. She works hard and puts in her time. When we were younger, we’d play 1-on-1, P-I-G and H-O-R-S-E.
“It’s a great accomplishment for us both to reach. I was thinking about that. I don’t think it ever crossed my mind. I happy we both did it. We both worked hard since we were little girls. When we were little, we thought we might as well shoot around because there wasn’t much else to do.”
The Lakers are unbeaten , have won a school-record 25 games and claimed the Northeastern Athletic Conference in reaching the regional tournament for the first time. It is that last statement that drives Gabriel.
“I know I don’t want the season to end,” she said. “I want to go further than we ever have before. I know if I don’t play my best game, it will hurt us. I have to be the team leader and take control. If I do well, the other players will look up it and play their best games, too.”
Gabriel isn’t out to pad her numbers at the end of her career. She is simply looking to extend that career as long as possible.
“I always want to be the leader who runs everything,” she said. “It’s just the drive to make the team better and just come out with a win. I do what I have to do.”
Gabriel entered the postseason needing 87 points to become grand. She netted 26 in a 79-17 victory over Atwater Waterloo, 24 in a 72-22 win over Berkshire and 29 in leading the Lakers past Garrettsville Garfield, 52-32, in the district semifinal Wednesday.
“At the start of the year, I wrote down the number of points I needed,” she said. “Every game I would subtract the points. I knew if I didn’t make it, it wasn’t a bad thing. If I did, that would be great. I know I did the best I could to help my team win.”
Of course, she didn’t do it alone.
“Without my family, I’d never be the person I am today,” she said. “My mom, dad and grandma took me to practices. Without them taking me to the gym, I wouldn’t be as good as I am. They put up with me when we lose and they’re there for me when we win. They’ve helped me do the best I can.
“Without my teammates, I’d have never made it here. They always push me to do my best and get better every day. Without every girl on this team and the one last year, I wouldn’t have become the player I am.”
Then there’s the influence of her coaches, with Compan at the head of the list.
“Coach means everything to me,” she said. “In 2nd grade, he told me I’d be the next basketball star. I told him I wasn’t playing. I’m glad I stuck with it and played. He always pushed me to be better. He showed me better ways to do things. He’s a great inspiration.”
As the regular closed, the Lakers were forced to cancel their regular-season contest with Lordstown after it was postponed for weather-related concerns. Compan pulled his leader aside and gave her the green light to go and get what she wanted.
“It was to have him go out and get it,” Gabriel said. “When it had got to 100 points, I knew it would come true. I knew I’d get there sooner or later.”
Though the Lakers have won by an average of 44 points in their 3 postseason contests, Gabriel points have not been a senior padding her numbers. A vast majority of those points came at crucial times. Gabriel simply took control at key moments and scored in bunches.
It was simply an extension of the player she’s become in her final go-round as a Laker.
“She’s driven to succeed,” Compan said. “She wants to leave her mark on the program. I told her she has so many records, but she wants to be the senior point guard whose team was the first to make it to regional.
“She’s heard me say so many times this year that when we need a bucket we take a crazy shot. Whether it’s a jumper or a layup, she has the ability to make it. When we need a hoop when we’re struggling, she takes over. A classic example of that was we were down 11 with 9 and a half or 10 minutes to go at Maplewood. She outscored them 11-2 by herself. We outscored them 14-2 to end the game and she scored 11 of those points.
“It’s kind of like, ‘Climb aboard ladies and I’ll lead you.’ ”
And that’s attitude that has fueled the Lakers’ run.
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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