Donovan Catholic girls turn personal adversity into team energy

Coach Glen Jansen talks to members of the Donovan Catholic girls varsity basketball team during their game against Jackson Memorial High School Jan. 7 in Jackson. Mike Ehrmann photos

By Rich Fisher | Contributing Editor

If the Donovan Catholic girls’ basketball program can hang its hat on one definitive attribute, it’s the ability to thrive amid adversity.

Last year, despite the fact that coach Glen Jansen lost his father and grandmother during the Shore Conference Tournament, the Griffins finished 21-6 and reached the quarterfinals of the SCT and South Jersey Non-Public A tournaments.

Donovan Catholic lost its top three performers from that team due to graduation, including two 1,000-point scorers. And Jansen suffered another personal loss this year when he lost his mom, Cecilia, prior to the holidays.

So how do this year’s Griffins handle graduation losses and tragedy? Same as always, as they rolled to a 7-2 start during games through Jan. 7.

“We use adversity as fuel to push us harder on the court,” senior Jayden Kearney said. “It makes us want it even more. We see a challenge, we face it, and if things don’t go our way or a specific person is having an issue, we know exactly how to pick each other up and keep pushing forward.”

Sophomore Jordyn Keating (10.5 points per game), Kearney (9.9 ppg, 6.5 rebounds per game) and senior Paige Slaven (9.6 ppg) have been leading the way. Other regulars in the rotation are seniors Nalah Tinsley and Victoria Gelosi, and juniors Olivia Parlow and Karolina Jaruseviciute.

“That’s the whole group that came back from last year,” said Jansen, who graduated two 1,000-point scorers in 2018. “With Paige and Jayda having experience from last year, they are tremendous assets for what we’re trying to build on, and Jordyn plays for a tremendous AAU program, so she was able to kind of get her experience and become the player she is by training and playing at a high level in the off-season.”

And while the talent may not be as top-heavy as last year, the chemistry is making up for it.

“Regardless whether it’s minutes, knowing each other or trusting each other, that core group of seven has really just kind of picked up where the group last year left off,” Jansen said. “In a tough game, a tight game, you can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have the trust and don’t believe in each other, it could be difficult.”

Jansen’s players agree. Slaven noted this year’s team is “a closer group and tend to have the same interests,” while Kearney calls it a family, saying, “We may have issues, but we can overcome anything because we think of each other as sisters.”

And that family knows how to prevent the other team from scoring.

“That’s probably the biggest improvement from last year; we’re a much better defensive team,” Jansen said. “We don’t need to score 55 points a game. Seven of our opponents have scored 36 points or less. I think our team defense, our athleticism and our speed has increased tremendously.”

And while all that is well and good, it was still a tough time for the program when Cecilia Jansen passed away.

“She was a devout Catholic,” Jansen said of his mom. “A little, tiny lady, 4-foot-11 on her best day, from the Chambersburg section of Trenton. She was a huge supporter of her faith. She sent both me and my sister to Donovan.

“My mom and I prayed a lot together, especially when she got sick. I know she’s in a better place. It doesn’t necessarily take the pain away, but I pray that she’s now at peace and the rest of us can also find peace now that we have to kind of go along without her. My faith definitely gets me through it.”

He can say the same thing about his players.

“This group of girls is a reflection of their fantastic families,” said Jansen, who missed several games to tend to his mom’s affairs in Florida. “They’ve been great.”

Said Slaven, “It was definitely difficult for coach Jansen losing two parents in a year, especially around the holidays and during the season. We are supporting coach Jansen by working hard, playing hard, and trying not to miss a beat when he was gone for [two games]. The assistant coaches really stepped up to the plate and helped us.”

Slaven, who belongs to St. Luke Parish, Toms River, and Kearney, a Columbus resident, both lean on their faith and noted that the team prays for Jansen and his family to be able to endure. They also used their devotion to the coach as inspiration for basketball while he was away.

“When we stepped on the court, we were looking to play hard and as a team, the way coach Jansen expected us to play,” Slaven said. “During the time he was out, we weren’t only playing for ourselves but for Coach. We didn’t want to let him down playing poorly and not the way he expected us to.”

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