Sophomore sensations

Tommy Marquardt and Emily Pavlik

In two years playing basketball at South, sophomore guard Rodell Davis, Jr., or RJ, boasts a career win percentage of 91.7 percent. To emphasize: Davis has played 48 games between his time on the sophomore team last year and the varsity team this year and won all but four of them.

Davis has been able to establish a winning pedigree early in his South career that has only continued to build this year as the only sophomore on the 16-2 varsity team’s active roster. He sees winning as a core value of the ascending South boys’ basketball program.

“I think [winning] is the culture we want to build here at GBS basketball,” Davis said. “Win a lot of games, have fun and be disciplined. I’ve never been on a team where we’ve lost a lot, so I think it’s stepping in and playing my role to help the team win.”

Adapting to the speed of the varsity game as a sophomore is particulary difficult with the pandemic’s limitations on practice time, according to Phil Ralston, South boys’ basketball head coach. Though Davis’s transition to varsity has not been seamless, Ralston said that Davis experiencing the physicality of varsity will allow him to continue to grow as a player.

“One of the challenges for a sophomore playing with varsity is that aspect of fitting in,” Ralston said. “[Last year’s varsity sophomores Nick Martinelli and Cooper Noard] came in a little wide-eyed to see how fast and physical the game became. It was a little bit of trial by fire for them, and there was growth from that. I expect there will be the same from RJ.”

Davis’ soft-spoken nature lets his game talk for him, Ralston said, but has also presented some challenges due to Ralston’s coaching style. Ralston loves to let his players be loud on the court and run practices to mimic in-game communication. Ralston said that Davis’ quietness can be attributed to the hurdles of moving onto a team full of upperclassmen.

“RJ can be deferential to the other kids and he lets his play do the talking for him,” Ralston said. “We would really like to see him step up and show himself in a more active vocal role, whether it’s talking on defense or offense. Those are growth areas for him.”

Davis said his tendency to overthink his actions has contributed to his hesitancy to take the lead vocally in practice. However, trust from his teammates has allowed Davis to gain confidence as more games are played.

“I think it’s just all about [my teammates] having trust in me and knowing that I can play my role for now and then in the later years being able to step up and make a jump every year to a different role,” Davis said.

With such a prominent role at such a young age, Ralston foresees a bright career for Davis. Though he has not achieved true stardom in his sophomore season, flashes of brilliance as a sharpshooter and a level-headed outlook on the game has helped contribute to Ralston’s high hopes for Davis’ future.

“I think the sky’s the limit with RJ,” Ralston said. “He has such a calm demeanor, and when he has his feet set he has such a quick, compact release on his shot. It always looks like it’s going in.”

Alongside Davis, Rachel Koopersmith is another sophomore athlete that competes in a varsity sport at South. Although she is fairly new to field hockey, Koopersmith’s gameplay has guided her to success. 

Koopersmith, a varsity field hockey player, has been a part of the team since she was a freshman. Although she claimed she initially felt intimidated by playing with the upperclassmen, Koopersmith felt welcomed immediately. She said that last year’s team bonding experiences were events she treasured throughout their season.

“I think most of my favorite memories were made off the field, like pasta parties where we could all bond together as a team,” Koopersmith said. “It was also really fun to watch us as a team grow closer and because of this, we became more unified on the field, thus performing better.”

Tom Rosenbaum, girls’ varsity field hockey coach, does not look at the age of his players. He saw that Koopersmith carried field hockey awareness with her in the way she played and kept up with the speed of the game. Watching her during contact days, Rosenbaum sees her returning as an even stronger player than before.

“I see her more comfortable with the ball,” Rosenbaum said. “She’s made an effort to play over the offseason to make herself better. I think that speaks volumes for who she is as a person, player and  teammate.”

Koopersmith’s mom, Elly Koopersmith, said that when she found out Rachel made the team she felt a “swirl of emotions,” considering she had only started the sport in sixth grade. Elly stated that she faced some nerves during the season as well; with Rachel being the only freshman she didn’t know any of the other girls. However, some of the players on Rachel’s team took her under their wings,  which erased some of her nerves. With Elly being Rachel’s biggest cheerleader, she plans to continue her dedication to field hockey again this coming season.

“Her dad, her grandpa and I went to every game, home or away,” Elly said. “We also made a point to get to know the other field hockey parents and sit by the ones that weren’t particularly bothered by my endless questions about what was going on in the game.”

Lauren Koopersmith, Rachel’s younger sister, not only is a supportive watcher from the sidelines but continues to help Rachel train throughout the year. From practicing passing to doing drills, Lauren enjoyed her sister’s strength throughout the years encouraging her to experiment more with athletics herself. With Rachel’s advice to try field hockey, Lauren said Rachel deserved making the varsity team after her dedication to sports over the years.

“Rachel made me try something new and pushed me out of my comfort zone and I really appreciate that,” Lauren said.

Having great faith in her upcoming season, Rachel is excited to be given the chance to play field hockey at all this year.

“Covid-19 has impacted all of our lives in unthinkable ways and I am so happy just to be granted a season,” Rachel said.