The transition from playing high school sports to playing at the collegiate level is no easy task for any athlete. Especially when you can’t get on the court because you suffer from an injury that no one can diagnose.
That happened last season to former Lewis Mills’ girls’ basketball standout Kristen Van Gilst who now starts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, more commonly known as RPI.
“I had a foot injury, I was on crutches most of the season,” said Van Gilst reflecting on her freshman year. “It’s never been fixed; we found a way to tape it so I can play. …the pain is more controllable. It’s a lot better than last season.”
After all that happened last season, Van Gilst felt frustrated, but with the help of her team it wouldn’t keep her down.
“It was a lot of work. I already had the work ethic, but there were a lot of frustrating moments, my shot wasn’t what it used to be,” she said. “The team, coaching staff were very supporting. They were constantly pushing me to do better.”
Her resilience and work ethic impressed RPI head coach John Greene and with the injury behind her, or a high pain tolerance, Van Gilst finds herself in the rotation for the Engineers.
“Last year was frustrating for her. I still don’t know if it was a stress fracture or what,” said Greene. “To work through all that last year, she was at practices every day, she would shoot baskets when she could. She sat on the bench for us, she stayed committed, and she never gave up. I am happy for her that she has been able to be here every day. “
“It’s very helpful from a coaching stand point, she is great example for her teammates,” he said.
So far this season Van Gilst has played in six of the seven games for the Engineers. She might only average three-points per game, but it’s what she does off the score sheet that makes her valuable to the team.
“She’s rebounding, working hard on defense. She does the little things with enthusiasm,” said Greene. “It’s nice; I can point to her and say she is doing everything. She brings a great attitude to the team every day.”
It took Van Gilst some time to get used to the pace of the collegiate game.
“The pace of play is a lot faster, it’s a lot more physical,” she said. “In the Berkshire League if you had one or two players you were strong. In college you have all five.”
Back in high school, when Van Gilst helped lead the Spartans to an undefeated regular season and Berkshire League title when she was a junior, she played as a guard, because of her height, 5’-10”. and the lack of height on her team Van Gilst was asked to be more of an inside player.
“I am playing center instead of guard like in high school. We have a very small team,” she said. “I am working with the coaches to become a better post player. The things I know I can control are defense and rebounding. If I am not contributing those two I am not doing anything.”
It’s that attitude for her on the court contributions that stand out of Greene.
“She’s played out of positions, she’s not a natural power forward or center,” he said. “We’re not particularly big; she’s doing what we ask. It’s the little things that make a huge difference.”
Having a low post player with guard skills is always a plus for any coach.
“It gives us an advantage too because she can play on the perimeter,” Greene said.
On top of being a member of the basketball team, Van Gilst is an architecture student, and is able to manage both.
“She’s a great example with school, doing whatever it takes to do both school work and then be able to get to practice,” said Greene.
“It’s a lot of work but it’s definitely worth it,” said Van Gilst. “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”