Deerfield point guard Aubrey Galvan showed no fear.
With the game on the line, the 5-foot-6 sophomore dove to the floor to grab a loose ball. While still on the ground, Galvan somehow managed to fire a no-look pass to teammate Lexi Kerstein, who then passed to Morgan Kerndt for a layup.
That turned out to be the decisive play in the Warriors’ 57-54 upset of Homewood-Flossmoor at the Chicagoland Invitational Showcase on Dec. 3.
“That was the play of the game,” Homewood-Flossmoor coach Tony Smith said. “That was the difference.”
Indeed, the Vikings, a traditional Class 4A power, had whittled a 16-point deficit down to one point when Galvan made her decisive play, which came with 1:46 left in the fourth quarter. Kerndt’s basket gave Deerfield, a Class 3A team, a 51-48 lead.
Galvan, who finished with 14 points, five assists and four steals, later made two baskets, on a pull-up jumper and a fast-break layup, to help seal a signature victory for the Warriors, who won their first 10 games this season.
Count Smith, who has coached some of the best players ever to come out of the Chicago area, among those impressed.
“Yeah, no-look pass,” Smith said. “You can see that comes from the way she practices because that play was a huge play. She didn’t flinch on it, but that shows you how she plays, and that’s great. You can tell she enjoys it.”
Deerfield hasn’t been known as a girls basketball power. That could be changing.
The Warriors have never won a sectional, but last season they went 26-6 and advanced to a sectional final before losing to eventual state champion Carmel 68-60.
Most of Deerfield’s roster returned, including the backcourt of Galvan, Kerstein and Kerstein’s younger sister, Nikki.
Lexi Kerstein, a 5-6 senior, has committed to play at Vermont and is the program’s first major college recruit. Nikki Kerstein, a sophomore, already has 10 Division I offers. Galvan’s recruiting is off the charts, with several Big Ten and Big East offers.
That trio of guards is fun to watch and hard to stop.
“They kind of look like the Lakers’ Dream Team like the old days,” Smith said. “They like to get the ball out and run, open the court. They share, pace it nicely, they hit the open shot, they come off that weave and hit the pull-up.”
A look at the statistics from the Homewood-Flossmoor game bears that out. Nikki Kerstein had 15 points, four steals and three assists, and Lexi Kerstein had 14 points, three rebounds and two assists. Kerndt and her sister Olivia, a Wisconsin-Whitewater recruit, combined for 12 points and 13 rebounds.
But much of the Warriors’ offense is predicated on their defense. They play full-court man-to-man defense with a relentlessness that easily wears down most opponents.
“We’re underdogs,” Galvan said. “Nobody expected us to be really good, but we don’t play like other teams. We’re very fast-paced. We kind of play like an AAU team, so it’s great what we have, and we’re just really excited about what we have in the future.”
Deerfield coach Nicole Keith is excited about her starting lineup, particularly her guards. But it’s how Galvan works well with her teammates that makes the Warriors so effective.
“She’s got an ‘it’ factor that most people would see on the court, but it’s the way they play defense, in particular the three guards up front,” Keith said. “I think it is unmatched. It’s very difficult to guard us offensively, but defensively is where I think we’ve turned it up a notch. We’re so quick, and they condition a lot.”
Indeed, the Warriors never seem to run out of energy.
“They don’t really get tired, which is pretty funny to me,” Keith said. “I’m asking them for a lot. But they can do it, and if they’re looking to go to the next level, they need to be pushed in this regard.”
It’s clear all three guards are going places. The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association named Lexi Kerstein to its Class 3A all-state second team last season, while Galvan and Nikki Kerstein were picked for the third team and special mention, respectively, as freshmen.
Galvan averaged 11.1 points, 4.1 assists, 3.7 steals and 3.2 rebounds and had a team-leading 27 blocks last season. After the win against Homewood-Flossmoor, she was averaging 10.8 points, 5.8 assists, 4.0 steals and 2.7 rebounds while shooting 51%, including 44% from 3-point range. She was leading the Warriors in assists and steals.
Keith said those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
“What I have spoken to many college coaches about is the part of her play that doesn’t show up on a stat line: her vision, her anticipation on the defensive end, her hustle at all times,” Keith said. “Those are things you can’t coach, and that’s what makes her special.
“She has an innate feel for the game and simply loves playing it. She is also incredibly humble about her abilities. She definitely doesn’t like being singled out, and she gives a lot of credit to those around her for her success.”
One of those people is Lexi Kerstein.
“I’ve known Aubrey since I was maybe 7,” Lexi Kerstein said. “We always played against each other in AAU, so it was great.
“Her passing is crazy. You don’t know what is going to happen. She has constant energy at all times, which is really good, and we all kind of feed off of it, which is really nice.”
Galvan considers herself just one of the girls and enjoys playing with such a talented, cohesive group.
“I love this team,” she said. “We have so much to offer, I’d say, because you’ve got the three guards, you have great kids coming off the bench, you’ve got Morgan and Olivia — they’re great too.
“We have such a diverse group, and sometimes people focus on the guards, and they don’t see Morgan and Olivia coming, who are also really good players.”
Galvan was a freshman when she received her first scholarship offer. It was from Minnesota.
“I was kind of in shock,” she said. “It was amazing. I’m grateful for everything I get. I’m so grateful for the whole process I’ve been in.”
Galvan has also received offers from DePaul, Loyola, Creighton, Marquette, Penn, SIU Edwardsville, Valparaiso and Wisconsin. These are heady days for Galvan, 16, but she’s handling the process with aplomb.
“I don’t find it stressful at all,” she said. “You’ve got to always put a positive spin on things, so I just see it as you’re getting to know new people and you get to figure out what you really want next in life.
“Instead of looking at the stressful part of it, you look at it like, ‘Oh, my God, this is a great opportunity for me.’”
Galvan has had the opportunity to attend several college camps in the past year. She particularly liked Wisconsin’s camp.
“They put you in little drills, do everything that they like to do,” she said. “So that’s cool.”
Galvan also has benefited from advice from Lexi Kerstein, who went through the recruiting process first, as well as Keith and Deerfield assistant Pollyanna Johns.
Keith was a three-sport star at Wheeling who got scholarships for basketball and track and field at Michigan. Reconstructive knee surgery ended her college basketball career before it began, but she competed in track at Michigan.
Johns, who went to Evanston, played basketball at Michigan and in the WNBA.
“Our knowledge and experiences truly can help our girls navigate this process,” Keith said. “I am incredibly honored to be a part of Aubrey’s process.”
Galvan was introduced to basketball by her grandfather Richard Wolk, who played at Highland Park.
“He played with the Converse shoes, always rolling his ankles,” Galvan said with no hint of a smirk. “When I was younger, he taught me how to do ballhandling, like 100 dribbles before I could even shoot.
“That went on for a good couple years. I give him a lot of credit for my ballhandling and all my skills.”
Galvan pairs her handle with a stoic demeanor that remarkably doesn’t change regardless of the circumstances. She doesn’t get rattled, even in high-pressure situations such as against Homewood-Flossmoor and Syracuse-bound star Alyssa Latham, who had 23 points and 11 rebounds.
“As a point guard, that’s what coaches are looking at,” Keith said. “It’s one thing to be able to score, but she can take the pressure and doesn’t get frazzled.
“That’s really significant, especially when you’re going to the next level, especially for her height. People are saying, ‘Why is she getting these Power Five offers when she’s 5-6?’ It’s her demeanor, the way she handles the ball and the way she handles herself.”
That has rubbed off on her teammates.
“Both the sophomores are great at keeping composure,” Lexi Kerstein said. “We’ve done a great job keeping composure on the court, especially (considering) we’re never really in this environment, where there’s a ton of people.
“We don’t get people many at our games, so it was great that we were able to come together and work together and just be focused on what’s going on on the court and cancel everything else out.”
Galvan, who also is a star soccer player, has shown the ability to compartmentalize. She hasn’t put a time limit on when she will make her college decision and is in no rush to make a commitment.
“I couldn’t tell you,” she said. “I kind of get the gist of what I want, but I still want to have my mind open.”
But Galvan and the Warriors have their minds made up about what they want this season: a trip to the state finals.
“This is a good group of girls who are willing to work, and that’s what you don’t see a lot of times,” Keith said. “All of them are willing to work because they want this so bad.”
The time is now for Deerfield’s eight seniors, but the more distant future also is bright for Galvan. Just how bright is yet to be determined.
“Aubrey’s potential is through the roof,” Keith said. “That’s pretty exciting to see where that girl is going to go in terms of her ability.”
Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.