Royal Oak Shrine junior Regan Smith participates in a drill during a recent practice. Despite having a multitude of underclassmen, coach Wayne Gigante says the team is as experienced as it’s ever been.

Royal Oak Shrine junior Regan Smith participates in a drill during a recent practice. Despite having a multitude of underclassmen, coach Wayne Gigante says the team is as experienced as it’s ever been.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Shrine girls basketball continuing to grow successful program

By: Jacob Herbert | Royal Oak Review | Published December 4, 2018

 Royal Oak Shrine seniors Grace  Kruszewski, left, and Grace Murray are pictured at a recent practice. Kruszewski and Murray  are the only two seniors on the school’s basketball team this year.

Royal Oak Shrine seniors Grace Kruszewski, left, and Grace Murray are pictured at a recent practice. Kruszewski and Murray are the only two seniors on the school’s basketball team this year.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

ROYAL OAK — When Wayne Gigante took over at Royal Oak Shrine, the girls basketball program barely had enough kids to field a whole team. Now, as the coach enters his seventh year with the program, the Knights are on the verge of a three-peat in the Catholic High School League Intersectional II Division. 

The key to turning around the program, Gigante said, was his own enthusiasm.

“You get the keys to the jet and you get the doors open for the kids,” he said. “You get your kids the opportunity to get into the gym to work hard and have fun playing basketball. It’s the only way. If you take over a program and you’re not committed to the cause, which is basketball, then you really don’t have a chance.

“My theory was always, ‘We’re always going to have the doors open.’ It then becomes a matter of how bad do you want it. With that opportunity, people have started to take advantage of it.”

The Knights enter this season having only two seniors on their roster: co-captains Grace Murray and Grace Kruszewski. Despite how young most of the players are, Gigante said, the team is as experienced as it’s ever been.

“We count on our seniors,” the coach said. “We always do. We put a lot of pressure on our seniors. Some step up and some don’t. These two know what their roles are and that’s to set an example with their commitment in practice, being on time and working hard.”

The role both seniors have stepped into is a leadership role. Murray and Kruszewski feel that if they are excited to work in practice, it will translate to the rest of the team — just like their coach has done for them.

“I was a captain last year, so I really had to grow into that leadership role early on,” Murray said. “Now that I’m a senior, that’s really heavily emphasized, especially by our coaches and by ourselves, because we do have a lot of younger kids on the team. The fact that they’re going to be on the team for the next three of four years, we really want to help them as much as possible.”

Another goal the seniors have in front of them is keeping the team tight knit. After practice, they always stay back to help the underclassmen clean up the gym. They want to show the younger kids that even though they are above them in a leadership sense, they are still on the same level from a player and a teammate standpoint.

“We really want to make this a cohesive team,” Kruszewski said.

At the beginning of the season, each player fills out a small sheet with things they want to accomplish that year. One thing that every player had in common was winning the Catholic League for a third straight season.

“I’d say that’s probably our No. 1 goal,” Murray said. “Just because that really sets apart from a lot of the other teams here. I think we would be the first team in a really long time to win three in a row. That’s always going to take so much hard work and dedication.”

Gigante said the team is focusing on doing what it has always done. The players believe that will bring them another Catholic League title.

“It’s our practices,” he said. “That’s what we focus on more than anything else. We really make sure that our practices are valuable and that they are a real learning, teaching and competitive atmosphere that will prepare us for the games.”