Pretty much anyone can play sports when their teams are winning. Practices are fun, the coaches are nicer, and the games, well, they’re as good as it gets. You walk through the hallways each day, people slap you on the back, and you can’t wait to hear the morning announcements.
It takes someone special, however, to suffer through a lot of losing and still go out there to give it everything they have. A shining example of just such a player is Hamilton West senior Ashley Gerstnicker, who is the stereotype of a kid who just loves the play the game. Any game.
Gerstnicker is in her final season of high school athletics, and as of April 19, she was hitting .333 with 10 runs scored, three walks, six stolen bases and five RBI batting out of the leadoff spot. She was still within reach of her preseason goal of hitting .400.
“I just want to get on base any way I can,” Gerstnicker said early in the season. “I was never much of a leadoff but I’m sure I can make this work.”
She was making it work, just as she always has done through adverse conditions. The Hornets record stood at 2-7 on April 19. A sub-.500 record is something that Gerstnicker has gotten used to, but has never accepted.
In her 11 varsity seasons—four each in basketball and softball and three in field hockey—the combined record of those teams was 46-159-6. “Gersh” has never played on a high school team with a winning record, with her best season team-wise coming as a freshman when the basketball team went 10-14 and won the Colonial Valley Conference Valley Division title.
This is not meant to castigate those teams or diminish Gerstnicker’s value as a player. It is not to insinuate she is a loser because she is, in every sense of the word, a winner.
Loss after loss has not beaten her down to the point of wanting to quit, or deciding to go half-hearted because she didn’t think it would help no matter how hard she tried. To the contrary, she has played every game in every sport as if a state or county title was on the line.
“That just speaks to her character and her personality,” basketball head coach/softball assistant Erin Wolverton said. “You can see she’s truly hard working, and she wants the best for her team no matter what. She’s a dedicated player who’s constantly there for her teammates. She’s been a pleasure to coach over the last four years, she’s definitely a player I’ll miss. With her dedication, you knew what you were going to get, day in, day out.”
Softball coach Lindsey Diamond echoed her assistant’s thoughts.
“Gersh is probably one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever had, attitude wise, personality-wise,” Diamond said. “She goes for it all. She’s a hundred percent or nothing. She’s the kind of kid you can go old school style with. You just know, brute pain, she’s there. I love having her on the field. I can look at her, she tells me she hurts, and I can say ‘Hey, grind it out, time to play, let’s go, throw dirt on it later,’ and she does it.”
There’s a reason for that. Athletes are always told to have fun while playing. Gerstnicker does exactly that. Being on the wrong end of the score doesn’t count half as much as being part of the competition.
“It’s more than just winning or losing,” Gerstnicker said. “Playing sports gave me the opportunity to make great friendships on and off the field. It is also very exciting to play cross-town rivals against other girls I have competed with in the past.”
Thus, she would never walk away.
“I have definitely gotten frustrated multiple times, but never with the urge to quit; only to become better than what I was before,” Gerstnicker said. “Playing sports is a huge part of me; something I would never take for granted.”
Gerstnicker had a strong role model in big sister Erica, who played four years of softball and two of field hockey before graduating in 2014.
“Erica has been a tremendous influence on me throughout my scholastic and sports careers,” Gerstnicker said. “She has shown me that hard work and dedication for both will surely benefit me in the long run.”
The sisters were both in one uniform or another as kids, as Gerstnicker played softball with the HGSA and was a member of the Hurricanes All-Star teams. She played basketball in CYO and Hamilton PAL and also played AAU with the Hotshots and Lady Hawks.
‘There is no better feeling than when everything finally clicks at just the right time.’
Field hockey was never on the radar until she got to high school. One reason was Erica played. The other was, well, let’s just say Gerstnicker might make a good lobbyist some day.
“My sister convinced me to give it a try,” she said, before adding with a laugh, “But to be completely honest, as a freshman, I was playing to get on the good side of my freshman field hockey coach, coach (Staci) Adams, who was also the JV basketball coach. But in the end, I ended up loving the sport and continued to play my last three years.”
Field hockey provided Gerstnicker with one of her greatest highlights. During her junior year, Hamilton beat Lawrence 1-0 in the Central Jersey Group II tournament, with Gerstnicker setting up Devon Onorati for the winning goal. One season earlier, Gerstnicker was part of a Hornet team that won the first field hockey state game in school history when it defeated Jackson Liberty.
“There is no better feeling than when everything finally clicks at just the right time,” she said of her assist against Lawrence. “I will forever cherish that moment.”
Her basketball career got off to a good start as well. She didn’t even need to schmooze with Adams as she went right to varsity, and the Hornets won the Valley title. Unfortunately for Gerstnicker, it was the only crown she would win, but that is also something to cherish.
“That was a great experience considering how new I was to this,” she said. “Basketball has always been my passionate sport although I’ve had some nice highlights throughout my softball career. I have really enjoyed the competition each sport has brought upon me.”
Gerstnicker says whatever sport she is playing at the time is her favorite, and Diamond feels softball is probably her best.
“I say yes to softball, she says no, she thinks it’s basketball,” the coach said. “But she has that natural finesse, especially in the field. She comes up big in situations for us, and she’s looking at the whole picture all the time. She’ll say to me during a game, ‘Hey coach, look at first, let me bunt.’ Her head is always in the game.”
Gerstnicker is in her fourth season of playing infield for Hamilton, playing second base this year. She raised her average every season, going from .167 to .259 to .283 to over .300 this year.
“I’m expecting big things from her offensively,” Diamond said. “That’s why she’s batting leadoff.”
Gerstnicker did not set any huge goals this year, other than what she sets every year.
“In my last high school sport season, I want nothing more than to just have fun,” she said. “I want to win a couple of games and finish off with a successful season.”
And while sports keeps her busy, Gerstnicker still participates in DECA, FBLA and the Hamilton Yearbook Club, as well as working at the Stone Terrace when time permits. She will major in special education at Montclair State next year and is looking into playing club sports “because it’s hard to imagine school without sports.”
It’s also hard to imagine Hamilton West without Gerstnicker, who has been a constant bright light during some dark times.
“She still has her head about her, even in losses. I think that’s what frustrates her sometimes, and we have our meetings and talk about things,” Diamond said. “She’s that kid that keeps on going no matter what. She’s like that train that never stops. She’s not going to stop. She’s going to make it somewhere. She will be successful in life.”
It’s called being a winner.