St. Joseph vs Fort Zumwalt West at Visitation

Tuesday, December 27, 2011--Fort Zumwalt West's Kelsey Kingsborough guards St. Joseph's Erin Nelson during the first half of their semifinal game in Visitation Academy Christmas Basketball Tournament at Visitation. Sarah Conard | freelance

Sarah Conard

Every time Erin Nelson pulls on her St. Joseph’s Academy jersey, she shakes her head in wonderment at the thought. There was a time when wearing the green and white was just a dream. She remembers vividly being a teeny, tiny elementary school kid watching the Angels play ball and wanting nothing more in the world than to one day do that, too. “In second grade, I went to my first St. Joe game, and I watched Mackenzie Stirmlinger,” Nelson, 17, says. “I just fell in love with St. Joe.”

Now a 5-foot-10 forward, Nelson is one of those players inspiring young girls and their hoop dreams. Earlier this season, St. Joe had a youth team from Mary Queen of Peace pop by practice. The little ones were thrilled to be in the gym. The team gave them T-shirts, but they might as well have been gold doubloons. “They were so excited,” Nelson says. “Some of the parents called and said their girls didn’t take their shirts off all night. It’s amazing.”

Amazing would be an apt word to describe the Angels this winter. St. Joe had two losses at Ladue News press time—one of which came to Incarnate Word in the 2011 Visitation Christmas Tournament and the other at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix the week before Christmas. The Angels will get a chance to avenge that loss to the Red Knights on Saturday, Jan. 28.

St. Joe has spent the season enforcing its will on opponents. Sure there have been some nip and tuck games here or there, but more often than not, the final score has the Angels ahead by a comfortable margin.

There are many reasons for this success. Two of them are named Maddie Stock and Morgan Stock. The twin sister senior guards have ignited the Angels. Maddie is averaging just over 17 points per game, while Morgan is chipping in 12 points and crashing the boards for more than seven per game. They’re both listed at 6’1”, are athletic and have quick hands.

Another one of the reasons the Angels have won is named Sydney Stipanovich. At 6’3” with the wing span of a pterodactyl, the junior post is a defensive nightmare in the paint (6.6 blocks per game), a rebound machine (11 rebounds per game) and can be an offensive force (12 points per game).

But if the Angels are going to achieve the goals they have talked about this year, they’ll need Nelson to be a significant contributor. She’s averaging eight points per game and is second on the team with 7.3 rebounds. Long and strong, Nelson can play under the basket or put the ball on the floor and go to the rim. She gives a team that’s already more versatile than a little black dress another dimension. “My role on offense is to attack the basket and crash the boards,” Nelson says.

The Angels finished fourth in Class 5 last year after falling short of the final four in 2009 and 2010. That experience of reaching the state semifinals in Columbia is something that Nelson says has already paid dividends.

Getting there is half the battle. The state experience can overwhelm you if you’re not prepared for it. Nelson says understanding how different it is can only help the Angels this season. “It’s a game, we realize we’re out there to have fun. All that other stuff, you have to block it out,” Nelson says. “You can’t think about that other stuff.”

Instead, Nelson focuses on what she needs to do in order for the Angels to be successful. And, on occasion, she’ll pinch herself to make sure this is real. After all, it wasn’t that long ago wearing the green and white was just a dream.