The 1991-1992 season wasn’t just a standout year for St. Andrew’s girls basketball program. It was the culmination of four years of outstanding athleticism and sportsmanship by three players from the Class of 1992 – Vania (Cooke) Flowers, Micheila Leighland (Zaahida Shakur), and Shondelle Solomon – who led the team to four straight PVAC banners and would inspire two more, totaling six consecutive championships from 1989 to 1994.
The 1991-1992 girls basketball team will be inducted into St. Andrew's Athletics Hall of Fame during Homecoming & Reunion on October 15. They will be the first basketball team and first winter sports team to be inducted.
“Basketball is a team sport. You can have the same team every year and you’re not guaranteed to win, but we did. We found ways to win,” said Flowers, who has previously been inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame for individual accomplishments. “We just had fun, and it didn’t have to do with winning. We just happened to do so.”
Alison Condie Jaenicke, who coached the team for five years, was new to teaching and coaching when she arrived at St. Andrew’s in 1989, just on the heels of the team’s first-ever PVAC banner. She credits Flowers, Leighland, and Solomon for orienting her to the team’s routines and traditions.
“In the fall, before practice started, these three young women found me and they said, ‘We know you’re going to be the coach this year, and we want to share with you the drills we used to do,’” Jaenicke said. “Without them coaching me to be a coach, I never could have done it.”
Jaenicke remembers the 1991-1992 season’s line-up well: Flowers, Leighland, Solomon, and the Castiello twins, Lexa (Castiello) Gandolfo ‘93 - also previously inducted into the Hall of Fame for individual accomplishments - and Torie (Castiello) Ketcham ‘93.
“Lexa was such an amazing athlete, but also humble and willing to do the point guard job, and Torie was this dependable, stabilizing force,” Jaenicke said. “Vania was a pillar in the middle of the court, a shot blocker, a high scorer, and great defensively and offensively. Micheila was a flash, just super fast and wily and stealing balls, fast breaking. Shondelle was good inside, outside. She could take shots on the baseline, but also could guard inside really well.”
The team went undefeated in the PVAC conference. The 1992 yearbook recalls this feat as being “predictable,” and with good reason: in the four years Flowers, Leighland, and Solomon played together on the varsity squad, the team lost only one conference game, to Edmund Burke School during their ninth-grade year.
Leighland said playing basketball at St. Andrew’s was a fun experience that shaped her into a person that carries herself with grace, dignity, and humility.
“When I think about senior year, it was the pinnacle of being able to work so beautifully together to create opportunities for ourselves and one another and help our teammates shine,” she said. “It was a demonstration of leadership in terms of sportsmanship: keeping it clean; playing smart while playing fair; how to be a graceful winner; how to be a graceful ‘loser’; to learn from success and from things that didn’t go so well; and stay focused.”
Solomon remembers that the team struck the perfect balance between “work hard” and “play hard,” saying that the girls took basketball very seriously and wanted to become better, but that there was also “lots and lots of laughing and goofing around.”
“We were all good athletes individually, but together, we became an incredibly great team,” Solomon said. “I really learned what it means to be a true team from my St. Andrew’s basketball experience.”
After being part of the first girls basketball team to win a conference championship at St. Andrew’s, Leighland said she is proud to be part of the legacy that has since led St. Andrew’s to win the ISL regular season and tournament championships, most recently in 2020.
“For [our success] to ripple beyond that moment is amazing. It’s an honor to be remembered and thought of, and hopefully continue to inspire future students and athletes and the School,” she said. “We are part of this evolution and the spirit of St. Andrew’s obviously still endures.”
“It’s great to be recognized for doing something you simply love and happen to be pretty good at,” Solomon said of the upcoming induction. “It means that what we did mattered, and I think that’s always a worthwhile ambition and accomplishment.”
Flowers said being inducted alongside her teammates just makes sense.
“It’s great to have the individual accolade, but the game is won by five people or more. It’s an accomplishment that we all did,” she said. “I couldn’t have been as successful as I was without them.”
Team members included Vania Cooke ‘92, Zaahida Shakur ‘92, Shondelle Solomon ‘92, Lexa Castiello ‘93, Torie Castiello ‘93, Joan Colbert ‘93, Katie Ellis ‘93, Danielle Kolb Neale '93, Renee Barnett ‘94, Katherine O’Kieffe ‘94, Camilla Sosman ‘94, Caroline Tinker ‘94, and Wendy Wehunt ‘95.