Bronx duo has Bergtraum back in city title hunt

A successful regular season has Murry Bergtraum back in the hunt for another PSAL Class AA girls’ basketball city title. That should be viewed as a major accomplishment considering the circumstances under which it started.

Seniors and Bronx natives Ashanae McLoughlin and Alexandria Smith aren’t taking any bows yet.

“It didn’t really mean anything for us,” McLoughlin said after beating rival Francis Lewis on Senior Day to secure the division title. “We are not where we want to be yet.”

Where she and Bergtraum want to be is back a top the PSAL after having its string of 15 straight city titles broken last season by Francis Lewis. This Bergtraum team was far from a sure thing to be in position to do that when the season began. Legendary head coach Ed Grezinsky abruptly retired in late October, star sophomore Milicia Reid transferred to Bishop Loughlin and senior leader Joella Gibson is now playing at Siena. McLaughlin and Smith were left to guide a young roster. The two have adapted well.

“This season has been a learning experience, going through all the trials and tribulations, new coach, young plays, a whole new team,” Smith said. “It prepared me and Ashanae for college. We are going to know how to come into new situations and handle it.”

The two of have been the lynch pins to Bergtraum’s success. The Seton Hall-bound McLaughlin is second in the ‘AA’ in scoring at 22.8 points per game. She is also averaging 6.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists per contest. Smith, who has a scholarsip offer Middle Tennessee and from interest from Michigan State Buffalo, St. Peter’s, Quinnipaic, James Madison, Wagner and Siena, has continued to come into her own. The 6-foot-3 center is averaging 14.6 points per game and 12.3 boards. The Lady Blazers are 16-6 and seeded second in the upcoming playoffs.

“Last year added a whole lot of motivation to our team, to prove everyone in the city wrong that doubted us,” McLaughlin said.

The explosive guard gave first-year head coach Nerva Jean Pierre and assistant Curtiz Simpson plenty of credit for creating an environment that bread chemistry and a family atmosphere. Jean Pierre on the other hand tipped his cap to his Division I guard because she bought into her leadership role. Smith said she and McLaughlin reminded the younger players how important this season was to them and to take pride in the program they play for.

“We talked with them and told them how much basketball means to us,” Smith said. “This is out way of life. They have to learn too because when we leave they have to be the ones to step up.”

Until then its McLaughlin and Smith who will do whatever it takes make Bergtraum a champion again and earn a slice of redemption.

“They broke the streak.” Jean Pierre said of his seniors and returnees. “They have to bring it home. Bergtraum it is all about the banners.”

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