APTOS — Nerd, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is an “unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person” who is “slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits.”
Not necessarily the category many people would love to be lumped into but the Aptos Mariners, recent recipients of the Central Coast Section Scholastic Championship with a team grade point average (GPA) of 3.77, are considering taking up the title.
“It’s not the nerd team,” said Aptos senior guard Teal Maixner, who holds a 4.2 GPA, “but we’re all really smart.”
OK, so maybe nerd-ish?
“It depends what you count as a nerd,” said sophomore guard Hannah Hocom. “We’re all smart, so if that counts as being a nerd, then, yeah, I guess we’re nerds.”
“You should see them dance,” quipped Aptos head coach Stefan Hocom, Hannah’s father. “That’ll answer the question.”
Nerds or not, the No. 5-seeded Mariners will have a chance to pair their scholastic title with one earned on the court today against an all-too-familiar foe in No. 2 Soquel. The two Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League teams will meet for the fourth time this season, only this time it will be for the CCS Division III championship.
The game is set for a 1 p.m. tip at Santa Clara High.
For the Mariners (25-4), it’ll be an opportunity at revenge and history, as the Knights (23-5), who beat Aptos in the SCCAL tournament final last month, are standing in the way of their first CCS title since 1983.
It’ll also be a chance to show they have the brawn to go with all the brains.
Several Mariners have GPA’s over the 4.0-mark, including senior forward Haley Shirley who incredibly sports a 4.7.
“She’s our scholastic MVP,” Stefan Hocom said.
Some teams might not be overly prideful in winning the section’s scholastic title but for the Mariners, earning the honor was like landing on the moon.
Consider this, Hannah Hocom chased around South San Francisco’s best player all over the court for nearly two hours as Aptos upset the top seed in the D-III bracket on Wednesday. But her night wasn’t over after that. She stuck around to scout the other teams, got home around 10 p.m. and then cracked open the books and did homework until midnight.
“I’m a little tired right now,” said Hocom, who holds a 4.2 GPA and leads the Mariners in scoring with 14.6 points per game, after Thursday’s shoot around.
But it’s the late nights — and early mornings — that make the scholastic title even more satisfying.
“Sometimes you put so much effort into grades and it feels like you’re getting swamped. It’s like, ‘OK, another two-hour practice and another game,’” said junior wing Abbi Saxton, who holds a 4.1 GPA and has hopes of becoming a doctor. “I feel like having recognition that you’re doing so well on your grades is motivation to keep going. It was a really big deal for a lot of the girls.”
It’s not all self-torture and tall cups of coffee. On the contrary, the majority of the Mariners love being in class. Conversations before, during and after practice usually revolve around hoops or what they got for question No. 2 on the advanced placement (AP) calculus test.
Sometimes basketball even takes a back seat to class during practice, like the time sophomore guard Abby Pardue interrupted coach Hocom to tell everyone she had gotten an “A” on the geometry test. No, the team didn’t have to run gassers or do up-downs for interrupting. Pardue, instead, received a roaring applause from players and coaches.
“I can’t get them to stop talking — they’re always going to talk and that’s a good thing,” coach Hocom said. “I figure if they’re talking about school or basketball and not boys or all that other stuff, that’s the dream.”
That love for academics has helped bridge the gap between the upperclassmen and underclassmen on Hocom’s youthful team. The seven freshmen and sophomores will pick the seniors’ and juniors’ brains on which teachers they should take, study methods and time management. They’ve sprawled out on the floor of the gym for impromptu study sessions before practice and have teamed up during lunch to get homework done in the library when last night’s game went too long.
And when they can’t study together in person, FaceTiming on their iPhones saves the day. Hannah Hocom, for instance, spends a few hours going over her chemistry homework with freshman guard Emma Stefanini or helping sophomore forward Ananiah Chavez with math before calling it a day.
“I’ve had to bang on the walls to get her off that thing, it’s like 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock,” Stefan Hocom joked. “In all seriousness, it puts things into perspective. They’re students. They’re not basketball players only playing for me and that’s the only thing going on. They’re students that have chosen to participate in the basketball team.”
Sure, they enjoy playing basketball together but the fact that they can have a conversation about the mean value theorem or Newton’s laws from time to time has given them what jazz gave to the New Orleans community during the early 20th century: a common language.
“You want to be around these people that are into the same things you are,” Saxton said. “I would say we’re fun and competitive but there is the silliness. With 14-year-olds through 18-year-olds, it’s just such a wide range. It’s a really weird mix but it works.”
Off the court and on it.
This season has arguably been the Mariners’ best since the turn of the century. Their upset on Wednesday was their first CCS semifinal victory since 2001 and the 25 wins are the most the program has seen in more than a decade.
Not many saw this year coming from Aptos. The Mariners have been called everything from undersized to inexperienced. At the most, they start only two upperclassmen — Maixner and Saxton — yet they play with a calm collected poise that is usually reserved for senior-heavy teams.
It’s what’s allowed them to erase double-digit deficits all year. They did it against section powerhouse North Salinas early in the season — coming back from down 16 against the Vikings — and once again on Wednesday against South San Francisco, winning after going into the half down 12.
“I’ve never been a part of team at Aptos that’s been able to overcome immense deficits like this team,” Maixner said. “When you have a whole team that wants to win, anything can happen at that point.”
They credit their ability to comeback to their mental toughness and overall team IQ. Maixner said the Mariners have never felt overwhelmed or like an obstacle is too big to overcome. She compared it to her AP English class during her junior year. A math whiz that struggles a bit with her writing, Maixner mustered a “C” in the class.
“It really just builds character,” Maixner said. “You accept it and you know you can do better next time. It’s the same with basketb
So maybe being a bookworm and a great basketball player aren’t mutually exclusive. The Mariners think they have the right balance between smarts and strength — with a little goofiness, too. And, yes, they’re warming up to being called nerds.
“I would say we’re kind of nerds because we have high GPAs,” Saxton said. “Academically successful would probably be better but I don’t mind nerds.”
The fiercest group of nerds in the section.