Hamilton West hopes to build a strong girls’ basketball program around junior Gabbie Fonollosa. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

Gabbie Fonollosa claims softball is her main sport, but one would never guess that when watching her play basketball.

The Hamilton West junior is a smooth ball handler, heady passer, solid defender, has a nice jumper and can penetrate to the basket. She was the best player on a Hornet squad that finished 4-19 this season, and one of the better players in the Colonial Valley Conference. Despite the fact her future is in softball and the Hornets did not have much success in basketball, she never once thought about leaving hoops to focus on softball year-round.

“I do love the game,” Fonollosa said. “I’ve been playing since I was young. I’ve always loved it, and it’s always a thrill every time I play. My energy gets picked up and the adrenaline keeps going. Softball is my number one sport but when I’m on the court I give 110 percent all the time. It’s just a great game and I love it.”

She must, because she had a very good reason not to play it anymore. On Jan. 30, 2018 in a game against Nottingham, Fonollosa was on a fast break and got shoved. When she landed, her leg went stiff as her femur and tibia grinded against each other. It resulted in a microfracture in her left tibia, which led to more than three months of rehabilitation. That forced Fonollosa to miss the rest of basketball and all but seven games of the high school softball season.

After missing most of her go-to sport, it might stand to reason Fonollosa would skip hoops this year to avoid a potential repeat disaster. At least that’s what her parents hoped.

“For her it was never a question; she insisted on playing because she loves to play,” said her mom, Philomena. “Her father and I really did not want her to play this year because if she got hurt again, any shot of playing softball in college would be out the window. Gabbie understood the risk and still wanted to play for herself and her teammates.”

If the law of averages means anything, Fonollosa is due to have a streak of good health. Thankfully, Philomena is a nurse, so that has helped ease the burden somewhat.

“I hate going to the doctors.” Fonollosa said. “I’ve been injured so many other times. I’m accident prone. In fifth grade, it was just a stupid injury. I was playing with my sister in the backyard and fell in a ditch and hyper-extended my knee. I was out for a very long time. Through freshman year I had a bone bruise on my thumb, a bone bruise on my wrist. It’s just been crazy. But I can tolerate pain.”

Second-year Hornet basketball coach Joe Radice would have felt severe pain had Fonollosa decided to not return this season. Coming in last year, he was immediately impressed by Fonollosa’s skills during the first day of practice, and was obviously distraught when misfortune struck.

“She was the only one I saw who could dribble with her right hand and her left hand,” Radice recalled. “She was going through all the drills as hard as she could. She was leading by example as a sophomore. So as we were starting the season I was really excited with what we had. We had a tough start to the schedule, and right as we were getting into the part of the season where the schedule was favorable for us, she broke her tibia and one of our other players was out with a concussion. We struggled through the part of the season that would have been our confidence builder.”

Hamilton struggled thought most of this season as well, but that could not diminish Fonollosa’s talent or statistics. She averaged a team-leading 12.1 points per game, 3.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists on a fairly young Hamilton team.

“Coming off the injury, right from the get-go she was kind of the first person leading us in drills,” Radice said. “She’s Miss Fundamental. She’s got a very smooth shot. She always gets the other team’s best player covering her. She’s gotta handle the ball, she has to come off screens, she has to set screens. Defensively, we look for her to get steals for us. She’s gotta do it all for us to be successful.”

Success has been tough to come by during Fonollosa’s first three years. But because she is just a junior, Fonollosa has one more season to be part of a team that has a promising future if all its youngsters continue to improve.

“I really do see potential,” Fonollosa said, citing three freshmen as an example. “They’re pretty good now. Cierra (Acevedo) is scoring points against older girls. When she reaches her junior, senior year she’s gonna be amazing. Tina (Fedor) will be big at forward. She can block shots and rebound. Mikayla (Hall) will get a lot of fast breaks with her speed.”

Radice agrees with his star player, and feels she will only get better as the team around her improves.

“Five of our top eight players were freshmen or sophomores,” Radice said. “We’re only losing one starter and one person that comes off the bench. It’s something as we build and get better around her, she’s going to get better and better. Where normally you look for your best player to make everybody else better, in this case as everybody else gets better, it’s just going to show how good Gabbie really is.”

Fonollosa has shown herself to be pretty good already. She started organized sports playing instructional baseball and moved to softball at age 8. After playing in the HGSA Fonollosa moved on to travel ball and currently plays for the Central Jersey A’s. She began playing basketball for the YMCA at age 5 and eventually moved to the Hamilton PAL.

She played JV and sat the varsity bench as a freshman, and averaged 5.5 points as a sophomore before the injury struck. Fonollosa was finally able to play softball for A’s in the summer, but didn’t focus on basketball until the season started.

“I have a hoop at home where I occasionally go out and shoot,” she said. “Most of the time it’s just here (at Hamilton) when I play. I think if I focused on this and maybe went to a camp or clinic, I’d do a lot better.”

Radice completely understands, and is just appreciative to have Fonollosa at all.

“She’s dedicated to both sports that she plays,” the coach said. “She gives me everything that she can even though softball is her main sport. She’s here every day, she works hard. I want her to be a little more vocal, that’s just not in her personality. But I can’t ask for any more out of a player. She makes me proud every time she steps on the court.”

She makes her teachers proud as well, as Fonollosa has a 4.12 weighted GPA and is a member of Student Government and the Unified Club. She already has a career goal in mind.

“I want to be a physician’s assistant,” she said.

Because she has been around physicians so frequently?

“That’s exactly why,” she said with a grin. “I was driving home from the orthopedist when I hurt my leg and my mom was talking to me about it. She said ‘You should get into this.’ I said ‘Yeah it’s really interesting.’ I’ve had so many injuries in my life, so I decided maybe I’ll specialize in the leg, be a PA. I’m really interested in medicine and stuff like that.”

She only hopes she doesn’t need any more meds for a while, as she is due a run of good health.