Gianna Vastola’s first bucket was unlike any she could’ve imagined.
From the moment the ball landed in her hands, the then 8-year-old knew exactly what she had to do.
The ball was in her court.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Vastola heaved the ball up into the air and waited — only to hear shouts of “No!” echo throughout the gym.
It wasn’t until the ball bounced its way around the rim and sliced through the net that Vastola realized her first basket was for the opposing team.
“I was just so excited that I got the ball,” Vastola says of the moment.
Vastola was ready to give up on basketball at that point, but her mother insisted she finish what she had started. It took Vastola most of that first recreational season to get past her initial mishap and learn the ins and outs of the game.
“I didn’t like it a first,” Vastola says. “I didn’t know the rules, and it was kind of tough because the other girls were mean. But I persevered and stuck it out. I guess I liked it, because here I am.”
The Riverview High senior guard has scored hundreds of buckets (for the right team) since then and has developed into one of the Lady Rams’ most talented shooters.
On Jan. 29, Vastola reached yet another milestone in her high school career. With her coaches and teammates looking on, Vastola approached the free-throw line and hit a pair of free throws — the second of which was her 1,000th career point.
“It means a lot,” Vastola says. “To be up there with all of the good players who have played at Riverview before and to have my name up on the board is really exciting.”
Vastola knew she was close to the milestone. But, it wasn’t until there were two minutes left in the game and her coach told her the next time she got the ball to go straight to the hoop that Vastola realized something was happening.
“I had no idea at the time,” Vastola says. “Because I was at the free-throw line, it slowly happened and I got a little nervous. It was a good moment.”
Vastola’s 16 points helped lead the Lady Rams to a 65-32 victory over Palm Harbor University in the Class 8A-District 8 semifinals.
Vastola now will lead the district runner-up Lady Rams into the Class 8A-Region 3 quarterfinals Feb. 7, at Tampa Plant in what she hopes won’t be her final game in a Lady Rams uniform.
“I just don’t want it to end,” Vastola says. “I try to push the thought out of my mind as much as possible. It doesn’t seem real, but I know it’s coming.”
Vastola has been playing basketball for nearly a decade. An active child, Vastola dabbled in soccer and softball before making her way onto the basketball court.
She began playing for the Suncoast Youth Basketball League before switching over to the Suncoast Explosion travel ball team in fourth grade.
Most recently, Vastola spent the past three years playing travel ball for the Suncoast Wolfpack.
Vastola made Riverview’s varsity girls basketball team as a freshman, which fulfilled a dream she had had since childhood.
“I used to look up to the other players as a child,” Vastola says. “I used to come to the games and watch the girls. It was a pretty exciting moment.”
During her freshman campaign, Vastola quickly learned to adapt to playing with more experienced and talented teammates.
Partway through last season, Vastola suffered her first major setback when she fractured her fibula during a Christmas tournament. Vastola sat out until she was able to put enough weight on it to run.
“I just had to do it,” Vastola says. “I had to be there for my team. Through it all I learned that I’m stronger than I think I am. You have to push yourself, because you never know your limit until you push it.”
Vastola has aspirations of continuing her playing career at the collegiate level somewhere in Florida next year, but, for now, she’s focused on extending the Lady Rams’ season as far as she can.
And when the time comes for Vastola to walk off of the court for the final time, she’ll be content knowing she’s played an integral role in the Lady Rams success throughout the past four years.
“As long as I did everything in my power to help us get as far as we could, then I’ll be happy,” she says. “I’ve already met a lot of my goals.”