Rob Zmarzly braced himself for the inevitable jokes from friends who playfully ridiculed his decision to attend "a girls college."
The idea of participating in the basketball program only exposed the Archbishop Spalding graduate to further kidding.
"I had to tell them they were wrong, that the school was co-ed now," he said.
As a member of Goucher College's first men's basketball team, the 18-year-old Zmarzly is a part of history -- an integral part.
The 6-foot-6 center has recovered from a slow start to average 12.1 points and 7.3 rebounds through nine games.
Gophers coach Leonard Trevino, a two-year assistant at the University of South Dakota, said Zmarzly gradually is making the adjustment from the high school to college level.
"He's been playing great inside," Trevino said of the 200-pounder. "He's coming along excellently."
A three-year member of Spalding's varsity team, Zmarzly averaged 16.8 points and 10.1 rebounds last winter and was selected to the Maryland Scholastic Association C Conference team.
The Severn resident said he received "five or six" college offers, mostly on the Division III level, before settling on Goucher.
"I know I made the right decision," he said. "I wanted to stay close to home. And they really stress academics here."
The opportunity to aid the program during its inaugural season also appealed to him.
"I wanted to help start something off here," he said. "It's real special. The people are all behind you. It's a real good feeling."
The Gophers last competed on Dec. 8, and do not resume play until Jan.
21. The long holiday break comes at an inopportune time.
After losing their first five games, the Gophers have won three of their last four, including an 84-57 victory over St. Joseph's on Dec. 8. They had defeated Capitol College in double-overtime, 100-98, two nights earlier, behind Zmarzly's season-high 22 points and 15 rebounds.
"We really didn't want to have a long break," said Zmarzly, who begins exams next week. "Coach Trevino said we have to stay in shape or we'll be in trouble. We have a good chance at winning a lot more games. We just have to keep up the intensity and we'll be OK."
The challenge during October practices was to grow comfortable with a new coach and teammates.
"We had to get all the timing down, getting used to working together as a team," Zmarzly said. "The coach is a real disciplinarian. The practices were rough and structured, with a lot of drills. And those drills had to be done right.
"The program may be new technically, but it seems like we've been together for more than a year now."
As expected, Goucher's efforts went unrewarded through November, but a 77-71 victory over Gwynedd Mercy (Pa.) on Dec. 1 touched off an impressive string of outings. The lone setback over the last four games came by one point, 64-63, against Neumann College (Pa.).
Defeating Gwynedd Mercy was "a great confidence-builder for us," Trevino said.
"Opening the season at 0-5 was a learning experience. But we've really been building up a lot of confidence since our first win. That game showed us the way to win and things have been taking off since that point."
Some of the early losses were brutal. Goucher was overwhelmed by Marymount University (Va.), 134-68, and Dickinson College (Pa.), 81-41, in late November. But Zmarzly saw the closer decisions, like a 59-56 setback to Lycoming College (Pa.), as a sign that better days were ahead.
"It was hard when we lost our first couple in a row, but there were some games we knew we should have won," he said.
"We just took it game by game. We couldn't dwell on it. And we couldn't use being young as an excuse. It was hard at first, but we got over the hump after winning our first game. We then realized we could win, and now people expect us to win.
"For us being together as little as we have, we're starting to come around. A lot of it is because of Coach Trevino. He's like, 'You guys are young. You just have to step in and grow up real fast.' And we've been doing good. A lot of people didn't expect us to be competitive. They're all surprised."