“We’ve been playing basketball since we were born!” said Katie Ganser, only half-kiddingly.
Ganser and her two younger sisters, Christine and Madelyn, all had starry careers at Needham High.
Katie, 23, took her game to the next level at Merrimack College; Christine, a senior captain and Madelyn, a freshman, play for Holy Cross.
Since her graduation from Merrimack last May, Katie Ganser’s life has skyrocketed. She’s working on a Masters of Science and Management degree at Dublin’s famed Trinity College. A 6-foot-1 forward, she plays for the school team and also for the Meteors of the Premier League.
Clearly the game is still important to her, but she’s in Ireland to embrace a higher priority, working for the nonprofit Sport Changes Life.
“Our mission is to improve the lives of at-risk kids through sports and education,” she said in a phone interview from Dublin.
As in American inner cities, “there’s a lot of drug and alcohol problems’’ in Ireland, said Katie.
In addition to Dublin, Sport Changes Life has branches in Belfast, Limerick, and Galway.
Ganser also coaches a U-17 and a U-13 girls’ basketball team. “I bought one of my favorite players a (Rajon) Rondo jersey,” she said. “She’s 11. People here are obsessed with the NBA.”
After attending Merrimack, where she was a two-year captain for the Division 2 basketball program, “I knew I wanted to take a year off and do something different and give back for all I’ve been given,” she said.
Ganser found out about Sport Changes Life from a cousin, Frank Powell, who played for the Irish national basketball team. She has committed a year to the effort.
And she is still mesmerized by the Trinity experience. “We’re living in the same building that Oscar Wilde did when he went to Trinity,” she said. She can’t get over that.
“I go here now!’’
Ganser was home for the Christmas holidays and got to a few of her sisters’ games at Holy Cross. In Ireland, she streams their games on the Internet. “I’m yelling at the computer sometimes,” she said. “It’s weird.”
“Basketball is our family sport,” said her mother, Connie Crowley-Ganser.
A cousin, Billy Curley, was a terrific player at Duxbury High and Boston College who made the cover of Sports Illustrated when he scored 10 of the last 11 points when BC knocked off defending NCAA champion North Carolina. He had a seven-year, injury-plagued NBA career and now is an assistant under his college coach, Jim O’Brien, at Emerson.
Connie Ganser, who played basketball at St. Columbkille’s High in Brighton, and her husband, Allen, were in Ireland with Katie in September when they received a call that Christine was sick with an infection, and that it was getting worse.
“We were going to stay in Ireland for eight days. We left on the fourth,” said Connie, a nurse.
“Christine was hospitalized for eight days. Then she went back to school and was on antibiotics. In October her arm was swelling and changing color.”
Christine had developed a blood clot in her chest. “It was life-threatening, a very scary time for her and us,” said her mother. “She was put on blood thinners and ultimately had an angioplasty procedure.”
Holy Cross women’s coach Bill Gibbons added, “It looked like she’d never play again.”
Christine has rejoined the team and is working her way back into the rotation for a squad that is 14-9 and in the middle of the pack in the Patriot League at 6-6.
“We’re so thrilled she got to play again,” said Gibbons of the 6-foot-1 forward, who started 28 of 32 games a year ago, averaging 9 points per game while leading the Crusaders in rebounding nine times.
Two of her head coaches at Needham High — Janet Hourihan and Kim Benzan — attended Holy Cross.
“They raved about the family atmosphere and the academics,” said Ganser.
“On my visit to the school it was pouring rain and we didn’t have umbrellas.”
It didn’t change her mind one bit. Holy Cross was the school for her.
And now, it helps to have Madelyn, her young sister, for a teammate. The two Crusaders keep up with Katie through Skype.
“She saw a great opportunity,” said Christine. “It’s a perfect situation for her.”
“I talk with Katie every day,” said Madelyn. “I’m jealous. I want to do something like that.” The sisters are fiercely devoted to each other. “I’ve always looked up to them,” Madelyn added. “All my life they’ve showed me the ropes about basketball and education.”
Still, Madelyn hesitated about joining Christine at Holy Cross. “I wanted to do my own thing,” she said. But with Christine graduating this year, she reasoned “I’d have three more years to leave my own legacy.”
A 5-foot-11 wing, Madelyn is averaging 12 minutes per game. “We see her having a similar career as Christine’s,” said Gibbons. “I can see Mandy learning from her sister. Her sisters have been great role models.”
All three had memorable careers at Needham High. The 22-0 Rockets advanced to the Division 1 state semifinals against Central Catholic at TD Garden in Katie’s sophomore year.
“We didn’t appreciate at the time what a unique experience it was,” said Katie.
Christine, who averaged 24.7 points and 11.2 rebounds her senior year and was the Bay State Conference Player of the Year, led the Rockets to two BSC titles.
Madelyn was a three-time conference all-star and averaged 14 points and seven rebounds as a Needham High senior.
Not bad for someone who used to get schooled on the court by her sisters. “I’d do OK against them, they’d occasionally block my shot,” she said. “But I was the littlest.”
All three Ganser girls have gone on to play big. “We’re so proud,” said their mother. “It’s been a joy for us to watch them.”Lenny Megliola can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.