RUNNING THE FLOOR, By Conor Walsh
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — It’s a reality true in nearly any sport: Defense isn’t flashy.
As much as any other sport, that’s the case in basketball. From the high school ranks to the NBA, it’s the scorers that tend to steal the show, not the scrappy defenders.
Well, Gloucester’s Katie Ciaramitaro isn’t stealing any headlines. What the senior captain is doing for the Fishermen girls basketball team, though, is robbing opponents of possessions.
And while it may not be pretty, that shouldn’t downplay what the fiery guard gives the Fishermen (3-4) every time she’s on the floor.
Ciaramitaro is the kind of defensive player that young basketball players should seek to emulate. Despite being tasked with defending an opponent’s best player nearly every time the Fishermen play, she’s never a step behind. She never takes a possession off. It’s as though she’s attached to her mark’s hip.
For an undersized, defense-oriented Gloucester squad, the value of a defender that averages five steals per game and often finds a way to shut down prolific scorers can’t be overstated.
“It’s vital,” coach Brandon Lewis said. “She’s one of the best man-to-man lockdown defenders in the league, and I say that without hesitation. You have to have her. She causes a lot of turnovers, and right now she’s averaging five steals a game. When she can create that turnover, if we can get the ball in transition, you’d like it to translate as five steals, five buckets, 10 points, which can swing a game.
“We’re undersized, so our perimeter defense is absolutely crucial and it centers around her.”
To hear Ciaramitaro discuss her defense, you’d think it was easy. It simply comes naturally.
Fishermen soccer fans got to enjoy her defense in the fall, as Ciaramitaro anchored Gloucester’s backline to help the Fishermen overcome a slow start to the season to qualify for the state tournament.
In a low-scoring sport like soccer, though, defense can be easy to overlook.
On the court, Ciaramitaro’s defense is hard to miss. Take Monday’s loss to Danvers as an example. Ciaramitaro, as always, was stacked up against one of her opponents’ top options, in this case star guard Kasey Sherry.
Sherry ended up with 13 points in Danvers’ 40-33 win. But she converted just two field goals while Ciaramitaro was on the floor, and the Gloucester captain’s ability to force Sherry to fight for every inch and throw up wild shots kept the Fishermen in the game despite a poor offensive showing from the team.
Just another day at the office.
“I play soccer too and I play defense there, so that’s where I picked up the defensive mind,” Ciaramitaro said. “When I started playing basketball, it just came natural to me, just defending something, I don’t know.”
For Lewis, it was easier to explain. While Ciaramitaro’s quickness and instincts are pivotal to her defense, it starts between her ears.
“She’s really smart,” Lewis said. “She knows how to feel out a referee. She knows if a hand-check’s going or it’s getting called. She knows to push a girl to her weakness, push her left, push her right, get her going where she’s uncomfortable, but she also knows the finer points of playing man defense. She’s a student of the game and it says a lot to her dedication on and off the court.”
“We usually have scouts and we usually can tell who their best player is and what their strengths and weaknesses are,” Ciaramitaro added. “I just adjust my defense to suit that player. Most of the time they’re all right-handed, so I push them to the left. You know they’re going to try to push it back right, so I just try to use that to keep them trapped.”
In years past, Ciaramitaro was leaned on as the team’s defensive specialist. Obviously, that title remains. But with the graduation of top scorers Heather Cain and Audrey Knowlton after last season, Ciaramitaro — “Shim” to her teammates — knew her role would have to expand on the other end of the floor.
She hasn’t disappointed. After spending the offseason in the gym, putting up shots and working on her drive, Ciaramitaro’s developed into a threat on both ends of the floor.
She may only average six points per game on the season, but with fellow captain Sophie Black leading the scoring in the paint, Ciaramitaro’s contributions are more than enough.
And when her team needs more, she’s proven capable. In Monday’s game against Danvers, for example, the Falcons were collapsing on Gloucester’s post players. In response, Ciaramitaro knocked dropped 12 points with a hot jump shot.
“When we came in last year, first thing we said was ‘We’ve got to get her scoring the basketball,’ give her a jump shot,” Lewis said. “So we drilled her. Jump shot. Jump shot. Jump shot. Based on last night’s game, you can see that she’s got it. She came out and buried four jump shots to start the game. From a scouting standpoint, that makes other teams go, ‘Oh, we’ve got to respect the fact that she can shoot too.’ She works as hard as anyone in the league.”
Ciaramitaro’s development into a well-rounded player speaks to her personality. She’s humble and quiet off the floor, but tenacious between the lines.
In Lewis’ mind, that’ll serve her well far beyond her final 11 (or more) games with the Fishermen.
“She’s so easy to talk to. She’s very easy to like,” Lewis said. “But she’s a leader. If a girl has her head down, Shim will be the first one to tell her to pick it up. She’s a leader, through and through, and she’s going to be very successful in life in whatever she does. I whole-heartedly believe that.”
MCCARTHY STEPPING UP
A player’s true identity often shines through during the toughest situations.
For coach Tim St. Laurent and the Rockport boys basketball team, the transformation of sophomore point guard Mike McCarthy has been a welcome one.
McCarthy had established himself as an important role player for the Vikings through their 4-0 start to the year, providing a defensive spark and a steady hand while coming off the bench.
But with the Vikings undermanned, McCarthy’s seen his role expand. And he’s risen to the occasion.
His first start of the season was in a forgettable, lopsided loss to Lynnfield last Friday. Once he settled in, though, McCarthy found an identity and rattled off 10 points in an impressive third quarter push and ran the point with composure.
That continued Monday night, when McCarthy added another 13 points in a loss to Amesbury.
A four-game stretch without five key cogs is no bargain for any coach. But with the likes of McCarthy stepping up, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for the Vikings to steal a win and get their full roster back while still above .500.
“Mike McCarthy is an unbelievable sophomore point guard and I think one day he’s going to be one of the best players on the North Shore,” St. Laurent said after Friday’s game.
So far, that doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch.
HORNETS TURNING IT ON
For Bryan Shields, the start of his tenure on the Manchester Essex boys basketball team’s bench can’t have been what he’d hoped for.
The first year coach took over a team hit hard by graduation after the Hornets tore through the Cape Ann League last season.
He had his squad playing hard through three games, but the results weren’t there. A last-second loss to Lynnfield spoiled his season-opener. The next time out, Amesbury knocked the Hornets off with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Shortly after, the Hornets were handed their third-straight loss when Rockport ran them off their own court.
Since then, the turnaround’s been remarkable. The Hornets put together a four-game winning streak after Monday’s win over Georgetown.
Shields is utilizing his roster well, adopting a run-and-gun style that leaves open looks for perimeter shooters Liam Aldrich, Max Nesbit and Taylor Ketchum.
And with the CAL appearing to be down this season, don’t be surprised if the Hornets harness this hot streak they’re on.
Cape Ann Leading Scorers Boys Name School PPG 1. Shaun Aspesi Rockport 18.5 2. Adam Balzarini Rockport 14.8 3. Liam Aldrich ME 14.7 4. Max Nesbit ME 14.7 5. Tucker Meredith Rockport 14.3 Girls Name School PPG 1. Sophie Black Gloucester 13.3 2. Julianna Costanzo Gloucester 9.4 3. Heather MacArthur Rockport 8.4 4. Rachel Haselgard Rockport 7.4 5. Evy Weihs ME 7.0