As Katie Poppe's junior year came to an end, it was supposed to be a time of looking forward to a big finish in her senior season. Instead, the Holy Trinity guard watched her basketball team go through a big transformation in the offseason. The coach didn't return and four girls transferred after a 20-9 season.
John Scalfaro coached men's basketball at Division III Vaughn College in Queens last season and spent 25 years at Christ the King as the junior varsity coach and an assistant for the varsity. When he took over at Holy Trinity, he wasn't familiar with its personnel. Poppe, Alyson Brennan and Kelly Carey were the returning starters to go with many inexperienced players at the varsity level.
"For the past two years, we knew each other well," said Poppe, who will attend Boston University. "It disappointed me to see them not give this man a shot. I thought it was the right thing to stay. I love the girls here, so I wasn't going to leave.''
Added Carey: "At first, we were angry about it. Some of our close friends left. I love the school and I would never leave my teammates. For me, Katie and Alyson, it was tough saying goodbye to good friends. We have always stuck together and said we would overcome adversity. It was difficult mentally. It's worked out in the end.''
It certainly has. Holy Trinity is 13-5 and second in the CHSAA at 7-1. The lone league loss came against first-place St. Anthony's, the defending champion, which has won 25 consecutive regular-season league games.
Poppe is averaging 20.3 points, and Brennan and Carey have supplied a lot of offensive firepower. Mikaela Ryan, who missed last season with a knee injury, also is starting along with Cara McQuillan, who was on the junior varsity last season.
The Titans didn't spend much time together in the offseason because the players are members of different AAU teams. Some of them also play other sports, and the basketball team essentially was thrown together with a new coach and not much time to assimilate.
"To be honest,'' Carey said, "I didn't know what to expect. I thought we could be really good or this could really backfire. It's turning out pretty well.''
Holy Trinity opened the season with a 60-47 win over West Lake (Atlanta) in the Big Apple/Big Peach Classic.
"I saw the potential of this team in the first game,'' Poppe said. "I knew right there, we could play with teams. It did surprise me at how fast we were able to mesh together. I am actually not surprised by our record. I knew people were going to underestimate us. I knew with our returning players we could still be a very competitive team. I knew there were some things people had to pick up because some players left, but they have filled the roles perfectly.''
The Titans are in good shape to finish second in the CHSAA because they already have a win over St. John the Baptist. The second matchup at home Feb. 17 likely will determine second place. The top two teams in the league play in the state Class AA playoffs.
"People thought because of what happened, it would be tough,'' Scalfaro said. "Not these kids. They believe they can win. We're building something. They are getting the gist of what they need to do."