By Joseph Staszewski
When JoAnn Arbitello-Pinnock took over as coach at Mary Louis, she told Athletic Director Joe Lewinger it would take her five years to rebuild the girls’ basketball program.
She could be a year ahead of schedule.
It was a long road back to being considered a Brooklyn/Queens diocesan title contender again for the Hilltoppers, after three straight trips to the championship game from 2009-11. The addition of three prized freshmen in 2012 didn’t work out as planned. They all transferred, and seasons of only seven and two wins followed.
But expectations around the program are high again, after the team nearly beat Christ the King in the diocesan semifinals last season and added Medger Evers transfer Danielle Patterson. The 6-foot-3 junior forward is considered one of the best players in the country in her class and is paired with Minnesota-bound guard Jasmine Brunson.
“All summer everyone has been talking about it,” Patterson said. “What’s Mary Louis going to be like? What’s Mary Louis going to be like? It’s finally becoming a reality.”
Arbitello-Pinnock is trying to keep the pressure to win and win right away from becoming too much for a group that isn’t used to it. She is preaching patience, hard work and balance.
“Just because you put a bunch of pieces together does not mean that it is not going to take time for everything to fall into place,” she said.
The preseason has been about making all of those pieces fit together. She has installed a new offense and has pulled back the reins on Patterson and Brunson to work on allowing everyone to grow comfortable in their roles.
“It is going to take a lot for us to get there,” Arbitello-Pinnock said.
TMLA also features solid bigs in Queens College-bound center Celeste Moran, senior Jenna McCann and freshman Taylor Holmes. It has veteran shooters in junior Kayla Podlovits and classmate Courtney McCool. Freshman guard Allanah Holmes is also expected make a big impact.
On paper it’s easy to put the Hilltoppers with the best of the best in CHSAA Brooklyn-Queens and they should be. But keep the expectations realistic.
Favorites CK, Nazareth and Bishop Loughlin have played full seasons with their cores. Nazareth and the Royals reached the federation tournament. Yes, most of Mary Louis’ players have been on the varsity for two or three years, but they still need to learn how to play with Patterson, and she needs to learn how to play with them.
It is why TMLA itself is taking a measured approach.
“We don’t try to worry about the expectations,” Brunson said. “We have to play and we have to win for us.”
Even so, there is plenty of confidence and why shouldn’t there be? Mary Louis is loaded with talent and experience. It can become the team people believe they already are. It will just take some time.
“I really think we can get there,” Patterson said. “We made a lot of progress. If we just keep pushing, when we have those big games and we need to get over the hump, I feel confident we will be able to do it.”