Pictured: Catie Donadio, right, was the heart and soul of Morgan’s team this season.
By Paul Augeri
It will be odd picturing the Morgan girls basketball program without Catie Donadio.
A fixture in the starting lineup since the first game of her freshman season, Donadio ran coach Caitlin Woods’ offense for close to 100 games. Along the way, she became a leader, captain and the heart and soul of the Huskies.
What about that first game?
“I remember the good parts of it,” Donadio said. “We played Cromwell. It was a home game. I know I was 8 for 8 from the free-throw line. I worked on that aspect of my game all summer with my dad before freshman year. I scored 16 points but we lost.”
When young players perform well in a varsity game, they are bound to get noticed. Donadio was accepted immediately by her peers.
“I was in school the next day and remember so many upperclassmen talking to me about the game,” she remembers, “and the thrill of being a freshman starting varsity, and everybody coming up to me and saying what a good job I did.”
Since then? Dozens of wins. The respect of peers and opponents alike. And an opportunity to play in college. Donadio’s fantastic career with the Huskies wrapped up this week with her selection as the Shoreline Conference’s Player of the Year.
Donadio and Coginchaug center Jessica Berens were selected First Team All Shoreline for the second straight year. East Hampton’s Shaun Russell was voted the conference’s Coach of the Year after leading the Bellringers to a 15-0 season and consecutive Shoreline championships. Morgan was the runner-up both times.
Donadio, who will go on to play at Connecticut College, was recognized for her all-around game. She averaged 17.8 points, 7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.8 steals in 14 games. She scored the 1,000th point of her career in the Huskies’ third game of the season, a 47-32 victory over North Branford.
“It meant a lot because it was my way of demonstrating how my hard work paid off,” she said, “and it was special because we didn’t think we would have a season with the way the (COVID-19) numbers were turning out before January. I’m happy to get that moment in.”
It was a memorable night for many. Her parents, Sean and Meegan, and brother Ryan were permitted to be on hand for the occasion, watching and cheering behind glass one floor above the gym.
“That was really special to me. With no fans it’s been really hard, and I feel super bad for my parents, especially for my dad because he’s done so much for me in my career,” Donadio said. “For Morgan to find a way for them to safely watch meant a lot.”
Her cousin, sophomore Caeley Ayer, who is more like a sister and also started as a Morgan freshman, was one of the first to congratulate her (like Donadio, Ayer also scored 16 points that night). Athletic director Lew Pappariella, who rallied media to come out that night, delivered the game ball.
Woods sits back now and says the last four years have been as much an experience and a journey for her as for her star player.
“I put a lot on her as a younger kid, and as an older player she handles everything with such grace,” said Woods, a former Shoreline player with five seasons under her belt as Huskies coach. “I’m privileged and honored to be her coach. Sometimes I rely on Catie completely for how it goes on the court.
“As an incoming freshman there was no question that she was a great talent. Obviously she had to earn it, but there was no question she was the best kid in the starting five as a freshman. I’m no stranger to starting freshmen. But to put a kid in as the starting point guard as a freshman, she handled it extremely well. She could score, she could lead, and that’s at an age when (kids) are vulnerable coming onto a high school team.
“I don’t think the right word is ‘matured’ because she came in at such a mature level and now it’s all on her (as the point guard). She has dedicated herself to becoming a better basketball player, with a more sound mind in terms of basketball IQ. And as a natural born leader who’s driven this path, she’s now set the precedent and I hope it continues for Morgan basketball.”
For at least the last two seasons, Donadio has been has been an extension of Woods on the court, the coach having ultimate trust in her leadership.
“It’s certainly reassuring to know that when I see her talking to the other girls, there is no question in my mind that she is giving them sound advice,” said Woods. “I have confidence in what she’s saying. She inbounds the ball because I want her in control of everything. I know that was a lot of pressure on her, but over the years she proved she can handle it. She was the go-to kid.”
A look at the 2021 All Shoreline selections, as voted on by the conference’s 12 coaches:
JESSICA BERENS, Coginchaug, Senior
A matchup challenge at 6-foot-4, Berens averaged 15.5 points, 14.3 rebounds and 4.1 blocks before her season was cut short by an ankle sprain. The Bryant University commit is a two-time First Team performer.
ABIGAIL BRADBURY, Valley Regional, Sophomore
Bradbury, who spent her freshman year at Mercy, was a formidable player in her first Shoreline season. The ball was in her hands a lot and she compiled numbers – 14.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5 assists in 9 of the Warriors’ 11 games.
NEVAEH CLARK, Cromwell, Sophomore
Clark made progress after a promising freshman season, averaging 8 points and 5.7 rebounds.
EMILY DeROEHN, Old Lyme, Senior
DeRoehn averaged 12.6 points, 9 rebounds and 2.2 steals in 14 games. The Shoreline’s Girls Soccer Player of the Year in 2020 will play the sport at a to-be-determined college.
MYA FIELD, East Hampton, Senior
Averaged 11 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.5 steals per game. Coach Shaun Russell praised Field as the “likely the best and most versatile defender in the conference.”
BRAEDEN LeBEAU, North Branford, Junior
The 6-foot forward, who shot 52 percent from the field, averaged 19.6 points and 12.8 rebounds and blocked 50 shots.
CAELEY AYER, Morgan, Sophomore
Ayer was a strong complement to her cousin, Donadio, in terms of all-around play. Ayer averaged 12.2 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists and 4 steals. She turned in a 30-point game midway through the season.
HANNAH BARRIENTOS, East Hampton, Senior
A fearless slasher and clutch player, Barrientos averaged 11.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2 assists and 2.5 steals per game.
ADELA CECUNJANIN, Cromwell, Sophomore
Cecunjanin improved her offensive game, averaging 7.5 points for the Panthers, and was a force in the middle on defense with 8.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game.
SAMANTHA GRAY, Old Lyme, Senior
A First Team pick last year, Gray averaged 11.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in 14 games and made 24 3-pointers)
ANGELA MERCALDI, East Hampton, Senior
Mercaldi was hampered first by a concussion, then tore her ACL right before the start of the Shoreline tournament. The four-year starter had a solid all-around season averaging 11 points and 4.1 rebounds, and was the team’s vocal leader.
JAMI SACCO, Westbrook, Junior
Sacco consistently produced for the Knights, averaging 17.7 points, 10 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2 steals and 2.5 blocks. This is her second year receiving All-Shoreline recognition.
KALEIGH BODAK, Haddam-Killingworth, Sophomore (Among the top sophomores in the league, Bodak averaged 12.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 2.5 steals per game. Had five double-doubles this season).
HANNAH BRUNK, Portland, Junior
ALENA CROSBY, Valley Regional, Senior
LILY CODY, Old Saybrook, Junior
AMALIA DeMARTINO, Coginchaug, Senior (Averaged 7.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.3 steals per game).
CARLY GRAVES, Portland, Senior
JESSICA GRODZICKI, Cromwell, Sophomore
LILY GROW, Valley Regional, Sophomore
ALEXANDRA KELLY, Morgan, Senior (Averaged 6 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks per game).
BROOKE PRASKIEVICZ, Hale-Ray, Sophomore (Played in the middle for the Noises, who were limited to 6 varsity players for much of the season. She averaged 12 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists and got to the free-throw line 96 times in 13 games, averaging 66 percent. “I look forward to the next two years with her,” coach Angelo Morello said).